Saturday, November 18, 2017

Getting back into life

It's been a while since I've gotten back to this blog. As 2015 moved toward 2016, life got increasingly complex. My wife, Joy, found out that the cancer she'd been living with and working against (she hated the term fought) for six years had spread to bone and liver. She finally asked her doctor if it was time to contact Hospice and the doctor said yes. Joy asked if there was anything the doctor could do to keep her mobile and active until she finished teaching the beekeeping class she had undertaken in spite of increasing problems with the cancer. The doctor treated her and she finished her class before she finally contacted Hospice. She kept the news from the students who were surprised by her death.

She wanted to have a birthday party, so with enormous help from friends, we threw her a big one, invited everyone and had a great time. The morning after, we went to breakfast with our neice who'd come for the party. Within hours Joy started to deteriorate. A week later, she was dead. She died at home and I spent most of the time by her bedside. My escape from that room was writing. For a time, I could be in an entirly different reality.

I wasn't ready to write those two paragraphs for a long time.

That was May. I was starting to get my life into some kind of routine when November came around. I participated in National Novel Writing Month and had managed to crank out the highly rough draft of a 35k word novella in the first eight days of the month. Then a national disaster struck on election day. I wasn't feeling great the next day, but a friend had invited me to try out a new restaurant with him in Arcata, the town about ten miles north of Eureka. I got to Arcata early because I needed to get some cash. The local Co-op has a teller machine in the lobby. Still with plenty of time, I picked up some crackers on sale and a bag of candied ginger (a favorite of mine). I checked out and walked out the front door.

A mentally disturbed man was in the Co-op. Unfortunately, we have a lot of them up here. He ran out of the door behind me, hit me once in the neck with something sharp (the weapon was never retrieved) and ran off.

I felt like he'd punched me in the neck. I stood there saying over and over, "Why did he hit me?" and then put my hand on my neck and saw the blood on it.

A series of actions happened round me in rapid succession. A man in the parking lot jumped into his truck and chased my assailant. One of the assistant managers from the store ran out with a clean rag in her hand and slapped it on my neck, holding it in place to control the bleeding. Another employee got a chair so I could sit. The police arrived. They asked me some questions and I requested the policeman get my car keys from my pocket and give them to a friend who lived in the building across the street from the Co-op (which he did -- two days later). All this time my angel of mercy applied pressure. She saved my life. The ambulance arrived and took over. They transported me to Mad River Hospital. I remember being wheeled into the Emergency Room where the anesthethiologist was waiting. He asked me a couple of questions.

That's the last thing I remember for a week.

They were afraid my throat would swell shut, so they installed a breathing tube and had to sedate me to keep me from attempting to pull it out (an instinctive reaction). My friends visited during that time and say I tried to communicate with them, but I remember nothing. The first thing I remember coming out of the sedation was a series of weird dreams. When I did wake up, one of the Intensive Care nurses was attending me. I tried to tell him that my nose was completely blocked and I wasn't getting enough air. The oxygen tube in my nose was doing me little good. But I couldn't speak and my hands were still tied down. It was a terrible two hours. When the tube was finally removed, I could speak almost immediately. They moved the oxygen tube to my mouth and I was much better. I stayed in Intesive Care for a few days afterward. The nurses were kind, considerate and highly competent. They too were angels to me.

Having laid on my side for an entire week without moving, I was unable to walk. It took weeks to get me back to where I didn't require a walker to get around. I couldn't go home until I could navigate with a walker which gave me an incentive. When I finally could go home, just before Thanksgiving, I still couldn't take care of myself. My neice traveled from the San Diego area all the way to Eureka and spent a week cooking and watching out for me until I could manage on my own with only daily visits from friends. I cannot thank her enough.

After I got home, I sat for days looking out the picture widows at the garden in the back yard marvelling at the beauty and wonder of the flowers and the birds, grateful to be alive.

When I think back on the entire incident now, I mostly remember the people I am grateful to. From the employees of the Co-op whose quick action saved my life, to the caring staff at Mad River, my wonderful neice, the "7 Friends" group who helped coordinate my care and made sure my cats were taken care of, Liz who did the rest of the cat care, the many people who visited me in the hospital, my co-writers from Writer's of the Future, Vol. XXIX who set up a GoFundMe page for me, and the State of California which is helping me through their Victim Assistance Program. I have much to be grateful for.

A few weeks ago, I went to a hearing for the man who stabbed me. He wasn't there. He's still in a mental hospital. That's good. The entire world and he himself are better off with him there.

My mind has nearly cleared. The effects of the prolonged sedation took many months to resolve. I'm back to getting my life into something that approaches routine. Once again, I'm doing NaNoWriMo and working on a complete revision of the story I did last year. The day after the anniversary of the attack, I donated blood for the first time in a year and made it to the eight gallon mark -- my small way of saving a life and repaying.

Firefox's Quantum stumble

Firefox Quantum was released this week to some excellent and some scathing reviews. The difference between them has to do with whether a user had addons that were broken. Addons that were not built using the new method, ceased to exist, and users who relied on them were furious. Several of the ones I used went away with the new implementation. I understand why Firefox made these changes. The old method of creating addons was inherently insecure. In addition, the new rendering engine (the software that changes the code from a web page into the pixels and actions on your screen) is significantly faster. Also, if one web page fails, the entire browser should not crash as it used to do. All of this is good.

What bothers me is the way Firefox rolled this entirely new browser out. First, this shouldn't be "Firefox 57.0", it should be "Firefox Quantum 1.0". That may seem a trivial distinction, but it is a warning to the user that they have an entirely new experience ahead of them. For many, this might have spurred them to do a bit more research on what this new browser was and what the update entailed and they might have decided to wait. Personally, I almost never use 1.0 software. I wait until the bugs have been worked out in versions 1.5 or later. The rollout as a simple version update was deceptive. Second, just as my instinct says about 1.0 software, it's not ready for prime time yet. Most of it works, but the cursor control was jerky, the browser hung and it wouldn't close. The latter problems I experienced in both the Windows and Linux versions of the browser. This is Beta software. Just because an arbitrary date was about to arrive didn't justify releasing buggy software. If Firefox wants to lose the small user base it still has, just release a few more buggy versions. I went back to their Extended Service Release software to keep a working version of Firefox on my computer.

Worst of all, the demise of Firefox could create an enormous security problem for the internet. This requires a bit of explanation. I previously mentioned the term "rendering engine". In the distant past, every browser had its own, unique rendering engine and web pages looked different on each. Over time, as HTML, CSS, XML, Javascript and other protocols for web pages became more complex, the number of browsers dropped and some browsers began using the rendering engines of others. When Google turned over its Blink rendering engine to an open source project, it rapidly became the rendering engine of choice for all browser makers. So if you're browsing the web using Chrome, Iron, Safari, Opera (one of the last to give up on its own rendering engine) or any of dozens of others, your browser is using the same rendering engine. Possibly a different version, but generally the same underlying software. Currently, I know of only three rendering engines: Blink, the Firefox engine and the one used for Edge (although some may still use the now defunct Trident engine from Internet Explorer). With the majority of browsers using the same rendering engine, any vulnerability in it could impact the entire web, and without an alternative browser to fall back on, the web could be rendered nearly useless. It is essential to have alternative browsers and not ones with security flaws like Internet Explorer had. For anyone running Windows 7 or earlier, Firefox is the only safe alternative. If it goes belly up, where do we turn? Firefox has done a distinct disservice to the world by foisting this brand new product on us while it's still in Beta form. I'm disappointed and disturbed about this development.