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  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:16 pm on December 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    About This Site 

    What’s all this then?

    Dead Programmer’s Cafe is basically a rather unfocused blog with a few running themes. I write a lot about New York City and in particular subway, architecture and NYPD. There are a lot of posts about weird food, all things caffeinated, logos and symbols, stuff made out of unobtainium. I take lots and lots of pictures, sometimes with a running theme also, like the 100 Views of the Empire State Building. Sometimes, I even write about my dreams.

    Why do I blog?

    Mostly in a hope of making friends and improving my writing. Dead Programmer’s Cafe started as a website in 1996 or 1997. It became a Livejournal blog, and now is a customized WordPress blog. About the name: The name is an obscure pun on a Russian sci-fi novel “Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel” (“Inspector Glebsky’s Puzzle” in English translation) by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. In hindsight, this is a poor choice of a name for a weblog. A bit morbid, a bit confusing. A lot of people are probably thinking – hey, it’s a Grateful Dead-loving hippie. Also, I almost rarely write about computer programming.


    The picture on the left is a piece of commissioned original art by Jesse Reklaw. The masthead is a munged illustration from some pulp magazine in my collection.

    Blogging software:WordPress.

    Hosting: Linode

    Cameras: EOS1 Ds (current)   Canon Digital Rebel XT   Canon Digital RebelCanon Powershot G5Canon Powershot G3

    Lenses:Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS USMCanon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

    Espresso Machine:Reneka Techno Aerobie Aeropress

    Espresso:Kaffe 1668 Espresso VivaceVictrola CoffeeJoe the Art of Coffee

    Fancy Photo borders: Photo/Graphic Edges

    What others thought about :

    Joel on Software: “deadprogrammer, whose website Deadprogrammer’s Cafe best illustrates, through beautiful photonarratives, my theory that “New York is the kind of place where ten things happen to you every day on the way to the subway that would have qualified as interesting dinner conversation in Bloomington, Indiana, and you don’t pay them any notice.”

     Blogwandering: “wonderfully weird and quirky”

    TheWebFarm Blogs “DeadProgrammer’s Cafe This is a rather clever and interestng site that i wish i had found a while ago.”

    thisdarkqualm: “you might also take a longer look at deadprogrammer, an interesting new-to-me photo-blog I came across via one of those websites that I think I’m too chicken to link to”.

    TheWebFarm Blogs “DeadProgrammer’s Cafe This is a rather clever and interestng site that i wish i had found a while ago.”

    bbum’s blog-o-mat: “Dead Programmer’s Cafe is some powerful good stuff. Interesting writing and awesome photography”.

    Mrhipster: “another dorky blog dude who likes to take pictures of random things around the city”. a fun blog, that you might not already know about: Dead Programmer’s cafe. It has a lot of great pictures of NYC, with some programming insight thrown in for good measure. “We heart deadprogrammer.”

    rich: “a NY programmer, I guess, doing you know, stuff”

    Lightning_Gyroscope: “Cool stuff here” : “Este programador que imigrou para os EUA aos 16 anos, escreve sobre a cidade em que vive, suas viagens e outros tópicos que acha interessantes. As fotos são um destaque do blog.  Este certamente é um dos blogs em que me inspirei para criar este que você está lendo, portanto vale uma visita ao Deadprogrammer’s Cafe.”

  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:15 pm on December 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Almond paste, Almonds, , Carl Steinway, , , , , , Marzipan, , of catching in the Black Sea, pens ala officer, Philippine cuisine, retail store layouts, Sorenson, , , , Steinway Tunnel, Swiss cuisine, Theodor,   


    When faced with a lot of stress I employ several coping techniques. There’s collecting pens ala officer Sorenson, watching New York’s pigeons(overweight and disheveled they remind me of myself), meditatively looking at cornucopias of goods in various retail store layouts and fixtures, and then there’s food.

    Happiness derived from material things is fleeting, especially in the pursuit of the American Dream. But I grew up in the Soviet Union where the Socialist economy greatly restricted variety and quality of just about everything, and I have a slightly different perspective on materialism.

    My friends who visited Cuba told me that people there are much happier than in the US: they have very little to aspire to in material goods, and thus live a life that is much less busy, and as a result much more relaxed and happy.

    I frequently quote a paragraph from a letter by Carl Steinway to his brother Theodor in Germany:

    “I cannot advise you to come here if you are able, by diligence and thrift, to make a living in Germany. People here have to work harder than abroad, and you get so used to better living that you finally think potato soup tasted better in Germany than the daily roast here.”

    Carl and Theodor are two of the “Sons” in Steinway & Sons. Steinway Tunnel is named after the third one.

    The variety of food that I had access to growing up was not that great, but I certainly had better fruit and vegetables than the majority of Americans have these days. I’ve asked my younger co-workers, and they are sure that strawberries sold in American supermarkets taste like strawberries. It’s a bit of a Matrix moment there (supermarket strawberries absolutely do not taste like real strawberries).

    I had a childhood in which I only experienced hunger when dieting and cold when fishing in bad weather. On the other hand, my grandfather, who went through WWII, remembered the real hunger and the real cold. He was very glad that me and my father never had to experience hunger, and every time I would refuse to eat kasha, he would say – “so, you don’t want to eat kasha that your grandmother made you – what do you expect – marzipan”?

    I would ask him what marzipan was, and he’d say – oh, it’s a very tasty French candy. He must have remembered marzipan from NEP times or maybe from his early childhood before the Revolution.

    I always though that marzipan was something amazing and heavenly, the tastiest treat possible. I was also pretty sure that I’d never taste it. It was the gastronomic equivalent of the “sea rooster” fish (a very rare fish that I dreamt of catching in the Black Sea).

    These days I mutter curse words when I catch “sea roosters” – they are considered a throwback fish in NYC. And marzipan – well, it turned out to be yucky concoction of almond paste and sugar that appears on store shelves around Festivus. I buy it from time to time to remember my grandfather.


    And when I want to taste a tomato or strawberry that tastes good I have to spend a lot of time and money at farmers markets or take a trip to my hometown.

  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:35 pm on May 2, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Big Fountain cape, Dacha, Dniester river, Fountain, , Kovalevskiy's dacha, Kovalevsky's Dacha, Kovalevsky's Tower, , , , Soviet culture, Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower, Timofey Kovalevsky, , Ukrainian society, , ,   

    The Legend of Kovalevsky’s Tower 

    I decided that I’ll take a break from a blogging break to tell a story that has two of my favorite things: symbolism and legends of my hometown. In particular, it’s the legend of the Kovalevsky’s Tower.

    A fountain and a tower are two very commonly used symbols. A fountain is a symbol for life and creativity, one with a mostly positive meaning. A tower is a darker symbol, one about overreaching achievement, and fall. In Tarot a Tower card is an ill omen. Yet a tower is a very attractive symbol. I am immensely drawn to towers, just look at how frequently I write about them.

    There aren’t any skyscrapers in my hometown. There are fountains though. Not just the regular water spritzing ones: there are three very important neighborhoods called The Big, Middle, and Little Fountain. You see, Odessa, although on the sea, is located very far from any rivers that can provide potable water. In the olden days much of the water was procured from three wells, the Big, Middle, and Little Fountains, which were located relatively far from the city center, near the sea. An alternative way to collect water from rooftops was available, but as there’s a lot of dust in the air, people referred to this less tasty water as “this is no fountain”, an expression that survived to this day referring to something sub par.

    If you take a tram from the city center, you’ll pass through the many stations of the Little, Middle and Big Fountains which follow the sea shore and are mostly filled with dachas. My grandparents used to have a dacha at the 13th station of the Big Fountain, a little plot of land with a house and outhouse that my father and grandfather built themselves. When we left, it was sold for about $7000. I am told that the land that we used to own would be worth about $1,000,000 today.

    The last station is 16th. There you would switch to an ancient little tram with two “heads” (it was needed because there was only a single track, and one tram would service the whole line going back and forth). This tram, nicknamed push-pull would take you to yet another neighborhood called Kovalevsky’s Dacha. There were more dachas there, a large Russian Orthodox monastery, and natural, sand-less beaches with steep rocky cliffs (the rest of the shore used to be like that as well, but the cliffs where dynamited and sand washed on).

    There is a legend connected to Kovalevsky and his dacha. This legend is a little bit like Rashomon, as there are many different ways it’s told.

    In one version, a wealthy merchant, Timofey Kovalevsky decides to solve Odessa’s water problem by building the first water line. He finds a huge water well beyond Big Fountain and starts laying pipe into the city. At the source he builds a huge tower. He finishes the project, but he is financially ruined due to insufficient revenues. Either the water is of poor quality (not like Fountain water, because of the pipe sediment), or because people are afraid of technology and call his water “machine water”, or because around the same time another water line from Dniester river is completed. One way or another he is ruined, and commits suicide by jumping from the tower. In this version it is a story of pitfals of technology, its quick obsolescence and/or inferiority to older technology.

    A famous version of the story comes from Kataev’s “Lonely White Sail”. In Kataev’s version Kovalevsky undertakes his water line project alone out of greed. A slew of bankers beg him to take them as partners, but he refuses, wanting a water monopoly. He builds the tower to get to the water, only to run out of money – the water is too deep, and the machinery and pipes are too expensive. He begs the bankers for money, but they refuse. Kovalevskiy keeps circling around the tower thinking about how to get money to complete the project, getting crazier and crazier, but one day gives up, climbs the tower and jumps off it. In Kataev’s version the legend is a cautionary tale of greed.

    An even more disturbing version comes from Paustovsky’s “Slow Time”. Paustovsky tells the story differently. In it, Kovalesky is a very rich eccentric. He buys a plot of land far from the city and builds a dacha. Then he commissions a huge tower to be built, for no practical reason whatsoever. Several times he drinks tea at the top of the tower, and then commits suicide by jumping from the top. In another variant of this the purpose of the tower is mystifying the contractors, until the moment it’s complete: Kovalevsky has it built in order to jump from. This way it’s a story of depression, eccentricity, purposelessness, and suicide.

    All stories mention that the tower was preserved until WWII, and did end up serving a purpose: it was a very good nautical navigational landmark. During WWII it was destroyed, similar to Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island. Legend of Wardenclyffe Tower echoes many aspects of the legend of Kovalevsky’s Tower – the running out of funds, the mysterious purpose, etc.

    This, of course is all very lame journalism and research. I am basically retelling the same story the way I heard it, the way I’ve read it on a number of websites, and in several books. I don’t have access to archives or any specialist literature that might shed any light on what really happened with Kovalevsky and his tower. I hope maybe commenters might eventually add some more information to this post.

    I don’t know exactly where the tower used to be and where its remnants are right now. My understanding that it’s somewhere near the Big Fountain cape. The link provides the rough coordinates and a photo. Maybe it’s possible to find the location in Google Maps.

    I was able to locate only a single photo that supposedly shows the tower on a website retelling one of the variants of the story. The tower is indeed humongous, and really does not look like a water tower. Maybe there’s a point to the the story about a pointless tower built for suicide.

    [update] I recently found this old photo that provides a view from beyond the lighthouse:

    From all the accounts that I’ve encountered the tower was destroyed. But what is this then? I’ll be in Odessa this summer, and I’ll mount an expedition to check this out.

    The tower is described as an over-sized chess tower, a tower that looks like a lighthouse, a good navigational aid seen from the sea, and a ominous, dark building.

    Here are some two old postcards (a photograph and its retouched version) of the Big Fountain cape. There is a lighthouse, and something that looks like a long slender tower. Could that be Kovalevsky’s tower?

    This is what the natural beaches looked like all over Odessa’s coast. I remember beaches near Kovalevskiy’s dacha looking like that when I was little.

    Another view of the Big Fountain cape, with a “shalanda” fishing boat. There’s something tower-like in the distance, but it’s very hard to tell.

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