My month long torrid affair with Tina Fey

I don’t like working in silence. I don’t mind studying in silence but I don’t like writing or reviewing code without some kind of noise. I listen to the worst music you can imagine1, or whatever late night clips they have put from the they before. Sometimes I listen to these hour long interviews from Hollywood magazines where actors, directors composers sometimes show a glimpse into the actual procedure of making movies and TV shows. I have a lot of curiosity about how these things get put together. In particular I’ve been always fascinated with Comedy or the process of making Comedy. How can you go to a job expecting to be funny everyday? How can you go through deadlines and produce material?

One of these days, while cycling over recommendations at YouTube I’ve arrived to this particular interview between Bill Hader and Jason Bateman. During the interview they mention this movie, called Saturday Night, a documentary that James Franco did a film class where they show the innards of SNL during a week where John Malkovich is host.

After googling a bit I was able to find it available somewhere. There you can see much a younger Seth Meyers, Will Forte and John Mulaney, before he was even famous. That documentary shows the process of creating and rehearse sketches, particularly Vinny Vedecci. The documentary is very interesting because although you probably seen or heard about SNL, and how hard it is, but seeing the process in action is a completely different story.

A few days after watch that, I was in one of mine insomnia nights. After spending an hour rolling over my bed I decided that probably it would be much more useful to read a than doing nothing. Browsing my library I’ve come to realise that I have a copy of Tina Fey’s book, one of SNL’s head writers, that I never got to read. Such a fortuitous coincidence like that should not be wasted.

The writing is so good that I read thought that book in a week. The title (Bossypants) seems so appropriate. Every girl should read that book, because its not only about comedy, but is also about how to get what you deserve. There’s a point where she’s stuck with a shitty job a Y, and a friendly coworker wants the same position she wants. After conquering that position with determination and a roommate’s blue suit she states:

That makes me sound like a jerk, I know. But remember the beginning of the story where I was the underdog? No? Me neither.

As you read the book you’ll get to know this person and by the end you’ll have a crush on her. She’s so striking that even Alec Baldwin, the first time he met her, asked Lorne Michaels if she was single, with her husband in the same room. As he says:

When I first met Tina Fey — beautiful and brunette, smart and funny, by turns smug and diffident and completely uninterested in me or anything I had to say — I had the same reaction that I’m sure many men and women have: I fell in love.

During the book she describes the process of creating and directing 30 Rock. This is a show about a show, not much different from SNL, and the backstage troubles the entire crew gets into. She wrote it specifically for Alec Baldwin and she even talks about the process of approaching him for the part. One of the interesting things she talks about in the book is the show writers including one…:

Our youngest writer was Donald Glover. He had just graduated from NYU’s writing program was still living in a dorm and working as a RA.

Tina Fey and Donald Glover? Now I have to watch it. After getting it, I devoured the show in the next 3 weeks. Its so good and so well written. From Jack, and to Kenneth the characters are so well made. Because of the comedy format (20 minutes a episode), its appropriate in any occasion. I must confess that I’ve fell asleep more than once watching the show in bet on my laptop, which almost classifies as spending the night with Tina Fey. But after the last episode I knew I had to put a stop in this relation. I love comedy and stuff that Tina Fey writes. But the day has so many hours in it, and I need a new topic in my life. But definitely she was fun to hangout for month.

  1. I have a utilitarian view of music. I tend not to have preferred bands or musics. As long they do the job of lulling my brain, I couldn’t care less what they are is. But that’s a topic for a whole new article. 


When the final bubble pops

I mostly follow Warren Buffet philosophy regarding investing. I don’t invest in things I don’t understand, and cryptocurrency is no exception.

If you have any interest in history you might find cryptocurrency quite similar to the Dutch Tulipenmanie. The deceptively simple nature of bitcoin and its cousins makes it easy for anyone to join the . But these kind of speculative markets tend to have a upper bound of growth. I haven’t seen anyone explain how bitcoin might to collapse . I’ve been thinking about it and this is how I see it go down.

The main vulnerability with bitcoin is that is inherently index to fiat currency through exchanges. Without these open exchanges it would be extremely hard for bitcoin to worth as much as it is, because you would had to rely on barter. Here lies the problem. While the market size for the bitcoin market is small, the rise and fall of the market only affect a small set of people and has virtually no effect on anyone’s economy, only those who accept to participate in it. But since the gains are huge and the cost of entry is small more and more people are entering the market. For the most part financial firms have stayed away, but with payouts high as they might be, they are starting to move in.

