Category Archives: Life

ADHD / Atomoxetine

I’ve been quite open about the fact that I was diagnosed with ADHD in December of 2021, and in January I started taking Strattera for it. I think it’s important to talk about neurological health and mental health; the stereotype of guys not talking about mental health is true. When I revealed to my friends that I had ADHD, several of them confided to me that they had a similar diagnosis – which I didn’t know! I think if we’d all been open about it, the process would have been easier for me to navigate. So: I have ADHD and am happy to talk about it.

Everything else in here is Not Medical Advice. Talk to your doctor. I just want to share my experience.

I was *very* nervous about getting a prescription for ADHD medication, since I feel like I get addicted to things easily, and I’d heard that many of the drugs on the market (especially the stimulants like Adderall) were habit-forming. The idea of adding something to my life that would be difficult to remove later really scared me.

To theorize for a moment, I think that the availability of only the stimulants, and perhaps also a lack of data on correct dosages + lack of time release pills led to the “adhd zombie” stereotype that I saw a lot of in the oughts and tens when I was really struggling to exist in the neurotypical-centered school system, and really could have used the diagnosis. I was afraid of this “zombie” outcome, which is part of why it was only after lots of therapy that I was willing to attempt a diagnosis.

My psychopharmacologist ($10 word) told me that there are newer (well, since 2002, compared to Ritalin in 1944(!)) non-stimulant drugs for ADHD that are less likely to be effective, but without the habit-forming effects. With my doctor, I decided to try Atomoxetine (brand name Strattera), and I’ve been on it since January.

I only have a layperson’s understanding of how Atomoxetine works, but here’s my attempt: Atomoxetine is an adrenaline reuptake inhibitor. This means that adrenaline that I produce will linger in my system for longer, leading to an increase in my alertness level, but without artificially increasing my adrenaline creation or release – just the rate at which it’s reabsorbed if not used.

The effect is that I no longer need to stim as much to keep alert and not bored. And as a dad of a three-year-old who wants to play doctor for the 1000th time, not needing new stimulation to avoid wandering away or becoming distracted allows me to stay focused on play with my daughter, which makes it incredibly worth it. Being able to focus at work is also good ūüôā The medicine just makes it like, 30% easier to say “no” to distractions (e.g. phone, internet) which is enough for me.

Erty’s Non-Medical-Advice guide to Atomoxetine/Strattera

This is my own experience based on about a year of taking Atomoxetine. The main side effects I got were nausea/lightheadedness, high heart rate, anxiety, and some acid reflux/heartburn. However I’ve mitigated most of them using the methods below.

Heartburn

The heartburn throat isn’t super bad and I can take tums for it. Sometimes it leads to a phlegmy throat, which goes away with tea and throat clearing.

Nausea / Anxiety

I think the nausea and anxiety are related to an empty stomach OR too much meds at once. My doctor started me at 40mg which I eventually figured out was way too much for me (For reference: I’m 130lbs) so I dropped to 25mg and felt much better while still feeling like I was getting the benefits of the medicine. I also found that I could resolve the nausea/anxiety by eating a large, protien-filled meal. For example: I would get the side effect if I ate a bowl of cereal (carbs), but not if I ate a bowl of cereal with a bunch of peanut butter on top (oils/fats/protein).

I also think the nausea is worse at the beginning of the meds (or if you skip a few days). It seems like my body got used to the meds and figured out a homeostasis with them that didn’t involve nausea. Thanks, body.

The anxiety also seemed to crop up when I ended up with an empty stomach and meds still in my system. This was most pertinent when I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel “chemically anxious” – not anxious about anything in particular but just like, anxious. I eventually realized this was because my stomach was empty. I started eating a healthy midnight snack just before bed and that helped resolve it. I also started taking Magnesium Glycinate supplements and haven’t felt the anxiety since.

High Heart Rate

I found that my heart rate would spike if I drank caffeine at the same time as my meds – like, a resting heart rate of 90 when it’s usually more like 55-65. In fact, I was able to completely drop my two-cups-a-day caffeine habit without any withdrawal.

