Russia - A Unique Land

Well, it's almost here. Just a few more hours and we're taking off for the Motherland. I can't believe it's been 3 years since I've been home from my mission! It is certainly crazy. Even crazier is that Anya and I will be celebrating our 2 year anniversary while there. It is going to be great to get away for a bit and relax some. It has been 2 years since we have taken a vacation so this is a well deserved break.

As I head back to Russia, I have a much better understanding of what the Russian culture is like than when I was serving my mission there. Not only have I had time to think about my mission and learn from it, but I've been living with a Russian now for 2 years :). A lot of people are still confused about what Russia is really like and I still get funny questions all the time. As a result, I have decided that over the next 2 weeks, I am going to be writing blog posts about the things I find unique and peculiar about the Great Mother Russia. Really, these things may not be unique to Russia but they are differences between Russia and America (the two countries I have spent so much time in). Here is a list of different topics that I plan to blog about:

  • McDonalds in Russia
  • Train
  • Apartment Buildings
  • Street Conditions (roads, drunks)
  • Rionok
  • Bus/Tram/Gazelle
  • CDs/DVDs and Copyright Laws
  • Grandmother's selling
  • No bags in stores
  • Church Members
  • Moscow Metro
  • Food/Candy

If you have any preference about what I blog about first, or if there is something else you would like to hear about, please leave a comment and let me know. I hope that others will make comments on my posts who have also been to Russia so we can get some different perspectives on subjects. As a warm up, here are a few pictures from the great country:

The first thing people think of when they think of Russia. (Moscow)

How most of Russia actually looks (see those beautiful homes in the background). (Izhevsk)

And yes, Russia really is beautiful. (Samara)

Gmail Importer - Not Quite There

I can't believe that its been nearly a month since I posted here. We are going to Russia in 3 days!!! I can't wait. I will have lots to post about while I am there. Expect lots of posts when I get back.

I recently tested Google's new import tool to move all of your e-mail from your current e-mail provider to start using Gmail. I have been thinking about moving over to Gmail as my primary account, but I wasn't sure. I decided to see how the new import tool worked.

To start, I created a dummy Gmail account since the feature doesn't yet work with existing Gmail accounts, and besides I wanted to test it out anyways.

After creating my account, I had 3 e-mails in my Inbox which is definitely new as usually there is only 1 e-mail. One of them had instructions on importing my e-mails from other accounts.

To get started, I went to my settings and found the "Accounts and Import" tab (used to be just the "Accounts" tab) and found the button to import my old mail.

It took me through a pretty simple process of entering my e-mail address and password to access the old mail.

It then gave me some options for how I wanted my e-mails to be imported. I changed the tag from my e-mail address to say hotmail, but other than that I just left everything default.

Once I clicked the import button, I got the following screen that said I would need to wait for up to 2 days.

I went to bed and in the morning when I loaded Gmail back up, all of my e-mails had been moved over along with my contacts.

Well, almost all of my e-mails. Actually it looks like they are slowly pulling over all of the e-mails. And I mean slowly. It has now been more than a week since I signed up for the service and I still don't even have half of my e-mails moved over. Another issue that I found was that different languages don't seem to import correctly. Here is an example of what I am talking about.

Yes, that is Russian to me too :).

Overall, I think there is still some work to do before using this tool. Specifically, I think the overall time to import e-mails needs to be decreased significantly. Secondly, they need to figure out how to import e-mails in all languages. Since I have a lot of Russian e-mails, this is a problem. I think that this is an awesome idea though and once again, props to Google for another great idea. I am sure the kinks will work themselves out over the next couple of months.

Remember the Milk

It's been a few weeks since I did a technology review of something cool that makes my life easier. I have been meaning to write about my to-do list for some time now but just haven't gotten to it. Remember the Milk is an awesome to-do list that manages what projects and tasks that you have coming up. I have been using it for about six months and have just recently discovered some more of it's awesomeness that has led me to use it even more.

