Monday, May 31, 2004

PR problems

Richard at Way South has a bit of a rant about Anti-Americanism.

"...For 'this', I blame Bush. What do I want? I want George W. to convince my Mother that I'm not crazy. How is he going to do this? By getting the real reasons why America went to war in Iraq out into the world. By getting the American side of the story to my Mother so she can make up her own mind instead of sending me books titled "Why the world hates America." If the 'message' is getting lost in America, it came nowhere near our shores

How can America do this? For one, how about the American embassy in South Africa respond to some of the foolishness that is printed in our press. How about the American embassy send someone on a radio talk shows every now and then (The Israelis do it). How about you take out an add explaining your position? You might not convince many people, but at least they'll respect the fact that you do 'care' about their opinion..."

Firstly, I don't think that anyone at the embassy would know how to defend the invasion of Iraq, since, every explanation gets debunked. I don't think that Bush himself knows. (If Richard knows why Iraq was invaded, I invite him to explain).

Secondly, according to most accounts, the State Department has been a thorn in the side of the neocons, so there is a distinct possibility that the embassy employees want no part in defending a war planned by bloodthirsty (and foolish) Pentagon civilians.

[Thanks to for the pointer]

Daily Links - 31/05/2004

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Day After Tomorrow

I just watched The Day After Tomorrow. I'd give it 7/10.

It's standard disaster movie fare, with few surprises. Like most disaster movies, there is a love story, though it isn't really the central focus. The dialogue is preachy and corny. The science is probably wrong (or exaggerated). But it's still entertaining enough to justify forking out the money to watch it at a cinema.

This review matches up quite well with what I thought of the movie.

PS I think the movie used the Fahrenheit scale for temperature.
Billmon is back, and has a long post on Iraq, that's worth reading.

British boy convicted of inciting his own murder using the Internet

A Manchester teenager convinced another boy to kill him, and has been convicted of inciting his own murder.

"...John, from Greater Manchester, pleaded guilty at Manchester crown court to incitement to murder and perverting the course of justice.

He was given a three-year supervision order, banned from contacting Mark or using the internet without strict adult supervision.

Mark, who is also from a middle-class family in Greater Manchester, was given a two-year supervision order for attempted murder.

Judge David Maddison, the recorder of Manchester, said: "Skilled writers of fiction would struggle to conjure up a plot such as that which arises here. It's staggering to be dealing with a case that arises out of a 14-year-old boy's invention of false personalities, false relationships and events arranged for his own killing at the hands of a 16-year-old boy who he had met via an internet chatroom..." "

Read the rest...

The Randburg Waterfront

I haven't visited the Randburg Waterfront for years. In fact, I hadn't even thought about it till last week, when it was (correctly) guessed as a hiding place for The Fugitive.

Well, it turns out that the lake has been filled in, redeveloped, and is now called the Brightwater Commons.

Daily Links - 29/05/2004

Friday, May 28, 2004

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Guardian onlineblog

The Guardian has relaunched its Onlineblog, which focuses on computing. [via Anil Dash's daily links]

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Not funny

Laurence Caromba angrily links to a story about the suspension of popular 94.7 Highveld Stereo DJ Revin John because he insulted Nigerian president Obasanjo.

I think that the radio station may have jumped the gun in suspending John and his colleague Lloyd de Bruin. But I also think that the presidency has as much of a right to complain as a member of the public and that normal procedures should have been followed to determine if the complaint had merit. The way the radio station capitulated is creepy.

However, as a regular listener to that particular show, I have noticed that ethnic stereotyping does feature quite often. Ethnic stereotyping is unfunny, and given South Africa's history particularly inappropriate.

Our comics and media personalities need to find other ways to amuse their audiences.

Daily Links: 26/05/2004

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Admin notice

It looks like this will be a fairly hectic week for me, and I won't have much time to surf the net (or check my RSS feeds), so expect blogging to be relatively light till the weekend.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Daily Links: 24/05/2004

Readers react to traffic anarchy article on

Readers of react to the article on removing traffic controls, linked to here.

Intuitive models and popular science

I don't bother with scientific theories unless I believe that I can fully grasp the underlying mathematics, and I have the time to explore the theories fully. My lack of faith in fuzzy intuitive models means that quantum physics and relativity will forever be mysteries to me unless I make a serious effort to understand them (frankly I can't be bothered).

On the other hand, I have a friend with less of a mathematical and scientific background than me, who is fascinated by modern science, and is a firm believer in intuitive models, just like author Dr. Brian Greene, interviewed on the Atlantic website.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

The development and use of crash test dummies

An interesting Wikipedia article on crash test dummies.

Comparing airline booking sites

Compare the and SAA Internet booking systems.

In my experience Kulula bookings, and fare lookups are quick and painless. SAA's are frustrating.

I don't know if it's a server-side problem, or because SAA just didn't bother to test their site with the dial-up connections that are used by most home users, but SAA's website is extremely sluggish and difficult to use.

On the other hand, Kulula's site is zippy and intuitive. Booking a trip (or making a fare enquiry) through their site is painless. One-way trips can be booked from the main page (with SAA one has to navigate to another page to book a one-way trip).

Kulula's site is, in my opinion, one of the most user-friendly South African websites. I would guess that the simple interface hides some really deep thinking about usability.

Now if only they could do something about the flight delays...

1time also makes fare enquiries a breeze, while Nationwide, with its multi-stage booking procedure makes determining fares more tricky, although their site is not as sluggish as SAA's.

Daily Links: 22/05/2004

RSS readers examined

Wired News has a roundup of the best RSS aggregators.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Embracing traffic anarchy

An article on discusses a counterintuitive trend in traffic engineering.

...between street and sidewalk, woonerfs combine innovative paving, landscaping and other urban designs to allow for the integration of multiple functions in a single street, so that pedestrians, cyclists and children playing share the road with slow-moving cars. The pilot projects were so successful in fostering better urban environments that the ideas spread rapidly to Belgium, France, Denmark and Germany. In 1998, the British government adopted a "Home Zones" initiative -- the woonerf equivalent -- as part of its national transportation policy.

"What the early woonerf principles realized," says Hamilton-Baillie, "was that there was a two-way interaction between people and traffic. It was a vicious or, rather, a virtuous circle: The busier the streets are, the safer they become. So once you drive people off the street, they become less safe."

Contrast this approach with that of the United Kingdom and the United States, where education campaigns from the 1960s onward were based on maintaining a clear separation between the highway and the rest of the public realm. Children were trained to modify their behavior and, under pain of death, to stay out of the street. "But as soon as you emphasize separation of functions, you have a more dangerous environment," says Hamilton-Baillie. "Because then the driver sees that he or she has priority. And the child who forgets for a moment and chases a ball across the street is a child in the wrong place..."

...When it comes to reconfiguring streets as community spaces, ground zero is once again Holland and Denmark, where planners are removing traffic lights in some towns and cities, as well as white divider lines, sidewalks and speed limits. Research has shown that fatality rates at busy intersections, where two or three people were being killed every year, dropped to zero when controls and boundaries were taken away. A photo of a reconstructed intersection, "the Brink," in the Dutch province of Friesland, provides more design details. Until 1998, the Brink was a standard asphalt intersection with traffic controls and segregated spaces. Today, the entire area has been repaved with red bricks bordered by sections of green railing. A raised piazza juts into the middle of the intersection, but there are no sidewalks, road markings, or right-of-way signs. Every day, 4,500 cars share the space with cyclists and pedestrians who wander about "the road" at will.

E-commerce takes off

The Economist has an article about the way e-commerce is changing the way people do business [Link via Slate].

The raw numbers tell only part of the story. According to America's Department of Commerce, online retail sales in the world's biggest market last year rose by 26%, to $55 billion. That sounds a lot of money, but it amounts to only 1.6% of total retail sales. The vast majority of people still buy most things in the good old bricks-and-mortar world...

E-commerce is already very big, and it is going to get much bigger. But the actual value of transactions currently concluded online is dwarfed by the extraordinary influence the internet is exerting over purchases carried out in the offline world. That influence is becoming an integral part of e-commerce.

To start with, the internet is profoundly changing consumer behavior. One in five customers walking into a Sears department store in America to buy an electrical appliance will have researched their purchase online and most will know down to a dime what they intend to pay. More surprisingly, three out of four Americans start shopping for new cars online, even though most end up buying them from traditional dealers. The difference is that these customers come to the showroom armed with information about the car and the best available deals. Sometimes they even have computer print-outs identifying the particular vehicle from the dealer's stock that they want to buy.

Perhaps my advice to Makro wasn't too far-fetched after all. Who needs flammable retail floors, anyway...

Fanatics pulling the strings

Laurence Caromba at Commentary watched Troy, and noticed that the Trojans allowed their priests to make important military decisions, with disastrous consequences. It's something I also noticed when watching the movie.

The cynical Greeks desecrated temples and virgin priestesses. They used the mourning period for Hector to build their wooden horse, which was seen as an offering to Poseidon by the Trojans. The Trojans stupidly allowed their strategy to be dictated by omens and superstition, and they paid the price.

Fortunately, today's superpower is rational, and would not let religious fruitcakes dictate its foreign policy. [Link via Juan Cole]

Daily Links: 19/05/2004

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Sarin gas bomb in Iraq

Listening to the news on 94.7, the newsreader made a big deal about the alleged discovery of an artillery shell containing sarin gas.

Unfortunately, as is typical of this type of story, the newsreader didn't mention the following:
However, a senior coalition source has told the BBC the round does not signal the discovery of weapons of mass destruction or the escalation of insurgent activity.

He said the round dated back to the Iran-Iraq war and coalition officials were not sure whether the fighters even knew what it contained.

and this.

[Links via blog]

The Fugitive

94.7 Highveld Stereo is running a competition called The Fugitive.

It involves tracking down a person called The Fugitive, based on clues he calls in every hour. After going up to him and asking, "are you The Fugitive?", the winner gets the jackpot, which increases every hour that the fugitive is on the loose. The jackpot then resets, and The Fugitive heads off to a new location.

There's also a prize to be won by reporting The Fugitive's location to a desk at Gold Reef City.


I watched Troy. The fight scenes were well done and the movie is entertaining, despite its length.

I haven't read the Iliad, and my main source of information about the mythology of the era is Microsoft's Age of Mythology. I don't care about how closely it's based on the Iliad, I care about being entertained, and Troy was entertaining, so it gets 8/10.

More about Troy (the place in modern Turkey).

Monday, May 17, 2004

Speaking of Morocco...

Lounsbury analyzes an article from the New York Times: "Morocco Connection Is Emerging as Sleeper Threat in Terror War".

Reactions from the bid losers

Laurence Caromba at has links to the reactions of Morocco and Egypt to the World Cup bid announcement.

Emotion and the "Mandela factor" seem to have played a bigger role in the win than I had anticipated.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The importance of sleep

Local schools (and some universities) should research the effects of starting classes at the crack of dawn.

Research confirms real benefits not only at Edina but also at many other high schools that have made similar scheduling switches, says Kyla Wahlstrom, an education policy expert at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Grades have gone up, and dropout rates have declined. The results are impressive enough that other school systems have started to take notice. In Poquoson, Va., the school board has held public hearings over the past few months to consider making the first bell later. "We do believe our children aren't getting as much sleep as they ought to," says Jonathan Lewis, superintendent of schools in Poquoson. "We have children getting up at 5:30, quarter of 6 in the morning."

But what is it about getting more sleep that's actually helping students do better? Is it just that sleepy kids can't concentrate in class because they're dozing off over their books, or does something happen in dreamland that affects the brain's ability to learn and remember?

[I don't remember how I found this story...I was too tired at the time]

Saturday, May 15, 2004

2010 World Cup bid win

South Africa has won the right to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, without the votes of the African representatives.

Apprehension turned to relief and jubilation.

More on the win, from Fodder.

