Archive for March, 2014

Polish up the gray

Vladimir Putin started his rule in 2000 from getting his businessman friends to take over the biggest independent Russian newspapers and TV stations, most notably NTV. Initially it continued working as usual, but gradually it became an utterly pro-Putin propaganda station, even worse than the major Russian state channels.

It seemed like the Internet was much more free to criticize the Russian government, but everybody who cared about free press in Russia guessed that the Putin regime knows it, doesn’t like it, and plans to act on it. What happened in 2000 with TV and printed media is happening now with online Russian media. The biggest independent Russian news sources, Gazeta.ru and Lenta.ru, were taken over by SUP, a Russian media company owned by a Putin ally. They initially carried on, but lately their editors in chief were fired, and most of staff resigned as well.

In addition, the popular private cable TV channel Dozhd (a.k.a. tvrain), is being essentially shut down – Russian cable operators stop transmitting it because it carried an “unpatriotic” poll a few weeks ago. It was obviously just an excuse; in fact, lots of people were surprised that it survived for so long despite consistent anti-Putin criticism.

SUP also owns LiveJournal—a pioneering free blogging service, which lost its popularity in the west to WordPress and tumblr long ago, but which is still the leading blogs service in Russia. It’s only a matter of time until it becomes censored as well.

And you know, I could be dramatic about this and say that Russia is in trouble and all that, but actually it’s a very personal problem for me. I left that country for good many years ago, and I call only Israel my home, but I still care about Russia and read news from it every day. I don’t have any reasonable source for Russian news anymore. Radio Free Europe is too anti-Putin to my taste; not in the sense that I like something about Putin (I don’t), but in the sense that it hardly talks about anything else. Pretty much all other independent Russian news sources are weird in some not-so-useful way; mostly Stalinist. I used to read Russian “patriotic”—i.e. antisemitic—sites as a hobby for years, but it became too repetitive to be entertaining. Lenta.ru wasn’t nice to Putin at all, but it also gave me other news from Russia. I don’t want to give up and succumb to reading nothing but Putin propaganda or anti-Putin propaganda. Russia is so much more than that; Life is so much more than that. But I don’t know what to do.

With great sadness I removed Lenta.ru from my RSS reader. I don’t want my brain to melt gradually. I need to find a new source for Russian news, although it may take time.

Here’s to hoping that at least wordpress.com won’t be taken over by a Russian company.

Advertisements

The Original Snakes on a Plane

It may seem tasteless to many of you, but I just had to share it. The lost Malaysian airplane story reminds me of an 1980s Polish-Soviet adventure-sci-fi film “The Curse of Snake Valley”.

It was, without doubt, inspired by Indiana Jones films: a Polish linguistics professor deciphers an ancient manuscript that promises “great power” to anybody who recovers a treasure from South-East Asian temple. He goes to recover it with the help of an aging French tough guy, who turns out to be a villain who wants the power to himself, and a tastelessly sexy female French journalist, who also turns out to be a villain working on behalf of a sinister organization, which – you guessed it – also wants to take over that mysterious power. The treasure turns out to be a biological weapon brought to Earth by aliens who have a thing for snakes (yet another Dr. Jones reference). When the first test of the weapon goes awry and kills the sinister organization’s boss, the new boss sends it for testing in a Pacific atoll, and the airplane that carries it disappears in the sky.

This is the Russian-dubbed version. You can see the airplane scene at 1:31:30.

Don’t have big expectations: The movie was voted in a poll in Poland as one of the worst Polish movies ever. It was, however, a huge hit with Soviet children back in 1988. I went to see it in the neighborhood cinema at least three times, and I had oh so many discussions with my friends about the deep meanings in its plot.

And, well, yes, it reminds of the odd Malaysian story. Can’t help it. At least it’s an opportunity to tell a strange little story from my Soviet childhood.

Weird GMail Habit: Removing Control Characters

GMail has a weirdish feature that probably very few people except me know about. When using it with a Hebrew user interface, invisible control characters—LRM, RLM, RLE, LRE and the like—are added to some strings to make them appear correctly in a mixed-direction interface.

Most notably, they are added to email addresses. I sometimes want to copy these email addresses as text, and my mouse pointer picks the control characters as well. Of course, these control characters are by themselves invisible to humans, but very much visible to computers, and an email address with these characters is not correct, even if it appears to be the same to human eyes.

It already became a habit for me to carefully delete and manually restore the first and the last characters of an email address to make sure that the control characters are removed.

It would be better if GMail just used the <bdi> element or CSS bidi isolation. They are fairly well supported in modern browsers and provide better experience.

Air Holes

I drank a glass of something that tasted like water and somehow found out that it was Phenylalanine. Recalling that it’s a lethal poison, I rushed to check whether I can save my life. I found the website of the people who invented it. It was written in a modern informal Web 2.0 style and said something like this:

The only antidote is to drink as much clean cold water as you can to dilute the toxicity during the first 18 minutes since intake. After that you can try drilling air holes in your casket, but we doubt that it will help.

I drank a lot of water and it saved my life.


It was a dream, of course. Phenylalanine is not a lethal poison, and it’s likely that we all consume a lot of it every day. It’s not the first time that I dream about poisoning from a substance that is not a poison in real life; last time I remember this happening, it was Papaverine.

Most curiously, it was in English. That probably has something to do with the fact that despite preaching to use native languages, I still mostly search the web in English for useful life-saving stuff, and that I get most of my humor in English as well.

It may also have something to do with Stan’s Previously Used Coffins.


Archives