Freedom – the ability to live to ones own choices; the independence from society and imposed rules; the empty space between the obligations; the chance to chase opportunities as one desires; the brief feelings of lightheartedness; the vast sky above.
Freedom – limited by demanding work; restricted by self-imposed responsibilities; impaired by a global pandemic; overshadowed by worrying thoughts bound to circles; forgotten and lost in everyday repetition; the time constraint: one single life time.
Freedom is many-faceted. This is the start of a mini series of different degrees of freedom I am lucky to have. Which degrees of freedom do you have?
Already my last post had dramatic skies – we have a particular rainy May this year with up to 200% the rain as usual. However, the deep layers of the soil are still very dry from the last years. Anyways, for photography it gives interesting structures in the sky with strong contrasts in the landscape around our home town.
I am stuck on a learning plateau and it’s exhausting: The current learning stimulus is not sufficient enough to induce further synaptic changes.
No matter which new skill is being learnt, it’s common to hit one or several plateaus throughout practice – and it’s also common to get discouraged by the vanishing progress with reduced or no visible improvement. But when I am starting something, I want to do it good. It sometimes feels like a curse: I will go every extra mile needed to achieve what I want to. And this has cost me not only a lot of time with missed days of relaxation and fun, but probably also some friendships, connections with people, and diverse experiences throughout life that I missed out on.
I juggled for many years, but getting beyond five balls just never really happened. Hours and hours, weeks and weeks, several years, I spent throwing stuff in the air, just to catch it one more time. While there was a lot to enjoy, it also involved many hours, alone, of focused practice to reach the next level. I also played piano for over ten years; but there, I got stuck as well. The problem was that I did not put in the required effort, even though the conditions were excellent. I learned some great techniques on the way from my last piano teacher on how to achieve continuous progress; however, I did not implement them until later in another hobby: climbing.
I am climbing now for eight years and it is the hobby where I have the most direct experience with plateaus. My piano teacher always knew the most important part and tried to explain it to me so that I can act accordingly: To overcome plateaus, the most important thing is to adapt the stimulus to your progress and vary it over time. This involves active analysis of your efforts and progress, knowledge and creativity for planning your next steps, and willpower and stamina to adhere to your plans. I have encountered many people in bouldering who wonder why they do not progress any more “even though they train as much as they did in the beginning when they progressed quickly”. But that’s the point: You cannot do the same training and expect it to work all the time! Body and mind will adapt and, thus, your training has to adapt as well. This doesn’t always mean you need to train more or harder, but often it means you need to change your training altogether.
And then, there is my beloved new hobby: Photography. Lately, I am also feeling kind of stuck. I am not satisfied with the results; as always, I want more. However, I did not implement the lessons I learned in climbing so far: I not only need to put in more precious time, but I also need new stimuli. I am eager for our next holidays, but I should also try street photography, portraits, city scapes, anything else from nature.
But maybe even more important: I think I have to learn how to set lower goals for myself. I have to learn how to be happy with the journey, even if it’s is slow, instead of focusing too much on the results. I have to stop moving my goal posts before I even reach them.
This read is meant genuine and was written with honest intention. Please take your time to read it properly and don’t read it on the side when you have no time.
People can be spiteful and violent, people can be nasty and devious: It’s the warlord who terrorizes an ethnic group, the president who declares war and is backed by the country, the company that fosters child labour without consequences. In our privileged daily life we are experiencing mostly the little misconducts of fellow humans: The person who jumps the queue when shopping groceries, the reckless car driver who doesn’t care about your bike, the ignorant dog walker that neglects his duty to use a leash, or the friend who talks ill behind your back.
This world can be a depressing one: It seems that everybody is in it for themself, no one cares about the others, and maximizing ones own profit is the goal. Suffering from this are the poor and the lonely ones, nature and the planet, minorities and discriminated, the polite and modest ones. And what else is left than to surrender to the overwhelming forces of negativity? What else is left than to join the circle of hatred, fear, and egoism?
Let me convince you that this is a better way. Don’t join the others, better bridge the gap between the others and you, because: we are all in it together. It’s not only you who had a bad day. It’s not only you who feels tired and offended by the doings of others. It’s not necessarily you who is in the right. And also, sometimes, it’s not important who is in the right to begin with. What is important is empathy. Be kind. See the good in other people. Embrace differences and allow for discrepancy. Engage in discussion, but not to win, but to understand the validity of other opinions. Retrace their line of thought; carry it on with better arguments. Only then you can get their side. And don’t make fun of the ignorant or uninformed. Instead, be kind and teach. Share your knowledge, humbly, and offer your wisdom that you were lucky enough to absorb in your life. It’s easy to judge, but most often it’s not your place to judge. Instead, support them in resolving their own struggles. Have compassion; show compassion. Help the weak and poor, help your friends, help the people you dislike. Don’t do it to feel better; do it honestly and because it improves someones life. Do it because you want to. Demonstrate courage. Don’t be the one who sees the wronging and summons a smart phone for the fleeting amusement of strangers on the internet. Don’t be the one who points at others when it’s your turn. Step in and act according to your beliefs. Be courteous. To the queue-jumping shopper, to the leash-less dog-walker, and to the reckless driver. Not because they are right, but because it’s the right thing. And because it makes the world a better place.
