Archive for November, 2008

Post #500

November 28th, 2008

On 799th day from this blog’s inauguration, I finally reached my 500th post, at the rate of only .63 posts a day.

Not very prolific, I know, but I wasn’t really aiming to be such. In fact, in the first 466 days of this endeavor, I only posted once every several days and produced only 189 entries – a puny rate of .41 posts a day. I became considerably more active in the year 2008: In 333 days of it, so far, I posted 311 times. That’s .93 posts per day – not too shabby for someone who only does this as a hobby. In September and October of this year, I actually sustained a break-neck pace of 1.23 posts a day. Whew!

Many of the interruptions in my posting schedule have been brought up by our various trips. Another such one is coming now, although it will be not very long this time. Long before dawn tomorrow morning, Natasha and I are getting away for the weekend. If Monday allows for a breather at work, I will do my best to treat you with my customary exultations of une réunion avec Paris.

Jusque-là, salut!


Some kind of holiday

November 27th, 2008

I celebrated the great American holiday with only 9 hours at the office. As opposed to now habitual 11.

At least, there was a sumptuous feast waiting for me at home.

Turkey is a rare type of meat that I have only lukewarm feelings about, so we don’t always cook one at home for Thanksgiving. When we visit relatives or friends for the holiday dinner, I will certainly partake in the consumption of the main course, but when we in the past spent Thanksgiving at home – and not entertained – we would not even bother. Natasha would prepare whatever took her fancy on that particular day, and I am never a stickler for traditions when it comes to food.

This year, my Mother is spending the week with us. And she took it upon herself to go the whole nine yards in preparing the meal. Natasha participated – she finds it hard to ignore the process of food preparation in her own kitchen – but most of the credit goes to Mom. The turkey was excellent, the stuffing – as it should be – was hard to stay away from, and it took me considerable effort to climb the stairs to get in front of the computer afterwards.

Oh the wonderful post-dinner feeling, when your eyes hurt from all the pressure that your stomach puts on them!

Dad did not have enough vacation days left this year to come as well, so Mom came by herself. She has not done much of sightseeing (after all, this is her third visit to London in less than two years), but instead accompanied Natasha on shopping trips, went with her to musical performances (have I mentioned anywhere yet that Greenwich has free classical music concerts at a couple of churches every Tuesday and Thursday?), and spent quality time with her granddaughters. Happiness all around – and to top it all, for the weekend, Natasha and I are off to La Ville Lumière. Can’t hardly wait!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I promise to get back at all of you on Boxing Day, when I’m going to loaf all day long while you toil away in your offices and your factory shops.


London Imagery: Canary Wharf DLR Station

November 25th, 2008

I guess, in the current environment, I should be happy with the amount of work I suddenly have. Except, to be honest, I’ve been starting to forget the time in my previous life when I habitually put in 11-12-hour days, and I don’t believe regret has been figuring as a related emotion…

Anyway, the corollary to my newfound busy-ness is the fact that I cannot find much time for a lengthy post. Therefore, today, all I can do is treat you to a view that I come across every morning on my commute to work. This is how the Canary Wharf DLR station looks from the front seat of a train. Somehow, my mental picture of it is grander than the way it came out on the photo, but it’s still a pretty cool structure.

Canary Wharf DLR Station

The image is clickable for a larger view, as always.

London Album

An unexpected honor

November 24th, 2008

I learned today that my friend Jason conferred the “I Love This Blog” award upon my humble soapbox.

I sincerely appreciate your kindness, Jason. It is a bit embarrassing to me that you emphasize “a fascinating outsider’s perspective on American and British life”, which is something that appears less and less on my blog, but I’ll take any praise that I can get from a friend.

The prize comes with certain obligations:

  1. Post the award on my blog.
  2. Link to the person who gave me the award.
  3. Nominate at least 4 others.
  4. Leave a comment on their blogs so they can pass it on.

The first two requirements are completed at the top of the post. The last, I suppose, I can entrust to the wonderful statistics of “incoming links” on each of the recipients’ blogs. The thing that is left are the nominations.
Read more…


How about some motivation!

November 23rd, 2008

One of my favorite “fun in pictures” sites on the web, The Village of Joy, has got a hilarious collection of motivational posters. They vary in the strength of message, but they all are pretty funny.

See for yourself: 25 Motivational Posters.

Nerd that I am, I especially liked the one about simplicity. Although, I probably spent the most time gazing at the rainbows. 😯

Idle Amusements

YouTube’d memories: Blue Suede Shoes

November 22nd, 2008
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I mentioned a few times in this series the notion of my own very first cassette tape. In fact, there were two of them. Both were recorded for me by my Uncle, who owned a Sharp dual-deck stereo recorder – a rarity in those days. While he was aware of what I would have liked to hear on those tapes, he decided to only partially satisfy my requests and, in addition, to give me a taste of things that I was not truly aware of.

The first tape had Modern Talking on one side (I certainly wanted that) and Bad Boys Blue on the other (under a misplaced notion that it was but a different album by Modern Talking).

The second tape, however, had music that I by no means expected. The Beatles’ Abbey Road took one side and an album by Bee Gees the other. While I became an ardent Beatles fan, I did not like Bee Gees much. I soon recorded over that side, have no recollection of which particular songs of theirs were on that tape, and never really warmed up much to them to care.

There were also a couple of “bonus” tracks tacked at the ends of those albums. Hotel California was one, becoming an instant favorite of mine almost as instantly as the Beatles became my favorite band. The other introduced me to The King.

Funny how I keep using the word “introduced” in these memoirs. The year must have been ’84 or ’85 – neither John Lennon nor Elvis were alive any longer.


A book meme

November 21st, 2008

I know that you are all craving for more of these meme thingies from me, and I figured, Why not do two in a row? Especially, since this is a completely different type of meme, dealing with my literary tastes. I picked it up a few days back at Jason’s, my usual source.
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Random stuff about me (cont.)

November 20th, 2008

I can always count on Jason to pick somewhere a meme that I find hard to pass by (especially, when I lack inspiration to come up with a gripping narrative). Below the cut, then, is the two-part new compendium of facts about yours truly. (If anyone is so inclined, the old compendium is here.)
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Burlaki trivia

London Imagery: City of London

November 19th, 2008

The other day I was traveling between offices in the afternoon and had what increasingly becomes a very rare occasion of finding myself in the City of London. With my handy little camera, I took a few pictures. It was a bit late in the day and the lighting conditions were deteriorating, but here are a few shots. (click any photo to enlarge)

First, a few perspectives through the office windows.

View towards St Paul’s Cathedral and what I assume is St Mary Le Bow Church.

View towards the London Eye and, unfortunately, against the sun.

View towards the TV tower. Nothing of note here, except that I liked the composition of what I assume are the folded sun umbrellas, the spires of the church that I cannot name, and the tower in the distance.

On my walk towards the train station, I passed a fairly popular picture spot, with the dome of the St Paul’s opening up at the end of a narrow pedestrian street.

And here is the cathedral in all of its glory.

Finally, two opposing views alongside Cannon Street where it intersects Queen Victoria Street.


London Album

Happy birthday, Natasha!

November 18th, 2008

My lovely wife is 18 again today, prompting mass celebrations in all corners of the world. The outpouring of congratulatory notes and phone calls has been overwhelming, so a new channel in the form of the comments thread to this post had to be authorized.

The birthday girl herself plans to celebrate in style, by avoiding house chores for the duration of the day and capping the festivities with her regularly scheduled badminton practice. Various members of her immediate family have full schedules of their own, leaving the celebrant in joyful solitude throughout the day.

A glorious birthday, in other words.

I hope it is still happy, honey!


Movie review: Quantum of Solace

November 16th, 2008

A new installment in the James Bond franchise has an irresistible pull on me. While I have few opportunities to go to the movies and tend to barely tolerate the distractions that accompany the procedure of sharing the viewing experience with a bunch of strangers, certain movie releases to me constitute “events” that I find hard to put off until their future availability on cable.

So, on Saturday, Natasha and I left the children to entertain themselves in front of TV and computers, and went for a matinee showing of Quantum of Solace.



I’ll give this movie purely on entertainment value, but I am ambivalent about it. On one hand, it has striking locales, fast-paced action, daring escapes, fanciful technology, great stunts, chases and explosions – all that I enjoy the most about Bond movies. On the other hand, I also expect a coherent storyline, and the sequence of events in this movie appears a bit too haphazard and disjointed to me.

There are a few spoilers below, proceed with caution.
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It’s been too long

November 15th, 2008
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I had a horrible sudden realization the other day: We have entered a terra incognita as far as the duration of our stay-at-home intervals since we arrived in England. We are nearing our 20th trip (counting only those that included at least one night away from home), but it’s been two and a half months since we returned from our previous traveling adventure, and the longest we’ve stayed put so far was the very first 70 days after our arrival.

Oh boy! No wonder I have been getting restless lately. I even had to chart our stationary intervals. This does not include a few trips taken by Becky with her school, nor the trip to Russia or the States that my girls made without me. Had I included those, I’d be even more depressed.



The sad thing is, after our planned trip to Paris in two weeks (that’s ninety days after the completion of our last journey), we don’t have anything planned at all. The sorry new record may not stand for long. Arrrrgh!


Random Illustrations: Green Chain Walk signpost

November 14th, 2008
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The southeast fringes of the Greater London, where we live, are home to several strings of little parks, fields and playgrounds collectively known as the Green Chain Walk, established in the 70’s. Many of these are in various stages of disrepair and neglect, and the walks between them are not always “green” and often require moving along busy streets, but the idea to counteract the suburban sprawl with these little oasises of greenery is quite nice, and we even explored some of the nearby links in the chain in the months following our arrival.

The chain may be up for a revival. At least, that’s what the signposts indicate.

Every major tourist destination has numerous signposts pointing the visitor towards this or that attraction. London is no exception; furthermore, it is arguably one of the best signposted metropolises in Europe. But that is mainly in the city center. On the outskirts of the great city, and with the Green Chain Walk in particular, the signs tend to be obscure and infrequent. You will not get lost, if you are attentive and observant, but you would have to work at making sure you stay on the right course.

Then, a while ago, I noticed new signposts, bright, clear and positioned in plain sight at important turns. Happy to see my council taxes in action.



London Album

Natasha, the real-life Pretender

November 13th, 2008

Natasha’s brother and sister-in-law sent us a package with a friend of theirs who was coming to London. We used to jump at the opportunity to send something with an occasional messenger across Russian borders in the early 90’s, when the Russian postal service was reliable in only one aspect – pilfering the contents of any package with a foreign address. But the situation improved markedly towards the end of that decade, and we started trusting postal services more.

Old habits die hard, though, and someone from our old quarters in Russia traveling to a general vicinity of our current residence is often viewed as a potential messenger. Just as would anyone making a trip in the opposite direction.

The logistics of catching up with such messenger on the receiving end vary in complexity, but almost always include an extra hassle for the addressee. When you know the messenger personally, it could even be fun. But most of the time that person is more or less a stranger.

This time around, our sister-in-law’s friend is coming to London for a trade show. There is no phone for her and not a hotel name. All that we were given were her name, the dates of the show (held at the ExCeL) and the name of the company she represents. The idea is that we’d find a way to go to the show and find her there.

Easier said than done. ExCeL is actually within reasonable driving distance from where we live, but Natasha would still have to spend half a day on this exercise. But that’s not all. This is a travel industry event, supposedly not open to the general public. A part of its schedule is by invitation only, while most of the time only registered industry professionals may attend.

“Registered” not as in “certified”. “Registered” as in “having gone through the process of registering for this event”. Online registration happens to be free. So, Natasha figures, who is to say that I am not a travel professional! I make plenty of travel arrangements all year around!

She clicks on the registration link, improvises a business name and, presto, receives an email containing her personalized show pass. She then proceeds to attend the show, checks out a considerable number of booths, and even returns home with a bag full of goodies, in addition to the package from her brother. She says she had to discuss the size of her business and the range of her clientele, and was offered special commission deals several times.

It could have been worse. A proctologist convention or something…


Alphabet Movie Meme

November 11th, 2008

I am suddenly quite busy at work, with little time to come up with a worthwhile narrative for a post. Seeing how I’ve used one of my regular cop-outs just yesterday, I impulsively decided that I needed to pick up a little meme that Jason had tagged me with. I am not going to recount the rules – head over to Jason’s if you want to learn them in detail – nor am I tagging anyone afterwards (although, anyone interested in picking this up, feel free; and by the way, anyone interested in a free link to their website, please let me know and I’ll be happy to tag you next time). I am linking back to the originator of this meme, Blog Cabins, because it seems like proper etiquette.

The exercise itself seemed fun enough to take my mind off work for a few minutes. Here, then, is the list of my favorite movies, one per each letter of the alphabet. Yeah, in a nutshell, that’s all there is to this.

At first, I wanted to follow a theme, but later realized that I cannot call the selections favorites anymore.

  • Air Force One
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Casino Royale
  • Die Hard
  • Entrapment
  • The Fifth Element
  • Goldeneye
  • Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
  • The Jackal (struggling a bit)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (this one a stretch, but I can’t think of another movie here)
  • Live And Let Die
  • Mission Impossible
  • Never Say Never Again
  • Ocean’s Eleven
  • Pretty Woman
  • Quantum of Solace (I have no doubt that as soon as I watch it, it will become my favorite movie that starts with Q)
  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Tomorrow Never Dies
  • Under The Tuscan Sun
  • A View To A Kill (when nothing comes to mind, a James Bond flick is always a choice)
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • xXx (a pretty stupid movie, but I did not like any of the X-Men ones)
  • You Only Live Twice (same as V)
  • Zorro


YouTube’d memories: Lady In Red

November 10th, 2008

I’ve only noticed in passing that I am not a very willing dancer. At any given party, when the dancing floor becomes the focus of the celebration, I am still more likely to be found at a seat by the table, hopefully with a similarly-minded friend, spending time in idle banter.

(Natasha – who loves to dance – suffers for it, of course, but she’s learned to cope. She joins friendly circles for fast tunes, but more often than not has to sit down for slow ones, when everybody on the floor breaks into boy-girl pairs. Some of my best friends always have my back by inviting her to the dance floor for a slow dance. Their significant others, if not otherwise occupied, would normally use the opportunity to come over and have a drink with me.)

There are a handful of tunes, though, that would get me out of my seat and onto the dance floor any time they are played. They are not necessarily my favorite songs, per se, but something about them inexplicably makes the idea of dancing temporarily enjoyable. Must be some suppressed teenhood memories of waiting for a slow number to get to hold that one special girl close in my arms…

This is one of them.


Social life update, 11/09/08

November 9th, 2008
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The fireworks at Blackheath is an annual event for us. As I mentioned in this post two years ago, the November fireworks period of festivities in England is related to the early-17th-century plot by Guy Fawkes and his companions to blow up the Parliament. While it does not cease to amaze me that this particular occasion is the root of celebrations, I realize that Great Britain’s history lacks an event of an Independence Day stature and, therefore, the country has to find a cause to have fun where it can.

Anyway, the firework displays are plentiful around town in the weeks leading to the actual anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5th, and the fireworks at Blackheath on Saturday are one of the climactic highlights. We went to see them this year, just as we had in the previous years.

Becky, actually, watched them independently from us, having had left the house in the early afternoon for a girls’ day out. We, in turn, had friends over at our house for most of the day, and went to the fireworks together.

The display was magnificent, as always, but the weather did not cooperate, with a steady drizzle picking up midway through the festivities and not letting up until after we returned home. As we met up with Becky once the fireworks had ended, we foolishly agreed to escort one of her friends to where her father was waiting for her in his car. The fifteen-minute walk through the rain was mildly unpleasant, and then we lucked into getting on a bus full of less-than-agreeable teenagers, loud, obnoxious and intent on having fun at the expense of others. Girls, mostly, of the kind that you can only hope to ignore. Kimmy got upset with their behavior, I got upset in turn, and the evening was largely a wash. Only Becky had too good of a time during the day to let that affect her sunny disposition.

She has more plans for today, with our friends from Reading area coming over, and their elder boy with a friend going to the movies with Becky and a couple of her schoolmates. The parents and the younger kids will spend the time wining and dining chez nous, as the weather outside continues to leave a lot to be desired. Natasha has been rather pleased with the prospect of making two dinner parties in a row – the process in which I am always only too happy to participate from the point of view of consumption.


Frauds and snitches

November 7th, 2008
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In England, just as I remember in latter years in America with ads against insurance fraud, TV campaigns against benefit fraud do a pretty good job in sending the appropriate message. A benefit thief may not mend his ways outright upon seeing an ad like the one below, but seeing many of them is likely to sow some doubts in his brain.

But in this particular ad, I am primarily astonished to see a depiction of what seems to be a neighbor dialing the fraud hotline to turn the purported thief in. It is a duty of a good citizen to report a crime, no doubt, but this particular scene leaves a lot to be guessed what the actual crime is (I bet that unless you are a recipient of these “benefits for living alone”, you’re as baffled as I am in regards to the nature of the problem), and there is a clear connotation of the neighbor alerting the authorities based on her personal conjectures.

I am fortunate not to have lived through that myself, but I am very familiar with the histories of the Soviet-block informer societies, and I am shocked to see this apparent suggestion to snitch. Then again, a Brit colleague of mine once noted with a modicum of self-deprecation that the British are largely expected to tell on one another. It must be working, if you believe the “600 calls” claim.

That's England

A fountain that paints

November 6th, 2008

This is amazing!

The fountain in the video below makes pictures and words with falling water. The principle is akin to that of an ink-jet printer. Hundreds of nozzles create precise streams of water, timed in a way to create images. The attraction welcomes people to Canal City Hakata, a Japanese shopping complex.

I’m unlikely to be found at a shopping mall when I travel, so even if I were to Japan already, I’d probably still have not seen this. I knew this YouTube thingie was good for something.

Tip of the hat to Kim Komando’s Video of the Day with special thanks to my friend Irene who pointed me to it.

Amazing World

Random Illustrations: Recycling notices

November 6th, 2008
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Remember, I wrote in the past about the recycling scheme instituted by the Greenwich council? Basically, the dry recyclables go into the blue-cover bin, the food waste and the garden refuse into the green-cover bin, and the rest goes into a large garbage bag (soon to be replaced with a black-cover bin). Not very taxing for an average resident, after all.

Many people, of course, are either unwilling or unable to follow these rules. What happens to the offenders and their garbage? Surprisingly, the often quick-to-fine – or even prosecute, as linked from that old post, – authorities thus far resort to a gentle reminder, which isn’t in the least threatening. I’ve seen quite a lot of these notices around.


click images to enlarge

That's England