Three days on the Condor.

My pals and I love a spot of trekking in remote places around the globe. Just two or three days normally does the trick: enough to get in plenty of gawping at luscious landscapes, plenty of exercise, plenty of curiosity satisfaction, and of course plenty of pretty photography.

And our New Year trip to Ecuador proved no exception. With small rucksacks on our backs (and accompanied by horses carrying the larger items like tents and so on) we walked along a lengthy stretch of the Condor Trek.

Read on…

A qilometer inside Quilotoa.

As I’m sure you’ll know, Ecuador has plenty of volcanism. Right down the middle of the country from top to bottom there’s a section of the mountain range that goes be the name of the Andes, along which are not less than ~three dozen volcanoes, many of which are situated in the ‘Alley of the Volcanoes’ – a valley with mountain ridges and volcanic cones on each side.

Not only is the quantity of volcanoes very impressive; the quality is too: attractive though unusual; monumental and hypnotic, with lush (and perfectly round) lakes in considerable craters, sheer cliffs, and assorted other OMG panoramic views. The first one we inspected like that was Quilotoa:

This is how it looks from a satellite:

Read on…

A little snow in Lille.

Bonjour folks!

Here I am in the northern French city of Lille, one of France’s largest urbanizations. Officially its population stands at around 230,000; however, if you add to that the city’s surrounding suburban areas that number shoots up to around 1.2 million.

I was there the other week and, upon waking there in the morning after having arrived late the night before, I looked out the window and… thought I was back in Moscow! Have a look to see what I mean:

Read on…

New Year – even further from the center.

Hi folks!

A promised, herewith begin my tales from the Ecuadorian side. I’ve lots and lots to tell, and lots and lots of pics to show. So, as per tradition: popcorn, comfortably seated… off we go…

This mini-series on our trip will generally simply follow the route and the events that occurred on it in chronological order as they actually happened. But first I must tell you this:

How best to see in the New Year.

Some prefer taking it easy over the Christmas and New Year period (some even dread it!). Others – like moi and posse in recent years – don’t take it easy for one second, and instead jet off to a far-away hot clime for some untraditional festive celebrations of our own devices – further from the center. Once – further on Kilimanjaro, last year – in Indonesia. For our own devices have shown us how Christmas/New Year happiness and contentment doesn’t come from doing not much at all sat at home, but from bathing in the velvety hot waters of hot springs on the other side of the globe. And Ecuador happens to have velvety hot waters in its hot springs. It was a no brainer: off we zip to Ecuador!…

Read on…

Ecuadorian equatorial: warm-up.

Hi folks!

I think I’ve found myself the perfect avatar:

That’s just one of the zillion pics we took in Ecuador recently, one of the billion I’ll be uploading here to this here blog of mine over the next week or so.

Ecuador? Yes – Ecuador, which is where pals and I spent the New Year holidays. No armchair-based Christmas period – drinking too much (tea with honey and lemon, of course), eating too much, and watching telly too much at home. Noooo. Not us. Not our cup of sherry.

So, why Ecuador? Well, the weather in Moscow leaves a lot to be desired around New Year, as you probably know. So said pals and I, IMHO quite logically, like to jet off somewhere very hot and very sunny. But the hot and sunny place must have a few others features, preferably in abundance, including any of the following: mountains, volcanoes, hot springs, hot lakes, ocean, islands, beaches, altitude sickness (!), and a nearby equator. Last New Year it was Indonesia – which ticked practically all those boxes. This year: Ecuador and the nearby Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands, which apparently also pack in the just-listed; especially: beautiful indigenous birds, seals, and turtles, and of course much exquisite Ecuadorial-equatorial scenery.

Good time? Check.

Unforgettable impressions? Check.

Tales to tell? Check – coming right up in a mini-series on these here blog pages.

Photos to show you? Check, as mentioned.

On the photo-front, I was helped out tons by my frequent-fellow-traveler-and-photographer, DZ, who’s been kind enough – and efficient enough – to have edited his trillion pics already. I haven’t even started mine! So for your aperitif before your multi-course feast, here are some of the highlights – exactly 100 pics, btw! – from DZ’s Ecuadorian collection. Ready? Off we pop…

Read on…

Sapiens: spot-on on Homo; way-off on viruses.

Hi folks!

The other day I finished reading the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari: an accessible and at times blunt and cynically portrayed history of mankind. It starts with the appearance of our biological species, its spread across the world, its complex journey through all kinds of pan-human revolutions (cognitive, agrarian, and various technological ones), and ends in the current era. At first the book appears to be a solid popular-science work on a par with Guns, Germs, and Steel or The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. However, as you progress through the pages, nagging doubts start to form in your mind; then at times comes amazement at some of the inconsistencies; then it gets like… totally… WHAT? But I’ll get to that in due course…

source

Actually, a lot of the facts given in the book have been known for ages. Some we learned in school, others in books we’ve read, yet others in anthropological documentaries or news from archeological digs. However, for me, up until now all that seemed to be stored in my brain in separate bits. Only after reading this book has it all come together as one. So respect is at least due there.

Now, everyone’s heard of Neanderthal man and Cro-Magnon man (our ancient ancestors), and that they lived around the same time and often on neighboring territories. But there were also other Homo species. For example, the Denisova hominins, and the hobbit-like Homo floresiensis (Flores Man) from the Indonesian island of Flores. And there will have been many more, no doubt, which have yet to be discovered. Curiously, many of them disappeared relatively recently: Flores Man, for example, lived around 12,000–13,000 years ago; Neanderthals – between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.

This means that the definition of homo, or ‘human’, in actual fact doesn’t refer to just folks like you and me. It turns out there are a dozen other biological species that add to that full definition, all of which died out; and Wikipedia agrees with this. We (Homo sapiens) lived together with these other human species at the same time and in the same geographical areas on the planet, and we even crossbred with them (as confirmed by genetic research). Then those other species disappeared, while we stayed. That is, Homo sapiens overcame all its ‘competitor-relatives’ – completely destroying them at the very roots, all to free up for itself an ecological niche to provide for its own sustenance, propagation and further expansion.

But it wasn’t just other human species Homo sapiens wiped out.

Read on…

Rubik-therapeutic in the Pacific.

Over the New Year holidays a group of friends and I headed down to Ecuador for our traditional festive portion of unusual/active/exotic trekking/volcanism/photography. As usual, it was ‘active tourism until you drop’, cramming in as much we possibly could. Anyway, I’ll be writing blogposts on the trip – coming up shortly, but in the meantime I’d like to share with you a personal achievement I’m rather proud of – one completing a certain puzzle…

First: rewind…

Games/puzzles/toys. They come; they go. Some come and then disappear very quickly. Remember Tamagotchis? They were the biggest toy fad of the 1990s – early 2000s. Kids got so attached to their ‘digital pets’ that some were even driven to suicide when they suddenly broke. No, really.

More recently there was Pokémon. Once all the rage; now – all but disappeared. But there is another category of games that come – and stay. These are the timeless games that are just so darn good they’re not going anywhere. Chess, cards, dominoes… – been around centuries if not millennia, and will be around for millennia to come. Some modern-day games fall into this category of ‘stayers’ too. Not many, but some. Tetris, for example. It came, it became a fad-craze, interest died down a bit, but it didn’t go away. (I remember playing for hours on end on one… until one day I saw ‘blocks’ falling down in front of me in the street; that was when I realized it was time to quit:). The same thing happened with the Rubik’s Cube

I used to complete this cube-riddle using the standard cross method. Then I mislaid my Rubik’s Cube and mostly forgot about it (like many others did) – for 35 years! Then, just recently, while isle-hopping around the Galápagos – as you do – I recalled I’d packed some Rubik’s Cubes after recently finding them in a store somewhere and purchasing them, so one evening on the boat with not much to do I had a trip down memory lane and solved them. And not just the standard 3×3 model; also the 4×4 and the 5×5:

Really glad I packed them. I got at least five other fellow adventurers hooked on the 3×3, while a Rubik’s expert among us told me of a ‘secret’ method for solving the 3×3. Meanwhile, I learned how to do the 4×4 and 5×5. An engrossing, enthralling, entrancing exercise. Highly recommended! Especially in Ecuador!…

Midori-Kuma 2019.

Hi folks!

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about our beloved green bear-mascot Midori Kuma – nearly two years in fact. That’s a long time in anyone’s life, but especially in this green bear’s – as his schedule is just so full non-stop all year round. Not that it’s all work-work-work though: just recently he’s been kicking back in full chill-axe mode in the snowy expanses of Russia, no less. Quite why, when he’s often to be found in idyllic tropical resorts, I don’t know, but, well, he is a bear after all. Must be an instinct thing. I wonder if he hooked up with some brown bears while there. But I digress…

Anyway. Since his Russia trip he’s taken up a new hobby: he’s now an artist, as in – a painter. And he clearly is a natural. Just look at some of his early works, below. What can I say? Bright, unusual, and incorporating many different styles. And it’s not just me thinks that. Many of his paintings have been snapped up for vast sums already at auctions around the world…

Read on…

Secure elections of the future – today.

“Online voting – it’s the only thing that’ll save democracy, since the younger generations will only vote if they can do so online”. This is something I’ve been saying for years now. Younger generations – ‘digital natives’ – are used to doing a great many things online instead of off-line; it’s what they’re used to and what they prefer, and that needs to be understood, accepted, and embraced. If not, only the folks who have been used to going to polling stations in person will be voting – the older generations: hardly a good, balanced, representative cross-section of the adult population.

Statistics show that voter turnout has been declining steadily in established democracies since the 1980s. Reasons for this vary: there can be crises of trust in the authorities; in some places there are problems with access to voting facilities. There’s even a new social sub-grouping of largely passive participants in the political system: interested observers – folks who are interested in what’s going on around them but don’t get involved in any of it. And this isn’t some tiny, insignificant new sub-group either: in the U.S. it’s said to reach nearly 50% of the adult population! And these interested observers look like the ideal target audience for online voting: folks used to getting news and information from the internet – and that includes of course the younger generations right down to millennials. To have the best chance of high voter turnouts for elections, voting needs to be a simple, natural addition to a typical daily online routine. Social networks – checked; a few photos – uploaded; online purchases – made; (for some) a day’s work performed largely online – done; (for some) online gaming – done; online voting – also done.

Online voting systems around the world have been developing slowly for quite a while. When the first online vote took place I’m not sure, but I do recall how in January 2003 the Helkern worm (aka Slammer) nearly derailed some inter-party elections of a Canadian political party. The first e-elections at state level were those in 2007 in Estonia. Online voting continued to slowly proliferate in other countries, but with differing degrees of success. Why? Because there is the obvious question of security – the high risk of a hack and direct manipulation of the voting process; this issue, btw, has often been raised by critics of online voting. In 2014 a group of experts conducted a penetration test on the Estonian e-voting system. Not only did it find that it was real easy to install malware on the servers of the system, but also that, theoretically, the result of the voting could be changed – leaving no trace of that having been done whatsoever. In 2015 there was the electronic voting scandal in Australia. Here, a New South Wales election used the iVote online voting system, but it was found that around 66,000 votes could have been compromised via a hack of the voting site.

Clearly the above all shows that online voting systems need protecting (authorization, connection, transaction), and that includes the storing and counting of the results (server-cloud part). This idea came about in our business incubator a few years ago, which eventually led to the introduction at the end of 2017 of the Polys project – a platform for electronic voting based on blockchain.

All data relating to voting (including the final results) are stored not on servers but in blocks of data on the devices of all voting participants, which makes the platform simply unhackable. It provides anonymity of voting, and also permits hiding interim results – the final result becomes known to participants only after all counting is completed. But what’s more important – the Polys platform is convenient, simple, and suitable for any kind of voting – even… to decide what colors the roses should be in the local park! Indeed, the overarching mission of Polys is to bring the pluralism of opinions and happiness for all to the masses :). But don’t just take my word for it. Have a look for yourself! That the future is blockchain-voting many agree with.

And if you think this is all just theory, here’s some fresh news: Polys has been officially used already! In Russia’s Saratov region the local parliament elected deputies for its youth parliament. 40,000 folks voted! And last year the platform was used for conducting similarly-sized voting for Russia’s Higher School of Economics. And I’m sure this is only the beginning

So there you have it – we’re saving the world yet again but in a new way: protecting voting against fraud. So if you need to run a vote on something, no matter how trivial or how important, and you want to be able to guarantee voters it will be 100% protected, 100% fair – check out the Polys site!

And for those interested in the technical side to Polys – go here; you should find all the answers you need there. In short, have a look, try it (it’s free for now), get a feel for it, and tell your colleagues and friends about it!

And remember – your vote counts!

 

Mathematical fanatical 2019 – the answers.

Hi folks!

In yesterday’s post, you’ll recall how I gave you, dear readers mathematicians, a mathematical brainteaser: how to get ‘2019’ using the four main arithmetic operations [+, -, ×, ÷], plus parentheses [(, )’], and the figures 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1; and not in any order but in the order given [10 down to 1] – and with no joining up of the numbers to make bigger numbers.

Budding mathematicians among the readers of my blog in Russian sent in their answers. Here are some of the more elegant runners-up among them:

( 10 * 9 * 8 – 7 * 6 – 5 ) * ( 4 – 3 + 2 * 1 ) = 2019 (by Skarbovoy);

( 10 + 9 ) * ( 8 + 7 + 6 ) * 5 + 4 * ( 3 + 2 + 1 ) = 2019 (by eve_nts);

(10 + 9 * 8 * 7 – 6 – 5 ) * 4 + 3 * 2 + 1 = 2019 (also by eve_nts).

A big thanks to everyone, btw, who sent in answers! I had great fun picking out the right ones, checking for mistakes – and coming up with some formulations of my own.

But back to the podium…

Read on…