Astropsychonaut. [Weekly Head Voices #63]

I recently came across this hauntingly beatiful time-lapse view of Earth made from the ISS (the International Space Station! Yes, we have one!):

Watching this, my nostalgia flared up. You see, I’ve been addicted to science fiction ever since I can remember. It started with Buck Rogers, and the original Star Trek, and only got much worse when I discovered Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Douglas Hill. I find Kubrick’s 2001 and even the sequel movie 2010 beautiful.

For the longest time, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think I still do.

I believe I might have thought that my career plans would be seen as childish when I wrote this short piece for school detailing my life plans when I was 7 or 8 (late eighties, not saying anymore):

My life plans as a 7 or 8 year old. My brother found this somewhere and put it on facebook. I wonder what it would be like to go back in time and explain that concept to myself.

For those of you without the required Afrikaans background, here is a short translation, as true as possible to the original:

When I gow up, I’d like to work with computers, because then I’ll become really smart and I’ll know more about the outdoors and nature. As I grow older, I’ll become a professor, because perhaps I’ll find a cure for leprosy and after that I’m going to study to be a millionaire, because then I’ll go abroad or around the world.

Not a bad plan for a 7 or 8 year old, if you don’t mind me saying so myself. This note has in fact reminded me that there’s still more than enough decisions to be made and work to do, so I’ll have to postpone becoming an astronaut for a little while longer. At least by the end I’m going to end up a rich traveller, which is probably not a bad deal.

In other news this week:

  • It seems like just the other day that I made my 400th connection on LinkedIn. I’m happy to report that I broke the 500 barrier two weeks ago, and now I have that fancy looking “500+” next to my name. I finetuned my headline to celebrate the occasion, after which I promptly got approached by a head hunter.
  • Jonathan Dyer is the guru of facial hair. Check out all the beard types and accompanying facial expressions that he has mastered. Yes, that’s a hint of jealousy that you detect in my writing.
  • More reasons to love the coffee: Giving rats the equivalent of what a human gets after two cups of coffee, the caffeine caused nerve cells in a certain region of the hippocampus to show a significantly bigger burst of activity. These strengthened synapses might have a role in learning and memory. Read this summary on boingboing and the article on Nature Neuroscience.
  • In an exceptionally disappointing move, South African parliament has passed a new secrecy bill that gives members of government the power to declare information a state secret, thus deterring honest-keeping journalists and other whistle-blowers with a 25 year jail sentence. Desmond Tutu sums it up nicely when he says that this makes the State answerable only to the State.

If this new bill manages to make it through the constitutional court as well, the country is going to take a giant step backwards. At least we’ll have facedrink to cheer us up again!

Coffee addiction potpourri. [Weekly Head Voices #57]

Yes boys and girls, I was keeping back writing that Rebecca Black post, but now it’s 4 days later and I can let ‘er rip again, like I promised. This week’s post sort of reflects my week 37: Chock-full of super-dense life nuggets. Hmmm, sounds like a brilliant new high energy meta-physical chocolate bar that would probably be immediately declared illegal by the current conservative and non-thinking (excuse the tautology) batch of spineless politicians (excuse the tautology).

Let’s get today’s life lessons started with Mitch Hedberg, Comic Genius (note the captital C, and the capital G):

Hedberg’s genius unfortunately could not save him from drug addiction and his overdose-related death in 2005.

On the topic of addiction, fpixel forwarded these new findings that coffee drinking is genetic, both in terms of capacity and perhaps also in terms of addiction. Even my atoms are addicted to coffee, so that feels about right. What’s really interesting however, is that the documented study found that the genes involved in the metabolism of coffee (CYPIA1 and NRCAM, if I understand correctly) are also related to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. You see, coffee drinkers are less prone to Parkinson’s disease (as well as a whole list of other diseases including prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer). However, past studies of course show correlation and not causation, i.e. coffee drinking and low risk of disease X appear together, but that does not tell us anything about what causes what. This new study has made the first steps towards understanding the mechanism that actually links Parkinson’s disease and coffee drinking.

On the topic of coffee and addiction, TNR and I spent the Monday morning working (like animals) on our new parallel startup (there, I said it) at the Coffee Company in Delft. Two things:

  1. The Coffee Company makes a killer cappuccino. The milk is steamed to perfection, but it’s got the perfect espresso bomb exploding through all that milky goodness at just the right moment. BAM! HELLO THERE! Highly recommended. With every purchase, you get WiFi access for one hour, so no surprises or misunderstandings.
  2. It’s amazing what such a change of working environment does for one’s creativity.

On the topic of startups, Dr Jorik Blaas, ex PhDer, full-time genius and friend, is now the director of research and development at Synerscope (probably no relation with sinister, but my subconscious is just not behaving today), a high-potential startup that makes visualisation-based tools for fraud detection in big data (big money, IOW). Synerscope has brought together some of the top visualisation brains in the country. Personally, I can’t help but imagine it like this:

Are you in there somewhere?

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we made a quick train trip (*cough* 9 hours there due to delay thank you NS, 7+ hours back) to Magdeburg for the bi-annual German MedVis meeting. You’ll recall that I spent my first micro-sabbatical there. The city almost feels like home, and it was really great seeing many of the Magdeburg peeps again. The meeting itself was of high quality, with a number of VisWeek contributions being presented. Thomas Kroes (should I start using fictitious names and acronyms again?) presented his interactive photo-realistic volume renderer too! By the way, download it, use it (it makes fantastically beautiful renderings), spread it, and do cite the soon-to-appear article.

On Saturday, it rained (again, or still, I forget), so I decided to flip Mother Nature the bird by BBQing four juicy rib-eye steaks outside. Take that Mother Nature! The steaks were delicious, thank you. Mother Nature is not all bad though… Check this out: The Southern Lights. FROM SPACE!

Aurora Australis (thanks Bart!) FROM SPACE, taken by Ron Garan. Click on the photo to go to the original.

I’m going to wind down this post with two backyard philosophy-themed bits. The first is a quote by mathematician Alfred North Whitehead from this article on “The Skill that Matters Most” (found via Joe Botha, serial entrepreneur, currently changing the world with Trust Fabric):

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

I haven’t thought about it that way before, but it does make complete sense. The more things we humans do well in a routine fashion, the better.  Otherwise, our inconsistency is prone to lead to problems. By the way, the mentioned skill is self-control.

Finally, AJ forwarded this video called Disconnect to Connect. I’ll just let you watch and think about it for a while:

I’ll be off now. Please do have an epic week, and think of me when your level of enjoyment is at a local maximum. At these points, you might also consider jumping around randomly.