Thursday, February 28, 2008

Estonia's Ugliest Computer

A campaign by a local weekly, to find the ugliest machine in IT wonderland Estonia. Winners get a couple of posh new HP laptops.

This one for example was put on a hot stove, out of the reach of little kids, who nevertheless managed to turn the hotplate on. :) Melted (and exploded) battery, half the RAM gone, but it still runs!

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Originally uploaded by Flasher T
Took some pictures around Tartu today. This one was the best, I think.

The rest, including old ones, are here.

The Nation's Standard

The Nation's Standard
Originally uploaded by Flasher T
Happy 90th!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Obvious parallels...

Russian and Serbian are related, but all I can make out there is an ironic "Hero of the demonstrations".

Link via Estland.

Foot, meet mouth.

EDIT: This now available at Baltlantis.

I have spoken before about the need to apply Occam's Razor to Russia - more specifically, the Heinlein conjecture, which states that one should never attribute anything to malice that can be adequately explained by stupidity. I never cease to be amazed by the ability of Russian institutions of greater or lesser officialdom to embarass themselves in spectacular ways. Really, it's a government full of Boris Johnsons.

I've stayed away from the whole Kosovo issue, because I don't have enough information to make a good judgement on it; I have the impression that the process happening now is more Kosovo's separation from Serbia rather than actual independence - since it'll be run by the EU (and even its flag is a version of the European one). But Serbia is pissed off.

Russia's reaction is mixed. On the one hand, it has been trying to use Serbia as a client state for ages - during the NATO bombings, I've heard rhetoric that Serbia is the only major nation in Europe that is both Slavic and Orthodox; Greece being the latter but not the former, and Poland the former but not the latter. So if Serbia is indignant, Russia is too. Especially since Kosovo is now the dominion of the West, so they get to trot out the old lines about imperialist pigs again.

On the other hand, they are gleefully pointing to Kosovo as a precedent, and demanding international recognition for Abkhasia, South Ossetia and Transdniestr. I've even heard a few local voices piping up again with the idea of an Independent Republic of Ida-Virumaa, which incidentally I would just love to see them try. So Russia finds itself in propaganda heaven, a win-win situation.

And then Russia's state-owned television channel puts out a news show where the anchor spews out the following:
Today the people of Belgrade surely remember other public gatherings. They remember the madness of the crowd that brought down old man Milosevic. The same football fans, by the way. How a country giddy with liberal promises cried at the funeral of the Western puppet Zoran Djindjic - the man who destroyed the legendary Serbian army and secret services, who sold the heroes of Serbian resistance out to The Hague for abstract economic assistance, and who got a well-deserved bullet for it.
Youtube link if you understand Russian. Zoran Djindjic was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Serbia after the end of Milosevic's regime, murdered in 2003.

Holy. Fucking. Shit. This is Russian state TV. Not just a media puppet - this is the official channel of the Kremlin.

The show in question went out at midnight Thursday/Friday. Naturally, the Serbian government is livid. The NewsRu article linked above has a quote from the former Balkan bureau chief of the Russian state newswire, Sergei Gryzunov, saying that this quote is a call for the murder the current Serbian president, Boris Tadic (who was a close supporter of Djindjic's).

So the main question now is, was this an authorized statement, or was the anchor overexcited and taking advantage of the poorly-censored midnight time slot? If it's the latter, we should see news of his dismissal shortly. I lean towards this explanation, because of the reason stated above, but then haven't we seen similar sort of preposterous spew out of the Russian state media directed towards Estonia or Georgia? The only difference now is that Serbia is, ostensibly, on Russia's side.

These people are hilarious, but occasionally their delusion can be scary.

Who needs SSD?

This baby is going straight to the top of the Do Want list.

I haven't gotten an Eee PC so far for two reasons: the screen is desperately tiny, and it has preposterously little storage. An ultraportable device is, by definition, a device I will use for entertainment on the road, and that means music & video. I can handle a lack of an optical drive, but I need more storage than that. Even an SDHC card would not bring the Eee PC's total storage levels to an acceptable level.

I keep getting into these discussions regarding music players. I've always had to stay ahead of the curve in terms of music storage; at first it was a portable CD MP3 player - a Samsung YP-55 that had the worst skip protection ever. But in '02 I went to California and was introduced to Fry's Electronics, which I walked out of holding a Creative Nomad Zen.* It had an aluminium shell, magnesium frame, and a 2.5" laptop hard drive inside. Ever since I have not been satisfied with any device carrying less than 20gb. I went on to have a couple of Archoses after that.

People keep saying that hard drives are inferior to Flash memory, because solid-state storage has no moving parts and is therefore shock-resistant. Here's the thing: today's 1.8" hard drives, the ones designed for pocket devices, seem absolutely good enough. Not only have I never had a 1.8" drive fail on me, I have never heard of anyone who had a drive failure. The hard drives that I saw crash and burn were all fullsize 3.5" inch ones that spent their lives in stationary tower cases. Actually, that's not quite true: the HD in my Dell laptop started making weird noises and was replaced under warranty.

