This week’s theme was to try something new and write about it. I actually really like the idea and will definitely do it next week. I’m sure I’ve tried some new thing this week but nothing that really warrants writing about. I haven’t been 100% this week so I’ve been trying to rest. I’m putting this one off until next week so I don’t have to write some sort of lame cop out. Expect 4 posts total next week to make up for this, stay tuned…
The product I’ve been working on for my new job is in Perl. I’m really into programming languages but I’m probably never going to pick a job based off of which one the company uses, partially because virtually no one uses any of the ones I like. I’ve never been a huge fan of Perl and my opinion of it has been going down since using it more substantially. There are lots of fiddly things I could explain about why I don’t like it but I haven’t been able to pin to the overarching, philosophical issue I have with its design. I came across this fantastic talk earlier by the creator of the Clojure programming language which really helped me nail it down.
In that talk, Rich Hicky draws a distinction between simple and easy. Even though they seem to have very similar meanings he goes back into their etymologies and uses them to talk about two different ideas. Easy meaning a much more subjective sort of thing and much more based of the familiar. Using the tools we know is easy but using the right tools will result in a program which is simpler.
According to Perl’s creator Larry Wall, Perl makes “easy things easy and hard things possible.” Lots of things about Perl will be familiar to those coming from a background in unix scripting, with some C based influence as well. Perl often seems to make things easy in a very complex sort of way. Take a look at all the rules for how Perl’s string interpolation works. Perl started by taking the convenient ability to do that with variables in unix shell and took it the logical extreme. String interpolation can certainly be nice but worth the cognitive load in trying to figure out those corner cases? The whole language is full of this kind of stuff.
I’ll take it over debugging seg faults in C++. Also, it does have some support for first class functions and some other nice stuff I always miss in C++ and Java. So far though, I need to devote way too much of my mental power figuring out what in the world Perl will do in various cases and that detracts from my ability to focus on the program.
For anyone out there who’s not aware, I’m a big tea drinker and do the whole free leaf tea thing. Gyokuru is my personal favorite kind of tea. It’s the highest grade of Japanese green tea and has a very strong flavor. If you like green tea, you’ll probably like it a lot, if you don’t you won’t. If you’re not sure, start with sencha and if you get hooked, you can give gyokuru a try when you’re ready to move onto the hard stuff. It’s an expensive tea, although not quite as bad as it seems at first glance because you can generally get many infusions out of the same set of leaves. Also, while it may look expensive next to the other loose teas, in the scheme of things tea leaves are pretty cheap, even something top shelf like this works out to less than $1 per cup.
Brewing gyokuru correctly is a tricky. It is very easy to end up with a glass of undrinkable, bitter green liquid. Before you get started, I would have a thermometer and a stopwatch or watch with a second hand to try to get things right. If it ends up being bitter, you know next time to either steep it shorter or at a lower temperature. It may take some experimentation. You should also have something to steep the leaves where they have room to expand. Gyokuru leaves expand a lot when steeped.
The highest grades of gyokuru, which are only available in Japan are generally steeped for several minutes at very low temperatures (120-140 degrees). For lower grades it should be steeped for a shorter time at a higher temperature. I haven’t had any luck getting it to come out right with temperatures that low with what I can get in Boston. Here’s what seems to work well for me:
1. Steep the first infusion at around 150 degrees for just 45 seconds.
2. Steep the second infusion again at around 150 degrees for just 30 seconds. The leaves have opened up during the second infusion and will steep much more quickly the second time.
3. Steep the third infusion at around 160 degrees for 1 minute.
4. Steep the forth infusion at around 170 degrees for 2+ minutes. At this point it’s much less sensitive and you don’t need to be so exact.
Gyokuru should be brewed at double strength (2 teaspoons per cup) because it’s brewed with such low temperatures and or short times. If you are using a teapot, make sure to warm up the cups before pouring it into them because it’s already at such a low temperature, if the cups are cold it will cool down very quickly.
If you done it right, the tea should have a very strongly umame taste with natural light sweetness (without having to add any sweetener) and a complex grassy character. I realize grassy doesn’t necessarily sound like an appetizing flavor profile but it’s good! Or at least I think it’s good.
Hmm, third post of the week on Wednesday. Not sure what’s wrong with me this week. Something must be off…
The week’s theme: NaNoWriMo. That’s short for National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November and the challenge is to come up with a first draft of a novel. Specific you “win” NaNo if you hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. Most of the members of the Blogenning participate. I don’t so I guess to fulfill the theme this week, I’m forced to explain myself.
