Archive for the ‘Op-Ed’ Category

Pictures from Italy

October 7th, 2014
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It only took me a couple of months, but nearly 300 pictures from the recent Italian trip can be found in a dozen location-specific albums in my Flickr photostream.

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One [thousand] and done

March 15th, 2013
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So I made it to my vanity goal – this is my 1000th post.

It took me six and a half years, a pace of roughly 3 posts every week. Surprisingly, this is very close to the pace I initially established at the beginning of this endeavor, but obviously well below my peak from late 2007 through mid-2009. Since that peak, my output dwindled to barely noticeable; the last 50 of the thousand took over a year to get through.

Those readers who stuck with me through the latter years will recall that I’ve been dropping enough hints that I was no longer finding blog-writing an enjoyable – or, to be blunt, worthwhile – exercise. I got into blogging when it was a common fad and when I had a somewhat uncommon angle to work. It has now been longer since our return to the States from England than the duration of our entire stay in England, so the angle is long gone. I cannot work up enthusiasm for any other angles. And the fad is clearly on its way out.

Majority of the people whom I got to know on interwebs through their online writings are on a similar curve with respect to their own blogging. A few are ahead of me – they already stopped updating their blogs. Many are mirroring my trajectory down from the peak output, having significantly reduced the frequency of new content. They mostly migrated to Facebook or Twitter, opting for shorthand writing instead of essaying. As far as I can see, only the professionals are continuing strong in the regular blogging department – that is, people who either directly make money from their blogs or who use blogging as cultivating ground for the prospective buyers of their commercially available products. It is needless to point out that those people are significantly more talented than me in the creative writing department.

The long and the short of it, this is the end of the road for my blogging in its current shape. I might get a sudden epiphany of what my new angle could be or I might even wake up one day and feel a renewed vigor to try my hand at writing, but I would not bet much money on it actually happening. I appreciate all the encouragement I received from friends over the years, but in the immortal words of Dirty Harry, a man’s got to know his limitations, and one of mine is: I am only an indifferent writer. If I managed to entertain people or provide a useful insight in the past, it was decidedly not due to any superior wordsmith skills.

So, now, having achieved a symbolic, if meaningless, milestone, I am going to call it.

The existing content will stay in this same place in the short term. I have not yet considered what I will do with the hosting and the domain – since the costs are fairly minimal, I might just keep them intact for the foreseeable future. Comments are being closed off, but I am reachable via email at the link on the sidebar in case any of my old posts triggers a question from someone. And while I do not maintain an overly active presence on social networks, I am reachable there too.

With that, I bid you all good luck and farewell. May you always find interesting reads elsewhere!


How to get to Mars

December 24th, 2012
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This is not a new clip, it’s been around for nearly two years. In fact, I am pretty sure that most of my audience have seen it in the past. But it’s wa-a-a-y cool. And absent any original thought at this here blog, it certainly serves as a an upgrade in terms of entertainment.


Amazing World

September 11

September 11th, 2012
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I am ashamed to admit that I completely forgot today’s date and its significance up until the point that the public address system came on at 9:25am to say that “the firm would like to observe a minute of silence in honor of the events of September 11, 2001”.

On the other hand, could it be a sign of true healing?


Память о подвиге

May 27th, 2012

With apologies to my non-Russian-speaking readers, the content of this post has little meaning to those who do not have ancestors or relatives who fought in the World War II in the Red Army. Because of that, I decided to write in Russian for once.

С подачи Наташиного брата Лёши, мы провели вчера несколько часов, изучая документы, представленные на сайте Подвиг Народа. Я даже и не подозревал, что эти документы могут когда-нибудь предстать перед моими глазами, и на меня это произвело глубочайший эффект.

Идёте на сайт, нажимаете “Поиск награждения” в левостороннем меню, на появившейся странице вводите фамилию, имя, отчество и год рождения человека, воевавшего в Великую Отечественную, жмёте на “Искать” – и получаете в ответ список наград, которых был удостоен этот человек.

Жмёте на любую награду в этом списке и на экран выводится проиндексированный документ, включающий в себя наградные листы и указы, где в оригинале от руки даётся описание заслуг, за которые человек был награждён.

Не все архивы Министерства Обороны РФ ещё проиндексированы, и не всех людей пока ещё можно там найти. Но Наташа нашла нескольких своих родственников, я нашёл ордена покойного деда Мони – и не мог оторваться от суховатых, и в то же время берущих за живое, слов о героизме, мужестве и самоотверженности.

Нам, родившимся через четверть века после войны, всегда было дано знать о ней только по кинофильмам и воспоминаниям. И не знаю, как у вас, а мои деды не очень охотно вспоминали свои личные заслуги во время войны, предпочитая рассказы о своих однополчанах. Да и расспрашивал я о наградах только когда был совсем маленьким… И вот теперь, когда их уже нет в живых, увидеть своими глазами строчки, увековечившие их героизм! Это не описать словами.

Поищите своих дедов – не пожалеете!


Vacation pictures

May 7th, 2012
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Several dozen Cancun and Chichen Itza photos from the recent vacation have been added to our gallery. Use the Gallery link on the right or click here.

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Introduction to “favorite sights” series

January 19th, 2012

My regular readers – however few of you are out there – likely could notice that I started a new series of posts in the last month, “My favorite sights of…”. Unpredictable person that I am, I now decided to pen a brief introduction to the series after posting a few entries.

Those same few readers might recall how more than a year ago I lamented my failure to start a blog series with the working title of “My perfect day in…”. Since then, I became more and more convinced that the only way for me to keep blogging with any regularity is to focus on something travel-related. But I still couldn’t summon enough willpower to work on proper literary efforts.

Then, one day, looking through some old pictures, I thought to myself, why not make a series of picture-centric travel-related posts. After all, we have a sizable archive of travel photos. Instead of coming up with a polished narrative about some destination, I could pick my favorite shots taken there and limit the verbiage to no more than extended captions. Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?

And that’s the task I am pursuing. Samples of our favorite travel pictures have always been on display in the Travelscapes widget on the menu bar and many of those photos will undoubtedly be reused. But there will be many others too, although I specifically aim to keep the number of pictures in each post to under a dozen. I will only use our own photographic efforts and I intend to stick to landmark-focused shots rather than “we’ve-been-here” person-focused shots with somebody posing in front of a building or a monument (that, as has already been proven in one of the first entries, is not always possible to accomplish depending on how we approached photographing a particular destination).

There will be no specific order or hierarchy in these posts. In fact, I will try to randomize the pick of the next destination as much as I can. Since most of our travel photography is of Europe, I will stay with European destinations until I run out of them. The grandest cities are likely to feature in the earlier posts, but I have nearly fifty locales already lined up, so eventually we will move on to places other than familiar capitals.

I hope you’ll enjoy these brief excursions.

Blogging, Travel

Click on pictures

December 21st, 2011

With a bit of spare time on my hands, I decided to change the way embedded pictures are enlarged to a more contemporary and elegant method. Feel free to click on any image within any post, and please do let me know if you come across any buggy behavior. Thanks!

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On testing

December 20th, 2011
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Here’s the Twitter conundrum in its full glory: The simplest thing to do was to tweet something along the lines of “Took a professional test – piece of cake. Now certified in something I don’t actually expect to be focused on.” Instead, I wanted to elaborate, and link the occurrence to what I think is an amusing fact in my biography. In other words, I felt like making a blog post out of it.

I’ve taken my share of “qualification” tests of my life. We’ll leave aside education-variety tests that have no obvious pass-fail boundaries and are judged according to informally accepted notions of success. My career as a technologist in financial services demanded – or gently suggested on occasion – that I obtained licenses or certifications by taking professional exams that had clear failure thresholds: Answer a certain percentage of questions correctly – pass; screw up one more question than allowed – there is no “good enough” in stock for you.

An instructor for my Series 7 preparation years ago was fond of repeating, “My goal is to have you answer the first 175 questions correctly and not bother with the rest, because 175 is all you need to pass”. In other words, if you master all aspects of the subject, you should really be able to ace the whole test, which, while nice on some level, is not exactly necessary. Of course, in real life, the length of the examination and the varying ability of people to maintain focus under pressure conspire to cause even the brightest and most knowledgeable make stupid mistakes here or there. I suppose the allowance for the number of wrong answers is at least partially meant to cover for the eventuality of inadvertent mistakes.

Only, when the passing score for an exam is 70%, doesn’t it translate into validation of your knowledge at no more than C-?

Which, coincidentally, could allow someone with superior testing skills, enough common sense and only an average knowledge of the subject matter to successfully navigate the examination.

I’ve never failed an important qualification test in my life. But on most occasions, I could probably teach the subject at hand myself. That Series 7 examination was the only time until now that I was not a practicing expert in the field; a rigorous corporate preparation program ensured that I became at least a theoretical expert by the time I needed to take the exam.

Today was just the second time that I went for a professional certification in a field in which I do not consider myself an expert. Oh, I am far from a newcomer to the discipline; many of its components are a natural part of what a technology manager does day in and day out; some aspects of it neatly overlap with my skills obtained elsewhere. But rigorously following the prescribed practices – or even bothering to learn more obscure elements of professional lingo – was never high on my list of priorities. Nonetheless, I started feeling recently that getting another certificate under my belt was a career-enhancing move.

So I studied a little. I made sure that I knew every acronym and label, that I recognized each proper mathematical manipulation for a given type of data-oriented question. More than anything, I relied on common sense.

I was more or less confident in 81% of my answers. Adjusting for stupid mistakes that I surely made but also for possibly guessing right some of the remaining questions, I would estimate my score to be anywhere between 73% and 86%. Between C and B. The testing system did not provide me with much details beyond congratulating me for passing; it did mention that I was “proficient” in two knowledge domains and “moderately proficient” in three others. Sounds to me like average. I did not overextend myself in order to get an average passing grade, passing being the operative word. So, the exam was a piece of cake, in hindsight. But it surely takes some shine off my new certified designation to know that it was not challenging enough to obtain.

Maybe, I just hate getting average grades.

And the amusing fact I mentioned in the beginning? I did fail one single certification test in my life, although technically it was not immediately important at the time. When we moved to New Jersey from New York in 1999, I went to the Motor Vehicles office to change my driving license. I had to pass the written test, which would be achieved by answering 15 questions out of 20 correctly. I only managed 14. After having been driving for years on the streets of Brooklyn, I must have completely forgotten then that rules of the road did actually exist – at least, in theory – in other places… Two weeks later, I aced the test on the second try, but that blemish will stay with me forever. Oh well.


Joining Twitter

December 17th, 2011

Trying to think – not for the first time, mind you – what I would use Twitter for.

I don’t care to share the tidbits of my life as they happen. Maybe, I did care a bit more during the years in England, but even then, I do not see myself stopping for a second to compose a 140-char blob about what I might have been doing or seeing. Writing a marginally thoughtful blog entry after a period of reflection kinda feels more worthwhile. Or, in the past tense, felt.

I rarely have thoughts or insights that I feel need to be broadcast to the world. I carry the label of “being opinionated” everywhere I go, but I tend to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to sharing opinions. Ask me a question – you’ll get a full-blown answer. Otherwise, I am good with keeping my opinions to myself.

I don’t particularly care to know what my friends are doing at any specific period of time. I cherish our friendships and our close relationship, I do, you know that, but please forgive me if I’d rather learn what you thought or saw when we talk face to face next time. I am a very infrequent visitor to Facebook, as a matter of fact. Staying connected with long-distance friends is much easier online, no doubt, but I am struggling with the minute information overload that comes with that. Maybe, I just have a different view of our level of closeness, my apologies for that.

I am perfectly fine with becoming aware of important news some time after they happen, not the very moment they do. And I am quite indifferent to people’s reactions to assorted events. I can get my fill of interpretative opinions via any number of op-ed pieces out there on the web.

Nor do I have any interest in keeping up with various celebrities’ doings and goings. I am just not into that kind of information consumption. There’s not enough time in the day for me to consume the information that I do find important, to start with.

I thought that, maybe, by following certain publications I could get alerted to some of the stuff that I do want to read. However, I quickly realized that the info stream includes large percentage of stuff that I do not care about, which means that perusing my Twitter timeline is entirely a duplication of flipping through my existing RSS aggregation.

So, what did I get a Twitter account for? I honestly don’t know. Everybody seems to have one, it does not cost anything, so here we are. Can’t think of a meaningful tweet, can’t come up with whom to follow, but I’ve joined nonetheless.

I realize that some pieces of my meager blogging output could have been presented as micro-blogging notices. But as I find it challenging to work up enthusiasm for blogging, so I find it equally unappealing to convert to tweeting. Otherwise, I could have made my inaugural tweet something like: “Sciatica is a pain in the ass, literally so. Treated with steroids, no less!” Hey, on the bright side, the world has been spared that insight, beyond the few of you in the audience.

If anyone here thinks they would enjoy hearing about the vagaries of my daily commute and other stuff that crosses my mind, I’m willing to give it a try. Let me know. Start following @IlyaBurlak. You got little to lose, if my blogging history is anything to go by.


I need to get myself a bumper sticker

November 13th, 2011

It will say in sufficiently large and light-reflecting letters: “If you see cars passing you on the right, MOVE TO THE SLOWER LANE, ASSHOLE!”


Hacked but recovered

November 5th, 2011

I have spent the last hour or so recovering my blog from backups after it was hacked by some f***ers who had replaced my WordPress installation with a single sound-hotlinked page in Arabic. On a plus side, I am pretty diligent with backups, so I was able to restore all of my stuff pretty quickly. On a minus side, I apparently did not back up all of the WordPress plugins, so there may be some things that will not be working correctly until I get to them later in the week. For instance, clicking links right now seems to result in an error… (fixed – 11/6/11)

If anyone notices anything else missing or behaving strangely, please drop me a line, I’d be very obliged.

The interesting part is that the Travelog section was untouched. Of course, there is a question of what kind of protection my hosting provider has that allows such hacking to occur.

Back to our regular [scarce] programming…

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Subtle re-branding

July 29th, 2011

We’ve been back on the home soil for two years now. I felt a tiny bit of re-branding of the site was due. The word “[back]” was no longer appropriate as the modifier of our local status.

So, welcome to “Burlaki on the Hudson”, all!

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Pictures from Spain

July 16th, 2011
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A selection of photos from our fairly recent trip to Madrid and environs is available at our Picture Gallery. Use link on the menu or go directly here.

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Madrid notes

July 1st, 2011
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I’ve been thinking for the longest time that the only reason I have to keep this website going is that my expat musings from the years of living in England can be of use to friends and strangers alike. Only yesterday a couple of friends relocating to England for work have called us to express their gratitude, having found some tidbits in my old notes useful in their efforts to settle in a new land. If not for that, I might have pulled the plug on this enterprise a long time ago.

Then, there is my Travelog, which admittedly is no longer updated frequently enough to merit a designation of a travel journal. Still, I use it myself to refresh my memory before an upcoming trip, and it gives me a handy point of reference to direct acquaintances who heard that I’ve been to many places and want my opinion on things to do in Paris or Budapest. Despite our no longer numerous trips to Europe, I attempt to update our notes on a given destination in short order after returning. Which brings me to the point of this post – I updated our notes on Madrid and environs, for anyone who is interested.

We will now return to our scheduled programming of scarce new content.

Blogging, Travel

Into the fifth decade

June 5th, 2011

Mark Wahlberg turns 40 today. Noah Wyle turned 40 yesterday.

Me, I’ve been on the other side of 40 for a few days now.

I have a vivid recollection of a kitchen conversation between my Dad and one of his friends that took place some short time after my Dad had turned 40. They pondered how upon reaching 40, a man can’t help but assess his entire life, acknowledge his achievements, accept his failures, recognize his regrets about past decisions, re-evaluate his priorities… Somehow that conversation always shaped my attitude towards reaching the age of 40 as being disproportionally more significant compared with any other age.

Well, I can definitely report that I don’t feel any different physically.

