Two bookmarks, concerning GDPR enforcement. The GDPR is an EU law with global reach and as such ‘exports’ the current European approach to data protection as a key citizen right. National Data Protection Agencies (DPAs) are tasked with enforcing the GDPR against companies not complying with its rules. The potential fines for non-compliance are very steep, but much depends on DPAs being active. Various DPAs at this point, 2 years after GDPR enforcement commencing, seem understaffed, indecisive, or dragging their feet.

Now the DPAs are being sued by citizens to force them to do their job properly. The Luxembourg DPA is sued for the surprising ruling that the GDPR is basically unenforcable outside the EU (which isn’t true, as it could block services into the EU, seize assets etc.) And there’s a case before the EUCJ, based on the Irish DPA being extremely slow in starting investigations of the Big Tech companies registered within its jurisdiction, that would allow other national DPAs to start their own cases against these companies. (Normally the DPA of the country where a company is registered is responsible, but in certain cases DPA’s of the countries of residence of the complaining citizen can get involved too.)

The DPAs are the main factor in whether the GDPR is an actual force for data protection or an empty gesture. And it seems patience with DPAs to take up their defined role is running out with various EU citizens. Rightly so.

A few months ago I posted about being aware of what of your surroundings you could reach within 60 or 90 minutes by car or public transport. Towards the end of that posting I posted a map of my reach from home for 60 and 90 minutes. It was a bit of work to find a service that could make such isochrone maps for me.

Today Open Street Map volunteer Rory pointed to CommuteTimeMap which provides isochrone maps for any location in the world, based on Open Street Map. That’s very cool.

Of course I immediately compared CommuteTimeMap with the maps I had made before. What I used before didn’t allow for doing this for public transport (just walking and cars iirc), and CommuteTimeMap does. However the underlying data about public transport may be incomplete (just buses perhaps), as the map for 60 mins of public transport shows a very limited range, where the actual range is more or less the full size of the image (Zwolle, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Apeldoorn, Ede all within range). Or it simply isn’t set up for multimodal transport, and it assumes I’d take public transport from the bus stop nearest to me, where in reality I would cycle the 7 minutes it takes to the nearest railway station. Taking the bus to the railway station would cost significantly more time.

my 60 min public transport range, according to OSM, more pessimistic than in reality

On the other hand, the map for my reach by car in 60 minutes seems a little bit optimistic, covering most of what on my previously made map is shown for 90 minutes of driving. In general it provides a similar contour though, and a lot more detail (such as excluding car free national parks).

my 60 min driving range, according to OSM

my 60 and 90 min driving range, according to what I previously used

I’m definitely using this from now on.

Writing my Notions and notes these past months as part of my revamped personal knowledge management system, I realised as the collection grew that using the collection as a thinking tool also requires remembering more of what is in there. Not to make the notes superfluous but to have more top of mind material that serves as a starting point in interacting with the notes I have, as well as to be able to weave that more easily into current tasks and work. I also expect it to aid creativity, as a large chunk of creativity is recombination of previous elements, and remembering more elements lowers the threshold to new combinations.

Both in Andy Matuschaks notes and in this long article by Michael Nielsen about his use of Anki, spaced repetition is discussed in the context of note taking, and it got me thinking (I write ‘thinking’, but it was as much working through the mentioned material and distilling the concepts key to me from it, as it was chewing on it mentally and adding that to those same notes. Thinking is more interacting with my PKM, rather than sitting down looking into the middle distance as per Rodin’s bronze).

Anki is a tool (on laptop and mobile), that allows you to train your memory with flash cards and spaced repetition. I’ve used it in the past, e.g. to increase my vocabulary in French and to better read cyrillic script, but not with much energy or effect. It felt uncomfortable to be using card decks made by others for instance. Making my own flash cards from scratch always seemed a daunting task as well.

With my now much better set-up of notes however I have a great starting point to create my own decks of flash cards. As I am obviously not the first one to realise the potential of notes collections for flash cards, there is already an Obsidian plugin that pulls out questions and answers from my notes, and puts them into Anki. It comes with a wiki that documents how to set it up for yourself, including how to mark various types of questions and answers in your notes.

The key feature is, that I can add a question and its answer as a part of any note, and the plugin will pull it out and export that to Anki. It means I can e.g. end a note on three key aspects of distributed applications, with an Anki question and answer about those three aspects, which will get exported to Anki. Better still, I can add multiple questions in different forms about the same thing to that note, e.g. a follow-up question for each of the three aspects. Having multiple versions of basically the same question means I can phrase them for different memory hooks in parallel. This will enhance my own understanding, and allows me to place notions in specific contexts for instance.

I have now installed the Obsidian to Anki plugin in Obsidian, and the Anki Connect plugin in Anki (so it can ‘listen’ for automated input).

Some things I hope this will yield benefits for is:

  • making it a more deliberate choice what I want to remember long term
  • making it easier to remember the basics of a new field of interest
  • making the effort to remember a habit
  • improving my skilled reading
  • using remembered material to better connect new notes to the existing corpus
  • making it easier to internalise new / relatively new material

The way I’m approaching it is to have all my flash cards, whatever the topic, in the same single deck. This as I see my notes collection and all the stuff I remember as a interlinked network of topics and material. Splitting it up in some sort of thematic structure precludes a whole range of potential connections and associations, and is artificial in that it makes a current perhaps logical distinction the norm forever.

The coming 12 weeks or so I’ll work on two habits:

  • adding questions to my notes as I work on those notes, and
  • using Anki daily to review those questions.

My colleagues Emily and Frank have in the past months been contributing our company’s work on ethical data use to the W3C’s Spatial Data on the Web Interest Group.

The W3C now has published a draft document on the responsible use of spatial data, to invite comments and feedback. It is not a normative document but aims to promote discussion. Comments can be filed directly on the Github link mentioned, or through the group’s mailing list (subscribe, archives).

The purpose of this document is to raise awareness of the ethical responsibilities of both providers and users of spatial data on the web. While there is considerable discussion of data ethics in general, this document illustrates the issues specifically associated with the nature of spatial data and both the benefits and risks of sharing this information implicitly and explicitly on the web.

Spatial data may be seen as a fingerprint: For an individual every combination of their location in space, time, and theme is unique. The collection and sharing of individuals spatial data can lead to beneficial insights and services, but it can also compromise citizens’ privacy. This, in turn, may make them vulnerable to governmental overreach, tracking, discrimination, unwanted advertisement, and so forth. Hence, spatial data must be handled with due care. But what is careful, and what is careless? Let’s discuss this.

2013 artwork by Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead. Located at the Greenwich Meridian, the sign marks the distance from itself in miles around the globe. Image by Alex Liivet, license CC-BY

Robin Sloan last month wrote about how newsletters should have seasons like tv shows. Peter Rukavina refers to that in the context of maybe closing up his online shop for letterpress artefacts for a while, something other than a newsletter entirely.

It made me muse about the general application of ‘seasons’ to any type of creative output. Newsletters, knowledge work in general, creation of artefacts, expression. It reminds me of the phases used to describe artist’s lives and work. “She was nearing the end of her blue phase when she met fellow painter X and started experimenting with a new work form.” Van Gogh’s work is described in the ‘Dutch phase’, ‘Impressionist phase’, ‘Arles phase’ and ‘Late phase’, spanning just a decade.

The word season has a rounded pleasant feel to it. Much better than the word phase, which in the context of projects evokes the notions of pre-planned milestones and stress before deadlines. Seasons has a much better fit with things like the natural flow of one’s interests, of (digital) gardening, where there’s a rhythmic change to your activities.

There are internal reasons and external reasons for thinking in terms of seasons for creative production.

Internal ones are about

  • building in rest, and treating rest as a fundamental part of your production process (which fits well with my notion of knowledge work as artisanal work).
  • an opportunity to reflect (mentioned by Sloan), to step back from the work in progress and take a look at the bigger whole in which it fits
  • avoiding the relentlessness that is buried within ‘weekly’, ‘daily’ and other preconceived rhythms, and which always after a while if conceived as ‘endless’ or having an end which is still far away becomes a burden. There is of course the juxtaposed notion of ‘not breaking the chain’. The latter is aimed more at getting the mental satisfaction of keeping up a streak, when the underlying tasks are more of a chore and not likely to provide that satisfaction. With creative production the satisfaction is likely more in the output itself, and then forcing the streak to continue may be counter productive, causing a rut that decreases the fun and satisfaction of production.

External ones

  • a sense of progress (mentioned by Sloan), of exploration. An exploration is always a temporary thing, before it morphs into something else again.
  • an opportunity to alter course (mentioned by Sloan), e.g. because your list of current interests, or current questions you hold has changed
  • a way to change the form of expression, which can bring new inspiration also if themes remain the same. Switching from writing haiku’s to photography, from consultancy to on-line training modules.
  • to embrace a natural end point or evolution, providing the ability to let go gracefully not as ‘I’ve quit doing/exploring that’, but ‘I moved to doing/exploring this’. ‘Seasons’ lend themselves well to weaving them into your or other’s narrative.

Those last three fit well with combinational creativity, in all its three varieties of problem driven, similarity driven and inspiration driven approaches.

Seasons by Alphonse Mucha, public domain image, shared by Robson Epsig as CC-BY

It seems to me e-readers don’t fully exploit the affordances digital publishing provides. Specifically when it comes to non-linear reading of non-fiction.
My Nova2 at least allow me to see both the table of contents alongside my current page, as well as my notes. This makes flipping back and forth easier. Kindle doesn’t.

But other things that would be possible are missing. With a paper book you have an immediate sense of both the size of the document and your current point within it. My e-reader can show me I am at 12% or position 123 of 456, but not a visual cue that doesn’t require interpretation.

More importantly my e-readers don’t manipulate a book like they should be able to given it is digital. Why can’t I collapse a document in various ways? E.g. show me the first and last paragraph of each chapter. Now add in all subheadings. Now add in all first and last sentences of a sub header and show all images. Etc. More advanced things would be e.g. highlighting referenced books also in my library and being able to jump between them. Or am I overlooking functionalities in my e-readers?

Also welcome: more publishers that sell a combination of a the physical and digital book.

How do you read non-linearly in e-books? What are your practices?