Archive | 2007
December 16, 2007

Flickr moblog test post

Flickr moblog test post, originally uploaded by lfincher.

Testing out flickr’s moblog capability

[Brilliant. It actually works. Now that I can post to via my phone, I'll never have to use my computer to actually write a post that contains any substance whatsoever. Instead, I will merely post poor quality photos from my Treo, with brief descriptions that lack proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Eh, kidding. This could be a fun feature to use when I'm traveling.]

December 11, 2007

Selected thoughts while riding the DC metro, Volume I

Am I the only person on this train who is not reading Love in the Time of Cholera? Oh, Charlie Wilson’s War? Yeah, read that years ago.

If the Soviets had built this system, I’d be home by now…in a crowded, dilapidated apartment on the outskirts of Moscow. But still, I’d be home.

What I wouldn’t give right now to be stuck in traffic on the 10, or the 5. Jesus, even the 15 would be better than this underground hell.

Green line trains every 12 minutes during rush hour? SERIOUSLY?!

The driver of this train has to be drunk right now.

These delays on the red line have filled me with so much rage that I must put up a profanity-laden status message on GChat when I finally arrive at my destination.

I really hope the volume on my iPod is sufficiently low enough so that my fellow passengers don’t know I’m listening to “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears.

December 10, 2007

Dmitry Medvedev: Russia’s next President


Vladimir Putin has publicly endorsed Dmitry Medvedev, the 42-year old first deputy prime minister of the Russian government and chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, as his successor to the position of Russian president. With Putin’s endorsement, Medvedev is expected to easily win the upcoming presidential election scheduled for March 2008.


Clearly, this is a brilliant move by Putin. As we all know, people who choose to work in the energy industry (and in particular, natural gas) are effin’ geniuses. Best of luck, Dmitry.

December 9, 2007

Another reason to love Google: GMail and AIM integration

Google is the greatest corporation EVER. They provide me with the best web-based e-mail on the market, a wonderful news site to keep track of my favorite topics, an awesome feed aggregator, analytical tools for this website, an online word processor, and driving directions so that I don’t get lost trying to navigate this region’s bizarre freeway system (still, I usually manage to make a few wrong turns and end up in, like, Pennsylvania). Sometimes, Google even deposits money into my bank account.

And now I can login to my AOL Instant Messenger account (which I haven’t done in like a year) while in GMail and chat with my friends who are using either service. I will now revert to my college habit of keeping AIM and GMail on 24/7 for no real reason whatsoever, other than to support my favorite utility, PEPCO.

December 7, 2007

Panel Discussion with Gazprom’s Alexander Medvedev



This past Monday, I attended a Georgetown University panel discussion that featured Alexander Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Gazprom, the largest producer and exporter of natural gas in the world. In addition to Medvedev, the panel included an assortment of representatives from the corporate and academic realms (props to my roommate for letting me know about the event). I took down a few notes that someone might find useful:

Sarah Carey (a director of the Yukos Oil Company from 2001-2004):
- The EU suffers from “post-Ukraine crisis syndrome.” Russia’s actions during the “gas war” of 2006 were “heavy handed but the rationale was clear.”
- Examples of overzealous Western criticism:

Vice President Cheney’s Vilnius Speech: “Other actions by the Russian government have been counterproductive, and could begin to affect relations with other countries. No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation. And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements.”

Washington Post editorial, February 2006: “This time Putin has avoided open intervention in the campaign. Instead he triggered the gas crisis and presented his Ukrainian enemies with a choice: Swallow a mammoth midwinter price increase for the fuel Ukrainians use to heat their homes, just weeks before the election, or hand Russia a commanding long-term stake in Ukrainian energy infrastructure — and the ability to trigger a gas supply crisis at any time.”

International Herald Tribune, January 2006: “Gazprom used to sell energy cheaply to the former republics as a legacy of the old command economy. It can argue with some justification that it should charge market prices. And it is certainly entitled to object to gas destined for Ukraine being sold at a profit to other countries. At the same time, it is hard to escape the thought that the Russian government is pressuring Ukraine by using gas supplies the way Soviet leaders sometimes used tanks and soldiers.”

Thane Gustafson (Professor, Georgetown University):
- With the increasing use of LNG, the natural gas industry is starting to resemble the business of producing oil
- Gazprom took the risk of building pipeline system “on spec”
- Gazprom’s Marketing and Trading arm is bundling carbon credits with gas, essentially providing their customers with a “carbon neutral package”
- Looking ahead: Gazprom’s conquest of the Yamal Peninsula

Tim Sutherland (CEO, Pace Global Energy Services):
- In regards to the Shtokman gas field, contrary to news reports, Gazprom hoped that a US company would prevail in the bidding process
- Russia is prepared “to fill a vacuum that is ever widening” between U.S. energy production and consumption and will be able to meet US energy needs through LNG.
- West needs to move past Reagan’s mantra of “trust and verify”, and simply trust.

