Books · Reviews · Stories

Złodziej dusz: review

Recently I came across a very interesting Polish fantasy novel. (I decided to read a bit in Polish because I feel like my internal dictionary is getting smaller if I mostly interact with people in English… and it would be good to have at least one language learnt to an appropriate degree). It’s called ”Złodziej dusz” (eng. Thief of souls) and was written by Aneta Jadowska.

The description was promising: a part of a series, which means it was profitable enough to make for a few of them, but the series is short, not 30 books in there, which would mean a red flag for me for being a Harlequin-like; contains fantasy elements, but it’s set in modern Poland, so it has some normal-world-bindings, which means it’s from a modern age fantasy that likes to merge those worlds more than a classic magic & knight fantasy. Since it wasn’t extremely expensive and I was eager to explore new worlds and get some new perspective in life, I decided to buy it and I wasn’t disappointed.

Setting

The world shown in the novel is such a mess I probably won’t be able to explain fully here. Quite interesting one, though. The main setting is Toruń, real-world town in Poland (quite pretty, they have a museum of gingerbread). The main character is a woman called Dora Wilk, who works in the police in Toruń as an investigator. She has a second life though – she is a witch, not only a human but also a magical being, and there is a whole new world in another dimension (I guess?) or at least hidden from humans that is called Thorn where other beings like her lives. There are a few kinds of those supernatural beings: there are those that come from Christianity, which means angels and devils (God is real there, not sure what his role is though; he is mentioned once or twice, but doesn’t do anything; the Rafael, Gabriel and Michał archangels and the Lucifer are there though), there are vampires and werewolves, there are magical beings like witches, banshees (pl. szyszymora), shamans, I don’t think I remember more. They are divided into systems which I think means different kinds of magic/power. Angels and devils are together, witches are in a different one, vampires and werewolves in a different one(s) than listed above.

There is quite a lot of content about those different kinds of creatures, including how they do magic, how are their personality etc. Some you could guess – for example vampires being lawful evil, if I can say so, enjoying their life full of plotting, intriguing and generally doing politics. But there are also little facts like that the vampires and other magical beings grow in power over time, so the oldest are the most powerful, and some vampires have additional powers like dream-snatching. There are some interesting details for most of the species.

The plot is good as well. It has even quite a bit of a crime story, especially at the beginning when we can see Dora investigating a murder. I would really love to see Aneta Jadowska’s take on crime novel, I was even a bit disappointed when it steered away from the human-side crime and went into more supernatural parts of the story.

Spicy themes

Another interesting part of this novel is the prevalence of sexual themes in the novel. I said the main character was a witch; in fact, she was somewhat a cross-breed, with genes of… well, not sure of what, but those genes, coming from her ancestors predisposed her to be a priestess of a goddess called Lady of the North and a priestess of a goddess of fertility. The first set of genes allowed her to take magical energy from sea and wind, and is generally linked to aggressiveness, power and dominance, while the second one, if she wished to finish the rituals (and she really, really didn’t wish), would make her into a succubus. But even without the rituals, the magic was there, inside her, still interacting with the world (people… humans and otherwise) around. I’m not sure which genes made her into a witch, but maybe it’s that priestesses mean witches and I didn’t get it while reading?I must say, the rules that magical world acts within are not exactly clear to me. In any case, she is a witch also because of those genes. You need to have those genes to be one.

So the first thing is the character and the whole backstory of her. For example, since she’s working in a human job and living among humans, she needs to keep herself on a low, but steady level of magical energy. Low, to be able to shield it out so humans don’t notice. I said already she could get the energy from sea and sea wind, but then she would get way too much. Hence she needs to live a bit further away from sea and, apparently, feed on… sex with humans. (Her genes of something something goddess of fertility apparently allowed that). Random strangers, more precisely, because even having sex with the same person a few times in a row could make them fall into the trap of affection greater than the need for sleep or food. They would behave like drugged with her being the drug they would desire. She could, in theory, have sex with other magical beings but I guess they were either afraid of falling as victims to her magic (falling in love forever from one kiss) or being drained of magic (since she would be at the same time feeding off of them).

Her… eating habits could not, of course, stay unnoticed for long, so she had a bit of trouble at work – there was both a gossip that she sleeps with everyone in the office and, at the end, a whole lot of slut-shaming. It was all because of one guy who spied on her, most of the coworkers were either neutral or even siding with her, but still, she was temporarily suspended for some other thing that was used as an excuse (coincidentally, also linked with sex – she hit the pedophile who wanted to hurt a child of her friend).

Furthermore throughout the whole novel we follow her relationship with a devil called Miron. They both very well want to have sex with each other, and always wanted – there was a time that they tried to hook up but instead of having sex, they decided to talk and become best friends, and apparently it excludes sex. It’s mostly Dora being opposed to ”ruining their friendship” since Miron doesn’t really think it would lead to anything bad, but he, except for a few jokes here and there, respects her opinion fully. He does point out that it might be a commitment issue as an underlying reason. There is a beautiful scene next to the sea – when Dora is feeding off of sea and wind and getting overwhelmed by the energy that is entering her body – that the chemistry between those two characters really shine. The scene is probably the closest that the novel got to actual sex, which never actually happens and it’s only talked about, and is, frankly, quite hot. Nothing really happens, but the tension is so thick you could cut the air with a knife. The wildness of the sea, the stormy wind, and two magical beings shining from aura. Beautiful.

Then there is a relationship with an angel, who is Miron’s dearest friend. at first he appears quite cold towards Dora; but later we learn, of course, that he is totally in love with her. He did try to hide it for several reasons, mostly because of her goddess of fertility genes and some politics (heavens in this book aren’t described too nicely…), but at the end of the book he becomes her guardian angel for the rest of her life, and the rules state that the angel cannot have sex with the person in their care. And then they all three start to live together, so Dora has another reason to not have sex with Miron which is to not hurt the angel’s feelings.

I must say, even if the novel is quite liberal with its attitude towards sex – the slut-shaming part were only done by antagonists etc. – I can still see some resembles of the Catholic culture that is dominant in Poland, which is the country both I and the author come from. For example the reason for Dora to not have sex with Miron – I must say first, any reason to not consent is valid, even bad reasons, but Dora’s reason can be seen as one of the bad ones. (More precisely, maybe: ultimately in case of consent, the reason doesn’t matter, what matters is if a valid consent was given; if someone was coerced, it doesn’t count as a valid consent either, btw.). Basically Dora is afraid that if they have sex, their relationship will suffer in some way. There is one of the lies engraved in the society here that sex is always a big deal and cannot ever be actually casual. Saving your virginity to marriage is using that argumentation – that it’s something that is so important, so binding to people that you should have this intimate moment only with your forever after partner. The truth is, just like most things in life, it all depends on the approach of people taking part in it. It can be the huge deal, but it can be casual, too. Some people might find one approach easier than the other, and even if I said ”that’s a bad reason”, one still needs to take into account that people like Dora, who was raised in Poland so I assume the same or similar culture, are definitely a thing here and need to be treated with the same respect as those who make more liberal choices. Note that she shook off the culture partially – since she was fine with sleeping with random strangers – but not the deeply engraved connotations the culture associate sex with.

Similar, but much more subtle vibes of Catholic point of view I can see in the seaside scene with Dora and the devil. It shows attraction as this powerful force that you need to strain all of your will force to oppose and not give in. Something else I noticed is the subtle intertwining of sex and power – which I think does come from patriarchy. It isn’t inherent to sexuality, but growing up in a culture like that might get you used to that point of view.

Summary

Maybe it’s not the best possible novel that could be written – the language is still kinda simple, while I love some more fun with it, and sometimes the action gets some primitive vibes, especially if there are werewolves around (they are basically described as human predators but worse), but still, the pacing is good, the writing is good, the plot is good, the world is fun to explore although it’s kinda a bit much to take in. I love the little details here and there; like how Gabriel archangel is a horrible grandfather, but Rafael is much worse, while Michał archangel is like ”whatever, take my sword”, or how angels are so fertile that one of the best strategy to make a young adult angel to start take responsibility and go into politics and responsible jobs like their ancestors is to put a smiling face in front of him, since having a child in that culture I guess requires them or convinces them to start being responsible. (That’s why the angel didn’t want to try to get close to Dora – an extremely fertile angel together with a semi-priestess of goddess of fertility? How could a baby not come from it?). So all in all, it’s interesting and funny novel to read in your free time to relax.

