Nono.MA

                        

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## Ding! Ding!

*Ding! Ding!* A dummy notification drags you out of the meeting. *Dismiss.* You look back at your computer screen. But a tiny distraction was enough to lose track of the conversation. *Could you repeat the question?*

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## Digital art, black boxes, live streaming, and more

Hi, there! Today I want to share a few things that went live recently. *On the podcast.* I released a new episode with Aziz Barbar on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and digital art. [You can listen here](https://gettingsimple.com/54). I know very little about the fast-moving world of digital currencies and the new age of digital art, and these *byte*-sized episodes are an attempt for us to catch up with the latest developments. I intend to publish essays on the topic to share my findings. While everyone's wondering whether the representation of ownership of digital creations with tokens is a bubble, events such as the 69-million dollar sale of Mike Winkelmann's body of work—[@beeple_crap](https://www.instagram.com/beeple_crap/)—in an auction by Christie's significantly contribute to the validation of this piece of technology. A future episode with Aziz will discuss the role of black-box algorithms in our culture. *On the live stream.* Last week, I hosted two live events on YouTube to record a two-part podcast celebrating *One Year of Live Streams,* to be released soon. The first part features audience questions regarding the evolution of the live stream after a year of weekly streams. The second is a follow-up conversation with Jose Luis Garcia del Castillo on our experience coding live. *Elsewhere.* Lastly, Jose Luis invited Andrew Heumann to his *Introduction to Computational Design* class (GSD-6638) at the Harvard GSD to give a guest lecture on *Architectural Automation & Augmentation*. [You can watch here](https://youtu.be/lbjjpCNSnHc).

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## Will new tools make your content any better?

All you need to start a podcast or a YouTube channel is entry-point equipment to begin recording and releasing content. Buying a new microphone (e.g., [Audio-Technica ATR2100x](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZPBFVKK/?tag=nonoma-20)), *vlogging* camera (e.g., [Sony ZV-E10](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09BBLH4SG/?tag=nonoma-20)), or camera mount (e.g., [Elgato Mount](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07X49967V/?tag=nonoma-20)) won't make the content any better. *Better sound, video quality, and production value?* Sure. But not much more than that. You'll still need to create and edit content. I produce a lot of material. Yet, I feel the need to create with more structure, plan, define a clear agenda, establish publishing protocols, develop editing and post-processing workflows, collaborate with other professionals, and put more time into editorial content creation. I need to filter, select, write, research, and have a clear idea about what I want to talk about, teach, discuss, and the questions I want to cover—to fight the resistance, stop complaining and hiding behind the process, and focus on the content. That—and not new gadgets—is what will make my content more valuable, more listened to, watched, read, and, most importantly, beneficial to my audience. In turn, people may come back for more and get something meaningful. I want to share what's on my mind, learn, and teach my learnings through a consistent message and a constant publication flow. After all, that's the type of content I like to consume.

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## A tiny notepad as checklist

I've tried dozens of ways to track my to-dos, including Dropbox Paper, iPhone Reminders, Clear for iOS, Trello, and a long etcetera. None of them seem to work for me in the long run. I'm too good at cramming my lists with items. With so many items, Kanban boards[^to-do-list-kanban] are hard to navigate[^to-do-list-notion] and I forget to check to-do apps, and things end up slipping by my workday. My latest attempt is a simple running list in a tiny notebook on the table. I write down the tasks I want to complete today (maybe tomorrow) and strike through individual action items as I do them. When I finish the majority of to-dos in the list, I scrap the page and transfer the remaining to-dos to the next page. At the moment, I'm using a 10-by-9-centimeter notepad in the shape of a [chocolate bar](https://eu.flyingtiger.com/products/notepad-1400316), and want to try MUJI's [tick box tape](https://www.muji.eu/pages/online.asp?Sec=13&Sub=17&PID=14360), which turns any sheet into a [checklist](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OZFVSMK/?tag=nonoma-20). How do you track your to-dos? [^to-do-list-kanban]: "A kanban board is an agile project management tool designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency (or flow)." [Atlassian](https://www.atlassian.com/agile/kanban/boards). [^to-do-list-notion]: Even though my boards end up having way too many cards, I'm a happy Notion user. I can create Kanban boards and visualize their data with multiple view types and filters, which converts my board into a database I can browse in many different ways. However, I still prefer writing down urgent items outside of this board to ensure they don't slip by.

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## There's no post today

Paradoxically, announcing there's no post today means there's a post. --- My commitment is to publish a sketch and story every Tuesday, both in English and Spanish. And it isn't easy. I find joy when I schedule my weekly publications in advance, and I often fantasize that I'll put the hours needed to prepare posts weeks, maybe months, ahead of time. But that rarely happens. I was close to doing that for August, looking to unplug from the screen during my vacation. Yet, I ended having to do some writing, translating, and Photoshoping amongst the hot days of Summer. Here's a personal note I wrote on the morning of July 7, 2021. > Writing a good newsletter post with 466 words […] makes me feel good. It's Monday morning, and my post (in English and Spanish) is scheduled for tomorrow. It's 9:40 AM, and I need to keep going, making progress in other areas not to be caught empty-handed later on my day. I realize how great it feels to finish to-dos early in the day, going on with your day without pressure. It's then when I think, *I wish I did this more often!* But, no matter how much structure I try to introduce into my daily routine, every day is different. --- As you can see, I lied—I had the first line of this essay as a backup post in case I had to miss a publication, but it ended up sparking a reflection that I decided to share with you today.

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## A set of informal rules

Conventions let us skip certain decisions making them automatic. I adhere to a set of informal rules to determine why, how, and when I write or sketch. I do it daily to think, learn, teach, remember, and portray and share what I experience. And even though I experiment with different formats and gadgets now and then, I try to stick to the same typing and drawing medium to pay attention to the content I'm making, not the tools. Defining what we do and our processes let us clarify why and how we do them. Sharing that reasoning with others allows them to understand your craft and practice.

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## Write your thoughts, now

Capturing our thinking about future events lets us revisit how we thought prior to them. It's fun to read what was on your mind before, say, meeting a person for the first time, your first day at work, or recording your first podcast. The only moment to accurately capture how we thought is *now*, as the event itself will distort your thinking. Revisiting these kinds of writing, I often ask myself, *How on earth could I think this way?*

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## Three kilos of lead

Wearing a 5-mm neoprene diving suit makes you float as if you were wearing floaties. A belt with three kilos of lead weights and long fins let me dive deep underwater. Diving suit, fins, and belt on, I jumped from the dingy to dive in search of the *flat rocks*, a kilometer-long area of stones nearby my family's Summer house. The water was foggy, and I could barely see anything. At the sea bottom: sand. The flat rocks were nowhere to be found. As I came back up to breathe, Bea shouted, *A dolphin! Get on the boat!* I went up after what would be my first (and last) dive of the day. Dad drove the boat slowly, following a pair of dolphins that swam away parallel to the coast. For an hour, we swam with around eight dolphins traveling in couples that, to the eye, appeared to be about two to three meters long. They'd frequently go up for air, as we do when freediving—only that they hold their breath for up to ten minutes[^three-kilos-of-lead-weights-dolphin-hold-breath] and navigate at around ten to twenty kilometers per hour[^three-kilos-of-lead-weights-dolphin-speed]. It was the first time we've seen dolphins in the area in thirty years. What's excellent news is that, a week later, we found and geo-located the flat rocks with crystal clear water—a bank of hundreds of sardines, a few giant jellyfish, and lots of anemones attached to the flat rocks. [^three-kilos-of-lead-weights-dolphin-speed]: [How fast can dolphins swim?](https://www.dolphincommunicationproject.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9965&catid=4:dolphin-faq-&Itemid=68) Dolphin Communication Project. [^three-kilos-of-lead-weights-dolphin-hold-breath]: [How long can a dolphin hold its breath?](https://ponceinletwatersports.com/how-long-can-a-dolphin-hold-its-breath/) Ponce Inlet Watersports.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210701-coin-twenty-cents.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## A hundred million satoshis

One bitcoin equals one hundred million *satoshis*[^satoshis-units] (1 bitcoin = 100,000,000 satoshis), making Bitcoin extremely divisible. Yet, the usefulness of Bitcoin's divisibility lowers as its price goes up. Let's do some numbers. When one bitcoin was worth $1,000 (around March 2017), you could divide a dollar into 100,000 units—a satoshi was worth 0.00001 dollars. Each cent was divisible into 1,000 units. But what about today? As I wrote these lines, on May 13, 2021, the price of Bitcoin displayed on Google was $48,617.50[^a-hundred-million-satoshis-price] (BTC to USD)—a satoshi was worth 0.000486175 dollars. That's 48.61x what it was worth back in 2017, making each cent divisible into 20 units (instead of 1,000). The higher Bitcoin's price, the less divisible its dollar equivalent is. If Bitcoin rose to $1,000,000, a satoshi would be worth a cent. Does it make sense to have a coin valued so high compared to fiat currencies such as the euro or the dollar? In the digital world, divisibility makes it possible to offer services for a fraction of a cent—a mechanism present in online games that let you convert money into digital tokens. Having this feature in a currency by default would be advantageous for services not to have to implement this feature independently. But this divisibility depends on Bitcoin's price compared to fiat currencies. Maybe Satoshi Nakamoto[^satoshi-nakamoti-1000-satoshis] expected satoshis' price to parity with the cent, or perhaps he never imagined the price could get so high, which would allow for the exchange of satoshis as small fractions of Bitcoin and other currencies. Nobody knows whether Bitcoin will stand the test of time or what its future value will be. What we know is that cryptocurrencies are here to stay. [^a-hundred-million-satoshis-price]: I edited this essay for publication on August 30, 2021, and the price of bitcoin—$48,141.30—is roughly the same as on May 13, 2021. [^satoshi-nakamoti-1000-satoshis]: [Satoshi Nakamoto](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satoshi_Nakamoto) is the pseudonym under which [Bitcoin's whitepaper](https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf) was published. [^satoshis-units]: The general unit structure of bitcoins has 1 bitcoin (BTC) equivalent to 1,000 millibitcoins (mBTC), 1,000,000 microbitcoins (μBTC), or 100,000,000 satoshis. [Investopedia](https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/satoshi.asp).

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## There is never a later

*On postponing life: Part 1* I long for the days in which we could fly. Catch a plane and meet a friend in a remote world location in a matter of hours. One such event for me was a two-week trip to San Francisco back in October 2019. I traveled for work and managed to connect with friends over the weekend. Even though we had been talking online for more than a year, this was the first time I met Tatjana Dzambazova, Tanja, in person. After going for ramen with two of her friends on Friday night, we drove to her wonderful place in Mill Valley, California, to spend the weekend. (I keep good memories of the long wooden stairs and the unsolicited raccoon visits.) At her neighbors' house, we recorded an insightful interview on [*The Art of Asking The Right Questions*](https://gettingsimple.com/tatjana-dzambazova)—the same weekend I recorded with [Adam Menges](https://gettingsimple.com/adam-menges). I remember boarding the ferry that connects San Francisco and Sausalito, carrying my podcast gear in a carry-on suitcase. Tanja had started taking notes a few days before my arrival in preparation for our conversation. She had a message to tell, and this usually makes for the best interviews. She's a curious and creative person that puts love in everything she does, a trait shared by most of my interviewees. Her main message was to avoid wasting talent working to solve the wrong problems and take care of our planet. On Saturday, she came into the house as I sketched a panther sculpture sitting at her desk. "I'm so jealous. I keep postponing life. I keep leaving things for later and never get around doing them," Tanja said. But I don't think that's necessarily true (as you can confirm browsing through her Instagram feed). Tanja doesn't let go of a chance to go outdoors hiking, kayaking, paddle surfing, or mushrooming. I think what she meant was that she wants to do more things she can find time for. When I first asked her to record an interview, she thought she was the wrong person because she hadn't found a way of *doing* *less*. "I'm intellectually aware of the trip, but I haven't found a way to do it better. I do take time for things that I like. I study my languages, read a lot, my boyfriend, and always try to solve new problems, learn structures, physics, or something together. But I'm just adding to my stuff and not disconnecting." I asked Tanja for ways in which she deliberately tried to fight stress and slow down. "In America, we live for working [whereas] Europeans still manage to work for a living." I guess there's a bit of everything on both places. Your lifestyle heavily depends on the culture at your workplace and your individual mindset. "I feel like I'm postponing life because I would like to do so many other things." "I will say, 'Later, later. After *this*. After *this* is over. After this project is over.' And there's never a later," Tanja followed. "If you don't do it now, you might never do it. So I have the discipline of asking myself this question every day. But I don't have an answer."

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## Why are you doing that?

Because I was told to. Because I chose to. Because I have a grand reason to.

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## Multiple identities

I'm a writer. I'm a podcaster. I'm a programmer. I'm a machine-learnist. I'm a sketcher. I'm an educator. I'm a creative. I'm an artist. Shapeshifting throughout your day makes it hard to define yourself with a one-liner. While I often envy the full-time writer, educator, or coder, I choose to engage in different areas of expertise to escape monotony. Yet when pros specialize, their discipline also unfolds into subcategories that bring nuances into their craft. (Artists experiment with painting techniques; scientists with research methods; machine-learnists with algorithms.) If you like what you do, it's easy to run away from boredom and make your daily work feel anew. As a generalist, not a specialist, I don't dive as deep as others in the subjects I work on, but I ensure I enjoy most of what I do every day, slowly specializing in multiple areas.

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## Batteries not included

Buying a new device comes with the thrill of unboxing and using it for the very first time. When I was young, the electronic gifts you'd get for Christmas required power either from a wall outlet or batteries, the most common being AA and AAA. Both my remote-control Ferrari (red) and my Game Boy Classic were powered by four AA batteries. Products that require batteries often display a disclaimer on the box along the lines of "Batteries not included" or "Batteries sold separately." I loved unpacking IKEA's bright and yellow rechargeable batteries and charging them with my Dad's charger. Today, most modern portable electronics ship with lithium-ion batteries, similar to the ones used by electric cars and scooters. Each device requires a particular charger and cable (say, the new USB-C standard, Apple's lightning cable, or the ubiquitous micro-USB). There's something special about opening a new product, putting its batteries in place, and using it for the first time. I guess that's one of the keys to capitalism and consumerism—to get customers hooked into the habit of buying and using something for the first time. Like a kid with her red car, using a shiny new iPhone is a thrill. And, to be honest, I felt this thrill while unboxing my new M1 MacBook Pro. Meanwhile, I still carry my first smartphone ever, a six-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 6 that works but doesn't support the latest operating system and many of the latest apps—that's the side of me that believes in the power of scarcity. More specifically, one of the thrills for us—creatives, software engineers, tinkerers—when setting up a new computer is to install our favorite tools and configurations; to customize the machine. Yet this initial setup can become a dread if you do it often enough; instead of play, it becomes an unwanted obligation. --- By default, Unix-like operating systems[^unix-systems-wikipedia] hide files whose name starts with a dot from ordinary users (say, when listing the contents of a directory or viewing a folder). These files, commonly called 'dot files' or 'dotfiles,' tend to contain plain-text configurations for different aspects of the system or contain folders with a set of configuration files inside. This behavior of hidden files (as many other abstractions) is embedded in the operating system to accommodate different levels of expertise of its users. If you're a pro-user, a software engineer, or a systems administrator, you can opt-in to view these hidden files to view and edit these configurations 'by hand.' But if you're a beginner, you probably don't want to be overwhelmed by a set of files you can barely make sense of. [^unix-systems-wikipedia]: Unix is a family of multitasking, multiuser computer operating systems [in which other operating systems, such as Linux or macOS, are based] that derive from the original AT&T Unix, whose development started in the 1970s at the Bell Labs research center by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and others. Unix. Wikipedia. The operating system of Mac computers—macOS—lets you toggle between displaying hidden files or not with the `CMD+SHIFT+.` shortcut. (That is, 'command-shift-dot.') When I do this on my machine, I see several dotfiles in my user directory, mostly related to programming tools I have installed and 'dot folders' that hold the configuration of desktop apps, such as Dropbox. Programmers are lazy. In essence, we minimize the human effort involved in everyday tasks and the friction of manual and tedious repetitive processes. In search of avoiding long hours of configuration to replicate their system setup on a new machine, power users and software developers devise programs to automate this process. In turn, the source of satisfaction—the thrill—becomes the act of putting a workflow in place to automate the system configuration precisely as you like it by running a few commands. *Back to dotfiles.* If this is the first time you hear about dotfiles and system configuration automation, the size of the community behind these efforts would surprise you. I adapted [a set of configuration scripts](https://github.com/nonoesp/dotfiles) open-sourced by Zach Holman on GitHub. Still, with a lot of work to do, I can now wipe a computer or buy a new one and have many of my systems configured *automagically*. Let me share with you a few of those automations. A [Brewfile](https://github.com/nonoesp/dotfiles/blob/master/Brewfile) lists dozens of macOS command-line and desktop apps—such as Dropbox, Spotify, Google Chrome, Discord, or Zoom—that get installed by running a single command; the [zsh](https://github.com/nonoesp/dotfiles/tree/master/zsh) folder configures my Terminal with shortcuts to commands and autocompletion helpers. A [bash script](https://github.com/nonoesp/dotfiles/blob/master/macos/set-defaults.sh) inside of the macOS folder configures a set of System Preferences—say, the mouse tracking speed and whether the Dock and status bar hide automatically—and the Preferences of other apps (such as iA Writer or Calendar). --- Automation is an endless game that can become a trap in itself—you may end up spending more time automating a task than the time it would take you to complete it manually, and you won't ever run out of things to automate. Yet, you may automate processes for the thrill of having the machine take care of tedious processes for you thanks to custom-made workflows. You can sit back, relax, adjust a few parameters, and go on with your day.

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## Newsletterversary II

After great deliberation on its frequency and format, I sent the first 'sketches & stories' newsletter on July 2, 2019—a 153-word essay titled *[Out of Context](https://sketch.nono.ma/out-of-context)* featuring one of my urban sketches at the British Museum. That's when I kickstarted the weekly habit of pairing one of my sketches with a short story and sharing it on the internet. A year later, I published *[Newsletterversary](https://sketch.nono.ma/newsletterversary)* celebrating an entire year of weekly sketches and stories with fifty-two publications. Today, I celebrate the second year of this publication with 104 weekly sketches and stories published over 730 days.[^newsletterversary-ii-delay] [^newsletterversary-ii-delay]: I delayed this publication a bit, and, as of today, I'm up to 108 weeks and sketches; 756 days. The second newsletteversary was on July 2, 2021. I'm still trying to figure out how to become a good newsletterer. Your replies keep providing me with valuable hints on what 'touches' readers the most. If you've been following long enough, you may have realized I write about ever-changing topics, yet I come back to some often every once in a while. I do my best to allow myself to experiment with different styles and formats. My main goal with this newsletter is for us to learn about things we didn't know and interiorize well-known concepts that slip our day-to-day but should be more present. Sharing our worldviews and stories makes us more human and understand what goes on in our minds. I'd encourage you to discover the power of writing: start with [one word per day](https://sketch.nono.ma/one-word-per-day). --- I'd love to hear your thoughts, feedback, comments, and suggestions and invite you to write a comment, reply, [send me a voice note](https://www.speakpipe.com/nono), or [send me a private message](https://nono.ma/contact/form). THANK YOU for pushing me to keep going. --- Happy newsletterversary.

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## The diving reflex

Freediving consists of holding your breath, going underwater, relaxing, and moving in specific ways to reduce oxygen consumption and last longer—a highly technical sport that requires mental and physical preparation that has little to do with scuba diving and snorkeling. An exciting part of diving is that, as humans, we benefit from the so-called *mammalian diving reflex*, "a set of physiological responses to immersion […] that optimizes respiration by preferably distributing oxygen stores to the heart and brain, enabling submersion for an extended time."[^diving-reflex-wikipedia] "The diving reflex is triggered specifically by chilling and wetting the nostrils and face while breath-holding."[^diving-reflex-wikipedia] The simple act of putting your face in a bucket full of water activates the diving reflex—optimizing the inner workings of your body—causing bradycardia, apnea, and increased peripheral vascular resistance.[^physiology-diving-reflex] Bradycardia (the opposite of tachycardia) brings the heart rate down, decreasing the work of the heart and limiting unnecessary oxygen usage, allowing us to stay underwater longer.[^physiology-diving-reflex] "Increased peripheral resistance is thought to redistribute blood to the vital organs while limiting oxygen consumption by non-essential muscle groups."[^diving-reflex-wikipedia] The diving reflex exhibits strongly in aquatic mammals (think of seals, otters, dolphins, and muskrats), and as a lesser response in us, adult humans, babies up to six months old, and diving birds (such as ducks and penguins).[^diving-reflex-wikipedia] While looking for whether this reflex manifested while showering, I came across *Your body's amazing reaction to water*, a 2014 publication by James Nestor on TED Ideas. "Peripheral vasoconstriction explains how [a human] could dive to below thirty meters without suffering the lung-crushing effects that Boyle's law had predicted."[^ted-ideas-freediving] As it turns out, equivalent pressures on land would harm our body, but not in water. And our amphibious reflexes become stronger the deeper we dive.[^ted-ideas-freediving] We experience this phenomenon in the shower. The human body goes into a meditative state, with lower heart rates and blood pressure than the rest of your day. With more resources allocated to our brain and external inputs limited, we stay with our thoughts in an elevated mental state. Maybe, the diving reflex is one of the keys to why ideas often spark in the shower. --- I brought a minimal recording setup inside my backpack to Tenerife—two Shure SM58 microphones and a Zoom H6 recorder—just in case I found a chance to record material for the podcast. Before parting ways at the boarding gate, Jose Luis and I captured our first impressions after a week of freediving classes; what we learned, what we loved, and things we thought we knew but didn't. We talked about the mindfulness of breath-hold diving and being deep underwater, best practices, equipment and techniques, equalizing your middle ear pressure, scuba versus freediving, and how recommendation systems brought us there. [You can Listen to our Getting Simple episode on Freediving](https://gettingsimple.com/freediving). [^diving-reflex-wikipedia]: [Diving reflex](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diving_reflex). Wikipedia. [^physiology-diving-reflex]: Godek, Devon. Andrew M. Freeman. [Physiology, Diving Reflex](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538245/). NCBI. [^ted-ideas-freediving]: [Your body’s amazing reaction to water](https://ideas.ted.com/science_of_freediving/)

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## One word per day

Write one word each day, and you'll get 365 words in a year. Make it a hundred words and you'll get 36,500 words in a year. (That's around half the words in the average non-fiction book.) What about 1,000 words every day? That's 365,000 words. Will your writing be worth reading? This is a harder question, but you'll surely be able to communicate your thoughts better. Your readers are out there waiting for you—they just don't know it yet. --- In *[600 days of practice](/600-days-of-practice)*, I share how and why I write and sketch daily, and discuss the concepts of *deliberate practice* and *atomic habits.* In *[Why should you write?](/why-should-you-write)*, I talk about the benefits of writing "in public" every week. In *[Are you writing enough?](/are-you-writing-enough)*, I comment how generating more ideas makes you more original. In my *[Writing habits](https://gettingsimple.com/writing-habits)* podcast episode, I share the routines that help me write consistently and the software tools and gadgets that I use on a daily basis to journal, write essays, posts, and episodes, and review and edit my writing.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210321-rincon-saw-tool.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## We need new interfaces

Last week, I published [a short conversation with Runway's cofounder](https://gettingsimple.com/49)—Cristóbal Valenzuela—on the podcast. We discussed the need for new creative interfaces to control complex algorithms that focus on results (not technology), the freedom of being a startup, and how machine intelligence is changing how we think, design, and make art. Here are my favorite quotes from Cris. - "You don't care about the mathematical function that goes behind blurring [an image in Photoshop]. You just want the output of it—the creative output of moving a slider and having an effect applied to your video, your pixels, or content." - "When you think about using algorithms to help you and assist you in the editing process, you need [to find] a metaphor or tool that would allow you to collaborate with those algorithms." - "We need those new interfaces, metaphors, and systems. And that's all we're building, those next-generation systems to help people create video and content." - "When you take that picture, no one is saying, 'Oh, the AI is biased' or 'The AI worked or didn't work' or 'It showed me new creative possibilities.' It just works." - "[Artificial intelligence] is a tool as any other tool. And so, in general, I think all the art tools that we're making will eventually reach that point where you're not too concerned about the systems you're using. You are just using it as a tool. And if it provides you with good results to explore the creative direction, you're going to use it again." You can [Listen wherever you get your podcasts](https://gettingsimple.com/49) or [Watch on YouTube](https://youtu.be/AWrVWATRsdg). Enjoy!

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210625-panaderos-daily-journals-zines-62-63.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## My journals

I started reviewing one of my journals in search of writing material to clean up. A few drafts talk about cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, and non-fungible tokens (NTFs), many are comments and reflections on my creative practice and process, and others capture memories and experiences. Printing my own '[zines](https://sketch.nono.ma/the-zine)' and reading them is a crucial part of my writing process—these are my journals. I start a new volume every seven thousand words and print them out for later review, and I'm up to sixty-three of these volumes. Giving yourself time to re-read what you've written lets you view your writing from the lens of a reader; there are facts you forgot about and stylistic resources you don't remember using. Part of the writing is for me to keep, but many publications resurface snippets I wrote in the past. Within this practice, I believe [quantity, more than quality](https://sketch.nono.ma/should-you-aim-for-quantity-instead-of-quality) makes it easy for me to publish consistently. First, I dump my thoughts on writing; then, I act as a curator. I wrote this post using a 95-word draft titled *My Journaling Zines*—which I wrote on May 10, 2021—from my *Daily 62* volume. This piece links to related posts. My journal and publications mull over the same topics throughout the years, slowly settling up my take on each of them and helping me clarify the why behind each of the things I do and showing where my opinions changed. I believe this to be the incredible power of writing.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210516-nike-pegasus-37-zoom-sneakers-shoes.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Energy and time

Last Sunday morning, I walked alongside the beach from La Cala de Mijas to Cabopino's Port, following Malaga's [Senda Litoral](http://www.sendalitoral.es/) for more than twelve kilometers. In the afternoon, I cleaned up my surfboard, waxed it, installed a new leash, and went surfing for a bit. I was ready for bed at 10:30 pm, so I sat to write and sketch to finish two of my "daily must four," set up an alarm clock on my iPhone 6 at 7:15 am, and went to bed at 11:20 pm. The following morning, I jumped out of bed as the alarm clock rang; Blue sky, sunrise, and a refreshing breeze as I opened the window. After a day of disconnection, I woke up with the energy and time to write before work.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210608-freediving-c4-chanteclair-absolute-cleaner-extreme-antifog-products.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Freediving: How to prevent your diving mask from fogging up

Over the past weeks, I shared my [first impressions](/freediving-first-impressions) on freediving in Tenerife and [an interesting device](/freediving-otovent) we've used to learn how to equalize our ears when diving. I'm now back from Tenerife—back at the screen—and, as promised, I'd love to share with you the technique we've learned during our freediving course to stop your diving mask from fogging up. --- It's common for diving masks to fog up, especially when they're brand new, and the three-step process below can help you prevent this from happening. Snorkel or diving masks fog up when water vapor condenses due to a temperature difference between the inside and outside surfaces of the lens.[^mask-fog-1] "The moisture that collects in the mask has to attach to something, which is typically the residue leftover from the manufacturing process that coats the lens, dir, and oils on the lens from normal use and simple microscopic imperfections on the lens."[^mask-fog-1] This problem seems to have worsened as manufacturers build new masks with synthetic liquid silicone instead of natural rubber.[^mask-fog-2] As recommended by our instructor, we ordered the C4 Chanteclair "Cleaner" (green) and "Antifog" (blue) products. The first step is to treat your mask with the "[Absolute Cleaner](https://www.mareshop.eu/ms_es_es/c4-absolute-cleaner-50ml-0kc4c050-8057968598409)," a greaseproof liquid, to remove the residue from the manufacturing process.[^mask-fog-3] - Spray the internal silicone of your mask and the internal and external sides of its lens (7/8 ml recommended) - Rub the inner and outer surfaces with cloth or a toothbrush for four minutes - Wait for ten minutes - Rinse with cool water - Repeat the entire process once again This first step only needs to be done once you first buy your mask, and maybe when you haven't used your mask for several months. The second step involves applying the "[Extreme Antifog](https://www.mareshop.eu/ms_es_es/c4-extreme-antifog-50ml-0kc4a050-8057968598393)" to the inner side of the lens right before using the mask.[^mask-fog-3] (This [Cressi Anti-Fog solution](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0011BBT4I/?tag=nonoma-20) works as well.) - Spray the interior of the lens (3/4 ml recommended) - Wait for two minutes - Rinse with cool water The third step is two spit on the interior of the lens and spread your saliva with your fingers. You're now ready to dive! My mask lens didn't fog up once for the entire week. [^mask-fog-1]: [How To Prevent Your Snorkel Mask From Fogging Up](https://www.krakenaquatics.com/blogs/blog/88039875-how-to-prevent-your-snorkel-mask-from-fogging-up). Kraken Aquatics. [^mask-fog-2]: [C4 Chanteclair to solve mask fog issue](https://www.apneapassion.com/news-and-advices/novelties/c4-chanteclair-to-solve-mask-fog-issue/). Apnea Passion Magazine. [^mask-fog-3]: [How to apply C4 Chanteclair products](https://www.mareshop.eu/ms_es_es/c4-chanteclair). Mareshop.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210528-cressi-focus-goggles-freediving.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Freediving: First impressions

Today I write from South Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. We've been freediving for the past three days (yesterday morning at Tabaiba's "El Puerto"). I believe much of what we're learning will stick with me for the rest of my life. Freediving is a highly technical sport. You can do it to explore the seabed, spearfish, or—as professional freedivers do—to go as deep as you can. (The depth world record is over 300 meters and the time world record over 24 minutes.) Here are a few facts I've learned so far. - You always need a buddy to look at you whenever you go down, and neither of you can go deeper than the other can (otherwise, you wouldn't be able to help each other). - You wear a belt with lead weights (and long fins) to go down quickly. (I carry 4 kilos.) - You have to equalize the pressure in your middle ear every meter you go down. Not when your ears hurt, but before. Every meter. - Every muscle uses oxygen, so you have to relax your entire body and only use your legs to move (with your legs straight, not "cycling"). - There's an effective technique to prevent your goggles from fogging (which I'll share in a separate post). For the first two days, I went 6.5-meters deep. Yesterday, I went around 18-meters deep. I wonder what would happen if we were to learn as many technical details about other sports—think of running—as we're learning about freediving. I probably do many things wrong when running—say, how I move my legs, how I breathe, or how I stretch when I finish. It's been an incredible experience so far, and we still have four more days to go. I like the breathing, concentration, and relaxation techniques required by this sport and its meditative aspects. I hope to share more with you in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading!

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210531-freediving-otovent-nosepiece-balloon.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Freediving: Otovent

I'll be taking an introductory freediving course soon. To prepare, we have to practice ear pressure equalization with a device called [Otovent](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N7HMVXY/?tag=nonoma-20). Here are a few facts I enjoyed learning. --- Even though I don't quite understand the physiological mechanisms behind equalization[^otovent-en-3], I bought the device recommended by Paco, our instructor. Otovent was initially launched in 1993 to help people suffering from glue ear[^otovent-en-2] and later repurposed to treat Barotitis (a painful condition some suffer while flying) and as a visual aid to equalizing for freedivers[^otovent-en-1]. How does the method work? As the instructions read, "the Otovent method provides the pressure required to open the Eustachian tube to help equalize the middle ear pressure." This process ventilates the middle ear, clears effusions, and relieves symptoms.[^otovent-en-4] The package contains five latex balloons—specially pressurized for this device—, a nosepiece, and a carry case. (Toy balloons can't be used for this method!) Here are the basic usage steps, verbatim from the manual. 1. Connect the balloon to the flat end of the nose piece. 2. Hold the ball-shaped part of the nose piece firmly against your left nostril with your left hand. Compress your right nostril, using your right index finger. 3. Inhale deeply through your mouth, then close your mouth and inflate the balloon by blowing through your left nostril until the balloon is the size of a grapefruit. 4. Still with the inflated balloon tight to the left nostril, perform some swallowing manoeuvers. 5. Repeat the procedure through your right nostril. Some patients may experience discomfort in the ear or dizziness during inflation. This initial sensation will decrease during the next inflation and is an indication that the procedure is working correctly. I did this exercise around eight times through each nostril for the first time—which is recommended daily for 2–3 weeks—and, as expected, I felt slightly dizzy. I guess this feeling may disappear after a few weeks of practice. Thanks for reading—I hope to share more curiosities with you as I *dive* into the freediving world. [^otovent-en-1]: [What is Otovent for](https://www.otovent.co.uk/what-is-otovent-for). Otovent. [^otovent-en-2]: [Equalisation Aid for Freedivers](https://gofreediving.co.uk/equalisation-aid-for-freedivers-otovent-dive) [^otovent-en-3]: Needless to say—I'm no doctor. So please don't use any of my words as medical advice. [^otovent-en-4]: [Otovent instructions manual](https://imagecache.nomeco.dk/mud/215456). Abigo.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210524-iphone-6-panaderos-perspective.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Should I fix my typos?

From time to time, my phone freezes as I type. Yet I continue typing blindly, without real-time feedback, and a few seconds later, every word I typed shows up on the screen. The slowness of my six-year-old iPhone 6 makes me more prone to typos. If the message is clear and the conversation informal, there's no need to fix typos. Let alone when I'm writing notes to my future self. Better spend the time writing more. When you are crafting a message for publication, you may want it to be concise and crystal clear. Your draft may need editing, re-work, and typo-fixing. But, as long as the message stays the same, typos don't need to be fixed by you. Again, better use your time to write your next piece instead of obsessing about making your past writing pixel-perfect.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200505-panaderos-napkin-thrice-shading-exercise.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The process is messy

Here are three sketches of a napkin; similar but different. I drew them a year ago and hadn't paid attention to them until now. I publish a weekly sketch that accompanies a little story, and today these drawings helped me complete the short essay you're reading. Text is more articulate, organized, and structured than speech. But the writing process isn't as clean. You shuffle words, sentences, and entire paragraphs around, deleting the chunks that don't add much and rewriting unclear parts. "Where do I stop? What should I add? Will *they* understand?" There's no correct answer. The sketching process is similar. Strokes, shades, and color let you give more or less prominence to each part of a drawing. But the process is non-linear. You don't "plot" lines as a printer does but add details and darkness; it looks more like additive manufacturing processes, in which an extruder drops chunks of material from one side to the other. We write (and sketch) to create memories and share our worldview and stories with others—with you. I didn't plan to sketch a napkin thrice to make a point. It just happened because I wasn't happy with the first result. (They all look like popcorn!) The finished artifact looks meticulously planned. The process is messy.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210510-el-rocio-wd-hard-drive.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Introducing the Bytes series

Last week, we introduced *Bytes*—a new series of the Getting Simple podcast—and released [our first episode](https://gettingsimple.com/bytes-intro). Aziz Barbar and I will talk about concepts at the intersection of digital technology and culture in a language we can all understand. We've recorded our next episode on StyleGAN—an algorithm developed by NVIDIA which can learn from images and synthesize fakes ones in the same style—and intend to release future conversations on NFTs and digital art, cryptocurrencies, machine intelligence, design and authorship, GPT-3, automation, creativity, and much more. In his own words, co-host Aziz Barbar is an architect by training specialized in computational design, interested in the digital environment, automated construction techniques, building performance, and all things digital. As with most of what I do, these pod series are an effort to learn and find the tactics, techniques, and digital tools that can help us live a more meaningful, creative, and simple life. I hope you will join us on this journey. --- [Listen to the introductory episode of the *Bytes* series](https://gettingsimple.com/bytes-intro).

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210503-book-drive-daniel-pink.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The Sawyer effect

In *Drive*, Daniel Pink argues that people perform best when they do things because they're interesting and can do them with autonomy and self-direction. Pink describes how "if-then" or extrinsic rewards—say, for mowing the lawn or drawing a portrait—can diminish a subject's performance, creativity, and long-term interest in the task. "For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—[the third drive is] the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity," Pink says. When someone sets your goals, your challenge is to stay motivated. When you lead others, the challenge is to ensure they enjoy and feel part of the process without the stress of performing in a specific way to be rewarded. Another curiosity I learned from Pink's research is Edward Deci's discovery of the *Sawyer Effect*—that depending on how rewards are used, they can turn play into work or work into play. Paradoxically, "When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity. […] [Artists] who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior. […] It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them."

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-201228-panaderos-fifty-euro-bill-solo.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## A frugal practice: Use cash

Here's an excerpt of my conversation with JR from Insisting Simplicity in which he shared with me a simple frugal practice we can all use to spend less. (You can listen to the audio version of [this segment of the conversation](https://audio.gettingsimple.com/clips/032-a-frugal-practice-use-cash.mp3) or the [full episode](https://gettingsimple.com/insisting-simplicity).) *** **Nono** *Do you have any specific frugal practices that help you save money?* **J.R.** Yeah. Oh my God. Gazillions. They're all stupid. But that's the thing—as with anything, it's gamification. If you use cash, which less and less people do, and especially in post-COVID, we might be a cashless society, but again, that's a totally different conversation. Research suggests that, if you use a credit card, you are more inclined to make impulsive purchases.[^denomination-effect] If you have actual dollars in your hand, it's harder to part with them. It's also harder to part with them if they are larger denominations. So one thing that you can do is... Just carry some cash and really think about it and have them in larger denominations. And that alone will maybe make you a little bit more hesitant, maybe make you a little bit more mindful of those purchases that you're making. And that could lead hand in hand with another stupid little thing, which is not stupid, but you have a change jar or a little thing, whatever, every time that you go and spend that cash—say it's a $20 bill—and just like some of the banks and FinTech companies, they'll do this electronically automatically with your credit card or debit card, you take that cash and whatever change you have, you put it in your jar and you forget about it. Then you come back to it like a year later, all of a sudden, now you got some money. Do something with that. Put it somewhere. Buy something that you've been thinking about for a while. You didn't buy it impulsively because you've had this little bucket over here building for the last 12 months. So you could buy it in a responsible way. *** [Listen to the full conversation with JR from Insisting Simplicity](https://gettingsimple.com/insisting-simplicity). [^denomination-effect]: Raghubir, Priya & Srivastava, Joydeep. (2009). [The Denomination Effect](https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46553781_The_Denomination_Effect). Journal of Consumer Research. 36. 701-713. 10.1086/599222.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210328-muji-case-for-glasses-and-small-articles.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Tools: Pen case

My partner gifted me with a MUJI case some time ago. The brand lists it as a [case for glasses and small articles](https://www.muji.com/sg/products/cmdty/detail/4549738728757). I tested using it for my glasses—which did not convince me—and ended up repurposing the translucid case to carry my pens and my water brush. (Right now, it contains a 0.38 MUJI pen, 005 and 03 Micron Sakura pens, and a Pentel watercolor brush whose cap I had to trim with a knife cutter to fit in the case.) The case fits in the side pocket of my Fjällräven Kånken backpack, and it's convenient to place my pens on top of a flat surface as I sketch.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210304-muji-black-pen-038.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Why should you write?

They say you need to write a couple of nonsense pages to warm up before you are ready to write something meaningful, and I've experienced this to be true. I rarely sit and write with a clear idea in mind but begin by pouring random thoughts. Writing is about creating a daily practice where you repeatedly show up and do your thing waiting for the magic to appear. Without this practice (time-based labor to some extent), you won't be able to get to the good parts—even if you've been practicing for decades—as it's hard to write anything meaningful in thirty minutes. I reserve time to sit and write every day without the pressure of having to get anywhere specific. A thirty-minute daily practice can take you far. (That's 182 hours of writing a year.) My current goal is to write a minimum of two hundred words per day, but it's easy to go over once you get going. I practice deliberately to better articulate my thoughts, communicate and share my ideas, and express myself more clearly; I believe writing and storytelling benefit my [podcast conversations](https://gettingsimple.com/podcast), [talks](/playlist/talks), and [live streams](/playlist/live). Right now, the only pressure comes from writing publicly once a week, posting a story with a hand-sketched illustration on Tuesdays (which you're reading). Publishing frees me up from the fear of sharing what's on my mind, telling the world who I am, and being judged, and forces me to refine my writing and direct it to my readers. One essay at a time, I share my worldview and accept that my perspective will inevitably change. But that's okay—that means I'm evolving—and you should feel the same way. Two hundred words won't get you far, but showing up day after day can translate into writing more than seventy thousand words per year, which will surely make a difference.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210404-malaga-la-concepcion-botanical-gardens-bamboo-bush.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Clack! Clack! Clack!

