The 2018 to 2019 transition post.

The sun setting over a lighthouse with a mysterious path in the front. I might just have maxed out my quota of clichéd ending / beginning symbolism, but this situation really just presented itself a few days ago. One previous year as I arrived at this particular lighthouse, it had a rainbow as well. I think the lighthouse itself is, analogously to Mitch Hedberg’s blurry bigfoot, inherently clichéd.

Welcome to this, the most recent (as of this writing) instance of the venerable WHV year transition post tradition!

You can find previous editions here:

  • 2017 to 2018 – short post, can be summarised as: “Sorry I stopped blogging for a while, I did run a bit, I’m going to blog more.”
  • 2016 to 2017 – substantial post (1800 words) with: “education will improve stupid politics; running, blogging, meditation; we made a new baby!!; kindness and gratefulness; life changes the whole time, deal with it.”
  • 2011 to 2012 – transition post disguised as WHV with: “stop doing life goals, disconnect more, list of miscellaneous life tips, because in 2011 I am not-even-40-yet Mr Wisdom”.
  • 2009 to 2010 – super short but sweet, I am clearly still new at this.

Putting that list together just reminded me of an interesting observation: The more I try to take notes and document everything I see, the more I notice the multiscalar nature of my subjective experience being exposed.

I make detailed daily notes, all of them grouped in monthly text files.

At a slightly higher scale, the frequency of these WHV blog posts is somewhere between a post per week down to a post every three weeks.

When I write each blog post, I look back through the previous weeks, at a daily scale, and perform an extremely lossy summarisation.

When I write the year transitions, I perform an extremely lossy summarisation of the weekly-scale WHV posts.

The list above links together the various yearly transition posts, thus creating a lovely ball of multi-scalar confusion, which should not be confused with a lemur ball, shown below:

At the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay, I learned that lemurs huddle together in these aptly called “lemur balls” to share body heat. When it’s cold enough, they even take turns to be in the middle.

WARNING: This post has grown into a long ramble over the past few days. I hope that you enjoy reading the ramble as much as I did thinking of you while writing it.

Focus: Quantity and Quality.

This post has been taking a while.

I am now back here at the start, after having been almost at the end, because I did not want you to have the idea that my 2018 did not have aspects I am not that happy with, or that I don’t use multiple negations in confusing ways often enough.

(As an aside, a friend and I have been exchanging photos of the less glamorous but entirely normal aspects of our vacations via WhatsApp: Plastic on the beach, the washing line, filthy toilets, truly terrible interior decor, and so on. What started as a joke has turned into an unintended but interesting psychological experiment in reverse image crafting, strongly underlining the effect that this sort of communication can have.)

Back to my main story: During retrospection, I have the tendency to focus (sorry, couldn’t resist) on the good parts, because this is what I remember the best.

However, for the purpose of this post, I did want to spend some words on one of the (multiple!) issues that I struggled with in 2018.

Either I am getting worse at focusing, or I am getting better at noticing when I lose focus, or a combination of both.

At the very least five of the posts I wrote in 2018 dealt in some way with focus.

The mentioned posts specifically and my thinking generally take the form of some analysis but mostly tools and tricks to try and improve the frequency, intensity and length of periods of focus.

(What you don’t read in the posts because of above-mentioned memory bias, is that there is usually a significant amount of inwardly-directed regret and disappointment involved.)

Even more subtle is the problem of selecting That One Most Suitable Thing to focus on. What’s going to have the most impact? What do I have capacity for at the moment? Can I trust my own subjective assessment of my current capacity, or is Lazy-Me being sneaky?

By the time I have made a decision, it’s probably wrong. Sometimes it’s a good decision, but by then the little block of time I had has flown away or has been blown to smithereens by the latest interruption, and so the quality of the decision is moot.

I would have expected that at this advanced age focus would come naturally and easily, and that I would know exactly what to do. However, I have had to accept that focus will probably remain this slippery and require constant attention (haha I see what I did there) until the very end.

Besides eating well, sleeping well, exercising regularly and taking time to meditate (just in case!), our old friend the pomodoro technique is still the best tool in the box.

Blogging.

During 2018, 36 blog posts were published here, most of which were Weekly Head Voices. Those of you who have a math degree or two will not need much time to calculate that the “W” in “WHV” is at the moment mostly a little inside joke.

However, I did publish 14 more posts than I did in 2017, so there is hope for this year!

The wordpress.com statistics plugin reports just over 19000 visitors (unique IP numbers) who were responsible for just over 26000 page views for the whole year.

Because many people use some form of ad and/or tracking blocking these days, their visits won’t be counted, as the wordpress.com statistics relies on a tiny image which is hosted by wordpress.com, access to which is (rightfully) blocked by many blocker plugins.

In order to get a better idea of how many ad-blocker people read my stuff, I installed the wp-statistics plugin, which locally tallies up all visits and hence is not blocked by blockers, at the start of March. For the period from March 2018 until the end of the year, it is reporting just over 74000 visitors and somewhere north of 390000 page hits.

Although to me this seems on the high side, I do think we can safely say that there were somewhere between 19000 and 74000 unique hosts, which to me is a very pleasant surprise.

However, I am by far the happiest due to all of the interactions I had with friends, mostly old and some new, on this blog. Most recently, the comments section of WHV #156 blew up in such a brilliant way!

More generally speaking, even when there are no comments, I know that throughout the year I am connecting with various subsets of my peeps through the posts on this blog. This acts as tremendous motivation to keep on writing. If even a single friend reads, it has been more than worth it.

(BTW, there is now a telegram group, quite surprisingly called “headvoices”, that you can join to receive a summary whenever a new post is published, and for general chitchat. Although so far only two of my most avant-garde friends have joined, this new form of blog-related communication excites me!)

Looking forward:

Surprisingly, I again will aim to write one WHV post per week.

I will probably fail again, but I believe that this is one of those cases of “aim for the stars, reach the moon”.

As mentioned above, writing these letters and writing them regularly is really important to me.

(BTW, I should probably have declared email bankruptcy years ago. I am just managing to keep head above water, but writing letters to friends like we used to do in the old days is becoming increasingly difficult. What is your feeling currently re email and how it has changed over the past few years?)

Running.

Strava says I ran 1286km in 2018.

Seeing that I had set myself a private goal of 1000km for 2018 (2016 was 440km and 2017 was 880km), I am quite happy with this.

(As an aside, I spent 119 hours running, spread out over a total of 149 runs, which means 2.86 runs every week of the year.)

I did 770 of those 1286 kilometres in sandals, and a further 35km on barefoot.

More importantly, I had to learn the humbling lesson that no amount of stubborn, brute-force exercise could work around the fact I am flat footed (arch-challenged?), resulting in easily overworked posterior tibial tendons.

As I pushed my weekly distance up, my feet complained more loudly, until I was forced to go back to normal-person-running-shoes.

After a few weeks eating humble pie in running shoes, things are going much better, and I recently did my first short and careful run in sandals.

(Similar to the observation confirmed by the pattern recognition heroine veronikach in her end-of-2018 post, I too ran slower this year in order to run better. I did this for the largest part due to my temporarily busted ankles, but also because more experienced athletes at work recommended heart rate training. For the past few hundreds of kilometres, I have regulated my running speed to try and keep my heart rate within the 75% to 85% of maximum range, mostly ending up closer to 85% than 80%. This has increased the occurrence of those addictive perfect runs, and it has helped to keep my ankles out of trouble.)

Looking forward:

In 2019, I would be happy to maintain my 2018 monthly running quota, to remain injury-free, and to maximise my running zen.

(“Running slow” explained above can contribute substantially to the latter two goals.)

I do have an additional concrete (but very humble) running-related resolution for 2019, but I have decided to keep that quiet until it’s in the pocket. :)

Other plans for 2019.

Experiment Alcohol Zero #2.

Yesterday, which at the time of writing is January 4, 2019, was the first day of EAZ #2.

