Farewell to Berlin

I am leaving Berlin after over a decade.

It was a place where I arrived as a young, clueless intern who was torn, tempted, and at times overwhelmed by everything the city had to offer.

It’s where I started my professional adventure by getting to sleep on a stinky mattress in a tiny room in Kreuzberg, in marihuana-infused flat (courtesy of my flatmates), working 12-14 hours per day for 400 euro monthly.

It was a place where I had flatmates who were trainee doctors, opera singers & astrologists, aspiring rap-singer & stripper, local activist and fellow Polish immigrant who became a good friend.

It was here, where on one of the first parties I got to drink anise-based drinks from a bottle with a scorpion inside (and that’s one of the less weird things I tried).

It was here where I while being an intern, I stood up to a Managing Director, looked her in the eye, said “This was a bit disrespectful towards Polish and not cool”… and still managed to get promoted later.

It was here where I got to know the real deal behind startup safari, the hustle, the chaos, the politics.

It was a city, where I landed two dreams jobs ( beating 150 other candidates at one), got promoted three times, but also failed to succeed two times at other projects.

It was a city, where I co-founded a software agency, which almost had a shot.

It was here where I met my Wife.

It was here, where we first saw each other on Alexanderplatz.

It was here where I jumped off the roof of RadissonBlu Hotel, on a rope, with a rose and a ring in my hand to propose to Her.

It was here, where one joke of pastor would stumble, stutter, and eventually refuse to bless our relationship because of my Catholic faith.

It was here, where we met an amazing Priest, who himself had had Protestant & Catholic parents, and who would agree to take us for marriage preparation classes.

It was here, where we went for our engagement dinner in George Clooney’s favourite steakhouse and ate the best and most overpriced steak in my life.

It was here, where I got to directly participate in the most horrifying and yet most joyful moments in my life; the birth of our two sons.

It was here, where in one of the flats my neighbours would shout at me from a balcony each time I parked my car not exactly straight.

It was here, where in front of the same flat, a circus would set up and let the camels lose to eat grass in front of our terrace.

It was here where I bought didgeridoo for my musician bro who played it later on a Warsaw Autumn Music Festival.

It was here, where I saw UFO (for real!).

It was here, where I bought my first car and got it crashed.

It was here, where I drank gluhwein on Christmas market, smoked shisha in Arabic bar with my Muslim colleagues, drank Polish vodka with a good Friend at midnight at Brandenburger Gate.

I came to Berlin lonely, estranged, anxious. I was an intern, who had big dreams, who believed in myths, legends & fairy tales such as One Love that conquers all.

In the decade that came, that was all put to a hard test.

Berlin was my trial through fire.

I never ditched my beliefs and I remained out of place.

Thank God for that.

So Berlin is a city which I will remember well, yet which I am glad to leave behind.

Goodbye Berlin.

Been a hell of a ride.

I am off at the next stop.

AI meets (cheats?) death

We are slowly getting used to the fact that AI is becoming present in almost every aspect of our life. But what if it also becomes present in our… death?

Microsoft recently patented a method of capturing people’s social media legacy and transcribing it into a chatbot. In other words; AI could simulate deceased people based on their digital footprint.

The technology allows mimicking persons personality, so that a digital simulacrum can be created. After all, we leave so much data in form of pictures, videos, WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, you name it, that it is more than enough for the algorithms to forge our personality.

Of course such technology would possibly not only be restricted to dead people. Yet, the latter seems particularly morbid.

As we read in the source article;

“Specifically, Microsoft could use images, voice data, social media posts, text messages, and written letters to “create or modify a special index in the theme of the specific person’s personality”

(More here: https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/robots/a35165370/microsoft-resurrects-the-dead-chatbots/ )

To put it bluntly; instead of old-fashioned spiritistic session with candles now a smartphone with a chat application will do the job, so that we can speak to the dead.

Sounds eerie?

How about a full “digital resurrection” in VR? Imagine putting on a headset a having your deceased loved ones just few clicks away.

Well, you do not have to imagine that. It is already happening.

In South Korea a documentary titled “I Met You” tells a story of a mother’s reunion with her daughter. What made this reunion special was the fact that it took place in a carefully designed scene inside VR studio and that one of the participants was dead.

Nayeon, who died at the age of seven, was one the children of Jang Ji-sung, a woman depicted in the documentary.

Producers recreated digitally child’s facial features, motion and speech patterns.

The virtual model of a Nayeon, was not only animated but also allowed simple interactions such as holding hands. It took several months of preparation so that the grieving mother would have one last chance to say goodbye.

The result is equally chilling as it is mind boggling. In fact you can watch it yourself, but I have to warn you; this is possibly one of the most disturbing and intense things that you will see in a while;

Video: Mother meets her deceased daughter through VR technology

So what is next?

Full body human replicas as in “Black Mirror” episode ” Be right back”?

Specially customised NPCs in role playing games who are based on our social circle, to perfectly simulate people we already know?

One thing is certain, the progress in AI technology will force us, as humanity to keep asking very basic questions about what it truly means to live, and what it truly means to die.

What do AI and Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones have in common?

Accordingly to some AI researchers they might be the same thing…

Max Tegmark in his book Life 3.0 explores the idea of an AI that reached the singularity.

First the AI acts from behind the scenes, slowly overtaking every single aspect of our life. Once it becomes powerful enough it reveals itself to become mankind’s overlord.

It then expands to consume & transform whole universe into a single super-processing organism. This omni present consciousness subdues all the matter that exists for its purposes.

It becomes something like the Azathoth from Lovecraft’s fiction – the ever hungry cosmic Sultan god.

It is a wild, scary idea.

Yet it corresponds eerily with the conclusions drawn by other other thought leaders such as Sam Harris.

As he explains in one of the TEDTalks the singularity is inevitable.

What comes next is the prediction that the intelligence gap between humans & those forecoming digital entities will be so vast, that it might be impossible for us humans to ever bridge that gap.

Possible spectrum of intelligence – visualisation. Comparing chicken, average human, most intelligent human & what could lie beyond it...
Source: YouTube Can we build AI without losing control over it? | Sam Harris

The paralel of the lovecraftian infinite, powerful, godlike creatures starts to become more and more accurate, doesn’t it?

It all becomes even more disturbing once you hear it appearing in the business pitches from AI startups.

Such as the one below from KindredAI.
The birth of AI that has transcended the singularity threshold is described like this:

“These entities that we are summoning are not demons they are more like these Lovecraftian Great Old Ones. These entities that are not going to be necessarily aligned with what we want.

The same way you don’t care about an ant, the same way they won’t care about you”

In Lovecraft’s fiction human interactions with the Great Old Ones almost always resulted in madness. Accordingly to the Father of Cosmic Horror human mind is to fragile to bear the burden of such encounter.

So… how’s that going to look like with the AI?

Maybe instead of calling “Hey Siri!” soon we will be saying “Cthulhu Fhtagn”… ?

Is there a good news to all this, then?

There is The Good News.

But that’s another story.

“Choose your damn sacrifice” & other lessons from Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson’s books are at the top of my shelf, just next to G.K Chesterton and C.S Lewis.

They call him controversial. They call him dangerous. Mainstream press (or should say “presstytutes”?) line up in forming all kinds of tactics aimed at discrediting him.

They really don’t like what he has to say.

And the reason is simple.

That’s because we already reached the times of which Orwell spoke in his famous quote:

“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”

Dr. Peterson’s “12 rules for life” is a treasure chest of great lessons. Some are new and some are the ones, we always knew yet needed to be reminded of.

I could write long essays on how they resonate with me & how they helped me in some of the toughest moments of my life. But that’s story for another time.

There is one common theme, that is at the core of Jordan B. Peterson’s writings.

His relentless pursuit of the Truth.

Since writing my thesis (more than a decade ago) on methods of influence and manipulation and their ethical aspect, this is the theme that I can relate to on deeply personal level.

So for those of you who do not know Peterson’s writings really well I highly recommend that you disregard everything you heard about him in media, just grab his “12 lessons for life” and start reading it.

But for start if you are not up for such a big leap, a brand new opportunity has arrived. Official channel of Jordan B. Peterson just posted a well animated video which illustrates some of his essential ideas.

The animations are brilliant and on the point, much like Dr. Peterson’s lectures themselves.

I would not recommend to treat the video as a ‘ersatz’ to the proper thing which are his books.

But surely it is a great, short & crisp introduction to what he has to say.

And to start understanding why it is so damn important.

True meaning of reality can be found in silence. Thoughts from my retreat in the forest.

There is that house on top of the hill in southern Poland. It towers above the village, yet it remains hidden in the embrace of the forest. The branches of nearby trees stretch above its roof, as if nature is crawling back in, to reclaim the land that once belonged to it.

Although this scenery seems like from a gothic story this house brings the emotions which I will always associate with peace, harmony and respite.
My family owns this place, it has become our holiday retreat, and for me personally; a sanctuary.

Each day, just at sun dawn I would run into the woods behind the house, climb up the hill, off the beaten path and sit on the grass.
I would close my eyes.
And breathe.

Photo from authors library

This is how I remind myself of what is real.
This is how I remind myself of those grim times when the urban life has entangled me and brought me down to the brink of depression. When I was burned out, when toxic work environment and “startup way of life” got me immersed in pointless masquerades.
I remember, those times well, when I got lost in the crowd of new humans, and almost lost view of the reality.

In this age of abundance of information the most scarce resource is the Truth

Quid est veritas?” – asks Pilate.
What is truth? he ponders, while the Truth stands right before him.
I can’t help but to think, that today it is the same for us.

What is truth? What is real?
As we delve deeper into the flashy distractions of modern “culture” and entertainment we lose the sense of what is real. Those things that make us human, that define human experience, that rawness of reality is something I have to rediscover deep in the woods.
Those precious moments can be seen and heard only in silence.

Chop wood, plant trees, cut grass, gather mushrooms, shoot a bow, take my kids for a hike through the woods, teach them to walk in silence and show them how to observe the wildlife. Drink some coffee with friends from the village; old-fashioned people who value work of their hands, who toil in the fields, who have not yet been immersed in the noise of the Metropolis.

I see the dichotomy, the growing rift between those people and the ones whom I met when living in Big Cities such as Berlin, Paris or Dubai. It is almost as if there are two species living in parallel worlds.

There is the homo sapiens, and there is this new human.
The first one is of the old world, the latter is of the Brave New World.
The new human is not taught to create but to consume.
The new human trades elusive goals of long term effort for pleasures of immediate gratification.

Nurtured by fabricated food, educated by video entertainment, kept in darkness through constant exposure to blinding lights.
A new human thrives when facing a screen and navigates effortlessly through digital jungle yet remains helpless and lost when confronted with real life.
The new human is stripped of his identity, cut from his roots, detached from his legacy, even from biology.

The new human unlike the old one is not forged by constant values, but constantly morphs with ever changing trends and fashions.

The history of a new human is not written in stone, not even in paper but in wikipedia. The new human does not belong nor rely on a family, his sense of safety comes from an omnipresent embrace of the welfare state.

Family and marriage are redefined, blurred are the axioms, nothing is normal and everything is normal. You can’t observe reality for what it is, because you would become guilty of a mortal sin of being judgemental.
When everything is questioned, nothing is real.

But the Truth, has this one miraculous property that It always emerges, eventually.
And it leaves naked, those who try to suppress it.

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I was listening to the wind hustling through the tree branches, touching the moss, smelling the soil, cherishing the view of the bright blue sky above.
How foolish I was to ever lose sight of it?
I myself, came so dangerously close to becoming new human.
Thankfully, I was given that time of blessed silence so I could see what is real and what has a meaning.
I could step back and breathe again.

As C.S Lewis observed:

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.


Note: Burning pages is my attempt to capture some elusive thoughts and observations before they turn to ash.  Call it a journal if you want. 

Flame in the Schell

(Not so)Secret knowledge to get better understanding on what is happening right now. #covid-19 #riots2020

I admit that, I tend to overreact a bit when I accidentally see the news.
Or when I look at those herds of good natured people blindly following (again) some trendy trend on social media, changing their profile pics into all colours of rainbow (including the newest addition: pitch black).

I can’t help but to draw conclusions which are usually, vastly different from what the mainstream is telling us.
As a result, some people (not to say most of them) find me in a striking similarity to that nice guy from “Pacific Rim”, who has been immortalised in the famous meme you can see below…

But you see, there is reason for my specific stance.
And I tend to believe it is a good one.

The Author of this blog casually explaining over a coffee, the real message behind mainstream media broadcast. Credit: Warner Bros.


Long time ago, I wrote master thesis on the methods of influence and manipulation of masses, the ethics (or lack of thereof) behind them, their genesis, their philosophical and psychological basis. I had a privilege of having a tutor who is a specialist in Greek philosophy.

And so what was an unavoidable consequence under such guidance, was the necessity for me to confront such abstract concepts as the morals, the good, the evil and the truth.

I delved into mechanisms of controlling masses and how they evolved across the ages. I read through classics like Le Bonn’s “Psychology of crowds”, Machiavelli’s “Prince”, Sun Tzu’s “The art of war”, Schopenhauer’s “Eristics” and Plato’s “Gorgias” to name just a few.
I never suspected that, It would be such a captivating research and that
it would leave me a different man, quite literally.
Firstly it taught me to respect the Truth.
Secondly, it left me with a bit of a burden on my perception.

Never again watching daily news channel, reading newspaper or online magazine was the same experience. I started seeing patterns.

And I see them now.

There is a battlefield, where not tools of mass destruction but tools of mass manipulation are unleashed. And we are all in their range.

Divide et impera. People divided are easier to be controlled.
Order through chaos. Create a problem so that you can propose a solution.
Capitalise on the never-ending fight between the haves and have-nots.
Feed the conflict, justify violence, label ideological enemies.
Victimise certain “classes” so that they can revolt and overthrow the “oppressors”.
Shift the paradigm, redefine the values, so that from the ashes of the old world order a New one can arise.
Replace traditionally established institutions with a “more modern” ones, change language, radicalise relationships in the society, drive people to be in constant conflict with each other.

I can’t help but notice that all those tools and mechanism are set in motion to lead us… exactly, where?

This is a fertile ground for a whole range of articles which I promise to deliver in the future.

But for now, let’s start with an appetiser.

If you would like to start getting better grasp of the events that are unfolding behind our very eyes and on our streets, you do not need to study through a library of ancient texts.

Start by watching a few videos (while they are still on YouTube that is…).
You can get on to Plato later (assuming you haven’t yet).

So here is my recommendation for step one.

Yuri Bezmenov aka Tomas Schuman, KGB deflector teaching Westerners the methods of soft diversion used by Soviet Union. In other words; how to influence masses to push the state over the edge. This is a lecture from 1984, but don’t be mistaken. It is horrifyingly accurate in explaining what is happening in 2020.

I would say enjoy the video, but I can assure after watching it (if you haven’t done that before) it will leave you in a quite grim mood. Knowledge can be a burden.
But if there is one thing I learned from my thesis, it’s the fact that naked truth is always better than a blissful ignorance.
Stay tuned for the next episode.

RadSchell

Keep focus! Tips on how NOT to get distracted & get the shit done.

The successful warrior is an average man with a laser-like focus

Bruce Lee

A decade of experience in project & product management in various organisations taught me a true value of the ability to maintain focus. Sometimes the hard way.
Now in the times of work from home, cutting off distractions might be even more changeling than one would think. With tons of tasks at hand, tough questions from developers and stakeholders, messages on slack spamming every minute, urgent emails, kids yelling in the background and that annoying fly buzzing in the room , a simple task of replying to an email can become a bloodied struggle with oneself. Not to even mention of how one could attempt to write software specifications.

How do I get through such days and make the most out of them?
Firstly I kill that f**ing fly.
And then I apply a few simple rules, that not only help to keep my sanity in check, but also allow me to get the job done.

1. Prioritise & execute

Multitasking is a myth.

Don’t believe me?
Try a simple exercise (credit to my Dad) – write on a blackboard in a row numbers from 1 to 10 in arabic numerals, and then in roman signs. Then do the same but with instead of going with one row till the end, switch between arabic and roman after each sign. See which method will take you more time…

That’s right.
Unlike what some say about the art of management – switching through various tasks makes you actually LESS efficient.
So what you need to learn first is to be able to pick up ONE thing at a time. Ideally the most important one. And get it though till the end (or at least a measurable milestone). Then another. And so on.

The method of Prioritising and Executing has been described at length in an amazing book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. If you ever think of becoming a manager or about picking up on any leadership role – read it please.

2. Put the music on. Keep it on the loop.

I get it – apparently there are people who need silence to maintain focus. I guess those people have a luxury of having silence in their surroundings in first place. I am not one of them – so good headphones and good music are key to my performance.

There is a music for sports, music to sing to, songs for dancing with your wife, there is also a music you need to focus ON. Such music is not recommended at all.

You need the RIGHT kind of music, if you want to stay productive. The music that is not intrusive, that is repetitive so it gets you in the rhythm , that enhances clarity of mind. “De gustibus non-disptandum est” so I imagine such tunes will be different for different people. For myself, one of the tracks that kept me through a lot of usability diagrams and helped through producing some complex documentation was this one.

So find your tune. This will be a soundtrack for you life achievements. So better make it good.

3. Stay fit to keep the mind sharp.

Photo: Author

Balance between your body and mind is paramount, not just to stay productive, but in the long run to simply stay alive. Lack of physical activity, wrong diet & not managing stress are slow killers.

So make sure you do exercise on a daily basis, ideally somewhere on fresh air. You will sweat some toxins out of your body and get bit more oxygen to that precious brain of yours.

Oh and if you happen to do martial arts, here is a bonus tip: throwing few kicks at boxing bag is an awesome way of acting out on those passive-aggressive e-mails you are getting from one of THESE clients…

4. Get breaks

Speaking of balance. Remember to rest.
Ideally every 45-60 minutes, take a deep breath, switch your mind to something else. Change place. Walk a bit, stretch arms.

Let your mind take a break. It will gratify you by staying sharp.

Do not look at any screen. Do not check your phone. Especially not that Facebook feed…

5. Treat social media as poison for your mind (which they are).

Social media are designed to keep you in a dopamine-seeking cue-reward loop. All those developers behind every major social media platform are using their extraordinary skills and brainpower for ultimately, one single purpose.

To make a f***ing lab rat out of you.

With the same data-based cue-reward mechanisms, which are used to train animals those applications are to tame you and teach you to scroll/hit likes/post videos so that you can get that that neurological candy in a form of like/comment/new content.

And then come back for more. Know, that those apps are good at it.

So just do not give them any chance.
Before hitting that “play video” button, before checking that notification you got – remember you are about to sip a bit of poison. And before you know it, you will drink from the whole bottle bottom up. This will cloud your mind, drain your energy and get you away from your goal.

Do not let them distract you. Stay focused.
Get the job done. Chase your dreams.

Don’t be a f***ing lab rat.