Society and the mind

This post was written 1 year ago.
Tue, 28 Mar 2017
My head is so full of so many things these days, that I find it difficult to sort everything. I have never been able to do much of GTD and by now I have accepted that and actually sometimes value it, strangely enough. My mind has a mind of its own it seems, it resists certain things that I tell it to do, and it lets itself be drawn into new directions all of a sudden, and that can sometimes be quite exciting. Still, what I'd like to achieve is some sort of consistency in what I do, especially I would like to get certain things done. It's not that it's completely lacking at the moment, but it could be better.

The one thing that I've not been doing recently that I miss most, and that I feel could simultaneously help the most, is writing. This does not itself fall so much into the action category, rather it could help me find out how I can best put things into action and serve as some kind of documentation, perhaps holding me accountable even. I'd want to do some of it not on this public blog, but then also like to write here because it encourages a certain way of writing.

Last year I had this kind of public diary for a while, and I'd like to pick that up again. And once again, there's two strands in particular - society, politics, large-scale, systems dynamics if you want, and on the other hand, the individual, what goes on in one's own mind, the things one ends up saying, the actions one ends up deploying etc. I've been long fascinated by Marvin Minsky's 'Society of the mind' which looks at how the mechanisms of decision making are very similar at every level of organisation, whether you have an individual, a family, larger groups or indeed a whole country, perhaps even all of humanity.

I am then also interested in the place of the individual in society at large. These days many of us ask ourselves what we can do now that politics both sides of the Atlantic have taken unexpected and quite nasty turns. Although of course this is only the culmination of something that has been bubbling away for a long time, but many of us have not been able to (or have refused to?) see. In any case, how can you contribute to making things less shit? For me this is an ongoing question. Especially as this individual has till this year never been politically active in any way, never been on a march (though came close in 2003, considering going to London for the anti Iraq war march) until the Women's March this January.

This all sounds quite high-flying but what I write won't be, nor do I intend it to be. Though I do want to link to a lot of stuff that I've read or partially read, actually for that reason alone it's worth writing, to build up a collection of things worth to go back to. We'll see how that all goes. In any case I think my obstinate mind recognises the value of writing which makes me hopeful I will write some more. - And while it has been very reluctant to get me out of bed after I woke up early, I managed to write this nevertheless, writing and publishing from my phone :) One idea I have is setting myself reminders each day so I won't forget. One thing that I really want to develop but so far have never succeeded is a note-keeping habit. So I put this here as an intention. In any case I need to go now, but it seems a good start.

Tags: politics / mind_stuff /
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Looking for Levelheadedness

This post was written 1 year ago.
Sun, 29 Jan 2017
This will only be the start of a post. Things are madly spinning around in my head once again, and I might as well put things down here in order to get a little clarity.

It will become ever more important to resist falling into certain traps. I can see myself reacting to things when perhaps I shouldn't. Especially, there are more useful things to do than send angry tweets. Or think about the angry 'letter home' I feel like sending (but luckily haven't so far).

I found this interesting from "Die Zeit": Telling obvious lies was a tactic employed by the Soviet Union to create cogintive dissonance and eventually wear down the resistance to accepting things as opinion, as possibility, which were evidently false statements. http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2017-01/alternative-facts-donald-trump-sean-spicer-media
When you look at the massive protests, it seems that humanity and good faith will prevail. But this is only the start. I have a feeling we are in this massive culture and propaganda war, and in the meantime really nasty things are going to happen, many away from our sight.

You can't win. If muslims are denied entry to America, something needs to be done about it, you can't simply ignore it. Maybe that is the tactic to lay so many fires that the opposition is constantly in need of reacting to something.

The thing is, in this country, we do not need to react to things all the time. Not even in America. You need to take breaks. Need to turn off the news for a while. Concentrate on creating things.

And now I need to sleep.. tbc.

Tags: usa / politics /
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Diary week c/ 5 Decemeber - Still too much politics on my mind

This post was written 2 years ago.
Mon, 05 Dec 2016
It is crazy, I follow so many Twitter links, and read or skim-read lots of (sometimes long) articles. And then there's also Medium. I am not sure how much sense it makes to do that, but then I do feel it gives me a better idea of things. There is currently a huge bias towards America I have to say. For obvious reasons, but I do think it is getting a bit out of hand. - Today I saw this article and whithout even having much knowlegde, you can just sense that this would be a totally sensible path to follow. Together with faithless electors there's absolutely a way to deny Drumpf the presidency, if only enough people want to go ahead with it. I have a bit of hope now, that if not removed this way, he will be impeached soon after having taken office.

Sometimes I also end up in curious places after following link after link. Today for example I learned about a commune in America in the 1800s that practised free love and had a shared income, then in the 20th century became a corporate producing silverware.

I did also read about Italian and Austrian elections though in Die Zeit - I recently remembered that I can actually read German ;) There was a time when I had Spiegel Online as my home web page, but for a while I did not read German papers much, I don't really know why.

Starting a little feminist vocabulary


I don't know when I started this, I think it might have been just after the US election. I coined this term : Wopups - Women Propping Up Patricarchy. I was so so annoyed with those white women who voted for Drumpf (voting with their husbands?). And now I've thought of another term: VW - standing for Visible Woman. I by now believe one of the most effective way women are kept out of the loop is the invisibility and silence. Being kept silent, and keeping quiet ourselves. This is so engrained. We deny ourselves to speak, and when we are made to speak, or pick up the courage to speak, we will - on the whole, and unless we are very privileged and specifically trained - be more insecure than men. All the more I adore those women who are very vocal and uncompromising in promoting a feminism that is about equal rights and being respectful and kind to everyone - not being anti-men. At the moment, that is the 'guilty feminists' Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen, and then Jenn Schiffer in America. They are all wonderful. I'd like to become a visible woman like that, but I don't feel I have a very good standing. I feel like I'd unjustly assume such a position. This could be part of the whole predicament - that as women we are more prone to feeling incapable - but I fear in my case this feeling is justified. I often want too much too early.

Theresa May or, even worse, Louise Mensch, are of course the complete anithesis to what such a women should look like. They are actively demaging feminism, among many other things!

I have lots more ideas about feminism, and I will probably write about that subject many more times.

Ancora l'Italia


In an effort to not expose myself to British mainstream media very much at all (for a start it is so much focused on Britain and America; and it is quite biased), I have started to follow alternative news outlets (e.g. @truthout, @alternet, @theRealNews, @AJEnglish), and also as mentioned above, non-English ones. Following a tweet by Paul Mason about a programme in DeutschlandFunk, I started listening to that Radio station a bit, and today I looked for some Italian ones. Most of the ones I found just mainly played music though. I did listen to that for a bit too though and I found that I still like listening to Italian so much, and it reminded me of the time I spent there in the 90s. Recently I found out that a fellow (British) school mum shared this experience with me: On arriving in Italy and hearing people speaking in Italian (for me this was on a night train, having just passed the Brenner pass when waking up), I had this intense feeling of being at home.

But what about coding??


Oh yes, this bugs me a bit. I have been quite good on the weekend though. I quite intensely looked at a web content editor called Sir Trevor and learned quite a bit about Webpack. I did this in the hope to finally contribute to 24 pull requests. I don't know if I will manage in the end, but I feel I have at least got closer. This is different from previous times, where I gave up much sooner.

But I have all these other little project, and most important of all, CodeHub. There's two aspects to this, the coding - for JS101 especially. But also organising talks. I have at least some kind of 'road map' together, of things I want to do to move towards that goal. But it proves, for various reasons, quite difficult to actually get going. I know it is going to happen, though.

I have to stop, I did not want to write that much at all! It got much too late.

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Diary - election, referendum, protest

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sun, 04 Dec 2016
It is very late now, and there's not much point in starting a blog post now. And still, I just want to start to write, I feel such an urge to do so (not in this moment, but in general), and I think it might be best to just write in quite short bursts. There is so much floating around in my head these days, not all is valuable of course, but I feel it would help me to write things down. I'd also like to collect links and write about books I've read. Case in point, a few days ago I finished "Hope in the dark" by Rebecca Solnit which is just beautiful and probably the most uplifting thing you can read these days.

Not long ago the news broke that the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline was successful, it is to be rerouted. In one article I read, it is a temporary victory, still it must be a huge relief and the protesters are celebrating. It is so good to see resistance can make a difference.

The other good news is that Austria didn't elect the far right candidate for president it was expected to. The other candidate, and now winner of the election, Alexander van der Bellen, is a member of the Greens! What a contrast in the two choices.

Italy had a referendum about constitutional changes and voted "no", the meaning of which I have to say I cannot quite grasp yet. It is anyway clear that the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi, will resign now, as the reforms he had proposed were voted against.

There's a 'break' now from big political decisions like elections, in Europe or America, for two weeks. Then the Electoral college will formally elect the president. If good things unexpectedly became possible today, could not that become possible too, that looming horrible presidency being overturned before it begins?

I would really like to write about other things than politics, too, but I guess today it was just quite prominent. I did think about gender equality quite intensely today, too, and that is a topic that will crop up again and again, too. But it is also very much related to politics. Anyway, more about it another time.

Tags: politics / europe /
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This is not Germany in the 1930s

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sun, 13 Nov 2016
So the warnings were no use. The horror clown has been elected.

People will have to come to terms with him somehow. They are starting to do that, with "the door is open" congratulations, or the "I only do it because I have to" kind.

I almost never watch TV. Today I did for about five minutes, and in those five minutes I saw a female black novelist being questioned by a BBC presenter (also female), "But could it not be that he (Trump) did not mean the things he was saying?" What?? What kind of question is that? Next to the novelist sat a white-haired little man - don't know who he was - claiming the KKK was "marginal" and complaing that "you folks always focus on that (the racism), he said so many other things". That was enough of TV for me.

Trump will not build a wall [edit one day later: not sure about that anymore], and he won't ban entry to the USA to all Muslims. He might not even do anything overtly racist for a while. [edit one day later: I believe now that he will do overtly racist things pretty soon] The truth is, nobody knows what he will do. Some even think he will find the work of being a president too hard, will screw up and be removed. That sounds quite a desirable scenario to me.

It might not be so much about what he will do, but what those he surrounds himself with will do. The door will be open from his side, too. To big business, to tech companies, to big money in general. The door will not be shut on people if they are misogynists or racists.

mug  saying now panic and freak out

There is a chance that jobs will be created and the economy will improve. Who knows, Trump might even have good intentions (although the 'good' here is relative, and his understanding of what that is might actually be the main problem), and after gaining popularity by pandering to the mood of the people, might now want to restyle himself as some kind of Messiah.

If you look at newspaper websites, you can already see this "different story" emerging. Oh, he might not be so bad after all. Ah, it's all different now. The "election campaign" was nasty, brutal etc. not Trump. Give him a chance! We need to work together with him..

You know - I think in a decent society, the simple fact that he said things that were outrageously demeaning to women, people of colour, LGBT people and religions other than Christian, should be enough to forever disqualify him to be in any position of political power. He should never have been elected, now that he has, whoever has any power, should make sure that he will be removed from this position as soon as possible. It is a sellout of a society that they let somebody spout such awful things and still allow him to take the highest office in the most powerful country of the world. It is, in other words, a complete farce. I was recently reminded that in Germany there is a law against Volksverhetzung and I've seen now that since 1986 the UK has a similar law against incitement to racial hatred. That threshold was crossed a long time ago. Is there not something similar in the USA?

No chance for the woman


People speaking out in favour of Trump often have this argument, "but the alternative was so bad". Unacceptable. "She's a warmonger". This last one I have heard from people I respect.

I read that Clinton supported the Iraq war, but later regretted it. She wanted a "no-fly" zone in Syria. This would be a measure to stop the bombing in Aleppo. Would it really have meant war with Russia?

She is part of the "establishment". But above all, she is a woman. And every fault that is found with her, will count 10 times more than if it was found in a man, just because by popular belief it should not be present in a woman at all.

I know about Hillary Clinton that she wants to improve healthcare. I know that she champions women, and that she would have been a fantastic role model to young women growing up. I know she is hard-working, intelligent and competent. I know she would have had tough decisions to make, and that she is capable of making them.

Would she have carried on with the "neoliberalist" agenda? Would she have legitimised drones that kill innocent people in Pakistan? We will never know that. People say now, give Trump a chance! What if Americans had given Clinton a chance??

We know that neoliberalism is broken, everybody knows that by now. But if there is one person capable of keeping it alive a bit longer and squeeze just a little more out of those less fortunate, then it's probably Donald Trump.

It is not that everything had been awesome before this election, far from it. There are so many things that have already gone horribly wrong in this century. 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq was an extremely bad start. The ongoing and worsening crisis in the Middle East. The Syrian civil war. ISIS. The displacement of over 50 million people across the globe. This happened, or started, before Trump was elected. But none of it was helped by the last Republican candidate in office, either.

As for the Trump presidency, I struggle to see anything good coming out of it and in fact fear for the worst. I cannot see how inequality, racism and misogyny are not going to increase drastically, if not worse things are going to happen, like imprisonment and deportation of people of certain religions or ethnicities. I am definitely worried about the use of technology. Technology to track and identify people, and also to influence them and control them. I am also worried that down the road there will be new conflicts, new wars. - Really, I do not even want to think too much in detail.

I just realised that I am writing as if the Trump presidency was in fact an inevitability. But what if it wasn't? We really don't know what is going to happen in the next two months. I just saw some videos of protests in US cities. I feel for these young people, and though this piece by Tim O'Reilly (whom I much admire) makes a very good point, I feel it is right of them to protest. In fact, the majority of US citizens did not vote for Trump and, I assume, don't want him as their president. I don't know about the how but I wonder if there is not a way to indeed impeach him, as some of the protesters demanded. I just don't know how successful it could be with Trump having so much money behind him.

But in case the presidency will come into being, and perhaps even if it is not, we are entering dark times. Or, darker times, because the dark times had probably started a while ago, and we had not been aware, or refused to pay too much attention.

What can one do? What can I do?


I really want to finish off this post. I hope I will manage to jot down some more thoughts.

