This week, I finally got around to putting music videos of my last two songs from last summer. I like the music that I did a lot. The videos are only pictures of the covers but it helps to put things on YouTube.
The first, Space Hop, was a remembrance of the Sputnik satellite. I was in seventh grade at the time and a big science geek already. I actually wrote a poem about Sputnik. The music also contains the sounds of all the space travel movies I have seen since.
Yesterday, I uploaded a new piece of generative music called “The Blues I” to YouTube and Soundcloud. they can be viewed/listed to below.
Sooo… what on earth is generative music? You can think of it as music that is generated by a process. In this case, it is generated by software called VCV Rack. This free software models hardware called a Euro Rack synthesizer which is a modular synthesizer. Modular Synthesizer? Well that is an electronics rack and all the electronics that you might find in a more normal commercial synthesizer which most bands use these days. The difference is that the user puts the electronics parts (modules) into the rack and uses movable jumper cables to connect them in any way the user wants. Thus the user can make a very large array of sounds. The modules start with oscillators for the sound wave creation (sine waves, square waves, triangle waves, saw waves, etc), filters, envelopes, low frequency oscillators, voltage controlled amplifiers to modify the sounds. After you have those, you can add many more sophisticated modules.
VCV Rack is still in devlopment (version 0.5) but it already has a large following and a goodly number of developers making new modules for it, some free, some for sale, some for a donation. It is completely addictive! You will see the model I built for the music in the YouTube below.
I built in the basic beat and the bass with a small amount of randomness to happen over time. The lead voices (I designed what they sound like) use randomly generated notes for their parts constrained only by the beat and the musical scale that I chose. Hence it is generated music. I was surprised at how musical it sounds.
If you follow this blog, you know that I have been struggling to get a surgeon who would help me with my spinal and sciatic pain. Although the surgery is simple (as spine surgery goes), my neuroendocrine cancer makes me a “special case” because there’s a tumor in L3 and the surgery is for L5 – L4. A surgeon who refused to see me told me to see Dr. Anant Kumar. He takes us “special cases”. He agreed to take me and it seems to be working well.
Here is the problem we are trying to solve. It is called spinal stenosis. It means that the channel that the spinal cord runs in is narrowing and thus squeezing the spinal cord. In my case the canal Vertebral Foramen through the L5 – L4 was narrow for 4 reasons:
Because of disk deterioration the L4 vertebra had moved one way and the L5 had moved another, thus narrowing the channel where they meet by quite a bit to 5.5 mm when it is supposed to be greater than 13 mm. The procedure did nothing to attack that directly If more surgery is needed later, it would be fixed by the complex of wires and screws. We have done a simpler thing on Monday.
Due to aging, the material in the channel has expanded. This is cells growing larger and is called hypertropy. The procedure was to scrape out much of the material in the L4-L5 vertebral foramen.
There was a 14mm cyst on the L4-l5 facet joint caused by friction which happend because of the deteriorating disk. That was removed because it caused pain.
There was some bone spur caused by arthritis on these bones which was removed also because is caused pain.
The anesthesiologist, Dr. Santangelo took extreme care knowing that I had neuroendocrine cancer and that I had had a carcinoid crisis once before. I am told that two times the blood pressure did drift down where it shouldn’t be and he had to put more octreotide in the drip and the BP came back. Remember “special case”? It was good that the surgery took place at Presbytarian/St Luke’s Hospital where my neuroendocrine specialist, Dr. Liu works. Dr. Liu has done much to train the personnel about neuroendocrine and carcinoid crisis.
Both of the doctors working with me were great. I feel very fortunate. The sciatica pain, the numbness, tingling and weakness in my feet is gone!
Dr. Kumar tells me the arthritis pain in the back will remain. That’s OK, assuming that I can walk and fish again.
Thursday I can go to my sister Sarah’s for a huge Thanksgiving dinner. Hurrah!
My NETs specialist, Dr. Eric Liu will be giving updates on neuroendocrine cancer on that day and I hope to attend that meeting.
Other health notes.
I have struggled with back pain and sciatica for two years. It is caused by stenosis which is a narrowing of the passage which the spinal cord goes through. My stenosis is fairly severe.
After trying yoga, physical therapy, chiropractor, spinal injections, pain drugs and mindfulness, I still couldn’t walk or stand without a lot of pain. For almost three months I have been looking for a surgeon who could make it better with a procedure called decompression. They scrape out excess material in the canal which mostly comes from ageing.
I have been turned away by a couple of surgeons because of my NETs. If you have read the blog earlier this year, NETs tumors have spread to my vertebrae. In fact, at least one of the vertebra involved in the stenosis has a tumor. Yesterday, I finally found a specialist surgeon who will do it and it is scheduled for November 20, just 12 days from today! I have high hopes.
If I do not blog more before November 23, Happy Thanksgiving to all!
As I have said before, I have taken the deadmau5’s Masterclass in EDM Production.
For students in that class, deadmau5 has started a New Artist contest. Each of us can submit one song. Joel Zimmerman (deadmau5) will judge the entries and the winner will become a track on his newest album from his record label mau5trap and receive $10,000 and valuable music production software. Three finalists in the contest will receive $2,500 and more valuable music production software. Ten semi-finalists will receive $1,000 and more valuable music productions software.
Obviously this is an exciting opportunity. Here is my entry, named after my 1 year old grand-daughter:
The EDM Masterclass that I took is still issuing challenges to students. This particular challenge asks you to make music using the selection of sounds on a sample pack track of sounds. The student has seven days to complete the challenge. Here is the sample pack track (patience, it is 6 minutes long)
I did not realize it at the time there were 3 or 4 other tracks of vocals that we could use. Not knowing that, I made it more difficult than necessary.
I intentionally made it more difficult by choosing not to use any other sounds or instruments that I had and by using only my Reaper DAW and the stock FX and free downloadable FX (no expensive plugins for me).
The synths and bass and drums were all produced using waveforms from the Sample Pack in the free (really good) VSTi TX15Wx sampler or the Reaper stock VSTi ReaSamplOmatic5000.
All wave editing was done in Reaper. All FX (delays, filters, EQ, compressor, flanger, chorus, reverb, etc.) used were either stock or free downloads.
The lead and bass lines were developed using the Masterclass techniques.
Here it is:
This was quite a challenge but I am pretty happy with the result.
A few days ago, I had a scan for cancer called a GA-68 or gallium-68 or Netspot. This was designed specifically to detect neuroendocrine tumors. My own results are reported here: The Results of my GA-68 Scan.
EDIT: There has been tremendous response to these two posts on social media. The most frequent question is “Where can I get a gallium scan?”. I now can show you two sources:
I figure it might help other people with NETS to explain what this scan is. If you have had a cancer or know people with cancer, you probably know that a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan is used to try to locate tumors and metastases. The traditional PET scans normally do not work with neuroendocrine tumors because the biology of the tumor is different than most cancers so the standard markers do not function.
One year ago, the FDA approved a different kind of marker for use with PET scanners that is specifically designed for neuroendocrine tumor. The GA-68 (commercial name: Netspot) is an injectable that is a binding of radioactive gallium 68 to a somatostatin analog called octreotate. Neuroendocrine tumors have receptors for the hormone somatostatin in over 60% of patients. The tumors therefore will capture the somatostatin as it passes by and of course the radioactive GA-68 bound with it. Although some other tumor types and even some body parts (pituitary gland for instance) have receptors, if you are the lucky patient whose tumors have these receptors, you can get a good picture of where the tumors are by tracking the radiation. The PET cameras take pictures of the radiation in the body. GA-68 scans have been used in Europe for over 15 years already. Apparently, they were not considered profitable enough to develop, test, and get approval for in the U.S. until recently.
You are probably familiar with CT (xray Computed Tomography) scans. These take three dimensional xrays of the body. The new PET machines are actually PET/CT machines. They take the PET and the CT at the same time.
Before now the best we had for neuroendocrine tumors were CT scans, MRIs, and octreoscans which were a much weaker version of the GA-68 type of scan without the attached CT scan.
After my diagnosis, I have had more than six octreoscans (about one per year) and a CT scan every six months and one or two MRIs. This picture shows the difference between the GA-68 and the octreoscan.
What a difference. The black dots are areas of high “uptake” meaning attachment to the marker. My first radiologist showed me my first octreoscan and said “‘nuclear medicine’ is sometimes called ‘unclear medicine’!” These are not my scans. They were uploaded to Facebook for an example.
Combining the CT scan and the Netspot PET scan in one picture is even more powerful.
The gallium radiation has a very short life. We patients are given no warnings at all except to drink lots of water so the radiation won’t gather in the kidneys. NOTE: Although the gallium injectable is more radioactive than the indium-111 used in the octreoscan, the patient actually receives less radiation because the gallium-68 isotope has a much shorter life than the indium-111 isotope.
The old octreoscan routine was to wait until the end of my 28 day Sandostatin injection cycle then I had to take a laxative the night before and fast until I was given the injection. After the injection we waited 4 hours, then had about an hour laying flat on my back without moving in the nuclear scanner. The hour long scan was repeated the next day and sometimes even a third and fourth day. I was warned that I would need a doctor’s letter to pass through an airport within 30 days of the injection. What a pain!
The Netspot PET/CT requires no preparation, no laxative, no fasting. It could be given 15 days after the last Sandostatin injection and they asked that you not use an octreotide “rescue” injection for a day. You are given the injection, wait an hour, then climb onto the scanner bed pictured above and lay still for less than 40 minutes. That’s it! Unlike a normal CT scan there are no breathing instructions during the scan (“hold your breath”, “breathe”). The machine is a bit bigger than a CT scan but is open on both ends so there is no claustrophobia.
Edit: 2017-06-05 Like NETs patients, each medical facility is different. My scan was at Rocky Mountain Cancer Center where Dr. Liu works. Someone just told me that a facility in Arizona is telling patients that they must wait 4 to 6 weeksafter their Sandostatin injection to get a Netspot scan. Also note that Medicare is paying for these scans but how much is paid and the difficulty of getting approval may depend on your add-on plans. As far as all health insurances, I have heard that the scan part is usually covered (perhaps around $1,000). But the Netspot injection is separate and is much more expensive. That is the part insurance companies are unsure about. Additionally, of course, each medical facility may charge differently for the scans.
NOTE: Josh Mailman who works in the nuclear medicine field and has NETs and is very active in our NETs community shared the searchable map link above and these links:
I am not a doctor or medical person (perhaps a professional patient these days). The above is my “not a doctor” explanation of some very complex things. I hope that it helps and is not incorrect in any substantive way.
Today, I met with Dr. Eric Liu and discussed my GA-68 scan results. Both quite positive and surprising results left me feeling very happy. It could have been much, much worse.
Found my primary tumor after 6 years! Instead of a mid-gut carcinoid, I am now a pNET (pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor). I did not expect that. Although this is what killed Steve Jobs and is very often more dangerous than mid-gut carcinoid, it is not a great worry for me because it is small and at the very tail of my pancreas. Dr. Liu says my pancreas looks as healthy as his.
There is some progression. There is some spreading of the disease to several places in my body. Dr. Liu calls them freckles. Nothing very serious it seems.
There are small tumors in my bone in a couple of places. The bone above my eye and two places in my spinal column (in bone, not on spinal cord! Whew!)
The CT scan was wrong last November. The tumors that did not show on that CT scan, though they had appeared in earlier scans, are still in my liver but not looking very active.
The nodules on my thyroid did not light up on the scan. This means that they are not NETs. I think Dr. Liu is convinced that they are a benign form of thyroid cancer. We will continue to watch them.
We will change surveillance to a CT scan once a year and continue with the Sandostatin which is still working. If I get sicker or have more pain, the good scan indicates that I am a good candidate for PRRT (Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy). PRRT works identically to the GA-68 except the gallium 68 is replaced by lutetium 177 (Lutathera) which is much more radioactive and thus capable of killing the tumors. It should be approved in the U.S. within six months which probably means that I can avoid more surgeries.