Starting to look back on 2016

This post was written 2 years ago.
Tue, 10 Jan 2017
This would now be the time to do a review of the past year and write up a few plans for the new one. I had things in mind to write but probably have forgotten many of them by now.

I think it might have been the year where I have learned most from women, read the most books by women, have been influenced most by women.

I have mentioned the Guilty feminist podcast with Deborah Frances-white and Sofia Hagen before. There is also Sofie's own, Made of Human podcast with an especially poignant two-part episode with Susan Calman. I yet need to fully listen to the second part again, as I was very sleepy last time round and missed some things.
I know though that it had Trigger warnings. Trigger warnings is something that took me a while to get my head round, but now I actually recognize how many times in my past I've been 'triggered', and that there is something to these warnings. (My mental health problems did not take as drastic shapes as those of these two women, but depressions were bad enough). In any case I'd be happy to drive them round Brexitland in a caravan as they are joking on the podcast.

Then I read Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the dark. And then, as the last book in 2016, Unspeakable things by Laurie Penny. Wow. That was pretty amazing. There is so much in that where I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, things that I had not heard expressed in that manner anywhere previously, but had held in the same belief. In short, reading this book felt like some recognition of my own ways of seeing things, but then actually went further, as she has some experiences I don't have (e.g. having some insight into the porn business, as apparently she shared flats with a porn actor, and she also went to an 'erotics fair' or something like that).

What I really like is that she gives equal room to men and women, the 'lost boys' as much as the 'fucked-up girls'. She says in confrontations of men with feminists, both come from a place of pain (this is what I have understood, might not be her exact words). One of the reviews quoted on the back of the book says she "takes no prisoners". [edit 15/01/17 I did not know this expression and at first took it to mean almost the opposite!] Yet there is compassion and I love that a lot. If there is anything that can help us in these messed up times, it is compassion.

Speaking of mess, I feel really trapped between the desire to read about politics, be informed, perhaps take some kind of political action, and the necessity to actually close myself off from the news instead in order to not spend too much time on them, and also not too become too depressed by their contents. I do not feel I can be an effective political activist at this point, so I think I will limit now how much I expose myself to the news, and also how much I tweet about politics. It might be that the most political I can do is become (even) better (haha) at coding and provide a space for others where they can do the same.

This was written on a little foldout keyboard on my phone, while I was waiting for my son to finish his football training. :) It worked really well. It is not a real turn-of-year post of course, only the start really. I will just have to stretch it out..

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Mini post about sudden frustrating realisation

This post was written 2 years ago.
Thu, 08 Dec 2016
Today things don't fit. And for once I am not talking about the world at large.

It had not hit me like this for a while, but now it's back. Hello feelings of inquadecy, pointlessness, and (relative) professional uselessness. (I do not doubt my value as a human, as wife and as a mother to my kids - in that I am actually a very fortunate person; I am not depressed at the moment)

So, there are these plans in my head, about CodeHub, and while I find myself forever in a weird 'active state of inactivity' where I am planning and thinking about things without actually taking much real-world action, my plans did get clearer over time. I have action points even, deliverables. But, as my friend araja put it, there is a "No". And I think this is what it's about: For the things I'd really like to achieve, I am not a good enough coder, and I don't have enough influence. Those two things go hand in hand.

This has nothing to do with impostor syndrome. You only have impostor syndrome if, through your job, or the respect shown to you by others, you are in a certain position that you feel you don't deserve to be in. I am exactly where I belong with my job, and I am happy there. I don't feel an impostor. Outside the job, as part of the tech community, I feel I don't count very much though. I do not have authority. I could still organise things, for sure. But it will not be as good as it could be. In short: I feel I am not the right person for it.

There is the possibility I could become what I envisage this magical organiser-mentor-person to be. But at the moment I don't see the way there.

I am also today extremely frustrated with the massive misogyny, both open and tacit, that has become apparent this year.

And that's where I'm at. I give myself till Tuesday, to get moving on my plans for next year. If I have not taken any proper steps by then, I hope I can just leave it. I might even step down as the organiser of the group.

Close but no cigar.

(Something in me riles against me saying all this. Come on rebellious me, find the weak spot in the lines above, and turn it all around!)

[edit 10 min later]
Ha, now I just remembered a thought I had recently (and I've had similar ones before): I am not an accomplished coder, but I am not a beginner either. I mean, not at all! I am in the murky middle, and things by its very nature get messy there. All I have to do is accept that. And this group is exactly about that stage. Still, today I just don't feel entitled to run it.

