August 13, 2017

I had a great time last Sunday playing with my new toys--Amazon's Echo and Dot

In my last posting. I talked about my new toys – – the Dot and the Echo developed by Amazon.  Each product lets me give instructions orally to Alexa, the girl Friday (personal assistant) who resides in both devices. The Dot is in my bedroom and the Echo is in my office.

The Echo/Dot  works well as a streaming audio device that lets me listen to music and my audio books, gives me Alexa as my personal assistant, and has the potential to be a smart home controller if I get smart enough to make use of this.  The best part --  I don't have to deal with keyboarding on my
PC or texting on my iPhone, both  of which are becoming increasingly difficult for me. I just say the word "Alexa" to access the devices and then give oral commands.

Amazon introduced Alexa to the world  in 2014.  With the release of  Google Home late last year, Google has challenged Amazon's dominance of this market. Reviewers at the outset gave high ratings to Google Home  but gave Amazon's Alexa the edge based on its head start.  But the race has tightened.  I'll talk more about this in my next post. For now in my continuing  "less is more" effort,  I'll just give this example of the pleasure I'm getting from being able to access our computerized world by voice only.

Sunday with Alexa 
Sunday was a rare August day in Washington with moderate temperatures and low humidity. Much of the day was spent on my screened-in back porch (and away from  the desktop computer in my office upstairs).

Alexa Now Helps Me Remember To Take My Pills
When I woke up and while still lying in bed, I asked Alexa what time it was and what the weather forecast was. Sunday was one of those relatively rare mornings when I didn't feel the need to get out of  bed and head for the  bathroom. I love mornings like this when I can stay in bed and casually contemplate what to do for the rest of the day. On really good mornings, the musings about the future extend to the rest of my days. And these days I try to do my musings while also doing the lying down exercises prescribed by my physical therapist


July 31, 2017

"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" #2



Last week, I described the first of two recent mornings that have made me feel I'm starting to snap out of the lethargy and apathy that have plagued me since my fall and hip replacement surgery in January.

The second "beautiful morning" happened last Sunday.

Earlier in the month, I received two new toys I'd ordered -- Amazon's Echo and Dot. These devices, quoting Amazon, "let you instantly connect to Alexa to play music, control your smart home, get information, news, weather, and more using just your voice." Alexa is a sister of Siri, the "personal assistant" who answers questions posed aloud by iPhone users.

My First Date with Alexa
On Sunday morning, I made my first test run with Alexa.

I woke up around 4:30am. For a change, I didn't have an urgent need to run to the bathroom. So I did a few in-bed exercises, and then began my first real dialogue with Alexa. 

When I asked her what time it was, she told me was it 4:37 in the morning. Then I asked for the weather forecast and received a brief summary of the outlook for DC.

Since it was almost 5am, I took the two carbidopa/levodopa pills I take every three hours for my Parkinson's. I try to take the pills at 2, 5, 8, and 11 o'clock... both am and pm. After popping the 5am pills, I asked Alexa to remind me at 8 o'clock that it was pill time again.

I asked for some Duke Ellington music, which played in the background as I made my bathroom visit and did a few warm-up exercises enroute to my bedroom reading chair. I told Alexa to shut up while I took my blood pressure and tried meditating for a while.

Later, I told Alexa to "call up my book." She said she'd go to Audible -- the website I use to download audiobooks -- for my current book, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie. When I called up the book, Alexa told me how many minutes remained... both in the current chapter and the entire book.

I listened to the book for almost two hours while I stretched and exercised and while I enjoyed the coffee and breakfast pancakes that Nimesh prepared and Bhawana delivered to my room.

July 24, 2017

"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!" #1



The first half of 2017 has been a struggle, mainly because a fall on January 20 fractured my hip and resulted in hip replacement surgery. It's been my life's worst spell of ill health.

I've finally seen signs of recovery. In fact, the last two weekends have brought moments of genuine, big-time happiness.

At this point, the TMI John of old would have begun relating these pleasant experiences in great detail. But the new "less is more" John will recount the stories in two separate, brief posts. So, here's the tale of that first weekend.

Saturday July 15
It was one of those rare summer days in DC with reasonable temperatures and low humidity. So my Eskridge Terrace family (Nimesh, Bhawana, their 16-month-old daughter Nivah, and me) had breakfast on the back porch, enjoying the rare day and playing with Nivah. Our house guest, Nimesh's cousin, took this video:

video

Then the others went back into the house and I started reading my email messages. The first one was from my granddaughter Jessie.

