Weekly Head Voices #106: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

The view from the top of Paarl Rock.
From me to you: The view from the top of Paarl Rock as seen through my telephone and google’s megamind going through all my photos and trying to stitch them together.

Well hello everyone! I missed you, but due to reasons (read on…), this is the first time I’ve been able to get around to a weekly head voices.

I woke up one day and decided that the super-inventive internet handle I had chosen when registering my first personal domain in 1999 somewhere, namely cpbotha, was not cutting it anymore. I think this specific seed of discontent was planted when I joined someone’s livecoding.tv stream, only to have them mangle the in hindsight unpronounceable pronunciation of cpbotha (ku-pu-byooothuh).

CURSES.

Nobody told me about this additional requirement in ’99! I will ask for my money back.

In any case, after some fancy twitter footwork, I now have an additional handle: cvoxel. I realise this is only interesting to me and maybe one or two other nerds, but here we are. There might be some personality fragmentation behind all of this. I’ll have a chat with me later.

Friends in more advanced countries, when I show them the sun and the beer and the beaches and the mountains and the WILD BEASTS over here, usually simply point at my miserably slow internet connection, thereby restoring their faith in the balance that exists in our world. Due to another recent change, I can now offer this as a retort:

speedtest

This kind of bandwidth is pretty respectable for the balmy southern tip of the African continent. (plus that those internet packets are flying about 1km through the air, which is pretty cool!)

This year I did not go to AfrikaBurn, because reasons (read on…). Fortunately the photos only started showing up after the week (no internets for the burners of course!), but they did cause some really acute feels of nostalgia. It’s strange how last year’s experience, our first (Pompen en Pimpen forever!), has managed to become so deeply ingrained. I really hope to see you there next year.

My oldest sibling has started an adventure in Kiwi-land. His family will soon follow. I am happy for the adventurers, but I’m also sad to have them so far away.

A caffeine-infused mitochondrial interlude

You probably remember that adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is the most important form of energy that is produced for the largest part by the mitochondria in the nuclei of all of your cells. ATP is broken down when energy is required. ATP powers things like muscle contraction, cellular metabolism, signaling, and so on. Without it, you would be useless. Dead actually.

I just learnt from the wikipedia article that your body turns over its own weight (!!!) in ATP every day, which is pretty awesome.

The first factoid I wanted to mention, is the curious link caffeine has with ATP. So as you’re going through the day expending all that energy, ATP gets broken down into its constituents, one of which is of course adenosine. This adenosine binds to the adenosine receptors in your brain. When a certain threshold of adenosine receptors are bound, your body decides that it’s time to rest, so you get sleepy. During sleep, the adenosine is cleared as your body builds up new energy stores.

Caffeine is, besides being magical, a sort of adenosine impostor. When you drink coffee for example, the caffeine in your tasty drink will go and bind with your adenosine receptors, hence making it impossible for real adenosine to bind, but it will do so without actually activating those receptors. The end result is that your brain does not realise that it should be feeling sleepy, and so you don’t feel so tired.

I find it interesting that caffeine in fact interferes so fundamentally with this important physiological process.

What I found slightly more mind-blowing than that however, is the fact that the mitochondria, the little organelles where most of this ATP production takes place, and which are embedded right in all of your cell nucei, actually contain foreign DNA.

TUN-TUN-DUUUUUUUUUN!!!

Yes children, you have your own precious DNA in your cell nucleus, but the mitochondrion, the cell’s powerhouse, has its own separate genome. Long ago, we seem to have started a symbiotic relationship with a bacterial organism. Actually, we flat-out went and merged with them at an extremely intimate level.

Let us all take a few minutes to say hi to the beautiful little alien endo-symbionts embedded in our cell nuclei, without whom everything falls apart. We are all chaotic but somehow walking cellular mega-cities, and it’s just lovely.

My universe expanded

About those reasons…

Well, GOU#3 was born a few weeks ago.

She’s a beautiful pink little not-yet-walking but rapidly expanding cellular mega-city. I and the other more developed cellular mega-cities in this neck of the woods and all of our billions of cells are truly happy to have her with us.

May your neurotransmitters rejoice.

 

Weekly Head Voices #78: Aeroimpressed.

Up in the North, temperatures were in the mid to high twenties every day (yes, it’s the middle of Winter, and that’s how they roll in the North). Back home we had to deal with mid to high tens (sometimes in the twenties!), and then, because the houses are not built for winter and sport similar temperatures inside and outside, you resort to making a fire in yer office, because that’s how we roll!

My office is on fire! Note the interrogation lamp.

(don’t worry, our friendly electrician managed to get the underfloor heating working and now I don’t have to make fire in the office anymore. you can send donations towards my electricity bill via paypal.)

On Tuesday evening (after the fire), I decided to go to my first MeetUp. Although my main goal was to meet fellow software developers and entrepreneurs from my neighbourhood, I had a super enjoyable evening meeting said people, and learning about Construct 2 (the topic of the presentation). Now while I’m not into gaming at all, this did lead to evenings of reading about the various mobile game development libraries; there’s a whole universe of interesting cross-platform code out there! My search finally ended with Moai SDK, an open source C++ engine with Lua bindings (Lua is awesome, before Moai I integrated it with my secret hobby project; for 200kBytes you get a whole super fast dynamic language in your C++ application!) that can be used to write 2D games for all of the desktop platforms, as well as for iOS and for Android.

I have too many hobby projects going, but the idea of writing a mobile app that’s actually enjoyed by a few people does sound like fun. (I do have an embarrassing app in the store. It’s been downloaded more than 10000 times, and many of the reviewers (more than 200 at last count) have turned superlative reviewing for the useless app into an art. (Writing over the top funny reviews is a thing, but you knew that.))

It was awesome seeing Colbert interviewing Vint Cerf, co-father of the internet:

(ARGH. Last Tuesday, this was a working YouTube video – tonight it claims to have been removed by the user. Also, none of the videos available from The Colbert Report’s website are viewable here in SA. I briefly considered hosting the video here for both of my readers, but instead I’ll just post this other more useful link here.)

The bit at 17m50 in the full episode, or at 20 seconds into the part 2 video hosted on the Colbert site, where Colbert asks Cerf about his resemblance to The Architect (of The Matrix) is priceless.

Vint Cerf on the left, The Architect on the right. (I had to watch this via US VPN due to geographic rights restrictions. Kind of ironic!)

Oh, it turns out that Al Gore did help to get NSFnet funded by the NSF, and so the running joke about him giving the world internet has a kernel of truth according to the gracious Vint Cerf. Here’s a cookie to feed to your trivia OCD: Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn started working on what would become the internet in 1973, and they switched it on in 1983.

GOU#1, all of 8 years old, is independently WhatsApping with her grandparents, from her own telephone. I find it really awesome that she’s making these connections with her extended family. I also find it awesome that she comes up with these kinds of constructions when we’re not in the mood to build a real fire:

Augmented reality, GOU#1 style.

(Now she just has to let me teach her to code.)

(I thought that this was going to be a really short post, but this time my notes had other ideas. We’re almost done…)

On Sunday, we went to Lourensford, a well-known wine farm and cellar just down the road from me, and also the location of the Coffee Company roastery, to acquire a supply of freshly roasted coffee beans to feed the a voracious bean-to-cup machine which lives in my kitchen.

Sitting on the shelf above all of the lovely coffee beans was a newly delivered consignment of Aeropress coffee makers. During a previous visit, I had managed to resist taking one, but this thing was now singing to the very warp core of my inner coffee nerd.

I could not resist its call anymore.

Giant coffee injection. Air-tight seal, column of air pushes water through coffee in 30 seconds. I haz it.

I can now report that with freshly ground Bugisu Arabica coffee, the liquid black gold emerging from this wondrous device is indeed some of the purest and best coffee that I’ve ever had. If you’re into coffee, get one of these. You can thank me at the next hipster meetup.

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!

Hell Yeah! [Weekly Head Voices #59]

We kick off this week’s edition of the WHV with Ben Goldacre giving his TED talk on “Battling bad science” at 180 km/h:

He’s fabulous, isn’t he? If you haven’t done so already, you should really read his book “Bad Science” too, and don’t forget to hand a copy to anyone in your neighbourhood that might be confused about homeopathy, accupuncture, any other forms of alternative medicine, or anything by Patrick Holford, vitamin-peddler of note.

On a completely different note, I’ve fallen in love with a piece of software again. This time it’s Zotero, open source reference manager. For those of you not into writing (scientific) articles, a reference manager is an indispensable tool that keeps track of all the other articles that you’ve studied and helps you to cite them correctly whilst writing your latest attempt. I tried Zotero in 2009 but wasn’t that impressed. It seems that much has happened since, as I’ve been completely blown away this time. Killer feature #1 is the extreme ease with which I can import new references, by clicking on the little icon in my Firefox 7.0 url bar (Zotero 2.1 is a Firefox plugin). If the PDF is available, it’ll add that as well. I can also just drop a PDF directly in there and tell it to extract metadata to make a bibliographic entry. It does this surprisingly well.  Killer feature #2 is the explicit support for storing one’s reference database anywhere else, for example in one’s Dropbox, another piece of software with which I have a long-term romantic involvement and which in this case ensures that I have transparent access to my whole reference database, via Zotero, from any computer I care to use.

(NB: If you’re going to do this, make sure you don’t run Zotero concurrently on multiple machines. A better solution, which I’m now using, is to have only the zotero “storage” folder in your dropbox, and then symlink that into the default zotero firefox profile directory. Please let me know in the comments if you need more detail on this.)

Just in time for our regular coffee-themed blog post interlude, there’s been yet another study on coffee-related health benefits, and now it looks like coffee drinking may also protect against depression in women. As you will recall, I recently blogged about the coffee-related prostate-cancer protection. Seems coffee is perfect in one more regard: It’s an equal opportunity health benefit!

For my birthday, TNR bought me Anything You Want by Derek Sivers, and beamed it directly to my Kindle (go 21st century!). Derek Sivers is the guy who started CD Baby almost by accident, a company that became the largest seller of independent music on the interwebs. I say by accident, because his goal in the beginning was purely to sell his own CDs online (which was quite a feat in 1997, as there was no PayPal and not that much WWW yet), and then friends asked if he could sell their CDs too, and before he knew it, he had 85 employees, 150000 musicians and 100 million dollars in revenue. It’s a fabulous story, all the more because he really just wanted to keep his company as small as possible and do what he loved.

The book is chock-full of philosophical nuggets, for example the one that inspired the title of this blog. Sivers explains that when you have to decide whether to commit to a new project or not, there are only two choices: It’s either HELL YEAH! or NO. Your time is too limited to take on just yes or even maybe. Makes sense, no?

What really resonated with me however, was the following thought on how people grade themselves:

For me, it’s how many useful things I create, whether songs, companies, articles, websites or anything else. If I create something that’s not useful to others, it doesn’t count. But I’m also not interested in doing something useful unless it needs my creative input.

I think that I’ll leave it at that. Now go have an epic week kids!

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.