Weekly Head Voices #140: Koperkapel.

Hello there friends, welcome back!

Matters have started heating up around here with the final preparations for a pretty intense project that is expected to launch in about a week’s time. I would prefer saying more about it after the launch, because reasons.

I’m mentioning it here as explanation for the paucity of this post, and just in case a near-future post manages to be slightly late or even absent.

All will become clear in due time!

Sandal Running Progress Report #1

During the past week, I sneaked in three more runs(shorter-than-usual, because don’t want to spoil it) in the new Luna sandals, after their maiden voyage last Sunday. Today’s run, which included the panoramic view at the top of this post, was up and down the mountain in hot and sunny Paarl.

My calves and feet are still getting used to the additional work, but they seem to be recovering more quickly after each run.

My running form has necessarily improved quite a bit. If you don’t run correctly in sandals, your feet and your legs let you know immediately.

(When you do run correctly, the pleasure is considerable.)

At this point, I was hot and quite tired, but the view was great!

Scary snake #2

On Saturday, we had a pretty serious but fortunately bite-free encounter with a Cape Cobra.

This photo by By Bjoertvedt (Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0), click for original.

Four of our kids (GOU #2 and #3, and one of their cousins) were playing inside the house, front door open.

We were outside, enjoying the balmy late afternoon weather.

GOU#1, who was also outside, calmly informed us that a snake was making its way in through the front door.

As I was still internally remarking the fact that it was a significant specimen of snake, probably about 1 metre, my partner fortunately sprang into action and shut the front door with the snake halfway through, temporarily trapping it.

I say temporarily, because that thing is powerful and it was probably in panic, and was managing to worm itself inside, to where the youngest of the kids stood still, transfixed by the snake-like motions of its head.

After a run-around searching for suitable implements, finally assisted by cousin #2, I had a spade and was able to remove the snake from the vicinity of the humans.

Lessons learnt:

  1. A sufficiently large snake induces a visceral fear reaction. The way they move and propel themselves over the earth seems to play a large part in that.
  2. The Cape Cobra, or Naja nivea, is “one of the most dangerous species of cobra in all of Africa, by virtue of its potent venom and frequent occurrence around houses”.  (frequent occurrence around houses: CHECK!) Fatalities result due to the snake’s venom paralysing the respiratory system.
  3. In South Africa, hospitals will treat these bites with a locally developed polyvalent antivenom that is effective against puff adder, gaboon adder, rinkhals, green mamba, Jameson’s mamba, black mamba, cape cobra, forest cobra, snouted cobra and Mozambique spitting cobra. Pretty hardcore.

See you later alligator

Have fun kids! I’ll see you as soon as I can.

Weekly Head Voices #139: Luna.

Well hello there friends!

We have just returned from a ridiculously enjoyable holiday in The Drakensberg, or uKhahlamba in isiZulu.

More specifically, we started in Giant’s Castle, the place of no internet mentioned in the previous edition of the WHV, and also the subject of that post’s main image, but we spent the largest part of the week at Cathedral Peak.

Due to it having been holiday and all, the rest of this post will follow the trusty old bullet list form.

  • The mountainous surroundings are stunningly beautiful.
  • At Giant’s Peak we did the short hike to the main caves to see rock art by the San people. According to the guide the paintings we saw range in age between 100 and 3000 years. Here are two examples:
  • We did more hikes in the mountains. GOU#3, who just turned 2, was a trooper, relatively speaking. We will never again mention all of the kilometres that we had to carry her.
  • I squeezed in a number of trail runs. It’s a badly kept secret that I have absolutely no sense of direction. This, together with the routes finding themselves at 1400m altitude, made for challenging but awe-inspiring trips.
  • On the way back home, we stopped in Durban for the most amazing curries at The Oyster Box. Me = blown away.
  • At the airport, that thing I said would never happen to me, happened to me. At the security check, we discovered that I had forgotten my trusty Leatherman Wave multi-tool in my backpack, and my trusty Gerber Dime mini multi-tool in my trouser pocket. In a massively pleasant surprise turn of events, I was able to go back out through security, where the amazingly helpful British Airways check-in attendant calmly packaged up the offending tools in a spare box, labeled it, and sent it through with the checked baggage, and to return to my people all in the space of about 15 minutes.
  • We hit a thunderstorm, initially undetected by the weather radar, on our way back to Cape Town for some of the scariest turbulence I’ve ever experienced.
    • At one point, the plane dove so hard that the Kindle lying on my lap (I’m halfway through Mastery by George Leonard, thanks Leif for the recommendation!) flew up into the air, made a slow-motion arc and came crashing down on the floor.
    • It was at this point that a large number of passengers involuntarily panic-shouted, adding to the atmosphere.
    • I myself could not show any external signs of fear, primarily because I needed to comfort GOU#1, who sat next to me, and is now old enough to appreciate the potential risks of the situation we found ourselves in, but also because I had to fit in my behaviour with the narrative that YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TRUST THE ENGINEERS.
  • During our time away, these puppies had finally made their way through customs ($115 in total for Luna Mono 2.0 sandals + tabi socks, $66 SA import duties ouch):

Yes friends, they are Huarache-style running sandals, in which you go running.

