This page collects images and trivial stuff that might be of interest to friends and relatives. ;-)

2021-06-16 Programming for Money

A post by @jalcine had me think about programming for money. This topic is dear to me because I program for money. After highschool I did not do the mandatory military service in Switzerland because back then I was a foreigner and I had managed to avoid the French military service by telling them that I was planning to do the Austrian military service but then I never went to Austria so I had a few months off. My friends at the time were also foreigners or otherwise unfit for the military and thus the whole bunch of us spent a few months as interns at ABB, programming for a weird kind of “operative reporting system”.

I learned SQL on the job, and I learned a programming language on the job, obscure stuff nobody knows anymore: SQLBase and SQLWindows, both by Gupta Technologies. You can read about it on Wikipedia. It was a long time ago. The development environment was installed from more than thirty 3½-inch floppies. Remember those? They were so much better than the old 5¼-inch floppies. Now I feel old.

Anyway, towards the end of my stint I had decided to study biology and I did a major in zoology, with a focus on the navigation of ants and bees. I still love plants and animals more than anything. Sadly, it turned out that there were hardly any jobs for zoologists. At the same time, this was the dot-com boom or bubble. There were programming jobs to be had and I had some experience.

While I was at university, the department that was responsible for the “operative reporting system” did a management buyout; the manager got the rights to the software and the OK to take all the clients with him, because ABB felt this weird reporting thing wasn’t their core business. And when I went back to work for the same people, the software transformed into “customer relationship management” (CRM) and I’m still there, working for them, more than twenty years later. We’ve branched off into many things, written all sorts of business software, but the same old CRM is still central. We started using version control software, eventually. We used Visual Source Safe, then we switched to Subversion, now we’re using Git. We used all the Oracle versions from 7 to Oracle 12, sometimes we used DB2, but now we like to use PostgreSQL. We moved to Java in the early years, and we still use it. Who remembers Java Web Start? Our framework got rewritten multiple times. We moved from AWT to SWT to Swing to a web UI. We added Struts and then we removed it again. We added OSGI and then we removed it again. We were totally into Eclipse and now we’re moving towards IntelliJ. Twenty years is a long time.

Currently, our framework is a quick way to create business software that consists of a database layer to store data, a server layer to handle the data, a UI layer to handle the presentation, and the browser to actually present the user interface. The lowest layer of our framework is free software, too.

I like using it at the office. It gets the job done. I’d never set up the necessary infrastructure at home for my own private projects, though. Working as a programmer is hard. I’m still on my first job, more than 20 years later, but I’ve also learned to do whatever is necessary at the job without listening to the online crowd. Lisp is better! Haskell is cool! But business software is boring, it uses Java, which is considered to be very uncool. I recently heard somebody say they’d rather use COBOL. I guess we’re playing in the same league, now. Business software has millions of lines of code and more layers than developers on the team. It takes many weeks of full time engagement with the code to get into it. And there are so many tangents. The build system itself needs a specialist to set it all up; there’s Ant scripts and Maven files; there is a company-wide cache; there’s Jenkins and automated tests; there’s GitLab and how to hook it up for Merge Requests and Pipelines and all of that. Forget everything they say about lightning speed and innovation. At this size, the framework is like a supertanker. It moves in the right direction and it’s expensive to change course. So many projects depend on it. Millions of dollars are bound up in it. If it’s done well, it can quickly spit out new business software that looks more or less the same, uses more or less the same architecture, that’s more or less easy to adapt to a customer’s requirements. The joy of programming does not happen, here. The joy I find in my job is talking to new customers, learning about new industries, translating new requirements into solutions, finding the right trade-offs. Programming itself is the work that enables it all.

But really, the complexities of the framework, of the build system, it’s an endless headache and heartache. This is not the programming most of us dream of. This is business software! Imagine me, with a beard, screaming this at foreign emissaries. And there’s more: since we program for money, we don’t do extra programming for free. Under capitalism we make the code as good as necessary for the client to accept it but no better, since they’re not paying for it. If they thought it was important, they’d pay for it. It’s very different from programming for myself. Everything is done for money. Is this meeting worth it? Scrap it if we should be doing something else instead. Is this feature worth it? Scrap it if we should be working on something else instead. Is this thing nice to have? Not if nobody is going to pay for it. It’s a weird mindset where we don’t strive for perfection but for the best trade off.

All of that to say that at the office, I might sometimes make a comment about our code quality, or some disparaging remarks about Java as a language, but I don’t get angry, and I don’t get sad, it is what it is and I do it for money, not for love. I don’t know if that helps? This thought is what kept me from quitting all these years. When I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, I started working part time. Luckily, we live in a small apartment, we don’t have a car, we don’t have kids, we both have jobs that pay well, so I don’t need to dedicated my life to it. I’m never 💯 about the job. I just do it for the money.

Sometimes people at the office are shocked when I put it that way. Of course I enjoy working with good people, friendly people, funny people, I feel good because we are lucky and there don’t seem to be any narcissists in the company. That alone is one of the best aspects of the job. But think about it: if I weren’t paid, I wouldn’t show up, no matter how nice my coworkers are, no matter how interesting my projects are. I’m giving away years of my life in order to get paid, and that’s it.

And finally, after all of the above, think about this: what makes a good programmer?

I have no idea.

Comments on 2021-06-16 Programming for Money

Related: The Mediocre Programmer, by Craig Maloney. I mentioned it a while back: 2020-05-25 The Mediocre Programmer.

– Alex 2021-06-16 07:51 UTC

Some comments by Jeremy Friesen on this blog post, Amplifying the Blogosphere.

Add Comment

2021-06-01 The Office

Summer break is here. Four months of not doing much. Certainly nothing “productive” or “efficient”. It’s all going to be chill, it’s going to be done leisurely, and there won’t be any “point” to it. I bought myself a musical instrument and I want to get better at music stuff.

And then… who knows. Is the pandemic over in September? I just read Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Working From Home, by Anders Melin and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou, for Bloomberg Wealth.

The recruiter that approached her … asked what it would take to get her on board. She replied that she would prefer something 100% remote. “They said, ‘we can do that for you immediately.’”

Right on.

I get so much more done at home. No babbling, no phone calls by other people, no discussions at the next table. Ugh, dreadful! I understand people preferring the office life, perhaps they have small children at home, or they live with other relatives. It can be distracting at home as well!

The office wants us back for two reasons, I think. The first reason is that project managers feel more in touch with their teams if they can see them. Then again, many project managers aren’t sitting right next to the table every day of the week. Also, I’m suspecting many project managers did not change their interpersonal routines. What steps have they taken to replace the physical proximity and activity awareness they used to benefit from in the past? If the answer is, “uh… what?” then I’d say the problem is theirs, not mine.

The second reason is that management feels working with clients is good for business. We see how they work, they see how we work, we get to know each other on a slightly more personal level, and all of that is good. Then again, what steps have they taken to replace the physical proximity and activity awareness they used to benefit from in the past? If the answer is, “uh… what?” then I’d say the problem is theirs, not mine.

I recently told somebody at the office the simplest, most basic step I’ve taken: show up a few minutes early for every call. If other people are there, waiting for a meeting to begin, don’t just mute yourself and keep on working: act as if you’re sitting in that meeting room and start small talk. The weather, the weekend, family life, simple stuff. Get to know other people, make yourself vulnerable and let them know about you, too.

I discovered that physical presence in an open plan office is a very high price to pay for little gain.

I keep thinking about that quote in the Bloomberg Wealth article:

JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said at a recent conference that it doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle.”

Good riddance, hustlers!

Add Comment

2021-05-08 No programming

It’s weird. Right now I don’t feel much like programming in my free time. None of my projects feel too exciting, nothing seems to need my immediate attention. I don’t feel like working on C code because it’s hard. I don’t feel like working on Perl code for my wikis (Oddmuse and Phoebe) because there are no feature I feel I need right now. I don’t feel like writing random tables for my Hex Decribe random generator, and I don’t feel like tinkering with the map generation algorithms of Text Mapper. My heart’s not into drawing more elements for the Face Generator.

Today we tried to make a backup and pluged the laptop power supply (19V, 3.42A) into the external backup disk (12V, 2A), and now it no longer works. I took it out of the enclosure but I have no other enclosure, so I can’t tell if there’s a way to keep using it. I tried an old disc I still have with the enclosure and that didn’t work so perhaps it’s just the enclosure that’s fried. The drive in question is a Samsung HD154UI disk (1.5TB), apparently from 2010. When I got new backup disks for my wife, I kept these for myself, as a replacement for the old pair of Western Digital MyBook Essential disks (1TB), apparently from 2009. Well, so what was I going to do? I dug up one of those old WD disks and used it instead. After a few hours the backup was made and both my external backup and my wife’s external backup are ready to be taken to the office, where we’ll pick up the other set of external backups to bring back home. That felt like enough computering for the whole weekend, to be honest.

I’m not sure why I’m somewhat disinterested in programming right now. My hands need more rest, I think. Less typing. When I get up in the morning, I often feel like somebody stepped on them. It takes a minute or two for me to get full motor control back. That’s not good. It’s also why I’m going to keep the update short.

If you’re looking for short updates, you can always check my fediverse account, @kensanata. I sometimes post pictures there, too. There’s a feed, too.

We recently went out and bought a staff and now I’m teaching her the “20 Jo Suburi by Morihiro Saito Sensei” (you’ll find them on YouTube and elsewhere, I’m sure). And we’re also practicing the “Tada Sensei jo exercises”, a video by Video Aikikai Italia (La Spezia 2006). I’m trying hard to spend a few minutes doing them every day, believing that if you do something every day (or at least: very often!), no matter for how much time you spend on it, a habit starts forming.

This is how I learned to run. Start running, for ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, half an hour, keep at it. Go even if the weather is a bit colder than you’d like, or a bit windier than you’d like, or a bit rainier than you’d like. Just focus on “I have to run every opportunity I get”. Do it two or three times a week. And in a year, you’ll get nervous when the sun is shining and you’re sitting inside, thinking: I was born to run – I really need to get out, right now! And when you do, it’s a glorious thing.

In that year, your body will have changed. There are now muscles, and tendons, and lung volume, and reserves, that you did not have when you started. Slowly, bit by bit, you rebuilt your body. It is now fit for what you are doing.

Sure, you probably won’t be running a marathon. But when my wife started running, she could barely go those 10 minutes around the block, huffing and puffing, red in the face. And two years later she was going to races for 10km, and a year or two later, she was going for the half-marathon. It takes time, and dedication, no doubt. But it also starts in very small steps. Steps that are easy to do. Steps that help you build a habit. Steps that allow you to change yourself. Bit by bit.

Anyway, we also got our first COVID-19 shots yesterday (Moderna) and now our left shoulders hurt and we can’t run and we can’t lift the jō above our heads, and that already makes us sad. But I still take the staff every day and practice just a few swings, and I’m telling myself: it doesn’t matter if my training looks like I’m 80 years old. If I’m lucky I will be doing this when I’m 80 years old! You can do this, even if you’re 80 years old. And thus, you can do it now, even if you feel like your left arm is 80 years old.

And with that, I have to go. My hands hurt.

Comments on 2021-05-08 No programming

I’m glad to hear you got your vaccines!

I’ve found that when I lose interest in a hobby or habit or anything else, it helps to do just a tiny bit every day, kind of like what you said about building a habit. It won’t get you out of the funk any faster, but it lets you know exactly when you start regaining interest, and helps to keep momentum for when you return to it. (Of course, that’s easier said than done. My desktop, both physical and virtual, is cluttered with abandoned projects - but almost all the ones I have finished faced a period of disinterest and survived, so I guess the rule works when I manage to follow it.)

– Malcolm 2021-05-09 07:56 UTC

Interesting corollary, haha!

A related post: Momentum Has a Quality All of Its Own where noism argues for “weekly sessions that you run come hell or high water”.

– Alex 2021-05-10 07:44 UTC

How about a village generator? With everyone in it? Some inspiration:

– Björn Buckwalter 2021-05-14 16:50 UTC

It’s an interesting idea. At the same time, however, how would that ever be relevant at the table? I don’t think I hardly ever need four or five non-player characters per settlement. It’s a bit like a movie: sure, there are a ton of nameless faces in the background, but how many of them have a name the protagonists remember, a face the protagonists can recall? A handful, I’d wager. And I’m suspecting that this might be true for settlements as well.

To put it another way: if the players need a blacksmith, and it isn’t important, then there is one, nameless, and the interaction is quick, pay the money, get the goods, done. If there is dramatic tension to be had, then it’s different, of course. I’d say this should be rare: does the blacksmith guild hate you? Are orcs the best blacksmiths there are? If so, perhaps the scene can be tense, and perhaps the blacksmith needs a name after all.

I fear my own generator doesn’t live up to these principles, unfortunately. If you check out the village generator, it generates:

  • a number of people in case there’s mass combat
  • some guard animals in case there’s a smaller fight
  • some powerful people with levels (in the one I’m looking at: a level 10 warrior, a level 8 sorcerer, a level 2 wizard
  • a dragon hunter who happens to be a level 8 warrior who wants the party to come slay a dragon with him

All non-player characters generated with levels have names, a portrait, treasure, sometimes with a mission.

The generator can also produce the leaders of the local branches of secret societies, the members of a travelling circus, war veterans, and so on.

Sometimes, I think it’s a bit much. It’s so long! Then again, I often thing: every one of these villages could be a starting village. To be really good starting villages, however, there should be more missions. I’m not sure whether adding a named blacksmith, a named rope maker, a named baker, or any of the other jobs would help.

Perhaps I need to see or hear of an example of play where all the data actually made the game better. If I as the referee have to sit down and prep the town for half an hour with a highlighter, then I’d say I’d rather spend that half an hour adding the two or three people I know my players will look for by myself. At least that seems like a more enjoyable way to spend my time.

As an example, I offer the town table. The town generator generates two kinds of towns. The one I’m referring to contains the phrase “protected by a large keep”. It’s modelled after the classic keep on the borderlands. I think looking at the ten towns it produces per page is an interesting exercise: what do you like about it, and why? Right now, I think I like the village generator above the best: it’s limited in scope. What do you think?

– Alex 2021-05-14 18:16 UTC

Add Comment

2021-03-14 How to eat

I was talking to @dualhammers about buying food… Perhaps somebody starting their own household or deciding they want to learn how to cook can use the info as well. Feel free to ask questions!

The starting point was the question: When you buy groceries, do you meal plan, or do you buy staples and improvise?

I said: both! We plan meals for the first few days, and we have staples that we know and love and keep for longer until everything runs out, then we reorder after 10–14 days. That is, we have a menu plan for six or seven dishes, and we have staples that you don’t need to eat this turn (e.g. pelati, spaghetti, frozen green peas, dried chickpeas, to name a few things that we eat towards the end of the cycle), also different veggies for both turn halves (bell pepper now, cabbage later, cucumber now, beet root later).

We have an A5 paper with a handwritten shopping list; when we shop online, one of us reads from the list, the other checks how much of it we still have and shouts numbers from the kitchen…

So, what sort of staples, and what do we make with it?

Something we always like to have is bread and cheese; jam and honey; butter. This is my French breakfast. The butter also serves as frying fat, so we have lots of butter. I usually aim for 6×200g when shopping.

We make our own bread, so there’s always spelt flour (3kg), and whole wheat flour (3kg) to buy. And salt, of course.

We also buy raisins, oat, spelt, almonds and make our own Müesli mix; it’s very simple but it’s important to us that there is no sugar added, and I don’t care for all the hype around chia, amaranth, or whatever superfood the like this year. This doesn’t happen very often because we have a big 3l glass jar we fill with our Müesli mix.

We always buy milk (6×1l), yoghurt (2×500ml), curd (2×500ml), also for Müesli.

I try to eat a few spoons of Müesli with some milk as a snack in the afternoon where I’m tempted to wish for cookies… Better to eat some Müesli instead!

Still thinking about breakfast: we buy oranges (for juice), coffee, tea… The milk also gets used for my coffee. The coffee is already ground (in small 200g bags) and we have those simple Bialetti cans to make good enough coffee for me. My wife stopped drinking coffee.

For improvised salad dinner: beluga lentils, or chick peas (both dried in bags of 500g – we cook one bag for a week and keep them in the fridge), plus carrots, beet root (to eat raw, like carrots – my wife doesn’t like them cooked), or cucumber, and bell peppers. As I said at the top, the root stuff keeps longer so we eat cucumber and bell petters as soon as possible, then we switch to carrots and beet roots.

For salad sauce we use some cold pressed olive oil (don’t use it for frying things, it would be a waste, and possibly dangerous to your health; use hot pressed and filtered olive oil for frying – or butter), balsamico, sea salt (I like the coarseness), and pepper (I grind my own, two or three seeds per person, with a small mortar)… If I don’t have balsamico, I’ll use a white wine vinegar, which I then find bland so I add mustard.

For quick food during home office, I like pasta: spaghetti, pelati, onions, garlic; optionally zucchini or egg plants. For the occasional soup: broccoli, cauliflower, or butternut, and sour cream; all of which can be used for curry, too. More vegetables for curry options: green peas, potatoes, green beans (all for curry). The green peas and green beans we buy frozen, so they’re emergency food. The potatoes we need to eat quickly because the start sprouting.

A selection of spices for curry: cumin, fennel seeds, turmeric, cilantro seeds, garam masala.

We buy basmati rice and when we prepare it, I add 2 cardamom, 2 cloves, and half a cinnamon sticks to the water and salt, for taste. The same spices can be used for chai (with black tea and milk).

Curry with onions and lentils is dahl, but with any other vegetable it’s simply vegetable curry.

I used to buy a lot of feta and tomatoes, but I don’t like the tomatoes that we get all year round. The only tomatoes I like are from the farmer’s market during summer. I love adding them to the salads, or eating just tomatoes with salt, pepper, balsamico, and olive oil. If you have the good tomatoes that melt on your tongue… Aaaah! I miss summer.

Comments on 2021-03-14 How to eat

This is interesting!

My wife and I have a similar system of meal planning + improvising from staples. However we have a much shorter cycle (more like 3-5 days) because we live in a small apartment in New York City and don’t have space to store lots of groceries.

It’s kind of fun to see how very basic activities are changed by where you live.

deadtreenoshelter 2021-03-15 00:02 UTC

Hah, in our case the pandemic made all the difference. I used to go shop for food practically every day. Our fridge was mostly empty. But now we order food in big batches. The apartment is small but the fridge is big. 😅

– Alex 2021-03-15 06:34 UTC

Hi Alex,

about olive oil, you wrote:

...don’t use it for frying things, it would be a waste, and possibly dangerous to your health; use hot pressed and filtered olive oil for frying – or butter)

I thought so too until I met my girlfriend who grew up in Crete. She said they use olive oil for frying everything, even french fries. Still, the cretan cuisine has a reputation of being one of the healthiest of the Mediterranean.

There are studies that show that the natural antioxidants in non-filtered, native olive oil keep it longer from disintegrating than filtered oils.

Adam Ragusea has made an interesting video about the subject inluding references to the studies:

– bnrl 2021-03-29 21:10 UTC

Add Comment

2021-03-14 Helping

These days, I try to abide by the following rule: before I try to help anybody, they must ask for it.

This solves all sorts of problems: being the reply guy, confusing venting with asking for help, removing autonomy, ignoring writing as learning, and so on. I think I must have read this simple rule in some esoteric book a long time ago, but it still rings true to me now, decades later.

I’m sorry if I failed adhering to it in my past interactions with you!

Sometimes it’s hard: somebody is describing a problem and I suspect I know how to solve it. I start typing. Then I remember and I check again. Does it have a (non-ironic, non-rhetorical) question mark in the text? Does it say: “Help?” or “Does anybody have an idea?” If not, they might just be venting. Maybe their mind is made up and they no longer care. If I show up, explaining the thing, it might look as if I’m defending the very thing they hate. I don’t want to be that guy.

And so I delete the reply I started to write.

Sure, many people say that if somebody doesn’t want a reply, they shouldn’t be posting in public. That’s not the problem, I think. The problem is figuring out, what kind of reply people actually want.

Comments on 2021-03-14 Helping

In a follow-up, @stevenroose asked whether I noticed any changes. I guess less interactions going awry are hard to measure, so I don’t know. There is no science here. But in the interactions with my wife I used to hear a lot of “please just listen to me” and “I don’t need a solution, I just need somebody to talk to”. Often I’d (even if I disagreed with the solution). Online, I simply notice myself deleting messages before (or after) sending them. And when I get curt pushback I think to myself: “I guess they weren’t looking for my answer in the first place. I shouldn’t have sent that.”

– Alex 2021-03-16 07:43 UTC

Add Comment

2021-02-02 Motivation and reward

Jeremy Friesen wrote about his ten year blog anniversary.

I loved two points in particular. The first one is about scheduling. I used to see many people deciding to write a blog and trying to commit to regular posts.

“When I first started blogging, one of the concerns I heard and internalized was that I should write to a schedule. I found that to be a path of misery. I don’t keep a schedule, nor publish at peak hours. Instead, I release what I write when I’m done with it.” – Jeremy Friesen

If you’re a writer and you want to change your habits, if you’re not a writer and you want to work on being a writer, then this seems like a good idea. Do a little of something every day until it becomes second nature. That’s how I started to run. Go for small runs on a regular basis, no matter how small. Just go. And one day you’ll be sitting inside and the weather is lousy and you’ll feel the urge to go for a run. You’ve successfully changed yourself! Congratulations. I know it isn’t easy. It’s work.

The second of Jeremy’s points I liked is about trying to be successful. It’s hard and there is a lot of luck involved. Not work. Luck. And Lady Luck is fickle. It’s hard to repeat a thing that depends on luck.

“To grow my readership, I thought I needed metrics. What I found was that I was prone to chasing that questing beast. I looked at posts that did well, and would wrack my brain to write something more about that; Or like that. Again, misery. I had ceded my muse to an algorithm.”

It’s so easy to fall into this. It happens wherever those small “like” buttons are, wherever those “comment” forms are. It happens on blogs, and on the fediverse! It’s why many people switch them off. Gopher people say the don’t miss comments. Mastodon offers a setting to hide notifications about likes and boosts. You just get the replies.

I’m not immune to this myself. I am happy when I see people liking and sharing pictures I took, for example. And I spend a little extra time on my prose, crafting it, spinning it. Does it work? Words have rhythm, sentences want to be read. I read these words in my head, writing and rewriting them until I’m happy. It’s the effect of the invisible audience. All acts of speech on social media are partly oratory, I think.

I want to come back to the question of blogging, of the motivation to write. To me, motivation is a big riddle. Why can I code hours on end at home but not at the office? What brings joy and what does not? Why is it that if I do a thing for money – for any extrinsic reward, probably! – I feel less intrinsically motivated? I heard that this effect can be shown in children. I still wonder about the reason, though. In the work place, I think part of it is that in capitalism, the things you enjoy so much you’ll do for free, so paid work is often joyless.

But the demotivation effect of extrinsic rewards is more than just a memory of work; I feel like it has to do with freedom in a personal, private way: the autonomy to decide if I want to do a thing now, or later, or not at all. If at any time I do a think now even though I don’t feel it, that’s joy wilting away. And thus I will happily accept a gift freely given but I don’t want to get paid. I don’t want to promise help in exchange for money even if I’m very likely to help for free.

I still remember the most fantastic gift I ever received for software I had written: some chocolate and a cook book, from Belgium, from net artist / sculptor / 3d artist / videogame designer Auriea (). I still think about that a lot.

Her site still uses my software, a version from 2004–2006. Amazing. ❤️


Add Comment

2021-01-31 What interests me

Recently, we were discussing what interests us, on Community Wiki. I started writing a few words, and more words came, so here’s a stream of consciousness answer…

I like to play role-playing games and I’m interested in mapping programs that generate maps, and programs that allow me to modify maps without being an artist. I’d also like to be an artist. I’d love to be good at ink wash painting. I’d love to play a simple instrument like the recorder. I’m also interested in programs that generate texts to use for play, often driven by random tables because I think the neural networks currently en vogue don’t scale for single person endeavours. As a programmer at the office, I’m interested in why we keep writing software that I can barely understand. What drives this complexity? What drives customer wish-lists? What drives developer fashions? Why is capitalism the root of all evil? As a programmer at home, I’m interested in how I can write programs that are easy for me to come back to in a year, in two years, in five years. How to write programs that attract somebody else to help me out. How to talk about my programs such that other people see what’s great about them, such that they use them, and contribute towards them, but sharing my values regarding complexity and longevity. How to make sure that my works survive me. How social media works: what kinds of messages make people feel good. How to learn – and how to teach others – not to be a reply guy, not to be sea-lioning, how to decolonise my writing, the intricacies of muting, blocking, archiving and expiry – I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the idea of record keepers, a blog post that I keep linking! And thus, the design of social media, the filter algorithms that make them addictive, that encourage bubble formation, the drift towards stupidity online (national socialism, Proud Boys, Tea Party, involuntary celibacy, anti-vaccination, ur-fascism, and so on)… the link from these things to politics is important for our future and yet another symptom of our inability to deal with systemic problems such as global warming. I’m interested in all these political topics not because I want to discuss the actual topics but because I feel I need to better understand them as symptoms of underlying social, political, or even economic issues. And in a way I wonder how we can talk about all these things with our friends, our class mates, our family – our community.

Anyway, of all of these things, I don’t really see too much online. I wish Community Wiki would be the place, I guess. As you can see, I’m actually not all that interested in wikis except as a communication tool that encourages collaboration, mutual ownership. Wiki is praxis. Wiki is – or can be – an illustration of simple software design, of simple user interface design. I also don’t care too much about the web other than that it serves as an example of surveillance capitalism, of compounding complexity, of regulatory capture (of the W3C), of monopoly formation (of the browser market), or about Gemini other than that it serves as a counter to all of this. For me, Gemini is praxis. It is the actual doing, the making of a point.

But other than that, there’s also the personal. The love of my life, pictures of flowers, of nature, of hikes… My social media feed @kensanata has plenty of pictures, tidbits of my personal life, which serves as a grounding, as an opportunity to connect on an emotional level (I hope!), and that is also important. Where does that fit in, in the context of community building?

Also, the lingering suspicion that people who have many friends, party; where as people who do not, write about community building.

Add Comment

2020-12-31 Best of 2020

OK, this is a year that definitely needs a best-of list! 😃

Best of 2020, what do you have?

For me: we spent two weeks in the Galápagos. I did not expect to ever be able to do this. Of course, we had to leave two days early because of the pandemic onset, but by that time we had already left the ship. It was the most fantastic thing. Then again, my wife and I love plants and animals.

Music: I found a way to download all the MP3s from the The David W. Niven Collection of Early Jazz Legends, 1921-1991. Thank you Internet Archive! If you want a copy of those 84G and aren’t technically minded, leave a comment and I’m sure we can work something out.

Work: I hate open plan offices, like ours. I hate working on premise with clients, like for my current project. I hate commuting. I hate the stupidity revealed by the pandemic. But with the pandemic I had the excuse I needed to work from home. It was weird, and I gained a bit of weight, and I worked a bit more than was necessary, but I enjoyed it much, much more. I love working in the same flat as my wife. I love eating lunch with her. I love going on walks with her. So happy. 😍

Add Comment

2020-11-27 A weapon

@cat wrote about keeping a bat under their bed, a weapon. What it meant for there to be a weapon under the bed, and what it meant to feel the need to keep a weapon under the bed.

I’m reminded of my Aikido. I haven’t gone to Aikido practice ever since the pandemic started. Aikido sells itself on the peaceful aspect of it. There is no actual fighting. There are no contests. It’s probably really ineffectual. This is a fighting style useful for samurai living in a world of inexperienced and unarmed peasants. But make no mistake, the techniques are – wether feeble or strong, effective or artificial – they are definitely intended to hurt, maim, and kill. Thus, in your mind, you can either focus on practicing moves and working on the technique, deciding not to be bothered by the presence of an enemy (or our partner, as we like to call them in Aikido). Or you can focus on how put all your focus on that moment, on your stance, on your move, on your timing, and then you start thinking like Musashi:

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut them. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting them. – Miyamoto Musashi, The Water Book, The Book of Five Rings

And if you take this approach, then violence is always there. It’s not the violence of a riot, I think. It’s the intent of killing. And it scares me. It scares me to feel this at the bottom of my soul, a blackness, a tar pit, a void.

One day I was walking along Langstrasse, the red light district of Zürich and a motorbike fell over, next to me. I felt that adrenalin spike and I was expecting an attack. It took a minute to come down from that energy and it was strange. My body was ready for something I did not want.

One evening I was looking down into the backyard of our appartment buildings because I heard some kids. I saw the walkways, the lamps, the bushes, and then a crowd of boys move in, maybe around twelve years old, maybe a bit older, blustering and idiotic, as they are, as I used to be. And one of them kicks one of the lamps and breaks it. And from that black pit rises a violent storm. “I’m going to get my jo, my staff, and I’m going to run down there, on my bare feet, and I’m going to chase them down, I’m going to find the slowest of the pack and I’ll smash their fucking little head!” And then a few seconds pass and I think to myself, what have I become? What fantasy has martial art made possible, made imaginable? Is this how bloodlust starts? This is not who I want to be.

The presence of weapons is a scary thing. Who knows what might happen one day.


Comments on 2020-11-27 A weapon

As a supporting character in my one novel says: “Thinking you’ll need a gun is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Felix 2020-11-28 16:20 UTC

That is a good quote!

– Alex 2020-11-28 18:49 UTC

Add Comment

2020-11-26 Narcissism

My wife is seeing a lot of narcissists at her job. Co-workers at the workplace are sometimes seeing narcissists working for their clients. When I talked about this with my younger team mates, I realised that they don’t yet see the gargantuan damage these sociopaths are doing in our workplace, on this planet, and they are singularly unprepared to deal with them, just as I was.

Here’s something I wrote a long time ago which is just as true today as it was back then.

Things to watch out for:

  • people being callous towards the other side in a conflict (no mercy, no understanding, no forgiving, no healing)
  • noticing how other people you like disappear (when they stop blogging, stop posting, stop commenting)
  • noticing the same feeling of caution, trepidation, or fear in yourself (when you hesitate to post or comment, fearing to get involved)
  • people being defended by others on purely rational grounds (like I did: sometimes we assume the others are simply socially awkward or inept and we hope that they actually mean well or just can’t help themselves; look out for emotional words that point in the other direction, like the words I used: “aggressive” and “angrily”)

Keep track of these things and use these as early warning signs.

Here’s what not to expect:

  • call-outs are super rare because of the anxiety and loyalty (a web of guilt and fear holds it together: you’ve seen other people put down, or you got help in the past)
  • confrontations and proof is hard to find (because they are smart: they keep records and the other side does not; they make sure to exert pressure where others cannot see)

Here’s what to do:

  • most of all: disengage (like somebody else once told me: “The first rule of responsible care is to not create a second patient”)
  • help the targeted (if your early warning signs went off, contact people in private and support each other – this is something I need to do, definitely)

Here’s what to expect:

  • all those people suffering in isolation, all those people quietly retreating – they remember! – and when the dam finally breaks, there’s a shit ton of resentment that has built up

This is true everywhere. Keep your eyes open. Notice the warning signs:

  • callous treatment of others
  • people you like are disappearing
  • notice the trepidation in yourself before getting involved
  • the defence of people on purely rational grounds

When I see a complaint like “they can be pretty rude” and the defence by others is “I’m thinking it’s not intentional”, or “they just mean to be straight and honest”, or “they just have an abrasive online persona”, or “they’re just socially awkward”, or whatever – then all my warning lights are set off.

Remember the asshole filter? If you tolerate assholes all the decent folks start to leave, and in the end you’re surrounded by assholes. We all need to fight back because sociopaths have no other goals in life: they can pour over their plans and machinations for all their waking hours, all they want is power, the admiration of others, and to have that increase at all times, no matter the cost. They’ll ruin teams, departments, companies, schools, IRC channels, newsgroups, mailing lists. They’ll make friends with the new people, they’ll see if they can easily do you a favour that they can leverage for a long time; they’ll make you feel welcome so you can join their fan club; they’ll tear you down if you disagree with them, as an example to others... and then the silence starts to spread like a cancer, and people start making excuses. Too much traffic on the mailing list... Not enough time to join the game tonight... Nobody is willing to confront them and so their power grows. Sometimes they are promoted because they wear everybody down. They don’t feel this pain. This is the struggle they are born to win. That’s why the only way to save our community is to network.

Together, we are strong. We support each other when we’re down. We build each other up when we’re weak. And when we’re strong, we step up and take one for the team. And we kick them out.

Don’t think that you can out-manoeuvrer them with a precise code of conduct, or other legalese. They have all the time in the world and no sense of shame. They will find the loopholes, the edge cases, and use them against you. Use your heart. Make broad guidelines and rely on humans to use their heart. If they’re acting like an asshole, then they are an asshole and you should rid your life of assholes. And the only way to do that is to network.

Don’t forget that they can be charming if they want something from you. As soon as they see that they’ve overstepped their bounds, they know what to say and do. They will apologize. They feel no shame, remember? To bend with the wind is their nature. Use your stubbornness to carry you through these periods. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, remember? Watch for the pattern and wait for repeats. Do not extend the benefit of doubt again and again. Notice it when decent people leave. Every time a decent person left, you lost a potential ally.

When it has blown over, they will start to organize, to plot the downfall of moderators, of whoever stepped on their toes. They have all the time in the world and no other goals. They keep notes of everything. Read the logs I kept, they say. Remember who else keeps notes: the secret service and organised crime keeps kompromat to blackmail you. Therefore, be forgiving – once or twice. People make mistakes. But when there’s a pattern in the other direction, when there are record keepers, realize that this is a warning.

Keep each other’s back and kick them out. Good luck.

And if you can’t take it any more, disengage. There is no other way.

“characterized by persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and a personal disdain and lack of empathy for others … arrogance and a distorted sense of superiority, and they seek to establish abusive power and control over others … … typically value themselves over others to the extent that they openly disregard the feelings and wishes of others, and expect to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or achievements … intolerance of criticism, and a tendency to belittle others in order to validate their own superiority”

Comments on 2020-11-26 Narcissism

Good article, thanks for sharing!

– v 2020-11-27 08:23 UTC

A reply that points at free software in particular.

– 2020-11-28 22:24 UTC

A web page by Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD, was recently recommended on Mastodon: «DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistle blower – into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.»

– Alex 2021-02-12 13:50 UTC

Add Comment



Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Just say HELLO