I have engaged in a bit of misdirection over the past three weeks regarding my location. In fact, I have been traveling in parts of the former Soviet Union. I took the empty airline seat photo that appeared in my article, “Innocents abroad,” at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, the same place that Mr. Snowden’s putative empty seat photo was taken, although there is no connection between us except the airport.
I bought two hats in Russia including the one pictured above and the other one. This outfit was my attempt to blend in with the local population (one of the locals told me that for maximum effect, I should be carrying a plastic bag).
Note: I was not at the G20 Summit, but I was on the bus pictured above
in St. Petersburg. Obama was long gone by the time I arrived. The photo of me next to a truck was taken in Kiev, Ukraine.
Ah, so you ARE an international man of mystery!
i once received a postcard from friends who were in russia on business – they were aware that the mail was scrutinized so wrote “russia is great, it’s just like being at sing sing”
Well, let me give this anecdote about the prosperity of modern Russia. Ms. Conspiracy and I visited GUM, the huge mall in Red Square. She went to the fur store to look at some fur coats. So I ambled in and as I did she asked the price of the coat. I jokingly said, 3 million rubles? The saleslady said “bolshe” (more). The coat was 55 million rubles, or about $1.7 million US.
Moscow was one big traffic jam, with pretty much every car on the road a new foreign brand, many upscale models. I was told that there was an average of over 2 cars per family in Moscow (pop. 11.7 million).
Off topic, but I do want to mention the feasibility of blogging from a tablet, in this case a Microsoft Surface RT with accessory touch keyboard and mouse. While not my first choice, Microsoft Word (which comes with the Surface RT) is an adequate blogging tool.
I hope you are going to share more of your trip with us.
I don’t quite know what to say about the trip. We went to all these incredible places constructed on the bones of forced laborers. The trip started in Kiev, then we flew to Moscow and traveled by canal, river and lake to St. Petersburg.
Listening to the stories of the places we visited (or just reading a book on the history of Russia) makes one aware of just how much violence and privation those people suffered throughout their history. The amazing thing is that there is anything left at all.
Massive apartment complexes and traffic jams characterize the three major cities we visited. The golden (or not) domes of the churches are many with their gilded interiors, leading one to think that Russia was a religious country, but only 2% of the population attend services regularly.
The Russians have their own version of ObamaCare–I make the comparison because both systems are messy hybrids. In Russia, everyone has government-provided universal health insurance through government-run clinics. But many employers also provide health insurance, or people buy it on their own. The government care can require long waits for non-emergency treatment, and government insurance doesn’t cover expensive drugs. The Ukrainian system seemed to be in poorer shape, with patients having to provide basic supplies to the hospitals for their own care.
I was interested in how taxes work in Russia. The primary source of taxes is the 18% value added tax (some Russians I talked to know that they have a VAT, but not how much it is). They also have property taxes, excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gas, and an income tax (See Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Tax_Code).
I am interested in impressionist art and saw some wonderful paintings of Russian impressionists at the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg. I also visited the gallery of Ilya Glazunov and Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. And of course everyone has to visit the Hermitage.
I got to meet and hear the stories of some of the veterans of WW II, what they call The Great Patriotic War. The average American, I think, grossly underestimates the Soviet role in the defeat of the Nazis.
We traveled somewhere around 1,000 miles on rivers, lakes and canals, and one is impressed by the endless forests. The Russian Federation is one twelfth of the world’s land mass, and 60% of it is forested.
I heard quite a bit about the “gay propaganda” issue and they are rather defensive about how this story played in the foreign press (see for example: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/01/world/europe/russia-gay-rights-controversy/index.html) and their rationalizations were what I would call “quaint.”
Foreign inroads were obvious as almost all cars were foreign makes. I saw McDonald’s, Papa John’s, KFC, Burger King, Domino’s, Duncan Donuts, Starbucks and Shell stations. There were lots of sushi bars. The street signs were in both Cyrillic and Latin letters, and there are signs in English all over.
Have you reviewed the Surface (maybe on another blog?)
Is the RT satisfactory for you? Is the small app store frustrating? Have you tried any development for it yet? I suppose that would be in C# or C++ since Delphi doesn’t have support for it yet – if ever.
My wife has an iPad, I’m thinking of getting an Android pad, and I am strongly considering a Surface Pro 2 when they are released.
I’ve played with developing an app for my Android phone, but I’m waiting to get Delphi XE5 to get serious about that… maybe next month.
Thanks for your impressions of the country. I’d love to take the train trip from Moscow to Vladivostok. The Trans Siberian: 5,700 miles (almost twice the coast to coast distance in the U.S.) is the longest train journey in the world.
You’re right. But the numbers tell the tale: Russia suffered nearly half the deaths suffered by all nations in World War II. Total casualties in the world are estimated at 60- to 85-million people with Russia’s estimated at 22- to 30-million.
By comparison the U.S., fighting Germany and Japan, suffered a little over 400,000 deaths.
(Germany lost between 7- and 9-million deaths. Most of them fighting Russia.)
The case can be made that if Germany hadn’t been stupid enough to invade Russia and had focused the resources he used in that futile battle to protect Western Europe we might still be trying to figure out how to invade the continent.
I have written elsewhere about the Surface:
Of course there is a big difference between the Surface RT and the Pro. The Pro is just a Windows 8 computer with an integrated touch screen. You can run any Windows program on it. You can plug in a wireless USB mouse and keyboard, then plug in a big-screen monitor via HDMI. Voila, laptop.
With RT, you can still plug in a keyboard, mouse and wide-screen monitor, but you’re limited to RT applications. The nice thing about apps is that the elephant in the room, Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note and Outlook), comes with the system (home use only and with minor limitations). I haven’t explored the Microsoft App store that much. The thing to keep in mind is that the most popular apps get ported to RT, and the less popular ones don’t. I have had good luck finding what I wanted in the app store. Here are some apps I installed:
– MetroPass (compatible with KeePass files) for password storage. I keep the password file on SkyDrive so it’s automatically synchronized with my desktop.
– Remote Desktop–Windows remote Desktop that works very well
– Olive Tree Bible–compatible with other Olive Tree platforms
– Dropbox–share files with other platforms in cloud
– SkyDrive — share files with other platforms in cloud. SkyDrive is integrated into Windows 8.1
– Piano 8–On screen piano
– Kindle–read Kindle books
– Nook–read nook books
– Fiction Book Reader–read other eBook formats
– Adobe Reader–PDF (there’s also a bundled PDF reader)
– Skype–Surface has built-in camera and microphone
– MetroTube–Really nice YouTube app
– Netflix–Really nice Netflix app. The wide screen is quite nice for videos.
– Kno–free textbooks
– Weather Channel–weather (duh)
– Gmail Calendar–Desktop access to your Google calendars
– Adobe Photoshop Express — useless
– Fotor — Photo editing
– mFTP — FTP client
– Wikipedia — Wikipedia client
– Multimedia 8 – Media player, including DLNA client
So if you want to do what most people want to do, then there’s probably an app to do it. If you want to do what few people want to do, then maybe not. To me, the difference between 100,000 apps (reported in the Windows RT app store) and 775,000 apps (reported in the Apple Store as of Jan. 2013) doesn’t mean a lot.
I haven’t done any development for it, nor do I intend to. Visual Studio would be required as far as I know
Overall, I like it for what I want to do. It’s a little slow starting programs on the negative site. On the plus side, It has full Internet Explorer with Flash. It supports a wide range of standard USB devices including portable hard drives, microphones, keyboards, and mice. It connects to Bluetooth devices like headsets and printers. It can access files on other networked Windows computers and share their printers and use it as a DLNA client. It has a 64MB Micro SD expansion memory slot.
The tech press is pretty down on the RT version and some of that is valid. It all comes down to what you want to do. The Surface 2 is coming out this month, and the speed boost should be worth the wait. I should add that there are other makers of Windows RT tablets out there as well.
Thanks that’s what I needed to know.
Important apps to me include a KeyPass client, Dropbox, and of course an Office suite. As long as those are covered, I’m sure I can find other apps that are similar to what I use on Android and iOS for the few games I use and eReaders and weather and maps and what not.
I know about the RT/Pro differences, if I go for a Win8 pad, it will be a new generation with the Haswell chip. I understand other manufacturers will have this, Dell for one (but I don’t like Dell), so I’ll see who’s out there when I’m ready.
I do want to do App development, with Delphi. Delphi XE5 now supports Win8, iOS, Android. Not Win/RT. Maybe XE6.
Yeah, after I laid out the big bucks for XE4. Grrrr.
I wonder which country, the United States or Russia, has the greatest inequalities in wealth?
As of this moment, or which has had the greatest historical disparity?
Actually, that last one needs some explanation. A lot of Moscow’s inhabitants are unregistered and the census did not find them either. Many people from the former Central Asian republics who have fled the poverty and repression in their new home land, now live in Moscow, Kazan or the South of Russia. Some people who fled the Soviet Union for Israel and the United States and made a fortune there, now live in the rich neighbourhoods (the part that was recently annexed – increasing the population by (nominally) 230,000. Both categories avoid registration and when the census takers came round told them they were tourists. The Tajiks and Chinese avoid expulsion, the Rublyovka Jews (who would vote for Zhirinovsky if they had a vote) avoid taxation.
It may sound funny that some people might actually want to ask for political asylum in Russia, but it is a good indication of how bad things are in the Central Asian republics that many would. However, in order to keep on good terms with the dictators there, the Russian government pretends that there is no problem, and that everybody coming over is an “economic refugee”. Even ethnic Russians are refused visa, and flee to Western Europe instead. Putin actually once urged that Russia should allow these people to settle in Russia to offset the still negative birth versus death rate, but he ran up against a wall of racist protests from right-wingers. The problem of course is that many of these Russians in Central Asia have been living in Asia for generations. They speak perfect Russian, they have Russian names, they are stauncher Orthodox than the average Russian, but they do not look Russian. (and sometimes they do not dress Russian)
So, the real population of Moscow is probably much higher than 12 million, and most of the unregistered have a car.
Traffic jams are what Muscovites buy a tablet for. To know where to drive, not that it helps much, because then everybody takes the same alternative streets. The problem simply is that beginning with perestroyka, everything in Moscow has been conceived and constructed with the idea that everybody should get from everywhere to everywhere by car. Capitalist progress.
Recently, there was a big brouhaha on Russian TV (Pust’ govoryat) about the fact that the granddaughter of Brezhnew is living as a bomzh, trekking from one abandoned hut in the Siberian forests to another. Big row over why did not the rest of her family help her, and why do the Russian super rich in general not help out the many people living like her.
Of course, some Russians live like that because they have discovered religion (Brezhnewa seems to be one of those, and refuses all help) and from the days of the Mongol invasion, many Russians have been living that way, and some argue that that was how Russia came into being. One lone refugee fleeing civilisation, oppression and going East, marrying a girl from a local tribe, getting kids who a generation later go even further East to repeat the process. Because organized government and the organized church came after them.
Today, Siberia, including the town of Novosibirsk, is actually losing population, because everybody wants to live in the big cities of “European” Russia or alternatively, of the Far East. (though I doubt whether the Far East will continue to gain population after this year’s floods). Which means that there is a lot of abandoned habitation for people like Brezhnew’s granddaughter.
I heard the number 18 million bandied about.
I was in Moscow in March. I stayed with a lady who was a friend of a friend, on the outskirts of the city, but still inside the Golden Ring. There was a brand-new shopping center, the equivalent of the nicest in most American cities, in her neighborhood. This was not in the tourist or upper-class areas, either. There is a lot of money in Moscow, but a lot of poverty, too. Many people are just scraping by.
My friends and I took the train to Sergiev Posad, an ancient town built around a 600-year old monastery. Even in winter, there were many people there, some tourists, but quite a few devout pilgrims. I saw a young couple walking down Novy Arbat, an upscale shopping and nightclub street, dressed for going out. As they passed a church, the girl crossed herself.
My hostess has a small Kia, paid for by her children living in the West. Riding with her to the airport was terrifying, and not because of her driving. Most of the time I took the Metro, which was full of people using iPhones, iPads, and Androids. Doc, you went to GUM, did you go to TSUM as well? It’s even more high-end. They sell used Bentleys in the basement.
Jewish culture in Russia:
So YOU’RE the one who bought one of these. I was wondering.