End of summer

Current music: ... of Sinking Ships - The Spargo Twin

Yesterday I had some free time and decided to make use of good weather in one of these last days of summer. So I walked a bit through the older (though not the oldest) central part of Togliatti and took some photos.

Let’s begin with the big construction of a mall that stands out of the typical old soviet architecture.

Aerohall mall in TogliattiFast food stall and small beer bar squeezed between the main building and the parking lot.

aerohall mall parking togliattiFountain with drawn fishes and transparent elevator inside.

fountain inside aerohall mall togliatti
Aerohall stands right next to social apartment complex where a lot of events you see then in local criminal news happen.

social housing in TogliattiSome graffiti on the walls on shared balconies.

graffiti on the shared balconies TogliattiNot all the sides of the town are pleasant to look at with dusty roads and rusty posts… but, well, it’s all part of the urban scenery and adds up to general impression.

togliatti street viewThe ugliest moment of the whole day. This sloppy shit with an angle around 45 degrees legally counts as a required ramp in Russia. Unusable for both wheelchair users and walking persons.

shitty ramp togliattyThen I moved to the part of town where few unique buildings surrounded a bit of a public space. On the next photo you can see one of just three hotels that were build during soviet era. If I’m not mistaken now it’s called Azot (which means nitrogen). Ground floor accommodated a grocery store which was lucky for me because I could stop there and buy a bottle of water. The day was really sunny and hot.

hotel azot togliattiNew Year decorations on the balconies still keep the soviet stars.

soviet stars hotel azot togliattiFountain in front of concert hall.

togliatti philarmoniaLet’s have a closer look.

philarmony togliattiKids carelessly enjoy the fountain. Their happiness must be spreading around because even unknown old lady stopped to express her admiration. She told me it was a wonderful moment to capture on photo. She also regretted either the fact she had no device to do it herself or that there was nobody to take photo of her –  I didn’t get that part exactly.

kids fountain togliattikids summer fountain togliattiOn the other side of the area, to the right there is a conservatory. So vintage-looking benches and unusual lamps supposed to demonstrate to random passer by like me it was a place of culture.

conservatory togliattiThough inhabitants of standard “khrushchyovka” nearby may have other opinion.

khruschevka togliattiView from another point. Notice the hanging wire between lamps.

flowers lamps togliatti pobedy street

 

Deeper into the block the lush vegetation takes dominance. It’s so abundant and unruly you can barely see anything behind it. On some paths big trees intertwine their branches to form some sort of low ceiling covering ground from sun as if it was a forest.

trees togliattilush vegetation togliattiOccasionally town fights back.

dead tree togliatti

Even though living houses in this district are often worn off and neglected, people here do their best to beautify the outdoors with simple flowers.

flowers street togliatti

 

Some things you simply can’t beautify.

ugly pipes togliattiEmpty kids playground.

kids playground togliattiHere my battery died saving you all from more photos. Thanks for your time if you made if here.

Читать дневниковую запись Конец лета по-русски.

Picross Touch

Current music: Kimio Eto - Midori no Asa

Platform: PC
Year: 2016
Developer: Jon Gallant

Touch the hidden image

It’s easy to perceive picross, nonograms or griddlers (call it whatever you like) as something that existed seemingly “always” like chess, jigsaw puzzle or solitaire. However this kind of pastime is younger than me or majority of world’s population being created around 1990. There seems to be no undoubted information about author of this puzzle, though it’s common knowledge it has Japanese origin. It’s even literally called “Japanese crossword” in Russian for some mysterious reason. All in all it is as widespread and well-known as any other popular brainteaser of pre-www era.

It worked perfectly fine on paper with grid and rows of numbers printed in newspapers. You just had to shade squares that correspond with the number sequences with pencil and mark empty cells with tiny crosses or barely visible dots. In time when percentage of internet users and non-users is almost equal on a global scale there is no surprise picross takes electronic form.

Picross Touch PC game screenshot Picross Touch PC game screenshot

Variation I was spending tens of hours on last few weeks came from Steam Greenlight. Picross Touch was made by independent developer Jon Gallant. Game’s title unambiguously hints that it was ported from Android, where it was released supposedly in May of 2014.

