Apple

Music: BeatsX Review

My new Gray BeatsX wireless in-ear headphones arrived on Saturday, March 11. The black and white BeatsX headphones were available several weeks ago, but the new gray and blue colors just started shipping out this week. Yes, the unboxing experience is very Apple-like and I will not torture you with details about all the pull-tabs, lift-outs, lovely textures, etc.

Pictured: gray BeatsX wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds next to gray iPhone 6s silicon case, for shade comparison. They are a hair lighter than the case on my Space Gray iPhone 6s (Space Gray metal itself looks darker in person than this, depending on the angle). Note back-to-back magnetic snapping, a very cool and useful feature (see: Portability, below.) Weird but pleasant-to-the-touch, black silicon BeatsX carrying case that almost fits the headphones they ship with. Actual black silicon absorbs all light and all dust in the vicinity. Short, stubby black charging cable is the only charging apparatus in the box.

(Not pictured: ships with more sizes of silicon in-ear pieces, as well as wing tips that I have not tried on nor needed.)

Three-Way Comparison

I am comparing these to my trusty old Apple In-Ear Headphones (I have bought several pairs of these in a row, with good reason), and to the new Apple AirPods, which I was able to try in an Apple Store (yes they spray them off with disinfectant every time). BeatsX are not available to try out in store. The support rep said my best bet was to read reviews and/or just buy them, try them out, and return them if they were not up to snuff (my words, not hers).

This table is trying to make the point that there are a lot tradeoffs in creating actual purchasable devices and the fact that it depends on what you are looking for and what is non-negotiable for you. (For me, the AirPods did not block out enough outside noise because they did not fit; and they just stabbed my left ear, which means I would never have been able to wear them. If they fit you and you don't need to block out your surroundings (and you like the sound quality) then you should consider trying the AirPods out at the store.)

  Apple's fancy new wireless AirPods New BeatsX In-Ear Wireless Headphones Apple's (ten years old?) In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic
Price $159 $149.95 $79
Sound Quality (hardware, speaker drivers + conduction, clarity; richness) 6 (surprisingly not terrible; good even; not great) 7 (surprisingly rich (<60 Hz) bass; unsurprisingly thin, tinny, feverish, Beats-"missing-mids" sound -- this was my biggest worry and the biggest strike against the BeatsX, and combined with software encoding (bandwidth) limitations, make me want to listen to certain types of music less; mids can be partially corrected with EQ, which is a small plus -- should not need to: maybe Trent Reznor and Dr. Dre have sustained some heavy hearing loss? or have not ever used good sounding headphones? or are cynical and are selling what people want -- the Escalade / SUV of the headphones world?) 9 (there are loads of high-end over-ear headphones that are better but these are amazing; astonishingly good, at least to me; full, rich, deep, warm, clear (flat) sound, sets a high bar)
Sound Quality (software encoding) 7 (ditto →) 7 (the quality is actually pretty good overall; no noise or pops since it is digital, not analog; highs (cymbals, strings) are just a bit better than ear-grating, but pretty noticeable on certain types of music; podcasts sound great; yes, I tested these with high bitrate (320KB/s) MP3s that are not already compressed to hell, and sound fabulous in the first place, at least on →) 10 (no software/digital reëncoding)
Background Isolation / Lack of (Headphone) Sound Leakage 3 (or a high score if you need to hear your environment, for safety; also, these leak sound to your neighbors since they are not in-ear) 10 (if you are working and are trying to block out your surroundings, and safety is not an issue) 10 (ditto)
Comfort 3 (this has to do with my ears, but the sharp edges of the AirPod make no sense to me and do not make a good fit -- your ears may vary) 9 (less cord noise than → and do not catch on clothing, the world, etc.; not over-ear so do not make outer ear (pinnae) hot and sweaty and tired like big earphones; ear canals get a little tired and irritated after a few hours, but not that bad) 7 (see: Wires)
Controls / Convenience 4 ("tap" (stab) your ear twice -- fun! volume, tracks: use Siri... are you kidding... what a trainwreck; rating would be worse, but the 'take one out and auto-pause' solves 40% of use cases) 10 (real controls available: volume up/down, play/pause, back, forward) -- important to me; so good I forget if I am connected to my Mac or my iPhone, and I forget where I set down my phone; Siri is supported, as on ←) 10 (ditto)
Wirelessness (low score = Wiry) 10 (futuristic alien technology) 8 (yes, they are wired, but they give you 95% benefit of wirelessly walking around the room, exercising, etc.) 1 (tangly-ness in my bag/pocket and electrocution (when wearing a fleece or shorts with pockets made of the wrong material), cable catching on things, etc.; score could be worse because you can stick the wire under your shirt and that mitigates many of the problems, so you can do stuff like shoot hoops without injuring yourself)
Portability 7 (must keep track of carrying case; see Battery Life) 9 (just pause or power down and unplug from ears, then magnets snap and create a small lanyard so you won't lose them; I lost a pair of → when I thought I had them in my shirt but not in my ears; little BeatsX gobbler silicon case should help keep them from tangling in bag; weird but practical case -- if only they fit slightly better in the case) 5 (fit great in pocket when wound up, but annoying to unwind to use them; see Wirelessness / Wiry)
Durability 6-8? (depends on if you drop or lose them but no cables to bend, catch, snap, fray, and break) 5-7? (have not owned them long enough to determine how long the cable strain relief will last) 1 (I have gone through many pairs and they fray at the clicker on the right ear cable after a year or so of heavy use)
Battery Life 5 (must keep track of carrying case and keep inserting them to recharge) 8 (battery sipping technology: just pause (or easy to power down) since power management is really good; easy to charge via lightning cable -- at my desk this will not be a problem; also, 5 minutes charging for two hours (out of a total of 8 hours) of charge (when low) is wondrous, or 15 minutes for 4 hours) 10 (never an issue and does not get worse with age; also, better for iPhone battery life)
Pairing 9 (Apple's custom W1 chip plus macOS and iOS integration makes switching devices a pleasant experience) 9 (same technology as ← is on the BeatsX / other parts of the Beats line; kudos; a few hiccups here and there but very good in practice) 10 (just plug in to... the... oh, you have a headphone jack, right?)
Average Score 6.1 (and they cost more) 8.3 (not cheap, but if they last then not bad; wireless is really nice) 7.3 (good starting place but still not cheap; replacing often is expensive)

