Weekly Head Voices #127: Readers are leaders.

Betty’s Bay Beach impression by Genetic Offspring Unit #1, age 11.
  • This week I worked on automated email analysis and storage for side-project #38465 (more on this in future editions) and on bits of UI for a wxPython desktop app (yes desktop app! some of us fortunately still get to make them!) for my current main work project.
  • Had to make screencast to demonstrate milestone deliverable of above-mentioned main project. Making screencasts is an obscure but longstanding hobby of mine, but I needed to level up slightly, so the business bought me ScreenFlow 7.2. For the first time ever, I recorded the screencast in multiple segments and did the voice-over later. Soon these new skillz will trickle down to my publically available screencasts.
  • On that topic, having a good microphone is crucial, not only for screen recordings but also for video meetings. I recently acquired the Samson Go Mic to complement my larger Samson C01U. The Go is brilliant: Recorded voice quality comes close to the C01U in spite of the Go’s compact form factor, and it has a hardware switch to select either of the the built-in omni-directional, for meetings, or cardioid, for more dedicated voice recording, microphone elements.
  • Ironically, an ex-colleague posted “How to Fix Facebook—Before It Fixes Us” on Facebook, a long and worthwhile read on how FB is used to spread fake news that effectively manipulates public opinion, and what should be done to remedy this. Here is a choice quote to get you started:

We still don’t know the exact degree of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. But the debate over collusion, while important, risks missing what should be an obvious point: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other platforms were manipulated by the Russians to shift outcomes in Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, and unless major changes are made, they will be manipulated again. Next time, there is no telling who the manipulators will be.

  • In the same vein, I continuously try to spend as few as possible minutes on YouTube, but the one thing I will definitely continue watching is Károly Zsolnai-Fehér’s brilliant Two Minute Papers channel! Most recently, his treatment of Distilling a Neural Network Into a Soft Decision Tree, a paper by Nicholas Frost and Geoffrey Hinton, caught my interest. In this, they address the problem of neural network explicability (it’s hard saying at a higher level why a neural network makes a particular decision) by deriving a soft decision tree from that trained neural network. The tree is not as accurate as the network, but is able to give plausible explanations for the network’s decisions. See the 4 minute long two minute paper video (hehe) here:
  • I came across the following on reddit, again quite ironically, and I have since taken to saying it to my genetic offspring units (GOUs) at every possible opportunity:

Readers are leaders!

Have a great week readers, I hope to see you again really soon!

Weekly Head Voices #126: Fleur-de-lis.

Betty’s Bay’s Crepuscular Rays. An apostrophe in time saves rhyme.
  • Happy new year everyone, and welcome to the first Weekly (truly?! will this be the year?) Head Voices of 2018!
  • I ended 2017 with a longish (by my standards) run in the morning, followed by a laid-back mini-party and finally by struggling really hard to stay awake until midnight.
  • In contrast, returning to the office on January 2 was a pretty good way to ease gradually into work in 2018. Many colleagues were still on vacation, so the week felt a bit like work with training wheels.
  • Pro-tip #1 for the new year: In the last few weeks of 2017 I started (again…) explicitly making quiet time at the start of the day to think about what I want to take care of. These take the form of a small number of Org mode- [ ] Do this thing” checklist items that are usually related to but separate from my main tasks. I find it amazing to which extent these few minutes are able to shape my day. (In my org mode monthly journal, I also usually start by listing out manually the tasks I want to complete during that month, as well as the ideas / thoughts / principles I want to keep in my sights.)
  • Pro-tip #2 for the new year: After years of resisting these types of software tools due to my belief that I should simply apply more grit and will power to squeeze out more focus hours, I finally broke down and purchased the macOS app called Focus. You click its pretty icon, and then your computer goes into focus mode: The Mail application and a bunch of other non-focus-related apps all get killed, and a bunch of websites (reddit, youtube, work chat, etc) are blocked for a user-configurable block of time. I rationalised this purchase with the following reasoning: It usually takes a single moment of weakness for a distraction to terminate a valuable block of focus. It takes a single moment of strength for this tool to start a valuable block of focus.
  • Although I’m having fun, I really don’t think I’m supposed to use bullets like this.
  • Thank you very much for spending time here with me. I wish you a week of value and focus, followed by a visit to the next WHV!
The Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek, where we found ourselves an hour or two ago. Immediacy FTW.

P.S. This post was finished during a 30 minute FocusApp block. Background music: Balance 014 by Joris Voorn, one of my favourite music creations ever.

Weekly Head Voices #114: So you know what I did last summer.

WELL HELLO THERE FRIENDS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE!

It’s definitely time to get out a Weekly Head Voices, so that we can all feel nicely up to date. This post covers the period from Monday December 5, 2016 to Sunday January 15, 2017, which is ever so slightly *cough* later than average.

My excuse is: SUMMER HOLIDAY.

If you have not yet read my 2016 to 2017 transition post, this is a gentle reminder to make some time to do so. There’s some backyard philosophy in that post that you might find useful.

(The main reason for writing this post is to satisfy my NO-GAPS-BETWEEN-WEEKLY-HEAD-VOICES-DAMNIT OCD. I’ve added pretty pictures to help us get through it.

Godspeed fellow traveller!)

The holiday starts

Below is a photo I have quite surprisingly titled “A scene with a beach, the sea and some fluffy clouds in the brilliant blue sky”. The photo was taken on the beach at Boggomsbaai, a really small sea-side village on the East coast where we spent the first few days of our holiday.

