The blog of DAVID KOUŘIL

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.

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.