About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

28 September 2014

Movie: Miners Shot Down

Miners Shot Down (IMDB, website) is possibly the most important social documentary on South Africa in the past 20 years. As per the director's comments after the screening yesterday, this film is unequivocally about the miner's story - and it pulls no punches. 

It is actually mind numbing to realise that there is no re-enactment - that the videos; pulled from news organisations, Lonmin, the police and the commission of enquiry - is all real. And it does feature footage and interviews with most of the key players in the story - the miners, the mine bosses, the trade union leaders, the police and journalists. And it is an indictment on the failure of broad based economic transformation - in the words of one of the mining strike leaders - the sons of the miners continue to be relegated to mining, while the sons of the mining bosses continue to be their sons' bosses. It is a cycle of poverty and damnation that has not been addressed where it matters most.

Ultimately, what puzzle me most is, not the question of police brutality - images of Ferguson etc. shows that this seems to be an universal trait when the police are militarised. It is not the question of pressure from Lonmin either - after all, private citizens and corporates have every right to request for political intervention and support of their side of the story. It is rather, how the decision that was made by unnamed persons in the police hierarchy was arrived at. After all, it is clear that the police were instructed to disarm violently - but in the haze of the tear gas and gun smoke, it seems that there is no clear explanation on why and how the decision was arrived at.

The repercussions of the Marikana massacre have already started, and will continue for years to come. Sadly, as the 5 month strike this year has proven, the engagement between miners and the mining bosses continue to the toxic. And while Julius Malema's assertion that Cyril Rapamphosa is a murderer responsible for Marikana is difficult to directly justify - the moral culpability seems too strong to refute.

All in all, it is a great tragedy - for all of us.

24 September 2014

Movie: Boyhood

Boyhood is one of the most critically acclaimed movies, ever. Artistically, as a project, there has been very few with such a grand vision, and even fewer that have pulled it off. 12 years in making, the movie follows the story of a boy as he grows up from age 6 to 18 - with all characters playing the same part, and growing up together. 

But it is not only the concept. The story is simple - the characters, are no superheroes or specifically special; but it manages to stitch together an amazing story, with effectively everyday events. It is a story of a modern family I suppose - divorced parents, remarriage, step siblings, moving homes, changing friends, changing environments (from cellphones that could only text to smartphones for example) and changing music. 

As an artistic endeavour, it is amazing and deserves all the accolades it has received.

Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy

I did not know anything about this Marvel franchise - and to be honest, I was not expecting much more than a standard superhero movie. It has all the trappings of superhero movies - heroes with difficult pasts, villains that want to destroy everything, and helpless innocents to protect in between. What I was not expecting was a comedic gem intertwined with 70s and 80s music hits. Guardians of the Galaxy is not an amazing movie - but it is different to other superhero movies, and great entertainment.

13 September 2014

Movie: Lucy

I wanted to watch Lucy after the trailers, and expected the standard sci-fi plot line - a person gains super-human powers, and there is some ticking timebomb that the heroine needs to stop. That the powers come from ingesting a new synthetic super drug, and the timebomb is a set of a Korean gangsters makes this plotline a bit mundane. But where, the movie really fails is in the pseudo philosophy discussions it tries to disseminate as what holds the movie plotline together. It is scientifically dubious (to put it politely) and nowhere as compelling in other sci-fi plotlines that have tried similar tricks (Matrix comes to mind specifically). Even Morgan Freeman, as the aged genius scientist cannot really rescue this movie - the trailer is the only really good thing about it.

10 September 2014

Initial Thoughts on Apple Pay

There is not much detail available on Apple Pay, announced at Apple's keynote yesterday - but my first thought, was that it resembles an update of Secure Electronic Transaction (SET). Like Apple Pay, SET theoretically allowed for a system where a payment transaction could be conducted without the merchant knowing the payment details and the bank knowing what was purchased. SET and other token based systems (such as a credential based payment system I developed in my PhD) haven't really taken off - although one can argue that Bitcoin is also an evolution of such a system.

The advantage Apple Pay does have, over all others before it, is the massive install base of iPhones and the Apple brand. As long as Apple itself does not fall prey to payment card breaches (and Apple Pay's design of keeping card data on the phone itself, mitigates this risk); Apple should have better success compared to previous attempts. Furthermore, if Apple Pay does work, extending the service to include non-credit card type transactions - such as integration with bank accounts - should not be a challenge either.

07 September 2014

The Otter Trail - Day 5

In the various guides I have read about the Otter Trail, the details of Day 5 seems to be particularly brief. This is a great pity - while the walk itself is relaxed and relatively easy; it was some of the most scenic parts of the hike.

