Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chesme Church

The Chesme Church (Russian: Чесменская церковь; full name Church of Saint John the Baptist at Chesme Palace, Russian: це́рковь Рождества́ Иоа́нна Предте́чи при Че́сменском Дворце́), also called the Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, is a small Russian Orthodox church at 12 Lensoveta Street, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was built by the Russian court architect Yury Felten in 1780, at the direction of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. A memorial church, it was erected adjacent to the Chesme Palace between Saint Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo to commemorate the anniversary of Russia's 1770 victory over Turkish forces in Chesme Bay (Turkish: Çeşme) in the Aegean Sea during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774.

The church and Chesme Palace were the earliest Neo-Gothic constructions in the St Petersburg area. Considered by some to be St Petersburg's single most impressive church, it is a rare example of very early Gothic Revival influence in Russian church architecture.

The church was named "The Church of the Birth of St. John the Baptist" as it was consecrated on the birthday of John the Baptist. As it was built to honour the Battle of Chesma which the Russians won in 1770, the church is also popularly known as the "Chesme Church."

The church is located in Red Village, which was a country estate of the Sergey Poltoratski family, friends of Alexander Pushkin. It is situated in an area that was known as Kekerekeksinen (Finnish: frog swamp) which is now in a housing area known as Moskovsky Prospekt, approximately halfway between Park Pobedy and the Moskovskaya metro station. While the church was built at a very ordinary location in 1770, over the centuries, it become part of the city of Saint Petersburg. Located between St. Petersburg and the Summer Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, it served as a traveler's resting place.

In 1777, King Gustav III of Sweden attended the laying of the church's foundation. The church was built between 1777 and 1780. It is a memorial church to honour the 1770 Russian victory at the Battle of Chesme. Empress Catherine II chose the site as it was here that she got the news of the Russian victory over the Turks. Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor was present at the church's consecration.

The knights of the Order of St. George were also in possession of the church at some point when it was given the third name, "St. George’s Church."

The church and the Chesme Palace became a labour camp when the Soviet government occupied it. In 1923, the church was closed and used as a storehouse. Between 1941 and 1945, the church suffered damages during the "Great Patriotic War". During the Second World War, the Institute of Aviation Technology took possession of the Church and the Chesme Palace. During 1970–75, it was fully restored under the supervision of the architects M.I. Tolstov and A.P. Kulikov. In 1977, the church became a museum of the Battle of Chesme (with artifacts from the Central Naval Museum). Religious control was restored to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991, and regular church services have been held at the church since then.

The church, built in Gothic Revival style faces southwest. Painted pink and white, the church appears like a "candy cone, with long, vertical white stripes (embossed vertical string cornices drawn together with figured horizontal fascias) giving the impression that it’s rising straight up from the earth like a mirage and shooting upwards." The church was built by Yury Felten who was the court architect to Catherine the Great.
The inspiration for adopting the pseudo-Gothic style of architecture was a symbol of "the exoticism of the Turkish architecture but also reflected the Anglomania that significantly influenced the design of Catherine’s palaces and the parks surrounding them". While the Chesme Palace was built on these lines, the Church of John the Baptist was also built in a similar style. This style introduced during Catherine's time came in vogue in Russia in the subsequent centuries as well. It is also said that the choice of the Gothic Revival architecture style was indicative of "triumph for ancient northern virtues in the spirit of the crusaders."

The church was built with brick and white stone. It has a "quatrefoil" layout in the form of four semi cylinders with barrel vaults. Filials, spires and lancet windows were built over it, and the edifice emerged as a fusion of Gothic and neo-Gothic motifs. The quatrefoil design was common in the late 17th century in many private estate churches and the style was known as the “Moscow baroque”. During the 18th century, its adoption during Catherine's reign was considered an experimentation reflecting "the increasing secularization of the upper nobility." The entrance to the church has a neo-Gothic Rose window and a round window above it. The entrance portal has sculptures of angels. The main tower and four small towers have small domes, which are replacements of the traditional onion domes commonly seen in Russia. The cross that was fixed on the central turret originally was substituted with the Russian proletariat symbol of toil in the form of a hammer, tongs and anvil. The walls are striped and crenellated. The impressive relief design on the top of the walls is also in the form of crenellated parapet with pinnacles. There is also a 100 kilograms (220 lb) bell in one of the towers. It also has lancet windows and doorways. The interior, which originally had Italian icons, was destroyed in a fire in 1930. However, it was restored when the church was refurbished. Inside the church, there are many iconic paintings and one particular painting of interest is that of Christ’s arrival in Nazareth. When it was a naval museum, there was a vivid painting, in rich colours, depicting the sea battle and Russian victory over the Turks, in place of the “Christ the saviour in the iconostasis-less altar apse”. Nothing remains of the original interiors.

The exterior views of the church are impressive. The lanterns on the roof are stated to be similar to those seen on the Gothic temple at Stowe House.

The church precincts have been used as a reliquary for war heroes since the time of its consecration and during the Siege of Leningrad. The cemetery is known as the "Chesmenskoe War Veterans' Cemetery", and contains unnamed graves dated 1812–1944 of those who died in Russian wars.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Windows 8.1 closes in on Vista among desktop OS users

The newest version of Windows is behind Vista by just a hundredth of a percent, based on the latest stats from Net Applications.

Windows 8.1 will soon outscore Vista as the fourth most common desktop OS, according to Web tracker Net Applications.

For December, Windows 8.1 sliced off a 3.6 percent share of all desktop OS traffic recorded by Net Applications. Just a breath ahead, Windows Vista snagged a 3.61 percent share. By the time February rolls around, 8.1 will surely have outpaced the 7-year-old and much maligned Vista.

Combined, Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 snagged 10.5 percent of all desktop OS traffic in December, up from 9.3 percent in November and 9.25 percent in October. A free upgrade to Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 debuted in June as a preview edition before officially launching in October.

Windows 7 continues to gain more users, capturing a 47.5 percent share last month, up from 46.6 percent in November. And Windows XP continues to lose more of its audience, ekeing out a 29 percent share in December, down from 31.2 percent the prior month.

The distance in Web traffic between Windows 7 and XP will likely ramp up over the next few months. Microsoft has vowed to cut off support for XP starting April 8, 2014. That means no more security patches, bug fixes, or other updates. As such, businesses and organizations have been scrambling to upgrade from XP before the deadline arrives.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Who 'invented' the sound bar speaker?

Back in the day, budget-priced 5.1-channel home theater-in-a-box systems ruled, but that was before sound bars totally obliterated that product category.

The classic home theater setup -- with front left, center, and right, surround speakers, and a subwoofer -- was the de facto sound standard. High-end home theater buyers still use multichannel systems, but the multichannel home theater-in-a-box system is almost dead. Up until recently, I reviewed 12 or more home theater-in-a-box systems every year for CNET, but now sound bars are the most popular solution.

Altec-Lansing introduced the very first sound bar/subwoofer system -- the Voice of the Digital Theatre -- in 1998. Even today, it still looks like a fully contemporary design, but as far as I can tell, Altec didn't follow up with other models. I recently chatted with Zvox founder Tom Hannaher about the history of the category, and he recalled the Cambridge SoundWorks TVWorks 250 'bar from the late '90s, but that one also flopped.

SoundMatters introduced the MainStage in 2003, and when I reviewed it I wasn't terribly impressed with its sound. Another company, Niro, made a few 'bars starting in 2003. They were very expensive and sounded pretty good, but Niro dropped out of sight after a few years.

Home theater-in-a-box systems were big sellers, so the market wasn't ready for a single speaker solution in the early 2000s. A lot of HTIB owners of the era lined up their five tiny satellite speakers in a row, making do-it-yourself sound bars!

The first 'bar to eventually catch on was the $199 Zvox 315, and in 2003 that speaker sounded amazing. It was a breeze to hook up; bass power was so good a sub wasn't required; and dialogue intelligibility was excellent. Sales were slow, so Hannaher's startup faced rough times early on. But since he was the company's only employee, and he wasn't drawing a salary, Zvox stayed the course. Looking back, you might wonder why it was so hard -- all of the 5.1 channel HTIBs came with a bunch of wires, and hooking up those systems was always a time-consuming ordeal.

Zvox went on to introduce a range of sound bars that were favorably reviewed here at CNET and elsewhere. Zvox is still in the game, and still making superb 'bars.

In retrospect, it looks like it was Zvox's winning combination of easy setup and excellent sound that separated its speakers from the competition's. I'm amazed that, even today, most TV buyers put up with the lousy speakers built into their sets. And thanks to the market's insatiable appetite for ever skinnier TVs, their built-in speakers are worse than ever. Apparently buyers never choose TVs based on sound quality, so manufacturers have zero incentive to make better-sounding displays.

I'll credit Altec with inventing the sound bar, but Zvox was the first to perfect it. If you have memories of early sound bar systems, share them in the comments section.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

RIP Symbian! Nokia ends support for apps, updates

Months after selling its mobile business to Microsoft, Nokia has officially ended support for Symbian and MeeGo apps. The Finnish company has abandoned the two home-grown mobile operating systems in favour of Microsoft's Windows Phone.

The Symbian Signed Team announced the end of support for Symbian and MeeGo apps via Twitter. The tweet said, "That was it; we are officially closed. Thank you all for the past years!"

Following the agreement with Microsoft in October, Nokia had posted on its developer blog that Symbian and MeeGo content in Nokia Store will remain available for download to customers and developers would continue to receive download and revenue reports and payouts for downloaded content. However, developers would no longer be able to publish new content or update existing content for Symbian and MeeGo operating systems from January 1, 2014.

Nokia had said that it had decided to focus its support and investment in new content towards Asha, the company's feature phone platform, and Windows Phone.

With this move, Nokia has finally bid farewell to its old software platforms.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Saturn's Rings are 4.4 Billion Years Old

Researchers using data from Nasa's Cassini spacecraft have found that Saturn's rings formed around 4.4 billion years ago, shortly after the planet itself took shape.

The origin of Saturn's ring system remains hotly debated, with some researchers arguing that it's a relatively young structure and others holding that it coalesced long ago, at roughly the same time as the gas giant's many satellites.

The new study, using data gathered by Nasa's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft, strongly supports the latter scenario, researchers said.

Cassini's measurements suggest that "the main rings would be [extremely] old, rather than hundreds of millions of years old," said Sascha Kempf, of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Saturn's main ring system is huge but razor-thin, measuring about 280,000 kilometres across but just 33 feet or so in the vertical direction. The rings are composed primarily of water ice, but they contain small amounts of rocky material contributed by micrometeoroid bombardment, 'LiveScience' reported.

Kempf and his colleagues used Cassini's Cosmic Dust Analyzer instrument to measure just how frequently such tiny particles cruise through the Saturn system. They found that a surprisingly small amount of dusty material comes into contact with the rings.

After measuring the low rate of dust recruitment, the team calculated that the rings have likely existed for about 4.4 billion years. "It would be consistent with an old ring system," Kempf said.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

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