Sickety-sick

For those following my Twitter stream who wondered what the heck was going on with me this week, here’s an update in way more than 140 characters, to fill in all the missing bits.

In San Francisco last Friday (a week ago), my throat felt a little bit sore. I attributed it to some late-night carousing on Thursday night/Friday morning, and thought nothing of it. I flew back to Georgia. Saturday and Sunday I noticed that the throat weirdness hadn’t gone away, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Monday morning my tonsils were hugely swollen. Couldn’t, unfortunately, see them, as there were no batteries in the flashlights we had. I phoned my brother and managed to croak out a request for fresh juice of the Vitamin C variety, and some apple cider vinegar so I could gargle my way to health, happiness and a normal speaking voice. I felt exhausted and my whole body hurt, so I took a sick day and went back to sleep. Brother turned up within an hour with my supplies. Was dismayed to discover that the vinnie, which in the past had ALWAYS cured laryngitis for me immediately when due to tonsil action, was not having an effect.* Further, I was having trouble swallowing the juice. Brother offered to take me to doctor, but I wanted to give rest, C and vinnie a chance, so I said if it wasn’t better by next day, I’d go. The rest of the day, I slept. No eating, minimal drinking (trying to get the juice down) during 5-minutes wakeup breaks.

Tuesday morning, it was hard to breathe. Talking was a lost cause, with forced breaths of air shaped into sounds the best I could do (and which caused tears). Swallowing had become an excruciating ordeal that involved whole body motion, stabbing sensations, and an odd sound emitting from my mouth immediately after each attempt. We went to the urgent care clinic. They looked me over and said, “Yep, those are big swollen tonsils with junk all over them.” Also, the pressure was causing my eardrums to pull further into my ear canals, causing ear pain. They did a strep swab, which came back negative. Doctor asked me if I’d been with anyone with mono. I said not as as far as I knew, but I traveled by plane a lot so I was exposed to lots of different things regularly. She said since it wasn’t strep, she was assuming it was a viral tonsillitis, and that since you can’t treat viruses with antibiotics there wasn’t much that could be done. They gave me a shot of steroids in my ass, which they said would help reduce the swelling in my throat, some hydrocodone pills, which they said would help with the pain and allow me to eat again, and some lidocaine viscous to gargle on the actual tonsils to numb them up (to also make it easier to drink and swallow). They said I needed to drink more fluids, and that the painkillers would make it possible. Big brother went off to fill the scrips and I went back to bed. When he came later with the medications, I took them. The lidocaine did nothing. The steroids shot (which hurt, btw) did not appear to have shrunken anything. I took the hydrocodone (which hurt to swallow, stupid pill) and went back to bed, still unable to swallow without contortions. Day 2 with no food or much drink.

Wednesday dawned marginally brighter. When my brother came in very early before he left for work to check on me, I had a modicum of a voice, and I realized the full-body aches were not so bad. Go hydrocodone! Went back to sleep. Awoke later to discover voice had been a tease. Swallowing still hurt, etc. Doctor had said to give it 24 hours, so I took yet another sick day to try and sleep through as much of it as I could. Was woken up by a text message from Mark Jaquith that afternoon/early evening prompting me to join #wordpress-dev. I figured he knew I was sick from Twitter, and that something must have gone seriously wrong with the 2.8 release, which was scheduled for that day. Turned out they were just discussing whether or not to add some last tickets and wanted my UI opinion. Answered a few questions, then logged out and went back to sleep. That night I woke up in scary pain, and couldn’t breathe right away. Decided to try icing my neck area to reduce swelling (I mean, move blood away from the area, right?). Went to kitchen in search of bag of peas or some such. Brother found me leaning against freezer door, barely standing. Set me down with frozen corn, went to drugstore for ice packs. Came back and had flashlight with batteries so we could check out my throat. Shined a light in there, and my brother, who served several tours in the middle east wars and went through those anti-torture trainings that basically involve being tortured (not to mention surviving our own childhood), actually yelped and looked scared. I looked in mirror and dropped the flashlight while I gave off a yelp of my own. My tonsils had swollen and merged into a wall across the back of my throat, obscuring the uvula, resting on top of tongue, huge, red, and covered in white cysts and infectiony-looking crap. He said we should go to the hospital. I said it was late and only interns were on that late, forget it, we’d go in the morning. I think this came out in a hoarse air-push, “No, interns, morning.” Flooded with some nervous energy I started doing additional salt-water gargling, which caused me to start coughing out some of the white globs from my throat, a seriously unsettling experience. Was so wired/nervous I even went online and answered a couple of emails. I think my brother may have checked on me a few times during the night to see if I was still breathing. End day 3 with no food or much liquid.

