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:

1983

What if, in 1983, the polish national resistance was slaughtered after a terrorist attack attributed to them? What if, as a consequence, in 2003, Poland would be governed by an authoritarian state, the Iron Cut would be still in place, and Al Gore the president of the United States? That’s the premise of 1983, the first Polish tv-show produced by Netflix.

The main characters are Kajetan Skowron, a law student whose parents were killed by the bombs; Anatol Janów, an investigator who wants to get back his old job after a rank demotion; and Ofelia Ibrom, the leader of a rebel movement whose life goal is to kill the members of the government.

Maybe freedom is overrated?

— Agnieszka Holland

It follows dystopic arcs that have been filling our TVs since the beginning of the decade, from Hunger Games to The Man In The High Castle. The aesthetics resemble those of cyberpunk such as Altered Carbon and Blade Runner – music, photography, and plot are dark. Also, like them, the focus is on a criminal investigation as a MacGuffin to discuss bigger topics. It has obvious connections to 1984. The plot reminded of Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xialong, only that 1983 is an alternate reality, not historical fiction – its goal is to comment on the present, not the past.

One of the things that dragged me to this film was that it was created by Polish for Poland. I thought that was very bold and gave it more load, so to speak, given the country’s past and present. The 1st season lived to its expectations and entered the top-three tv-shows I’ve seen in 2018.

Rams

To overcome mediocrity, you have to find the right people. People who could actually achieve something through collaboration, who think beyond what they are responsible for on a daily basis.

– Dieter Rams

In 2016, I was one of the 5.000 backers of Rams, the first feature documentary about Dieter Rams by Gary Huswitt, who has directed other design documentaries such as Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized.

I’ve received my copy a few days ago and just watched it now. The film gives a sense of Rams’ beliefs and values, connecting his work to the Ulm School of Design and the era he lived in. Through interviews with him and others, I discovered a quiet and private person, who is also opinionated and vocal about the way of design. I think it’s a great documentary, although I couldn’t help but wish it could expand a bit more on his role as Braun’s Design Director – the day to day of being the proxy between the design group and the rest of the company, the interactions among the members of the group, the design process itself, etc.

The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

To learn to make something well can take your whole life. And it’s worth it.

— Ursula K. Le Guin

The documentary that explores the life and work of Ursula K. Le Guin is now being screened in several festivals and events. Check out the dates and join one if you can. As a backer of the project, I had early access to the film. It’s only a few months since UKL has left us, so it came to me with a feeling of farewell and closure.

The thing that get us to the thing

Past Saturday, AMC aired Halt and Catch Fire season finale. I saw this tv-show grow over 4 seasons and I’m sad it’s over.

HACF resonated with me because it was about the pleasure of making things work and the cost of pursuing your dreams. We need a whole lot more stories about the woes and joys of creation to learn how to navigate that world and to inspire us. We need more builders and dreamers capable of not burning themselves out.

Bonus points for using the evolution of computers as the McGuffin. But, as much as I liked the history of computers being the central plot of a well done period  drama, HACF wasn’t about computers. The computers aren’t the thing. They are the thing that get us to the thing.

La La Land

Now, this is a musical that I like. Entertaining, moving, and complex.

I wouldn’t say musicals are my kind of films. My personal favorite is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which is typical Burton. I didn’t like Les Misérables and haven’t watched Moulin Rouge. That’s my track record. Yet, this film is energizing, jazz everywhere, a colorful photography, with brilliant performances by Stone & Gosling.

At the core, I’d say this is a wonderful love story, with a positive and naïve message – just what we need right now. That’d be enough to recommend it. At the same time, it is not what would you expect from a Hollywood film: it is sad in many and fundamental ways, which makes the film a modern story about love, life, and personal growth. And has an epic soundtrack.

Untitled

Está siendo un magnífico verano y aunque nos queda un mes completo todavía, ya el ambiente empieza a oler a Otoño. Y a series. El próximo martes 23 se estrena la tercera temporada de Halt and Catch Fire. Dos días después de que acabe, el 21 de Octubre, empieza BlackMirror. Los astros se alinean para darnos un respiro y que podamos compaginar todo. Qué gustazo. ¡Estamos listos para empezar la temporada!

El Ministerio del Tiempo

Los lunes, en casa, son el día del Ministerio del Tiempo, la serie de TVE creada por los hermanos Pablo y Javier Olivares y que va por su segunda temporada. A veces comedia, a veces thriller, siempre entretenimiento. Cada capítulo es una novedad y los recientes de esta segunda temporada están a la altura de la primera.

mdt

Personalmente me gustaría ver más historias de la periferia en la trama de la serie, capítulos contando una España alternativa: una historia ucrónica (de ésas que tanto me gustan) que explorase el qué hubiese ocurrido si … Por otro lado, el guión deja entrever pullas o complejos generacionales y, en muchos casos, no explota todos los recovecos que podría de la historia. A pesar de todo ello, de lo que a mí me gustaría que hubiese sido la serie, lo que importa es lo que está siendo: y el resultado es desde luego una ficción muy entretenida.

A nivel transmedia es de lo mejorcito que he visto: la webserie de Angustias, el podcast de Julián, el paseo en realidad virtual por el ministerio, permiten dejarte llevar por el mundo y explorar otras caras de los personajes más allá de la serie. No recuerdo haber disfrutado tanto con estos juegos desde que el Sherlock de Moffat para la BBC, nos invitase a explorar los blogs y comentarios de Watson y Holmes .