Phone call from Valencia

During my stay in Valencia my friend Taras took me on a little tour of the local university where he’s working on his PhD. We me his professor who seemed curious about my whereabouts in Valencia and my plans in general. He liked the idea of chasing my dreams and said he could try to find some job for me. I dismissed the idea as simple courtesy. Until…

I got a phone call from Valencia this morning.

So, apparently, their department is looking for a skilled admin for their computing cluster infrastructure. Even though I have no knowledge in this precise area, he told me they found my expertise in big data and HA promising enough to offer me a job.

Now, to be honest, I wasn’t really planning to be leaving Poland for an extended period of time – this trip was meant to be a vacation. Still, considering the fact that the institute I would work in is located in Burjassot, my favorite part of Valencia, and considering the salary figures I received over the phone…

…looks like I might be staying there much longer than I intended.

Slavic soul

Just to clear things up: I did not get any phone call yesterday. April Fools. ;)

My Slavic soul longs for home. Barcelona being the third big Spanish city in a row, things seem much less interesting now – I can’t quite bring myself to visit Yet Another Big Museum or go to Yet Another Park. Things have definitely slowed down.

I’m not even sure if I should be writing this post now or wait until the journey is over. Screw the rules… this is my blog and I really need to get this out.

One thing I did not really disclose up to this point was the purpose of this trip. Sure, escaping the Polish winter was a good cover-up, but it was not the real reason. It was just a nice coincidence.

The real reason was that I wanted to put myself – and the world – to a test. Lately, many people told me I should emigrate to west Europe, USA or Australia simply because life is somehow better there. I heard that so many times I simply had to check – I simply couldn’t live without checking out what seemed like a big opportunity.

Except that things aren’t as easy as people say they are.

I will no longer bore you with stories about how I found Spain hard to live in. The differences are a personal thing, and what I find unacceptable will be a breeze for someone else; it just doesn’t make sense to point out the specific annoyances anymore. What I will instead present to you is a simple method of assessing the cost of relocating into a completely different country. What I’m going to say will sound obvious due to cognitive biases – but please bear with me for a moment, for realizing it took a pretty big effort from me.

In short: before making a huge life change, consider the financial costs and benefits of doing so. Take a sheet of paper, and split it into four parts: home costs, home benefits, somewhere costs, somewhere benefits. Take your time to fill it out sincerely. Consider the following costs: accommodation, food, partying, public transportation, education, entertainment. On the other side, list the existing and possible sources of income. Now, calculate the balance and see if it holds financially.

Easier than it sounds, right? Now take a second sheet of paper and do the same calculation – but instead of money, list all the important things in life. I don’t know what’s important for you – but things that come to mind include family, friends, home – all the things you have and take for granted.

What’s up, Lassie? Not that easy anymore?

I calculated my money budget before the trip – but didn’t think of making the life one. If I did, I would probably never go, because I’d find the cost of emigrating is so ridiculously high. Here are the things I gained by moving to Spain:

  • Nice weather.
  • Slightly better salary opportunities. (?)

Here are the things I didn’t gain – because after I arrived here I realized I could do them in Wrocław as well if I just stopped spending all time in front of the computer and moved my lazy ass. So, I didn’t gain the opportunity to…

  • Try new food.
  • Meet new people.
  • Improve my English by actually speaking it.
  • Go swimming in the sea.
  • Find interesting places.
  • Make tons of photographs.
  • See scenic views.
  • Climb a mountain.
  • Write a ridiculous amount of blog posts.
  • Get more Github fame.
  • Relax.

The things I pretty much lost (not permanently, thankfully) are:

  • Family.
  • Friends.
  • The capability to easily communicate with people around me. You have no idea how frustrating this is. Besides the frustration, being deprived of basic human contact has pretty severe quality of life & health consequences in the long run.
  • The capability to comprehend the names of food products I’m buying. This is even more frustrating. Suure, it doesn’t sound like a big deal – until you’re hungry and looking at a menu and not understanding a single thing. Even Ukraine was better in this respect.
  • All my favorite restaurants and cafes where I felt at ease. Granted, I would probably find one at some point, but right now I have nowhere to retreat on a bad day.
  • Ridiculous amounts of money. Life is much more expensive here; I pretty much spent most of what I saved during the last few months. I don’t think I even have enough to pay this month’s rent for my flat in Wrocław. I’ll figure something out like I always do, but it’s never comfortable to be eating up the cash reserves.
  • And, most importantly, I lost the place where I felt at ease, where I could be safe, where I could rest after a long day, alone. I lost home.

There is one thing I gained, though: a deep love and respect for the place I live in, for my family, friends, all the places I love – basically, everything my life is.

