Fascinating linkdump

Yup, I’m still alive busy moving apartments, but otherwise still interested in THE FUTURE.

I’ve also recently finished a Scalable Machine Learning course at edX. It was my first time trying out an online course and it turned out to be quite interesting. Especially the final week’s assignment produced some really cool results. Apache Spark is so much nicer to work with than Hadoop.

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A Brave New Internet (or: why I stopped using Twitter)

Twitter has been one of my favorite Internet places for at least the past 5 years. Twitter always distinguished itself from Facebook for me because of its ‘just a quick thought’-ness. Anything you can think of, just dump it on Twitter. Friends might follow you on Twitter, but thoughts on there are generic and meant to be seen by the world. Anything personal that I want kept between my circle of friends goes on Facebook, anything that doesn’t require a friend context goes on Twitter.

Or at least that’s how I started using Twitter, but I no longer use it that way. I’ve been tweeting my random thoughts less and less – more on that later. My main use of Twitter for the past few years(!) has been to complain. There’s nothing more satisfying when your train is running late again than to fire off an angry tweet towards the train company (that’s you, TFL). Or if my mobile phone’s internet has failed yet again during my daily commute (that’s you, Three). Or if the software for my fitness tracker is just so shit I can’t bear to use it (that’s you , Garmin). But I digress. What used to be a frivolous form of quick mind-blogging has turned into an utterly useless hatefest. It’s not healthy to use Twitter just for that.

So what about the other use? What about the short random thoughts? I had a fun random thought the other day at work, while performing a request for a client that was a bit out of my comfort zone, but at the same time no trouble at all and quickly handled. In a split-second I came up with “I’m a developer, not a nanny”, fired off a tweet and forgot about it. My mood never darkened, I didn’t brood on it, I just thought it was a funny thought because it drew parallels with the “I’m a doctor, not an X” meme from Star Trek which (I assumed) would resonate among my developer friends that are following me. Instead I got a concerned message from one of the people I work for asking me if everything was OK.

This is wrong on so many levels, but the main thing that bothers me is this: I know my colleagues quite well (I think), and I think they know me quite well. They know my personality and they know I’ll speak up when something bothers me, yet somehow the off chance that an extremely generic statement I make on a personal Twitter account might somehow end up reflecting badly on my client, or my client’s client, means that I will be spoken to by someone who did not understand the context in which the remark was made, or what it was even meant to represent.

And you know what the worst part is? I am in the wrong! I’m not saying that sarcastically, I truly believe that I did the wrong thing. I am wrong to assume that it’s ok to share a short message publicly without context and expect people to understand all of its nuances. The past that I fondly remember is not ‘better’ because people back then knew you better and knew to take things in context or not place too highly a value on it; it’s just that I used to get away with it because it just didn’t occur to anyone to check on Twitter what people you know are saying in public. You can argue very strongly for the right to say anything you want on the internet and get away with it but from a purely game-theoretic perspective an employer would be stupid not to check. All things being equal you’d rather have an employee with zero public presence than an employee with a potentially negative web presence.

I don’t fault people for thinking this way but, again from a game-theoretic perspective, my chances of remaining employed, and getting job interviews, only increases by shutting down my Twitter account. I’m not saying any public presence is a risk by definition. Github is a really good example of something that will very likely benefit you, even if you don’t write a lot of code publicly. Even if you suck at coding, Github would be a representation of that. It’s hard (but not impossible!) to take source code out of context, especially compared to a message of max 140 characters.

This is not 2005 any more. Back then as a fresh 20-something in Japan I could tweet and blog anything I liked without consequences. But in 2015 as a 30-something trying to be a responsible developer you simply can’t blurt out random things in public.

Lack of context creates misunderstandings. I truly believe in openness of information and that, provided all parties have the full context available, more information can only have a positive effect. But no one on the internet has the time or the interest to research the full context of something before making up their opinion. That simple little fact makes Twitter a risk without a reward.

 

I’ve pondered on whether I should write about this at all, and I’m still pondering about closing this blog again in favor of having an anonymous blog, which is what I did a while back. I came back here, to the good old Colorful Wolf, because I believed that I could provide the context people need to understand me. I naively believe that I still can have a net positive effect on the world by writing and sharing the things that interest me.

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A random rambling post

This blog has long since become a massive infodump about my life. I started blogging almost 10 years ago! That’s just mad. I never could have imagined that I would still have this blog after so long. Some of the frivolous hypotheticals I have asked myself on this blog have started with ‘In 10 years, …’, or ‘How would I feel about X 10 years from now?’

So, in the spirit of regaining some of the frivolous blogging spirit I had 9 years ago, and also to create some new content I can laugh at 10 years from now, let’s write about some random stuff!

There’s this funny personality type test here; 8 years ago I was an INFJ, and I’ve switched between INTJ and INFJ over the past 10 years, probably tending more towards INTJ in general. I’m surprised this hasn’t changed; I feel quite like a different person compared to who I was 8 years ago..

That is perhaps one of the things I am ‘struggling’ with the most today: I’m not 23 any more. I often wonder if, extrapolating from the 23-year-old me, is the current me the best possible version that I could have become? If I am, I wouldn’t have made a single mistake or wrong choice since I was that age, so I would rate that as extremely unlikely. It does make me wonder if, on the bell curve of possible future-me’s, most versions of me would more or less end up with a similar mind as the one I have right now. It seems likely, but my mind likes to pretend that only good things happened in the past and therefore the present must have the same type of good things happen to me in order for me to be as ‘good’ as I was back then. It’s silly, that: life does move on, and you can’t pretend to be a mad, directionless twenty-something forever.

I am very much not directionless any more. My preference for contemplating the meaning of life has evolved into a preference for building a sustainable and comfortable environment for myself in which I can continue to contemplate the meaning of life. Speaking of contemplation, I have not had a toilet of my own for 4 years now. That is fucking ridiculous. Every man should have his own toilet. But I digress.

An apartment or house that I own. That is what I want. And it’s not even ‘I’ any more, nor has it been for a very long time. Although I try not to drag her into my blog much, my girlfriend and I are very happy together – Happy enough to move in together, obviously. Having a girlfriend meant, very simply, a huge shift in lifestyle for me. As an introvert I tend to reserve a fair portion of my free time for myself; time where I don’t have to interact with people. I used to spend the other portion of my free time with my friends, and now nearly all of that time is spent with my girlfriend. My friends are no different either – this appears to be how 30-somethings live their lives at this age in this era in this country. While I fondly remember the days where all my friends lived in the same building and we could just knock on each other’s doors any time to go out and have fun, now is not the time, place, nor age for that, and I couldn’t get that experience back even if I wanted to.

I’m making some big choices lately, but I already know that I won’t regret them. Making the big choices in life has never been a problem for me; the only things that dissatisfied me were things that were out of my control. Buying an apartment in London in 2015 may well be a terrible financial decision, despite all the research I put into it suggesting that it won’t be. But even if it is, I estimate the financial loss to be acceptable, whereas the alternative of not having my own toilet for another 4 years just isn’t. I’ve put my life on hold for too long, but now it’s time to get what I want.

The future is full of possibilities. I used to pride myself on answering the question “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” with “I haven’t a clue!”. I’ve matured a bit, taken on responsibility, but I still value the idea of not having a fixed future very highly. My answer still stands, but the question has become: “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”. We shall see. We shall see..

 

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My peculiar relationship with cars, roads and driving

A long time ago I owned a car. But even before that I would play racing games. And even before that my dad would take me out for drives in the open country roads of my province. I have been on the road since I was a child, in one form or another. I absolutely love roads. It’s why I enjoy racing games, why I enjoy touring cycling, and, now that I once again have a car, why I enjoy driving.

However, something never feels quite right when I’m driving my car on the road or on the track. It’s extremely hard for me to define this, and I’ve tried to blog about it many times but I just couldn’t find the right words. For this attempt I’ve settled on this explanation: my experience lacks purity.

Purity of what? I think it’s best if I split this up into two categories: road driving and track driving. In both categories I have been spoiled by better-than-real experiences as I grew up. Let’s talk about racing first.

I think that, because of racing games and simulations, what I have come to define as ‘racing’ for myself encompasses only a subset of what racing in real life actually is. Racing, to me, is about driving a car, any car, right on the edge for extended periods of time, either to improve your lap times or to win a race, that doesn’t matter. It’s about being in a perfect flow state, usually while listening to music because that’s what I do when simracing, tackling corner after corner, getting into a trancelike state of becoming faster and faster without having to think about anything else except that. That to me is the pure essence of racing.

Guess what: real-life racing is far, far removed from that feeling. There is absolutely no state of flow involved when you drive your own car on track. Instead you’ll be worrying about your brakes and tires constantly, because in real life those items degrade and you’ll have to pay for replacements when they wear down or break. And they do break! I’ve been lucky enough to have very durable tires on my car but I’ve already had to replace the entire brake system once, and the second set is starting to wear down as well. This still astounds me: the fact that all you have to do is push your car to the limit and it starts to fall apart. It does not put my mind at ease that my brake and tire durability is measured in hours instead of months when I take my car to a track day. Of course I could push my car a little less hard, but that’s not what I take it to a track: I want to be on the limit.

..which brings me to my next point: I know the GT86 is widely proclaimed as a car that’s great fun to drive on track, but I think I’ve reached the limit of what it can do. It’s a bloody amazing car, and it’s brilliantly easy to control, but that’s also its downfall: it’s brilliantly easy to control and it’s not actually that fast, so after you get used to it there’s not really any long-term challenge to it. Sure, this sounds arrogant, I know. Who am I to criticize a car that I haven’t even driven in a race? I’ve only taken it out on a few track days. But I’ve also chased that feeling of perfect control and driving on the edge for about 15 years in sim racing. I can only say what I think based on my experience, and in my experience the GT86 is not a long-term challenge for me. In order to be that, I would have to upgrade it, which I am not going to do because a) I don’t have the money for that, and b) it still wouldn’t be as pure a feeling as simracing, and c) I REALLY don’t have the money for that – to get the thrill I seek I would have to buy a dedicated track-day car and a lot of extras..

Then there’s public roads. One of the things I loved about driving with my dad was that he always knew exactly where to go, in an area well before navigation systems became standard. Being a little boy I did not have the burden of ownership, maintenance or paying any of the fees that come with owning a car. All I had to do was sit in the passenger seat and admire the scenery. It was perfect.

When I got my own (well, dad-funded) car about 10 years ago it never even occurred to me to take it to the track. It just didn’t seem like a thing you did with your own car. It seemed absurd. Also, somehow at that age I had gotten a little less interested in cars, did not have many friends and just did not have that many places I wanted to go to. This was still before navigation systems were commonplace so I also realized quite quickly that, outside of my province, I had no idea where anything was, and driving in the city was definitely not something I’d casually do. My confidence in my public driving skills remained low until many years later, when I optimistically told a girl I liked that “Sure, I can drive a car in Australia, no problem.” and ended up going on a road trip through one of the most alien countries my younger self had ever seen. That two-week trip did more to my driving skills than all the time I spent driving in the Netherlands as a teenager.

But let’s get back to the point. During and before Australia I lived in Japan, and I cycled around a lot there. Living there in the beautiful prefecture of Kanagawa made me realize just how much you can do on a bicycle, and I ended up doing many cycling trips around Japan. I traveled by bicycle on all the roads that cars take too, and where cars would be looking for a place to park so they can admire the scenery, I would stop wherever I liked, whenever I liked. I didn’t have to worry about fuel, parking, scratches, road tax, car insurance or anything else. If there’s a viewpoint on top of a hill somewhere, the photo I make after suffering up the hill by bicycle will be a million times more memorable than the one I take after driving up there by car. And that’s if you find parking for your car when you get there: we drove to Wales last weekend with the intention of climbing Mt. Snowdon, but by the time we got there the main parking lot was full, all the small lay-by parking areas were full too and there simply wasn’t any place even remotely close to park.

TL;DR: owning a car is not freedom. It gives you range but it gives you range anxiety. It gives you something beautiful but something to worry about. It gives you access to the world but a world to get lost in. On good days the weather is perfect and you’re driving a countryside road with no traffic in front of you, but on most days in the UK you’ll be stuck behind a truck in the rain wherever you go. In this day and age, in this location, driving is not about enjoyment or freedom. It’s about practicality and getting to where you want to go. That’s all nice and dandy, but that is not the reason why I fell in love with cars and roads and driving when I was a child. It just isn’t.

So, there you have it. For all my life I played racing simulations and drove my bicycle because I could never afford a proper car, but now that I have one I learned that I already had something better. That doesn’t mind I dislike driving in real life altogether; it can still be great fun, especially if it’s an experience you can share with someone else. But when it comes to purity, there simply are better alternatives.

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Dartmoor

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I’ve been to Dartmoor quite a few times since I came to the UK. Because of that it feels like the ‘standard’ or ‘annual’ destination for me in this country. This spring was the second time we went there to wild camp, and it was definitely a memorable experience.

This time our trip would take us to Fur Tor, apparently one of the most remote places in Dartmoor, far, far away from civilization. Or, about 15 miles, as it would turn out. We never did get that far, though. Because as beautiful as Dartmoor is, once you’re in the no-mans-land, it does get incredibly monotonous. And why bother walking 10 miles more if the scenery’s not going to change?

Well, that was part of the reason we didn’t make it to Fur Tor. The other part is that we simply ran out of time. Given that we needed to set up the tent and prepare for dinner before dark we decided to change direction about half of the way in. Progress was slow on our way to Fur Tor because the land was very boggy. Not enough to pose a danger, but enough to get your feet wet after a misstep, and certainly enough to make you want to pay attention to every single step you take. Not a relaxed walk for sure.

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While the walk would have been tolerable, setting up the tent on bog land certainly wouldn’t, and neither would it be good if we could not find a stream to camp nearby (although not a disaster since we had brought plenty of water. Sadly the stream that we were supposed to cross on the way to Fur Tor turned out to be not there, and with the OS map reporting nothing but bog land on the path ahead we decided to change direction. I say ‘path’, but there really isn’t any. You can walk wherever you like, in any direction. No paths. No humans. No nothing. We went East instead in search of another stream and less bog.

Luckily we found a usable stream and some bits of land that were not boggy. Unfortunately none of the bits were entirely flat, so we ended up having to set up our tent on a slope. Setting up the tent only took a few minutes and we had a lovely evening meal and watched the sun set. During the night I left a bit of tent flap open so I could look at the stars. It was an amazing sight.

I kept waking up during the night and sliding down my sleeping mat, which was rather slippery on the angle the tent was set up on, but it could not be helped. I remember waking up a few times in the morning, seeing some light of dawn seep through the tent flap, but the sun never quite seemed to come out, so I went back to sleep again. Until finally I got up and stuck my head out, and realized that we would not be seeing the sun at all that day.

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The mist was so intense and so humid that the tent was full of moisture droplets, and just walking outside for a few minutes would cause lots of tiny droplets to appear on your clothes on the side that the wind was coming from. We ended up having to pack everything up while it was still wet, and went on our way back to civilization, via a different route than the one we came in on. Although visibility was utterly poor we had plenty of maps, compasses and GPS devices to guide our return. The way back took us past a military practice area where a bunch of old rifle shells were littered on the ground. At least the soil was less boggy than the route of the day before, and we managed to make good progress on the way back. Our plans to have an elaborate lunch under a beautiful blue sky were put on hold though, because it did not clear up at all in Dartmoor that day.

There’s something intensely satisfying about not seeing any other people for a whole day, and also from not having to follow any paths, because there weren’t any. It’s probably the closest to true, age-old nature that I’ve ever been. It’s a really good experience, and I will do it again.

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The Limit

I previously wrote about limits. I don’t think I did a very good job in conveying how much this vexes me in real life. Let’s try again.

On a good day I come home from work, having worked less than 8 hours on stuff that entertains and activates the mind, and I read a good book, try out a new documentary or attempt something creative. On a bad day I come home from work, having worked more than 8 hours on complicated and/or tedious problems that have drained all my mental energy, and I end up watching Youtube videos for the rest of the evening. It’s not that I’m unable to do more on those days, but a) it drains my willpower, and b) when I’m already drained I gain less enjoyment from the things that I love.

This is a problem, because I have many interests. There’s a lot of games that I wish to play, a lot of good movies and TV shows that I still haven’t watched yet, so many books that I just can’t find the time for, and so on.. If I made a list of all the things that I know I am interested in at the moment, I am 100% sure that I would not have enough time to experience all of them.

So why does this bother me? I blame my slow learning and limited mental capacity. Because I only become aware of new things gradually, slowly, it takes a long time for me to really get interested in things. As a result I’ve built up my real interests quite slowly over the years. Back in Japan I had a very enjoyable social life, but I didn’t actually ever spend a crazy amount of time on it. That, combined with the ridiculously short commute time and my still-limited area of interest, meant that I kind-of had ‘enough’ time to spend on my hobbies. I say kind-of because even then I was aware of the issue, it just seemed a lot more manageable.

Fast-forward to London. New country. New people. New hobbies. And a girlfriend! My girlfriend and my car are easily the biggest changes in my life here, because they inevitably end up at (or near) the top of my priority list. I’m really happy about that and I wouldn’t change a thing, but at the same time it did clearly bump the issue of “I kind of have a lot of things I’m interested and that’s cool” to “Oh shit! I could not possibly stay as mentally dedicated to all my favorite things as I previously was, and how do I deal with that?”

Intelligence is one issue. It helps you to meta-deal with an area of interest. Take movies, for example. My tolerance for bad movies has definitely gone down over the years. Because I’ve been exposed to so many movies I can detect common tropes and patterns, and I can recognize the difference between a stylistic masterpiece and a pretentious piece of shit. Within limits, of course. But my point is: because I have ‘learned’ from watching movies, I can immediately dismiss a subset of movies because I know they are likely to not give me the mental stimulation I want. And here’s the thing: if I was smarter, it would take me less time and effort to detect the patterns, and I would grok the genre as a whole much sooner, leaving me with less interest in movies altogether and more time to spend on other things.

I’m not sure if intelligence would help me solve this particular issue, though. If I was smarter I’d probably just end up having more complicated hobbies. Or meta-hobbies. I still want to get into cognitive science and artificial life, but I know that, with my current life and my current priority list, I would have to sacrifice a lot in order to be able to do that. It’s not a matter of “just spend one hour a day studying a cogsci book”. If I ran my brain at full power for one hour, trying to comprehend something as complicated as cogsci or AI, I would have to spend the next three hours watching stupid youtube videos to recharge. I have reached my limits in intelligence and time, and this bothers me a lot.

 

So is there a solution? In terms of actually tackling the problem: no, there isn’t. tDSC was something I thought could help preserve my mental charge, maybe allowing me to spend that hour studying without needing 3 hours of recharge time. But recent studies have either only proved a minor effect, or actually proved that it’s detrimental to IQ.

There is a workaround, of sorts: just be zen as fuck. That’s the solution. Really. Discard all your electronics, all your exposure to media and information, and go on a long trip, preferably involving lots of physical activity. Live in the moment and travel from A to B with a clear goal in mind. This will not solve any of the problems I discussed in this post, but that will not bother you. You won’t care that you’re missing out on a really education book on a subject you’re interested in. You won’t care about the knowledge and experience you’re not cramming in your brain by doing the trip because you’ve overloaded your senses and your body to a point where you can’t afford to care. It’s a different kind of limit, and in my experience one that’s much easier and much more satisfying to live with.

There must be a better way..

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