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The magician’s assistant

This book was the Reading Club assignment for January 2019.

The magician’s assistant, by Ann Patchett, is a family story under odd circumstances. Set around the same time it was published (1997), it touches topics that were part of the life of many, although not part of the mainstream news at the time: violence in the family, how life differs in small and big places, homosexuality, and AIDS.

It’s told from the perspective of Sabine, the best friend, assistant, and wife of Parsifal, a homosexual man that lives with Phan, his partner. Sabine and Parsifal marry when Phan and Parsifal are diagnosed AIDS so Sabine can inherit their state. She is in love with Parsifal.

Upon Parsifal death, Sabine is shocked to learn that his family is alive, despite what he had told her. They are from Alliance, a small place in Nebraska, and want to visit Los Angeles, where Parsifal lived, to get a sense of how life was for him. Sabine agrees and tours them for a few days, in the hope of discovering why he hadn’t told her the truth. Through this tour, you are acquainted with the main characters. It’s like a warm-up before the real match.

Parsifal’s family turns out to be fine people, and the tragic event that made Parsifal break with them is revealed to Sabine. Fast-forward: she’s invited to a wedding in Nebraska, which she agrees to attend as an opportunity to connect with Parsifal’s childhood and find some rest. So we now have Sabine embedded in an environment so different to hers: a small town with little to do and few opportunities to reinvent yourself, a conservative society, and a family that had struggled (and still is) with domestic violence. This is the real match. We have now a vessel (Sabine) to cross the river of understanding: in one shore, a liberal society where you can be whatever you want; in the other, a conservative community that pressures you to be like the others.

The story ends with the liberal Sabine realizing that the only way that conservative family can break the vicious loop they find themselves in is by providing them an escape hatch. Perhaps this is also the message Ann Pratchett wants to convey: let’s be less judgmental and more empathetic.

This book is beautifully written. The rhythm is slow but steady, with enough details to fill your imagination but not too many to get in the way of the story. The use of magic as a second thread and the dreams to feed us information was great. It is a straight story, doesn’t have many layers to it. To a modern reader, it may feel perhaps a bit dated and certainly stereotypical in some ways (Nebraska, anyone?), but if you consider the time it was published (1997) I think it was actually a very brave book to publish.

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All Books English Library Reading club

Forest Dark

This book was the Reading Club assignment for December 2018.

This is a character-driven story. Jules and Nicole are successful by most standards: they are wealthy, well-known, and have family and friends. They are also suffering an inner transformation. Jules’s parents have recently passed away and that event is the catalyst that pushes him to reconsider his life, put an end to his marriage, and give away his possessions. Nicole is a writer that’s suffering a block that has lasted for too long and has triggered an irreversible inner change. They’re both non-practicing Jews living in NYC and visit Israel as part of his longing for something else in their lives.

Chapters alternate Jules and Nicole. Jules is written in the third-person while Nicole is in first. Nicole’s part feels like a stream of inner thoughts at times, like a diary: raw, unconnected, unpolished, and without a clear place in the story. Jules’ is a bit more focused, but still rambly.

The plot has some under-developed areas and dead ends. I think this is intentional. Based on how well some parts are written and some vivid and rich scenes, I don’t think the author lacks the ability to write a novel. To the contrary, it felt like a sort of a meta-layer to the story, a post-modernist experiment to subvert the implicit reader-writer contract. The reason I think this is because, in the story, Nicole is fond of Kafka, and the fact that Kafka’s work was published after his death (although he wanted it buried because he considered his work incomplete) has a big role in the story; to the point that she plays with the idea that someone else has heavily edited Kafka’s manuscripts and created Kafka’s mythology. It leads me to believe the own Forest Dark is a little unfinished on purpose.

I’d say this book isn’t for everyone, I’d recommend a little research before reading. Although I tried hard to engage, the ratio of words that contribute to the story VS words that sound smart but are empty was remarkably low for my taste. It ended up being a little more experimental than I like.

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All Books English Library Reading club

They came like swallows

This book was the Reading Club assignment for November 2018.

William Maxwell published this book in 1937, and I’ve read it +80 years later. One of the things I liked about They came like swallows is how the story builds on the use of simple words and ideas, how it doesn’t need complexity to give the scenes a sense of fear, warm, or excitement. It just describes what’s happening, it is honest and beautiful writing, it isn’t pretentious but real. Perhaps that’s why it aged well.

From the perspective of three males -husband and sons- we are told about the accounts of a middle-class family in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century – specifically in the Autumn of 1918, in the middle of the Spanish flu.

