Friday, November 26, 2010

A Perspective to the Bronze Soldier Controversy

The Bronze Soldier (officially - originally - "Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn") was erected in Tõnismäe Park, Tallinn in the Soviet Socialistic Republic of Estonia in 1947, some years after the Red Army had invaded the country and entered the capital. The city and the country had been invaded by Germany during Operation Barbarossa, after being invaded by USSR. The German troops had been hailed as liberators - Tallinn even had a street named after Adolf Hitler - but in reality, the Estonians were oppressed.

The huge statue of a Russian (or Soviet) soldier was modelled after the Estonian wrestler Kristjan Palusalu, who later, as a Soviet soldier fighting against Finland, defected to the Finnish side. It also served as a tombstone for several Soviet soldiers fallen in the battle for Tallinn.

In the Soviet times the statue was used for Soviet propaganda - foreign visitors were brought to honor the Soviet war effort and the Estonians were required to pay respect to their oppressors. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the status of the oppressors' monument was brought into question. It was renamed as "Monument To the Fallen in the Second World War" and in 2007 relocated to Tallinn Military Cemetery. This caused a huge uproar especially among the Russian population, who feel being oppressed by the Estonians and who feel that the Russians did "liberate" Estonia and paid a huge price for the effort.

The Soviet propaganda effort is world famous. When I found some Neuvostoliitto ("Soviet Union") magazines from the 1980's at an antiquarian in Oulu, I spotted an interesting "news report" related to the Bronze Soldier.

A rough translation of the caption:
The Friendship Cities Days are a good example of the friendship between Finland and the Soviet Union. The Kotka Days held in Tallinn became a true celebration. The people of Tallinn showed great hospitality to their Finnish friends. Friendship events were organized in the production factories and city offices. In the photos: Estonian ladies in national dresses greet the delegation from Kotka in the Tallinn Harbor. Representatives of the Soviet Union - Finland Society and the Finland - Soviet Union Society lay flowers at the Monument of the Hero Soldiers.
Some things to note about this repor, published probably in 1984t:

  • The report is about the Kotka Days (as a nice example of the friendship blah blah)
  • The two photos do not have anything related to the Finns who participated the event
  • The first photo features only the Estonian ladies, not the Finnish participants
  • In the second photo - which is bigger than the first photo and the caption combined - there are some friendship societieis' representatives paying respect to the Soviet war effort
Remember, this magazine was an official Soviet instrument of outreach and its contents were approved by its government (as it was published by them).

This news story pretends to be a nice report about the friendship between the two nations, or friendship cities, but how it is presented is a story of the significance of the Soviet military. The foreigners bow to the power of the blood of the heroic Soviet soldiers who brought freedom to Estonia.

Would this be possible without the oppression? It would not. Bringing the war to an end is something the Estonians value and are probably also thankful to the Red Army. However, this monument became one of the symbols of the Soviet oppression. Estonia was one of the first Soviet republics to secede in 1991, proud to regain its independence, and with the other Baltic ex-SSR's views the Soviet era as an age of oppression - just like under the German regime.

This anecdote from the past is, I believe, very representative of the way matters important to Soviets were represented to the public. It gives an insight into their propaganda and also to the Bronze Soldier controversy of 2007.

You might also want to see some other scans from the Neuvostoliitto magazine.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Scale of the Solar System

What does our solar system consist of? The Sun and eight (or nine) planets? A star and some sphere orbiting it? When you see a picture of the solar system, you often see a nice row of balls of different colors and sizes. You might read that some of them have moons (like we have our Moon). If you read further, you will learn about asteroids and comets, too.

One wonderful thing about the bodies orbiting around Sun (as everything, in the end, goes around it) is that they come in all sizes, all affected by gravity of each other.

Inspired by a link Aleksi Eeben shared on Facebook, I wanted to explore the scales of objects in our solar system a bit. I spent some four hours playing with Gimp, looking for information and NASA photos from Wikipedia and creating something that - I hope - someone will find interesting. (Note that the lengths mentioned are the longest axis of the object, unless stated otherwise.)

Unfortunately, I ran out of planets. After Saturn and Jupiter there were no planets left - in the final picture you'll find our good ol' yellow Sun shining. I know that there is another comparison (gif animation) circulating over the Net, so I am not continuing further.

If you like this image series, hate it, or have some ideas (I cannot promise I will fix possible errors...), just leave a comment!

Let us start with some buildings on Earth (with one airship), in the company of some dangerous Near Earth Asteroids, with one corner of Toutatis showing in the background...

Now we zoomed out ten fold, revealing the shape of Toutatis. Next to it we have some other rocks - namely the periodic comet Tempel 1 and Dactyl, the tiny moon of asteroid Ida. In the background there is already Mars' moon Deimos looming.

Now we have a nice collection of greyish interplanetary objects in view. In company of the irregular Deimos we can see the famous Ida (whose moon we already saw), Halley's Comet (only the nucleus - the tail can be millions of kilometers long) and the asteroid Eris, whose shape is very peculiar. In the background we see the first actually spherical object in this series.

The spherical object was Mimas, a moon of Saturn, famous for its crater which makes the moon look like the Death Star from Star Wars! Enceladus' smooth surface is impressive, but these icy moons are quite tiny when compared to Triton.

We have now passed the 1,000 km mark. Triton, which orbits Neptune, is a fascinating little world and a surface with many features. The same cannot be said of Titan, which has an atmosphere that blocks the view to the surface. The boringly gray ball on the right is own Moon. It is only natural to have Earth in the background. But what if it was Titan orbiting us, instead of the Moon?

Earth is much bigger than any moon in the solar system but it is no match to the big boys: the gas planets in the outer solar system. Of them, here we see the cyan-colored Uranus. Its featureless cloud layers may seem pale in comparison with the giant Saturn behind it.

The two giants, Jupiter and Saturn, are here. They fit well in the same picture, but they are overshadowed (or overlit?) by the only star in our solar system.

Maybe I could have spent those four hours better. On the other hand, I think not.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Online Photo Galleries - DIY, Picasa or Flickr?

A photographer will probably want to share his/her photos with friends, family or maybe everyone on this planet. I like to convert situations into JPEG files - which means taking photographs. That creates a need for online galleries as well.

My Ann Arbor gallery at Picasa
For long, it has been my way to do things by myself. I have coded (first static HTML, later dynamic) my home page and other web sites. I have also created a couple of scripts for generating simple photo galleries - I considered the plethora of features the ready solutions had as extra and unnecessary. For the most part, they were and still are.

However, as I bought a real camera and started to travel around the world, and also embedded myself more in the world of social networks, features as commenting, tagging (including geotagging) and integrating to other services became more important. I started thinking of moving my mobile phone camera shots to some online gallery - as my Samsung Galaxy S has an integration to both Flickr and Picasa (in addition to Facebook and others).

By some intuition, I dislike Yahoo. It is some irrelevant, obsolete portal from the 1990's, and a home to several obsolete social networking sites and technologies. Flickr is owned by Yahoo. Also, there is a more apparent connection between Flickr and its owner than Picasa and its owner (Google) - on Flickr, you get 100 megabytes of free gallery space per month but you can buy more. Picasa gives you 1 GB of total space, and you can use your existing Google account.

I may be a bit of a luddite, but I still cannot grasp the functionality of Flickr. It has interesting features but it lacks the traditional clarity of Picasa. Maybe Flickr should be seen as a photo community, not a personal photo gallery. For my purposes, it seems that Picasa is better. Also, the Picasa desktop application works quite well on Windows! Sharing photos is extremely easy, though you must adjust your style or organizing files and directories to its liking (something I really don't like).

Go see my Ann Arbor gallery at Picasa!

This was also the first post in my blog. As I am writing this, I have no idea whether this will also be the last one. Who knows?