Do you learn from mistakes?

I noticed there are two types of people:
Those who learn from being wrong, and move on
And those who keep explaining why they were right to be wrong.

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Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Flag

In earlier years, I have never put a flag on my house. Well, except for Jolly Roger on Halloween, that is.

Back in the old country, if you saw a Soviet (and later Ukrainian) flag, you could bet any money that the building it was on was some government institution.

When I first came to US, flags on private houses really surprised me. The idea that a private citizen would put a flag on his house, of his own free will, without government forcing him, was totally alien to me. You see, when you are taught that your country and your government (and the ruling party) are one and the same, you make a connection that the flag represents the government as much as it does the country. And when life teaches you extreme cynicism about anything government-related, because of corruption, hypocrisy and Orwellian machinations of the government (not politicians, government as a whole), flag of that government is the last thing you want decorating your residence. It took some time to learn that you can be cynical about the government, and even despise the ruling party (or all parties for that matter), and still love the country.

During the years of H1B serfdom, and later, during the green card years I didn’t feel that I had the right to that flag. I lived here, but had no right to call this country mine; the flag on my house would make me seem an impostor.

Now I do have a right to that flag. And today is a perfect day to fly it, honoring those who died to make and protect this country and its freedoms.
My son helped me today. We raised the flag half-way in the morning, then all the way at noon.
For him it’s natural to want a flag of his country on his house. And it’s a good thing, I want it to stay that way.

I wanted to write something about Memorial Day itself, but someone, who writes better than I ever could, already did. Go read

Published in: on May 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm  Comments (10)  

Proud Varyag

When naval history geeks have conversations about battles that were hopeless before they started, the battle of Chemulpo Bay comes up as one of the top examples .. a battle for the honor of the Navy, against overwhelming odds, that did not manage to overcome those odds, and made the names of the ships that fought it probably the most known in Russia.

On February 8, 1904 a Russian gunboat Koreets, sent from Chemulpo Bay to Port Arthur to report sighting of a large Japanese force, met Japanese cruiser Chiyoda. Chiyoda launched torpedoes (all of them missed), Koreets fired two shots from her cannon (also missed). Both sides denied afterwards that they were the first to fire. These were the first shots of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905.

Koreets returned to Chemulpo, rejoining another Russian ship, cruiser Varyag. Chemulpo Bay at the time was host to warships of several major powers: Great Britain, France, Italy, United States and Russia, and was considered a neutral port. In response to an ultimatum from commander of the Japanese force, admiral Uryu, on February 9th Varyag and Koreets left the port to attempt to break through to Port Arthur. Their Captains knew they had no chance to succeed. They knew the odds: one modern protected cruiser and one outdated gunboat against two armored cruisers, four protected cruisers and eight torpedo boats, all modern. The Japanese force was sufficient to block each exit from the port with superior force. Captains of the neutral ships were advising Varyag‘s Captain Vsevolod Rudnev to surrender. His decision: “Make every shot matter”.

Cruiser Varyag

As Varyag was leaving the port, English and Italian crews cheered, the orchestra on Italian cruiser was playing Russian anthem.

There are examples of battles won against the odds in naval history. This isn’t one of them. Varyag came under fire of six cruisers. Koreets’ old guns couldn’t reach Japanese ships. First shots from Asama destroyed one of two range finding stations on Varyag. Soon after, the other range finding station was also destroyed, most of the guns were damaged, rudder drive was damaged, crew was fighting multiple fires, Captain was wounded… Unable to maneuver and with almost all guns damaged, Varyag returned to port. Russian casualties: 31 dead, about 191 wounded. Japanese casualties: 30 men and one torpedo boat, according to Russian sources; none, according to Japanese sources.

As the ship, damaged below the waterline, starts to sink, the crew is evacuated to neutral warships. Varyag was sunk, Koreets was blown up. The crew made it back to Russia, where they received heroes’ welcome. In 1907 Captain Rudnev was decorated for valor in battle of Chemulpo Bay by the Japanese. He received the order of the Rising Sun, 2nd degree, and never wore it.

