Monday, September 29, 2008

How to lose weight [Solved]

In this day and age, being or getting fat is treated like a drug addiction, in all sense of the word treated. Fat people are marginalised, socially pushed to find a solution. Many solutions are provided, from pills that help you lose weight to food replacement things and "health food" so that they can slowly get rid of this addiction to food. And in many respects, fat people are behaving like addicts. They have cravings, they find reasons for eating "just a little bite", they show withdrawal symptoms, they try quitting and they fail. There are also "pushers", trying their best to hook you on chips, sugary drinks, fatty meats and fast foods as well as food suplements and slim drinks.

The funny thing is that the actual solution to extra weight is the same as in the case of hard drugs: you want to get rid of heroin addiction, stop taking heroin. There is this slightly annoying fact that you can live without heroin, but you can't without food. But there are people working on it.

Anyway, I started writing this because, as far as I am concerned, I know I have found the solution. And it is not so hard to do it, either. I've started from 116kg, lost 16 in 4 months, started drinking Coca-Cola like crazy while keeping the diet, didn't gain much weight, then started eating a lot of pasty, bready, pizzy and fatty food and gained 10 kg in about 1 month and a bit, then I started a custom (less strict) diet again and got to 104kg in 1 month. In other words, even if I stop the diet, I have to make an effort to gain weight. Even if I slip a little, it doesn't matter. And if I make my own food style, one that avoids too much fat and bread and sugar, I don't gain weight, even if I stop the diet completely. It is way easier to gain weight than to lose it, but that is not the point.

Bit by bit, though.

You have to consider that this is not a weight loss blog and that I am only describing my experience here, but hey, it worked. From what I could gather there are three points that need covering:
  1. Don't gain extra weight
  2. Eat the right stuff to maintain your weight
  3. Keep your metabolism running to lose weight
. Pretty easy.

In order to not gain extra weight, eat less. A normal sedentary human needs about 2000 calories per day. We eat a lot more than that and a lot of it just goes out in the toilet. A small part (but significant to this blog entry) is stored as fat. By eating 1500 calories you get to stop gaining weight and start losing it. But how does one know what 1500 calories mean? Very simple: you get a list of what you are supposed to eat every day at every meal and you don't stray from it.

In order to maintain your weight even after stopping the diet, you need to eat the right stuff. I don't know exactly what that means, but guessing by the food I am allowed to eat and what I am not and what I Googled on the net, I found out that there is a separation of food types into alkaline and acidic foods. Supposedly, you need 75% of the first category and 25% of the latter. A normal Western diet is the other way around, hence the weight gain and the accumulation of fat. Also, the division of foods in these two categories seems to have nothing to do with pH, as lemons are considered highly alkaline. Probably the terms refer to the body's response to them. Also, you need to stay off carbo-hydrates. This is called a "low-carb" diet. Carbo-hydrates is a fancy word for sugars, but there is the good sort (like in fruits and a bit honey) and the bad sort (like refined sugar and refined flour products).

And last, but not least, eat many times a day. That is counter intuitive, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The human body is very adaptive. If you eat once a day, it will remember to shut off functions that use energy the rest of the day. Not to mention that you'll probably get an ulcer anyway. So instead of losing weight, you will lose energy. Even worse, when you start eating again, the body will just store it, since it is running in energy-saving mode. Instead, if you eat many times a day, your body knows energy is freely available and the metabolic rate will go up instead of down, helping you to burn reserves (fat).

Ok, enough theory. I will give you a general 1500 calory diet to follow every (fucking) day. If you get bored, read the part about the routine. Don't stop. Remember, I lost 16 kilos in 4 months and then I had to make an effort to put 10 kilos back.

So, there are 5 meals a day! breakfast, brunch, lunch, lupper (sorry, couldn't help it :) ), supper. You are allowed to drink water and green tea with no sugar only. Maybe coffee in the morning, but that's frowned upon :D.

Breakfast (7:00-8:00): 100g of low fat meat (like grilled chicken breast, fish, cremwurst (the thing in the hot dog), etc.) and/or low fat cheese (like mozarella or any low fat cheese). 100g in total. That means like 3 (slim) cremwurst sausages. Also a tomato and a cucumber (a normal cucumber, like the ones that are the total size of a tomato :) not the huge ones). You are allowed two slices of bread, not white, but wheat bread.

Brunch (10:00-11:00): 250g of fruit. Any fruit. Or 4-5 dried fruits.

Lunch (13:00-14:00): 150g of low fat meat (preferably grilled, else you start dreaming of warm meals) and a salad (tomato salad, green salad, boiled vegetables whatever. Use olive oil and as little salt as possible. Use lemon juice, not winegar). For example if you want to make yourself a tomato salad, you use 2 tomatos and a cucumber, some olive oil and lemon juice and a little salt. That's the size of a salad, not 4 kilos of tomatoes with mayo salad dressing. Two slices of wheat bread.

Meal between lunch and supper (16:00): 250g of fruit. Any fruit. Or 4-5 dried fruits.

Supper (18:30-19:30): 400g of yoghurt and/or low fat meat or salad. 400g in total, use at least 200g of yoghurt, though, it has enzimes that will help you during the night. Maybe replace the yoghurt with a less fatty soup. One slice of wheat bread.

That is it! You eat nothing else. You drink nothing else than water and grean tea. You avoid sugar as much as possible, onions and carrots and peas are sweet, too. No diet drinks or sugar-free chewing gum, they don't really help. Chocolate is a no no. Icecream is a crime. Alcohol deserves capital punishment. (well at least that's what the nutritionist told me).

