offset \ˈȯf-ˌset\ noun

a force or influence that makes an opposing force ineffective or less effective

2021 Recap

2021 came and went. I was thinking that it was going to hinder our plans, but it didn't. We managed to see our folks. Life was good in 2021. I got all twelve articles out which was a modest success for me. There's still a ton of stuff that will get carried over to 2022, but that's OK.

The new year started OK as well. It's January, but we already got the third shot of the vaccine (with the accompanying fever as expected). I even applied for the citizenship just recently. The process will take some time.


Considering there's an ongoing pandemic, travel was limited, but in the small window of opportunity in the summer we visited our folks back in Croatia. Going there we also visited:

  • Italy, Venice, Dolomites, a slight detour via our old acquaintance, Trieste. All great looking and not as touristy at this time
  • Croatia, Pula, Brijuni National Park, Rijeka, Krk (actual place on the island of the same name), Zagreb and our respective homeplaces in Slavonia

I have to mention that we had six long six weeks to do this trip because we were able to work remotely, as well as take a lot of unspent days off. Venice is beautiful, so is Pula and Brijuni (that need much love).

Domestic travel suffered so we didn't travel much within Ireland, but we went to Dalkey again, this time with friends.

No events except one that we booked back in early 2020 before the pandemic hit so it was postponed several times:

I worked a lot on automating the household and bought some stuff to help me. Here's the big list:

ZigBee motor for the curtains
I decided to install another one for the angle change of the stripe curtains and it doesn't look too bad hidden in a corner
ZigBee inline switches
right now on the bathroom fan, but more to be installed for the lights. The problem is that the drywall is thin so there's difficulty installing it within the existing switch
Reolink cameras
monitoring the entryways for the peace of mind
ZigBee signal repeater
for the future projects with the extended ZigBee mesh
Disney+ is horribly buggy on PS4 so we are using this as a workaround, as well as to cast things from the local storage
Google Nest speaker
can't figure out my accent. It confuses "on" and "off" and thinks "close" is to query online for something close instead of closing the curtains, "screaming" instead of "streaming" and not to mention that once I tried to clean the bedroom with the RoboVac and it snarkily told me to do it myself :D
Lights under the bed
work with the morning alarm at the moment, but will attach the motion sensor so we can find our way to the bathroom at night
Universal Remote from Broadlink
to replace the remotes in the house and automate their functions at the same time, works with three devices at the moment

We also fell into the trap of pandemic shopping and bought a bunch of stuff unrelated to the automation. Some more necessary than others:

with a dynamo powered LED for checking when the water is warm enough (Vesna loves this one, she no longer dips a toe unless she sees the red light)
motorized standing one for me and a regular for Vesna (she prefers to do her exercise away from the desk). I'll automate mine eventually to rise every day instead of doing it manually
gave mine to Vesna because it's the same model as the one from her job and she likes it, and I bought another one that I loved sitting on back in Croatia
Trolley for wine
well, wine mostly, for now. We had to shuffle our furniture a bit for this one to fit in
Water pump for the plants
we don't want to bother our friends to water our plants every time we're away so this should cover for us instead
laminate everything! Well, some of the things in the apartment. So far underutilized
Mechanical keyboard
so I can get NKRO finally because the existing one was giving me a headache. This one glows as well
Book reader
eInk and all so Vesna can read more comfortably, also no dead trees
Smartphone for Vesna
so it's fast and takes cool photos
Bluetooth headphones for Vesna
mostly for audiobooks on her book reader, but she uses it for other things, too
Portable drone
for traveling and taking aerial photos
Electric scooters
right now we're buzzing around the park because we're too scared to go anywhere else
GoPro telescopic grip
the 360 camera was bought the year before, but the old grip broke ages ago so I had to take another one
Webcamera arm
for increased mobility during video calls
Caster wheels
hacking the IKEA coffee table so we can move it around
Magnetic photo frames
fridge is a shrine to our travels
Fingered shoes
to simulate barefoot walking

In 2021 we also:

  • changed the ISP and switched to fiber. A better deal than the previous coaxial one
  • more or less I was working on the automation scripts and visuals for the dashboard in the Home Assistant
  • I also started to host some services on the local Raspberry PI for the quick access
  • when visiting Croatia, I had to get a new ID card with biometric functionality so I had to go through the hoops of making it work with the chip reader on the PC
  • Vesna DMs D&D like a pro
  • our jobs didn't change
  • we paid off the apartment (and obviously started to finally implement the decor)
  • Trefle died so I had to unlock the API and am currently working with a drop-in replacement on Shamrock, but more on that later this year
  • we got vaccinated twice (and third time this year)
  • no courses and no conventions happened
  • still didn't draw and I am rectifying that this year, no excuses anymore. Krita 5 was released
  • no projects were finished, but were started so I expect to test and publish a big one this year. I also had to buy several items for it

All in all, not a bad year and I can only expect that this one turns out better. I am feeling pretty optimistic.

