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  • Michael Krakovskiy 10:34 pm on June 4, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Hardcover, , , Odessa, online ordering, , Paperback, Plonking, , , Rocketbook, , , , , , , Web fiction   

    Memories of Obtaining Books 

    Early 1980s (Odessa, Soviet Union)

    Most of the walls of my parent’s apartment were lined with bookshelves. When bored, all I needed to do to get a good book to read was to climb the shelves, read the titles and colophons, and taked one. It was best to look in the areas that proved fruitful previously, mining the locations full of science fiction anthologies and historical prose. All that I needed to do was to replace the book when done and not let my father catch me leaving the book open face up or otherwise mistreating it.

    Mid 80s (Odessa, Soviet Union)

    I remember sitting in a public library while my father combed the bookshelves for something interesting. It always took him hours because 99 percent of the books contained political propaganda, speeches by various politburo members and turgid prose of social realists. The pickins were slim.

    Late 80s (Odessa, Soviet Union)

    Decent foreign and homegrown sci-fi books were available for purchase in an outdoor market. While pricey, my dad purchased everything good in sight. The home library was overflowing. This is also when I learned the meaning of arbitrage.

    Early 90s (New York City)

    I spent hours in the bowels of Strand Bookstore. My hands were plenty sore bringing home stacks of hardcovers and paperbacks that cost me from 25 cents to $3. I could not understand why anyone would want to spend more than 25 cents on a paperback. Besides Strand there were library sales – I once bought a dozen tete-beche pulps for a quarter each.

    Mid 90s (New York City)

    Besides raiding Strand, I would sometimes go to Barnes and Noble and splurge on paperbacks that I really wanted at $6.99 each or worse.

    Early 2000s. (New York City)

    My first job at a publishing company introduced me to free review books. My library swelled. I also purchased my first real ebook readers (reading on a Palm device does not count): a Softbook and a Rocketbook (at the time I worked at a company that produced both of them). Converting text files and web pages into .rb format was a pain in the ass, but these kinds of “books” were free. After reading a Rocketbook for a couple of hours in a dark bedroom I’d see the glow of its backlight for the next 15 minutes. The future of the book was freaky. The official ebook pricing for Rocketbook was the same as for hardcovers (if I remember this correctly) and seemed like an insane waste of money. Rocketbook died a slow death, so it actually was.

    2000s. (New York City)

    The online ordering of books at Amazon, ABEBooks and the like revolutionized book buying for me. Now I could get exactly what I wanted for a few bucks over what a paperback would cost me at Strand. An average price of a purchase was $3-$5. Sometimes I’d splurge on a rare or an autographed book (this is how I ended up with a $250 Cray at Chippewa Falls. More free books at work – working for publishing companies is awesome.

    Now (New York City)

    My home library is a drag: finding a book is hard, searching inside a book – well, impossible. Plonking down $13 on a Kindle copy does not seem like insanity any more: the book arrives in minutes and is completely searchable. But staring me in the face is a $2.99 paperback of the same book on Amazon. The cost of instant delivery, searchability and the cost of keeping the clutter down turns out to be about ten dollars. But what about books that are not available on Kindle and have a $2.99 used copy available? These are heartbreaking.

    I keep wondering about the fate of my library – should I purge it? Should I donate it? Should I have the nice people of Strand Bookstore drag it away completely? Should I put every book into a database and then pack everything away into plastic boxes and store in the basement?

    In the past I was usually heartbroken because I could not obtain a book at all, or could not afford it. The modern book buying heartbreak is of a very different type indeed.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:32 am on June 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alexander Pushkin, Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot, , , City Hall building, , , electricity meters, , , Odessa, Pushkin monument, , sadistic gym teacher, ,   

    Odessa Close Up 

    I own a few quality Canon lenses, but 100-400 zoom lens is my favorite. 100-400 is heavy and it needs to be swapped in for something more reasonable often because it only catches a small part of the overall picture. Yes, extreme closeup is a cheesy trick: every object starts looking more significant than it already is when the focus is on it and the background disappears in a soft blur known as “bokeh“. But more often than not I do want to get rid of the clutter and take a closer look at something, to intensely focus on one thing. Sometimes looking at an object zoomed in at 400 you find something new – like a ghostly outline of the old company name hiding behind a new neon sign or a joke left in by the sculptor or notice what is going on on the tops of skyscrapers.

    100-400 seems to add a strange, otherworldly glow to things – the glow that I associate with memory.

    Here’s a series of closeup photos of my hometown, Odessa. Beware, if you are from there this might cause some serious nostalgia.

    The postal boxes were repainted a few times, but are still pretty much the same.

    A core sample is the best demonstration for watermelons

    But you have to trust the merchant’s sign that the grapes from Tairovo are sweet!sweet!

    The dish of my childhood – a tomato salad with tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.

    The building in the background is gone, but the old horse chestnut (which is probably a few hundred years old) is still around

    Here’s what you do with the leaves of acacia: you rip them off in one motion and hold them tight in your fist. Then you let go in an upward motion and try to catch as many as you can. Then you play age old game of loves me-loves me not with the remaining leaves. Well, at least that what I remember.

    Kitteh, as neglected as the city itself voices her complaint.

    A pigeon walks around in fallen acacia flowers in front of my hildhood home. I gathered a bunch of these flowers. They still smell like the city that I lost.

    These flowers in the park are still the same.

    A terrible piece of tile grafitti sprung on a refined and sophisticated building by its new owners is now covered in even cruder grafitti. Soon the slate will be wiped clean. The act of tiled vandalism always amazed me when I saw it as a kid – it was one of the first hints as to what happened in 1919.

    The staircase that leads to the sea at 13th Station of the Big Fountain. If you were brave, you could ride it down, but it lead to more sprains, scrapes, ruined pants and mis. injuries than I care to remember. Yet few kids could pass by the opportunity to ride it down.

    Seemingly indestructable electrical poles are surprisingly free of ads, but they must have carried more of them than many newspapers.

    Pushkin’s fish is still spitting into the fountain basin full of coins left by tourists.

    Corn on the cob at the beach is as spectacular as ever

    A remnant of a communal flat: after the Soviets kicked out and mostly shot the old tenants, what is known in New York as a “classic 5“, a spacious one family apartment became a 5 family apartment. The communal spirit was not complete though – all 5 bells would have been connected to separate electricity meters.

    These sturdy cast iron garbage urns might be pre-revolutionary in origin. They always reminded me of the Pushkin monument and the drinking fountain in the park (which I’ll cover further down).

    Mercury from the City Hall building stares blankly

    The iron fence of the old synagogue reminds me the fence in front of a church on 5th Avenue.

    This is where I would jump off almost every time when visiting the park

    Bullheads!

    The laurel crown of Odessa’s beloved founder, Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, looked like a kangol-style hat to me when I was little. I guess it still does.

    Poor old lion dragged from somebody’s pre-revolutionary dacha to “the old Odessa corner”. I sat on this beast many a time for a photo, and so did probably millions of locals and tourists.

    They still use homemade brooms – I’m sure these are superior to synthetic-bristled ones. At the very least they must be cheaper.

    Wild grapes are in every other courtyard. They are extremely sour when green, but rarely survive into maturity.

    This Atlas always amused me because unlike other classical atlases he wore a working man’s belt. He is in a very bad way.

    This lion appears on dozens of buildings. I guess it was on sale two centuries ago.

    It’s pretty hard to destroy ironwork.

    I bet Alexander Pushkin tied his horses to this thing. Or something. It was good for jumping on and off it.

    These trashcans were all over the place when I was a kid – I only found one in the back of a courtyard.

    I bet this kid with a cournucopia (or just a bouquet) of flowers had a wingwang at some point.

    A piece of Soviet sculptural impotence is still memorable to me for some reason. I think it’s supposed to sybolize basketball. Or the last drop of patience or something.

    The crown of one of the last remaining cast iron ad pillars

    There were a few of these things all over the city. As a kid I was told that these were for sampling gas – I remember trying to smell it at some point.

    The entrance to the park – a place to meet after school.

    A park bench

    When I was crawling around the park as a toddler this fountain used to work. It always reminded me the Pushkin monument – it might have been cast by the same company. I still have memories of my father raising me up so I could take a drink.

    Our sadistic gym teacher made us do pull-ups on these bars.

    This is another place where no self-respecting child would walk on the ground instead of skipping on the parapet

    This lamp has seen better times

    Some people say these wells were operational at some point, others say that they were simply ornaments dragged from elsewhere where they were operational. In any case, these are reminders of the time when Odessa’s major source of water was roof-collected rain and the Fountains.

    A lamp of the Soviet vintage

    A horrible Soviet-era mosaic that is nevertheless burnt into my childhood memory

    The soccer stadium lights always made me sad for some reason

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:00 am on February 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , biochemist, Bob Semple, Bob Semple tank, Donald Rumsfeld, low grade thin steel, NI Tank, Odessa, Plywood-Armored Tractor Tank Software, Romanian infantry, Soviet City, stronger metal, Tanks of Spain, Tanks of the interwar period   

    The Plywood-Armored Tractor Tank 

    Software developers often complain about their tools and their co-workers (sometimes the co-workers are tools). I complain as much as everybody (and maybe more), but I always keep in mind Donald Rumsfeld’s famously insensitive quote “You go to war with the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time“.

    There’s a pretty gross Russian idiom “to mould a bullet out of shit”, meaning that you can make something amazing out of the worst materials possible. In one of my favorite sci-fi stories, “Microcosmic God“, a biochemist creates artificial life, a race of intelligent microscopic beings called neoterics. In an effort to create stronger metal, he gradually lowers the ceiling of neoterics’ tank, while leaving them only weak metals. The tiny beings proceeded to create super-strong alloys and stop the ceiling’s downward motion.

    Also, here’s a wartime story you might find inspirational. My hometown of Odessa is one of the few Soviet City Heroes — a status that was given to a few cities for particularly valiant defense in WWII.

    Odessa indeed had it tough, facing superior Romanian forces. The inhabitants fought bravely, but were forced to withdraw. Those left behind (like one set of my great-grand parents who did not want to leave their hat store behind) were abused and often disappeared – the Romaninans were particularly pissed. There are many walls in the city riddled with bullet holes right at the chest level.

    One particular weakness of Odessa, a port city, was the lack of tanks. Aviation being relatively weak at the beginning of the war, tanks were the only thing that could stop superior numbers of infantry.

    People of Odessa are known for their quick wit. One solution that allowed for orderly and timely withdrawal was the NI-1 (НИ-1) tank, an elegant psychological warfare weapon.

    NI was simply a tractor with bolted on “armor” made out of low grade thin steel and, as some say, plywood. They had a futuristic look, and in some cases small caliber canons sitting inside much thicker pipes. An attack of a number of these “tanks” turned back the tide of Romanian infantry, which fled in a panic. This is how the tank got its name – NI stands for “Na Ispug” or “For Fear”.

    There are several of these tanks kept as monuments, but some say that these are later recreations, and not the original NI tanks.

    While not as capable as the Killdozer, it was better than New Zeland’s Bob Semple tank.

     
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