Monthly, 04/24

TL;DR: March sucked, April was a lot better. I’m still struggling with a few things here and there, but at least I got to read more books again.

To get the elephant in the room out of the way straight ahead: March has been a difficult month, and because of all the stress and mental chaos I managed to misplace my draft for the monthly post. It vanished out of the blue - I definitely didn’t delete it, but for whatever reason I was unable to find it again.

This was uncomfortable at first, but I managed to not brood over it too much. There wasn’t all that much that I could have told anyway. As I said, March has been difficult and uncomfortable. It’s probably just live in general, but I’ll go ahead and blame getting older for all my woes.

So, yeah .. April. As a whole, it hasn’t been all that eventful. I think the most stimulating thing I did was starting to work on the renovation of my storage room, which has been overdue for a while.

It’s a room with a lot of potential to turn it into something cool (and I’m glad to be in the luxury situation of having extra space available), yet for the time being it’s nothing but cramped. Because of its design, being long but rather narrow, the cabinets and closets to each wall make the space feel even more limited than it already is.

My goal, after I went through all the stuff that’s stored in there (most likely getting rid of the overwhelming majority of it), is to remove all the storage furniture in it, partially replacing it with new cupboards on one side. As for the other side I currently contemplate leaving it empty, making it easier to move in there.

My ultimate goal is to be able to move most of the stuff, including parts of my collection of books, out of my “office”. On one hand that unfortunately means losing the “crazy scientist” vibe my “office” currently has, on the other hand the more open layout of the room might be good for my mood. Plus: I get to move my small-ish server rack into the storage room as well, which would be another childhood dream becoming reality.

But these are thoughts for the future, first I have to deal with the annoying part of renovation work, “tearing down” the status quo.

On a whim, for personal reasons, I took some days off work around the end of the month. I spent those few days away from home, in a tiny house on a hill in the countryside - and I’ve got to say, that was pretty darn awesome.

Not because I did anything particularly exciting, quite to the contrary. Drinking coffee, sitting around, taking walks, occasionally watching a documentary as well as reading books.

In that regard, April was a significant improvement over March. Not necessarily (or not solely) because of the amount of books I read, but because of the enjoyment I got out of it.

  • “The Weaponisation of Everything” by Mark Galeotti; I thought I had read all of his works, but as it turns out I have missed this one. I didn’t really know what to expect, because the subtitle “A Field Guide to the New Way of War” was left room for interpretation, at least to me.

    The publisher, Yale, describes it as " An engaging guide to the various ways in which war is now waged - and how to adapt to this new reality", which is apt. If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of how modern conflicts are waged, how the nature of war is changing, and how to deal with that, then this isn’t the right book for you. But if you’re looking for an engaging, well-written overview of the topic, adorned with plenty of recommendations for further reading (that should help with diving deeper in the parts of the topic that you’re interested in), then this definitely is the right book for you.

    Plus: I have to admit, I find the fact that Galeotti absolutely loathes the beast he created by naming something the “Gerasimov Doctrine”, only for it to develop a life of its own, way more amusing than I probably should.

  • “The Russian FSB - A Concise History of the Federal Security Service” by Kevin P. Riehle didn’t make it into the post for last month, because I hadn’t finished it by the time I wrote that, but managed to do so this month.

    In short my conclusion is almost identical to the one I came to after reading “The Russian Understanding of War” (by Oscar Jonsson) last May.

    The book is excellent, in the sense that it’s detailed, seemingly complete, and very thorough in its explanation of the history, organisational structure, tasks and issues of the Russian internal security service, the FSB. But I have to admit that, at times, it really was a slog. Which isn’t the fault of the author, because there’s only so much you can do to make organisational charts entertaining.

    Similar to my bottom line back then, I’d say that if you are interested in seriously understanding how Russian security services (including, to some extent, the other services - SVR and GRU - as well as some other government entities, such as the MVD) work, then this book is close to a “must read”. But: Be prepared for it to be a challenge at times.