I don't do well with to-do lists that are written and I always lose them and in the end it just never works out. Enter Remember the Milk to the rescue. The basic flow of entering a task and setting due dates and times is pretty straight forward. On top of the basic setup, there is tons you can do.To start off, I created a "Honey Do" list that is basically the things that my wife asks me to do (obviously everything on this list has top priority). Once I have my list created, all I have to do is start adding tasks and setting dates for when they're due. If it is something that I need to do many times, then I can set the recurring date to basically anything I want.

Adding tasks and setting a date and recurring date.

One of the biggest problems that I was having with this site is that I was never checking it. I would create tasks, but would never stop by to see what was due and when. Then I stumbled across one of the best features that I have found - the reminder. You can of course set up a standard e-mail reminder, but that is no fun and I don't need any more e-mails than I get. Instead, you can set it up to IM you on basically any or every IM platform. With my recent discovery of Digsby, I could choose basically any of the messaging systems that I wanted. You can see the different options that are found under the "Settings" for reminders and can set up as many of them as you want. After setting up mine for Skype (and modifying the due dates so I could show the notifications), here is what I got in Skype:
And if you're a Google freak like me, you can add your tasks to your Google Calendar where they will be shown on the days they are due and you can add new tasks and everything else you want. In other words, an extrememly powerful to do list integrated into your Google Calendar. You can also add it to several other Google services as well.
So if you need a way to keep track of all your tasks that you do on a day to day basis or if you just need a way to remember all those things that your spouse asks you to do. Check out Remember the Milk.

Save the Date

If you've been waiting to start learning Drupal or if you haven't really thought about it, but you want to learn to build your own website quickly then you will definitely want to schedule April 21 on your calendar as busy. The Utah Drupal group is meeting on April 21 at 7 pm to complete a website marathon where we are going to build an entire site for a non-profit company, For Every Child, in about 2 hours. This is going to be an excellent exercise for brand new Drupalers up to seasoned veterans (I am far from being a seasoned Drupaler).

The other great part about this event is that it is going to be held right downtown in the Walker Center! No driving down to Orem or Provo this time! This event is sure to be one of the best meetings, if not the best meeting, of all times for the Utah Drupal group.

We are going to step through the entire process from start to finish including initial setup, what modules you want/need to get started, and how it all works. You can see the full agenda on the Utah Drupal group's website. Make sure you save the date because you don't want to miss this event.

A Train to Potevka

I just wanted to give a quick review of "A Train to Potevka." This book was very very interesting and I was captivated. The book is about a man who is in the CIA and travels to Russia to take on a very dangerous mission against some high level citizens in the USSR. It took place right near the collapse of the USSR - 1990 to 1991 because he meets the LDS missionaries in Moscow.

I think the reason I liked the book so much was because of how well Mike Ramsdell, the author, was able to describe Russia and the people there. I really wish that I could so well describe Russia. The part of the book that I disliked most about this book was the story of Bonnie, his girlfriend that later became his wife. It seemed a little out of place here.

Here are 3 quotes that could have been taken from my own journal from when I was in Russia:

Historically, and still today, they (women) remain the strength and character of Russia. The women are the powerful bond that holds the family, village, and nation together. Perhaps that is why these people refer to their homeland as Great Mother Russia.

Using antiquated shovels and makeshift brooms of bundled birch branches, hefty female workers with orange safety vests pulled over their coats, busily pushed snow from the walkways...p.275

The greatness of Russia has always been its people. During the seventy years of the USSR, any meaningful accomplishments or achievements were a result of the populace, not the Communist Party. It was the Soviet people that preserved the moral values of truth and goodness, not the mistaken ideological dogma of Marxism. And, today, that is still the hope of Russia's future - its people. p. 325-326

If you haven't read the book, you should check it out. It is a really easy read. See my friend's review as well.

Moving to Russia

We've kept this quiet for some time now, but wanted to let everyone know that we are moving to Russia! That's right. We have talked about this for quite some time and are really excited. We are going to live in a small town just outside of Penza. We found a great little place there (we haven't seen it yet but her Mom promises it to be a great place). We are super stoked and we have no plans to move back to America any time soon. There are so many great reasons to move to Russia:

- Lots more opportunities for us and our kids
- Better hospitals and medical care
- And best of all we can shed this mortgage we just picked up

I hope that all of you are excited for us as well. We are accepting farewell gifts, so please make sure to give us money because we aren't taken much with us. Oh yeah, we don't have jobs lined up yet, but we aren't worried. There are plenty of great jobs on the outskirts of Penza. I'm sure I'll be programming for a company in no time. Maybe some of you want to join us.

Here's a picture of the small древня (town) where we're moving:

We're leaving the end of May!



Just wanted to put a quick update about the newest program that I have been using and loving. It's called Digsby and it has freed up a ton of my memory on my computer. The basic idea of the program is to combine all of your IMs into one single program. For example, I use to have Skype, MSN, and Gtalk always open on my computer. Now, I only have Skype and Digsby (it's a long story why Skype isn't supported, but let's just say that Skype's API is very very bad). It also supports Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, and yes, Facebook. Maybe some of you have noticed that I am always on Facebook now. Well, not really, but I am always on the chat client.

The coolest thing about it is, is that not only are you logged in to the chat, but you also get your e-mail updates too. So, I know when I get a new Hotmail message, but also when I get a new work e-mail. And you can add multiple accounts with the same provider. So, for example, I have a gmail account and then my work account is also through Gmail so I have them both hooked up to Digsby letting me know when I get new e-mails. And, I can send e-mails directly from Digsby. However, I still have to open my e-mail client to read a full e-mail.

Finally, you can hook up Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn to get all the updates about all of your friends. You can customize the popups and so forth for each of the social networks as well.

There are a couple of negatives - group chats are not allowed. However, that isn't an issue for me as I do all of my group chats in Skype. Also, no sending files to other users unless they are also using Digsby. Kind of bad, but e-mail is better anyways because then I have the file backed up there, so it forces me to use e-mail to send files. In all, the program rocks, and compared to MSN and Gtalk together, the memory footprint is much smaller, and now I am hooked in to about twice as many places knowing what is going on. Check it out.

Long Time, New Home

I know it has been several weeks since I have written, but things have finally settled down. We got into the new home without too many problems and we had a lot of help. We are loving the new place, and I think that the thing I love the most is all of the space! It is so open and there is so much room. I guess the worst part is how much of it gets underused. One of the main reasons I haven't written for so long is because I haven't taken pictures. I finally got to it, and so here they are:

The office:

My timeout room:

The family room:

The dining room and kitchen:

Loving this:

The empty living room:

You can see the full album here.

Also, here are a couple of videos that I did of the house:

Let me know what you think! As soon as we get the couches then I think we are going to start having people over. We are super excited and are super grateful.

New Home

We are buying a new home! Our first one! Most of you already know this, but I haven't written this until now because I was waiting for the loan to go through. We do all the official closing stuff on Wednesday the 25th so hopefully all will go well that way. The home is in North Salt Lake. Here are some pictures (I know they are small, but that is what I have for now. More will come later).

We are both super excited (obviously). I do have to give a big thanks to Tyler. He recommended Margaret Malherbe to us as a realtor, and we could not be more happy. She was absolutely awesome and she made sure we understood all of the contracts and what we were getting into. Her number one motto is honesty in real estate. She wasn't worried at all about making a sale (which in this economy is pretty impressive). She only worried about the fact that we were getting a great home. It was lots of fun with her and I will gladly recommend her to anyone (I recommended BJ to her already) - especially first time homebuyers because she takes you through everything that is going on.

Oh yeah, the home is brand new (no one has ever lived there). We love the idea that we will be the first time people living in the home. There is pool and work out facility just across the street that is part of the club house. We made the offer at the beginning of February so to be in the home by the end of the month has meant a lot of stress, but it looks like everything will work out. More to come later!!!

Specs: 3 bed, 2.5 bath, 1700 sq. ft., 2 car garage

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