Varyag was raised by the Japanese, converted to training ship and renamed Soya. In 1916 she was purchased by Russia from Japan and renamed back. In 1917 she went to Great Britain for repairs, and was confiscated there after the Russian revolution. In 1920 she was sold to Germany for scrap, and ran aground while getting towed, near Scotland. She sunk in 1925.

There were two more Varyags in the Russian Navy after that.

Aircraft Carrier Varyag

Next Varyag was an aircraft carrier, that started construction in 1985 as Riga, and renamed to Varyag in 1990. In 1993, following the collapse of the USSR, the Black Sea Fleet was divided  between Russia and Ukraine. Varyag ended up in Ukrainian fleet. Her construction was never fully completed and in 1998 she was sold to China. She’s now known as Shi Lang.

And the latest Varyag started construction earlier than the one before – in 1979, as missile cruiser Chervona Ukraina (Red Ukraine) – ironic, isn’t it? This ship ended up in Russian fleet, and in 1996 changed her name to Varyag.

Missile Cruiser Varyag

Rocket launchers P-1000 Vulcan (П-1000 Вулкан), anti-sub launcher RBU-6000 Smerch-2 (РБУ-600 Смерчь-2) and anti-aircraft gun AK-630 on cruiser Varyag (Варяг)

Which brings us to why I started writing this bunch of historical trivia in the first place: two weeks ago Varyag arrived on the first visit of major Russian warship to San Francisco since … I’m tempted to say since Juno, but Juno wasn’t technically a major warship.

Interestingly enough, her stay in San Francisco coincided with a visit from three Japanese cruisers …

Japanese cruisers visiting San Francisco

Chemulpo Bay

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 2:50 am  Leave a Comment  

An ordinary day for me

Today is Autism Awareness Day. Unfortunately, for some of us, Autism awareness is just part of everyday life.

May it never be part of yours.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 9:28 am  Comments (4)  

On Jokes and Opinions

New guy comes to a club, and observes a comedian on the stage saying: “Thirty One.” The audience collapses with laughter.
Another comedian gets on the stage and says: “Fifty Three with an Irishman.” He gets a standing ovation.
Our guy has no idea what’s going on, so he asks one of the waiters. The waiter explains: “You see, Sir, what we found is that same jokes get told over and over with very small variations, our regulars know them all, so we created a catalog, assigning a number to each of the jokes, and our comedians now just name a number and sometimes add their variation. It saves a lot of time and our customers enjoy more jokes and feel less inhibited to get on the stage themselves.”
So, after a while our guy decides to try it. He gets on the stage and says: “Fourteen.”
He’s met with dead silence. Then one guy walks to him, smacks him on the face, and says: “We don’t tell that kind of jokes, when the ladies are present, Mister.”

My friend Ann brings up a good question on appropriateness of jokes, given their potential to offend. An issue I have more than a passing acquaintance with: in the past, a number of friends commented to me that they would be really offended at my jokes, but couldn’t get themselves to be offended at me. And a number of people that barely knew me, mostly from online conversations, got pretty upset over some of my remarks.
A lot of it has to be in the delivery. I love people, especially my friends, and it hurts me to see them offended. In personal conversations this must come through pretty clearly. Online, written word (not my strongest form of communication) is the only thing people see, and the message gets distorted.

I’d like to think that I’ve learned from those experiences. Unfortunately, the “learning” means that my online jokes are much fewer and milder than they used to be, and my jokes in real life, while nowhere near as mild as the online stuff, are also fewer and milder than before.

Still, pretty much any jokes are a risk to offend, and this risk should never be the reason to abstain from joking. Any words have the potential to offend, and if we kept the conversation only to things that would offend no one, this would lead to political correctness hell, where we would spend the time bored to death, or silent. Or both.
This is not about jokes, jokes just bring the issue to the surface. Expressing strong opinions – political, religious, economical, etc. tends to do the same.

The principles I hold with regard to both jokes and opinions:

  1. It’s not ok to make a personal attack
  2. However, it is ok to make light of, or attack an opinion. If one of the people I talk to happens to hold that opinion, it’s not a personal attack against them. If they can’t tell the difference, they have bigger problems than just holding the opinion in question.
  3. Making fun of an opinion often leads to an argument, and holding an argument, no matter how polite, sometimes requires walking a very thin line on the border of a personal attack. For example, when in order to counter someone’s opinion we have to point out their incompetence in this area, would this be justified? “How can a person with such a big nose hold this opinion?” obviously would not be. “How can a person with no experience in this area make judgment calls about it?” is perfectly fine. Not everyone seems to agree with this, and it got me taken off one person’s “friend list”. Their right, I stand behind everything I wrote, and have nothing to apologize for.
  4. The only person who can make jokes about someone’s personal appearance is that someone, and no one else.
  5. The only people who can make jokes about race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. are the people who belong to that race, religion or sexual orientation. (Can I please, please, please get Catholic priests excluded from this rule – I know a really good joke …)

What are your experiences and rules with jokes and opinions?

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm  Comments (3)  

WWII – not the History Channel version

For a long time, watching the History Channel representing WWII as being all about the war in the Pacific and the Normandy invasion, I had the impression that all American historians are either idiots or liars, who for some reason ignore the largest part of the war. And yet, there were individual battles on the Soviet front, larger, in terms of troops and equipment involved, than the entire war in the Pacific and Normandy invasion combined.

Happy to see I was wrong – one of my favorite history podcasters, Dan Carlin, has a 4-part podcast, that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you’re into military history, listen: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. And in the show notes Dan has references to dozens of history books that present the true scale of that war. So, they do exist.

It seems that while the view on the scale of operations, and on who bore the main burden of that war, during and immediately after the war was fairly unbiased, during the Cold War there was a definite tendency to downplay the role of the Soviet Union in achieving the victory.

Not surprisingly, on the Soviet side there was a similar tendency to downplay the role of England,  and the U.S., both in active fighting and in support of Soviet war effort with equipment and supplies.

Why do the same stereotypes continue on TV, almost two decades after the end of Cold War? You tell me.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 4:00 am  Comments (5)  

English well speeched

Long time ago I had the pleasure of reading this book, and it moved me to collecting language mistakes.

Here’s what I found in LinkedIn today:


“Seeking Work Outside Ukraine For Professional Ukrainians”

During my career I have been a professional interpreter, educator, software developer, system administrator, enterprise architect, manager, etc. But one thing I have never been is a professional Ukrainian. Nor have I ever met one. What kind of professional occupation is a Ukrainian, does anyone know?

Ukrainian Professional. Professional Ukrainian. Seemingly small mistake  in ordering words, good for hours of fun and enjoyment.

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 1:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Everybody’s got a plan

For the longest time, and with boring predictability, every time conversation went into the need to make detailed plans, I would quote a phrase seen somewhere, and attributed there to von Clausewitz: “No battle plan ever survived the first encounter with the enemy”.

Recently I was asked about the source of the quote, and went looking for it. Picked up “On War”, and since I wanted to read it for a while now, also picked up “Moltke on Art of War”. Didn’t find the quote in “On War”, but here’s what I found in von Moltke’s writings:

“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”

So, with belated apologies to von Moltke the Elder, my quoting will have correct attribution now.

Mike Tyson said the same thing in a more concrete and laconic way: “Everybody’s got a game plan until you’re hit in the mouth.”

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stories of my Zaporozhets – second story

(Continued from here and here).

The nice side of driving a Zaporozhets was that traffic police did not stop them. Ever (at least, not mine). The reason was that in those distant times – may this statement be forgiven by the honest hard-working traffic cops of today, who I believe exist … I also believe in tooth fairy, but that doesn’t mean anything … anyway, what was I talking about – ah, yes, in those distant times the traffic cops really liked bribes, and since the image of owner of Zaporozhets in their mind was not consistent with the image of someone with money, stopping them was a waste of time, no matter what traffic rules they broke.
I wasn’t the only one noticing this pecularity in traffic police behavior. Kiev yellow press ran several articles about criminals who used Zaporozhets cars to transport corpses to be buried in the forest … guaranteed not to be stopped and searched.