[Many hours later, at 1.24 am]
"Nobody else cares about my plans, the email I want to write to everybody, my ideas". And I know I am blowing things out of proportion. It is just such a shame, because I am sure it could be good if I only got started. Ha, but isn't that exactly the reason why you don't get started? As long as it is just in your imagination, you can say it would be good? No, no, I have seen it work before! It's just nobody cares. I feel so alone.

I just read this about Tim Ferriss and had tears streaming down my face. https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/08/tim-ferriss-tools-of-titans-depression/ The thwarted contribution. Always so powerful. Not fulfilling your potential hurts so fucking much, and can consume all your thoughts. Possibly more than bad things happening to you. You made something not happen. You are a failure. It's not that you failed, you are a failure, that is what your mind is telling you.

A tweet I saw today:
"Women are not going to forget or forgive this year." YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES. And not even the men I love most understand how much it hurts. I don't think they do. Not a single one. That's this year's big lesson for me.

Tags: coding / programming / codehub /
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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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JavaScript and other plans

This post was written 2 years ago.
Fri, 28 Oct 2016
It is very late now, but I suddenly feel this urge to write down those plans I have (carrying on from previous longwinded post which was all about just getting ready to make plans). I just want to make it very brief!

So basically, for let's say the next year, I have these two objectives:
1, Organise at least 5 events/workshops in the coming year, where the unifying principles are:
- The format: Probably 2.5 hours in the evening as a default, but could also be a whole Saturday 9 - 5 or something like that
- The topic: It should in some way help newcomers, and it could be something that you don't necessarily find in every tutorial; for example how to use the unix commandline, dev tools etc. It could also be 'soft' topics like how to organise yourself when you freelance, or how to keep physically and emotionally well; I actually have a list of topics in my head (have had that for a long time). Need to start asking people!

2, Improve full-stack web dev and in particular JavaScript as well as I can. I will measure this by hours, i.e. I will set myself a target of how many hours I'll learn. But I will measure the outcome by other objectives. There will be certain endpoints: a, Can I contribute to open source projects? b, Do I feel comfortable teaching others (formally or informally) and c, Can I build stuff without this being a massive and time-consuming pain? (Relatedly, do I manage to stick to a project and finish it off before I start a new one) I am aware that these goals don't look measurable, still to me they are hard endpoints, because I know how I feel when I've grasped something, and I know how it feels when you need just the right effort for something.
So either I will manage to achieve one or more of these endpoints, or I won't. It's an experiment. If I succeed that would be fab, because then I could really teach and could properly help people - and possibly build cool stuff! . But I am a bit skeptic whether that will be the case. The important thing is that I'll allow myself any possible outcome. As long as I stick to my plan of doing a certain number of hours a week, there will always be an outcome worth talking/writing about. And hopefully there will be some improvement. And I have to say that from when we starte our JS group a bit less than two years ago, my JavaScript has really got so much better!

If I only could always see it like that! Right, I just will from now on. - The 'full stack' aim is also interesting. I sometimes think I need to make a certain switch in my mind if I really want to succeed there. I guess the main thing is to actually believe that I can learn certain things. I took one significant step years ago, which was switching to Linux as my OS and running my own server to host things. I cannot say how glad I am that I did that. But when things become a bit more proper devopsy, that still feels like a bit of a barrier. It is difficult to say what makes sense there, should I not specialise on the front-end and PHP programming? But then, it does all interest me, and people used to do it all, and the way things are set up at work makes it possible to learn at least the basics of the different technologies you need to have a server up and running, keep it secure and sites performing well. I think I (and others) perceive it a bit as a 'guys' thing. I wonder if it's something of a cultural thing where as a woman you have been conditioned to be more careful with everything, not break things ladida. (My fear of breaking things has in the past years gone down quite a bit already though ;) )

Don't know. But as we are on this topic, here's another thing I am going to stop doing. Looking out for, or thinking too much about whether something someone said or ways in which they behaved is sexist (or agist, anti-foreigner? haha, how unusual can I get - and still, I am the urban 'cosmopolitan' middle-class and the people around me are, too, this is so far probably still the one decisive factor to make me compatible, but maybe shouldn't be?). It is such a fine line, and in the end, it is mostly history and people's habits that can lead to situations where you might feel treated differently as a woman. It is not directly anybody's fault. I do think it can become toxic, it depends very much on where you are. But it seems to me that currently, in my personal life, any subtle thing that might happen in this regard, is far outweighed by the opportunities I've been given, the super-flexible work contract, knowing so many great people in Bristol's tech community, being able to learn from others and so on. Besides that, in some regards, when it comes to the gender topic, there are things that have been problematic from my side. This has only gradually become clear to me, and it pains me somewhat, because I fear it has been a bit destructive. But that again, it is a historical thing why I behaved in certain ways, and there is no point in beating myself up about it. Main thing is, I am aware of it now.

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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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Paul Mason at Bristol Festival of Ideas

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sat, 11 Jun 2016
When I saw that Paul Mason was coming to Bristol, I knew straight away I wanted to go to the talk. After following his coverage of the Greek Euro crisis last year, I had read 'Postcapitalism' and it had touched a nerve. Here was the story of how we had ended up there, and the reasons why global finance in its current form had become unsustainable. The book is about much more than that, of course. But economic theory and the history of capitalism form a big part of it, and Mason explains them really well.

It was a warm summer night, when people streamed into St George's off Park Street to hear him speak. I noticed that many in the audience were older than me, in their 60ies or 70ies, though there were also quite a few people my age or under. I wondered if all the audience were lefties -- My husband Matin once joked that what I really want to do is dig potatoes on a Russian farm (actually, no I don't). In fact, Mason's main point should be of interest to everyone, although arguably he doesn't show much love for the conservatives.

The talk was billed as "Paul Mason in conversation with Andrew Kelly", but it was effectively mostly Paul Mason talking, with Andrew Kelly giving cues. Perhaps it was done that way to make sure every planned topic was covered. And Mason did get through a lot. From the ills of neoliberalism to the question if things would have happened differently "if Thatcher had ended under a bus", from Kondratieff waves to the development of the labour market, the massive and game-changing impact of technological progress, and the impossibility to foresee social structures of the future ("Shakespeare could not talk of Dickens's London"). And more besides.

Mason started, as the book does, with neoliberalism and its consequences. Interestingly, if I understood that right, Mason sees the digital revolution as an outcome of neoliberalism. Propping up the economy by simply printing more money (fancy name: "quantitative easing") has enabled technology to progress in the way it has. Although there was a recession, the iPhone and all that came next still occured.

At the same time this technological progress enables a different economy to grow besides the capitalist model, one where people give their time freely and create products of great value (open source, Wikipedia etc.)

Festival of ideas with Paul Mason and Andrew Kelly
 
Something that came up a few times was what neoliberalism has done to people, especially workers. There was also discussion about low-paid service jobs. Many of the new celebrated business models (Uber for example) rely on exactly that. People doing service work for really low wages. A different example: "As kids we went through these big car washes and it was all exciting. Now we have five men do this work by hand". I remembered the first time we had been to one of those manual car washes and I had thought this was very unusual. But in fact, now you get almost only those. We talk about automation, but in this case the machine has been replaced by humans!

What shone through for me was that Mason really cares about people. But he also says "I'm angry". What some people celebrate as disruptive technology, to him is disrupting the fabric of our community. What was also interesting in this respect, were the different views that people have of a basic income. The idea has recently been embraced by Silicon valley, but in that version it means that social welfare is withdrawn and then needs to be bought from the money that's handed out. This really defeats the original idea of it.

Then there are the external factors that provide a 'rational case for panic': climate change, migration and an aging population. How can necessary change happen? And what changes are already happening? Besides the panic, this is also an incredibly exciting time. Mason says he wants to "liberate the 1%" which I find a brilliant phrase. About a week before the talk, this thought suddenly popped into my head: "Perhaps this is also true: Women need to liberate men from patriarchy". I wondered if I should ask a question about that - was this the case? was it still the case? - , and I thought about it on the day, but it turned out there were lots of questions already, and I was not sure of how to best phrase it anyway, not sure of my English.

There was one moment, when Mason replied to a question with "Let me explain", then corrected himself and said "No. My opinion is this.." And I could not help but think whether this was a consequence of men being accused of "mansplaining". (It actually once happened to me that a man said "and I am not explaining this" before he went on to explain something to me.) I am sure Mason gets feminism as much as he gets digital and I seem to remember there was a passage in the book about the role of women where this became clear.

One thing I found moving then, was also to do with gender. I think it was in a reply to a question. "There might be kids at your daughter's school who are 12 and transgender. When I grew up this was unheard of. I think it is a good thing that it is happening now - children being able to come out in this way. And don't you think this is a personal hobby." (he did not use exactly these words, but I hope I did not change the meaning to much)

There were very good questions at the end, and a lot of it was in fact about how change can happen. Mason was pointing to Podemos in Spain (something I still need to read up on) and that that could be a model for cities in the UK, too. - Cities are where it's all happening. "Young people love the cities, because it's like an analogue version of Tinder." - One question was about Mason's career, moving from BBC newsnight to Channel 4 and then becoming completely independent. He enjoyed it all, but had some reservations about the BBC. "When Channel 4 wants something covered it's: How many cameras do we need? With the BBC it's: How many cameras do we need and what is our line on it?"

I believe in the end, what Mason wants to achieve is to empower people, to give people agency. This is something I think about a lot, which is probably why all these topics seem personal to me.

After the talk I had my book signed. There was a woman in the queue who spontaneously said to me "There was no talk of Brexit. I think he is in favour of leaving?" I said that I thought that too, but that he'd still vote for staying because of the possible consequences at this moment (too much power to the Tories). "That's a relief", the woman said. I still decided to ask him and at the end of a brief chat I said "You will still vote 'In'?" He looked at me and paused, then replied, "Yes. Remain". And I suddenly wondered if my language had been highjacked by the leavers' take on the vote, who want to pitch it as an 'In' versus 'Out' when the 'In' has actually happened a long time ago.

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If putting one foot in front of the other was all it took

This post was written 2 years ago.
Thu, 02 Jun 2016
On the coach to Bristol, I started writing a blog post about my marathon run. Unfortunately I didn't save it and in one thoughtless swipe I closed all apps, and with it Jota, the little text-editor app I am writing on at the moment. I feel a bit sad about that, as I had written quite a bit already. So here's at least a mini summary.

It was a beautiful day, hotter than expected. There were enough water stations though and especially for the first 9 miles I fell into a comfortable running rhythm and it did not seem much effort at all. I was already becoming quite blasée ("this is easy") all the while telling myself: Hey, you have barely made a quarter yet, it's not going to stay like that!

I have to say I ran quite slowly, all the time, and I think that might be the reason why in the end I ran through the whole thing without too much difficulty. But of course I was lucky, too. I didn't have any cramps, just at mile 16 my left calf tightened up suspiciously, but it never developed any further. I got tired, but nothing ever ached too much.

One good tip I had read in my marathon book, and then also on Rachel Andrew's blog: To split the run in parts. I split it roughly in thirds. I knew that after 9 miles, after going up to Stanley Park and past the two football stadiums we would be back at the Strand and that would be a third. - My support team (my husband and children) were waiting there which was nice. My son ran a bit alongside me and offered me a 'Toxic waste' gum which I refused!

Then followed a longer stretch across town not all of which was that nice, sometimes running along traffic, where just part of the road had been cordoned off for the runners. Still I enjoyed exploring the town that way and also the bands playing along the sides.

My next target was Penny Lane at mile 18. I wondered if they would blast "Penny Lane" from the loudspeakers again as last year when I ran the half, and that was what happened. Also, here I got an energy gel again, something I'd been hoping for since mile 9 when I had the first one. I'd never taken them on the two half marathons I'd run before, and had tried my first one quite recently. To be honest I don't even know how big their effect is, or if it's more of a Placebo. But suddenly they took on that importance. When can I have the next gel? Why on earth did I refuse the offer of that lady running with us ("Does anyone need some gummi bears?") - At a later point a spectator held out a box with Haribos, and then I didn't think twice and took three at once.

So now you definitely know about all the sweets I've been offered! After mile 18 I split the race further down. 4 miles to the sea and then, once I'd made that, the remaining 4 miles would be on the sea promenade. I was going to enjoy that no matter how much I'd be hurting. And I did, although I have to say those miles stretched. The last mile led onto the road again, but there I was greeted again by my children. They'd tracked me on the app. That was really sweet. My son actually ran the last bit with me on the track and that helped to distract me. Past the finishing line, I briefly felt the exertion of it all, and I think for a moment I had tears in my eyes. But I walked on and I kept moving for a while afterwards, walking with my family, and I also had a beer. My muscles soon started to feel sore, and as predicted by @bealers on Twitter, for the next few days it would be really difficult to walk down the stairs!

I loved the race, I loved Liverpool, and might even do this again. Only thing was, being in the last wave and being slow, I sometimes got the impression people were just waiting to clean up behind us. In that sense, the half marathon which starts one hour earlier was nicer. I guess I could just become a bit faster, that would also help. My time for this one was 5 h 37 min, so a km took me just over 8 min on average. But really it was all about finishing and I even ran the whole thing (I tried walking once and immediately realised that wouldn't work), and of that I am a bit proud.

I'm glad I've written all this. I could have written even more, but at least it's something. One reason I'm glad is that it distracted me.

It was such a beautiful weekend in Liverpool, and then Birmingham with the in-laws. Then on Monday night, I took the coach from there back to Bristol. Matin and the children stayed in Birmingham for another night because Matin had to sort something out there.

I only came back because we had the JS101 group the next day. It is important to me and I think if I don't take it serious who will?

At the moment I am hurting quite a bit. It is difficult to describe how sad certain things make me feel. But there is no good way I could explain this further at the moment. I might have made an attempt if I hadn't written about the marathon, but it's better in this case I didn't.

You'll never walk alone <3 <3 <3

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