thinlens

I came across a superb cover of Bare Necessities from the Jungle Book by a pair of up-and-coming musicians: Carson McKee and Josh Turner (>500k subs between them). The attention to detail in this throwaway cover for the inter webs is impressive! If there was ever a pair of new musicians to support on Patreon, these are them (Carson, Josh)

#music

Posted by Abraham

Continued from Part 1.

Chronic allergies

After getting me started on Flonase, my ENT sent me for allergy testing, which revealed that I have a strong dust mite allergy, but nothing else very significant. My mom reminded me that I was allergy tested when I was little and the results were the same. In fact my parents put hardwood floors in my bedroom instead of carpet when we moved to Portland, though my sister and I switched rooms after a couple years and the carpet never seemed to bother me. I've occasionally woken up with a stuffy nose over the years, but hypoallergenic sheets and pillow cases never made much of a difference.

After a couple months on Flonase, my nose was no better than before, and this was early-COVID so all elective surgeries were still on hold. I was still skeptical that my nasal congestion was due to allergies, but given that the test was strongly reactive I agreed to try Singulair. After a couple weeks I actually felt like my sinuses were clearer and I had more energy during the day. I started lap swimming and running again. I was still fairly somewhat congested at night, so I continued using Breathe Right strips.

The fact that the Singulair helped made me think that allergies really are what's going on. So I started immunotherapy for dust mites with a new under-the-tongue tablet called Odactra. Think of it like allergy shots without the shots. For the first 1-2 months it gave me a lot of inflammation and itching under my tongue, but then my reaction to it subsided completely, which made me think it was starting to work! The literature suggests that the body develops a local tolerance to the antigen after a couple months, and a system response after 6 months to a year (See [1] and [2])

Fast forward to this month, even with Singulair I'm still struggling with nasal congestion at night and sometimes during the day. It feels like it's not working as well as it did a few months ago. So I went back to my ENT and asked to move forward with a turbinate reduction surgery, with the idea that Odactra will prevent them from growing back long term. We decided not to fix my mild deviated septum or valve collapse at this point. I think the evidence really points to turbinate hypertrophy as the leading order issue, and I'd like to avoid septoplasty and rhinoplasty if at all possible.

So that's where things stand now. The turbinate reduction surgery is scheduled for the end of the month, and hopefully it will give me some relief!

Continued in Part 3.

#health

Posted by Abraham

A decade of Breathe Right strips

Maybe 7 or 8 years ago I started notice that I had trouble breathing through my nose while lying in bed at night. It bothered me a little bit, but not too much. I generally slept well and had plenty of energy during the day. I didn't think much about it until I saw a TV ad for Breathe Right strips, basically sticky strips of plastic that you put across the front of your nose to pull open your nostrils. I bought a pack at CVS and started using them at night. They definitely helped me breathe at night, and I became a convert.

Fast forward to a year ago and I'm not sleeping well. I'm falling asleep alright and sleeping through the night, but I'm waking up tired. My nose is feeling congested during the day too, even though I'm not sick. I'm struggling to make it through the day without an afternoon nap or a cup of coffee. (I've never been a coffee drinker, so caffeine is new to me, lol!) Some days are worse and some are better. Some days I get to work and immediately want to nap on the sofa in the lobby, but other days  I have enough energy to swim laps at the Y.

I probably should have gone to the doctor at this point, but I have a PhD in Physics and I'm stubborn so I start trying to figure things out on my own. I record my sleep with SnoreLab and find that I've started snoring. I switch from the regular to  extra-strength Breathe Right strips, which helps a bit. I start taking daily Claritin in case I've developed allergies, but it doesn't help. I try taking Sudafed before bed and—wow—it really opens up my sinuses. I wake up really refreshed and energized! That's...good...right? At this point I've done enough googling to know that you shouldn't use decongestants for more than a few days because you can become dependent on them.