My opinion of it? Well, things are not so bad. Remember that you cannot put more weight than what you eat. Even if you live by breathing air and you store everything you ingurgitate, you cannot gain 10 kilos if you only eat 1. Does your body store the Coca Cola drink you crave? No. But it uses that sugary goodness as energy and stores anything else you eat. Will you inflate like a balloon if you go to someone's birthday party and you eat a little cake and drink some champagne? Not really, unless people start looking at you funny while you are the only one eating the cake and there is not much left. This doesn't apply if you go to birthday parties every day!

And, remember, this is for a person that makes no physical effort whatsoever other than getting up each morning and going to work. Riding your bike at work or jogging or doing physical exercises will make this go even faster. They don't have to be difficult or complex. Finding your food in restaurants or shops is difficult, therefore you should prepare your lunch at home. That might look strange, to carry your own food, but weigh it (pun intended) against the purpose of your diet and the benefits of not being fat.

The thing is that after you reach your desired weight, you still have to keep up with this kind of eating. It keeps you fit. You can eat normal food, go to restaurants, drink sugary drinks and alcohol, but remember to balance it with the diet you just went through. Sugar and alcohol is somewhat like a really unhealthy fruit, fat is like a lot of meat, not eating vegetables is just not good. Your body is the result of evolution working on people who ate mostly plants and sometimes a little meat. Consider that when you order your double cheese hamburger and a diet Coke. Anyway, speaking of diet soft drinks, it doesn't really work. Drink the regular ones (unless you like the taste of the diet ones) just don't overdo it. It's the same with the food. Eat it rationally, even if you like to eat.

I felt no real feeling of hunger during this diet. The 5 meals a day thing keeps you full of energy and always with something in your stomach. You might feel hungry in the evening and then, if you reeeeeally find it hard to resist, drink a small glass of milk. Not regularly, just when you are really hungry. The milk makes your hunger go away, but also keep your body from losing weight.

The Routine

Well, you noticed it. The whole diet is based on daily routine. It might drive you crazy for a while, but consider that you have been doing it anyway. You wake up in the morning, wash, piss, drink the ritual coffee or whatever, get dressed, go to work, do the same thing you do every fucking day, return home and watch TV or spend "quality time" with the wife or play some silly game on the computer or even work part jobs. Then you go to sleep. It's a routine.

All you need to do is alter it a little to suit your needs.

People worst than you have done it. People incarcerated and tortured every day found solace in the real life inside their heads while living the reality in a state of trance brought on by routine. Routine is the basis of one's comfort. You only explore when you leave your comfort zone. You can do it "in your free time", if this mythical thing even exists, or just in your head, while your body is running the automated program you set up. Now I am not really talking about losing weight here, I am going general. The thing that keeps everyone content and not going crazy is not the quality of life, but the routine of it. We train ourselves to function in the given conditions.

Talking about drugs you cannot not talk about Trainspotting. The film that old people took as a drug promoting movie while for all the people that actually watched it, it was a powerful anti-drug statement. There is this part of the movie where Renton tries to quit heroin and he just hates his life. It's not because of the withdrawal symptomps, but because of the sheer boredom of it. When something that defines your pleasure is taken away, when the excitement is gone, your life feels like a slow death. It's easy to just go back to the pleasure you know. Even if it is just as boring, it feels good. But routine is what saves your ass.

The same applies to food. You dream of all the possible combinations of taste and texture and what you would do if you weren't on the diet. You don't feel hungry, you see, you don't need food, you need the pleasure of it. You want to fuck that food with your mouth and make it cum saliva. But it's all fake. When you slip and try to eat that food you realise that the fat you craved makes you feel sick, the food you want may be not on the diet sheet, but you can just about make it with those ingredients. You don't need junk food to eat good. And that is what this is all about after all. You get healthier by adjusting some parameters, not by losing something. Even if you can't lose all the weight you wanted, who gives a damn if you are still a little fat? You are a healthy fat guy! Not a morbidly obese piece of blubber that just waits miserably for their coronary.

So stick to the routine. Experiment with food while keeping to the principles of the diet when you get out of it. Stay in the comfort zone and leave it for short periods of time when you feel good about yourself. Choose your next stage of development and get to it when you feel like it.

Now I sound like those people trying to sell you stuff. I wanted to write this for a long time, mostly because I had to explain all of this to a lot of people over and over again. Now I have this post, you can read it here. I guess the bottom line is that your body as well as your brain is always in training mode. Whenever you do something that feels good, you train it to want more, whenever you do something that feels bad, you train it to want less. So it is your responsability, after all, to choose the things that make you feel good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Watin FileUpload issues

Usually when I blog something I am writing the problem and the solution I have found. In this case, based also on the lack of pages describing the same problem, I have decided to blog about the problem only. If you guys find the solution, please let me know. I will post it here as soon as I find it myself. So here it is:

We started creating some tests for one of our web applications. My colleague created the tests, amongst them one that does a simple file upload. She used the following code:
var fu = ie.FileUpload(Find.ByName("ctl00$ContentPlaceHolder1$tcContent$tpAddItem$uplGalleryItem$fuGalleryItem"));
fu.Set(UploadImageFile);

and it worked perfectly. She was using WatiN 1.2.4 and MBUnit 2.4.

