Day 51: Adaptation

I’ve written before about my hearing loss. Years ago, I was about 5 feet away from a tree that got struck by lightning, and lost my hearing for a couple of days. When it returned, it only returned partially. I permanently lost some of my high-frequency response. I was 18 when that happened, and over the years the loss of the ability to hear high frequencies has gotten worse. I began to notice that I was having a hard time understanding women and children speak, as their voices are more in that high-frequency range.

hearing test results
My hearing test results.

The above is my hearing test from 3 years ago. For normal hearing, the lines should all be within the grey area at the top of each chart. Note that I’m pretty close for frequencies below 2000Hz, but that it drops precipitously past that. Typical age-related hearing loss has a more-or-less flat response that is evenly lower than the grey area.

I had tried hearing aids a while ago, and they just weren’t advanced enough to help my specific issue. Three years ago I read about improvements in the technology, and liked what I found. I brought my wife to the fitting session, and it was obvious how much better I could understand her when she spoke. I was thrilled!

But it wasn’t easy, especially at first. My brain had been used to processing the sound levels my ears could hear, and all of a sudden they were wildly different! Many times things sounded screechy, almost painful. I was in the supermarket and an announcement came over the loudspeakers, and it hurt so bad I had to pull the hearing aids out. The same thing happened when I went to wash dishes: the sound of the water running from the faucet was uncomfortably hissy-sounding.

My wife has worked with many hearing-impaired and deaf kids who have had cochlear implants, and mentioned that many times the kids tear them out because the sensation is so unpleasant to them. If they’ve never had the ability to hear, their brain can’t interpret the nerves being stimulated (irritated, more accurately) by the implant, so it doesn’t come across as useful information, just irritating noise. I never really understood that until that day in the supermarket when I had to remove my hearing aids because the sound was very irritating.

It wasn’t all unpleasant, of course. I am now able to hear birds chirping and singing! It’s really odd to be listening to them, and then remove the hearing aids – the chirping just stops! It’s not quiet chirping; it’s not there at all. Then I replace them in my ears, and once again I can hear the birds singing.

Within a few months my brain largely re-wired itself to better balance the sounds it was receiving. What’s funny is when I forget to put the hearing aids in, say, after a shower, and start speaking with my wife: she sounds like she has a pillow over her mouth! That just shows how adapted my brain has become to having those high frequencies available.

Day 50: Divisions

Currently, the rate of COVID-19 hospitalization in many parts of the US is climbing rapidly. Here in Texas there are many hospitals that are at capacity, and are unable to take any more patients. The point of “flattening the curve” wasn’t to stop the virus; it was just to keep our medical system from being overwhelmed. We are seeing this happening now across Texas.

In the midst of all this, we have many voices calling for the re-opening of schools when the fall term starts next month. That would be great, except we’re not even close to being able to do that safely. Remember, it’s not just the safety of the children at stake, but that of teachers, custodians, food service staff, bus drivers, administrators, and everyone else involved in running a school. Some districts are choosing to delay in-person classes for at least two more months, but others are rushing forward, such as Orange County, California, whose school board is allowing in-person classes with no masks or social distancing. Understandably, many parents are angry at the callousness of the school board, and are asking them to reconsider.

What is needed is for people to come together in opposition to these short-sighted actions. Yes, there are some parents who want their kids back in school, but the vast majority would place their children’s safety above any other consideration. When people join their voices together, they are much more powerful than when acting individually. But that seems almost impossible these days.

When it was discovered that Russia had been using bots to influence the 2016 election, it turned out that they weren’t just promoting Trump; they were also promoting Hillary, and in roughly equal numbers. The goal was to divide the American people against each other, preventing them from being able to come together and unite against an enemy. Just look at that division has taken a simple thing like wearing a mask during an infectious pandemic has become a political issue, not a health issue.

There are wide differences of opinion on many political matters, such as immigration, monetary policy, and the like. We can continue to oppose each other on those, but unite against the dangers of the pandemic. The divisions run deep, though – I don’t hold out much hope of them going away any time soon.

Day 49: Little Courtesies

Someone recently told me of the shopping cart test to gauge a person’s level of consideration for others: when you unload your groceries into your car, what do you do with the empty cart? Most people return them to one of the cart collection areas set up for that purpose, but many do not. They just leave it in an empty space by their car, and drive off. Sometimes they make a minimal effort to reduce the risk of the cart accidentally rolling away and denting another car by propping in on a nearby curb, but many times they simply leave it.

How difficult is it to walk the cart to a collection area? Some suggested that a person might have a disability that would make that difficult, but it does seem odd that they would be able to use the cart to do their shopping, and then push it to their car, but not be able to return it.

To me, this displays a lack of basic courtesy, rooted in selfishness. The cart served your needs, so it is just abandoned. There is no thought about potential damage to others’ cars, or making the employee work harder to gather the carts from the far-flung corners of the parking lot. It’s a simple test of one’s consideration for others.

There are many such things where you need to acknowledge that you are just one person in a common environment with others, and when we do, things just go much smoother. Did you use the last of the toilet paper roll? Or leave just a tiny bit? If you don’t make the small effort to replace it with a new roll, you’re making life more difficult for the next person. Same thing with cleaning the lint screen of the dryer after your load. It’s a small effort on your part to make someone else’s experience much better.

What do you think about people who can’t be bothered to do these little things? Sure, everyone forgets once in a while, but I’m talking about people who consciously choose not to do them.

I’m writing this in the shadow of the biggest social effort in some time: stopping the spread of COVID-19. Everyone is asked to do something very simple: wear a face mask over your nose and mouth to reduce the potential for spreading the virus, since people can be infectious before they have any symptoms at all. It’s not much to ask, but man, the way that some people react makes it sound like the worst oppression ever experienced by a human being!

My parents lived through World War II (my dad fought in the war), and I grew up hearing stories of the rationing that the entire country was expected to follow. I can’t imagine something like that working today, for one simple reason: back then people saw themselves as belonging to the same side against a common enemy. That’s no longer the case: too many people see themselves as a persecuted group

It’s sad, but that’s to be expected with the polarization that has spread across this country. Too many people have rejected the American vision of inclusion that we’ve been striving for for centuries, and want to return to the days of straight white male dominance, even if it means embracing our enemies.

Me? I’m going to continue to return my shopping cart to the cart return area.

Day 48: A Lockdown Cliché

I’ve never been a serious baker, but in the past I have dabbled a bit with bread making. Mostly I made simple whole grain loaves that were meant to be consumed for daily meals. I came upon a recipe for challah, and remembered how much I liked that kind of bread when I had eaten it at friends’ homes as a kid. It turned out not to be very difficult to make, and I got good at the braiding. I was hosting a New Year’s Eve party to welcome in 1981, and made this as the centerpiece of the food spread:

Happy New Year!

But over the years I pretty much stopped baking, mostly due to time constraints. But this past spring the dual whammy of getting laid off at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown left me with lots of time on my hands.

I have always been fascinated by sourdough bread: using the natural yeast and bacteria in the air around us to not only introduce air into the dough, but to transform the nutrients locked up in the wheat kernel into a form that we humans can digest. In particular, the book Cooked by Michael Pollan (now also a Netflix series) really made me want to learn how to do this myself.

So I googled around to compare different techniques for making a sourdough starter, and settled on one that seemed the best (they’re all pretty much the same, though). Within a week I had a pretty healthy batch of starter, and made my first loaves from it. They tasted fine, but were very flat, and lacked that killer crust that is the hallmark of a good sourdough. I read various articles on different techniques, and what I seemed to be missing was the entire shaping process that builds the structure of the dough. Who knew that dough needed structure?

I watched a lot of videos, and liked this one the best. I’ve made many loaves since then, and they’ve always come out delicious! They look pretty good, too:

Crispy, crunchy crust with lots of flavor!

Besides the taste, I love to see the intricate structure of the bread – it’s amazing to think of the millions and millions of cells that went into generating the gas to raise the bread, and the intricate structure of the wheat to trap that gas. Just look at that detail!

Sourdough close-up

I have taken lots of macro photos of these loaves, and created a gallery on my website called Sourdough Porn that is filled with shots like these.

So while baking sourdough bread during the lockdown is a bit of a cliché, it’s definitely a fun and delicious cliché!

Day 47: Python Virtualenvs

If you’re not a Python programmer, you probably won’t find much in this post. Sorry.

If you are a Python programmer, then you probably know about virtualenvs, or virtual environments. They allow you to create several different Python environments to work in: each can have it’s own version of Python, as well as its own installed packages. This means I can work on a project that has particular requirements, and then switch to a project with completely different requirements, and the two won’t affect each other.

A while ago I used to use vitualenvwrapper, which made working with virtualenvs a lot easier. But as I switched to Python 3 over the past few years, I started to have some issues where it didn’t work correctly (sorry, I no longer recall precisely what those issues were). I’m sure a lot had to do with the addition of the venv module into Python 3, which allowed you to create a virtualenv by running python -m venv /path/to/virtualenv.

For a while I ran all the commands manually, but I have the quality that makes for good programmers: I’m lazy. A lazy person doesn’t want to do any more work than they have to, so if I can automate something to save time over the long run, I will. And here’s what I came up with:

export VENV_HOME=$HOME/venvs function workon { if [ -z $1 ] then ls -1 $VENV_HOME else source $VENV_HOME/$1/bin/activate fi } function mkvenv { python3 -m venv $VENV_HOME/$1 workon $1 pip install -U pip setuptools wheel pip install ipython pytest-pudb requests } function rmvenv { command -v deactivate rm -rf $VENV_HOME/$1 } _venvdirs() { local cur="$2" COMPREPLY=( $(cd $HOME/venvs && compgen -d -- "${cur}" ) ); } complete -F _venvdirs workon rmvenv

These lines should be added to your .bashrc in Linux, or your .bash_profile for Macs. I haven’t tried them with zsh yet, so no guarantees there. Let’s go over what these lines do.

Line #1 defines the directory where the virtualenvs will be stored. You can store them anywhere; it doesn’t make any difference.

Lines #3–10 define the workon function, which activates the specified virtualenv, or lists all virtualenvs if none is specified. Lines 12–17 define the mkvenv function, which creates a new venv, and lines 19–22 define rmvenv, which deletes virtualenvs when you no longer need them.

I’d like to point out 2 lines in mkvenv that you can customize. Line #15 updates the installed versions of pip, setuptools, and wheel. If for some reason you don’t want the latest versions of these, edit or remove that line.

Line #16 is more interesting: nearly every virtualenv I create needs these packages installed. Rather than install them one-by-one, I add them when I create the virtualenv. If you have different packages you always want available, edit this line.

Finally, lines #24–29 are of utmost importance to someone lazy like myself: they provide auto-completion for the other commands. I had to learn about bash completion to get that working, but it turned out to be much easier than I had imagined.

Here is a gif showing it in action:

Try it out! Let me know if you find this useful, or if you have suggestions for improvement.