Weekly Head Voices #136: Slightly more than nothing much.

The majestic view from Bodega onto the Dornier cellar and the Hottentots-Holland mountain behind it.

Welcome back peeps! Make yourselves at home.

It seemed that nothing much happened during most of the week, but I started writing anyway. It turns out there was slightly more than nothing much. Writing stuff down does have its perks.


Pro-tip of the week: Install vimium. It’s a chrome extension which enables you to SURF THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY with just a bunch of keyboard shortcuts.

I avoided this for the longest time because it has the word “vim” in its name, but I was wrong.

I can now waste time on reddit, twitch and youtube 73% more efficiently, every day.

nerd works

As far as I can remember, my work week was pretty straight-forward.

I started implementing PDF reports again, but for a different application. wkhtmltopdf is now magically broken in different ways from the previous time. Compared to bundling and maintaining a stripped-down TeXLive, or paying the $995 license for pdftk with which PDF forms can be programmatically filled in, this is the best choice at the moment.

Remember, there are no answers, only choices, even when baking PDFs.

For Most Major Sideproject (MMS) I unfortunately had to do some front-end programming. I say unfortunately, because the back-end is all machine learning and cleverness, and then I smash my little programming clown car into the idiot brick wall that is web frontends. At least react makes the crash slightly less painful, and this time react-router helped me to get my URLs synchronised with app state fairly easily.

Ok maybe it’s not that bad.

My new Robotdyn Arduino SAMD21 M0 boards arrived! This is arduino, but with a 32bit ARM Cortex M0+ instead of the Atmel 328p on the UNO boards. After some more hours of struggling to get Arduinos talking to each other via XBEE radios, I now know much more about programming these gadgets than I ever wanted to.

Mostly due to the very-badly-documented-and-seemingly-unsupported itead arduino-xbee interface boards I’m using, I am closer but have not yet received any cigars. (pro-tip: That extra top 3.3V jumper does more than just control level shifting. It also connects A0, RTS and DIN together. If you think you’re going to use A0 for RTS, your xbee will mysteriously hardware reset every 5 seconds. However, if you disconnect the jumper, your board will hardware reset every 5 seconds no matter what you do. Pro-tip: Don’t buy itead.)

new beer warlord

On Wednesday I tasted a new craft beer (this does not happen very often anymore, as I’ve had almost all of them) during a Top Secret Business Meeting. It’s the War Lord IPA by Darling Brew:

This might even be more metal than their Bone Crusher <INSERT HEAVY METAL GUITAR RIFF HERE>, which is extremely high praise. As IPAs go, I will definitely make this choice again, perhaps  even in the very near future.

part of the weekend never dies

On Saturday and Sunday morning (overnight parties are the BEST parties) we had long-time friends over for a dinner party.

Something like 25 years ago we did the Magoebaskloof hiking trail together. There’s nothing like sharing meals of dried soya (just add water, INDISTINGUISHABLE from meat the packet said), dried mash (“smash” I believe) and dried vegetables during days of hiking through the forest for getting to know each other better.

Besides the hiking, and many student parties, there was also the little matter of me meeting my life partner through this connection. Not unimportant.

Anyways, craft beer (King’s Blockhouse IPA, nice and strong), great local wine (a Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend which more or less satisfies my “expensive Chardonnay” criterion) and brilliant food (chicken, extremely slow over the fire) acted as the culinary backdrop for naturally flowing and energising conversation.

Thank you long-time friends!

Late morning Sunday we left for a family lunch at Bodega, restaurant at Dornier vineyard. This restaurant has made previous appearances in WHV #76 (July 1, 2014) and WHV #102 (January 20, 2016).

Again I can do nothing other than award it the WHV three thumbs up award! Wine-food-scenery-climate combinations really are amazing.

(I just noticed that the wine which was paired with my Mauritian (no, no Martian fish yet) seabass, and blew me away, also blew me away in 2014. It’s the Donatus White, Semillon-Chenin Blanc blend. External memories FTW.)

let us ponder: wa

Westerners are often very individualistic.

We are brought up with the mission to “be yourself”.

In Japan, there is “wa” (和) which wikipedia describes as: … harmony. It implies a peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests. (emphasis mine)

I understand that this has a different set of downsides to our individualism, but group harmony sure sounds nice. Perhaps in the future society we are going to start building soon, we could somehow combine “wa” with a deep respect for the scientific method, and in this way finally transform into the Star Trek Federation that we were promised.


Have a productive but especially harmonious week kids! I hope to see you again soon.


