Copycatted in USSR

When I was browsing through reptile illustrations published in the Internet I stumbled upon an image that looked very familiar. It was a painting of an Agama with a caption in German telling “Felsenagame” (Rock Agama) under it.

Agama dodomae, Germany 1911-1920

“Agama dodomae”, Brehms Tierleben, published by Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig, Germany, 1911 (original title: Brehms Tierleben. Allgemeine Kunde des Tierreichs, Hrg. O. zur Strassen, Bd. 2, Leipzig, Bibliographisches Institut, 1911-1919)

In another book that was published later in Spain the same picture appeared but as illustration of a different species – Agama colonorum. According to the knowledge of that time, all African agamas with red head and blue body were of that species, also known as Agama agama. Therefore also A. dodomae was just a synonym accordingly.

Agama colonorum, Spain, 1925

“Agama colonorum”, colour print, Spain, publ. 1925

Apparently, the original German illustration was just reprinted in a Spanish book. I haven’t seen the book myself and even don’t know its title to check it, but the fact that the signature of the artist remained and the original wasn’t changed lets us assume that the painting was reprinted with permission or at least with reference to the source.

I own none of these two books and had never a chance to see them. I knew this agama illustration from somewhere else.

“Agama planiceps”, illustration from the book “Life of the Animals”, ed. L.A.Zenkevich, Vol. 4.2, Moscow, 1969. (original title: Жизнь животных. Земноводные. Пресмыкающиеся / под ред. Л.А.Зенкевича — 1-е изд. — М.: Просвещение, 1969. — Т. 4.2.)

Every person interested in nature science who was born in the Soviet Union knows the book “Жизнь животных” (“Life of the Animals”) in 6 volumes. The first edition of it appeared in 1950s-60s. The 2nd was published in 1970s-80s. I too got it from my parents (even both editions) and it was the first and maybe the most important zoology book in my life. I grew up with it.

The Soviet Life of the Animals was a reply to famous classical “Brehm’s Tierleben” (“Brehm’s Life of the Animals”). Its concept was somewhat different, however. While Brehm’s Life of the Animals was a popular book – written in a simple language and without too many scientific details – the Soviet counterpart was intended for a reader more involved into life science. Except the title it had no parallels with the German original. No content of Brehm’s book was (at least officially) translated and reprinted in it. In fact, the Soviet book offered more up-to-date knowledge in zoology, so the title was just a metaphor – a tribute to Alfred Brehm whose work was known in Russia too.

This book was illustrated by Nikolai Kondakov who was “the” zoology illustrator of the Soviet Union, Alexandr Kondratiev and Olga Khludova. Kondakov made almost all illustrations in such books. Since he illustrated other herpetological books I suspect that the agama picture in volume 4 (part 2) of Life of the Animals was also from him.

Smiling Agama in a Soviet book

The Agama painting from the “Life of the Animals” got further remakes in later Soviet publications. In this one, for instance, the agama is hairy and smiling.

For his time and under the circumstances in his country Nikolai Nikolaevich Kondakov was really an outstanding painter and naturalist. There is no doubt that he was able to draw or paint himself and had some his own original artworks. Therefore my discovery is not only surprising but also disappointing.

Obviously, none of three Soviet illustrators could be the first who painted the agama because even the oldest of them, Kondakov, was 2 years old when the German illustration was published. Most probably they had access to the 1911 edition of Brehms Tierleben and just copied an illustration (maybe even several) from it. The illustrator even didn’t try to conceal the similarity with the origin and made only minor changes. Certainly, it is a plagiarism what we see here, and I keep wondering how it could happen at all. Was it the illustrator who didn’t mention the source, or the book editor, or the publisher?

It is unlikely that it was publisher’s policy. It is well known that copying “western” goods and know-how was an everyday practice in the USSR and the very idea of commercial copyright was absent. However, plagiarism was officially dispraised and regarded as unacceptable. Although omitting references in citations and even simple copying of parts of foreign publications were common and tolerated, presenting someone else’s work as own was officially not accepted and discouraged. Therefore, I doubt that the publisher just requested the illustrator to re-paint a picture created by another author even if the original wasn’t protected by any law.

Although the country was isolated and the access to foreign publications was extremely limited, the 1911 edition of Brehm’s Tierleben might be available even in some libraries in the Soviet Union because it had been published before the Revolution, so some copies should have remained. Therefore it is unlikely that the authors of the book could be sure that such plagiarism would remain unnoticed forever.

The biggest question for me is about the reason. Why the “great Soviet animal painter” Kondakov or anyone of his two colleagues needed to copy an illustration that was already very bad? Anyone who has seen an agama alive, preserved, or on a photograph, would recognise at once that even the original German picture is just terrible. Kondakov could create his own much better painting. Why didn’t he do it? As a zoologist and staff member of a large museum he certainly had access to preserved specimens of agamas. Of course, he had seen or could see agamas alive – in captivity or even in the wild. An agama has such a characteristic morphology that drawing it is very easy even for a less experienced artist. At the same time, many agamas have similar body shapes and morphological details, so that to illustrate a particular species the artist even doesn’t need to have a specimen of this species as a model. The result would have been better if Kondakov had made a general agama drawing based on any agama species that lived in the USSR and colourated it as Agama agama ssp..

Unfortunately, we will never get answers of these questions.

Thuraya phone not working: Big troubles and high costs.

Thuraya XT handset

In 2013 before the expedition to Pamir I purchased my own Thuraya XT satellite phone. I had rented and used one in 2012 in Ethiopia and was very positively impressed by the quality and ease of communication regardless of the place and time – to very moderate prices compared to cellular network roaming.

