Victory Day

Time is slowly erasing the traumatic memory of the two world wars. That is to say that the people who fought in it are dying out, and the younger generations do not like to think of the horrors that the two great wars brought.

When I was growing up, World War II did not seem very exciting to me, from the infantile militarism standpoint. Bootleg American movies, like Rambo and Star Wars seemed oh so much cooler. WWII killing machines seemed outdated and andand reminiscences of veterans who were invited into Soviet classrooms prior to every May 9th – boring.

I did like the Polish movie serial about WWII, called “Four tankers and dog” (“Четыре танкиста и собака” in Russian and “Czterej pancerni i pies” in Polish). It was an awesome, awesome serial about a Polish tank’s crew in WWII. Recently I purchased it on DVD from a Russian movie store as a present for my childhood friend. We watched it a bit, and I’ve got to tell you, it held up amazingly well.

Later, I realized that “Star Wars” technology was based on WWII, down to space battles mimicking real aerial dogfights. The rest of ideas Lucas lifted from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. That was probably one of the reasons why the original 3 episodes were so much cooler then the new ones.

WWII is all the rage these days. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an awesome WWII game. Mike Mingola brought back WWII chic in his Hellboy comics, Nazi mad scientist and all.

I particularly like WWII-style superheroes, without overabundance of superpowers and in baggy costumes with many gear pockets and bandoliers. In Hellboy’s origin story, there’s a panel where a group of Allied soldiers poses for a picture with Hellboy and Liberty Torch, a wartime superhero, that appeals to me a lot. I also liked how in Batman: Year One Batman uses thermite as a weapon that he gets from his military-looking bandolier belt.

For the firts time since Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace and Charles Babbage, computer programmers became active, this time being driven not by intellectual curiosity, but by a dire need to break Nazi codes. If not for the Polish scientists who created the first Enigma-breaking mechanical “bombes”, Alan Turing and the rest of the computer pioneers, me and my dad not only wouldn’t be computer programmers, but probably would not have been born.

That reminded of an echo of WWII that I once encountered. I used to work as a doorman, porter and elevator operator in an Upper West Side residential building where Robert Oppenheimer was born. There was a very nice old man who lived alone in a huge pre-war apartment. Every year he asked one of the staff to help him set all the clocks in the apartment during the daylight savings switch. It remains one of the more memorable experiences for me from my employment there. I remember a huge apartment with many clocks. The old guy seemed to be very anxious to have all of them set, and all of them set correctly, asking me several times to check and doublecheck. Must have taken me half an hour to get them all. Once I set all the clocks he became very relieved.

I guess the guy had a very special relationship with time. My boss told me he saw a number tattoo on the old man’s arm. That most likely means that he had a “user id” for an IBM punchcard machine in Auschwitz.

WML : Screw You, Computer Hardware Manufacturers!

Continuing with the screw theme, let me share with you another piece of fastener lore that I’ve learned over the year. As any person who ever cut her hands on ragged edges of cheaply made computer cases knows, when you buy a filthy overpriced little baggy of computer screws there’s a weird and confusing variety inside.

Here are the most common, left to right: chassi screw, cd-rom screw, floppy screw and hard disk screw. Now here’s the confusing part – The hex headed chassi screw is a bit bigger than the very similar cd rom screw. But the soft metal of computer components makes it possible to use it to fasten everything – floppy drives, cd roms, hard disks. It is the most useful screw of the four. I get the feeling that the hard drive screw is just a tad bigger, which makes it almost as useful, but it will get stuck if you try to attach a floppy drive with it. The cd rom screw and the floppy screws are next to useless – without knowing the proper type of screw to use, most people already embiggened the holes with chassis screws, and the little cd rom screws end up pretending to go in, but then falling out. They end up filling up all the useful space in the little box where I store my accumulation of computer screws.

Since I mostly buy cases with motherboards already mounted in them, I am not going to delve into the whole plastic vs. metal motherboard standoffs. I’ll just mention that the metal ones sometimes cause shorts by themselves, and plastic ones are sometimes not strong enough to prevent shorts from flexing. There, I said it. Now I’ll merrily continue my screw rant.

But at least the computer screw weirdness makes peoples life harder not on purpose. But some fancy pants computer (cough Hpaq cough) and consumer device (cough TIVO cough) manufacturers use torx screws and tamper proof torx screws. For that exact reason I own a whole bunch of torx screwdrivers. That is a bit sneaky.

But not as sneaky as the hardcore tamper proof screws made by Tamperproof Screw Company of New York:

Snake Eyes®, which I see a lot in elevator button panels, Tri-Wing® that I hear is used in GameboyTM devices, OpsitTM, which is which is built to make mockery of the holy mantra of “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” – it tightens conterclockwise (just like MTA lightbulbs). Тhere are other weird things like philips or torx screws with a pin in the middle and one way screws.

Also there seem to be a whole bunch of Pozidriv screws around. I think that the last cam out fiasco that I had was caused by me trying to use a Pozidriv bit on a Philips screw or the other way around. It’s very hard to tell them apart. Luckily I had screw drill out set similar to this one. It works ok on easy cases, but for every screw that I remove with it there seem to be a couple where I end up just completely breaking down the head of the screw leaving the rest under surface.

Wow, it looks like Philips screw company has special aerospace screws, like this wicked looking ACR Torq-Set. I would be way cool to get a box of those.

This is just like one of my favorite Russian sayings – “Ð?а каждую хитрую жопу еÑ?Ñ‚ÑŒ хуй Ñ? винтом. Ð?а каждый хуй Ñ? винтом найдётÑ?Ñ? жопа Ñ? лабиринтом”.

Soviet Voodoo

Oooof. Finally fixed a rather nasty bug that was depressing me most of last week. This and a nice little poem by reminded me about a few superstitions of my childhood.

There was no subway in Odessa, but we had buses, trolley buses and trams. Poorly printed pieces of bad quality paper served as tickets. The system was somewhat interesting: the driver wouldn’t check the tickets. You had to board with your own ticket and perforate it in a weird looking wall mounted press inside. If during a spot check you didn’t have a perforated ticket, you’d theoretically be fined. In reality everybody except the few unlucky loosers would perforate their ticket in the nick of time.

So, back to superstitions and luck bringing rituals. Every ticket had a serial number. A lucky ticket was considered to be one, in which the sum of the first three numbers of the serial would be equal to the sum of the last there. If you found a lucky ticket, to gain some good luck, germ or no germs, you had to eat it. Here’s what one (actually this is an even more special palindromic lucky ticket.) would like:

(image from

Then there was the “Chicken God”. That was a name for a beach pebble with a hole in it. The hole was supposed to be of a natural origin. A chicken god could be worn on a necklace. To wish on it, you would look through the hole at the sun (getting half blind in the process) and speak your wish.

Update: tells me that they are called “Holey Stones” in the US and the tradition is somewhat similar.

(picture from

Oh, and the black Volga. In the Soviet Union a black Volga GAZ 24 was a car of choice for various party functionaries and other important people. A kid who’d spot one would usually mutter a little rhyme “black Volga my luck, which nobody can pluck” (“чернаÑ? Волга, моÑ? удача, никому не передача”). Hey, I am no poet.

(image from