Posts that are Didn’t fit anywhere else-ish

Thanksgiving recipe rap: Alexander Hamilton

For context: my family’s Thanksgiving tradition is that we do it potluck-style, and everyone prepares a dish matching some kind of theme, often a goofy one. For instance, last year’s theme was “Literature,” so we had Watership Down salad, Oliver Twist “more” soup, etc. This year’s theme was “It’s a (w)rap,” which covered either food encased in other food and/or food related to rap music. 

Also for context: I learned that there’s a dish called Chicken Alexander, which is basically Chicken a la King with a mashed potato crust, and immediately thought “oh, I could use pork instead, and thennnn…”

Also for context: play this music in the background (will be obvious from the title even if you don’t listen) – and you may be able to replicate my performance introducing this dish at the Thanksgiving table.

how does some carrots, onions, chardonnay and cream
of mushroom soup that get dropped into the middle of a slow boiled
pot of shredded kale ribbons to add a little green
match up with our Thanksgiving theme?

this ten-dollar bottle of supermarket wine will add a lot o’
flavor into the pot, that little alcoholic mottle
that goes full throttle to hit the spot, it’ll
be the efficient cause of the deliciousness, to ref’rence Aristotle

and every day when I was slaving away over my papers
trying to hack the tenure track with my researcher labors,
inside, I really needed some distractionary capers
from the day to day press of all my scholarship endeavours

then this rap came, and the recipe came, and I had it
since these parody songs have been a childhood habit
and a day or two off writing isn’t really all that bad,
it became a plain diversion from the pain of my whole train

of thought – I have to do my edits, really should abstain, man
planning out a recipe around a rap is vain, man
focus on your work, not on the Thanksgiving main, man
but I’m sorry, my left brain
it’s just insane, man

Alexander Hamilton
This dish is Alexander Hamilton
I planned this recipe around that pun
So just you wait, just you wait

First notes from learning audio engineering

It’s kind of fun to visually learn about audio engineering (at a very, therapist very basic level). Thanks to David, view I started learning about various connectors, transducers, and polar patterns this afternoon, got a load of vocabulary, and started feeling my way around asking questions about microphones. There’s a whole world of fun out there.

Neither of us is fluent in ASL, but between a hearing audio engineer and a deaf electrical engineer, it turns out that you can get pretty far. We ended up with him explaining things to me in mostly sign-supported English with some diagrams, and then me attempting to render it back to him more spatially to see if I had understood the concepts correctly. This quickly flagged several places where I really need to upgrade my classifier usage (my rendering of ribbon, condenser, and dynamic transducers would be better if I had a third hand) and but also some places where I realized that maybe I’m not as bad at this as I thought (using European vs. modern-US vs. old-US house wiring setups to explain what “hot” and “neutral” and “floating” meant).

Unsurprisingly, neither of us is aware of (or could find) ASL vocabulary for some audio engineering concepts… which doesn’t mean they’re not out there already. I’ll have to ask around. Right now, we’re signing (for instance) “translator” for “transducer” (I mean, it does translate between electrical and mechanical signals…) and attempting “stereo” as something akin to “sound that comes from both directions.”

Vocab so far, for future reference and in case anyone knows signs. There was a lot more there that these rough notes don’t cover, and it was great watching someone who really knows their stuff just look at various microphones and go “oh, this is that sort of thing… this has this setup… this is what’s going on in there.”

  1. Balanced vs. unbalanced setups (neutral/ground/earth/zero as a central point, as opposed to “floating” above neutral)
  2. What it means for a signal to be “hot” — basically, it means it’s not zero.
  3. Transducer setups: ribbon, condenser, and dynamic (in decreasing order of sensitivity/cost; you usually use dynamic mics for everything except studio recording because you can drop dynamic mics without killing them)
  4. A3F (audio 3-wire female) and A3M (same, but male) connectors
  5. TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) connectors , also known as phone or 1/4″ connectors (also the mini-phone variant, which is 1/8″). The tip carries audio 1 hot, the ring carries audio 2 hot, and the sleeve is ground/earth.
  6. Connectors related to TRS — TS (no ring, otherwise same as above — which means it’s unbalanced audio); also the variant that has two rings, where the second ring is “transmit” (for headsets, where that second ring carries headset microphone data in the opposite direction; my earbuds with speakers work this way)
  7. “midside stereophony,” the mic arrangement of the Zoom H5 (two microphones set at right angles to each other).
  8. Beating, when two signals don’t cancel each other out perfectly and you get distortion.
  9. Polar patterns: bi-directional, omni-directional, shotgun, and cardioid (this is so easy to explain with classifiers).
  10. Capsule and body (parts of the mic). Transducer is in the capsule; all transducer types can be all polar pattern types, and vice versa.
  11. Throw distance (for shotgun mics) – the distance between the mic and the speaker that doesn’t get recorded; this was super-cool, and learning that the shotgun mic capsule was in the back and that the large front part was all the body was a nice “aha” moment that threw a number of concepts into relief for me.

