What do Novels Mean?

What do Novels Mean?

When I was a kid I read a lot (at least, that’s how I remember it). I loved the Famous Five; later I devoured Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and many less known fantasy series. But on the journey of growing up I lost the drive to read. I don’t know why or how. Looking back, it was presumably the natural limitation of time that struck and other hobbies that took over. I also never missed it consciously.

But lately, Mädchen Klitzeklein is pushing me to read again. I have the great advantage that she recommends me only those books that she seems fit and, thus, I feel obliged to pick up one of those books and start to turn the first page. As with movies, I specifically appreciate to not know anything about the content besides what the cover tells me. And then, I start to read; it takes a while to get used to a physical book after so many years; but it has its unique charm: no distractions, no home button to press, just the next page to turn. For some books I was hooked from the first page, in other books it took a while until I oriented myself and felt home in their unique world. And what I found should not surprise myself, as I already knew it as a kid: it can be an absolute joy to read – so why did I stop reading in the first place?

In my late teens, computer games replaced the story telling of books for me; and some games do it really, really well. Just to mention at least two, because they are very dear to my heart: There is for example Celeste, the heart-breaking story of Madeline, a girl plagued by depression and panic attacks who has the near-impossible goal of climbing a mountain. The game design is perfect as the player suffers and struggles together with the main character in this hard-core platformer. Very rarely have I been more engaged in reaching the end of a game. And then there is Ori, a visual master piece with a straight-forward but wonderfully told story about an orphaned child who saves the forest. These games have provoked strong emotions within me that felt real and unique as I find it rarely in stories. But with games, as with movies, your own imagination is never as provoked as when reading books. The words cannot stimulate your eyes and ears, and hence, what they create within your head is up to you and can become even stronger.

And here I sit and read, turn the page, and the next, and the next. First, it’s a small dip into another story, another century, another life. But with every page, I immerse myself more and more, get lost in the pages, dive deep into the narrative until the surroundings vanish and I participate, experience it myself to the fullest extent. I witness pleasure and delight, I undergo heartbreak and sadness, I live in another universe at another time, even if it’s only for 30 minutes.

What do novels mean? I have absolutely no idea, I just liked the title. But for me, they gave me a long forgotten glimpse into other worlds, into my own imagination, a reason to slow down, another perspective on life. Thank you for motivating me to take this journey, Mädchen Klitzeklein.

The last two books I read were Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I don’t think they are for everyone, but I can still wholeheartedly recommend them both.

Maze

Maze

The sun sets with golden rays.
Thoughts creep in, are here to graze
the mind. With rising haze,
expands, obscures, distorts, delays.
What was, what is, appraise the days
to come: never ceases to amaze
in a multitude of ways.
And I ponder here and phrase
lose myself, the world ablaze,
deep within my inner maze.

Decidability 2

Decidability 2

In my first post on Decidability, I wrote about the Halting problem and how everyday life decisions seem undecidable. Still, we are deciding many things, from minute to minute, from hour to hour, that shape our life, surroundings, and possibly the future. But: Do we decide in the first place or is it arbitrariness? Does it matter which one it is? And if it is not arbitrary, how can we decide?


Only those questions that are in principle undecidable, we can decide.

Heinz von Foerster, Ethics and Second-order Cybernetics

Some time ago, I would have said that decisions are guided and derived from environmental data. The deciding person merges and weights the available data to arrive at a conclusion on how to decide. However, this model has flaws: If the data would lead to a clear answer, there would be no need to decide in the first place; the data just gives the answer. Consequently, only if the data is insufficient to derive a clear answer, the need to really decide arises. Thus, decisions also always result in uncertainty; inherently, we are deciding only the things where the outcome is unclear. Also, in most cases it is an arbitrary choice which data is considered and how it is weighted; infinitely many and equally reasonable decisions are always available – the decision itself is arbitrary.


If you can’t decide between two options, throw a coin. Before it touches the ground you will know which side you want it to land on: Decision made.

