Future looking at BCIT

Today, I am taking part in a conversation with many members if the School of Computing and Academic Studies (SoCAS), in which I teach my course COMP 1950.

Discussions are focused on creating the dream of where we want to be, which allows us to build the reality of how we get there. It’s a complicated and detailed vision, with each participant having their own stake in that plan.

Back Down

4 days ago while moving boxes upstairs from the basement, I had a back twinge. Later that day the twinge turned to severe pain. By the next morning I couldn’t walk without significant pain.

I went to go see a physiotherapist yesterday and he confirmed that I have a disc problem, causing my sciatic nerve to be in serious pain. It hurts to sit, stand, lie down, walk, crawl or even think too hard.

I’ve had sciatic pain most of my life, but never this bad. It’s utterly crippling and every single thing I do is painful.

I hope my body can heal. This is brutal.

A Year Gone By

A year ago, my friend Derek Miller passed away from cancer after a 4-year fight that he documented on his site, penmachine.com.

His last post, which he entrusted to me, went viral (CBC, Daily Mail UK, Globe, MeFi, Brisbane Times, among many others) and was seen by millions of people around the world. I was unprepared for the enormous popularity of the post and spent the next 4 days in sheer panic as I searched for servers with ever-greater bandwidth to place his final words.

I was riding an emotional roller-coaster: dealing with the death of my friend, working hard with friends and colleagues to stabilize access to his blog, realizing that each new solution wasn’t enough to handle the load. I was devastated that his final words were being missed in the tiny window of opportunity offered by the attention-deficit online community that would soon move on to other things, but I was also elated that his words would be seen by people that might never have read his writings.

A year later, everything is back to normal on the site. I still have trouble reading his words, looking at his picture and listening to his music, but I do all of those things anyway. I’m the custodian of his site and I take pride in this task he bestowed on me – a bittersweet burden.

Derek shared a lot of interests, which is what brought us together almost 30 years ago. Yesterday I found some CDs that he shared with me many years ago and it reminded me of when we were younger, comparing music that we favoured. I was a strong Zeppelin, Floyd, Who and Beatles fan. He was a big fan of early Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson. I spent most of yesterday listening to two of our favourites, ending with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.

Thanks, Derek, for being my friend. I miss you.

Goodbye Derek

Yesterday, my good fried Derek K. Miller passed away at the age of 41 from complications associated with colorectal cancer.

Derek and Me

I knew Derek for about 27 years, meeting when we were both in the Apple Alliance, a club for people interested computing devices from a small company in Cupertino, California.

We became friends almost instantly, with similar likes and both of us part of a geek culture that hadn’t quite caught on yet. At about the same time, we were both enthusiastic members of the local modem/bulletin board community, when connection speeds of 300 baud were standard and we longed for a 1200 baud Hayes Smartmodem. Today, a typical ADSL or Cable modem is around 50,000 times faster. At the time, you could quite literally read faster than the words were being printed to the screen.

A few years later, Derek got his driver’s license and we used to drive around town after school and on the weekends, meeting up with others of our ilk, eventually christening ourselves with the name “The Excursionists” for our frequent travels and explorations. We could often be found at a Denny’s, having sugar-packet wars from table to table, or causing trouble in hotel elevators and stairwells.

Eventually, Derek’s parents moved to Toronto and his house welcomed three roommates: Andrew, Sebastian and myself. We had a fantastic time, created the first glimmerings of a band, invited people for movie nights, and lived like a bunch of bachelors. It was an incredibly formative period in my life, and one that I’ll never forget.

Derek originally was interested in being a guitarist, but as Seb and I already had shown some interest in that direction, Derek decided to try his hand at drumming. He quickly became adept and served as our bedrock for all musical endeavours.

After a few band iterations and a lot of cover tunes played, The Flu was born, with all-original music. We all brought our own efforts to the group, but Derek had a knack with lyrics that really made the difference. He was a talented singer, songwriter, drummer, guitarist and all-round musician. The Flu recorded an album over a number of sessions in 1993 and 1994, culminating with a mini-tour to Australia in February of 1995. It was a magical time for all of us, playing to big crowds at impressive venues, being interviewed on national radio and acting like geeky rock stars.

Soon after, however, I saw that life as a musician could be a cold, unforgiving one unless you hit it big, so I decided to move on. I took a job with my father out in New Brunswick and left the band behind. Derek and the other band mates continued on in various incarnations, with new people coming and going throughout the years.

It was in the summer of that year that Derek and Airdrie were married, and I was deeply honoured to be the emcee at his wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony at Hart House, next to Deer Lake, a photo of the bride and groom which I still have in my living room.

I returned from New Brunswick in under a year after a series of tumultuous experiences, leading to a number of years of depression and internal conflict. Derek and I continued as friends, but our lives were no longer as tightly overlapped. I found work with a software company and put my newly-developed web skills to the test. Soon, I was looking for a better opportunity and Derek provided me the connections at Multiactive (now called Maximizer), resulting in us becoming colleagues in the same department.

A few years later, I saw a great opportunity to run my own web development shop, and I took my leave of Multiactive. Derek helped out early on, providing me assistance in writing and general support. It was during this time that I convinced him to share his writing with the world and helped him start a blog. He took to the task with enthusiasm and continued writing right up to his passing. His writing was so prolific, his site frequently shows up in my search results even for subjects that I would think are unrelated to Derek.

Ultimately, my small business didn’t pan out, but Derek was there with help in the form of an edited resume and a suit-jacket that he let me borrow for my interview at BCIT, where I still work today. I credit him with helping me get a job that I enjoy and am thankful for.

When Derek called me in January of 2007 to tell me he was going to post something to his blog, but he wanted to talk to me first. In true Derek fashion, he just came out with it: “I have cancer”. We talked about how he found out, what it meant, technical discussion (we always got into the details fairly quickly) about treatment and potential outcomes. After the phone call I was dazed, but hopeful. I was sure that this would simply be a blip on the radar that would disappear after a successful treatment. This was Derek, after all.

As time wore on, treatment began, then there was surgery, some hope of success, news became more dire, experimental drugs happened, and finally he decided that it was was enough. I wished then, as I do now, that there was something, anything, that I could have done to allay this fate that had befallen him. It seemed so unfair and targeted someone so undeserving. But as Derek would say: “No one said life was fair.

Over the years, Derek proved himself to be an honest, faithful, intelligent, capable friend. I have been awed by his seemingly endless ability to grasp ideas and skill, jealous of his writings ability and grateful for his friendship. His words have changed the lives of many and his music has been shared around the world.

Derek K. Miller, my good friend, you died peacefully at around 6:40pm on May 3, 2011 in the loving company of your family. I love you and will forever miss you. Thank you for calling me friend.