Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In-Depth Details About the Shoulder Surgery

Some of this is redundant, but I wrote up a long, detailed post for my friends who swing on the travelling ring rig down at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica.

It includes post-surgery photos and lots of details for anyone considering a similar surgery:

swingaring.com message board post

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The arthroscopic shoulder surgery went well

I had my arthroscopic shoulder surgery on Monday at UCLA Medical Center. The original injury in March (doing a "dislocate" on Still Rings when I wasn't warmed up) never healed on its own nor did a few months of physical therapy make it any better. After an inconclusive MRI (only shoulder minor tendon irritation), the next step was arthroscopic surgery where they stick a camera inside and see for themselves what's going on.

The nice bonus with arthroscopic surgery is that not only can they see what's wrong, but they can usually fix it while they're in there. Somehow with three small incisions they can place the camera and their tools in there to get the job done. Pretty amazing. Recovery time is obviously quicker too since you aren't being completely opened up.

Before the surgery they had me write "Yes" on the arm that was to be operated on. It's surprisingly difficult to write with your left hand on your own arm. The nurse was very impressed with the legibility of my "Yes". Dawn was pretty amused to see it while I was in the recovery room afterwards and had to take a picture of it.

They gave me an optional nerve block on the entire right arm. Getting the nerve block in kind of sucked - they have to insert an electrode into the area between your neck and traps muscle and poke around until they find the right spot on the nerve trunk. They test the position by sending a small current through the electrode causing your arm, elbow, whatever to twitch. When they jacked up the current to get a good solid test, the resulting muscle spasm is a little painful. They must have had me slightly sedated because normally that whole deal would have freaked me out more than it did.

Then I was put under general anaesthesia before the 90-minute surgery began. The next thing I remembered was dry heaving as I came out of it. I didn't wake up and then start heaving - the heaving woke me up. They said that they administered some anti-nausea drug and that calmed me down some.

Overall it was a struggle to recover from the general anaesthesia. I was really tired but not exactly sleepy. The nausea was really annoying. The nurse came by fifteen minutes later and declared, "you look like you're coming out of the haze a bit more". She was right - I hadn't realized that I was in a haze until she made that remark. It made me realize that I was more aware of my surroundings, rather than just sitting in a haze of shivery, exhausted nausea. It was a little surprising how cold I was. It took a while to feel warm again, even after they piled on warm blankets.

I really wanted to sleep but I wasn't sleepy enough even though I felt exhausted. But the bigger problem was the nerve block on my right arm. I wasn't feeling any pain at all because I couldn't feel that arm at all. Couldn't twitch it, couldn't feel my hand touching the skin, nothing. It completely freaked me out. I just couldn't stop thinking about my dead, missing arm.

It's like when you wake up in the middle of the night and a limb has fallen asleep. Whenever that happens to me I instantly panic and thrash around until feeling returns. Only this time that wasn't an option. I tried to just lay still and ignore it, but I couldn't. My brain believed that my dead arm felt cold, but when I touched it with my left hand it actually felt really warm - as if they had packed a heat pack in there with it. Somehow psychologically it was better when I held the warm dead hand with my left. It gave my brain at least a little feedback about how that limb was doing.

The wooziness from the anaesthesia wore off fairly quickly but I was still a little queasy. The nurse let me swish water around in my mouth but wouldn't let me swallow it. She said it would just make me want to vomit again. I was hooked up to a full saline bag and she waited for it to all drain into me. She said the liquid would really help fight off the nausea.

My surgeon was in another surgery so I didn't get a chance to talk to him about how things went. After another half hour or so they let me get dressed and finally go to the bathroom to relieve my bladder. They pumped me so full of liquids during surgery and recovery. And I've found that I just can't pee into the little container while lying down. I couldn't do it after my foot surgery and I couldn't do it here. The combination of gravity fighting you and a lifetime's worth of training myself not to pee in my bed make it impossible for me.

They discharged me pretty soon after and I rode home in my sister's car. Three-quarters of the way back to my apartment I had to have her pull over because I was feeling sick. I dry heaved a few times and felt a lot better. She got me back to the apartment without incident.

