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

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

I am finally getting to learn AlfredApp Workflows. Previously they looked rather daunting to me.

Since I moved to a new laptop I’m learning to do more with AlfredApp (it is Mac only, and I use the paid PowerPack option). On my old laptop I first only used it for custom search, such as finding a business on Open Street Map. Later I added the automated expansion of text snippets, which saves me a lot of typing during the day.

AlfredApp also allows you to make Workflows, where you string together triggers, inputs, operators, actions and outputs to automate tasks on your machine. I had previously looked at Workflows but they seemed complicated to me, judging by some example workflows I downloaded that weren’t at all clear to me. Early this morning I came across this video of Automating All The Things, where Aron Korenblit talks with Chris Messina about using Workflows (it was early and I did not jot down where I found the vid, in someone’s RSS, mastodon stream or someplace else, so HT to whoever pushed it in my stream)

this is just a screenshot from the video that links to the video on YT, not a video player: I didn’t want to embed YT video.

This morning I reckoned I wasn’t going to watch a 87 minute video, but I was wrong (though I did jump forward a few times). Chris takes Aron through the basics of building your own Workflows, and I now get what they are and how to build my own. First I’ve added some fairly easy things, like having typing ‘read’ open up my fresh articles in my TinyTinyRSS feedreader instance, or typing ‘blog’ followed by a type of post, e.g. ‘blog bookmark’ open up the correct editing window for it. Next, I will be thinking through my local routines and context switches, and how I might be able to assist myself by automating them. The video starts with a few quick tips on how to make AlfredApp easier to access and use for yourself, so it can get embedded in your muscle memory.

Replied to Losjes de leesmap lezen by Frank Meeuwsen (
Eens in de twee weken ben ik vrij op woensdag. Vandaag. Dat betekent voor mij niet dat ik offline de dag beleef. Verre van dat. Die woensdag is voor mij een dag om zelf op zoek te gaan online. Om mijn inbox, leesmap en losse flodders te bezoeken. Allerlei URL’s die ik gedurende de week tegenkom ma...

Zoals je weet lees ik mijn feeds op basis van sociale afstand. Bij weinig tijd kijk ik alleen even naar de feeds van mensen die ik het hoogst heb zitten, en bij meer tijd schuif ik op naar uiteindelijk de groep mensen die ik wel lees maar verder niet ken.
Grasduinend lees ik eerst uitsluitend door de feeds, wat me interessant lijkt open ik in een tab in de browser, maar lees ik nog niet verder. (Daarnaast heb ik gerichtere lees-taktieken als ik bijvoorbeeld gericht naar een onderwerp zoek, of op basis van een eigen vraag zoek). Als ik door mijn lijstje ben kijk ik pas of ik ook tijd heb voor het bekijken van de geopende tabs, of dat op een later moment doe. Ik benader feeds lezen dus een beetje als triage, zoals bij e-mail ook: van de 300 berichten vandaag vind ik er 12 interessant en de rest wordt gemarkeerd als gezien. Die 12 komen aan bod in een volgende doorgang. Of niet. Ik verlies me makkelijk in exploratief browsen, zoals jij ook beschrijft, en ik probeer er dus bewust een moment voor te creëren.

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.

Andy Matuschak has an interesting site where he publishes his notes collection as it grows. He does that as an experiment in ‘working with the garage door up’. One thing that makes browsing his note collection pleasant is how he uses sliding panes. When you follow a link to a new note it becomes a pane that slides over the one you are coming from. It means jumping back and forth between notes that form your path through them is easy. A kind of breadcrumb trail but one that keeps the content, not just the page links, available at a glance. This allows you to maintain an overall view while you browse his site.

For Obsidian there’s a plugin that provides sliding panes ‘Andy Matuschak style’ to my notes collection. I’ve installed it to see if it reduces friction that I currently feel if I want to quickly branch out into several notes, while not actually leaving the starting note or having to add panes in a way that easily results in a hard to grasp ‘tree map‘.