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14th-Feb-2017 11:20 am - Top Post

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В логи записываю книги / фильмы / программы / гаджеты / рестораны которые отпробовал в этом году. На все стараюсь давать оценку.

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16th-Aug-2015 01:12 pm - Cost of flying in Indonesia
One thing that struck me about Indonesia is how cheap flying is here. I've flown about 10 times in the last 10 days - the average flight is about 1.5-2 hours. Here is an example of a flight I just took today - Jakarta - Bali (1.5 hours, ~ 1,000 km):

The ticket was bought 2 days before the flight and cost $75. SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS, Karl! It was not a special price or anything - I simply picked the time that worked for me (there is probably a flight leaving every hour on this route). This works out to roughly $50 per hought of flight time (including luggage).  I wonder how that compares to US / EU air costs (does NY - CHI flight normally cost $90)?

Now - I suspect that the government is actively encouraging low cost airlines because the country is extremely large with no real way of getting around other than air (it occupies an area roughly the size of the US but spread over thousands of islands and no highways outside of metro areas). Labor costs are obviously markedly lower here (which accounts for 35% of US airline industry) - but still, I doubt that you can buy a regular air ticket in US/Europe for $50-$60 per hour of flight time (all-in price, no dastardly fees).

Something I hope the West can learn.
11th-Aug-2015 06:52 pm - Papuasia FAQ

I recently posted a photo of myself with a couple of Papuans in native getup and many people were asking 'Where the hell are you', etc. To simplify answering everybody and organize my thoughts I'm putting down this.

Where was I
I am in Indonesia, province called West Papua. Inside it is the Baliem Valley. It was completely unknown to the outside world until WW2.

Ie the people living there have been cut off from civilization since before civilization started - for the last 45,000 years.

Why did I go there
Because it's there.

It may be fast becoming just like any other third world locale, but still - visiting a place that didn't exist to the outside world until WW2 is pretty damn cool.

Do they always walk around like this (ie naked and with gourds over their cocks?
The almost butt-naked look is their national dress (ie like a вышиванка или кокошник). It's not worn outside of special occasions.

As far as I understand it was fairly widespread until 1970s-80s when the Indonesian government (which colonized these people in 1960s) had an anti-gourd campaign, effectively banning it (as it was seen as backward). Any papuas you meet on the street will wear regular clothing.

Most pressing question - what are those things around their cocks?

Is the festival organized for them or just for the tourists?
The reason most people go there is to attend an annual festival. It's sort of like a sports event in the West - organized for viewing pleasure of the fans but thoroughly enjoyed by the participants as well. The feeling I got is that it's a way for these guys to reenact their traditions / history, which would otherwise wither away.

How advanced was their society before encountering civilization?
They were settled and had mastered agriculture (sweet potatoes, pigs). They were living in villages - men in one house, women and children in another. Men had multiple wives (was kinda needed as they stopped having sex for 5 years after birth of a child).

Culture-wise they were pretty primitive. The villages were in a constant state of war. War may be too strong a word for it - more like low-intensity conflict (raiding parties for women / pigs, ambushing each other, etc). It basically gave men something to do - as otherwise their needs were fully met and they didn't have much culture or religion (they worshipped ancestors, etc). They did practice cannibalism - you'd cut out a body part of an enemy that you killed and eat it to gain their strength. They also had the habit of chopping off women fingers as a form of sacrifice - if a woman's husband died, that's what would be done to her.

What political entity are they part of today?
The entire Papua Island was split in two - Western part was part of the Dutch New Indies and the East was Portugese. Japanese have occupied the island during WW2 and after they were thrown out by the Americans, Indonesia proclaimed independence in 1945 (on Aug 17th). Papua was going to be an independent country administered by the Dutch until they could have self-governance (as majority of the population at the time was literally beyond illiterate).

The Western Part of the island became an independent nation
Papua New Guinea. The Eastern part was taken over by Indonesia in 1960s (kinda like Tibet and China). Even though the UN was set on granting them a status of independent nation (they have absolutely nothing in common with Indonesia other than being both ruled by the Dutch for 300 years) - Cold War politics intervened and the US supported Indonesia in the takeover (fearing that they'd switch to the USSR otherwise).

