Friday, May 6, 2016

Camino de Santiago: Day of a Pilgrim

previous post: Camino de Santiago: Preparation

Today is my 8th day of walking in a row. I have already walked 194.2 km and I have 555.2 km to go to Santiago de Compostela. I am going to take you with me today so you can get some insides of a pilgrim's day walking Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago in Spanish)

I woke up at 6:30 AM. I slept in a room with four other people. There were three Scottish guys 50ish years old. They were speaking with a strong accent. They have a flight on the 24th of May from Santiago de Compostela so they have to walk 30 km each day in order to make it on time. They have so far the tightest schedule from people I've encountered.

The other person sleeping in the room was my Canadian friend Sofia. Today it will have been the forth day we have been walking together. When I met her she was in a group with two other people but one of them already ended their pilgrimage and the other stayed behind.
Sofia can draw here is her drawing of a Roncesvalles church.
Today it is going to be a shorter day. We have planned to walk just 20 km. Because yesterday we walked 35 km which was more than was planned because in the previous city called Nájera all the hostels were full so we had to walk another 6 km to Azofra, thankfully we got last few empty beds. The day before yesterday it was also more than 30 km so today we are going to take it easy.

Today morning is the first time I feel some pain. Both of my feet hurt one in an ankle and top of an instep of the other which is probably caused by running down the stairs two days ago. Also my shoulders hurt from carrying a backpack.

I walk in Vibram Five Fingers shoes and I am absolutely satisfied with them. I have no blisters or any other problems. I generally think that the lighter shoes you have the better. I don't really see the point of big boots unless there is a snow or something like that.
I get a lot of questions about my shoes. Most of the people ask "Do you feel stones?" or "Does it hurt?" I do feel stones and it doesn't hurt. In boots with hard sole your feet touch the boot always at the same spot so it hurts your feet at that spot and you can blister. But in a shoe with thin sole every step is different because depending on what you step your foot is always stressed at a different place so the overall wear spreads out all over your feet and they stay healthy. 

Sofia cooked oatmeal for breakfast, my favorite breakfast which I eat every day at home but this the first time I eat oatmeal on Camino. Thank you Sofia, it was delicious :-)

We hit the road at 7:37 AM. We met Franco Italian/Welsh retired man who walked with us yesterday last 6 km because he also couldn't find a place to stay at the previous city. He doesn't like Camel bag (water bag you put in your backpack with a tube going directly to your mouth so you can drink without taking off your backpack.) He doesn't like it because when it breaks it makes wet all your stuff in your backpack. Instead of it he has something similar bottle with a tubing.

Today we walked mostly on dusty road with a small rocks.
There were wineyards around. They look different than in Czechia. There are just small trunks with a few leaves and usually there is no fence around it, just open field.
First town we passed through was Cirueña. It is a ghost town. There are new houses which all look alike. Houses have shutters closed. There is nobody there in the streets.

Next city Salto Domingo de la Calzada was a little bit bigger. We bought a bread to share in a green grocery. And I bought one red pepper and ten strawberries. Altogether for 1.5 €.

I already spent a lot of time with Sofia so I got sick of her and I walked the rest of the day alone.

It started raining so I put my raincoat on. It stopped raining immediately but I kept my raincoat on because I could already see the destination village.

 I walked under interesting highway bridge
Today's destination village's name is Grañón. I met Sofia again. We decided to stay in an usual hostel in a back of church. They don't have any fixed price. You can donate any amount of money you want. There is going to be a dinner together.

After checking in I went on a walk around a village. Dutch girl called Maike joined me. The village is on top of a hill so there is a nice view to a colorful countryside in all directions.
Spanish towns has very narrow streets so there is not enough space for a sidewalk.
The thing I like most about Spanish grocery stores is that they always have tinned chickpeas even in the smallest stores in little villages. But I had chickpeas for past few days so I wanted some change so I bought tinned mushrooms.

I participated in the dinner together at my hostel.
I am a vegan and the dinner was supposed to be with meat. So I asked and they put aside some salad without meat for me. I planned to add mushrooms into it instead of a meat. But left my tin of mushrooms unguarded and they put my mushrooms into the food with meat. So no mushrooms for me today :-(

From the room where we sleep there are doors which go directly into a church. But I missed the visit because writing a blog post on phone takes forever.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Camino de Santiago: Preparation

I am planning to walk the Camino the Santiago next month, in may 2016. I am going to take the French route. I am going to walk 750 km from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela in 29 days. It gives me 26 km per day on average.
De Manfred Zentgraf, Volkach, Germany - Manfred Zentgraf, Volkach, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=748316

Why do I want to do that? I am learning Spanish for over a year see How I have learned 2000 Spanish words in 10 months if you want to read more about that. It seems like a good idea to go to Spain to test my Spanish language skills in a real world. I like to do crazy things like that to see where my limits are. Three years ago I did something similar I went 3 000 km in 30 days on a recumbent bike from Czech republic to Romania and back. The physical demands will be similar, the main difference is that Camino de Santiago will be much more social event for me. I am going alone and I will meet people there on the road.

How do you prepare for a trip like that? It was recommended to me that the best first thing to do is to buy a flight ticket so you can't change your mind on going and you can only focus on the practical stuff. I knew that I want to go Spain and walk to Santiago the Compostela and that I want the trip to take around 1 month. I read some websites and discovered that there are many routes to Santiago de Compostela. I decided to take the most favorite one the French route, because it was highly recommended to me independently by two my friends which already walked it. About month ago I bought a flight ticket to Madrid. Which later turned out not to be the cheapest way because apparently flight from Bratislava to Madrid is cheaper than the Spanish train from Madrid to Pamplona which I need to take to get to the start of the route but I am going to spend one day in Madrid and so I am happy about that in the end. The way back from the end of the Camino is much easier I will take a flight from Santiago de Compostela to London and then directly to my city, Brno, Czechia (-: my first use of new official one word name of my country :-)

Day -1 of the trip will consists of taking train from Brno to Bratislava then plane from Bratislava to Madrid, then spending the evening and night in Madrid I want to see as much as possible of Madrid so I will postpone the necessary shopping for Pamplona next day. 

On day 0 I will take morning train from Madrid to Pamplona before I take the only bus to Roncesvalles at 3 pm I will do some shopping I will buy a Spanish SIM card to for mobile internet. You can get 2 GiB for one month for 10 € and sunscreen because I can't take bottle bigger then 100 ml to plane in cabin luggage. Then I will take the bus to Roncesvalles and sleep in hostel Albergue de peregrinos where I will get The Pilgrim Passport into which I will collect stamps every day to prove I walked the whole route.

Back to present. Now I am fighting the battle of deciding what not to take with me. The recommended backpack weight is less then 10 % of your body weight. I weigh 70 kg so I can take 7 kg back pack. 1 kg weighs the backpack itself, 2 kg of water, 1 kg sleeping bag which leaves me with 3 kg for everything else, clothes for one month, hygiene stuff and some snack food. The weather forecast says that it will 3 °C in Roncesvalles in the morning of my start of the walk so it looks like I need some warm clothes with me. Fortunately tomorrow here in Brno will be exactly the same weather so I can test what clothes do I need. I will use our tomorrow  9th Call of the Woods: Around Tisnov hike as a training I will pack all my stuff which I am going to carry on the Camino and see what happens.

I am going to end this blog post with picture of me in my new walking hat.

Monday, February 29, 2016

How I have learned 2000 Spanish words in 10 months

Ten months ago I have started learning Spanish on Duolingo. I didn't know a single Spanish word back then. I didn't have any particular reason to learn Spanish. I just wanted to see how the Duolingo app works because my friend Radim told me that it is gamified really well. At first it seemed liked an innocent thing just a few minutes every day in the morning. After a few weeks I got used to it. It gets gradually more difficult especially because you start forgetting and you have to go back and relearn. I started spending more time learning Spanish even from other sources.

Let's jump to the present moment. I keep going. I spend thirty to sixty minutes per day actively learning and about the same time reading a book in Spanish or watching a TV shows just for fun. I know more than two thousand words. I understand about 60 % of both written and spoken Spanish. Those are the boring facts. Now let's get deeper into what worked so well for me.