My friend Stéfan sent me a message on Signal shortly after WHV #134, but before I had even started reading Born to Run.

Besides sporting best-in-class encryption, his message was suavely convincing:

Charl, let me bring you a pair of the magical sandals that I run in.

I was not able to purge the thought of running free like that.

When I finally realised that it was only a question of time, I decided not to wait any longer than necessary, and ordered them directly.

This morning I started with a short run, just to see what it was like, and to start acclimatising.

It was exactly like I had been dreaming for the past two nights.

Time will have to tell, but at this very moment, I’m not sure if I’ll want to run in normal running shoes again.

Weekly Head Voices #138: Born to run.

I am currently in a place with no to extremely little internet. Just getting the photo above uploaded was an adventure.

I briefly debated breaking my current WHV posting streak due to exceptional circumstances, but decided against it, at least for now.

Anyways, I might have no internet, but the scenery here is phenomenal.

(It later turned out that just getting this blog post uploaded on Sunday evening was not going to happen.)

Sometimes focus falls and slips into Emacs

During the past week I had a fairly difficult technical puzzle to deal with. It’s one of those puzzles that can only be solved with multiple days of research and concerted focus.

It’s funny how my mind manages to sort of slip away when faced with these sorts of puzzles where the solution, if it even exists (this is probably the main reason for the continual slippage), seems to be weeks away, instead of a few hours or days.

It’s like a usually sharp(ish) knife which simply refuses to bite into the thing that I so desperately want to cut with it.

In my specific case, especially later in the afternoons when prefrontal cortex is long-gone, mindlessly drinking its beer while staring into space somewhere, or even later in the evenings when everyone else is also drinking beer while staring into space, I wake up to find myself working on some obscure Emacs hack.

This week, primary thought slippage resulted in:

  • Hooking up my emacs, via helm-for-files with mdfind (the command-line interface to spotlight) on macOS and the tracker file indexer on Linux. This means that with a simple press of the C-x c o keys, I can instantly open any file in Emacs which is already open somewhere, which I’ve recently worked on, whose filename faintly resembles what I’m typing, whose contents (or tags) faintly resembles what I’m typing, no matter where that file is hiding in the hundreds of gigabytes on my SSD.
  • My efforts getting the above working for Linux are now part of helm, via the wonderful system of github pull requests.
  • Setting up Emacs dired to do rsync-based network copying in the background, which culminated in a github contribution which will hopefully also find its way into the main repository soon. (I do most of my serious file management in Emacs dired. You should try it.)

The Running People

I finally bought Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

In between travelling and other activities, I was not able put this book down.

As I was reading the final pages on Sunday morning, I had trouble keeping my eyes dry. I had connected with the story and all of its nested stories on so many levels.

One strand of the story makes the case that humans, or more specifically homo sapiens, had evolved to run its prey down on the savannah.

We are able to cool ourselves down during running thanks to being mostly hairless and sweaty, whereas an antelope is not able to pant while galloping, and has no choice but to stop.

So the trick is simple: We can run fast enough to keep a galloping antelope in sight. Eventually it will lose the battle, overheat and collapse.

This is what homo sapiens did for millions of years for food. Homo neanderthalensis, our intelligent and stronger competition who used to dominate during colder times, had no chance.

McDougall connects with a number of scientists and sports trainers to flesh out this part of the story. Below is an interesting (and related) video about Prof Daniel Liebermann and his work on the evolutionary biology and biomechanics of barefoot running:

(Being internet-deprived, I’m not currently able to find one of the cited Nature papers discussing other elements of our biology underlining our running heritage. Remind me in the comments so I can update this later.)

Another strand of the story is about the Tarahumara of Mexico, also
known as Rarámuri
, or The Running People, a legendary tribe of natural super athletes who are masters of avoiding other humans (due to past persecution and other shenanigans) and of running 30 miles in the mountains, in sandals.

Even more intriguing than their home-made sandals, is that they run throughout their healthy lives with joy and exuberance.

The final strand I want to mention here, is McDougall’s personal journey from injury-prone runner all the way to finally taking part in the very first edition of a gruelling 50 mile trail race (the centre-piece of the story I would argue), together with the world’s best ultra marathoners and the Taramuhara in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.