Since then a low-level war has been going on - Papua Conflict. Indonesia doesn't want to let the province go (it's fairly rich in natural resources) and is moving millions of "real" Indonesians (ie people from Java) to the island (so now half the population is not Papuan). The Papuas don't want to be ruled by what they consider an occupying colonizer. It's a situation very similar to Tibet but with lower stakes (as these guys never had a political entity and nobody outside the area even being aware of the issue).

Are they black (ie African)?
No, they are not. They are a disctinct group of people who are closely tied to Melanesiand and Australian Aboriginals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papuan_people

In the photos they may look African as they cover themsleves with some kind of soot (perhaps war paint).

Should I go there myself?
That's a personal question. Overall the trip is long (it takes almost a full day of flights from Bali / Jakarta) and the conditions there are very, very basic. However it's a fairly unique place that's unlike any other.

If you really do make the visit, I'd recommend getting in touch with local guides to see if you can fly a plane to visit the real remote tribes (ie people who are still living in the stone age now).
22nd-Jul-2015 04:34 pm - Best headphones update
As you might know, I try to keep abreast of the top headphones market. Ie I basically buy / try whatever new headphones come out to see if anything out there is better than what I already own. I do this 2-3 times a year.

In general I am fairly happy with the state of in-the-ear headphones but am yet to still find the perfect over-the-ear pair.

Last week was a big one - I've been very happy to find two new pairs that now occupy my 'the best reasonable money can buy' perch.

In-the-ear headphones - thinksound ts02-blkchoc. $80

While I was fairly satisfied with my last pair (don't remember the name but they were red) - these are simply amazing. I give them a 10 on sound quality. Unbelievable power - I can not turn the volume on my Macbook above 2 (out of probably 15) - gets too loud.

The only thing I think of that can be improved is fit - not because they are uncomfortable (they are probably the most comfortable ones I've had as well) - but just because it's something that can always be improved.

There is one thing missing, though. There is no microphone and hence no easy way to tell L from R.

Over-the-ear headphones - Sony MDR-1A Headphone - Silver (International Version). $240

I have not had much luck finding quality over-the-ear headphones that I could wear for at least 30-40 minutes without feeling discomfort (from pressure oh my head and poor heat dissipation). Tried many different pairs (going up to $400-$500) - without no success. Last pair I tried before these was Master & Dynamic MH40's - that look like a piece of art and sound great as well. Unfortunately I could only handle them for about 15 minutes - after that the pressure and heat grew too much. Was a sad return.

Then I specifically googled for 'comfortable fit' and found this new pair from Sony. So far I'm blown away. They sound amazing and have, so far, the best fit I've come across. Still not perfect but better than anything I've seen.

They cost $300 everywhere but Amazon was offering a $240 "international version". I was a bit apprehensive but have to report that it's absolutely legitimate and that's the one I would recommend to get.
2nd-Nov-2014 04:26 pm - Купи козу
Since I work a lot at night, the humming of my PC was noticeable and kinda annoying. About 6 months ago I came across web pages that talk about building the “Quiet PC” - specifically from components that are made to produce very low noise.

First I tried to just replace the fan in the back of the case - which had not much effect.

So then about a month ago I decided to take the plunge and bought the following components - all German-made with quiet in mind from the outfit called quietpc.co.uk:

New case - 60
Power supply - 60
CPU Cooler -

The plan was to take all the innards from my old pc and move to the new, save for the new cooler (enormous metal contraption - 16cm tall, weighs about a kilogram) and the quiet power supply.

First Visit
Found a guy on Craigslist to come over and do the operation. He came, spent about 3 hours in my living room but in the end the computer wouldn’t turn on - the old motherboard refused to work outside the original HP case.

Second Visit
I went online and bought a new motherboard - Asus P9X79. The first guy didn’t want to come back for reasonable money, so I found another guy to do it.

He shows up - and turns out that the motherboard I got is a wrong size for the case (case is micro-ATX while the new mb is full-ATX).