*Clack! Clack! Clack!* The wind pushes a cluster of bamboo logs against one another. *Grrr!* A tall log resists the wind. Bamboo is known for its structural soundness and its relaxing sounds. I sit with my partner next to a bush of common bamboo—the *bambusa vulgaris*, native to Indochina and the province of Yunnan, China[^bambusa-vulgaris-wikipedia-en]—in what feels like a humid piece of jungle. But we're far from the jungle. We're in Málaga's La Conception Botanical Gardens, our hometown. The pandemic forced us to stay during our vacation and trade the expensive flight and accommodation fees for a calm week of rest and light local tourism. The admission ticket is five euros and is free on Sunday afternoons. In minutes, we walked by exotic plants brought from remote parts of China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. As a curiosity, April is the month of *[erythrina caffra](/curiosity)*. People mark wood logs and cactuses with love messages and graffiti signatures as a memorandum of their time on earth. The trash can by the historical gazebo—signed with a multi-color marker—reads, [*Imon Boy ❤️*](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/post-imon-boy-botanical-garden-la-concepcion.jpg). [^bambusa-vulgaris-wikipedia-en]: [Common bamboo](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bambusa_vulgaris). Wikipedia.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191024-renfe-noticias-de-alexia-man-reading-fancy-shoes.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Do you have something to say?

I believe all of us do. Even when you can't find the right words for us to understand what you're trying to say, the exercise is worth the effort; you can clarify your message by explaining it to others. We have more mediums to deliver our message than we could have ever wished for—think blogs, newsletters, podcasts, live videos, or social media—and no shortage of people who want to talk. What continues to be scarce (and we should work on) are trust, authenticity, and messages worth our attention. Will you care enough to try?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210322-rincon-sony-walkman-e-220-cd-player-light.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Looping playlists

Do you remember when music was sold on compact discs? The amount of audio that could ship in a CD was limited to 74 minutes and later extended to 80 minutes. Some albums will be sold with two, three, or four discs to be able to pack more songs. This limitation made it essential to select the contents that were going to be shipped carefully. Nowadays, we have unlimited audio available in our pockets, and we don't even need to think how much we ship or even its length. YouTube makes millions of hours of video and audio available, and streaming services like Spotify provide us with an immense catalog of music and podcasts available to us without worrying about where the music is stored. With enough time and internet bandwidth, we can stream anything. In the 2000s, I got a portable CD player, the Sony Walkman E-220, which I didn't get to use that much with the advent of the internet. It still works, and it looks as new. Apart from the standard playing function—which plays all the tracks on the CD ones—this device could play songs on repeat mode, looping over the entire disc in order; on shuffle mode, looping through songs in random order; or on single track mode, playing a single track repeatedly. The number of songs we could carry with us was limited, and we paid for each new album. Streaming services and the internet let us bring with us millions of songs today. There is a little arrow symbol that seems to have stick until today—it shows up on Spotify and other digital music players. The arrow goes left, down, and right, and it means you're going to be looping through a specific block of audio; a playlist, an album, or a song. *** Can you imagine situations in which you may want to play a song over and over and over? I want to share with you a habit I've been practicing for many years. [Listen to this Getting Simple episode on looping playlists](https://gettingsimple.com/looping-playlists).

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190501-rincon-javi-rueda-resting-garden.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Mini-retirements

When I lived in London in 2015, I left my job two months before going to live and study in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead of accruing two more months of pay, I would take a break, travel to Japan for two weeks, and spend the summer back home. I planned for a two-month pause. A question submitted to the podcast by Marc Exposito[^mini-retirements-question] made me reflect on 'mini-retirements'—what they are and potential techniques, challenges, and reasons to live as if you were retired—and, in retrospect, understand my 2015 break like one. I deliberately reserved time to wander around Japan's streets at my own pace (like that of a turtle) and enjoy Málaga's sunny weather. *What would happen if, instead of working for forty years and retiring for twenty, you distributed those twenty years throughout your career?* Marc asked. [Listen to a Getting Simple podcast on mini-retirements.](https://gettingsimple.com/mini-retirements) [^mini-retirements-question]: [You can submit a question here.](https://gettingsimple.com/ask) I'd love to hear from you. =)

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210304-white-nights-watercolors-st-petersburg-nevskaya-palitra.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Tools: White Nights watercolors

A few months ago, I started working with a new set of watercolors — the St. Petersburg [White Nights Nevskaya palette](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BS41VLR/?tag=nonoma-20) — which comes in a plastic box with twelve pans. On their website, [St. Petersburg lists dozens of colors](https://stpetersburgwatercolours.com/whole-pans); standard, pastel shades, and metallics.[^st-petersburg-color-chart] The Nevskaya *palitra* (Russian for palette) refers to the colors of the 74-kilometer-long Russian Neva River, more vivid than my [Winsor & Newton set](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00004THXI/?tag=nonoma-20); which may vary depending on when and where you buy the set. My palette contains cadmium yellow medium (201), Indian gold (244), cadmium red light (302), carmine (319), ceruleum blue (503), ultramarine (511), emerald green (713), sap green (716), raw sienna (405), burnt sienna (406), sepia (413), and Payne's gray (812). [^st-petersburg-color-chart]: You can [Download St. Petersburg's color chart](https://stpetersburgwatercolours.com/assets/img/whitenightscolourchart108.jpg). ![St. Petersburg White Nights artists' watercolors Nevskaya palitra.](/img/u/sketch-210304-white-nights-watercolors-st-petersburg-nevskaya-palitra-box.jpg)

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210110-daisy-flower-macu.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Breathe in, breathe out

I learned about *pranayama*, the yoga practice of controlling your breath, in [an interview with James Melouney and Selene Urban](https://gettingsimple.com/james-melouney-and-selene-urban). As Selene explained, a particular type of pranayama called *sama vritti* (equal length in the Sanskrit language) consists of breathing in and out in equal-length intervals. Say, counting four as you breathe in, hold, breathe out, and hold again. I added a bonus recording at [minute 1:37:50](https://youtu.be/cm6rbbaYink?t=5870) of this podcast episode, in which Selene guides us through a five-minute breathing session that you can use to relax, meditate, and calm down. *Breathe in.* *One, two, three, four.* *Hold.* *Four, three, two, one.* *Breathe in.* *One, two, three, four.* *Hold.* *Four, three, two, one.*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-201001-muji-todo-list-ikea-support-tasks.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## A world without email

From the outside, Cal Newport looks to me as a superhuman. On top of having family and kids, he teaches computer science at Georgetown University, Washington, publishes academic research papers, writes about the intersection of digital technology and culture, has published six books, and will be releasing his seventh book—*[A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BKSJX1M/?tag=nonoma-20)*—next Tuesday, March 2, 2021, which is now available for pre-order. Newport started writing and publishing books while he was a student—his first titles include *How to Win at College*, *How to Become a Straight-A Student*, and *How to Be a High School Superstar*—and started building a community of readers who enjoyed his [*Study Hacks*](https://www.calnewport.com/blog/) blog. *[So Good They Can't Ignore You](https://www.amazon.com/dp/1455509124/?tag=nonoma-20)* was Newport's first book outside of the college or high school arena, which walks you through how to "build a career you truly love [where] you're not only paid well, but you're doing work that matters." Newport teaches the [Top Performer](https://top-performer-course.com) course online—based on this book—together with [Scott Young](https://gettingsimple.com/scott-young-ultralearning). I've lost count of how many times I've recommended his latest books on the podcast and my writing, mainly *[Digital Minimalism](https://www.amazon.com/dp/0525536515/?tag=nonoma-20)* and *[Deep Work](https://www.amazon.com/dp/1455586692/?tag=nonoma-20)*. *Deep Work* was a response to readers' questions on how to structure their workday. As reads the summary of his Wall Street Journal bestseller, "deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time." Newport firmly believes we can only do *deep work* with full concentration without distractions. His approach consists of working in a series of 1 h 30 min blocks separated by one-hour breaks that he uses for *productive meditation* (recharge walks or breaks in which your mind can continue pondering about the problems you're trying to solve at work). To keep track of your time, Newport created [The Time-Block Planner](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eff9h1WYxSo), a notebook that lets you plan your day using this technique. For the past years, I've been using this method using this [7:00–19:00 time-blocking sheet that you can download here](https://gettingsimple.com/img/u/getting-simple-time-blocking-0700-1900.pdf). It contains four planning cards to print in an A4- or Letter-sized sheet to fold in four. Works best with two-sided printing to create eight cards to cover an entire week. I try to block time for deep tasks one day in advance at the end of my workday. *Digital Minimalism* was a response to readers who asked how to manage their non-work time. My takeaway from this book is that a social media sabbath—going cold turkey for thirty days in a row—can help you get rid of the habit of mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds and reclaim your leisure time, only getting back to using social media after you've identified what value you're getting out of them if any, and making sure to schedule your leisure time as well as your workday to ensure the activities you want to do are happening. It's interesting how much Newport—a person who's never been on social media—can contribute with his *digital minimalism* philosophy. In my case, I spent three months in a row without social media. I decided I would be present by sharing the content I created but wouldn't routinely interact in other ways and would remove the social media apps that remained on my phone. *A World Without Email* will be released next week. As Newport mentions on his podcast—*[Deep Questions](https://www.calnewport.com/podcast/)*—online communication as we know it today isn't the result of careful thinking in search of the best way for knowledge workers to communicate but something that happened because the technology was there. We embraced email and instant messaging as the solution, but Newport explains how this constant influx of messages depletes our ability to perform *deep work*. He sees applications like Slack or Teams as transient applications that will go away sometime soon, as we devise new methods that will let us—as knowledge workers—work without distractions. [I already pre-ordered a copy.](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BKSJX1M/?tag=nonoma-20) I doubt Cal Newport is superhuman, but I applaud his work and life approach and his consistency to ship work that matters.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210215-hotel-rafael-moneo-h10-hoyo-de-esparteros-calle-de-atarazanas.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The urban sketching habit

The 2020 pandemic broke my 'urban sketching' habit and I don't sketch outside as much as I used to. Yesterday, the blue sky pushed me to leave the keyboard and adventure myself out with my sketchbook, pens, and watercolors. I enjoyed drawing a concrete mixer truck as I caught up on the phone with Grandma, who will get her first COVID vaccine shot tomorrow. The truck comes and goes to a huge building site at Hoyo de Esparteros, Málaga, for the ongoing construction of an H10 'high-rise'[^high-rise-hotel-h10] hotel by Pritzker Prize architect Rafael Moneo. It'd be great to capture the hotel's evolution on my sketchbook, as days get longer and sunnier. That, surely, will help to get back the urban sketching habit. [^high-rise-hotel-h10]: The building is just eight floors, but most buildings around it aren't more than three or four floors.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210127-panaderos-apple-airpods-without-case.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Each sketch is different

If you draw every day, it's inevitable to repeat certain objects. The items I bring with me daily—Airpods, phone, watch—and the ones I work with at my desk—computer mouse, microphone, laptop, chair—show up every once in a while on my sketchbooks. Yet each sketch is different. Think of the omnipresent face masks. Every time a mask sits on the table or hangs from a wall, it takes on a unique shape and sketching it becomes a brand new challenge. Other artifacts and scenes, however, only appear once—the drawing of a place I traveled to, a gathering with family or friends, a building, a distinct palm tree—and become tied to a [memory](https://sketch.nono.ma/imbued-with-memories).

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-201201-panaderos-small-oil-heater.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Snow emergency and sunny walks

Ever since I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I receive emails from the City of Boston. Yesterday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared a snow emergency ahead of the forecasted winter storm, scheduled to start yesterday at noon and end today's afternoon (Boston time). "I am urging everyone to be ready and prepared for tomorrow's forecasted snowstorm," said Mayor Walsh. According to the warning, my fellow Bostonians are better off removing their vehicles from main roads, using caution outside, and staying home. Here, in Málaga, Spain, all non-essential business is about to close for fifteen days. The weather doesn't invite us to stay inside; the high was 25 Celsius degrees last week. Mask ok, I walked more than twenty kilometers over the weekend, wearing my sunglasses and enjoying the sunny weather. We'll get colder days before the summer, but nothing compared to the snowy winters of Cambridge. I get nostalgic of my days in Cambridge when friends send pictures; I used to walk to class under the snow, boots on, enjoying this buffer time to be alone with my thoughts, call, or listen to podcasts. That nostalgia might be why I don't click the 'unsubscribe' button at the end of the City of Boston. There's barely anything we can do. But we can still walk outside. *** Be safe, stay sane, and stay healthy. *** P.S. [You can now listen to a new Getting Simple podcast episode with Mike Gabour](https://gettingsimple.com/mike-gabour) on Falling in Love With the Ocean, Dark Showers, Attention, The Sensorium, and The Contents of his Backpack.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210125-panaderos-sketchbook-stillman-birn-alpha-series-9x6-landscape.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The new sketchbook

Hi, I'm Nono Martínez Alonso, and you've signed up for [Sketch.Nono.MA](https://sketch.nono.ma/), a weekly newsletter where I share my worldview through hand sketches and stories. Today, a little rant on watercolor sketchbooks. --- Awhile back, I wrote about [my sketchbook of choice](https://sketch.nono.ma/the-sketchbook): the [A4, landscape, 300-gram watercolor *Moleskine*](https://www.amazon.com/dp/8862931948/?tag=nonoma-20) (29.7 x 21.0 cm, 8.25 x 11.75 in). After going through four of these sketchbooks, I've grown used to their format. But it feels as if the Italian brand decreased the paper quality of their sketchbooks; its pages don't hold watercolors as well as they once did. While I investigate whether it's the sketchbook or my use of it that's changed, its apparent decline in paper quality made me look for alternatives. [Luis Ruiz](https://luisruiz.es) recommended the Alpha and Gamma Series from *Stillman & Birn*—an American company founded in 1958 by the black hardbound sketchbook pioneer, a Viennese bookbinder by the name of Philip Birn (1911–2004).[^philip-birn] I decided to go for the [hardbound, 150–gram, white-paper Alpha Series](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B006YGL3S2/?tag=nonoma-20) (22.9 x 15.2 cm, 9 x 6 in), slightly bigger than an A5 sheet. The [Sakura Micron 005 and 01 pens](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004QHI43S/?tag=nonoma-20) run smoothly on the *Stillman & Birn* sketchbook, whereas they scratch the surface of my 300-gram watercolor *Moleskine* paper. And I can work with my watercolors reasonably well, as long as I don't apply too much water. Here's the first page of my *Stillman & Birn* sketchbook. I'll be sharing more of my sketches and thoughts on this sketchbook in the coming months. --- ![Sample sketches on a Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook.](/img/u/sketch-stillman-birn-sketchbook-2021-01-page-01.jpg) --- If you use them, what are your notebook and sketchbook of choice? [^philip-birn]: Stillman & Birn. (2021). *[About Stillman & Birn](https://stillmanandbirn.com/about.php)*. Accessed Monday, January 25, 2021.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-210118-panaderos-logitech-brio-4k-webcam.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What's so great about live streaming?

There's no edit button. Whatever happens, goes online in real-time—*live*. Viewers can engage and interact. You can produce as many hours of content as you invest in live streaming. After the fact, you can edit videos, curate, filter, censor, and re-upload your content as separate clips; in a more digestible format. But post-processing is a time sink. (Even when machine-learning-based tools—think Descript—help you out.) What comes with live streaming, as with any other public speaking gig, is that, over time, you get more comfortable and are willing to ship content with fewer edits, and that's something I'm working hard to improve. --- P.S. In case you missed it, [I started live-streaming four months ago](https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVz6zdIOM02XcUh-wl0ECneCkvX2YP7tZ). For now, streams focus on machine learning, but I plan to cover topics related to creative coding, podcasting, design, writing, sketching, and workflow automation.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-170506-malaga-equitativa.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What do architecture and software engineering have in common?

There's a problem to solve, ideas to implement, and the result is often a usable artifact. What has always put me off architecture is its slow nature. It might take years for big projects to go from ideation to design to construction to use. Yet tiny interventions (think small retrofits and interior designs) can be swift. That's the joy of coding; you can formalize an idea into a usable prototype in a matter of minutes. Write code, run your program, then visualize and interact with your changes. When programming simple and interactive systems, you can see and use a functioning prototype from the early development stages. Of course, I don't mean that it takes minutes to create complex programs, but that coding is a dynamic process that provides feedback as you make changes. Whereas large software projects might resemble architecture projects' slowness, small-scale architectural interventions might be as fun as prototyping with code.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200311-panaderos-thumbs-up.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Most-visited stories of 2020

As I mentioned last week, I published 52 stories and sketches in 2020. Here are the ten with the most views (in descending order). 1. [We just wanted free internet](/we-just-wanted-free-internet) 1. [If it can be automated, it will](/if-it-can-be-automated-it-will) 1. [What's the time?](/whats-the-time) 1. [Feels like simplicity](/feels-like-simplicity) 1. [Stories are the answer](/stories-are-the-answer) 1. [Into the wild](/into-the-wild) 1. [Jack of all trades, master of none](/jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none) 1. [Work or walk](/work-or-walk) 1. [We are out of face masks](/coronavirus) 1. [What am I looking at?](/what-am-i-looking-at) *[What's the time?](/whats-the-time)*, *[Should you aim for quantity instead of quality?](/should-you-aim-for-quantity-instead-of-quality)* and *[600 days of practice](/600-days-of-practice)* are among my favorite. Would I have to pick one, that would be *[Stories are the answer](/stories-are-the-answer)*—which made it into [a podcast](https://gettingsimple.com/stories-are-the-answer). What stories did you enjoy the most?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-201203-kmask-black-face-mask-covid.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Goodbye, 2020

In 2020, billions of people wore a face mask to walk outside for the first time. We've had to comply with full lockdowns, limited gatherings, and ever-changing curfews. We've reduced our travels and kept our trips as local as they can be. Christmas hasn't been our traditional holiday—a sense of fear and anxiety accompanies our gatherings with friends and family—and local restrictions forced many to spend salient dates apart from each other. This publication is the last of the year, and I wanted to shift my focus from the bad to the positive, highlighting some of the good things I take from 2020. - I began live streaming (and showed up for [12 consecutive weeks](https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVz6zdIOM02XcUh-wl0ECneCkvX2YP7tZ)) - I recorded podcasts remotely (and published [15 episodes](https://gettingsimple.com/podcast)) - I wrote and sketched daily (and published [52 stories](https://sketch.nono.ma/)) - We released [Sisyphus](https://sketch.nono.ma/the-myth-of-sisyphus) - I delivered online talks - I attended student reviews as a guest crit on Zoom At the turn of 2019, I published *[Twelve Grapes](https://sketch.nono.ma/twelve-grapes)*—a short reflection on temporal landmarks and New Year's resolutions. A few months later, I shared *[A Year of Transformation](https://gettingsimple.com/a-year-of-transformation)*—a podcast about what I learned and changed in 2019. I miss traveling and meeting with people face to face without the fear of being infected or infecting others. As we enter 2021, companies and individuals will benefit from improved skills to work virtually[^hny-green-screen], yet I can only wish for things to get back to "normal." *Goodbye, 2020.* Happy New Year! [^hny-green-screen]: During the lockdown, I bought a [4K webcam](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N5UOYC4/?tag=nonoma-20) and a [green screen](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QWMS7X5/?tag=nonoma-20) and set up my computer to record and live stream lectures and tutorials on YouTube.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200414-panaderos-bed-sketching-laying-down-legs-feet-hands.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## 600 days of practice