This doesn’t mean you should accept the wronging of others, nor does it mean you should welcome the brashness that someone displays. But it means you should question every bad thought you have about someone before jumping to conclusions, or worse, actions. And this won’t be easy. It will be difficult, exhausting, and demanding. And I get it: Your own day was difficult and you are tired. But this means it is even more important to practice, day in day out, to make it not your second, but your first thought in every situation: Do I show empathy? Do I judge? Do I know where the other person is coming from? And with enough practice, it will become natural: To be kind and welcoming. To be compassionate and courageous. To be courteous when the opposite isn’t. And to be it out of belief that it brings something good to this world and not to feel superior. And sometimes it won’t help, sometimes it will come to a tough point where empathy does not resolve. Then, stand up for justice and defend your beliefs. But always critically question your actions. And I know, this post reads like an idealistic vision. But I don’t think it is. And even if it were, what is there to loose in not trying? Go for it – to make this world a better place.
This post was closely related to my earlier posts on labels and shall remind myself to practice: Empathy, compassion, and kindness.
Also: My camera body is not weather resistant. But I received a rain cover as a birthday gift! That’s why there are so many snails on the pictures – I went out during rain for the first time and its so much fun: No people, and so many droplets everywhere on macro photos.
I have always been mildly interested in biology: I liked animals but didn’t bother to learn their names or behaviour; I had an advanced biology course in high school but never studied the subjects extensively; I always enjoyed being in nature and outdoors, but never observed the biodiversity around or the impact we have as humans on nature.
Only recently I am beginning to be more impressed by all the organisms around us and passionate about our local flora and fauna. This is somewhat caused by my work, but primarily due to photography. I am learning the names of the birds I capture in the frame, Mädchen Klitzeklein tells me which plants I am seeing and the names of trees and flowers, I am more informed about the changes of our planet and the associated changes in biodiversity.
What also complements this increasing interest are the botanical gardens we have in our home town: There are three different ones! An old botanical garden in the city centre, an experimental botanical garden in the North, and the adjacent arboretum. All of them are marvelous in their own way. The old botanical garden has narrow, interwoven paths and leans against the historic defense wall of the city centre. I had the pleasure to work in the only building that is located within the garden for a year. I added an old smartphone photo of the raccoons that lived below the roof – at the displeasure of the facility management. The experimental botanical garden is in the North and has a lot more space. There are several greenhouses, a little lake, and a larger area for alpine plants. The arboretum is the largest one of the three and is located higher on a hill with a view above the city and towards the West. The photos of my latest blog post about primroses were also created there.
On my trips to the botanical gardens I rarely read all of the plenty information given. And on our recent hikes I have captured many pictures of insects; however, I have still absolutely no clue about the names, species, or general taxonomy of insects. Thus, I have a mission for my next trip: Inform myself about one combination of plant species and insect that I took a photo of – a blog post about them will follow.
Mathematical optimization or mathematical programming is the selection of a best element, with regard to some criterion, from some set of available alternatives.
The latest sunset I photographed was from a hill in the north of our city. All shades of red and orange were present, as well as several well-positioned primroses. Thus, everything is set for the optimization. Converging towards the optimal photo went fast in the beginning, but slowed down after the initial photos – a typical observation for a gradient ascent procedure. I picked out the primrose with the best shape and different possible backgrounds. While I have not reached the optimum, I still like most of these pictures. Which one do you like the most?
There has been too little time to appropriately maintain the blog lately. Lots of work, some routesetting, and other hobbies devour my time. I also often feel restless when I have some free space, it feels like I need to use these hours in some meaningful or productive way – whatever that means. When I have a free evening I mostly go outside to take some pictures. Last week I was on a small hill south of our home town for the sun set. After many days of rain, the sun finally showed again and all plants sprouted, especially the hawthorn.
After shooting panoramas and macros, I also tried some new techniques for abstract nature photography as such images always appeal to me when I see them online: Images where it is unclear what exactly is depicted, images that leave room for interpretation but follow patterns. The first 100 tries were uninteresting, but then I changed settings substantially and started playing with the lens zoom while shooting longer exposures:
After another 300 photos I felt somewhat satisfied with the results that also were quite unique from what I have seen. The hawthorn and my 10-24mm lens made a nice combination with the evening light, resulting in textured hawthorn spirals:
When I started the blog I had little idea in which direction it would evolve. So far, I like the loose combination of computer science topics and everyday life observations accentuated with my latest pictures. However, the writing often takes longer than taking pictures and my backlog of pictures is slowly building up. Thus, I am thinking about some new blog post format that mainly consists of pictures, but I didn’t come up with an appealing idea yet. If you have any, please let me know! Additionally, I would like to make some longer blog posts about specific interest of mine (if time allows), as well as integrate further hobbies into the catalog of potential topics. So, in general, the blog will probably become more diverse, as the hawthorn pictures in this post: Sometimes great vistas, sometimes specific details, and sometimes quick abstracts.
Our society likes labels. People like labels. Putting things into distinct boxes reduces the complexity of life. Putting people into categories simplifies the complex communication with and about them. We also choose labels for ourselves. It is neither necessary nor impossible; conversely, it is quite arbitrary. The labels we assign are always chosen with respect to our environment and with respect to our own position.
There is a concept in autonomous automation called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM): An autonomous agent has to navigate in an unknown environment by using its sensors that observe the surroundings. Thus, it needs to localize itself with respect to the world and it needs to map the environment. The former step, localization, requires a map – only with a correct map it can use its sensor data to infer the current position. The latter step, mapping, requires the exact position of the agent in order to build an internal representation of the world with respect to the current sensor data. So which task should be performed first?
Generally, solutions to SLAM are careful: mapping the environment and inferring labels has to be done simultaneously and with caution. It also relies on large amounts of data. Typically, SLAM is solved via iterative updates of both, the own position, and the map with labels. In every iteration, the already gained information about the own position and environment can be used to improve the estimate of both. Early overconfidence is not advised and can result in disastrous accidents; when used in cars, and when used by people. Sometimes, the latter are not careful enough.