Development · Krita · Others · planet · Thoughts

What is Krita up to now?

First disclaimer: I, of course, don’t speak for the whole project, I just write what I personally see and feel. And the blog post contains some technicalities; if you’re not interested in that, just skim over it, you’ll get the feel of it anyway. Or just skip straight to Future.
And btw, I have written most of this post at least two weeks ago, so the beta release that will happen probably this Wednesday, I believe, is just a coincidence.

Past

In October last year we were focused and the direction was clear. Now, a half a year later, the situation is much different.

Last summer our plan was simple: get the resource rewrite done, fix as many bugs as possible, release 4.3.0 with resource rewrite and make a fundraiser for next year of development.

In October we already knew that fundraiser in 2019 is not going to happen and that the resource rewrite needs quite a bit of work as well. We assigned more developers to the resource rewrite task and we had two sprints: one in October, focused on getting those developers (me, Wolthera and Dmitry) engaged in the task, going to BlenderCon and real life meeting with some of Krita’s business partners, and second one in February, this time focused entirely on resource rewrite and describing the resource rewrite design decisions to the last developer (Ivan) who wasn’t there in October.

However as much as we wanted to focus on the resource rewrite, external factors ruled it out again and again. We had quite a lot of issues with building Krita on Windows and Mac, especially Python scripting and notarization on Apple that is now required for the program to be run on a standard user’s Mac. Both of it took several months to rule out (we’re dealing with it since January) and notarization still has some issues. It’s a boring, tedious, frustrating job, which I could taste at the very beginning (with just updating Krita’s dependencies on Windows) around January, but later it was mostly dealt with by Ivan, Dmitry and Boudewijn. Python is particularly tricky: on Windows there are two different Pythons, one (must be installed on the system) is for building Qt, one needs to be built and it provides Python scripting for Krita. Mixing those two up results in the wildest errors.

Another thing we’ve been busy with are regressions, mostly crashes with Colorize Mask, onion skin and animation files and the Transform Tool. Additionally some of the developers took their time off, be it for family reasons, health reasons or any other personal reasons.

In the end, I believe that on the resource rewrite I was the one working the most in the last several months, but even I wasn’t working on it all the time. On the last sprint I started working on bundle manager and resource manager, but after I implemented all functionalities, it turned out that I need a precise plan for the resource manager – I created a mockup, I put it up on krita-artists.org and started working on something else, my pet project of sorts: Wishes Manager.

Present

So, yeah… the resource rewrite isn’t finished yet. Let me write down what every developer is working on.

Dmitry is helping voronwe13 (a very new, but a very promising volunteer) on new types of brush tips and textures, which allows for real-time, quick and easy impasto effects, but he says he’ll come back to bugs soon. I got assigned a task to improve selection tools a bit – those are explained here if anyone is interested: https://forum.kde.org/viewtopic.php?f=288&t=165355#p430735 – I implemented the second one already, but I have some issue that needs to be solved, then I will implement the first one and come back to the resource rewrite (I have two branches that are not on the official repo – one with a brand new Resource Manager, and one with Bundle Manager bundles view fixes to make it more user-friendly, but both are in a very messy state). Boudewijn and Ivan were busy doing builds, Wolthera works on the manual, but says she’ll come back to coding soon as well.

On the positive note, we’ve got two new developers: Emmet and Eoin, both were known to Krita project before as volunteers. Emmet maintains Steam version of Krita for, hmm, not sure how many months already, for sure over a year but was it one year or two? And he always did a great job there. Now Emmet and Eoin are working on animation. They made a list of tasks and they are running through them with a speed that leaves us, senior, long-time Krita developers (says Tiar, working already for a full year!) completely embarrassed. See for yourself: https://phabricator.kde.org/T12769.

Very recently Boudewijn, seeing that the resource rewrite branch is getting quite stable and we can actually paint on it now (thanks to Dmitry), merged it to master. A few issues later and after the release of 4.2.9, it was decided that branch krita/4.2 will be finished and we’ll release 4.3.0 with everything we had on master before the resource rewrite, and the resource rewrite release will become the grand Krita 5.0. Hellozee, our volunteer and a GSOC student from last year and applicant for this year, is now removing an ancient code that Krita kept as a compatibility feature (so that text and shapes created in older Krita can be open in Krita 4 as well). Right now branch master (you can download a nightly build on Krita’s website under the name Krita Next) contains the resource rewrite, while branch krita/4.3 (on the website as Krita Plus) contains the next release, including features like magnetic selections, RGBA (”impasto”) brushes and more.

Future

We’ve got a bit of a problem. Previously, our plan contained the following:

  1. get the resource rewrite done,
  2. fix as many bugs as possible (decrease the number of bugs),
  3. release 4.3.0 with resource rewrite,
  4. make a fundraiser for the next year of development.

None of it was achieved, and some of it is already impossible. The resource rewrite still needs a lot of work. Bugs number increases every day. Our extremely optimism-inducing bugs number graph we include in our weekly meetings looks like that:

Ok, it looks a bit different (and better) now, but this is how it looked when I was writing this post.

In spring and summer last year most of us were working solely on bugs, so the number decreased. But then we released 4.2.0, and the bugs number skyrocketed, and it didn’t stopped since. It’s not all regressions, although to be honest, 4.2.0 wasn’t the most stable release ever (since I’m doing user support and I knew all issues preventing people from using one release and another (crashing on startup on Windows, saving issues on Windows, Colorize Mask crashes, animation files crashes…), I feel like version 4.2.9 is the first one I can just tell everyone to use). Considering our promise on the last fundraiser was that we will decrease the bugs number to zero, it looks terrible. It’s not from lack of trying… but all the easy bugs are fixed, now nearly every one of them requires a few days, a week or even more of work. And we have 555 left. And even bug fixes can cause regressions and more bug reports… it’s a Sisyphean work.

On the side note, I was reading the Joel on Software blog: joelonsoftware.com and in the article Top Five Wrong Reasons You Don’t Have Testers (https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/04/30/top-five-wrong-reasons-you-dont-have-testers/) he wrote: Unfortunately, neither Netscape, nor any other company on earth, has the manpower to sift through bug reports from 2,000,000 customers and decide what’s really important. I think I’d like to write some polemics to some little parts of this article, but for now – considering Krita has 3 millions of users and counting, I guess it’s not unexpected we cannot fix all of them, if even managing seems impossible to a bystander…

Last autumn we also got a Coverity scan, which means automatic checking for mistakes in the code, and we still have around 900 issues to fix.

Krita 4.3.0 won’t contain resource rewrite, because while we are working on it, the old master branch got so many new features (a lot of them coded up by volunteers, GSOC students etc.) that it’s better to release them earlier, so that users will get those features earlier and the new wave of bug reports will be divided into two smaller ones.

And, of course, the fundraiser is out of question. (It’s a lot of work to prepare one, too). And we still haven’t fulfilled the last fundraiser’s promise, have we. (That’s of course not entirely true. We did work hard. Our work is visible on the graph. I hope it is visible in Krita, too. But still, I’m a bit disappointed).

There is also an issue with testing – both unit tests and beta testing. Every time we touch some part of the code, one needs to make sure that it’s both documented and covered in unit tests. There are sometimes things I’m not sure how to make unit tests of – especially since Krita is really signal-heavy. For beta testing, there is one strategy that is already in place which is releasing a beta version two weeks or, in case of major version like 4.3.0, a month before the release, sometimes with a survey. We also have plans for making a new platform for beta testers so that we can coordinate test cases, testing specific features, regression testing etc. to make sure that all of the components are given enough attention according to their importance or frequency of usage. Participating in beta testing is and probably will be voluntary – we don’t have a single paid tester.

