Sunday, May 31, 2009

Of appartments and mitzvos

Although normally I don’t read so much, just now I read there a cute and somewhat touching article about looking for a dwelling place (a very familiar subject to me personally).

External links:
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of people and robots

Alter Rebbe says in Tanya that for the most part people do not help other people selflessly (they do it to feel better about themselves, to get something out of it, etc. — which is why it says in Gemara that “kindness of nations is sin”). What about helping small wooden robots?
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Chemistry for kids

Oxygen from Christopher Hendryx on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sichos for Shvues

... explained and taught by Rabbi Paltiel. Found here.

Each one is 15 minutes to half an hour. Very much worth it.

Government backs your waranty

So. Many. Jokes.

It is just too hard for me to determine which of the thousand or so jokes in my mind deserves to be voiced out. And besides, whatever I write, it is still going to be not as funny as seeing this clown speak himself:

The only question that comes to mind is: does he believe himself in what he is saying? Or is this the biggest mass-scale scam in the history of the Western society since Reform Judaism?

Messed up we-know-better-than-you thinking

A perfect example of a messed up method of thinking representative of a certain political philosophy (click to enlarge):


What’s a sign of a you-know-which political/economical philosopher? He thinks he knows better than a whole country of people what they really need.

“Who needs a new iPod? You need a new iPod? Are you kidding? No you don’t. What you really need is a big marble ball in the middle of a city and a park around it. To create which we will tax you, taking your iPod money away.”

Stay connected

(everything was created in opposites; source)

So, I only really just want to share the movie below (and update the blog a little), but since it is always nice to connect something to Torah, I will write three thoughts one can derive from this movie:

1. Unlike in this movie, our Creator did not abandon us. He put us here with a purpose, He knows about our struggles, and He is in control.

2. You should never want to be something you are not. Don’t desire to be like angels. Be Jews — with human guf, both Divine and animal souls, and the Essence of the soul which is part of G-d above, literally. We are better than angels and more fortunate — despite the fact (and especially due to the fact) that we are stuck in this lowly, limited, dark world. We have something they don’t have, perched on a tree in the Upper Realms. We have Hashem’s Essence.

3. Stay connected to your source. Every time you do something against Hashem’s Will (G-d forbid) or even when you do something which has nothing to do with Hashem’s Will, you’re disconnecting yourself. And at that moment, you are not alive — you are dead.

4. Did I say three thoughts? OK, here is a bonus: we do not serve Hashem for rewards. For pleasure. For the Upper Realms or the Lower Realms. Not even for the pleasure of His Essence. We serve Hashem because it pleases Him and because this is the purpose for which we were created. (How is this seen in the movie? Not sure — but it’s true nevertheless.)

Good luck with the marathon on your way to receiving Torah.

And now the movie:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You gotta do what you gotta do

And the homework is… to write a compare-and-contrast essay comparing and contrasting these two videos:



“Before and after what?” you may ask. Well, it’s obvious, ain’t it? Before and after political parties changed power. Oh, and also before and after Bush kicked terrorists’ ass, so we can all feel much safer and talk about how evil torturing terrorists is and stop being “reasolonable”.

In other news, I already wrote somewhere that I am not too worried about Obama — based on his track record (before the election) he will have trouble convincing the Congress to do anything too stupid. Well, some stupid things have definitely been passed, but still, reading the latest news about closing of Guantanamo reminded me of my prediction.


It’s fun to be a fundy



Fresh news

(click on the video to watch a bigger version)

When I hear the words “public good”, I reach for my gun.

The greatest public good is to be left alone and not be taxed (except for protection), controlled and “governed” by politicians. Let the public good be managed by the public itself (did someone say “democracy”?) and by entrepreneurs — who are the real government of our society. Not the boys and girls who get salary for brainwashing the masses.

Besides the fact that the idea that bailing out press — of all industries — is the last example of “public good” I can imagine. The greatest public good would be to pierce this snake’s head with a sharp stake.

Put your actions where your words are

One of arbat’s commentors writes:
Calling current deficit spending “unsustainable,” he warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries.

“We can’t keep on just borrowing from China,” he said. “We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children’s future with more and more debt.”

Holders of U.S. debt will eventually “get tired” of buying it, causing interest rates on everything from auto loans to home mortgages to increase, he said. “It will have a dampening effect on our economy.”
And why didn’t Americans elect the person who said the above their President? Oh wait, they did — it’s a speech by Obama himself.

