Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Origami From Long Ago

Long, long ago, I used to do origami.

It was a hobby - and at times an obsession - that I enjoyed greatly.

It started out innocently enough. Someone showed me how to do an origami crane.

Sometime later I picked up a book on origami animals. Soon I was creating koalas, penguins, and countless other animals.

One thing that I enjoyed about origami was seeing a plain (or not so plain) piece of paper gradually transform into something it wasn't. How does a koala hide in plain sight in a sheet of paper?

Eventually stumbled onto a book about unit origami. I was quickly hooked (and my origami paper expenses skyrocketed).

While I found 'regular' origami to be a soothing exercise, unit origami was simultaneously stimulating and meditative.

I would sit for hours at a time hunched over a table folding one unit after another after another until I had enough to assemble into a larger creation.

I don't recall how large my largest unit origami piece was. My recollection is that it was just shy of one hundred pieces. The larger pieces took a surprising amount of care to assemble and - not surprisingly - a lot of patience.

I created some ambitious unit origami structures in my day, but I freely admit that even my most ambitious creations paled in comparison to the creations of the true origami artists.

This hobby of mine lasted for a few years, and it played a key role early on in my career as a technical support engineer.

No one calls Support to say "Hi! How are you doing? I just wanted to call to say your product is awesome. Have a nice day!"

Nope, they call because something is broken, they want it fixed, and if they get to take their frustration out on you... BONUS!

To keep my cool, I used to sit at my desk, headphones on my head (as opposed to???), listen to each customer's tale of woe, and unbeknownst to the customer, I'd fold origami cranes. Lots of cranes. Hundreds of cranes. My desktop was piled high with cranes after a while.

This wasn't anything in the thousand cranes category, but the pile was impressive nonetheless.

If you would like to see more of my origami photos, have a look.

Coincidentally, when I stumbled onto these origami photos, I also stumbled onto this photo of me from - yikes - '89 or so.

It was taken by a friend of mine, Dan, who was an aspiring photographer.

The thing that struck me about the photo (aside from those dashing good looks) was how he captured me in focus but threw the background out of focus.

I was just starting to get into photography at the time and I didn't know how he'd achieved the effect. He kindly shared how he did it, and I added that knowledge to my bag of tricks.

Dan was great at taking portraits - a skill that I haven't mastered (whatsoever) in the intervening twenty - double yikes - plus years.

But looking at the origami photos side by side with the portrait Dan took of me, I remembered how I'd consciously employed Dan's technique to throw the background of my origami photos out of focus. And I remember how pleased I was to have been able to create more interesting photos of my origami than I'd have achieved without his assistance. I lost track of Dan long ago, but wherever you are, thanks.

I don't think I did much more with origami after I took these photos. Other hobbies - photography and travelling in particular - took over. You can see some of the results of those decades long hobbies online.

Now if only I could find the time to put together the embarrassingly large collection of photos that I've taken of trips - photos that I'd love to share.

One day...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nursing Our Wounds

Short version
Thank you, nurses, for your tireless and too often thankless efforts.

Long version
It was strange watching the ebola situation unfold here in the U.S. last week. I was on a business trip, and as I flew to Texas and then to Ohio, I couldn't help but notice that my itinerary was coincidentally following the same path that I heard described on the news.

As troubling as it was to discover I was following the ebola virus, there was something far more troubling that I was hearing on the news.

It started with something that Thomas Frieden, the CDC chief, said in about the virus being transmitted to Nancy Pham, one of the nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan.

"At some point there was a breach in protocol," Frieden said. "That breach in protocol resulted in this infection."

The problem that I have with that statement is that it seems to place the fault squarely on the shoulders of Nancy Pham (and subsequently Amber Vinson).

The statement didn’t seem to allow for the possibility that the hospital might have failed to adequately trained or equipped the nurses. The statement didn’t seem to allow for the possibility that the CDC’s protocols might have been inadequate.

Nope, the problem here was a breach in protocol.

Another troubling development was the video of the interaction between Nancy Pham and Dr. Gary Weinstein, her physician, as she was being prepared to be transported to Maryland for further treatment.

“There’s no crying,” Dr. Weinstein informs Nancy.

I’m a believer in the benefits of positive thinking. I’m aware of the beneficial effects of positive thinking on patients and their recovery. I get that.

He goes on to clarify, “Well happy tears are okay. “Otherwise no tears. No crying. It’s not allowed.”

Let me see if I get this straight. If I’m in Nancy’s position, crying is okay if it’s tears of joy, but there is no other circumstance that would permit crying?

How about I’m laying here in a hospital bed infected with a virus that has a 50% mortality rate, a virus that potentially leads to a horrific death, my employer has possibly failed to train and/or equip me to avoid infection, and the CDC chief is blaming my predicament on me? Would that situation permit crying?

Perhaps Dr. Weinstein was suffering from a momentary case of sub-optimal bedside manner. I’ll cut him some slack seeing as how the situation he was in was awkward at best.

But I will say this. Nurses are on the front line protecting you and me day after day. In addition to being undervalued as our health industry goes through round after round of cost cutting measures, we fail to even grant them the respect that they deserve. Since long before you or I were born, they have risked their lives treating patients with infectious diseases (e.g. meningitis). Now they risk exposure to ebola.

I know that I’m just one small voice and that I’m unlikely to be heard amongst the ‘noise’ on the Internet. But let me say thank you to the nurses of the world, especially those working in Emergency Departments who are consequently more likely to face these types of risks in their efforts to heal the afflicted. Their efforts not only aid the afflicted, they play a key role in helping the rest of us being infected by these same diseases.

You deserve far more respect than you typically receive.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mimmi Penguin

I awoke around 4:00 a.m. (SGT) this morning - still adjusting to the time zone difference. I feel fairly rested, so I'm just rolling with it.

At first I lay in be enjoying the view out the window. I'm on the thirtieth floor and have a spectacular view. Looming large in the foreground is the Pan Pacific with its rooftop restaurant that reminds me of the same atop the Hyatt in San Francisco. Beyond that I can see Singapore Bay and the skyscrapers downtown. To the west I see City Hall, the chopsticks, and the preparations being made for the upcoming Formula 1. And to the east where I will see the sunrise shortly I can see the Singapore Flyer flashing and the futuristic looking Flower Dome and Cloud Forest enclosures at Gardens by the Bay. This view provides a wonderful way to wake up each morning.

After enjoying the view for a while, I hopped on the laptop to distract myself from my growing hunger. There I found a pleasant surprise. I'll tell you about that shortly, but first an unsolicited tangent.

On the web (and in life in general) there is a gender disparity that shows up in many ways. One way that I personally see it on a continual basis is in the classroom. My students are overwhelmingly males.

But there is at least one place that I know of that is skewed heavily in the other direction: Pinterest.

If you've never been to Pinterest, let me let Wikipedia define it for you.

When I first heard of Pinterest, it sounded like it could provide an interesting way to keep track of the various things I stumble upon while "surfing the web" (do we still use that mixed metaphor)? I envisioned it as a newfangled form of bookmarks.

What I quickly discovered (and which you can discover by just going to their homepage) is that the site is dominated by women.

While I'm not a member of the demographic that Pinterest primarily attracts, I have occasionally used it to track things I'm interested in such as photography and travel. I don't do anything particularly serious on Pinterest. My activities on Pinterest are just a small part of the trail that I leave on the Internet.

So what's this Pinterest tangent about?

I received a notification this morning that someone I have never met "re-pinned" a pin that I pinned some time ago on my travel board. Her name on Pinterest is "Mimmi Penguin". As I said, I've never met her, but I think I can venture a guess at one of her interests just from her chosen name.

This woman is a big fan of Penguins. I'm talking about an interest that goes far beyond simply picking an identity that includes "Penguin" in the name. Her Pinterest account is amazing. It has pins to all things penguin-related.

She is seriously into penguins. How seriously? Let the following statistics tell that story:

She has 400+ boards related to penguins. To provide some contrast, I have a whopping five boards.

She has 120,000+ pins. I, far from being a power Pinterest user, have a massive thirty five pins.

She has 20,000+ followers. I'm right behind her with three.

She is the pinnacle of penguin pinners. Her dedication to all-things-penguin is nothing short of amazing.

Somehow she stumbled upon a penguin photo that I took on the Antarctica expedition. It's the photo of "Chinny", the chinstrap penguin. You can see Chinny in the top center of this screenshot from one of her penguin-related boards on Pinterest.

I've always loved that photo of Chinny. Chinny is the first thing I see whenever I power on my iPad. Getting the photo of him meant lying down in a mess of penguin poop, but I have always thought the photo was worth that sacrifice.

The most amazing thing about being anointed by Mimmi Penguin is which board Chinny landed on. Out of her 400+ boards, Chinny landed on a board entitled My Favorite Penguins.

While I know that Chinny is far from a viral sensation, I am pleased that Mimmi Penguin's re-pin will expose 20,000ish people to cute, lovable Chinny.

If you don't mind me going all "meta" for a few moments, there's more to this episode - for me anyway.

When I post videos online for work at vmwarelearning.com, I (or more accurately my videos) get hundreds of thousands of hits from around the world. I try to avoid letting that go to my head because I know that it's the info in those videos that people are seeking, not me. When I post on my work-stuff blog (www.vvork.info), I get some hits, but far far far fewer.

When I write on my personal blog (brianwatrous.blogspot.com), I have always used the blog as a place to write about stuff that interests me. I held off from blogging for years because it seemed that many people use blogs for egocentric purposes. Blogs always seemed so narcissistic to me.

But I eventually started my personal blog because 1) I like to write, and 2) I was curious to see what attention it would draw if I did nothing to promote it. I'm fascinated by search engines and how someone on the other side of the planet can stumble upon something that I've written.

My personal blog still draws little in the way of hits, and I'm okay with that. I like the more intimate connection that the smaller number of hits enable me to make with others. Sometimes it's old friends from my distant past that find my blog. Other times it's Argentinians who take issue with me calling the Falkland Islands the Falkland Islands instead of Islas Malvinas. Either way, it's fun to write and then kick back and see what happens.

My stomach is grumbling continuously now. It has patiently awaited the opening of the hotel restaurant quite long enough. So it's time to skedaddle.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Back in Bangkok

It has been almost two decades since I first came to Thailand. Much of that first trip is a blur... It's partially lost in the fading memory of time, partially lost to the fact that I was sick when I was here, and partially lost amongst the memories of the many other places I travelled on that trip.

But I'm back and enjoying getting to see Bangkok again. We have spent the last two days being led around by our friend Vera and her niece Poom.

Alicia and she have been talking about us meeting in Bangkok for years. Now it's finally happening.

We spent yesterday north of Bangkok in Ayutthaya. We visited Wat Chai Watthanaram followed by Wat Mahathat.

After the temples, we headed over to Wangchang Lae Phanait to see, ride, and feed the elephants.

Plenty of photos from the day, but no time to post them for now. Going to explore Bangkok a bit this morning, and then we'll head over to the Grand Palace.