It has been two years since the previous EAZ in 2016. The previous experiment coincided with a significant jump in my running performance, the effects of which did not fade away after the end of the experiment.

This time around, the plan is to run EAZ for at least as long as in 2016, but hopefully a few days or weeks longer.

(I should probably call this EA<0.5, as that is what my current favourite “alcohol-free” beer, Devil’s Peak Zero to Hero, claims.)

Ship more side-projects.

Most nerds I know have side-projects.

These are the technical artifacts, systems and machines one builds, because one can’t stop building stuff, even after work ends.

Like most nerds, I have a number of these that started with high momentum (new programming language, new tools, new problem, EXCITING! … 3 hours later … NOVELTY COMPLETELY WORN OFF doh.) and are now lying around gathering dust.

Inspired by a colleague who managed to ship a brilliant shooter game side-project on Steam last year, I made myself the promise to ship more side-projects.

After that, I managed to ship two side-projects, one small and the other quite tiny.

This was a satisfying experience that I would like to continue in 2019.

(P.S. the problem with shipping side-projects, is that you now have more things that you actually have to look after. Next year I’ll think up a resolution for unmaintained shipped side-projects.)

Mindful more.

This is a simple one.

I used to spend a few minutes every second morning before work doing simple mindfulness breathing and focus exercises.

It was worth the modest time investment many times over, in terms of focus, and especially in terms of seeing life in perspective.

In the second half of 2018 I let this habit slip for some or other reason. I think it’s because I convinced myself that running time could also count as meditation time.

In 2019, I’m going to #bringbackthemeditation.

Learn more.

During 2018, I started taking a more structured approach to the books I wanted to read, and the courses I wanted to follow, by tracking these in my sneaky longer term goals which form part of my daily planning routine.

More structure meant more books read to completion, and more courses followed, resulting in an Ever So Slightly Improved Me.

I am planning to continue and extend this practice in 2019.

Evolve The System.

The System.

The System is Emacs, and orgmode, and multi-scalar note-taking everywhere, and sketching, and daily habits, and a whole bag of tricks to try and keep this creaky old frame moving in the right direction.

One step, and then another, and then another, until the lights finally go out.

Try to grow a tree.

I grew up with a fuerte avocado tree that gave us hundreds of the divine fruit every season.

Fast-forward 40 odd years, and my mom (HI MOM!) gave us a beautiful baby fuerte avocado tree for Christmas!

The baby avocado tree, right after we transferred it to its new home, in a little nest of fine compost and bone meal.

We are currently trying to nurture it through its first few weeks of life in our garden.

With the summer sun, and the new environment, it’s a bit touch and go at the moment, but we’re really rooting for that baby tree! (bad pun quota exhausted now?!)

Conclusion

This is it my friends.

You have made it to the end, an endeavour for which I am truly grateful.

I wish you a 2019 filled with growth, health and happiness.

This reminds me of a certain sunset in the Tankwa desert with a rather funny helicopter.

5 thoughts on “The 2018 to 2019 transition post.”

  1. I too grew up with an avo tree. Avo on toast was a common meal. Don’t know what variety it was but it once gave us a 1.4kg avo. Unbelievable I know, but I weighed it myself and to this day know no other avo that even comes close. I think it was a world record candidate. In case you were wondering, it tasted like any other avo, just more of it.

    1. We used to have an avo tree that steadfastly refused to deliver any fruit. That was until Adam came along, and told us that we needed to hit a few nails into the trunk. We were skeptical, for obvious reasons, but, sure enough, the tree started carrying, and I also enjoyed many avo toasts (long before it became the go-to meal for hipsters at 9 USD a pop). I wonder if that tree would have carried either way; poor thing.

      Charl, could 2019 finally be the year in which you succumb to structural appeal of the serial comma? ;)

      Karl, I made a red pepper / tomato / cashew soup from a Happy Pear recipe today; simple and scrumptious. Thank you for that reference.

      Take care friends, and a very happy (and focused ;) New Year to you all!

      1. Interesting, I had heard that putting a nail in a tree could kill it. A quick google reveals this is true, but only for copper nails. So copper nail in tree is bad, and a few = dead tree. Weirdly, in researching that I learned of several ways to kill trees… (self suppresses evil ideas) Apparently normal steel nails won’t harm it. I know some plants will seed under stress, so maybe it was that. I’ve also discovered that trees grown from a pip won’t bear fruit until they are about 10 years old, whereas a tree from a nursery is usually grafted and will produce after only 3 or 4 years.

        Another avo related tip: I recently learned from a friend who worked in a commercial kitchen that you can bake unripe avos to make them ripe. I think there’s a technique to it but if you have an avo emergency, this could get you out of a jam.

        And speaking of baking: My wife discovered only last week that if you bake tofu, you can give it a tougher texture. I absolutely hate tofu for its jelly like texture and till now never ate it. She discovered it from this recipe where they mention it at the end:
        https://cookieandkate.com/2015/thai-red-curry-recipe/print/23970/
        Honestly, if it wasn’t cut in squares, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between chicken and this baked tofu. I highly recommend trying this. This curry is also a winner and worthy of the list.

        And here’s my favourite new salad:
        https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-shredded-cabbage-and-sweet-potato-slaw-239541
        The oranges add something awesome.

        1. That curry is a house favorite! And baking tofu is magical; a trick we also learned from Kate’s cookbook; I should try it as a scramble.

          This week, I did a gooey polenta and mushroom recipe from “Plenty” (https://houseandhome.com/recipe/mushroom-herb-polenta-recipe/). Delicious! But the gem was in the recipe description, where the author mentions her dad frying polenta in olive oil. So, you double up the recipe, keep some aside, and the next day slice it up and fry it. The new, crusty outer layer and nutty roasted flavor is transformative!

          The other experience I had recently, that will cause eye-rolls-of-we-told-you-so from seasoned vegans, is how simply blending cashews and water creates a cream substitute that is deeply (disturbingly?) satisfying. I may start buying cashews in bulk.

          To balance this post, we need to travel to the extreme other side of the spectrum (*vegan trigger warning*): this is where Stéfan attends a New Year’s barbecue at a friend’s place. A wood fire creates the perfect ambience; hot coals are glowing on the side in anticipation. Then, the host (who, himself, was a butcher in a previous life) comes out and flings a thick piece of steak directly onto the coals. Eyes big, everyone takes half a step back, anticipating an explosion of fat and smoke. But, instead, the cooking is sedate—and quick. The result: perfectly consistent medium-rare steak. Turns out this is also method favored by US President Eisenhower: http://i.imgur.com/kIide.gif Who knew! And a lot easier than the opposite side of the spectrum, sous-vide, where you need to carefully monitor the temperature so you don’t breed a colony of salmonella.

          Finally, a tip of the hat to food explorer Anthony Bourdain, whom I met at a book signing many years ago. I brought his book home to my wife, who read the first chapter, burst into tears, and did not touch meat for another six months. Powerful writing. I quote from an interview with those close to him (https://www.gq.com/story/anthony-bourdain-men-of-the-year-tribute):

          Collins: If anything can be said about Tony, he was an unbelievable guest.

          Helen Rosner (food correspondent, ‘The New Yorker’): I remember sitting across from him at this table at this sort of sticky beer bar and him saying to me, “Helen, it makes a difference if you walk in the door saying, ‘I’m going to love it here,’ or you walk in the door saying, ‘This place is going to suck.’ ”

          Ripert: He never complained about anything. That was something that struck me about Tony. You could be hours in a car, or you could be in freezing weather, or you could be in a room with very unpleasant people, and Tony would not complain, ever.

          So, that is my resolution for 2019: to walk into every door, saying “I’m going to love it here”.

  2. Long time lurker here. I have enjoyed reading your WHV, and follow along by clicking when a bot posts it to #blogging on zatech. Thanks for the interesting posts.

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