RY Darién - Belgrade Day 16

Hello all! I'd greet you in Serbian, but the fact is I haven't really learned any in my journey yet. The people in Belgrade speak English very well and start learning English in the equivalent of kindergarten, so it's not really an issue here.

This is going to be a short introduction for a rather long post and then I'm going to get right into it. I've spent quite a bit of time over the last few weeks writing with pen and paper or sometimes with my phone or laptop whenever the mood strikes me. Some of this I've posted elsewhere before (mostly on Facebook), but it is now all collected here with annotations added at points and perhaps reworded or updated.

1. A Brief Word on Budapest and the Journey to Belgrade
2. On the Beauty of the Serbian Spirit
4. Photography from Serbia Thus Far
5. On the Gamification of Life
6. Conclusion and Next Up

A Brief Word on Budapest and the Journey to Belgrade

We left Prague on what is basically a “tour bus” for a long journey to Belgrade with a 4ish hour stop over in Budapest. Since I didn't spend much time in Budapest I can't tell you too much about it, but I did manage to do two things worth doing. First, I had Hungarian goulash and chicken paprikash for lunch (chicken paprikash not pictured):

Secondly I found Király Utca (Street) in Budapest which is home to a famous fashion and arts district. It's important because a good friend of mine, Kristin, has the maiden name of Kiraly, which I learned from my cab driver means “king” or “kingly”.

Along the way to Budapest, our bus had it's air conditioning break and the heat + erratic road conditions lead to the restroom on the bus stinking the place up. I wrote a short poem about our experiences although it ends before the journey does as I couldn't think of anything more to write. I will warn everyone in advance the poem is terrible. I wrote it without access to the Internet while too hot to think in a very short amount of time by typing it into my phone in Notes. You've been warned, without further ado here it is:

Oh we're headed into parts uncharted
Unbeknownst to us as we roll sleepily along
Not long after we thought the AC was set to blow
Opened the window and thought someone farted
The bus ride began to turn into level three fun
Turns out the air conditioning just doesn't want to go
And with the heat came the smell of the toilet sharted

Oh we've seen hot springs and monuments
With a purpose anew we continued our journey
All aboard goes the cry, all aboard
In to the one working bus we climbed with good sense
Packed in and sparring for position like a tourney
Just a driver and two staffers on the other bus where the luggage is stored

Oh onward and outward to the border
Crossing into the land of Serbia might by tricky
Everyone falling fast asleep, only a few snores
Getting a nearly empty bus into the country might be a tall order
Let's hope Serbian customs isn't too picky
Come now one and all break your passports out of stores

Yep, that was pretty much it. When we arrived at the Serbian border things went pretty smoothly and while waiting for the customs officials to deal with the busses so we could reboard, we all did some yoga. As will be very clear from the picture below I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.

On The Beauty of the Serbian Spirit

I think I'm falling in love with Belgrade. I was told by one of the Serbian folks I've become acquainted with that “Rakija and coffee go together like a loving marriage” after I shared my discovery that I rather enjoyed combining the two. How little I knew that my discovery was a truism. I've now discovered the spirit of spicy food that exists in Serbia but is often hidden away from tourists and visitors. It too goes well with rakija. I've also discovered the varied musical styles that are loved, respected, and played quite well here. It's not all clubs and EDM although there's much of that too. When I arrived I thought that the storied history of this place and the beautiful women walking around everywhere would be the reasons I love it, but as it happens the Serbian people are amazing, the food is quite epic, and people proudly distill their own spirits which are also quite good. I've been infected by the energy of this place; the hope and love that people display. Another saying about rakija I've found to be very true in my solo adventures around the city is “Rakija connecting people”. I'm thankful that so many locals have been willing to share their love and pride in Serbian traditions with me.

Some examples of what I mean regarding music shown below:

I also loved Nancy Levenson's take on Belgrade which I encourage you to read as well.

To Je To! - Despota Stefana 21

This is a small “mom and pop” traditional Serbian restaurant found not far from the popular Skadarlija district. Definitely not a haunt for vegetarians, as its a bit #meatmeatmeat, but if you'd like to get some authentic Serbian cuisine at a decent price, this is the best spot to go.

I was glad to finally get together a group of fellow remotes to join me. I've gone in many times by myself and had a quiet dinner here. In particular, I am fond of the ćevapčići and the šiš. Both go very well with chopped onion and ajvar ljutenica on bread. Highly recommended.

Ambar - Karadjordjeva 2 (near the waterfront)

This is another great way to experience traditional Serbian cuisine in an upscale environment. Ambar also has a location in Washington D.C. in the US. Ask for the “Experience”, which is a guided tasting menu. Of particular note is that Ambar has available a selection of older aged rakijas, such as the 20 year old šljiva I was enjoying last night when I visited. Reservations highly recommended.

Supermarket Deli - Toplicin Venac 19

This restaurant has a mix of cuisine styles, including some fusion. It was started by the same folks who own the Supermarket concept cafe and store at Uzun Mirkova 8. It's one of the best places in town to go for a light lunch. I'd recommend focusing on the savory dishes as they seem to be the best. Good Wi-Fi means it's a decent spot for working as well.

Restoran Manufaktura - Kralja Petra 13

Again focused on traditional Serbian cuisine, Manufaktura is a hip little spot filled with art, music, and a mix of flavors, sights, and sounds. A bit overpriced by Belgrade standards, but well worth it for getting acquainted to a wide variety of rakija, and a staff which is willing to explain the dishes and cooking methods. In particular, I recommend you try the veal or lamb on “sach”, which is a method of slow-cooking done with a round grill and coals. The meat comes out extremely tender and since it's been cooking all day is served to you very quickly compared to other menu items. In particular try the Veljko and Sons 12yr old šljivovica.

While the food is cheaper and in some cases better elsewhere, nobody else has quite the decor or breadth of selection that Manufaktura has, so I recommend it as being worth at least one visit to experience the range of rakija, try some sach grilled meat, and revel in the sights and sounds.

Koffein - Uskočka 8

Not really a spot for food, although some sandwiches are available. Rather this is a proper coffee shop that has a wide range of preparation methods and coffees available, unlike the numerous other cafes in the city which focus only on espresso, nescafe, or turkish coffee. At Koffein you'll find knowledgeable baristas, fast and mostly stable Wi-Fi, a nice patio area, and coffee beans from a wide range of regions in the world. They roast on site as well as getting beans from other roasters. Their roasting game isn't quite up to par compared to specialty shops in the US, but it's still one of the best places to go for a cup of coffee I've found so far in Belgrade.

The Barbers - Karađorđeva 49 in Savamala

Last but certainly not least, these folks managed to tame my unruly hair and make me look halfway decent with a bit of European flair. I was impressed with the shop and with the barber, Milan. He was able to feel my hair and immediately know that it wasn't going to work in that middle stage, it either needed to be long or short. This has been my experience most of my life and thus I usually keep my hair very short all around. He suggested something different that is popular in Europe and would help my face look more symmetrical, and by all accounts it turned out very well. I think pictures speak louder than words, so without further ado here's a photo of my after my first haircut since leaving the US:

Photography From Serbia Thus Far

Of the many sights in Belgrade, one of the things that stood out to me was the inventive and passionate street art found all over the city. What many discount as merely graffiti, I consider to be in many cases as elevated an art form as anything hanging on the walls of a gallery. I tried to capture the gritty beauty of the street art with my camera, and in some cases the endeavor met with success. The following photos were taken while wandering the streets.

The following two photos were taken at the Kalemegdan Fortress.

I have numerous other photos I took but haven't yet had the time to work through. They'll probably get posted to Flickr at some point far in the future.

On The Gamification of Life

There's no conclusion really to this section, just some ramblings I wrote down while sitting in a cafe watching people after I had spent the week reading books, and as always was keeping tabs on the news. Originally written with pen and paper, so it took me awhile to transcribe and annotate which did delay this blog post some, sorry about that.

Lately I've been giving some thought to a variety of topics which when taken together lead me down an interesting path. Among other things, I've been thinking long and hard about a conversation I had the other day with Colleen and her friend Jenny about the simulation hypothesis as detailed in Bostrom's simulation argument. Additionally, I've been thinking about the “Brexit” decision and what it means for global economic outcomes, the state of policing in the US, the phenomenal popularity of Pokemon Go, and the concepts behind AR in general. Part of this line of thinking is motivated by the use of AR in a sci-fi trilogy I recently read.

All this is just to provide a bit of context to my observation that humans treat life as a game, maybe without even realizing they're doing it. If life is a game, it's a game that lacks well defined rules and has cruel outcomes where “players” are pitted against one another and form factions. This observation might lend itself to accepting the theory that the universe is a simulation but I think it in some ways disproves it. We as humans choose to gamify life; sometimes for good and sometimes for less ethical reason. When you come to this observation yourself, it presents the opportunity to manipulate the things that happen around you and in fact this is what much of marketing, advertising, and entertainment is meant to do. What interests me the most isn't the observation itself but the implications.

When we are incentivized to keep people engaged we devise rules and goals that provide a clear path of progression and an opportunity for members of every faction which forms to reach a top position within the context of the game. When we look at life though this hasn't happened. Instead, we have the highest ranking “players” colluding against everyone else even though there is no real benefit to doing so after a certain point. In a game world the designers understand that it is to the benefit of themselves to keep the players engaged, for the players to feel like they have accomplished something each time they play. By the same token, the designers know they will lose players and thus revenue if people become disinterested in the game.

We are now using AR to apply these same concepts as an overlay on life because people have become disinterested in life. The beauty and humanity that surrounds us has lost its flavor for so many. The difference of course is that you can quit a game at any time. A game has to make sense at some level because every possible outcome has to have a statistical probability of occurring that can be calculated deterministically in near realtime. Life is a game because we as humans make it into one, not because of any property inherent to it. You can't quit life when you become disinterested in it, only to return later. Although people do try to quit life at least for awhile every day in the form of escapist fantasies and entertainment. It's no shock when you think about it that entertainment spending increases during bad economic times; people are trying to get away from a reality which disinterests them. The fact remains at the end of the day you can't escape. Reality always rears its ugly head and comes crashing back in.

If we were living in a simulation its a good assumption that there'd be rules in place that would cause everyone to be motivated to progress. After all, the interesting outcomes from simulations are the results of unexpected progressions. Then again, with the growth in popularity of AR, there's nothing saying we can't use it in much the same way that its been detailed in science fiction. We could gamify life with clear-cut rules and use AR to help lend motivation. There's lots of interesting ethical questions there as well. What could we achieve and where would be as a species if we were able to motivate everyone to care about what happens around them? Fear is not the mind-killer, apathy is.

Conclusion and Next Up

I've been soloing things for the most part so far in Belgrade. Not through any active attempt at avoidance but just because I've been focused on work and exploring things that maybe aren't of interest to other people in the group. It's been kind of nice in a way because its important I find an equilibrium point where I am okay with both being involved in group activities and going out and doing things on my own. One of the advantages of being solo though is that it makes meeting locals easier because you don't have the tendency to end up deep in conversation with someone you already know. I've now built a rapport with a few folks, followed their recommendations to find even more amazing places, and generally started to become a bit more connected to the community that exists in the city than I would be if I'd merely stayed an outside observer.

Tomorrow (Tuesday the 19th)

Colleen and Shane will be presenting the 3rd Tuesday Tech Talk session with an introduction to React.JS. I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully this time I'll be able to get everything together to record it.

Later that evening, I'll be doing a wine-tasting event with a handful of others thanks to the efforts of Justin. We will be doing flights of Bordeaux Grand Cru from all 8 of the appellations. Should be very interesting and educational.

Thursday the 21st

I'm going to be leaving on a journey, I'm not 100% sure where yet, but most likely still going to end up in Greece, probably on the Isle of Crete. Will be returning on Monday the 25th from wherever I end up over the weekend :)

That's it, cheers until next time. Thanks for reading if you managed to make it this far. I know this was a pretty long post, but I've been bad about writing them on a regular basis so I had to pack more in to catch up with y'all.