After a month-long normal-shoe-person hiatus at the end of last year which again led to tender ankles, I realised (I’m a slow realiser, ok?) that it’s not the shoes but the person in the shoes.
Because it seemed that the shoes initially offered some relief, I reflexively started increasing distance and speed until my ankles started complaining again.
I then chatted with an erstwhile collaborator who is now, besides still being a successful tech entrepreneur, a successful sandal-wearing ultra runner and Leadville Trail 100 mile finisher.
He gave great advice, especially with regard to continuously training complementary muscle groups so that they can better contribute to the whole running mechanism.
Perhaps more importantly (to me) than that, was simply knowing that someone with a history, mechanism and control system not too dissimilar from mine, including the flat feet, runs so far with much joy.
Amongst other things, it again confirmed what we know about barefoot and minimalist runners running with less impact and more efficiency, two ideas that I really like.
All of this led to me getting back on my Lunas, and my Xeros, and my bare feet.
I have been keeping the distances shorter, and my pace lower.
Initial results are encouraging.
P.S. Of course that survey does not come with a simple answer. However, the quote at the end by itself is worth the price of admission:
If you don’t need an arch support, you probably shouldn’t use one. It is the equivalent of wearing a cast when you don’t have a stress fracture or broken bone. Why would you do that? The best forms of injury prevention are make sure your body is balanced in strength, mobility and flexibility, you are training smart and getting good sleep and nutrition. An arch support affects only one aspect of the body. Don’t forget the big picture.
A FAR cheaper and more long term solution? Work on you arch, foot and hip strength!!! That is where you are supposed to get “arch support” from. Not some shoe insert. Work on your posterior tibialis, fibularis longus, single leg balance, proprioception, gluteal strength, core strength, body alignment, etc.
It usually takes us until about 20:30 and often up to about 21:00 when all of our GOUs are finally in their beds. There’s a spread of 10 years between the oldest and the youngest, so there’s a wide range of themes and activities keeping us busy until that hour.
In my younger days (ack!) I used to be able to switch my work brain back on at that time, and work quite productively for a few hours.
(It is of course also possible that I just don’t remember this too well. Who knows what’s real anymore?!)
Whatever the case may be, it seems that I wrote blog posts, did some more reading and learning, and was generally productive.
More recently however, I’ve noticed that my work brain simply refuses to come back online at nine.
In order to work around this issue, my awake brain devised a plan, during the daylight hours of course.
Instead of trying to force poor work-brain to continue working, I go to bed at 22:00 and set my alarm for 5:30 (the optimal amount of sleep these days is 7.5 hours exactly). It does not seem like much, but I have an extra 50 minutes to an hour of crystal clear time in the mornings before the rest of the family wakes up to start the day.
(I also used to do this in 2012 when we were finishing The Visual Computing in Medicine Book. In Dutchie-land, the kids go to school much later, so I had even more time in the mornings.)
I usually start the morning with a little mindfulness exercise from the Waking Up course (extremely high-stress double-project-lead duties in 2013 were the catalyst that got me into mindfulness and early morning practices in the first place!), then I do the day planner, and then I take care of one or two important activities, the selection of which is usually clear after the day planning.
This morning, I get to write the words you are currently reading, with a clear(ish) mind to boot.
Whether this is just novelty, I don’t know yet, but it currently does seem as if starting the day with a bit of quiet and focus increases the probability the rest of my day at the office also starts more productively.
Inbox under control. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!
In the old days, I used to be a fan of inbox zero.
However, due to life stubbornly not adhering to Merlin Mann’s view of email (quite poetically, it seems that the inboxzero.com website is currently down), I eventually ended up with 1000+ unread emails in my inbox. (I know people with multiples of that…)
The term email bankruptcy (shudder) had even come up once or twice in conversations with friends.
I wrote back in WHV #69 that there seemed to be an inverse correlation between my creativity and inbox-zero.
I still think there is something to be said for that observation.
One can definitely get sucked into busy-work, a prime example of which is the grooming of one’s email, wasting time and energy that could far better be invested in creative pursuits.
However, could it be possible in some situations that one’s email landscape has changed in such a way that it has suddenly become tractable to maintain inbox-zero with a creativity-friendly and entirely affordable amount of energy?
Could it be that because one has let email slip so long, people don’t send as much email anymore, and now one paradoxically has the opportunity to reclaim inbox zero?
It seems it can be.
On January 31, at the tail end of that day’s early morning session, I was staring incredulously at the words:
This Folder is Empty.
I don’t want to call this inbox zero, because it’s not 2007 anymore Dorothy.
Let’s go for Email Equilibrium Startup Founder Parody instead.
Welcome to this, the most recent (as of this writing) instance of the venerable WHV year transition post tradition!
You can find previous editions here:
2017 to 2018 – short post, can be summarised as: “Sorry I stopped blogging for a while, I did run a bit, I’m going to blog more.”
2016 to 2017 – substantial post (1800 words) with: “education will improve stupid politics; running, blogging, meditation; we made a new baby!!; kindness and gratefulness; life changes the whole time, deal with it.”
2011 to 2012 – transition post disguised as WHV with: “stop doing life goals, disconnect more, list of miscellaneous life tips, because in 2011 I am not-even-40-yet Mr Wisdom”.
2009 to 2010 – super short but sweet, I am clearly still new at this.
Putting that list together just reminded me of an interesting observation: The more I try to take notes and document everything I see, the more I notice the multiscalar nature of my subjective experience being exposed.
I make detailed daily notes, all of them grouped in monthly text files.
At a slightly higher scale, the frequency of these WHV blog posts is somewhere between a post per week down to a post every three weeks.
When I write each blog post, I look back through the previous weeks, at a daily scale, and perform an extremely lossy summarisation.
When I write the year transitions, I perform an extremely lossy summarisation of the weekly-scale WHV posts.
The list above links together the various yearly transition posts, thus creating a lovely ball of multi-scalar confusion, which should not be confused with a lemur ball, shown below:
WARNING: This post has grown into a long ramble over the past few days. I hope that you enjoy reading the ramble as much as I did thinking of you while writing it.
Focus: Quantity and Quality.
This post has been taking a while.
I am now back here at the start, after having been almost at the end, because I did not want you to have the idea that my 2018 did not have aspects I am not that happy with, or that I don’t use multiple negations in confusing ways often enough.
(As an aside, a friend and I have been exchanging photos of the less glamorous but entirely normal aspects of our vacations via WhatsApp: Plastic on the beach, the washing line, filthy toilets, truly terrible interior decor, and so on. What started as a joke has turned into an unintended but interesting psychological experiment in reverse image crafting, strongly underlining the effect that this sort of communication can have.)
Back to my main story: During retrospection, I have the tendency to focus (sorry, couldn’t resist) on the good parts, because this is what I remember the best.
However, for the purpose of this post, I did want to spend some words on one of the (multiple!) issues that I struggled with in 2018.
Either I am getting worse at focusing, or I am getting better at noticing when I lose focus, or a combination of both.
The mentioned posts specifically and my thinking generally take the form of some analysis but mostly tools and tricks to try and improve the frequency, intensity and length of periods of focus.
(What you don’t read in the posts because of above-mentioned memory bias, is that there is usually a significant amount of inwardly-directed regret and disappointment involved.)
Even more subtle is the problem of selecting That One Most Suitable Thing to focus on. What’s going to have the most impact? What do I have capacity for at the moment? Can I trust my own subjective assessment of my current capacity, or is Lazy-Me being sneaky?
By the time I have made a decision, it’s probably wrong. Sometimes it’s a good decision, but by then the little block of time I had has flown away or has been blown to smithereens by the latest interruption, and so the quality of the decision is moot.
I would have expected that at this advanced age focus would come naturally and easily, and that I would know exactly what to do. However, I have had to accept that focus will probably remain this slippery and require constant attention (haha I see what I did there) until the very end.
Besides eating well, sleeping well, exercising regularly and taking time to meditate (just in case!), our old friend the pomodoro technique is still the best tool in the box.
During 2018, 36 blog posts were published here, most of which were Weekly Head Voices. Those of you who have a math degree or two will not need much time to calculate that the “W” in “WHV” is at the moment mostly a little inside joke.
However, I did publish 14 more posts than I did in 2017, so there is hope for this year!
The wordpress.com statistics plugin reports just over 19000 visitors (unique IP numbers) who were responsible for just over 26000 page views for the whole year.
Because many people use some form of ad and/or tracking blocking these days, their visits won’t be counted, as the wordpress.com statistics relies on a tiny image which is hosted by wordpress.com, access to which is (rightfully) blocked by many blocker plugins.
In order to get a better idea of how many ad-blocker people read my stuff, I installed the wp-statistics plugin, which locally tallies up all visits and hence is not blocked by blockers, at the start of March. For the period from March 2018 until the end of the year, it is reporting just over 74000 visitors and somewhere north of 390000 page hits.
Although to me this seems on the high side, I do think we can safely say that there were somewhere between 19000 and 74000 unique hosts, which to me is a very pleasant surprise.
However, I am by far the happiest due to all of the interactions I had with friends, mostly old and some new, on this blog. Most recently, the comments section of WHV #156 blew up in such a brilliant way!
More generally speaking, even when there are no comments, I know that throughout the year I am connecting with various subsets of my peeps through the posts on this blog. This acts as tremendous motivation to keep on writing. If even a single friend reads, it has been more than worth it.
(BTW, there is now a telegram group, quite surprisingly called “headvoices”, that you can join to receive a summary whenever a new post is published, and for general chitchat. Although so far only two of my most avant-garde friends have joined, this new form of blog-related communication excites me!)
Surprisingly, I again will aim to write one WHV post per week.
I will probably fail again, but I believe that this is one of those cases of “aim for the stars, reach the moon”.
As mentioned above, writing these letters and writing them regularly is really important to me.
(BTW, I should probably have declared email bankruptcy years ago. I am just managing to keep head above water, but writing letters to friends like we used to do in the old days is becoming increasingly difficult. What is your feeling currently re email and how it has changed over the past few years?)
Strava says I ran 1286km in 2018.
Seeing that I had set myself a private goal of 1000km for 2018 (2016 was 440km and 2017 was 880km), I am quite happy with this.
(As an aside, I spent 119 hours running, spread out over a total of 149 runs, which means 2.86 runs every week of the year.)
I did 770 of those 1286 kilometres in sandals, and a further 35km on barefoot.
More importantly, I had to learn the humbling lesson that no amount of stubborn, brute-force exercise could work around the fact I am flat footed (arch-challenged?), resulting in easily overworked posterior tibial tendons.
As I pushed my weekly distance up, my feet complained more loudly, until I was forced to go back to normal-person-running-shoes.
After a few weeks eating humble pie in running shoes, things are going much better, and I recently did my first short and careful run in sandals.
(Similar to the observation confirmed by the pattern recognition heroine veronikach in her end-of-2018 post, I too ran slower this year in order to run better. I did this for the largest part due to my temporarily busted ankles, but also because more experienced athletes at work recommended heart rate training. For the past few hundreds of kilometres, I have regulated my running speed to try and keep my heart rate within the 75% to 85% of maximum range, mostly ending up closer to 85% than 80%. This has increased the occurrence of those addictive perfect runs, and it has helped to keep my ankles out of trouble.)
In 2019, I would be happy to maintain my 2018 monthly running quota, to remain injury-free, and to maximise my running zen.
(“Running slow” explained above can contribute substantially to the latter two goals.)
I do have an additional concrete (but very humble) running-related resolution for 2019, but I have decided to keep that quiet until it’s in the pocket. :)
Other plans for 2019.
Experiment Alcohol Zero #2.
Yesterday, which at the time of writing is January 4, 2019, was the first day of EAZ #2.
It has been two years since the previous EAZ in 2016. The previous experiment coincided with a significant jump in my running performance, the effects of which did not fade away after the end of the experiment.
This time around, the plan is to run EAZ for at least as long as in 2016, but hopefully a few days or weeks longer.
(I should probably call this EA<0.5, as that is what my current favourite “alcohol-free” beer, Devil’s Peak Zero to Hero, claims.)
Ship more side-projects.
Most nerds I know have side-projects.
These are the technical artifacts, systems and machines one builds, because one can’t stop building stuff, even after work ends.
Like most nerds, I have a number of these that started with high momentum (new programming language, new tools, new problem, EXCITING! … 3 hours later … NOVELTY COMPLETELY WORN OFF doh.) and are now lying around gathering dust.
More structure meant more books read to completion, and more courses followed, resulting in an Ever So Slightly Improved Me.
I am planning to continue and extend this practice in 2019.
Evolve The System.
The System is Emacs, and orgmode, and multi-scalar note-taking everywhere, and sketching, and daily habits, and a whole bag of tricks to try and keep this creaky old frame moving in the right direction.
One step, and then another, and then another, until the lights finally go out.
Try to grow a tree.
I grew up with a fuerte avocado tree that gave us hundreds of the divine fruit every season.
Fast-forward 40 odd years, and my mom (HI MOM!) gave us a beautiful baby fuerte avocado tree for Christmas!
We are currently trying to nurture it through its first few weeks of life in our garden.
With the summer sun, and the new environment, it’s a bit touch and go at the moment, but we’re really rooting for that baby tree! (bad pun quota exhausted now?!)
This is it my friends.
You have made it to the end, an endeavour for which I am truly grateful.
I wish you a 2019 filled with growth, health and happiness.
In theory, this edition should cover the period of time from Monday November 19 to today, Wednesday December 19, 2018.
I am very late with this post, because down here we were first busy winding down the year with all of the completion-madness that that entails, and then the vacation started starting.
It hasn’t yet stopped being busy starting.
We are now entering what the Dutch call komkommertijd, and, as I’ve just learned, the Germans Sauregurkenzeit, referring to the period when everyone has left and there’s not really anything news-worthy happening.
To celebrate the occasion of the official partnership between my partner and me adding another year to its growing collection, and due to my partner’s impeccable timing and ingenuity, we spent an amazing evening at what is currently South Africa’s best restaurant, at least according to the 2018 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards.
I would like to share three observations:
The Waterkloof experience is a superbly balanced combination of location (see the photo above), architecture and interior design, art and ambience, all acting as context for the almost other-worldly culinary adventure, itself consisting of pairings of wine and perfect little dishes, the latter again artfully manipulating appearance and taste, space and time.
South Africa is a country of extremes. Just the previous night, close family had been the victims in a violent but fortunately non-fatal home invasion.
If you ever manage to find yourself at Waterkloof, take this advice to heart: The small dégustation menu with wine pairing is most probably more than enough. (We selected the normal. By what felt like the 15th course, we were dealing with the dilemma of having to abstain from eye-wateringly beautiful culinary creations.)
For many good reasons, we are currently seriously evaluating upgrading the house with a photovoltaic solar power system.
It turns out, as I should have expected, that there’s a whole universe of new toys and gadgets to evaluate.
We are currently looking at the following main components:
2 x PylonTech US3000B LithiumIon batteries for a total of about 7 kWh of stored electricity.
GoodWe GW3648-EM Hybrid inverter: This coordinates everything between the PV Solar panels, the grid and the batteries. When the sun is shining, it charges the batteries, and powers as much as possible of the house, only using the grid when there’s no other option. During the evening, it powers the house using the batteries, again only using the grid when absolutely required. Due to strict rules down here in Cape Town, we are limited to inverters with a maximum output of 3.6 kW, even when no feed-in (to the grid) is planned.
The PV Solar Panels: I am still considering options here. I would prefer monocrystalline, and as close as possible to the 4.6 kWp maximum supported by the GoodWe inverter to maximise the amount of sun in our power diet.
As a first step, today we had a number of intelligent geyser controllers installed. These devices enable me to keep the geysers (we heat all of our water electrically down here…) off for most of the day, only switching them on an hour or two before hot water is usually required.
They look like this:
The rest of this exercise will be considerably more expensive, but am really looking forward to being able to harvest most of our electricity from the lovely African sun!
I have one final bit of nerd-news, and it comes in the form of a…
WHV pro-tip #23972847376: If you are doing data science(tm), or machine learning, or visualization, or any other dataset-oriented work, I can highly recommend DVC, or DataVersionControl. We have started using this on one of our projects to manage different collections of DICOM images, and it works incredibly well.
In this cohort study of 122 007 consecutive patients undergoing exercise treadmill testing, cardiorespiratory fitness was inversely associated with all-cause mortality without an observed upper limit of benefit.
Let’s “unpack” that, as they say.
The researchers spent about 23 years measuring the cardiorespiratory fitness of just over 122 thousand subjects as they were running on a treadmill.
Measuring that many people gives your conclusions quite some statistical power. Also, the treadmill doesn’t lie, as people will often do, inadvertently or not, when self-reporting their fitness level.
What’s also interesting to me is that they didn’t observe any upper limit to the positive effect of fitness. Every additional amount of cardiorespiratory fitness, up to crazy levels, correlated with longer life.
The upshot of all of this is that there’s really no excuse. That one most important thing we can do to live long and prosper is to exercise.
(Note that there’s now a Telegram group that you can join to be kept up to date with these posts. I’m never going to make the A-List, but at least I haz the gimmicks!)
This edition of the weekly (haha) head voices attempts to reflect on the period of time from Monday November 5 to Sunday November 18, 2018.
The following action scene happened exactly halfway through:
Running aka Irony update
Seeing that you’ve made me talk about running again, have a look at this photo of one Luna Mono 2.0 after about 700 km of (mostly road) running in about seven months, and one brand new Luna Mono 2.0:
At around about the same time as the new shoes arrived, shortly after South African customs charged me a painful amount before letting the new babies through, both my ankles, from around the posterior tibial tendon area, let me know in no uncertain terms that they were now demanding a break.
After repeated explanations by my life partner (she counts being a rheumatologist amongst her many talents), and by a foot surgeon friend, that my flat feet mean that my posterior tibial tendons have to work even harder than they would usually have done had I been anatomically speaking more normal, I had to start facing the music:
I was going to have to wear normal person running shoes again.
(If I have to be honest I would have to say that the music was in fact more about having to take a running break. I had sneakily been pushing up my weekly distance, trying to run through ankle discomfort, and this was probably the true core of the problem.
All of that being said, I am choosing to interpret matters a bit differently. Running breaks are really hard yo.)
I’ve now done two runs in my pre-Mono Kinvara 8s, and it does indeed feel (of course it does) like my ankles might slowly be recovering. I am hopeful that the trend continues, and that I can eventually rotate in my Lunas again.
Nerd toys update: RTX 2070 in da house.
After weeks of deliberating, I broke down and bought an NVIDIA RTX 2070 for deep learning.
This in turn led to a flurry of experimentation and to be quite honest a slight case of deep learning binging.
At least I have the following new blog posts to show for it:
(I know that some of these occurred outside of the two week timespan covered by this post.)
On the memory saving of mixed-precision training.
In my tests with ResNet50, a serious convolutional neural network for image classification, the exact same network with the exact same training settings required 14159 MiB in fp32 mode but only 7641 MiB in mixed precision mode.
This means that in some cases, this new RTX 2070 can go toe-to-toe with many far more expensive cards.
Furthermore, I informally measured a training speed boost of about 20% with the smaller ResNet34.
… in test screenings, Willy Wonka had a scene with a hiker seeking a guru, asking him the meaning of life. The guru requests a Wonka Bar. Finding no golden ticket, he says, “Life is a disappointment.” The director loved it, but few laughed. A psychologist told him that the message was too real.
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.
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:
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.
A friend from work told me about this idea of exercising at 80% of your maximum heart rate.
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.
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.)