I just had an idea — there are two of them out there: Barack Obama and Borat Obama. One of them, of course, is a [time traveller]. Borat sits in Washington and works on economic policy, while Barack travels around New Mexico and makes speeches.
In case you have no idea what it is he is going on about, compare the quote in italic from above with these charts:

In gray is evil conservatives’ spending. In red — you-know-who’s:

And finally, I love this figure:

Greg Mankiw comments:
To put those numbers in perspective, imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year — approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.

Nu, nu. I hope I don’t have to tell you that it’s your money, folks.

Keep remembering this: whenever the government “finances” or “stimulates” something, it does it with your money. Not just money out of your paycheck. The extra money you pay for products which did not become cheaper, because their manufacturers were taxed and did not invest extra money in product development. In those products that you cannot afford. In extra you pay for house, for your amenities. In all that civilization advances on which you missed out — about which, of course, you don’t know since they are not there.

So, I guess, in one sense it’s not so bad. It’s like living in 19th century without toilet paper. It sucks, but you don’t know it does, since you don’t know what you’re missing.

I hope you enjoy those stones.

The difference between the US and Europe

Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.
— Albert Einstein

When writing “Europe”, I mean Russia first of all. But it applies equally well at one point or another to any other European country — with the possible exception of Britain.

(Speaking of Britain, yesterday I may have found a possible burial place of one of my previous gilgulim. The one after Rambam.)

And finally, let me leave you with a question of the week: is it really a good idea to start a war with CIA? I don’t mean if you’re KGB or FSB or Chinese government. I mean if you’re a not overly bright or overly honest politician, who (being a member of a certain party) possibly may have a lot to hide about yourself.

Some fun reading for the seekers of truth out there.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Petersburg by Petrosian

(by A. Petrosian)

The only part of Russia I truly miss.

My birthplace: Petersburg, the Northern Capital of Russia, through the eyes of the photographer A. Petrosian.

The tall building close to the center is Peter-Paul Fortress, the place where Alter Rebbe was imprisoned in 1799 before being liberated on Yud-Tes Kislev.

If you liked these pictures, here are some more by the same photographer. The part of Russia I do not miss. At all.

The biggest question is: how can these two Russias co-exist?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Russian soul

These are the sparks that Chassidus harvested.

Russian Paganini (listen to the first piece only):

Train Home:

Music Box (he imitates playing a music box as beggars used to, a piano, a violin, and then plays some Classical and contemporary pieces):

Mozart’s Turkish March (Rondo alla Turca):

Eastern Melody:

On Tariverdiev’s (famous Russian composer who wrote many soulful scores for Russian movies) music:


Monday, May 11, 2009

World War II in half an hour

(the somewhat failed counter-offensive of the 1941–1942 winter)

Very-very awesome. Even if you don’t know Russian. Even if you haven’t lost most of your family. Still very awesome. Just wait for stuff to load, and when the “interlude” screen appears, just press the rectangular green button. Don’t press green or red arrows unless you want to see details (some nice pictures, videos, additional maps, etc.). Things will move themselves between the interlude screens.

Победители” (Victors).

I have to say: after watching this, the opening of the “second front” by Americans and British in France looks very comic. Very-very-very pathetic and comic. Obviously, every soldier who fought anywhere deserves our gratitude, but there is a reason why Americans “don’t get it” regarding World War II. Even fighting in the Pacific was a joke comparing to what was happening in Eastern Europe. To see what I mean, watch the above link.

(“Yay, we took the beaches of France!.. Five years too late... While the Russians have killed about 10 million Germans and fought over the territory several times the size of Western Europe.”)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

And more (about) cases

(Why are all pareve chocolate chips semi-sweet?)

It turns out, according to this article, that besides regular six deflection cases (more about cases) of Russian language — nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental and prepositional — there are a few rarely occurring special cases: numeric-separative, depriving, waiting, local, calling, turning, and counting.

Am I the only one to whom this sounds like some list of spells from Harry Potter?

So many cases, so little time

Russian grammar is fun. Besides having word formation akin to a lego puzzle (a few prefixes, one-to-three suffixes and one or two endings to form a regular word), it has cases. Cases are always fun for students of Russian. Both the students who are native speakers and those who are not.

If you don’t know what cases are, they are instances of inflection, the process of changing the word such that its meaning and functional role in the sentence changes. In English, only four cases exist and only regarding (some) pronouns. Otherwise, the function of a word is determined by its position. Borrrring. (Blame the French. As usual.)
I gave you a book. — Nominative case
You gave me a book. — Dative/Accusative case
This is my book. — Possessive case.
This book is mine. — Forgot its name, but you get the idea.
Well, in Russian there are six cases, and they apply to all nouns, pronouns and adjectives that take them as antecedents. (In case of adjective–antecedent relationship, both have to be of the same case, number and gender — yes, I said “gender”; in Russian even non-living things have gender: for instance, a table is “he”, while a bottle is “she”. The window is “it”.)

Russian is not unique about this. In other manly languages the same thing is going on (both about cases and genders). For instance, in German and Latin.

Well, did I mention that numbers can also be deflected? Yep. Even long ones, like “three thousand eight hundred ninety two”. Each of the six words has to be deflected, and unlike in the case of nouns, where rules are relatively simple (you need to know the gender and grammatical type of the noun — of course, native speakers know how to deflect naturally; but, they don’t know the cases naturally, which means they still need to memorize the proper endings for writing), for numerals the correct endings can be tricky. Think of it as juggling six balls while dancing a tango. The balls need to be flying up, but also in the direction one is dancing.

Ilya Birman gives a few examples. (Sorry, at this point one needs to speak Russian.)
Так вышло, что мне нужно сделать небольшой тест по русскому языку и отправить его по почте на соответствующую кафедру в универе. Склоняю числительные. Чтобы не было сильно скучно, придумываю всякие предложения.

8. Просклоняйте количественное числительное 1245 (книг).
  1. Тысяча двести сорок пять книг стоят на полке.
  2. Тысячи двухсот сорока пяти книг недосчитался библиотекарь.
  3. И тысяче двумстам сорока пяти книгам не рассказать всех несмешных анекдотов!
  4. Уж тысячу двести сорок пять книг прочёл, а всё бестолку.
  5. Тысячью двумястами сорока пятью книгами можно натопить небольшую баню.
  6. О тысяче двухстах сорока пяти книгах мне надоело придумывать дурацкие предложения.
9. Просклоняйте порядковое числительное 3892 (преподавателя).

Если числительное порядковое, то почему «преподавателя»? Видимо, ошибка в тесте. Пришлось склонять сразу и так, и эдак.
  1. Три тысячи восемьсот девяносто два преподавателя пинают плохого студента три тысячи восемьсот девяносто второй раз.
  2. Трёх тысяч восьмисот девяноста двух преподавателей достаточно, чтобы вкрутить лампочку с три тысячи восемьсот девяносто второго раза.
  3. Трём тысячам восьмистам девяноста двум преподавателям пришлось ещё раз дать по башке три тысячи восемьсот девяносто второму (в рейтинге успеваемости) студенту.
  4. Три тысячи восемьсот девяносто двух преподавателей наказали за избиение три тысячи восемьсот девяносто второго (в рейтинге успеваемости) студента.
  5. Тремя тысячами восьмьюстами девяноста двумя преподавателями (в смысле, таким большим составом) можно доехать на работу три тысячи восемьсот девяносто вторым троллейбусом (ПКиО — Юпитер)
  6. О трёх тысячах восьмистах девяноста двух преподавателях можно составить в три тысячи восемьсот девяносто два раза больше бессмысленных предложений, чем о три тысячи восемьсот девяносто втором кабинете главного корпуса (тем более, что такого нет).
Which is not to say I don’t love English. I do. It just has other strengths. All of them derived from Latin and German, obviously.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Do schools kill creativity?

If you are not really interested in the subject, you may find yourself interested in the speaker’s accent and English humor. I especially liked the part about professors.


The barrage

I loved this part so much, I will devote a separate post to it. I actually did not know there is a monument to foolishness with initiative, but in fact there is. Of all places, in North Korea.

I think if Barack Obama asked, they would let him in as a special guest, to tour the country.

Tears of nostalgy

A joke by my rabbi:
A school inspector comes to a Soviet school in the 1930s and asks children:

— Little boy, what is your name?
— Vova.
— Who are your father and mother?
— My mother is the Motherland. My father is the Fatherland.
— What do you want to be when you grow up?
— A soldier to protect the Motherland and Fatherland.

Next child:

— Little girl, what is your name?
— Sveta.
— Who are your father and mother?
— My mother is the Motherland. My father is the Fatherland.
— What do you want to be when you grow up?
— A cook to make food for the the Motherland and Fatherland.

