What Moscow looks like 100 years on since the October Revolution

I managed to make it back to Moscow for a short stint. It has changed a lot and I am quite fascinated by its many contradictions. I also couldn’t help but notice that it’s been almost exactly 100 years since the October revolution, so it’s interesting to take snapshot of where this society is after its big experiment with socialism.

Of course, the Revolution actually happened in what we would call November, but all the same, there was nothing about it. No banners, no meetings, nothing on TV. Just the odd weathered sculpture of Lenin here and there.

1. People are surprisingly chilled out

Compared to 10 years ago, people on the street have an air of calm about them. It could be that I spent a lot of my time going to touristy places, but it seems to be more than that. One’s mind immediately goes to the economic situation as the explanation — but that just doesn’t add up.

trip to moscow review

In the naughties, with oil prices firmly above $100 and more favourable international politics, you had to always keep your guard up. As in, you had to watch what is going on around you or you would have to fight to get things done right. You would get skipped in the queue, you mightn’t get the right change, one of the apples in the bag you bought at the market would be gone off – minor stuff, but it’s very draining. I remember approaching a shop door as a 13 year old girl. It was a glass door, so I could see that on the other side a man was nearing it too, much faster than I was. Then he stopped and just stood there. I opened the door to go through and he nearly knocked me off my feet with the words “How can people be so slow!” What the actual fk?! Anyway, that’s just anecdote to illustrate what I mean when I say you have to keep your guard up.

The naughties, however, was a time when the country was swimming in money. Now, with the sanctions, the rock bottom oil prices, the exchange rate the way it is, with the last remnants of unreplaced Soviet industry disintegrating, it seems that the macro economic situation is very gloomy. Somehow the people don’t mind. Maybe there is less inequality among the people who have lived there for a long time? As in, everyone’s life is worse, but there is less flashiness that grates on people’s nerves? I don’t honestly know. Talking to taxi drivers is always a good way to guage what’s current, only in Russia they’re not very talkative…

2. The silent but telling taxi drivers

A 40 km ride cost me 15 euro.

40 km. 15 euro. That’s 24 miles for $17.

How?! In Ireland, it would cost at least 50 euro.

The answer is as follows.

1. Petrol is much cheaper. In Ireland, unleaded petrol is 1.36 euro. In Moscow, it’s 0.68 euro. That’s exactly half price. And it’s not just selling below market price, Irish prices attract duties and taxes and whatever else.

2. Labour is much cheaper. You know where this is going…

Russian demographics are very difficult to figure out. People don’t trust the census gatherers, so many just wouldn’t participate in the census. The 2010 official population of “natives” is 10.5 million. Plus 1.8 million legally resident immigrants. The estimated number of undocumented immigrants is a million.

My feeling (that’s very subjective, I know, but still) is that the number of people from the former Soviet republics has grown exponentially in the last two years. I have taken seven YandexTaxi rides and six times I had a driver who had clearly moved here within a year or two. They don’t really talk to you — they’re there to do a job. They visibly rely on the satnav lady. I fear to consider how much they are paid.

At one point we were passing a metro depot and there was an advert for the vacancy of a cleaner. The staring salary was 22,000 rubles a month. That’s 325 euro or $385. Per month. I asked my mam about it and she wasn’t even sure that people get paid the nominal amount even, which brings me onto accounting tricks…

3. Fine cuisine with a side of accounting tricks

If you happen upon a restaurant in Moscow and it’s in any way decent, chances are it belongs to a man by the name of Arkadi Novikov. It’s actually scary how many restaurants he holds. They are all themed and well decorated. The food is generally very good. And for what they are, they are very cheap.

arkadi novikov restaurants moscow review
Georgian Hinkali, Harcho soup and Harachapuri went down very well
Characteristically, about half of the floor staff strike me as recent additions to Moscow’s population, coming from those same couple of countries.

The accounting trick isn’t really a trick at all, it’s just stealing. We were brought a bill for 2000 roubles and got a receipt for 500 roubles. The super friendly central Asian man must have been counting on our tiredness and fondness for beer to not notice. Mr Novikov, I am sure, will notice. I guess if you are attracting clients with low prices and that comes from low extremely low labour costs, you have to expect this kind of thing to go on. A far cry from socialism…

4. Zaryadye Park: 350 million euro gone where exactly?

The most recent addition to the Kremlin area is a park. It has a pretty cool floating bridge. A bridge that brings you where you came from – you can reflect on the metaphor…

zaryadye park moscow review

There used to be an old hotel where the park is now. The original budget for the park was approximately 90 million euro, but it ended up costing 350 million (converted based on the Russian Wikipedia page). I am not much of an architect or developer, but I really struggle to see how they spent so much money on a park… More accounting tricks? It did, of course, underwhelm me given the amount of publicity it got. I also heard that the translations are all wrong. The sign for Red Square is in Russian, English and Chinese. The Chinese translation apparently reads Red Sausage. Oh well.