Alexander Medvedev (Deputy Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors, Gazprom and Director-General of Gazexport):
- Gazprom is responsible for 1/4 of the world’s gas exports and has been a reliable supplier for over 40 years
- In the United States, natural gas fired power plants are the only near term solution to meet electricity demand due to various state regulations and bans on coal fired power plants (ie, California)
- Part of Gazprom’s refocused strategy: Shipping Russian LNG to North America
- Presenting themselves as the solution to China’s greenhouse gas emissions. China could eliminate something like 400 million tons of CO2 by switching from coal to Russian-provided natural gas
- Gazprom, like any other energy company, is “in business to make money in an extremely competitive commodity market”.
- Dedicated to openness and transparency; “no one wants any more Enron cases”
- There is no reason why Gazprom’s contracts shouldn’t be done in rubles once the currency is fully convertible. It is a reflection of the stability and strength of the Russian economy.

On a lighter note, Medvedev is also captain of the GazpromExport hockey team (a bunch of pipeline engineers playing hockey?), and ended his speech by noting that three Russians (Ovechkin, Semin, and Kozlov) currently play for the Washington Capitals and an American, Barry Smith, is head coach of the SKA St. Petersburg Russian hockey team. It is his hope, he stated, that this mutual reciprocity between the United States and Russia would be extended to energy issues as well.

December 3, 2007

Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition

Over the past two months, we’ve had quite a few bullets flying around my Columbia Heights neighborhood. Just last Monday, around 6pm, I arrived home from work to the sight of 10 MPD cars cordoning off various streets. Another shooting, this time in an alley down the street from the metro station.

In an attempt to quell the violence, MPD announced that they will be spending $3 million on anti-gang initiatives and ShotSpotter, an interesting piece of technology that automatically detects gunfire and notifies police dispatchers of the location where shots were fired:

“In the past, the best information the police could hope for was a neighbor calling to say, ‘Sorry to bother you, but there may have been a shooting somewhere in my neighborhood,’” says ShotSpotter CEO James Beldock. “Our system can immediately tell them that, say, 11 rounds were fired from a car going 9 miles an hour, northbound, in front of a specific address on Main Street. In some situations, ShotSpotter could get someone on the scene within a minute. That’s a level of situational knowledge police have never had.”

This kind of coverage requires an array of 12 to 20 specialized sensors per square mile. Roughly the size of a medium pizza and designed to look like a rooftop fan, each sensor contains up to four small microphones. If one of these units detects a loud noise, it forwards a recording to a server at police headquarters along with three pieces of information: location, time, and general direction the sound came from. If a sound is detected by only one sensor, it’s probably too quiet to be gunfire, and in any case, the system needs data from three sensors to pinpoint the location of a noise. If several sensors report an event at the same time, the server gets to work. First, the software performs an analysis to categorize the noise as gunfire, firecrackers, bottle rockets, helicopters, or other. If it determines the event was a gunshot, the program makes a simple calculation to triangulate the sound’s origin to within 80 feet or less.

Other cities that have deployed ShotSpotter include Oakland, Chicago, and Baghdad.

December 3, 2007

Two hours and a bottle of whiskey


NYTimes reporters interviewed several Russians after they voted on Sunday’s elections. Here are a few of the quotes:

“I voted for United Russia because for the last few years quality of life has improved and the country’s economy has stabilized. Without political stability, there can be no economic stability. In the presidential elections, I will probably vote for Putin: I approve of his course.”
— Dmitry Sablin

“For Putin, specifically for Putin. Everyone trusts him. We see the results of his work. I’d need two hours and a bottle of whiskey to explain all that he’s done.”
— Nadezhda Aleksandrovna

“I voted for Putin because Russia has become a strong country. I lived through that nightmare of the Yeltsin era. It’s like night and day.”
— Sergei Troshin

Voted for Mr. Putin, “for our beloved,” because “he is smart and just.” “Things are not all good, but he’s trying. Pensions are paid, and I had a free eye surgery.”
— Antonina Kotova, a pensioner

For United Russia. “I am tired of instability. I do not fear a one-party system because there are enough old people to vote for Communists. And Russia has already crossed a certain line, so we are not going to have a new father of the people in this country.”
— Larisa, a doctor

“Actually, I voted for Putin, I like him and just wanted to do something nice for him.”
— Lyudmila Akekseyevna, pensioner

Wife: “My husband voted for the Communist Party and I for United Russia. My husband has a technical education, and was swayed by the Nobel Laureates, like Zhores Alfyorov, who are in the Communist Party.”
Husband: “And in the other parties, there is only junk.”
Wife: “Don’t interrupt! I have thought long about this.”
Husband: “Yes, you’re only sorry for poor Putin.”
Wife: “Of course, there are many in United Russia whom I don’t like, so if Putin wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have voted for the party.”
— Mikhail Ivanovich and his wife, who would not give her name, both pensioners

No Diebold voting machines?