In Asia and Africa Thuraya still looks like the best choice for satellite communication compared to the alternatives – Iridium and Inmarsat. However, only as long as it works…

Like any technical device one day it may not. If you think that the only trouble will be then being cut off from the rest of the world while you are far from home, you are wrong. Of course, I had it, too, when my Thuraya XT stopped functioning: I was in Ethiopian mountains without any communication. But this wasn’t the only problem, as I had to learn after my return.

Everything began before the trip when I was charging the batteries of the equipment before packing it. Then I discovered that the Thuraya XT didn’t charge nor switch on at all. I had used it a little in July-August, 2013 in Pamir and Alay. Since then I kept it in a box together with other communication equipment but charged the battery now and then. Last time I did it in September, and three months later the phone wasn’t functioning anymore – soon after the warranty period was over. This was still an almost new Thuraya XT handset that seized functioning just by itself, without any recognisable reason.

I noticed it on Friday evening, and in 3 days – on Monday evening – I was leaving for the Ethiopia expedition. I contacted the customer support of Thuraya via their website:

My XT handset doesn’t turn on nor the display lights up when I want to charge it, i.e. it looks completely dead. It was at home, and I didn’t use it since summer 2013. I turned it on now and then and it was OK. Last time I did it in August this year and charged the battery. Then switched it off again. On Monday I am going for a longer expedition to Ethiopia and need the phone there. Today I was going to charge it, connected to the charger but the display remained dark, charging didn’t start. To exclude the possibility of a damaged charger, I tried the car charger – with the same result. Both chargers seem to work, but the phone doesn’t charge. Now I don’t know what to do. I would like to know if the phone normally turns always on when it is connected to the power source, i.e. also when the battery is discharged. In other words: Can the battery be as much discharged that the phone shows no life signs even when connected to power socket?

The reply was almost immediate:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your email,

Kindly note that according to your scenario we suspect the battery is damage and therefore we suggest you to take the handset to our respective service provider on the below given address for checking and advise.

• Astrium Services Business Communications GmbH

Thank you
Thuraya Customer Care Team

Obviously, I had no time to send the handset for servicing. Since there was a suggestion in this mail that the failure may be caused by the battery, I decided to try to replace it before departure. There are 3 to 4 firms in Germany who sell Thuraya equipment. Fortunately, one of them – Därr Expeditionstechnik – is in Munich, and my flight was on Monday evening from Munich airport. So I decided to try to get the new battery. I called Därr Expeditionstechnik in the morning on Monday and asked for a battery for Thuraya XT. Fortunately, they had some. This company has neither a shop nor a public office, but the owner allowed me to pick up the battery at his home.

I did it. Then I tried the new battery… I didn’t help. The phone was still dead. I had to come around without it for three weeks in Ethiopia.

After return I addressed the company Astrium Services Business Communications GmbH, as Thuraya Customer Care had suggested. I sent an email at the provided address in Germany. They sent a request in English to their Customer Care department:

Please assist Mr. Tiutenko with his technical hardware failure issue (Thuraya XT handheld, <2 years old, the battery does not charge and cannot be switched on – when using a new battery, the problem persists).

Mr. Tiutenko states that Thuraya Customer Care Dep. forwarded him to Airbus DS as Service Partner in Germany, the reason of his email request.

Soon I received a weird request (original spelling preserved):

Dear sir,

could you please provide me the thuraya sim card numbers?

Do you have the GPS position?

What is the error message ?

Please desribe the issue

I had thought the “issue” was already described in several mails. But I did it again. The request of “sim card numbers” looked particularly strange. Why could the SIM card and my geographical position be a course of the problem with the handset? Anyway, I sent the requested information.

The next day another, rather informal, mail arrived:

Good day Arthur,

upon further investigation the Thurya simcard is not an Astrium/Vizada stock. I am not sure who your card and phone belong to. Best you contact Thuraya at link below.

Of course, my SIM card wasn’t from “Astrium/Vizada stock”! It was from Därr Expeditionstechnik, and the phone was purchased without a SIM card from M-Cramer Satellitenservices. The note “I am not sure who your card and phone belong to.” was particularly irritating. I mailed back that I cannot understand that reply. They reacted:

Dear Sir,

sorry for the possible misunderstanding but we won’t be able to repair the Hardware if it doesn’t come from us.
We only provide repair for terminals sold by us.

Please contact DAERR or whoever Provider where you bought the Hardware.

Then I wrote to Thuraya again and they replied with a new idea:

Dear Arthur,

Please be inform that we don’t have any repair center in Germany, if you would like to send your handset to our repair center below are contact details, we recommend before sending the handset please replace the battery if it worked. …

Even I had been already suspecting that there was no repair centre in Germany, but why Thuraya folks realised it so late? Why didn’t they know that Atrium… GmbH they sent me to was a wrong address?

If not that chaos, if Thuraya were better organised and their support staff were better informed, the repair could be quicker and less expensive. The repair service they finally referred to was in Dubai, and I had to send the phone there. I was in Dubai myself just 10 days before that. I had the Thuraya XT with me and could leave it there for inspection and repair. Now, I had to pay DHL freight without any certainty that the device will be fixed.

There are dozens of “rare” brands being sold in Germany and throughout Europe. They all have at least 12 months warranty, i.e. the manufacturer is obligated to repair it if it is broken within this period of time. This means that there should be service centres within the reach of the customers. Why Thuraya (and apparently other satellite phone manufacturers – Iridium, Inmarsat) are such an exception? Their phones are electronic devices consisting of replaceable parts. So why there is no company on the whole European continent that does a simple procedure of testing for broken parts and replacing them? In Germany alone there are several companies that sell or offer satellite phones for rental. I simply don’t believe that their hardware never needs to be repaired. If in every case of malfunction the phone needs to be sent to UAE or USA, repair costs may be too high to make sense. However, all satellite phones are too expensive to be disposable after a short use.