It’s been two years since I quit my job and began writing shawnblanc.net as my full-time gig. It’s amazing how vividly I remember being scared out of my wits the morning I announced my intentions to take this site full time. It’s worked out well so far, and I have every intention of continuing.
In a tech blogging scene that's increasingly filled with negativity, mindless criticism, inaccurate reporting, and an obsession for pageviews over quality, Shawn's work is refreshing because it's the complete opposite.
Shawn writes with passion, honesty, and a genuine interest in knowing what's accurate rather than what's best for Techmeme. And in spite of somewhat disregarding the “best practices” that other tech blogs follow, Shawn is a writer who has managed to build a successful business.
I have been a subscriber of Shawn's site for two years not just for the perks (which, by the way, are great) – but also because I believe in the quality of the model he's using: honesty, quality writing, and hard work.
Last Monday, 445 days after my first scan, my PET scan came back negative. This doesn't mean my journey is over: it means the treatments I have received, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have been very effective. I will likely get more treatments to “consolidate” – e.g. “wrap up” – everything, but, overall, this is great news. It means I have kicked cancer's ass.
This is not a post about the lessons I've learned. I am still learning. There's an old saying in Italy that goes like this: “life is a continuous exam”. I believe that's true. How can I write about life when I'm still learning how to deal with it?
However, I would like to permanently pen two reminders, and some notes.
First off, keep in mind that while obtuse governments around the world are cutting research funds to fatten their other interests, science is that thing that beams a bunch of photons into your body to kill cancer. Read that again. I wouldn't be here without science, and without the work of people who believe in science.
The second reminder is – I am not a religious person, and I don't like extremisms, but I understand people who find comfort in faith, God, or a community of other believers. As men, I think that we need something to keep us alive when we're scared shitless of death. For me, that “something” was the people around me physically – my family and friends – and “virtually” – the community of fellows nerds and MacStories readers on the Internet. I needed something to believe in. Someday, you may need it, too. We all do. There's no shame in that.
Now, allow me to set the record straight on a few things.
To the oncologist who told me I couldn't survive: fuck you.
To my girlfriend: I love you.
To my parents: I'm sorry I had ignored the symptoms for too long. But we did it.
First conversations with doctors are awkward, particularly when you're 23 and you've been diagnosed with cancer. Inevitably, you'll talk with many doctors in many hospitals in many rooms with the same uncomfortable chairs and outdated Windows XP computers connected to printers that make terrible rattles. And your parents will be there every time as well.
You're going to have to answer questions about your name, address, habits, and, yes, what you do for a living, while your parents whisper the answers with you. But since I was diagnosed with cancer 12 months ago, every time a doctor arrived at “What do you do for a living?” my parents remained silent, turning to look at me. He's got to answer this one.
Fill in the job field
It's November 2011, and I'm about to have surgery to get a lymph node removed. Doctors are expecting it to be fairly small, a 2 mm node easily extracted from the upper part of my chest. But when I hear them whispering, I figure something isn't going as expected. Surgeons whispering is not a good sign.
I ask if something's wrong, and they tell me to stay calm: They're seeing a much wider and taller lymph node than they expected, but everything's fine. To keep me focused and relaxed, one of the doctors puts a hand on my shoulder and asks, “So, what do you do for a living, Federico?”
Fifteen minutes later, they removed a 2 cm lymph node. That surgeon is a MacStories reader now; he emails every once in a while to ask how I'm doing.
I'm 24 now, and I still find it difficult to describe my job without making it sound like I browse Facebook for a living. Not to mention having to do that in a sentence that has to become a single word in a “Job” field on a form. To answer a question asked by a doctor who's going to cure your cancer. You just have to pull the trigger eventually. Pick one. It's just a word.
I don't have kids, and I've been wondering every day, every minute, for the past year how it must feel for parents to find out their son has cancer. I believe parents think they're going to get sick before their kids. Your kids (even when they're 24, they're still “your kids”) aren't supposed to deal with that stuff until they're old and you won't be around to worry about it anymore.
