Ups and Downs

Last year, y’all cheered me on as I lost 45 pounds in 6 months. I had gotten up to 235 or so, the most I’d ever weighed, and I could read the writing on the wall. If I didn’t do something to get myself healthier, I’d keep gaining weight until I was too old to do much about it. And I’d live a lower-quality life because of it. I was proud of meeting my goal, and felt great. Just by exercising every day and counting calories, I accomplished something I didn’t think I could do. I could fit into clothes I hadn’t worn in a decade!

So, about 1 year later, I weigh 245, 10 pounds more than I did at my previous heaviest.

Yeah, I could name a bunch of factors: I lost my job; I was suffering from low-level depression, and went on anti-depressants (both of which contribute to weight gain); I got colon cancer and spent some time in recovery from the surgery; Donald Trump became President; my Mom passed away; I got busy with my new job. I decided to treat myself a bit for a hard year.

But really, it comes down to one thing: I stopped weighing myself every day. Without that daily reminder, I stopped exercising and watching my calorie consumption. I broke the habit. For me at least, that’s really all it takes: if I exercise and watch what I eat, I lose or maintain weight; if I don’t, I gain weight. And the scale is my external talisman of mindfulness. (Well, that and the last hole in my belt, which I’d started to strain. Seriously, I’m down to a single pair of jeans that feels comfortable.)

So, a couple weeks ago, I decided enough was enough. I knew what I needed to do, and I knew I could do it. I just needed to overcome my procrastination, and get back on the exercise bike. I dusted the bike off, cleaned up the stack of books that had piled up on the side table, tidied my exercise area up, put on my now-tight exercise shorts and shirt, got myself a bottle of water and a towel, plugged in my new Amazon Echo (my new toy to listen to podcasts hands-free), and…

The Echo wouldn’t connect to the Internet. What? 30 minutes wasted debugging that. But finally, I stepped up on my Fitbit Aria smart scale, and peeked at the dreaded result. 244 pounds. _sigh_ Worse yet? The scale didn’t even recognize me anymore. Like a high-school friend who you hadn’t seen in years, all that extra weight just made me another face in the crowd. “Guest”, it said, and dutifully reported the result to the Internet. How could I change it, so it logged the weight as me? Another round of debugging, wherein I realized that the batteries were all but dead, and that the battery level reported on the website was inaccurate because the scale wasn’t actually sending the signal to the Internet, like it seemed to claim. And once the batteries were changed, it still couldn’t connect to the Internet, because I’d recently changed the password, and it took many rounds of connecting first to my app and then to my wifi router before I could persuade it to log on. Then once it was working, I still had to retrain it to recognize my new weight. Quite a reward! All this took over an hour. Time was wasting, but at least I had everything in order now.

I got on my bike, told Alexa to play RadioLab, set my bike to my old familiar rolling hills, and started pedaling, recommitted to a new, healthier me.


Huh? Why did the bike pause? I restarted it, and began pedalling.


WTF? I jump through all these hoops, and my bike Hals me with, “I’m sorry, Doug, I can’t do that.” Open the damn pod bay doors, Bike!

Sure, it’s been a year since I used the bike, but it worked fine last time I got on it, and it’s not like it’s an avocado, it shouldn’t have an expiration date!

Clearly, the Universe doesn’t want me to lose weight. Luckily, I don’t give a hot damn what the Universe thinks, because it’s shown pretty poor judgment up to this point.

Now it’s late, dinnertime, and I just give up. After dinner, I look up Schwinn’s forums and help line, find they’re closed for the day; I determine to call them in the morning. In the meantime, I spend a couple hours window-shopping for new exercise bikes. Turns out I have a pretty old model, and the newer ones are better… but I can’t justify the cost to myself, and I don’t like just throwing stuff away.

