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).

27 December 2005

Movie: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

I was first introduced to CS Lewis' classic Narnia series by the BBC version of "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", which my dad had borrowed from the British Consulate library in Maseru. I was hooked, and since then I have re-read the series countless times, and have also re-watched the BBC version of the movie quite a few times.

I went to watch the latest version of the movie yesterday, with Arun, an old friend I hadn't seen for a long time. This version has definitely got the "Lord of the Rings" treatment in terms of the special effects and the general polish and look of the film. That was expected. However, the movie itself was not a completely faithful translation of the book - with a number of scenes present because of the sheer drama and spectacle and not because it featured in the book. There were also a few scenes, especially involving Edmund (the wayward brother) that give a slightly different twist to his personality.

In terms of acting, the girl who played Lucy was brilliant. I can't really say I liked Tilda Swinton - she just did not pass off as evil as she is portrayed in the book. And in the words of Arun, Aslan was just the "fattest lion he had ever seen". In all honesty, I think that the BBC version was better but this is by no means an objective viewpoint.

25 December 2005

Terrorists and Torture

I watched The Living Daylights on e-tv on Friday night, and in my opinion, is one of the best James Bond movies ever. Timothy Dalton's portrayal of James Bond as a cold and calculating secret agent makes it a lot more realistic in my opinion when compared to some of the other James Bond actors esp Roger Moore. What I found more interesting was the British support for the Mujahedin in Afghanistan, the very same people who would later become the Taliban and subsequently give rise to the Al Qaeda.

These facts are not new, but I wonder how many movies post 9-11 will dare to show the connection. After all, consider the various insults being traded over Speilberg's new movie - Munich (to be released in 2006 in SA, released two days ago in the US) - which explores Israel's retaliation to trackdown the killers of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympic games.

The main problem with terrorism is with its definition - one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Even "Carlos the Jackal" can be considered a freedom fighter of sorts, fighting for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), one of the largest factions of the current PLO.

The main reason I started thinking of all this was after reading an article in the Financial Times from a week or so ago discussing torture - and how the US practices torture even though it's not defined as torture (the article alleges that the US conducts emotional torture on terror prisoners and since the US defines torture as physical pain, they are not committing "torture"). This is off course coupled with the allegations by Saddam that he has been tortured while in US custody. There is apparently a call by some Americans (according the FT article) to re-legalise torture for terrorism suspects - which is what brings this back to terrorism. Who or what is a terrorist? And, when does a person become a terrorist?

21 December 2005

Movie: King Kong

It's long, quite predictable (which is not helped by the fact it is a remake and that the trailers and reviews give away so much of the story), and a brilliant piece of cinema. I remember an ad for the pay channel TCM which showed snippets of classics to make up what made a great movie - King Kong has them all. The acting is good (Naomi Watts is brilliant as Ann Darrow - I did not think she could act), the effects are spectacular and it has a bit of everything - comedy, tragedy, a love story (actually 2) and a whole load of action.

But above all, the movie is immersive - I didn't feel bored and was absolutely fixated by what is happening on the screen. Overall, this movie is not a "Lord of the Rings", but it has everything that makes a great movie.


Reinhardt, his friend Christie (sp?) and I cycled up to the blockhouse this morning. It's an interesting ride - involving a lot of painful uphills and being the least fit, I took the longest with the most number of stops. Coming back down was a lot more fun though :) Reinhardt and I would like to make this a regular thing ... so I should get fitter soon (assuming I eat properly and reduce my junk food intake ... tough choices ...)

20 December 2005

Wedding Bells

Not mine - but this weekend was Jason (Brickhill) and Melanie's wedding. It is very weird to see your friends getting married - although to be honest, this was a wedding that was foretold a long time ago.

It started off with an interesting bachelors party for Jason - he was dressed up as a boxer (with the words "The Champ" on the back) and we hit Long street after dinner at Newscafe in Greenpoint. While I do have lots of photos of the night, I think for my own safety, I will not publish them online ... it's best not to rile up lawyers too much ;)

The wedding itself was interesting for me, simply because I have never been to a western/Christian wedding before, and there are some big differences to a traditional Hindu wedding. For starters, there is the issue of time - traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies take about a week at least, with at least 2 major ceremonies - one at the bride's house and the other at the groom's house. Then there is the food - Indian weddings are usually all about food. No really, most people I know end up judging how good the wedding was on the quantity and quality of the food. This is in no ways a criticism of the quality of food at Jason and Mel's wedding - the food was excellent - but the differences are interesting none the less.

But in the end, there is a lot of cultural differences in weddings, and not just the issue of arranged marriages. Traditional Indian weddings are major celebrations, carefully planned according to the astrologers, involving numerous "aunties" and a big hole in the bank account. They are effectively the social event of the year for the extended family - and the extended family is a big thing for most Indians.

On that note - a last bit about future wedding possibilities - Megan Butler caught the bride's bouquet (not sure what the proper term is) ...

15 December 2005

The R81 Pizza

We had a little "farewell party" of sorts for Siya last night at Primis in Cavendish. True to style, some rocked up late but a good time was had by all. But the highlight of the evening had to be the pizza ordered by Siya and Wanda: Margherita with Chicken, Salami, Bacon, Mushrooms, Mixed Pepper, Onions and Extra Cheese - an order that left our waiter amused and doubtless questioning the sanity of the table party (after our previous antics, including having a pizza topping only on one side of the pizza).

12 December 2005

Last one out ...

In February 2000, about 10 guys from Westville Boys' High School's class of 99 came to study in UCT. Over the past 6 years, at least 2 other guys from the class of 99 have studied at UCT. Since 2002, the number of guys still studying has steadily dropped, and as of today there are just 2 of us still "studying" at UCT. And of the two of us, Sam is graduating (hopefully) in June, leaving me all alone.

In most respects, other than Sam, I have lost contacts with most of my fellow schoolmates. Some like Chris, Ken, Tapiwa and Ross, I have kept in touch, mainly through bumping into them on Main road or at cricket matches in Newlands. And as of today, I doubt I will see any of them ever again as they move one with their lives to different parts of the country (and even to different parts of the world).

Yesterday Carl was giving out Christmas cards - a habit he wants to start early to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances over the long run. Today, as I was saying goodbye to my graduating friends, I realise how many people I have probably lost touch with - even though I might have had very strong friendships with them.

09 December 2005

Who wants to live forever?

No not the Queen song, but rather a very interesting article on Wired, which looks at some of the downsides of living a long life - not the current average of 70-80 (in the first world) but rather for 150+ years. After all, the search for immortality is one of the oldest.

And I agree with the author - why would anyone want to live that long? And with the earth barely coping with 6 billion people, can you imagine what it would be like if everyone lives for 150 years? And there are off course the practical problems - when do you start retirement? How many anti-aging creams do you need to buy so that you look hip and young? What would be a pensionable age? And what would you do if you live for 150 years or would you just die of boredom?

06 December 2005

Massive Gig Alert

Seether is coming back to SA next year and they are touring the major cities in a massive gig put together by 5FM and Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola Colab Mix features amongst others Fatboy Slim, Simple Plan (ironic after the debacle involving 5FM and Mark Pilgrim), The Rasmus, Prime Circle and The Parlatones. More bands are coming through to make up 12 hours of music so the rather steep price of tickets (R430 for golden circle) is quite justified in my opinion.

04 December 2005

Obz Fest 2005 (lots of photos)

Saturday was a busy day - air show in the morning, Obz Fest in the late afternoon/evening. Still less strenuous than last year, which involved a hike on Table Mountain followed by Obz Fest ... Before my reflections on Obz Fest, a bit of social commentary.

Like last year, I was quite amazed (though not really surprised) at the number of drunk kids. I know, that as a person who does not drink, it is somewhat hard to understand, but is it necessary to drink to have a good time? And kids weren't only drunk - some were stoned, and most spotted a cigarette in their mouths - and that's the worst thing about a festival like Obz Fest - people blowing their cigarette smoke into your face! It is obvious that anti-smoking laws and the yearly rise in sin taxes have not hampered kids from picking up the habit. On a positive note, it was great to see such a mix of people - old and young, rich and poor all jiving to great music. Undoubtedly there were petty thefts, but there did not seem to be any major incidents.

