четверг, 28 апреля 2016 г.

Watch how your convictions change over time

Seven years ago I told everyone with confidence that I would never sign up for VKontakte. Moreover, I firmly believed in that. From what I heard from my friends, I had an impression that this is an evil time-waster which I should avoid at any price. In June 2010, I even created a one-thread "forum" and tried to design a chat not only to practice in web-development but to stay in touch with my classmate. However, the chat was laggy, we were not satisfied with the "forum", and finally I gave in to my friend's persuasion and violated my own strong conviction. Six years later I can't imagine what would I do without that "evil time-waster" which makes the communication easier, helps to keep in touch with those who are far from me and contains tons of useful or just interesting stuff. It still remains a time-waster if you don't know when to stop but eventually you learn how to do that and the social network becomes an integral part of your life. At least, that's what I believe now.

I had another prejudice for several years more. This is a translation of an extract from a message to my friend sent (on VKontakte :) ) in October 2013: "I become more and more convinced of my solitude in not only ignoring TV series but incapability of watching them. I tried to do that but became tired of TV series so fast...". And what do you think? The following summer I started watching "Da Vinci's Demons". Later the time had come for "Galavant", "Black Mirror", "The Shannara Chronicles"... Well, I watch TV series only in English. But I don't delude myself with an erroneous faith that I do it for improving my comprehension skills. As for the latter, I do it in many other ways which are far more efficient. As regards watching TV series, I just get pleasure from that. Well, at least I still can't bear the laugh track. But for how long will it last?

Do you have a blog or a personal diary? Or just a notebook into which you put your ideas and thoughts sometimes? Put your views there!

I have no doubt that you will remember your today's beliefs tomorrow. I'm sure that you'll keep the most principal of them in mind ten years later. Then why do I think you need to write them down? Not because you will lose memories of your today's self but because you'll forget to compare your future self with who you are and what you think today. But if you do not forget to do it (your notes will be of help), you will make a profit on that. You can use the comparison not only for self-amusement concerning neutral things (as I did with the examples above) but for detecting and analyzing changes that happen to you, both positive and alarming ones. 

суббота, 23 апреля 2016 г.

Reading in public transport and associated difficulties

Long ago I used to read a lot at home. Starting from the eighth grade I was almost always short of time for that, yet I began spending around 40 minutes in public transport six days a week. That compensated me for those hours of reading at home. Four years after I entered the university and began spending even more time in the public transport (it takes me around two hours to get to the university from home) but not so regularly. Moreover, nearly a half of that time I spend in minibuses and usually I can't read there because it makes me sick. Audiobooks could be a workaround for that kind of transport, but what to do on the subway, where it's too noisy to listen to an audiobook, in that case? Read about two solutions, that I came up with, below and feel free to share your own experience in the comments.

Solution 1. Use acoustic earmuffs on the subway.

Explanation: buy acoustic earmuffs and in-ear headphones without details protruding outwards. Now plug your ears with the headphones and then cover them by the earmuffs.

Note that many standard options like the below one will not work because the outwards details will hurt you when being squeezed by the earmuffs.

My formula consists of 3M Peltor Optime 1 and AKG K323 XS (both are present on the first photo).

It works well on the subway in Saint Petersburg. Without earmuffs even the maximum sound level (obviously, harmful for your ears) doesn't help when it comes to listening to an audiobook or a podcast. But when your ears are covered, even less than a half of the maximum level may be enough. You will still hear driver's announcements but you'll almost get rid of the irritating subway noise.

However, I encountered one troublesome detail regarding that workaround for listening audiobooks. The earmuffs still squeese your head and after some time it leads not to pain (as it was in the case with protruding details) but to discomfort. That's why each 2-3 minutes I adjust them on my head. I don't believe it can lead to some health issues because in that case 3M Peltor Optime wouldn't be widely used in industry. Moreover, I never wear them outside the subway, thus limiting continuous usage of the earmuffs by 40 minutes at most. However, due to that small disadvantage I can't call my solution perfect.

Solution 2. Think on your own for a while and say what is the most trivial solution for the problem described in the first paragraph?

If I can only read on the subway and only listen to audiobooks in a minibus then why not to do exactly that with the same book? It took me another half of a year to realize that after I came up with the first solution, not so banal one.

Even that approach has its pitfalls. Certainly, you can't read with such pace that you'll always reach the end of the chapter once you'll have to get off a train. A minibus can't cover the desired distance within the time which a narrator spends to read the integral number of the audiobook chapters either. Hence each time you switch from reading to listening and back you have to search for the lines you stopped at. If you've just listened to the audiobook you can remember some outstanding phrase close to the end of the part you've heard and search for it (of course, only if you use e-reader or some other device). That workaround is one-way because you can't look for a specific phrase in an audiobook. Thus, when switching from reading to listening you'll almost always have to listen to some part which you've just seen once again. It isn't convenient, is it?

I believe that better approach exists. By the way, have you ever tried text synchronized audiobooks?

суббота, 16 апреля 2016 г.

At the edge of the Old World (2.11.15)

Long ago, the Romans called that spot Promontorium Magnum ("the Great Promontory"). Many centuries after, the greatest Portugal's poet Luís de Camões referred to it as to the place, "where the land ends and the sea begins" in his epic work "The Lusiads". Just 80 years before the most famous work of Luís de Camões was published, nobody in that part of Europe knew that the land to the west of Cape Roca exists. 523 years after Christopher Columbus had discovered the New World, we stood in a few meters from the waters of Atlantic Ocean, at the westernmost point of continental Europe, and enjoyed the breathtaking views.
Even though the weather was terrible, lots of tourists crowded the cape. Just imagine, how popular that place would be before the Age of Discovery, if tourist industry existed at that time. I mean, you will more likely come to the edge of the world rather than just to the extreme point of Europe :)

We observed a curious fact regarding tourists. In contrast to most of the sights we had visited, where West European (especially, French-speaking) visitors predominated, here Russians and Chinese prevailed. I guess my nation and our south-eastern neighbors just appreciate achievements (such as visiting the particular spot) more. If not, why would people stand in a queue to have their photos beside the monument noteworthy only for a plaque proving that you are at the westernmost corner of Europe.
We also recorded our "achievement".
Most of the tourists just capture themselves on film and come back to the bus. Some of them buy a certificate of their presence at the Cape (is it for their incredulous friends who don't believe in photos and claim that "it is photoshop"? :) ). As usual, almost nobody turns out to be inquisitive, almost nobody notices the splendor of the surroundings.

If you don't want to be that kind of tourist, first thing to do everywhere is to look around.
After you have got to know how the land lies, start exploring it down to the smallest detail. Follow us and stroll along the shore.
In the place most tourists content themselves with, the stone wall separates us from coming closer to the ocean. Then it changes into a wooden fence which doesn't look solid enough to lean against. If you continue going along the fence, soon it will be over as well. No safety barriers, no supervisors. It looked really strange. Believe me, we haven't crossed any "do not go further, it is dangerous" lines. Still, if you are not careful, it can be. If you are wary enough, you'll be rewarded with the most picturesque sceneries Cape Roca provides immediately below your feet.
Look above, five minutes ago we were where those tiny creatures stand.

Even though we haven't seen other people daring to descend from that cliff, we definitely were not pioneers. Here is the proof.
If you don't know, it's an imitation of the Saint Petersburg football club emblem

It's funny to remark that I noticed that inscription only when I was reviewing the photos after coming back to Saint Petersburg. I'm still curious whether my poor eyesight or the greatness of the ocean distracting me from spotting the details was the reason.

You can reach Cabo da Roca from Lisbon in two ways: through Sintra or through Cascais. Since we'd visited Sintra two days earlier, we chose the latter option. My first memory of that morning is the bus from Cascais approaching the Cape via a serpentine road. This road is so long that you start thinking that the ocean doesn't want you to come.

On the way back to Lisbon we decided to spent some time exploring Cascais. You won't find any striking places of interest there but overall the town is a pleasant place.

Even the shopping center is worth looking at.
But the weather is getting a bit better, let's go outside. To understand how small is the town, look at its center:
In summer Cascais attracts the visitors by its sandy beaches and a large yacht harbor. Although we came there on a rainy day in November, we headed to the water. Obviously, most local landmarks should be where crowds of tourists usually are.  
Look to the left: the "fleet" is approaching! :)
And this one resides on the shore.
Have you ever seen giant binoculars?
And how about red trees?
The below photo wasn't noteworthy until my parents joked telling me that they see... hedgehogs amidst pineapples on it. 
Street art in Cascais is no less amazing than it is in Lisbon.
Need some action? Just imagine that this speedy bird on the photo below is running back and forth, escaping from the waves and presumably looking for the seafood brought by water at the moment when the waves receded.
As a conclusion of a story about Cascais, a minute of local humor:

The final pieces of the travel diary came up into place. Thank you for staying tuned for the last 11 posts! New stories on miscellaneous topics will come soon ;)

суббота, 9 апреля 2016 г.

Expo '98, misleading names and foreign languages. Lisbon, 31.11.15-4.11.15

During our last day in Lisbon we explored it in a different fashion: rather than walking in the historical center, we visited more modern parts of the city. From Estufa Fria and Gulbenkian Museum, which both lie to the north-west of the historical center, we headed towards the eastern corner of the city, to the Park of the Nations.

Here everything contrasted with what we'd seen before.
It is no surprise because in 1998 this part of Lisbon greeted millions of visitors who came here to attend the Lisbon World Exposition. The Expo '98 commemorated 500 years of Portuguese discoveries. Half of a millenium before, in 1498, Vasco da Gama arrived in India. Nowadays two colossal сonstructions, named after the great voyager and situated in that part of Lisbon, remind us of him. They are the longest bridge in Europe extended for over 17 kilometers
and the tower, currently serving as a hotel.
The tower is joined to Oceanarium by a cable car system.
I was less impressed by Lisbon large-scale public aquarium than by the one in Saint Petersburg which I visited about 8 years before. However, Portuguese house of aquatic animals has its appealing features. You can see not only an aquarium there but also the reconstructions of penguins, sea-otters and other non-fish marine animals habitats. 
Turning back to the first association with the word "oceanarium", here is the potpourri of what attracted me the most:
Masters of disguise

Winning hide-and-seek versus an octopus
Jellyfish, adds lighting to your photos for free
Potpourri of fish inside the potpourri of photos
Sea corridor

The only large creature finning slow enough to take a picture of it

Probably, there could be more pictures but speedy sea animals were not the only problem for the quality of photos. Taking a picture becomes challenging when there isn't enough light, and, unfortunately, jellyfish don't inhabit each part of the large aquarium to make the photos brighter.
The last memory from that place, which I'd like to share with you, refers to a penguin. Unlike those which stand motionless on one of the above photos, that one was floating along a closed path in the aquarium among other sea inhabitants incredibly fast, faster than any other creature in Lisbon Oceanarium. I knew that penguins are skilful swimmers, but never though that they are so cool!

Let's leave the oceanarium and come back to fresh air. It's worth noting that outside it's warmer than inside the building (it's November!). Strolling through the Park of the Nations you can encounter lots of funny objects: like these "chanterelles", 
that volcano fountain (see wiki to understand why it reminds a volcano when works at full power),
and these thematic benches.

Let's transport ourselves from the Park of the Nations to the place concluding the list of sights we planned to visit in the capital of Portugal. This is Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, or the National Museum of Ancient Art. If you refer to the Wikipedia article about it, you'll read that the English translation of the name of the museum is misleading in that the collection includes no museologically "ancient" works of art, but rather holdings that are simply old or "antique." We didn't know that beforehand, and hence were surprised that the oldest displays here belonged to the Middle Ages and the most modern ones pertained even to the XIX century. Like for every other museum of such kind several exhibits drew my attention, while most of them just blended with each other and didn't leave any traces in my memory. Here is what impressed me:
Pay attention to St Augustine's vestments
Yes, nothing lies on the table

Two-headed fountain

It was getting dark, and our amazing trip to Portugal came to its end.

In the previous post I skipped the first half of Monday (2.11.15). I will cover it in the last part of my travel journal next week. To conclude this week story, I would like to share one more reminiscence.

You know, I'm a big fan of languages. I even tried to learn some Portuguese before the travel but failed: phonetics occurred to be too complex for me. The other drawback is that the most part of available sources refer to Brazilian Portuguese, but it differs from European Portuguese in many aspects relating to pronunciation. However, we experienced inconvenience just in two or three cases. Most Portuguese whom we met spoke English, so there was no language barrier. 

What's more interesting is that I managed to use my favorite foreign language (French, of course) during those days. Actually, Lisbon and its suburbs are flooded with tourists from France. Moreover, in some districts you'll hear no language but French because every citizen there is a French migrant (retiree in most cases). According to Wikipedia, French is the second popular foreign language in Portugal, much more popular than Spanish and almost as widespread as English. If you're curious about the explanation of that phenomenon, take a look at this article (check it out anyway, it mentions an interesting song). Coming back from the intra-european migration to our journey, I should say that while for the first time I used French just to ask a tourist in Sintra to take a photo of us, the second case was funny (and even shorter than the first one). We were going to enter the church belonging to Jerónimos Monastery, and somebody of the staff stopped us to warn about the morning service inside. She asked us: "Français?" (certainly, that's the first question every tourist should be met with. Do they speak French or not?). Can you please think of the weirdest possible answer? Well, I replied: "Non" (yup, in the French manner).

Finally, 4.11 in the morning an airport officer gave me my passport back telling me "Spasibo" instead of "Obrigado". Too unexpected for 6 a.m.