Once I navigate the always-annoying phone tree, pressing 2 and 1 and 5 and 3 on cue (I’m getting a little tired of machines telling me what to do), I finally connect to a real live person at Schwinn! (Or Bowflex. Or Nautilus. Apparently, they’re all the same company.) They’re friendly, helpful, and patient, and walk me through removing the “shrouds” (plastic covers) from the bike’s inner workings. Has the magnet come loose? It does that sometimes…

Interlude: IT’S ALL MAGNETS! There’s a big metal flywheel, and below it is an armature lined with big blocky magnets; the variable resistance is generated by a small motor that moves the magnet-armature closer or further from the flywheel. It never touches the flywheel, so there’s less to wear down and break. Kinda genius. Then there’s the “pulley wheel”, which is the plastic wheel that the pedal shaft goes through, which runs the drive belt to the flywheel. Inset into the side of the pulley wheel is a small magnet that rotates with the wheel; as it orbits, it passes by a fixed “speed sensor”, a small tube mounted on the bike frame, and as the pulley wheel magnet zips by, it counts the interval between orbits, giving the velocity of pedaling.

The magnet is still there on the pulley wheel. The sensor wire is connected to the bus. It’s probably the speed sensor itself. No problem, they say. Just order a new speed sensor from this partner site. It’s cheap, 6 bucks, and it’s almost certainly the problem. The bike’s computer would fail more spectacularly than that, so it’s likely something cheap.

I thank them, hang up, go to buy this cheap part online.

As they said, it’s like $6. But there’s a minimum $25 order, so it’s magically $25. And of course this tiny wire costs $15 to ship. $40, and I’m not sure that this sensor is really the problem. Maybe I should look again at those new exercise bikes.

The Universe is really opinionated about me getting back in shape!

I call Schwinn back the next day (or maybe the day after?). Explain the situation again, ready to start asking what I might look for in a new bike. This new call center guy asks what my customer account number; didn’t the last guy set me up an account? Nope. Okay, that gets done, and New Guy tells me that I can order the part directly from Schwinn, it’s like $8 shipping included. I’m at a loss why Other Guy didn’t tell me that option, but there you go. But I have new info from New Guy! The speed sensor needs to be really close to the orbiting magnet, like a credit-card’s width away, or it won’t register.I don’t know how it might have gotten moved, but I start to adjust it… and the mounting bracket crumbles in my hand. Oh.

Do I want to order a replacement now? Nope, that would be too easy, I’ll try adjusting it first, then if it doesn’t work, I’ll call back. A couple busy weekend days go by before I try to duct-tape the sensor in place, to no avail. On Monday or Tuesday, I call Schwinn back. The speed sensor is sent on its way, and will be here in 10 business days. Yesterday, it came in the mail, but I felt crappy, and didn’t get to it. I felt crappy again today, with a migraine, but I know this game. I reopened the shrouds, removed ye olde speede synsorre, and replaced it with the shiny (well, matte black) new one. Fitted the shrouds back on (they’re kind of a pain to get on and off around the pedals), and low and behold, the bike works again! Of course, by this time it’s dinnertime again, and then I gotta watch some TV, and …

Nope. Not again. Not my first rodeo, Body (or really, Brain, the sneakiest part of my body). Just before midnight, I forced myself back on the wagon (or back in the saddle, as it were).

Long story short, I just started exercising again tonight. Starting slow, only half the time (and calories burned) that I was doing at my average last year, but I’ll work my way up, just like I did last year, and I’ll be back on track.

Keep it to yourself, Universe. Nobody’s got time for your opinions.

Weather or Not

As I sit here in the unseasonably warm March of 2017, it’s clear to anyone who lived through the 1970s or earlier that weather in the US has dramatically changed. I certainly remember, when I was growing up in Mid-Missouri in the 1970s, that the snow drifts used to be much deeper. But maybe I was just romanticizing it, or sizing it based on my own childhood height? Nope, I went back and looked at the data:

Snows used to be deeper, Winter lasted longer, and plants are now blooming out of season. Was this climate change caused by humans? It doesn’t matter!

When hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, earthquakes, or other natural disasters happen, we don’t argue about the cause… we just act to minimize the damage and threat to human life. We have regulations about safe building standards for houses near hurricane zones, to protect lives and minimize damage. We spend money finding ways to make buildings and bridges more earthquake resistant. We build levees, dams, and other massive projects to prevent or decrease flood risks. We have insurance industries and government agencies to deal with weather damage. Heck, we have whole industries, including satellites, university programs, and daily news programs, to try to predict and inform people about weather patterns, even for normal weather.

