Happiness slingshot. [Weekly Head Voices #61]

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.

3 thoughts on “Happiness slingshot. [Weekly Head Voices #61]”

  1. To “create value” is an excellent aim, I think. I often wonder whether academia is the ideal place to achieve this, though. The rewards and challenges are often not set up to favour neither creativity nor value. On the other hand, it gives a lot of freedom, which enables us to do so many things we would never otherwise be able to (and get paid for it). Maybe creative people build stuff while other people worry about their environments; I should pay heed to that :)

    1. Oooh, an extremely valuable comment!

      I’m still pondering the freedom of academia. Two weeks ago I was at the retirement symposium of Bob Duin (look it up: Pattern Recognition GOD). After giving an absolutely stunning talk that resonated with me in many different ways, he said “Enjoy the freedom that academia still does give you”. A nicely loaded statement if there ever was one…

      I think academic freedom comes at a price, a price that is for an unknown degree determined by your skill and determination. This mysterious equation can result in anything from continuous value creation right through to bureaucratic and political stasis at the other extreme. It unfortunately also seems to depend on the time of day and the phase of the moon.

      Perhaps this conversation can only be concluded after 30 years of experimentation? :)

  2. Great point Stefan. You’re saying that academia doesn’t necessarily provide that intrinsic drive to be creative?
    Academia also has the problem in that the value of it’s work cannot be easily measured at any point in time, mostly only retrospectively. Thats my understanding of how that freedom ties in too: you cannot be held to a deadline that you cannot be measured that easily. (But I am sure your bosses and those that dish out the funding give it a red hot go!) In my opinion, the puplication of papers underestimates your true value and creative input. What other metric is there?

    While academia “features” in my day job, service provision is king. I am on the further end of that spectrum. You can measure my “added value” down to the 15 minute increment. ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1673.2009.01209.x/pdf Page A78 paper O08 – designed by my boss. It plots the number of plain films we report every 15 min). This environment does not allow for work on the “bigger picture”.

    I think the answer lies somewhere in between. And the intrinsic drive is fed by that feedback loop of action to gratification. Everyone’s loop is different. Some people can work on “the problem to life the universe and everything”, figure it out, not realise it, and die very happy. Other people need the instant gratification of the repetitive small job that delivers the immediate return. I think I’m somewhere in between…

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