Then he comes to a little boy with Jewish features sitting in the corner:

— Little boy, what is your name?
— Yankel.
— Who are your father and mother?
— My mother is the Motherland. My father is the Fatherland.
— What do you want to be when you grow up?
— An orphan.
This video makes me a bit nostalgic. This stuff is in my past. If Democrats have their way, it may also be in my children’s future, chv”sh.

I have to say, Russia looked much nicer. At least it had some character. Culture. History. Currents boiling under the surface. A spark of its people’s soul not extinguished by idiots with initiative.

This just looks like a tin-soldier factory. Maybe I don’t get the Asian culture, just like my pianist friend doesn’t like their piano playing (“Great skills and mastery, no musicianship whatsoever,” he says). Perhaps we are both racist.

Sometimes there is an advantage of being an American.
We are in a hotel room. We were told it’s bugged. Not sure that whispering will help. Hello, hello! Hello! Come in. Come in, Tokyo.

And then, on the way back, you’re thinking: “This is the fourth largest army in the world, all along this border. And they have threatened the US with nukes, and Japan with nukes. How can they have nukes?! They don’t have electricity. They don’t have running water. They are a third-world country on the level of a turn-of-[20th]-century Britain, and they have nukes?!”

Keep watching.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Apple likes to get paid... not so much to pay


Of branches, Galileo, and overcoats

One my favorite pieces of literature. Not for those afflicted with ADD.

From: Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer (The Story of Mr Sommer) by Patrick Süskind, translated to English by yours truly (I preserved the grammar, punctuation, style and the sentence structure — or what passes for it in this piece).

In the times when I still climbed trees — it was a long time ago, years and decades back, and I was barely above one meter tall, wore shoes of the twenty eighth size [my shoes are of the fortieth size — CA] and was so light that I could fly — no, I am not lying, I really could fly — or, at least, almost could fly, or let’s say it better: at that time it was certainly within my power to do so, if I were to very firmly desire it and try to do it, because... because I remember vividly how one day I almost flew, how it was in autumn, the same very year I started school and was returning on that day home, and the wind was so strong that I, without spreading my arms, could lean against it at the same angle as a skier, or even a larger angle, without fear of falling... and when I then ran against the wind, down the hill from the school mountain — for the school was on a small hill by the village — and slightly pushed away from the ground and spread my arms, the wind immediately caught me, and I could make without slightest effort jumps two-to-three meters high and ten-to-twenty meters long — or, perhaps, not quite so long and not quite so high, but what difference does it really make? — in any event, I was almost flying, and if only I unbuttoned my overcoat and took its tails in my hands and spread them out as wings, the wind would fully pick me up in the air, and I would with absolute ease glide down from the school mountain over the valley towards the forest, and then over the forest down to the lake, near which our house was standing, to the utter amazement of my father, my mother, my sister and my brother, who were already too old and too heavy to fly, then make an elegant turn over the garden only to glide back over the lake, almost reaching the opposite shore, and, finally, calmly coast back over the air and still be home in time for dinner.

But, I did not unbutton my overcoat and did not fly up in reality. Not because I was afraid to fly, but because I did not know how and where I would be able to land, and whether I really could land. The lawn in front of our house was too hard for landing, the garden was too small, the water in the lake was too cold. To lift off — that was no problem. But what about coming back down?

With climbing trees I had the same situation: climbing up was not problematic in the least way. I saw the branches in front of myself, I felt them in my hands and could test their hardness even before I lifted myself and then put my foot on them. But when I was climbing down, I did not see everything and was forced to find, more or less blindly, the branches below me, until I found a proper support — except, oftentimes, the support was not so firm, but rotten and slippery, and then I would slip or fall through, and if I did not have a chance to catch some branch with both hands, I would fall down as a stone does, according to the so-called laws of falling bodies, discovered already almost four hundred years ago by an Italian scientist Galileo but still acting even today.

Gotta love our President

Such a charming fellow, this guy is.

I can definitely see this guy outshining Woodrow Wilson, JFK, and Jimmy Carter in his idiocy.

Oh, wait, he didn’t know. Right...

Speaking of FAA, did you guys know that every time a plane goes down in the US, this wonderful organization receives more funding? You did? OK, just checking. Imagine that your telephone company raised its bill every time you got a dropped call. After all, the fact that you get dropped calls means that you’re not paying enough money to ensure the quality of the service. Why, it all makes sense...