Magadan–Moscow, part one: Our first taste of -50°C.

Onward, west-ward… I continue my tales from the permafrost side on our Magadan – Moscow Road Trip. In this portion of words & pics – the first segment: to Yakutsk via Oymyakon along the Kolyma Highway. So stock up on your levels of patience, for there’s a lot coming up; lots and lots – tons! I mean, you know I’m normally fairly trigger-happy with my camera (if that’s a thing), right? But on this leg of our journey? Well, since there was such a high concentration of overwhelming impressions and searing emotions, the resultant quantities of photos and videos taken – it got a bit out of hand: all sense of proportion having been lost. For it turned out that, unexpectedly, the road from Magadan to Yakutsk is something utterly, fantasically unusual.

Getting to Oymyakon isn’t quick these days. The nearest airport, in the nearby village of Tomtor, was abandoned long ago. The drive from Yakutsk takes two days; from Magadan – three. We were bracing ourselves for the three days of weary monotony necessary to get ourselves to the world’s coldest settlement. Little did we know – we needn’t have!…

The winter-wonderland-fairytale began earlier than when we reached Oymyakon – much earlier: after the first sunrise and once we’d crossed our first mountain pass. The world stopped being gray; it became white and silver; and golden – from the low sun.

The first amazement-fascination came simply from how beautiful everything was. Unexpected, unpredictable, unbelievable: the Kolyma Highway is simply magical!

It’s just so stunning – almost to the point of euphoria – driving along a highway through a completely white world. The road rises up a bit, hour after hour, then a little to the right or left, down again and straight on – and the white fairytale scenes never stop. How far we’ve gone or have still left to go is ignored. Another descent, and into an icy fog…

For several days it never got warmer than -50°C (-58°F). Later it did. But it was this first ultra-cold leg of our journey that was most ultra-entrancing.

When we landed in Magadan it was around -15°C (5°F). A little later it went down to -25°C (-13°F). They say it’s a bit ‘warmer’ (!) in Magadan since it’s by the sea. Ok, it is the perennially cold (even in August – I should know!) Sea of Okhotsk, but all the same it acts as protection for the city against the mercury ever going lower than -40°C (guess how much in °F?).

But once we’d covered a reasonable distance from Magadan, the security blanket that is the Sea of Okhotsk was slowly pulled away and we entered an altogether ‘other’ world. The temperatures outside (not inside the cars, phew) dropped steadily – the thermometers going down past -30 and then – faster – further and further down. We were lucky the first day: it never went below -40°C.

On the first day we covered some 700 kilometers to the town of Susuman. And along those 700 kilometers that separate Susuman and Magadan there are only five little settlements: Palatka, Atka, Orotukan, Debin and Yagodnoe. In three words: far, desolate, cold. Early on there’s a fourth word to add: asphalt. Later it needs dropping – instead of asphalt there’s mere gravel (handily covered in smooth ice!). Then…

Then – the first of the hills, including one named Deduskhina Lysina (Granddad’s Bald Head!). This is where normally the temperature falls sharply to -40°C or below. But, like I say, we were lucky – a ‘comfortable’ minus thirty was rolled out for us ). Around here is also where everything turns white. Incredible, extreme, serene scenes.

As we set off in the morning on the second day it was -40, but come afternoon we hit our first -50! Oh my glaciation! Everything – trees, signposts, safety barriers, telephone lines – all of it completely covered in white hoarfrost:

On, and on, and on. Hypnotic. With hardly any need to slow down to take a turn, you get into a groove: the car basically drives itself while you stare at the road ahead – trance-like!

Occasionally we stop at the most beautiful spots, on the tops of hills or at vantage points where the views were impossibly out-of-this-world. Out come the cameras, and out come the gasps of astonishment at the surrounding vastness, whiteness, awesomeness…

Alas, daylight is short-lived each day. The sun would come up around 09:30 (but it would be hidden behind the hilltops), and it would set around 15:30. That gives just six hours of daylight: woefully little time for photography stops. Still, the scarcity of light hours meant that when we did stop each minute was treasured: it was straight down to the business of serious snapping; no aimless, frivolous activity (too cold anyway!).

After dense frosted forest scenes, a portion of vast open spaces and gently undulating hills and valleys: the second auto-meditation session:

And the road is completely empty – no one on it except us. Until!…

Naturally, out came the camera for this once-in-a-blue-moon event! And can you see the driver rubbing his chin there in amazement at seeing our convoy heading the other way?!

And that was how we rolled.

Now, you got another seven hours to spare? Yes? Then check out the dash-cam vid of the Susuman – Ust-Nera leg. The times given are MSK minus five hours, btw.

Not got seven hours? Then for you – the highlights! ->

1:00:00 – Sun up, and OMG-beauty! Much meditation possible mandatory here.
1:31:00 – The abandoned city of Kadykchan.
2:36:00 – Simply woah!

To be continued!…

The rest of the photos from our Magadan–Moscow road trip are here.

Magadan to Moscow in a car – very cold and very far.

Hi strangers!

Yes, yes, it has been a while. But of course there can only be one reason for that: I’ve been busier than ever, despite the pandemic! Ok, unnecessary humble excuse over with – let’s get on with this post )…

All righty. You’ve probably seen an Instagram or two of me out in the crazy-cold climes of the Russian Far East earlier this year – or maybe not. Whatever, the time has finally come to get past the canapés, and onto the hors d’oeuvres: the intro-post on my recent race across Russia – my winter wonder-Far-Eastern cross-Russia road trip, which started out along the R504 Kolyma Highway from Magadan (further east than Japan!) and ended in Moscow weeks later. The journey turned out to be action-packed, a whole lotta fun, and of course rather extreme given the intense cold. But I don’t think any of us was quite expecting a magical world of endless, mostly straight roads cutting across vast white expanses of severe steppe or forested undulating hills stretching as far as the eye can see. It goes without saying that all fellow travelers were suitably spellbound and hypnotized by the experience.

Being so far north, and the time of year being the middle of winter, the sun hardly ever rose at all from its slumber; but this imbued the icy landscapes with a paradoxically warm golden glow for much of the day like nowhere I’ve seen before:

Read on…

Flickr photostream

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One Billboard Outside Wellington, New Zealand.

Where does the clock strike midnight first on the planet?…

…Or in fact any minute, or hour, or day, or a New Year, or whatever other unit of time: where, in time, on this orb of ours, does it comes first?

Well, not a lot of people know this but it is… on Kiritimati, aka Christmas Island (the eastern-most of the atolls that make up Kiribati, the island nation) bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – half-way between Australia and North America. So, how come? Well, Kiribati happens to have the earliest time zone on the planet – UTC+14:00. So its inhabitants (and anyone visiting the islands) are the ones who first hear a clock strike 12, or the year change from one to the next, and so on; 14 hours earlier than in London, for example (UTC+0)

Why am I telling you this? Well, we needed to get to a spot in the world with the ‘best view of the future’. Why? I’ll get to that in a bit…

So, we needed to get ourselves, ideally, to Christmas Island, with its unquestioned best viewing location for looking to the future – where if you look to the east from its easternmost beach you literally see tomorrow out over the ocean (right?!)! However, Christmas Island isn’t the easiest of places to get to at the best of times, but during a pandemic-lockdown – ouch. So we had to look for the next-best thing…

And we didn’t need to look too far, relatively – just a little to the west and down a bit: to New Zealand, a country close to my heart. Once there, we needed to get ourselves to somewhere on the eastern coastline, and we opted for a place called Castlepoint – precisely here.

So, what is all this looking-to-the-future business? Actually – very much our business. For here at K, we’re pretty darn future-oriented. We have to be – to combat the cyberthreats of tomorrow: always needing to be one step ahead of the cyber-baddies, who are (alas) the embodiment of ‘future-oriented’. I mean look: we have our Safer Tomorrow platform; there’s our Earth 2050 project; there’s our Tomorrow Unlocked; there’s our latest company slogan – Bring on the Future. Heck, we’d trademark the word ‘future’ if we could! So, yes – you get it. ‘Future’ is our business. Accordingly, we needed the best spot in the world for literally looking into the future, which we figured would also be the best spot for future-oriented musing-reflection-meditation. Bring on New Zealand!…

But contemplating the technological progress of tomorrow, and even the future of humankind from the breathtakingly beautiful eastern seaboard of NZ might not come easy to everyone. Plus, of course, there’s getting there in person – hardly practical, right? Well, if you can’t take Castlepoint to Muhammad and everyone else in the world concerned about the future, we’ll just have to take Muhammad and everyone else to Castlepoint! Which is just what we did…

For the whole of February at Castlepoint there’ll be our unique billboard of the future, plus a livestream thereof accessible through your browser anywhere on the planet. As you can see, the right-hand side of the billboard is an empty frame – through which you can get a good look at the future, a rather picturesque one at that. And the left-hand side is a large digital screen with constantly changing predictions about the future of humankind and technology. So keep viewing, keep reading, and be ready for the future!…

Ok. You get that we’re all about the future. But why is it so important?

Read on…

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From Maldives to… Magadan!

One of the most pressing problems facing the world today is global warming. Its effects can be witnessed all over the globe – from the Americas to… Zambia. Whether man-made pollution has much of an overall effect on specifically global warming is open to question, and question that postulate I did some months back (but before you scream ‘climate change denier!’, no one’s denying climate change. Click the link first:). But global warming is for real, whatever its causes, and it’s serious and should concern us all. Ok, but what’s any of this to do with Maldives or Magadan in the title? Well…

It turns out both locations may become more perceptibly vulnerable to global warming – and quicker – than most. Maldives: the sea level goes up due to melting ice caps… and it could be curtains. Magadan: if the permafrost there thaws – it might not be full curtains, but the changes to the flora and fauna could be significant. Ok, but what’s the connection between the two – Maldives and Magadan? Well…

There is nothing really that connects Maldives and Magadan. Two places on the planet couldn’t be more different. It was us who made the connection: flying from Maldives to Magadan! Not directly (no flights: shame; would have shaved off hours up in the air).

Now – why Maldives? Why not?!

And why Magadan? Well, we reckoned it might just be the last opportunity to ever really experience the true OMG-crazy-cold of northeastern Siberia!

All righty: back to the Maldives where we began…

Read on…

Island-hopping with ease – in paradisical Maldives!

And the first place in yesterday’s post – the tropical one with the novel Christmas trees – is (as title of this blogpost has somewhat given away)…

Maldives!

Did you guess right? Or did you spot the clue in the very last of the tropical snaps – Devarana – a nice spa on one of the islands, which is as Google-able as just about anything.

This paradisical place is made up of 26 atolls, which in turn are made up of more than a thousand islands! Some are inhabited – many are resort islands – but most of them have never been settled upon. There are a zillion pics of the picture-perfect archipelago on the internet, be they having been taken on land, underwater or from the air, but here are some of my own aerial pics too:

Read on…

What, no Christmas tree?!

Welcome back folks!

Ok, 2020-review: done.

Next up, my first 2021 blogpost proper – on how we met the New Year.

And we happened to have met it in an exotic location somewhere far away – hurray! (Who’d have thought it? Actually – me! It’s 2021 already!) The suitcases (more than usual) were all packed, and it was time to get going…

Not that seeing in the New Year in some distant place is new to me: I’ve done it… on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, near the peak of a volcano in Indonesia, next to high-altitude hot springs in Ecuador, and even at the South Pole. But on those and other New Year’s Eves > New Year’s Days, there was always a Christmas tree. If not a real one, at least a plastic – green! – one. This year, the Christmas tree situation was… strange. There were… surrogates: tropical installations doing their best fir-tree impression, but which were decidedly not even green. Strange – yes; but also clearly creatively constructed with care, and suitably festively decorated. Like! ->

Read on…

MLAD – Keeping factories running using machine learning for anomaly detection.

Phew. Thank goodness it’s over. The ghastliest year known to most of us ever – finally done, dusted, finito, fertig. Let’s just hope, as many folks are repeating: ‘2021 will be better; it can’t be worse, surely?!’

For a good 10 months of last year practically the whole world was in a permanent state of shock. And I don’t just mean the world’s population; private business and national economies were also hit incredibly hard. Alas, one field that hasn’t been affected badly at all – in fact it has only benefitted from the pandemic, greatly – is cybercrime. Folks locked down and working from home and spending much more time online meant there were many more potential cybercrime victims ripe for the hacking. And not just individual users, but also companies: with employees working from home, many corporate networks came under attack as they weren’t sufficiently protected since, in the rush to get everyone working remotely quickly in the spring, security wasn’t given priority. In short, the whole world’s digital status quo was also badly shaken up by this vicious virus from hell.

As a result of the rise in cybercrime – in particular that targeting vulnerable corporate networks – the cybersecurity sector has been busier than ever. Yes – that includes us! 2020 for us as a Kompany turned out to be most productive. For example, the number of new versions of our solutions launched throughout the year was most impressive – especially in the enterprise sector.

We’ve also had new versions in our industrial cybersecurity solutions line up, one of which is what I want to talk about today – some teKh known as MLAD. Not to be confused with online funny-video sites, or MLAD that’s short for Minimum Local Analgesic Dose, or MLAD that’s short for Mid Left Anterior Descending artery, our MLAD is short for Machine Learning for Anomaly Detection.

