Archive for October, 2008

A brief note to my wife

October 31st, 2008

Natasha, I love you!

We’ve been together for half of our lives, and married for the last 17. Counting each year for three,1 we passed our golden anniversary a few months back. It does feel as if it has been longer, in a good sense. I can barely remember the time when I was not happily married to you.

Happy anniversary, honey! Have I told you lately that I love you!?

1 I am not sure if “in war, each year counts for three” translates into English correctly. Not that I’m comparing marriage to war, God forbid :)


Pictures from Rochester

October 30th, 2008
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A small album with pictures from a recent day-trip to Rochester can be found either via the links on the navigation bar or here.

Website Bulletins

Random illustrations: Smoking in Canary Wharf

October 30th, 2008

It’s been a bit over a year since England curbed smoking in public places. For those of us who cannot stand the smoke, life has become considerably more pleasant, especially when it comes to dining out. The unfortunate souls who can’t exist without cigarettes, conversely, have been having much harder time indulging in their habit. Obviously, almost all of the smoking is now done in the open air, but even that is supposed to be limited to specifically designated zones. Here is a brief photo-essay of how that works in Canary Wharf.

Let’s start with a picture of the Canada Square quiet oasis of a park.

The signs declaring the park a no-smoking zone are quite prominent, and there are more than half a dozen of them in various places (at least three are visible in this picture). Of course, there are always smokers who prefer to have their pleasure in the altogether fresh air, sign or not.

I admit that I have not yet worked up the nerve to come closer and unceremoniously take a picture of a stranger, so you’ll have to take my word that the people in the shot are having a smoke (although, the guy’s form is clearly that of shaking off ashes). You can also discern that there is a no-smoking sign within a few meters of these guys.

The signs are all positioned inside the park area. Obviously, that means that staying on the sidewalk immediately next to the park puts a smoker outside of the limits of prohibition. Here is the lunch-time Smokers Row.

There is an area on the street known as North Colonnade, which is explicitly set aside for smokers.


These last two pictures were taken in the early hours of the day, but don’t let that mislead you. There are rarely people in this place ever. Could be the resentment of being confined to a red-paint-boundary box. Could be the fact that this happens to be by far the most wind-swept spot in the entire Wharf.

One of these days I’ll figure out how to make a picture of the wind to illustrate.

That's England

Настоящий друг

October 29th, 2008

It snowed here last night. For no more than an hour, and melted instantaneously, but it was a huge surprise nonetheless.

While Becky boldly went where her parents have never gone before, – she is on a school trip to Iceland, – Kimmy required extra attention than normal during her half-term break. So Natasha enrolled her in a three-day theater workshop, brought her to see a Russian circus troupe and commandeered half of the living room for continuous work on the summer vacation scrapbook. They also sang together, with Kimmy learning songs that she did not know the words to before. That obviously necessitated a session of videotaping. Here is one performance.

For my non-Russian-speaking audience, the song is called “A True Friend” and is basically about friendship.

Chronicles, Family Album

French motorway signs

October 28th, 2008

A pretty interesting observation from our regular drives in and through France are the “nearby attraction” billboards on French freeways. These are normally positioned some distance ahead of their corresponding exits and pictorially depict the most important stuff that you might want to check out if you suddenly decide to turn off there. I don’t know whether many people actually do that, but as a welcome distraction on long monotonous drives these signs are invaluable.

The format of the signs varies from one région to another. We found the most colorful ones in Alsace/Lorraine and in Provence. Below is a selection.

Travel Album

I hate the end of summer time

October 27th, 2008

All of Europe has moved the clocks back one hour as the “daylight savings” interval came to its annual end. Looking out the office window, by the time I’d get out in half an hour or so, it will be entirely dark outside. Why is moving the clocks back a good thing again?


Light show in Strasbourg, summer ’08

October 27th, 2008

The French are very fond of the summertime practice of producing light shows at their famous landmarks. I cannot fault them for it: Every time we come across one such, it is a great spectacle.

On our return journey from the big summer trip we stopped overnight in Strasbourg. The kids were tired after a long day’s drive, but Natasha and I could not pass an opportunity to explore a new locale even for a short time. To our delight, we chanced into not one, but two light-show displays, first on one of the main town squares and then on the façade of the magnificent Cathedral. A few pictures from the latter, that I decided not to make into a separate album in the Gallery, are below (all clickable for larger views).


Travel Album

Early-week quizzery

October 27th, 2008
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A couple of fun quizzes that I picked over at Jason’s hit the mark in regards to my self-awareness.

Your result for What Your Taste in Art Says About You Test…

Balanced, Secure, and Realistic.

25 Impressionist, -1 Islamic, 1 Ukiyo-e, -22 Cubist, -11 Abstract and -5 Renaissance!

Impressionism is a movement in French painting, sometimes called optical realism because of its almost scientific interest in the actual visual experience and effect of light and movement on appearance of objects. Impressionist paintings are balanced, use colored shadows, use pure color, broken brush-strokes, thick paint, and scenes from everyday life or nature.

People that like Impressionist paintings may not always be what is deemed socially acceptable. They tend to move on their own path without always worrying that it may be offensive to others. They value friendships but because they also value honesty tend to have a few really good friends. They do not, however, like people that are rude and do not appreciate the ideas of others. They are secure enough in themselves that they can listen to the ideas of other people without it affecting their own final decisions. The world for them is not black and white but more in shades of grey and muted colors. They like things to be aesthetically pleasing, not stark and sharp. There are many ways to view things, and the impressionist personality views the world from many different aspects. They enjoy life and try to keep a realistic viewpoint of things, but are not very open to new experiences. If they are content in their live they will be more than likely pleased to keep things just the way they are.

Take What Your Taste in Art Says About You Test at HelloQuizzy

The outcome is fairly obvious – I have been a huge admirer of Impressionism forever. But the description – what’s up with that? Especially the bits about not valuing ideas of others, having few good friends and not being open to new experiences. I humbly don’t think that they apply here.

Your result for Howard Gardner’s Eight Types of Intelligence Test…


This area has to do with logic, abstractions, inductive and deductive reasoning, and numbers. While it is often assumed that those with this intelligence naturally excel in mathematics, chess, computer programming, and other logical or numerical activities, a more accurate definition places emphasis less on traditional mathematical ability and more reasoning capabilities, abstract pattern recognition, scientific thinking and investigation, and the ability to perform complex calculations.

Careers which suit those with this intelligence include scientists, mathematicians, engineers, doctors and economists.

Take Howard Gardner’s Eight Types of Intelligence Test at HelloQuizzy

The other types are linguistic/verbal, spatial, body/movement, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal/introspective, naturalistic (here is a Wikipedia article). While I think that I possess more than one of those, clearly, if I had to choose only one to describe myself, I’d probably go with “logical”.

This quiz actually had quite a few questions where I thought that either none of the answers applied to me or all of the answers applied rather equally. That it produced a result that I can get behind speaks in its favor.

And that’ll be all for the early-week internet time-wasting.

Idle Amusements

NHS: Be punctual – or else

October 26th, 2008

Natasha arranged for a vision check-up for Becky a few days ago. We haven’t been to that NHS office before, and Natasha turned out to be overly optimistic about the ease of finding a parking spot near the office. By the time she had parked some distance away and walked with Becky into the reception, it was 7 minutes after the appointment time.

“We cannot take you now”, they were told, “since you are late, starting the appointment right now will push the subsequent appointments back, and we cannot have that.”

Natasha tried to reason with them, but to no avail. She and Becky turned around and left, and I suppose that she will look for another provider when she re-schedules.

Can a medical office ever be so efficient as to spend exactly the allotted time on each appointment? Can a patient who is a few minutes late really screw up the entire remaining schedule? For that matter, can anyone remember ever being ushered into the doctor’s office exactly on time of the appointment? I, for one, knew a couple of doctors who came close, but I’m pretty sure that 5-10 minutes later than scheduled is customary.

