Special Member’s Report: The “New” OL

Special Member’s Report: The “New” OL
Vol: 76 Issue: 23 Wednesday, January 23, 2008

So far, the Omega Letter’s transition process is proceeding with considerably fewer hiccups than we had anticipated. Most of the email bugs have been nailed down, and by now, everybody should once again be receiving their Omega Letter by email each morning.

Frank had to literally track down and stomp on each bug individually, a process that was nothing short of heroic in terms of time and effort.

First, he had to contact every single ISP used by our membership and individually request the Omega Letter be ‘white-listed’ — that is to say, pre-approved for delivery by virtue of the fact it was specifically requested by the ISP in question’s customer.

It is a pretty long list; there were a lot of ISP’s who began blocking the OL as soon as it’s originating IP address changed.

But I think that all of those contacted have since responded and the number of OL members writing to ask, “Where’s my OL?” has dropped from the multiple dozens to just a handful.

(And Frank is working on those.)

Here’s what’s coming up next.

As soon as Frank gets the current website completely stabilized and finishes setting up a temporary member’s chat program for the Thursday night OL chats, we will begin a top-to-bottom redesign of your OL.

Our first step will be to set up something along the lines of a ‘steering committee’.

This committee is open to all members of the OL fellowship and is for the purpose of ensuring the new OL remains your OL and that its redesign addresses the concerns and desires of the fellowship.

There are two ways that you can get involved. The first will be to simply post suggestions, ideas and input about what you’d like to see included in the new OL in the forum set aside for that purpose.

There, we can kick ideas around together and figure out what works and what doesn’t — before it becomes part of the new OL.

The second way you can help will be to sign up as a beta tester.

Beta testers will have access to the development website. Their job will be to test various elements of the new OL during development and provide us live feedback during the development process.

The new OL will be just that — completely new. It will have a new look, a new interface, new features, and several new sections.

Some of the planned changes will be quite radical. One plan under discussion involves creating a three-tiered membership that will open up some of the current member’s features to non-subscribers, such as the briefing archives and daily OL email briefing.

To pay for it, we’ll embed commercial advertising in the non-subscribers’ pages and emailed OL briefing. The ads will be carefully screened before going live.

We are also going to create an ‘open forum’ of sorts. It will be unmoderated, unrestricted, and open to anybody — atheists, God-haters, preterists, Dominionists, Muslims . . . whoever wants to comment.

As such, it will be something of a ‘free fire zone’ — members enter at your own risk. We’ll keep it separate from the main OL site.

The plan is rooted in the hope that, among those who come to scoff, a few may stay to pray.

Logged-in subscribers won’t see the ads — and our current member’s forums will remain restricted to logged-in subscribers.

Unless you choose to enter into the free-fire zone, you won’t even know there is a non-member’s section.

The second-tier membership of logged-in subscribers will have the same access and same features they have now, plus additional features that we plan to introduce in the new redesign.

The third tier of membership will be the OL Insider Section. The Insider will feature my new weblog, or blog, where we will experiment with new technologies (well, new to us, anyway).

Under consideration are such things as live audio/video chat, something of a running diary of the day’s events, and a daily links page where I will post links to the various background sources for that day’s OL briefing.

The redesign is necessary for two reasons. The first is because it is well past time.

The Omega Letter went live back in 2001, and since then, we’ve had only one major facelift, and that was several years back.

Since then, website technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, and you deserve to benefit from those advancements.

The second reason is because we can’t afford not to. The OL has operated on a shoe-string budget since its inception.

For six years, it has operated with a staff of two — a webmaster and me. Over the years, we’ve had plenty of volunteer help, without which I doubt we’d have ever made it this far.

But volunteers, understandably have other priorities — and Murphy’s Law dictates that those other priorities always tend to rise to the top at exactly the wrong time.

The OL barely pays expenses and for a webmaster, but we need more help, both editorial and technical, if we are to survive and grow.

As it stands, both Frank and I have to work full-time jobs in addition to our OL duties in order to keep our heads above water — and I have to subsidize expenses where necessary out of my full-time job with Hal Lindsey Ministries.

By adding an advertising-supported section and a third membership tier, we hope to expand both our coverage and our income streaming enough to make the OL viable.

The Zzzzzzz Factor

There is another reason we need to expand and share the load — one that we’ll call the ‘Zzzzz Factor.’ I don’t want to sound whiny, but I suffer from narcolepsy. I’ve mentioned it before — but only when it was relevant and necessary.

A lot of folks don’t know what that is — I confess that I don’t know that much about it, despite the fact that it’s been a daily part of my life since the first onset of symptoms back in 1985.

Since it is relevant to outlining the OL’s future plans, I want to bare my soul, so to speak, and explain a bit about what it is, using a fact sheet provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The entire fact sheet can be found at this address.

I’ll try and give you an executive summary of the high points, however.

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects 1 in 2000 Americans.

It is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. At various times throughout the day, people with narcolepsy experience fleeting urges to sleep.

If the urge becomes overwhelming, patients fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes.

Contrary to common beliefs, people with narcolepsy do not spend a substantially greater proportion of their time asleep during a 24-hour period than do normal sleepers. In addition to daytime drowsiness and involuntary sleep episodes, most patients also experience frequent awakenings during nighttime sleep.

For these reasons, narcolepsy is considered to be a disorder of the normal boundaries between the sleeping and waking states.

Patients describe the daytime sleeping syndrome (called micro-sleep), as a persistent sense of mental cloudiness, a lack of energy, a depressed mood, or extreme exhaustion.

Many find that they have great difficulty maintaining their concentration while at school or work. Some experience memory lapses. Many find it nearly impossible to stay alert in passive situations, as when listening to lectures or watching television.

Involuntary sleep episodes are sometimes very brief, lasting no more than seconds at a time. As many as 40 percent of all people with narcolepsy are prone to automatic behavior during such “microsleeps.”

They fall asleep for a few seconds while performing a task but continue carrying it through to completion without any apparent interruption.

During these episodes, people are usually engaged in habitual, essentially “second nature” activities such as taking notes in class, typing, or driving. They cannot recall their actions, and their performance is almost always impaired during a microsleep.

Their handwriting may, for example, degenerate into an illegible scrawl, or they may store items in bizarre locations and then forget where they placed them.

If an episode occurs while driving, patients may get lost or have an accident.

And speaking from personal experience, it can also happen in the midst of preaching a sermon — something that is more than a bit difficult to explain.

I’ve had to stop mid-sentence, sometimes for several minutes, sweat pouring off profusely, while desperately trying to regain my thoughts and wondering how long I just stood there.

In addition to EDS (Excessive Daytime Sleepiness) that causes these ‘microsleeps’ are three other symptoms. Only ten percent of narcoleptics ‘enjoy’ all four — I am ‘blessed’ to be in that ten percent category.

The other three are cataplexy, sleep paralysis and something called ‘hypnogogic hallucinations.’

‘Cataplexy’ is a sudden loss of muscle tone that leads to feelings of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control. Attacks can occur at any time during the waking period, with patients usually experiencing their first episodes several weeks or months after the onset of EDS.

But in about 10 percent of all cases, cataplexy is the first symptom to appear and can be misdiagnosed as a manifestation of a seizure disorder. Cataplectic attacks vary in duration and severity.

The loss of muscle tone can be barely perceptible, involving no more than a momentary sense of slight weakness in a limited number of muscles, such as mild drooping of the eyelids.

The most severe attacks (the ones I am prone to) result in a complete loss of tone in all voluntary muscles, leading to total physical collapse in which patients are unable to move, speak, or keep their eyes open.

But even during the most severe episodes, people remain fully conscious, a characteristic that distinguishes cataplexy from seizure disorders.

Although cataplexy can occur spontaneously, it is more often triggered by sudden, strong emotions such as fear, anger, stress, excitement, or humor.

The loss of muscle tone during a cataplectic episode resembles the interruption of muscle activity that naturally occurs during REM sleep. A group of neurons in the brainstem ceases activity during REM sleep, inhibiting muscle movement.

Sleep paralysis is he temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up also parallels REM-induced inhibitions of voluntary muscle activity.

This natural inhibition usually goes unnoticed by people who experience normal sleep because it occurs only when they are fully asleep and entering the REM stage at the appropriate time in the sleep cycle. Experiencing sleep paralysis resembles undergoing a cataplectic attack affecting the entire body.

As with cataplexy, people remain fully conscious. Cataplexy and sleep paralysis are frightening events, especially when first experienced.

Shocked by suddenly being unable to move, many patients fear that they may be permanently paralyzed or even dying. (When I experienced my first cataplectic attack, I thought I was having a stroke.)

However, even when severe, cataplexy and sleep paralysis do not result in permanent dysfunction. After episodes end, people rapidly recover their full capacity to move and speak.

Hallucinations can accompany sleep paralysis or can occur in isolation when people are falling asleep or waking up.

Referred to as hypnagogic hallucinations when accompanying sleep onset and as hypnopompic hallucinations when occurring during awakening, these delusional experiences are unusually vivid and frequently frightening.

Most often, the content is primarily visual, but any of the other senses can be involved. These hallucinations represent another intrusion of an element of REM sleep-dreaming-into the wakeful state.

Symptoms usually first appear between the ages of 35-45. (Mine first appeared at thirty-three). Whatever the age of onset, patients find that the symptoms tend to get worse over the two to three decades after the first symptoms appear.

Many older patients find that some daytime symptoms decrease in severity after age 60.

(My first onset was twenty-two years ago. Until this year, they were more or less controlled by medication. Now the medication is insufficient.)

Nobody is exactly sure what causes narcolepsy, but there is evidence to suggest it is a genetic defect.

A number of variant forms (alleles) of genes located in a region of chromosome 6 known as the HLA complex have proved to be strongly, although not invariably, associated with narcolepsy.

The HLA complex comprises a large number of interrelated genes that regulate key aspects of immune-system function. The majority of people diagnosed with narcolepsy are known to have specific variants in certain HLA genes.

Many other genes besides those making up the HLA complex may contribute to the development of narcolepsy. Groups of neurons in several parts of the brainstem and the central brain, including the thalamus and hypothalamus, interact to control sleep.

Large numbers of genes on different chromosomes control these neurons’ activities, any of which could contribute to development of the disease.

Scientists studying narcolepsy in dogs have identified a mutation in a gene on chromosome 12 that appears to contribute to the disorder.

This mutated gene disrupts the processing of a special class of neurotransmitters called hypocretins (also known as orexins) that are produced by neurons located in the hypothalamus.

As best as I can understand it all, in a normal sleep cycle, the brain confines sleep paralysis, (cataplexy) and hallucinations (waking dreams, not seeing pink elephants on the highway) to the sleep cycle.

With narcolepsy, they escape the sleep center of the brain and manifest themselves while the body is awake. And since narcoleptic sleep is only slightly better than no sleep at all, one is in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.

The best analogy is to consider a time where, for whatever reason, you went several days without sleep. When one is really tired, it is hard to focus one’s thoughts.

When I’ve had an attack, it looks to me like there are little champagne bubbles popping in the air for the rest of the day. My skin gets sensitive to touch, my hair starts to hurt, and my body aches everywhere. I get a blinding headache.

But the worst is the inability to focus my thoughts. (My thought processes are the clearest first thing in the morning, which is the main reason I don’t usually write the OL the night before.)

An attack of cataplexy is brutal. It starts with a burning sensation in my left eye that radiates down to my sinus area. Then comes waves of nausea, a tingling sensation in my face, hyperventilation, and then my muscles collapse.

During the attack, I can’t move or speak, except to make sleep noises, but I am wide awake and totally aware.

It doesn’t happen all the time — for most of the past twenty years, the bad attacks have been infrequent — less than once every two months.

However, in the past year, they’ve increased in both frequency and intensity, right on schedule, according to the fact sheet. (But the same fact sheet also extends the hope that they will start to diminish within a few years.)

It is a bit unusual for me to bare my soul in public like this. And more than a little embarrassing.

I’m sharing this with you as my friends — and also because you deserve an explanation for why the OL has been publishing later in the day than usual recently.

The stresses of the transition have been enormous, and the attacks of late have been commensurately brutal. I’m tired, and it shows.

But narcolepsy isn’t life-threatening, or even particularly dangerous. It is effectively controlled by medication, and when it does get bad, it doesn’t last long, and there are often several months between attacks.

I’ve taken this to the Lord on a number of occasions, but the answer remains the same one Paul received in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-9 (and probably for the same reason):

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. “

“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

So we’ll keep on truckin’ for as long as He gives me the grace to do so. There’s nothing to worry about — the Lord is in charge of His ministry and His message.

“Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Light enough for even a lame donkey.

So we’ll hang in there, keep on working for the Kingdom, and when bad stuff happens, we’ll draw our lesson from Paul’s example.

“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2nd Corinthians 12:9b)

“Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” (Matthew 11:26)

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About Pete Garcia

Christian, father, husband, veteran, pilot, and sinner saved by grace. I am a firm believer in, and follower of Jesus Christ. I am Pre-Trib, Dispensational, and Non-Denominational (but I lean Southern Baptist).

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