My best friend; around when we were in 6th grade

I always liked the idea of this approach to decisions. While in essence it’s not very spectacular, this proposed trick addresses the time component of decisions: If a decision is difficult, we tend to postpone it to an uncertain moment in the future in the hope for more data (or that someone else decides for us). Throwing the coin makes the decision pressing and imminent; and, if, the correct decision cannot be induced by data but is arbitrary, this trick lets us make a decision right now. And this decision comes down to the gut feeling of the deciding person, but it doesn’t matter because the decision is arbitrary whatsoever. My version, by now, is simpler: ‘If you can’t decide between two options, throw a coin and take the option it selects.’


Draw a distinction.

Georg Spencer Brown, Laws of Form

Thus, the coin method is congruent to the proposed mark or cross by G. S. Brown as used by Luhmann: There is no way to decide correctly. You never know the outcome, otherwise there would be no need to decide. The only thing that matters is that you decide in the first place.

Thanks to input from my dad. This post probably deserves a re-write as soon as I have more time to properly study the provided material. Since I decided that all posts also have pictures, I chose some older ones from a vacation last year in Sächsische Schweiz. Back then, I still had borrowed his camera and had even less knowledge about photography than now…

Decidability 1

Decidability 1

Life is about decisions, large and small ones. What should I study? Which bread do I buy? Should I reach out to a long lost friend? Which approach to life should I take? What values are important to me? Do I buy the next lens or do I save up the money? Do I go outside for sports? Do I keep working for another evening? How do I want to spend the limited time I have in my life?

Some questions seem irrelevant, others may determine several years of our future life. So, how can we decide all these questions? Or: Is it even possible to decide all these questions? How should we approach and deal with any possibly life changing matter and decide: This or that? Now or later? Yes or no?

The more difficult the questions become that I face, the more I am convinced that they are inherently undecidable at any given moment in time. We do not have enough information to know all outcomes, the uncertainties are always large, and we cannot weigh in all factors because of their multitude and complexity. This also won’t change in the future. Maybe the options we decide on shift. Maybe it’s too late for a decision and we did not even have the opportunity to deliberately decide it ourselves. Some things we were sure that we chose correctly turned out to be terribly wrong; other things work perfectly even though we thought we made the wrong turn earlier.

Decidability is also infamous in computer science. In its simplest form it is known as the Halting Problem and was presented by Alan Turing. The problem formulation is as follows: Given an arbitrary algorithm and its input, is it possible to find another algorithmic solution that decides whether the given algorithm stops on the given input, or continues to run forever? If a solution can be found, then the problem is decidable. If no solution exists, then the problem is undecidable. In the case of the Halting problem, it can be shown that no algorithmic solution exists that solves the stated problem; thus, it is inherently undecidable. If you’re interested, keep reading for the proof:

We proof the above statement by contradiction. Imagine there exists an algorithm that can decide our problem statement: Given, as input, an arbitrary algorithm and its input, it can always decide whether this algorithm stops on the input or not. We call our deciding algorithm h and our input x. Given h, we now define a new algorithm h* that is a modified version of h: If h determines that the input algorithm stops, then h* keeps running in a loop. If h determines that the input algorithm keeps running, then h* stops. What happens if we feed our algorithm h* as input to itself (of which our original deciding algorithm h is part of)? This can be seen as a self-referential operation. We refer to the h* that is the deciding algorithm to h(h*) and to the input h* as x(h*). Both, h(h*) and x(h*) are the same algorithm. We have two possible outcomes: Either h decides that its input x(h*) stops – however, in this case h(h*) would keep running: a contradiction because x(h*) and h(h*) are the same algorithm. Or h decides that its input x(h*) doesn’t stop – but now, h(h*) would stop: again, a contradiction. Thus, the halting problem is not decidable.

To be continued in one of the next blog posts about how to decide anyways.

DoF 2: Coffee and Cake

DoF 2: Coffee and Cake

Flavors of a city evening:

  • 1st Cake & tea appears
  • Sirens pass
  • People relish the passing warmth
  • Swifts call
  • Pigeons coo
  • Closing windows reflect last beams of the sun
  • Chocolate taste
  • Flower scent blends with neighbors dinner
  • Thoughts caught between the past and future
  • 2nd cake & lemonade disappears
Swifts speed through the streets and announce the emerging thunderstorm.

I made some city photos and like the following quite a lot:

There is a lot going on. Old and new mix: In the foreground, and the background. Glimpses insight are allowed by the low-standing sun, outside mirrors in the polished windows. Remains of the last visitors are present, while new guests are awaited eagerly after a period of little freedom. In fact, I liked it so much that I printed it big directly afterwards:

Cake from the best cafe in town with lots of vegan options! (However, the two shown here are not vegan…).

Degrees of Freedom (DoF)

Degrees of Freedom (DoF)

Freedom – the ability to live to ones own choices; the independence from society and imposed rules; the empty space between the obligations; the chance to chase opportunities as one desires; the brief feelings of lightheartedness; the vast sky above.

Freedom – limited by demanding work; restricted by self-imposed responsibilities; impaired by a global pandemic; overshadowed by worrying thoughts bound to circles; forgotten and lost in everyday repetition; the time constraint: one single life time.

Freedom – an evening walk in the sun; the 12th cookie in a row; an overnight trip with a van; getting up at 5 a.m. for sunrise; having shelter, food, time and money for varying hobbies; friends to rely on and partners to trust.

Freedom is many-faceted. This is the start of a mini series of different degrees of freedom I am lucky to have. Which degrees of freedom do you have?

Already my last post had dramatic skies – we have a particular rainy May this year with up to 200% the rain as usual. However, the deep layers of the soil are still very dry from the last years. Anyways, for photography it gives interesting structures in the sky with strong contrasts in the landscape around our home town.

Ray of Hope in a Landscape of Stimuli

Ray of Hope in a Landscape of Stimuli

I am stuck on a learning plateau and it’s exhausting: The current learning stimulus is not sufficient enough to induce further synaptic changes.

No matter which new skill is being learnt, it’s common to hit one or several plateaus throughout practice – and it’s also common to get discouraged by the vanishing progress with reduced or no visible improvement. But when I am starting something, I want to do it good. It sometimes feels like a curse: I will go every extra mile needed to achieve what I want to. And this has cost me not only a lot of time with missed days of relaxation and fun, but probably also some friendships, connections with people, and diverse experiences throughout life that I missed out on.

I juggled for many years, but getting beyond five balls just never really happened. Hours and hours, weeks and weeks, several years, I spent throwing stuff in the air, just to catch it one more time. While there was a lot to enjoy, it also involved many hours, alone, of focused practice to reach the next level. I also played piano for over ten years; but there, I got stuck as well. The problem was that I did not put in the required effort, even though the conditions were excellent. I learned some great techniques on the way from my last piano teacher on how to achieve continuous progress; however, I did not implement them until later in another hobby: climbing.

I am climbing now for eight years and it is the hobby where I have the most direct experience with plateaus. My piano teacher always knew the most important part and tried to explain it to me so that I can act accordingly: To overcome plateaus, the most important thing is to adapt the stimulus to your progress and vary it over time. This involves active analysis of your efforts and progress, knowledge and creativity for planning your next steps, and willpower and stamina to adhere to your plans. I have encountered many people in bouldering who wonder why they do not progress any more “even though they train as much as they did in the beginning when they progressed quickly”. But that’s the point: You cannot do the same training and expect it to work all the time! Body and mind will adapt and, thus, your training has to adapt as well. This doesn’t always mean you need to train more or harder, but often it means you need to change your training altogether.

And then, there is my beloved new hobby: Photography. Lately, I am also feeling kind of stuck. I am not satisfied with the results; as always, I want more. However, I did not implement the lessons I learned in climbing so far: I not only need to put in more precious time, but I also need new stimuli. I am eager for our next holidays, but I should also try street photography, portraits, city scapes, anything else from nature.

But maybe even more important: I think I have to learn how to set lower goals for myself. I have to learn how to be happy with the journey, even if it’s is slow, instead of focusing too much on the results. I have to stop moving my goal posts before I even reach them.