If you’re a regular reader of our blogs, you may recall something about this tech of ours. Maybe not. Anyway – here’s a refresher/into, just in case…

Our MLAD is a system that uses machine learning to analyze telemetry data from industrial installations to pinpoint anomalies, attacks or breakdowns.

Let’s say you have a factory with thousands of sensors installed throughout – some measuring pressure, some temperature, others – whatever else. Each sensor generates a constant flow of information. An employee keeping track of all those flows is fairly impossible, but for machine learning – it’s a walk in the park. Having preliminarily trained up a neuro network, MLAD can, based on direct or indirect correlations, detect that something’s wrong in a certain section of the factory. In doing so, million or multimillion-dollar damages caused by potential incidents not nipped in the bud can be avoided.

Ok – that’s the overall idea of what MLAD does. Let me now try and relate the granular scale of the analysis MLAD accomplishes using a medical metaphor…
Read on: MLAD

My 2020 review: despite the pandemic, we still came through!

First, a toast!

Here’s to… successful adaptation throughout last year, and to everyone having… a good sense of smell this year! Hurray!

Sure, the New Year celebrations were weeks ago. But there’s still my traditional yearly review to complete! Well here it is finally – better late than never. And the first thing I can say about it is that the volume of my activities was way down below what it normally is; example: I took a mere 36 flights throughout the year! I haven’t had such a modest total since 2006!

Despite the meager results in terms of numbers of trips, there’s still quite a bit for me to tell you and show you. I added a few long-anticipated +1s to my Top-100 Must-See List, and returned to some of the more marvelous places on earth where I’ve been before; for example: the Altai Mountains – for a totally fantastic summer expedition-vacation. It was so fantastic I want to go back yet again! ->

Read on…

Happy 14th Birthday, FanKlub!

Once upon a time, long ago – but just within the furthest reaches of our digital archive – a few interesting events occurred…

Now, many companies have a global internet forum. A place where keen followers of the company and its product line gather, and where users go to sort out issues they may be having. We have one too.

Global. All very well, but not very intimate. All a bit too mechanical. All a bit too utilitarian and broad-stroke. Not personal: no real rapport. So we thought and debated and scratched heads regarding a different approach. And the eventual result: the birth of our localized – Russian – fan club, 14 years ago!

And just like we like to celebrate our birthday as a company in style, our fan club does too, in recent years even going on exotic expeditions for the occasion: Cambodia, Iceland and elsewhere. This year another expedition was planned, but then it was postponed, then postponed again, for the obvious reasons. Summer – the season the birthday falls in – came and went, yet still no b-day bash. Fall came and went. The last season of the year came… and so there was only one thing for it: this year’s celebrations would take place in winter! Which they just did…

Read on…

2020: the year everything went online – including our Korporativ.

Gathering together, having fun, making a lot of noise, and dancing a jig – it’s what we do; occasionally ). But around the end of every year, we do so with extra aplomb. Normally that means bringing K-folks from all over the planet to Moscow and fitting them into a suitably large venue for our festive bash. (With every year we’ve had fewer and fewer options re the venue, as we’re getting so big: we’re now able to fill the largest indoor venues of the capital – for example, Luzhniki (think – where Rammstein, among others, has played), or the Olympiysky stadium (Depeche Mode…)). We’d sum up the year, present awards to our best and brightest, and then party… like it’s 1999, if that’s still a thing, bubbly in hand.

(photo from 2016)

Gathering together literally all our K-team in one place is of course impossible: there are the 24-hour threat-monitoring and user-support folks who need to be at work, for example. Still, most of the Moscow office would normally be at our yearly Christmas bash, plus plenty of K-ambassadors from our overseas offices – from the Americas to Australia. Our guests would be fed, watered (!), then treated to our traditional variety show-extravaganza put on by the more Kreative among us. Add singing and dancing for good measure – and a few measures of something else while you’re at it – and it all adds up to a gala bash-blowout that’s fun for all and the perfect way of seeing off the outgoing year properly.

Here are a few of my reports on previous year-end shindigs: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

And some photos:

Eventually, the inevitable happened: we became too big to fit into any venue. And we could hardly start having it outside (comfortably) given the sub-zero temperatures at this time of year. So, alas, for the last two years, we simply haven’t had our New Year Korporativ. Boo! And then… 2020 happened…

Read on…