I had Watin 2.0 installed and MBUnit 3.0. Downloaded the tests, removed the ApartmentState thing that seems not to be necessary in MBUnit 3.0, ran them.
On my computer the FileUpload Set method opens a file upload dialog and stops. I've tried a lot of code variants, to no avail; I've uninstalled both MBUnit and WatiN and installed the 1.2.4 and 2.4 versions. Tried all possible combinations actually, using .NET 1.1 and 2.0 libraries and changing the code. Nothing helped. On my computer the setting of the file name doesn't work.

I've examined the WatiN source and I've noticed that it used a FileUploadDialogHandler that determines if a window is a file upload window or not by checking a Style property. I have no idea if that is the correct solution, but just to be sure I inherited my own class from FileUploadDialogHandler and I've instructed it to throw an exception with a message containing the style of the first window it handles. The exception never fired, so I am inclined to believe that the handler mechanism somehow fails on my computer!

I have no idea what to do. I have a Windows XP SP3 with the latest updates and I am running these tests in Visual Studio 2008 Professional.

Update:
The only possible explanation left to me is that Internet Explorer 8 is the culprit, since my colleagues all have IE7. The maker of WatiN himself declared that identifying the windows by style is not the most elegant method possible, but he had no other way of doing it. My suspicion is that the window handling doesn't work at all in IE8, but I have no proof for it and so far I have found no solution for this problem.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Very Slow USB Memory Stick in Windows XP

I finally bought myself a laptop and I had to figure out how to transfer files from my computer to the new device. I'll spare you the details, the thing is that I finally decided to use a 4Gb flash stick that my wife had from work.

I wanted to copy about four episodes from a tv series (that's less than 1.5Gb) and it said it needed to do it in 30 minutes. I thought, well, maybe the stick is slow. I was in no hurry, so I let it copy. I noticed that it worked in great bursts of data. First copy fast, then wait, then copy again, then wait again. When I moved it to the laptop, the file system was corrupt. What the.. ? So I formatted the stick. Apparently, I had only the FAT32 option, not NTFS. Then started copying again.

I Googled for it and found out that Windows XP does not enable write caching for removable drives. Me being me, I immediately went to the hardware properties of the stick and changed the way it worked from 'Optimize for quick removal' to 'Optimize for performance' (which specified that it enabled write caching). Wow! I am so smart. But I continued Googling anyway and I've learned that the setting doesn't really change anything, other than giving you the option of formatting with NTFS, which then would allow write caching.

But there was also another option, even with 'Optimize for quick removal' on: use the Windows XP command line utility Convert which is used to convert a FAT drive to an NTFS drive. I stopped the copying, only to notice that the file system was corrupt again. I deleted the files, ran chkdsk K: and then convert K: /fs:ntfs /v /NoSecurity. While the copying went a lot smoother, it still took 15 minutes to copy the damn thing. At least I could read it at the other end, anyway.

I don't exclude the possibility that drivers or stick hardware were at fault (since it is the first time this is happening to me), but be aware that you can always have this option of using NTFS instead of FAT32.

Disadvantages of using NTFS and write caching:
  1. You need to use the software option of removing the USB stick and wait until it says it is safe to remove it, otherwise you might have write errors
  2. NTFS has this ugly write last access time option that you can only remove it through a registry hack.
  3. NTFS sticks cannot be used for some devices like mp3 players and such, since they only know FAT32 access. Windows 98 is also oblivious to NTFS, although there are third party NTFS drivers for it


Almost all information here can be found in more detail at this link: Tips for USB pen drives.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Cobweb by Neal Stephenson and J.Frederick George

The Cobweb is not a sci-fi story, just a fiction thriller. It happends in modern day America, where a small town cop slowly unravels a plot of international proportions and implications. He has to foil it with no help from (or rather against) the corrupted systems of university academia and government security and diplomatic agencies.

Actually, this is the main subject of the book, if I can say so: Throat cutting internal politics inside the CIA, the rule that CIA operations cannot take place inside the borders of the USA, and they ways to bend that rule, university scholarship stewards that live off foreign student exchanges (real or not) and bogus grants, etc. It was a bleak picture, the one painted of the CIA employees who cannot exceed their assigned duty, even if they have plenty of reason to, else face career stop or even dismissal.

In the end, of course, Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks saves the day, but I can't help noticing that I knew this would happen from the very start. The real information is in the path to the end result and that is what I've appreciated in this book. The reader is taken away to discover the filthy world Stephenson and George expose.

It starts a little slow. It also provides plenty of information for would be terrorists :) So I recommend it to everyone, even if it is not a sci-fi book, it's a solid well made story.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

offsetParent null in FireFox. Absolute position in FireFox yields 0,0

I've spent about a day on a thing that I can only consider a FireFox bug. As a complete reverse from what I would expect from a javascript script, it worked anywhere but in FireFox! And FireFox 2.1, I haven't even installed 3.0 yet.

It concerned a simple javascript function from a third party that was supposed to get the absolute positioning of an element when clicked. I've written one myself a while ago, but it didn't work either! Here is the function that I was trying to fix:
function getPos(n) {
var t = this, x = 0, y = 0, e, d = t.doc, r;

n = t.get(n);

// Use getBoundingClientRect on IE, Opera has it but it's not perfect
if (n && isIE) {
n = n.getBoundingClientRect();
e = t.boxModel ? d.documentElement : d.body;
x = t.getStyle(t.select('html')[0], 'borderWidth'); // Remove border
x = (x == 'medium' || t.boxModel && !t.isIE6) && 2 || x;
n.top += t.win.self != t.win.top ? 2 : 0; // IE adds some strange extra cord if used in a frameset

return {x : n.left + e.scrollLeft - x, y : n.top + e.scrollTop - x};
}

r = n;
while (r) {
x += r.offsetLeft || 0;
y += r.offsetTop || 0;
r = r.offsetParent;
}

r = n;
while (r) {
// Opera 9.25 bug fix, fixed in 9.50
if (!/^table-row|inline.*/i.test(t.getStyle(r, "display", 1))) {
x -= r.scrollLeft || 0;
y -= r.scrollTop || 0;
}

r = r.parentNode;

if (r == d.body)
break;
}

return {x : x, y : y};
}


As you see, it is a little more complex than my own, although I don't know if it works better or not.

Anyway, I found that the problem was simple enough: the element I was clicking did not have an offsetParent! Here is a forum which discusses a possible cause for it. Apparently the Gecko rendering engine that FireFox uses does not compute offsetParent, offsetTop or offsetLeft until the page has finished loading. I didn't find anything more detailed and there were just a few pages that seemed to report a problem with offsetParent null in FireFox.

I tried to solve it, but in the end I gave up. My only improvement to the script was this line:
while (r&&!r.offsetParent) {
x+=r.offsetLeft||0;
y+=r.offsetTop||0;
r=r.parentNode;
};
which resulted in a more localised position, i.e. the position of the closest parent to which I could calculate a position.

In the end the problem was solved by restructuring the way the dynamic elements on the page were created, but I still couldn't find either an official cause or a way to replicate the issue in a simple, separate project. My guess is that some types of DOM manipulations while the page is loading (in other words, scripts that are just dropped on the page and not loaded in the window 'load' event which change stuff in the page element tree) lead to FireFox forgetting to compute the offset values or just even assuming that the page is never loaded.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Installing WinXP on a Laptop with SATA drives, but no floppy

The problem is that Windows XP only accepts serial-ATA drivers from the floppy diskette. You don't have one. What are you to do?

Google gave me a few ideas, but I had to piece them together. So, here is what you need:
  1. download the SATA drivers for your laptop
  2. download Virtual Floppy Drive by Ken Kato - at this time it is at version 2.1 - if your SATA drivers are in the form of a floppy disk image generator (a single exe that asks for a disk in the floppy drive)
  3. download nLite - at this time 1.4.9.1
  4. get a windows XP installation disk
  5. have a writable CD and a CD writer ready
.

And here is what you do on another computer (one that is working :)) :
  1. (if you already have the SATA driver files, skip this)Go to My Computer, Properties, Hardware, Device Manager and disable your floppy drive, if you have any
  2. (if you already have the SATA driver files, skip this)Install and run Virtual Floppy Drive and create an empty image on A:
  3. (if you already have the SATA driver files, skip this)Run the stupid SATA drivers you downloaded - that only want a diskette to format with their files, they can't simply unzip them somewhere - and you will get the drivers in file form on the virtual diskette
  4. Start nLite and select the Drivers and the Bootable ISO options then Insert multiple drivers and give it the drive A: as a source
  5. Create the ISO image, then write it on a blank CD - writing CDs from images is different from just dragging and dropping files in the CD writer window, BTW


That should do it! Use the newly created CD as the XP installation disk without pressing F6 for loading SCSI drivers.

Clone Detective for Visual Studio 2008

I've stumbled upon a little VS2008 addon that I think could prove very useful. It's called Clone Detective. Here is how you use it:
  • Make sure VS2008 is closed
  • Download and install the setup file
  • Additionally the source is freely available!
  • Open VS2008 and load a solution up
  • Go to View -> Other Windows -> Clone Explorer
  • Click the Run Clone Detective button


Now you should be able to see the percentage of cloned code in each file and also see the cloned code as vertical lines on the right vertical border next to the code.

Karishma - a very nice Indian restaurant in Bucharest

really flashy, isn't it? We intended to go to Thang Long, the Vietnamese restaurant, but so it happends that it was closed. On the same street there was this large, Indian looking (elephants and all), restaurant: Karishma. It looked too flashy, that being the reason why I usually suppressed my curiosity of going in there, but that day I felt curious enough.

As it turns out, it is the real deal: good food at reasonably high prices, real Indians running the shop, even serving the food, and nice people (at least with their customers), beautiful interior. Four people ate enough with 215 lei, that is about 60 euros or 84 USD. We tried the lassi drinks (yoghurt with mango or with cumin and salt), the masala tea (black tea, ginger and cardammon with lots of milk and sugar) and saucy meat foods. We could choose the level of spicyness, I asked for very spicy and it was heaven. My table mates called it poison and stuck to their own meals.

All in all, I highly recommend it. Here is the address and contact information:

Karishma restaurant
Address: Iancu Capitan 36, Bucharest,
Phone: 0040-21-252.51.57

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Other pictures from Greece

In the blog posts about my trip to Greece I placed some of the pictures taken, but mostly stuff pertaining to the place we were in and the paragraph before. Here are other pictures that have no special meaning other than that I like how they turned out.

black ants in Greece are slightly bigger than in Romania
Green orange tree
some park in Sparti
Sparti cat
Sparti dog

Let's Sparti!
entering Thessaloniki
street in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki
old church in Thessaloniki

plants in Thessaloniki
plants in Thessaloniki
plants in Thessaloniki
plants in Thessaloniki
plants in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki cat
Praying mantis in Kyparissi
plants in Kyparissi
plants in Kyparissi
plants in Kyparissi

Kyparissi plants
Kyparissi plants
Kyparissi plants
Kyparissi plants
Tzerry, the dog

My Holiday in Greece - Part 3

Ok, what's done is done, Maria wanted to spend more time with her sister and we both got tired of Kyparissi, so we went back to Sparti. This time we went alone, having gotten directions on how to get there. The GPS was useless, since it had no maps of that area whatsoever. I did pin the house on the map, though, so I knew the general direction.

Back towards Sparti, Greece (5)

Of course, we got a little lost. We entered a town we did not know the name of and we found ourselves on a road to Monevasia. We have been to Monevasia, it was in the south, we wanted to go a little north. What should we do? I pointed out to Maria that the road to Monevasia probably meets another one that comes from Sparti, using her own words from the experience with Kulata and Sofia. Of course, now that the same words of wisdom came from my mouth, she decided to turn back. We again entered the nameless village and we noticed a sign towards Sparti (fixed on a wall, so you can only see it when coming from the other direction) so we took that road. We've had the inspiration to stop next to a guy and ask if that was the road to Sparti. No, of course not, it's the other one! (the one from which we came from).

back towards Sparti
back towards Sparti
goats on the rocky sides of the road: take me! no, take me! :)

Sparti, Greece (6)

Finally we got back on track and reached Sparti and the small village next to it where Maria's sister lived. We stayed there a few days, during which the girls either spent talking to each other (and dragging me into it as much as they could, while I was trying to read the boring books I brought with me) or my sister in law spent at work and me and Maria sight seeing.

We first went in the city of Sparti to visit "Ancient Sparti". It was a big sign that directed us to it. It was a bloody park, a small one at that. Just a few stone looking modern roads, olive trees (of course), and some ruins, partly escavated and surrounded by do-not-cross tape. There were people that had parked their cars there, even their RVs! There was a modern contraption in the middle of it, something like a concrete electrical thing or maybe a janitor house, I don't know, full of graffiti. The only good thing that came out of this was a great view from above of the town of Sparti.

much of it look like this
you can see the crappy building behind these ruins
ancient ruins and modern Sparti
Sparti from above
I have better pictures of Sparti, but I liked the sun rays

When we came back we took the car through the orange orchard from the back of the house and we found a goblin tree! Heh, just look at the picture, you will see what I mean.

if I stay still maybe they will think it's an olive tree!

Trip to Kalamata, Greece (7)

After that we decided to go to Kalamata, which is a rather large city in the south, taking first a mountain road that would take us directly, then return on a path that would follow the seaside and go around the mountain. It was a very nice trip. The mountain road felt like normal country for once, with actual green, non olive, trees and even rain! The towns on the edge of the sea were all nice, even if we only saw them from afar. In Kalamata, for example, we got lost trying to find the center of the city. There were signs for the center, but after following them, we would always get to the same spot, which was obviously not the center. On this trip we actually noticed vast regions covered with black ash. We theorised it was related to the extended fires that had plagued Greece the previous summer. But it could have been just as well new fires or even some weird agricultural system.

this in southern Greece, can you believe it?
after the rain
some church in Kalamata
seaside towns as seen from the road
small settlement as seen from the road

After the few days in Sparti we decided to go back to Bucharest. Again a night trip through Greece that would let us do Bulgaria during the day and reach home in the afternoon. This is were it got interesting. I told the GPS to take me home. Not only did I specify Bucharest, but the exact address. I then trusted it to take us there, without (as Maria would soon point out) actually checking the path. My only defence is that I am a software developer and I instinctively trust the electronics more than any paper map.

So, in the middle of the night, we found ourselves on a twisting road, dark and full of poorly signaled curves. Maria got upset immediately and asked me to look at the GPS. I did and I found out that the highway would take a large curved path and that the road that the GPS put us on was cutting that path. I did remember a setting on the GPS that involved road tolls. I thought the machine wanted us to avoid the tolls so it took us away from the highway. So I checked the setting off.

The road now went on another path. I could see that both previous and current path were taking european roads, but it didn't specify which was a highway and which was not. Maria was angry as hell and I was slowly losing my patience. I can stand hysterical shouting just as any guy, maybe a little better, but I do have my limits. I proposed to stop the car and look at the paper map and decide together on the path we want to take. Maria refused. So we went on.

At one moment I was actually reasoning that impulsive reactions (like swerving the car at high speed off the curve and killing us both) were usually an effect of low levels of serotonin, the comfort hormone. Both in animals and humans, serotonin is produces when the subject is caressed. So I actually caressed my wife, cooing her to close to normal levels of serotonin, when I almost felt like ripping her head off. Of course, that would solve nothing, since I can't drive (not to mention I am a rookie at ripping heads as well).

We passed through the town of Thiba, then we continued on a road that was nothing close to a highway. It was a good road, but not what we expected. The darn GPS took us from the highway because I checked that road toll setting off. Maria finally decided to stop and look at the map. The map showed us that the highway was 2 km from Thiba. We were already 20km away from it. But the small town where we stopped had two clear (albeit very thin) roads taking us directly to the highway. We inquired of the way to the highway to a gas station lady. She said that no, the only way is back to Thiba. So we went 20km back to Thiba, 2 km to the highway, 20km on the highway, where we noticed an exit to the small city we just left from.

