Weekly Head Voices #93: A thank you note.


The week of Monday June 21 to Sunday June 28 as seen through bullets:

  • On Monday I received a super sweet email from an ex-student of one of my DataVis courses at the TU Delft. My course got a “one of the best” rating, but more importantly, the gentleman in question explained that it had inspired him to make a career in DataVis (and judging by his work record up to now, he’s doing a really good job of it!). It’s hard to explain how much good such a thank you mail does to my heart.
  • This reminded me accutely of the concluding life advice the American author David Sedaris gave to the guests attending his edition of the Dutch College Tour. The advice was:

Write thank you notes.

He made it patently clear that “thanks in advance” was absolutely not good enough, but that a dedicated thank you email or letter after the fact was an art that he recommended we all practise. I shall try harder to remember to do this more often!

  • I wrote a really nerdy bullet in this post about trying out docker. Then I wrote this bullet to warn you about the nerdiness of the subsequent one.
  • I finally got to try out docker. It gave me great pleasure to do this in exactly the way that would probably cause any docker expert to pass out due to the sheer magnitude of rules and guidelines I alternatively broke and bent. I’m only using docker as a convenient way to bring up development-only light(er)-weight isolated virtual environments on my macbook using boot2docker. On Linux I would probably just use LXD/LXC, but there’s no boot2lxd (yet?) and I like to have my development tools consistent everywhere. I can report that even when you’re doing it wrong, docker works pretty well. The upshot is that I now have a docker image, based on ubuntu-upstart, with postgres, solr, redis and a whole bunch of Python to start containers from and work on one of our products that requires that stack. I use IntelliJ’s remote interpreter support for the IDE parts of this solution.
  • This week, I really missed my AfrikaBurn family. I guess we should start thinking seriously about our next appearance in Tankwa Town. This has also made me think a little more about nostalgia, and especially the fact that it’s directed at a point in space-time. We can travel through relevant space more or less at will. However, through time we can only move in one direction, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, we have to move at the same speed as everyone else. If we wish to reach back through space-time to that exact point of nostalgic origin, our only choice is to learn how to warp reality by sculpting with perception.

Have a great week, and remember to write that thank you note! Thank you very much for reading this!

Weekly Head Voices #92: The cake is a lie.

A random winter’s day view from Del Vera, where father’s day was celebrated.

The week of Monday June 15 to Sunday June 21 in bullets:

  • Ran around organizing all kinds of things for the new house. The various institutions have been cooperating very nicely.
  • Spent days trying first to fix an implementation of a GPU algorithm to simulate car paint, and then to implement an alternative algorithm by the clever boys and girls at NVIDIA. A team-mate finally got everything working by realising that the float16 texture coordinates (long story) we were using to sample a noise texture needed to be float32. Lesson learnt: If you’re seeing splotches when you’re supposed to be seeing snow, check your float precision!
  • Spent the rest of the week fighting with wkhtmltopdf, a tool that converts HTML into PDF. Unfortunately the tool is 50% webkit, and 50% black magic. Lesson learnt: wkhtmltopdf renders internally at 74.8dpi. Accept it, calculate with it, and move on. The upshot of this is that the IP Dashboard is now 37% better at exporting charts.
  • For some time now, when I have to make decisions, I actively optimise for experiences and not for possessions. At some point in the past I read in the blogosphere that experiences make people happier than possessions, and since then I’ve been paying more attention to this. IT REALLY WORKS!(tm) Tonight I wanted to look up the sources of this idea for you (and for me). Here are the two academic papers causing most of that online discussion, and a summarising blog post::

    Carter and Gilovich’s research (based on on a number of tests and questionnaires they did with a sample of Cornell students) demonstrated that experiences were more satisfying than possessions. Their results also support at least one explanatory mechanism: Experiences are more closely connected to the self. This makes sense: Anybody else can buy the same thing you bought, but, by definition, your experience of some event or adventure is quite unique to you. To my mind, the idea of focusing on the experience rather than the cake at the end is pleasingly complementary to the adage that Life is a journey, not a destination, which I have just learned is due to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • I’m still terrible at bullets, I know.

Dear reader(s), have a beautiful and experience-filled week!

Weekly Head Voices #91: They’re back.

So after exactly no-one asked me when the Weekly Head Voices would be back, or why they stopped, I decided to reverse my almost-decision of quitting. This hiatus made me realise that the WHV are one of the few tenuous connecting lines between me and a tiny group of readers, people I am quite fond of, dotted around the world.

Sunset at AfrikaBurn 2015.

Again inspired by the information-and-entertainment-dense way that Swimgeek manages to do it, I’m going to try this in bullet form.

  • We, that’s me with friends DWR, PK, TvD, CvdB, MJ and a Very Flat Cat, spent the whole week (Monday April 25 to Sunday May 1) at AfrikaBurn 2015. We built (the desert truly is rock hard – try ramming a metre of rebar down into it, then repeat) and ran Pompen en Pimpen, bicycle repair and pimping theme camp extraordinaire, on the corner of 9ish and Binnekring. The experience unfortunately is exactly one of those things that is more or less impossible to explain in words. I’ll try a few keywords nonetheless: Hard labour at the Best Party Ever; music never stops (sleep never really comes); engineered herd humanity; so many people, so much space; gifting really is great. We’re going to have to go again.
  • Damnit. I’m not very good at bullets.
  • As if fate were a thing that could taunt me, a super interesting project at work has resulted in me:
    • Buying an early 2015 13″ Retina MacBook Pro. It’s super portable and the battery lasts more than 6 hours, but I still like working on my klunky Linux-running Acer laptop more.
    • Learning Objective C and X Code (AppCode is miles better).
    • Working on an experimental iOS app.
    • Learning to program Apple Metal on iOS and on the OSX desktop (way before most other people).
  • In another project I got my hands dirty with three.js. What a lovely library for doing WebGL! We’ll soon be shipping a product feature based on this.
  • Shortly afer having resigned myself to never ever finding a new house that we all liked, we found a house we all liked! If all goes according to plan, and the various mafia bosses we’re borrowing money from cooperate, we will soon be moving in to a place of our own. I guess this means we are sort of settling down again.

Have a beautiful week tiny group of readers!

Science: Really not just for scientists.

The public’s unwillingness to learn basic scientific concepts and scientists’ inability to communicate those concepts lead the public to reject promising research (such as genetic modification), ignore serious problems (such as global warming) and embrace dangerous nonsense (such as anti-vaccination rhetoric).

— Proposition from the Ph.D. thesis of Dr Wynand Winterbach, via Francois Malan on Facebook.

(This important message was brought to you by cpbotha.net, trawling facebook for interesting tidbits so you don’t have to!)

What a country!

Exactly ten minutes after having made a single discreet phone call, a truck arrives at one’s house with thousands of pieces of lovingly chopped braai wood. The amount of one’s choosing is then lovingly yet efficiently stacked right by the holy altar of meat scorching, after which the truck leaves on its next mission.


(P.S. The wood is rooikrans.)