The walk starts off with crossing a gentle stream - Kilp River - that runs next to the rest stop. The biggest challenge in the day's walk is the steep climb up the gorge to the top; a strenuous walk in context of the previous days' efforts.

Most of the walk from here is on the top -  mostly flat with a few ups and downs - along the coast. There are absolutely gorgeous views of sea as it crashes into the rocks below at the bottom of the cliffs, lots of sea birds and the fynbos and proteas in bloom. It is a very scenic walk.

The hike ends with a very steep decent on to the beach of Nature's Valley - a long golden stretch of sand. It is still a bit of a walk to the car park, where we thoroughly enjoyed the hot showers on offer. We finished off our stay at Nature's Valley's (only?) Restaurant with some burgers for lunch - before starting the trek back home.

06 September 2014

The Otter Trail - Day 4

Day 4 of the trail is the longest and most strenuous (so far at least). The day is complicated by the crossing of the Bloukrans river, and unfortunately low ride was around 07:30 this morning (or at 20:00). The river itself is a grueling 10km hike from the 3rd day rest-stop - which is itself longer than any of the other day's hikes.

We started at 04:00, and it was quite disconcerting  to hike in the dark, while hearing the waves crash into the rocks below. With a spotlight, it was easy to see the bottom of the cliffs, and the path was often quite high up. 

Although the trail is well marked, it is quite difficult, with rocks and mud; and I lost my footing quite a few times. I was also quite tired - although not in pain as such - and unfortunately ended up slowing my friends quite a bit.

We made it to the river by 09:00, and the tide was coming in. We further managed to miscount the number of survival bags (2 less), and although RS and D shared a survival bag, they had to come back with a bag to get me. By this time, the crossing was even more difficult, but we did manage to get across safely - although my bag managed to get wet (courtesy of a few holes from rocks) and I managed to loose my glasses courtesy of a wave that was well over my head.

After some coffee and rusks on the other side, and some rudimentary attempts at drying (I was not the only one with a wet bag) - the hike to the next stop started. The 4km was even more strenuous given the exertions already undertaken; carriage of wet items, and some fairly steep climbs. We arrived at the stop in dribs and drabs - but were having lunch by 14:00 ... And complaining of all the pains and aches.

The Otter Trail - Day 3

Day 3 was rather short in distance, and quite relaxed - we only started after 9:30 and made it to the next rest stop by 14:30. 

Unlike the previous two days where the hike was through forests, most of today's hike hugged the coast, through fynbos and grasslands. The coast is quite rugged, making for some amazing scenery.

The day starts by crossing the Geelhoutbos river, which flows right past the rest stop. The crossing is simple - just walk across a the river resembles more of a stream than a river. The next two rivers are harder - for the Elandsbos, we had to wade through at ankle height, and the beach was a good place to stop. The Lottering river, right next to the next rest stop, was a harder affair, with the water at thigh high (although there was deeper parts). 

Later in the afternoon, a large pod of dolphins swam past the river mouth - adding to the whale we saw earlier in the day to our marine mammal count for the day.

05 September 2014

The Otter Trail - Day 2

I woke up this morning with, what I thought was the wind howling outside. It actually took a fee minutes to realise that it was just the waves crashing into the rocks below the cabin. Relieved that I didn't have to trek through wind and rain, I strode outside to try catch the sunrise. Unfortunately east was more behind a hill, spoiling the perfect sunrise on the water imagery!

I managed to get a cellphone signal on the edge of the rocks, where I managed to update my blog. But I also got unfortunate news of an attempted fraud on my credit card - and so spent the next few minutes of my flaky signal canceling the card!

After a decent breakfast of oats so easy and instant cuppachino (our standard breakfast for the hike) we finally got walking. The second day route features a number of climbs, and is hopefully the most strenuous day of hiking. 

The climbing starts immediately, and quite difficult at that - and is only the easiest of the three big climbs. After the first climb, there is an amazing rocky lookout point overlooking the area. 

As we were leaving the outcrop, we met some rangers who were doing trail maintenance who assured us that only the final climb was bad; and it was actually pretty easy going until then. Our experience was unfortunately the opposite - and I certainly feel that the section between the outcrop and the bottom of the last major climb was the most difficult stretch. 

Just over the 75% mark, at the bottom of the last climb, there is a well marked detour to an amazing sandy beach. We spent a good couple of hours; and even though I am not a big fan of beaches; I think. The beach itself was worth the hike.

The final climb was actually not too bad - and the final lookout point had some amazing views. The way down to te second night huts, once again on the beach, was a bit steep - but otherwise unremarkable (in otter trail standards I suppose).

We had dinner of Chinese instant noodles; with some biltong; and even had a visitor in two genets that seemed to be very friendly. They were pretty easy to photograph - and it seems that at least some of the hikers feed them.