Welcome, dear readers, to the 206th edition of the Weekly Head Voices, covering the two weeks from Monday September 21 to Sunday October 4, 2020.
Mount Ceder beauty
The weather prediction for the September 25 long weekend did not look good at all.
Temperatures in the low single digits, and rain.
We were unable to reschedule our reservation, and so, with significant trepidation, we packed our things for the weekend and made the drive to Mount Ceder.
As we entered the valley right before arriving at our destination, the rugged and wonderful beauty of the surroundings quickly started dispelling our puny expectations.
The weather did turn out almost exactly as was predicted, but our time there ended up being the brilliant opposite of what we had feared.
In between spells of rain, there was plenty of fresh sunshine outside, with a super effective little closed combustion fireplace inside the house to keep it toasty.
The outside jacuzzi which we discovered late on the Saturday afternoon might also have played a role in the amount of fun that was had.
It does also need to be said that the fact that there’s no telephone reception is a massive perk for us visitors.
The older I get, the more I enjoy disconnecting.
VCBM 2020, virtually
Thanks to the modern miracle that is virtual conferences, I was able to attend a large part of the Visual Computing in Biology and Medicine (VCBM) 2020 conference.
Although I am super interested in the themes and people of this conference, it is usually not possible for me to fly around the globe to take part in this or any other relevant academic gathering.
However, the current pandemic has brought with it a whole host of changes, not least of which is the concept of being able to participate, as a first class citizen, in an international conference.
It was really great, although slightly nostalgic, connecting with friends and colleagues from years ago.
Just being able to join in on the post-talk question sessions, and in the surreal social rooms on discord where you find yourself in a grid of talking heads, was super enjoyable.
(It has to be noted here that the technical aspects of VCBM 2020 were also top-class. Everything, from the interactive block-based conference programme with downloadable papers, to the youtube streams for each session, to the discord channels for real-time discussion and the discord channels for social video conferencing, was simply top notch!)
Multi-tasking virtual meetings: Quo vadis?
What was also interesting to hear, was a possibly less positive aspect of virtual conferencing, specifically that academic peeps were now in the situation where they often had to multi-task whilst taking part in the conference.
In the old days, pre-COVID, it could definitely happen that folks had to take care of a few emails or perhaps even a video meeting, but the majority of the day would be spent conferencing.
That is, people from potentially right around the globe would be chatting face-to-face about anything and everything, an activity which is truly important for collaboration, and friendship.
Now it seems that this ratio has changed, where most of the time folks are expected to be available online for additional tasks and interactions, while conferencing in parallel.
In my day job I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon, where one can often notice that people taking part in a meeting are only partially present.
Whilst this is perhaps a good thing for a number of meetings that are by their nature not that efficient, I think that it’s a dangerous habit to cultivate.
Imagine that by default, every meeting means your poor cognition trying to keep up with multiple streams of information at the same time. Looking at it from a different perspective, now you have even less confidence that your collaborators are paying attention to what is being discussed.
This might be yet another reason to favour asynchronous offline communication, that is, writing long-form messages on message boards, with synchronous face-time being reserved more and more for purely social reasons.
On Thursday October 1, too much distraction was too much
Seguing right on from the synchronous communication point above, On October 1 I unfortunately needed to be jacked-in to Teams, WhatsApp and Discord for the whole day, for various good reasons.
It was only around 16:20 that I was able to snap out of all of this and jack out again, with Lazar Focus helping to bring a bit of welcome rest and, surprise(!), focus.
Before that, anxiety about possibly missing something kept me from plugging out for even short bursts to be able to do work.
It’s funny how the expectations, real or perhaps more often just perceived, of one’s surroundings make it extremely difficult to disconnect, which leads to more time lost to these various forms of distraction, which leads to further anxiety, which further complicates just taking those few steps back and pulling the plug.
I wish I had a trick to manage all of this better.
That time I nuked all of my computers with a partition resize and move that should have taken no more than 5 minutes
Massive nerd warning: If you don’t want to know about filesystems, feel free to skip this section. Before you do however, take this advice from me: Avoid AOMEI.
My goal was simple: Move the newly appeared recovery partition (in addition to the one at the start of the disk) to its end, so that I can grow my main system partition to fill the available space on the drive.
Some years ago I had used EaseUs for something similar, but they wanted payment for this task, and current reviews were pointing quite convincingly in the direction of AOMEI.
Narrator: The reviews were all tragically wrong.
My specific use case is even documented exactly on the AOMEI website, see this page.
I followed those steps exactly.
My computer rebooted twice in order to perform the two actions:
- move recovery partition, and
- resize system partition…
… to conclude finally by leaving my laptop in a 100% unusable state.
No boot, no nothing.
I tried various combinations of booting into safe mode, which worked at first but showed me the full drive’s space available, meaning that the filesystem had probably been damaged.
I later booted with Windows installation media, from where I launched various
rescue attempts, including the stalwart
bootrec /rebuildbcd and all of its
AOMEI had done a pretty great job in completely destroying my partition table and filesystem.
Narrator: He got what he paid for!
I ended up installing Windows 10 twice, the second time with the soon-to-be-released 20H2 install media, because installing the old 1909 and then upgrading was taking far too long.
The whole exercise, or should I say “lesson”, cost me about a day.
Stoic narrator: Fortunately, the situation afterwards was better than it was before.
- My main WSL2 ubuntu 20.04 image, where most of my development work happens, remained untouched on the second SSD and was up and running pretty quickly after the Windows re-install.
- My backups demonstrably work, although Windows File History is truly klunky compared to Apple’s Time Machine.
- In the chaos of trying to get my work environment back up and running, I also had to upgrade my deep learning Linux desktop machine to Ubuntu 20.04. (It started as a Murphy’s law situation, where both my laptop and the desktop were unusable, the latter due to a stupid Ubuntu bug manifesting as a non-working keyboard)
- A fresh install of Windows feels really fresh.
My mind is a slippery eel
Recently I had to work on a chunk of software system design.
It starts with nothing laid down, just a general idea of what this pretty significant feature should be able to do.
Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, you have to start laying down the bottom-most levels of the design that will eventually be able to make those high-level desired features a reality.
This whole growing Rube Goldberg machine has to stay in your mind for a large part of the day, as you’re mentally twisting, turning and replacing bits here and there.
Most of these days, getting my brain to stay focused felt a lot like trying to hold on to a really slippery eel, and, if that wasn’t tricky enough, trying to aim the sporadically working laser, badly mounted on its slippery head, to try and carve something recognisable from a block of slowly melting ice.
By the end of most days, it would mostly not feel like it had been very productive.
I tried to make peace with the fact that some sorts of work, coupled with all of the usual emotional interactions, would often result in this sort of feeling.
In that moment, this did also help me to get back into the habit of daily meditation practice. Fortunately there’s the Waking Up app by Sam Harris which is perfect for this. Using this, I am usually able to squeeze in a 10 minute practice before work starts, which subjectively seems to bring a little more equanimity into each day.
Looking back at this experience now, it also seems like a strong vote for paying more attention to the daily “done” list.
Although I mostly remember to journal every day, I often forget to look at it also from the perspective of compactly listing the little tasks that have been completed.
This could be tricky when working on an amorphous project like “design this vague thing”, but I think that it’s more about the ritual of formulating and then reviewing a small but plausible thing that is now apparently done.
This seems to fool the anxious parts of one’s brain into a semblance of temporary calm, enabling some of the other parts to get back to work.
This too I shall file this under “101 stupid but effective tricks to fool your mind into being more useful”.
P.S. I just discovered that some part of January-2019-Charl already did.
P.P.S. “Fool your mind”, although it sounds much less awesome than “free your mind”, seems to be a recurring aspect of effectively operating the human machine.