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from OptionalBooks

... und ich schlafe ein

Die Menschen finden im All einen Planeten mit einer primitiven Zivilisation. Doch in tausenden oder gar hunderten Jahren könnte diese den Menschen gefährlich werden. Also wird ein “Scareman” entsandt, der den Fortschritt auf diesem Planeten ausbremsen soll.

Eine gar nicht so uninteressante Premisse: Hier könnte Fortschritt von einigen Interessanten Seiten beleuchtet werden und komplexe Zusammenhänge in ein Ungleichgewicht gebracht werden. Oder vielleicht so etwas wie der Film Zardoz (1974)?

Nein, dieser erste Teil der Sci-Fi Reihe ist leider ein bisschen simpel. Der Fortschritt wird hier an einzelne Personen gebunden, die aus dem Weg geräumt werden müssen. Obwohl ich Dune nicht mag, wünsche ich mir dann doch etwas schlaueres in Richtung “Bene Gesserit”. Das höchste der Gefühle bleiben hier die sehr gradliniegen und vorhersehbaren “A führt zu B”-Zusammenhänge, die einen Schmetterlings-Effekt nachahmen wollen.

Auch sonst liest es sich nicht sonderlich gut. Die “fremde Zivilisation” sind Echsenmenschen, doch das nur im Namen. Trotzdem verhalten sie sich nämlich wie Menschen: Sie bauen, leben, essen, schlafen und paaren sich wie Menschen. Dass sie vielleicht kaltblütig sind, oder Eier legen spielt keine Rolle.

Ihre Entwicklungsstufe lässt mich ebenso ratlos zurück: Zur selben Zeit existieren Jäger-und-Sammler-Stämme, eine Stadt mit König, wissenschaftliche Experimente, Monogamie, polytheistische Religion und eine Geld-basierte Ökonomie. Nun hängt das alles natürlich nicht 1-zu-1 zusammen und verbietet sich nicht gegenseitig, doch die Darstellungen hier im Buch scheinen eher zufällig zusammengewürfelt, als tatsächlich durchdacht.

Zuletzt möchte ich noch anmerken, dass ich schon ab dem neunten Satz des Buches mit skeptisch hochgezogener Augenbraue las. Dort wird nämlich der 3. Charakter eingeführt—der erste weibliche Charakter. Völlig ohne Not wird ihr Schweiß als “beinahe erotisch” beschrieben. Danach kommen zum Glück(?) nur noch männliche Charaktere vor.

 
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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 OptionalBooks

Am I an artist now? Because reading the ending of this book was torture.

After being diagnosed with cancer, a media mogul regrets the terrible influence his cheap and dumb entertainment has had on culture. With the goal of creating intelligent and influential entertainment he founds New Renaissance. This new company is supposed to train artists from a very young age.

Failed music critic Harlan is assigned to to 7 year old Vincent as a manager. Eventually that will entail selling Vincent's art, but right now it means that he should foster Vincent's creative output and shape him into a great artist. And—as the title suggests—this involves torturing Vincent. Harlan kills Vincent's dog, he sabotages his relationships and later even gets him addicted to drugs.

This glorious premise immediately had me hooked! Does hardship breed creative inspiration? Can we make a cost-benefit calculation on a tortured artist and their impact on society? Did the mainstream entertainment become so idiotic because that's what the entertainment industry produces or because that's what the consumers want?

The beginning of the novel gives much food for thought on these questions. It's also executed much better than my summary. The moral ambiguity around “torturing” Vincent, for example, is maintained by the fact that his life before Harlan's intervention was already going very poorly. Under New Renaissance's contract he's also enjoying a lot of benefits that would have been unattainable otherwise, like free education and a very competitive financial compensation.

I can't pinpoint exactly where the novel lost me, but it was somewhere in the middle. The plot began to become boring, as Harlan's “torture” became pretty much limited to sabotaging various relationships of Vincent, paying off a girl here, writing anonymous threats there, etc. It also stopped exploring the interesting questions I mentioned above, it got lazy.

There's two points where, in order to sell Vincent's works, Harlan rants about the current state of entertainment to prospective buyers. He switches between different radio channels and complains, “an ad ... pop song by a guy who can't sing ... song where the same phrase is repeated over and over ... another ad ... classic rock station with a playlist of 15 songs ... another guy who can't sing.” While I share the sentiment, the problem is that this is the most surface level critique of pop culture. It's fair enough to have a character be this simple and shallow, but neither does the rest of the book provide much more depth.

Towards the end there is a jarring with the introduction of a thriller plot line and heightened stakes. This section, in my eyes, runs completely counter to the message of the book up to that point and while the resolution at the very end was pretty clever it wasn't clever enough to save this book as a whole.

I was disappointed at what little was done with such a great premise and with how simple and under-complex the ideas and commentary were. I sadly can't recommend it.

Note on the German translation: I generally don't feel the need to comment on translations, but the German one of this book was exceptionally bad. This book often references films and TV shows the titles of which were only sometimes translated into German and sometimes not. Either would have been fine, but half and half was not the way to go. Also, some turns of phrase were translated literally even though they don't work the same in German.

 
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from OptionalBooks

Should've been a film

After watching Anna Biller's masterpiece of a film The Love Witch I was excited to find that she had recently released a novel. Bluebeard's Castle was originally intended as a film as well, but turned into a novel instead. As the title and the text on the inside cover flap of the book suggest this is a story of a woman that finds herself in a toxic relationship with a Bluebeard character.

The novel is a feminist piece deconstructing tropes of romance novels and Gothic fiction. While that is all very well and good it fails to do that in an engaging way. As a reader we are given the very worst perspective. We do not take the protagonists point of view where we ourselves are enamoured with the Bluebeard character, taken in by his spell and manipulated. Instead, we plainly see him for the warehouse-full-of-wandering-red-flags he is. The way it is written made me exasperatedly shout at the protagonist for her choice to stay with or return to her abuser.

In any other novel this wouldn't be a problem, but it does run completely counter to the whole point of this one. How can it deconstruct and explain how anyone can become the victim of abuse and manipulation when it's so difficult to sympathize with the victim and understand her motivations? Later in the book there was one instance where it I got it.

Minor Spoiler At one point the protagonist completely flips her opinion towards her Bluebeard from doubt to devotion. This switch was so ridiculous that I finally got how much she had already lost her grip on reality and wasn't thinking straight at all. Up until this point all her terrible decisions had seemed like she had just reached the wrong conclusions due to stupidity, not madness.
Disappointingly, this one instance remained the exception and the narrative subsequently fell back into its old patterns.

Another choice that did not work for me at all was at the end of the book when the narrator addresses the audience directly to explain the moral of the story. That might be a bit of a fairy tale trope, but the way it was done felt condescending and inelegant.

In the end I am very sad to say that I did not enjoy this book. I'd recommend instead to check out her film The Love Witch and buy its soundtrack on bandcamp.

 
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from OptionalBooks

Wintersmith | Terry Pratchett

Will entertain you through the cold winter season

A natural continuation of the “Tiffany Aching” series which started with the excellent The Wee Free Men and was followed by the less-excellent-but-still-good A Hat Full of Sky.

This time Tiffany has gotten herself into trouble by dancing with the Wintersmith, the personification of the winter season. And like a good witch she has to take full responsibility and deal with the problem of having the Wintersmith have a full on crush on her and wanting to make her his bride.

This time themes of romance and sexuality get explored—and of course the theme of taking responsibility. For my tastes the threat could have felt more immediate as it often leaves room for a subplot around Annagramma, but the last third wouldn't let me put the book down as it had me completely hooked.

Like the other novels in this series this one is completely dripping with empathy and compassionate life lessons that it's very much a joy to read for teens as well as adults. And, of course, it's very funny:

She did, eventually, find a staircase that went up (unless, of course, you started at the top).

 
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from OptionalBooks

Not born of Paradise, but still worthwhile.

This autobiographical novel tells the story of Amélie returning to Japan where she decides to teach French as a way for herself to learn Japanese. Her student Rinri is the same age as her, one thing leads to another, and they end up dating. We are taken on a trip through Japan, atop Mount Fuji, until Rinri finally proposes to Amélie. She is not ready for marriage yet, but she also can't say no to Rinri as she truly is in love with him.

The pacing of this novel was much slower than both Cosmétique de l'ennemi and Antéchrista. It's also less entertaining and gripping. But it still is a touching story with interesting themes of home, independence, romance and parting. The ending is strong enough to make it a worthwhile read, but not such a great joy as her two novels mentioned above.

 
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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 Optional

There's a new blog on this instance called OptionalBooks where I share reviews of the books I'm reading. I've imported my old reviews (from Bookwyrm) and will from now on post reviews only on this sub-blog here. If you're following the main feed of this instance (https://blog.optional.page/read/feed/) instead of this blog specifically (https://blog.optional.page/optional/feed/) you will already have noticed that.

You can filter posts in your RSS reader via the author field. When I review German books I do so in German and prepend the title with “[GER]” for easy filtering.

Just a quick FYI for what's happening :)

 
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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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