Friday, September 2, 2011

Sky the Color of Pain

For most of my life migraines have been a constant companion.  While their frequency has increased and decreased I've always gotten them on a fairly regular basis.  Some triggers like particular overcast days were so likely to be migraine days that the color of the sky to me isn't even a color at all, just a shifting, overbright pain that threatens to push me into a downward spiral of a migraine.

Its hard for me to even write about migraines, at times even thinking about them was a potential trigger.  The past couple years have seen a shift for me in the pattern of my migraines, from occasional crippling pain to more frequent but generally less debilitating symptoms.  The former made my life difficult, the latter was becoming a threat to my livelihood.  Because of this change I sought help in treating my migraines. That process, while challenging and sometimes unrewarding, raised my awareness of my condition much more than it had been in all the years prior.

As part of my treatment I had many tests, pretty much all of which came up negative.  The only new thing that I learned was that my eyes are somewhat out of alignment and that I may have aura migraines.  I say may because I'm honestly not sure that's what it really is.  I do know my vision is out of whack and when I'm close to a migraine it get really out of whack.  Solid colors such as white and yellow aren't solid to me they are a combination of colors overlaid on each other, for example yellow/purple for white.  The effect gets worse as I get close to a migraine but I learned that I'm pretty much susceptible all the time.

My susceptibility to migraines was one of the key realizations.  Its hard to explain to family members when they ask for results.  I probably have five to ten different migraine triggers which can work independently to trigger a migraine.  Food, stress, sudden lack of stress, too much caffeine, caffeine withdrawal, thirst, fatigue, too much sleep, eye strain, weather, heat, alcohol, cigarette smoke, certain annoying sounds and the knot in my neck muscles and upper back.  Some things can be treated or avoided, others can't.

The way I've always internalized how my migraines worked is as a feedback loop run out of control.  Normally, there's enough suppression that any negatives get sent right back down to zero and I'm ok.  Even at  the beginning there isn't much pain because there's some balance but then the pain aggravates the migraine and  all the triggers become that much more effective.  Everything spirals out of control rapidly, everything makes the migraine the worse except cold and dark. Light hurts, sound hurts, standing hurts, thinking hurts. Its too painful to sleep because my mind is running in circles. I get earworms stuck in my head, making me tenser and tenser.  Eventually, I'm locked up, completely unable to relax, in intense pain, unable to sleep and turning to whatever remedies I can.  Without some kind of treatment I don't think I can break a migraine anymore, I need painkillers or ice packs to try to break that loop and give me a chance to recover.

This year has been different from the previous years.  The migraines had been shifting in pattern, arriving earlier in the day and becoming more disruptive of my work schedule.  I began seeing a neurologist and started several different courses of treatment.  Not all of them went that well.

 The first medication I was prescribed ended up giving me horrible side effects.  Imagine having a dream like the first 15 minutes or so of War of the Worlds, replete with amazing effects and epic threats of world shaking proportions.  I had vivid, armageddonish dreams every night, every time I went to bed I'd wake up in a panic only to realize that maybe 10-15 minutes had past, take 45 minutes to settle down to sleep and have it happen a second time.  The sleep deprivation and the medicine made me cranky and angry. I didn't last long on it, but I'd been taking it long enough that when I switched to a second medication the withdrawal/unmedicated period was incredibly difficult.  I had been living with regular migraines for so long that going back to that state from a more suppressed condition was a huge shock.

What I've also learned is that medication alone isn't enough.  I have tons of potential migraine triggers so the response is to throw everything but the kitchen sink back.  A significant component of my migraines is due to muscle problems in my neck and shoulder which physical therapy helped with a great deal.  It wasn't a full cure and insurance only provides partial coverage but it was one of those things where I came out of it seeing a real difference.

I get asked by my family and some friends about other treatments like acupuncture.  I had acupuncture for migraines when I was a kid and it helped. I also was in a classroom in direct sunlight and school ended.  Now that I'm an adult I have a great deal of skepticism for holistic alternative medicine.  It doesn't mean I'm against all acupuncture, just the new agey side of it.  Acupuncture used directly on a muscle area as a way to relax it has some appeal to me.  I don't know if it has a real scientific basis or not but its something I can buy into enough to at least have work as a placebo.

