Archive for the ‘ geekery ’ Category

Opinionated computer purchasing advice (updated)

People ask me about which Mac to buy often enough that I thought I might as well post here a recent reply I wrote to a friend who is looking at a career change from corporate programming to consulting, possibly, or another corporate gig, or who knows what.

Caveat emptor: I am a software professional. A way geek. My everyday work is computing intensive. I usually have at least six applications running at once, and not because I’m not paying attention but because my work requires it. Some of my applications require fast processors and huge amounts of RAM. I need a big-ass disk or several. My extracurricular activities as a professional musician who does some recording and composing are also computer-intensive at times, and I read the New York Times online daily with a Times Reader subscription–yet another computer-based activity. My work frequently requires travel, and even during leisure travel there is the possibility that I will need to work on some code or something else where my iPhone or a netbook wouldn’t cut it.

Normal people do not have such extreme needs! Normal people would get along just fine with the computer I was using five years ago.

Oh–and I’m a Mac bigot. I truly believe that Macs work better and let you get more done with less hassle. If you need to some particular software that’s only available on Windows or Linux or whatever, then buy Parallels or VMWare or try one of the open source virtualization programs to run those programs–and only those programs–in a window on your Mac. That’s what I do, and many of my clients are Windows-only shops, so it’s not like I can afford to be without access to Windows myself.

Still, people ask me, because they know I care and have researched these things to death, so here goes.

I love laptops, and I think that in consulting and/or uncertain job futures it’s best to emphasize flexibility. You never know when you’ll need to give a talk, or demo something at someone else’s office, or fix something while you’re on vacation, or work while you’re on the road. You can’t do much of that on an iPad or iPhone (except correspondence and basic iWork stuff). You can do it all on a laptop, and you also have a built-in uninterruptable power supply (battery!) in cases of lightning knocking out the power just as you accomplish something important that you haven’t saved yet. You also have, in a laptop, a built-in free primary display, and when you connect a big-ass LCD as your external display, you have tons of real estate when you’re at your desk.

And anything the iPad can do, your laptop can do, except for being light, sexy, etc. But you’ll have an iPhone for that. Get an iPad later when you can resist no longer. (I plan to usurp the one my wife bought this afternoon.)

My friends with iMacs love them, and one friend in particular who lives in a one-bedroom apartment uses his as his computer, TV, DVD, DVR, stereo, virtual aquarium, and digital picture frame as well as computer. He uses his iPhone on the go. He’s delighted with both. He does NOT make his living in software, though, and he doesn’t travel for same. He’s a musician who does Mac stuff at his day job, sometimes works from home, does a variety of things at home, and just needs basic iPhone apps when away from home. That said, I doubt he’d say no if somebody offered him their two-year-old MacBook–and I also doubt he’d get rid of the iMac.

I like a big screen and as much power and as many kinds of ports as possible, especially when a fair amount of work-away-from-office is expected, but even just when reading Times Reader. So, for me the top of the line MacBook Pro 17″ will always be the no-brainer choice. Next best for me is last year’s version of same, from craigslist or a bargain Apple refurb unit. That said, 17″ weighs a lot more than 15″ weighs a lot more than 13″, and unless you use a backpack, you want to avoid unnecessary weight. (And don’t forget it’s not just the laptop–it’s the cables, the camera, the books, the banana, the carrying bag itself, and everything else you schlepp around in your purse^H^H^H^H^Hbriefcase or backpack.

If you’re bent on an iMac and an iPad, maybe a good compromise would be an iMac for your desk and a refurb Air for travel, and a Dropbox account to be sure that the most important things are always on both. See the Apple store, lower right corner for refurbs etc.

Craigslist rocks. For retail, see if you have any friends/family with access to academic discounts, then check refurb, then check:

http://www.appleinsider.com/mac_price_guide/

http://www.techound1.com/blog/

Did I mention craigslist?

