20140923

Those of you who know me well know this has been a difficult Summer.  My body, specifically my jaw, has mechanically malfunctioned in a way that was difficult to diagnose and carries an uncertain prognosis - so uncertain that doctors suggest I may go into remission for as long as 10-15 years, only to experience a relapse, to possibly relapsing within the year.  The possibility of a complete recovery has not been mentioned. Though it is, I'm sure, not impossible.   

So, I've been living, as one always does, in the eternal present, trying to get used to the shadow of my own orthopaedic sword of Damocles.  It is a grim, slow adaptation. 

Of course, what is most striking about the "new" relationship I am developing with my body is that there's nothing new about it.  The structural weaknesses and bad habits that made me susceptible to this problem have always been with me.  Doctors tell me this would have happened to me someday regardless, earlier treatment could have delayed but not prevented it, etc.  And indeed, I share this with all humans. Inside all our bodies even now, entropy accumulates.  In actuality, this is a shadow I've always lived under and only now perceive.

My body is a bomb and the fuse is lit. So is yours. No one knows how long it is. 

One of the most difficult and embarrassing feelings I have is jealousy - sometimes it's difficult to be around people who are healthy.  I want to ask them if they realize how lucky they are, casually taking for granted each passing moment of pain free movement.  This Summer, watching all you lucky people move on with your pain-free lives has been very, very difficult for me. 

At the moment, the lower right side of my face alternates between numbness and tingling.  This new symptom started about 6 weeks ago, and has gotten gradually and progressively worse.  It's nerve related - when it's at it's worst touching soft things (a pillow, my own hand) to my face feels rough and prickly.  I am trying not to be afraid.  However, I can report with pleasure that the nocioceptive pain (normal, not neuropathic) has improved steadily to the point where it is almost absent.  The time-frame and perspective of my life has entirely changed, as the tectonic plates of my body shift within me.  A year from now is terrifying, for tomorrow I am grateful. 

The muscles on the right side of my face have atrophied from disuse.  This is not necessarily visible to you, the casual observer, but to me, definitely.  When I look at old photos, especially.  Even a few months ago, my cheekbones were not the shelves they are now.  For almost a month I ate a nearly liquid diet, and I am still avoiding anything that requires a lot of chewing.  At first this seemed difficult, but I've had a lot of time to reflect and now it seems like the most minor concession imaginable.  If it could guarantee me a life without pain I would gladly never eat solid food again. 

I seem to have reached the end of the medical rope, as doctors are now regularly sending me home saying there's nothing they can do.  I wish, often and uselessly, that this were literally any other part of my body.  Literally any other part of my body. 

I'm writing and posting this very vulnerable text after lengthy time to reflect on our culture's and my personal relationship to sickness and disability.  Before this happened to me, I very rarely thought about my health.  I was consistently healthy and able-bodied.  I was, to be searingly honest, proud of that health and able-bodiedness, despite how arbitrarily I possessed it.  Now - every remembered moment of that pride makes me feel a bit nauseated. 

In my ill health, I've been comforted by many of my friends mentioning to me that they were once seriously injured and had a difficult or incomplete recovery, or that they continue to live with a chronic illness they have to manage.  In our youth-worshipping health-worshipping culture, there's a tendency to be very tight-lipped with anything that doesn't dissolve easily into the miasma of facebook likes.  Thus the importance of counteracting that, and speaking frankly and publicly about pain, in it's daily ugly detail. 

. . . from the bottom of Pandora's box, glowing gently. 

20140724

I did not get into Hacker School and the meniscus of my right TMJ is anteriorly subluxed, medicalese meaning the cartilage is not properly aligned in the joint.  Nice suckerpunch, universe.

 . . . and now back to regularly scheduled programming.

20140722

It is one month to the day since I woke up unable to open my mouth, in gradually increasing pain and fear.  And 22 days since I applied to Hacker School and began working through their multi-stage interview process (gradually increasing excitement and anxiety).  

Tomorrow I will get the results of an mri which looked inside my temporomandibular joint to asses the level of soft tissue damage.  Will I also hear back from Hacker School about my acceptance/rejection?

Stay posted; breaking news.

20140621


I am giving up on this book.  (Has this become a book review blog? Maybe.)

Interesting as it is to learn about the early days of computer history, (when computers were the size of rooms, there was no such thing as a de-bugger, and people wrote first drafts of their programs on paper in languages they'd learned from books that would be run on machines several towns over that they had yet to see) this book is miserably repetitive.  

The narrative component is lacking.   Every burgeoning hacker profiled in the book is described in numbingly familar detail: boy genius, anit-hero, re-wiring ___ since he was ____ years old, invented _____ when he was ____, goes to school but cares more about programming than school, probably almost drops out or never graduates.  Levy seems less a historian than a mythologist, spinning legends based on tired archetypes.

But I suppose as a popular history and not a novel, it's entirely reasonable that I'm being unfair to Levy. Perhaps these young men were all strikingly similar.  From similar backgrounds in a similar time period, at a similar place and with similar interests.  So on to strike two: This book is constantly and casually misogynistic.  

I am only about 117 pages into the 497 page book, and there have already been several passages about the lack of great female hackers and this being in some way due to innate disposition or genetics.  It's a rhetoric I find exhausting, as a woman learning to program -  one my skin has grown thick from deflecting, more tedious than hateful  . . ."Not only an obsession, and a lusty pleasure, hacking was a mission.  You would hack, and you would live by the Hacker Ethic, and you knew that horribly inefficient and wasteful things like women burned too many cycles, occupied too much memory space."  

In other news, SCIENCE!!


But actually, sauerkraut.  The yellow layer on top is oil to allow the venting of CO2 generated by the fermentation, but prevent oxygen from reaching the cabbage/brine.  Not really visible in this photo: a nested jellyjar full of water squishing everything down.  

20140605

Programming is changing the way I think and use language.  Some examples:

I write and punctuate prose differently.  Any argument I make is likely to be structured as an if\else conditional.  I use the word "iterate" constantly.  Writing down a recipe in my paper notebook looks like pseudocode:

    for ingredients chocolate, butter, sugar:
        put in pan at low heat and stir until melted
    else:
        etc . . .

I am beginning to find code poetic - terse logic peppers a screen.  It's weighted to the left - the awkwardfulness* of which has a utilitarian, naive beauty.  Like a minimalist sculpture - there's nothing there that doesn't need to be (at least ideally).  The illusion of accident shrouds a deeply considered aesthetic decision.

I am making more puns because of programming.  Thinking about the patterns formed by words and punctuation and then making jokes because of them.

I am more attuned to patterns in general (an entirely self-reported and unverifiable claim).  But I have lately been making a lot of arguments about how a system is structured to encourage or discourage certain use-patterns over others.  Or how we can understand huge systems by breaking them into very specific details of their implementation.  (This point seems vague, but very important).

I can think of nothing more "metalinguistic" than commenting your code.  I used to imagine it would be a fascinating project to write a book in the margins of an already existing book - a metabook, or literal book-within-a.  Comments even better encourage this fantasy.  

All this is likely compounded because I'm currently reading this book:



* Hofstadter uses "awkwardfulness" as an example of a autological adjective - a word that describes itself.  Amusingly, spellcheck doesn't think either "awkwardfulness" or "autological" are words. Spellcheck also doesn't know it's own name, "spellcheck".  (who is the arbiter of language, anyway? "Things spellcheck thinks: A catalogue of errors")

Also: "catalogue".

20140521

This blog has undergone so many changes over the years, it's impossible to for me to construct a mental structure for it that wouldn't be catastrophically under-constrained.  (How's that for an attempt to use technical language metaphorically?)

Some updates:

My biggest project right now is a text-based RPG that I'm writing in Python.  I've thought a bunch about whether or not this is actually the best way to go about making it (twine, or a javascript-powered version that plays in browser occur to me), but have decided against a mid-point redesign as I think completing my first serious programming project is more important than optimizing my potential first programming project.

Currently, it's a curses application.  If you're not familiar with curses, it's an old school terminal painting library.  It's worth a google image search.  The python version is a wrapper - it was initially written in C.  I had some trouble getting it to work on Windows, and anticipate that this may again cause me frustrations when it's time to turn the game into a .exe (which is the eventual goal).

In the trouble-shooting process I ended up partitioning my hard drive so I could test out the library in linux.  I chose Ubuntu as it seemed to have a positive and helpful community built around it.  It also once had a partnership of some kind with Dell (it might still) which made me feel confident that it would have available drivers that work with my specific hardware.  Of course, that still presented some headaches (read: interesting problems).

In other news, the Small Talk season 3 call for submissions is open.  You can read/check it out on the in-progress Small Talk website I'm building (slowly).  It's a wordpress install based off of a theme called Tiny Forge.  I now know enough about code to appreciate that it is very clearly written.  The several modifications I have to it so far have been made tremendously easier by this fact.  Thanks, Tomas Mackevicius.

And finally, I welded!!


It occurs to me that as I work on code projects this blog might become more text-based.  Which is very different from my inital motives in writing it.  Polar, really.

Someday I will map these mazes within me.

20140318

SO - some updates, I have moved and am now once again unemployed.  Just about where I was two springs ago.  That summer (2012) proved to be one of the most creatively productive and fertile times in my life to date.  I got the first season of Small Talk running, and brute forced my way into screen printing.  I can only hope this Summer will be comparable.  

My friend Johanna Wienholts is a harpist (You may remember her from the Southern Oracle, if you've known me that long), anyway, when she makes a mistake in class her harp teacher (an elderly master harpist) says, "don't worry, just go home and play it 40 more times".  I love this advice/anecdote - there are so many times when the ascent of a learning curve seems overwhelming, and this is a lovely reminder that with patience and persistence comes mastery.  I think it took me a literal 40 failed screens, washed out with a hose duct-taped to the faucet in the bathtub before I got one I could work with.  Mastery, of course, eludes me still.  

In moving out of dream house, I got rid of a lot of things.  I'd say about half of everything I owned (stuff piles up fast when you have a whole house to fill and no qualms about going through other people's garbage).  I tried to get friends to come by and take things, but even when all of my friends who wanted stuff had taken everything they wanted, I still had boxes and boxes of things.  I put them out by the curb, put up a "free" posting on craigslist . . . and watched people show up, maul the boxes, and get in fist fights with each other over my useless crap.  

Here is a photo that does not show even half the pile, as I spent most of the day afraid to leave my house - cause to reflect disappointedly on the paradox that capitalism feeds on scarcity, but so many of our problems are caused by excess.  


As I went through things and decided what to keep and what to get rid of, I found myself repeatedly thinking, as I was tempted to hang on to some seldom-used object, "don't punish yourself that way." Reminding myself that these objects were not precious containers for my memories, but actual burdens that had to be physically carried around with me seemed to help.  The implication that the memories themselves were burdens also, is worth considering.

This is what I kept - still seems like too much.


In other news, I've joined Site 3.  They're going to house my screenprinting gear for the near future.  I've also started a thingiverse, and a github for new projects, and have re-done my homepage.  All still very much in-progress.  This can all be considered through the lens of learning curves - "go home and do it again 40 more times".