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Ich rebelliere auch gleich

Nachdem die Ek-ek erfahren haben, dass der Rest ihres Imperiums gefallen ist, haben sie sich im fünften Buch entschieden, sich auf Akkar fortzupflanzen und eine eigene Gesellschaft aufzubauen. Nun hat sich unter ihnen allerdings eine Fraktion gebildet, die sich auf dem Planeten breit machen und die ansässigen Akkari unterjochen will. Und als wäre das nicht genug, versucht nun auch der Scareman mit ihnen Kontakt aufzunehmen.

Obwohl das Gerüst des Plot hier ein wenig anders ist, als die Form, der ich durch die ersten Bücher bereits lang überdrüssig bin, so handelt es sich dennoch um ein recht banales Abenteuer. An die Unterhaltung des vierten Buches kommt es nicht ran, da es schlichtweg schlechter geschrieben ist. Die Action ist wenig mitreißend und visuelle Beschreibungen sind öde. Das Lektorat scheint hier auch ein wenig geschwächelt zu haben. Einige Worte waren zu viel, die Koordinatorin wird einmal fälschlicherweise “Kommandantin” genannt und ein paar Satzzeichen haben sich verirrt.

Immerhin wird der Plot der Reihe etwas voran getrieben und wir befinden uns am Ende des Buches wo anders, als zu Beginn.

 
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from OptionalBooks

Meine blutige Erkenntnis ist, dass jegliche Hoffnung für diese Bücher vergebens war

Ein verborgener Ort, an dem Akkari Wissen sammeln. Und der Scareman muss dem ein Ende bereiten. Kennen wir das nicht schon? Ach ja, jeweils aus Band 1 bis 4. Immerhin ist das Ende ein anderes, denn der Scareman erfährt, dass die Menschheit derweil ausgelöscht wurde und er nun von seiner Dienstpflicht befreit ist—ups, Spoiler!

Nach der Abwechslung in Band 5 sind wir also wieder bei alt bekanntem angekommen. Altlasten, wie uninspirierte Szenen, grässliche Darstellung von Frauenrollen, und banal langweilige Formulierungen (“Es war nicht einfach nur kalt. Es war ... mörderisch.”) begleiten uns noch stets.

Neue Höhen erreicht die Unfähigkeit unserer Hauptfigur. An einer Stelle wird er von einem Akkari konfrontiert, der die Puzzleteile zusammengefügt hat: Wieso taucht immer wieder dieser gleiche Charakter auf, tötet ein paar Akkari, die an etwas forschten, und haut dann wieder ab? Der Scareman ist von diesem Verdacht so überrascht, dass er mehrfach sein Pokerface verliert. Und wir Leser*innen fragen uns doch auch schon die ganze Zeit, warum er nix schlaueres tut! Natürlich kann die Dramaturgie verlangen, dass der Protagonist scheitert, doch dass sollte die Autor*in nicht dadurch provozieren, indem sie*er die Intelligenz des Protagonisten auf ein Minimum zu reduziert—über mehrere Bücher hinweg!

Zuletzt möchte ich noch ein Thema ansprechen, welches schon seit Beginn der Reihe latent mitschwingt: Eine Obsession mit autoritären politischen Systemen. Dafür, dass wir solche Systeme bei den frühen Zivilisationen auf Akkar, sowie bei den Widersachern, den Ek-ek, antreffen, lassen sich gute Gründe finden. Doch dass auch das menschliche (bzw. “terrane”) Imperium in den, zugegeben limitierten Einblicken, militaristisch Autoritär scheint, lässt stutzen. Und wenn der Scareman, befreit vom kolonialistischen Auftrag, die Akkari am Fortschritt zu hindern, nun verkündet jeden einzelnen in ein Aufklärungsprojekt zu zwingen—ups, Spoiler!—dann wird mir doch wieder mulmig. Noch folgte seiner Ansage, die noch einigermaßen offen für Interpretation ist, kein Handeln. Doch auf Basis der vorhergehenden Bände bin ich nicht zuversichtlich.

 
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from OptionalBooks

Nice brain snack—as in a snack for the brain

Published at the peak of the Zombie's popularity in Western Cutlture1, this academic work analyses how the symbol of the Zombie represents a Crisis of Western Culture. While previous works have taken the Zombie to represent consumerism, environmental forces, or simply death, this work proposes a—how it claims—more holistic interpretation: The Zombie as the embodiment of the “Meaning Crisis”.

The book starts out by laying out the characteristics of zombies, their attributes and behaviours. It then moves on to describe the concept of “domicide”—the destruction of a living environment—using two examples. Then the Meaning Crisis is described as a domicide of our Western (Christianity informed) worldview. In a very short passage at the end these concepts are tied together and we're thrown into the Bibliography.

As a casual reader, I was a bit disappointed to find the Zombies to be more of a hook, then a consistent throughline. The work is structured such that the direct references to Zombies are heavily frontloaded, while later chapters barely make mention of them. For an academic text it is still engaging and interesting, even to a non-academic reader, but it could have been even more so.

For the low price of “free” it is definitely worth a look.

Footnotes

[1] Refer Google Ngram Viewer.

 
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from Optional

A friend asked me about how I manage personal projects. Stuff like learning skills and building small apps. I don't have all the answers. But I did start out struggling with this a lot and have since reached a point where I do have more peace of mind and am happier with how I'm managing my efforts. To get a better picture of what kinds of project I'm talking about here, I'll describe the life cycle of an archetypal successful project. Successful, because it actually reaches the end. A failed project may fail at any one step along the way.

  1. Some form of inspiration or motivation strikes!
  2. You gather the prerequisites for the projects. This may be tools, material and/or resources, either for the aim of the project itself, or for the process of the project.
  3. You formulate a plan, define a process, or just start and establish the plan and process while executing them.
  4. You accomplish a result. This may mark the end of the project, or it is just one milestone, or one of many results that you hope to achieve as part of this project.

Anything missing? Sure, some people will quote me some stuff like “But projects that don't have goals are just hobbies!” and “If your project doesn't have a deadlines that means it's okay to never do it!“. But no time to think about that now! Let's just ignore that and dive right in!

Inspiration And Motivation

There's two kinds of inspiration: You can be inspired by something or inspired to do something. I'll just call the latter motivation and the former inspiration. Inspiration and motivation are often the very first things that start us off on our projects. So we have to know how to effectively work with these two kinds of sparks.

Inspiration

Being inspired (by something) means we found something that resonates with us deeply. Maybe it is a piece of art that has made us feel a way that we want to make others feel with our own art. Maybe we encounter a problem that we feel well situated to tackle. But without also being motivated (to act) we can't do much with this inspiration.

As such it is best to collect these sources of inspiration for when we need them. Capturing them should serve us two functions: Providing peace, and providing future inspiration.