For a large part of this journey, he and a number of other key actors are propelled along by Caballo Blanco, the White Horse, a supernaturally gifted runner who lived off the land in the Copper Canyons, and one of the few foreigners who seemed to be completely accepted by the Taramuhara.

Caballo is the one who managed to bring together, for the first time, the Taramuhara and the best ultra-marathoners in the small town of Urque for this humanity-affirming 50 mile trail run. He did so from his stone hut in the middle of nowhere, from where he would have to run for 30 miles to the closest settlement that had a telephone line that he could use.

Often that line was down.

Caballo passed away in 2012, shortly after the first Copper Canyon race. Shortly after, the race was officially dubbed the Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco.

Right after I put the book down, I put on my shoes and went for a run
up the mountain-side and in the valley over here. On the balls of my feet as they landed right under me, really small steps, straight back, trying my best to float over the earth, just like the running people in the book.

I could not help but smile for most of the way.

 

Weekly Head Voices #137: Let me mine your metadata.

Winter is coming, somewhere on the R44 between Betty’s Bay and Gordon’s Bay.

Wisdom from the Twitters

Let me start this week’s edition with something that a friend forwarded, quite ironically, from the dark underbelly of the internet, also known as “twitter”:Daily activities to avoid: - Consuming endless (news) feeds - Discussion w/ anyone with a big ego - Thinking without pen & paper - Arguing on Twitter - Mindlessly saying yes to meetingsMost of these resonate with me, except for arguing on twitter.

This is not because I disagree, but rather because I sort of went cold-twitter-turkey about a year ago, a departure which has had only positive effects on my humanity, as well as on my trust in the goodness of humans.

I still sometimes slip and fall into arguments on other platforms,  where the same advice unfortunately holds.

#DeleteFacebook?

On the topic of online arguments, I would like to bring the next interesting conundrum to your astute attention.

There is at this moment quite some internet rage due to the details that have been revealed about the extent to which the company Cambridge Analytica managed to exfiltrate social network data from facebook, in order to perform extremely targeted advertising and hence psychological manipulation to get vulnerable users to vote for Trump, and to vote for Brexit leave.

Readers of this blog might remember that I already talked about this exact issue one year ago to the day. I even cited this early article in The Guardian mentioning Robert Mercer, Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica and their role in geo-political interference.

At this point, I hope you will allow me a quick two-pronged educational intermezzo:

  1. Do read my posts carefully, and you too can be all like “I knew that a year ago you silly muggles”.
  2. Probably more importantly, read The Guardian. (I would like to thank the brilliant Dr Ed Chadwick for introducing me to The Guardian so many years ago in Delft and/or Amsterdam, over either a pint of Irish stout (which he also introduced me to) and/or a Trappist.

Anyways, back to my rant.

So the internet is angry (years too late), and everyone and their mom is telling each other to #DeleteFacebook.

I too disapprove in the strongest terms of what Cambridge Analytica and its backers did (besides the immorality of the approach, conservative thinking is really primitive), and Facebook facilitated.

However, I also think that we find ourselves in a tricky baby-with-bathwater situation.

Let me ironically summarise the two main points from a comment I posted on Facebook:

  1. What happens when the clever / privacy-conscious people leave facebook? It becomes an even bigger echo chamber for the uneducated. Is it not our duty to come and fight with a vaccine denialist, or a conservative or someone who is in some other way unenlightened now and then? (instead of arguing, you could also choose a more socratic approach, or just be that persistently cool perfectly rational actor in any discussion)
  2. What replaces facebook as the admittedly flawed but largest virtual human gathering ever? Related to this: Facebook is the most accessible publication platform we have ever had. More people have a voice and can be heard than ever before. Do we really want to take that away?

Let me know in the comments what you think. I promise I’ll only mine a little bit of your metadata.

New arduino blog posts at vxlabs

My arduino – artwork journey continues. Over on vxlabs I have published a short post on the itead shield 3.3V jumper, and a much more interesting post showing a barebones solution (i.e. no additional software) to using the JetBrains CLion IDE for Arduino sketch programming.

I hope that these help future travellers on their quest.

WHV Film Club: Blade Runner 2049

The original Blade Runner was an important part of my upbringing.

This weekend I, up to this point 100% unspoilered, finally got around to watching all but the last 30 minutes of Blade Runner 2049, and I was utterly blown away.

It’s true what they say: You can take just about any scene from the movie, and look at it like you look at a painting. The scenes are thought- and emotion-provoking.

Without giving anything away, the story is an amazing example of how great science fiction is the perfect mechanism for making us think deeply about strange but extremely relevant human situations.

Tot gauw

Over the past few weeks, these blog posts have played a small but necessary role in more than one high quality human connection.