Cocktails For The New Year

I had a gap in publishing this year, but with this month, I'm catching up. Winter holidays are like a small hibernation. The temperature drops and we crank up the heating every now and then, when we feel cold. I like it because things slow down and get quiet. This is exacerbated with the ongoing pandemic. Still, we go outside to take a walk even though the weather is not as nice and plan out new trips that might happen. Nobody knows.

After the mandatory Covid-19 scare (because the nearby store was packed before holidays) and a home test after a few days, we came up negative so it's OK. The plans for the New Year's eve are ongoing. We'll be playing pen and paper RPG with friends on a video call. In the meantime, we decided to prepare by having some snacks around and home made cocktails. Mind you, we have no fancy glasses so they're not really super-presentable. Here's the list:

Cranberry Mimosa

Cranberry Mimosa

This one is quick to assemble and I've been assured is a holiday cocktail. For it, you need to prepare a simple syrup beforehand and you augment it with sparkling wine. Here's the version we tried. Nothing fancy.

  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup cranberries (halved)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bottle prosecco wine
  • several sprigs rosemary (optional)
  • several pieces fresh cranberries (optional)

Combine water, sugar and cranberries in a saucepan and bring to a boil constantly stirring. Remove from heat and cover. Refrigerate. If you make it in the morning, you can make cocktails in the evening. To assemble, strain the syrup and put 1 shot in a glass. Add 2 shots of sparkling wine (we used prosecco). Garnish with rosemary sprig and some fresh cranberries on a stick. You can also go wild and put the sugar on the glass rim.

Spicy Hot Toddy

Spicy Hot Toddy

This reminds me of mulled wine. Essentially it's a hot whiskey that can warm you up. It's commonly served in pubs around here. Here's a version with a spiced tea that serves two.

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 piece star anise
  • 3 pieces allspice
  • 1 piece clove
  • 4 pods cardamom
  • 1 thumbsize piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 bags black tea
  • 2 shots whiskey
  • 1/2 piece orange (juiced, optional)

Put water and spices and sugar in a sauce pan. Have it boil for five minutes, then remove from the heat. Add in the black tea bags and simmer for another four minutes. Remove and discard the spices and the teabags with a slotted spoon and add two shots of whiskey, maple syrup and a juice of half an orange. Whisk and put in mugs. Serve hot.

Homemade Cream Liquor

Homemade Cream Liquor

Of course, a vegan version. For this one you'll need a blender. We have a Vitamix, which is high powered and can make quick work of cashews and can turn the whole thing very smooth. This should give you about half a liter.

  • 1/2 cup whiskey
  • 1 carton plant based cooking cream (250ml)
  • 1/3 cup cashews (soaked overnight, or raw if using Vitamix)
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup oat milk
  • 1 pinch nutmeg

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend away for a minute. Probably longer in a weaker blender. Serve chilled.

As this year wraps up, this is the first time we've had so many days off in a row and not used them to travel somewhere. It takes a bit of effort to fight the restlessness and take it easy. Planning out things for the next twelve months helps with that. Into the new year we go.

Some More Home Automation

Our place just got smarter ;) First thing to sort was a fiber optic connection. Getting the router to behave was a pain. One ISP had an abysmally bad router and I am very tired of dealing with the technical support that knows less than me and should know more. I could avoid this, scratch that, I should avoid this by always going with a provider that would either allow a personal router or have theirs act as a bridge so I don't have to destroy my local network every time. We canceled the existing contract with the ISP providing coax network and switched to fiber optics with another ISP. This second ISP was, as said, bad, so we had to cancel them as well within two weeks and switch to the third one using the same infrastructure. The speeds are still not as promised, but are at least a bit more stable, with a router that has miles more options than than I expected. I hooked up one external drive so it behaves like a simple NAS now, as well as streamlining the devices connected to the internal network. For the ones who want to know more, it's a Fritz!Box model.

Moving on from there, I've set up CCTV with Reolink cameras using ONVIF Home Assistant integration. I was able to hook into streams on that side with Picture Glance card showing it. The motion sensor had to be interfaced through the local REST endpoint because it wasn't available out of the box with the integration. Fortunately, configuring it was not complicated. It looks something like this:

  - platform: rest
  resource: http://camera.local.ip.address/api.cgi?cmd=GetMdState&user=username&password=password
  name: My Camera Motion
  scan_interval: 2
  value_template: "{{ value_json[0].value.state }}"
  device_class: motion

It can later be added in the Home Assistant for display and automations. I'd need to tweak movement detection so I can record and send notifications properly when away from home.

In other news, we also got some additional Tradfri lighting under the bed (but alas no sensor yet), a shortcut button to switch scenes (even though the same can be achieved with a phone and Home Assistant scripts, which we did, but we don't always have our phones on us), a signal repeater for ZigBee so I can extend the range of our mesh (for future projects), and this cool showerhead that is powered by dynamo so it shows the temperature of water both numerically and in LED color (I know, we've got nothing better to do).

We also got a Chromecast to skip overloading our Raspberry with things. It proved to be OK and it works. Disney's application on PS4 constantly crashes on us after 10 minutes and this is a workaround so we can watch the shows over there. It also works with the NAS because we can stream videos on it through BubbleCast app on Android.

There are things in the pipeline that I'm to do in the coming months regarding home automation. I am aware that I need to wait to get all the equipment that comes to mind, but it only means that I'll have more things to write about. With another COVID-19 variant out there and the increasing number of people we know getting sick, we're staying put this year. Who knows. We might end up watching Home Alone. Not just live it :D

Topsoil Loss Problems

So COP26, right? More greenwashing, more broken promises. Abby Martin of the Empire Files asked Nancy Pelosi about military being exempt from the climate change talks and got a ridiculously evasive answer. Even more ominously, the answer implied that the primary way military was going to be involved in fighting climate change was to enforce security when inevitable unrest due to migrations and conflicts over reducing resources erupts. So, of course it needs to be extra funded. Nobody batted an eyelash.

At this point it's really hard to stay composed looking at the world go to waste. Aside from putting the pressure, people should also offer solutions. All of the activist efforts start to look like an exhaust valve, a catharsis. The pressure is not doing much. I was optimistic about the Paris agreement, but was ultimately disappointed, as noted previously.

Aside from the world being agonizingly slow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the biodiversity loss promises also not being kept (seems like we're constantly going down because they weren't kept under control a decade ago either), there's another pressing issue that does not get enough attention - the ongoing soil erosion. For instance, where it's easiest to observe - the struggle to contain expanding deserts - there are concrete efforts undertaken, like the Great Green Wall, with varying levels of success. These efforts do, however, demonstrate that once we set our minds to things, we can do them. But there's a less obvious aspect of it, where we're going about our business as usual, which is overfarming and the related topsoil loss.

Topsoil is the upper layer of soil with the biggest amount of the organic matter where most of biological soil activity occurs. To put it simply: no topsoil, no food.


We're originally from a place that is a part of the Pannonian Plain. It's not a mountainous area and is fit for growing crops; especially the staple foods, which are the basis of agriculture. They like to say it's the granary of the country, although with all the import/export activities, it's just one piece of the larger puzzle of food security in the world. However, I've heard it said from the people working the land that there's only around a hundred years of crop harvesting left in the region and that's it. They're being optimistic. Back in 2014, that is seven years ago, FAO notified that we have around 60 years of topsoil left. Right now it's closer to 50.

One of the largest influencers on the modern world is dr. Norman Borlaug. He's not studied in history, but he should be. A Nobel laureate holding a peace prize received in 1970, also called "the father of green revolution", he is credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. Quite amazing. He was an agronomist that developed a strain of high-yield wheat that greatly improved food security. Especially in developing nations. Talk about singular achievement in saving the world. However, I am afraid that our farming practices are failing the civilization and high-yield crops won't be enough anymore if they have nowhere to grow.

So, erosion of topsoil obviously leads to worse crop yield and food scarcity, but that's only part of the problem. The soil loses its filtration properties and allows pollutants into groundwater, damaging water quality. Erosion increases sedimentation in waterways. Water and land wildlife habitats are destroyed, biodiversity takes a hard hit and the cascading system failure gains momentum bringing about undesirable changes in things we think are not affected, yet they are. Once these changes affect human communities and their ability to survive where they've lived for centuries, these populations will be forced to move, igniting new societal and economic pressures. Topsoil loss affects systems across the board. It's all interconnected.

The World Soil Day was conceived for raising awareness of such catastrophes. Greta Thunberg's campaign is raising climate change awareness, the biodiversity loss is not being stopped in the second decade in a row, but I am pretty sure that topsoil loss gets relegated to less pressing issues as humans suffer from present bias. There's food now, but one cannot see past 30 days, let alone 50 years. This is not talked about enough. As is our custom, we'll start wondering and hand wringing when the food shortage becomes a very real situation, but I'm very afraid it will be too late. Our approach to food growing and consumption practices have been slow to change and very reluctant to accommodate environment conservation and restoration efforts. The time to act should have been yesterday, but better late than never.

Long Overdue Vacation And Then Some

We're back in Ireland. This would mean that we were away and this article is deliberately late because we were both recharging our batteries, so to speak.

It's been twenty months, no vacation, staying put and waiting for the vaccine, but once we finally got vaccinated twice with an mRNA vaccine and were able to move around a bit, we decided to take the long way to see our parents. The direct flight was to Venice because at the time the incidence rate wasn't bad. We had to fill out the passenger locator form for Italy and, with both being vaccinated, we packed our masks and trinkets in backpacks and boarded the plane. Being locked down for a long time, we were noticeably more nervous in travel, but once we got the road underneath us, it started to feel familiar. We spent a few days in Venice, and while it was not crowded, there was still a big number of tourists in spite of the pandemic.

Venice is sinking, due to the climate change, and things are getting worse. They've set up MOSE project of closing the lagoon to combat the tides and they also believe that it can combat the rising sea level, but the project is not without its share of criticism.

With the worries out of the way, Venice is beautiful and its fame is pretty much deserved. As Vesna said, someone took out the roads and cars and put waterways and boats. It's a pedestrian city where one can walk, but it's boats all the way if you want to go around the city. Visiting can be a great experience because there are so many things to see, with the mandatory warning to avoid the usual tourist traps. For example, if there's a picture of food on the restaurant menu or a waiter inviting you inside, don't go there. They're out for numbers and overcharge things.


While in Venice, we also visited Dolomites which are breathtakingly beautiful. The height of the mountains offsets the vegetation line so the peaks turn naked at one point. The sky was clear and we saw them in all their glory. There was no snow because it was the prealp area in summer, but low white clouds can hit the peaks often.


After Venice, we were supposed to board a catamaran ferry to Pula, which for some reason didn't operate. We opted to go the long way across the mainland, taking a train to Trieste and then a bus to Pula the following day. The reservation of all the tickets and the overnight stay we needed was tricky to execute on a moving transport with the unstable internet connection and against high demand, and for a moment we were worried we'd be spending the night at the station. Because we were extremely lucky, that didn't happen. With one day lost on travel, seeing Trieste was like seeing an old acquaintance (because we were there before). It's still beautiful and we had a nice evening there.

In a way, I feel like on this trip we were following in the footsteps of James Joyce considering he was a Dublin native that was both in Trieste and Pula.

Next day we arrived in Pula. It is ridden with Austro-Hungarian architecural style, much like Trieste, but there's also a heavy influence from the Roman empire with arches and ruins and a huge free-standing amphitheater. There's also a strong remnant of Yugoslavia that can be felt in the city.

Being an old defensive port of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it has a number of fortresses surrounding it. Sadly, most of them have been left to disarray. The fortress overlooking the city is where the worlds meet. There are ruins of a Roman theater on the slopes of the fortress's hill, and beneath the fortification there is an underground complex, built as a nexus of evacuation routes during WWI. An expo on the old tram system that Pula once had was featured in its cold corridors. Speaking of rails, here's a fun fact: the rail system of Istria, the Croatian peninsula where Pula is located, is not connected with the one of the rest of the country.


Pula has a great coastline, albeit a bit cold water for our taste and its very near the Brijuni national park where the Non Aligned Movement was founded by Tito, Nasser and Nehru. It held a great relevancy during the Cold War, being a balance between the east and the west and is second only to United Nations in terms of member countries. That a lot of people are not aware of it illustrates well how propaganda prefers simplistic polarized narratives, omitting historical complexity.

I digress. Moving away from the geopolitics, we left Pula after four days on a bus and headed for Krk to meet with our friends who recently had a baby. The island of Krk, and the town of Krk in it, is very touristy. Sure, there are things to see, but most of it is catering to tourists. This part of the vacation was mostly chilling on the beach. We filled up our itineraries in Venice and Pula like there would be no tomorrow so it was nice to not do much.

After four nights, we left the coastline and headed to Slavonija via Zagreb. Several buses later, we were pretty scared and bought antigen tests. Vaccine breakthrough is real and we wanted to test ourselves just in case. We didn't contract anything during our travel so it was safe for us to see other people. The rest of the vacation was a workation. Seeing folks, going down the memory lane, crashing our drone three times, getting a new ID, injuring my back while carrying appliances. You know, the usual.

We attended Vesna's cousin's wedding. There was an MD present so everyone had to provide the proof of vaccination or take the test. Luckily, no people were infected, buy I have to point out that it was still scary to be there and not know if there's a disease present in spite of being vaccinated. Vaccination is not 100% effective.

There's a number of small spots along the way we visited, but I didn't want to go into details with an already big article.

We saw some friends in Zagreb where we lived for eleven years. Some connections remain and some even got reinforced by regular video calls. It was a good year for online D&D. Between Slavonija and Zagreb, buses are faster than trains, but are much more lax with respect to epidemiological guidelines.

We boarded the plane on a rainy Thursday and went back to Dublin via Frankfurt. Next big trip might be the US because Croatia entered the US Visa Waiver program. The work will require me to go there and I won't need to get a visa for it starting December. Onward to new experiences.