When the Dust Bowl happened, we didn’t debate about whether it was happening; the government took steps to help the affected and to fix the problem, and America emerged stronger than ever.

The question is not, “Did humans cause climate change?”, but rather, “Can humans do something about the climate change that we know is happening?” Is carbon dioxide and methane buildup caused by humans, or a natural cycle? It doesn’t matter; we know it contributes to climate change, so regardless of whether humans caused it, we know that we can minimize the negative effects by reducing our own carbon dioxide and methane, and the good news is that this shifts our economy away from dying fuel sources and toward new industries, like solar, wind, wave, or other sources that will create new jobs (including new blue-collar jobs), and where there’s still room for entrepreneurs and self-starters who can innovate.

The problem is not public education about the details of climate change; people don’t need to know how their smartphones work for them to use them to do amazing and trivial things every day, or how roads are constructed to commute or take a road trip. The problem is not political; this isn’t a sports game where one side wins and the other loses if we take steps to curb climate change. The problem is that we are procrastinating, and the discussion is dithering around proving or disproving climate change in the court of public opinion. We live in a highly specialized society, in which we trust experts to make informed policies; let’s not waste their time defending the idea of whether smartphones are possible, or roads could or should be built, or whether climate change is happening, but what we need to do about it next.

It makes sense to me that humans have had at least some contribution to climate change, but there’s no need to point the finger or play the blame game, and there’s no need to give up and say that we can’t do anything about it, and there’s no need to look at changes as burdens we have to take on rather than opportunities we can capitalize on for improving our economy. Let’s stop talking about whether global climate change is real, and shift the discussion exclusively to what actions (personal, policy, and business-wise) we need to take to decrease the negative effects, like we do for any natural disaster.

(* Unseasonably warm in NC. In New England, they got a crazy blizzard. Don’t get smug. That’s not climate, that’s weather!)

Goodbye, Eulalia.

My wonderful mother, Eulalia Veronica Donehue Schepers, passed away in her sleep last night. She was 89 years old, in fairly good health, and still had her mind and sense of humor. She was the sweetest, most selfless person I have ever known.

She had 12 children, 8 girls and 4 boys, of which I was the youngest. She was strong and self-sufficient, never wanting to bother others with her needs, and she struggled hard all her life to provide for us growing up, at work and in the home, while my dad was on veterans’ disability.

She was the epitome of a patriotic Christian, who deeply loved her family, her faith, and her country, and who lived by those values with a humble, quiet dignity, shakeless in her devotion. She volunteered at the VA hospital 30 miles away every week, for decades, and was active in the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary. She was a Republican, because her dad had been a Republican, and to her that meant taking care of people who needed help; she was a believer in the social safety net, and in jobs programs, and in giving people another chance.

When I thought of a good Christian, I thought of her. She was my moral compass; though I didn’t share her religious belief, I tried hard to live up to the values she exemplified. Her faith never led her to judgment; she helped others whenever she could; she lived the Catholic credo that faith without acts is dead, which I’ve taken as one of my own core beliefs. She drew comfort from her religion, and that’s the best reason I can imagine for religion.

She was surrounded by an extended family of children, children-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who all loved her. She was easy to love, and her in-laws quickly found a new mother in her. We had to rent a hall whenever we got together, to fit the 50+ offspring who orbited around her.

Megan and I last saw her a month ago, at Christmas. Mom loved Christmas. It was the only time of the year all her kids were together. She rearranged her apartment to fit all the decorations. She had a tree, her beloved nativity scenes, her winter village, and every surface and wall was festooned with some old or new decoration that held a story for her. She got such joy, even childlike glee, over sitting with family in a darkened room lit only by the lights on the tree and her cherished village, which she would talk about in detail. She grew up in small towns in Mid-Missouri, and I think in her heart, she lived in that little village. The last photos I have of her are in front of that tree, and that village, her last village.

