Sunday, February 18, 2007


Why? Well, I am celebrating the completion of my master's degree today. You're invited to the party.

Much to the amusement of our security guard, I spent the night on the couch, after staying up until 2 am to finish my final paper.

Urrah! Finis :)

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Sometimes, the juxtaposition of times and cultures is amazing.

On Sept 11th, there was a huge documentary on TV about the attacks against America. Everyone I knew was watching it. Some of my students came up to me to say they were thinking about America on this day. Newspapers and TV stations stopped by the school to "Interview the Americans and Discuss Their Feelings on the 9/11 Anniversary".

My host family sat me down on the couch with them so we could all watch the documentary together. Although I couldn't follow the words, certainly the story was familiar.

Afterwards, we sat and looked through some of my host mother's old photos, especially the ones from when she was a summer counselor for the Young Pioneers (communist youth organization during the Soviet Union).

How Does That Work, Exactly?

In a surprising presidential election in Turkmenistan, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov won only 89% of the vote. Mr Berdymukhamedov had been acting-president since the death in December of Saparmurat Niyazov, who had ruled the country for more than two decades. The opposition was not allowed to field any candidates.

If you're the only person being voted for 1) what's the point? 2) How do you get anything other than 100% of the vote?

Happy Valentines Day

To all the people I love in my life.

I don't usually "do" anything for this holiday, but some of my students brought chocolates and small cards to class last night. They're currently decorating my desk, which is piled with: apples, peanut butter, flash cards, a Skype headset, a bag of flour, an empty plate, a Big Sur article and Forbes Top 100 Companies to Work For 2007.

Underneath, on the floor: a bag of Starbucks Christmas blend, some Hershey kisses, and The Complete Fitness Ball Workout Kit.

It's like Margaret Thatcher's purse (which famously had everything you ever need in life inside), only on an Ikea table.

This is how I survive my days.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Off With Her Head

Well, that's an easy way to get rid of folks you don't like...

President Authorized to Suspend Governors from Office
"On February 9, Russia’s State Duma will consider in the first reading the bill authorizing the president to suspend from office a governor should he/she face the criminal charges, irrespective of crime’s heaviness. The president will be entitled to remove a governor by application of the prosecutor general."

In the past few years, several governors have been charged with (not convicted of) various "crimes". This tactic has been used since 2004, when Putin enacted a law that did away with all popular elections for governors. Support for such centralized control by the Kremlin was not difficult to gain because of the Beslan school attack.

"Popular or not, an incumbent knows what could happen if he refuses to go quietly: They might be charged with abuse of office or mishandling finances... Samara Governor Konstantin Titov was charged Dec. 30 with endorsing a $10 million loan on preferential terms to a private firm that later disappeared. Vladimir Butov, governor of the Nenets autonomous district, was given a three-year suspended sentence Dec. 31 on charges of beating a traffic policemen. Butov insists that the case is politically motivated..." (from 2004)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


When you first arrive in a foreign country, the noise all around you is like a giant wall. Massive. Impenetrable. In a way, it's cool. Everyone else is restricted to reacting to the meaning of sounds. You can walk down the street in complete freedom. Separate. Independent. Utterly uninformed...

Gradually, cracks form in the surface of the wall. Little words start to slip through. Words for food and time and please and thank you. This is the stage I'm in now.

I think cracks continue to grow, and one day, the wall crumbles so you can see the other side. I wait for this day.

Until then, my Russian teacher has told me that I have no accent. Also no vocabulary. No grammar. But, no accent.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My New Business Idea

Now that it really is winter in Russia I discovered that it's COLD (though not nearly as cold as last year). When I bundle up, my face is still freezing, and I don't see many ski masks for sale.

I have a better idea.

I'm going to invent a nose warmer. A fuzzy little strip you can put on top of your nose. Heated, like the hand warmers when you're camping. Also adhesive, so that it does nice things for your skin like Biore Clear Pore Strips.

And patches you can put on your cheeks, to keep them warm.

Wait, there's more. They'll come in different colors and designs. For children, you can buy special patterns, like a costume. So you could stay warm, and look like a mouse, or a cat or a tiger.

Global Warming

It's real, people.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Russia's Hackers

I think there may be a disproportionate number of geniuses in Russia. Certainly, there is a large population of highly-educated, incredibly smart (whether self-taught or in schools) citizens running around without very good jobs.

Let's examine this equation.

Smart people + limited opportunity = big problems

An interesting 2001 article by Wired News talks about the hacking/cracking culture in Russia. Stealing passwords, credit card numbers, and information from business or government websites, and finding/exploiting weaknesses in MS Windows and other operations systems is a lucrative business.

Moscow hacker pay: $109 USD ($3000 rubles) per job
College professor pay: $ 150 USD per month

In 1995, a man named Vladimir Levin removed $5.7 million dollars from Citibank accounts using his home computer and a dial-up connection.

You can buy password-cracking software on the street for about $4 USD.

There are some very sophisticated Russian hacking websites where you can download all sorts of nifty software/tools/security weakness information, look for jobs, trade notes, etc.