Motenda, the design

I made a tent that at the same time works as a backpack, the “motenda”. This was the design process.

1. A light backpack and tarps?
Back from hiking the Pyrenees with a 2,250 g backpack and a 1,600 g tent I started looking for lighter equipment. There were ultralight backpacks and some people used tarps instead of tents (floor and cover). But backpacks weighed less thanks to thin and light fabrics that were easy to tear in case of touching a tree branch. However, this backpack would contain a resistant floor tarp! This was a contradiction, the stronger fabric should be the one outside.

2. Tarp and Rain Poncho?
I thought I could use the floor to wrap the contents of the backpack and the use the rain poncho as cover to form a shelter. I liked the idea because it removed the backpack and I only had to carry the floor as wrapper and a rain poncho. But this solution was not feasible as hiking the Pyrenees means cold nights, even in summer. Sometimes it rains, or there are no convenient trees to attach the ropes. I went back to the idea of a traditional tent. Perhaps I could assemble the floor and the rain poncho to form a proper tent.

3. The tent is the backpack!
I studied if I could join the floor to the cover with zippers or Velcro. But it was complicated, the size of the cover did not correspond with a rain poncho, it would be painstaking to attach every time I was going to assemble the tent. Should I cut an opening through the floor fabric to access the backpack? If I didn’t wrap things well, could things drop? The eureka moment was when I realised that the tent could work as a container and become a backpack when folded. Nothing could drop and I could use the tent door to access the inside.

4. Studying the folding and straps, integrated mat
Now I had to find a way to fold the tent in order to become a box with a 25×35 cm base and 60 cm height. I had seen that some backpacks incorporated the mat and also that some mat models were shorter to save weight. I picked up the idea, the mat would be integrated with the tent floor and when folded, the box would be sturdier.
Next step, find a way to hold the wrapped tent between two «lids», and study how to attach the necessary straps without interfering with the mat.

5. Structure
How would the tent stand up? My former tent had two crossed arches freestanding, one arch at the end, and ropes front and back. I wanted to have a freestanding structure, with no ropes. While exploring materials in a kite shop I discovered twisted fiberglass rods, that can recover its shape after being folded. Ithe cross with to arches was selfstanding I could support the whole tent with three crosses. I built a model with three crosses and an axis, and the result was ok, very light but resilient.

6. Rain poncho / vestibule
I still wanted to have a vestibule like the one in my old tent, and intended to do it with the rain poncho. But it couldn’t find a way to adapt its shape neither to hold it without ropes. Finally I tried to use a rod as a guide for the base, tightened with a strap. The other part was to be hold with Velcro to the tent cover. The pegs are not compulsory but I decided to include 5, 4 for the tent and one for the vestibule.

The stage of drawing and modeling finished, I ordered the materials, bought a sewing machine and and there followed months of work, full of mistakes and corrections, some of them forgivable, many completely stupid. But eventually the 1,850 g tent-backpack was finished. I show the result in this page with an imperfect guide for those who might like to build their own.

All Saints 2014. Death Certificates

From the perspective of bureaucracy and administrative documents, our life begins registering a birth at the register Office and ends with a death certificate. In an excellent article in the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz uncovers the story of death certificates and the list of death causes, from around 81 in the 17th century, to 14.000 in the latest WHO list. With a mortality rate of 7.89 per thousand, in 2014 there will be around 50 million deaths with 25 million death certificates issued where a cause will be specified. Schulz points that this death bureaucracy is the consequence of modern democracy, “if everyone counts, everyone must be counted”.

Certificat de defunció

The antecedent of modern death certificates are the Bills of mortality, weekly lists of the plague deaths. By 1629 parish clerks were ordered to report deaths from other causes than plague. In 1662, John Graunt, a pioneer demograph, published ”Natural and Political observations made upon the Bills of Mortality” where he analized the mortality rolls in order to prevent bubonic plague from spreading. He compiled a list of 81 causes classified in four categories, “chronic diseases, epidemic diseases, conditions that killed children and outward griefs”. In 1893, an international commitee leaded by Jacques Bertillon would enlarge the list up to 161 causes classified in 14 categories following anatomical criteria. Today the list is managed by the World Health Organization and codes around 14.000 causes classified in 22 groups following anatomical criteria.

