Archive for March, 2009
It is quiet a while ago that I last read the novels “1984″ from George Orwell or “Brave new World” from Aldous Huxley but it seems that todays reality outdistances these novels by far.
Nearly daily there are news like about the spybot net called “Ghostnet” (see ghostnet.pdf), also mentioned in an Heise article (Chinesische Spionage-Software infiltriert Rechner tibetischer Exil-Regierung) or about searching the house because of information gathered from an internet provider or trading or loosing personal data from an telco provider like in Datenskandal bei Kabel-Deutschland or from banking information or …
The internet and all our data in the internet are gaining a central role in our lives. Not only that they enable us to gather important information in a form never known in history before or to communicate with each other all around the world but the internet also exposes us in a form never known before. In my mind I tried to sum up all new technologies which are commodities today and their possible dangers and wanted to list some of them as example:
- ISDN phone can be remote controlled and switched into an listening facility without drawing the attention of the people sitting in the same room.
- mobile phone can be used to track your position, can be remotely switched into a listening facility and perhaps even used as remote web-cam.
- eMail is normally uncryptified so that everyone with the right equipment can read what you wrote and track with whom you are communicating. Exposes your computer to possible break-ins.
- Browser the websurfing is trackable with the right equipment and you are exposed to the owners of the websites your are visiting. (Think of Amazon or EBay evaluating your clicks). Enables break-ins on your computer when surfing on a malicious website.
- Customer Cards give the shop owners a perfect possibility to track your buying habits.
- Traffic control cameras specially with the right recognition software together enable to create a motion profile
This list is far from being complete and only thought to show in which way we are exposing ourselves to the overall information gathering machinery. When all these data about us could be correlated it would give an image about us which would be that precise that we would be surprised, I am sure.
The handling of all these data should be done in a much more responsible way as today!
I think that the data retention at service- and telco providers which discriminates us all as possible criminals and trying to filter and control the internet are the wrong approaches. It is not as if the internet is a lawless space, it is only that each country adopts its law differently when it comes to the internet. But instead of a common effort to coordinate the execution of laws on internet cases I see only technical approaches.
The big countries are much more forcing other countries into a common sense, like they did with Switzerland when it came to the interpretation of their local tax laws, when it comes to money. But it seems that the only idea which comes into the mind of politicians when the internet is involved is control.
Does anybody of them ask himself what kind of free world this is where you need control over your compatriots to ensure the law and safety?
When you really still believe that all these surveillance possibilities will not be used against you one day have a look at the news in Germany: After 9/11 the German Telekom gave millions of customer data without legal basis to the police for dragnet investigation as published on netzpolitik.org and Spiegel Online
On Haidian Island in Haikou where I am living they are constructing new buildings all the time. I guess the result will be a complete and modern part of Haikou because the old houses, step by step, have to give place to construction sites.
Unlike in Germany or Europe the chinese companies are not building and decorating a complete building until it is finished but they are building the the structure and normally enter windows and doors and than they are finished for the moment.
When an appartment is sold the new owner has to decorate the appartment, construct walls in the appartment to seperate it into rooms, kitchen and bathroom, lay a floor, make the electricity and so on until the appartment is ready for living.
This proceeding gives the customer the freedom to decorate the appartment exactly as he likes. The disadvantage of this naturally are the living conditions I am living in because as long as there are still undecorated appartments there will be the noise of construction work to finish them.
Here turnes up another habit in China. Unlike people in Europe the workers in China work seven days a week. There is no such thing as free weekend for normal workers. Except for the Spring Festival when the whole China is traveling home for holiday there is the noise of construction around me every day.
I take this as motivation to work nearly every day too
The good point, specially when you come from Europe, is that you can go shopping every single day in the year and this from the morning to the at least 22:00 and also your favourite restaurant will not have a day off when you choose to eat there which I had often when I thought about having dinner outside on sundays while I was still living in Switzerland
At last I would like to show you an image of the new driving range not far from me with some old barracks still inhabited in the front and the new buildings already in the back.
I am a german computer scientist living in China. Therefore I am aware of the lack of possibility of free speech in certain matters and I am often confronted with the internet censorship which, besides the sites which are intentionally blocked by the chinese authorities, are blocked because of the incapability of the techniques used to filter the internet content. Often when I am looking for strictly technical informations I have to use a Proxy to gain access to the webpages I am looking for.
In Germany we are very proud of our democratic achievements like the possibility of (nearly) free speech for everybody.
Since 9/11 the fear of terrorism undermined already many of these achievements for a higher level of security for our people, as it is said. Now I am following the debate about child porns which is in itself an absolute horrible thing which should absolutely be attacked. But how many of our democratic achievements, of our rights as population of a democratic country, are we willing to be tipped over on the behalf of this fight?
This morning I read this article on netzpolitik.org, a germany blog which tries to show also the news which do not make it into the big newspapers but which are important for a democracy because they are controversial. This article describes the search of the house of the german owner of the domain wikileaks.de
What is shocking me about this is not the fact that they searched the house but how they did it. If it is true how the police proceeded they broke the rule of law in the name of the pursuite of information about child porns and trampled over our basic law.
During my school time many of our history classes were about the Third Reich in the idea to make it impossible that something like the Third Reich ever can happen again. With my innocent mind I asked myself how can such a thing like the Third Reich happen at all because there must have been many people who could have done something against it.
Looking back over the last years I can see that step by step the authorities highered the control over our population. I don’t want to ask why the german Autobahn is controlled with a multi-purpose video system for the truck maut and not with a much simpler and more cost effective system? Do they really use it only to monitor the kilometers a truck is driving? The same question has to be asked for the internet filter system. Once install, which use will it find after all?
The path to hell is paved with good intentions!
In the late 20s and early 30s of the last century there was a small party which used the upcoming fear of communism and of the economic problems of the Weimarer Republik in Germany very effective to implement restrictions to the german population. Step by step with more or less reasonable arguments they established themselves until they were so powerful that nobody dared to say anything against them any more.
They created the GeStaPo, a police force which:
The inception of the Gestapo, police acting outside of any civil authority, highlighted the Nazis’ intention to use powerful, coercive means to directly control German society. An army, estimated to be of about 100,000, spies and informants operated throughout Germany, reporting to Nazi officials the activities of any critics or dissenters.
The Gestapo had the authority to investigate treason, espionage and sabotage cases, and cases of criminal attacks on the Nazi Party and Germany.
If you exchange the Nazis in the quotes against the authorities and think of the 100,000 spies as nowadays technical possibilities of spying and controlling I cannot help to make a comparison with what is happening at the moment and have to ask: Do we really want to re-establish something like the most powerful instrument of depression of the population which was ever invented in Germany?
Changes are sneaking slowly into our society but I think specially we Germans have the duty to be always alert that the bad things of our history cannot repeat and I had rather that you are shocked about my comparison of what is going on with the Third Reich then with the results of what might happen.
I think we all had high hopes about what the actual government might have been able to change to our good when the two biggest parties joined together. But as for today I can only state that I am very disappointed about the actual government. None of the big problems were attacked and instead they are restricting our basic rights more and more.
Naturally our journey in 2008 was to see the old town of Lijiang which is said to be one of the most beautiful ancient towns in China. Lijiang lies on the old tea horse trail and still has its characteristic system of waterways and bridges.
We took the bus from Kunming and it was a long drive even though the landscape of Yunnan was quiet beautiful. Finally we reached our small hotel in Schuhe which is a small town beside Lijiang and is nearly more interesting then the old town of Lijiang itself.
The hotel was a converted farmhouse which had two distinct houses connected by stone walls which surrounded the court. In the whole town you can find rapid flowing waterways which even nowadays are used to clean vegetables or cool beer.
At night many restaurants are open and people are sitting on the paths or in the open bars, chatting eating and having fun. Lijiang together with Schuhe and two other small towns are UNESCO heritage sites and therefore protected directly by the Chinese Government. You can see everywhere that the tourism is booming and new houses are built in the old style to accommodate stranger and chinese visitors.
Apart from the old town Lijiang is a modern city and has many tourist attractions in its region.
In 2008 we made a tour to the famous old towns Dali and Lijiang in the Yunnan province in the northwest of China.
While visiting Lijiang we took the opportunity to make a trip to the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge of the Yangtse River which is about 60km from Lijiang. The gorge is a narrow gap of about 25m width in the valley between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the Haba Xueshan which has to be passed by the Yangtse River.
Together with some other visitors from our hotel we chartered a driver with a small van who brought us to the begin of the trail along the river. On our way we had the opportunity to take some pictures of the Yangtse from above during a gap in the clouds who accompanied us in the morning.
The path along the river is well maintained and flat and is said to be around 12km long with a dead end at the gorge. Parts of the path are dangerous because of possible rockfall and frequently you are asked to walk more on the mountain side.
The weeks before our visit have been very rainy so that the Yangtse water was yellow brown and the river was fast running carrying a lot of water.
Sometimes the path was cut through the mountain because the old path along the river has become too dangerous and was closed now. We could even see some huge boulders lying on these parts.
Finally arrived at the gorge we could enjoy a spectacular view of raging water rushing through the gorge as if it was boiling. There was so much thunder that even the ground was trembling below our feet.
This view really was worth the trip
It is said that the name come from a tiger which escaped his hunters by a jump over the gorge. At the time we visited the gorge the poor tiger would probably have been cought by the hunters. The next image shows you the “normal” flowing Yangtse through the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
I copied this picture from Wikipedia where you can get more information about the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
On this picture you can see some huge boulders lying in the riverbed which might have been used by the tiger to cross the river. There are no visible boulders on my pictures.
I am a passionate programmer since I had access to a computer for the first time.
I have been working with many IDEs in my professional life. The first integrated IDE for me was the XEmacs which enabled me to include all build scripts and commands into the editor and start them via shortcuts or menu.
Since these days many things changed. You don’t write programs only in one language any more, a huge set of tools has to be controlled by the IDE and still an number of command line tools have to be integrated.
I used Eclipse since the version 2 because I liked the way they tried to make the IDE extensible. When the OSGi kernel came with version 3 I was completely convinced to finally have found my last IDE. Until this very day about a year ago when I tried to update the running Europa plugins and the update messed up my IDE in a form that I had to reinstall Eclipse completely from scratch. Because I was not able to get all needed plugins stable running due to dependency inconsistencies I had a look over to Netbeans.
As I could see the version 6.1 was a huge advancement to the last try I gave Netbeans. As I am a pragmatic programmer and only IDE user, not developer, I changed to Netbeans. You can guess how long. It started with a small problem to get the PHP module working together with other modules I needed so that I ended up with two installations. Now my main Netbeans 6.5 wanted to update some modules. After this update I had to deinstall Netbeans completely. No trick helped to recover from an inconsistency within the loaded modules.
I really thought with IDEs the world would become easier than during the times when I still programmed using the VI in different xterm windows and using command line tools but sometimes I have my doubts about this assumption.
Last year we have been traveling to one of the primary touristic sites in China, Mount Huang in Anhui.
We started by taking a train from Changzhou to Huangshan, the nearest city to the mountain. Unfortunately we choose the friday evening to leave Changzhou because we could not imagine that the night train would be that full of people. We had bought tickets for seats but we were lucky to be able to enter the train after all. A little bit more crowded and we could have tried only by entering through the windows. No chance to get through to our seats at first.
The chinese people, used to such situations, are very patient and helpful but everybody watched the stranger as if I came from Mars. After about an hour standing in the door, unable to move or enter the compartment a train conducter squeezed himself through the crowed loosening it up enough that we could finally, with the combined help of all people standing in the corridor between us and our seats, reach the seats and sit down.
Around lunchtime next day, after an exhausting night in this train, we reached Huangshan where we changed into a bus for another two hours to go to our destination Tangkou at the foot of Mount Huang.
This night I was happy to see my bed because beeing squeezed like a sardine in a can is not really relaxing for me with my nearly 2m.
Next day we relaxed a little bit in Tangkou, bought some supply for our trip up the Mount Huang, had lunch and dinner in nice restaurants and our first impression of Mount Huang who is dominating the view.
But before we attacked the Mount Huang we tried our strenght on a smaller walk up to the site of the Nine Dragon Waterfalls which is near Tangkou too.
Here for the first time I realised the difference between me taking photos and the chinese tourists. When I take a photo mainly I take subjects of the surrounding area and views, if I can without too many people in the image The chinese tourists seem not interested in taking photos of beautiful views themselves. They only make photos if they are standing in front of the view to show where they have been.
Actually it was about 30°C warm and very sunny and I sweated a lot and got a little sunburn which made me not really confident for the next day when we wanted to start our big tour up the mountain.
Next day we started in the morning with a taxi which drove us to the eastern gate of the mountain area. Luckily the sunshine was not so strong and many of the stairs which lead up this trail lie in the shadow of trees.
The whole Mount Huang region would be unaccessible if there were not stairs, stairs, stairs up and down the steep hillsides which lead into the mountain.
Did you ever try to climb stairs for about 5-6 hours? That is walking up to the Mount Huang There was another small inconvenience especially for me. My shoe size is 48 and exceeds therefore the standard chinese size a little bit. Many of the stairs, specially in steep parts, are that short that sometimes for a good while of the track I could only walk on my tiptoes like a ballerina Now I understand better why they are always so slim, its really exhausting to walk like this in particular up a mountain.
But there were others who were completely unimpressed by the stairs. Because the stairs are the only way besides the cable car to transport things into the Mount Huang there are many people making their living from carrying supply into the mountains. From my own experience I can tell that they transported everything from food, drinks, clothes to wooden bars, electric cables and pipes.
As we asked they told us that each of them is carrying around 80kg at each ascent and if they can get payload, also on their way down. There were legions of these small men walking up the mountain and we could hardly match their incredible speed. While we only made it up the mountain during the day they went up and returned in the evening.
When we were still in the small town we were told to take our own supply with us because the prices on the mountain are very high. Therefore I was carrying my big backpack stuffed with food and water. Actually when you see how everything is transported up the mountain and try to carry your own part up these steep stairs I think the prices on the top where quiet reasonable.
Finally we made it to the top and walked on a more or less flat walkway to our camp where we have rented a tent for the night.
Next morning we got up extremly early at about 4 to see the sunrise over the mountain. We could see some sunrise but we were not lucky enough to have a free view without clouds as seen in many touristic images about Mount Huang.
Because we were so early and there was not so much to see we decided to make the tour through the western canyon which is famous for his thousands of stairs before we went home.
As a resume I would say don’t carry much supply, only take a snack and a bottle of water and even though there are no real maps of the region you cannot get lost because everything is very well maintained and there are signs everywhere indicating the directions.
Further information can be found on Wikipedia.
… if you want or not
Here in Hainan it can become very hot in summers. Easily temperatures like 40°C are reached and normally these periods come together with a lull in the wind. Most appartments don’t have air conditioning so what can people do, they leave all their doors and windows open.
This leads to the, for an european like me uncommon, situation that you are more or less living together with people which you don’t know, and don’t talk to apart from the hello in the elevator when you stumble upon each other.
From Switzerland I was used to keep doors and even windows shut if I wanted to make my music a little bit louder to not disturb my neighbours. Here in Hainan the people don’t know such considerations. You can easily follow their conversations, listen to their TV or even be aware of what they are preparing for lunch. Luckily or unfortunately I don’t understand a word of the local Hainan dialect
On Haidian Island in Haikou we have our own beach which is about 20 min. walk from where I am living. It is not the most beautiful beach on Hainan nor the cleanest but people like to come out to watch the waves, play in the water or search for mussels between the stones on low tide beside the beach.
During Spring Festival the beach was even crowded with people who came out to enjoy the sunshine.
One day suddenly these huge sand vacuum cleaners arrived on the beach and started sucking away the sand.
Since this day it became clear why they built this long contrete wall in the sea because the machines are working nearly night and day sucking away the sand spraying it over the wall into the huge basin they cut from the sea with the wall. Soon this basin will be filled with sand and they can start building more appartment houses on the newly recovered land.
A very beautiful city in China is Suzhou. You can find it about 80km west of Shanghai. Even if it is not so easy to find it on a normal european map it has about 6.7 million residents together with its suburbs. Suzhou is surrounded by lakes and channels and the city is famous for its parks and gardens.
If you are brave enough you should travel around in Suzhou by bus. I can promise that it is worth giving a try Even though the busses might be very full sometimes the people are always very polite and patient. When the bus starts please make sure you have stable hold! Even in China I have never before seen bus drivers driving as if they take part in the Paris-Dakar Ralley but in Suzhou you find them
When I came to China the first time I was still living in Switzerland. With this background it was quite amazing to see the chinese traffic. There is only one word which could describe it: Free Style! It took me some time to recognize that the freestyle driving didn’t seem to result in many more accidents because I could hardly see any damaged or scratched cars driving around. It seems to work if everybody is driving with the same idea of traffic in his mind. But until now I could not find statistics which could confirm my feelings.
There are two things you should do when you visit Suzhou. First of all visit some of the beautiful gardens.
And if you have some time left make a boat tour on the channels which surround the old city center.
A walk in on of the older quarters of Suzhou is very nice too.
When you are lucky you can see a Chinese Opera in the street for free. If you have a good stomach buy a snack from the dealers which are probably around and have a relaxed opera evening.