Weekly Head Voices #69: No sugar added.

This time, the head voices are echoing the span of time ending strictly on Sunday, April 27 at 23:59.

I have to break my rule and reach through past the start of that week however. On Wednesday April 16 I had quite a heavy sugar crash. After about 12 cups of coffee, each with a spoon of sugar (as per usual), some chocolates from the Stone Three sweetie jar during lunch ,and two giant coconut crunches at about TU Delft sugar fix time (yes children, I do my best to commemorate the sugar fix, even at 11000 km distance from you), my energy levels dropped through the floor and no amount of coffee could get them close to normal again.

That’s when I decided to stop taking sugar.

On Thursday April 17 I went cold turkey. I’m not taking any table sugar at all, no cookies or sweets (ARGH), and I’m even steering clear of breakfast cereals. Pretty boring, I know. After more than a week of completely unscientific N=1 case “study” experience, I can report that:

  • It took some getting used to my coffee without any sugar.
  • My perceived energy levels seem significantly more stable, and I remain all energetic until late at night. Sometimes I don’t sleep, because I run around in the neighbourhood making growling noises. Sometimes I wake up, miles away from home, with all kinds of gunk under my finger nails. Oh well.

On the topic of quitting, let’s talk about all of those lists we love so much. You should really go read Noeska’s presentation on Productivity, Project Management and Other Important Stuff in her latest status update blog post. Besides all of the Getting Things Done and Pull Yourself Together tools and systems she presents, I was happy to see her talk about the dangers of productivity tools on slide 23, and especially the “doing the right things vs doing things right” dilemma.

You see, I’ve been thinking much about this lately. Usually when I’m doing the most valuable and important things (designing and building new products, learning new programming languages, coming up with brand new ideas for artefacts to build) my email inbox starts overflowing and my todo system (currently todoist, which I do like) stagnates (my todoist karma is currently ZERO. I’m at KARMA ZERO damnit!!). Conversely, when I’m almost at inbox zero and my todoist is under control, it feels great, but I’m tired because I’ve spent all of that time taking care of a bunch of emails and mostly urgent but almost no important tasks.

Some people I’ve chatted with are hardcore enough to make the classification between important and urgent in their lists. However, when I see that list of tasks, my OCDs take over and I go into 100% reactive mode. NO ROOM FOR CREATIVITY.

I’m still thinking about how to solve this problem. I do think that the lists and the systems are really important, because some things do really need doing at certain points in time. For now, I’m still picking the three (or two, or one) most important things to do per day (see Noeska’s presentation, also see pro tip #2 in this 2011 post of mine). Also, what does work remarkably well for me, is maintaining a daily “done” or “I did it” list. Go read this, you can thank me later.

After all of that, the weekend took us to Vaalvlei, a picturesque wine farm just outside of Stanford:

Vaalvlei wine farm, just outside of Stanford.
Vaalvlei wine farm, just outside of Stanford.

Here we were treated to a super-exclusive wine tasting of the Vaalvlei Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 Shiraz Reserve, 2011 Shiraz, Shiraz port, and the top TOP secret Shiraz cognac right from the cask (don’t tell anyone, ok?):

Vaalvlei wine and cognac tasting
Vaalvlei wine and cognac tasting

I can report that these hand-crafted wines and the cognac were all beautiful, but I trust that my friend De Wijnrecensent (aka the Tall Philisophical Neighbour! all secrets are revealed on this blog.) will have more to say about this in a few months time.

Enjoy the rest of the week kids!

What is love? [Weekly Head Voices #64 no #65]

I’ve been dealing with a spot of blog writer’s block, hence the lateness of this post. I’d forgotten that these monthly instalments were initially intended to be extended status updates, with a spot of backyard philosophy every so often. Trying to come up with worthwhile backyard philosophy every week is just plain hard. This week I’m going for half a status update along with a list of possibly interesting sciencey tidbits.

  • I’ve managed to release a stable version of DeVIDE, my Frankenstein-Borg software system for visualization and image processing, only about 2.5 years after the previous stable release. Go get yours fresh from the oven, it’s completely open source!
  • It seems like yesterday when I got to design and teach the first MedVis Ninja course at the TU Delft. The fourth generation of students have just started with the course (partly the reason for pushing out a new DeVIDE release). The previous generations are kicking ass as we speak, and I’m proud of ’em all.
  • I had the privilege of giving another invited talk, in Dutch, at the yearly conference of the Dutch Anatomical Society. In my talk, titled Data Visualization: Driving the human visual system for fun and profit, I introduced data and medical visualization, and then discussed three illustrative examples in more depth: high quality volume rendering (work by Thomas Kroes), diffusion tensor imaging (work by Jorik Blaas) and fMRI connectivity visualization (work by André van Dixhoorn).

That’s it for the status update. The sciencey bits I thought were worth mentioning are:

  • There’s been some press lately about the letter to the Wall Street Journal, signed by 16 scientists, in which they try to make the case that climate change is really not such an issue. Climate change denialists everywhere rejoiced, I cringed. I really don’t like denialism. Fortunately, it turns out that I’m not the only one, and that there’s a story behind the story: The WSJ editorial board is severely biased against climate science.  Another letter, signed by 255 real scientists (all members of the US National Academy of Science), dealing with the realities of climate change, was flat-out rejected by the WSJ. It’s a shame that the first factually dubious letter got so much of the press. Read more about the whole debacle in this Forbes article.
  • A recent Psychological Science article contains the results of a study  on more than 15000 UK inhabitants, as well as on a group in the US, that shows that lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, manifesting in for example right-wing ideologies or homophobia. Ha ha.
  • In another not-so-surprising turn of events, it turns out that alcohol does indeed make you more creative.  FrancoisMalan.com sent me, albeit indirectly, this Consciousness and Cognition article, titled Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Note the creative title, draw your own conclusions about the state of intoxication required for authoring a successful scientific article. Ahem.

Good science should be reproducible. Judging by the blood alcohol content and weight tables on Wikipedia, I should be more creative between 3 and 4 beers, a result I will certainly try to confirm during my next WHV writing session. It is left as an exercise to the reader to calculate my body weight based on this information.