Weekly Head Voices #68: Harsh Autumn Weekends.

Noeska’s new weekly status update blog posts inspired me to get mine back on the road again. To be more precise, the observation that I really enjoyed being updated in this fashion with a far-away friend’s exploits hints at the possibility that, somewhere out there, there might be someone who finds it similarly enjoyable to read mine! (Long ago I learnt the trick from Swimgeek, who is still going strong with his weekly updates.)

You know the rules: We write short summaries of our week’s activities, often in the form of bullet lists. I’m going to break both rules this time by rambling on about the past three weeks, and by showing you a bunch of photos I took on the weekends.

I’d like to show you how the autumn weekends here in SA can be quite harsh, but first I need to geek out for a bit (do not fear non-nerds, there are pictures after this brief interlude!):

  • I’m back with Emacs. <3 <3 <3 On my continuous search for the ultimate information organizing system I have now arrived editing the Markdown files contained in a git-backed Gollum wiki with my Emacs 24.3. I even wrote a (nerdy) blog post explaining how you to can configure your Emacs to do language-specific fenced code-block syntax highlighting. Somehow Emacs and I are just getting along much better than we did before my Vim period (dark dark days). I think it’s because I’ve decided to embrace the Lisp, which brings me to:
  • In my copious amounts of free time, I was searching for a functional language to learn. The Erlang tutorial was enjoyable, but I was not too crazy about what I read about the details of deploying Erlang systems. I bought Learn you a Haskell for Great Good and started reading it, but somehow Haskell didn’t tickle me enough. Then, probably infected by having to look at Emacs Lisp again, I picked up the Clojure Programming book. Now that pushed all of the right buttons! I haven’t this much fun with a new language since I picked up Python, and my mind has been expanded at a few points as well (what do you mean the code that I write IS the AST?! (Picture my Neo face saying: “Whoa.”)). Clojure is a Lisp dialect that does a pretty good job of walking the line between beauty and pragmatism. Built on the JVM (and having full interop with the rest of Java) it also has STM (software transactional memory), agents, and async channels all built-in. As if that wasn’t enough, I get to use Emacs with the CIDER package to play with it. (M-x cider-jack-in starts up the Clojure REPL and then… JACKS ME IN.)

Err, I might have exhausted my nerd quota for the week. Let’s do the rest of the Weekly Head Voices in pictures!

Three weekends ago I went to visit the Spice Route farm in the Paarl with family and friends. Besides the coffee roastery, the chocolatier, the winery and the two restaurants, this farm also houses the Cape Brewing Company, a magical place that produces delicious craft beers, which you can taste, and take home with you. The view is not too shabby either:


The view from the Spice Route farm is Not Too Shabby(tm)

On the topic of delicious craft beers, THIS, my dear readers, is The Darling Bone Crusher, another super tasty white beer constructed with much love in the town called Darling:

The Darling Bone Crusher white craft beer

The Darling Bone Crusher white craft beer

… and this is the sun setting on some Milk and Honey, crafted in Knysna (this one is quite good, but their other ale called the Old Wobbly is even nicer):

Craft beer from the land of milk and honey

Craft beer from the land of milk and honey

Lest you think all we do is drink craft beers around here, here’s a photo of the vicious river delta I had to cross during my afternoon fitness activity (this was before we started drinking craft beers again):

Vicious river delta

Vicious river delta

… and here’s a pretty butterfly moth (thanks Stéfan) I just had to take a photo of:

Pretty butterfly in Betty's Bay

Pretty butterfly in Betty’s Bay

On the way back home after another harsh weekend, we were stuck in some sort of traffic jam. After a few minutes inching ahead, we ran into the culprits causing our delay:

Baboons on cars!

Baboons on cars!

(Yes, those are baboons sitting on people’s cars. “Oh, were you planning to drive that sir? You’re going to have to wait until the baboon decides it’s time to go home.”)

The road we were on (the R44 between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay) is one of the prettiest I know. On another of these autumn weekends, it looked like this:

R44 between Gordon's Bay and Betty's Bay.

R44 between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay.

The End.

Back in South Africa

(I was supposed to publish this around the start of February, but then life happened, and I didn’t get to quite finish it.)

For the first time in the three weeks after having arrived back on South African soil, we find ourselves in something that we’re going to call home for the coming months. Until now we have been living out of our suitcases, spending time with various grandpas and grandmas somewhere in the Boerewors Gordyn (the Northern ‘burbs of Cape Town, to those of you not in the know), The Oven (I just made that up. It’s Paarl, the town where I grew up thinking that 40 Celsius was a normal temperature to be wearing a blazer and a tie. 40 Celsius is now my preferred outside temperature.) and in Betty’s Bay (that’s its real name. It’s really cute that way. Look at me walking the thin line of apostrophe (ab)use.) We’ve been doing our fair share of early-to-bed-early-to-rise makes John cranky and not very wise, because Genetic Offspring Unit #1 had to be taken to school in our current town of residence, from our at that point temporary residence.

So you're really planning to publish that blog post, but then you take a walk instead. TISA.

So you’re really planning to publish that blog post, but then you take a walk instead. TISA.

At the moment I’m sitting in our new home behind an extremely shaky cellular data connection (the house is like the Bermuda triangle of mobile reception. Even in this carefully chosen spot the signal dances a really silly tap dance between H, 3G and EDGE. EDGE is NOT nice, trust me. I think EDGE is actually a synonym for “no connection at all, but we just like to make you think that there has to be something”. At some vague point in the future, ADSL will hopefully be installed. Africa does not care about the timeliness of your internet connection, deal with it.).

So we have our suitcases, and a whole bunch of borrowed items until Our Ship Comes In. No really, we have a ship that’s coming in with all of our old stuff on it. Until that moment, we have a special place where meat can be scorched, also in a social context. This is quite grand.

There is also a mountain in my backyard which I can’t help gawking at whenever I return home. The mountain is majestic, and that is even more grand than the place where you can scorch your meat. I have promised myself to retain and cultivate my awe at this mountain, and at all the mind-blowing natural majesty surrounding me wherever I go in this place, for as long as I can.

See you later everyone!

The new MedVis Book is out!

For the past 2.5 years, I have been helping my friend Prof. Bernhard Preim to write the new Medical Visualization textbook. A crazy number of hours of studying scientific literature (a quick count in the bbl file yields 1880 cited references!!), trying to fit everything into a coherent conceptual framework and then trying to write all of it down as a more or less readable story has finally led to more than 1000 pages of Medical Visualization reading pleasure.

It looks like this:

The title has been changed to Visual Computing for Medicine to reflect the significant rework, and also the broader treatment of the field. The book itself is 836 pages with hundreds of colour figures. Five chapters (190+ pages) are available exclusively online, free to download.

Go to the book website (run by us) to read more about the contents of the book, and to find out where you can get your very own copy!

P.S. It was a huge pleasure working on the book together with Bernhard. (We’ve been collaborating quite intensively since the end of 2007 somewhere, when we started setting up the Eurographics Workshops on Visual Computing for Biology and Medicine, which have since then been held in 2008, 2010, 2012 and will be held again in 2014 in Vienna.) Just for the record, he definitely put a great deal more work into the book than I did. The exact ratio will remain our secret.

On leaving the Netherlands

Moving consists of leaving one place and going to another. This post is about the first part. It’s really not easy to write, but I would like for people to understand that the leaving part of this decision is one of the more difficult things I have ever had to do.

So after 13 beautiful years in this great little country, we are leaving the Netherlands.

Our life here has been exceptionally happy and fulfilling. We’ve made many great friends, and even some best friends. Our children are super happy in their little lives. Hey, we made a little family!

The single downside of the beautiful life that we’ve had here, is that leaving is complicated, and even a little painful.

It’s complicated, because that’s the way it is when one has to move a whole household and wrap up 13 years of accumulated stuff. It’s complicated, because we’re moving in the wrong direction, away from our adopted country. We can’t leave a trace behind.

It hurts, because we would love to stay with our friends here, but we have now made the choice to live far away.

We actually have no good reasons to leave, while there are many reasons to stay. The thing is, our reasons for moving are all in the going to part.

I think this might be a healthy perspective on moving. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it’s just not the easiest.

Dearest friends, thank you for the parties, for the laughter, for the warmth and for making us feel so at home. Thank you for being the kind of human beings that never stop striving to be more human.

I would love to see you on the other side.

Creative Process Stage 5. [WHV #67]

Dear two people reading this blog on a good day: Spread the word, the Weekly Head Voices is making a comeback!

In the process of dealing with recent(ish) life-changing decisions, but probably more due to the preceding time of introspection, I was unable to enter the right state of mind for producing the weekly WHV episodes. However, because exciting new events have been scheduled for the coming months and I really look forward to writing about them, and because I’ve decided that, yes, I shouldn’t worry too much about the actual literary impact of this here blog (I wrote “bog” first, I hope that it wasn’t a Freudian slip; what I was actually intending to say between these parentheses is that I will continue to do my best to entertain and/or edify!), the time has come to get the WHV back on the road!

For the past weeks, I have been burning all kinds of midnight oil on different projects. For one of them, I’ve had to design a reusable JS architecture for customizable visualizations (of course using the awesome d3.js). During one of these weeks, I saw a rip-off of the following tweet, the original 140 character guide to the creative process:

The Creative Process by @boltcity

The Creative Process by @boltcity

The stages of the creative process are: 1) This is going to be awesome 2) This is hard 3) This is terrible 4) I’m terrible 5) Hey, not bad 6) That was awesome.

At that time, I found myself squarely in stage 4: I AM TERRIBLE.

However, just reading this and then realising that that’s just how it has to work made me feel much better. Fast-forward to a week or so later, and I seem to find myself in stage 5. Stage 5 is not the best, but man does it feel infinitely better than stage 4. (If you run into me at any of the numerous bars, parties and other social events I frequent, ask me about the design.) Remember this process the next time you’re in the middle of something complicated.

(I was not able to come up with any kind of bridge between the creative process and my next point. I’m open to suggestions in the comments! For now, just imagine some pithy or really clever literary topic-jumping device here, ok?)

As the more astute readers should know (I guess that’s both of you), I was naturally into mindfulness before it got all hip. See my 2011 post on drowning in the now, and my 2010 post on focus if you don’t believe me. However, I wanted to get into it more formally, so I acquired and started practising with one of the better books on the topic: Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world. There are at least two things I really like about mindfulness:

  1. There’s quite a bit of solid research on mindfulness and its effects on your brain. See for example the publications on the website of Prof. Mark Williams, first author of the book above.
  2. The idea that practising different ways of applying one’s intellect (conventional doing vs. the mindful being) leads to the ability to enter these modes at will, thus getting more control over one’s emotions, especially appeals to me. (Click here to meet one of my most important role models. For real.)

The mindfulness book also discusses research on the interaction between one’s body and one’s emotional state. If you’re feeling down, your body starts acting up. Conversely, your physical state has a significant influence your emotional state. The upshot of this is that if you put a smile on your face, even if you’re not feeling particularly upbeat, Science says that you’ll really start to feel happier. If you’re already happy, it’s just going to consolidate those good vibes.

With that in mind, here’s my simple suggestion for today (and the rest of the year, and maybe next year): Let’s all smile as often as we can!