Up the snakes, and down the ladders

This post was written 1 year ago.
Mon, 15 Jul 2019
Things I have been reading: A.A. Gill "Pour Me", David Foster Wallace "The Depressed Person" (short story), and Brian Keenan "An evil cradling". It was not for that reason — not consciously at least! —, but I notice now that all these are by men (and two are memoirs) that had been held captive in one way or other. In Keenan's case in the literal sense, as a hostage in Lebanon. Gill by alcohol, Wallace by depression and I believe addiction, too.

Gill's book had caught my attention over a year ago in Waterstone's and I read it with long breaks inbetween, though it is very readable — just other books got in the way. Keenan's book found me in the Amnesty bookshop in Gloucester Road this weekend. I am half way through now.

I wish I had not read the Wallace short story. It was mentioned in an article in a newsletter. The article says that in the story, a young woman "is depicted as a self-centred monster". I only remembered this remark after I had finished reading the story. While I was reading it, I felt very much for the woman. But the end does in fact make her look bad, as she descends into a meta-meta-guiltiness about the way she is. Seeking reassurance, she keeps phoning a terminally ill friend, seemingly not caring about her friend's condition as much as about receiving some kind of absolution from her.

And this is one of the meanest things about depression. How self-centered and unable to care it makes you, when it really hits you. Hits you? — The other humiliating thing is of course, that in a way, with the exception of depressions that are caused by an illness of physical origin, or bipolar disorder, you are doing it to yourself. I am convinced that in most cases, some part of the brain chooses to go down that route. What the hell? Why to choose something as debilitating as that?! And yet, somewhere our unconscious sees some benefits. Withdrawal. Rest. Not having to be responsible. Not needing to confront that you might not be as good as you wish. Avoiding rejection. But as the owner of a brain like that, you can only watch on with the remainig parts, as a shitfest begins, with mood, physiology and behaviour all going out of whack.

I used to think it is not possible to get off that downward-bound roller-coaster. And in fact, in most cases it's not. And yet. There might be some stretches that are even. In the past, these times of respite made me think, "ah it's not that bad yet", just before going down the next steep descent. So then I became resigned, and when it started I just surrendered. But then it changed again. Sometimes it seemed I could jolt myself off the roller-coaster when it was about to start. And this was mostly with help from other people.

What if we do have some say after all? Of course, there is the cognitive intervention, David Burns' "Feeling good" which apparently is popular in IT. Exercise. Meditation. All have their merits. But there is never a guarantee.

It is a skill. A bit like dancing I guess. Rolling with it. Once I walked home in a really somber mood, because of some incidents that made me feel rejected, or something similar. And then all of a sudden I managed to have these thoughts that let me see everything in a different perspective. And I thought, "maybe I have grown a patronus".

Recently, it has been challenging, as it had already become physical. For days on end, I seemed to have an exorbitant cortisol production going on. The nerves in my lower arms felt as if they were going to burn through, and if we still had hair on the back of our necks, mine would have been all upright a lot of the time. As mentioned above, physiology out of wack, the stress axis in particular. I started taking St John's Wort and also Omega 3 tablets. I still get the high cortisol a lot, but I have somehow got used to it, and it is not as bad as it used to be. Maybe some day soon, it will become obsolete and stop.

There is a whole story behind it, but at the moment I cannot tell it. I cannot even make sense of it, why it affected me so much.

Something that is always a problem: I cannot see myself as competent at anything. It could even be something I fear, strangely enough.

I do not want this to become the main topic on this blog, but it will crop up again and again I guess, the effort to stay out of depression, and how to do that. There is so many layers to it. Not least how our upbringing plus the unspoken assumptions and expectations we all have, can contribute to one's malaise. I want to think outrageous thoughts, and train myself to be accepting, of myself and others, in ways I have not yet been capable of.

And I take heart from the Irishman, and the English ex public school boy, stuck in a cell, life-lines to each other. — I hope to write some more about that book, I find it very impressive.

For now, if people can keep themselves out of madness in conditions like that, it must be possible to keep my, all in all pretty small, demons at bay, hey?