A Plea for Empathy

A Plea for Empathy

This read is meant genuine and was written with honest intention. Please take your time to read it properly and don’t read it on the side when you have no time.

People can be spiteful and violent, people can be nasty and devious: It’s the warlord who terrorizes an ethnic group, the president who declares war and is backed by the country, the company that fosters child labour without consequences. In our privileged daily life we are experiencing mostly the little misconducts of fellow humans: The person who jumps the queue when shopping groceries, the reckless car driver who doesn’t care about your bike, the ignorant dog walker that neglects his duty to use a leash, or the friend who talks ill behind your back.

This world can be a depressing one: It seems that everybody is in it for themself, no one cares about the others, and maximizing ones own profit is the goal. Suffering from this are the poor and the lonely ones, nature and the planet, minorities and discriminated, the polite and modest ones. And what else is left than to surrender to the overwhelming forces of negativity? What else is left than to join the circle of hatred, fear, and egoism?


Empathy.


Let me convince you that this is a better way. Don’t join the others, better bridge the gap between the others and you, because: we are all in it together. It’s not only you who had a bad day. It’s not only you who feels tired and offended by the doings of others. It’s not necessarily you who is in the right. And also, sometimes, it’s not important who is in the right to begin with. What is important is empathy. Be kind. See the good in other people. Embrace differences and allow for discrepancy. Engage in discussion, but not to win, but to understand the validity of other opinions. Retrace their line of thought; carry it on with better arguments. Only then you can get their side. And don’t make fun of the ignorant or uninformed. Instead, be kind and teach. Share your knowledge, humbly, and offer your wisdom that you were lucky enough to absorb in your life. It’s easy to judge, but most often it’s not your place to judge. Instead, support them in resolving their own struggles. Have compassion; show compassion. Help the weak and poor, help your friends, help the people you dislike. Don’t do it to feel better; do it honestly and because it improves someones life. Do it because you want to. Demonstrate courage. Don’t be the one who sees the wronging and summons a smart phone for the fleeting amusement of strangers on the internet. Don’t be the one who points at others when it’s your turn. Step in and act according to your beliefs. Be courteous. To the queue-jumping shopper, to the leash-less dog-walker, and to the reckless driver. Not because they are right, but because it’s the right thing. And because it makes the world a better place.


This doesn’t mean you should accept the wronging of others, nor does it mean you should welcome the brashness that someone displays. But it means you should question every bad thought you have about someone before jumping to conclusions, or worse, actions. And this won’t be easy. It will be difficult, exhausting, and demanding. And I get it: Your own day was difficult and you are tired. But this means it is even more important to practice, day in day out, to make it not your second, but your first thought in every situation: Do I show empathy? Do I judge? Do I know where the other person is coming from? And with enough practice, it will become natural: To be kind and welcoming. To be compassionate and courageous. To be courteous when the opposite isn’t. And to be it out of belief that it brings something good to this world and not to feel superior. And sometimes it won’t help, sometimes it will come to a tough point where empathy does not resolve. Then, stand up for justice and defend your beliefs. But always critically question your actions. And I know, this post reads like an idealistic vision. But I don’t think it is. And even if it were, what is there to loose in not trying? Go for it – to make this world a better place.

This post was closely related to my earlier posts on labels and shall remind myself to practice: Empathy, compassion, and kindness.

Also: My camera body is not weather resistant. But I received a rain cover as a birthday gift! That’s why there are so many snails on the pictures – I went out during rain for the first time and its so much fun: No people, and so many droplets everywhere on macro photos.

Direction: Hawthorn

Direction: Hawthorn

There has been too little time to appropriately maintain the blog lately. Lots of work, some routesetting, and other hobbies devour my time. I also often feel restless when I have some free space, it feels like I need to use these hours in some meaningful or productive way – whatever that means. When I have a free evening I mostly go outside to take some pictures. Last week I was on a small hill south of our home town for the sun set. After many days of rain, the sun finally showed again and all plants sprouted, especially the hawthorn.