This on people who voted for Trump, to a certain extent those who voted for Brexit, and certainly those who have or are going to vote for AfD in Germany: I fail to understand these people, and I will stop trying to understand them. I made a serious attempt with an AfD supporter. It didn't go well. It hurts that this is somebody I have quite strong ties with. I have to live with the tension of still loving them, but also - for the moment - having lost them. I know there is nothing I can do to change their mind.

As I've seen somebody remark, there is no point wasting any energy with trying to understand them. They have got what they want now in America. They might be getting more of what they want across Europe. I'd always thought virtually everbody will be against fascism after our parents' and/or grandparents' collective experience of it. I am now coming round to the horrible realisation that quite a few people want it or are okay whit it, or with parts of it. The "parts of it" faction is the one I really despair with. Thinking you can have the "reassurance" that no Islamic terrorists will enter the country (as one example) by putting your faith in right-wing populist leaders, and by that create a situation of maximum instability and promote the suppression of women and minorities. Thank you very much.

Then the recurring question: What can I do? Is there anything to do? Of course, I am not even in America. But there's this move to the right in many parts of Europe. I will use my postal vote in the German election next year, that's for sure. But apart from that?

Some immediate measures I personally will take:
  • Be very wary of what I will let into my mind. Unlike many others, I know that I can very easily be influenced. I will watch even less telly. I will avoid the mainstream press. That makes me quite reliant on Twitter and the interwebs as a whole. In some respects Twitter might be a filter bubble, but just a few replies away there's some people with very different opinions, so I think you can do worse than getting your information off Twitter. I've never managed to be in any way active on Facebook, and I am glad for that now.
  • Finish reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini - Defense against the Dark arts!
  • Boycott: I'll stop buying from Amazon. (I should have done that long ago!) There might be more to follow.
  • Pushing the feminist agenda as much as I can (cannot give any details of that at the moment, would take too long and also needs some more investigation)
  • Spend much time offline, both with learning stuff, and with things that lift the spirits (music, meeting friends, and reading books; lots of books). Re-reading parts of this book would be good for a start
  • I will not let anybody tell me to calm down about Trump or the rise of right-wing parties in general. I will calm down only insofar as it helps me to be more alert to fend off its effects whereever I can. I want to sleep alright! That is something I still have difficulties with. Trump does not deserve a chance. While my opinion might not matter much in the grand scheme of things, nobody will ever convince me otherwise.

I would like to become politically active in some way. So far I don't trust my personality much to be very effective. On the other hand I have seen some things in my life change quite substantially over the past years, so I am hopeful more change is possible. Nevertheless, I think proper political activism is not for me at this point. But if I can support others in fighting for worthwhile things, I will want to do that.

I love the #stopfundinghate campaign. It is so great to see it has already had some effect. I hope so much it can go a long way.

How to be free by Tom Hodgkinson

Back to America. A chance remark by my husband made me aware of something that gave me a glimmer of hope. He has started reading a book called Einstein and the frontiers of Physics by Jeremy Bernstein. Einstein, together with fellow physicists wrote a consequential letter to Roosevelt in 1939 that would trigger the development of the Atomic bomb. He wrote another concerned letter 12 years later, to his friend, the queen of Belgium. This was at the height of the McCarthy era:

"While it proved eventually possible, at an exceedingly heavy cost, to defeat the Germans, the dear Americans have vigorously assumed their place. Who shall bring them back to their senses. The German calamity of years ago repeats itself; people acquiesce without resistance and align themselves with the forces of evil. And one stands by, powerless."

Jeremy Bernstein then comments: "Einstein was fortunately wrong. McCarthy was sent into disgrace and democracy continued to flourish. As a nonnative American, Einstein had been too quick to underestimate the tradition of freedom in the US."

Please, America show us all that this is still true. Send your president-elect into disgrace. He is not McCarthy, he has a lot more money, but you cannot give up your freedom just like this. Yes, your freedom had been compromised already, and perhaps some of you thought "any change is better than no change". But you must realise that this is not the way (and it was only 18% of you who voted for Trump anyway. How can he become your president?).

And all of us, perhaps we can wake up from consumerism now, from all the tracking and advertising on the web, being trapped by our mobile phones. I have a feeling my phone has recently become more of a good servant, rather than swallowing up much of my spare time. If this can be true for most of us, that would be great.

But we have to be vigilant. Always. I want to be that more than I used to be. Don't let anybody tell you it's going to be okay. It is not going to be if we leave things to themselves. And Trump does not deserve a chance.

Some things worth reading/listen to:

There would be many more, but they are the ones that made the most impression on me in the past few days.
Tags: politics / usa / books /
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Midlife, books and watching Adam Curtis films

This post was written 2 years ago.
Thu, 20 Oct 2016
Right. I am going to do a kind of review now. Review in the "Getting things done" sense. I have to admit, my efforts to implement GTD in my life have to date not been that successful. My brain always seems to want to take over the collecting and scheduling etc. again. My suspicion is, this is because my tasks and appointments are just about managable without resorting to a system that needs quite some energy to set up and keep going. I am still looking for the sweet spot where I can benefit from some of its aspects while keeping it lowfi enough as to not cost too much enery to follow through with it. I will keep on trying!

