Saturday, July 02, 2016

The neurology of fireflies

Last year and this one, I've have a chance to sit out in the summer evenings in our sunroom and watch the day turn to dusk, then to dark. And then out come the fireflies this time of year.

What I've noticed is an interesting phenomenon, interesting to me anyway. We know that the male firefly is flashing its light to attract the female, but there is something in particular I've noticed about this. In the vast majority of cases, the firefly is on an upward flight while it flashes, and many times very close to a straight vertical flight. When you can see the firefly after the light goes out, there is an immediate downturn in the flight trajectory when the light goes off.

I suppose we might hypothesize that, well of course, the firefly "wants" to increase the likelihood of some female seeing him, and how better to do that than to fly upward? Or maybe flying upward is a sign of "male robustness" and therefore of a fitter male. Seems dubious to me, as if we're assigning a lot of cognitive activity to a firefly, or invoking Darwinism to explain this.

What I wonder about is whether there might be some more simple neural connection here. For example, does the neural activation of the lighting mechanism (release of the chemical) cause a spillover of neural activity that increases wing flapping and therefore upward flight? Or perhaps increasing wing activity is a necessary precursor to this. I know from experience of catching and putting fireflies in a bottle as a kid that they can light their lights without flying, but maybe when flying and lighting happen at the same time there is some neural synchrony...

I tried googling this, but not surprisingly this seems to be quite unmentioned or unnoticed.

This also reminds me of a former patient of mine who had ALS, and a very colorful man he was. One visit he told me he was sitting in his backyard one evening, and wondered if he should grab fireflies and eat them to try to counteract the disease. We laughed about it, but then a few days later he mailed me a copy of a newspaper report indicating that scientists were using fireflies in order to try to understand some things about the human nervous system.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The time has come, the walrus said...

As I was saying a couple of years ago, I was contemplating retirement, and now I've decided. It will be this year, a few months from now.

It wasn't exactly a difficult decision when I finally came to it. The main thing was that I was enjoying medical practice less and less, finding the relief of the weekends too short, and the dread of the coming week on a Sunday more and more.

For the short term, I'll have plenty to do, with various things around the house to catch up on. In the longer term, there is some uncertainty, but I look forward to being away from set schedules, all the various messages demanding answers, and so on.

People ask me if we'll be traveling a lot, but we've traveled quite a bit over the years, so nothing out of the ordinary is planned. Occasionally I have seen something about some trip that might last a couple of weeks that formerly I would never have considered, so maybe that will change.

Perhaps I'll find more time for this blog.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

eReadings 20 -- World War I

No, I didn't stop reading since the last eReadings post. I've actually read a LOT of things since then. Of course, I'm talking about on my Kindle, not other reading, of which I do a lot also.

What I fell or drifted into in the last year or so was a series of books about World War I, written at the time. What follows is a somewhat ordered list of what I have read so far.

My Four Years in Germany
James W Gerard

Mr. Gerard was appointed the US ambassador to Germany in 2013, before there was any inkling of war breaking out. To be sure, there was a lot of militarism in the world, especially in Germany.

This is a personal account of his time there, which of course ended when the US declared war on Germany. He describes in great detail the structure and operation of the Kaiser's court, and of Germany in general. Once war was finally underway, he became the representative for Britain and several other countries.

This was very interesting to get this insider's view of the prelude and beginning of the war.

From October to Brest-Letovsk
Leon Trotsky

This is Trotsky's account of the Russian revolution, going on of course as Russia was involved in World War I. As the communists come to power, they have more pressing things to do, and sue the Germans for peace.

What I found interesting was how rapidly Lenin and his followers adopted totalitarianism, control of the press, and created a ruling group. There was never any plan to give any real power to the proletariat, who were supposedly those for whom the revolution was carried out. An interesting item in the negotiations with Germany was that both sides formally agreed there would be no independent Ukraine.

What is Coming? A Forecast of Things After the War
H. G. Wells
Wells describes himself as a futurist, and aside from the various novels we are more commonly aware of, he also published works describing things as they were and trying to predict where they were going. This book was written as WWI was being waged, and as such contains some interesting insights.

