Monthly Archives: April 2015

Four tickets to Aogashima.

The other day as I was browsing the Internet I came across a story about a most unusual place in Japan. It’s hard to get to but really worth the effort as it’s both beautiful and interesting. It’s the island of Aogashima, several hundred kilometers south of Tokyo, on the border between the Philippine Sea and the Pacific ocean. ‘That’s worth a look,’ I thought. Next thing… we were there – spending last Saturday on the island. A very curious place; highly recommended!

Now, let’s see what kind of an island it is…

Aogashima is a volcanic still-life made up of an ancient caldera that collapsed inwards, and the rather fetching cone of a new volcano that started to grow within it a few hundred years ago.

Aerial photos report the following:

aogashima-island-japan-1Source

2.

aogashima-island-japan-2Source

The first thing I did was call KL Japan to find out the details of this bizarre island, ask who might be ready to risk traveling there with me, and make other travel arrangements, which turned out to be rather complicated.

Read on: Yes, reaching that island proved anything but easy…

“Everybody be cool, this is a robbery.”

Startups – affairs that are risky and slow to build up momentum. They call for big cash, a knack for seeing into the future, and a nose for where the big returns on investment are. They take years to really get going; only one in twenty (or even more) doesn’t die a premature death.

Traditionally, venture capitalists have funded startups, but there’s a new type of venture capitalist on the block. They ask: ‘Why get all tense and take risks with startups, when it’s possible to invest in… patent trolls?! Easy! One such new kid on the block is the funder Bentham IMF (I don’t give the site address on purpose; hardly want to help this company out with their SEO efforts. You can find it if you really want to).

The math is reeaal simple: the funder gives out, say, one to ten million dollars for low risk patent cases against wealthy victim-companies, which can bring in no less than ten to a hundred million dollars payout, respectively (that is, they aim for around a ten-fold return on investment). Now, the fact that patent trolls in the US – even if they lose – don’t pay a penny to defendants, and the average % of awarded ‘damages’ or out-of-court-settlement payments can be up to 99%… well, it all adds up to a practically guaranteed-returns venture scheme! 

Who the heck needs innovation? Much better: ‘invest’ money in small patent trolls so they can shake down litigate against the innovators. Wonderful. The American Dream turned inside-out and upside-down. The new American Patent Dream in full effect!

Bentham IMF

Of course, there’s an official basis to this legitimatized extortion – the support of law, universal justice and punishment of rotten violators. But no matter how much it’s talked up, there’s still no getting away from the simple fact: a troll is a troll.

Read on: Stratospherically absurd and wrong and bad things in the world of patent extortion…

Cool your boots, Japan.

Tired after a seemingly endless journey, the long-distance traveler normally resorts to some kind of body of water first in his/her attempt at winding down, chilling out a bit, and returning from zombie state to kinda normal state. Usually a shower, sometimes a bath – sometimes even a banya and its attendant cold pool!

But only in Japan can one hope to reap the mega-chillage effects of a ryokan, which mixes bathing with a fantastic culinary experience to have you back all recharged and fully energized in no time at all. Which is what happened to me recently at Izukogen Hanafubuki Ryokan on the Izu Peninsula (伊豆), not far from Mount Fuji, Japan. Cool our boots, man, we sure did.

In case anyone doesn’t know what a ryokan is, let me tell you that it is a traditional Japanese hotel, usually not too big, with straw mattresses on the floor, offering super-duper Japanese food plus sometimes hot springs to dip in.

If you’re not Japanese, however, you have to be careful. You’ll need to bone up on the Japanese culture first, as it’s easy to put the proverbial foot in it with some faux pas that will cause upset at best, an international scandal at worst :). Best of all is to visit a ryokan with Japanese friends or colleagues, then there’s no chance of unintended mix-ups/offense. Accompanied by locals, you’re safely under their wing, so can feel just like a Japanese: blissfully content to recuperate for a few days, feed the soul, and revitalize the spirit.

And it’s not just the food and waters that act as a tonic to the body and soul – there’s also all the cherry blossoms still a-blooming here, picturesque little cottages, cozy little paths and an overall abundance of fauna and flora. Most fine.

izu-japan-1

izu-japan-2

Why are we here?

Read on: Rainy day at volcano…

Singapore through the eyes of a first-timer.

Hi all!