Conclusion

This is all very arbitrary and subjective, but I think I will keep the BeatsX and see how I like them a year from now. Wireless is really nice: now I can connect to my work laptop without the cable (1) hitting the keys of my keyboard, making it hard to type or (2) yanking my laptop off its stand if I forget that I am tethered. And I can stay connected to my Mac and walk around the office. Nice.

Programming

Announcing TSVG

I finally published my first NPM (JavaScript) package, TSVG. It is for designers and web publishers who write SVG by hand, or are willing to edit SVG files by hand after creating them in something like Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer. TSVG embeds JavaScript into SVG and allows you to create JavaScript templates (like Handlebars or Eco do for HTML) that create SVG, in Node.js or in a browser. It also provides advanced typography (available in the generated JS) to bake out text to <path> outlines (just use SVG fonts and <TextPath> instead of <text>). You can read more about it on Github.

Life

Doctor Masseuse

Or My Personal Pain Puzzle

Some people are diagnosed with an incurable disease.
Some are cursed with an undiagnosable disease.

What I have learned about chronic pain and what I have learned about myself

I should mention up front: I have been very fortunate financially, have a supportive, stable family, I have had no substance problems, and I went into a low period with youth and relative health, a healthy weight, and started out relatively active (walking three miles a day, taking the bus and train).

At the same time, given all of those factors going for me, invisible chronic pain and fatigue are no joke, if they can challenge someone otherwise set up for success (relatively speaking, admitting my privilege, your mileage may vary, etc.)

I also want to state up front that I saw seven doctors (including sports medicine, orthopedic medicine, physical medicine, and a radiologist who found many tiny potential problems in my otherwise basically clean spinal MRI) and nine other providers, including several massage therapists, five physical therapists, and finally the pain psychology counsellor. No one had a simple, easy answer and some gave incorrect, useless, or harmful advice (mainly to take dangerous levels of anti-inflammatories, not effective for chronic pain). The massage therapy sessions were effective (in that they did something) but expensive and not a tenable long-term treatment plan. The pain psychology group meetings were by far the most helpful, setting me on a path where I could learn how to manage and improve independently.

