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Long time no see. No apologies

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I decided there is no point for me to try and maintain a constant relationship with blogging. Blogging happens to me like cravings. Unexplained and in the weirdest moments; no reason to try and rationalise these urges.

In the past months, of course, there have been a series of events for which I have not yet given a pseudo-formal account on my pseudo-diary. I begin now.

I had my first scientific paper accepted to IEEE EAIS 2015 conference in Douai, France.  I attended the conference and gave a presentation. I tested a Reinforcement Learning model, called Q-Learning, on a set of players of an online trading game. I tested different version of the model, varying the number of parameters and their values. If you want to read more here is the link to the full article. It was extremely pleasant to see the fruits of months of work finally out, really inebriating feeling.

I am now busy extending my research, testing a model-based version of the previous model-free approach. This will hopefully lead to my next paper publication in the following months. Fingers crossed. Mmm, maybe not, as I need my extremities to type (more like bang) on my keyboards.

Second noteworthy event, I had Bell’s palsy over Christmas. It has been an interesting experience. I’ve had a sore throat for around three weeks. It got quite nasty at a point and the GP told me that it had viral nature. Therefore, no efficient treatment exist to tackle the cause; just a general approach to soothe the symptoms would have been enough. I was already stuffing myself with lozenges and oral sprays, considering those were the stressful days during which I was travelling to France via Bruxelles. The Belgian capital was somewhat in a lockdown for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the following chase to the surviving perpetrator.

The onset has been extremely fast. My condition rapidly evolved from having a sore throat culpable taste deficit to a almost complete inability to move the right side of my face. After coming back from a football game I have been warmly suggested to go to the nearest A&E, as the symptoms were similar to the ones people suffer when having a stroke. After four hours of wait, during which I researched the full set of symptoms and understood that what I had was Bell’s palsy, I was told that indeed I had Bell’s palsy. This condition affects the ability to move facial muscles that are controlled by the seventh cranial nerve, including forehead, eyelid, eyebrow, cheek. Imagine, smiling I looked like Two-face.

There is no known cause to the condition. It has been associated with viral infections (which I believe was my case), pregnancy (which I am quite sure was not my case), stress, cold temperatures and others. Again, since the cause is probably viral there is no treatment (apart from Aciclovir which has been deemed as ineffective). The only cure that showed some improvement in the recovery rates is corticosteroids based. I had a regime of 6x5mg pills of Prednisolone, twice a day for 8 days.

I don’t know if without this cure I would have recovered fully from the palsy but I strongly believe that so called “alternative medicine” is not medicine really, it has not been studied on large samples of patients nor it has been proven consistently effective in the few case studied. No disrespect to homeopathy believers and meditation followers but I am too much of a rational mind for these.

About the condition I can only say it is scary in the first place; not knowing whether you’ll ever be able to recover is scary on it’s own. Uncertainty as a whole is scary really (and exciting sometimes). But what really made the entire experience humbling was the ability to see how much of what we take for granted every day is not. We consider ourselves perfect, flawless machines but truthfully we are the beautiful result of an unfathomable sequence of favourable events. Some might find this scary but I just saw it as fascinating and graceful.

The most annoying problems have been related to the everyday life: taste is so twisted that even the most luscious dish will taste weirdly ferrous. I can only describe the sensation as having a teaspoon in the back of your tongue 24/7. Another nasty effect of the condition is that I could not fully close my eyelid. Working put me to the test. Staring at the screen and forgetting that my eye was not properly closing lead to abundant lacrimation and in the long term to dry eye, for which I used artificial tears. More, a mid-ear stapedial muscle stopped working, meaning I was quite sensitive to loud sounds. I wore an earplug when out in pubs so that my so loved music would not destroy my ear for the years to come. The most psychologically testing drawback, I believe, was not being able to fully express emotion. It happened a few times that people around me could not tell my emotions because they could only see the one paralysed side and even when looking at both sides at the same time the result is still quite ambiguous.

Twenty-one days later I fully recovered. I kept a photo-diary over the course of the palsy days, which I named “Jingle Bell’s” to be in tune with the time of the year.