Dec 23 2018

Your duty is to try

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 14:36

As you’ve probably figured out by now, from what you’ve read here, my family is the typical broken family, with people scattered all around the world, all of them trying to detach from their past so they can start new and do better, because if you do not want to get cancer the smartest way is to move farther away from the power plant. Don’t stop reading, this will not be a sad blog entry, I promise!  From time to time members of my family do manage to meet after years of not seeing one another and is fascinating for me to discover the people they have become.

I have a cousin that has become a wonderfully strong woman that is hell-bent on fixing this family through acceptance and communication.

I have a cousin that is torn between his duty to a small part of the family that raised him up and gave him a career and the girl he loves that happens to live in a city too far away from where his life is built so nicely.

I have an uncle that is learning how to live at fifty four, because more than half of his life he spent taking care of his parents in a place that kept him isolated from the real world. And he is the guy I want to talk about. Because he found a type of wisdom in his simple life and his duties that people rarely do. And I consider myself lucky to know him and to be able to learn from him. He got dealt a bad hand, but he did his best and at some point in my life, I decided he deserves more and I set up to help him live the rest of his life the best way possible. I won’t tell you his full life story, I will just list here a few things that I know about him that are really impressive to me.

He quit smoking after thirty years of this nasty habit. He was stressed by the fact he did not have much money and I guess he was thinking about quitting for a while, but one morning he woke up, burned the rest of cigarettes in the house and decided he won’t smoke from that day on. He just acknowledged that smoking is a toxic and costly habit, that he did could not afford anymore and he quit, just like that. It was not easy to break a habit like that, because he went through rehab alone, not in a specialized centre, there were no nicotine patches, no other dugs to soothe him. He was living in the countryside so he worked the field, drank a lot of water, went to sleep when he felt sick with headaches or feeling nauseous and in two weeks the nicotine was out of his system and he never smoked again.

He was convinced to leave his job and move to the countryside by his parents, well his mother basically, because she was the head of the family. She told him he should move back close to family because there is money to be made in agriculture, that they had land to work that could produce a lot of crops that could be sold, but they were old and needed help. And for some reason, he believed it and gave it a try. And here and there there were little successes. He made enough money to buy a horse – that was a nice and gentle horse, by the way, I’ve met him, it was love at first neigh – working the fields became easier for a while. He bought himself a motorbike and he taught himself how to ride it, but never got a license, because he never got too far out of the village on it anyway.

He tried getting married, but after getting his heartbroken by his last fiancé, he gave up on the idea altogether. He said that his life is miserable and he had nothing but misery to offer, and who would want that? Years after I found out from another cousin he confides these stuff in, that he was in love when he was younger with somebody that went on and married somebody else and he never got over her. Apparently, after he restarted his life, he met her again and she was divorced and they are starting something –  so life finds a way.

When his parents started to get too old and needed care, his life started going down the drain. People in my family judged him for drinking now and then. Because the expectation was for him to become an alcoholic like his father, so if he even got tipsy, the hate would flow. But during one visit I talked to him and told him about my university experience and how I drank to forget, to detach myself from a life I did not like, from the me I did not like. The conclusion was that if alcohol is the curtain we put between us and the part of us we do not like, but it is not the solution. If you don’t like yourself and the life you have you have to stop hiding from it, you have to stay awake and find ways to change it all. And I saw his face lit up. For the first time he was not judged, he was not considered a despicable drunk like his father, somebody saw him exactly as he was, a man in a difficult position, a life that was not satisfying to him and a person he did not like. He had accepted the fact that he won’t have a life of his own until his parents died and he accepted the duty to care for them until that moment. There was no way for him to fight it or run away from the responsibility that he realized he took upon himself when he decided to move back in with them.  So he graciously accepted it and fulfilled that duty the best he could. Sure he drank one too many now and then, but he wasn’t and most probably he will never be an alcoholic.

Last year, February his mother died. His father was long gone. I’ve have visited him before and noticed this guy never smiled and  I realised he was plagued by the family disease of bad teeth. So I offered him the opportunity to get his teeth fixed. Told him to go ask a doctor for an estimate and the money will be wired into his account. The next time I saw him he had a smile that could light up a room. You probably have no idea that smiling makes you look at least ten years younger. I did not know it either. Now you know why I look so well for my age. :)

Long story short, he fixed his teeth, and since the whole thing cost him half as estimated, with the rest of the money, he got himself a new set of clothes and a ticket to Italy. And the rest is a happy story, how he got a job and he is amazed by how much his work is valued and how beautiful Italy is. He has plans to visit the whole country and take in all the beauty Italy has to offer, but he is putting money aside to pay me back and build a self-sustaining clean energy house one day. And when he came back to Romania on vacation, he asked out the woman he loved, because now he was confident that one day he might have something else to offer than misery.

One of the most important thing I heard him say and got stuck in my head and probably gave me a little nudge here and there to try absurd things, is that as a human being you have the duty to try. Ofcourse at the time he was talking about girls, he was quite young then and hadn’t totally given up the idea.

So no matter how ridiculous is something, how absurd, how unreachable,  if you really want it, it is your duty to try. So if there is something to take from this entry, this is it.

Stay safe, stay happy!


Oct 28 2018

Edinburgh in autumn

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 1:00

The title says it all. There is nothing that I can say to describe how beautiful this city is, especially dressed in the colors of autumn. So I will let the following pictures do the talking.
Gallery not found.

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Oct 22 2018

The Midas principle

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 22:11

A few years ago I was working in a company that had an application used for quite a critical purpose all over the world, but that had the ugliest code I’ve ever seen. Nonetheless, the application was a necessity, as it was and probably still is the only one on the market that performed that specific function, and not using it meant that you had to hire hundreds of economists to make and validate the computations the application did automatically. The specifications for the applications were provided by a validation entity, that also defined when the said computations and validations should be completed and going over that deadline made your entity eligible for some serious fines. Yes, I am talking about a banking application. Anyway, the code was bad, because when the deadline is not negotiable, the new specifications deviate from pre-defined patterns and data to test the changes is almost missing, or anonymized so that sensitive details are hidden, but that makes it no longer relevant for your tests, you are put into the position of writing crappy code. Because maybe you started with good code, but when you are required to do changes to fix something that needs to be delivered in a few hours, so the client does not get fined, sometimes you have no choice.

The code being so bad, it was the ideal company to work for if you liked doing improvements. There were a few managers that over the years realized that the technical debt will probably be the reason why the company will go bankrupt and there were some managers – like my direct manager and my mentor – that dared to take some risks and take some heat to try to reduce the technical debt. This is where I come in the picture. In 2014 I was on the run from a heartbreak and on run towards a career. And boy, I was given the opportunity to do so! Anyway I pioneered quite a few changes in that company, took the risks and took the heat together with my mentor and not all my work was exemplary, but I did the best I could with the resources I was given and within the context I was provided.

One of the things that I did was to present to a group of 100 developers or even more, I think, how to properly think your solutions and your code in the difficult position we all were. Because technical debt is demoralizing for people that like their job. And I had to be optimistic and assume people were doing that job because they liked it at some point. So, I started with motivational quotes, book recommendations, basic common sense about how to work in a team, but I needed something new because all the things I mentioned could be found in any presentation about clean code and competent solutions.

While struggling to find something relevant to our company and to our code, it hit me. Our development style so far has been like fixing and adding new features to an airplane while it was flying with all our customers in it. And the quickest method to develop in this case was copy-paste. We even had managers that believed it so. Problem is, that sometimes people were copying code that was crappy and thus propagating crap; new hires, people less experienced and in the heat of the moment even experienced developers were doing it. Obviously, we were not in the position to ever get rid of this behaviour, but what we could do was to improve our code when working on bugs, as to turn it into code worthy of being copied. Because copy-pasted good code, is still good code, even if the Don’t Repeat Yourselves principle has to suffer.

So I named it The Midas principle: every time you develop something, you leave your mark, you transform it. When your work is shared with your colleagues, your style of working gets propagated. If your work is gold, that is what gets propagated. So, when you are working on an existing functionality, turn it into gold.

Sure, this is 90% similar to Robert C. Martin’s Boy Scout Rule: “Always leave the code behind in a better state than you found it.”, but I like Greek mythology more, and I just love the legend of King Midas.

So there you have it, something older than a boy scout rule to compare your development style to.

Stay safe, stay happy and propagate gold!

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Oct 11 2018

Back to my old shenanigans

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 1:53

Some time ago when finances became stable, I started fulfilling some of my childhood dreams. Might seem ridiculous, but as an adult, I’ve felt quite frustrated that I did not know how to ride a bike or swim. So as soon the opportunity showed itself, I started “fixing” those frustrations one by one. There is the TODO list on this blog of course, but there are more small things that I never got to do that feel so fulfilling when I get to do them. I learnt to swim when I was 27, learn to ride a bike when I was 28 and about the same time I got my driving license. The first two were denied to me because of lack of money and lack of opportunity when I was a child. The third – is one of those things I never even dared to dream about because well, I never expected to own a car. You have no idea how good it felt the first time I went to work on my bike. You have no idea how awesome it feels to swim confidently in the sea after yearning for the experience for so long. And my vacation during which I drove 2000 miles across US, is still the best one so far.

Anyway, my biggest passion is music. Unfortunately, because my parents never thought I was worth the investment, my only experience with music was the 18 years of the church choir. I used to be a soprano then, no idea if I still am. I now own a piano and a guitar and plan to learn to play them both by the time I am dead. Because I cannot create music myself, I am an avid music consumer. For me, music is rarely background noise. I like to analyze the sounds, identify the instruments, change in rhythm, voice inflections. I get lost in good music. And yes, when I reproduce I get creative too.

My tastes in music vary, the only two genres that I don’t really enjoy are Latino and Oriental. Otherwise, I have favorite singers and bands, based on the in instruments they have, voices or the lyrics they sing. For example, Darren Hayes is one of my favorite singers because of the perfect combination between meaningful lyrics and beautiful music. I love all his songs and probably know the lyrics by heart for each of them, and yes probably I could sing them as well. I like B.B. King, Santana and John Mayer, because of the wonders they can do with a guitar. I love Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Seth MacFarlane because of the jazz/blues sound, multiple instruments, very diverse voice inflections. I love Akua Naru for the voice and meaningful lyrics. And I love Rock music because it is the music that sets me free. Rock music is to music, as Linux is to operating systems. There are so many styles that I couldn’t list them all. But the one I love the most is alternative. I fell in love with this genre because, a long, long time ago, in a country far far away in East Europe, where good media could only be procured by not so legitimate ways, I found a list of MP3s sets named Alternative Collection. There were hundreds of them, and while I was a student I had them all written to CDs and listened to them a lot. There were a lot of American and Canadian bands, the rest of the world didn’t even know existed, but they were amazing.

The last Rock experience that I had was in 2015, when I went to Wacken with my dearest friends. Nothing compares to that, but the concert from two days ago reminded me how good for the psyche is a proper headbanging and scream singing. Well, proper and responsible adult headbanging, that does not leave you with destroyed neck muscles for two days, because as an adult I still have to work the job that provided the resources used to purchase the ticket. :D

Three Days Grace, Glasgow, 2018

This is the first concert I went to since moving to Scotland, and the taste for this kind of experience is back. Expect some more entries about concerts form now on. And if you are curious how they sond live, I prepared a little mash-up for now. I don’t really like to take pictures at concerts or record too much, because I really want to enjoy the moment, to get lost in the music, sing out loud and dance. Enjoy!

Stay safe, stay happy!

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Oct 07 2018

The lonely road

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 22:45

When I was in college I had a teacher; she was ancient. She was teaching databases and she was probably there when they were invented because her knowledge of data relationships and normalization was extensive. My colleagues used to criticize her for her childish voice, for how she dressed, for how she taught. The poor woman could do nothing right apparently, just because she never married, she was a spinster. It’s so strange how people assume behavior from basically … nothing.

 

I also had another teacher that never married, a man. Men spinsters that manage to be functional adults are automatically labeled as drunken geniuses, that dedicated their lives to their passions and that is why their personal lives never happened. But old women that never married, they are obviously crazy-sour mwn-hater good for nothing bitches. Eventually cat ladies.

Ha ha, see what I did there? I just underlined a sexist double standard.

Clearly, the two cases are limited to the Romanian culture. Not sure what preconceptions other cultures have about spinsters. Another thing that is common in Romania is to mostly isolate people that skip the marriage step.  Spinsters are viewed as misfits and sometimes a danger to existing marriages. Because in our culture it is considered “not normal” to be single and obviously if you tell people you’ve chosen and accepted solitude, you must be actually lying and the only reason you try to stay close to people that are married is so you can steal somebody’s husband or wife. Isolating and casting out people that end up alone is a social phenomenon.  I’m not even sure if the root of how we view single people has a religious or a political reason. Because church and political regimes have at least one thing in common: they love the traditional family, the one made by one man and one woman, the fundamental cell of any society, that leads to the creation of new people, believers for the church and taxpayers for the state.  This is quite a big discussion, but the core idea is that being single after a certain age is bad and everything while growing up, teaches you that the worst thing to be as an adult is … alone.

Seriously, my parents biggest fear was that I and my sister will never marry because we were ugly and poor and we would become a burden for them. Since I was a child I remember my mother teaching me how to do everything around the house, because those were the skills a good wife had to have. And their fear transmitted to me too, because I am a little abashed looking back at my romantic history, because I am pretty sure, most of my decisions in my relationships were caused by that fear. And no, they were not good decisions.

Anyway, more than four years ago, a series of unfortunate events and bad decisions (not all mine) left me for the first time in my life in the state of being single after a really bad and brusque breakup. I’ve had moments when I blamed myself, I’ve had moments when I blamed him. When you are in pain, blame is like a ball in an out of control pinball machine. No matter where you throw the damn ball it will always hit something until it finds the path out. Truth is we were not compatible, not unless both being extraordinarily stubborn counts.  We would have hurt each other way worse if it hadn’t ended when it did and I am forever grateful to the lover after me.

And this is how my long walk on the lonely road began.

Honestly, I’ve never expected for me to be single for so long. But then again, I’ve never really tried that hard not to be. I’ve written books, I’ve traveled and I’ve filled all my free time with things I’ve wanted to do for so long, that there was not much time left to … date. But that’s not important right now.

What I want to tell you is that the lady teacher that I previously mentioned, was always nice to me. She had this childlike voice and never avoided answering a question, even if the answer was “I don’t know”. She had never been anything else than sweet and kind. By comparison, the male teacher was quite bitter and cynical. So, really, if I end up like her it’s not a bad thing.

The loner life fits me for the moment. It has fit me for the last four years.  I’ve embraced solitude as a normality and I don’t really care if me being single hurts the church or the economy. I did not choose this, but I’ll be damned if I let it make me bitter, sour or cynical.

Some people have to walk alone. And that is something to admire not chastise and ridicule.


Sep 18 2018

Stories must have an end

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 13:00

When I was little and just started reading, my favourites were fairy tales. Not because of all the imaginary characters with fantastic abilities and unreal  adventures. But because they had a clear and concise end. I think the first tale I hated a little was One Thousand and One Nights because I was unable to find all the books at the local library. 

And now as an adult, I love some series but hate the studios that dropped them without a clear end. Firefly is the first one that comes to mind. Lie to Me is the second and there are a few more, but I digress.

After Game of Thrones started airing, I had to buy the books, because I needed an end. To my disappointment, George R.R. Martin did not finish writing his book series, so after reading all the published books of the series I still feel… off. I don’t know how to describe this feeling. It’s like you’ve been dumped, but never given a reason. It’s like a bullet would that healed with the bullet being left in.

That’s why I hate Netflix, so many of their series is just … unfinished. And some of them are great, but just because people haven’t discovered them – and how could people discover them, there are only 24 hours in a day, and we work and sleep for about 16 of them – they will probably get canceled.

That’s not the case of Altered Carbon though. I think they are going to continue this one. But I cannot wait for them to do it. So I bought the books and started reading them.

One of the most interesting things I do, when I read books after being introduced to a TV show is to take note of the differences and modify the scenery and the characters look based on the descriptions in the book. And if you think Joel Kinnaman is hot, just imagine him with dark hair and more blueish eyes. It is interesting though how the story in the movie diverges from the one in the book. Maybe I’m not that far into the book, but things look really different so far. For example, it puzzled me in the show that the main Meths in the Story, Laurens, and Miriam Bancroft would choose 40-year old looking sleeves when they had the option for younger, hotter ones. I think that this was a visual decision for the show, to make it clear that they are indeed really old. But in the book, Miriam wears a 20-year looking sleeve. And Ortega is taller and slender, but in the movie they preferred to cast an actress that looks typically Latino – short-ish and curvy. I’m not complaining, Martha Higareda is hot as peppers and she is a very good actress, but in a futuristic world, where you have a planet colonized by a combination of Slavic and Japanese people, and the main character is named Takeshi Kovacs, it would not have been a long stretch to have an Ortega that looked less Latino. A, and there’s no evil sister and Quell is not that important so far.

I did the same for Game of Thrones, corrected the characters, scenery and the story with details provided in the books. It’s a fascinating process really and I think that it enriches the experience of reading a book a lot.

But the main idea here is that stories need an end. I hate things that are left just … hanging. Well, not hate, hate… more like I am just bothered by them. Because when something does not have a clear end, I find myself from time to time imagining endings and yearning for a confirmation that I will obviously never get. Thank heavens sometimes the books help with this.

So, anybody else has the same problem? How do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments below.  Or keep it to yourself, it’s not like any of us has time for that much conversation, right? :D

Stay safe, stay happy!


Aug 10 2018

I became an organ donor

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 1:50

This morning I had a chat with my Uber driver, he was African and an expat, same as me. I noticed that Africans, in general, are very sociable and tend to get friendly fast with people that are not native to this country and come from countries with communist regimes. I have a colleague that basically took me under his wing and he told me “we are the same”. Yeah, we would, if I were extremely tan and I would have about 80 kilograms of muscle. :)  But I digress…

So anyway, I was talking to my Uber driver and he asked me for how long have I been in Scotland and why I left Romania. And there were some many reasons, that was difficult to give an answer. I just blamed the communist regime and how things are getting worse every day, little by little and that was it. There are many reasons, some of them personal, some of them professional. And none of them financial. Seriously, I did not leave Romania because of financial reasons. I read a lot and I watch a lot of movies and documentaries. I am passionate about anything science-related and I do have quite a good memory.  I grew up with Star Trek, American medical series, X-Files and other series that showed me a different world. I was watching how in these civilized countries, cancer could be beaten while my relatives died of it. I was trying to keep my garden clean and recycle, while most around me did not give a shit. I was watching documentaries about organs being transplanted and people being saved, while in Romania these operations are rarely made, or some doctor-politician rules the mafia of it. One of my biggest desires for a while is to register as an organ donor or donate my body to science if the first one is not possible. But in Romania, there is no such thing. I think even the Orthodox Church that basically rules this country from the shadow of corrupt politicians frowns and disapproves of such practices.

So when I moved here one of the first things I did was to register as an organ donor. We are all dust in the wind, we come from the Earth and back to the Earth we shall return when we die. This body of mine is just a shell, just a container for energy that is my soul. When this energy will disperse for some reason if anything of it can be used to help anybody to keep on living why should I be against it? I do not even have the right to be against it. I never owned this body. It was just borrowed to me for a little while by the universe. The way I look at it, it’s just another type of recycling. And why should you be selfish and let your organs rot, when you can save a few lives? It’s not like you will be here, aware of them or what happens to them anymore.  I’m not sure I can express how proud I feel to be holding this card. I am a healthy human being and I will take care of this body and keep it in the best shape I can, so that one day if my life ends abruptly, it will give life to somebody else. And I hope they make the most of it. As I am now and as I will be until such an unfortunate time for me.

Stay safe, stay happy!