I think the key here is that an NHS office will likely bill the government and get paid for this visit regardless of whether the services have been provided. A private doctor, conversely, would not want to lose a source of income over a few minutes of inadvertent tardiness.

Beware of being late for NHS appointments!

Medical, That's England

Presenting the newest recording artist

October 25th, 2008

One of the gifts that Becky received this year for her birthday was a recording studio experience (idea by Mom, funding by Grandma and Grandpa). She enlisted a couple of her friends as a personal gallery and went the other day to record three songs of her choice. I have to say that she somewhat erred in regards to picking songs commensurate with her vocal range, but she had a blast nonetheless. Below are a few outtakes from the occasion.

Note: YouTube screwed up the first 8 seconds of video in their “conversion” process, and I don’t have the willpower to try again.

Children, Family Album, Music

London Imagery: Canada Square

October 24th, 2008
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I realized that I work in a pretty cool-looking building myself. Not as cool as most of the edifices in the collection mentioned the other day, but still not bad.


Canada Square, London


London Album

Looking at stats

October 23rd, 2008

I check my blog stats practically every day, more out of idle curiosity than for any marketing insight. The traffic to my site is pretty steady, not in the grand sense of the word, but in terms of an established small core audience, and it fluctuates wildly only on days when I post a mildly profound essay related to our expatriate experience (e.g., lessons learned) or finish an above-average Travelog article (such as this one, for instance) – and Natasha advertizes that inside Fodor’s community.

I’m fairly vigilant with keeping my blog at least PG-13, so I don’t get any weird or porn-seeking keyword searches leading to me (except this one, and there were only a few occasions of that). The vast majority of searches that result in clicks through to actually have the word “burlaki” in it or look for information on destinations and attractions featured in Travelog.

Nor do I have visitors from far and strange lands en masse. About two-thirds of all visits come from the US, and another quarter from the UK. The rest is spread across several dozens of countries. The most exotic place which I notice is Oman, with two visits averaging 8 pages and about 3 minutes on the site.

Of moderate interest is the information on referrers to my site, but the numbers are fairly settled on that as well, with various Fodor’s threads combining to be the top referrer source, and blogs by my brother, Janiece and Eric being the fairly regular gateways.

All in all, unexciting stats and a very little source of amusement.

What does baffle me is that I use two statistics-gathering engines, Google Analytics and stats, and their output, while following similar patterns, is never ever close to each other enough for me to be comfortable that the numbers are correct. For instance, my most recent record-setting day, October 1st (due to the aforementioned “lessons learned”), shows 345 main blog pageviews on Google (differentiated from hits to the Picture Gallery, Travelog or Becky’s Blog), but only 311 views in WordPress stats. I accept this as the same ballpark, but it is still a big discrepancy. I am considering getting a third opinion, from something like Sitemeter, but I expect that it will provide yet another ballpark number without making the picture any clearer.

Any website statistics engine that you particularly trust?


Awesome architecture

October 22nd, 2008

My friend Irene has clued me on to this great collection of unusual architectural wonders of the world over at Village of Joy. There are a few among the 100 – don’t forget to click on Part 2 link – that I’ve seen up close, but not too many.

So much yet to see.

Amazing World

The line of defense against lunacy

October 22nd, 2008
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I’ve been reluctant to blog about this, because I’m always wary of providing cheap publicity to quacks such as Walter L. Wagner. A number of my online penpals, however, have done tons of research to expose him as nothing but a lunatic. I suppose every link counts in cementing lead positions for appropriate posts in Google rankings, so I figured spreading the word in this case considerably outweighs other considerations.

In case the name rings a bell – and especially if it does not – here is the briefest of summaries.

Mr Wagner is a self-professed “scientist” who filed a suit in a US court to stop CERN from launching the LHC on the grounds that the experiments it is supposed to run will create miniature black holes that will eventually devour Earth. The lawsuit has been duly dismissed, but the frenzy whipped up by Wagner and his ilk has produced a number of deplorable by-products such as death threats to CERN scientists.