The ICD10 (the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) lists the following diseases groups: (I) infectious and parasitic diseases, (II) Neoplasms, (III) Diseases of the blood, (IV) Endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, (V) Mental and behavioural disorders, (VI) Diseases of the nervous system, (VII) Diseases of the eye, (VIII) Diseases of the ear, (IX) Diseases of the circulatory system, (X) Diseases of the respiratory system, (XI) Diseases of the digestive system, (XII) Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, (XIII) Diseases of the musculoskeletal system, (XIV) Diseases of the genitourinary system, (XV) Pregnancy, childbirth, (XVI) Conditions originating in the perinatal period, (XVII) Congenital malformations, (XVIII) other non classified.

External casues are listed in (XIX) Injury, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes (by the way, an excellent source of inspiration for crime fiction writers) and (XX) External causes of morbidity and mortality. Other codes are (XXI) Factors influencing health and (XXII) other codes for special purposes. In Catalonia, the most common causes are tumors and heart diseases, which add up to more than 60%.

The question “why” we die or “from what” we die is not easy to answer, particularly if we want to identify, not only the “immediate cause” such as rupture of myocardium, but also the “underlying cause” which would be Atherosclerotic coronary artery. Reporting the underlying cause is difficult, and not only because lack of training but mainly because in most cases, the rellevant information is not available. Schulz goes on discussing the issue quoting Harvey Fineberg from the Institute of Medecine: “if someone dies of a heart attack, you don’t say he died of high cholesterol, sedentary life style and a forty-pack-year history of smoking”. And, notwitstanding, a 1993 paper by Foege and mcGinnis, showed that half of all deaths in US in 1990 could be attributed to nine causes not included in death certificates: tobacco, diet and physical activity, alcohol, microbial agents, toxic agents, firearms, sexual behavior, motor vehicles, and illicit use of drugs. Omitting them is not without consequences as health policies can be focused to new drug research instead of promoting healthy habits.

If the question that interests physicians is about the “cause” of death, the question that the bereaveds pose is “how” someone died. We want to know if “a loved one suffered or was at peace, or if her death was meaningful, or wheter we could have prevented it”. About this, Katrhyn Schulz concludes,  the death certificate can’t say anything, it is not Auden’s elegy for Yeats. “We die because we were born; because we are mortal; because that is, after all, life”.

Pocket Poetry

I wish I had exercised memory more, and be able to remember by heart some poems I have read. Since I have not, I have looked for a way to carry poetry in my pocket.

Let’s assume that we have copied some poems in a Word processor. Most of them can export files in PDF format.

There is a tool that, among other things, can convert a 16 page PDF file in a two-sided A4 sheet, so that when folded it will become a booklet that can fit inside a wallet. The original document should have a large enough font size in order to be readable when reduced 8 times (ex. Garamond 26).
It can be downloaded at:

The file multivalent.jar is copied in a directory. In the command window type:

c:javapathjava.exe -classpath c:multivalentpathMultivalent.jar tool.pdf.Impose -verbose -page 1-16 -dim 2x4 -layout "1l,8r,16l,9r,13l,12r,4l,5r,7l,2r,10l,15r,11l,14r,6l,3r" file_name.pdf

this command means:

  • Take the document’s  16 pages (-page 1-16)
  • And put 8 origin pages in each target page, 2 columns and 4 rows (-dim 2×4)
  • Following this layout (“1l,8r,16l,9r,13l,12r,4l,5r,7l,2r,10l,15r,11l,14r,6l,3r”) :
    • 1st page rotated left
    • 2nd rotated right
    • 16th left
    • 9th  right
    • etc.

Of course it’s easier to have the command in a bat file and just change the document name when needed.

To convert a text to an ebook format (mobi for Kindle, epub for iphones), there is the excellent program Calibre. Besides managing your personal ebook library, Calibre can convert most text formats (txt, rtf, odt, doc, html) to ebook formats. So, they can be transferred to a reading device like kindle or use a read app in our smartphone (fbreader  supports most formats without havint to convert them).

This way we will have always available the poetry we like and read it whenever we feel like to. For example during boring meetings at work, we can pretend to check email while actually we are enjoying a sonnet!

Here, some picks of poetry (in catalan) in pocket format. (Espriu, Maragall, Vinyoli, Màrius torres, Guerau de Liost, Salvat-Papasseit and others).


Maranassati sutta

At one time, the Exalted One was staying at Nadika in the Brick Hall. And there the Exalted One addressed the monks. ‘Monks.’ ‘Sir,’ the monks replied. ‘Mindfulness of death, monks, when cultivated and made much of, is of great fruit and great reward: it associates with the deathless and has as its conclusion the deathless. Monks, cultivate mindfulness of death.