We’re introduced to the story from the perspective of the little Bunny, an 8-year old which comments on the adult world from his perspective. Then goes Robert, Bunny’s big brother, which I was prepared to hate after reading the first part – what I’ve got instead was a nuanced teen with his own struggles. Finally, the circle is closed with James, the father. Through the perspectives of these men at different stages in life, we learn what the author has to say about life, which is well captured by the title: swallows come and go, so does life.

This book has many angles a reader can enjoy: domestic realism, a historic account of the effects of Spanish flu at the beginning of the century, etc. One that I haven’t seen talked about is feminism and matriarchy. I believe you could read this as an homage to spouses and mothers of all times, but also as a plea for stopping offloading work to them, as for Elizabeth is the one that does the emotional labor, plans the future, and takes care of the house. I don’t think that was the intention of the writer, but the fact that she doesn’t get to say anything but through the voices of the loving men around her is just the perfect metaphor to channel that kind of message.

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All Books English Library Reading club

The girl on the train

This book was the Reading Club assignment for June 2018, the last before the summer hiatus.

This is a thriller that builds slowly. Rachel is the main character, she’s a depressed, mentally unstable, and alcoholic woman that can’t cope with having lost her husband to another woman. Megan is also lost and has her own difficulties to find anything that fills her in life. Anna is a housewife and mother whose life goals are fulfilled.

Like in a jigsaw, we’re presented with partial and unreliable information about what’s happening to each one of them, which helps to build and keep the narrative tension. Through the story, they face different facets of emotional dependency, abuse, or personal struggles with life. There are some scenes that I particularly liked it because they embody so well one of the themes that give shape to the zeitgeist of our era: Rachel, in her daily train trips to work, invents any kind of stories about the people she sees through the window; their lives are always happier and out of struggles. We know that’s not true, but she doesn’t have that information. This made me reflect on our interactions through the so-called social networks and how they can be so much detached from the real ourselves in so many ways.

At times, I was so dragged to the story, that I even found myself reading while walking to board a plane.

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The kite runner

This book was the Reading Club assignment for May 2018.

Lately, I felt the urge to read fiction again, after a long time focused on tech and non-fiction. I was also looking to widen my perspectives and stay away from sci-fi for a bit. I found an English Reading Club ran by the neighborhood public library, and The kite runner was the first reading since I joined. Actually, a friend of mine had lent me the book many years ago, but I had forgotten most of it. It seems unfair that I did because the second read has left me very moved.

The book’s central character is Amir, born from a rich Pashtun merchant in the Kabul of the 60s. The first third of the book pivots on the relationships with his father and his Hazara servant during his teenage years. After the Saur revolution, the family flies to America and we are introduced to how was life like for Afghani immigrants, but also how our beloved character transitions to become an adult. The book’s third act goes back to Afghanistan, but to a different one, as it is set up after the Ismalic Jihad that ended up with the Taliban ruling the country.

Because I had already read the book I didn’t expect it to be able to generate so many emotions as I went through it. I was so wrong. In the beginning, I had some trouble to like it, and Hosseini’s way of expressing Amir feelings felt a bit pretending, but every time he focused on a particular plot, I felt engaged again. Certain scenes were a lot more disturbing than I remembered, to the point that I had to stop a couple of times, take fresh air, and make myself aware that I was living in a totally different reality than the books – that’s something I don’t experience in many books. Having to deal with my father’s death last year struck all kind of emotions and relived conversations as well – in a way, I think that helped the book to have more impact on me this second time, and reminds me that there are books that hold healing power if read at the proper time. Finally, I couldn’t help but think that the Amir and Hassan friendship is a metaphor for Afghanistan as a failed state during the many wars that beat the country in the 1974-2001 period. It seems to me as if Hosseini was trying to say that the country cannot be at peace until the Pashtuns and Hazaras are equals.

I’d say The kite runner is a book about guilt and redemption, a father-son relationship, and perhaps the main window to Afghanistan culture for most westerns. I think the book fares well in each of those.

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All Automattic English How I work

My office i4

I’ve been working from home for more than 3 years now, and my setup has gone through several iterations – the current one is i4.

office-i4

After joining Automattic, I was encouraged to think about my office setup. The company sponsors the kind of high-quality office perks that you’ll expect in companies at this level, and I took that opportunity to upgrade my own in ways I had been already thinking about. The fact that you are not in their offices, but in your home adds a different feeling to it. Although I appreciate the company efforts and perks, I’d like to stay frugal within comfortable limits, so I didn’t get anything I wouldn’t buy with my own money. I think of my office setup as a gift for the elder me – I wish he’ll be proud of what his younger self is doing for him.

For i4, these are the new additions to my office:

HAG Capisco 8016 chair, which promotes and supports several seating positions.

DIY kit from Autonomous, to build my own height adjustable desktop so I could change between seating and standing positions.

We, humans, are not designed for seating. A lot has been said about the optimal seating position, but an idea that has gained recognition in ergonomics is that changing positions frequently may be the best long-term strategy.

For the past two months, I’ve been experimenting with that idea to learn what works better for me. I’ve used three main positions -traditional seating, saddle seating, and standing- and a lot of other crazy ones. What I’ve found out is that I change positions through the day as my body asks for it, but I mainly use the saddle position (most of the time, but especially when I need to write) and standing (for consuming information). The traditional seating feels a bit unnatural to me now, although it may be a side effect of using the Capisco which is more tailored for other postures. I also have a more traditional chair at home, but I rarely use it.

This is i4. This setup fits me so well that I cannot imagine what i5 will look like yet.

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Howdy Automattic

a8c_creed

This is part of the invitation I was sent to join Automattic. I accepted. Today marks my first day as an automattician, and I am excited to become part of this family. My day-to-day will be filled with the joys and woes of programming but under Automattic’s creed, I feel safe, motivated and happy to do my best. Fun times ahead!

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Califactos

Acabo de participar en la campaña de crowfunding de CALIFACTOS, de Juan. Una serie de calendarios y tarjetas navideñas realizadas a partir de objetos pictórico-sonoros que ha ido creando a lo largo de este año.

Os dejo que él mismo os los presente:

Algún amigo ha definido los CALIFACTOS como “fogonazos”, otros de “destellos fugaces”, algunos afirman que se les quedan prendidos de la memoria. Quizás se deba a que fusionan la vista con el oído y a que intento que ambos tipos de percepción se coordinen para poder ofrecer un significado que no resulta del todo evidente ni único.

No me reprimo de afirmar que están animados de un sentido libertario que resulta fácil percibir y espero que sentir. No sabría definir la libertad, pero creo que cada CALIFACTO expresa un deseo e incita a una acción comprometida con la liberación, la emancipación y la autonomía, con el anhelo de vincularnos libremente con el prójimo sin mediadores y sin coerción. A este espíritu le dedico estas emociones que pinto y escribo, y que deseo transformar en la materialidad de unos CALENDARIOS que os acompañen al menos durante el año 2017.

Si quieres calendarios y tarjetas para esta Navidad estás a tiempo de participar y apoyar económicamente el proyecto.

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All Español Las Indias Club

Por qué patrocino Eŭropano

Hoy mismo me he convertido en patrocinador de Eŭropano. El compromiso económico inicial es por 6 meses, hasta primavera de 2017. Durante ese tiempo y de manera mensual aportaré 5€ al proyecto. La razón por la que lo hago es que comparto la filosofía del proyecto: crear una esfera pan-europea de debate y acceso a información en una lengua neutral, no ligada a ningún país de la Unión Europea.

europano

La idea base es que la publicación sirva de palanca para eliminar las desigualdades de acceso a la información entre ciudadanos europeos y, por lo tanto, también de acceso a recursos económicos. Si creemos en los mercados como herramienta para el empoderamiento de personas y comunidades, debemos ser sensibles a la actual asimetría de información existente en la Unión Europea y cómo eso favorece la extracción de rentas para unos pocos.

El idioma elegido para la publicación ha sido el esperanto. Lo cierto es que yo no soy hablante de esperanto por el momento y eso requerirá un esfuerzo por mi parte para entender todo lo que se publica. Pero aunque no lea diariamente Eŭropano, el mero hecho de que exista esta iniciativa es positivo para mí y para todos los que creen en la igualdad de oportunidades.

Si queremos cambiar el status quo, no hay más alternativa que participar y ser activo. Hacerlo a través del mercado es una de los superpoderes que tenemos.

Otros patrocinios que he hecho en el pasado:

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All Español iCarto Las Indias Club Makers Lugo Red Odiseus

Treinta y cuatro

Hace unas semanas he cumplido mi vuelta al Sol número 34. ¿Qué ha pasado en todo este tiempo? Lo resumo con este post, para mi yo futuro y porque recordar todo lo que uno ha hecho ayuda a no perder la perspectiva.

