Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On emerging dictatorships

Saturday, September 16th, 2023

In some cases authoritarian governments come suddenly, usually as the result of a coup or a legal loophole (Article 48 of Weimar Constitution is an example codified in ages), in other cases the power grab goes gradually like in the famous frog-in-the-boiling-water metaphor. It’s easy to act surprised, as the things are almost the same as they were yesterday or last year, but usually there are tell-tale signs of a country going into authoritarianism. Here I’d like to remind about them.

Probably the most important of them is the judicial branch reform that de facto cancels its independency as the government controls who gets appointed as a judge. After you get loyal judges who’s going to stop your unlawful reforms? We had such situation in Ukraine during 2010-2014 (even without any factual reform; but more about Ukraine later), Poland tries to get it (and that’s disturbing), Hungary has done it (of course), Israel is doing it right now (which may end too bad for the country) and so on. But usually at this stage the things are so bad that the actual dictatorship (or demokratur) is merely the next step, are there any earlier signs?

Again, one of the important but rather late signs is unwillingness to part with power. It may happen in any circumstances but usually it’s parliamentary republic with a dominating party and the same prime minister for decades. There may be a president but he or she is a nominal figure while the prime minister remains at power (see Georgia, Germany, Hungary or Israel). Of course it may still not work out like with Merkel, who had to retire after sixteen years, without leaving a good successor candidate in her own party; IMO she should’ve got a prison sentence for serving russian interests but she got awarded a Grand Cross for that instead. I feel the maximum term for any such post should be about twelve years and anybody, who like the current (since 2010) Hungarian prime minister say they want to remain for another twenty years, should be put to prison immediately. South Korea has a good idea with its presidents, a good deal of them were either shot or imprisoned after their term was over. In Fourecks they imprison politicians right after they’re elected (so save time)—but alas it’s a fictional continent.

But usually it’s not one single person but somebody with a support of major party. And, surprisingly enough, those parties usually have something in common: they rely on populism, promoting “traditional values” to the extent of being against anything new, and very often seeing USA and “the West” as their enemies. In other words, promising to return the country to the times of past glory (or at least when the situation was not so bleak) and blaming foreigners and their agents on everything bad that has happened since those times (I’m sorry if that does not reduce the list of possible candidates by much, that’s the state of modern politics). I should probably add another thing to cheap populism: creating show by solving issues nobody had like renaming a country. I can understand why Congo does not want its capital named after the Belgian king who is responsible for mass genocide in the country (and for the same reason Ukraine renames its towns and streets), I can understand why a country renames itself from Rhodesia, I can understand when a country introduces a preferred name while still recognizing the old one (like Czechia or Sakartvelo). But demanding that your country called abroad differently without any apparent reason for renaming sounds like a cheap gesture to show your own people that your country is proud and how others have to comply with it (while drawing attention from more important issues). In case it’s not obvious I’m talking about The Country Formerly Known As Turkey and The Country Most Likely To Be Known As Modi Raj.

The very minor signs would be the corruption potential: if a party serves interests of an oligarch or an oligarch group it is naïve to expect from it to have no attempts to seize power and hold it as long as possible to exercise it for profit and to avoid prosecution. And a thing related to it—friendship with russia (usually paid from the russian side).

In the end I’d like to talk about Ukraine to serve as an example. There were two and a half attempts to grab power in its recent history. First attempt was made by the second president, Leonid Kuchma: back in the day he even traded some presidential privileges for some additional executive functions he could perform. Over the years he increased his power, often with a help of shady people like Pavlo Lazarenko (famous for being a Ukrainian prime minister, a citizen of Panama and building so wide corruption network that he served a prison sentence in the USA for it) or Yuriy Kravchenko (who turned police into his personal mob). Kuchma often solved problems by firing the current prime minister and selecting a new candidate. Still that has not saved him from the consequences of murdering Gongadze and the Cassette Scandal. Another fun fact is that Ukrainian oligarch Pinchuk had a nickname “Kuchma’s-son-in-law” (because he really was one). It is also said that he tried to game the system by trying to organise 2004 elections in such a way that both candidates would lose and he would remain by default. Those elections and rigged counting though caused so much public outrage (called the first Maidan) that they had to repeat the vote.

The second attempt was when viktor yanukovich assumed the post of the president and the Party of Regions (from which he came) got the majority in the parliament. Those were dark times when he used kangaroo courts to deal with his opponents (because no judge could be appointed at that time without approval from the President’s Office) and cancel previous constitutional reform limiting presidential power; people affiliated with him (“the Family”) could raid and steal other businesses and it is said they managed to steal a sixth of the country budget every year in addition to that. As you know, it ended by him selling Ukraine to russia, fleeing the country and starting the war that goes to this day. It is less remembered that during his last days of presidency his party tried to pass the same laws as in russia to limit the freedoms and allow to prosecute the protesters easily. It did not work out.

The half-attempt is when Volodymyr Zelensky became a president and his party got majority in the parliament (mostly thanks to his image). He had not so great decisions in the beginning (and the parliament supported them) so it could end badly. But then a führer decided to take Kyiv in three days and the Ukrainian nation united against the enemy once again. Since then Zelensky (and somewhat his party) act decently because it’s the matter of survival. Who knows how it will go after the victory but for now I have nothing else to say about him.

I hope this brief review of Ukrainian political history served an example of how important it is to stop authoritarianism when you can still do it without human casualties. Revolutions often take a much higher price…

The Unfinished Puzzle from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

In the previous post I’ve mentioned that one of the levels contain an unfinished witch puzzle probably based on Match Two that also contains various photos of the (presumably team and their families (about a dozen of them actually). I also wanted to tell a bit more about it and since I’m working on boring parts of NihAV and it will take a while, why not tell the story now?

Chiariglione Is Right

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

I guess everybody else has reacted on his post about MPEG crisis so I can do that as well. So, $postname—most people just don’t understand his outlook. If you interpret his words from his point of view it’s clear he’s right for most of the things.

Popular Swedish Bus Routes

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Sweden has a lot of local bus routes and every region (or län) has its own most popular bus route:

  • for Stockholm and Örebro län it’s “Ej i trafik” (something like “not participating in public transit service”, “trafik” in Swedish often means both [car] traffic and public transport service);
  • for Södermanland it’s “Är ej i trafik” (“Is not in service”);
  • in Östergötland it’s “Tyvärr, ej i tjänst” (“Sorry, not in service”).

The joke is that while there are many numbered bus routes (hundreds in Stockholm län), the regulations make bus drivers rest after completing a route so quite often a bus arrives to the end station, unloads all passengers, changes its route number to the one above and goes away; then, obviously, another bus (or the same one after the driver has rested) comes to pick passengers. Since I almost never travel by bus in Germany (we have trams here after all), most of my bus trips happened in Ukraine and Sweden—and those countries differ in approach to drivers indeed.

Another interesting thing is the variety of buses: in Stockholm län you have buses going on trunk lines—quite often those are articulated buses and they’re always painted blue—and ordinary buses (always red); some buses are double-deckers, like on bus route 676 (Stockholm-Norrtälje) and some coaches are double-deckers too (I still fondly remember travelling on top floor of one from Luleå to Sundsvall—no fond memories about Ukrainian bus trips though). And in Norrland they still have skvaders (aka buses with additional cargo departments). Also buses in Stockholm län quite often have USB chargers for every seat and even WiFi—everything for passenger comfort.

It’s quite interesting that some bus routes are operated by two buses: for example, if I want to get from Bromma to Portugal (a place on Adelsö island near Stockholm) I’d take bus 312 which goes to Sjöangen, there I’d step out, get into new bus 312 waiting there while the previous bus goes to the rest. Also it’d travel on a ferry which I also like for some reason.

So there’s something interesting about Swedish buses after all. But railways are still much better (more comfort, higher speeds, less problems from car traffic etc etc) and definitely more awesome (I’ve witnessed rail bus pushing a fallen fir from the tracks less than a week ago—try finding an ordinary bus doing that). But it’s still nice to know that Sweden has good things beside people, trains, food, drinks and nature.

P.S. This seems to have gone a bit further than just describing how popular bus routes differ in various Swedish regions. Hopefully my upcoming NowABitClearerVideo post would go the same way.

A Short Essay on Bitstream Reading

Monday, May 15th, 2017

So, it has come to this. How does bitstream reading might work. Here I’ll try to present several ways to read bits and variable-length codes.

A Short Guide to Julmust/Påskmust

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Unfortunately I was not able to visit Sweden this Easter season — it was merely 6 days in Stockholm. Yet I’ve managed to try one of the reasons I come to Sweden — påskmust. For those who don’t know what it is — shame on you! For the rest here’s my incomplete and biased guide.

Some old julmust photo. Left to right: Nygårda, Eldorado (Hemköp), ICA, Coop, Wasa, Apotekarnes. Lying is the Lidl julmust.

Some old påskmust photo (probably from 2011). Left to right: Mora, Nygårda, Apotekarnes, ICA, probably Lidl, Eldorado (Hemköp), Coop. Lying are ordinary and special Wasa påskmust. Front bottle is from Guttsta Källa.

This year catch. Back row: Wasa special, ICA, Apotekarnes. Front row: Nyckelbryggeri, Zeunerts, Grebbestads bryggeri, Mora, Nygarda, Danish abomination.

So one can divide julmust/påskmust into four categories:

  1. Widespread must from large producers or supermarket chains. That includes Apotekarnes, Nygårda and must made for Coop, Hemköp, ICA and Lidl. But not for Netto, see category four for that.
  2. Must from Norrland breweries. Nyckelbryggeri, Wasa and Zeunerts are most known. And maybe Mora.
  3. Must from non-Norrland breweries. Guttsta Källa, Grebbestads, Hammars (I have to try that one yet).
  4. Abominations from people who don’t know how to make proper must. That includes Bjäre must from C*ca-cola, Harboe must from Netto (made in Denmark) and whatever Danish stuff I tried this year. Concentrate for making must at home probably belongs here too.

The taste is hard to describe but it’s really nice and makes me think of liquid bread for some reason. The main difference is Norrland/non-Norrland must. Julmust and påskmust in Norrland style is less sweet and usually has a hint of coffee. Must from large producers is usually sweeter than the rest. Wasa bryggeri produces two kinds of must — special, available only in Norrland and made after Norrland traditions, and ordinary, available in Svealand and with taste closer to the more widespread varieties.

Danish must is either bland or plainly wrong. The one I tried this year is not actually bad, it’s just completely wrong — it contains e.g. raspberry juice and cola extract. If I drink påskmust I want to be påskmust, not a weird mix of Pommac and Trocadero that probably has only water and sugar in common with the other påskmust recipes.

And now is the actual guide. If you want to try it then start with widespread påskmust you can find in any Swedish supermarket, it should be fine. If you like it that way then be happy, if you want something less sweet then try smaller breweries and especially Norrland ones (it’s hard to find it outside Norrland though). And if you are not in season then you can still try something similar — bordsdricka from Wasa or sommarmust from Nyckelbryggeri should be available (in Norrland).

P.S. You can extrapolate it to Trocadero as well except there’s less variation in taste and there’s no supermarket or Danish version.

H.265: An Alternative History

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

As you might remember, alternative history genre is modelling events based on real history but with something gone differently. Here’s what could’ve happened with H.265 but didn’t.

So, finally there’s a new standard released — ITU H.265. It promises twice as low bitrate for the same picture quality in H.264. Yet people do not care much about it since industry leaders offer their solutions:

China introduces their new standard for video coding — Hybrid Enhanced Video Standard or HEVS for short. It features quadtree representation of coding blocks, more than thirty spatial prediction modes, block transforms from 4×4 to 32×32 and has one unique feature — motion vectors that implicitly take mirror references from reference picture lists. This standard is nominated for main video coding standard on CUVRD (China ultraviolet ray disc) but gains little popularity outside China.

On2 makes a new codec named VP9 that has no open specifications. After tedious reverse engineering it turns out to employ coding scheme from VP5 times, spatial and motion prediction from H.265 with slightly altered coefficients and overall coding scheme from H.265 drafts.

Re… buffering… alNetworks releases NGV at last (fourcc RV50). Again, after long studies of binary specification, it turns out to be based on H.265 drafts with some in-house improvements: using context-specific codebooks for elements coding, ?-pel motion compensation (which is implemented as motion vectors pretended to be ?-pel but in reality several different positions are handled by the same function). The codec goes very popular in China for some reason.

Sorenson releases SVQ7. It is based on old H.265 draft and employs ?- and ?-pel motion compensation. It has some additional features like watermarking and quickly becomes the codec of choice for QuickTime.

P.S. Good thing nothing like this has really happened.

A Bit on Germany

Friday, November 21st, 2014


An excerpt from a book that I have to refer sometimes (here’s the source, it really tells a lot about proper relationship. Ask a nearby German for a translation if you need it.

P.S. Next post will be about a codec technical description, I promise.

A Bit on Italy

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Italy is a good country (piecewise) — nice scenery, decent food (and pasta), nice architecture…
There’s but one thing that annoys me, I think you’ll be able to spot it on those two pictures.

Milan, a corner of via Vitruvio and via Benedetto Marcello.

Turin, largo Cassini.

I cannot say it for sure but I remember Ukrainian markets (right after closing time) being cleaner than that.

On Anime

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I’ve finally bought a DVD with an anime I wanted to watch. And it was awesome. Here are some screenshots.









P.S. I should probably visit Småland next summer.