Weekly Head Voices #161: Email Equilibrium.

fastmail This folder is empty

Welcome to the one hundred and sixty first edition of the Weekly Head Voices, looking back at the week from Sunday January 27 to Sunday February 3, 2018.

I am writing this draft in a markdown file, using good old Emacs, during an early morning session (more about that later), because I am still not really loving the Gutenberg block-based editor experience in WordPress 5.0.

Today, I have three stories:

Running inspiration

After a month-long normal-shoe-person hiatus at the end of last year which again led to tender ankles, I realised (I’m a slow realiser, ok?) that it’s not the shoes but the person in the shoes.

Because it seemed that the shoes initially offered some relief, I reflexively started increasing distance and speed until my ankles started complaining again.

Durnit!

I then chatted with an erstwhile collaborator who is now, besides still being a successful tech entrepreneur, a successful sandal-wearing ultra runner and Leadville Trail 100 mile finisher.

He gave great advice, especially with regard to continuously training complementary muscle groups so that they can better contribute to the whole running mechanism.

Perhaps more importantly (to me) than that, was simply knowing that someone with a history, mechanism and control system not too dissimilar from mine, including the flat feet, runs so far with much joy.

Shortly after the chat, friend LM sent me this highly interesting Run Repeat survey of 150+ studies about arch support.

Amongst other things, it again confirmed what we know about barefoot and minimalist runners running with less impact and more efficiency, two ideas that I really like.

All of this led to me getting back on my Lunas, and my Xeros, and my bare feet.

I have been keeping the distances shorter, and my pace lower.

Initial results are encouraging.

P.S. Of course that survey does not come with a simple answer. However, the quote at the end by itself is worth the price of admission:

If you don’t need an arch support, you probably shouldn’t use one. It is the equivalent of wearing a cast when you don’t have a stress fracture or broken bone. Why would you do that? The best forms of injury prevention are make sure your body is balanced in strength, mobility and flexibility, you are training smart and getting good sleep and nutrition. An arch support affects only one aspect of the body. Don’t forget the big picture.

A FAR cheaper and more long term solution? Work on you arch, foot and hip strength!!! That is where you are supposed to get “arch support” from. Not some shoe insert. Work on your posterior tibialis, fibularis longus, single leg balance, proprioception, gluteal strength, core strength, body alignment, etc.

Dr Mathew Klein

Early(ish) morning sessions

It usually takes us until about 20:30 and often up to about 21:00 when all of our GOUs are finally in their beds. There’s a spread of 10 years between the oldest and the youngest, so there’s a wide range of themes and activities keeping us busy until that hour.

In my younger days (ack!) I used to be able to switch my work brain back on at that time, and work quite productively for a few hours.

(It is of course also possible that I just don’t remember this too well. Who knows what’s real anymore?!)

Whatever the case may be, it seems that I wrote blog posts, did some more reading and learning, and was generally productive.

More recently however, I’ve noticed that my work brain simply refuses to come back online at nine.

In order to work around this issue, my awake brain devised a plan, during the daylight hours of course.

Instead of trying to force poor work-brain to continue working, I go to bed at 22:00 and set my alarm for 5:30 (the optimal amount of sleep these days is 7.5 hours exactly). It does not seem like much, but I have an extra 50 minutes to an hour of crystal clear time in the mornings before the rest of the family wakes up to start the day.

(I also used to do this in 2012 when we were finishing The Visual Computing in Medicine Book. In Dutchie-land, the kids go to school much later, so I had even more time in the mornings.)

I usually start the morning with a little mindfulness exercise from the Waking Up course (extremely high-stress double-project-lead duties in 2013 were the catalyst that got me into mindfulness and early morning practices in the first place!), then I do the day planner, and then I take care of one or two important activities, the selection of which is usually clear after the day planning.

(It has not escaped me that this whole exercise is quite reminiscent of HN’s startup founder daily routine parody. :).

This morning, I get to write the words you are currently reading, with a clear(ish) mind to boot.

