Posts tagged me

A few weeks ago I was invited by Gil, a friend of a friend (and aren’t friends-of-friends the best?) to become the new host of CreativeMorningsPorto chapter. Despite my loathing of tasks remotely resembling ‘production’ in my film school times, and my networking skills being more George Costanza than Ari Gold, I immediately said yes. After all, I had grown accustomed to working through TODO lists in recent years, I can answer email on time as to stave off unanswered mail tsunamis, and am comfortable talking in public (meaning in front of students), so I surely am qualified for the task. The Morning part of Creative didn’t speak to me as much as it would were they BeforeLunch, or, even better, LateAfternoon, but still: onward!

Having secured the ongoing contributions of CreativeMornings/Porto great team of volunteers and the continuing sponsorship of Espiga (a local coffeehouse I was already fond of for its very fine sausage-and-spinach omelette), many e-mails, some TODOs and a few Excel spreadsheets gave origin to the first CreativeMorning under my stead, in which local young documentary film-making duo Joana Nogueira and Patrícia Rodrigues talked about animation as a means to represent reality. (Many thanks to Joel Faria for the above illustration of the proceedings.)

So, one done, on to the next! Keep tuned!

The End of the Halcyon Days, released February 20th 2000, is one of the old mixtapes I have been uploading to my Mixcloud account (and here’s a bonus 20 minutes of stuff that didn’t fit the original 74m CD-R). Like the Y2K Mix I wrote about before, this mixtape is note particularly well-mixed or thought out: I was just a kid with a shareware version of Cool Edit Pro downloaded from someplace such as Tucows, some CD ripping-software besides a cache of MP3s that found their way into my computer via Zip disks, and a willingness to release these mixtapes online as 32kbps Real Audio streams in humble self-made websites with names such as Detuned, Bleep (before Warp Records came with a Bleep of their own), or Radio Deluxe; sharing their URLs on music IRC channels I used to hang out at, often getting kicked for the mixes’ electronica slant not being the ops’ cup of tea.

Therefore, such uploads can be regarded as exercises in nostalgia, both for a drive to experiment and do really badly at stuff that it was alright to later lose interest in (except for a brief relapse a few years later, I had moved on from online mixtaping once I discovered blogging), and for that old dream of an anonymous, untidy, independent Web. Still, things evolve: as we are able to travel back to the 128kbps streams that never were, the artists so dramatically and poorly ripped off in the making of these mixtapes can get some kind of compensation though the financial deals established by these centralized platforms such as Mixcloud & etc… right?…

It’s been a long time, yet again: the blogging slippery slope. Firstly one remembers one hasn’t updated one’s blog in a couple of days. Then in a week. Then in two weeks. Then in a month. Then, that one han’t updated since Mad Men ended, an event that happened, as far as the Internet is concerned, sometime between the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise.

I’ve been busy. I’ve been tired. Good busy and bad busy, good tired and bad tired. Some days, whenever there’s time to do something else, all I want is to do nothing, to retreat to some Pacific Ocean of the mind, sunglasses facing the setting sun, having a cold beer half a world away. I definitely do not think of blogging. Despite the ways it became nearly frictionless, despite having a computer in my pocket almost every waking hour, which I need to deliberately put away, silent, whenever I need to be truly present. 

Blogging is the only activity in my life I have been doing more or less continuously for fifteen years!, fifteen at-times-embarrassing years, so much I embargoed much of my early blogging, and it is unvaluable to me. It’s my diary, a multimedia (quaint word nowadays) diary presented to a ghostly audience (not being the kind of person who writes intelligibly for his own later consumption, blogging exploits some loophole in my personality whence I can present stuff intelligibly for my own later consumption). I’ll continue to blog. Tomorrow, next Wednesday, or perhaps next year.

I’ll continue building. This past semester I had the privilege of teaching a Sound and Image Lab course at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Porto. Design students where challenged to build stuff from the most basic blocks of information and algorithms; I asked my students, mostly women, to play with digital and/or procedural Lego (in a metaphorical, not in a Minecraft sense). They did great. They inspired me. Retreating to the Pacific Ocean of the mind, I might want to build sandcastles. Sometimes I’ll blog.

Twenty fourteen: twenty thirteen part II

Like 2013, I think last year was a “year without qualities”. It was not a good year, not even an interesting year. At the very least, things didn’t turn out as bad personally, and whatever my problems, complains and sorrows were, they were the problems, complains and sorrows of someone privileged to be safe and healthy: I even made good on 2004’s (sic) New Year resolution of starting to exercise.