Up ahead you can see the bustling metropole (well, it has one really expensive minimarket and an impressive gate) of Vleesbaai.

Boggomsbaai beach. Vleesbaai in the distance. This is a really lovely run.

Head Voices Review. SURPRISE!

After the truly disappointing final death of my Awei bluetooth headphones whilst running on that very beach, I acquired the Samsung Level Link, a tiny bluetooth transceiver which can turn any old set of cheap wired earphones into bluetooth earphones! It looks like this:

After five or six runs with this device of trouble-free music listening whilst running (Flume’s Skin was the business until recently, but I’ve just switched to the Tron Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk which I’m enjoying, although I’m missing some of the Underworld-esque dancing in the summer afternoon sunset feels; THEM FEELS), the Head Voices Review (we’re baaaa-aaaaack!) is currently considering the following initial review:

  • Samsung Level Link: AWESOME.

Surfing

Shortly before Christmas, some of our Dutch besties arrived for a good old fashioned swap-the-Dutch-winter-for-some-guilt-free-South-African-summer shenanigans.

It’s a treat being able to show visitors from our other home around our old and now new again home. This often makes me do things which I should have done a long time ago but kept on postponing due to less important matters getting in the way.

One such thing is taking surfing lessons.

Funny thing is, there’s a brilliant surfing school (Son in Strand, in case you were wondering) which is just a 15 minute drive away.

Our instructor was fabulous, and we are now all surfers as you can see:

You can see by my hands doing a strange mix of sign of the horns and the shaka sign that I still have too much metal in me. Faces of the innocent have been evil-ised. Windowlicker. Respect it.

Getting high

Another favourite local pastime is getting high with friends. Below is a picture of one such occasion. We were only moderately high, in preparation for another planned expedition described further down, but the views were beautiful nonetheless.

Gordon Rock as seen from the middle part of Bretagne Rock in Paarl. The black blob in the middle is GOU#1 practising her weird stealth mutation.

At this point I feel it is mention-worthy that a lion ate my hat later that day. Literally.

That other planned expedition I mentioned was an absolutely brilliant hike to the top of Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge, also known as Platties around these parts.

Platties is the steepest (and probably quickest, if you’re fit enough) walking route up Table Mountain. We were at the starting point before 8 AM in the morning to avoid the morning heat, but it was already quite hot (probably about 25+, it was 30+ later).

The walk was exhilarating (I could almost hear my mitochondria gnashing their teeth), and the views from the top textbook-spectacular:

The view from the top of Table Mountain, photo by cpbotha.net.

Shortly after having arrived at the top, I saw a man wearing only shorts who had sort of just ran up the mountain barefoot.

He did not rest, instead choosing to circle around a bush at the top and going straight down again.

Still barefoot.

Slap-slap-slap, I could hear his feet hit the rocks.

The Beach

Taking a trip along the photogenic coast-hugging Clarence Drive, we stopped to pay a visit to Dappat se Gat, a sort-of-secret beach.

Once you wade through all the trash from the side of the road :( and cross over a bunch of rocks back in the direction of Gordon’s bay, you find yourself on a beautiful secluded beach with a cave or two.

One of the photos I took came out with suitably interesting shading:

It was hard to ignore the extreme hipness of the young people lounging and playing on the beach as we tried but failed to blend in.

After a short hike (with the little ‘uns) up Leopard’s Kloof in Betty’s Bay a few days later, we were rewarded by scenes of the Disa Uniflora, an orchid which is exceptionally exclusive to our little corner of the planet.

By the power of the internets, I present you with new, more grainy photos of this pretty flower growing peacefully right next to a waterfall:

In sharp contrast to last year when I welcomed the new year from the comfort of my bed and a book (hey man, some of us were gestating!), this year a significant number of us entered 2017 in Light Party Mode.

In fact, as the clock struck 00:00, we found ourselves on a rock formation in the sea, in the dark, with waves crashing around us. Pretty neat now that I think about it.

That reminds me, I did see for the first time fully bioluminescent waves! As each wave broke, the foam had a distinct green light. The fact that we were not able to film this (not enough photons) only served to make it more magical.

During the day we were able to try out them new-fangled smartphone high speed video functions, yielding pretty slow motion captures of crashing waves, such as this one:

The holiday ends

For the last few work weeks of 2016, I could not help but notice that it was time for a vacation. I had to apply substantial amounts of raw will power (that is, buckling down, hard) every day to maintain my usual levels of production.

This vacation has been wonderful in the sense of causing total brain switch-off from day one. The surroundings definitely played a role in this, but for a large part I think it was due to the active holiday programme we pursued with our friends.

This, and previous experiences, further strengthen the observation that true rest and mental refreshment can be better accomplished by running up and down mountains, swimming in the sea and being generally really busy taking part in new experiences, rather than, you know, actually resting.

However, even after this holiday’s mental rejuvenation and renewed energy, I was still not completely happy with the (admittedly less than before the vacation) amount of will power that was required during the first days of work.

I remembered this to have been much easier in the old days.

Serendipitously, I read and more or less immediately absorbed Cal Newport’s Deep Work into my atoms after my first week at work.

After two weeks of weaving more deepness into my work, it seems that this was indeed the missing piece of the will power puzzle.

Have fun friends! I hope to see you sooner rather than later.