Six hundred days ago, I began a quest to practice sketching, writing, and meditation—activities I enjoy doing that I want to cultivate. Even if only for a few minutes per day, I would engage in *deliberate practice*. Let me share some keys that might help you develop a practice to improve your skills. --- Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the 10,000-hour rule in *[Outliers](https://www.amazon.com/dp/0316017930/?tag=nonoma-20)*, a time that signifies how much practice you need to become proficient at a given skill. Of course, [Gladwell didn't mean](https://youtu.be/1uB5PUpGzeY) the time you practice is independent of talent or how you practice.[^gladwell-outliers] As Cal Newport explains in *[Deep Work](https://www.amazon.com/dp/1455586692/?tag=nonoma-20)*, two core components help identify deliberate practice: "(1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you're trying to improve or an idea you're trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it's most productive."[^newport-deep-work] If you're not familiar with the term, Anders Ericsson coined it in the 1990s.[^newport-deep-work] The type of work experts do is as important as the time spent; you need to work through the right challenges to sharpen your skills. In 2019, [I interviewed Scott H. Young](https://gettingsimple.com/scott-young-ultralearning), author of *[Ultralearning](https://www.amazon.com/dp/006285268X/?tag=nonoma-20),* who shed some light on the issue. "There's a huge amount of research that shows that transferring skills from one domain to another is a lot more difficult than people think. Directness is, essentially, that when you are learning to do something, you want to tie your learning activities to the context in which you want to apply this skill later. If you are learning a language and you want to have conversations, you need to have conversations; if you are learning public speaking because you want to stand on stage and give speeches, you [have to] stand on stage and give speeches."[^h-young-ultralearning-getting-simple] In sketching, I won't get much better at drawing portraits if I spend the bulk of my time drawing buildings and objects; these are two distinct tasks. I'll acquire individual skills while I practice sketching buildings that might *transfer* and be useful when drawing portraits—say, noticing where lights and shadows are—but others won't—perspective drawings have nothing to do with drawing eyes and lips and ears. In Young's words, "you have to think about what you're trying to accomplish and how you're going to use it."[^h-young-ultralearning] That is the gist of directness, practicing the exact skills you want to get better at. After almost two years of deliberate practice—which doesn't mean I wasn't practicing before but that I'm diligently practicing every day now—, some of my improvement is visible. I'm more comfortable writing; I'm more confident and less nervous interviewing guests on my podcast; and I find it easier to capture shapes, lights, and shadows when sketching. Paradoxically, these skills come more naturally the more I practice. It's helpful to define your weaknesses and gather feedback from others from my experience, as they will inform the skills you need to practice. *What are you trying to accomplish, and how are you going to use [your skill]?* Young's question highlights the importance of knowing why you're practicing in the first place. For me, it's all about improving my craft and inspiring others. My current commitments include writing two hundred words, meditating for ten minutes, and sketching something from reality every day. I use a habit tracker to track my progress, which helps me not "break the chain." I want to make sure I'm showing up and not missing one day. Regarding content publication, I aim to release a podcast episode per month, a sketch and story per week, and a live stream per week. "When it's time to write, there will be days that you don't feel like typing. But stepping up when it's annoying or painful or draining to do so, that's what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur."[^clear-atomic-habits] In *[Atomic Habits](https://www.amazon.com/dp/0735211299/?tag=nonoma-20)*, James Clear denotes the difference between the pro and the amateur. "Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way."[^clear-atomic-habits] Jocelyn K. Glei also defines that professionalism in *[Manage Your Day-To-Day](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01FODHXD4/?tag=nonoma-20)*: "A professional is someone who can keep working at a high level of effort and ethics, no matter what is going on—for good or ill—around him or inside him. A professional shows up every day."[^glei-manage-your-day-to-day] For better or worse, I decided to formalize—or professionalize—my dearest hobbies. Publishing my work online makes it real, and I tend to take it more seriously this way. Even when I don't feel like practicing, I know that building the habit is more important than what I might write, sketch, or record on a given day. Days come from time to time, in which I can spend more time and focus. When I can't find the time to concentrate fully, for instance, I might meditate while I shower or walk, while other days I can sit for more than twenty minutes completely idle, without distractions. I might sketch something in two or three minutes or write to comply with my 200-word minimum during busy days but then spend hours drawing or writing when I can make time for it. Yet this only happens when you show up every day. --- If you've read this far, you might be asking how you can incorporate these principles into your practice. As I learned from my coach, it's best to define where you'd like to be one, two, or five years from now, and list the skills you need to develop to get there. That goal will determine the type of work and challenges you need to practice. Show up every day, nurture your continued practice, focus on the tiny daily improvements, and enjoy. Ten thousand hours of training might take you far, but what matters are the hours you practice deliberately applying your skills as you want to use them in the future. [^newport-deep-work]: Newport, Cal. *[Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World](https://www.amazon.com/dp/1455586692/?tag=nonoma-20)*. 1st ed., Kindle version, Grand Central Publishing, 2016. [^gladwell-outliers]: Gladwell, Malcolm. *[Outliers: The Story of Success](https://www.amazon.com/dp/0316017930/?tag=nonoma-20)*. 1st ed., Kindle version, Back Bay Books, 2011. [^h-young-ultralearning]: Young, Scott, and James Clear. *[Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career](https://www.amazon.com/dp/006285268X/?tag=nonoma-20)*. Illustrated, Kindle version, Harper Business, 2019. [^clear-atomic-habits]: Clear, James. *[Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones](https://www.amazon.com/dp/0735211299/?tag=nonoma-20).* Illustrated, Kindle version, Avery, 2018. [^glei-manage-your-day-to-day]: 99U, and Jocelyn Glei. *[Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (99U)](https://www.amazon.com/dp/1477800670/?tag=nonoma-20)*. Kindle version, Amazon Publishing, 2013. [^h-young-ultralearning-getting-simple]: Martínez–Alonso, Nono. "Getting Simple." *[Scott Young: Ultralearning, How to Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career](https://gettingsimple.com/scott-young-ultralearning),* 6 August, 2019.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200903-panaderos-surgical-face-mask.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Better times lie ahead

We humans are social beings; we need to be around others, share our time and stories and gossip, the warmth of physical contact, and the display and feeling of love. It's in our nature. Since the internet's appearance, we've tried to fulfill this need with virtual calls, meetings, and gatherings—which render extremely useful in professional settings but don't suffice in our personal lives. We communicate in shallow ways via social media and instant messaging and connect more deeply through audio and video calls. Yet, all of this is insufficient for our well-being, and we often get a false sense of connection. The big tech companies are working on immersive virtual and augmented realities to shorten the gap between the experience of in-person meetings and their virtual equivalents. Facebook Horizon lets you 'explore and create' collaboratively with virtual avatars. Apple—reportedly engineering a pair of augmented reality glasses, a headset along the lines of Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens—is preparing to release augmented reality from the limitations of smartphones and tablets. In these environments, astonishing visuals would make participants believe they're in the same room, haptic feedback would fool their bodies into thinking they're touching objects, and brain waves could help them hallucinate the rest, ala Black Mirror. If it were to reduce the risk of infecting ourselves and our loved ones during this (and future) pandemics while meeting our psychological and social needs, this scenario doesn't sound bad at all. For now, nothing beats sitting together and holding each others' hands, even if wearing a face mask. But, of course, this isn't always a possibility. As these immersive technologies improve, we'll rely on them more and more, replacing long-distance travel, hazardous physical interactions, and face masks with virtual gatherings and wearables. Meanwhile, here's a reminder to myself: Protect what you have by being mindful and patient; better times lie ahead.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191204-panaderos-christmas-tree-red-green.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Closed for vacation

You've probably seen this sign before. It means we're taking a break—a pause. A straight "Closed for vacation" sign that keeps you off work during the holiday season. On these dates, OPEN signs keep on-location workers away from their loved ones, and remote workers distracted, never fully present, always alert to potential notifications. In the internet era, you have the option to do your homework, schedule your publications, switch off notifications, and be present. That's the peace of mind of planning and automation.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200915-a5-booklets-printed-drafts-and-journaling-notes.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## My weekly post

I'm writing more than ever, but I still find it hard to hit my Tuesday posts' deadline. I guess I'm lazy. To me, [the draft](https://gettingsimple.com/on-drafts) is playful and fun, but polishing for publication can be hard work. I think I'm good at generating new ideas, consistently adding new post drafts to my to-do list. Ever postponing the editing work, I would often publish new pieces—written from scratch—instead of editing existing drafts. But there's no way out: it makes little to no sense to publish drafts, and I try to come back to the posts I've already started (which tend to become some of my best stories). The important thing is to move forward; To practice daily, ship a new story every Tuesday, and enjoy how writing and publishing get easier, week by week. --- In future posts, I'll share the tools and techniques that help me write more and better and the planning methods I'm experimenting with to consistently writing and publishing [my weekly story](https://sketch.nono.ma).

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-180423-1700-boston-bus-silver-line-2.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The first question

Last month, I asked you for questions. Among other questions, a listener from South Africa asked whether, during my commute, I listen to music or podcasts, and why. It's interesting as I've been working from home for the past two years and barely had to commute. I chose this as the first podcast question and enjoyed answering it live. The episode will come out soon. What's your take? Do you prefer to listen to music or podcasts? If you want, you can reply to this email, send a voice note, or ask a question at [gettingsimple.com/voice](https://gettingsimple.com/voice). I'd love to hear from you.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191113-watch-casio-f-91w-black-and-white.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Time is ticking

Toggl Track is on. Every second counts toward the active task. But I'm frozen. The time block I allocated to this piece of work has ended, and I can't decide whether to continue or move onto the next item. Tasks often take longer than I initially thought. What should I do? Time is ticking.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191102-cordoba-las-ramblas-alfar-torres-ferreras-ceramic-artisan.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Who made it, why, and in what context?

Andy Warhol's artworks have sold for millions of dollars. His most famous works—think of Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) and Marylin Diptych (1962)—are limited edition paintings. Campbell's Soup Cans' piece consists of 32 images produced over five months[^wikipedia-warhol-andy], and Marilyn Monroe's artwork consists of 50 portraits.[^wikipedia-warhol-marilyn] After hand-painting thirty-two soup cans by hand, Warhol moved to photo-silkscreen, a printmaking technique originally invented for commercial use that allowed Warhol and other artists to create reproductions of the same artwork using a silkscreen.[^warhol-moma-learning] Warhol painted the soup cans with acrylic paint. Each canvas corresponded to a soup variety sold by Campbell's back in the 1960s. Screen printing speeds up the reproduction of an artwork. Once the silkscreen is ready, colors are applied, one by one, using a squeegee to push the ink through the mesh screen[^dickblick-screen-printing], either by hand or automatically with a machine, a process being used at the time to mass-produce advertisements.[^warhol-moma-learning] "I don't think art should be only for the select few," Warhol claimed, "I think it should be for the mass of the American people." Nowadays, we could argue this vision is a reality. Large corporations and artisans deploy a wide range of mediums to automate what used to be done by hand, producing goods en masse, lessening their price and uniqueness while improving its quality and availability. You can buy a ready-to-hang print of Vang Goh's *The Starry Night* at IKEA for $49.99 while the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan shields and exhibits the original painting. Contrary to his statement, Warhol created artwork for the selected few that could pay for it. In 2007, a 1964 *Large Campbell's Soup Can* sold for $7.4 million, and *Silver Car Crash* sold for $105.4 million in 2013. Aesthetics and taste aside, it's all about the story behind each piece. Who made it, why, and in what context? [^wikipedia-warhol-andy]: [Andy Warhol](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Warhol). (n.d.). In *Wikipedia*. Retrieved November 9, 2020. [^wikipedia-warhol-marilyn]: [Marilyn Diptych](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Diptych). (n.d.). In *Wikipedia*. Retrieved November 9, 2020. [^wikipedia-warhol-campbell]: [Campell's Soup Cans](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell%27s_Soup_Cans). (n.d.). In *Wikipedia*. Retrieved November 9, 2020. [^warhol-moma-learning]: [Campbell's Soup Cans](https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/andy-warhol-campbells-soup-cans-1962/). (n.d.). In *MoMA Learning*. Retrieved November 9, 2020. [^dickblick-screen-printing]: [Screen printing](https://www.dickblick.com/categories/printmaking/screen-printing/). (n.d.). In *Dick Blick Art Materials*. Retrieved November 9, 2020.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200627-panaderos-computer-mouse-logitech-mx-anywhere.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The machine takes care of it

In a quest to spend more time writing and less time sharing online what I write, I developed an automated workflow to share my posts on social media with minimal effort. What used to take me up to ninety minutes per week happens now automatically. I can focus on sketching and writing while the machine takes care of formerly-manual labor. --- I sketch and write daily, pairing up my sketches and essays as little stories. I have to manually scan and edit my drawings, as well as polish my writing drafts and translate them into Spanish. I then upload the sketch and story to my website and schedule them for publication. On the publication date, a series of automated events take place. Let's see what those are. --- First, the story shows up on my RSS feed — a standardized system to distribute content online so users and applications can receive updates[^automation-rss-feed-description] — which contains all my publications. The story also appears on the main page of my website, at [Nono.MA](http://nono.ma/), and on my sketches page, [Sketch.Nono.MA](https://sketch.nono.ma/). [^automation-rss-feed-description]: RSS stands for RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. It's an XML-based format whose first's version was released twenty-one years ago. You can see the RSS feed of my sketches at [nono.ma/sketch.xml](https://nono.ma/sketch.xml) (English) and [nono.ma/es/sketch.xml](http://nono.ma/es/sketch.xml) (Spanish). In the early morning of the scheduled date, a Mailchimp newsletter campaign reads my RSS feed and sends the Spanish version via email to Spanish subscribers. Later that day, early morning in the United States, another newsletter campaign emails the original English story. (The one you're reading now.) The same feed is read by Zapier, an online service I've configured to share my weekly sketch and story on multiple social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Instagram. The post is shared on two Facebook pages, two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts, one Tumblr account, and my personal LinkedIn profile, and scheduled to be re-shared on Twitter on Friday, two weeks later, using Buffer. An image-processing and optimization service called Imgix resizes my sketch's canvas to be shared as a square image on Instagram. Two optional manual steps make this process feel a bit more human: sharing on Hacker News, something I might not want to do every week, and sharing on my Facebook timeline. (Neither Hacker News nor Facebook's API let you automate this step.) --- Sharing each story used to steal ten to ninety minutes of my time. Now my job is to supervise the pipeline works and make little adjustments here and there. I can focus on sketching and writing.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200220-panaderos-microphone-shure-sm58-xlr-boom-arm.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Ask me anything

I've recently started answering reader and listener questions on my podcast. I encourage you to ask me anything related to the topics I write about on this newsletter and talk about on the Getting Simple podcast. Go to [gettingsimple.com/question](https://gettingsimple.com/question) and hit record. I'd love to hear from you.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-201004-el-rocio-3m-ibm-hd-diskette-framing.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Updates are available

The compact disc—the CD—was co-developed by Philips and Sony back in the 1980s.[^updates-cd] This format was initially developed to store and play music but was then adapted to what we know as the CD-ROM to store data as well, and other formats followed that allowed us to read and write different kinds of data. [^updates-cd]: [Compact disc](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_disc). Wikipedia. In 1995, Microsoft shipped Windows 95 as a CD-ROM and also as a pack of 13 or 26 floppy disks for compatibility with older computers that didn't have a compact disc reader. The entire Windows 95 operating system was only around 22 to 24 megabytes. (More than four times smaller than Instagram for iPhone!) Priced at dozens or hundreds of dollars, software used to come packed in a huge box. The lucky software, the one that could afford the development costs, would update every couple of years. Windows 95, for instance, released a few updates and patches in 1996 and 1997, while Windows 98 was cooking. The transaction happened at a physical store where we were buying something tangible: a program packed in a box. The Office Suite—Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—was bought in a box and installed in your machine with a CD. Every time you formatted your computer or bought a new one, you would come back to those CDs and re-install the software. Office 2003. 2009. 2013. These updates demarcated the appearance of file formats and new functionality that wouldn't work in older versions. Today you buy a phone with a set of preinstalled apps and, right at your fingertips, you have an app store. With a payment method, you can make a transaction with a finger tap, your fingerprint, or a scan of your face. The app starts installing right away. Maybe free, maybe a couple of dollars. This world is cheaper but gets more and more expensive as we transition into a subscription model. And stores are not only on your phone but on your tablet, laptop, browser, and even on your photo camera or game console. We get notified of new versions of the apps we use daily. And there's a culture of constant improvement in which applications like Dropbox, Spotify, or Uber release a new version weekly or bi-weekly to keep up-to-date. At any stage, software bugs can be introduced, existing ones fixed, and new functionality added. We used to have a program that would continue to work the same way for years. But we now have what's called *liquid software*. Ever-changing code and hundreds of version numbers. (Dropbox is up to version 107.4.443 as I write these lines!) We're in an era of constant updates, and there's no way back. If there's a bug today, we expect a fix tomorrow. A patch, an update. The problem comes when we can't say no and need to keep programs up-to-date to run on the latest operating systems that would otherwise stop functioning. Software rots. In the mobile world, there's a chance that you never upgrade and use a fixed set of functionality. But the web is different. When you load a website, it might have been re-deployed. A new version, updated seconds ago, runs in your browser. The red button you used yesterday to send an email might have changed its place, color, or shape overnight. A piece of functionality you liked (or the annoying bug you had yesterday) might suddenly go away. An alternative might be to use custom systems or systems with slower update cycles in which backward compatibility is a priority. Yet it's unlikely we'll ever go back to the once-a-year update, the diskette, or the CD.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200306-rincon-thermomix-and-croquetilla.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## If it can be automated, it will

With automations in place, the need to spend time on manual tasks disappears; you can do more in less time and your duties are delegated to the machine, which completes them in the background while you do other things. You're free to move onto new endeavors. As John Maeda says, "Savings in time feel like simplicity." I guess you'd agree with me that, while the job of [scribes](/a-scrivener-is-gifted-a-printer) was fundamental for spreading knowledge back when printers didn't exist, there's no point in copying documents by hand today. Automation shifts our perception of what we do and augments our production capacity, often devaluing the human labor involved. When the technology allows for it, we relegate essential tasks to automated systems which don't require any human input, while other tasks—less important but harder to automate—end up filling the bulk of our time with manual labor. Effortless automated processes are easy to underestimate. One click and you've got access to millions of online publications, books, and other content. One more click and the book is sent to your Kindle, printed at home, or shipped to your house. If it can be automated, it will. However, it's important to remember that the amount of labor involved to complete a task—or the lack thereof—doesn't determine its importance, and that the time and effort required to perform a task heavily depends on skill. Even when we assign excessive value to processes that involve manual labor, the importance and necessity of a task should be defined with independence of the amount of hours required to complete it and its complexity. Still, difficulty and expertise highly determine how much you'll get paid for work and, as more and more processes are automated, we'll have a harder time finding jobs that pay well. This trend to delegate processes to the machine contributes to the undervaluation of manual work, except when the human factor provides something different that makes it unique.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191214-rincon-moms-hand-watercoloring.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What would a scrivener do if gifted a printer?

Before the invention of printing, professional scribes copied manuscripts by hand. Woodblock printing, movable type, etching, and other inventions preceded the printing press, in our efforts to automate such a labor-intensive task as the duplication and production of text documents. It would be hard to make a living rewriting books with pen nowadays. Printers and the internet make it easy and cheap to reproduce text documents or ship books to your house. If we were to travel back in time and gifted a professional copyist a printer, they'd probably lit it on fire. I wonder how their life would change if, instead of burning the printer, they decided to use it.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200524-panaderos-plate-light-blue-cutlery-forks-and-knifes.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## If someone were to follow you all day long..

