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Occasionally I ask myself if I really am an "ist". You know: misogynist, racist, classist, sexist, bigot, and so on. Or maybe I am "one of the good guys", a progressive feminist antiracist. And the answer is yes. I am both.

I've just read a really long feminist article that - besides naming white bigoted men "the enemy" and showing them the smallest bit of empathy just because "if you mess with them, they mess with us women when they get home" - had the author wonder how come so many of the people who got outed by the latest wave of misconduct allegations were people who declared themselves progressive and even wrote or shared content towards that. And the answer is really simple and really uncomfortable for all purists out there: we are all a bit bigoted. More than that, sometimes were are really leaning towards a side and then we change back, like reeds in the wind. I think that's OK. That's how people are and have been since forever. The answer is not to pretend we are different, but to accept we have that side and to listen to it and converse with it in order to reach some sort of consensus.

The animal brain has one job and one alone. It has to heavily filter all the inputs from the real world and then create a manageable model of it in order to predict what's going to happen next. Shortcuts and pure yes and no answers are heaven to it. If you can look at one person and immediately infer things that will help you predict their behavior from simple things like sex or color of skin or the way they dress, the brain is ecstatic. Try telling it that no, that's not good, and instead of the limited statistical experience model that it uses it should instead rely on the morally curated amalgamation of acceptable experience of other people frustrates it. It's not a human thing, it's not a mammal thing; if you could express this idea to an ant, it would get angry with you. The brain wants - if not even needs - to be racist, sexist and other isms like that. What it wants is to take everything and put as much of it in small boxes so that it can use the limited capacity it has to navigate the things that are not labeled in one way or another.

So yes, physiologically we are too stupid to not be bigots. All bigots are stupid. We are all bigots. In order to not be, or at least not behave like one, you have to be motivated. Messing one's entire life in a matter of days with an onslaught of sympathetic and coordinated allegations would do that quite well. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do, any more than it would be to "kill off" people who disagree with you. Therefore in matters such as these I cannot help feeling sympathetic towards people who are quite literally dicks. It doesn't mean I agree with what they did, it means I don't agree with what anybody did. And in such moments of sympathy I hear the parts of me that current society wants erased shouting for attention: "See, we were right! We are dicks, but these moralists are überdicks!" I listen to bits of me that want everything wrong with the world to be the fault of poor people, women, people from other nationalities, races or religions, certain jobs or certain types, having certain cars or behaving or dressing in a certain way. It would be so easy to navigate a world like that: just kill off the Jews and black people, put women in their place, write code only in C#, rename the island of Java to DotNet, be happy!

Yet it is obvious it doesn't work that way. Not even white males wouldn't want this to happen, most of them. How do I make the voices shut up? Clearly witch hunting offenders until their lives are more upended than if they stole or ran someone over with their car does not work. And the answer, from my own limited experience, seems to be contact. Whenever I am inclined to say all Chinese or Indians are stupid (which is numerically much worse than being antisemitic and so many people from my background are guilty of it) and I meet a brilliant Asian programmer or entrepreneur or simply an articulated and intelligent human being I am forced to revisit my assertion. Whenever I think women can't code and I meet young girls smarter and more energetic than I am I have to drop that, too. Whenever I want to believe black people smell or are violent or are genetically faulty and I see some Nubian Adonis talking high philosophy way over my head, I just have to stop. If these people would all go hypersensitive, get offended by everything I say or do and gang up on me for being limited in my view, I clearly won't be motivated or even have the opportunity to grow out of it. Of course gay people and Jews are responsible for all evils on Earth if they are the ones making my life hell. And it is also easy to remain bigoted if I surround myself with people just like me. I've read somewhere a statistic that showed racists usually live in areas where they lack contact with people of color.

Basically, what I want to say is that I see no reason why someone would want to be paranoid. Either there is something wrong with them or people are really out to get them. And it is so easy to label someone "the enemy" and just pound on them, so easy to blame anyone else for your troubles, so easy to enter the flight or fight mode that is encoded in our very beings. I see this with my dog: he avoids big dogs since a big dog attacked him. If he continues this trend, he will certainly avoid getting attacked again by a big dog, while trying to get acquainted with them might result in injury or even death. It's so easy to decide to avoid them, however nice they smell and how nice they play. For him it is a very limiting, but rational choice.

Hide your inner bigot, cage him in the darkest depths of your soul, and it will grow stronger, malignant, uncontrolled. This is what civilization, especially the forced kind, does to people. It makes them think they are something else, while inside they are cancerous and vile, just waiting to explode in the worst way. Instead, I propose something else: take your bigot for a walk, talk to it, introduce it to people. Maybe people will start avoiding you like the plague, but that's their own bigotry at work. And soon, you will probably be the progressive one. It's hard to be a racist if you have a black friend and difficult to be a misogynist when you meet wonderful humans that happen to be female. You will make the bad joke, you will expose your limits and the world around you will challenge you on them. But in the end, your limits will expand, people who matter will understand and appreciate your growth, and frigid feminazi Jew lesbos can go to hell.

You know that joke, about the guy who wants to become progressive, so he is searching for a gay friend? Why not try it the other way around? Find a bigot near you and make friends.

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You will quickly understand why I felt the need to say I was unbiased, but let me first demonstrate how much unbiased I was: I went into this raw fruits store, with an errand from the wife, and wanted to get something from me. Usually I like the caju and macadamia nuts, but I didn't want to have the conversation about why did I spent so much on something I eat out of boredom, so I looked around to get something else. And here they were, packaged and sold just like any other dried fruits or nuts: bitter apricot kernels. So I bought a 200 g bag.

Back in the office, I opened the bag up and I started eating. They were bitter as hell, but I didn't mind it much. I was eating some of them, then switching to candied ginger (which I'd absolutely love if it weren't so sweet), then back again. After a while, though, I'd had enough. About half of the bag in, I couldn't really find a reason to keep eating them. My colleagues had all refused to eat (and spit) more than half of one. But I was curious what they were actually for. People who love bitter tastes, maybe?

So went on the Internet and KABOOOM! mind blown. Just for scale, try to look for yourself at the dimensions of the can of worms I'd just opened: apricot kernels.

Turns out that the "active ingredient" in the apricot kernels is amygdalin, a substance that turns to cyanide in the gut. Yes, you've heard that right: I had just bitten the tooth, dying for the motherland before I could spill the beans. Google had already failed miserably, by serving first a page that explained how Big Pharma and governments conspired to keep this wonder drug from the public. The second page was Wikipedia, then every single conspiracy nut site, sprinkled with the occasional very dry scientific study that bottom lined at "we don't really know".

But I am getting ahead of myself. At this point I was already severely biased and I first need to describe my earnest experience to you. Short story: accelerated heartbeat, fever, terrible headache and nausea that lasted for half a day. Also, didn't die, which was good.

Back to my rant. So, some guy looked at the chemical structure of amygdalin and thought it looked like a B complex vitamin, so he named it vitamin B17. It was quickly marketed as a cure for cancer, despite numerous trials to show that it wasn't. And no, it's not a vitamin for humans either. It is not made in the human body, but it's not needed, either. The bag was not labeled anything dangerous, because it came from the outside of the European Union, which has a law regarding this. Here is some advice for both the EU and the US. Turkey was OK, though, so it only said "great for cancer, eat 5 to 8 seeds daily, not all at once".

So how fucked was I after eating about one hundred of them? A European Food Safety Authority article said that eating three kernels exceeds the safe level for adults. A toddler could do that from just eating one. An article from Cancer Council Australia detailed the child fatalities due to ingesting apricot seeds. Another article was telling me of an adult who got poisoning, but he was both stupid and extreme (he was taking a concentrated extract) and didn't die anyway. A thousand other sites were telling me how amazing my health will be after I had just eaten ten times the daily dosage they suggested.

Drowned in the sea of controversy regarding apricot kernels I've decided to look for the chemical and medicinal treatment for cyanide poisoning. Step 1: decontamination. It was kind of too late to go to the toilet and do the anorexia thing. Step 2: take some amyl nitrite (and then some intravenous things). Wait, that's a party drug. I could maybe get one in a sex shop. There was no home remedy and most of all, even if the amyl nitrite seems to work, no one seems to know exactly why other than the vasodilating effect it obviously has. Another possible antidote is (ironically) hydroxocobalamin, also called vitamin B12a. In the end some vitamin C and a headache pill did wonders, just in case you eat a bunch of apricot kernels and feel awful. Obviously, if it were a serious condition I would have died at the keyboard, trying to wade through the marketing posts and the uselessly dry official reports. Also, not enough easily available party drugs, I dare say.

So, days later the bout of shaky hands, fever and the horrible headache that only blood oxygen deprivation can bring, I decided to write this post. I doubt people will find it with Google, but maybe just my immediate friends will know not to eat this crap.

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So I am having this dream. Or I am so having a dream? Anyway, weird fucking dream, like Coscarelli meets Happy! via those explaining videos where someone talks very fast while drawing what is going on while an obnoxiously and totally unnecessary music plays joyfully in the background. Although that was mostly a way to graphically depict my inner thoughts... in the dream... so that I could understand what I was thinking. The dream concerned altered states of mind, biology, physics, logic, anything really.