Third Visit
I order a new case from Germany and return the other case.
Guy comes over - installs the MB, everything seems to work.
After he leaves I realize that Windows only recognizes 1 DIMM out of 3. I play around with various DIMMS / slots combinations and recognize that all components are fine but MB only recognizes one DIMM at a time.

Look up the issue online - turns out the pins on the motherboard CPU socket could be bent - which causes the issue. Extremely weird - as I ordered the mb new and I never heard of cpu bending the socket pins during insertion. I also expected the computer to not boot at all in this case.

I call the guy over to see if the pins can be unbent or maybe we try to reseat the CPU. Nothing works - but the pins are indeed bent, but really too small (maybe 1-2mm tall) to do anything with.

Fourth Visit
I order another motherboard. Guy comes over and installs it. Everything works. PC is so quiet I can’t hear it.

Whole process took about a month.

Cost of components - about 300 GBP (might be more if I choose to go further a fan-less video card - as that’s the only source of pc noise now)

Labor - 115 GBP

Overall the story was plagued by two unforeseen issues

1. Original HP motherboard refusing to work in a generic case
2. New Asus motherboard having bent socket pins

and one fuck-up on my part

1. Ordering a regular ATX motherboard for a micro-ATX casе

Overall I'm happy with the result. Would certainly prefer to make do with a smaller time wastage - but after all it's not that hard to watch other people work :)
12th-Feb-2014 06:51 pm - Ski Gear Feb-14
I'm a gearhead. I love gear and gadgets - really enjoy the feeling of having the right set of tools for the job (or being appropriately dressed when it's super-fucking cold and windy on the slopes and I don't feel a thing).

Decided to write down the gear I'm using now - as most of these things went through a few rounds of trials and changes. If you have questions about any of these items - feel free to ask.

Gloves - Hestra Ski Cross - BackCountry
Pants - Arcteryx Stinger Bib - Moosjaw
Jacket - Arcteryx Alpha SV - Moosejaw
Helmet - Salomon Hacker (blue) - physical store
Goggles - Anon M2 - Backcountry
Skis - 168cm long, 75mm wide
Backpack - Salomon Quest 15 - EU web site
Boot Warmer
  Sidas Pro Set Warming System
Mid Layers
  Base layer - duofold tshirt
  1st thin warm layer
  2nd warm layer - a bit thicker
  3rd warm layer - either wool or puffy vest
Thermal underwear
  Icebreaker 260 base layer
  2nd warm layer

Not recommended - Intuition Power Wrap. Was very uncomfortable and hard on my feet, lost 3 days trying to break it in.

Apparently the boots I bought at the end of last season in London are too big for me. They were my size - 26, but apparently you usually buy a size smaller.
cover_newyorker_190I used to read the New Yorker - but then gave up. Each magazine was mostly left unread (and even unskimmed) and I had tall stack of piled up magazines in the corner. Guilt rose commensurately with size of the stack.

Then a month ago I decided to give it another try - on a tablet. I ordered the paper copy of the magazine. That gives me access to their tablet version - which is actually a much better interface. Each feature is presented as one long page that you scroll up and down. And you flick left-right to move between features. So if I start reading a piece that I find boring (which is probably 50-60% of the magazine), it takes one flick of a finger to move to the next one - genius!

This is the best implementation of a long-form magazine that I've seen. My only nitpick is not being able to set a constant font size. Each feature (ie article) starts off with a small font that you can somewhat increase (but still only roughly up to 12px). I would rather be able to change this once.
28th-Sep-2013 03:09 am - Not as bad as I expected
This is what 10 years in NY and 10 in London produced.


