Weekly Head Voices #134: SCARF.

Untitled artwork by GOU#2 (age 7), who is also known as My Most Favourite Middle Child.

I somehow forgot to take photos this past week. At the very last moment, GOU#2 delivered, as if commissioned, the piece shown above.

The WHV visual element lives to fight another day!

The rest of this post is divided into three parts: One for the programming nerds, one for the running nerds and one for the arm-chair psychologists. Feel free to pick and choose!

C++ quo vadis?

This week, we spent more than a day chasing an elusive memory-related access violation (big words for “crash”) in the software we recently released.

In the end, the bug was only really reproducible on Windows 7 (not on Linux, not on macOS, and only with great difficulty and infinite patience on Windows 10). It turned out to be hidden deep in a well-tested, industry-backed open source C++ library.

This and the specific nature of this bug again demonstrated to me that C++, although I love it dearly, simply has too many well-disguised flaws (let’s call them foot-guns) which will eventually lead to even the most experienced and sharp programmer making mistakes.

In spite of the recent language renaissance (C++11, 14, 17 with 20 imminent) and a slew of improvements, it’s still too easy to write unsafe code.

With contenders like rust (rustlang AJ, rustlang!) which enable programmers to write programmes which have C++-level performance but are by default safe, could C++’s days be counted?


It was time to retire my trusty pair of Asics Cumulus 18 shoes.

They had clocked just over 900km, which is perhaps a little too much. By the end, I could feel the bones in my big toe’s main joint (apparently also known as the big-toe’s MTP or metatarsophalangeal joint) crunching down with each strike.

Normally not prone to these types of visits, I had no choice but to pop out to the Run Specialist Store in Edward street on Thursday to get a new pair of activity-proof foot covers.

They let me run on a treadmill (whoohooo running!) with a high-speed video camera. In the footage, we could see that indeed my conversion to forefoot running had been successful (which was good to hear, because it had cost me about 100km of pain), but that I tended to land on the outsides of my forefeet.

The minimal shoes I had had in mind were not (yet) to be.

Instead the run doctor prescribed a pair of Saucony Kinvara 8s, which make my old Asics look like previous generation gardening shoes. I’ve since taken these out on two runs. They are super light, and super springy (everun FTW?), but I have to say that I have my doubts about the durability of the outsole. I’ll report back.

In February, I’m pretty happy that I managed to squeeze in just over 110km of running, which is not too shabby (by my standards, as always!) for the short month.


Yes, winter is coming, but this, although also quite useful, is not that type of SCARF.

I am still reading David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work, and SCARF is his mnemonic for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

These are five social needs, the threat or confirmation of which can have profound effects on humans.

If you feel that you are being unfairly treated, for example, this triggers a low-level threat response which fundamentally complicates dealing rationally with a situation.

Conversely, if for example an interaction grants you more certainty or even better autonomy, you are magically able to contribute significantly more cognitive capacity and creativity to that interaction.

Both the fundamental threat and reward responses go for all five of these qualities. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to go through some of your memories and to see where one or more of the SCARF needs played a role.

Although one (hopefully) mostly intuitively integrates this in one’s daily dealings, I think it’s super useful being able to enumerate the SCARF social needs like this. It helps when managing oneself in any situation (especially when your prefrontal cortex is exhausted, which is just about always), and it certainly helps when you might find yourself in position where you are able to contribute to another human’s well-being.

The end

Have a great week friends, I hope to see you again soon!

P.S. if there are any arduino uno -> hardware serial -> xbee experts in the audience, I would like to have a word. (sparkfun shield. with software serial can talk to xbee. with hardware serial, and sparkfun switch in the right position, xbee won’t respond. uno is a robotdyn clone.)

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.



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.

Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice guide at intervals not working at all: The Fix.

Update 2017-05-02: As reported by Kjetil in the comments, if you update the Health apps in the GEAR category of Galaxy Apps, this should fix the problem without having to change your phone’s language. I’m keeping the rest of the post here as a record of events.

This is a really short note to help other people trying to get their broken Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice “guide at intervals” to work.

In short, by activating the “guide at intervals” function on the Gear Fit 2, you can get a synthesised voice to give you all kinds of stats while you are running with bluetooth earphones. In my case, I set it up to give me distance, pacing and heart rate information every 0.5 km. This helps me to control my pace and extend my run.

After a recent phone swap, my Gear Fit 2 stopped giving me any kind of voice guidance. The music would continue playing, but at the first 0.5 km point when the voice guidance should have piped up, the watch would jump back to the watch face, instead of staying in the exercise app.

As seems to be par for the course with the Gear Fit 2, this was highly frustrating behaviour, with no help from the phone user interface or any of the Samsung documentation.

After some to-and-fro on the Samsung forums, Dutch user BarryNL came up with the answer.

It turns out that if the phone language is set to anything other than “English (US)”, the voice guidance seems to crash the running app, dumping you at the watch face during your run.

I switched my phone from “English (South African)” to “English (US)”, rebooted the phone, then rebooted the Gear Fit 2, and finally went out for a quick test walk.

Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice guide at intervals was back!

I am really happy to have this core feature back, and to have the exercise app stay active until the end of my run. However, this undocumented behaviour, as well as the fact that the watch, which has more than enough processing power and a beautiful display, does not give any kind of feedback to help the user correct the issue, makes for an extremely frustrating experience.

Fixing the Samsung Gear Fit 2 GPS lock delay when running without phone

For the past few runs, I noticed that my Gear Fit 2 would only lock onto GPS after more than 0.5 km. By “noticed”, I of course mean “got super frustrated with and considered briefly throwing the gadget onto the ground and arranging for its utter disintegration through repeated jumping on it”.

Besides losing the first 0.5 km of my run data, the pacing information, delivered via synthesised voice, would be wildly inaccurate for the rest of my run.

Judging by this 22 page thread on the Samsung community forums, there are other users who were also less than happy that the Gear Fit 2 built-in GPS does not seem to work as advertised. Understandably, people bought the gadget in order to be able to go running without having to lug their smartphones along.

Fortunately, it turns out the explanation is quite logical, although Samsung really has to do better to communicate this to their users.

Why does my Gear Fit 2 take so long to acquire a GPS lock?

In short, at the start of my run, my smartphone was lying on my desk one floor up. At that point the Gear Fit 2 still had a bluetooth connection to the phone, and it was planning to use the phone GPS instead of its built-in unit. As far as I know, the gadget’s use of the phone’s GPS is not well known.

As the distance between me and the office building increased, the Gear Fit 2 obviously lost the bluetooth connection to the smartphone. With the current firmware (R360XXU1BPL1 at the time of writing), it takes the Gear Fit 2 about 0.5 km to realise that the connection is really lost, and that it should switch to its built-in GPS.

This as all pretty logical, but highly frustrating when you don’t know what’s going on. Samsung clearly has to do better.

The Fix

Knowing what the issue is makes the fix pretty straight-forward.

Before starting your run, disable bluetooth on your smartphone, and wait for the Gear Fit 2 to register loss of the connection. It should vibrate on your wrist, and then show a little rectangle at the top right of the display, like this:

Samsung Gear Fit 2 should recognise that it has lost connection with the phone, as shown by the rectangle at the top right.

You can now start the exercise app and then start your run.

This morning, my Gear Fit 2 acquired a GPS lock almost instantly. You can see this by the location icon which briefly flashes and then stays on (it’s very important that you ensure that it stays on before running off), and by the fact that the on-screen distance gauge (you only see the distance gauge if you have set a distance target) starts climbing immediately.

(Update: I’ve had more runs since. Sometimes the GPS struggles for half a minute or more to get a lock, with the location icon remaining in the flashing state. In these cases, I sometimes stop the run, and start over, until that damned flashing location icon goes stable. Frustrating.)

Samsung Gear Fit 2: Even casual runners should think twice.

For the price, the Samsung Gear Fit 2 packs a lot of features.

However, between this undocumented (as far as I can see) and sometimes plain frustrating GPS behaviour, the voice guidance which breaks easily and mysteriously (see another post of mine on that issue and how to fix it), and the battery life (a 40 minute run with music and GPS can use up 30% to 40% of the battery), slightly more serious casual runners (strange category, I know) might want to consider carefully their alternatives.

The 2016 to 2017 transition post.

Following the rich tradition over here of year transition posts, having just rounded off a brilliant outdoorsy take-your-mind-off-of-everything vacation with friends, and also inspired by wogan.blog’s nicely personal 2016 review post, I decided that a farewell-2016 how-you-doin’-2017 post was in order.

By the way, by rich tradition I mean that I wrote the grand total of one (1) similarly titled post previously, as the year ticked from 2009 to 2010, and at least one other, disguised as a weekly head voices, as we entered 2012That last one is worth another read, early 2012 cpbotha had some really good tips. There might be more such posts, this blog has been around for more than 15 years and much of what I’ve written is not available from my short-term memory, which is nice.

Warning: This post is long (1800 words+), rambly and sometimes even a bit mushy. I hope you enjoy it!

2016: The Review

The bad, with a hopefully slightly positive outlook at the end

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way as soon as we can…

For me the biggest disappointments of 2016 were the double-whammy of the Brexit followed by the Trumpocalypse.

I really did not expect either of these events to go the way they did.

This is probably because I was, ever the optimist, over-estimating the level of human development of British and US voters.

The exclusionist, nationalist, xenophobic and in many cases even white supremacist thinking associated with Trump’s support in the US and the Leave vote in the UK are truly abhorrent.

I understand that there were many other factors at play. However, these voters were either throwing out the baby with the bath water, or, much much  worse, agreeing with the abhorrent sentiments mentioned above. Especially this second possibility depressed me greatly after the US election.

After such setbacks, one needs to look for solutions.

After Brexit, analysis showed that education level was the strongest indicator of a vote for leave or remain. Higher education was strongly associated with remain, whilst the opposite was the case for leave.

Leave / remain voter analysis by The Atlantic. Click to go to article + interactive version of this graphic.

For Trump voters, you probably guessed it, it was more or less the same idea. Less educated citizens voted for Trump, more educated citizens for Clinton.

This is yet another strong indication that we should really be pouring every resource we have into the education of our people. (yes, correlation and causation, I know. hence the terms “strong indication”. discuss in the comments if you like.)

Lawrence M. Krauss, superstar theoretical physicist and author of the book A Universe from Nothing, recently tweeted this 1920 quote by H.G. Wells:

Human history has become, more and more, a race between education and catastrophe.

The way things are going now, that thought, and movements like #feesmustfall, are more important than ever. There can be absolutely no excuse for neglecting the highest quality and accessible education (basic up to tertiary) of future generations of humans whom we expect to further our civilization.

The running and the mindful

In 2016, I ran 440km.

There are a great deal of people who have run much more than that, but those are my 440 kilometers and somehow they brought me a great deal of deep satisfaction.

During the year, my per-run distance and speed have gradually increased.

Besides fitness gradually increasing, I discovered experimentally that shorter, quicker steps get me further and a higher pace. It took a biomechanical friend to explain to me that this was about muscles operating within the more efficient middle of their full extension/contraction ranges. I could probably just have read this somewhere, but doing it the hard way and then having a friend explain it on top of Table Mountain definitely added something to the experience.

For the last 200 kilometres or so, I have listened to the exact same album: Skin by Flume. Every single run, I start that exact same album with the exact same sequence of tracks. As I learned from the SwimGeek’s blog, finding your soundtrack and putting it on repeat whilst exercising is apparently a thing.

With the surroundings over here being what they are, it does not take much to slip into a state of mindfulness.

No doing, no planning; just absorbing all of the surroundings, physical and mental, the music, and feeling how the meat-based machine that houses me propels us forward.

On the topic of mindfulness, for the last few months I added a repeat event to my todoist, helping me to spend five minutes every morning before work doing the breathing exercise. More recently I do this without any voice track, but previously Prof. Mark Williams at one point would say (original quote is due to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD):

Each breath a new beginning; each out-breath a letting go.

There’s a whole lot in there. I have spent quite some time with it and I am far from done.

The blog

The first rule of blogging: You don’t blog about blogging.

However, I hope you don’t mind me breaking that rule to mention that in 2016, this blog was viewed 133 thousand times. I already get happy when one other person reads a post. You can imagine how happy it makes me to know that there are even slightly more people who have come here to consume some of the words I have written, and even some who have taken the time to leave behind comments!

The lion’s share of those views were due to focused posts that got picked up by some of the more popular nerd sites. I have to admit that I derived the most enjoyment from the more personal posts that were only read by friends.

Whatever the case may be, this has to be my most satisfying hobby. Thank you for the crucial role that you who read play in it!

The new life

In early(ish) 2016, our third daughter, affectionately known as Genetic Offspring Unit #3 (GOU#3 for short) around these parts, was born.

This wonderful little cellular mega-cluster is currently making noises that have the primary purpose of being immensely cute, but are also slowly starting to make sense. Her ambulation capabilities have increased immensely, and she is on the verge of standing up by herself and so we will probably have to re-arrange our interior. Again.

Long ago, I wrote here about my unexpected new role as someone else’s Tooth Fairy. In the meantime, working as a part-time tooth fairy and a full-time papa to three little humans has turned out to be a more fulfilling career than I ever could have imagined.

2017: Not much planned yet, you?

I prefer making resolutions in secret, then carrying them out or not, and only then reporting on them. However, that would mean that I would have to wrap up this post right now, and for that I’m not quite ready yet.

Experiment Alcohol Zero

One resolution that I am already executing on, is performing an interesting little experiment. After reading about the effects of alcohol on one’s (running) performance and general energy levels, I have decided to go for 30 days without a drop of alcohol to try and get a subjective idea of its potential impact.

Those of you who have spent more than 8 seconds in my or my blog’s vicinity know that I absolutely adore craft beer (this includes local, but also special beers of the Belgian type) and local wines, both of which are regularly consumed by me and “business partners” during “business lunches” in the not-unattractive local surroundings.

This decision was not taken lightly.

It is mid-morning of day 2 of Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) as I write this. With the air full of smoke due to local vegetation fires, I have not been able to go running yet, but I am imagining that my energy lasted later last night, and I got up easier this morning. I have 29 more days to investigate.

Reminders for a hopefully better life

Every day, I remind myself to be the kindest I can possibly be to everyone I come into contact with. We have infinite amounts of kindness to spread.

I also remind myself to be grateful. It takes continuous practice to identify the many things one can be grateful for every day, but it is definitely worth it.

I often remind GOU#1 (#2 and #3 are not old enough yet for this lesson) that, besides the guidelines above, we have to keep on working on two more related characteristics: being useful, and being likable.

Being useful means continuously developing and refining skills that enable one to contribute value to one’s surroundings. Being likable means understanding and appreciating how we humans stick together. Kindness, see above, is an important component of this.

In 2017, I would like to write more (on this blog probably), and read more.

Rapidly morphing goalposts jumping randomly through even more randomly pulsating hyperspace, with a slightly positive outlook at the end

Yes folks, this is going to be my parting thought.

When I was much younger, I used to believe that one’s life could be “cracked”. That is, if you searched, and you worked really hard at understanding yourself, your people and your surroundings, you could come up with some kind of answer with which you would be able to attain contentment.

In the meantime I’ve come to the realisation that that Much Younger Me, although quite dashing, was of course utterly wrong.

Life is utterly dynamic. You Now are a different person from You Last Year. The same goes for people around you, and the same goes for everything around you.

The goal posts are not just moving all the time, they are an illusion flashing in and out of an hallucinogenic and especially dynamic perception.

One trick to help one deal with this, is to stop thinking about goals in the first place, and instead consider the directions of your movement.

Also keep in mind that there are no answers, only choices. You work to make the best ones you can with the means at your disposal at that moment.

Importantly, in this restless environment, some peace can be found by realising that a large part of the restlessness originates from within you. Fortunately, you have slightly more say in you than you have in your surroundings.

What one can do then, is nicely summarised by Prof. Mark Williams in the audio accompanying his mindfulness book:

The deep stillness we seek does not arise because the world is still or the mind is quiet. Stillness is nourished when we allow things to be just as they are for now, in this moment, moment by moment and breath by breath.

The End (for now)

Alright friends, that was it from me, for now. I hope that you have the best 2017 possible. I hope especially that your kindness and that of those around you flows deeply and freely.

As a parting gift, here is the high-resolution panoroma I made from the top of Table Mountain, after hiking up Platteklip Gorge with friends:

The view from the top of Table Mountain, photo by cpbotha.net. Click for high-res.