Someone once said that the real Slavic soul is just born with a longing for Devil-knows-what. I think I just got cured of mine.

As a conclusion of this pretty sad post I’m posting a fantastic Chuck Mangione song which used to play in Vinyl Cafe all the time back when I was in Wrocław. And this is definitely the song I’ll want to play when I come back there.

Without dreams of hope and pride a man will die
Though his flesh still moves his heart sleeps in the grave
Without land man never dreams cause he’s not free
All men need a place to live with dignity.

Writing letters

I’m a big fan of writing letters. If you haven’t received a letter in years, that’s probably because you haven’t sent one either. Here’s what you need to start doing it again.

  • Stamps. If you live in Poland, I’ll be happy to tell you that the tariffs were simplified considerably in January 2013 – right now, almost everything you can stuff in a not-too-big envelope ships at the same rate (normal: 1,60zł, priority: 2,35zł). You buy the stamps at the post office (yes, I’m playing Captain Obvious here) and receive the accompanying PRIORITAIRE stickers if you choose that service. I recommend using priority services – otherwise, your letter can take many days – or even weeks – to arrive.
  • Envelopes. You can get the plain ones at the post office too, but I recommend getting some quality ones. I have my two favorite shops – you can probably find some in your town.
  • Writing paper. Personally, I buy high-density decorative A4 paper and cut it into four pieces, each 10x15cm in size. You can use anything that strikes your fancy here – for example, I have a few sheets of very old paper for special occasions. Generally, everything works – just avoid the plain paper.
  • Addresses of your friends. Try to get them in a non-obvious manner – so they won’t suspect you’re going to send them anything.
  • Optional: quality pen/pencil. Letters are best handwritten – I tried typewriting once, but found it too impersonal; it doesn’t help to have a machine between people.
  • Optional: stationery. Quality stationery is almost impossible to get – all they print today are some roses and puppies, perfumed with rose fragrance. Ugh.
  • Optional: photographs. Writing letters is hard at first – I actually started by sending people printed photographs. The size that fits the standard envelopes is 10x15cm and you can print that in every photo lab for next to nothing.
  • Even more optional: anything you find appropriate. You can put small flat objects in the envelope – pages from a book, bus tickets, leaves, rocks, kittens… okay, photocopies of kittens.
  • Finally: time and courage. These one are the hardest to find.

When you actually succeed in writing a letter, you put the address on the envelope – the way you were taught in school – and toss the letter in a mailbox (the red one on the street, not the one at your front door ;). Then you wait – these days it takes people a while to check their mail – but it does arrive at some day. And then, some other day, you might open your mailbox and find something waiting for you. ;)

Addendum to the previous post: if you happen to be in a need to send a letter or postcard in Spain, don’t bother with standing in a long queue at the post office. The easiest and quickest way to acquire stamps is to go the nearest tobacconist. A bit illogical – but really makes things simpler.


Climbed Tibidabo today. It’s the third hill I’ve climbed this week – and the highest one in Barcelona.

The second leg of the trip is coming to an end. Flying to London tomorrow morning – going to really miss the Spanish sun.

El Prat airport, 2013/04/04 05:42

Written at the airport and in-flight; forgot to publish it.

Departing in 58 minutes. I’m excited.

As usual, I won’t be posting any conclusions about Barcelona yet – it would be foolish to do so while I’m still there. Let the experiences mature at least a little bit.

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday: Barcelona’s public transport system is fantastic. After climbing Tibidabo I wanted to get back to the hostel; the combination I used was: bus, funicular, train and metro – all of them using just one 1€ ticket. Impressive.

One last gift from Barcelona to me: the takeoff. The familiar sea of light, clouds over the ocean, ships on the reed as little as toys – a view I’ll remember for a long time.


If you’ve been wondering about the silence during the last few days: that’s because I’ve been either to busy or too tired to write; also, somehow there’s not much to write about right now.

Arrival in London was the best culture shock I ever had – simply because I’ve never been to any English-speaking country before. Compared to Spain, my life here is incredibly easy. Sure, I’m living at my friend Hipek’s flat right now, so the extremities and discomforts of living in a hostel are gone – but mainly it’s easy because I can understand almost every single word I see or hear.

The only thing I can’t quite understand is that despite the fact that I’ve been studying English all my life it never really crossed my life to just come to England.


It never happened

Nothing to write about. Things have really slowed down since I left Spain – there’s much less trouble, but at the same time much less challenges and almost nothing to write about. Describing whatever I’m doing here doesn’t make much sense because there are no real adventures – while certainly having some novelty value, there’s nothing adventurous about visiting Camden Market and seeing Tower Bridge.

At least I don’t let my camera sit idle. I ran out of film a few days ago and had to resort to shooting on expired Agfa color film – which is not that bad actually, considering that London seems so colorful to me. I think I shot 10 or 11 rolls already – that’s going to be a lot of work developing, scanning and editing once I get back home.

Two days left.

Twelve rolls of film waiting to be developed. Turns out I don’t even have enough developer, and the darkroom is in a disarray.

Spring has come to Wrocław. Coming back from the long trip, I’m starting anew too – especially that my newly renovated work room is almost empty right now. I like the space. Again, why do we keep cluttering our space with stuff?

This really calls for some more spring cleaning.

Air and light and time and space, revisited

You probably remember a post from ancient times (actually: just over a month ago). Today officially marks the end of the renovation works.

My new studio has barely any furniture. I did my best to keep the amount of stuff there to an absolute minimum – and I intend to keep it this way. Some things are still missing – like armchairs – but the essence is there. The walls are pure white, there’s a big desk just for the PC workstation, an extremely comfortable office chair, the shelves eagerly wait to be filled with books… Yet, when I sat at the desk today to do my daily share of work, it didn’t feel any different.

It was a really simple enlightenment: work is work. Writing a new blog post, editing photos, cranking out code – it takes passion and discipline, not a new chair. The new space may make it easier for me to work consistently without burning out or getting tired – but the work still has to be done, and no amount of office supplies and electronic devices will make it any easier.

Before Facebook & whiskey

Doing the spring cleaning on a server of mine today, I keep stumbling upon artifacts of the good old times. Hidden deep inside the UNIX directory structure are remains of awesome projects, logs of chats with brilliant people, user accounts not used for years and long forgotten Subversion repositories containing projects so hackish I wonder why did I ever write them.

Such was the technology world before I discovered Facebook and whiskey. Once I did, I was out of the game for some years.

Fast forwarding to today, everything seems to be made of AWS, Heroku and Github. We see neither the machines nor the people behind them. Experienced UNIX engineers seem to be a dying breed, being quickly outnumbered by overzealous unit test writers.

Has the world changed, or is it just me?

The sound of scanner has been drilling through my head for the last few days – I almost hear it in my sleep. For every roll of film I manage to scan I develop two more; it seems never ending. I think I’m about halfway through.

I’ve seen the raw scans. Can’t share anything with you yet – it would be like serving a soup without any spices or a salad which should be a part of a four course meal. But I’ve seen them, and got that big grin on my face once I imported them into Lightroom and saw they were good.

The photos more than make up for all the tediousness of the process.


I just ditched Facebook. The plan to deactivate the account was born long ago, and every time I tried I to do it had some kind of fear it would make my life harder. The excuses I gave were really pathetic, like I need it for social login or how am I going to manage my pages? It was always hypothetical, and right now is the time to find out.

Recently I had some trouble staying in touch with the reality. I don’t mean anything deep here – just the usual stuff of work, friends, family, et cetera. The recent trip just intensified this feeling, since I tried to live the life I always did in a different reality – creating a bigger, more noticeable gap. A gap like this creates a cognitive dissonance, a very unpleasant feeling – unpleasant for the simple reason that in evolutionary context denial meant death. In modern life, this is no longer the case – but it still means lost opportunities and wasted lifes.

I’m basically in denial. It’s easy to pretend you’re living some sort of life – and much harder to actually live it. It’s easy to pretend you’re fixing problems while not really doing anything. It’s easy to run without ever getting anywhere.

It’s time to get out, not away. Here comes the hard part: actually doing something with my life.

* * *

I think I’m starting to understand the motive behind _why’s history and disappearance. Having a brilliant coder mind often comes at a price; and what is a gift is also a curse. I’ve heard of developers going insane – of people burning out and ending up in mental institutions, of sysadmins abandoning their families, drinking in excess and working crappy jobs Bukowski-style just to get away.

It’s frightening to know it is always lurking out there. How do you ever live knowing that your brain is always ready to turn your life into a complete mess? But then, this is also the nature of our bodies, and the world too. I might just as likely get clobbered by a tram tomorrow.

Aaron’s death sparked some talk about how we really need to do something about depression and suicide in IT industry. The point is, what should we do? How do we actually help people? _why did something wonderful by simply coming out and acting all weird and quirky while still gaining a cult following – and even he, at some point, cut all ties and disappeared for years.

Nope. I still don’t get it.


Yet another contraption built and then forgotten: the 65noisebox. I should really consider building a case for it some day – It’s way too fragile in the current state.

It’s one of my weak points: my devices are in permanent prototype state. I think I have one (!) self-built device which is more-or less completed, with a plastic case, battery compartment et cetera – the rest is just a pile of PCBs in a shoebox. They really deserve a better life.