..they'd probably be surprised by how you do certain things. Things they never thought of doing that way and assumed everyone else did differently. What would you surprise us with?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191002-san-francisco-sony-alpha-fe-18-50.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The Myth of Sisyphus

In 1942, Albert Camus published a philosophical essay titled *The Myth of Sisyphus* and his novel *The Stranger*. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Camus' essay "contains a sympathetic analysis of contemporary nihilism and touches on the nature of the absurd." These two works, often seen as thematically complementary, are believed to have established his reputation.[^sisyphus-encyclopaedia-britannica] "Camus argues that life is essentially meaningless, although humans continue to try to impose order on existence and to look for answers to unanswerable questions. Camus uses the Greek legend of Sisyphus, who is condemned by the gods for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top, as a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the essential absurdity of life." [^sisyphus-encyclopaedia-britannica]: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020). *[The Myth of Sisyphus](https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Myth-of-Sisyphus)*. Encyclopedia Britannica. Online version. Retrieved September 21, 2020. --- In 2020, it's easy to fall into the trap of mindlessly repeating the same routine over and over again. Every once in a while, we need to stop and reflect; To meditate on whether what we’re doing makes sense and find out how to get out of the loop to spend time doing what gives us joy. I believe there’s no need to constantly measure productivity—some of what we do should just be play. That's exactly what, as I understand, happens in the Greek myth of Sisyphus, in which a man is condemned to repeat a useless task day after day. How far is our daily loop of work from this punishment? There's more work after today's tasks. The ball repeatedly rolls down as we near the top. "According to Camus, the first step an individual must take is to accept the fact of this absurdity. If, as for Sisyphus, suicide is not a possible response, the only alternative is to rebel by rejoicing in the act of rolling the boulder up the hill. Camus further argues that with the joyful acceptance of the struggle against defeat, the individual gains definition and identity."[^sisyphus-encyclopaedia-britannica] In Cal Newport's words, "the key to thriving in our high-tech world […] is to spend much less time using technology." But regardless of how much technology is available to us, we struggle to spend less time in front of our screens, constantly exploring new life hacks in search of the elusive perfect life. --- Last year, Daniel Natoli and yours truly worked together on Sisyphus, a short film produced by Getting Simple and Peripheria Films based on the Greek myth and Albert Camus' essay that attempts to portray our repetitive days *running* around, hunted by a sense of urgency. It's been a pleasure to work with Daniel Natoli, Marina Diaz Garcia, and Pablo de la Ossa and I hope we'll bring you other works in the near future. I invite you to keep an eye on the work of [Peripheria Films](https://peripheria.tv/). You can now watch the short film online and listen to a podcast interview with its director—Daniel Natoli—on his experience making the film. --- [Watch Sisyphus](https://youtu.be/d5RnbV7qYgY) [Listen to: Daniel Natoli — The Making of Sisyphus](https://gettingsimple.com/making-of-sisyphus)

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200907-panaderos-beas-coffee-mug.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Four laws to create good habits

In his book—[Atomic Habits](https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0735211299?tag=nonoma-20)—James Clear presents a four-step pattern as the backbone of every habit. The four stages of habit are: cue, craving, response, and reward. In his own words, "The cue is what triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. […] Cravings are the motivational force behind every habit. […] The response is the actual habit you perform. […] Rewards are the end goal of every habit."[^james-clear-how-to-start-new-habits] [^james-clear-how-to-start-new-habits]: Clear, James. [*How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick*](https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change). Accessed on Monday, September 14, 2020. Clear mentions that we chase rewards because they satisfy us and they teach us. His framework involves four laws to create a good habit that go hand in hand with the four stages of a habit I just mentioned: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. By inverting these four laws to create good habits, Clear establishes four laws to break bad ones: make it invisible, make it unattractive, make it difficult, and make it unsatisfying. --- This text is an excerpt of my [Getting Simple podcast episode on Atomic Habits](https://gettingsimple.com/atomic-habits), where you can learn more on how I try to apply this method to strengthen my habits.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190426-boston-logon-airport-terminal-e-air-france-plane.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Terminal E, Logan Airport

As I was waiting to depart to Spain, I met Lei and his son, Eric, at Boston Logan's Terminal E, right before boarding their plane to Beijing—back when there was no need to wear face masks or to stay two-meters away from strangers. Eric watched over my shoulder to see what I was drawing. As far as my notes say, he spoke in broken English. But we managed to communicate with the help of his dad. They were both impressed of the Pentel water brush, which they hadn't seen before. Eric pointed out his nickname—*Dodo*—when I said my name was Nono. With a Croquetilla sticker stuck to his chest, [Eric recorded a time-lapse](https://youtu.be/sDxeavRZBE0) of myself sketching an Air France plane. In his own sketchbook, he was drawing a face in what I believe was an attempt to portray Lei—his *dada*—who showed me Eric's sketches on his phone (among which was an Iron-Man-looking character and a gun of his own design). Lei an a few of his friends are architects, and he was sad to hear I'm not an architect anymore.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190904-malaga-paper-bag-dunnes-stores-color-or-not.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Color or not

My drawing process is (nearly) always the same; I grab a pen, stroke the main lines of something I see, add detail, and shade. Afterwards, I make a decision based on how much I like the drawing and how much time is available to finish it—whether to add color or not. I might get in love with the plain, black-and-white drawing and feel scared of spoiling the piece with watercolor even when I know color adds another dimension to the story told by my sketch. But I've been practicing. The stress of coloring fades away the more I practice, and the positive feedback loop makes me color more of my sketches, improving my skill at the same time. I've scanned certain drawings before and after coloring. This, apart from letting me keep a copy of the uncolored version of the drawing, might serve to train a machine learning algorithm which might learn [how I color my sketches](/suggestive-drawing). --- That fear of ruining what's half-done prevents us from improving. Let's beat the resistance.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200207-rincon-imac-21-5-inch-computer.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Hit a wall

An easy way to avoid distractions while working on your device is to logout from email, social media, and any other accounts that often steal your time. Next time you try to check out one of those sites you'll hit a *wall*—the login page. You'll get a second chance to decide whether to give into the distraction or to continue working and come back to the site later. --- If that's not enough, tools such as [Freedom](https://freedom.to) or [SelfControl](https://selfcontrolapp.com/) let you block websites and apps for set periods of time, forcing you to stick to whatever you need to work on.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190310-rincon-lemon-tree-dead.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The lemon tree

The fact that you will go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow makes you feel immortal. A seventy-year-old person has gone through this loop more than 25,000 times. *There's still plenty of time to live*—you think. But despite science's lengthy efforts to vanquish death itself: we all die eventually. A feeling of permanence fools us into thinking that what surrounds us today will be there forever. --- Around twenty five years ago, I moved with my family into a new house. Among other greenery, two lemon trees were planted by the porch. Last year, I sat in the garden and sketched one of them. Under the right conditions, certain tree species live for centuries. For citrus trees, the average life expectancy is fifty years. Barely a few months after my drawing, the lemon tree dried out and got cut off the ground. Now the grass covers its trunk's remains while his twin brother is still kicking. --- Every day is a new opportunity to acknowledge what you have. Nothing lasts forever.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200215-malaga-ikea-hatefjall-desk-chair.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Imbued with memories

I guard my favorite sketches until I can work on a good story. Yet I acknowledge I won't ever find the time to write stories for all of them. Stories serve to describe how I experienced a given location, person, or object, or to elaborate a concept that lightly relates to a featured drawing. Always timestamped, illustrations evoke memories of sketched [artifacts, places, and people](/time-place-and-people). However, when removed from their surrounding context, drawings act as timeless, platonic abstractions. [The windy road to Korakonisi](/the-windy-road-to-korakonisi) brings me back to a one-off drive around Zakynthos with Aziz and Mikela. [We are out of face masks](/coronavirus) teleports me to a conversation with Sanjay from Paris to Toronto in times when few people wore face masks around. But floating sketches of my Hatefjäll IKEA office chair make me think of the *idea* of this chair and not about a particular moment in time in which I was using it. What color is this chair? Is it comfortable? Is it adjustable? Whereas a contextualized sketch is imbued with memories of the time and place in which it was sketched, a sketch of an item without context sparks thoughts of the item itself, not about the moment in which you sketched it (except when the item itself is representative of a salient event or moment in time). A similar effect can be achieved documenting memorable events and abstract ideas with other mediums. I'm repeatedly surprised by the power of drawings, texts, videos, photos, audio notes, and smells for memory reactivation.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200708-open-wallet-cos.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Phone. Keys. Mask.

[This *New Yorker* cartoon by Erika Sjule made me laugh.](https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/phone-keys-wallet) For years, *Phone, Keys, Wallet* has been my usual house-leaving check. Contactless payments recently let me keep my wallet at home and pay with my phone using Apple Pay. After the lockdown, I repeatedly find myself coming back home right after leaving the house. *Phone. Keys. Mask!* When will we be able to leave the mask at home?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191102-cordoba-ramblas-ceramic-worker-outline.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Jack of all trades, master of none

Back in the Renaissance, having skill in many different areas was seen as a good thing. But things changed. Movements such as the industrial revolution required individuals to specialize in one task to repeat it over and over and over—like cogs. The phrase, "Jack of all trades, master of none," has been used to negatively refer to people who engaged in eclectic activities. Even in today's culture, doing different activities with less specialization has bad connotations. I had a conversation with *portfolio careerist* Carmen Chamorro for a new episode of Getting Simple. We talked about the benefits of working in different fields, managing multiple interests, and how recognizing a potential Renaissance-like profile might positively influence your career. > Trust your nature. Be you. Don't be scared. We are all needed and we are all here. There is a balance in the world. We just need to go to the right place of the puzzle. You are here with a profile, and you are here to use it and to be authentic. Trust yourself, accept yourself, and have fun. —Carmen Chamorro Listen to ["From 9-to-5 to Freedom, A Journey to A Portfolio Career."](https://gettingsimple.com/carmen-chamorro)

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200603-panaderos-living-room-window-microphone-shure-sm58.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Work or walk?

Last week, I talked about [repetition, automation, organization, and disconnection](/repetition-automation-organization-disconnection). --- Ever since I started the podcast, I've had to prepare, manually, multiple texts in order to release each episode in various podcast providers—Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast—on the Getting Simple website, and on the newsletter. Each text was slightly different and editing them by hand wasn't pleasing. I've released dozens of episodes this way. I've completed a round of code edits I've been working on over the past months to automate most of the tedious work required each time I publish a new episode, and released [a new podcast page layout and audio player](https://gettingsimple.com/podcast/latest).[^work-or-walk-new-layout] [^work-or-walk-new-layout]: Even though this new layout works on mobile it shines the most on large screens. Behind the scenes, I have individual text boxes for each component of the episode notes, including the episode summary, description, links, credits, release date, duration, and more. I can now create new episodes with ease and preview the content that will show up on podcast providers, the website, and the newsletter, with the satisfaction of having made it possible on my own instead of relying on other platforms. --- After more than thirty episodes, repetition removed friction from my podcast-releasing workflow. Yet I won't ever be faster than an automatic system that apart from freeing my time reduces potential human error. The system I have in place makes my entire episode library highly organized, helping me focus on new content and reducing stress. Altogether, automated systems such as this one can let us disconnect and reclaim time to be humans. Whether you continue working or go for a walk in the time you get back is on you.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190518-panaderos-macbook-air.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Repetition, automation, organization, and disconnection

Repetition removes friction. Automation frees time. Organization helps focus. Disconnection breeds life.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200707-panaderos-sapiens-book-spanish-color.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Unitaskers: Introduction

This piece is an introduction to a new series—called *Unitaskers*—that will feature single-purpose artifacts that let you do one thing. Think, for instance, of a graphite pencil. It's useful to write or draw. You can sharpen it to get thin lines or tilt it to get thicker, faded strokes. You can write a letter or draw a house. You can trace continuous lines or do pointillism. But there isn't much more you can do with it. In the opposite spectrum are your computer or your smartphone—they can virtually do anything, from drawing and writing to setting an alarm, sending emails, but they make doing something with focus harder than ever before. How does your thought process change when you write with pencil and paper instead of typing on your laptop? When you read a book on Kindle instead of reading on your tablet? When you capture audio notes with a hand-recorder instead of using your phone? Let’s find out. Each essay of the series will use an object (or family of objects) as a source of inspirations to share stories and facts around finding focus in our age of distraction.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200414-panaderos-zines-booklets-prints-stories-are-the-answer.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Newsletterversary

More than a year ago, I was sitting with my Mom sketching an Eastern Island stone statue. We were, though, thousands of kilometers away from the Chilean island, right by the entrance of the Wellcome Gallery at the British Museum. Back then, I didn't know that [that drawing](/out-of-context) would be both the opener of the first of a series of A4-sized Moleskine sketchbooks and the first illustration to make it into my sketches newsletter in July 2, 2019. One year later, I find myself with fifty-three published sketches and stories. --- I won't lie: it wasn't easy. Some posts were fast to write, others required an intensive back-and-forth effort of writing and reviewing and writing and reviewing. Many times, I've talked about my daily routine and habits, and about the process I follow to make this newsletter happen. I've wondered if I was repeating myself too much, but ever since I read John Maeda's advice I don't worry too much about it. "Repetition, repetition, repetition. It works. It works. It works." In these pieces, I try to share things I learn that might inspire you as much as they inspired me, and tell stories with a personal tone without turning this newsletter into a personal diary. This is not a how-to guide, it's an art experiment and a literary exercise. Many of my journaling notes are for me to keep. Yet I'll continue revisiting my notes and using the dozens of unpublished drafts as a source of inspiration for future stories. --- I'd like to THANK YOU for pushing me to keep going in one way or another. On top of writing a story and drawing, scanning, and editing a sketch—every Tuesday—I was hesitant to translate every single story to Spanish. "If you don't translate [your stories] to Spanish I probably won't read them," a friend said. As a native Spanish speaker who's been reading in English for the past ten years, I've used the translation of these posts as a way to practice my Spanish writing skills. Some stories even made it into the Getting Simple podcast. (I produced an augmented audio version of [Stories Are The Answer](https://gettingsimple.com/stories-are-the-answer) including clips from Patrick Winston's lectures.) My girlfriend and my Mom have supported me heavily, providing feedback on most posts and helping with things that didn't sound quite right in Spanish. Friends reviewed drafts; brainstormed; shared ideas on the publication format and the web layout; and spotted typos or simply corrected my English. Many of you replied to my emails with insightful points of view. *Thanks.* --- Happy newsletterversary.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200408-panaderos-covid-virtual-birthdays-beas-family.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Achievements of 2020

Wash hands more than twenty times per day. Wear a face mask. Elbow-greet people. Deliver a talk from my living room. Play social distancing (two-meter mode) with strangers. Stay at home for 45 days in a row. Astronaut-grade package reception with elevator delivery. --- Those are my achievements. What are yours?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200319-panaderos-sketching-at-home-sketchbook-asics-levis-510-skinny.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Should you aim for quantity instead of quality?

Last week, [I asked you whether you were writing enough](/are-you-writing-enough), stating that it is more likely to get good ideas when you're generating lots of them. --- This mindset seems to go against Getting Simple's motto—*Do Less, Better*—but that's far from true. It's all about paying attention to your daily inputs and outputs. If, as I do, you like to do many different things, you can carefully choose what you want to spend your time on. What activities you want to engage in, what type of tools you want to use, what it is that you want to create, and what type of information you want to consume. You don't need to stick with a single project or a single activity. But you need to approach anything you do with focus. In my case (and as you might already know if you've been reading to previous sketches and [listening to the podcast](https://gettingsimple.com)) I've chosen to sketch, write, podcast, code, and record learning videos to share my knowledge and, hopefully, inspire others. There's room for different types of projects in which you can aim for quantity over quality to obtain more original outcomes. To provide a tangible example, think of a sketchbook. The more sketches you draw, the more chances there are that you'll produce good drawings. An easy rule of thumb for beginners is that one out of each ten ideas you generate will be good. (And this applies to sketches, stories, videos, or anything you make as well.) For instance, my skill as a writer or sketcher influences my ratio of good-to-bad stories or drawings. Of course, this ratio might be lower or higher depending on the field you are in and your level of expertise. Experts manage to bring that ratio down when they reach proficiency at whatever it is they do. Still, they know there will always be bad ideas among the ones they generate. The good thing is that, apart from lowering the good-to-bad ratio, skill and expertise let you judge your own ideas to better identify the good ones and discard the bad ones. --- I believe this mindset helps me produce more original ideas. Give it a try. Go for quantity. Learn to judge what's good and what's not so good. Then refine your best creations.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200608-panaderos-getting-simple-notebook.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Are you writing enough?

Picasso's artworks include more than 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, and 12,000 drawings, without mentioning prints, rugs, and tapestries, but only a tiny fraction of those are recognized today as great works of art. [^aywe-adam-grant-originals-01] Reading Adam Grant's latest book, *Originals*, I learned about the fact that many artists—such as Picasso, Beethoven, Mozart, or even Shakespeare—created hundreds (if not thousands) of artworks that have been forgotten. *** I write (at least) two hundred words every day. (That's my practice to get more fluent and to "show up" day after day.) The key is in not missing a single day—reinforcing my writing habit with an easy word count I can complete in a matter of minutes. When the night comes and I haven't written, this exercise inevitably turns into an obligation. I quickly pour ideas that might end up being developed at a later date. On the contrary, it's a joy to overpass your personal goal early in the morning with ample time to work on your drafts. Let's do the math. Two hundred words a day for thirty days makes 6,000 words per month. Six thousand words a month for twelve months makes 72,000 words per year. It's easy(er)—no matter what you write—to find something worth publishing among thousands and thousands of words (than it is to start from scratch). So, when daily writing, I go for quantity instead of quality. Selectively, I'll review and refine old drafts in an effort to publish something worth your time. And I truly hope I'm doing a good job. --- In Grant's words, "Many people fail to achieve originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection." In short: write, and write a lot. It's more likely to get good ideas when you're generating lots of them. [^aywe-adam-grant-originals-01]: Grant, Adam M., and Sheryl Sandberg. *[Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World](https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25614523-originals)*. New York, New York: Viking, 2016. Kindle version.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191221-muelle-uno-gaucho-grill-couple-talking-drinking.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Hello, June

When I came back to Spain from the US almost two years ago, I was surprised to see people wandering around even on Tuesday afternoons in the month of February. *It isn't high season. It isn't the weekend.* I thought to myself. *I guess it'd be this way for ever.* The streets were full of people, among them (some) locals and (many) foreigners, (most) of the latter ones tourists back them. Today, walking by the beach, in good company, feeling the water on my feet, I was surprised by the amount of foreigners that live in Málaga or spent the quarantine here, in *heaven.* I had never seen the coast as full of people walking, exercising, biking, and talking to their loved ones as these days, and we might not see it again unless we get ourselves into a similar pandemic (or, more likely, in another unexpected series of events we can't even imagine). Until then, I invite you to enjoy your current city. Get to know how you and other locals like to navigate the places around you. In Málaga, days keep getting longer and longer, and the fact that people can only sit outside at restaurants makes the city feel even more alive than when things were "normal." I feel lucky to be where I am. *Hello, June!*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191018-panaderos-view-from-kitchens-window.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What am I looking at?

Many Mondays, I find myself empty-handed—exactly as I did yesterday—browsing through my journals in search of a story I could share today. Back when I started in July 2019, I committed to post a short story every Tuesday, both in English and Spanish, to my sketches newsletter. I keep getting surprised by the amount of words I've written and the amount of things I've drawn over the past year. My hope is that I'll find the time to write more "deeply," preparing posts and sketches in advance and having more time to mull over my own thoughts and ideas. But hey, here it is. I have no real reason to keep going other than an agreement with myself, and the intention to keep improving my sketching, writing, and storytelling skills. *** Yesterday, I shared last week's sketch on [Hacker News](https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23290410). User `sktrdie` asked, *What am I looking at?* *Art, I think.* `maaark` replied. And I also think that's what all of this is about in the end: an art project. Last week's text was short (maybe lazy). My intention was generate a feeling of incompleteness. To leave room for interpretation. In John Maeda's words, *Perhaps this is the fundamental distinction between pure art and pure design. […] The best art makes your head spin with questions.* [^waila-laws-maeda] [^waila-laws-maeda]: Maeda, John. *[The Laws of Simplicity](https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/225111.The_Laws_of_Simplicity)*. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006. Kindle version.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190827-iceland-luisa-salles-mobile-hat.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## We just wanted free internet

And you gave us ads and all sorts of unsolicited connections.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190815-panaderos-kindle.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Feels like simplicity

I'm in the midst of reading *The Laws of Simplicity* by John Maeda. [^fls-laws-maeda] [^fls-laws-maeda]: Maeda, John. *[The Laws of Simplicity](https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/225111.The_Laws_of_Simplicity)*. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006. Kindle version. I love the tone of the book—sharp, on point, but also personal, funny, and entertaining—and the way he invites the reader, *I welcome you to this creative experience*. He made it, exactly, 100 pages. I wanted to share three out of his ten laws with you today. > Law 3. Time. *Savings in time feel like simplicity.* > Law 4. Learn. *Knowledge makes everything simpler.* > Law 7. Emotion. *More emotions are better than less.*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190830-iceland-manolo-sleeping.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Keeping memories

To write non-fiction, you want to know as much as you can about a given subject. Your knowledge might come from different sources—even your own memory—but relying on memory can be dangerous. Memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus (the part of your brain that acts as a daily memory cache) and only transferred into a long-term storage device (the neocortex) after a good night's sleep. In fact, the less quality sleep you get the harder it is to retain your memories in old age. [^lost-details-why-we-sleep] [^lost-details-why-we-sleep]: Walter, Matthew (2017). [Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_We_Sleep), Penguin Random, Kindle version. Often, my memories of certain events are limited to what's written in the page, and I repeatedly wish I had added just a bit more detail. That's why I prefer to write daily. I want to know more. As I forget more and more details of those future-proofed memories, each of my written words gains value. Today is a new opportunity to add more depth. How are you feeling? What's your plan for the day? Where are you writing from? What pen (or keyboard) are you using to write? What are you wearing? What worries you? How did you sleep today?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191026-rincon-dad-watching-tv.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Into the wild

The first bite to one of the dried apricots I bought at Market Basket teleported me back to the mountain bike trips my cousins and I would do with my father, early on Sunday morning. Ito, Nacho, and myself—and Dad leading the way—would go through various routes in Torre de Benagalbón, often using Santillán Stream as our starting point. The beginning was always familiar: we'd leave home and reach the river mouth within minutes, biking through "El Chalet" (what used to be the summer house of my uncle's family), passing through a small bridge below road N-340, and leaving the nuns' school behind. In our childhood, it wasn't long until the landscape turned into a *wild* route. We'd only spot little farmer settlements and other informal constructions along our way. Today, a big chunk of land has been built on. The route has become a small stream, often dry, along a set of housing units built over the past twenty years. Continuing with our journey, we'd bike along Añoreta's golf course (where my dad plays religiously every week[^itw-dad-plays]) and pass below the A-7 highway bridge. When biking through this area, we'll be on the look for golf balls. We knew locals would have done their round in the early morning, but balls were constantly being kicked out of the course and we'd always collect a few. *** ![Mountain bike route into the wild.](/img/u/sketch-image-into-the-wild-bikes-and-sandwich.jpg) {style="max-width:400px;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;"} ***
Our destination changed every weekend and we'd end up in different places, often making a stop and sitting on the floor to eat a sandwich.[^itw-dad-memories] It was my father who'd lead the way and decide which tracks to follow. I've never known how he'd manage to orient himself to reach all of those places. I guess you don't think about it when it's on someone else's plate to decide. Wherever it is that we went, those dried apricots (which we call *orejones* back home) were a constant. Both their taste and smell bring back memories of our bike trips across the streams of Torre de Benagalbón. Dad loves them. ![Dried apricots.](/img/u/sketch-image-into-the-wild-dried-apricots-512-10-colors-at-2500.png) [^itw-dad-plays]: Of course, golf has also been disrupted by COVID-19. [^itw-dad-memories]: I still keep digital photos of those trips, and that's probably why I better remember those moments.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-180428-cambridge-mit-killian-hall.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Stories are the answer

Early morning on December 20, 2016, I found my way into a huge sports field at MIT, plagued with evenly-spaced tables ready for an exam. Nervous, as if I were back to school, I was the first one to get there. Our professor would get there a bit later—that was Patrick Henry Winston.[^mit-winston-patrick] *** Three months earlier, on September 7, 2016, I would attend what was the first of a series of lectures of Winston's introductory course to artificial intelligence—6.034—and would sit in the first row of Huntington Hall[^mit-winston-huntington-hall], room 10-250, colloquially known as "Ten Two Fifty," located right below the Great Dome[^mit-winston-great-dome] of MIT. Some days, I'd arrive early and get a chance to talk to Patrick for a bit before class. *What's the most dangerous power tool you've ever used?* He asked me one day. *Silence.* I didn't know what to answer. *I thought an architect would have used power tools.* He followed. I was pleased to see he knew my name just a couple weeks into the course. In retrospect, I find most of my "tools" these days being virtual pieces of software. *** In one of those classes—as if it were a line from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's *Westworld* series (2016)—Winston emphasized the relevance of the following question: *Can you explain why you think so?* To Winston, whether a machine is able to answer questions of the type of *why* and *how* it reached a conclusion in a humanlike way was as important, or even more, as the conclusion or the answer itself. "Genesis supports steps toward story understanding," reads the headline of his draft paper with Dylan Holmes, titled *The Genesis Manifesto: Story Understanding and Human Intelligence*[^mit-winston-genesis-paper] as of December 13, 2016, barely ten days after the release of HBO's series first seasons' finale. "To understand what makes humans uniquely intelligent, we build computational models of how humans tell and understand stories."[^mit-winston-genesis-group] A system like *Genesis* is meant to be on top of all other technologies and make the system self-conscious. *Genesis* can understand stories, answer questions, and—unlike other narrow artificial intelligence systems[^mit-winston-narrow-ais]—reason and explain why it reaches its conclusions. Winston shared a fascinating (yet worrying) idea in class. *If you don't know how a program gets to a conclusion, you can't trust it. It's not possible to debug it.* As a matter of fact, we rarely know how machines work, but we still give away our trust for their convenience. *** Three years ago, on April 20, 2017, I met with Patrick to ask for his feedback on the project I was working on at the time—Suggestive Drawing[^mit-winston-suggestive-drawing]. He tested one of my first working prototypes, a drawing app running on an iPad with an Apple Pencil. Patrick sketched these two flowers. *** ![Patrick H. Winston free-hand flower sketches.](/img/u/sd-patrick-winston-170420-input.jpg) {style="width:50%;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;filter:brightness(0.99);max-width:300px"} Patrick Henry Winston's free-hand flower sketches. Timestamped at April 20, 2017, 15:28. {style="color:#777;font-size:0.7rem;width:50%;line-height:16px;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;max-width:300px"} *** A few seconds later, the system returned a prediction for each of them using a generative machine learning model that only knew about daisies. *** ![Patrick H. Winston Pix2Pix output of flower sketches.](/img/u/sd-patrick-winston-170420-output.jpg) {style="width:50%;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;max-width:300px"} Pix2Pix predictions using Patrick's flower sketches as input with a model trained to learn a mapping from line sketches of flowers to daisy flower photo textures. {style="color:#777;font-size:0.7rem;width:50%;line-height:16px;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;max-width:300px"} *** ![Patrick H. Winston Pix2Pix processed output of flower sketches.](/img/u/sd-patrick-winston-170420-output-processed.jpg) {style="width:50%;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;filter:brightness(0.99);max-width:300px"} Output processed with an alpha mask. {style="color:#777;font-size:0.7rem;width:50%;line-height:16px;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;max-width:300px"} *** *That's pretty cool!* Patrick said. We discussed the project for half an hour and I left his office at Stata Center. That was the last time I saw him. *** ![Patrick Henry Winston.](/img/u/sd-170421_web-patrick-henry-winston.png) {style="width:200px;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;"} ***
Patrick passed away on July 20, 2019. His [memorial](https://www.memoriesofpatrickwinston.com/resolution)[^mit-winston-memorial], held in October 2019, surfaces the fact that Patrick influenced many people's life in profound positive ways. Not only as a teacher or a mentor, but as someone who loved sharing the experience he acquired over years of teaching. I never had a chance to interview Winston for the podcast, but I'd have loved hearing more about his worldview. Luckily, he contributed a great amount with numerous online lectures, talks, and other learning resources. There's a sentence that Patrick said that will stick with me for the rest of my life. *Stories are the answer.* [^mit-winston-memorial]: On April 29, 2020, Patrick's colleagues, students, friends, and acquaintances were invited to join [PHWFest](https://www.memoriesofpatrickwinston.com), a gathering to share memories and experiences, an event that has been postponed due to the current COVID-19 situation in Boston. [^mit-winston-suggestive-drawing]: *[Suggestive Drawing Among Human and Artificial Intelligences](https://nono.ma/suggestive-drawing)* (May 2017) was my master's thesis at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in which I explore the role of machine learning in design or, more specifically, in drawing. [^mit-winston-patrick]: Patrick Henry Winston (1943-2019) was the Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I invite you to watch his *[Hello World, Hello MIT](https://people.csail.mit.edu/phw/video/NewCollegeTalk.mp4)* talk (2019) to learn more about his worldview and his contributions, and to [Watch his 6.034 lectures online](https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUl4u3cNGP63gFHB6xb-kVBiQHYe_4hSi). [^mit-winston-huntington-hall]: The [10-250 Lecture Hall](http://www.cavtocci.com/?portfolio=mit-10-250-lecture-hall) is one of the most popular meeting places in MIT. [^mit-winston-great-dome]: The day I sketched this view was the day I met [Pier Gustafson](https://gettingsimple.com/pier-gustafson) for the first time. He showed up biking across Killian Court, right in front of the building that was named after MIT's 10th president, [James Rhyne Killian Jr](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Rhyne_Killian). I often passed through this location when running along the Charles River. I had this sketch on the back-burner for a while now, and by chance I decided to prepare it for this Tuesday, exactly three years after the last time I met with Patrick. [^mit-winston-genesis-group]: Patrick Winston and his students formed [The Genesis Story Understanding Group](https://groups.csail.mit.edu/genesis/index.html). [^mit-winston-genesis-paper]: Winston, Patrick H. Holmes, Dylan. *[The Genesis Manifesto: Story Understanding and Human Intelligence](https://cbmm.mit.edu/sites/default/files/documents/manifesto.pdf)*. 2017. [^mit-winston-narrow-ais]: As described in [this article](https://blogs.nvidia.com/blog/2016/07/29/whats-difference-artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-deep-learning-ai/) in the NVIDIA blog (July 29, 2016), *narrow* artificial intelligences are "technologies that are able to perform specific tasks as well, or better than, we humans can."

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-160919-harvard-gsd-pan-michalatos-portrait.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The luxury of simplicity

Back in August 2018, Panagiotis Michalatos and I sat down at the back porch of his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to chat for a couple of hours. Pan, as people often call him, is one of the most intelligent persons I've ever met, and I was lucky enough to have him share his idiosyncratic worldview over a microphone with me.[^pan-minimalism-mic] [^pan-minimalism-mic]: If you listen to [Pan's episode](https://gettingsimple.com/panagiotis-michalatos), pay attention to the background sounds. You'll not only hear birds chirping and insect sounds coming and going as the night falls but golf irons hitting the ball, tree leaves shook by the wind, and buses passing. The way he lives and works, the clothes he wears, and the way he designs or codes, inspired me to think of one word: minimalism. Minimalism is the reduction of anything to its essential elements, stripping out the superfluous and bringing to light nuances that might otherwise ego unnoticed. The result of that reduction is what we often call *simple*. Paradoxically, simplifying any process, artifact, or concept, is complex. Minimalism and simplicity are hard. Our nomad predecessors would clutter a space and, after its use, would move somewhere else, start from scratch, and let nature clean up the mess. But we're stuck in one place. In our times, minimalism often implies getting rid of possessions and keeping only the things we use and value. Certainly, not something everyone can afford. As Pan told me on his [podcast episode](https://gettingsimple.com/panagiotis-michalatos), when you have too little, you want to hold on to anything that comes your way, because you can loose it immediately. "You need to have the luxury to choose to simplify your life."

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200326-panaderos-bea-exercising-post.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The subject keeps moving

When the subject keeps moving, it's hard to capture her face. You try to sketch fast, but sometimes there's too much movement, too quickly, and you can't capture the facial features that make someone be who they are. But you start getting used to it. You can learn the basic facial proportions to "complete the puzzle" when the subject moved (or is gone) and you only got a few elements on the page.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200229-cordoba-to-malaga-train-renfe.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## From a parallel universe

Events kept popping up on my phone throughout March. In that parallel universe, I would had a hectic month of March. Two weeks ago (on March 16, 2020) Daniel Natoli and I would have presented and screened [*Sisyphus*](https://gettingsimple.com/sisyphus) at Antonio Banderas' new theater as part of 2020 Málaga Film Festival. I would have delivered an Autodesk talk in Helsinki but I didn't fly. I would have talked at ALGOMAD Madrid but I didn't catch that train. I would hike Macchu Picchu next week but I won't board that plane. Yet, I'm lucky enough to be able to continue living a fairly similar lifestyle to how I've been living for the past year: I plug my laptop to a screen and code long hours, then connect with a remote team of developers in the afternoon; I sketch and write and podcast[^efapu-podcast-scott-mitchell] in the evening; then rinse and repeat. [^efapu-podcast-scott-mitchell]: Psst! I just released [Getting Simple's episode with Scott Mitchell](https://gettingsimple.com/scott-mitchell)—*Experimentation in the Arena*—in which Scott jumps in time to dissect his own experimentation life philosophy, his efforts to remove creative friction, and his worldview.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190528-panaderos-working-desk-computer-screen.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## News from the future

While I was taking part on an online architecture school review last week—with more than twenty students and review guests confined to their bedrooms and talking into a Zoom window through their webcams—Kyle Steinfeld mentioned how we, in Spain, were "in the future, five days ahead of us [in California]."[^nfff-drawn-together] [^nfff-drawn-together]: The work Kyle and his students are doing at Berkeley training machine learning models to generate architectural sketches is worth seeing. You can take a look at [Drawn, Together](http://blah.ksteinfe.com/200317/100d_midreview.html). None of us saw it coming. It was a foreign problem seen from the distance and read on a screen, which the entire world thought was an issue for Wuhan to deal with. Just a few weeks later there are more than 160 countries fighting against the virus.[^covid-19-gif-200323] [^covid-19-gif-200323]: Here's an animation of [how COVID-19 keeps ramping up](/img/u/post-news-from-the-future.gif). The amount of confirmed cases and the ratio of deaths to recoveries reported by each country depends on its testing strategy. I'd be curious to know which countries weren't added earlier to [the map](/img/u/post-news-from-the-future.jpg){target="_blank"} just because they took longer to start testing for the virus. We usually don't act until something affects us directly (may it be us as individuals, as family, as a country, or the world). It's the politicians in the end who dictate what we have to do—whether we need to stay at home or who should continue going to work or whether it's ok to go walk your dog or buy bread. All that's left for us is to applaud, complain, or share the meme of the moment, to laugh at how surreal the situation we're living is at the same time that many people still don't think these agreements apply to them. Stay home. We can do it! That's my rant.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190624_malaga-panaderos-our-new-mampara-bathroom.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Taking time to make decisions: Our new mampara

Eleven months after moving to Panaderos, on January 16, 2020, we were able to shower for the first time with our new *mampara* in place. (That's how we say "shower screen" here in Spain.) Alex and Lolo, from Bauhaus, installed it the day before. We had to wait twenty four hours for the silicone sealing to dry out before we could use it. Showering without splashing water out (and staying warm) was a joyous moment. A luxury we grew up with for around $600. But why did we wait for almost a year to have it installed if the installation took just one hour? We didn't know what we wanted when we first moved. We spent months evaluating different options to end up giving into an idea we didn't want to settle for initially—building an opaque, perpendicular extension to one of the existing bathroom walls which, after all, doesn't look that bad. *** *Farsighted* is a book about making decisions, about why it takes us so long to make them and practices to end up making the best possible choices in a world in which we won't ever know the correct answer, written by Steven Johnson. With experience, (some) decisions are faster. Others will always take long. And other won't ever be made. In my own experience, I've discover that what works for me is letting things sit over days, weeks, or even months, and let my mind evaluate the different possibilities. Still, no matter how long you take to make a decision, you won't ever know whether it was the right choice.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191109_apple-fruit-04-and-software-have-in-common.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What do apples and software have in common?

[Software, as fruit, rots.](/updates-are-available) If you leave it there for long enough it will go bad, and programs stop working. When the dependencies of a program and the environment in which it runs get updated, different pieces of code break. You need to re-write parts of it to make it compatible with the latest "breaking changes." Code maintenance is a labor of love—and even more when your software is open source as other programs might rely on it. The biggest platform to share and find open-source software is GitHub. The "stars" of a project are the code-equivalent to Instagram or Facebook likes, usually indicative of how likely a repository of code is to withstand the test of time, as they often represent not only the size of a project's community but how quickly code gets fixed when it breaks.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190526_greece-zakynthos-drive-to-korakonisi-mikela-aziz.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The windy road to Korakonisi

Mikela was holding the wheel. Aziz was her co-pilot. They drove her car to Zakynthos all the way from Athens. The Mediterranean sea was in front of us as we descended a windy road among bushes. We'd rented an AirBnb to stay in Drosia, the top-floor of a two-story house of the nicest Greek family. I still remember the joy I got when Aziz and Mikela showed up. I hand't seen them since our last trip to the snowy mountains of New England, where we went snowboarding and skiing with our *squad*. This time, far from Cambridge, we wore swimsuits and sunglasses. I left my rental car at the AirBnb and joined them in Mikela's car. As we approached the sea through a bumpy and windy road I started getting dizzy while trying to capture this scene. We finally arrived at Korakonisi's rocky beach, and set camp in front of the immense natural arch, which I recall climbing up to a little wooden hut with Captain Gabour and Giorgos later that day. Our only concern was to sunbathe, swim, climb, and chat. Who wouldn't go back there?

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200127_fight-paris-toronto-face-mask-sanjay.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## We are out of face masks

Four days before the Chinese New Year, Dr. Guan Yi went to Wuhan among billions of Chinese people on their way to celebrate the year of the Rat, but the reason for his trip was different.[^nyt-200124] The Chinese took 3 billion trips in a forty-day period surrounding January 25[^coronavirus-france-24], the Chinese New Year and, last time I checked, China had locked down five different cities amounting to twenty-something million people (which is half the population of Spain).[^coronavirus-cnn-live-dbb28e326d6cbd83bae222932be7d1df] *** A few days later, on January 27, Sanjay sat next to me on a flight from Paris to Toronto. Coming all the way from India to spend four weeks in Canada with his son, Sanjay was wearing a face mask for prevention, and I spotted two other people wearing face masks as I changed flights in Charles de Gaulle that same day. *** Coming back to Dr. Guan Yi, he traveled with his team to identify the germ that originated Coronavirus' outbreak[^nyt-200124]. They had successfully identified the Coronavirus that caused 2002–2003's SARS epidemic. This time, when Dr. Guan and his team arrived to the market where many infections had been traced back to, he found no trace of the virus. The government had disinfected it getting rid of any evidence. *** At the moment of this writing, there are seventy-six thousand confirmed cases[^COVID-19]. I wonder if there have been any previous viruses tracked so closely. Yet, only 0.004% of the reported deaths have occurred outside of China. China quickly ran out of face masks, and I gave up searching for face masks in Brooklyn. While the media does its job to keep us alert, rumors say that China has been playing down its numbers. I have no idea. What's true is that Coronavirus is (or has been) in your mind. It's not only a virus that spreads but viral news. [^nyt-200124]: At the moment of my visit to [Coronavirus Death Toll Climbs in China, and a Lockdown Widens](https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/world/asia/china-coronavirus.html) (2020) on *The New York Times*, the alarming headline said "25 people [had] died and more than 800 [had] been sickened by the mysterious illness." [^coronavirus-france-24]: [More Chinese cities shut down, New Year events cancelled as deadly virus spreads](https://www.france24.com/en/20200123-beijing-cancels-major-lunar-new-year-events-in-effort-to-contain-coronavirus-spread) (2020). *France 24*. [^coronavirus-cnn-live-dbb28e326d6cbd83bae222932be7d1df]: [CNN Live news](https://edition.cnn.com/asia/live-news/coronavirus-outbreak-hnk-intl-01-24-20/h_c43d502480f91875babacc06b679a3d5) (Jan 24, 2020). *CNN*. [^COVID-19]: You can [check the reported cases live](https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6). Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-209129_canada-toronto-the-fairmont-york-self-portrait.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Thirty

I was born on a day of rest—on a Sunday morning at 10:50 am. Today, I'm turning thirty years old. I've been alive for 10,957 days (1,565 weeks and 2 days) and, looking at it that way, it might as well make sense to celebrate my 11,000th day on April 1, 2020. Back then in 1990, when I was born, my sister was 1,224 days old. [^thirty-searching-time-spans-on-google] [^thirty-searching-time-spans-on-google]: As I used to do before on Wolfram Alpha, you can now Google time spans and get the amount of days, like, for instance, [days between 1990-02-18 and today](https://www.google.com/search?q=days+between+1990-02-18+and+today). *What would you tell your twenty-year-old self?* I wanted to ask myself this question today, as I often ask others on the [podcast](https://gettingsimple.com/podcast). Let's see what I came up with. - Friends and family are more important than anything else. - Side projects are as important (or even more) than school and work. They define who you really are and give meaning to your life. - Document everything as you do it (and write everyday). You'll love being able to look back at what you're doing today when you're older. It's hard to find meaning and purpose, and extremely easy to get caught on doing one thing after the other, spanning across years—if not decades—without asking yourself the real question, so I'll keep asking myself, day after day: *What do you want to be when you grow up?*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191224_table-croque-christmas-at-panaderos-banak-importa-maisons-du-monde-fibule-bleu.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## A chair and a table

I grew up sitting at the table to eat—often half-sitting with one knee, ready to flee to my computer or my toys. A year ago, right when we moved into our new place, we were slow to acquire new furniture. For a few days, maybe weeks, we'd do picnics in the living room, waiting for our table to arrive. We'd eat on top of a blanket. We'd eat on the floor. The picnics were fun. We then bought a table and four chairs. The picnic season was over. *** I like to test myself by relocating objects to a different place and paying attention to when the next time I want to use them is. I'd take things I don't use too often to my old bedroom at my parents house (mostly empty) or simply put the things I use daily inside of a closet at my house. After storing (or hiding) certain things—even for short periods of time—you can truly feel how [essential](https://gettingsimple.com/love-what-you-own-and-how-disasters-might-help) they are to the life you enjoy living, and experience alternative ways of living without them. Most of us have a table. But we rarely eat on the floor.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-200201_hand-sketching-with-molotov-pen-ways-of-talking.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Ways of talking

It's not *I don't have the time* but *This is not important enough for me.* It's not *I can't do this* but *I didn't sit down to try.* It's not *I wish I could do that* but *I've never tried to do that.*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191028_plane-agp-to-mad-monica-tony-sweden-legs-phone.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Everything is an ad

We love to think we're in control of what we think and how we think about it, and we are often convinced we can ignore ads. But our brain is easily fooled and can't avoid reading a short sentence or processing an image when put in front of us. In this short essay, I invite you to think differently about what happens in your brain when you're exposed to an ad—which, broadly speaking, can be anything from a TV commercial to a vague recommendation made by a friend. *** *Listen to Getting Simple.* Take this sentence, for instance. It's a command. It's a suggestion to listen to a podcast that I just put in your mind. Even if the Getting Simple podcast didn't exist your mind has to decide whether to listen to it or not. I learned of an experiment in *Thinking, Fast and Slow*[^everything-is-an-ad-adam-menges]—a book by Nobel Prize-winning Daniel Kahneman—in which participants lying in a brain scanner were shown a picture of the eyes of a terrified person for less than 2/100 of a second. Participants were not aware of the picture but their brain was. "One part of their brain evidently knew: the amygdala," says Kahneman. "Images of the brain showed an intense response of the amygdala to a threatening picture that the viewer did not recognize." [^everything-is-an-ad-thinking-fast-and-slow] The media—newspapers, radio, television, even a friend or your favorite blog—expose us to the latest news, trending topics, products, and brands which end up occupying space in our brain. Even when you're not paying attention (and ads don't trigger a purchase or a sign-up) the mere exposure slowly makes what you see and listen feel more familiar. "Familiarity breeds liking." Daniel Kahneman refers to this phenomenon as the *exposure effect*. "Words that you have seen before become easier to see again—you can identify them better than other words when they are shown very briefly or masked by noise, and you will be quicker (by a few hundredths of a second) to read them than to read other words." [^everything-is-an-ad-thinking-fast-and-slow] If you hadn't read *Getting Simple* before, you have now. And the phrase will be easier for your brain to process—and like—next time you read it. That's why Netflix and HBO keep showing you their logo (and distinctive sound) at the beginning of each show. After eight seasons of Game of Thrones, HBO's intro inevitably *sounds* familiar, and it is this familiarity that links the watching experience throughout HBO shows and episodes. If this happens to you as it does to me, that's the feeling you get when you start watching something on Netflix. It's foolish to believe you can simply ignore ads. Every mention and suggestion and recommendation put in front of you slightly alters your perception of whatever it is they're talking about. You might just not be aware of it. [^everything-is-an-ad-adam-menges]: I learned about this book from [Adam Menges](https://adammenges.com), and I can't recommend you to read it enough. [^everything-is-an-ad-thinking-fast-and-slow]: Kahneman, Daniel. *Thinking, Fast and Slow.* New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Kindle edition.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190528_portable-battery-power-bank.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Please charge soon

Ubiquitous internet and unlimited data plans got rid of any limitations for texting, calling, or browsing the internet. Speeds are fast and using all of your monthly gigabytes requires creative thinking. The gist is, you don't need to save data or call minutes for later use in the month. The scarce resource today is battery. Yes, new phones go for one or two days with a full charge but that doesn't last too long as the duration of lithium-powered batteries slowly fades away with time. That's what makes these _power bricks_ useful—a portable charger that can recharge your phone a couple times removing the need to save battery. Without it, a drain battery is an opportunity to refrain from using the phone to save battery for something else later in the day, or simply to not use your phone after its battery dies. The only resource you have left is time and—if you're not careful—your phone might drain it all as well.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191001_san-francisco-self-portrait-mission-st-marks.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## On authenticity

There's nothing like being authentic to gain people's trust. But how do you determine how much to uncover? For me, authenticity is all about learning who I am while sharing my worldview and the things I've learned that might be worth your time. Tips and tricks and ways of doing and understanding the world. From [how I write](https://gettingsimple.com/writing-habits) or [edit a podcast](https://youtu.be/1WA89gA29Iw) or [draw a tree](https://sketch.nono.ma/curiosity) to what I think about [electric scooters](https://gettingsimple.com/would-the-amish-ride-electric-scooters) and [rediscovering the past](https://gettingsimple.com/the-power-of-time-capsules-capturing-how-mundane-events-make-you-feel).

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190628_panaderos-bag-massimo-dutti-gift.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## It's all about the surprise

We used to think more about what to gift. A present involved creative thinking: knowing the other and learning about what they liked and cared about. The mall, the outlet, the online store, and the Google search make it easy to figure out what we want and where to buy it. The accessibility and convenience of ubiquitous technology and retail stores simplify how we gift today. But maybe, just maybe, it was that extra effort (that's now fading away) that made the exchange special, more humane. It's harder than ever to surprise you—and it's all about the surprise.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191230_panaderos-codorniu-raventos-cava-twelve-grapes.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Twelve grapes

In Spain, we have the tradition of eating twelve grapes in the first thirty-six seconds of the new year, with each grape corresponding to one of the upcoming months. This tradition—which has been adopted in other Spanish speaking countries—is believed to provide good luck for the year. No matter where we are, we'll eat our twelve grapes. The beginning of the year is one of the most important temporal landmarks—moments in which it's easier for us to start doing a new activity. *I'll quit smoking.* *I'll eat healthier.* *I'll exercise regularly.* You name it. Each person has its own fight. And, even though you can kickoff a new habit any day, any time, it's proven that the push of an important event, such as your birthday or the start of a new year or a week, will make it easier. As mentioned in _The Fresh Start Effect_—a paper published at University of Pennsylvania by Hengchen Dai, Katherine Milkman, and Jason Riis—"[T]he popularity of New Year's resolutions suggests that people are more likely to tackle their goals immediately following salient temporal landmarks." That is, we are more likely to achieve our personal goals when using the beginning of the week, month, year, or even a holiday or birthday as a kick-start. Temporal landmarks demarcate the passage of time and allow us to create mental accounting periods that relegate past imperfections to a previous period which, as a result, might motivate aspirational behaviors—"activities that help people achieve their wishes and personal goals." [^dai14] These [temporal landmarks](https://gettingsimple.com/whenever-resolutions-how-to-use-temporal-landmarks-to-pursue-your-goals)—be it the turn of the year, the beginning of a month, or your birthday—can provide new opportunities to start fresh and pursue your goals, by establishing timeframes that separate you from your past failures. [^dai15] You can set your own "temporal landmark" in advance and use it as a "fresh start" to improve different aspects of your life. [^dai14]: Dai, H., Milkman, K. L., & Riis, J. (2014). The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. Management Science, 60(10), 2563–2582. [^dai15]: Dai, H., Milkman, K. L., & Riis, J. (2015). Put Your Imperfections Behind You: Temporal Landmarks Spur Goal Initiation When They Signal New Beginnings. Psychological Science, 26(12), 1927–1936. --- Happy New Year. 🍾 Thank you for being there. _What are your goals for 2020?_

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191220_panaderos-christmas-socks-bea.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The slack myth

— _Hey, Sammy! Follow me._ Jack said. — _Where are we going?_ — _We're getting a new gadget that will cut the grass for us._ — _Oh! Will you be able to spend more time with me then?_ --- As the year comes to an end, I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope you get time to recharge before the beginning of 2020.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191216_malaga-panaderos-lonely-planet-iceland.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The manual and the guide

There's a subtle difference between the manual and the guide. The manual is meant to tell you how to use and assemble your new gadget—the very function of every single button; the place where every nut and bolt need to go. A hand-recorder, for instance, ships with a printed booklet—a manual—that contains detailed instructions on how to use it; LEGO blocks and IKEA furniture ship with meticulous step-by-step instructions on how each of the pieces fit together. Without these detailed instructions, we would probably end up with ingenious, original combinations of the parts, but we might not get to build the shelf or toy we bought at the store. Unless you're really familiar with hand recorders, it's unlikely you'll discover all of the capabilities your recorder is armed with without studying its manual. The guide, however, offers advice and guidance along a given process but doesn't provide detailed instructions. No enumerated steps to follow but recommendations and tips and insights to learn from. Guidebooks guide the tourist around a foreign country, introduce the newbie to a new activity, and educate the amateur with esoteric knowledge. It's great to follow the manual when the equation requires precision and accuracy. (You don't want your shelf to fall apart!) In your day to day, though, there's no need to be constrained by exact steps. --- *Are you following the steps in the manual or using the tips in the guide?*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190612_thermometer-36.4.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## A simple fever

Yesterday, my body temperature got up to 39.7 Celsius degrees. I was shivering with fever and felt like crap. We have all these plans we want to do, places we want to visit, and projects we want to work on. From Monday to Friday, work is imperative. Yet, a simple fever prevents you from going to work. The slightest sickness can render essential things expendable. I've spent many hours in bed over in the last two days, and finding the time to write this was challenging. But these are the days that make me appreciate the times in which I feel good even more, when I'm free to choose what to do instead of laying down in bed.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-170127_cambridge-outside-of-petsi-pies-meeting-pan.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Meeting at Petsi Pies

It was Friday, January 27, 2017. Geared up for the cold weather, I left [Clary St](/i-see-clary-st-from-my-window) biking towards Petsi Pies in Putnam Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was about to meet with Pan at 9 am to talk about my master's thesis. I was wearing a Columbia jacket, my Buff, thick gloves, thermal pants, and my helmet. It was between two or four celsius degrees and riding my biking made it feel a lot colder. I got to Petsi Pies twenty minutes early, locked my bike to the nearest tree with a U lock, and sat on the sidewalk. Sketchbook in hand and gloves out, I began sketching on my pocket Moleskine, portraying the house by which a few weeks later I would find a wild turkey walking freely—a common thing to see around Cambridge that you can see by searching _turkey cambridge massachusetts_ on [Google images](https://www.google.com/search?q=turkey+cambridge+massachusetts&tbm=isch) or [YouTube](https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=turkey+cambridge+massachusetts).

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191013_malaga-panaderos-wallet-airpods.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The right pocket

If I were to ask you where your keys are, would you know? What about your passport? And what about what's in your pockets right now? "A place for everything and everything in its place," says the old proverb.[^a-place-for-everything] Designating a place for each of your belongings and returning them to their assigned location after each use makes it easier to find anything in the future, but keeping everything organized isn't easy. As a first step, we can focus on designating a location for each of our frequently-used items. --- Carrying your phone in your pocket creates a shortcut. It's easier to take it out your pocket than it is to take it out of your backpack or purse. Each pickup will be easier and you'll use it more often. I reserve the small pocket of my jeans for my home keys (the pocket originally meant for men to keep their pocket [watches](/whats-the-time)); the left pocket for my phone; and the right pocket for my wallet and AirPods. It's automatic and I know where to find them. Placing the things you use the most within easy reach will make using them more comfortable. You can even make copies of some of these items to access them from multiple places. You won't buy two phones, but it's easy to make copies of your keys, for instance. That's why the digital shortcut is awesome; you can create copies of your files for free, spread your most valued content across devices and folders and the cloud, and share a copy with your friends and co-workers. --- _What's in your pocket?_ [^a-place-for-everything]: Learn more about the [origins and meaning](https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/14400.html) of this phrase.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190911_panaderos-work-desk-setup-monitor-microphone.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Who cares about your workflow?

I like to start working in the early morning with the minimum amount of items on my desk. A MacBook Air, a 4K monitor, and a wireless mouse. No matter how well I clean up my desk at the end of my workday, I'll start spreading things back on it when I start working next morning. The creative process is messy. You might sketch with your hands and prototype with your computer, copy-paste text and images, or note down what you need to do on a piece of paper. Files, sheets, and work tools end up scattered around your physical and virtual desktops. --- Part of our work will inevitably end up in the trash or archived on a folder. What's discarded is essential to get the work done and a potential source of future inspiration but not part of the finished piece. We need the quick-and-dirty as much as we need the refined, careful mockup. The [draft](https://gettingsimple.com/on-drafts) and the revision. The process of making is somewhat chaotic. Creativity is messy and there's little room for cleanliness, as it might add friction to our process. The focus should be on making. But we can save time later by organizing and cleaning up while we make. A systemized to store file versions so you don't have to find a place for them later; a trash can right next to your desk so you can trash scrap paper as you go. The deliverable—the *final final*—is, hopefully, always clear and pristine. You hide the crap and leave the final printout on the table by itself. I often do this at my desk, I reset. I take everything out except for my laptop, mouse, and monitor, and even though I'll need my charger eventually, I clear the cache and start from scratch. It's a simple way to remove visual distractions. --- But, really, _Who cares about your workflow?_ Well, it's mainly you, and perhaps a few others. We often overvalue how we did our work—it's where our efforts lie—but people want to see the shiny artifact. The ones who care about how you did it are the ones willing to replicate your creative process (and the uber-curious). For them, your workflow—the steps that brought you here—are useful and didactic, or simply an interesting thing to learn from.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191106_panaderos-casio-f-91w.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What's the time?

By about 3000 BC the Egyptians had already developed a calendar, and a water clock, the sand clock predecesor, was already in use around 1500 BC, probably to time guard duty watches, travel time, or other cultural events.[^balmer-79] Today, time is ubiquitous and highly synchronized throughout the world, and the instruments we use to measure, keep, and indicate time have evolved a lot.[^wikipedia-clock] We hang clocks in our walls and wear watches in our wrists and, with the appearance of digital devices, time turned into one more feature in our displays. We hardly ask each other the time anymore, as we simply reach into our pockets and tap our phone screen or look at the corner of our computer monitor. [^wikipedia-clock]: [Clock](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clock). Wikipedia. [^balmer-79]: R.T Balmer, [The invention of the sand clock](https://doi.org/10.1016/0160-9327(79)90100-5), Endeavour, Volume 3, Issue 3, 1979, Pages 118-122, ISSN 0160-9327. --- I still keep the watches I wore when I was a child as some sort of memory tokens; a blue and yellow Flik Flak, a Casio F-91W, and an infra-red remote control capable of _learning_ new commands, the Casio CMD-40. With my first Nokia phone, I somehow stopped wearing watches. In 2008, I got my first iPod touch and, in 2015, my first and only smartphone so far, an iPhone 6. I remember being happy about not having to rely on a hand watch to check the time. But these smart devices are capable of doing so much more than just check the time and, as it turns out, we end up heavily relying on them. A simple time check can turn into a sudden exposure to notifications prompting you to reply a message, watch a dumb meme, or simply reminding you of your next commitment. Useful but often distracting interactions. This is why, a few months ago, I decided to go back to wearing the classic Japanese watch I used to wear as a kid—the Casio F-91W—to avoid relying so much on my iPhone to check the time, set my morning alarm, or use a stopwatch. I could buy it on Amazon for 10,60 euros and have it on my hands in just a few days. A surprisingly cheap, comfortable, and [lazy purchase](/the-box-with-blue-tape) that makes me undermine its monetary value. --- Why am I telling you this? Because this _unitasker_ has probably saved me hundreds or thousands of phone pickups, and lots of time-sinking moments mindlessly using my phone. In an era of multitasking smartphones, purposefully relying on _unitasking_ devices—that can only do one thing, really well—can help you better focus on whatever it is you want to do. For instance, writing on a physical [notebook](/distorted-memories) or drawing on a [sketchbook](/the-sketchbook) (instead of using one more app) are easy ways to escape the digital world to focus on the task at stake. If you want to be more present, maybe finding the answer to _What's the time?_ or being able to sketch or note something down outside of your smartphone may be a good strategy. --- If there's something you do as well to temporarily escape the screen and better focus, reply to this email and tell me about it. I'd love to know how and why you do it. =)

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191021_panaderos-sketchbook-my-feet-la-termica.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The sketchbook

On the early morning of Sunday, April 7, 2019, Mom and I started a new sketchbook in London. Each sketchbook is unique. A set of pages bound to a specific time of your life, usually loaded with memories of where you brought it and when you sketched what's in there. A precious and irreplaceable object. Many times—and I've heard others say the same—I'm more afraid of loosing my laptop or my phone than I am of loosing my sketches. I do a good job backing my stuff up to the cloud, religiously scanning and editing my drawings, but the digital experience isn't quite the same. Feeling the texture of the paper with your fingers, examining the different color shades, and browsing through the pages with your hands make holding this hand-crafted artifacts a joy. --- It was between April 7 and July 10, 2019 (a span of ninety four days) when I sprinted through my first 60-page, A4, landscape Moleskine sketchbook, and I'm about to finish the second one. That Sunday morning of April, Mom and I were sitting in the Wellcome Gallery at the British Museum with our brand new sketchbook, portraying our [stolen friend](/out-of-context), whom you might already know from the first little story that kick-started this whole thing. Ever since, we carry this sketchbooks wherever we go, capturing our own journeys as our paths move away and come closer together.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190904_malaga-paper-bag-dunnes-stores.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Bring your own bag

"In the United States, food waste is estimated at thirty to forty percent of the food supply." [^usda] That's a lot. [^usda]: Approximately 60 billion kilograms and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. ([Read on USDA](https://web.archive.org/web/20190801213620/https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs)). A vast amount of goods are produced, packaged, and shipped all around the world for us to buy and consume locally. No matter how far and no matter the time of the year, you can probably get it, and a big chunk ends up being trashed without ever being used—how could we live without kiwis, right? Individual decisions—say, finding the nearest trash can (as opposed to dropping something on the floor) or re-using a plastic bag (instead of heading to the supermarket empty-handed)—are on you. _This is what I do._ Larger decisions—whether to ban plastic bags or how much carbon dioxide emissions are too much—are on your community, your city, your country, or even the world as a whole. _This is how we do._ --- I'm skeptic of the effectiveness of our decisions as consumers. We're at the end of a big chain of decisions and have been fooled into thinking we can change the world. Yes, "the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world [might be] the ones who do,"[^the-crazy-ones] but that requires involvement in large organizations as well, not a personal behavioral change. _Bring your own bag dot com_, for instance, proudly claims to have saved 12,500,000,000 plastic bags from landfill waste. They seem to have convinced millions of people and businesses to use their earth-friendly bags. [^the-crazy-ones]: Here's the original quote (apparently) by Rob Siltanen. “Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Even thought governments and large corporations determine what (and how) gets produced and where it's exported for its consumption, our decisions as individuals end up determining what companies want to sell and produce as well. The new trends we adopt as consumers seem to reinforce the kinds of goods that get produced to make a sale. Take, for instance, veganism. A global phenomena spreading quickly, I believe, thanks to the choice of organizations and so-called _influencers_ to promote it as a positive movement for the planet that, if adopted wisely, can be a healthy habit for yourself as well.[^veganism-diet] As a result of individual adoption vegan restaurants are spreading, and new companies are solely focusing on producing vegan food. As much as I can, I'll keep bringing my own bags to do groceries, but I'm not completely sure about the effects of such smalls acts at a time in which thousands of small rubber ducks ship daily from Asia to every single corner in the world. [^veganism-diet]: It isn't easy to go vegan without missing out on some proteins and nutrients your body needs and was getting somewhere else.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-191018_malaga-panaderos-moleskine-classic-notebook-muji-0.38-01.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Distorted memories

I like to re-visit how nervous or stressed or calm or impatient or curious or mistaken I was before a given event was about to happen. Maybe, I was nervous about meeting someone for the first time or interviewing a podcast guest. Maybe, I felt the struggle of doing something hard when I wasn't used to it, something that today come *naturally* to me today. Maybe, I was holding thoughts or opinions that turned out to be completely wrong afterwards. Our mind is skilled at altering [memories](https://sketch.nono.ma/its-all-fine) and experiences from the past. I find it rewarding to mull over journaling notes, from weeks, months, or even years ago, to encounter thoughts I couldn't recall anymore, simply because I managed to capture them on time. I love Laura Vanderkam's suggestion to be grateful every week at least for a few minutes. "Things that were once uncertain seem, in retrospect, to be inevitable. You can choose, however, to rekindle some of the joy you felt after winning that promotion or landing that record deal. Simply remind yourself of where you once were, and where you are now, and the gulf between them that’s as wide as the ocean blue."[^168-hours] [^168-hours]: [168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think](https://lauravanderkam.com/books/168-hours/). Laura Vanderkam. Penguin. 2011.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190905_panaderos-suitcase-delsey-to-tarragona.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## It's all fine

You are, once again, in that long line at the airport to get your boarding passes and drop your bag. Your luggage includes three items—a check-in suitcase, a carry-on, and a small backpack, maybe a purse—and now you're next in line. (To be honest, a little nervous.) Your bag is over the 23 kg limit, and it's your turn. Passport in hand, you go to the counter and are prompted to place your suitcase on the weight. The machine reads 24.5 kilos. _Overweight!_ You think to yourself. *It's all fine*—the lady smiles—wrapping a tag around your suitcase's handle and sending it in through the conveyor belt. _Here are your boarding passes. Have a safe flight!_

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-170202_cambridge-clary-st.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## I see Clary St from my window

*It snowed two days ago, the snow melted yesterday, and Cambridge is sunny today. With clear skies, temperatures go low.* *I had been learning Go programming all day and needed a break. My first thought was to go for a walk or sketch outside, but I didn't really felt like going outside in such cold weather, so I decided to draw the same house my mom had sketched six months before from my window. I didn't notice the amount of cables until I sketched them.* --- I wrote those words the morning of February 2, 2017, right before sketching this view from my desk. A year and a half before, in August 2015, I would arrive to our shared student apartment in 8 Clary St, Cambridge, Massachusetts. My room was a spacious *studio* originally meant to be our living room, one of the most special places I've lived in that became my home for the three winters to come. I probably spent thousands of hours meditating and starring out of my bow window, talking on the phone and working at my desk—a two-and-a-half-meter-long kitchen top from IKEA, finished in beech, sitting over two black table legs. Looking out the window, I've seen my girlfriend, family, and friends—including roommates and [podcast](https://gettingsimple.com/podcast) guests—get home; my bike locked to street signs; random passersby walking along Prospect St; and the white snow cover the streets in winter. --- I captured my room and a few other spaces in Cambridge the months preceding my departure in the form of 360-degree virtual reality panoramas that I revisit from time to time using a simple Google cardboard set. I keep surprising myself with the power of these virtual reality scenes—which include sound and imagery—to bring me back to Cambridge. If only for a second, I'm fooled into thinking I'm still there; biking from Clary street to Harvard and then to MIT, commuting to Boston Seaport, or simply hanging out with friends for dinner. Sweet memories. --- I'm not sure how many times I looked out that [window](https://gettingsimple.com/the-power-of-time-capsules-capturing-how-mundane-events-make-you-feel), but looking at these sketches sparks joy.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190509_malaga-my-blue-hat.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## My blue hat

In 2011, I found this blue hat in a thrift store in Raleigh, North Carolina. _Looks good!_ I thought to myself while trying it out in front of a mirror—I bought it for seven dollars. Even though I remember owning (and wearing) hats when young, I was not a big fan of hats during my teenage years, probably, because I had short hair and I don't like to wear hats when my hair is too short. It wasn't until I started letting my curls grow—and found this blue hat—that I started wearing them. --- "Tri State Tank West, Inc. Sacramento, CA," reads the cap. It's a Calhead style #92 made out of cotton and polyester in Taiwan by California Headwear (Calhead), 661 Rio St. Los Angeles, California, 90023.[^tri-state-tank] I searched the internet for references to California Headwear and their style 92 and found similar hats, also from Calhead, sold as vintage hats on sites like eBay. *Air Space America 88, Jack Daniels, Iowa Rose Bowl 1991, Ross for boss 1992, Chip, Dole Hawaii.* Then, googling *Tri-State Tank West*, I found two hats of the same exact design but different color—red and white—on sale on eBay, listed as *Vintage Tri State Tank West Sacramento California Baseball Hat Red Snapback Cap*. Their price? $41.41 and $51.97. --- Ever since I bought it, this has been _my hat_. I've wore it on sunny and cloudy days, not only while living in Raleigh but on trips around the world, including Australia, London, Spain, Greece, Cambridge, and many, many other places. (I also wore it in [this short film](https://vimeo.com/314293925) recorded in the desert of Almería.) Now, I have it here with me in San Francisco, California. After eight years, it's getting old. So it might about time to get a new one. [^tri-state-tank]: Tri-State Tank West, Inc. seems to be a truck tank company created back [in the 1980s](https://opencorporates.com/companies/us_ks/0697201). You can buy some of their [swag](https://www.google.com/search?q=%22tri-state+tank+west%22&tbm=isch) online—including [keyrings](https://nono.ma/img/u/190928_tri-state-tank-west-inc-keyring-03.jpg). California Headwear is the manufacturer that made the hats for them.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190623_malaga-panaderos-printer-brother-HL-L2375DW.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The zine

Russ Chauvenet was a chess champion and one of the founders of science fiction fandom. In October 1940, Russ himself coined the term _fanzine_ in one of the issues of his fanzine publication titled _Detours_.[^zine-wikipedia] A _zine_ is a self-published work of text and images to distribute original or appropriated content. In December 2018, I bought a monochrome, two-sided, A4 laser printer and a long-arm stapler to produce A5 zines in-house.[^zine-printer] You can print on regular paper or, as I'm in love with, on recycled 80-grams paper, which makes zines look like a paperback publication with the right typeface and layout. Thousands of years ago—well before the invention of the printing press—civilizations used stamps and presses to reproduce documents. Today, home printers, copy machines, and publishing software are widely available.[^zine-wikipedia] I print my writing drafts to review and edit away from the screen. The experience is closer to reading a physical book than to that of reading an article online. Gifting a physical booklet is a great way to share my writing instead of sending a digital version to somebody's busy inbox.[^fanzine-wikipedia] [^zine-printer]: I bought the simple and robust [ Brother HLL2375DW](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0784DKXYY/?tag=nonoma-20) printer and a [Rapesco 790](https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NLXGZ2/?tag=nonoma-20) stapler. [^zine-wikipedia]: [Zine](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zine) on Wikipedia. [^fanzine-wikipedia]: As a curiosity, in the 1920s, science fiction [magazines](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanzine) would publish readers' addresses in a column so readers would be able to exchange letters.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190515_malaga-limasa-trash-trucks.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Who collects your trash?

I've been living in a small apartment in downtown Málaga for the past seven months. Two people producing one or two bags of trash per week—mainly food packaging and spoiled items—bringing them to a nearby dumpster and starting over again. In May 15, 2019, two Limasa trucks were collecting trash at La Plaza de la Merced. The small vehicle brooms and sucks the garbage that people mindlessly drop on the floor and accumulates trash from street sweepers as well. While I was sketching, this little truck moved from right to left to release all of its trash into the bigger one, which also collects trash from street containers. It's become part of our daily lives. Trash cans, street sweepers, and a variety of vehicles keeping the streets clean for us and bringing our waste to landfills. We rarely stop and ask ourselves whether we should produce less trash and how to do it. Could our individual decisions make a change or do decisions need to be made by the cities and entities who supply us with goods? I'm a bit skeptical of the real impact our individual decisions as consumers have, but that's a story for another day.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190527_london-gatwick-airport-people-01.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Cheerleader effect

If you squint, people's faces start looking more and more alike, until they're all just blobs. That's a simple way to abstract a drawing. As a short-sighted person, this happens to me all the time, objects blur more and more the farther away they are. And I might be fooling myself, but I'm still at the edge of not needing to wear glasses on my day to day. I just use them while driving, watching movies, or attending to a presentation. *** Sketches of people wandering around the streets make some of the most attractive pages in my sketchbook—people stare at them, probably completing the missing parts in their minds, as the sketches are made out of rough strokes without much detail. What's calling people's attention? I believe it's the _cheerleader effect_, also known as the group attractiveness effect.[^cheerleader-effect] According to the research carried out in 2013 and 2015, the effect is the cognitive bias which makes us think that individuals are more attractive when they are in a group. I don't think any of those individual sketches of people are perfect or specially attractive on their own but being part of a page seems to make them more attractive. The [pattern](https://nono.ma/project/the-people-project)—not its individual elements—is easier to like. --- What do _you_ think? [^cheerleader-effect]: Apparently, the phrase was coined by Barney Stinson in an episode of *How I Met Your Mother* first aired in November 2008. ([Read on Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheerleader_effect).)

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190216_malaga-usk-puente-aurora-01.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Why are you sketching?

_Is there a drawing competition? Are you an architecture student? Why are you all sketching around here? Why are you doing this?_ People stop by to ask *what* and *why* we're sketching, and sometimes to simply watch us doing our thing. They first look at you and your drawing, then they look at what's in front of you, wondering what is _so important_ as to deserve being sketched. _Why are you doing this?_ It's a relaxing, joyful, and rewarding experience. A meditative moment in which your week finally slows down. There's no need to think about anything else: Just pay attention to what's in front of you and render it in your page. After deliberating *what* to draw, the beginning of a sketch—the blank page—can indeed be stressful. Why, then, would you put yourself in such a situation? Well, you start loving the challenge, a challenge that requires your effort and concentration and pushes you to get a tiny bit better every day. Once the drawing is laid out on the page you can continue adding detail and shading and coloring mindlessly, without too much thinking, and feeling a rewarding sense of joy as your sketch gets closer and closer to a finished drawing. *** *Is there a drawing competition?* Not really. *Are you an architecture student?* This is a funny one that I'll try to cover in a future post. *Why are you all sketching around here?* Frequently, it's just me by myself (or with Mom). But we also meet with the *Urban Sketchers* group from time to time to sketch a specific place or building altogether. *** I'm truthful to the *Urban Sketchers* [manifesto](http://www.urbansketchers.org/p/our-manifesto.html): sketching on location and capturing what I see from direct observation, using my drawings as a story-telling medium.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190315_malaga-mercado-atarazanas.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Pedro & Isa's Butcher Shop

As soon as I stopped by his butcher stand, Pedro hooked me. Just one minute away from home, I was wondering around Atarazanas Market on a Monday morning for a quick disconnection from the screen when I discovered _Pedro & Isa_'s modest butcher shop at stall 166–167. As I stared at their home-made burgers, Pedro offered to prepare whatever burger mix and weight I wanted. I ended up buying three two-hundred-gram burgers: Chicken with spinach; beef with goose foie; and beef cheek with onion. They tasted awesome. As I handed Pedro 6.50 euros, he mesmerized me with his kind marketing copy: _You call us. You choose what, how, when, and how much you want. And I prepare it for you. I do this for restaurants all the time._ A fully customized service just one minute away from home. As every other Monday, the odds were in Pedro's favor. All fish stands close on Mondays, so you either buy fruit, vegetables, or meat. But no fish. And this is probably why I paid attention to his burgers that morning.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190504_malaga-panaderos-measure-tape.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## What can you measure?

The length of your table. Time. Your age and weight and height. The money you have in the bank. The number of tee shirts you own. Certain things are easy to measure. Grab a ruler or a tape measure. A clock. A calendar. A weight. Access your bank account. Take a look at your wardrobe. You got it: the exact number, the precise answer. Other things, however, are not so easy to measure; *How happy are you with your current job? How are your relationships with the people around you? Is the food you are eating making you healthier? How are your current habits contributing to your well-being?* Even thought researchers try really hard to plot abstract aspects of our quotidian lives on tables and charts, the truth is, it's weird to wrap our head around measuring things like happiness, well-being, enjoyment, love, or even mood. You can't reduce these feelings to distances, dates, durations, or numbers. *** In some cases, however, conclusions about happiness or well-being can be extracted by studying the habitual patterns of individuals. Take, for instance, a research study developed at University of Warwick, in the UK, by Caroline Meyer and her team, in which participants noted down their two main activities every ten minutes during a 24-hour period on a diary, along with where and who they were with, whether they were using a digital device (smartphone, tablet, or computer), and a rating of their enjoyment of each activity, on a scale of 1 to 7.[^measures-wellbeing-paper] "Commuting to and from work can constitute a significant proportion of a person's day and can have a considerable impact on one's well being," the researchers conclude in their study on *workforce commuting and subjective well-being*. "Commutes using passive modes of transport (e.g., car, train) were found to be the least enjoyable activities carried out in the day. Commuting using active modes of transport (e.g., cycle, walk) was also amongst the least enjoyable activities, although enjoyment of active commuting was significantly higher than that of passive commuting." This study compared *experienced well-being* across different activities, and how commuting or not affects the overall, subjective sense of enjoyment of the rest of daily activities. (And, even though commuting was amongst the activities we enjoy the least, it seems to have little impact on how much we enjoy the rest of activities in which we partake.) *** As research shows, you can identify metrics that, in one way or another, encode subjective aspects of your life, and compare how much better today was than yesterday. Write down what you did and how much better (or worse) it made you feel. Then repeat what makes you happy, what helps you relax and be at peace with yourself, and avoid what stresses you out, what makes you waste your time, or what makes you sad. You won't get an exact number. But learning about yourself—even in a subjective, fuzzy way—might be good enough to reinforce the habits that end up making you, if only, a tiny bit happier. [^measures-wellbeing-paper]: Adam, Zakiyya & Walasek, Lukasz & Meyer, Caroline. (2018). [*Workforce Commuting and Subjective Well-Being*](https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tbs.2018.08.006 ). Travel Behaviour and Society. 13. 183-196.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190718-malaga-panaderos-amazon-box.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The box with blue tape

*Click*. It's made out of cardboard. *Click*. It's sealed with blue tape. *Click*. There are 3 items in your cart. *Click*. Your order has been placed. *** Amazon is making us lazy. Set a default delivery address and credit card on file, and you can place an order with *one click*. With more than 600,000 employees, Amazon has crafted an online experience so convenient as to become the standard method to buy virtually anything for many people all over the world. You might receive your package faster than they initially said, and returning what you bought has never been easier. Without shipping costs, the thrill of going to the store to buy the things you love rapidly fades away, replaced by a virtual, addictive shopping experience while wearing your best pajamas. *** *Ding*. The bell rings. *You've got an Amazon package.*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190127-madrid-iberia-prensa-espanola-thats-my-seat.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## That's my seat

"Hey, I think that's my seat. I'm 5D." "Hmm, I think this is my seat," she replied. "Look, my ticket says 5D." *** Apart from helping each other place heavy suitcases in the overhead compartment, there's another reason why strangers tend to talk when riding the AVE — the high-speed rail system of Spain. At the entrance between each two wagons, a flashing number signals the number of the wagon to its left and to its right. (At the beginning of wagon twelve, for instance, the label flashes both 011 and 012, intermittently.) Depending on when you arrive at that entrance, the flashing label might say eleven or twelve, and you may enter the train before seeing the other number flash, assuming you entered the wagon in your passage. I enter the wagon. Then take a seat. Thinking I'm seating in the right place, another passenger suggests that that's her seat, asking me to move. Her passage — as does mine — says 5D. Someone, obviously, is sitting in the wrong wagon. The numbering system is ambiguous. Its ambiguity creates an interesting situation: Two people think they're right, but one of them has to be wrong. (Unless the rail company sold the same seat twice.) These ambiguities make us think we're *both* right when we're obviously not. In the train, there's an easy way to check who's right — verifying the wagon you're in. But in many other situations, we find ourselves arguing about topics where no universal truth can tell us who's right or wrong. It's good to keep this in mind when you (or someone else) thinks they are right. Listen to what the other has to say. Think, even if only for a second, that your assumptions could be wrong. Your seat is right. You might just not be in the right wagon.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190508-malaga-la-farola-color.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## The warm-up

*Sketchbook and pen in hand in front of a blank page.* *Sitting on the floor—slightly nervous.* *Ready to start the first sketch of the day.* *** I tend to study the perspective, proportions, and the relations between the objects in front of me with a swift analytic drawing. This analytic exercise is meant to be rough and quick, a loose approximation to something I want to sketch. In theory, it's a draft and not the finished thing, so I don't have to worry about it being perfect. There's some sort of freedom I don't usually get when trying to do a finished drawing that I get when I know a drawing "doesn't count." It's just a warm-up. One of these warm-up drawings preceded my sketch of [La Farola](/time-place-and-people), but this time, as often occurs, I ended up doing a full sketch over what was meant to be a simple study. Here, I played with my watercolors in a way I'm often *scared* of. *** *The warm-up is done.* *Pressure fades away.* *Ready for the next page.*

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190531_malaga-enrique-garcia-herrera-tree-erythrina-caffra.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Curiosity

Once again, a simple sketch made me wonder about something I didn't know before: the species of tree I had in front of me and the name of the square I was sitting in. Just a couple minutes away from home, I was sketching in Plaza Enrique García-Herrera (a square better known for being "the square above Camas St's parking," in Málaga) under a few trees that weakly attempt to protect passersby from the sun. Their scientific name? *Erythrina*—a species of tree of the rosebush family, commonly known as coast coral tree or African coral tree, which flowers into shades of warm red and has thorns all over its trunk. Erythrina (a term that refers to dozens of tree variations) comes from the Greek word for red—*erythros*—and refers to the red flowers of the most common types. Even thought I thought this was an *Erythrina Caffra* tree, I'm not sure anymore. *** Curiosity is a choice. And I love how obsessing about the details of something as mundane (and often ignored) as a tree or a city square can get you started to talk and learn about *anything*.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190603_malaga-panaderos-sliced-bread.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Health or convenience?

Last winter, Bea attended a talk by a nutritionist at the Dance Conservatory in Málaga. That's how I learned that *healthy* bread is made out of four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. You mix them, get a dough, and them bake them. It's simple and authentic. What's the problem? It tastes best right after you make it. Warm, soft inside, and maybe crunchy on the outside. Then it can only get worse. Even though some ingredients (say, cereals) might make bread better for some aspects of your health, the truth is that extra ingredients often make it more convenient but unhealthier. Last more; be softer; crunchier; tastier; more colorful; or even give it a nice smell. All of these properties make it attractive, convenient, maybe durable, but they are unlikely to make it healthier. Listening to the *#realfood* movement? The less ingredients the better. From the oven in your neighborhood (or from your own oven) to your table. Most importantly, you have to buy it and eat it today. Unless you've been living under a rock, you might already know that this applies to most types of food. The fresher and less processed the better; but will go bad earlier. *** Convenience always has a price.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190508-malaga-la-farola.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Time, place, and people

We had been sketching lighthouses before[^farola-we]: more than five thousand kilometers away from home[^farola-malaga-to-scarborough], along the coast of Maine. But we had never sketched La Farola together, our hometown's lighthouse, barely a ten-minute walk from where I grew up. *** There are plenty of things to sketch around us, all the time. Places and buildings and people and artifacts to stop by. To stare and study carefully. Things to look with joy. But we rarely do. What's far and different—the exotic—prompts us to take our phones out of our pocket to shoot and share more often than what's around us everyday. Not what's close by. But the distant and, in some way, disconnected from our own world. Coming back *home* from the US made me look at my city differently. Now in Málaga, I look at what surrounds me, at the mundane, at the little things I've always given for granted. I seat in front of them and *picture* them in my sketchbook. *** In some way, you can compare sketching to taking an Instagram photo for thirty or sixty minutes. With so much time to think about what I'm doing, each capture creates a strong connection to *when*, *where*, and with *whom* I was sketching; that's why I browse through them with nostalgia and joy. [^farola-malaga-to-scarborough]: According to Wolfram Alpha, Málaga, Spain, and Scarborough, Maine, are [5519 kilometers](https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=distance+from+malaga,+spain+to+Scarborough+Town,+ME,+USA) apart. [^farola-we]: *We* as in [Mom](https://lourdes.ac) and I.

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![](https://nono.imgix.net/img/u/sketch-190419_london-british-museum-hoa-hokakanaia.jpg?ixlib=php-3.3.1)

## Out of context

Surrounded by tourists in the Wellcome Gallery at the British Museum, sits this stolen Basalt stone statue, around 13,638 kilometers away from its original home in *Rapa Nui*[^ooc-london-to-easter-island]—a Chilean island also known as Easter Island—where it was taken by the British around one hundred and fifty years ago. This *moai* figure, labeled as *Hoa Hakananai'a* ("hidden or stolen friend"), is said to be "one of the most spiritually important statues of the Chilean island's stone monoliths."[^the-guardian-easter-island] And the Rapa Nui want to bring it back home. I kept wondering *who* decided to bring this huge piece of carved stone to London, any *why*. According to the British Museum's website, the figure was "collected" by an expedition to Rapa Nui commanded by captain Powell in 1868 and given to Queen Victoria, who then gifted it to the British Museum.[^ooc-british-museum] What do you think? Will our *stolen friend* go back home? [^ooc-london-to-easter-island]: [Easter Island and London are 13,638 kilometers apart](https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=distance+from+easter+island+to+london). Wolfram Alpha. [^the-guardian-easter-island]: [Easter Island governor begs British Museum to return Moai: 'You have our soul'](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/20/easter-island-british-museum-return-moai-statue). The Guardian. 2018. [^ooc-british-museum]: [Hoa Hakananai'a](https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=512302&partId=1). British Museum.

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