Whether this is just novelty, I don’t know yet, but it currently does seem as if starting the day with a bit of quiet and focus increases the probability the rest of my day at the office also starts more productively.

Inbox under control. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

In the old days, I used to be a fan of inbox zero.

However, due to life stubbornly not adhering to Merlin Mann’s view of email (quite poetically, it seems that the inboxzero.com website is currently down), I eventually ended up with 1000+ unread emails in my inbox. (I know people with multiples of that…)

The term email bankruptcy (shudder) had even come up once or twice in conversations with friends.

Whoops.

I wrote back in WHV #69 that there seemed to be an inverse correlation between my creativity and inbox-zero.

I still think there is something to be said for that observation.

One can definitely get sucked into busy-work, a prime example of which is the grooming of one’s email, wasting time and energy that could far better be invested in creative pursuits.

However, could it be possible in some situations that one’s email landscape has changed in such a way that it has suddenly become tractable to maintain inbox-zero with a creativity-friendly and entirely affordable amount of energy?

Could it be that because one has let email slip so long, people don’t send as much email anymore, and now one paradoxically has the opportunity to reclaim inbox zero?

It seems it can be.

On January 31, at the tail end of that day’s early morning session, I was staring incredulously at the words:

This Folder is Empty.

my inbox

I don’t want to call this inbox zero, because it’s not 2007 anymore Dorothy.

Let’s go for Email Equilibrium Startup Founder Parody instead.

P.S.

Friends, thank you for reading this.

I am looking forward to our next meeting.

Weekly Head Voices #160: Write stuff down.

In the foreground, the mortar and pestle I used to mash together garlic, ginger, a serenade chilli, green cardamom pods, a whole cinnamon quill, one bay leaf, some curry powder for even more oomf, turmeric, coriander, salt and a few cloves. This paste ended up in that blurry red cast iron pot on the coals to result, a few hours later, in a delectable chicken curry potjie.

Welcome to the first WHV of the year 2019 folks!

In what is hopefully just a minor incident and not a portent of calamitous events to come, we have already skipped the first two weeks of the year, which means this WHV looks back at the three weeks from Monday January 7 to Saturday January 26.

I guess this would not be the WHV if we did not start off with some sort of awkwardness or miscellaneous embarrassment, so: CHECK!

Because you are probably thirsty for your WHV now, I tried to write you a long and rambly edition, with pictures! (Because it’s so long and rambly, and because markdown, I have liberally sprinkled with headings and sub-headings, so that those of you with lives outside of blog reading can hop, skip and jump through like the professionals you are.)

The future is here: Long-form blog posts on the iPad.

This also would not be the WHV if we did not have some little digital trick to reveal: Today’s attempt is that this post is being written, for the largest part, on a 2018 iPad (the cheapest one) with an old (also very cheap) bluetooth keyboard.

Because I really don’t like the new block-based WordPress 5.0 editor, named in an entirely non-hubristic fashion “Gutenberg”, but it does fortunately support importing markdown formatted blog posts (just make sure you don’t hard-wrap anything), and because I like trying new things, I am typing this on the iPad using the iOS version of Textastic.

A few hours ago, it looked like this:

In contrast to the direct orgmode to wordpress Emacs workflow I normally use, this workflow enables me to copy and paste sections of markdown text into WordPress. Each pasted section is automatically imported as WordPress blocks, based on the markdown structure.

This means I can position and edit images using the WordPress interface, but author the text using Markdown. With org2blog the whole post, including images, has to go through life as an orgmode file, which is brilliant for my more technical posts, but not so much for prose-heavy blog posts such as this one.

BTW 1: Why I don’t (yet) like the new WordPress editor.

The old WordPress editor enabled me to focus on the content and just write.

The new Gutenberg editor now wants me to create a bunch of blocks, e.g. paragraph, image, paragraph, bullet list, etc., and then work with those blocks.

That’s really great if you’re building a site, but not so much when you would just like to get down and write that blog post.

Although this is now the standard editor in WordPress, there are still bugs, such as the fact that my cursor keeps on jumping to the start of the block while I’m typing, which is not irritating at all, and the not unimportant observation that none of the mobile apps support Gutenberg yet.