Both my Archoses are fine, and the Nomad Zen was perfectly operational when I crashed my car and left it somewhere in the twisted wreckage.

A 1.8" hard drive, currently available in sizes up to 80gb at least, is good enough for any ultraportable device. It's also cheap.

SSD is expensive and small. It is also shorter-lived than a hard drive, because solid-state memory is designed for a limited number of read-write cycles - this is a big reason why the Eee PC ships with Linux; Windows XP's constant swapping shortens the SSD's lifespan. And it doesn't really provide any more real-world reliability.

Now, SSD is still a cool technology that deserves to be developed further and made cheap & ubiquitous. But as long as the price per gigabyte is an order of magnitude higher than a hard drive, I don't want it. I want an Eee PC with a bigger screen, more RAM and at least 20GB onboard; HP's case design is a nice bonus. I don't care if it really has a VIA C7 instead of an Intel chip; I spent four years running XP Pro on a Duron 1300 with 128mb RAM and onboard graphics. If they can really sell the HP Compaq 2133 for $630, I want one.

Whitey's going down.

* I was in San Diego on a business trip, and got two hundred bucks in per diem (the company wasn't allowed to pay me a salary, since I was there on a B1/B2 visa). Since they also provided food, board and entertainment, I hardly ever needed to spend my own money on anything. So I used that, along with my own cash, to stock up on electronic toys. The funny bit was that the cashiers at Fry's had absolutely no fucking idea how to ring up $500 worth of merchandise without a credit card. Looking back on it, I expect they thought I was paying with drug money.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Estonia Syndrome

Links/plugs/feedback welcome.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Wahaahahahahhaahaaa. :D

Anyway... other template wasn't working, so back to this one. Did I get everyone in the blogroll? If you have a blog in English that is more or less themed on Estonia - or you know of one - leave a link in the comments.

Big, relevant article coming soon, possibly in the form of a link to a slightly more authentic-looking publication.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

PR stands for Putin's Russia

An interesting point by Juri Maloverjan of BBC's Moscow bureau. He has been going around Russia (proper - not just Moscow and St. Petersburg) filing reports on preparations for the presidential elections, and has noticed a pattern.

Most of the people willing to go on record said largely the same thing: their lives personally are hard and unfair, but the situation in general has improved so much in Putin's time that they are definitely going to vote for Putin. Or, you know, Medvedev. Whatever.

The value of good PR?

New template.

Initially I wanted to get the new pull-down style archive links, but apparently that doesn't work if the blog is hosted on a different server. Ho hum.

Anyway, this one handles the archive links a bit better, and has the advantage of not squishing the text into a narrow column.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oh do sod off, Kevin.

Continuing with the Esto-blogroll...

It is appalling that the very country that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (that is, the new and improved all-inclusive NATO) regards as an international leader in cyber defense, according to Mike Collier's article in the February issue of City Paper, still sows a thin string of sand on its sidewalks as well as on the platforms of its train stations to keep people from slipping on the ice and snow. It is scandalous that the country that is, according to Collier, "committed to developing a cutting-edge cyber-security industry [and selling] its expertise around the globe" doesn't know what the hell road salt is.

They do still use road salt in some places, most notably hilly bits of road and busy intersections (the former being rare in Estonia, the latter increasingly less so), but not for sidewalks and train platforms and level roads, for a very good reason: salt fucks things up. It's incredibly bad for cars, because it goes right through the paintjob and causes corrosion; and it's incredibly bad for your shoes. Moving about on foot in Estonia in the winter is a trick you can learn, and locals inevitably do - it helps to have shoes with interesting tread patterns on the soles - but ubiquitous salt usage is something that was done in the Soviet days, and mercifully is not done any more.

Then again, mr. Hogan there lives in Tapa - presumably of his own free will - so without knowing more, I am not entirely confident in his judgement. [grin, duck, run]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cheddar Gorge

Originally uploaded by Flasher T
Not only has it survived two months in the unrefrigerated bowels of the international postal system (plus a week or two in my fridge), but is, indeed, delicious.

Probably won't get through all of it on my own. Anyone? BuellerJustin?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Wall is Down

Not that wall, but it will do.

I don't need to reiterate my positions, I think, so let's look at this from the exegesis perspective. The images of people rushing over the wall are powerful, and most Western observers cannot help but compare them to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there is a very important aspect of that event which is not intrinsically present here.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was about reunification. It was about a country divided by an external force - literally a force; not an ideology, though there may have been committed communists in the DDR. And after the wall fell, it was the sacred responsibility of West Germans to take care of their unfortunate siblings. It was not easy, and it sure as hell was not cheap, but it was inevitable. The wall came down, and the DDR was now part of Germany.