Archaeology: if you don't know what it is, it's probably ceremonial.
Astrophysics: "eh, i'm within an order of magnitude...."
Linguistics: "Well, it's not just about learning languages-- no-- okay, you know what, nevermind."
Linguistics: NO, I don't speak Mandarin.
Zoology: because you can't major in kittens
Creative Writing: Because job security is for pussies.
Biochemistry: Spend 4 Years Aspiring to Discover the Cure for Cancer, and the Rest of Your Life Manufacturing Shampoo.
Communications: "We'll teach you everything you need to know about convincing your friends that your degree is actually meaningful"
Psychology: good luck doing anything until you get your master's!
Nursing: Because Fuck Sleep
10th-Sep-2013 03:33 pm - Article generation algorithm
I'm starting to notice a new theme in liberal MSM (ie not rightwing nut media). Generate articles based on the following algorithm:

1. Find something on http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/
2. Write an article how this particular thing doesn't have that many blacks or Hispanics doing it
3. Decry lack of diversity
4. Imply that 'something must be done!'

Examples I saw in last few days

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/us/national-parks-try-to-appeal-to-minorities.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
2. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/09/06/219721800/why-aren-t-there-more-people-of-color-in-craft-brewing

I read the book a long time ago (probably in HS) and have very vague recollection of what happened. Yesterday I watched the movie - very well done. I still find Dicaprio to be a few levels below great actor (the likes of Norton or Bale in his generation) but the overall production was superb.

Now - what was made clear in the movie (and I do not remember in the book - but I could have just missed it being a teenager who just learned to read English a couple of years before), is that Gatsby's drive is really not after Daisy but settling scores with the rich that he hates but always aspired to (represented by Buchanan). If he simply wanted to be with Daisy, he would just take her away. But that's not enough - he wants her to humiliate Buchanan and tell him that she never loved him. His love for Daisy is just the final point of establishing himself as the man he wanted to be - something money alone can not buy. And the plan unravels because she wouldn't go the last bit.

So - does anybody remember if this is just this director's interpretation or it is in the book (but perhaps not as explicit)?
29th-Aug-2013 07:00 pm - Tallinn / Stockholm
Tallinn was a pleasant little city that I would not really care to come back to (nothing wrong with it - just didn't seem interesting enough to warrant seeing more of than I have already).

It simply has 1/10 interesting stuff of other North European cities (that actually were capitals for hundreds of years - while Tallinn always was a sleepy backwater of various empires). Its main art museum is a good analogy - feels like 3 or 4 rooms from a real European museum were taken out for a traveling exhibition. Here is its main attraction - one of the two small Bruegels (compared with size of paintings he is famous for - this is just a small scene):
On the other hand, this is a very interesting painting. It was put up as an altar piece in some European city and depicts the scene when Jesus turns water to wine. The cute part is that it was paid for by the wine producing guild - they essentially got to advertise their product in the most prominent part of town - on the altar of main cathedral!

This scene was very cute, though - детская экскурсия

Stockholm, on the other hand, was much more impressive. Perhaps my view toward Tallinn was affected by going to it afterwards. Overall I was very impressed with the city. This was my first overnight visit (spent an afternoon before). A few random points:
Time to go - definitely in August. When the rest of Northern hemisphere is suffering from 30+ degree weather, Stockholm is extremely pleasant - 25 in the afternoon, shy of 20 at night.

Where to stay - we mistakenly booked a Hostel on the boat. Was so bad that did not stay and left for another hotel in Gamla Stan. Still - had I thought this through, would have booked a flat on AirBnB. Location - inside the old town.

Vasa Museum - definitely a must. One of the coolest museums I've ever seen - a huge navy ship was built in 1628 and sank on its maiden voyage right in the Stockholm harbor (poor design). Sat down there for 300 years and was pulled up and fully restored in 1960s. Now it's an awesome museum - extremely well done.
City Hall - we missed entry by a few minutes, but looked very interesting. This is the place where Nobel Prize banquet is held.

Fotografiska - new art gallery with temporary photo exhibitions. Saw Helmut XXX. Overall disappointing - aside from the few famous portraits of 80-s models with long legs & perky tits, the rest of his work I found pretty boring - 9 out of 10 photos that lacked tits&ass weren't that interesting (but a few portraits were great).

What I did not see but want to do next time - visit cool subway stations on the blue line, Stockholm Art Museum & the Nordic museum.

Check before going if any concerts are happening (we didn't go to a music festival where Prince performed), take a ferry to an island with lunch.

The following articles will be useful:

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/48-hours-in-stockholm-8602764.html

  2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destination/sweden/86222/36-Hours-In...Stockholm.html

  3. http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/travel/36-hours-in-stockholm.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Restaurants - rakultur (amazing sushi) & rolfs kok.

Prices - one of the more expensive cities in the world - on par with London.
23rd-Aug-2013 02:37 pm - Samsung S4
Yesterday bought Samsung S4. A few notes:
1. I found it on Gumtree for 380 GBP. Best way to buy in my opinion - people get it for free with an upgrade and sell unused (guy has Iphone himself).
Did not haggle but told the guy that he would have to come and meet me in Central London - he agreed.
2. Currently trying to sell my S3 for 250-270 on Ebay. If it sells, the upgrade will cost roughly 150 GBP - I think it's worth it.

3. S4 is noticeable faster & screen is just beautiful. My old S3 was getting pretty laggy - but then again I push it hard (like talking on Skype while editing photo in Snapseed). At the end of the day these lags are more annoying than anything - but since you spend all day with the phone, may as well have one that doesn't annoy.

4. I immediately put Google unbranded ROM 4.3 - one that comes with S4 Google Play edition. Did it assuming that it would make a better phone - unfortunately was not the case:
  a) It was missing a few UX touches that I got used to - ability to switch Bluetooth/WiFi/Mifi Spot straight from notification bar
  b) Ability to reboot from the power button menu
  c) Lock screen that I've got grown to like

Overall the look on Google unbranded OS feels unpolished now, compared with Samsung one.
The advantages didn't seem at all important - I can easily hide all the Samsung crapware and they don't seem to impact performance. And I can't tell any difference between Android 4.2.2 and 4.3.
So after trying the Google ROM, I went back to Samsung stock one.

5. Ordered ZeroLemon extra-size battery (20 GBP) - 7,500Mah - or exactly 3x the size of stock battery. Should last me over 2 days if need be.
22nd-Aug-2013 02:10 am - Review of London Low-Costers

There are three major low cost airlines that operate ouf of London. I will briefly describe them in order of preference:

1. Monarch Air - best one.

  • Seats recline

  • You can take 23kg on board (for a fair fee over 20kg)

  • Do not require online check-in / printing of pass

  • Allow 2 pieces of carry-on luggage - total weight 10kg

2. Easyjet - fair middle

  • Seats don't recline

  • 20kg max weight

  • One piece of carryon

  • Do not require online checkin

3. Ryainair - avoid at all costs.
If there is any chance of flying with another airline, I avoid them

  • Seats do not recline

  • Require online checkin - huge fine if you do not bring printed pass to the airport

  • Small luggage limit (don't remember exactly what)

  • Charge credit card fee PER PASSENGER

  • One carryon item

One thing I would say is that Ryanair make majority of their profits from various fees. Ie - they try very hard to fuck the passengers and extract fees. It feels like them getting you on the plane is like casino giving out free drinks - just a pretext to a really fleece you by others means. I consider this practice abhorent and try to stay away - not worth the mental anguish.
20th-Aug-2013 12:17 am - The first 20 minutes

I have no idea how this book showed up on my Kindle (ie where I read its recommendation) - but I gave it a try.
In the end it just made my head spin. The author could have summarized the entire book in 3-4 pages. Instead she devotes a different chapter to various aspects of living healthy (ie working out & sports nutrition) but in an very boring way. The problem here is actually a trend I notice - Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids did the same thing .

90% of each chapter is devoted to description of various scientific studies. Which university set it up, when, how many participants, what they looked for and ultimately what they found. I call it 'meta research porn'. For someone who is a real study geek it would be a motherload. But guess what - I don't give a shit about how clever these scientists were or how they failed to find something that people had considered obvious for ages. I simply want results. Relegate all that boring science crap to the appendix - the bok will be just as fat, but I could save time reading it.

Unfortunately the book gets too excited describing all these studies so I failed to really take away anything away aside from the following:
1)  Any kind of sports fad that seems faddish is likely to go away soon, so don't bother with it. Ie Atkins diet, over drinking, stretching before workout, etc, etc. Expect a new study will come and debunk it.
2) Working out is very good for you - on a cellular level. Ie people who work out have the insides of their cells reconfigured. So the out of shape people have health problems not just because they are fat (with all attendant issues) - but because their whole bodies are worse for it. Fat here is also a symptom for lack of workout.

3) You can work out very quickly, if done to the max. Some study showed that 10 minute workouts (being pushed to the max) were as effective as 2 hour ones.

Overall there was so much detail that I would actually like to read a cliffnotes version of the book, would be more effective.

18th-Aug-2013 08:08 pm - Kitesurfing

Max's enthusiasm for kitesurfing was contagious and I decided to give it a try. Here is what I think is useful to know for anybody considering it:

This is what wind looks like

1. Yes, it is awesome. If you like the idea of being on the beach but have no idea what to do after the first hour, it's for you. It's kind of like skiing for the summer.

2. It's not dangerous or extreme (at least at the point when you learn how to ride - you can go crazy afterwards). When I first saw people doing it with a big-ass harness, it made me apprehensive. Turns out the harness is there just so that rider uses his core muscles to get pulled (while hands are only used for steering).

3. It should take someone of reasonable physical condition about a week to to get up and ride. The steps involved are:

  1. One day to learn to control the kite on land

  2. One day to control the kite while in the water - i.e. dragged downwind and upwind by the kite. Next step is to do the same while holding a board. I personally found the second step easier as you stay above water (leaning on board) and, therefore, don't end up having it in your face.

  3. One day to put the board on your feet while holding the kite and then stand up on the board

  4. One day to learn to ride after standing (i.e. not fall over).

Any kind of previous experience with kites or boards should help. But without it, it's roughly 4 days of everything going perfect before you can ride. After you can ride on your own, you will be able to take lessons for reduced price (i.e. without instructor standing over you), but school still won't rent you equipment until you are more competent (I'm not sure what they want yet, as I haven't got that far into it).

When I say 'one day' I mean roughly 2 hours of one-on-one instruction (i.e. 4 hours if it's 2 on 1) with wind of 10 knots or more. Wind is probably the biggest variable. I spent 2 weeks in Algarve now and only had roughly 3 days of real instruction - the rest was spent waiting for wind.

This is what no wind looks like

4. I would recommend finding a school with a fixed fee to learn IKO Level 2 (i.e. what I described above). If you pay by the hour, the interests of the student and school seem to be misaligned (they want you to take more classes, while you'd rather pay less). The school I found (http://www.kitesurfeolis.com/) offers this for 395 EUR (i.e. as many classes as you need to complete). Here is their description of levels: http://www.kitesurfeolis.com/?p=ks2. Overall I found Tavira to be an awesome spot (here is NYT writeup on it: http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/travel/the-other-algarve.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). Or you can stay in Tavira Cabanas (10m car ride from Tavira) - in which case you'll save 10m ride each way. But Cabanas is more touristic.

5. It's probably helpful to watch this DVD before each class (i.e. the section that you are about to perform): http://www.progression.me/videos/type/dvds/progression-kiteboarding-beginner-dvd-2nd-edition/

6. If deciding to go somewhere to learn, make sure you have at least a week and that the wind is consistent in that spot (use Windguru website to check what the wind has been last couple of weeks / previous year in the place you want to go). Otherwise you run the risk of only having 1-2 days of instruction.

Gay symbolism is not coincidental and shows my support for Russian gays.
I don't polish nails but every little counts.

Прочитал мнение Dan Savage что положение геев в России сегодня схоже с евреями в Германии в 1933 году (но не 43). Мне кажется это сравнение не совсем честным (я понимаю что ему для красного словца упоминуть Гитлера - нужную жалость пробьет автоматом). But in all fairness, I don't think things are that bad (especially when we remember Hitler not for what was done to Jews in 1933 but in the following decade - which I don't think anybody expects Russia to do here).