This year's Obz Fest was bigger with a second stage and more shopping area, although it featured fewer well known bands and a lot more up and coming bands. Like last year, I started off by meeting up with an old friend I hadn't seen for quite a few months. We started off at Cool Runnings (where my friend Mary was meeting a few friends) which actually seemed more packed than Obz Fest itself, which was probably due to the exorbitant prices being charged outside. We then went to see Polaroid (featuring Mary's boyfriend, Daniel, as a guest bass guitarist) playing on the second stage. We both agreed, while they had some good songs, we would not buy their CDs (if they ever got to that stage). In their defense, it must be said that the sound on the second stage was pretty bad.
Mary left after Polaroid finished, while I hung around for the last act, Black Betty, an all-girl string trio featuring a bass guitarist, a guitarist and a violinist. Unfortunately the sound really played up and eventually the band just gave up playing. Their music was interesting (a bit of a country/hip-hop mix) and I am tempted to go to a gig they are playing at on Thursday featuring amongst others Godessa and Polaroid.
After the demise of the second stage I went to see what I can best describe as "performance art". It mainly featured a white guy rapping with a DJ spinning some tracks - so what - Obz version of Eminem? But it was not only his rapping - his performance also included a few lines of opera singing, a bit of a ballad and a stage dive! I only caught the last part of his performance, and I am not even sure of the name of of the act (I think it is Waddy Jones). I would have loved to see the full act.

That was followed by some good punk rock with the "Dirty Skirts", which, while not brilliant, was nevertheless not bad and quite enjoyable. They are not yet ready to set the world alight in my opinion, but they were certainly very energetic.
Not being a huge fan of reggae, the next performance put together by the "African Dope Sound System" was not really the highlight of the evening. That said, there are a lot of people who like Reggae in Obz, and quite a few seemed to have lit up in support. Just one comment about reggae though - do they all have to talk with the Jamaican accent and lingo? I mean, surely home grown reggae does not need to have the Jamaican accent and lingo to be credible?

By now the crowd was building up, and even though a lot of people left after the reggae was finished (allowing me to squeeze to the front) more people packed in to see the final two acts - Bed on Bricks and Hog Hoggidy Hog.

Bed on Bricks are a brilliant act, this being the fourth time I have seen them perform live. At last year's Obz fest, Bed on Bricks were an opening act, this year they were one of the featured bands! Their music, while mostly rock, also features a bit of ska and they have some really interesting songs. But above all, they have an awesome stage show and where else can you get a rock act featuring an oil can guitar?

Bed on Bricks were followed by Hog Hoggidy Hog, which prompted a massive mosh pit from the kids out in front. That was strange as the Hogs play primarily ska - hardly music to mosh to. Added to that, was the fact that the kids just couldn't mosh properly throwing elbows and legs into everything! That said, Hog Hoggidy Hog were great and capped off a great day.

Ysterplaat Air Show

Saturday morning, I went to the Ysterplaat Air Show - my first air show. For R30 (no student discounts) it was quite an interesting experience. It featured mostly air acrobatics, including some crazy men jumping out of aircrafts while they were performing acrobatics and a display by the reigning world champion (picture), although there were some super-sonic jet displays. Having spent extensive time in the Air and Space museums in Washington DC, air shows I found the air show to be an interesting demonstration of some of the "displays".

30 November 2005

Foreign Aids

For a well known comedian, Jameson Hall was surprisingly quite empty for Pieter Dirk-Uys' free show. But for those of us that did go, it was a great show, although the show did have a message - not about abstinence from sex, not about AIDS or HIV but more about overcoming fear and talking about sex. The show was not strictly the show he takes around to schools and such; but rather a show about the show (metashow?) and he covered a wide range of subjects - from condoms (why its better to buy than to get freebies), Thabo Mbeki, PW Botha and talking about sex. He likened the battle against AIDS like the battle against Apartheid, handled badly by politicians, filled with rumors and misinformation and very little support for the people who are doing their very best.

Fighting AIDS is more than a ribbon. It will take more than reading statistics once a year. Ultimately, fighting AIDS requires education and support of both those who have AIDS (so that they can continue living and enjoying life) and those who don't (so that they do not get it in the first place). And while South Africa has placed lot of emphasis on the later, statistics and the harsh reality is that it does not seem to be working. What I find interesting is that the same tactics are used elsewhere in the world - Metro stations in DC proclaim "if there are 5 people on the platform, one person could have HIV"; similar messages in London while India has some rather interesting ads aimed at dissuading adultery. But it is the very statistics in India and the self proclaimed ones in DC that suggest that the messages aren't really working.

And as Pierter Dirk-Uys' commented - its not only about the message but about the practice. If condoms are inconvenient - because they are of the wrong colour, size or just takes to long to extract from the packaging - they won't be used. And while we seem to have perfected the message, acting on the message is far from perfection.

29 November 2005

Old People, Anti-Terrorism Police and Obs Fest

There shouldn't be any connection between the three topics in the title, but there could always be an old man (or woman) who is suspected as a terrorist hiding out at Obs Fest. Obs Fest (the sixth one I think) is this Saturday and involves a lot of good, free live music, a street fair, lot of hippies and a generally good time. I enjoyed it a lot last year, and am looking forward to it this year - anyone keen on joining me? Its on Saturday 3 Dec, the bands start about 3pm and continue to at least midnight! On the note of live events, Pieter-Dirk Uys will give a free performance on Jammie Steps tomorrow!

has recently moved most of the student services in lower campus (like student health, SHARP and Citiwise driving school) from Protem to a site next to University House and opposite the land affairs department. Apparently, Protem will be the site of a new junior girls res. The new site used to be an old age home which raises the rather obvious question (IMO) - what happened to the old people? Surely they haven't all passed on ....

In an earlier post, I talked about being questioned by the anti-terrorist cops in London. As I stated earlier, I found the situation quite amusing but it seems that the new anti-terrorism laws are no laughing matter. Bruce Schneier talks about the use of the terrorism laws to stiffle free speech, while there have also been incidents where these laws have been used to stop from people taking photos on roads or walking on bicycle paths! What has the world come to?

25 November 2005

Reflections: India - Kolkata (formerly Calcutta)

It is freezing outside in Frankfurt - its a nice 1 degree Celsius, which is a full degree warmer than the temperature in London a few hours back! That said, Frankfurt was covered in snow - a very picturesque sight, which can't be said of London - it was just cold, no snow. And it is all a great change from India, where despite the fact that it is winter, the average temperature was in the 20s. So, despite the fact that India has over 9 million broadband connections (more on that later), I stayed off the information highway for my stay - so this will be a rather long post ....

It is very weird to be considered huge - not because of the results of overindulgence of good food, but because I am apparently very tall. I suppose, in Indian standards, I am - the average height for an Indian seems to be about 1.65m and there have been many instances where I had to watch my head lest I bump into something - I pity the really tall people (like Sean)...

It is very interesting when confronted with opinions from two ends of the cultural spectrum, and I am not talking only about arranged marriages. India is a very conservative nation, values imposed by Victorian England, values which will probably be retained for a long time into the future. As an example, a major talking point in the newspapers has been a comment by a south Indian actress (as opposed to a Bollywood actress) who said that there was nothing wrong with "safe pre-marital sex". That quote is apparently about 2 weeks old, but since then, there has been numerous protests, demonstrations by politicians and others on how the comment was degrading to the women of India, how it was degrading the moral fibre of the nation etc. Anyone who has supported her has been similarly labeled, even if all they said was that she had a constitutional right to freedom of speech. But its not really pre-marital; sex that was the issue - but rather that sex was raised as a topic in the first place! But the cultural differences do not end there - there are many more - and it has been quite an experience trying to remember all the differences.

India is all about numbers - 1 billion + being the most significant of these numbers. Because of the huge population, even small percentages have huge impacts. This has both good and bad; but IMO, the trend is more towards the bad than the good.

Pollution - of all types - is bad. With the number of people, there is just not enough resources being allocated to maintaining a healthy environment. And the general health of Indians is probably very much worse off than many other developing countries in the world. And much of the air pollution is due to the old car models - and the transport networks in India (both rail and road) are clogged to the extreme. And while we are on transport - driving in India is a nightmare - not that I attempted - just being on the road is scary enough! No one cares about the rules of the road (despite slogans of "obey the rules of the road" on the bumper of basically every vehicle) and with the huge load of traffic on the roads, many roads are crumbling making the whole situation even worse.