But life isn't fair. It doesn't matter which side of the story you're on — parent or kid — anything can happen to you. Fortunately, my cancer hasn't given me any pain in the past 12 months, but the look on my mother's face has. She worries, and knowing that my condition has caused that feeling of emptiness in her makes me feel guilty. I'm sorry I've been an asshole to you, Mom. I love you. You're my hero.
Putting it off
I've always wanted to make a difference. I found my affinity for words and writing while growing up, and thought maybe I should consider a career as a writer. I found my niche writing stories about technology, Apple devices in particular. As my cancer was growing inside of me, so was my Web site, somewhere off in the cloud. That's not the best way to pitch it, though.
At some point during treatment, you start making up reasons for why you got cancer. Maybe you smoked too much. Or maybe you had the wrong diet — or too much stress in your life. All of that is nonsense: There are too many factors to ascribe the specific cause to any one. But although I couldn't have prevented myself from getting cancer, I do take all the blame for ignoring the symptoms for too long.
And that's what, ultimately, pains me terribly: knowing that the look on my mother's face, her tears and sleeplessness, are related to my stubbornness and unwillingness to consult a doctor when it was time. Because I had to work. Because there was an Apple event. Because, quick, an embargo is being lifted and we need to get our post out.
Last year, I couldn't write for two months. I blamed my job for what I was going through. For what my mom had to go through. For the things my job had done to me and everyone around me. But I was making excuses. It was my fault. It is my fault. Not for “getting” cancer, but for letting it grow to the point where things are more difficult. I blew it.
That simple idea has grown and developed inside me in the past 12 months. I've come to realize that I should learn from my mistakes to become a better man. If I'm given a second chance — and I know I will be — I'll use my skills to have a positive impact on the community and my loved ones.
To help a kid develop the app idea he's always had. To thank my readers, coworkers, and online friends, because their help and support has been invaluable.
To tell my girlfriend I love her, each and every day. To make my mom smile again.
My doctor is holding a black marker, waiting for my answer. She's young — I think she's only a few years older than me — and she already has such authority. She must be pretty good at her job. She wears a ring, and her iPhone's lock screen wallpaper is a photo of her smiling next to a guy at the beach. They look happy.
She's looking at me, waiting. My mom is looking at me, silent, because she knows this is the question I want and need to answer.
I've made mistakes in my life, but I can't escape from what I love doing — what in part led me to being in this room.
Why are sounds of smartphones or computers always wrong in TV shows and movies?
One of the main characters, Andy, calls and leaves a voicemail for his mother using an iPhone 4 or 4S (couldn’t tell from looking at it). When he “hangs up his iPhone”, the phone makes a beep sound as he presses the “End” call button. This is doubly wrong – the iPhone doesn’t make any sound when hanging up a call, nor does it ever make this particular sound (or one like it) at any time.
I honestly have no idea why the TV and movie industry thinks it's better to “fake” sounds. The only theory I have is that pictures shown on screen also need a sound feedback to communicate action.
Another thing that annoys me: when, during phone calls in TV shows or movies, the screen isn't locked by the proximity sensor, indicating the call is, indeed, fake.
App.net today announced new pricing options. First off, there’s a new $5 per month member plan. Secondly, and more importantly for existing members, the current price has dropped from $50 per year to $36 per year.
Interesting timing for App.net. Just as the initial buzz and user adoption somewhat slowed down, they're coming out with a lower annual fee and a more convenient monthly plan. More details are available over at the App.net blog.
Clearly now is the right moment for Twitter-like services. I'm on App.net, but I'm also keeping an eye on Tent.
I've been playing around with the latest Nebulous Notes update this weekend, building macros for my Markdown-writing workflow. I ended up browsing Pinboard for some new Markdown tricks and resources, so I decided to repost the links I've saved here.
Docverter: A hosted pandoc. Useful if you don't have your own server to do remote file conversions.
Dillinger: HTML5, web-based Markdown editor. It's got a cool UI, theme options, and possibility to link with Dropbox and Github.