the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Month: August, 2014

Dihydrogen Monoxide Depletion

For those of you who haven’t heard, it’s DRY in California this summer, as in I-hope-it’s-never-this-dry-in-my-lifetime-again dry.  This graphic from XKCD sums up the problem rather well:

Call it global warming.  Call it a fluke of nature.  It’s probably both.

We were pretty well fixed to weather a drought at the start of this season.    We use a high efficiency washer.   Our water heater is relatively new (and not leaking.)  Our dishwasher is also relatively new, and we try to run it when it is full.  I’ve checked the water meter with all the taps off to verify that nothing is leaking in the last few years.

On top of that, we took some additional steps to conserve water this year:

  • we installed a dual flush valve on the toilet,
  • we installed a low flow shower head,
  • we decided not to use the sprinkler system to water the lawn at all this summer (we occasionally use one circuit in the system to water plant beds and trees, as needed.)

I just had a look at our water bill between June and August, and I see that our efforts produced a noticeable reduction:


As you can see, we reduced our water consumption by over two thirds.  We also come in well under the voluntary water limit, but we’ve always done that.

There have been some losses.   Our apple tree continues to drop apples, and our lemon tree is also dropping fruit.   Our hydrangeas never really bloomed.   The lawn is developing some rather nasty looking bare spots.

I hope that there is more water next year.   We need it, badly.


Childhood Apraxia Of Speech

Hi, I’m Theo.  I’m the parent of a child with special needs.

I’m still getting used to saying that to myself.

The Peanut was formally diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia Of Speech earlier this year.   What is that?  Well, it was described to us by a developmental pediatrician as a “neuro-muscular condition” that prevents my son from properly making sounds and forming words, despite his desire to do so and the apparent absence of physical deformity.  The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association describes childhood apraxia of speech as a motor speech disorder which will not improve without treatment, and is not the same as other developmental speech disorders in which children progress to speech more slowly or hit speech milestones in a different order.   It won’t get better with time, and the Peanut will not learn to talk without lots of speech therapy.

It’s taken over 2 years to get here.   It began with the Peanut’s 18 month well baby check up.   He was babbling a lot at the time, but we heard little in the way of real words, approximations of words, or parts of words.   That was a little odd, we told ourselves, but I apparently was a late talker… and so it seemed entirely possible that the Peanut was just absorbing all the language around him, gestating, and incubating his ability to express himself.   Our family doctor was less optimistic.  He suggested we start with a hearing test.

We did, and discovered that the Peanut’s hearing was normal.   By his two year old well baby check up, the doctor was recommending speech therapy.   That led to an evaluation by a speech pathologist, who agreed that therapy was a good idea… after the six month (or more) waiting period to get an appointment with speech therapist the pediatric speech therapy unit of the medical group.   We went back to our family doctor, and he recommended another speech therapy program… which was able to take the Peanut after about 6-8 weeks.   Fine, we said.  We were off and running, and it wasn’t even costing us much — I have a good job with good insurance that was picking up most of the tab.  The therapist was reassuring that we’d have the Peanut’s speech difficulties on the road to a cured in six months.

The six months came and went, and progress was maddeningly slow.   That lead to a desire to have the Peanut evaluated by a developmental pediatrician.  In California, the first place to go with that is actually the State; California has had services for young children with various kinds of disabilities since the early 1970’s.   That took a month or two to schedule and turned out to be something of a fiasco.  There was an encounter with a mentally unbalanced person in a waiting room, an exam in the late morning that saw the Peanut melt down because he was hungry, and useless or downright scary words from the developmental pediatrician like “oh if you’d only brought him here a year ago, we could have gotten him into a group therapy class and that would have done wonders” and “be careful having someone evaluate him when he’s hungry because a lazy therapist will see him behave badly and then try to hang an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis on him.”

By this point, the Peanut was nearly three and three year-olds receive services from school districts, not directly from the state.  That means a new evaluation by a different person.   The people we saw from the state were supposed to help us make that transition, but never did… and the Missus and I were slow to follow up.   In the immediate term, we decided to continue with therapy paid for by my insurance;  the Peanut was getting along with his therapist and seemed to be making progress, however slow it was.    That was fine, until about three months later when we discovered that a change in insurance carrier at my employer meant that speech therapy was no longer covered.  The Missus and I decided on a two-pronged response: first, we would appeal the insurance decision (which was ultimately fruitless after six months) and second we would pay for individual and group therapy for the Peanut ourselves,  at least until another round of evaluations with not one, but two different developmental pediatricians to try to get a handle on “the big picture” of what the Peanut really needed.    Those appointments took more months to schedule.

Though we did not initially plan it that way, both of those appointments occurred in the same week.   They could not have been more different.   One was a 2-3 hour battery of tests to evaluate the Peanut.  The other was a 20 minute in-person evaluation, after review of standard surveys on the Peanut’s behavior filled out by his parents and his pre-school teachers.    We learned from two hours of testing that the Peanut’s visual reasoning skills are excellent — he completed or partially completed a series of puzzles, the most difficult of which should normally be completed by a seven year old.   Other than that, all that evaluation was a bust.  That developmental pediatrician suspected apraxia, recommended waiting before seeking a formal diagnosis, and suggested we try putting him in a class for high functioning children with special needs.   The other developmental pediatrician was much more direct, after about a half an hour of face time.  She felt fairly sure the Peanut has apraxia, and referred us to a speech therapist who specialized in children with apraxia to get a formal diagnosis.   The results of those efforts convinced the Peanut’s speech therapist to finally commit to a formal diagnosis of childhood apraxia of speech this past Spring.

That diagnosis, combined with our mounting therapy bills, convinced the Missus and I to start the process of seeking services from the local public school district.   That meant a new hearing test and another evaluation, which took weeks to schedule, followed by a meeting to formalize the IEP (individualized education program.)   The hearing test and both meetings went well.  The Peanut can most definitely hear.  He got along well with the school speech therapist who evaluated him, and she immediately recognized his need for speech therapy.   His IEP includes three sessions of speech therapy per week, once it starts in the Fall (by the time that IEP meeting occurred, it was nearly the end of the school year and the Peanut could not start until the new school year starts.)

Since then, it’s been a rough summer.   The insurance appeal was effectively rejected.  The Peanut’s behavior has taken a turn for the worse;  he’s finally learned the words “yes” and “no” and discovered that he can assert his identity by saying “no” to absolutely everything, even when he might actually want to say “yes.”  That behavior first got him dropped (not permanently dropped, but asked to “take a break”) from group speech therapy, and then slowed his progress in individual therapy (causing his therapist to suggest his expressions of frustration are not “age appropriate”.)   It’s also forced him to change teachers for his swim class.

More importantly, I’m starting to worry about how not talking is changing the Peanut and how he relates to the world.   When doctors and therapists  asked about what the Peanut’s big strengths are in the past, we said “his desire to communicate and his sunny disposition”.   I am now slightly less sure of either.   We’re reaching the limit of what simple non-verbal cues can convey, and that is frustrating him.    The “no no no” behavior is accompanied by a lot of tantrum-like behavior when he does not get what he wants.   I see him shy away from attempts to mimic some words or sounds because he knows they are too hard.   While he is comfortable with trying more simple cooperative play with the Missus or me because he knows we’re more likely to understand him, he is much more likely to engage in solo or parallel play with other children, even ones he’s known for a long time.  I wonder how much the Peanut is starting to recognize that he is different from other people because he’s reaching an age where more and more of his peer group (of which he is one of the oldest) has already learned to talk.   I wish I could ask him.  Well, I can… but there is no way for him to give me an answer right now.

The Peanut’s situation also brings doubt, and doubts bring experts.   If he throws some tantrums, someone will suggest that he is not showing age appropriate behavior and suggest we see an expert to discover if he has other learning differences.   Ditto for cooperative play.   And the fact that he cannot jump up and down well.  And if he’s on the late side with potty training, that’s got to be a part of the “big picture” problem, right?   Go see another developmental pediatrician.   Or a neurologist.  Or a psychiatrist.  Or a psychologist.  Or a physical therapist.  Or an occupational therapist.  All of whom will suggest that he is later at doing something than some, but not by any means all, of the children of his chronological age before suggesting additional therapy.  Therapy, I might add, that may not help to solve his central problem, that should have been started a while ago, and that will likely not be covered by insurance.

Finally, I’m also starting to worry about how the way that the Missus and I see the narrative of his progress is changing.    For a long time, we saw the Peanut as this happy kid who was slowly but surely conquering his problems.  That’s a drastic oversimplification, but it conveys the sense that he was winning the fight, even if there were setbacks.  Now, we are more tempted to see him as damaged by the fight, and with the outcome seeming far less certain.  I suppose only time will tell which view is the correct one.

A friend told me recently “no one can describe how hard it is to have a kid with needs.”   No, it can’t be described… the uncertainty, the desire to second guess the choices already taken, the slowness of each step yet to be made, the possible guilt (did this happen because of something I did, or just because of who I am.)   I know that the Peanut is, for the most part, a happy, healthy kid… and that we are lucky that the Peanut’s problems can be treated with therapy.

Yet, I look back with longing.  I remember that before the Peanut came along, I used to say “please God, ten fingers and ten toes”.   Now I wish I could go back and say “please God, ten fingers and ten toes… and can talk.”



Great Expectations

A statement overheard during the weekend:

You don’t have huge expectations for a day that starts out with a child handing you poop that’s fallen out of his diaper.

That is all.

Technology Marches On For Old Film

Old home movies have very much been on our minds around here lately.  A couple of the Missus’ great uncles were Roman Catholic Monsignors and went on a trip around the world in 1938 to the 34th International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary and finally returned to Manhattan via the HMS Britannic.    They took over 3000 feet of home movies on the trip.   We recently showed the films to an auction expert in the collectibles field.  He said the movies have an interesting “Forrest Gump-like quality” because the film shows a number places that changed radically not that long after the films were shot: Pearl Harbor, China, Singapore, Fascist Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice), Paris, and London.  Others, like the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, sit almost outside time.   Some of the movies are in color.

We got the films transferred to DVD several years ago, shortly after they came into our possession.   We looked at those DVDs for the first time in a good while before going to see the expert.  We weren’t particularly impressed with the quality of the transfer.

When a friend recently got some slides from the 1970’s of hers transferred to digital by a different outfit and liked the quality, we decided to see what they could do with our movies.

The results look promising.   There is some additional family footage in the last can of film of what we think is the 50th wedding anniversary of the Missus’ great grandparents, sometime around 1940.  Here is a frame from that footage on the older DVDs of a group of Sisters touring the Missus’ Great Grandmother’s flower garden:

The transfer really isn’t very good.  The contrast and saturation levels appear to be set to try to highlight all the color still present in the film.  It looks like bad color television from the days before cable.   Most of the details are lost in darkness.   Taken out of context, it would be hard to know exactly where this image was taken.

Compare that with approximately the same frame sent to us by the company doing the new transfer:


This frame was sent to us in both “original” and “color corrected” forms.  This is with color correction; the original is a little more sepia-toned.  The colors, where present, are more muted compared to the earlier transfer.  Yet, that loss utterly pales in comparison to the amount of other visual information gained in the new transfer.    You can tell who is in this frame, and where it is, without much trouble at all.   I also resized the new image to match the older one here.  It’s actually about four times larger, with much more detail, since the new transfer will be Blu-ray-quality MPEG4.

The new transfer will not be cheap, but I think it will definitely be worth it.

