Recently: February 2021

January’s post re-connected me with some folks, which made me think this “recently” idea wasn’t that bad after all. Here’s February’s.

3 blogs of programmers I follow

In a Twitter conversation with Óscar and Juan, Juan suggested we should share blogs of programmers we follow. It’s been a while since I do that. These are the 3 first programmers that came to mind:

  • Dan Luu. I ran into this blog 3 years ago when I read input lag, which I already shared here. I like the extremely well-researched topics he writes about, many times with original data he has compiled himself. The topics fall out of my field of expertise, so being exposed to them widens my views.
  • Tom MacWright. I discovered this blog when I was working in the GIS world, +5 years ago. The author worked on a couple of projects I followed: the JavaScript-based OSM editor, Mapbox’s Studio. I’ve been reading it since. The topics he writes about resonate with me, and the posts tend to offer a grounded perspective. One of the best I read was Dumb Redux which argues that concepts are the real win. It inspired me to write my own distilled guides.
  • Kent Beck. The first reference I found in this blog to KB is +10 years old, so I’ve probably been following him since before that. He’s generally able to give me tools for thinking about programming and software design, mental models if you will. These days, I default to follow what he shares on Twitter as it’s been difficult to track where he’s posting content (Facebook, Medium, Substack, Youtube, etc.). Besides the things he publishes about software design, following the “grown-ups” of the field gives me food for thought about my own career.

Read

Don’t use N computers when 1 would do.

Web development evolved from a single process in a computer to N computers specialized in different things: data, horizontal scaling the app, cache, load balancers, manage all those servers, etc. This article’s intro is a great zoom-out view of how we got here. As a follow-up, I recommend reading the story of an ex-googler that became an indie developer: leaving a company that can throw engineers to any problem means you have to re-think what’s at the core. Both together make the case that the hardware we have today no longer requires that high level of orchestration for most of the business problems people work on.

The articles above touch on one of my pet peeves: the conversations around technological decisions aren’t grounded on specific project’s needs ― they are unbounded, they ignore any trade-offs (link in Spanish). As a result, the voices heard are the big players’ voices, who have the muscle and incentives to advertise their problems and solutions. Combined with a couple of strong biases we have in the industry –halo effect and survivorship bias– makes the ground very fertile for uncritically accept unfit approaches.

Write CSS the UNIX way.

I read some CSS articles that I liked. Grab a tea if you’re interested in an “evolution of how we write CSS” sort of post. If the idea of writing CSS following the UNIX philosophy is appealing to you, some people are using CSS Custom Properties to create more semantic code. However, this has some issues, such as those variables that have uninitialized values will make the property invalid; hence it’ll be discarded by the engine: here’s the weird CSS hack of the moment to fix it.

Teaching is the most impactful aspect of tool building.

10 years of open-source visualization by the creator of D3 and co-founder of Observable. The first part of the article argues that documentation is the building block of creating a community around your tool ― worth a read, even if only for those sections.

Listened

Midas, the last song by As Tanxugueiras. It mixes trap with folk music, and while I’m not very deep into any, the result is 🔥🔥🔥

It put me in the mood of deejaying some other groups that mix the old and the new:

  • Baiuca, which I discovered recently and has a more electronic vibe to it.
  • Laura LaMontagne & PicoAmperio, a duet that creates songs from Galego-Português medieval poetry ― language that, together with Occitan, dominated the catholic European courts for more than two centuries.
  • Finally, my mind wandered to Rexurdimente, a song that connects two Rosalías through time: the two grammies song Malamente by Rosalía (2018) and the lyrics from a poem by Rosalía de Castro (1869) that was part of the book that started the Rexurdimento.

I thought these would make a delightful 15-minutes song list:

Watched

I’ve finished Lupin this month, which I enjoyed and I recommend as light entertainment. I also finished Spycraft, whose beginning was promising but quickly became too US-centric and less rigorous ― it raised my privacy alerts for a few months, though.

Finally, I got to watch The Post & The trial of the Chicago Seven. Both excellent and highly recommended to elevate your views on democracy. It makes me jealous that the Spanish industry can’t create stories like that. I don’t think is by lack of material.

Control, from Tales from the Loop. It falls within the same category of BlackMirror, although more far-fetched & subtle, and a unique aesthetic.

Perseverance & Ingenuity

I watched landing it live. It was fun, and one of the family names is among the 11 million names on Mars ― for which you needed to sign up in 2010! The scales of time and effort required for an endeavor like this are mind-blowing.

I read how this is the beginning of a mission to collect rocks from Mars and send them to Earth:

  1. Perseverance’s rover will collect rocks and leave them in tubes on the surface.
  2. A future rover will take those tubes from the surface and will transport them to a lander.
  3. A lander will eject the tubes into orbit.
  4. An orbiter will take them to Earth.

It takes 10 years and several missions across national agencies.

There was also Ingenuity, potentially the first rotorcraft to fly outside Earth. It is powered by f-prime, an open-source flight & embedded system framework. It can also run on a RaspberryPi or an Arduino. This is a brilliant move from the perspective of tapping into all the amateur people doing DIY robotics. How crazy is it that you can use the same software that’s embedded in a helicopter on Mars to power your own LEDs?

I was surprised by the level of openness, production, and effort to spread the word about this mission. I presume it has many aspects, mainly funding, although having more contenders looking for the same talent you’re after probably plays a role.

Cooked

Misc

February 2021 was focused on things that use brain energy -including finishing the Portuguese course I was taking- and less on everything else. Still, there was some nice weather on the last weekend of the month that pulled us outside. Views from Louro and Monte San Lois.

Recently: January 2021

Inspired by Tom MacWright, I’m starting a “recently” series, where I’m going to branch out a bit from the usual topics of this site ― which weren’t very focused anyway. Aims to be monthly.

Streamers

The past year I’ve started to follow some streamers. It’s a lot of fun if you find someone that resonates with your interests and style.

Recently, I ran into a doctor who streams content about keyboards, memory techniques, and other things that I like. I was shocked by learning that he earns more money from his passive income (courses, ads on YouTube) than from his profession (being a doctor):

While these cases exist, he makes a pretty clear point that is quite unusual and difficult to get there. Your ability to earn anything is bounded by the markets you appeal to. Example: US viewers (high income) + tech/productivity topics (things people spend actual money in) can make you something if you become popular. Galician viewers + medieval literature is not that appealing from the perspective of the YouTube ads market.

A different model is Twitch (Amazon-owned), in which viewers can pay for the content, and half of it goes to the creator. One of the most popular streamers from Spain has grown from 600 to 6 000 paying subscribers since March 2020. Given that the minimum subscriber package is 5€, he’s making at least 15k€ monthly only from viewers. While he’s at the top (his end of year stream had more viewers than many Spanish TV specials), beginners can also make some money in Twitch. If you have 40 paying subscribers you can buy a new webcam, which is unthinkable with the same viewers on YouTube.

Who would have thought that a business model based on consumers paying for content is a lot more friendly to niche markets than mass advertising?

Note taking

I’ve been taking digital notes since 2009. It’s all markdown files stored locally and I still have all of them. +10 years worth of unused bytes sitting in my disk drives.

While I tried a few different approaches, I’ve settled for taking two types of notes since a few years ago:

  1. Library notes about things I read or watch.
  2. Journal notes about work and life.

They are named and stored chronologically, although with a few tweaks to make them searchable, especially on mobile. When I need to look up something, I search for it using VSCode, the editor I currently use for programming. It’s been ok so far.

The first card in Luhmann’s Zettelkästen.

I recently discovered another method of taking and storing notes popularized by the term “second brain”. Though the original author coined it “second memory” and that name makes more sense to me. The difference is that, while a journal is chronological and has a short lifespan, the way you organize your second memory aims to accompany you for decades and its goal is to help you connect ideas and develop new ones.

Though intrigued, I was unimpressed with what I read about this method by modern practitioners. So I went to the source: Niklas Luhmann, a german sociologist who famously used it to publish his papers and books from the 60s to the 00s. He called it the Zettelkästen, note boxes. The only paper he published about it, Communicating with Slip Boxes, is the best high-level intro I’ve found. If you are curious about the specifics after reading it, I also enjoyed this paper by the researcher in charge of digitalizing Luhmann’s state. The intro to his online archive is quite detailed as well.

Life

The year started with some snow, then rain, and always fog:

It’s not surprising that I spent a good bunch of my time at home, given the weather and the pandemic. Can report that I’ve watched a documentary series about Roman Engineering (in Spanish) that I liked. It was fascinating to learn about the techniques and knowledge they applied to a lot of things: where to settle, how to organize cities, how to build aqueducts, or how to squeeze as much mineral from nature as possible. The series is very well produced. It makes excellent use of space reconstruction with 3D techniques and the script has a good balance between the high and low-level details. The presenter is a knowledgeable engineer and historian. The only thing I found weird is that they dubbed him ― people from home and the internet agree with me.

Some food I’ve cooked and eaten:

Since I started a Portuguese course a few months ago, I’ve been introducing more Portuguese input in my life (series, music, etc). It’s the kind of thing I usually do when learning new languages.

Enjoyed 3%, a Brazilian TV show produced by Netflix. The story has a lot in common with The Hunger Games. It also borrows some themes from Christianism and Capitalism, such as only the worthy will have a place in the world of the good people.

I’ve discovered a generation of indie musicians based in continental Portugal: Miguel Araújo, Márcia, J.P. Simões, Luisa Sobral, Salvador Sobral, etc. There’s a lot more to music in the lusofonia than alfacinhas and tripeiros, though, and I expect to share more in the coming months. Anyway, it seems duets are a thing among this generation so I created a list with three I liked:

Grupo de lectura de Scórpio

Comparto unha nota que me enviaron para difundir esta iniciativa.

A Asociación Carballo Vivo de Friol organiza un grupo de lectura virtual de Scórpio, novela de Ricardo Carvalho Calero, autor homenaxeado nas Letras Galegas 2020. Continúa así coa iniciativa Desconfinamos a obra de Carvalho na que tamén participa Modelo Burela.

O prazo de inscripción estará aberto até o 30 de Agosto. Para incribirse é preciso enviar un whatsapp aos números de teléfono que aparecen na nota de prensa. Eu xa o fixen!

O André

Neste verán, un dos memes que agromou na galego-esfera do twitter foi o de actualizarmos o perfil poñendo o artigo antes do nome: a Berta, o Ricardo, a Teodora, etc.

https://twitter.com/emgalego/status/1284816061624455168

Este meme inspiroume a revisar a historia e normativa da antroponimia galega.

Dentro das linguas románicas, o uso do artigo con antropónimos e topónimos é característica do Galego-Português, compartida con outras como o Catalán mais que non teñen o Castelán ou o Italiano, por exemplo. É, ademáis, unha forma que, na oralidade, tivo certa vitalidade na Galiza até ben recente: vai no Canadá, falei co Pepe, compreino na Pobra, etc son estruturas que eu ouvía de mozo e, de cando en vez, aínda ouzo. Así tamén quedou recollida na Gramática elemental del gallego común de Carvalho Calero.

Este vagar pola historia da antroponimia galega levoume até as publicacións do seminario de onomástica da Real Academia Galega, que son a referencia legal nesta área. En 2016, a RAG publicou Os apelidos en galego: orientacións para a súa normalización -prontuario non exento de polémica– co ánimo de promover a recuperación dos nomes e apelidos galegos deturpados por castelanismos a partir da altura en que o galego foi excluído dos ámbitos cultos. Con todo, foron outras entidades públicas e privadas as que lanzan a campaña a prol da recuperación, aínda que tamén se pode atopar información ao respecto creada dende Secretaría Xeral de Política Lingüística da Xunta e algúns concellos.

E así é como, quer como brincadeira, quer como posta en valor do patrimonio lingüístico do Galego-Português, decidín actualiza-lo meu nome nas redes por “O André”.

Úneste á brincadeira?

Catan

Catan, formerly known as The Settlers of Catan, is a game designed by Klaus Teuber and released in 1995. This year marks its 25th anniversary, a good time to resume playing. It’s one of the classic Eurogames and has become a franchise with many extensions and related games. At the time of writing, it sits within the top 100 games in the family category at BGG (so do Azul and SushiGo). There are only 6 other games published before 2000 that are in the top 100, which speaks to the importance of the game as a classic.

Starting board for the local tournament semifinal that I won.

I had only played once or twice before. It didn’t make an impression on me at the time, it was just fine. However, since I joined the board game club I’ve had renewed enthusiasm to try new games or old ones with an open mind. When I learned that the people at the club decided to organize a local Catan tournament I was delighted. I didn’t know such things existed. Sure, there are tournaments for e-sports that host hundreds of thousands of people, but, for board games? I thought that was something of a family thing, a private entertainment. It turns out I was quite wrong, there is a fair excitement about Catan through the world with national, European, American, and world championships. You can even watch finals on YouTube. Let that sink in for a moment: watch other people playing board games on YouTube. Yes. I know. It’s a lot of fun!

Now that I’ve played it more, I came to appreciate its characteristics:

  • Theme. You’re one of the new settlers of an island that produces materials and your goal is to become the patron of the island.
  • How you win. By getting 10 points. This requires creating new settlements, cities, or roads, for which you need materials in different quantities: wood, grain, brick, sheep, stone.
  • How materials are distributed. By rolling dice. The board is made of hexagonal tiles that represent the materials. Each round, the rolled number indicates which tiles produce. All participants whose properties touch the producing tiles get new materials.

For a board game to stay relevant after so many years, it has to have something that creates a different experience each time you play. For Catan this is the board positioning. The tiles of the board are placed randomly and so are the numbers on top of them: participants have to adapt to different scenarios. Granted, there are a few well-known tips&tricks you can learn but your chances of winning greatly depend on your starting position — if your properties are adjacent to an uneven set of resources or to low-probability tiles, your development is going to be much slower than other player’s. You don’t want that.

So, essentially, this game is about racing to build properties that enable you to get more materials you use to create more properties so you can acquire even more materials to build properties. And it’s not a level playing field: your starting position greatly influences your chances of winning. There’s no denying it’s got an expansive capitalist kind of mentality. It shouldn’t come as a surprise what some people say:

Catan is the board game of entrepreneurship.

Reid Hoffman, of Linkedin fame.

Who am I to disagree with a $2 billion net worth entrepreneur, right? So I thought I’d give the tournament a try. So far, I was lucky enough to classify for the final. Not a bad beginning!