Still, looking outward, 2014 was a garbage year full of bad omens. That has been extensively covered, and both you and I would gain nothing if I were to relist all the tragedies, most still unfolding. If you must, Charlie Brooker, a clever and funny man, tries his best at a humourous recap and fails; there was little fun in 2014. Still, I may add that that something like the ‘Dark Enlightment' is even an idea proves the kind of thinking that produced ISIS is not the exclusive of any particular religion or country; I came to realize that the political Right is, for all its pretenses, a black hole: there is no point at which conservatives would be satisfied and say “society is as we want it”, for there would always exist a Right, pointing toward anarchy and despotic barbarism — the post-apocalyptic fantasies of gun-fiend survivalists, every man for himself against hordes of zombies, or perhaps immigrants, seeming more like a political programme than a genuine fear. 

How have things in Portugal been? Interesting, in a bad way. Late last year our former Prime Minister, José Sócrates, was arrested on vague charges, and is still in prison in order to be investigated for… some kind of corruption, or whatever. Such a situation presents us with two possibilities: A. Sócrates is a crook whom, like Al Capone, was finally caught because of something smaller like tax evasion and is now undergoing thorough investigation; B. Sócrates is a political prisioner, arrested at the airport upon entering the country, reporters of our local Fox News clone already at the scene, spinning stories for the naïve involving suitcases full of money. I truly prefer option A., even though one suspects B., and one will never ever know. Whatever the outcome in the courts, Sócrates will remain Schrödinger’s PM, such is the nature of our politics. At the same time, one of Portugal’s biggest banks failed and was bailed out by the government, its coffers were apparently robbed blind by the bankster family that ran it to the ground, and while nobody is arrested people are still told that socialism ends when the money ends and other assorted Thatcherite catchphrases, apparentely because people live in a paralel universe to that of finance.

There are multiple such universes though, and the media makes sure one never knows in which universe one currently resides. Charlie Brooker’s report I linked above includes a segment by Adam Curtis on how media is used to obfuscate, confuse and leave citizens in a state of anxious acceptance. But while right, I think Curtis is late to the premediation party: it’s not just Putin, it’s not just the British government learning some KGB-fu. It’s everyone, everywhere: societies became societies of actors and societies of artifice, reality has been vanquished. In 2014 we even found out that Facebook Inc. tampers with the information you are presented (as they were obviously going to do), so you can’t even trust the mediated representations of your ‘friends’. Take it away, Reza Farazmand:

Reality check

Reality has also been vanquished in my city of Porto, Best European Disneyland of the Year for a number of travel magazines, its votes rigged or its journalists handsomely treated by the local hostel industry. Disneyland Porto does seem like a nice place to live, but in this universe all I see are lots of new and somewhat pricier coffee shops, gourmet burger joints and gin & tonic bars that seem like good places to hang out with my friends, hadn’t most of them, even those with kids, been forced to look for a job abroad (a great way for a government to lower unemployment, by the way). But hey, the city’s rebranding apparently makes being a 35 year old living in a shared apartment all worthwhile.

Still, I can’t really complain much about 2014 on a personal level. My 2013 complaints about miscommunication (and miscommunity) in the connected age remain, so do my complaints about precariousness in work and in love. I had a health scare that fortunately turned out to be nothing, but made me aware of the realities of ageing, while hardly feeling like an adult yet. But still, I had a full year, in which I traveled, made an effort in getting to know people and engaging with different kinds of activities — from videography, both on the street and with a theatre company, to both visiting and selling at flea markets, from working up some of the required “benevolent anger” in thinking about software and citizenship to teaching at the college; all while neglecting my PhD, casting that dark shadow of guilt I’ll have to learn how to manage in to 2015.

One can’t but to look forward to a new year, it always feels like a fresh page. So, considering how long it took for me to start going to a gym, I think that one resolution — of balancing my PhD’s work and guilt throughout the year — will be enough.

A couple of weeks ago I led a workshop on ‘analog software’ during the FuturePlaces media lab here in Porto. Influenced by Casey Reas’ articulation between creative coding and conceptual art I had expected participants to be interested in sketching procedural graphics on paper or canvas. Instead, I seemed to have struck a deeper chord by mentioning in passing SocialFiction’s .walk. Participants became more interested in ‘coding’ performative behaviour and questioning the way software is eating the world, which was a very welcome surprise.

