The Intersection of Productivity and Joy (over the past months)

Since last we spoke a couple of months ago, I had a hell of a time personally: I moved house, went from one location to another too often, had a major and very stressful financial crisis and had some rough times with friends which rocked the emotional boat. Although there are many things which didn’t get built in this period as a result, things still occurred at the intersection of productivity and joy

  • Bike Month: In May I had a bike month where I ditched my public transport pass and biked everywhere. I took transport twice, once to go to another city, and once when I was moving house. I liked it so much I continued into June, and now July.
  • The Great Electronics Sale 2011: I sold off  3 computers, my large monitor, my DSLR and two iPods. I still have my core gadgets and have adopted the new policy of getting rid of gadgets as soon as they become a time sink or disused.
  • Getting back into film photography: To replace my DSLR I bought an old film camera from a friend. I’ve taken a roll of black and white, and a roll of color film thus far and developed the black and white film in the lab.

    Axel on Film

  • Hack Ireland: a bunch of my very favorite folk, including the venerable Brothers Collison, the renowned hardware hacker Star Simpson, and  other down to earth luminaries met at the Collison household, which is a hospitality and genius dojo to behold, for a week of intense hacking and whiskey sampling.
  • Kliq Awarded Venture Kick 1st round: The day after I returned from Ireland, I pitched Kliq.in to a group of Swiss VCs and later in the day was awarded the first round, 10,000 CHF  ($12,000) of the Venture Kick program. My pitch for the next round is in September, and I’m using the rest of my vacation time to head to San Francisco for a month to do a Kliq Blitz with my cofounders to make the app a true joy to use.
  • Social Startup Weekend: Start ! Social: Together with some local entrepreneurs and in collaboration with The HUB Zurich I’m helping to organize a Social Startup Weekend, aiming to kickstart businesses with positive social impact over an intense weekend. We’ve been ramping up organizational efforts, and the event with be taking place September 16-18 2011.
  • My mother visited: My mother and her husband visited, a treat from her husband. We went to see Roger Waters The Wall. We went hiking down the entire Rigi mountain and had many adventures.

    Hack Ireland

  • Electronic Music: My amazing friend Dragica, who has a comprehensive knowledge of electronic music creation as she has embarked upon it as her new career showed me some of the ropes in an afternoon tutorial session. On top of all that she has a background as an astronomer and programmer so knowledge transfer was high as we spoke the same language. She pointed me to an intensive course at the Zurich college of the arts, ZHdK, happening for a week in September and a once weekly hour session on computer composition and digital music synthesis continuing through the fall. I had so much fun I registered for both and am looking forward to making some interesting music.
  • 1 hour presentation on review paper of theories of modified gravity: Recently there was a big review on theories of modified gravity posted on the physics arXiv . I presented about it at our general relativity quantum cosmology journal club, reading about 100 pages, skimming 200, and making many detailed notes. I hope to create a review post here, including the necessary general relativity background! No small task, I have a draft of the GR intro and am polishing it.
  • Road to Reality Book Club: Getting this off the ground, I’m about half way through Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality  which I started last month. This book aims to be “A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe” while absolutely refusing to bend around the fact that those laws, to the best of our knowledge, are described using the language of mathematics not of metaphor. As a consequence, the first 500 pages are an introduction to the mathematics, from manifolds to metrics to matrices, that are needed to speak to physics in its native language. Twitter hashtag is #road2reality if you’d like to join in.
  • Parallel Density Estimators, and Data Analysis Fun: One of my research aims has been to build the fastest visualization and analysis tool on the planet for astrophysical simulations and then to use this tool to do groundbreaking science. I’m happy to announce that step one is done in my mind and while I’ve started step two, from this point on  I’m going to be focusing only on that: the science from here on out or bust. I’m researching the role of active galactic nuclei in galaxy formation by applying my tool to lots of existing data, and researching the origins of globular clusters by running my own high resolution nbody cosmological simulation.
  • Fault tolerant high performance computing: I recently started a line of research involving fault tolerant high performance computing and dovetailing this with my desire to write my own simulation code. More to come!
  • Science fiction writing critique: I joined the Critters Writers Workshop for writers of SF (and fantasy, horror). The idea is to critique one story a week for others, and that they will return the favor when the time comes. Like when I joined Toastmasters, I was pleasantly surprised that what I expected to be something of a chore to do in the service of eventually getting criticism myself, instead was something I learned from and had fun with. It also has gotten me on the ball with working on something to submit to Critters to use that karma I am building up. I started using the software Scrivener to manage writing and it’s a big help having a dedicated program to the task. I’m about 1000 words into a story, which isn’t much but it’s 1000 more words of fiction than I’ve written since my NaNoWriMo. It’s about a scientist researching (and attempting to prevent) congenital moral mutilation on a foreign planet.
  • EuroPython: I had the pleasure of traveling to Florence to give a 4 hour workshop and 30 minute talk on visualizing large datasets in parallel with python and learned a lot about python in HPC, as well as Python in scalable webapps, both of which I’m involved in.  I also met a lot of great people, including one of the founders of Django, Simon Willison, and his partner in crime, code, and love Natalie Down who I hope to see more of in the future.
  • Rome: I went to Rome on my way back from Florence, rented a bike, got a migraine and was out of commission for a day. I did make it out and about for lots of biking, good pizza, visiting ruins and a great Leonardo da Vinci museum which had reconstructions of some of da Vinci’s inventions from drawings by engineers in the end.

    Pantheon Rome

  • Venture Summit networking camp: A Foo Camp of the Swiss startup scene of sorts, invite only all expense paid surprise 24 hour adventure with a coven of Swiss venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. The only thing we knew was water would be involved. When we arrived at an Olympic training center for ski jumpers: a giant jump leading into a pool, I was certainly surprised. We led up to it by practicing on the jump as a water slide and finally suited up with skis. I’m proud to say I made the jump. Later stuff like “so Esther Dyson and I were drunk and bought all the shares….” came out over drinks, and I met a lot of great contacts. The next day, we canoed back from Zug to Luzern.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE4V0NOtn5g]
  • Scripting for Scientists and Engineers: My housemate Lucy has requested I teach her “shell scripting” so I thought I might as well open up a day where we have a hack/tutorial session here in Zurich over the next few weeks for both batch and scripting languages. Doodle signup here! I’ll be more of a lab assistant, and depending on who shows up we can do our own thing or have a focus. Uber short intro to the command line will be provided, then we can focus on batch languages (bash/sh etc.) and standard tools (sed/awk) or jump to higher level with Python, Perl, or Ruby. Something for all skill levels.

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