Journal

Nikola's thoughts and discoveries

Like everyone I know, I am worried with the direction #USA is taking. I don't have any potential insight as I can only imagine how my American friends are feeling – the only thing I can do now is to share how I feel and that is what I am doing here.

Having moved to live and work in foreign country I have met and made friends at, so called, expat community in and around Paris. A lot of them are American and I have found they are very patriotic and easy to organize. They'll quickly build up a website, or shared chat, and start working on a problem or helping others. How was it possible for this to happen then, I wonder? Why did they allow psychopath minority to gerrymander themselves above everyone else?

One protestor held a sign that caught my attention. They wrote:

USA
Gun Care
Health Control

I hope this makes a lot of people mad.

New #SundayReading post is in front of you. I hope you will find it enjoyable or informative. I certainly did.

1. I am starting with A.J. Jacobs, one of the most fascinating people alive today. Really, I am not exaggerating. Here he discusses his new book on puzzles, but, of course, not only that. A lot of topics are touched, him being an ultimate generalist, even the meaning of life!

As for strategies, I’m a big fan of Memento Mori: life has finitude. Another strategy I like relates to the Yeats quote: I remind myself there are billions of minds out there, it’s not just me. Another strategy is to actively try to notice the thousands of things that go right every day, instead of focusing on the three or four that go wrong.

True gem.

2. To continue in the somewhat similar direction, I re-read these thoughts about us humans.

You’re only human.

If you ever need a quick reminder of all the progress we achieved, and we all do, this is one of the best ways in words.

3. And now for something completely different! I like humans and humans are quirky. This post about challenges that people maintaining music catalogs are facing is weirdly entertaining and at the same time enlightening.

My favourite: a band named brouillard, with a single member called brouillard, whose every single album is named brouillard, and of course, so is every single track.

Bird man

4. Finishing up with an ultimate quirk, but I must admit: it's the one that scares me a lot. A guy, out of pure fun, starts conspiracy theory how birds actually don't exist – and it catches up! People actually start believing it!

people who believe [conspiracy theories] live in another world, where any wild theory flies and even the most fleeting attempt to fact check it or test it against logic (if birds have been destroyed, who’s eating all the worms?) marks you out as a brainwashed liberal

This one reminded me of a story how Serbian Turbo-folk music got its name. In short, it's a mixture of traditional folk music and modern repetitive techno-like beats, low in production quality and extremely simplified. Montenegrin artist Rambo Amadeus the first named it with a meaning from turbo-diesel engines, where high-pressure fuel is directly injected into engine. It was derogatory term, of course. But, people enjoying Turbo-folk actually took it at face value and started using it, so the name caught up and stayed. Rambo, later, reminisced: “Beware of making jokes, idiots will start believing and adopting them.

See you in the next #SundayReading.

The Memento Mori calendar visualizes a person's life by showing how many weeks they have lived in a form of table cells. I went around various Life Expectancy calculators and tried to figure out how much of life I have left. Estimation varies from 89.8 years down to 82. But, an average was 85.26 years, so I'll go with that.

Here is mine memento mori:

Memento Mori

Here's really interesting blog post from Dwarkesh Patel on examples of applying barbell strategies to real life. I really liked reading and contemplating on these. This one hits personal open wound:

Don’t be a tech worker who does pathetic side projects in his free time (an infrequently updated blog, a useless webapp, half-hearted attempts to learn more about math or ML). Instead, work multiple jobs at the same time for half a year, and use the earnings to spend the next few years fully engaged in hare-brained schemes (working full time on your startup, becoming a Gwern style independent researcher, etc).

Ha, well, I am trying to make my blog more frequently updated these day, but there's one thing that is very obvious to me: a lot of these ideas, if not all, are completely incompatible with a life of a parent with young children. Two weeks of nothing but reading books? Yeah, right, dream about it, dad :)

Back to #SundayReading! These weeks I spent nearly all of my free time following events around Russian invasion of #Ukraine, so here are few articles that I found insightful and worth re-reading.

1. The first is the conversation with Stephen Kotkin who is giving us the best overview of the nature of Russian, or more precisely Putin's, regime. It is very enlightening to read what scholars and historians think since they spent a lot of time looking for patterns, and Kotkin is not shy from sharing his knowledge. As a teaser, he recites the most succinct definition of what The West is:

The West is a series of institutions and values. The West is not a geographical place. Russia is European, but not Western. Japan is Western, but not European. “Western” means rule of law, democracy, private property, open markets, respect for the individual, diversity, pluralism of opinion, and all the other freedoms that we enjoy, which we sometimes take for granted. We sometimes forget where they came from. But that’s what the West is.

2. The second one is also a conversation, again with a scholar, but this time it's an anthropologist, Ukranian Volodymyr Artiukh. Very precise introduction to the events currently unfolding from the insider's perspective.

The sanctions will not stop the war. Only tanks and guns can stop tanks and guns.

3. And now a Twitter thread by Kamil Galeev (he has a lot of Twitter threads dense with information, most probably not all of it correct, but very engaging and thought provoking). Here he develops an interesting concept where the growth of complex industries influences power balance in, what is currently case for Russia, mafia or cartel-like state. This resonated in me profoundly since I finally found an explanation of what is actually on-going in my home country #Serbia the last few decades, and it started to unravel really fast in the last ten years: Serbian government seems to actively undermine and works to destroy everything that is creating additional value and focuses on pure resource extraction, ore mining in short. A lot of people, me included until recently, can not comprehend why would a government want to practically cripple it's own country; it seems so non-intuitive that folks just ignore it happening before their own eyes. But Galeev's concept makes it all logical, rational.

The more mafia-like you are, the simpler you are, the less able to administer complex economic activities. If you engage in them, power balance within your structure will change and former strongmen might become irrelevant. Mafia can remain mafia only feeding of something simple. Extractive businesses are relatively simple in a sense that they can be administered by mafia for very long and still produce value. Of course they're being destroyed too but in the long run, so nobody cares. Complex businesses will be destroyed immediately.

4. And finally, something not related to the invasion of Ukraine, a short piece by Tyler Cowen giving advice on how to approach and weight views and on-going events. Timeless and preciously needed.

Look for strong analytical abilities, and if you don’t see it, run the other way.

Until the next time.

At this point I don't think anyone needs to write long introduction on Russia invading #Ukraine. In the world abundant with information and relatively clear way to judge the sources one can be uninformed only if one chose to be.

Many people in my home country #Serbia chose to ignore the reality. Or are just evil, I don't know how else to explain all this.

My Serbia didn't officially condemn the invasion. Look at the map below, look at all those countries that didn't express disgust and worry after the invasion:

Condemnations

Yes, that's right, there are only two in whole of Europe, Belarus and Serbia. Most of the people in the country see the event completely upside-down: it's actually Ukraine that attacked Russia, so it had to defend itself! If you scratch below the surface during conversation you'll get regular mixture of reality denial and whataboutism.

The biggest independent political TV show hosted RussiaToday editor who was allowed to spew out lies and disinfo. Serbia is the only country that didn't have rallies of support for the people of Ukraine, but instead rallies of support for Russian troops – idiots taped letter Z on their cars, drove around hoisting Russian flags and blasting nationalistic music. Belgrade is the only capital in Europe that did that, that allowed that to happen!

Then there was a football match, the biggest in the league where two biggest teams in the capital play against the each other, the derby of Belgrade. Any idea what happened? They did this:

Belgrade stadium

Graveyard in colors of the Ukrainian flag. TV crews reported Serbian hooligans hosted supporters (sic!) of Moscow's Spartak football club (they had one fun round-trip), one of them was interviewed and he was holding big cloth with “Serbia – Russia” written on it. In English. Yes, that's a Russian in another country that uses Cyrillic script as well. It is nothing but a message out.

And make no mistake about it, it is a message, perhaps the strongest one. It's a public secret in Serbia that football hooligans are the arm of the government, they're used to do all kind of dirty work (demolish buildings during the night, break protests, ...) in exchange of being let to do illegal drug distribution, among other activities. Everyone in Serbia knows that this wouldn't have happened unless the State wanted to. It's a message to likewise sociopaths. It's appalling.

The last door towards European integration of Serbia are closed now, I am certain of it. Serbian government and, to great extent, her people too chose to be on the wrong side of the history. Again.

Docker container images initially described in my here's how to run WriteFreely using Docker blog post are upgraded to version 0.13.1, the latest one as of this being written.

Read more...

Here's how I lost few hours of my life.

Having been playing with self-hosting lately, I also installed Statping – to monitor all the things I self-host, but also to keep a track of them. It's cool little software, so I decided to add local devices too, including our Synlogy NAS.

That was long time ago. But few weeks ago I noticed that the disk in NAS is never spinning down. Worried about it's lifecycle I started looking on the Internet trying to figure out what could be the cause of it. I went deep down playing with various setting, various firmware versions, etc. But nothing changed, disk never went to sleep.

At the brink of giving up and declaring I have faulty equipment I tried removing NAS check in Statping. And that was it!

But the time spent is gone and I didn't learn much in the process.

Here we go, as unrewarding – and dangerous – it can be, I would like to look at 2021 ahead of us and make some decisions. Those I didn't make just now, it's been cooking in me for a while now, but making it this public, regardless of how many people will read it (probably more bots will, but that's something too), I am making a stand and also it will serve as fun reading in some 12 months after this.

What is it that I will invest my energy this year?

First of all a language. French language that is. I live in France and I want to perfect it, since I still largely use English due to work.

There's one more language I want to tackle: the #Go programming language. To perfect it too. I've been based in #PHP and #Python for too long, and my vast experience in 6510 assembler is not going to be useful a lot this year. I've been following people who started playing with it and they are already creating wonderful projects only few months down the learning road. I want to go on that road too.

The last point I will focus on is #blockchain. More specifically smart contracts most probably in #Ethereum virtual machine. It fascinates me for quite some time and, aside some baby steps, I haven't spent much time investigating and discovering that space.

So there it is, the whole plan. Sprinkle it with many smaller side-projects and I have 12 fun months ahead of me.

Here are more interesting things I have read in this edition of #SundayReading.

1. There's something called Second-system effect. I have lived it, and I never knew it was already known phenomenon.

The second-system effect (also known as second-system syndrome) is the tendency of small, elegant, and successful systems, to be succeeded by over-engineered, bloated systems, due to inflated expectations and overconfidence.

2. Mario Vargas Llosa won Nobel Prize in Literature way back in 2010. During one of Nobel laureate meetings he gave a speech titled Confessions of a Latin American Liberal. Powerful and always worth re-reading.

By agreeing to live with those who are different, human beings took the most extraordinary step on the road to civilization.

A view

3. The great disillusionist, reminds of Giacomo Leopardi, a famous Italian.

One can measure the extent of a society’s civilisation by the diversity of opinion it is willing to countenance.

4. Robert Anton Wilson is an author whose time is yet to come, I believe. Here's one of his interviews, and I'll select an answer to a question What are the fundamentalists afraid of? He said:

Themselves. What they’re afraid of is change. One etymology of “devil” traces it to “double.” It’s the shadow, the repressed part of the self. What they’re afraid of is what Freud called the unconscious: parts of their nervous system which they have blocked off from conscious perception. The only way they know how to handle it is the traditional human way of picking scapegoats and ritually driving them over a cliff. You can study how widespread this phenomena is by studying anthropological texts. The fact is we’re living at the time of the greatest acceleration of change in human history, and it’s not letting up: the acceleration itself is accelerating. The rate of change is getting faster all the time. So people with rigid mental sets, people whose nervous systems are heavily imprinted with a past reality, for them the world gets to seem stranger and stranger and therefore more and more sinister, more and more frightening. This is why the average liberal becomes a conservative within about 10 years. His nervous system isn’t changing any more but the world is. So the world begins to seem stranger and more frightening and he begins to see “those conservatives have got something there; there’s something sinister going on. We’ve got to slow down a little. Let’s not get too reckless.” And of course in 20 years he’s a reactionary.

Happy reading, until the next time.