The blog of DAVID KOUŘIL

Finishing times

This Monday, 2am, I had a second paper deadline in my PhD studies. It for was the same venue as last year, IEEE Vis.

Last year I was totally clueless, had really no idea how to do it and my co-authors really helped out. It got accepted (and even received an honourable mention) and I’ve learned a lot from the process. I guess it’s true that when you’re thrown into the water and have to figure out how to swim, you learn the most.

This year, I’ve tried to apply what I’ve learned, but there’s no denying that it was still stressful times. Now that this is over, everything seems to be great. Weather is amazing (it was winter and all of a sudden it’s an awesome spring). I have time to do what I want. It’s amazing how much you appreciate free time after you’ve had to work on something for most of the day and week. I’m sure I’ll slip back into wasting it at least a bit but for now that’s something I’m trying to treasure.

I knew that I just have to submit because I need to get this done, get this off my table for a while. We are planning to go on a big USA trip in May and it’s very convenient if my paper is in review at that time. I will actually get the notification while still there.

Of course, even though I’ve finished this thing, there’s again more stuff to do coming up. So I’m trying to still enjoy this moment before moving onto the next thing.

Now that it’s been already few days, it’s starting to sink in. It has been one of the two primary goals that I had for 2019. It has been something in the works for a few months. And now it’s just done. No matter what the outcome will be, I’ve done my part for the moment. It’s very easy to just go over whatever you’ve been through, whatever you’ve “achieved” and not even pause for a bit to realize how big of a deal it is. Like now with the deadline, it has been on my mind for at least half a year, and I’ve been working on it intensely for several months. But the moment I get it finished, it’s like all this pressure has never been there, like there was no deadline. I feel like there are at least two lessons in this: a) how all the (usual) struggling is momentary, and b) how I need to more realize all the things I’ve already been through and successfully survived.

I’m really excited about future now. There’s just so much that can happen in one year, or even few months, and I have no idea where it’s all going to take us.

Right now I’m getting back to my routine, going to the gym, trying to eat a bit healthier, sleep and relax enough.

And most importantly, we can (finally) start planning our US trip properly.

Reconnecting

Two things I consider wins already in the new year.

First, I completely stopped biting my nails. Second, I started reconnecting with some old friends.

I’m bad at keeping in touch with people. It’s understandable, as you go through life, the paths you take diverge. It’s easer to stay close with your best friend from elementary school if you stay in or around your hometown. But I’m just not that type of person. I wanted to go out and experience the world. I went to university and then moved to a different country, and the people I meet every day have changed significantly.

I like this, I really like going away and be in different, new environments. I love meeting people with different backgrounds, different personalities and learning from them.

But I’m starting to truly realize, how important it is to have old friends. You need these people in your life, people that have seen you grow up, seen you be a totally lame person, been with you through some embarrassing events. Because those are the people that are close to you, they really know where you came from and who you are.

You have a connection with them through the way you’ve grown up.

And the connections that you make with other people are the most important thing in life.

It again reminds me a passage from Wear Sunscreen (something I still come back for life advice):

“Understand that friends come and go, but with the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”

Winter meditations

This is what our life looks like, in the new year, in what is a not-going-away-any-time-soon winter. I’ve been alone in Vienna for some time because Gabi had to go to Brno, but now she’s back, which is great.

I’m working on my paper. I’m definitely taking a different approach than last year. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned through last year’s experience and I just hope that I’m doing it better this time. But I still expect that it’s going to get tough and I’m not going to have enough time and that I will panic.

Maybe also because of that, I’m trying to prepare myself mentally. I’m reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and this book is amazing on many different levels. For example the fact that something so old can be so relatable for today. But mainly because it’s  helping me to get my mind to the right place regarding many aspects of my life (things I’ve been struggling with for years). I really feel like there’s a lot of change happening in how I’m starting to think.

In 2019 so far I’ve been really disciplined when it comes to the gym. In January alone I had 25 trainings, which means I didn’t go only 6 days in the month. I think it’s logical what my next step is: focus more on resting properly. Weightlifting (and I guess sports in general) is nice in how you step-by-step figure things out.

So currently I’m really trying to make sure that I have enough sleep each night. I wake up early in the morning (5:30am most of the time) which means that in order to get around 8 hours of sleep I need to be in the bed around 9pm. I know that it sounds like I’m 70 but I don’t care, as long as it helps me.

And for some final news: we bought plane tickets for our trip to the USA. There was no reason to wait anymore, the flights had a pretty good price now and we decided that we want to go sooner than later. We fly in and out of Los Angeles and now the next step is to plan out where we’re gonna go, and then book a car.

Since we just definitely decided that we are doing this now, not leaving it for end of summer or anything, this also changes the way I think about work. It’s now head down and push towards my deadline at the end of March. I have to put everything into it, and I definitely have to submit something solid there. That’s the only way I will be able to go on this trip with clear head, enjoying it, knowing that I did everything I could to move forward.

Focus and Discipline

Scratch all that I wrote before, the two main things I want to really work on and improve are focus and discipline. Although that basically encompasses all that I said before.

Discipline

I wouldn’t say I’m an undisciplined person but there’s still a lot to improve. My problem is that there is a disconnection between my dreams and my actions. I have big ambitions but my day-to-day structure is not mirroring that. It could be a big problem in the future, when I realize that I haven’t accomplished what I set out to. In my eyes, discipline is what powers each day.

When it comes to discipline, the start of the year looks great. I am waking up early, going to the gym, working on myself. I have a deadline coming up so I need to stay sharp.

This is what I’m currently sticking to:

  • gym 6 times a week (Mon-Sat, Sun is rest day)
  • go hard at gym, not give myself excuses, do extra reps, extra exercises
  • no youtube on weekdays
  • phasing out facebook (not logged in since Dec 31)
  • no reddit or instagram when at work, putting my phone away

I’ve been experimenting with social media usage in the past, for various reasons trying to quit. I think having literacy in social media is going to be a very valuable skill in the future. It’s not that they are bad, the thing is that you need to know how to use them and when they could be dangerous to you.

For me I know that looking at instagram and reddit can hijack my own values, interests, and motivations. Ultimately, my goal is to find truly my own motivations, things that drive me. I want it to come from my own core, not that I saw somebody somewhere and I want to be like them.

Focus

But being disciplined is just one side of the coin. Even if you make yourself sit down to work, if you don’t focus then it’s for nothing.

Recently I’ve learned something game-changing to me. I think that in the past I’ve misunderstood the pomodoro technique. Everywhere you find written that you’re supposed to work for 25 minutes and then take a break. But it somehow didn’t really work for me, I was always hesitating to start the second work session, and in general this tempo didn’t fit.

But then I learned about a different way to look at it. The key is to go for the flow state, and that takes some time to get into. What I’ve also learned is that it takes around 25 mins to even get into this state. So basically I’ve been stopping at the point where it’s just about to start getting productive.

But you can use the pomodoro as a starter, to get you going. The key is not to stop at the crucial moment. Since finding out about this, I’ve been experimenting with longer work sessions and it’s been working so much better so far.

What I still need to figure out is how to properly prioritize. Interestingly, this hasn’t been a problem for me so much up till now. I had just mostly one big thing in front of me. But recently I’ve been taking on more and more stuff, taking more responsibilities and working with more people. I need to learn how to give priority to activities that really make me progress, as opposed to just doing work for others.

Small Life Update

I could write a lot about the importance of time and its value. It was worrying that I didn’t have anything on my hand for a while, I don’t like having to grab my phone every time I want to see what time it is (it’s especially annoying when cooking).

I’m glad that I figured out my watch situation. Since the fitbit I got from Gabi for Christmas 2017 broke, and we got the money back, I was thinking what should I get as a replacement. I really wanted to have something tough, something I can wear all the time without worrying that it’s gonna break. Which is basically the definition of g-shock.

So far I’m extremely happy with it.

And what I’m even more happy about is that it’s basically a Christmas gift from Gabi 🙂

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.

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 keep 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.

Short week, weekend spent in Czech Republic

On Thursday, there’s been a public holiday here in Austria. That meant that I stayed at home while Gabi was working. I stayed at home for Friday too (because most of the people from the institute didn’t go to work either) but I tried to work at least a little.

I don’t really remember much happening regarding work.

For the weekend we went to visit my parents in Tlumacov in Czech Republic. I went with a train on Saturday morning (Gabi was going from Brno by a bus). We’ve had a lot of good food and enjoyed not being in the city for a while.

The most eventful was my way back to Vienna. I went with a train again, but it was completely full. It’s a long distance train that was full of Polish people with beers. For a while I was standing in the aisle and made some small talk with a woman who got on the next stop. I thought I have 2 hours of standing and constantly letting people pass by to go to the toilet ahead of me. But then, when the conductor came, he told the two of us to go sit down in the first class! So we went, sit down with the woman, and talked. It turned out that she’s Czech but living in Austria for a very long time. It’s very nice when you randomly meet someone like that.

The weather is getting crazy so I was very glad to come back home to our nice-looking, nice-smelling, and cool (as in temperature cool, but it’s cool as in awesome too) apartment.