When he had spoken a certain monk said this to the Exalted One. ‘Sir, I do cultivate mindfulness of death.’ ‘And how, monk, do you cultivate mindfulness of death?’ ‘Here, sir, I reflect, “If I were to live, day and night, paying attention to the teaching of the Exalted One, a great deal would be done by me”. This is how I cultivate mindfulness of death, sir.’

And another said, ‘I do cultivate mindfulness of death, sir’. And the Exalted One replied, ‘And how, monk, do you cultivate mindfulness of death, ‘Here, sir, I reflect, “If I were to live, throughout the day, paying attention to the teaching of the Exalted One, a great deal would be done by me”. This is how I cultivate mindfulness of death, sir.’

And another: ‘Here, sir, I reflect, “If I were to live, for such time as it takes to eat one almsmeal, paying attention to the teaching of the Exalted One, a great deal would be done by me”. This is how I cultivate mindfulness of death, sir.’

And another: “If I were to live, for such time as I chew and swallow five mouthfuls, paying attention to the teaching of the Exalted One, a great deal would be done by me”. This is how I cultivate mindfulness of death, sir.’

And another: “If I were to live, for such time as I chew and swallow one mouthful, paying attention to the teaching of the Exalted One, a great deal would be done by me”. This is how I cultivate mindfulness of death, sir.’

And another: “If I were to live for just such time as, having breathed in, I breathe out, and having breathed out, I breathe in, paying attention to the teaching of the Exalted One, a great deal would be done by me”. This is how I cultivate mindfulness of death, sir.’

This beautiful text of the Pali Canon, from an anthology by Sarah Shaw, as it happens often with texts dealing with death, is at the same time, a hymn to life. I read it like this:

If I were to live, a day and a night, just like today, running along the beach in the morning before crossing Barcelona riding my bike to work while listening to Scarlatti sonatas, having tea and toats for breakfast while reading the pending emails; back at home in the afternoon, greeting the plants in the terrace, reading, playing music, sweeping the floor, cooking dinner, eggplant, bream, white wine, some TV and reading in bed before turning thoughts into the dreams to live during the night, a great deal would be done by me.

If I were to live, throughout the day, starting a new path, whether wandering in a unknown city, hiking in the wild with my backpack, a bike route, kayaking in a river, driving a car towards the horizon, this would be more than enough.

If I were to live throughout an hour, being the kid that discovered the neighborhood, hand in hand with mom and dad, I would think life is worth living. If I were to live for an hour, watching Teresa and Maria playing, this would be more than enough.

If I were to live for such time as it takes to eat a meal, dancing, first alone, then lindy hop with a girl, and a blues for dessert, I would be more than happy.

If I were to live, for such time as I chew and swallow one mouthful, hugging the girl I love, this would suffice.

f I were to live for just such time as, having breathed in, I breathe out, and having breathed out, I breathe in, watching some swallows drawing lines in the sky, flying happily, a great deal would be done by me.

Destiny lottery

In All-saints 2012 I stated that every human life would deserve a biography, and I even amused myself imagining a “Museum” containing the biographies of all the people that we estimate have existed, around 107.000 million.

I find more appealing the idea of billions of concrete lives rather than an abstract definition of a human being. We may wonder about what kind of life we have, compared with all the others. In his “Anatomy of Melancholy”, Robert Burton asks whether we would share alike the part of the sum of all human miseries, diseases, beggary, imprisonment, or rather take our actual part.

In the myth of Er in the Republic, Plato presents the souls about to choose their next life, reincarnating after death. The order is decided by a lottery. What if our life, among the 107.000 million, were decided by a lottery? I’ve attempted a simple simulation in javascript.

The first draw decides between 8 time lapses, starting 50.000 years ago to the time present. The second draw determines where we are going to be born, which geographical zone. These time-space coordinates establish which civilization we would live in, what kind of social organization it has, what is the situation of women in it. This is what is going to be decided in the next two draws, which social layer we belong to (King or slave?), and our gender.

The model, obviously, is oversimplified. However, it illustrates that in this lottery, the most probable destiny is to be a farmer or a slave in an agricultural society and, if we happen to be a woman, we will suffer an extra submission, based on gender.  As Scheler said in “Man’s Place in Nature”, rare and short are the periods when culture blossoms in the history of mankind. Rare and short is beauty in its delicacy and fragility.

enter the destiny lottery!





3 days. Barcelona. Reading the Divine Comedy

In April 2013 I had some spare holidays left and almost no budget. I had long wanted to read the Divine Comedy again. In 2000 I toured La Mancha riding my bike while reading The Quixote and it turned out a great experience. If Xavier de Maistre could do a Journey around his room, I might as well make a journey without leaving my city, Barcelona. I decided to use the Joan F. Mira’s version. I estimated that I could finish the reading in three days. I had to invent an itinerary that, inevitably had to be completely arbitrary.
The first thought was that I could use different means of transport every day and book.
The obvious choice for the Hell was the underground. I worked out how to ride through every station and added a visit to the Court building where perhaps I could watch real condemned.
I would move around by bus on Purgatory day and take this opportunity to undergo an delayed experiment: to catch a bus at random, get off anywhere and wander around until taking another bus at random.
Paradise would be by bike.

For three days I followed the narrative of personal salvation carried out by Dante, thanks to Beatrice’s love. This journey classifies what should be condemned in Hell, what kind of labors must be done in Purgatory and what is rewarded with perpetual holidays in Paradise. I couldn’t help joining the sport of sending contemporary characters to their presumably deserved place.

Among the many findings provided by this reading I would mention here just one: the idea that the most sacred, the sublime, that what marks the experience of the union with God and the universe, is a smile, laughing, as in this most extraordinary and happy expression: “the smile of the universe.”

Cio` ch’io vedeva mi sembiava un riso
de l’universo; per che mia ebbrezza
intrava per l’udire e per lo viso.
What I beheld seemed unto me a smile
Of the universe; for my inebriation
Found entrance through the hearing and the sight.
Oh gioia! oh ineffabile allegrezza!
oh vita intègra d’amore e di pace!
oh sanza brama sicura ricchezza!
O joy! O gladness inexpressible!
O perfect life of love and peacefulness!
O riches without hankering secure!

The strategy of alternating reading and wandering to a different location almost every Chant, worked very well. I never got tired of reading and I could explore my city through new perspectives. In the way of travelogues, I’ve compiled a double one, the “reading” of the city, riding subway, bus and bike, and the “journey” along the pages of the Divine Comedy. Click her for a general view or go directly to Hell, Purgatory, or Paradise. (catalan only, you may use Google translate).

Fall 2013. Grevolosa beech forest

The Grevolosa beech forest near Torello is not huge what it contains some extraordinary trees, some of them catalogued as heritage trees.

It can be visited in a short walk leaving from “El molí de Bracons” on  route BV 5224. Following 20 min through a track, there is a nice narrow path through box bushes, like a corridor that does not foretell de amplitude of the space one encounters when it reaches the Grevolosa Forest with its towering beeches.

Neither sight nor the camera have field amplitude enough to scope it without scrolling. I have tried to convey this by stitching several vertical pictures (using the excellent free stitching software Microsoft ICE, planarmotion3 mode).

All Saints 2013. Funeral at Debre Libanos

Debre Libanos, perhaps the most revered monastery in Ethiopia. At a funeral, the men carry the coffin on the shoulders. Behind, some women mourn and cry. We are told that there are people close to the family, not paid mourners as the ones found in other cultures.  In Spain, “plañideras” are back, after being banned by the church (news). In Queretaro (Mexico) there are even contests. In rural Ethiopia, all the community is involved in the ceremony. Each family contributes to a common fund and burial expenses are shared.

Later, in another funeral, maybe someone wealthier, some men are on horseback, and at one point, the women jump in a synchronized manner:

I am fascinated by this way of expressing an emotion, collectively, with the body. Some days later, in the south, in Turmi, in a Hamer community, and in a very different cultural context, I see again women jumping, this time on occasion of the famous bull jumping ceremony when a boy has to walk over the back of a some bulls in a row  without falling. You can feel the impact of the women on the floor.

Why is that this form of expressing emotions can be found in two relatively different areas and cultures? What would be the map of it?

It makes me wonder about  the similarities between the forms of devotion in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Judaism or Islam. The cult is not only indoors, but also in the open space surrounding the building, usually circular or octagonal: It has an important role, similar to that found in mosques. People must remove their shoes, as Jews and Muslims, too.  Before entering the compound, people stop at the door, touch the wall and pray. Despite the differences in what is believed, the form of worship is much closer to Jews and Muslims than to the Catholic or Greek Orthodox Church. Could this be explained by climate? By the fact that they are fundamentally pastoralists?

In this 1 min video there is a chant recorded in a church compound; ullulation at 40’’.

In the north, graves in cemeteries are protected by railings. In the south, graves are scattered; it seems that people can be buried in the land where the family lives.