Book impression: “In nessun modo ancora”, Samuel Beckett

I initially gave this post the title “Book review” but there is not enough review to justify it, so I preferred the term “impression”.

This book is the Italian translation of Nohow On, and was lended to me by a very good friend. I usually read books entirely, including introductions and interpretations, but this time I skipped them and went directly for the text. The first novel, Company, first disoriented me then captivated me and I read it in one sitting. I assumed that the text was meant to be read, and therefore it would be written in such a way that thoughts could be followed by other people; instead, it seemed the full recording of thoughts formed into the brain, a sort of “raw data” version of a book. Surprisingly, I found that form extremely understandable, probably more than the potential revised form – and likely the introduction, that I haven’t read yet (sorry). I was led to analyse, think, smile, laugh, read again to appreciate every word. I read the following two prose pieces but I was not really focused and they were written in a slightly different form, so I will need to read them again.

Company sounded to me like a victory against revisions to a text and implicitely to thoughts. In school I had mixed feelings about someone else telling me “look, your text lacks clarity, you should change these parts, explain these ones better, remove that paragraph” because I didn’t feel that a third person could check if my text matched my own thoughts (in which case I would have accepted corrections that made the text a truer expression of my thoughts) and the corrections seemed to add their touch, their need for clarity, in my own words. My reactions got worse when I arrived to the point of writing scientific articles, because revisions tended to make the text less clear to me, the author, and that would have been ridiculous! I later kept writing my thoughts in a diary and started this blog. I don’t edit posts unless there is a mistake or a follow-up that I want to link to. I write only when the text has a clear structure in my mind, and consider it a snapshot rather than an encyclopedia entry – therefore, it represents my thoughts about something in that moment, and are not supposed to be edited afterwards, only connected to other posts.

On the other hand, there is text that I write as part of documentation or news items, for example OSM Weekly News. In that case the focus is on the tool/service that needs documentation, or the contents of the news items. I am not going to treat that text as my own thoughts, quite the contrary: I see myself as an ambassador for the tool/service/news item, so I am more than open to comments and review that get the text as true and clear as possible.

Apologies to Samuel Beckett for the minimal comment about his work. Next review will be a proper one πŸ™‚ stay tuned!

Book review: “La dΓ©licatesse” by David Foenkinos

I have read this book last week, and I must say I struggled to finish it, still finding many interesting points along the story. The book has been adapted to a film and has been a big success in France. Still, I found that the characters shared many thought processes and action patterns, and it made them unrealistically similar in my eyes, despite being women, men, of different origins and living in different contexts. I found that some of the scenes were resolved too quickly for my needs, with a spectacular, film-like action, but that left me with open questions. I liked the ending the most, and some non obvious plot developments.

I am more puzzled by my reaction to the book, rather than by the actual content. I haven’t read a novel since a long time, and it felt odd to be in a story generated by the mind of another person. I feel that my review is harsh and that I missed the many inspiring points, but at the moment they are not accessible to me. That’s why I wish to recommend the book anyway and welcome you to write your impressions in the comments!

Weather and clouds

I finished reading a small book about weather prediction by observation of clouds: “Wolkenbilder Wettervorhersage” . It was an easy-to-read guide through the complex field of weather prediction and the more intuitive interpretation of clouds as indicators for humidity, wind, temperature and pressure. The scientific approach was enriched by clear pictures, that had for me a significant artistic interest naturally embedded in them. How can one not think of the many paintings and drawings, where the artists tried to convey the lightness and vibrancy of clouds and skies, as well as the difficulty of capturing the textures and contrasts with a camera?

I liked the first chapters, that described the main weather states and sequences for Germany. I guess that the latitude and the simple orography of the country makes the weather dependent on medium to large-scale weather phenomena, and the weather prediction seems pretty straightforward. Now I feel more knowledgeable about what I see in the sky, and I’m reassured by my new ability of deciphering the messages hidden in the clouds literally in plain sight.

Drawing goats: the horns

This morning I went outside before it could get too hot. I went straight to the goats’ enclosure and found many children greeting and petting them. I walked to the other side of the enclosure, on the bridge above it, and started sketching.

At first the goats were really far away and I could only draw the outlines. These are two small goats in the first page. Then I focused on an older goat laying down in the shade, and what I could see best were its horns. I went on sketching horns in all possible orientations. Their shape is not easy to understand, especially as I don’t have depth perception: so the sketches become flat just like pictures. They are the clearest way to show two important facts: first, that the horns are not cylindrical, and second, that they follow a wide spiral. When the spiral of one horn is seen from the side (with the axis coming out of the page, so to speak), it makes a very round arc, but then the other horn has the funniest shape, as the axis of the spiral is almost parallel to the page and the horn section (which is sort of tear-shaped) makes all sort of sharp angles and almost rectangular shapes. The 90-degree angle midway is the oddest form that comes out of this combination of shapes, and I find it the most recognisable goat horn marker. I will definitely come back and try to observe the horns better. In the meanwhile, enjoy these three relaxed goats πŸ™‚

Drawing goats

In the park near my house there is an enclosure with a dozen goats. They can stay in a little wooden house and roam in a space with plenty of rocks and some shade under the trees. There are some older goats that walk slowly, a few youngsters and a few who will give birth soon. They seem content and with enough to do to have a pleasant life. Here is one that looked quite satisfied:

A black goat was resting in a convenient spot to be drawn so I took my sketchbook and gave it a try:

Resting goat

I would like to visit them more often but there is always quite a crowd around, and there are not many sitting spots (just one bench). I get tired quickly of the distractions from the flow of people, just the same as in the zoo, but there even more because there are no other animals to visit. I almost wish I were a goat and had the chance to stay in the enclosure, maybe in a quiet corner, and take all my time to contemplate, eat, jump and sleep πŸ™‚

On baking bread and taking care of plants

I was wondering why I find baking bread and tending to my little green companions so rewarding, and I think it is because they need my support, but they do the work on their own. Bread needs me to assemble the ingredients and respect the temperatures and timings, but the leavening happens without any input from me. Plants grow when I water them and take care of light and nutrients, but I am not the one doing the legwork.

I think I see myself as the helper and enabler, and I marvel at how well the bread and plants develop, according to their own plans. OK, bread’s shape and form are very much under my control, but plants are not, they follow their internal models, make leaves, flowers, seeds, totally on their own. I feel the need of being the facilitator, and see what fascinating creation comes out. Unlike some other people, I don’t feel capable of taking responsibility for the whole plan and implementation, and therefore I feel more afraid of than empowered by so much control. I’m relieved when the bread and the plants know how to take care of themselves and don’t wait for me to grow (mostly the plants, but bread is pretty independent too). It means I am not the bottleneck or the blocker when I happen to be busy with something else.

Let me finish this short post with pictures of bread and of a new succulent I bought yesterday.

Knitting updates

A few days ago I had the unrealistic plan to go buy one new magic loop cable and a second set of 2mm DPNs at my favourite wool shop, and of course I came back home with a few more things:

The shopping generated a peak of new-project-enthusiasm, and without hesitation I started a new pair of socks with the grey striped wool from a previous raid, and a cabled scarf with the purple-grey-green wool. The yellow linen sweater is almost finished, and I will make sure I will finish it before starting a new large project:

Here is some more progress on the cabled scarf. The wool is very soft!

And here are the finished socks from previous update. They are not as pink, the camera is doing its own color balance:

That’s all for now, stay tuned for more knitting pictures πŸ™‚

Computer-taught humility and honesty

It has been many years since I first formed thoughts about this topic, so I wish to share them.

I remember the relief that I felt when I started programming. Finally I was receiving feedback in ways that I was fully OK with. It took many years to understand why I liked it so much, and why I preferred to interact with a program/software/machine than with most humans.

I must say that I was not a very patient person nor very ready to admit my errors, before I met computers. I think what allowed me to grow was their transparent way of dealing with my inaccurate inputs.

First of all, they were consistent: every time I made a typo or called the wrong command, I got an error back. The machine had zero tolerance for inaccuracies and instead of being annoyed by it I was deeply, sincerely thankful. (Of course there are some programs which are not that picky about input, and these are the ones that confuse me most, because I can’t know in advance if the input will be reviewed properly, or if an error can sneak in). I notice that I am confused by inconsistent feedback and I tend to get angry when that happens – but often it is misread as me getting angry for negative feedback, which can’t be far from the truth! What I fear is to be randomly left on my own judgment, and being corrected only at the Nth repetition of the same action. I can’t understand why it was OK for a while and suddenly it’s being corrected. I would really prefer to know all the criteria in advance, even if I know very well that I can’t work on every aspect from the start, because I have the information that this will be worked on at some point in the future. I understand how I confuse people when I say “Let me know about all my mistakes! Don’t worry about giving too much feedback! Don’t try to be nice by giving only partial feedback!” and I can also understand how demanding it sounds. I guess it has to do with a different kind of honesty that sounds brutal when applied to people.

Another important point is that they were factual. The machine didn’t throw back an error out of spite, tiredness or with any kind of emotion attached. It simply pointed out that there was some problem with what I did/wrote, and that was it. No judgment, no making fun of me, no extra layer to decode, just the fact. And when I solved the problem, the machine had zero grudges or worries about the error happening again. It had the apparent patience to letting me try until I found the right instruction to type in, and it meant I could take all the time and attempts I needed. I took it as “OK, I need to learn a bit more about this topic, so that I get the right words in the right order, no matter how unfamiliar this language looks – because it is the language of the machine and it has no other way to communicate, so it’s on me to learn it”. In most other social situations there was some kind of pressure to not make mistakes and not being able to repair the mistakes, and more expectation about everyone knowing the rules already. My machines relied on precisely written instructions and were free from the several implications that puzzled me, mostly because I didn’t mean them.

When I started programming, I felt I entered in a comfortable bubble, with objects I was able to interact in a fruitful and pleasant way. I was able to notice the subtleties of their language and I was rewarded by them working productively and with their remarkable accuracy. When it happened that I mistyped a command and got some output that was exactly what I asked for, but not what I wanted in my head, I felt a bit sorry for the machine as it had worked on the wrong assignment, and angry at me for not noticing the mistake in the command. I never got angry at the machine for not “understanding what I meant”, because I know very well that it is not able to guess that. My patience (and my success) with the machines was a wonder for many. I just can’t think of handling them any differently. There is a complicity with the machines that I rarely get with anyone/anything else. That’s why every laptop I have, and every server I used to maintain, has a name that I remember.

And to finish with a somewhat old picture, here are Galadriel (left) and Matusa (right), my second and first laptops. I am thankful for all I learned from/through them and the worlds they introduced me to.

Panda Sky Cat Socks progress

As promised, here is a knitting update πŸ™‚ This time it is about socks, that I am knitting from pattern Panda Sky Cat Socks.

I am halfway of the second sock from this pair – luckily I have only two feet! I am impatient to be finished, because the first sock feels very comfy. The extra space on the instep allows a better fit and doesn’t stretch the heel area too much, if at all. You see the wider middle section quite well in the third picture.

My linen sweater goes forward too, I will post pictures another time. The sleeves are sort of uneventful, so I tend to knit them when I watch movies, and it is not happening very often lately (well, I watch movies but I don’t always knit along). It’s also quite a large project to carry around (it’s a seamless sweater, so I can’t just carry the active sleeve to the park or in the train, I have to bring the whole thing) so I work on it only at home. But it’s almost done and I hope to wear it before summer is over πŸ™‚

That’s it for today! I wish you a quiet Sunday and to stay safe and healthy.

Updates from the kitchen: oatcakes, basil, flowers and mushrooms

Here is the weekly highlight of small and happy updates from my kitchen and my windowsill. First of all, Scottish oatcakes! A friend of mine has relatives in Scotland and regularly brings back these crunchy savoury snacks, that I enjoy alone or with cheese. As the package runs out super fast, I finally tried baking some at home, and it ended up being surprisingly simple. I followed the instructions from Penny’s Recipes. For the next batches I would put the oven to a higher temperature so that the oatcakes get cooked faster and don’t dry out too much, but still I am proud of my first attempt πŸ™‚

On the windowsill, the basil is growing happily and making beautifully curved deep-green leaves. I try to trim it so that all leaves get sunlight, I gave it a stick of mineral fertiliser and it seems to appreciate it. I bought this pot of basil as a discounted, sad-looking thing – with the slight but marked sense of guilt that no one would buy it – and I am relieved to see that its condition is improving a lot.

In the larger flower container I planted the seeds of various edible flower species, given to me as present from a dear friend. After a few days of regular watering and careful observation, many of them are sprouting and are enjoying today’s rain.

Last picture for today’s post is the side dish of mushrooms from yesterday’s lunch, following the Italian recipe called “funghi trifolati”. It’s a quick and tasty recipe that starts with stir-frying garlic, then add mushrooms in dices or stripes, and when the mushrooms are soft add salt, pepper and parsley. This time I added a bit of ginger. I forgot to stir at some point and some parts got a nice crust, so my note for next time is to forget to stir again πŸ™‚

There are a few knitting updates that will get their own post. In the meanwhile, take care and enjoy the weekend!