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Hugo van der Merwe
Enthusiastic about swing dancing, ski touring, mountain biking, road biking, trail running and swimming!
Enthusiastic about swing dancing, ski touring, mountain biking, road biking, trail running and swimming!

Hugo's posts

What vaccines did we get as South African children born in the early 80s?

I'm not aware of a vaccination certificate, so I don't know what to tell my doctor here. (Did we get any vaccination certificates?) Consequence: I was given a polio booster the other day (iirc), even though I wouldn't be surprised if I got vaccinated against polio back in the 80s. :-)

Can I also assume we had MMR vaccinations? What else? Please consider: if you are my age and don't know yourself, could you ask your parents on my behalf? Thanks!


WhatsApp phone calls are causing my phone to make a noise, despite my phone being in Priority Mode. In Priority Mode, my phone should only ring for starred contacts, or someone that phones twice within 15 minutes.

Why, then, does WhatsApp cause my phone to ring on the very first WhatsApp call, from a contact that has not been starred?

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"Science is still by far the best system we have for understanding our world and making it better—which makes it all the more important to understand its problems and try to fix them."

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The travel journal of Patrick Pichette (Google CFO from 2008 to 2015) is inspiring. He's been travelling quite a bit lately - in this post he reflects on travelling light, argues against consumerism, and reflects on what he wants to be doing with his next 10 to 15 years. (He's 54.)


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FYI: last weekend, there were still places left at Säntishop, a cool Lindy Hop workshop I'm attending for the third and last time this year. (I believe it's the last one. It has been one of my favourites.)
2 to 5 June this year.

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Tough food for thought. (I only read Kaj's extracts.)
> Tim Harford writes [...] to argue that people are mostly impervious to facts and resistant to logic [...] He admits he has no easy answers, but cites some studies showing that “scientific curiosity” seems to help people become interested in facts again. He thinks maybe we can inspire scientific curiosity by linking scientific truths to human interest stories, by weaving compelling narratives, and by finding “a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science”. [...]

> Harford describes his article as being about agnotology, “the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced”. His key example is tobacco companies sowing doubt about the negative health effects of smoking – for example, he talks about tobacco companies sponsoring (basically accurate) research into all of the non-smoking-related causes of disease so that everyone focused on those instead. But his solution – telling engaging stories, adding a human interest element, enjoyable documentaries in the style of Carl Sagan – seems unusually unsuited to the problem. The National Institute of Health can make an engaging human interest documentary about a smoker who got lung cancer. And the tobacco companies can make an engaging human interest documentary about a guy who got cancer because of asbestos, then was saved by tobacco-sponsored research. Opponents of Brexit can make an engaging documentary about all the reasons Brexit would be bad, and then proponents of Brexit can make an engaging documentary about all the reasons Brexit would be good. If you get good documentary-makers, I assume both will be equally convincing regardless of what the true facts are. [...]

> Purely Logical Debate is difficult and annoying. It doesn’t scale. It only works on the subset of people who are willing to talk to you in good faith and smart enough to understand the issues involved. And even then, it only works glacially slowly, and you win only partial victories. What’s the point?

> Logical debate has one advantage over narrative, rhetoric, and violence: it’s an asymmetric weapon. That is, it’s a weapon which is stronger in the hands of the good guys than in the hands of the bad guys. In ideal conditions (which may or may not ever happen in real life) – the kind of conditions where everyone is charitable and intelligent and wise – the good guys will be able to present stronger evidence, cite more experts, and invoke more compelling moral principles. The whole point of logic is that, when done right, it can only prove things that are true. [...] Violence is a symmetric weapon; the bad guys’ punches hit just as hard as the good guys’ do. [...] And the same is true of rhetoric. Martin Luther King was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for good things. But Hitler was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for bad things. [...] Unless you use asymmetric weapons, the best you can hope for is to win by coincidence. [...]

> Improving the quality of debate, shifting people’s mindsets from transmission to collaborative truth-seeking, is a painful process. It has to be done one person at a time, it only works on people who are already almost ready for it, and you will pick up far fewer warm bodies per hour of work than with any of the other methods. But in an otherwise-random world, even a little purposeful action can make a difference. Convincing 2% of people would have flipped three of the last four US presidential elections. And this is a capacity to win-for-reasons-other-than-coincidence that you can’t build any other way.

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Feuerfest in Switzerland in the summer:
Unfortunately I think this collides precisely with the week I'm dancing in France. (Swing Summit.) Not a "Burn" per se, but looks like a very similar philosophy, with many burners attending.

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Who said there aren't interesting diving sites in Switzerland? :) Okay true, there isn't as much wildlife here as you might see in Cozumel, but it looks geologically interesting enough to practice your diving skills, and it looks like it's not much more than 2 hours from Zurich by car.

Here's another clip:

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I had a couple of frighteningly honest conversations in the last two months. When, towards the end of February, I bumped into a cool note by a new acquaintance (, I reckoned I wanted to share some of this too.

Three weeks ago, there were three specific rather difficult conversations that came to mind, and since then, another one or two. In each of these cases, starting the conversation in the first place required overcoming plenty of hesitance on my part. I feared where these conversations could go, potentially turning ugly, potentially having outcomes that I would not like. However, in each case, there was also the opportunity for much improved mutual understanding, much improved interpersonal relationships (context: friends and family). So I dove in with brutal honesty, primarily honesty about my own emotions and perspectives.

In general, the outcomes exceeded my expectations, and I was very glad I didn't shy away from these opportunities. Diving into these conversations required a willingness to learn: being open and eager for self-discovery at least as much as I was hoping to be better understood by the other person in the conversation. Some conclusions:

* Investing in learning about effective communication, and ways to approach difficult conversations, was one of the best investments of the last couple of months. Much of the work lay in self knowledge too: understanding myself well enough was a critical component in making honesty possible.

* Being honest and open with my emotions and thoughts has thus far only lead to awesome outcomes. I now expect this to almost always be the case.

* It helps to know, and make clear in the conversation that I know, that I'm an irrational creature. Being willing to work through such thoughts and emotions out in the open is way more effective and valuable than retreating into my head to try to work through my issues in isolation. The willingness to share provided better outcomes for my own development, and simultaneously helped with the development of my interpersonal relationships.

May I never let cowardliness regarding revealing my flaws discourage me from opening up in the future, when faced with time and opportunity to do so.


Hey Swiss people! I would like to do a FIRST AID COURSE. Any hints/tips about finding a good one?

Auf Hochdeutsch oder Englisch wäre perfekt, während Schweizerdeutsch vielleicht noch zu schwierig für mich wäre.

("Off topic": Wie oft benutze ich Konjunktiv II falsch? Ich denke, es wird nicht genauso wie auf Englisch benutzt - "wäre" vs "would be" - muss mal wieder meine Notizen nachschauen.)

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