2016: A Year in Review

We were certain about a couple of things at the start of the year. The US presidential race had a clear favorite, financial markets were relatively stable and even work plans were all in place.

Yet here we are in 2017. Who would’ve thought that President Trump would be sworn in a few days? That the Philippine president would cause so much division among my friends and family? Who honestly saw this coming?

Still, I think 2016 was a pretty outstanding year.

Eating In… 

We pretty much spent the same amount for restaurants and groceries this year. This meant that we pretty much dined at home in 2016 – an amazing feat if you live in New York City. If there’s something we can take away (no pun intended) from this, this translated to huge savings on our part, enough to offset childcare costs. This makes me happy.

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2016 was a great year for cooking. I finally found my groove in the kitchen.  We experimented a lot this year and this led to new meal plan staples like beef kababs, porchetta, fish cakes, a simple Lebanese lentil soup, weeknight pasta, and shakshuka. In fact, I even got out of my comfort zone and started making fried chicken at home with a dutch oven. My pantry also diversified a bit and now you can find Za’atar spice, Tahini, Garam Masala, tubs of Miso and Gochujang. And oh, did I mention that I finally nailed meatloaf?

Gear wise, I finally upgraded to a steel pan for making pasta, a kitchen scale that proved to be extremely useful,  and an instant-read thermometer for roasts. On the knife front, I jumped in on the Misen Knife hype train only to be disappointed by its apparent dullness. My $7.00 kiwi knife is way, way better in terms of sharpness and value.

Speaking of which, I really have to streamline my kitchen. I’ve been guilty of acquiring unitaskers in the last five years and I’m running out of storage space. Given a chance to start my kitchen gear all over again, I probably would’ve skipped the dutch oven, a lot of graters and a salad spinner. These things take up too much space and I found myself using my cast iron pan for a majority of recipes.

There is a downside to all this home cooked grub. The in-laws gifted me with a Zojirushi Rice Cooker and we had so much fun using it that we ended up cooking more rice than usual. At one point, we were buying 25lb bags of jasmine rice which would last us a month. As a result of this processed carb madness, my blood sugar levels went up and I just had to quit rice. Since then, we’ve pretty much transitioned to bulgur after trying out cauliflower rice. It’s gross.

But hey, I lost 8lbs since the beginning of the December. That says a lot!

…Sometimes Out

I  live in a city where restaurant dining has evolved into a sport yet I still went to the same places. There’s Dons Bogam in K-Town for their lunch special, Golden Unicorn for Dim Sum, Prince St. Pizza for their pepperoni squares, Taiwan Porkchop House in Chinatown, Spice for their lunch special,  and Legend 72 for Upper West Side chinese. My most recent discovery was the lunch special from Curry Express in Curry Hill.

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And then you have your gems. Max and I enjoyed the Crispy Mimiga from Momosan, Nomad’s Chicken Burger,  the fried chicken from Dirty Bird in Morgantown, WV, The Flæskesteg sandwich form Benny’s Pølsevogn in Gentofte, the Fried Chicken Taco from Huahua’s Taqueria in South Beach, any sandwich from La Sandwicherie – also in South Beach, Hot Star Fried Chicken from Manila/Hong Kong, the 3-way lechon from Mesa, the Egg Custard Bun from Sun Hing, Hong Kong,  and the eggs en cocotte with foie gras from Le Jardin d’en Face in Paris.

Read

I’m on my fourth year of the Goodreads reading challenge and I maintained my reading quota of 30 books for the year. I was pretty much done by early December.

I’m quite happy with this year’s lineup. I managed to read some of the year’s most popular books like Adam Grant’s “Originals”, Bill Burnett’s “Designing Your Life”, Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” and  Jake Knapp’s “Sprint”  both of which were standard fixtures in airport newsstands. As I transitioned towards a frugal mindset, I count “The Millionnaire Next Door” and “The Index Card” as life-changing reads. For fun, I added John Armstrong’s “How to Worry Less Money” in my repertoire.

It was a big year for food writing too. I started the year with a compilation of winning entries from the Doreen Fernandez Food Writing Award, then moved to Fuschia Dunlop’s “Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper” and Ina Yalof’s “Food in the City”.

It’s been a while since I’ve read something that provided so much inspiration to my workflow (since David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”) so it was so much fun reading Dan Charnas’ “Work Clean” – a productivity system modelled after the concept of “Mise en Place”.  This was my favorite  book of the year.

Of course, this year’s reads wouldn’t be possible without the amazing New York Public Library. I can really feel my taxes at work here. I pretty much took advantage of the fact that they’re good with newer titles and you can also borrow content for your kindle. Prime reading, introduced late in 2016 was also a pleasant surprise (quality wise) considering that it’s just an add-on to your prime account.

Running

I broke new ground with my mileage this year, clocking a little over 811.3 miles or approximately 1,300 kilometers – spread over 174 runs. In fact, I’ve run more this year than I did in 2010, the year I trained for the New York City Marathon. December, typically a slow month for running ended up becoming my biggest month, with 108 miles over 24 runs.

It helps that I have access to a gym here in the building, allowing me to run on days where it’s just too hot or cold. The best outdoor runs were along Riverside Park during Spring, Summer and early Fall where you can either choose to go all the way up to 125th st. or down to Chelsea Piers for a fun 6 or 8 mile route.

As for touristy runs, I managed to log some miles in Miami’s South Beach and around the lake in Gentofte, Denmark (where I ended up swallowing a lot of gnats in the process).

Travel

I traveled a total of 57,202 miles this year, spread over 6 countries and 11 cities.

I mostly traveled for work. I visited a pre-Zika Miami in February and really enjoyed the food and the Wynwood district. I also spent a huge chunk of time in Hong Kong, working from our shared space in Kennedy Town while I explored the city on weekends. I’ve been to Manila twice, where the cityscape and people are constantly evolving.

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My family spent a couple of weeks in Europe during the summer, hanging out in Copenhagen and Paris. I’ve always wanted to experience Scandinavia and I felt that Copenhagen really delivered on its promise as a clean, happy and cozy city. Paris, on the other hand, was quite intense, rivaling New York City in its energy – with better bread.

My last trip for the year was an overnighter in West Virginia. As an immigrant, the concept of a college town felt was pretty foreign to me. Engaging the people of WVU was quite an eye-opener and I learned a lot about the whole state itself and how they’re trying to cope in a post-coal world. It was quite inspiring.

Music

Music became more of a utility this year. It kept me company while I prepared dinner at home, made me mentally focused at work and motivated during my runs. Having said that, I didn’t really work that hard to find music. Spotify pretty much did all the work for you with their Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists. And while I did cherish the chase, it seems that machines are just better at figuring these things out. It’s just a matter of training your algorithm.

It was another shameless year of pop(ish) music both old and new. I went through an extended Sophistipop period this year, which started out with a random curiousity towards Prefab Sprout and down the rabbit hole I went (again). For this year, I really enjoyed Jessy Lanza’s Oh No, George the Poet, the sophomore Niki & The Dove Album, Anohni, and Yumi Zouma’s Yoncalla album.

So here’s an unpopular opinion. I think you guys have to listen to the “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” album. The thing with Lonely Island music is that the jokes are extremely clever, going beyond the shock value of their lyrics. But then again, I might be reading too much into a diss track about the Mona Lisa.

As for my kitchen playlist, it’s mostly a sampling of Scandinavian Jazz Trios (which is shorthand for saying that I try really hard to be sophisticated as I cook meatloaf).

Productivity

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I recorded an all-time high of 1994 hours, 31 minutes in Rescue Time. And that was just time spent on my Macbook. My productivity pulse went down to 75 from 2015’s 80.

It was an election year for the Philippines and the US, so naturally I spent a huge amount of time – 157 hours to be specific – frantically refreshing News websites for the latest polls, elections results and commentary. For example, I spent a total of 8 hours, 26 minutes on Fivethirtyeight alone. New York Times, which we can access for free in our office, clocked in at 16 hours.

Social Networking was also unusually high this year. On top of election fever, I also managed a lot of Facebook ads this year so that counted towards the total.

This year’s most used and abused app was Slack at 185 hours. This is significant a shift from email, which went down from 2015’s 199 hours to 140 hours this year. Spreadsheet usage also went up from 43 hours to 55. Google Sheets just keeps getting better.

I started journaling habit using the Day One app. I was never the type to keep a journal but Day One’s simplicity made it easy. Now that I’m a year in, it’s utility has increased by flagging you on your entries from the previous year.

I did a couple of “unproductive” things too which meant using my Macbook Pro for gaming. This year, I played a lot of Borderlands 2 (I know, it’s old) and tried out interesting games like This War of Mine. For mobile, I pretty much got obsessed with Pokemon Go for a couple of weeks. I must say it’s a great time to be a gamer, regardless of hardware.

The Year Ahead

A year ago, we thought we’d be out of New York by now. In December, my wife and I decided to extend our New York life indefinitely. The city has been such a great enabler, it really made a lot of things possible despite the skyrocketing rent, crazy childcare costs and everything inbetween. Yet, we’re still here, still thriving and raising a toddler in the process.

After writing this yearend report, 2016 wasn’t really that bad. My family will continue to do things that worked well last year, from saving, to cooking and traveling. We’ll probably have a couple more surprises in 2017 and the best thing we could right now is to be resilient and more importantly, just show up and get things done.

 

2015: A Year in Review

We spent the last month of the year back in Manila and I originally planned to draft this annual review on the 31st.  Our visit this time around proved to busier than usual, finding ourselves jumping from one gathering to the other with baby in tow. It was the good kind of crazy.

Well, it’s February now and Max will be celebrating his first birthday soon. This took me longer than expected.

2015 was a pretty interesting year. The arrival of Max meant getting acquainted with a different kind of life, something Rica and I  have learned to love and enjoy. Outside of parenthood, there were a couple of major changes as well, with me joining a new startup (News Deeply) and the Medinas getting closer to our plans of moving back to Asia.

While I do have a penchant for meticulously planning ahead, this year has taught me how to embrace and more importantly – manage curveballs. Life will find a way to surprise you. Certain goals you’ve set at the start of the year will never be met. Thankfully, it diverted us to even better things.

What I Ate

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Having Max around meant staying in and cooking meals at home. We actually bought a magnetic dry-erase meal planning board to complement meal prep Sundays  – ensuring that we have a ready meal every night. I’m thankful for the NYT Cooking app, Budget Bytes, The Food Lab and our parent’s recipes for giving us a lot of inspiration. When we moved to a new apartment in March, we were so happy to get a unit with a great kitchen that allowed us to experiment with roasts and broil pork belly at home.

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Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe for Ultra Crispy Pork Shoulder gave us an excuse to host dinner at home and I made it almost twice a month in 2015. It was a ridiculously simple recipe. All you have to do is buy whole pork shoulder from the grocery, season it liberally with salt and pepper and let it roast at 250F for 8-hours in an oven. You then rest the meat for about 2 hours then finish it off with high heat – 500F for 20 minutes.  This recipe will give you 6-7 pounds of crispy, tasty meat that you serve fresh to your guests. This also results to glorious leftover meat and which you can repurpose as fauxchetta sandwiches with Ciabatta, Sinigang na Lechon and twice-cooked lechon. Key here is assembling a good set of condiments, and we ended up consuming bottles of Momofuku’s Ssam Sauce, Nuoc Cham and Mang Tomas.

On nights where we were just too tired to cook, we order in.  As new parents, this was a godsend and orders usually come from two restaurants. We learned to appreciate Legend 72’s Mapo Tofu and paired it with General Tso’s Chicken and some Dan Dan Noodles. Then there’s Chirping Chicken in the Upper West Side with their charbroiled chicken while Rica remained consistent with her combo of chicken wings and lentil soup. These are by no means the best restaurants in our neighborhood, but the two have officially entered comfort food territory.

I decided to be frugal this year by dining Al Desko and ended up eating more rice than usual. Still, I left some room for the occasional lunch out and this gave me an opportunity to explore lunch options in SoHo. Compared to Flatiron, the selection was pretty disappointing unless you’re willing to trek all the way down to Chinatown. Should you find yourself in SoHo and looking for cheap-ish lunch, I highly recommend Lahore Deli along Crosby – a hole-in-the-wall Pakistani Biryani joint frequented by cabbies. Lahore also opened me up to the joys of achar, so much so that I had to beg the guy at the counter to sell me a vat of their National Mixed Pickles. I also lined up for Parisi Bakery’s Deli Sandwiches to eat the not-so-secret “Dennis” sandwich. This sandwich so huge that I had to look for a Parisi buddy willing to share half of the sandwich with me. Except that one time…

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The best thing I ate this year was the Pepperoni Square from Prince St. Pizza. In all of my 5 years here in the city, I can safely say that Prince St. takes the crown for the best slice of pizza in the city. While I’m still partial to New York Pizza Suprema, the greasy/spicy goodness of a Prince St. Pepperoni Square (make sure you get it extra crispy) after three pints of $4.00 IPAs from Botanica  (a ritual my friend Elvin and I go through once a week) made the New York City hustle worth it.

Fitness

I’ve been living a post-quantified self life. This left me with habits I picked up from tracking multiple aspects of my life like food, steps, runs, heart rate and body weight. Self-tracking was instrumental in building good habits. The payoff happens when you stop logging, akin to taking out your training wheels.

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I remained fairly consistent with exercise this year, setting a modest target of 100 runs for 2015. Not only did I exceed this target with 142 runs, but I finally finished my first sub-2 half-marathon (Staten Island, October). I’ve been a running traveler as well,  going out for a jog in different cities this year, from the lakes of Minnesota to the boardwalk of South Beach.

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I still track my steps with Fitbit, logging of 6.4 Million steps or roughly 2,900 miles. I tend to do really well in warmer weather and things tend to be more relaxed every time in Manila (December) since I don’t really get to walk that much.

By the way, I’ve seen so many people sign up for Fitbit only to drop off a few months later. I noticed that most of my inactive friends owned wearables while I just owned a Zip all this time. I personally believe that pedometer usage should be ambient to encourage long term usage. The Zip iws perfect since you can just stuff it in your pocket – it doesn’t have to compete with your other devices in terms of wrist real estate!

2015 was the year when I finally quit “tobacco”. When Max was born, I promised Rica that I’ll finally quit smoking. As a pack a day smoker, this proved to be extremely difficult. This all changed when I arrived home from work last May and felt a bit of numbness on my left cheek. I honestly thought I was having a stroke. I  panicked and told Rica that I might have to rush myself to the ER. After having my blood pressure checked in a nearby CVS, I found out that I was suffering from hypertension. My friend Crischelle, whom I typically call during medical emergencies, advised me to quit right away.

That was a massive wake up call for me. Despite the fact that I was technically okay in terms of my heart attack risk, I was rattled enough to finally quit tobacco. Besides, I’ve been experimenting with e-cigarettes early in the year and it was fairly easy to stop smoking cancer sticks from that point onward. So yeah, I vape.

Admittedly, I’m not strong enough to drop nicotine altogether, but thanks to vaping, I’ve completely lost my appetite for Marlboro Lights.  While the verdict is still out on the relative safety of e-cigarettes, I’m definitely breathing better, consuming less nicotine and spending less on this silly habit. At least vaping provides you with a clear pathway towards completely ditching nicotine and I’m proud to say that I’m slowly reducing the amount of Nicotine in my body.

Travel

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I got to see more of America in 2015, thanks to a job that involves a lot of travel. Being part of a geographically distributed organization has its challenges and we mitigate this by organizing regular retreats all over the world. I’ve had a chance to visit Minnesota and Miami for the first time this year and saw a different, non-touristy side of D.C.

I wish I had time to travel for pleasure but I had to make way for work and of course, staying in the city with a too-young-to-travel Max. Yet, I somehow managed to visit Manila, Cebu and San Francisco twice this year. I’d actually give travel a D this year since I haven’t been to obvious places like Japan and Europe(!). This needs to be fixed.

Music

I had a total of 5,441 scrobbles, 943 artists and over 1,956 tracks played. It’s still a lot by any standard.

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2015 was okay (in the truest sense of the word) in terms of music and I wasn’t surprised that Charli XCX(!) was my top artist for the year. The thing is, I don’t even know all of her songs, I just got obsessed with “Doing it” and “I Need Ur Luv” (it kinda felt weird just saying that) at the start of the year. Other notable artists include Jamie xx, Say Lou Lou, Kate Boy, Shura and Allie X.  As for live music, I was happy to see Say Lou Lou, Juliana Hatfield and one of the best concerts I’ve had in New York – Basement Jaxx in Central Park.

My song of the year goes to Kelela’s Rewind,  a track that magically dropped on my Spotify Discover playlist late in the year. The song was nostalgic in a sense that I found so much novelty in its Miami-bass-ish sound.

I completely dropped mp3s altogether and went full streaming. It’s now a mix of 70% Spotify and 30% Soundcloud. I’ve long lamented the discovery features of Spotify so when they introduced the Discover Weekly feature last year, it was truly a godsend. Soundcloud remains to be a great platform for new music and it deserves to exist in a world dominated by Spotify.  I’ve written so much about Last.fm and they also introduced a major redesign. I was meaning to add my last.fm seasonal graph here for some insight but this feature was discontinued – much to my disappointment.

Productivity – added February 29, 2016

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I logged in a total of 1,731 hours and 27 minutes in 2015, with a productivity pulse of 80 (compared to last year’s 73).

Once again, here are some boring stats for your enjoyment

  • Email – 199 hours
  • Skype – 71 hours
  • Slack – 48 hours
  • Google Spreadsheets – 43 hours
  • Facebook – 59 hours
  • Twitter – 28 hours
  • Adobe Photoshop – 14 hours

The Year Ahead

It’s the second month of 2016 and I kinda feel funny talking about last year and sharing my plans for the year. Still, there’s still so much do, learn and give this year.  There will be major changes as well, and we’re getting more clarity with a potential move back to Asia (not necessarily the Philippines).

Having said that, 2016 is all about:

  • Family – Our son is growing up really fast and we have to get this parenting thing right. I plan to spend more time (despite all the travel) and be more mindful of my role as a father. This also made my relationship with my wife strong as well.
  • New York – I plan to make the most out of the city we’ve grown to love (and occasionally hate) by doing some of the more obvious New Yorky things that we missed out on after living here for five years.
  • Ditching the non essential – One key takeaway from 2015 is that maybe I should start saying NO to a lot of things. Since then, I’ve been letting go of more things like side projects, material things and even magazine subscriptions.
  • Meaningful work – I’m a lucky guy. I’ve always been in a good place with work. There’s still a lot of room from improvement though, I hope to develop more empathy this year and sustain my growth mindset.

2016 is all about continuity.

A photo posted by JC Medina (@coolbutsure) on

 

Slavatar

In between raising a newborn and coping with start-up life, I found myself acquiring a business I found on Product Hunt a month ago.

Slavatar was a side project by a pair of startup guys from Las Vegas. Driven by a need to generate some cashflow for their real-estate tech startup, they hacked their way to a simple landing page and secured the services of a freelance artist. After getting featured on Product Hunt and getting more than 200 orders over a short period, it proved to be more of a distraction.

I was one of those people who saw the Product Hunt listing and thought it was pretty cool. I was falling in love with Slack at around this time and was looking for app that played well with the service. This is by no means a Slack app. By standardizing the look and feel of avatars within a company,  it becomes a cheap and effective vehicle to promote culture.

People don’t typically go to Product Hunt to buy businesses. But Slavatar, in its minimalist glory, mentioned that the business was for sale at the bottom of the page. This business seemed small enough to be an interesting addition to my portfolio so why not reach out to them?

So I did.

After a series of emails and arriving at a reasonable sale price, I ended up taking control of the business. This included the domain name, the codebase and an introduction to the artist.

Up to this day, Slavatar is still untouched. It’s just there now, getting a couple of orders a week. It has a simple get-a-discount-if-you-tweet-about-this-button so I guess that also helped. The site is still thriving because of the Product Hunt effect.

I’ve always liked the idea of “Gravanity”, a term coined by Trendwatching a couple of years ago. There are a couple of startups serving this need right now (and pretty good ones at that) and most of them venture funded. Yet, there’s still room for a business that can compete based on decent art direction and keeping things simple.

Slavatar will make apps that startups use everyday a little bit better. Whether it’s Slack, Basecamp, Asana, Trello, or their own company team pages, Slavatar will make it look good.

The current site is minimal and I intend to keep it that way. It’s only expanding a bit with choices for portrait styles (up to 3) but everything stays the same.

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Max

After 18 grueling hours, Maximo Alejandro “Max” Yulo Medina was born on April 11, 2015 at 6:11PM in Mt. Sinai/Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, New York.

We’ll end up spending the next four days in the hospital due to complications  during labor. It started with my wife and I getting trigger happy with the epidural button, her tiny pelvis and Max ingesting some meconium when he got distressed. It was the longest day, and during the labor my father-in-law and I chose to wait at the ground floor lobby – after being told that they had to bring Rica to surgery to perform an emergency c-section. As soon as we got a message from my mother-in-law that Rica finally gave birth, we were relieved.

As it turns out, Max wasn’t breathing when he first came out. After performing  an emergency procedure to facilitate breathing. Rica just had enough time to see Max before they brought him to the NICU. Needless to say, we were pretty much worried at this point.

Thanks to the amazing team of doctors and nurses in the hospital, mother and child recovered well, with Rica managing to walk a few days later. It was pretty moving to see Max for the first time and holding his hand (he got his dad’s giant hands). Max started feeding and breathing well, and would eventually get a clean bill of health from the hospital. I can’t imagine how Rica and I would survive if it weren’t for the support given to us by our in-laws. It really made all the difference in the world.

It’s been a little over a month since we welcomed Max. He’s been great, sleeping for 4-5 hours straight and loves being breastfed. Max has gained a bit of weight since he was born and his cheeks are starting to swell up. We typically get a day where he’s extremely fussy, then get rewarded with a pretty relaxing, zen-like day after.

I jokingly told my friends that we’ve pretty much hit our quota for life changes this year, having moved offices, had a baby AND moved to a slightly bigger (but cheaper!) apartment in the Upper West Side. We can’t deny the fact that we’re exhausted, but it’s balanced out  by  the sheer joy of Max’s presence. We think he’s going to enjoy the rest of the year, now that it’s starting to get warm.

Assigning Task Clusters Across Different Browsers

I’ve been finding myself opening multiple browsers types (say, Chrome, Safari and Firefox)  just to run specific workflows at work. This was brought about by a recent acquisition by my company that required me to log in to different accounts from the same website. Going through this process was pretty hard, considering that  I had to log-in to some sites where I actually have a personal account (case in point, Amazon). So as to preserve my cookies and a rock-solid Chrome workflow that relies heavily on the Bookmarks bar, I’ve resorted to opening Safari and Firefox just to perform a series of tasks.

Having said that, I’m totally fine with this until a better solution comes to Chrome (or a better approach). I find grouping tasks by browser pretty productive as well since I have a different set of browser-specific bookmarks that I can just click in sequence. To illustrate, I currently use Firefox for Payroll, Accounts Receivable/Payable and updating our monthly P&L. Safari on the other hand, is used for tasks that require me to regularly check account balances. It’s just easier this way. I once used the Incognito Window in Chrome for this, only to realize that I’m just wasting so much time trying to log-in and out of these accounts. So the obvious solution? Multiple browsers.

So let’s get this out of the way, Chrome remains to be my default browser but I’m not happy with the way they supposedly improved the native bookmarking feature. I find it really hard to manage multiple bookmarks and organizing them to workflow specific folders. It’s a classic case of list view doing the job pretty well.