Friday, 1 October 2021

Seeing - myopia, presbyopia, astigmatism - why can't children get new lenses?

 Seeing is an essential part of being

Being able to see matters. If we can't see, we are unable to take a full part in normal human activities. Replacing our natural lenses with plastic lenses is an amazingly effective way of restoring sight to people with myopia, presbyopia and astigmatism, but it is usually only used when people have cataracts.

I have been short-sighted (myopic) all my life - before my lens replacement, I was measured as being -12 diopters in terms of my myopia, my astigmatism was extreme, and, beyond that, I was able to see things less clearly, and differentiate colours badly, because of my presbyopia (old-age related vision decline) and my cataracts (that were clouding my vision).

This is not a sob-story about me. Many people are in just this position, and, often, when much younger than I was when my lenses were replaced.

When I was very young, my myopia was diagnosed, and I was prescribed the usual thick bottle-bottom lenses. I thought these were a huge improvement.

Later in life, I heard about Lasik, laser surgery to improve vision. So, I went for it. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. As the laser cut away my eye, I could smell the burning. I was unable to be exposed to any bright lights, without pain, for three days afterwards. It took me several weeks to recover. I still felt pleased, after that, that I had done it, because I thought that my vision was so much better. I still needed glasses to read, and I still couldn't see things as other people saw them, but I didn't know that, so I thought it was a brilliant improvement.

Several years later, my optician examined my eyes, and said that I was developing cataracts. He referred me to a surgeon. This was a major turning point in my life.

The surgeon arranged for an operation to replace my lenses with plastic lenses - not the lenses in my glasses, the lenses in my eyes. I was quite apprehensive about this, because the lasik surgery had been so horribly painful for so long.

I need not have worried. My lens replacement surgery was completely painless - I really mean that, I had no discomfort whatsoever, none at all.

I could not believe the difference! Suddenly, colours were bright and I could see a huge range of colours. I could also see features far away, on the mountain, so clearly that I thought they might be artificial. When I went to the supermarket, for the first time, I could read all the signs, above the aisles, saying what was being sold there - before, I'd thought it was some sort of joke to expect people to read them, unless they were immediately below them, and I wondered why they bothered... Now I could see that the far aisle was for pickles and pasta - it was a revelation!

Yes, I still need reading glasses to see something close up. Yes, years, now, after the operation, the unbelievable brilliance of colour that I saw after my operation has settled down - our brain accommodates to things and they seem less exceptional. Still, my experience of the world is so rich and varied, and clear, compared to what it was during the first fifty years of my life that it continues to amaze me. Just this afternoon, I was looking at a tree at the bottom of the garden, and marvelling at how I could see all the leaves, not a a blur, but as leaves, and I could see the bright blue of the sky and the many different greens of the tree - for most of my life, this has been impossible.

So, with all this wonder, and improvement, what is my point?

Why can't we offer young children, with bad myopia and bad astigmatism, lens replacement? Why should they wait until they are old enough to have cataracts?

If only, as a child, my lenses had been replaced, my life would have been quite different. I'd have found microscopes and telescopes useful instruments - as it was, I wondered why anybody bothered, because, to me, they just offered blurs. I could have seen the beauty of mountains, I might have been able to play sport - I hated rugby and cricket because I could not see the ball. It seem silly to say this, but, when they sneered at me for dropping the ball it was because I only actually saw the ball when it was a metre of so from me, far too late to catch it.

Can't we spare children this diminished perceptions?

Can't we give people with bad eyesight good lenses?

I really think that we should. Contact lenses, glasses, laser-eye-surgery, all seem to offer improvement, b ut, from personal experience, I know they are actually quite useless. The only thing that really works to fix your eyesight is new artificial lenses.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Depression - it's not just feeling bleak

 I've been depressed twice.  By that, I mean diagnosed as clinically depressed, no simply 'feeling bleak'

There's something wrong with the diagnosis of 'depression', because it is so very easy to think that it is the same as 'being depressed' - It is not

The first time I was clinically depressed was back in the 1990's. I was not coping with life, and used the company mental health option to uget an interview with as 'counsellor'. He listened to me for about half an hour, then showed me a picture of the signs of depression, and explained that I fell into all of these, from what I'd said.

So, I went to my GP, and got a prescription for Prozac. The odd thing was that it worked at once, within a week, I was feeling better. SSRIs are not supposed to work that quickly, but the did. It might have been the   placebo effect, but, within three days, I felt better, and started to engage with life.

 I was lucky. I got better, and started to understand the reasons for my depression. Mainly, it was because I'd broken up a relationship

So, I'm an analytical sort  of person. I score quite high on the autism scale, meaning that I analyse things, before feeling them.

