The Masada Fortress.

Finally, after years of dreaming, I got the chance to visit!

Masada is the name of a ruined ancient fortress on the top of a 450 m mountain on the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea. It is notorious for a legend of the mass suicide of a thousand of Jews hiding there from Roman troops. After the Jewish revolt against Rome (1st century AD), was suppressed and Jerusalem fell into Roman hands, a group of surviving rebels settled in the fortress together with their families. The Romans besieged Masada but failed to capture it protected by forbidding vertical cliffs. Besides, the food and water supply seemed set to last for years. In the end, the Romans made a huge embankment in the lowest part of those fortifying cliffs, rolled in a battering ram and broke through a wall. Having realized the hopelessness of the situation, the besieged Jews chose death instead of slavery.

According to legend, a dozen warriors were selected and charged with slaughtering the others – including women and children – before destroyed food supplies and burning down the wooden buildings. Amid the carnage, they drew lots and one was left to stab his comrades in arms and, finally, himself (thereby committing a great sin). That’s how the story goes, and the evidence suggests it’s true. At least the remains of the fortress and embankment remain to the present day, adding weight to the story. Archeologists have even found earthen bowls with names – maybe these were the very vessels used to choose which warrior would be left to slay his comrades and finally himself. For the rest of the story see here.

Masada

More: A legend or a history? …

Rome On The Run.

It’s years since I’ve had a tourist trip to Rome. I visit the Eternal City on business from time to time, but as a tourist … it’s been five, maybe eight years since I last had the chance. That’s why, having got a free day today, I decided to embark on a whistle-stop tour to stimulate my mind and stir my emotions, without wiping myself out in the process. I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind spending six or eight hours on the go, always on their feet apart from a quick bite for lunch …

More: Rome On The Run.. . .

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The Flame That Changed the World.

I’ll never forget Oktoberfest 2010 for as long as I live. Yes, I like beer, especially the German stuff, and especially at Oktoberfest. But I don’t even remember the beer, and that’s not because I had too much of it :) It was at that time we received the first news of a very unpleasant trend, which I had feared for a number of years. That’s right, it was the first time Stuxnet reared its ugly head – the first malware created with state backing and designed to fulfill a specific military mission. This is exactly what we had talked about at our Oktoberfest press conference: “Welcome to the age of cyber warfare!” It was already obvious then that Stuxnet was just the beginning.

Cyber Warfare

Indeed, little has changed since that September right up to the present day. Everybody had a pretty good idea where Stuxnet came from and who was behind it, although not a single state took responsibility; in fact, they distanced themselves from authorship as much as possible. The “breakthrough” came at the end of May when we discovered new malware which also left little doubt as to its military origins and aims.

Yes, I’m talking about Flame.

More: How can malware stop me from eating a fresh croissant in the morning? …

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Tuscan Melodies.

Rides come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. On water skis, under sail, on horses, bikes, motorbikes, rollerblades… But for some reason what really gets my heart pumping are rides of the very fast kind in motor cars. And here I am – at the stage of the season of the Ferrari Challenge. Italy, Tuscany, the Mugello Circuit.

Ferrari Challenge? Let me give you a quick guide. It’s something between the German autobahns and Formula-1, and everyone’s in a Ferrari F458 Italia. This is what it looks like:

Ferrari F458 Italia

More: The roar of the Ferrari engines in Ferrari chassis …

Euro-Volcano.

There are hardly active volcanoes in Europe; well, not including those unpronounceable ones in Iceland, that is. Mainland European volcanoes are to be found only in Santorini in Greece and in Italy. And it’s of course Mount Etna that’s the champion in terms of height (but not necessarily on other attributes – Santorini is much more colorful and generally far more impressive to look at).

So, Mount Etna. It’s only a few hours from any point in Europe, so if any Europeans reading this still haven’t been to a real smoking volcano, Mount Etna’s for you for your first volcano visit. It’s always advisable to wait for the next eruption to ensure the experience is a maximally intense Magical Mystery Tour, but here eruptions are real frequent – so you shouldn’t have too long to wait. So off you pop – to Sicily!

The one con: they don’t let you get to the very top! Eh, what’s that all about? What a let-down! The wide area around the peak’s surrounded by a white rope barrier and you’re not allowed to cross it, so taking in the breathtaking fantastical landscapes here is possible only from a cordoned-off tourist viewing area well below the summit.

There’s an attendant pro though: it’s possible to step over or go around the “barrier”, and no one seems to keep watch so you can get away with it! Naughty!

Mount Etna

More: volcanic caves and Godfather background …

A Nice, Quiet Evening In… (a Plane).

Ciao all!

Oh how I love long haul flights – you can get through all your work you’ve been putting off for days or weeks, finally get through your latest book, watch a film you’ve had your eye on, study some geography through the window (I prefer to book a window seat), and intermittently in-between all that – simply catch some ZZZs – that is, if the plane isn’t being rocked around by turbulence, no one’s pestering with their phone calls or e-mails, and the stewardesses are only very infrequently offering meals or another Manhattan (for those who read my last post – you’ll notice I like to rotate my classic cocktails:).

I recently completed one such avia-marathon, from Australia to Italy, 35 hours door (of hotel) to door (of hotel), almost 22 hours in the air, and the rest of the time spent on connections and waiting in airports (with the usual war with Wi-Fi) plus road journeys between hotels and airports and vice versa. It all adds up to an absurdly long time spent on a journey – so long it looks like a record: I’ve never had a day and a half traveling before; that is, besides a couple of force majeure instances.

The second leg of the journey was the most interesting: we flew over India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Crimea, and then on to Romania and the rest of southern Eastern Europe to Italy. By the way, this completes my first time round-the-globe this year; my second one’s coming up soon. It’s a pity we only flew at night, since all I could see out of the windows were stars (Let There Be More Light!), then come the morning all that could be seen were the snow-covered Austrian Alps. Still, there was plenty going on in my booth inside the plane to make up for the lack of visible external scenery down below…

World Map

More: Something to read, watch and listen!

A Great Ocean Road Trip.

G’day!

The Great Ocean Road, Australia. I can now say I’ve been there, traveled that, got the… confirmation: it’s another must-see place in the world. And +1 to my list…

Great Ocean Road

So just what is the Great Ocean Road? Surprisingly, it’s a road. It’s also great, as in both great – super, and great – long; and it mostly hugs the ocean shore. It was built in the early part of the last century along a stretch of the craggy coast of the southeastern Australian state of Victoria. It’s rich in heritage, incredibly curvy, and offers breathtaking views from the road itself and also just off it a little inland – you just need to leave the road a hundred meters or so to get extra special views at the right, marked places.

More: a two-way trip…

When Will Apple ‘Get’ Security Religion?

My recent mention of Apple in a speech at CeBIT Australia initiated the usual flurry of chatter and publications regarding the company’s approach to security. As Apple’s security seems to be a hot topic of late (since Flashfake), I think this is an opportune time to talk some sense about this issue. As you’ll know, today we see a widening rift between, on the one hand, Apple’s long-term alleged ‘Macs are malware-invincible’ campaign, and on the other – reality, i.e., that this campaign is… losing credibility, to put it mildly. So, will users have the nous to get to understand the real state of affairs, despite what Apple keeps telling them? What’s wrong with Apple’s security approach? Is there anything Apple can learn from Microsoft and other vendors in terms of security? …

More: When Will Apple ‘Get’ Security Religion?. . .

Business at the Edge of the World.

Australia. A huge territory, practically completely covered with desert, with thin inhabited zones along the coast. There are some populated areas inland, but not all that many.

The population of Australia is around 22 million (the 54th largest in the world); GDP is almost a trillion US$ (18th in the world – between Iran and Taiwan); and per capita income is US$40K (19th – between Austria and Kuwait) (source: CIA World Factbook).

Australia Pier

More: A fascinating, magical country …