Monday, December 23, 2013

Save the IBot Update: the FDA Gives Us Some Good News

You might call it an early Christmas present.
As I indicated in my previous iBot update, the FDA held a hearing on December 12 to consider DEKA’s petition to change the iBot medical classification. As I wrote in that post:
“…The iBot needs a new manufacturer. But first, the regulatory environment must be improved. DEKA initiated an application to have the FDA modify the status of the iBot from a Class III medical device to Class II medical device. This would significantly reduce the regulatory burden on the product…On December 12 a team from DEKA will meet with the FDA Medical Devices Advisory Committee (it would have been sooner but for the government shutdown)…If (the application) is eventually approved, DEKA will be in a stronger position to recruit new manufacturing partners.”
Now we have this news from the Department of Health and Human Services meeting notes
“…the panelists recommended a Class II designation for stair-climbing wheelchairs...”
There were two major regulatory impediments making it difficult for the iBot to be commercially viable. First, there was the Class III to Class II issue, which is apparently behind us. Second, there is the fact that Medicare will not reimburse patients for the iBot wheelchair. I don’t hold out much hope for changing the Medicare issue in the near future, but maybe I'm wrong. 
By changing the iBot from a Class III device to Class II Device, a potential manufacturing partner could relatively easily improve the iBot in a number of ways, and make it more marketable to more users. Perhaps these improvements could eventually make it so that Medicare would reimburse patients.
I know that DEKA, with an assist from Huey 091, is recruiting potential manufacturing partners, and what happened on December 12 in Washington can only make the iBot a more appealing venture. Hopefully, this will be enough to lure in somebody. Maybe there was a group waiting in the wings and they will come forward soon because of this decision. It's more likely that DEKA still has a lot of work to do, but they now have a better case to make with these companies.
How big of a deal is this decision? That remains to be seen. Perhaps it was too little too late, or perhaps it was just what the doctor ordered. Only time will tell which of these two clichés will apply.
Here’s a video of Alan Brown’s public testimony before the panel. Alan is an iBot user and a member of the Board of Directors for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. He is a strong advocate for the iBot and for wheelchair users in general, and a gifted public speaker. Please watch and enjoy.

If you're reading this through email click here to watch the video at YouTube.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Memories: The Ghosts of Christmas Past

From time to time I will post Memories, where I describe some facet of my life before MS. I hope you enjoy these digressions.
Growing up, our Christmases were right out of Currier and Ives: cold and snowy weather, traditional holiday treats, family, gifts, mistletoe.  I remember those Decembers fondly and miss them terribly.
In grade school, on the last day before Christmas vacation, a local radio station would record each homeroom class singing a different Christmas carol, often of the religious variety – it was a nonissue in those days. On Christmas Eve, at the appointed time, we would huddle around the radio at home and listen for our song. It was played only once, so you had to be ready.
My parents hosted what they called an Open House on Christmas Eve. To me, it was just a big party that started in the afternoon and lasted until late at night. My mother, a quadriplegic, was universally loved in our town. She had been through so much pain, yet had endured it with uncommon grace and good spirit. I think a major reason we had such a strong turnout each year was because people just wanted to be around Vernice, especially at Christmastime.
The guests would enter our house amid great fanfare. Most would bring something delicious and homemade. But the favorite visitors were the ones who placed a fifth or half-gallon of Jack Daniels under the tree for Dad. My father was a social, happy drinker. I never considered that he had a drinking problem, and looking back I still don’t. In fact, I enjoyed being around Dad when he was into the Jack and water. He was a purist in this regard. If you insisted on soda or some other mixer, you were served Jim Beam, a lesser grade of bourbon.
When I was a young boy the adults would shuffle me off to bed at a decent hour, employing the old adage, “The sooner you get to bed and to sleep, the sooner Santa will come.” But, in fact, although I may have gone to bed I would often lay awake for hours listening to the loud, alcohol-fueled conversations drifting down the hallway from the kitchen and living room. I loved to eavesdrop on the stories that I was otherwise not allowed to hear. Christmas Eve was the most educational day of the year for me.
When I was in high school, and Kim was my girlfriend, there was another aspect of Christmas Eve that worked out very well for us. Danny and Darlene, neighbors from across the street, would come over to the party for a couple of hours. During that time Kim and I would babysit their two sleeping children. Danny and Darlene had a water bed. Enough said?
When I was in college, my brothers and other people my age became the late-night partiers, staying up long after my aging parents. I wonder if Mom and Dad eavesdropped on our loud conversations and became educated about things that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Then one year, out of the blue, my mother told me that there would be no more Christmas Eve open houses for the next seven years. I was incredulous. “Why?” 
My father was a shift foreman at the paper mill. He worked a rotating schedule called the southern swing. They knew that for the next seven Christmas Eves he would be working the 3 PM to 11 PM shift, and so there would be no parties. I was heartbroken. That tradition was my favorite part of Christmas. Sadly, everyone in town moved on and developed new Christmas Eve traditions, and my parents grew old. The Christmas Eve open houses never resumed.
And now having written this piece, I realize how very much I miss my parents, all of my friends and relatives who are no longer with us, and this simpler time in our lives. The ghosts of Christmas past do indeed haunt me. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wheelchair Winters

note: click on any of the photos to enlarge

Snowfall in this part of Maine begins in December and can linger through early April – a full third of the year. Before I was diagnosed with MS I had no sympathy for the snow haters. My mantra was, “If you don’t enjoy the winters in Maine, then you shouldn’t live here.”
Those of us from northern climates have fond childhood memories of the snow. If you want to witness joy in its purest form, take some children with lots of energy and imagination (which is almost every child), gently toss them into a fluffy, white snowbank, and watch what happens.
From grade school through college, winter was all about downhill skiing for me. There were no major ski areas near our house in Lincoln, but we were a short drive from a short mountain, called Mount Jefferson. There were maybe eight trails; one clunky, old T-bar; and one rope tow. We didn’t care. We had a lot of fun anyway. Unlike at the large ski areas that most people frequent, skiing here was a very intimate experience. We kept running into the same people all day long, and all winter long. Naturally, Mount Jefferson became the setting for much of my clumsy romantic maneuvering, almost always for naught.
In college, Kim and I purchased season’s passes to Sugarloaf Mountain, a major resort in Western Maine, about two hours away from the University of Maine. We paid $110 for the discounted student pass. During one winter I was completing an internship at a paper mill not far from Sugarloaf, so Kim hitched rides there with Cookie and Shostak, my fraternity brothers, and we would meet for the weekend.
After college, we moved to Ohio and Vermont for a few years and continued skiing sporadically. Soon after we moved back to Maine I took up snowmobiling, and my skis only gathered dust in the basement from that point forward.
Driving my snowmobile down a freshly-groomed trail on a cold, crisp morning was the closest experience I ever had to flying. I don’t mean flying like a plane. I mean flying like a bird.
When I was in that zone, crafting seamless turns at the maximum safe speed, or just slightly above, there was nothing like it. Puttering along at a slower pace and taking in the scenery was nice too, but that was not the experience I craved. My ideal ride was at once sublime and exhilarating: reading poetry while hanging on the edge of a cliff…eating crème brûlée in a hurricane.
I was hopelessly addicted to the endorphin rush of high-performance, cross-country snowmobiling. But it ended in 2008, when I could no longer operate a snowmobile because of my MS. This may have been for the best anyway. Being a husband and father, I didn’t need to wrap myself around a tree in the Maine wilderness at 100 mph. And so I became one of those people who I had pitied and scorned for most of my life. I no longer had any use for the snow, yet I continued to live in Maine.
I’m quite sure Kim and I won’t follow my own advice and live elsewhere. Reason #1 is that summers here are perfect for a person with MS – nice and cool because of ocean breezes. Reason #2 is that Kim’s career is here. Reasons #3 through #100 are the family and friends who we live among. We’re not going anywhere.
Two winters ago the weather was freakishly warm, and it rained when it should have snowed. I was free to cruise the neighborhood in my wheelchairs, with no ice patches or snow banks in my way. If this is global warming, I thought, then bring it on. Last winter turned out to be unusually cold and snowy, including one storm where we received 32 inches of snow. If this is global warming, I thought, then no thank you. The picture to the left is what poor Phoebe woke up to that morning. How was she supposed to go pee?
I understand that the implications from global warming are not straightforward. Climate change may have been more responsible for the cold and snowy winter than it was for the freakishly warm one. Who knows? However, if our trend is toward more winters like two years ago, and there are fewer fluffy, white snowbanks and frigid temperatures in my future, I’m not going to complain.
Don’t worry. I’ll still do my part to save the planet by voting for alternative energy projects, reduced carbon emissions, etc. But at the same time, I’ll be secretly hoping for rainy winter days.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Save the IBot Update and My Trip to DEKA

English: This picture shows Bill Clinton and D...
This picture shows Bill Clinton and Dean Kamen in the office of the president. Kamen is on his iBot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The story of the iBot is a potentially heartbreaking one. This exceptional wheelchair, which can climb stairs, navigate difficult terrain in four-wheel-drive mode, and elevate its user up to eye level with standing people, is no longer being manufactured or sold. In fact, if nothing changes, maintenance and parts for the iBot will only be available through March of 2014. After that date, I don't know if my iBot will run 10 minutes or 10 years before a fatal malfunction occurs. Yet, not all hope is lost. Some very talented and dedicated people are still trying to save the iBot.

Through my affiliation with Huey 091 and I was introduced to Joe, the Special Projects Officer at DEKA Research and Development. DEKA is the company founded by entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen. They are responsible for such innovative products as the Segway transporter, the iBot wheelchair, and countless other devices that help people lead better lives.

I asked Joe if he could give me a tour of the DEKA facility, and he agreed. One day in early November Kim and I made the hour and half drive from South Portland, Maine to Manchester, New Hampshire.

I’m an engineer, and DEKA is all about that. They have almost 500 technical people on staff in Manchester. Kim is a Middle School Guidance Counselor, and she had only a passing interest in this tour. In fact, she was participating only as a favor for me, which was nothing unusual. Kim is a very generous person.

Joe greeted us when we arrived at DEKA, and introduced our tour guide, Sarah, who is Dean Kamen’s Chief of Staff. Joe indicated that Dean had wanted to meet us, but unfortunately he was out of the office on this day. (Did I mention that a couple of years ago I was almost personally introduced to another great inventor, Steve Wozniak?)

I asked if we were allowed to take pictures, even though I was pretty sure of the answer. Indeed, DEKA works on many top secret projects, and they don’t allow photography inside their facility. I get that.

First, Sarah shared the background story about Dean Kamen and DEKA, showing off a few of the early products he developed. This included a drug delivery system that later became the first insulin pump for diabetics, and a portable dialysis machine.

Description: Photograph of Dean Kamen on Segwa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We were then guided to the machine shop area of the facility, where they have a rare 3-D printer that works with metals. DEKA also operates a bank of more traditional 3-D printers that work with plastics (if any version of these machines can yet be considered traditional). A collection of products that come off of these devices was on display, and they were amazing. If you’re not familiar with 3-D printers, and why every home will have one in the coming years, read this article.

Sarah and Joe then introduced us to some of their more recent projects. Dean is concerned about the availability of potable water in Third World countries, so they developed a pair of products to address this issue. The Slingshot is a self-contained, highly efficient water purification unit that can be easily deployed anywhere in the world. DEKA is partnering with Coca-Cola to make these units available where they are most needed. The Stirling Engine is a self-contained generator appliance that can power a Slingshot and satisfy other local electricity needs using a variety of nonconventional fuels.

The Slingshot and the Stirling Engine are very cool, but the most impressive product we saw was DEKA’s prosthetic arm, called the Luke Arm. Development is being funded by the Department of Defense (DARPA). We met up with the Manager of Engineering, Stewart, who explained the project to us. It’s heartwarming to watch an amputee pick up grapes and place them in his mouth, or drink a bottle of water without crushing or spilling it. The goal is to make this technology available to war veterans with arm amputations, and eventually anyone who can benefit from this prosthetic device.

Our last stop on the tour was the iBot testing facility. Years ago DEKA created a series of indoor obstacles for the purpose of putting the iBot through its paces during development. There are ramps, curbs, stairs, and your worst nightmare of a bumpy walking path. But now it all sits idle, frozen in time while the fate of the iBot is determined. I’m glad we were shown this area, although I was slightly unnerved by its resemblance to a museum exhibit.   Yet, I find it telling that DEKA has not decommissioned this testing facility and reallocated the space to active projects. They obviously haven’t given up, and so neither should we.

After the tour was complete, we enjoyed a lunch with Joe and discussed the future of the iBot. Joe’s number one priority is to facilitate its rebirth. After DEKA developed the iBot in the early 2000’s they licensed the technology to Johnson & Johnson, who created a subsidiary called Independence Technology for the production, sales, and service of the iBot. Five years ago, about six months after I purchased my own iBot, Independence Technology announced that they were discontinuing production. This was due to low sales volume and, I can only assume, business unit losses.

where's the virtual upright wheel-chair?
(Photo credit: Esthr)
The primary reason for this product’s commercial failure was its onerous regulatory burden. For one thing, the iBot is categorized as a Class III medical device by the FDA, which means that extraordinary effort is required to obtain approval for any product modifications or enhancements. This places an undue burden on the development team and slows down or prevents improvements that consumers rightfully expect. For this and other reasons, the product underperformed in the marketplace, even though it has been a life-changing success for any individual lucky enough to own one, myself included.

The iBot needs a new manufacturer. But first, the regulatory environment must be improved. DEKA initiated an application to have the FDA modify the status of the iBot from a Class III medical device to Class II medical device. This would significantly reduce the regulatory burden on the product. The FDA received over 280 letters in support of this change, including one from me. On December 12 a team from DEKA will meet with the FDA Medical Devices Advisory Committee (it would have been sooner but for the government shutdown). After the meeting, we should have a much better idea of the viability of this petition. If it is eventually approved, DEKA will be in a stronger position to recruit new manufacturing partners.

I’ll let you know what I hear from the December 12 meeting.

The people at DEKA were extremely friendly and gracious. More than one of them commented about how much they enjoy seeing people like me benefiting from their invention – the iBot. I envy them in that sense. I never worked for a company where I felt I was making such a positive impact in the world (few people do). Also, their affection for Dean Kamen is palpable and infectious. He’s one of my personal heroes.

I can’t thank Joe, Sarah, and Stewart enough for taking the time to share their knowledge and their passion with us. In the end, Kim admitted to me that this trip was much more rewarding than she thought it was going to be. Although the tools employed at DEKA may be highly technical, the folks there are motivated by compassion for others, and it doesn’t take an engineer to appreciate that.

Note: for more information on the effort to save the iBot, please visit these sites:

America’s Huey 091 Foundation

Save the iBot (Facebook Page)

My iBot Videos

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Some Things That I Am Thankful For

In the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday, which is celebrated this Thursday in the United States, everyone is compelled to share what it is they are thankful for. Of course my list includes family, friends, America, and ice cream. But I’d rather give recognition to some items which are less obvious.

This list is incomplete and in no particular order. I’m thankful for…

The Windows in My Living Room

Really? You bet.

I have two large windows- one which looks out on the street and the other which looks out on the ocean. After I stare into the abyss of my dual computer screens for a while, I pull back, rotate to my left, and gaze out these windows. This invigorates me, and I become reacquainted with reality. Until recently, however, there was a problem. Because I have an eastern and southern exposure on this side of the house, bright sunshine would often blast into the room, making me feel like an accused spy being interrogated under a hot lamp. Because I wasn’t able to operate the shades myself, I was left with either no view out of the windows or excessive sunlight, depending on how Kim had adjusted the shades before leaving for work. Therefore, a few months ago we made what turned out to be a wonderful purchase. I now have remote control blinds that I can adjust to any position, any time. And I do tweak those babies often throughout the day. I’m very thankful for my windows, and my window blinds.

The picture on the top-right is the sunrise as seen from my living room. It's not pristine, but it doesn't suck either.

The IBot Team

This includes: Gary Lawson, Charles Bogle, and everyone else at America’s Huey 091 Foundation; Max Burt, creator of; Dean Kamen, Joe Goodwin, and the rest of the team at DEKA Research and Development.

These folks and many others are focused on reviving the manufacture and sale of this incredible mobility device. For their effort and dedication, I am thankful. Wish us luck.

My Medical Team

This includes: Dr. Muscat, my awesome neurologist; Dr. Freedman, my very caring primary care physician, and her team at Martin’s Point Health Care; Dr. Aronson, my oncologist, and his folks who inject me intrathecally with methotrexate every eight weeks or so; my physical therapists Gabe Redmond and Jodi Mitchell and my occupational therapist Maren Nagem.

I know that these people are well compensated for what they do, but I feel that their compassion is authentic nonetheless. Because of my various medical challenges, this team has their collective fingers plugging countless holes in the dike, and for that I am most thankful.

All the Stuff in My Immediate Neighborhood

Two major grocery stores, City Hall, the post office, my bank, my eye doctor and my primary care physician, outstanding cafés and lunch counters, a variety of medium and higher-end restaurants, a useful and not yet dilapidated strip mall, several city parks, Bug Light Park in particular, the bridge to Portland, the butcher shop and market I can see from my kitchen window, and the cozy bar down the street. But most of all I’m thankful for my cool neighbors and the many friends that I have made here in the last two years.

The Internet

If I had MS prior to the existence of the internet, and stayed home most days, I think my situation might not be so tenable. I don’t know what I would do all day if not for the enrichment I receive from the internet. On the other hand, disabled people in the future will have some other, yet to be invented item on their list, which they won’t be able to conceive of having lived without. Still, I’m extremely thankful for my internet access.

The Health Problems That I Don’t Have

Yes, by any measure I’m in pretty rough shape medically. But things could be worse. First, I could be in pain all day, every day, but I’m not. Second, I could have any number of conditions that are worse than MS. I probably will someday, like almost everyone eventually does, but I’m thankful that said day has not yet arrived.

My Mind

Is it conceited to say that I love my mind? I can’t help it. I’m glad I have a brain that is open to and curious about new ideas. I’m glad that I am contemplative and think for myself, rather than adhere blindly to political or religious dogma. Perhaps most importantly I’m glad that I have a mind which tends toward contentment rather than gloominess. Sure, I wish I was more intelligent and witty, and that I had a better memory. I wish my brain function hadn’t been damaged by MS. But all in all I’m very thankful for the squishy blob of neurons and synapses which occupies the space between my ears.

Canvas Wrapped Artwork

This is our latest thing, and I wanted to share it with you. If you’re not familiar with the concept, click here. We have two beautiful pictures hanging on our wall, which were made from photographs I took, and then wrapped on canvas. Here they are, below, first the source photo and then the finished product.

We also have two professional photographs that are canvas wrapped. We purchased these at separate “Art in the Park” shows nearby. Some may consider this to be less than fine art, but I don’t care. I really love this medium. It’s relatively affordable, generally appealing to look at, and something that I can actually create myself (through a vendor).

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Piece I Wrote is Published

2010 06 15 I’m an engineer, not an author. I know great writing, and this is not that. I do feel that I have a compelling story to share, however, and I've been told that my writing helps some people work through their own challenges. My goal is to get this message out in a form that is as entertaining and readable as I can make it. The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is helping that cause this month in their periodical called MSFocus. To read my article click here, and work your way to page 60. This magazine also enjoys a wide circulation in the printed form.

A couple of months ago I received an unsolicited email from the editorial coordinator at MSFocus. She had been reading my blog posts and liked one in particular. She asked if I would agree to have it published in their Men and MS column. I asked how much the gig would pay. She responded, "Nothing." I said, "Deal."

Over the years I have considered submitting pieces to various magazines for publication. But that might require some initiative on my part, so it just hasn’t happened. Or perhaps the problem is that making such an effort might either necessitate or compel an emotional investment in the quality of my writing. If I was to be emotionally invested in the quality of my writing, and it was to be rejected, then I would be sad. I don’t want to be sad. I’ll probably just sit back and let them find me again, like they did this time.

If this is your first visit to Enjoying the Ride, having read my piece in MSFocus, I welcome you. You’ll find this blog to be a roughly equal mixture of thoughtful contemplation and utter drivel. Some days I dabble in the profound, and other days I wallow in the profane. It’s a crapshoot.

If you’d like to get a flavor for this blog by reading just a few choice articles, instead of the roughly 300 that I have posted here, check some of these out:
To meet my incredible mother, who was a quadriplegic, click here.
If you need reality checks on your hopes and dreams, click here and here (hint: you probably do).

For instructions on how to select the ideal life partner, based on my personal experience, click here.

Being disabled can be wrought with indignities. For a few examples that all occurred in one weekend, click here.

Sometimes I write about earlier memories, before MS, like here.

Other times I wax philosophical, like I did here and here.

I’m not above offering unsolicited advice, like here, here, here, and here.

Once in a while I post about how I have maintained the pursuit of certain passions, like here.

I came up with lists of the 10 worst aspects of having MS, and the 10 best.

I made one attempt at poetry. I promise I won’t do it again (yet I’m obviously proud of myself since I included it here).
I have also thrown together a few YouTube videos. Most of them feature my amazing iBot wheelchair, but some videos address other subjects. My YouTube channel can be found here.

If you enjoy this content, feel free to share the link with others. I hope to see you here again soon.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three Recommendations

Everybody is so busy today that they barely have time to deal with their ever-expanding responsibilities, let alone pause to watch something interesting or informative. And even if you do find a moment to sharpen the saw (we miss you Stephen Covey), who has time to sift through all the crap out there to find the stuff that’s worthwhile? Well, I do! Because I no longer work, and spend most days sitting in my wheelchair in front of my computer, I’ll be glad to take care of this for you.

#1: A Movie Called The Intouchables

Based in Paris, this is the true story about the interactions between a wealthy quadriplegic and his unconventional caregiver. If you’re in a wheelchair, stop what you’re doing and watch this movie right now. If you’re not in a wheelchair, you can go ahead and finish eating your dinner or cutting your toenails, or whatever else you may be doing, and then sit down and watch this movie!

#2: An Inspirational TED Talk about Using Technology to Help the Disabled

The presenter, Henry Evans, is a mute quadriplegic who is able to tap into cutting-edge technology to become re-engaged in the world around him. Very inspirational! Don’t be afraid to watch this – it won't make you uncomfortable.

#3: An Online Course Called The Big History Project

This one has nothing to do with disabilities.

Each of us endured our share of history courses in school, be it American, European, or ancient history. Also, we all managed to survive science courses where we were taught  facts about the universe, galaxies, and the solar system (except those of you who grew up in Louisiana). We all had at least one class focused on the Earth’s geology, environment, and/or biosphere. I recall that my freshman year Earth Science teacher had a speech impediment such that he pronounced the name of his course as Erf Science. Although many of my classmates were cruel, I felt bad for the guy. Couldn’t they have had him teach chemistry instead? Anyway…

I’m betting that none of you, however, was offered a single, all-encompassing course that tied everything together. There was no class that surveyed the history of our universe from the Big Bang to present day, broadly examining the series of events that led us to where we are today. Now there is such a course, and it’s awesome, and I just finished it.

The Big History Project is offered online, and free, because of a private group headed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and historian David Christian. And the beauty of this course format is that you can take your sweet time. There are nine sections, and each one will take you approximately 30 to 45 minutes to complete. Maybe you could tackle just one section per week? If you do take the course, please let me know what you think. Here’s the link.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Don’t Make This Mistake

There will be no images used in the production of this blog post.

I received a letter in the mail recently from a law firm in another state. It was peppered with phrases such as:
… Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Image… your website has, knowingly without a valid license or permission… unauthorized usage on your website… pursuant to… you are liable for… statutory damages between $750 and $30,000… not more than $150,000 per infringement… our client’s legal fees… immediately cease and desist…arrange a monetary settlement… we have been authorized to commence litigation… maximum statutory damages… etc.
I was accused of displaying someone else’s copyrighted image in a blog post in 2010. That person hired a lawyer to not only compel me take the picture down, but to negotiate a monetary settlement for the period of time that I used the picture. I thought that it must have been a mistake. I hurried to the subject blog post, and sure enough, there was a beautiful photographic image that belonged to this law firm’s client. Yes, I had put it on my blog (somewhere in the middle of the post) without permission or attribution. I could not have deleted that picture more quickly than I did.

The next decision I had to make was whether I needed to hire a lawyer for this, or whether I could try to resolve the issue myself. I chose the latter. I wrote a letter to the law firm, and asked them to pass it along to their client. My letter was peppered with phrases such as:
… I am in receipt of your letter… alleged copyright violations… I offer the following points for consideration… personal blog website, which sells no advertising and generates no income… no use of my legs… unable to work… Dragon NaturallySpeaking… inspired many people… pains me greatly that I might have caused anyone harm… never occurred to me that I might be committing any sort of copyright infringement… I apologize for my misuse of the image… need to continue producing compassionate blog posts for the disabled community… lesson learned on my part… etc.
Over the next few days I scoured my almost 300 blog posts to see if there were any other violations similar to this one. I now have a high degree of confidence that none of my posts will cause me this type of legal trouble in the future, and I will be oh so careful going forward.

A couple of weeks later I received a call from the law firm indicating that “It would be counterproductive to pursue this further. Since you’ve taken down the image we’ll consider this matter closed.”

I was quite relieved.

My point here is not to complain about what some may consider a disproportionate response by the photographer or his law firm. He was completely within his legal rights to pursue this matter the way he did. Who knows what he’s been through regarding copyright issues. My relatively benign infraction may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, or I may have been part of a broader roundup of offenders. I know that I certainly wouldn’t like it if someone plagiarized my writing, for example. The important thing is that I learned from my mistake, and I was able to mitigate any financial ramifications.

Perhaps some of you can learn from my mistake as well. Just because something pops up in a Google image search doesn't mean it's free for the taking. There are many options for public domain images. A few of these are listed in this article. Also, if you are a blogger, there’s a program called Zemanta, which works hand-in-hand with WordPress or Blogger, and offers up suitable images that match the text in your post.

Whew, that was close…
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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Boston Stronger (part 4 of 4)

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.
Click here for part 3.

Not only had the Red Sox succeeded, but Kim and I had as well. The tickets we purchased a couple of weeks earlier had turned out to be winners. As a skeptic, I refuse to accept the notion that anything is “meant to be” or that “everything happens for a reason”, but I’ll bite my tongue just this once if any of you feel compelled to make such an observation.

After the final pitch we stayed at Fenway and listened to interviews and speeches, and simply basked in the glow for a while longer. The stadium remained as full an hour after the end of the game as it had been during the game itself. When the festivities began to tail off, the time came for all but the most hard-core among us to start leaving the stadium.

When we got outside we were wedged in with the hordes of partiers exiting the local bars. The level of rowdiness went up another notch. We were mostly amused by the scene, at least for a while. It’s all good fun until somebody loses an eye, and we didn’t see anybody lose an eye.

Kim and I, as part of this mass of humanity, were herded off Lansdowne Street to the middle of Brookline Avenue, and then onto Newberry Street, and then Kenmore Street.  I feared, if only a little, that we were behaving too much like lemmings. At least we didn’t have to avoid traffic, because on this night there were no automobiles allowed near the stadium.

Kim doesn’t love these packed crowds, especially when I am navigating in balance mode in the iBot. But that’s the only way I like to move about in mobs. I don’t want my face down at ass level, unable to see what’s going on around me. I want to be standing tall so that I can plot a course.

Out of modesty I’ve refrained from making the following statement before, but I can resist no longer:

I am a highly skilled and slightly badass iBot pilot.

There you have it. If we’re in a mob and you get into my space, I will run over your toes, and it will hurt. But your response when that happens is to apologize to me for your carelessness and insensitivity. That’s apparently how it is supposed to go, because that’s what people keep doing. Kim is an exception. She bites back.

Finally, we were allowed to turn off Kenmore Street onto Commonwealth Ave. Out of nowhere, an obviously stoned Tigger and Eeyore darted in front of us, leaving startled looks and that characteristic aroma in their wake. It was after midnight and technically Halloween by then, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see characters from storybooks come to life.

Commonwealth is one of the busiest avenues in Boston, but we were walking down the middle of the street, in the middle of the city, in the middle of the night. It was a bit surreal. Eventually we intersected with Massachusetts Avenue, and a few minutes later we arrived at our van. What a welcome sight it was.

On the drive home Kim indicated that she was extremely tired. After all, we had been staying up to watch the Red Sox play these late games for a couple of weeks. I did my best to keep her alert, and we were never so happy as when we pulled into our driveway at 3:00 in the morning. Kim had already informed her school that she wouldn’t be in to work until late on Thursday, and of course everyone understood. There is no more legitimate excuse in New England than “I had to watch the Red Sox win the World Series last night at Fenway Park.”

We will never forget where we were and what we experienced on October 30, 2013. We are so happy that we took the chance on going to the World Series. It could not have worked out better. But these types of outings, especially with the craziness of a World Series elimination game, can be taxing on us. So I don’t think we’ll do it again. Instead, we will scratch “watch the Red Sox win the World Series” off our bucket lists. Next item on mine: “wheelchair skydiving”.

Final Thoughts

Never mind the morality; I can’t even understand the strategy behind terrorism. It seems to create a lot of smoke, blood, and death. But it never advances the cause of the terrorists themselves. After the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this year, what series of events did the bombers foresee, in the wake of their destruction, which could possibly work in their favor? Do Bostonians feel less safe than they used to? Maybe a little. Are they more wary than before? Somewhat, I suppose. But today the people of Boston are more resolute, resilient, and united than ever. Despite the deaths and the maiming, Boston is tougher after the bombings than before, and it was already pretty tough.

As an outsider, living almost 2 hours away, I had the unique opportunity this year to see the city soon after the bombings, and then immediately after the World Series victory. Obviously, the atmosphere could not have been more different.

The passage of time, and the support of family and friends were probably the most important factors in the city’s recovery, but what about the baseball team? What role did they play?

After any tragedy, people need positive distractions. Some distractions can be planned and executed, but often it’s the unexpected ones that are the most effective. How about a last-place team winning game after game, and often in dramatic fashion? How about ballplayers, executives, and owners reaching out into the community, visiting victims, and helping out financially? How about a team honoring heroes and wounded during pregame ceremonies, carving a “B Strong” in their outfield, hanging a 617 jersey in their dugout, and so much more? As the summer wore on, rightly or wrongly, more and more people turned to this baseball team for inspiration, and they provided it.

I’m not saying that if the Red Sox hadn’t been such a good team that Boston would be significantly worse off than it is. But neither can the effect this team had on the city be denied. In the end, the Red Sox provided as much support as they possibly could have, by their compassion and yes, by bringing a championship to Boston that October day.

And on that day Boston healed like never before.

And on that day, Boston was stronger.

Note: It may seem like this blog has turned into the New England Sports Journal, but I assure you after this series of posts I’ll avoid the topic of New England sports for a while. I promise!

Watch the smoke from the fireworks settle down on the field.

Kim and I made it on television.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Boston Stronger (part 3)

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

The game started slowly. Through two and a half innings nobody scored a run. Then, in the bottom of the third inning, with the bases loaded and the crowd aching for something positive to happen, Shane Victorino lined a shot off the green monster (Fenway Park’s 37 foot tall left-field fence), scoring three runs. Behind the outstanding pitching of John Lackey, and three more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Red Sox cruised to a 6 to 0 lead.

Although I was absolutely thrilled by these developments, I didn't allow myself to feel confident, per se, after what we Red Sox fans had endured in 1986. A part of me mentally prepared for an amazing comeback by the Cardinals.

I knew that my online friend, Joe, would be at the game.  I had emailed him our seat locations, and he and his wife, Victoria, showed up mid-game to introduce themselves in person. Below is a picture of the four of us. I love meeting up with folks I had previously known only through my computer. These encounters typically enrich the friendship. Plus, in our case we’ll always share this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

During games, I don’t consume many fluids because going to the bathroom takes so much time, and I hate to miss even a single pitch. Nevertheless, I usually have to use the bathroom at least once during a nine inning game. With the score 6 to 0 in the top of the seventh inning, and the Cardinals batting, I told Kim that we needed to make a run for the handicapped bathroom so that we wouldn’t miss any part of the last two innings.

Kim reached the handicapped bathroom first and looked back at me with a frown. There was a long line consisting entirely of youngish, healthy- looking people. She was upset, and rightfully so, because these apparent cheaters were going to keep us away from the game for a long time. However, I simply rolled up to the bathroom door in balance mode, acting as if I owned the place. I didn't even acknowledge the presence of these other people. When the door opened and someone walked out, the person in the front of the line looked at me, stepped aside, and said, “It’s all yours.” I quickly scanned the faces of the others in line, and there were no dissenters. A little assertiveness had done the trick.

When we returned to our seats, the Cardinals were rallying. But they were soon contained, and after seven and a half innings the score was 6 to 1. My resolve began to weaken. Against my better judgment, I allowed myself to believe, if only a little, that this might happen, and right in front of our very eyes.

Halfway through the eighth inning we drank in Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” like we always do. It's one of the highlights of every trip to Fenway. I described this tradition in a previous post:
On days when the Red Sox are losing it provides some consolation. On beautiful summer evenings, it confirms our love of the game. In postseason games that the Red Sox are winning, it can make you at least temporarily believe that all is right with the world, and maybe, just for that moment, it is.
Below is a video I took during the singing of Sweet Caroline in game six of the World Series. As you watch this, try to gain a sense of the shared joyfulness of 38,000 people united in song, counting down to a championship for their home team. It was awe-inspiring. (Note: if you are reading this in the body of an email you will have to go to the original post to watch the video.)

After Sweet Caroline, the last vestiges of my emotional safety net disappeared.  I was all in. The Red Sox were going to win this World Series, or I was going to crash (again).

In the top of the ninth inning we brought in our ace reliever, the Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara (yes the broad use of the pronoun “we” is intentional). As he jogged in from the bullpen the entire stadium exploded in sustained applause. This would be the final, climactic act in a season-long drama. Everyone stood up, including me in my iBot, and didn’t sit down again that evening. It took Uehara only 13 pitches to finish off the Cardinals.

I've tried unsuccessfully to find the words to describe what happened next. However, I can say this. Whether it was the residual frustrations of 95 years of never winning a World Series at home, or a lingering inability to feel comfortable, really comfortable, in this city since the April 15 Marathon bombings, or any other little thing that wasn't right in our lives at the moment, all of that was set aside and world was suddenly a brighter place. We knew this feeling could not last forever. Reality was waiting for us just around the corner. But as a group we accepted that it was our privilege and even our obligation to ride this wave of positivity for as long as we could. And we did. And none of us will ever forget it.

And here is our (rough) video of it.

Click here for part four.

Note: It may seem like this blog has turned into the New England Sports Journal, but I assure you after this series of posts I’ll avoid the topic of New England sports for a while. I promise!

Game Pictures

Post Game Pictures