What is making the whole situation worse is corruption - and I am not talking of only bribes! The issue of bribes is definitely a factor and is not just with the cops. Take education for example - because of the huge numbers (again) there is a huge demand for places in tertiary education institutions (for example this past weekend, there was a nationwide exam for the very prestigious Indian Institute of Management, with about 1200 places - more than 100 000 people wrote the entrance exams). However, many of the places often go to people who have paid bribes rather than on academic merit (if you don't have a first you can often forget about applying for most tertiary academic programs).

But higher education does not necessarily have huge financial rewards. One of my cousins' wife (that does not entirely sound right) has a PhD in geography (or something in that area) and is only a high school teacher. She is not the only teacher in the school with a PhD! Another cousin has a MA in Bengali literature (Bengali being the language of the region) and is a primary school teacher. And the quality of school education itself has deterioated with the proliferation of different school boards with differing standards. Virtually every child goes to private tuition, and apparently most teachers do the private tuition, hence they prefer not to teach everything in class! Its a vicious cycle.

But there is a worse form of corruption that I hope never to see in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. This is the issue of selling and using fake or partially fake goods - and I am not talking of fake jeans - but of medicines, spices (remember the Sudan dye saga in SA), fuel and in fact just about everything. In fact it has become so bad, that anti corruption agents that are trying to stop these practices are being killed. Again, in the past week, one such person was killed while doing a surprise inspection on a petrol station.

As for the good about numbers - its the potential for real mass market low cost goods. India already has one of the lowest telecom rates in the world, and cost of living is really low - although the standard is definitely not high. There are more than 100 cable TV stations in India, most making profits. Low cost flights are now as cheap as trains and the carriers are still making profits (a three day trip from Kolkata to Kuala Lampur/Singapore/Bangkok with accomodation at a 3 star hotel, B&B, flights and taxes cost about 14 000 rupees or about 2 000 rand). And where else can you have a gameshow like "Who wants to be a millionaire" (although its really 20 million Indian rupees which is about 2.4 million Rand) playing 5 days a week? Cost of basic necessities, including public transport, if exchange rates are taken into account, are really low and you can easily live very well on about 100 rupees a day (about 15 rand).

However, as one person (yet another cousin) pointed out to me - that is rather misleading, because most people also earn very little in comparison. Most salaries are considered to be ok if the are in the region of 2000 rupees (about 500 Rand) a month! But then culture has a lot to do with it - after all many families are still living together - thus sharing expenses and incomes.

6 years ago I realised that I would never be able to live and work in India on a permanent basis - my latest visit has just strengthened my views. It is for that reason that there is such a huge emigration of Indians - but again its all about the numbers - the number of Indians outside India is still a very small percentage of the total number of Indians living in India ...

15 November 2005

Being Dodgy

Being a (bit of?) a dodgy fellow certainly has its advantages - walking after sunset in Mowbray for instance. It also leads to police interviews. This morning at Victoria Tube Station, I got stopped by the tube cops - it was a bit of my fault I guess - one of the pockets in my bag was opened; but they did the whole bag and jacket search thing and asked whether the wires were connected to the iPod. I thought it was quite amusing really ; especially the racial classification section - they have so many!

Spent most of my day in the Science museum - a fascinating place, and wish that I had more time to spend there. Went (after paying 6 quid) to the "Aliens" exhibition - which was very cool - looked at both the fictional roots of not only aliens but also other "beings" like devils, angels, ghosts etc. But the main part was really about the strangeness of life itself - bacteria that can survive at extreme heat and cold, even multicellular organisms that survive at near freezing conditions at incredible pressures under the oceans. If there is life in those conditions, there is a really high chance of other life out there. Whether it is "intelligent" and whether we will ever encounter them is however much less likely. There was also a very funky section on models of other worlds under different conditions (like air pressure etc) and how that would affect life.

After spending so much time at the museum (went to basically every section), there was not much time for other things to do - like visit the Natural History museum - which I must say has one of the most imposing entrances to any museums I have been to. Went to petticoat lane, but today not being Sunday, there wasn't much happening there, took a walk over to Liverpool Street (nice tube station) and took a tube to St Paul's Cathedral, where I was just in time to see it close in front of me. I am not religious by any means, but do enjoy looking inside churches and temples and wonder what drive people to pour so much money and time into the artworks (which are usually very beautiful admittedly). Seeing that there wasn't much else to do around there, I took the bus to Trafalgar Square and on the spur of the moment decided to go into the National Gallery.

So I can now boast of seeing some very famous original paintings, and while I was very impressed by some of the detail esp. in the landscape artists in the renaissance, I can't say I was that impressed with the more recent masters like Monet. Admittedly, their works do look good from far, but get close and they don't look great at all. Same goes for Van Gogh. But some of the artists from earlier periods had some amazing detail, which I thought was very cool.

Thus ends my London jaunt - I now hope to wake up some insane time (in about 5 hours) to make it to Heathrow in time (just my luck - morning planes = encountering morning rush hour to get to the airport). My next blog post will most probably be after I get back from India

13 November 2005

Time, Crime and Chocolate

After arriving in London yesterday afternoon, I did go out and about; spending time mostly in and round Hyde park. Unlike July, it gets dark much earlier (about 5pm or so) and its much colder than DC (more typical I suppose), and with all the jetlag, I did not do as much as I hoped.

This morning, I woke up late (not really surprising) and decided to start of at Greenwich and visit the observatory. It was a bit disappointing that large parts of it were closed due to renovations. I spent a longer time at the Maritime museum (and a bit of time at Queen's house) which I found rather sparse to be honest. I suppose I am comparing it too much to the Smithsonian museums (who do not have a maritime museum BTW) but while the displays were great, I think in the end it is just too small. There was also an exhibition on Napoleon and Nelson but at 9 pounds I decided to give it a skip.

The London Dungeon was something I stumbled upon last time I was here and decided that I must make a visit this time round. At just over 10 quids (after a 2 quid discount on a student ticket) it is still a very expensive but interesting experience. It is a cross between interactive drama and a theme park on torture, death, disease and Jack the Ripper. The actors were largely brilliant and most played their parts really well. Probably the most interesting part was the labyrinth (very early on) which is effectively a maze where the walls are made of mirrors - very very cool. As for the torture, it is amazing what human beings are capable of doing to each other - all in the name of good.

Being a big fan of Sherlock Holmes (I have read every story and novel), the Sherlock Holmes museum was the next stop. Unfortunately, I can't really say it was worth the 6 pounds, but they had some interesting things - it is effectively an old Victorian house furnished as described and painted in the books and stories. There are quite a few original and prints of illustrations from the book etc. and gives a good overview of life in the turn of the 20th century.

Spent the rest of the day in and around Oxford street. Went into Hamleys (huge toy store), but with Christmas around the corner (well just over a month away), it was just too packed. Also went into the HMV superstore - did think about buying a few DVDs but realised that there was nothing that I really wanted (and that I had a huge depression in my bank account due to the iPod). Although, if there was a box set for all the seasons of "The Practice", I would probably tell a different tale.

Had a buffet supper (eat all as you want/can) at a Thai place near the HMV store for 6 pounds. Thought that was quite a deal. And lastly to the chocolate part of the title - Carl's family friend from Birmingham (forget her name ... sorry) talked about how different Cadbury's Dairy Milk tastes in South Africa, so I decided to investigate. After having quite a bit of the 200g bar, I can't really say that they taste too different although I think the UK version does have less sugar. Still doesn't compare to Lindt however.

12 November 2005

Dulles Monstrosities and Unsecured Access Points

I am sure that free Internet access was not part of the deal at the budget hotel I am staying at in London. Holly House Hotel, as recomended by Carl is tiny, but the price of 23 punds per night for bed and breakfast is only 3 pounds more than a dorm room elsewhere in Victoria - so very much worth it. And the free Internet access is a bonus! I just wonder whose access point this is - there does not seem to be any businesses around this area.

I know I have told a few people about the "trams" that shuttle people between various terminals at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. Because of how the airport has grown, some of the terminals are actually more or less in the middle of the airfield and while there is a subway system under development, the current mechanism is essentially some kind of a basket on some very big wheels. I was going to post a pic of the "tram" as well as of the hotel and the view from my room - but the net connection is quite slow so uploading pics not going to well.

