Archived entries for Russians

The Phobos Grunt was supposed to have been a curse-breaker. The Russians have had a hard time sending probes to Mars since, oh, 1960. Everyone they’ve sent up has gone wrong in some for or fashion. Nineteen of them in total over the past five decades.

But Phobos Grunt was going to be different. It was going to work.

The Russians were going to be the first to put a probe onto a Martian moon, and then they were going to bring part of it home with samples for analysis. It was going to be the biggest Martian endeavor since the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. It was going to break their curse and put them back on the bleeding edge of space exploration.

Notice how I’m talking about all of this in past tense? Was? Were? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.

See the area with the blue on that map above? If you live within any of those lines you might want to take care this Sunday when the Phobos Grunt comes burning back down through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. Four hundred plus pounds of the thing are expected to survive reentry, and while the Earth is mostly water, they can’t guarantee it won’t come down on your head.

Just what happened to the great Russian hope? No one’s really sure. The Phobos Grunt hit Earth orbit in November and then sort of stalled out and went dead. They weren’t able to stir the probe back to life, and the orbit’s been decaying ever since. I’m just glad it didn’t hit anything while it was up there. We don’t need any more debris up there.

So this Sunday, keep your eyes up and your head down. Michael Bay doesn’t need any reason to make an Armageddon 2.

Title: A Way to Die

Word: Frozen

Prompt by Kerry Crawford

200 words about the thing that really matters in life – booze.:

Baba-Yaga’s frozen tit it was cold.

He could feel his testicles pushing up ever farther into his gut – searching for any signs of warmth. He laughed at the foolishness of his balls.

For this was winter and they were in a Russian’s sac. There was no warmth anywhere to be found.

Passing by the church, he noted the orange light in the windows, curling smoke from the chimney, and hymns from the crack in the door.

He took a lantern from the church steps and continued down the road.

Trees rose up around him, blotting out the sky,

He felt the wolves before he saw their eyes. Dirty yellow asterisms, moving back and forth amongst the trees.

“Back, you pack of mongrels!”

He flung the lantern at them, sinking it into the snow.

“My mother was more a bitch than any of yours! She squatted me out on a night twice as cold as this! I am Russian! A bear fears no pack of wolves!”

They scattered into the night.

He recovered the lantern from the snow, relighting it.

After all, the church might be near, and the road dangerous. But tavern is far, so he will walk carefully.

Just a note about this one – That last line? That’s basically a paraphrasing of a real Russian proverb:

The church is near but the road is icy; the bar is far away but I will walk carefully.

Follow this link to offer up more suggestions.

From Dark Roasted Blend -

We’d like to call them “ghost towns”, but they are clearly not abandoned. Amazingly, people still live in them, go to work in harshest possible conditions (paradoxically making it the richest and mightiest industrial area in Russia) and then come “home” to relax in this inhuman weather, non-existing infrastructure, in dangerously dilapidated buildings…

Taken from a bit on English Russia about the vanishing culture of the Mari people.

There’s also a photograph on that page of what I think is a mother and her daughter. The mother has the fatted, leathery, burst-capillary face of the stereotypical Russian matriarch. But her daughter, maybe in her early teens, looks just like anyone you’d find anywhere else in the world. She’s young, she’s pretty, and that’s when it hits you. The line gets drawn from mother to daughter and you realize that the life these people lead changes them. Hard lives, Russian winters, all of it conspiring to turn a person into something completely different.

From the BBC:

In a grimy shipyard in St Petersburg, an ugly hulk of red-painted metal sits floating in the dock.

On deck, workmen scurry back and forth, hammering, drilling and welding.

This strange construction, part ship, part platform, is unique and lies at the heart of Russia’s grand ambitions for the Arctic.

When it is completed in 2012, it will be the first of eight floating nuclear power stations which the government wants to place along Russia’s north coast, well within the Arctic Circle.


“These [floating nuclear power stations] have very good potential, creating the conditions for exploring the Arctic shelf and setting up drilling platforms to extract oil and gas,” says Sergey Zavyalov, deputy director of the operating company, Rosenergoatom.

“Work in the Arctic is very complicated and dangerous and we should ensure there’s a reliable energy supply.”

He says each power station, costing $400m, can supply electricity and heating for communities of up to 45,000 people and can stay on location for 12 years before needing to be serviced back in St Petersburg.


“We can guarantee the safety of our units one hundred per cent, all risks are absolutely ruled out,” says Mr Zavyalov.


Although Moscow denies it’s setting up special military forces or bases to protect its interests in the Arctic, it is establishing a new coastguard under the control of the all-powerful intelligence agency, the FSB.


The route along the Northeast passage from Russia to Asia which is now opening up, is many days quicker than the traditional route via Europe, the Suez Canal and around India.

Although the ships still need to be escorted by ice-breakers, it is a tantalising opportunity for Russia which wants to sell more oil and gas to energy-hungry countries like China.

With some scientists predicting that there may be no ice at all in the summer by 2030, Russian officials are confident the Northeast passage will become a major route for energy supplies to Asia.

Ah, Russia, Russia, Russia.

Nearly every day you give me another reason to believe that your legendary winters freeze out any common sense you might’ve had.

Remember those nuclear powered lighthouses you dotted your northern frontier with? Remember how well those turned out for you?

And now you think that by repeating that exercise, only in much hasher environments, on a much bigger scale, is a brilliant idea?

You can’t even keep your own infrastructure from destroying itself, for Christ’s sake, and now you’re setting the stage for a disaster that will make the Deepwater Horizon seem insignificant in comparison.

But, it is quite the image of the future, isn’t it? Ships the size of city blocks, powered by atomic fire, moored to the ocean bed, floating on near-freezing seas during the summer, frozen in them during the winter. Millions of parts working together, billions of people praying nothing goes wrong. The crushing weight of statistical odds saying that something will.

Russia is experiencing probably its worst heat wave in history. A place that normally freezes people to death is now boiling their brains in their skulls. Moscow hit 113 last week. And summer is still roaring along.

This heat coupled with a lack of rain is drying out Russia’s forests and fields, turning one of the greenest (in terms of wilderness space) countries on the planet into on giant tinderbox.

A tinderbox which erupted into flames late last month. Fires that have spread so far and so fast that the threaten to burn the world’s largest country in half. Fires that have completely obscured the view of the planet from space. Fires that are threatening critical infrastructure locations – like a nuclear power plant.

Fires that are producing scenes like this:

Video via Coilhouse

Post Script – I’m sure there’s a post in here about the feedback loop that amplifies global warming. Hot temps causing more people to use energy to cool, leading to more greenhouse gases, leading to hotter temps, leading to wild fires, leading to more greenhouse gases, leading to hotter temps, leading to more cooling, etc, etc. But I don’t have the time to hash it all out for you right now.

I figured that was the most descriptive post title I could come up with

Graffito-tagged Drawbridge from English/Russia.

This time, they’re from Australian and caused by the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket that went up last Friday.

That spiral look familiar? It might remind you of something similar that popped up over Norway last year that turned out to be a failed Russian rocket test.

The key difference being that the Falcon9 was supposed to be doing that, and the Russian rocket wasn’t. Ok, when I say that the Falcon9 was “supposed” to be doing that, I mean that the rocket was only designed to reach a set altitude then crash out safely in the Pacific Ocean. The spiral over Australia was the Falcon9 on it’s way to crashing out.

More images can be seen here.

According to the huge spike of incoming traffic, I’ve been linked to a forum post about The Buzzer, an old Soviet-era numbers station going quiet.

I wrote about The Buzzer a few years ago.

I’m not going to fall down the conspiracy rabbit hole with this, but it did make me wonder – what’s the newtech equivalent of a numbers station?

A static IP that spits out binary white noise until it flicks over and rolls out a string of encrypted text? For all of their mystery, numbers stations were pretty shitty means of transmitting secret data. You can’t encrypt radio signals, only encode them, and codes are easier to break since you can’t hide them, only smudge them a bit. Plus, radio has a limited range. You need to be able to hear it to get your super secret spy message, and if a big storm blows in when you’re supposed to receive your go/no go message, well, you’re fucked.

Never before in my life have I been grateful that the description for something was in another language. I feel that I have been protected from a Lovecraftian brain-schism.

Also, I guess “I Dare You To Watch This” is now a running thread around here.

English-Russia has an interesting collection of images that are supposedly of graffiti in Pripyat, Ukraine. The city that was home to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Ghosts in a ghost city.

From ComputerWorld:

IDG News Service – An upstart Trojan horse program has decided to take on its much-larger rival by stealing data and then removing the malicious program from infected computers.

Security researchers say that the relatively unknown [Spy Eye toolkit] added this functionality just a few days ago in a bid to displace its larger rival, known as Zeus.

The feature, called “Kill Zeus,” apparently removes the Zeus software from the victim’s PC, giving Spy Eye exclusive access to usernames and passwords.