Kick-Off

My issue was kicked off in 2012 and 2013 by multiple factors, including

  • "A" Repetitive Stress "Injury" at work (or "Cumulative Trauma Disorder", probably both BS diagnoses. See also central sensitization caused by unending muscle knots.) Like many I am an office worker so I had pain in my fingers, wrists, arms, back, and shoulders caused by strain from typing and mousing.
  • Two consecutive layoffs in six months (emotionally, these felt connected to the first). (Note that employers are legally barred from firing someone because of an injury caused at the workplace. But if you lay off a whole boatload of people at the same time, then hey, you are protected legally!)
  • My self-inflicted leg "pain"jury: I was trying to beat stress by walking and I ended up overexercising at the gym, then lost exercise as a venting mechanism, so even walking became a nightmare too.
  • Turning thirty, paying the piper, not understanding myself and my limitations hidden by youth. I have a 110% Intensity Personality, almost hypomanic. I get "pulled in" to stuff. My problems were probably set in motion several years before 2012, in terms of hours worked, side projects, how I handled stress, sleep and ergonomics habits, lack of physical self awareness, lack of just a bit of regular strenuous exercise, etc.

What Works for my Specific Chronic Pain / Chronic Fatigue Issue

(Not medical advice.)

What do you do when all your effort backfires and makes things worse, where you feel like your body is allergic to effort? (And you tried "resting" or doing nothing for months but that clearly did not work either?) Especially if you are the type of person that thrives on effort (professional life and hobbies and ways to blow off steam?)

For several years, the pain, fatigue, isolation, anxiety and low mood cycles were hell. The harder I tried, the worse it made everything: I was used to trying harder making things better, but this was its own beast. During this time, I had trouble walking without my muscles (eventually my whole system) complaining for days. I had trouble driving. I felt trapped in my apartment.

Untangling such a complicated situation is obviously difficult, but here is an attempt to line up a quilt of strategies, pieces that somehow work together and I hope will continue to work:

Contributing Factors Possible Partial Remedies
  • Muscle Pain
  • Muscle Fatigue
  • Excercise. "Warm up:" consistent self-massage, calisthenics and resistance exercise
  • Pacing: regular 15 minute physical and mental breaks every 90 minutes. Take breaks (and take off shoes) while walking around or on hikes.
  • Consistent Cardio Exercise: always show up, AquaJogging (low impact, deep water benefits)
  • Mindfulness, separating pain from suffering
  • Thermotherapy: lower legs and feet, alternating hot and cold water, standing in tub (with bucket), usually after walking or hiking.
  • Hot baths
  • Walk more and more, gradually (pacing and graded exposure, see Explain Pain by Butler, Moseley, et al)
  • Sit on a bench, or lie on picnic blanket at the park (though resting did not help as much as carefully paced activity, throwing a frisbee around, etc.)
  • Vitamin D: two years of taking 10,000 IU daily to bring my D3 into the 40s (ng/mL), then 4,000 IU daily to keep it there. Was mid 20s (ng/mL) which is generally not considered low (in terms of not developing Rickets) but there are good reasons to believe it is not a high enough standard for pain patients. Vitamin D is inexpensive and safe and the risk of low Vitamin D being a contributing factor was real so this is a reasonable trade-off. (Also, I have a sibling who went through a similar ordeal, with low Vitamin D and supplementing to raise it into the 40s, with less chronic pain now.) No miracle cure, just a plausible, possible, fixable factor among many (see: this entire list). I also take a multivitamin so it is very unlikely that I have any other kind of vitamin deficiency.
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle Tension
  • Stress
    • Mindfulness, focus on the present
    • Patience
    • Consistency
    • Work part time. Note that not working at all was not working for me. The isolation and social abyss contributed to low mood which made all of my problems much worse than if I had been doing at least a day of work a week or more.
    • Hope and Help for Your Nerves, a practical book by Dr. Claire Weekes. (Facing, Accepting, Floating, Letting Time Pass.)
    • Insomnia
    • "Fibro fog", malaise, depersonalization
    • Go outside. Bright light for the eyes can help with melatonin regulation. You can be invigorated during the day (melatonin suppression), and you can get a natural sedative effect in the evening, with melatonin rushing in all at once at night, resulting in a natural sleepiness (assuming you stop staring at bright back-lit screens early in the evening). Your neuroendocrinology affects your autonomic nervous system as well.
    • Low doses of infrequent over-the-counter medication
    • Ice pack: I often like to lay my hands on a cloth-covered reusable ice pack after a long day of typing and my hands feel really "hot," as I fall asleep.
    • Discipline: get up early and always at the same time (going to bed early has been easy because I am always so tired and usually the pain won't let me forget)
    • Acceptance: at night, in bed, stay restful in the dark; count to one hundred all night, if need be. Let time pass. Do not feed the Insomnia by getting up, if you can help it.
    • Bad Ergonomics
    • Bad Posture
    • A World Full of Terrible Seating
    • New ergonomic setup (never use a laptop at a table, follow basic ergonomics rules with elbows down, shoulders back, feet on the ground, etc.)
    • Awareness
    • Core exercise (this is often way oversold by physical therapists, FYI, but you should do it anyway, to feel more awesome)
    • Light resistance exercise for arms, back, and shoulders.
    • Carry around a back support pillow to help make chairs more human-shaped (many chairs are stackable and thus are not designed for humans to sit in, but for other chairs to sit in).
    • Frustration: especially with Medical Establishment
    • Self-Education. PainScience.com.
    • Pain psychologist at Kaiser: verified that people really do get stuck in these chronic pain situations, and through careful management, can move forward with a better life, whatever that looks like.
    • Learning about the work of modern pain researchers, such as Lorimer Moseley, so you too can reconceptualize pain according to modern pain science. There is data showing that teaching patients how pain works (and how pain is weird, and how pain is variable) can help them understand and manage their own pain.
    • FMS/CFS/chronic pain/chronic fatigue is real, not "in your head". (In your autonomic nervous system, likely.)
    • Alternative Medicine (massage, meditation, yoga): can help but will not cure
    • Relaxation exercises:
      • various types of slow or deep breathing
      • even fast breathing
      • timed meditation
    • Self-Massage: learning musculoskeletal anatomy and referred muscle pain patterns. I am now my own "Dr. Masseuse", hence the name of this article. This one helped a lot, knowing what the patterns are for my body. No woo-woo here, just the solid science of referred muscle pain patterns. Note that this is not chiropractic, nor rexfloxogy. And many massage therapists do not have this information memorized.
    • Frustration with Work & Hobbies, or Lack Thereof
    • Acceptance: if this is as bad as it can be, how good can it be, assuming I am never cured?
    • The Long View: stare at the ocean; I am still here and the time I have is limited; the eventual heat death of the universe, etc.
    • Pacing: if I cannot do everything all at once, what can I do every day?
    • Part Time: if I cannot return to full activity, what can I do and still recover from physically, weekly? If I cannot commit to X,000 hours of work in the future, what can I commit to today, assuming I could bail next week if I had to?
    • Take no thought for the morrow: worry about one day at a time. Will I be up for driving in to work tomorrow? Why does that matter today? I can wait until tomorrow morning to worry about that.
    • Do Something Anyway: if it is going to suck anyway, why not have some fun too?
    • Isolation
    • Mood
    • Public pool: attend regularly (twice a week), meet some people in a low-key setting
    • Part-time:
      • tutoring
      • three days a week professional work
    • Schedule (via email or text) a time once a week or fortnightly to call (via telephone — remember that?) and talk to a friend or family member. Relationships matter and using this as a chance to strengthen close bonds is a great thing all around. Scheduling is awesome because it removes the stress of being interrupted and gives time for ideas and events to pile up so that there is something to talk about. You may both look forward to it and even miss it when the schedule slips. Bonus points for keeping the time slot closed-ended to respect eachother's time. Just put it on your calendar and schedule the next one when the call ends (usually one person is the schedule keeper but it is not set in stone).
    • How to Break Up All This Painful Free-Time?
    • Vacation: still went on photo trips. Acceptance meant sitting out some hikes, but not having a pity party.
    • Music: play a little guitar, frequently, for short periods of time. I am not looking for results, nor trying to overdo anything, just enjoying the process.
    • Accommodations: reading a little bit (fifteen or twenty minute timer, then do something else), over a long time (months, a year), for example. This sounds disheartening on the surface, but it should be empowering. You can take back your life in pieces, even if you have to be creative and unconventional about it. At some point you may regain capacity and this process will be a distant memory, but it is one possible, enabling strategy.

    Conclusion

    I will probably always be susceptible to flare-ups and longer-than-should-be-necessary recovery times. However, about three years in, I am actually feeling pretty good, especially in the last year or so. The treatment I needed was perspective, or growing up, acceptance, patience, balance, pacing, and time. I have built daily and weekly habits (thirty minute routine of self-massage, mobilization warm up, and light resistance exercise) that adapt to my energy levels, but which I never abandon. I exercise at the pool on Tuesday and Thursday, rain or shine. Sometimes I phone it in a little, but I still go through the motions. I always show up. Working even three days a week has been an important part of my mental health recovery and a symbol of my success. I recently logged 50 miles of walking (10,000+ steps a day) on a seven day vacation, with no unreasonable post-exertion recovery time (in the past, one long hike could result in a recovery measured in days or weeks). I share my gratitude for this accomplishment with close friends and family who stood by me as I slowly made it to this point.

    Lessons Learned

    Questions to answer for yourself:

    • How will I spend my time? (Not "What will I accomplish?")
    • What habits, however small, will move me forward?
    • What can I do, in terms of showing up, even on my very worst day?
    • How can I accommodate my limitations without either giving up completely or ignoring my limitations to my detriment?

    Additional Notes ▾

    Undiagnosable Disease ▾

    Medically Unexplained Syndromes

    Fibromyalgia, myofascial pain syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and other medically unexplained syndromes are terms used by doctors in the context of a diagnosis of exclusion, not an actual disease. In other words, fibromyalgia is more of something the doctor "has" (lack of ability to find a specific problem, restatement of patient's maladies, modern medicine lacking clarity and just putting people in an insurance diagnosis code bucket) than something the patient "has".

    The philosophy of trying to prove a negative is interesting. It requires disproving all positives one by one, which is hard enough, and most doctors usually attempt to eliminate the possibility of any specific underlying diseases. Not to blame a given doctor, but the fact that we have medically unexplained syndromes is more a problem with medicine in general. Doctors love pathology (sort of pathological, huh?) and love treating diseases they can help with, not something invisible -- which is understandably frustrating to both patient and doctor. But it is an interesting thing to reassure any readers out there about -- you are being given a label to move you through the system, not because you "have" an actual diagnosable disease.

    Over time, as human knowledge increases it is possible and even likely that these MUS will shrink, instead of effecting 2% of the population, with a single label! In the past, a lot of these sorts of maladies were labeled rheumatism, but now we know which subset is caused by (for example) inflammation from an overactive immune system, and which are still medically unexplained.

    Invisible ▾

    Just Because They Can't See it Doesn't Mean it Isn't a Real Problem

    And more importantly, it doesn't mean other people don't suffer from the same problem. Really. You are not alone.

    This includes other invisible disorders ("with no discernible cause"), such as mental health, nervous illness, phobias, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, even invisible eating disorders, etc. Now I have a lot or more empathy for anyone stuck in a situation that is not completely "their" fault, but they feel like their sole responsibility. (See also various addictions, cyclic self-destructive behaviors, etc.) Please get help somewhere. Reach out. You probably cannot do it on your own, but no one can reach out for you and no one can help you without your full involvement.

    The funny thing is, now some of these disorders can be seen by fMRI studies. (But don't expect your doctor or insurance to go to the trouble. In a lot of ways, just asking you questions may be a lot more effective anyway.)

    See also Pyschogenic, In Your Head.

    Central Sensitization v. Other Conditions ▾

    Mostly Not-So-Useful-Clinically Diagnoses

    When I asked my doctor about undiagnosed peripheral neuropathy or small fiber neuropathy he said that there was no way for him to tell the difference between peripheral neuropathy and something central like fibromyalgia or central sensitization, and the treatment would have been the same: psychiatric medicine like citalopram (Celexa) or the like.

    When a practicing doctor says that psychiatric medication helps people with fibromyalgia they are not basing this on evidence (*), or if they are, they are not hedging by pointing out the low success rates of such a treatment, just basing it on their experience, which is notoriously flawed because the patients who were not helped do not come back to the doctor who is unable to help them. And when they do get better they do not come back because why take your car to a mechanic when everything is working great? And even then the doctor would feel happy for the patient instead of drilling them to write a 5,000 word essay on all of the different things they had to do in order to overcome their problems.

    (*) The NTT for antidepressants in the management of fibromyalgia syndrome is in the range of 5.0 to 10.0. That means that 8 out of 10 (or 4 out of 5) patients had the same outcome without the drug, and about 1 in 10 got better on their own. According to the conclusions of the systematic review and meta-analysis:

    “The TCA amitriptyline and the SNRIs duloxetine and milnacipran are first-line options for the treatment of FMS patients. Physicians and patients should be realistic about the potential benefits of antidepressants in FMS. A small number of patients experience a substantial symptom relief with no or minor adverse effects. However, a remarkable number of patients drop out of therapy because of intolerable adverse effects or experience only a small relief of symptoms, which does not outweigh the adverse effects.”

    For those that were helped, we should ask what did the drug do? Mood stabilizing effects and long-term neurological improvements can also come from Consistent Cardio Exercise.

    Consistent Cardio Exercise ▾

    Aside from the obvious benefits (blood flow, muscle health, heart health, etc.) consistent exercise has many benefits for the mind, the brain, and the nervous system in general:

    • You get a mood boost from endorphins, the natural version of morphine, without the negative withdrawal effects. In fact, it probably raises and regulates your natural endorphin level over time.
    • You get a mood boost from the dopamine produced by accomplishing something and seeking new stimulus.
    • You keep an important habit going and gain self confidence that you can control your health.
    • "Aerobic exercise promotes rapid and profound alterations in the brain," according to this abstract and brain plasticity research.
    • Exercise promotes and regulates the release of growth hormones, such as IGF and NGF.
    • Exercise (when it is not backfiring) can help you sleep by helping you feel tired, but not fatigued. It can help cut down on the restlessness that comes with a chronic fatigue issue. The benefit of this increase in sleep is also neurological and mood-stabilizing.

    Frustration with the Medical Establishment ▾

    Not Knowing Whom to Turn to

    I am sure I am not the first to be frustrated with the medical establishment and the gap between their promises and suggested remedies, and those of the "alternative medicine" crowd, who also promised much which did not pan out.

    Who actually knew what they were talking about, based on reality and hard evidence? For example, multiple physical therapists gave me exercises as a prescription, stretching or "strengthening" usually the core or hips, which is notably not the issue for a chronic pain problem (see: this entire article). Not that the suggestion to keep the body moving is a bad one, it's just the details are oversold. (The warm-up (motion maintenance) exercises and resistance exercises themselves are useful, when done on a regular basis, but their effects can take months or years to appear.)

    Paul Ingraham of PainScience.com deserves ample credit for filtering through the BS on all sides but still offering actionable and practical, and more importantly, effective advice. He keeps everything up to date with recent research, yet he is not trying to overwhelm you with all the new results of studies that over-promise cures or are too expensive to try for yourself.

    Over-the-Counter Medication ▾

    Limited but Actual Usefulness

    While we are on the rocky ground of What Worked for Me, I think it is worth mentioning that over-the-counter analgesics and sleeping aids, such as diphenhydramine, can help break the cycle by allowing a chronic pain sufferer to feel like they are getting through their day on their own and not trying to "push through more daytime pain with painkillers" but using them selectively to force their system to calm the heck down when they go to sleep at night. Bonus points for using lower doses, or using them every other day to keep them more potent. I would be shocked if this was not one small but very important factor in my own recovery. Getting those two years of better sleep was critical.

    Note that this is not medical advice. And always follow the dosing instructions on the labels and never take for longer than it says without consulting your doctor. But then again, your doctor may give you advice that contravenes the labels, which is also potentially dangerous (unless you are doing lab work that can detect and prevent any long term or fatal problems). Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol) is a very effective drug and safe at listed doses, a poison with very useful side effects, but very dangerous very quickly.

    Also, doctors will tell you that inflammation is the problem, but it is not that simple, and again, even "label-safe" use of anti-inflammatories for a long period of time is dangerous.

    Mindfulness and the Second Arrow ▾

    Pain v. Pain Plus Suffering

    In Buddhism, there is a phrase the Second Arrow or the Second Dart. The first arrow is shot by someone or something else (injury, pain, heartbreak, the vicissitudes of life), the second arrow is the one you keep shooting into yourself, as you re-experience, resist and resent the first arrow (obsessing over the past, worrying about the future, indulging in a pity party, recoiling from the first arrow, wishing reality was something that it isn't).

    If you think of the first arrow as the pain signal itself, it is a natural thing to experience unpleasantness (emotional recoil, the second arrow) along with the pain signal. However, it is possible to practice experiencing pain as pain only, and not as pain plus suffering. You can learn to acknowledge but not be affected by it. You are not pretending it does not exist. You are just seeing it for what it is: all smoke and no fire, but what a lot of smoke it is.

    Suffering: the Present and the Future

    When I say it takes practice, I mean that the mental recoil to pain is a split-second, nearly-unconscious, visceral response, probably rushed along by the autonomic nervous system, affected by stress, mood, anxiety. At least, it feels that way. It takes retraining over time for the different parts of your personality, mind, and neurology to have a more robust, slower, more thoughtful and conscious (mindful) response to muscle pain and daily stress.

    A lot of my suffering involved grieving over who I thought I was and what I thought I would do with my life, and how the pain changed my plans for the future. The pain and suffering were so intertwined I did not understand that it was possible to separate out these two strands, and that I did not have to let the pain constantly remind me of all that I was missing out on.

    For more on mindfulness and a secular (and science-backed) approach to meditation, read someone who knows about it explain it a lot better, John Kabat-Zinn. The title should be Wherever You Go, There You Are (you cannot escape yourself), not Wherever You Go, There You Are, some truism about geography.

    "In Your Head" ▾

    When the first doctor I went to (a really crummy GP who ran his office like something from the movie Brazil) evaluated me, he told me my pain was psychogenic (also known as psychosomatic). The frustration with modern medicine would have sent me straight into the arms of alternative medicine at the time if I had not already been a bona fide scientific skeptic.

    When I hear this now, I think "all pain is psychogenic" since all pain is top down. Pain is generated by the brain. If you are a doctor, do me a favor, and if you mean based-in-psychiatry or brain chemistry or mood disorders or mental health or emotional pain then say so. Don't use a vague truism, since all pain is generated by the psyche! (Evidence: general anesthetics are not analgesics (pain killers) yet the patient does not experience nor remember pain because they are unconscious. Pain is generated by the brain, but not when you are in a medically-induced coma.) Also, dear, doctor, make sure to mention someone is not a bad person because of this, they are just stuck in a trap. Just like someone with clinical depression or bipolar disorder is not a bad person for being unable to pull themselves out of an invisible (to current medical technology) but just-as-real situation.

    The funny thing is, this diagnosis was actually not totally off the mark, he just did not tell me what to do about it.

    Mind-Body Connection

    Sometimes people offer easy solutions to complicated problems, as if you can solve anything interesting in a day. In that spirit, you cannot think your way out of pain and fatigue all up front ("Vague Positive Thinking"). But you can practice changing how you think about things, and over time, change how your system responds, and that can be effective. Without a positive attitude, coupled with reasonable expectations and a feasible strategy, I would never have gotten to the point that I am at. Notice that it took more than just positive thinking, and notice that the strategy did not have to be rock-solid, just feasible (and based on reality), and I had to be willing to experiment.

    In fact, sometimes the positive thinking followed the action, because some of my experiments started to succeed, which gave me confidence and energy and the capacity to expand my experiments.

    See also Mindfulness and Autonomic Nervous System.

    Autonomic Nervous System ▾

    Understanding the autonomic nervous system was helpful in understanding why pacing was so important, how adrenaline, stress, and pain interact, and why insomnia made everything so much worse. (And why exercise resistance can make it hard to reestablish an exercise habit, since exercise causes adrenaline/norepinephrine plasma increase in proportion to exercise intensity.) You can have a chronic autonomic nervous system dysfunction (usually caused by chronic or acute stress) without having a diagnosable disorder (assuming this applies to you and doctors have ruled out other narrow causes).

    According to Wikipedia,

    The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response and the freeze-and-dissociate response.

    Note that it says that the system acts largely unconsciously. But we all know that conscious input can effect it, for example stage fright (butterflies in the stomach) which some experience as projectile vomiting! Experienced performers still get nervous before shows but their system has just learned to experience the adrenaline ride as excitement, instead of gut-rending panic attack. And novice performers, when faced with a large crowd for the first time, often let their nerves get the better of them, depsite "trying really hard" not to be nervous. It takes training and experience, not something that can be done "consciously" all at once.

    However, we also know that we can have conscious control of our breath (duh!) but many of us do not use this to our advantage. That is part of why deep breathing for sustained periods of time, on a regular basis, can help stop our nervous system from freaking out. It really does work and it really is mind over matter.