Positive disintegration

This post was written 1 year ago.
Sun, 02 Jun 2019
So, these days I am pretty exhausted. I would like to put a sign on my head saying "Closed due to restoration works".

The best husband I could ever hope for had to do a lot of handholding today.

Weirdly, when I reach panic stage and break out in tears, that is a good sign. There's something about the panic that seems to wake me up, prevent me from sliding further into a depressive state.

It is very late now, and I should go to bed. And I will, soon.

It was yesterday that I started to see my current unravelling as a chance. "Sometimes, to come to your senses, you have to lose your mind." There are some things I kept glossing over in the past months, and that was fine. But not good in the long run. On a very practical level, my brain child and big attention hogger, CodeHub, is bumbling along, and a lot of things are not working that well. People promise sponsoring money and keep postponing, and Digital Ocean bizarrely did not reply to two emails after having offered us a credit of $250. I am putting some of my own money in now. I am actually planning to inject a big wadge soon, from money I have in Germany (yay, best time now with the current exchange rate).

And that is in a way the easy bit. But underlying is some confusion about what is objectively good about what we do, and about what we can ask sponsoring money for.

And still, even that.. Now, what bothers me most is how I started various things, or talked about starting them, coaches at hack night, opening a library for which I have written a Django app that I've now more or less abandoned. And then it is all dragging along. Oh, there's also the mentoring program.

I have doubts about how useful all of these things are. Some of them, people seem enthusiastic. But not to a point where they would really help with them. And I don't blame them, I'd probably not do that either.

And then what I have more doubts about is my ability to run them. I do things with no credentials whatsoever, on top of that I am not very organised, and the worst, I am both not an advanced programmer and (I have finally come round to that) also suffering from impostor syndrome, probably massively. I mean, in principle you cannot really say you suffer from impostor syndrome. Because when you have it, you are absolutely convinced you are an impostor. How can you know it's a syndrome?

There is something that has been missing for so so long. Self-reliance. And this, this is where the problem with (internalised!) misogyny lies for me. Some women are okay, they've had an affirmative, encouraging environment. I don't exactly know how it happened to me. As a child I was cocky(!) about being smart, and had zero social skills. But of course that was not allowed, and especially the women in my life would not have it. There was such a strong message of having to be modest, putting everybody else's needs in front of your own, be SERVING. I was never able to comply very well, but have learned some social skills like a second language, because I had to.

The thing is, not all of what I have learned as desired female behaviour is bad. Not at all, in fact. It is so easy to complain. I can mostly speak okay to people now and it might be that I look better after people than I otherwise would have. Don't know.

But the one aspect of having been 'knocked into shape' in this way (I suspect that's where it comes from) that I find really deplorable is this: I find it so difficult to say "I can do this", "I am good at this", "This is something I know". And this has an accumulative effect over time. You just never get anywhere. It is pretty bizarre. The clinical depressions I had in my 20s didn't help with that, either. Nor did the Asperger traits I have.

So what I am wondering now: How much can I do about it at my age?? I have a pretty good idea about how 'off' my assumptions are, how distorted my view of things. But that doesn't undo the effects of bad habits over years, and does not prevent me from falling into bad thinking patterns. But it could be a start?!

I want to deliberately tackle this. And it is not selfish. Because the better I get at this, the better able I will be to help other people, and perhaps women especially?

4 am now. I hope it will not affect my whole week now. But I don't have to go to work tomorrow, at least something.

Before I finish, another thing I have come round to: To embrace weirdness, and to let it be on this blog, too. Most developers write about technical things on there blogs. Well, I just don't. At least not for now. There is also this quote by Joss Wheedon: "Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset"

Caring fool

This post was written 1 year ago.
Fri, 24 May 2019
I feel like writing a series of posts, stringing a narrative together, of some truths I occasionally seem to catch glimpses of, but that are difficult to express.

There are certain recurring themes:
- Competence
- Autism
- The good life (both in terms of acting morally right, and living well)
- Having an impact
- The human condition
- The individual and the crowd

Starting from a naive position. That now is definitely a recurring theme in my life, too. Being naive. I even have it in my Twitter bio, I'd rather be naive than cynic. Fool on the Hill. The Fool, my favourite card of the Tarot Deck. Walking close to the precipice but not falling down. Knowing while seeming dumb. Being open. Always beginning.

All that seems in opposition to what our lives are determined by. Progress, complexity, accumulation of power, growing divides.

Can a fool learn? Now that is an interesting question.

Does he need to learn, or should he rather teach?

While I like the figure of the fool, I am not him, but maybe he is part of me. More than he is part of other people. He might make learning difficult some of the time.

Diary - mid May

This post was written 1 year ago.
Sun, 19 May 2019
A week since my last entry, and so much seems to have changed, again. Not outwardly so much. All in the mind.

A couple of hours ago, I received an email newsletter. It is written by Zeynep Tufekci. She says of it "It's an experiment: longer writing that is not public writing." It can be found here: https://tinyletter.com/zeynepnotes. This new editon, not added to the archive yet, quite threw me. It clarified something for me. Recently, I had been thinking this: We are determined by so much more than our genes and our environment. We are a continuation of all our ancestors' lives. They play out through us, and it can be surprising. This is not what Zeynep Tufekci wrote about, but the common thread is this: Genes and personality is not enough to explain why people act in the ways they do.

In her newsletter, Zeynep pointed to this article she wrote for Scientific American: The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones. I think it is brilliant. — I have not watched GOT, though it has always intrigued me. I have read up on the story and characters, watched a summary, and then watched this current season's first episode. But it seemed a bit boring to me, and some of the acting wooden. I then heard from my colleague Alex that in seasons 7 and 8 it had got a lot worse. Zeynep thinks that too, and her analysis of why it happened, is compelling and fascinating (despite my not having watched the series). Sociological storytelling has been replaced by psychological narrative. Previously, you could understand why under certain circumstances, characters acted the way they did, even the bad ones. There were outside pressures and incentives. Now things are explained from individual predispositions, which is what Hollywood commonly does. The hero/antihero narrative whith good and evil characters. And when you do that, you cannot kill off your main characters because you rely on them to carry the psychologically motivated story. Zeynep then compares this to our current times. Much is pinned on individual people: Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Bezos, Dorsey etc. But the resulting society is not so much shaped by individuals, but by what is punished and incentivised. The structures determine much more than individual people do.

Taking it into another direction, on a personal level, I find it more comforting. There is a reason for the ways I act, the things I do. Not that I want to use that as an excuse! Things that make absolutely no sense on one level, have an explanation. I can trace back and understand the steps that got me there. But it can still be a mess, and I guess the challenge is then to find ways to resolve it.

I'd have liked to write so much more. I wanted to make so many plans. But really they are all in my head and I just need to write them down. I hope!

Tags: diary /

Diary - Spring to Summer

This post was written 1 year ago.
Sun, 12 May 2019
This is going to be a short entry. I am mainly writing it so as to start this blog again at all. I like the idea to have a diary with frequent entries again for a while, as I have done a few times before.

There is a lot going on, in so many departments. I mostly feel fine, even elated. The past year has been exciting, often quite challenging, sometimes frightening, but also rewarding. In short, it felt like an adventure. Just occasionally, like today, something else is mixed in, some kind of weariness.

My main challenge is, always, that I am interested in so many things. With regards to programming, but also beyond that. Sometimes I start reading a lot, and all over the place. On Saturday I went into town around 3pm, I wanted to buy some presents for my daughter whose birthday was today. In Waterstones, I saw a pyramid of copies of a book on display. The book was called "Moneyland". I could not help but enter the store. I picked up the said Moneyland, but then also "Maintains Pereira" by Antonio Tabucchi, and a book called "Awakening" (from 1899) by Kate Chopin. I settled at a little table with the three books and got so sucked into all three of them in turn, that I forgot everything around me. In the end I bought Maintains Pereira.

I thought I had forgotten my phone, and actually liked being blissfully unaware of the time. When I emerged I found the phone in my coat pocket, and was a bit shocked to realise it was 5 past 6. I had just sat there for three hours flat, no break, no drinks, just reading. Luckily a lot of the shops were still open and I got the presents I wanted in the end.

The night before, I had equally been drawn into reading a lot online, this time about programming and in particular functional programming, but also one post with guidelines about learning to program that had lots of useful links: https://medium.com/zerotomastery/learn-to-code-in-2019-get-hired-and-have-fun-along-the-way-d4197f96be27.

There is a balance to strike between being pulled in many directions — explore —, and more systematic approaches to spending your time; to read and to learn. I sometimes wonder if I spend too much on the first!

There's lots of things I wanted to post about Codehub, to various Slack channels, and in direct messages. There's new things we are planning to do, and if I don't post about them soon it will become more and more difficult.

And also, I need to put something together for tomorrow, documenting how I deploy to a dev site with Ansistrano, so I can show somebody else.

Today was completely dedicated to my daughter, we went down to the harbour and later to Brendan Hill, where I had a go on the swing, something I haven't done for ages! In the evening we went out eating and afterwards played a game of Catan. This again had not been planned, and I'd thought I might spend some time on the computer despite the birthday. But it was good that way, and I have no regrets.

Just now, of course, there is a bit of pressure. Sticking to something I committed to.

So, this is a snapshot of my life right now. There is much more though, and some I might write about. Most will be about programming, CodeHub, ideas and things I read, and how to balance everything :)

For now, good night.

Tags: diary /

Life lessons

This post was written 2 years ago.
Thu, 07 Mar 2019
Note: This post almost definitely falls in the over-sharing category. I did not want to write like that anymore, except today I do. If you don't like over-sharing, don't read it.


I am writing this from the bath. I have Jota on my phone and can save this file to Dropbox. The wonderful new technology. The dangerous, heart-wrenching new technology.

I have a wonderful life. The most amazing family. A great support network. That is why I know I will be fine (unless something unforeseen happens). That is why nobody has to check on me. I also don't know if I will eventually publish this post.

My wonderful, happy life is also, incidentally, why I thought I could now start to help other people. That, today, seems very conceited to me. There's one type of people that can both acknowledge their struggling and help others, and that is therapists (and some of them can't). With anybody else, it is questionable whether they should try.

Today's and the last weeks' lesson would be, again, that I should not start to care too much about people outside my family. And again, I won't learn it and I don't want to learn it, and I won't take it to heart.

It is a curious situation that currently a number of people seem to be disappearing from my life. That sucks. In some cases it has definitely nothing to do with me, but in almost all I have a feeling I might have contributed. And that sucks even more.

Five years ago, I had somebody literally turning their back on me. That was very difficult for me. But at least it was just one person. I started to go for a run every morning for about 4 weeks. The same year I ran a half marathon in September. The next year, I ran one again, in May. And in May 2016, I ran a marathon in Liverpool, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Also, I found it almost impossible to walk down stairs for a few days. But it was totally worth it.

I've felt very wobbly recently, and I've been preoccupied with these thoughts, wondering what I might have done to deserve this, and the unsettling thing is, I can find a number of reasons why the person where this is most acute, might be disappointed in me.

All I can do is go through this. Today there were some bitter tears. But still, I am not in a depression. I hope I'll manage to dodge it again, as I've managed for the past 21 years. A clinical depression, I mean by this. There's a difference between a depression and depressive feelings. Of the latter I've had plenty, though miraculously not so much the past half year.

I was reminded of this difference when I recently wen't on my reddit account. Three years ago I posted on the /r/aspergirls subreddit, and we discussed it there. It is still the only ever subreddit I have posted on.

Maybe it is all synchronicity and means a new step lies ahead. I should most certainly pass on CodeHub. Maybe become a bit like a recluse and just code. Then meet new people, and the whole cycle starts again.

New Start

This post was written 2 years ago.
Wed, 30 Jan 2019
The self-censorship machine has been at work again and I removed my last post, as too self-indulgent and irrelevant. ( - For anyone wondering about the rabbit, it did return after 4 days and is alive and well :))

I am in fact thinking of moving all my previous blog posts into some kind of archive that is still accessible, but will not be the main blog.

I used to have aspirations to have a technical blog. I don't think it will ever be that, but I don't want it to be a personal diary either, and in the past it did sometimes look like that.

I will still write personal things, it is difficult for me not to. I am glad to see quite personal writing styles in professional writers, too (e.g. Laurie Penny, also Robert Sapolsky in his book Behave). I think it is something like a character trait.

There is a lot going on at the moment both in my personal life, and - I don't think anybody would disagree here - in the UK, Europe, the world. Crossroads everywhere.

I think a lot about what one could call collective mental health. I used to think mine was a bit precarious, but it is not just me, not at all! It is such a widespread problem. And so many people are feeling insecure these days.

It is a bit like when women read Betty Friedan and realised that they were not the only ones feeling so unhappy, that it was not them but the the structures they were living in that made them unhappy.

These days it's not just the women, but many men too. And I just hope we all wake up to it and manage to create something better.

I was reminded of this post from 2014 recently. I had mentioned it on my blog twice before! I had forgotten how good it is. 4 and a half years on, and we are still dealing with the fallout from all he's describing, though I have a feeling things are changing now. But in which direction?

This is exactly what I feel like: "I feel like I need to figure this out, like figuring all of this out and finding new ways to live has become the most important thing I could possibly do, not just for myself and the people I love but for the entire human race."

Than he carries on:

"I don't mean me alone — I'm far too self-loathing to have a messiah complex — but I feel like, for me, this is the best use of my time. Because the world is making me crazy and sad and wanting to just put a gun in my mouth, and it's doing the same thing to a lot of people who shouldn't have to feel this way.

I don't believe anymore that the answer lies in more or better tech, or even awareness. I think the only thing that can save us is us. I think we need to find ways to tribe up again, to find each other and put our arms around each other and make that charm against the dark. I don't mean in any hateful or exclusionary way, of course. But I think like minds need to pull together and pool our resources and rage against the dying of the light. And I do think rage is a component that's necessary here: a final fundamental fed-up-ness with the bullshit and an unwillingness to give any more ground to the things that are doing us in. To stop being reasonable. To stop being well-behaved. Not to hate those who are hurting us with their greed and psychopathic self-interest, but to simply stop letting them do it. The best way to defeat an enemy is not to destroy them, but to make them irrelevant."

Making the charm against the dark, that's what I want to help doing. And figuring out new ways to live.

This is where I am starting from.

Tags: mind_stuff / blog /

January Blues

This post was written 2 years ago.
Tue, 08 Jan 2019
I am starting up this blog again with a little heartache.

One of our two rabbits has gone, vanished without a trace. I let them out in the garden, as I often do, but I did not check as frequently as I used to, and when Alex was back from school I did not get them back into their house because I thought it was alright as long as he was there.

It could be that we'll get the rabbit back. Our garden is surrounded by a high fence except for one spot where it is still very high, but not totally unthinkable for them to get over. If he did manage, we should have spotted him in that garden, the neighbours weren't there, but the children jumped over, and they couldn't find him. A garden further? Did somebody take him inside perhaps?

All the while I was at hack night and had no clue this was going on.

And here is heartache number two. I cannot even explain it, and I don't want to analyse too much.

It is funny because I would say it was a success, in that some people really got something out of it, and one person who'd not been before got good pointers for his future career and he thanked me in a message, and gave me a tip for my job search as well. People got talking and had a good time.

This is always my main concern, that people feel comfortable and get something out of it.

But I felt kind of stupid afterwards for a variety of reasons, and they don't even have to do just with the hack night. There's also the never-ending men vs women ruminating.

And it's as if I deliberately tried not to progress, stay a junior forever, a beginner. It is good to keep being a beginner, at new things. But not at everything.

I just read a book called "The Courage to be Disliked" which is about the psychology of Adler. I did not completely buy it all, I found it was idealising Adler's approach too much and not talking about the difficulties, but it was really interesting, it did turn things on its head. Especially this point: Usually, as Freud did, people look at the causality of things. I behave this way because in my childhood this and that thing happened. Adler looked at the purpose. I behave this way because I want to achieve a certain result. - And this can be something quite negative. You might just create certain circumstances because you are afraid of changing, you don't have the courage to break out of a situation.

In any case, I hit a wall once again. It's evolve-or-die time, baby.

Tags: family / codehub /

Armistice Day

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sun, 11 Nov 2018
The first time I became aware of a fundamental truth about war was when I was watching Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004. At the end, Michael Moore is quoting George Orwell (this is put together from various pieces of a chapter in 1984):

"It's not a matter on whether the war is real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past, and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against it's own subjects and object is not the victory over Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact."

How many lives are lost in war, how much money is sucked into it that could so much better be spent elsewhere, how much are the wealthy benefiting from it?

I wonder if reason will prevail one day, and make war obsolete. I still believe in the ability of the Internet to connect people, and make them see that almost everybody just wants to live in peace. And bit by bit stop manipulation and dominance by those profiting from war.

We just watched a documentary made by Peter Jackson, who directed Lord of the Rings. It used real footage from WW1 large pieces of which were coloured in, and underlayed with realistic sound. At the beginning there were interviews and mostly black and white stills, or sometimes black and white video footage.

Matin made me watch it, I had not been aware of it and was also unsure if I wanted to see it. I think it was good I did though. You still cannot imagine what it must have been like, but you got a little closer. One thing it made me see was that a lot of time in the war was spent on preparation, or sitting in the trenches, the actual time fighting must have not been so much. And there were things like trench foot and sinking into mud (some boys and men died that way) that were horrific even without the fighting. But when they did fight it was absolute horror.

Watching this it seemed to me like a computer game come to live, and of course it is the other way round, computer games are modeled on this. But they really were players in a game, they did not even have something against the Germans in particular, they got along with them even (more the Bavarians and Saxons, not so much the Prussians which were disliked by their own countrymen it seems). They just did a job.

There are some uncomfortable truths in there. Even after having come through the war, men spoke of excitement and not wanting to have missed it. One also remembered that when news of the armistice broke they did not celebrate, they were too exhausted, and some didn't know what to do now, it was as if they had lost their job (this was one record, I wonder if it was different for some.) In effect, they did. They were often not wanted in jobs when they came back to their home towns. Some shops had signs that said "War veterans need not apply".

A lot of young men seemed to partly have signed on because they found their jobs boring. The war promised excitement.

I have written stuff in the past few days, but discarded it, so there is now a little hole in my November diary, but I think it is acceptable.

I have peen putting together my document on Codehub, I hope I will be able to finish it tomorrow. I had two nice chats today with Codehub people too. There is something about it that it has attracted the right people, and hopefully keeps attracting them. More to be written soon, I hope.

Tags: war /

This post was written 2 years ago.
Fri, 09 Nov 2018
What a weird day! For a substantial part of it I was quite downtrodden. It looks like I might have moved out of that now. We'll see.

Yesterday evening we did a workshop on TDD, and I thought it went well. But I think I might have missed some things. Also, it is always so very difficult to get feedback from people. That's probably part of the reason I did not like running workshops so much anymore.

I also really really hope I can finally sum up something like proposals for a future CodeHub and put it in front of some people. It is driving me mad. I cannot even explain it. For a long time it felt like I was giving birth to something. Now I just think I am nuts. And I would like to hand this over to others in the most elegant way possible and hope they will make something good out of it.

The thing is, there is obviously such a demand for it, we have people signing up every day. But I still think it promises too much. In a way that is not really my problem, if people don't feel it helps or they don't like it, they can just stay away. But still, I wish it helped them.

And a big thing about it is both the company, and feeling okay with where you are at. I want to model that as well. But I fear in the end I just look like a clueless fan girl that shouts "hooray, how great" at everything.

My daughter came home from a one day trip to Tyne Cot in Belgium, the site of World War I soldier cemeteries. It made a huge impression on her. One thing she noticed was how there was only a very small monument for the Indian soldiers while so many of them had faught in the war as well.

But when we were sitting at the dinner table and heard her talking about the trip, it was the sheer scale of the carnage that struck me again, and I find it so difficult to grasp. How could this ever happen? How do wars happen, how are young made to fight in them, I don't understand. This is the real madness.