Double book recommendation: local people autobiographies

This time I review two book at once, namely “Ick bin een Berliner, da kieckste, wa?” by Ronald Potzies and “El Zélese” by Antonio Carlizzi.

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Both books are the account of the lives of two people I know personally, and this makes me consider these books differently from others: they are the written version of facts and emotions that happened first in real life, while in most other cases either the book is my only connection with those lives, or it is a work of fiction. I enjoyed the direct language of both of these accounts, and the many references to common and sometimes hard conditions of life (both authors experienced world wars) that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for a fiction work, or would be mentioned sparingly, as background information, instead of a daily struggle. I find much to learn not in the abstract model that could be extracted from the lives of these two men, but in the details: the way they took a decision without knowing enough to be sure to make the right choice; their inner strength; their simplicity in being human without becoming heroes or book characters.

These are two books dear to me. I’m curious to know about similar books you read, please mention them in the comment section!

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On several ways of experiencing loneliness

Today I listened to the BBC4 “All in the Mind” podcast about loneliness. I found relieving to hear that loneliness can be seen as a neutral or positive state, at least in some cases. For many people, or maybe more for the general expectation of the society they live in, loneliness is seen as unhealthy, unwanted and sad, or even lousy. I agree that there are people who at given times of their life would like to have more social interactions, but have problems finding/keeping friendships, and this makes them unhappy. I also agree that unwanted loneliness can have serious consequences on a person’s health and life quality. On the other side, I think that each one of us has their optimal level of social interactions, so it’s very difficult to give others advice for “feeling better” by suggesting a specific amount (or even type) of social contacts.

I see myself as a solitary person who enjoys close friendships, and I know I’m not good at smalltalk or at mantaining not-so-close friendships. This led me to have a somewhat small network of people I regularly check with, and to feel unpleasantly lonely sometimes. I have recently met new people in the city, during meetings about shared interests, and this has made me feel definitely better. I also think I feel better since I decided that it was OK for me not to improve my smalltalk or my standard social interactions, because I felt uneasy in playing a role very different from my real self: I am authentic from the start, and I find like-minded people to share great moments with.

I don’t feel like celebrating loneliness per se! I’m rather interested about how I feel when I’m alone or with others, what can help me when I feel unpleasantly lonely, and how I interact with other people. I feel it is a work in progress: my understanding of loneliness is part of my path towards understanding myself and maintaining authentic relationships.

I chose to end the post with a picture of the Dolomites. The(se) mountains have been for me the perfect place for being alone in a magnificient, natural, healing, powerful and humbling landscape.

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FOSDEM 2018: the Geospatial devroom

FOSDEM

Sunday, February 4th, was the second day of FOSDEM and the day dedicated to the Geospatial devroom. Back from the times when I was active in OSGeo, I co-organised a developer room focused on mapping technology, that hosted presentations for the whole day.

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This year we had 15 talks about a broad variety of topics:

 

Intro Geospatial devroom Johan Van de Wauw
Join the FREEWAT family
FREEWAT (FREE and open source software tools for WATer resource management)
Pieter Jan Haest
Bicycle-sharing stations: profiling and availability prediction Raphaël Delhome
Pronto Raster: A C++ library for Map Algebra Alex Hagen-Zanker
GDAL Tips and Tricks
GDAL installation, Python usage, and Cloud GeoTIFFs
Jeremy Mayeres
GRASS GIS in the sky
GRASS GIS as high-performance remote sensing toolbox
Markus Neteler, Moritz Lennert, Markus Metz
GeoPandas: easy, fast and scalable geospatial analysis in Python Joris Van den Bossche
Open source Big Geospatial Data analytics Marc Vloemans
Spatial Support in MySQL 8.0 Norvald H. Ryeng
Distance computation in Boost.Geometry Vissarion Fysikopoulos
Building Rock Climbing Maps with OpenStreetMap Viet Nguyen
Building OSM based web app from scratch
How to find the way through the open source jungle
Nils Vierus
Privacy aware city navigation with CityZen app
The free open source app that let’s you explore your city and contribute to OSM
Redon Skikuli
Every subway network in the world Ilya Zverev
Rendering map data with Mapnik and Python Hartmut Holzgraefe
Efficient and interactive 3D point cloud processing
Combining the strengths of pdal, ipyvolume and jupyter
Mathieu Carette
AMENDMENT Mapping FOSDEM for accessibility Johan Van de Wauw
If you are interested in these talks, you can watch the video recordings and browse the slides used during the presentation. They are available in the pages linked to the table above.

Double book recommendation: “Kobane calling” by Zerocalcare and “D’autres vies que la mienne” by Emmanuel Carrère

Yesterday I finished reading “D’autres vies que la mienne” and took a moment to let the feelings sink. It was a moving book, that I read page by page as if I were listening to someone, letting their words decide the speed of narration. Carrère talks about the stories of members of his close family and of dear friends, as he wanted to portrait “other lives but his” in a direct and simple style. While reading, I felt taken very close to the people in the book, as if they were old friends. Carrère has a way of describing facts and perceptions that made me feel respectful while learning of very personal, often tragic, life events.

When I talked about the book to a friend, I realised that my feelings while reading looked much like the ones I had when reading “Kobane calling”, a comic book about Zerocalcare’s non-reportages in Rojava. Despite the apparent lightness of the chosen medium, the stories of the people he meets are portrayed as life-like as possible, hard and uncertain.

I felt that both authors opened me a direct connection to other people, in a way that these very people were the centre of attention – not the authors, nor me the reader. It would have been easy to bend these lives to make them more cinema-like, more appealing to my reader’s eyes; or to let the author show off their drawing/writing skills, or even to make use of the facts to squeeze out some general morals; I felt none of that. Both authors wanted to mention that their point of view was unescapably partial, and that they were humans as much as the people they portray in their narrations. I felt, together with them, the most sincere respect and admiration for people who bravely and modestly deal with the difficulties of their lives.

 

Find the difference #5: what you say vs. how you say it

I have been thinking about what has made discussions among me and others become heated, and most of the time it was not what people said, but how. Here are the two sentences I wish to compare:

  • You are not allowed to say that!

vs.

  • You are not allowed to say that this way! which could mean: You can say that, but the way you said it hurts me!

It makes me think a lot of parents and children. How many times I hear: “Don’t cry!” or “Don’t complain!” and I guess that it’s because seeing the suffering of others make us uncomfortable, at the point that we could prefer to silence it completely. There is a great article about this dynamic on happinessishereblog.com, and a shorter post on The Badger’s Smial. But what happens when we try to silence the cries, and worse, when we succeed? The suffering person feels even worse: oppressed, unable to both deal with the issue and to get support. I (among many) noticed that children get increasingly upset when they feel that their message doesn’t get through, and with an immense sadness, that some children (and adults) stop communicating and are therefore considered “good” – just because they are quiet.

I find that if I were a parent, I would promise to listen to all messages my children send me, eventually suggesting to express them a way that makes it easier for me and other people to help, but in no way editing the original content.

A similar censoring reaction happens often also when people get aggressive during a discussion: it seems easier to stop fighting if the other party stops pushing its idea forward, while it could be that it’s a matter of how the idea is expressed, and if the atmosphere calls more for white/black outcomes, rather than mutual understanding. I am trying to practice this form of de-escalation with my friends: I notice how the most vibrant advocates of a given idea calm down when they understand that I am OK with them owning their idea, and I am focusing on the way it is expressed. I think it takes a lot of pressure away, because there are endless possibilities to improve the formulation of a message. It could make me look undecided, when compared with people who get heated when they feel that others don’t agree with them; but I don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. It is actually a reason I left OSGeo Board a few years ago, because I felt that I could not fight for my/our ideas, but it was expected from my role. Now I would come back to OSGeo with a new  awareness, that I can contribute, move things forward in this equally firm, but more understanding way.

“I’m sorry…” – what’s next?

Today I found these three examples of the uselessness of a simple (and/or insincere) apology, the last one also suggesting a way that requires actual reflection on what happened, and how to avoid it happening again. I share all three versions here.

Short version: only saying sorry is useless (not only to objects!).

Medium version: you can say sorry and remove the cause of anger, but you can’t avoid leaving a scar.

Long version: you can apologise in a way that you recognise what happened, you promise you will improve, and you ask for forgiveness. Read the full article at A better way to say sorry – by Cuppacoa.

On heroes

I read this post from Sigrid Ellis today, and it reminded me some parts of Enrico’s last Debconf talk. This is Sigrid’s post:

Source: reblog by The Badger’s Smial

Enrico talked more broadly about relationship dynamics within Debian community members. He focuses on consent as the most sustainable strategy for long-term collaborations. Where consent is not a priority, heroism has space to grow, but this can also mean that heroes could maintain or even create new emergency situations to keep themselves active and important. The long-term strategy of preventing emergencies by continuous (albeit less visible) care requires another set of skills, but is ultimately more efficient. Isn’t there a say that goes like “doctors should not focus on healing the sick, but on educating the healthy”?

There is definitely something about the continuous celebration of heroic deeds that shadows care continuous successes, but I don’t want to just hold the media responsible for it. I think that recognising the usefulness of maintenance routines (housekeeping, nature conservation of non-charismatic endangered species and ecosystems, education (of any kind), care of one’s physical and mental health) would take us very far and will still leave space for heroic acts. One thing I would work on is to underline the intermediate steps between indifference and emergencies. I don’t want to either destroy nature or save a rare bird (or worse: do both!). I want to be aware of smaller and useful actions that I can do before heroes need to be called.