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!

The 2017 to 2018 transition post.

My innermost circle of humans, on an exceptionally windy hill in St Francis.

Does anything still work around here?

So much dust…

Is this thing on?

Testing… 123… tesssting… sound check sound check.

OH HI MARK.

(HELLO ALL MY OTHER FRIENDS WHO ARE NOT MARK!)

It’s been 4 months since the previous post (a Weekly Head Voices), due to reasons involving work (fortunately challenging and fun), genetic offspring units but especially the youngest one who is currently developing at a frightening speed, the South African climate, and my brain suddenly starting to refuse work any later than about 19:00 every day.

My brain has good reasons I have to admit, having absorbed this Guardian interview with Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. In short, the possible effects of sleeping anything less than 7 hours per night are simply terrifying. It made me, I mean my brain, really rethink its approach to grabbing-one-more-hour-from-sleep-because-this-stuff-is-really-super-interesting.

Anyhow, following the probably better and more beefy example set by my previous transition post, 2016-to-2017 that is, I thought that a new edition would be the best way to get back into slightly more regular posting.

2017: The 100% partial and spotty review

I wrote 21 posts on this blog in 2017, 12 of which were Weekly Head Voices, which means I was about 23% (12 / 52) successful in terms of posting frequency with the WHV.

The most popular post over here was Deep Work: A welcome kick in the butt, published on January 9, which garnered just over 20 thousand views. From there my stats went all downhill. :)

More importantly than reader stats, each post, especially the Weekly Head Voices ones, brought so much connection and satisfaction, which raises the question: Why am I not doing this more? (See my reasons above for not having posted for 4 months, I would have to guess.)

In 2017, I ran just over 800km, which, in contrast to my blogging frequency, is a nice improvement over the 440km I did in 2016. Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) of February last year contributed significantly to my average distance and speed. Those gains were maintained and slightly extended in spite of EAZ concluding in March of last year.

To get an idea of what I was up to work-wise in 2017, you could consider browsing the posts I wrote on my nerd-blog during 2017.  This will give you a bad idea, but it’s probably better than no idea, if you really needed to know.

Life-wise, I might have mentioned The Weekly Head voices posts before. There aren’t that many of them for 2017, but the ones that there are, are not too bad.

2018: Again not much planned, at least not in public.

Following the shining example of Dr Cheplygina, I would love to become a fully paid-up member of the True Weekly Bloggers Club.

For the past 6 months I sort of went Facebook cold turkey (because reasons, mostly to do with attention-abuse and above-mentioned time scarcity). That, in addition to my unplanned blogging hiatus, feels (yes, I have those, albeit in extremely limited quantities) like it’s caused a bit of a disconnect between me and friends around the world.

I have very recently returned to facebook via the mobile website, and only after extremely liberal application of the “unfollow” button to whittle my feed down to just the people I have a healthy connection with. This will help me te maintain connections with the friends who use that as platform.

My reciprocation will have to take the form of weekly updates on this blog.

I look forward to it, and I look forward even more to welcoming you here!

The view from our cabin at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp. 12/10 will go again.

OK Go’s new video for “The One Moment” is a stunning example of high-speed video.

The whole music video was shot with high-speed video in one single, glorious 4.2 second take, and then played back at “normal” speed to result in this mind-blowing end-product:

(BTW, since when are facebook videos a thing? Fortunately, WordPress immediately understood the facebook video link I pasted and correctly embedded it.)

When we can, let’s use Signal instead of WhatsApp.

(Post updated on August 25, 2016. See section at the end.)

Screenshot of Signal.
Signal, the open source messaging and voice calling app that does end-to-end encryption.

The whole world is using WhatsApp to message each other. I often do too, because I want to inter-operate with the rest of the world.

However, WhatsApp belongs to Facebook.

Although Facebook has promised otherwise, the temptation to link all of your WhatsApp messages with Facebook logins (a straight-forward process, as they have the mobile phone numbers of a great number of their users) must be quite tempting to the people at Facebook. Imagine how well they would then be able to target their advertising, based on their access to both your Facebook profile and your private WhatsApp messages!

Fortunately, we now have an open source app, called Signal (available on Android, IOS and the desktop), which performs end-to-end encryption on all messages and voice calls that go through it. This means that absolutely no-one is able to read your messages or eavesdrop on your voice calls, except the intended recipients.

My request is that you get your contacts to install and start using Signal instead of WhatsApp wherever possible. At the very least some of our messages will not be accessible to various large corporations and any other prying eyes. If the security argument is not enough for you, there is one more extremely important topic: Signal handles animated gifs better than WhatsApp, at least on Android. (Telegram supports them on both Android on IOS, but it is by default less secure than Signal). See here the results of my experiments:

Updates

On August 25, 2016, The Verge reported that WhatsApp will now officially begin sharing data with Facebook. They will indeed link up telephone numbers and social networks, meaning that both parties will get a tremendous boost in what they know about you. I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. ;)

Weekly Head Voices #98: Lemons.

This, the ninety eighth edition of the WHV, looks back at the week of Monday August 10 to Sunday August 16, 2015.

Today we took a brief walk up into the mountain, as one does around these parts. This is what False Bay looks like from the Helderberg Nature Reserve:

false_bay_from_helderberg_nature_reserve.jpg

When life hands you lemons, build a battery

Genetic Offspring Unit (GOU) #1 had to do a show and tell at school, so I helped her to construct a battery from 4 lemons. Besides that because of this I got to refresh my own knowledge (can you remember exactly why a battery such as this works?!) we got to chat about molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, atomic numbers and the periodic table.

The next day she quite coolly took the whole kit to school, proceeded to connect up the disassembled kit before the class, and got the little LED to switch on, all the while explaining in high-level 9-year-old-ish how it worked.

In case you’re wondering, the experiment looked like this:

lemon_battery.jpg

With zinc-covered screws and heavy duty stripped copper wire, we got about 0.9V per lemon. There was enough current to light up a small 3V LED.

(Will GOU#1 one day become an engineer? Stay tuned to this blog for the next 10 years to find out!)

Taking a break from Facebook

One of my more interesting Facebook friends announced that she was taking a break from Facebook, because “this stuff is toxic and no good”.

This made me evaluate what I thought of FB at the moment.

Toxic is a strong word, but after thinking about this for a while, I have to admit that a large part of the time I spend on the site is probably not that good for my karma. The problem is that there are a whole bunch of friends I really would like to stay in contact with, but for the most part they are quite silent. The people that do pipe up the most on FB are people with some or other silly and/or misguided agenda.

Although I have learnt to stop correcting the infinite number of people who are wrong on the internet, I’m still reading their contributions, getting slightly worked up, formulating a response, and then resisting posting it, all of this a number of times per day.

To the question whether seeing the one or two positive and life-affirming posts is justified by a seemingly much larger number of the opposite, my response has also become to take a break from Facebook and to see for myself.

I’m not going to cancel my account, so I will receive notifications for example when people message me, but I’m just going to stop checking the site completely. I am also giving myself permission to post new WHV editions there now and then: It’s sometimes the best way to reach some of those silent but desirable FB friends I mentioned, because not all of them are subscribed to this blog. THAT’S A SUBTLE HINT SILENT BUT DESIRABLE FRIENDS.

(BTW, I’m almost 3 days in now, so far no problems. I’ll report back in future WHVs.)

The mind is a terrible thing to taste

This week I learned about fascinating sleeping brain research (that summary is from the NIH, also see this one by Science Magazine) that was published in 2013.

In short, when mice sleep, the area between their brain cells is temporarily increased by 60% (!!), and the cerebro-spinal fluid between the cells flows much more rapidly than when they’re awake. This rapid flow literally flushes out of the brain the toxins that build up during the waking hours. HOW COOL IS THAT?!

sciencemag_brainwash.jpg
Toxins flushed out via bright blue channels between brain cells. Image from Science Mag summary linked above.

Going down one detail level, the researchers showed that the glial cells (the non-neuronal cells in the brain) control the flow of cerebro-spinal fluid through channels in their cell membranes. By using different coloured dyes, they showed that there was significantly more flow during sleeping than when awake, clearing out toxins twice as quickly.

This research took place in mice, but the researchers hypothesise that this same mechanism operates in humans, and are working on verifying that this is the case.

Original article full text: Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, Xie et al., 2013, Science.

This is the end my friends

Have a great week kids, and do remember to get your sleep!