On the other hand, I was very impressed with this feat of Russian design and engineering (not in Zaryadye, it’s in a park called Neskuchnii Sad):

stairs a feat of Russian engineering

You wouldn’t want to have poor depth perception walking down this stairs and I am not sure how functional it would be when it’s covered in ice in winter, but the idea is pretty cool. And then there are hardy Russian roses that manage to blossom in cold October:

Russian roses blossom in Autumn

5. There is a wake boarding station right off the Red Square

The wake boarders do impressive stuff to blasting rap music a few hundred metres from comrade Lenin’s tomb. Interesting changes.

6. Red squirrels are doing well

They come over and ask for food. How cute. People must be treating them kindly then. I didn’t see any of this 10 years ago. Red squirrels are native to Ireland, but were outcompeted by the more adapted Grey squirrel. Most Irish people won’t have seen a red squirrel, but if they can do well in the middle of Moscow, I am reassured they will do just fine.

Red squirrel in Moscow

7. Cosmonauts are still in high esteem

A random children’s playground. There was a little banner to say that this was built after a “mini-referendum”: as in people voted on the theme of their local playground.

moscow cosmonauts are still in high esteem

8. There is no fresh juice anywhere

I really struggled to find not from concentrate juice anywhere. I struggled to find this bottle and it had a security tag on it in the shop! I wanted orange juice, but could only get apple or pineapple. You can get actual fresh juice, but bottled fresh juice is a rare find. A business opportunity for any busy beavers, though I do recall Tropicana being available some years ago. I wonder what made them leave.

moscow doesn't have fresh juice

Ostrich eggs and escargot, on the other hand, are an occupied niche:

ostrich egg in moscow

What to make of it all?

As we can see, capitalism is hard at work despite the socialist dream. The most disadvantaged people of 1917 were the native peasants and factory workers. In 2017, they are more ethnically diverse and still powering the economy.

I have also travelled out towards the Volga and saw some interesting things I will describe soon!

Road to year end 2017

I think, I say, I do

Inspired by Dr. Martina Feyzrakhmanova / her post, September Planning Session, I have decided to follow her footsteps and also be accountable and share with you what I want to accomplish by December 2017. I am counting the whole of December, by the way.

Oh, I am a list person for as long as I can remember. I love ticking the items once completed. It also makes me feel that I have control and there is order.

Here’s my list:
  1. Finish reading four (4) of the nine (9) books on my bedside table.
    • “Four in the Morning” by local South African author, Phillipa Mitchell
    • Stephen King’s, “On Writing” (finally!), since I need to give myself some new knowledge
    • Danielle Steel’s classic, “To Love Again”, because I need to remind myself how romance or love story is written.
    • “Maybe This Love” by Jennifer Snow, purely to learn how others…

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Marketing strategies that could only sell antiemetics

Having to get up at 5:25 am to go to a distant hospital is remarkably effective at crystallising negative conclusions. On the bright side, knowing what not to do is super important. Via negativa and all that.

The train ride emphasised the UI problems in Amazon.

Amazon Audible:

“We don’t care that you paid for the service. Get us more clients.”

Look at this screen: why in the name of G-d is the main part of the screen a sharing button?

Why am I paying 40 quid per book and being constantly “encouraged” to make Amazon even more money?

I don’t mind a little bit of it, but this is the unmissable, ever-present centre-piece of the their user interface.

What a fail.

feeling like someone is selling to you

Coming home after a day of travelling and exploring a new hospital, I was greeted by a letter from Tesco. “Every little helps”, I think, as I open it…

Tesco

“The art of the one-directional equals sign”

So I asked for a new Clubcard cause the old one stopped working – and they sent it to me with this explanatory note on how to use a loyalty card (cause, you know, customers need one).

So if a=b, b=a… Am I right? Well, if €1=1 point, 1 point should equal €1.

But no, it actually equals one cent (you get a percent back as a coupon).

Marketing strategies that offend people’s intelligence are a bad idea.

tesco-marketing-strategies-that-offend-your-intelligence

(Also, it turns out that Irish Tesco is a considerably more upmarket establishment than its eponymous parent in the UK. The Irish branch exists as a separate subsidiary so as to not have to reveal the markups on their Irish lines, which I can only image are astronomical.)

Then Twitter came to just leave me no chance at a peaceful day of consuming products and services….

The latest set of people who sell things to you online on how to sell things online

via Twitter, of course

This reminds me of that time that my friends, having watched The Wolf of Wall Street, bought tickets to Jordan Belfort’s two-hour seminar in Dublin – where he promised to reveal all his woof-woof-woooolfy secrets.

If there was one thing that I learnt from watching The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s that one shouldn’t buy from people like him:

What did my friends say about the seminar? That they just paid 50 euro to attend a seminar that was basically a sales pitch asking them to attend a considerably more expensive two-day seminar in London. That’s where you really learn the secrets, you see.

The idea these people have is that “it’s a numbers game, so I will just follow everyone and see what I catch”. It makes people feel expendable.

marketing strategies that annoy people

Way too much offensive marketing for one day. I can’t be the only one pissed off by these marketing strategies, can I?

All publicity is good publicity and, naturally, if I had actually been very annoyed, I wouldn’t have written about the above. Twitter, Amazon and Tesco are still super-talented marketers. They have already won, and these are minor bloopers.

And then there is the utterly ridiculous, from Colgate:

marketing strategies that annoy customers

It’s an alright toothbrush though 😉

September planning session

Do you guys plan things for the year to come?

The habit of planning things around the 1st September comes from school – and old habits die hard.

It’s hard to plan things ahead. Mostly, we plan too much. Go to the gym four times a week, cut out chocolate and caffeine after 1 pm, go to bed early and get up at 7 am, practice mindfulness for 20 minutes a day every day,  stop buying things you don’t need, don’t spend more than 20 minutes a day on social media, finally learn French…

Within a week or two of our aspirational re-birth, an unplanned situation leads to failure: you stay up until 12, can’t make it to the gym, eat cake at a friend’s birthday party… And the failure leads to the self-flagellation: “I didn’t keep my promise, so I’m am weak and worthless.” And then: “Well, since I’m a weak and worthless, I have nothing to lose. I’ll eat a tub of ice cream. ” And the next day comes the disappointment: “Why did I do all this yesterday? It’s exactly what I was trying to not do? I have no willpower. I will never change, it’s hopeless. ” And the wheel of the vicious planning-failure circle keeps turning.

It often turns out that we change habits by creating new ones. And the new ones aren’t necessarily more adaptive. Going to the gym four times a week gives you “permission” to eat that ice cream. Saving money on taxi rides gives you “permission” to buy more clothes. Once again: ice cream and clothes are on a pedestal, and you – mentally – are in the gutter. Not ideal.

I have the idea that making things public makes it harder to go back on your promises. Or so says JFK. Here are things I hope to get done before December:

  • add photos of me to this blog and make it more personal
  • instead of only making a list of what I plan to do the next day, start also writing a list of things I accomplished today
  • do a basic course in coding (xhtml? html5?) and see if I want to continue with it
  • sort out my car
  • bring Mam to the theatre
  • go on a short holiday
  • go to the gym at least 40 times
  • read 3 books

You are more than welcome to follow suit and tell me what you plan. Tag it #TC2017

The picture is of my Mam and me, many 1st of Septembers ago.

My favourite blogs

I’ve recently been in the mood to read blogs – not books. And since I didn’t know where to go for new ones, I decided I would reread my old favourites (is that even a thing?)

I remember when LiveJournal became a thing – we’re talking pre-Facebook now, maybe 2005. I was finishing off school. I had moved to Ireland then to live with my father’s side of the family, from Russia — leaving all my school friends behind.  Then I somehow found out that many of them are on LJ – and I was so excited, I literally couldn’t sleep. You know that feeling of dopamine, or whatever sweet chemical, the sort that you get on Christmas morning when you’re five years of age?

Since that time, blogging/reading blogs occupied a pretty important role in my life. Hobbies, even jobs, came and went, but blogging was more or less a constant.

I thought about what blogs I like and don’t like. Here are some things I do and don’t like in personal blogs. Let me know what resonates with you.

I don’t want advice

That’s probably a pet peeve. I’ve written at length that most advice online is either

  • a fact – and blogs aren’t the best for facts
  • a sales pitch – which may not be a bad thing, but often it is
  • isn’t applicable to everyone. One size doesn’t fit all.

In all cases, the blogger has no skin in the game giving me advice. If Medscape gets the dose of metoprolol wrong on their site, they will suffer reputational damage. If the author of a blog tells me that eating kiwis within 10 minutes of exercising is going to lead to some insulin/cortisol magic – and they’re wrong, it’s inconsequential for them.

I do want the author to share their experience

And if the author can be emotional and even curse. I don’t particularly want them to tell me about their tampons, but it seems that experience-based blogs are the most interesting. (Not really my own forte.)

As a derivative of the author’s experience, a how-to is good, but that’s not the same brand of preachy advice as in the above point.

I don’t want life lessons or rules

By and large, people’s conclusions – especially if they sound like generic common sense – are pretty useless. I am much more interested in opinions, thoughts and emotions — bias and all. I really don’t like it when people, or news outlets, say they are “unbiased”. They just look like they lack the insight into their own inevitable subjectivity.

I want (a) character

A blogger is basically a book character that updates him/herself every day — to me, that is. Or maybe a cartoon character, depending. I want to engage with them the same way I did with those addictive characters like Nick Carraway,  Jane Eyre, Andrey Bolkonsky, Scarlett O’Hara, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Harry Potter. I care what happens to them and what they think and building up that puzzle of who you are is the best fun.

I don’t want the blogger to be politically correct

I also don’t want you to drink decaf coffee, down alcohol-free beer and have orgasm-free sex. There is nothing correct about opinion. Obviously, don’t be hateful, but political correctness is not an excuse for being bland.

In addition, I will never understand a person’s values if you don’t express some negative opinions. All those value statements at the back of corporate cups are meaningless. Why? They don’t alienate anyone. Nobody tattoos Procter and Gamble on their ass, but a brand that stands for something (and inevitably has at least theoretical enemies) has a chance of being meaningful.

I do want pictures

It helps to relive the experience. The pictures should be taken by the blogger. They don’t have to be beautiful, but they have to be relevant either to the story or to you. Funnily enough, Instagram never did it for me – it seems that writing something down is so much more personal. And when a lot of my blogging friends moved to Instagram, I really didn’t get it.

So who are these wonderful bloggers?

Friends of friends and their friends – all people I like in some way. Friends of former classmates, etc. It seems that the network effect is pretty important. And not in the sleazy marketing way, but literally, knowing that my friend Anna reads her friend Mary’s blog tells me more about Anna – and I want to understand her better (welcome to a cozy echo chamber). It’s probably not a good idea to bash Discover, but I do find it sort of bland.

But I am really on the hunt for more! 

Please recommend bloggers you like. They don’t have to be anything like the above. I am really lucky to have some amazing people commenting, so please do let me know who you’re reading.

Five in one

Here are four five pretty unrelated things that have been on my mind:

Entrepreneurs: sell vs befriend

I, like I am sure millions of other people, keep getting followed by all sorts of dealers who promise to “help small business” and lead to “explosive growth” on social media. Why do these people exist? How have they not been banned by everyone? Or will selling hope always be big business?

It would be nice to have a community of entrepreneurs. But what do entrepreneurs do? They sell and they compete. Trying to have a community of entrepreneurs is like trying to farm spiders. They will eat each other.

A community of this nature could only form based on prior friendship, where social bonds are stronger than the need to sell. But most of these communities offer to put you into a network for a small fee: this doesn’t exactly inspire warm and fuzzy feelings. The circular nature of their business is also worrying. Conferences, seminars, mindset trainings, honestly…

I have, on the other hand, made many friends online, who happen to be entrepreneurs, but never directly in connection with their entrepreneurship. (You know who you are. Perhaps, some of you would like to meet my recently acquired Buddhist friend.)

Nietzsche: is it all lies?

I am quite worried about how things are unfolding in the US.

Nietzsche keeps getting brought up. He has to be the most misunderstood philosopher. Did his relatives doctor his writings too much after he died? Or is he just forever contradicting himself?

Any Nietzsche scholars very welcome to comment on this article of Nietzsche and the alt-right.

Curate or censor?

In other news, Google recently stopped Gab, apparently a sort of Twitter for people who get banned from Twitter, from being able to be downloaded from their Playstore. Apple stopped them a little earlier this year. Also, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom wants to curate the Internet.

Taleb is in a new battle with the establishment.

Vaccinate or die

France is tightening vaccination requirements. I support vaccines, of course. As a society though, are we better off having people die from preventable diseases or limiting their freedoms?

Diabetes is a preventable disease, but I don’t see anyone being confined to a gym by law. Though the herd immunity argument makes vaccines different. In addition, the fact that it is children who are affected makes vaccines different, but then again we can’t stop some people overfeeding their children with junk. I’ve taken enough trips on routes that serve hospitals to know that you don’t have to be above one year of age to be served Coke in your bottle.

Control

There is a philosophy that suggests that taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is the best way to live (e.g. William James).

I think that the world is one giant furnace of entropy and within that we each have a small island we call the self, where we can affect things. I cannot force someone to ask me to come to their party, but there is a myriad of things I can do to try to gently weasel my way into it.

The single most damaging thing I do, my worst bad habit, is fretting about things I cannot control. In other words, I feel responsible for things that are beyond my reach. I sit there and feel like a failure if I am not invited to the metaphorical party.

The question is: does this fretting push me to look for solutions that I wouldn’t have found if I just rested within my boundaries? Or are parts of William James and his followers’ philosophy just soothingly empowering wishful thinking? Or am I even doing damage by fretting and preventing myself from seeing ways to get into the party? Please share your thoughts on this last thing.

P.S. I couldn’t find a picture of a weasel, so here is a nice chilled out otter. I must take some of my own pictures soon.