Duolingo is based on translating sentences. They expect you to figure out the grammar by yourself and it works. At the beginning Duolingo worked pretty well for me. Everything was new. I had to pay a lot of attention to everything. After some time I understood the basic grammar and it became more or less just about memorizing new vocabulary. Then it started to go sideways. It became a mechanical process for me. I just typed the answers without thinking and also I tried to do it as fast possible because I thought that the faster I go through it the faster I am going to learn the language. Boy I was so wrong. In the app it looked all OK. But I wasn't actually able to use most of the it. I wasn't able to use new words when speaking and I wasn't able to recall the new words when reading even though I was able to translate the same word correctly in the app few minutes ago.

It turns out that mindfully paying attention to all the details of the sentence in foreign language is key factor in learning. That way you create much more connections and the new information become easily accessible for you to use it in real world situations. Here are two techniques which help me accomplish it:

  • Say the sentence aloud in your mother tongue. After doing so say it again but now in the foreign language you are learning. There is a huge difference between just reading or hearing something and saying it aloud. Saying it aloud brings a lot of memories into your consciousness. Like memories from your childhood somehow connected to the words some some emotional experiences or maybe some activities you like to do connected to the sentence you just said aloud. In the middle of all this you say the sentence in the foreign language. It gets connected into everything you just have in your conscious memory. This way you build a lot of useful connections to the new words really quickly. That is the important part for being able to actively use the new word later in a conversation. It is going to just spontaneously come up to you whenever you need it the same way as all the other memories came to you when you said the sentence in your mother tongue.
  • Take your time. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Your brain just needs a few seconds to find the connections.
  • Be creative and playful. After you say the sentence in foreign language say next sentence which you create on your own. It can be related to the previous sentence or you can just take one word and use it. What helps me is that I am usually studying outside and I can use my surroundings and as an input and I can comment on anything I see around me in a language I am learning. This is a higher level and it takes a lot of time and effort so I don't do it with each sentence but just from time to time when I have some idea I stop for a few tens of seconds I try say something with the words I have just learned. Because the sooner I use it the better.
I keep everything I need for learning the language on my smart phone so I can study anytime and anywhere. I prefer to study outside especially when walking. Apart from Duolingo I note new vocabulary into Google Keep immediately after I encounter some new interesting expression. On a regular basis I put the vocabulary into Memrise. Here is my vocabulary named Random Spanish. It also includes pronunciation from Google Translate. I read a book in Spanish book on my smart phone in app FBReader it translates text you don't understand with just one click, so it is possible to comfortably read a text even if you don't understand most of it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Firebase #1: Synchronise User's Private Data

Are you developing Android, iOS or Web app and do you want to store user's private data in the cloud so users have their data on all of their devices without you having to write a single line of server code? In this blog post I am going to present a simple solution using Firebase. Firebase is JSON NoSQL cloud database, it is free if you have less than 100 users online at the same time. I will focus on the Android implementation. This is not meant to be a complete step by step guide. Read the whole article first to get you the idea and then follow the provided links to go deeper.

Since this is the simplest solution to get you started there some limitations:
  • Each user has just his own private data. There is no sharing between users and no public access.
  • Just one method of authentication can be used in the app. e.g. just Google or just Facebook or just Email. Developer can choose any method and hard code it, but then it is not possible for the user to choose his preferred method of authentication.
Both of these limitations can be addressed. I might get to it in future posts. Here is some solution on stackoverflow: How can I login with multiple social services with Firebase? I'm not sure if their solution is secure.

After you go through the Firebase's Android Quickstart you know how to read and write data to and from firebase database, but anybody has access to the whole database so we want implement security rules so each user has access only to his own data.

Each user will have its own private subtree in Firebase database. The firebase url is going to look like this https://yourapp.firebaseio.com/{$user_id}/ anything after the {$user_id} path is accessible only by the authenticated user.

Here are Firebase rules to make it happen. You put them into "Security & Rules" page in firebase dashboard https://yourapp.firebaseio.com/?page=Security.

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{
  "rules": {
    "$user_id": {
      ".read": "auth !== null && auth.uid === $user_id",
      ".write": "auth !== null && auth.uid === $user_id"
    }
  }
}

These rules mean that the root level path of each object is going to be a user id. Anything nested underneath it can be read and written only by authenticated user which user id is equal to the one in the root path of the object.

I definitely recommend you to read more about Firebase security.

Now I am going to get little bit deeper into Android implementation details.

I implemented Facebook authentication. It was straight forward. I followed this guide: https://github.com/firebase/FirebaseUI-Android#using-firebaseui-for-authentication and then this: https://www.firebase.com/docs/android/guide/login/facebook.html

Then I decided to switch to Google authentication and it was when the fun begun. It took me a while to resolve a few issues. I also followed the guides here: https://github.com/firebase/FirebaseUI-Android#using-firebaseui-for-authentication and here: https://www.firebase.com/docs/android/guide/login/google.html but it didn't go so smoothly. There is a little catch that you have to create two different google OAuth client ids in google developer console. One is going to be an android application where you put hash of your signing key. Other will be Web application. But the thing which doesn't make sense is that in your android app you have to actually use Web application's OAuth client id. I found it here on stack overlow: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/33583326/new-google-sign-in-android

Now you know the catch and you can follow the google guide: https://developers.google.com/identity/sign-in/android/start-integrating

Then after you have your web aplication google OAuth client id and you are using FirebaseUI https://github.com/firebase/FirebaseUI-Android#using-firebaseui-for-authentication you have to put the google client id into your manifest. They missed to mention it in FirebseUI readme.

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<application>
        <!-- Google Configuration -->
        <meta-data
            android:name="com.firebase.ui.GoogleClientId"
            android:value="@string/google_client_id" />
</application>


Don't forget to enable your method of authentication in "Login & Auth" section of Firebase dashboard https://yourapp.firebaseio.com/?page=Auth and also put your client id and secret there.

Finally after you successfully authenticate user into firebase you can write into his firebase database:
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mFirebase = new Firebase("http://yourapp.firebaseio.com/");
mFirebase.child(mFirebase.getAuth().getUid()).setValue(true);

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Adventure of Discovering New City

I was returning back to home from my trip to Barcelona. My plane landed in Prague on Saturday morning. I had no further plans. When I was going by a bus from the airport I told to myself since I am already here I will spend the day in Prague. I made my first stop at Divoká Šárka and there it all began. I randomly started speaking with local girls and I asked them to recommend me some interesting place to visit. They told me to climb up to the top of a hill nearby, there would be nice view. So I did exactly that I climbed the hill and took this picture.




Then I realized I would have never found this place by myself so it seemed like a good idea to continue asking random people to recommend me places to visit. I asked a girl at the subway station she recommended me to visit the Metronome in Letná.


There I met a Mexican guy. Firstly he couldn't believe me that I, the local Czech, was asking him, the foreigner tourist, about nice place to visit in Prague, but nevertheless he sent me to see the Dancing House.


I was loving it. Speaking to strangers. Not having to decide where to go and still being able to see the most beautiful places. It didn't feel like me. Usually I am a shy guy but then it was easy to speak to strangers.

At the end of the trip I had unexpected train adventure. I bought a ticket, I got to the first train to Brno. On the train, despite beeing on the train to Brno I was told by the train conductor that I am in the wrong train and I have to get out. Apparently not all the trains to Brno are equal. He was super nice. He printed me out the list of the stations where to switch. I was happy, more trains, more people to meet, more fun.

On the last train I spoke to Austrian girls going from a conference in Prague back to Graz. I told them the whole story and gave me next destination. In their city, in Graz, there is an Arnold Schwarzenegger museum. I was told that it is kind of creepy, they have all his personal stuff, copy of his appartment.

The adventure must continue. Who wants to go with me to Graz on a weekend in february?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Meditation

I want to gain more control over my thoughts, over what is going on in my head. I don't want to be so much under influence of my emotions. That's why one of my new year's resolution is to meditate daily. The plan is simple. I start with one minute meditation per day. After each successful week I add one minute. So if don't miss any day by the end of the year I will meditate 52 minutes per day. It is not going to happen because I will not be able to keep the streak, but it still looks realistic. Currently I am in second week, yay :), so it is 2 minutes meditation every day.

What is meditation?

I actually don't know much about it. But that's the goal to learn more about it.

Here is definition of meditation: "Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment. Meditating is deceptively simple." from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/meditation

I meditated for the first time half a year ago, after seeing video How To Meditate - The No Bullshit Guide to Meditation and I immediately saw the effect how it can get me from my head to the present moment. It turns down the noise of thoughts so I can see more clearly what is really important.

Other habit I want to build is to take a conscious deep breathe whenever I get into emotional stress so I can immediately gain more control in that moment.

other resources about meditation