Can I talk to myself?

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I am fascinated by Natural Language Processing.

The idea of a computer being able to understand and respond to text as humans do is incredibly interesting. Since I had my first personal computer, I have had this interest. 

I think it comes from the first adventure games I played on my ZX Spectrum. It was The Hobbit. I loved that game. It was like magic to me. I could write sentences on a keyboard, and the computer responded accordingly. 

Natural Language Processing has evolved in incredible and unpredictable ways.

Just think about the power of GPT-3 to have an idea of where we are today. GPT-3 is publicly available, and I guess there are much more advanced models available and not yet been disclosed to the general public.

Recently, I was fantasizing about building a chatbot—no big deal. There are plenty of services and libraries that can help you do that.

I was thinking about writing a bot that acts just like me—a digital self.

I want to train the model with:

– All of the e-mail messages I have written over time. I never deleted my personal and professional e-mail messages. 

– All the chats on Telegram, WhatsApp, Signal, SMS, etc.

– All the documents I have written and archived.

– All my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog posts.

That would be a large amount of data to train a model with. Not as massive as the material the current models have been trained with, though.

I want to check whether the bot would speak as I do or not.

It seems I have a new personal project to work on, and I think it will not be easy. 

There are so many different sources of data. I could download some of that data bulk from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google and then process it to normalize it. Extracting the data from instant messaging applications is going to be more difficult. Documents stored locally, on my external hard drives, and in the cloud will be relatively easy. 

I think I will have to find a way to automate this process since new data will be coming in every day. This is a big ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) process repeated repeatedly, ingesting new data when available.

The next step is training the model. I don’t know anything about this, and I will need to study to get a grip. This is probably the most exciting part of the project.

Anyway, I think this may be interesting to put my hands on something I always liked but never actually used from a programming perspective.

I am not sure I would love talking to myself, but I would like to try it.

Being able to answer the question, “Can I talk to myself?” is quite exciting. Yes, I do not need much to get excited about programming.

A classic turntable, and why I am not getting one

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I have Sonos speakers in each room. Only the two bathrooms do not have them. I love them. Even if, in the past, I have been something like a purist audiophile, I am happy with what I can get from them. 

The quality is good enough for me, and my hearing worsens over time.

Since when I installed them, I thought that sooner or later, I would have treated myself to a classic turntable. In the last four years, that never happened.

I found that Victrola has a turntable that can connect directly to a Sonos speaker without needing additional hardware.

The 799 dollars target price is not low, but it is not much if you compare it with the costs of high-end turntables available on the market.

I think that five years ago, I would have already pressed the buy button on the Victrola website. That is not the case anymore.

First, 800 dollars is a lot of money for something I would make marginal use of.

Second, I gave all of my vinyl when I married. I also sold my Anniversary Sportster at the time. I know, two big mistakes. This means I would have to repurchase everything—a big no.

Third, I think the solution would make me miss my old McIntosh amplifier and custom build speakers. This is the biggest reason I haven’t bought a turntable so far. It would never be as it was in the past or, better, it will never be as my brain remembers it was. 

I would feel it like a betrayal.

I am convinced that some things have to stay in the past as memories.

I think a classic turntable may be a good technology to have in my house. I would love the form factor and the fact that it may bring me back to the past, where things were, somehow, easier. At the same time, it will be marginal technology that I would not use as often as I would like. 

I define marginal technology as those things that have an appeal to be owned but that is doomed to be covered with dust in the long run. I have banned marginal technology from my daily life due to the pandemic we are still in—more attention to what I already have and strict screening of what I buy. 

I picked up the wrong Kindle

Photo by Gleyvison Anselmo on Unsplash

My preferred Kindle reader was the Kindle Oasis. I think I bought it while on a trip to San Francisco. At the time, I thought it was the best reader I could get.

I used it for years. One morning I woke up and I left it on my bedside table. Buzz, the dog, just arrived home and was a few months old. I left my bedroom door open, and that was my mistake.

Usually, Buzz behaves like my shadow. He is never more than a few meters from where I am, which is why I was surprised when I didn’t see him in the studio while working. 

Something was happening.

I searched for him around the house and found him in the bedroom. He was sitting on the bed, something he was not allowed to do, and he was happily chewing my Kindle Oasis.

First, I was worried about the LiIon battery being damaged. As you know, those batteries do not like being exposed to any water. I was concerned Buzz could get hurt by flames and vapors.

Second, I was left with a nonworking Kindle. No reprimand on Buzz. He was just a puppy trying to have fun. That was one of the few episodes where Buzz destroyed something in the house.

