Monthly Archives: October 2015

A.B. on Lijiang: where modernity meets antiquity.

To bolster my own travel notes on Lijiang, in this post, the photographic masterpieces and perceptive narrations of my traveling companion A.B., who kindly agreed to their publication.

Here’s the man himself ringing Lijiang’s Bell of Peace. For just five yuan paid to the monk sitting near it you can ding it with that there suspended beam. Different numbers of rings have different meanings. I don’t remember any, but they’re all positive and along the lines of ‘for peace throughout the whole world’. Ding to that.


I hand the writing and snapping reins over to A.B.:


Idiots in Greater China

I’d never been to China. Can’t say it was one of my dream destinations either. Then, unexpectedly I found myself accompanying EK there. It was very much diving in at the deep end, since we missed the obvious locations and went straight into deepest provincial China. I felt like that Idiot Abroad, as I knew absolutely nothing about the country or its culture – not to mention its language. So, first thing was first: I needed to learn a few essential Chinese terms… 

My first three words/phrases were: hello (nihau), thanks (sisi), and ‘down it in one!’ For the latter, it transpired later that I’d been saying it in Japanese – kampai – instead of the Chinese kampey! Main thing: it was understood :).

The great thing about my trip to China was that I saw the true China, not the fake China aimed at foreigners (not that there’s much of that, anyway). I found myself in the relative backwater known as Yunnan Province, specifically its ancient, exotic – even by Chinese standards – city Lijiang, up in the mountains not far from the border with Myanmar and Laos.

What’s curious is that China now, to me… is Lijiang – though I’m sure it’s not fully representative of the whole of this huge country. As E.K. always says: all the more reason to return!

The historic center of old Lijiang resembles in many ways old European towns I’ve visited: all narrow side streets, cobbled sidewalks, tiled roofs, and every structure seemingly built several centuries ago. Every building here by day is either a stall selling trinkets, a café or a restaurant.

I’m reminded a lot of Jerusalem, or a resort town on a Greek island or in Italy – only with the different architecture, faces, and especially smells, which were decidedly… unusual :).

This city is more than 2000 meters above sea level and, according to Wikipedia, the ancient capital of the Nakhi people (pronounced nashi), who are now officially recognized as one of the 56 ethnic groups in the country.

The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I’m not sure all the buildings are as ancient as they’re portrayed to be. On one occasion I saw workers dismantling a building with picks and sledgehammers: the roof sure looked ancient, but the walls of the house supporting it looked to be made of 20th century concrete blocks!

Strolling around the narrow streets I kept thinking how the old town seems lost in time. You think Havana’s quaint, looking like it’s the 1950s? This place looks like it’s 500 years ago! But there’s a modern flavor here too: in the below pics for example, there’s an old man in a suit  in slippers/slip-ons with the US stars-and-stripes on them and peeling potatoes; there’s a man washing clothes by hand in a tub with water from an outside tap; there’s a girl selling drums; there’s a craftsman making his wares while watching a film on his carefully-balanced smartphone; and there’s a woman with various decorative clips in her hair for sale, who’s also got a fancy Bluetooth handsfree device in her ear…

Curiously, though geared up specially for tourists, there weren’t any to be seen – apart from us. But come here they do: Lijiang is a leading destination inside the country for the Chinese themselves. They come in their thousands to experience authentic Lijiang cuisine, try on traditional Nakhi costume, buy a drum or tambourine from the Dongba shamen, and climb up the four-floor pagoda (built in… 1997!). 

There’s a tale, whether true or not I don’t know, where Deng Xiaoping, when asked what he thinks of the legacy of the French Revolution, answered that ‘it’s too early to judge; time will tell’.

That tale is told to express how China – both the country and civilization – is so ancient and mighty, that it lives in a timescale completely misunderstood by outsiders, and is able to judge events with the rich experience of millennia.

Still, in Lijiang I got the impression that China lives and breathes modernity. Girls in short skirts, photos taken on iPads, ubiquitous selfie-sticks, sidewalk cafes… even Colonel Sanders fully present. Globalization forges on here in China too – just a little different: without Facebook or Google, and now without Instagram too – banned after the Hong Kong protests. Globalization bringing an understanding of English to China though – I didn’t see much of that: even with my not-bad English I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unable to communicate simple things anywhere! 

Overall, though very (Chinese) touristy, a very interesting place – in a very interesting country. I’m not sure I’d return Lijiang, but I’m sure happy I’ve now been. It has helped form in my mind a vision of China that’s much more… humane than the typical one a lot of foreigners may have who’ve never been (including me until a week ago!).