I finally see my PCP and he takes one look in my nostrils and says “Your turbinates are really swollen!” “What does that mean? What are turbinates?” I ask. “They're normal anatomy, but yours are really swollen, especially this one,” he says, gesturing to the left side of my nose. “I think you should see an ENT.”

Fast forward a couple weeks and I'm sitting in my ENT's exam room getting a nasal endoscopy, which is fairly tolerable until starts to push the endoscope through the back of my sinus and down to my vocal folds. Eventually he gives the verdict: I have very large inferior turbinates, a deviated septum towards my left side, and some nasal valve collapse. He believes the turbinates are my primary issue, which is consistent with my congestion gradually worsening over a couple years, not preferring one side or the other, and responding to Sudafed.

For now, he says I have to try Flonase for 2-3 months “before insurance will entertain anything else”, but remarks that there a few surgical options to consider if it comes to that. First is an outpatient procedure called turbinate coblation to shrink the inferion turbinates. Second is a surgical reduction of the turbinates  (surgeons use innocent-sounding phrases like “shaving them down”). And last are septoplasty to fix my deviated septum, and even rhinoplasty to strengthen my nasal valve (“Think of it like an internal breathe right strip”).

It's a relief to know that there are physical causes of my congestion, and that there are options to address them. So, perfectionist that I am, I watch about a dozen videos on YouTube about how to correctly use nasal sprays, and start using Flonase twice a day, and...to be continued in Part 2!

#health

Posted by Abraham

Apps/Utilities

Sublime Text is an elegant, fast, and lightweight text editor for macOS, and it is my preferred choice for Python/C++ editing. Seriously, VS Code and PyCharm are so much slower that I wonder if people who use them like waiting around for files to open or for project searches to finish.

  • Cmd-P – Quick open file by name (I have remapped this to Cmd-T)
  • Ctrl-G – Go to line number (I have remapped this to Option-G)
  • Opt-D – Insert python debugger (This is a custom shortcut)

rg is far and away the fastest way to search through a large repo of source code from the terminal.

Magnet is the Mac equivalent of Window’s only useful innovation over the past decode: Snap Assist. For any given project, I probably have a 4 windows open (Slack, iTerm2, a jupyter notebook, and Sublime Text). Magnet gives you keyboard shortcuts and sticky screen edges to move any give windows to any half or quarter of the screen.

  • Ctrl-Opt-Left (Ctrl-Opt-Right) – Move window and resize to fill left (right) half of screen.
  • Ctrl-Opt-U – Move window and resize to fill top left half of screen. I use U, I, J, and K to move windows to the top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right quarters of the screen. But these shortcuts are easy to customize.

CopyPath is a Mac utility that lives in the menu bar and lens you copy the full path of any selected file(s). It's indispensable for anyone that uses both the terminal and the Finder. zsh is a bash alternative which has several nice features: A shared command history between all terminal windows, a built in git aware prompt, and a default pretty color scheme

General mac text editing shortcuts

Ctrl-A (Ctrl-E) – Move cursor to the beginning (end) of the current line Opt-left (Opt-Right) – Move cursor one word back (forward) Shift-Opt-Left (Shift-Option-Right) – Select previous (next) word Opt-Backspace – Delete previous word

#tech

Posted by Abraham

Here's a snippet from a fascinating interview with Democrat data scientist David Shor in New York Magazine.

Mitt Romney and Donald Trump agreed on basically every issue, as did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And yet, a bunch of people changed their votes. And the reason that happened was because the salience of various issues changed. Both sides talked a lot more about immigration, and because of that, correlation between preferences on immigration and which candidate people voted for went up. In 2012, both sides talked about health care. In 2016, they didn''t. And so the correlation between views on health care and which candidate people voted for went down.

One interesting tidbit Shor alludes to is an analysis by political scientist David Broockman (see writeup in Vox) showing that moderate voters do not actually have moderate views on invididual issues. What we call moderate voters are really voters with many ideologically inconsistent views.

