Astropsychonaut. [Weekly Head Voices #63]

I recently came across this hauntingly beatiful time-lapse view of Earth made from the ISS (the International Space Station! Yes, we have one!):

Watching this, my nostalgia flared up. You see, I’ve been addicted to science fiction ever since I can remember. It started with Buck Rogers, and the original Star Trek, and only got much worse when I discovered Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Douglas Hill. I find Kubrick’s 2001 and even the sequel movie 2010 beautiful.

For the longest time, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think I still do.

I believe I might have thought that my career plans would be seen as childish when I wrote this short piece for school detailing my life plans when I was 7 or 8 (late eighties, not saying anymore):

My life plans as a 7 or 8 year old. My brother found this somewhere and put it on facebook. I wonder what it would be like to go back in time and explain that concept to myself.

For those of you without the required Afrikaans background, here is a short translation, as true as possible to the original:

When I gow up, I’d like to work with computers, because then I’ll become really smart and I’ll know more about the outdoors and nature. As I grow older, I’ll become a professor, because perhaps I’ll find a cure for leprosy and after that I’m going to study to be a millionaire, because then I’ll go abroad or around the world.

Not a bad plan for a 7 or 8 year old, if you don’t mind me saying so myself. This note has in fact reminded me that there’s still more than enough decisions to be made and work to do, so I’ll have to postpone becoming an astronaut for a little while longer. At least by the end I’m going to end up a rich traveller, which is probably not a bad deal.

In other news this week:

  • It seems like just the other day that I made my 400th connection on LinkedIn. I’m happy to report that I broke the 500 barrier two weeks ago, and now I have that fancy looking “500+” next to my name. I finetuned my headline to celebrate the occasion, after which I promptly got approached by a head hunter.
  • Jonathan Dyer is the guru of facial hair. Check out all the beard types and accompanying facial expressions that he has mastered. Yes, that’s a hint of jealousy that you detect in my writing.
  • More reasons to love the coffee: Giving rats the equivalent of what a human gets after two cups of coffee, the caffeine caused nerve cells in a certain region of the hippocampus to show a significantly bigger burst of activity. These strengthened synapses might have a role in learning and memory. Read this summary on boingboing and the article on Nature Neuroscience.
  • In an exceptionally disappointing move, South African parliament has passed a new secrecy bill that gives members of government the power to declare information a state secret, thus deterring honest-keeping journalists and other whistle-blowers with a 25 year jail sentence. Desmond Tutu sums it up nicely when he says that this makes the State answerable only to the State.

If this new bill manages to make it through the constitutional court as well, the country is going to take a giant step backwards. At least we’ll have facedrink to cheer us up again!

Visual Boy. [Weekly Head Voices #60]

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this, the sixtieth edition of the Weekly Head Voices!

I know that I’m terribly late, so I imagine that you’ve probably missed my incoherent babbling. To try to make up for this, allow me to present you with this YouTube clip of me babbling almost coherently for 20 minutes! In week 41 I had the privilege of giving an invited talk to an audience of 100+ medical imaging geniuses at the yearly symposium of the Netherlands Forum for Biomedical Imaging in Leiden, and the whole thing was recorded by the artist formerly known as fpixel:

If you’re not into academic talks, I suggest the following YouTube clips as alternative entertainment: First, the new Avengers trailer resulted in the accute arrest of my teenage comic book fanboy heart. Besides all the superheroes (SUPERHEROES!) some Next Level Human Being (NLHB) opted for Nine Inch Nails as soundtrack! The previous time I gushed this much about a trailer, was with Iron Man 1 and their choice of Black Sabbath, and you of course remember how that turned out.

Second, do you remember that dude in the really terrible Police Academy movies who could make like a million sound effects WITH ONLY HIS MOUTH? His name is Michael Winslow, and with the following clip he has completely redeemed himself:

So now let’s get back to talking about me.

I grew up eating science fiction books for breakfast, lunch and dinner and dessert. I was one of those strange kids who used to read secretly under the covers (with the backlight I ripped off my microscope of course. yes, I owned a microscope you jock.) whilst I was supposed to sleep. Please try to imagine what it was like when I read last week that Virgin Galactic has just finished building Earth’s first commercial spaceport. People, we have our first frikking spaceport, you know, where spaceships take off and come to land!

We’re living in a science fiction novel.

Finally, Genetic Offspring #1 officially learnt how to tie her shoelaces on Tuesday, October 11, 2011. Genetic Offspring #2 started feeding herself four days after that. Now that’s amazing.

The Future is Sick [Weekly Head Voices #36]

Post summary: Conference, VXLabs, SIP, boots, backyard philosophy on you the consumer, dramatic reading. Read on for more!

Just before the weekend I spent two days at the Dutch Bio-Medical Engineering Conference in Egmond aan Zee, in a ginormous seaside hotel. Probably because I attempted to keep up with the young ones during their nightly escapades, I’m currently dealing quite badly with a serious cold, which is why this is the first sick blog post of 2011.  Besides all those germs, I also brought you this photo of said seaside right after sunset:

Sunset on the Egmond aan Zee beach. Gorgeous, innit? There’s even a dude walking on the beach so that you can wax all pensive.

The conference was an energetic and motivating affair, at which yours truly even got to chair a session, during which I tried, in spite of not getting to bed all that early the night before, to Keep Things Extremely Punctual As Well As Mildly Entertaining. I succeeded in the former, you’ll have to ask the audience about the latter.

The absolute highlight, for me at least, was the capstone on Friday by Professor Richard Satava, a surgeon with an amazing vision of the future. Bordering on science fiction but for a large part backed by his own and other groups’ research, his superbly delivered presentation touched on surgical operating rooms completely staffed by robots (some elements remotely controlled by a surgeon), cell engineering, surgery robots that heal troops at the scene of the crime (hehe), genetic engineering, cloning and a healthy dash of trans-humanism. By the end the whole room was collectively straining at the leash to go and genetically upgrade anything and anyone they could find. With a room full of BME researchers, that’s more dangerous than it sounds. :)

Other note-worthy items of the past two weeks can be summarised in the following neat bullet list:

  • I’ve started a new blog, called VXLabs, for matters that are too nerdy even for this blog. If you’re interested, you can start by reading the HTC Desire Z (my lovely new smartphone) review I’ve recently gotten around to writing. If you’re nerdy enough, you might consider subscribing VXLabs as well!
  • There are far cheaper ways than Skype to call telephones around the world. With SIP software, such as SIPDroid on Android, you can use cheap SIP servers that even offer free calls to many destinations. See this page for a list of just the betamax (German VOIP company) providers and the free countries that they support.
  • I was approached by a company producing Ugg-like boots to review their boots, get a free pair in the process, and get a good deal for my readers. This is probably because I went on about those BEAUTIFUL Timberland boots in one of my previous posts. Although I was flattered that the gentleman in question thought my widely-read (haha) opinion would be good for his brand and he called this a fashion blog (!!), I declined, stating that my readership probably is more into Timberlands than Uggs. That’s true, readership? Right?!
  • Micro Backyard Philosophy: After one of those late nights refreshing my Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader and GMail for the Nth time, I got to thinking about how the internet sometimes turns us into 100% consumers, leaving no room for creativity. It’s insidious, because we believe that the internet will give us exactly what we crave if we just know how to search for it, and that it should do so with that next press on the refresh button, when in fact this is hardly ever the case, especially when that which you crave is in fact to create. Remember this the next time it’s getting late and you think Just One More Refresh. Don’t push that button. Sit back and think about what you really want to do.

That’s it boys and girls, thank you very much for reading this far! You go and have yourselves a fabulous and especially creative week. If you get lonely waiting for the next edition of the Weekly Head Voices, marvel at this dramatic reading of a bad user game review, creativity at its finest: