Tag Archives: backyard philosophy

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. :)

The Future is Sick [Weekly Head Voices #36]

Post summary: Conference, VXLabs, SIP, boots, backyard philosophy on you the consumer, dramatic reading. Read on for more!

Just before the weekend I spent two days at the Dutch Bio-Medical Engineering Conference in Egmond aan Zee, in a ginormous seaside hotel. Probably because I attempted to keep up with the young ones during their nightly escapades, I’m currently dealing quite badly with a serious cold, which is why this is the first sick blog post of 2011.  Besides all those germs, I also brought you this photo of said seaside right after sunset:

Sunset on the Egmond aan Zee beach. Gorgeous, innit? There's even a dude walking on the beach so that you can wax all pensive.

The conference was an energetic and motivating affair, at which yours truly even got to chair a session, during which I tried, in spite of not getting to bed all that early the night before, to Keep Things Extremely Punctual As Well As Mildly Entertaining. I succeeded in the former, you’ll have to ask the audience about the latter.

The absolute highlight, for me at least, was the capstone on Friday by Professor Richard Satava, a surgeon with an amazing vision of the future. Bordering on science fiction but for a large part backed by his own and other groups’ research, his superbly delivered presentation touched on surgical operating rooms completely staffed by robots (some elements remotely controlled by a surgeon), cell engineering, surgery robots that heal troops at the scene of the crime (hehe), genetic engineering, cloning and a healthy dash of trans-humanism. By the end the whole room was collectively straining at the leash to go and genetically upgrade anything and anyone they could find. With a room full of BME researchers, that’s more dangerous than it sounds. :)

Other note-worthy items of the past two weeks can be summarised in the following neat bullet list:

  • I’ve started a new blog, called VXLabs, for matters that are too nerdy even for this blog. If you’re interested, you can start by reading the HTC Desire Z (my lovely new smartphone) review I’ve recently gotten around to writing. If you’re nerdy enough, you might consider subscribing VXLabs as well!
  • There are far cheaper ways than Skype to call telephones around the world. With SIP software, such as SIPDroid on Android, you can use cheap SIP servers that even offer free calls to many destinations. See this page for a list of just the betamax (German VOIP company) providers and the free countries that they support.
  • I was approached by a company producing Ugg-like boots to review their boots, get a free pair in the process, and get a good deal for my readers. This is probably because I went on about those BEAUTIFUL Timberland boots in one of my previous posts. Although I was flattered that the gentleman in question thought my widely-read (haha) opinion would be good for his brand and he called this a fashion blog (!!), I declined, stating that my readership probably is more into Timberlands than Uggs. That’s true, readership? Right?!
  • Micro Backyard Philosophy: After one of those late nights refreshing my Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader and GMail for the Nth time, I got to thinking about how the internet sometimes turns us into 100% consumers, leaving no room for creativity. It’s insidious, because we believe that the internet will give us exactly what we crave if we just know how to search for it, and that it should do so with that next press on the refresh button, when in fact this is hardly ever the case, especially when that which you crave is in fact to create. Remember this the next time it’s getting late and you think Just One More Refresh. Don’t push that button. Sit back and think about what you really want to do.

That’s it boys and girls, thank you very much for reading this far! You go and have yourselves a fabulous and especially creative week. If you get lonely waiting for the next edition of the Weekly Head Voices, marvel at this dramatic reading of a bad user game review, creativity at its finest:

YouTube Preview Image

Focus. [Weekly Head Voices #34]

On Monday, I took a stroll in the autumn with genetic offspring #2.

A mysterious path in the autumn. mysterious path + autumn = double the pensive power.

It was a stroll of somewhat above average duration. As one tends to do during this sort of stroll, I was thinking. Not the modern kind of internet thinking during which one’s line of thought gets interrupted at least three times per minute, but the old-fashioned kind, with stately, fully-formed thoughts of some complexity.

In a meta-thought moment, I had a taste of focus. The kind of focus that enables one to be fully in the moment. All thoughts of other things that need to be done, or have been done, or of other moments that one might prefer being in, are displaced by complete acceptance of the now, and one’s undivided attention.

The following bit of D.H. Lawrence seems to be a suitable conclusion to this post:

Thought, I love thought.
But not the juggling and twisting of already existent ideas.
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of consciousness,
Thought is gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness, wholly attending.

P.S. I’ve just registered for the Dolphins & Teleportation Symposium in Hawaii. I hope to see you there.

Happy returns! [Weekly Head Voices #29]

Dearest readers,

I’m truly sorry that you’ve had to endure three full weeks without any Head Voices. I’ve been in full-on Crisis Mode(tm) for the past weeks, doing my best to complete a number of projects, most prominent of which has been the brand-spanking new TU Delft first year CS course TI 1100-a. During Crisis Mode, all but the most critical of tasks have to spend some time on the back-burner. Almost like the adrenaline-fueled mammalian fight-or-flight response, when even one’s digestion is temporarily halted in order to divert all energy to for example bounding over trees whilst evading some sharp-toothed predator, even my GTD processing more or less came to a stand-till. TNR’s pomodoro suggestion, however, was a life-saver. There’s nothing like a succession of 25 minute periods of being completely in the zone for flattening mountains of work. If you’re not continuously zoning yet, I can’t more firmly recommend giving this a try.

In any case, here I am, a slightly debauched weekend drawing to a close (thank you L and friends!), joyfully writing a special anniversary Weekly Head Voices.

Photo taken of the magical entrance to Lowlands, taken by my mysterious and resourceful friend fpixel.wordpress.com

TI 1100-a (which I plan to write a detailed blog post about; the short version: All TU Delft CS first years spend their whole first week doing a single project-oriented course, which I, with much help from my friends, completely redesigned during the past months) concluded with, as far as I could surmise, some success. Fifteen groups of enthusiastic students demonstrated fifteen working augmented reality music instruments in a room packed with 140+ people, and much fun was had by all. With this more or less concluded, I still have more than enough to do, but the decrease in shoulder-weight is considerable and very welcome.

Reaching slightly further back in time to a different slightly debauched weekend, I was one of the 55000 exceptionally privileged human beings spending three life- and humanity-affirming days in the third week of August: Lowlands is not so much a music festival as a fantastic and sizeable post-human community that meets once a year to enjoy each other’s happy presence.  I had the further privilege of also being in the company of a slightly smaller group of exquisite friends. Hello there exquisite friends! Due to our still-strict policy of What happens at Lowlands, stays at Lowlands, I’m not able to give you much more information than the photo of the main festival entrance above. Please do note the huge “Welcome Home” sign at the centre, it’s quite telling.

Those of you who’ve been with this blog for slightly longer, might remember that the very first edition of the Weekly Head Voices was posted directly after last year’s Lowlands. This means that the WHV has now lasted one whole year! Astute readers will note that the actual frequency of my posts might dictate a name-change to Bi-Weekly Head Voices, which is nice (it has “bi” in there!), but is still not going to happen.

Whatever the case may be: Happy birthday Weekly Head Voices, I wish you very many happy returns!

On the topic of happy returns, and my hobby of somehow managing to string together disparate paragraphs in an almost convincing fashion, the animal that houses my consciousness also turned one year older in week 34, three days after Lowlands. I’m not mentioning this so that you can send me presents (although these are always welcome, especially if they’re gadget-related), but rather to dwell briefly on the unexpectedly fabulous day. In spite of the deadline-related stress dominating at that stage, being the happy target of a day-long deluge of such positive facebook messages, texts, email and telephone calls was just beautiful, thank you thank you thank you! I really do love being the gregarious human that I am, right in the middle of this information-age.

Alright boys and girls, it’s now time to get some rest, then to wake up bright and early, and then, then to continue on your life mission of creating value.