All posts by tasuki

How I didn’t stop eating food

I’ve recently read How I Stopped Eating Food and think the author is nuts. Rob claims his wonder-potion helped him clear his to-do list and got him rid of his coffee addiction. While his approach is questionable, I’ve long shared many of his goals, such as a healthy and balanced diet, while not wasting time preparing food.

Here are some dishes I’ve been cooking lately:

  • First my absolute favorite: fast, clean and super-healthy. Take broccoli/cauliflower/spinach/green beans/other vegetable. Wash, cut up in a couple of pieces, put in a plastic box, add a bit of water, and microwave between one and three minutes. Steamed vegetables retain both their taste and vitamins. Meanwhile, grate some cheese to sprinkle on top and wash side-dish tomatoes/paprika/carrots/other vegetables. Add a bit of pepper and pour olive oil over it all. Voila, that took about 7 minutes, dirty dishes amount to one plastic box and the grater.
  • Preheat oven. Wrap fish in aluminium foil and put it in the oven. Go read a book for 10 minutes. Wash side-dish vegetables and perhaps cut a slice of bread. No dirty dishes.
  • Scrambled eggs are pushing it, preparation takes like 15 minutes and there’s the dirty pan left afterwards. But sometimes I still enjoy them.

I eat tomatoes and paprika with almost every meal. For meals without much protein, I add few slices of dead animals. If the dish doesn’t have enough fat, I add generous amount of olives and snack nuts afterwards. Oh and I’ve just discovered avocados!

Breakfast is my guilty pleasure, oats (+ banana and nuts) with yogurt, often times of Greek variety, with 15 grams of saturated fat per half-a-cup, instantly getting to 75% of maximum recommended daily saturated fat intake. Oh well.

Chairs

I’ve been undergoing torture all my life. These devices of the devil bend my body 90° at the waist, and then again 90° at the knees. Halfway between bent and straight. I can hardly imagine anything less comfortable.

I’d be happy if the chair-angles were either bigger or smaller. Kneeling chairs are nice, as the body/thighs angle is about 110°, which “reduces lower back strain by promoting proper spinal alignment”. Zafu is cool, because you can sit on it in many different ways, according to your current mood. Bean bags are comfortable, they adjust their shape to your shape. Sitting on the floor leaning against a wall with legs stretched out and a small pillow under your back is almost as good as sitting on a bed of leaves leaning against an oak.

But Aeron? No thank you.

Déjà vu explained

So, Wikipedia says:

The psychologist Edward B. Titchener in his book A Textbook of Psychology (1928), wrote that déjà vu is caused by a person getting a brief glimpse of an object or situation prior to full conscious perception, resulting in a false sense of familiarity. The explanation that has mostly been accepted of déjà vu is not that it is an act of “precognition” or “prophecy”, but rather that it is an anomaly of memory, giving the false impression that an experience is “being recalled”.

What a load of bollocks. Here’s the real deal:

When you experience a déjà vu, it had already happened to you. Your experiences are fully controlled by your mind — you do not perceive some objective reality but your subjective one.

Subjective reality means you can experience different situations in a very similar way, when they put you in the same emotional state. More scientifically, the same partial chain of neurons in your brain fires in the same sequence. That’s why you remember it, that’s why you sense a déjà vu — it had already happened to you.

From the half-assed-guesses-I-am-absolutely-convinced-about department.

One week in Sheffield

  • Almost got run over dozen of times. Surprisingly, on a bike it’s easier to keep left.
  • Stores are open (convenient; I’ve lived in a country where stores are closed).
  • In Sainsbury’s, everything is either discounted or 3 for the price of 2. You think people would see right through that, but I still get excited when whatever I want to buy turns out to be discounted.
  • Show me a white person in Sheffield and I’ll show you two Asians.
  • Local “pale ale” is actually very tasty.
  • Female cashiers twice your age call you “my love”.
  • Yesterday at a concert I met a guy from South England who couldn’t understand the Sheffield accent either.
  • Cheddar.
  • Hot girls are usually Asian. Or Spanish exchange students.
  • Full English breakfast is not bad. Though the beans take time getting used to.
  • Sheffield is hilly. Even though five speeds are all I need on my bike, sometimes I can’t help but secretly wish for a lower speed.
  • Ordered spicy pork noodle soup in an Asian place. It was the spicy-in, spicy-out kind.
  • There’s no light in my hotel bathroom but the pub downstairs is way cool.
  • Museums and galleries are plentiful and free.
  • Had to pack and move all my things three times in one week. Bought a pull-up bar and a bicycle to make the process more challenging.
  • Got called up on stage at a local theater play. Scared me so much that when asked where I was from, answered Argentina.
  • Peak district is awesome.

Make Ubuntu Unity usable in five simple steps

Out of frustration with Unity, I’ve used several window managers/desktops recently. They are excellent at what they do, but I missed how everything (volume control, display brightness, keyboard switcher, sleep on laptop lid close, sound mixer, wifi applet, gnome keyring manager, automounting, etc.) just works out of the box in the default Ubuntu installation. All these things need to be taken care of separately when using a minimalistic window manager, most of them are painful, some impossible.

Unity is a strange beast. Some of its features are amazing (merged topbar with window bar, semi-maximizing windows with ctrl+windows_key+left/right), while some are awful (the unholy left menu with its terrible launcher and all the other tentacles). I figured long as I can avoid the few bad parts, I’ll be happy.

You’ll need to install compizconfig-settings-manager for most of the tweaks to work. People who say ccsm breaks things are noobs.

Get the unity sidebar out of the way:
Appearance: Behavior: Auto-hide: ON
Optionally also, Reveal location: Top Left Corner, and set sensitivity to something ridiculous so the cthulhu never pops out.

Sensible Alt+F2:
First, install gmrun, a quick and small program launcher with tab completion.
Second, unbind Alt+F2 from Unity:

gconftool-2 \
-s "/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/execute_command" \
-t string ""


Third, bind Alt+F2 to gmrun:
ccsm: Commands: add command “gmrun”, key bindings bind to Alt+F2

Default four desktops aren’t bourgeoise enough, get more:
ccsm: General Options: Desktop Size

Focus Follows Mouse:
ccsm: General Options: Focus & Raise: uncheck “Click To Focus”

Fullscreen Any Window:
ccsm: Extra WM Actions: Toggle Fullscreen: Alt+F11

Swap Ctrl and Caps Lock:
gnome-tweak-tool: Typing: Ctrl key position: Swap Ctrl and Caps Lock

I find the environment comfortable to use after just these five tweaks (press and hold the windows key to see many useful Unity shortcuts), though I’m still struggling with window switching. Usually bypass it by keeping one fullscreen window per desktop.

PS: Why did I write this? Further reference. Yesterday I accidentally ran “unity –reset” (do NOT ever run that) and had to google these steps (again). No more!

From the Atlantic to the Black Sea

Eurovelo is a network of long distance bicycle routes, most of which are still under development as of 2012. Eurovelo 6 is a path from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. It leads accross Europe through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania.


See where I slept on a larger map

Why bicycle touring?

Travelling is healthy for the mind, cycling for the body. I’ve been a fan of both for a while and wanted to combine them. Turns out there are extra benefits to bicycle touring: It is the right speed to travel. Cars are too fast, walking is too slow. Cycling is fast enough to reach places, and slow enough to see them. The locals will love you. They’re tired of buses full of tourists who jump out, take a picture of the famous castle, jump back in, and speed off. A bicycle rider, you are out there in the open where everyone’s equal. You get to see both the expected and the unexpected, the mundane and the extraordinary.

Some more advantages include being able to eat as much as you can of whatever you want without getting fat, not having problems falling asleep, getting leg muscles of steel, awesome tan, new friends, stories to tell. Today morning feels like years ago, so much has happened since. A month ago feels like yesterday, the memories are so vivid.

Expectations vs. reality

CouchSurfers

CouchSurfing is rather time consuming, so I planned to surf only in the beginning, when it was too cold, and sleep in a tent later on. However, it wasn’t just a convenient way to sleep for free, but primarily a great way to spend time with the locals and get to know the culture.

I cannot overstate the importance of CouchSurfing for my trip. All my hosts took excellent care of me and we had lots of fun.

The experiences were quite varied: I met travellers, students, teachers, photographers, programmers, (organic!) farmers, pick-up artists, baristas, flutemakers, dumpsterdivers, CEOs, builders of self-sustainable houses, psychotherapists, nuclear power plant managers, orangina tasters, hikers, bikers, artists, clowns, actors, soccer fanatics, etc. It has been extremely enriching and there just isn’t enough space here to describe it.

Bicycle tourists

A reminder that I’m not insane. Or at least not the only one. There were so many! If I felt lonely for some reason, only spending each evening with new people, bicycle tourists for the rescue! Perhaps unsurprisingly, most are either young (studying or just finished) or old (retired). Not many inbetween.

Here are the cyclists who deserve special mention for their heroic feats:

  • Olek, racing for three days, sleeping outside in rain with no tent
  • Salome, rode a fixed gear from London to Basel and now rides it as a bicycle messenger
  • Norman, from London to Venezia and then from Egypt to South Africa in 3 months
  • Martin, wanted to beat the bike around the world record, gave up and was doing London-Istanbul in two weeks with average of measly 150-270km per day (funny thing, we met in the rain after Vienna, next to the Donauinsel where everyone gets lost, just as Martin was coming back from the dead end while I was heading towards it).

