Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Quick Personal Update on My Eczema and that Brain Project

So I had been unwisely picking at the scabs over the last week in order to "try and get medication to reach the infected areas." My doctor had asked me to please stop, and to use moisturizers to allow the creams to reach the infected areas through thicker but intact skin. That is where I am now with my treatment.

The one useful (I hope) tip I'd like to share is to apply the medication first before applying the moisturizers. Previous doctors (I see a different one each time at the National Skin Center ... that's the reality I have to live with for large-scale medical support implementations) had told me I could do either, without telling me how to deal with it. All my prior attempts to apply moisturizers before medication resulted in gooey, gunky disasters where I had no clue if I applied the correct dosage of medication, and in the right affected areas. That is because the greasy layers the moisturizers leave behind do not seem to go away within the 1-2 hours that I was told I could wait before the benefits of using the moisturizers with my medication goes away. Reversing the sequence (and again, I was told they ought to be done within 1-2 hours) helped a lot because I knew the medication was applied to the appropriate areas reasonably accurately, and that the medication would remain there while I applied the moisturizer which had no dosage requirements.

The other quick update was on my previous entry "Interesting Stuff on the Human Brain." I had in fact created a small interactive "game" which demonstrated Eagleman's experiment. The effects appeared to be more subtle than I had expected - I could clearly perceive the 50-70ms delay I introduced into the flash response to a key stroke, even as I slowly introduced incremental delays. And I experienced the causality violation (when the delay was dropped) as something like perceiving the flash response around when my finger was halfway to hitting the key that generates the response. This causality violation effect disappeared for me the moment it was detected as in the brain did not continue to experience the violation with subsequent flash responses with 0 delay. Right now, there's no good/convenient way for me to release that "game" I had written for you guys to try out. "Exit Games" does provide a free service for hosting free online games, so I might give that a try. For now, the best I can do is to package this as a standalone game that can be run on any browser from one's local hard drive assuming you install a Unity 3d plugin available from http://unity3d.com/webplayer. I won't do that just yet, as I have no place to publicly host the binaries, and I'd like to play around with some more elements of the experiments to convince myself that my perceived causality violations were not due to some other effects that precluded brain delay processing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Interesting Stuff on the Human Brain

This is a very interesting video on how the Brain perceives time. I like it very much. I had thought about these questions on-and-off for quite a while now, and from the perspective of a Computer Scientist working with supercomputers (where timing and causality between computation units are important.)

It is known that the brain organizes how we perceive reality under very heavy constraints, and have to constantly adapt. I have had to deal with my own (anecdotally observed) brain's problems: I'm almost certainly dyslexic, and probably getting worse; I very probably have ADD (in that I tend to focus on tasks in bursts when I do, especially complex ones); I may have some OCD tendencies; and for many years now I've been living with significant "visual snow" (you can google this term.) Optometrists tell me my eyes appear functionally fine, but my brain seems to constantly generate light "snow" or "stars" in my visual field. It is not certain if this is the result of the misfiring of a second layer of the neural structures past the photo receptors of the eye, or something my brain had started interpreting as "real" since I started "seeing" them.



Anyway, this video had inspired me to go recreate the timing perception experiment that David Eagleman had described in the video, where an introduced delay in a visual stimuli is suddenly removed to create a temporary mental perception of causality violation. It should be fun if this works, and I'll see if I can put up a webapp here later so people can play with it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Severe Recurring Eczema: Six Steps Forward, Five Steps Back

I thought I'd share a personal physical problem I've been fighting over the past 2 months or so, which had compounded my stress and possibly depression problems. In a twist, this physical skin problem may also be part of a feedback loop where it is fed by the same stress-related issues I suffer. Skin eczema appears to be a fairly common problem here in Singapore, I've already encountered two friends who have shared their experiences with me - the first took 3 years or so to fully recover, and the second 6 months. When it began in earnest for me, it was an unknown and terrifying thing with scabs that would constantly water, and would not heal. I compounded the problem badly by attempting to self-medicate, peeling off scabs myself and treating the wounds by cleaning with alcohol swabs, and applying off-the-shelf antiseptic cream. Even with professional medical help now, it keeps recurring (albeit less intense each time.) My advice to any readers who might be going through something similar for the first time is to seek medical help, and to expect a recurrence problem in the form of a very frustrating and emotionally draining 6 steps forward, 5 steps back dance with the disease. My failure to expect such a thing hit me hard, the first time around.

It all started with a couple of flea bites on each side of my feet when I made my move out of Texas, and into Singapore. I had rescued a couple of stray cats (all with happy outcomes) when I was back at Oregon. Unfortunately,  when the cats were gone the fleas had only myself as their source of food. It also turned out I was very very allergic to cat flea bites. In any event, despite my best efforts (it is a long complicated story) the fleas followed me all the way to Texas and landed a 2-bite "farewell" gift as I packed to return to Singapore.

Right foot after oral antibiotics.
Things seemed fine at first (outside of the intense reactions my body had to flea bites) on my arrival back in Singapore, but soon both wounds slowly started developing scabby skin areas that occasionally watered, but wouldn't heal. During this time, I didn't think too much about it and kept my usual routine of wearing socks and sneakers. Months later, the left wound appeared to start healing very grudgingly and for whatever reasons, I thought I could accelerate the process by treating the right foot myself (see first paragraph.) It had the reverse effect, and soon even my left foot's wound got much much worse. That was when I sought professional medical help. Now scientifically, there isn't a whole lot of agreement on the causes for severe eczema of all forms but I was told severe stress and a childhood asthma could have contributed along with the bites. My messing around with it very probably did bad things to it, but the doctors said nothing on that. I was given a steroid skin cream, and a course of antibiotics over 7 days. It appeared to work wonders, and the wounds started to dry up quickly, with the scabs peeling away naturally with healthy skin underneath. The picture shows what it looked like after the antibiotics took effect. All the discolored regions used to be thick scabs which watered, and refused to heal.

Round #2 - Just prior to the problem becoming worse.
Round #2. The heels of the feet affected.
Round #2. Fingers at their worst.
Needless to say, I was overjoyed and looked forward to a full recovery. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Soon after the antibiotics was done, I started getting tiny and very itchy bumps on the skin at my finger joints on both hands. These quickly spread to all nine major joints on each hand, along with the palms. Simultaneously, the heels of my feet which were previously spared the sores started getting itchy bumps as well. This turned out to be round 2 of my fight with this problem. I had not expected it, but the literature did say these things tend to recur. It devastated me, but I managed to get my next appointment with the doctors which was in three months changed to an asap visit. Another 7-day course of antibiotics, a permanganate wash, and more steroid cream helped to keep this round under some control, though not as dramatically as in the first round. The swellings subsided, but healing has been relatively slow. As expected, after the course of antibiotics was completed, the disease started to creep back - thankfully, not as rapidly, and not as intensely.

So this puts me on round #3. The pictures will show what looks to be worse than round #2, but the discolored regions are just areas from round #2 that had been stained by the potassium permanganate solution treatment and look to be on the mend. Meanwhile, new sores continue to pop up in various places, some new but mostly old. They appear less extensive than round #2, but are crazy itchy. The remaining steroid cream I got since my last visit appears to help somewhat in pushing the new instances of the disease back, but temporarily. I'll be seeing the doctors again some time next week.

Anyway, things probably won't be over for me for a few months yet. I hope this will not last years. They do not look like they cover my entire hands and feet, but they are pretty widespread and they are quite debilitating. I've not made as much progress on my personal software coding and development projects as I'd have liked. And these will put me off a serious job hunt for a while. So yeah ... things have been pretty stressful for me lately. At least now I know what to expect over the next few months ... and knowing what to expect does help me cope better.

So let us hope this does not happen to any of you reading this post, but if it does ... let us hope your knowing what to expect would help to mitigate some of the stress and despair that ran through my mind as my hopes for a quick recovery were brutally crushed.