And here I am, driving to work one day. In a bit of a hurry, so I’m driving aggressively, overtaking on the right, cutting in front of cars, but not too dangerously – no reason to get on people’s nerves, they’ve got a whole workday ahead of them for this. And so do I.

Three-lane road. Left lane is hardly moving. I’m in the central lane, but the guy in Opel Kadet in front of me is really slow, with no one ahead of him. Right lane is empty, but I can see a trolley bus ahead, really crawling. Alright, I should be able to make it. Turning right, gas to the floor, catching up with Kadet and now Kadet’s driver decides to wake up – the unthinkable happened: some Zaporozhets dared overtake him! Him, with his miracle of outdated German junk construction. He accelerates. But I already got the speed … I add some more and almost three feet away from the bus I go left, cutting Kadet’s nose … he continues to accelerate and scratches his front bumper on my rear.
Damn, I’m really going to be late now. OK, right turn signal on, get my car to the side of the road. Kadet also gets off the road, stopping in front of me at an angle – he doesn’t want me to run away. Well, I’m not about to give him that pleasure, first let’s see what we did to each other’s cars and who is this guy. Man of uncertain age, track suit hangs real loose on him – either he runs “unofficial” taxi business, or he’s a low-rank criminal, or he dresses up to pass for either of those. First he runs to check his bumper, then walks towards me with the evil grin “well, I’ve got you now” expression on his face. I open the door and slowly get six feet of myself from the car … dressed in long black raincoat … black fedora … impeccably white silk scarf on my neck … and cell phone already next to my ear – I do need to call the office and let them know I’ll be late. Something strange is happening to that guy, though: no trace is left of his grin, his face is completely white and it’s as if he shrunk in size too. And judging by expression on his face now, he really wants to be somewhere else, somewhere very far from here, the farther the better. He gets closer to me:

“Are you ok?”

“I’m fine and as for the car – I’ll take a look in a second. Are you ok?”

“Yes, yes, I’m ok.”

So, I go and take a look at my bumper. Nothing major – light contact, just a bit of paint smear, it’s not even a scratch.

“This is nothing. It’s fine. How’s your car?”

“It’s fine too. So, can I go?”

“Sure, take care.”

“Thanks, bye.”

He practically ran to his car and started it so fast, as if he was afraid I might change my mind. He probably read those articles. Driving a Zaporozhets definitely had its nice sides.

Published in: on April 30, 2006 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  

North Carolina

A week-long business trip. Lots of work ahead, but I will leave a couple of evenings for myself. Got in touch with guys from a couple of clubs in the area, and made arrangements to practice and fence with them.

To transport my epees, I bought a large plastic golf case, it made a very nice travel fencing bag. Waiting to check in luggage at the airport, there’s a nice elderly couple next to me. The guy looks at me, looks at the bag, then looks at me again with “we share a common hobby” kind of a smile and nod, and asks: “Clubs?” In the same tone and with the same smile I reply, “No, swords.” This apparently causes him to swallow already prepared next phrase, and his facial expression is a little different now. So is his wife’s. Both of them very slowly, as if unintentionally, back away from me. Oh, well.

I land in North Carolina around 10pm. It’s about 30 miles drive to the hotel. Car rental place doesn’t have a car with GPS available, so they give me a map, and explain with a lot of detail how to get to my hotel. Trouble is that the weather is just “perfect” for driving in unfamiliar area – it’s pitch black, and the heavy rain soon turns into a thunderstorm. I am driving on an arrow-straight road with no idea whether I already missed my exit, or not. But I no longer care about that, because I am watching the lightning strikes above the road, and how they cut through the darkness. Too bad I can’t paint. Getting slightly lost is a small price to pay for such a view.

Well, in the end I got to the hotel just fine, even got enough sleep before driving to the office through traffic jams that are not that different from ours. The rest is not as interesting – what I planned for this trip got done, questions that needed to be answered got answered, etc.

And I was able to get those couple of evenings for fencing. I visited two local clubs. Got very nice variety of fencers at different levels, had lots of fun fencing with them, and was able to put some faces to names familiar from fencing.net forums.

Good trip.

Published in: on April 8, 2006 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment