Unusual books at the library

I regularly visit the libraries around my place and I’m delighted to find rather unusual books. Some of them can be put in the category “oddly specific”:

You can see a guide on how to use concrete for decorative art projects, a guide on how to keep piranhas in an aquarium, and a very thorough manual on how to build different kinds of chicken stalls. Not pictured here are books on goat keeping, beekeeping (with focus on beehives in the city), and very encouraging “My first ducks” guides! I absolutely love the practical approach of this type of books, it is so encouraging for me, as I need a lot of information before even starting to dream about a new project.

Another category of books that bears strong surprises is the cooking category. Among the most varied cuisines and traditions, there are over-the-top celebrations of food like “Sauerkraut Powerkraut”, absolutely innovative proposals like “Köstliche Insekten” (“Tasty Insects”), and half-serious ones like “Die Bier-Diät”:

Not pictured was a shelf of pro-veganism books with an anti-veganism book among them. I appreciated how more than one voice was represented, and by having a look at the anti-veganism book, I think it contained reasonable objections and encouraged critical thinking. That’s why I keep looking for thought-provoking books, and am glad that librarians fill the shelves with such a refreshing selection 🙂


Children and perfectionism

During my Montessori teacher course we were worried by how a relevant number of children are terrified by making mistakes, or get very angry when they happen – or even avoid them altogether by doing only things they know well. How does it happen that the children themselves become their own tyrannic “teachers”? We discussed about it and many thought that these children see error-free work as the best present for their parents, and the best (only?) way to get approval from them. I don’t want to be harsh on parents here, quite the contrary, because they all want to be great parents and learned valuable lessons from their childhood. What I suspect is that this message about mistakes comes indirectly and diffusely, for example when one of the parents is harsh on himself about a mistake he/she made: the children would naturally do what the parents do, and learn to be equally harsh on themselves. Or it can happen that mistake-free homework or games are highly praised by the parents – then the children try really hard to get that special praise, and have to run this impossible (and unhealthy) challenge.

This post is actually an expansion of Making mistakes – which is more about my own path to embrace mistakes as valuable information.

As usual, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments, I’d be happy to hear your opinion on this topic!



Ten years of OpenStreetMap contributions

Today I wish to talk about my participation to OpenStreetMap, a collaborative map of the world. I started mapping in 2008, borrowing one of my research group’s GPS devices, and taking notes on paper. This direct contact with maps led me to using computer-based GIS (geographic information systems) and later learning how to program. After university I didn’t map for a long time, except for a few fixes. A couple years ago I found a renewed interest in mapping, and have walked around the city with a printed Field Paper for systematic mapping, or StreetComplete for more casual, on-the-fly mapping. It’s amazing to see how the map needs constant grooming: a new shop opens, the opening hours of a museum are changed, there is a new cycleway in a nearby street, the bus schedule got updated… that’s why we will never be done mapping!

For OpenDataDay 2016 in Santiago, Chile they asked passers-by in a public square to put sticky notes over a big printed OpenStreetMap map. Read more on this OKFN blog post. Source: OSM Wiki

I also contribute indirectly to OSM as an editor of the weekly OSM news. Every week I get to read articles about mapping, city planning, research, software, mapping initiatives, geography in education, and more. I then write a short summary and link the source, and provide the French translation. I dedicate a couple hours a week on this task, and I feel enriched and motivated by all the activities of the OSM community all over the world.

Are you interested in knowing more about OSM? First, you can check how your surroundings look like on the map! Then you can find all information in the wiki, and find mappers around you who can guide you in your first steps. Or you can start with the weekly OSM news, by writing articles and/or proofreading them. For any question, feel free to contact me as well!

Book recommendation: “Mythos Begabung” (“The Myth of Giftedness”) by Ulrike Stedtnitz

I’d like to write a review for this book, even if it’s currently available only in German. I found it a compact yet deep analysis about the perception of giftedness in my cultural environment. Each chapter ends with a page of questions that readers are invited to ask themselves, with the goal to better understand their own thinking and how it influences the people near/dear to them.


Dr. Ulrike Stedtnitz starts the book with the analysis of potential, success, intelligence, and giftedness. It is nowadays clear that all these concepts can be modeled in many ways. Moreover, gifts evolve with time: for example, a child who learns to read at an early age is not necessarily going to keep being a reading genius, nor show potential in other domains.

It becomes clear that giftedness without practice doesn’t go anywhere, and that practice alone usually goes pretty far! Many people (especially children), who show a gift in a particular domain, usually make initial progress quite fast and effortlessy, and start struggling far away along the road, as they need a background of exercise and effort management they haven’t developed. Therefore, the author’s suggestion is to teach how to manage effort, concentration and persistence, and let personal capabilities and creativity collaborate to success.

She then ends the book with three chapters, one about dealing with emotions (how to cultivate/teach emotional stability and resilience), one about early education (where she mentions many principles in common with Montessori method, and the method itself) and the last one about school (with the invitation to abandon fact-learning, test-based evaluations of the whole progress, and to better prepare for working life).

What I liked in Dr. Stedtnitz’s analysis is how she makes clear that giftedness doesn’t require a fast lane or special rewards in school in order to lead to success – on the contrary. It is described as a specific advantage, which can backfire if it allows the child to skip crucial parts of the learning process, especially if it makes the child associate effort to insuccess. Therefore her suggestion is to have an education system that focuses on managing effort, developing concentration, intrinsic motivation, and let children experience and later generate moments of flow. I share these ideas, and I want to integrate them into my teaching model – a likely smooth task, as the Montessori method already shares many of these basic principles.

Weekly drawing: flying change

A few weeks ago I started a more regular drawing routine, with the plan to scribble anytime I wanted, and produce a finished drawing once a week. Some time ago my fellow blogger Anne Leueen made a post about flying change – but it took me until today to make a drawing out of one of her pictures!

I chose one of the pictures where horse and rider faced the camera. During the flying change, the rider communicates the change of lead through body and leg positions, that’s why the shoulders, hips and legs look more on a S-shaped line than on a vertical. That bend is what I wanted to capture on my drawing. Therefore I decided to use only black and white, no shadows at all, and let the lines be the protagonists of the scene.


It was not easy to visualise the proportions of horse and rider, so I used the pencil-as-a-ruler technique, and started tracing light lines. I discovered that it was especially difficult for me to copy the proportions on the horizontal axis (and I would have made the horse and rider either too broad or too slim, or an ugly mixture of both) so I rotated the picture 90 degrees on the left – so that the head of the rider was on the left side – and rotated my paper accordingly. I kept drawing, checking where lines met: the rider’s hand next to the horse’s eye, the rider’s arm on the tip of the horse’s ear, and so on. It helped me to know a bit about horse anatomy, but I don’t see it as necessary.

When I felt I scribbled enough, I took a new sheet of paper, went to a window to trace the drawing with a graphite pencil. Back to my desk, I traced most lines with a black pen and filled the darker areas with a felt-pen. I briefly thought about adding shadows, but decided not to, at least not for this drawing.

I hope this explanation can give you some ideas on how to approach drawing, and encourages you to try!

Outdoors in Berlin: hikes suggested by Berlin Forestry Commission

Berlin is known for being a capital city with extensive green areas, both within the city and around it. Many wooded areas include waterways and lakes, and are beloved hiking destinations for Berliners and tourists.

A wonderful collection of hikes has been made available by the Berlin Forestry Commission, on the city’s website and in two books (as far as I know, only in German, but the level of German is not scary. Anyway, it is always possible to translate the webpages on the fly.). I have bought the books and regularly pick a destination for our weekend’s tours, and so far I have been very happy about the choice of trails, the thorough informations about landmarks along the path, and the reasonable length of each hike. I tend to make few pictures while I walk, so here are two pictures from Lake Tegel that I made some time ago:

I hope this tip will come handy for your next Berlin visit!

Book recommendation: “Palomar” by Italo Calvino

I read this book when I was around 12 and I felt it matched my thoughts so exactly that it was almost scary. I have kept re-reading it, partly because I still like it a lot, and partly because it makes me remember the first time I read it.


Mr. Palomar is portrayed as a careful observator of the world, determined to analyse it in its smallest details. The book is made of short reports of specific situations (Palomar’s attempt to count the waves of the sea; an afternoon in his garden, whistling with blackbirds; the observation of the Moon during the day; shopping at a French cheese shop…), that he dissects, with the solid scientific intention to understand them fully, but with the often awkward result of losing focus on the rest of the world, or discovering the meaningless abyss of matter underneath familiar and reassuring scenes.

I feel respect and admiration for Mr. Palomar, as I see him fully absorbed by his quest. The simplicity of the subjects of his study could hide the grandiosity of his attempt, and make it accessible to everyone – as long as one keeps questioning and describing every detail of what one sees. It was my scientific approach when I was doing research, and is the likewise curious approach of nature journaling.