Weekly Head Voices #107: Balance.

mpumalanga_sunset

That’s how the African sun sets in Mpumalanga.

cheetah1

… and this is more or less what it looks like when a cheetah decides to grace you with its presence. We had it all to ourselves (this is quite unusual in the Kruger National Park with an animal of this level of celebrity) and were able to follow it until it wandered further away from the road, probably on the lookout for some dinner.

It was a brilliant week-long getaway with the newest little member of the family. The time is just long enough to allow for a complete switch-off (see the “you are turning into a cyborg” section of one of the previous KNP posts) with the balmy weather and the wild animal tracking just adding to the fun.

On the nerd front, I convinced my employer to get me a new Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic desktop. As I spend 8 hours or more monkey-typing on some sort of keyboard every day, having one that works well is quite important. I might have found a new favourite in the Sculpt Ergonomic. It looks like this:

ms_sculpt_ergonomic

It’s probably the most strangely shaped keyboard I have ever worked on, but it has grown on me quite quickly. The strange shape helps keep my arms and wrists in an even better posture than with the Comfort Curve 3000 (my previous favourite), and the chiclet keys combine just the right amounts of finger travel economy and tactile feedback in my opinion. My only gripe is that the escape key, which as Emacs user I quite often use, is smaller than the other keys and has a completely different feel.

(An extremely brief final aside on the nerd front: I briefly tried Evernote again as my current note-taking strategy does not support a good web-clipper, and my all-singing all-dancing non-linear knowledge management prototype, now in its seventh complete rewrite, is not ready yet. They’ve updated the Evernote look, but even with 5 or 6 clipped web pages in total in my database, I had trouble getting the android app to sync up with the web version.)

During my compulsive daily RSS feed / twitter / Google+ reading, I came across this interesting summary of recent research on changes in the aging brain. It’s the type of article that interests one especially when one is in possession of such an aging brain, and perhaps also when it reflects one’s own experiences, all completely hypothetically of course.

In any case, in yet another one of those examples of youth being wasted on the young it’s long been known that your brain is at its maximum processing capacity and speed during one’s early twenties. In my early twenties, the last thing I was thinking about was my mental performance peaking. It’s a sobering counterpoint that my brain’s processing speed has been steadily declining since my late twenties.

As a sort of a consolation prize, it is starting to look like our brains, when we succeed in keeping them healthy, develop more balanced patterns of activity as we get older. We work smarter rather than harder, unlike those twenty year olds who refuse to get off my lawn.

The article mentions the hypothesis that there might be something that could be called the neuro-circuitry of wisdom, consisting of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (responsible for rationality, discipline, and self-preservation), the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (associated with “kind, supportive, social, and emotional behavior needed for survival of species”), the anterior cingulate (which mediates conflicts between parts of the prefrontal cortex), and the striatum with amygdala (part of the reward circuitry) . With age, brain activity between all of these regions reaches a sort of balance, leading to the owner of said brain demonstrating feats of wisdom which will probably be witnessed by exactly no-one, almost like trees falling in the forest, or almost like the posts on this blog, minus the wisdom.

Here’s to hoping that, as we all near our inevitable final sunsets, we do in fact become ever so slightly wiser, and ever so slightly more capable of contributing peace and kindness to our surroundings; even, or perhaps especially, when no-one is watching.

(I just reminded me of Reggie Watts… see below.)

Weekly Head Voices #106: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

The view from the top of Paarl Rock.
From me to you: The view from the top of Paarl Rock as seen through my telephone and google’s megamind going through all my photos and trying to stitch them together.

Well hello everyone! I missed you, but due to reasons (read on…), this is the first time I’ve been able to get around to a weekly head voices.

I woke up one day and decided that the super-inventive internet handle I had chosen when registering my first personal domain in 1999 somewhere, namely cpbotha, was not cutting it anymore. I think this specific seed of discontent was planted when I joined someone’s livecoding.tv stream, only to have them mangle the in hindsight unpronounceable pronunciation of cpbotha (ku-pu-byooothuh).

CURSES.

Nobody told me about this additional requirement in ’99! I will ask for my money back.

In any case, after some fancy twitter footwork, I now have an additional handle: cvoxel. I realise this is only interesting to me and maybe one or two other nerds, but here we are. There might be some personality fragmentation behind all of this. I’ll have a chat with me later.

Friends in more advanced countries, when I show them the sun and the beer and the beaches and the mountains and the WILD BEASTS over here, usually simply point at my miserably slow internet connection, thereby restoring their faith in the balance that exists in our world. Due to another recent change, I can now offer this as a retort:

speedtest

This kind of bandwidth is pretty respectable for the balmy southern tip of the African continent. (plus that those internet packets are flying about 1km through the air, which is pretty cool!)

This year I did not go to AfrikaBurn, because reasons (read on…). Fortunately the photos only started showing up after the week (no internets for the burners of course!), but they did cause some really acute feels of nostalgia. It’s strange how last year’s experience, our first (Pompen en Pimpen forever!), has managed to become so deeply ingrained. I really hope to see you there next year.

My oldest sibling has started an adventure in Kiwi-land. His family will soon follow. I am happy for the adventurers, but I’m also sad to have them so far away.

A caffeine-infused mitochondrial interlude

You probably remember that adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is the most important form of energy that is produced for the largest part by the mitochondria in the nuclei of all of your cells. ATP is broken down when energy is required. ATP powers things like muscle contraction, cellular metabolism, signaling, and so on. Without it, you would be useless. Dead actually.

I just learnt from the wikipedia article that your body turns over its own weight (!!!) in ATP every day, which is pretty awesome.

The first factoid I wanted to mention, is the curious link caffeine has with ATP. So as you’re going through the day expending all that energy, ATP gets broken down into its constituents, one of which is of course adenosine. This adenosine binds to the adenosine receptors in your brain. When a certain threshold of adenosine receptors are bound, your body decides that it’s time to rest, so you get sleepy. During sleep, the adenosine is cleared as your body builds up new energy stores.

Caffeine is, besides being magical, a sort of adenosine impostor. When you drink coffee for example, the caffeine in your tasty drink will go and bind with your adenosine receptors, hence making it impossible for real adenosine to bind, but it will do so without actually activating those receptors. The end result is that your brain does not realise that it should be feeling sleepy, and so you don’t feel so tired.

I find it interesting that caffeine in fact interferes so fundamentally with this important physiological process.

What I found slightly more mind-blowing than that however, is the fact that the mitochondria, the little organelles where most of this ATP production takes place, and which are embedded right in all of your cell nucei, actually contain foreign DNA.

TUN-TUN-DUUUUUUUUUN!!!

Yes children, you have your own precious DNA in your cell nucleus, but the mitochondrion, the cell’s powerhouse, has its own separate genome. Long ago, we seem to have started a symbiotic relationship with a bacterial organism. Actually, we flat-out went and merged with them at an extremely intimate level.

Let us all take a few minutes to say hi to the beautiful little alien endo-symbionts embedded in our cell nuclei, without whom everything falls apart. We are all chaotic but somehow walking cellular mega-cities, and it’s just lovely.

My universe expanded

About those reasons…

Well, GOU#3 was born a few weeks ago.

She’s a beautiful pink little not-yet-walking but rapidly expanding cellular mega-city. I and the other more developed cellular mega-cities in this neck of the woods and all of our billions of cells are truly happy to have her with us.

May your neurotransmitters rejoice.

 

Dolphins on the R44

On Sunday, April 10, 2016, as if the day was not already perfect enough, we were super fortunate to see a pod of dolphins speeding along in the sea right next to the R44 coastal road.

The sight was so spectacular, that we could not spare a second to get our cameras out, so you’re going to have to be satisfied with this photo of me and GOU #1 admiring the pod as they swam out of sight.

dolphins_on_the_r44

(The level and amount of human excitement on the sides of the road was also something to experience.)

The photo still includes its EXIF GPS information, but here’s a map showing the exact location of the sighting for your interest:

Weekly Head Voices #105: There will be tears.

Congratulations, you have successfully completed the week of Monday February 8 to Sunday February 14, 2016!

About 4 seconds after posting previous edition WHV #104 to Facebook with the “When you’re a vegan <boy with bulging veins> and haven’t told anyone in 10 minutes” meme image included, friend Ivo T. zinged me with this reply:

12651073_10153234132252035_804640390912092906_n

So much truth. I have been put back in my place. Sorry vegans. Sorry MBA students. Not sorry Ayn Randers.

This is currently my favourite lager ever (at least until next week):

Jack Black Brewers Lager

It is indeed a craft beer. If we’ve ever chatted more than 10 minutes in the past (or in the future), you’ll know everything about my braai, and you probably also know that I find craft beer to be one of the greatest inventions ever, along with fire, and the internet.

Here’s a another beer which I recently had the pleasure of enjoying, at a secret networking meeting (yes, we have secret meetings where we in fact do manage a large number of aspects of your daily life, and where we also orchestrate it so you’ll never suspect that we are behind everything, subtly manipulating reality) where, when the beer arrived at the table, everyone who looked vaguely hipster-like claimed vocally not in fact to be even remotely hipster-like:

Tears of the Hipster Beer

META-HIPSTER CRAFT BEER! At first I was confused, but then I realised it was just another case of WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!

(By the way, I stripped the EXIF GPS data from the Jack Black photo, because privacy, but I left it hidden in the tears of the hipster. First one who tells me in the comments where the secret meeting was held gets a free craft beer!)

Nerd tip of the week: It’s somehow not prominent enough on their site, but GitLab, the open source GitHub alternative, also offer free hosting of an unlimited number of private repositories with an unlimited number of private collaborators. In other words, if you’re on a budget, you can host your commercial and proprietary project git repositories (and bug tracking and wikis) there at no cost. This is cheaper than github ($7 for the smallest subscription for 5 private repos) and better than bitbucket (private repos for free, but if you have more than 5 team members you have to pay). I pay quite gladly for the online services I use, but in this particular case, such a level of free is hard not to like.

Nerd tip #2 of the week: The Clang static C++ analyser is brilliant. If you program in C++, and you need to up your game, integrating this into your workflow is a solid step in the right direction. I’ve been using this via the scan-build method. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to know more about this!

After some professional ethernet cabling down to the sort-of basement of our new house, I have checked off another item from my non-existent bucket list: We now have a lab at our house. So far there are computers, all kinds of DIY supplies and art stuff for the genetic offspring units, and all of this to create. I spent some of the best times of my life in labs of some sort of another. It’s really great bringing some of that back home to my clan.

Have a great week kids, see you on the other side!

Weekly Head Voices #104: Let me update you.

This post is about things that I noticed in the week of Monday February 1 to Sunday February 7, 2016.

I dug up an email I wrote to Alex Stepanov and Meng Lee, authors of the C++ Standard Template Library on Monday August 3, 1998, to ask them if they would have written a matrix template, if they would have derived it from the vector template. Stepanov answered, the next day (!), that he had never found much use for inheritance. In those days, nerd celebrities mailed you back. Also, poor old C++ inheritance…

A few years later, but still back in the day, @gerwindehaan and I wrote a time management web-app which could automatically schedule all of your tasks. In other words, it would decide exactly what you needed to do when in order to hit all of your deadlines, your appointments and your priorities. It had an ugly UI (story of my life), but it worked (story of my life?). That whole adventure marked the start of our downward spiral away from academia and into the sea of money and debauchery we currently find ourselves in. In any case, I resurrected the old TimeScapers website and wrote a short little retrospective blog post if you’re interested.

I got tired of waiting for the OTA (over the air) update to Marshmallow (that’s Android 6.0) for my LG G3, so I booted into Windows 10 (yes, I have a partition with that also), and used LGUP with the 8974 DLL  (very important to use this and NOT the 8994, else you WILL FAIL) and the official LG G3 Marshmallow KDZ (1.3GB md5sum 711d91254f5e3e02536395b35e1d534f) to upgrade the phone. After one day I can say the following: Looks mildly prettier and feels slightly smoother, but battery life has improved phenomenally. Let me know in the comments if you need help with doing this on your own phone.

The graphical warning below is why I’m not ready to shave my beard quite yet (click for imgur source):

what happens when you shave

As you might or might not have heard, our currency has recently taken quite a serious knock. Fortunately, it’s still extremely good for exchanging for meaty pleasures, such as the almost 2.5kg of rib-eye and t-bone you see in the photo below. Prepared and enjoyed with good friends, this was as beautiful as it looks. The hand you see in the picture belongs to my friend, who is a giant.

rib-eye t-bone yum

Don’t worry, I don’t eat that much meat every day. Also, when I grow up, I want to be a vegan:

bmyBQBE - Imgur

(It’s almost just like when someone is doing their MBA! Have I offended enough people yet? I was also planning to insult people who manage to take Ayn Rand seriously, but they’re not very good with multi-syllabic words, or reading in general. Furthermore, my beef with vegans (I’m on the roll here) and with MBA students is actually just good-natured teasing, a tone I would prefer to maintain. For now.)

Have a great week kids, I hope to see you on the other side!