Eula, Doug, and Megan in front of Mom's Christmas Village, 2016

Eula, Doug, and Megan in front of Mom's Christmas tree, 2016

She was, in many ways, a simple woman. Not unintelligent, not incurious, but with pure, clear values, a gentleness with no malice, a trusting mind that took the world at face value. She was born in 1927, and lived though all the changes in our society, which she wondered at. In those 89 years, she’d known pain, and loss, and struggle, and joy, and love, and devotion, and she took it all in and radiated goodness and wisdom from it all. She had a simplicity of life I’ve never known, probably will never know.

She died once, for a few minutes, before the doctor’s brought her back, back in the 1960s, before I was born. She came back to life, then she gave me life. I hope I can live my life in a way that makes her sacrifices worth it.

All of us siblings grieve her loss, are united in our pain. Pat, Christie, Becky, Tim, Roberta, Tom, Cindy, Lisa, Jackie, Jennifer, Dan, and all your spouses and children and grandchildren, you made her life complete. She loved nothing more than family, and you gave her a good family to be proud of.

We had a little script, every time I’d call her:
“Hello, Eulalia.”
“This is your youngest son.”

She always played along with it, put up with our gentle teasing. We’d mock her about calling us by the wrong name: “Tom… Tim… Dan… Oh!” She’d shake her head, lips pressed tight in frustration, “Douglas!” (Hey, when you have 12 kids, it’s hard to keep them straight.) Or we’d rib her about how she used to say, in exasperation with us, “Well, I’ll swan.” Swan? Who says “swan”? What does that even mean? “Are you going to swan, Mom? Make sure not to swan!” It was only years later that I looked it up in a dictionary… it’s really a word, a variant on “swoon.” It was the closest thing my mom had to a curse word.  She didn’t mind the teasing. She had an impish, sly sense of humor herself. I’ll miss that, and so many other things about her, and I’ll carry it with me.

Eulalia, Mother, I love you, and I will deeply miss you, and I will think of you fondly always. Thank you for sharing your life with me.


On Leaving W3C

Today is my last day at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It’s been an amazing experience working there for the past almost-a-decade (9 years and 6 months). In the time-honored tradition of reflecting on your last job as you leave it, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts. It’s hard to know what to say… building Web standards has been so much of my identity, so central to how I approached the world, for so long, that it’s hard to unpack it all.

It’s pretty common for people leaving the W3C Team (as we call W3C staff) to take a negative attitude toward W3C. That’s fair; it’s a political atmosphere, and most of us pour ourselves into the importance of the mission, so we accumulate a strong emotional charge, and leaving releases that potential energy. There’s also the frustration of living in the bureaucracy (and sometimes inertia) that comes from painstaking stewardship, and wishing it could work better. But I’m making a conscious effort to focus also on the positive aspects of W3C… not just what it’s doing wrong, but how well it’s doing many things. And there’s a lot of good there, more good than bad.

For me, there’s also the regret of things left undone.

But it’s always left undone. It’s time to turn the page.

Continue reading “On Leaving W3C”

Topic of Cancer

I’m now officially a cancer survivor! Achievement unlocked!

A couple weeks ago, on July 27th, during a routine colonoscopy, they found a mass in my ascending colon which turned out to have some cancer cells.

I immediately went to UNC Hospital, a world-class local teaching hospital, and they did a CT scan on me. There are no signs that the cancer has spread. I was asymptomatic, so they caught it very early. The only reason I did the colonoscopy is that there’s a history of colon cancer in my family.

Yesterday, I had surgery to remove my ascending colon (an operation they call a “right colectomy”). They used a robot (named da Vinci!) operated by their chief GI oncology surgeon, and made 5 small incisions: 4 on the left side of my belly to cut out that part of the right colon; and a slightly larger one below my belly to remove the tissue (ruining my bikini line).

Everything went fine (I made sure in advance that this was a good robot and not a killer robot that might pull a gun on me), and I’m recovering well. I walked three times today so far, and even drank some clear liquids. I’ll probably be back on my feet and at home sometime this weekend. Visitors are welcome!

There are very few long-term negative effects from this surgery, if any.