On another front, I finally bought an iPod after threatening to do so for so long. The new models have an amazing battery life - I charged it up and transfered some music onto it before I left the hotel yesterday. I used it for most of the journey and when I got to the hotel in london, some 26 hours later, there was still some battery life left! The claimed 20 hours is thus not far off the mark - I am very impressed.

11 November 2005

Reflections: The Hilton

So as I prepare to leave the US, I thought I should make an appropriate post from the lobby of the hotel. For a big brand, expensive hotel, the price and the service certainly do not match. The rooms are certainly nothing spectacular (although the view was great), there are no complementary services (even WiFi needs to be paid for ... got it for free due to the conference), food is expensive, no windows and the taps are confusing. Comparing the "Hilton Alexandria Mark Center" to the "Quality Hotel Lisboa", the Quality Hotel had free WiFi, great free breakfast, a huge King Size bed, a wide variety of TV channels and all this for half the price.

But the quality to price ratio is not the only problem - the hotel is more or less in the middle of nowhere. The next nearest hotel is a mile away and across the highway. There is nothing to do outside the hotel and while there is a free shuttle service to the nearest metro, it's just not that convenient. The conference was great, but the venue could have been a lot better.

CCS Day 3: Main Conference Day 3 (really funky stuff)

So this is the last day of the conference and is usually the time for some of the less interesting papers to be presented (like my ISSA paper this year). But instead, the sessions proved to be by far the most interesting with some really amazing results/approaches/concepts with sometimes frightening possible consequences. That said, there were still some boring talks - so I will just ignore them.

I missed the first paper of the day by opting for an extended breakfast (and because I woke up slightly late) but I am glad I didn't miss the second - a talk on a different reputation mechanism for online auctions - in particular looking at the idea of trying to find out if some power sellers (basically people who make a living out of eBay) are actively colluding to push up prices. While their investigation was based on real world data (100k+ auction bids IIRC), the results are still largely theoretical as they haven't proved conclusively if their suspicions are correct. The approach and analysis was still very cool.

The next talk was equally interesting - the paper investigated the correctness of results generated in the clients of P2P grid applications like SETI@HOME. The results are slightly negative in the sense that correctness cannot be guaranteed but they did introduce a lot of formalisms that can be used to reduce possible errors. Their approach is particularly interesting as correctness of client results (in terms of a dishonest client) have been effectively ignored by the HPC community.

The next few talks were rather uninteresting, although a key exchange mechanism using password authentication (PAKE) was quite interesting. The last talk of session 2 on proxy resigning (a very counter intuitive concept in the first place) was very interesting and the paper does present some challenges that need to be solved. I am however not a cryptographer - and I don't think I could solve the challenge.

The next 7 papers were all brilliant. The first paper was an investigation into automation of LSM kernel hooks for Linux. Very interesting as some of the reasons we did not use LSM in the kernel level DRM controller are addressed although I am not sure if LSM would be a better option to the current approach. The next two papers were essentially buffer overflow prevention techniques. The first from Microsoft Research (which used Linux for some of the testing) presented a mechanism to prevent buffer overflow attacks without patching the defect! A very cool approach although architecture bound; but they did have a cool demo. The second was an approach to ovecome buffer overflow attacks that use format string attacks with C/C++ programs. Again - no need to modify source code - but this is not for binaries - code needs to be recompiled.

And then we come to the last session focusing on attacks and some really good work. The first paper was an improvement for dictionary attack targeting hashed password files with no salt values (apache, windows). Currently the attack focuses on human memorable passwords (which are the most common passwords) and most importantly the attack takes a few seconds!

The second paper was probably the coolest and an attack that has no real solution. The paper discussed keyboard logging through simply recording the sound of keys being pressed! Ok, at the moment, it is limited to a limited number of keys - but they have an amazing 90%+ character recognition, and with some funky Markov models they manage to get over 85% word recognition. Go check out http://www.keyboard-emanations.org for more detail!

So while the first two papers attacked individual users, the third paper brought down the Internet with minimal effort by exploiting effectively a flaw in TCP. In TCP, data flow is controlled using ACKs. However, it is this very fact that is used confuse an honest client to flood the network and thus create a DoS attack. Although the attack is very much theoretical, it does seem very much plausible. And all current servers utilising TCP are vulnerable!

And then the last paper - again very interesting, although I think it is very much limited to the USA as opposed to its global claims. Basically, it is an attack on GSM networks using SMS flooding, but I think many of the features of the attack depends on how GSM networks are set up - and would not really affect the rest of the world. Hmmm .... maybe there's a paper in there - a paper on examining the practicality of their attack in the rest of the world.

10 November 2005

CCS Day 2: Main Conference Day 2

The first two sessions for the day promised some very interesting talks focusing on authentication and access control. Unfortunately, while the results of the papers discussed could have been brilliant, the presentations were dead boring and not much of value. Did manage to get some ideas down on paper on user authentication for my DRM framework - so the morning was not totally lost.

There are two tracks in the conference - the research and industry tracks; and I decided that at least one session should be in the industry track. The tutorial on secure programming in C/C++ was very interesting, especially as it was given by a member of the C standardising body. It is quite amazing how easy it is easy to screw up when coding in C/C++ but I can't really say I learned anything new - after all the overall conclusion was that secure coding in C/C++ is very difficult if not impossible ...

The last session of the day which focused on intrusion detection was by far the most interesting session today. Three of the four papers focused on detection and prevention of buffer overflow attacks and some really interesting ideas. The last paper was also very cool on a mechanism to counter DoS attacks when using overlay networks (overlay networks are similar to annonymiser proxies).

09 November 2005

CCS Day 1: Main Conference Day 1

So the conference begins officially ... and it seems a lot smaller than last year. However that could just be because of the much larger venues than last year. However, I am still convinced that this year's program is shorter ... I should try to count the sessions etc when I get back.

The keynote speaker was high profile - a previous NSA administrator and currently working at the US' department of homeland security. However, with the exception of a few interesting facts (like a really funky testbed) the talk was really boring. Unfortunately, many of the talks later in the day were just as boring.

The first few talks were very theoretical in nature, but were generally interesting. These talks included proofs for secure 802.11i designs and trust protocols. However, the two most interesting talks of the day (in my opinion) were the last talks - the first looking at an approach to track VOIP calls; even if the packets are encrypted and routed through anonymiser proxies. It was a really cool approach and really funky results. The second talk was somewhat DRM related - it showed a very limited scope implementation of secure database record retrievals - i.e. distribute a database table globally but only allow access to records if the query is detailed enough. It was also a very funky approach and really cool even if it is very limited in its application.

08 November 2005

Worst bugs and cooking up a storm

I see that Wired has a few interesting articles on its site this week (its an extended coffee break right now ...). First up - the top 10 worst software bugs so far. There is also a very interesting interview with a Nintendo game architect on a cooking game - perfect for all the budding cooks out there ;)
We have this game with a big wok that you use to cook Chinese food, and it's really interesting to have the meat and vegetables frying in there, and use the controller to flip the food around without it spilling out of the pan

CCS Day 0: DRM Workshop

I was meant to blog the days notes last night - but was too tired. And seeing how boring the keynote speaker for day 1 - a director from Homeland Security - is, I thought it's a good time now.

I was the first presenter of the day - which was quite cool in a way. My presentation went well and was well received although there were no real questions. However, the negotiation idea did get some good remarks. The next paper also had a legal view and pretty much confirmed some of the results of our DRM survey. It was certainly a more interesting approach and so I don't feel that bad that my paper in that arena did not get through ...

In the architectures arena - two interesting points. Pramod Jamkhedkar, who I met last year and had a good contact gave some progress .... maybe I should try to resurrect the contact in that arena. There is also a project in Belgium that is very similar to mine - I aim to learn more and maybe collaborate - could be good. There was also a paper from Motorola - but was rather limited in its application in my view.

The invited talk was from a director at Microsoft - personally I thought too much of it was marketing hype. He did praise Apple a bit - which I found interesting. In the more mathematical arena - two papers - first one on crypto which though interesting was quite difficult to understand, and I am not sure if I did get it in the end. The other paper was a formal proof of one of the key protocols in DRM which is similar to a protocol I make use of - so quite interesting.