Overview

I don’t like eating a big protein breakfast though, so my current (working for me) system is:
– Morning: Drink a small cup of coffee with a very light or no breakfast.
– Around noon: Eat a large lunch with some protien/oils/fats and take 25mg atomoxetine.
– Around 6pm: Eat a normal dinner.
– Around midnight: Eat a medium meal with Mg supplement and some sleepytime tea, fall asleep.

All in all, I’m quite happy with the meds. I don’t notice anything really different when I take them, but when I¬†don’t take them, I can tell that it’s much harder to get things done, and my partner especially notices. In fact, there are days where I’ve later said “Oh, I forgot to take my meds yesterday” and she’s said “oh, that makes yesterday make so much more sense”. So obviously they’re doing¬†something.

I hope this helps someone! I’m not sure that Strattera is the¬†best drug for ADHD since it’s the only one I’ve tried but I hope this helps someone out.

From Grand Rapids,

Erty

Mental Model Metacognition

I’ve been seeing a therapist recently, and it’s been quite nice to be able to take an hour to introspect my mental processes with help from a professional. I also enjoy the time set aside to focus on myself – I don’t feel like I’m taking over the conversation or being selfish with the time.

Aside: I’m not working through any particular issue or trauma in these sessions – a fact that reminds me how messed up the health care system is. Folks who would really benefit from therapy are unable to afford it, while my employment and insurance provide it to me for very cheap. I acknowledge that I’m very privileged in this way.

I think about the idea of a Mental Model a lot, both for myself (“what is my mental model of X”) and for others (“how can I teach Y so that the student has a good mental model”). Teaching, I like to say, is the act of building and debugging mental models in others.

When we interact with the world, we use our mental models to predict what will happen given certain conditions and actions. When we get a mental model wrong, it can be bad, embarrassing, or harmful. Having an incorrect mental model of how a stove works might cause a burn, for example.

Therapy like mine, then, is a way of airing out my own mental models. I show them to someone else and they give me feedback. In this way, I refine the mental models to make better predictions and live a better life.

A 2019 post by Alok Singh titled Mental Model of Dental Hygene got me thinking about the practice of publicly airing out a mental model. I think about Alok’s post often (a lot of time while brushing my teeth, natch), and applying this technique in my own life.

Journaling surely helps in this way as well – the act of organizing a mental model so that it can be written, and viewed as a whole, allows for a different kind of processing. But a journal also doesn’t provide feedback. There’s a certain risk that people take when sharing a mental model with the world. This is perhaps why a journal is kept private, and therapists have laws around confidentiality. The more risk you’re willing to take on, the more and wider feedback you can get.

But why is there a risk? Here’s my mental model (ha ha!) about what that risk is:

  1. A wrong mental model can be embarrassing
    1. People don’t like feeling like they’re wrong, and especially in ways that form a foundation for other thought. Revealing a mental model that’s wrong can invite scorn, teasing, and other humiliation.
    2. Sometimes, this causes people to double down on a wrong mental model instead of abandoning it.
  2. The mental model reveals a deeper kernel that’s shameful
    1. One might reveal a mental model that relies on an assumption that’s e.g. racist or sexist, which would cause them to lose respect or face repercussions.
  3. The mental model conflicts with a political, ideological, or commercial standpoint
    1. You may find that people are resistant – even physically – to a mental model being shared. Purely for example: Alok’s post might run afoul of folks who believe in conspiracy theories about Fluoride, or dentists who make money off of fixing cavities.
    2. I find myself often overweighting this risk. The odds are low but the penalty is high.

But perhaps it’s in the face of this risk that sharing a mental model becomes even more important – you can simultaneously retool your own process and at the same time influence someone else’s.

I sat down today to write out my mental model of Dopamine and focus but wrote this instead, which is apropos. I’ll have to follow up with another post.

From Grand Rapids,
Erty

 

Awkwardness, Wavelengths, and Amplifiers

I’m an introvert, and although I can pass as an extrovert in certain situations (like being in front of a crowd, or when hanging out with people I know well), I still have a problem with small talk. I’ve run into this problem a couple of times over the last few days, where a conversation I’m having with someone suddenly dries up. I often make it worse by sighing or shifting my gaze downward. There’s just nothing to say for a moment and we (this happens in one-on-one and small groups, mostly) just sit for a while and steep in the silence.

