The Daily Concept app one month later

It’s been more than a month now since I launched one of my recent projects that I’ve been working on: The Daily Concept app. The idea behind it is simple as well as the app itself:  it shows a different concept from various domains like Biology, Math, Psychology, Sociology, Religion, Physics, Economics and so on so the idea is to learn something new and interesting day by day.

Sounds like a great idea for an app isn’t it? Everyone wants to learn, to grow and to become the best possible versions of themselves! Well, that’s what I thought. I got very excited with this idea when I came up with it, inspired by the Word of the Day from Merriam-Webster, and mistakenly thought that there are a lot of people out there that are thinking like me. I’ve done some research and realized that there is nothing similar on the Internet.

I’m an INTP according to the Myers-Briggs personality test. The INTP personality type is fairly rare, making up about 3 percent of the population, and is characterized by creativity, curiosity,  the strive to discover and learn more about the world around them. The INTP type is also characterized by rational and logical thinking rather than emotional thinking.  It seems that the INTP and INTJ types are the most inclined to want to learn something new each day but I failed in finding and coaxing them so far. The truth is that there are a lot more people, the majority of the population that are not thinking types and would rather spend their time and attention on something fun and entertaining, there is no surprise here, Kim Kardashian or some other celebrity of the day will always have much more followers than the concept of the day.

So, the promotion that I did for the past 30+ days was to post on 14 social media sites a screenshot from my phone with the concept of the day, along with the title, short description, download link for the app and tags. The screenshot doesn’t shows the whole description of the concept, only the first few lines, I thought that this would translate into more downloads.

quinarian system

I tried to automate this process as much as I could so it doesn’t take me much time to do the posting. I’m getting followers, some interactions in the form of likes and retweets/reblogs but that’s about it.

Judging by the first month’s metrics, it seems that this app will turn to be yet another failed idea. I’m not giving up on the app, I will do some minor tweaks to the app and continue to promote it on social media for at least one more month. Because of the high probability of failure is not worth investing too much time and energy into this project.

For the few active users of the app: you don’t have to worry about this, the app will continue to automatically show something new each day until the end of the year!  There are a lot of new concepts to be learned so keep an open mind and enjoy!

World’s Greatest Gamer

World’s Greatest Gamer

– You probably are the world’s greatest gamer. You achieved the highest score at dozens of games. I didn’t thought that you are the gaming type. How can you achieve all of these things? When do you have the time? You are constantly traveling and going through all kinds of crazy and wild adventures. You are still a big mystery to me, I won’t ask again about how you make your money because you don’t want to tell but how about this one, what’s your secret?
– Alright, while some of my methods have to remain a secret for the time being, I can tell you about this one. The secret is that it’s me and it’s not me the one who achieved those high scores.

artificial intelligence

– What do you mean? It has to do with philosophy, Schrodinger’s cat maybe? I don’t get it.
– You can train someone or something to copy and to do what you are doing but much better. In this case, it’s the case of SOMETHING. We’re talking about artificial intelligence here. I can give it a small push, a part of me and my actions for the machine to copy and machine takes it from there and does it much much better.
– Wow…I didn’t expected this answer. So it’s actually not you the one, isn’t it? It’s an intelligent bot. That explains a lot, explains how you can have all that free time.
– Yes, some people, a lot of them actually, are afraid of something more intelligent than them, especially when that thing doesn’t have intrinsic vulnerabilities called emotions. I prefer to see the good side of things, we are far from an artificial intelligence that has the power to annihilate human kind. The truth is that these little bots can be liberating.
– How hard is to work with AI?
– Not as hard as most people think. Especially when there already are tools available to use. What I used is OpenAI Gym and Universe, no That Universe, Universe is another platform from OpenAI. OpenAI is an AI research company founded by some great guys like Elon Musk and Sam Altman and their tools are, as the names suggests, open and free to use. Speaking of the good or evil long term impact that AI can potentially have on humankind, OpenAI states and I quote: “should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as possible…”.
– I hadn’t heard about OpenAI before.
– Well it’s relatively new, it’s been around for only two years now. It’s possible that it will be very popular in the future. Let me now tell you how I actually did it. At some games I, sorry I mean the bot, the bot achieved a 80% of the possible score after only between a 1 and 2 hours of training and a 100% score after about 12 hours of training. Not bad isn’t it? Speaking of training there are two possibilities here, the first one is this: you let the bot learn everything by himself, this approach might require, depending on the complexity of the task, millions of trials and errors, each time he does something right he gets a virtual reward. The other possibility is to let the bot copy your human actions and improve them based on that virtual reward system that I mentioned earlier. I tried this approach at first but requires quite some time so what I did is I simply externalized this process to someone else, there are a lot of online places where you can find someone to do this for cheap or even free since we are talking about gaming here! The training requires a lot of computing power so you need to have a decent computer or you can simply rent a rig from one of the many solutions available in the cloud like Amazon EC2 or Google’s Compute Engine. This might not come cheaply. You also need to know some scripting language like Python because Python is quite popular in the world of artificial intelligence. It’s not that complicated, really, to learn and to work with Python. So what you do is this: you download Python and learn it, a weekend is sufficient to get the basic gist out of it. You then install Gym and Universe, the free tools from OpenAI and their dependencies. Gym is a toolkit for developing and comparing reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms, it sounds scary and complicated but it’s not, trust me, Universe is an existing collection of environments like Flash games, browser tasks and apps, mobile games and apps, computer games, using Universe you can turn any program into a Gym environment. You create a new Python script and import Gym and Universe into it. You start coding the rest of the bot. That’s about it.
– Huh…I think I understood only some parts of what you said. I don’t know much about algorithms, algebra, alchemy or whatever it takes to create an “intelligent” creation. I can’t remember the most intelligent thing that I’ve ever created but it most probably involved using some duct tape.

This is a work of fiction part of the Most Interesting Man in the World collection of short stories loosely inspired from my own life and other real life events.

Free climbing the El Capitan in Yosemite National Park

The Native Americans called it To-to-kon oo-lah, the Spanish called it El Capitan. The Captain of the Yosemite National Park. The 900 meters tall granite monolith proudly stands and watches over the surrounding green little giants of the forest. Home to the mighty and elegant Golden Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon, you can see them owning the heights, you can hear them cry in a loud single note, which is sometimes repeated several times in quick succession. From time immemorial, El Capitan sat silent, unconquerable, his vertical face showing no emotions, no defeat from the rain, the wind, the snow. Those who tried to conquer the El Capitan, to reach higher highs on the road to the sun failed silently, unknown and unseen by others, subjects to the mocking of screeching eagles who later cleaned the flesh off their broken bones. But under the attack of the brazen, the determined, the agile, the most interesting man in the world even giants can fall.

el capitan

It took about four hours to get here. Four hours in which I defeated the implacable giant using only my hands and feet. The mighty Eagle is now a silent witness to the coronation of a king. In distance, a kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies, disturbed by the fall of the giant, crosses the sky coming towards the fallen one. I thought for eight years of this moment, and I’ve been planning and training for two. I’ve been climbing for twenty years since the age of 11 and this is the peak moment of my life. People said that this couldn’t be done, that it’s too dangerous, that I’m crazy. Sometimes I doubted myself, started to cave in. This has been a great mental battle as much as it has been a physical one. You don’t go only against the vertical rock but against yourself too and you can sometimes be your worst enemy. I used every small weakness of the rock against it and in same cases I had to work with very small holds where only a thumb can fit. The rock was absolutely merciless. I dreamed of this every day since the moment when I decided to do it. You need to have enormous self-control and focus, to not let the pressure get to you in the struggle against gravity and the vertical wall. The slightest move comes after an intense and deliberate thought process and can be the difference between life and death. Time slows down and every small movement becomes eternal.

How do you feel after an achievement like this you might ask. It feels fantastic! But there is no time to linger and to bask in the glory of the momentarily success. Onward to other great adventures!

This is a work of fiction part of the Most Interesting Man in the World collection of short stories loosely inspired from my own life and other real life events. Inspired by the real life of Alex Honnold, the first person to free climb the notorious El Capitan.

Truffle hunting with pygmy ponies in the Ukrainian Carpathians

Danylo has a fast walking pace. I’m not sure if this is his normal walking speed or it’s because he is trying to keep up with his special pet, a white and black colored pygmy pony with blond hair. He looks quite funny to be honest. The fact that the pony is wearing miniature traditional footwear made from leather called opanak is also contributing to his funny image. I wonder if he also wears horseshoes under those opanaks. I ask Danylo why does Pinky the horse is wearing them. “Joke”, “Interesting kind of jokes and name practices here” I think out loudly.
It’s a nice bright day here in the Ukrainian Carpathians. We got up early, as a matter of fact it’s usual for the villagers to get up early, at four in the morning they are up and ready to go to the barn and milk their cows, ate a nice traditional meal consisting of mlyntsi which is a thin pancake filled with meat and cabbage, cheese and a friend egg.

Ukrainian Carpathians


To get here at the edge of the forest we followed a dusty and rocky little road through the mountain village, always uphill, we went through yards and wooden gates, it doesn’t seem to be a problem to cross someone’s property here, across a meadow and jumped over a derelict wooden gate. Pinky proved to be quite agile in jumping over that last wooden gate…well it wasn’t that much of a gate anyway, it was more like a skewed log hanging from a side of the fence. All these precarious wooden fences are supposedly to keep the brown bears away and to funnel the herds of sheep that go to graze high up in the mountains during the summer. The air is fresh, the view is spectacular, the green and the shadowy black of the woods blend with lighter colors of the summer-dried grazing pastures and with the stone grey of the higher and emptier peaks.

I hope Pinky knows what he is doing because I haven’t heard about horses or pygmy horses to be truffle detectors, from what I know only pigs and dogs are used in truffle finding. Apparently, truffles smell like the natural sex hormones of the male pig so you might want to give them a nice wash before using them in the fine art of gastronomy. The problem with truffle finding pigs is that they eat too much of them and can cause damage to the fungus when digging. I tested yesterday Pinky’s mushroom detecting and eating abilities when I wasn’t watched by the others but before I say how it went I have to digress a bit and say that Yes! mushrooms are also a type of fungus just like the truffles are. So what did I do? I took a Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), there are plenty of them here in these parts, which was staying in a bowl in the kitchen, I sneaked to the barn and present it to Pinky. He smelled it a bit, touched it with his mouth but didn’t bite, didn’t eat it, shook his head. Alright, so Pinky is not a Parasol mushroom eater and he wouldn’t make a good Mario player either. What does a pygmy pony do when he detects a truffle? He doesn’t bark like a dog would do nor he would start digging in the ground like a pig. A little dance maybe? Horses are good at little dances, they can be trained to do all sorts of moves. I asked Danylo about this and he responded in a half broken English half Ukrainian mumble.

We walk for a while in the dark and damp forest for three hours. The smell of the terpens from the resin of the coniferous trees is great but there is no find. I’m also starting to smell a rat. I tell Danylo that it’s been enough truffle hunting for today. On the way back we find some yellow and red edible mushrooms so we don’t return from the hunt empty handed after all. I also find out from Danylo about an ukranian strongman named Dmytro Khaladzhi that has the reputation of carrying horses on his back, I didn’t believed him but when we got back home in the village he showed me a video on his old computer. “Tomorrow maybe better day for truffles”, says Danylo, “Yeah, right.” I’m thinking to leave tomorrow from this place but I do enjoy walking through the woods and I didn’t particularly came here for the truffles so yes, there will be a tomorrow…tomorrow, but it will be a tomorrow with a twist because I want to play a joke on Danylo. I will ask to walk Pinky on the leash and pretend that Pinky found a truffle, a nice, big, charcoal-covered-rock-of-a-truffle.

This is a work of fiction part of the Most Interesting Man in the World collection of short stories loosely inspired from my own life and other real life events.

