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Archive for June, 2008

Last thoughts on Euro 2008

June 30th, 2008

As unpredictable as football can be, the football gods rarely insist on throwing their weight behind an illogical outcome, Greece’s triumph at the last championships notwithstanding. Today, we have a well-deserving champion.

The Spanish team was not the only one that went through the tournament unbeaten (the unfortunate Croatians were knocked out in the quarterfinals without having lost a game in the course of play), and they did not manage to win all of their games (they beat Italy on penalties, which is the mechanism to decide who advances, but not who wins the game, IMHO), but they were the only team who was better than the opposition in every game they played. They played fast, skilled and attractive style up and down the field. They beat only one team emphatically – twice! – but don’t let the minimal margins of victory fool you: Only somewhat misplaced generosity with their finishing prevented the Spaniards from running up scores on their other opponents the way they did against Russia.

There was never a doubt of who would win in any of the contests involving Spain. In the final, the Germans had one moment early in the game that failed to develop into a proper chance, and then just one single shot on goal that could have been counted as a half-chance. The Spaniards could have easily scored a handful. In the end, a brilliant pass from Xavi (who clearly earned his “Player of the Tournament” honors with his overall display over the course of the campaign) and a no less brilliant and determined effort from Fernando Torres produced the winning goal that sent Spain to their first major trophy in 44 years.

The Germans were a flawed team, especially on defense, producing a dominating display only in their opening game against the inferior Polish team, and then being worthy of a win only against Portugal in the quarters. But you have to tip your hat to them: Somehow, by the skin of their teeth, Germany seemingly always finds a way to figure among the contenders.

All in all, it was a grand and entertaining tournament. Too bad that it appears unlikely that I’ll have another chance to follow a World Cup or a Euro Championships this closely in the foreseeable future.

On a side note, I watched the final over a plate of fine cheese and wine. A bit unorthodox, I admit, but no less enjoyable.

Sports

Another active weekend

June 29th, 2008
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Lest anyone thinks that we long exhausted potential destinations in or around London, let me assure you that that is not true. Our target list has certainly dwindled down from several dozen point of interest to less than a dozen, but that less than a dozen remains.

Today, we used the arrival of our newest guest as a pretext for visiting Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. The very compact grounds consist of several thematic gardens, intimately separated from one another by hedges and old castle walls. The gardens are not showy, but that adds to the attraction – you get a feeling of authenticity, of what the quintessential English garden should be like.

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Kent, England

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Chronicles, London & Environs

YouTube’d memories: It’s a Sin

June 27th, 2008

And now, returning to our regular programming, here is another of the discotheque favorites in my high-school DJ’ing time.

Can’t think of any specific memories associated with Pet Shop Boys, besides their popularity (for a short period of time) and the search for a perfect translation of their band name among those of us who “knew” English. “Boys from Pat’s Shop”. “Shopping boy-servants”. “Boys that like house animals”…

Music

About guns

June 27th, 2008

Successful bloggers with sizable readerships tend to achieve prominence by picking up on “hot” topics and eloquently stating their strong opinions on them, along the way explaining to the masses why said opinions are the only correct ones.

I figure, what the heck, I should do likewise once in a while. How else am I going to get to be successful?

The hot topics never fail to present themselves. For instance, for the last couple of days, the Instapundit feed has been disproportionally tilted towards the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn D.C.’s ban on handguns (D.C. vs Heller). For the first time in history, the highest court in the land affirmed the right of an individual to keep and bear arms for private use.

Despite the narrow decision, the consensus of the commentary seems to be that “The imposition by the U.S. government of a U.K.-style system of sweeping gun bans and prohibitions on armed self-defense is now off the table” (quoted from here). Moreover, the NRA is already lining up challenges in any place that seems to restrict the Second Amendment right.

Me – I’ll never own a gun. And I happen to be in the small minority of the Americans who think that the aforementioned Amendment has outlived its purpose ages ago.

So I spent a couple of hours formulating my educated opinion on this, dismantling the notion that gun ownership deters crime (look at Europe, where guns are almost universally banned and where crime levels are nowhere near those in the US), ridiculing the mantra of “Guns do not kill people, people kill people” (true, but guns make it so much easier for an average shmoe to go on a killing spree) and generally observing that gun culture is one thing I positively hate about the country that I otherwise love.

And then I felt stupid posting such a treatise here. Even though I occasionally get myself into debates on political issues, it is really not like me to find the exercise worthwhile. I hold conservative views when it comes to economy, markets, free trade, central government’s role and fiscal responsibility; tend to espouse libertarian views in regards to individual freedoms; but side with liberals on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, or gun control. In other words, I am too all-over-the-place in my political beliefs to identify with any political movement or party. And with the American two-party system, one’s preferences can never be satisfied wholesale. You vote based on just one or two things that are most important to you, and close your eyes – and pinch your nose – on everything else. And gun ownership rights is that “something else” for me. Not worth expending any more energy than acknowledging that I don’t like it the way it is.

If you own a gun, I hope that you never ever use it. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Op-Ed

Euro 2008: After semifinals

June 26th, 2008
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Bookmakers are no slouches: We’ve got a Germany – Spain final.

Spain pretty much pasted Russia in the second half, winning in more than convincing fashion. The Russians played as I expected them to play in the previous game, i.e. reasonably well but worse than the opponents. The first half actually ended up scoreless in a fairly even contest, with both teams creating several half-chances. After the interval, though, only one team continued playing. Arshavin was invisible, the rest of the Russian team was far from impressive, and the Spaniards scored three very nice goals. My Arsenal favorite, Cesc Fabregas, was at his best, directing Spanish attack.

In the earlier semifinal, Germany was outplayed for most of the game by the scrappy Turkish team, but showed an amazing prowess in exploiting the few mistakes that the Turks made on defense. Turkey actually opened scoring for the first time in their five matches, but the Germans equalized pretty quickly, and the lively game then proceeded without serious threats but with discernible territorial advantage for the Turks as if towards the extra time. True to his form, though, the Turkish goalie blundered at some point, and otherwise ineffective Miroslav Klose scored on an excellent header. Turkey, of course, did not run out of its escape magic, scoring a goal seemingly out of nowhere four minutes from the end of regulation. But that was still the final gasp for them, as Germany managed to get back into the lead with an excellent passing display that led to a point-blank strike from Philip Lahm, who had a remarkably bad game at fullback otherwise. The Turks could not respond as they did against Croatia…

I have already admitted that I am a not very good pundit, but in the end, the team that I remarked on having put in the strongest claim after the first round of games in the top half of the bracket (Germany) and the team that was one of the most impressive in the bottom half (Spain) ended up advancing to the ultimate game. I should have stopped with my analysis then – and would be able to take a lot of credit for being clairvoyant…

Sports

Best computer periferal ever

June 25th, 2008
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Trust me, you do not need to know French to appreciate the ingenuity.

Via Exler.

Idle Amusements

Changes to morning routine

June 25th, 2008

Becky’s independence continues to grow. It was only a few months ago that we allowed her to take a bus on her own for the very first time. The practice quickly expanded to cover every day of the week where she did not have an after-school activity – and with her recent second retirement from figure skating, her “free” days now outnumber the ones when she has something scheduled. But we still drove her to school every morning, primarily because our limited experience in getting there via public transport produced mixed results in terms of getting to school on time.

She lobbied a bit – I guess she is hoping to meet her schoolmates en route, which would be infinitely more fun than sitting in the back of the car talking to her father, – and we resisted under pretenses that we did not want her to be late for classes if she were to wake up in the morning at her usual time. The alternative of getting up earlier is too horrific to contemplate for this young lady.

It should be noted that in the last couple of months Natasha started to occasionally relieve me of my morning chauffeuring duty. I still go to the office by 9am, even though most of my current job has to do with the people in the US, but I come back home later than I used to, and my loving wife offered me a small compensation in the form of allowing me to sleep for extra 40 minutes on some mornings.

Not that she likes to give up her extra shut-eye. Plus, it is not like Becky actually needs any help in getting ready in the morning, breakfast included. So, when I felt slightly under the weather yesterday, the next logical step was to simply tell her, “You are on your own tomorrow morning”.

Judging by when I heard the front door bang, she left good twenty minutes later this morning than she would with me or Natasha. It could be that one of us will still need to make sure that she is up and ready to go. But it already looks like my morning routine (first described in detail here) is going to become greatly simplified.

Chronicles

London City airport note

June 24th, 2008
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We are in between visitors, for a few days anyway. My mother-in-law departed back to Russia this morning. Her trip’s first leg took her to Frankfurt from the London City airport, which again impressed us in terms of check-in and controls experience. You can literally be at the gate within 10 minutes of entering the terminal.

It took us a bit over 20 minutes to drive to the airport at a non-rush time, highlighting again that we made a mistake to rely on the public transport the last time. If we could get onto DLR to the airport with no more than one change, it would probably still be worthwhile, but two transfers and over an hour of travel one-way via the trains make the expensive parking considerably more palatable.

City airport serves only British and European destinations, but anyone staying/living in the eastern part of London and flying to/from another European city should consider flying through it. Your sanity is important, you know.

Travel

June movie-watching roundup

June 24th, 2008

I have watched a bunch of movies in the last few days, from PVR recordings made months and weeks ago. Where does he find the time? some may ask, what with tons of football games already on tap. Let’s just say that in the last few days of Natasha’s Mom’s visit to us, my presence was not much required for the family activities. I had some time to myself at the conclusion of each night’s game, as well as several hours over the weekend when I could no longer stand my PC and did not feel like going outside on my own. Not even to play golf!

Pathetic, ain’t it?

None of these films inspired me to write a full-size review, so here is a quick roundup.
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Movies

Euro 2008: Before semifinals

June 23rd, 2008

After four quarterfinal games of Euro Championships, I suddenly feel that, although I considered myself reasonably knowledgeable about the Beautiful Game for all my life, I have, in fact, very little understanding of it.

Or some aspects of it, at least.

There were stunning reversals of form, dumb coaching decisions, plenty of missed of opportunities, and of the four group winners – who all, as you recall, won their respective groups with a game to spare and rested their first teams in the last group round – only one managed not to lose in the quarterfinal. Three games went to extra time, two of those were decided by penalty kicks, and the one game that ended after 90 minutes was actually the most evenly contested.

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Sports

How Kimmy recognized a place she’s never been to

June 21st, 2008

I was looking through our Antwerp/Ghent pictures today for purposes of using one or two in the Travelog, with Kimmy looking over my shoulder.

Suddenly, she says: “Daddy, remember when we were in Mini-Europe, there was this square with a fountain that did not have a pool around it?”

At that particular moment, we were looking at the picture of Antwerp’s magnificent Grote Markt.

Grote Markt, Antwerp

The remarkable Brabo fountain on this square indeed does not sit in a basin; water is allowed to seep through the cobblestones into the underground reservoir.

A light bulb goes off in my head, I look through our Tulips album (we stopped on the way back in Brussels for a quick tour of Mini-Europe, if you recall) and find this picture.

Grote Markt, Antwerp, at Mini-Europe

When I took it, I did not register the fact that the fountain was blocked from the view, but it is certainly the same Grote Markt, in its downsized form.

I was speechless for a while. Considering that a) Kimmy has never been to Antwerp and b) our visit to Mini-Europe lasted all of 45 minutes, during which time we saw over 50 models of towns and sights, I find it pretty amazing that an 8-year-old child recalled seeing a model of something upon encountering the photo of the real thing.

Let’s put it this way: I had no recollection of the little fountain whatsoever, even though I knew that Antwerp was represented at Mini-Europe and that we even took a picture of it there.

Wow!

There is also some deep thought in here on the value of travel photography, but it escapes me at the moment in my awe-stricken state.

Photography, Travel

Watch your head!

June 20th, 2008
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A long overdue little glimpse into our living.

The cupboards under our upper floor stairs leave enough of empty space for a person to step into when the traffic in the entrance hallway becomes too heavy. Some of our visitors may recall painfully banging their heads on the stairs as a result of such a maneuver.

Well, we finally decided to post a warning (Natasha’s Dad provided the sticker).

  

Click to enlarge, if you’d like. The right-hand picture gives you an idea of what the space looks like.

For my non-Russian readers, the sign translates as “The Place To Hit Your Head (don’t hurt yourself, be careful!)”.

Being silly, Photography

I love the World!

June 20th, 2008

It’s such a brilliant place!

Via John The Scientist.

Amazing World

Euro 2008: Before quarterfinals

June 19th, 2008
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A good live football match every night at a convenient viewing time. Heaven! I do not think I will ever have a chance like this again…

I have watched only a half of games after the first round of group play, but still, that’s all together 16 matches out of possible 24. Only 7 more left, which I am sure I will all see in live broadcast.

So, what does it look like at the quarterfinal stage?

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Sports

Pictures from Antwerp/Ghent are here

June 19th, 2008

The small selection of pictures from our recent trip to Antwerp and Ghent is now available at the link on the navigation bar or here.

Photography, Website Bulletins

How my corner of blogosphere keeps expanding

June 18th, 2008

Several months ago, via Brian and/or Jason, who are my oldest blogging buddies, I started reading Whatever, a blog by the acsendant sci-fi luminary John Scalzi. I am not much of a sci-fi aficionado these days, and John’s outspokenly liberal political views occasionally grate on my sensibilities. But he is a witty and intelligent individual, who blogs on everything and nothing all the time, and my primary motive for reading him is not so much to virtually rub shoulders with a minor celebrity (who wouldn’t!?) but rather to broaden my exposure to superior and talented writing. He is also unabashedly effusive in publicly expressing his love for his wife and daughter, and I admire any man who does that.

I am not much of a blog commenter or a forum participant – the witticisms, essential to any modicum of success in that field, do not form in my head in English promptly enough to be useful – but after a while, I decided to join Scalzi’s forum, Whateveresque. One of the forum regulars, Nathan, welcomed me to the membership by posting a comment on my blog, so I had to go and check his blog as a polite gesture of reciprocity.

It turned out to be a pretty interesting read, and I since regularly found topics that I could contribute to. Eventually, I discovered that Nathan has a circle of virtual friends, each with their own blog, who habitually converse with one another by means of commenting on each other’s posts. Not only that – some of them are friends outside of blogosphere as well; and they all read Scalzi’s blog.

A couple of days ago, I surprisingly got co-opted into the fold.

The group coined a name to describe themselves, Union of Collaborating Founders (UCF). Not sure what it means and where it comes from, but it’s there. One of the members, Michelle, even came up with a logo:

And another member, Janiece, produced an affinity diagram:

Yes, that’s yours truly, in his lame loneliness in the upper right quadrant.

I do not see obvious ways to establish lines connecting me to other people, based on the available choices. “Pimping” could be about putting their blogs on my blogroll, but I have always been lukewarm to the idea of a blogroll on the front page of my website; plus, only one other person in the group, John, has ever recorded his visit to my blog, so I doubt I can expect much in terms of reciprocal recognition on the spot; a blogroll link without reciprocity feels overall too needy for my taste. Anyway, there would be a lot more links on the diagram if “pimping” was just about advertizing each other’s blogs.

I still figured that I needed to put in an effort into proving my bona fides as a new member, so I came up with a notion of posting this entry with all of the various links in it.

Now, if only I had enough time to spend reading and commenting on other people’s blogs. It’s not like there are several hours every morning when I have little to do at work on account of the US still being asleep. Honestly…

Just so this post provides a bit of entertainment for those who couldn’t care less of my social life in the blogosphere, here is a charming online catalogue, via Anne (hint: Give it a few seconds after it loads).

Family & Friends

Happy Birthday Kimmy!

June 17th, 2008

Kimmy’s heart all but melted, as we woke her up early in the morning with a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You”, accompanied by a cake with requisite candle-blowing, followed by the exciting procedure of opening presents. Just as she requested last night, before going to bed.

Happy birthday, Кузька!

Kimmy at the Generalife Gardens, Granada

My two kids have reached a combined age of 21 today, by the way, which is worth commemorating with a session of legal imbibing…

For their parents, of course. What did you think!?

Celebrations

On US Open

June 17th, 2008

As I mentioned on a number of occasions, I am a horrible golfer. I am capable of adequate displays of skills – and I hope you all understand what I mean by adequate – but not for any length of time, which summarily produces double-par-or-worse outcomes in any given round of play. It’s a hard game to master even with regular practice (and I play too irregularly, unfortunately).

I also maintain a view that golf is the hardest individual sport to win at. Not to become good at (which I already admitted is hard in itself). But to win at. Golf may be comparatively not too demanding a sport from the athleticism perspective (as opposed to, say, tennis), but winning a golf tournament means outperforming a hundred of other people at the same time over the course of several days, without being able to affect their scores (in tennis, you have to be better than only 7 opponents one at a time while directly fighting each – I am not saying that it is easy, just that the magnitude of the opposition is on a different level).

Which makes Tiger’s continuing success all the more amazing.

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Sports

Back from Antwerp and Gent

June 16th, 2008
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My loving children will forgive their old man for saying that it is infinitely nicer to travel without them. Our weekend getaway to Belgium was neither a dream trip nor even a particularly fascinating one, but it allowed Natasha and I, for the first time in ages, to spend time just as we wanted, not as our occasionally capricious offspring demand.

The weather gods decided to rain on our parade, quite literally, and while that managed to dampen some of our impressions, it also played a perfect foil to a well-deserved intermittent downtime for us kids, wink-wink…

 

Handschoenmarkt, Antwerp

 

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Photography, Travel

YouTube’d memories: Come Together

June 12th, 2008
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Come Together does not break into my 30 Favorite Beatles’ songs, but it has the distinction of being the very first song by the group that I heard while being actively aware that I was listening to the Beatles. My uncle, who had a dual-deck tape recorder (a tremendous rarity in the days of my youth in the country of my birth), recorded Abbey Road onto the very first tape that I called my own after acquiring a fairly primitive tape player.

I’ve been a fan of the Beatles ever since.

 

 

With that, my lovely wife and I are off to a short weekend adventure. On our own!

I’ll tell you all about it – ok, some about it, – when we return.

Music