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Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Developer & unix enthusiast

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

Spanish media just shot themselves in the foot -- or maybe in the head

July 24, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

In Spain we have an old proverb, La avaricia rompe el saco. Literally "greed bursts the sack"; it means that if you fill a purse with too many coins it will break and you will end up with none.

This week, the Spanish Congress passed a law with two main goals:

  • Ban torrenting sites, i.e. that is link-only sites (not content hosts), which is a totally different topic.
  • Make social aggregators pay media publishers for the use of news excerpts.

More details can be found on this Gizmodo article

If this weren't so serious I'd say that news lobbies pressing against the right to quote, you know, the one their business is based on, is ironic.

But this is so outrageously hypocritical that it's not ironic, it's immoral and vomitive. Disgusting. Greedy to the extreme. This is a capital crime against ethics.

So why did they just do that?

Last year, Google was forced to pay French publishers for use of their content. Spanish publisher lobby AEDE (lack of link intended) saw here a huge opportunity: let's do the same and get free money from Google.

Google is so big that's it's an easy target. Demagogy is so simple; Google is a tech giant that does fiscal engineering to avoid paying taxes and profits from our content. Yes, that's true. But Google does exactly what these publishers do: curate what others say and provide citations to strengthen and validate their job.

But then, Google's natural reaction would have been, "You don't want my traffic? Wish granted! Next time, be careful what you wish". However, AEDE had anticipated this, so with the new law content providers can't opt out by not linking to AEDE's affiliated media. F*ck off genie, we wished for infinite wishes!

It's so effortless to lobby in a corrupt and manipulated environment where politicians don't even know what a link is.

But wait, there's more.

Once you start considering the implications of having to pay to hyperlink, things get worse. A study conducted by Coalición Prointernet, a lobby against this law, states the obvious:

  • It has not been proved that content aggregation limits the editor's earnings. Of course; it's the opposite, it actually drives them more traffic—300M yearly visits, according to an admin of one of those sites.
  • There is no basis to establish an inalienable compensation towards media editors and, if it were any, this new legislation is not the best way to go.
  • The new law reduces legal security for Spanish internet companies.
  • Media aggregation is necessary and positive from a "freedom of speech" standpoint. Unavailability of aggregators can drive small publishers to extinction and leave users without an important tool to diversify their media consumption.

Please read and think about the last point again, because it is very, very important.

Let's summarize what is happening here:

Big media editors AEDE, most of which pro-government, in collusion with the corrupt Spanish politicians have managed a masterstroke which they think will:

  1. Get them free money
  2. Destroy the discoverability of smaller media competitors, usually critical with the government
  3. Hinder the future of Spanish internet tech business, their main competitor
  4. Get more exposure, since readers won't have access to media agreggation and will resort to read just one or two outlets

In reality, what is likely to happen is:

  1. Google will close Google News Spain, no big problem
  2. Spanish media aggregators will move their business abroad and won't contribute taxes to the country
  3. Tech enterpreneurs will realize that Spain is a shitty country to invest money on
  4. Without Google, the aggregators, and thanks to the increasing user boicot to AEDE media, those editors will lose traffic and money.

This is so, so sad.

It is clear that traditional media companies are suffering because of the internet revolution and need to fight in some way. However, they are cutting their own nose to spite the face. And, in the way, they are denying others a right, not a banal one, but the right to quote, which news business is built on.

I honestly think that traditional media is absolutely necessary even today. They are the ones who report, research, discover, analyze and interpret what's happening in the world. Specially in Spain, where we don't have these modern US internet-only media companies which don't just feast on press releases but do real journalism.

This is not a cry against traditional media. People, most of all, need them. But people also need aggregators to contrast different views on news. Aggregators need media because it's impossible to talk about news without a headline and an excerpt to reveal what's going on. And media, most of all, needs aggregators and people to survive in today's world.

Now the law has been passed. Though it needs to be ratified in the Senate, it is a pantomime because the majorities are the same as in Congress and also Congress has the last word even if the Senate votes against it (take that, Montesquieu!). What will media editors do when they start losing money and realize the harm they have done to themselves, the Government, Spanish media consumers and the Spanish tech industry?