I feel like there is a huge amount of work still left that is invisible to our users (resource rewrite is mostly in the very guts of Krita, bugs often happen only in some circumstances that average user might not see…). And there is still a constant demand to improve of our other unfinished/unpolished areas: animation audio, text tool, shortcuts system, all of it requires a lot of work or thinking. Now that Eoin and Emmet fixed the animation cache, finishing up the Animated Transform Mask (which would allow for tweening, which for me is essential to get done, the task description is here: https://phabricator.kde.org/T11476) is possible to be done quite quickly. But that’s just one thing of at least fifteen I can recite at any given time from what I want to be done in Krita.

I feel like we don’t have enough manpower to handle all of this. (It might be because I’m still considerably new in the project – I wasn’t there, so I have no way of knowing if this is the constant state of the project. And I have a bit of a suspicion it is).

Thing is, the bug fixing, stabilizing, writing documentations and unit tests, resource rewrite or any other architectural rewrite – it’s not something we do and we’re done with it. Ok, maybe resource rewrite will be that way, but there will be a new thing to rewrite or rethink, or another huge architectural change, or another optimizing that just needs to be done, but it’s not something we can put on colorful gifs titled See how amazing this new thing is!

Moving forward, Krita has a tough decision to make. What should we focus on? Resource rewrite? New features? Trying to polish up what we have already? We need to make sure those technicalities are sorted out – but we also we need to make sure that our users get their new shiny features. Simultaneously. I believe we need to divide our attention between shiny features and groundwork. Now, the ratio is something to decide upon.

There is this fitting phrase in Polish: ”trying to catch two magpies by their tails”, or maybe ”trying to catch two magpies’ tails at once”. I tried to look up an English phrase, but ”spread oneself too thin”, while having some inherent truth to itself, isn’t that funny and anyway, I ain’t butter. The magpies though, that sounds exactly how I feel what we’re doing at Krita now.

It is, I believe, the best strategy for now, it’s just a tiny bit messy, and I bet I’m not the only person who’s lost. I’m sure we’ll figure it out in the end though.

Others · Thoughts

Social Rules

I wrote most of this post some time ago already, when I was upset and frustrated, hence the ranting; and I finished it up very recently, when I was in a ranting mood again, even though not specifically because of the same issue. Still, all the things I wrote below are something I believe in, even in a positive and calm mood. I had this bothering me from as long as I remember, but at first, I was just a disobedient child; then, a rebel teenager, apparently loving to shock people with her radical ideas; now that I’m an adult, maybe someone will finally hear me.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

Rules for the society are ever-changing. The change depending on the situation or surroundings you’re in, they change depending on who you talk to, they change depending on who defines them for you. In a lot of cases, they don’t have a lot of merit except for tradition. What’s the most frustrating is that whenever you change place or company, you’ll get yelled at for something else; sometimes even contradictory things. Where one side expects A, the other expects B, and no one cares for your potential confusion: you need to adjust. I do see some value in adjusting, but damn, how difficult it is to remember every little detail. Or even worse, guess them based on other things you know so the issue never arises.

With opinions it’s easier, because it’s more known of a fact that people’s opinions differs even inside the same social circles. Those subtle social rules and regulations don’t come with that disclaimer; you’re expected to follow them no matter what you opinion is, or what rules are set in the environment you’re more accustomed to. Not following those little rules leads to consequences you might’ve not foreseen. If you, for example, haven’t done X towards someone, it can be seen as a huge disrespect; your intention is instantly ignored.

On the other hand, if there are no rules regarding what bothers you specifically, you won’t be listened to or regarded, for the rules are not for you and, in my humble opinion, not always or necessarily for the good of society. You will be deemed too sensitive, if it’s a personal matter, or worse – if you dared to challenge the views that are the most prevailed. So in the end you’re left there, trying to compare the weights of a huge sin of maybe potentially making someone uncomfortable (by breaking one of the rules) and the fact that no one actually cares if someone actually got uncomfortable or hurt or is bothered by something as long as that something fits between the boundaries of the social rules that are established there.

Despite my rant above, as I said before, I do see the value in establishing this kind of rules. They are like a grease in a mechanism, allowing everything to go smoothly, for the social interaction to proceed according to a template. However there are times where the importance of those rules is set too high, higher than the actual purpose; and that’s when they should be amended.

On more personal note, it mostly frustrates me because there is no way I can know by heart all of the rules as other people seem to be able to, and even then, I struggle a lot following commands I don’t see a hint of a useful purpose of. I might be all well intended, trying to adjust, but there surely will be the point when I either unknowingly do something not permitted or reach an impasse: when my whole body and mind rebels against having to do something contrary to my reason or worldview.

Of course, both cases can, in general, be made less severe. In the first case it’s both easier and not so much; it would be difficult to find the solution for me not knowing rules before breaking them, as even if I had someone watching over me, they wouldn’t know which rules they need to teach me, too. On the other hand, as soon as I break one, there are always people happy to inform me of that – some nicely, some less so. (That might seem unkind and unfair towards the nice ones, and it probably is… but take into account that being in a company of an offender makes you nearly as bad as the offender; they are often protecting themselves, too).

For the ’impasse’ one, being forced to act contrary to one’s best judgement: it can often be just a matter of explaining to me the supposed (or real) reason of the rule, and sometimes even me trusting that there is a reason behind the rule is enough. For example, in school I was quite unhappy with standing in a cold weather during the fire alarm exercise. My teacher told us there will be one before we started the lesson, and she ended the lesson like 1-2 minutes before the alarm ringed, because she prepared it that way to not lose anything substantial. What was the point, then, I asked, if we know about the exercise? It’s not like we’ll test whether people know what to do in a stressful situation if we eliminate even the factor of surprise. But then my teacher told me that the purpose of the exercise is mainly to count the time needed for all student to get out of the school, and yeah, of course in panic it would be different, but this kind of estimation is good enough and there is no point in disrupting the lessons. That was a point of view I haven’t considered before; and it made sense (not enough to justify standing in the cold for so long but enough to not spend that time planning a class rebellion). Also I totally see this teacher demanding a meeting and scolding the head teacher because they dared to make an exercise without informing her (have I told you a tale about the ”Math team is announcing a strike!” situation in my school? That was totally her doing, too. No wonder I liked her, even though she was so strict and uptight). So just explaining the rationale was enough to make me lower my guard.

Once upon a time I gave the teacher my assignment and got yelled at. I was mostly just confused, so after the class I was wondering what I did wrong. My friend said, well, that’s obvious; you did it this way, while you should’ve done it that way (and she explained, how). I could understand the reasoning; but I had my own reasoning for why I did it the way I did, and it wasn’t obvious for me at all that one option is the chosen one and the other is absolutely unacceptable.

It didn’t change much from then on. My brain module for recognizing and applying social rules is broken, the same way my module for face recognition is broken. It might be cute when little Tiar learns at the end of the movie that this one character she liked is actually two separate ones, and apparently they not only appeared together on the screen, but even talked to each other. It’s less cute when I need to ask my friend to tell me which guy is my partner in a uni project… third time in the row, since every week I had to find them and then work together for two hours. And the next week I couldn’t recognize them again. In case of social rules, it’s the same thing except for that it’s hardly cute if not never. I see no solution; I’m basically getting used to it – being yelled at, ”disappointed at”, ”annoyed at” for another crime of breaking the law I haven’t known existed. I’m doomed.

(And don’t think that deciding to be a rebel is a way out; no, you’ll just lose most of the society, and the rest of it… will have their own rules you need to bend to. You’re only truly safe if you’re alone).

The first feedback I got about this blog post was: “It sounds as if you were talking about a specific situation. I don’t think you explained it properly because it lacks context, you should provide the context”. I’m sorry, but I believe they missed the point. There is no context, no one specific situation. There were events that made me write this, sure – but some of them weren’t even related to the subject, and anyway, it is, as I said, something that I carry for a long time, I could write the exact same blog post five or ten years ago. I explained a few situations if it’s still not enough, please let me know.

Others · Thoughts

Self-worth is a worthless measure

Disclaimer: only after writing a big chunk of this post I’ve read that English has two complementary, but distinct and separate terms: self-worth and self-esteem. One is about evaluations of achievements and skills and stuff, and the other is more like evaluation of your inner self. Well, Polish doesn’t have that distinction and it isn’t all that important in the post, so reading this, please assume I’m using self-worth and self-worthiness as the sum of both self-worth and self-esteem as English language defines them.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Long time ago there was this video on Youtube that was made by a Polish artist, a really lovely, cheerful girl. The video was about an artistic approach to something, she was just drawing and narrating it, nothing philosophical or anything. At some point she started to talk about women who sleep around. She said: If she doesn’t have self-respect, why would we respect her?.

Of course that was something I’ve heard many times. I’m not sure, but maybe it was because she was always such a positive person that I started thinking in a bit different way than usual.

Let’s leave the obvious problem for a bit, and think about an actual answer. Why should we respect someone who doesn’t respect themselves? (Inventing a possible scenerio is left as an exercise for the reader. At least for now).

Another case when it occurred to me was not long ago when I was talking with someone about their idea of hell. Just for the record, it’s not necessary what he meant; for this essay I only took a little part of a much longer explanation, which might not – and probably won’t – represent the rest.

From that conversation I remember those few points: that one will go to hell if they don’t love anything, even themselves; or if they hate everything, both the world and themselves; or if they don’t think they’re worth saving or not going to hell. I hope I’m not dismembering anything, especially the last one is fuzzy in my mind. There is a bit of a pattern there… they would go to hell depending on how they do or do not feel about themselves and the world.

But, is it right to judge a person based solely on how they feel about themselves?

Or, more precisely, does the feeling of self-worth or self-respect say anything useful about the person in question? In my opinion, not so much. And I’ll gladly explain why.

As a start point, let’s take the easiest case, which is assuming that your assessment of someone’s self-worthiness is correct and ignoring some of the basic human psychology. For the self-worthiness we can use whatever: self-respect, feeling of being worthy of heaven or feeling of being worthy of a stranger’s smile. Different people have different priorities in life, different values they hold dear. Therefore the use different formulas to calculate the worthiness of people. To add to that, they use different measures to calculate the worthiness of every person around, because for every person they have a bit different bias. For themselves, the bias is the biggest, skewing the result in the strangest ways.

There are other contributing factors we need to take into account though. In psychology there is this concept that people in general always think about themselves two things: that they are quite good (not perfect, and of course they can try to be better, but they have good intentions and they try their best) and quite rational (even if someone don’t believe they’re intelligent or smart, they believe that their decisions are in most cases rational, based on the information available at the time of making). People doing evil things don’t think of themselves as evil – they see their actions as either justified or just little slip-ups. They often create a whole narrative where they are either just the same as other people (making use of circumstances, and everyone would do the same in their place, even if someone wouldn’t, it’s because they have no courage, but they secretly want it too, don’t they?), or where they are even forced to commit those actions by others or circumstances. As you can guess, it can greatly affect moral-oriented self-worthiness.

For most people it fluctuates depending on the mood and other circumstances, but there is a certain level that their self-moral-worth (self-goodiness?) comes back to, and as I said, it’s usually higher than neutral. I know only two cases when it can be greatly different, and… all of them are mental health related. The first case, for the lowered self-worth, is a depression (possibly anxiety). The second case, for the increased self-worth, is narcissism and narcissistic traits – in both Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. As you can see, for most people you get the same result and the only difference are not relevant to what you try to measure, so the testing method is basically useless.

And it’s still not all. Let’s consider the first example again. The youtuber I mentioned tried to assess the woman’s self-respect based on some behavioural information she had access to. There is however no guarantee that the assessment is correct, because the information was scarce and mostly irrelevant. The jump between „she’s behaving that way” and „she has no self-respect” was based on an assumption that the woman in question holds the same values and priorities, and according to the youtuber’s mind model, the only way to get to that behaviour was through losing self-respect. Hidden unfounded assumptions like that makes the whole ordeal even more risky.

In some cases, trying to assess self-worth can be an attempt to shift the responsibility to the person being assessed. Dear cheerful youtuber, you don’t disrespect that woman because she doesn’t respect herself; you disrespect her because you disapprove of her actions, that’s all. I only hope that if you meet someone with deep depression and ruined self-worth, you won’t try to apply the rule „they don’t have self-respect, so I won’t respect them” there.

In case of hell example there might’ve not been any trouble assessing the true value of self-worth, considering that most of at least western religions assume that their God is all-knowing. However in my opinion it would still be a very fallible, unfair system.

There is just no way to assess actual worth of a person based on their self-worth; the most you can do is assess their mental health.

Coronavirus2019 · Others

Grocery shopping routine during the pandemic

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

This is how we are shopping in time of pandemic (at least in time of writing, which is beginning of April). We’re doing that around once a week.

Preparation

My partner, who’s the one going to get groceries, puts on a mask and gloves. The mask is either a new surgical mask, which we have a few of, or later he’ll be going out in a handmade cloth one. Last time I gave him emergency gloves from my hair dye, but he came home with two pairs of good, reusable ones, so we’ll be washing them every time.

He goes out with a backpack and cloth bags (some branded merch ones, some for vegetables). Since recently I always ask for grapes, I give him a special thin cloth bag for them, too.

What do we buy

We try to fill up all of what we used up from our supplies, plus fresh vegetables and dairy. We try to always have enough food so we won’t have to go next time if the situation forced us to.

When my boyfriend comes home, he goes straight to the bathroom: first he washes his hands thoroughly, then he washes himself and puts his clothes into the washing machine. he also washes his keys and phone (if he even got it out outside).

In the meantime I’m busy disinfecting the groceries. We have three categories of disinfecting:

  1. Quarantine – it means that we put stuff in a huge box in the corridor and wait until a few days pass, after which we deem the object to be ”safe”. We do that with anything that doesn’t require freezing, putting into the fridge or which will be eaten soon.
  2. Wiping with alcohol – we have some spirit that we use to wipe everything that goes into the fridge and can be wiped (we wipe packages of cheese or yoghurts, for example).
  3. Washing vegetables – there are three stages of washing vegetables, first stage is in water with a tablespoon of vinegar, then in water with a tablespoon of baking soda, then in just water (from the worst taste to the most neutral one). I don’t think it kills the virus (it is supposed to kill bacteria and wash off the pesticides), but I know that the act of washing already helps, so there is that. I think about joining it with wiping with alcohol though. Or maybe even alcohol baths, considering that wiping grapes would be a Sisyphean work.

Bags are going to washed as well. All packages are either wiped or thrown out in a way that should not cause any trouble.

We are still buying ham from the butcher’s nearby, even though it’s always freshly cut and packaged in paper, so there is not really a good way to make sure it’s disinfected. I can wipe the packaging at least – I noticed it dries out just normal after getting moist from alcohol or water. Still, I guess if we’d want to be safe, we should start buying ham packaged by the manufacturer…

How are our supplies organized

We freeze a lot of stuff: raw meat, toasts and hams. Other things we either buy fresh (vegetables) or keep in the fridge (or outside) considering the long time of shelf life. We have a huge box in the corridor for the quarantined food – we used it first when my partner went to a huge grocery store a few weeks ago to buy stocks of stuff like milk (after that event, we just put everything in the box, getting out and wiping with alcohol only cheese and some other things like that, letting all others just stay and wait for the virus to die off).

In the cupboards we have some flour (hopefully enough; I’ll have to ask my partner to buy some next time though) and sugar, and a huge amount of rice and pasta. We have quite a lot of dry yeast packages as well. For now I haven’t, but I think I’ll want to try making some bread rolls. We made pizza twice already though – I’ve checked the recipe from the best source, which is the family recipe book, where all successful recipes of my mum and grandmas and siblings go to. And yes, it’s a great one. Even my boyfriend admitted that it’s not terrible even without the special pizza stone and the over with high temperatures.

Conclusion

The routine is not fool-proof and for sure not virus-proof, but we don’t aim for perfect isolation from the virus, but just decreasing the chance of infection.

Also please don’t treat it as an advice – I’m not a medical professional and it’s not an advice post. It’s just for archival purposes. And if someone wants to know how it looks like for me now.


The photo is from https://www.pexels.com/pl-pl/@shvetsa, isn’t it beautiful? The license is quite liberal and getting stuff from pexels.com is really easy on the blog site I use now, and for some reason it always wants a picture when I’m making a blog post, so… I guess I might use it from time to time.