D.Z. – this is one of most distinguished and respected KLers, with us since last century (taking a brief creative break in the mid-2000s). D.Z. has also been my fellow traveler a d.z.illion times to… oh, practically everywhere on this planet – but surprisingly not to Singapore. He always takes with him a trusty large black (super-duper) DSLR camera with a dozen or so different lenses too – his tools to create most of the pro-level pics on this here blog and elsewhere. He’s also a great storyteller, so he helps out with all the tales I want to tell – whatever they may be about. Still, despite all these talents, plus his confirmed KL-Establishment member status, he is nevertheless the most modest guy you’d ever meet.

D.Z. et moiMr. modest… et moi (1999)

Like I say, somewhat surprisingly this was D.Z.’s first visit to Singapore. He liked the place so much he took more pics than he normally does and wrote a long write-up too. It’s true that there’s ‘nothing like the first time’. It’s also true that a fresh pair of eyes will see things in a foreign place that others who’ve been several times before already miss due to familiarity – or just plain tiredness from the non-stop globetrotting. Thus, in this post, I pass the reins over to D.Z. to let him give his ‘first-time’ account of this remarkable city – just for a different, fresher perspective.

My only comment to the story: want one book to read to get the real real deal on Singapore? Check it: Lee Kuan Yew – ‘From Third World to First

So, D.Z.’s tale:

—-8<—-

What do we know about Singapore?

It’s a long way away, hot and humid, skyscraping, totalitarian, and they beat you with sticks for dropping gum, spitting, walking barefoot, and other carnal sins. At least, those are the stereotypes impressions of I’d say the majority of non-Singaporeans from afar, for those are the bits that seem to end up in the world’s media about this city-state extraordinaire.

This was my first time in Singapore.

What I saw with my own eyes was far from what I expected – nothing like the above-described imaginings. I have habit of boning up on a country I’m planning on traveling to – to get to know the ‘real’ place and not get caught up in lazy stereotypes and maybe inadvertently insult or upset or annoy anyone. And Singapore’s real deal fairly amazed and intrigued me. The first half of the 19th century is packed with curious history I’d let pass me by, but it’s fascinating how it’s connected with all sorts of details of international relations of my time. 

Collisions of civilizations, a struggle for colonies and trade routes, the friction within and among European and Asian powers, wars, injustice, betrayal, greed and other unpleasantness… Singapore had more than its fair share of all of them. Its history is peppered with nightmare tales, but all the same, in spite of all that, today it stands as the shining example of a successful state based on humane, productive cooperation among peoples, helped by being at an important crossroads of civilization.

A natural competitive advantage of Singapore is its geographical location on a strategic sea route connecting East Asia with the rest of the world. Despite miraculous diversification of the economy in its 50 years of independence, already on the approach to Changi airport it becomes clear how this advantage still plays a hugely important role in the development of the country.

DSC_6506

Back in 1819 it was exclusively the geography of the island that made Britain’s Sir Stamford Raffles set up on the bank of the Singapore River a watch post. Within just several years it had become an important hub of influence of the British Empire in Asia.

Singapore was founded not on an empty greenfield site but on a longstanding fishing village in which folks of different nationalities and religious faiths had lived peacefully for a long time. The arrival of the British naturally saw the town take on a decidedly more European flavor. And, talking of flavors, incidentally the resultant Singaporean cuisine came to be a most interesting and original one – the dishes both tasty and unique.

Having founded Singapore, Raffles left it for a few years to do yet more of his bit for the Empire, handing over the reins to a Major-General William Farquhar for the duration. Upon Raffles‘ return three years later, he was met with two main developments – basically good news and bad. The good news was that the town had gotten much busier and bigger. The bad – it had gotten much busier and bigger un-systemically, resembling an eastern bazar than an exemplary model of a colony of the British Empire.

So a town council was quickly created under the supervision a Lieutenant Jackson, who soon developed a plan for the reconstruction of Singapore. In the main, it was divided up based on the ethnicity of the inhabitants; thus, European, Chinese, Indian, and Arab (Muslim) quarters emerged.

chinatown-singapore-1

It might seem correct at this point to label Jackson an out and out racist and accomplice in apartheid. However, it turned out that such division suited everyone just fine! Each group was happy to cook in its own juices – yet still work closely together; indeed, they’d be doing so for centuries before Raffles. Since then of course, in almost in 200 years, a lot has changed; all the same the main traits of the town-building designs of Jackson remain.