For the first few hours I mostly just sat in a chair or my roommate's recliner. I still couldn't sleep because the dead arm still freaked me out. As the effects of the general anaesthesia diminished I felt completely awake and not really tired. Still no pain in my arm but the dead arm really continued to bother me. I started pacing around the room, trying to get my heart rate up, thinking that the more active I was, the quicker my body would get over the nerve block.

I did start to get some feeling in my palm and wrist. I could vaguely feel sensations and I could vaguely sense heat. The walking around seemed to help and within half an hour I could feel something in my pointer finger. After another hour or two I was starting to get sensation in all my fingers. Three or four hours later I could barely twitch them.

As the nerve block started to give way I figured I better take a painkiller before the pain really kicked in. I couldn't eat much - some water and two pieces of bread were a huge victory after an entire afternoon of nausea - so about an hour after I took the first hydrocodone I vomitted a few times again. But the stuff worked and I really didn't feel any pain.

That night I slept in my roommate's recliner - the elevation made it much more comfortable since my arm was in a sling. It was just too uncomfortable to lay on my back while my forearm kind of jutted straight upwards. The recliner let me nestle my elbow into a corner without pushing up into my shoulder.

I didn't sleep all that well, but slept enough.

More to come - including pictures from Day 4 when I got to take the bandages off!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And a not-so-quick fix

My poor audio system...

The surround processor that died this week is off to the engineers at Harman/Madrigal... in Massachussets. And, as feared, I had to also send its partner component (the two work as a tandem and each are useless without the other). That meant two 24x24x13 inch 27lb boxes shipped across the country. $62 just to get the equipment to the lab. The repair bill could be as high as $900 but I'm guessing it'll be closer to $250. Still not cheap.

And with the holiday season upon us I'm sure it'll take a while for them to fix it. If it's back before the second week of January, I'll be thrilled.

Quick Fix

The banzaifilms.com emailer is back up and running without too much trouble. It did however cost me $20.

In order to host my Websites from my apartment over our new Verizon DSL line I had to go through no-ip.com to deal with my dynamic IP address (normally you assign a domain name to a fixed IP, but when your ISP can change your IP at will you need a dynamic solution). They also offer a service called "Alternate-Port SMTP" which allows you to relay your outgoing mail through their mailserver. Since Verizon won't relay outgoing emails on their servers, this is the only option (other than running my own mail server). And, as the name suggests, if your ISP is blocking the SMTP mail port (25), the no-ip service will skirt the issue by offering a non-standard port through which to send messages (3325).

The service is $20/yr and it's all pretty simple and easy. It adds some long term stability since I shouldn't have to reconfigure my emailer even if I change ISPs or move out of this apartment.

I don't know why I'm particularly proud of the banzaifilms emailer but it always makes me happy to see those auto-generated messages appear in my inbox each week. Well worth $20.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New reviews up on banzaifilms.com from Dec 12th

With my DSL switch to Verizon my home-grown banzaifilms.com emailer no longer works (Verizon doesn't allow outgoing mail relaying which is probably smart). Here are the latest reviews from the last week:

Latest Movies Reviewed:
Aladdin (1992)
The Lion King (1994)
[see more reviews]

New Full-Length Reviews:

Eagles: Hell Freezes Over (1994)

Banzai's rating: 9
Excellent music, incredible musicians, and masterful, audiophile-grade DTS 5.1 sound. The world of audiophile-grade recordings is broad, but very few cross into the realm of pop culture - this is a must-have recording.
[Read the full review]

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Banzai's rating: 6
An unaccomplished director gets in the way of translating Jane Austen's beloved novel to the big screen. Talented actors show potential but overall this is a missed opportunity. Modestly entertaining but hardly on a par with the source material.
[Read the full review]

Friday, December 09, 2005

Audiophilia: Son of a...

Well that was brief. My stereo system is dead.

My surround decoder (Proceed DSD) is sending bad pops and clicks to the speakers and is giving off a bad odor. Not good signs at all.

I opened up the case to see if there was an obvious problem. Looks to me like a capacitor has blown. Damn. This is on the board that outputs to the surround channels but for some reason the pops and clicks are going out to all the speakers. Seems odd that a failure on one board would have spill-over effects on others, but who knows what's going on in all that circuitry. And maybe there's another problem further up the line.

The company's offices are closed for the weekend already so I'll have to wait until Monday to find out if and where I can get this thing fixed. Grrr. And I was 95% of the way to having the system perfectly set up with all the pieces finally in place!

The DSD is a little old - I bought it used from a hi-end stereo shop. But stereo equipment is supposed to be pretty durable and long-lasting. No moving parts to break down and as long as you buy quality gear - which Proceed definitely is - you should be good for a decade or two. This is either just bad luck or maybe I need to rethink my approach to surge protection and line conditioning. So far I've only been using Isobar surge protectors.

The DSD has been a little flakey and stubborn since I've had it but this came out of nowhere. It was working fine last night and then as soon as I turned it on today it was crackling.

I'll bet we'll be well into January by the time this is fixed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Audiophilia: Random Speaker Wiring Tips

I'll augment this with some pictures when I get a chance, but here's a quick survey of the tips I've picked up over the last few weeks:

**Speaker wire is measured in "AWG" which stands for something... All you need to know is that the lower the number, the fatter the wire. And the fatter the better. 10 AWG wire is probably the fattest wire one could reasonably afford on a per foot basis (~$0.60/ft). 12 AWG is a little cheaper and is okay for reasonable runs (30ft or less). I wouldn't go with anything smaller than 12 AWG though. Hardly seems worth the cost at that point. And unless you're disgustingly rich there doesn't seem to be much reason to spend extra money on exotic speaker wire. A good 10 AWG wire should do the job without much compromise.

Recommended 12 AWG wire: PartsExpress Sound King $0.43/ft
Pretty flexible and feels like a fatter version of your average speaker wire. Nothing fancy here. The individual strands are small and a little delicate. This wire has gotten good reviews out on the Web.

Recommended 10 AWG wire: Blue Jeans Cable's "Ten White" $0.57/ft
Comes in a somewhat rigid white jacket with helpful black/red insulated wire inside. The wire itself is stranded, composed of rather thick, strong strands. Definitely feels substantial. A large upgrade from the 12 AWG Sound King wire. I really like this stuff. I have not done A/B comparisons against the Sound King wire (even I have better things to do with my time) but I have absolute confidence in the quality of the "Ten White".

**A good crimp to a spade lug is a better terminator than wrapping bare wire around a binding post and your only audiophile-grade option if you're not skilled with a soldering iron (which I am not). The problems with bare wire are many:

- heavier gauge wire isn't all that flexible and is difficult to bend around a speaker post. Doesn't do much good if most of your wire is bulging out of the speaker post.

- The connection will suffer corrosion over time. It's far from airtight and, supposedly, the connection will deteriorate over time. People talk of annual cleaning sessions to treat and retighten their bare wire connections.

A spade lug offers a relatively large bit of surface area to contact against the speaker posts and can be gold-plated to avoid corrosion.

An ideal crimp creates an airtight bond at some point inside the crimped area (the metals are deformed into each other). Chances are you won't actually achieve this though.

The key to a good crimp is having the right crimping tool (no, a pair of pliers will not do). Soldering opens up a huge can of worms and the end result may actually be worse than a good crimp if you don't do a good job. A good crimp with the right tools is almost foolproof and should be on par with a good solder join. Why mess with foolproof?

Recommended crimping tool: Gardner Bender GS-88 ~$9
Perfect for crimping 10-12 AWG wire to spade lugs (I'll post a pictorial/tutorial when my last batch of spade lugs arrives). The key is that the crimping head is wide enough to make a broad crimp - you don't want a crimp that only pinches down at one narrow point.

Recommended spade lugs: Audioquest 1/4" spade lugs $2/pair
Nothing fancy here, just a simple gold-plated spade lug that can be easily crimped. I can't say how well my crimp will hold over time, but so far I can't complain about the results. These spades are rather thin, but that was important to me - the only way to biwire my amp is to fit two of these spades onto the same terminal. Anything thicker than these would not be possible. And the "premium" spades are $7/pair - that's a 3.5x price jump! The red/black insulating sleeves are simple and effective.