Initially these firms will segregate these profits to high risk pools, meaning they are isolated from the whole firm risk profile. But there might be something in the future, maybe a recession, maybe the US government decides to invade some country, which causes a financial crash. That will cause people in these financial firms to make risker moves (most likely to maintain the same bonus level that they are used to) and someone somewhere will tie the regular economy with the bitcoin market (With some bad luck even through layers of derivative products). Since this ties both markets, there will be a point where bitcoin will cash as it always does, but this time there will be an economic crash attributed to the volatility of the cryptocurrency market.

Governments will blame financial firms which will do everything to shift blame to the unregulated cryptocurrency market. Pressured by the people who lost their savings because of some “silicon valley greedy basterds”, the government will decide to intervene. Since the entire cryptocurrency is decentralised, they will have to go after the exchanges. One of two scenarios will happen. Either government will impose heavy controls on the value of crypto currencies, making the entire dream of unregulated currency to die, or my personal opinion, financial companies will come in and say that uncontrolled crypto is inherently unsafe, but financial firms have the same kind of assets with central control, like ripple. This will cause the government to forbade all unregulated crypto currencies at the exchanges and only allow coins with some kind of control, making bitcoin and the like valueless. Financial firms will love this because this way they will have created a currency, with government approval, fully controlled by privates

Anyway, I’m still not investing in any of this shit.


Vintage X-Files

X-Files have always been a mark growing up. I wasn’t allowed to watch it, and when I grew up, it played so late that my parents didn’t wanted me up to watch it. It ended up getting tabu fetish mystique, the show I wasn’t allowed to watch. A few years back I finally got hand of a “box-set” so I could finally watch it.

Shows from the 90’s like X-Files tend to assume a non linearity in their development. The main story is very sporadic, canon is casually broken and there’s a bigger emphasis into a “monster of the week” than to propelling the story. If I was to ask you to explain to me the main story of the X-Files you might be able to point out some tidbits but its nearly impossible to tie a cohesive story.

The cause for this is simple: there wasn’t no on demand to way watch this week episode. Either people would patiently wait for it to play, or if you lost it, that was it. That is why watching the new seasons of it is really hard. The main story just became a mush of ideas without sense, and having monsters of the week seem passé. I think this is because juxtaposed with more modern shows, the X-Files start to show how 20 year old ideas stop working in today.

Although obvious, it is interesting that just the availability of medium can radically change the perception of a story. That’s why “bingability” is a key factor in producing any kind of media today.

Also, that “Home” episode, that’s some f-up stuff…


Last night the DJ save his livelihood

In 2014 I was trying to replicate the University of Texas – Austin groundbreaking paper on artificial muscles using nylon fishing line. For that I needed a few tools, a drill, a heat gun, some nylon wires, etc. While I was at amazon, I took a look into duffle bags. My father lended (as in gave) me his when I came to Lisbon and I wore it out until is barely holding together. For weeks after that order my amazon page suggested me shovels, different kinds of drillers, saws, accompanied with duffle bags which gave out a vibe that I tortured and burry people for a living

The cause of this are recommendation (or suggestion) engines. Their are little pieces of software the suggest what music to play next, what else you may want to see on a news feed or you may want to order. Their are also the little piece of software that enable people to radicalize them self on Facebook articles or YouTube videos, and enable large groups of people to create echo chambers, shielded from a healthy diet of information.

Generally recomendation engines can be as large or small but in general the way they work is quite the same. Imagine that each point are songs you listen, or stuff you’ve bought:

Now what recommendation engines do is to find people similar with you and whatever they all in common like is what is recommended to you, a bit like this:

Here you can see here that the main problem of these types of systems is that they will inevitably converge into the most common denominator. That’s why when you receive bad recommendations on your amazon page. If I bought a driller, amazon is going to show you what other people bought with that driller, maybe some nails, maybe a hammer.

The same behavior happens when you are watching stuff on YouTube. For instance, you start watching some Kendrick Lamar song. Now a lot of people watch that song but a lot of them also listen to Drake. Since you listen to that, a lot of people also listened to this song by Cloe x Warrior. By the way next is this vlog from this unknown guy. Is not that I like all those people along the way, but is what most people watched.

This may seem quite innocuous but the problem is that this enables you to go through deep content holes. You start by watching some Fox News Clip, next it recommends a Breitbart clip, by the way here’s a Infowars clip, and since you are here, get some guy in a basement talking about QAnon.

In general there’s nothing wrong about watching some crazy Alex Jones rants. The problem is that the engine can’t diferenciate between one night and your identity. I remember once a friend helped me assembling a cabinet in my house and after during dinner we watched some videos a YouTube Channel that he liked. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it took weeks for that channel to disappear from my recommendations. The engine tends to capture a preception of you that is mistaken. And if you are talking about politics and all your consumption is coming from YouTube, your perception of reality will become biased by what ever the recommendations will be. The real problem here is that these systems can not capture serendipity.

It’s really hard to explain serendipity. Imagine that you are at a party and the DJ plays all the current hits. But suddenly he plays this music that just feels and sounds great but you never heard. That’s serendipity. It’s the pleasure of the unplanned discovery. Going down the rabbit hole one night on conspiracy theory videos doesn’t mean that I’m all about that. It just a fortuitous trip that you took.

I’m under the impression that the problem here is that real time recommendations are impossible withou context or the notion of time. A system that would play the right songs for sunny afternoon would require the system to recognize concepts beyond what ever other people are listening. That’s why, even after years no one could create an AI system that could replace a DJ at a wedding or at a radio station. There’s something of high order that no recommendation system right now can capture.

Unfortunately accidents require rough edges, not smooth surfaces. Until then, we’ll have to tolerate bad suggestions.


State of Urban Decay on Facebook

In the New Year’s Eve of 2014 I was alone at home, waiting for mid night to come. As usual, when I don’t have any kind of arrangement l, buy something special to cook, some pastries and some wine so I can have a special dinner. Now this may seem depressing for many, but I never liked the idea of having pre determined days where you go out and have fun. I’m not also into Carnaval or Halloween (although there it may be the whole costume thing that puts me off). Normally I cook something, I’ll eat it and then I put some movie playing on the TV, I cozy up on the sofa and that’s it. However this year in particular I spent some more time looking into Facebook than I probably should.

Now, I fully aware of the simulacrum nature of Facebook. People only show what they want other people to watch, either to create an illusion of how wonderful their life’s are or simply out of envy. However this time, I felt that somehow Facebook was looking into me. The more I watched the newsfeed, the more sad felt becoming. Not of being alone, but out of something hard to explain.

I spent a few days after that reflecting on that experience and I decided that my emotional nature is too important for me to allow something like Facebook to control. I work on this kind of thing, so I understand how whole nature feedback nature of Facebook is wretched for your emotional system. Instead of traditional TV, where they show you what they think what you want to see, Facebook can look through the looking glass and tweak that newsfeed so you keep consuming more. Their objective is for you to spend as much time as possible with your eyeballs on their site.

And that day forward I decided not to use Facebook. For 6 months I stayed away, did not read anything on it. This period was quite illuminating for me. One of the oddest that I noticed from that period was that you have a topic of conversation with other people, “What have you been up to?” Was something that I noticed my self asking other people (oddly enough, I did got some questions like “Haven’t you that seen it on Facebook that I’ve done X?”).

Way before the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal began, the idea of leaving Facebook had fashionable. I did had some friends that voluntarily left Facebook, either out of simply being tired of the content or because they needed a break. For the past few years I’ve been away from it. I’ve used more Twitter and Instagram (I’m fully aware that Facebook owns Instagram, however the whole vibe seems way more positive).

After my nephew was born my sister created a Facebook group with all the family to share pictures and videos of the kid. Because of it I’ve spent a little more time looking into my newsfeed and it started to give me this eerie feeling.

I never used facebook like other people, I never liked brands, so all that appears on my timeline is mostly what other people share. What I see on it now is kind of content that I can only describe as “urban decay”. Old, stale posts, video shares from dubious pages, these marquee posts that scream “look at what I’ve written!”, absolutely unrelated ads, and splash around images from instagram. I used to need willpower to demote me from using to facebook, now I have absolutely no interest on going there.

I’ve seen this happen before on other online communities (e.g. digg). There are some things right now that make it feel like the abandoned wasteland that was geocities. I suspect that Facebook has reached the end of its lifecycle. It will take a few years, maybe a decade for it to be completely over, but i don’t think there’s coming back from that.

What I’m left wondering is what is going to replace it next.


Can you go beyond the Scientific Method?

Let me just preface this by saying that I believe in the scientific method and this isn’t a refusal of it. It is just a logic game that I’ve been playing in my mind.