This has been sitting unfinished for ages so I'm going to post it and maybe edit it later. Its been something I've been wanting to get out for a long, long time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nook Color

I've been playing around this week with a Nook Color that I modified to work as a regular Android tablet instead of an e-reader (technically CM7 so considerably more than regular Android). Its going to be a gift for my daughter when she comes home from vacation in two weeks. The goal is still for it to act as a book replacement for her when we go on trips but I've been underwhelmed by the options available for kids picture books.

The choices for picture books available on stock Nook Color aren't too bad but start to shrink around the 4 and up range. Worse, the picture books are incompatible with the Nook app for Android. So if I run a regular Android OS on the Nook, I can't also access any Nook picture books. Lame.

The Kindle app doesn't have such restrictions. However, many of the picture books are black and white or grayscale chap books with a couple drawings and lots of text. The quality level varies considerably and the choices aren't that great. If anyone's found a goldmine of kid's Kindle books I'd love to hear about them, I got frustrated by the process and gave up after a while.

The last option is the Android market. Its one I've bought several books from already because its where you find the Dr. Seuss books. The quality tends to be high for those. Other book apps aren't as good but the pricing is usually cheap.

Of all the three options I like the app market the best for kids picture books. For easy organization I use the Circle Launcher widget. Its one of my favorite organizers for android, its a great way to access lots of apps quickly.

Besides the reader functions, the Nook really works fantastic as a tablet. The first attempt to get it running was a mess because I didn't pay attention to the warnings about what memory card to use. For the kind of operations that are important to running Android you need a memory card that can do certain kinds of operations very fast. Cheap Sandisk memory cards like the ones you can find at Radio Shack are up to a hundred times faster than the premium cards you can buy online. I bought a memory card online, had the Nook crash constantly, tried again with the cheap Sandisk card and had no problems whatsoever.

The other thing I realized in getting the tablet up and running is that Amazon's own appstore is an absolute disaster when it comes to trying to install lots of apps. Thanks to the one free app a day program that Amazon offers I have over a hundred apps on my Amazon account. To get them on the Nook would mean installing them one by one using the appstore app. By contrast, there are a bunch of ways to batch process Android market apps so they don't have to be installed one by one. If Amazon is serious about launching a tablet before the end of the year they need to revamp their appstore to enable some kind of batch processing. By the time their tablet rolls out they'll have people with 200+ apps on their Amazon accounts. Amazon should make a deal with Appbrain to develop a system similar to what's already in place for the Android market, it will save them from a lot of hate down the road.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Google Plus

Just got my invite to Google Plus. Don't really have time to mess around with it. If anyone wants an invite, shoot me an email.

So had a bit more time to play with this over lunch. I'm really liking it. There are some very cool features considering its still only in Beta.  For one, you can organize everyone in your contacts by circles, basically easy mass mailing lists that can be used for more than just email.  There is a hangout feature that lets multiple people check into a video chat, something that would be  pretty useful for holidays.  The mobile app will let you automatically upload any pictures you take so you can easily share them. There's also a weird chat app that doesn't really make sense since its mobile only.

One thing I did not like was the default privacy setting for circles. Seems that once you put someone in a circle everyone else can see them, kinda like Facebook.  If the whole point of Google Plus is to be a better, less intrusive version of Facebook get the privacy setting right from the beginning. There also doesn't seem to be an individual circles setting where you can see everyone in the circle your in, I'm not sure if its done by default or not. I really hope they don't screw this up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Roasting Time

Well, I got a new batch of green coffee beans in this week so I'm excited to start roasting again.  I'm going to try and keep a log of each batch with some comments on taste and hopefully get at least one espresso off of each bag.  I don't drink much espresso at home since its usually too late when I get back to make some.

Anyway, above is a pic of some of the beans that came in including the batch I roasted tonight, Yemen Mokha Ismaili.  The Mokha part is no joke, even as green beans when you open the bag they have this intense chocolate aroma.  My attempt at espresso didn't fare so well, it wasn't terrible but I made a few mistakes including not warming the cup up in advance.

