Weekly Head Voices #143: The rider and the elephant.

Pretty autumn sunset. A few metres below, the ritual weekend-starting braai was picking up speed.

Welcome back kids!

Besides this post, which somehow turned out to be longer than I expected, my more nerdy alter ego also wrote a post titled Interactive programming with Fennel Lua Lisp, Emacs and Lisp Game Jam winner EXO_encounter 667.

#DeleteFacebook, part deux

In an unsurprising (to me) turn of events, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has not even caused a dent in Facebook usage.

#deletefacebook, also discussed in a previous edition of the WHV, never really happened.

To the contrary, it seems people even increased their usage, post-scandal. FB share price is back where it used to be, and as an interesting data point, Deutsche Bank reports that their FB-based advertising reach was unaffected by the removable of more than 500 million fake facebook accounts.

Should we deduce anything more from this than the usual 1. humans, even outraged ones, have really short memories and/or 2. most people don’t have the energy to resist, or the presence of mind to avoid, the deeply-seated social desires that are being exploited to varying degrees by the large social networks?

My personal strategy for a while now has been to make liberal use of the unfollow and the mute functions. It’s far from perfect, but with this it is possible to reduce drastically the stream of incoming information, and to make sure that what does come through has to do with friends that you have made the deliberate choice to connect with actively.

Shorter focus blocks work better

In my eternal and sometimes decidedly Sysiphean quest for more and better work focus, I recently started using Focus App (see Pro Tip #2 in WHV #126).

In short, when you activate the app’s focus mode, it kills off and then blocks anything that is remotely fun or even slightly distracting on your computer. This includes websites and applications.

In the beginning, I was enjoying longer (1 to 2 hour) focus blocks.

However, more recently I started noticing a certain recalcitrance in my focus-starting hand.

Especially late in the afternoons (prefrontal cortex GONE by then, remember?) the knowledge of that mega-block of mental exertion would result in highly undesirable procrastinatory behaviour. (Big words for “oh, I can probably fit in one more /r/emacs post!”)

Anyways, it turns out there’s another really good reason that pomodori are only 25 minutes long.

It’s much easier to start a 25 minute block of no-fun-focus, and then get stuck in the zone, than it is to start what your brain expects to be a multi-hour block of mental exertion.

Friend PK introduced me to the tiny rider trying to control the giant elephant as a metaphor for the conscious and unconscious mind (this is from the book The Happiness Hypothesis). The shorter focus block idea seems like it could be filed away under “tricks to control your stubborn elephant”.

The evolving soul of Emacs

I came across this really interesting piece by Richard Stallman about the origin of Emacs, one of my favourite and probably most-used technical artifacts. It’s the multi-tool of computer software.

But, along the way, I wrote a text editor, Emacs. The interesting idea about Emacs was that it had a programming language, and the user’s editing commands would be written in that interpreted programming language, so that you could load new commands into your editor while you were editing. You could edit the programs you were using and then go on editing with them. So, we had a system that was useful for things other than programming, and yet you could program it while you were using it. I don’t know if it was the first one of those, but it certainly was the first editor like that.

When an experienced user interacts with Emacs, they change it, and it changes them.

The opposite of instant gratification

On Friday I started on a slightly longer than usual run.

It usually takes a kilometre or two before all of my running subsystems come on line, and I find my rhythm.

Not this time.

The acclimatisation discomfort in my ankles and calves didn’t fade away as it usually does. My breathing and running cadence stubbornly refused to lock on to their usual correct settings.

My legs felt tired.

It really felt like I was not supposed to be running at all, but I pressed on because at that point there was not much else I could do.

At the turn-around point (the bridge at the entrance to Vergelegen, with beautiful trees all around) I decided to try out some youtube advice from the evening before and do a few deep squats to freshen up my legs.

I started running back on legs and calves and feet which suddenly felt like they had all been replaced with brand-new rested versions of their 2-minute-ago return-to-manufacturer selves.

The rest of the run was of the floating over the ground how-is-this-possible my-smile-might-break-my-head variety.

Super strange.

I don’t think the squats did it. That was just a sort of thought-process punctuation which somehow distracted the mind-elephant for long enough to get me running again.

Anyways, as I was floating home, I could not help but see the whole occurrence as a fairly physical but in this case fortunately quite compact reminder that some of the most worthwhile experiences simply require perseverance with initially no gratification in sight.

Life is a marathon

… so sleep well, eat as healthily as you can, exercise, and try not to stress too much.

We’re in this for the long haul.

Weekly Head Voices #137: Let me mine your metadata.

Winter is coming, somewhere on the R44 between Betty’s Bay and Gordon’s Bay.

Wisdom from the Twitters

Let me start this week’s edition with something that a friend forwarded, quite ironically, from the dark underbelly of the internet, also known as “twitter”:Daily activities to avoid: - Consuming endless (news) feeds - Discussion w/ anyone with a big ego - Thinking without pen & paper - Arguing on Twitter - Mindlessly saying yes to meetingsMost of these resonate with me, except for arguing on twitter.

This is not because I disagree, but rather because I sort of went cold-twitter-turkey about a year ago, a departure which has had only positive effects on my humanity, as well as on my trust in the goodness of humans.

I still sometimes slip and fall into arguments on other platforms,  where the same advice unfortunately holds.

#DeleteFacebook?

On the topic of online arguments, I would like to bring the next interesting conundrum to your astute attention.

There is at this moment quite some internet rage due to the details that have been revealed about the extent to which the company Cambridge Analytica managed to exfiltrate social network data from facebook, in order to perform extremely targeted advertising and hence psychological manipulation to get vulnerable users to vote for Trump, and to vote for Brexit leave.

Readers of this blog might remember that I already talked about this exact issue one year ago to the day. I even cited this early article in The Guardian mentioning Robert Mercer, Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica and their role in geo-political interference.

At this point, I hope you will allow me a quick two-pronged educational intermezzo:

  1. Do read my posts carefully, and you too can be all like “I knew that a year ago you silly muggles”.
  2. Probably more importantly, read The Guardian. (I would like to thank the brilliant Dr Ed Chadwick for introducing me to The Guardian so many years ago in Delft and/or Amsterdam, over either a pint of Irish stout (which he also introduced me to) and/or a Trappist.

Anyways, back to my rant.

So the internet is angry (years too late), and everyone and their mom is telling each other to #DeleteFacebook.

I too disapprove in the strongest terms of what Cambridge Analytica and its backers did (besides the immorality of the approach, conservative thinking is really primitive), and Facebook facilitated.

However, I also think that we find ourselves in a tricky baby-with-bathwater situation.

Let me ironically summarise the two main points from a comment I posted on Facebook:

  1. What happens when the clever / privacy-conscious people leave facebook? It becomes an even bigger echo chamber for the uneducated. Is it not our duty to come and fight with a vaccine denialist, or a conservative or someone who is in some other way unenlightened now and then? (instead of arguing, you could also choose a more socratic approach, or just be that persistently cool perfectly rational actor in any discussion)
  2. What replaces facebook as the admittedly flawed but largest virtual human gathering ever? Related to this: Facebook is the most accessible publication platform we have ever had. More people have a voice and can be heard than ever before. Do we really want to take that away?

Let me know in the comments what you think. I promise I’ll only mine a little bit of your metadata.

New arduino blog posts at vxlabs

My arduino – artwork journey continues. Over on vxlabs I have published a short post on the itead shield 3.3V jumper, and a much more interesting post showing a barebones solution (i.e. no additional software) to using the JetBrains CLion IDE for Arduino sketch programming.

I hope that these help future travellers on their quest.

WHV Film Club: Blade Runner 2049

The original Blade Runner was an important part of my upbringing.

This weekend I, up to this point 100% unspoilered, finally got around to watching all but the last 30 minutes of Blade Runner 2049, and I was utterly blown away.

It’s true what they say: You can take just about any scene from the movie, and look at it like you look at a painting. The scenes are thought- and emotion-provoking.

Without giving anything away, the story is an amazing example of how great science fiction is the perfect mechanism for making us think deeply about strange but extremely relevant human situations.

Tot gauw

Over the past few weeks, these blog posts have played a small but necessary role in more than one high quality human connection.

Each time this happens, the time I spend here feels like it has been rewarded 100 times over.

I thank you, and I look forward to the next time that we may meet.

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.)