Episode Two Hundred and Seven: Seeing Like LIDAR; Hearing Like Superman; Researching Like ResearchKit 

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

8:46pm on Wednesday, March 25 2015 with thirty minutes on the clock and Shake It Off has just shuffled on. The toddler has had a fever for the past few days mainly running his mum ragged whilst I’m working – either typing for coins in the basement, or typing for coins in the swanky new hot-desk co-working space downtown. Either way, here’s something they don’t tell you about working from home/remote working when you’re also a parent with a young child: they get to see you more often than they wouldn’t, and when you hear that they want to play with you when you have to go down and get back to work, it’s just *hard*. Of course, I’m telling parents who do have children how to suck eggs right now: of course it feels that way, and this isn’t anything new. It’s new to me, though, and it’s no fun telling a two year old who’s sniffly who just wants to play with you that you have to go downstairs and do another conference call.

1.0 Seeing Like LIDAR

I used to be totally into linguistics, and even more than that, socio-linguistics. It was one of my favourite subjects at school, something for whom I’m incredibly grateful for that specific kind of teacher who – not unlike other teachers – gave a shit, but also bent over backwards to help his students. Mr. Devitt, you were one of those guys. My English teacher was the one who figured out the way for me to do an English *Language* A-Level, instead of an English Literature A-Level, which meant instead of doing lots of literary analysis, I learned how to write for different audiences. And well, that worked out pretty well, because Mr. Devitt had figured out that I *liked* writing and that it was way more fun than trying to get me to do a literary analysis of something that I wasn’t particularly interested in.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that one particular piece of coursework I ended up doing was a study at my former primary school down the road where I worked with a bunch of 8-10 year olds to see if I could gauge where they were at in terms of language acquisition skills. Child psychology *as well as* linguistics!

And all of *that* is a roundabout way of saying that LIDAR works like the way children think they see: most children (and, apparently, a large number of college-age adults, and by extension, probably adults in general) think that vision works by the eyes shooting out, well, rays of vision. Piaget wrote about this nearly a hundred(!) years ago, and LIDAR pretty much works exactly the same way as this folkloric understanding of how we see: a laser pings out and paints the environment and looks at the reflections. It turns out, I guess, that painting your environment with a specific kind of light and looking for it to come back is – given the state of the art in computer science right now – a different and perhaps easier way of parsing the environment than just looking at reflected rays of light off of random objects.

2.0 Hearing Like Superman

Matt Haughey remarked on Twitter that if you invoke Andrew WK in an Instagram comment feed, Andrew WK will show up[1]. To which my response was a) Is he the Candyman of Fun, and b), well…

(and bear with me, because this is a super dumb epiphany)

Social Media (I know, you’re just going to have go with this) and its mechanisms of notifications and mentions and trawling and searching and push in a sense replicates Superman’s sense of hearing. In other words: Andrew WK has to deal with drowning in notifications of being mentioned every which place, which is pretty much how I imagine Superman has to deal with having his super-hearing and being able to hear every single thing Lois goes on about.

So here’s your shit analogy of the day: social media lets you hear like Superman.

[1] https://twitter.com/mathowie/status/580853953929220097

3.0 Researching Like ResearchKit

A long time ago I got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes which is a result of a combination of bad habits, bad diet, lack of exercise and bad genetics and bad luck. And then I got better[1, 2].

I got better through a combination of being shit scared, wanting to prove my doctor wrong, being stubborn and unwilling to accept the diagnosis and the prognosis of having to inject myself with insulin at some point in the future, and, if you read those two footnotes, a whole bunch of quantification, technology, bad design and exercise.

And then it all fell to pieces. I don’t really talk about how it fell to pieces or what happened after. I don’t really talk about how I’ve put most of the weight back on, or how my HbA1c is back to type 2 diabetic levels, or that my prescription for Metformin, which helps my body deal with blood sugar, has quadrupled.

Why would I want to talk about that? All of that stuff is depressing. We have – at least some of us do, and I suspect that at times, all of us do – complicated relationships with our bodies, and I’m no different. On a good day, I just tolerate mine, on a bad day, I actively hate it.

But my wife and my friends and my doctor and my diabetic nurse and my therapist and everyone pretty much tells me, the stuff that happened that precipitated the fall: that was just life happening, and any one of those things could’ve been a trigger enough to stop a sustained practice in its place.

I also, honestly, feel like a failure: because for one moment, for one brief glimpse, I actually felt *really good* about my body and what it felt like. I would wake up in the morning and go for a run because I wanted to, and I’d even *need* to go for a run every day. I’d go on work travel to another city or another country and pack my gear and run out in a city I’d never run in before because it felt good. I’d be buying new clothes practically every week. I could even wear skinny jeans, but then my wife and I looked in the mirror and decided that that was a step too far.

But then it all went away, and part of the problem was that I was beating myself up: that I couldn’t accept that I hadn’t just fixed it, that instead of *getting* somewhere, I’d failed at keeping somewhere. You know what people say: that it’s a journey, not a destination. Well, that’s all well and good until you’re the one who has to do the traveling.

It wouldn’t help my particular psyche, of course, when my diabetic nurse would fix me with a look – one from the most well-intentioned of places – and tell me that at least I could try and eat better, at least I could try and exercise for the sake of my son now that I had a family.

Well, thanks. Way to make a guy feel even more guilty, even more despondent, to feel that the task at hand was even more futile because of inevitable failure.


Along comes ResearchKit. And for whatever reason, and I really, really don’t know what’s going on in the grey matter of mine, it’s somehow easier for me to weigh myself every day and start taking my blood sugar multiple times a day and prick my finger and suck it and see what the numbers are and try and distance myself from what they mean because they’ll just dispirit me again, for some reason it’s *easier* to do this all, all over again, log all my food, because this time, it’s for someone else and it’s for science.

How about that.

I couldn’t do it for me a second time. I couldn’t even do it for my wife or my son or my family, which would make me feel even worse.

But give me a clinical research study and apparently that’s the thing.

Whatever. I’ll take it.

[1] Myself, Quantified
[2] Fitness by design

9:12pm. End of file.