Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Three years of blogging

The three year anniversary of the first entry on this blog just passed. How time flies.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Life insurance crooks

I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with someone who wanted to sell me a life insurance policy this week, who works for a huge "respectable" insurance company (which lately seems to be developing a reputation for ripping people off).

The high pressure tactics he used were quite remarkable (even resorting to emotional blackmail at times); although I didn't fall victim to his tactics, the experience left me very angry. A lot of innocent, less-savvy people are being ripped off.

Although most of the other people I've dealt wth in the financial services industry were relatively decent, people like him give the whole industry a bad name.

The sooner the (literally) blood-sucking bastards are brought under control, the better for all concerned.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Holy war hotting up?

The pope-Islam hostilities appear to be heating up again, ahead of his visit to Turkey.

The Time article contains the following rather interesting fact:

In late October, Benedict received a different kind of validation in an open "Your Holiness" letter from 38 of the best-known names in Islamic theology. The missive politely eviscerated his Regensburg speech but went on to "applaud" the Pope's "efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life" and expressed a desire for "frank and sincere dialogue."

The article refers, of course, to the speech the pope gave a few months ago, that got (small) parts of the Muslim world foaming at the mouth, which was praised by many of those who read it.

Now, in case you missed it, the letter from the Muslim heavyweights to the pope can be found here (by the way, Muslims need to improve their PR operations - it was fairly difficult to find this).

Unfortunately for the pope, it appears that his controversial speech contained some glaring errors, and wasn't as well thought-out as many of us first assumed. If he wants to confront Islam and impress Muslims as much as he impresses the chattering classes in the West, the holy father needs to up his game a little.

Borat movie: disappointing

I had high expectations for the Borat movie, but instead of rolling in the aisles with the rest of the people in the cinema, I was disappointed.

The movie is basically a collection of the usual Borat humour, as found on the TV show, unfortunately made so over-the-top and dumbed-down that it becomes embarrassing.

An example, I have seen a few funny clips where Borat meets with high society types for dinner, and there is also such a scene in the movie. However, in the movie he goes absolutely over the top, and after visiting the toilet he actually brings a turd back to the dinner table. Instead of talking about a prostitute as he did in the TV series, he brings one to dinner. Instead of exposing the latent prejudices of his hosts he just acts like a jackass, and when he gets kicked out, it's less funny than inevitable.

The scripted scenes could have been written by a cruder version of Leon Schuster, and were tedious as hell.

A few laughs don't make this movie worthy of the hype it has generated.

Monday, September 25, 2006

From the archives

I sometimes hear people claiming that "African culture" leads to people blindly supporting their leaders, regardless of their actions. Of course, this is not an exclusively African trait at all. At times, all countries, even the most advanced, get caught up in fits of leader worship.

I remember reading the neocon National Review Online's Corner blog coverage when Bush did his now infamous "Mission Accomplished" photo-op on an aircraft carrier back in 2003.

Here, for your enjoyment is a link to the fawning coverage from that day, three years ago (scroll down to May 1 and work your way up).

Looking at the references to bush as a "stud", and the praise for the now-embarrassing photo-op, one cannot help but cringe at the bullshit put out by this bloodthirsty outfit.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hyperlinking bans

Looked at the "terms and conditions" section on a South African corporate website recently?

I noticed that at least two of the big four banks, a large listed IT company, and another top listed holding company have notices that require written permission for incoming hyperlinks to those sites. (I'd link to them, but, if their websites are to be believed, I could get sued).

I seriously doubt that search engines like Google ask for permission before indexing and linking to pages on those sites.

The draconian (and absurd) warnings on these websites, that prohibit even linking to their home pages without written permission, are a sign that a lot of South African companies remain absolutely clueless about the nature of the web.

[Take 2...Blogger wiped the first version of this post]

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Once there was a busy road, full of vehicles. Although the road was wide, traffic moved very slowly along the road.

On this road there was a red taxi. The taxi was brave, and worked hard to end the traffic jam, along with some other taxis.

Eventually the traffic jam unblocked, and the traffic started flowing freely. The taxi was rewarded by being given its own lane, along with other taxis who had helped end the traffic jam.

But some of the red taxi's friends realized that, as an older model, the taxi, along with its friends would end up jamming up the traffic again because they didn't understand the reality of driving in modern traffic. They conspired to get the old vehicle off the road, using the taxi's own naivete against it.

Humiliated and broken, it looked like the taxi was destined for the scrapyard. But, suddenly, to everyone's surprise the taxi was released back onto the highway.

Now, for some time before the taxi's return to the road, there were rumours that it had a slow puncture. These rumours had started when it emerged that the taxi had driven over an area with sharp nails without a care in the world (at a time that vehicles driving over nails without caring was a major problem on the road). Did the taxi, they speculated, already have a slow puncture? 1

Panic ensued, as the sleek new cars on the freeway thought they would, once again, be caught in a traffic jam. The taxi trundled along in the emergency lane, building up speed, when suddenly, a tyre exploded and it rolled off the road into a ditch, never to return to the road.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Did you know?

A number of American universities (including MIT) require students to pass a swimming test before they are allowed to graduate.

Here we go again

The pope quoted some offensive statements about Islam, and Muslims may yet react in a similar way that they reacted to the Danish cartoon crisis.

If they do react in the same way, it will be a confirmation of the pitiful state of the Muslim world, which, it seems, cannot learn from its mistakes.

This is the kind of controversy that made me support this pope. Good old fire and brimstone - if I was a Muslim, and really confident in my religion, I'd say "bring it on". Enough of the wishy-washy kumbaya bullshit - it's refreshing to have someone speak their mind. I'd personally rather have a dozen enemies that I knew about, than one that I didn't.

Muslims: the pope is your spiritual enemy. Get over it.


It's for your own safety

The Star had some tips for people traveling overseas after the clampdown on hand luggage.

Mostly useful information, but the following statement stood out:

Baby foods are being tested at the security gates. Again, it seems absurd, but it is for your own safety. [emphasis mine]

Except sheeple, it appears that the entire threat was grossly exaggerated. The idiotic security measures don't seem absurd they are absurd.

The circumstances around the liquid terror scare intrigued me from the start, and, although terrorists will continue killing innocents, it now appears that there are other players who are actively exploiting the specter of global terrorism to advance their own agendas.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ubuntu upgrade Blues

I'm trying to upgrade my Ubuntu Linux distribution, and it involves a bit more pain that I had expected for something that is aimed at the "human being" segment of the population- what with files being locked and piped commands required to unlock things.

Although I'll probably figure it out because I'm a techie, I seriously doubt that someone without much computer knowledge would cope. My Ubuntu install experience is not as bad as my experience getting a graphics card to work on SUSE a few years ago, but I think Ubuntu has a long way to go yet...

Update: I am using a VMWare virtual machine and I don't have any critical data on the machine, so I just did a new install, and wiped out everything. I tried entering some arcane commands I found on the internet to do the update, but I kept getting the same errors over and over again. Also, there is surprisingly little information about how to upgrade, despite the update manager referring one to the Ubuntu website.

I did find this, but it was too late, so I don't know if it would have worked or led me back the same way.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Busting Nigerian email scammers

Puts our own crime problem in perspective...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The complexity cult in "software engineering"

I've written before about the affliction of some programming "gurus" that leads them to believe that design complexity is a sign of "cleverness", when, in reality, it leads to maintainability problems.

There are certainly programmers 1 who develop brilliant frameworks that seriously reduce the burdens of application developers. But I get the feeling that they are far rarer than the wannabes who create complexity because it's part of their job descriptions, at the behest of clueless cargo-cultist buzzword-oriented managers, or because their inflated egos deny them the ability to realise their own limitations. A few years of experience and knowing some design patterns does not a "software architect" make.

Most developers that produce business systems would probably do better if they came to terms with their mediocrity, and focused all their efforts on adding value to their customers using ready-made tools and frameworks produced by others wherever possible 2.


1. You could call them "software architects", if you like pretentious and fairly inaccurate metaphorical titles
2. ie almost all of the time. This doesn't mean that design should be thrown out, merely that re-inventing the wheel for the sake of intellectual masturbation should be shunned.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Classical music

In recent months I obtained some classical music mp3 collections, and I have started appreciating the genre.

It's interesting how deeply embedded some of the tunes are in popular culture. From the absurd "bananana" advertising adaptation by now defunct the Banana Board in the late 1980s (I think - I was still quite young at the time), based on Beethoven's 5th Symphony, to the movies, these songs have always been in the background.

It's nice to be able to put names to the tunes.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Analyze this

Would you work for a company that relied on handwriting analysis to vet potential candidates? I wouldn't1.

1 unless I was desperate for a job

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mahmoud al-Zheimers

America's Daily Show examines the Bush Administration's interesting stance on human life:

Watching the clip above makes one wonder how South African politicians would react if they were subjected to parody. Oh wait nevermind...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Middle East

I'll refrain from commenting on the developments involving Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iran since:
  1. I don't consider my opinions informed enough on the issue.

  2. There are too many thought police around.

However, on the issue of Iraq, I do have a question: What the f*$# was the Bush Administration thinking when it decided to invade Iraq?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

2010 World Cup pessimism

For some reason, a lot of people I've spoken to seem to think that South Africa won't be able to handle the 2010 World Cup. The media has picked up on this meme. I just don't understand why there is so much pessimism.

South Africa is not the first third-world country to host the championships.

The 2002 World Cup was held in South Korea, which is technically still at war with North Korea.

The government seems to have been asleep at the transport policy wheel in the last few years, but four years is enough time to start working on the issue. While it is obvious that we have transport problems, in a worst-case scenario, I'm sure that a temporary fix could be thought up in time for the few weeks of the World Cup.

Crime can also be stabilized and reduced, if the government developed the will to carry out its primary obligation - the protection of its citizens.

It is possible, but highly unlikely, that political instability could be a problem in 2010.

I just don't understand why there is such a surprising degree of pessimism around the 2010 World Cup. I see the challenges it presents as a way of shaking up arrogant and unaccountable parts of the government, and as presenting a great opportunity for improving South Africa. Losing the World Cup after it was awarded to us would be a disastrous vote of no-confidence in South Africa that simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Friday, June 23, 2006

This blog is not dead- it was just waiting for Telkom

Waiting for an ADSL connection in South Africa is hugely annoying. Luckily I don't rely on a home internet connection for my livelihood, otherwise I would have been in huge trouble.

While Telkom may still be redeemed once they get some competition, I hope the SABC gets broken up - soon.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Enough with the "engineering" already

Engineers are highly trained professionals who apply scientific methods to solve practical problems, at least that's what I think of when I hear the term.

I am no engineer, but if I was an engineer, I would be a little pissed off that every other monkey who fixes computers or throws together websites calls himself an "engineer".

When it comes to "software engineering", I think that the term needs to be abandoned, in place of a better description (although to be fair, most of the professional programmers I've met call themselves "developers" rather than "engineers").

Post inspired by this (rather dense) article.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The plague of diminished expectations

Over at Commentary, there is a post about Eskom's affirmative action policies. While I don't know whether the complaint has any merit, it did get me thinking about affirmative action in general.

I recently met a financial advisor, who happened to be black. He was a fairly pleasant person, but he didn't give me good advice. In fact, he didn't give me any advice at all. I still seriously considered giving him my business, because I felt sorry for him, because he was black and previously disadvantaged.

I am sure that there are black financial advisors who are highly competent, and white financial advisors who are totally incompetent. But if a white advisor had given the same level of service as the person who I met, I would not have even dreamed of entrusting him with my money.

Fortunately, I met another advisor who gave much better advice, and I appointed him instead.

I had lower expectations of blacks than of whites, and so I was willing to excuse poor service merely because the person was black. This kind of attitude, perpetuated by affirmative action, cannot be good for South Africa as a whole, nor is it useful for those who truly want to compete on an equal footing.

Which brings us back to Eskom, and affirmative action in technical fields: the laws of physics and engineering are hard and unforgiving and offer no quarter to the forces of political correctness.

In "softer" fields, incompetence can be overlooked in the name of political correctness, but if a road falls apart due to poor maintenance, or a generator breaks down due to negligence it's pretty hard to make excuses, since the mess is visible for all to see.

The hard failures we are seeing in the engineering sector may not actually be related to affirmative action, but they are visible (and very difficult to cover up), and they do highlight the need for hiring only the best, and most competent people, regardless of race.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

IEC Website ASP.NET bugs

I was just wondering why the IEC website seems so buggy.

It appears to be running in debug mode, so I am pretty sure that the detailed ward report was being blocked earlier because .NET thought the query string looked suspiciously like an XSS (cross site scripting) attack. It now seems to have been yanked from the site. Fixing the problem should not be too difficult.

Of course, things are probably different in the trenches and I'm sure that people are working hard to fix the errors, but it would have been nice if the bugs had been ironed out before the elections.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Getting ready to spoil my ballot

I look forward to 1 March, when I will enter the voting booth and express my disgust at the poor quality of candidates fielded by both the ANC and the DA in my ward.

The vacuous idiot who I mentioned in my previous posts has been nominated by the ANC (or by people who joined the ANC to nominate him), and the drones will vote for him regardless of his rather dubious missing credentials. The DA candidate is no better.

I'm sick of power cuts that take 6 hours to fix, and streetlights that are out for weeks. I am sick of a municipality that wants to waste huge amounts of money on meaningless symbolic gestures, rather than spending it on service delivery. I am sick of driving to work on a deathtrap of a road, because the provincial government wants to allocate transport spending to a white elephant.

To a lesser extent, my action will be also an attempt at protest against a governing party that is becoming arrogant and corrupt, and a political opposition that has failed to move out of its "Fight Back" reactionary mindset and provide a viable alternative to the ANC. It will ultimately be a futile gesture, but it will make me feel better.

A Gulf wedding

Here's an interesting description of the celebrations at a Gulf Arab wedding by a female guest.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The cartoon scandal - trolling1 writ large

The Muhammad cartoon scandal has been big news.

Many bloggers seem to have embraced the cartoons with relish including our own Commentary. Other bloggers have pointed out that freedom of speech means the freedom to attack Islam, and claim that the fallout from the scandal provides justification for Muslims to be removed from Europe if possible.

In my opinion, Muslims have fallen straight into the trap set by the Danish newspaper, by reacting in a predictable way. Instead of tactfully dealing with the issue, they allowed it to be blown out of proportion, and gave the Danish newspaper and closet racists an opportunity to play the role of martyrs to free speech.

You will note that I said that Muslims have reacted in a "predictable way". The faux outrage of those who claim to be surprised when Muslims are offended by their prophet being portrayed as a terrorist, is either disingenuous or hopelessly naive.

The cartoons were obviously printed as a deliberate provocation.

1 Troll: definition (Trolling is also free speech)

Update: This sums up my feelings about the whole business: If newspapers have the right to offend then surely their targets have the right to be offended. [via]
Update 2 (2006/02/06): It appears that the same Danish newspaper refused to publish drawings lampooning Jesus Christ in 2003, on the grounds that they were "offensive and not funny" [via].

Friday, February 03, 2006

Database hot air

One of the weird things I have discovered as a software developer, is that almost every developer I talk to has a different opinion about what constitutes good database design and manipulation (using SQL).

From those who eschew referential integrity in the name of performance to those who insist on always using autonumbers/identity columns for primary keys. From those who ruthlessly denormalize, to those who refuse to use inner joins because "nested selects are faster", it's easy to get dozens of opinions.

It's pretty hard to justify many of these arguments, and from a maintenance/data integrity perspective, some of these are awful.

Why are databases surrounded by so much hot air?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Links 30/01/2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006

List of "Web 2.0" applications

There are lots of innovative things being done with web applications. While the term "Web 2.0" sounds like a throwback to the old .com bubble, it is still interesting to see what's out there.
[via Digg]

Riots, racism and minorities II

While surfing the net I came across a story about an incident at a pool in Melbourne where lifeguards were beaten by members of a minority group. I previously blogged about the reactions of bloggers to the riots in Sydney which were triggered under similar circumstances, so I decided to see what bloggers were saying about this latest riot. I was, once again, not disappointed.

Once again, also, Australia provides an interesting contrast to South Africa, where there is very little racist scapegoating of the white minority when some members of that community are accused of a far worse crime:

"Three female employees of a dry-cleaning operation were put one by one and still alive into a large washing machine containing chemicals before being tied up and strangled, the Vereeniging Magistrate's Court heard on Wednesday."

It is wrong to use the behavior of members of a group as an excuse to attack that entire group, and, once again, I think that South African whites are fortunate that attitudes towards minorities here are far more tolerant than they appear to be in parts of the First World.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Gay group tries to contaminate blood supply

I think that homosexuality is a private matter, and, that gays should be allowed to have their "alternative lifestyle" without interference from outsiders.

However, I find the behavior of the "Gay and Lesbian Alliance" (GLA) to be disgusting. Assuming that the group actually exists - some gay groups are trying to spin it as a one man show- its members should be held accountable for their irresponsible actions:
"We want to force a complete shutdown of the system because if gay blood is not allowed, then it should be shut down," said Baxter"

It's bad enough for a high risk group to donate blood, but it is criminal for that group to deliberately get HIV+ men to donate blood:
"GLA's David Baxter said on Monday that it was extending its campaign to defy the SANBS rules and was calling on HIV positive gay men to lie about their health and also donate blood"

If anyone gets infected as a result of this ridiculous campaign, I hope that the bastards who infected him/her get charged with attempted murder.

See also.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Right lane hogs

Commuting to work on a busy highway, I have found that obeying the rules of the road and staying in the left lane, unless overtaking, results in a smoother, more comfortable, and safer drive than driving in the right-lane. I also doubt that I am significantly slowed down by driving in the left lane during peak hours.

I hate drivers who, for no reason, decide to hog the right lane and disrupt the smooth flow of traffic. Unless I am mistaken, there is no penalty for hogging the fast lane. Perhaps the authorities should introduce fines for right-lane hogs.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Matric standards

The matric pass rate in South Africa was 68.3 % in 2005. The minister of education said
"...that in 1994, the year the 2005 matriculants began grade one, 495 408 full-time candidates wrote the senior certificate exam and 287 343 passed. Eleven years later, 508 363 full-time candidates wrote the senior certificate and 347 184 passed."
Unless I am mistaken, that means that the matric pass rate went from 58% to 68% in that period. In 2004 the matric pass rate was 70.7 %.

While I am willing to accept that the matric pass rate has improved because of underlying improvements to the education system, I do have to wonder if standards have dropped over the years as well. That, along with the allegations of upward mark adjustments in 2005, make the matric certificate seem even less valuable than it was in the past.

We need to guard against debasing an already somewhat valueless (to most school-leavers) qualification like a matric certificate just for the sake of improving pass rates.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Is the ANC going to remove useless scum from Local Government?

The ANC leadership is apparently planning to do something about the poor quality of local government politicians, something which I complained about previously. [via]

I have an excellent test case in my own area, and it will be interesting to see if he gets nominated, given the new policy.