All the photos from Lijiang are here.

And that’s all from China folks! Back soon, from…

Flickr photostream

  • Japan / Jun 2024
  • Japan / Jun 2024
  • Japan / Jun 2024
  • Japan / Jun 2024

Instagram photostream

Cyber-news: Vulnerable nuclear power stations, and cyber-saber… control?

Herewith, a quick review of and comment on some ‘news’ – rather, updates – on what I’ve been banging on about for years! Hate to say ‘told you so’, but… TOLD YOU SO!


(Random pic of) the Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant in France where, I hope, all is tip-top in terms of cybersecurity(Random pic of) the Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant in France where, I hope, all is tip-top in terms of cybersecurity

I’ve been pushing for better awareness of problems of cybersecurity of industry and infrastructure for, er, let’s see, more than 15 years. There has of late been an increase in discussion of this issue around the world by state bodies, research institutes, the media and the general public; however, to my great chagrin, though there’s been a lot of talk, there’s still not been much in the way of real progress in actually getting anything done physically, legally, diplomatically, and all the other …lys. Here’s one stark example demonstrating this:

Earlier this week, Chatham House, the influential British think tank, published a report entitled ‘Cyber Security at Civil Nuclear Facilities: Understanding the Risks’. Yep, the title alone brings on goosebumps; but some of the details inside… YIKES.

I won’t go into those details here; you can read the report yourself – if you’ve plenty of time to spare. I will say here that the main thrust of the report is that the risk of a cyberattack on nuclear power plants is growing all around the world. UH-OH.

The report is based exclusively on interviews with experts. Yes, meaning no primary referenceable evidence was used. Hmmm. A bit like someone trying to explain the contents of an erotic movie – doesn’t really compare to watching the real thing. Still, I guess this is to be expected: this sector is, after all, universally throughout the whole world, secret.

All the same, now let me describe the erotic movie from how it was described to me (through reading the report)! At least, let me go through its main conclusions – all of which, if you really think about them, are apocalyptically alarming:

  1. Physical isolation of computer networks of nuclear power stations doesn’t exist: it’s a myth (note, this is based on those stations that were surveyed, whichever they may be; nothing concrete). The Brits note that VPN connections are often used at nuclear power stations – often by contractors; they’re often undocumented (not officially declared), and are sometimes simply forgotten about while actually staying fully alive and ready for use [read: abuse].
  2. A long list of industrial systems connected to the Internet can be found on the Internet via search engines like Shodan.
  3. Where physical isolation may exist, it can still be easily gotten around with the use of USB sticks (as in Stuxnet).
  4. Throughout the whole world the atomic energy industry is far from keen on sharing information on cyber-incidents, making it tricky to accurately understand the extent of the the security situation. Also, the industry doesn’t collaborate much with other industries, meaning it doesn’t learn from their experience and know-how.
  5. To cut costs, regular commercial (vulnerable) software is increasingly used in the industry.
  6. Many industrial control systems are ‘insecure by design’. Plus patching them without interrupting the processes they control is very difficult.
  7. And much more besides in the full 53-page report.

These scary facts and details are hardly news for IT security specialists. Still, let’s hope that high-profile publications such as this one will start to bring about change. The main thing at present is for all the respective software to be patched asap, and for industrial IT security in general to be bolstered to a safe level before a catastrophe occurs – not after.

Among other things, the report recommends promoting ‘secure by design’ industrial control systems. Hear hear! We’re totally in support of that one! Our secure OS is one such initiative. To make industrial control systems, including SCADA, impenetrable, requires an overhaul of the principles of cybersecurity on the whole. Unfortunately, the road towards that is long – and we’re only at the very beginning of it. Still, at least we’re all clear on which direction to head toward. Baby steps…


For several years I’ve also been pushing for the creation of a global agreement against cyberwar. Though we signs of a better understanding of the logic of such an agreement on the part of all the respective parties – academics, diplomats, governments, international organizations, etc. – we’re seeing little real progress towards any such concrete agreement, just like with the securing of industrial systems. Still, at least the reining in of cyber-spying and cyberwar is on the agenda at last.

Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA. SourcePhoto: Michael Reynolds/EPA. Source

For example, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at the end of September agreed that their countries – the two largest economies in the world – won’t engage in commercial cyberspying on each other anymore. Moreover, the topic of cybersecurity dominated their joint press conference (together with a load measures aimed at slowing climate change). Curiously, the thorny issues of political and military cyber-espionage weren’t brought up at all!

So. Does this represent a breakthrough? Of course not.

Still, again, at least this small step is in the right direction. There have also been rumors that Beijing and Washington are holding negotiations regarding an agreement on prohibiting attacks in cyberspace. At the September meeting of the leaders the topic wasn’t brought up, but let’s hope it will be soon. It would be an important, albeit symbolic, step.

Of course, ideally, such agreements would be signed in the future by all countries in the world, bringing the prospect of a demilitarized Internet and cyberspace that little bit closer. Yes, that would be the best scenario; however, for the moment, not the most realistic. Let’s just keep pushing for it.

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Chillin’ in Shillin.

China is a fascinating country, and I’d say also a mostly untapped country in terms of tourism for the average non-Chinese: it’s full of world-class tourist attractions, but most outside the country have never heard of them, let alone visited them. Oh, of course, it’s also a huge country, so it can be visited time and time again, and there’ll always be something still left for you to see and marvel at. Nice.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on these here cyber-pages that the Chinese tend to ‘stew in their own juices’. By that I mean their domestic tourism industry doesn’t orientate itself to foreigners much at all. Of course there are the obvious tourist traps here which are widely promoted abroad – like the Great Wall of China and the larger cities – but, ironically, those places don’t really need any promo – the whole world knows full well about them already; it’s the not-so obvious spots that could do with promoting. However, in the meantime, there’s a good upshot to this lopsided tourism situation: for a foreigner, the less obvious spots are all the more exciting to discover – as you’re normally the first person among your friends and colleagues, or maybe the whole city you live in (whole country?:), to have ever visited them. Well, with the exception of Austrian bikers.

I say that tourism isn’t geared towards foreigners. That doesn’t mean to say it isn’t well developed in other ways. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of the smaller, lesser-known-to-foreigners places in the country are classified into five categories and described in minute detail, here. The top category (four As, or five As, I didn’t quite work out) is full of must-see places, and I was pleasantly surprised once more to find out that there are more than 50 spots in the top category (AAAAA). That’s a lot of must-sees. Means only one thing: must get back here again and again.

On my recent trip to the Yunnan province I made a start in crossing off some of the places on the AAAAA list as visited. Well, got to start some time, and some where.

One of these was Shilin, aka, the Stone Forest, near Kunming (Shilin means literally ‘stone forest’). And thank you I Heart China. The place was simply awesome…



Read on: Ancient aqueous rocks pushed to the earth’s surface…

Austrian plate – in Yunnan State.

On my recent travels I came across a van with Austrian plates in the parking lot of the hotel I was staying at. So what, right? Thing is, the hotel was in the city of Lijiang in the Yunnan Province of the People’s Republic of China, here!



Maybe this isn’t quite so mind-blowing as, say, a couple of German Merc jeeps in Australia, but all the same – not what you’d expect.

The van was accompanying bikers from Austria, who were real interesting guys – motorbiking right round the globe! We had a good long friendly chinwag, so here’s a plug for their thing: site, blog. Why not?

Turned out they know all about KL, having been our customers for years! Big thanks!

But what, you might be thinking, brought me to such a distant and remote neck of the global woods?

Read on: business matters as always…

Kamchatka-2015: Pauzhetka – where the electricity is free.

There’s a small remote village in Kamchatka called Pauzhetka – to the far south of the peninsula. It’s so small and remote, Google Maps shows, er, nothing, where in fact lies this settlement. It just didn’t get round to it I guess.

Perhaps that’s understandable: the village (situated between the Sea of Okhotsk and Kurile Lake) is surrounded on all sides by volcanoes. Pauzhetka is so unremarkable, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page dedicated to it. (Hmmm, maybe one just needs writing then; maybe even a grandiose Wiki affair with photos, facts and figures, history and other details? Well why not? Any volunteers? Internet enthusiasts to the rescue of online Pauzhetka!)

We were told that the name Pauzhetka comes from the former name – Pauzha – of a local river. I wonder, was that the Itelmen name? Well, anyway, that river is now called Pauzhetka too. Just so no one confuses the two.

I like how Pauzhetka sounds. I imagine a ‘pause’ when thinking of this place. As if life is put on pauze when folks come here, as it’s so out of the normal rhythm of life and the world. Something like that anyway.

Pauzhetka is just one of many interesting-sounding names on Kamchatka. Others include: the Goreliy (burnt) volcano, the Dvugorbaya (twin-peaked) volcano, and the Falshiviy (false), and Zhirovoy (fatty) streams!

// Sure, pioneers often gave bizarre names to the peaks, valleys, bays and other places they discovered. For example, in South Africa there’s a False Bay, which has a most interesting tale behind it. However, today’s post is about Kamchatkan names only.

There are more odd names, particularly of volcanoes. Examples: Mutniy (muddy), Beliy (white), Ploskiy (flat), Shish (the ‘bird‘:), Ostriy (sharp), and Spokoyniy (calm).

But now – back to the main topic: Pauzhetka. What else is there to Pauzhetka? Three main things (besides volcanism plain and simple):

– A geothermal power plant;
– Fruit and veg;
– Much natural beauty.

The geothermal power plant produces not only gigawatts of free-of-charge thermal electricity for Kamchatkans, but also lots and lots of boiling water for the valley below (also free), which the locals naturally put to good use with pleasure.

The hot water might also have a hand in making the fruit and vegetables grown in the many greenhouses in and around the village as tasty as we discovered them to be. And not only the obvious tomatoes, cabbages and potatoes, but also watermelons! Some even claim that pineapples and papayas are grown, though we didn’t catch a glimpse of any such exotic fruit – they must be tucked away deep inside the greenhouse jungle.

Here’s the view of the Pauzhetka area from one of the mountains next to it (the village itself isn’t visible, just like on Google:).


Read on: not only a beautiful place, but very tasty too one too!…

JFK Reloaded.

Most US airports are catastrophically crummy when it comes to connections. So, when planning multi-leg air journeys, if you ever get the opportunity to not have a connection in the country – take it; even if that means using the in-flight services of your most hateful airline!

But out of all American airports, one in particular is so awful… well, you just feel embarrassed for the country for accommodating such an abomination. Yes folks, this airport is so appallingly atrocious that it needs to be avoided at all costs. As a frequent business traveler I established a strict embargo on using it several years ago already, and if you too travel the world up in the air quite a lot, I recommend you do the same.

At least, that’s the situation as I know (knew?) it. But then along comes D.Z. singing its praises after a recent positive experience there (why he was embargo-busting in the first place I’ve yet to find out:). Must say, his arguments seem convincing. So I’ll now pass the reins over to him, and let you decide for yourself…:


Location: On board the Moscow to New York Delta flight (DL467), September, 2015. 

News: From December 1, 2015 Delta Airlines will be stopping its flights to Russia, for reasons known only to itself. However, I think Aeroflot and other airlines will be fully aware of the reasons, and understand, share and support them.

‘Delta’… the airline with traditionally unobtrusive air service. But this time… 

…One of the toilets at the front is ‘reserved for pilots only’. To one side of it there’s a trolley blocking the aisle; to the other there’s a flight attendant installed telling all-comers not to go further – ‘it’s for the pilots, and there are some safety rules’ or some such. When pressed, she remarks: ‘Use the other toilet!’. Ok! So the whole of business class gets in the endless line for the loo on the other side!

So what shall I do now? 

Terminator Genisys – watched! Mad Max 4 – watched a month earlier. Emails all sorted, Kaspersky Daily blogpost ready for publication.

But then, suddenly, somewhere between Norway and Iceland I notice the onboard Wi-Fi! $14.95 for an hour, $27.95 for the flight, $45.95 for the day. Ok. Credit card inserted, PIN entered, logged in. Let’s see how fast this baby goes…


Woh! No sooner do I press ‘enter’ – I’m fully connected to the WWW! EH??!!

Read on: Will Eugene drop his embargo already?…

And in sports news – Misha is the chess champion!

Oh yes, the boy’s done good ace! Mikhail Antipov, our chess champ, has won the World U20 Championship 2015!

How the boy’s come on – from the modest boy-next-door, to the widely known (at least in the world chess clique:) world-beating champion with major trophies on the mantelpiece already! What’s especially pleasant about this news? Actually, all of it!…

First – chess is a very useful and proper pastime for training the brain. And if it grows into being a professional undertaking with worldwide recognition – ah, that’s the second already. And third, it’s nice to know we had a hand in seeing Misha make it to the top, after supporting him since his early days in the game.


Read on:

Kamchatka-2015 – If you can walk with bears…

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, and you find yourself on the bank of Kurile Lake and are told to ‘go check out the sand bank’ by your guides, make sure you agree and get yourself over there! For what you’ll get is a heady cocktail of adrenaline, delight and emotions. Why? Because… of all the bears. And not just a handful, but a whole big pack of them…


Read on: the place is packed full of grizzlies…