Thursday I got up, status quo, and wrote out on paper my symptom and treatment history, since talking was out of the question. Wanted brother to call the clinic and get their advice, but didn’t communicate very well and he went up there to ask them about it instead. He was back in 15 minutes and said, “We need to go to the ER.” I got dressed, off we went. When I got there, I was pretty much in tears, my nose had started running, and I’d started spitting into a cup to avoid swallowing because it hurt so much. I was a total mess, and hadn’t eaten for several days, so was weak to boot. He filled in my forms and the vitals person took me back and started asking me questions. I couldn’t talk, so I tried to gesture to my brother, who was holding my symptom summary. He brought it over, but the woman just kept asking me, which just made the tears worse, unfortunately. It was not a desired state to be in in public. He finally interrupted her, pointing out that I clearly couldn’t speak, it was all written down, and if she wasn’t going to read it, to ask him. After that, we went back to the waiting area until we were called. When called, the same thing happened re asking questions, etc., and there was a 16-year old volunteer hanging out in there. Eventually I was able to make myself understood that I didn’t want the volunteer in there, and the intake nurse had him leave. They brought me back to a room after a bit. No one had actually looked in my mouth yet, and we’d been there 40 minutes (only one other person waiting in ER). After being placed in a room, a male nurse came and started doing it again with the questions about symptoms, I tried to give him my sheet, but the same thing happened. Do people really not understand that when there’s a throat problem, speech is difficult, and writing can speed things along? Eventually he caught on, and recognized my brother, whom he used to fly with several years earlier. I hoped their rapport would get me better, faster care. The doctor finally came in and started on the symptom questions, but before I could even point to the sheet, he had a laryngoscope out and aimed at my throat, followed by him pulling back and exclaiming, “Whoa! That’s all I need to see!” before he started ordering me drugs and IV. I loved him immediately. First thing in was the general fluids IV so that I would be less of a zombie after my several days of fasting. Next up, he said they’d take blood samples, cultures, etc to check for mono, strep (sometimes the tests got it wrong, he said) and other common causes of such infections. Then he gave me what he called “the big guns” of steroids, which he promised would make my tonsils shrink, unlike the shot I’d gotten at the clinic. They did! enough that I could eke out a coarse whisper after a half-hour. He was also giving me the strongest antibiotics they had to clear up any infection. I said I thought antibiotics only worked on bacterial infections, not viral. He said, in a very Greg House way, “Well, we don’t know what it is yet, do we, so we’ll treat for what it could be, and one of them should be right. None of them will kill you, don’t worry. They’re strong, but not deadly. There’s no reason for this to go on longer than it already has, is there?” Have I mentioned that I loved him already? They also shot me up with some painkiller whose name I can’t remember, but it was only available in IV form, was strong and mixed with an anti-inflammatory. They left me to soak up the fluids and drugs while they waited for tests. My brother stayed with me, and we listened to music on my iPhone. They ruled out mono. They ruled out strep. The other cultures would take 2 days to come back, but they said it was enough to go on. Throat infection of unknown origin, treat aggressively until more information available. Discharged me with three prescriptions. 1. Lidocaine, the same stuff as before, for a gargle to numb things. I pointed out that I already had a bottle, which hadn’t done much. He said with general swelling and pain down, it would make more of a difference, and to give it a shot. 2. Antibiotics (strong) of the non-penicillin variety, since I’m allergic to that. 3. A big bottle of liquid hydrocodone. I pointed out that I had a bottle of pills at home from the clinic, and he said the liquid would work faster, better, and I wouldn’t have to swallow the pill. He said I should feel some relief within 6-8 hours and by the next day be able to eat and drink relatively comfortably. He said he wanted me to stay on bed rest and not work for another 3-4 days until we were sure we were killing off whatever it had been. Since the weekend was about to start, I didn’t protest, plus I figure if I use my laptop while sitting in bed, it’s not technically breaking a rule (guys at work have been very supportive, though, about letting me just rest up). If they get back anything from the cultures, they’ll tell me. If in 2 days I’m not significantly on the mend, I need to go back. We got home from the ER around 4pm. The IV had made me kind of alert and normal-feeling mentally, and though the throat stuff still hurt, their magic steroid really had started shrinking the tonsils. When I looked with the flashlight that night, they were half their former size (still twice normal size, but hey). I was able to take sips of water without crying for the first time in four days. And since my meds had to be taken with food, I made some vegetable broth, which sounds bland, but tasted *so* amazing after nothing all week. I took the meds. The liquid hydrocodone? Yes, stronger than the pills. I hopped online and had one of those conversations in IM you usually have when you are a little bit tipsy. You know, because I hadn’t talked to my boss in a while. :)

I am extremely grateful for all the well-wishes I received by Twitter, email and text messages while I was in rough shape. It’s really nice to know people have my back. And serious props to my brother, for basically giving up a week of his own job (Senior Industrial Engineer on some big military airplane project) to run around to stores for me, take me to doctors, constantly check on me, and sit with me through the emergency room stay. We’ve never actually been that close, despite my taking care of his kids when they were born in Japan and this past month since the divorce, so he really stepped up in a way that was wholly unexpected.

Anyway, I’ll be back on the clock soon, and jumping into planning for 2.9!

* Vinnie: In a rocks glass, pour about an inch of apple cider vinegar. No other vinegar will do. Fill the rest of the glass with hot water. Swirl. Gargle in mouthfuls and spit until the glass is empty. Repeat hourly until symptoms abate. I’ve never needed more than two.

Open Source Fantasy

I want John Lilly’s WordCamp SF presentation to marry WordPress and have cute little open source babies that are born knowing how to collaborate effectively, communicate and enable a combination of curated and distributed decisions, and bewitch users and contributing developers into never saying a snotty thing again because they are so happy with how pretty the babies are turning out to be.

NYC, Tenements and the Environment

My apartment in the east village is in a tenement building. It’s on the top floor (5th, walkup), and I’ve been an environmentalist since my teens, so I’ve often felt intense guilt about my place. The way the radiators work, heating the empty hallways to broiling but leaving lower floor apartments in the cold due to their old windows and the construction that lets all the heat rise to the 5th floor, means my apartment is generally in the high 70s in the winter, even with both of my radiators turned all the way off.

In contrast, for hot water to make it all the way up to me, the water has to run for a few minutes. Not a few seconds, like Adama testing the shower’s temperature during A Disquiet Follows My Soul (one of the best images of the whole series IMO in terms of making him seem like a regular person), but solidly running water for anywhere from 2-15 minutes. To get around the water guilt in this situation, I suggest taking showers at the gym, and saving the water at home for baths.

Every time I ran cold water for a shower, turned on a fan in December, or started sweating when I walked into the building hallway, I wished New York City would pass legislation that would encourage property owners to upgrade their heating and hot water systems, including things like insulation, windows, etc. I was hazy on how this could be accomplished, in our private-property-is-an-inalienable-right kind of society, but visions of tax breaks and subsidies danced in my head like a child’s Christmas sugarplum dreams. (I had no need to dream of sugarplums, since Veniero’s is right on the corner.)

I was pleased, then, to read that New York is finally maybe hopefully almost going to start taking this seriously.

“Elected leaders in New York City will propose a suite of laws and other initiatives on Wednesday aimed at reducing energy consumption and related emissions of greenhouse gases by requiring owners of thousands of older buildings to upgrade everything from boilers to light bulbs.”

While this particular attempt may not make it, it’s a step toward the city taking more responsibility for its environmental impact, which I appreciate. Read the full article here: City Plans to Make Older Buildings Refit to Save Energy – NYTimes.com.

*This post created with Press This.

Crossover Sensation

Fair warning: this post is long. If you’re not interested in education issues, go ahead and skip it. 

Jane = Name I go by as UX Designer for WordPress and related projects

Jenifer = Legal identity used in academic settings, interested in 1) the relation between pop culture and the acquisition of historical knowledge, and 2) ways of improving educational opportunities and programs using digital technologies to bridge the gaps between geographically/demographically disparate groups of students. 

The Jane nickname came about in 2001, and stuck. Jenifer is my legal name, is what I’m known by to family and friends who pre-date the 2001 nickname, as well as to my academic connections. These two identities had been very separate until recently, when the WordCamp Ed community began to develop and I started to get involved. Suddenly there were people who knew me as Jenifer wondering why my business cards said Jane, and people who knew me as Jane the WordPress girl wondering why WordCamp attendees were calling me Jenifer.  As I stood at a podium to talk about WordPress design, I also talked about the ways WordPress could be used to educational ends. 

The crossover between my two identities has gotten to the point that they aren’t separate anymore. While I lament this on one hand (it’s always nice to have a separate world you can step into for a change now and then), on the other hand it’s exponentially more interesting to be able to work with two amazing communities to try and accomplish things that benefit everyone. 

I’ve been talking for a while with people about the various education-oriented projects I’m interested in developing, but I’ve never posted about them, which has meant that I’m not really on the hook to do anything about them. This post is meant to be a kick in my own ass to get going with these ideas, find some co-conspirators and start trying to change the way we approach a few different slices of the educational pie. 

In no particular order, then, a few ideas:

1. Using technology to broaden educational horizons. My nieces are the product of a really crappy Georgia school district. I’ve listened to their stories about racist teachers (and lesson plans), curriculums that involve little to no reading, and the failure to instill skills like spelling under the reasoning that “you can always use spellcheck” (!!!)(Seriously!), and the worst part about it is that the kids don’t realize the subpar education they are receiving and many students are internalizing the bad attitudes of these subpar teachers. If only they were in schools with better curriculums, had more enlightened teachers, and were part of a more diverse student body!

So, what if…. students from around the country (and eventually the world?) were placed in online study/discussion groups that mixed up students from different geographic regions, socio-economic profiles, racial/ethnic groups, family makeups, etc.? Would a discussion about slavery or immigration take on a different tone? Would talking about civil rights have different results? What if instead of just reading (often biased and/or just plain inaccurate) textbooks, students engaged in group projects using online video, photos, documents, blogs, chats, and other forms of communication? Would a more immersive experience requiring personal investment of time and energy bring about a kind of learning that goes beyond memorization and regurgitation, requiring kids to develop critical thinking skills and an open mind?

I think so. I think a study to test this theory would be awesome. We’d need to pick a course topic to use for a pilot (I’m thinking a unit or two of U.S. History would be ideal), get enough teachers/classes to participate so we could have test and control groups including:

  • Traditional class, no interactive element 
  • Class using interactive assignments, but only working within own class group
  • Class using interactive assignments with students from different areas/profiles

For a pilot, would be nice to include 4-5 regions. Maybe students from a NYC magnet school, a rural south public school, somewhere in Idaho, some from East LA, etc. To get enough students to cover integrated test groups plus controls it would require a number of teachers and students, so it would take a fair amount of coordination. Would be ideal to run study through a university and if possible get a grant to cover costs and pay the teachers for participating, etc. 

2. Developing a generation of geek girls. Enough has been written on how girls (often right around middle school/junior high) are tracked away from math and science despite there being many girls with high aptitudes and interests in these areas. In addition, I think a lot about how the web industry really doesn’t require much formal education… it’s largely a meritocracy, and you can learn most of what you need for free online. Why, then, aren’t more low-income kids guided toward this area? They could have awesome careers and jump ahead socio-economically based on their own merits rather than being stuck in a dead-end job because college isn’t a financial option. 

Combining these two thoughts, I’d like to see a program designed to get girls, and especially girls from low-income situations, who might have an interest into fields like social media, computers, design or related jobs. Starting with middle school, there could be summer camp-style programs or online groups or some combination thereof that provided guided lessons and exposure to the kinds of opportunities available to people with these skills. 