Bagan, City of Gods

The Bagan temples rise up like termite mounds from the surrounding green domes of the Kleinhovia and Shorea Siamensis trees. Some of the temples are still lighted by artificial light, their day earth tone colors of brown and tan are turning to gold during the night through the magic of the reflector lights. You feel like you are among the gods now. The water vapours from the nearby Irrawaddy river turn to mist in the cool air. The low mist gives you the impression that you are above the clouds as you enter the city of gods.

I arrived yesterday in Bagan, took a flight from Yangoon here. From the Nyaung U Airport I took a taxi to a hotel close to the Bagan Archaeological Zone. The plan was to go by elephants, like I already did before in other places in Myanmar, which is a great experience by the way – to get carried by a gentle giant, to have a different perspective on the surroundings, to be able to get closer to the canopy, to smell the leafs, the flowers, to be able to pick the apple of the woods which is another name for the Indian bael fruit. The change of plan occurred when I noticed a brochure for the services of a hot-air balloon company in the hotel lobby. A long, slow day through the city of gods didn’t seemed as exciting now. I wanted to watch the sunrise from the top of one of the highest temples in Bagan. It’s not enough to just float, to distance yourself in the aether and make the world intangible, the view is spectacular no doubt about it but there are other senses that need to be satisfied besides sight, I need to smell the fresh canopy air, to touch the earthenware temples and stupas, to hear the song of the early birds.

bagan hot-air balloon

It wasn’t easy to convince Duwa to change the usual schedule for his balloon flights and to let me bring a rope on board. “What for?” “To climb down on top of one of the temples”, he thought that I was joking, “You crazy!”. The owner of the balloon company didn’t had to know about this little early morning excursion, I told him. I also asked him if he likes gifts. A nice gift is always a good argument in favor of a cause. Duwa is a reasonable guy, smiles a lot and has an interesting family story, he comes from the Jingpo people who inhabit the hilly northern parts of Myanmar, started working here in Bagan in the 90’s when the Burmese authorities started an ample movement to renovate the decaying temples and to encourage tourism in the area. The Burmese names are fascinating, they have no surname at all and usually consist of only one or two syllables. Duwa said that in the older times people could change their names as they pleased, to reflect a change in their lives, nowadays though, the government is trying to curb this cultural habit.

Luckily, Duwa is a skilled balloonist with many years of experience, there are also favorable conditions in the lack of wind currents and the stillness of the air. The balloon is neutrality buoyant now, Duwa’s agile eyes and senses are always on the lookout for slight changes in altitude, wind, temperature and humidity. I don’t know how much time he is able to maintain this fragile equilibrium so I hurry, I check again if the rope is properly secured on one of the metal frames of the basket, grab the rope with both hands, put one feet over the margin of the basket and then the other, I fall a bit and start moving like a pendulum but I manage to stabilize myself and to catch the rope with my both feet. I slowly make my way down, going parallel to the tower pinnacle of the Mahabodhi Temple. The balloon starts moving a bit and I look upwards to see what’s going on. Duwa’s worried face is looking down. There is the risk that if the balloon gets lower it can crash into the tower. I manage to stabilize myself and reduce the swing of the pendulum by touching the stone of the tower with my extended leg. A few rope steps more and I’m down. I grab with my hand one of the cold circular edges that go around the tower and then put my foot on another, bigger circular edge, it’s important to always have three points of contact when doing these kind of things, pull myself towards the tower, put my other foot down and then let go of the rope. I shout to Duwa that he can now start the burner and pump hot air so he can gain altitude and leave. I have to climb down a little more to find a better place from which I can see the sunrise.
The view is glorious. The slowly rising sun brings golden sparks to the towers of the city of gods. Each day, the towers are silent witnesses to creation and rebirth. Khepri, the god of sunrises conquers the darkness of the night bringing life, warmth, energy and hope.

This is a work of fiction part of the Most Interesting Man in the World collection of short stories loosely inspired from my own life and other real life events.