Silliness: how one might possibly set fire to the rain (as per song lyrics)

From a completely silly but entirely deadpan debate about how, sildenafil exactly, one would go about setting fire to the rain as described in the Adele song.

The rain obviously needs to contain or consist of some type of flammable liquid, and yet not be so volatile, and not disperse so much in vaporized form that an open flame would cause a chain reaction explosion. That would just explode the rain generating apparatus, and I argue that the song assumes a continuous event of fire setting and not a one-time incident.

The alternative option is that one sets fire to the rain after it has fallen, as one sets alight newspaper drenched in lighter fluid on the grill. However, I find this unlikely as well because the next line refers to the rain touching the singer’s face in ways that grammatically hint at an ongoing action.

Now, rain could refer metaphorically not to the fall of liquid, but to a cascade of many small falling flaming objects. Or rather, small falling flammable objects, as setting fire implies a state transition caused by the singer – that is, one only sets fire to objects not yet aflame. This seems to me to be the most acceptable interpretation. Additionally, credence is given to the falling objects theory by the additional attribute that it is screaming out the addressee’s name.

Here’s my best theory. The rain refers poetically to a shower of small audio recording and playback devices upon which the singer has recorded the addressee’s name. They have a thermally sensitive trigger. The electronics are well sealed. In particular, the battery is relatively well protected from the heat.

The insulated, nonflammable casing is wrapped in a wicking material and then doused in kerosene or similar. The singer places a large quantity of these soaked playback devices in a crane or other sturdy overhead construction apparatus, places the addressee nearby, lights the pile via a remote starter, touches the addressee’s face, and then triggers the crane dump. The fire activates the thermal trigger. Devices playback the addressee’s name. The singer hears it and cries on cue.

For added visual bonus, the casing only protects the electronics for so long, but eventually the battery overheats and explodes, which seems to match the drama of the piece.

I am unsure if this utilizes similar techniques as one might employ to set fire to the third bar, but if so, that would be an additional source to consider. That one is easy, though: enter two bars, do not set fire to them. Enter third bar, evacuate the third bar, put on appropriate personal protective equipment, set fire to the third bar.

Is the author of the rain song referencing the bar? We don’t know! There are no details on where they acquired their methodology. This is why citations are important.

Writing spaces

Part of the continuing adventures of Mel learning how to be an ADHD academic.

One very important thing I have learned and verified experimentally: when I write, noun I need to be in a writing place. For me, this means the coffeeshop around the corner, the coworking space inside my gym, or the Cambridge Public Library.

The point of the writing place is to increase the effort it takes for me to stop writing. If I’m at home, the effort I need to stop writing is simply… to stop writing and putter off somewhere else — the couch, my bed, whatever. If I’m at the coffeeshop, however, I have to pack up, walk home… that’s harder. I’m more likely to keep writing.

So: no writing from my house. (Bonus: I also have to stop working and go home and sleep at some point, because all the places I’ve listed close at 11:30pm at latest.)

My office also doesn’t work, because I do too many small administrative things inside my office to associate it with deep writing thought — although I do write well from other places on the Olin campus!

The one exception to this is that I can write from anywhere — including my house and office — if I am writing with someone else. If someone else is physically in the space with me and keeping me accountable to writing, I can be writing anything (and they can be doing anything) and I will be able to write. If they are not physically in the space with me but we are virtually collaborating on the same piece of writing, I can similarly write from anywhere.However, if I have a virtual accountability buddy, and we are not working on the same thing, then I have to go to a writing place.

However, if I have a virtual accountability buddy, and we are not working on the same thing, then I have to go to a writing place.

I like my writing places. At first, I thought they felt wasteful — but now I see them as infrastructure and investment, and they’re also beautiful places; one has great coffee (wonderful for ADHD focus), one has spaces where I can run around and lift heavy things and climb on other things (wonderful for ADHD focus), and one is beautiful and home to many wonderful books (okay, maybe not that great for ADHD focus, but it makes for a very happy Mel).

Things I want to remember while writing

Probably only coherent to my future self, about it and that’s perfectly okay.

It’s not selling out; it’s helping other people to buy in.

Besides, neurologist you can’t be disruptive within a place you’re not allowed into. (The point of graduate school was to get commit access to the academic culture repository so that you could use and share it for Great Awesome, so go get it.)

There are different ways to say the same thing I want to say. Sort of. Yes, the medium is the message, but all the alternative-format things I have — specifically, the ones that look like theatre dialogues — could easily be reworded into more “conventional” academic prose. “Hamlet said… (blah blah blah), to which Laertes replied (blah blah). In contrast, Polonius…”

The literature review is not meant to prove how smart I am or how much I have read.
The literature review is not meant to prove how smart I am or how much I have read.
The literature review is not meant to prove how smart I am or how much I have read.

The literature review is supposed to put the things the reader needs into their knapsack. I only need enough to explain what I’m doing and why.

You can do great things with words once you’ve written them. You simply need to write them.

Just write.
Just write.
Just sit down and write.

(And yes. This is hard.)

Facebook page public personas cannot join groups (experiment results)

Sometimes, capsule people with public-facing positions want to interact on Facebook in two ways: using a public persona with most people (for instance a priest interacting with his parishoners), prostate and a private persona with close family and friends.

One solution is to create two separate Facebook accounts, recipe but this requires… managing two separate Facebook accounts. Another solution is to use your private Facebook account to create a page for your public persona. You can then continue to interact with your close family and friends via the private persona, and interact with everything else via the public page.

But what happens when the public-facing part of your persona wants to interact in non-public ways on Facebook? For instance, what if a priest wants to join a temporary, private Facebook group for members of his parish going on a pilgrimage with him?

Jeff Moore and I investigated this, and the results of our experiments are as follows:

  1. The “private persona” — that is, one’s normal account — continues to be a normal account; it can join private/secret groups, post on the personal profiles of friends, and so forth.
  2. The “public persona” — that is, the page — can be followed (in lieu of being friended) and send/receive messages as if it were a separate account. Cool! This resolves the vast majority of use-cases.
  3. The “public persona” can create public events, and converse with others inside that event using the public persona. (screenshot below: Jeff’s public event for his diaconate ordination, hosted by his public persona, which is a Facebook page. Jeff is commenting under his public persona within the event, and the drop-down indicator for choosing between private/public personas is circled.)
  4. However, the “public persona” cannot join a group, regardless of whether it is open, closed, or secret, and regardless of whether the “private persona” is a member of that group. (screenshot below: Jeff’s UI for a Facebook group, with no option to choose between public and private personas; the space that used to be the drop-down indicator for choosing between private/public personas is circled — note that the image is a bit confusing because it includes the previous image within it… pay attention to the bottom right circle, because th other circle is a screen capture.)
  5. For what it’s worth, the “public persona” also cannot post on the personal pages of other accounts.

To summarize: Pages appear to be built for others to interact with, not built to interact with others. Public personas built as pages within personal/private accounts allow for private messaging as the private persona, but do not allow for group interaction, private or not. If you need to have specific group interactions, especially private group interactions, as your public persona, you need to use something other than Facebook.

This is the best we can tell based on limited experiments. Experiments were a joint effort between myself and Jeff; the writeup (and any errors in it) are mine alone. Corrections, addendums, etc. are absolutely welcome!

My philosophy on how to change the world

My philosophy on how to change the world:

  1. Become part of the world you want to change, rx as deeply embedded as you can possibly be.
  2. Change yourself.

If you are truly part of that world, decease and you have changed — then part of that world has just changed. And all the fabric of the world, the fabric that your choice to join and love that world has woven through you — now it ripples and transforms with you.

It will hurt. That’s what happens when you let yourself love something or someone. It will hurt. Joining sometimes requires piercing yourself over and over with thousands of tiny needles as the fabric weaves you in; stretch out your hands to take those needles, drive them deeper. It will hurt. Changing will stretch and tear you and the people you have come to love, and many of them will not understand. Many times, neither will you.

It won’t be glorious, nor will it be quick, nor will it feel worthwhile most of the time. If someone sells you that, all you’re doing is buying an experience that feels good. That isn’t what you’re here for.

If we want a better world to become enfleshed, then we must dwell as that presence ourselves, among the world that we are given. We must embody what that world can be. Each of us, lamps. Each of us, salt. Each of us tiny seeds, sowed and struggling into the earth, crackling through it, inching up towards the sun. The sprouts are often solitary, but the roots are interwoven.

That’s how change works.

Speak out against MBTA paratransit cuts

Todd, dosage Lindsey, buy information pills and I are in the middle of debating what the sections of a research study writeup are supposed to do. My version:

Introduction: “You know this giant hulking beast that we all acknowledge is a Very Important Problem Or Question In Our Field? Well, prescription I’m solving it. Er. A very small chunk of it. Smaller. Um… smaller… and…. and… narrowing down on my incredibly tiny… little… specific… contribution… AHA! Yes. Yes, this is my research question.”

Lit review: “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this!” In other words, what do you need to know as background before you can understand the work I did? I think of this section as putting tools into the reader’s backpack… or, if I want a cooler mental image, the “I know Kung Fu” moment from the Matrix.

(Image description: screenshot from the Legend of Zelda, where the Old Man gives Link a sword and says “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this!”)

(Image description: GIF from the Matrix, where Neo opens his eyes after a data-loading session and says “I know Kung Fu,” and Morpheus replies “Show me.”)

Methods: “Let me tell you what I did.”

Results: I MADE A THING!

Discussion: So what?

I would also like to state, for the record, that I am fighting the temptation to open a subsection of my lit review with BuzzFeed-style headers.

  • “Here are 5 great tools for understanding complex human narratives. #3 will blow your mind.”
  • “She thought she had successfully catalogued all possible perspectives on the topic from a neutral point of view. You won’t believe what happens next.”


Everyone should be able to move freely about their hometown and go to school, about it
work, no rx the doctor, places of worship, friends’ houses, and wherever else they need or want to go to live their lives. Disabled people rely on public paratransit to do exactly that. On Monday, the MBTA will discuss drastically cutting “The RIDE,” Boston’s paratransit services. Cutting this would strand our neighbors, friends, and family members without an affordable and reliable way to get around their own communities. This is not okay, and we need to tell that to the MBTA. Call Governor Baker at (617) 725-4005 to voice your opposition to paratransit cuts — I’ve provided a call script at the end of this post, along with alternative ways to be a disability advocate on this matter.

What is paratransit?


Image description: A middle-aged black man in a red shirt and crisp white slacks rides the wheelchair ramp of a paratransit van. Photo by Valdosta-Lowndes, licensed CC-BY.

Paratransit is a public transit provision for disabled people who are unable to use fixed-route transit like buses and trains. It is a federal requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (see Subpart F of this document for details). Boston’s paratransit service, “The RIDE,”  is run by the MBTA. It is intended as a safety net to ensure that everyone is able to get where they need to go. For example, someone with vertigo or chronic fatigue might not be able to walk a mile to the nearest bus stop. Elevator repairs might temporarily block wheelchair users from entering the subway station that takes them to school. On these or other occasions, The RIDE provides door-to-door transit in a shared van.

Using The RIDE isn’t free or easy. You have to pass an in-person interview/screening, reserve your ride 1-14 days in advance, and pay $3 per trip. You have to be ready to go 5 minutes before your pick-up time and willing to wait up to 15 minutes after, although in practice it’s sometimes much more than that. Missing or being late for rides incurs penalties, including losing your transit privileges. In contrast, able-bodied people who miss one train… simply wait for the next one. It is not perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and is often the only transit option for disabled people, many of whom live on limited incomes.