He anticipated that Germany would lose the war, though how confident he was at the time is hard to gauge. He nonetheless expected that Germany would not be seriously damaged by this war, and would be able to wage war again, and thus felt an important outcome should be removing the Kaiser from power. He was a strong advocate of a world government and saw that England needed to reach out to learn more about other important countries. At a time before the Russian revolution, he was suggesting that England should become closer to Russia, even teaching Russian in English schools.

There is therefore a lot of his predictions which were quite off base, but considering they were written in 1914, very interesting in that context.

Mille et un jours en prison à Berlin
Henri Severin Beland
Ok, showing off a bit. This book is in French (1001 Days in Prison in Berlin). I've spent some time with my Kindle working on my French (e.g., simultaneously going through Candide by Voltaire in French along with its English translation), and a couple of years ago translated a French book on Scribus to English at the site. Somehow I was able to read this book pretty comfortably (with the occasional help from Google Translate), perhaps because this is a chronicle rather than a novel.

This is the story of a French Canadian physician, who was travelling through Belgium as WWI broke out. Initially he offered his services to a local hospital as it began to treat war casualties. As conditions worsened with the German occupation he tried to be allowed to travel to Holland so that he could go back home. The Germans initially sounded like they might acquiesce, but eventually higher ups had him sent to detention in Berlin, in a former prison, which by then had a number of people from various countries.

Repeated petitions for release to return home were ignored, though he did manage to get some privileges due to the fact that he assisted the prison's physician in taking care not only of the other prisoners, but also the German soldiers who worked there.

Mr. Britling Sees It Through
H.G. Wells
When I started this one, I had no idea that it would have anything to do with the war. After some preliminary chapters describing Mr. Britling as an essayist, perhaps something like Wells was himself, suddenly the war is upon Britain.

Mr. Britling was too old to fight in this war himself, but there are close friends and his son who do get involved.

Much of the book purports to be his ruminations about the possibility of war, the onset of war, and its conduct plus the effect on British society. As such, his ruminations seem entirely too wordy to be believable even for someone of high intellect.

Aside from this, it offers an interesting glimpse of wartime in England from the perspective of those not directly involved with it, yet having to deal with a variety of the war's effects and side effects.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Exit Strategy

It wasn't that long ago that I honestly told people that I had no idea when I might retire.

Somehow things have changed. In some future posts I would like to explain this a bit, but let's just for the time being say that I'm in the process of finding a way to stop doing what I'm doing as a physician.

My "Uncle Doc", my grandmother's brother, some years ago told me that he "retired too soon." This coming from a man who retired from family practice at 84yo. But what he meant was that he had no exit strategy. He didn't take the time, take the bother to develop some outside interests, some idea of what he was going to do when he retired. So when he retired, he spent his days, first of all stopping by the office where he used to practice to chat to his former staff, then he'd swing over to the hospital he used to attend at and sit in the doctors lounge and chat with colleagues.

I can't see myself doing that. Sure, I may stop and visit at times, but that's not going to define my days, and from his experience it's just as well.  He died not long after that visit I had with him.

I don't find medicine as envigorating as it once was. Yes, I enjoy my time in the hospital, facing some unknown issue, getting a history, doing an exam, putting together some hypothesis about what's going on, what to do about it. But I am more bothered by episodic interruptions, by getting the names of new consultations in the mornings. Not that I see things I don't know what to do. I've seen so much it all just happens now, the differential diagnosis, testing, empiric and other treatments. And it's not boring.

But still this dread of having to go in every day, not knowing when the next new thing is coming. I think it's time to look for the exit from this.

Getting back to my uncle, what's next? I have a lot of interests. Many of them involve computers. I have this blog, but the time since my last post says a lot about how invested I am in this. I help with the development of Scribus, an open source software program. My job is mostly documentation.

I'm thinking I need to carve something else out. Maybe something I haven't done before, or maybe only dabbled in. I have some interest in, but not necessarily a lot of faith in the various things you find out there for "preventing dementia." Do these things work or just identify people who were low risk in the first place?

But I like learning new things anyway, so this will probably be part of my strategy. I like to travel, and no doubt will continue that to some degree, but I also know that travel is irritating in various ways, so I don't see spending a lot of time on that. Maybe I can now take some trip that might last a couple of weeks or more, something I haven't ever considered in the past. You take two weeks off work and the mountain that piled up while you were gone is amazing.