I am a heavy Kindle user, and I needed a replacement. I went to the Amazon website to order a new Kindle Oasis. They were all out of stock, and there was no availability date. 

I ended up ordering a Kindle Paperwhite. It was not my first choice, but it was the only one available for after-day delivery.

When I started using it, I found it was much more comfortable than the Kindle Oasis. The battery on the Oasis is mainly on the side, and the balance is not perfect, at least to me. The battery life of the Paperwhite was significantly higher than the Oasis. Weeks instead of days.

What started as a second choice ended up being the best choice. 

And this is the reason why I am trying to understand why the Oasis was my first choice. 

I just want to end a contract

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Recently I had to close a contract with my Internet Service Provider. I don’t live anymore in that house, and they decided to switch to another operator.

Closing the contract has been a mess. It is impossible even if they tell you that you can do that online or with an operator. At least, I have not been able to.

I had to go with the standard snail mail in Italy we call “Posta Raccomandata.” It is the easiest way to ensure that a letter will be delivered to the intended recipient. This is funny enough. The postal service should dispatch mail to the intended recipient as the core of their service. This may be another exciting post for the future.

I had two options to send that letter: go to the local post office or use an online service. I opted for the latter. 

The letter was delivered, and my contract was terminated.

I then received an email message that told me I would be contacted by an operator to “listen to my suggestions and make the verifications needed to close the contract.”

Why do you need to speak to me? Is it just retention, or do you only want more money from me to close the contract?

In 2022 I do not understand why i can’t leave a service without any hassle. I can signup to every service in less than five minutes, and it always take ages to leave.

This is simply wrong.

Needless to say I will never answer a call from them.

Automations on my Mac

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I write my blog posts on Obsidian before publishing them. It’s a way to safely store them on my computer before sending them out to the outer world. I love the Obsidian full-screen editor and its Zen mode. It lets me focus on my writing without distractions. It is fast and effective. Since I do not spend more than five to ten minutes writing my posts, this is a plus I can’t live without.

When it’s about time to publish the post, I head to unsplash.com to find a suitable hero image.

I open my blog page, LinkedIn, and Medium to publish my writing.

I add the image and the credits. I cut and paste the content from Obsidian on every single page I have opened.

I am now ready to push the publish button on three platforms.

It is always the same thing. It never changes.

This final operation requires four to six minutes, depending on the number of links I have to fix on the post. I could automate it.

The tools I need are available and free of charge for most of them.

– Apple AppleScript: AppleScript is a geek tool that is not user-friendly. Nevertheless, it is mighty when you master it. It comes with macOS, but most people do not even know it exists.

– Shortcuts: Shortcuts is a recent addition to the Apple arsenal. It is a user-friendly version of AppleScript, even if it is less powerful.

– Alfred Workflows: Alfred is not free, but it is extremely powerful. I use it to replace the standard Spotlight functionality on my computer. Workflows will let you do wonders.

Combining these three tools allows you to automate everything, even the most complex tasks.

Here is an example. I can automatically grab my Google Calendar events and place them on my Harvest timesheet. I can launch all of the Sketchin business dashboards with a couple of keystrokes. I can talk with my home automation system without opening the web front end.

Unfortunately, these features are not easy to master. You need to be a sort of geek to put things together in the right way.

It’s a pity. Being able to let the end user take advantage of available technology to save time should be a must.

Why I write

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Sometimes I question why I write. The next question is why I share most of what I write.

There may be different reasons for writing and posting.

Personal branding. You publish online what you write because you want to position yourself as a subject matter expert. Nothing wrong with that. I don’t feel like a big fan of personal branding. I am pretty happy with my positioning right now, assuming I have a position. I also think that personal branding may turn into a sort of cage. You are forced to write on the same subject repeatedly if you don’t want to lose your followers. No, I am not writing for personal branding.

Money. It is legitimate to write for may. There are hundreds of writers on Medium that pay their bills and more with writing. As you may have noticed, there are no ads on Corrente Debole. As I wrote for personal branding, you need to be consistent with your writing to make money on Medium or any other online publication. My revenues on Medium barely pay the premium subscription.

I want to write whatever comes to my mind—Tech stuff, personal stuff, stories, etc. 

Show off. You may want to write to show off how good you are. Even if I constantly fight my overflowing ego, I am not writing to show off.

I could go on forever.

I write because I like it and want to share my thoughts. Sharing is caring, said someone, and I still think it’s true.

Writing is also a sort of introspection, and it helps me clear my mind on the subject I am writing about. We can call it a sort of therapy if you will.