Мне кажется исторический пример все таки ближе это положение евреев в СССР в 70-80е годы. Законов конечно против евреев не строчили, но в действительности государство:

1. Не разрешало евреям самореализоваться - синагоги были запрещены, иврит изучать было нельзя. За этим реально следило КГБ.
2. Определенные работы были закрыты - знаю по собственной семье в конце 80х
3. Простой народ считал евреев гражданами второго класса. Даже само слово 'еврей' несло в себе некоторый налет неполноценности. Еврейская внешность была достаточным поводом получить по морде.
4. Я бы посмотрел как много времени бы потребовалось милиции разогнать митинг в поддержку Израиля или просто 'за евреев'
5. При этом государство не было против евреев как таковых, и даже терпело их на определенных работах. Но чтобы не слишком высовывались или зазнавались. Так, чтобы тихо себе сидели и работали инженерами или младшими научными сотрудниками.

Так что положение кажется достаточно схожим. I understand why 'gays in Russia today are like jews there in 1980s' is less of a soundbite than bringing up Hitler - but I also have an aversion to dilution of the Hitler / genocide brand. There are a lot of countries that pick on various minorities to different degrees - but you can't invoke Hitler every time to help the cause close to one's heart.

That said - I personally left USSR and never looked back because of this - so fully sympathize with the new group of people they are picking on.
16th-Aug-2013 01:04 am - Brideshead Revisited - fail
Saw a glowing review of the book by Steve Sailer (who I respect a lot) so gave it a try. Unfortunately was an epic fail - I completely failed to get it, so dropped after a few chapters. The first part where protagonist talks about his being in the army I understood - but when action moves 20 years earlier to his time at Oxford (in the 1920s), it was completely lost on me.

I experienced what a foreigner who learned Russian and read 12 Стульев must feel like - you understand all the words but they together make very little sense. Just no common basis for references or allusions about upper English class in early 20th century (which what the book seems to be really all about). Wondering if it works better in translation (like Shakespeare).

Anyways - after I read the wiki article about it, I lost all interest completely (as the main theme of the book of Catholicism).
14th-Aug-2013 04:32 am - Broom of the system
Max loved this book, so I made an honest effort for roughly 100 pages (or something like that in epub). Unfortunately it just didn't work for me - plot is going nowhere, feels extremely self-obsessed & the humor was mostly lost (I could tell that the author is making an effort but just didn't seem funny). This is a shame because the writer is really someone I wanted to like. Maybe 15 years ago I would make more of an effort but now I just move on.
I really could not understand what was going on but author's political leaning were very apparent (mostly that very rich people are bad).
I also suspect he is not the first to have written this, but Shteyngart's last book - where he spends scores of pages describing lust of 40yo guy  after a 20-something girl - "how can this beautiful young creature find anything attractive in old, pathetic, ugly git like me" now seems very derivative. Either way I find this boring.
11th-Aug-2013 07:44 pm - 11 Things to be happy (2/2)

7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain

Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

Of course it’s important to practice “real smiles” where you use your eye sockets. It’s very easy to spot the difference:

make yourself happier smiling

According to PsyBlog, smiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

A smile is also a good way to alleviate some of the pain we feel in troubling circumstances:

Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).

One of our previous posts goes into even more detail about the science of smiling.

8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness

Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live. I believe that this graphic explains it the best:

calming-mind-brain-waves make yourself happier

According to Shawn Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.

The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.

10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction

This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.

In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:

Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period.

Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier

As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend togrow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.

So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

11th-Aug-2013 07:44 pm - 11 Things to be happy (1/2)
I'd add #11 - avoid Russian news of any kind. If you want to stay connected to what is happening there - read a new Pelevin book annually. It will do a great job conveying WTF is going on and you won't be depressed (about Russia) the other 51 weeks of the year.

http://blog.bufferapp.com/10-scientifically-proven-ways-to-make-yourself-happier  (ht Radik)

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

Written by

make you happierHappiness is so interesting, because we all have different ideas about what it is and how to get it. It’s also no surprise that it’s the Nr.1 value for Buffer’s culture, if you see ourslidedeck about it. So naturally we are obsessed with it.

I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.

1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough

You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different:

The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!

You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.