WordPress-using readers, what do you think?

(P.S. Another just-discovered issue: In Gutenberg, your biggest heading is H2. H1 is not available in the UI normally. When pasting in markdown, H1s do display, but do not show in the type-UI as anything. Here is a confusing Gutenberg bug report.)

BTW 2: Why Textastic? (AKA At least it will syntax highlight your Orgmode.)

The main reason I found and purchased Textastic, was that I ran into Jez Cope’s github repo with a TextMate Bundle (that’s an editor configuration) that was made for Textastic to support editing Emacs orgmode files.

As is the age-old open source way, there were a few small bugs which I fixed in my fork, which you should definitely get if you are in the same I-want-to-edit-Orgmode-on-my-iOS boat as I am. It’s not a very large boat, but it’s super fun!

(There is no Emacs on iOS. This is in my view the greatest downside of iOS. It turns out that Apple generally does not allow apps with embedded interpreters on the app store. However, I am still trying to find out why there are no iOS-capable Emacs source code forks available.)

BTW 3: The iPad with keyboard is a shockingly good laptop replacement.

I recently recommended to a privacy-conscious reader who was searching for an affordable Linux-running laptop in South Africa, that she instead consider buying an iPad with bluetooth keyboard.

Down here a brand new 2018 iPad costs R5999. A cheap keyboard cover (e.g. Body Glove) can be had for about R860.

If you compare this to any new laptop of R6900 (about EUR 444) which will probably be sold with Windows included, you get a computing device with a fantastic quality multi-touch screen, great battery life, best-in-class security, almost no maintenance, and a fantastic app ecosystem. To seal the deal, the iPad’s resale value is proportionally probably also much better than that entry-level laptop.

After I sent that email, I started with this iPad + cheap bluetooth keyboard experiment to try it for myself. I have to say that the experience has been way better than I expected.

For a large subset of laptop users, and for a large subset of workflows and tasks, this is a really great solution.

Please don’t worry (too much) yet, I am not planning one of those “I switched to an iPad as my main computing device” blog posts. I would not be able to survive without my development tools, and I would especially not be able to survive without my Emacs.

PV Solar installation progress

As I excitedly announced in WHV #159 (slightly more than a month ago), we had decided that it was time to get a photovoltaic solar power system installed at the house.

I found a local installer with the required PVGreenCard accreditation and started the consultation process.

Unfortunately, the installer did not seem to be prepared for a customer that would not stop asking questions. The customer even went so far as to pose questions that challenged the installer’s brand loyalty!

I really do understand that I’m probably not the easiest end-user, but I don’t think that an expert’s brand loyalty should get in the way of reason, and far more importantly in the way of basic physics.

To make a long story short, I ended up getting fired by the installer.

This was probably for the better: He can now continue doing well-practised installs for other clients who don’t ask (so many) questions, and I suddenly had the opportunity to find a new, more engineer-friendly installer, and to continue learning.

Following are two noteworthy learnings:

Learning 1: You should almost always try to oversize the photovoltaic array

If the equipment states for example 4600kVA, then you are usually quite safe installing from 25% up to 30% more kWp of solar panels.

Oversizing will mean that on very sunny days you’ll get peaks higher than the maximum rated PV, which can be handled for short periods by the solar equipment, but more importantly, you’ll be able to generate more electricity when there is less sun, which is most of the time.

In other words, you increase the area under the curve of kW generated per hour.

By the way, I emailed GoodWe (they make the hybrid inverters I have my eye on) who confirmed that their EM range supports 27.8% oversizing. The ES range advertise 30% PV oversizing on the box.

It is of course an interesting question what exactly is meant by oversizing. Do they support pumping 30% more power into the inverter for 5 minutes, or for 2 hours?

Learning 2: powerforum.co.za is a great source of information.

This forum has a surprisingly high signal to noise ratio.

There are a number of experts hanging around, including one of Victron’s super helpful and knowledgeable R&D engineers, and the archive posts are invaluable as you try to navigate the quagmire of often conflicting information.

Avocado baby progress: Very much touch and go.

The baby avocado tree, in spite of being being watered almost every day (thank you rainwater harvest!) does not seem to be doing too well.

Because the summer sun down here can be quite vicious, the tree has its own little pink umbrella.

The current plan is to feed it more compost, and, if that fails, to try to transplant it out of the big, wild garden and into a pot with softer, kinder earth.

How to explain complicated topics

The international and yearly Machine Learning Summer School took place in Stellenbosch this year, from Monday, January 7 to Friday, January 18.

As you can see from the programme, there were a bunch of heavy hitting speakers present both physically and virtually, including the super resourceful (failed super resolution pun, su(p)e(r) me) Dr Stefan van der Walt, who gave a talk on good scientific software.

Anyways, because I am currently in a more commercial configuration, I could not justify taking two weeks out, and instead opted for a day visit at the start of the congress.

It is a testament to the current prominence of the field that the list of international sponsors included Microsoft, Apple, SAP, Uber and Amazon.

It was gratifying to experience a sampling of such a well-organized international gathering here in my neck of the woods.

On the first day, we had a high throughput introduction to causality, probabilistic thinking, and variational inference. All the presenters were clearly good speakers, but they weren’t all equally experienced in teaching such complex material.

(At one point one of the statisticians I was chatting to in break admitted having difficulty keeping up with the math. I did not feel that stupid anymore.)

“What is the difference between being a good speaker and an experienced teacher?”, you might now ask.

Great question, I would then say, grateful for the opportunity to explain.

What I was missing in the one specific case I do not want to be too specific about, was that the presenter did a great job of talking about each of a long list of concepts relevant to his topic, but somehow forgot that one of the most important parts of teaching is communicating the conceptual framework into which all of those concepts fit.

Conceptual frameworks are also one of those multi-scalar things: Each group of factoids can be gratifyingly embedded into a slightly higher level component, groups of which can be slotted into the overarching “big idea”, or another level of compnonent. (It’s turtles all the way down.)

As great lecturers talk, they keep on bringing their narrative back up to the higher-level embedding construct.

It looks something like this:

Yes, I did make this especially for this post, especially for you. No, I am not sure exactly why.

By repeatedly diving deeper into the details, and then following the conceptual link back up to the higher-level constructs and especially your big idea, your listeners will start to see the beautiful fractal of understanding that you are guiding them through.

What will I be working on this year?

At this moment, 2019 is shaping up to be pretty exciting work-wise.

We just heard that we will be able to continue for some months more working on the X-Ray based surgical planning project we worked on last year.

Partly thanks to the great deep learning work of two summer interns (note: Southern Hemisphere means summer interns over December and January, which might be weird if you’re from the Northern Hemisphere) we are in great shape for all of the deep neural network-based image understanding plans we need to execute on.

This year I will also be spending more time on TeleSensi, our FDA-certified tele-auscultation product. This is less rocket-sciencey than the surgical planning project, but super interesting to work on, as it has many more users on the open market.

(That being said, we do have plans to increase the level of rocket science significantly. I am not called the science officer for nothing… (well, that and also the fact that I got to choose my own title, and so I chose the same as Spock on the USS Enterprise).)

Do you write stuff down?

You might remember from WHV #155 my trick of starting the day with a checklist.

A part of that checklist is a checklist of habits which I try to form and maintain, called The HabitFormer(tm). Every item that I sufficiently address gets a super satisfying little [X] mark, which feels a whole lot better than the sadly empty [ ] construct.

Here is the current list:

  • did you write stuff down?
  • are you satisfied with number of pomodori?
  • 7.5 hrs sleep last night
  • meditate <– (WHV hidden pro-tip: Get the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. Thanks LM for the fantastic recommendation.)
  • stand at desk
  • do valuable things
  • fruit & veg
  • reading
  • thinking
  • running or other exercise

Ironically enough, the first item is brand new on the list.

I somehow forgot my habit of writing, during the day, a little done list / random thoughts lists. After bringing this habit back I noticed what difference it made.

At regular intervals during the day, I will spend a minute or three writing down what I had completed, or what I was thinking. This moment of introspection would either result in a pleasant bit of satisfaction with some small task taken care of, or, more often, it would reel me back in from a spot of less than deliberate action and enable me to bring back my attention to the point of focus.

I’m filing this under “101 tricks to get your rider back on your elephant“.

Alright friends, thank you very much for joining me on this part of my journey. I am looking forward to our next interaction!

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.

Weekly Head Voices #159: Extreme.

The view from Waterkloof Restaurant’s balcony, on a fairly perfect evening.

In theory, this edition should cover the period of time from Monday November 19 to today, Wednesday December 19, 2018.

I am very late with this post, because down here we were first busy winding down the year with all of the completion-madness that that entails, and then the vacation started starting.

It hasn’t yet stopped being busy starting.

We are now entering what the Dutch call komkommertijd, and, as I’ve just learned, the Germans Sauregurkenzeit, referring to the period when everyone has left and there’s not really anything news-worthy happening.

Extreme dining

To celebrate the occasion of the official partnership between my partner and me adding another year to its growing collection, and due to my partner’s impeccable timing and ingenuity, we spent an amazing evening at what is currently South Africa’s best restaurant, at least according to the 2018 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards.

I would like to share three observations:

  1. The Waterkloof experience is a superbly balanced combination of location (see the photo above), architecture and interior design, art and ambience, all acting as context for the almost other-worldly culinary adventure, itself consisting of pairings of wine and perfect little dishes, the latter again artfully manipulating appearance and taste, space and time.
  2. South Africa is a country of extremes. Just the previous night, close family had been the victims in a violent but fortunately non-fatal home invasion.
  3. If you ever manage to find yourself at Waterkloof, take this advice to heart: The small dégustation menu with wine pairing is most probably more than enough. (We selected the normal. By what felt like the 15th course, we were dealing with the dilemma of having to abstain from eye-wateringly beautiful culinary creations.)

Extreme Solar

For many good reasons, we are currently seriously evaluating upgrading the house with a photovoltaic solar power system.

It turns out, as I should have expected, that there’s a whole universe of new toys and gadgets to evaluate.

We are currently looking at the following main components:

  • 2 x PylonTech US3000B LithiumIon batteries for a total of about 7 kWh of stored electricity.
  • GoodWe GW3648-EM Hybrid inverter: This coordinates everything between the PV Solar panels, the grid and the batteries. When the sun is shining, it charges the batteries, and powers as much as possible of the house, only using the grid when there’s no other option. During the evening, it powers the house using the batteries, again only using the grid when absolutely required. Due to strict rules down here in Cape Town, we are limited to inverters with a maximum output of 3.6 kW, even when no feed-in (to the grid) is planned.
  • The PV Solar Panels: I am still considering options here. I would prefer monocrystalline, and as close as possible to the 4.6 kWp maximum supported by the GoodWe inverter to maximise the amount of sun in our power diet.

As a first step, today we had a number of intelligent geyser controllers installed. These devices enable me to keep the geysers (we heat all of our water electrically down here…) off for most of the day, only switching them on an hour or two before hot water is usually required.

They look like this:

GeyserWise TSE geyser controller. I should have done this ages ago. Who came up with the idea that a water geyser needs to maintain its high temperature 24/7?

The rest of this exercise will be considerably more expensive, but  am really looking forward to being able to harvest most of our electricity from the lovely African sun!

I have one final bit of nerd-news, and it comes in the form of a…

WHV pro-tip #23972847376: If you are doing data science(tm), or machine learning, or visualization, or any other dataset-oriented work, I can highly recommend DVC, or DataVersionControl. We have started using this on one of our projects to manage different collections of DICOM images, and it works incredibly well.

Extreme health

In conclusion, I would like to mention a recent and very impressive study by the Cleveland Clinic about the correlation between cardiorespiratory fitness and all-cause mortality.

I’ll start with this quote:

In this cohort study of 122 007 consecutive patients undergoing exercise treadmill testing, cardiorespiratory fitness was inversely associated with all-cause mortality without an observed upper limit of benefit.

Let’s “unpack” that, as they say.

The researchers spent about 23 years measuring the cardiorespiratory fitness of just over 122 thousand subjects as they were running on a treadmill.

Measuring that many people gives your conclusions quite some statistical power. Also, the treadmill doesn’t lie, as people will often do, inadvertently or not, when self-reporting their fitness level.

What’s also interesting to me is that they didn’t observe any upper limit to the positive effect of fitness. Every additional amount of cardiorespiratory fitness, up to crazy levels, correlated with longer life.

The upshot of all of this is that there’s really no excuse. That one most important thing we can do to live long and prosper is to exercise.

It’s what Spock would have wanted.

Running on a dirt road in Betty’s Bay. I love running on dirt roads, although on this particular morning I was already tired before I started. The tiredness unfortunately did not decrease. I think there might still have been some virus involved, or, more probably, just standard bad vacation habits involving craft beer in the evening.

Weekly Head Voices #158: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

(Note that there’s now a Telegram group that you can join to be kept up to date with these posts. I’m never going to make the A-List, but at least I haz the gimmicks!)

This edition of the weekly (haha) head voices attempts to reflect on the period of time from Monday November 5 to Sunday November 18, 2018.

The following action scene happened exactly halfway through:

Pre-requisite running photo, this one taken in Paarl. It was already quite hot. Getting really hot really early in the morning is Paarl’s thing.

Running aka Irony update

Seeing that you’ve made me talk about running again, have a look at this photo of one Luna Mono 2.0 after about 700 km of (mostly road) running in about seven months, and one brand new Luna Mono 2.0:

At around about the same time as the new shoes arrived, shortly after South African customs charged me a painful amount before letting the new babies through, both my ankles, from around the posterior tibial tendon area, let me know in no uncertain terms that they were now demanding a break.

After repeated explanations by my life partner (she counts being a rheumatologist amongst her many talents), and by a foot surgeon friend, that my flat feet mean that my posterior tibial tendons have to work even harder than they would usually have done had I been anatomically speaking more normal, I had to start facing the music:

I was going to have to wear normal person running shoes again.

(If I have to be honest I would have to say that the music was in fact more about having to take a running break. I had sneakily been pushing up my weekly distance, trying to run through ankle discomfort, and this was probably the true core of the problem.

All of that being said, I am choosing to interpret matters a bit differently. Running breaks are really hard yo.)

I’ve now done two runs in my pre-Mono Kinvara 8s, and it does indeed feel (of course it does) like my ankles might slowly be recovering. I am hopeful that the trend continues, and that I can eventually rotate in my Lunas again.

Nerd toys update: RTX 2070 in da house.

After weeks of deliberating, I broke down and bought an NVIDIA RTX 2070 for deep learning.

This in turn led to a flurry of experimentation and to be quite honest a slight case of deep learning binging.

At least I have the following new blog posts to show for it:

(I know that some of these occurred outside of the two week timespan covered by this post.)

On the memory saving of mixed-precision training.

In my tests with ResNet50, a serious convolutional neural network for image classification, the exact same network with the exact same training settings required 14159 MiB in fp32 mode but only 7641 MiB in mixed precision mode.

This means that in some cases, this new RTX 2070 can go toe-to-toe with many far more expensive cards.

Furthermore, I informally measured a training speed boost of about 20% with the smaller ResNet34.

It’s no wonder that the RTX 2070 gets the Tim Dettmers stamp of approval for the most cost-effective training.

Your message, to take home.

I came across this backyard philosophy jewel on reddit the other day and loved it. It’s about the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, a stellar adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

… in test screenings, Willy Wonka had a scene with a hiker seeking a guru, asking him the meaning of life. The guru requests a Wonka Bar. Finding no golden ticket, he says, “Life is a disappointment.” The director loved it, but few laughed. A psychologist told him that the message was too real.

Just remember the Buddhist Twist my friends:

… and finally passing through the gate of wishlessness (apranihita) – realizing that nirvana is the state of not even wishing for nirvana.