At least everything went cool from that. It was good that we looked more attentively on the path home, since the GPS had prepared another surprise for us: it wanted to cross the border to Macedonia, then Bulgaria. I think that it would have been a more interesting road, but Maria insisted we take the known path through Kulata. Remember Kulata? Anyway, we got to Sofia, where the ring road around it was still under contruction!

Bulgaria (8)

After following a long queue of cars going at 4m per minute on dusty unmarked unpaved roads in the middle of Sofia, we got to the ring road again. It was under contruction there as well. So we stopped at a gas station and asked for directions. Bulgarians are different from Greeks. When they say they know a little English, they actually mean they don't know some of the words, not they just know a few. They were nice, showed me where I was on the map, where I should go to exit Sofia and reach the road to Ruse (the border town to Romania) and they even gave me a Bulgarian map. I told them I have no money to pay for it and they gave it to me anyway! I gathered that the map costs less that 5 euros + the repairs to the cracked lateral mirror, but still it was amazingly nice of them.

Then we got to the road to Ruse. This time, the GPS took us on another road that had no more 40 and 60km speed limit signs. I was glad to see it, especially since Maria had exclaimed "oh, now we get on that boring road" only minutes before. I was thus surprised to hear her complain the entire way to Ruse that it was NOT the way we came on when going towards Greece.

And that's about it. We got home, I started writing all this, I enjoyed my last 4days of freedom before going to work, answered my emails, I couldn't believe the people leaving spam and messages on the blog DEMANDING work done for them, etc.

On the city man superiority complex

Many a time I find myself looking down on people that are not born and raised in a city. Provincial people that come in the capital to find their fortune are always different and, even if most of the time they are nice, hard working and intelligent, the feeling is there. I try to muffle it down immediately, of course, I am not proud of it, but I've never found a proper explanation for the phenomenon. Not until now, that is.

I believe that people from smaller communities (be it a small town or a small group of people with the same interest - see? I am a provincial too, in some respects) can dream a lot easier. They can compare themselves with their peers and find that they are good at what they do, or that they are original and refreshing. The city folks or the people in large groups, find it harder to be exceptional. Events are not singular, they are many, they become statistics. People are no longer resembling a person they know, but rather an archetype that their brain has compiled from so many similar people. One doesn't think back at their own experiences to solve problems, they Google it.

Back to my feelings of false superiority. It is easy for me to label any person, after meeting so many people. The root of my feelings comes from the fact that those people don't understand how I know things about them or the reason I label them. Most of them don't even realise it, when they spew the same thing other people of their category had, that I've heard it all before, that maybe I've even met some of the people in their genetic neighbourhood so I know not only the upbringing from which they came, but also what they are likely to do. And they usually see my reaction as arrogance and become hostile, just as I could interpret their proud banality as annoying.

I come from Bucharest. It is a capital city, but a small one. A New Yorker, for example, would see me as a provincial fool. Maybe that's why I feel so sick when I see movies like Sex and the City where the rituals there feel more foul than the rites of cannibal savages. But it makes sense. You need a 300$ pillow and a 15000$ hand bag if you want to stand out in a crowd that big. Of course you need to hysterically shout out your feelings (after careful considerating if those feelings are appropriate or not, socially). Everything is directed because everyone has seen it all before!

For me, a society of socially omniscient (and omni-demanding) beings is hell. Mostly because I care not for social etiquette. Etiquette is French for label, by the way. Or maybe, because I know it is a game I can never win, I choose not to play, labeling myself as a tech, a solver and a fixer, not a socially astute decision maker. But how much can I last in this artificial provinciality when the big international firms are flooding the city, coming with more and more absurd demands, like dress codes or (more horrible) mandatory code comments? And, compared with all these young kids, full of energy and knowledge, I may not be such a good a tech anyway.

Did I finally understand why I felt so foolishly superior because I am slowly becoming on of "them"? A provincial? A boring, banal, average person?

The Call of Cthulhu - H. P . Lovecraft

Artistic representation of CthulhuH.P.Lovecraft was one of the favourite writers in my childhood. I remember reading (some of) his stories and being mesmerised by the darkness and desolation of his writing, but also by the prospects of scientific inquiry "solving the puzzle" that layman minds cannot possible achieve.

The Call of Cthulhu was written in 1926 and is part of the Cthulu Mythos, which was started by Lovecraft but expanded by many of his writer friends and disciples. It presents the slow unravelling of a dark story by the heir of a deceased profesor. It is both thrilling and funny to discover the mindset of an upper class man from 1925, with some scientific prowess, trying to grasp the reality of slimy uncomprehensible ancient gods, waiting for their resurection from death, upon which the world will be destroyed by madness and horror.

That's about it. The guy finds some clues and follows them, bestowing upon the reader his strong emotions and easily disturbed victorian sensibilities. No meeting the monster, no special effects, no girls. It is so old a mentality, it is refreshing.

I couldn't rediscover the amazing feeling I had when I was a child, reading Lovecraft, but then again, I've grown a bit since then. Nevertheless, it is one of Lovecraft's most famous short stories and it is worth a read.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age book cover
Now this is a good book. It has it all: a fairly detailed description of a future world; magical kingdoms; the love between fathers, daughters, siblings; a thorough research for the book, allowing for elements of Victorian and Confucian philosophy; good writing style.

I felt it was way better than Snow Crash. I think it overlooked the transfer of energy to the nano scale devices that it describes. I loved the way it described the collapse of borders and the adoption of economic reasons why an ethnicity should have or not teritory.

Definitely a worthy read.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Miscellaneous stuff

I have some things to say that are rather general and I hope people will read. At least I need to get them off my chest.

First of all, I am still working on the blog posts from Greece. Links, updates and pictures will pop up for a week or so. Then some books I've read. Have patience, I am lazy as hell.

Then there is the matter of all the help requests from people who want my stuff in Visual Basic. NOT GONNA HAPPEN! There are free online web translators from C# to VB and (thank heavens!) viceversa. Just Google for it, I don't doooo VB.

And last, but not least, the blog spammers. People that want to use my blog for advertising. They seem to make the effort to look for keywords in blogs, then comment with links to whatever crap scam site they have. These comments will be deleted immediately, so don't bother. I especially hate sites like developmentzone.blogspot.com or asp-net-help.blogspot.com that have two measly articles that are copyied with cut-and-paste from www.sql-server-performance.com or some other site with people that actually work for that stuff. Just so you know, every time I see a comment that links to such a site I first delete the comment, then I warn blogspot of the spam site.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My Holiday in Greece - Part 2

Sparti, Greece (3)

When I first heard my sister in law lived in Sparti, the modern Greek town built at the site of ancient Sparta, next to the medieval settlement of Mystras, I had expected to see myriads of ruins, tourist attractions, museums and so forth. Not that I like this kind of stuff, but if Romanians had a city in Sparta, they would quickly turn it into a tourist attraction, always crowded and nauseatingly full of people and garbage. Not the Greeks. They did have something organized at Mystras, which is a small mountain fortress with a church next to it a mountain fortress towering over a small settlement boasting over 20 churches from different eras (quoting from Maria who was upset I didn't think much of Mystras), but Sparti was just like any other provincial town. We didn't visit the "Ancient Sparta site" yet, at the time we were just looking for a good long sleep in something like a bed.

Anyway, we met with Maria's sister, went to her house-in-progress in a small village next to Sparti and tried to get accommodations. The house is not finished yet. It does have its walls in place, but there are no doors inside, no floors except the raw concrete and so, after spending a day there and sleeping for the night, we decided to relocate to Maria's brother's home, in Kyparissi. But not before I got acquainted with the local cuisine, visited Mystras and made some pictures of the place. It was necessary for me to shed off some preconceptions about Greece as well.

First of all, orange and grapefruit trees don't grow everywhere in Greece. Even if my sister in law's house lay next to an orange orchard, that wasn't really very common. Instead, olive trees were practically everywhere! I love grapefruit juice. I thought I would get tons of it, freshly squeezed from recently picked fruit. The Greeks don't like grapefruit much. I had to make due with the supermarket variety of juice, of which I think I used a significant percentage. When trying to buy it, a clerk warned us that that was not orange juice! To be fair, it wasn't fruit picking season, the oranges in the nearby orchard were still green, so maybe I just visited the place at the wrong time of the year. I think I would have had more fun in the winter.
Green oranges :)

Then, the food is not that spicy or original. Greek cuisine seems to orbit the suvlaki and gyros, which are medium sized chicken meat on a stick or wrapped in pita bread. Being used to shawarma and döner kebab in Bucharest, I found it banal. I also knew about tzatziki, which is a mixture of yoghurt, cucumbers and garlic. However, most people there were amazed of my willingness to order and then ingest large quantities of the stuff. The mousaka we also have in Romania. We ate a nice one at a road diner just after entering Greece, but from then on every restaurant we asked did not have it available. Also to note is the pastitio, which is like a lasagna made with normal pasta, not sheets of it.

The pastitio cooked by my brother in law

The only spice worth mentioning is the Greek oregano, which they called rigani. Very aromatic and flagrantly different from the Italian sort. Also, if I had ever imagined Greek peasants selling cheap olives on the side of the road (like one would find in Romania), I was sadly disappointed. When leaving the country, we actually bought the olives from a supermarket, after trying a few and not finding any except in small jars.

the orange orchard, cypress trees (which are usually planted near churches and cemeteries), and the mountains

Driving through Sparti was shocking to us. They had no semaphores, the town was full of steep roads and the cars were packed together making it hard to move through. Or at least that's what we thought at the time. We heard they tried to implement traffic lights in the town, but that only made the situation worse. They also had some roundabouts (we were told that's what they were) which were pretty much poles in the middle of normal road intersection. The houses were the usual block like yellow model, since they never have significant snow to warrant tilted roofs and any color except yellow would probably be burned through by the relentless sun.

a main road in Sparti

The cars are either small, and of all kinds, all pickup trucks, which are almost all Asian cars. Mitsubishi is a popular brand in Greece for trucks, although I have seen only about three Colt and three Lancer models around. Instead zillions of truck/van variations, from the ancient Canter model to the more modern L200. You can find a lot of Nissan, Toyota, some Ford and Isuzu, etc. In the area people seemed to love pickup trucks.

Greek villages are built like mountain villages, even those placed in valleys. The houses are packed together, with barely enough space between for cars to pass by each other and with no sidewalks. If driving through Sparti was a bit new and awkward, driving inside the village where my sister-in-law lived was hell! No straight roads, no markings anywhere. The convex mirrors that I sometimes saw installed in Romania in difficult mountain curves are popular even in flat valley Greek villages. During church days, a side of the road is used for parking so if two cars face each other, one of them must back up all the way to a larger portion or an intersection. Amazingly (for a Bucharest guy like myself), they hardly ever honk.