One thing I’ve talked about with Matt in regard to this is the idea of bringing together some girls who fit this profile and teaching them how WordPress works, maybe doing workshops for them that gets them working together to create a plugin or design and build a good web site, bringing them to San Francisco or New York and doing tours at some of the cool offices/campuses where people in our industry work. A visit to the Google campus? Might be kind of inspiring to someone whose parents work 3-4 jobs between them to support the family. Getting to meet web luminaries for lunch and hearing how they spend their workdays, same thing. 

So that would be cool. There are a number of programs out there that do girls in tech camps, etc., but I haven’t seen anything that starts with social media or focuses specifically on the demographic I’m interested in supporting. 

3. Open Source online educational software that is awesome instead of aggravating. Blackboard sucks. Angel sucks. Moodle is a good project, but is a little clunky. The Courseware plugin for WordPress is a good first step toward building an educational system on top of WordPress. Scriblio is also fantastic. We need a set of plugins that address the need for testing/grade reporting according to AICC/Scorm standards that many educational institutions still require, multimedia collaboration and non-sucky ways of discussing content. I’d volunteer to do the UX/interface stuff on this if any badass developers wanted to step up to build the thing. Anyone?

4. This one isn’t WordPress related, but it’s been pinging around in my head for a few years. I’m interested in how people learn about history from non-academic sources. Films, novels, songs… more people learn about history from these sources than they do from textbooks or non-fiction publications. That wouldn’t be bad, except that most of the time these sources are heinously inaccurate, and media consumers don’t know/don’t care. I think a study the looked at where information came from, how it affected attitudes/historical knowledge/perceptions of how knowledgeable one is would be really interesting. 

Okay, so now all that stuff is off my chest. I’m going to try and attend the Edupunk panel at SxSW this week and see what they have to say. If you’re in town, you should come too. 

(And if you are interested in maybe working on any of these projects, let me know!)

Back to Work

Mexico was lovely, exactly the system reset I needed. Am thinking I should maybe just go live somewhere that I can go snorkeling on a regular basis. Anyway, now that I’m back on the clock, here’s what I’m working on/planning to work on (not in any particular order):

WordPress 2.8. PollDaddy redesign. Intense Debate design stuff. WordCamp stuff. Community volunteer stuff. Google Summer of Code stuff. WordPress.tv stuff. WordPress.com store/domains process. Ideas forum. Start thinking ahead to 2.9. Will be posting the volunteer stuff on the dev blog over the coming week (based on WordCamp Denver presentation).

I’m in Austin already, and will be here for SxSW through the 18th or maybe a little later. I was going to say come and say hi at the WordPress BBQ Meetup on Sunday the 15th, but I see from the signup page that it’s sold out. If you’re already signed up, say hi to me there. If you didn’t sign up soon enough, but will be in Austin, I’ll be wandering around. Feel free to introduce yourself.

I’ll be going back and forth between interactive and film stuff, so anyone who wants to see a movie but doesn’t want to wait in line alone should email me. My usual line-waiting companion is out of commission this year with a new baby, so I need some new film-pass friends to pass the time in long film festival lines at Alamo and the Paramount. It’s a perfect opportunity to have my undivided attention as you tell me all your brilliant ideas/requests for the upcoming WordPress media management overhaul.  :)

Briefly…

Missed Miami due to flight mixup. Denver WordCamp was great, got lots of good ideas. Am leaving for Mexico for a week, and will be staying in a place with no electricity, so if you email me, I probably won’t get it until I’m back the week of March 9th.

Upcoming WordCamps: Miami and Denver

I’ll be at the Miami WordCamp (part of BarCamp) this Sunday, 2/22, along with fellow Automattician Doug Hanna. Are you going? If so, find me and say hi! Even better, find me and give me a 30-second tour of how you use WordPress on your site and let me videotape it. And as always, find me and tell me the things you love and hate about WordPress, feature-wise, so we can bear it in mind for future planning.

Right after I get back from Miami, I’ll be heading to Denver for the WordCamp there. It’s almost sold out, and it’s being held at the Denver Art Museum (of which I was a member in 2000), which should be a great venue. It’s right across the way from the Denver Public Library, which is also an old favorite. They were one of the first public libraries I used that had self-checkout machines. I may still owe them some overdue fines. I should look into that when I’m there.

The Denver event is on 2/28, and will have speakers like Matt Mullenweg, Alex King and a bunch of other impressive people. If you’re in the area, you should go! And the stuff about finding me and saying hello in Miami applies to Denver as well. I’ll be in Denver from the 26th until the 2nd to do some work with the guys at Intense Debate, after which I’m heading to Mexico for a week’s vacation.

Rest of Trip Recap

Internet access was spotty for the rest of my trip, but basically….

  • Dorrigo was amazing, though the windy mountain road was kind of scary.
  • Next I went to Byron Bay, very pretty. Stayed at a hippie hostel called Arts Factory, made me realize I am too old to relive my youth.
  • Didn’t get around to snorkeling, because I smacked my head and wound up recovering for a week in a regular hotel room in Ballina, 20 miles away (hotels were full in Byron). Slept through the official launch of 2.7.
  • Stopped in Port Macquarie on the way back to Sydney.
  • Flew out, got in to SF, stayed for two nights, did some work, flew back to upstate NY.

Summary: Wallabies are cute, beaches are relaxing, summer is warm, NY is cold.

To make up for the lack of snorkeling, I’m going to Mexico with a friend in March.

Bellingen, NSW

Today I’m writing from a cafe called the Bookafe, which is pretty much just what it sounds like. A far cry from a Borders or Barnes & Noble cafe, this is a small place with some shelves filled with used books along the walls, some tables, some well-loved couches, a horde of plants, a buddha and a vegetarian kitchen with a juicer in the back. The tip jar proclaims that any $ collected will be donated to Amnesty International. I’m sipping a “Tango,” which is pineapple juice, coconut milk and mint. Kind of a healthy pina colada, but made with real ingredients instead of canned coconut milk or mixer. Waiting for a felafel salad to come out, but very happy to be sitting here among the used books. 

Where is here? Bellingen, NSW, Australia. Small (about 2000 residents) hippie town in the rainforest that is making me superhappy. Staying at the backpacker’s hostel, which is giving me happy flashbacks to my years working in hiking lodges and huts in the mountains. There’s an Israeli dance band staying there too, Funk’n’stein, that’s playing in town tonight. They are part of the reason I’m at the cafe now…I was on the porch, online, skyping and IRCing with the Automattic gang, when a ping pong game got a little more exuberant than was safe for me, where I was sitting. I decided it was time for a field trip, starting with lunch. 

From my bedroom last night I looked out over a pasture and woods leading down to the river, with mountains in the background. This morning I was enthralled watching flocks of birds flying in alternate directions through the trees. Also? Cows in the pasture. At the hostel itself, a friendly cat makes me miss Ribbit and Lucy, and there are two chickens. One is black and feathered, the other is yellow and fuzzy. They wander around, sometimes walking over your feet if you happen to be in their way (for example, hanging laundry). A bumper sticker on their little coop says Hippie Chicks Rule. Cue additional flashback. The people at the hostel  compost, recycle, and have naked pictures of happy visitors swimming in the river all over the walls. People hang out on the porch or by the river or play guitar. It’s peaceful. Makes me want to go back to Vermont, the Adirondacks, the White Mountains or Western Washington. There are bugs, though, and I’m sporting bites up and down my legs. 

When I was driving up here from Newcastle, I noticed that there is a big promotional campaign for road safety. Signs all over the place tell drivers to take a rest every 2 hours of driving. “Stop. Revive. Survive.” Another series of billboards features Jennifer Love Hewitt (or a dead ringer) crooking a little finger. “Speeding. No one thinks big of you.” The implication that if you’re speeding you have a small penis cracks me up every time I pass it (generally not going too much over the speed limit). 

When I got to town yesterday I stopped at what I thought was an internet cafe. It turned out that one door was for a cafe, while the other was a business that just sold internet access by the hour (leading me to tell my co-workers I was at the internet store). Internet here is pricier than in the U.S., and for residential accounts there are bandwidth caps that would hobble many of my friends in the U.S.

Anyway, have largely finished my lunch now, so am going to head out to see Dorrigo, a little further into the rainforest. Internet is very slow up here, which is why no pictures are posted yet, but as soon as I get on a reasonable connection, I’ll rectify the situation.