Nobody pays me anything for blogging about this stuff. Or rather, companies don’t. My friends and family repay me amply in ways too numerous to count. Thank you, all of you–you probably don’t realize who you are, but I do, and I’m grateful to be blessed with such an embarrassment of riches.

Update: iPads rock!

So I finally got an iPad a few months ago, and yes, I love it. For me it’s not a computer replacement, but it’s a wonderful new thing altogether. I haven’t gotten as far into it as I know I will eventually, but I already love it for:

  • reading ebooks
  • reading the New York Times
  • the NPR app
  • Epicurious for recipes
  • replacing bags and bags of dance music with a lovely, self-lit electronic screen, with tons of PDFs and the unRealbook app for putting tunes together into set lists on the fly
  • email, Twitter, and Facebook
  • online video (e.g. Google Videos for movies that aren’t available on Netflix or any other way)
  • Netflix streaming!
  • iPod

I’ve since encouraged a dear friend who doesn’t have a personal computer (only a work computer on which she isn’t allowed to do anything except work) to buy an iPad. She didn’t want to deal with paying for and learning how to use another computer, and she gets enough of staring at computer screens in her job as a high-powered attorney. In about an hour, I had her set up with wifi and a personal email address and showed her how to get around. It has changed her life. She says she absolutely loves it and has no idea how she ever got along without one. She’s playing with digital photos, email, videos, music, ebooks, and all kinds of other things. She carries it around with her all the time.

Just switch to Mac, already (updated for 2010)

We all have computer problems, and that doesn’t stop with Mac, but it sure gets easier. I find myself telling one friend after another to switch to Mac. Sometimes the objection is, “but I absolutely have to have Windows for my job” because of some Windows-only application or another.

If that’s the case, then you especially should get a Mac. Because face it, sometimes Windows goes south, and when it does, would you rather revert to the Windows machine you had yesterday that was running fine, or would you rather troubleshoot Windows for a week and still not know what’s wrong? Would you rather spend two minutes restoring yesterday’s virtual machine or two hours driving to a geek squad?

If you don’t need Windows apps, then you’ll be much happier on a Mac. If you do need Windows apps, you’ll still be much happier on a Mac, with Windows running as a virtual machine.

Meanwhile, just because you have one or two essential applications that are Windows only, that doesn’t mean you should have to put up with Windows software for everything else you do, like email, web, calendar, address book, photos, music, documents and spreadsheets, etc. Use your Mac for everything you can, and use Windows only as much as you absolutely have to.

You have at least two good choices: Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. Both work pretty well and have roughly the same features. For me VMWare has worked a little better and the little problems I’ve had to figure out haven’t been as confusing on VMWare as they used to be on Parallels, but I’ve heard other people say the opposite.

If you want to try VMWare, I think this link will get you a discount. I’m not being paid for this blog post, but if enough people buy VMWare through this link, I get a $10 gift certificate to Amazon or something like that. But that’s not why I’m posting it–I’m posting this because I think people with Macs get more done.

My tech support policy for family and friends?

  • Mac: free, unlimited, anytime you can find me online or answering my phone. And since I can actually take over your machine and show you how to do things with screen-sharing in iChat, I can help you with your computer even if you live in New York. It’s a lot easier than the old, “Um, what do you see in the upper left corner, where it says File… can you click on the button that says…” routine, believe me.
  • Windows: you’re on your own, and next time please get a Mac.

So far my family and friends who have listened to me have sooner or later been glad they switched. Even my dad, who like me never admits when he was wrong about something, who fought this advice for years and finally got a MacBook Pro last year, who loves it. My mom was perfectly happy to make the switch and she loves hers, too. In a single year, you wouldn’t believe how many new things they’ve started doing (and enjoying) on their computers.

Why are Macs so much better? Because Macs make it so easy to do things—everything from basics like email to advanced tasks like photo manipulation and professional audio recording—that you will get more done. You’ll focus on your goals, not how to complete the tasks. Because things are easy, you’ll find yourself doing things that you never planned to do, like making custom calendars from your pictures. Like building websites. Like getting your finances organized. Like writing a book. Like making mix CDs for your friends. And on and on and on.

Still not convinced? Here’s my best argument. Go down the hallway of any office and look at the monitors on people’s desks. I bet you many beers that this is what you’ll see:

  • Windows displays that are covered with Post-Its with little reminders of how to do really basic things.
  • Mac displays that have at most one or two Post-Its, and they’re reminders about groceries to buy on the way home.

Mandelbrot and music: on listening in fractal dimensions

[This is a cross-post from my business blog, Global Pragmatism. I posted it there because of all the math-geek tie-ins, but since it’s about music, it belongs here, too.]

Benoit Mandelbrot died this month. He was the guy who came up with fractal theory, which led to all those gorgeous computer graphics like this one:

A Mandelbrot set

Last week, my friend and contradance bandmate Tina Fields wrote an essay about Mandelbrot’s ideas on her blog, Indigenize! I found it quite thought-provoking, and it surprised me how much I learned from her post, since I’m the one with the math degree. My next surprise was how Tina’s thoughts on this mathematician inspired me to think about listening to music.

This essay is in response to ideas she raises in her essay, so go read hers first and then come back here!

First I’d like to amplify her comment about coastlines by quoting this passage from Mandelbrot’s obituary in the New York Times, about how coastlines played a role in the genesis of his theory:

Dr. Mandelbrot traced his work on fractals to a question he first encountered as a young researcher: how long is the coast of Britain? The answer, he was surprised to discover, depends on how closely one looks. On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.

“Here is a question, a staple of grade-school geometry that, if you think about it, is impossible,” Dr. Mandelbrot told The New York Times earlier this year in an interview. “The length of the coastline, in a sense, is infinite.”

In the 1950s, Dr. Mandelbrot proposed a simple but radical way to quantify the crookedness of such an object by assigning it a “fractal dimension,” an insight that has proved useful well beyond the field of cartography.

To me, that’s the real genius of his discovery—viewing scale as a dimension. If we measure the coastline or the surface of the broccoli from a mile away we get a much different answer than if we measure it from close up and far different still if we measure under a microscope.

So what is scale, really, but a matter of perspective?

Let’s consider the metaphorical potential: if perspective is a dimension, how does it change the way we view truth about our world? You have some truth, I have some truth, and the differences are not necessarily contradictions but spectral variations along the perspective dimension.

Tina’s big gift to me in her essay isn’t so much her point about Mandelbrot’s focus on verbs rather than nouns, although I enjoy that, too, but her encouraging us to think about new things fractally. The first thing that comes to my mind is Beethoven. (Perhaps I should explain that besides working in statistical software and facilitative leadership, I’m also a professional horn player and hold degrees in music performance and music history.)

Beethoven leads my pantheon, and here’s a bit on why: his compositional technique is extraordinary, and the more you know about musical composition and performance, the more you hear in his work. In addition to doing all the usual classical things—the usual structural designs (four-movement symphonic architecture with movements in sonata, menuet or scherzo, sonata-rondo, etc. forms, linked in a progression of related tonalities, yada yada Haydn, blabbety-blabbety Mozart, blah blah Bach), German-Italianate phrases, symphonic devices of his environment and era—he throws in a few more tricks all his own, chief among them his idea of motivic development.

His every melodic gesture is built up from the smallest motives, e.g. his Fifth Symphony‘s four-note “ba-ba-ba-BOM!” opening. That simple four-note figure is sequenced, layered, mutated, and warped all throughout the first movement, each phrase a new assemblage of basic building blocks, each harmonic gesture arising out of layers and layers of sequences of this tiny musical block and several others.

Here’s an mp3 of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony if you’d like to remind yourself how it goes, but I’d recommend buying yourself a great recording if you don’t already have one. There are many excellent options; one I’d particularly recommend is Bernstein’s with the New York Philharmonic, on an album that also features Bernstein and orchestra members discussing the symphony. They do a much more eloquent job than I will here of bringing the symphony to life.

All the composers of Beethoven’s time (and throughout most of history, with differing vocabularies, of course) have adhered to various conventions from the largest possible scale (the arc of their developmental style through their lifetimes) down through the structure of each opus, each movement within, etc., down to the smallest-scale assumptions about harmonic structure, idiomatic styles of individual instruments, and so forth, but Beethoven brings it all to a whole new level, honoring all those formal rules while also constructing everything both melodically and harmonically, both vertically and horizontally in each case, out of these tiniest of musical blocks.

(We later see Wagner up Beethoven’s ante with his Romantic adaptation, the leitmotiv, where each character, event, place, and even philosophical concept is represented by its own fragment of musical DNA, all these leitmotivs swirling in a pan-theatrical operatic swamp of continuous through-composition, rejecting while also embracing formal conventions in a megalomaniacal Gesamtkunstwerk.)

Struggling valiantly now to pull back from this tangent to return to fractal theory, I might suggest that we appreciate Beethoven and indeed all music along fractal dimensions. For many, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is, simply, its opening four notes and the loud romp to follow. The scale of observation is large; the perspective is simple. “Fun music!”

Indeed, who wouldn’t appreciate it on such simple terms? When I was hospitalized with pneumonia as a second grader, my parents brought me the best of all possible get-well presents: a portable cassette deck, including a cassette of the first movement of my favorite symphony, which dad had recorded by sitting next to the phonograph (mono, of course) holding the mic near the cabinet speakers while the needle rode its groove. I listened to that tape over and over during my several weeks of long days alone in a hospital room. I’m not sure what I heard, exactly, but I know that by the time I was discharged, I could have sung the whole movement. (I wish he’d recorded the whole symphony for me, because I’l never know the rest of it nearly as well.)

As I’ve developed as a musician, I’ve lost touch with how I used to hear music. I often wonder what normal people hear, and I like to ask people to tell me why they like certain music or what they noticed in a concert.I know that I used to hear the pretty music, and while I can tell you to the minute when it all changed, I can’t for the life of me remember what I used to hear.

It changed the summer after eighth grade. I was at orchestra camp, sitting in a muggy auditorium on a hot summer night, and probably intoxicated by the pheromones of my new friends. We listened to a piano quartet recital. First I noticed that I was hearing a group whose intonation was so tight, they made the freshly, expertly-tuned Steinway sound out of tune. All pianos are out of tune, but it was the first time I heard it for myself. Then I realized I was hearing four virtuosi playing the crap out of their instruments as both individuals and as a collective.

Then my trumpeter friend leaned over and said, “You know, we’re never going to hear music like normal people again,” and for only a moment I wondered what he meant. I spent the rest of the concert hearing, seeing, feeling the compositional structure, the interplay of themes, the exploration of key areas, the work of the individuals and their ensemble, and on and on. The only limits to the depth of scale in my listening were my musical intelligence and attention span.

That night was my awakening as a listener. In the decades that followed, my musical intelligence has evolved tremendously, but I still find that the richness of what I hear is limited only by my abilities and attention span.

So, locating my metaphor in the area of musical perception, I might suggest that our listening has a fractal dimension. Anyone can hear the sounds. But our perspective—the granularity of our musical knowledge and the intensity of our focus—determines in how large a range along the fractal dimension we perceive the music; how much we hear of the infinite possibilities depends on how large or small is the scale of our listening.

How do you hear?

As I said, I’ve long since forgotten how I used to hear music. How do you hear music? What do you hear in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Do you have any musical training? How does this affect your listening (or not)? I’d love your answers, reactions, ideas—please comment!

In praise of neti pots

A few years ago, after seeing a character in Six Feet Under use a neti pot, I mumbled something to my wife about having always been curious to try a neti pot. A few days later, she brought one home from the store for me, and I’ve been a neti pot fanatic ever since.

I’ve spent my entire life dealing with various hay fever-like symptoms, just like my mom, brother, grandfather, and numerous other relatives. Since it was normal in my family, I thought my way of life was universal, but it turns out that normal people do not, in fact, always have at least one Kleenex in their pockets at all times. I was in college before I realized that some families don’t even buy Kleenexes unless someone has a cold. Everyone in my family keeps a box of Kleenex in nearly every room of the house!

Apparently it’s also not normal to wake up in the morning so congested that you can’t wait to take a shower, because that’s where you keep your neti pot, and after using your neti pot in the shower, your nose is cleared out enough that you can breathe through it again.

I’ve never been sure why I’m so full of snot, exactly. I was treated for allergies during my teen years by several allergists whose methods are scoffed at now, and allergists I’ve seen since then have all told me I have no allergies. The last one I saw told me I have “non-allergic” or “mechanical rhinitis,” which basically means that my body reacts to just about any foreign body as if allergic to it, indiscriminately. So, I’m not actually allergic to dust, molds, mites, tobacco, smoke, smog, pollen, dander, or any of the other hundred typical allergens that they tested me for, but my system freaks out and puts on an allergy party for all of them anyway. The basic hay-fever symptom is for your immune system to detect an allergen, trap it with mucus, and evacuate it. My system does that, and how exactly this is different from actually having allergies to all those things is beyond me. One difference seems to be that if these were actual allergies, then somebody would have a clue how to help me.

It wouldn’t be that big a deal if my system would evacuate mucus efficiently, like it’s supposed to, but it doesn’t. Apparently there are several reasons for this. One, rhinitis patients’ snot is thicker than normal, so it gets stuck. Two, there’s more of it, so the body gets behind in clearing.

Three, until last week I had a deviated septum. The septum is the thin bone that divides right nostril from left. It’s a tongue-and-groove kind of thing, and mine had gotten derailed from its groove so that the front tip was off the rails toward the left, and the back end was off the rails toward the right. It was basically diagonal, which is why my nose has always looked a little curved if you looked closely. My ENT knocked it back into the groove and then shaved it down on one side until it was even. This is bones we’re talking about, people. Mine were seriously out of whack. They’ve been that way since 1994—therein lies a story.

I was walking from the Dempster train station to my apartment by the lake in Evanston, IL. I was coming from a gig downtown and had my (heavy) horn backpack on, and I was hurrying home to eat and change for a gig I had to drive to, so I was pitched forward and walking fast. As I walked past a coffee shop (Café Express, which most of us nicknamed “Café Repressed”), I kept walking fast but turned to look in the window to see if anyone I knew was there. Another pedestrian, also moving fast but toward me, was doing the same thing. We slammed into each other, the right side of my nose striking her left cheekbone. We hit so hard we both fell backwards. We helped each other up, made sure we were both okay, exchanged apologies, felt stupid, and continued on our ways.

My nose hurt like hell and soon I had a pounding headache. While eating my hurried dinner, I tried to remember what the checklist for concussion was and concluded that if I was coherent enough to be working on that problem, I was probably okay, although my head pounded, my vision was blurry for a while, and my cognitive functioning was off kilter. I drove to the gig, navigating Chicago and operating my vehicle successfully but was completely unable to comprehend “All Things Considered” no matter how hard I tried to focus on it.

I got through the gig somehow, and by the time I drove home, I was better able to understand the radio.

Remembering (I thought) something about not taking pain meds or sleeping when you have a concussion, I held off as long as I could on both but finally gave up and did both. I spent most of the weekend with a headache, and my nose was sore and creaky, but I seemed to be okay, so I made a non-urgent appointment to see my regular doctor that Thursday.

By the time I got to my doctor on Thursday, something else had come up that took over the visit (boring story) and it was literally as an afterthought that I said, “Oh! The reason I came here in the first place was…” and then I told the tale of my nose injury. She checked it out, confirmed that my nose was creaky (gosh, thanks!), and said she just saw a little swelling but that it was nothing to worry about.

