Ever since I was a child in primary school, my mental image of a year has been that of a circle, with January and December at the bottom, and July and August at the top (you’ll notice that this means the months aren’t evenly spaced around the circle in my mental image, spring takes up less of the circle than the fall. It’s a mental image, not a precise graph, likely influenced by my childhood sense of the endlessness of summers, and the long period of darkening days of fall and winter).


My mental image of a year ever since childhood

This Monday I completed a full circle around that image: I’ve been reading my own blog posts from previous years on each day, to see which of those I can take an idea or notion from to convert into a note in my digital garden (named ‘Garden of the Forking Paths‘). Peter has been going around the circle with me I read today (which in turn prompted me to write this), starting from my posting about it last year. He’s been reading his old blogposts every day, not just to reread but also to repair links, bring home images to self-host, clean up lay-out etc. I’m sure I am and have been my own blog’s most avid reader ever since I started writing in this space 19 years ago, and like Peter had been using my ‘on this day’ widget to repair old blog posts since I added the widget in early 2019.

Now I’ve come full circle on reading those blogposts for a year to mine them for their ideas and notions. The next cycle until the summer of 2022 I am adding a layer.

I will of course be making another round through my own blogposts like I did before. Because sometimes I missed a day, I haven’t repaired all of them each day, and I may take new meaning from them the next time I read them.
The layer I’m adding is also reviewing the personal notes I made on this day last year. This concerns the daily notes I make (a habit I started in April 2020), the other notes I’ve created on a certain date (work notes, ideas, travel etc), and indeed the blog posts I converted to notes dated on this day last year.

I see Frank has also picked up on Peter’s posting, and is embarking on a year of reading his own daily postings as well. Like Frank, I have never blogged on this day of the year since this blog started. And like for his blog, that has now changed.

Going in circles… I suspect life is circles, not turtles, all the way down. At least when you get a bit older that is.

Is there a way to commit stuff from a local folder using GitHub Desktop to a GitHub repository that is not under my account but that I do have admin privileges for? If I try it now, it pushes to a repository under my own account. (The use case here is that a client publishes documentation on github pages using Respec, which in turn uses markdown files. I am the editor for part of this documentation and would like to maintain the relevant markdown files in a folder in my Obsidian vault as a local repo)

This week our team is staying in a vacation park in the south of the Netherlands. All have their own cabin, except me. Family logistics mean I am spending most time at home, and commute to the holiday park.

This afternoon we discussed our office. What to do with it, how to make it more useful to us.

We opened an office exactly 2 years ago, and more than half of that time we didn’t use it much because of the pandemic. We opened the office because some of us need a place away from home to work. I am used to working either at home, en route, or at a client’s, and have been doing so for 17 years. Having an office, especially a centrally located one as we have in Utrecht, within a building with other facilities available to us (meeting rooms, restaurant/catering services, event spaces, roof terrace), to me is however very useful as a meeting place, and to be able to host groups. During the pandemic some of our team used it to escape the four walls of their limited living spaces in the inner city of Utrecht or Amsterdam. I handed my office keys to a new hire early on in the pandemic.

The central question today was, moving forward, given our pandemic experiences, and the likelihood of at least some measures being in place on and off, how do we want to use our office? And given that use, how do we want it to look / feel?

We split in three groups of three. That in itself was already an important first realisation for me: we can actually split in three groups of three. And the office should work well for all 9 of us, as well as for a handful of frequent collaborators.
In our little groups we discussed our ideal office, and shaped it with the material at hand. One group got to paint the office, another group to build with Lego (serious play is the applicable term I think), and the group I was in used clay.

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Patterns in the results were that, while it is still needed to have a few desks, most of them can be removed, that we want to make the office much greener with plants and more colourful in general, that shaping it as a social place is important, as well as a place where things can be created. A few immediate actions (such as removing two thirds of the desks, doing some painting, and adding plants) were decided upon for the summer. Another conclusion was that we simply cannot already know how office use post-pandemic will really be, meaning having plenty flexibility is key. Think furniture, devices, or dividers that can be very easily rearranged at will by those present. Think not investing in a ‘perfect’ design, but doing it as we go along.

Today, following a book reference by someone in a discussion thread, I ended up purposefully using the Internet Archive’s book collection for the first time. The book in question was a 1965 UK paperback. The Internet Archive offer several million books from around the world, and my Startpage search for the book led me to their collection. Being logged in with my account (I’m a monthly supporter of the Internet Archive, maybe you want to consider that too), I could hit the ‘borrow’ button and have the scanned and indexed 1965 book before me for an hour. Going through the table of content I quickly found the two things of interest to me, skipped to the two related chapters, read the relevant few pages, and hit the ‘return this book’ button after 10 minutes.

That was very useful. Following up a loose thread of information, finding the source, lift out the few relevant details, make a note of it, connect it to a few existing notes and move on. Useful and a very pleasing process.

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