Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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Shopping in Ikea [economizing]

Ok so I’m not really great in cost saving, but at least I’m trying and that’s why I went to Ikea on Sunday.

Surprisingly the visit was a great success!

I covered almost all the gaps in my apartment (with a goal of making it a perfect SOHO office): sofa table, large book shelf, CD/DVD shelf, sofa lamp, paper trays, folders etc. Now sofa will become a secondary full-fledged work space. Or a chill-out space.

I’m still missing bathroom door, but this cannot be helped with Ikea.

By the way, isn’t it absurd that even though Ikea has: online directory, paper directory, transport facility – I cannot simply order stuff online? I think it is. I sent them feedback, and they replied that they are still developing.

Sadly, I cannot make myself try to familiarize with state health insurance… so I decided to prolong my corporate medicover coverage. Now I have to pay for it myself. But at least I will not have to worry about falling sick and not knowing whom to call.

Travel bag finally at rest

After two years of continuous traveling on different consulting engagements, at last I was able to fully unpack my weathered travel bag and put it in its resting place, hoping it will not have to be used for at least couple of weeks:

It’s was a nice feeling.

But still no luck with the backpack, which is missing after the Cuban adventure… I’m losing hope of seeing it again.

Skills no guarantee of success, but important

Lifehacker’s list of skills important to succeed:

  1. Public speaking
  2. Writing
  3. Self-management
  4. Networking
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Decision-making
  7. Math
  8. Research
  9. Relaxation
  10. Basic accounting

I don’t really agree that skills are most critical factors for success (vision is), but surely many of these are important.

The ones I personally plan to work on in nearest future are relaxation and self-management.

From September I will have no choice but to master “basic accounting”, too.

Cuba, then

At last, I bid farewell to Kiev (for a while). I already had a Lonely Planet guide for India shipped, but in the end I am going to Cuba.

Plane ticket to Cuba was not as straightforward as usual. I will fly charter for the first time, because there were no acceptable regular flights available.

But first, I will have an opportunity to revisit Moscow (I wish the opportunity were not in the heat season..)

Ideal of personality

I came upon this, in an article by Andrew Sullivan:

The playwright Richard Foreman, cited by Carr, eulogised a culture he once felt at home in thus: “I come from a tradition of western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and ‘cathedral-like’ structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.

“[Now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self – evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the ‘instantly available’.”

The article adds to the discussion about how the web is changing the way we think. With ever shorter attention spans, are we losing the ability to think deeply?

Steve Jobs’s hidden corporate strategy

Businessweek suspects Steve Jobs of a hidden agenda, aimed at getting into corporations.

Hints: iPhone functionalities aimed at corporates, co-existence of Windows and OS X made as easy as ever.

Meanwhile, my Mac just changed hands in Wroclaw and is set for the final ride to Warsaw. It’s been a long journey.

Mac’s purpose is far from innocent as my corporate colleagues, knowing me, could immediately tell.

Corporate workers compared to caged animals

Is working in a corporation a waste of life and learning opportunities?

Paul Graham attacks corporate way of work in his essay You weren’t meant to have a boss. The essay starts rather strong with the analogy based on observing a group of programmers taking part in corporate team-building event. He compared them to the programmers that he typically works with, who typically happen to be founders of their own companies:

I was in Africa last year and saw a lot of animals in the wild that I’d only seen in zoos before. It was remarkable how different they seemed. Particularly lions. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive. They’re like different animals. And seeing those guys on their scavenger hunt was like seeing lions in a zoo after spending several years watching them in the wild.

Then he goes into more detail and argues that people are not meant to work in too large groups. Of course, corporations are aware of this and divide people into small teams to avoid management problems:

Companies know groups that large wouldn’t work, so they divide themselves into units small enough to work together. But to coordinate these they have to introduce something new: bosses.

These smaller groups are always arranged in a tree structure. Your boss is the point where your group attaches to the tree.

The tree structure implies, according to him, that at a group (represented by a manager) should work as if it were one individual, otherwise a higher level group composed of managers would not be able to operate.

As a result, the higher the tree, the less freedom of action is available to individual team member:

Anyone who’s worked for a large organization has felt this. You can feel the difference between working for a company with 100 employees and one with 10,000, even if your group has only 10 people.

His conclusion: corporation does not provide a good learning environment, specifically for programmers. In corporation, programmer will see his ideas blocked by the structure and legacy way of doing things. As a result, he will learn less. Best way to start is through own startup or joining organization which is small enough.

Statements like this can provoke some strong responses. Jeff Atwood, for example, attributes all this talk to Graham’s narcissistic (and self-interested) idea of a perfect career path. It’s true, but Graham spent a good deal of his essay admitting his bias.

Almost everyone would agree that working in a founding team of 10 gives the individual more freedom than working in 75,000-strong organization. But not everyone would agree that one cannot learn anything useful in a corporation. Actually a lot of people, including me (though I’m not a programmer), treat working in a corporation as a learning stage before going after own ideas.

Also, corporation provides resources unavailable in a startup. Joshua Haberman commented about benefits of working in Google:

All the boring sysadmin stuff is taken care of. There’s extremely good components you can use for your projects so you don’t have to reinvent the basics (RPC, storage, monitoring, etc) yet again. Your job is to solve big, hard problems and your toolbox is filled with the best of what the brilliant programmers around you have come up with. They’ve iterated many times and solved problems you wouldn’t have even imagined at the outset. And yet there’s always more to do, because the data gets bigger and the appetite for bigger problems grows.

Then again, does knowing that all this stuff exists make it easier or more difficult to start your own company at some stage?

It’s better not to know that something is impossible because then you simple go ahead and do it. In other words, if you are going to start from scratch, maybe better start earlier, while you are happily unaware of all the reasons why you shouldn’t.

Looking at the people who went startup way from the very beginning it’s hard for me to tell if they are better off, because I still work in the corporation. But I’m going to find out.

Goodbye from Arthur C. Clarke

Post on Google’s blog brings video message from Arthur’s 90th birthday last December.

Watch the video and get inspired by his words.

As he would put it, after 90 orbits, he now departed.

Uh oh

I lost the debit card in Kiev. We were in hurry for the airport. And unlike ATMs in Poland, in Ukraine they give money first, card second.

Not that Polish setup is bulletproof, either. Some 3 years ago I forgot the money.

Bromba on the road

There are couple of pending things to mention and one of them is that my noble colleague Wojtek, at the moment also known as bromba, is currently carelessly traveling around the world. Together with his beloved Kate, at the moment also known as a small mongol (??).

They have a blog (but in Polish) and post pictures from time to time and in general make me think that traveling around the world might not be a bad idea.

Best SF movie this year

I just saw Cloverfield. By Bad Robot Productions.

Bad Robot

I know that the year is still young.


It is might seem this post is late. Where in fact it is a day ahead of the one of the previous year. What I want for 2008?

Money: whatever (more the better).

Traveling: whatever (more the better, but the direction might be important this time).

I wish for some progress with new ideas, so far I was screwing either the idea or its execution, maybe in 2008 I will manage to get both right.

There are also some personal things, which are, however, not suitable for planning.

PS. This year I will definitely get the driving license.

2007 was ok, but no breakthrough yet

Hey, it’s high time to do some sort of 2007 summary. Everybody else did it already. And still I need to do a new year mission statement.

Speaking of which, let’s see what I wrote one year ago:

In practical terms, pursuing some big thing is the only way of getting satisfied on that. It?s the most challenging too, but I will keep on looking.

There should be no problems in travelling and money departments. Unless there is some real disaster. I want to go sailing for the first time, but it?s purely logistical challenge.

The only thing I feel pessimistic about, as usual, is the driving licence.

Apparently I didn’t invest too much time in it. But probably it captured the most important things anyway. Here is how it really went:

  • Surely there was no problem with traveling. I spent most the year in Moscow or Kiev, with trips also to Mexico, St. Petersburg, Paris, Lviv. Nothing to complain about and in fact I was already tired of being abroad so long
  • No problems with money either and working abroad actually helps
  • I worked on one “big thing” candidate for like half a year, but after finally getting the first prototype ready, I realized the idea might not be really big. So no breakthrough. I need either more confidence in the idea or a better idea. Still I’m glad for all the things learned along the way
  • I didn’t have time for sailing and actually other than occasional horse riding didn’t do much of an activity. In the end of the year I felt for the first time in my life that I’m not as slim as I used to be. But I kicked off a killer diet and went back to an acceptable state in 13 days
  • As expected, there was no progress whatsoever about the driving license
  • There was a personal thread in my life which started casually, but then its prominence increased every month, and now it’s a mystery where it will lead

I feel 2007 can be considered either as a failure to actually reach what I wished for, or an important prelude for what is coming next (future will tell).

Getting Things Done: video

Thx Przemek video is cool:

(David Allen presentation at Google; add to my recent interest in GTD)

Why more stress? Work has changed

I decided to examine the “Getting things done” (GTD) more closely, mostly inspired by nozbe. I use this application, but didn’t care about underlying “ideology” till now. I will probably write more about nozbe later.

Anyway, the bible for GTD seems to be David Allen’s book titled, you guessed it, “Getting things done”.

I searched our online library, but they didn’t have it. But Russians, and you can always count of them, stepped forward and published a pdf with the book, which can be found on google. For preview purposes, riight.

Anyway. I started the book it seems super cool so far (or maybe I just have unlimited needs in the organization area).

Even the introduction was interesting, which is usually not the case for books. It gives background why nowadays should be more stressed than before and what has changed and why are previous tools inadequate.

Work has no edges

In the old days, work was self-evident. Fields were to be plowed, machines tooled, boxes packed, cows milked, widgets cranked. You knew what work had to be done?you could see it. It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished.

Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects. Most people I know have at least half a dozen things they’re trying to achieve right now, and even if they had the rest of their lives to try, they wouldn’t be able to finish these to perfection.

?In knowledge world… the task is not given, it has to be determined? (Peter Drucker)

Our job is constantly changing

We are rarely doing what we were hired to do.

Previous tools inadequate

  • Calendars
  • Todo lists
  • “Big picture” approach (starting with mission etc.)

Sources of stress

  • We have more commitments than we are aware of ? from big ones to trivial ones
  • Our sub-conscious mind is constantly tracking all of them
  • These “open loops” take our energy and add the stress


For me, the most appealing vision presented in the introduction was – to stay relaxed and productive under circumstances of constant work and information overload. Metaphor to karate’s “mind like water”. Either overreacting or underreacting to the inputs makes us less effective. Water on the other hand – responds to the object with exactly the same force that it was hit with.

I might add more notes as I move along.

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