They still don’t know for certain what stage the cancer was at, or if it’s spread to my lymph nodes; they’ll be doing a biopsy on my removed colon and lymph nodes to determine if I have to do chemotherapy. As of right now, they are optimistic that it has not spread, and even if it has, the chemo for this kind of cancer is typically pretty mild. If it hasn’t spread (or “metastasized”), then I’m already cured by having the tumor removed. In either case, I’m going to recover quickly.

My Dad had colon cancer, and came through fine. My eldest sister also had colon cancer over a decade ago, and it had even metastasized, and her chemo went fine… and cancer treatments have greatly improved in the past few years.

So, nobody should worry. I didn’t mention it widely, because I didn’t want to cause needless grief to anyone until after the operation was done. Cancer is such a scary word, and I don’t think this is going to be as serious as it might otherwise sound.

I’ll be seeing a geneticist in the coming weeks to determine exactly what signature of cancer I have, so I know what I’m dealing with. And I want to give more information to my family, because this runs in our genes, and if I’d gotten a colonoscopy a few years ago, they could have removed the polyp in the early stages and I’d have never developed cancer. (And because I’m otherwise healthy, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the colonoscopy if I hadn’t had insurance, which I probably wouldn’t have had if Obamacare didn’t mandate it. Thanks, Obama!)

Yay, science!

Future Plans

So, the cliché here is for me to say that this has opened my eyes to the ephemerality and immediacy of life, and that I’m planning to make major decisions in my life that prioritize what I truly value, based on my experience with cancer.

But the fact is, I’ve already been doing that recently, and while the cancer underscores this, I’ve already been making big plans for the future. I’ll post soon about some exciting new projects I’m trying to get underway, things that are far outside my comfort zone for which I’ll need to transform myself (you know, in a not-cancerous sort of way). I’ve already reduced my hours at W3C to 50%, and I’m looking at changing my role and remaining time there; I love the mission of W3C, which I see as a valuable kind of public service, so no matter what, I’ll probably stay involved there in some capacity for the foreseeable future. But I feel myself pulled toward building software and social systems, not just specifications. Stay tuned for more soon!

I’m optimistic and excited, not just about leaving behind this roadbump of cancer, but of new possibilities and new missions to change the world for the better in my own small ways.


Today (Friday, 26 August), I got the results of my biopsy from my oncologist, and I’m pleased to announce that I have no more colon cancer! The results were that the cancer was “well-differentiated, no activity in lymph nodes”, meaning that there was no metastasis, and I’m cured. This whole “adventure” emerged, played out, and concluded in just a month: I heard there was a tumor, was diagnosed with cancer, consulted an oncologist, had surgery, recovered, and got my cancer-free results all in 30 days. It felt much longer!

Bordering on Factual

Yesterday, a cool-looking map showed up on my Facebook feed, shared by a friend; it depicts the North American continent with the historical political boundaries of the native Americans. It listed clear boundaries for separate states of the First Nations: Anasazi, Apache Empire, Arawak, Aztec Empire, Beothuk Empire, Cherokee Soverignty, Cheyenne, Chickasaw, Chilcotin, Chinook, Chumash, Comanche, Cree Federation, Creek, Crow, Dogrib, Flathead, Great Sioux Nation, Haida Gwai, Hopi, Huron Supremacy, Inuit, Iroquois Confederacy, Mayan Empire, Mi’kmaq, Mohican, Navajo, Ojibwa, Olmec Kingdom, Pawnee, Pequot, Pomo, Powhatan, Salish, Shuswap, Slavey, Tlingit, and Ute.

Facebook post of Native American map

I’d never before seen such a clear depiction of the geopolitical boundaries of pre-Columbian America, and it was a stark reminder of how we, as a people, systematically invaded and destroyed a continent of cultured peoples. We wiped away their cultures, their languages, their history, and even the memory of them, leaving only scraps behind, and we protect our current borders of land they used to live on. The American Indian Wars ended in 1924, less than a hundred years ago, but it’s not even part of the American political dialog. And we’ve whitewashed our pogroms against Native Americans, in the same way we’re presently sugar-coating slavery in history courses.

