Friday, August 28, 2009

About Propofol

Very few of my childhood friends am I still in touch with. Fewer still do I have any meaningful relationship with, but one of those with whom I do happens to be both a smashing stand up guy and a super-successful real-life medical doctor.

This friend of mine works in anesthetics (anaesthetics in the UK), so I figured I'd ask him about the Michael Jackson case. What's the deal with Propofol? Pretty illuminating what he said:

Yes. I use it a lot. Almost every day when I'm doing anaesthetics. It's my bread and butter, my pharmacological hammer of choice, my 'go-to' anaesthetic.

Basically it's most commonly used as an Induction agent, ie. it'll put your patient to sleep (AND STOP HIM BREATHING—crucial detail—remember for the test later) in 10 seconds, but in the next five minutes you'll need something else or he'll be getting a little frisky. The 'something else' can either be a vapour added to your oxygen line (the commonest and cheapest way of keeping someone asleep) or if you prefer, more Propofol. If it's going to be used to keep you asleep it'll be delivered by an electronically controlled pump which is designed to keep the concentration of the drug in the brain at a certain level.

Now. I didn't know it was a drug of abuse. For the following reasons:

  • it'll kill you in the wrong hands.
Oh yeah. See? I was right.

So it shouldn't be used by anyone who's not an anaesthetist. This whole 'toxic level' stuff is bollocks. It was doing what it's supposed to do. When it's given in hospitals, the patient stops breathing, and would die if the anaesthetist weren't there, but that's the point. That's what it does, and that's why we're there.

I can imagine that they were trying to use it at very low doses (at which concentration it's more of a sedative than an anaesthetic) but that's really playing with fire, because individual responses are difficult to predict and it's easy to get it wrong if you're not experienced. Every anaesthetist has given a little too much or too little when we were less experienced—but it's forgiving in the right environment, ie. with all our tubes and machines that go 'beep'. Without them? Disaster is inevitable.

The short verson: anyone giving, administering or supplying MJ with Propofol should fry. There's no medical use for it outside a critical care medical environment.

I love it that I know such smart people.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Painting with light

Lots of people have been asking how the light painting photos were done. There's been speculation about multiple exposures, unseen spotlights, dark cloth, and even Photoshop (I don't use Photoshop). It's actually much much simpler than that.

  • Step 1: find somewhere really dark and put the camera on a tripod. For all of these shots the dark place in question is Costanoa at night. It's a camp site on the northern California coast, about halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.
  • Step 2: open the camera's shutter for a minute. For the technically inclined, almost all the pictures were done with an exposure time of 60 seconds at aperture f6.3, ISO 400 sensitivity. Pretty much any SLR, and now many compact cameras, could be configured with these settings; there's nothing special about the camera.
  • Step 3: step into the frame with a flashlight and "paint" your chosen design. This is where it helps to have someone as artistically inclined as Matt; in pretty much all of the good pictures it was actually Matt stepping into the frame and wielding the torch. I did one or two, but it's Matt's creative genius behind the really spectacular examples.

The painting itself can take a few forms:

  • mid-air painting; just sketching shapes in mid-air. The dinosaur is a great example of a standalone line drawing.
  • painting still objects; shine the flashlight on still objects in the background, or on the ground. For the forest path picture, Matt pointed the flashlight at the ground and walked off into the distance, lighting his path in front of him as he went.
  • painting people; pretty much anything you want to actually see in the photo you have to paint with the flashlight, and that includes anyone standing in the frame. They must hold very still while you paint them but it can be done in a second or less.

Here's a video showing the process in action. There's not a whole lot to see but it gives you a good idea of how it's all done.

Yes, it's pretty dark! Matt begins by painting the wings, then paints the ground around our subject April (it's this which gave some the impression of a spotlight from above). At 36 seconds in, one wipe of the flashlight over April is enough to paint her into the photo. After that Matt picks up a blue glowstick and paints an aura. The finished result:

There are lots more of the pictures on Flickr. Diabolical Alexia is one of my favorites; Horse is another.

