Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers cover

by Robert Heinlein, 1959.

My first time reading this classic old Hugo winner. I'd seen the 1995 movie many years ago, which is clearly a satire, highlighting the fascistic tendencies of the dedicated military discipline required for humanity to survive in a dog-eat-dog galaxy.

But was that Heinlein's original intent? I don't detect that in my reading of it. The text seems, to my eyes, to be a straight-up endorsement and glorification of military discipline, corporal and capital punishment, and withholding citizenship from people who haven't served in the military.

I've seen people argue that, as an expert writer, Heinlein knew precisely what he was doing, and didn't need to draw attention to his critiques of fascism in order for an astute reader to realize that not everything espoused by the novel is necessarily good, or corresponds with the author's viewpoint. We are still discussing the novel 60 years later, and its relationship to fascism, so he has achieved his goal of getting us to think about it. After all, didn't Heinlein write this partway through his drafting of what would become Stranger in a Strange Land, which features hippy sexual freedom, and Troopers itself contains nods to racial and gender equality (albeit these are somewhat ham-fisted.) Hence, say some, Heinlein was would not genuinely have intended to advocate militaristic or fascist views.

I'm not convinced. It seems entirely possible that Heinlein was in favor of sexual freedoms, while in other regards advocating staunch militarism. He wrote Troopers directly in response to the US suspending nuclear weapons testing, which he wished to see resume. According to Wikipedia he stated at the time that he used the novel to clarify his military and political views, such as that the USA was too conciliatory in its dealings with China and the Soviet Union. In the book, the "bugs" - alien enemies, are explicitly referred to as communist, and depicted as mostly mindless drones, for which the only solution is eradication.

So. I don't agree with the author's outlook, and wasn't convinced by the book's interpretation of civics, and passages of moralizing. But it was an interesting, albeit naturally dated, read, to see what successful military SF looked like 60 years ago.

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War cover

by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone, 2019 spoilers

It's a marvellous literary romp, deploying the tropes and language of science fiction to deliver a scintillatingly poetic payload of — dare I say it — credible romance.

The combatants in the Time War seek to bring about historical outcomes which predispose those futures which will result in the generation of their own particular civilisation.

In one future, humans have embraced machine-oriented augmentation, uploads, and all that that implies. In the other, transformation is wrought by biological means, accepting humankind's role as a part of a natural ecosystem, boostrapping the whole to greatness by a ruthless application of evolutionary principles. Each finds the other repulsive, and their existence is mutually exclusive. From our perspective, they appear equally awe-inspiring and terrible to behold.

But, as intriguing as all that is, it's not why we're here. Instead we get the much more personal accounts of two omni-capable antagonists on the front lines. Theirs is a subtle art, weaving probabilities of lasting change through very human interventions - as well as wading knee deep in the dead when occasion demands it, to tip the scales of pivotal battles.

Regarding each other with wariness and respect, from across the gulf of realities, they battle up the threads and down the braids of innumerable possible pasts and futures. Until they begin sending what can only be characterized as letters to each other, albeit often encoded in startlingly — poetically — obscure ways, so as to remain secret from their enemies and their masters.

Around these letters are formed the novel's tight, alternating structure, reminding me of Bank's Use of Weapons. Before you know it, their respect for each other's skills has grown to full-blown giddy all-out love. But where to, from there? Their communications to date are already traitorous - grounds for terminal repercussions. Nowhen in the multiverse are they safe from their respective commanders. Losing the time war would mean they no longer — had never — existed. Winning the time war would mean the same for their opposite number.

At which point, the novel cleverly folds back on itself - these are consummate masters of time, and subtle but decisive influence, after all - to perform an act of escapology, hinting to us that all their previous acts and letters could be re-construed as having left a trail, ready to be exploited once the moment was right.

It's a long way from my usual preference of hard-as-nails SF, but I loved it nonetheless.

Children of Time

Children of Time cover

by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2015)

Lots of people love this, and it was jolly enough, but it just isn't for me. A couple of times I toyed with the idea of invoking my new policy of abandoning any book that isn't absolutely knocking my socks off - something I haven't previously been in the habit of.

It's unfair of me to compare one book with another, but partly, I was irked by featuring an alien planet of spiders, that being so reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's 1999 novel A Deepness in the Sky (and he can hardly be the first to play with that.)

To be fair, Tchaikovsky's spider civilization definitely exhibits more thought-out arachnid sensibilities, whereas Vinge's act more like a Dickensian family drama - "Button up warm, childlings!" "Yes, Daddy!". But Vinge was there first, and has such a high profile, being a sequel to a much-loved Hugo winner, that it casts a shadow on anything else following on the same path.

Partly, also, I've been spoiled by hard science fiction from people like Peter Watts - real scientists, who are devastatingly smart, and are not afraid to dazzle their readers with it, even if that makes it a little hard going at times. Something about Children of Time was just too easygoing for me.

The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant cover

by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2015 spoilers

A mythical tale, set in post-Arthurian England. Author Kazuo Ishiguro, Nobel prize winner for literature, is also famous for Klara and the Sun, Never Let Me Go, and The Remains of the Day (yes, that one about butlers.)

Ishiguro moved from Japan to England as a young child, and his insightful observation of English and Western culture and myth benefits from that transplant's perspective - at once deeply at home in England, and also an outsider to it.

The tale is populated by ragged peoples, affected by a pervasive amnesia. Elderly couple Axl and Beatrice abruptly decide to leave their village of damp, hobbit-like underground burrows to visit a son they'd forgotten they had.

Simlarly, other characters are inspired by a variety of classical sources, from Beowulf to Arthur's knight and nephew Sir Gawain, now old and prone to quixotic rants - hinting at the subconscious conflict his code of honor has with the dark means by which he and other knights formerly helped Arthur achieve the current uneasy peace between native Britons and invading Saxons, now occupying villages across the land.

The journey is perilous, encountering roaming ogres and deadly pixies, not to mention soldiers of the local lords, and deadly conflicts within the party itself.

But any action is relayed with cool distance. Either through the pervasive mental fog, or using expert fighters' clinical analysis of the minutia of stance or grip, or by foretelling the ebb and flow of a battle by analysing the terrain, then allowing the battle itself to take place off stage, only assumed to have happened, by characters who weren't there.

This muted indirectness is entirely in keeping with the ambiguous, dreamlike style of the book, which is heightened by the sing-song formalism of the characters' medieval speech, and the narrator's occasional surreal hint of relating this tale to contemporaries who live in some other, unidentifiable, historic time.

The journey eventually comes to revolve around the dispatch - or defence - of a dragon that is said to be the source of everyone's forgetfulness, and as this goal approaches, vague fears surface of what might be remembered when the mist lifts. Will Axl and Beatrice's treasured relationship survive the revelations of their pasts? Will the longstanding truce in the land survive the remembering of wartime battles and atrocities? Will Saxon resentment at Arthur's desperate misdeeds be stoked into resumption of the violent war of invasion? This is left unresolved by the novel's end, but as reader, we know that the Saxons did ultimately conquer all of England, displacing the Britons culturally and politically, and probably murdering a good number of them along the way.

Personally, I'm minded to think of ancient England here as being a root of modern Western culture, and the mist as an allegory for the bland ignorance of our own culture's atrocities. The deliberate forgetting, like the mist, clouds all our conciousnesses, making it hard for us to remember who we are. Why we're here. The silent resentment of crushed minorities and genocide survivors forms a pressure, struggling against the placating narrative that everything's OK now. But, contained, the pressure builds.

Truly a buried giant, indeed.

Permanent Record

Permanent Record

by Edward Snowden, 2019

I really enjoyed this memoir. The story is familiar, but intriguing to hear in the characteristically articulate words of Snowden himself.

He recounts growing up as a computer nerd in a family dedicated to military service, punctuated by startling scenes such as being caught in the pandemonium outside NSA headquarters as it was evacuated during 9/11, and the subsequent overreach of surveillance capability that triggered.

He describes the interesting parts of his ascent through jobs, and clearance levels, within the intelligence community, and how he came to slowly suspect — and later confirm — that the government was collecting all the communications and transactions, from everyone who touched a phone or computer, in America and across the world. A vast spying mechanism turned upon the populace, beyond the wildest dreams of the Stasi, who only surveilled one third of their population.

At "Constitution Day" in the office, a forlorn desk in the cafeteria hands out copies of the constitution, which his clearance had required that he, and his colleagues, swear an oath to uphold. He quoted the 4th amendment to colleagues:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

The responses were dead-eyed shrugs - yeah, sure, but what can you do? What indeed.

He describes the dangers of a government given too much power to spy on the everyday lives of its citizens, and the crisis of conscience that slowly lead to his decision to let the American people know that they were being spied upon, and his planning of how to go about it. How he slowly accumulated the hundreds of documents needed to reveal the full extent and capabilities of the spying apparatus. The extraction of those documents, hidden on his person on micro SD cards, concealed in places such as in a Rubik's cube he routinely carried through security. The months long process of selecting journalists who could both communicate the material coherently to the public, and vet the public releases to eliminate the risk to our undercover personnel.

His recounts the preparations for flight, tying up his affairs like a man about to die. Emptying bank accounts, leaving cash for his girlfriend to find. Leaving the house tidy and repaired. The necessity of flight, to avoid a show trial, devoid of any meaningful defense. A whistle-blower is not allowed to argue that their disclosures were civilly beneficial. Even now, when Snowden's leaks have caused Congress to change laws regarding surveillance, or caused the courts to strike down types of mass surveillance programs as illegal, or caused both the Attorney General and the President of the United States to admit that the resulting debate over mass surveillance was a crucial one for the public to have. All these claims would be dismissed by the court as not just irrelevant, but inadmissible, leading to a sentence of up to ten years per leaked document.

And finally, flight itself. A tense series of airplanes and delays, meeting the selected journalists in Hong Kong, selected for being sufficiently disjoint from Chinese rule so as not to taint his revelations with the suspicion of having sold out to China, but still sufficiently lawful, and under the auspices of the distant Chinese rule, that that the American government would not snatch him off the street with impunity.

The indulgence of the Hong Kong government fell apart, as the US filed for extradition. He fled bound for Ecuador, but was pulled aside during a 20-hour layover in a Moscow airport, for a conversation with Russian intelligence, during which Snowden insists he will not work with them, he only wants to catch his flight out. They reveal to him that he cannot leave, since the US State department has cancelled his passport. He is stranded in Moscow airport for 40 days, and eventually granted temporary asylum in Russia. Eventually, his girlfriend — who knew nothing about his plans — recovered from the shock of his unannounced departure, moved out to Moscow to be with him, and then a year later, they were married.

Manifold Garden

Manifold Garden screenshot

Windows, 2019

This was always going to turn my head, marrying a marvellous geometric engine to an austere, flat-shaded renderer. Bewildering portals, seamlessly disguised as humble doorways, are the simplest of its tricks. More pervasive, levels are wraparound along all three spatial dimensions, as can be seen by the disorienting arrays of geometry - the current level, infinitely repeated, offset or re-oriented - marching to the vanishing points, dwindling to infinity in all directions.

This is no mere trippy backdrop. Gravity can be trivially flipped to lie along any cardinal axis, and one will routinely step off, into a yawning, infinite abyss, to fall through the entire level, and beyond, through and amongst the infinite constellations of geometry, airsteering all the way, to land, unharmed, anywhere that's exposed to the direction you're falling from. It becomes a form of teleportation, used to get from A to B almost as frequently as simply walking around.

This non-Euclidean wrapping is baked deeply into the visuals, the engine, and the gameplay. But for all that technical mastery, the puzzles themselves aren't as deep and creative and varied as those in the ostensibly similar, but less technically accomplished, Antichamber.

Having said that, there's something entirely appropriate in this. The puzzles end up being as much rituals as a head-scratchers, holy spatial rites one performs to unleash the deeply evocative visuals towards the end of each level - a faceted and angular psychedelic, coupled with unnerving reformulations of reality straight out of Farbrausch's Debris. By the final level, this crescendos in scenes reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, profound in both the intimacy of my commune with godhood, and in my continued inability to understand what I had achieved. Created a universe, probably? Yeah, probably.

The Glass Bead Game

The Glass Bead Game cover

by Hermann Hesse (1943). Translated from German to English with evident devotion and expertise by Clara Winston & Richard Winston. spoilers

This novel is described by some as the culmination of Hesse's career, for which he received a Nobel Prize for Literature. Many reviews on Goodreads cite it as a life-changing novel, or as a singular all-time favorite book.

I must confess with some sadness that I must have entirely missed the point. I have not enjoyed it at all. The number of books I failed to finish in my life is surely less than five, and this very nearly became one of them.

The first half describes Knecht's education and career within the rarefied academic atmosphere of some distant future European state's "pedagogical province", wherein (exclusively male) scholars devote their time to mastery of the titular game. This relies upon drawing deep relationships between all fields of human study, such as music and biology.

Knecht is talented and likeable, and rises effortlessly through the ranks, without exhibiting any real volition of his own, other than being naturally predisposed to study, and having an instinct for drawing out the best in people. He is ultimately assigned to the highest office in the land, without encountering any substantive antagonist or difficulty along the way.

The mechanics of the game itself, about which all this ostensibly revolves, is deliberately never explained, other than poetic references to glass beads being used to exquisitely interrelate insights or concepts from multiple fields of study.

This first half of the book bored me to absolute tears. If I had to find a single word to describe Knecht, despite his diligence, it would be "inactive".

At the halfway point through the book, this serenity is interrupted by Knecht making the controversial decision to quit, not just from his exalted post, but from the whole system over which it rules. He leaves the insular academic province entirely, to begin a new life, subject to more real-world constraints. Just at this very moment, as the narrative becomes interesting, this section abruptly ends in a very unexpected manner.

Out of the whole book, this moment resonates with me. Knecht has spent a life devoted to scholarly thought, but after many decades he throws off the expectations of that life to forge his own path. Mere days after that decision, a moment of physical exertion proves to be his sudden undoing.

Does this show that Knecht should have more highly valued the protections from the physical world that his intellectual castle provided? That someone raised in such a cosseted environment was unsuitable to face the rigors of the real world? Or should I instead observe that, despite his ostensible success and satisfaction with life, in waiting so long before daring to strike out on his own, and then find days later that his time was up, Knecht has in some ways wasted his life doing something other than what he really wanted to do?

Neither of these seem particularly compelling to me, nor sufficient for the larger themes that I suspect the book might actually be grappling with.

The second half of the book contains various poems, written by Knecht when he was younger, containing premonitions of his aspirations and his doubts. It ends with three short tales, each describing an alternate life that Knecht might have lived in other times. Apparently early drafts had these tales being literal other lives Knecht was reincarnated into. But in the published book, they are presented without context, and I think it is only by consensus that they are commonly understood to be grouped with the earlier poems as examples of Knecht's writing - his imagination of other lives he might have lived.

I did not understand the relevance of these tales to the larger portion of the book, other than the way they forcefully contrast with it, by immersing Knecht in emotional and painful tales of life embedded within a wider society, rather than abstractly observing its achievements from without. As such, they force him into action, and to me they are more engaging for it.

Wikipedia informs me that each of the four tales of Knecht's life focuses on a different basic aspect of analytical psychology: thinking (Magister Ludi), sensation (The Rainmaker), intuition (Indian life) and feeling (The Father Confessor). Similarly, several of the book's characters who had influence on Knecht are thinly-veiled references to real world people, some famous such as Friedrich Nietzsche, others being acquaintances of the author.

All of which seems reasonable, but doesn't really help me understand what I just read. Perhaps each tale of Knecht, in focussing on one human trait, is lacking because it undervalues the other three. Perhaps. ¯\(ツ)

Keyboard CoolerMaster CK530's Missing Manual

I have a CoolerMaster CK530 mechanical keyboard, which I love. It might have come with a small printed manual, but if it did, I no longer have it, and I'm failing to find one online. Here's are some things I've gleaned from experimentation. If there's a manual I've overlooked, or if you have corrections, let me know.

The Quickstart guide provides a list of key strokes, but no explanations. I've reproduced the table here, with tweaks for understandability, and added more descriptions below.

Select a mode
fn + F5 Cycle modes.
fn + F8 Demo (automatically cycles through modes).
Tweak mode
fn + F1 Cycle 8 color variations of the current mode.
fn + F2 Red level 0-9.
fn + F3 Green level 0-9.
fn + F4 Blue level 0-9.
fn + F6 Foreground color. (See below.)
fn + F7 Background color.
fn + Up Faster.
fn + Down Slower.
fn + Left Forwards.
fn + Right Backwards.
fn + F10 In "custom" mode, define color of each key.
fn + Esc Default profile
fn + 1 Profile 1 (see mnemonic "P1" - "P4" on sides of these keys)
fn + 2 Profile 2
fn + 3 Profile 3
fn + 4 Profile 4
fn + r Reset current profile to default appearance. (Hold 3 secs.)
fn + e Reset all profiles to default appearance. (Hold 3 secs.)
fn + F11 Record a macro
fn + F12 Delete macro
fn + PrtSc Single
fn + ScrLk Infinite loop
fn + Pause Repeat
fn + Ins Play / pause
fn + Home Next track
fn + Del Stop
fn + End Previous track
fn + PgUp Volume up
fn + PgDown Volume down
fn + F9 Cycle unlocked(off) / lock windows key(red) / lock whole keyboard(green)

Many of these are self-explanatory. For the rest:

Using modes

fn is the "Coolermaster" key, on the bottom row key between right Windows and right Ctrl.

When holding fn, several keys might light up, depending on the current mode:

  • ESC/1/2/3/4 - one of these keys flashes white to show which profile (see below) is currently in use.
  • If the current mode allows you to select a color to use, then F2/F3/F4 will light up to show the currently selected color's levels of red/green/blue.
  • If the current mode allows two colors to be set (foreground & background), then one of F6/F7 will flash white, to show which is currently affected. (See below.)

Pressing fn + F5 cycles through:

Mode Foreground . Background . Reactive.
1. All off
2. Static (all one color)
3. Rainbow wave
4. Crosshair
5. Reactive fade
6. Custom (see below)
7. Stars
8. Rain
9. Color cycle
10. Breathing
11. Ripple
12. Reactive punch
13. Arcing
15. Fireball
16. Tornado (color spin)
17. Reactive tornado
18. Water ripple
19. Snake

Modes marked "reactive" react to key-presses. Mostly this lights up a pattern around the pressed key. In the case of "snake", you can play using the arrow keys.

Foreground & background colors

Many of the modes have a foreground effect that you can change the color of. For example, in the all-one-color mode (officially called "static") you can select the color with which all keys are lit, using fn + F2/F3/F4.

Some of the modes also have a second color, the background, that you can set separately. You can see if a mode offers this by selecting the mode and holding fn. If this mode offers two settable colors, then either F6 or F7 will flash white, to show you which one you are currently setting.

Press fn + F6/F7 to choose foreground or background, then use fn + F2/F3/F4 to set it.

Custom mode

Custom (mode #6 above) lets the user assign a different color to each key.

  1. First, cycle through modes using fn + F5 until you reach custom mode. It can be tricky to identify when you've reached it. Use the list of modes above to help.
  2. While in custom mode, press fn + F10 to edit key colors.
  3. Select a color using fn + F2/F3/F4.
  4. Press all the keys you want lit in the selected color. Pressing the same key again turns it unlit.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for other color/key combinations.
  6. Finally, save to your current profile (see below) by holding fn and pressing your current profile key (whichever of Esc/1/2/3/4 is flashing white.)

Some wrinkles:

I can't manage to set a color for the fn key itself, which always appears unlit in this mode.

The caps lock key is unlit in this mode, unless caps lock is on. Similarly, scroll lock seems to always be unlit for me in this mode, although it is lit in other modes.

When you try to assign a color to whichever one of Esc/1/2/3/4 is lit white, to indicate the active profile, then nothing visible happens, but it is working. You have to save (step 6 above). Then you can see whether you successfully assigned the color, or pressed the key one too many times and left it unlit.

While editing key colors, if you wait, without exit/saving, pressing nothing for a minute or so, then key color editing times out, cancelling all your changes since step 2.


There are five "profiles", each of which can be used to save the current state of the keyboard.

The profiles are accessed using fn + 1/2/3/4/Esc. Esc is the "default" profile. Current keyboard settings (e.g. illumination mode and customized colors) can be saved to one of the five profiles, and then loaded back later. Are macros stored in a profile? Don't know.

The current profile is shown when you hold fn, by one of 1/2/3/4/Esc flashing white. While keeping FN pressed:

  • Pressing the flashing profile key will save the keyboard state to your current profile.

  • Pressing any of the other profile keys will LOAD that profile, losing the current keyboard state.

Hence, to save changes to an arbitrary profile, you need to select that profile before making the changes.

When turning the keyboard on (ie. Plugging the USB cable into a computer), the active profile will be whichever one was last active.


Self Calm cover

by Chris DeLeon (2018)

Roman Emperor Marcus Auralias' notes, traditionally titled Meditations, are a foundational text for practical Stoicism. They comprise a multitude of observations and recommendations, grouped into sections such as "Keeping thoughts tranquil", and "Cooperation, collaboration and contribution". They offer advice for living a contented life, with less regret, sorrow, anger and fear.

Several translations exist, themselves dated from through the ages. This book combines them, to synthesize a text which doesn't hew as precisely to the original as a straight translation might, but is instead intended to have the most relevance to modern ears.

Confession: It's taken me months to get through it. Partly this is because I've allowed myself to be distracted by more gaudy and immediate books along the way. Partly it's because I found the best way to read this was slowly. Practically every paragraph is worth reflecting upon, to consider how it applies to my own life, and ponder what practical, specific next steps are implied.

If I had to criticize, it would only be the superficial wrinkle that there's a lot of repetition, such as hundreds of suggestions to not fear death. Apparently the original documents were accumulated over decades of Auralias' life.

Genuinely life changing.

You can get the epub for free from the author's gumroad page.

Things They Don't Tell You About Peroral Endoscopic Myotemy


The problem

This year I was diagnosed with achalasia. It's a rare condition in which nerve damage causes weak and poorly coordinated swallowing in the esophagus, including a reluctance of the lower esophageal sphincter, leading to the stomach, to properly relax at the appropriate moment.

This leads to difficulty swallowing, regurgitation, and a column of liquid sitting in the esophagus, which becomes distended, losing elasticity and tone. The cause of the nerve damage is unknown, and has probably been accumulating for decades. It's reasonable to assume this is mixed up in some way with various ailments of my guts over the years (celiac, eosinophilic esophagitis, chronic hiccups), but causal relationships are unknown.

A solution, of sorts

Peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) is a surgical procedure intended to allow the esophagus to drain properly, avoiding further distension. Surgery happens through a tube down the throat, from where they cut into the muscle wall of the oesophagus, then tunnel down to the outside of the lower esophageal sphincter. There, they cut some of the muscle, making the sphincter less tightly clenched, so that food can pass more easily.

For me, my symptoms were a nuisance, but perfectly endurable. The main goal of the procedure was preventative - reduction in future damage to my esophagus. Plus, there's an outside chance that maybe eliminating that standing fluid might improve other matters, such as reducing irritation which maybe causes my hiccups? Long shot, but worth a try.

There's a lot of information given to the patient through the process, but these are the things that were still surprises to me.

Day 0. The procedure.

I've undergone a lot of regular endoscopic inspections or biopsies. At some point, in London's splendid Imperial College Hospital, I discovered the cheat code is to ask to do these unsedated. It's a few minutes of slightly nightmarish discomfort, to watch a burly gentleman hand-over-hand several feet of black rubber garden hose directly into your mouth. But the payoffs are that without any anesthetic, there's no need to fast, the procedure itself is simpler and safer, and best of all, recovery time is much reduced. Given a few minutes to compose yourself, you can cycle or drive yourself home right afterwards, making it a 45 minute appointment, instead of writing off most of the day.

However, going unsedated for the more substantial POEM obviously isn't an option. It requires more than the simple sedation I've experienced before, since apparently there's a phase at the end where they check you're regaining consciousness and are able to breathe for yourself before they remove the apparatus that's been breathing for you while you are paralyzed for the procedure. This is the sort of detail that is kindly elided from the regular patient briefing, which only came up because we were asking questions.

I only remember coming around sometime after that point, and my first thought, unplanned, was to test whether I could perform square and cube roots in my head. Apparently that's my brain's idea of a power-on self test. I could do small integers, like 27 -> 3, but had the presence of mind enough to see that's just relying on remembered sequences. I was able to envision the process to do the calculation for something which isn't a cube, like 28, but I failed to actually execute any iterations of it.

I said hello to a nurse sat beside me, but resisted the urge to chatter at her about my mental state. Somehow, even I could see that from her perspective, that would be like talking to drunk people. So now I'm doing it at you instead.

After a while they rolled me into my own room, and stuck a big pad over my butt. Foreshadowing! I fuzzily thought. I stayed in hospital overnight, for tests the next day. Forever grateful for Suze's visits even though I wasn't the best of company. :-)

My hiccups didn't reappear through the first few hours of my recovery, even though I spent the time propped upright in bed. This is pretty unusual - they usually return within seconds of me sitting up. But when they did return, they were pretty painful. What I call "hiccups" is partly a spasm of the esophagus itself - precisely where I'd just been cut and then clamped and sutered back together. So I asked the nurse to dial up the pain meds, at first with breezy British grit, and then with increasingly wild eyes and white knuckles as they took a while to figure out a few local administrative issues, like where the person with the keys to the drugs locker had gone. Rode out the rest of the day in style.

Day 1. Restart the line

I'd brought a bunch of things for my two day hospital stay, books and media and headphones and my own cozy pajamas to wear while garrulously socializing with staff and adjacent patients. That was all a total waste of time. I was a write off the entire time I was there, not able to muster the bandwidth even to watch TV. I saw a single episode of Schitt's Creek at one point because Suze kindly propped it up in front of me, but I couldn't manage a 2nd. I just dozed, and was wheeled to a barium x-ray, to check I wasn't leaking anywhere untoward.

At some point during this day, my digestive tract started up again. It became apparent that it had just been on strike, inactive, since the surgery. I felt it ripple distressingly back into action, along with some impressive gurgles. The big pad they'd stuck on me the day before turned out not to be vital in this instance, but I can very much understand how it often might be.

The nurse introduced me to a plastic device for measuring and exercising my ability to inhale deeply, on which I could occasionally surpass the initial expectation of 1,000 points.

My ambitions for the day were to get out of bed and take a 2 minute walk, and later in the day to tolerate my first drinks, some water and fruit juices, sufficiently to get approved to go home. Leaving hospital with some prescription, gluten free, clear liquid pain killers proved to be an impossible administrative nightmare. Nobody's fault, the system is broken. The concept of "insurance" for healthcare is inherently dysfunctional.

Day 2. Home again

At home for five days of a clear liquid diet. This means water, strained fruit juices & drinks without suspensions (i.e. no particles floating in it to make it opaque), tea or coffee without milk, clear broths. Also, slightly bizarrely, jello, since it may be eaten while solid, but at room (or body) temperature, it's a liquid. I demurred on Suze's threat to make jello shots.

Ambitions for today were to rise from the sofa for a shower, and a walk or two around the inside of the house. Scoring 1,500 points on the breathe-o-meter. Importantly, I now have it together enough to be able to watch some dumb TV.

Day 3. Outdoors.

Ambitions today were to take a walk or two around our yard. Scoring 2,000 points on the breathe-o-meter! Yay, progress. Able to concentrate enough to read.

Day 4.

Ambitions today were to take a couple of walks around the block. Scoring 3,500 points on the breathe-o-meter. I have no idea what my baseline was.

Day 5.

First full day and night without any pain killers. Ambitions for today were to take it easy and not mow the lawn (check!). Might have to get someone in to do it for us. I'd be writhing in guilt if Suze had to go out and manhandle our temperamental mower around. 4,500 on the breathe-o-meter.

Day 6.

Back to work - from home, at a desk.

Over lunch I visit the hospital for an x-ray and more tests. I was hoping to graduate to a soft food diet today, but surgeon says that, although he's happy with my progress, out of an abundance of caution he's going to keep me on clear liquids until day 9. Then a soft food diet for six weeks. C'est la vie. Back home to more apple juice. At least I'm still under instructions to take it easy, so retain my excuse for not mowing the lawn...