The blog of DAVID KOUŘIL

Twenty-seven

I turned 27 last Monday.

We had a nice chill day even though it was pouring rain the whole time. We went to Albertina to see the Claude Monet exhibition, then had lunch at Shoyu Ramen, and on the way home stopped for a cake at Gerstner.

I’m slowly but surely closing on 2 years of living in Vienna and doing the PhD. Many normal things are solved, set it their ways. I don’t worry about going to city offices and dealing with bureaucracy, moving furniture between countries, or getting internet in our apartment. I like to look back at the times, when these were our problems, and see how they are basically non-existent these days. You build up on what you deal with each day, and although there’s always something to solve, you always build on top of things and put yourself in a better position.

But even now there are stressful situations, situations that make me question everything, and in the end make me learn something.

For example the week before my birthday, I was in a really low point. Somehow my whole idea of what I want to be working on as my second paper disappeared, as I realized that I don’t really know what problems I’m trying to solve and, most importantly, how to move forward in order to have something to submit at the end of March.

What got me out of that was one thing—at least besides the fact that I again found that I can fully rely on Gabi for support—I learned that I need to trust my supervisors and the whole process. Other people have been through it and succeeded, and now they’re here to advise me. I need to embrace the fact that I don’t know everything, actually that I know very little, and that things are the way they are because they (mostly) work. This now might sound a bit depressing but for me it’s quite positive. I like to see that there’s so much to learn in so many aspects.

The truth is that I’ve learned a lot even just looking back one year. I’ve gone through the whole course of making, publishing, and presenting a paper. I’ve survived it and now that’s just done, it’s mine, nothing’s gonna take that away from me.

I think I’m addicted to this kind of growth and that’s what makes me want to keep doing this. Even if it means that sometimes things are tough. I’m doing all this to learn, and to be a better person.

I’ll finish up with two moments of our life these days. This view from our bedroom window is an absolute trash: discont shop on the ground floor of an apartment building, one of those apartment already having some weird Christmas decorations, and we have trams going right under our window. But with the street wet from all the rain it looked very cool this one evening.

And then this very photogenic dish we cooked.

Let yourself forget things

I’ve been addicted to writing things down for years. Whenever I have an idea for a project or a thought that I find worth keeping, I try to write it down in some form as soon as possible. I’m so afraid that something is going to slip through, that I’m gonna lose the thought. Any small idea has to be documented.

This also applies to books, movies and other influences. Sometimes I dream about having every book I’ve ever read noted down, with my takeaways, ratings, basically go full-on Derek Sivers. I wish to have all the things that inspire me or speak to me in some way in a list, for me to come back to and remember right away.

Lately I’m reversing on this.

I don’t want to be doing stuff just to have another record in a database. I don’t want to read 52 books in a year just to be able to say that I read one book a week. I want to just enjoy all these things, other people’s ideas and opinions expressed through books, movies, or songs.

That’s why I’m giving up documenting and tracking everything in my life recently. I let the “brilliant” moments of inspiration go.

The things that are supposed to stick with me in the end will. The ideas that are worth remembering will keep coming back.

Or so I hope.

Too many interests

These photos are from Saturday evening, when we went on a walk around the city. I wanted to test out my new lens that I got on Friday, and we couldn’t get ourselves out of the house before it was almost dark. 

Vienna right now has a really interesting atmosphere, it is not quite the usual Christmas-markety winter mood, but it’s almost that. I actually kinda like it, I guess I need changing seasons because of the different feelings they bring.

I often think about the stuff that I’m putting my time into. I’d say that I’m somebody that has many interests. I like coding, I like to draw and paint, I like reading and writing. At some point in my life I was really into music, I practiced playing guitar a lot.

I’m drawn to all of those things, but somehow the fact that I can’t commit to single one of those is bothering me. The impression, that I have from all the people that inspire me, is that you find one thing in your life that you fall in love with and then channel all your creativity through that medium. Sometimes I have a feeling that I still haven’t found mine.

Other times I feel blessed. I’m lucky that so many stories and thoughts speak to me. You can’t choose what you get drawn to, you can’t decide what you find meaning in.

So I just remind myself to be patient, follow the passions, put in the work, and wait for the moment when it all comes together.

Berlin Trip

Leaving our apartment in Vienna on Friday morning around 6am, with the fire alarm beeping and air ventilation blowing out the air from the hallway. Nobody besides us was bothered by this. I had to call the house management from the airport right before my plane left because that’s when the office hours started. That’s how my travel to Berlin started, with 3 hours of sleep.