The logic behind it is that they built the houses in (and with) the rock of the mountain, obviously in the portions that were easiest to support a house, like flat and safe. They left space for two loaded donkeys to pass by each other, they didn't need more. In the ancient Greeks view, the roads had two lanes! Things were perfectly fine until all the nonsense with the cars came along. But why would they apply the same crowded style to their valley villages, I don't know.

I will not linger on the nearby Mystras. It is a ruined fortress on a mountain side full of foreign tourists. I made some quick photos and ran away. It was hot and I found it less than inspiring, although beautiful to look at for a few moments :)

Mystras castle from below
the settlement under the castle and part of the Mystras citadel

Kyparissi, Greece (4)

Oh, boy! If we were shocked by the roads so far, we were in for a surprise. The village of Kyparissi was over a mountain from Sparti and near the sea. The way there was carved into the rock and both steep and curvy. The same lack of safety installations or warning signs was apparent. We kind of got used to it, in a while, and then we entered the village. Imagine a place where your car has just enough place to squeeze through and where the main road has portions that allow for two cars to pass by, in the others, one must back up in steep, even tightly curved places to allow for the other to pass. How we haven't bumped, scratched, crashed our car is beyond me.

this is what most of their roads were not like
a street in Kyparissi

The village itself is nice to look at. Not much to do in it. It consists of houses covering a side of the mountain from the top down to the beach. Whatever space is left is covered in olive and carob trees. With the typical Greek nonchalance, the beach is not regulated in any way, nobody seems to clean it or the water and there are no tourist accommodations to be seen on it. The sea is light blue and very clear, so the combination of mountain, sea with some yachts on it and small houses is very beautiful.

Kyparissi from high above

What striked me, a guy used to the sandy beaches of Romania, is that the beach was small and full of rounded rock. I could barely walk on it (although, to be fair, Maria had no problems). There were no birds that I could see, no oyster shells, just a lot of wasps! The Greeks don't seem to mind, I even heard the idea that they enjoy rocks more, since they don't get into their bathing suits. After a first very unpleasant beach day, I found the solution: I would use my slippers on the beach and when entering the sea, then I would move them from my feet to my hands and use them to either support by head when floating around or as swimming accessories. It worked wonders and it allowed me to enjoy the sea.

The sea itself was very clear and very salty. When it entered my nose and eyes it stung to high heaven. I got used to it eventually. There were small fish swimming around and, if there were no waves, the water was very clean. However, when the waves came rolling in, they brought plastic bags, plastic cups, twigs and big red jellyfish! I noticed that if I let the waves bring this crap closer to the shore, it eventually got stuck in some places and the water was clean again in about an hour.

It was funny to see the fish jump from the water one after the other. One less attentive fish jumped right in my shoulder. He probably expected some warning sign that I was there, so maybe it wasn't a Greek fish! One day I noticed something red in the water. I thought of warning Maria, but then I saw the same thing on another wave of water, looking exactly the same. I thought it was a reflection or something until Maria shouted that something touched her. Swimming there I found that the waves brought jellyfish close to shore, big fist sized reddish-brown tentacled jellyfish that now I believe are of the species Pelagia noctiluca. I never seen them glow in the dark, but then again, I didn't go swimming at night either. I was right not to touch them, as they apparently are the stinging type.

While in Kyparissi I visited an abandoned "old village" which consisted of some old buildings that very few people lived in. It was like a good MMORPG map, people could learn a thing or two about how to make games wandering around there. I forgot to bring my camera that time, sorry. Then we went to a cabin higher up the mountain, which provided us with more beautiful scenery and more Greek road horror. Imagine an unpaved road full of broken rock that goes higher and higher, while the wheels of the car are centimeters away from free fall. Made a lot of plant pictures and I even photographed an eagle in the sky.

the red thing in the left is the road; in the right there is nothing but empty vertical space

We also went to the Wine "Panigiri", which is Greek for festival, in the close village of Pistamata. We saw a lot of people in front of a church with lots of wine, we turned the car around and went back :) What did you expect? I am a software developer. If I'd had people skills I would have had some other job!

Other places we've seen are the town of Molaus and the citadel of Monevasia. The latter was a nice castle city at the edge of the sea, something like the Romanian Sighisoara, but with a lot more good taste and with the sea :) Took some pictures there, as well.

Molaus
a rock in Monevasia
the city of Monevasia
Monevasia citadel from outside
Monevasia citadel from inside

We spent a little over a week in Kyparissi, lazing around. I brought a few books with me, but they weren't all so interesting so I ended up watching Romanian satellite TV and eating a lot. It was like an advanced course in couch potatoing. I slept, I ate, I went to the beach (sometimes), I watched TV. I gained like 5 kilograms doing this :)

I promised to tell you about the Greek schooling system. Well, in order to get to a university you have to learn everything you've been taught in highschool. It makes sense. In order to help children to learn it, sometimes parents hire tutors, paying them for the service of upgrading their children's knowledge. Again, understandable. What is really nasty in Greece is that eveybody hires these tutors, so much that then entire educational system pretty much assumes the children will go to these "frontistirio". The demand is so great that the market is not controlled by the parents, but by the tutors. They get to teach and, if things don't work out, blame it on the child! All the time the parents are paying 5000-10000 euros per year for this crap! While it is nice to see Romania doesn't have the crappiest educational system on Earth (although we are working on it), I can't help feeling sorry for all those kids and their parents.

Next post will be about the trips around Sparti and the way home to my beloved computer! Yay! Coming up right after these commercials!