When somebody makes game based on such background there are mainly two ways to do it. You either try to replicate the idea as close as possible or you can take creative approach and modify or add features to spice things up with higher risk of screwing everything up. Jon Gallant took the easier way. Picross Touch offers the same very basic and unoriginal concept, but it was made brilliantly comfortable this time. Things just work without causing any problems. All actions are done with mouse. Playfield scales conveniently to fit the gird and all the numbers. Players are allowed to choose color of interface to suit their taste and mood. It shows that despite common opinion and snobbery of big studios Unity engine can be useful in some cases.

Developer keeps updating the game. The whole time I was playing, little details like time stats and players top for each puzzle were added here and there. Steam workshop is used the best possible way. There is editor that helps you to easily create your own nonograms that are automatically uploaded to workshop and then become available for anybody to see without closing the game. You rate completed puzzles so they can be sorted by rating, date created or size.

Picross Touch PC game screenshot Picross Touch PC game screenshot

There are some downsides however aside from predictable minimalism of the gameplay. Grids are limited to 25×25 squares maximum which is not that much. I clearly remember bigger ones in printed form from my childhood. There also is no music at all. A thing to expect from solo developer and there is no fictional world, no complicated premise that music may help to submerge into. Still we live in a reality where even abstract logical games from commercial Bejeweled or Lumines to one man band indie titles like Vesa Halonen’s Zetrix offer soundtrack.

Still, Picross Touch offers not the worst way to pass few hours of time while keeping your brain alive. It’s also free and I really mean it. No freemium bullshit, no annoying advertisements (just link to developer’s other game on the main menu screen), no paid DLCs. So if you enjoy puzzles, go grab Picross Touch from Steam.

Rating: 6

Читать обзор игры Picross Touch по-русски

No booze, no sense

Current music: Nirvana - Aero Zeppelin

The governor of Samara oblast Nikolai Merkushkin starts to really annoy with his petty tyranny. That was the 5th weekend this year when public alcohol sales were prohibited in my region. That’s the way things are in Russia. We have laws that ban the sales of alcohol to minors, punish drunk driving and inappropriate public behavior while being intoxicated, and politics as a populist move just add another ban instead of enforcing those already existing laws. There is not a single reason why I as a grown up man with a job, home, responsibilities and no criminal record whatsoever should not be allowed to buy a bottle of wine or beer. Not to mention retailers’ losses, this stupid act prevented me from buying classy tasty drink for the dinner while failing to prevent one completely wasted company of youngsters from making drunk noises in my neighborhood through most of the night.

no alcohol in samara oblast

Читать Ни выпивки, ни смысла по-русски.

Me too

Current music: Леонид Фёдоров - Весна

Director: Alexei Balabanov
Year:
2012
Country: 
Russia

Despite the risk of making impression of one more banal dead heroes fan on some inattentive readers, I must begin this review with comprehension of the position director had in rather thin cultural layer of Russian cinematography. While Alexei Balabanov’s earlier movies (“Happy days” for example) weren’t well known to the general public due to experimental nature and creative search for new forms at historical moment that wasn’t quite right for that, he hit the huge success later with one good shot. “Brother” wasn’t just unbelievably successful movie (which deserves its own story), it also started the strong line of movies that found different paths to the minds of many people. Some simply admired the determined and forceful heroes, while attention of others was captured by ably applied provocative themes. More sophisticated part of the public also had place to look for the deep meaning in shrill realistic drama and even European festival circles weren’t put aside of that. “War”, “Dead Man’s Bluff”, “It Doesn’t Hurt me”, “Morphine” – here are just few most vivid and memorable titles. There surely were some other sporadic local breakthroughs by different Russian directors, but no one else was as consistently good as Balabanov while being fully involved in work as true author and therefore stylistically recognizable.

Me too movie me too movie

Now with the realization of this fact let’s focus on his last work – “Me too” which once again wasn’t left me indifferent. This movie could be called the rethinking of famous “Stalker” in way of Russian orthodoxy with overloading of sometimes painful realism. The story that switched from sci-fi to mysticism is still very alike. It tells us about the group of people who’ve had enough in their lives that go to some wondrous and deadly place “somewhere between the Saint Petersburg and Uglich” in the quest of obtaining happiness. Well, saying mysticism is a bit of exaggeration because I meant not the dogmatic, fat, official Russian orthodoxy that speaks from high positions, constantly protests against something and kills its own congregation by expensive cars but rather naive and down-to-earth one. Metaphorically saying it’s orthodoxy narrated by simpler folk who’ve never read the Bible but who believes “there is something”. So in this film you won’t find judgemental rage or strict sacred rituals like in “The Exorcist” but there is plenty of primal fear, echoes of the pagan consciousness and scary stuff from popular folklore opening to the attentive eye. Even the incomprehensible and intangible higher power that presents here doesn’t vent its canonical anger upon the heads of unworthy. On contrary it silently ignores them leaving them to spend last minutes in deep uncertainty what was wrong. So you have no idea was it god, was it devil, great cosmos or smoke in mirrors.

By the way, what’s wrong is a really intriguing question. I personally am very far from idea of separation of people on totally good and absolutely evil like in mormons’ books. Moreover the group of characters in “Me too” has enough diversity and the only one thing probably to unite them is fact they have nothing to lose by and large. Fantastic phenomenon from Russian boondocks apparently works the same way everyday material world around us does: some were given, others weren’t, somebody was taken to the happy neverland, somebody was left to die on the dull earth.

me too movie кадр из фильма Я тоже хочу

There are more differences from “Stalker”. Strugatsky brothers despite being somewhat off the fickle political course were possessed by truly soviet idea of decomposing, analyzing and estimating every thing to cultivate those useful for their purposes and to destroy those that aren’t. Alexei Balabanov presents us pure chaos of existence through the eyes of worn-out man who have no time and no energy to find out the secrets of nature. That man is ok with gods’ chariots rattling in the sky and goblins lurking on the outskirts of the village. People in the movie are different from the poetic stalker portrayed by Tarkovsky. They don’t carry on lengthy conversations about the meaning of power and weakness, statics and mobility. They just breathe in abruptly after taking a sip of bitter alcohol medicine for too thickening reality. There is nothing to admire but strangely still something is catching you. Maybe it’s a poignant drama and familiar feeling of despair.

Regretfully some actions and their consequences are questionable, sometimes completely illogical. That’s where the visuals step in to bolster the whole construction. It’s filled with the aesthetics of frozen hell from western mythology where Russian people described in bylinas manage to live for centuries. Decay, darkness and death with time enshroud characters more and more tightly and seemingly touch the mind of a viewer as well. Because of that there is no time to seek out bloopers and technical mistakes. Look here! Second slanted electric pole that resembles cross. Was it a reference to “Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds”? No, perhaps not. Why is this girl in desperately try to survive the cold rushing to the drafty ruined church without a dome where the light of christian eternal life in the murals on the walls was trampled by inexorably disintegrating bricks instead of running to one of the abandoned houses? Considering such a satiation of visual images it’s almost shocking to know no decorations of any kind were build for the filming. Turns out moving the camera in the opposite direction from centers of civilization was enough work. Though view is fascinating in the city too. This includes Saint Petersburg in may with paint peeling from the walls, its claustrophobic courtyards and century old buildings which purpose you can never guess by the exterior. Most of the time those masterfully adjusted scenes are accompanied by psychedelic, almost shamanic rhymes whispered by Leonid Fedorov. The final result is so good that even when two fortune seekers move through dirty corridor with no words spoken it’s still not boring at all.

кадр из фильма Я тоже хочу кадр из фильма Я тоже хочу

The approach to acting is the same as with filming locations – to maximize the use of actors’ nature. They had not much to add their play. I don’t know for sure was it a big win in casting or scenario was written with certain actors in mind (some of them appeared in previous Balabanov’s films), but almost all of them had to play themselves. The role of determined thug was given to Alexei Mosin who actually fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Young son of the director Petr Balabanov played the unusual boy with strange abilities. Laconic old man in telnyashka was performed by rustic looking person in years by name Victor Gorbunov (internet shows nothing about him). Oleg Garkusha and Alexei Balabanov himself had roles of seasoned Russian rock musician who brings his guitar everywhere and famous movie director respectively. They didn’t pretend to be somebody, they lived few hours on camera. You can not be more natural than that.

Likely “Me too” didn’t become greatest Balabanov’s movie. He put himself in such a high standard of expectations that it became a very difficult task. Nevertheless this work is important both to form a correct perception of his whole way as creative author and to understand modern Russia as it was described in song – “half of the head is gone, half of the head is poison”. At the same time it is the demonstration of succession of generations and connection between different ages in the world of arts. Humanity always craves for happiness but even it the fairy-tale it seems impossible to everybody without anyone going away unsatisfied.

Rating: 7.5

Читать о фильме “Я тоже хочу” по-русски.

Movie Beauties 1 – Faites sauter la banque!

Current music: Dead Can Dance - A Passage In Time

I’m starting a new project called Planestranger’s Movie Beauties where I will present you series of short videos. The main goal is to attract viewers attention to some old, rare and obscure movies, unknown to most of the people. Here is the first episode. Comments, votes and shares would be appreciated.

Planestranger’s Movie Beauties 1 – Faites sauter la banque! from Planestranger on Vimeo.

One more reason for sadness

Current music: Dead Can Dance - Garden of the Arcane Delights: The Arcane

Think about all those people who are playing on their 3DS or PS2 connected to old CRT TV at the moment. They have a lot of fun playing with their beloved toys and nothing distracts them from an easy going electronic entertainment. There are surely lots of them while I’m sitting here with a rueful mien along my custom-made gaming PC with hi-end six-core CPU and couple of top gaming video cards carrying 6Gb of overclocked GDDR5 memory. I spent last hour and a half trying to run another game flawlessly at its fullest but still was unable to activate SSAA. It came with no surprise there is no such option in the game. I modified existing driver  preset for game many times trying lots of combinations but got nothing. I attached the game executable file to older tested presets and again nothing good happened. I’ve opened nvidia inspector (because nvidia control panel is completely useless)  more times than I will open the game itself. At this point I’m really tired of the fact that I have to solve mindblowing puzzle every time I start new game  if I want to see absolutely everything it has to offer. With last game I spend more time searching for solution in Internet and configuring options than it took me to beat the game itself.

At the time I’m typing this words some restless feeling of hatred raises from the depths of my mind. Powered by constant frustrations this feeling grows but it can not find its direction. Who should I hate for that? Game developers who never care about demands of the advanced users? Hardware manufacturers who prefer to sell 1000 video cards from lo-mid segment rather than 50 hi-end models, and treat drivers customization accordingly? Huge gaming portals that believe it’s appropriate to post such screenshots? Masses of casual gamers who don’t know what hardware is inside their computers and mix up anti-aliasing with anisotropic filtering? Or maybe I should hate myself for knowing and seeing too much?

Читать Ещё один повод для грусти по-русски.

About one of my works

Current music: Kraftwerk - Pocket Calculator

I want to tell about one of the websites I was working on lately. That was a project with a long history. The first time I was involved in autumn of 2012. I added some functionality which was absent since the developer who started the site had left. Also I had to rewrite some parts of the code because of the thing I prefer to call “unscrupulous programming”. What does that mean exactly? It’s pretty easy to explain. My precursor did intentionally write code that wasn’t supposed to work just as client wanted. Instead his programming created problems during usage that were not noticeable by brief look.  There were also mischievous tricks preventing compability with other software solutions. That way he hoped client will be forced to seek his services again and again.

Then couple of times I changed some features so website could meet the changing customer’s beliefs on how it should work, look and sound. Diplomatically speaking, not all of those decisions would have found acceptance by most professional designers and web-developers. However if the client is paying then he is right and I don’t argue with that. There were some additional difficulties mainly because of  the requirement to keep adding and editing of the content simple. Low-skilled computer user should be able to update information on the site.

After all metamorphosis the final result is quite unusual combination of very different technologies which all work together nonetheless. Site is based on the WordPress CMS using few deep buried features. It uses Flash, JavaScript of course,  but the most interesting thing is how pieces of archaic technology connect with modern progressive tools there.

During the work on bringing customer’s vision into reality the biggest difficulty was background music. It was supposed to play smoothly without interruptions while visitor is browsing pages. At first, I tried to make it by placing player in background popup. Not a very delicate decision I must confess. It wasn’t very effective one as well. Browsers are surprisingly effective in blocking popups nowadays. Furthermore the ways of controlling a window from its parent window by JavaScript aren’t cross-browser. It also was too late to rebuilt the whole site to AJAX which allows certain areas of the page to change while others (the one containing player for example) stay still. So, what did I finally choose?

I used frames. Yes, there is no mistake. I really mean those creepy old things that were last time described in HTML 4.01 in previous millennium. Frames took their place among other recognizable features of Web 1.0 era and already became obsolete when I was at school. If you ask search engine about it most likely there will be caution on the first page in the list saying you should restrain from using frames. Surprisingly frames happened to be useful in my situation.

JS works way better on controlling player in near frame than in near window. The problem with frameset structural integrity (normally you can only see correct frameset if you came from the main page of the website) was solved by JS-script which checks environment of the page, and PHP code which generates missing frame on the fly if one was missed. Another classical frames’ problem with displaying correct URL in browser’s address bar was nullified by using of History API, part of HTML5 standart. It’s relatively fresh technology. Some internet browsers just started to support it in last year but History API has already found utilization. You can see it working in russian social network VK for example.

All in all I believe I created rather elegant solution though site looks nothing like a golden medal or trophy you put on the most noticeable place in a room. I learned something new, I got more experience in web-programming. However my personal feelings don’t change the fact it’s just usual official website for small business, highly influenced by customer’s taste, decent at best.

P. S. I must apologize on behalf of all web-developers for sites with such annoying and totally wrong usage of sound. As wage-earners we have to make things we would never do by our own intention (at least I hope so)…

Читать Немного о работе по-русски.

My console games

Current music: Stillife - Raining December

I came back to console games not so long ago (in autumn of 2011 to be exact) after reasonable long period with PC only. My last hardware (I mean aside from emulation) console was well-remembered Sega MegaDrive II that become true classic in the world of gaming. However I didn’t turn it on since long gone and now powdered by the dust of history 90s.

Back then MegaDrive wasn’t my main and only gaming platform. Just like nowadays I don’t consider PS3 or PS Vita to be the superior devices for gaming. So there are not so many games in my possession (I would prefer to have at least twice as much) but some of them are pretty good exclusive releases.

My console games library
My console games library

About NHL Lockout

Current music: Metallica - King Nothing

Who of the hockey fans don’t know Bill Daly? He is the vice-commissioner of the League, the second person officially. Unofficially he is one of the worst scumbags in the world of sports. It’s looks like some weird time paradox brought here russian gangster from 90s (era of “primary capital accumulation”) to solve the financial and sport problems in NHL. They were just like that: no hair, no comprehension, no willing to discuss anything without the use of force.

Yesterday I read his latest statement about the negotiations:

Have we continued to move toward them (repeatedly) when we have said we wouldn’t? The answer is ‘yes.’ We obviously have stretched to try to make a deal. But at some point, enough is enough.

Then I thought what did league actually gave to NHLPA during negotiations? Where did they move towards the wishes of players? The only thing they “stretched” to is easing their own ultimatums.

– We demand to lower the salaries on the current contracts by 20%.

– Players reject this ultimatum.

One month passed.

– Well, let’s lower the salaries by 10% but another 10% will be paid in few years.

 

– We demand to limit the contracts duration to five years.

– Players can’t agree with that.

Another month passed.

– Alright, we’ll do you a favor allowing clubs to sign their free agents for seven years.

 

– We demand to limit change in salary during the contract to 5% maximum.

– We agree this field needs regulation but not such a strict one. We believe the minimum salary should be at least 25% of the maximum salary during the contract.

Even more time lost here.

– That’s unacceptable. The position of NHLPA is unreasonable.

 

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating here. I just translated the whole story from the language of the diplomatically correct official statements to the language of simple constructive dialogue. Now let’s try to imagine how NHLPA could “move forvard” to the league and club owners.

– We demand to double the salary on all current contracts.

– O_o?!!!!!!

– Maybe we can give you more, let’s add 50% to all salaries.

 

– We demand to cancel the players draft system.

– WTF?!!!

– Okat, only because we love hockey so much and have respect to hockey fans, we will change our proposal. The draft will stay but clubs’ exclusive rights to the players will expire in one year after they were drafted.

 

– We demand to remove the salary cap.

– We are disappointed…

– That’s the hill we die on. Regretfully we are nowhere near the signing of new collective agreement.

 

Is it funny? Then why doesn’t anybody laughs about NHL bosses except Alexander Ovechkin?