Back in 2012 E and I gave about half of our many books away as part of a BBQ party. We kept what we hadn’t read yet but still found interesting, as well as reference books and books we had read and felt attached to. In the decade since I’ve bought a lot of new books, based on interests, recommendations, or because they were mentioned in books I did read, and of course based on arbitrary reasons like the title and design jumped out at me while browsing a bookstore. Even though E and I don’t regularly descend anymore on a bookstore like a swarm of locusts on a field, something we did frequently in the past, over the years the collection of unread books I have has grown significantly. Those stacks of unread books carry a certain weight on my mind, a nagging backlog of books to read. I stopped buying for a long while because I ‘should’ read the others first.

Taleb in his book The Black Swan comes up with the concept of the Anti-Library. I don’t remember that specifically from reading The Black Swan, but I came across it again in this posting at Ness Labs. I do remember reading Taleb’s anecdote about Umberto Eco’s enormous book collection though, which concludes with the concept of the Anti-Library.

An Anti-Library is your personal curated collection of books, papers etc. that you haven’t read. Taleb posits that what you haven’t read, but did have reason to collect and adopt into your library constitutes a research tool. Because it has more potential value (in terms of new insights etc) than what you’re already familiar with and have read.

This puts the focus on how I can actively use the stacks of unread books around the house and on my devices, while at the same time letting go of the feeling of guilt attached to it (“I really should read that book I bought soon….”). This switches the perspective from ‘I bought this book to read immediately’ to ‘I bought this book so it’s there when I might need it’. From ‘backlog’ to ‘shelves of opportunity’.

Thinking in terms of an anti-library also allows paying attention to how you deliberately enlarge the collection of unreads, which is a curation task. The unread books aren’t random choices, they are a selected set of personal resources concerning themes you find interesting or that make you curious.

I de facto already have an anti-library, as the result of procuring books faster than reading them. To make it fully visible as such to myself and use it as a research tool, I probably just need to add a few tweaks. Such as:

  • Maintaining an index of unread books. I created a collection ‘Anti-library’ in Zotero, which also contains other collections with the references to things I did read. Zotero works well with both books and (academic) papers. I already had in my notes a list called ‘my reading list’ which is an overview of books I think would be useful to read at this moment in time, which I moved to Zotero. And I could make an additional round through my e-ink devices, and our home to add to the list of unreads.
  • When adding a new unread book, jotting down why I thought to add it. This is helpful context in evaluating it later. I do the same for bookmarks I store for later reading/turning into notes, where I write down why I thought it relevant and to which other things I think it might be connected.
  • Keep doing what I already do, which is checking out recommendations from peers, and what other books the ones I enjoy currently reading are referencing
  • I now post here about books I read sometimes, maybe I should do the same for books I acquired but didn’t yet read, and share the reason I think it might be an interesting book. Have an anti-library stream
  • When exploring a new question, consider which unread books may contain relevant insights (next to exploring what my notes already contain on the question at hand)

Book Case
The other side of a book case, image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY NC SA

I installed on my phone, to play with, nudged by Frank’s posting. It’s a E2E encrypted chat application with a twist: it uses e-mail as infrastructure. You set it up like an e-mail client, giving it access to one of your e-mail accounts. It will then use your e-mail account to send PGP encrypted messages.

So it’s actually a tool that brings you encrypted mail without the usual hassle of PGP set-up. Because it uses mail, you can find your messages in your regular mail archive (but encrypted), and you can contact anyone from the app if you have an e-mail address. The first message you send will be unencrypted (because you nor the app knows if the receiver has installed), afterwards it will be encrypted as the app will have exchanged public encryption keys. Using e-mail means it’s robust, it doesn’t suffer from ‘there’s noone on here’ and there’s no silo lock-in. It also doesn’t need your phone number. It does ask for access to your contacts, which I denied as it is not at all a given that people will run with the e-mail addresses they normally use.

I’ve tied it to my gmail address for now (ton dot zijlstra at gmail, ping me on if you use it), because I wanted to have an easy interface to check what is going on in my inbox, and I have gmail on my phone anyway (even if I don’t use it for anything). I may switch over to a dedicated e-mail address later.

Some screenshots to illustrate:

Screenshot_20210218-090559_Delta Chat
How my initial exchange with Frank looked in

How my message to Frank looked in my mail. As it’s the first message it was unencrypted.

How I received Frank’s reply, which has an encrypted attachment.

The encrypted attachment when opened in a text editor shows it’s PGP.

I haven’t explored whether I can export my keys from If you can’t, without I have no way of opening them. It’s a local tool only, so I suspect I might be able to get access to the keys outside of the app.

Peter in his bookmarks points to a description of by Swiss blogger Lukas Mathis. lets you make a list of authors you are interested in, and then provides you with a RSS feed that will alert you to new books published by those authors. It uses the Google Books API. It’s a clever small personal tool that Lukas Mathis built. I like it. I’ve added a handful of authors from the top of my head, and subscribed to the resulting RSS feed. I also added a monthly reminder to my task list to add or remove authors from the list.

De Open State Foundation en SETUP lanceren de SOS Tech Awards gericht op transparantie en verantwoordelijkheid in de digitale samenleving.

De Glass & Black Box Awards gaan over openheid en transparantie. De Dode & Levende Mussen Award gaan over verantwoordelijkheid nemen na technologische missers, en de mate waarin bedrijven en overheden niet alleen excuus aanbieden maar ook echt hun handelen aanpassen. De genomineerden worden in de komende weken bekend gemaakt. De SOS Tech Awards worden op dinsdag 23 maart 2021 uitgereikt via een livestream vanuit de centrale Bibliotheek Utrecht.

(In het kader van transparantie: ik ben bestuurslid bij de Open State Foundation)

Lukas Rosenstock posted a write-up of a group discussing their personal CRM routines he organised. A little over a year ago I was impressed with how Rick Klau (an old blogging connection) described his ‘homebrew CRM‘.

Lukas mentioned there were three groups in his conversation, one using specialised tools, one group using no digital tools, and one group using more general tools (“like Roam, Notion or Airtable“). I’m definitely one of the latter.

After reading Rick’s posting a year ago I parked it for a while, but when I adopted Obsidian for note taking, after a while I also started using it for some light weight CRM notes. Unlike Rick I haven’t added any process or automation, but I did start creating CRM notes so that something like it might become possible over time.

What I started with is making notes about people I encounter.

LinkedIn has one glaring hole in its functionality and that is allowing me to add something about the context of when I met someone. After using LinkedIn for 16 years I now sometimes come across a LinkedIn contact and then don’t remember how or why we connected. LinkedIn by now does show when you connected, allowing me to browse through someone’s CV to see what that person did when we connected and try to remember the context of that connection. Xing, mostly used in German speaking countries, had this from the start including a field for a few notes on when / how you met someone. That has proved valuable. [UPDATE In the comments Aad points out such a feature has been present at some point. Online search suggests it was introduced in 2013/4 with LinkedIn Contacts, and became a premium-only feature from 2017. By 2013 I had some 2k contacts, 8 years worth of interaction, where such contextual info was missing, and I use the free version, so the general point stands, even if factually not correct since 2013]

Back when I used a wiki on my laptop for notes, I also kept CRM style notes in it, especially 2004-2008. The useful bit was that I could link to a person’s page in the various notes I made about meetings, events etc. That ‘backlinking’ overview in itself was a great way of adding contextual info.

With Obsidian and the use of simple text files in markdown I have that back, and actually in a better way than in that wiki of old. Because those text files can be approached by a wide variety of software tools, not just Obsidian.
I’m not attempting to be complete in these CRM notes, I grow them the same way as I grow the other type of notes: when I encounter someone new I make note of it. Especially when I don’t know someone yet, or don’t have a strong connection to someone I make those notes. Not so much of people that I’m already connected to like colleagues. I’ve started a few new projects in the past few months, which is always a moment when you encounter a lot of new people in a new context. So those I’ve made notes for, as it helps understand a new client organisation, relevant stakeholders and context. For now backlinking in meeting and project notes is the way for adding a record of interaction.

Maybe in a year or so I can start doing more pro-active things with those notes, like Rick has built into his routines. Another element to me is potentially leaving LinkedIn behind at some point in the future, or at least be somewhat prepared when LinkedIn goes away, as all these platforms do.

Do you have some personal CRM-type routines or automation?

HandShakeHandshakes and conversations is what I’m interested in, not marketing instruments. Image Handshake by Elisha Project, license CC BY SA