World Cup bid

After being disappointed previously, South Africans seem to be waiting apprehensively for the 2010 Soccer World Cup bid announcement, despite being technical favorites. The optimism of the 2006 bid seems to be missing this time around.

The bid presentations on Friday included a low blow from an Egyptian delegate, aimed at South Africa:
"Egypt is a healthy country with no major epidemic. HIV is reported to be affecting only 1% of the population - that's 7,000 people," he said

The South African presentation seems to have sportingly avoided stating the obvious.

More about the election procedure.

War reading

US officer corps "turns against the war". [link via Mark Shea]

The Guardian article mentions an interesting essay, "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012".

Friday, May 14, 2004

Links: 14/05/2004

"Prison torment? It's nothing compared to what we did to each other at sea!"

In a discussion of the torture at Abu Ghraib (he condemns the soldiers who did it and believes that they were ultimately responsible for their own actions, whether or not they were ordered to torment prisoners), this writer inadvertently gives us a glimpse of a system that produces sadists:

Within minutes, another Marine - the Sergeant of the Guard - strolled into the post. He began shouting at the sailor and then directed me to break the sailor's hands with my stick. Stunned, I turned to the sergeant and asked why.

"Don't you dare question me, Smith," he snapped. "Break his f***ing hands."...

And later:

Soldiers and Marines weren't perfect in my day either. On my ship, the abuses young leathernecks endured at the hands of senior Marines was far worse than anything seen in the images from Abu Ghraib. Hazing and other martial rites-of-passage ran the gamut from severe beatings (sometimes to temporary unconsciousness), being stripped naked and shackled to pull-up bars, backs and legs whipped with belts and the flat edges of swords, and bare heads smacked with belts and steel helmets. Blooding winging (a ritual wherein newly graduated Marine parachutists had their jump wings pinned directly into their chests). In one case a Marine private was severely burned — the result of his genitals and abdomen being painted with highly flammable boot-edge dressing and then ignited with a cigarette lighter. This incident nearly resulted in punishment for the Marine commander (who was not present during the incident). But no one ever accused or even suggested that President Ronald Reagan, as commander in chief, had any connection to any of it.

Though the abuses at Abu Ghraib made public thus far, are less severe than what I remember from my hitch on sea duty, they are far worse in the sense that they have been publicized globally, and the victims are enemy prisoners...

It's one of the few insightful articles I've read in the Bloodthirsty Review[TM].

Update: 16/05/2004: The torture was apparently part of a covert Pentagon programme. [Link via LRC] It's interesting that much of the speculation in this article seems to have been correct.
Update: 19/05/2004: Newsweek appears to back up the New Yorker story. [Link via Billmon]


Wired has a story about Ad-blocking.

I used a hosts file until I had to reinstall Windows XP earlier this year, and I found it to be very effective. Since then, I haven't bothered with ad blocking, but I would recommend a hosts file as your primary ad-blocking mechanism, as it's quick and free.

Another Makro burns down

Another Makro store in Johannesburg burned down (the third), as noted by Wayne Wides.

I notice that Makro's site has extensive online shopping facilities.

The way their shops burn down, maybe moving to an online strategy wouldn't be such a bad thing for Makro.

By the way, here's an interesting piece that analyzes the rise of bulk retailers in the United States.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Daily links: 13/05/2004

Something about the Berg murder

Did Nick Berg play some part in the Iraqi insurgency (or more likely, was he incorrectly suspected of doing so by the American authorities)?

Did the authorities think he was another John Walker Lindh?

[thanks to LRC for some of the links]

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Daily links 12/05/2004

Brenda Fassie

I never knew how popular Brenda Fassie, the "Madonna of the Townships" was until she died.

In fact, I have never listened to any of her songs, and I tended to ignore the gossip that our celebrity-starved media generated about her. I just didn't care.

Weird, but the fact that a major celebrity to one segment of the population could be a non-entity to other South Africans shows that despite the hype, South Africa remains racially and culturally divided.

Daily Links 11/05/2004

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The "Madiba Magic" myth

South Africa is making a final push for the right to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, with a high powered delegation. I hope we get to host the tournament, and I'm certain that we'd do a fine job (although allegations of back-room deals are already being made, reminding me of the 2006 bid debacle).

But what I find annoying is that a few media hacks are claiming that "Madiba magic" will help bring the tournament to South Africa. Just last week, someone absurdly claimed that Madiba magic could bring Brenda Fassie, a South African music star out of her coma, when he visited her in hospital. Instead she died a few days later. "Madiba magic" failed to get South Africa the 2004 Olympics, and the 2006 Soccer World Cup, and despite being cited countless times over the last few years, we have not done particularly well in sporting events where "Madiba magic" was cited as a factor, after Mandela phoned a team to wish them luck.

What started out as a way of describing Nelson Mandela's seemingly amazing ability to keep South Africa from tearing itself apart, has mutated into a journalistic cliche that demeans Mandela, and transforms him from a heroic statesman into little more than a living voodoo rattle.

Going public

This blog will be set to "public". I expect a huge spike in visitors over the next few days...
Pac-Man in Manhattan

A group of students in New York have transferred Pac-Man from computer screens to the real-world.

"In Pac-Manhattan, each of the five poncho-wearing players on the street (Pac-Man and four ghosts, whose names are written on their ponchos) is teamed with a player in the control room. Players and controllers stay in contact by cell phone, and the controller inputs the player's position into the custom-designed game software. Each controller can track each player's movements and uses that information to advise their player whether to change direction, speed up, slow down or hide.

As Pac-Man's position is updated by the controller on the software map, the dots on the map disappear. Power pellets are consumed by touching the street sign at each intersection. "

Monday, May 10, 2004

A new template and a relaunched blogger

Blogger has gotten a redesign, and so has this blog. Comments are now supported directly by Blogger (a good thing too, since my old comments provider seems to have been wiped out). Comments will now be available for selected posts.

This site's template has also changed. It looks like I started blogging just in time for the new relaunched Blogger.
Everything you needed to know...

about London's rising groundwater problem.
Wikipedia links

Some interesting topics which I found on Wikipedia today, in no particular order:
Site feed

My sidebar now has a link to an XML feed of my blog. You can use a News Aggregator and the Atom feed to keep track of my blog.

I use Sharpreader (needs .NET Framework). It makes automatically tracking changes to multiple blogs (and an increasing number of traditional websites like BBC News) very easy.

If you have a Blogspot blog, you should be able to enable this feature by going to the "Settings" section, and enabling the "Site Feed".

More about news aggregators, and web syndication.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Shattered World, Part 45 is out

Part 45 of an alternate history of World War 2, Shattered World is finally out. Months pass between installments, so don't bother reading unless you are patient enough to wait for the story to unfold. If you do read it, you will be rewarded with a well-researched and entertaining epic.
Current hits

My current favorite songs from the Top8@8:
  1. Nelly Furtado: Try

  2. Avril Lavigne: Don't tell me

  3. LMC vs U2: Take me to the Clouds Above

  4. Maroon 5: This love

  5. 3 Doors Down: Here without you

Usher ft Little John & Ludacris: Yeah isn't too bad either.
Sodaplay and Sodarace

Someone called me to watch the end of a segment on BBC's Click Online. Sodaplay is a site that lets one create mechanical objects, and then simulate them. Sodarace takes the process further.

I have just discovered these sites, and, although I'm fairly busy at the moment, I'll try to learn more about them, and update you on what I find out, but what I've seen so far seems intriguing.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Daily Links 07/05/2004

  • What we don't see: The Telegraph has a fascinating article that discusses the surprisingly small capacity of human visual memory. [Link via Crooked Timber]
  • . I had some exposure to the interesting field of cognitive psychology during my studies, and it's interesting to see it confirmed that the human mind is not well-suited to the modern world, and needs all the help it can get.
  • A plague is about to hit the United States, and the Economist explains how the insects concerned have evolved a prime-numbered life-cycle of 17 years. [Link via Crooked timber].

  • Modern armies are afflicted by a plague of a different kind - the cheap and effective RPG, as the War Nerd explains . [Link via Steve Sailer]

  • I'm not surprised to see that my taste in music mirrors that of listeners to the Top8@8, on 94.7 Highveld Stereo, in my opinion, the best radio station in South Africa.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Hitting it big

My friends have taken up recreational gambling as a pastime. I don't gamble, because I know that the casino will bleed me dry in the long run (Gambler's ruin problem), and I'd rather blow my money on eating out, watching movies, playing video games or spending it on people I care about. I do give my friends moral support at the casino and analyze their "foolproof" schemes for beating the casino. Invariably, I poke holes in their theories.

That said, I was intrigued when I saw a story from Wired on the MIT blackjack team, who managed to win big at the one game where the casino can be beaten: blackjack. Especially since I have a similar background to the MIT players, I got to thinking... But I ultimately decided it wasn't worth the effort, although some of my mathematically gifted younger friends have expressed a strong interest in the concept after I discussed it with them.

I watched quite a few movies in the last few months, and I won't attempt to remember all of them. Since 30 March, I watched the following at the cinema:
  • Oh Shucks, I'm Gatvol: I expected a brain-dead movie, and I got what I expected. My friends were disappointed by the lack of a plot, claiming that they enjoyed movies like Panic Mechanic because of their plots(!). Having low expectations, I didn't find it too bad, though I think that Leon Schuster may need to take a break and find new ideas.

  • Runaway Jury: Interesting initially, but it's also way too long (127 minutes). It stars the beautiful Rachel Weisz, who I saw in the excellent Enemy at the Gates.

  • Cheaper by the Dozen Fairly entertaining formula-movie with Piper Parabo providing some eye-candy.

  • School of Rock. I watched this during a very stressful day, so my opinion may be clouded, but it reminded me too much of the Sister Act movies. I didn't really enjoy it.

  • Secret Window. A riveting above-average movie. It kept me guessing throughout. I like unhappy endings and feeling like I've been kicked in the gut after watching a movie. I thought the ending was the best I've seen since the Godfather: Part 3.

Interestingly, I watched all the above movies at Nu Metro theatres. Coincidentally, Edgars Club members can watch movies at R14 per ticket at Nu Metro theatres. One of my friends even opened an Edgars account in order to get the cheaper tickets.
Road numbering

If you need more information about the various routes (R's), metropolitan routes (M's) and National Roads (N's) in South Africa, check out this useful link. I will update this blog with more sites on this topic as I stumble on them.

I expect that some streets that will have their names purged soon (major roads in many places are named after the likes of DF Malan, and Hendrik Verwoerd), and knowing road numbers will make navigation easier.

Unfortunately, I doubt that the authorities will learn their lesson, and choose politically neutral names, so I can expect my hypothetical grandchildren to go through another round of street renamings in around 80 years.
Back to blogging, at a crossroads

After five months, I have decided to start blogging again. I was distracted by holidays, playing Age of Mythology, loafing, tutoring friends and family, job hunting, and the discovery of the utterly addictive Wikipedia.

This blog remains private (unadvertised) for now, but if you stumbled on it by accident , please drop me an email.

On the personal front, while waiting for feedback from job interviews, I am seriously considering getting a post-graduate degree (in Informatics, Mathematics , Statistics, Computer Science, or Industrial Engineering) or even a UHDE (or whatever it's called now), part-time. I'm also considering branching off into something totally different like economics, philosophy or English.

In the meantime, I'm experimenting with Dreamweaver MX 2004, and MySQL and filling a hole in my education, which didn't include much about web design, or web application development.

I saw Cape Town for the first time in January, and I fell in love with the place. It has to be the most beautiful city that I have ever visited, and I'd gladly take a salary knock to move down there. On the other hand, Durban has its attractions as well... For now though, my domicile, and the name of this site, will remain the same.

By the way, feel free to edit any of the above Wikipedia links, after reading this introduction. There is a shortage of contributors on South Africa-related topics.