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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. 😍

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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

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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

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2020-11-26 Between this life and the next

Case has been writing about the passage of time, and depression, and how one feels about the waves of life, and wonders about the final reckoning. It was a good post.

I don’t suffer from depression. There’s a strange melancholy in some of my days, and I guess many people share that, too. Perhaps there’s a simple biochemical explanation for it. Something about vitamin D and the sun, movement and exercise, alienation at work, but it’s hard to separate this from how I feel about it. The idea that the soul and the body are two separate things is a construction. The experience is that the two are one. When I hurt myself, I fear for myself. I am my body.

And so when my body lacks vitamin D or some other thing, it is I who is sad. There’s a physical explanation and yet there’s no psychological difference. Perhaps in that we are one with the world. I feel like there’s some sort of revelation hiding around some corner, here.

When I feel sad, I want to listen to music that goes to the same places as my heart. I used to listen a lot to Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem nach Worten der Heiligen Schrift, op. 45. I listened to it a lot while working. People are talking all around me and I put on my headphones and look at the leaves of a tree outside and feel wave after wave of sadness wash over me. “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” (“For all flesh is as grass”). I often say, if I ever turn religious, it will be because of the music.

The Latvian Radio Choir is singing Rachmaninov’s All-night Vigil, op. 37 “Vespers”. The best music for crying and programming, both at the same time. Here I am, tears streaming down my face, thinking about getting data into a Postgres database. And I keep thinking: this is the time we live in. Crying, chagrined, as the world slowly turns into a swamp. And yet. Music is going to turn me into a believer, yet. “For his mercy endureth for ever. Alleluia.” We are all in desperate need of it.

I’m playing Pärt’s Miserere and drifting through clouds of compute, fingers moving, only to have my soul blown to bits after five minutes. And then, back to the disorienting world of cyberspace, poorly reflected on the flat screen, poorly interacted with using that laptop keyboard, soulless flow of programming for money. What did just happen? What am I doing here? I just want to shout: “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!”

It’s Sunday, it’s grey outside. We call it Hochnebel: the high fog. It covers the earth beneath 1000m and is light as mist and yet it weighs down our souls like lead. And softly, I hear music playing from the kitchen: The Song of the Sibyl, Montserrat Figueras, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall. I think I’m melting. 😭

My thoughts return to Brahms’ Requiem and I hear the voices sing: “Herr, lehre doch mich, / daß ein Ende mit mir haben muß. / und mein Leben ein Ziel hat, / und ich davon muß.” (“Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.”)

In his post, Case asks: “Between this world and the next, do you think there’s a kind of accounting?” I find the eternal machine of the world fascinating and distracting, and I think I must like it the way it is, for I’m not sure there’s a next life to go to. There is no inherent meaning, and no supernatural voices are guiding me. And so, where as I used to be fascinated by Zen and aestheticism, now I think to dedicate my life to this while I can lead a fuller life, a life where I am one with the world, integrated with it – to ignore all that without knowing what comes next – that is something I don’t want to do. To live and to be alive is all there is. To feel joy while you do it is all there is. The sublime happiness of the virtuous life is all there is.

Here’s to hoping that we can all share in that happiness, that we can all keep our heads above the water.

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2020-09-05 The shadow people of social media

When Google+ ended, I had about two thousand followers and was following a few hundred people. On Mastodon, I now have about 1.7K followers and I’m following about 550 people. What a strange feeling – not because there are so many people listening but because I don’t interact with that many people. I don’t think that the problem is the Dunbar number: I interact with less than 150 people and I read more or less all the post of the people I follow. I suffer from fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), yes I do. What remains is the slow dread of being followed and following 80% zombie accounts. It’s not a clear cut thing for now, just a feeling of unease.

Back in 2019 I was talking aboug Google+ and the blogs and using arguments such as the data krakens of our time. But really, what has changed? The data krakens are probably just connecting to the fediverse and siphoning our data, selling it for pennies. Psychopathic programmers at work.

Anyway, what does that mean, when I feel like I’m standing in the light somewhere, with maybe fifty other strangers from the Internet, surrounded but hundreds, maybe thousands of shadow people. Maybe they’re listening, scribbling into their notebooks, recording with the ingenious devices, feeding the data tanks and refineries, or maybe they’re dead, their faces permanently frozen in that strange grin of their last post made a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. Dead husks, their owners moved on, have a different life, a different presence. They shed their skin and left it there, standing in the shadows. In cyberspace, there’s no gravity to pull it down; there’s no funghi to break it down; digital junk and digital identities remain. Nothing is forgiven, and nothing is forgotten.

Perhaps these are the first signs of winter coming. The sky turns grey and grows heavy, the clouds come lower and lower, and life between heaven and earth is a drag, all is mud, wet clothes, rotting leaves. I fear those short days of murky light and that cold grip of winter on my ribs.

Sometimes I idly wonder about restarting the Mastodon account. Delete all the followings. Block and unblock all the followers (I think that’s how you force-unfollow others?), delete all the earlier blocks, delete all the favourites, boosts, and posts (archiving them offline, I guess – but what for?). And then see what happens. Would I end up in the same bubble? Would I start with ten people I remember from before the reset? Thirty? How important would it be to make a reset permanent instead of a new account? Would a simple alt account do the trick? Perhaps the finality of a reset would change the outcome. No peeking at the old lists!

@pet84rik says that you end up in almost the same bubble. “People with about the same interests will find your, sooner or later.” I guess that’s a good thing? Shake off the shadow people and find your bubble again?

There’s also the interface to consider. One of the ways to find new people is to look at the public feeds, the local feed and the federated feed. But if you have “enough” people you’re following, you don’t need to check the public timelines anymore. And if you’re on an instance that’s no longer open, there are far fewer new folks looking for people to follow on the public timelines, too.

Lots of guessing and vague feelings of winter, that is all.

My summer break is over, I spent a week at the office again. I also drank a glass of Armagnac. I didn’t drink any spirits over the summer break. Is work making me drink? Would I turn into an alcoholic over the years? I must shake all those winter thoughts. Maybe part of the problem is COVID-19. I don’t miss people. I don’t like people. At least I think I don’t. But perhaps without people, my mental health is starting to drift a little. I should meet more friends just in order to get centered.

I’m going to ask my wife for a run, get some fresh air, see the sun and the sky and the grass and the bees, to hear kids and dogs and crickets. Autumn has just begun. There’s still time.

Comments on 2020-09-05 The shadow people of social media

love your remark about there not being any fungi to break down the old detritus in cyberspace. the natural processes benefit us all yet we’ve forgot to build them in to our online worlds

– lukee 2020-09-05 14:26 UTC

Yeah, like gravity, all these omnipresent things need extra programming in cyberspace.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-05 15:33 UTC

I went for a run with my wife and it was nearly two hours long and it was peaceful and we were in the flow and the forest was green and the sun was shining and our feet were tapping along in harmony, it was wonderful. Then we went out for dinner with friends and it was interesting and we laughed a lot and it was wonderful, too.

– Alex 2020-09-05 22:49 UTC

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2020-08-31 Summer's gone

Like every summer, I enjoyed a long summer break. Two months of staying at home, doing whatever I fall into. This year, it was Gemini, and Phoebe, my Gemini wiki.

Sadly, summer’s gone and that means going back to work!

Comments on 2020-08-31 Summer's gone

It turns out I made a mistake! I knew that I had wanted to start a week earlier, and had told my project manager, but then I forgot about it but remembered that I wanted to start a week earlier, so when I showed up in the call today they were surprised. Alex is back one week earlier! Whaaaaaat!?

OK, I really got confused this time. Which is a good sign regarding summer break. If you can’t remember things from before your holidays, then those are good holidays in my book! I did remember my password, though, so the mind wipe wasn’t complete... 😀

I’m thinking of taking off two weeks in October in order to make up for it. So far, so good!

– Alex 2020-08-31 10:08 UTC

Did I tell you that at my wife’s office the people working in Human Resources (HR) think that we should talk about “Life Balance” instead of “Work-Life Balance” since work is also part of life... That is such a clumsy way of trying to rework the language in order to reframe the mess we’re in, it makes me cringe. “Fremdschämen” is the German word to use when we feel shame for the mistakes of others.

Incredibly, I’ve since learned that they are not alone in their attempt to use “life balance.”

I think they’re trying to get away from the whole discussion of Work-Life Balance, all the books and papers and feelings on the subject. Instead of trying to fight the idea that work is something many and me included wouldn’t be doing if the consequences wouldn’t be so terrifying, they are trying to establish a new mind space that is still terra nullius. There, no opposition exists.

Which is why I like to fight this change. If we keep calling it Work-Life Balance, we have the existing literature in our back. And when they say that “work is not the opposite of life” we can either argue that an established concept is an established concept, even if the exact wording don’t match their expectations; we can’t just ignore the existing literature on the idea even if we don’t like the name of the idea. Or we can argue that “life balance” means even less: life in balance with what? A well balanced life in terms of what aspects? Like, how much walking we do instead of driving? Of watching TV instead of reading? We need to name the things we’re going to be looking at. Or are they going to just hand-wave it and claim, “everything?” In which case, the concept seems pretty meaningless. If we’re going to talk about how much time we spend away from the family and our relations, if we’re going to talk about the hours we spend at the office, if we’re going to talk about burnout, then let’s call a spade a spade. We’re talking about work.

– Alex 2020-08-31 10:21 UTC

Your post has reminded me to create my own! I’d love to see other geminauts report their summers too.

– Timur 2020-08-31 18:52 UTC

The Cure remains one of the best bands. 😄

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-01 12:00 UTC

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2020-07-28 What to do if I die?

I’m trying to write a document for my wife describing all the IT stuff I run so that she knows what to do or who to contact in case I can’t do it any more. My problem is that I don’t have any friends interested in these things. Nobody knows Perl around here. The two people that do live in Estonia and Canada and they don’t share my hobbies.

What is going to happen to a site like Sure, my wife can keep them up for a while. But she’s not going to turn into a system admin? All these wikis and apps. Somebody should be running this stuff. How does one find people willing to take over? Damn. I should organise better.

How does one archive these things for the future? The problem is that people can export their data but most of them will not, I’m sure. Upload to the Web Archive? Upload to Git Hub? Both? Other stuff? Are there other archives interested in this kind of thing? I mean, in a way I feel it is part of our collective history and how is that going to work, aren’t the national archives interested in keeping copies of all these things? They usually want copies of all the printed books… but websites? Apps? I think this necessarily must change – unless the apocalypse catches up, first.

Makes me think about resilience to capitalism and the apocalypse, both. I recently read the following by @yaaps, in an unrelated thread:

You’re an artisan. Occupying niches too small for economies of scale is how this precapitalist pattern survives and how it spawns new businesses under capitalism. It relies on a certain amount of privilege in that you need free time, skills, and personal/professional connections to succeed. in addition, the artisan is vulnerable to their own success. Replacing artisans with commodity labor is how capitalism grows

To scale up while maintaining autonomy, you need to establish a worker’s collective. That provides a model to distribute income for skilled labor, as needed, without selling equity.

Yeah. I reminded me of the fact that in order to get anything done, we need to organize. I should create an association according to Swiss law to run my sites and find people interested in keeping this stuff up. And then these people can continue after I’m gone? Let me know if you’re interested and we can write some bylaws together! It’s not hard, there are templates.


Comments on 2020-07-28 What to do if I die?

An interesting idea: some sort of Sysop Buddy System.

– Alex Schroeder

That’s a tricky one. So far, things I’ve done include making sure my sites are easy to crawl and/or re-host (mainly by making them static for the most part), and making sure trusted friends have admin rights on social media groups I manage. Not sure what to do about my domain names, since I don’t have anyone who’s both trusted enough and technical enough. Your solution is interesting.

Felix 2020-07-29 15:32 UTC

Reply by Cos.

I’ve also been part of an association offering hosting … many of our members have much less interest in helping to keep it going than they once did. A few faithful plug away, but each year things feel a little more grim.

Yes, that’s what I fear. In the past, I used Eggplant Farms. Super nice one-person operation. They used to be more than one but then it all shrank down to just one, sadly. We’d have to prepare for that, too.

I think bank accounts and passwords are ok. Gotta check those instructions again, though. And perhaps find a better way to access my passwords other than using Emacs...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-07-30 05:56 UTC

I can gladly take over your websites and manage them in the way how you wish it. You would need only to pay your domains and hosting for the number of years you wish and need. Since 20 years I am managing servers.

– Anonymous 2020-10-18 16:49 UTC

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2020-07-18 The meaning of life

There has been an interesting discussion about the meaning of life in Geminispace. It all started with acdw’s post, two days ago: “I’m having a hard time finding meaning in my life of late. I want to make money but I really don’t want to do a job all day. Like, any job.” Yesterday, maleza wrote a reply and said, “Today I can only find meaning into feeding kefir, baking sour dough bread, taking care of crops, hugging my family…”

I talked it over with my wife over breakfast on our balcony, with some self-made bread, the sun shining, a cool breeze, bees and bumblebees visiting the flowers in our pots, drinking some white tea. Such a beautiful day.

An important of this is part time work. After two years of work, I was ready to quit. But then I got the opportunity to teach for two winter semesters for one day per week and during the summer semesters I took Fridays off. When I left the position, I decided to stay at 80%. A few years later, when the company said they wouldn’t give me a raise but was there anything else they could do for me, I said I wanted to work less. I try to take all this unpaid time and my holidays in a big block in summer. A seventeen week summer break, and a few days around the holiday season.

It costs thousands of dollars in lost opportunity costs, in the capitalist mindset, but fuck that shit. You can’t take money to the next life, and your kids aren’t going to love you more when you’re dead and left them more money. Then again, I have no kids, so what do I know.

One the whole, this arrangement has been very good for me. It also leads to a big yearly mood and activity cycle, though. We already have the cycle of seasons: eight hours of sunlight in winter vs. 16 hours of sunlight in summer, warm with temperatures between 20°C and 30°C in summer and temperatures around 0°C in winter, endless grey skies and rain in autumn, glaring sunlight in spring. And now my work cycle goes along with that.

In winter I feel down, stretched thin, trampled over by Moloch and Mammon. In spring I start to take notes, start making plans. In summer, holidays begin and I fall into a hole, what am I going to do? After one or two weeks, my soul starts to blossom, unfold its leaves, make contact with the sun, drink from the fountain of life, I want to make music, paint, code, do all the things. In autumn, the sky darkens and the shadow of work comes back. Time to shrink, to fit into that box, to live in those precious hours around dinner. And so it goes.

Sure, work can be fun. I laugh and joke, I work, drink coffee, have lunch, do meetings, write code, I like my coworkers, I usually like our clients. I want to help them all, I love it when plans come together. I also hate it when I feel that we’re being treated unfairly, I hate the open plan offices and the lousy excuses we’re being offered, the need for headphones. I hate all the unfairness about salaries, dividends, unpaid overtime, even if I feel I’m doing fine. I think the problem is that it doesn’t feel real. It’s an elaborate game I need to play. I wear my mask, I play that role, and it sucks my energy. I get home and I’m tired.

I try to walk to work and back. It takes me about forty minutes. That’s because I appreciate the opportunity to slowly change into and back out of my role. I used to joke that my soul travels about as fast as I can walk. If I take the train or the tram, I come home and need half an hour of quiet time on the sofa to change. Work is draining.

I love programming as a hobby but not my job. I do my job for the money and managed to find a niche where I can work part time, but we also live in a small flat, we have no house, we have no kids, we have no car. And yet, all time off also allows me to still pursue programming as a hobby. I hardly know anybody at the office programming in their time off. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m the only one at work enthusiastic about programming to actually do it for the love of it. And yet, this is the game: the expectation is that we all tell each other how we love the job. It’s true, I’m not quitting. I like my coworkers and my clients. But I do it for the money. Without the money, I wouldn’t be doing it. Isn’t that proof enough? If we do it for the money, then it’s not love.

So, coming back to the question of meaning. I think it should be obvious by now that the meaning of life cannot be found in the work we do. I suspect that even if you’re working for doctors without borders, you think your life has meaning, and you do the thing, but you’re also haunted by the terror of life on earth, the injustice of it all, the randomness of fate, the never ending charnel house of the reality we’ve created for ourselves, humans all.

What is it, then? Does the question have an answer? I say it does not. But you’re a human, and humans are equipped with a body optimised for a monkey life, and therefore the things we enjoy are the things our monkey nature enjoys, and we can lose ourselves in life. When we do, the question has no meaning. Who cares if it has meaning if you’re in the flow? Yeah, this is where all the words turn out to say the same thing maleza said in the pithy words quoted in the first paragraph. To live your life making food, growing food, with friends and family, making and building things, talking and laughing, playing and looking, seeing other humans, seeing the world, the mountains and flowers, the forest, the ground, to simply focus on our senses, the smells, the sights. This is why I love to run in the forests and mountains.

In a way, it’s that endless texture of life that captivates me. The world of forests and branches and leaves and light falling through and dancing on the floor, needles, mushrooms, pebbles, grass, flowers, bushes, the wind in our face, the air we breathe, our partners, if you’re in the flow it is intoxicating and the question of meaning simply disappears. It has been answered by the life you live, not by the words you say.

Oh well, I guess I’ve been writing about this for a long time.


Comments on 2020-07-18 The meaning of life

I’m at a point where I’m considering going to my supervisors and asking for every other Friday off (via webmention)

@takeonrules 2020-07-24 00:05 UTC

Due to the webmention spam (which you can still see by visiting “View other revisions”, possibly followed by “View all changes” if you’re reading this many weeks later), I’ve banned all links.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-07-24 10:22 UTC

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2020-07-06 Five Questions

@cosullivan is trying to bring some interactivity to Gemini-space and has asked “five questions” in her gem-space in June, and five more in July.

This post attempts to answer the earlier questions from June. I’m late! I’m late.