There are any one of a number of charitable things I could do in some way related to medicine, but right now I just don't see these as options. Maybe I just need some time away to see their appeal.

So here I am, still at the beginning or the middle of this. The reason I'm blogging about it is that I think it's true that one of the ways of working through a dilemma is to write down your thoughts about it. The process of turning a lot of competing, well- and ill-formed ideas into something you can understand yourself begins with making some coherent piece that lays it all out so you can create and reread it later.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Further notes on the Nexus 7

Battery Life
I've read some articles suggesting a battery life of about 11.5 hrs for the Nexus 7. This is of course with continuous usage, but this isn't how I need to or actually do use mine.

Typically I shut it down at night, since I don't use it then, and even during the day I am mostly leaving it in suspend, then periodically using it -- I turn it on about 7:30 in the morning, and then shut it down at about 8-9 pm. I'm not streaming video or music, not doing a lot of emailing. I find I can easily use it for 2 days without recharging, and even at the end of the second day there is still 30% or so of the charge left. So this means a typical day runs about 30-40% of the battery down.

The external keyboard I bought is mostly unused, but this doesn't mean I wish I hadn't bought it. When I got my new "black bag", I was carrying the keyboard in it, but space was a bit cramped, and after I noted that I rarely needed it, thanks to the TouchPal soft keyboard, I took it out, so my black bag is that much lighter -- not a lot, but clearly noticeable.

I was on the verge of buying the Pro upgrade of Jota+ (simple text editor), but then I saw that the ONLY benefit is being able to load more than 2 files. I'd rather fish around for more feature-full editors, but in the meantime, 2 files at a time is adequate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Android vs Linux

On the surface, this might seem like a nonsequitur, since in a sense Android is Linux, but the ecosystems are different.

On Linux there are a host of utilities and applications, all full-featured, and FREE in all the senses of the term.

Yes, there are free apps for Android, but most are shadows of their incarnations on Linux, and beyond that, the free versions are typically crippled in one or more ways to encourage you to buy the PRO (or whatever) version. Example: the Jota app I mentioned only allows 2 files open at a time.

So Android wants to compete on the mercenary Apple playing field, and metrics are generated which measure Android's success by how much money is spent on apps.

But I can manage. The only app I've purchased was one that more time passed than the allowable 15 minutes for me to decide it wasn't going to work for me to decide I wanted a refund, since it was of no use to me. So in addition to my basic attitude,  I now also have a bad taste in my mouth from a purchase I did make. At this rate I may never use up my initial $25 credit at Google Play.

15 minutes?

(incidentally, this post is the first done with my Nexus 7)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Nexus 7 and Files

The Nexus 7 doesn't come with any built-in way to look at files, as in looking at the files in the various directories. I'm using File Manager HD, and this does what I need, such as getting a look at the directory structure, seeing what files are where, and so on. But what about transferring files to or from the tablet?

The presumption seems to be that you will use the internet, either by transferring them as email attachments or maybe using something up there in the cloud. But you may want to be a bit more private that either of these.

There is a capability of transferring via the USB socket, but the filesystem is an MTP format, not native to anything, so you have to go througn some steps to do this. I decided I didn't want to bother.

I've used ssh (secure shell) at home for years for transferring files, signing onto another computer remotely, and also the related sftp means of uploading files to my site. It took me a while to get the syntax right. Generally speaking I am using my desktop to interact with the tablet, so given that the wifi address of my tablet is, I can type

ssh -o Port=2222 root@

to remotely connect to the tablet, and

scp -P 2222 somefile.jpg root@

to send the picture somefile.jpg to the tablet.

sftp -o Port=2222 root@

sets up an sftp connection to the tablet, where you might serially send and receive a number files to/from the device. For example, after connecting with the sftp command above, I could type

put somefile.jpg

to accomplish the same thing I did with the scp command, but afterward, I'm still connected to the tablet, until I type 'bye'.

get anotherfile.jpg

would download anotherfile.jpg from the device.
Once I have the file there, then typically I may use File Manager HD to move it where I want to. It's helpful to know which directories your files are in, since some apps have minimal ability to search directories.

SSHDroid is only setting up your tablet to be a receiver from other computers, it's not loading an ssh binary on the tablet.