Tuesday, April 19, 2011


At 24, Tom (aka PhantomHalfling) should have died. Medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor, wracked his body leading to brain surgery and a long, grueling, recovery. But Tom fought the cancer and survived.

Tom went on to marry and to have two daughters, now aged eleven and fourteen. Tom is not only a super dad, but a great family man who enjoys life the way only someone who has come so close to death can. He is a loving father, a great uncle, and a great friend.

Twenty three years later, life has again kicked Tom squarely where it hurts. First, Tom's wife walked out on him the day after New Year's. After she unexpectedly filed for divorce, Tom lost his job - a victim of downsizing. When Tom thought things couldn't get any worse, Tom's cancer roared back with a vengeance. This time attacking not only in his brain, but also his spine- costing him the use of his legs.

But Tom wouldn't give up. He continued to fight. He fought the cancer and kept on being the best dad he can on the too short occasions he gets to see his kids. On Xbox, Tom has fought against nazis, zombies and nazi-zombies. He patrolled the radioactive wastelands of New Vegas and fought the denizens of the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But there was one thing Tom could not fight: thieves.

While Tom was hospitalized, recovering from surgery, some fine citizens decided to drop by for a visit. It's unknown if they came like thieves in the night or boldly during the day, but what is known is that they came up the wheelchair ramp to Tom's front door, kicked it in, and stole him blind. Not dissuaded by the sight of two wheelchairs in the home, they set upon Tom's meager belongings like locusts. Everything Tom could enjoy while confined to his bed or wheelchair was stolen. Tom's TV, his surround sound system, his blueray player, his laptop, his printer, the replacement Xbox he'd purchased just months before- all gone. Along with his games, music, and movies. Anything that Tom could enjoy as a paralyzed adult was taken from his home.

Maybe the thieves thought Tom was too old to play Xbox. Maybe they thought the entertainment center was for when he got to see his kids, every other weekend. I mean, why would someone who is so sick even want an Xbox? Wouldn't they rather sit around and contemplate the not-to-distant end of their life? And Tom's kids shouldn't be inside- they should be playing in the yard, instead of spending time with their paralyzed father.

Who could have done such a thing? Was it the two guys who had helped move a couch from the home a few days earlier? Or maybe the juvenile delinquents across the street?Or someone else from the neighborhood who knew Tom's predicament and his recent surgery? It doesn't really matter. Afterall, surely Tom has insurance that might cover this loss...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

It's All Fun and Games, 'til somebody lases an eye

Lasers. They're very cool. And very dangerous. And that's apparently something people need to be reminded of.
When I was a kid, lasers were the stuff of TV. I remember watching Professor John Robinson battling rubbery-costumed aliens outside the Jupiter 2, his laser gun blazing. I'd have given anything for a laser pistol of my own back then. Fast forward forty years, and lasers are fairly common. While there are some capable of igniting paper, most are strictly of the low-wattage, pointer-variety. I can't blast annoying varmints in the backyard with average laser. Yet. 
Today's lasers come in a variety of colors, some small enough to fit on your keychain. They are for use as pointers during presentations, to aim digital thermometers or tapeless measuring systems, as levels for home improvement work, and even for tormenting your pets. All of these lasers share one very important feature: a prominent warning message on the side, advising you NOT to point them at anyone's eyes. That you could risk blinding them.
I carry a laser with me all the time. It's built into my flashlight. I carry a flashlight on my belt because I often have to retrieve files from the dimly lit, baasement storage room at my day job. I didn't order this flashlight off the internet solely because it had a laser. I was just looking for a super-bright, LED, AA-battery powered flashlight. The laser was just an unexpected benefit.
Having desperately desired a laser as a child, I of course have to use my laser flashlight as much as possible. It's a sort of repressed childhood wish come true. My most common use of a laser at work is when I'm consulted as an advanced computer user.
"How do I change my wallpaper?" my co-workers will ask. "Where did my tool bar go?" they ask. "Why isn't my document printing?" they ask. How people who use computers daily lack these simple, basic skills is beyond me. But I step in and try to help. Before my laser light, I would have to lean over their shoulders and extended a hammy hand to their screen, pointing out exactly where they needed to click on their tool bar. I'm a teach-a-man-to-fish kind of guy, and I insist on people learning how to solve the problem in the future, rather than keep bugging me about it. Now that I am armed with laser technology, I can stand back, all Professor-like, and point at their screens from a safe distance.
On my most recent foray into teaching Windows Basics for Dummies, one of my co-workers was more interested in my laser flashlight than learning how to solve problems for herself. She asked if she could see my gadget. I handed it over after a brief explanation of how to alternate between LED light and laser emitter. I then turned back to the computer of another co-worker to solve the pressing computer problem.
And promptly got my eye lased.
You would think that a 60-something year old grandmother would know better than to shine a laser in someone's eye. But no, like a small kid incapable of reading the laser warning, she was oblivious to the danger of lasers. She thought it would be funny to shine the laser around at people.
Some online resources may tell you that brief exposure to a laser-pointer device cannot cause permanent eye injury. That it takes several seconds of continuous staring to do significant damage. But do you really want to gamble with your vision?
Just last year I learned that not only can lasers damage your vision, they can trigger migraines.
There I was illuminating various objects around the house with a laser for my children's amusement. It was an impromptu laser light show. The finale of the show was when Iilluminated a crystal one of the kids had picked up at a museum giftshop. Instead of just hitting it with the laser from afar, I set the crystal on the laser. I'd already shown the kids how the crystal could diffuse light from a flashlight. The crystal glowed brilliantly, but didn't produce a lightsaber or any cool multi-beam effect. But it did sparkle a little. I was hypnotized by the odd sparkling. I kept staring at it. For several moments. I then thought- should I really be staring at a laser?
About ten minutes after the light show, we all sat down to watch TV. I noticed a floater in my field of vision. It began to grow. Over the course of fifteen minutes, it went from the size of a quarter held at arm's length, to the size of a dinner plate. The floater was surrounded by a dazzling, rainbow-hued line, surrounding an out of focus blob in the middle. This was accompanied by an excruciating headache. Panic set it.
Some ibuprofen and a multi-hour nap later, my vision came back. I paid my doctor a visit and learned that the symptoms I described indicated I had a migraine but no lasting eye damage. Lesson learned.
If you own, or find yourself using a laser, please be responsible and heed the safety warnings- they are put there for a reason. Don't point them at your own, or other people's eyes!