Twenty years later, I suffered a few set-backs. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I spent time with her during her treatment. Her brother dies. My father died. I was stabbed seven times by a burglar. I was suffering severe financial difficulties, and I couldn't see a way out.

What's really peculiar is that, from all of the above, I didn't realise that depression was a likely outcome.

I found that I couldn't do anything. I spent my time in bed.

I started to think about suicide. I looked at sites that sold inert gassed, such a nitrogen, that I knew would establish an easy death. I worked our ways to kill myself - but, at the same time, tried to make a distance, so that the means to kill myself were not immediately to hand. I had to be that, if I killed myself, I was not just on the spur of the moment.

I told GP about these suicidal thoughts, and he referred me to a psychiatrist, who, after a chat, said, a if it was obvious that I was depressed.

I understood, then, what the problem was. I'd managed, over several years, to keep mysense of self under control by going to Amsterdam and having huge doses of psilocybin, in the form of truffles, from magic mushrooms. These helped me centre myself, and resolved the depression completely.

It has still been a struggle. I'm coping today, but I look out for the signs - I mainly sleep around 11 hours a day, which is more than it should be, but, I'm coping, despite that.

What's amazing to me now, that I'm better, is that I still sleep far more than most people. The great thing is that I've not had any thoughts of killing myself for over a year.

It's odd, really, that it should be such a defining thing, but, if you are reading this, please accept that it is. The practical working out of how you are going to take your own life isn't what you think it is - it's not a conclusion, it's a symptom.

Understand that, and you're on the way back to happiness.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

The power, and weakness of metaphor

We use metaphors all the time, hardly noticing that we do. They're an essential part of our thinking apparatus, enabling us to transfer notions from one, usually concrete, domain into other abstract domains.

They're so powerful, ubiquitous and unnoticed, that it's useful to see what happens when one doesn't work.

In the late 1970s,  was lucky enough to meet the HP programmable calculator, the 9100A. It was the size of a microwave oven and you could store instructions on little magnetic strips to execute as programs later.

It didn't have an alphanumeric keyboard, the commands available were on the keys - as with later HP handheld calculators, one key could have more than one meaning. The screen showed the x,y and z registers. You could connect a plotter to it, and the physics department had given me the exercise to plot the orbit of the earth around the sun.

Mostly everything made sense, but there was one part of the set-up that puzzled me considerably.

There were a few keys connected to 'flags'. You could 'set' or 'clear' a flag, and then test to see if a flag was 'set' or 'cleared'. I could understand why these were useful, because they allowed simple binary decisions to be made, based on earlier results.

What didn't make sense to me was the term 'flag', and it being used in this way. I knew about flags as things made of cloth that were run up flagpoles by people who were keen on that sort of thing - the same sort of people, usually, who were keen on uniforms, marching about, and killing people.

It wasn't clear to me how these flags were connected to the ones on the 9100. What was, to me, particularly puzzling was how anybody would think of a flag as 'set' or 'clear' and how you'd know which state a flag was in. If the flag metaphor was used, I'd have expected 'raised' or 'lowered' or 'half-mast' to be the terms used.

I wasn't able to resolve this from the manual, because it seemed to assume familiarity with flags used in this way, and nowhere described where the metaphor came from.

It was about four years later, when I visited California for the first time, that I discovered what it was all about. I'd seen photographs of letterboxes in America, and noticed them in films. They were cylindrical, with a flattened bottom and a hinged door. I was surprised by their uniformity, being used to seeing many different designs, not just one.

The other feature they had was a key-shaped bit of metal mounted about half way down. This, I discovered, was the source of the metaphor. This wasn't just a bit of decoration, but a signalling device. People who lived in the US knew this, and called the bit of metal a 'flag'. The protocol was that, when he deliver the post, the postman would raise the 'flag', thus 'setting' it. This signalled to somebody looking across the front garden that there was new post. When you collected the post, you'd put the 'flag' down (clearing the flag), to indicate that the postbox was empty. [I've now been corrected, you can see in the comments below. Apparently you, the owner of the letterbox 'set' the flag to indicate a letter was waiting to be collected, and the postman 'clears' it, by putting it back down, indicating that the letter has been collected, and that you have new post - the opposite of how I'd understood it... making it even clearer how difficult it can be to understand a metaphor from an alien source].

The alternative etymology, that might be behind the letterbox usage, is the 'flag' used on a taximeter to indicate if it is free, or 'for hire', or occupied, 'hired'. The OED doesn't give etymology for the computing use, so this isn't certain.

Clearly, the makers of the HP9100A, who lived in California, and worked for Hewlett-Packard, who'd paid for me to travel to California, as their employee, knew all about this, and thought the principle universal. Which was why there was no explanation of what 'setting' or 'clearing' these 'flags' was about.