Often we get the conversation going again (I usually try to ask about hobbies, goals, work, etc) but it’s a painful reminder that I’m not great at keeping a conversation going.

But there are some people who I seem to be able to talk for a long time with, at length about topics, and some external force has to intervene to end the conversation. I, of course, try to make friends with these people and hang out with them often, but occasionally it happens with a stranger. What mysterious force is it that suddenly makes me able to hold a deep and intelligent conversation with someone, without having to resort to “small talk”? I was thinking about this on the subway home after a party tonight and framed it in an interesting way, that I thought might make a good essay.

Note, I don’t want to claim I’ve “discovered” anything or that this is “the way”, I just want to explore this idea and would love feedback on it.

People have certain interests, and various intensities of these interests. I might call these “wavelengths” – a frequency (topic) and an amplitude (depth of knowledge / interest) that people carry a multitude of. I, for example, could talk to you at length about webcomic publishing, or perhaps the 1987 roguelike computer game Nethack, or how everything about the Scott Pilgrim movie was perfect except for Michael Cera. All of these things I have factoids, opinions, and perhaps most importantly and interest in discussing.

If you ask me to talk about gasoline cars, or maybe the Kardashians, or football, I have a thought or two but you’ll quickly discover that I’m not “on that wavelength.” The conversation can’t last long because I don’t have much to contribute. I’ll say, “hmm, interesting” and listen to you and be happy to learn some things, but I won’t have anything real to contribute. And so unless you’re very passionate about the topic, the conversation will soon end and I’ll make an excuse about having to refill my drink and wander off to find a new conversation. Which is fine, I bet you don’t want to be in this staring-at-the-floor-contest any longer either.

There are also some real dampeners, which one should seek to avoid. Some people don’t like to talk about some things for real reasons, and it’s not kind to force them onto those topics.

And so striking up a conversation is a frequency-searching exercise. What do we have in common enough to talk about. Work, sure. The weather, sure. Complaining about the MTA, sure. But those things aren’t (usually) the kind of things that get people really excited. And sometimes they’re dampeners, when someone is having a bad time at work and you ask them how work is going. But it’s difficult, since the things people really like to get into the weeds about are often obscure, and there’s a strange pressure against just opening conversations with, “hey are you into Nethack?” unless there’s some reason, like I saw you playing Nethack. I think it’s a failure thing; if I get all excited, “oh, are you a Nethack fan?” and the response I get is, “what’s that?” then I know I’m in for giving an explanation, which isn’t the same as a conversation.

Which of course is one of the reasons that the internet is so neat. I can just click some buttons on my $2000 facebook machine and get instantly connected to a large group of Nethack fans. Sometimes these online conversations spill over into real life. But often the Venn diagram of people I hang out with IRL and the people who are in these online groups is two circles. The fact that we can find these “lifestyle enclaves” (see Habits of the Heart by Bellah et al) of people on the same wavelength can also be dangerous echo chambers.

But the best, the best thing is when you run into someone who is an amplifier on your wavelength. My partner is like this for a lot of things, where we both get excited about something and end up being able to talk about it for a long time. And I have a friend who is like this for technical things – once we start coming up with tech and business ideas it’s very difficult to stop.

But to do this, your wavelengths have to be similar, and just like music there have to be other notes – other wavelengths that you can bounce off of to add interest to the conversation without it falling flat. And these amplifiers are rare. You know them when you find them and you hold on to them. They’re people who hear your ideas and “yes and” them, sending the wavelength back to you, but louder. You’re safe to explore here. You can even dig around for new wavelengths together, since you can always return to your common ground if nothing turns up.

There are some people who seem to be able to frequency-hop easily. It’s practice, I know, but I’m not that good at it. And as an awkward nerd-human I’m terrible about hiding when I’m uninterested in a wavelength, I quickly lose interest. My partner is great at this – she has the ability to work with people across a much wider variety of interests and be (or at least seem) interested in what they’re saying, and carry on a conversation. This is a skill I’m still working on, but it is a skill that can be practiced.

Name Change

When Greta and I got married, we joked that we were going to merge our last names (Dohl and Seidel, respectively) into a portmanteau, “Seidohl”. With our wedding date approaching and no better ideas, we happily went forward with that idea and made it our legal last name. This isn’t a guide (there’s a good one here) but really just a story.

For posterity, and also to hopefully instruct anyone interested in doing the same, I’ve decided to write down the processes we’ve gone through. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve had similar or different experiences!

Family

To begin: my parents, The Seidels, took my mom’s maiden name when they were married. As far as I can gather, they did it mainly because of my dad’s strained relationship with my Grandfather. (Only one child – an adopted second cousin – still bears the Pizarro name that was handed down by my Grandfather). Still, they apparently faced some hardship in changing my dad’s name officially, so I was expecting a tough time of making up an entirely new name.

Telling my family was not hard. Most of them agreed that it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do and actively encouraged us. My maternal grandfather (rest in peace) seemed surprised, although he was in good humor about receiving the news that I would be likely the last Seidel on his side of the family. He mentioned one great aunt who would be “spinning in her grave” about the news. (Connect her to a turbine?). I never met her and, to date, have not been visited by her angry ghost. So I think I’m good there.

YMMV, of course, with your own family.

Marriage License

In the county where we were married, we could only change our names to a) one of our existing last names or b) hyphenate our last names. (I can no longer find a reference to this, but Michigan’s marriage laws being as backwards as they are I wouldn’t be surprised). So for our actual marriage, we just c) kept our own last names.

New York

We moved to NYC right after getting married, and changed our names through the NY state court system. This was relatively straightforward. We filled out some notarized paperwork and got a court date. Note that finding a Notary Public can be difficult, even in Manhattan! We needed our original Birth Certificates as well.

We dressed up nice and appeared in front of a judge. The main questions we were asked related to figuring out if we were doing this to get out of a debt, crime, or other obligation. I remember that the guy in front of us was changing his name for religious reasons and the judge approved that as well.

The details of this next part are a bit fuzzy, since this was so long ago. The judge approved our name change and sent us to get certified copies. There was a (IIRC) $65 charge to change the names, and then each notarized copy cost about $10. We ended up needing five (?) certified copies, one for our records, one for a couple of services like the Social Security office, debts (student loans companies), and more to publish in the newspaper. You must publish your name change in a public newspaper.

You can publish in the New York Times, if you want to shell out a boatload of money. I published in, I think, the Irish Echo, which cost about $35. You don’t need to be Irish to publish there! It’s one of the cheapest papers to publish in so I expect they do a brisk business on this.

Finally, we got certified copies of our completed name change documents for our records (another $6 per copy, I think?). We used that to do things like refresh our passports.

Problems

The only institution that really gave me any grief was my bank. They seemed perfectly happy to accept that my wife’s last name had changed through marriage without any documentation (this seems like a major security flaw???), but as soon as I told them that we’d changed it in front of a judge, suddenly they needed me to send documents for both of us. I did, and they changed the names promptly.

Trying to change my frequent filer miles name on Southwest also caused problems. Their online name change form simply didn’t work, and none of the phone support people could do anything but tell me to go fill out the form. I think I eventually got around it but it required some developer console hacking??

Changing emails, usernames and websites was also tricky. I still have my old last name in some usernames. I was very fortunate that I’d chosen ertysdl as my email username, since sdl stands for both Seidel and Seidohl! I promise I didn’t plan that. Some sites seem to use your username as a unique identifier, and why would that ever change?

Conclusion

Changing my last name wasn’t a difficult task, although it was made harder by state law in Michigan which didn’t allow us to change our name at the time of our wedding, which would have saved us a lot of time and expense. Only a few entities gave me trouble about updating my name, but otherwise it seems like a pretty common thing to do and most of the clerks didn’t blink an eye – in fact, it seems like several people change their name every day in NYC, so the process is pretty streamlined.

Postscript: Thinking thoughts

I didn’t grow up with any strong connection to the Seidel name. It’s generally a German surname, and I’ve always wondered if the anti-German sentiment of the 1940s led to my earlier family suppressing that aspect of my heritage. I have a much closer affinity for Sweden, since I was partially raised by my dad’s mom who was born to Swedish immigrants. That said, I don’t really consider myself Swedish or have any connection to the country and its people other than that.

There aren’t many other Ertys in the world! I used to come up on the first page of google results with just my first name, but that seems to not be the case any more. Unfortunately, unique names come with downsides as well. There’s some weird art out there with my name attached to it (I didn’t make it!). However, with a unique first and last name, I end up being very Googlable. That’s something I decided was good?

To me, changing my name like this is an expression of the individualism and emptiness of the modern “white american” culture. I don’t have a connection to any large family or lineage through my names. I’ve changed both my first name (from Erik to Erty) and my last name (from Seidel to Seidohl), and I rarely use my middle name (and have considered changing it at times as well). A name is an outward expression of self. It’s like a tattoo. I don’t not like my original names, I’ve just found new ways of expressing myself. I think this is a form of rebellion against previous generations that put so much cach√© into names – let’s discard that and refer to ourselves how we want, not just on the internet. I’ve been lucky to not have familial pressure back on these decisions, so they’ve been almost no work at all.

Soylent Soylent Soylent Eggs

I’m trying Soylent¬†as an experiment. This is my 7th day eating it. Here’s my¬†blog post for the past 6 days of Soylent if you’re interested.

Woke up today tired, but enjoyed myself a glass of Soylent in the morning, made with some vanilla (for flavor) and salt (for not keeling over). Definitely bodily tired – a kind of dull aching tired that wasn’t exhaustion or sleepiness. It went away after I was up and about though.

Work went slowly today. I worked from home, and I’m either just checked out already for my upcoming wedding (I leave for Michigan next Tuesday and end a year of long-distance relationship for good!) or the Soylent is slowing me down. I’m actually going to say it’s the wedding. Body-wise I felt pretty great today.

Soylent for lunch, dinner. I had two cups of¬†green tea with lunch which was enough caffeine to propel me until the end of the workday. Again, not tired today. I usually get exhausted at 8pm since that’s right after I eat a heavy dinner, but¬†on Soylent I just kind of coast across these previously rugged ups-and-downs. This is pretty similar to what some other people have reported.

Way less¬†gas today either. I didn’t eat as much Soylent as I did yesterday. The Chinese food is out of my system as well, I think. Plus I’m just finally getting used to the fiber and high Glycemic Index.

I was really craving some salt-and-pepper scrambled eggs around 1 a.m., though, so I just made those and ate them. I’m actually writing this blog post with my laptop perched on the stove. They were fluffy and delicious.

I think that means I’m still not getting enough salt, because salt tastes really good to me right now. Soylent only contains 45% of the RDA of salt, so that’s not a surprise. How does one go about monitoring their … blood-salt percentage? Should I keep track of my blood pressure?

I made it two full days on Soylent before eating something else. But midnight super-salty eggs are delicious and I’m glad I made them. I’m thinking that after I get back from my wedding (where I won’t be able to eat Soylent since I won’t have it with me) I might switch to just having Soylent for Breakfast and/or lunch. We’ll see.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty

Six Days of Soylent So Far

I promised¬†Pedro¬†that I would start blogging when I started on my Soylent diet, so here goes. I’m a bit late, considering that I actually started in on Soylent a few days ago, but preparations for my wedding have kept me away from the blagosphere.

I’ll assume the reader is familiar with the purpose and origin of Soylent. Otherwise, I recommend this well-written article on the matter.

I ordered Soylent ten months ago, and it is finally here! The wait is over, and I get to embark on this crazy experiment in food hacking.

Day 0: Paraphernalia

My Soylent Starter Kit arrived today. I’m excited.

Everything I Need To Make Soylent, Apparently

Everything I Need To Make Soylent, Apparently

That’s a 2L BPA-free container with a great twist-off top, a scoop, and some instructions. The actual soylent arrived the next day.

Day 1: Soylent Begins

A rather large, white box arrived at work. It contained four smaller boxes, each a week’s worth of powder, supplemented with seven tiny bottles of oil.

2014-08-01 19.47.16

The Soylent Arrives

2014-08-01 19.59.59

The large box contained four of these, each a week’s worth of powder and oil. Instructions were laid on top.

Instructions for Soylent

Instructions for Soylent. The full (amended) instructions are available at instructions.soylent.me

I’ve been anticipating this for a while – I was¬†in the first batch of backers when the kickstarter-esque purchasing opened. I can’t eat gluten, dairy, or chocolate. So, while Soylent is *barely* not gluten free, it’s at least better than trying to figure out what will and won’t make me feel awful on a daily basis, and sometimes guessing painfully wrong.

