Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

I miss Facebook, and I'm not ashamed to admit it

April 13, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

I'm 35. Before Facebook, I had to use different tools depending on whom I wanted to chat with.

I'm not talking about the early era of the Internet, but rather the period after everybody started getting online. Chat was just getting popular, but it was quite limited.

We used ICQ/MSN Messenger to chat with real life friends. IRC was used mostly for "internet friends", as we called them back then. Finally, we had the Usenet and forums for open discussion with everybody else.

If you wanted to post pictures, Flickr was the go-to website. We didn't share many videos, and there was no really good tool to do so, so we didn't care much.

There was Myspace, and Fotolog, very preliminar social networks which had their chance but simply didn't "get it."

Then Facebook appeared. And it was a big deal.

Add me on Facebook

Whenever you met somebody IRL you would add them to Facebook almost immediately, and keep connected through it.

Suddenly, everybody you knew and everybody you wanted to know was on Facebook, and you could reach all of them, or any of them, quickly and easily.

At that time, privacy was not such a big concern. We kinda trusted the network, and furthermore, our parents and potential employers weren't there.

On Facebook, we were raw.

At some point it all went south. The generational change, privacy breaches, mobile-first apps and the mass adoption of image and video moved everybody to alternative platforms. Whatsapp, mainly for private communications, and Instagram as our facade.

I wrote about Facebook's demise so I will not go through the reasons here. Suffice to say, we all know what happened.

The Wall was replaced by an algorithm which sunk original content below a flood of ads, fake news, and externally shared content "you might like". We stopped seeing original content. Then, people stopped sharing personal stuff, as nobody interacted with it.

In the end, we just got fed up with the changes, and maybe some people just wanted something shiny and new, or something easier to use.

Facebook was a product of its era, technologically and socially. But, as a service, it was peak human connection. Damn you Zuck, you connected mankind with a superb tool, then let it slip through your fingers. What a tragic outcome.

Current social networks, not the same thing

I, too, moved to Instagram when friends stopped being active on Facebook and encouraged me to create an account there.

Then I realized how fake it is. Sorry for the cliché, but we all know it's true.

I gave it an honest try. I really wanted to like it. But I just couldn't. At least, not as an alternative to Facebook. Stories were a step forward, but I felt —maybe rightfully— that I was being gamed to increase my engagement, not to have access to my friends content.

Instagram is a very different beast. There is no spontaneity; all posts are carefully selected images, masterfully filtered and edited, showcasing only the most successful of your daily highlights.

I admit it's very useful to connect with strangers, but the downside is that you can't connect with friends the same way you did on Facebook.

Of course, I'm not shooting the messenger, but let me apportion a bit of blame. A service that is a picture-first sharing site and demotes text and comments to an afterthought makes itself really difficult to consider as an honest two-way communication tool.

Instagram is designed to be used as it is actually used: as a posturing tool.

On Facebook you could share a moment with friends. With Instagram, however, moments are projected at you.

I miss Facebook

I miss knowing how my online friends are really doing these days. Being able to go through their life, their personal updates, the ups and the downs.

I miss spontaneous updates at 3 am, last-minute party invites, making good friends with people who I just met once in person and now live thousands of kilometers away.

I miss going through profiles of people to learn what kind of music and movies they liked, and feeling this serendipitous connection based on shared interests with someone I did not know that well in real life.

I miss the opportunity of sharing a lighthearted comment with hundreds of people that understand me and will interpret it in the most candid way, instead of the nitpicking and criticism of Twitter.

I miss the ability to tell something to my friends without the need of sharing a picture, the first-class citizen treatment of text.

I miss the degree of casual social interaction that Facebook encouraged, where it was fine to engage with people sporadically. On the contrary, getting a comment or a Like from a random acquaintance could make your day.

I miss when things online were more real, more open.

I miss peak Facebook; not just the tool, but the community it created.

Facebook was the right tool at the right time

Somebody might argue that, for those people I am not in touch anymore, they were clearly not such big friends. After all, I still talk to my real-life friends and share funny pics via Whatsapp.

Well, those critics are right; they were not so important in my life as to keep regular contact. But they still held a place in there, and I would have loved to still talk to them. And the only socially acceptable way to keep in touch with those acquaintances was through occasional contact via Facebook. I've heard the condescending "pick up the phone and call them"; we all know that's not how it works.

In the end, nobody is in a position to judge how people enjoy their online tools. If users prefer expressing themselves with pictures rather than text, so be it. There is nothing wrong with fishing for Likes.

So please don't misinterpret me, nobody is really at fault. There was no evil plan to move people from one network to another. No one forced friends to stop posting thoughts and post only pics. Instagram just facilitated a new communication channel that people happened to like more than the previous one.

When Facebook Inc. started sensing its own downfall, they were happy to let its homonymous service be cannibalized by Instagram. It's how business works. The time of Facebook had passed.

I'm sorry I can't provide any interesting conclusion to this article. There was no real intent besides feeling nostalgic for a tool and community that probably won't come back, and hopefully connecting with random strangers that might share the same sentiment.

Maybe, as we all get older, we just want to enjoy what's nice of life, make everybody else a little bit jealous, and avoid pointless online discussions. We'd rather shut up, be more careful, and restrict our online interactions to non-rebuttable pictures of our life.

We all, however, lost precious connections on the way.

Tags: life, internet, facebook, web

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What's up with disliking Liking?

January 10, 2016 — Carlos Fenollosa

Twitter recently changed their faves for likes with much controversy and bashing Facebook's Likes is already a meme. What's up with disliking Liking?

Are we more narcissistic than ever? Maybe we are. Public image has always been important for two groups: public figures and teenagers.

I find myself lucky to have been a teenager in a world without social media. Otherwise, everyone could have been my adolescent cringe-inducing posts that were lost in private ICQ and MSN chats.

People need to feel important, and the new coolness ranking is social media Likes. Years ago, it was (paper) facebook notes and signatures. That's how the world works now, and we can only react to it, not change it.

Us adults tend to frown upon a teen posting a vaguely suggestive picture for their friends to Like but can't seem to enjoy a vacation unless we're sure all our coworkers are green with envy at our beach pictures. We can't start eating until everyone has uploaded a pic of its dish to Instagram as if waiting till mom finishes her prayer.

Technology is always ahead of society. It takes some time for people to adjust to new customs. We added "texting" to the list of things that are rude while dining at a table, then allowed some exceptions for important messages. We considered that leaving a meeting for a phone call is unprofessional, then accepted that people can have legitimate reasons.

Some will eat their dishes cold for some ♥s; others will unhealthily link their self-esteem to a particular threshold of Likes, and people will publicly mourn their dead in exchange for some sympathy.

In the end, liking somebody's content is a way of showing that you care about that person. Sympathy makes us human. Some will argue that private things should be kept hidden, but what's wrong if broadcasting their lives make people happy?

Everyone has their individual reasons for providing a Like or not; likewise, they are free to choose whether to publicize a personal event or not. Those who advertise all their illnesses on Facebook are no different than grandmas who go to the park and compete with other grandmas in the so-called ailment Olympics.

People need sympathy; Likes is just the channel that we use in the 2010s to provide it.

Tags: internet, life

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You only do it when nobody else will do it

October 03, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Maybe the difference between a junior and a senior programmer is that the first will sometimes say "I don't know how to do this", while the second will always say "Give me a week".

When you finish college with a computer engineering degree, everything seems possible. You just learned how to design a computer from the zeros and ones up to the applications. From logic gates up to a CPU, from TCP to HTTP, from assembler to Java.

Then, time passes, you get a regular job, and regardless of its awesomeness you start forgetting stuff. Furthermore, you discover super smart people who are light years ahead of you, and for some reason, your mind thinks of them as superheroes, almost magical creatures who can write an ultrafast x86 emulator or make a disk drive play the Imperial March

Don't get me wrong, these are amazing feats. But psychologically you start to feel dumber and dumber up to the point where you believe that the only thing you can aspire to is write webpages and some normal stuff. Even if you have great skills and do a great job at a great company, it's difficult not to feel just a tiny peg of the machine.

I didn't know how to do anything else, and I thought I'd fail if I tried. In college, I suffered a lot with some courses, and to date I still don't know how I passed. But the truth is that college is very dense, and without all the stress from exams and projects, and thanks to age and experience, things actually get easier to learn.

That's why side projects are important.

Three years ago I launched my first successful project to the Internet, bashblog. It's no big deal, but it's a commitment. People use it, contribute patches, discuss ideas, and I have the responsibility to make it work.

Then I started learning things that have always tickled my curiosity. It started with functional programming, one of the academic topics which has been discussed since the 60s but never took off. Then I did more courses on astrophysics and statistics.

This year I left my job to take a sabbatical and start new projects. In some countries it's normal to take a sabbatical before starting college to travel and learn. But almost nobody thinks about a sabbatical when you're 30. You can choose a wrong career path when you're 18 and fix it, but the 30s are critical and one needs to be really sure that they want to spend the rest of their life doing what they love.

I have recently found, don't know how to put it, some change of mind, new strength, inspiration. I want to learn how to write an OS. I started writing mobile apps. I want to launch a product. I'm contributing to an industrial patent to do really cool stuff with cellphones.

As usual, every of these projects hides many challenges. I've had to read RFCs, learn how to extract voice patterns from an audio file, write device drivers, deal with lawyers and read formal documents 1

We live in the information age. There are plenty of resources, some of those University-grade, to learn new skills. Discipline and planning can go a long way. There is no excuse.

Github and other websites have also made it effortless to collaborate with total strangers. It really makes me happy and proud to see other people commenting on things I've done. Years ago you had to go to a computer hobbyist meeting to show your work, now you can do it online... and others will improve it.

Stack Overflow will provide code samples and guidance. I've now started hearing undergrads utter "Did you really code programs without Stack Overflow?" in the same way that I used to say "Did you code programs without the internet?" to people who had to read manuals and go to a library.

Hacker News and Reddit can guide you on what's cool nowadays. Live in the future, then build what's missing.

I guess that it's comfortable to dismiss some ideas just because "we don't know how to do it". And that's a waste of our university degrees. We have some responsibility to do cool stuff. If we don't build it, who will? If we can build it, why wait? If you don't have the skills, learn them. Just Google it. Work on it for a week, and you will succeed.

Do you miss the adrenaline rush that you used to get when you first discovered something? The "oooh" and the "aaah"? Learn something new, something radical, something cool and futuristic. Start a project, and release it. It doesn't need to be complete.

The greatest force that pushes us to build things is the knowledge that nobody else will build them for us.

~~~~~

[1] One of the multiple things that managers usually do and engineers don't appreciate enough

Tags: programming, life

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Allowing strangers 24/7 access to you

September 02, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Marco posted about some internet drama and I found the second part of the post quite enlightening.

We allow people access to us 24/7. We're always in public, constantly checking an anonymous comment box, trying to explain ourselves to everyone, and trying to win unwinnable arguments with strangers who don’t matter in our lives at all.

That is exactly spot on, and that is why I always recommend disabling all notifications on your phone except for a few important people on Whatsapp. Otherwise, any random person on the internet can ruin your day at any time with an offensive comment on any public website.

Tags: internet, life

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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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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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