Pain in the Neck Update

I’m on my fourth day of drugs for the pinched nerve in my neck. The drug in question, in case you’re wondering, is methylprednisolone. My doctor told me (to paraphrase) that the intent is to reduce any inflammation around the point where the nerve is impinged so that it will hopefully get back to its proper place.

He didn’t really give me a timeline for when I could hope to start feeling better. The 6-day drug plan starts with 6 pills on the first day, and then 1 fewer pill each day until I take 1 pill on the sixth and final day. He also told me that the pills could make me grouchy and might also interfere with my sleep. Plus, they could upset my stomach, so I shouldn’t take other drugs that could upset my stomach (such as ibuprofen) while I’m taking them.

The drugs haven’t done squat to my sleep. If anything, I’ve been sleepier than usual and have been fully sacked out at night as much as I ever am. My tummy does sometimes feel a tad queasy, but only a little bit. And as for being grouchy, well, maybe that’s because I’m in pain from this frickin’ pinched nerve in my neck!

Am I getting better? It’s hard to tell. Once I learned that tilting my head back would pinch the nerve and I could feel it down my arm, I tried not to do that so much. This means I’m not often leaning back or looking up. Is that good? Well, my arm has generally felt much better than it did on Friday, probably as a result of that. But is working around an injury really the best way to deal with the injury? I’ve had a mild pain in the back of my neck for a few days, and I suspect it’s because I’ve been restricting the motion of my head, and this stressing muscles that are now getting used a lot more than they usually are. A cascade injury, as the sports injury analysts like to call them.

(It’s amazing what I’ve learned about injuries as a result of following baseball closely. A cow-orker of mine recently tore his MCL, and I was able to explain to him in some detail what that meant.)

I also can hear a mild clicking in my neck when I turn my head from left to right. I suspect this is related to the injury – it might even be bone-on-bone grinding at the point where the ‘jelly’ between the vertebra has been displaced, and thus where the nerve is impinged. But I’m not really sure. It sounds higher on my spine than where the nerve is supposedly impinged, but my hearing isn’t precise enough to tell. I’ll certainly mention it to the doctor when next I see him.

Two things I try to keep in mind are the unreliability of my observations, and the fact that I’m not a trained doctor. I’m a moderately-educated layman. And even if I’m more objective about my observations of my self than some people, I don’t really trust that I’m being truly objective. So I’m mostly hoping things are better than they seem, and trying not to fear that they’re worse than they seem.

(The fear is the worst part. Last week I worried that I had a blood clot and might lose the user of my arm. That’s what motivated me to go see the doctor, even though I knew it was more likely to be a pinched nerve. Now I worry that I may only be able to fix the nerve through surgery, and who knows what that might involve. But mostly I’m trying not to worry about it too much. Trying.)

Yesterday was hard. My first day at work after a weekend of trying to relax my body. And I had a full slate of stuff to work on. By the end of the day my arm was sore and I was feeling exhausted. I went to play Magic in the evening anyway, and I was completely wiped out by the time I came home. This morning was also hard, and I was getting depressed that things don’t seem to be getting better.

This afternoon I’m feeling a little better, though. My arm doesn’t feel as sore as it did at the same time yesterday, and my neck isn’t as sore as it was during my post-lunch walk. It might all be in my head, but mostly I’m just glad it’s starting to feel better.

I hope it keeps feeling better, because as you saw if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I’m pretty freaking tired of this.

(And yes, I know this is small potatoes next to spinal problems many people have. That doesn’t make me any less tired of it.)

Two more days of drugs, and then a week and a half before my return to the doctor (which will be for a full physical, not just a follow-up. Ah, the joy of turning 40; I bet I have prostate exams in my future). I’d love it if this is completely cleared up by then.


Yesterday we went up to the city to see Watchmen on the IMAX screen at the Metreon. This was actually the first film I’ve seen on an IMAX screen, although other than being really quite big, it didn’t feel very different from watching a movie on a regular screen.

I read the comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons when it came out back in 1986-87. It was a big deal then, as Moore was probably the hottest – and arguably the best – pure writer in comics at the time, and Gibbons was a highly-regarded artist. Moore has said that the series was intended to be experimental and rule-breaking in many ways, and as far as how to use the form of sequential art to tell a story, it was. Few comics before or since have taken such a, well, cinematic approach to storytelling, while also mixing in the things which make the form unique. Gibbons eschewed the traditional approach of using visual effects to convey movement or emotion and instead the series depicted the progress of time in a simple panel-by-panel approach. At the same time scenes blended into one another, linked by dialogue from different scenes. While individual elements of Watchmen was been mimicked or used elsewhere, I don’t think anyone else has managed to quite capture the unique feel and nature of the book.

