CostChefSki

@CostChefSki

London. Poland/Britain. Publishing. Learning. Books. Translation. Music. Rants. I'm still working it all out.

5,437 words

@CostChefSki
You'll only receive email when CostChefSki publishes a new post

Ten cyberpunk resolutions for the year 2020

In two days' time, the cyberpunk future will arrive. It just won't get evently distributed, to paraphrase William Gibson. Here are ten not-so-serious resolutions I may (or may not) want to make as I'm about to enter the most cyberpunk of years.

1. Finally abolish all paper
Paper is kipple (look this one up in the works of another master of the genre, Phillip K. Dick). Fighting kipple is a losing battle. The least I can do is fight one of the sources of kipple in my life - which is paper. Going 100% digital from next year onwards is a worthy aim. I even had a plan how to do this, written down in a notebook somewhere, let me have a look...

2. Become an idea machine
You don't always need good ideas. But generating lots of them each day turns you into an idea machine - at least according to James and Claudia Altucher. This blog is a mutated version of what they recommend - come up with ten ideas each morning, even if they're impractical, even if most of them won't ever work. The positive side effect of this is that you get to work on your creativity and resourcefulness a little at a time.

3. Build my own smart home...
I'm not super keen on AI assistants whose owners treat my life, location, information, and digital history like another bunch of commodities. So if I'm ever going to think of getting my own digital companion, I'll probably opt for the open-source solutions. Mycroft AI is one such projects, whose development has been slow but promising. The next idea sounds a lot more likely, though.

4. ...or go 100% Galactica on all this nonsense
No Alexas. No smartphone tracking. No browsing outside of Tor / VPN. No accounts with the Googles and Facebooks of the world. As little non-free software as possible. Battlestar Galactica was a disturbing lesson, and two years after I've watched it, the global news (thx to Edward Snowden) caught up with the sci-fi dystopia. The urge to go all dumb-phone-and-terminal is strong, and it gets stronger with each story I read about the dumbness of the smart devices.

5. Learn to code better...
I used to be moderately good at getting websites done. I used to understand what Python is trying to do. Now I forgot most of it (I think) and I allowed the tide of programming languages to wash over me and overtake me. So any coding classes I pick up from now on might be learning to slowly walk before I can run. Maybe the next resolution is better?

6. ...or learn to work with those who code
There is still a disconnect between the "tech people" and "everyone else" in so many companies or organisations I know. There is a familiar moment in too many meetings: the programmers try to explain, and everyone else's eyes glaze over. So it follows that there is plenty to gain - personally and on company level - by learning to collaborate, communicate, and effectively commision those who can code their way through any problem.

7. Get a set of implants in your fingers, a bit like the ones you could see in "Ghost in the Shell" where the implant owner could type on a keyboard real fast by splitting her fingers into more fingers, except mine would come with software in my brain which would allow me to play the piano like nobody played the piano in the history of piano-playing
I told you this list wasn't fully serious.

8. Build my own lifelong learning digital ecosystem
The phone in my pocket has enough processing power to land several Apollo moon landers all at once, and I'm using it to take pictures of my face with a funny filter on. I could be using all the tech I've got now to become a smarter, kinder, more curious person, and to help make this world smarter, kinder, and more curious, until I die. Cyberpunk folks promised us instant knowledge transfers, and we just know this won't happen - but we may have enough to get started on the next best thing.

9. Guide myself to racing better triathlons
A few decades ago, the first Ironman triathletes couldn't dream of the kind of tech I casually set up earlier today for my ride - an indoor trainer, a portable HR tracker, a speed sensor, instant feedback on my wristwatch...I'm happy with all these gadgets and I'll definitely make good use of them this year to help me train for my racing!

10. Use tech as force for good, hopeful things
Alasdair Gray's quote comes to mind here: "work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." The future is here, folks. And it looks like the cyberpunk predictions of doom and gloom didn't all come true. So we might as well work with what we have in the hope that it will turn out to be awesome. I know I want to give it a try.

Happy 2020, everyone.

Ten things I learned in the 2010s

File this one under "another blog post that tries to summarise a decade which, technically, won't be over for another year." For me, as I'm writing this, it's that weird time of the year between Chrismas and New Year's Day, and I'm fortunate to have plenty of time on my hands. So here's to reminiscing, one year at a time.

2010
In the summer, I got my first academic management gig - at a summer school in the UK. We left Wrocław after two great years there, and moved back to Katowice. I learned that jobhunting is depressing. But none of the bad stuff mattered: I got married! Then we went on a honeymoon to Portugal - I learned that this place exists and fell in love with it.

2011
I learned that the Polish ELT market was no longer enough for me. Fortunately, I got my first full time academic management job during that year - in Swansea. We left Poland and moved to the UK. I learned a lot about Swansea and Wales, and a lot about managing an English school (through good examples and otherwise). I also learned a lot about how living by the sea makes everything better.

2012
So, that ELT management thing - despite getting an IATEFL scholarship, and despite going to Spain for a study visit - didn't work out. I learned, that year, a lot about spotting warning signs in future employers. This was the year we moved to London, and I got my first job with a publisher. I learned many things about flathunting in London - mainly how not to do it...

2013
We moved in with two amazing people who would become housemates and friends for a long while. I learned about the value of finding the right sorts of people to live with. My publishing job meant I got to travel all around the south of England, meeting people in language schools and universities everywhere. This meant I got to find out how others learn, teach, and discover languages. In the meantime, I keep making content for my own language learning website, and that teaches me lots about ELT communities.

2014
I learned a lot about how my mind and body works. The job was great but demanding; London was great but overwhelming; my own pursuits were great but they were time-consuming. I think this was the year when I learned to check in with myself, listen to how I feel, and react to this - accepting that, as an introvert, I would need to get my energy from other places.

2015
The sales job gave way to an editorial job. I gave up my company car and got a bicycle. I learned that cycling in London is not deadly - and that I was, after all these years, still absolutely in love with the bike. Holiday, that year, was Madeira - where I learned that when it comes to beds and mattresses, size does matter.

2016
Whoa, boy. Politically, I learned quite a lot of frustrating things about the Brits and the U.S. people. But good things happened as well: I went on a solo bikepacking trip around the Hebrides and learned that I absolutely belong there (on the bike + on the islands + in Scotland), I stood by my wife as she heroically tackled a Year of Doing Awesome Things and learned how best to support her and what a great team we can become.

2017
I learned about triathlon. I started swimming and running in addition to the bike, and found out how this made me feel (hint: EPIC). I entered my first two races, and got serious about training. This taught me something about discipline, and about deciding where my energy goes throughout the day. We also started getting through all the hurdles on our way to getting British citizenship - learning lots about the helpful (and the not-so-helpful) people who run the councils and offices around Britain.

2018
New job! New flat! New passport! And all this in the first month of the year! This was the first year in London which we spent without living with housemates - so I re-learned about spaces, rhythms, and routines. A summer Commissioning and List Management course taught me lots - about what I'm doing (and what I should be doing) in publishing. In the summer, a glorious return to Scotland - for a bike race around the Isle of Arran and some more bikepacking shenanigans - during which I learned that, definitely, there is power and joy in being alone every now and then.

2019
This has been my first 100% vegetarian year - which, I've learned, is a fun, tasty, and healthy way to live your life. This has also been a year in which I kicked the triathlon training up a gear - racing an Olympic distance in the summer, and committing to the IM 70.3 next year. All of this taught me even more about work, rest, and energy levels. I re-discovered Magic: The Gathering and learned to embrace my nerdy, competitive side. And, in more recent news, changing jobs showed me with even more clarity what apparently needed to be re-learned about my strong points and about working with what I had.

Ten productivity strategies I was grateful for in 2019

I wouldn't call them "productivity hacks" - some of these ways of increasing productivity are actually lifelong commitments, or serious decisions. But they all helped. Here are ten things which made me look at my productivity with pride, this year.

1. Get better sleep
Everything suffers after a poor night's sleep - my workout performance, my mood, my productivity. And by analogy, everything gets better once I've slept well. For me, this is about controlling the temperature, noise levels, and light pollution - as well as making sure I stay well away from all news feeds in the evening.

2. Paper, you're fired
2019 was the year in which I finally gave up on any systems, methods, or workflows which involved paper in any way. It's just not worth it. Paper got lost, crumpled, wet, illegible, or just contributed to chaos on my desk.

3. Ask for help ahead of time
I have to keep working on this one, because I'm still not 100% there. But this year, I got better at two joined-up things: knowing how busy I'll be in the near future, and asking for help with stuff before the busy-ness hits.

4. Set a timer
Pomodoros were my friends in those moments when a big task needed cutting into smaller fragments. It didn't always have to be a timer; sometimes, a good album on Spotify (lasting 40-50 mins) would serve to mark the start and end points of a job. Speaking of Spotify...

5. Set a soundtrack
I remember spending 36 hours - three full working days, nine to five - on a digital project which needed to be checked and de-bugged. I remember I went through Fatboy Slim, Prodigy, and Apollo 440. ALL of Fatboy Slim, ALL of Prodigy, and ALL of Apollo 440. So much chair-dancing... Some of us can still focus with office noises and conversations around them; I can't.

6. Do more with what you've got
Changing jobs in a pretty spectacular fashion earlier this year coincided with some quality time I was spending with a career coach. We started out by talking how to make sure I do well at Job A; by the end of our time together we were discussing how best to perform at my new Job B! One of the best things I realized thanks to all this: I already had what it took all along, and now the question became - how to make sure these skills and talents are used. This isn't a hack or a strategy - more of an attitude to how I can be useful at work.

7. Go (the #&k) home
Pam Seele's 5-minute Ignite presentation (NSFW) is the most succint way of expressing this. I liked her idea of making sure there's always someone / something waiting for you at the other end of quitting time - so that you're always armed with an excuse for not staying at work late. Controversial? Maybe. Rude? Certainly. But here's the interesting thing: your stuff gets done if you know you're going to be out that door by 5pm.

8. Suit up
This one's definitely a new-found personal preference. I wasn't always a fan of shirts and ties. And I didn't always enjoy wearing jackets or blazers to work. But as I got older, I guess I opted for the "smart" side of the "smart casual" spectrum. It's not an everyday thing, but for now, suiting up is what I'm trying. I feel good with this, so that's what I'll do from now on. Your mileage will vary.

9. Have a "not-to-do" list
Another one to practice and perfect in 2020. The reason for such lists is that, in an average workplace, there will always be more projects, crises, deadlines and new ideas than it's possible / reasonable to focus on. Some of these are unpredictable; others, once you've worked somewhere for a while, come about pretty regularly. Knowing about them means that I can put them on my not-to-do list, and focus on my tasks without guilt or second-guessing.

10. Listen first
My office mug has no handle on it, but I stick with it for one reason: it's got a question mark symbol on its side. This reminds me not to walk into any interaction with the "here's what I think we should do..." attitude. It's been helpful so far: by asking instead of preaching, and by listening to others, I've been able to quickly move past anxious/panicked moments and on to finding out ways in which I can help. As Zack de la Rocha sang, "I know the power of a question." And I can always sip my tea more mindfully. :)

Ten business lessons I learned from Magic: The Gathering in 2019

I picked up an old-new hobby in the summer of 2019. I started playing a fantasy card game, at the grand old age of 37. I've been a fan and a keen player ever since, and I found the game surprisingly educative. Here are ten ways in which MTG helped me do better at work this year.

1. Meeting people is easier than you think
Having something in common at the game store - the kind of game you're playing, most often - already means that most of the ice is broken. At work, the same thing applies - we share an office, we came to the same meeting, we do similar things. We may never have met before, but we're about to do a thing together. For a card-carrying, die-hard introvert like me, this is one of the biggest lessons.

2. Everything you do is an expression of yourself
You would think that a fantasy card game taking place in an alternate universe doesn't necessarily allow for self-expression. Wrong! There are five colors, many combinations, and literally thousands of cards to choose from as you go to build your decks. The cards on the battlefield are only half the story; the other half is the people playing them. I've found that this applies to business as well - why is this document written or formatted this way? Why does this person prefer Slack to email? Why are those folks running this meeting like that?

3. You are allowed to like what you like
There are many ways to play MTG, and many formats. You can play online or in person; you can go for highly competitive or casual settings; you can choose between 1v1 or multiplayer formats. None of them are right or wrong by themselves - but I quickly picked the ones I liked and resolved to stick with them. That's how I performed best and had the most fun. I would say this applies to jobseekers, employees, recruiters and managers as well: it's OK for you to be aware of your preferences and express them, pursue them, or attempt to negotiate them.

4. Budgets matter
MTG isn't free. The cards cost a bit, and the really good cards - on the second-hand market - cost a fair bit. But, as with most things, there is a focused and a carefree way of spending your money here. You can either shop for the exact cards you want, knowing what you want your deck to do - or you can keep buying "booster packs", sealed collections of cards, in the hope of getting a nice surprise or a card that inspires you to try a new angle. Again, both ways have their merits. For the kind of work I'm doing these days, I'd much rather stick to the focused purchase - and MTG helps you research before that credit card comes out.

5. Negotiate!
My preferred format is Commander - a longer variant which is most often also multiplayer (up to 4 players). This means that three other people - and three pretty powerful sets of cards - join the game with me. Only one winner. I love this format because of the alliances, politics, plot twists and negotiations it involves. These types of interactions - discussing how to reach a goal, communicating support / concern, making threats or responding to them - they're all to be found in meeting rooms and on conference calls everywhere.

6. Work with what you have
The deck you bring to play MTG may have 40, 60, or a hundred cards. But usually, there'll only be about 6-7 cards in your hand. There's no way of ensuring you get the exact ones you want - most of the time, you draw at random. This means that plenty of strategic questions need asking. What's the best play this turn? Are there any synergies between cards in my hand? What's best held back in case a threat needs to be countered? In business, that's a skill which may get overlooked in the always-on, hyper-optimistic rush to do everything all at once.

7. Mind your mana
Mana is magical energy. In MTG, it comes from cards called "lands" - each land you control gives you a portion of that energy, which you need to "spend" each turn to put other cards into play. This means at least two things: first, when building your decks, you need to make decisions about the amounts and kinds of mana-producing cards you need; secondly, each turn, you need to calculate how much energy your plays will cost - and how much to leave "open" in case you need to respond on opponents' turns. For anyone who needs to manage their team, take care of their morale, workload, or energy levels, the analogies should become obvious. And as for personal "mana" levels, learning to notice and nurture them matters just as much!

8. Defeats are lessons
I've only been a (returning) MTG player for about 6 months now. This means that, on any given game night, chances are good that I'll get my fantasy posterior severely kicked - sometimes, spectacularly so. This used to bother me: I spent money on these cards! I thought I had thought this play through! Now, though, I recognize the value of each such trouncing. I am able to see the mistakes sooner and more clearly - in choosing which deck to play in the first place; in identifying threats and responding to them; or in not playing the best I could. Call it "feedback" or "growth mindset" or anything you like. MTG lets me fail a little bit better each week, and that's what matters.

9. There are millions of ways to tell a story...
Most Magic: The Gathering cards are tiny works of art. A single card does something in the game, sure - but it is also uniquely illustrated, and it often comes with a tiny snippet of story or text printed on it. When it becomes part of my collection, it interacts with all the other cards, and with my playing style - will I choose to build a theme around a particular hero? Maybe stick to one fantasy place? Go for one or two illustrators I like? The company which publishes MTG - Wizards of the Coast - quickly outgrew its geeky, college-style beginnings and is now firmly in the business of telling a myriad stories at once to millions of players. How they're told matters.

10. ...and there are thousands of reasons why people tell stories
Some people play MTG to win. Others play to show who they are. Others, still, just want to watch their cards and decks do their thing and work the way they planned. There are MTG streamers online, competitive or professional players, cosplayers, writers. At my local game store, you're likely to find me and my mates around a Commander game, but also a kid and her dad playing a different format, a rowdy D&D bunch, a serious miniature battle...each of us came for a reason, and keeps showing up for a reason, and each of these reasons are different. It works best (at a game night, at a business, anywhere) if we're all allowed to tell our stories the way we want them told.

Ten applications / services I was grateful for in 2019

Some of these apps made me happier. Others made me more productive. One or two of them tried to make me smarter. Here's a list of software and services whose praises I sang in 2019.

1. ProtonMail
I'm not a fan of Google's all-encompassing presence in my life. The struggle to keep my data away from The Big Data is real. ProtonMail really brought its A-game this year: the apps, solutions, and new features all made it a strong contender in the email space, not just something you have to put up with. Kudos.

2. Trello
I would get nothing done without Trello, and that's no exaggeration. This year, its power-ups and enhancements seemed to be designed by telepathy: each new functionality felt like the Trello elves built it by reading my mind.

3. Beeminder
The idea is simply, brutally brilliant. You commit to something, and choose a way of measuring it. You give Beeminder your credit card details. Beeminder measures it for you, and charges you if you fall off the wagon. Used with Trello, it helps my productivity tick along from day to day.

4. Standard Notes + Listed.to
How meta! This is the note app I'm using to write this blog post, and this is the blog service you're using to read it. Open source, encrypted (when I choose), syncs beautifully, works with Markdown, publishes in milliseconds... What's not to love?

5. Tor Browser
Another good year for Tor Browser, which now becomes less of a nuisance and more of a really good private way to browse. The mystique of the Dark Web is slowly being replaced by folks who just want to surf the Web without businesses or governments spying on their every click. Along the way, Tor becomes stronger and more robust - it is now the least crappy browser on my phone, and that's saying something!

6. Ecosia
A search engine that helps fight climate change. It is not as intrusive as Google and works a bit better than DuckDuckGo - definitely worth making the switch.

7. Openstreetmap
My Google Maps alternative, which - for many places - turned out to be more precise and to serve up better info.

8. Lastpass
This password manager generates its own passwords so I don't have to either remember them or re-use the same old, crackable password each time. Works on my laptop and anything else I try it with. I paid for the Premium version, but managed to get it during a sale, so it didn't cost that much.

9. GoToMeeting
A video conference software that does not suck. It took me a while to learn the ropes; once I did, my new job in a globally distributed team became a lot easier.

10. Trisquel Linux
Get you an operating system that doesn't let Big Brother / Amazon /random creeps steal your privacy. Linux has come a long way. Now it's easier to use, sleeker and makes more sense than some Windows machines!

Ten things I was grateful for in 2019

Apart from bookcases, which are in constant demand in this household, here are ten things which I was happy to have access to this year. I'm not including any affiliate links, y'all can search them out for yourselves!

1. Bicycle (and paraphernalia)
Nothing - and I mean not a single thing - makes me as happy as my bike. Commutes become adventures / therapy. A metropolis becomes a playground. Mine's a 2018 Cannondale Synapse, but all the bikes I've loved before delivered just as generously.
Honorable mentions in the paraphernalia category: RedShift aerobars. I've gone through several cheaper options before settling on these for my training. No regrets.

2. Coffee Dripper
Coffee and I go back a long way, and we've been through several more or less convoluted ways of working together. At last, I settled on something simple, cheap, and great. Filter goes in dripper, coffee goes in filter, water goes into coffee, coffee goes into cup. I'm using a plastic Hario dripper now - any one of these will do.
Honorable mention: hand-crank burr grinder. Fresher coffee and arm workout in one.

3. Vegan Boots
This used to make me dubious - can you really beat leather? As it turns out, you can. Vegan leather is just as durable and waterproof as the real deal, and it comes with the obvious feel-good benefit. The Doc Martens, which I wear, have taken a beating on London streets through this winter, and they're doing great.
Honorable mention: Doc Martens "For Life" - this used to be a great buy-once, lifetime warranty deal. Real leather, but really durable. Shame that the Doc Martens company decided to stop producing them.

4. Q-tips
I want to share with you a secret to making any hotel, inn, AirBnB etc. feel a hundred times more luxurious. It's not about free fast wi-fi. It's not about posh restaurants or huge bathtubs. It's not about the view.
It's the fact that you leave complimentary cotton buds in the guests' bathrooms. That's all there is to it, really. :)

5. Laptop
Libreboot is freedom-respecting boot firmware. This means that from the moment you power on your computer to the moment you switch it off, every backdoor and non-free piece of software and firmware has been removed. My Lenovo X200 came pre-installed with a pretty awesome Linux distro, a truckload of RAM, a nifty SSD, and no shady pre-installed stuff. It's been working like a dream ever since, and it's helped me understand more about free software, too.

6. Cast iron teapot + tealight warmer
The ultimate hygge accessory. We are officially old.

7. Earplugs
These guarantee a good night's sleep and a relatively peaceful train or plane journey. I didn't use to enjoy sleeping with them, but now I get the appeal; London is horrible for noise pollution. Sadly, I can't go for the re-usable ones without risking an ear infection, so for now, I'm stuck with the single-use variety.

8. Hiut jeans
I WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT I OWNED A PAIR OF THESE BEFORE MEGHAN MARKLE MADE THEM FAMOUS OKAY
Seriously now - buying a pair of jeans from a UK manufacturer with a cool story to tell - that's a good thing in itself, and then the jeans come with lifetime repair guarantee and are seriously comfy.

9. Gryfnie hoodie
"Gryfnie" means "dope" in Silesian. Gryfnie is also a company from where I gew up, which promotes the Silesial culture, language, and way of life. They do this in new and creative ways - which is different from the old, pompous, museum-like approach to any local culture shown in Poland previously. Case in point: a Gryfnie hoodie, which has a seriously rad logo, Silesian language printed on top of it, and is comfy enough to come with its own postcode.

10. Custom fit condoms
If you have access to a penis, do it a favor: don't make it wear anything that doesn't fit its size. MyOne is a brand I ended up with. Once you enter your, erm, measurements online (possibly the only time it ever makes sense to do so), they deliver quickly, and nothing is ever the same again.

Ten people I was grateful for in 2019

Sometimes it felt like the gloomiest year in the history of years. But sometimes, 2019 made me smile, shiver with joy and do a little dance. Here are ten people who tended to bring about that happy reaction.

1. Marta Dziurosz

Always, always, always. Does good things; shares generously; teaches me courage; takes me to some highly dope shindigs. Follow her on Twitter at once.

2. Joanne Chory

She is a plant biologist who tries to mess with the plants' genomes brilliantly enough to help plants help us solve the climate crisis. Described herself as a "character witness for plants" - and people listened. Every Hufflepuff's dream-come-true scientist.

3. Sanna Marin

A country decides to fight fake news and social media political shitstorm, and its citizens elect a 34-year-old social democrat. She's now the world's youngest Prime Minister, and one of my very few reasons to still have faith in politics.

4. Olga Tokarczuk

We knew her back when! I remember feeling so, so happy for her - and for all the good I felt the Nobel Prize would do. Her decisions since, and her novels ever since I remember, did not disappoint.

5. Samin Nosrat

"Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" was, in truth, a late-2018 reveleation for me. The Netflix episodes showed me a person in love with food, in love with cultures that produce the food and with the people she shares the food with. Since then, every evening spent in the kitchen consists of playing loud rock music and thinking "What would Samin do?"

6. Anne Bonny (as played by Clara Paget in "Black Sails")

Sometimes, dear reader, it's a grim Monday inside and outside one's head, and all one really wants from life is to climb the rigging and order the bow chaser gun crews to fire at will. I'm not going to spoil the whole "Black Sails" series for you here, but it's worth sticking with for Anne Bonny alone.

7. Olga Malinkiewicz

Dr Malinkiewicz may soon become the person responsible for a small green industrial revolution. She was the one who developed and perfected a perovskite solar cell - cheap and reliable enough to be produced at low temperatures with high efficiency. (What is it about Olgas?)

8. Katelyn Ohashi

Her straight-10 floor gymnastics routine reminds me that bodies can be sources of joy. And her story of how she got to that perfect, joyous moment - that's a sobering reminder for me to treat bodies (all bodies) with grace and respect.

9. Carole Cadwalladr

Men in power in the UK and elsewhere are worried about powerful women. Carole's work - in newspapers, books, at her TED Talk, everywhere else - is a systematic, resilient, persistent un-picking of the gigantic clusterfuck which seems to benefit some social media moguls and politicians at the cost of democratic processes. She does the kind of work I'd want more people to do, except they're too busy screaming and getting sad-drunk.

10. Kimbra

A Good Night Out, that - her powerful voice, two backing musicians, and lots of positive vibes around.