The wall came down in Palestine, and it's a wall between two Arab communities. Consider that in the weeks since the border between Gaza and Egypt has been open, there has been a suicide bomber attack in Israel, an attack that killed civilians. For the first time in a very long time! Causality would seem to suggest that walls in Gaza and the West Bank are effective at stopping terrorists, and these particular terrorists are said to have crossed into Egypt and back into Israel over the Sinai border (which is far less well-guarded - tourists at Egypt's Red Sea resorts are offered daytrips to Jerusalem).

Is there really any doubt in anyone's mind that if it wanted, Israel could have sealed up the wall? The terrorist attack is a sufficient pretense for the IDF to move in. Gaza is currently controlled by Hamas, which would undoubtedly react, but Rafah is not south Lebanon. With their backs to the sea and the fortified borders, Hamas would have no room for guerilla tactics, and in a direct urban shootout the Israeli army would rip them to shreds. Hezbollah would certainly make a move at the same time, but exactly because they could not avoid doing so, it would give Israel the opportunity to prepare and take advantage of another war started by the Arabs to pummel them into the dust. There must be plenty of IDF brass insulted by the Summer War debacle in 2006.

It could be that Israel is simply not ready to fight another war on two fronts simultaneously. Gaza and Lebanon are tough targets; after the remarkably poorly reported Israeli raid on a Syrian nuclear research facility some months ago, Syria could have ideas of revenge and reconquest of Golan, especially when backed by a pissed-off Iran. It's certainly a big factor that should not be discounted; Israel knows that if it moves into Gaza again, it would cause another war, and they would have a tough time with it.

But let's consider another aspect. One of the questions eternally posed in the blame-slinging of the Middle East crisis, and never answered to satisfaction, is why the Palestinian Arabs are not just taken in by the Arab countries. The combined population of Gaza and the West Bank is some 4 million; not inconsiderable, but between the Muslim states, not unmanageable either. Why don't Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. take in the refugees, give them jobs and homes? The world is full of refugees; losing your homeland is terrible, but it's not the end of the world. More people than that have gone through it in the 20th century, and built happy new lives for themselves in a friendly country.

The wall has come down; it is widely reported, with videos and photographs and blogs. And Westerners cannot help but ascribe the same significance to it as Berlin. The prison of poor Arabs has been broken, and the victims are spilling out into the land of the better-off Arabs for all the simple things they never had. The Egyptian military is just standing there, with no intention of impeding the human flow.

The longer Israel allows this to continue, the more people in the West will think of it as a reunification, and expect Egypt to take responsibility for the management of Gaza. It is entirely in Egypt's power to make Gaza a viable Palestinian home, an autonomous district relying on Cairo for security, utilities and economic assistance (much as it relies on Israel now). Would this solution be acceptable to Hamas? Unlikely. But to regular Gazans? Why the hell not? Nothing has shown itself to be as effective at disarming hostility as prosperity.

It's not a solution Egypt has been entirely comfortable with, but at this point they seem to be in a position where they can't really say no without alienating the bleeding-heart portion of the West. Israel is demonized for not allowing food and medicine packages into Gaza, but Israel has learned to live with the hatred. If Egypt seals the border and deports the Gazans, it will be made into a villain of startling proportion; and furthermore, a traitor to its own people. And Egypt is a Western-oriented state, which can ill-afford a boycott by all the German vacationers.

If this solution can be made to stick, it will be an enormous step forward. Israel will have found a viable long-term solution for Gaza, and the West Bank - far larger, more self-sufficient and calm - could either be given independence or turned over to Jordan in the same way.

The best thing about the scenario I have outlined is that it is not just my dream; it is a likely and logical evolution of recent events. It could very much happen. If this arrangement can be made to stick, the next generation of Palestinians will be working in Sharm el Sheikh hotels, and will only be annoyed by agitators calling for a holy war. Inshallah.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Whoever has the most stuff when they die, wins.

Not much going on in Estonia these days. So many people have been taking pot shots at the new labour legislation that it now bears a striking resemblance to a collander, and there's apparently a new Chancellor of Justice that everyone is more or less happy about. Everyone is worried about the economy, but with the exception of a few isolated incidents like the Kreenholm closure and the fall in rail transit volumes, nobody's actually all that inconvenienced so far. 2008 is supposed to be the year when the economy bottoms out, and then starts a slow growth again. Petrol prices are ridiculous. We're not happy, but it looks like the economy is going to get away with a soft landing after all. The State of the Union is str.... no, sorry, that's wrong.

Having largely and purposefully ignored the holidays this year (I didn't even bake any piparkooks!), I have found myself with a bit of extra cash, which I splurged on a nice, shiny new TV. It's an LG, 32", and I snagged it in a special offer for less than 8 grand, or 500 Euro, which is quite a deal. Movie night in Tartu, anyone?

They also gave me a Viking Line gift card with the TV. I've been to Helsinki exactly once so far, on a day trip, and I have a slight problem thinking of any worthwhile sightseeing over there, other than the Kiasma museum and the statue of Mannerheim in front of it. Suggestions?


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