Listening at 78 RPM

I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for the music of the first half of the 20th century over the years.  It’s crept in slowly, first by listening to bands like the Asylum Street Spankers, who consciously create modern music in the style of the 1920’s and 30’s.    More recently, it’s come out of listening to some of the early music itself after a blogger friend turned me on to the 1920’s Radio Network (a live radio feed near Norfolk, VA and online digital stream.)

Having heard a few 78 RPM records in person over the years, I have always wondered how much information ever went onto those grooves in the pre-vinyl days of shellac from before 1948.   The records that come down to us now are often worn and the playback equipment is tired.  Digital transfers often do not help much, because the aim too often is “hiss free playback” not “proper fidelity” (something that made early CD remasters of much more recent music inferior to their analog counterparts in the 1980’s and 1990’s.)

So, it was a very pleasant surprise to happen upon the YouTube archive of Ade Gregg, an Australian sound engineer with a love of Big Band Era and earlier recordings who spends a lot of his free time figuring out how to get the most sound off of a 78 RPM record.   He posted much of his material online between 2010-2013, some of it during a period when he was unemployed and trying to see if he could do work with 78’s for a living somehow.  From what I can see, he’s evidently got a two part system: a phono pre-amp that’s he’s put together himself to best reproduce the sound envelope of the era, and some custom and stock digital plugins that he uses with whatever digital mastering software he’s got.   Most to all of the stuff he’s posted is from records he’s picked up at junk and antique shops for cheap.

I initially found out about him while looking up some online sources for Hawaiian slack key and steel guitarists:


From there, I jumped to Jussi Bjorling singing one of the great tenor arias of all time:


There also was some of the cleanest Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli I believe I’ve ever heard (and apparently only playable from a computer because of some arcane Youtube permissions):


Finally, I heard some proto-Dixieland jazz:


I guess it turns out that there’s a lot of information in those grooves, if you know how to get it.

I don’t know what happened to Ade Gregg in the last few years, but I hope he gets his dream job.  If he can get sounds like this off consumer pressed records bought for cheap, I’d like to hear what he can do with surviving metal and acetate masters.

Check out his YouTube channel.  He’s got a ton of stuff (well, at least 100 other recordings) there.

Coup D’Etat?

Political talk is everywhere and nowhere these days.   I say that it’s everywhere because with three 24 news networks, traditional media outlets, and blogs, there is certainly no shortage of gum flapping about politics these days.  I believe that it is nowhere because all the yammering on is doing little to create understanding or build consensus.

A case in point is this little bit of business that popped up on my “news” feed on the Blue & White Social Network:


This sort of thing always scares me a little.   It scares me because someone is out there apparently raising the question “should we take up arms against our government?”  Living through armed insurrection is rarely pleasant.  It also scares me that people I know (some since childhood) blithely pass this sort of thing along to others without apparently recoiling in any kind of discomfort about the content.  That suggests a measure of anger and righteousness that is never pleasant to encounter, especially if it one day holds a gun.

Of course, the fact that it is probably untrue also bothers me.  I may not agree with the “all the God fearing Armed Forces veterans need to rise up and take back our Constitution from the Kenyan usurper” crowd and not read their news sources, but I happen to think that if a Marine General called for coup it would show up in the news that I do read.   A little research shows that it is indeed not true.   No need for a coup was mentioned, and while the Murdoch & Ailes News Network and The Washington Times did make some statements about “a Marine General openly criticizing the Obama Administration”, these proved to be something of a stretch upon closer reading of what exactly was said.

The hubbub seems to be over a statement made by Marine Corps Commandant James Amos at The Brookings Institution a few weeks ago:

I have a hard time believing that had we been there [in Iraq], and worked with the government, and worked with parliament, and worked with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, I don’t think we’d be in the same shape we’re in today.

I found the most insightful reading of what actually happened at web outlet called War On The Rocks.  I’ll let them pick up the story of what actually happened:

After some pushback from an editor at War on the Rocks to clarify context, we had the opportunity to review a full transcript of the speech. We discovered that the remarks being pieced together in the various press accounts were in responses to questions from the audience, not the general’s prepared remarks, and often not in the context or order in which they were placed in the reports.

For one thing, the actual line from the transcript is more nuanced than that quoted in the press reports: “I have a hard time believing that had we been there and working with the government and working with parliament an working with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, and the governance and the rule of law, I mean, all of that stuff, that I don’t think we’d be in the shape we’re in today.” More importantly, rather than a planned commentary on the ISIS mess, it was in response to a question asking, “Are you concerned that the same thing [that has happened in Iraq] will happen to the Afghan security forces once we leave?”

Further, in the sentence right before the supposedly damning quote, Amos declared flatly that Iraq “didn’t need combat forces when we left. They’d already had, they were trained up.” So, Amos was actually saying exactly the opposite what Ollie North and others are claiming he did. The Commandant wasn’t criticizing the drawdown of American combat forces, but rather lamenting that the Iraqi leadership has failed so spectacularly at governance and arguing that American advisors at the ministerial level might have helped on that front.

Moreover, when asked directly about the ISIS situation much earlier in the dialogue, Amos described the pride his Marines had in what they’d accomplished in Iraq and added, “it was time for us to leave. We’d completed. We’d done what we said we were going to do. And actually we’d done what we were told to do.”

So, why the vitriol?   I could say its an election year, and that keeping people angry is a great way to get more of your people out to the polls in an off election year… forgetting that the most outrageous lies can take on the appearance of truth if they are repeated long enough and often enough.   We all have to eventually live in a world where such “truths” exist.

A web article that a friend enjoyed pointed to a baser and simpler explanation:

I’ve said for a decade that the media is neither good, nor bad. It is neither Left nor Right. It answers to one god: Sensationalism. Which leads to traffic. Which leads to revenue. There’s a reason why crazies who say stuff like “if you were on a ketogenic diet you would never get cancer” – because it follows the equation: Sensationalism -> Traffic -> Revenue.

Rinse and repeat.

Who needs truth when you can have dollars?

Exhaustion and Injury

A friend just recently discussed the benefits of rest and recovery, and this along with a little spare time is the catalyst for an entry I’ve wanted to write for a couple weeks now on the subject.

Simply put, I am tired and it is hurting me.

The year 2014 is a very active year for me.  I’ve lost something like 20 pounds since last December.  It was closer to 25 back in the beginning of June, but things have gone a bit off the rails since then, and gained few pounds back.  I accomplished this without an odd diet; I just committed myself to 40 minutes of cardio 5-6 days a week, and made sure to do the following:

  1. I didn’t try to completely deny myself anything, but I did try to limit my intake of certain things like cocktails, wine, orange juice with breakfast, chips/pretzels/etc… to only a couple days a week.
  2. Water was my default beverage.
  3. I tried to control the size of the portions of what I did eat and emphasized vegetables and lean sources of protein.
  4. I tried to keep in between meal snacking to a minimum. A good day was/is a day where there are significant stretches where I am consuming nothing, except drinking some water.
  5. I tried to eat as much un-processed, home cooked food as I could, and tried to improve my cooking skills.

I’m still trying to do that… but falling down on the job a bit (or more than a little bit,) especially in the evenings.  I’ve made some progress in getting things back under control, but there is still a way to go.

I believe this serious devotion to exercise and weight loss came with a price.  I started to feel it in late May.  I did not feel energized after my morning workouts.  After a while, I started to positively drag.  I was fired up with the “good news” of my own progress though.  “Ok,” I’d tell myself, “not all of this is going to be a cake walk.  The tough days are what separates people who get fit from those who don’t.”   That was and is true.  I need to stay with this.

At the same time, other things started to happen.   The Peanut began to enter a more restless period at night, when he would wake up from bad dreams.  I was the one more often than not who would wake up and comfort him.   The heat of summer also began to really hit.   We have an air conditioner in our room, but it’s rather noisy.   Sleeping with it on is a bit like being a hotel room, where you never know hearing the compressor trip on will wake you up in the middle of the night.  So, I’m not sure how many times in 2+ months that I’ve actually slept completely through the night.   It can’t be many.

In addition to the weight gain, I injured my shoulder a few weeks ago. It came on slowly.  All the toting of luggage and car seats on the Vacation That Spectacularly Wasn’t probably started the ball rolling.   After that, I spent a little more time than usually picking up and carrying the Peanut.  He’s in a bit of a stubborn “no to everything” phase this summer, and we’ve noticed a higher than usual frequency of tantrums this summer when he does not get his way.   My solution to this problem was often to simply pick him up and carry him to where he needed to be rather than try to argue with a toddler.

The last straw came when I was solo parenting the Peanut three Sundays ago.   We’d done some grocery shopping that afternoon, and I had to pick him up to put him in a shopping cart a couple times, not always completely willingly.   That night, I did not fall asleep until after 1:30am because I simply could NOT find a comfortable position in which to sleep.

I saw the family doctor the following day, and described the shooting pain in a muscle/tendon that ran across the top of my right shoulder blade and into my upper arm.  The pain prevented me from lifting my right arm might above shoulder level and unable to use my arm to reach around my back.  He suggested that it could be tendonitis, and referred me for physical therapy.

I have not had time to follow up on the referral because I was solo parenting the Peanut all last week.  The shoulder is better, but not completely well.

The lack of sleep, the physical discomfort, some emotional stress at work (of which I have only mentioned a fraction of incidents,) a hot California drought year, and I am just very out of balance.

Eating does not restore that balance, but it does provide momentary comfort… but does nothing good in the long term.

Not My Best Day (and Night)

Yesterday was not my best day, for three reasons:

  1. There was some discouraging news about project I’m working on at work… adoption has not been what was anticipated, much less hoped for.  It was definitely a “what if you had a party and nobody even noticed” sort of a situation.
  2. In addition to group-level problems, I discovered some pretty serious errors in some software to measure web service activity.   I feel that somewhere, someone is able to complete this sort of task without error before reporting results to management.
  3. The Peanut went to see his speech therapist yesterday (more on that another time) and we were told that his responses were not “age appropriate” and that perhaps he has additional “expressive speech problems”.   Given the sometimes maddening labyrinth of experts we navigated to this point, this is not a welcome development.

On top of that, the Peanut woke up at 3:30am today from a bad dream, and I have not slept since.

Scientific Perspective

Surplus energy for blog posts is in short supply these days.   I am recovering from a couple physical injuries that I hope to document in an entry here shortly.   The Missus is also at an “off site” meeting held by her employer for the last few days, and I am “solo parenting” the Peanut in her absence with minimal day care help from friends (who are angels, in the best sense.)  I consider solo parenting to be nothing particularly remarkable, except that halving the workforce requires twice the energy from me, and I am tired.

I will therefore keep this entry short.  I happened upon the little essay entitled The Jargon Trap about writing technical articles for the general public in the New York Times the other day.   In it, the author notes:

Scientists who want to pluck out the most important findings from a body of research and contextualize them for a mass audience need to step back from wallowing in minutiae and transform themselves into an outside observer of their own field.

This should not be hard for most scientists skilled at writing to do.   Being somewhat familiar with technical writing in both academia and industry, one of the first things one must learn to communicate effectively is cultivate such an observer perspective.   That perspective allows an author to effectively describe what makes his or her work novel to other experts in the field.   Is it such a big leap then to step a little further back and draw “the big picture” for someone who knows nothing?

I wonder if it is.  Science is both terrifically exact and inexact.  We construct experiments to test small things we can measure, and then extrapolate them to the world at large.   We do so, knowing that new results are often disproved, and interpretation of those results amounts to opinion until they are confirmed numerous times by multiple experiment.

Yet, to the general public, this uncertainty tarnishes the notion that scientists are Promethean “bringers of fact.”   It also confuses terms; what a scientist calls a “hypothesis”, the public would call a “theory”.   What a scientist calls a “theory”, the public would in many ways call a “fact”.