Zeus and Spy Eye are both Trojan-making toolkits, designed to give criminals an easy way to set up their own “botnet” networks of password-stealing programs. These programs emerged as a major problem in 2009, with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimating last October that they have caused $100 million in losses.


With its “Kill Zeus” option, Spy Eye is the most aggressive crimeware, however. The software can also steal data as it is transferred back to a Zeus command-and-control server, said Kevin Stevens, a researcher with SecureWorks. “This author knows that Zeus has a pretty good market, and he’s looking to cut in,” he said.

Turf wars are nothing new to cybercriminals. Two years ago a malicious program called Storm Worm began attacking servers controlled by a rival known as Srizbi. And a few years before that, the authors of the Netsky worm programmed their software to remove rival programs Bagle and MyDoom.

Spy Eye sells for about $500 on the black market, about one-fifth the price of premium versions of Zeus. To date, it has not been spotted on many PCs, however.

This, of course, is all being done by the Russians. Which reminds me of all those lines in Gibson books referring to “Russian black ICE”. It is amazing when you that that just two decades ago you could trade a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans for a human life in the Balkans, and now they are this slowly churning cauldron in which the most advanced and dangerous information technologies are being developed. They’ve already shown they are more than capable of blasting the networks of former Soviet satellite states of the face of the Internet whenever they start to get a little too uppity in the face of Mother Russia.

Nerds in Russia, commanding slave armies of sleeper computers. The future is rather strange, innit?

Part of me hates it when a mystery is solved, especially when the answer doesn’t involve a porthole to another universe.

Scientists, being people who are paid to do crazy things and spend on marginally more time on the internet than the people who work on the internet, have sort of decided that the spiraling lights over Norway were, in fact, just an errant rocket launch. And yes, it was the Russians.

The Russians confirmed they did launch a rocket from a submarine in international waters near Norway. They didn’t confirm that the whole thing was a giant disaster, but because they are Russians, they are bound to fuck up anything involving rocketry and a submarine. That’s what sank the Kursk and killed the Planetary Foundation’s COSMOS 1. The Russians are decent with rockets on land, but when it comes to them, rockets and water, hold on to your ass – because something is going to go pear shaped.

The most logical, and simplest explanation for what went wrong is this: Russians launch a rocket, probably going over the pole and crashing out in the Pacific. Something goes wrong with the rocket, it starts ejecting material from its side and the engine. The spiral is so symmetrical because it was about sixty miles up, free of atmospheric disturbances. Pretty, but more ordinary than extraordinary.

Here’s a video with a computer model explaining what we saw:

ER has some amazing stuff up today. Clumping it all together into one post rather than several separate ones.

Collection of images from Russian carny life.

These circus people live in their own environment of their trailers. That’s not a surprise why they marry each other but not people “from outside”. They are the only ones who can understand this life. And no one else can reach its depth and gamma. That’s why they are always sincere when saying “Circus is our life”.

Images from Russian astronomy.


And finally, a series profiling a church painter in Crimea. (I think I’ll use him as reference to re-work Caduceus in MAGICTOWN.)


(Bears because that was their thing during the Cold War, not because they are all hairy gay men…anyway)

The NYTimes brings us a bit about the Russian condition of being perpetually drunk, and how their government wants to do something about it, but that would be hard, and they’d rather just have a shot of chilled vodka instead.

Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, has been voicing that sentiment a lot lately, declaring that the government must do something about the country’s status as a world leader in alcohol consumption.

The Kremlin has already vanquished one vice this year, casino gambling, which it all but banned in July. But drinking — vodka in particular — is another thing entirely. It is a mainstay of Russian life, both a beloved social lubricant and a ready means for escaping everyday hardship.


His plan, though, follows a long line of failed anti-alcohol campaigns here, going back centuries. The most notable was pressed by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who in the mid-1980s ordered shelves emptied of vodka and historic vineyards razed. Those measures succeeded at first, resulting in a nationwide bout of temperance that even increased life expectancy.

But they also touched off a severe public backlash that damaged the standing of Mr. Gorbachev and the Communist Party, and he eventually relented.


Russians consume roughly 4.75 gallons of pure alcohol a person annually, more than double the level that the World Health Organization considers a health threat. The consumption figure for the United States is about 2.3 gallons.

The country will have difficulty resolving its demographic crisis — its population is predicted to drop nearly 20 percent by 2050 — if it does not confront its alcohol problem. Life expectancy for Russian men is now 60 years, in part because of alcoholism.

Researchers studying mortality in three industrial cities in Siberia in the 1990s found that in several years, alcohol was the cause of more than half of all deaths of people ages 15 to 54, often from accidents, violence or alcohol poisoning, according to a report this year in The Lancet, a London-based medical publication.


Several experts said they doubted that the government would accomplish much unless its plan was drastically strengthened. They said the most important step would be to raise vodka prices significantly through heavier taxation and the closing of unlicensed distilleries. A half liter of vodka now costs as little as $2.


Dr. Aleksandr V. Nemtsov of the Moscow Psychiatric Research Institute, one of Russia’s leading alcohol experts, said that little would change unless the Kremlin got serious about shutting down unlicensed distillers, which produce half the vodka consumed in the country and usually are protected by corrupt officials.

“The government does not want to deprive poor people of cheap vodka,” Dr. Nemtsov said. “Because it is better for them when people are drunk. You probably know that Catherine the Great said it is easier to rule a drunk public. That is the root of the evil.”


Outmoded ways of addressing the problem were evident at the drunk tank in Mytishchi. After they sobered up, those who had been brought in were written up: they were told that before being released, they would have to pay a fine.

The amount was 100 rubles, $3.50, just as it has been since Soviet times.


This is a monument to the fallen Russian soldiers of World War 2. It is just out side of Cherkassy, in the Ukraine – which is actually no longer part of Mother Russia. She hold her arm out to stop aggressors and carries an eternal flame in remembrance of the dead. Well, at least she did. Remember all of the furor last winter about Russian natural gas exports to Europe? And how Russia turned them off until the Ukraine agreed to cough up the money they owed for leasing the Russian pipeline? Well, guess what was a casualty of all of that. The Cherkassy eternal flame.

At least, that was the case until a few months ago. A local telecom group was looking for a place to put a new cell tower, and they stumbled upon a golden opportunity with the Cherkassy monument. They would replace an actual flame with a digital flame.

digitalfire6 digitalfire7

The fifteen foot tall cell tower is covered in LEDs that imitate the dancing of a real eternal flame. The cost for upkeep is paid entirely by the telecom company, who have made a point to tout the green-friendly nature of LED fire over gas fire.

Welcome to the future. Anything we can replace with something digital and plastic – we will.

(Oh and you’re fooling yourself if you don’t think some one wants to put a cell tower on the Statue of Liberty – they already lease out Mt Rushmore for it.)

And now they are giving birth to shaved bear cubs! From Pravda:

Russian woman, Svetlana Tagantseva, 28, a resident of the city of Samara, gave birth to a very large baby. The newborn, who looks like a six-month-old boy, weighs 6.75 kilos (15 lbs). The baby boy is 62 cm tall.

Doctors of a local maternity hospital say that they have never seen such a large newborn in their entire life.

“He looks like he is six months old already! He can hardly fit into the beds in the newborn department here. Other kids that lie next to him are so tiny in comparison to him,” doctors say smiling.

Yesterday I was trolling through Boston’s Big Picture, and I came across their pictorial about the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam disaster in central Russia a few weeks back. Long story short, something went wrong at the damn, water get into the turbines and they blew. Luckily, they didn’t take the dam with them, but they did leak tons of oil into the river (literal tons, mind you, 40 of them) causing an ecological disaster for the fisheries downriver.

This got me thinking. The US infrastructure might be in a shitty situation, but Russia is far worse. The modern Russia is built on a foundation laid by the old Soviet empire. A foundation that might not be as strong as we’ve been lead to believe. Wait, strike that, a foundation wasn’t nearly as strong as we were lead to believe.

You know why it wasn’t? Because we were fucking sending them into paraonid fits on a daily basis. We’re about talking literally thousands of sorties into the buffer zone around Soviet airspace during the Cold War. Nuclear armed bombers would hurtle toward Russia on vectors that put them over key targets, and then veer off a few miles from the point of no return. Both sides were talking about how they were planning on surviving a nuclear exchange, hell the Russians built a doomsday retaliation device called “Dead Hand“, and we were planning on putting nukes into space with “Star Wars”. The world was absolutely mad, and it didn’t get any saner until the wall came down and Russia went through a few coups.

And what did all of this mean for the poor little Communist worker on government pay and food rations? Fuck it. That’s what it meant. For the entire last half of the 20th century, the Russia people expected to die in a blinding flash of light. And that fucking does something to you. You stop caring about the future, stop caring about your present, your culture and technology suffer, and your women start looking like shaved bears. (Ok, that’s a cheap joke – Russian women have always looked like shaved bears.)

Our infrastructure is falling apart because it was built in an attempt to get us out of the Great Depression, and we can’t be assed to spend money on upkeep. The Russian infrastructure is falling apart because they thought they’d all be dead by the time anything broke, and now things are breaking – catastrophically. But, why should you build something to last if none of you are going to last?

Well, eventually they are going to Mars, but first they are going to make a stop over on Phobos, one of the two Martian moons. From Discover:

Instead of aiming straight for Mars, the Russians are going after Phobos, the larger of its two little satellites and one of the oddest objects around. Their probe, called Fobos-Grunt (“Phobos soil” in Russian), will not only land on Phobos but also scoop up some samples of the surface and send them to Earth. Understanding Phobos could tell us a lot about the early history of the solar system. “It may give us clues to the formation of Earth’s moon and the moons of the other planets, and the role played by asteroid impacts in shaping the terrestrial [rocky] planets,” says Alexander Zakharov of the Moscow-based Space Research Institute and chief scientist for Fobos-Grunt. Even more important, this mission could lay the groundwork for an innovative strategy for exploring—and even colonizing—Mars itself.


In this mission, Fobos-Grunt will get a huge assist from the laws of orbital mechanics. Owing to the counterintuitive rules of space navigation, it takes remarkably little energy to get to Phobos from Earth. In fact, the energy required to travel between two spots in the solar system has virtually nothing to do with the distance between them. What really matters is a quantity called delta-v, the amount that a spaceship’s velocity must change to shift from one trajectory to another. Delta-v depends on how strong the gravitational fields are at your departure and arrival points; how much energy you need to swing farther out from (or in toward) the sun; and how much assistance you can get from atmospheric braking—that is, skimming through a planet’s atmosphere to help slow down.

The total delta-v required for a mission to land on Phobos and come back is startlingly low—only about 80 percent that of a round trip to the surface of Earth’s moon. (That is in part because of Phobos’s feeble gravity; a well-aimed pitch could launch a softball off its surface.) It is actually easier to send a probe or cargo to Phobos than to the moon. The comparison for a manned flight is more complicated, since a crew would need much more food and air for the six-month journey to Phobos than for the three-day trip to our moon. But the huge additional delta-v needed to get down to the Mars surface and back up into orbit again means it would be vastly cheaper and easier to maintain an outpost on Phobos than on the Martian surface.

If the mission is successful, Fobos-Grunt will be the first probe to explore the Earth-Phobos-Earth space highway. The one-ton probe will enter orbit around Mars in August or September 2010 (assuming Russia’s schedule does not slip) and begin studying Phobos remotely. Once the mission scientists have selected a good landing spot, the spacecraft will touch down on the satellite’s surface sometime in March or April 2011. Then Fobos-Grunt will extend a robot arm and start collecting samples of regolith—surface soil and rocks—for return to Earth. The main body of the probe will serve as a launchpad for the small return module and remain permanently on Phobos. When the 233-pound return module reaches Earth in June or July 2012, it will drop off a soccer-ball-size capsule containing a thumb-size canister of precious Phobos soil; finally, the canister will make a hard landing in a remote region of Kazakhstan.


Phobos’s exterior poses some riddles of its own. Its most striking visual structures (aside from the giant Stickney crater) are sets of crater chains that line up across the surface. Deimos does not have anything like them, nor do any of the half-dozen regular asteroids imaged by space probes so far. One theory is that the craters are old steam vents, relics of an ancient catastrophe that cracked Phobos’s crust and heated its interior, sending steam blasting outward. This would be good news for future human visits to Mars, as vents would mark the location of water-bearing minerals, perhaps even buried deposits of water ice. Another, less enticing possibility is that the holes are crevices opened by tidal forces or by impacts that caused the entire moon to flex.

In my head I’m seeing a crusty outpost on the backside of Phobos staffed entirely by Russian cosmonauts who’ve been trapped on a 12 mile by 17 mile rock for years. They’ve cannibalized their water reclamation system and found a way to turn their own urine into something resembling vodka. The International Space Agency has been waving ships past the Phobos landing for months. Ever since one of the controllers refused to let a ship land until he’d sang them the entirety of the Beatles’ White Album – in Russian. The Russian Central Command have decided that it is too expensive to bring them home, so they’ve just left them there, there are always more Russians.

Toss in a calamity down on Mars involving some busty American scientists and you have the makings for either best sci-fi porn ever made, or the next Ron Howard movie. Honestly, I’m hoping for a little bit of column A, little bit of column B.


That would be a 600 foot tall pillar of fire in the heart of Moscow this weekend. A gas pipeline blew out, sending up flames that could be seen from almost anywhere in the city. English-Russia has the rest of the series.

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