    The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is what might try to save your life if you are being chased by a wild bear. A big kick of adrenaline and whoosh: you are running faster and jumping higher than you thought possible. If you escape the bear (or whatever acute danger) you can enjoy the bitter taste of adrenaline in your mouth as you catch your breath and your heart finally calms down. The parasympathetic nervous system cleans up the mess.

    With chronic stress the parasympathetic nervous system may be overtaxed and unable to compete with a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system. However, this is one of the ways that recovery can happen over a period of a few years: strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system and calming down the sympathetic nervous system. Some evidence that this might be what is happening? A mostly recovered "fibromyalgia" sufferer who has a weird muscle pain flare up during an emotionally stressful event, such as a vomit-inducing election or mistakenly buying a lemon of a used car. Said individual may still suffer from nervous illness and feel extreme widespread pain occasionally, though they may have better coping mechanisms, habits, mindfulness, and a system that recovers faster and returns more quickly to an overall higher average level of wellbeing and higher mood. They may not be able to control their mood completely, but they can get back on the horse, and go back to daily habits that move their life forward and restabilize quickly.

    Depersonalization ▾

    If you have ever traveled and had jet lag, maybe been hungry, and felt that you are dreaming, that you are disconnected from your body, but you know you are awake, the psychology term for this is depersonalization. That was certainly a symptom I had along with pain, fatigue, insomnia, etc. Worth mentioning since knowing the name of something helps you search for or read about it. It was never a big issue for me, just something I noticed occasionally, along with the pain and fatigue.

    Programming

    TypeScript v. JavaScript

    Chris Smith's article about What to Know Before Debating Type Systems is still a good read and pretty insightful even years later. His repeated points about implicit type annotations remind me of my (current) opinion about experimenting with TypeScript vs. straight ES6 / ES20015.

    In fact, this is a very interesting place to conduct an experiment of sorts, since TypeScript is semantically very similar to JavaScript, a superset with compile-time types.

    Costs and Caveats:

    • Zero Cost: (1) If I am writing JavaScript code and must run it through some build process before running and testing it anyway (babel, JSX preprocessor, webpack, or some combination) then the difference in cost between TypeScript and JavaScript is zero.
    • Low to No Cost: (2) If most of the JavaScript code I write can be type-checked as TypeScript with very few or even zero type annotations (because of type inference), or the annotations are easy to add when they are needed (expr becomes expr: any).
    • Low Cost (in my opinion): (3) If TypeScript stays a strict superset of EcmaScript 20XX so all new JavaScript features can be used in TypeScript as they are introduced. (I do not see this as a legitimate risk, especially on a small project, although others may disagree on whether they think Microsoft may break this commitment in the future.)
    • Rare but High (Truly Annoying) Cost: (4) If very few correct-as-JavaScript programs are rejected by the TypeScript compiler, then TypeScript is not a burden over and above straight JavaScript.

    Potential Benefits:

    • Low but Positive Benefit (5) If I get tooling benefits (admittedly fewer than just jslint of jshint would already give, but still, VS Code support for TypeScript is pretty great on Mac, Windows, and Linux).
    • Nice (Fairly Small) Benefit: (6) If I get documentation (and IntelliSense tooling) benefits from having the types around (infinitely better than comments that could be out of date since the compiler makes sure the programmer keeps this form of documentation in sync at all times).
    • Biggest Benefit but How Rare is It? (7) If some or many incorrect programs are rejected before I even run them (especially common errors like missing object key or field names, variable names, etc. -- but I hear jslint/jshint can do this too, to some degree).
    • Corollary Medium Size Benefit, Common for Me (8) If I lean on types for doing Nearly-Provably-Equivalent code refactors, the way that fits my style for C# coding -- when I want to change something in one place, have it break in 17 other places, and then fix every place knowing that it is every possible occurrence of the change (and I get a clickable list in the IDE).

    If each condition is met, then there is a case (for me) for playing with TypeScript. I'm not arguing that it is good for every project, just that there are conditions where the benefits can outweigh the costs (especially when the costs are very low and the quality of the tools is so high).

    Just to be clear: to be a fair comparison I would have to try using jslint/hint in a good IDE and see if using it with ES6 delivers 90% of the benefit of TypeScript.

    Another caveat is if you are publishing a package on NPM, it is one extra (large) dependency to require TypeScript instead of straight JavaScript. If you want more people to use your package in more places, TypeScript may add a little extra hesitancy or "use more virtual paper and kill more virtual trees" each time people install your package.

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