Because stumbling upon inspiration often coincides with some burst of emotion we need to deal with this emotion. Of course, if it's a big emotion—like us breaking down crying at the cinema—then we first finish that in a way that's healthy to us. But the remaining little excitement that's got us itching in our fingertips to do something should be quieted for now. Otherwise we just jump from one thing to the next.

The second goal, “providing future inspiration,” just means that this filing away should be done in a manner as to possibly resurface the inspiration later. At a future time—maybe one where we are motivated without inspiration, we can look at our personal little archive of inspiration and find just the thing to work on.

Okay, but “HOW do you capture your inspiration?” I hear you scream. Well, just do what works for you. Maybe you like a physical journal where you write with fancy and colourful gel pens. Maybe you like to dump everything into some notes app. Or you are often inspired by visuals and photograph them all so they show up in your phone's gallery. I have some special formatting with which I place these things into my Obsidian vault.

If you already have some place where you save your favorite quotes, images and film snippets you might think that you're done here. But I want you to take a moment and think whether this place of yours truly serves both purposes I defined above. It probably does provide peace of mind, but does it also resurface old inspiration?

Inspiration is such a quirky little thing that you don't need an advanced database and tagging system to always be able to retrieve some exact piece from years ago. Serendipity is often enough. It can even lead to interesting crossover when two seemingly disconnected pieces collide. If you collect a lot of stuff as digital pictures, you might think about getting one of those digital picture frames and having your inspirations be shuffled on there. If you write in a journal, you could think about getting a 5 lines journal where you are reminded of what you wrote exactly one, two, (..), and five years ago. Even without wanting to work on projects it is enriching to shape your environment in a way that continuously inspires you.

Motivation

Motivation often coincides with inspiration. When inspiration makes us dream of a goal we want to achieve, we often also feel an impulse to start working on that goal. But motivation will almost certainly run out somewhere along the way. Especially if the goal is big and far away motivation can be at its cruellest: We invest a lot of energy into the foundation of this amazing big thing and after a couple of weeks when motivation runs out we realize that we haven't achieved anything at all. This isn't even a milestone worth preserving because in all our lifetime we will never be able to complete this project and reach the goal that so inspired and motivated us.

What are we to do then? The r/GetMotivated subreddit has a rival subreddit called r/GetDisciplined. Is the answer to not count on motivation (meaning to want to put in the effort), but instead to place our bets on discipline (meaning to force ourselves to put in the effort)? Wait a minute—”forcing ourselves” sounds pretty bad here. I thought we wanted to have some fun working on our personal projects!

Well, you might say, maybe I just worded it badly. You might point out that we can just say that disciplining ourselves is about using some tricks of psychology to get ourselves to do what we actually already want to do. Our long-term-planning part of the brain has picked out a goal and now we have to dangle a carrot in front of our short-term-gratification part of the brain to get it to comply. And maybe also use a bit of the stick. Some delayed gratification, some pomodoros, building a couple habits, etc.

Hm, that does indeed sound a bit nicer. But to be quite honest with you, it's not for me. Instead, I try to bring these two parts of my brain into better alignment. And I can tell you, when your short-term-gratification part of the brain simply wants to work on a project, it's amazing. To get there we run a two-pronged attack: On one side we try to remove bad motivation and on the other we try to transform bad motivation into good motivation.

Deleting your social media should give you back about 2 hours per day which your brain will want to use to do some stuff. Spend that time cutting your short film. Deleting Netflix from your phone could free up some time that you can spend sketching out your next airbrush piece. But I want to make one thing crystal clear:

I am not advocating to replace your favorite downtime activities with hustle. Instead, I want you to do a fun activity you like instead of a convenient activity you don't actually like.

If your “relaxing activity” after a tough day at work is 3 hours of tv, it isn't actually a relaxing activity. It's convenient to get into, but it is obviously not recharging you. Instead, if the work you need to recover from was predominantly mentally straining, you might try some physical activity like going for a walk, or even yoga or a workout session. Or just sitting on a bench peoplewatching. After 30 to 90 minutes of that you might be surprised how energized you find yourself again, ready to finish constructing that crossword puzzle of yours.

This all was on the topic of removing bad motivation (or, more accurately, bad habits). On the topic of turning bad motivation into good motivation I will say this: If there's some things that you just like too much for you to quit, then turn these into productive activities. If you just can't quit listening to podcasts then find a way to do something with that. I love movies, so I take every film as an opportunity to look for interesting plot or character ideas that I can recycle in my own storytelling.

Again, don't turn your fun hobbies into stressful obligations for your projects. Even after adding your ulterior motive to your activity it should remain fun and enriching. If your approach to broaden the gain from your activity stresses you out, immediately drop that approach.

Okay, that's all on the topic of motivation, I think. What's with that look on your face? You don't seem convinced yet. Oh, you think I haven't given you all the tools to motivate yourself to follow through with learning a new language? All I did was say that motivation is fleeting and discipline is some productivity-cult mumbo-jumbo?

Look, I don't have the answer on how to always make that short-term-gratification part of your brain roll over and get with it. But I have found that through connecting with that part of myself and being okay with the conflict between that part and the long-term-planning part I have become much more at peace. And in the end I still do stuff and finish projects. Without ever forcing myself, just by wanting and then doing.

That's all, okay? I know you want more, and you want it now. Connect with that part of yourself. Explore it and make peace with it. Not by giving it what it wants, but by accepting that while it would be nice, it won't happen. And I do promise to make a couple more references to motivation in the next sections as well, okay? Okay.

Prerequisites

As explained in the introduction, I define prerequisites as the tools and materials that you (can) collect at the beginning of your project. They might be necessary for the finished project (like the bottle for your bottle terrarium) or they just might be the explanation based on which you work on your project (like the python guide helping you script a Mastodon bot that posts the “Thursday. What a concept.” still).

Sometimes, coming across these resources is the first step in a project. They are the thing that first inspires you to do that project. Sometimes you come across a resource that, even though you don't want to do that project, is so good that you have to save it somewhere. Just like with inspiration before, do it! Save it. Again, in a way that gives you peace of mind, but also in a way that will help in future.

With resources, this second requirement (resurfacing) looks a little different though. For an inspiration it's okay to resurface somewhat randomly. A resource on the other hand needs to resurface exactly when you need it. This could mean placing these resources where you are likely to look when beginning work on a project related to them. Like placing crafting materials on your workbench. Or placing links to the software libraries you want to use for a project in that project's readme file.

It could instead (or additionally) mean to file the resources away in such a manner that you will be able to find them again when you need them. Some people manage to place color-coded book tabs in every book they read. Others have a bunch of binders where they collect articles on topics. Online you can, of course, bookmark things you come across. Or throw them into Pocket, Wallabag, Readwise, and tag them. Everyone is different and will find a different way to do it.

There are four things to watch out for here: Over-collecting (broadly and narrowly), over-organizing, and losing things.

With “over-collecting broadly” I'm referring to the practice of saving everything that “might be useful someday.” Spend some time listening inward. Yes, that's a great guide on how to do a hammer-on, but you don't own a guitar and never have. Do you really need to save this for a “later” that we both know will never come?

“Over-collecting narrowly” is the same thing, but this time you do own a guitar. And you already have 153 bookmarks of cool sites to practice and you found 14 books with guitar tabs on a flea market. And you just DuckDuckWent “top 50 guides to learn the guitar”. If this is all hitting close to home, let me assure you that I'm not saying this to bully you. I've done this myself. A lot. But at some point it's enough. At some point you have to actually read one of those articles, you have to pick up your guitar and follow along with a tutorial. Or you have to give up the dream of playing guitar and make “putting together a collection of resources on guitar playing” your project.

“Over-organizing” and “losing things” are obviously two opposite ends of a spectrum. If you throw all resources you come across into one big heap, you will lose things. If you spend time tagging everything to hell and filing it into folders and emailing them to yourself scheduled with spaced repetition to memorize the existence of the resource, you are again becoming an archivist instead of somebody actually doing the thing.

Finding the right balance of how much to annotate the resources you find is a skill learned with practice. And part of that practice requires you to retrieve your filed-away resources, which you can only do when you have stopped over-collecting and started actually working on your projects. It's tough the first couple of times, but it will become a virtuous cycle: The better this system works, the more fun it is to use, the better it works.

As I've never personally experienced “under-collecting” or not being able to find at least some satisfactory resources for my needs I can't talk to that and will just move on.

Plan and Process

We have some idea of what we want to do. We have all the stuff that we need to do it. And we hopefully have some motivation to follow through. But how do we do it? That's where our plan and process come in.

The plan is an overview of the steps that need to be taken to reach our goal. Or maybe it's just a sketch of the goal. I'm not being too precise here.

The process, on the other hand, is the way we approach the project. It's the way we make time for it, the way we work through our plan and the way we distribute our efforts.

Plan

What a plan should look like is really dependent on the project. More complicated or complex projects should probably have some documented plan, even just to prevent you from starting from scratch every time. Projects that will probably take a long time should also have some documentation. For example, if you were trying to watch every Best Picture winning film it'd probably be helpful to keep track of what you already own and what you've already seen to make it easier to continue after a break. On the other hand, when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle it's probably keeping enough track of itself.

A thing to watch out for, is to not lose yourself in the planning. Certain kinds of people (e.g. me) can easily get lost in thinking high-level and just sketching out every corner of an idea without ever actually taking a step to implement that idea. In these cases it might be helpful to remind yourself that Design is Iteration and maybe you should just build an imperfect first version. Or try to create some kind of prototype (which is just a fancy word for what I just said).

“Sure!”, I hear you say, “But this advice can't be applied to my particular project! I'm doing something without a tangible result, something which can't prototyped. Something like learning a new skill.” First of all, I'd ask you what exactly it is that you are planning then and why you haven't started yet.

I suspect that the thing you are planning is the way you will go about your project. You might be scheduling practice sessions, planning out which courses to start with and what material to read when. In that case I'd advise you to prototype your plan. Try a week with your schedule and see how that fits. Read the first articles in that series and see if they are fit for your level. Stop procrastaplanning!

Process

Much more important than planning, in my eyes, is the process. A process can be planned and thought about, but, again, you should be enacting and living it.

What works for me is something you probably have already gathered from the section on motivation: I don't force myself to do anything. Even though it's common to have a regular release schedule for podcasts and blogs, I don't adhere to one with my own writing or podcast.

Is that hurting my reach? Could I gain more readers and listeners if I had a regular schedule? Could I even turn this into a side hustle and make some money? Yeah, maybe. But this is my personal side project. Not my job. Not my hustle. This should be fun, not “growing KPI”, “delivering value” or “satisfying stakeholders”.

I do try to make my process easy. I have templates for common tasks and have a cheat sheet for deploying new web-apps. I also don't sweat it when I don't finish something. Even before I started working on my Lines and Veils app I've had a feature in mind that'd be cool to have. And now, almost two years later I still haven't added it. Does that mean I will never add it? No, actually. I often go back to some of my older stuff and just keep tinkering with it. Should I have waited with publishing the app because it's not feature complete? That's a “no” as well. I've been able to get great use out of what is there already. I've also gotten feedback from other people that enjoyed using it. And every time I use it I am reminded of the feature I'd like to add. And every time my motivation builds. All until one day, when I will finally add it. No need to rush.

Keeping work on my projects optional has greatly reduced the stress I used to feel around them. Making it super easy to dip in and out of projects at all different stages of completion means that even when I am stuck at (or just sick of) one thing I can move on to another. And that other thing is still some cool project of mine that I want to work on. And with time, that leads to results.

Result and Milestone

Much of what could be said here, I have already mentioned in previous sections. I'll just quickly reiterate those points, before moving on to one last new one.

Setting too big a goal will lead to quickly running out of motivation. Desired results should thus be set small. If you still want to dream big, you can instead set a small milestone goal while still telling yourself that you will one day reach that big and lofty dream goal of yours.

In general, it is helpful to have milestones or intermediate results, as this helps with motivation and planning (“Design is Iteration”). It also helps with process, because returning after a break is easier when you can just build on some existing result, rather than finding your way back into the middle of a mess.

Lastly, if you love working on a project, you might just set new goals and achieve results that you didn't even set or expect at the beginning. You might start by writing a couple of short stories and find yourself with a whole anthology eBook on your hands at the end! And then you toy with the idea of also turning that into an audiobook. And you never actually started with that, but the idea keeps returning to you and you just know that you will do that one day. And it won't be a thing you planned, nor a thing you forced yourself to do. It will just be the thing you wanted to do so bad that you just couldn't not do it.

 
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from OptionalBooks

Das Ende des langweiligen Plots?

Die Ek-ek haben ein Problem: Der Drogencocktail, der aus der Koordinatorin einen Koordinator gemacht hat ist aufgebraucht und ihr Körper verwandelt sich zurück. Außerdem bringt eine gestrandete Sonde schlechte Neuigkeiten über den Verlauf des intergalaktischen Krieges.

Mit diesem Plot bietet dieser fünfte Teil ein wenig Abwechslung gegenüber den doch eher gleichförmigen Strängen der ersten vier Bänden. Doch auch im Detail ist hier einiges anders—und das zum größten Teil auf positive Art!

Die Ek-ek sind froschähnliche Wesen, die im Konflikt mit den Menschen stehen. Und es wird nicht nur behauptet, dass sie Fröschen ähnlich sind: Wir erleben es tatsächlich! Ihr biologischer Rhythmus ist anders, ihr Fortpflanzungszyklus ist kürzer und sie bekommen mehr Kinder pro Weibchen. Und das alles beeinflusst tatsächlich auch ihre Gesellschaftsordnung. Damit ist es in diesem Buch tatsächlich mal interessant, darüber zu lesen, wie sie miteinander interagieren und Konflikte austragen.

Wie eingangs erwähnt haben wir hier auch einen Charakter (die Koordinatorin der Ek-ek), die ihr biologisches Geschlecht durch konstante Drogenzufuhr von Geburt an vom weiblichen zum männlichen verändert bekommen hat. Nun lassen die Drogen nach und sie muss sich mit ihrer Geschlechtsidentität auseinandersetzen und einfinden. Dieser Handlungsstrang verlief nachvollziehbar und einfühlsam. Das kam als große Überraschung, wo der Autor in den vorhergehenden Büchern doch große Probleme damit hatte, weibliche Charaktere zu portraitieren.

Allzu sehr möchte ich dieses Buch aber dennoch nicht loben. Die Ek-ek sind, trotz einiger interessanter Aspekte, eine Karikatur eines autoritären Imperiums. Daran Kritik zu üben und sich darüber lustig zu machen ist zwar richtig und auch unterhaltsam, aber es ist für die aufgeklärte Leser*in auch nicht sonderlich spannend—vor allem nicht, wie es hier passiert. Ja, wir können darüber lachen, wie die Ek-ek auf offensichtliche Propaganda reinfallen, wie sie blinden Gehorsam leisten und einen religiös-fanatischen Glauben an ihre Rasse haben. Aber damit treiben wir uns lediglich unser eigenes kritisches Denken und unsere eigene Wachsamkeit bezüglich Indoktrination aus.

Zuletzt sei noch angemerkt: Ob in den ersten Kapiteln eines Buches, oder wie hier in den ersten Büchern einer Reihe, so ist der Anfang eher einfach. Das Einführen einer Prämisse, das Steigern der Fallhöhe, die Verkomplizierung der Situation durch neue Akteure und Interessen: Das alles sind Versprechungen, die die Leser*in träumen und hoffen lassen. Wir malen uns die besten Versionen des Fortgangs aus und wünschen uns, dass selbst diese übertroffen werden. Das dann tatsächlich zu schaffen, ist natürlich Zeichen einer guten Autor*in. Wir müssen uns wohl noch etwas gedulden, um darüber abschließend urteilen zu können.

 
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from OptionalBooks

Gutes vom Fließband

Ein Anhänger einer geheimen Gilde wird auf eine Schule aufmerksam, die Kinder mit Behinderung beherbergt. Sofort alarmiert er seinen Vorgesetzten—den Scareman. Doch so einfach wird es nicht sein, den Unterricht zu beenden.

Ja, es ist ein einigermaßen pulpiges Abenteuer. Doch, anders als die ersten drei Bände der Reihe, ist es endlich mal ein bisschen unterhaltsam. Ein Grund dafür, ist dass die Ereignisse des Plots nicht komplett langweilig und vorhersehbar sind.

Der Scareman wird hier in Situationen gebracht, die ihn imminent bedrohen. Anfangs folgen wir sogar einem anderen Charakter, der eben nicht der Protagonist unserer Reihe ist. Seine Zukunft steht also tatsächlich ganz offen und wir sind gespannt auf sein Schicksal.

Überhaupt endlich mal Mitverschwörer des Scareman zu erleben trägt den übergreifenden Plot der Reihe doch endlich mal einen Schritt nach vorn. Ebenso, wie wir auch neue Entwicklungen in den Plänen der Widersacher, der Ek-ek, erleben.

Zuletzt habe ich noch positiv hervorzuheben, dass es in diesem Teil mehrere weibliche Charaktere gab, die alle normal portraitiert wurden. Vielleicht lag es daran, dass eine andere Autorin diesen Band übernommen hat. Das wird sich ja schnell zeigen, denn der nächste Band ist wieder vom alten Autor verfasst.

Wer meine Reviews zu den vorherigen Bänden nicht gelesen hat, ist bestimmt verwirrt. Die obigen Punkte sollten doch ein Minimum bilden, welches von jeder Geschichte zu erwarten sein kann. Doch das waren sie bisher eben nicht.

Verglichen mit den vorigen Bänden ist dieser hier also ziemlich gut. Mit Abstand betrachtet kommt es über ein nettes Pulp-Abenteuer aber nicht hinaus. Die Altlasten der ersten Bände werden weiter mitgetragen.

Es ist weiterhin enttäuschend, dass die Planetenbewohner*innen zwar “echsenartig” genannt werden, aber doch quasi Menschen sind. “Fortschritt” wird weiterhin eher im Kleinen bedacht. Und anstatt das Militär, den Kolonialismus oder diesen Stellvertreterkrieg zu hinterfragen, traut sich das Buch nur zu fragen “Wie Alt muss ein Lebewesen sein damit es okay ist es für die Mission zu töten?”

Und ich frage mich “Warum lese ich noch weiter?”

 
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from Optional

This is a review in the form of fan fiction. Click here for context.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Ouroboros: I like that on some platforms these videos automatically loop. Because of their density they are highly rewatchable.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Mermaid: When I am caught in a cycle of scrolling through feeds I am delighted to find your videos in between them. On the surface they seem like any other quick and easy-to-consume content, but there's much more going on below. Witch: What do you think of my videos? Genie: I wish there'd be more of them.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Yeti: Objectively, they aren't pretty. The art style is reminiscent of MS Paint, the animation has few frames and some things can be interpreted as “mistakes”, like the mouths of Cerberus staying on screen after they have spoken for the first time in this clip while they got removed here. But it is precisely the fact that your videos exist despite all these “flaws” that they fascinate me. When I watch them I get drawn in, I enjoy them immensely, and I feel connected. This gives me strength to stop focussing on my own flaws and to put myself out there.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Cerberus Head 1: Our attention span isn't that great. Cerberus Head 2: We're a dog after all. Cerberus Head 3: But watching your videos fits well into our day. Cerberus Head 2: They are a real treat. Cerberus Head 1: And they make for good thinking and discussion afterwards. Cerberus Head 3: Very thought provoking.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Frankenstein1: Any creation full of life is a win in my book. I just hope that you continue to invest in it and don't abandon it.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Gargoyle: It's the first media since that Disney show from the mid '90s that's given us Gargoyles such positive representation.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Bigfoot: When I feel lonely out here in the forest I can take out my phone and feel connected again, just by watching them. It's not that I agree with every creature you interview, but the plurality you present is in itself testament to how unique and wonderful we all are.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Nessie: It's tough to watch them as I always have to be really careful not to drop my phone into the water.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? King Kong: I enjoy them. You pick relatable topics and explore them in an entertaining manner. You have improved a lot, and it's only been a couple of months!

Godzilla: King Kong said that? Well I guess it's true. It feels like you have been doing this for longer. This short a time span makes it difficult to extrapolate into the future, but what is here already is great. I have high hopes.

Witch: What do you think of my videos? Death: Some characters or jokes in there are a bit one dimensional, don't you think? For example, I'm always just “the end”.

Footnotes

[1] Commonly called “Frankenstein's Monster”, but as he said himself that's not very nice. Maybe he could accurately be described as “the creature once created by Frankenstein”.

 
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from OptionalFiction

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from Optional

People over on Mastodon are arguing that web search has gotten worse. They are disappointed in Google and DuckDuckGo claiming that “you can't find anything anymore”. And that feels correct, doesn't it? Google in the past year has gotten exponentially worse. Or was it web search in generally that got just gradually worse in the past 10 years? What are we even talking about? I can't find good vegan recipes on the web and someone has to be responsible! Okay, maybe the problem is more complex than the “truth” we immediately felt. Have cars gotten slower in the past 10 years? Feels like it, with all the traffic and speed limits and my driving skills getting better and seeing cars shot into space (I wanna do that!) and other people having faster cars than me, … Okay, so there's lots of factors contributing to us thinking search has gotten worse. Let's look at them individually. I don't have any data for them either, but maybe we can get closer to a truth.

The Search Algorithms

Consider the search algorithm. A search engine is supposed to serve you the most relevant results for your search. Some algorithm takes your search string and goes through the index to serve results.

Google started out 26 years ago1 with PageRank. They are closed source, but they are doing AB-Testing and I would venture the guess that they are not actively worsening the algorithm, favouring random results over relevant ones. I'd say the same of their competitors.

Okay, maybe they are placing not-so-relevant results higher, namely ads and sponsored content. Most search engines make their money through ads. Google does the tracking-kind, DuckDuckGo the non-tracking ones, but in the end they serve you ads and need you to click on them. Placing the ads where they would naturally appear in their “benevolent relevancy rating” doesn't make sense, why would an advertiser pay for that? So they get washed to the top where they aren't as relevant to the user as the first result.

The business of search seems to have gotten worse. With many people using ad blockers ad supported search engines have to get more aggressive in serving ads. Additionally, Google has grown so big that they are unable (or unwilling) to review the ads that are placed leading to malvertising2. So yes, the experience of web search has gotten worse for people without ad blockers in this regard.

Online Content

If search is the application of a search string to a corpus, then worsening the corpus will also decrease the quality of search results. From the early days SEO has led to worse content being produced. The favourite example being these annoying life stories prefacing recipes on the internet. Nobody wants to read them, nobody wants to write them, but Google's algorithm values them so they are there. With LLMs making it easy to generate this kind of content the internet is (not so) slowly being filled with it.

Search has gotten harder as the content is getting bigger in volume and is trying to trick search into showing less relevant results. So even a steady quality of search results would mean that search has gotten better, and if you feel that the quality of results has gotten worse than you'd have to measure it against the quality of all content on the web to arrive at a “pure search quality rating”.

Users

Maybe it's not search, maybe it's you. This last variable has a lot of different sides that could lead to worse results or worse felt results. Firstly, in conjunction with the above it might just feel worse to get a result that you didn't look for. In the early days you'd still get the hand written page of someone trying to make a cool site. That's neat, even if it's not what you were looking for. A wrong click now will serve you viruses and auto-generated word vomit and signs you up to a couple newsletters.

Secondly, if you're complaining about search qualities, you're probably not the type of person Google has been targeting in the past 10 years. You're probably into computers a lot. You might use your PC through a terminal, know how to code, and browse the docs of coding languages for fun. Ten years ago you google things for family members, because their search queries were whole questions that did not even include the keyword they should. To grow Google needed to reach these people instead of proving vim key bindings for you.

Thirdly, our expectations have grown. Social media platforms have shown us is that while we are unique there's still millions of people like us. We enjoy our filter bubbles, but for all the personalization Google does we still get confronted with a world we're not familiar with. When I google “cake recipe”, why does Google show me non-vegan recipes? When I look for “Deadpool review”, why do I get positive ones from Marvel fans?

Lastly, our search skills might have deteriorated. Just like people are crafting the “perfect” prompts for LLMs we used to craft perfect queries using +positive and -negative filters etc. Now we dump typo-riddled half-formed questions into the text field labelled “Search” and expect a brief thought out answer. When you wanted to know the year when Pachelbel's Canon was written you searched “Pachelbel's Canon”, went to the Wikipedia page and skimmed it for the year. Now you vomit into the search bar “When wedding canon written” and expect the result without another click. And the most shocking thing is that you probably get it.

Conclusion

Has search gotten worse? No, probably not. In a bigger sea of (mis-)information more average users can use worse search queries to find answers. “Adele Hello” still gives you the YouTube upload of her song as the first result. The first result for “Brown bear” is still Wikipedia's entry on brown bears and “Facebook.com” still yields facebook.com. Is that good enough for a service that you paid exactly 0,00€ for in the past 26 years? Maybe not. I'm now paying 10€/mo for Kagi, not because search has gotten worse, but because I want better search.

Footnotes

[1] 1997. [2] Probably not entirely their fault as the online scamming business has also grown to incentivise these groups to be more aggressive themselves.

 
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from OptionalFiction

To celebrate a whole month(!) of stories I wanted to write something fun. I don't think it's as good as many other stories, but more than all of them this one was for me. I wanted to cram in as many references as possible into it. I managed a whole lot. And with that the month is over. Thirty stories in thirty days. This project was a huge success in my book. First of all, the mere fact that I stuck with it. It was a huge help that I was able to send my daily stories to friends and immediately get some feedback. Second, I have managed to explore so many styles and genres and brought ideas to the page I'd long been carrying with me, but also came up with a lot of new ideas. Apart from being proud of completing the project I'm also really happy with at least half of the stories contained within. But it wasn't all roses. This project also made November stressful for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the stories I had written and those I still had to write. This has given me much more of a respect for authors, and especially those participating in a proper NaNoWriMo, where the goal is to write 50 thousand words in a month. That's more than double what I managed, even when taking all these journal entries into account! Overall the good definitely outweighs the good by a large margin. In future I want to try my hand at writing again. Because this time was just about putting (virtual) pen to (virtual) paper I have done next to no editing of my pieces. That would be something to explore in a next project. Another thing to try would be to write a longer piece. I found this project incredibly inspiring, enlightening and motivating and I hope that any reader has found something similar.

 
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from OptionalFiction

The whining sound of drills being used on the reinforced door cut through the air. Ike turned it down in the interface of his ear implant. His dad was uploading some mod files to the fabricator which immediately sprung to life and began shaping matter. “Pa, I don't know if we can wait for this fab. The president of Neo-Crete has hired some security personnel from Fenco. They know their stuff.” “Relax,” said Dale seeming either unaware or uncaring of the danger the two were in. Just then the fabricator's completion chime sounded and the cover lifted. It had created a small ring with a gem that shimmered amber red. “Is that a squart gem?” “98% purity,” Dale confirmed, “I had a courier deliver it earlier today.” He put on the ring and tapped it with his index finger. Then he presented it to his son. “It needs your DNA.” Ike tapped it. “Hold onto your mind!” Dale shouted as he turned the ring around his finger. Everything around Ike begins to strobe. Black. White. Black. White. Then it suddenly stops. The world around him still is spinning and he collapses onto all fours and vomits up the sandwiches from earlier. That seemed to help as he now was starting to register the new surroundings. They weren't in his father's lab anymore. He felt a soft ground beneath his hands and knees. They were. . . in some kind of wood? “What. . .?” Ike was confused. Dale was walking around a bit. “I've transferred us to another dimension,” he explained, “we should be safe here. At least from the people from our dimension. I'm not sure what dimension this is, exactly. Oh there's a little bunny with a knapsack. Maybe it can give some information.” Ike watched Dale excitedly jump over some tree stumps and go over to the bunny rabbit. He wiped off his mouth with the back of his hand and tried getting up. The nausea had faded and once he was back on his feet he walked over to his dad. The bunny was already on its way. “What did it say?” “It is a she,” Dale explained, “She said she's called Tabby Longfoot and is exploring this part of the woods herself. She said she saw a hut in that direction with a bear and a pig inside and she said they were doing unspeakable things. And over that way are three women at a tea party that are not saying a word. That all sounds pretty wild to me, want to check out another dimension?” But before Ike could say anything Dale had already turned his ring again. Reality faded, but quickly rebuild itself around them in some new configuration. This time the nausea wasn't so bad as to make Ike throw up again. But it seemed to not go away. The floor underneath his feet seemed to slowly sway side to side. He looked around. It was dark, but the ground was swaying. Ike lifted his audio filters. He heard waves crashing. Were they on a ship? Suddenly, a door opened. The woman in the doorframe dropped a basket of gingerbread cookies and gave a short shriek of surprise, which in turn made Dale and Ike jump as well. “Oh, we've got some stowaways, huh?” she said. Then she turned her head and shouted, “Captain Harriet, first mate Martha, we got some stowaways here!” “You've got it all wrong,” Dale wanted to explain, but was met with a kick to the temple. “Oh, believe me, I've heard it all. And I didn't run away from my carnivorous raptor of a husband to have someone talk back at me.” She turned to Ike. “What about you? You got something to say?” “I'm good,” Ike said. “Good. Wait here,” the woman said and slammed the door. Ike quickly moved over to his father. He grabbed his father's hand and turned the ring. Reality rebuilt itself around them in the shape of a space ship. A female commander was standing in front of Ike. She held an egg in her hand. “Oh, I. . . I was expecting you. Here's the egg you ordered,” and she hesitantly extended her arm towards Ike. “I. . . what? I didn't order an egg.” “Really?” the commander asked with some confusion in her voice. “Aren't you adele_suprFAN78 on Tradr?” Ike bent down to Dale who was slowly coming to. “18k and you can have it. Hey are you listening? It's a good egg.” Ike turned the ring once more.

 
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from OptionalFiction

It's not that the writing itself has gotten more difficult over time. It's just the finding the initial idea. And that has nothing to do with how much I'll end up writing. Ideas that take a while to land on can lead to longer or shorter pieces, just like ideas that instantly come to me can inspire more or less words. This idea is obviously inspired by the Cyberpunk genre, but also the video games Mirror's Edge and a bit of Death Stranding. As it turned out it's also very reminiscent of the excellent film Sorry We Missed You. What really touched me in that film (and what I tried to replicate here) is how much of a trap the gig economy is. Carry-Anne is free to take any job she wants, but she isn't free to take no job. Her body is telling her to stop, but she can't. And the terrible thing is that it looks like she herself is making the choice to carry on (Yes, her name's a pun).

 
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from OptionalFiction

Carry-Anne made her way up the ladder that her implant had highlighted in blue. Her right arm and leg still hurt from an accident earlier today causing her to climb a bit slower than she was usually able to. The timer at the edge of her field of vision didn't care. It still counted with the same relentlessness it always did. When she reached the top of the ladder she had to climb the stairs of the fire escape. She started out with a bit of limp not to burden her right leg too much. It was costing her too much time. She grit her teeth and started sprinting up the stairs. The cold air filled her lungs and began to sting. At least this took some attention away from the pain she felt in her right leg. When she reached the rooftop she followed the blue navigational hints across and over a fence. She slid down a slight incline onto some lower roofs. The counter did not permit her to catch her breath. She sprinted some more. She recognized this route. A wall run would be coming up just ahead. She thought of the grappling hook in her backpack. Beginners used this to help with wall runs. It takes a lot of pressure of the ankles as you don't need such a close angle. Carry-Anne glanced over at the timer. She was already getting late, she really did not have time to pull out her grappling hook. Instead she pulled off her left glove and placed it between her teeth. When she took the ramp and jumped at the wall she bit down on it hard. Her brain entered slow motion. Her left foot made first contact with the wall. This gap needed five steps, though pros could do it with four. She did the next step and the nerves of her right ankle told her nervous system that this had been a terrible idea. A terrible pain flooded her body. Tears shot into her eyes. She bit down even harder onto the glove. Her right hand felt the wall. Her left foot made contact again and preserved her momentum in defiance of gravity. Think of flying. Think of being anywhere else. Another step with the right foot brought her back to the here and now. Brought her back to a world of pain. The foot slipped a bit. That's not good, she thought. The next step with the left foot did some to make up for it, but she landed on the other side without any momentum. The wall run had in total been just above a second, but the real cost was the momentum she had lost. She started sprinting again, ignoring everything her right foot was trying to tell her. I've got to make this in time. She took the glove back out of her mouth and put it back on. Finally she saw the door up ahead pulsing in blue. One of these lonely doors that you find on rooftops. Dests. That's what couriers call them, short for destination. Usually couriers leave them open for each other so that they can throw themselves against the doors and don't have to stop to deal with handles. Usually, Carry-Anne thought grabbing her right shoulder. But looking at the time she couldn't be safe now either. She did a small prayer and threw her left shoulder against the door. Luckily it flew open and she tumbled down the short flight of stairs. She got up. 7.3 seconds to spare. She knocked at the blue apartment door and slid off the backpack. She knocked again and pulled out the small yellow package. Come on, come on. She heard movement inside. 2.5s. . . 1.2s. . . She heard the lock turn, and pushed open the door with the package. She dropped it into the expecting hand. The door shut again and she collapsed against the wall slowly sliding down to the floor. She peaked over at the timer. -0.3s. The notification below informed her of what she already knew: Target not met, bounty reduced by 80%. Fuck! she exclaimed and hit the floor with a closed fist. Fuck, fuck, fuck! She took two deep breaths, trying to calm herself. Then she got back up and limped up the stairs back onto the roof where she opened the courier app. There was another blitz job just around here. When she took it the timer reset to 2 minutes and a blue line appeared in front of her. She started jogging.

 
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from Optional

I recently set up the self-hosted podcasting solution Castopod. Here's a quick rundown. It's closely based on official instructions though.

Dependencies

I already had the necessary dependencies installed, but it should be these commands:

# Caddy (see https://caddyserver.com/docs/install#debian-ubuntu-raspbian)
sudo apt install -y debian-keyring debian-archive-keyring apt-transport-https
curl -1sLf 'https://dl.cloudsmith.io/public/caddy/stable/gpg.key' | sudo gpg --dearmor -o /usr/share/keyrings/caddy-stable-archive-keyring.gpg
curl -1sLf 'https://dl.cloudsmith.io/public/caddy/stable/debian.deb.txt' | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/caddy-stable.list
sudo apt update
sudo apt install caddy
# MySQL (see https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-install-mysql-on-ubuntu-18-04)
sudo apt install mysql-server mysql-client php-mysql
systemctl start mysql.service
service mysql-server start
mysql_secure_installation
service mysql-server restart
mysql -u root -p
# PHP
sudo apt install php-fpm php-curl php-mbstring php-xml php-mysql

Also, add a DNS entry pointing your (sub-)domain to your server IP.

Preparing the MySQL DB

Next, we create a DB user called castopod and a database of the same name. We then grant the user full access to the database:

# Login
mysql -p
# Replace 'PASSWORD on the next line'
create user 'castopod'@'%' identified by 'PASSWORD';
create database castopod;
grant all privileges on castopod.* to 'castopod'@'%';
exit

Installing Castopod

We install Castopod to the caddy user home directory:

cd /home/caddy
wget https://code.castopod.org/adaures/castopod/uploads/fe7be588c53a9e1ed63af47e6e624ad1/castopod-1.6.5.zip
unzip castopod-1.6.5.zip
# All files are now unzipped in the folder ./castopod/
chmod 774 -R castopod
chown caddy:www-data -R castopod
# We link the folder out to where caddy will look
mkdir -p /usr/share/caddy/YOUR.DOMAIN
chown caddy:caddy -R /usr/share/caddy
ln -s /home/caddy/castopod/public /usr/share/caddy/YOUR.DOMAIN/html

Now we enable a cronjob that handles stuff like fediverse integration.

Run crontab -e and add the following line to the bottom of it:

* * * * * /path/to/php /path/to/castopod/spark tasks:run >> /dev/null 2>&1

We probably also want to be able to upload files bigger than the default 2MB, so we open up the php configuration with our favourite text editor. It's located at /etc/php/8.1/fpm/php.ini.

Search for these three values and update them, e.g. to these:

post_max_size = 200M
memory_limit = 256M
post_max_size = 200M

Pointing Caddy

Update the Caddyfile (/etc/caddy/Caddyfile):

YOUR.DOMAIN {
	encode zstd gzip
	root * /usr/share/caddy/YOUR.DOMAIN/html
	php_fastcgi unix//run/php/php8.1-fpm.sock
	file_server
}

(Re-)starting Everything

Now we need to reload all our services to use the new configurations.

systemctl restart php8.1-fpm.service
systemctl restart caddy
# or
caddy reload --config /etc/caddy/Caddyfile

All you need to do now is visit YOUR.DOMAIN/cp-wizard to finish the setup wizard.

If you have any questions please refer to official documentation or Castopod support. I will not help you debug your installation.

 
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from Optional

Twemoji in Obsidian

I've spent literal YEARS trying to change the way Obsidian renders Emoji, from the hideous Windows Emoji to the beautiful Twemoji. But this isn't a recipe, so let's get right to it! Download the latest Twemoji font “in COLR/CPAL layered format” here (provided by Mozilla). Or the latest Noto Emoji from here. Once downloaded, right-click the font file and click “Install” (For Twemoji the file is Twemoji.Mozilla.ttf, for Noto it's fonts/NotoColorEmoji_WindowsCompatible.ttf).

Now that the font is installed on your Computer you have to tell Obsidian to use it. Refer to the image below for the following steps: Inside Obsidian open the DOM inspector by pressing Ctrl + Shift + i. Switch to the Elements-Tab and select the element that starts <body class="... (it should be one of the first). On the other half of the inspector make sure you're on the Styles-Tab. Under Filter search for “--font”.

Obsidian Inspector Guide

What we're looking for are the lines that define the theme-fonts. These might look different on your end, but here's what mine look like:

body {
    --font-text-theme: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', Roboto, Inter, Ubuntu, sans-serif;
    --font-editor-theme: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', Roboto, Inter, Ubuntu, sans-serif;
    --font-monospace-theme: 'JetBrains Mono', 'Fira Code', Menlo, SFMono-Regular, Consolas, 'Roboto Mono', monospace;
    --font-interface-theme: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', Roboto, Inter, Ubuntu, sans-serif;
}

Copy these (yours) somewhere. You can now close the Obsidian console (again via Ctrl + Shift + i or the little x). Open your Obsidian Settings (default: Ctrl + ,), go to Appearance, scroll down to CSS Snippets and click the little folder icon. This opens up the Snippets Folder in Windows where you now create a file called something like twemoji.css (The name doesn't matter, the file extension .css does). Open that file in your favourite text editor and paste the CSS you found earlier. But also place 'Twemoji Mozilla' (or 'Noto Color Emoji' if you want that one) somewhere among the existing Fonts—right behind 'Segoe UI' is what works for me. So here is what it could look like:

body {
  --font-text-theme: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', 'Twemoji Mozilla', Roboto,
  Inter, Ubuntu, sans-serif;
  --font-editor-theme: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', 'Twemoji Mozilla', Roboto,
  Inter, Ubuntu, sans-serif;
  --font-monospace-theme: 'JetBrains Mono', 'Fira Code', Menlo, SFMono-Regular,
  Consolas, 'Roboto Mono', 'Twemoji Mozilla', monospace;
  --font-interface-theme: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', 'Twemoji Mozilla', Roboto,
  Inter, Ubuntu, sans-serif;
}

Enable the snippet. You can do that by saving your .css-file, going back to the Obsidian settings, back to Appearance > CSS Snippets. Hit the little refresh arrows and your new snippet should show up. Toggle it on. Then open a file with some emojis to test your snippet.

If it doesn't work as intended (the emojis are still the old font or the font of the regular text has also changed) try a different ordering of fonts. They get applied from left to right until one is able to provide the required glyph. You might have to play around with the ordering to get the desired results. Just saving the .css should get Obsidian to reload and re-apply the snippet, you don't need to restart it every time.

 
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from Catking

Introduction

The question you just read in the title (I hope you did) will function as guidance for writing my first blog post. I invite you, the reader, to give me feedback and share your own thoughts on this topics if you want. Feel free to use a similar or different approach than I did. So back on track. What is progress (Vsauce music plays)? That will most likely depend on who you ask. But since I am writing this now, I'll tell you my view on this. Progress is an advancement of any magnitude in any area of life that brings you closer to where you want to be. So with this definition in mind, it becomes apparent that education/work/career is only a little slice of the whole thing. There are so many areas in life to dive deeper into and different people will obviously value different areas. The way I will structure the areas of life will be loosely based on a construct as well as on areas that are important to me personally.

The PKM planet

The construct is called the PKM planet. PKM stands for Personal Knowledge Management. It deals with 6 areas of knowledge in a wider sense. The areas are related to the personal manegement of productivity, relationships, ideas, skills, memory, and writing.

image

There is an interesting Youtube video going more in depth into PKM.

Memory

For those who know me; it won't come as a suprise that I am a big fan of spaced repetition learning and digital flash cards. Spaced repetition learning is a technique in which you learn the same pieces of information repeatedly with an increasing intervall between the learning sessions. It can be a very powerful way for long term memory. I highly recommend this interesting web comic on the topic.

I apply spaced repetition learning by using a software called Anki on a daily basis. It is very convenient because I can learn on my smartphone in offline mode. As of now, I have a gazillion Anki flashcards! Per day it takes me about 30 minutes to review about 400 flashcards. Needless to say, this habit fits perfectly into the theme of progress. It is quantifiable. I can see the numbers go up. Each time I add new cards, each time I correctly answer a card, and each time a finish a learning session, I see the progress. I have an increasing amount of knowledge and trivia in my head and I am so ready to drop them whenever I see an opening. Additonally, I can split my learning into many tiny sessions.

  • Waiting in line somewhere?
    • Gotta do some flashcards
  • No internet connection on the bus or train?
    • Gotta do some flashcards
  • You're in a social situation and currently not talking?
    • Gotta do some ... wait a minute I should put the phone away.

Skills

Okay, I'll admit it right now. This will be somewhat sport focused because that's what I really enjoy. When I think of skills, I think about breakdance moves and calisthenics moves. The latter is a fancy term for bodyweight training coming from the greek words for “beauty” and “strength”. Naming the etymology was partly to highlight that it really is a fancy term but mostly because I want to flex random facts.

Back on track. Finally achieving a difficult sport skill is giving me a different sensation of progress. Some breakdance moves like the windmill, flare or airflare take most people many years to master. Some calisthenics skills like the planche, one arm handtstand or the human flag are so difficult, that even the worlds best athletes can only hold these position for seconds. I have spent a good amount of years practicing these skills. While I have achieved some, I am far way from mastering all of them. But it is this sensation after countless years of practice, when you finally do stick the move that will forever be unique and special to me. Maybe you can relate to this with another skill. Breakdancing and calisthenics just so happen to be sports in which you can all of a sudden unlock a move: the first landed airflare or the first one arm pull up. You just complete it for the first time and are overcome with joy. To give you a more lively impression of this phenomenon here is a video of a guy landing a standing double back flip for the first time after years of training. It's a high effort high reward situation with difficult skills that not many people experience. There are countless sport skills and moves left for me to learn and I am so hyped to achieve them and just showcase them out of the blue whenever I want! The long journey that's behind the skills really gives them a lot of value. Progress is basically endless. As a German saying states:

Der Weg ist das Ziel.

Relationships

I like to evaluate a lot of areas in my life and the progress of relationships is no exception. A fulfilling social life can open so many doors. Especially if you can ask your friends to open them for you because you're hands are occupied holding breakdance and calisthenics gear. Jokes aside, I am very grateful for my friends. Looking back I experienced friends coming and going for various reasons. I had friends from different circles who didnt knew each other and were then mashed together on my birthday party. It doesn't have to be weird but it can be. However, during the last two years I can say that I met a handful of awesome people through improv theatre. It just feels awesome to be able to see the people that I adore on a regular basis, do nice activities and just see time fly by. Sometimes I might have taken the friends I have for granted but I really want to emphasize that they are very appreciated and I hope I will be able to hang around with them for many more years to come. It is astounding that I feel so connected to people that I have known for only 1-2 years but got to see often and yet other people who I have known for far longer remain just acquaintances. I'd rather have a few dear friends than a million acquaintances. Progress might be a strange term here so let's just say I collect another kind of great memories with them.

Education / Work / Career

How does one smoothly segway from an emotional topic to a work related topic? If you come up with something please let me know because I don't. For many years I have been climbing up the education system. Grade by grade and then semester by semester. I can feel the progress when I improve my grades and finish projects. But more importantly is repeatedly getting out of my comfort zone. The hustle is real. Whenever I am anxious about not performing well in an examination, embarass myself in a presentation or be clueless in the beninging of a big project, I think back to the countless times that it worked out fine in the end. It will be always be fine. You will find a good university, apprenticeship, job etc. It won't always be easy, but that's okay. I have huge respect for people who accomplish whatever stage of education they're at because I know that at that time things are uncertain. When the hard work finally does pay off and you get that good grade, degree or job it's more than a mere advancement. It can be a new chapter in life. The aftermath of switching from high school to college or moving to another place becuase of a new job is much more. New people, new opportunities and new challenges. I am always sceptical when people say things like “After school/college/a promotion, I am over the hump and things will be easy”. Oh honey. Conquer everything that comes next but don't think that sometime you just magically reach a point and then you have it all. There's always room to improve. There is always more to do and that is good. Humans are meant to advance. We are built to advance. Quite frankly, when we are in the right mindset we are trimed for progress.

Conclusion

Whether you see the numbers go up, finally learn a new skill, meet great people or start a new chapter in your career, always remember that every step you take brings you infinitely farther to your goals than if you stand still. I invite you to share what progress means to you. Which areas are important to you? How do you see/feel/experience progress? What makes it meaningful? I am interested in your opinion and your feedback. Feel free to disagree and challenge my views – I can take it. I hope that this will be the beginning of a series of interesting blogs and responses. I leave you with the words from the Dragon Ball narrator:

Until we meet again.

 
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