I’ve been thinking over the last few years if there’s anything that could be real, but would fail the scientific method. One day I started wondering about all the ghosts, and I started thinking about if it was possible for stuff to be real but be beyond our current scientific methodology. This doesn’t mean I believe in ghosts, I don’t, but if the scientific method is fully consistent with reality, in a way like Gödel’s incompleteness theorems for math.

The crucial element of the scientific method that would brake in a scenario like this would be reproducibility. We call scientific truths to phenomena that given the same inputs and a reaction, result on predictable outputs. If something isn’t reproducible, it isn’t science. So, for something to be real and fail the scientific method, its outcome needs to be dependent on inputs but its output needs to be random.

Obviously, one would start wondering about quantum phenomena, if there was something there that work like this. However phenomena at the quantum level behaves over probabilistic distributions, meaning that although it isn’t possible to accurately predict the location of an electron, you can predict where is the highest likelihood of find it.

But last night I think I might have an insight that would create a paradoxical situation like that. You just need higher dimensions than the one we currently inhabit. Let me give you an example:

Lets imagine that there’s a multi dimensional piece of paper. The geometry is irrelevant for this case, however this paper does exist outside our 3 dimensional projection. Let’s also suppose that fire emanates energy in all dimensions. And burning the paper would generate smoke in our dimensions. If i light up a lighter, and burn the paper I would see smoke appearing that I couldn’t explain where it came before. I couldn’t light it up again, because it was burnt, so the outcome was random. At least one time my inputs generated a real outcome, but because I am not a multidimensional being, I couldn’t see the totality of the system.

That means that the scientific method can only operate on our own observable universe. If the universe has higher dimensions that we can’t access, than there is real things that we will never comprehend (which again reminds of Godel). I think there are some possible consequences of this. For instance, for God to exist either he plays by our rules (Newton, Quantum, etc.) and is observable, or he needs to be a multidimensional being.

Most likely I’ve made some mistake in my deduction, and I would love to hear some criticism of my idea.



Series 2 to Series 3: How to approach the Apple Watch

Last year, around this time, after all the hype I bought an Apple Watch Series 2. Maybe I’ve believed the hype, and around that time the watch was still viewed as a complement to iPhone, that you could extend the whole iOS experience into your pulse. I had a friend that was trying to unload his new watch and decided to bought it to try it out.

After using it two weeks, I’ve found it underwhelming. It wasn’t anything like a new computational platform, all the apps felt underwhelmed, I couldn’t reply to some notifications. Everything felt, at the time, half baked. The experience was so bad that after two weeks I ended up reselling the watch to another friend of mime. I haven’t spend much time thinking about it, and seriously, there haven’t been a moment since then that I miss having the watch in my wrist.

Some weeks ago I started looking to buy a fitness tracker. I need to loose some weight and I thought having something tracking my activity would be interesting. I looked around and decided to buy again an Apple Watch Series 3. You might think: “That doesn’t make sense. Its the same device.1“.

Well, changing the approach I’ve taken to the Watch completely changed my experience with it. Approaching as a fitness tracker that is capable of doing some small other stuff, really changes your interaction with it. First of, I ignored the watch faces. Since they have such a predominant gesture (swipe left and right), I assume that Apple thinks that people change their watch face regularly. I don’t. I don’t like change. I want to create a single face that works. Last year I tried to build a face that suited my needs. I failed at it. I couldn’t put a counter of unread emails (which is essential to me since I try to follow a Inbox Zero approach to my email), and there wasn’t a set of complications that made sense to me. Most faces kinda suck, they look like cool demos that you wouldn’t want to wear the entire day. Fuck that. This time I choose the fitness face, changing it only to add the day of the month on the top left corner. I don’t even look at other faces, all I need to know is do I have notifications, and am I closing circles. The only thing I need to extract from this device is fitness data, so I’m more interested on the stuff on the Activity app on the iPhone, the KCal count on the face, and the Workout app on the Watch. Fuck everything else. Apps? Don’t waste your time with that crap. Wanna call an Uber? Use the phone, makes more sense. Want to answer someone. Unless its “OK”, use the phone. You wanna be the glasshole dictating to your wrist in the middle of the subway were you and your group are gonna meet up next? Screw that, use the phone. It’s not this that is going to stop you from looking at the phone the whole day.

That small change in thinking completely change this device for me. Now I’m way more satisfied with it than I was last year. But it leaves me wonder: Since this switch is exactly what Apple is doing with their marketing, didn’t Apple screwed the pooch by selling this as a watch? The whole 10k Edition watch, the nonsense with faces, the apps and so on? Now everyone sees this device as a Watch first and a Fitness tracker second. Had they called it, for instance, Apple Bracelet, I think much more people would have bought into the whole health and fitness space and bought it, than trying to sell it as Smart Watch.

  1. How much it changed from Series 2 to Series 3? Its almost all equal except two things. First Siri answers you back, which is kinda nice when you are making your cup of tea and need a timer. Second I think (feel) the battery lasts longer, but I have no data to support this.  ↩

Summer Vacation Reading

After started working 7 years ago, this year I was so tired that I really needed an actual vacation, the kind you go to places and don’t think about anything. That means time to read. This was what I was reading:

  • Off Script: An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide – A book about the age of optics and how you stagecraft political events, from the days of Reagan to Obama’s campaign. Although it contains quite a lot of interesting information, the writing was so dense that it was almost hard to read. 

  • Partidos e sistemas partidários – This book presents a models to represent political systems on modern multi parliamentary democracies. It also goes deep into how systems and parties are bootstrapped.
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine – This is the book behind the movie. It is way easier to understand each of elements that caused the financial system to fail by reading the book. Also the book is way funnier and goes deeper into how this all that was possible. 

  • Liga da Justiça Terra Dois – I needed something else to clean the palate. This comic wasn’t that good (I don’t know what the objective is of doing graphic work that makes you unable to follow the story flow) but I haven’t read a comic in so much time that was nice.

On: Apple TV Generation 4

I’ve been fortunate to have been offered an development kit for the Apple TV Gen 4 and have been using one for the past month

The Remote is a Lightning cable, and the box does come with a long Lightning cable, however the Apple TV is a USB-C device, which is kinda odd, giving that it would made more sense to use just lightning since tvOS is just a slim down version of iOS. Maybe this is a stealth plan from apple to prepare everyone to USB-C on an iPhone. Anyway,I was forced to buy a 20€ cable to connect the box into my computer, so I could write apps and reset my Apple TV (a necessary step to upgrade the Apple TV to upgrade to the public version of tvOS and access the App Store).

Writing apps is just like writing apps for iOS but I did find some problems migrating touch code into Apple TV, since you don’t have a multi touch device. In terms of an set top box, is quite nice. Netflix and Plex work great, and apps do make sense when using on a tv. However is the small things that make some tasks on Apple TV annoying. For instance, you have to to enter you password into every service, and you have to use an on screen keyboard that works worse than my Samsung TV one (e.g. you can’t scroll letters past right to loop around to the left most item) but you have the option to set up the TV by touching an iOS device. The remote is undoubtedly a flawed design. You can’t figure on the dark in what orientation is in your hand. If you touch the remote while using another input, the Apple TV will wake up and switch your TV input to it. Games are required to being playable using only the command, however the remote has only two buttons and the touch pad available to apps, making playing games ranging for weird to plain unusable. Siri on your remote may be the answer to a smart TV, but is not available in Portugal, nor you have the chance to use the US version.

Clearly there is potential here (notifications, multiple panels within a video feed), but this is the iPhone 1 of Apple TV.


CL21 and thoughts on a modern lisp

I’m a great lisp lover, and for years I’ve been thinking about updating common lisp into a more modern idiom. Today, I’ve just saw that someone was working on CL21, a Common Lisp for the 21th century. Here are the things I wish I had.

    • Fluent Data Structures – This is something that I love from Python, JavaScript, or any other script language. You can declare a dictionary or an array as : a = { "elements" : ["one", "two", "three"] } I can’t tell you the number of times this time of syntax allowed me to prototype something. Also, I would like to have slices and comprehensions.
    • String manipulation – This is a big one. When lisp was created, the focus was symbolic programming. Today most of my day is occupied doing some kind of  string manipulation, being JSON or some CSV. String manipulation in Lisp is ridiculous. What in python is done by: a = "foo" + "bar" Is done in lisp by: (setq a (string-concatenation "foo" "bar))
    • The 90’s – This is a simple but hard one. File I/O API that doesn’t feel it was stuck on dot matrix printers times. A standard thread API. A standard HTTP library. Etc..
    • Better package management – I still prefer the namespace method of C++, instead of the package model of Java. But at least something better.
    • Cased programming – Yeah, we now have better character-encoding schemes, can we use Lower and Upper characters?

More than this, what I wish lisp gave me is the simplicity and pleasure I get when using python to do some task. I still do this day can use lisp as a go to language, because all of these small inefficiencies remove me the focus on solving the actual problem.