And now I know–it was creaky because I’d banged it off the rails and made it diagonal! Sheesh! (In my 1994 internist’s defense, my ENT didn’t realize it was deviated until he saw a sinus CT, and I got the impression in talking with him about it after the surgery that he didn’t even know the details of how it was deviated until he was performing the surgery, but I could be mistaken about that.)

Four, until last week, I had oversized turbinates. Turbinates are bones on either side of the nose covered with fleshy material, and they function as humidifiers. Mine were too big, which meant they were narrowing the passages that are supposed to handle drainage. In March my ENT had done a less invasive procedure (zapping them with a small RF probe) to reduce them, which had helped but not enough. This time he used sharp tools to cut them down to size, and on the right side he actually had to shave down the bone, which apparently was way too large–just bad genetics there.

Once I’ve finished recovering from all that, my nose should work much better. I’m looking forward to it!

Anyway, back to the neti pot…

A few tangents and years ago, my wife had bought me a neti pot. She’d gotten me one of these little guys at her favorite hippie-dippy pharmacy in Berkeley: http://www.healthandyoga.com/images/progalleryimg/neti1.jpg

I procrastinated figuring out how to use it for several weeks. Like most people, I was afraid. I’ve had those awful swimming pool experiences that make you dread getting water up your nose.

Then one morning, I heard a story on Morning Edition about neti pots and decided to get over my bad self. I googled up some video demonstrations like this one and then got to work. Five minutes later I was triumphant but unimpressed. It wasn’t that bad, and I did get some crud out of my system, but it didn’t feel revelatory.

About an hour later, though, I could feel things unplugging, and gradually everything opened up like never before. My voice even sounded different. It was great.

A few days later, I left on a business trip to Tokyo, and to save luggage space, I decided not to bring my new neti pot along. What a mistake! I’d forgotten that the Great Dust Cloud of China hasn’t been very good about staying inside China’s borders. I spent the entire week in Japan looking for neti pots or anything else that could possibly work as a temporary neti pot. Toward the end of our visit, my colleagues and friends Trish and Katja and I visited Kappabashi Market, a neighborhood famous for its restaurant supply stores. All three of us dropped far too many yen at a particularly nice ceramics store, and my browsing was considerably slowed down by my quest to find a small teapot or soy sauce pot or some other kind of pot whose spout would have the right fit for my nostrils—without actually testing the spouts on my nostrils, of course. I did not succeed. I also was unable to find a bottle of water with a sport top, something I’d seen pressed into emergency neti pot stand-in duty on somebody’s blog. Nor did I successfully purchase plain old salt, mistakenly thinking it was called “aji no moto,” which is actually MSG. Oops. (Fortunately I figured that out when I got back to my hotel room and tasted it before attempting to use it in my nose.) Nor, in short, did I figure out any other strategy during my visit. I made many puddles on my hotel bathroom’s counter trying, though.

When I got back home to Oakland, I had one whole day to unpack, do laundry, and repack for the next business trip—to China. My wife and mom were coming along on that trip, and Mom actually flew into SFO from Montana the same day I did from Tokyo. On our day-in-between, I told Mom all about my neti pot and how much I’d missed it. She was curious (you might recall from about a page ago that I inherited my useless nose from her), so I gave her a demo, and then she tried it herself. She was impressed right away, so later that day, she insisted we visit Victoria’s hippie-dippy pharmacy. She bought several extras to give to other members of our phlegm-plagued family.

I also told Mom about how the Great Dust Cloud of China and its awful pollution meant we’d definitely want our neti pots along. We did not regret allocating luggage space to them, and anyone who saw the heinous black crud that came out of my nose twice a day would need no further persuasion to buy themselves a neti pot before visiting China. We coudn’t persuade Victoria to give it a try, though—early in our visit, she’d tripped on an unexpected curbstone and broken her shoulder while trying to stop her fall, and that pain had her full attention.