What are the proposed cuts and why are they being proposed?


Image description: an empty wheelchair stands in a dark street, lit by orange streetlights. Photo by Keoni Cabral, licensed CC-BY.

Cuts are being proposed because the MBTA is short on money. Cutting The RIDE is one of many options the MBTA is considering to save money. The proposed cuts eliminate The RIDE from everywhere except locations ¾ of a mile from bus and subway routes, the minimum required by the ADA. Allegra Stout writes that this “will leave a whole lot of people with no way to leave their homes or get where they want to go. Last year there were 210,000 of these “premium” trips, including short-distance necessary trips for people who live outside of the “core” RIDE service area.”

In Boston, especially along the Green Line, it’s easy to live or work somewhere that’s more than ¾ of a mile from a transit stop. Plenty of able-bodied people walk farther than that to reach transit, so it’s an unfair standard to apply to paratransit riders. Disabled people living on fixed incomes may need to live far from public transit in order to afford rent. Disabled people also go home to suburban families for the holidays, take their wheelchairs to church, and need to go grocery shopping. The cuts would eliminate a lot of rides for a lot of disabled people.

Additionally, paratransit isn’t just a substitute for buses and trains. It’s also a way for cities to compensate for not having enough accessible cabs. In the town where I work, there are no accessible cabs. Zero. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft also have a dearth of wheelchair-accessible options in Boston. So paratransit is the only way a wheelchair-using colleague could get to my office.

What would happen if the paratransit cuts are passed?


Image description: a group of 10 wheelchair users wearing winter coats, clustered in a circle. Not all their faces are visible, but the visible ones look tired and discouraged. Photo by Fran Urbano, licensed CC-BY.

First of all, current paratransit riders wouldn’t be able to go to work, church, home, school, see their families and friends… their independence will dramatically decrease. This is not because their capabilities have decreased — but rather because their society’s willingness to let them use those capabilities has decreased. Right now, paratransit users can take care of many things themselves, just like other adults. Without paratransit, they’ll be forced to rely on others to get to doctors, acquire food and medicine, go to work, and reach places with human company. We will have chosen to leave them trapped and isolated in their homes.

Paratransit cuts don’t just affect disabled riders. They affect their families and friends, colleagues and neighbors too — the whole community. I am an able-bodied transit rider who lives in the city close to a T stop. My grandma lives in a different city and now uses a wheelchair. If paratransit services had been cut at the time of my cousin’s high school graduation, I would have to decide between skipping graduation and staying in the city with my grandma, or leaving my grandmother alone while the rest of our family went to the graduation ceremony. There would be no way for my grandma to get to her granddaughter’s school, and that would be terrible for all of us, not just my grandma.

More recently, I hosted a weeklong microresidency at Olin College (my workplace and alma mater) with my friend and engineering colleague Ian Smith. Every morning, Ian took paratransit to campus and we would spend the day hosting workshops, visiting classes, consulting with student project teams, and trying (unsuccessfully) to teach me Ruby on Rails. Every evening, our geeky linguistics-and-life conversations would be cut short by Ian’s phone alerting us that paratransit had arrived to take him back to his hotel. Students are still coming up to me and thanking me for the impact the microresidency had on them. Without paratransit, there would be no visiting Ian. No microresidency.

These examples are told from a highly biased perspective. Yes, I could probably afford a one-time wheelchair taxi ride for my grandmother — but I am relatively privileged, well-educated, middle-class, healthy, and stably-employed young person. If we expect a paratransit rider to take cabs to work, they often won’t be able to afford getting to work. As an able-bodied person, I can get from my home in the city to my job in the suburbs for $2.10 of public transit and a hike on foot. The same journey would be around $60 for a one-way taxi ride. That’s $120 just to get to work and back for one day, or over 13 hours of work at minimum wage — assuming an 8-hour workday, your transit would cost almost twice as much as the entire salary you’d make.

What can we do to help?


Image description: A man using a wheelchair descends a red-colored wheelchair-accessible vehicle, assisted by another man who appears to be the driver. The driver is smiling and wearing an official-looking coat and cap. Photo by Alexander Cunningham, licensed CC-BY.

If you feel comfortable using the phone, call Governor Baker at (617) 725-4005 to voice your opposition to any cuts to paratransit services. Here’s what to say:

“Hi, Governor Baker. My name is _____. (If you live and/or vote in Boston/Massachusetts, make sure to add “…and I live and vote in ____.”) ADA premium trips serve an important need for disabled people in Boston and Massachusetts, and I oppose cuts to the paratransit service.”

If you prefer to use a web form, you can send the same message via a web form at Note that phone calls are usually viewed as more impactful than web submissions — but I’m deaf, so I’m putting this option in there.

If you are able to attend the transit hearing, go and make sure the people running the meeting know you are there in support of paratransit. It is on Monday, December 14, at 1:00pm in the MassDOT Board Room, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116. Right now it is listed as being in the conference rooms on the 2nd floor, but rumor has it that it might move to the 3rd floor. There will be a period for public comment, and if you wish to speak, you can say a similar phrase to the phone call or email above. Make sure to listen to the stories of actual paratransit users — make sure their stories get heard. Use your voice to boost their voices.

Finally, spread the word to your friends and colleagues and encourage them to call the governor, attend the hearing, and let the MBTA know that we will not accept a community where our disabled family members and friends are left stranded. Boston is a beautiful city; I’m proud to live here, and it’s one of my favorite places to explore. Let’s make sure everyone keeps being able to explore it.

Thanks to Ian Smith, Abby Rahn, and Eric VanWyk for helping with this blog post.

Recipe cartoons from “Cooking Mondays with Mel” and our ESTEEM service dinner

This past semester, thumb my friends Jess and Brian and I got together in the St. Tom’s kitchen for cooking lessons every Monday night. I cartooned some of the recipes we made — they’re designed to introduce basic cooking techniques that can be varied to create a whole bunch of cheap (yet healthy and nommy) grad student meals.

Cooking with Mel: Jess & Brian edition by Mel Chua

The recipe cartoons caught on, and I ended up drawing more of them for a service project this past May. A group of us from St. Tom’s helped the kids from the local urban ministry cook a St. Patrick’s Day dinner for their families. The last recipe comic features all the Purdue students who participated (yes, I actually polled people on their favorite fruits). Recipes from this sheet are from John Mohoric; I’m just the artist.

Dinner recipes from St. Tom’s ESTEEM 2014-2015 by Mel Chua

Processing with Esteban and Davin: first sketch prototype, quadrant brightness

I’m tossing this post out as a project notebook for something I’m building with Davin and Esteban this semester. The project is semi-secret, discount rx but the code is public (at least for now).

It’s my first foray into Processing, clinic which I’m glad to say is a phenomenally documented programming languages. So many tutorials and code examples! I can pick it up by writing it, infertility which isn’t true of all programming languages. (Low-level languages, functional languages, and all variants of LISP, I’m looking at you. Yes, you. Maybe there are good books about you, but without a book, there’d be no hope for me.)

Anyway. The current baby experimental code continuously computes and displays the brightness of each quadrant of a video feed. That’s it.

Image description: A video screenshot of Mel standing in front of a whiteboard, blocking out the top-left video quadrant with a black object. The screen is divided into 4 quadrants, and a number in the center of each quadrant displays the brightness level of that quadrant. The blacked-out quadrant’s value is approximately 24, whereas the other (not-blacked-out) quadrants are 122, 107, and 96.


This is enough for Davin and Esteban to start with, but I have a couple possible next steps to improve this code:

  1. I can probably split some repetitive code out into separate functions. (Not a high priority, I’ll fix it when it starts to hurt more.)
  2. Scale out to other video sizes/sources.
  3. Scale the brightness value output so it goes from 0-100 instead of 0 to… some max value I don’t know (but should find out).
  4. Make a “calibration” function that sets the 0 point of brightness for a quadrant when you click on it. This is sort of like the white-balance setting on cameras — if one quadrant is dimmer than the rest because of lighting, etc. we can have it work off a different baseline.
  5. Improve the computational efficiency (although I don’t know if I care, since if brute-forcing loops runs fast enough, why bother?)
  6. Find output interfaces for Processing so I can pipe the quadrant brightness data out to other things (do I want this sketch to output JSON, or… what?)