The rest of the papers, while interesting were to focused on their respective arenas (like watermarking). It was a good day - hope the rest of the conference is as good. It seems that the conference is actually smaller this year - a lot fewer papers and people for the look of things. It could be due to a new conference called Asia-CCS which is going to be held in March next year. Missed submitting a paper into that one :(

07 November 2005

Meaning of Freedom?

Today was essentially a day of doing tourist things; mainly going to places I did not manage to go last time round. Started off at the Arlington Cemetery, interesting if only to realise the extent of the conflicts that the US has been involved in and the number of lives lost. Arlington Cemetery also has a brilliant view of Washington DC; and the autumn colours are beautiful and look even better from the sky.

I also visited two memorials - the Iwo Jima memorial that commemorates the very costly US victory in WW2 and the Roosevelt Island - which is really a nature reserve of sorts. The Iwo Jima memorial reminded me a lot about our DoD and DOW games and puts capture the flag into a whole new perspective. A note on scale - the pedestal is about 3m high.

Smithsonian's American Indian museum is the newest, and since I did not spend a lot of time in it last year I decided to go back. It is one of the most interesting museums; not only because of some really funky displays and the general content of the museum but also the presentation of the content. Unlike many other museums that have tried to showcase culture, the museum has tried to showcase both sides of the story with very little bias in the presentation. For example, most exhibits dealing with cultural clashes have two commentaries - one from each side of the clash and often with contrasting views of the same subject.

And this brings me to the title of the post - a lot of the content in the American Indian museum chronicles their fight to maintain their culture; to fight for the freedom to choose their destiny. It is no different to countries deposing colonial rule or "foreign" occupation. While walking between the Iwo Jima memorial and Roosevelt Island, I stumbled upon "Freedom Park" - a park which claims to chronicle the struggle for freedom. It has a large emphasis on press freedom with a memorial to journalist killed on duty from all corners of the globe (from WW2 IIRC). There are also pieces of the Berlin wall, a bronze statue of South Africa's ballot box from 1994, a casting of Martin Luther King jnr's jail cell door (well one of them), cobble stones from polish war camps in WW2, a broken statue of Lenin, a replica of the "Goddess of Democracy" from Tiananmen Square, a display of banners from the Suffrage movement and a replica of the Freedom statue that sits on top of the US capitol. My criticism of the park is that while there is a celebration of freedom; it is based too much on the fights for the right to vote. Other fights for freedom like the fight against colonialism or the American Indian tribes' fight for recognition and control of their own future are swept aside. And of course the other essential freedoms are

06 November 2005

Broken Promises

This post was supposed to be made 10 700 m above the sky on a 747 from Frankfurt to Washington DC. It has been years since I was last on a 747 - 12/13 years if my memory is correct (and that is rather untrustworthy) - but I don't remember it being this cramped ... I have probably had better leg room in Kulula or EasyJet and the plane seats 10 on each row (in economy anyway)! The connection is a Boeing initiative (www.connexionbyboeing.com) and is rather pricey ... but they gave away US$ 10 vouchers before boarding, so I am not paying anything. The $10 buys 30 minutes "airtime" by the way ... definitely the most expensive WiFi rates I have used. But as the title suggests - it did not work - and the stewardess put it nicely - its an old plane - and only new planes, ironically mostly Airbuses, have the functionality.

A few more comments on Frankfurt Main airport - they have an outside observation deck; although I could not work out how to get there; but did see a lot of people milling about. It also features casinos but they seem to be rather empty (although being 11am could have had an impact on that point). And the airport is huge and there are literally queues of planes landing and taking off - it is quite a sight. But the fact remains, its a crap airport to wait for planes ...

Another point I forgot to mention in the last post - the pilot did a nice flyover round False Bay, Cape Point and Table Mountain - which was very cool to see from the air - although there was quite a bit of cloud cover by Cape Point. According to the pilot, this is a popular feature of the flight.

Lunch on the flight was better than the Cape Town flight but that does not really say much - a rather bland Roast Chicken fillet with roast potatoes, salad and and some fruit cake. At least they use real cutlery ;) No attractive female passengers next to me - just an old couple returning home - friendly though (and the old lady is reading Harry Potter). There seems to be a lot of Indians on this plane ... and many assume that I am also from India, which I find a bit amusing. And talking about food and Indian passengers ... can they be fussy. An old man and his wife across the aisle raised up a fuss about what constitutes a Hindu meal ... he settled for the chicken in the end which I found puzzling and polished off a few beers and a wine to boot. And for you wine connoisseurs, they serve it in plastic glasses .. not even in fake glasses like SAA!

Getting from the airport to the hotel proved to be costlier than I hoped and more time consuming to boot - still beat the price of a taxi directly from the airport. The only notable incident on the train - two teens playing Magic the Gathering on the train ... a game that I though took both a lot of space and a lot of time; but I last played it about 10 years ago. The hotel mixed up my reservation a bit - so ended up scoring two free meals for tomorrow (as a show of regret for their follies I suppose) - but hey I am not complaining. And now I need sleep ...

05 November 2005

Frankfurt: First Impressions

Aah ... 2 Euros for 15 minutes of WiFi ... on a more interesting note; Lufthansa flights to US and Asia have WiFi coverage in the plane ... must try it out just for novelty's sake. Hopefully next post will be from the sky ;)

Flight was long but comfy - hint - sit on the first row - you will get tons of leg space in economy! For the first time I can remember, I got a seat next to an attractive lady and not some drunken slob (like my US flight last year) or a hippie (also last year) (already off to a good start ;)). Had quite a good conversation - she was a golf journalist - covering some corporate golf event in Cape Town and talked about a lot of things - places to visit in Germany (Munich and Berlin - that's it apparently), perceptions on South Africa, sport etc. The food was not great ... so looks like there is no difference between SAA and Lufthansa on that front. And we talked about stupid translations ... Must Love Dogs was the flight movie (which I slept through) and the German title translated to "Woman with dog seeks man with heart". And you thought Hong Kong movie translations were bad.

Frankfurt is a crap airport - squat all to do. Contemplating buying a booking by Noam Chompsky ... but will they let me into DC if I have the book in my hand? Interesting notes:
1. Bins are separated for recycling - glass, packaging, paper and other.
2. Lots of cigarettes for sale at the duty free shops with some really morbid messages like "Smoking causes a painful death" or "Smoking Kills". Still selling a lot though ...

03 November 2005

The Good Virus

On the eve of my departure to the US (if I followed Carl's habit of naming posts according to song, the title would have been Amerika ...) I was reminded of a chat I had with the passenger next to me on my way back from Zurich in July. The man was a professor in virology at the University f Harare, and while we talked a lot of politics and the "situation" in Zimbabwe; we also had a chat about other things; including viruses (or is it virii?) and the idea of a good virus.

The word virus has a bad reputation - both in biology and in computer science. Viruses have a reputation of being parasites; bringing harm to their hosts and generally causing a nuisance. But, in my opinion they are under rated - and their basic power of how quickly they can be transmitted from host to host could be exploited for "good" purposes. Consider a potential vaccine for HIV - the easiest way to spread the vaccine would be to use a virus that can easily spread amongst the population - like a cold. Sure, it would not suit the purposed of the big pharmaceutical companies; but it would certainly be the easiest way to cure people. and viruses as cures are used already for flu vaccines etc anyway - shouldn't be too difficult.

The same mechanism could be used to patch security holes in computers - fix a bug with a virus - much more efficient than the current way of doing things. And all will hail the good virus ;)

28 October 2005

Drugs are nice

No I haven't gone off my mind - just the title of a book. On Wired this past week, there was a link to a personal essay by a certain Lisa Carver. The essay was on her experiences of being a teenage prostitute, and unlike many moralistic, "I have sinned but I am now good" pieces, she confesses to have actually enjoyed being a prostitute and treats the job as any other. If nothing else, the change in perspective is refreshing enough - and the essay is a very interesting read. As for the title of the post - the essay is an extract from her book titled "Drugs are nice". I am contemplating on buying it ... just seeing the reaction of some people will be worth it ...

25 October 2005

The Law of Unintended Consequences

UCT with collaboration with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) hosted a "panel discussion" on the future of SA featuring former president and Nobel prize winner FW De Klerk, and his former prisoner (terrorist), TV star, banker, mining magnate and premier of Gauteng, Tokyo Sexwale. It was really a very interesting event, and neither speakers towed party affiliations in speaking their minds on issues of transformation, BEE, Zuma/Mbeki debacle, delivery, education etc. They were also very engaging speakers; to the point and excellent examples on why they were great politicians.

The majority of the talk inevitably centred on BEE - both of them are supporters but both pointed out the flaws; from business implementations and from legislators. From president De Klerk (Tokyo says that since Mbeki refers to Madiba as president Mandela, FW should be referred to as president De Klerk) he brought out some fundamental problems of legislating BEE - when do you stop BEE "quotas" and what about the economic realities - is it realistic to actually depend on a supplier that is not as good but a BEE company for instance? On the other hand; Tokyo gave some very startling numbers (or numbers that I was certainly not aware of) - only 3% of the JSE is "black" owned for example after 11 years and that big business has not voluntarily done BEE deals when prompted; thus the need for legislation. He even used ABSA as an example (with a lot of references to ABSA's my bank is ABSA tag line); before being sold; 10% of ABSA was BEE owned representing 1.1 Million South Africans. Yet, 20% of ABSA was owned by one white family!

But, probably what made the biggest headlines was Tokyo's criticisms of poor service delivery and the Mbeki-Zuma spat. He was clearly disgusted with how the issue was being handled, both by the ANC and the supporters of Zuma. His criticisms of poor service delivery were equally scathing; both on how ANC has handled it in the past and how they are trying to handle it now. In his opinion, he would like competent people to be appointed to municipalities to manage the issue - raising issues with central government interference (Mango is going to have a fit) - but clearly corruption and maladministration is a potential boiling point.

And although there was little time spent on HIV/AIDS in particular; a question from the audience brought out two very interesting but highly relevant points from the speakers. Tokyo criticised the effect of sidelining the debate on causes with a very good analogy - if the house is burning; you do not debate the cause. And although SA actually has the largest ARV rollout programme in the world; it certainly is not working as well as it should. De Klerk commented on the issue of getting the message to the people - and not just only on HIV/AIDS. People need to know what the issues, problems and current plans on the solution are on the ground - for housing, for service delivery, for unemployment etc. He criticised politicians for not having the will to actually go and talk to the people about the issues.

And on that note; I will bow out ... but its the last point that made the biggest impact for me in a way. On my walk home, I went past some homeless guys sleeping on the pavement by Main Road in Mowbray. I wonder how many of these guys know of the issues with BEE and why they don't have jobs and need to sleep on the pavement next to prostitutes and who knows what.

24 October 2005

Feeling Guilty

On saturday I went to this stationery shop in Mowbray (next to KFC) to look for magazine folders. The shop had 5 in stock at R32 each. I decided to buy three and gave the cashier/owner R100 note. So he takes out the calculator, says that I owe R66 and then proceeds to give me R34 in change. I contemplated on alerting him to the error, but we had just had a discussion on the price of buying 10 such folders so he was very aware of the price of the folders. I felt a bit guilty esp. as I would have very much complained if the calculation was not in my favour - but then I know my arithmetic ...

21 October 2005

Google Suggest

Yet another lab product from Google pointed out by Tim. Those of you who use gmail will know about the drop downs of the matching email addresses as you type - now this has been extended to search queries. Very cool, and works quite well - even with UCT's crappy network speeds.


Hmm ... also just realised that the Blogger spell check doesn't have Google or gmail in their list ...

20 October 2005

Movie: Night Watch

It's the first Russian movie I have seen; and it's a damn good movie at that. Night Watch has a traditional sci-fi/fantasy plot - the battle between good and evil. Throw in an extra dimension; there are certain people in the world who are better than the rest of human kind (like mutants in X-Men I suppose) - the others. There is currently a truce between the good and the evil; and the others are free to make a choice to be either good or evil; and both sides take turns to monitor the other's activities - in the day; a squad from the evil called day watch monitor the good and at night; a squad from the good called night watch monitor the evil. And to wrap it all up; the good and the bad are sometimes even good friends (and neighbours).

There are some plot holes; but the movie is stylish; it's dark and features some very good effects. It's part 1 of a trilogy and it's well worth seeing. Talking of good movies; House of flying daggers comes out tomorrow ... I might just go and see it again on Tuesday. If anyone wants to join me - send me a mail.

Car Free Day

So today is national car free day - people are supposed to give up their cars and make use of public transport. Walking up to campus today (I gave up waiting for the Jammie after 5 minutes; thought I could rather do with the exercise), it seems that car free day is a total failure. Both the M3 and main road was jam packed as usual and the Golden Arrow busses were not carrying any more passengers than usual.

Personally, after living in Cape Town for almost 6 years without a car; I don't really have many bad things to say about public transport. In my experience, public transport works quite well and it's not too expensive; but only to certain places. My 2 biggest problems with public transport in Cape Town is that
a) its almost non existent at night - there are some night time Golden Arrow busses; but its almost faster to walk than to wait to catch one (I know; I have timed them once)
b) Some very important routes are just not served - try to get to the airport for example.

With 2010, public transport is going to be an important issue - there aren't that many rental cars out there after all. Getting to Newlands is relatively easy - just catch the train. But getting from the airport to the hotels, or from the hotels to the train station - that's going to be the difficult part. I think that all major transportation nodes (ports, stations, airports) should have public transport links - I just don't see it happening any time soon.

18 October 2005

The Accident

As many of you know; I bought a mountain bike about two weeks ago. Yesterday afternoon I had my first accident on the road - of no fault of my own (but then everyone says that right?). Anyway, it happened outside Sunrise - this guy decided to open his door without looking around to see if it ok to do so - and so I went sprawling onto the road. Luckily, the pedestrian robot a few paces back was red a few moment back; so there were no cars and I got by with just a few scratches (and no damage to my bike). The guy (oldish, about 50 or so) was very apologetic, and said that he was so excited by something that he did not look before opening the door; and I left it at that as there was no real damage ... but it was a close call I suppose.

I have been trying (but quite unsuccessfully) to get into a cycling routine ... I would really like to get fit. I find that cyclists seem to share some sort of a bond - most other cyclists greet each other when passing each other (in either direction)- something that you don't see pedestrians do - and I have walked a lot. Many drivers also have respect for cyclists - shared a few jokes with a guy at a red robot yesterday - and even taxi drivers seem very nice towards cyclists. Now if only some drivers would check before opening their doors and stop driving next to the kerb ...

15 October 2005

The Super Series

I managed to watch only one match live; and even for that; only about 2 hours of it. The super series has been over hyped; for too long, and like all hype; it did not live up to its expectations. After Australlia thrashed the World XI in the ODIs, the test match seems to be going the same direction. After all, a line up consisting of some of the best batsmen in the world failed to even make 200 in the first innings of the test. As for bowling, Harmisson is good; but the team selection for the match is definitely dodgy. Kallis has not been bowling for quite some time; so there are effectively 2 fast bowlers in Flintoff and Harmisson and two spin bowlers in Vetorri and Murali. But the fact that there is no 5th bowler that can keep the pressure locked in (like Pollock) or a wicket taker (like Shoaib or Ntini) the bowling is quite toothless really ... Murali can only bowl for so long! And I won't even go into selecting Smith as captain instead of Flemming or even Vaughn.

The test is scheduled for 6 days; but I fear it might not even reach 4 days .... the series was always a pipe dream ... but its clear; to make the greatest team in the world you also need them to play for something to entice them to perform to their best.

Movie: House of Flying Daggers

Thanks to Dave, I got the special edition DVD for the weekend. It is definitely the best movie I have watched this year; better than Hero (by the same director) and Sin City. It has all the ingredients of a good movie - brilliant storyline, wonderful cinematography, great acting and off course brilliant fight scenes.

And watching some of the DVD fillers, I found some very interesting notes ... for example, one of the most breath taking scenes take place in a snowstorm. The plot did not have a snow storm; but an early, unforeseen snowstorm during filming played its part; and instead of waiting for 4 weeks for the snow to disappear, the scene was shot in the storm. The director calls it fate; but whatever you call it; the scene is one of the most tragic and beautiful ever. And there are some other great scenes; like the Echo game and off course a fight in a bamboo forest (BTW according to the DVD specials, the actors are actually placed high up on the bamboo and they swing from pole to pole).