After shooting panoramas and macros, I also tried some new techniques for abstract nature photography as such images always appeal to me when I see them online: Images where it is unclear what exactly is depicted, images that leave room for interpretation but follow patterns. The first 100 tries were uninteresting, but then I changed settings substantially and started playing with the lens zoom while shooting longer exposures:

After another 300 photos I felt somewhat satisfied with the results that also were quite unique from what I have seen. The hawthorn and my 10-24mm lens made a nice combination with the evening light, resulting in textured hawthorn spirals:

When I started the blog I had little idea in which direction it would evolve. So far, I like the loose combination of computer science topics and everyday life observations accentuated with my latest pictures. However, the writing often takes longer than taking pictures and my backlog of pictures is slowly building up. Thus, I am thinking about some new blog post format that mainly consists of pictures, but I didn’t come up with an appealing idea yet. If you have any, please let me know! Additionally, I would like to make some longer blog posts about specific interest of mine (if time allows), as well as integrate further hobbies into the catalog of potential topics. So, in general, the blog will probably become more diverse, as the hawthorn pictures in this post: Sometimes great vistas, sometimes specific details, and sometimes quick abstracts.

Colors of the Morning

Colors of the Morning

On several occasions I have been asked by family and friends: ‘Do you edit your photos?’ I understand where the question comes from and probably would have asked other photographers the same question myself before I bought a camera. But when you start taking pictures the answer becomes irrelevant, and also more philosophical. The question assumes that the truth can be captured; that there is a real representation of the environment. And this is simply not true. It is impossible to depict the world as it is and every representation is disconnected from the environment and just represents itself.

Pastel colors illuminate receding mountain ranges separated by morning haze; 45 minutes before the rising sun.

Thus, when people ask this question, what they often really mean is: ‘Do your photos look like it did in reality?’ And again, there is no right answer. Different people see different things in reality, pay attention to different details, some see green and red, others only see browns instead. Additionally, the effect of a scene is not only influenced by sight, but also many other senses that cannot be transported in a simple photo. So maybe the photo looks somewhat like the reality to me, but not to you.

An additional layer that is often forgotten: The picture is already hugely edited in camera. The photo receptors just capture some limited amount of light which is very different from reality. Besides this raw data, cameras often produce JPEG-images with already applied color profiles that interpret the raw data. This profiles can boost colors, contrast, or luminosities; or decrease them. Let’s take one of the easier settings that is present in all modern cameras: the white balance. The idea is to tune the information received from red, green, and blue light photo cells to display neutral colors (white, grays, or black) as such. The automatic white balance often fails during sunrises or sunsets because there are no neutral colors in the frame: everything is tinted with deep blues, shy purples, defiant magentas, or lush yellows. Take a look at the following two pictures. Both show the exact same frame only with different in-camera white balance settings:

Two different settings of white balance on the same photograph; 20 minutes after sunrise.

So which one is more correct? Impossible to answer. It depends on what I want to show and what you want to see in the image. Because cameras are not as powerful as computers, it often makes much more sense to edit photographs in a specific software instead. Then, you can fine tune the picture without depending on the limited options that are present in the camera.

So, yes! I edit my photographs! Sometimes only in camera, sometimes heavily in software. It depends on what I want to show. Sometimes the edited photos look more accurate to my perceived reality than the unedited photos; sometimes I use editing deliberately to transfer a feeling or message and don’t care about a ‘realistic’ depiction. Sometimes the photo is perceived as unrealistic even though it’s straight out of camera. Sometimes a photo is perceived as realistic even though it’s heavily edited. Ultimately, photography is just one of many arts, I will create what appeals to me, and if it also appeals to someone else: even better.

The color of light is getting warmer with the rising sun and illuminates the meadows below.

All these photographs were taken on last Saturday. Again, my dad and I started at 4 a.m. in the morning to view the sunset. This time not in the Harz Mountains but from a smaller peak in Hessen close to Hoher Meißner. During the two hours on the peak we saw many different colors and I tried to represent all of them in the next pictures. Enjoy.