Here are some of the questions I got asked a lot:

How come the painter isn't visible in the photo?
Mainly because as the painter you're careful not to shine light on yourself. You also have to keep moving as you paint; if you stay in one place for too long then ambient light will indeed put you in the photo as a ghostly blur.
How did you get some of the drawings looking so good?
Matt is excellent at drawing. That's all there is to it.
What's special about the flashlight?
Nothing. It's a regular Maglite (three D-cells). We've also used a mini Maglite (2 AA-cells) and colored glowsticks for different effects.
Got any tips for light painters?
Yes, we learned as we went:
  • keep moving. If you stop for too long the ambient light will illuminate you and put you in the picture;
  • don't accidentally shine the light on yourself. A few promising pictures were spoiled from leaked light;
  • light human subjects quickly, and only once. Most people can't keep perfectly still enough to make any other approach practical;
  • turn off lights not in use. Covering a flashlight with your hand while you move will leave a red trail in the picture. If you're carrying glowsticks, keep them deeply buried in a pocket;
  • when drawing shapes, point the flashlight at the camera even when reaching up or down. It's natural when painting something above head-level to point the flashlight up into the air. If you do that much of the line will be lost;
  • the speed at which you move the flashlight will determine how much light gets painted. Move it quickly for less light and slowly to create very bright patches.
  • manually focus the camera on your subject. Leave that focus setting and put a marker in the ground so subsequent subjects can stand at the marker to be in focus


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


We interrupt your regular broken wrist programming to bring you news of my weekend in Costanoa. Wendy and I went down there with Matt and Mary on Friday night and stayed for a couple of days; kind of a reconnaissance mission for an upcoming departmental offsite and kind of just a weekend getaway with old friends.

On the web site it says

Costanoa is an eco adventure resort designed to encourage our guests to explore the stunning beauty of our protected California coastline and Discover the Pace of Nature
to which I say
Costanoa is an unusual campsite in a lovely part of California—by the sea, and in a relatively remote area of the peninsula

What makes it an unusual campsite? Mainly that it has pre-built super-comfortable tents for the lazy. Again from the web site:

Bungalows are a wood or metal frame with waterproof canvas tent walls. They have electricity, sliding windows, a locking door and heated mattress pads. These accommodations combine the best part of camping with creature comforts you will appreciate.
So they're more huts than tents. And perfectly nice huts at that, with beds and nightstands and an electric blanket and bedside lights. They have comfy wooden chairs outside, for hanging out in the sunset, and each has a lockable door. No suburbanite camping concerns of theft et cetera:
Remote Hut

Somehow I had visions of actual real fancy upscale camping, though, and on that front Costanoa was a bit of a disappointment (especially considering the rate of $130/night). One has to imagine that there is indeed a market for luxury camping, where the pre-built tents have housekeeping and turndown service daily, a concierge, room service and a white-gloved bellboy to light your camp fire.

But it's not like that at Costanoa. It's just camping in a hut with a bed. Insects: yes. Cold: yes. Dial 7 for reception: no. "Skeevy" (to use Wendy's word): perhaps a little. Bathroom a fair walk away: yes. Skunk hanging out under the hut: yes. Towel service: no. Chocolate on the pillow: no. Communal showers: yes. Complimentary long-stemmed roses and champagne on ice: no. And no cell service, no power outlets; Wi-Fi doesn't reach the huts. You make your own fun, as they say, and boy did we ever:

Forest Path
Cut Here
Angelic Wendy
Flower Arrangement
Racing Car
And so forth and so on.

A wonderful area of California, though. Even after four years here I'd never been on Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, but it's a lovely scenic stretch of road strewn with farms and beaches and super views. On Saturday we all went down to Capitola; Matt, Mary and Wendy took surfing lessons while I hung out with—ahem—a broken wrist.

Brunch in Santa Cruz on Sunday: also nice.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Broken Wrist, Day 16

Things I'm looking forward to when I get this cast off and my wrist back:

5. cleaning my teeth with the toothbrush in my right hand
4. being able to wear shirts with sleeves
3. taking a shower without a plastic bag on my arm
2. being able to type properly
1. riding my bike


Here's one from a while back, outside the taqueria round the corner:


Monday, August 03, 2009

Broken Wrist, Day 15

The cast was getting really annoying. I've not been able to drive, ride my bike or even put my hand in my pocket. Typing is slow and awkward, sleeping is uncomfortable, and the occasional waves of claustrophobia are really unpleasant. It's been weeks since I've had a shower without wearing a plastic bag.

So a huge relief, then, when I went back to the orthopedic surgeon this morning and they took the thing off. A HUGE relief. I'd been fantasizing about the moment for oh-so-long, and even dreamed about it just the other night.

Somewhat less of a relief, though, was finding my wrist still swollen when the cast came off. Still painful, too, and still with a pretty limited range of movement. X-rays followed, and within 20 minutes I had a cast again:

Photo 14.jpg

MRIs will follow, and after that who knows. I'm trying not to pay too much attention to what I read on the internet about scaphoid fractures although inevitably I've found the page which seems to cover the worst-case end result: "complete wrist fusion". I love the euphemism "non-union" meaning "broken", too. Reminds me of a place I worked a few jobs ago where HR used the term "deselection" to mean laying people off.

In other news, Wendy and I had a great time on vacation and I've started to upload some of the photos. Here's one taken on the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam: