Intrinsic vs Purposeful vs Mission-Driven Traveling

florence

What is your style of exploring the world? Do you prefer to plan or you go with the flow? Normally, I would just get excited about a place and would go there. It’s cool to be carefree and spontaneous. There are, however, two main drawbacks of traveling without any plan: 1) missing out on unique opportunities, and 2) wasting time on figuring out what to do next. I contemplated various reasons for planning and I would like to share them with you. I also advocate for experimenting with mission-driven traveling.

This week I spent a little bit of time planning some of my trips for the upcoming year.  Then I realized that the style of traveling is related to motivation, i.e., figuring out why you want to travel to a specific destination. Have you ever heard of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? Let’s take a look at definitions from Wikipedia:

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward.

Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated.

Let’s link the two definitions with the two styles of traveling; we end up with:

  1. Intrinsic traveling (going with the flow). If you travel for the sake of traveling, then you are intrinsically motivated. You simply enjoy the process of exploring new places and you don’t care much about specific stuff to see there. For example, when I went to Barcelona, I was enjoying the city a lot and didn’t bother to see the famous church of Sagrada Familia. For majority of tourists, on the other hand, this is a must-see venue.
  2. Purposeful traveling (planning trips). If you travel to see a specific place or to perform a specific activity, then you are extrinsically motivated. You care about the location, because it offers something unique that is unavailable in other locations. For example, if you go to Paris to see the Eiffel tower and take a selfie there, then that’s the source of your motivation.

eiffel

I think that most of my travels, so far, have been mostly intrinsically motivated. I loved the activity of exploring new places, regardless of whether it was Paris or a shithole in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps, the only extrinsic motivation was to meet people and party in each and every place. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun. On the other hand, I spent a lot of time searching for cool people and interesting activities. Unfortunately, many unique (e.g., artistic) activities turned out to be unavailable, because I didn’t schedule them in advance.

Now, I think that a little bit of planning may make traveling more meaningful and may help to maximize the richness of experience. It can certainly help to take advantage of the unique things that the place offers. I’d say even more, you can use it to get immediate benefits. You can acquire or upgrade some of your existing skills. Let me give you some examples:

Place Venue Skill
Dominican Republic Dance school Bachata
Brazil Carnival Kissing
Fiji, Aruba Beach Scuba diving
Japan Local artist Origami
Portugal Summer camp Surfing
Italy Local artist Painting

The idea of purposeful traveling can be taken even further: you can go to a place to focus solely on a single activity. For example, you can go to Dominican Republic for two weeks to master bachata skills; dance lessons, 12 hours a day, every day, to supercharge your skills. I would call this extreme mission-driven traveling.

sun

This year I would like to try this approach. Before going to some place, I would be clear about my goals and would design a mission. Ideally, it should be somehow measurable to validate whether I’m making good progress. Of course, the schedule cannot be completely rigid, as it may make traveling less enjoyable. It seems that the best is to have a default plan, but be flexible as new opportunities show up.

Want to Travel More? Internalize This Simple Habit

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I like to have conversations about traveling. This topic gives me great insights into some else’s personality, their viewpoint, and daily struggles (pains). Throughout the years, I was able to discover certain patterns from the discussions. These patterns may classify the set of people into several groups:

  • Adventurers. Wherever they go, it is always fun to be around them. They have unique stories and are not afraid of taking risks. You won’t hear lame excuses from them. Typically, they are very energized and exciting people. Their life is one big adventure. I would say it’s a very small group of people; perhaps, less than 1% of all the travelers I met.
  • Travelers. Nice people to be around. They’ve been to many countries and often travel for months or years. They appear as more normal than adventurers and have more self-preservation instincts. They have some interesting stories, yet the discussions in hostels are almost always the same: generic travel-related stuff. You can meet quite a few travelers.
  • Business travelers. They travel, because it’s part of their job. They are well-traveled, but do not interact with other travelers. I have never heard crazy stories from these people. My guess is that their travels are as exciting as their jobs. It’s a pretty big group of people.
  • Tourists (i.e., occasional travelers). They typically travel once a year, and, unnecessarily, spend a lot of money. Tourist destinations is where they head to and where they take pictures that you can later see on Facebook. Due to lack of experience, they are not very open to other people. Often, they are scared of the world and prefer to hang out with their travel-buddies. They would love to travel more, but they think they cannot. This is a huge group of people.
  • Non-travelers. They don’t travel, either because they feel no desire or they think they cannot. As visiting domestic spots (for pleasure) counts as traveling, this is a very small group.

map

Where do you think you fit into? Where would you like to find yourself? Let me focus on tourists here. It’s always the same story:

tourist: I want to travel, but I cannot, because of X, Y, Z.

where X = work/school, Y = I have no money, Z = I’m afraid of traveling alone.

In our previous posts, we already addressed these issues. If you constantly rely on these excuses, then there is something messed up with your priorities. Maybe it’s time to fix them? I cannot do the hard work for you, but I suggest one inspirational habit: dream more. This is how it goes:

  1. Check out the world map. Feel free to use maps available online, on your smartphone, tablet, or put a huge map on the wall in your room.
  2. Pick one destination. If you could go anywhere, right now, where would you go? What is it that you’d love to experience at that destination?
  3. Search. Search for images and videos (e.g., on YouTube) from the destination.
  4. Read. Go to Wikipedia and Wikitravel to read about the destination and the local culture.
  5. Get yourself pumped up. Think about all the cool activities that you could be doing there.
  6. Stop dreaming and make it happen. Make a strong commitment to save money for your travel. Save 10% of your budget every month. It won’t hurt your budget too much, yet you’ll be able to travel to most destinations in the world (Antarctica may be more expensive, but there are other ways to get there!).

tennessee

Is dreaming a strong-enough motivator for you? It worked for me. For example. As a PhD student I had to live on a student budget for four years. Sure, I could have got a car, a better apartment, an expensive bike, or any other thing, like some of my peers. I decided not to. Instead, I spent all my savings on traveling. To me, it’s not a numbers game, but numbers talk to people: I was able to visit almost 30 countries on 3 continents, and 15 provinces/states in North America. Some of my friends are better-travelled. None of them is a millionaire, but they do have dreams and a list of places that they want (and will) visit. Why don’t you make one?

Mueve Tu Culito when in Puerto Rico!

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In the end of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. I moved to the USA recently, so it’s never been part of my tradition. Traveling, however, is a part of my tradition! When the weather gets cold and rainy, what can be better than going on mini-vacations in the Caribbean? Anyone? Instead of spending five days in the rainy New England, I decided to visit Puerto Rico (from Spanish, Rich Port). Curious how it’s been? Join my adventure and let’s go back in time!

palms

Thursday

Right after midnight, my flight departed from Boston to San Juan. Although it was before Thanksgiving, the airport was pretty empty at that time. The TSA folks were nice and smiling (for the first time?). They seemed to really like my clockwork necklace. After a four-hour flight, we arrived to San Juan. As I left the airport, I saw lots of palm trees so I couldn’t help myself and had to share pictures with some of my international friends.

palm1

Early morning, the air was very humid and the wind was mild. It was very pleasant to be outside. Right away, I started walking towards the bus stop. My first hostel emailed to me a map with precise directions on how to get to the hostel. They recommend taking a bus. It turned out, however, that during holidays busses don’t serve the airport. Cab was my best bet and 20 minutes later we made it to the hostel.

airplane

It was some time around 6am. I was hungry. I was walking around and looking for food. The area itself (Hipodromo) wasn’t very pretty. In fact, it was a working class district with many abandoned buildings. I thought to myself that it’s really great. How else can you get the taste of local adventure?

building

When I finally found a restaurant, everyone was asking:

Waitresses: Guy, what are you doing here? This is not a tourist area.

Me: I realized that. I’m not a tourist, though. I’m an adventurer :-)

I asked for a sandwich. They eat a lot of pork in Puerto Rico, so I asked for a mega-portion of pork meat, vegetables, and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Not a bad start of the day.


mural3
mural2

It took me several hours to explore the area. I visited the local market, Walmart, cultural venues, and found a post office. Hipodromo, an area of San Juan, is rich in cool murals. Just take a look at them.  They are beautiful and creative.

mural1mural4

Walking with a backpack wasn’t very convenient. I went to the hostel to leave my stuff and to see what cool people are staying there. Guess what? I met three Polish people: two sisters and one traveler. The sisters came from New York City. The traveler guy took some time off in his life and was traveling around the Caribbean for three months. It was good to see these folks, but papa lives a fast life. It was time to move on and to explore the old town.

beach1 beach2

I like walking. Instead of taking the bus, I was wandering for two hours before I made it to the old town. First, I passed by the beach with fantastic palm trees. I crossed a long modern bridge and turned left instead of going straight. I ended up in a pretty nice port area.

port1 port2

After exploring the port area, I went back (in time) and headed toward the old town; going along the coast line. I got to a well-maintained area with a christmas tree (how cool is it to have a christmas tree in the Caribbean???). The area was full of people and acrobatic activities.

harbour1 harbour2

I forgot that Puerto Rico is in a different time zone than Boston. It got darker earlier than I expected. When I arrived in the old town, it was already night. Interestingly, they use lights of a very warm color there.

night1 night2

The midnight after the Thanksgiving day is a very special one. It is the beginning of  Black Friday, a day full of crazy deals. The tradition is that folks go to stores to buy cheap TVs, clothes, screwdrivers, etc. It sometimes happens that people are aggressive and fight. I really wanted to see that happening this year. Unfortunately, the crowds in San Juan were very calm and there wasn’t much action. Unlike somewhere in Texas:

Friday

Not so early in the morning, I went to the old town to see how it looks like by day. Friday was completely different from the previous day. Streets were lively and crowded. The weather wasn’t great. Apparently, it rains a lot in San Juan. The weather is very changeable. It may rain multiple times during the day and yet it may be also sunny. The old town is fairly compact and features a few interesting spots, such as the Governor’s house, Haitian cultural shop, and dozens of restaurants. Culture is definitely one of the stronger points of Puerto Rico.

rain1 rain2

San Juan is famous for its 16th century Hispanic fortifications. One of the fortresses, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, is located by the shore. It is surrounded by a large field of grass. On the west side, you can see a cemetery and a chapell. It was the first cemetery, that I’ve seen, located on the sea shore. Perhaps, you guys can bury me there when I die.

fort1 fort2

The whole Puerto Rican adventure started, in fact, over a year ago. Do you remember how Gzowski Club went to Europe for Eurocup? Our last stop was Lisbon. After a crazy pub-crawl night we met Kiki and Jon. It turned out that they are from Puerto Rico. I promised that I would visit them some day… and that day has come. Kiki came to San Juan and she was being a fantastic tour-guide (after I learned everything about San Juan :-)). I’m really grateful that she found the time to hang out and to educate about the island.

rain3 rain4

We were walking around and catching up with the news from each other. We went to several shops, I commented on cats being very small and cute and Puerto Rico, and finally went to get a dinner. I relied on Kiki, since she knows what the truly local food is. We were supposed to wait only 7 minutes. It was a pretty long wait; more like 47 minutes. As for food, I remember some local delicacies, such as mofongo, churrasco, pasteles, and pina colada. I’m a big boy, but it was more food than I could take.

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Once the dinner was over, we agreed that we need more action. Kiki got ready, papa got ready, we got coquito (a sweet coconut beverage), and we were on our way to a salsa party. In the club we met Kiki’s new international friends from Germany and some other girls who were visiting Puerto Rico. The night was a good time to practice salsa and to experience local nightlife.

darkpalm enrique

Saturday

I had never been to a rain forest. Visiting one was my priority when visiting Puerto Rico. Kiki picked up the German girls and papa, and we all went to El Yunque – the rain forest. The day was super-rainy, even according to the locals. Our first stop was around a stand with coconuts, food, and souvenirs.

forest1 forest2

The rain forest was very green and was full of palm trees. Noticeably, the leaves of plants were very firm, almost plastic. We took a trail to see some remarkable waterfalls. The trail wasn’t very long, yet some of the views were very unique: hills, valleys with palm trees, wild river, and sounds of birds.

forest3 forest4

On our way back the radio was playing latino hits. Most notably, Bailando Por Ahi by Juan Magan, Ai Se Eu Te Pego by Michel Telo, and Tacata by Tacabro. If there is one thing to remember from this blog post, it’s mueve tu culito, tacata!

It was raining all the way from the rain forest to San Juan. Finally, we made it to my new hostel where I met very cool fellow travelers from the US. A couple of hours later, Kiki joined us after she fixed her hair. We all went to a party in the old town. Pitbull, salsa, bachata, and reggaeton. You name it, we did it. It doesn’t get any better than this. Kiki had a little surprise: coquito made with pitorro – a glocally made rum. Delectable and comfortably strong. Enough to say that the night was long and we took a break around 5am. That was also the time when Christian went straight from the party to the airport. How COOL is that? A party plane to Haiti, anyone?

Sunday

The day started pretty late. We went on a tour to the famous Bacardi distillery. Getting to the distillery takes a while. First, you take a boat from San Juan, and then a cab. We made it to the last tour that day. The nice thing about the distillery is that they give you coupons for free Bacardi drinks. Guess what happened? We got our drinks and forgot about the tour. It started without us.

bacardi1 bacardi2

Having realized that, we asked them to give us a ride to catch up with the rest of the group. Fortunately, it was not a big deal and we were dropped off at the distillery. The guide was talking about a long history, pirates, showed a movie, showed the equipment, historical materials, different types of rum, and we got a lesson of mixology. Cool tour! The tour finished with more free drinks.

bacardi

bacardi3

Monday

Traditionally, I woke up late. Sadly, it was my last day in Puerto Rico. My flight was scheduled at 7pm so I had the whole day to appreciate palm trees in San Juan. I sent some postcards and went to the areas that I hadn’t explored earlier.

sj1 sj2

It was a sunny and beautiful day. It later turned out that my flight was delayed. The pilots didn’t show up the airport (due to a party?).

sj3 sj4

The whole trip was only 5 days, but we’re here for a good time, not for a long time. Puerto Rico is a nice place with warm and smiling people. Everyone looks into your eyes and smiles. Nobody seemed to be afraid of strangers. Cosa buena. I’m grateful for all the people who contributed to the trip. In particular, thanks to Kiki!

Life v3.0

murica

Welcome to the new version of my website and blog! There has been so much stuff recently that it took me several weeks to bring the blog back to life:

  • After all the NSA scandals, I decided to free myself from most of the websites and services that have anything to do with the US (email – GMail, calendar – Google Calendar, electronic notes – Evernote, file synchronization – Dropbox, etc.) . All these services were great and of utmost quality. The problem is that they may be taken down at any time, similarly to Lavabit.  In contrast to governments, I strongly value freedom. Please do yourself a favor and think about two questions:
    1. Are you happy that your data is under constant surveillance of a government?
    2. What happens if you suddenly lose all your data, such as emails?

    Check out Prism Break for alternatives to the aforementioned services.

  • Freeing myself from Google meant moving my blog from Blogspot to a server that is located in Iceland. It was a lot of hassle, but, I believe, it was a low price to pay for the freedom of data. Moving the blog onto a new platform was a great opportunity to refresh and update its content. Check out all the pages (from the menu above). Some older blog posts, however, still require formatting and cleanup.
  • doc

  • Much has happened in my personal life. I have successfully defended my PhD dissertation! It was a truly gratifying moment after four years of solid work. Right after the defense I went to a software engineering conference to present one of our publications.
  • Despite the point (1), I moved to the US and now live in Massachusetts. USA is one of very few countries that offers fantastic opportunities for people with my skills. I started a new job and contribute to a software that advances the automotive, aerospace, and financial industries, and education. For now, I cannot think of a better place to apply my skills and to put research into practice.
  • luge

  • Moving to a new country always takes a lot of time and logistics. Anyways, so far I like the US a lot. My impression is that much more happens here than in the Cold North and new technologies get adapted much quicker. People seem to be more creative, more social, and more entrepreneurial. So far so cool! Don’t believe? Visit me!

Extra Travel Tips

snufkin
Greetings from France! I’m stuck at the Marseille airport as my flight is delayed for two hours. You got it, there is a strike of air traffic controllers. At least, I’ve got two hours to be productive and to write something interesting. I’ve already given tips for traveling in the three previous posts. Here, I’d like to add some more useful stuff.
  • Smell good without carrying perfumes. If you travel light, there is one major downside of carrying your own perfumes; they are typically in heavy bottles which add to the mass of your hand luggage. So, how to deal with that? At any airport you can find a duty-free store that carries perfumes. Go there, spray yourself, and ask for free samples. That way you can smell good for free. If you stay in the city, you can use the same tactic. Find some Sephora or any other store with perfumes. It’s guaranteed that you’ll find one in the shopping mall. Also, if you sweat a lot, get baking soda from any grocery store or pharmacy, and use it as an antiperspirant. Just apply the powder on your skin, for example, under armpits. Baking soda is very effective in fighting bacteria, cheap, non-toxic, light, doesn’t leave yellow stains, and can be carried in hand luggage.

palm

  • Smartphone. I’ve travelled with a laptop, tablet, and smartphone. From my experience, the only device that you’ll need while traveling is a good smartphone, such as Google Nexus 4 or Apple iPhone.
  • Say toilet. At least in Europe, don’t use the words washroom, restroom,  or bathroom. Many people don’t seem to get them. Toilet is universally understandable.
  • CouchSurfing got worse. The whole CouchSurfing project has changed; at least in three aspects. First, CS became a for-profit project which, I believe, has had an impact on the website and the users. Second, the CS website has a new layout which is very counterintuitive. Third, the most important, CS is no longer a community of like-minded travelers. In the past, you could send few requests and get answers promptly. People wanted to travel and to host travelers. These days, many people join CS just for free accommodation. Whereas they like to CouchSurf (because it’s free), few of them host people at their place.
monaco
  • Pick a cool hostel. I’ve been to dozens of different hostels. Choosing a great hostel is not an easy task. For me, a great hostel is one that: 1) attracts young cool people, 2) is about partying, 3) is clean, 4) is cheap, and 5) is safe. There are multiple websites to search for hostels, such as HostelWorld. When searching, I sort the results by price and rating. Further, the opinions will give you a clue about the points 1-4. Additionally, the hostel description will tell you if the hostel offers lockers (important for safety) and free WiFi. The latter is pretty standard, though, WiFi may not work in all the rooms. Finally, I don’t care if the hostel offers any breakfast. Typically, I come back too late to wake up for the breakfast. Also, in the past, hostels offered more varied breakfasts. Nowadays, they offer mostly milk, cornflakes, crappy wheat bread, and fake jam. Pure carbs. It’s neither healthy, nor filling, and not very tasty when eaten daily. I’m off that.
  • Hotel is an option. I’m not a big fan of hotels. Typically, they are more expensive than hostels and you don’t get to meet many new people. Sometimes, however, there may be no hostels at your destination. What do you do then? Consider Airbnb or book a hotel room. Recently, I found great hotel deals on Cyprus through Booking.com (which was recommended to me by hotel stuff). They don’t charge booking fees.
paphos
  • If got a student card, ALWAYS ask for student discounts. Sure, this tip doesn’t work too often, but when it does, you pay half of the price. For example, recently I scored a ticket from Paphos to Larnaca for 2e.

 

Be Smarter than the State

scrooge
I never understood the economy. All the obfuscated mumbo-jumbo lingo that you hear in the media is extremely confusing and explains nothing. At some point I thought that maybe I’m too dumb? But wait. After all, I was able to understand the formalities of Quantum Physics, Electrical Engineering, and much of Psychology. So why not the economy? The key to understanding is accurate and precise explanation. What I learned is mind-boggling: modern economy is based on a giant fraud scheme. It’s sad, but it explains what the hell is going on. I think you should understand it as well if you care about your well-being, wealth, and future.

Within the last six months I took the time to educate myself about the basics of Macroeconomics. I found these fantastic online lectures by Prof. K. Petrov. Here I would like to describe my understanding of one fundamental concept of modern banking system: inflation. Don’t worry. Actually it’s all extremely simple. It is also extremely evil.

Inflation. It simply means price increase across the entire economy. When you hear the news, you think that inflation is natural and that’s the way things are meant to be. But hey, do prices increase themselves??? Of course not. One of the ways to increase inflation is to increase money supply, the infamous money printing. This is not how things are meant to be! Please, do yourself a favor and watch a short episode of Duck Tales (that I absolutely loved as a kid):

 

So what is the lesson here? It’s the following: if you print money (and others don’t), you are the one who primarily benefits from it. Imagine yourself printing extra money. Got it? You can buy a new car, travel more, and get more financial freedom. What are the consequences? After a while the money supply on the market increases and prices go up. In other words: the money loses its value. Let’s say you’ve got $100 today, but someone doubles the money supply within one day. What happens? Tomorrow the actual value of your savings is only $50. You lost half of the hard-earned money. The entity that printed the money, however, already spent it and benefited from it.

 

dollar
Who prints money? In the real world central banks print money. They can print as much as they like. For example US Federal Reserve printed several TRILLIONS of $$$ in the last several years. If they print, it is called quantitative easing. If you print, you go to jail. Unfair, isn’t it? I’d say more. It’s immoral.

 

print
Why do they print money? Have you noticed that governments always spend more money than they have? Consequently, they need to somehow borrow more money. When you borrow money, however, you have to pay it back. But wait, how can you pay the loan back if you have no money? You can either take another loan or you can print more money! So this is what happens in practice. The government prints money. The government is the one who benefits from printing. Citizens, on the other hand, lose money. Are you cool with that?
Dollar_value_chart
How come they are allowed to print money? It is possible because modern currencies are fiat currencies. Their value comes from the law; they are not backed by any tangible commodity. Several decades ago currencies were backed by gold and silver. For example, you could always exchange US dollar for a fixed amount of gold ($1 = 1.505g of gold), and British pound for silver. That prevented the government from printing money, because they could not replicate precious metals. Fast forward to the year 2013; due to inflation dollar dramatically lost its value. If you had $100 at the beginning of the 20th century, now it would be worth only $4. If you have savings, what’s their value in 50 years when you retire?

 

toilet
Is there some way to defend yourself from getting ripped off by the government? Yes, there is. You can be smarter then the state. Get rid of all the paper money. If you have savings, invest them in something tangible, experience, or of real value. For example, you can invest in own education, traveling, a startup, stock market, precious metals, etc. In fact, for the last several thousands of years silver and gold were good stores of value. Unlike any kind of paper money issued by governments/central banks/banksters. If at the beginning of the 20th century you exchanged $100 for gold, you would get 150.5 grams of gold. Do you know how much it is worth these days? $5896. That’s a slightly better business than the $4. Isn’t it?

 

gold
Disclaimer: although the article talked about US dollar, all the above applies to pretty much any other currency: British Pound, European Euro, Swiss Frank, Canadian Dollar, Swedish Krona, Polish Zloty, Japanese Yen, etc. Throughout the history the governments have been making the same mistakes over and over again. The future is predictable. In the end the paper currency is worth nothing.

Which Trait Would You Rather Have: Confidence or Accuracy?

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Would you rather be confident but, perhaps, incorrect, or accurate but insecure? Would others appreciate you more as a confident person or an accurate one? It all depends on the situation, for sure. Let’s talk about day-to-day life situations and communication through mass media (including Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

 

A recent study of Twitter investigated how professional pundits and amateurs predicted the results of baseball games. The study shows that people who are confident about predicting the results have more followers and are in more demand, regardless of accuracy of the predictions. In other words, if you are confident, you get more popularity. It does not matter whether you are right or wrong.
crowd
What are the implications of that study? The results can, perhaps, be generalized. They may explain some of the examples where confidence brings significant benefits to an individual despite of low accuracy:
  • Hitler moved unparalleled crowds. He had a vision and was confident about it. His accuracy was very low. For sure. His racist claims were not backed by any scientific evidence.
  • Recently I was told a story how you can travel by bus in Copenhagen with an invalid ticket. How do you do that? Be confident that your ticket is valid, smile to the driver, and show only a part of the ticket so that the expiry date is hidden. Perfect confidence and no accuracy. It is confirmed that the story works for blond girls. If they can pull it off, then you can do that as well.
bus
It’s easy to say be confident, but how do you gain confidence if you are not confident? Confidence comes from experience and familiarity with various situations. Getting into unexpected situations gives you new experience. Getting out of your comfort zone makes you uncomfortable and exposes your fragility to others. That’s how confidence is built. What is a natural setting where you can exercise both? Traveling!

Allow the Job to Find You

honey
Want to increase the odds of getting an interesting job offer? I found a very effective way that requires minimal effort. Does it work for anyone? I cannot claim that but I am sure it works well if you have a unique skill-set. Does it work right away? No, it may take several months before you start getting interview invitations. Still interested in the idea of allowing the job to find you? Read on and learn how to set up a honey pot!

 

Let’s do a quick experiment. Imagine that you are a head hunter or a hiring manager. You are looking for a person with specific combination of education and software engineering skills  For example, you’re looking for someone with PhD education, who can program in the language Haskell, and has experience in software modeling (whatever all of that means). Below are two sets of keywords that you could type.
  1. phd, haskell, metaprogramming, modeling
  2. phd, haskell, software modeling
Let’s use two popular search engines to search for the keywords. Check out the two queries:
Wow, Kacper is on the very top in both search engines! What do you do as a hiring manager? You go to his professional homepage and drop him an email with job interview invitation. Pretty simple, eh?

 

What’s going on there? Kacper has a googlable webpage that attracts head hunters and hiring managers. If you want to start getting job offers, create a good personal webpage! The key idea is to set up a honey pot that allows head hunters to find you. Here are some tips:
  • Figure out what specific skills you have, what kind of job you’d like to get, and how these skills relate to the job. Add a short paragraph that summarizes what you’re doing and what you’ve done.
  • Present a vision of the world and the job. Be honest.
  • Think about different types of visitors and tailor information accordingly. This is very important. On my webpage you can see that I’ve got separate paragraphs for students who want to work with me, people who want to hire me, and entrepreneurs who look for hackers. I assume that students would be looking for projects in my lab and research. People who want to hire me would like to see my resume, the projects I worked on, and awards. Entrepreneurs would be looking for the startup spirit and source code to judge my programming skills.
  • Include important keywords that describe your skills, completed projects, awards, and anything else that may convince someone that you are qualified. A good way of doing it is to write a resume directly on the website. Attaching resume as a file won’t help much, because the information is not directly visible.
  • If possible associate your website with a professional institution. For example, my website is associated with the website of my research lab.

 

How effective are these tips? I believe they are very effective. I redesigned my website last year according to the guidelines above. I didn’t apply for any job. I’ve never had a Linked In account, yet I’m receiving very solid job inquiries every month. I also ask recruiters how they found me, and they say that through the website.

 

Now, what do I mean by very solid job inquiries? First, they are tailored to my specific skills. There is no bullshit and I know that the company or the head-hunter is serious about me. Second, they came from Google, MathWorks, multiple Wall Street financial institutions and head hunters, and a Silicon Valley startup. Some of them even wanted me to cancel PhD and start working for them as soon as possible. Finally, I actually signed a contract with MathWorks and I’m going to start working this year after finishing PhD. I think that’s enough evidence that this method works and brings benefits in the long run. Convinced?

 

So what are you waiting for? Want to get a great job? Allow the job to find you!

Traveling Is a State of Mind

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Why is it that for most people traveling is something they crave for, yet they do very little? Why do people associate traveling with something expensive? And even if they have money, why do they complain about lack of time to travel? Why do they think that traveling is a 2-3 week break during the year? Let’s challenge these ideas! I think that to travel you have to want to travel. It’s really about your state of mind.

 

First of all, I think that the above ideas are imposed on you by: 1) the travel industry, 2) the society, and 3) own laziness. Let’s be honest. Think about it: what holds you back right now from taking a break and going somewhere for a week? And I mean right now. If you could travel anywhere without any consequences, would you do that? Do you have what it takes to leave your house for a week? Or even for 2 days?
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Time. Let’s say your life-span is 80 years. That equals 4160 weeks. What happens if you decide to spend one of these weeks traveling? Think about the reasons for doing that now, instead of the reasons for not doing it. Do you really want to travel?

 

Money. You need to buy food. But you have to do that anyways, regardless of where you are.

 

Accommodation. Check out CouchSurfing. You can stay at someone’s place for a week. Or better, find 2-3 people who can host you. You pay $0.

 

Transport. Depending on where you wanna go, the cost may vary. Let’s say you’re broke as fuck. Perfect, check our hitch-hiking or car pooling. I met people who traveled all around Europe, America, and Asia that way. How much they paid? $0.

 

That’s all you need to start the journey. Well, almost. What you really need is a strong desire to make things happen.

 

Now, the key thing is that traveling is not so much about the location, but more about the state of mind. It doesn’t mean going to some remote island. You can go to a nearby town and enjoy traveling. I routinely do that when I visit Mississauga or Toronto. Set your mind into the travel mode. Stop for a while and think: how is your mindset different when you travel from your current state of mind? Take your time.
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For me the key difference is that when you travel you are in the absorb mindset. It’s a state of mind where you absorb incoming sounds, pictures, smells, feelings without prematurely judging them. You are just as curious as a small child for whom everything is new. For me the joy of traveling comes from: meeting new people, appreciating the architecture, learning the culture, getting into unexpected situations, and stepping out of my comfort zone. You can certainly have all of that in the nearby town. It’s the matter of paying attention to the details. Think about what you enjoy about traveling.
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You can even become a tourist in your own town. Why not to apply the same mindset to daily situations. Start looking at the things around you, change the usual route to school/work, talk to people about whatever comes to your mind. Isn’t the world more interesting then? Several months ago I even heard about a girl who was CouchSurfing in her own town!
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Now, go to a nearby city and see what’s cool there! OK, honestly, I’m almost sure that you will find excuses and will not do that. But remember, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Are you happy about it?

How to Explain Things?

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Being PhD student is a great thing. On the one hand, you have to specialize in single topic so that when you graduate you become an expert in that topic. On the other hand, you have to know the related work that may be surprisingly broad at times. For example, I’m doing research in software engineering. My goal is to help software developers to be more productive and to produce software of higher quality. Cool. Recently, however, I needed to check out publications from cognitive psychology! Why would I do that? We were interested in how people learn new things and how brains of experts differ from brains of novices. I learned a lot and want to share some of the findings. You can use these findings to be more effective at explaining things to others. This blog post is based on our recent publication.
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Base Your Explanations on Examples
Let’s say you want to explain your younger cousin Newton’s law of gravity. Certainly, it’s not enough to give just a bunch of equations and expect the cousin to understand the topic. Why not? Because learning is about building mental models. Mental models represent our intuitive understanding of the world in the form of generalized information, such as rules. So how to build the intuition? You’re right, through examples! Examples capture intuition. You need to see multiple examples of a single thing or phenomenon. For instance, to start understanding gravity you need to see an apple falling from the tree, a sandwich falling on the floor, or you can even jump out of the window. Only then will then brain start noticing commonalities, will generalize information, and will come up with a rule. Of course, these examples do not fully explain the law of gravity, but provide right intuitions.

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Present both Examples and Abstractions
OK, we agreed that presenting just examples is not enough. In fact, the best knowledge transfer occurs when learning comprises both examples and abstractions (such as rules). So to fully explain gravity, you’d have to show both examples and the mathematical equations. Then your cousin should be able to relate examples (that represent intuition) to the equations (that represent general rules). Why do we need to present examples and abstractions simultaneously? First, examples typically capture just a small part of a general phenomenon. In many cases you would need a huge number of examples to appropriately model the general rule. Of course working with a huge number of examples is incomprehensible. Second, abstractions capture the knowledge more completely than examples, but are equally difficult to comprehend on their own.

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Novices Need Examples, Experts Prefer Abstractions
Your younger cousin is clearly a novice and knows very little about gravity and physics. In his case examples are useful to build intuition before presenting the general rule. Would you use the same approach when talking to a professor of physics? Quite likely they’d get bored with your examples and would consider them trivial. Why? Because the professor is an expert and has all the required intuitions and knowledge. A better approach is to first present a general rule and then use examples only for clarifications. In that case examples compensate for the missing knowledge. In short, novices need examples right-away, while experts need them only for clarification.

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Show a Variety of Examples
Now we know that examples are useful. But, think about it. Are all examples equally useful? No! If examples are too similar (such as showing two apples falling from the same tree), they provide little information. If they are too different (such as showing and apple and a solar system), you cannot easily find commonalities and generalize the information. Effective learning requires a specific variety of examples. The most effective are near-miss contrasting examples. Such examples emphasize critical differences and facilitate building flexible abstractions (mental models). We can distinguish positive and negative examples. Positive examples represent something that is correct (for instance, an apple falling from the tree). Negative examples represent something that is incorrect (for instance, an apple attaching itself to the tree). They explicitly show things and phenomena that are disallowed.