Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Mind Expanding with a Cup of Java [Personal Growth Matters]

For me, COVID-19 Lockdown hasn't been a big change, since retirement means I have lots of free time anyway. I am very fortunate to live in a retirement village villa. I am sitting at the dining room table looking out over the golf course across our back fence - a large water trap with lots of bird life, the rushes, the fairway and the trees - ah, the serenity - too bad about the hacker golfers.

I regularly work on a book of puzzles, cross-words (straight and cryptic), 'code breakers', and of course Sudoku. Now I've never really been a Sudoku fan, preferring word puzzles. But the logic of solving a Sudoku puzzle intrigued me. My Computer Science post-graduate thesis back in the 70's involved programming a deduction 'engine' processing predicate calculus statements, so the method of solving Soduko was right up my alley.

I first learnt to program computers back in 1966, and have learned (and  forgotten) dozens of computer languages since. The later half of my career moved beyond mundane programming, into analysis, systems architecture, specification, quality assurance and management. But the mental stimulus of solving a problem in code, has never left me.

So as a personal growth project, I decided to teach myself a modern computer language, Java, and the problem I chose to was solving Sudoku puzzles.
A very hard puzzle.

Now the simplest program solution is to recursively try the digits 1..9 combinatorially in every empty cell. But I wanted to tackle the intelligent solution of how humans go about solving such puzzles.

<WARNING "descriptions of complex programming logic - skip if desired">
From the digits that exist in each row/column/sub-matrix, build lists of candidate digits that could appear in the empty cells of each row/column/sub-matrix. Then examine every empty cells' three lists of candidate digits that intersect at that cell and perform a logical AND of the three lists to get the candidate digits that satisfy all three row/column/sub-matrix constraints. If you are left with a single candidate in any of the row/column/sub-matrix, then that digit is the solution for that cell. After all empty cells have been processed, if there are still some cells that have not had a solution digit inserted, loop back and compute new lists of candidates.

I have found that puzzles of complexity up to 4 stars are soluble by the above method. A handful of ***** complexity puzzles still require a brute force method to solve the remaining empty cells after the above has finished. By using the lists of candidate digits at each empty cell, typically 2 or 3 digits, instead of trying all 1..9 digits, the size of the combination is much reduced. A classic 'block' that I have noticed that puzzle creators use, is to have a row/column/sub-matrix element with just 2 empty cells with the same 2 candidate digits, so there are only 2 combinations to test, 'x,y' and 'y,x'.
</WARNING>
Solution of above very hard puzzle.

By parameterizing the size of the puzzle, a simple 4x4 puzzle was used in initial debugging. A logical extension of the problem, would be to have a 25x25 puzzle that uses the 25 letters "A..Y" instead of the digits 1..9. Perhaps I could call it Nozeku! With a puzzle board that size, I suspect it would be too difficult to create problems by hand. Perhaps I will have to write a program to generate problems of Nozeku.

Another option I considered, is to use a phone camera to capture a picture of a puzzle and perform optical character recognition to input the puzzle into the program. At the press of a button, in a fraction of a second, the solution is displayed. But that program extension lacks intellectual stimulus for me.

So after that exercise, I feel my brain has 'grown' by a percentage point or two. Mind you, I have only just scratched the surface of the Object Oriented power of Java. I might have to look for another problem to solve.

Is programming sexy? Some programmers have reported experiencing algorisms! (that euphoric, Eureka, aha moment when you finally see an elegant solution to a difficult problem you have been mulling over for days or weeks). Do writers have such experiences when a beautiful plot inspiration blasts through a writer's block?

But in the mean time, I might go back to my landscape painting to relax for a while.

Addendum

Having programmed my 'obvious' strategy, I searched the internet literature for Sudoku solution strategies. Andrew Stuart's 'https://www.sudokuwiki.org/sudoku.htm' is probably the most comprehensive, listing 38 strategies. My program implements the first two basic strategies, 'Naked singles' and 'Hidden singles'.

Personal Growth Matters

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Give or Take, a Matter of Respect

Way back in the mid 1960's, our state government introduced a new road law to clarify the situation of two cars arriving at an uncontrolled intersection at the same time. It was colloquially known as the 'Right of Way' law (we drive on the left hand side of the road in Australia).

I was going for my driver's license in 1966 (18 years old), with a simple oral test at the local police station before the actual driving test. The policeman asked me about the 'Right of Way' rule, to which I answered, "The driver of the car on the right has right of way". He rephrased the question and asked me again, to which I gave the same answer. When he asked the same question a third time, I had to control myself, and gave the same answer. He then clarified the rule for me. The driver on the right does NOT have 'right of way' - rather the driver on the left is obliged to give way to the driver on the right. Its the difference between taking and giving.

I once read this quote, "Whats the difference between a socialist and a Christian? The socialist says "what's yours is mine", but the Christian says "what's mine is yours". The economic outcome might be similar, but it comes to down to whether one respects the other's free will.

What that policeman said to me over 50 years ago has stuck in my mind ever since. It saddens me when I read of people standing up for "their" rights, but trampling over other people's rights in the process. They seem to interpret the "land of the free" as the "land of the me".

What would society be like if the 'Bill of Rights' was redraughted as 'the Bill of Civic Responsibilities', where everyone had the civic responsibility to allow other people to have their own opinions and speak their mind, etc?

The same principles apply in marriage. It saddens me to see so many men especially, that treat their spouses as property to be owned and to be punished if their don't obey or do their bidding. Worse, the effects of family violence flow through to the children and the grandchildren - "The sins of the father will be visited on his children to the 3rd and 4th generation" (Ex.20:5, Num.14:18, Deu.5:9). I was moved to word our wedding vows as "giving" each to the other, instead of "taking" a spouse.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

[Reminiscences] The Day I Got Old

There are all sort of reminiscences/memories, good and bad. Special memories will have some sort of trigger, a smell, an image, a sound, a word, a touch. But the strongest triggers involve a contrast, something out of the ordinary from the daily mundane. The strongest memories will have an emotional component.

The following is from 20 years ago.

---=====---

The years 1999-2000 were full of fear. A new pandemic was on our door step - the Y2K Bug. But this was a potential bug in computer software, not the biological virus type.

For we in the IT industry, it was a very busy time But all the preparatory hard work paid off and The Bug was a bit of a fizzer.

The real 'pandemic' occurred in 2001. Businesses and governments had poured so much money in to Y2K mitigation, there was no budget left for forward work. So thousands of IT contractors were let go and there were no job vacancies.

So I joined the dole queues and pounded the pavement. But as a contractor, I was prepared for the economic ups and downs. The mortgage had been paid forward 12 months, I was in a good frame of mind, highly qualified and 30 years of experience - shouldn't be too hard to land something.

Six months in and 50 job applications rejected, it was mid winter, an icy blast was blowing in off the Southern Ocean. It was the middle of the day as I walked from the tram stop to my next appointment. I was walking past a big restaurant with a wall of windows. It was packed with businessmen sitting down to their expense account paid lunches and wine. It looked so bright and warm, and here was I out in the dark and cold. It was an unexpected emotion that hit me with the ferocity of the ice cold wind. I felt like Oliver with his begging cup.

The interview was with a very progressive company in which a predominance of women had risen in the ranks of management. As I was interviewed by a couple of women, I really felt like I was the token male interviewee that they had no intention of hiring. I guess I got a small taste of the discrimination many women encounter every day.

But it was at an interview at a public utility that ageism really struck home. The interviewer was a Project 'Manager' not much more than half my age, who really gave off a sense of "What are you doing here old man". I thought to myself, "What do you know you snotty nosed young upstart. I was programming numerical analysis in Applied Mathematics at university when you were still in nappies (diapers)".

But it was an interview with a recruitment agent that was the clincher. He showed no interest in my skills. He just went on complaining about the lack of jobs and the hundreds of applications he receives every day. He turned in his chair and pointed to a metre high pile of papers. "They're the resumes I've received this month" and proceeded to throw my resume on top of the heap.

So that's it I thought. Over the hill at 52 and chucked on the scrap heap.

But I still had some optimism and self belief. I taught myself web programming, developed my first web site, got stuck into genealogy research, extended our charity work and still kept plugging away with 2-3 job applications per week. Well it took 180 job applications over 21 months before I landed a meager job as a help desk operator. I was inspired to write the following summary:-

The 12 Days of Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas, my Recruitment Consultant sent to me:-

  • The 127th nil response;

  • The 99th "Sorry, you don't have the right sort of experience";

  • The 83rd "Sorry, you are too qualified";

  • The 71st "Sorry, you are not sufficiently qualified";

  • The 69th unanswered phone call;

  • The 57th "Unfortunately our client has withdrawn this position";

  • "With reference to your resume, when you say 'IQ 150', what does IQ stand for?";

  • "With reference to your application for courier driver, unfortunately our client requires someone with 3 years experience driving 2002 model Holdens";

  • "With reference to your application for voluntary work with the Salvation Army, unfortunately all positions are currently filled with Work-For-The-Dole people";

  • "With reference to your application for a position as Santa Claus, unfortunately we only have a size 44 suit left";

  • "With reference to your application for the cleaner position, unfortunately we require someone with SABCO broom experience";

  • "With reference to your application for the position of stable muck raker, unfortunately there is no room at the inn".

Merry Christmas to all - you will understand if I don't send a card this year.  All invitations to lunch/drinks (your shout) gratefully received.

U. N. Employed



Wednesday, May 13, 2020

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make.......


As I was just finishing my last post, "Unmedicated", I reminded myself that this new BLOG, Argentum Vulpes, was intended to celebrate the good things in life, not just deep and meaningful conversations, and my first two posts so far have been pretty deep. So in the theme of "Vive ut Vivas", instead of making lemonade, we'll make:-

Lemon Meringue Pie

Classic Lemon Meringue Pie Recipe - BettyCrocker.com

Now I won't claim to have the best recipe in the world, nor will I copy someone else's recipe. So I will simply link to good old Betty Crocker's recipe, and let you drool over the picture.

Now it just remains for me to decide which meme to link this under. Is it 'Sinful Sunday', or 'Wicked Wednesday' or 'Food For thought'. I think we need a 'Yummy Any Day' meme!

Bon appetite!


Unmedicated

Phases of Medical Thinking - 1950's to 2000

Quakery and fads have surrounded medicine since the start of time. But mainline medicine has gone through phases as well, both good and bad. Following the discovery of penicillin during WW2, post war medicine boomed, especially in pharmacology, which was just as well, because there was an unspoken epidemic of syphilis with so many ex-servicemen returning with the infection. Here in Australia I have read that it is estimated that 10% of babies born in the 5 years post war, suffered from syphilic effects. Thank goodness for penicillin, but apart from the medical treatment required, the fear of stigma affected couples' mental health significantly.

The rapid growth of medical and pharmacology industries in the 50's, lead to a new period of 'enlightenment' in the 60's, when there was a sense that modern medicine could cure anything - "there is a pill for that". In popular culture, 'happy pills' and 'mind expanding' drugs became common. In mental health, similar optimism flourished with new anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and ECT treatments.

By the 1970's, the negative effects of the excesses of the 60's became apparent. Addiction to 'happy pills' was rife. A lot of the new wonder drugs were found to have all sorts of side effects. Less publicized, was a growing recognition that many common medications were in fact addictive - after prolonged treatment, the efficacy of the drug declined so increased dosage was required, and an upward spiral ensued. If the dose was not increased, the original symptoms returned, sometimes worse. In mental health, 'downers' went too far, so 'uppers' were needed to recover, but then the patient had to be calmed down again. There was a big swing to psychotherapy, with or without medicinal assistance. In the broader medical scene, diagnostic techniques had improved so much that what were once thought of as a single condition, were now found to have multiple variants and multiple concurrent conditions were now being identified.

In the 1980's, as a flow-on from the 1970's trends, there was a big movement to classify intransigent conditions as 'psychosomatic'. It was almost a reversal of the 60's thinking that all medical conditions were physiological and could be cured with a pill. But something else was happening that was not generally acknowledged for about 10 years - as patients were taken off medications because their condition was now deemed to be psychosomatic, they started to have extreme symptoms that were seen as supporting the psychosomatic mental illness diagnosis.

Only in the 90's were these symptoms finally recognized as 'withdrawal' symptoms. It wasn't just that the symptoms of the original unmedicated condition returned, but different neurological symptoms altogether appeared, such as hallucinations, palpitations, phobias, neuroses and psychotic episodes.

A Personal Case

In her pre-teens, my wife had a common childhood accident and acquired a traumatic brain injury with consequential epilepsy. Over 30 years, her neurologists were unable to attain satisfactory control with the available anti-convulsant drugs and resorted to benzodiazapine tranquilizers. One of the confusing issues was that outwardly her seizures appeared to be grand-mal (in the parlance of the day) but she always remained conscious which did not correlate with grand-mal seizures.

In the early 1990's after yet another referral to another neurologist, supposedly the best professor in the country, he decided to use new equipment for combined EEG & video 24 hours monitoring. From his analysis of the results, he declared that she didn't have epilepsy at all, but that it was all psychosomatic and proceeded to take her off all her medication (slowly? over 7 days) and referred her to the psychiatric ward. A range of anti-psychotic drugs were tried with no improvement and various side effects. Occasional seizures resumed but more worrying were the panic attacks, anxiety and apparent detachment from reality. With no definitive treatment, she was referred on to an out-patient clinic.

At the out-patient appointment, she had a very strong major seizure, but the psychologist just watched on with no reaction or concern over what was happening. Being of absolutely no use at all, we were effectively sent home to fend for ourselves.

Apart from recurrent seizures, the worst lasting for 12 hours straight, more worrying were the development of 'mental' symptoms, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, hallucinations (imagine seeing and feeling spiders crawling up your body), palpitations and inappropriate language outbursts (rather like touretts). Over the next 12 months she had 3 major status episodes and was taken to hospital, being non-compos for up to 5 days at a time. The first time, the ER department were sure she had taken an overdose of something, but despite my reassurances that she hadn't, pumped her stomach with charcoal. The problem was that "God" has spoken and declared it non-epileptic. The second time, she was sent to a (psychiatric) rehabilitation hospital for observation, but basically not knowing what to do. It was at this time that we noticed major gaps in her memory developing - brain cells were dying.

We started to look into a 'movement disorder' clinic as an alternative diagnosis to the epilepsy, but it was more focused on parkinsons, touretts, etc. Then there were some suggestions that these new symptoms might be related to withdrawal from the benzodiazapine tranquilizers and we found a support group for such sufferers. We learned so much from this group and their publications, especially that it is a common condition that the mainline medical community still didn't really appreciate. Their support group meetings with relaxation and meditation therapy got us started on the long road to recovery. In their experience, coming off benzodiazapine tranquilizers should be VERY slowly, reducing by half over a period of 1 week for every year the patient has been on them. My wife had been taking them for over 20 years, so reduce by half every 20 weeks. The doctor's stopping the full dose over 7 days was totally inappropriate.

On the 3rd status occasion, the psychiatric registrar was on duty in the ER at the time, and observing her seizures, immediately said "no way" was it psychosomatic (brave man) and sent her back to the neurology hospital. An EEG was immediately fitted and lo and behold, traditional epileptic brain activity was observed, so her original medications were resumed.

At the followup out-patient appointment, the professor wisely brought an assistant, which was just as well because I felt like punching the daylights out of him. Of course there was no apology which could imply liability. We should have sued for malpractice, but I couldn't put my wife through any more, beside which her memory had been so severely affected she wouldn't be able to testify.

Despite the seizures returning to pre 'treatment' levels, it took another 12 month to recover from those horrible withdrawal symptoms.

We were chatting with a paramedic one day and related the above story. He said, "You were XY'd were you?", using the professor's initials. "You were not the only one".

The Swing Back

In 1993, the renowned Australian Dr Beatrice Faust, BA, MA, PhD, LLC, AO, published her book "Benzo Junkie", an incredibly well researched book (with no less than 45 pages of Notes, Glossary and Indices). With her reputation as author, women's rights activist, president of the Victorian Abortion Law Repeal Association, co-founder of the Women's Electoral Lobby and co-founder of the Victorian Union of Civil Liberties, the medical establishment took notice. So the devastating effects of withdrawal from drugs of addictive medications, especially the commonly prescribed benzodiazapines ('Mother's little helper'), were finally acknowledged by mainstream medicine.

Postscript

In the early 2000's with a better professor of neurology, much better computerized monitoring equipment with 10 times the sensitivity of that used in 1991, now not only confirmed the epilepsy diagnosis, but identified at least 2 loci where seizure activity originated in the brain. So with 2 different types of epilepsy, it is no wonder that all the neurologists all those years ago were confused by conflicting symptoms. It also ruled out surgery as an option. Further a PET scan of the brain, clearly shows the area of the original injury, almost 2cm in diameter, where there is decreased blood flow, 40 years after the event.

Further knowledge of the side effects of some common anti-epileptic medications has also come to light. High doses of carbamazepine (Tegretol) can have toxic effects, especially affecting vision. Sodium Valproate (Epilim) can affect bone marrow function leading to anemia and it is also an appetite stimulant and  contributes heavily toward obesity. Further, Sodium Valproate and to a lesser degree, primidone (Mysoline), have been found to be associated with birth defects and so are not recommended during pregnancy.

Conclusion

'Mental Health' conditions are often complex multi-faceted. There can be inherited aspects, learned/acquired during childhood, acquired (mental and physical) in adulthood, physiological conditions and pharmacological effects.

If you are in treatment or about to embark on this process:-
  • Most importantly, get an advocate to support you through it all.
  • Research, research, research!
    • Research your symptoms and try and get a handle on the medical terminology used.
    • Research available doctors and therapists. The best ones put their CVs on-line. Ask for referrals from other patients or a medical/nursing friend. Look for someone that will take a wider holistic view. Narrow field specialists will only see conditions that they specialize in. Be ready to ask for a second (or third) opinion.
    • Research suggested medications, especially side effects.
    • Research rehabilitation options.
  • Question everything, openly.
  • Be ready for a long haul. There will be a lot of little steps, sometimes you will wonder why/how some small thing can help the outcome.
  • Find and build a support network.
  • Be kind to yourself. Celebrate the little steps of progress.

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who else is writing during May, Mental Health Month.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

What is an Alcoholic?

This was the question my six year-old grandson asked his Nana on a visit after Christmas. We have a wonderful relationship with our grandchildren, having spent a couple of days a week caring for them in their first few years when their mum went back to work. It is such a delight when he climbs up on his Nana's knee for a cuddle and confidential conversation ("Now promise you won't tell Mum or Dad").

But this surprising question came out of the blue. We still don't know where he heard the word 'alcoholic', perhaps from someone at school. It seems the previous Christmas party triggered his thinking. He proceeded:-

"Now you only drink coffee, don't you Nana?
Uncle 'X' drank too much at Christmas and he got a bit 'funny'!
But auntie 'Y' only drank one glass of white wine!"

OMG, "Out of the mouths of babes". Such observation and memory.

PTSD and the Alcohol Crutch

In studying family history, one eventually may come across some sad situations. The two cases I will relate were war veterans, one from each of WWI and WWII. Great Uncle B had one leg blown off in the last days of WWI. I have vague memories of him in the early 50's, hobbling round on a crutch with one trouser leg pinned up. Even 30 years after the event, he was a TPI pensioner and turned to alcohol to cope with the constant pain, loneliness and ostracism of society.

The second case was a WWII soldier serving in the equatorial tropics of New Guinea. He succumbed to a lot of the prevalent diseases, dysentery, dengue fever and a couple of bouts of malaria. After the war, he was in and out of hospital and a PTSD mess, his 1st wife then left him. With recovery, his old charming self returned being an apparent 'social' drinker. I won't go into long family history, but just say that "The sins of the father will be visited on his children to the 3rd and 4th generation" (Ex.20:5, Num.14:18, Deu.5:9).

The Dry Drunk

My final case relates to a family member that married (3rd time) a charming artistic type, a proclaimed recovered alcoholic. But it wasn't long before his true colours came through. He is what is sometimes called a "dry drunk". Despite having stopped drinking, many of the personality traits associated with an alcoholic were still there. Charming to outsiders, but mean, suspicious and controlling toward his wife, full of grand ideas, then blames others for his failures ("Look what you made me do!").

Addictive Personality

Whilst not about alcoholism, I want to wrap up with an unusual medical consultation. Lady Thomas suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome. On consulting with a neurologist about this condition, the doctor suggested a medication, but first asked if she was a gambler! "What's that got to do with this?" we asked.  He explained that this particular medication can aggravate the addictive tendency of people with a genetic disposition. Whilst we can't say that people are born alcoholics or gamblers, we can definitely be born with a genetic predisposition toward any sort of addictive behaviour - its all about the role of dopamine, the neurotransmitter chemical involved in pleasure reward.
F4Thought

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Welcome

As I have summarized in my Profile, with age and fading libido after prostate cancer radiotherapy, my previous/other BLOG, 'The Cunning Linctus' didn't really fit the future directions of my blogging. The Linctus was primarily a sex blog, chronicling my adventures in the transactional sex world with Ladies Of Pleasure.

I need a forum where I can discuss broader issues, though there will still be some sex positive writings. I will still write occasionally in The Linctus on special events, or erotic fiction when the inspiration strikes.

And so has been born, 'Argentum Vulpes" ('Silver Fox' in Latin), celebrating Fine Wine, Fine Food, Beautiful Women and Intelligent Conversation.