You don't have to like martial arts movies; you don't have to like foreign films; but if you want to be entertained with a brilliant story watch the movie.

13 October 2005

Movie: Crazy Monkey presents: Straight Outta Benoni

If the title hasn't given it away - it's a South African movie; and unlike some of the other recent South African movies including Yesterday, this movie is being heavily promoted. This movie is also the worst (the most polite description I could think of really) South African movie I have ever seen (yes even worse than the infamous Swart Kat movie they used to show when the Afrikaans teachers had nothing else to do at School).

The movie stars some of the biggest comedians in South Africa, but frankly the movie is not funny - well there are some moments but too far in between. The acting is poor at best; and while the general production is good; most local series, sitcoms and short movies are often far better. And if you were wondering about the plot ... it's best not to ask.

Movie: Sin City

Ronald calls it the best movie of the year, and one of the best ever. It has had a lot of hype, mainly because of the technology behind the movie, and is definitely one of the most stylish movies of the year. I am not sure about best; although it would definitely be amongst the best. I loved the contrast of colours, the storyline (the whole concept of have prostitutes as a gun wielding self defenders of their trade was a brilliant concept), the whole plot of revenge and just the general depravity of the villains. I am somewhat glad that I never got round to watching Sin City on the PC, and waited for it to be finally released on the big screen. I just have one question - which scene was directed by Tarantino ... I think I can guess but would like to know for sure.

And my previous post was about South African movies - Sterkinekor screened a (real) short movie about baby Tshepang, and yes the subject is definitely more tragic and different to a comedy; but the movie was just so much better; so much more engaging. There is hope after all ... although the movie I am really looking forward to is "Tsotsi" which is based on a Athol Fugard novel; but that's going to be released only next year in SA.

06 October 2005

Movie: Transporter2

While Transporter 1 (last year or the year before) was a sleeper hit, Transporter2 is very much a big budget production; although a lot of the European roots have been retained.

Quite simply, Transporter 2 is the best action movie I have seen this year. It has awesome car chases, incredible fighting scenes and the story is decent - not as good as Transporter 1, but not bad. And the production in some of the scenes are breath taking. The story revolves around an apparent kidnapping of a young important kid, but its obviously not that - and in many ways; Transporter 2 (and other movies like that) are starting to take on the role that was traditionally held by Mr Bond.

As for highlight scenes - there are some amazing stunts involving cars being in places where they shouldn't be (leaping between buildings), fight scenes in a private jet with no pilot hurtling down into the ocean and off course a Lamborghini Murcielago driven like it should be ... if nothing else, the movie is worthwhile just for that.

30 September 2005

Ganguly vs Chappel: Indian Cricket's new Lows

In the past week, a lot has been said about the fallout between Indian Cricket captain Saurav Ganguly and the coach Greg Chappell. For those of you who don't know - sometime during the recent Zimbabwe tour (IIRC, it was before the 1st test), Ganguly asked Chappell on which player (between Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif) to leave out of the test squad. Chappell told him, that on current form, Ganguly should consider leaving himself out and rather play both Yuvraj and Kaif. Later, there was a leak of an email that Chappell sent to the Indian Cricket board detailing Chappell's points on why Ganguly should no longer remain captain.

While there has been a large outcry, one of the important points is that Chappell is essentially right. Ganguly, while he is an inspirational leader, does not seem to be performing on the field. And this is not a temporary slump - it has been going on for over 2 years! It is high time that other players, who are just as talented and who are actually on form.

Maybe India should consider the off-field captain. After all there are some sports - notably Tennis - that uses this approach. If captaincy is about strategy and inspiration, the captain could easily do the job on the sidelines (which Ganguly does anyway considering the number of times he goes off the field). There are just too many talented players (on form) that go in the Indian middle order and frankly there is no place for Ganguly. This will be a bigger problem once Tendulkar is fit (and ready to play).

26 September 2005

A1 vs F1

This past weekend marked the inaugural A1 GP race at the Brands Hatch Circuit in England. In many ways, A1 GP is a new concept in motorsport - its all about teams, and the driver does not matter. In A1 GP, dubbed the world cup of motorsport, the teams are essentially countries with each country having one team. The whole concept of the driver does not matter was well demonstrated by Malaysia which used different drivers for the race and qualifying (and it worked quite well too).

But the main point of A1 GP was to address the deficiencies in current Formula 1 series - a lack of overtaking, high budgets and a focus on the technology and not the show and the driver skills. A1 GP's first race shows promise - and there was plenty of entertainment. The qualifying was mesmerising, and even better than how F1 qualifying used to be before Mosley and Bernie screwed it all up. As for the race - there was overtaking and a lot of it! Although, Nelson Piquet Jnr and Team Brazil were obvious contenders for the win, the remaining positions were well contested right up to the checkered flag.

That does not mean that A1 does not have problems - the pit system was fun to watch but a bit too contrived IMO. And I would really like some live timing on the TV broadcast. But other than these minor factors, A1 GP was is well worth watching.

The same cannot really be said of F1. Along won the drivers title, becoming the youngest to do so, on Sunday but the race was boring except for the first few laps. I have not watched F1 qualifying at all this year, and while the production of the F1 show is brilliant, crappy directors (like cutting away to Ralph pitting instead of showing a rare pass on the track) really detract from the whole experience.

I have been a F1 fan for a very long time, I have gone to races, and rarely miss a race on TV - and if there was a clash between a F1 race and a A1 GP race, I am more likely to watch A1 GP ... Its just more rewarding.

23 September 2005

DRM Protected CDs

Slashdot is running a discussion on a statement from a Finnish politician who claims something like:
"Now, we need to understand that listening to music on your computer is an extra privilege. Normally, people listen to music on their car or through their home stereos. If you are a Linux or Mac user, you should consider purchasing a regular CD player."

For the confused (i.e. people who get their music from alternate sources, many new CDs are restricted to CD players only and cannot be played on PCs without special software. The theory is to prevent piracy; the practice is to annoy everyone and not really work (numerous hacks exist).

Despite the outcry; the politician is somewhat correct. The CD player on a computer is a data disc reader and the music companies have every right to sell a compact disc that will only work on CD players; just as they have every right to sell DRM enabled music. That is their business. It is the consumers that must stand up and say that they will not buy DRM enabled music or not buy DRM enabled media. By bitching and moaning about the media is not really the answer - ultimately the product is for the consumer and if the consumer is unhappy they should not purchase the product. After all, a music CD is hardly a necessity.


As some of you know, I am a volunteer for the SHAWCO IT project in Khayalitsha. The project tries to teach high school kids from Khayalitsha (grade 10 - 12) IT skills like using computers and M$ Office. Today was the closing function - kids who attended regularly were awarded certificates; there were some boring (and not so boring) speeches and some food.

In many ways the project is remarkable and highly necessary - IT skills are important in the new millennium (even the checkout ladies in separate and Pick 'n Pay use quite sophisticated computererised systems to ring up purchases) and are crucial tools that are needed by students. In the environment that is Khayalitsha, the project is a major highlight in this regard.

However there are many questions that remain unanswered:
  • Can they really apply what we have tried to teach them?
  • Have they understood what we tried to teach them?
  • Did we teach them the right things?
  • Is teaching them M$ Office enough?
  • How are the kids going to effectively retain what they have been thought?
  • What about the kids that were not in the project?
  • What about adults in Khayalitsha?
Some of the questions are easy to guess but the later questions are the really crucial ones - especially considering the fact that the centre cost about R250 000 but is only used for about 16 hours a week for about 30 weeks of the year. For the rest of the time the centre is effectively a white elephant.

SHAWCO does not have the means to run the centre for longer periods of time, and unfortunately there are many political issues that run beneath SHAWCO. Only time will tell if the true potential of the SHAWCO centre can be achieved.

21 September 2005

Movie: Crash

Not many people seem to remember Crash, a movie about people with a fetish for car accidents. While the movie was certainly very interesting, it was hardly everybody's cup of tea. The new movie explores a totally different subject - a complex set of disjoint relationships that are all connected to each other. Above all, the movie explores various racial stereotypes (in the US, but equally applicable all over the world) and how these stereotypes affect the relationships. There are some brilliant scenes, and overall the movie forces us to question everyday interactions - for example, what people do you consider threatening when walking on the street?

More info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0375679/

Two of the best quotes:
Look around! You couldn't find a whiter, safer or better lit part of this city. But this white woman sees two black guys, who look like UCLA students, strolling down the sidewalk and her reaction is blind fear. I mean, look at us! Are we dressed like gangbangers? Do we look threatening? No. Fact, if anybody should be scared, it's us: the only two black faces surrounded by a sea of over-caffeinated white people, patrolled by the triggerhappy LAPD. So, why aren't we scared?

It's just black people demeaning other black people, using that word over and over. You ever hear white people callin' each other "honky" all the time? "Hey, honky, how's work?" "Not bad, cracker, we're diversifying!"

18 September 2005

Problem with SA Music

The SATNAC closing dinner featured "Mean Mr Mustard" as the evening band. For the uninitiated, Mean Mr Mustard are one of the best rock bands in South Africa, having sold many thousand records and having a great following. Thus we were all quite excited at the prospect; although we were puzzled to how the "0u toppies" will mosh to Mean Mr Mustard. We were heavily disappointed ...

As corporate functions would have it; Telkom more or less decided what songs Mean Mr Mustard should play - the result being a glorified cover band! For years, South African music lovers have wondered why South African music is not really appreciated - and the answer is simple - because the really good bands are playing cover versions of imported music in their really important money earning gigs - the corporate functions. I would have understood if they played covers of South African songs; but when the covered bands like Busted it really left a bad after taste. In the approximately 2 hours that we did stay for; they played only 3 of their own songs! What was the point?

14 September 2005

SATNAC Reflections Part 2

So SATNAC is finally drawing to a close - there were more academic presentations yesterday and today. Unfortunately the bad Internet connection situation has continued - although it has improved dramatically from Monday. The download speeds are still rather crap though. To be honest, there has been very little value from SATNAC - most the work is either uninteresting (because its not our field) or seems rather poor. That is not saying that there are no good papers; but they seem to be too few. Maybe if SATNAC was about security or DRM I would be more interested.

The closing function was in an "English Pub" theme - i.e. the food was not that great (although there was malva pudding) and it was not as well decorated as last year's District 6 theme. More on the entertainment on a later post ...

13 September 2005

SATNAC Reflections

So SATNAC started officially on Sunday evening with a very flashy, techno-rave style opening dinner. Most importantly, the food was good, and we all stuffed ourselves (except Paul, who does not like to eat too much in the evenings). And we all got a lot of freebies - a bag, a sweatshirt (which everyone was asked to wear to the opening function), a jacket and a mug. I also got a Huawei radio this morning ... not sure if everyone else got that one ....

SATNAC is not really an academic conference - if one looks at the program for the first day. The majority of the sessions involved corporate big wigs discussing technology using huge buzzwords like convergence. It was boring, somewhat dumb and more or less a total waste of time.

The academic presentations at the end of the day was not much better - except for Paul's presentation, none of the presentation really had much substance. Take for instance the presentation "Detecting Uncooperative Ethernet Elements using Accurate Round-Trip Time Measurements" - how this project differs from the "ping" command is yet to be established.

Surprisingly, even though SATNAC is a telecommunication, the Internet connection is very unstable (or maybe unsurprisingly considering that we are talking about Telkom). Another interesting fact was that, Windows machines had difficulty in using the WiFi, but Linux didn't have any such problems.

Finally, another addition to the Appletiser index - and a cheap entrant at that. Last night, we had supper at the Monk's Cowl Country Club (there seem to be a number of sports facilities in this part of the country, much more than the number of people living in the area). The food itself was good, although I did get my food very late (every one finished before I got my food ....). We all put it down as a mistake on the waitresses part and she was very embarrassed. Appletiser index entry:
Monk's Cowl Country Club: 6.50

12 September 2005

The Appletiser Index

You have heard of the Mac index; I now give you the Appletiser index. The Mac index gave an index on how expensive a country is based on Big Mac prices. You can do the same regarding how expensive a restaurant/take away is comparing the price of drinks - hence the Appletiser index. This was primarily motivated by the cost of Appletisers at the Chapagne Castle Sports resort - the domicile of SATNAC 2005.

So the first entry - Champagne Castle Sports resort: R13

For comparison, the cost of an Appletiser at Loxley's in Rondebosch is R11 and the Independent Armchaoir Theatre is R9.

09 September 2005

Up the mountains we go

On Sunday the DNA lab flies off to Durban and then drive up to the Drakensberg for a Telkom sponsored holiday, otherwise known as SATNAC. Not presenting a paper this time, just a poster, which was done by Duncan and Marlon (the honours students I am supervising as they can reuse most of it for their honours poster). But the highlight of SATNAC is not the papers really but the dinners (the opening and the closing), the huge supply of good, free, food (and drinks) and the free bandwidth (seeing that it is sponsored by TELKOM.

On the TELKOM note, looks like the made a very quiet retreat from suing the Hellkom founder, but I think wearing a Hellkom t-shirt to SATNAC would be ill advised.

07 September 2005

Signs : The Oracle

In the past few days, UCT has been promoting "Heritage@UCT" - a drive to let people know the history about some of UCT's main landmarks like Jameson Hall, the rugby fields (Nelson Mandela was awarded his honorary doctorate at the rugby fields to accommodate more people), the Rhodes statue etc. I think its a brilliant concept, and wish it was actually extended to some of the other buildings and places on campus (like who is Robert Leslie?). As for The Oracle - that's the name of the fountain on Jammie Plaza ... you learn something new everyday.

06 September 2005

Movie: The Great Dictator

So Chris and I took advantage of the armchair's pizza and movie offer, and decided to go watch Charlie Chaplin's classic "The Great Dictator". The movie is a parody of Hitler revolving around Hynkal, the dictator of Tomania and a jewish barber. Produced during WW2, it carries a strong anti-war message with the famous last speech encouraging soldiers to lay down arms to build a better future for all, and is often rated as one of the best anti-war movie ever made. The comic genius, that was Charlie Chaplin shines through and the movie is a great laugh even when dealing with a very sensitive topic. Hitler had apparently watched the movie, but what he thought of it is not known.

05 September 2005

Black Saturday of South African Sport

If you haven't heard; Bafana Bafana are out of World Cup 2006. So, even though we are hosting 2010; we won't be playing in 2006. Bafana Bafana have had a very poor run lately, they lost in the COSAFA cup semis, they lost 4-1 to Iceland and then they lost 3-1 to Burkina-Faso. Even worse is the chance that Bafana Bafana could still not qualify for the Africa cup of Nations (also in 2006). On the brighter side, the under 23s did thrash Uganda 4-1 - the 2nd goal (from Lewis IIRC) was an amazing display of teamwork and good finishing ... maybe that's the team we should have sent to Burkina-Faso.

Also, we lost the Tri-Nations on Saturday when the All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies. For the first 20 minutes in the second half, South Africa had hope when the Aussies fought back from 20-0 to 20-19; but then a certain sub named Dunning gave away 9 points in less than 5 minutes; and after that it was all downhill. But even though we lost; this was probably the best Tri-Nations performance from the Springboks.

Oh, it was also Sarai's b'day party on Saturday ... the aftermath of alcohol consumption is best left untold.

31 August 2005


So, I have finally taken the plunge and started a blog. Have been meaning to for a while (before I went on my European trip) but lazyness has always won out (as per usual). I was surprised that I could not get alapan as an username; but I suppose even though my name is rare; there are still people who actually have alapan as a name.

So what will I ramble on about?

Not to sure - definitely will have movie and anime reviews for Ronald; comments and thoughts from places I travel to; reviews of gigs I go to (when I actually do); Formula 1, sport etc ... all the usual crap really.

Movie: 7 Samurai

The Independent Armchair Theatre usually screen old movies on Monday night. Its 10 bucks for a ticket or 30 bucks for a ticket and a pizza from Diva's (delivered to you). I was thinking about the legality of the whole operation - after all you are not really allowed to show a movie to the public without a license ... but since this is quite an old operation, they either have a license or no one cares about them.

On monday they showed 7 Samurai, which is one of the great classic movies about a village in feudal Japan that hires some samurai to protect them against bandits. Its a long movie (over 3 hours) but definitely worth watching.