(The story, by the way, concerns a world in which superheroes emerged, changed the world – especially the big one who had actual powers – and were then forced into retirement. A decade later, one of them is killed, setting into motion a chain of events to learn why he was killed, which brings many of the surviving heroes back to solve the mystery and come to terms with their pasts and present.)

That said, the book is certainly not without its flaws. Steven Grant wrote an interesting critical account of the book which I recommend reading. I agree that the story by-and-large isn’t terribly novel, it’s how it’s told that’s fascinating. The story is also rather let down by a very hard-to-swallow ending, which Moore tries his level best (which is extremely good) to sell, trying to cajole and trick the reader into buying it, but it doesn’t quite work. (He manages to paper over most of the unbelievability with a compelling final page, but it’s just a papering-over, as if he doesn’t quite buy it himself.) But in sum its complexity, nuance, and believable characters make it one of the better graphic novels out there.

Making a movie of it: Hoo-boy.

The comic is strictly episodic in nature – using the periodical nature of the original comics for its own purposes as a chapter structure – with each issue featuring its own encapsulated segment of the story, its own tone and characters, and often its own resolution of a sort. It’s also a very low-key story, with only the occasional moment of action. Much of this is at odds with how superhero movies – or heck, any blockbuster movie – is constructed today.

Director Zack Snyder and screenplay writers David Hayter and Alex Tse give it a good try. With a running time of 163 minutes, that gives them about 13 minutes per issue (plus 7 minutes for credits), but of course it doesn’t work out that way. Naturally they cut the stuff that absolutely had to be cut (the “Black Freighter” sequences, which are not without their interesting elements but are ultimately the least essential part of the book), and pare down the issues that can be pared down. That still left them with some difficult decisions, and I think they cut some important material, but I went in knowing that Watchmen is probably impossible to film faithfully in a mere movie-length film.

The expected problems with the adaptation aside, the film starts going wrong in its focus on the violence of the story. Where the comic doesn’t exactly flinch from showing the horrible things that happen, it also rarely does so directly unless necessary, leaving some of the worst moments to the reader’s imagination – usually a good choice. The film emphasizes every punch with an extra-loud sound of impact. The heroes – most of whom have no true powers – get the living daylights beaten out of them and come back for more, quite different from how they’re portrayed in the book. There are some extremely gory scenes, some in which the camera lingers lovingly on the blood. The violence is mostly gratuitous, and only truly provides value in one scene, when two of the heroes are fighting their way through a gauntlet in a prison.

The film’s other big problem is the climax, in which everything is revealed, though it’s somewhat different from the book, but not really any more effective or believable. The book is full of moral ambiguity and goes to great lengths to try to portray every character as having both admirable and ignoble motivations and actions. The film mostly casts the characters as either “more good guys” or “more bad guys”, which sucks a lot of power out of the ending.

To the extent that the film works, it relies on the portrayal of the psychopathic Rorschach and his portrayal by Jackie Earle Haley. The acting is unexceptional throughout the film (none of the major actors are familiar to me), but Haley carries the day with an intense and spot-on performance, growling his way through the film in a full face-mask (whose constantly-shifting pattern is the film’s greatest visual triumph). With a lesser performance in this pivotal role, the film would have been limp indeed, violence or not.

The picture also looks impressive, although perhaps a little too art-deco and artificial in its appearance no matter the era being shown (it takes place in 1985 and has scenes dating back to the 1940s). This works well in the opening sequence, a series of nearly-still images (a neat effect in itself) about the history leading up to the main story, but gets a little wearing towards the end. But the characters and many of the settings and scenes look like they were lifted directly from the book; smartly, many of the iconic images are closely replicated in the film, sometimes to an uncanny degree. Considering how often films deviate across the board from their source material, this in itself is quite impressive.

Overall, I’d say Watchmen is a “pretty good” film – certainly not in the same league as the book. I do think it could have been a better film, by toning down the violence and sticking closer to the book in some key areas, but I appreciate that it’s a very challenging book to adapt. Perhaps I’m being too demanding, but I think the film’s greatest flaws were entirely correctable, yet they seemed to be conscious deviations to make the film more “exciting”.

