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.

High poetry

on: oooo kurwa
on: stary
ja: hej
ja: jak tam?

on: no kurwa
on: chyba sie wybiore
on: do tego muzeum modern artu
on: w takim stanie jestem : D
ja: ^^
on: no poezja
on: moge pisac wiersze normalnie
ja: pisz
on: ciekawe jakby sie po tym
on: gralo w go
ja: najlepiej tutaj pisz
on: hahaha
on: zapiszesz : D ?
ja: tak
ja: bedziesz mogl jutro przeczytac

on: ok
on: Pisze o psie
on: o korze
on: tka sie nazywal pies
on: kora
on: Kiedy bylem calkiem maly
[długa pauza]
on: Mialem psa ktory sie nazywala kora
on: a nie
on: kurwa
on: to sie nie rymuje
on: to nie
on: no to moze lepiej nie bede pisal
on: kurwa
on: ciekawe jakby sie gralo w go teraz

Bringing my blog to new heights.

Flickr inspiration

A lot of people who aren’t that much into photography think that I make amazing photos. I don’t. I just make a lot of photos. Then delete most, because they really suck. I publish those that suck slightly less. Read on to see photos that rock.

I’ve been spending time on Flickr and would like to present you few of the many great photographers I follow. I believe these are the best of the best. Don’t forget to click to see moar and bigger pictures!

Aremac

Aremac is the master of colours, ideas, simplicity and clarity.

Handrail with shadow Looking up!

Dropped Tree Friends

Deep Tracks Steigleitung Trocken

Brickstone Personalities Crossroad

Sister

Sis is nuts. She wins photo contests. Not flickr contests – real contests with real prizes, judged by famous photographers.

ladybug Fragile flower

Snow in Brno Sunrise on a meadow

just for fun.. Striped

Spider's beads Splash

Jason Lee (jwl)

Some people insist that children photography is boring. Jason shatters the myth.

101 uses for gaffers tape Laundry day

pumpkin Big & Small

If I lived under the sea sea sea...... Mirror Mirror on the wall....errr grass

What's cookin? Dinner Time

Lady Tori

I’m a sucker for good bokeh. And Lady Tori delivers the highest quality.

It's not easy being green Pure Morning

Cold Wishes Filling The Day With Joy

Break You Down Vintage Life

Soft Dreams Misty Morning

Ben Heine

…of the pencil vs. camera fame.

Symphony Urgent Landing

Pencil Vs Camera - 30 Pencil Vs Camera - 29

Pencil Vs Camera - 19 Pencil Vs Camera - 3

Pencil Vs Camera - 11 Pencil Vs Camera - 12

Katarina

A bit over the top kitschy HDR. But Katarina can pull it off better than most.

Endless view A new day-winter landscape

All's well Over the mountains and the sea.....:)

What if the world would have two suns... :))) Lunar world

Sky arc II Green velvet

It’s just six amazing photographers, but the post is already getting too long, so I’ll cut it off.

If you want more, go see images of Mattijn, Monkeyman, Dimitri Depaepe, James Neeley, Miguel Rita, Sparth, isayx, kktp, Cornel Pufan, Philip Klinger or Ali Shokri.

LSG 2010

Intro

I’ve happened to be the organizer of LSG 2010. While I had often been helping to organize various types of events, I’d used to be just a grunt dragging the heavy boards around. LSG 2010 was my first time doing high level organization. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on it a little.

Before LSG

First, I fought hard for getting access to the lsg.go.art.pl domain without success (big no thanks to PSG for that). That greatly hindered my initiative to organize LSG. Actually, I almost gave up. What can you do when you don’t even have the domain that has been used for many years and everyone knows about it? They just redirected lsg.go.art.pl to some PSG site, which didn’t even bother to link LSG 2010 site.

I decided not to give up when Jacek, the owner and manager of Alaska, contacted me and proposed that we could organize it together. He was taking care of accommodation, food, money and non-go side events. I was taking care of everything go-related.

I thought many people would never find out without access to the official site, but I underestimated two factors: word of mouth and Benerit. The first doesn’t need much explanation. The second one – Benerit – was responsible for even more. He not only answered questions from people about why there’s no LSG site and redirected them to the new one, but also sent an email to everyone who has ever attended LSG. Combined, this led to almost everyone knowing, though some people found out too late.

Jacek handled registration. Artur would be taking care of the “other board games” part of LSG. Myszcz promised to help with tournament organizing in return for free accommodation and food. Kamyk helped organize the playing material. Two weeks before the start, Hajin wrote she’d come as a teacher. I got lucky.

LSG itself

I came to Alaska on Saturday, two days before the start. Kamyk wasn’t too sure how much material was coming from there, but in the end it ended up really well (we weren’t missing anything). It turned out that Myszcz wasn’t all that experienced with tournament organizing, which led to Kamyszyn joining our organizing team. I couldn’t be happier about that – having Kamyszyn organize the tournaments meant that I wouldn’t have to worry at all.

As for teaching, aside from miss Hajin [3p], who was the main teacher, we got plenty of volunteers. Among them were Jun Tarumi [5d] with unforgettable lecture about fully cut keimas, Leszek Sołdan [5d] the Polish champion, and myszcz [1d] the Chinese opening expert. I only had one lecture, and as fisz was ready to help me, we played an “open” game – playing on the magnetic board and immediately explaining what we were thinking about. I think it was quite a success.

I scheduled 4 rounds of simultaneous games, which is quite a lot considering the whole event lasted practically only 11 days. I think that was a good decision, as everyone wanted to play against Hajin. The first simul was Hajin, Jun, fisz and me playing together against everyone else. It was a lot of fun (and we won most our games!). The other three rounds of simuls were individual, with each of us getting 6-8 opponents. I found out I got very weak in simultaneous games.

Tournaments were a bit painful in the beginning, but we managed to improve the process quite a lot – instead of running to the shop whenever anything needed to be printed, we simply used a projector to display the pairings and other information. I say simply, but it took 6 hours of hard work to get everything needed for the projector to be set up the way I needed. After that, Kamyszyn and Myszcz were handling tournaments themselves – I didn’t even have to be there. There was no one shouting “RUNDA” but nevertheless, most people got to play their games. No one was forced to play in the tournaments – participation was completely voluntary.

After the initial confusion, which was really tiring for me personally, my workload suddenly became much lighter. Aside from creating the daily schedule and making sure that our whole organizing team was on the same page, I didn’t have much concrete work to do. Except for solving emergencies, answering complaints, and responding to the same question 100 times a day (I swear it was the same 5 people asking all the questions, repeatedly).

I didn’t micro-manage and did let people help me, which worked out pretty well (because the people helping were awesome). Aside from volunteer teachers mentioned above, we had even volunteer organizers. Ela organized shooting tournament and drew the board for LSG 2010 signatures. Fisz organized volleyball and ping-pong tournaments. Kotasia made the torus tourney. I’m sure there’s many events I forgot. :)

Aftermath

There were no major disasters. Worst thing that’s happened is that I left two boards with two ING clocks (cough, good riddance, cough) outside overnight. They were pretty much gone after it had been raining throughout the whole night.
Beers and other small stuff were getting lost, but we never found out who did it. People have started locking down their houses.

All the people who brought playing material left after one week. Jacek, Kamyk and volunteers are making sure the material doesn’t get lost after LSG. Some of it might stay at Alaska.

Thanks

I was told that I should thank PSG. Organizing Polish summer go school is Polish Go Association’s job. That PSG failed to do so and a Czech guy living in the Netherlands had to help is surprising. Well, I’d like PSG to thank me first for doing their job. Whatever. Thanks to PSG for paying for Hajin’s stay and for most generously allowing their playing material to travel to Przystanek Alaska.

Big thanks goes to Jacek, Mariola, and Alaska team for organizing accommodation and meals, to Hajin for coming (and to Korean Baduk Association for paying her flight) and teaching, to Joon, Leszek, myszcz and fisz for helping with teaching; to kamyszyn, myszcz, Artur, Ela and kotasia for tournaments; to Janusz Kraszek for a box of prizes, to Kamyk and other people for making sure we have the playing material and to everyone else who helped make LSG a success!

Summary?

It’s easy to organize something when you have the right people to help you.
I think everyone had fun at LSG, that’s what matters the most in the end.

Bonus: Photos!

You made it! Either you’ve read through (doubtful) or you scrolled down here or you got the magical link… anyway, here goes!
I’m not quite sure if there’s a public list of all photo galleries from LSG 2010, so I’ll create one here:

As for my gallery, it’s nothing amazing, but it’s still pretty decent by my standards. The pics I like the most are: 1, 5, 10, 12, 32, 33, 35, 58, 61, and 64.

If you know about any gallery missing, please do leave a comment!

Dotrc aka ~/.*rc

If you don’t understand the title, you might just as well leave — this post is going to contain close to no useful information for you.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time in the shell recently. Mostly splitting my time between bash and vim, usually in screen.

I’ve always had a reasonable .bashrc, and my .vimrc used to be above average as well. But I invested some extra time to research more possibilities the dotfiles offer. You can preview and download my dotrc at github.

Here are some of the highlights, whatever I consider the “best of”.

My .bashrc is unremarkable, I just have a lot of shortcuts for the common everyday stuff. Perhaps the only thing worth noting is title setting for screen:

PROMPT_COMMAND=‘echo -ne "\033k`echo $PWD | sed "s:.*/\(.*/.*/.*\):\1:g"`\033\\"’

I actually wrote that myself, it shows the innermost three directories that you’re in. Showing running command in title is useless, as that’s in most cases either bash or vim (rarely also mysql). Showing the full path is useless, because long titles get cut off. Showing only the current directory name is not so great either, as it leaves you without context. I’ve settled for last three so far, but two might also be useful in certain situations.

Perhaps the best tip of all, reduce amount of tab hitting for completion by 50%. Put following to your .inputrc:

set show-all-if-ambiguous on

Next in line is my .vimrc (sorry, no .emacsrc, emacs sucks). Except for the usual stuff (nocompatible, colours, incsearch, etc.), I use few very useful and not very well known tricks.

set so=10 " show 10 lines of context (above and below)

“so” is short for “scrolloff”, which makes sure you have some space to breathe.

Last but not least, the Esc key is real far, hence:

set tm=400 " timeout for shortcuts

inoremap jk <esc> "pressing j and k together escapes
inoremap kj <esc>

Have I missed any useful tips & tricks?

Exposure bracketing

I have an old Canon 20D. I’m pretty happy with it, the large pixels behave well in low light conditions and it’s got reasonably comfortable handling. There’s just one thing that’s been really bothering me, and as far as I know, all the other cameras suck just as much as mine.

Exposure bracketing was implemented by someone who hates HDR, photographers, and humanity altogether.

I use continuous shooting mode (hold the button down and the camera keeps shooting as fast as it can until it chokes). First, I have to press the button and hold it for exactly the right amount of time to get three pictures. In the beginning, it used to give me a headache, but after some time I got used to it. It’s stil an inconvenience, but a rather minor issue.

There’s something I don’t get at all: Why do I even have to shoot more pictures to get more dynamic range?

If the wonderful RAW format had for example 32bit depth instead of 12 or 14, we wouldn’t need bracketing at all! You would just take the longest of the exposures, and the camera could record all the data without overblowing the highlights. Or, if that is too much hassle, it could make 3 “virtual” RAW files — by simply taking a snapshot of the sensor’s state at three different times during the single exposure.

Given the amazing feedback I’ve been getting here lately, I don’t expect an answer. But I do wonder — is there anything in the way? Or are camera manufacturers incompetent?

PS: Yes, HDR is an instrument of the devil. If you look at my recent pictures, you might see that I realized that aready. But sometimes, sometimes I like to go to the dark side…