In calendar years I am 38 but just like the dog years go by much faster then the human years, I think I am much older then an average American born in 1969. To prove that, I will list a few items that I and my parents used in our everyday life that were not antique, just normal things you could find in an average household, and then we will see what age group will admit to knowing what these are:
1. Calculating aids.
The Slide Rule. In the movie Apollo 13 when the spacecraft was in trouble bunch of geeky-looking engineers whipped out these little secret weapons. Some people can still beat a computer with this thing, if not in speed then in physical strength. I actually learned slide rule use in school and used it for a period of time. We didn’t have calculators, I think I got my first one in the 8th grade.
My Mom was an accountant and she used abacus at work. Some people could do miracles with this things. Try to multiply two numbers using the abacus and you will know what I mean.
Lastly, to finish this high-tech roundup I’d like to mention trigonometric tables. In the absence of calculators to find values of trigonometric functions, squares, square roots, logarithms and other math calculations we had to page through these tables. It wasn’t hard to do but sure makes you appreciate your little scientific calculator.
Reel-to-reel tape player. This is the exact model that we owned. My Dad purchased it when I
started talking to record my first words. This player worked fine for the next 22 years and probably long after we left it to somebody. It was very heavy but I remember dragging it around town to record music from friends’ tapes and records. This is how music was downloaded in my time. Get some tape, bring your recorder to a friend’s house, wait for a couple of hours while it’s recording, lug your player back home.
Color TV. In 1976 or 77 my Dad bought our first color TV. It was still a rarity. This TV was extremely heavy and had vacuum tubes inside. There was no cable, just 3 over-the-air channels and no one even knew what the remote control looked like. You could always tell that TV was on by glowing tubes inside.
Drafting Board. Before the AutoCad drafters stood in front of these and actually drafted. I had a drafting class in the technical school and my uncle let me use his board for some time. For those who don’t know, drafting is hard and tedious and I always sucked at it. That was the main reason why I chose to study electrical engineering – electrical drawings can be done with template. Until you drew a gear in 3-d with a quarter cut out you don’t know what pain is.
6. Transistor radio. This is the exact model we had. The writing on it said “50 years if the Great October Revolution” so it was made in 1967. I mentioned before how we
(and the rest of the country) listened to Western Short Wave Stations to get real news and happenings in the world. There were even shows with banned rock-music. The strange ting was that they kept making these radios and then had to scramble radio transmissions.
7. Our first washer.
This was just a plastic tub with an electric agitator. The process was simple:heat the water in the bucket on the stove, dump it into the washer, put the clothes in, turn on. When the timer went off you had to manually empty it with the attached hose, repeat the process to rinse, then wring out the laundry and hang it outside to dry. Still, it was a miracle machine.
So how old am I?Continue reading →
Since I don’t expect that any of you frequent Russian language sites, I expropriated some pictures for your viewing pleasure. If you were invited to a typical soviet apartment in the late 70s – early 80s, chances are it would look something like this. My living room looked pretty similar and so did many other living rooms I visited. The only thing was that many of these only served as living rooms during the day. At night they were converted to bedrooms, where sometimes kids and parents slept and I am not limiting kids to any age here. Some people spent most of their lives sharing a room or two but in the morning you wouldn’t be able to tell. In my own case we had several rooms but we shared the apartment with 4 other families. And by “shared” I mean we had one toilet, one cold water faucet in the bathroom and one corner of the kitchen with a stove and later our own sink. But that’s a different story.Continue reading →
So consider yourself invited:
I always wanted to visit Canada and this year seemed as good as any for another trip in North America. We did a lot of train riding, starting in New York City to Montreal, then Toronto, finishing in Niagara Falls. I am getting pretty good at planning these things and everything worked out nicely and it was as close to a perfect trip as I could’ve hoped for.
As always I had both the camera and the phone with me, but found myself using the latter the most, phone is always close, the quality is decent, it makes easy panoramas, and the photos can be easily uploaded from the nearest WIFI spot. I realized that I bring the camera out of habit and can see myself traveling without one in the near future.
We found Montreal to be amazing, delicious, friendly and easy to get around. And covered in great graffiti. I am a big fan of murals and other folk art and Montreal didn’t disappoint.
Here are some samples:
Continue reading →
When Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev came back from his trip to the United States he had the answer to all of the USSR’s agricultural and other problems – corn. A directive was issued and pretty soon corn was being planted everywhere with joyous reports pouring in from all corners of the country even from places where corn had no chance of maturing due to the short growing season. Just like in the Special Olympics it wasn’t the results that counted, people got points (and awards) for participation.
I thought about overachieving and stupidity when I came home the other day to see my neighborhood lined with blue trash carts.
With these trash carts the City of Olathe is about to start its recycling program. I am skeptical about the benefits of recycling and until now did not participate in the program since it was not mandatory and cost an additional charge. My household doesn’t produce enough recyclable materials as outlined by the City to even bother. As a matter of fact we just don’t have that much trash in general. When the City supplied everyone with 95 gallon trash carts few years ago I immediately traded down to a smaller 65 gallon size and even that is almost always half-empty. I hardly ever have any items that fit the description other than an occasional phone book, a rare plastic bottle, or a piece of cardboard, so the 65 gallon cart represents about 65 times more volume of recyclables my family can produce in a year. The City did a test-run and feels that I will have enough stuff to fill it every two weeks. Obviously this is not going to happen.
In addition to the fact that I never volunteered to participate and wasn’t consulted with before the cart was dropped off in my driveway I literally don’t have any room in my garage to keep two 65 gallon containers. Hardly anyone in this neighborhood has more than one-car garage and most of the people already keep their regular trash carts out on the street (against the regulations), so now it will be adorned by two giant trash bins per household. However, the main non-benefit of the recycling program is a mandatory increase in the cost of the trash pick-up. While no one has to participate, everyone has to pay supposedly to attain a “long‐term stabilizing benefit to recycling because landfill costs are increasing”. Now I am torn between wanting to get something for the money I suddenly have to contribute and the realization that I will probably never have enough recyclables to even bother rolling the cart out on the pick-up day. Most likely I will just return the cart and curse the City every time I pay the bill.
I realize that many people believe in recycling, Jesus Christ, hope and change, world peace and global warming/cooling or both. Nothing wrong with that. What I find idiotic is the city investing in enough of the $65 trash-carts for every house, special trucks and equipment, with many people like me who will opt out of the program for various reasons. I have no idea how many people will return the carts or just leave them outside as decorations. The time will tell. I wouldn’t have any problem with just a price increase without the recycling gimmick, I realize that the costs are rising, but what may be a good idea for some, was imposed on all by the same type of thoughtless overachievers who long ago were planting corn inside the Arctic circle.
In the meantime you are welcome to drop off your recycling at my house – it’s already paid for.
If you have thirty minutes of spare time, watch this episode of Penn and Teller Bullshit, maybe you’ll recognize yourself.
After reading an article in the Pitch imploring me to see the Master and Margarita at the UMKC I knew I had to go. The Master and Margarita is one of only a few books that I read more than once and discovered something new every time. It is also one of a few Russian masterpieces that no matter how well translated could not be fully understood by a foreigner (that would be you); it’s somewhat similar to me trying to decipher Cris Packham’s pop-cultural references (not that I don’t try). The book was written during the times of the strictest censorship when even a hint of anti-Soviet criticism could literally threaten the writer’s life and that’s why Mikhail Bulgakov had to insinuate just as much as he wrote down. The average Soviet reader could easily read “between the lines” and see the satire in the most innocent dialogues and descriptions. Some of the references were to the specific characters in the author’s life and are not easily recognizable but the barbs thrown at the Soviet bureaucrats, censors, informers, dimwits, careerists, sellouts and the regime itself were obvious to the people who still encountered them in their everyday life for another 50 years after the book was written.
Not too many people risked producing it on the stage or on the screen, it could not be easily condensed and the characters were so well-known and beloved that any such attempt would be criticized by the fans. That’s why I was pretty skeptical going to the UMKC performance. I didn’t expect the cast to have an understanding of the book required to convey it onto the stage and it couldn’t possibly be shortened to fit into the regular length of the theater performance. What I saw was pretty amazing and truly one of the best theatrical performances I’ve seen in my life – honest, funny, enthusiastic, smart, inventive and, although not very close to the book, with plenty of Blugakov’s spirit in it. Once you get past the fact that some male roles are played by girls (i.e. Koroviev and Azazello), the character of the devil – Woland is wearing hooves, and the Cat Behemoth is a black guy with the red Mohawk dressed in some kind of leather corset and a shaggy trench coat, everything else falls in place. The actors were outstanding but Patrick DuLaney who played Woland was on par with the Russian actors who played this role in the movie versions of the Master and Margarita. He was able to convey Woland’s millenniums-old age, his exhaustion with life, his disgust with people which could only be defeated by the true love and selfless sacrifice. Julane Havens as Margarita was also very impressive, as a sensitive, sensual, defenseless but determined woman ready to sacrifice everything just to be with Master. The actress who played Hella gets a special mention, nice job keeping every male eye locked on the stage!
I also would like to specifically praise the costume and stage design. The Soviet people are all dressed in the same gray uniforms lovingly adorned by red stars; even their underwear is gray (as was revealed later and you missed it). I also liked the use of projection screens.
During the show I (illegally) made a few videos, sorry, serious-looking-bearded-usher-guy, I didn’t spend years in the KGB school in the USSR to be told what to do by the Man.
(By the way, in the bottom part of these videos you’ll see a jackass who didn’t feel it was necessary to take his stupid hat off in the theater; maybe the usher should have concerned himself with this view-obstructing clown instead of making sure I can’t record a low-quality video.)
After the show I overheard one lady ask her friend if she enjoyed the show, “it was too weird” was the reply. It’s hard to convey the whole complexity of the book on the stage to an unprepared viewer, but to people who understood it was an amazing effort worthy of a professional venue.
P.S. Alan Scherstuhl is my new Facebook friend on the condition that I will never have to pronounce his last name.Continue reading →