Category Archives: Life

Synthetic flesh

In Be Right Back, a brilliant yet creepy episode of the British TV series “Black Mirror”, a grieving woman (Martha) loses her husband (Ash) in a car crash. During the funeral, Martha’s friend Sarah tells her about a service to help grieving people to recover, creating a virtual Ash to communicate with her from the information available in social networks and Internet.

One day Martha gets a message from Ash, and she realises Sarah has signed her up for the service. Initially, Martha’s displeased but, on finding she’s pregnant, relents and relishes their conversations. With her comfort-level growing talking with the synthetic Ash, it isn’t long before ‘he’ tells Martha about a ‘next level’ of communicating – one which is…experimental.

The synthetic flesh version of Ash is almost identical to him and mimics his appearance, personality and gait. Although the story is fiction and unlikely to take place in real life, we leave behind massive amounts of online data as a result of media consumption and social networks. This is information you share consciously and unconsciously and could serve purposes like the one discussed in the Black Mirror episode.

Below an overview of services or APIs that analyze and process your digital footprint and then create a model or make predictions/infer personality traits based out of this unstructured data.

Data Selfie

Data Selfie is a Chrome extension tracks clicks on likes in your Facebook newsfeed, clicks on newsfeed links to external sites, duration spent on different posts and the specifics of those posts your newsfeed, anything you type, and time spent on Facebook overall. It uses IBM Watson for Natural Language Processing and AI algorithms from the University of Cambridge to do some neat predictions.

Personality Insights

Personality Insights from IBM helps you gain insight into how and why people think, act, and feel the way they do. The service applies linguistic analytics and personality theory to infer attributes from a person’s unstructured text. This tool can also gauge your personality based on your tweets.

Tone Analyzer

Tone Analyzer (IBM) uses linguistic analysis to detect three types of tones in written text: emotions, social tendencies, and writing style. Tone Analyzer service can be used to understand emotional context of conversations and communications. This insight is to be used to respond in an appropriate manner.

Let me know if you know any similar services, so I can get them added to the list.

Runister explained

Recently I stumbled upon an app called Runister. In this post I will explain some specific technicalities there is to the game as this may not be entirely clear.

For starters, Runister basically rewards you to run. The more you run, the more you earn.

Before you can start earning money, you need to qualify by running a number of kilometers. Then the in-app purchase functionality becomes available and you have the option to subscribe to Runister Plus. The monthly subscription feed costs you 1,99 € per month.

The game has its own virtual currency, called Runnies. And there are seven levels. So you start in Level 1. Once you obtain 200 Runnies, you can upgrade to Level 2 and you will be a gain at 0 Runnies and 0 €. Like this with all the levels.

Anonther element is the monthly fee.  Once you are member of a specific level, you have your specific monthly fee. In Level 1 you have a monthly fee of 5 Runnies. In Level two this fee is 15 Runnies per month. Let’s say that you are in Level 1 today… on the 1st of February Runister will discount 5 Runnies from your whole amount of Runnies. Also note that if, you are not using the app each month Runister will charge you the Runnie monthly fee anyway.

At the moment when you withdraw your money,  you will start from scratch regarding Runnies and money but your level will remain the same that you got at the withdrawal point.

When you withdraw your money earned, you do not need to withdraw all your money. You will that you can play a little with a gadget inside of the earnings screen. So, if for example you have 30€ accumulated there, you can withdraw 20€ and keep 10€ in your account. What is true is that the minimum withdrawal amount is 11€.

Unless you stop using the app your level will not be reset. This means, if you are for instance in Level 4 where you have a Runnie monthly fee of 25 Runnies per month and you do not use the app for 4 months you will have -100 Runnies in your account and Runister will drop you to Level 3.

Runister is currently only available for iPhone but an Android version is also in the make.

Hoe het piriformis syndroom bedwingen

Na mijn duurloop op 17 januari had ik opeens pijn ter hoogte van mijn hamstring, net boven mijn rechterknieholte. De loopsessies erna ervoer ik al zeer snel terug die instense zeurende pijn, na de eerste kilometer zelfs. Bij het autorijden had ik hetzelfde gevoel, zelfs bij het zitten. Bleek dat ik het piriformis syndroom mij in zijn greep had. Het was een lange lijdensweg, maar stilaan zie ik verbetering!

In wat volgt beschrijf ik welke oefeningen (rollen, rekken en versterken) mij geholpen hebben de pijn ten gevolge van het piriformis syndroom te onderdrukken. Let op dat dit mogelijk niet iedereen helpt. Raadpleeg altijd eerst een arts!

Op 2 februari ben ik naar mijn huisarts gegaan. Zijn diagnose was dat de pijn voortkwam uit een onder spanning staande hamstring. Hij stelde voor om bij de kinesist langs te gaan en  de hamstring te behandelen door massage en mobiliseren.

De kinesist gaf dry needling therapie waarbij er met een naald in de bil wordt geprikt. Naast de massage diende ik nog volgende stretchoefeningen uit te voeren:

  • knie buigen en ander been blijft gestrekt om de quadriceps te rekken (4x20s)
  • tegen muur staan, voorover buigen en armen tot aan de tenen om de hamstring te rekken (4x20s)
  • al liggend, linkerbeen bovenop de rechterknie en knie naar het lichaam trekken

Om te versterken werden volgende krachtoefeningen gedaan:

  • op je rug liggen, met knieën een hoek van 45 graden maken en drukken op de hielen (4 sets van 10)
  • squats waarbij het zitvlak naar achter steekt en de voeten recht naar voren wijzen (4 sets van 10)
  • Zijwaartse beenlift. In zijlig tegen muur liggen, het been naar boven laten glijden zonder het bekken te heffen (4 sets van 10)

Na een vijftal sessies zag ik echter weinig verbetering. Ik was natuurlijk ook ongeduldig. En ook kreeg ik schrik dat mijn jaar vol sportieve ambities er al op zat.

Op 25 februari ben ik dan naar een sportarts gegaan. Zijn diagnose was echter helemaal anders. Volgens hem leek de pijn te komen uit de onderrug. Hij kon dat ook aantonen: één druk op een gevoelige plek en ik had een hevige stekende pijn. Ook nu werd er fysiotherapie als behandeling voorgesteld: 9 sessies.

Deze keer geen dry needling, maar voornamelijk trigger point therapie en massage, geleidelijk aangevuld met krachtoefeningen. Maar ook belangrijk: ik werk met een osteopaat en wordt dus regelmatig gekraakt.

Initieel zag ik ook hier geen verbetering. Ik vroeg me af wat de oorzaak van deze blessure zou kunnen zijn. De fysiotherapeut zei dat ik wellicht te maken had met het piriformis syndroom.  De sportarts had het dan weer over de ischiadicus (heupzenuw) onder spanning stond. De ischiadicus is een zenuw die vertrek vanuit de bil en eindigt boven de knie. Dit kan bijvoorbeeld door overbelasting van zwakken heupen en bilspieren. Hoe dan ook, de piriformis spier en de ischiadicus staan met elkaar in verband. Je moet dan de nodige aandacht geven aan je kwetsbare bilspieren en de heupen.

Momenteel doe ik volgende rekoefeningen:

  • Rollen met de foamroller op mijn hamstring, billen en heup. Dit zorgt ervoor dat je gevoelige plekken masseert en de afvalstoffen eenvoudig van het lichaam afvoert. Hierdoor krijg je flexibelere spieren (4 sets van 20s).
  • Plat liggen op rug en voeten op bal. Rechterbeen bovenop linkerknie. De bal naar je toe rollen met de hiel van linkerbeen (4 sets van 20s)
  • Daarnaast blijken volgende oefeningen zeer effectief

Ondertussen ben ik ook weer begonnen met krachtoefeningen.

  • Op buik liggen en rechterbeen in een vier vorm houden, deze op linkerbeen leggen en zachtjes naar boven liften.
  • Brug met bal. Schouders op bal. Op rug liggen met gebogen knieën, schouders op bal, voeten plat op de grond.  Optillen van heupen tot knieën een rechte lijn vormen met bovenlichaam. Rustig zakken en naar beginpositie voor herhaling.
  • Stok achter rug tot hoofd zodat je een rechte lijn vormt. Knieën licht gebogen. Buigen door zitvlak naar achteren te brengen en aan te spannen. Herhaal.

Tot op vandaag ben ik nog niet helemaal verlost van de pijn. Wel is er significante verbetering, met name door het rekken. De pijn is nog aanwezig, maar stoort/hindert me niet meer. Voorlopig kan ik (mits de nodige rust) terug intervallen en tempolopen doen. Wat een opluchting!

In het Feeëndal

Onlangs kwamen we uit op de wandelgids van het toerisme bureau van Wallonië. In de wandelgids staan zo’n 26 wandeltochten in de Ardennen. Het zag er allemaal dik de moeite uit en we dachten daarom de proef zelf eens op de som te nemen.

We kozen voor de wandeling “In het Feeëndal”, die begint bij de parkign van de brouwerij Achouffe, bij Houffalize. Er zijn 2 parcours en wij namen de korste route, die zo’n 8 km lang is. Al bij al waren we zo’n 2,5 uur onderweg.

Het eerste deel van de wandeling begint vredig en verbindt de mooie Feeënvallei met de romantische en ongerepte vallei van de Martin-Moulin. Je ziet op bepaalde plaatsen beverdammen en er zouden ook otters te vinden zijn.
Het parcours was vrij ruw en avontuurlijk, en in de Winter des te meer zo blijkt. Bovendien was er enorm veel slijk en we waren niet voorzien om door de modder te ploeteren. Het drassige komt wellicht omdat het pad langs de rivier loopt en door de verregaande ontbossingen houden de bomen het water niet voldoende tegen.
De terugweg volgt de rivier Martin-Moulin en hier en daar moet je steunen op naakte rotsen en beekjes oversteken.  Tot slot kom je terug bij de brouwerij van Achouffe.
Deze feeërieke wandeling behoort tot mijn favorieten!

Veni Vidi Vici

There’s an important update regarding my running endeavours.

Yes, I have been logging the miles and tracking my progress. It took me lots of workouts, lots of sweat and pain. But I reached a major milestone! On 27 April I ran the Antwerp marathon. Heck: I ran the full marathon distance! My first ever.

Why would someone be so crazy to run 42,195km? First of all, it’s lots of fun! Yes, it takes a lot of training and energy. But on raceday, you will soon forget about that. It just feels amazing to see people cheering all over the place. The support you get from your family and friends has a big impact too.

I ran the marathon for myself to see what I am capable of. Obviously, it takes a lot of dedication and commitment to reach such a goal. But I am very proud of myself. I don’t want to proof to other people that I am a fighter or a disciplined person. I am not bloating about it. But people keep asking about it. And I notice it does give me respect and self-confidence. And I am so happy with the accomplishment.

So how did it go? In overall good. My time was 3h32, really good for a beginner. The first 20 miles went really great, but then I completely collapsed. I did not expect this to happen. My heart pumped as crazy and my lungs couldn’t keep up flowing the oxygen through my veins. I don’t mind admitting that I had to walk a couple of times. It was my first time after all. Next time I will follow one of the pace makers as I did at the 20KM in Brussels. This really seems to help you dose your energy.

On a side note: at my younger years I have always been a good runner. I really haven’t been doing much of sports during my days at University. But I’m picking that up again. And I want to continue building this up. Note to self: in bits and pieces as everything has to be in balance. That’s the recipe to success.

Philles

So Philip decided a while ago already to pull the plug on philles.be. It is no longer.

It’s very sad to see his site going.

Here’s what he wrote to me (in Dutch):

Het is nu al een tijdje dat ik er nog iets mee gedaan heb en ik heb besloten om er komaf mee te maken en een nieuwe start te maken. Ik ga mijn website volledig herdenken en er iets nieuws van maken. Hoe dat er zal uit zien weet ik nog niet, maar ik weet wel dat mijn huidige site niet meer in dat verhaal past.

The good news though is that he is rethinking his place on the Web and building it from the ground up. I’m very curious!

Here’s a tribute to one of his best posts. It appeared as one of the last, but it was one of his greatest:

There must always be balance. A personal balance, life balance, natural balance, spiritual balance or the day-to-day daily balance. A scale with alternating weights but a constant average. A perpetuum mobile in the form of a resistance-less swinging pendulum. A gust of air heating up and cooling down as it is pushed up and down by high and low atmosphere pressure. A borderline as thick as a knife’s edge in the middle of the distance between the water levels of high and low tide.

No man is happy always. No man smiles 24/7.

No man suffers always. No man frowns 24/7.

There is value in balance. Adversity grows strength, but becomes fatal without joy. Joy renews mind and body, but loses value and meaning when not challenged.

That was so resonating with me!

Still going strong and getting serious about HRM

Well, no more running stats. Yet I’m still disciplined to run the miles. I’m having fun as ever and it’s bloody addictive. Indeed, the Antwerp Marathon is coming quite close now and is just one month and a half away. I suffered from a few injuries here and there, mostly with my left knee. But then I switched to softer grounds. I’m trying to maintain the 40+ regime every week. It’s tiring I must admit but each time it feels like such an accomplishment.

Schermafbeelding 2014-03-08 om 11.14.57As for the tracking, I’m no longer tinkering with MyTracks. I switch to runkeeper and strava nowadays. Why? Richer data, features, the social dimension and so on. It’s logical. But now I know my way around in the Google world too. Runkeeper has some great reporting features. It’s clear and simple and almost all my sporty friends use it. And then well, Strava has segments and all. More importantly: I got myself a Wahoo fitness Blue HR strap. I mostly use it to see how intense my trainings are. I’m not a premium user, so I cannot really set custom heart rate zones and dial in to my workouts for deeper analysis. As for the strap itself: it fits really fits well and the battery should last for about a year. Heck, it’s low energy!

BTLE, or bluetooth low energy, is the new bluetooth setup and Wahoo is one of the first heart rate monitors that is built on this technology. iPhone 5 supports this technology too and so do the apps. The thing is that almost no runner app supports BTLE with Android at this moment. Despite that Android is such a large market, it is only available since version 4.2 I believe. And then of course, your hardware should support this new technology. You could sort of say that Android is behind the curve on this. It is only now that apps are expermenting with the integration of BTLE for Android. Luckily I got my hands on a beta version for Strava (now also Endomondo). It works flawlessly and has reported good data throughout. Apparently runkeeper is going to be supporting BTLE HRM’s in the future for Android too. They do not have a set ETA at this time though.

Eventually I will stick to one app and I’m not quite sure yet which one. Runkeeper has training plans in its newest release and I’m finally getting to grips with Strava 🙂 Using both of them is just not practical.

 

The Intelligent Machine

I love Android cause it moves fast and changes all the time.

It’s still experimental.

One feature I’m especially thrilled about is Google Now. I had no idea what Google Now was until it told me my ETA to drive home. It was a creepy experience, but it had me at hello. I already hinted at it in a previous post.

But I want to elaborate a bit here. I really dig this technology and I’ll explain you why. It’s the same excitement I have felt for Wolfram Alpha back in 2009.

For sure there are similarities with Apple’s Siri. It’s like a personal assistant, but the subtle difference with Google Now is that you don’t need to ask the questions. It will deliver you the answers you need before you even realize.

So yesterday Google Now once again grabbed my balls! It told me how many miles I have walked in January: 51 miles, which is 50 miles less than December. I was just impressed. It’s not difficult if you understand how it does this. Google periodically sends my device’s location data to its servers. That’s all there’s to it and where the magic ends.

There are many more things it does. For instance, it will show me the latest postings for the websites I have visited. Many Now Cards area already out there and Google continuously updates them.

But the thing is: it delivers me what I need. It is context sensitive.

Google Now is like an intelligent machine. Occassionally it asks me questions, like: do you have a regular place of work?. How do you usually get around? Am I interested in weather updates for my location? Do I want updates from websites I often visit? Am I interested in weather updates for work and home?

Yet asking me these polite questions, it doesn’t feel like I’m forced to answer them. And it’s just a yes or a no. That’s all.

Perhaps I must nuance my wordings and call it an intelligent friend. Google is not evil after all, right?

It learns as you do things, it’s highly personalized and can be customized extensively too.

One thing I’m missing is that currently it just tracks my data and that’s all. I want it to tell me what I should eat and do to live a healthy live.

Imagine that it could tell me that I should avoid a certain highway after work due to a big event that is starting nearby. Now that is what we need and that is how Google can keep me surprised until it will become a commodity.

Rapid and continuous software development

There’s something that I’m increasingly paying attention to these days.

And I’m seeing it everywhere: rapid software developments in short periods. It has been an ongoing trend, but now it is more clear than ever.

We are outsourcing a lot of our IT problems to third parties, perhaps in the cloud. This goes hand in hand with the upsurge of short-cycle improvement and development methods such as Lean and Agile.

The last 40 years has seen an increasing speed of application development. In the very beginning, the smallest unit of time for an IT development was one month. And for relatively small things it would even take up to a few months. Then when second-, third- and fourth generation development toolsets came along, productivity increased substantially. Through rapid development methods and tools pilots only take up 1 to 3 weeks. Remember that with traditional methods the prototyping itself would last up to 6 months.

In older technologies it was not that easy to make amendments to new or existing systems. But then Model driven Application Development came along and it said: change happens.  This is what code generation is all about. Compare that with traditional software development, which tried to get a complete functional specification of a system upfront. This turned out to be false. It is always in beta, as the phrase goes in the IT world. It means: constantly under development and never completely finished.

Software development and IT in a broader sense should pick up these ideas from industrial design. In a Ted Talk, Tom Chi, responsible for the Google Glass project, gave a fascinating glimpse into the way Google is working with rapid prototyping. The first prototype – a makeshift object – was developed in one (!!) day. “Doing is the best kind of thinking,” is what Chi told his audience.

The movies of 2013

Just like last year and the year before I’m keeping a list of all the movies I have seen throughout the year. 2013 has been quite busy for me. Hence, this translates in only half of a typical year. Here’s the list, without comments cause I’m just too busy doing other things. But hey, I’m not giving up this blog just yet!

  1. Skyfall
  2. Taken 2
  3. Argo
  4. Warrior
  5. the woman in black
  6. iron man 3
  7. the next three days
  8. epic
  9. meet joe black
  10. three idiots
  11. conjuring
  12. rush
  13. oblivion
  14. now you see me
  15. flight
  16. the way back
  17. side effects
  18. hummingbird
  19. gravity
  20. the secret life of walter mitty
  21. lara croft: tomb raider
  22. zot van A