The original person who posted the picture on Facebook also included this commentary,

America before colonization…. I’ve never seen this map in my entire 25 years of formal education. Not in one history book or one lesson. This is not a mistake… Representation matters!!! #NativeHistory #BeforeAmerica

Well said. And others agreed… the post has over 150,000 shares as I write this!

But something smelled wrong to me about the map itself.

Continue reading “Bordering on Factual”

Divide and Conquer

I have Libertarian friends who think Ron Paul has a chance at the GOP nomination… My intuition is that they are engaging in wishful thinking. My best guess is Romney will take it, but I’m hoping for Cain, for 2 reasons:

  1. It would be kind of awesome to have 2 black candidates for President of the United States; and
  2. I like the idea of Obama going up against McCain and then Cain… it would confuse future schoolchildren.

But should my guess prove correct, and Paul lose the Republican nomination, where would that leave him? He’s garnered quite a lot of support in some polls, and that might encourage him enough to consider splitting off again to run as an independent. After all, he is 76 years old, and may not have that many more chances to run (though he’s pretty spry), so he may as well throw it all in the ring for 2012. (Why independent and not Libertarian? He’s already got the Libertarian vote, and independent status might get him a few people who wouldn’t vote strict Libertarian… it’s a safer label.)

I would love this.

Continue reading “Divide and Conquer”

Speaking in the Third Person

This is just a simple essay on how I see the world, and how I came to that view, the first in a set of posts I’m labeling philosophy. There’s no real point to it, no political or technical agenda… just some reflection and thinking out loud. I’ve never formally studied philosophy, and I’m sure these thoughts are probably not particularly original, but I arrived at them organically through my own life, in what passes for wisdom. Megan, my wife, laughs at me whenever I start a sentence with “I have a theory…”; apparently, I have a lot of theories. I have an active imagination, and I’m very opinionated; I like to try to figure out how the world works.

The way the mind works fascinates me in particular, and my understandings and beliefs about it have changed and evolved significantly through my adult life. I’m recording these thoughts now for the entertainment of some future me.
Continue reading “Speaking in the Third Person”

Recharging Roadtrips

Last week, Megan and I went to the opening ceremony of the first electric vehicle charging station in North Carolina, on the corner of W. Hargett and Dawson in Raleigh.

Megan wrote up a short blog post about it, and we talked about what this might mean for the future of our national infrastructure.

We have a Prius, so if we got an electric car (I like the Nissan Leaf, and not just because they use SVG on their site), we would probably use the hybrid for longer trips, so we could refuel easily. But in 10 years, that might change. Since it takes around half an hour to fully charge modern electric cars using the class 3 charger (the heavy-duty one), and 4-6 hours using a class 2 charger, electric road-trippers will need something to do while they wait. Megan mentions this in her blog:

Would owners of this type of business be motivated to install charging stations as a way to attract customers and hold them captive while their car is charging?

I could see a whole new class of businesses that cater to waiting customers, that charge the charging, so to speak: movie theaters, theme parks, mini-zoos, gaming parlors (multiplayer videogames or casinos or both), strolling gardens… activities that emphasize a more leisurely pace of travel. The return of the roadside attraction!

Here’s to the retro-future!

No Glee for Atheists

The theme of last week’s episode of Glee was religion and atheism. To their credit, they approached it playfully and even a bit irreverently, with Billy Joel’s Only The Good Die Young and one character making wishes on a Grilled Cheesus like it’s a djinni bottle. They even revealed that two of the characters on the show were atheists, which is an unusual and maybe even brave move, even if only as a plot device.

So, kudos to Glee for even raising the topic of atheism. It’s a topic that most shows, especially ones that take themselves more seriously, avoid like the plague. They even raised the problem of theodicy: if there really is a loving, merciful, all-powerful God, why is there such profound misery and suffering in this vale of tears? Maybe the lightness of the show in general let them risk pushing some buttons in this apparently very religious country. The episode was timely, too, on the heels of Pew Research Center’s recent U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, where atheists came out on top in knowledge of religion, and the atheist characters in the show certainly had the most eloquent refutations of religious faith.

So… that’s what I liked about it.

(Warning, spoiler alert!)
Continue reading “No Glee for Atheists”