  • “The Nature of Technology” by W. Brian Arthur; I don’t know why I bought this book. And I don’t mean this in the metaphorical sense of the phrase, I mean this literally. I don’t remember when or why I bought it. But given my habit of buying books because I heard about them in another book, chances are that it was mentioned in a book I read sometime in the past couple of months.

    The book might have the word “technology” in its title, but there’s very little technological about the book. I’d rather see it as “technologically anthropological”, even philosophical at some points.

    I’m struggling with writing about the book, and how I feel about it, because I have a hard time pinpointing my feelings about it. I’m suspecting that I wasn’t in the right headspace when I read it, because as fascinating the thought process of the author was, more often than not I ended up thinking “I mean yeah, but what’s the point?”. I probably have to re-read it again at some point to be able to judge it reasonably fairly.

  • “Eichmann in Jerusalem” by Hannah Arendt has been on my radar ever since I was a teenager, which was when I was first confronted with the theory of the “banality of evil”. I’m glad that I finally read it. Without commenting on it at length at this point in time, I recommend this book. It provides a lot of food for thought, and it forces the reader to confront a few ugly realities, especially about antisemitism in the rest of Europe before and during the ascension of the Third Reich.

  • “Slow Productivity” by Cal Newport was exactly what I expected it to be, another catalysator to reinvigorate my hate of modern knowledge work. I had nearly finished this one in March, but for some reason didn’t complete the last chapter until the end of April. I accidentally ended up getting it twice, because I completely forgot that I had pre-ordered it. Whelp, I hope the coworker I gifted isn’t going to end up quitting in order to retire to the woods to think deeply because of me now.

  • “Ardennes” by Antony Beevor; The “Battle of the Bulge” was short, brutal, and absolutely unnecessary. In fact, it might have contributed to bringing down the Third Reich even faster, because the decision to withdraw troops from the Eastern Front to enable the offensive greatly undermined the already barely existing abilities of the German forces to withstand the Soviet offensive in January of 1945,

    All of these things are common knowledge if you, like me, are a Wikipedia-reading-hobby-pseudo-historian. This book helps with filling the gaps, supplying operational details and providing a wide range of stories told by those involved, both in planning rooms and foxholes.

  • “D-Day” by Antony Beevor; I seem to be on an accidental quest to read all of his books - part of this quest seems to be amnesiac to, given that I remembered (while writing this post) that I had read that book in January already. Oh well, it was a good read, so no harm done in reading it again.

Music? Yeah, listened to some of that as well:

  • “Emancipator - Dusk to Dawn”; Trip-Hop is hit and miss for me, a lot of artists tend to overdo their mixing of musical styles, overloading the already heavy combination of hip hop and electronic with other things, such as jazz and instrumentals. This album however, this one is good.

  • “Waveshaper - A Void Hope”; Similarly, my relationship to Synthwave is complicated. I enjoy the sound, but finding actual Synthwave is harder than it sounds (pun intended).

    A lot of the times, music declared as Synthwave is actually just Vaporwave in a trenchcoat. Whole there are plenty of good Vaporwave artists and tracks out there, a lot of it is over the top. I’m not an expert when it comes to music, but an inherent part of Vaporwave, both the sound and aesthetic, is satire, exaggeration.

    Contrary to that, Synthwave draws its inspiration from the 80ies. It feels like a natural progression of the film music at the time, utilizing elements from French House or Italo Disco, and taking it from there. This leads to a similar, but distinctly different sound. Which I appreciate a lot. This album provides exactly that, and I enjoyed it.

  • “Tourist - Memory Morning”; Electronic music and songwriting isn’t something that immediately makes sense in my head, but I’ve got to say, I truly enjoyed this.

I recently watched a documentary about Hans Zimmer, whose music I tend to enjoy. This revived my interest in trying my hand at making some music of my own.

It’s a funny itch that I have had in various levels of intensity for the past couple of years. I find it funny because throughout my childhood and adolescence I never gave the idea of making music much thought, because I felt like I was not capable of doing so, given that I never learned an instrument or even remotely showed any sort of talent when it came to musical education in school. But maybe I should give it a try, even though I hate trying out things that I am not immediately good at.