At the very same time, I love telling stories. I genuinely hope that someone may find what I find inspiring or, at least, helpful.

I am always cautious about what I write and share. Falling into the trap of giving advice is a considerable risk.

As Buz Luhrmann sang: 

Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it 

Advice is a form of nostalgia; dispensing it is a way of fishing the past 

From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts 

And recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Book notes

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When I read a book, I write notes on the side of the pages, and I usually highlight those passages that I find interesting with a 2B pencil. Each time I write a note or highlight a quote, I write the page number at the end of the book. I can easily find what I wrote or what I highlighted when I look at the book at a later time. When I finish the book, I copy notes and passages on my current paper notebook.

Things have become easier with the Kindle. I can automatically sync with my Obsidian note with the Kindle Highlights plugin.

From time to time, I go back to those and start rereading them. 

Some notes end up in posts, and others turn into personal projects. Most of them remind me of what I found interesting when I read the book.

As I always said, some books are good for you at a particular point time. Something that you find exciting today may not be the same in the following years. 

This also happens with my notes and highlights. Sometimes, I ask why I did write those words or why I highlighted a specific passage. Why the hell did I find this sentence worth highlighting?

The answer is quite simple. Your situation and perception of the world surrounding you change over time. And with that perception, the way you perceive things changes.

Those notes are significant and have a meaning at that specific time. 

Time goes by, and they lose their original value. They represent a moment in your life. A moment that is worth remembering over time.

Microsoft Teams and the authentication tokens

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I have to admit that I have a hate relationship with Microsoft Teams. At the end of the day, it works like most other similar tools. As I previously wrote, it takes ages to load on my MacBook Air M1. I always launch it five minutes before any conference call to give it the time to launch properly and be on time.

I also hate the fact that it doesn’t like virtual cameras too much, even if there is a solution to solve that problem.

Microsoft applications on the Mac have always been sub-par compared to their equivalent on Windows. Excel, to name one. From a business perspective, I think it may make sense. I am sure that the Mac team is much smaller than the Windows team in Microsoft.

I was a little bit surprised when I read yesterday that Teams stores authentication tokens in plain text on the machine where it is installed. This is not happening only on the Mac platform, but also in Windows and Linux.

Honestly I don’t know why the Microsoft engineers were considering this as a good idea. I opened my terminal and looked for those credentials on my Mac. What I read was true. The tokens were stored in plain text at an unprivileged user level.

Quite funny.

Vectra is the company that found the issues and this is what they say about it: “This enables attackers to modify SharePoint files, Outlook mail and calendars, and Teams chat files,” Vectra security architect Connor Peoples wrote. “Even more damaging, attackers can tamper with legitimate communications within an organization by selectively destroying, exfiltrating, or engaging in targeted phishing attacks.”

Vectra notified Microsoft about the issue and this is their reply:

“does not meet our bar for immediate servicing as it requires an attacker to first gain access to a target network,”

This is an interesting answer, and I am very surprised.

Almost ten years

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While I was writing my daily post a few days ago, I realized that in a few weeks, I would celebrate my tenth anniversary with Sketchin. My first day in the studio was November 19th.

I think that at the time, we were something like 12 people or so.

I remember that I had a lot of conversations with Luca before joining the studio. I was coming from a disastrous experience with a design studio, and I was reluctant to accept the offer.

He told me about his dream, and I found him highly passionate and sincere in what he was speaking. Ten years of work together have demonstrated that he was not lying and was not trying to lure me with bullshit.

After our last lunch, I went home and took the children to the park. I spent the entire afternoon laughing and playing with them. I went to bed, but I was not able to sleep. I had to make a decision.

Around 1 am, I made up my mind. I wanted to join Sketchin.

I was sold a dream, and that dream has become chiefly a reality. 

No regrets at all.

It is worth trying to understand why I decided to stay with this company for such a long time:

  • The first and most significant reason is the dream that Luca sold me. “I want to build the best place in the world where to practice design.” I think we have always worked towards this direction. Are we there? No, we are not, and we will probably never get there. Nevertheless, the trip is still fascinating, and I work daily to make that dream a reality.
  • I am surrounded by the most talented and passionate people I have ever met in my career. People who care about what they do. Well, the vast majority of them, to be honest.
  • The ability to make things happen. Within Sketchin and with our clients and partners. Be careful that this is not happening because of my fancy job title. Everyone in Sketchin can do the same thing if they want to.
  • You can say “No” if you will. 
  • I never liked the narrative that a company is like a family. Family is a different thing and much more valuable than any company. I feel part of something valuable I want to take care of.
  • Just like everyone in Sketchin, I have been allowed to give my best to the company and other people. That does not always happen, but we always try our best.
  • Everyone is trying his best. Uncommon in other companies. Every hurdle we find down our road is addressed in the best way possible given the limitations we have.