iCarto

Este año ha sido el 5º aniversario de iCarto y lo hemos celebrado con familia/amigos. Los primeros años fueron duros, probablemente cometimos todos y cada uno de los errores que una nueva empresa puede cometer, esas cosas que no salen en los manuales de MBA y que suponen una verdadera prueba de resistencia. El futuro de la empresa ahora es muy prometedor. Las heridas se han convertido en marcas que uno enseña con orgullo y guarda como recordatorio. Haber contribuido a construir una dinámica de sostenibilidad en el medio de una profunda crisis económica como no se recordaba es algo que quedará para siempre grabado en mi memoria.

icarto

A nivel proyectos, lo más significativo del último año ha sido:

  • Bantegal: la aplicación del banco de tierras de Galicia. He colaborado con un grupo de otros 10 desarrolladores con un background muy diferente al mío, lo que me ha exigido mucho a nivel personal. A nivel funcional, lo más reseñable quizás sea que he desarrollado el componente de cobros y pagos para interactuar con los bancos, implementando el estándar SEPA. Tecnologías: Java, Spring, Wicket, Struts, JSP.

Captura de pantalla de 2016-06-08 20:46:02

ccsi

  • En los últimos meses, he estado centrado en idear y desarrollar una aplicación para la gestión de explotaciones y usuarios del agua que se usará en Mozambique. Fran me ha ayudado a programar lo que teníamos entre manos, que era bastante ambicioso. Es un producto empaquetado con Electron que se divide en 3 componentes principales: una interfaz web, un API REST y una base de datos. Ésta es una arquitectura que ya he usado en otros proyectos y que poco a poco se está convirtiendo en mi default. Continuando con mi evolución hacia la  creación de librerías reutilizables siguiendo la filosofía UNIX, en este proyecto he publicado backbone-uilib, backbone-geojson y leaflet-table. Tecnologías: JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Backbone, Bootstrap, Python, Pyramid, SQLAlchemy y PostgreSQL/PostGIS.

utentes-show

El mundo maker

El último año he estado especialmente activo en el mundo maker. En Mayo del 2015 me convertí en el nuevo presidente de Makers.Lugo, lo que significó poner al día la asociación a nivel burocrático y consolidar un creciente grupo de gente alrededor nuestra. Por tercer año consecutivo, hemos realizado el GenuinoDay en Lugo. Este año la organización la ha liderado Sancos, que ha conseguido organizar el mejor evento hasta la fecha y al que agradeceré eternamente el esfuerzo inmenso que ha hecho durante todos estos meses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

En Otoño me he pegado un buen recorrido por ferias y conferencias, con un enfoque muy maker: en Santiago la mini maker faire, la OSHDEM en Coruña, el Somero en Gijón; he vistado a la gente del Fablab León y he participado en mi primera conferencia de diseño.

Azuzado en parte por experimentos que hice años atrás, me decidí a proponer una actividad para los miembros del Club de Las Indias: recuperar los valores de la abundancia en la navidad mediante los objetos con los que la celebramos. Un arrebato a lo William Morris. La propuesta fue acogida con entusiasmo y en estos meses de principio de 2016 hemos acabado la fase de investigación, cuyo resultado se puede leer en este epub. Hemos también ideado ya algún producto y estamos ahora con las manos en la masa.

A nivel personal

En este blog he estado bastante activo y casi sin darme cuenta he escrito un ensayo sobre desarrollo de software en una PYME, ordenando las notas que había interiorizado en mi cabeza a partir de la experiencia de los últimos años. He arrancado también un blog musical y otro donde recopilo notas de diseño de interacción.

He visitado Nueva York, Madrid, Berlín, San Petersburgo y París.

He leído más libros de diseño que de cualquier otra cosa y algunos han pasado a mi lista de recomendados. La scifi se ha hecho un hueco también: Oveja mansa de Connie Willis y La mano izquierda de la oscuridad de Ursula K. Le Guin. Me he puesto al día en novela negra leyendo la serie creada por Domingo Villar que tiene como personaje principal al inspector Leo Caldas: Ollos de auga y A praia dos afogados. Siguiendo con el consumo cultural, esta temporada me han cautivado Halt and Catch Fire y El Ministerio del Tiempo.

A principios de 2016, he recuperado la trompeta para tocar en un concierto con amigos. He aprendido las reglas del go. Estoy preparando el certificado Advance de inglés. Esta temporada de la competición de trivial nos ha ido mal, pero nos seguimos divirtiendo. Además de un nuevo portátil, me he comprado mi primer coche.

La lección vital más importante que he aprendido es ésta: uno es lo que hace, no lo que representa. La vida merece la pena sólo si la compartimos con otros que nos ayuden a ser una versión mejor de nosotros mismos.

Lo que me lleva directamente a la banda sonora de este año:

La vuelta 34 ha sido muy intensa. Estoy listo para la siguiente!