A more detailed debriefing is up at the FuturePlaces website. Please also be sure to read Sara Moreira's Coding as Cooking essay which is a very interesting personal testimony, relating the Analog Software workshop with the great Frugal Food Challenge we had both attended and had a lot of fun at.

Wallpeople is an ephemeral collaborative art project that takes place simultaneously on a number of cities worldwide. Here in Porto the June 7th event happened downtown at Rua das Flores, and I was there to film it.

Twenty thirteen, a year without qualities

Pardon the hyperbole. There were, of course, qualities to the year 2013, and most gripes I am about to complain about can be safely filed and tucked away as First World Problems. I am well-fed, don’t have to walk for half an hour to fetch a jug of water, and have wi-fi at home. Still, there’s this inescapable feeling of loss, of an unrealized — and one is afraid to suspect, unrealizeable — future.

A whole generation is losing love and friendship to whichever social and moral ills arise from financial insecurity — emigration, misunderstanding & strife, anxiety, shame. I had been naïve, expecting technology to help people become closer in a time people need each other most; instead, I have realized how swiftly social networking became the backbone of later anarcho-capitalism, reducing social interactions to the exchange of multimedia messages as specified by a bunch of appalling libertarian and sexist nerds living in affluent exhurbs of San Francisco, CA.

We are fully complicit in this, of course. A text message will never arise the kind of excitement one feels when receiving a postcard from a loved one. A Verdana asterisk will never feel like a kiss the way a hand-drawn star (or, if you are lucky, a smudge of lipstick) feels. Replying to a text, whichever the carrier (SMS, Facebook, Whatsapp, whatever), often feels like a chore and I too have to remind myself there’s a full human at the other end of such communication: that, no matter my guesses, motivations are unknown and neglecting a simple reply might be the thing to ruin that fellow human’s day. Needless to say, I’ve been often at the other end, feeling the full weight of the ways modern asynchronous communication turns one’s hellos into simple fragments of media to be lost in the stream like old newspaper pages or discarded brochures.

In an Austeritarian and increasingly unequal country like Portugal, the same complicity towards miscommunication also applies towards politics. I am not suggesting it is the same kind of complicity; I suggest it is exactly the same complicity. Crass obliviousness has people treating downtown Porto like a drinking Theme Park, wide-eyed at turbo-capitalist accomplishment while the BBC compares the greater city to illustrious destinations such as Havana or Detroit. Flea markets and antique shops multiplied in the last year, and while I am all for mature consumption in which things are resold and recycled or bought second-hand (sometimes I sell stuff at flea markets myself), there’s a definite feeling of chic despair in the air, as if the panzers are approaching and the new century’s midnight is nigh.

Class prejudices are key in miscommunication amongst people; Capitalism killed love, for how can anyone love someone who is looking for someone better, with a catalog at their fingertips (not specifying the metric, this was something someone once flat out told me)? Mass surveillance, as revealed by Ed Snowden, is not big news as we always, in a way, knew about it. What anarcho-capitalist tech makes us do to each other is worse: oppression became peer-to-peer, decentralized. It’s not the guys with the wiretaps, it’s us. Society’s ills, whichever one feels they are, are rebuilt every single morning when one wakes up and carries on not paying attention, not able to say hello, not able to send back an hi.

Twenty thirteen hasn’t been a good year personally. I have seen friends my age struggle with disease; and I permanentely lost someone to it. Single and almost thirty-five, it’s been hard meeting someone. I wonder if anyone else still wants to find someone to love, someone who makes one driven to full generosity. Working mostly by myself, it’s hard to get to know new people; even coffee dates are hard to arrange. Some people seem to be able to click their fingers and fix their loneliness. Not me. All that’s left is work and entertainment and (at best) something in the middle.

There have been some minor paradoxes. I’ve been doing some work as a freelance videographer, having done more in the last three months than in any moment in the last five years; all this when I had almost given up on videography. Interestingly, it all came about after my involvement with the RU+A project, a perfect example of the work-entertainment blend (at least for me), which took me to interesting places in the relationship between street artists and local politics. All this has been hard on my PhD, and working towards it must be top of my New Year resolutions.

I’m sure 2014 will be a better year. It has to.

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.

Videolab is an educational software piece that teaches and lets users experiment with concepts of digital video technology. It can be used standalone by students or as a lecturing tool by instructors.

I developed this Educational Software project as part of the coursework required for my Digital Media PhD, but I hope it’ll come handy in my own teaching. This prototype was made with Processing 2.08b and was thoroughly tested on Windows, but should work on other systems as well.