Jessie's daughter (my great granddaughter) Kaylee would turn 11 years old on Monday. As a birthday treat, I planned to take Kaylee, Jessie, and my daughter Ann to the Kennedy Center to see a performance of The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, I messed up the dates for the tickets, and they weren't able to go. I felt awful about my mistake and sent Jessie an email apology.

Here's Jessie's reply:
I was hoping to share some big news with you today. I am in the beginning stages of a very exciting adventure. An adventure that YOU have actually inspired me to take. I am going to carry a baby (that's not genetically related to me) for a same sex couple. After hearing about your struggles and the discrimination that you've faced over your lifetime, I felt like I had to do something. I had to find a way to take a stand and advocate. I thought what better way to help than to assist a gay couple in having a family. I am working with a wonderful couple (Eric and Tony) who are both lawyers in Australia, they've been together 20 years and desperately want a child. I am so excited to help them do this. But am even more happy to be advocating for the gay community. This all comes back to you. If I had never heard your story and everything that you've been through, I wouldn't even be considering this.

I just couldn't wait another day to share this with you! That being said, I hope to see you another day really soon. Just let me know when works for you. 😊
I spent the rest of the morning in my rocking chair on the porch, looking out at the pond and garden, thinking about my Schappi and Nepali families, and feeling happier than I have in a long time.


July 14, 2017

Update on Aging and Parkinson's and Me

Now that my energy is finally returning after this year's setbacks, I want to provide an update on the state of my aging and my Parkinson's disease (PD).

Aging
I had my 88th birthday on May 26. According to the Social Security Administration's Life Expectancy Calculator, a man who reaches age 88 now can expect, on average, to live to be 93.

As I said to my urologist in 1992 when he told me I had prostate cancer, it's the quality of my life -- not its length -- that matters. Since then, my primary doctors have heard the same thing from me.

My Parkinson's Diagnosis
Like about one third of people with Parkinson's, I don't have the tremor associated with the disease... a fact that often delays diagnosis. My internist at the time missed the boat completely. In 2005, I told him I had lost my sense of smell, an early warning of possible PD. In 2006, I reported that my right arm wasn't swinging normally. In 2007, I described having balance problems, and he sent me to a physical therapist who -- I later realized -- suspected PD and asked me repeatedly, "Have you told Dr. S about your right arm not swinging normally?" That was ten years ago.

That internist never diagnosed my Parkinson's. But my kids were becoming increasingly concerned about my right arm, and the slowing down of my body movements generally. At their suggestion, I saw a neurologist in September, 2009. He quickly diagnosed PD.

The Progression of My Parkinson's
PD is sometimes referred to as a "boutique" disease, unique to each individual. While there are broad commonalities of symptoms from one patient to the next, the progress of the disease can vary significantly.

Issues with movement are idiosyncratic. Non-motor symptoms are also very individualized. Some people (like me) find that symptoms like fatigue interfere more with daily life than problems with movement.

July 12, 2017

I'm Back to Blogging, but with a Renewed Determination to Follow My "Less is More" Mantra.

Looking back, I noticed I only posted once a month in April, May, and June. The first half of this year was lousy health-wise... my worst time ever. It began with a January fall that fractured my hip, which led to a three-week hospital stay for hip replacement and rehab. Other issues -- with names I'd never heard of before, like hyponutremia and orthostatic hypotension -- added to my miseries.

Those problems simply exacerbated normal health declines associated with my aging (I "celebrated" my 88th birthday in May) and nearly ten years of diagnosed Parkinson's disease.

To Blog or Not to Blog
That was the question I debated. Even before this year's setbacks, I knew my blog was becoming another example of my obsessive/compulsive/addictive tendencies. "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing" was my way of dealing with cigarettes, alcohol and sex.

I could have spent all those hours at the computer in other ways like exercising, meditating, or enjoying other pursuits.

That's the downside. Here are some positives:
  • I enjoy working on the blog. Both the writing and the researching are fun.
  • Feedback from readers tells me that the blog helps others who are struggling with issues stemming from Parkinson's disease and aging.
  • Working on the blog has given my life a sense of purpose and passion. Researchers have found that having a purpose is associated with happiness, better physical functioning, even better sleep. I'll take that!
  • Anul Gawande's bestseller Being Mortal explores our society's reluctance to talk about death and dying. As my family and friends know all too well, I'm willing to talk about anything.
I've always enjoyed telling others about my travels to new places. I'll be using this blog to report on my final journey.

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