December 2, 2007

Caspian energy news

Lots of stuff going on in the Caspian littoral states during the past month.

November, Greece and Turkey inaugurated a gas pipeline that will carry gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field (transported into Turkey via the South Caucasus Pipeline that was constructed parallel to the BTC) into Europe:

“The project is extremely significant — and fundamentally political,” said Julian Lee, a senior analyst with the Center for Global Energy Studies, a London-based research group. “It offers diversified supplies of energy to Europe without going through Russia — an objective encouraged by the United States.”

A few days later, Gazprom and Eni signed a contract to conduct a feasibility study on the “South Stream” pipeline linking Russia to Europe via the Black Sea.

The Russians are also inching closer to a final agreement with Turkmenistan on the Prikaspiisky Pipeline, which, much to the chagrin of the U.S. government, would tighten Moscow’s control over Turkmenistan’s vast natural gas reserves (as well as Kazakhstan’s). Still, Turkmen president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov appears to favor this arrangement with Moscow over one in which Turkmenistan would have to develop “a transparent, stable and market-oriented legal, fiscal and regulatory framework” in order to attract Western capital. LOL, Secretary Bodman.

Gazprom also agreed to pay the Turkmens a lot more for their gas, which they weren’t very happy about:

Earlier this week, Gazprom’s CEO Aleksei Miller blamed the US and EU for the impending and unexpectedly large price hike, saying these Western powers have argued that Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries could get more money for their gas if they support gas pipeline projects bypassing Russia. Lobbying for such a project boosted the bargaining power of Turkmenistan, he suggested.

The Bush Administration is trying to play catch-up in the region by appointing Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, to a new State Department position of Senior Envoy for Russian and Caspian related issues. I dunno, seems like too little, too late.

In Kazakhstan, the Eni-led consortium continues to encounter trouble. Kazakhstan is demanding that the consortium pay $7 billion in compensation to make up for the production delays at Kashagan.
Also, BP discovered a significantly large amount of natural gas at Shah Deniz, and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) announced it was interested in developing assets in the Caspian, but would avoid Russia because the risks are “too high.” Russia’s “oil windfall” Stabilization Fund, meanwhile, will hold $158 billion by the end of this year. Part of the revenue will be spent on infrastructure improvement, pension increases, and car rims encrusted with colored Swarovski crystals.

December 1, 2007

“Budapest? I’ve never even heard of that.”

Like, I know they speak French there, don’t they?
This is mainly for the amusement of my Hungarian friend, Csaba.

This clip was taken from Fox’s show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Kellie Pickler, who is apparently not smarter than a 5th grader, was formerly a contestant on that dreadful American Idol show.

(H/T Worldhum)

November 30, 2007

United Russia’s GOTV activities



A small sampling of GOTV, Russian style:

Ivan, power station worker, Ufa

Every worker is being forced to take an absentee ballot and instructed to vote at one particular polling station with the rest of the workforce, all together for United Russia. It will be very easy for them to count who has turned up, who hasn’t, and how they’ve voted. On every shift, in every department we are constantly being told that if you don’t comply you’ll get the sack.

Yelena, nurse, Ulan Ude
Every week we have a work briefing in our poliklinik [doctor's surgery]. They are always pressing on us to vote for United Russia. The head doctor … says that if we don’t vote for United Russia we won’t get our Putin pribavki [federal funds added to nurses' salaries].

Dasha, 19, student, Moscow
I was hanging out with my friends in Novogireyevo [in Moscow] near the metro. There were six of us. We were approached by a car. A young man came out. He started talking to us about the elections and said if we wanted to vote for United Russia we could get 500 roubles. I didn’t agree but four of my group did. They filled in some kind of form – name, surname and passport data. They were given the numbers of polling stations where they should go and vote and get the cash.

Anastasiya, 40, librarian, Buryatia
There was a meeting in the village where all doctors, teachers, nurses were gathered by the culture department of the local government … The doors were closed and we were like hostages. We were told write a declaration saying “I, name and surname, pledge to vote for United Russia and these are my passport details …” We were told that if United Russia got a high percentage in the village we would get a bonus on our salaries.

Natalia, 29, Novosibirsk
Some activists from United Russia came to my home. They asked if I was going to vote for their party. I said no because I don’t agree with its ideology. And they replied, Well, look, there’s blacklist of people who aren’t voting for United Russia. We know where you live and we are going to add you to that list.

Masha, student, Vladimir
We were told – you study in a state university, so you should vote for the state party. I don’t know what to do. I wanted to vote for another party. But it was so difficult to get into university, I don’t want to be thrown out.

My personal favorite was the line “Well, look, there’s blacklist of people who aren’t voting for United Russia. We know where you live and we are going to add you to that list.” I’ll have to try that out the next time I do some campaign work here in the States.