Each time this happens, the time I spend here feels like it has been rewarded 100 times over.

I thank you, and I look forward to the next time that we may meet.

Weekly Head Voices #136: Slightly more than nothing much.

The majestic view from Bodega onto the Dornier cellar and the Hottentots-Holland mountain behind it.

Welcome back peeps! Make yourselves at home.

It seemed that nothing much happened during most of the week, but I started writing anyway. It turns out there was slightly more than nothing much. Writing stuff down does have its perks.

vimium

Pro-tip of the week: Install vimium. It’s a chrome extension which enables you to SURF THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY with just a bunch of keyboard shortcuts.

I avoided this for the longest time because it has the word “vim” in its name, but I was wrong.

I can now waste time on reddit, twitch and youtube 73% more efficiently, every day.

nerd works

As far as I can remember, my work week was pretty straight-forward.

I started implementing PDF reports again, but for a different application. wkhtmltopdf is now magically broken in different ways from the previous time. Compared to bundling and maintaining a stripped-down TeXLive, or paying the $995 license for pdftk with which PDF forms can be programmatically filled in, this is the best choice at the moment.

Remember, there are no answers, only choices, even when baking PDFs.

For Most Major Sideproject (MMS) I unfortunately had to do some front-end programming. I say unfortunately, because the back-end is all machine learning and cleverness, and then I smash my little programming clown car into the idiot brick wall that is web frontends. At least react makes the crash slightly less painful, and this time react-router helped me to get my URLs synchronised with app state fairly easily.

Ok maybe it’s not that bad.

My new Robotdyn Arduino SAMD21 M0 boards arrived! This is arduino, but with a 32bit ARM Cortex M0+ instead of the Atmel 328p on the UNO boards. After some more hours of struggling to get Arduinos talking to each other via XBEE radios, I now know much more about programming these gadgets than I ever wanted to.

Mostly due to the very-badly-documented-and-seemingly-unsupported itead arduino-xbee interface boards I’m using, I am closer but have not yet received any cigars. (pro-tip: That extra top 3.3V jumper does more than just control level shifting. It also connects A0, RTS and DIN together. If you think you’re going to use A0 for RTS, your xbee will mysteriously hardware reset every 5 seconds. However, if you disconnect the jumper, your board will hardware reset every 5 seconds no matter what you do. Pro-tip: Don’t buy itead.)

new beer warlord

On Wednesday I tasted a new craft beer (this does not happen very often anymore, as I’ve had almost all of them) during a Top Secret Business Meeting. It’s the War Lord IPA by Darling Brew:

This might even be more metal than their Bone Crusher <INSERT HEAVY METAL GUITAR RIFF HERE>, which is extremely high praise. As IPAs go, I will definitely make this choice again, perhaps  even in the very near future.

part of the weekend never dies

On Saturday and Sunday morning (overnight parties are the BEST parties) we had long-time friends over for a dinner party.

Something like 25 years ago we did the Magoebaskloof hiking trail together. There’s nothing like sharing meals of dried soya (just add water, INDISTINGUISHABLE from meat the packet said), dried mash (“smash” I believe) and dried vegetables during days of hiking through the forest for getting to know each other better.

Besides the hiking, and many student parties, there was also the little matter of me meeting my life partner through this connection. Not unimportant.

Anyways, craft beer (King’s Blockhouse IPA, nice and strong), great local wine (a Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend which more or less satisfies my “expensive Chardonnay” criterion) and brilliant food (chicken, extremely slow over the fire) acted as the culinary backdrop for naturally flowing and energising conversation.

Thank you long-time friends!

Late morning Sunday we left for a family lunch at Bodega, restaurant at Dornier vineyard. This restaurant has made previous appearances in WHV #76 (July 1, 2014) and WHV #102 (January 20, 2016).

Again I can do nothing other than award it the WHV three thumbs up award! Wine-food-scenery-climate combinations really are amazing.

(I just noticed that the wine which was paired with my Mauritian (no, no Martian fish yet) seabass, and blew me away, also blew me away in 2014. It’s the Donatus White, Semillon-Chenin Blanc blend. External memories FTW.)

let us ponder: wa

Westerners are often very individualistic.

We are brought up with the mission to “be yourself”.

In Japan, there is “wa” (和) which wikipedia describes as: … harmony. It implies a peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests. (emphasis mine)

I understand that this has a different set of downsides to our individualism, but group harmony sure sounds nice. Perhaps in the future society we are going to start building soon, we could somehow combine “wa” with a deep respect for the scientific method, and in this way finally transform into the Star Trek Federation that we were promised.

bises

Have a productive but especially harmonious week kids! I hope to see you again soon.