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is drive with my window rolled down and the music turned up. What is on your summertime playlist?

I have an old iPod Classic hooked up to a loudspeaker in the kitchen. I loaded it with a few dozen GB of music and that’s it. I hardly listen to new music anymore. These last few days I’ve been listening to Evanescence. It’s some sort of soft metal: emotional and not raging. Most of the lyrics are about failed relationships, guilt, care, loss. I’m a melancholy person and I have to take care: must not approach the abyss. I hardly ever listen to The Sisters of Mercy, God Speed! You Black Emperor, or The Cure anymore. If I do I’ll wallow in misery for a day. And thus, Evanescence it is.

Other bands I’ve listened to in the recent past: The Gaslight Anthem. Bruce Springsteen.

I recently moved back to the area where I grew up. Tell me about where you grew up - has it changed? If you left, what would induce you to return? If you’ve always lived there, what would induce you to leave?

Many years I lived in Kleindöttingen – a small village across the river from Döttingen. “Klein” means small. It’s the smaller sibling of an uninteresting town. The newer parts of the village are big apartment blocks. We lived on the fifth floor of a seven floor building. Stepping out of the elevator, our entrance was to the right. That’s how I learned to tell left from right. My stepmother still lives in the flat. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. Too provincial without being rural. There’s an old power plant in that river, resulting in a lake that’s famous among ornithologists. Who knows. I do like birds.

What tree is your favourite and why?

Larches make me think of hiking in the mountains. When I was younger I liked willows, maybe because the intro sequence for Ultimate IV involved a weeping willow. That extra “weeping” struck a chord in me. Later, when I lived closer to the sea and learned to love the smell of it, and the cries of seagulls, the roaring and crashing of waves on rocks, when I read about the elves

What were you afraid of as a child? Are you still afraid or did you “grow” out of it?

I have always been afraid of dark rooms, dark cellar passages (in Switzerland these used all to be bomb shelters with subdivisions for all the tenants made of a wooden grate), because I kept imagining shadows growing, vampires emerging – and I still have remnants of that. These days I know I have to control my imagination, talking to my inner child about the task at hand; but sometimes I sit on the toilet late at night, in the semi-dark such as not to wake myself up and suddenly I’m imagining cockroaches or spiders on the wall or under the toilet seat and that old sense of dread comes back. When I switch the light on, will I see a dead person hanging from the ceiling? I don’t know where these images come from and I can keep them at bay, but the seeds of panic are still there.

Who are some poets that you enjoy? What is it about them that speaks to you?

I like Georg Trakl’s wild melancholy sadness. I found some English translations in this PDF: Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl, translated and chosen by James Wright and Robert Bly.


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2020-06-20 Glasses

I’ve been using reading glasses for a few years, now. I think I bought them in 2016. I used to read a lot. Then I started disliking it. It must have taken me a year or two before I realised what was happening. I was getting a headache! The glasses took some getting used to, but so far so good.

Sadly, the age-related deterioration of my eye sight kept picking up speed and when I started doing home office this year, began to sit in front of a small laptop screen for hours instead of hooking it up to a large monitor that is more than an arm’s length away from my eyes, I had to put on my reading glasses while sitting at the laptop, too.

Over the weeks, I started to get more headaches, though. Headaches when I got up and walked around. Headaches when I tried to do the dishes or cook. Sometimes the reading glasses just didn’t seem to help. I decided to see an ophthalmologist, an eye specialist. They suggested “working glasses”. Depending on the angle, a different distance is in focus. So if you look up, it’s up to 1½m, and if you look down, it’s closer, better for reading.

I agreed to that and went to an optician, ordered those glasses. They’re about as expensive as an iPhone, or a good laptop – a bit more than CHF 1000! My father in law tells me that his glasses are even more expensive. That was a surprise.

A week later I got my glasses. And I’m not sure I like them. I was told that physics prevents the glasses from working when I look sideways. No problem, I thought. The example offered was me reading notes and then looking to the left or right at a presentation. I get it. But what I didn’t expect was that I have to move my head from left to right and back as I read on the laptop screen. The screen is close; close enough for the line width to prevent the glasses from working.

So now my head moves a little left and right, a little up and down, as I try to get the letters in to focus. My head still hurts. I feel like my body is failing me.

I’m reminded of an article I wrote back in 2018, To the Young Ones. I feel like this is a continuation.

I did not understand. I was chuckling as older coworkers kept putting on their glasses and taking them off again. I smiled as older people couldn’t read the menu at the restaurant because they had left their reading glasses at home. I thought people looked silly as they looked over the rim of their glasses.

Old age, here I come. 🖕


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