Real vs digital

I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity.
The world will only have a generation of idiots – Albert Einstein

Last week I went to see the opera for the first time in my life. It was Verdi’s Aida and I loved every bit of it!

Then the next day at lunch we had a heated discussion about the future of technology (of course), and humans wearing Google glasses or a similar device that will allow us to receive information instantly and continuously, kind of like augmented reality that’s turned on all the time. You won’t even need to reach for your phone, it will just be displayed literally right in front of your eyes.

More and more things are becoming digital these days, and you can see ever leaving your room.

But then I thought, that all of those fancy technological gadgets still won’t replace things that are so human nature, like in-person interactions with friends, traveling, or live arts. Isn’t it amazing that operas that were written in 18th century still draw us in to see them live, art from centuries ago still inspires us, and no matter how much you Skype with your family overseas it doesn’t come close to flying over and spending time with them? And wouldn’t you rather go fishing/play basketball/drive a racecar for real than playing a similator video game?

I’m not sure where I’m going with this… let’s just all embrace our human-ness, choose to hang out with friends at a bar instead of Google hangouts, and go experience things in real world, outside of the digital screen.

WordPress: Exclude directory from URL rewrite with .htaccess

As you know, WordPress uses .htaccess to rewrite URLs so they become nice and SEO-friendly.

Sometimes though, you might want to use a directory within your web root that can be accessed directly.

To do this, open your .htaccess file and add a line right under the first RewriteRule instruction:

 RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/(mydir|mydir/.*)$

Replace “mydir” with your actual directory name.

So your full .htaccess instruction set will look like this:

# BEGIN WordPress
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/(mydir|mydir/.*)$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
# END WordPress

Now you should be able to access that directory directly, like this:

Book: the Adventures of Little Onion (Chipollino)

Yesterday I was sick and was sitting in bed all day with my laptop, and somehow got carried away by this nostalgic wave for the books of my childhood.

Thanks to the power of the internet, today you can find things from many years in the past, collected and preserved by fellow admirers of the lost era of Soviet childhood captured in books.

One such book is by an Italian writer named Gianni Rodari, whose work was incredibly famous and loved in the USSR, but it seems like none of his work got any prominense in English-speaking world.

This book is called where the poor are oppressed by the rich and greedy. The story and its translation into Russian are wonderful, and another remarkable feature of this book were the illustrations. The characters of the story were drawn so well, and you can tell what kind of role each one is playing, whether they are rich or poor, kind or arrogant.

*The first cover is from 1955 – I had the exact same one. The next one is of Chipollino making Senior Tomato cry, because he’s an onion – get it? :) The third one is the cover for a later edition.

This is one of my favorites, and here’s the link to the full version (in Russian) with wonderful illustrations by Suteev.

Modern-day superpower

I have a lot of admiration for polyglots. Imagine: being able to understand and converse with people of many countries and places! Sounds like a real, modern-day superpower to me!

It may sound daunting, but all languages seem pretty logical, and if you figure out common patterns and learn to memorize well, it is not that difficult.

So by chance, I heard about Tim Ferriss’ most recent book called a point!

Here’s a couple of exerpts from the book sample explaining the approach:

I’m only fluent in Russian and English, and know bits of Kazakh, Korean, German and Italian (just some words and counts, really), but I’d loooove to learn more to be able to speak and understand. Plus Dutch, Spanish, French and Japanese would be really cool ones to add to the mix. So I’m thinking Ill try and see how many languages I can learn in the next 6–12 months by deconstructing patterns and memorizing the essentials, versus the “standard” academic approach. Who’s willing to join me for the fun?

If you’re still not convinced: watch this amazing video of the little boy selling peacock feather fans in at least 10 languages! He’s gonna go far, man!

Book recommendations: December 2012

Iâ??ve recently discovered a site, that recommends books for you based on your previous reading history, and yours and other peopleâ??s ratings. Itâ??s pretty good and beats Amazon, which shamefully still lacks a great recommendation engine, despite being in this business since the 90s and having a shitload of data to analyze.

In any case, I found this first book through and read it while vacationing in Mexico. Itâ??s called â??The End of Life Bookclubâ? and is a non-fiction book by a journalist Will Schwalbe. It struck a cord with me because itâ??s about love: family love, love of life and living it to the fullest, and love of great books. Itâ??s well-written and an easy read, despite the fact that it talks about such grim subjects as dying from cancer or the situation in Afghanistan. The book itself recommends some good reading, so thatâ??s why I give it a thumbs up.

This next one is an utterly hilarious, entertaining and engaging book called and mentioned it to a few people, but wanted to wait til I get to the end before recommending it. So the final verdict is – highly recommended! Itâ??s a great one.

â??The Light Between Oceansâ? by ML Steadman is a fiction novel that I think will appeal mostly to women, itâ??s a bit dramatic and sad like almost all books in the â??women-targetedâ? category (usually about loss of children and such). I normally donâ??t like to read this kind of drama, but the writing is beautiful and itâ??s set in Australia, so I made an exception. Well written, good storyline.

And lastly, James Altucherâ??s â??I was blind but now I seeâ? – provocative, no-nonsense honest read on a lot of controversial topics like religion, college, owning a house, fear, crappy people, creativity and more. A lot of that content is covered to some extent on his blog, but for $0.99 you get this complete packaged ebook. Recommended for those who hate to conform.

*All links to books mentioned above are to Kindle editions on Iâ??m hoping to make it easy to click and try/buy. I hate that itâ??s nearly impossible to buy a Kindle book from iPhone, as it drops you to paperback/hardcover versions if you search, and thereâ??s no way to find a Kindle one. Argh, Amazon, we are in a love-hate relationship I guess!

Once a bookworm, always a bookworm

I’ve been a bookworm all my life. But I did not know that, of course, because when I was a kid I didn’t know much English, not to mention the word “bookworm”. Also, Russian people love to read, and as I saw huge bookcases full of books at every house I visited as a kid, I assumed that’s what everyone does – reads. I would often be found in a corner with a book in my lap, while all other kids made noise and ran around. So only now I realize: I’ve been a bookworm all my life!

On the morning of my 7th or 8th birthday, I walked into my parents bedroom and found my mom still in bed but already awake. She told me to open the big wardrobe door and look inside, on the shelf. Which I did and found a pile of new books that she got for me! It was such a delight!

Here’s one of the books that was in the pile and I still remember its name:

The book is called “One summer at the end of the world”, and it’s about a boy who lives with his family at a military base on an island in the Far East of Russia. *Image from

And some other wonderfully illustrated books that I had in my collection a kid, and just managed to find them on the internet. Aren’t they beautiful?

*All images are from

We were all good readers in my family, and had a big bookcase full of serious HGH hgh books for adults, the amazing 12-volume Soviet Children’s Encyclopedia (a rare and famous collection to have back in the day), lots children’s books and books of math puzzles (because two of my grandparents were college math teachers).

Highly coveted Soviet Children’s Encyclopedia, the exact same one that we had. My favorite was volume 4, about flora and fauna, followed by volume 1 explaning geology, climate, volcanoes, and other cool Earth stuff. *Image from Wikipedia

When I ran out of books at home, I started to borrow from relatives and friends, and then from the central children’s library located on the main Lenin’s square in my home town. I would make a trip there once every two weeks, and it was a paradise! Rows and rows of booksheves, and it seemd you could never run out of things to read… Remember the old-school system of libraries writing down your library card number and due date on the inside of the first cover? Kind of a chrono-history of all previous borrowers who had a privilege to hold this very same book in the past.

*Central Children’s Library in Shymkent, present day

To this day, reading is one of my favorite pastimes. So I wanted to dedicate some posts to remarkable books that I would recommend to other people (and I am pretty picky, so you won’t find many “bestsellers” or “blockbusters” or womens or young adult garbage on the list). Hope you enjoy it, and I’m always curious to hear what smart people are reading, so please send your recommendations!

Animal of the day: Camel

Some truth about camels

My friend Adam is back from Morocco and said on Facebook that his travel bags smell like mint, camel and cumin. Which got me thinking about camels this morning. We also have camels in Kazakhstan, and if you drive in rural areas you can see them grazing or crossing the road. During the holiday of Nauriz they also bring camels to the celebration shows.

*Photo source

I wanted to share some fun facts about this majestic animal, because, admit it – how often do you even think about camels?

Do you know the difference between one-hump and two-hump camels? By the way, one-hump camels are called dromedary, and two-hump camels are called Bactrian.

Bactrian Camels are much less common than dromedary (one-hump). Bactrian camels are native to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Aside from the obvious difference of the number of humps, Bactrian Camels differ in a few other key ways. For example, the Bactrian camel grows a thick coat of hair each winter. That coat of hair falls off every spring. This is to deal with the extreme variation of temperature in the Gobi desert where summer highs often top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter months can see significant amounts of snow.
– Source: the Hatch report

What happens if you breed one-hump and two-hump camels? Not a three-hump one, as you might guess.

It is possible to cross breed the two types of camels. Some people would expect that by breeding a one-hump camel with a two-hump camel that the result might be a three hump camel. The actual math equation is closer to this: one-hump camel + two-hump camel=a camel with one really large hump.
– Source: the Hatch report

Camelâ??s milk is widely consumed in Kazakhstan and is called â??shubatâ?, it has high contents of vitamins C and D and is said to be really good for strengthening immune system. I am from Kazakhstan, but I somehow have not tried it (I tried horse milk and wasnâ??t a big fan).

Also in Kazakhstan camels are called â??ships of the desertâ?. Some Kazakh names include the word â??baby camelâ? in them, such as â??Ak-botaâ?, which means â??white baby camelâ? or â??Botagozâ?, which means â??camelâ??s eyeâ?.

Camels originated in North America and then spread to Asia and other countries:

Fossil evidence indicates the ancestors of modern camels evolved in North America during the Palaeogene period, and later spread to most parts of Asia.

The last camel native to North America was Camelops hesternus, which vanished along with horses, cave bears, mammoths and mastodons, cave lions, sabertooth cats, and most other large animals on the continent, coinciding with the migration of humans from Asia
– Source: Wikipedia