General Technology

State media shows off solar and wind power plant

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A visit by Kim Jong Un to inspect KPA Air Force Unit 1016 has provided a closer look at a new solar power plant built alongside an existing wind power plant.

KCNA carried a handful of images of the visited, but more were broadcast by Korean Central TV during its evening news program. Here’s one of the KCNA images. (more…)

Taedonggang TV factory is shown in this image carried by Korean Central News Agency on September 20, 2011.

Taedonggang TV Factory

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The current issue of Foreign Trade has a profile of Taedonggang TV factory, which sits on the outskirts of Pyongyang and makes a number of TV sets carrying several North Korean brand names, according to the magazine.

“The factory has several workshops for magnetic substances, metal processing, plating of printed circuit, moulding and coiling and a branch factory for assembly of color TVs,” the magazine reports. “Its daily output is thousand of sets.”

The magazine said it produces TV sets with screens between 15- and 29-inches under the “Samilpho,” “Tabaksol” and “Osongsan” brands and with screens between 15- and 42-inches under the “Samilpho,” “Unbangul” and “Haebaragi” brands.

Through the profile in Foreign Trade, the country is promoting the TVs sold through Korea Samgwang Trading Corp.

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The factory has been around since September 1979, when the Korean Central News Agency first mentioned its existence.

“A large modern television factory has been built in Pyongyang,” the agency said on September 14.

“The Taedonggang television factory has over 10 workshops including the assembling, mechanical processing, outer case and mechanical and maintenance shops for the production of television sets, the production processes are serialized. There are in the factory 15 research rooms including the colour television and electronic appliance research rooms. It has its own broadcasting facility sending standard transmissions for the regulation of the television sets produced. The factory, with a floor space of tens of thousands of square metres, has scores of main production buildings and auxiliary production buildings, and cultural and welfare service facilities.”

“Its construction had been estimated to take 5-7 years in view of its scale and equipment. But the constructors waged the “speed campaign” and successfully built it in less than 1.5 years. The factory has started producing Pyongyang model and Taedonggang model television sets.”

While its completion was reported in 1979, the official opening doesn’t appear to have taken place until September 1980, when Xinhua noted the factory was built with Romanian assistance.

“On the process of the construction and trial production of the plant, Korea received technical assistance from Romania. On the occasion of the inauguration of the plant, President Kim Il Sung sent a letter and gave presents to the Romanian technicians in appreciation of their assistance,” it said.

In April 2000, as South Korea’s sunshine policy was gaining momentum, the factory began producing TV sets for LG. Plans were drawn up for Taedonggang TV factory to produce up to 15,000 20-inch TVs for the South Korean company.

Taedonggang TV factory is shown in this image carried by Korean Central News Agency on September 20, 2011.

Taedonggang TV factory is shown in this image carried by Korean Central News Agency on September 20, 2011.

The factory was most recently in the news on September 20, 2011, when it was visited by Choe Yong Rim, who was then premier of the DPRK.

“He organized the work to produce more quality electronics goods needed for better material and cultural life of the people,” KCNA reported at the time.

Women carry a Panasonic rice cooker at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Another look at the Spring Trade Fair

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When he wasn’t taking stunning panorama photographs around Pyongyang, Singapore-based photographer Aram Pan had time to visit this year’s Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair (평양봄철국제상품전람회).

The fair was twice as big this year as it had been in 2013 according to state media, and it’s easy to see why when you watch a 3-minute video shot by Pan.

The place is bustling with people browsing and buying all manner of products.

As Pan notes in the opening of the video, all transactions that take place at the event are settled in Chinese Yuan, Euros or  U.S. Dollars. In fact, a booth worker can be seen handling U.S. currency in one scene in the video. This isn’t perhaps surprising when many retailers and products have come from overseas.

A woman holds a U.S. dollar bill at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A woman holds a U.S. dollar bill at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

One of the perhaps most surprising products to see on sale was a robot vacuum cleaner — a pretty luxurious item to own even in richer countries. The price has been reduced from $400 to $350.

It’s the Ecovacs CR120, a Chinese-made vacuum cleaner that appears to be available on Amazon China at an 849 yuan (US$136) retail price. Not a bad profit for the seller in Pyongyang, then.

A robot vacuum cleaner is advertsied at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A robot vacuum cleaner is advertsied at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Laptop PCs were on show and on sale. Here’s a line of them at a Chinese vendor. The one in the foreground is $330 and there was a Sony Vaio on sale for $750.

Laptop computers on sale at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Laptop computers on sale at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A Sony Vaio laptop computer on sale for $750 at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A Sony Vaio laptop computer on sale for $750 at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

The Korea Computer Center, which is North Korea’s main IT trading house and development center, had its own booth. The company is usually there and in the past has used the trade fair to launch new models of tablet computer. The devices are made by Chinese vendors, labeled with the KCC logo and have typically run Google’s Android operating system with customization and software from KCC.

This time, tablets were also on show.

The Korea Computer Center at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

The Korea Computer Center at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Tablet PCs are demonstrated by the Korea Computer Center at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Tablet PCs are demonstrated by the Korea Computer Center at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Some computer peripherals were also shown in the video, including USB flash memory sticks. These are reportedly popular with PC users because they can be used to store and trade TV shows and movies that are smuggled into North Korea from outside the country.

Here, a 32-gigabyte HP memory stick has seen its price dropped from $28 to $25 and then $20. The same product is $15.80 on Amazon U.S., so the price at the trade fair isn’t unreasonable.

The video also showed several Canon digital still cameras on sale, one of which attracted the attention of at least one potential buyer.

HP and Toshiba flash memory sticks at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

HP and Toshiba flash memory sticks at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A visitor looks at Canon digital cameras at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A visitor looks at Canon digital cameras at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

A couple of companies were showing flat-panel TV sets, including cheaper AOC ones from China and much nicer and more expensive ones from Sharp in Japan. The brand label of Sharp can also been seen on a washing machine in the lower left corner of the image below.

Flat-panel TVs from Taiwan's AOC on show at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Flat-panel TVs from Taiwan’s AOC on show at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Sharp Aquos flat-panel TVs at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Sharp Aquos flat-panel TVs at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

North Korean media has recently reported on the development and growing use of LED lights in the country and there were some on display by Pyongyang’s Taedonggang Technology Co.

LED lights on show at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

LED lights on show at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Windows 8 computers from Taiwan’s Acer were also being promoted and a couple of women were captured walking with what looks like a rather nice Panasonic rice cooker.

Acer laptops are advertised at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Acer laptops are advertised at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Women carry a Panasonic rice cooker at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

Women carry a Panasonic rice cooker at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair 2014 (Photo: North Korea Tech/Aram Pan)

The video also enabled me to uncover a few more of the companies that were taking part. The new names are:

  • Dandong Chengyuan Import and Export (China)
  • Dandong Jinyuan Trading Co. (China)
  • Gumunsan Trading Co. Ltd. (DPRK)
  • Hamhung Jinxiang Trading Co. Ltd. (China)
  • Jangsubong JV (DPRK)
  • Korea Computer Center (DPRK)
  • Liaoning Huanghai Automotive Import and Export (China)
  • Liaoning Shangda Industrial Development Co.
  • Parazelsus (DPRK)
  • Pyongsu Pharma (DPRK)
  • Pyongyang Gemsy Dressmaking Machine Co. Ltd. (DPRK)
  • Taedonggang Technology Co. (DPRK)

Here’s his video:

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North Korea digital TV imports see big jump

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Imports of digital TV sets to North Korea are sharply higher in the first few months of this year compared to last year, according to Yonhap News.

Citing data from the Korea International Trade Association, Yonhap said China shipped just under $18 million worth of digital TVs to North Korea in the first four months of 2014, up 338 percent from the $4 million in the same period of 2013.

Yonhap tied the rise to earlier reports than North Korea is planning to introduce digital TV broadcasting.

In March 2013, a report on the Naenara website said trial broadcasting had begun in 2012.

“On the basis of the trial introduction of digital TV broadcasting last year the ministry is working to lay the material and technical foundation for applying it stage by stage while developing programs and introducing facilities,” it said.

111207-kctv-testcard

But tying digital TV imports to the launch of digital TV broadcasting in North Korea isn’t necessarily correct.

Most if not all flat-panel televisions these days come with built-in digital and analog tuners. It’s quite possible that North Koreans want the flat-panel models but will only use them with an analog input.

Still, it does appear that the country is on the road to a digital TV launch at some point.

To-date, there has been no mention of the broadcasting format that will be used.

The American ATSC system, used in South Korea, is unlikely to be used so the DPRK is likely choosing between DVB-T, a European standard used in most of the world, and China’s DTMB system.

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Pyongyang through Google Glass

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North Korea got what might have been its first look at Google Glass in April.

That’s when Kenny Zhu went on a four-day trip and recorded various video and photo scenes with the high-tech pair of glasses. Zhu later supplied some of the pictures and video to CNN through its iReport website.

CNN said Zhu visited the DPRK for work, although he seems to have taken in many of the major tourist attractions, including a trip to Kaesong and Panmunjon.

North Korean officials are sometimes skittish about photography so it will be interesting to see if they remain tolerant to Google Glass. Zhu told CNN that officials were at first “suspicious” of the glasses but after playing around with it “they seemed flattered and inquired no more.”

Google Glass is capable of shooting 720P video and taking 5-megapixel photographs. It costs $1,500.

Here’s one of his videos:

A computer terminal at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology shows a web page (Will Scott)

Internet access, computers and high-tech life at PUST

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Will Scott, a computer scientist from Washington state, just returned from several months as a guest lecturer at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

In an interview with North Korea Tech and in posts on Reddit, Scott spoke about what it’s like to be at PUST.

This is part two of a three-part series. Part one published yesterday covered life at PUST and part three looks at North Korea’s Red Star Linux.

A computer terminal at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology shows a web page (Will Scott)

A computer terminal at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology shows a web page (Will Scott)

When PUST was first proposed, the school said it was intending to use a satellite Internet connection. If that ever did happen, it’s not connection in use now.

PUST has a link to the domestic Internet connection that connects Pyongyang via China to the rest of the world. It hosts a handful of websites based in the capital and is believed to be available to a handful of officials, companies, ministries and other official organizations in North Korea. Access is likely closely restricted and monitored.

“We theoretically had a T1 (1.5Mbps) line as a campus to the hub downtown,” said Scott. “In practice it varied from getting 1Mbps upload and download to unusably slow. It’s unclear where the bottleneck was though.”

PUST advises lecturers to make a new email account before heading to North Korea, in part for security and in part to reduce the amount of email they would otherwise be receiving.

Scott says he took that advice, but judges the SSL encryption employed by Google on connections to Gmail would have kept the content of his messages secret anyway.

“The main security I felt was that I wasn’t typing my normal password while there,” he said.

In addition to lecturers, some students also enjoy Internet access at PUST.

“The graduate students have it, the undergrads don’t,” he said. “Our faculty are pushing to allow the senior undergrads to have access. At schools connected to the intranet, it sounded like that was available to both grads and undergrads — some of our grads had been at Kim Il Sung University or Kim Chaek University previously and had experience with the intranet.”

For some of the time he was there, Scott used a Google Chromebook. Ir runs on Chrome OS, which relies heavily on software that runs on Google’s servers so it’s more secure from viruses and worms than Windows, Linus and Mac OS computers.

But worms — pieces of computer code that replicate themselves from machine to machine and steal data — were prevalent.

That’s because students relied on USB memory sticks to transfer files to avoid the uncertain and uneven availability of the Internet. The USB sticks provide an easy way for the worms to copy themselves.

Scott said he examined a few, but they didn’t appear to be particularly insidious.

“The ones I looked at were pretty boring,” said Scott. “Known Windows worms.”

The domain name system used on the Internet is explained in this poster at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (Will Scott)

The domain name system used on the Internet is explained in this poster at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (Will Scott)

As for censorship, Scott says he didn’t experience anything that appeared to be done by the North Korean government.

“The Internet is not filtered, because access is controlled at the physical rather than technical level,” he said. “That being said, at our university we had a squid HTTP proxy between us and the Internet connection that kept a log of everything visited.”

But he did find some sites off limits.

“The only things I noticed blocked were when U.S. sites blocked my computer due to my DPRK IP address.”

One such site was that of Oracle, the major California-based maker of enterprise database software and the company that owns the Java software that runs on most PCs.

“You can’t read the mysql documentation off of their site,” he said. “That being said, you can download it from the Ubuntu mirrors so it’s not particular effective, but it caused questions from some of the students.”

A computer terminal at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology shows a web page (Will Scott)

Experiences of a PUST teacher

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PUST buildingPyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is one of the more ambitious international ventures in North Korea of the last few years.

Almost ten years in planning, PUST is the country’s first privately-run university and backed with funds from evangelical Christian organizations in the U.S. and overseas.

It currently has several hundred students and guest lecturers make semester-long commitments to PUST and travel from overseas to teach students.

One such lecturer, Will Scott from Washington state, has just returned from the university.

Through a series of posts on Reddit and in emails with North Korea Tech, Scott provided a glimpse into what it’s like to teach at PUST and some of the technical aspects of Internet access in North Korea.

Part one of this story looks at life at PUST and the problems of teaching Computer Science without access to the Internet. In part two, coming tomorrow, a look into the IT environment at the university and the day-to-day hassles of getting online. Part three takes a look at Red Star Linux, North Korea’s own operating system.

A computer terminal at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology shows a web page (Will Scott)

A computer terminal at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology shows a web page (Will Scott)

Scott taught at PUST during the fall 2013 semester, from October to December.

The university hosts several hundred students at a time, studying subjects centered on science and technology.

“Many of the students were at the university more for the chance to get to interact with foreigners than for the specific major they were in,” said Scott. “You could tell sometimes when they would get really excited to sit with you at meal times, or when they got really excited about things like soccer or other sports.”

Lecturers were free to bring up most subjects in discussion, but reminded to be cautious, he said.

“Talk about your major subject, and it’s okay to answer questions and talk about topics the students bring up. Sports and Dating were safe topics if you needed to start a conversation.”

“The stuff we said did get reported though, so if you start talking about how great the US is or trying to argue with their government policies, that would probably get reported by the students to the administration and someone would talk to you to and tell you to tone it down.”

During his time as a lecturer, he got to make weekly visits to a local supermarket and go on some excursions. One was to the West Sea Barrage in Nampo, a major civil engineering project undertaken by the North Koreans.

“When we went to the coast a couple of us walked back up the road to take pictures of the main dam and got yelled at by some policemen and told to delete the pictures. Basically, that’s the sort of situation where you could get in to trouble, and you just don’t have a good sense of how serious it is. Luckily it was minor.”

“The lingering fear was worrying if any of my internet actions were going to draw the ire of someone looking at them. I’m a networking student so I was poking around to see how stuff was connected and was always on edge that it was going to get me in trouble.”

A poster describes the basics of cluster computing to students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (Will Scott)

A poster describes the basics of cluster computing to students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (Will Scott)

The students at the university used Dell computers with Intel Core-Duo chips inside, he said. Most were running Windows XP but there was a newer computer with Windows 7. Both operating systems are previous generations of Microsoft’s Windows with XP officially not supported from April this year.

“The graduate students had laptops that dual booted Windows XP and Red Star, the DPRK’s proprietary RedHat Linux-based OS.”

Red Star version 3.0 is apparently the latest version.

As for the teaching, Scott has this to say:

“A lot of CS education really breaks down without access to the Internet,” he said. “A lot of the debugging process and figuring things out and being self sufficient boils down to Googling and finding stuff online. It made a lot of the assignments end up feeling like I was spelling everything out and still having to answer a bunch of questions.”

So, would he like to do it again?

“I’d like to go back at some point, but I don’t think I’d stay over there for years at a time – it’s hard to do research in CS without consistent power and the Internet.”

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FBI updates FISA notice as Tsai case continues

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The U.S. government’s case against two Taiwanese businessmen accused of attempting to illegally exporting machinery to North Korea continues its slow path towards a trial.

Hsien Tai “Alex” Tsai, 67, and his son, Yueh Hsun “Gary” Tsai, 36, were arrested and charged in May last year. Alex Tsai was in Estonia at the time and subsequently extradited to the U.S.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations laid out in indictments a plan to obtain and export precision metal fabrication equipment from the U.S. with assistance of several companies in Taiwan. The machinery could be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction, according to the FBI.

The U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois held a status conference on Thursday where the U.S. Government filed an updated notice of intent to use material gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

An original notice filed with the court in June said the U.S. would use in the case or submit into evidence material obtained from electronic surveillance gathered under FISA.

The updated notice adds material gathered through physical surveillance authorized under FISA.

The court is scheduled to hold its next status conference in April.

http://www.northkoreatech.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/140119-tsai.pdf

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