A delinquent robot

Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

I am amazed by the evolution of robotics over the years. Have a look at what Boston Dynamics is doing to have a feeling. We have self-driving cars, medication delivery drones, and food delivery robots.

A few days ago, I read an article about Artificial Intelligence and intelligence in a broader meaning.

One of the most exciting things I read is that a clear sign of intelligence is the ability to disobey, which robots still do not have. 

When engineers program their robots, they are trying to instill what we may call intelligence when looked at from the outside. We all know it is just a bunch of highly sophisticated algorithms that mimic intelligence. Robots can’t disobey. They make mistakes because the algorithm driving their behavior has hit some edge case that the engineers did not code or code with bugs.

I laughed hard when I read about a food delivery robot trespassing at a crime scene in Los Angeles. You know, those yellow stripes that police place to keep people away from their business.

The trespassing was filmed, and you may have a look here:

An endless change

Photo by Kalei de Leon on Unsplash

I joined Sketchin almost ten years ago. It has been the most exciting ride in my career. Many things have happened during these years, but the common trait has been change. Every single year something has dramatically changed.

We are now approaching that point where we will need to consider the following year. Strategy, positioning, sales strategy, and budget are some of the things we are starting to evaluate these days.

The last few years have been challenging.

The acquisition from Business Integration Partners, the pandemic, and the war, to name a few things, have highly impacted our business. 

It requires plenty of capabilities to survive, thrive, and keep our culture intact. This is not an easy goal to achieve.

I see the design ecosystem changing. All of the most prominent design studios have been acquired over time, and we have also been acquired. There is a vast difference between our acquisition and most of the others. We have been able to maintain our independence.

Most of the other big studios have not. They are now part of an extensive ecosystem where design is just a tiny part, often sacrificed to favor the big picture of the company they belong to. This isn’t good.

At the very same time, I see a lot of boutique studios flourishing. This is good.

And then there is Sketchin, who continues to be a strange beast. We are not as big (yet) as the most famous studios, but we are growing. 

I think we are going to face some significant changes shortly, even if I am not yet able to see clearly what is going to happen. It is like being on a narrow path surrounded by fog. The fog is slowly clearing, but I can’t yet see the final destination.

It is exciting and scary at the same time.

I am approaching my tenth anniversary in Sketchin. This is my longest tenure in a company. Usually, I get bored quickly. This is not happening in Sketchin. The constant changes we have faced over the years have made this job incredibly exciting, and I think the best is yet to come if we can adapt to changes as fast as we have done in the past.

We are big now, and we need to be able to steer at the same speed we had in the past. The company’s kinetic energy is much larger now than in the past. Our decisions take a little longer to show their effects, requiring much more attention than before. I think this is my biggest challenge for the next year: making the right decisions without impacting the company’s speed and wellness.

The poo incident

Photo by Angel Luciano on Unsplash

Am I going to post something about poo? I guess so.

Traveling with Buzz is a lot of fun. Sometimes you need to face some incidents mostly related to his needs. I have heard terrible stories about dogs traveling. Some of them don’t like a long trip in a car; some miss their home environment, some bark at everything they don’t know, and, sometimes, you need to deal with the poo incident.

We were traveling on a hot day. Not a very long trip. Less than three hours. We did not find a good park close to our house, so we had to walk for a bit with Buzz and all of the luggage we had for the weekend.

I was planning to bring Buzz to do his stuff close to our home. As you can imagine, we didn’t make it.

Exactly in downtown, a critical ‘poo episode’ went by. I have tons of bags in case of need, but it couldn’t work. I had to clean up in the worse possible scenario. Buzz is almost 40 Kg, and you can imagine what he can produce as waste. Ok, I had some towels and started cleaning the street under local shop owners’ surveillance. I entered a bar and bought two water bottles to clean the road.

As I was cleaning, a butcher looked at me without saying anything but with the explicit intention of judging the quality of my work. 

After a few minutes, a fishmonger came out of his store and handed me a large amount of paper to help clean the street. I warmly thanked the fishmonger and apologized to them for what happened.

All the rest of the people were looking at the scene, and someone was laughing.

Three different approaches to someone who was in distress.

I think this is the perfect representation of people’s behavior these days. This is why poo is relevant to this argument.

I am sure you already know which is the one who will get my money in the future.