Coronavirus2019 · Others

Coronavirus in Poland: report 05.04.2020

As before: I’m writing those just for archival purposes. I thought it would be interesting in a year or two check it out and read through to see how the situation evolved. It might not be as interesting to read it right now, unless you’re in a country not touched by the virus yet. If I include any advice or recommendation that we were given in my country or in other places, please don’t treat it as medical advice: there are better sources for that than my blog. As I said, it’s just for archive purposes, not to teach anyone how to deal with the epidemic.

Data below might be incorrect or incomplete.

1. Situation in the world

Some statistics:

CountryCasesRecoveredDeathsNotes
World1 270k260k70k
China82k77k3k
Italy130k22k16ktoday there was the smallest number of infection out of two weeks
Iran60k30k3.7k
South Korea10k6.5k183
France94k16k8k
Spain132k38k12k
Germany100k29k1.5k
USA335k17k9.5kit’s happening now…
Netherlands18k2571.7k
Poland410213494

Numbers below 100 are precise, above that they’re rounded as I wished. They will change fast anyway. In the table I put countries with highest numbers plus Poland and Netherlands since that’s what interests me. (Or more precisely, I put them according to the highest numbers some time ago and now I’m keeping the original order, even though USA should be on top now…)

2. Situation in Poland

New restrictions:

  • One cannot enter the store without a pair of gloves (I didn’t notice the announcement and we had luck we had two pairs of them… I’ve found them in my hair dye)
  • Teenagers and kids cannot go outside without a parent
  • Hair dressers and similar services are closed now

There are 4102 cases of coronavirus in Poland. There were 94 deaths. More than 39k people are under observation, 132k home-quarantined, 2434 hospitalized. (Mild cases are treated at home now).

My quest to make masks didn’t really succeed. I was motivated for one whole day and I have sewn like half of the mask. I need to make one more seam and then sew two pieces together. And it’s not from laziness – I was trying to make a better, more strained seam, so I couldn’t sew from one side and do the other side on blind (which is surprisingly much faster than shift the cloth to the other side all the time). In any case, all this took me several hours. I did choose quite an advanced pattern… but still, with a machine it would be less than an hour even for an inexperienced person. I’ll need to find a strength in myself to finish it soon.

My partner was at work one day and he came back home with another home-made mask that a nearby haberdashery that recently switched to sewing and I guess selling masks and they apparently gave away masks to neighbours. That was very nice, and the mask is cute, it’s apparent it’s not an old T-shirt but just a nice cloth selected for the task.

I don’t even want to talk about politics. They try to make mailing elections now.

I made cheesecake today and then I ate a bowl of whipping cream and grapes. Baking did improve my mood, but the cream didn’t, so now I’m tired and miserable again. I spent the whole day laying on the coach and feeling tired and miserable. (And then I baked and now I’m writing). It’s possible that it’s the isolation getting to me, but I think it’s just me being miserable since at least the February sprint and just didn’t have a chance to recover before all those terrible news started to come in. I try to keep a positive attitude though.

The cheesecake looks like it turned out well. We’re gonna eat it the next day while watching a movie.

The prime minister resigned. He said he tried to convince politicians to several options regarding elections, they didn’t agree and now he’s done with them not being able to agree on one thing even in such circumstances. I’m not sure why would that be a reason to resign and I don’t think it’ll help with politicians from different parties arguing over those cursed elections.

Prisoners are sewing masks and protection gear now, too. 20k daily, they said.

Btw a great website for Polish statistics, including prognosis and an explanation: http://www.fizykwyjasnia.pl/na-biezaco/prognozy-rozwoju-epidemii-koronawirusa/

Coronavirus2019 · Others

Coronavirus in Poland: report 25.03.2020

(Yes, I know I’m terribly late… Data was from 25th though.)

As before: I’m writing those just for archival purposes. I thought it would be interesting in a year or two check it out and read through to see how the situation evolved. It might not be as interesting to read it right now, unless you’re in a country not touched by the virus yet. If I include any advice or recommendation that we were given in my country or in other places, please don’t treat it as medical advice: there are better sources for that than my blog. As I said, it’s just for archive purposes, not to teach anyone how to deal with the epidemic.

Data below might be incorrect or incomplete.

Situation in the world

Some statistics:

CountryCasesRecoveredDeathsNotes
World469k114k21k
China82k74k3kno more outbreak
Italy74k9.3k7.5kquarantine for the whole country, tragic situation
Iran27k9.6k2k
South Korea9.1k3.7k126
France25.6k3.9k1.3k
Spain50k5.3k3.6kit’s nearly as bad as in Italy
Germany37k3.5k200
USA66k360950prognosis say a lot of bad things
Netherlands6.4k6360
Poland1051314more restrictions

Numbers below 100 are precise, above that they’re rounded as I wished. They will change fast anyway. In the table I put countries with highest numbers plus Poland and Netherlands since that’s what interests me.

Situation in Poland

There are 1051 cases of coronavirus in Poland. There were 14 deaths. More than 57k people are under observation, 70.5k quarantined, 140k quarantined because of the #FlightHome action, 1615 hospitalized.

There are no restrictions now. People can go outside only in pairs of two, unless they live together (more precisely, unless they’re a family…). In public transport only half of the seats must be taken and half of the number of seats is now the maximum capacity of the vehicle. It’s most probably because of Warsaw whose president was trying to be economical and decided to put public transport in a weekend timetable. There was a lot of backslash for that. Now the president Trzaskowski is asking sarcastically ”and how are you going to control all those buses to not get overcrowded, that’s impossible” but come on, until now, there were no actual rules to not go outside or to not go to work (it was only suggested to switch to the work-from-home mode), and nonetheless people did comply to it in a quite a big amount. People are careful too, they know that going by an overcrowded bus is a bit more dangerous than going by an empty one. Now when the rules are set, they will have an excuse to tell their bosses when they’re late.

The next day after the rules were introduced, they stopped two trams and over fourty buses because they were overcrowded.

The discussion about the elections is still ongoing. It’s a funny situation: the opposition demands emergency state (which would give a huge power to the ruling party), while the ruling party does everything to not be forced to do so. In emergency state the elections could and possibly would be moved to a later date.

I understand that the ruling party candidate has higher chance to be elected now than later. But come on, there are more important things now. Yes, the situation can get better before the elections. Right now everyone is talking about Easter: schools are closed until Easter, hopefully the situation will get better before Easter… but, really. What would it even mean, better situation? To extinguish the epidemic we’d have to keep the quarantine until we get no new infections, then wait two weeks more and then still keep borders closed with a required quarantine. Otherwise the virus will come in, will come again. There will be no difference between the situation on the beginning of the epidemic and on the ”end”… unless it would be proven that the majority of people already got infected. But that would mean a huge amount of sick and dead people and I hope our current changes in behaviour are supposed to help with that.

There is no way that we’ll be able to go somewhere to vote on one day and not revive the epidemic. One must be really naive to think that.

We could be safe either with effective medicine (as far as I know, they really try! the malaria medicine is supposedly working quite good), effective vaccines (which will take another year…) or an air-tight epidemic control that takes enough time that all the viruses in Poland die off (and then it still be needed on borders to not drag viruses from other countries). All three of these are not feasible right now, so I guess we’ll be dealing with it for next year at least.

Ahh, yes, and the alternative is just not doing anything, like the prime minister from Great Britain suggests, and just let everyone get infected (and vulnerable people meet their end…). For me that’s outrageous. It would be fine (well, more fine) if it was, let’s say, an ugly rash with no side-effects, you just need to live through this and then you come up clean at the other side. But here, people die.

Although, I’ve seen comments suggesting that this is finally a solution for the pension system that is either failing or surely will be failing soon in Poland…

Anyway. In other news, people are thoroughly confused about masks. There are huge initiatives to sew masks for hospitals and underneath all youtube videos how to sew them or any news about it there are people commenting how they won’t protect the wearer and how the holes inside are bigger than the virus. Yes, getting people falsely feeling safe because of two layers of cotton on their face is not a good idea. Yes, making them buy out necessary hospital equipment is a bad idea. But sewing masks (together with a healthy portion of information) is not. (There is a lot of buts and conditions and different situations and even different masks, so I won’t discuss it further here, I hope I’ll make a post about it, but I’d need to gather enough sources to make sure I don’t misinform anyone). Short version is: my mask protects you, your mask protects me. And since we both believe we’re healthy, we don’t want to buy the surgical, or worse, proper anti-virus masks to not take from people who need them more.

I’m watching videos how to sew them. I’m going to make a few in case one of us needs to go outside.

Coronavirus2019 · Others

Coronavirus in Poland: report 19.03.2020

As before: I’m writing those just for archival purposes. I thought it would be interesting in a year or two check it out and read through to see how the situation evolved. It might not be as interesting to read it right now, unless you’re in a country not touched by the virus yet. If I include any advice or recommendation that we were given in my country or in other places, please don’t treat it as medical advice: there are better sources for that than my blog. As I said, it’s just for archive purposes, not to teach anyone how to deal with the epidemic.

Data below might be incorrect or incomplete.

Screenshot from e: https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus taken on March 19, 2020,
showing March 10th – March 19th for countries from the table

Situation in the world

Some statistics:

CountryCasesRecoveredDeathsNotes
World243k85k9.9k
China81k71k3kthere was one day when the number of cases didn’t increase for the first time from the outbreak
Italy41k4.4k3.4kquarantine for the whole country, tragic situation
Iran18.4k5.7k1.2k
South Korea8.5k1.5k91
France11k24312
Spain18k1100830
Germany15.3k11344
USA13.7k108200
Netherlands2.5k277
Poland35515still lockdown, some borders got open

Numbers below 100 are precise, above that they’re rounded as I wished. They will change fast anyway. In the table I put countries with highest numbers plus Poland and Netherlands since that’s what interests me.

Situation in Poland

There are 355 cases of coronavirus in Poland. There were 5 deaths. More than 48660 people are under observation, 29440 quarantined, 48324 to be quarantined because they returned to the country, 871 hospitalized.

Those charts are mine, with data from the Health Ministry published every day.
“Increase of cases in time” means of course increase over the number of cases the day before.

All people should just stay home for at least one more week. Schools are closed, there are some conversations what about exams which are supposed to be in month from now.

I am, of course, working from home. My partner went to work on Monday, but later the workplace is being closed as well. (Update: it’s Thursday and it won’t be closed on Friday… why… it makes no sense. my boyfriend stays home with me though). There is a story about some people whose boss told them to still work in the office, but later he went out of the country, so they took their computers and went to work from home… We’ll see how it ends.

My grandma told me that she was being farsighted and she bought supplies for herself for two months when it started happening in China. Even the 4kg of beans that some magazine told her to buy, although she wondered what could be done with such amount? But then she started to think about how she made some beans ”minced meat” cutlets once and they were delicious – and one needs to remember that buying meat if you’re going to stay home for such a long time is not exactly a possibility. That reassured me – she sounded calm and self-confident, even glad that she did everything correctly, she seems to feel safe in her apartment, she doesn’t seem to need anything.

My other grandma is in a bit worse situation, because my grandpa isn’t doing what is recommended and he’s constantly going out. It sounded like my mum tried to not visit them to limit the contact completely. I’m pretty sure they have supplies too, or if they lacked them, my mum could bring them to them. Also this grandma lives in a less populated area so she an go outside from time to time if she’s being cautious.

My partner started to cough so he’s staying home tomorrow and later his workplace closes anyway. It’s most probably not corona, of course. (Update: he stopped coughing the next day and he’s perfectly fine now).

Whole country prepares for the armaggedon we’ll for sure see soon. I’ve seen a lot of initiatives about sewing masks and protective cloths, even some Polish bra companies decided to join in (a lot of various volunteers as well, first the action was invented by citizens, but now it’s coordinated from above I believe). There is an initiative to provide meals to hospitals from restaurants around (since now restaurants can only sell food in take-out form and they have a lot of losses, this initiative helps both restaurants and hospitals). A few companies, notably Orlen since they are really vocal about it, started to produce disinfectant liquid. Now I see that soldiers are giving out blood which might be needed later.

There will be a bit of a problem with homeless people, most probably. A lot of places they were using are closed now, they might not be able to maintain the necessary level of hygiene.

Btw our ministry says we got another 50k tests and we can make 3k tests per day. Right now, the maximum number is 2k, but the actual number of executed tests is  1.5k. They say all people who needs to be tested are tested, and that if the doctor has any doubts now the patient will be tested, and that we need to remember that it only works after a few days from infection.

From what I can say from calling my parents, I guess the information about what are we doing, why are we doing that and how many cases we’ll get very very soon are talked about in TV or other news sites. My mum knew exactly what ”flattening the curve” means. I’ve seen myself the health minister talking a few days ago that we’ll get 1000-1500 cases this week. It’s Thursday evening with 355 cases, but it’s still possible. And I’ve seen him talking that we won’t see effects of the quarantine for at least a week or two, and we’ll get the largest number of cases in two or three weeks if not later. That’s great there is so much transparency. I would know it anyway; but not everyone can do math as much as I can, and when the quarantine started in Poland, most western countries were still unconvinced (although they start to feel it too) about the necessity of isolation and numbers of cases in countries outside of China and Italy were not as scary. Being real helps a lot, I believe, because that way no one expects the number of cases to stabilize when it’s way too early to notice any difference.

Also I checked this great site: https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus – there is a lot of text, but also charts, and those charts are awesome and you can choose which countries you want to compare.

Forced social isolation is such a weird feeling; in last month I was outside maybe two or three times. It’s so much different when you choose to stay home in warmth of the thick blanket and when you just cannot go out. I can, in theory; I’m not officially quarantined. If I were, I would be banned from going out and a police officer would check out on me every day (my mum says it’s not only police but other services as well, like city guards, but I haven’t seen any mentions of that).

As far as I know, out of 8k people quarantined, only a handful of them – 8 or 9 – wasn’t home when checked. Hard to tell if that’s a good statistic or not.

I also don’t know whether other people isolate themselves like me, and how many of them are there. Newspapers suggest that there is an effect on the streets and all, and that a lot of people took it seriously. I cannot verify that because I’m stuck here… I’ve heard about streets looking more empty and sad, I’ve heard about people crowded in supermarkets a week ago, I’ve heard about young people gathering on the riverbank. But that’s just anecdotal evidence. I’d want to know if Poles are better behaved than Italians, and if yes, how much. I’m afraid that in case of the situation like in Italy, Poland will handle it even worse (it’s poorer… come on, there is already a mess with hospitals and the epidemic just barely started here), so our best chance is to not let it happen in the first place.

There was an issue with the hospital in Łomża. It is the only hospital in the town and people are really against changing it into the infection hospital (as the administration tries to do). Doctors and citizens are protesting. The hospital had only three days to change from cardiological to contagious illnesses hospital and people are saying it’s not ready, there is not enough respirators, floodgates (air gates?) and special ventilation that the isolation rooms should have. The health minister said that they have respirators and they will get more. They didn’t say anything about ventilation though… Ehh, we’ll see.

I’ve heard China plans to help European Union somehow. I’ve heard that European Union helped China when it happened there, so I guess it’s fair. We’ll see how much and what would that help be.

After Poland closed borders, there started to be huge queues to the border gates. Even around 30h of waiting. I’ve seen a photo with a huge number of water bottles that were put there by citizens of a town nearby. Right now, as far as I know, there is organized help to make sure drivers get water and food. The administration also decided to loose the rules a bit to make sure the queues are not as big.

Ahh, and there is an initiative #FlightHome to get all Poles from abroad to the homeland… They will be in a two weeks quarantine though.

I bought an ebook reader to finally buy and read all those books I wanted to read. Unfortunately, I got a huge number of books for free already… around 600 MB from the store I bought it from (mostly classic literature, but there are some books of my childhood…), a few Polish book were on the ereader already, and I got a few from my father. Unfortunately, because now I feel like I should first read those. Such a tragedy happened to me, right? (But seriously, I’m very happy, it’s pretty, the cover is also pretty, the device seems to be robust (even though it wasn’t really expensive) and I can read in my bed, because there is no “other page” that I need to figure out how to read laying on my side).

