Saturday, December 24, 2005

Have a great festive season

2005 is almost over, and I'm going on holiday.

I will be back in 2006.


I read George Orwell's Animal Farm when I was in high school, but I didn't get around to 1984 till this week when I downloaded it1. It was an impressive book, and I can see why it is so influential.

I hope it was 1984. I once downloaded and read a fake Harry Potter book, although I did figure out is was a fake after a couple of hundred pages.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fuel shortage

There is/was a petrol shortage in parts of the country, and Vaz Lube puts the blame squarely at the feet of government regulation.

I have no reason - and I don't know enough about the causes of the shortage- to dispute his claim.

On the plus side though, the panic buying didn't seem as bad as one would have expected, at least in Gauteng. There was also no price gouging (because it isn't allowed).

It would be interesting for someone versed in economics to explain whether panic buying is better dampened by the higher prices that would follow a shortage or by the knowledge that the government will control prices, so there is no need to rush to the pump.

See also, my previous post on the topic, where I explain my somewhat irrational reasons for supporting for petrol price regulation.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In house systems for IT companies

Reading this article by Joel on Software about developing a shipping system for his company's products, reminded me of my own experiences when developing small in-house systems. It's easy when the customer understands the technical and business requirements of a system, the scope is well-defined, and you can get immediate feedback. Too bad all systems can't be like that...

Free Linux CDs

You can order free Ubuntu Linux CDs on the internet. You may have to pay a handling charge of less than R20 to the post office, but apart from that, the CDs are free, and you can order enough for your friends and family. This really does work, and is very useful for us in South Africa, because of out limited and expensive internet access.

My first experience with Linux was with the SUSE distribution in 2000. I later installed Mandrake. My computer's graphics card (a SiS 6326) needed a lot of tweaking to get it to work properly. With a new computer and VMware (I am not willing to re-partition my hard drive yet), I hope that my experience with Ubuntu Linux will be better.

PS. To Install VMware tools for Linux this link is useful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

December blues

The next two weeks are going to be extremely hot and boring for many of us, as we wait for the festive season to arrive, and for the 2005 work year to end.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Arrogance versus Maintainability in Software Development

One of my pet hates is the "we are smarter than everyone else" attitude of some developers. "Drag and drop programming" is sneered at, while exotic architectures that ignore important principles of software design, and fundamental principles of database design are promoted.

Of course these gurus leave their messy systems to lesser mortals to maintain, and move on, as problems begin to pile up.

Post inspired by this Daily WTF.

Web Software

A blogger has posted his best Web 2.0 Software Picks. [via Digg].

An updated list of my top apps would be (not all would qualify as "Web 2.0"), or even as web apps, but they do make my life easier (see also previous entry):

Sunday, December 11, 2005

American right-wing blog watching: Sydney race riots

I will be watching the blog-world's reactions to the race riots in Australia with a lot of interest, especially in the more conservative precincts of the internet.

Update 12/12/2005: At least one of the links above didn't disappoint. The more I read of the thread, the more I felt that SA whites are extremely fortunate. It appears that tolerance towards minorities is skin deep in much of the first world.

See also

Update 2: Some of the people who try to justify the race riots claim that activities by Lebanese gangs justify the attacks on "wogs". If that is the case, then I wonder how they would react if, hypothetically, black mobs in South Africa decided to go on a racist rampage when, say, a white farmer throws a black farm worker into a lion enclosure?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Random thought: Shoprite Checkers and branding confusion

I don't keep up with marketing issues, but I find the whole Shoprite/Checkers/OK business very confusing.

Two wheeled morons

Cyclists and motorcyclists are often militant about their "right" to use our roads. But, as any Gauteng motorist will tell you, they often are a danger, both to themselves and to other road users.

Driving on a busy freeway, I always check my mirrors and ensure that I have a clear space around my car. But, more than once, I have been shocked to hear a loud roar as a motorcyclist slips past my vehicle, in the same lane, without me even realizing that he was there. A friend recently had his car badly damaged by a kamikaze on a motorbike.

Bicycle riders, too, are often a danger to themselves, and others. While I have sympathy for those who need bicycles to get to work, recreational cyclists, who are often inconsiderate morons who train during rush hour on busy roads at twilight, need to be fined and taken off the road. Companies that sponsor cycle events should also be exposed to negative publicity whenever someone training for their events gets creamed.

Of course, it is politically correct to blame motorists for cycling accidents:

Most accidents on bikes, except in our rural areas, occur in cyclists between the ages of 7 and 17. Statistics improve once they reach their mid-teens by which time they have learned some road sense. Unfortunately the same is often not true of those driving cars, mini-bus taxis and large commercial vehicles. Since generally motorists in this country are not trained to take notice of cyclists, cyclists must learn to take notice of them!
Anyone who has done their driver's licence in the last decade or so will know that the idea that they are not trained to look for cyclists is rubbish .

Perhaps the time has come for drivers to become militant about our right to use the road and to push for cycles to be banned from major routes, and for motorcycles to be taken off our freeways.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Trouble at government propaganda organ?

According to an article in the Sunday Independent, top reporters are fleeing the SABC in droves.

More here and here.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Durban - South Africa's next IT hub?

The Sunday Times has an article about Durban's prospects as the "Sillicon Valley of Africa". Like many Sunday Times articles, it seems a little less than objective, and the emphasis on "public-private partnerships" and call-centres does ring a few alarm bells.

That said, I have a soft spot for Durban, and I hope that the city does become a hi tech hub. Something I often hear from Durbanites is that their city lacks opportunities for skilled professionals, and anything to solve that problem should be welcomed.

If the Durban project succeeds, it will be an interesting case study for us in Gauteng where we have a similar project the - Innovation Hub.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hiring IT graduates

I work for a company that believes in giving job opportunities to new graduates (in particular, those with IT-related degrees), and to technical support staff who want to transition to software development. They are hired at very low salaries, and, as they prove themselves, they earn more. The system seems to work, and my employer has a very low staff turnover.

The job market is -or was two years ago- tough for young South African graduates to break into. Companies seem to want to avoid the risks inherent in taking someone green and training them. Their scepticism is probably warranted, given the number of low-value certificates that are produced at IT colleges. But university graduates with good records are often tarred with the same brush as graduates from fly-by-night colleges.

Recruitment agencies also seem to dislike graduates, probably because they get lower commissions1.

Interestingly, the only developer who left my company since I started there, was hired on the basis of previous experience (he has no formal IT qualifications). He turned out to be, quite frankly, a professional liability. There was a secret sense of relief when he left us for a better paying position.

On the other hand, the smartest, strongest developers, who are driving the company forward (and earning it lots of cash), and who were hired straight out of university, remain at the company. They could probably have been snapped up by any company at a salary of R6 000,00 p/m after graduating. Today they are unlikely to change jobs, even if offered four times that amount.

Of course, there will be duds if one hires junior people (it's depressingly easy to cheat and coast one's way through university), but the risk is reduced if you pay them less.

Joel on Software has a good point:

In fact, one thing I have noticed is that the people who I consider to be good software developers barely ever apply for jobs at all. I know lots of great people who took a summer internship on a whim and then got permanent offers. They only ever applied for one or two jobs in their lives.


By the way, it's because of this phenomenon-—the fact that many of the great people are never on the job market-—that we are so aggressive about hiring summer interns. This may be the last time these kids ever show up on the open market. In fact we hunt down the smart CS students and individually beg them to apply for an internship with us, because if you wait around to see who sends you a resume, you're already missing out. [Read the rest]

I think that Joel, and my own boss, are on to something.

1 If you are heavily reliant on employment agencies for IT recruitment, then you are asking for trouble, since most are ignorant.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Are opportunists infiltrating the ANC at local level?

Over the last few years, the ANC branch in the area where I live has slowly changed its composition. Crooks and assorted power-hungry scumbags have managed to climb to the top.

Over the last few weeks, I have heard that another unqualified individual has started angling for a nomination. If he gets it, he will probably be elected to the metro council.

Although I don't condone the rioting that seems to have become a common occurrence in South Africa, I do understand the frustration of people who have no practical alternatives to an ANC which has been infiltrated by careerists who don't care about their constituents' welfare.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gautrain: a white elephant?

With the increasing costs of the Gautrain project, questions are being asked about its viability.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Rich Man's Highway?

The Sunday Times Metro section has an article on the proposed PWV9 highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg. According to the somewhat breathless piece, the route has been revised to run further west than originally planned, between Sandton and Hartebeespoort, rather than parallel to the Ben Schoeman Highway.

I don't have enough information about the route to make a definite comment, but I do hope that this new highway doesn't become a road for the elites to zip between their golf estates and workplaces, leaving the poorer western parts of Pretoria and Centurion without a good transport link to the province's economic hub.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

More powerful searching

Imagine if a search engine could infer meaning from the text it crawls. So a search for "negative review of MOVIE XYZ" would come up with negative reviews, even if the reviews themselves didn't contain the actual words "negative review". It's probably not a new idea.

Update 8 November 2005:
Google seems to have launched a movie review site. [Via Scripting News]. See this example.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Trucks on the R21 and minimum speed enforcement

The R21 is an important highway between Pretoria and the East Rand. It provides the only practical link between Johannesburg International Airport and the the Tshwane Metropolitan Area (Pretoria and Centurion), and is one of the only highways in Gauteng that remains relatively uncongested, even at rush hour.

There are minimum speed limit signs on many stretches that indicate that vehicles must travel faster than 60 km/h. There are also lane-use restriction signs that prohibit the use of the right-hand lane during rush hours by trucks (although when these signs are demolished in accidents, they don't seem to be replaced by the authorities).

However the minimum speed limits seem to be seldom enforced. Many trucks crawl along, sometimes at under the minimum speed limit. Today, a couple of Zimbabwe registered trucks (lots of trucks from that country use the highway for some reason) caused an enormous backup (and lots of hard braking) because they were traveling extremely slowly in the left-lane. There wasn't a traffic officer in sight.

The problems caused by trucks on the R21 need to be addressed by the authorities.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Greasemonkey - Change web pages to make them more user friendly

After reading about it over the last few months, I took the plunge and started using a clever extension for Mozilla Firefox called Greasemonkey, that can be downloaded from

After installing it on Firefox, one can download or write user scripts to add features to web pages, making them more usable.

I am using scripts I downloaded that make Gmail more user-friendly by adding "delete" and "mark read" buttons (instead of having to use a dropdown).

I also have a script that allows a form submit by pressing CTRL+ENTER in a textbox, and one that shows Amazon prices in Rand, in addition to Dollars. Another script converts URL text into hyperlinks automatically .

There are apparently also similar similar options for other browsers, but for now, I will stick to Greasemonkey. I have switched between IE and Mozilla/Firefox for the past few years as my default browser, but I finally have a reason to stick with Firefox.

Web developers are going to complain about users being able to mess with their site designs - with good reason - you could make some sites stop working if you install the wrong script - but uninstalling is easy. I would recommend Greasemonkey to experienced web surfers, who are looking for a way to improve their online experience.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


  • Driving home today on a major highway on Monday, I found myself in an area of almost zero visibility, caused by fine debris being blown about by the wind. Scary stuff. Also lots of power failures, but despite much thunder and lightning I haven't seen a major downpour yet.

  • A popular financial services company is discussing its employees' personal lives, specifically their hobbies, in its advertising campaign. I don't see the relevance of their personal lives to whether they are capable of doing their jobs.

    Besides, I was at a weekend sporting match earlier this year, and a large group of people wearing clothing items branded with the company's name (I, and others, assumed they were employees) got drunk and one assaulted a female spectator. The police confronted them. Not a good advertisement for the company if it believes that I should base my assessment of its products on the after-hours conduct of its employees.

  • An interesting analysis of South Africa's floor crossing sham. [Via Fodder]

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Odds and ends

I just fixed my modem (I had to rely on a laptop with power problems to connect, so I could rarely stay online for more than a few minutes).

Hopefully I will be able to stay connected long enough to be able to post some stuff.

I'm currently checking out Ruby on Rails for web application development, and working with VMware Workstation.

While my experiences with VMware Workstation, a program that lets one run multiple virtual machines on your computer, have been overwhelmingly positive, I haven't been able to get Rails to install yet because of the Internet connectivity problems I have been experiencing.

I'm mainly testing Rails because I want to see what the hype is about, but VMware has already proved to be enormously useful for maintaining multiple development environment configurations.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

South Asian immigration to South Africa in the context of the recent London bombings

I wrote last year about immigrants from South Asia. Although ostensibly here legally, I have heard that their immigration status is often secured by bribery.

In the wake of the recent mayhem in London, I have to wonder whether immigration by South Asians, especially Pakistanis, to South Africa, needs to be monitored more closely. While many of them are hardworking people, are we willing to run the risk that they, or -perhaps more likely- their children, will become disaffected at some time in the future, and turn to radical Islam?

By the way, while Muslim leaders in Britain have condemned the bombings, their South African counterparts are still seemingly equivocal in their responses to terrorism.

Update - 07/08/2005
The Sunday Times had a feature article on the topic of South Asian immigration today, with a focus on Bangladeshi immigrants.

Looking for web content authors

This blog hasn't gone dormant - I had the flu and couldn't connect to the internet.

If anyone knows of professional web content authors in South Africa, please email me. (I don't need a web site, I need someone to write copy for a corporate website.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gauteng from space

Check out the amazing satellite images of Gauteng from Google Maps, linked to by Commentary.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Software essay list I

I have been busy for the last few weeks, hence the lack of blogging.

Joel Spolsky of the Joel on Software website has a compiled some essays on software development into a book. Based on the books he chose for his book list, I expect that his choice of essays will be as good as his choice of books.

I would recommend that you buy the book, if possible, but, if like me you don't have the cash for the book, you can read the essays online.

Here are links to the first few essays from the book:

More to follow...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Good clean fun

I watched Noot vir Noot, the Afrikaans TV music quiz show, last night. It has been going for years, and, although the music is not the type of stuff I would normally listen to -I only decided to watch because one of the contestants was quite pretty- it is nice to see that there are still television shows that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Don't believe everything that you read in the papers

There was a fairly big news story today, and I happen to know some of the people involved. Because of this, I know that the coverage, particularly from the newspapers has been ludicrously inaccurate.

The amount of bullshit produced by the mass media is astounding.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ooh shiny!

I attended a wedding ceremony the other day, and the chap officiating described the event as a "sanctimonious occasion". No one else seemed to have noticed the malapropism, and most were probably impressed that he used a difficult word in his speech.

Big words impress people. Jargon intimidates the feeble minded. Fancy graphics can mask crappy functionality.

Too many people value style over substance and pay the price in the long run.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Blindingly obvious observations about corporate website content (that some people still don't know about)

  • I surf the net looking for information that is useful or interesting to me. I use web applications to get things done. I expect that most people do the same. I am not awed by eye-candy, but I appreciate an aesthetically pleasing website as much as the next person.
  • Presentation is important, but if your corporate website doesn't have useful content the it will probably be a white elephant.
  • If your website's navigation scheme makes it difficult for search engines to follow your links you will lose business.
  • If you use obscure jargon to describe your business, instead of saying what you do in simple English, you will probably lose search engine hits
  • If you have spelling and grammatical errors on your site, your company will look unprofessional, and even the best site design won't compensate for that

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I played Monopoly with some friends today. We used the newish version of the game, which has updated property names. The best part was that no-one cheated- making this the first time I ever participated in a clean game.

The only thing I dislike about the new version is that it takes time to get used to all the additional zeroes on the banknotes, and there were a few mix-ups during the game, as 50000 notes were confused with 5000 notes. I don't get why the values were inflated- they are still unrealistically low, and they just make the game more difficult to play

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Poor traffic enforcement

Minibus taxi drivers seem to be able to get away with dangerous driving without much being done to stop them.

Taxi drivers are not the only inconsiderate and reckless road users; the following dangerous habits also need to be cracked down on:
  • People who, seeing a line of cars in the right-lane of a two-lane highway, passing a truck, decide to use the left-lane to overtake these cars. They then try to force their way back into the right-lane when they reach the truck, causing the other vehicles in the right lane to have to brake suddenly.
  • Truck drivers who violate lane restrictions and minimum speed rules.
  • Morons who don't treat broken robots as four-way stops (from what I've seen, Durbanites, in particular, ignore this rule)
  • Idiots who do u-turns on highways by crossing the median island
  • Pedestrians who run across highways.
  • People who drive in the emergency lane.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

That old time religion

I would like to congratulate Roman Catholics on the election of their new pope.

According to reports, he is conservative, which is exactly what is required from a religious leader.

Religion needs to call people back to the straight and narrow, and not follow them into debauchery. I also believe that many people have a poorly developed sense of right and wrong, and that the fear of eternal damnation is an excellent way to curb whatever criminal predilections they might have. Therefore, the election of a pope not given to wishy-washy moral relativism is a good thing.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Most useful computer stuff

Like many people, I install or use lots of different websites and programs, looking for stuff that makes life easier and computing more enjoyable. The following are my top websites and applications:

  1. Google. Still the best search engine

  2. Gmail. The Google approach to email.

  3. Wikipedia. An open encyclopedia.

  4. Mozilla Firefox. A free web browser.

  5. eMule. Filesharing client, similar to eDonkey.

  6. Blogger. Quick and easy personal website creation.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Royal wedding

I can't believe I'm writing about this, but after hearing cruel remarks the whole week about the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, especially on 94.7 Highveld Stereo (the low-point was when a DJ played a horse sound-effect while discussing the woman), it was refreshing to see a sensible article on the topic.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Flags for web browsers

Many programming environments have a feature called "flags", that allows one to mark lines of code, and jump to them when required. This is a brilliant, and could be extended to the web. Those of us on dial-up connections often view the "printable version" of a web page, so that we can read offline at our leisure, instead of clicking through a paged article.

The problem is that printable versions are long and it is easy to lose one's place in the article. I wonder if would be possible to add a feature that replicated the flags feature for web browsers?


I will never understand why many otherwise clean people don't wash their braai grills, assuming that "the heat from the fire will kill the germs".

I have no idea if the heat from a braai fire can kill germs, but I have severe gastroenteritis, and I suspect that I got the virus that caused it from an unwashed braaistand which had been lying on the floor for weeks.

It could just have been a coincidence that I got sick after the braai, but I cannot help but wonder if my discomfort could have been avoided if I had just avoided the meat.

Charmless politicians

I watched an etv interview with the South African cabinet minister who is heading the SADC observer mission to Zimbabwe, and I was struck by how absolutely defensive, imperious and charmless she was.

I makes me wonder how many of our elected officials would survive if they had to campaign for their seats directly, and try to appeal to voters. My guess is that quite a few would not even try .

Sunday, March 20, 2005


In the highly unlikely event that you missed the Sunday Times front page, a number of chilli products have been contaminated with Sudan dye, a carcinogenic food colorant.

Although the Sunday Times seems to be sensationalizing the story a little, I will be keeping away from chilies for the next few months, and from brands mentioned in the article for a long time (unless I find out that there was a flaw in the testing process).

1 Apologies for the title, I know that some people find adding the suffix -gate to any scandal to be annoying

Update: Local bloggers react to the story. The consensus seems to be that the story was blown out of proportion by the Sunday Times.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Inane observations about management

One of the careers I thought about pursuing was management consulting. Other opportunities arose, and I'm quite happy as a software developer (which requires a substantially different set of skills).

1. It is obvious that some training (even of an informal type) in management is essential for everyone, from team leaders up, in any industry.

2. Without a well-defined structure, an organization staffed with the best people will degenerate into a group of rival power bases, where having a power base, and using that power base to protect oneself is more important than doing the right thing for the organization. The unfortunate outsiders who do not have a power base are punished by management for the mistakes/incompetence of those who do have a power base. This often seems to happen in family businesses, for example, where the management is too timid to confront family members, often to the detriment of the company.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Links 12/03/2005

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wasting money

Laurence, and a lot of other people at Commentary are upset about the "renaming" of Pretoria.

The city centre will retain its name, so the name "Pretoria" will not vanish entirely. The City of Tshwane has been in existence for around 5 years, so registering it as a place name is not a big issue. In fact, apart from the name being registered, it appears that little else will change.

What will be interesting is whether the area that comprises the entire municipality is registered as "Tshwane", or just the old city of Pretoria, which is a part of Tshwane. Registering just the old Pretoria as Tshwane will probably cause confusion in places like Centurion, which were not part of Pretoria, but are part of Tshwane.

I also was taken aback when I read this report that the name change may cost 1.5 billion Rand.

I grew up in a rather underdeveloped part of what is now Tshwane, and despite the promises of the municipality, the infrastructure remains in a poor state, and it is economically underdeveloped. 1.5 billion Rand would be a nice sum to kickstart development, instead of being wasted on a symbolic and meaningless gesture.

By the way - it seems politically foolish for the ANC to give the opposition a hot-button issue with which to mobilize support.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

How to make street renaming simple

According to the Sunday Times Metro, the Tshwane council wants street names in Pretoria to change. It doesn't really matter to me, since the only time I visit the Pretoria city centre is when I need to drive across the city (Pretoria doesn't have a complete outer ring road), or when I need to visit government departments (hardly ever).

I also think that Paul Kruger and his contemporaries are long gone, as are the people who they wronged, and renaming the streets of the city centre would be a waste of time.

Also, the potential for confusion is real, especially when street renamings are arbitrary. The ideal situation would be for a logical grid system to be used in renaming the streets - all north-south roads could be named with even numbers, and all east-west roads with odd numbers. Or something like that. And the number of street renamings should also be limited to those figures who are truly offensive.

But, politicians, being politicians, will probably opt for political names. Streets named after figures like DF Malan, and HF Verwoerd are the most embarrassing, and richly deserving of renaming. Unfortunately, these names are also often the names of main roads in many towns.

The potential chaos caused by a renaming can be mitigated if a nationwide mapping between old and new names is established. For example, all HF Verwoerd streets in South Africa could be renamed after say, Oliver Tambo. All DF Malan streets could be named after Beyers Naude, following the precedent set in Johannesburg. It will ease the transition between old and new names, and, if people are given a small list, they are more likely to adopt the new names quickly, and with minimal confusion. A lot of arguments against street renaming will also be blunted - old business cards, phone books and maps will still be valid - all the user would have to do is look at one list -valid for the entire country-, and they would know what the new street names are.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Jo'blog responds on rape post

Despite what some people think, anal rape is not supposed to be part of the prison experience, nor is it an acceptable form of punishment, in South Africa, or anywhere else.

Calling for someone to be raped is sick. I stand by my previous posting on this topic.

Why I like petrol price regulation

I don't know much about microeconomics, so I'll have to take Vaz Lube's word that government regulation of the petrol price is a bad thing. It probably even leads to higher overall prices because of decreased competition, I don't know.

And, frankly, I don't care. I like the convenience of being able to fill up anywhere, and knowing that I'm paying the same price as everyone else in the area. I like the idea of going into a garage - any garage- and saying, "full tank-unleaded" without worrying about the price. I don't need the hassle of looking for lower-priced petrol, and calculating whether the cost of driving across town to fill a half-tank of petrol will be offset by a 20 cent/litre saving. Life is complicated enough already without worrying about being gouged by petrol station owners. I don't care if average prices come down, I only care about knowing, with 100% certainty, that I am not paying more than the average price.

It's probably stupid, and economic blasphemy for me to say so, but in this case, I feel better off having the government set petrol prices using a convoluted formula, than leaving things to the whims of the market.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Local blogger advocates prison rape

"I hope he lives. I hope he goes to prison. I hope the inmates fuck him a new ass...! "

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

How not to sell your products

If you sell components to developers, and build your own site using those components, you had better be sure that your site works properly.

Update - 21:00: The site is fixed, but the manual download page still has broken links, and the newsgroups load, but very slowly.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Interview tips - for interviewers

[I'm waiting for a download to complete so I can unplug my modem, and am housebound, hence the glut of posts at the moment.]

I previously wrote about a rather weird interview process I went through last year, and I got a thoughtful email from a Durban-based psychologist about the topic a few weeks ago. My reply bounced, and I just re-sent it.

The email got me thinking about the interview process, and I also found this guide to interviewing for software developer positions.

The article reminded me of a critical point:

It is important to remember that the people you are interviewing are potential clients [or competitors], and pissing them off is not a good idea.

Some examples:
  • Something in the HR playbook seems to require rejections to be handled by a secretary, rather than the interviewer. That happened to me, and I thought, "WTF...he [the HR manager] phoned me twice, interviewed me twice, emailed me three times, and then pretends that his secretary is rejecting me." (I wrote about this job application previously). I later realized that it was probably a tactic used by HR people.
  • Rejection is tough, and I suppose that using a secretary to issue a letter that a candidate was unsuccessful is supposed to make it seem less personal, or something, but I just found it insulting, manipulative and pointless.
  • Another chap wasted my time, and money traveling for a position that was no longer available (it was painfully obvious from the way the interview was conducted). His company -I had done some research- had made a few blunders, and was having trouble with its projects. I wasn't surprised after the interview. Interestingly, I recently met someone else who went for an interview there at around the same time, and he too was struck by the incompetence of the outfit (he decided against taking their job offer). We have actually discussed the fact that it seemed that there was blood in the water, and that there is a business opportunity in grabbing the company's huge blue-chip client....

Companies that mistreat candidates develop a bad reputation and, through word of mouth, potential applicants will be scared off, or worse.

Links - 27/02/2005

Buying a new computer

I have decided that I need a new computer. I want a computer that has specific functionality. I must be able to...:

  • play Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 on it, to the end, with no performance degradation.
  • write DVD's
  • develop and debug applications using ASP.NET and Visual Studio.NET, with SQL Server 2000.
  • develop J2EE applications, if I ever need to.
  • connect to an Ethernet network, the internet, and to a printer
  • run MS Office 2000
  • use my USB-Bluetooth adapter

I don't have the time to browse technical websites looking for benchmarks, and I don't trust any of the computer dealers in my town - they all seem to be small-time crooks.

Buying from a big chain store is not an option, because specialize in selling overpriced and under-powered computers.

I will probably get my computer from a friend-of-a friend, or a colleague who has an account with a computer wholesaler, and who will make a small profit for their trouble, but I will still probably have to give them the specifications for the system that I want. The wholesalers' price lists, although password-protected, are not too difficult to obtain, so I will be able to see if I'm being ripped off.

This is less than ideal, and if someone developed an application that let me input functional specifications like those above, produced a detailed technical quote, broken down by component, and allowed one to compare prices from different suppliers, they would remove the guesswork from computer buying, and, I think, have a killer app.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci code is an entertaining, fast paced read. But I can see why there was mild hysteria from certain quarters ,regarding the book.

The idea that Christianity borrowed from pagan tradition is widely accepted, however, the book seems to make a fundamentally different statement - Christianity was essentially pagan, until the Church, as part of a power grab, destroyed the "sacred feminine", in the process deifying Jesus. Or something like that.

But it's only a novel, admittedly a fast-paced and engrossing one, but still, fundamentally, a work of fiction. The plot has also got some puzzles, that if one has the inclination for that sort of thing, could be interesting diversions. I didn't bother, and let the characters solve the puzzles, although I did figure out the Westminster Abbey codeword before the characters did.

If you are a bible-thumper stay away from this book, if you want to be entertained, and understand the difference between fact and fiction, then you should read The Da Vinci code.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons was a fairly entertaining book. Harry Potter for grownups, with a fast enough pace to cover the implausibility and junk science that fill the book.
I finished it on Monday, so I've forgotten some of the plot already - it's not a particularly memorable novel, but still worth a read if you have nothing better to do.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

One down, two to go

I finished reading Executive Orders, and it turned out to be a painful experience. The book is long, as noted in my previous post.

I can't give an objective assessment of the book, as I raced through it, but I felt a sense of relief after finishing.

The plot is made up of different threads, and, as each one developed, I found my curiosity turn into frustration and finally to relief, as each denouement signaled that the end of the book was approaching, and that I would be liberated from Clancy's acronym-laden and turgid prose.

Maybe I'll enjoy the Dan Brown novels more, especially since I don't think I'll feel the need to rush through them.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Jumping on the bandwagon

One of my teenaged cousins recommended Dan Brown's novel Angels and Demons to me. I did some research and found that Brown also wrote The Da Vinci Code, a book which I noticed being discussed on a few blogs.

So, I went to Exclusive Books, and finding that they were sold out, ordered the books from Amazon, along with Tom Clancy's Executive Orders.

The Clancy book is long and, like his other books, probably filled with insider-technobabble, but I feel compelled to read it because it follows on Debt of Honor, which ended with a plane crashing into the US Capitol while the president gave his State of the Union Address.

My package arrived today, and after powering through Clancy's book I'll see whether Brown's offerings live up to the hype. I am hopeful, however, given the strength of the recommendation by my cousin.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Who won the Iraq elections?

A lot of people are making a fuss about the Iraq elections, but they are oddly silent about the (very tardily released) results. As predicted moderate, pro-western liberals seem to be winning.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The return of sneakernet

One of the first things one learns about when studying computer networks is the bad old days of sneakernet, where people would physically transfer data by using removable media. LANs were supposed to solve all that.

But in the real world, I often find colleagues and friends sharing data by using USB flash drives. These are not computer neophytes, but engineers and software developers. They find it a lot easier to plug in and plug out, than it is to mess with domains and set permissions, or to email an executable (it's blocked by the mailserver, so it has to be zipped first, or have its extension changed).

Someone already wrote an article on this in 2002.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Wikipedia articles that need editing

I've been busy for the last two weeks.

Here are some Wikipedia articles on local topics that you can contribute to:

Kempton Park
See the article on Gauteng for more links that need attention.

There is also a shortage of information on South African universities.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

User interface design II

The end-user experience is something that is often neglected in the rush to produce slick-looking interfaces.

As I said in a previous post, has one of the best user interfaces on the web. Gmail and FNB's online banking site also score highly, because they make navigation simple and hide the complexity of their underlying logic. SAA's website has improved since my last post on the topic.

On the other hand, there are many programs and websites that have look slick at first glance, but suffer from awful performance and have ugly, cluttered, headache-inducing interfaces, that, if tested with actual users (as opposed to managers who won't really be using the system), would be rejected.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Durban robots - semi-inane rant

Something I noticed around Durban (the central and Berea areas especially) is that many of the traffic lights are not fully functional- many have burned-out lightbulbs (or LED's?).

In one case, at the intersection of Sydenham Road and (I think) Centenary Road outside the Greyville racecourse, heading towards town, all the green lights were burned out.

If you are a Durbanite, it might be a good idea to find out why the municipality is neglecting the traffic lights.

Two other drivers who I spoke to also commented about the problem with the robots.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Happy new year

My usual holiday haunt, Durban, was hot, humid, stuffy - and a lot of fun.

Happy new year.