In the years since, when meeting difficult metaphors, or thinking of a metaphor to describe something myself, I've often remembered this problem. If you are going to use a metaphor, you have to make sure that your audience will be familiar with whatever it is that you are going to use as a metaphor. Otherwise it will fail to communicate your idea - or, if it does, it'll involve a special effort of interpretation by the reader to work out what you were getting at.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Management Dream


- First day as  a new manager
- Big HP office glass box in the middle. Decided not to bags a desk, but hover between the exposed space, with light, near the corridor, and the cave-like space in the middle. Hoping to have us moved some where better.
- Asked team to come up with agreement on what to use for rotas & scheduling by lunchtime - if they came to blows, I'd be excused as it was a first day
- Decided to order printers - discussed options like fan-fold, holes, considered noise - thought it a good plan to find out about my budget, learn how purchasing worked, and find out how noise-averse our neighbours were, and, by this means, who they were, and whether they'd help us move somewhere else.
- Went to find out about site meetings -- delighted to find a manager who said there were several a day, but kept a jar filled with minutes from all those worth knowing about, about six rolls of minutes - said he kept it fairly up to date
- My manager away, broken leg, skiing accident
- Leave out the bit about kangaroos and needing a seprate kanga-bog for the little ones
- Wondered whether to take my team out to lunch, it being the first day, thought about whether it'd be the canteen or local pub, realising either would set all sorts of precedents,. Decided to suggest the canteen, but allow myself to be persuaded the pub would be a better idea, as long as it was informal and not me taking everybody out. The excuse of leaving that to my manager, when he came back with his leg in plaster, seemed sound
- Had wondered if I should start clearing up the area and bags a desk, or if I should find where facilities was and see if they could help (unlikely on the first day, but I'd learn who'd given them the best bribes last year). 
- I wasn't quite sure who my team was, there were various people floating about the area. I hoped that lunch and the group task would sort it out, more or less.

On the merit two-dimensionalality

If you left your tennis racquet out in the rain, without its press, you learnt that being three-dimensional is not always a blessing.

My last tennis racquet was made of ultra-light metal, and strung with plastic, nylon, I think, so you could keep it in the bath, and it'd still work. It didn't even have a cover.

Two books that I prized greatly as a child were volumes I & II of 'How things work'. I think they were a present. I'd have thought they might have been from my mechanically minded uncle, but I think they were more probably from my parents, or brother. Probably my brother.

My uncle once gave me a set of chest-expanders for Christmas. I had no idea that anybody would use such things voluntarily, and still don't understand people who do. I was so disgusted that I didn't, fortunately, probably, even think about how the springs could have been adapted into a trebuchet.

'How things work' were wonderful books. Volume I rather better than Volume II, which seemed something of an afterthought, but they didn't explore the medical, surgical or veterinary worlds much, so there wasn't anything about the making of tennis racquets and what went on at the cat-gut factory. I looked, specially, so I know this, and still don't know if they use(d?) machines or people who were very good with scissors.

Wikipedia tells me they use sheep or goats, rather than cats, something that'd have been hard to find out then. This aside in wikipedia has me wondering 'Lean animals yield the toughest gut', so, if you're going to use somebody's guts for garters, make sure he's not too skinny.

Technological improvement is a wondrous thing, but, somehow, it seems sad that boys of today don't have a chance to think of the relative merits of the four-screw press over the fast-release lever press for racquets, or to wonder what happens at the cat-gut factory.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Plagiarism dream

Told by a fellow student (or senior student, or lecturer) that the professor and head of department have a heard an accusation of plagiarism against me.

It turns out that it isn't. I'm accused of having a book on (by?? - it's a dream, maybe my unconscious doesn't know Socrates didn't write any books) Socrates prominently displayed in my room, but not to have read it - hardly plagiarism, hardly a crime. I protest that there's nothing wrong with that, then the accusation is spelt out in more detail. I've told people about things in the book, as if I've read the book, whilst I've still been reading through it - keeping one chapter ahead of the class, as it's known. This, too isn't a crime.

However, I'm delighted to realise that both the prof. and the head of department (It's not sure why there's an heirarchy here, you'd expect it to be one and the same person, unless it's an aspro) have believed the accusation, believed it is wrong, and also known how it's done. So, I think, in the dream, must have been guilty of it themselves.

On waking I wonder how such a strangely convoluted dream could come about, and how I'd not thought that the lecturer, prof., and head of department may not have done it themselves, but encountered other students that had done it.

Anyway, I clearly felt better to be vindicated, at least in my own mind, and, in the dream, flew (well, an extended floating jump) from the back, at the top of the tiered lecture theatre down to the front in a series of triumphant, sweeping dance-like descending stages - slowing my descent by touching the side-wall, or panelling on the side-wall.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The bunny gardener

The Bunny gardener.

We’d only been waiting a few minutes, when I saw the large, white rabbit walking purposely up the hill, along the pavement, towards us, unaccompanied.

I was with my brother in the small, trim garden. The others had gone ahead to chapel, and, if there was time, we were to join them. I think we were in Wales, at the house of a relative - though not an aunt, as she didn’t look like any of our three aunts. It was a very quiet Sunday morning with nobody about.

The bunny came into the garden, gave us a nod, and started to take care of the most obvious chores, nibbling off a dying branch from one of the rose bushes and dragging it to the heap in the corner that was clearly going to be the bonfire later.

Then he came to look at the provisions we’d laid out for him, clearly satisfied with the milk, carrots and, I think, oatmeal. Then he gave a start, almost gave us a disapproving look, and started looking through one of the bags we’d brought the provisions in with the air of somebody not expecting to find anything.

It suddenly came to me, I remembered out instructions. I said:

‘I’m so sorry! I realise that we didn’t get the mutton kebabs. We’ll get some as soon as we can, and have them ready for you when you come back on….’

‘..Wednesday’, my brother said. I’d not remembered the day.

The bunny stopped looking, and went back to gardening. I don’t think he could speak, but, if he had, it’d have surprised me less than him arriving on his own.

It was, we’d learned, a standard arrangement, you got hold of the bunny, through a ‘phone call, and he turned up at the stipulated time, getting on with the job happily, and extremely efficiently, wanting only to have the right provisions. 

Unusually, he was a carnivorous rabbit, at least to the extent of mutton kebabs.

We went inside, leaving him to work, deciding, without much regret, well, without any, actually, that we were too late to make chapel. We settled down to wait, after having made a note to get the kebabs, and, a few minutes later, everybody came back from chapel.

It was a most vivid dream. The rows of houses, with small front gardens, on each side of the road curving downwards are sharp in my memory, as was the garden of the house itself, with somewhat fussy brick flowerbeds in front of the chocolate-boxy house. It was the chapel, and the general atmosphere, that made me think it must be Wales, though it was very certainly much to smart and affluent to be sad Rhymney.

I’m no fan of dream interpretation, since, more often as not, cigars are just cigars and bunnies, rabbits.

I also know that other people’s dreams are of very little interest, only our own dreams fascinate us.

Still, since this was one of the more outré dreams I’ve ever had, I thought I’d write it down, whilst I remembered. 

I know why, particularly, I wasn’t keen on going to chapel. When I went, with my mother, in Rhymney, when eleven, I wanted to sing the familiar hymns, but found the hymnbooks impenetrable, being written in Welsh. 

We’ve never had rabbits as pets. I know no bunnies. So I’ve no idea why I dreamt of the bunny gardener, but I’m pleased that I did. Peculiar as it was, it was a most peaceful and pleasant dream.

The oddest thing about it was that I thought it odd that the bunny came to us unaccompanied, usually, in dreams, you don’t question that sort of thing.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

A magical Easter morning

I was treated to an amazing experience this morning. I drove into town, on my 'bike, as usual, for my swim, at the Long Street Baths. It's a magnificent, clear, bright sunny morning, with Table Mountain sharp and clear, after the recent, blessèd rain.

As I walked into the changing-rooms, empty, as you'd expect on a holiday, I was transfixed by the beautiful sound of a hymn being sung in the pool-hall. As you'd expect, the acoustics of a large municipal swimming pool are impressive.

There were about twenty people, around the shallow-end, singing mindfully, eyes closed, with close harmonies, and extemporized descants, over a confident, joyful, rhythmic and unhurried rendition - every word clearly annunciated. My mother once said that the only thing that ever made her a little homesick, for the valleys of Wales, was the sound of a Zulu congregation. 

There's no need for a choir, in Wales, as in Africa, the congregation expect, and are expected, to carry the sound entire.

It was, of course, quite unaccompanied by any instrument.

I swam, as they sang, together with two other fortunate swimmers.

It was a mass, full-immersion baptism - if it can be a 'mass baptism' with only half a dozen baptizees. 

One, by one, as we swam, they six were lowered into the water, then, emerging, clapped by all, and photographed by flashing cell-phones. 

Smiles of delight welcoming them back to the dry poolside.

Vanity can't have been discussed much, during their catechism, because one baptizee wrapped a large, green plastic bag about her head, so as not to spoil her hairdo.

As I changed back, and got ready to return home, the closing hymn was echoing through the changing-rooms, that, for  that moment, were the cloisters of heaven.