Transformative Reading ... 2017 Edition?!

So I found this list of books I read and which I wanted to put on this blog in my inbox. It’s from a migration from OmniFocus to Emacs/org-mode from 2019, and the title is “Transformative Reading 2017”. What were the picks back then? And being 7 (!) years wiser, what do I think about the picks now? Here’s the list. I don’t know why I originally ordered them this way, but I left it as-is.

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Year 36, a 🎂 Retrospective

I’m usually not doing birthday posts, but a lot has happened, and it feels like more change is about to come. Ok, that’s the biggest change, and I could stop here. But there were other things that do pale in comparison, but which were still important: Aggregated time tracking stats on my computers (numbers differ from screenshot because some items appear again further down, e.g. for different app bundle IDs):

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There Could Be No “Later”

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling quite restless. There’s not enough time, too many things I just can’t seem to take care of. You probably know that feeling – or rather, the attitude towards things. There’s a couple of things that need to be sorted out. And there’s stuff that arrives on my desk and wants to be taken care of. Like taxes.

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Happy People = Mac Users

I talked about my “job” the other day and, again, pointed out that I’m making apps, but for Mac, not iPhone. No, no, I also do iPhone. I just don’t like to, and avoid it if I can. But using a Mac, that is fun, and working on a Mac is great. The machines are good, the OS is still good. That’s what I believe the most. For the things I’m interested in making, the Mac is a good platform. It’s a platform to get serious stuff done. And I can be a part in making the experience enjoyable and make “work” fell less like a chore. That’s what I’m interested in.

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Community Trumps All

This is not a pun on the U.S. president. Going through stuff from the past year, I just noticed how much more amazing daily life feels with a community. In the past 2 years, I helped found two communities: Without the local group of Urban Sketchers, I wouldn’t have progressed with my watercolor skills; and without the forums, there wouldn’t be a lot of places to hang out to talk about what I find most interesting about personal knowledge management: creating new insights!

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Don't Wait. Show Up. Or It Might Be Too Late Again

When someone close to the family dies, a lot of dust is stirred up. My godfather died last week, and I was informed that his burial will be tomorrow – more by accident than by plan. We hadn’t talked in 5 years, and in late 2018 I became curious what he and his wife were up to. Why not visit them for a change, since they don’t come visit anymore? I was at their place a couple times, but most of the time, like once every month plus for birthdays or so, my godfather and his wife visited us at home, back when I lived with my father.

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Looking for a Family Altar's Totem

Last December, my grand-father died. His breathing got shallow, he wasn’t hungry all of a sudden, then went to take a nap in his favorite chair. There, he slowly, and I hope painlessly, began to tune out a bit, fall asleep, and eventually cease to … live. In the days after his death, I helped a bit with the funeral preparations, and I take care of my nearly blind grand-mother once a week ever since. I spent a lot of time with my grand-parents. We were pretty close. I love them, and so I begin to crave for some kind of totem that keeps a piece of my grand-father’s live somewhere visibly in my life.

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Behind the Scenes of Programming 'The Archive': How Much Coffee Did I Consume?

When I announced the imminent launch of my latest app project, The Archive, a beta tester asked how many jars of coffee I consumed while coding. “Jar” is no mistake. I drink from a 750ml glass jar, full to the brim. That’s one portion of cowboy coffee, or is it turkish coffee? – I’m not quite sure what to call it: grind the beans, pour water, stir from time to time, let it settle, then drink.

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On Reaching Mastery

The following isn’t a universal truth. It’s a report about my observations of a recurring theme in everything that’s great. First you imitate. Then you improvise. And then you may innovate. Imitation means repeating existing things to reach a deeper understanding of how it was done in the past. Improvisation means connecting the static patterns in creative ways to solve problems. Innovation means deviating from the known patterns in new and effective ways.

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Introducing Myself on

As I have announced last week, I’m going to move a lot of my Zettelkasten-related writing to the project website at

To deal with my forgetfulness, I have learned to install useful habits and techniques into my life. I believe you have to have a working task management in place which watches your back while you do hard work, like researching and writing. Task management is there to keep real life at bay. You need both to succeed. My journey as a knowledge worker and writer began when I finally got stuff done.

Like Sascha, I have started with an introduction of myself. Since I never really told you how I came to find out about the tool called “Zettelkasten”, you might want to read it, too.

Self-Fulfillment and Growing Up

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Today is the day I turn 27. Years ago, I had expected to feel older by that age, more like I imagined the grown-ups to feel when I was a child, but I don’t. When they say “you should grow up”, they want you to become boring. Because the grown-up stuff consists of getting a job and decent salary, finding a partner in life, maybe building a house – the classic dream of my parents and their parents alike. Seldom do folks tell you to find your destiny and fulfill your dreams (unless they are about having a house, a car, …).

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Make Writing a Part of Your Identity

This post has moved to Read it there.

Brian Crain talked about increasing productivity by tracking progress. To have a continuous metric is both motivating and informative. I, too, buy into the saying that you can only improve what you measure. The corollary is: when you care about something, when you really commit to it, you have to do your best to track it and improve. Writing is one such skill. You become a writer by writing more, and you can shift your identity consciously to make this change stick.

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Lessons Learned from Losing All Routine

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We finally finished moving into our new apartment. During the ten days it took to arrange the new place, I noticed how strong I’m bound to my routines, and what it means to lose all of them at once for a period of time. There was a daily workout routine, where I hit the gym twice a day on four days each week for both strength training and cardio. In total, I had at least 10 workout sessions per week. Before the morning workouts, I used to write for at least one fixed hour. In the evening I used to have weekly recurring appointments at work where I help organize a team of student advisors or help students with writing tasks and presentations. Also, the evening was my most productive time: I would either continue writing for a bit or dive straight into programming tasks.

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The Need to Craft

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My last posts were rather prescriptive by nature. Before I start sprinkling in the casual software reviews, I want to slow down a bit and change the pace. Lately, I wondered why I do things. My answer is pretty plain, and I’d like to know what drives you to worry about organizing information. So I’ll begin to share, and then you may, if you like.

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My Workspace

Hilton cleaned and showed his desk. I hereby accept the invitation and share mine!

Since I live in a twelve square meter room in my University’s dorm, in a flat I share with four other students, I need some discipline putting things where they belong at the end of the day.

Desk at morning

This is how I start the work day most of the time: with an empty desk. Today for example I did some research in Evans’ DDD book.1 Usually, the book rest resides in a shelf next to the desk with the books nearby.

Desk at noon

When I do work I’m getting paid for from home, I scatter documents, sketches and the like around like a madman—but in the end I’ve got to put things where they belong, file away documents, hide sketches in project folders or scan them and toss the paper version.

My desk is bespoke work, hence unique. A friend from back when I was at school became carpenter apprentice and liked to have some practice on crafting desks. This pretty and super-stable piece of furniture was a EUR 120,– bargain (~USD 158) and delights me every day for more than five years now.

On my desk you permanently find:

  • My MacBook Air (German keyboard layout), most of the time in clamshell mode,
  • a HP LP2275W 22-inch screen with a very decent viewing angle,
  • a small external Apple keyboard (English keyboard layout),2
  • a Bamboo Pen & Touch,
  • a Faber-Castell 0.5mm mechanical pencil,
  • a 1.25 liter water bottle,
  • a cheap LED desk lamp,
  • one of five speakers scattered in my dorm room. I never bothered mounting them on the walls in the past two years. I don’t expect a lot of surround sound in a room this small anyway.

Re: small living. I enjoy reading Shoebox Dwelling for mini house inspiration and super-small desks/bureaus. (I really want to have this one in my room right now)

  1. Eric Evans (2006): Domain-Driven Design. Tackling complexity in the heart of software, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley. 

  2. English keyboard layouts are great for coding. All the special characters are just so easy to get to. But most of the time I have set my keyboard layout to Neo2, a keyboard layout made for efficiency while typing, optimized for writing German texts. The center row of keys yield “UIAEOSNRTD” instead of “ASDFGHJKL;”. It’s nice to not move fingers a lot when writing with Neo2, yet sometimes I think I wear out faster through the course of the day when I switch activities and keyboard layouts a lot. 

Birthday of my deceased baby brother

Exactly one year ago, my baby brother was born. I was raised to adulthood an only child. Naturally, I got really excited about the birth of my little brother. I imagined how we would play and what we could do together, me being 25 years above his age. I asked myself seemingly adult questions, too: what would I be able to pass on to him? How could I contribute to his upbringing?

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