A Boring New Theme

You guys, I’m so annoyed. Remember that old theme I had on my blog that I really liked called Libretto? Well, I can’t use it anymore. For some reason, the first several words of every post weren’t displaying. They were in a different, all-caps font and they worked fine until recently. So, no, I didn’t make any typos in my posts (well, I have been known to do that, but in this instance, I didn’t!). It was just that the theme was cutting off these words. I have a feeling it has something to do with web fonts (I am not completely certain what those are but I’ve had trouble with them in the past). Regardless, I have a new theme for this blog right now called Penscratch 2—and I don’t care for it. It’s so characterless compared to Libretto. Seriously, look at this screenshot of what Libretto is supposed to look like and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition to blogging, I’ll be looking for a better theme for this blog in the near future. Any suggestions from the theme library are welcome—as long as they’re free. I’m a bit wary about paying for a theme, since I wonder what’s to stop it from breaking like my good old Libretto did?

Note: The problem described above with the Libretto theme isn’t present in all browsers on all systems, so you may not have noticed it. I’ve noticed it mainly in Safari. However, since I don’t fully understand what’s causing it, I don’t want to use that theme until it’s fixed.

A Message From The Other Side

A strange group of events happened this weekend—obviously it’s a coincidence that I saw a pattern in since the human brain loves to find patterns, even when they don’t exist—but I still wanted to blog about it.

First, I read some history books about the Nazis and was reminded of my friend Tommy because we used to discuss twentieth-century German history together all the time. I dedicated an edition of Wednesday Music to him one October. Basically, he was my best friend ever but then he died, which was devastating. All during this past weekend, I kept being reminded of him. It was all very random stuff: something my phone did, something else I saw online, etc. The culmination was yesterday, Monday, when I was browsing The Passive Voice blog and saw this graphic (found in this post).

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

That was Tommy’s favorite quote. I was shocked to see it pop up on my computer screen as I clicked through to the next page of posts on that blog. And while obviously it’s just a coincidence that I happened to see this quote yesterday, a part of me felt like it was him sending me a message.

Вечная память.

Everything Wrong With Mark Henshaw’s ‘The Fall of Moscow Station’

At least the cover is nice…

Okay, the tile of this post is slightly misleading. There may be more wrong with this book—Mark Henshaw’s The Fall of Moscow Station—that I don’t know about because I stopped reading on page 70. (To put things in perspective, there are 338 pages in this book.) All of the inaccuracies have to do with Russia or the Russian language. They drove me so crazy that I could not finish this thing. I’d had really high hopes for it, too.

  • Page 24: A character says, “I am familiar with military tattoos. The one on the victim’s shoulder is not uncommon among soldiers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate. You might know them as the GRU, the old masters of the Spetsnaz Special Forces.” Honestly, this isn’t wholly inaccurate—the Spetsnaz served in the GRU, but they’re also in other branches of the military and intelligence services. Perhaps the author knows this and omitted it from the book because it was beyond the scope of information we needed. However, I’ve been unable to locate any information about tattoos specific to the GRU or Russian military. I could be wrong, but I feel like the author might be confusing this concept of tattoos with the Russian criminal underworld, where there are specific, distinctive tattoos used.
  • Page 27: “‘Spasibo.’ Arkady Lavrov ignored the American in favor of the sentry. ‘Pozhaluysta zakroyte dver.‘” Maybe it’s just me, but throwing in a pozhaluysta (please) when asking someone to close the door boggles the mind, especially since the speaker is an intense spy who’s the director of the GRU. To me, it would be more likely he’d bark in Russian, “Zakroyte dver,” with the implication in his tone that if the door wasn’t closed promptly, there’d be hell to pay.
  • Page 42: On a CIA dossier describing a character’s resume, we have the following information: “Listed as Vice President for Communications Security, ‘Zelyonsoft’ [zelyeniy is Russian for ‘gold’].” No, zelyeniy [зелёный] is green. Zolotoi [золотой] is gold.
  • Page 60: Remember that GRU director on page 27 who was ever so polite in asking for the door to be closed? Well, here we have this sentence about him: “But the FSB general was a solider and appreciated the willingness to take the initiative.” People, the FSB and the GRU are two totally different intelligence organizations! The FSB grew out of the KGB when the Soviet Union fell. The GRU is foreign military intelligence. And then there are other intelligence organizations like the SVR for external intelligence (though allegedly the FSB works in this area as well). My point is, they’re all different and you’ve got to keep them straight if you’re including them in a book. Wouldn’t it be rather silly to mess up the FBI and the CIA in a spy thriller?!

And there you have it. I was so frustrated with the book because I kept being jolted out of the story by these issues, so I stopped reading it on page 70. Maybe I’m picky, but there are lot of books out there and limited time to read them, so I’ve got to be choosy. I finished reading an alternate history recently (SS-GB by Len Deighton) and I’m still plugging away at Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard in Russian. If someone else has read The Fall of Moscow Station and tells me it greatly improves later, maybe I’ll finish it. But until then, I think I’ll read other books.

April Fools’ Greetings from the Russian Foreign Ministry!

I found this excellent post on a blog I follow… Seriously, listen to the recording (there is English around 0:30 if you don’t speak Russian). It’s nice to know Foreign Minister Lavrov has such an excellent sense of humor! Also, to hear the recording, you’ll have to go visit the full post by clicking on the title below. I can’t figure out how to embed that in my own post, thanks to Facebook’s confusing interface!

Dispatches from the Asylum

Leave it to Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, for a little humor on this April Fools’ day.

(Skip to the 0:30 mark for English)

“You have reached the Russian Embassy. Your call is very important to us. To arrange a call from a Russian diplomat to your political opponents, press 1. To use the services of Russian hackers, press 2. To request election interference, press 3 and wait until the next election campaign. Please note that all calls are recorded for quality improvement and training purposes.”

Choice!

Photo credit:  I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Wednesday Music: Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in G Major

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember when the last Wednesday Music post was. I would look back in my archives, but that would probably be demoralizing, so let’s just say it’s been a while. Today’s piece is Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 7 in G Major, G. 480. Now, the numbering of Boccherini’s cello concertos always confuses me—I swear I’ve also seen this one referred to as Concerto No. 3—but I know I have the G. 480 correct, so if you find this piece with a different concerto number but still listed as G. 480, I’m assuming it’s the same one. Here’s a bit about it.

  • Boccherini didn’t list this piece in his own catalog of works, but it was published in Paris in 1770, and most scholars seem to assume it was written slightly before then. Boccherini himself probably performed it in Paris.
  • During the time the composer wrote this concerto, he was at a high point in his life. He was very popular and he was working as a chamber composer for the Infante Don Luis in Spain, so he had financial stability as well.
  • The accompanying orchestra for this concerto is composed of strings only—no woodwinds. This was more common in the pre-classical era than the classical era.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

February 2017 Writing Report

Wow, this post is almost three weeks late! I meant to post earlier this month about my writing done in February, but I forgot. Better late than never, I guess.

In February, I wrote a total of 16,976 words. That number actually sort of bothers me because it’s just so close to 17,000. If only I’d written a bit on the last day of February, I could have had 17,000. That is an average of 606 words per day, which is a bit short of what I achieved back in January (752 words per day). My goal for this year is 700 per day, so I’ll have to step it up a bit in March. 🙂

Anyway, in February I missed writing on 13 days. Plus, it was a short month, so if we take those factors into account, that isn’t a bad word count at all.

I can’t believe March is almost over already. There isn’t much time left get some decent word counts in!

Apple & Me, Part 2: Cracks In The Foundation

Note: This post is a continuation of a story I started to tell in an earlier post, so if you haven’t read the earlier one yet, you might want to do that, as this probably won’t make much sense without it!

By the time the trackpad on my first Mac broke, I was deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem and loving every minute of it. I replaced my first iPhone with the iPhone 3GS, which I used for the next four years. (I actually still have that phone. It’s docked to an iHome and it plays music to wake me up every morning.) I didn’t have an iPad yet, but I’d started to secretly want one.

When I took my laptop with the broken trackpad to the Apple Store the day after it broke—this was 2010, dear readers, which meant it was easy to get a next-day appointment with Apple—they gave me bad news. Because the computer was out of warranty, it would be over $200 to fix the trackpad. I left with the trackpad still broken and started using a USB mouse.

My faithful old Mac

A few months later, just in time for the new semester, I got a brand-new shiny Mac laptop. It was a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 500 GB hard drive, 8 GB RAM, and a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. It also had plenty of ports: USB, Ethernet, FireWire, and an SD card slot. It even had a CD/DVD drive, which I used many times over the years. It was a nearly perfect laptop—its only flaw was the glossy screen. Sometime between the time I bought my first Mac and this second Mac, Apple had stopped making matte screens. In typical fashion, the company decided it knew better than we customers did about what we needed on our computers. Keep in mind glossy screens are by no means an industry standard, since the computer I use for work has a lovely matte screen that I rather like. Therefore, I think it’s rather silly that Apple doesn’t sell matte screens at all. But I digress.

The new laptop came with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard installed. I didn’t know it at the time, but Snow Leopard was to be the last truly great (and stable!) version of Mac OS X. Since 10.7 Lion, it’s been downhill ever since. (Seriously, don’t get me started on the monstrosity known as “macOS Sierra.” Just don’t.)

Right away, as soon as I opened the box that the new laptop came in, I noticed the computer didn’t come with a bunch of random free accessories like the first Mac I had. I didn’t get a nice black cleaning cloth, a remote, or a DVI to video adapter. Just like the matte screen, these had somehow vanished in the intervening four years since I bought my first Mac. Unlike the matte screen, they were still available—for a price. Luckily, I already had them from buying my first Mac, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

I still have that Mac I bought in 2010. That’s how I was able to precisely give the specs above. In fact, I’m typing this very blog post on it. It’s still my main computer and even though I’ve been forced to upgrade the operating system a few times, I still love this computer.

It was joined by a third Apple device in 2013: a 4th-generation iPad I got in graduate school. I still have that iPad, too, and it’s been very helpful with my Russian studies since I’ve had it. I got a new iPhone shortly after the iPad, which means I’ve owned a total of three iPhones.

Over the years, as I acquired my devices and Apple sold more and more iPhones, I slowly began to feel less passionate about Apple. I certainly didn’t love the company anymore. I liked it. A mild to somewhat enthusiastic liking was all I could muster up. Despite its faults, I reasoned, the products and software were still better than Windows or Android. At least I didn’t have to pay for expensive antivirus software—and then still get viruses anyway. That’s what made me stick with Apple products, despite a growing list of complaints.

My complaints mostly centered on the operating systems, both mobile and desktop/laptop. Once Apple made them free (yes, my dear friends, you used to have to pay for the operating system on your Mac computer!), the quality went downhill—big time. You know that saying You only get what you pay for? Never was it so appropriate than in this situation. Honestly, I’d rather pay $30 for an operating system (this was how much an upgrade to 10.6 Snow Leopard cost when it came out) and get something with a minimum amount of bugs than get it for free and feel like an unpaid beta tester due to the bugginess. That’s basically what people who use Apple products are nowadays: Tim Cook’s unpaid beta testers. Based on the quality of the software I see coming out of Apple, the company must have fired their entire quality control department between 2010 and now.

And those are just my complaints with the operating system for Apple’s computers. The mobile operating system, iOS, is exponentially worse. I’ve disliked it for a while now, mainly because Apple keeps it locked down under such tight control that you can’t do anything with it. If I want to delete the caches for applications on my laptop, that’s quite easy to do. If I want to do that on the iPhone or iPad, I either have to delete the app and reinstall it (if I’m lucky and it’s something I downloaded from the App Store) or I have to reset the entire device to factory settings. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it absurd? There is no way to access a cache file or a preferences file for a default iOS app such as Weather. (Okay, there might be if you jailbreak. But jailbreaking is a big hassle and I’ve never done it. As far as I know, you can access such files on Android without having to go in a root the device! Though if I am mistaken on this, please correct me.) It also seems like there are major bugs whenever a major version of iOS is released. That happens way, way too often, if you ask me. There shouldn’t be that many bugs in a product released that isn’t a beta version.

It wasn’t until recently, though, when I researched the newest Mac laptops, iPhones, and iPads that I came to a very surprising conclusion, one that will shock everyone who knows me personally: I am not going to buy Apple products anymore. Yes, I know that means returning to the warm, virus-laden fold that is Microsoft Windows. But this is my decision, and I came to it due to three reasons: the latest version of iOS, the latest version of Mac OS X (excuse me, it’s macOS now—gag), and the new Mac laptops Apple is currently selling.

Stay tuned to the next post for more…