Got kids that play sports? Learn about concussions

It was bitterly cold last night as my wife and I sat in the stands to watch my son's varsity lacrosse game against the cross-town team. Many of these kids had competed on the same junior league teams growing up and as a result there is a fierce competition when they play against one another. Pride was on the line and the hitting was hard, the emotions high.

It was late in the third quarter and my son, a 17 year old mid-fielder, was racing to pick up a loose ball. He saw an opponent angling for the ball and had the advantage on him but didn't see a second one racing in from a sharp angle. Just as he bent over to scoop up the ball the unseen player tried to check my son in the shoulder to knock him off balance but missed and struck him hard on the left side of his helmet with his stick. The ref did not see the blow and play continued.

My son rolled on the ground and popped right back up but didn't look quite right. He stayed in the game but from the stands we could see that he was not running very well. He also was crouching over a bit once he was positioned. I thought maybe he had gotten the wind knocked out of him.

He stayed in for another minute or so as the ball moved the length of the field then came out when the next mid-field line came in. As we sat up in the stands we were wondered if our son was okay because he didn't return to the game.

The Late Night Phone Call
The game ran late and we were home waiting for my son to get back from the school in his own car. The phone rang and it was one of his coaches, telling us that my son had apparently suffered a concussion and that they did not want him to drive himself home. The athletic trainers and coaches at our school are outstanding and followed all the right procedures in ensuring that my son was being monitored properly.

When I got to the school my son looked fine, though he was not his usual self. He normally has an easy smile but his look was very serious as he described what happened when the opposing player struck his helmet. First he said he heard an incredibly loud roar, as though a peal of thunder was going off inside his helmet. He also immediately began to see swirling images in his right eye. He felt dazed and had a pretty bad headache though he had never blacked out.

The school's athletic trainer recommended that we take him to a doctor either now or first thing in the morning (it was now nearly 10pm). Having experienced concussions before with him my concern got the better of me and I drove him to our local hospital. The ER doctor examined him pretty quickly and since his headache seemed to be getting worse ordered a CT Scan for him. They generally are looking for internal bleeding and the CT Scan is a good tool for determining if they need to conduct emergency surgery to relieve pressure from building on the patient's brain. Fortunately his scan came back clean; no obvious damage.

The ER doctor told me to check on him every 3 hours for the next day, waking him up to see if he was still lucid and that the pain was not getting worse, a sign they may have missed something on the CT Scan.

Later that morning I took him to his regular doctor. By 10am he was actually feeling pretty good; there was no headache unless he shook his head quickly (Don't do that son!). The doctor told him that he needed to stop all physical exertion until all of the signs of the concussion had gone away completely and then from that point we would wait another week before he would be eligible to play again.

All things considered, this went about as well as it can go for a concussion. The reason I'm writing this blog post is because I'm hoping that if you have kids of your own and they play sports or even have a highly active life that includes bumps and bruises you take a couple of minutes and learn about concussions and their treatment.

The Way Things Were
My own athletic adventures as a kid were usually punctuated by phrases like "Rub some dirt in it" and "Come on kid, you're ok, toughen up". It was just the way things were. Even now you see TV shows and movies where someone will knock a person out with a quick blow to the back of the skull. The victim will then magically awake later, rub the back of their head for a second and then move on as though nothing happened.

Take this perspective into the modern age of high school sports. Many kids on successful varsity programs train nearly year round, attending camps, playing in tournaments or participating in off-season workout programs. Throw in a dose of parents with competitive backgrounds that want to see their kids succeed and many kids and parents will push hard to keep their kid in the game.

What's Really Happening
What's actually happening inside the skull during a concussion is that the brain is twisting, creating torque that can lead to unconsciousness. In addition the brain can bump against the inside of the skull and cause bruises to the brain itself. The CDC estimates that this happens nearly 3.8 million times a year in the US for sports and recreation activities.

It's critical that as a parent you be able to separate yourself from the desire to see your son or daughter keep playing the sport they love so much and ensure that if they did get a concussion that you get involved. Read through some of the excellent materials the CDC provides on detecting concussions and if you are in doubt take your child to a doctor immediately.

Sounds a little over-cautious? Perhaps. Of course there is the story of little Morgan McCraken, whose parents got her to the hospital just in time to save her life. Then there's the story of High School football player Max Conradt's multiple concussions and what happened to his life.

My goal is not to frighten you as a parent about yet another thing that can harm your child. Instead my hope is that you'll take a couple of minutes and learn what to look for if your child suffers a head injury. Serious injury is very easy to prevent if you know what to look for and that knowledge is critical if your child plays a contact sport.

Switching from Windows to Mac - Power users can also play

Lately I've been thinking about why I enjoy working with Macs so much. Since switching to Macs from Windows a little over a year ago I've tried as much as possible to approach it objectively, calling out both the good and bad as I learned my way around OS X, and recording my findings here in this blog.

It's easy to cite the UI consistency I enjoy with Mac based applications. As a software developer that obsesses with user interface design I have a deep appreciation for disparate applications using similar controls and metaphors. It's difficult enough for people to understand the underlying tasks and logic a software application can perform, making them learn different control surfaces is like asking someone to navigate through their own family room after you have rearranged the furniture and turned off the lights; lots of stubbed toes and muttered curse words are sure to ensue.

Instead of the UI, I'm finding the real draw for me has been how productive I am as a power user. As a Windows user I never questioned the Mac's user interface. It looked "pretty", a back-handed compliment if there ever was one. What I did not know, and not a single Mac advocate ever mentioned to me for fear of scaring me away (I assume), was that Macs could channel that inner power user like no other machine could.

At any given time I'm running a dozen or so applications, many comfortably set up in their own Spaces window. I can switch between the programs by hitting the familiar Command-Tab. If I need to launch a new application I use LaunchBar, without question one of the best productivity tools you can get for a Mac (Quicksilver provides a similar capability). No reaching for the mouse and hunting for the application I want to run; I simply hit Command-Space, type 2-3 letters and hit Return and my application is loaded almost immediately. If the application is already running it just switches to it.

My Mac Pro serves as my communications center as well, serving up my email through Apple's Mail program, AIM and Gmail chat through Adium, my Twitter feeds through TweetDeck and my incoming and outgoing phone calls through Skype. If I need to call a number I hit Command-Space, type "call" and enter (or paste) the phone number I want to dial.

If I decide I want to contact someone that's not visible through Adium I'll just hit Command-Space and start typing their name. Once their name appears in the LaunchBar menu I can hit the right arrow key and choose either an email address or phone number. If I choose an email address a new mail message is created with them as the recipient and I'm ready to start composing my message. If I select a phone number Skype takes over, gradually muting the John Coltrane track I have playing on iTunes as the phone begins to ring. I hang up the call and the music comes back.

Meanwhile down in my development Space I've got TextMate (my preferred programming editor), MySQL query browser and three terminal windows open. In one of the terminal windows I have an SSH session to one of my production servers open and am running a tail on one of my logs. The other two terminal windows are positioned in specific directories so that I can quickly execute commands for my Ruby on Rails based application and monitor the debug output from my local server instance. Safari is open in that same Space with the local version of SharedStatus up and running in it.

I even have Windows XP running in a VMware Fusion instance with Internet Explorer loaded and accessing my local version of SharedStatus so that I can be sure it works properly in that particular browser.

If you are a power Windows user that wants to dismiss the Mac as just a simplistic and trendy consumer machine—something I was guilty of—you may want to reevaluate that position. In my experience I've found Macs to be the computing equivalent of automotive sleepers; they look soft and simple on the outside but as soon as you push it you realize it's capable of extreme performance.

A new Mac Mini rounds out the house

Well, it finally happened. Late last week my 16 year old son came to me and said "Dad, my HP Laptop won't boot up". Wonderful. I went to his room to check it out and sure enough the machine was just continually cycling on startup. It would get to the Windows logo and display the progress bar, suddenly show the briefest flashes of a blue screen (so fast it was unreadable), then the reboot and start the process over. I tried doing a safe boot with each of the types available in the Windows boot menu but no luck. I suspect that the hard drive on the machine had started to go and that a key driver file had become corrupted.

I played with it for a while but my efforts were half hearted. This machine was a hand me down from my wife, one that had been a bit flaky in the past. His was the last operational Windows machine still in use in our house. As I looked down on the HP endlessly flailing through the startup sequence a small smile formed in the corners of my mouth. I could finally be done with supporting aging Windows machines, at least the ones parked in my house. I would get him a Mac of his own.

Since he's a Junior in High School any machine we got him would likely be carted off to college in a year and a half. There may be another generation of MacBooks before that happens (or at least a minor refresh) so I decided to go another way. I bought him the entry level Mac Mini, rationalizing that it would be plenty powerful for his basic needs. I figured that in a year and a half I'll buy him a new MacBook and claim the Mac Mini as a media center machine.

Besides, I already had plenty of accessories around the house.

With a strategy in mind I headed off to the local Apple store and bought the machine, a 2.0 GHz system with 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. I brought it home and hooked it up to a 22" Samsung widescreen display I had from one of my previous PCs (now deceased) and let him use the full size Apple keyboard and Mighty Mouse I got with my Mac Pro.

I had a spare 120GB hard drive sitting around from my original MacBook after I upgraded it to a 320GB drive. A while back I picked up a small USB enclosure for it so that I could use it as an external drive; that became his Time Machine device. He's had an older Logitech subwoofer 2.1 speaker system that generates some really decent sound so he's got everything he needs to listen to his music. The last piece of the setup puzzle was installing iWork '09, for which we have a family license.

I turned the machine over to him with a couple of quick pointers: don't just click the close button on an application's window, click App Name / Quit. I also explained the Dock bar and the basic concepts around the Finder and how to use Spotlight. While my son can touch type incredibly fast he's really not all of that into his computer; it's mainly a tool for accessing his music, the web and writing up papers for school.

Mac Mini Performance
When he first started using it he immediately set about doing multiple things at once: updating the music library in GarageBand (adding in the 1GB worth of stock music from Software Update), adding his music collection into iTunes from it's temporary home on my internal server and actually listening to music at the same time. These little tasks seemed to bring the Mac Mini to its knees, making it slow to respond. I introduced Davey to spinning beach balls.

I told my son to slow down a bit and not spend too much time exploring the machine to form an opinion while it was doing such intensive tasks. Once GarageBand had finished updating the Mini started to perform at an acceptable level.

iTunes and the Disappearing Disk Space
A couple of hours after he started playing with it he called me over to tell me that it was reporting he was out of disk space. Huh? How could he be out of disk space so quickly? Sure, it's only a 120GB hard drive but sheesh, he had over 75GB free when I gave it to him.

It turns out that he not only wanted to add his 10GB music collection to his machine but also wanted access to my rather large music collection as well. The problem is the default setting for iTunes. It copies all of the music into the local storage when adding it to a collection:

My collection—which is over 100GB in size—was being added to his local hard drive and he was blowing out his remaining disk space. In addition Time Machine had started a cycle and he nearly blew that drive's space out as well.

Since my Mac Pro holds my music collection and it's always on he didn't need to have local copies of the music in order to listen to it. We changed the above setting, deleted the local copy of the music then re-added everything and it worked great. I also ended up erasing the Time Machine drive and starting that over. After another couple of hours everything was back to normal and running very nicely.

My son is completely into GarageBand. He is by far the most musically inclined of our house and is a pretty decent guitar player. At some point in the near future I want to get his electric guitar hooked up to his Mac Mini so that he can incorporate his own music into his GarageBand work. I have no experience at all with that so if someone has suggestions on the best way to proceed please drop a note in the comments.

Of course Macs have personality and I'm fond of coming up with Star Wars themed names for our computers. In this case I decided to break from my standards and use a name that also acknowledges my son is named after me. His new Mac is named Mini Me.

Switching from Windows to Mac - One Year Later

On February 2, 2008 I was a Windows software developer. I had a house full of Windows based machines and was working on building up my next software company using some of them. I am what you might call a heavy duty computer user; I use my machines to communicate with folks (e-mail, forums, etc), develop software, manage my digital photos, edit home videos, play high end games, etc. Basically I spent most of my waking hours in front of a computer and was fine plugging away on Windows XP.

Something however was missing. It took me a while to figure out but I was simply bored with Windows. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Microsoft seemed to have abandoned any attempt at maintaining a uniform user interface and many software vendors were innovating by trying very non-standard UIs. Every time I installed new software I worried that it was blowing up the size of my Registry, potentially subjecting me to Malware and Spyware or installing replacement DLLs for libraries that other applications were counting on.

Every 6-9 months I would have to reinstall Windows and my core applications and suddenly my performance would return. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was having to put far too much time into keeping my machines running smoothly.

It was at this point in my life that many of my friends started getting Macs. They would tell me how much they loved them and how "it just works". I personally didn't find that too informative. What do you mean, it just works? Isn't that just some marketing line Apple wants you to repeat? Are you guys really falling for that?

Still, more and more people, including some highly technical software developers I knew, were getting Macs and raving about them. So on a Sunday afternoon I walked into the Apple store in Tyson's Corner, VA and started checking out a little white MacBook. A short while later I was home with the MacBook sitting on my lap and I wrote the first entry of this blog: a hardcore Windows guy gets a Mac. I wrote nearly daily after that, recording in detail everything I found that I liked and didn't like, hoping it would help other people that were making the adjustment from Windows to Mac.

Invasion of the Macs
What started out as an addition to my collection of computers turned into a full scale replacement of my Windows machines with Macs. For a while I had both my Windows and Mac cranked up and running side by side, though I found myself constantly moving my hands over to the MacBook. Suddenly using a computer felt like fun again. The interface was crisp and clean and the little machine performed incredibly well, much faster than I expected from such an entry level Mac.

It didn't take long before I learned that many of the myths about Macs that I had clung to as a heavy Windows user were just wrong. Things like Macs can only use a single mouse button, that there wasn't much software for them, or that they were really just for consumers and graphic artists. Turns out I was wrong.

Before I knew it I was running VMware Fusion on my MacBook and playing with my Visual Studio development environment in there. Wanting a little more horsepower and a lot more screen real estate I bought a refurbished Mac Pro from Apple and set that up as my primary workstation, re-purposing my dual 20" LCDs as Mac displays. At this point I really didn't even fire up my Windows XP machine any longer. Why bother? Between VMware Fusion and a large collection of native Mac applications I had a machine that could run circles around my Windows XP system.

By the middle of the year my patience for supporting the Windows XP machines that remained in the house was wearing very thin. When my wife would yell to me that her HP laptop "wasn't working" or "is running REALLY slowly" I would look at the machine with disdain and plot to replace it with a Mac. I ended up doing that for her birthday and it's gone surprisingly well, even though she still hasn't mastered how to quit an application (she just clicks the close button on the window).

So here it is a full year later and nearly every member of my family is running a Mac. I've become the "go to" person in my network of friends and family on Mac issues; if someone is considering getting a Mac they like to call and ask me about it and try to understand what will be different, which machine they should buy and how they should set it up. I don't even mind the call and often tell them enthusiastically about things like Time Machine and the iLife suite. If they're more technical I get into Spaces, LaunchBar, terminal windows and half a dozen other "must have" utilities I think they should get.

Not Perfect But Close Enough
My Macs have not been perfect mind you. I continue to get Time Machine errors that correct themselves on the next try (can't it just auto-retry once and THEN tell me there was a problem if that failed???). From a design standpoint I like the fact that the top level menu is fixed and context sensitive because it cuts down on every window having a menu bar, but it means that on multiple display systems that menu may be a screen or two away from what I am working on.

There are also times that the Mac tries to do a little too much for a power user, like when iPhoto insists that I drop my 25K photos into it's collection model in order to do anything useful with them rather than letting me keep it in my own folder structure where it can be shared by everyone in the family. I have a couple other minor complaints but I mention them mainly to point out that I'm trying to be objective in the way I've approached my Macs.

These issues aside I have been extremely happy with my switch to being a Mac user. I frequently run more than a dozen applications at the same time, leveraging Spaces to create a large virtual workspace and jump between my applications. Perhaps it's because I've been lucky but since I became a Mac user I have not experienced a single kernel panic. I mention this only because I have installed a LOT of software on my Macs, trying out many of the tools and utilities that people have recommended to me through this blog.

The performance I get from my Macs has been as good as it was the day that I bought them. I've generally found that all of the applications I get from Apple use a very standardized user interface and because of that most after market vendors have followed that lead and produce applications that look and feel like something you would get from Apple.

Last but by no means least I've found that the Mac community is populated by extremely helpful people that have been willing to give me a hand when I had a question or provide a recommendation when I needed to find the right program. This is something I experienced in places like Mac-Forums and many times in the comments on this blog.

What I find a bit ironic is that when people now ask me why I seem to like Macs so much I don't usually go into all of the details you see in this blog post. I tend to sum up my reason with:

"It just works"

Should internet access be limited for employees?

Though I am in the process of building up my next company, this is not my first rodeo. From 1998 up until mid-2006 I—and later my partners—managed the growth of WebSurveyor up until its sale. One of the many challenges we had during that time was establishing not only a culture for our employees but also a clear set of rules governing among other things internet access.

The culture that I always wanted centered around personal responsibility. My view was to make sure people understood how important they were to the success of the business and to give them the freedom to use their computer as they saw fit to accomplish their goals. We made it pretty clear that objectionable material (a.k.a. porn) was completely forbidden and you would be fired if found accessing it from the office. If an employee wanted to pull up non-work sites that was fine as long as it didn't interfere with their job performance.

When we had under a dozen employees this was really easy. We worked in cramped offices and none of us had any real privacy, myself included. We were also struggling just to keep the business alive and everyone understood the gravity of the situation; those that didn't we got rid of as quickly as possible. Our margin for error was incredibly small.

Over time the company grew, in some cases very rapidly, and we adjusted by moving into larger office space and hiring more and more people. Once we started reeling off a string of profitable quarters the pressure changed: we went from being in survival mode into a growth and expansion phase. In addition people had considerable privacy over our old environment, even if it was just the shallow barrier created by a couple of cube walls.

It was in this environment our verbal rules needed to change. The model we went with was to create a pretty comprehensive set of policies in our employee handbook and to continually reinforce our culture in meetings and personal interactions with the staff. We still did not limit access to the internet though, so if someone wanted to pull up ESPN at lunch or chat with some friends through AIM we didn't have "electronic counter measures" in effect to prevent that.

My New Magic Trick
This did create the opportunity for abuse though. Being a "boss" meant that I suddenly had a new talent: I could walk up to some people's cube and the second I appeared their browser window would minimize. I became a human minimize button. It was actually pretty comical and in some cases I would pull a "Columbo" and walk a few feet away, then turn back and say "Just one more thing..." to see them minimize the window again. Magic I tell you.

Not everyone did this of course. The people that I respected the most would leave what they had on their monitors up, not really caring that I saw they were actually checking the standings in their fantasy football league or pricing AV equipment for their home. I assumed that those folks were taking a micro-break and besides, they were always my most productive people. They managed to blend the ability to be productive with occasional travels into personal tasks and understood when to refocus on their primary responsibilities.

As a manager we had established a usage policy based on trust and I wanted to see that trust reciprocated. What really shocked me was that this talent (my magical window minimize skill) was not limited to entry level employees. I had senior and very experienced people that had enormous responsibilities do it, in some cases folks that were very recent hires. Needless to say those were not my finest moments as a champion for personal responsibility and usually resulted in a quick "Can I see you in my office for a minute?"

I bring this up because one of the folks that used to work for me, an early employee who I liked and trusted, told me about his new employer. They are a very large company and as a result have a very restrictive internet access policy. They do not allow access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and have heavily throttled/limited access to things like Gmail and certain chat sites. I'm sure this kind of systemic approach not only makes it easier for management to ensure people are working and not goofing off during the day but also to protect themselves against liability issues such as an employee ogling porn in plain view of others.

Question of the day
My question for you dear reader is this: If you work in a company that limits your internet access does it limit your ability to be productive OR if you work for a company that does not, do you abuse it? Anonymous comments are on so use an alias if you like but I would love to hear some unfiltered feedback on this kind of issue. I also think it will help some of the managers and entrepreneurs that read this blog.