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w/e 2023-11-05

Given I’ve been home alone all week it’s unsurprising that it’s been a quiet week. I’ve been keeping busy-ish, which is the way to stay sane. I left the house to go food shopping, three gym trips, and a short night-time drive to the local cider farm / restaurant / venue to see their Guy Fawkes’ Night(ish) bonfire.

A photo taken at night. On the left is a large bonfire of wooden planks and branches, flames rising 20 feet or so into the sky, and sparks floating beyond them. On the left are people in winter clothes, lit up by the glow, some taking photos of the fire on their phones.

§ I hesitate to mention again my current renewed attempt to learn a language because, like every other time, there’s a good chance it won’t go far, and then  – as so often – I’ll feel foolish for writing excitedly about something here only for it to fizzle out or to become a chore. And when I occasionally realise quite how far I am from understanding regular written German – never mind having conversations in it – that seems even more likely.

But, still, also, there’s that thing about sharing thoughts and experiences that might (a) encourage other people, (b) rightfully put other people off, or (c) result in other people sharing useful tips with me. So.

Because I haven’t had much else pressing this week I’ve spent quite a bit of time on it. Each day doing:

  • Two bouts of Duolingo, of about 20 minutes each. Duolingo definitely isn’t enough on its own to learn a language, never mind understand it (it explains very little). But even having made my profile private (the only way to hide some of the gamification, like leaderboards) it’s addictive, which makes it better than something you don’t want to do, and so don’t do.

    Last time I used it I realised how easy it was to get through lessons without understanding much. You can fill in the correct missing word without reading or hearing the rest of the sentence. You can put the words in the correct order without thinking about what the sentence means. Etc. So I’m taking more time now, trying to compose a sentence in my head before looking at the mixed-up words (with varying success), and speaking each German sentence out loud and thinking about it.

  • 20-30 minutes of watching German TV which, currently, is half an episode of Dogs of Berlin, more of which when I’ve finished it. It’s quite hard to concentrate on the German, rather than read the subtitles and enjoy the show, as usual with foreign-language TV/movies. I understand very little, especially in this show. Maybe they talk quickly, or have accents, but there have only been a couple of characters who’ve sounded clear (but still largely incomprehensible to me).

  • Each day I’m alternating between a lesson of the A2 stage of Nico’s Weg on, and the Goldlist Method for learning vocabulary. The latter has been easy so far because it’s only involved writing down lists of short phrases; I haven’t got to the stage of trying to remember them yet.

  • If I remember I listen to the daily Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten (Slowly Spoken News) podcast, again from, which is short … and … very … slow. I understand almost nothing.

  • I’ve just started reading a page or two of a book of short stories I’ve had for ages, in parallel German and English. Obviously I understand none of it without the translation but, still, worth a try.

I doubt I’ll keep all of that up – never mind add some conversation at some point – once I have other things to do. But for now I have the time and it’s good to try out lots of stuff to see what’s interesting and what seems to work. And even things that seem way beyond my comprehension at the moment (like most of it) might just start to seem possible if I keep at them for… three months? I don’t know. We’ll see.

I also bought Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage which is such a Phil Gyford thing to do: buy the most authoritative and heftiest book about the subject, even if it’s probably not the best way to learn about it, on the basis that it’ll make me feel most like I’m Doing It Properly.

§ I’ve done a bit of work on each day this week, on new things and trying to fix things (see Stack Overflow).

On the one hand I still really enjoy writing code and making something work and look good (ish) and put it online where anyone in the world can see it. It’s still like magic. And is still some kind of personal affirmation, a way of saying “here I am!”, of enjoying that it’s noticed by someone, somewhere.

On the other hand, the maintenance. It’s not like this is new to me, keeping things going for years, decades. And I try to make this as easy as possible – keep stuff up to date, make projects in similar ways, stick to reliable and boring technologies, don’t start too many sites, etc. But, especially when several things aren’t quite working right, it’s such a weight. A weight that will go on forever (that’s not a thing, Phil). I can barely imagine what it must be like to not have a website (never mind several) that needs occasional attention. Sometimes the hobby feels too much like a (very part-time) job that I can’t quit.

§ I gave the free trial of the Kagi search engine a go over the past couple of weeks. It seems fine? I didn’t get round to comparing the results with Google’s before my searches ran out but it looks nicer and simpler, with no ads, and more ability to tweak results (like exclude certain sites). I feel it should be worth US$5/month for a good non-Google search but I’m not sure the difference is enough to me. I also realised that the one thing about Google’s info boxes I use a lot is the opening times for places.

§ The book 'Do Interesting', on a green metal table next to a mug of black coffee.

I finished reading Russell’s Do Interesting book which was good and lovely. Gentle, comprehensible, encouraging, nice. Well done, Russell and co.

§ I watched some films on telly (the first two on iPlayer, the second two on MUBI):

  • Sweetheart (Marley Morrison, 2021). Really enjoyed this, a 17-year-old girl on holiday with her family, Treads a nice line between comedy and emotionally touching. Maybe a bit Mike Leigh-y? I’m also keen to find more films set in British caravan parks because they have their own special feeling.
  • Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021). This was fun, with great performances from the two leads. Very good and would have been better if it had been shorter, like most movies longer than two hours.
  • L’Innocent (Louis Garrel, 2022). This could have been bad in other hands, because it’s a bit silly, but it kind of works and was good fun.
  • Passages (Ira Sachs, 2023). I read lots of good things about this but I got increasingly bored. I don’t mind unlikeable characters but Tomas was not only petulant, immature and self-centred, but was also boring. Like, Leon in Afire kept being a bit of a dick, in a different way, but there was more to him, an inner conflict other than mere frustration at not getting his own way.

§ I’m sure you’ve been waiting for this update: Backblaze has picked up speed and has now uploaded 64.9% of the 1.5m files, and 11.5% of the 547GB.

I certainly know how to keep people coming back for more. hashtag growth hacking

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