It takes a bit of practice and letting the roast sit a day or two helps.  Letting coffee sit for a while and outgas CO2 improves the overall flavor when its finally brewed, sometimes tremendously.  I'm not sure whether its flavor or aroma that's improved (the two are very tightly linked) but getting rid of what is essentially an inert gas makes a big difference somehow.  Anyway, I'd like to get a regular series of posts on each new batch I roast up. Hopefully the next one will be soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Father's Day Reflections

Another late blog post. Father's Day weekend was very busy for me and my family.  There was an added significance beyond it being a holiday because my wife and daughter left for several weeks vacation right after the weekend.

The weekend started with an email from the DOE about my daughter's kindergarten. We'd been waiting to hear where she'd be going next year and were surprised to find out she'd gotten into NEST+M on the Lower East Side. Its a great school, a bit of a hassle for the commute until we get the bus situation figured out, and pretty much total stroke of luck.  It also meant we had to register her on the same day she was leaving, so a little more hecticness in an already busy weekend.

On Saturday I took my daughter out east to my parents place.  On the train she read with me quite a bit. I read with my daughter a lot and the last week or so I'd noticed a change in how she read.  All of a sudden she went from reading a few words at a time to reading in sentences.  She was next to me reading Green Eggs and Ham, reading at the same pace as she normally speaks and I was just so glad that I was able to be there for it.

While my daughter has my love for reading, she also has my love for video games, which has worsened while she's been on vacation and away from her regular distractions.  On one hand I do see some benefit, she mostly plays puzzle games or art games.  However, the approach she takes to getting what she wants is lousy and the way she can keep playing for an extended period of time without a break if she isn't supervised is troublesome.  Games have their benefits but there needs to be some balance.

Back to the weekend. On Sunday, we had a piano recital for my daughter.  She's been taking lessons from my friend Jules for a while now.  He's done a fantastic job and it was really cool being able to have family and friends together for the recital.  It was a busy day, a long ride home and a late night.

The next day was even busier. Between work, making sure bags were packed, getting everyone to the airport on time and finally getting home well after midnight it was exhausting.  The apartment was empty, it wasn't home.  Its a week later and its still doesn't feel like home.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Google Music Beta: EQ Icon Rant

I was playing around with Google Music the other day and I noticed that the song I was waiting to start playing had the little EQ bars next to it bouncing up and down but no music playing. Sure enough, the song was stuck loading.  Kinda weird, but it made me realize that the EQ bars were just a randomized icon with no link to the actual music being played.  As icons go, fake EQ bars rank very low on my list of choices for what I'd like as indication that a song is playing.  For one, they don't tell me that the song is actually playing. Two, there is a cognitive dissonance going on, those bouncing bars don't bounce in step to the music and its jarring once it becomes apparent.  I hope that the final version switches to that's less of an eyesore.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cloud Hopping: Some Tricks For Taking Advantage of Cloud Music

Today was Apple's announcement of its cloud music system. It was a pretty major one and it offered one feature that neither Google or Amazon have, the ability to scan and match any song in a user's library. This was originally a feature that offered and was the reason they were sued out of existence.  Apple negotiated very carefully to get the rights and the payoff is big. Instead of storing the user's files they are just serving a copy from their own database.

The downside is that it seems to be device based so you can't really access it without an iOS device or computer with iTunes.  Its also limited to songs that are recognized by iTunes. For Apple users its pretty much a no-brainer but for everyone else there needs to be a good reason to justify using it. Here are two possible reasons.

1.) Fixing Old Rips
I'm probably not alone in having old CD rips of less than stellar bitrate.  I didn't really care at the time because PC sound wasn't all that great to begin with. Apple's matching service offers a very nice upgrade in sound quality for only $25 (although limited to 25K songs) and far less work than digging out a box of CDs and manually re-ripping.  It'll still be time consuming but much less so.

2.) Laundering Music/Getting Around the Rumored Google Cloud "Authenticity Check"
Since the Google Music Beta started there's been rumors illegitimately obtained music might get flagged and removed if uploaded.  One way to avoid that would be to obtain "clean" copies from Apple first, assuming there is no similar check being performed by Apple.  To be safe, it would be a good idea to remove any suspicious looking comments from files using program such a Media Monkey before any uploading takes place.  I'm not recommending that anyone do this, but with the way Apple has structured their offer it seems to be essentially an offer of amnesty from the four major labels and for the price quite an affordable one at that.

Apple's Match service won't launch until some time in Fall so the details may change and Amazon and Google may still catch up.