Life

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

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_aFHrzSBrM

– bnrl 2021-03-29 21:10 UTC

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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

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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. ❤️

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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.

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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.

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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


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

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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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