But let me start not so much with all my projects, "next actions" or any such thing.

I want to look at what is causing me (and perhaps others, especially women?) this thing that almost feels like a pain. This tension, which by now contains the realisation that you probably won't become anymore what you possibly could have, less than you'd been capable of. When I last went out for a meal with close friends in Germany, all women, I said at some point "I still want to achieve something". As if having a lovely family and a pretty specialised job in an area you basically self-trained yourself in, didn't count. And yet, if I'm honest with myself, I still feel the same. It must have sounded overly ambitious, competitive, as if I was after outer success, but I don't think that's what I meant.

I think it has to do with competence and an urge to be creative, while feeling you don't have the means for it; also, not feeling competent at anything in general - on the contrary, feeling pretty inadequate.

When I was a teen, I had an anthology of pieces by women writers. There was an extract from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It started something like "I started adding up all the things I couldn't do" and in the end, she comes to this conclusion: "The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end". I later bought the Bell Jar, it must have been one of the first books I read in the original English version. The similarities between how Plath was experiencing things and myself was so striking it blew me away. It was comforting, too, that I was not the only one feeling that way. In particular what she describes in that quote, that feeling that you cannot really do anything properly, has remained with me up till now; it is not always present, and occasionally I manage to convince myself that I know some stuff, but yes, it is still very strong.

By now, this is also coupled with a feeling of powerlessness on the political level. That I cannot stop nasty things from happening, not even when acting in a group. Is that true? I am not sure. It looks like we are still on a downward path, economy-wise. And then there is the poisoned public discourse which I hope has reached peak shrillness and meaninglessness now.

Returning to the above, what is interesting here, is to make a distinction between the perceived lack of competence and the real one. And while it happens with the best intentions, telling me I've got impostor syndrome does not help me that much. Yes, I might have that, because almost everybody has it, especially in tech. But that does not mean I'm not dissatisfied with where I'm at and would like to know more. Of course, I have reached a certain level of competence, I can do my work (sometimes I get a bit stuck, but by and large I can do it). If I think about it - hm, I had actually not been so clear about that, so writing does help! - in this particular area, the level I'd like to reach is where I can a, contribute to Open Source b, teach c, create own projects/use my skills in projects that are meaningful to me.

There is something else, this is again political, I am jumping back an forth. So, there is the actual competence, but then there is the entitlement, for lack of a better word. That does not really match it actually, what I mean is perhaps, being effective out of habit. Being used to being in power, used to being able to do things. I wonder if that is one of the things pupils learn at a private school. You can do things! It could also be that, for whatever reason, this message was just quite weak in my own youth (although a class-mate once actually said to me "You can do anything you want" - meaning my good grades). Knowing something, but then also using it. And by using it you get better at it..

Two more things regarding perceived vs actual competence. Another significant book in my life has been Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I read it in my early 20ies and then again in my early 40ies! I believe Robert Pirsig is the grandfather of all geeks and his style of writing must have influenced many tech blogs. If you read the book now, his way of writing would probably not seem that unusual but that is because it has become mainstream. One central philosophical idea of the book is that we are capable of recognising quality even if we can't define the criteria for it. We recognise good writing style, good design ect. At the ReasonsTo conference in Brighton, Stefan Sagmeister gave a good example when he showed the audience a work of art by Mondrian and a fake one, side by side. Asked to say which was the real one, by show of hands, a vast majority went for the correct one.

Then there is this about the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, which David Moody pointed me to at the hack night. I once started reading "The Pragmatic Programmer" and really liked it, and the book this chapter is taken from is by the same people. I like the idea of these distinct stages, and I like the idea that people on a team can be at different stages, not everybody has to be an expert.

I want to make a somewhat structured effort to move along this scale, and document it as well. Again, I have to make sure that the documenting does not take up too much energy, I will just record some things that I find significant steps, things where I improved beyond what I'd have thought.

But really, if some of the above sounds a bit negative, in reality I am not unhappy at all (with my learning, world politics is a different thing!). If I look back to 5 years ago, I have already got much further than I thought I would. It took me longer than young people nowadays who decide to become a web developer (and have grown up with computers). Many times I didn't learn in a very effective way. But I'm glad I persisted, because I really do love working in this area.

I won't write so much about the Curtis films anymore, but wanted to mention them, because they do always have quite some effect on me. So, I watched Hypernormalisation on IPlayer - I then also started to watch Bitter Lake which was made about two years ago and which I had missed. But I stopped for now, as it is becoming a bit too much (I normally don't watch any telly). It is scary to think, with the many things mentioned in those films that I had not known about, how many more scary stuff is out there. But mostly, Hypernormalisation reinforced an uncomfortable feeling I (and others, I am sure) had already. We are not really ruled by politicians anymore but by corporates, the potential of technology for evil goes much further as we want to admit to ourselves, and what is presented to us as political discourse is just a spectacle that is put on to distract us. I don't really watch it anymore, just what I hear about it is enough to make me turn away in disgust. Will we ever get to some place of normality again without there being a huge catastrophe first? But really a lot that is happening is already catastrophical, that is the sad thing.

In the credits, the Massive Attack musician Robert del Naja was one of the first people - or the first? - Adam Curtis thanked. I found that intriguing and googled the two names together. I found this article in Vice about a show they did together in 2013. I think the trend they mention there, to obsess about the past, has only become more pronounced, with the Brexit vote being the culmination. And yes, entertainment these days is probably quite conservative even if it doesn't always look like it, and is capable of exerting control. And this sentence sums it all up for me, and has stuck with me: "If you like yesterday we are going to give you more of yesterday so you never get a tomorrow"

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In Brexitland and 'Technikland'

This post was written 2 years ago.
Mon, 17 Oct 2016
116 days after the Brexit vote, 23 days before the American presidential election. What a weird space to be in. It feels like having fallen through a rabbit hole and wandering about confusedly, changing sizes all the time, wanting to cry pools of tears, and forever looking for an exit. Isn't it time to wake up already? - Is there going to be a point anytime soon, where we can just say "Remember how crazy that all was?" and everybody you shared this particular part of the space-time continuum with, will know what you mean? I fear it will not be until after a tremendous storm has swept over us, and I don't want to think too hard about the different shapes this storm could take on.

Occasionally, people make comparisons between this country and Germany in the 1930ies, and I always wonder how valid they are. Today, I imagined myself tweeting "You are still far far off. Your government wants to make you look more nasty than you are." But then I never tweet all the many tweet-thoughts I have. And, isn't that exactly what prompted the comparison, the government inciting people to distance themselves from their neighbours just because they are of a different origin? That is ultimately what the current government is doing, isn't it? So, yeah, they are using similar methods to an extent, and yet I'd hesitate to compare them too much. On the other hand, in Germany there's that expression "Wehret den Anfängen" which basically means "Nip things in the bud", just in more dramatic words: "Guard yourself against the beginnings" or so. It always sounded quite solemn to me, and so important to adhere to. Just how?! Everybody I know is quick to condemn the government speak, but as we know from the rederendum, it echoes around in our little filter bubble, or ends in confrontation with the opposite side and that's it. Meanwhile the nastiness trickles bit by bit into people's minds, they become more used to it and less inclined to say anything (because it won't change anything), and it finds fertile soil in those who already think in terms of the 'them versus us'. It would be the governments task to stop this kind of thinking from informing what people do, but if instead they encourage it, where is it going to end?

I had not planned to write any of this, and there is no big new insight in it, I guess I just want to pin down what the athmosphere is like at the moment, and that it all feels a bit gloomy. And the fact that it's not just Britain, that the move to the right is happening all across Europe, is all the more worrying. Britain could have been a beacon of light (alongside the new compassionate-looking Germany - that unfortunately still has a dark side, too, don't be fooled), that is what I find so sad.

The worst thing is that horrible things are happening, especially the bombing of Aleppo, which the main attention should be on, by all of Europe, all of the world. Instead, countries are busy turning themselves into fortresses, and every outrageous utterance by a certain despicable being (I refuse to write that name) is discussed at great length.



I am wondering whether to write about my original reason to write. Perhaps briefly.

While I am, for the time being, going to stay in Brexitland, I am wondering about tech land. How much sense does it make to remain there? Yes, with all the above, I still manage to have my ten zillionth career crisis. Hooray! A few days ago I read the transcript of a talk called "Mid-Career Survival for People Who Don't Want to be an Attrition Statistic When They Grow Up" It is definitely a good talk. But unfortunately, rather than being reassuring, it reminded me of how easily that could happen. My circumstances are quite different from the speaker's, I never worked for a big corporation or a start-up. And I'm not in America. But I still find some parallels.

[Edit 18 Oct 2016 - Taken out some stuff about my work - most of it was positive anyway, but think now I'd rather speak in general terms]

But possibly the thing that makes me most doubtful is not even the job, but my Meetup group. I still don't feel entitled to do the things I want to do. Last week I finally gave a workshop, on Git. I felt terrible afterwards, because I had written some of the exercises the night before and the instructions were so unclear that it became a bit chaotic. Still it seems to have been useful to people, especially the women.

The thing is, I cannot know. If I don't actually know that much about Git, could I confuse people and make things worse? Am I, instead of flying the flag for women in tech, actually damning there reputation further, by being dopey and ignorant, and pretending to know more than I do? Ha! But that is exactly what many men do so often, isn't it?! It is just nobody expects it of a woman. But then of course there are people who are very knowledgeable. And many of them are men. - I have these high standards, that I want to be like them. But if (at the moment ;)) I'm not, should that really prevent me from trying to help other people, organise events whose main benefit is the social side of things anyway? The only thing is I could look stupid. I'm developing some resilience against that. But also: I am spending a lot of time and energy that I could use on other things. That latter then, is the absolute key point. Is it all worth it?

 
I have for now decided that I will look at that question again in a year's time (given things stay roughly the same, and there are no major catastrophes). Till then, I will throw myself into it all one more time, learn as much as I can learn, teach what I can teach, help to increase diversity as much as I can, and meet lots of cool people!

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Diary week c/ 26 October 2015

This post was written 3 years ago.
Mon, 26 Oct 2015

This is going to be very short this time. Unfortunately, I am also not in the best mood at the moment. I feel failure is imminent. A failure to keep up the good faith in something and thereby make it work.

Although while I am writing this, perhaps, just perhaps, some strength is returning.

And still, there is a continuous undercurrent. Something sapping at my confidence day by day. When I met my husband, that was a time, one of just a few periods in my life, when I actually was confident. Compared to that, what is going on now? Rather, has been going on for years, on and off? Wtf? Wtf? Arggghhhhhhh.

There is something quite liberating about writing like that. Because it is a taboo right? I am writing personal things on my personal blog, and I am admitting that I struggle. In particular, I struggle with my confidence. The thing is, I'd so so much hoped I'd be over this, because I am really fed up with even thinking about this, and then talking to other people about it and so on, and so on.

But what if this is actually not even my problem? What if this is every other woman's problem, and what if it is every other man's problem, too? What if we live in a fucking bonkers time where every half-ways sane person, who happens to be a bit sensitive (I've come to adore those less sensitive, those who can be a rock to others), is struggling to cope? The thing is, I am not that important of course, and I know it. And what is my struggle compared to that of a refugee woman stranded in Lesbos in the wind and rain, with no food and no clothes and shoes for her children? What on earth is going on? And this is happening with the world looking on. There was an article in the HuffPost, all I could think is, is this really true? Can this really be? This is happening? And then beheadings are happening, too, in other parts of the world. What kind of world is this? - Then I read somebody saying the West is paralysed in its guilt. Tony Blair apologised. This must be one of the most pointless apologies ever to have been.

So with all this going on, it would be great if people managed to "pull together" and somehow turn this ship on the brink of chaos around. There are of course many good people helping with the refugees all over Europe, also many good people in Germany. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pretty awful people in Germany, too, and then there are people who become frightened, just because their certanties are being taken away, and they start looking for culprits and are all too willing to direct their hatred against people unfamiliar to them. This is so sad.

And in any case, it is just hard to find a rational, totally adequate reponse to the drama unfolding that everybody can just take part in. So much misinformation, and so many unknowns.

And really, what about the underlying causes. How could the Middle East have become this utter mess it is now. Even as a not very political person, I must come to the conclusion that yes, the West is to blame at least partly. If our political elites create such a mess, how on earth can we ever hope they will get people out of it?



Book Corner - Erica Jong!

Tonight I went to an event to see a woman who could actually act as quite an antidote to my or anybody else's despair. It is always a bit risky to meet your heroes, but I can say in this case my admiration is fully intact, if it has not even grown. What is so special about her? Foremost perhaps the honesty. But then of course, her wit and her convictions. And I really liked what she had to say about feminism as a movement that started in the 18th century and is not just about the liberation of women but is connected with the liberation of any minority group, and also the liberation of men (she said that a little differently I think). Also the very poignant observation that the most repressed group in the population is - children.

It is getting late now, so I will stop. As a closing line, perhaps I will just keep thinking of fearful but courageous Erica Jong whenever I feel down. Also because, among the many things that I always find lacking in myself, courage is something I have occasionally had, so I can relate to that as my role model.


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A weekly diary for the rest of the year

This post was written 3 years ago.
Sat, 03 Oct 2015
So, this is a simple challenge. Except, I don't know if it will be simple for me. It could be, or it could be not. The chances are 50/50. Writing is very important to me. But there was a time when it was the scariest thing for me. Writing something that would (perhaps) be read by others. That old fear occasionally resurfaces, and my control over it is limited. Then part of the challenge is maybe to learn to live with that discomfort. In any case, one post per week. That's the deal.

At the moment change is the only constant, and I thought it might be good to keep a record of some of what is going on. This stretches from the world of politics and economy, both on a global and national level, to the local communities that I am part of, my personal life and myself. (The change might not be massive in all cases though, and have more to do with my perception of things)

I'll start with an — incomplete — collection of things that are on my mind these days. Things that I observe with some interest, that cause me headaches or heartaches, or just sit there clamouring for attention and a solution of some kind. I start shifting pieces and numbers around in my mind, and it feels like a real-life three-dimensional Sudoku. What chances are there of ever solving anything? Perhaps the art is to restrict the solution-finding to very little things, and otherwise just try to live a half-decent live, without being on some kind of I-need-to-save-the-world mission. Observing things is a start, paying attention, and asking questions perhaps.

(Money) politics

There are a few recent events that I found striking in that a while ago I would not have thought them possible. Especially these two:
  • The Greeks voting "No" to the conditions imposed on them by the Eurogroup
  • The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader with a majority of 60%; somebody who has principles and speaks their mind
In addition to that, it seems to me that there is a turning. Something gathering momentum. More and more people getting fed up with austerity politics and refusing to be sold that to them anymore as "we are all in this together". Honestly, who on earth would ever believe that? I am fully aware that there are still big enough numbers of well-off people who want to cling to the Status quo, so that we will not see the end of the Tories soon. And yet, my hope is that they will be gradually held in check more. Yes, Corbyn will probably not be elected Prime minister, but I think he will be fully capable of providing a strong opposition.

When the Greeks said No, I started following the reporting of Paul Mason, and eventually read his book "Postcapitalism". It made a big impression on me, and I hope to post a review of it at some point. There is something so sane and truthful about it. It is also a book that conviction and a deep interest in the matter has gone into. I am quite sure it is not a book written for the sake of making money, and it is not following some kind of blueprint.

The idea of an unconditional basic income has been floated for a while now, and in Germany the owner of a ubiquitous drugstore chain is passionately pushing it which I hope will help it gain traction — I also just realised that Switzerland will even hold a referendum on it in 2016!. I think when it comes, it will not make things easier for most people. Status anxiety will remain, and the freedom to choose might even add pressure. But it would end poverty and that is absolutely a good enough reason to introduce it.

By coincidence yesterday we watched television, which we do extremely rarely, and there happened to be Brian Eno on, giving a John Peele lecture. I did not even know these lectures existed, and I would not have thought of Brian Eno as somebody who gives lectures. Interestingly, part of it was exactly about the subject of postcapitalism and he did even mention Paul Mason's book. Before that he said something about Art which I found quite beautiful: Art is the "things that we don't have to do". And we will all produce more art, professionally or otherwise, as automation progresses. I also liked how he said that after art college he "went on the dole, because I was desperate to not get a job, because I feared I would not get out of the job anymore" The one thing I felt a bit uncomfortable with was when he said that refugees "wanted a share" of our wealth. The very last sentence of the programme, in a response to a question, was something similar again. Of course a lot of people want to come to Europe for economic reasons, but those would not be called refugees?

The growing power of women

This is somewhat connected to the first point, as I think women will play a big role in political and social change. There is so much untapped potential at the moment. For me, the way in which women have been silenced, and out of convention or habit often remain silent themselves, is one of the biggest challenges in that respect. That silence is something that does not only apply to women, of course, but to any oppressed group. It is unfortunate, because it often means that an intelligent, knowledgeable and well-meaning part of a group does not exert their power, ceding the playing field to the bullies. But once we recognize that the only reason the bullies have power is because of the silence of a big fraction, if we manage to empower that fraction of the group, all is not lost.

For me true feminism is so valuable because I had to come round to it, I had to be converted to it, I did not really know for a long time what it was. I have for so long looked to men to "rescue" me, to teach me, to make me feel good. And somehow not seen just how many brilliant, kind, fantastic women are out there. I still like men, there are as many good men as there are women. But their outlook is different on the whole (by the culture they have been brought up with, they are much more competitive and more status-oriented), and the women — as a group, of course there are exceptions, women can be power-hungry too — can bring something else to the table, something that is much needed. I just heard an interview with Erica Jong, in which she said that native Americans had a "council of grandmothers" who decided whether to go into a fight. While it was the men who did the fighting, it was the grandmothers who decided. They knew what was at stake, the value of life, because they had given birth (those were not her exact words, but it was something along those lines).

Becoming more effective

Then there is my personal progress. I will devote some space to that too. Being a woman and considering the above, I wonder in how far I can have a voice, whether my voice is of value and so on. The thing is, if you can call this blooming at all, I am a late-bloomer of the highest order. I feel I have missed some boats, career-wise and skills-wise, in the sense that I won't become as good at something anymore as my talents would have allowed me to become, had I started earlier (and been less bogged down in self-doubt!). But in some cases, I don't know if that is just a feeling or actually the truth. And then, the truth is such an abstract thing anyway. Better to cultivate a "growth mindset" and just work on the things you like. Whether they live up to some impossibly high standard, is that really an important question? I don't think so. I have a lot more choice than I think. And I want to see if I can utilize my voice in a good way.

There is much more of course, but I will have to leave it to another time!

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