One of the members of the UCF, an online community to which I belong, Janiece, has nominated Wagner for her regular “‘Tard of the Week” award. Then another member of our club, John, a physical chemist by trade, started exploring Wagner’s so-called credentials. Mr Wagner himself – plus a couple of his no less delusional friends – decided to defend his claims to scientific prowess on John’s blog, using his supposed mastery of chess and his erstwhile passage with flying colors of a basic primary education teaching qualifications exam, among other things. Their evasive and obfuscating rambles raised the ire of a number of UCFers, so not only John wrote another piece dissecting Wagner’s delusions, but Jim wrote a powerful essay on Wagner’s insanity, MWT summarized absurdity of Wagner’s claims and Eric, with his trained legal eye, exposed in detail that Wagner’s key claims do not pass muster.

If you don’t want to wade through all of that material, let me give you another brief summary: Mr Wagner is not qualified by any stretch of imagination to call himself a “Dr”, a physicist, or even a generic “scientist”. He is a lunatic who believes that he understands nuclear physics better than practically anyone in the world, and he uses a lot of misinformation to present himself as an accepted authority in the field, so that his delusions can be taken seriously by the public.

If you don’t trust my word – or want to learn for yourself – then, by all means, please, click on the links in this post.

My friends in the UCF do a really good job in calling Wagner’s BS. I feel awesome in being associated with them.


A bit of quiz fun

October 21st, 2008

I picked up a couple of fun quizzes at my brother’s.

Name That Movie Villain

It’s a bit misleading, actually. I inexplicably screwed up the villain from Men in Black, but I also blindly guessed Jack Nicholson’s character, and with only two female villains, I had a 50/50 chance of correctly guessing the first one and then a single choice for the second one. I also suggested Cyrus the Virus for an unfamiliar shot, before eventually realizing that I did know the character correctly. On balance, I should be only around 50%.

I named 50 US states in 10 minutes How many US states can you name in 10 minutes?

Here, in all honesty, I cheated. I typed 48 states in about four minutes (and I am a slow typist – I’m sure the feat can be accomplished in under two minutes). Two were escaping me, but after a minute or so of racking my brains, I figured I had enough time to look them up. I think the duration would be better at 5 minutes.

Idle Amusements

Random Illustrations: A racing car on the street

October 21st, 2008

Something that we see in England considerably more often than in the States: People driving around in vintage cars. And I don’t mean “vintage” as in 1968 Corvette or something, no offense intended. I mean as in 1929 Bugatti.

There are also people who drive around in racing cars – and even DIY cars – which I am often ignorant enough to mistake for a vintage roadster.

Unfortunately, I never managed to take a shot of any of those, on account of not having a camera with me. But now I do. So, here it is, a Tiger Racing specimen, parked on a street in Rochester.

Tiger R6

I’ll surely have an opportunity to get a shot of a true vintage car in the near future.

That's England

YouTube’d memories: Can’t Smile Without You

October 20th, 2008
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One of the most important dates in my life is the day I met Natasha. We were really young then, yet somehow managed to recognize that we were meant for each other, if not at first sight, then definitely at the second one.

We actually saw one another for the first time a couple of days earlier. Our student theater was looking to launch a freshman troupe, and I drew the short straw for the privilege of being its “artistic director”. Of course, I appraised all of the girls who came to the initial meeting, and not just on their performing talents. Then, a couple of days later, I saw one of them standing in the lobby of our university building waiting for someone, approached her, struck a conversation, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I remember that day as if it were yesterday. The date was 18th of October.

Which, if you’ve become familiar with us by now, you know is also Becky’s birthday.

Because Becky chose to enter the world on the anniversary of the day that Natasha and I met, and because our tying-the-knot anniversary occurs less than two weeks later, we tend to overlook celebrating that fateful meeting. Even though I consider it a more important occasion. Because it feels as if I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her even then.

My love for my wife is easily summed up by the title of this song. I just can’t smile without her. One of my best friends once remarked that I did not actually live during the year-plus that I spent in America before she joined me. Found it very hard to do anything, indeed. And have been smiling ever since we were together again, for all these years.

(This is one of the goofier performances, but I could not find a YouTube clip that wasn’t flawed one way or another.)

By the way, the other day, Natasha suddenly tells me, “You know which song has been stuck in my head recently? Can’t Smile Without You”. And I respond, “No way, I was just thinking that it would be my next YouTube’d memory!”

This thinking same thoughts business is getting spookier with time.

Celebrations, Music

The Rays?

October 20th, 2008

I realize this morning that my attempt at congratulating my Red Sox fan friends (I can name only a couple off the top my head, anyway) last year has had a desired effect for at least this year: Boston is not going to the World Series this time around.

But I don’t know if I don’t feel worse at the thought that the Rays may be wearing the crown in several days’ time. At least, with the Sox, it was a respectably storied franchise that beat – or did better than – my Yankees. But a team who’s never even had a winning record before now possibly winning it all is hard to stomach when balanced against the Yanks’ recent postseason ineptitude.

Well, Philadelphia is practically in New Jersey. Go Phillies, then!


A trip to Rochester

October 19th, 2008
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We dithered a bit in the morning whether to go anyplace or stay home. Early in the week, we sort of decided that if the weather was nice on Sunday, we’d pick one of the nearby points of interest that we have not yet visited and go there. In the morning – which was awfully close to noon today, since all members of the family made a concerted effort to catch up on sleep lost during the previous, “sleepover”, night – the skies outside did not look too promising, but it got brighter by the time we finished breakfast. So we went to Rochester, about half an hour away from where we live by car.

The compact historic town of Rochester boasts several architectural gems, some of which are closely associated with Dickens. (For instance, Restoration House is the residence of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, although in the book it is called Satis House, which happens to be the name of another building in Rochester.) Most of these houses are situated along the pretty High Street, full of quaint little shops. We ventured inside some of the shops, but not inside any of the houses. Instead, we stepped into the fine Cathedral and spent some time exploring the ruins of the Castle.

High Street, Rochester

In the end, the nice little trip was accompanied by sunny skies for most of the time. And as soon as we returned home, the firmament changed its color to more seasonably appropriate gray.

By the way, we decided to take the new Fuji with us instead of the Nikon, and took quite a lot of pictures, most of which came out reasonably well.

On a related tangent, we used our English Heritage membership to get into the Castle for free (it costs £14 for a family, otherwise). In this post about a year ago, I wrote about how we didn’t exactly cover the cost of the membership in the first year of getting it, but how the society still sent us new cards for the second year. I’m starting to think that I could have not been paying attention when we signed up and that the membership was for two years. Natasha used the cards without a problem – validated at the entrance – a couple of times at the Eltham Palace with her parents this year, and we used them today as well. The original cost of membership, £65, has now certainly been recouped with interest.

We have not been sent cards for the next year…

Where we've been

Happy Birthday, Becky!

October 18th, 2008

This year, Becky started celebrating her birthday a bit ahead of time, with a now commonplace invasion of her schoolmates for a sleepover. I customarily holed myself up in my study, trying in vain to ignore the squealing that permeated the house.

Today started very similarly to that famous day fourteen years ago – Natasha was making an omelette. As she likes to tell it, when she woke me up at 4 in the morning on that day and informed me that her water broke, I responded that there was plenty of time – hours and hours – before she’d be close to delivery, and that I’d rather not go to the hospital hungry.

I don’t remember it exactly that same way, but I don’t mind. Becky was born at 6:17 pm, and I spent the intervening hours pacing around the labour and delivery room in a state of heightened agitation. Never got myself another bite to eat. I could have fainted or something if not for that omelette, you know.

Anyway, Becky is a year older and more grown-up in every way. As I suppose all teenagers go, she can be both a pleasure to be around and a royal pain in the posterior. More importantly, she is growing up to be an amazing person. I hope I can take some credit for that.

Happy Birthday, Becky!

At lunch in Florence