And mentally? I suppose I’d appear awfully disingenuous if I complained about my life. I have a wonderful family, incredible friends, I am reasonably successful professionally, fortunate to earn enough money to afford comfortable existence. Regrets about roads not taken? Everybody has them, don’t tell me that you don’t. The approach of the big four-oh did sharpen my focus on some of those regrets in the past few months, and I have a feeling that I’ll be working through that for a while. But overall, it’s been pretty good first 40 years of mine.

Those younger guys, Mark and Noah, I hear they’ve done pretty well for themselves, too.


Not dead yet

May 27th, 2011

What do you know? The patient still has a pulse.

Despite the fact that I have been, sometimes willfully other times inadvertently, shirking my blogging duties for most of the last couple of months, Google Analytics tells me that there continues to be a fairly steady flow of visitors to my site. Most arrive for the brief lecture on London river-crossing landmarks, and some stay to peruse other posts and photographs in London & Environs category, which gives me quite a modicum of satisfaction that my past efforts weren’t for nothing.

Not that I have anything new to say worth posting…


Useless point of pride (and a bit of trivia you may not be aware of)

March 26th, 2011
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I learned somewhat accidentally the other day that when Russia moves their clocks one hour forward at the start of their summer daylight savings period this coming Sunday, it will be their last such time change. From that point on, people in Russia will no longer be adjusting their clocks back and forth twice a year.

I do not have strong feelings about daylight savings, but I do believe the concept long outlived its usefulness, if there ever was any, and as such, tend to lean towards disliking the disruption this worldwide practice causes everyone each spring and autumn.

So, I have a weird feeling of pride for my birth country taking the lead in something I find sensible. There aren’t that many things I can be proud of when it comes to present Russia, after all.


Small range

November 10th, 2010
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The trajectory of my blogging activity went from unenthusiastic to senile.

In the last few weeks, there’s been a spike in electronic communications with my high-school friends. We go through these periods once in a while, when we realize that the last time we had any meaningful exchange was months ago. While we mostly spend time to catch up with each other’s lives, we obviously cannot avoid reminiscing a bit.

As I was so reminiscing, I started to type up a memoir of my high-school years to post to the blog. It was coming out pretty well, slowly but steady as always, but 500 or so words into writing it, I started to get a clear sense of déjà-vu, as if I already wrote all of that in the past. Because, of course, I did. The new post that I was writing re-hashed the same topics that I already covered in this post of a year and a half ago.

The good news here is that when I latch onto a topic I feel interesting, I am still able to focus on writing something.

The bad news, of course, is that I seemingly return to a very little range of topics all the time. And I still got nothing to post, after all those efforts. Yay, me…


Fail again

October 27th, 2010

I’ve had this idea for a recurring blogging feature/angle ever since I knew that we were repatriating and my “expat observations” would be soon drying up. Which means, I’ve been considering it for roughly 18 months now.

The concept was fairly simple: An essay about each place that I’ve become familiar with on our travels, aimed at describing “my perfect day” in each locale. After all, I have favorite vistas, corners, sights, restaurants, etc, everywhere I’ve been to, and thinking about them always brings back good memories. And I noticed long ago that I only enjoy writing about things that I find enjoyable.

I was procrastinating with starting the series, I had other projects, then I got busy with the newborn, then I got extra busy at work, then I resumed coming to office most of the days of the week (which eats up a fair portion of my day)… But I did form in my head several outlines of the essays about most obvious targets – Prague, Paris, Venice, London.

The last couple of days the work let up a little bit, and I figured I could attempt the first post in the series.

… and miserably failed.

I know all of the places that I want to talk about. I know why I want to talk about them. I have a pretty good idea of what sequence to put them in. I’ve got some interesting – at least, I think they are – observations and occurrences that I can spice up the proceedings with.

And yet, it does not come together for me. I labor over passages, I struggle with varying my delighted adjectives, I can’t achieve any depth of exposure. My penmanship makes the stuff that I should always be excited about into boring drivel.

I suspect my writer gene is completely dead, if I ever had one. A bit disheartening, really, even if I never had any designs on being a writer.