For Ahler and Broockman, this solves a puzzle. They note that many states have implemented election reforms to wrest the process away from partisans and empower average voters to elect the moderate politicians they really want. These reforms include open primary elections, nonpartisan redistricting, and public funding of elections. But “the bulk of studies on these reforms finds little evidence that they improve moderate candidates' fortunes.”> The answer, Ahler and Brookman realize, is simple: these voters don't want moderate candidates because these voters aren't actually moderates.

#society

Posted by Abraham

If you type full git commands all the time, you're making life unnecessarily hard for yourself. Add these aliases to your shell config file, eg .bashrc or .zshrc. I'm a longtime user of zshell.

    alias cherry="git cherry-pick"
    alias ga="git add"
    alias gb="git branch --sort=-committerdate"
    alias gca="git commit --amend"
    alias gch="git checkout"
    alias gcm="git commit -m"
    alias gcnm="git commit -n -m"
    alias gd="git diff"
    alias gl="git log"
    alias gr="git reset"
    alias gs="git status"

#tech

Posted by Abraham

For most of my life I felt like the odd man out. I was shyer, more anxious, and less social than any of my friends. To some extent things have changed over the past few years as I've dealt with social anxiety and learned to better accept myself. But I still find that I'm the quiet one in virtually all of my friendships. I always took this for granted, thinking that I must really be in the 99th percentile of shyness. But when my boyfriend and I had dinner with a few of his college friends last week, I started reassessing.

One of his friends was quiet. Very quiet. It's rare that I meet someone shyer than myself. But then I started thinking back to a few weeks prior. I had brunch with an ex and his new boyfriend: also very shy. In fact, Myers/Briggs reports that the population is split virtually half and half between introverts and extroverts. So where were all these shy folks all my life when I was feeling like a social outcast?

The answer is in the Friendship Paradox: your friends are likely to have more friends than you do. This is a selection bias effect. No matter how shy or introverted you are, your friends are likely to be extroverts because those are the people most likely to be seeking friends. So where are all the introverts? They've been here all along hiding in an extrovert's world. I'm an introvert, and I generally still find extroverts easier to make conversation with. They ask more questions and are better at keeping the conversation going.

I saw Susan Cain's TED Talk a while back, but I never really groked it until now. Even introverts have a bias against introverts. We're quiet and it's time to shout it from the rooftops.

#society

Posted by Abraham

Jony Ive, at the Genius Bar, with a spec of dust?

Apple shipped a super slim new keyboard on the ultra-portable 2015 MacBook, and later introduced it across their laptop line. The redesigned physical mechanism underneath each key allowed for a thinner design and improved key stability while typing. Another triumph for the tech world's best designers and engineers.

Except not.

The butterfly keyboard had reliability problems from the beginning, prompting Apple to set up a dedicated replacement policy. The new mechanism was uniquely sensitive to dust, failing to recognize certain keystrokes at times, or generating double keystrokes at others (eg, see Casey Johnston's eviscerating review and Joanna Stern's column written verbatim on a malfunctioning keyboard). Without publicly admitting failure, Apple repeatedly refined the mechanism in hopes of solving the issues (see iFixit's writeups from 2019 and 2020).

I never had reliability problems with my 2017 MacBook Pro keyboard, but the ultra-low travel, ultra-stable typing mechanism constantly aggravated my wrists. “Key stability” means that only vertical force will cause the key to depress. For instance, if you apply force at an angle 30 deg away from normal, then you are forced to type ~15% harder than you would have to type on the non-butterfly keyboard (ie, F cos θ). “Stable keyboard” sounds like a nice phrase, but the poor ergonomics are inescapable.

This is lesson that Apple has yet to learn. Even now after sunsetting the butterfly mechanism, the replacement remains heavily influenced by it. Yes, the key travel is increased, but the keys remain as rigidly stable as the butterfly's. I typed on the new keyboard in person at the New Haven Apple Store when it was introduced on the new 16 inch MacBook Pro last year...it still takes too much force to type.

The only good solution for serious typists is to use an external keyboard. I have become a devotee of split ergonomic keyboards like the Microsoft Sculpt or the Logitech Ergo. Either that or dig out your beautiful first-generation MacBook Pro with the to-die-for silver keyboard ...

#tech

Posted by Abraham

I switched to Roland Kauffmann''s excellent Programmer dvorak keyboard layout over a decade ago and haven''t looked back since. It has all the advantages of the dvorak keyboard (e.g., 70% of words can be typed without moving fingers off the home row), with some nice improvements for programmers (e.g., parentheses and brackets are placed symmetrically on the top row, and symbols are primary over numbers). Switching to Programmer dvorak has reduced my wrist and finger strain at work, especially paired with a nice ergonomic keyboard like this one.
In this post, I''ll discuss some of the issues I''ve run into with Programmer dvorak and how to address them.

The keys don''t match the keycaps. Sure, you could buy a physical dvorak keyboard or put dvorak stickers on your keycaps, but why train yourself to look at the keys while you''re typing? I created a wallpaper image with the programmer Dvorak layout overlayed on the Andromeda galaxy. So all I had to do was use my Show Desktop hot corner to consult the layout.

Thumb typing. The keyboard layout of the iphone/ipad keyboard cannot be changed to Dvorak. Several years ago, Apple allowed developers to created 3rd party keyboards, and there are a few dvorak ones but they are all disappointing: ugly, slow, and unpleasant to use. All I want is to apply a new layout to the Apple keyboard. For this reason, I thumb-type in qwerty.

Using a bluetooth keyboard with an iPad. Strangely, while Apple doesn''t let you change the layout of the on-screen keyboard to any Dvorak, they do allow you to use the (vanilla) Dvorak layout for Bluetooth keyboards. Unfortunately, there''s no way to use the programmer Dvorak layout.

Computerized standardized testing. The GRE exam is given on computer and requires a typed essay, and just like the SAT, longer essays typically receive higher scores. To prepare for this, I switched 100% back to qwerty for a month prior to the exam to make sure I could type as long an essay as possible.

#tech

Posted by Abraham

With all the stories of police racism and brutality in the news, I''ve been thinking about the first time I was pulled over by a cop. Looking back, I did all the wrong things, and I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been black.

It was almost midnight and I was driving back from Wendy''s. There''s no traffic. Suddenly I see police lights behind me. There''s no shoulder to pull onto, so I take the next right and pull over on a side street. I can feel a panic attack coming on, but I force myself to breathe. I don''t think I''ve done anything wrong.

“License and registration?” I flip through my folder and find the registration.

“That''s actually two weeks out of date.”

“Oh really? I''m sure I paid it, I must have forgotten to save the new document.”

“I pulled you over because you have a headlight out, I think it''s your right headlight.”

He walks to the front of my car to check. Without thinking, I open my door and step outside to follow him.

“Wow, you''re right.”

I walk back to my car and wait for him to run the plates. Returning to my car, he is all smiles. “Everything checks out. Just a warning about the headlight. By the way, we have the same birthday, you''re just 2 years younger. And in the future, you shouldn''t get out of your car when you''re pulled over. Personally I didn''t feel threatened, but next time wait inside. Have a good night!”

I didn''t think much about it at the time, but looking back, this encounter had white privilege scrawled all over it. He gave me the benefit of the doubt and was professional, but friendly. I''m a 6 foot tall fidgety male; how much darker would my skin have to be for him to feel threatened? Especially with my jumping out of the car to follow him.

I'm glad he didn't feel threatened, but the Harvard Law Review writes that “Officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making” and “Even acting friendly, officers may be told, can make them a target.” [1]

I want to empathize. Black Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes [2] and have violent encounters with police. So why shouldn't officers be more alert than with white suspects? Yes, higher crime rates are probably caused by higher poverty rates [3], but doesn't it still makes sense for officers to prioritize their own safety? The answer is this is the wrong mindset because it becomes self fulfilling. Police are more likely to aggravate black suspects, which encourages more aggressive reactions, creating a violent spiral (eg [4]). It's time to #breakthespiral.

#society

Posted by Abraham