It was cold in Berlin. Not only is it further north than Vienna, but at that time also the weather broke from sunny autumn to windy and nasty autumn. But I still caught some sunny (not warm though) days.

This was not my first Vis conference (I was in Phoenix last year on a “free ride”) but it was still important. It was going to be the first time I would be actually presenting a paper.

But before that, I had two days for sightseeing.

As far as the conference goes, it can get very tiring. Having a paper actually helped me not take it so seriously, I had a different goal than just being there all the time and seeing “everything”. My talk went well I think, I heard only good feedback afterwards. I think this was only a proof of how valuable test talks are—I improved the talk significantly. Goes to show: first version of anything sucks.

The paper even got an honorable mention at the conference. I hear that’s pretty big and I’m glad. But I have a hard time being actually proud about it. Of course, I worked hard on it, as did my coauthors, and I’m proud about that. But the truth is that I still have no idea what I’m doing. I was just working on what I’ve had in front of me. And from what I’ve heard and seen so far, the reviewing process in kinda random. There is a very thin line between rejected and honorably mentioned. But of course, I’m still very happy that my first paper fell on the good side of that line.

After my talk on Tuesday, the rest of the conference I was so relieved. I was glad that I didn’t mess up the talk and that I could finally just enjoy being there.

Every time I go away, either for a vacation or a work travel, it makes me rethink and reevaluate my priorities. It also always gives me great motivation. I’ve got many ideas for what I want to do.

I’m used to writing notes, thoughts, and ideas when on a conference. This year my takeaways were along these lines:

  • I’m really attracted by the applications of visualization. The actual “visualization research” is nice and all, but what really speaks to me is applying visualization to solve a problem, or create something.
  • You have to work on things that come out of your own core, scratch your own itch, explore your own interests. The worst thing in this field is when somebody tells you what to do and you just blindly follow.
  • Work hard towards being able to show your work. Make posters, have a demo, just have something to show to people.

Like every time I go away, I’m really happy to be back. Back home, back with Gabi, back in Vienna. Still, a lot will change in the following months. My supervisor, Ivan, is moving to Saudi Arabia, which I’m guessing will require me to work on my second paper more independently. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m back, I’m ready to do some work and, at the same time, enjoy the shit out of life.

An Autumn Saturday

Visited Setagayapark on Saturday morning.

Heuriger in the afternoon.

What I’ve been up to

It has been almost a year since I wrote about my life. I even deleted the blog at the previous address. The reasons for stopping are several. I felt that I was losing the purpose, I didn’t want it to be just a diary of what I did in a week, where I went, what I ate. I wanted it to be much more, but at the same time with my goal of putting out one post a week, I often found myself just writing something quickly on a Sunday evening, just to be done with it.

Another reason is that I didn’t like the blog to be the front page of me. I didn’t have a personal/professional page where I could put up my CV and stuff at that time, and the blog was the only web presence I had. Taken that I was writing somewhat intimate stuff on the blog, I didn’t want it to be the first thing somebody sees when they google me. And I don’t want the blog to be the primary thing that’s associated with me.

All in all, I think I didn’t have the right idea about what the blog is supposed to do and be.

But now I’m back. I mainly restart it because I love documenting my life. Looking back at the year where I was capturing the transition of both me and Gabi into an adult life after finishing university gives me such an incredible joy you wouldn’t believe it. I want to do that, just in a bit more purposeful way. I want to get better at capturing the actual atmosphere of a moment. I want to get better at photography. And I still want to get better (much better) at writing.

So…what has happened in the last year

A lot of stuff has happened since I last wrote in November 2017. I’ve been working on my first paper in my PhD studies and was lucky enough to get it accepted. I’ve also passed something called a proficiency evaluation. We did two small vacations in Budapest and Paris. I finally started going to the gym in Vienna and I also started to learn German.

Doctoral studies

Basically right after the last blog post from November, I started to work hardcore on my first paper. I specifically remember that in November I wrote down an idea for the approach and created a new branch (i-have-an-idea-for-labeling) and since then it has been a grind to get it working and done. I have to say, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all. I struggled with everything, from coding in a new framework, to writing the paper up.

There were two things that helped me. First, I was listening to Dan Carlin’s World War I podcasts and it gave me great motivation, in maybe a weird way. Second, I received, of course, an immense amount of support from Gabi. I know it’s a cliche but I just couldn’t have done it without here being there and encouraging me.

This “sprint” lasted from November to March 31st, which was the exact day of the deadline…well actually the deadline was at 2am so technically it was April 1st. Although it was hard, I remember leaving the office around 3am and thinking…well, finishing is fun, when do we submit next?

After this big deadline there was obviously a calmer period of time. Next fun thing at work was that I was doing a proficiency evaluation with two of my PhD colleagues. In this ‘exam’ you’re presenting what you want to do in your doctoral studies and a committee decides if you’re good to go or if you need some course-correcting. Luckily all three of us passed this without any problems.

Traveling: “Städtereisen” in Budapest and Paris

After the deadline I wanted to take some vacation to regenerate. In the end Gabi planned that we go to Budapest, as it’s a city that’s pretty close to Vienna, and it’s supposed to be also beautiful.

I also went to Paris for a work meeting and we used that opportunity to have a mini vacation there as well.

Exercise

As I was working on the paper, I stopped having the time and, more importantly, the will to do bodyweight exercises at home in the evening. Even though I remembered how great it is to work on a deadline and be in a routine that involves going to the gym in the morning, it took me a long time before I actually got myself to sign up for one here in Vienna. Finally some time in February I decided to go for it and I signed up for FITINN (a chain of gyms here in Vienna). I was actually considering that I start going after the deadline but then realized that that’s stupid and did my first workout on February 26th. I think it also helped with my mental state quite a lot while working on the paper.

So I’ve been working out quite regularly ever since. Over the summer I maybe got a bit crazy and started going every week day, sometimes also Saturday. And I was biking to and from the gym. That felt really sporty, I liked that.

At some point in the summer, Gabi also started to join me. When she’s not traveling for work, we go together every other day. These days I’m still trying to do 5 times a week (but I don’t sweat it if I’m too tired or can’t go), sometimes with Gabi and sometimes alone.

At the moment, going to the gym is one of the pillars that I base my life on. Every day, every morning, it gives an incredible energy and motivation. When I can’t go, I feel it and I miss it. It’s important to me also because I want to keeping putting myself into unfamiliar, different environments. If I would only spend my time at home or the office, constantly talking about the same stuff with the same people, I would go insane. And I also think that you can only benefit from being in situations where you suck. Where you are the beginner and there’s so much to learn. It can be frustrating but that’s the way to grow and improve in all aspects of life.

Learning German

I tried to carry the same momentum from working out into another activity. I’ve wanted to learn German since even before coming to Vienna. I bought a book and even started, but at some point I stopped. I got into the trap of doing it only when I felt like it, when I realized how much I really want to learn it. But as you can imagine, if you only do something when you feel like it, you’re not gonna progress very much. I was also thinking about going to a course but that’s impractical because of my work schedule, and it’s also kinda pricey.

So in the middle of July, I decided that I’m gonna commit to learning German by myself. I went back to the book and gave myself a daily goal of studying for at least half an hour. And I’m still going. Half an hour is something that everybody can do. Even if I’m totally tired in the evening, I can take a shower to wake up a tiny bit, study vocabulary for 30 minutes, and then go to bed. And I would still take it as a success even if I do this and fall asleep while doing it. In this regard, it’s important for me to not break the chain. I’ve had days when I couldn’t do it because I was somewhere out of home, or went for a drink, but now I’m trying to account for these, and do my German studying before going out for example.

Drawing

I have made a conscious decision to draw more in 2018 and I really stuck with it (for a while at least). I somehow rediscovered the passion I had for drawing and painting, and wanted to get really better.

I tried to employ the same discipline strategy as with German and working out: do it every day. But it didn’t work as well.

I think one of the reasons is that with German, I see the immediate reasons why I want to learn it: I now live in a country where German is the official language; if I learn a word, there’s a big chance that I see it somewhere the next day—that way you can see the progress very easily.

With drawing, I’m still struggling with the motivation. I get super into it when I have some free time (which used to be summer holidays, now I don’t have that much free time), but then when I’m actually working towards something I consider a career, it gets pushed aside because it’s not my main goal, it’s not something I want to do for a living, it’s just a hobby. But I still struggle with keeping it a hobby because I don’t like to suck at it. So I would get frustrated that I’m not good enough, but at the same time I know that I can’t (and don’t want to) give it more time. So it’s easy to figure out why my daily drawing practice hasn’t been working out.

What’s next?

