Weekly Head Voices #156: Karma Chameleon.

Scene from a recent lunch with a very flat cat. Whilst appreciating these moments with direct experience mode set to 11, one does have to realise that it’s all much more complicated than it looks.

Welcome to this, the 156th edition of the Weekly Head Voices, voices who are planning to sing about the two weeks from Monday October 8 to Sunday October 21.

Summer has arrived, and it’s really very hot down here.

As I’m writing this at 21:41, I am doing my best to limit my motion to the absolute minimum in a bid to keep my temperature within healthy limits.

You have to imagine me sitting utterly still, almost like a chameleon on a twig, with only my fingers making small darting movements over the keyboard.

Time is fun when you’re having flies.

Karma Running.

This morning, after losing all my karma in traffic (there was an accident on one of the main roads in my town, resulting in the normally already impressive level of stupidity of the driving mob, which I am part of, reaching hitherto unseen levels; WHEN IS THE AI GOING TO TAKE OVER PLEASE?!), I started my long road to forgiveness, and zen, by taking a barefoot run on the beach near my place of work.

It looked like this:

Goldilocks sand: Not too hard, not too soft, just right.

I wish I could better communicate how it felt.

Imagine the 30 Celsius morning sun on your back, a slight breeze from the sea and your bare feet rhythmically brushing the wet sand as you glide softly along the coast.

Simply keep on doing this until your body creates the stillness that your mind needs.

This is my new favourite run.

MAF(ish).

A friend from work told me about this idea of exercising at 80% of your maximum heart rate.

The idea behind this is to train your aerobic system without injuring anything, and also to be able to do so with much more volume (read: more kilometres).

Four weeks ago I tried to squeeze in too much running in the half hour I had at my disposal. Due to me being doubly stupid, I also did this in my Xero Tolerance 5mm sole sandals, and so I was rewarded with a brand new kind of pain in my posterior tibial tendon.

This is the same tendon previously mentioned on this blog, also in the context of running injuries.

However, this time I must have injured the tendon more effectively than the previous time (practice makes perfect!), because the pain seemed to be a more permanent new inhabitant of my foot.

Long story short, the suggestion of lower heart rate training came at the perfect time, with my ankle serving as a continuous and visceral (literally) reminder to keep an eye on my heart rate.

This has been going swimmingly.

I am slowly increasing my distance, but, more importantly, runs are again characterised by a whole lot of grinning.

It has not escaped me that a man running on sandals (or barefoot) with a probably fairly unpredictable-looking grin on his big hairy face could give fellow humans pause for thought.

Grab bag of thought- and/or debate-provoking pieces.

Not exercising worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease, study reveals

Over a period of more than 20 years, 122000 people were put on a treadmill at Cleveland clinic. It turns out that exercise plays a crucial role in not dying.

Core quote: “Being unfit on a treadmill or in an exercise stress test has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic or being a current smoker”.

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

I’m really sorry about this one, fellow meat lovers.

This also looks like a pretty solid study. Core quote: “The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.”

(I have slowly started to work on the vegetarian recipe section of my notes.)

World’s largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain

It is well known that we here at The Voices are huge fans of sleep.

However, now it turns out that lots of sleep is not going to cut it. You have to sleep just the right amount: Not too much and not too little.

You probably knew this, but this large study confirms it: Between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, no more and no less, is best for optimal mental performance.

Hard hitting quote: “One startling revelation was that most participants who slept four hours or less performed as if they were almost nine years older.”

The End

Thank you for connecting with me by reading this post. I am already looking forward to our next encounter, whichever form that may take!

Weekly Head Voices #154: It’s full of flowers!

A view from the West Coast National Park on Langebaan with Schaapen Island visible. No, we were never a Dutch colony.

This was the week from Monday september 10 to Sunday september 16.

Nerd stuff

I fought with VTK renderer window reparenting on three different platforms. Suffice to say that the 2018 is probably also not going to be the year of the Linux desktop.

Serendipitously (seems to be a theme) I came across UMAP, a great new technique for dimensionality reduction which functions in the same space (weak math pun, sorry) as t-SNE.

My first impressions are great because UMAP is fast, it can be trained, and I really enjoyed this recording of its introduction at SciPy 2018:

Outdoorsy stuff

The highlight of my week was undoubtedly the weekend visit to the West Coast National Park to go greet the brand new flowers of spring.

During my morning run I was greeted by a herd of Eland antelope.

Although enormous, they are wary of humans, especially ones running across the savannah in their general direction.

In stark contrast, the ostrich male and female I then ran into were quite vicious, running fairly aggressively to and fro across the the hiking path before me, huffing and puffing. They probably thought that I was a threat to their young.

These birds are not to be trifled with (see for example this section on wikipedia), but I had to push on, so we played the waiting and shuffling game for a few minutes before I could continue.

At least I knew for sure that I would have the privilege of taking an entirely different route home.

Sometimes one’s arrival on the west coast is perfectly timed, and other times not at all, just like life. This time, the flowers were out in full.

There were brilliant fields of yellow, orange and purple, up and down the mountain-sides.

As if the flowers were not sufficient, we were treated with stunning views of the Grecian-blue sea, and with sunsets like these:

Weekly Head Voices #153: pH < 7 dreams.

Looking back at the week from Monday September 3 to Sunday September 9, I present to you the following memories and after-effects.

Aphex Twin never left us

I serendipitously ran into T69 Collapse, the brand new track and video by Aphex Twin.

In the grand tradition of WHV intro art, I have embedded the video above.

Whether you’re a fan or not, I think it’s worth sitting through this one, preferably with the headphones and the video in full screen.

Pro-tip: This is not one of those tracks where the whole thing can be more or less predicted by viewing the first minute. There’s a thing at 1:55 and a second thing at 3:14.

I had to wonder whether the 3:14 was intentional. We’re not much into our biblical references over here as you might know, but you have to recall that Aphex Twin is the guy who, already back in 1999, hid his face in the spectrogram of a music track called:


\[\Delta M_i^{-1} = -\alpha \sum\limits_{n=1}^N D_i [n] \left[\sum\limits_{j \in C[i]} F_{ji} [n-1] + Fext_i [n^{-1}]\right]\]

That’s the actual name of the track (#2 on the famous Windowlicker EP), although most people (plebs!) refer  to it as just Function or Equation. I got sucked down that rabbit hole last night, but no-one on the internet seems to know the true meaning of the equation. Please ask RDJ if you ever run into him.

Anyways, I have embedded \(\Delta M_i^{-1} = -\alpha \sum\limits_{n=1}^N D_i [n] \left[\sum\limits_{j \in C[i]} F_{ji} [n-1] + Fext_i [n^{-1}]\right]\) below for your listening and viewing pleasure. Aphex Twin’s face appears at 5:30.

APFS encryption vs Samsung hardware encryption effective SSD speed

I ran benchmarks on my external Samsung T3 SSD comparing the speed of encrypted APFS to unencrypted APFS with Samsung’s hardware-based full disk encryption.

I used AmorphousDiskMark, BlackMagic Disk Speed Test and plain old iostat whilst copying 30GB of files to and from the disk.

There will probably soon be a detailed blog post over on vxlabs.com about this, but I’ll give you the skinny here:

  • It’s hard to get benchmarks right. BlackMagic gave wildly varying results depending on how many times I let it run its benchmark for example.
  • APFS’s software encryption looks like it causes a performance hit ranging from 5 to about 10%, with outliers in both directions.
  • Emacs can calculate over columns of data, for example from iostat’s standard out, using a simple M-x calc-grab-from-rectangle and M-x calc-vector-mean.

Brave browser and the Basic Attention Token (BAT): This could be big. Or not. It’s at least interesting.

Brave is a new(ish) browser also based on the Chrome engine.

I knew they were doing something with cryptocurrency, and paying or getting paid for the consumption of content and/or advertising, but I was, as you can see, quite vague on the details.

What I learned last week taking it for a quick spin is the following:

Brave out of the box is massively privacy-focused. Without installing any plugins, it blocks every single advertisement and tracking cookie known to humankind. It also automatically switches to secure SSL wherever that’s possible.

More interestingly, in Brave you can opt in to “Brave Payments“, which looks like it might soon be renamed to Brave Rewards, but don’t quote me on that.

One part of this system, is that you as a user contribute a set amount of BAT tokens (these are tokens on the ethereum chain) per month. At the end of each month, Brave will pay out your tokens to the websites that you visited, based on the amount of time you spend on each site.

In this way, publishers can get recompensed for their content in hard cash, without having to resort to advertising. (It does look like Brave also supports the model where advertisers can pay, in BAT tokens of course, for your eyeball time.)

Brave already has 4 million monthly active users (MAU).

If they’re able to grow this user base, and get a significant portion to participate in the payment system, this could be a game changer. Imagine being able to pay your favourite content creators in this seamless way, and being able to switch off ads in  the process!

RunAlyze where have you been all my life?

I publish my runs to Strava, as I have a bunch of friends there, and I like the idea of a social network where you have pay with a bucket of sweat before you’re allowed to say anything.

However, I was also relying on Strava to keep track of my shoe mileage. Recently, it started losing the miles I put on my Xero Genesis sandals (the most unforgiving shoes in the universe), and I was not able to coax the system into correctly tracking those terrible, terrible kilometres.

Because I use HealthFit to push my data to Strava, I took a look at some of its other endpoints and then, again extremely serendipitously, ran into:

RUNALYZE

It’s a site made by two running nerds (and it really shows) from Germany.

It keeps track of my shoes (the goal of this… exercise, bad pun, sorry) but the authors have also implemented a bunch of metrics from academic papers, some metrics of their own, and they show tables of your data sliced and diced in many different ways ON ALL FOUR WALLS of their website.

<Dr Evil voice>It’s breathtaking.</Dr Evil voice>

Anyways, if you’re a running nerd too, you should probably take a peek.

Fin

See you soon brothers and sisters. I am grateful for our time together.

 

Weekly Head Voices #150: The Road not Taken.

Photo of a cotula lineariloba flower, taken by GOU#1, age 12.

This edition of the WHV covers the week from Monday, July 23 up to and including Sunday, July 29.

Running update

Strava says I’ve just passed the 300km threshold in my Luna Mono 2 sandals.

It also says I’ve done 27km in my Xero Genesis sandals, or as I have begun to call them, Xero Tolerance.

You make one mistake, and something will break. You do get to keep all the bloody pieces.

In any case, when I started on this barefoot-style / natural running adventure, I had subconsciously set myself the limit of 200km before evaluating the success of the experiment.

At 200km, the experiment was still unsuccessful (different parts of feet and ankles were taking turns complaining) so I moved the threshold to 300km, with the plan to move it to 400km if required.

I call this The Stubborn Scientific Method(tm): You keep running the experiment (harr harr) until it says what you want it to say.

To be fair, in this specific case an injury would have (and still can), stop the experiment. Most fortunately the muscles, bones and tendons in my feet, ankles and calves, although complaining quite audibly, have held up.

This past Sunday I did a long(ish) run where it felt for the first time like my feet and ankles had finally toughened up enough (and perhaps my form had also improved slightly) to just keep on propelling me forward quietly and efficiently.

Together with the brilliant sunny winter morning conditions, this conspired to reconfigure my face machine into a rather long-lasting grin.

I am carefully optimistic that I might be able to make this specific adventure a more permanent one, and that makes me really happy.

The Emacs Section

NERD-ALERT. SKIP TO THE NEXT SECTION IF YOU ARE NOT INTO TEXT EDITORS!

A friend from work sent me a ZIP file with research data.

I was super surprised that I could easily decompress the ZIP file using Emacs Dired (Dired is of course the file-manager built into Emacs, doh), but that there was no easy way to mark and extract specific files from the archive.

I found an SO answer with a piece of Emacs Lisp code that someone had put together and integrated it with my Emacs.

It worked, but it didn’t default to the opposite Dired file-list pane as all commander-style tools should do, and by default it re-created relative paths, which is the opposite of the default in most two-pane commanders I know.

As is the wont of Emacs users, I reshaped the code ever so slightly to work like I thought it should.

Shaping Emacs Lisp code has a pleasant fluid feeling to it. Code is data, code is configuration, data flows through code.

I’m telling you this story, because it was a nice little reminder of one of the reasons I like this software so much.

You can find my modified version of archive-extract-to-file.el as a github gist.

The Odd Bits of Interesting News Section

  • Differentiable Image Parameterizations, a beautiful machine learning article on Distill that surveys and showcases different techniques for generating beautiful images with deep learning. These networks sort of learn to see in order to solve specific tasks, but you can tickle them in different ways to get them to show you the insides of their visual circuitry, and it’s quite beautiful.
  • The Prophylactic Extraction of Third Molars: A Public Health Hazard is an article which was published all the way back in 2007. It makes the claim that at least two thirds of wisdom tooth extraction are unnecessary. One could say that their only function is to… extract your money. BA DUM TSSSSS! To that I would like to add: WHY DENTISTRY WHY? HAVE YOU NOT HURT US ENOUGH?!
  • A colleague at work emailed this TechCrunch post about a 3D printed neural network that diffracts light going through in order to do its trained inference work on incoming images. Although it’s a retro-futuro-mind-bending idea to do it with a whole neural network, and it smacks of hell-yeah-this-is-what-scifi-promised-me-that-AI-would-look-like, I could not help but recall a certain Very Flat Cat telling us about this sort of passive light-based computation almost 20 years ago.

The Poetry Section

GOU#1 had to select an English poem to recite for class.

From the depths of my memory bubbled up The Road not Taken by Robert Frost.

I had forgotten how much subtlety and recognisable human complexity this poem was able to pack into such a petite little frame. If you have the time, read the analysis linked above after spending some time with the poem itself.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Friends, no matter which paths you take this week, I hope that we may meet again.

Weekly Head Voices #149: I forgot to proof-read this.

Part of the Sunday morning trail. Although I really enjoy these, I’m at my happiest running down antelope on the savannah.  Antelope strictly-speaking not required, but those wide open plains on the other hand…

This, the one hundred and forty ninth edition of the Weekly Head Voices, covers the week from Monday July 16 to Sunday July 22 of the year 2018.

This week, we have apple watch running adventures, deep learning in production (finally), yet another focus tip and finally a youtube poetry reading.

Enjoy!

The Apple Watch, Vitality and You

On Monday, I became the owner of a brand new Apple Watch 3, FOR FREE(ish).

I feel that two points are worth mentioning:

  1. Having one’s work macbook unlock automatically as one prepares to put one’s hands on the keyboard, with a sweet little unlock sound emitting from one’s watch, is much more fun than I had expected.
  2. One was looking forward to using third party running apps on the watch, such as iSmoothRun which does real-time reporting of cadence, which can be shown together with a number of other stats on a number of configurable screens a la Garmin . One has had to cancel these plans, because Vitality, the shadowy organisation responsible for the FOR FREE(ish) nature of the watch, only recognises runs submitted by the built-in Workouts app.
    • The September watchOS update will include runtime (haha) cadence, which is great. However, some technical system for the support of third party apps would have been even better. I’ll live.
    • Runs logged with the built-in Workouts app can be easily and automatically submitted to other platforms, such as Strava, where many of my running peeps hang out, and even to one’s own Dropbox in FIT format, with the HealthFit iOS app, a very reasonable once-off purchase.

DeepLearning Inside(tm)

On Friday, we shipped a new version of the most important work project I am currently involved in.

Again I feel that two points are worth mentioning:

  1. We now also have deep learning, albeit a humble example, out in actual production. I was starting to feel a little left out. Anonymous shout-out (because top secret) to the team members who made this happen!
  2. They say one should never deploy or ship on Friday. Because I come from the I-won’t-do-what-you-tell-me generation, I cut the final release on Friday evening after the traditional weekend-starter braai.
    • To be honest, this was only necessary because I had promised our client that we would release, and it was only possible because we have a fairly good test-suite, with end-to-end being most crucial in this specific scenario, and a checklist-style release procedure.

SoBSoDSiT-CIPWOB-FBA

As part of my chaotic but ever-evolving constellation of systems for maintaining work focus, I have renamed the shorter focus blocks approach to the short-but-specially-defined-so-that-completion-is-possible-within-one-block focus blocks approach (SBSDSTCIPWOB-FBA).

This adds the incentive of a small but probable shot of dopamine at the end of the focus block, and sometimes even leads to its unwitting extension by the woefully undersized (not to mention super lazy) rider sometimes sitting atop my mental elephant.

It sometimes feels like I’m slowly reinventing GTD.

(This blog post is an emotional roller coaster ride for me. This is the first time I’m feeling something.)

I used to be a fan of GTD when I still believed that my function in life was to answer emails really quickly, and master multi-tasking.

Since then however, I’ve slowly had to come to the realisation that, at least in my case, the amount of email processed is more or less exactly inversely correlated to the actual value that I produce.

The impotence of proof-reading

The following poetry reading made various subsets of my neurons fire in extremely pleasant ways.

I hope that you experience similar effects. See you next time!