This book was given to me by my grandmother shortly before she died. It is a nineteenth century ‘encyclopedic manual’ that was issued to schoolteachers and had belonged to her own grandfather. As like most semi-gifted children I spent most of my childhood reading rather than interacting, whenever I went to the countryside to visit my grandparents I would spend most time in the living room, browsing whatever books I could find. Since most were religious in nature and didn’t interest me, I always ended up reading chapters of this book — chapters on Morals and Religion (written from a Catholic fundamentalist perspective and which reminded me too much of Church on Sundays, so I skipped ahead), Mathematics and Geometry, Physical Sciences, History and Political Geography, and, interestingly, Greco-Roman Mythology.

The joy I felt when my grandmother gave me this book subsided and after she died it became just a memento, a gift from the grandparent I got to know the least, from whom I hold just brief memories from those rare, once-a-year visits. At home in the city the book laid largely unnoticed among all the other tomes in my bookcase, even if I would entertain the thought that it was really valuable (it’s not — mint condition copies can be bought for cheap online). I reasoned Manual Encyclopedico was an antique book, after all!

As I recently rediscovered the book I also learned to see it as a symbol of my own smartassedness. Feasting on encyclopedic information had been an addiction since an early age. From lonely afternoons reading the Junior Woodchucks Library in childhood to late-night binge-reading on Wikipedia in my late twenties, I had started to feel the weight of my own gluttony for facts. I’ve found some people may compliment me for being knowledgeable and opinionated, but most will resent me (and there’s an overlap between the two groups). Being a ‘know-it-all’ became a common accusation in foundering relationships; or the justification for a bad first impression. Being self-aware and trying to do something about it only seemed to make matters worse.

It took me quite a while to understand information doesn’t equal wisdom, and knowledge of ‘facts’ will often just lead us astray. I may carry a store of knowledge of a wide-ranging level of usefulness and expertise, but at thirty-four I still feel the same teenage hard time engaging in conversation with people I don’t know very well.

Paradoxically I should have paid more attention to Manual Encyclopedico. Besides all the facts about History and Political Geography which are obviously long outdated, in the old book a luminiferous aether is presumed to permeate the universe and our Sun is described as an inhabitable globe with a "radiant atmosphere" in the same pages that list the sixty-four known ‘planets’ of our Solar System. The lightning rod, the train and the atmospheric baloon are described as cutting-edge technologies. I used to have great fun reading all these ‘facts’ which were so obviously wrong and outdated. What I should have understood is that it is in the nature of facts themselves to suddenly become untrue.

This simple observation is the great nugget of wisdom I should have found in these pages. I was just too blind to see it.

Setting a cutoff point

Not having much to do in the past couple of weeks, I started to read my old entries to this weblog — stuff I wrote ten to twelve years ago. My original purpose had been to see if there were any old links still working and to hide the posts with broken links, but I ended up paying a lot more attention to my old prose. And that was somewhat... embarrassing. I've noticed that sarcasm doesn't age well and things that were obviously written as jest don't seem so funny in retrospect. They only seem sad.

So I better just come out and admit that my younger self was kind of a douche.

I've noticed that, with a few notable exceptions (mostly A-listers who were mature enough from the start) most people who still blog nowadays did start over multiple times. Unlike them, I took the atypical path of always posting to the same place, always merging the changes in technical backend, writing style, media & etc. to the same main trunk, doing so through URL changes, name changes (from the blog called If Then Else through Found Objects to the website simply called [My Name]'s you are now reading). Reasoning that if I have a single life, I might as well have a single journal collecting all the stuff I spread over the Internet.

I don't think that approach is wrong, mind you. I really, really like to have my own domain and website in this day of mass standardization. However, a look back in the archives is jarring. It presents a clear picture of how someone changes over time: how opinions change, how sensibilities change. I read stuff in there that made me want to hit my 2001 self in the face with the back of my 2013 hand for being such a troll. With time, one becomes an entirely different person.

So I decided I should start over, retroactively. Being such a backup freak (that hasn't changed a bit), I naturally saved all old posts to a safe place where I can still read them, but I set a cutoff date from which old posts are no longer available at this website. Somewhat arbitrarily, I went for January 1st 2007** as the new starting date for this weblog.

I'm thinking that in the future I might roll that cutoff date even upward. It's perhaps more interesting if a blog is a window into a certain timeframe of a person's interests and content becomes private after a certain time. Of couse, I might find really interesting stuff worth sharing outside that timeframe, and in such cases I might make those posts available.

In the meantime, I'd like to leave a note to my younger self:

Internet anger won't be worth it.

** Update: As there were actually a few interesting posts from earlier than 2007, I actually went to the trouble of leaving some available to a wider audience.

Here’s a 3D printed SLR camera. (via Boing Boing)

Of course you can’t print the optics (yet), but we are getting closer and closer to the kind of technology described in The Diamond Age. However, whether next-generation tablets will instruct the Nells of this world how to lead armies against injustice or will just teach them how to animate GIFs is a speculation I will leave to the reader.

S. Bento Station Jul 10th

R. Conde de Vizela Jul 10th

Manjericos Jul 10th

Crossing the Street Jul 10th

I think these first pictures taken with the 25mm Snapshot Skopar lens really show what the Voigtlander Bessa-L business is all about, even though I have to sharpen my scale focusing skills.

I was given a roll of old ORWO NP-20 film to try it. The film was probably long expired so most of its exposure latitude was gone and the results were a bit too grainy for 80 ISO (more like 800 actually). I liked using it, but I can't wait to load the camera with some Ilford Delta once I develop the color film I'm currently trying.

xkcd made a beautiful tribute to Douglas Engelbart, who died last Wednesday. In 1968, in what became known as the 'Mother of All Demos', Engelbart did showcase most of the computing technologies we now take for granted. I’m sure LOLcats weren’t mentioned only because of time constraints.

I have been playing with Map Stack by Stamen Design, a web service allowing you to create customised maps (and which strangely runs on a schedule). Here’s my hometown of Porto rendered in red.

Apropos PRISM, here’s A Paranoid’s Guide to Bugging from 1968, from the rather interesting tumblelog Babylon Falling.

I haven’t yet weighted on the US’ secret-ish pervasive surveillance operation as to me it seems pretty obvious and not-news. I don’t have a definite opinion on the value of privacy (or conversely, on the value of transparency), but the fact that well-funded government agencies read the same data Google and Facebook examine because their business model depends on it doesn’t seem like a surprise at all. PRISM to me is the very definition of cloud computing. Private companies might seem more trustworthy than secret services (and only if we believe they are more accountable), but a discussion about mere degrees of trust just shows how complacent we are about data privacy.