Thanks to the paper getting through, I’m approximately 1/3rd through my PhD. I still need to present the paper in Berlin this October, but I’m already working on the next one. I’m excited about it because it’s something that will be amazing if it works out. My supervisor will be changing universities, which, I can imagine, will bring some challenges. I wasn’t sure if my goal is to even finish the PhD before, I was mostly doing it for the experience, because of the people I met so far in academia, and because of the environment that supports learning, freedom, and hard work. But now that I see that it is possible to get the papers needed to finish, now when I see how attainable it actually is, I really do want to finish the doctoral degree. I’m still super excited to learn as much as I can, but having this diploma that in a way gives me a stamp of approval is very tempting. Situation might change in the future, but right now I see myself committed to the doctoral studies as my next goal.

And I want to start writing about getting there on the blog again! I will definitely be changing the format, not necessarily posting something every week, but rather when there’s actually something to write about. But I’m really excited to start documenting again. Not really for anybody else, but for myself.

Thinking about the blog, visiting Prague, and other things

I took some time off from writing the blog but now I’m back.

After coming back from USA the days have been different. One thing is that the weather took a rapid change (for worse). The days are shorter and usually there’s not much daylight anyway. It’s not very pretty to look at.

It took a while to adjust to this timezone again and the weather wasn’t helping. There have been some public holidays which is nice. I’m not gonna lie, I definitely had a little post-travel sadness. I was wishing to go back to sunny California, planning how I can do it so that we can move there. But the thing is that I kinda like Europe. I like living a little bit detached to where “it’s happening right now”. I like being the outsider, somebody who’s unknown and comes pretty much out of nowhere (but that’s a thought for a completely different article).

About blogging

On September 28th it has been a year since I started blogging and I’ve managed to do it pretty regularly over the course of the one year. I’m really happy that I captured this part of my life and it’s so much fun to scroll down and look at all the photos.

However, I didn’t like that at the end it was mostly just writing about what I did that week. The idea was that I would be posting every Sunday and I wanted to make sure that I have a deadline, that I will just have to figure out something to write about. And I can say that it worked—many times I thought there’s absolutely nothing to make a blogpost out of but in the end at least one idea I was able to put down.

But my vision for the blog is different. I want to not only write about things I did, I want to think more deeply about things that are going on in my head. I want to write more in-depth articles.

I think it was fine for this one year to write about my life, and give these “weekly updates”, I wanted to start writing and that’s hard. You need to ease into that. I see this first year as exactly this, easing into writing, finding the voice, topics, getting used to publishing regularly.

Now for the future. I want to try and do two things differently:

  1. write more articles that focus on one topic, have a better structure, and are more in-depth, and
  2. write articles that capture mood, show a certain atmosphere or style of the time period, ideally put more work into the photos.

A short visit to Prague

We (me and Manu, a colleague from VisGroup) went to Prague for a few days to deepen the cooperation between TU Wien and CVUT.

About work

At work I was starting to think about the approach of my first paper of the PhD. Ever since I started in spring this year, I’ve been working on things but they weren’t directly contributing to my PhD, so now I finally had the time allocated to (mostly) just that.

It took a few weeks to get into the topic but yesterday I had an idea that I think is worth trying. The problem is that there’s a lot to do to even get to the point of trying this idea out.

It however reminded me why I like working on things. There’s this idea in your head and it’s just on you to make it happen. I’m so attracted to the process of having this intense motivation, this picture of how it should look like and work, and then it’s about me making it happen. If I don’t do it, it’s not gonna happen.

It’s of course very frustrating at the same time. Life gets in a way and if you are trying to do something non-trivial it’s gonna take days if not weeks. And that’s the challenge of just keeping up, believing in that idea you initially had.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t really like the pre-Christmas season. I’ve always had it associated with stress in school which gets multiplied by all the Christmas busyness.

It makes me want to make more colorful art. Something to compensate. I should do that.

That week after I came back

I was almost considering that I’ll skip a week for the first time since I started blogging but that would be terrible. So here I am, 5 days later, and this is how the week after I came back from USA looked.

I arrived on Monday in the late evening. I was expecting to have troubles sleeping that night but it wasn’t a problem at all. However I slept through half of Tuesday. After that I thought I’m already good, I went to work on Wednesday, survived that, but still I had to be taking afternoon naps for the rest of the week.

I have to say that I was a bit sad when I adjusted to the normal timezone. It’s stupid, it was like the last thing, last connection that I had to that place.

Nonetheless, I’m back and I’m ready to do stuff! I want to work on things that will allow me to travel somewhere else as well.

In other news, my parents visited us in Vienna on Saturday. We went to Stephansplatz and Schönbrunn.

David goes to USA: final part, the road trip

The final part of my trip to USA was a road trip on the west coast with three colleagues. I think I already mentioned that it was a big deal for me to go to US (farthest I’ve ever been from home, fulfilled a dream of going there) and I had a chance to experience a lot on this road trip.

I’ll put my tips first: if I’d do this again (and I want to!) I would:

  • plan and book the accommodation beforehand; we had to figure out where we’re gonna sleep on the fly and it made it a little bit more stressful (but also more adventurous, depends on what kinda person you are)
  • get an US sim card with mobile internet; from my experience the wifi coverage is not as great as I read on the internet before leaving. Also we had problems to reach some US numbers from our phones.
  • make sure that I can pay with my credit card; one hotel pre-authorized a large sum of money of my credit card and I couldn’t raise the limit because I forgot the phone I use to authenticate internet banking actions at home. You should also make sure that you don’t have a geolocation control/lock activated on the card.

I wanted to put these down mainly for myself to remember. So let’s get into the trip itself!

We started in Phoenix. On the way to San Diego we slept in El Centro (still not sure how that’s pronounced) and continued the next day. We went to La Jolla Cove and I really liked it. It had a great atmosphere and we arrived at a perfect time when the sun was setting.

We slept in a motel in El Cajon. It was probably the place I liked the least of the places we slept the whole time, big motel in a big city, lots of noise and weird people.

So I was very glad to go to Sequoia National Park the next day. Sometimes I’d rather face the nature than the people. In this case we had to face the cold at night. It was a good decision to bring Gabi’s sleeping bag.

We slept in Grant Grove Village (which I think is technically Kings Canyon National Park but they are very much connected so…) and met there the most friendliest guy at the reception of the camp.

After Sequoia we drove to Yosemite National Park, sleeping in a tent-cabin in Half Dome Village.

Yosemite is simply breathtaking. We did one big hike to Nevada fall and some small walks around the Yosemite Valley. Once again I was amazed by how well organized the national parks are. I simply have to come back to explore more of it, the 2 or so day we spent there are just laughably short amount of time for it.

For the last weekend we stayed in San Francisco and I have to say that I think I fell in love with this place. We stayed very close to Market street which might have been a mistake but hey, at least I’ve seen this part of SF/USA as well. I was just amazed that I’m there. I’m in the place where so much has happened, where so much is happening now, the place I’ve heard, read, or seen so much about. I was happy to be at this place even if for such a short time.

Our flight home was from San Francisco International with Lufthansa to Munich and then from Munich to Vienna with Austrian. I was actually very surprised how easy the flight was, it didn’t feel long at all! And the flight to Vienna was almost funny—we ascended, flew for maybe 10 minutes and then the flight attendant announced that we are starting the descent to Vienna.

I’m now back home in Vienna and I have to say that I’m suffering a bit from post-travel sadness. And jet lag (I thought I’ve recovered already but yesterday I passed out at 8pm and woke up at 1am…). But I’m happy to be with Gabi again and I’m really excited to be working on things now. There’s so much I want to accomplish and experience in life. I’m happy to be back at working on the life I want to create for us.

David goes to USA: part 2

The main reason of coming to the US was the IEEE VIS 2017 conference so that was what this week was all about. The conference was held in a Convention Centre in Downtown Phoenix.

It was my first big conference so there was a lot to process. I wasn’t there for any specific reason. I wasn’t presenting a paper, I wasn’t there to meet people I know. I was just really curious about how the field of visualization works in the bigger picture, outside of the groups I know so far.

I took notes throughout all of the conference, here’s some of them:

  • My biggest takeaway probably is that I want to learn how to be a good speaker.
  • Other thing that I wasn’t expecting is how easy (and inconvenient) it is to get sick while traveling. Especially here in Phoenix, where outside it’s hot, and inside it’s freezing because of all the AC. Next time I’m going somewhere I need to prepare my immunity system for that.
  • Demos, videos, pictures, GIFs…any of this is better than trying to describe what you’re presenting.

I got to explore some of the food in Phoenix. Cornish Pasty was very good!

But the best thing I had was a burger at Welcome Diner, a place close to the motel the receptionist recommended.

Downtown Phoenix is kinda cool. It’s amazing however that you can walk somewhat short distance and suddenly you are in a not-so-nice area.

We left Arizona for California. The plan of the road trip is pretty fluid right now, hopefully we figure it out somehow and will have a good time.