It wasn’t long before I decided to upgrade to a larger stainless steel neti pot, which is what I strongly recommend. A number of my family and friends got these for Christmas last year. I like this kind better because:

  • I’m a klutz. It was only a matter of time before I would drop and break the ceramic one.
  • I travel a lot, and fragile stuff in luggage breaks sooner or later.
  • It’s a lot larger. I needed to measure and mix salt four times with the other kind to complete my routine, and I can get it all done with one batch in this one.
  • Its shape is convenient. With a little effort, you can find a nonbreakable container that will hold several weeks’ worth of salt and fit inside the neti pot for compact packing.

About a year ago, Victoria finally got on the neti pot bandwagon. She’d bought herself one but kept refusing to try it, but sooner or later she decided that if Mom could do it, so could she. Also, her internist recommended trying it, and later her internist recommended using it twice a day if once a day was helping but she was still having trouble. It’s now a part of her morning shower routine. She says, “I like it! And I have to say, I like the big stainless steel pot that you got me much better than the little plastic jobber I started with. It fits well, and you can get a lot of salt water in it. It’s a good tool!”

So how do you get started?

  1. If you’re not convinced yet, read why this is such a good idea at WebMD or the New York Times.
  2. Buy, borrow, or steal a large stainless steel neti pot.
  3. Buy, borrow, or steal the biggest nonbreakable container you can that will fit inside it. I use the container some chocolates I bought in Korea came in. It’s perfect!
  4. Fill that container with kosher salt or uniodized sea salt. I use Diamond brand kosher salt because that’s what Barbara Tropp used, may she rest in peace. (Other blog posts will harangue you on why you should throw away your other salt and start using kosher salt in the kitchen.)
  5. Optionally add some baking soda to your salt and shake it up. Supposedly baking soda gives your nasal passages a bacteria-hostile pH. Mom adds just a spoonful to her salt container, but a little googling reveals that other people believe in a one-to-one mixture of baking soda and salt. I’ve just begun trying Mom’s method after years of using just kosher salt, and I haven’t formed any opinions yet.
  6. Find a cheap teaspoon or 5ml measuring spoon and do a Uri Geller number on it so it’ll fit inside your neti pot, too. I find that a heaping tablespoon per pot is about right for me, and too much salt is far better than too little, but decide for yourself.
  7. Keep all this stuff in or near your shower. Shower-temperature water is perfect, and if you do your neti routine in the shower, you don’t have to worry about dribbling on your clothes or needing to rinse yourself or the sink.
  8. Read and watch how to do it.
  9. Give it a try. You will not die. It’s not even uncomfortable.
  10. After you’ve been successful for a few days with the basic technique, learn how to do “jala neti stage 2” and give that a try. If you suffer from postnasal drip, this is awesome. I typically do a quarter pot stage 1 for each nostril then do a quarter pot stage 2 for each nostril.

If it hurts, then you’re doing it wrong

If it’s the least bit uncomfortable, you’re doing something wrong:

  • Stinging: the salt level isn’t right. Either too much or too little is bad, but if you ask me too little is worse than too much. Get in a habit of tasting your water before you use it each time, and you’ll quickly develop a sense of the optimal salt level for you. It should taste pretty salty—about like your tears.
  • Aching: the temperature isn’t right. It’s probably too cool. A lot of people recommend body temperature or room temperature, but I like it warmer than that. To me, my regular shower water temperature is perfect.
  • Burning: the temperature is too hot.

Keep it simple

You can buy special salts and pre-mixed packets of salt and all kinds of other crap, but don’t bother. You’re just making things fussier and more expensive for yourself.

You can also buy various neti pot “solutions,” where you’re typically supposed to add an eyedropper full to your salt water. Don’t bother. I tried one that was recommended for sinus infections—some kind of homeopathic or herbal junk, but I can’t remember the details—and it actually made things worse for me.

Have you tried using a neti pot?

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave me a comment!

Cool widget for Mac lovers

Check this out–Delicious Library catalogs your entire media library. You use an iSight camera to scan bar codes, and it looks them up on Amazon et al. and fills your catalog with the details, even including cover art! I never thought I’d put a commercial in my blog, but this is almost as cool as an iPod.