Who knew couscous was pretty much entirely wheat?

Let’s make some Soylent!

Just add water

Just add water

2014-08-01 21.35.22

I added water

I describe the taste as “purposefully nondescript”. As Rob says on his blog:

I assumed I would quickly get tired of the taste but this does not happen. I accidentally stumbled on what the soft drink industry uses to make sure people never get tired of Coca-Cola, “sensory-specific satiety”. If a taste is pleasant, but not very specific, the brain does not tire of it.

I think of it as chalky pancake batter, but a bit thinner. It’s not bad. It’s not particularly delicious either, but I can see myself not getting tired of it.

Day 2: Soylent For Breakfast

With family in town, I didn’t have a chance to go full-on Soylent. I had Soylent for breakfast this morning, but nothing more.

No changes in appetite or anything else so far – it’s as though I ate a full breakfast. No gas, normal mental state.

Day 3: Soylent for Breakfast and Late Night Meal

Again, a light Soylent diet. Don’t worry – things are about to get interesting.

Day 4: Dizziness

This was the first Soylent workday! I poured myself a glass of the stuff, another liter into a Nalgene for later, and hopped on the subway.

At work I could already tell that my brain was off – I was feeling somewhat light-headed and definitely wasn’t all there. I would forget small things and push really strange errors in my code that I definitely would have caught if I had been running at full power.

Around 11 a.m. I was definitely light-headed and nauseous. I excused myself and sat in the bathroom for a while. Was it time to call off the experiment, so soon? Did I just need to push through this – navigate the Columbia River on my way to the Willamette Valley?

I posted on reddit. Responses indicated that I was either low on blood sugar, or there wasn’t enough salt in my Soylent. Not having a quick way to measure my glucose levels, I went with the latter and put some salt in a cup of Soylent and drank it, washing it down with about a liter and a half of water.

By 1 p.m. I had pretty much returned to normal.

Even today (day 6) I am¬†still somewhat “distant” – as though my brain were operating on some sort of low-power mode. My memory is shoddy and I can’t do the kind of high-level abstract reasoning that is required for programming. I’ve heard from some other “Soylent Pioneers” that this goes away after a few days and the brain starts to run at 150%. We’ll see.

One of my friends had a birthday party that night so I decided to get some real food in me. For lunch I had a burger (no bun) and fries. I attended an excellent Hacker School talk by Daniel Espeset that night, and ate the delicious (Indian?) food provided.

I drank just under one “drink” of alcohol at the party, since I wasn’t sure what Soylent would do to my tolerance. Some reports say that it lowers your tolerance quite a bit, and for myself at 130lbs, I’m already unable to deal with much.

That one “drink” got me comfortably warm but not buzzed. So, yes, I think it does lower my tolerance even further, which I didn’t think was possible. Further testing is needed.

Day 5: Sleep In

With the full understanding that actions – not intent – is what matters, I’m pretty proud of myself for this being the first time I’d overslept since starting my new job. I have a pretty solid excuse as well – I woke up, hit the “one hour less” instead of the “one hour more” button on my alarm clock, and dozed peacefully until noon.

But, maybe this was the Soylent’s fault as well? I just (day 6) tried to turn on the lights in the room I’m in and spent a good five seconds swiping at the wrong wall, wondering where the switch was.

Either the Soylent isn’t powering my brain properly or I’m already becoming an old man. Hopefully the former.

Upon arrival at work, however, I was feeling better about the whole thing, and had a pretty productive day.

Chinese food for dinner – still not ready to commit 100% to Soylent.

Day 6: The Gas

A lot of people have reported having pretty bad gas on Soylent. There are some hilarious posts about this. From the second:

It was bad. These weren’t mere ha-ha¬†toot¬†kinds of emissions; this was hair-raising. It was room-clearing, horse-killing, World War I mustard gas-type gas. I migrated from room to room in the house like I was giving up territory to the Kaiser, my face fixed in an expression of horror as green hell-fumes trailed behind me, peeling paint and wilting plants.

Now! The chinese food I ate last night *probably* contained gluten, so it’s entirely possible that my sudden onset of why-don’t-you-work-from-home-tomorrow flatulence is from that. More testing is needed on this as well. This testing won’t be nearly as fun as the former.

I am working from home tomorrow, just in case.

I also tried drinking some caffeine today. Here’s one great thing about Soylent: I haven’t felt like I needed a cup of tea or can of soda since I started. I’m always comfortably awake, which also makes it a lot easier to fall asleep naturally. I have some problems with caffeine, namely that I’m very sensitive to it and drinking a coca-cola after about 3 p.m. makes me wide-eyed until 5 a.m.

I had one can of coca-cola today and It’s provided me with the power to write this post. Hopefully I can get to bed at a reasonable hour.

For the third time, further testing is needed. It would be neat to be able to run my brain at full tilt for an entire day on a cup of green tea.

I’m going to have Soylent for dinner, which will make this my first 100% Soylent day.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty

Perfect Craft, Imperfect Art

I was talking with my good friend Evan, discussing our philosophies of making things. Evan, a classically trained pianist, recalled an aphorism of one of his mentors:

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

This makes sense in some fields. In playing a piano, if one practices sloppily, one will perform sloppily – incorrect finger positions practiced over and over again will be nearly impossible to correct. I worry about this when I play StarCraft 2: Without guidance from a professional, are the keystrokes I make a thousand times going to be so ingrained that I won’t be able to adjust myself to the practices that will take my skill to the next level?

Attempting to apply this method to creative works fails miserably! A writer cannot write perfectly every time, nor a painter control to the molecule what their paint will do. Designers cannot always know what the user is going to want.

A programmer attempting to make a thousand perfect programs will leave themselves mired in a death by a thousand cuts – they will have no code reach¬†and no output. Which is why I strongly argued that Facebook’s old motto was better for any artist:

Move fast and break things.

What better way to learn the intricacies of impossibly large and complex systems? Even experienced programmers write bugs all the time, and better to do so at some speed which allows progress to be made.

What I was missing during this conversation with Evan was a distinction between Art and Craft. Art being the ability to create works (move fast and break things) and craft the skill that it takes to create art (practice perfectly).

A writer who does not take the time to practice¬†sentence structure and when to break it will find themselves unable to write coherently. A painter who does not attempt to make each brush stroke perfectly will be left frustrated when their paint seems to disobey their hand. A designer who does not use their knowledge of color and proportion will be unable to guide users effectively.¬†A programmer who does not use the right¬†data structures and algorithms will find their code slow and unusable. All of these are separate from the actual “pieces”¬†that each creates.

I think then my goal is to create lots of imperfect art, but practice my craft with skill each time so that I can avoid ingraining bad habits. Perfectionism in craft is important; perfectionism in art leads to procrastination.

Edit: Hacker School facilitator Allison Kaptur points out an excellent article that puts this very clearly (pun intended) at http://jamesclear.com/repetitions

“Words cannot even describe the multitude of design flaws in your body, and yet it is still the vessel of your mind; it is still your connection to this world. Production code is broken, but so is nature.” —@jordanorelli

The Artist and the Scientist

I posit that there are two distinct ways in which people become fascinated by programming.

One way is via high-level languages, web development tools, and visual languages. This “way” in is for people who are more interested in the act of creating with code than coding itself. I call these people the “artist-programmers”: people who don’t care about pointers and arrays, and would much rather fiddle with knobs and buttons than bits and bytes to create something cool. Artist-programmers¬†can trust what is under the hood, and use this metaphorical car to go¬†very far.

On the other hand, some people start programming with coding as the goal. These people learn about the array and are FASCINATED. These people can spend an afternoon messing with pointer indirection and not call it wasted time. These “scientist-programmers” believe that typing, references, and pointers are important to understand – their metaphorical car sits in the garage, taken apart into its components, and yet they are more fulfilled than if they were out driving it without any idea how it works. These programmers usually arrive¬†via C, Assembly, or even hardware.

I think both ways to learn programming are correct, and appeal to different people. One of the reasons I enjoy python as a first language is that it is broad enough to appeal to both types as people. Lisp is great for this as well. Teaching an artist-programmer C++ is going to be a painful process for everyone involved. And teaching a scientist-programmer Mathematica will leave them wanting to know what’s going on inside.

The “programmer-in-fullness”, however, is both an artist-programmer and a scientist-programmer. These programmers are driving the metaphorical car AND have a full understanding of what’s going on inside the hood. They can speed along in a high-level language, but know what is happening on the inside enough to optimize as they write, fix things when they break, and use the right data structures and algorithms without sacrificing time worrying about the details.

Edit: My friend and fellow Hacker School alumnus¬†@jordanorelli¬†provides a great distillation of this idea: “I think the distinction is that I’m driven to learn things because they allow me to create things, whereas many others are driven to create things because in doing so, they learn things. Do you learn to create, or do you create to learn?”

Some thoughts on the types:

Artist-Programmers:

  • Teaching Them:
    • Focus on high level languages and visual languages
    • Focus on process and outcome, not design or implementation
    • Focus on immediate feedback and not worrying about speed
  • As one:
    • Don’t feel bad about using tools and helpers (e.g. Dreamweaver)
    • Aim for large projects that you can use these big tools to complete
  • To become a programmer-in-fullness:
    • Take a course like NAND-to-Tetris, which will allow you to see how the parts all fit together in a project
    • Take an interest in optimization, as far as you’ll still be able to finish your projects
    • Take apart your favorite tool and see how it works

Scientist-Programmers:

  • Teaching Them:
    • Focus on the little things. Pointers. Arrays. Bytecode.
    • Give them an extremely restricted toolset and a slow processor.
    • Start them in on data structures and algorithms fast – they’ll eat it up.
  • As one:
    • Buy books on programming. Implement their examples. Explore hardware organization.
    • Don’t be frustrated by projects that you can’t finish, as long as you learned something in the process.
    • Contribute to larger artist-programmer projects which can use your optimization skills.
    • Don’t mock artist-programmers for using tools. They don’t mock you for not using tools!
  • To become a programmer-in-fullness:
    • Start to use libraries and packages which will allow you to complete projects faster, even if you don’t know what they do at the low level.
    • Focus on optimization less, as long as you still understand what’s going on inside.
    • Work hard to finish projects, as painful as the final sprint is.

And above all, understand that people might come to programming from a different perspective than you. The scale is most likely not binary, either – think of it as a float instead of a bool. And be able to use this knowledge to give people projects that they’ll be interested in and will do well with.

From Manhattan,

–Erty

Happy Birthday, Greta Dohl

For those of you who are offended by sappy love things on the internet, I’m not sorry, because it’s totally up to you to keep reading this.

Greta,

I’ve known you since we were two new faces on a path in the woods, you: fourteen, northwoods, energetic. Me: sixteen, wandering, timid. I was fascinated by your charm, charmed by your energy, and energized by your presence. Before I joined the theater program at Conserve to be with you, I remember sitting outside the auditorium being bored out of my mind but hoping so much that you would walk by outside and I could say hello to you.

You couldn’t go to dances and I was terrified of your parents. I would sit in the gathering space and sneak glances at you from across the couches where we – the couch monkeys – gathered. You preemptively turned me down before I asked you to the Haloween dance. I remember being upset, but at the same time happy, because you had acknowledged that I existed. It sounds kinda creepy now but when you’re in high school that’s the kind of thing that happens. I asked you out three more times, according to legend. I remember only two of them but I’m sure we’ll be telling people it was seven times eventually for the sake of a story.

You held my hand in the woods. I nearly died. Iana made fun of you for confusing me.

One of the happiest days of my life is the first day we kissed. I remember it like a movie in my head. You were sitting on the couch watching Mulan with Mara and Ben and maybe some other people. I was in some odd position that put my head on your soulder. Our cheeks touched accidentially and then not accidentially and then we kissed and I still remember exactly how it felt and how the light looked through the glass and the texture of your shirt and the feeling in my stomach and the feeling of the couch cutting into me but I didn’t care.

We broke up for the summer but spent so much time talking on the phone that it wasn’t really like we were apart.

We fell in love walking through the woods 6 years ago.

Greta, you inspire me and give me purpose – thank you for allowing me to be a part of the latest third of your life. Happy 21st birthday!

From Brooklyn,

–Erty