Bye, 2016

Welcome back

Well it certainly has been a long time, hasn’t it. My last post was over two years ago, and as you can imagine, a lot has happened since then. Let’s make a small list, in no particular order:

  • Dog (yay!)
  • Motorcycle (huh?)
  • Various and sundry mechanical keyboards (also huh?)
  • House! … rental (oh…)
  • Started learning Irish (you what?)
  • Cured of Diabetes (just kidding)

A few weeks ago, I realized that I missed blogging. It’s not that all that many people read my blog, but I enjoy it. Having a place to show off my various personal projects encourages me to do more of them, and writing about my thoughts encourages me to think more deeply. In short, I’ve decided that blogging is good for me.

They say that it takes an average of six attempts to form a new habit (source: a class that I sat in on in college; totally reliable). And I think this is probably attempt number two, in recent memory. So who knows which side of the bell curve this latest blogging revival is on. But we’re going to give it a go.

The Year in Review

Let’s be real for a second: lots of things about 2016 shat. Yes, the latest trend on Facebook right now is to say, “I’m sick of everyone complaining about 2016. Therefore I refuse to do it, because everyone else is doing it. Harumph!” And, honestly, 2016 wasn’t all that bad. But parts of 2016 were an absolute shit-storm, and I think it’s ok to say it out loud: 2016, we’re disappointed in you. 2017, DO BETTER.

But since this is my blog, and since I call the shots here, let’s have a look at my 2016.

2016 started out with a new place to live. I rented a house for the first time, which, because of the absurdities of the Seattle housing market, ended up being cheaper than the apartment I was previously renting, and comes with more amenities… go figure. Plus, I now have a front lawn and a carport. Sweet.

Oh yeah, it snowed here in 2016 also... what? It doesn't snow in Seattle.

It also snowed here in 2016… what? It doesn’t snow in Seattle.

2016 also ushered in the age of the motorcycle for me. I bought a used, 1978 Yamaha XS650 in late 2015, got my license, and then started to ride early on in the new year. Because Seattle is wonderfully temperate, riding year-round is a possibility, and my first few months of riding occurred during the winter. This made summer riding an absolute treat.

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

Since the bike is 38 years old, it needs a lot of love, but the engine runs great. Most of the work it needs is cosmetic, and I’m having a new seat made for it now. Other things it needs are a new tank and side-covers (or to have them repainted), new rims (I’m thinking mags), and to have the entire engine gunked and cleaned off.

In January, 2016, I also fulfilled my lifelong dream of getting an amateur radio license. For those who don’t know, amateur radio is a hobby that dates back to the early days of radio. Certain radio frequencies are reserved for people with a special civilian license, which allows them to transmit radio signals (most people are only allowed to use walkie-talkies on something called the Family Radio Service band). Radio Amateurs (sometimes called Hams) generally use their radios for hobby purposes like trying for the furthest radio contact they can make, building new radio equipment, or chatting with people all over the world. But they also volunteer as emergency and event coordinators, relaying information to make things run more smoothly.

I haven’t done much with my license yet, but I’m planning to get a nice base-station radio and start messing around with it more at some point this year. If there are any hams reading, my call-sign is KG8QEM.

This year I also delved into the world of mechanical keyboards. Yes, I’m one of those guys who make all manner of annoying clattering noise when I type. Trust me: it’s better. Honestly, I don’t really notice that much of a difference in terms of typing speed or comfort while typing, I just like the way it sounds. There’s something satisfying about the clunk of the keys as you hammer out an e-mail or a line of code. It’s nice. And everyone around me has to deal with it. (Actually, plenty of other people at work had mechanical keyboards before me, so it’s fine.)

Another life-long dream that I’ve fulfilled this year is starting to learn Irish. For those of you who are saying, “You mean English?” or “But, don’t they speak English in Ireland?”, let’s take a moment to talk about Ireland. Ireland has its own language called “Irish Gaelic” or, simply, “Irish”. It’s related to Scottish Gaelic and Breton (spoken by some people in northern France), but it is far different from English. Irish is the official language of Ireland, although most Irish people do speak English primarily. Presumably this has something to do with the fact that the British Empire ruled over Ireland for a long time, just like it did the United States, India, Canada, and a variety of other countries. Like most of those countries, Ireland broke off from the British Empire and formed its own Republic, which happened in 1949.

That’s you Irish history lesson for the day. Irish sounds really cool, and for whatever reason, I’ve wanted to learn it for a long time. So I’m doing that now.

Finally, there’s the Diabetes thing. No, I haven’t been cured. Neither, for that matter, has everyone else. My feelings about diabetes have developed a lot in the past year though, and I’m going to save that discussion or discussions for other blog posts. However, I did ride in the annual Tour de Cure for the second time this year, and I plan to ride again in 2017.

With alien-head deely-boppers... because fundraising.

With alien-head deely-boppers… because fundraising.

That’s it, my 2016 year in review. All said and done, 2016 was a good year for me personally, even though the world as a whole lost a lot. I hope 2017 is better for everyone.

Oh yeah, I also got a fish in 2016. His name is Norbert.

Oh yeah, I also got a fish in 2016. His name is Norbert.

PumpDownload: The Return

Several years ago, I started working on a program that I called “PumpDownload.” I was frustrated that most diabetes record software was horrible and that none of it worked on Mac or Linux. Being young and foolish, I decided I would write my own. How hard could it be, right? It turns out that it was a LOT more work than I thought it would be, and along the way I had to teach myself Java GUI programming, how to create data structures, and how to communicate with serial devices. It was a lot of work, but somehow, through hours and hours of work, I pulled it off. The “end” result was a somewhat glitchy, but fairly robust piece of software that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is capable of downloading blood glucose readings from both Freestyle and OneTouch meters (I haven’t tried the new OneTouch meters, but I know the new Freestyle meters work.)  In fact, whenever I need to bring blood glucose readings to my endocrinologist I dig out my old backup of PumpDownload, figure out how I started it up the last time, download my readings, and print out the beautiful, clear, easy to read reports that it creates. Every time I do that, I think about how I should really start working on it again, but I usually get too busy with school, or waste too much time doing something else. But not this time.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve brushed the dust off PumpDownload, and I’m working on what I hope will become a new release! Over the past few years I’ve learned a lot about software development, programming practices, and data structures, and I’m using what I’ve learned to help me write a more robust, easier to use version of PumpDownload, which I hope to release some time this summer. I probably won’t be adding many new features, but I’ll be streamlining the work flow for using the program and making the code more robust. Before I stopped working on PumpDownload, I added some new features that didn’t make it to my last official release, so those will be about as new as it gets, but what I’m doing now will lay the groundwork for features to come.

When I first started writing PumpDownload, I didn’t have much knowledge of good programming practices, or how to use and write data structures, but what I lacked most of all was experience. There are certain aspects of programming that I simply didn’t know or think about, which made writing PumpDownload fairly difficult at first. I had to kluge a lot of things together, which means that I’ve had to go back and rewrite major portions of the code more than once – just today I overhauled the entire portion of the program that deals with settings (it’s a relatively small component, but it has its tendrils everywhere,) which took me probably one to two hours of code, compile, fix, repeat until I managed to repair code that I thought was fine the first time around.

While my dreams for the program have changed slightly, I’ve realized recently that I really do want to get the program out there. The strength of PumpDownload isn’t that it’s coded well, or that it’s faster than other programs, or even that it produces fancy reports. On the contrary, PumpDownload’s strength is that it produces useful reports; reports that you can look at for a few seconds and see exactly where you need to make changes to your basal rates or insulin to carb ratios. That and the fact that it will run equally well on Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. It’s simple without making the user feel stupid, and it doesn’t give irrelevant information.

It will probably be a while before I post anything about this project again, but at some point I will try to update the PumpDownload Project Page on SourceForge (I may also upload my code to CVS, for those who are interested.) Stay tuned!

Note: If you are a diabetic, you can help me (at some point) by testing PumpDownload and telling me what you think of it – what you like, what works, what doesn’t, what you’d like to see in the program or the reports it generates. Please contact me if you’d like to try it.