NOTA BENE

Notes, comment and buzz from Eugene Kaspersky – Official Blog

July 28, 2015

Iceland: Niceland.

I’d long dreamed of one day getting to the very volcanic island of Iceland for a spot of sightseeing, trekking and leisurely driving. I’d heard great things from friends and colleagues, seen some awesome pics of the scenery there, and heard some of the island’s music, but only recently did I finally find myself spending a few days there after doing some business in the country.

Iceland waterfalls

Sweeping, grandiose, lush, monumental – just a few of the adjectives that spring to mind when attempting to describe this island after having been there. And now, IMHO, I consider it to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet; and as you know, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places on the planet. Of course the weather and climate situation here can be difficult, but that’s to be expected when the polar ice cap isn’t that far away… And anyway, it’s a minor drawback given the awesomeness of the island’s volcanoes, geysers and hot springs, glaciers and waterfalls, tectonism (a new word in my lexicon; will tell you more about it later on) and other natural beauty.

So stock up on the popcorn, for today and in coming days a series of photo-textual-travelogue posts is coming your way. For starters, a small selection of photographic masterpieces highlighting some of the best bits from the trip.

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Read on: The ‘greatest hits’ of Iceland…

July 23, 2015

The tiniest biggest country in the world.

Hi folks!

This here post is the last in my mini-series from St. Petersburg. It continues the ‘places to visit‘ theme, but with a difference; for the place it describes resembles a museum, but it isn’t a museum really, I think. Or maybe it is. It claims to be one… Hmmm, whatever it is, it’s unusual, unique, and a must-see!

It is a bit like a museum or art gallery in that you’re not allowed under any circumstances to touch the… exhibits, even though they’re not really exhibits… Confused? You won’t be…

 

'He touched the exhibit/model!'Sign: ‘He touched the exhibit/model!’ On shirt: ‘I’m being punished’

This is Grand Maket Rossiya! Maket is a Russian word with numerous, similar meanings, but choosing the right one to translate into English can be tricky. This is perhaps proved by the people behind the maket having left it as just that – maket, even though it isn’t an English word. When they describe the place on the site it’s put as a ‘layout’. They mean a scale model of the Russian landscape – a miniature version of the layout of the country, making it the smallest maket of the largest country in the world for sure. It’s also the second largest scale model of its kind in the world – behind Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.

This is a truly unique, mind-blowing, thoroughly enjoyable place. From the outside it’s nothing much – a not-so-large, unassuming building; inside – OMG. It’s like Dr. Who’s TARDIS! A massive miniature (!) scale model – an impossibly large kid’s toy; an impossibly large adult’s toy. Again though – not really a toy; what sort of toy is one you can’t touch? :)

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Read on: railroads and highways, cities, towns and villages, factories, power stations… everything!…

July 21, 2015

Railroad feats in St. Pete.

There are different kinds of museums.

There are real museums (in the classic understanding of the word), there are expositions, exhibitions, installations… What other words are there for describing such events? Graffiti! Btw, good quality graffiti done in good taste – is it an exposition or installation or hooliganism? The latter I cross out since good graffiti (IMHO) is real art. Oops. Off piste before even getting on piste. I do keep doing that…

So. Museums…

St. Petersburg is ram packed full of them. It’s like the museum capital of the world.

Now, I understand that if St. P’s museums were to be compared with, say, the Louvre or the British Museum, St. P’s may lag behind somewhat. However, considering the very difficult past St. Petersburg has had, its museums are a bit of a miracle. Museums weren’t all that well supported in post-imperial times; the same goes for during the 70+ years under Communism; obviously WWII was a major setback; and of late, post-CCCP, the city’s museums have continued to be somewhat neglected with no generous state or philanthropic sponsors coming forward as they do in the West. Maybe I’m wrong. But that’s how it seems to me. Do correct me if I’m mistaken.

There I go again… OK. Back to the main topic…

In Saint Pete there are the usual suspects: the museums children visit on school trips – the typical, the bland, the traditional, the obvious. So we, naturally, decided to shake things up a bit and go alternative, rebel, renegade! We went to… the Railroad Museum!

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Read on: let the pix do the talking…

July 20, 2015

St. Pete from above.

Hi all!

To get high up and look down and around, say, from up a mountain… it’s always cool and beautiful. But to fly up above for panoramic views of below – it’s even better. And best of all when it comes to flying for sightseeing purposes is the helicopter. Best of all when it comes to what to check out below…: a beautiful city. Best of all when it comes to beautiful cites…: one uniquely beautiful like St. Petersburg.

So of we choppered…

Pulkovo – Petergof – Bolshaya (Big) Neva – the Neva – Malaya (Little) Nevka – Pulkovo.

I’ve nothing much to say really. But a lot to show…:

Petergof:

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Read on: Bolshaya Neva and so on…

July 17, 2015

Tricky St. Pete.

St. Petersburg in summer, especially June and July – it’s… tricky. You’ve probably already heard that there’s hardly any nighttime at all in summer, as, well, the sun – well up the northern hemisphere this time of year, just pops over the horizon for a few measly hours, before it ‘rises’ again in the wee hours of the next morning. As a result, days can seem endless; well, they almost are. And you need good thick curtains or an eye mask to get some proper shut-eye of a ‘night’.

There’s another thing: you gotta make sure you’re where you got to be before the bridges go up. If they do, and you’re not where you need to be: oops. On the other hand, these bascule bridges have their advantages: what better excuse can there be to not be where you should be (and really don’t want to be)? “Can’t make it. No really: can’t – physically. The bridges are up!”.

Like I say, Peter – it’s tricky this time of year.

It’s tricky, but it’s also awesome. Just check out some of these White Nights & bridges-up views you can get to see. Awesome indeed…

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Read on: boats, canals, Neva…

July 16, 2015

How to help salmon breed.

There are all sorts of unusual phenomena in the world – both natural and manmade.

Sometimes they’re hunky dory and harmless, like horizontal waterfalls in Kimberley in Australia, manmade cascading falls at the Itaipu Dam, or the stunning sunsets on Santorini.

Other times they’re depressingly dreadful and destructive, like volcano eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.

There’s the static symmetry of mountains and volcanoes; there’s the slow and steady movement of things like tectonic plates, glaciers and snowcaps; and there’s the unpredictable though grimly inevitable things like avalanches and other such cataclysms. There are also freak, flash, or full-on floods, which come and go with intermittent regularity. Floods are what we get when the gods forget to turn the tap off when pouring a bath. So man has to intervene. He can’t get them to stop forgetting, so he has to design and construct large protective installations to drain water that’s just about to cause a flood – to make up for this godly absent-mindedness.

One place where heavenly amnesia occurs rather frequently is in the European part of Russia – just off the Gulf of Finland, especially around the delta of the river Neva. And by unlucky coincidence the city of St. Petersburg happens to be situated right there. This is a city known for its heroism, victories and imperial cultural heritage, but also, alas, water-caused catastrophes. Of the latter it’s had more than its fair share. For those interested – here.

Still interested? Then simply read the Bronze Horseman. It rules. It’s here btw, with plenty of commentary.

The short version:

St. Petersburgers naturally needed to do something about the flooding. Which is just what they did. Now, I’d heard about it before, but only recently did I finally get to see it in the flesh sun: around St. Petersburg there’s now a huge dam to protect the city from flooding. Pushkin’s poetic depictions of floods are now thankfully firmly a thing of the long-gone past – and good riddance.

Turns out, professional hydraulic designers and technicians scoff at the description ‘dam’ for this fantastic feat of engineering. They prefer: ‘complex of protective installations against flooding’. Doesn’t quite slip off the tongue, but if they insist, who am I to question it?

Now for a bit of technical data…

What was needed was a construction that would normally let reasonable amounts of water through from the Gulf of Finland into Neva Bay, but when catastrophically high waves come a-crashing in from the Baltic Sea would create a tall barrier to stop them causing a ruinous flood throughout the city. The installation also had to be able to let ocean-faring ships through on a daily basis, plus also not interfere with the delicate local marine ecology.

Plans to build the ‘dam’ were first made as far back as in the 19th century, but construction only started in 1979 (details – here). Then of course Communism finally arrived… and at the end of the 1980s construction was halted. Fast-forward to the early-2000s and the abandoned project was resuscitated, and in 2011 it was finally completed; and what they got was something truly damtastic!

I tried to find similar flood-control dams on the net but didn’t get very far. They’re all somehow a lot smaller in size. There’s one in London, one in Holland, one on the Elbe… But they’re all tiny compared to the whopping Russian 25-kilometer dam installation. Impressed I was.

There is one anti-flood installation that’s on a par – the one being built in New Orleans. When it’s completed it will be bigger; but for the moment the one in St.P is No.1!

To the layman who may encounter the construction, it’s simply a 25-km-long highway that crosses the Gulf of Finland from bank to bank, much like that one featured in Miami Vice that connects Miami to the Keys (which is much longer – but it ain’t no anti-flood installation:). Smooth tarmac, neat markings and signposts, entry and exit roads…: nice.

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Read on: Oh My Genius!!…

July 13, 2015

Sy. Petersburg.*

[*see the last-but-one paragraph.]

Of late my blogposts have been coming forth in series. There have been Kimberley 1-7, there are the Top-Places-themed posts coming up, and now, here – the first post of another series: on Saint Petersburg – the Window to Europe

Here we go!…

First – a bit of a long-winded intro. Long-winded, moi?

For some unknown reason I recently decided to tot up the number of cities in Russia I’ve been to. I mean just cities, not towns – so, let’s say, places with at least 100,000 folks living there. And I also mean cities I’ve properly visited: in which I stayed at least a few days. Accordingly, ‘passed through’, ‘saw its airport waiting for a connection’, even ‘quickly checked out its kremlin’, etc. all don’t count.

It turns out that my total for Russia is 14 cities. Listed from west to south to north to east, they are: Kaliningrad, Pskov, Velikiy Novgorod, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, Novorossiysk, Kazan, Saratov, Volgograd, Sochi, Yakutsk, Novosibirsk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski.

Of course there have been other towns and cities I’ve been to, but they don’t get included in my total due to the above-mentioned exception rules. So, ‘visited’ towns and cities not making the list include the following:

Uryupinsk, Kozmodemyansk, Dmitrov, Dubna, Kolomna, Torzhok, Kozelsk, Kem, Belomorsk, Kholmsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Lukhovitsi, and many, many more…

I then wondered what such a list but of US cities would look like… Woh: 16! Two more than in Russia:

Anchorage, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago, Louisville, Dallas, Austin, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Orlando, Miami.

The ‘barred’ cities and towns for the US are: Honolulu (Hawaii), Valdez (Alaska), Sedona (Arizona), Palo Alto & San Jose (California), El Paso (Texas), Page (Arizona), Key West (Florida) and many others (even our office in Woburn (Massachusetts) – disallowed!).

Hmmm, let’s see… the USA has just under double the population of Russia (320 million and 140 million, respectively). That means one city of Russia should have a coefficient of two when comparing the two nations’ visited cities… No, that doesn’t work: then I’d have been to the ‘most cities’… in Singapore! (with its population of 5.5 million, 25 times smaller than Russia).

Let’s look at some of the populations of countries whose cities I’ve visited…

Norway – five million souls, and I’ve been to two cities – Oslo, the capital, and Bergen; that is, twice as many as in Singapore. Where else?…

New Zealand! – 4.4 million persons. We acclimatized and slowly strolled about in Auckland, and spent a night in Christchurch and closely inspected its highlights the next day. Then there was Wellington and Dunedin where we bedded down one night each, but no inspecting – so they don’t count.

Do we have a less-than-2,000,000-population country in the visited list? Yes!…

Gabon! 1.6 million Gabonese, and I was in Libreville for a few days just six weeks ago. Cyprus! Limassol and… Nicosia and Pathos only passed by – meaning Cyprus not a competitor! (Although there’s just over a million population there). Andorra! Been, strolled, skied – 85,000. But who’s the champion? Monaco! Monte Carlo. Clear leader. 30,000 population. And I’ve been there many, many times.

So, if you take into account a city’s country’s ‘handicap’ coefficient, get to Monte Carlo. It equals 4500 cities in Russia or 10,000 towns in the US. Oh, something isn’t right there. The method’s all wrong. We could take into account economic coefficients, geographic area coefficients… but no; I’m already a bit tired of all this, and what I’ve already written turned out to be way too long…

OK, enough math mirth :).

Experimental comparison ramblings aside, recently… I was in Saint Petersburg (note to US readers: the original one)!

The splendid, saintly, seductive, sensuous, statuesque St. Petersburg. I was last there seven years ago, in the summer of 2008. We had our partner conference there. And since then every year I’d kept promising our Peterites I’d be coming back soon, but always shamefully failing to do so.

Seven years I’d been promising. In the meantime we’d opened an office there, we’d then moved to smarter premises, and now 80 KLers work there diligently for the good of the company and the world. A lot has changed, and I was always was promising but dragging my feet. Well, at last, I finally made it up there! Hurray – I’m writing this in St. P: one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

So, what have we here that was here last time? The Neva‘s still flowing through the city, there’s Nevsky, St. Isaac’s, the Admiralty building, Peter and Paul Fortress, and the Astoria; the bridges still open and Petergof is still a real crowd-puller.

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Read on: What else was new?…

July 9, 2015

My Top-100 – Ver. 2015: Prelude.

Hi all!

Many of you have probably noticed that I get around this globe of ours rather often. More often than not this getting around is for business (meetings, conferences, speeches, etc.), but I normally try and fit in a bit of free time too so I can go and inspect this or that place of interest nearby. Sometimes this is a mere ‘see, take pics; sorted; next!‘. Other times it’s a matter of seriously studying some seriously amazing natural and/or historical phenomena.

As I’d look at all these wonders of the world, I’d often think to myself: ‘everyone should see these’. I’d then normally get to thinking ‘what else needs to be seen in this world?’ What are the most interesting and breathtaking places on the planet? And once upon a time (many years ago) I was handed a ‘Top-100 Most Beautiful Places in the World’, or something like that. Around the same time I also saw a TV program called the ‘Тop-20 Places to See Before You Die” (again, or something like that).

After viewing both, the first thought that struck me was, ‘these ain’t right’, and it occurred to me that the writers/program makers probably hadn’t really seen much of the world at all, let alone be qualified to write lists on the best places in it. So it was there and then when I decided to intervene directly and come up with my own list – ‘of the very best and most interesting places on the planet, which all need visiting one day – if you’ve the time and cash to spare’ (or something like that).

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More…

July 8, 2015

In Kimberley, Oz, I was. Part 7.

As mentioned in my previous post, in this one I’ll quickly go over what we didn’t see in Kimberley, but really wanted to.

Since Kimberley is a truly titanic territory, seeing it all in three days (a mere long weekend) is simply impossible. However, I was assured we did get in all the best bits of the territory. Also, another important objective was reached: Now I know where, when and specifically how inspecting the place’s natural beauty spots needs to be done. Thus, the below material should be taken as a plan of action for future visits…

So, herewith, some pointers for how best to plan and organize a sightseeing vacation in Kimberley, Australia:

– Season to visit: April-May – right after the rain season; so as to see the waterfalls at their best – in full gusto.
– Micro-timing of the trip: when there’s either a new or full moon; so as to see the tides at their best – at their maximally extreme.
– To have one or two days’ plane or coach excursions; so as to see all the sights described and photo’d in my Kimberley posts 1-6.
– To charter a ship for, say, 10 days (preferably with a helicopter, or to come to an agreement with a local chopper company).
– Sail on the ship from Broome to Wyndham (or nearby – wherever the ship can moor); so as to be able to inspect all the most significant coastal beauty.

… And those most significant coastal beauties are as follows:

1. King Cascade, somewhere on this river. (Surprisingly, the Internet has little to say about or show of this place.) It’s around 200km (as the crow flies) northeast of the Horizontal Falls. The few pics on the net are here.

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More…

July 3, 2015

In Kimberley, Oz, I was. Part 6.

G’day possums!

Herewith, the penultimate post in what has turned out to be a bit of a marathon travelogue series from down-under…

After lunch after our morning adventures on our last full day here, it was finally time for some retail therapy!

But not in the traditional sense of mall-traipsing + inevitable food-court submission, naturally; no malls in Kimberley. No, it’s a very specific type of shopping – of just one product. Can you guess yet?

Guys (males) – I’d recommend doing this spot of shopping either without the wife/girlfriend/daughter, or without credit cards or cash. Preferably with neither! For the product on offer here doesn’t come cheap…

The product is… the pearl! Pearls are industrially produced here at Leveque Cape.

It goes like this:

Locals here catch oyster shells, implant inside them a foreign body (I forget made of what), then put the shells into net cages and put them back in the sea. Several years later they open up the shells to find – da, daaaa – pearls!

The meat left over inside the shells is fed to hungry tourists here, and beautifully cleaned up and finished shells are also sold to them once they’ve had their fill of the oysters. Nice little side line :).

Check these pearl-farming pics out:

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Shells…