Watchmen the movie is worth seeing once (if you’re not too squeamish about gore in movies), especially if you’ve already read the book. And if you’ve seen the film, though, then you definitely owe it to yourself to read the original. But I don’t think it’s going to hold up under repeated viewings.

Arm Trouble

I went to the doctor this afternoon about my arm.

A little over a week ago I got a pain in my neck. Nothing very unusual – I’ve gotten a stiff or sore neck once in a while dating back to high school. It always goes away in a few days at most.

This time it didn’t go away: The soreness seemed to spread down my right shoulder into my arm. By late this week it had settled into my upper arm, and I was getting occasional tingling down my arm, especially in my hand. It was uncomfortable to hold my arm in some positions, especially one I put it in when I sleep.

Today, with it not really getting any better, I called the doctor, and fortunately my regular doctor (okay, I’ve seen him once in eight years, but it’s the same one!) had an appointment open this afternoon.

After some tests, it turns out I have an impinged (pinched) nerve in my neck. This is what I figured it probably was, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t, say, a circulatory problem, which probably would have been a lot worse. The treatment is a round of anti-inflammatory drugs to hopefully let the nerve get back into place, and then to see if it comes back after a week. So I picked up the drugs (I start tomorrow) and I’ll make an appointment for two weeks from now. Hopefully, it will all go as planned. (Plus, it will be a full physical, which I haven’t had in quite a while.) I also learned that I can feel it in my arm when I tilt my head back, so I’m going to try to do less of that for a bit (which may be a good trick as we’re going to see Watchmen tomorrow).

I really like my doctor, he’s quite funny, and also a good communicator. I’d been considering switching my PCP to a new building closer to both home and work, but I’m going to stick with him. It’s important to have a doctor you like, I think.

One other thing: The clinic, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, uses software from my previous employer, Epic Systems. It was interesting to get a glimpse of how the software has evolved since I worked there, and also to see it in action. A little blast from the past, you might say.

Comic Shop Tragedy

I was stunned last weekend to read on Twitter that Ryan Higgins, the owner of my regular comics shop, Comics Conspiracy, had his apartment burn down last weekend. It sounds like he and his girlfriend lost nearly everything, although they and their dog managed to get out.

I’ve been going to CC for nearly the whole time I’ve lived here. Ryan’s been there the whole time, and bought the store a couple of years ago from the previous owner (who still works there, too). He’s done a great job with the store, doing a major renovation job and keeping everything looking clean and tidy. I started going there because its location was convenient to me, but I really do think it’s the best store in the South Bay.

Hopefully Ryan can bounce back from this, but I can only imagine what he’s going through.

Ten Years at Apple

Sunday marked (as the calendar turns) ten years of working at Apple for me. I guess yesterday – Monday – was slightly more relevant, since if course I didn’t start work on a Sunday (although I did go in the previous Friday to get some info from my manager, since I spent my first week in a training class). Yesterday was 522 weeks from that starting date.

But who’s counting?

I’ve spent most of that time working on the Xcode developer tools. Not only is 10 years a long time to work at a single company in Silicon Valley, but nearly-8-years is a long time to be in more-or-less the same role at that company. Of course, every year it seems like I’m working on something new and different, using new technology, so there’s a lot of variety within my job. There’s so much going on here that even if I switched teams every couple of years there’s still more neat stuff to work with and work on than anyone could fit into a lifetime. (Contrast with my previous company, where after 4 years I felt like I’d basically done everything there was to do, on a technical level.)

(Of course, I “celebrated” my anniversary by spending the whole day investigating a heisenbug, but that’s the way it goes sometimes!)

Although the job has its frustrations, there’s no substitute for working with smart people on a project that matters, even if it’s not the most visible or glamorous project around. And I know my work is appreciated, which helps a lot too.

It’s been an exciting decade for Apple, too; the company was just starting its upswing when I joined the company, about a year after the first iMac was introduced. It’s been fun to have been there through all of that.

When I told one of my closest friends at my old company that I was going to interview with Apple, she said, “Oh, you are so out of here.” Ten years later, I’m glad I got the offer, and I’m glad to have taken the job. And I’m glad to have stuck around this long. I hope to stick around a good while longer.