Posts Tagged ‘backyard philosophy’

Happiness slingshot. [Weekly Head Voices #61]

hedgehog_after_a_bath

Make sure you won’t be disturbed for the next 2 minutes and 57 seconds, and then focus your full attention on this marvelous YouTube clip:

Yes people, there are apparently some brilliant human beings, the pinnacle of our society you might say, who took the time to construct a giant slingshot with which they then proceeded to shoot each other through the blue summer sky. This is the sign that we, the human race, must be doing something right.

Because I need all the time that I can get to play may part in being a good human, I will now switch to Bullet Time(tm):

  • IEEE VisWeek 2011, Mind-Blowingly Awesome Visualization Conference, took place in week 43. For the first time in years, I was NOT there. The TNR went and came back inspired. My fearless and revered ex-leader Frits Post received the IEEE VGTC Visualization Career Award, which is yet another official recognition of his awesomeness. I hope he still has some space on the mantelpiece next to the Eurographics Honorary Fellow award.
  • Through the #visweek conference twitter stream and some of the blogging that was going on, I was able to follow the conference at a distance. There was a Blogging about Visualization BoF (birds of a feather, a kind of informal meeting to discuss some topic of interest; also read Dominikus Baur’s blog report), which motivated me to revive the MedVis.org webblog! We even have a twitter account now. If you have even a mild interest in medical visualisation or imaging, please subscribe via email, your RSS reader or the twitter account.
  • This blog won one of Joe’s official SA Blog Awards! Buy me a beer when you see me.
  • A real Italian explained to me that putting sugar in your espresso is entirely acceptable and even desirable. Herewith I’m going to stop feeling ashamed about my sugar-in-espresso habit. I’m not sure what I was thinking that combining two of the best substances known to humans was a sin.
  • After spending some serious quality time with The Email Game, I wrestled both of my overgrown inboxes to the ground. Lessons learnt: 1) Even the thin layer of gamification offered by The Email Game was sufficient to motivate me to start and finish a task I’ve been dreading for weeks. 2) Inbox Zero actually is more important than I’ve recently come to think. The trick is deciding when exactly you’re going to empty it.
  • Here’s a picture of a hedgehog after a bath:

It's a hedgehog. After a bath!

So recently I was having a conversation with someone in a bar. Soon the question came up: What are you striving for in your work?

Imagine my surprise when I didn’t have an answer ready. I was surprised, because I usually spend a significant amount of time on introspection, pondering the usual questions:

  1. What makes me happy?
  2. Why are we here?
  3. What should I strive for?

I mostly have answers to all of these and more, often involving coffee drinking in some form, along with a healthy dose of perspective, and harmony. However, due to general work-related business the past few months, my moments of introspection have been few and far between. As is the case with these types of philosophical guidelines, one does need to spend time regularly pondering them, else they sink quickly deeper below the surface of everyday life.

So I spent some time trying to remember what it was that I was striving for in work. Fortunately, not that far below the surface, I found it again:

Create value.

That’s really all there is, but it works for me.

Coffee addiction potpourri. [Weekly Head Voices #57]

Aurora Borealis FROM SPACE, taken by Ron Garan. Click on the photo to go to the original.

Yes boys and girls, I was keeping back writing that Rebecca Black post, but now it’s 4 days later and I can let ‘er rip again, like I promised. This week’s post sort of reflects my week 37: Chock-full of super-dense life nuggets. Hmmm, sounds like a brilliant new high energy meta-physical chocolate bar that would probably be immediately declared illegal by the current conservative and non-thinking (excuse the tautology) batch of spineless politicians (excuse the tautology).

Let’s get today’s life lessons started with Mitch Hedberg, Comic Genius (note the captital C, and the capital G):

Hedberg’s genius unfortunately could not save him from drug addiction and his overdose-related death in 2005.

On the topic of addiction, fpixel forwarded these new findings that coffee drinking is genetic, both in terms of capacity and perhaps also in terms of addiction. Even my atoms are addicted to coffee, so that feels about right. What’s really interesting however, is that the documented study found that the genes involved in the metabolism of coffee (CYPIA1 and NRCAM, if I understand correctly) are also related to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. You see, coffee drinkers are less prone to Parkinson’s disease (as well as a whole list of other diseases including prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer). However, past studies of course show correlation and not causation, i.e. coffee drinking and low risk of disease X appear together, but that does not tell us anything about what causes what. This new study has made the first steps towards understanding the mechanism that actually links Parkinson’s disease and coffee drinking.

On the topic of coffee and addiction, TNR and I spent the Monday morning working (like animals) on our new parallel startup (there, I said it) at the Coffee Company in Delft. Two things:

  1. The Coffee Company makes a killer cappuccino. The milk is steamed to perfection, but it’s got the perfect espresso bomb exploding through all that milky goodness at just the right moment. BAM! HELLO THERE! Highly recommended. With every purchase, you get WiFi access for one hour, so no surprises or misunderstandings.
  2. It’s amazing what such a change of working environment does for one’s creativity.

