Just One Thing. [weekly head voices #49]

(post summary: linkedin news, the week in bullets, backyard philosophy!)

Dearest readers,

Yesterday I made my 400th LinkedIn connection. Yes, I know there are people with zillions of LinkedIn connections, but mine are special. I’ve actually had contact, outside of LinkedIn, with each and everyone of them. In most cases the contact has been in person, in some cases even involving beer, and in the others the contact has been sufficiently significant, by my metrics of course, to warrant a real connection. Whatever the case may be (how many times have I used the word “case” so far?), reaching this milestone has made really happy, and this again warrants a great big thank you to each of you little coloured dots! The visualisation below shows my complete network, where I’ve labeled each cluster with the place or institute it’s most associated with:

My LinkedIn network, visualised today. If you're not in there yet, connect with me man!

You can also try out an interactive version of this map, or make your own.

The week in bullets

  • On Monday I had the privilege of attending the Yes!Delft Network Event 2011, secretly also the opening of their beautiful new building. Yes!Delft is an incubation centre where startups, once approved by the board, can find affordable office space and a number of other facilities, including for example advice and financing, that startups require. The show was really impressive, with multiple giant projection surfaces and super lighting, a number of VIPs (Maxime Verhagen amongst others) and a 3 or 4 of the involved starters doing their elevator pitches. It was great to see that through Yes!Delft, my little city is turning into such a startup innovation hub.
  • On Tuesday I attended a day-long course on drafting an ERC Starting Grant proposal. For those of you not in the know, this is a super-prestigious research grant of up to 1.5 million euros that can be requested from the EU. Logically the rejection rate is also sufficiently high, so wish me lots of luck. Better yet, explain to any family or network members that you might have in Brussels that they should give me the money and get it over with.
  • The rest of the week was spent in meetings. I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of contiguous meetings in my programme is just about the strongest determinant for me getting unhealthily bad-tempered. By the end of Thursday I was ready to start breaking things, by Friday I was in my denial stage. A meeting now and then is fine, especially the inspiring ones during which you come up with some awesome new idea, but having them all back-to-back is just dangerous.
  • Almost as if karma felt that it should compensate in some way for inflicting meeting hell on me, the weather on Saturday was absolutely perfect, and perfect weather means BBQing! The BBQ was even more perfect, filled with scorched meat, beer, wine, good friends and great conversation. Fortunately nobody was raptured.

Backyard philosopy

There are two issues I’d like to discuss with you.

The first is the following realisation I had this past week, a slightly different incarnation of another recurring thought: At any one time, you can do exactly one (1) thing only. This has at least two implications:

  1. Don’t panic. Life is just a long sequence of these single things strung together. Just keep on doing them.
  2. At any time, do make sure that you pick the best possible thing to do at that moment.

The second issue is not really an issue, but an inspiring quote I came across recently on the interwebs:

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

There you have it kids: Work hard, try new stuff, remember to fall on your feet, and live now.

Weekly Head Voices #19: The time-traveller’s BBQ.

This one is dedicated to the memory of DB.

In this slightly introspective 19th edition of the Weekly Head Voices, looking in all directions in time simultaneously, but slightly ever so slightly more in the direction of week 12 of 2010, I do the usual week time break-down, win a fight with my ISP, go all out on Dropbox and Chrome, and smash through my yearly internet shopping quota, before arriving at the more extensive than usual backyard philosophy section, which today will dwell on the very much related themes of time-travel, perspective, stress and BBQs.

My time machine. Fuel on the left.

During the past week, I checked off 22 GTD tasks, spread over 10 projects.  Besides these, I had the usual 2 hours of lecture preparation, 3 hours of lecturing and 17 hours of scheduled meetings, including an absolute power networking event where I definitely was the smallest fish in the bowl (lovely that!).

If you are not of the nerdy persuasion, you might just want to skip the next few paragraphs until the bit with the backyard philosophy warning.

On the nerd front, I had a bit of a fight with my internet provider as to the stability of my line. They were full of confidence that my line needed to be throttled to 4 Mbit/s to be stable, I had a suspicion that I could get it stable at a significantly higher rate. Guess who’s the daddy? ME OF COURSE. My line is stable at 5.54 Mbit/s (I’m about 3.2 km from the exchange). I now know far more about ADSL line black magic than I ever wanted to.  Bottom line in this case is that, in cases where your line only manages between 4 and 6 Mbit/s, ADSL1 can be much more stable than ADSL2.

Further on the nerd front, my month-long evaluation of Dropbox has culminated in me signing on for a further year with a pro 50G account.  It’s just that good… Even furtherer, lastpass.com has solved my last gripe with Google Chrome, namely that its stored password database is not encrypted. As part of the bargain, my passwords are now synchronized with the Cloud! Coupled with Chrome absolutely crushing most other browsers in speed tests, and the fact that up to now it has proven extremely hard to hack, this has pushed me over the edge, into the Wonderful Land of Full-time Dedicated Google Chrome Addicts.

Warning: Excessive Backyard Philosophy Beyond This Point

On Wednesday I arrived home, all stressed out about work. Yes dear readers, some academics, like me for instance, sometimes stress out about work. Somehow, I was born without the ability to separate work from personal life. Mostly, this is an advantage: I really love my job. It’s become more a way-of-life, a philosophy if you will, than just a job. However, sometimes this means that I have great difficulty switching off my work circuits when this is necessary, for example when work finds itself in High Stress Mode (HSM) and I need to be in Relaxed Family-Person Mode (RFPM). At the end of such a work day, my body is displaced from work to home, but the contents of my head remain exactly the same. In effect, I travel through space, but not time.

Back to Wednesday: Fortunately, fate conspired to arrange for me and my BBQ to meet, under a lovely early Spring sky. My BBQ is more than just a BBQ. I have recently come to the conclusion that it is a powerful magical artifact that is able to bend time (and space). Standing there admiring the glowing coals, everything came to a peaceful stand-still. Probably due to the severe time-warping slowing down the world, I could see the whole multi-dimensional life-landscape surrounding me in its true perspective.

It’s not all that.

Work is really important, and if that’s your passion, it should remain so.  It’s definitely mine. However, there’s more, and much of the more is even more important. I’ve made  this observation often enough before, but it’s one of those things that is apparent to my cognitive self, but somehow doesn’t have a permanent effect on my natural perception. Briefly on Wednesday evening, this realisation was clear. By Thursday the feeling was starting to disappear again.


Today I received the terribly sad news that a colleague, with whom I’d been working closely together for the past months, had unexpectedly passed away on Sunday, leaving behind a young family.

One has to learn how to keep things in perspective. Life is too short not to.