I guess what it really comes down to is that I don’t really like writing and I don’t aspire to be a writer. I make myself write this blog, among other reasons, because I think being able to write well is an important skill and one that should be practiced. I think it is too often neglected in this day and age, especially among technical people like me. If you can’t communicate with others, I don’t know how you expect to get much of anything else worthwhile done. Still, it’s a chore for me. While I do think 50,000 words over a month is more doable than most people would think at first glance, I lack the inspiration or motivation to try to get through it.
When I listen to a great piece of music, I find myself instinctively going, man I wish I could do that. I find a similar motivation for many other things as well. Not so with writing though. I admire many great writers and there are are many novels that I absolutely love to death. When I find even my deepest level of enjoyment from reading though, it doesn’t inspire me to write.
I have a lot of hobbies and there are only so many hours in the day. Given 100 lifetimes I would want to write a novel. Given the one I have, I’m ok with not getting around to it. There are too many other things I’d rather do with my time.
Don’t get me wrong, NaNo is a really cool thing. A bunch of awesome people around Boston do it. It’s great for them. All else being equal, I’d love to spend November hanging out with them more. It’s not though. I wish them all best of luck, hope they all have a great time and hope they all get their 50,000 words done.
Talking a bit about healthcare here so I should start out by saying these are my own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer and they do not endorse the view here in any way, etc, etc.
Anyone who doesn’t want to hear about digestive disorders can feel free to skip this post. I wouldn’t blame you. I guess I’ll get this out there for anyone who doesn’t know, I have ulcerative colitis. It’s about as much fun as it sounds like. I don’t usually talk much about it, as it’s not a pleasant to bring up in conversation. I don’t mind doing so in private, if you’re interested, if you’re concerned, feel free to reach out. I’m making an exception and talking about it in public because I read this article on Boing Boing yesterday and it really pissed me off and I need to get this off my chest. I normally enjoy that blog that post is spreading things which are possibly going to be actively harmful to people with serious medical conditions.
The whole thing has a tone like there’s this dark conspiracy among doctors to keep people from curing their IBD. So first of all, my personal experience with my disease. I have my symptoms mostly under control and lead normal life. I’m 25 and I will probably take pills every day for the rest of my life, barring some medical breakthrough. That’s not great but it pretty seriously beats the alternative of not taking the pills though. There’s scene in Firefly where Mal finds out they’ve stolen a town’s medicine. The sheriff, not knowing that Mal was the thief, tells him that if you get the medicine regularly you can “live like a person.” I don’t think many people can appreciate the realitly of that line the way I do. I’ll leave it at that and spare you the unpleasant details of the what it was like between when I got sick and when I was finally diagnosed and got medicine.
So what’s the subject of that article’s experience with medication:
Pentasa barely worked. It gave him a few more seconds to get to the bathroom. Reid saw his doctor a few months after starting it. Doing better? the doctor asked. Yeah, doing better, said Reid. The doctor did not ask for details. He ordered various lab tests but never learned how little Pentasa helped. Reid saw him regularly for several years, but never told him.
After high school, Reid went to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology. During college, he had diarrhea about six times per day.
Is it his doctor’s fault that he wasn’t clear that his medicine wasn’t working? When you’re having diarrhea 6 times a day, you go to your gastroenterolist and you tell him your symptoms, and you ask what your options are. If he doesn’t give you other options, your doctor is an asshole and you find a better doctor. There are lot of different treatment options for IBD, many of which are stronger than Pentasa, though have more serious side effects. I can tell you that steroids are no picnic, but the sure as hell beat diarrhea 6 times a day.
Reid started having extreme abdominal pain. It would be really intense for a few seconds, then die down, then return. He wanted to go to the hospital but was in too much pain to drive.
Important point, when you have IBD and you’re in too much abdominal pain to drive to the hospital, that’s when you should DEFINITELY FIND A WAY TO GET TO THE HOSPITAL. Call an ambulance if you need to. Ignoring that is how you end up dead from a ruptured colon. Have I gotten the point across that this guy wasn’t properly utilizing the western medicine that he seems to write off?
At this point in the article, Reid discovers a diet that’s supposed to help with his condition. I’ve done a lot of research and there are dozens of diets that supposedly help with IBD. They’re all mutually contradictory and none of them are backed by medical science. There is actual medical literature which that you can go read, which tries to find a culprit but doesn’t come up with anything conclusive. I do think the change in diet helped his condition, but not anything specific about the diet he chose.
He had been eating Hungry Man TV dinners, Cookie Crisp cereal, Papa John’s pizza, Mountain Dew soda, potato chips, gummy bears, and so on.
When they say IBD doesn’t have a dietary cause the mean there isn’t a specific thing you should avoid. For instance, with Celiac’s disease you avoid gluten. Just because IBD doesn’t have a dietary cause doesn’t make it a good idea to eat garbage when you have diarrhea 6 times a day. I’m sort of at a loss for how a person wouldn’t realize that. When I’m having a flare up I live off of bland, easy to digest foods. It’s not rocket science. When I’m not having a flare up I take eating healthy very seriously without being on any particular diet for my condition.
His symptoms were gone. A few months later, he saw his gastroenterologist. I’m doing great, he said, and showed the doctor a list of what he was eating. The doctor showed no interest. Reid asked if he could stop taking Pentasa. (He had already stopped Flagyl.) The doctor said no, let’s wait six months. On rare occasions, maybe once every four months, diarrhea returned. It seemed to be caused by eating out, perhaps by bread crumbs in the hamburger. He stopped taking Pentasa. Nothing changed.
IBD can go into remission and come back later on. Generally doctors keep patients on low doses of medication to prevent it from coming back. Also, perhaps his doctor wasn’t interested in the diet because there’s no statistical evidence that it works, while there have been studies that show that the medication works.
IBD is a mysterious disease. The cause remains unknown and for any given person it will flare up and go into remission, throughout their lives, for no apparent reason. Obviously this one guy’s anecdotal case about how he got his into remission is statistically significant and a cure and we should all stop taking our meds and go on the diet that
Listen, western medicine isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always get everything right the first time. Maybe there are legitimately better, simpler ways to treat my illness out there. Maybe there is a bias towards using drugs rather than diet or other more nature things. For thousands of years medicine worked the way this guy wants. People went with their guts, they did things that worked anecdotally or intuitively. As often as those sorts of remedies made things better, they made them worse. Raise your hand if you want to go back to the days when bloodletting was considered a legitimate treatment for all kinds of things. I don’t know about you but I think I’ll trust the professionals and stick with the treatments that have scientific backing.
Should you experiment with your diet or other alternative treatments if you have IBD? Sure, talk to your doctor about it. Make sure they don’t think it will be actively harmful or leave you malnourished or anything. It should definitely not be instead of traditional treatment. Doctors are there to help you. There is no shadowy conspiracy of MDs hiding the well know simple, natural diet based cure for IBD and making us all suffer.
One major feature that it has, that no mainstream language I’m aware of has, is optional static typing. At a glance it looks watered down to the point of being useless. The following doesn’t result in any kind of error or warning:
String a; var b = 1; a = b;
The also made a conscious choice to make generics covariant, so a List<X> is a subtype of a List<Y> if X is a subtype of Y. That sounds great at first glance but it’s unsafe and will result in run time error. I’d really like to see a language that does the hybrid static/dynamic thing well but I don’t think Dart is going to be it. There is research on doing this sort of thing really rigorously but it wasn’t applied here.
I’ve always had some mild insomnia. Never really bad but always a nuisance. It’s a viscous cycle that I’ve been trying to break. I don’t get enough sleep so I sleep in so I’m not tired when I should go to sleep. A few things I’m trying:
1. Being more disciplined about the snooze button. I’m still not perfect at this. It’s so tempting to do every morning when my will is the weakest. Still, you’re not going to get any meaningful rest in those 10 minutes so it’s an utter waste of time. I really want to get in the habit of just getting out of bed and get moving every morning.
2. Not eating or drinking after dinner. Obviously this doesn’t apply if I’m at a party or out at a bar or something but generally speaking, I’m trying to stop the late night snacking.
3. Meditation. Just before going to bed I’m trying to take a minute and get my mind at rest.
4. Turning off the main lights in my room in the evening. Hopefully that’ll get my body to recognize the time better and start releasing some melatonin.
I seem to be keeping a saner sleep schedule lately so it seems that at least some of that is working for now.
This week’s theme: costumes. Some people really like to get into Halloween and put together really awesome costumes. Personally I don’t like to put a lot of money or effort into something I’m only going to wear once. So last year I went to the Garment District, to see what I could put together easily and cheaply. See if you can spot what I came up with:
I found this prepackaged Waldo costume and just had to get it. It was a lot of fun, I got to find my way into the background or edges or pictures all night. It’s an interesting challenge to find the edge of picture taken from in front of the camera. I got in some nice photo bombs. It seemed to be a pretty big hit at the party too. Walking around Cambridge in this costume last year I also got a kick out of all the people who claimed to have found me.
I’m not sure what I’m going to dress up as this year but hopefully I can come up with something as good.
I frequently suffer from upper respitory issues. Allergies, colds, sinus infections, all that fun stuff. I was skeptical about neti pots when they were first suggested to me. They seemed weird and gross. Pouring saline solution into one nostril out of another? I gave in and decided to give them a try a few months ago. Long story short, they’re pretty much the best thing ever.
I don’t buy into alternative medicine much but the mechanism of action here is pretty straight forward. Literally flushing the bad stuff out using brute force. Also, there have been actual studies on the effects of their usage. It turns out that if you use it every day, regardless of whether you’re having issues, they’ll actually increase your risk for sinus infections. Used over the course of a few days, they are actually very effective.
You pick one up at your local drug store, along with salt packets portioned out with the right amount of salt for one usage. You can also just use regular salt and measure it yourself. Fair warning, the first time you try it, prepare for like a 10 minute sneezing fit. That’s what happened to me anyway. That doesn’t happen anymore after you get more used to it.
I was starting to get a cold on Thursday. Thanks to my neti pot, I’m not stuffed up and even if I still feel some effects of the cold, I’m about 90% normal today.
I’ve mentioned some of this in the posts about the individual demos but I thought I’d write a broader post about how I put lines together in general rather than looking at any particular one. A lot of putting a song together comes down to feel but it’s very useful to have a framework to use. It’ll come down to feel to figure out which technique to use where. Having an intellectualized idea of what to do when the feel is telling you something helps put a better part together faster. As the computer scientist, Alan Perlis said “Get into a rut early: Do the same processes the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize. The only difference (!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list – not the size of his vocabulary.” Lots of rock bass players have a vocabulary that consists of “pound root notes” but I endeavor to do better than that when I can. I thought I’d share a bit of the idioms I’ve worked out so far as a bass player. None of this is new to music theory although I stumbled upon much of this on my own before reading up on it. I’m sure I subconsciously picked up many of these techniques from the music I listen to.
There’s a dichotomy I’m going to use throughout this of strong notes vs. weak notes. Strong is not a synonym for good here. Part of a bass player’s role is to outline the harmony, when the bass plays a note that fits with the rest of the harmony, it creates a strong foundation. Often, though, strategically, the bass will play notes that clash with the harmony to destabilize it. The strongest note for the bass to play is the root, followed by the fifth, followed by other notes that are actually in the chord. A weak note is one that clashes with the chord. This doesn’t really apply to most other instruments and keeping this in mind is one of the big differences between writing a melody and writing a bass line, even if bass lines can be melodic.
Typically on the first beat of the measure the bass should play a strong note. Not playing at all on the 1 on bass sounds really weird and should only be done under specific circumstances, like a coordinated break in the music where other instruments are stopping too. Typically I play the root on the 1 when the chord changes. If a chord lasts more than 1 measure, I often end up on the 5th of the following measure to add some movement. Other than playing the first beat of the measure, I listen to what the rest of the band is playing and try to hear what rhythm I should play. I don’t really have much analysis of what to do rhythm wise, that, I think, you really just need to feel.
One of my favorite techniques on bass is leading notes. The time I wrote a bass line I threw these in instinctively. This technique involves playing a weak note or a run of notes, some of which are weak, at the end of a measure. Typically the notes lead towards the next chord. More often than not, the last note of the measure will be the one half step below the chord the next measure starts on. If it’s a run it’ll usually be chromatic.
When I feel like the bass should accent a note, I’ll pick a strong note that above the lowest root note I’ve been playing to make it stand out. I usually go for the 5th, sometimes an octave sounds better. If there are several accented notes in a short span, I’ll go back and forth to keep it interesting.
Another use for strong notes is when it feels like the bass should be moving but the harmony should not, that’s a good time to move through chord tones. That’s a good time to use arpeggios.
That’s mostly how I choose which notes to play, I try to apply those ideas in ways that results in something melodic. I’m always looking for new patterns to use but that’s what I’ve got so far. Sometimes I get an idea that doesn’t correspond to any of this but I can’t classify it so it ends up being a one off thing.
A lot of the rest of writing my parts is figuring out where to play. Sometimes I just play root notes along with a part so it will sound as strong as possible. Sometimes the guitar part is busy and there’s no room to add anything interesting. Other times there’s big gaping hole where you need to add some movement to keep things interesting. Other times there’s something interesting going on above the bass but there’s a good way to compliment it, without stepping on its toes, those are my favorites.