On the topic of startups, Dr Jorik Blaas, ex PhDer, full-time genius and friend, is now the director of research and development at Synerscope (probably no relation with sinister, but my subconscious is just not behaving today), a high-potential startup that makes visualisation-based tools for fraud detection in big data (big money, IOW). Synerscope has brought together some of the top visualisation brains in the country. Personally, I can’t help but imagine it like this:

Are you in there somewhere?

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we made a quick train trip (*cough* 9 hours there due to delay thank you NS, 7+ hours back) to Magdeburg for the bi-annual German MedVis meeting. You’ll recall that I spent my first micro-sabbatical there. The city almost feels like home, and it was really great seeing many of the Magdeburg peeps again. The meeting itself was of high quality, with a number of VisWeek contributions being presented. Thomas Kroes (should I start using fictitious names and acronyms again?) presented his interactive photo-realistic volume renderer too! By the way, download it, use it (it makes fantastically beautiful renderings), spread it, and do cite the soon-to-appear article.

On Saturday, it rained (again, or still, I forget), so I decided to flip Mother Nature the bird by BBQing four juicy rib-eye steaks outside. Take that Mother Nature! The steaks were delicious, thank you. Mother Nature is not all bad though… Check this out: The Southern Lights. FROM SPACE!

Aurora Australis (thanks Bart!) FROM SPACE, taken by Ron Garan. Click on the photo to go to the original.

I’m going to wind down this post with two backyard philosophy-themed bits. The first is a quote by mathematician Alfred North Whitehead from this article on “The Skill that Matters Most” (found via Joe Botha, serial entrepreneur, currently changing the world with Trust Fabric):

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

I haven’t thought about it that way before, but it does make complete sense. The more things we humans do well in a routine fashion, the better.  Otherwise, our inconsistency is prone to lead to problems. By the way, the mentioned skill is self-control.

Finally, AJ forwarded this video called Disconnect to Connect. I’ll just let you watch and think about it for a while:

I’ll be off now. Please do have an epic week, and think of me when your level of enjoyment is at a local maximum. At these points, you might also consider jumping around randomly.

Just One Thing. [weekly head voices #49]

(post summary: linkedin news, the week in bullets, backyard philosophy!)

Dearest readers,

Yesterday I made my 400th LinkedIn connection. Yes, I know there are people with zillions of LinkedIn connections, but mine are special. I’ve actually had contact, outside of LinkedIn, with each and everyone of them. In most cases the contact has been in person, in some cases even involving beer, and in the others the contact has been sufficiently significant, by my metrics of course, to warrant a real connection. Whatever the case may be (how many times have I used the word “case” so far?), reaching this milestone has made really happy, and this again warrants a great big thank you to each of you little coloured dots! The visualisation below shows my complete network, where I’ve labeled each cluster with the place or institute it’s most associated with:

My LinkedIn network, visualised today. If you're not in there yet, connect with me man!

You can also try out an interactive version of this map, or make your own.

The week in bullets

  • On Monday I had the privilege of attending the Yes!Delft Network Event 2011, secretly also the opening of their beautiful new building. Yes!Delft is an incubation centre where startups, once approved by the board, can find affordable office space and a number of other facilities, including for example advice and financing, that startups require. The show was really impressive, with multiple giant projection surfaces and super lighting, a number of VIPs (Maxime Verhagen amongst others) and a 3 or 4 of the involved starters doing their elevator pitches. It was great to see that through Yes!Delft, my little city is turning into such a startup innovation hub.
  • On Tuesday I attended a day-long course on drafting an ERC Starting Grant proposal. For those of you not in the know, this is a super-prestigious research grant of up to 1.5 million euros that can be requested from the EU. Logically the rejection rate is also sufficiently high, so wish me lots of luck. Better yet, explain to any family or network members that you might have in Brussels that they should give me the money and get it over with.
  • The rest of the week was spent in meetings. I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of contiguous meetings in my programme is just about the strongest determinant for me getting unhealthily bad-tempered. By the end of Thursday I was ready to start breaking things, by Friday I was in my denial stage. A meeting now and then is fine, especially the inspiring ones during which you come up with some awesome new idea, but having them all back-to-back is just dangerous.
  • Almost as if karma felt that it should compensate in some way for inflicting meeting hell on me, the weather on Saturday was absolutely perfect, and perfect weather means BBQing! The BBQ was even more perfect, filled with scorched meat, beer, wine, good friends and great conversation. Fortunately nobody was raptured.

Backyard philosopy

There are two issues I’d like to discuss with you.

The first is the following realisation I had this past week, a slightly different incarnation of another recurring thought: At any one time, you can do exactly one (1) thing only. This has at least two implications:

  1. Don’t panic. Life is just a long sequence of these single things strung together. Just keep on doing them.
  2. At any time, do make sure that you pick the best possible thing to do at that moment.

The second issue is not really an issue, but an inspiring quote I came across recently on the interwebs:

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

There you have it kids: Work hard, try new stuff, remember to fall on your feet, and live now.

HappinessException [Weekly Head Voices #44]

Just slightly before this week is over, here’s a super quick WHV looking back on last week, #13 of the year 2011. Let’s start the show with this delightful body-motion-art music video, brought to my attention by the intriguing TNR:

YouTube Preview Image

The most noteworthy items of my week were the following:

  • The VisWeek 2011 deadline, together with EuroVis our most important yearly paper deadline, smashed through our lives on Thursday. I had the distinct privilege of participating in two excellent submissions, and once again came to the realisation that I absolutely love writing papers, even when chasing deadlines as serious as this. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s quite the kick crafting that perfect gooseflesh-inducing sentence. Now cross yer fingers that both of these get accepted!
  • I attended the early retirement party of one of my group’s professors. He gave a superbly humorous talk, amongst other topics on the changing culture at my employer (issue #1: Too Much Management and related to that issue #2: Research Institute Thinks it Should Act Like a Commercial Entity and Predictably Does So Embarrassingly Badly). This, as well as his compressed review of 30 years of academia, constituted serious food for thought.
  • On Saturday I had the privilege of giving a talk, in Dutch (!!), to an audience of more than 200 clinical physicists at the yearly conference of the Dutch Society of Clinical Physics.  I presented an overview of our surgical planning and guidance research, including the absolute latest results of the VisCAS survey that we’re working on (when I say “we”, I of course mean that one of my MedVis Ninjas is doing most of the hard work). If you’re also lucky enough to find yourself in Bergen, Norway for EuroVis 2011 in May/June, you’ll even be able to come and admire our poster on the topic!

For my truly backyard philosophical conclusion, I’d like to refer to an interesting piece in this weekend’s Volkskrant on Pascal Bruckner, a real-deal non-backyeard philosopher, and his refreshing view on our eternal quest for happiness. Bruckner makes the point that happiness used to be the exception, implying that then it was already quite an achievement just being able to survive.

These days, because we have access to infinite amounts of fat and sugar, and other important foodstuffs such as beer, and our survival has become almost a given, we have come to believe that it is our duty to be happy. Even worse than that, we have come to expect it of each other, finding it strange when someone is temporarily not in the throes of passion or happiness. Paradoxically, or maybe not, this expectation leads to much unhappiness, or as Bruckner puts it, the more we have, the more discontent we get.

Being French and a philosopher, he makes use of his unique prerogative by concluding with a quote by Voltaire from Candide:

l’homme est né pour vivre dans les convulsions de l’inquiétude ou dans la lethargie de l’ennui.

(go look it up on Google Translate, you have-it-all human! don’t forget to leave a comment on this blog.)

Drown in the now. [Weekly Head Voices #42]

Carrying the portentous number 42, this edition of the Weekly Head Voices owes it to the sometimes nerdy expectations of its readers to offer at least a small part of the answer to life, the universe and everything. In other words, #42 is 100% backyard philosophy.

Water, and bridges, and paths, taken this morning especially for you. You should start feeling all pensive now.

I’ve had a really brilliant week. When it started, one of the slightly more zen voices in my head proposed a little experiment: What would happen if, at the start of every episode or moment that I found myself in, I would consciously and explicitly remind myself to be fully and exclusively in that moment, to focus on the now. I could only agree that this was an intriguing question, and one worth attempting to answer.

The hardest part was remembering to do this every time. However, once I managed to get past that hurdle, the seemingly simple and low-level act of sub-vocally reminding myself to dedicate my undivided attention to the moment currently at hand resulted in more and more sustained periods of focus, which gave each situation, even the seemingly straightforward ones and especially those involving social contact, significantly more depth. It was almost like flipping a big bass boost button on my daily experiences, with all primary and secondary senses arriving in glorious multi-dimensional technicolour.

If your brain is like mine, constantly shooting off in five different tangents at the smallest instigation, I can only recommend this self-reminder trick. There are other times when such tangents are useful and should be stimulated, for example during planning or creative sessions, but more often being fully in the now is what you should go for. This goes diametrically against the grain of our evolved information foraging compulsion and the associated multi-tasking (that we turn out to be really bad at), but is worth the mental effort many times over.

I’ll end this short post with a musical conclusion:

YouTube Preview Image

Drown in the now… A beautiful and apt title for a song with some of the most spacy lyrics you’ll come across, at least until the next time you do some Crystal Method.

Kids, have an awesome week, filled with pure Now.

p.s. Jorik, in an uncontrollable attack of the WABs, just pointed out a spelling mistake in this post. It’s portentous, and not portentious. :)