The Changelog – August 2022

August was my summer vacation month. Therefore I had more time on my hand, some of which had been utterly wasted. In general, though, I think I had a good month of new activities, a weekend in Tuscany, friendly human interactions, and a good chunk of consumed media (I put a big dent in my extra-large-neverending watch/read/playlist).

I’ve also finally updated this blog with an extensive article. The funny thing is that it was not any of my “currently in draft” articles. Instead, I tried to intervene in a bit of drama between the artist community, the recent progress of Computational Creativity, and the state of the art in “AI-Generated Images.” So if you don’t know what I am talking about, but if you like AI, are an artist, or simply want a freakout-free guide to “AI Artists,” you are the perfect audience for my article.

So, yes, it was an okay month. And because we have a lot to talk about, let’s cut the introduction short.

In this issue, we will discuss the new book by Sabine Hossenfelderthe many TV series I am trying to catch up on, and how I organize and track my music habits. And more.

Reading

After reading many books in July, I only finished two in August. All of them are two books I pre-ordered months ago. Therefore, you can imagine how excited I was about finally having them!

The first one is not really a book but a graphic novel: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. As the name says, it is a comic book on the life of Marcus Aurelius, written by Donald J. Robertson and illustrated by the Portuguese artist Zé Nuno Fraga. I am fond of Robertson as I consider him – without hesitation – one of my spiritual guides. I have been waiting for this graphic novel since it was announced 2 years ago.

The graphic novel was excellent, IMHO. Not mind-blowing or life-changing, but as good as a graphic novel focused on historical accuracy and philosophy can be.

The second book, instead, is titled Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions and was written by physicist and Youtube science communicator Sabine Hossenfelder. I’ve already talked about her in the previous newsletter, so you should be aware that I am a huge fan of her Youtube channel (if not, I command you to check that now).

This book is an excellent example of the Hossenfelderian approach to science communication: total clarity, zero bullshit, absolute bluntness. In a world in which many scientists indulge in pointless speculations and theories that are nothing more than technoscientific forms of religion, I find it refreshing to be slapped in the face by someone who has no problem highlighting the boundaries and limits of the scientific method.

As the title hints, the book talks about existential questions such as the universe’s origin, time, free will, mind-body duality, and the afterlife from the point of current scientific knowledge. And it does that not only by saying what is possible and what is not but also by stating what we don’t know and possibly never know.

Anyway, this is the absolute best book I read this year. Highly recommended.

Watchlist

I must admit that I was a bit confused when I watched the data about my series watch activity. In August, I watched something like 56 episodes (almost 2 episodes a day). I don’t know if this is a low number or a big one for the general population, but it is for me. I don’t know how I feel about this. 😆

Anyhow, my month started with Invincible (2021). I went into this as blind as possible. I didn’t know it was based on a comic book. I didn’t see the plot. I only knew it as the source for a huge number of memes (WARNING: possible spoilers). I am glad I did. So I will not comment further to not ruin the experience for anyone else. I will only say this: it is excellent and shocking, and there is a surprisingly fantastic cast of voice actors.

Then I moved to complete Season 2 of For All Mankind, and, oh man, I hated it. I loved season one so much that I am still shocked at how much I disliked the second season. It is cheese AF. The end is borderline absurd. There is less space and more drama. And everybody looks like they decided to tackle every option of their life by launching themself in the most idiotic solution possible. 

Anyhow. I’ll start Season 3 after a small break. I had someone tell me that it was better. Let’s see.

Finally, I’ve enjoyed Sandman (2022), the new Netflix series based on the Neil Gaiman’s comic book with the same name (that, of course, I never read). I have enjoyed everything, from the beautiful cast to the fact that it is a weird mix between episodic and non-episodic series. Modern series trained to expect to see story arches extending over an entire season, even if this means stretching a plot longer than it should. Instead, Sandman was able to build mini-chapters strung together by a subtle overarching plot. I found this interesting because it gave back the feeling of reading comic books.

So, if you haven’t already seen it, that’s my main suggestion for this month.

