Sunday, 30 December 2012

End-year thanks to my Guardian Angel

If every time you touch heaven you find out there's nothing to grab and you fall back to earth, if every time you plunge into hell you find out instead of drowning in the abyss you bounce back and return to earth, it probably signifies a human's place is on earth.

I owe big thanks to my Guardian Angel who kept me company over the whole year and has not let me run into troubles though opportunities were ample. This was a year when for the first time since roughly setting up this blog I was touching heaven and then, to strike the balance, I was sending myself to the darkest depths of hell. Needless to say such trips are dicey as both when you fly too close to the sun and when you are licked by infernal flames you risk being burnt. Therefore I thank my Angel for not letting me kiss the sun and for lifting me up from caverns of hell.

The Angel is a metaphor, albeit last year’s ups and downs have made me believe in the existence of a supernatural creature that keeps tabs on every man. Now the mystery to be unravelled is the extent to which Guardian Angels interfere in humans’ fates. If you look at the magnitude of miseries which afflict representatives of mankind every day, no wonder you seriously doubt in the powers of shields Angels use to protect people. I discern it and thank once again, as I was lucky to have been looked after by a very patient and wise Guardian Angel and to have got off lightly from situations when my common sense was turned off.

How much joy your life gives you is roughly equal to optimism towards life you display. There is always the option to focus on the dark, yet indispensable, side of life. In November a stupid song made me realise some feelings are natural and sometimes not feeling pain would be a reason to worry. “Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burnt” – if so, burning at some stage of that affection was inevitable. When making a summary of 2012 I could highlight the bitter experiences; there were some, probably more than in previous years, but they happened because I felt much more than in previous years. For sake of waking up from a long-lasting spiritual numbness I deem 2012 to have been a particularly great year. Not everything turned out the way I had wanted, but every time when confronted with adversities, I emerged stronger and never lost heart. Sometimes to cope better with emotions I did turn on the ‘numb’ mode, but these were always temporary moves aimed at relieving psyche.

Maybe this is the way how we should handle life. Every time bad fate slaps your face, instead of hitting it back, give it a kiss. For those of you who have lived through some sort of severe suffering, this may sound ridiculous, but try to treat every hardship, every calamity, every blow as a chance, and as a lesson. The worst you can do is letting the pain knock you down. Such stance means letting bad luck or bad people triumph. How about spiting them? Whenever adversity hits you, put a smile on your face.

Some two weeks ago I left my car for the whole day in the open air, exposed to freezing snow and rain and in the evening I found my vehicle covered by a layer of ice and frozen snow. Try opening any door in such conditions… I beheld it and burst out laughing. After all I was facing a challenge!

Disasters strike you when you don’t take precautions to avert them. In early December I had sprayed door seals with silicon and packed a hammer and screwdriver into my briefcase. Armed in these tools I broke the ice with a smile on my face, which brought back to life central locking system and allowed me to open the door without problems. The engine, despite dampness which could have played havoc with electrics and motor starter, cranked up without a murmur, then it was all downhill. Seemingly a small trouble, but depending on your attitude and how prudent you are, it can knock you down or toughen you up.

As this year ends I think I’m richer as I’ve learnt to look adversities in their eyes. Never turn your eyes away, when your enemy sizes you up. Look at the bright side of life, there’s always such one, but it sometimes takes some effort to discern it. May the new year bring all of you many cheerful days, may troubles stay away from you, may your Guardian Angels be as merciful for you in 2013 as mine was for me in 2012. And don’t be afraid of changes in your life. Any change, although it involves taking risks, should be treated as a chance for a better life. And remember, it could always get worse...

Technical announcements:
1. Apologies for lack of posting a week ago. I was down with flu and decided to stay in bed to overcome the illness once and for good, unlike other people who get up, go to work and spread germs (we have an epidemic of flu in Poland). The strategy proved successful!
2. Next week – road construction summary – let’s look what roads were opened in Poland in 2012
3. Any hints on the direction in which the blog should drift – for aforementioned reasons posts on economy of politics have become infrequent here, while I began to focus on myself and turned the blog into a form of personal diary for posterity, against my intent at inception of blogging…

Sunday, 16 December 2012

New camera review

I’d been putting back the purchase of a new photographic equipment since the discovery of my Canon’s breakdown in early autumn this year. My first preference towards the new device was Canon Powershot SX130, which I found in Euro RTV AGD in late October. The camera could be picked up only in one of their shops in Warsaw, but due to busy and stressful period at work in the last days of October I postponed the visit to the shop for 2 November to find out owing to my procrastination they’d run out of stock. Then in November I was focusing on sitting for the exam and gave up on looking for the new camera. Last Saturday, while browsing Media Markt leaflet I found Olympus D-760. The camera took my fancy, so I checked its technical specification in the web, settled for the purchase, rushed to the car and drove to the nearest shop (Warszawa Krakowska).

The camera offers a decent trade-off between price and quality. For a device offering 12.5-fold optical zoom, 15 mpx matrix, optical picture stabiliser, HD filming and tens of useless gadgets I paid 419 PLN. Enough to have my needs met, as I wouldn’t have probably made use of a better equipment and this one is small enough to fit into inner pocket of a jacket and stay invisible. On the other hand, as any newly produced device it appears fragile and gives an impression of being designed to endure 2-year warranty period and some two days beyond it before breaking down.

I regret not taking it with me on Wednesday, when Ursynów witnessed the biggest blackout in last 15 years. I drove to P&R Stokłosy shortly after 7 a.m., it was still dark and the only lights emitters were vehicles. Reminded me of North Korean power outages and was worth documenting, but would I have taken decent-quality photos with a new camera I’d not been familiar with?

I took the camera last Friday to capture beauty of a frosty, sunny morning (-12C). To the right - having parked the car, I roam around Metro Stokłosy bus terminus. I use ‘snow’ theme to take shot of the intersection of ul. Ciszewskiego and al. KEN, it’s shortly before sunrise...

To the right – I walk out of Świętokrzyska underground station. It’s slowly getting light. Camera’s settings remain unchanged. Machines in the background belong to second underground line builders. As I’m familiarising with the new device, I’m focusing more on the quality of the photo rather than its content.

To the right – ten before eight, sauntering towards my office I turn aside to make a picture of ul. Towarowa towards Plac Zawiszy. If you enlarge, you might come to the same conclusion I’ve reached – I’d focused on the wrong object, hence key parts of the picture are not as sharp as I’d want.

To the right – another try, night-time shooting. No tripod, flashlight turned off, camera held in slightly quivering (in attempt to do my best to prevent any motion) hands. Could it have been done better?

Today I ventured to Piaseczno to play with the camera again. To the right – I focused on the Christmas tree on the town square and even forgot to cover it all and ‘cut off’ the star at the top. My old Canon used to put out more ‘granular’ photos, while shots from Olympus seem still kind of blurred…

Around half past two magnificent fog, which I’d been lingering over the whole day, began to descend and grow thicker. To the right – intersection of ul. Okulickiego, ul. Powstańców Warszawy, ul. Nowa and ul. Mleczarska. I’m standing some 100 metres from it and use optical zoom to the limits. I focused on the tree in the background, but given the acuity of other objects on the photo relative to the tree, there was some fail.

I walk homewards and cross the single-track coal line. Similar shots have been taken by me here in June 2009. I somehow adore the theme of lines converging onto the horizon. Here they disappear, swathed in the fog. I focus on the horizon.

Then I turn around and capture the view eastwards. I took several other photos today, but for sake of practising how to handle the new camera rather than to document something. Gave me much joy on this gloomy and short day.

I was used to my old camera, so using a new one means picking up new habits. The Olympus has a few features that wind me up, e.g. when it turns on it’s always in photo-taking mode and I think it can’t be set to go into photo-watching mode after switching on. The other thing is that it runs on its internal battery, rather than on AA batteries, which is good, except for the fact its battery begins to charge up every time I plug the camera to the computer to transfer photos or to the TV set to watch it. This will diminish durability of the battery, due to ‘memory effect’.

The new camera has more settings, many gadget-like, this translates into opportunities to tweak with something and more chances to screw something up = take an unsatisfactory photo due to choosing wrong settings. Unlike with my old Canon, I wouldn’t fall back on ‘automatic’ mode, which fails to properly adjust setting to the scenery. The best choice is to desist from using themes and use a ‘P-mode’, where you can change key setting manually.

The biggest challenge is sharpness adjustment. I seem to be mastering how to control it, although I’m more skilful in it in shots taken outdoor rather than indoor, some progress is made since first snap, albeit there’s still a way to go. Again I’m proven the more complex camera, the worse the photo taken by a skill-deficient photographer will likely be. To make a good use of this camera, you’d rather not just press the button…

I haven’t tried out its filming capacity. Due to much higher resolution, my new Olympus will offer much better quality than the Canon, but at the expense of film size. At the moment I have a 1GB memory card taken from my old camera and the new one says it can save up to 3 minutes 56 seconds of decent-quality footage on it, so I should consider upgrade to 8GB card.

To recap, the camera fully meets my needs of occasional documenting reality for pleasure. It has now almost 100 snaps on the counter and, as I notice, just like a brand-new car, needs running in before its capacity can be fully utilised; this process is under way. Am I right?

In the meantime, my old, defective was put up for sale on Allegro. 12 minutes before the end of the auction the highest bid is 10.28 PLN. If a new user knows how to fix it on his own, after buying a shutter flex for another 10 PLN on Allegro, they will have a decent, slightly obsolete compact for a dirt-cheap price.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


July 1997. Prime minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz visits sites damaged by the flood of millennium and concludes: this is yet another incidence which bears out one should be prudent and take out insurance, alas this truth is still not common. Nothing hurts like the truth. Mr Cimoszewicz’s utterance has become a nail to the coffin of his party in the coming parliamentary elections and has gone down in history as a symbol of insensitiveness to other people’s misery.

In fact only extreme liberals have the courage to admit Mr Cimoszewicz’s statement was hitting nail in the head when speaking about lack of foresight among humans. Those words might have been out of place, if spoken out among people who had lost all their belongings in the flood, but look at it from a different perspective. One person pays insurance premiums for years and when their house is destroyed by a flood, they collect a compensation. Another person, if they have luck be one of many victims of a natural disaster, gets aid from the government = taxpayers. What is your sense of justice telling you now? Should there by any differentiation between forward-looking citizens who take out insurance and those who reckon when it comes to the crunch the government will step in and help? There are several ways out. First one – the government does not help anyone, the insured get money, those who failed to insure against flood are left out in the cold. Second one – the government gives money, but only to those who have not bought insurance policies. Those who paid insurance premiums learn they are suckers sinking money into insurance policies for years and their reckless neighbours are free-riders whose lack of prudence is rewarded. Third option – the government gives money to anyone aggrieved, no matter insured, or not. Those without insurance get relief, while when comes to the insured ones, there are two options – either they get a compensation from their insurance company and in effect are better off (counting out the hassle to rebuild their houses and arrange them) after the flood, or insurance companies refuse to pay out compensations, as benefits from the government have the same character. In both cases somebody grows richer at taxpayers’ expense – the insured flooded or insurers…

The considerations above arise from the widespread belief government is omnipotent and is capable of influencing events at its discretion. This conviction is abjectly dangerous as it implies firstly citizens are infantile creatures not capable of taking care of themselves and should be incapacitated, secondly the government can be blamed for virtually everything, since it can control everything.

When politicians of PiS blame government for everything, it is not just an element of their political strategy which assumes no matter what the PO-led government do, good or bad, must be slated right away, but also an exemplification of their view of the world. Mr Kaczyński’s advocates deeply believe if Kaczynski was in power, all the problems would disappear. They deeply believe people in power are capable of turning things around whenever they wish. And this is dreadful. This also engender claimant’s stance – a way of thinking “I deserve”, “the state is duty bound to provide for…”. “Mnie się należy”, “państwo ma dać”, “państwo ma obowiązek, dbać, zapewnić, etc.”, „co państwo zrobiło”... Rigns a bell? Makes me want to puke…

In fact how a society functions, all social plagues, shortcomings, criminality, etc. is mainly a sum of millions of individuals’ behaviours, attitudes, moral spines. Other factors shaping workings of society are formal and informal sets of rules which tell us what is acceptable and what not. There is legal system, including penal code, which deters individuals from engaging in unacceptable practices, but what really can discourage people from wrongdoing are enforceable social norms. It is not a potential punishment of let’s say ten years of imprisonment for drunk driving that should prevent us from sitting behind the wheel when intoxicated, but the strong conviction this is dangerous and will be condemned by any upright citizen.

You cannot blame government for everything. Can we blame the government for Amber Gold scandal? Partly yes, as it did not amend regulations which did not oblige prosecutors to instigate proceedings against the fraudulent company immediately upon receiving request from Financial Supervision Authority. The state should ensure all scams are detected early and their masterminds imprisoned, but the state will not prevent you from entrusting your money voluntarily to a crook.

Can we blame the government for bankruptcies in the construction sector? Terms of contracts, including payment terms, as proposed by Road Construction Agency were often unfavourable for contractors but they all in concert bid the lowest prices. They all agreed for conditions set by Gdaka, but when everyone cries about bankrupt subcontractors (doing business means taking risks), why does nobody mention millions or zlotys saved from the public purse? Intense competition among road builders has finally brought costs of road construction to a level comparable with European ones. Why does nobody mention relief to taxpayers and lower public debt?

Your fate lies in your hands. Many times people’s misery is not their fault, but many times they work hard for their predicament. As someone aptly summarised recent summer’s woes of clients of Amber Gold, OLT Express, or bankrupt travel agencies, this can be all put down to Polish greed, tight-fistedness, low level of wealth or simply dziadostwo. We chase bargains by seeking out promises of high yield, low-lost travels, without minding credentials of our counterparties. And when it falls down, we blame regulators, government, bad people, but never ourselves, our naivety, greed, lack of foresight and judgement.

If so, no wonder we posit the government should take responsibility for us, but consequently we deprive ourselves of freedom. But let’s ask whether freedom is actually desirable. Freedom is not the right to prance about in tight clothes on a gay parade (I have nothing against homosexuals, but I am not fond of flaunting sexual preferences), but freedom entails responsibility, means you are wise enough to take decisions regarding your life and suffer consequences of your deeds and this may be inconvenient for many.

My observations indicate people prefer to renounce responsibility and admit their infantilism by offloading responsibility to others. No matter if these were bankers who begged for bailout four years ago, or unemployed Poles blaming Mr Tusk for their joblessness, the trend towards giving up freedom in return from protection is disturbingly apparent…

PS. Bought a new camera today :)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

After-exam after-thoughts

Happy to leave it behind, now an almost two-month long wait to get the result begins. Given the difficulty of the exam and level of my preparation I should be quite secure about the outcome, yet far from certainty… Many questions were tricky, means to mislead candidates, so in this case, seeing is believing, albeit I believe I did well.

For sake of brevity, just a few observations…

1. I’m getting older... Most candidates I saw yesterday looked like students. Maybe I can’t properly assess people’s age by their look, maybe many didn’t look their age, but it seems I’m lagging a few years behind the most ambitious youngsters. Some of my university friends took this exam, i.e. were on the same stage of development in June 2009, yet none has reached the end of the road and many are struggling to make further steps forward. I wanted to reach this milestone before my 25th birthday and did it.

2. It’s a men’s world... I dare to estimate roughly 80% of candidates were males. I could go on about possible explanations for this, but I will only take the liberty of mentioning there are no barriers to entry to the programme and signing up is absolutely voluntary, so I believe this is women’s choice or lack of interest in the programme that keep their share in candidate structure so low.

3. I can’t stay in one place when I feel restless. Other people can stand or sit, while I need to move around. Being in motion somehow calms me down. It’s been like this for years, even when waiting on a bus stop I have to be in motion... I’m not cut out to be idle!

4. I can’t understand people reading notes until the last moment before any exam and delving into the content thereafter. I’d been studying for eight months and finished my preparations on Thursday. On Friday I put my mind at rest and didn’t think about the oncoming exam at all. I felt a bit stressed out in the evening, upon returning home and managed to ease up the next day, after I saw first questions on the exam sheet.

5. The exam doesn’t only test your knowledge. It would be too easy. It puts to the test your logistical skills and endurance.
The former as you need to strictly obey several rules, violation of any would result in termination of your candidacy to the programme. You need to check you have all permitted items and not have anything not permitted, which made me go to the test centre without keys and mobile phone. Getting to Centrum Expo XXI is a bit of a nuisance, getting out of there as well, especially if you’re not from Warsaw. Even if you live in the capital of Poland, still it is a bit of a challenge, as it is a few hundred metres away from the nearest bus stop. Therefore I’m immensely grateful to my father for insisting on dropping me off there and picking me up.
The latter as the exam consists of two sessions. The first, which last three hours and wears you out solid, is followed by an hour-long break. The break in fact lasts shorter, some 40 minutes, as you are not allowed to leave the exam room before all papers are collected. Within 40 minutes you need to queue up to a cloakroom with 300 other candidates, get your rucksack containing a packed lunch, immediately queue up to a cloakroom to give back your rucksack and in the meantime devour whatever you can (one sandwich and one apple were my only nutrition during the day), then go to the toilet and then check in for the second, three-hour long session, which ends at 5 p.m. At that time I was hungry, thirsty, felt cold (heating was off, excellent!) and virtually prostrating. At the end you’re in for to a 40-minutes-long wait to get you coat from the cloakroom…

I’m complaining a bit, indeed, but if you fork out thousands of zlotys for something, is it too much to expect good organisation and heating turned on? Nevertheless, I recognise endurance should be tested, as working environment for people working in financial industry require this and only the fittest can survive there. And after all, sacrifices must be made in a pursuit of a better life…

Needless to say, this is all an excellent example of rent-seeking. Now I financially support rent-seekers hoping to become one of them one day…