Monthly Archives: May 2019

San Marino – Europe’s third-smallest country, don’t you know.

Ciao folks!

Herewith, a tiny post on a tiny addition to my not-tiny list of been-to’s in the world.

As time goes by, my getting a +1 to my countries-visited list seems to become less and less frequent. Maybe that’s because I’ve been to that many – more than 90. Yes, perhaps. But with 206 countries currently in the world, it really shouldn’t mean I’ve much excuse to start slowing down with my new-adds, surely. There’s still plenty of countries to go.

For example, even in nearby (i.e., easily-accessible) Europe, I’ve a full six states left to go: San Marino, Slovenia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus and Moldova.

//… Six, that is, according to one definition of which countries are part of Europe. What about, for example, the countries of the Caucuses region? Are they in Europe or in Asia (or both?). If they are, then I need to add Georgia to my list of European yet-to-checks. I’ve been on its territory, but that wasn’t quite Georgia: it was the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (Batumi, 1981).

And I’m sure there will be other question marks within my list: some countries aren’t recognized by certain states. But I don’t want to get into that can of worms.

Aaaanyway. Back to my +1. It was the tiny teeniest of countries – one perhaps whose sovereign status you might not even have been aware of (as many Europeans aren’t:). So – drum roll – it was….. ah, you already know: it’s in the title to this post!. So much for the added drum-drama ).

San Marino is a microstate set in the Apennine mountains, surrounded completely by Italy. In a few words: unique, unusual, unusually awesome, unusually old, and unusually wealthy. Unusually beautiful too…

And that’s all I’ll say about San Marino. This is one of those posts… for the Instagram generation, perhaps: Less words – more pics!

Read on..

Formula Paris-E.

Bonjour folks!

Today’s post is all about Formula E. Just in case that term is a new one to you – the ‘E’ stands for ‘Electric’. And the ‘Formula’ – yep, that’s like just like with ‘Formula 1’. Combined – you’ve guessed it: F1 but with electric cars!

It was only a matter of time since the electric car came into fairly widespread use that they’d start being raced a la Formula 1. And indeed, already for four and a half years they have been racing – around large cities across the globe, garnering more and more attention as time passes. And finally, the other week, I found myself at my first ePrix – in Paris!

And we weren’t just spectating, we take part too; first, with our expertise: we protect the cyber-infrastructure of the Envision Virgin team.

Second: with our sponsorship: check out the panels each side of the driver’s head!

Read on…

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

Notre Dame – optimism, despite the harm.

Bonjour folks!

I’m a technical guy, so I get attracted like a magnet to different kinds of unusual and/or unique buildings. And that includes old – even ancient ones. Standing awestruck at the architectural/construction works of the ancient masters is something I do a lot. How did they manage that? How come their proportions are so exact? How come they had a grand vision and followed through to build massive masterpieces – which simply wouldn’t be built these days, even given the resources.

In Paris there are plenty of such constructions. And when in town I often tread the same path I always have, and could never become bored of it: Eiffel Tower > Pompidou Center > Notre-Dame. So it came as a bit of a shock hearing the news of the fire in the latter one late evening in northern Taiwan. The early accounts of the damage made me think it was all over for Our Lady of Paris. Of course it would be repaired and restored – but it wouldn’t be quite the same would it?

When I arrived in the French capital a few days later – I rushed to see the damage for myself. And was cheered up no end by seeing that things weren’t as bad as made out in the press. She’s still standing tall and proud! Sure, there’s plenty of damage – but not everywhere. I tried to get up close but it was cordoned off, so had to settle for inspecting the damage from a way off:

Read on…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog

Northern Taiwan, 101.

Actively checking out Taiwanese natural places of interest can bring on sudden attacks of hunger, as I found out the other week while in the far north of the island. When our stomachs were rumbling simply too loudly for comfort, we were ushered to the town of Juifen to put a stop to the noise. And guess what – the town of Juifen is… must-see! Particularly – must-eat-in )! Especially – if you’re a big fan of Chinese cuisine, which I certainly am. Oh my gourmet!…

The place is made up of a labyrinth of narrow little streets, in many places with some roof-like construction up above to keep off the rain. There’s less of an emphasis on souvenirs (like you often get with cute little places like these that attract tourists and natives alike), and more of one on: grub! Yeh! All different kinds of grub too – albeit of the Chinese kind. Eateries, restaurants, cafes, greasy spoons; eat-ins, takeaways; boiled, steamed, fried; meat, fish, veggies – ice cream too. Hissing, bubbling… and the fragrances: they sure got the appetite up. And it looks like this:

Read on…

Much Ado About Hoodoo.

Practically at the northernmost point of Taiwan there’s a place that’s categorically necessarily mandatorily recommended for a visit: it’s the Yehliu Geopark, whose main attraction are the very rare natural phenomena of which there are just a few specimens throughout the world: hoodoo formations – outcrops made up of horizontal layers of rock of varying hardness. As a result of some not-fully-understood geology, tectonics push these formations up to the earth’s surface, then they’re eroded by the wind and rain – with the lower, softer layers being worn away quicker than the upper, harder ones. The result: totally inconceivable shapes. Sometimes they’re so far-fetched and extraordinary it’s hard to believe they’re 100% natural.

Read on…

Why old-school sci-fi is more relevant now than ever.

April was a busy month for me, with lots of flying. And lots of flying means lots of movie-watching or reading or both. Herewith, a quick review of some highlights and some discussion thereof…

On one flight I re-watched Tarkovsky’s Solaris for the umpteenth time. IMHO, it’s aged well. Sure, there aren’t today’s special effects, but that doesn’t matter. And anyway, the Hollywood version from 2002 is apparently low on effects too. Indeed, this is no Star Wars or Matrix or some other sci-fi blockbuster. This is the thinking person’s drama-mystery sci-fi flick. And anyway (again!), I haven’t seen the 2002 version with Amal Clooney’s husband starring ). I wonder what it’s like. I guess the dialog may be the same so it’s surely worth a watch. It’ll differ perhaps only in that there’ll be no smoking indoors (on space ships!), and there won’t be a VCR in sight ).

Not seen the original Solaris, and you’re a thinking Homo sapiens? Then you really must. Why? Many reasons (e.g., the question: ‘is it better than ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’?’:) but here’s a very ‘current’ one: AI.

For Solaris, nearly 50 years ago, was already telling us that artificial intelligence could become more human than, er, humans themselves. In the film, a higher intelligence – the Solaris Ocean – is the one doing the experiments on humans – not the other way round. But that’s by-the-by. The central theme is a questioning of what it is to be human, of identity, of our ‘reality’. By way of example, here’s a quote from the film: an interaction with an artificial person – one being a clone of the human lead character’s long-dead wife, created by the Ocean:

We have no interest in conquering any cosmos. We want to extend the Earth to the borders of the cosmos. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds. We need a mirror. We struggle for contact, but we’ll never find it. We’re in the foolish human predicament of striving for a goal that he fears, that he has no need for.

[…]

I think that Kris Kelvin is more consistent than both of you. In inhuman conditions, he has behaved humanely. And you act as if none of this concerns you, and consider your guests – it seems that’s what you call us – something external, a hindrance. But it’s a part of you. It’s your conscience. And Kris loves me. Maybe it’s not me he loves, but he’s simply protecting himself. He wants me alive. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter why man loves. It’s different for everyone. It’s not Kris. It’s you. I hate you all.

I would ask you… Please don’t interrupt me. I’m a woman, after all. You’re not a woman and you’re not a human being. Understand that, if you’re capable of understanding anything. There is no Hari. She’s dead. You’re just a reproduction, a mechanical reproduction. A copy. A matrix.

Hmmm. And talking of a matrix – one could say the film’s a forerunner of the Hollywood blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves (at a stretch). But I digress…

Not only did I re-watch a classic sci-fi movie, I also re-read a classic sci-fi novel – H.G. Wells’ Time Machine – perhaps the perfect complement to Solaris, for it, too, is about tragic contact between Homo sapiens and non-Homo sapiens.

Btw – it was, I think, Wells who first came up with the idea of folks traveling through time not by magic but through the use of technology. He also introduced the idea of the fourth dimension – space time. And when you think this book was written nearly 125 years ago (!!), you have to take the proverbial hat off to Mr. Wells ).

There’s a bonus when reading books as old as this. There are words in them that are alien to newer generations – like ‘ink’, for example. So there are history lessons dotted throughout such books, and that’s important, for, as we all know, if you don’t know the past, you won’t know the present, never mind the future…

Another btw: it was Wells who guessed that stars, at the end of their lives, turn into red giants. Science hadn’t worked it out back then; Wells imagined it – scientists later confirmed it ).

After watching and reading two retro-futuristic masterpieces, I was inspired to re-read a third – the book on which the film Solaris is based: Stanislaw Lem’s – 1961! – novel of the same name. So I did. And I highly recommend you do too!

That’s all for today folks. Back soon!…

 

 

 

(Motoring through) marble marvels in Taiwan, pt. 3.

Hi folks!

Herewith, my next dispatch from Taiwan…

I’ve already told you about the footpaths that run through the tunnels here. Well there’s a road too – the Central Cross-Island Highway. Built – and in some places chiseled – in 1956–1960, back then it was quite the pioneering engineering feat. Still today they’re renovating and improving it. And they’ve got their work cut out: there are frequent earthquakes, and typhoons cause flooding and mudslides. They dig out new sections for the cars, and the old ones get passed over to tourism.

Read on…

Marble marvels in Taiwan, pt. 2.

Next up on my marble-mountain trekBaiyang Waterfall Trail.

Curious story alert!…

In the ’80s, they wanted to build a hydroelectric power station here. They got as far as damming up several parts of the gorge and gouging out drainage tunnels that ran through the rock, but then the project was canned. But what to do with tunnels? Of course – use them as tourist tunnel-paths! One of the tunnels is forever leaking (safely) – which makes for perhaps the most interesting of all the tunnels here:

Read on…

Marble marvels in Taiwan – pt. 1.

Hi folks!

Oh my gigabytes! Yet again I’ve returned home with a zillion photos full of impressive emotions and emotional impressions!…

Right; now, where shall I start? Yes – the most interesting: the Taroko National Park in Taiwan – here.

An amazing place! Mountains… – made out of nothing but marble! The local tectonics here have gifted the place with marvelous marble constructions that come from the depths of the ocean and reach up thousands of meters. The highest peak here is that of Nanhu mountain, weighing in at some 3742 meters above sea level – and all of it marble! In fact, the whole island of Taiwan is the result of subduction of two tectonic plates: the Philippine Sea Plate slipped under and pushed up the Eurasian Plate, including this super selection of formerly underground marble; the elements over the millennia did their erosion thing, and the result is these here monumental rock formations. And the process is still going on today.

Blue water on white marble:

Read on…

My yearly ‘hi’ – to delightful Dubai.

Dubai. Oh my, oh my. A unique, splendid city. I’ve written about the place plenty here before, and it also features in my Top-20 Best, Must-See Cities of the World list. I’d been here before many times. And I looked it up – yes – this visit was my 12th!

I was first here in 2005, when we signed our first partner agreement in the region. Ever since, practically every year there’s been an event of some kind I attended – an exhibition, partner conference, F1 race, etc., etc. But I like it so much I sometimes come here just to chill on the beach for a day or two or three. And I try and stay in the unparalleled Atlantis too ).

I also find the place fascinating due to all the construction that’s always going on here – it’s one of the largest and busiest building sites in the world. I remember at the beginning of the 2010s someone saying that around a quarter of all skyscraper-high cranes were in Dubai (I reckon the other three-quarters were in China:). From the world’s tallest buildings to daring artificial islands. It’s nice to return every year and see what new audacious real estate project has been added to the existing zillion ).

Here are a few pics from 2008, right after Atlantis was opened, and two years after Palm Jumeirah was finished:

Read on…