Ah, and of course, I am rewatching Star Trek, the Original Serie (I went over Season 1, for now). It was long due. 🖖 But there is nothing more to say.

PS: I also watched Samaritan (2022), the new Sylvester Stallone movie, on Amazon Prime Video. It is honestly average, leaning on the bad side. But if you want some classic action movie to kill 90 minutes, it is not a bad choice. Not everything needs to be a damn emotionally complex artistic, and elaborate oscar-nominated film. Sometimes I just want the “good guy” beat the crap out of baddies and then go on with my life.

Music

I am a serious music listener. I’m serious in that I don’t “just listen” to anything thrown at me, but I research what I listen to and constantly look for new things like I was driven by an insatiable hunger. And I keep track of everything: what I listen to, how I listen, where and when I listen, how much I’ve liked the piece, and so on.

So, you may wonder: how do you do it? Today I will briefly answer this question (just in case other obsessive listeners are in the room).

My music listening system is based on three elements.

First, Last.fm. It is no longer really hyped like 10+ years ago. However, it is still my “casual tracker.” I like statistics and numbers. I want to do short monthly reports of what I listen. So last.fm is my go tool. Moreover, I do not use streaming services exclusively, so I do not get an accurate “end of the year” fancy summary. Inaccuracy bothers me, so I collect all the data by myself.

But Last.fm is just the basics. My second tool is Google Spreadsheet. That’s it. The origin of this spreadsheet is easy: I prefer to listen to entire albums, and streaming services are terrible at giving me the experience of “having” a music collection. I listen to many things but often cannot remember what I heard.

So I made a spreadsheet in which I simply list all the albums I listen to, with a rating and a comment.

Here it is a small slice of my spreadsheet. Nothing fancy, but it is enough to check old albums and to get some fancy reports (such as the most liked artist I listened in a given year)

There is another tool. Rate Your Music. This is a fantastic website to keep track, rate, and find music. It has charts, it has reviews, and it also builds you playlists for Spotify with recommended music based on your rating history. I like it to rate the album I listen to but also to explore charts (do you want a list of the most rated Portuguese Jazz album released in 2006? You can quickly get it).

It is technically the previous Google Spreadsheet on steroids. So I could technically ditch the spreadsheet and go full RYM, but in the end, I like the simplicity of the spreadsheet (and the ability to query my data for anything I like).

Anyhow, let’s jump a bit into what I listened to this month. You can see the collages above, but they will lack an important part: this month, I listened to a lot of Italian Progressive Rock albums. (If you are interested, I am following this list.)

Italian Progressive Rock (or PRI, from Progressive Rock Italiano) is a subgenre of Progressive Rock developed in the early 70s. It is similar to the early Genesis, but it developed some particular quirk that made it pretty unique and worth of a separate genre label.

So, you may ask, why it doesn’t show in the collage? Because it has the same structure as every Progressive album out there: the average album has only 4 tracks of 15 minutes each. So, tracking websites like Last.fm that measure the number of played tracks will always under-represent Progressive groups. I should give you a list sorted by listening time, but I have no reliable list tool for that. 😄😄

Conclusions

Another month, another ChangeLog, and this is the longest so far. Next month – September – is usually my “start over” month. Like when I went to school, it marks the beginning of a new life season. So I’ll buy some office supplies and try to build up a new momentum at work and on my personal project. It will be an interesting month; let’s see if it will make an interesting newsletter too. 😄

Let me know if you have any suggestions on what you would like to see more (or less).

See you the next time!

Other Interesting Things

  • 🎨 Because I am going all in suggesting to you artists, I want to feature another favorite of mine: Tholia Bentz. I really don’t know why she doesn’t have 1 million followers yet.
  • 🎥 Mathlogger is my favorite Math Youtube channel. It is the only channel where I consistently find mindblowing things explained in a very accessible way but without fear of going deep. This month Mathlogger published a video on the number wall, a mind-blowing technique to find recursive formulas for numeric sequences. There is no space to explain a lot in this bullet point, but if you are into math and want to learn a neat trick, check the video.
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