Everything was altered, but also very real. It was all real. One moment I am doing something horrible, like killing innocent bystanders by throwing them from a tall place onto other people that were trying to make me stop killing people or pushing terrified (and annoying) kindergarten kids out of my way, my wife in tow, enjoying every second, the other I am home, waiting for the cops to show up, amazed that I got away, only for someone to force very strong psychiatric meds down my throat and make me realize that it was all a fantasy of someone who isn't even who I thought I was. Then I wake up and I am a terrible (and amusing) force of evil trying to understand both who I am and why do the people that force feed me medicine look like my parents, while they clearly are not. I terrify them and so I can tell them what to do, maybe they won't discover I am as terrified of not knowing what the hell is going on. But I will be having fun, as a God given right.

And then it switches again, with a good friend arranging the trip that will take us out of the country, on a touristic toury tour that me and the wife will use to escape the authorities that no doubt are looking for us right now because we killed all those people in probably the very tour we are organizing because they were standing in our way and we were bored. And in the dream I realize that every such permutation of reality is part of the dream, but also very real. I could stop at any moment and that would be reality for a while. So I switch again, I escape, barely conscious of where or who I am, I jump some stairs, a dog is chasing me, but I know he knows me and wants to play, I get out of the building, pretend to be a PTSD affected veteran to get clothes and stuff, including guns, until someone asks me where I served. So I just have to take out the guns and commandeer a vehicle. The fact that the people in the car are sexy women who can't help feeling terrified and also strangely excited by this display of violence is surely coincidence. And then cops show up and the girls run away. I shoot after them until the bullets run out, while the cops are weirdly apathetic, standing next to me on the hood of their car. "Are you done?" they ask, and I sigh and acknowledge and give up, allowing to be handcuffed and thrown into a car that doesn't seem to be a police car. And a woman is there, old, crow feet eyes, one of those people who can laugh at anything, you know, smoking nonchalantly.

I realize it is all part of the great machine that revolves reality, like one of those game machines that gives you a prize on TV when they rotate it, only it seems the real good prizes are never chosen. And I know now what this is and I look into her eyes and I know that she knows I know, but maybe she could stop smoking, since it irritates me, and she laughs. Told you she could laugh at anything. I am proud of not panicking, of taking it all in and being cool with it, I can see the old woman nodding appreciatively, too. "So what now?", I ask, but I already know the answer.

It is clear to me that anything could happen, and it does happen, the whole world dies and I get that fast talking graphic that explains why everything alive is not alive anymore except one thing, me. And it doesn't make any sense at all other than what if it could happen and if it could happen why wouldn't it and I am it, the thing that can breathe what nothing else can and still draw fancy pictures of what happened while explaining itself how it survived. But then surely I could animate one of the dead, just for fun, so it can be irritated (as I was) at how fast I am talking when depicting my inner monologue. And I try variations on the same theme, all wonderful and terrifying and apparently dangerous, only that I can change them even after something bad happened to me, so they're not. I especially enjoy the ones where I am enjoying what I am doing, even if it doesn't seem like something anyone would enjoy. I congratulate myself for choosing a reality I enjoy what I am doing so much that I need to congratulate myself about it.

I am trying to describe the experience as accurately as possible while fully knowing that the memory of it is fading and that even if I would still be part of it I couldn't express it fully. It stank of multidimensionality, it purposely lacked any purpose, anything at all was possible and it was, overlapping and existing at the same time and space. It had a soundtrack, and even if I knew, for example, that Come Together was taken directly from my recent viewing of Justice League, I also knew that it had a completely different meaning in this context, except maybe for the YouTube bots who would flag my whole life as copyrighted. There was no moral to it, no catharsis, no epiphany. It refused definition and I relished it. It was the polar opposite of a spiritual experience: no hope, but infinite potential, no lessons to be learned, but filled to the brim with experience, no gods other than myself.

I could have been anyone, anything, everything, but I chose the reality where I would wake up, recognize the room, the laptop, and blog about it. Maybe only then see life extinguished, just for the kicks of knowing that everything I spent horrible confused lonely moments (while aware of the singleminded and boring nature of this chosen reality) typing was pointless, no one would read it, even attempt to understand it and fail miserably, because the Internet would still work for a bit, but everybody would be dead. Fortunately it was all a dream, and you will read and fail to understand this post, not even the least bit grateful for being all alive and shit and not the punchline to a joke that I alone (pardon the pun) would find funny.

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Growing up I always had this fantasy of writing a journal. My sense of privacy - being sure someone would read and judge it - stopped me from pursuing that, as well as the simple fact that I didn't need a journal, I just saw it as a cool thing I should do. Little did I know that in my older years I would want some sort of record of my forgotten youth and find none. Yet the idea persisted.

I started an actual journal as soon as I had a computer and I understood the concept of encryption. It didn't really work, either. It was full of self serving bullshit and it described a person that I really wasn't. One could (and should) read between the lines in order to understand the smug and ignorant state of mind of the author. Later still, I started to write a book, something called The Good Programmer or something of that sort. Phaw! Even if I could have gotten past my chronic impostor syndrome, being a good programmer is nice, but not my goal in life. If it were, I would have made other life choices. And again, it was full of self serving bullshit.

You may detect a pattern here and it might inform your reading this blog post. Anyway, its point is to generalize my experience as a programmer, as fast and as clean as possible. Hope it helps.

Every time I write software - that I care about and have influence over its technical quality - I tend to generalize things: reuse components, refactor duplicate code and so on. In other words, find similar problems and solve them with the same tool. It is not Golden Hammering problems away, that's a different thing altogether, since it is I who is shaping the tool. So how about doing that for my life? I should care about it and have influence over its quality.

First time I started writing code I was actually writing it on paper. I didn't have a computer, but I had just read this beginner's book and I was hooked. The code wouldn't have worked in a million years, but it was the thought that counted: I played around with it. Later on I got a computer and I started using the programs, understanding how it works, not different from getting a smartphone and learning how to phone people. Yet, after a while I found issues that I wanted to solve or games that I wanted to play but didn't have, then I made them myself: I found a problem and solved it. But writing code is not just about the end result. As soon as I explored what other people were doing, I started trying to emulate and improve what they did. I played around with compression and artificial intelligence, for example. And I was a teen in a world of no Internet. I went to the British Council and borrowed actual books, then tried the concepts there a lot.

It was years before I would become a professional programmer, and that is mostly because the hiring process (in any country) is plain stupid. The best HR department in the world is just looking for people that have already done what is required, so that they do it at the current company as well. But that's not what a developer wants. Software is both science and art. The science is a bit of knowledge and a lot of discipline, but the rest, a very large chunk, is just intuition and exploration and imagination. People who want to do the same thing over and over again are not good developers; instead they are probably people that just want to make a buck with which to live their "real" life. For me, real life has been writing code - and I still think I am being paid for putting up with the people I work for and work with, rather that for doing what I love.

Professional work is completely different from the learning period. In it you usually don't have a say on what you work on and the problems that software is supposed to solve are at best something you are indifferent to and at worst something you wouldn't understand (as in will not, even if you could). Yet, the same basic principles apply. First, you are required to write good code. By this your employers mean something that works as they intended, but for you it is still something that you feel pride in having written, something that is readable enough so you understand it a few weeks later when you have to add stuff or repair something. You are expected to "keep up to date", by which they understand you would keep studying in your spare time so that you do work that they don't know they need done, but for you it is still playing around with things. Think about it! You are expected to keep playing around! As for the part where you see what other people do and you get to emulate or improve on that... you have a bunch of colleagues working on the same stuff that you can talk to and compare notes and code review with. Add to this the strong community of software developers that are everywhere on the Internet.

Bottom line: Just keep doing three things and you're good. First play around with stuff. Then find a problem to solve (or someone to provide it for you) and write code for it. Finally, check what other people do and gain inspiration to create or improve your or their work. Oh, did I say finally? This is a while loop, for as long as you are having fun. Hey, what do you know? This does scale. Doesn't it sound like a good plan, even if you are not a software dev?

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It seems to me that there are more and more crazy people around me. They are relatives, friends, colleagues, random people on the street and I have no idea where they came from. I don't remember as much insanity from when I was a boy, but then again I was even more oblivious then than I am now, and that's saying something. Yet, since then the population of the planet grew from 4.5 billion to 7 billion and, more importantly to me, the population of my home city of Bucharest grew from about 1.5 million to a city where just as many people come from outside the capital to find opportunities. But the percentage of mentally afflicted seems to have more than doubled. But what is crazy?

I mean, I just saw an old lady, looking like she was chronically homeless, shouting obscenities to no one in particular. Who else was she to talk to except herself? She can't even trust another human being enough to talk to them, even if the thought came to her mind. And if she has an audience of one, just as sane as she is, who is to say she's talking crazy? Or when you see some company executive make stupid after stupid decision, then boldly coming on stage and presenting it as the best idea since fire was invented. Do they know they are sociopaths? Does anybody else know? Do they even care? There is a quote in the Mindhunter TV series: "How does a sociopath become the president of the United States?", asks the young FBI agent. "How does one become president if they are not?", responds the psychology professor. And I am reading this book, that I am going to review in a few days, about the counterculture in America, during the 60's. If those people would appear in front of me right now, foraging through mall trash and explaining cosmic truths while loaded with speed and LSD, I would probably catalog them as insane.

Maybe insanity is not a state, but a perception. It's just a socially unacceptable behavior. It does hurt the person using it, but that's mostly because they can't fit (or maybe they fit too well). Have I become more sensitive because of the carefully constructed shell that protects me from hardship? Anything going through it hurts like hell because I am not used for stuff to come through. I have thin skin covered by layers of callousness. Maybe society is more exclusive now? It is easier to become crazy, as you only have to fall a little bit before you get into an unstoppable spiraling decline. Certainly you can't experiment now with personal freedom; it's almost gone, taken away bit by bit, not (only) by repressive governments, but by our willingness to waste time and resources until there are none left. Open relationships? Life on the road? Chemically expanding your mind? Forget about it! You get homeopathy and holotropic breathwork and feel enlightened.

There is another hypothesis worth exploring. Maybe people are not crazy at all. Perhaps I am the mad one. At every stage I expect the full weight of social scorn to come over me and crush me like the bug I am. How dare I? I wouldn't even know what I was guilty of - which, paradoxically, would prove I am even more guilty. They would come at me with carefully crafted smiles and expressions taken from shows or movies they have all seen and burn me alive, giggling all the way, like they are making the greatest joke in the world while providing me with the help they know I desperately need. All these people that apparently speak only to themselves, yet somehow communicate with others by methods unseen, they would suddenly all turn towards me, pointing their fingers and letting out inarticulate cries. Then, of course, I would know that I am insane, because I would never be able to do any of that.

I just don't know. Where does this vomitous mountain of madness come from? Maybe more importantly, where is it going?

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So, me and the wife were walking our dog in the park one Saturday evening when we saw this female German Sheppard mutt looking all lost and terrified. The wife, being the heart of us two, points out to me that the dog is probably lost and she looks terrified. Me, not being the heart in the relationship, just hoped her owners would show up. Well, one can't ignore one's heart, as my wife keeps repeating in the hope I am listening, so I end up attaching a leash to the dog's collar and heroically attempting to save the dog.

The plan was as follows. Step 1: take the dog to the vet. Step 2: the vet will know what to do. Additional info: the dog was walking really strange, was terrified of everything, but especially crossing streets and was bleeding from between the legs, occasionally appearing to try to piss and nothing coming out. Suspecting a car hit and maybe internal bleeding, I rushed the dog to the vet I know in the area, who also treats my dog. Imagine doing that with a 20 kilos dog who is afraid of streets, basically.

Step 1 went to shit when I realized the vet was closed at that hour on Saturday. I mean, nothing ever happens to dogs in the weekend, right? I tried calling pet ambulances, they all refused to come, claiming not enough capacity. Finally I called the wife to come with the car and drive us to a nearby non stop veterinarian clinic.

The situation looked like this: female dog in heat (not internal bleeding) which was probably not hit by a car, but walks funny because she is probably not right in the head, first suspected to be 5 to 7 years old, but then age adjusted to over 8, erratically aggressive (although what aggressive meant to the doctor seemed to be a low growl of annoyance). Also, the doctor didn't know any shelters, groups that take care of lost dogs or anything like that. Surely no dogs get lost and found and then brought to vets. He had no idea what to do. So Step 2 went to shit when the vet told us the dog was not microchipped, was probably abandoned and, for all intents and purposes, was now ours, since no one adopts old dogs.

We decided to pay for some tests to figure out what is wrong with the dog and to keep her in the clinic, since she's a big unpredictable female dog in heat and our dog is male. We did that daily, paying a lot of money for it, until around Tuesday, when the doctors decided that the dog problems were probably neurological and that her uterus was malformed and probably would have caused the dog to die in the near future unless operated and removed. I was about to authorize the operation, too, and was thinking of names for the dog. Since our dog is named Tyrion, naturally she would have been Arya, but for the fact the dog was older, so maybe Sansa - she was traumatized and afraid of everything, too. In the end I was going for Lysa - since that was the older crazy aunt in Games of Thrones.

And here comes serendipity. A young woman comes to the clinic and asks if it is possible for dogs to run away from home in order to die. Apparently, her dog, staying with her parents, ran away from home and said parents were too horrified to tell her of that until that day. Stranger still, in the rare occasions that the dog was getting lost, she always returned home, which she now failed to do. No, the girl didn't look for found dog ads (which I posted all over the Internet), she didn't ask around in the park where the dog was lost (where I told just about every dog owner to spread the word), no, she just randomly arrived at the same clinic and asked this question. Of course, it was her dog we were talking about. No, lady, when dogs run away from home they usually go to the vet to get checked out!

So, if and when the dog will get operated or receive specialized treatment for her brain issues - which apparently she had since she was a pup - is the owner's business, and we only offered our financial aid in case it was needed. Happy ending, the dog is back with her owners, with some extra medical tests done and possible solutions for her future well being on the table.

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I've just returned from vacation in Greece where I spent about three days in Athens, the country's capital. It was an interesting experience, mostly because it felt so depressingly familiar, but also because it showed both promise and disappointment at the same time.

General impressions

I would have liked Athens to look like this (click to enlarge):

An orange tree in bloom, smelling wonderful, with a lazy cat comfortably laying at its base, not a care in the world.

Instead, it was mostly like this:

A nice little building with traditional Greek balconies on a cozy street (with the mandatory orange trees), next to a derelict ruin covered in graffiti and garbage.

Indeed, for me Athens felt downright schizophrenic. The day we arrived we went by foot towards the very center of the city, the place where tourists go for expensive dinners in an area filled with restaurants. We had to walk on streets covered in garbage, populated by vagrants, or places where the only companies were Chinese import companies and the street was filled with dirty dark skinned people doing suspicious commerce. And no, I am not afraid of dark skinned people, but I was accompanying two women and I was damn nervous. Anyway, all this was not a shady part of the city, instead these areas were intermingled with lighted streets where restaurants and tourists were abundant. And in the less tourist part of the center of Athens there was the same story, only told by buildings. Prosperous companies housed next to unfinished, abandoned or really ugly constructions. It wasn't uncommon to see a whole first floor with the windows empty or barred with wood, with shops on the first floor. Vagrant people everywhere, and they didn't look like Syrian migrants, either. Only they didn't seem that violent and people walked around them as it was the most natural sight in the world.

It reminded me so much of Bucharest, only here the restaurants and shops are less expensive and the vagrants less common. In Romania, that kind of lack of social status and resources often breeds frustration, anger and violence. Police actively try to get rid of homeless people. In Athens it looked as if this mix of opulence and filth was a given. The traffic in Athens also reminded me of my home city, only again, it felt more extreme and more subdued at the same time. It was common to see people cross the street in the middle of the boulevard, cars and motorbikes rushing towards them, with not a hint of fear. Cars would stop and let them pass, the drivers obviously not happy, but not expecting different either. The behavior was validated by the crazy street lights that turned green then back to red in a matter of seconds on some large streets and boulevards, and stayed green a long time then went intermittently green before changing color on small and barely circulated roads. The "hop on, hop off" bus, nicely avoiding the streets where people were sleeping on the ground and keeping on the nice sides of the city, a double decker vehicle filled with people, would routinely stop in its course to wait for taxi cabs that would converse with customers or people randomly parking cars or scooters or whatever in the middle of the road. Again, in my home city this happens all the time, but people are angry with frustrated honking and loud swearing. The driver seemed quite calm driving through spaces that barely allowed the bus to pass or to wait for these people.


Anyone who knows me also knows that I rate the quality of a place based on the taste of the local food. I could be surrounded by black beggars and still enjoy a good meal (as long as I don't have to smell people). However, the types of places you can eat at in Athens are also quite different. One can follow the TripAdvisor recommendations and find themselves paying 6 euros for a beer in an Irish café and eat crap for a lot of money; that if they even find the place there anymore, since it seems that the economics of the area are quite dynamic. One can go to where most people seem to go, and end up in a typical tourist trap tavern that gives them a Greek-style euro-food that doesn't mean anything, tastes like anything else and, again, is expensive as shit. Yet there is also the possibility you end up at a nice Greek tavern or some other type of place where you can eat and drink and enjoy both as well as the mood and atmosphere of the place. And as with other aspects of the town, you can find these types of locales one next to the other.

For example we went to the fish and meat market. It's a huge place where people try to sell you fresh fish, mollusks, lamb, pork and so on. After walking around and frankly getting fed up with the smell of fish in the place I was about to leave when I noticed in a nook of the market, out of the way, there was a tavern. I immediately went there. I mean, if people that work there also eat there using fresh ingredients that they sell there, it's gotta be good. And it was! We ate some really inexpensive stuff, with Greeks sitting (and smoking) at the other tables, all singing together with a guy playing the accordion. And let me tell you this: the songs that they sang and knew by heart were not the type of songs that outsiders connect to "traditionally Greek", although they were obviously so. And also the accordion guy was not expecting money or anything, he was playing because he liked it. I loved the place, although it was clearly "a bomb".

Similarly we found a Greek tavern right next to some fancy "cafés" that served expensive drinks and coffee and snacks that were barely food. We had moussaka and Greek salad with retsina and tsipouro and it was wonderful. We were slightly interrupted by some child beggars; they were Romanian.

Amazingly enough, I had no souvlaki, not for lack of trying, but because I was there with evil women who seemed bent on wearing my legs off with their damn walking and sightseeing! Also I was really attracted by some Indian and Bangladeshi places that seemed even more "explosive" than the market tavern. Yet they were in the area with all the beggars and import companies and I couldn't convince anyone to go there. I would have chanced it, maybe, if it wasn't that I had to fly to Bucharest the next day and going to the bathroom every half an hour would have been kind of difficult.

The Akropolis

It's a bunch of ruins on top of a mountain, infested by tourists and quite frankly mostly fake. I mean, the Akropolis museum is much more interesting and it also shows how many times the Akropolis was damaged, destroyed, raised and restored afterwards. To me, the picture there I felt the most true is this:

A mass of indistinct people sucking away any trace of tradition, history or sacred from a bunch of replica stones and statues that need heavy machinery to even stay in place.

For a moment I imagined they were installing the machines in order to make a transformer place. One could see Akropolis in various stages of its existence: press a button and suddenly the Parthenon is a mosque from the times of Turkish occupation, and the Erechtheion is where the harem is housed, press another and you get a church of Virgin Mary.

You want more, just google it.

The people

I've seen really tall muscular Greeks and also small little dudes. It seemed like there was a gap in the middle, where an "average" Greek was less found. Girls were as a rule rather ugly, with a tendency for being short and fat. I've seen cute Greek girls, but they were all young and far in between.

As a rule they were all rather polite, although we didn't interact with a lot of them. At one point we went to a tavern and the Greek waiter there spoke some Romanian words as many of the employees were from Suceava and he caught some of the language - he seemed to be enjoying his association with Romanian people. Also, for a place filled with homeless people, Athenians didn't seem to fear theft so much. I saw people leave their bag and cell phone on the ground while they went back to their motorcycle to get something and many shops that held products outside, ripe for the grabbing.


Athens didn't feel at all like a tourist city. Like Bucharest, it has its quirks and nice places, but its pragmatic purpose is to be a capital, not a place to explore and enjoy as a tourist. After two days there you have to ask some locals what else to look for and I bet that most of them would have to think hard before coming up with an answer. The city is a lot larger than its center, and we didn't go to see it all, so there are aspects that I am sure we missed, but the little I've seen shows a place of growth that was stunted by the country's economic collapse. It is not a place that is poor or rich, but rather something that feels diseased, with healthy tissue surrounded by corrupted one. Yet is it healing or delving deeper into sickness? That I cannot tell.

What I can tell you is that I don't regret seeing it, but I wouldn't go back there. My favorite experiences were smelling the blooming orange trees and eating at the fish market. The rest felt totally forgettable.

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It occurred to me recently that the opposite of fear is hope. Well, of course, you will say, didn't you know that? I did, but I also didn't fully grasp the concept. It doesn't help that fear is considered an emotion, yet hope a more complicated idea.

I was thinking about the things that go wrong in my country and some of it, a large part, comes from bad laws. And I was trying to understand what a "bad law" is. I tried some examples, like the dog leash one - I know, I have a special personal hate for that one in particular - but I noticed a pattern. It's not about the content of the law as it is about its trigger. You see, lawmen don't propose and pass laws because they like work, but because there was an event that triggered the need for that law. Law is always reactive, not proactive. It could be proactive, but there is a lot more effort involved, like convincing people that there is an actual problem that needs addressing. It's much easier to wait for the problem to manifest and then try (or pretend) to fix it.

Anyway, the pattern that I noticed was related to the trigger for individual laws. The bad laws were the ones that came out of fear. One kid got killed by stray dogs, kill them all and institute mandatory leashes on pets. The good laws, on the other hand, come from hope. Lower taxes so people are more inclined to work and thus produce more and so get more tax in. Hopefully people will not be lazy.

And it's not only related to laws, but to personal decisions as well. Will I try a new thing, hoping that it will make me better, teach me something, be fun, or will I not try it because it is dangerous, somebody might get hurt, I may lose precious time, etc? When it is so abstract it's almost a given that you will take the first choice, yet when it is more personal fear tends to paralyze.

Fear is also contagious. The people who want us to be afraid are afraid themselves. Control freaks, power hungry people, they don't want to take us to a better place because they are afraid to lose that control, because they are afraid of what might happen. And their toolkit is based on fear, too. Something exploded and killed people, some asshole drove a car into people: we must ban explosives, cars and - just to be safe - people. Don't go to space because people might die, although they die every second and most of the time you don't care about it. Let's hoard money and things because we might not get another chance to have them, because we might lose them, because we are so afraid. The fear people don't know any other language but fear and they will use it against you. Much easier to instill fear than to give hope, so hope is not that contagious. It is fragile and it is precious.

I submit that while fear might keep us safe it will never make us happy. The very expression "to keep safe" implies stagnation, keeping, holding, controlling, restricting freedom.

So here is my solution. As Saint-Exupery said, perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Let's strictly define our safe zone, or the area we need to be safe in order to not be afraid. Personally, as a group, as a country, as a planet, let's set the minimum requirements to being safe, a place or situation we can always retreat to and not be afraid. Whether it is a place that is your own, or a lack of debt, or a job or business that will give you just enough money to survive and not spiral out of control, a relationship or some other safety net, everyone needs it. But beyond it, let's abandon fear and instead use hope. Hope that you can do more, you can be better, you can live more or have fun, that other people will act good rather than badly, that strangers will help rather than harm you, that the unknown will reveal beauty rather than terror.

I will choose to define good decisions as coming from hope. Will that hope be proven to be unfounded? Maybe. But a decision based on fear will never ever be good enough. And if all else fails, I have my safe zone to get back to. And I know, I very much know that having a place to get back to from failure is a luxury, that not many people have it as good as I do, but to have it and still live in fear, that's just stupid.

Uitindu-ma la protestele de ieri am fost surprins ca nimeni nu face legatura dintre altercatiile cu fortele de ordine si Revolutia din 1989, singura perioada in care tin minte ca ar mai fi fost asa ceva in Romania. Ieri se vorbea de Colectiv, de cit de nesimtiti sint la PSD, ca jos Dragnea. A fost Colectiv atit de departe incit nu mai tinem minte cum era? Lumea era in strada scandind impotriva clasei politice in general. Acolo nu s-au bagat ultrasii sau jandarmii, iar lumii ii era lehamite de orice forma de politica. Acum, insa, lupta e polarizata, jos unul, sus altul, si am cazut iar in ciclul ala puturos din care nu am mai iesit din '90 citeva decenii: un permanent vot impotriva, punindu-ne bolnav sperantele in cealalta directie, ca si cum citeva rocade intre partide ar fi rezolvat ceva. La Revolutie am dat jos un sistem, iar acum, cred eu, orice mai prejos de atit este un rateu gigantic.

De aceea nu o sa ma vedeti prin piete scandind impotriva unuia sau altuia. Sint toti la fel. Singura solutie este castrarea politica: sa nu mai aiba nimeni posibilitatea de a da legi nediscutate, sa poata introduce oricine o lege sau un veto la o lege cu un anumit numar de semnaturi, sa eliminam posibilitatea, prin Constitutie, ca un presedinte sa tina parlamentul blocat sau ca un parlament sa se joace cu legislatia pe cintecul vreunui partid sau ca DNAul sa tina parti si tot asa. Sa tragem la raspundere oamenii pentru vorbele, promisiunile si faptele lor. Nu cu legi si inchisori, ci public, colectiv. Cumva am uitat ca alegerile politice sint doar o abstractie a vointei populare care se poate schimba in orice moment.

Ce faci cu cineva care ti-a inselat increderea? Nu i-o mai acorzi. Daca ii dai cheile de la casa si te fura, ii iei cheile! Poate il si bati mar, dar in mod clar nu il mai lasi in casa ta. Solutia nu e nici sa dai imediat cheile altuia, ci sa le tii tu si gata.

Repet: Protestele de dupa incendiul de la Colectiv erau o explozie de indignare impotriva intregii clase politice, Revolutia de la 1989 si ce a urmat imediat, singura perioada in care imi aduc aminte sa fi fost jandarmi cu tunuri cu apa si gaze folosite impotriva manifestantilor in Romania, a fost o explozie de indignare impotriva intregului sistem politic. Ma pis pe manifestantii din Piata Victoriei daca tot ce vor este sa il dea jos pe Dragnea cind pleaca de la servici, daca asta e toata ambitia lor.

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Last year I wrote a blog post detailing my experience with social media after four months. This is the followup, after I've had a whole year to take advantage of these tools.

Social Media - what is it?

To me social media means the big two: Facebook and Twitter. I still have no idea what Instagram is and I don't really consider LinkedIn as social media. And Google+ is not worth mentioning. I know there are a lot of other social sites, but I ignored completely photo and video platforms - since I rarely express myself visually, and I've tried some technical platforms like StackOverflow, HackerRank or GitHub, but again didn't consider that "social media". Probably I should, since I love software development and having people to share this with would truly be a social experience for me, but I started this experiment with focus on general social interaction. Also... Slack... what the hell is that?

What I used social for

In the previous post I said that I am using Blogger to express myself, as I have done for more than a decade, and use some tool to automatically share this on Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly, very little people were engaged by this method of communication. It works better than RSS feeds, that's for sure, but most of the time people on social media (including myself) want to shut off their brain and read something light, not my crazy ramblings or technical posts. I've created a Facebook page for my blog, so people can use that as an entry point, if they want, but all the posts there are shares from Blogger.

I was saying that I was pleasantly surprised by Twitter and the quality of content there and less enthusiastic about Facebook. However, Twitter changed some things lately, mostly allowing videos, images and smileys (what you, young folks, call emoticons - or is it emoji?) to take less space. The effect is that there are a lot more visual opinions (let's call them that) on Twitter and thus becoming harder and harder to read. Also the amount of postings there is overwhelming. I tried to look for some tools to limit the number of tweets or organizing them somehow, but unfortunately I found none that did what I envisioned. The result is that occasionally - every week or so - I scroll through Twitter until I get tired and put links in my to read list, but most of the time I only cover a day or two of content.

I found that whenever I see something that I believe is worth sharing I put it on Facebook, rather than Twitter, mostly because I have few friends on Twitter and there is that 140 character limitation. However, most of the time I just post the link anyway and maybe say a few words. I wonder if that short circuits me thinking about the subject and then writing my opinion on it, as I am doing with this blog, but most likely I would rather not share than write so much every time, so I don't know if the occasional Facebook posts are taking away Blogger posts. I will actively try to not make it the case. I noticed, though, that people that like my Tweets are often not in my friends list, so I guess it's more general an audience. That being said, all my Facebook posts are fully public, anyway.

Speaking of Facebook, when I compile my weekly reading list I also scroll down through the Facebook wall, but even with my extension to filter posts based on own content and less images, videos and likes, I still get bored rather quickly. Sometimes the jokes are funny or the pictures interesting, but I am not really a Facebook reader. Lately I have been unfollowing people in order to keep a modicum of content curation on my wall. I was really disappointed by the events system, as well. A lot of people just mark all events they could possible go to with 'Interested' and then they never go. Also the events that appear on Facebook feel like complete bullshit most of the time anyway. The ones that I would have liked to attend either don't even appear or they are so niche that I never hear about them until it is too late.

One thing that I thought I would use Facebook for was the messenger app. And I do use it, but very rarely. In the Yahoo Messenger days I would chat a lot with people. Somehow all that became frivolous, not only for me, but other people as well. Now I see young people just getting a lot of notifications and ignoring them. So what's the point, anyway?

And speaking of... God, notifications are annoying. Everything wants to notify you of the very important thing that happened on it. It does so by blinking, beeping, animating or any other histrionic method of getting your attention. They do it incessantly until I stop caring. Notify away, I will ignore you.

What I will be using social for

I don't foresee any change in the future other than maybe using less social media altogether. I am half convinced that I should try to develop meaningful human relationships, at least as another experiment. Clearly social media does NOT connect people on a personal level at all. I've heard about these young kids that share everything they do on social media. Maybe they do, but I am not following them. To me that's another network altogether. The occasional curiosity to see what is "trending" or "popular" disgusts me every single time. The things my friends share are not truly representative of them. And if I make the first step and post some weird feeling or situation I am in, I mostly get no reaction. People avoid negative emotions unless they are manic: hate, anger, disgust take first stage while depressive thoughts, sadness or desperation are avoided. Same for positive emotions, by the way, when people are extra happy about having a child or something like that. Just mildly enjoying something and feeling good about oneself is generally ignored.


I am not going to commit social media suicide or anything, but I concluded that I want to know what people think, rather than what people feel, and social media is used more for the latter. Therefore my commitment to online electronic expression is not going to increase towards Facebook and Twitter. As always, I do hope I will blog more meaningful posts. Wish me luck!

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I am often left dumbfounded by the motivations other people are assigning to my actions. Most of the time it is caused by their self-centeredness, their assumption that whatever I do is somehow related more to them than to me. And it made me think: am I a good/bad person, or is it all a matter of perception from others?

I rarely feel like I do something out of the ordinary for other people; instead I do it because that's who I am. I help a colleague because I like to help or I refuse to do so because I feel that what I am doing is more important. Same with friends or romantic relationships. Sometimes I need to make an effort to do something, but it's still my choice, my assessment of the situation and my decision to go a certain way. It's not a value judgment on the person, it's not an asshole move or some out of my way effort to improve their life. What I do IS me.

It's also a weird direction of reasoning, since I am aware of the physical impossibility for "free will" and I subscribe to the school of thought that it is all an illusion. I mean, logic dictates that either the world works top-bottom, with some central power of will trickling down reality or it is merely a manifestation of low level forces and laws of physics that lead inexorably towards the reality we perceive. In other words, if you believe in free will, you have to believe in some sort of god, and I don't. Yet living my life as if I have no free will makes no sense either. I need to play the game if I am to play the game. It's kind of circular.

Getting back to my original question: Isn't good or bad just a label I (and other people) assign to a pattern of behavior that belongs to me? And not before I do things, but always afterwards. Just like the illusion of free will there is the illusion of moral quality that guides my path. While one cannot quantify free will, they can measure the effect my behavior has on their life and goals and determine a value. But then is my "goodness" something like an average? Because then it would be more important the number of people I am affecting, rather than the absolute value of the effect per person. Who cares I help a colleague or pay attention to my wife? In the big sea of people, I am just a small fish that affects a few other small fish. We could all die tomorrow in the belly of a whale, all that goodness pointless.

So here I am, asking essentially a "who am I" question - painfully aware it has no final answer - in a world I think is determined by tiny laws of physics that create the illusion of self and with a quantity of consequence that is irrelevant even if it weren't so. I am torturing myself for no good reason, ain't I?

Yet the essence of the question still intrigues me. Is it necessary that I feel a good drive for my actions to be a good person, or is it a posterior calculation of their effect that determines that? If I work really well and fast for a month and then I do less the next, is it that I did good work in the first month or that I am a lazy bastard in the second? If I pay attention to someone or make a nice gesture, is it something to be lauded, or something to be criticized when I don't do it all the time? Is this a statistical problem or an issue of causality?

And I have to ask this question because if I feel no particular drive to do something and just "am myself", I don't think people should assign all kind of stupid motivations to my actions. And if I need to make this sustained effort to go outside my routine just to gain moral value... well, it just feels like a lot of bother. And I have to ask it because the same reasoning can be applied to other people. Is my father making terrible efforts to take care of just about everybody in his life, making him some sort of saint, or is it just what he does and can't help himself, in which case he's just a regular dude?

Personally I feel that I am just an amalgamation of experiences that led to the way I behave. I am neither good nor evil and my actions define me more than my intentions. While there is some sort of consistency that can be statistically assessed, it is highly dependent on the environment and any inference would go down the drain the moment that environment changes. But then, how can I be a good person? And does it even matter?

After a slightly misused sabbatical year, I went through a period of trying to get hired. That means interview after interview with people that were assessing my fit within their company. Man, that sucked! I mean, I am a white male professional in a business where everyone is looking for personnel and still it was frustrating, demeaning and painful. But I am not here to complain (maybe a little :) ), only to share my experience and my... constructive criticism.

The story

OK, so first off, the only other real experience in looking for work was more than ten years ago and then I was an absolute beginner on the market. However, back then I knew I was a nobody, while now I know that my experience and passion put me way up there as usefulness and value go. I may have started off this campaign with an unhealthy level of smugness, but it goes off quickly, I assure you.

I am lucky that I had this year of experimenting before I started looking, which allowed me to treat it as any other experiment: I accepted almost all interviews and I went diligently through the entire process, no matter my personal opinion about the company. That helped a lot as a learning experience; while I know how to code, it quickly became apparent that I have no idea how to convince others about it. I set up to try everything, learn from it, while continuing to be principled. In my mind that meant completely honest. I didn't expect company people to be honest with me, but that was on them. I would be a perfect WYSIWYG candidate. Better to fail fast, rather than have a miserable experience in the relationship. BTW, that is also my strategy with girls, which explains why I am virgin. I stuck to my guns, though.

The experience

I am not going to name names here. This is not about how awful some companies may have been. It is all about my perception of the hiring process. And it is that it sucks!

I don't know if in other fields it goes smoother, but imagine this: the only people that have any idea about how to hire people are the HR people and they have no idea what software programming is like. I could be married with an HR manager and she still would not know anything about software development. The technical people may know how to code, but they have no idea how to determine if the other person is any good and if you are a technical person you are definitely not an human resources person. I applaud people who can be both, mostly because I have not met one and I can't think of any scenario that would produce such an individual other than some radioactive alien arthropod biting a regular person.

Funny enough, compared with my past, is that HR mostly liked me while the technical people (the majority more than a decade younger) mostly dismissed me. At first I felt like a complete impostor (of course), my self esteem plummeted (which didn't help any), and I was about to beg for a job (which is what most people do, I hear). However, I tried to see the situation from the point of view of the people trying to hire me (I know: shocking!) and I could understand their situation and empathize. Think about it. How would you test someone for a programming job? Who would you call in that meeting? What would be the salary that you would budget for that person (in EUR, after taxes)?

Did you really think about it? Come on, make an effort. I guarantee it's worth it.

OK, so the HR people looked at my resumé and saw that I have had a lot of stable jobs before in all kinds of environments. I was a pleasant enough person (I mean, for a techie, which means without obvious homicidal tendencies) with a very good understanding of the English language. No obvious conflicts, although I may have been too honest in my (err.. constructive!) criticism of past employment. I mean, come on!, every dev can tell you that managers don't know what they're doing, right? If I think about it, the job of the HR department seems fairly simple to me: look for a candidate that fits the profile, lure them in, do the most simplistic psychological screening possible, then pass it along to the tech department. It's something that AIs will probably take over soon. I may fondly look backwards to these times, when there existed people that were actually biased towards me! The typical HR person is a girl. Now, if I am being insensitive here, I apologize, but if you want to seduce a tech to the point where he would do anything to come to you, you use a nice, sexy girl. It's only natural when devs are mostly male virgins. To be honest, these girls could have hated me or wanted me to have sex with them and I would have had no clue whatsoever. If they said it, I took it for granted. If they lied, again, it's on them. If they remained quiet, then I couldn't parse it into text and who's fault is that?

So then there was the tech interview. You have some guy who thinks he's God because he can code and maybe have some overview that is slightly larger than those of his juniors. He is young, probably coming from some technical university (yes, in Romania people actually do look for coding work after studying Computer Science). He has no idea how he needs to conduct an interview, but admitting to that, even to himself, is a bit too discordant with his view of his person. So he does what every tech would do in this situation: he Googles it. You might be amazed, but Google actually turns up some good advice, but you must be willing to admit that your expectations for how to do that may have been completely wrong. So he does the second thing anyone does when Googling: looks for links that validate their own beliefs (and also have some template for interviews that they can quickly print and use).

Am I being unfair here? Probably. But it is a good theory to explain the types of interviews that I had and how they all seemed carbon copied after each other. The template is basically this:
  1. an algorithmic question, such as: how do you refresh a sorted list from another complete sorted list, or how do you intersect two sorted lists, or how do you search into a sorted list or... wait a minute, are they all about bloody sorted lists?
  2. general algorithmic knowledge questions, such as: what is the difference between a list and a linked list, or an array and a list, what are the complexities of operations on lists. Pretty much there has to be a data container there.
  3. general language knowledge questions, such as: behavior of some implementation in a specific language, the results of SQL queries, characteristics of SQL indexes, some HTML stuff, the life cycle of ASP.Net if you are really lucky...
  4. tools and ways of working in tech from previous employers. Here they are actually interested, because while they appear to be judging everything you say, they actually want to hear of better ways of working themselves.
  5. questions about a project you really liked or had a lot of influence over. Yeah! And while you feel like an idiot because no one ever let you work on a project that you think was special, the interviewer learns from your experience and adapts it to their crappy project.
  6. asking you if you have questions for them and looking like they expect you to have some really sensible and relevant questions when all you want is to know if they want to have you or not

The existence of the first step is being fed by sites like HackerRank, Codility and CodingGame, which should never be considered as anything else than learning tools, if not just silly games. However, since these people went through grueling university lectures about algorithms and then inflated their own ego playing on the web sites above they assume you should know about them too. It doesn't matter that they rarely found use of any of it when working on their projects, they just push it under the vague concept of "wanting to see how you think". However, they are not logical problems (like they used to put 5 years ago, copying from Google and the like), they are very specific coding situations. You may know the exact solution - because you played around with algorithms when bored - or you might have no idea how to solve the problem.

And here you are now, facing a guy that looks critically at you, while trying to think of the problem, finding the best solution and doing it before the guy gets bored. It will take him about 60 seconds to get bored, too, as he already knows the answer to the question and he feels it's obvious and the only one possible. Hell, he knew how to solve this before he even left university! It doesn't matter that several scenarios fight for supremacy in your head, that for each there is another solution, that the very simple solution feels too simple and your brain is wracking itself to find another one - that would be probably either wrong, over engineered or both. And you want, you really want to implement a three step algorithm that you know always works (1. Google it 2. Think of something better 3. Use the best implementation found), but you believe it would be perceived as not knowing your stuff. I mean, what if you are at work and your Internet dies? Surely you need to solve the problem anyway, right?

In truth, the lucky scenario is if they send you to HackerRank or something similar to solve a technical test before you meet with anybody. That goes over fast and easy, while you hack comfortably in your underwear and you have no stress about who is thinking what. The unlucky scenario is that you get a guy who thinks you are not a true developer unless you are working on open source projects on GitHub in your spare time. Oh, and they need to be interesting to him.

Yet, after you go through the first two steps, the rest are a breeze: you know your stuff, you know your languages, you can even think of a project or two that had something remotely instructive in them. It feels like you went over a bump, but now you can go full speed. They ask you various things about your past experience, you gladly oblige, make a few jokes, get some laughter, start to feel good about yourself. Surely, you will pass the interview.

And then you get "the call", where you know you have failed from the tone of the HR girl who needs to tell you that they won't be going further with it. You still hope against hope while she goes on and on and on through her complex script of letting you go easy. She thinks she's being thoughtful, yet you are a tech and you want the answer first and the explanations after. And you despair. Obviously, you suck. You will never get a job. You are worthless, less than worthless, a complete buffoon. And here you were, thinking that years of successful work with people that appreciated your efforts meant anything. When was the last time you learned something new anyway? Last month? Three programming languages and five new frameworks launched since then, not to count the new versions of old frameworks that you never got around to master. Who were you kidding? There are ten year olds that can code better than you. And they are not married yet! You know getting a dog will ruin your career. You are a fossil, admit it! In five years you will be begging for food on the street with a sign that says "Will code for bread". And you know what? You are right: you are an idiot!

I cannot claim absolute truth here, because I don't have enough data to arrive at a clear conclusion. That is because when they flunk you, the sweet HR girl stops contacting you altogether. If you are lucky the company didn't use their own human resources and instead you arrived through a dedicated HR firm (headhunters) and they have the decency to not only tell you didn't pass, but also make the effort to tell you why. The people you maybe knew at that company and were really supportive of you joining their team drop from the face of the Earth. Clearly, you were too stupid to work there, so they cut you off. At the very best you are an emotional mess and they don't want to have anything to do with that. So the next section is mostly speculation, but I will try to make it sound good.

The Explanation

There are a zillion reasons people don't want you in their team on the specific project they are working on and that have nothing to do with your value as a human being.

You might have asked for a sum that is too large for what they were prepared to offer. Even if you are that valuable, they are too cheap for it. It's like the girl who dumps you without telling you why (maybe mumbling something about you being insensitive) because you said you liked anal and she was afraid to try it. It may also be because you think you deserve more than people are actually willing to pay in general. That's on you. However, the correlation between your skills and your pay is not linear. It mostly depends on the market. After all, you are trying to sell yourself. You are already a whore, now you are just negotiating on the price. Today you may be a hero, tomorrow you will be the guy that made some money in that [enter fleeting fad] boom and lost it all in the subsequent crash.

People might put a lot of value on algorithms. It may be a good decision, because in their project they often meet situations where good algorithmic knowledge saves the day. If you are not good at it, or you couldn't prove it in the makeshift interview you flunked, they have every right to not go through with it. They might also not know any other way to test your knowledge and be too lazy to actually look for value in people. There a lot of other similar reasons that you may file under this scenario. They wanted something specific from you, didn't tell you and you don't have it.

They think you are old. And you may just well be. Age discrimination aside, why should they hire someone like you when they perceive the same value from a guy 20 years younger - and way cheaper? If I had to chose, I would have no qualms whatsoever. This is also linked to expectations. Remember when you were counseled to try to move to a manager position before you got to [enter ridiculously low number here]? That translates to the expectation that after that age, being a simple techie means there is something wrong with you. This will never ever change. Look at the age average in all the big companies: it's about 30. Startups even less, around 22. That doesn't mean you need to become a manager, I am sure old managers feel just as threatened. Plus, you might really suck as a manager. I know I would. Unofficial sources say that even the places that usually hire people for experience (like government jobs) stop looking at resumes for people over 45. Age does matter, so plan for it.

And then there is the idea that if you are inexperienced you can learn quicker the things that "you really need", like that framework that became famous while you were reading this blog post. You may be experienced, but will they need to fight with you on whether to use ASP.Net MVC over ASP.Net forms? (or is ASP.Net MVC obsolete already? I don't know, I was blogging). I don't know if that's true. I did learn quicker when I was young, but that was mostly by failing miserably again and again. On the other hand a job position where you are hired for your ability to fail your tasks sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

There is also the personal thing. You might have rubbed someone the wrong way. That means not that you are an awful person, but that you just don't match with a person who you might have had to work with if they went forward and hired you. Again, want to be married with the girl that hates you, no matter how big her boobs are? You may be an asshole, but maybe the other person was, too. Some people might feel threatened by you, either because you threatened their life if they don't hire you or because they think you are way sexier than them and you would cock block their attempts to woo the HR girl. You won't become a better person by trying to be liked by everyone. They might have hated your shirt, for example, the one that you thought would look really professional, but they saw as threatening, because they usually work in shorts and t-shirts. Point is, they had some expectations and you didn't meet them. Were they justified? You don't know and you shouldn't care.

The position you would be working on is equally important. You might be a brilliant web developer, but if they actually wanted a server guy, or viceversa, they will drop you. They will not admit that they were not specific in their job description, of course, and instead just blame you for not being "a good fit". Imagine you are a cube that is crying it didn't fit in a circular hole. Ridiculous, right? I mean, would the tears be blocky? As a specific example: I went somewhere for several interviews. I was "a perfect match" for one and not the right person for another. The JD document they sent for both positions was identical.


Since I code and have an overview on life, I can definitely tell you how interviews should be conducted, but you will have to buy the paid version of this blog for that. See, I am learning fast, in one phrase I was both a tech, a business person and an asshole.

The truth is that the only way I could think of that wasn't insulting to everyone's intelligence was to actually show them a computer, a real problem, and let them fix it with me watching and helping next to them. And it still wouldn't be sufficient. If it were "real" enough, then it would take time to understand all of the aspects of the problem. The guy might be overly nervous with me next to him. I know people that can only work when no one is watching, and they do great work. Plus, they may have experience on that exact problem and suck at anything else.

Unfortunately, in all my interviews the only tools that I had to work with were pen and paper. Putting aside the fact that I don't even understand my own writing, the last time I had to actually write anything on paper was... oh yeah, the last time I was looking for a job. Does it make sense to conduct software development interviews with no computer? I would say no.


There is a schism between what they expect and what you expect, what you think of yourself and what they do. That is the real reason behind every failed interview. It doesn't really matter if they had unrealistic expectations, but it matters a lot if you had. Like every experiment: acquire data, reason about the data, propose a theory that explains it, test it against new data. The best way to achieve anything is to change your behavior towards the goal. The important thing here is to define the goal. Is it to get hired at any and all costs? Or is it to find the place where you will enjoy working, keep growing and be appreciated for your efforts?

In the end it so happens that not only did I get hired at the company I was aiming for, but I did it on the position I feel I was best suited for, rather than some mediocre second best. Like with dating girls, it is worth waiting for the right one. And with software, you get to do side projects, too!

I was in some sort of American campus, one of those where they found a gimmick to show how cool they are. In this case it was reptiles. Alligators were moving on the side of the street, right next to people. They would hiss or even try to bite if you got close enough. I was moving towards the exit, which was close to the sea and leading into a sort of beach, and I was wondering what would happen if one of these large three meter animals would bite someone. And suddenly something happened. Something large, much larger than a crocodile, came out of the water and snapped a fully grown adult alligator like a stork snatches frogs. What was that thing? A family of three was watching, fascinated, moving closer to see what was going on. "Are these people stupid?" I thought.

Sure enough, the dinosaur thing bites through the little kid. The father jumps to help but is completely ignored, his sudden pain and anguish irrelevant to the chomping reptile. Other tourists were being attacked. One in particular drew my eyes: he had one of the things pulling with its teeth on his backpack. The man acted like something annoyed him, making repeated "Ugh!" sounds while trying to climb back on the walkway. His demeanor indicated that he didn't care at all of the reptiles, temporary annoyances that stopped him from returning to normal life. At one moment he paused to scratch an itch on his face. His fingers were bitten clean off, blood gurgling from the stumps. He was in shock.

Somehow, a famous actor jumped from somewhere and made it clear that it had been just a show, although the realism of it was so extreme that I felt an immediate cognitive dissonance and the scene switched.

I was at the villa of a very rich friend and there was wind outside. Really strong wind. Nearby wooden booths that were at the edge of his garden were pushed towards me, threatening to crush me against the wall of the building. I went inside, telling my friend that he should take whatever he needs from outside because the wind is going to tear them away. He calmly pressed a button on a remote and an inflatable wall grew around the compound, holding the wind at bay. Cool trick, I thought, trying to figure out if it was firmly anchored to the ground by wires or it got all its structural strength from the material it was made of. It had to have some sort of Kevlar-like component, otherwise it would have been easy to puncture. I calculated the cost of such a feature as astronomical.

We went in, climbing to the second or third floor. Out the window I saw buildings, like near the center of Bucharest. The wind was wreaking havoc on whatever was not firmly fixed. The building across the street was 10 floors tall and apparently someone was doing roofing work when the wind started. The fire used to heat up the tar was now really intense from all the fresh oxygen and smoke was billowing strongly. Suddenly the top floor caught fire, flames stoked by the wind into unstoppable blazes. I called my friend to the window and showed him what was going on. While we watched, floor after floor were engulfed in flames, explosions starting to be heard from within. The building caught fire like a cigarette smoked in haste. I thought that if the wind went through the building, via broken windows and walls, then the a very high temperature could be reached. And as I was thinking that, the building went down. It didn't collapse, instead it leaned towards our villa and crashed right next to it.

I panicked. I knew that on 9/11 the towers collapsed because of the intense heat, but a nearby building was structurally weakened by the towers falling and it too went down eventually. I ran towards the ground floor, jumping over stairs. If the villa would crumble, I did not want to get stuck inside. While fleeing, I was considering my options. The building that went down had people in it, maybe I should head right there and help people get out. Then I also remembered the thousands of people helping after the September 11 that later got lung cancer from all the toxic stuff they put into buildings. Besides, what do I know about rescuing people from rubble? I would probably walk on their heads and crash more stuff on top of the survivors. I've decided against it, feeling like an awful human being that is smart enough to rationalize anything.

As I got down I noticed too things. First there was a large suffocating quantity of white big grained dust being blown by the wind, making it hard to breath. The light was filtered through this dust, giving it a surreal dusky quality. I used my shirt to create a makeshift breathing mask for the dust. Then there were the people. A sexy young woman, short skirt, skimpy blouse, long hair, the type that you see prowling the city centers, was now crawling on the ground, left leg sectioned just under the knee, but not bleeding, instead ending with a carbonized stump, like a lighted match that you put off before it disintegrated. I saw people with their skins completely burned off, moving slowly through the rubble, reaching for me. Some where nothing more than bloodied skeletons, some were partially covered in tar, the contrast of red inflamed burns and black tar or burned clothing evoking demonic visions of hell. These people were crying in pain and coming towards me from all sides, climbing over the ruins of buildings and cars. The smell was awful. I ran, parkour style.

As I woke up I tried to remember as much of the dream as possible. I still have no idea what I was doing in that campus and how I had gotten there. I was fascinated by the scene with the shocked tourist, as it implies knowledge of human behavior that I don't normally possess when awake. It was completely believable, yet at the same time bizarre and unexpected. Great scene! I've had disaster dreams before, top quality special effects and all, but never was I confronted with the reality of the aftermath (I usually died myself in those). I am certain I made logical decisions in the situation, but at the same time I felt ashamed at the powerlessness, fear and the fact that I was running away. Should I have stayed and helped (and gotten cancer)? Should I have rushed home and blogged about it? Maybe a strategic retreat in which I would have conferred with experts and then maybe got back with professional reinforcements?

What felt new was that while having all those random thoughts and running, I wasn't really thinking of my life. I wasn't considering whether my life is worth saving or what the purpose of my running actually is. It wasn't thinking at all; just running. It was visceral, like my body was on autopilot, taking that stupid head away from the danger before he thinks itself to death. Considering it was a virtual body in my actual head, that's saying something. I am not just sure what.

Anyway, beats the crap out of the one with being late for the exam, not having studied anything...

No, it's not about mine, although this blog has had its ups and down. What I want to talk about is the list of blogs I am following and how it (d)evolved.

When I was an enthusiastic beginner in software development I was hunting for interesting blogs that would give me valuable insights into the minds of good developers, the quirks of frameworks, the hidden tools and processes that would make my life better. I was adding blog after blog to my RSS list. Later on, I kind of stopped. I had things to do, work to be done and unfortunately went through some jobs that were not conducive to learning. Perhaps seeing myself as an expert also hindered enthusiasm in learning (note to self: don't do that!). The obsolescence of the tool I was using to read RSS with and the death of Google Reader also did not help. So recently I just went back to that list of blogs and started organizing it with a new tool. I use Feedly now, in case you were wondering.

Today I had an epiphany. I have over 150 blogs that I am "following", 100 of which are software related, yet only very few of them are actually spewing content anymore. In my three year hiatus from blog reading most of the technical blogs just ... stopped. Some of them just plain vanished, complete with content that I had linked to in my own articles. At that time I was considering blogs as permanent as you can get. I mean people just write stuff for the heck of it, so others can read and learn. There would be no reason for any of this to disappear - there are still pages from 1990 active on the Internet, for crying out loud! So what happened?

One theory is that blogs were created as representations of a person's evolution. For example you are a good WPF programmer and you create something like Dr. WPF's blog. When you stop doing WPF (because Microsoft dropped the ball with it!) you stop writing. Perhaps the author still blogs in other places, other blogs that are thematic, I don't know. Another theory is that people just blog at a certain stage in their life; it's like a quarter-life crisis. When they mature, people stop blogging (which says something...). Maybe the social media explosion pushed people away from personalized platforms and they do all their publishing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium and so on. As the IT industry moves at an ever increasing pace, the blogs may turn into antiquated relics that are obsolete by the time several posts have been published.

I feel sad either way. When I started blogging, people would come to me for help. After all I started the site years before StackOverflow arrived on the scene. I would write about programming, books, anime, life, personal ideas, jokes, space, science, rants, whatever. It happened several times that I was looking for a solution to a problem and found myself explaining it in an older post. People still praise some posts because they refer technology that is maybe a decade old. Others for getting the full picture on how I got to the end result. So for all these vanishing blogs, I feel a sense of loss for all the knowledge that was lost, for all the voices that turned silent.

I know that as a blog dies ten others appear, but there is no sense of origin anymore, no chronological timeline of the evolution of the person writing. I can even go down the "they are not making them like they used to" road. For me a blog would have functioned as a sort of resumé of someones's work. If I liked an article, I would look at others, maybe subscribe. This way I would be connected not with a concept, but with a person: as they grew, I grew. And SEO be damned, I don't care people don't discover my blog anymore because Google can't make up its mind on what I am actually writing about. When people do come, they see me, not just disparate out of context solutions to their 5 minute problems.

So I wrote this article to express my sorrow. I guess that I miss my friends, even if they never knew me.

In September last year I was leaving my job and starting a sabbatical year, with many plans for what seemed then like a lot of time in which to do everything. I was severely underestimating my ability to waste time. Now the year is almost over and I need to start thinking about the technologies in my field of choice that I need to catch up with; and, boy, there is a lot of them! I leave the IT industry alone for one year and kaboom! it blows up like an angry volcano. To be honest, not all of these things that are new for me are just one year old, some I was just ignoring as I didn't need them for my various jobs. Learn from this, as especially in the software business it gets harder and harder to keep up to date and easier and easier to live in a bubble of your own or your employer's creation.

This post is about a list of programming topics that I would like to learn or at least learn to recognize. It's work in progress and probably I will update it for a time. While on my break I created a folder of software development stuff that I would "leave for later". As you can imagine, it got quite large. Today I am opening it for the first time. Be afraid. Be very afraid. I also have a lot of people, either friends or just casual blog or Twitter followings, that constantly let me know of what they are working on. As such, the list will not be very structured, but will be large. Let's begin.

A simple list would look like this. Let me set the list style to ordered list so you can count them:
  1. Typescript 2
  2. ReactJS
  3. JSX
  4. SignalR
  5. Javascript ES6
  6. Xamarin
  7. PhoneGap
  8. Ionic
  9. NodeJS
  10. .NET Core
  11. ASP.Net MVC
  12. R
  13. Python
  14. Unity
  15. Tensorflow
  17. Visual Studio Code
  18. Jetbrains Project Rider
  19. npm
  20. Bower
  21. Docker
  22. Webpack
  23. Kubernetes
  24. Deep Learning
  25. Statistics
  26. Data mining
  27. Cloud computing
  28. LESS
  29. SASS
  30. CSSX
  31. Responsive design
  32. Multiplatform mobile apps
  33. Blockchains
  34. Parallel programming
  35. Entity Framework
  36. HTML5
  37. AngularJS 2
  38. Cryptography
  39. OpenCV
  40. ZeroNet
  41. Riffle
  42. Bots
  43. Slack
  44. OAuth
  45. OData
  46. DNS
  47. Bittorrent
  48. Roslyn
  49. Universal Windows Platform / Windows 10 development
  50. Katana
  51. Shadow DOM
  52. Serverless architecture
  53. D3 and D4 (d3-like in ReactJs)
  54. KnockoutJs
  55. Caliburn Micro
  56. Fluent Validation
  57. Electron

Yup, there are more than 50 general concepts, major frameworks, programming languages, tools and what not, some of them already researched but maybe not completely. That is not including various miscellaneous small frameworks, pieces of code, projects I want to study or things I want to do. I also need to prioritize them so that I can have at least the semblance of a study plan. Being July 21st, I have about one full month in which to cover the basic minimum. Clearly almost two subjects a day every day is too ambitious a task. Note to self: ignore that little shrieky voice in your head that says it's not!

Being a .NET developer by trade I imagine my next job will be in that area. Also, while I hate this state of affairs, notice there is nothing related to WPF up there. The blogs about the technology that I was reading a few years ago have all dried up, with many of those folks moving to the bloody web. So, I have to start with:

  1. ASP.Net MVC Core - the Model View Controller way of making .NET web applications, I've worked with it, but I am not an expert, as I need to become. Some quickly googled material:
  2. .NET Core - the new version of .NET, redesigned to be cross platform. There is no point of learning .NET Core as standalone: it will be used all over this plan
  3. Entity Framework Core - honestly, I've moved away from ORMs, but clearly Microsoft is moving full steam ahead on using EF everywhere, so I need to learn it well. As resources, everything written or recommended by Julie Lerman should be good, but a quick google later:
  4. OData - an OASIS standard that defines a set of best practices for building and consuming RESTful APIs. When Microsoft adopts an open standard, you pretty much know it will enter the common use vocabulary as a word used more often than "mother". Some resources:
  5. OAuth - An open protocol to allow secure authorization in a simple and standard method from web, mobile and desktop applications. It is increasingly used as "the" authentication method, mostly because it allows for third party integration with Facebook, Twitter, Google and other online identity providers. Some resources:
  6. Typescript 2 - a strict superset of JavaScript from Microsoft, it adds optional static typing and class-based object-oriented programming to the language. Javascript is great, but you can use it in any way you want. There is no way to take advantage of so many cool features of modern IDEs like Visual Studio + ReSharper without some sort of structure. I hope Typescript provides that for me. Resources:
  7. NodeJS - just when I started liking Javascript as a programming language, here comes NodeJs and brings is everywhere! And that made me like it less. Does that make sense? Anyway, with Microsoft tools needing NodeJs for various reasons, I need to look into it. Resources:
  8. Javascript ES6 - the explosion of Javascript put a lot of pressure on the language itself. ECMAScript6 is the newest iteration, adding support for a lot of features that we take for granted in more advanced languages, like classes, block variable scope, lambdas, multiline literals, better regular expressions, modules, etc. I intend to rewrite my browser extension in ES6 Javascript for version 3, among other things. Here are some resources:
  9. npm - npm is a package installer for Javascript. Everybody likes to use it so much that I believe it will soon become an antipattern. Functions like extracting the left side of a string, for example, are considered "packages".
  10. Bower - Bower is a package manager for the web, an attempt to maintain control over a complex ecosystem of web frameworks and libraries and various assets.
  11. Docker - The world’s leading software containerization platform - I don't even know what that means right now - Docker is a tool that I hear more and more about. In August I will even attend an ASP.Net Core + Docker presentation by a Microsoft guy.
  12. Parallel programming - I have built programs that take advantage of parallel programming, but never in a systematic way. I usually write stuff as a single thread, switching to multithreaded work to solve particular problems or to optimize run time. I believe that I need to write everything with parallelism in mind, so I need to train myself in that regard.
  13. Universal Windows Platform - frankly, I don't even know what it means. I am guessing something that brings application development closer to the mobile device/store system, which so far I don't enjoy much, but hey, I need to find out at least what the hell this is all about. The purpose of this software platform is to help develop Metro-style apps that run on both Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile without the need to be re-written for each. Resources:
  14. HTML5 - HTML5 is more than a simple rebuttal of the XHTML concept and the adding of a few extra tags and attributes. It is a new way of looking at web pages. While I've used HTML5 features already, I feel like I need to understand the entire concept as a whole.
  15. Responsive design - the bane of my existence was web development. Now I have to do it so it works on any shape, size or DPI screen. It has gone beyond baneful; yet every recruiter seems to have learned the expression "responsive design" by heart and my answer to that needs to be more evolved than a simple "fuck you, too!"
  16. LESS and SASS - CSS is all nice and functional, but it, just like HTML and Javascript, lacks structure. I hope that these compilable-to-CSS frameworks will help me understand a complex stylesheet like I do a complex piece of code.
  17. AngularJS 2 - I hear that Angular 2 is confusing users of Angular 1! which is funny, because I used Angular just for a few weeks without caring too much about it. I've read a book, but I forgot everything about it. Probably it is for the best as I will be learning the framework starting directly with version 2.

So there you have it: less than 20 items, almost two days each. Still bloody tight, but I don't really need to explore things in depth, just to know what they are and how to use them. The in-depth learning needs to come after that, with weeks if not months dedicated to each.

What about the rest of 35 items? Well, the list is still important as a reference. I intend to go through each, however some of the concepts there are there just because I am interested in them, like DNS, Riffle, Bitcoin and Bittorrent, not because they would be useful at my job or even my current side projects. Data mining and artificial intelligence is a fucking tsunami, but I can't become an expert in something like this without first becoming a beginner, and that takes time - in which the bubble might burst, heh heh. Mobile devices are all nice and cool, but the current trend is for tablets to remain a whim, while people divide their experience between laptops and big screen smartphones. The web takes over everything and I dread that the future is less about native apps and more about web sites. What are native mobile apps for? Speed and access to stuff a browser doesn't usually have access to. Two years and a new API later and a web page does that better. APIs move faster nowadays and if they don't, there are browser extensions that can inject anything and work with a locally installed app that provides just the basic functionality.

What do you think of my list? What needs to be added? What needs to be removed? Often learning goes far smoother when you have partners. Anyone interested in going through some subjects and then discuss it over a laptop and a beer?

Wish me luck!