Recently: March 2021

March was intense and plenty in all the ways February wasn’t.

Mareas Vivas

Mercedes Peón singing Mareas Vivas‘ intro song.

Galician noir: how a rainy corner of Spain spawned a new TV genre. The major streaming platforms have released tv-shows produced in Galiza and by Galicians: O Sabor das Margaridas / Bitter Daisies (Netflix), Auga Seca / Dry Water (HBO), La Unidad / The Unit (Movistar), 3 Caminos (Amazon Prime). The Guardian mentions scenery, low-budget costs, and a pre-existing industry fueled by the TVG (TeleVision of Galiza) as the main factors for Galiza’s becoming a production hub.

How would you measure how much of the “pre-existing” industry can be attributed to the role of the TVG? How would you measure the impact of having a distribution and production center with the autonomy and money to spend on the local film-making industry? One thing that hints at this is the story of Mareas Vivas (The Spring Tides). Aired from 1999 to 2003, it was certainly a good product in terms of audience, awards, and the fact that it was sold and distributed to other platforms. However, and this is what I didn’t understand until recently, it was also a good platform to grow local talent. If we fast-forward 20 years, what’s now doing the people involved in the show? Luis Tosar, who played one of the main characters, is a renowned international film star; Mercedes Peón, the intro song composer, has a career in the world music scene; many others (producers, camera-people, etc.) founded or are working for the companies that are now selling products to Netflix, HBO, or Amazon.

This pattern resonates with something I read about the evolution of the Estonia startup ecosystem as well: there’s a product that reaches highly successful rates (Mareas Vivas in 1998-2003 and Skype in 2003-2009, respectively), and the released energy from that success (money, connections, expertise) is invested back into the next round of products. It’s so common a pattern that there’s a term for it: the X mafia, after the Paypal employees who used the money they got from selling PayPal to invest in and/or create YouTube, Linkedin, Tesla, SpaceX, or Kiva.

Read

How I cut GTA online loading times by 70%. This is the story of a GTA player who proposed a fix to reduce the app loading time from 6 to 1:50 minutes ― without having access to the source code. It boiled down to how GTA parsed and read data from a large JSON file (10Mb). It reminded me of one of the best talks about performance I’ve ever seen: Fast by default: algorithmic performance optimization in practice.

Compensation as a reflection of values. Oxide is a startup that pays everyone the same: $175k. They understand the different risk profiles and skin in the game that different people have in the company, and they embed that risk in the company’s equity: the sooner you joined, the larger stock you have.

A bottom-up approach to organize content with mind-maps, by Kent Beck.

Listened

Guadi Galego’s Cólico and Cláudia Pascoal’s Quase Dança received the ari[t]mar 2021 award as the best songs of Galiza and Portugal in 2020, respectively.

I agree with the internet that Cólico is a beautiful piece about an awful topic. I’ve also realized that I had been following Guadi Galego for a while, but I didn’t have a top-10 songs list. Here’s the fix to that, a 30-minutes list that would hopefully lighten your day:

WordPress 5.7 “Esperanza” was released this month. It’s named after Esperanza Spalding, a bassist, singer, and composer. In the past years, I’ve picked up the habit of listening to the jazz musician chosen to highlight the WordPress major release.

It’s been 30 years since REM’s Out of Time was released. An absolute masterpiece, I heard at home. I must confess REM grew slowly on me. Ironically, the sort of music I listened to at the time (grunge, shoe-gaze, brit-pop) was possible because REM had existed. Anyway, REM stands out to me as one of those groups with a unique characteristic: I can relate many of their songs to particular spatial-temporal moments of my life. When I hear one of these, I’m immediately transported to the past. These are three of them:

On the podcast front, I’m back at trying to ease my way into the medium: I re-listened Barbara Oakley‘s interview on the fs podcast, started Exército de Precários, and checked out a beautiful and very personal interview with Isaac González x2 in Sexto Grao.

Watched

Unorthodox. A 19-year-old woman flees from the ultra-orthodox Jew community she lives in. It’s a great story about those who need to run away from their environment to flourish and be their own selves.

Can we live forever? My current favorite documentary series, Explained, produced a 20-minute episode on the latest of the health industry: investigations about how to tap into our own biological mechanisms to make our body delay/prevent the sort of diseases related to aging (cancer, Alzheimer, strokes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.). It’s so packed that I had to watch it twice. As pre-material, I suggest the talk Experiments that hint of longer lives:

Obsidian for writing. I continue to be thinking about how I take & organize notes. I like Obsidian so much that I became a supporter. I’m stupidly excited about the mobile app as well. There’s a huge community using it and sharing their setups, like this one:

Inside

For the first time since more than a year ago, I spent a bunch of time inside a building that wasn’t my home, my family’s, or a supermarket: I went to see Pharaoh: King of Egypt, an exhibition with material from The British Museum.

Although we went at the least crowded hours we could, it was still weird and uncomfortable at times. The exhibition itself was very well organized and produced; it renewed my interest in ancient civilizations. I already wrote about Rome in January. Something both have in common is that some marvelous things they invented and built were forgotten and lost for centuries after they collapsed ― some still are.

Not a surprising thought that I had lately was: is our civilization collapsing as well? Pandemic-aside, it’s certainly difficult sometimes to be stoked about its current status when it fails to provide basic needs for so many, and a lot of the underlying infrastructure it runs on is broken or heavily damaged. As anecdata, some people who had provided me futuristic thoughts in the past suggest it’s showing signs of stagnation: Neal Stephenson asks what we’ve built since the 70s, and Jonathan Blow thinks along those lines when it comes to the programming industry. A quite strong counter-point is The best stats you’ve ever seen by Hans Rosling.

Outside

In March, I dusted-off my Fitbit, grabbed some fresh air, and took some photos as well.

Monte Pindo's surroundings.
A Abrela.

Cooked

Besides getting out of hibernation and increasing my physical activity, I’m in one of those “let’s learn about food and nutrition” phases. Sometimes, I cook inspired by what I learned.

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:

Tempestades de sal, Sés

Sés is a Galician singersongwriter. Her stage presence and lyrics reminds me of what it means to grow in small villages by the periphery. I feel connected to that dignity and survival skills, because it embodies the attitude of the women I grew around. The Galician matriachy.

Shelter from the Storm

Mars soundtrack (the National Geographic tv-show) is fantastic. Nick Cave is just the perfect voice to convey that feeling of exploration and fear. Moon, Interstellar, The Martian, etc; it seems sci-fi movies got an appreciation for soundtracks that have a major role in the film – and I enjoy that.

As much as I like Cave’s main theme for Mars, after a few episodes, I was in the need of something like Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm. Exploration needs joy and celebration.

Ryanair boarding songs

Some years ago, when boarding on Ryanair, the music played over the speakers was a classical and vibrant song – being Ryanair, likely a royalty-free one. Some declare it was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5:

Lately, they’ve changed to a more modern electronic style, at least as vibrant as before:

I like the new one much better. For a few seconds, I thought «they have probably hired someone with a better sense for music», but then I realized that it’s the same kind of song you hear on the teenager stores these days. And I know why they changed it: to keep you moving!

Faster, if possible.

The long fall

It had been a while since I hadn’t listened to Marlango. The first albums were kind of intimate jazz with a touch of Radiohead. As they matured, their sound evolved into something more electric and a more open & positive way of looking at life as well.

The long fall is one of my current favorites.

Skies are open. Eyes are closed.
I’ll take a while to put on my clothes.

You walk in and I wake up.
And the world starts another round.
Make it long and take it slow.
All we have is this free
fall.

Eyes are open. Sun is slow.
Linger ’round the coffee shop.
Girls and spring they show their skin
as the world starts around round.

Make it long and take it slow.
All we have is this free fall.
All we have is this long
fall.
Skies are open. Eyes are closed.
You can linger ’round these girls.
I will wear my Sunday smile.
And the world will start another round.

Make it long and take it slow.
All we have is this free fall.
Make it long and take it slow.
All we have is this free fall.
All we have is this wrong
goal.
All we have is this free fall.
You’ll walk in and I’ll wake up.
I will wear my Summer smile.
And the world end another round.

Make it long and take it slow.
All we have is this free fall.
Make it long and take it slow.
‘cos all we have is this free fall.
All we have is this free fall.
All we have is this long
fall.

Drive @ Automatic for the people

Cuando REM publicó el Automatic for the people yo tenía 10 años. Probablemente escuché el disco por vez primera más de un lustro después, en plena adolescencia. En esa época Drive me hablaba de cosas que estaba experimentando internamente.

What if I ride, what if you walk?
What if you rock around the clock?
Tick-tock, tick-tock
What if you did, what if you walk?
What if you tried to get off, baby?

Hey, kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby

Casi 25 años después de su publicación, la canción sigue teniendo una fuerza especial y sigue invitando a hacerse cargo de uno mismo.