Next time you think somebody is stupid, remembar that the Spanish press just got in a war with Google, Facebook and Twitter because they want them to stop linking to their content.

Crazy world we live in, huh?

Tags: law, internet, news

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Simplicity

July 16, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Marco pointed out today to Matt Gemmell's blog, and I've been reading some of his best articles.

I highly recommend his On productivity section, especially Simplicity, which I can really relate to.

He's a very talented writer, so if you have some time, read his Personal essays section, which is very emotive.

Tags: productivity, life

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My favorite podcasts

July 09, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Listening to podcasts is a very interesting way to fill your empty time, especially while doing tasks that don't require your full attention, such as cleaning, eating or commuting.

Being a podcaster myself (Dame la voz, El Amuleto de Yendor) I think it is great for the community to share our interests and let us discover new shows that people we listen to recommend.

Of course, this list is tailored to my tastes. It is not a journalistic piece; I am not neutral. For example, you will see that the topics are heavily biased towards tech, startups and self-improvement. Unfortunately, I can't recommend other stuff since this is what I listen to!

I also appreciate concision; there is a lot to listen and little time, so the less rambling and the shortest, the better.

A final disclaimer; if any of the hosts mentioned here were to read this, which I find unlikely, please understand this post as honest opinion, constructive critique, and feel totally free to contact me if you'd like to discuss anything. As mentioned, I'm a podcaster myself and not every opinion I get is positive; however, the fiercest critiques—if respectful—are the best, because they help you improve. The best seasons at El Amuleto de Yendor came after our worst; we sat down, read all the harsh comments, and restructured the show and our attitude. We ended up getting our best critiques ever.

To summarize, if you are on this list, I admire you.

Podcasts I love

What can I say? The content is great; the episodes are well-planned; listening to them is a good investment of my time. I would pay for these, and in some cases, they have helped me earn money or become a better person. Yep, they are that good.

The Tim Ferriss Show

Blog - iTunes

Tim started his podcast just a few months ago, and boy, what had we been missing.

His show is a series of interviews with very interesting people related to the self-improvement topic. But what I like the most is how he spends some minutes getting his interviewee comfortable and then asks the right questions. I can't imagine how much preparation he needs before each episode.

He's the first of this post and for a reason. I can't think of any other podcast that, in so few episodes, has made me go "wow!" as many times.

Even if some of the titles don't seem attractive because of the topic or the interviewee, just go and listen to them for fifteen minutes. You'll be glad you did.

Kalzumeus

Blog - iTunes

Patrick / patio11 would be your regular programmer and internet commenter if it weren't because he spends an insane amount of time explaining what he has learned from his projects and sharing tips and advice with random strangers on the internet.

If you are planning to make money on the internet, you know, with your business and products or services, then you must listen to Patrick's podcast.

Ramit Sethi

Videos

Technically, Ramit does not have a podcast, but you can subscribe to its video feed and even extract the audios from the videos since the images are not that important.

His content is exceptionally great. It is obvious how he makes a living teaching other people to be successful. He knows the "what"s and the "how"s and he's a great speaker and an expert on persuasion.

From getting a raise to convincing customers, he presents a wide range of techniques, and more importantly, which are the psychological principles that govern them. Every video is a gold nugget, if not only for the information it provides, but because it distills small drops of how us people think and react.

Podcasts I like

I listen to every show, enjoy them greatly, and thrive when my podcasts app tells me there's a new episode. The difference between these and the former? I guess that would be quality; you can differentiate between shows on which the hosts spent a lot of hours and talent, and shows that are just enjoyable, useful and funny, but just not five stars.

However, that's not necessarily bad, since not every producer thinks spending a lot of time preparing a podcast is worth it. I'm actually one of those: top quality is not my goal. Thus, I can't blame others for that. Just listen and enjoy.

Accidental Tech Podcast

Blog - iTunes

ATP is my go-to podcast. It is funny, opinionated, has John Siracusa (read below), and a good balance between the three hosts.

Marco is happy and mildly isolated from the business world; Casey is a typical cubicle programmer like most of us, and John has enough experience both in life and computers that he is always spot on and brilliant.

If you only listen to one "computing podcast", and don't mind a high percentage of Apple content, let this be it.

The business of freelancing

Blog - iTunes

Brennan takes the lead of Patrick—actually; I don't know who was first— and teaches startup business.

The thing is that Kalzumeus is published very sporadically while Brennan is more regular. While I still think that Patrick's content is a bit better, The Business of Freelancing is an excellent substitute while we wait for Patrick to publish.

Podcasts I listen selectively

I'd like to listen to every one of these but, unfortunately, my time is limited. Does this mean I don't enjoy them? Absolutely not! Usually, they just cover a wider range of topics than my current interests.

The talk show

Blog - iTunes

Gruber's podcast is great and his analysis, though a bit biased—hey, who isn't?— is usually spot on. He's one of the people I go listen to just after an Apple keynote. While others still sing that "Apple's declining since Jobs passed" mantra, John cuts through the bullshit with data and reasoned opinions.

Other days he talks about baseball or friends I don't know, so well, I just skip those.

Startups for the rest of us

Blog - iTunes

If they didn't publish so often I'd listen to every show. I used to, but right now I just read the summary and select those which apply to my actual business situation. For me, this show is like the Wikipedia of startups: you don't need to read it all, just use it as a reference. And that's what I do. They're the reference of startups tips.

Anything John Siracusa appears on

List

I just love how John explains stuff. He always knows how to explain anything in order to make properly his point clear. I think his opinions are the most rational, well-founded you can listen to in a show. If he can't get a clear idea, then he has no opinion.

That is just fantastic for the listener, because you can trust his explanations, understand them, and decide for yourself. I can't count how many times I've been able to form my own opinion on a topic by just listening at John's.

Podcasts I used to listen to

"Oh, here come the bad podcasts," you may think. STOP!

I used to love these for some time, but now I don't follow them anymore. Sometimes it's because another more interesting podcast took its place or because they don't apply anymore to my situation.

Quit!

Blog - iTunes

Quit! is the first freelance-related show I listened to. It planted the freedom seed in me, and help me remove and rationalize some of the fears which are associated to jumping from a 9-5 job into your own business.

The problem is that after some shows and after that seed grew the podcast was no longer attractive for me. It is not a problem of the format, the hosts or the content, just that once you learn the basics—because they taught you, no less—then the show gets boring.

People call in to ask about the same questions, and the answers are always the same. Sometimes even Dan is noticeably bored by the callers. But, what can you do? There are only as many topics to cover, and after a while, they get old; how much money do I need as a cushion; where will I work; is it a good idea to work weekends on side projects.

This podcast is a must for 9-5 people who want to start their own business. Before the "I don't know how" phase, which gets covered with Kalzumeus and Startups for the rest of us, one needs to pass the "I'm not sure if I want to do this" phase. Quit! is for those people.

Dan should not be worried about me anymore.

This Week in Tech

Blog - iTunes Let me start by paying my respects to Leo, the best host I know. I want to be like him. Truth be told, I listened to TWIT every week until ATP started.

ATP is fresh, while TWIT sounds grumpy. ATP is usually positive while TWIT focuses on the negative. TWIT has been on the air for a while, and it's a business, while ATP isn't.

They are two similar shows but very different in most aspects. It so happens that I prefer ATP.

The Vergecast

Blog - iTunes

The Verge is a tech website that, unlike others, has good editors and good content. The podcast is exactly that: tech news and a bit of opinion.

If you like shows which cover current news, this is one of the best. I usually prefer analysis and opinions.

Back to work

Blog - iTunes

Everybody, including me, loves Merlin and Dan, but I just can't understand this show. More than 60% is crazy talk and anecdotes, and every once in a while, they discuss productivity tricks. Regrettably, in many episodes I would get nervous, thinking "is this episode going to be one of these crazy ones?", hoping I wouldn't end an hour and a half later feeling that I hadn't actually learned anything.

It's a bit ironic that a podcast about productivity takes a lot of its listener's time. As a matter of fact, if somebody made a monthly digest of Back to work including only the productivity content, I'd listen to it in a heartbeat.

That's it!

If you are a podcast listener, I hope you give any of these a chance. They are all great shows; listen to a few episodes and decide which is best for you. And please use the comments to recommend me new shows! I'd love that.

Tags: productivity, links

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My new project: Feenbox, feeds on your inbox

July 03, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa
feenbox

I've always loved email. For me, even in the era of Whatsapp and Facetime, it is the ultimate form of communication. It can be personal or professional, heartwarming or annoying, instantaneous or asynchronous, small or big, long or short, easy or godmode. There are very few times where I prefer a quick IM communication, of course, but the bulk of my day is email.

My first internet on college got me reading email on Pine on a linux terminal where we chatted using write(1) and wall(1)--that taught me how Ctrl-L refreshes the screen. I started reading newsgroups thanks to Pine, and from there, Gopher, the IRC and other text services. For many people, the internet is the browser; for me... well, I won't lie, but email comes a close second.

Since the advent of RSS, I always wondered why couldn't feeds be read by email. So, long before Google Reader shut down, I decided to get more control over my feeds, and created some scripts to receive them via email. I've been using them privately for years and, some months ago, I thought I could extend them a bit and make a public service from them.

You know the drill: "I have some scripts; surely it can't be that difficult to refactor some code and make it work for everyone". Months later, you're struggling with bugs, servers, feed providers and email clients. Right now, it is ready to talk about it. Not yet ready to show, not yet ready to launch, but let's go step by step.

Personally, I love receiving RSS by email, probably because I'm a power user. Besides RSS, I've been scripting Gmail's IMAP service to schedule incoming and outgoing mails, and by using tags, I make items get out of the way and come back at a specific date and time. Yes, like Boomerang, only some time before it existed--sorry if this sounds hipsterish, I honestly had no idea there was a market for that.

My inbox is always empty because all emails go to other folders, and a personally-crafted algorithm sorts them for me and floats important ones back to my inbox.

However, I didn't have time then to create a service around by hacky scripts anyway because of my full-time job. Nowadays I'm on a sabbatical, so I thought it could be a good opportunity to learn how to launch and manage an online product, and maybe make a bit of much needed recurring income.

Email has its advantages

Even if you are not a developer, Gmail provides with smart filters that can be intelligently used to handle incoming email. For example, when I got back from holidays I had a lot feeds waiting for me, but I deleted old item which no longer applied with a few searches by date and source, saving a lot of time. Managing emails is a solved problem.

But probably the thing I love the most is that email is offline and always in sync. Feed readers get crazy trying to sync their websites, smartphone apps and feed providers, but if you think about it carefully, IMAP deals with this problem for us. Your smartphone and computer always have the same items, and thanks to push email, always available for reading either online or offline. When you read one, it is automatically marked as read everywhere.

With Feenbox, I want to go one step further and provide much more metadata for email power users. For example, I'm working on attaching all images and small files to emails, because nothing is more infuriating than receiving a feed update where you can't read the actual comic or attached pdf document because it is only available online and there is a server or internet problem. With Feenbox, if you get an email, you get its contents.

Email has a widely known "share" feature: just forward it! Furthermore, most social websites, like Facebook and Flickr, have an incoming email gateway, so you can post anything to Facebook just by forwarding an email. That's pretty cool, but not many users know about that.

Scripting and filtering emails is so easy and powerful that I want to apply it to feed reading.

Presenting feenbox

feenbox is currently under development, still has some bugs, but the basic multi-user features are already implemented.

I want to make a dual effort, both to provide a service but also to teach users how to use their email efficiently. Every month there is a new post on Hacker News arguing that "we need to reinvent email", with which I usually disagree. Email is great, but we need to make an effort to educate users on how to make the most of it. The rest can be done with filters and IMAP scripting--and client-server programming, let's not forget the amount of work that Apple and Google are pushing towards the authentication side, data detection and such.

Let's say that feeds are an excuse to learn how to filter out emails, share them and convert them to various formats.

Finally, I go back to the beginning of my story. Since I love using terminals, Feenbox is built with delicate text/plain support. Right now it can convert images to ASCII art to let pine/mutt users get a quick preview of an image before opening their browser. I also have some more ideas on the pipeline, like the ability to automatically transform documents into text, OCR images and more.

I want to build a service that geeks and hackers can fall in love with, avoiding breaking their workflow. I want to restrict to a reasonable minimum the amount of external tools that are needed to process a single email, like web browsers, pdf readers, document editors, etc.

To summarize, feeds are a great excuse to experiment with email scripting. Besides feed handling, about 60% of the code are email parsers and data detectors and converters. By the way, for a guy who's been dealing with biological data for seven years, I don't know which is more difficult to parse, a human genome or a human email!

feenbox-aa

In a few months, it will be ready for an alpha release, and I set up a mailing list for those interested. I have currently sent two emails, one each month, with an extended introduction (in Spanish, but trust Google Translator) and a poll with the most requested features.

There is great communication with the subscribers and many have emailed me their suggestions. At the moment we are about 50, which is a tiny number, but this is a one-man operation, and I am already learning a lot about launching a product. I want it to be small and friendly.

If you are interested in the development or may consider applying as an alpha user, please sign up. The list is handled by Mailchimp, so you will get no spam and can unsubscribe at any time if you don't find it interesting.

Thanks for reading all of this! If you don't want to subscribe to the list, I'll also keep you informed on this blog.

Tags: feenbox, web

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The Wire (of Thrones)

June 30, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

I don't care how good it is, I just don't like police shows

That's what I said after watching the first couple episodes from The Wire

It was a police show with unintelligible dialogs. Halfway through the first episode I fell asleep. God, wasn't this show the best thing since sliced bread?

After some discussion with my girlfriend and thanks to the insistence of a couple friends, we decided to give it a go. We would watch the first ten episodes before deciding on anything.

I now look at those first episodes as an investment.

******

I had fell into the judging a book by its covers capital sin.

The Wire isn't a show about police work in the same fashion as Game of Thrones isn't a book about a couple of royal bastards. And the comparison is intentional. They are both dramas, they have very strong characters, they display brutal death of loved characters, and most important of all, they both show how the world works.

Yesterday, I tweeted this:

The Wire has shown me how the world works much better than my 30 years of life

******

The Wire is Game of Thrones in a current setting. The similarities are very extensive.

Some police investigate a common crime. By pulling the strings, they start to realize the connections, some of which are away from their reach. The case goes on; it affects higher level characters, the ones below can do nothing about it and complain about how unfair managers are.

Lower level characters start growing, they are now in the position to change things. Things can't be changed because of the establishment and diverse interests. Some do the good thing and get punished (no good deed goes unpunished), others do bad things for a good reason (the end justifies the means). Most of the times, the result is independent of the character's behavior or intentions; there are just too many factors to account, too many people to please, too many interests. Outcomes are chaotic, for the better and the worse.

Some bad guys are not so bad, they are just people who got caught in a spiral of violence. Some manage to get out of it, some don't. Some die. All bad guys are people, a few are real monsters. The line between good and bad is only defined by their own ethics. The Wire, like Game of Thrones, reminds us of classical tragedies.

Former pawns are now kings, and start behaving like the old kings because that's the only way they can act if they want to survive. New pawns complain of new kings like old pawns complained of old kings.

A few characters maintain their integrity only to realize that righteousness is only a virtue when aligned with your king's interests.

******

I can't say much more without spoiling the fun. Besides a strange last season, where characters change too much and much evidently rushed because of the writers guild strike, the series is a gold mine.

Every chapter exposes some gold nuggets where, if the viewer has been paying attention, he will grasp the subtle hints, subtle dialog, subtle gazes between characters that anticipate what's going to happen. And, because not everything can always be planned ahead, those characters will be surprised by other characters defending their interests.

This show is so delightfully satisfying that consciously deciding not to watch it is a sabotage to one's own pleasure.

Tags: tv, life

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