A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies, even when they saw no physical changes:

Body weight, shape and body image were assessed in 16 males and 18 females before and after both 6 × 40 mins exercise and 6 × 40 mins reading. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.

We’ve explored exercise in depth before, and looked at what it does to our brains, such as releasing proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier, as you can see in the image below.

make yourself happier - exercise

2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions

We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.

In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger.

Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep. However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive (happy) expressions.

Of course, how well (and how long) you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day. Especially this graph showing how your brain activity decreases is a great insight about how important enough sleep is for productivity and happiness:

make yourself happier

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.

Sleep is another topic we’ve looked into before, exploring how much sleep we really need to be productive.

3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house

Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.

According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:

… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:

Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.

4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.

I love the way Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how the men’s social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:

The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states than your relationships are worth more than $100,000:

Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

I think that last line is especially fascinating: Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as if we increased the strength of our social relationships.

The Terman study, which is covered in The Longevity Project, found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest.

Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

This is pretty good news for those of us who are worried about fitting new habits into our already-busy schedules. Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break.

A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:

Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.

The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 13.9°C, so keep an eye on the weather forecast before heading outside for your 20 minutes of fresh air.

6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.

If we go back to Shawn Achor’s book again, he says this about helping others:

…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:

Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.

So spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. What about spending our time on other people? A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.

11th-Aug-2013 12:26 pm - Ramadan
Just found out that Ramadan can happen in any month of the year (because it's based on Lunar Calendar).

Which was news to me - since Jewish and Chinese holidays (that are also lunar-based) roughly happen at the same time every year.
Turns out the difference is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercalation_(timekeeping) - Arabs didn't keep up with the times and add this to their calendar.
Pretty symbolic if you ask me - I wouldn't have high hopes for the region (re recent Stephen Dawkins comments) until this is fixed. Not that it matters - just as a symbol of modernity.

UPD - Looks like shit's going to stay bad for a while: http://girishshahane.blogspot.pt/2012/02/intercalation-and-leaps-of-faith.html
2nd-Aug-2013 12:45 pm - Selfish reasons to have more kids
A short book whose content can be summarized in a few sentences:
1. You should have more kids than you originally planned.
2. Kids are fun - only infants are hard (and that only lasts a couple of years) - compared with a decades of good times (and more chance for grandkids). Ie that most people over-empathize that period and under-emphasize the long term.
3. Modern American middle class parents are overdoing it in terms of parenting, hence feel over-burdened.
4. Multiple twin studies show that kids will turn out ok no matter what - as long as they have decent genes. Ie parenting can have a short term effect but genes will prevail in the long term.

There is a very long and boring chapter (or multiple ones - hard to tell on a Kindle) in the middle that describes twin studies. I would just skip it - and just take the conclusions as given - however I am not really convinced what this implies for parenting.
I think I have to agree. Our parents did not spend their whole lives chauffeuring kids around and we turned out OK.
12th-Jul-2013 03:45 pm - Computer лыдбыр
1. Got the new Macbook Air. Funny how about a month ago I told someone that I saw no reason to upgrade my 2010 model and even paid Apple 100GBP to replace the battery for a new one. Then they come out with a new model that promises 11 hours of battery life - which I had to get.

So - it really is amazing. Under my normal usage it lasts between 9 - 10 hours. Now - I can't really tell for sure since I don't sit in front of the laptop for 9 hours non-stop, and there is no way to track it otherwise. But the point is that it realistically lasts all day - so I no longer have to carry the power adapter with me, just make sure to charge overnight (like a phone). It also has a faster processor (meh - only thing I really use that needs power is Lightroom). But also nice to have 8GB ram and 256GB HD - 128 was a bit limiting for me (photos pile up on trips)

2. Since it also has USB3 I got this drive (recommended by Wirecutter) - http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/the-best-usb-3-0-thumb-drive/. Its speed is outstanding - takes a few seconds to copy about a gig of data. I am blown away.

3. Unfortunately my old Samsung S2 portable 500GB drive just died - sitting on the shelf. So to replace it I got the Samsung M3 USB3 drive - will see how fast it is compared to the flash drive.
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