Weekly Head Voices #102: High on life.

The week of Monday January 11 to Sunday January 17, 2016 got off to a brilliant start with a business lunch at Bodega, a restaurant that finds itself on the Dornier Wine Estate. The view looked something like this:


… and the company was suitably awesome. (This is not the first time that Bodega makes its appearance on this blog, or in the blog-free suburbs of my social calendar. The company might be different every time, but so far its level of awesomeness has been quite consistent.)

The rest of the (work) week was consumed by extreme nerdery, which is of course the way I love it. Besides more GPU shader fine-tuning (at least once I exclaimed on the Stone Three HipChat, hopefully soon the Stone Three Mattermost,  WITNESS THE POWER OF MATH!, before showing a rendering that was marginally better than the one where the POWER OF MATH had not yet been invoked a sufficient number of times), there was Javascript, d3.js (d3 is another fantastic example of what you can do with vectorised thinking and computation) and Python.

In break time I finally took a closer look at C++14 and beyond and came away super impressed. There’s a blog post in the pipeline on generic lambda expressions, because I think they’re brilliant. I don’t know why I love different programming languages so much, but I do.

On Saturday,  I got really high with one of my besties, a superb gentleman who also goes by the name of A Very Flat Cat. We reached this altered state by the old-fashioned but extremely reliable (and cheap!) method of physically increasing our altitude via ambulation up the west peak of the Helderberg. The walk (a few hours in 35 degrees Celsius…) was exhilarating, and the view from the top awe-inspiring. Check it (click for high-res):


I’ve often wondered about the effect of one’s surroundings on one’s mindfulness. This was one of those cases where mother nature, without asking for permission or anything like that, simply brute-forced the being switch with her astonishing beauty. Very grateful I was.

Have a great week friends, see you on the other side!

Weekly Head Voices #76: Someone is wrong on the internet.


I must be getting older.

During the past week, there were at least three or four occasions where someone was clearly wrong on the internet, and I dutifully started carefully crafting that brilliant corrective response which would inevitably spiral downward into the fiery depths of idiocy.

However, each time I stopped mid-answer, long before clicking the post button or sending the email, and switched to some other more valuable and less pointless activity. It was a strange feeling, but the eerie sense of having saved a bunch of time made up for it generously.

(I have to admit that there was one occasion, call it the fifth, where I couldn’t help myself and briefly took part in a Facebook discussion around a photo of a young man with some rather extreme facial piercings. I felt that I really needed to correct the other participants: I might not have any of my own body modifications, but I feel strongly about encouraging self-expression, and I think that the variety that it brings is important. There are other things that unify us, like love, respect and intellect. Yes, I’m a Vulcan Hippie. LLAP you fools!)

On the topic of age and the inevitable mid-life crisis, it seems technology has brought us the cure. GIANT WATER-JET-POWERED HOVERBOARDS!!

After a week of not-correcting-the-internet (good), lots of Python (good) and much face-palming at the South African Reserve Bank’s archaic view on intellectual property and exchange control (hopefully much more on that later), my weekend was of the fabulous middle-of-the-Cape-winter variety.

It started with some of this on Friday:

Skeleton Coast IPA, brewed by Jack Black in Cape Town. Highly recommended! Fire and wine not too bad either.

On Saturday, a completely unplanned and somewhat impulsive turnoff from the R44 right before Stellenbosch brought us to the vineyard Dornier. Some of it looks like this:

In the Cape, the summer is always trying to break through, even in the middle of winter.

Having arrived there, it doesn’t take much convincing to end up dining in restaurant Bodega, where the wine is very local (hey, it says Dornier on the bottles!) and is artfully paired with the delicious food. My lunch ended with these delectable cheeses, preserves and the Dornier Donatus White. I can’t remember the year, but it was a fabulous Chenin Blanc and Semillon blend which the DWR will hopefully soon be able to judge. I fortunately just managed to snap this picture in the midst of a gorgonzola-induced mini pleasure seizure:

Gorgonzola is my kryptonite.

(We spent the rest of the seemingly endless weekend scorching various types of meat, drinking craft beer and baking in the winter sun in Paarl. You can say many things about Paarl, but you can’t deny that it has a most excellent climate.)

Apparently, a few of this blog’s readers have been wondering what I really look like. (Well, actually no-one has. Ever. But they could have!) Clamour no more, small group of fictitious readers! This week, my youngest genetic offspring unit, or GOU#1 as we lovingly call her, brought me a drawing that she made. Internet, I give you me, through my daughter’s eyes: