Video and my missing decade

I spend a lot of time at work thinking about video cards and computer graphics. The people I work with need to present very specifically sized and timed stimulus to their research subjects, and it’s my job to keep all the peripherals in order (projectors, rear-projector screens, computers, response devices) and sometimes to write code to present certain stimuli. A “stimulus” is often something like a flashing or sliding checkerboard, or a “drifting grating“.

My problem is that I missed out on a decade of pop culture and technological development, leaving me a bit confused. I was somehow absent from the regular world for most of the 2000-2009 decade, thanks to being at the south pole, hiding in a cabin in the New Hampshire woods, and moving to Switzerland but not learning German. Somewhere in that decade, the world switched from video with a 4:3 aspect ratio to video with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Computer screens and TVs got wider, and in the upgrade to digital video signals, people threw away VGA cables in favor of a confusing array of DVI and HDMI cables. I repatriated right around one of the doomsday (but later postponed) deadlines for analog TV broadcast being converted to digital. I signed up for my US government voucher for a free converter box, even though I had absolutely no idea what it was for.

I missed out on a lot of TV and movies, too, so if anyone has some favorite suggestions from the last decade, I’m all ears (and eyes)!

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Blackberries!

We recently discovered we have a blackberry bush in the back yard!!! I picked 6 cups today and made a pie.

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It’s my first (ever) gluten free pie! I gave up trying to make my own crusts–those always ended in tears. I’m using two different commercial crusts: one from Down in the Valley Bakehouse and one from Bittersweet Bakery.

The Pineapple Purse

Franklin Habit published his irresistible Pineapple handbag this spring. I was taking a class on functional MRI, where we scanned pineapples every week to familiarize ourselves with basics of MRI and how the various parameters affect the images we got. I couldn’t resist the idea of knitting this for the professor. Once I started knitting, it turned out bigger than I expected, and the new joke is that we could stick a phantom* in it and still keep scanning pineapples!

The project was actually very easy–there is basically one row that gets knitted 4 bazillion times. To create the leaves, the row gets shifted by one stitch each round. To create the pineapple nubbins, it gets offset by half the pattern every 9th round. The catch is the teeny, tiny yarn, leading to 320 stitch cast on and slow progress.

And it’s capped off with very bad photography. My actual camera bit the dust (the battery/charger didn’t make the transcontinental transition very well, and I can’t bring myself to spend $60 or more dollars to buy parts for a 7 year old camera that was $200 to begin with. Ah, the hidden costs that make durable goods seem disposable….)

the pineapple bag in the sun

The pineapple in the sun, attempting to look like a handbag (the leaves up top get cinched with a drawstring)

The overexposed pineapple in the sun, which almost shows the colors (the green isn’t quite that dark)

The pineapple again displaying it’s “bagness”, this time lounging on the bed in the dark bedroom…

The pineapple drying upside down on an unsteady base of a pear-ish glass carafe balanced on a glass blender jar.


*Phantoms are containers of water, saline, agar gel, or other chemicals that are scanned to check the MRI scanner’s overall function, or to check the quality of a particular data collection sequence or the quality of a receiver coil.

Python

I’m teaching myself how to program in python. It’s very slow going. Some of the syntax is similar to C, but it’s object oriented and I can’t seem to wrap my mind around what that means. Shit happens in a different order than in old-school programming, and I keep mixing up all the vocabulary words. When I think about code, I declare a bunch of variables, and then I do shit to them. Like add them, or sets of more complicated operations which (if I’m ambitious) I code into subroutines. Just like I think of basic English sentences as being “subject-verb-object”, I think of simple code as being newVariable = function (oldVariable). But with object oriented, sometimes you do stuff like oldVariable.action, and oldVariable just changes itself into modifiedOldVariable.

Working definitions I am devising:

  • module: a .py file (for python). It might contain one or more class definitions, but it might just have some code
  • class: defining a set of operations/function/actions that can happen to an “object”
  • object: an “instance” of a class. That is, some “thing” that can be acted on by all the functions defined in it’s class. It has all the “properties” of the class.
  • method: one of those operations/function/actions that was defined in the class. Functionally (heh) these are little functions (def blah blah) in the classmodule file. HA.

The other thing that’s making it really hard to learn python is that I’m simultaneously trying to learn how to be a better programmer, and I’m trapping myself in a kind of “best is the enemy of better” loop. I’m so paralyzed by trying to Do It All Right From The First Step that I wind up not taking any steps at all! Maybe I could just attack this second goal piecemeal? Improve one step of my process, such as implementing version control (currently working on this. Post to come). Once that habit is less painful and awkward, I could move onto another step.

But I’m in that low, icky elbow of the learning curve where my “research” to “output” ratio is very irritating. An hour of reading python references to produce 3 lines of code, because I have to look up the syntax (How do I access the nth element of an array? Oh, this isn’t an array, it’s a “dictionary-like-object”. How the fuck do I access something in a dictionary-like-object? I’ll try the dictionary-accessing syntax, which I also need to go look up. Oh, look, it’s lunchtime!) The whole thing is just exhausting.

I just ordered 5 books (4 on python and one on how to be a programmer). I always go a little overboard, but having a couple of actual books can sometimes be faster for me than googling for 20 minutes. I debated over buying ebooks (searchable!), but I haven’t successfully transitioned to ebooks for reference material, and there’s plenty of free stuff out there on the web. I think part of my inefficiency is there’s TOO MUCH stuff out there, and I google, then look at 10 different webpages, and wind up wasting a lot more time than if I just turned to a book that I’d taken the time to index in my head and get accustomed to the style of. I find if hard to discipline myself on the internet–I can’t seem to commit to just one reference source (and do that same internal indexing I do with well-loved reference books), so I keep being inefficient.

 

Cooking mojo

I’ve been trying to do “meal planning” for the last month. It feels like a lot of work on the weekend, but it make cooking dinner much easier, since it’s more like following instructions rather than being creative. I struggle with being creative in the kitchen, and meals created on the fly tend to all look the same (tater tot casserole). The planning process is taking a long time because I’m still putting together lists of recipes or meal ideas that I know we like, and searching around for new ones to try. I went through most of my cookbooks and made a list of things I like or want to try, which has resulted in a number of spectacularly bad meals. Others in the house claimed to like them, but I didn’t.

I’m also discovering that some cookbooks are more suited to people who don’t work outside the home. There is no way I’m going to chop/prep ingredients for 45 minutes when I get home and then actually cook the meal. We’d be eating at 20:00 and I’d be in tears. So my new quest is quick and fast meals. It’s like I’m rediscovering the wheel–of course there are millions of cookbooks out there (many in the checkout aisle of the grocery store) targeted towards this and I’d never paid them any attention.

When I was single, I just cooked on the weekends and ate the leftovers all week. I’d cook two big entrees and then pick one or the other for lunch or dinner each day. I don’t mind eating the same thing all week. Before that I lived on spaghetti with jar sauce and frozen Trader Joe’s meals. Now that there are more people in the house, there just aren’t enough leftovers for this to work. And I feel pressured (from myself?) to come up with new meals, or at least, to rely on leftovers less often.

Betty Crocker is turning out to be a winner, and when I signed up for their weekly newsletters I got a pdf booklet with 107 all time best recipes. It’s encouraging me to leave the Land of Casseroles, which is where I’ve lived for the last 2 decades.