Thoughts on EUref

immigration, politics

Funny that it comes straight after the post on becoming a UK national, but that serves me right for not posting frequently enough. After a lot of panic-induced tweets and retweets today, here are some of a bit more detailed thoughts on the EU membership referendum that I think would be interesting for myself to re-read later:

  1. I predict we are going to see the unlikely alliance of economically disadvantaged people and free market capitalism adepts crumbling. The former served as a vehicle for the latter thanks to the fact they both happened to dislike the EU at the same time. Voters hit by globalisation (and by immigration from the 'new EU' as by one of the most visible aspects of it) on many occasions have clearly expressed the feel of being neglected and not looked after. This doesn’t have much in common with ‘negotiating bold trade deals at the free market while not restricted by silly regulations’ argument – in fact, they are fairly opposite. It is not going to take long for these two views to collide, and it is going to be spectacular. Although it is not going to happen immediately – for some time it may run on nationalism and on ‘putting England back on the globe’ spirit only, but inevitably the economy will speak again.

  2. Old magic no longer works. It is not only because of the overuse of the word ‘racism’ which is difficult to deny (although not every time it was used it was an ‘overuse’), but it is officially no longer a cultural taboo. Accusations in bigotry no longer stick and mean little to people that don’t already agree with you on the subject in question. It is true and impossible to argue that pretty much all of the far rights and neo-nazis were in the Leave camp, but it is no longer recognised as a problem big enough to vote otherwise by people who in theory could have voted otherwise (as it is also true far rights are still a minority of those who voted Leave). Which brings us to the next point:

  3. A decent number of naturalised white immigrants and native-born or naturalised non-whites have voted to leave the EU. While this seems to strengthen the point promoted by the free market capitalists from p.1 (it’s all about foreign control, and we are not against the foreigners themselves!), these votes – as far as I can judge – are also fuelled by the desire to halt the immigration. In the circles of naturalised ex-USSR citizens (the community I obviously am the most familiar with) this reason is quoted in at about 90% of cases, both in personal conversations and on online forums. I am confident this is going to backfire on all those people badly as they will soon find out a non-white person is still an immigrant and a naturalised white still sounds foreign to some people possibly including their neighbours and their kids’ classmates (who are now ‘red pilled’ and know that being called a racist no longer means an argument lost by the accused). Nor does the above mean that only the ‘uncontrolled’ immigration is disliked – try having a similar referendum on the controlled one. This, of course, doesn't mean the whole idea is now invalid - as I said, it no longer works like that. It's just that actions have consequences.

  4. I hope that the gone fear of being called a racist is not the only way in which everyday culture is going to change from now on. What certainly needs to die is that old trope about the establishment having control on everything and feeding the public convenient lies from the controlled media which are in an alliance with intelligentsia. Of course the establishment by definition enjoys an enormous control over our lives as well as there is plenty of lies in the press, but they are not monolithic, they fight each other and seek for public support which they not always receive. Almost all of the supposedly almighty university elite was against what just happened, yet it did. If I were a progressive journalist, I would do everything for this drum to no longer get banged on without making the person doing it look like a shameless populist even by today’s standards.

  5. Since the political balance in this country is visibly shifting to the right (and possibly staying there for ages if Scotland leaves), the opposition to Tories needs to return to the centre. It might not be a reason to let the Blairites back in, but it is crystal clear that Corbyn and similar die-hard figures are not going to deliver a feasible alternative, unless a guaranteed support (which seems to be like 15%, right?) from the safe core voters is considered enough (hint: it isn’t). In other words, Labour party needs to go back to being less marginalised social democrats in order to maintain a chance of winning. I think it would be better even for those supporters of it who are happy with the current leader. Another problem is that their safe core voters seem to be divided on the EU membership, which might mean they might shrink even further. I am considering signing up in case there will be a chance for a public vote on the party leadership again.

I am of course an edge case both culturally and economically being both of a foreign background as well as someone who has bought property in London at the peak prices and rock bottom rates (both of which are now guaranteed to change), so I am undoubtedly biased towards the status quo. But I honestly consider this decision was a mistake that is both going to fail the promises made to those who voted for it and prove the fears of those who voted against.

Yet this country remains strong and has definitely been through challenges far worse than that, so I also believe it is still going to be not that bad. And frankly, EU is a mess. I also suspect that some of the things that I now consider to be wrong may turn out for the best, because I am not an expert and my personal experience is quite limited. It’s probably not going to be that bad, and London will be London, England will be England, and maybe even the UK will remain no less United than it currently is.

It’s just that I genuinely believe it could have been much better, and this is why I am sad today.


On becoming a citizen


So after almost 7 years, this finally happened:

Achievement unlocked

Strangely enough, it doesn't really feel huge because it's so stretched in time. Look, first you become a permanent resident, and there isn't much to celebrate because for everyone concerned you are still a foreign citizen. Same queue at the airport arrivals, no voting even in local elections, no ID that doesn't scream 'immigrant'. Well, it grants you right to be employed without any formal restrictions on the hiring process, but my previous visa allowed me into the same labour market position as well. As a permanent resident, you can also apply for various state benefits such as tax credits (apparently) or council housing, but again I was lucky to have never needed that, and neither do I now.

This status does offer security though so you stop worrying about your visa not getting extended next time (not very likely provided you comply with the rules) or paying ever-growing fees (this is big actually), but that's about it. Something you can certainly feel, but still nothing to write home about really. This is where you start hesitating whether to celebrate now or to wait for the next, more prominent milestone. And indeed there is one coming, the problem is it is not the last in the line either.

A year after becoming a permanent resident you can apply for citizenship, but then again you don't have a single 'this is it' day where you can draw a line and throw a party. First you get informed that your application has been successful. Hurray, but technically that doesn't mean anything yet because you have to attend a ceremony and receive your certificate. Which doesn't happen too soon. In my case, for example, it took about a month because there are only so many days a month the council does ceremonies, and I had travelling plans as well (as after you become a citizen, you can no longer go abroad with your old documents).

When you finally attend said ceremony, it still isn't the end of it, because you don't have a passport. You only need it to travel abroad, but doing so effortlessly is one of the great formal benefits of naturalisation, so you usually apply straight away... and wait again because in Britain you have to be interviewed in order to get your first passport, and you got it right, that usually cannot be booked too soon. The point of the interview is to prevent identity theft, which in case of a naturalised non-EU immigrant like myself seems redundant as all the data including biometrics has already been submitted many times before that, but the rules are still the same.

Finally, a day comes when you receive your passport - yay! - but at this point that is something you, in a way, take for granted and there is no that feel of genuine excitement (still feels incredible of course, but you kind of have crossed the finish line earlier, right?)

Another predictable, yet still funny thing is that everyday life-wise it doesn't really change much. People who don't like you because you are a foreigner (not that I can personally complain too much about that though, but nevertheless) couldn't care less about whether you have a passport or don't, as a rule. Similarly, people who used to like you before aren't going to like you even more because of that either. And more importantly, you are still the same person. You still get into awkward situations a bit more often than you'd honestly prefer. Your accent is still a dead giveaway. You still have had a very different childhood comparing to any of your British peers, and that's even regardless of the social class. I can go on and on.

Yet I've still been feeling an urge to write this, mostly because I realise this has been one of the biggest projects I attempted in my life so far, and it has been successful. I am also now holding a far less idealistic view about the UK comparing to what I imagined it to be when I fist got an idea about moving here, but at the same time I am feeling a lot more involved and accepted that I dared to hope for which amazes me more than ever, and for that, I am grateful. My admiration for Britain is still there, but is now backed by different, less naive and postcard-worthy matters - which, unlike the latter ones, are less prone to being shattered by brutal reality I am much more aware of as well.

10/10, would do again.


Books I read in 2015 - an update


It's been about 8 months since I last posted, and also 2015 is now over, so it feels like a logical thing to finish with the list of books I have read last year. This update is going to be embarrassingly short, so I will compensate by elaborating a little more than usually:

  • Not Much of an Engineer by Stanley Hooker (clippings) - an autobiography of one of the Britain's top engineers and one of the few responsible for the success of the famous Merlin piston engine of war period and later jet engines.

    Apart from a lot of technical details, the book also includes some of the author's personal views on various social issues, which are somewhat brutal by today's standards. While almost any stance from 30-50ss would look quite right-wing today, in this case it is also amplified by the natural bias of Sir Stanley as an extremely talented and hard-working individual, who naturally assumes that if it was easy for him to escape some life traps, many should be just as able to do the same.

    The above is a minor topic in the book of course, so whether you can get behind that or not, about 90% of it is still about engines and the organisational structure of British aircraft engine manufacturers, so if you are into that, you certainly won't regret reading it.

  • The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark (clippings) - a little bit too long, but a detailed explanation of the events that, directly and indirectly, led Europe to the First World War. While offering a bigger picture (economic tendencies in the major states, their trade balances, treaties and loans), it also drills down to the biographies and personalities of some actors (kings, presidents and Saraevo conspirators).

    All of that was especially interesting to me as to someone who went to school in early post-Soviet Russia, where very little attention was paid to WWI which was always overshadowed in textbooks by the revolution of 1917.

    You might find it enjoyable as well if you don't mind long books and if you are not too disturbed by the unavoidable thoughts of how similar are the explained events to what is unfolding in Europe right now.

  • Vulcan Test Pilot: My Experiences in the Cockpit of a Cold War Icon by Tony Blackman (clippings) - since the last flying Avro Vulcan, an iconic Cold War era bomber, was retired in 2015, I decided to read a bit more about it. This book is written by one of its test pilots and would be interesting, I suspect, to aviation geeks only. What I was impressed with most was the technical impossibility for some crew memebers to bail out in too many dangerous situations (imagine their feeling when the pilots have already ejected! - and that actually happened), and also by the habit of one of the top test pilots to fly in his pinstripe suit instead of the pilot overalls.

  • Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden (clippings) - one of the best, if not the best of pop biology books I've read, it explains how quantum effects are necessary to understand the core biological processes such as photosynthesis. Of course in one way or another quantum effects are behind every observable effect, but in most cases you can safely get away without ever involving that in your calculations, so it is extremely exciting that in order to understand something very basic and essential to life on Earth, this needs to be considered.

    Not every connection explained there is currently 100% confirmed (e.g. the role in the sense of smell remains a strong theory), and at some point the authors get carried away and deviate from the topic into some shaky philosophy, but the most of the book is eye-opening and quite well written.

  • Britain for the British by Robert Blatchford (clippings) - an early Socialist manifesto by a prominent campaigner from the days when it was a fresh idea, written in a very simple language as it was intended for the masses. In particular, I enjoyed applying provided examples to the current situation to see what has changed beyond recognition and can no longer be evaluated following the same approach, and what remains exactly the same.

    It was also another reminder for me about how far away was Russian Bolshevism from the Western socialism. It is a pity too many modern left-wing politicians find inspiration in Chinese, Soviet or Venezuela atrocious regimes instead of in their own past, certainly not ideal but excellent in comparison.

  • Submission by Michel Houellebecq (clippings) - I found that scandalous novel much less Islamophobic than I expected from random reviews. Actually, there are very few negative statements, if any, it makes about Islamic society - it is rather pictured as a blind 'force of nature' filling out the volume made empty by 'degenerative West'. The protagonist is a typical anti-Western propaganda figure: a middle-aged single male working in a useless industry, incapable of a long-term relationship and at the same time obsessed with sex which he mostly gets through exploiting his position of power.

    I disagree with this message and Houellebecq's view of the modern European and Islamic societies, but he is a good writer and even though I was reading the translation, the language was good and the plot development was okay. What's more to expect from fiction.

  • How Meteors Hit the Ground by Geoffrey Higges (clippings) - another book only interesting to aviation geeks, this time a very short one. It is basically a list of the design flaws of Gloster Meteor aircraft, the first fighter jet that entered mass production (no, it wasn't a German one). It stayed in use after WW2 as well (not only in Britain), but even after a number of improvements Meteor remained a demanding machine to maintain and to control. E.g. in 1952 (the year the author served in his Meteor squadron) a Meteor pilot was killed every four days.

  • The Arrows of Time by Greg Egan - including this book in the list is cheating because I only started reading it in 2015 and am still only 25% through it. The last book in Orthogonal trilogy, it is to the first two books what they all together are to the rest of Greg Egan's books, and also what Greg Egan's books are to the rest of sci-fi. In other words, it is Greg Egan on steroids with even more science of his world involved which makes it quite difficult to understand. So far there has been very little literature but a plenty of alternative physics, and I suspect it is going to stay like this.

    I wrote about the previous (second) volume in my last post, so you can read it if you are interested.

This seems to be it for 2015. Have a good year, everyone.


Books I read in 2015


Apparently I have read 14 books so far this year. Below is very briefly what I think of each of them (in chronological order) along with a link to excerpts I highlighted during reading:

  • Homage To Catalonia by George Orwell (clippings) - superb, easily on the top of my list. Brilliantly written, genuinely exciting and educating, and feels very relevant to many modern conflicts in different parts of the world.

  • Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (clippings) - very similar to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande I wrote about before, but with less of medical details and more emotional, probably because it is written by a professional writer as opposed to a doctor. While the idea is the same, both books are worth a read in my opinion as they provide views from different angles.

  • The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx translated by Jerry Toner (clippings) - the title says it all. Interesting both from the cultural and historical perspectives. For instance, I wasn't aware of that major diffrences existed in the attitude to slaves and slavery between Ancient Rome and Greece, the former being way more progressive - if asked before reading this, I'd say the differences were minimal or that Rome was more oppressive.

  • On the Warrior's Path, Second Edition: Philosophy, Fighting, and Martial Arts Mythology by Daniele Bolelli (clippings) - a couple of interesting thoughts you can see in my clippings, but I doubt it was worth reading the whole book because of them.

  • Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud by Martin Gayford (clippings) - too much of Martin Gayford in this book, but still enough of Freud to be interesting to anyone who likes his art and wants to learn more about his personality as well.

  • Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (clippings) - someone on the Tube train was reading it and I decided to give it a go as well. Meh.

  • The Eternal Flame: Orthogonal Book Two by Greg Egan (clippings) - The Orthogonal series is probably the most Eganish of all Egan's books, which means I really struggle to name anything that comes close in science fiction. The closest is probably Flatland from 1884, I mean in terms of inventing your own consistent world and the society suited to live in it, but of course it is on a different scale. You will either hate or love The Orthogonal, but you can be pretty sure you haven't read anything like it before.

  • Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X Pham (clippings) - not bad, especially when you are an immigrant yourself so sometimes it hits too close to home, but there is a review implying that the author was exaggerating and making things up there.

  • Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey-Williams (clippings) - the first half of the book is better than the last when it switches more to organs' perception in culture (not that it was unexpected considering the title, but still).

  • Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic by Jill Leovy (clippings) - too belletristic with fewer facts and more spoon-fed opinions than I anticipated, but can be probably called eye-opening nevertheless.

  • England and Other Stories by Graham Swift - meh. A couple of good stories and then too many of mediocre and bad ones which are seemingly different only in characters' names employing the same twist again and again.

  • Works of Jeremy Bentham by Jeremy Bentham (clippings) - not a real book, more like letters and articles by Bentham which are very long and explain the same thing paragraph after paragraph. But reading through a plan of a prison (out of all things) written by a celebrated liberal thinker might be interesting.

  • The Gilded Gutter Life Of Francis Bacon: The Authorized Biography by Daniel Farson (clippings) - great reading and probably the best of 'authorised biographies' I have read. Definitely better than the book on sitting for Freud's portrait above, but I recomend to read them both as Freud and Bacon used to spend a lot of time together.

  • Internal Medicine: A Doctor's Stories by Terrence Holt (clippings) - another meh. Expected more after Gawande and Butler, but this is just House M.D. type of stuff with no particular idea to express. Not without some good passages (see in clippings), but overall not worth your time.


One small step


Just making another note that we have got our first British passport in the family last week. Here's the holder unhappy with the fact he is not allowed to tear it:

Anthony's first UK passport

That marks almost 6 years and £9.5K in visa fees after we came here (the latter will be well over the round figure of 10K when we two adults naturalise next year).

This is the earlier picture of us in the UK taken on our fourth day here:

Back in 2009, many things, good and bad, were only yet to happen.


Programmer's resolutions - 2014 report

links, 2014, lists

As Matthew Might posted a traditional link to his 12 resolutions for programmers again today, I remembered I retweeted it a year ago as well, so naturally I got curious about how many of them did I actually fulfil in 2014. Here is what I could recall:

1 - Go Analog

The first point is also the easiest: 2014 was my first year as a parent which I think alone is enough to safely tick it off.

I still want to mention though that in 2014 my third year of boxing training has begun - and while I hit the gym less often than before Anthony was born (something to correct in the next 365 days), I didn't drop out.

Now the next 11 points are going to be tougher.

2 - Stay Healthy

Well, despite exercising less often than in 2013 and being less careful with my diet, I didn't put on much weight.

I did suffer recurring back pain (which was probably a consequence of the light injury) though. It was also the first time in the UK when I decided to make use of my private health insurance, and to be honest my experience was just awful. Not sure about other providers, but sorting out a claim with PruHealth easily takes just as long as the NHS queue plus you get a lot of headache in the process.

I also got cold at least 2 or 3 times, last time sneezing through my Christmas holidays. This is something I need to tackle in 2015 as well by getting a flu jab, taking vitamins or doing other stuff a responsible adult is supposed to do.

3 - Embrace the uncomfortable

Not sure if that counts, but I experimented with working and leasuring on the same PC by carrying my laptop to work for almost a year (something I have never done before). At first it seemed like a very good idea, but then I decided that benefits do not outweight the extra weight (no pun intended) in the bag.

I am back to a separate workstation, but now I can choose from experience. Another change was switching from a development VM to local setup (in Windows, while our production is running Linux). I still test everything in the VM, but an additional testing step was there anyway, and the development itself just seems more natural that way now (plus it's an extra diffrent environment to test the application in).

I also started wearing watches which I haven't done since I got my first mobile phone. It started with me fishing for a specific model on eBay (and succeeding) for a present, then I decided to try wearing one of those obsolete single-function devices, and now I have 4 watches, one of which I have customized myself (rendering it hardly usable in the process, but nevertheless), another being my grandfather's watch which old ruined movement I finally got replaced, and another being an automatic (earlier, the last thing I could imagine buying).

4 - Learn a new programming language

Not really. I took a Scala course online, but as it didn't result in any finished code apart from course test tasks, that probably doesn't count.

5 - Automate

Err, programming-wise - probably not beyond what was directly required by the nature of the project I worked on (some of its implemented features actually were automated versions of the legacy processes requiring manual intervention, but that was not my own initiative).

Everything else - well, a remotely controlled sound system is here since it's mentioned, but that's solely thanks to Spotify new update.

And since 'syncing' is on the list as well, my phone now syncs with my laptop automatically through BitTorrent (camera content, sketches, scanned PDFs and everything else go to neatly nested folders or to OneDrive.

6 - Learn more mathematics

Zero here which is a real shame. Especially considering that it's for the second time in my life (and for the first time in the last 10 years) when I feel that the lack of the maths knowledge really holds me back at work. Definitely something to pay attention to (even returning to a fraction of my uni level would be an great improvement).

I did somewhat advance in other sciences though, but that didn't have any direct implications on my work and life.

7 - Focus on security

Wasn't an achievement of 2014, but through the last year I continued sticking to 'every login gets its own unique random password' practice which I now find very comfortable.

I have set up 2-step verification for my every account that allows that, got a hardware USB token for Google and printed out reserve codes for others. I also advocate for 2-step verification at work, and maybe our product will finally get it in 2015.

If that's worth mentioning, in 2014 I have also got a personal VPN.

I didn't encrypt my Android phone though and my Kindle isn't password-protected.

8 - Backup your data

My documents still go to OneDrive and photos to Flickr, and everything to my external HDD, but that it what everyone does now.

One well put thought I came across in 2014 was that "There is no cloud. Just other people's computers." Not sure if I'm getting a proper NAS this year, but this is something on my ToDo list.

9 - Learn more theory

Another point that makes me sad, but still I got deeper into functional programming in 2014 than ever before (although still splashing in shallow water) and read a couple of CS papers.

10 - Engage the art and humanities

I almost stopped going to organised sketchcrawls and drawing meetups (the same lack of time plus the novelty wearing off), but I got a Samsung Note phone with precision stylus support and started sketching more often on the Tube since unlike a notepad and pencils it is always with me. While even that technology doesn't offer as much precision as a cheap pencil, I quickly got used to features like layers and undo (both helped me greatly with quick portraits which is now my favourite genre).

According to, I have finished about 15 books in 2014, mostly non-fiction (history, memoirs, popular science). Four of them that I liked most:

11 - Learn new software

Almost nothing to write here, my daily used set of applications remained the same through just another year. I even keep using Total Commander!

12 - Complete a personal project

The only thing which vague resembled a personal project was a quick hack I put up at NHS Hack Day in Leeds which was about grabbing a screen from a third party application and annotating it with some meta data from a bar code scanner. The code was built in such a rush and was so hideous though that won't even link to it.

Now looking at all these points again it is easy to tell I can do better. Here is to 2015!