**If your speaker binding posts allow you to thread a bare wire through the center, don't do it! When you tighten down the cap you'll just be cutting into the wire. If it's a crappy thin wire (e.g. 22 AWG), you'll sever the thing entirely. My mom's satellite speakers were wired in this way and I couldn't figure out why the speaker would crackle whenever I moved the satellite. Well, now I know why...

**Banana plugs aren't really a great wire termination option unless you're expecting to constantly move around or change your speakers. They're damn convenient but over time they'll lose their springiness and therefore contact less and less with the speaker posts.

**Banana plugs with screw-down connectors (as opposed to crimping or soldering) don't really hold your wire in place all that well. I've had two such plugs let the wire pull out of the housing under modest pressure after shifting a speaker twice. When you use higher grade wire (e.g. 10 AWG) the wire doesn't deform much, thereby reducing the amount of mechanical hold a screw-down pressure contact might be able to maintain.

**Spade lugs with screw-in connectors can hold just fine but I question the efficacy of their electrical contact with the wire. You feed the wire through the hollow back, separate and fan out the wire strands in all directions, then screw a top cap on top of and around the strands. The mechanical hold on the wire is quite strong, but I don't like this separating and fanning out of the wire strands.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Audiophilia: Biwiring Bliss

My new audiophile-grade speaker setup is 95% complete! The rather large surrounds arrived late yesterday (B&W 602 s3) as did my crimping tool to properly terminate my speaker cable.

I've learned most of the ins and outs of wiring this stuff up - speaker terminations, crimping, soldering, solid core vs stranded core wire, AWG sizes, etc, etc. But by far the biggest performance enhancement has been biwiring the speakers.

B&W speakers are designed to be biwired - the speakers come equipped with two pairs of binding posts. The posts are bridged together when connected with a conventional single pair of wire leads. When biwired - in theory - they allow a cleaner signal path because the woofers' current pull from the amp is separated off from the tweeter's. There's also some electromechanical feedback gobbledygook from the woofer that can be isolated away from the tweeter's signal path. All that really matters is that it should allow for cleaner high and low end sound.

And it does.

When I first plugged in the 703s with a single pair of wires the sound was clearly better than my roommate's Paradigm Active/20s. But it wasn't the $3k sound that I drooled over in the auditioning room. It was better, but not superb. More accurate but not engaging or thrilling.

Once my spade lugs and crimping tool finally arrived (more on this later) I was able to biwire and compare the 703s and the 602 s3. Both improved markedly with biwiring.

Bass was deep as ever but the midrange and high end snapped into sharp focus. The accuracy and attack was remarkable and gripping. Perhaps the bass was as good as it ever was but it too seemed more articulate and more musical. This may be due to simple contrast - with the mid and high end standing so strongly on their own, the already strong bass may have just seemed more impressive without actually improving. Who cares - whatever the case the difference was impressive.

The huge 602 s3 ("bookshelf" speaker is a misnomer) fared quite well. It couldn't go quite as deep as the 703s (but still respectable) nor express the same level of detail but I can understand why people recommend it as a great main left/right speaker for more modest budgets. My first thought was that I drastically overspent on my surrounds, that I should have gone smaller and cheaper. But as the 703s opened up with biwiring, I realized only the best satellite could even attempt to keep up with my brilliant mains.

The HTM7 center channel was biwired and the surrounds were put in position and I brought out the Dark Side of the Moon multichannel SACD. Holy crap. Now I know I got my money's worth and then some. The biwired speakers brought out another level of realism in the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over DVD in DTS.

In the two-channel world James Taylor's Greatest Hits album continues to impress. Make that shock and impress. His "Sweet Baby Jane" is a spectacular recording as is "You've Got A Friend". It's hard to imagine how an SACD version might improve upon the CD.

If your speakers are designed to be biwired, do it. Holy crap.