Furthermore, Dad joined me for a week, Kev and Mat rode with me for two days, and Mauro and Jole let me camp with them on the Black Sea beach. Many more deserve mention, but there’s not enough space.

The Countries

It would be tiring to read my daily journals, so here are the highlights and summaries for the different countries. These reviews do not include CouchSurfers, it would send the scores through the roof (except Romania).

France
Glad to have started there. Apart from great bread, wine, and cheese, France had best signposted cycle paths with good surfaces. And apart from Serbians, the French were the most hospitable people. Once I was spotted by a group of about 25 elderly cyclists who were having a pique-nique. They waved and shouted at me until I turned my bike around and went to see them. I was provided generous amounts of wine, bread, cheese, saucisson, wine, cheese, wine, … Viva la France!

My only complaints about France would be the unreasonably high price of the pensions/chambres d’hotes, and the weather. Supposedly April is the most beautiful month. Everyone tells me I got unlucky.

Switzerland, Germany, and Austria
All three have very pictoresque towns and villages.

Switzerland is expensive! Nine francs for one beer was quite a surprise. In Romania, you can have a three course meal for that. In a four star hotel.

Germany is the country with no internet. But with cheap food and accommodation. Unless there’s a party going on, the Germans are rather reserved. Hello, thank you, good bye.

I’ll never forget the terrible headwind in Austria. Otherwise, Austrians are just Czechs who happen to speak German. Pretty cool.

Slovakia and Hungary
In and out of Slovakia. People stopped responding to my greetings. Starting to look like Eastern Europe even though you can still pay in euros.

Hungary is the country where köszönöm means thank you. First real language barrier. Good food, friendly people. Budapest is an amazing city.

Serbia
Serbians are the most hospitable people. They don’t have much, but are eager to share it all with you. Strangers bought me beers. When I was buying a couple of tomatoes and a bag of strawberries I got the bag of strawberries for free. Using Antoine’s trick, I asked for water near Belgrade, and the family offered me a tasty dinner and later a comfortable bed. They spoke Serbian, I spoke Czech, we didn’t understand each other much, and somehow it wasn’t a problem.

Apart from that, the bicycle paths go on rather reasonable roads with not much traffic and there are awesome funny/silly/wise quotes on the Eurovelo signposts.

Romania and Bulgaria
Andrei says that Romania would be a beautiful country if it wasn’t full of Romanians. That’s so wrong! Romanians are very nice, but the country sucks. There’s no internet, it’s full of rabid dogs, and there are no hotels anywhere except Constanta/Mamaia, where there’s 10km of nothing but hotels lined up next to each other. Perfect vacation.

There are no city centers, no main squares. In villages, there’s the Main Street. The occupation of Romanians is to sit on the benches in front of their houses on the Main Street and Greet Cyclists.

The kids high-five you while the elders wave and shout something incomprehensible. Unfortunately, the language barrier is insurmountable, as vast majority of Romanians only speak Romanian. I speak enough to ask for water and say thank you, so that’s what the conversations are limited to.

Bulgaria differs from Romania in two aspects: It’s about half the price and Bulgarian is a slavic language. Too bad I couldn’t spend more time there.

Where are the photos?

Well, that’s a bit of a touchy topic. I’m afraid of taking pictures of people. Most get scared of the big camera and start acting in strange ways. You need to be really careful. The Indians don’t let you take a photo of them because it takes away their soul. That’s wise. A photographer needs to be able to capture the soul without taking it away. Not sure I can do that. Not yet, perhaps.

So, I have a couple of photo galleries from my trip. Along la Loire to Orleans, rest of la Loire plus Saone and Doubs, Switzerland and Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, and Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. I’m even really happy about some of the pictures. But, I didn’t take the most important ones…

Summary

This trip was by far the greatest thing that ever happened to me, thanks to all the people I met. If you read this far, do yourself a favor, quit your job, go buy a bicycle and get a ticket to Saint-Nazaire.

Best movies, part 2

In my previous blag post, I’ve written about Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieślowski, my two favorite film directors. If you like their movies, you might like the following ones as well.

Андрей Тарковский (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Stalker – One of my best film-watching experiences ever. It was so different from what I had expected of a sci-fi movie. The sound was breathtaking. I was literally at the edge of my seat the whole time. The movie was inspired by the Roadside Picnic novel by Strugatsky brothers, which is also seriously cool.

Andrei Rublev – based on life of an icon painter, the movie depicts life in medieval Russia. The movie was a tad too slow for me, but I did enjoy the bell-maker side story.

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson had a peculiar habit of starring non-actors in his movies and discouraging them from acting. The lack of acting, in a way, makes his movies resemble books.

A Man Escaped – Is about a French guy escaping from a Nazi prison. During the movie, the main hero mostly spends his time trying to disassemble his cell door with a spoon. Who would have guessed such a movie can be enjoyable?

Pickpocket – As opposed to A Man Escaped, I couldn’t really associate myself with the protagonist. If I find myself unable to find a job, I’ll watch this again for educational purposes. Cinematically, it was good though.

Diary of a Country Priest – Loved how the characters evolved in this film, though the priest himself was a bit of an enigma. I wonder whether Bresson was a christian or not. As a non-believer in the three-in-one god, I still greatly enjoyed this film.

Next in my watchlist: more Ingmar Bergman.

Best movies of …?

Orwen’s blog post best films of spring 2012 inspired me to write about movies as well. Actually, I’ve only started watching movies recently, and I haven’t seen many so far. Most new movies move way too fast for me, so I prefer to watch the older ones.

The post mostly consists of just a list of movies. If you’d like to see reviews, click on the links. The IMDb reviews are usually far better than anything I could produce. Just watch out for spoilers.

Let’s start with my current favorite directors:

Ingmar Bergman

Persona – The characters were hard to understand, the story unclear, the cinematography superb. All in all one of the best films I’ve seen, will have to watch once more.

Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries, but I wanna show off I can spell it out in Swedish) – A movie about life. Compared to Persona, Smultronstället was very easy to watch, though it did raise some interesting questions. I love movies with no antagonists.

The Seventh Seal – IMDb says: A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague. That’s pretty accurate. And I dig the rhyming squire.

Krzysztof Kieślowski

Trois Couleurs (Trzy Kolory, The Three Colours) – Inspired by the French flag and motto, they are Blue (liberty), White (equality), and Red (fraternity). I really liked White, though it’s the least acclaimed one. Red was very cool too. Probably I wasn’t in the right mood when watching Blue. And Jesus Christ, the IMDb trailers are so fucking terrible.

The Decalogue – ten short movies based on the ten commandments. Most are very good, the first and seventh are my favorites. I still haven’t seen the last one due to Mac OS not being able to write on ext3.

La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique) – more usually one person lives two lives but sometimes two people live one life. This movie is on my re-watch list (partially because I don’t recall many of the details). Also, it might be easier to watch than any of the above – if you don’t know where to start, start right here.

Stay tuned, next post is featuring Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Bresson!

Future of employment

There’s been a lot of uproar about unemployment rates. US unemployment recently climbed up to 10%, Spain has soared up to 23%, et cetera. But we ain’t seen nothing yet.

During the industrial revolution at the end of 19th century, machines have taken significant portion of low-skilled jobs and forced millions of workers into unemployment. And they’ll do it again.

I’ve recently taken an online introduction to AI course. It was a lot of fun, and reminded me how fast and in how different areas have computers – or smart programs, rather – been taking over humans in their abilities. In chess, computers won against humans in 1997. You may have noticed there haven’t been many publicized chess matches between computers and humans recently – I’ll leave it up to you to guess why.

Drivers will be among the first to go. It started with driverless trains, and will shortly continue with self-driving cars. The computer never falls asleep behind the wheel, is able and willing to work 24 hours a day, and is overall far more reliable than your average lorry driver. Truck drivers, wave bye-bye to your jobs.

Next in line are the translators. Have you noticed how much google translate has improved lately? I remember it being near unusable just a couple years ago. These days, not only has it started following grammar rules and increased its accuracy, it can also translate between almost any two languages. Human translators are expensive, make mistakes, and their translations are terribly inconsistent. Translators of prose and poetry should stay unaffected, but legal, technical, and computer game translators will either end up assisting the computer, or will have to find a new line of work.

In related news, armies of expensive lawyers are replaced by cheaper software.

If your job consists mainly of talking to people, you’re pretty safe. Does your job require significant creativity? You should be mostly safe for the time being – computers are notoriously bad at creativity despite repeated attempts by very smart people. However, if your job looks like something that could be potentially replaced by a computer some time in the future, it will be replaced within 20 years – please take a thorough look and reconsider your career path.

For the time being, as long as human civilization thrives, I feel reasonably safe about my job prospects: there will always be need for people who can talk to computers. But I’d also like to capitalize on my conviction that the employment crisis is nowhere near its end. How can I do that?

Daylight Saving Time

The European one. It’s wrong.

Central European Summer Time starts on last Sunday of March and ends on last Sunday of October. I never paid much attention to it, but always assumed that the start and end of daylight saving time is somehow related to equinox.

Now I found out the longest night of the year happens two months after switching to winter time and three months before switching back to summer time. Why?

To correct the assymetry, I demand for CEST to start one month earlier, on last Sunday of February. I’d been planning to visit Brussels anyway.

PS: Infographics are cool. This post was an excuse to try creating one myself.