One of those days

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Sometimes happens, I am not able to focus as I should. Today is one of those days. Since morning it was clear it was one of those days. I take it easy if I do not have any urgent thing to do.

I go through my to-do list, and I take the first item on the list. I write it on a piece of paper and split it into microtasks. Smaller chunks of work I can easily do without losing focus. 

Four microtasks for each 25-minute pomodoros.

This is my recipe.

MacBook Air M2

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Following the latest Apple product announcements, I must confess I have wanted to reach for my credit card and buy a MacBook Air M2.

For the records, I didn’t buy one.

Before configuring my new MacBook, I wanted to check how much my old MacBook Air M2 was worth with the Apple trade-in program. I went through all the required steps to get a quote, and finally, Apple confirmed that they could give me 400 Euros. No, Apple. I am sorry, but I don’t get this quote. My machine is less than one year old and in pristine condition. It is worth more than what you are offering me. I am also thinking about you selling this machine, that will be refurbished, for much more than that amount of money.

At the very same time, I questioned myself about this purchase. Is it something that I need? Right now?

You know the answer. It was a big, sounding no.

My MacBook Air M1 is perfect. It has all that I need. His 16 Gb RAM and 512 Gb SDD, and incredibly long battery life, make it the ideal machine for my needs.

I use this MacBook to develop all of my personal projects, I use it for writing, and it is my primary content consumption device. I never felt the need for more power or storage.

One negative thing is that it cannot run the Unity IDE decently, but I have to say that my work computer, a 32 Gb Intel 16″ MacBook Pro, sucks at that. The new MacBook Air M2 would not be any better with Unity.

Once upon a time, I would not have resisted. I would have bought the new machine and sold separately the old one. That’s no more the case.

For no apparent reason, I have entered a new phase where I am less keen on spending money on new gadgets. It happened during the pandemic, and it happened without me noticing until recent days.

Again. I do not have any reason to move to the new hardware apart from the great feeling about the new industrial design. The new design is superb, and the new colors are also fantastic. Not enough to trigger a purchase. Shelling out more than 2.500 euros is not something I am willing to do.

Apple, we will catch up at the next round.

Mechanical watches

Photo by Lukas Tennie on Unsplash

I bought my first 3D printer a few months ago and started looking at mechanical watches. I was thinking about printing an escapement mechanism as one of my first experiments.

I think it would have been an interesting personal project. It would need some understanding of the printing process and knowledge of the printer to be successful. Apart from the mechanical aspect, the math behind the escapement mechanism was fascinating.

I bought a few books about mechanical clocks, and I am actively reading them. The main concepts have been the same for ages, and most books have been written in the past. This is fascinating to me. The pictures are hand drawn, and the style is quite different from what we are used to reading today. Mechanical clocks have evolved over time, and you can find some art pieces in this world—just Google for the Richard Mille RM UP-01 to understand the complication we have reached. 

I moved to YouTube to find some inspiration on the subject, and, as always happens, I found an entire universe. I looked at so many videos. People 3D printing tourbillions, people were taking apart watches to fix them and enabling me to understand the basic architecture of a mechanical watch, people were building gears for their watches from scratch, and an infinite number of artisans were creating unique watches.

I discovered a fascinating world, even if highly complicated for a hobbyist.

You can easily buy basic tools to work on a mechanical watch. If everything in the watch is ok, you don’t need a lot.

If the watch is a “no-runner, ” you must play a different ball game. Every single problem that the look has may require a dedicated tool to fix it. There is a tool for everything. These tools are high precision and high quality, and for this reason, they can be costly. Depending on the complexity, you can range from a hundred bucks to thousands. A professional cleaning machine could cost up to five thousand euros. 

I feel like it is something I would like to explore deeper.

Even if I usually wear an Apple Watch, mechanical watches have always been one of my interests. 

I also tried to approach a couple of forums, but they are not immune to the problems on other forums. It always seems that newbies are not welcome.

Buying a “non-runner” pocket watch on eBay, trying to fix it, and bringing it to new life is fascinating. If you look at some of those watch repair videos, you will notice that you need patience, attention to detail, and care. I am sure I could love the experience and the excitement. Moreover, the idea of bringing back to life something that was headed to the trashcan is essential to me. Fix other than buy a new object. 

As I said, it is not a simple hobby, and maybe, the complexity makes me feel like I have to dig deeper to understand it.

I cannot easily remember where I read this quote from a conversation:

– Why do you always choose the most uphill road?

– Because in the end, the view is better.

I think it’s just that.

Maybe some of my eleven readers are already having fun and will be able to give me some helpful direction. Sometimes even the advice not to start is good.