Books · Reviews · Stories

Daughter of Mystery: review

Introduction

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones, cover

I got this book recommended to me multiple times, it looks like it’s one of the most favourite novel series of some people I know. Recently I finally borrowed it and read to see what the whole fuss is about. Unfortunately, I was a tad disappointed; I don’t think I’m the target audience for this genre…

It’s not a bad book overall, so let’s start from some positives. First of all, it’s not showing destructive ideas in a good light. Might sound obvious, and I guess this bar isn’t all that high, but still, a lot of well-known books don’t pass even that level (*khem khem* Twilight, 50 shades of Grey, Katarzyna Michalak ”heartwarming” novels of manners, researching for this post I found out she wrote 42 of those monstrosities already… some of them unfortunately bestsellers in Poland). Moreover, I don’t remember being too annoyed reading it, which means that characters and events were mostly reasonable or justified. As far as I know, it’s a debut of the author, so congratulations – it’s not that easy to make sure events flow is not forced by the mysterious narrative imperative, as it often happens when the author doesn’t know how to join a few events they want to include in the book together. Overall, I would say that the narrative was pretty solid.

Quite big chunk of the novel is focused on showing customs from the Alpennia, and the information the reader learns is quite interesting.

More specifics

Moving on to negatives… well, the rest of it was incredibly boring for me. I will explain in detail why, just wait. After starting reading I noticed right away that I’m reading much slower than I’m used to, or at least I had this perception; first I thought, maybe because it’s English, but I do read English stories too without such consequences and in this particular case I didn’t have any trouble understanding what is written in the novel, so being a non-native shouldn’t be a reason. Someone suggested it’s because it’s formal English – and I won’t say it didn’t have an impact, but after reading a half of it, I realized that in Polish I would read it slower than other Polish books, too – it’s not the language, not even the style of the sentence, but the style of the narrative.

It felt filled with longueurs (and yes, I had to check this word in a dictionary). It dragged on forever. Whole book consists of mostly conversations or thought processes, dwelling on the same issues for fifteen times, repeating information that the reader already knows (especially in case of the character thinking about the conversation that was written down a moment ago; the thought commentary contained the same information, only in a bit different configuration). Information density in the conversations is just too low to be engaging – even if it’s something new, people often just follows their role, so the reader learns more about the system and customs, but not much about characters themselves. And often the conversation doesn’t really bring enough new information to be, in my opinion, justified to be included in the final version of the novel. They do show how characters reacted to the events – but because they play a certain role in Margaret’s life or the society, their reaction isn’t news to the reader (and it isn’t an emotional reaction either, it’s just loud thinking how to play the society game to get best results). There is nothing fresh to them.

A lot of the above is the result of the novel trying to be some kind of a political fiction. By political I mean both an actual national politics (selecting a heir, fighting for power) and families trying their best to get a bit higher in the social hierarchy. That’s just not what I’m interested in. For the country politics, I wasn’t the only one – Margaret, Barbara or any other main character didn’t seem to care about who’s gonna get selected for the heir, so why would I be interested? Of course, later the reader learns why we need to learn all of this information. Still, it’s way too late. It wouldn’t make a huge difference to the plot if, for example, the whole Margaret’s household together with her aunts and uncles were passively, but passionately involved (somewhat resembling football or soccer fans, cheering their favourite team), maybe then I, too, could find a reason to follow this.

Another important issue I had is that a lot of subplots lead nowhere, a lot of events don’t really have an impact on the story or character development. For example Barbara’s search for her baptism documents could be easily cut out with only minimal changes to the book itself and nearly non-existent ones to the overall plot. It doesn’t have impact on Barbara, doesn’t have impact on Margaret, and it doesn’t even show the reader any important information about Barbara that the reader wouldn’t know from elsewhere.

A similar issue is with events that are hyped for just to turn uneventful, like the ball that Margaret had to organize as an excuse for her to leave her uncle’s house. It had no consequences whatsoever, but we got a proper amount of discussions, dancing lessons, Barbara’s fretting over Margaret possibly changing her mind and choosing balls over studying and generally a lot of fuss over something that was basically summed up in four sentences:

The day itself was a blur with only the image of Margaret always in her sight among crushing crowds. Watching everyone, everything. Alert to any possible threat. But no threat came, not even so much as a clumsy dancer stepping on her toes.

(Daughter of mystery, page 127.)

Similarly, books that were recommended by the sister of the enemy ((…) never trust a sister. Family will always come before friendship, warned Barbara), that were so unavailable that required Barbara to disguise herself as a man and go by herself to a sketchy part of the town… they turned out to be perfectly fine. Unavailable, because advanced and niche, so they weren’t printed out yet, only handwritten, that’s all.

Another problem I see is that even though we see events in the book from the perspective of two characters, their emotions are often not really shown. This point might be less obvious, I didn’t really know how to word it. For example at the end, her friend or at least colleague declared that she hate her now because of a traumatic event that happened a few days before. Now, what was Margaret’s reaction?

And then they were summoned into the presence and there was no time to digest that further blow.

(Daughter of Mystery, page 346).

„Further blow” is all the reader learns about it. I would love to see more. Was she empathetic towards her friend that she had to lived through this? Was she sad that her friend chose other things over her? Was she angry about that? Was she relieved she’ll never have to wonder whether her friend was secretly an enemy? Was she triumphant because she hated the whole family and she just started to plan how to get rid of her undesired friend but it turned out she could kill two (…several) birds with one stone? Of course the last one sounds like a bit of a reach, considering the reader never had it suggested that Margaret is a person who’d be able to do such things… except for the one time when she had ”a triumphant smile” after nearly getting assaulted to gain some independence from her guardian, which was a bit manipulative, but I wouldn’t hold it against her, considering the environment she was in. Still, the last case mentioned is improbable, but all of the other ones could have been explained with her character – and explained her character to the reader in return.

And this is not the only place. I feel like a lot of the times interesting things happen around, but characters are apathetic. We do know their intent and see their actions, but we don’t know how they feel about those actions and things that happen around. I can’t think of more situations as explicit as above… but I feel not satisfied in terms of ratio of showing the characters versus showing the situation they’re in.

I do understand that it’s better to show feelings through, for example, actions and situations etc. than just tell the reader what is the feeling the character has. In this case however I don’t think the novel is doing either. (I had some plans to write an experimental story where the narrator would not know the thoughts of the character but just observe their depression through actions, described in great detail; however I don’t think I can write it now, because the story I wanted to include doesn’t look as good to me now. Still, that would be an interesting exercise). The problem in this novel is that it doesn’t contain enough information, at least for me; I can see that when Margaret moves to the city the reader is supposed to just assume that she’s happy about that because it matches what she wanted, but we get no further details. Basically, that the novel expects the reader to fill in the blanks by comparing the intent with the result. Humans not always work like that.

It’s not the largest problem in the novel, but it’s still a bit frustrating that I, as a reader, am deprived of some essential for me information while drowned in stuff that I’m not necessarily interested in. Which smoothly moves me to the next point…

Conclusion

It’s probably just a genre mismatch.

Maybe I’m not an intended audience for this book. It’s fine; if one doesn’t like reading about murders or guessing who’s the killer or who’s lying, they shouldn’t read crime fiction; if one doesn’t like kisses, they shouldn’t read romances, because the majority of the content will be focused on those things, even if – of course – they contain other themes as well.

I’m still not sure what the exact genre of this novel is. It’s not a romance, because while Margaret and Barbara are often together and at the end of the book they get together, their relationship is mostly written showing professional (when Barbara is guarding or talking about guarding Margaret) or just friendly (when they are talking about mysteries) relationship. There are some parts that suggest attraction, but they are few and far between. The novel is for sure historical fiction, but it’s neither historical or fiction parts that put me off. Maybe historical intrigues? Historical novel of manners?

To end on a more positive note, there were some little elements that I quite liked and I believe they deserve to be mentioned. For example I liked the relationship between Barbara and Marken, their arrangements, how they agreed on who should be guarding Barbara when or where etc. Marken’s general no-bullshit attitude was quite refreshing. My favourite character though was probably Margaret’s maid, even before she was actually engaged in the story at the end. She decided she wants to become a maid, and then she made it happen, learning everything what’s needed quickly. She worked hard to get all the knowledge a maid of a Maistera of Margaret’s position needs to know. Most of this happened off-screen, of course, but we do get a glimpse here and there.

Extras

By the way, I was just talking with my friend, showing him a draft of my story (well, fanfiction to Sherlock Holmes), and there was one paragraph there that caught my attention…

The case did seem to promise only boredom, obstacles and difficulties though. Engaging in high-end politics is hardly ever a good idea, figuring out who thwarted whose plans using blackmailed whom as a triple spy sounds like a first class punishment. John was sure that’s how posh kids spend evenings after saying a swear word in front of their parents.

Well, I’m not John… but I feel like we agree on that matter 😉

Coronavirus2019 · Others

Coronavirus in Poland: report 11.03.2020

I’m writing those just for archival purposes. I thought it would be interesting in a year or two check it out and read through to see how the situation evolved. It might not be as interesting to read it right now, unless you’re in a country not touched by the virus yet. If I include any advice or recommendation that we were given in my country or in other places, please don’t treat it as medical advice: there are better sources for that than my blog. As I said, it’s just for archive purposes, not to teach anyone how to deal with the epidemic.

(I actually removed a good chunk of it (I have it on my disk) with description of the virus and the illness, I decided no disclaimer will be enough).

Data below might be incorrect or incomplete.

Situation in the world

Some statistics:

CountryCasesRecoveredDeathsNotes
World125k67k4.6k
China80k62k3kthe number of cases doesn’t increase too much, there is a strict quarantine in a huge parts of the country, especially in Wuhan, but also Shanghai
Italy12k830800quarantine for the whole country
Iran9k3k350no lockdown or quarantine
South Korea7.7k29061
France2.2k1248
Spain2.2k18354
Germany1.9k253some schools are closed
USA1.2k253events cancelled, containment zones
Netherlands50005mass events cancelled in some cities, schools ”half-empty”
Poland3100closed all schools, cinemas, theatres, cancelled events
Data for 11.03.2020, note; both numbers and the situation in the country changes dynamically!

Numbers below 100 are precise, above that they’re rounded as I wished. They will change fast anyway. In the table I put countries with highest numbers plus Poland and Netherlands since that’s what interests me.

Data comes from https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

Situation in Poland

There are 27 cases of coronavirus in Poland (now 31?… ehhh, now, the next day, it’s 47… but on 11.03.20 late evening it was 31). More than 9k people are under observation, 1k home-quarantined, 220 hospitalized (no idea why this number is higher than 27 confirmed cases). (Data comes from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1101066/poland-coronavirus-cases/)

For now, all cases have known sources (if we include the guy coming from Germany as a known source – he wasn’t in a area that was considered dangerous back then).

A few days ago there were already sanitary checks on borders. I don’t know if they check all people on the airport as well… In any case, a sanitary check means checking temperature and giving forms to fill out with localization information. (Source: https://granica.gov.pl/j/index.php/komunikaty/656)

Today I learned all schools will be closed from Monday (for two weeks) and for Thursday and Friday there will be no lessons, only group care for kids that parents can’t take from school (like usual between Christmas and New Year and other cases when there is no lessons but other places are open, so there is a high chance that the parent needs to go to work and the kid would be left alone). (Source: https://www.rmf24.pl/raporty/raport-koronawirus-z-chin/polska/news-szkoly-i-uczelnie-w-calej-polsce-zamkniete-rzad-podjal-decyz,nId,4375299) I wonder how those kids will be dealt with afterwards: workplaces are not closed yet, I haven’t heard about working from home either. (And not everyone have this opportunity). Moreover kids are supposed to stay at home, don’t play outside. You’re not supposed to give kids to their grandparents to take care of them, because the grandparents are in the risk group. There will be some finances for parents of kids under 8 years old (Source: https://tvn24bis.pl/z-kraju,74/szkoly-i-przedszkola-zamkniete-przez-koronawirusa-zasilek-opiekunczy-i-chorobowy-komu-przysluguje-wn,1008373.html).

There is recommendation to cancel mass events (over 1000 people, or over 500 people in a closed space). I’ve seen a few already cancelled or moved.

From today, cinemas and theaters are closed as well.

Elderly people are recommended to not go to church but just listen to it over the radio or watch on TV. Others can go, just no peace sign (which is handshake). My mum was today on a service with school kids… there was communion and everything as normal (it were an Easter retreat; for anyone curious, yes, school kids have mandatory retreat unless they got a document from their parents that they don’t want them to go).

When I went to the shop yesterday, everything was in place, just as normal. There might be trouble getting masks or disinfectants, I guess, but I haven’t tried to buy masks (I have a pack of them, bought before the European outbreak started, but I’m not going to use them right now) or disinfectants (for my use, water and soap are just enough. And we have soap and there is no shortage of it). Some tabloids reports a panic in the stores, I won’t say it doesn’t happen, since it for sure happened, but the minister said everything is fine, stores won’t get closed and the producers and stores say they have stuff in magazines and they can even increase the production if needed. (Source: https://www.se.pl/krakow/koronawirus-ogromna-panika-w-sklepach-znikaja-wszystkie-produkty-zdjecia-aa-Tv4m-9bPm-q3QC.html btw. don’t check it out if you know Polish and you like your brain cells…). I’ve got information that the queue in the pharmacy was long, but nothing about short supply. I’m not sure if the fact that you are supposed to leave surgical masks alone is because masks are a big topic now, or because there is a short supply of them now.

The new law that was recently written and implemented says that you cannot export health equipment (including masks) or medicine (Source: https://tvn24.pl/polska/koronawirus-w-polsce-zakaz-wywozu-lekow-przeciwgoraczkowych-igiel-i-masek-4300059)

I have a bit more food than normal. I hope to slowly increase it to get into a reserve that will be enough for two weeks for all people living in my place. As far as I know, even if one person is sick, others can leave the house if they wear masks – at least that’s what I’ve read about Polish home quarantines for now.

My partner put an instruction how to wash hands properly in the workplace. It’s a funny frog-themed rhyming poem. I’ve heard about some hand washing songs – most probably English? – well, we don’t have them here… or I wasn’t in contact with a preschool kid recently enough to know that.

My mum is too afraid to watch news on TV. When I visited them recently, she and some other family members were really scared, my father was talking some nonsense about how horrible it will be but thankfully without much detail that I can remember now. I stopped him before he could say too much and told him that since he believes in the ruling party so much, for sure they will be able to handle the epidemic properly. He didn’t seem to have a proper answer. But really, a whole cross-section through the society: some members just plainly scared; some sewing fear-mongery, being indifferent themselves, even happy to see their apocalyptic fantasies to come true; some completely unfazed, seeing all the situation around as a pure annoyance. Some of my family members living abroad, when asked if they have enough food reserves, asked what’s going on, are we preparing for war? Note that the country they’re in have an order of magnitude higher number of cases than Poland.

I believe both panic and not preparing, not doing anything is wrong in this situation. Little inconvenience today and the society will stay a bit healthier a bit longer.

My grandma was told to stay at home (she can go outside because she doesn’t live in a big city, so she has a garden) and generally looks like she’ll follow the instructions, which is great, but my grandpa doesn’t seem to care, unfortunately, and while he has a strong health, my grandma has diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Come on, people – now we’re at the moment of history when we need to be responsible not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. And wash your hands.

The charlatans are already starting. Here in Poland the main magical cure is of course vitamin C in deadly doses. Please make sure you don’t take medical advice from unknown sources (like me), random people over the internet (comments on facebook, youtube etc.), or even someone you know but who isn’t a medical professional. Just follow what the doctors and administration say in your place.

Overall I’m happy Poland decided to start containment measures early, because that’s the time when it’s the most important. I don’t think the epidemic can be stopped even in Poland even after those measures – but as many said before me, it’s more about slowing it down so hospitals can handle it properly until we get an effective and safe cure or vaccine.

PS. For my Polish readers, I quite liked this post: https://www.rmf24.pl/tylko-w-rmf24/grzegorz-jasinski/blogi/news-to-nie-sa-cwiczenia-to-pandemia,nId,4375856 – its title is basically “It’s not an exercise, it’s a pandemic…” and points out that now we need to unite, because the society needs to trust the elites and elites needs to be trustworthy: if the opposition points out the problem, we need to trust that this problem exists; if the government says there is no problem, we need to trust that in fact there is no problem.