Singapore has two principal must-visits – Little India and Chinatown. Guess which ethnic nationalities make up most of their populations? Yep – Indians and Chinese, respectively, even after all these years. In fact the delineation is blurring somewhat, with many an Indian and much Indian signage to be seen in Chinatown, and vice versa. The result is a serious bit of multiculturalism: Pagodas, stupas, mandirs (Hindu temples), mosques and churches all together peacefully coexisting on small squares. Nice. All the same, the dominating cultural ‘signature’ of the districts remains.

chinatown-singapore-26

Read on: Chinatown vs Little India…

INTERNET-INTERPOL-2015.

I first used the term ‘Internet-INTERPOL’ somewhere around the start of the 2000s. The first time I got round to writing it down was in 2003. This year – 2015 – some 12 years later, finally, what I’ve been talking about, pushing for, advocating, promoting all these years is here:

An INTERPOL division dedicated exclusively to combatting the dark side of the Internet!

Yep, just the other week in sunny Singapore INTERPOL officially opened its new cyber-division – IGCI – whose mission is to clear cyberspace of all things criminal and similarly bogus. It will act as the coordinating center for all international cyber-related activities of police forces of all its member states (nearly 200 countries!). In short: international hackerism and other net-diseases – watch out, CYBERPOL is here for good to make your lives miserable and increasingly risky. Besides investigations it will also be training specialists, promoting the cybercrime fight, and doing a whole lot of other helpful stuff in the name of ww-security for the www.

This opening really is no less than monumentally significant. Up until now cyber-villains have been running amok in part due to a lack of unity among national law enforcement bodies – aka different jurisdictions not talking too much with one another. Like the classic FBI vs. CIA vs. regular cops thing that’s been shown in Hollywood movies since the year dot. But this is real folks! Example:

Late last year one cop was asking us for the contact details of certain other cops from a different country! Asking us! Of course – it should be the other way round: all cops knowing each other and their passing on our contact details when they need some cyber-expertise! Indeed, the two systems’ coexistence (the cybercrims’ one without borders, and state cyber-police’s within the jurisdictions of national borders, or, at best, within the European border) has always been a problem. And it’s only gotten worse over the past 15 years or so – with increasingly brazen cyber-swine doing their stuff practically with impunity. Some of them have been caught and punished, but in the main, those were just the tip of the iceberg.

What makes last week’s event in Singapore even more special for us is that the IGCI was opened with our active participation plus support of various kinds – organizational, consultative, financial, and even personnel. For example, one of our top experts, V.K., is now our assigned ‘man in Singapore’, having been living in the city state and working with INTERPOL for several months already, and set to continue for much longer. He’s helping his INTERPOL colleagues develop and deepen their cyber-knowledge and practical cyber-skills, and even takes part in ongoing investigations. And he’s as happy as a sand boy.

Vitaly Kamluk, our man in INTERPOLV.K. minus the trademark Mohican

Read on: INTERPOL can party too…

Internet on a jet.

Back on the road again… Rather – up in the air. So I continue one of my fave, recurring themes – flying and planes and all that.

2015 kicked off with some serious avia action for me: I’m already on my 30th flight, having been up in the skies 130+ hours. Not that I’m complaining – I like flying. It’s my version of time-out… It’s the only time I’m able to actually relax! The main reasons are that my phone’s turned off and there’s no Internet. So at last I’m able to wade through the ton of business emails that’s piled up over the previous few days, to read a book, and watch a movie (all of which I hardly ever do on the ground).

But as time passes of late, more and more airlines are pushing their inflight Internet connections. /* BUT!: ‘In the interests of safety all portable electronic devices must be switched off for the duration of the flight; however, our Internet – for a fee: no worries at all!’ I’ll refrain from commenting on these obvious contradictions… */

Anyway, despite normally turning down airlines’ Internet connectivity overtures, this time, just for a change, I thought I’d give it a try…

My experiment took place on a recent Shanghai-Moscow flight on Aeroflot. Everything was fine as usual (besides unexpected and unreasonable slow lines for registration – more than an hour!). Not so usual  – but perfectly fine – was the fact that onboard weren’t just the usual suspects – Russians and Chinese – but also plenty of folks speaking Italian and Spanish. ‘Paying ruble prices on Aeroflot via Moscow’, I thought! However, our friendly fellow passengers explained things differently: ‘Never – EVER! – fly Alitalia or Iberia! Much better Aeroflot via MOW.’ Well, well, I thought. Incidentally, more on different airlines and flights and routes, etc. – here.

Hmmm. Sidetracked.

So. We boarded the plane and off we flew. I agreed to the terms and conditions and finally I connected to plane’s Wi-Fi!

Inet 1st page

Inet 2nd page

Read on: The quality… so-so…