The G word

The G Word

Hi! My name is Francisco and writing this post is probably a bad idea 🙂

In case you don’t know, I was born and raised in Spain. My country’s history is tightly entangled with the Catholic church. It’s a relationship that started many centuries ago but has been very important until recent times (and still is). When I was born my parents decided to not baptize me. At the time it was kind of a big deal in the family. I’ve been told that my grand parents on both sides weren’t happy about their decision. But my parents had a very clear idea. Let him grow up and decide by himself, don’t force anything on him.

I remember when I was like 10 or so, all my friends where going through the holy communion. I wasn’t and to be honest it made me feel weird. I still remember how I felt. I felt excluded. I wasn’t “part of the team”. I seriously thought of asking my parents of getting baptized and going through the process like everyone else. I don’t remember asking them so I’m just gonna say that somehow I was mature enough at that age to realize it was a silly reason to be baptized.

When I started high school at 12 my parents made me go to the optional (not for me) religion class. I went to that class for the following six years. We talked mainly about Christianity, Judaism, Islam. I think we scratched the surface on some others, but I don’t remember. The focus was on Catholicism,and we regularly read parts of the bible. But for me the stories of the bible were just that, stories. I think by the time I finished high school I was considering myself an atheist. The main reason is probably my aversion to organised religion.

Did I mention that even though my parents didn’t baptize me they took me to a million churches (approx.)? When I was a kid we traveled a lot and visiting churches was a big part of what we did. I came to hate it but now, with age – and wisdom, some at least – I truly appreciate it. Those churches and cathedrals are true art pieces. They are also a display of what the Catholic Church is and has been over the centuries. An organization that has done a lot of good – that is undeniable – but has done a lot of evil too. Wars and massacres in the name of good, the use of religion to attain power and riches, the hiding of horrible acts by members of the church – yes, I’m talking about pedophilia and others.

We find different cases outside of the Church. We have imams that have supported acts of terror, used their influence to radicalize young believer or even be active agents in terrorists organizations. In India there is a recent history of religious violences, mostly between Hindus and Muslims but it has also affected Christians and Sikh. There are many stories like these around the globe. None of them start with the faith of someone in God(s). They start with someone that is put in a position of power, a place where they can poison the minds of people that are looking for answers or the confort of faith.

Where was I? Oh, yes. So, after finishing high school I can’t say I thought much about God. But recently I’ve found myself thinking about It more. It’s gonna sound like a joke but I think what triggered it was flying. I’m clearly scared of flying and moving to a country that is 7,000 km away from my family has made me get on a few planes. I’ve seen myself asking God for a safe arrival a few times (damn turbulences). How do you ask for help to a being that technically you don’t believe in?

That made me think of the concept of God itself. I asked God because that’s the language tool that I have. But it’s not the religious god – the supernatural being that I was asking help. It’s more of an ethereal concept, a force that might or might not exist. There are things, there are questions I have that I can’t answer. And I don’t think anyone can. How did it all start? The universe is expanding? Cool, but expanding through where? There are many things that science can explain; but there are as many that can’t, at least for now.

I don’t like (and/or believe) in the idea of God that has been popularized by religion. The omnipotent “man-or-woman” that has created everything. It is too much of a human idea to be the truth. At the same time I can’t discard the idea that there is a force that gave origin to the universe we live in and that is a concept beyond our comprehension. It could be a force with a will or something closer to the idea of Mother Nature – something that balances itself but it doesn’t have a will. In the end I don’t have proof of anything, so I can’t discard anything. I guess that makes me an agnostic more than an atheist. To be honest I don’t care much for the title.

Photo by JAVI ARJI on Unsplash

Creative design and industry maturity

Some time back I wrote about what makes Doom II special and why it feels as good and fresh now as it did 25 years ago. In 2016 id Software, creators of the Doom franchise amongst others, launched what came to be a reboot of the series. DOOM or Doom 2016 is again an exceptional example of design. It probably has the best combat system ever designed for a video game, an epic soundtrack and it shines in many aspects. But while Doom II is brilliant in level design and the levels are a constant display of creativity, the reboot feels way more conventional and unsurprising.

I’ve been thinking about why this is the case and the answer seems now obvious to me. On the original game the creators went wild in the design of every stage. From one level to another there was little to no cohesion. Most of the levels are strange and don’t make much sense from an architectural point of view. Back then there were great technical limitations that pushed the designers creativity to new levels. At the same time the medium was still young and there wasn’t an expectation to be realistic or coherent within the game’s world.

Evolution of car designs

This applies to much more than video games. It’s something that extends throughout all the possible spectrum of design. If we look at the cars that were designed, 30, 40 or 50 years ago we will find crazy, extremely creative designs. Cars like the BMW Isseta are unthinkable today.

The car industry has reached a higher level of maturity and there are proven concepts that are common across brands. Shapes, lights, sizes… There is less space for creativity because the industry knows what works, knows what is practical and knows what is logic to do. That doesn’t mean there’s no space for innovation but there is less experimentation – at least when it comes to commercial cars – than a few decades ago.

Data-driven design for the web

The same applies to my field: the Internet. Looking back at when I was at University, the Internet was full of crazy, wild designs. Flash was the trend and people were constantly experimenting with layouts and navigation. You could see all types of things that could make – or not – sense. But the web industry has also reached a new stage of maturity. There is less space for creativity because we have data that tells us what works and what doesn’t. When users see a hamburger menu, they know what it is and how it works. Users will look for the search icon/bar on the right side of the header, because that has become a de facto standard. These and other conventions bring cohesion to the web as a whole and make for a better user experience.

Design systems like Material Design by Google help us have a cohesive experience, defining key aspects like navigation and component interaction

This can’t be criticized. If I have to design a website today I’m going to follow most – if not all – of the proven conventions. It just makes sense. Not only that, it also gives me the freedom to work on other design elements like animation that could bring a higher meaning to the user actions. Design systems and component oriented design have pushed the industry in that direction and I think everyone will agree that it’s been a very positive turn.

But I wonder if maybe we are losing on variety and innovation by limiting the creativity of our designers. Guidelines are great, but sometimes I feel that we take this guidelines as hard, unbreakable rules. And that will keep us from having a better, more creative and meaningful web experience.

Goals for Q1 2019

Hi there! As I explained on my previous post I’ve decided to set quarterly goals for myself. If you’ve been following my you’ll know that I did it in 2017 and even though I failed to accomplish all I wanted I found it to be a good practice. I have a very active mind, always thinking about new project. And that can be quite distracting. Having public goals helps me focus and keep working on what I want to accomplish instead of jumping constantly between new things without finishing anything.

I have a couple of things I want to accomplish this year. This first quarter I’m going to be quite busy so my goals are not too ambitious:

  • Write: I’m not going to be ambitious here. Publish 2 posts a month for the next three months. I prefer to post less and things that matter to me the most than just randomly write about anything. Let’s see how it goes next month because…
  • Get married: Aneesha and I are legally married already but we still have two more weddings to go. The first one will be in India in around 20 days. I have to survive to 3 days of events. Wish me luck 😂
  • Make and publish 3 Chai&Churro: recently I bought and iPad pro and I’m starting to get used to it. It’s an amazing tool and I hope it will help me be more productive. My goal is for Chai&Churro to become a bi-weekly thing but that is not going to happen now. I aim for 1 comic strip a month.
  • Lose some weight: I’ve changed my eating habits quite a bit over the last 4 or 5 months. It has worked out well and I’ve lost 6-7 kilos but my weight has been going up and down around the same number for the last couple of months. I want to make some progress, even if it is only a couple of kilos (down).

I’m going to be between India and Japan for a full month. I’m not sure of how much free time I will have. I’ll do my best to be on track and fulfil my goals. I’ll be doing the quarterly review at the beginning of April. Until then, peace, love & death metal ✌

Reflecting on the past and future of this space

I’m back. Last year was a complicated one. I had a crazy busy second half of the year, with lots of grown up things happening (remember? I’m a child with a grey-ish beard), and this had kept me from writing as I would liked to.

And yes, I also went through some kind of crisis regarding my blog. I had to “look myself in the mirror” and ask why am I doing this. What’s the purpose of my blog? Does it make sense? I was writing about a bunch of stuff, things that I like: games, movies, music… But in the end I realized I wasn’t getting anything back from it on any level and my time was better spent somewhere else.

As a result of this I’ve decided 2 things:

  • I won’t write anything for weeks (or months) if I don’t have anything to say. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a goal for this blog. It just means I won’t write about whatever just because I made myself a promise to write.
  • I don’t want to write anything review-like. There are professionals that do that and they do it way better than I do. If I write I want it to be related to what I do in my life, things that matter to me the most, like Chai&Churro, my drawings, coding or writing.

To start this new stage I’ll be looking at something I did in the past: set quarterly goals for myself. I did it throughout 2017 and I found it useful to keep an agenda and remind myself of what are my short term priorities.

I’ll be writing a post for my Q1 goals soon. Stay tuned 🙂

Chai&Churro, creating a comic strip has been one of the most humbling and overwhelming moments of my life

As a kid I loved to draw. I spent countless hours with a pencil in my hand, drawing whatever my obsession was at the moment (Dragon Ball, Sonic and others). But at some point, for whatever reason, this hobby got lost and I never really went back to it. My love for the 9th art also dates from those days; with many people influencing me. Those people lead me to dive into manga and american superhero comics but also European comic (Tintin, Asterix, Blacksad) and comic strips, mainly the Spanish ones (Mortadelo y Filemon, Superlopez, 13 Rue del percebe, etc).

Chai & Churro

A few weeks ago I told Aneesha about an idea that had been in my mind for some time. I wanted to do a little comic strip about situations in our life. We are people of different race and culture and that creates a context where funny situations are quite common. Putting that on paper shouldn’t be that difficult, and it would be a good creative effort, fun and entertaining.

Aneesha loved the idea, and we discussed some situations that we could use. After that, I worked for a weekend on putting together the first comic strip. I needed to find a way of creating characters that looked like us and, after some tries and some feedback from Aneesha, I created the first comic strip. You can see below these lines:

A FIRST DATE WITH INDIAN FOOD (Swipe right to read the whole comic) Guys, I’m so excited to announce this! @francisco_caal has come out with a fun comic strip on our lives as a mixed race Spanish-Indian couple living in Dubai! This comic summarized his first experience with Indian food 😂 This series is called Chai & Churro and this is his comic #1. Needless to say, I’m absolutely chuffed about this 😁🧔🏻👩🏽 Swipe right for #ChaiandChurro and let me know what you think of it! ❤ #WhenChaimeetsChurro . . . . . #comicstrips #creativepreneur #creativelifehappylife #creativityfound #calledtobecreative #creativebusiness #creativedesign #createcultivate #createeveryday #thenativecreative #doitfortheprocess #designisinthedetails #designinspiration #designideas #colorhunters #colorlove #colorcrush #livecreatively #livecolorfully #herestothecreatives #mybeautifulmess #flashesofdelight #pursuepretty #explorecreate #dowhatyoulove

A post shared by Aneesha Rai | Dubai Blogger (@omnomnirvana) on


Yes, we started with a toilet joke. I know is not the most original thing in the world but believe me – spicy Indian food and Spanish stomachs are not the best combination. Chai & Churro was born and we were ready to put them out into that wild place that is the internet.

What happened next

Creating this comic strip was meaningful to me. It’s been a way of blowing off some creative steam, it has connected myself with my partner and at the same time with my inner child. I thought it could be special for Aneesha too. But to be honest, I didn’t know what her reaction would be. I’m not gonna go into specifics, but the things she’s said meant a lot to me.

When we published it on Instagram I was expecting some “likes” and some people finding it funny (because I believe it is). That obviously happened. We tend to “like” everything these days. But as soon as we published, we started getting a bunch of comments. People asking for more. People saying that we should open a separate account for the comic strip. I wasn’t expecting that. I think is the first time in my life that I do something and people asks for more.

But that’s not it, something else was coming. We got people telling us how much it meant for them to see a representation of an interracial couple. Specially one with an Indian in it. The Indian community is not used to see this kind of representation. And for that, I wasn’t prepared. I was just having fun, doing some creative stuff because I have an urge to do it. I was writing the most silly and stupid toilet joke. And yes, I know that in the online world, 200+ likes and some dozens of comments are nothing. But for me, if something I’ve done becomes meaningful for just a couple of people… well, it means the world to me.

I don’t know what’s gonna happen with this comic strip in the future. I have another one ready to publish and ideas for a couple more. After that I can’t promise anything because I honestly don’t know what I’m doing. The response to Chai & Churro has been overwhelming and really humbling, and I just want to say THANK YOU for all the “likes”, comments and messages.

You are more than your job title

A brick wall that read 'We like you too"

In this time and age, it seems like career is all that matters. You have to do this, you have to accomplish that and is your career what defines you. If you ask me, that’s utter bullshit. Your career is just a little part of who you are as a person and of what you bring to this world. Your job is what you do to make money. To survive in a capitalistic world that is harsh and relentless.

Obviously, in an ideal situation, you like your job. I’m lucky to say that I like what I do. It has good and not so good moments (like everything), but overall I’m satisfied. Not so long ago I wasn’t that happy about it. I had that attitude towards my job that I was describing a few lines above. I was obsessed with reaching certain goals, accomplish what I thought it would demonstrate that I was worthy. Because if I didn’t reach my goals as a professional I was a failure.

It has taken me lots of unhappy (and scary) moments and almost two years of fighting anxiety and depression to realize that I’m much more than a what my job title says. I’m a partner, a son, a brother, a friend… I’m a naturally curious person with countless hobbies and a strong creative gene that I’m still trying to develop every day. Fuck, I’m even an occasional blogger 😀

In this two years of struggle I’ve changed the way I look at my job and my career. I’ve learnt to develop myself as a person instead of as a professional and the benefits of it have translated to my workplace.

Your job is just that, and it’s ok to set goals and wanting to progress in your profession, but don’t let it take your happiness away. I can tell you from personal experience, is not worth it.

Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash

Internet privacy matters but we don’t protect ourselves

Internet privacy

I’ve never been an advocate for internet privacy. I’ve used all types of services without reading any of those privacy policies (who reads that shit? It’s unreadable), I’ve had location services active in my phone for long time, etc. I think at some point I let myself go, I trusted the don’t be evil motto. When they give you great products for free you  don’t question as much what Google (and others) are doing with your data.

But this attitude has negative effects. I (we) have given this companies a message: do whatever the fuck you want, I’m not going to do anything about it.

The Instagram listener and  behavioral retargeting

I think what made me think about it seriously about it, was this Medium article about Instagram making use of the phone’s microphone to listen and process the collected data to show relevant ads. If what is explained on that articles is 100 percent accurate is irrelevant. It’s consistent enough with my personal experience using Instagram/Facebook/Google/whatever.

Reading that article made me think about what I already knew. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple… they all have an extense file on my with interests, internet habits, search, how I use their software, etc. This data has my name all over it. That way they can show me “relevant” ads everywhere, all the time.

I’m not going to go into why this is a bad thing. If you don’t thing it is, good for you. If on the other hand, you don’t like massive corporations having so much information about you, I’ll move to share some tips I believe can be helpful. But first let me be clear about something. This will not save you from this problem, it will only help you you in some fronts.

Start using Firefox Quantum

Mozilla Firefox has been with us since the late 90s. Their last version, Firefox Quantum, is a great browser, fast and efficient. More importantly, Firefox is developed by Mozilla, a non-profit organization that has demonstrated over 2 decades that the care about internet freedom and the users right to  surf the net safe and privately.

In addition to this, they give the user a lot of control and what do they share with mozilla and the default privacy options are already very reasonable. While  preparing to write this post I’ve read their privacy policy.  It is reasonable, clear, easy to read and understand. Because when a company is not trying to use you as their product, they don’t need to hide anything.

Search with DuckDuckGo

But Google is the best! What are you talking about? Yeah, well, I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a few weeks and there’s  barely any different. Actually I’m gonna say something crazy: DuckDuckGo results are better thatn Google’s.

DuckDuckGo only personalizes your results based in location. That’s not the case with Google, they try to predict the most accurate results having in mind your previous searches (and I think other factors like pages you’ve visited). This could seem like a great idea, and  I think it’s done in good faith, but the result of this system is biased search results. This might seem irrelevant.  It probably is when you’re looking to  buy a new tv, but it is not when you are looking for things like politics, news, etc. What Google will show you will be biased and will reinforce your belives  without letting you see the other point of views. If you can’t see what is bad about that…

I highly recommend you to read this post by DuckDuckGo’s CEO in Quora.

Review your phone settings

I’ve spent some time lately going through app permissions on my phone. Things like location, mic, etc. are rarely going to be used by apps to offer you their service, but they still ask you for it. I was amazed by how many apps on my phone had location perms requirement, when at the end only 5 or 6 do we really needed them.

Taking five minutes to review these permissions can help you avoid sharing undesired data. Same applies to your desktop OS of choice. Spend some time  looking at what you are sharing with the OS provider.

Other steps you can take

  • Consider using Linux: Yes, I’m serious. Linux can be rough, but there are distributions that are very user friendly (Ubuntu, ElementaryOS, etc). Unless you need a specific software not available for Linux (photoshop, 3d studio…) there is no reason to stick to Windows/Mac OS.
  • Use Proton mail: Proton Mail is a secure and encrypted mail service. It’s free and has apps for the main OS  in the market. I’m seriously considering this move, but is no doubt one of the most painful you can do. I’m sure there are other options out there that offer a similar. approach
  • Be careful with what you share in  social media: if Facebook or other SM can identify your face in photos, bad.

There aremore things that can be done, but I’m not an expert on the mater and I don’t  want to talk without knowing.

Protoct yourself

We are not products, but massive companies with huge ecosystems and advertising interests are using us as such. We must be aware that even if their intentions are not bad, their actions are guided by the rules of capitalism. That is not bad per se, but it can become an issue with actors of this size.

I, Designer

Web design

My first job was as a web designer / front-end developer. It was a different time, and I was fresh out of university where, apart from a bunch of other things, I studied some design. That first job was quite easy, I had clear guidelines that I couldn’t bypass and web design wasn’t as complex as it is today. After that first job, others came, but never as a designer. I fashioned myself more as a coder (I still do) and, being completely honest, I’m not good at designing. I can appreciate good design, I understand the theory behind it and I have the knowledge. But anyone with a bit of experience in life knows that from theory to practice there’s a long way.

I’m writing about this because I’ve spend the last (almost) five years working on a designer-less environment. It never bothered me. The CEO had a clear vision of the company’s brand and image, so between my limited designing skills and his input we’ve managed to create a product that is quite decent, if not good. Or that is what I used to think. Recently I’ve been reviewing our website in detail and I’m not happy with what I’ve seen. But not everything is negative. Yes, we have a lot of inconsistencies and some poorly designed elements, but I believe we have the foundations of a good design.

So I got back to work (is not like we can hire a designer at the moment) and I’ve started a digital Design Guideline. So far I’m just trying to put things together. We have a lot of good stuff on our website but is not standard. There are variations of the same elements here and there, and that is the first thing that needs to be addressed. I’m using the Material Design guidelines as a reference. We have relayed on Google’s guidelines in the past and I believe is gonna help me find the consistency that we need.

In the near future I’d like to post the new guide and some examples of how we have improved things. I’m never gonna be an excellent designer, but I trust myself to do this job.

Wins & Fails of Q4 2017

My first visit to India with Aneesha

At the beginning of 2017 I decided to set some goals for myself. Instead of setting yearly goals I did it for every quarter of the year. Yearly goals are easy to forget as you don’t review them often. So for the past year I’ve been doing quarterly reviews, and this is the last one. You can check the previous ones here(1st), here(2nd) and here(3rd).

My idea was to write this a few weeks ago but Christmas got in the middle. I’m (finally) starting to get out of the food coma that comes with the combination Christmas + going back home, so let’s have a look to the last quarter of 2017:

  • Keep learning web development stuff: I’m actually quite happy with this. I’ve been learning a lot of Javascript lately. More importantly, I’m happier with the way I write JS code now. There’s still a lot to learn, but I’m on the right path. Win
  • Improve my exercise routine: It’ll be great to be able to do exercise for a few weeks without getting injured or sick, but I haven’t been very lucky on that front so far. If we forget about that, I think I’ve done some improvements. Now I’m playing football once a week with a group of guys in Al Quoz and I’m still doing Yoga. I’ve gone with Aneesha to a couple of extra classes, including a Muay Thai class that was both difficult and fascinating. Win but I can do better
  • Keep improving on time management: I fricking suck at this. It has been probably my worst quarter of the year on this matter. Fail
  • Do some creative work: I have actually done some. Didn’t know what I was gonna do when I put this on my list and it turned out that I wrote a short story. Well, part of it. Anyway, it was cool to do that. I might or might not publish it on the blog in the future, if I finish it. But the point was to do something different, even if it was only for a few hours and I did it. Win

As you can see, I’m not setting goals for Q1 2018. I haven’t decided if I’m gonna do it this year. I could do it, but I’m going to need some time to think about what I want for this 2018. Anyway, I hope all of you have accomplished whatever you wanted this past year And I hope you have a great 2018 too 🙂

P.S. The picture was taken on my first trip to India!

Fe-men-ism: boys do cry

ian-espinosa-223462

Twitter is a great place to be. You can find all kind interesting stuff on the social network. Yesterday I came across a series of tweets by a guy called Matt Haig that I believe it’s an important thing to discuss:

I don’t know the accuracy of the data he talks about in the first tweet, and to be honest, I don’t care. I don’t think that’s the point. We tend to keep an idea of men and women that are not a representation of reality. You can’t group people by their sex and just tag them as strong or weak. That’s not how it works.

I’m pretty sure that being a man, and from Spain, some people might tend to think I’m some kind of Spanish macho that runs in front of bulls or some nonsense like that. But it takes 5 minutes of talking to me to see I’m not like that. In fact I’m a sensitive and emotional person, I’m scared of a bunch of things and I’ve experience some of the issues described above, like anxiety and depression.

As this Matt guy says, it’s okay to cry or being scared being a man. As it is ok to be the bravest or the strongest of the group being a woman. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should be.

P.s. Obviously that title is too much word play for me, thank you Aneesha for helping me all the time with my blog 🙂

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash