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).

31 December 2008

White Tiger

Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Aravind Adiga writes a tale about a smart man, Balram Halwai, - who rises from poverty to becoming a multi-millionaire, successfull business man in the New India. And it is the journey that is really the focus of the story - filled with corruption, virtual slavery, family and social presssures and even murder - it is a very stark contrast to the traditional tale of success.

What is really tragic, in many respects, about the story - is that it is in many respects an honest potrayal of the class, social and economic divide of India. The tales of corruption - while maybe exaggarated, are not tales that would not ring true at some point.

And in the end, you realise - that the story could be really set in any other third world country. You will get smart boys forced to work, to pay off some family debt instead of going to school. You will find social pressures dictating what the person can do as their living. And, it will be the very select few, who can trully escape their background and trappings of their birth. In fact, in the times of financial turmoils; this tale probably rings true for everyone in the world ... and in the end, we would all support Balram Halwai's actions ...

30 December 2008

Movie: Religilous

Comedian Bill Maher, presents a rebuttal to religion - esp. the Abrahamic religions. Personally, I feel that the God Delusion, did a much better job. Maher does raise valid points - but his presentation, and atagonism towards some of his interview subjects are not going to help spread his message.

14 December 2008

Cradle of Humankind

There was only one tourist attraction I knew of in Gauteng - the Cradle of Humankind. And it has taken me almost a year to actually get round to going there. The Cradle of Humankind is in itself a bit of a distracting idea as a tourist site - because the area covers a very large area, which includes towns, farms and game reserves. At its core, there are two major "attractions": Maropeng Visitor Centre and The Sterkfontein Caves. Both can be easily visted in half a day, and thus a combined ticket of R130 for adults is quite affordable.

The Maropeng Visitor Centre is an incredible showcase about evolution of man - and a very interesting exploration of the homo sapien species. It is incredibly hands on, and the information is very interesting and very accessible. More than a musuem, it is also somewhat of an experience - from the idea of exploring the various facets of the evolution of earth itself to the various aspects of biological evolution.

The Cradle is off course famous for the various fossils discovered of our earliest ancestors, and Maropeng has a fairly sizable collection of original fossils and casts.

The Sterkfontein caves is off course what made this area famous; and with the improvements in facilities it is certainly a lot more accessible (although there are areas where one needs to crawl through). The caves themselves are not that impressive in themselves, but it is still a very interesting experience.

Over all, the recent focus on improving the facilities have meant that these are really accessible to visitors. They are both facinating places to visit; and I am glad I finally went.

Wonder Cave

Wonder Cave, also in the Cradle of Humankind is inside the private Rhino and Lion game reserve. An abandoned mine, the cave is a massive cavern with some spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. It is a steep climb down stairs, followed by a small mining lift - but it definitely worth the effort and the R50 entry fee. It is a small detour onthe R512 from Johannesburg, and definitey worth a stop over.

09 December 2008

PCFormat's DRM Article

I am not a regular buyer of PCFormat - but when I saw the DRM article advertised on the cover, I could not resist. Since I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on DRM, I was interested to see what the magazine had to say. And in most respects, it was very much what I thought it would be; although a lot less hysterical and to be fair, a lot more balanced. However, there are a number of points I would like to raise - so here it goes.

Firstly - what is DRM? Strictly speaking - DRM is about the control of usage and access to electronic data. It is not about copy control. In fact, every DRM system that has tried to enforce copy control has been a failure - and are usually led the bad rap - such as Sony-BMG's rootkit. It is physically impossible to restrict copying - computers work by copying data all the time. The way copying is controlled is through restricting the use of electronic data - but not physically restricting copying. It is an important distinction.

Secondly, DRM is not strictly about copyright enforcement - it is about license enforcement. This is the reason that music DRM has failed, and probably will never succeed. Music has never been sold as being licensed to the buyer - instead the buyer has always "bought" an instance of a musical performance. To apply DRM directly to this model was stupid, and has consequently failed.

Software is different - it has always been distributed and used as being licensed. You do not own a game. You own a license to play the game. You do not own a copy of Windows XP. You own a license to use Windows XP. Consequently, DRM fits in a lot better to the model for Software Protection - it is a natural extension to what has always been practiced, but never really been enforced.

But does this mean that the economic and usability models being applied to current software is correct? No. Previously, I could get a license to play a game on unlimited number of machines for R400. Now, I get a license restricted to play on 3 machines for R400. That is not economically justifiable. Likewise, usability of phoning a number, hanging on for 20 minutes while reciting 20 letter numbers is not user-friendly.

In my opinion, DRM was rushed to the market - mainly because the old business models in the music industry could not cope with the new economy. There is a lot of research that needs to be done - a lot of it is being done. There is a lot of use for DRM, and the power it can hand to the user could be immense. If done properly, the user could be in a position to determine, how, who, why, when and where another entity could use their personal data - that is powerful. However, competing DRM standards (there are at least three organisations in the standardisation game: OMA, MPEG and W3C), competing interests and a general fuck up due to the immature introduction of the technology has meant that real progress has been really slow.

07 December 2008

Movie: Synechdoche

In "Being John Malkovich" Charlie Kaufman explored the world through one person's eyes (and a lot more than that). In Synechdoche, he explores a whole city. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a nutty director who has just won a grand prize to put on the most ambitious play ever. So, he tries to replicate New York - and the actors basically start living the play. And through the play, he tries to explore and understand himself - although I think he fails spectacularly.

It is a lot more, and is quite a roller coaster - but is ultimate very complex and hard to unravel. It is a lot more than Being John Malkovich; a lot more than the Truman Show; but ultimately it does not have a clear cut story or purpose. But I did not really expect it to.

03 December 2008

World's Most Dangerous Places

The British Telegraph has a list of the worlds 20 most dangerous places, and South Africa features alongside the usual suspects of Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Sudan and Palestine.

I don't think it is a fair comparison at all - while crime levels in South Africa are higher than many other countries in the world - I don't think we are in the same danger as people living in Iraq for example. And in the same vein, there are also a few other countries on that list that should not make the list for the same reasons in my opinion - Jamaica and India are the prominent ones.

26 November 2008

Downtown Jozi

I have said it before - downtown Johannesburg is facinating; and together with the urban renewal projects, it is regaining some of its old glory. Unfortunately, in the weekend it's not really a very vibrant city - it is quiet and everything is closed up. Which is a pity - because it does not really encourage people to come and walk around. And it is really a stark contrast to what it is like during the day. The photos are primarily taken in and around Rissik, Symonds and Harrison streets - streets I have driven a number of times during the day, shuttling to and from client offices. I never really have time to admire Jo'burg from the driver's seat, and for that alone I really enjoy walking around Jo'burg.

Byers Naude Park, from the City Hall looking at the Library. It looks very different during the week, full with people. Next time, maybe I should walk around and take photos during the workday.

Old Mining equipment, on Main Street. Main Street is facinating, and gives a great iverview of the mining heritage of the city, and the key people involved. It is also very pedestrian friendly.

One of the many adverts adorning the Jo'burg skyline

A kwaito group was filming their music video on the streets (it is not to dificult to close down a street over the weekend). Not sure who they were - but the miming was fun to watch.

Movie: Quantam of Solace

This is not much of a traditional Bond movie in some respects - no Q, no gadgets, no dumb villain leader. But there are still beautiful locations, baddies to hunt down and beautiful women.

This is also the first Bond movie I have seen that is a sequel - rather than a stand alone story; and going forward, the ending suggests that the next movie will also be a sequel. This in itself will be a departure, and not such an unwelcome departure in my opinion.

The movie itself was quite action packed, although somewhat convoluted at times (a lot of hand-to-hand) - but personally, I really liked the scene in the Opera - I just don't remember Bond movies being artistically inclined.

24 November 2008

The Wisdom of Whores

I am normally a very fast reader - but due to various circumstances, I never really got round to finishing The Widom of Whores until recently, even though I started in late August! And it is definitely a great book!

A lot has been written about HIV and AIDS, and in some ways this is another book to that pile. It is however, possibly the most honest book I have read on the subject. The author, a journalist turned epidemiologist has spent a long time in the field of HIV and AIDS research - and her insights are facinating, and sometimes brutal. It is a frank account of not only how HIV and AIDS epedimics are badly managed in terms of response (not only in South Africa) but also of the politics, the ideologies and most of all the difference in cultures that are seemingly not understood.

Fundamentally, HIV is spread in two ways - unprotected sex and blood transfusions. But most HIV response teams do not tackle either of the core issues directly, largely for moralistic grand standing. Unproteted sex? People are not supposed to have sex before marriage. Or most people do not have multiple simultaneous partners. And drug abusers - why should they get more sympathy with clean neadles? The fact that some cultures do not consider multiple partners immoral - or that some prostitutes do not consider their work cheating on the partners have just not permeated up to the powers that be.

More than anything, the book exposes the flaws in the standard research practice of boxing things into neat categories. That, and the gross ineficieny of ideology driven health care support - even when the ideology is not religious.

While the book is centred largely in South East Asia, the lessons and discussions raised are just as relevant in South Africa. But, whether the book has any effect in fixing the world, that probably has a very a expected answer ...

22 November 2008

Movie: Brideshead Revisted

Set in Britain, between the Great Depression and WW 2, Brideshead Revisited is a very interesting "period" movie, with a somewhat confused purpose. On one hand, it is very much a classic love story, between a man with very humble beginings and the rich daughter of English nobility, but where the couple's differences in religion makes it even more difficult to make it a success. Then there is the seemingly romantic relationship between the gay son and the man. Added to this is a mixture of bad parenting, alcohol abuse and the very obvious gap in wealth.

It is very much an interesting mix of characters, great individual performances and some very intersting dialogue. But over all, the movie does seem to lack a central theme - but maybe that is by design. As the daughter states, "What does Charles Ryder really want?" A question, that is never really answered.

19 November 2008

Movie: Body of Lies

I am not sure what the whole point of the movie was - there is a CIA agent in the middle east, who is very good at what he does; his interfering boss who sometimes does more harm than good and a terrorist cell similar to Al Qaeda. Somewhere in this, there is also th eobligatory love story.

There is lot of things this movie could have done. Instead, it is a slow, meandering walk through nothingness. Yes, the Americans are shown as arrogant, uncaring and selfish - yet the good guys still win! This is not a Syrianna, or even a Bourne type of spectacle and intrigue. It is, in my opinion, utter rubbish.

14 November 2008

Karen Zoid

I have always wanted to go to the Blues Room, but something always seemed to come up. I spotted Karen Zoid was to play last night, and just decided to go (a decision helped by the fact that I did not have to be at work at 8am :p). Blues Room itself is an interesting venue - quite intimate, but very much suited to Jazz and Blues (it's main forte admittedly) being more of a restaurant than a live music venue.

The show itself was quite varied - featuring some solo accoustic guitar (not sure of his name), some covers by Karen Zoid and the guitarist, followed by some collaboration with Josie Feild, before the main show really.

And Karen Zoid, featuring a new drummer, really delivered an amazing show. It was a high energy show, with some amazing variety - especially with the combination of covers and original music in a very seamless, slick piece. I did not really hear any "new" tracks from her new album - but it was still an amazing show. I am glad I went.

11 November 2008

Movie: Death Race

Many computer racing games has this theme: cars/vehicles racing round the track with the objective to finish, not necessarily first, but survive. The tracks have weapon and defence powerups, which can be used to blow up opponents or survive opponent's power-ups.

Death Race is a live action version of this - with a thinly guised story to give a "plot". Actually, the plot is shit, the dialogue is worse, and acting just as shit. Really, horrible.

But the action - wow. Guns, things blowing up, the blood, the gore. In fact, if it was accompanied by cheesy music and no dialgoue, it could have been a replay ...

Movie: The Band's Visit

An Egyptian police band arrives at a small airport in Israel, and gets lost in a town in the middle of nowhere. They don't get stranded for long - just overnight until the Egyptian consulate rescues them - and the movie really only focuses on that overnight. It is a clash of cultures - a clash of religions. But it is a story of kindness, a story of rediscovering life, a story of living life. In their own way, the band repays their kind (and sometimes forced) benefactors; and you get a sense that everyone learnt something, experienced something.

It is a quirky movie, funny in places, and very different.

10 November 2008

Backdated posts for Germany

I did not have enough time for blogging on the last two weeks of October - when I was in Germany. So, I have added some backdated posts covering my last day in Poznan (Poland), Darmstadt, Heidelburg, Frankfurt, Cologne and Hotel Petersburg ...

28 October 2008

5 Stars and Michelin Stars ...

One of the nice facts about travelling with important clients, is that you get to stay in nice hotels and eat in nice restaurants. So, the first night was spent in the very exclusive hotel, Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersburg (hotel link, wikipedia), on top of the hill in Königswinter, just outside Bonn.

The hotel used to be the official government guesthouse (when the West German, and later German capital was in Bonn) - and thus has seen illustrious visitors including Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II. But it's history stretches back further, and was actually built in 1892, and became the seat of the allied government after WW2. West German independence was also signed in this hotel ... making it a very intersting place.

There are some stunning views around the hotel and apparently you can see the Cologne Cathedral on a clear day. The hotel also features a Michelin star restaurant, which is where dinner was for that night.

There is also an old church on the premises - not very lavishly decorated, but interesting none the less. It was only for one night, but it was certainly an interesting experience ...

27 October 2008


Cologne is world famous for its massive gothic cathedral. And I was not really prepared for the size of the cathedral as I stepped out of the main station (the main station is next to the cathedral) ... it is absolutely massive, with an impressive amount of detail.

The fact of the matter is, I could not find a position to take the photo, where I could fit the full profile of the cathedral into one shot - it is too big and too tall!

Even the bells are supersized - and when they ring you can actually feel the vibrations from where I took the photo. The bells are about 60% of the way to the top of the tower.

Visitors can (after paying the entrance fee of 4 Euros), climb to the top of of one of the towers. It is a narrow set of winding stairs (barely fitting two people) and a long, long trip. In fact there is a warning - it will take at least 30 minutes to climb up and down (if you are fit) and there are no stairs - at ticket counter.

It was painful, but even though the weather was poor (it started raining shortly after I got to the top); the view was spectacular.

Sadly, I did not have much time in Cologne. So apart from the cathedral - I decided to visit the chocolate museum. The musuem documents both the history of chocolate (as a fashionable drink, to a kid's consumer product) as well as the process of making milk chocolate as we all know it. The entry fee is rather hefty, but you get quite a few samples of Lindt chocolate ... so it is all good! Afterwards, I also had a snack in the cafe - a cake which roughly translates to "3 Kings Cake" - with three sponge cakes layered with chocolate cream. All the calories burned by climbing the cathedral was promptly replaced :)

26 October 2008


It is definitely one of the most picturesque cities I have visited - complemented with the spectacular colours of Autumn. The "old town" is quite well preserved, and unusually bustling with activity - and is one of the major tourist attractions of Germany. Unfortunately, I only had a few hours to spend in Heidelburg (I made it a day trip from Frankfurt) and missed spending time really exploring some of the more interesting parts of the city.

The city is dominated by the ruins of the old royal castle, which is being partly restored. The castle grounds are massive, and provides a stunning view of the city and surrounding areas. However, I think the reconstruction starts to lose some of the charm of the whole ruins - and destroys an essential part of the appeal.

An interesting component of the castle itself, is the massive wine barrels. They were actually used, but not for long. I just wonder how the got all that wine in the barrel in the first place.

Heidelburg is university town, and many of the old buildings in the Altstadt (Old Town) features ties to the original university establishment. The university was first established in the 1300's thus making Heidelburg one of the oldest universities in Europe. It continues to be a university town, and a place of research including the world famous Max Planck Physics Institutes.

Behind the castle, up on the hill is Koenigsthul - which provides a magnificent view of the entire area. Unfortunately, the weather was not perfect, and the full impact was not visible.

25 October 2008

Frankfurt at Night

For the rest of the week, I was in Bensheim on a training course - where I did not have time to explore the area (course ran more or less from 8am to 10pm every day). But, I don't think I missed much.

My initial plan was to go straight to Heidelburg, but all the hotels were booked out, and so I decided to base myself in Frankfurt. Despite it being an old town on the banks of a massive river, I have always found Frankfurt to be a bit dull - but the city lights did present an opportunity to take some interesting pictures.

20 October 2008


South of Frankfurt, Darmstadt is very much a technology town, featuring a Fraunhofer Institute (for Security), a well regarded university, and one of the big centres for Deutsche Telekom - research labs, offices etc. Like many other towns, the old town centre is quite well preserved and features a number of palaces, statues and old buildings. Unfortunately, I did not have much time in the town - I arrived as sun was setting and then left the following day after my work engagements.

19 October 2008

More on Poznan

Poznan is supposedly the birthplace of the Polish nation - and the explanation given by the tourist information is fairly simple. In the 900's, the king of the area was baptised (to what would later become the Poznan Cathedral) and thus began Poland. It is quite clear that religion plays an active role in Poznan - there are many churches, and almost all of them are busy. Even on Saturday, when I was walking around Poznan, I could not really go and explore inside the churches becuase there was Mass or some other activity going on.

Classical music is also a big cultral event in Poland; and there are many concerts and events for classical music, especially featuring Chopin. The conference dinner featured a short performance by a string quartet (from a highly rated local music school) and I also went to a performance in Poznan. The latter however was slightly disappointing in the sense that it featured a German Bass Band and not Polish performers. But what was amazing was that people crammed into the theatre (of the Poznan University of Music), stood in the aisles and sides and was also crammed with kids. There was a very busy buzz of activity from people of all ages - and was not a snotty affair of well dressed people sipping champagne.

Poznan was also meant to be the easternmost residence of the last German Kaiser Wilhelm II, and he even built his castle/palace in the turn of the 20th century for that reason. It is very close to the centre of Poznan, and was opposite the venue of the conference.

A fort on a small hill near my hotel, also features a small military musuem. I did not have time to explore the museum, but they had a lot of WW2 era tanks, aeroplanes and other vehicles.

Amongst the beuaty of the old buildings and the striking new glass buildings are the dreary soviet buildings. My hotel was one of them ... certainly not one of the most comfortable or value for money hotels in my opinion.

18 October 2008

Virtual Goods 2008

Or to give its full name, "6th International Workshop for Technical, Economic and Legal Aspects of Business Models for Virtual Goods incorporating the 4th International ODRL Workshop", held in Poznan, Poland. This workshop has had some interesting history; and I thoroughy enjoyed it last year and brings together a number of different aspects of computer science. As we become more digital, the concept of a virtual good becomes more tangible; and some of the ideas explored in the conference are more realistic that ever!

There were a few really interesting talks and presentations. The host university, demonstrated a virtual museum system, which had a wonderful way to interact with 3D virtual objects; in a very low tech solution; and a presentation by the general chair on why the "free" economic theory ultimately will not work was very interesting.

With authors from 6 continents (no one from South America, but a presenter from Tahiti!), there was a small, but very diverse group of papers and people. This was a very good workshop, and I hope I can contiue to be involved.

17 October 2008

Toilet Signs

The Poles use different signs to indicate male and female toilets - an useful guide to anyone needing a toilet in Poland :)

Triangle: Male
Circle: Female

Very different to other places in the world, and somehow more baffling ...

16 October 2008


It's reputedly the oldest town in Poland - oldest surviving town that is. And it shows - penty of old European buildings - but not as well preserved as those in Bruges :p But there is also a lot of Soviet influence - my hotel for one - and a bit of more modern influence. So the architectural mish-mash makes this place quite facinating.

Poland is reputedly cheap - but I am not sure why this reputation exists? My hotel for example is definitely not worth the money I am paying in my opinion - it is not bad per say; but definitely a bit overpriced. The same goes for the restaurants and cafes - the prices seem a lot steeper; even when converted and compared in Euros. But then other prices are very reasonable - the taxi from the airport to the hotel was quite reasonable for example - so I suppose it all balances out.

Overall, it has been interesting - there is no visibility of beggars or struggling people; but it's not posh - there are not too many fancy cars or shiny houses. It is I suppose, very industrial.

A big plaza near the centre of town

The University of Economics (host of conference)

A side street with some old buildings

"Merchant Quarter" of the old town centre

A WW2 Memorial (plus Autumn leaves)

14 October 2008

Car Insurance

So, the car I was driving since I came up to Jo'burg has been written off (although not strictly true). Basically, I stopped behind a person dropping off people (as if it was a taxi) and then I got hit from behind. The damage was a lot more than the value of the car; so it got written off.

Which is all a bit ironic; simply because I have been meaning to buy a new car anyway. But it is still damn inconvenient - I have had to rent a car for the past week or so; so that I can get around.

But what has been really interesting is getting quotes for car insurance. Being a single male aged 25; I automatically attract high premiums. In fact, I was told by one insurance agent that any car with an engine capacity over 1.6 l is considered high performance!

But what I found interesting is also the factors they do not consider when calculating risk; such as the regularity in consumption of alcohol, main driving routes, amount of Km travelled, time of travel and the maintenance record of the car - all the main factors that contribute to accidents.

Also interesting is the fact that many of the "low insurance" adverts were not low - Outsurance came out the most expensive (R4500!), Budget Insurance and Dial Direct were cheaper but still over R500 more than the quote I did take in the end. Also - Dial Direct, Budget etc - they are all still brokers - just brokers fronting for one specific insurance underwriter. So much for skipping the middle man.

So, I will get my car on 1 Nov (I am not in Jo'burg for most of October); and will post about that then ...

Movie: In Bruges

Bruges is a medieval town in Belgium; or as Ray (Colin Farrel) calls it in the movie - Hell on Earth. There are two hitmen hiding away after a job (which went slightly wrong); and it's a comic gem. Very fast dialogue - very English. It is a gangster movie meeting a comic movie set in an historic town. And it is done very well!

Movie: Vanaja

I don't usually watch Indian movies - well bollywood style movies anyway. It's not really the song and dance routines that bug me - but the actual storylines are usually all the same.

Vanaja, is I suppose also a movie about song and dance - but not the traditional musical. It is about a young village girl, who wishes to learn to dance the traditional Indian dance; and is taught by the mistress of the house where she works as a servant.

The storyline is somewhat heartbreaking; and somewhat bold for an Indian movie (dealing with child abuse for example) - the dancing is spectacular; and there is visible improvement as Vanaja improves through her training - giving a very authentic feel to the movie. And the writer/director submitted the movie as part of his Master's thesis!

23 September 2008

Altech vs ICASA and 28 Others: The Minister Appeals

ICASA did not appeal the judgement; and in my interactions with ICASA, I have learnt that many inside ICASA are happy that they did not appeal the judgement. Managed liberalisation or not; the over all feeling on the matter was that opening up the market was the way to go.

But the minister of communications has decided to muddy the waters once again - and apparently it is for our collective good. In her infinite wisdom, the minister (although there are claims it is more the DG and not the minister herself) has decided to appeal the judgement. And most striking argument that the minister proposes is the following:

If VANS licensees are allowed to obtain Individual-ECNS licenses under license conversion, government’s managed liberalisation policy will be seriously undermined to the detriment of the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) industry.

I can already see two major arguments against this statement. First, the minister did not make this argument in the case itself. While there was an argument about managed liberalisation being affected; the argument was not extended to the effect it will have on the broader industry - just to Neotel.

But it is last part that is quite funny - that giving VANS i-ECNS licenses will be to the detriment of the ICT industry. The ICT industry is composed of three types of companies: VANS (communications), software development and standard hardware/software service and support. There are 600 VANS licensees - and they all benefit from having i-ECNS licenses. So presumably; the other components will be affected by VANS licensees having iECNS licenses.

The question is - how exactly will this affect the ICT industry negatively? The minister's arguments in the appeal, will be, if nothing else - hilarious.

21 September 2008


Part of the Arts Alive initiative, Whackjobs was a one off stand up comedy show at the Bassline in Newton (on Saturday night). Hosted by the very politically incorrect John Vlismas; it was definitely one of the best stand-up comedy gigs I have been to.

The best part of stand up, is the freshness - comics can make jokes about what has happened in the recent past. And this weekend's political turmoils were exploited by most of the comedians. The variety was also impressive - and Alyn Adams' musical parodies was one of the more unique acts of the week.

13 September 2008

Movie: Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad)

Most of the movies I have seen featuring Rio de Janeiro are about the favelas, or the slums, the druglords and the gangs that rule the favelas together with the (usually corrupt) cops. Tropa de Elite, is a documentary style, movie about the elite cops - BOPE - who try to make sense of it all.

Blood runs through the movie - but it is not only violence - the movie is an unflinching look at the whole ecosystem: cops are sometimes corrupt becuase they cannot survive on their measely salaries; because taking bullets is not worth it. And gangs and drugs do not exist in isolation: the gang lords are effectively funded by the rich/middle classes who consume the drugs and at the same time hate the favelas and the police. It is a vicious circle.

The style and cinemtorgraphy is amazing - and a thumping sound track keeps up the pace. It is an amazing movie - even if life is cheap and blood flows down the hillside.

09 September 2008

(Nearly) Free Education?

Time has an interesting story about tertiary education in the United States - currently one of the most expensive places to have tertiary education. Basically, a number of universities are replacing student loans with grants, using the household income as the basis to determine eligibility.

This is certainly a noble pursuit - after all, if knowledge is meant to be free; surely financial ability should not impact the dissemination of knowledge. And I do not understand the author's argument, that this ultimately has a ripple effect on other universities who cannot match the generosity of the institutions with large endowments (such as Harvard). Because - does that matter?

Surely, a prospective student will only really look at two factors - the quality of the education offered by the institution and the can the student afford it. In that light, will a student who can get into Harvard (and now afford it) really look at alternatives? Yes, it does raise the prospect that the "good" students will only be going to a select number of universities - but is there any different to the present scenario?

29 August 2008

Altech vs ICASA and 28 Others: The Ruling

So the judge has ruled on the case, and I was wrong in the major issue. The judge ruled this morning (I was unable to attend in person sadly), and broadly; VANS have been able to self provide since Feb 2005, and thus all VANS licensees should be awarded Individual ECNS licenses, which will allow them to roll out infrastructure.

There are two broad impacts of this decision. Firstly, this will mean that there will be a lot more suppliers in the market than simply Telkom, Neotel, WBS (iBurst) and the 3 cellular operators - but over 600 new operators. This should increase competition, and ultimately bring better service and hopefully better pricing.

Secondly, and rather drastically - the managed liberalisation of the telecommunication market in South Africa is no more. And this can be very dangerous. The whole rationale behind the managed liberalisation is simple: give a second (and later the third, and fourth etc) enough space and time to build up infrastructure and service offerings such that they can compete effective and efficiently against the incumbents. An unmanaged liberalisation could result in too many ambitious projects that may not actually allow real competition with the incumbent (in the case Telkom) and thus ultimately fail in the end goal.

The fact of the matter is; it takes a lot of money to invest in telecommunication infrastructure. A router that is meant for the home costs R1000; the router that is meant for a medium sized business costs about R10 000; the router that is used in large company sites costs about R300 000 and the routers that are used by carriers cost upward of 1.5 million Rands. There are simply not enough companies out there, that can commit to investing in what is required to build a good telecommunications network.

I will be presenting a paper at WCITD 2008in October (not peer reviewed though) where I discuss the economics of WiMax as applicable in South Africa. I will go into more detail then (maybe), but basically, I do not see WiMax as the saviour for cheap Internet access - the numbers just don't seem to work out. Likewise, having 600 new operators will not really help - it will just make a lot of wireless Internet service providers legal.

28 August 2008

Movie: Lust, Caution

Directed by Ang Lee, this is a well told, brilliantly filmed story set during the Japanese occupation of China in WW2. A group of students decide to take down the "traitor" puppet government; in particular the chief of security, Mr Yee. To achieve this aim; a young woman (Wong Chia Chi) decides (or rather led to this decision) to trap Mr Yee and become his mistress; and thus ultimately lead him to his death.

In reality, it is very similar to most spy stories of this type - IIRC Head in the Clouds starring Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz was similar. But, what is special in this movie, is the story is largely narrated from the view of Wong Chia Chi - and thus recounts her sacrifices in a lot more detail. It is not just a tale of lust, or love.

24 August 2008

Movie: The Bank Job

The movie is supposedly based on a real story - a bunch of amateur (but not too bad) criminals get an opportunity to rob the safe deposit boxes of one of main banks in London (Baker Street Robbery). But they walk off with more than just cash and jewels - but also of incriminating pictures of ministers going to brothels (the one minister looks just like Max Mosley and also enjoys BDSM), incriminating pictures of royalty as well as incriminating documents of police bribery and corruption.

The movie is very similar in style with recent british gangster movies such as the ones made by guy Richie and Layer Cake - and is a very enjoyable story. It is less of an action movie, and while it does not feature the glitz of some recent bank heist movies such as Inside Man, it is still interesting and fun.

23 August 2008

Movie: Goya's Ghosts

Francisco Goya is a famous painter, who lived in the late 1700s, and apart from painting portraits of famous people and murals on churches (as other famous artists did) - he was also well known for his portrayal of dark fantasy - of demons, hell and disturbing scenes of war and life of the times.

The opening scene of the movie, where the leaders of the Spannish Inquisition are examining his prints, one of the leading characters makes a comment that Goya is merely potraying the world as it is out there, and it is the Church's duty to cure the world, and not punish Goya for potraying the truth.

I thought, that would have set the tone of the story - given an examination/plausible theories of the stories behind the paintings. However, the movie instead meanders through the life of a rich devout merchant, his devout daughter, the corrupt church and priests and the general unfairness of life.

While maybe the general unfairness is Goya's ghosts, but I think the movie could have been much better - and had more sturcture. And, I wish it did not take so much artistic license in historical accounts and settings.

22 August 2008

Problem Solving, or the lack thereof

A few weeks ago, a colleague commented that modern day tech support do not really know how to problem solve - they have just one solution; rebuild the machine. He had been having some problems with his laptop, and that is the solution tech support came up with. I share his frustration after this week ...

I have had intermittent problems with my cellphone since last weekend, and it died on Tuesday afternoon. I was in Cape Town, and had left my charger back in Johannesburg - so I did not think too much of it. When I recharged the phone on Wednesday night, it seemed to work fine; but on Thursday morning, the phone packed up (and started dropping signal an hour or so before that). Nashua Mobile, my service provider - had a solution as soon as I walked in - the cellphone equivalent of rebuilding machines - reinstall the phone software.

After 45 minutes, the phone seemed to work again - only for it to pack up again around 4pm. So, I did my own quick investigation (something I should have done on Wednesday night I suppose); and deduced that I had a faulty sim card. When I went back to Nashua Mobile today (Friday), and explained that reinstalling the software did not help, the guy suggested a new sim card - did not even test out the real problem!

Anyway, the new sim card seems to work fine, and I haven't had any dropped signals or frozen cellphone operating systems. But surely, a check list of remediation is the least efficient way to fix problems - finding the cause of the problem should come first!

03 August 2008

High Court Action: Altech vs ICASA and 28 Others

I spent quite a substantial part of this past week at the Pretoria High Court, monitoring the case Altech vs ICASA and 28 others. As my company is one of 28 others (although not actively participating), and the results of the court case could have significant impact on our business in the next 3 - 5 years, I was there to monitor the proceedings. Interestingly, most of the non-participants (will clarify just now) from the industry was not there at the hearings - which I found very surprising.

The high court is a remarkably formal setting - every one stood up as the judge entered and left the court room; people leaving the court room bowed before the exited, and similarly bowed before they entered. Even when responses to opposition argument were polite and quite reserved - even if saying that the opposition lawyer's argument was stupid and wrong :) Given the fast track nature of the case (and even then, it took about 3 months to be heard), the judge was very well prepared, and very engaging. It is certainly very different to the TV law series - where the judges are usually passive controllers. Instead, the judge was very engaging - asking questions, clarifying arguments made etc. which made it very easy to follow the arguments (from a listener's perspective).

The case made by Altech is quite simple, but has very wide ranging implications for the South African Market. The core case is about the right of Value Added Network Service (VANS) Licensees to self-provide network infrastructure. ICASA (the regulator) and the Minister of Communications say no, and Altech say yes. But before I elaborate, some background.

Under the old telecommunications act of 1996, there were effectively 4 major types of licenses - public service licenses (for Telkom and Sentech effectively), private service licenses (for specific institutions such as Eskom), cellular operator licenses (for MTN and Vodacom) and VANS licenses which allowed service providers to provide value added services over a communication network. VANS licensees encompassed all ISPs and other corporate network service providers such as my company, which run managed networks for corporate clients. A couple of years ago, the Electronic Communications Act came into operation, which had a different licensing structure: Electronic Communication Network License (ECNS) which allows the license holder to build network infrastructure, Electronic Communication Service License (ECS) which allows the license holder to provide a service over a communication network and Radio Frequency (RF) licenses that allow a license holder to get access to specific radio spectrum.

Sine the old act is going to lapse next year, all existing licenses are being converted to the new license regime; and during this conversion the license holders cannot get lesser rights than they already have. ICASA instituted a conversion process last year for VANS licensees and basically decided to convert a selected number of VANS licensees to ECNS license holders through a competitive process. About 26 VANS licensees took part in the competitive process, including Altech. However, soon after the hearings and submissions of documents to ICASA was complete, Altech brought an urgent court case to stop the process, and joined all the participants in their case. Altech basically argued basically two points:
  1. All VANS licensees already have the right to self provide infrastructure, and thus should get ECNS licenses.

  2. The process undertaken by ICASA is illegal and should be stopped

Off course if the first argument succeeds, then the second does not matter much. But ICASA and the Minister's arguments in respect of the first point, in my opinion was a lot stronger than Altech. They argued that Altech basically misinterpreted the old laws and ministerial directives. Furthermore, the government is interested in a phased liberalisation program for telecommunication - and the big bang approach that Altech's case would produce (over 600 potential telecommunication service providers instead of about 10) was never envisaged so soon.

But worryingly for all the participants of ICASA's process, Altech's second argument was basically uncontested. If the Judge agrees, and grants the order requested by Altech - the next step of the phased liberalisation process which envisages the introduction of a few more network operators (indications initially was that about 6 new licenses would have been granted) will have to be restarted. This would set back the process by at least 18 months, and that is bad news for telecommunication in South Africa.

29 July 2008

Movie: The Dark Knight

Unlike most superheroes - Batman, under his disguise, is still a man - a wealthy man, but still human. He relies on his physical ability for his actions, and his money for his gadgets. Except maybe The Phantom, no superhero, is at his core just another human.

I went to watch it on IMAX - an experience in itself; especially the scenes with city scapes. It took some effort however - I went last night also, but the cancelled the late night showing, but neglected to tell anyone ...

I thought Batman Begins was the best superhero movie - this is far superior. And it is not only because of Heath Ledger. First and foremost, the story was good - well paced, and cruel; just as the concept of the Joker was meant to be. Without spoiling the storyline - when was the last time a major character in a superhero movie was killed by the villain? How about, when was the last time more than 2 major characters were killed directly or indrectly by the villain?

But the masterpiece in the movie is the Joker. The Joker proves the superhero movies do not need meglomaniacs or super-powered villains - all it needs is a psychopath. Heath Ledger's Joker is in the same realm as Hanibal Lecter - a psycopath killer who is in it for the game; and not the result. And Heath Ledger is awesome - utterly believable; so completely engrossing, that you cannot really picture him as anything else. And that is the hallmark of great acting IMO.

In all probability there will be another Batman movie - but what villain could possibly rival the Joker? And yes, IMO Heath Ledger should get the Oscar.

25 July 2008

One more paper

A couple of months ago, I submitted a paper to the ACM DRM workshop on the work I did while I was doing my internship at Fraunhofer. And it got accepted ... quite nice actually as it was a very complex paper on privacy and DRM. Also, my first paper that does not feature Andrew (my PhD supervisor) as an author.

Very impressed with myself :)

23 July 2008

Movie: Wall-E

At its core, it is a love story - between robots. Except, it is expressed more clearly than many science fiction writers have ever managed in their entire working life. This has been a common theme in many movies/stories - Asimov's Bi-centennial Man is a quick example - where robots finally get to the AI stage - where they become self aware, and usually one of the attributes given to self aware machines, is the capability to love.

But Wall-E is more than just a love story - it is also a story about pollution. Wall-E is a robot that is cleaning up the mess that earth has become. It is a story, ironically given the Disney backing, about commercialism - where humans are consumed totally by consumerism and not caring about their surroundings. It is about laziness - robots do almost everything, to the extent that humans have all become obese slobs.

Wall-E works as a movie, because it is primarily a great story. It also works because it is not a typical cartoon where all the inanimate objects talk - but the story is told, almost in mime. It is a throwback to the silent era where the acting was key. And it works beautifully.

19 July 2008

Mabula Private Game Lodge

We are coming close to the final portion of our current project at work - so the team management decided that people needed to get away from the work environment (of a million distractions) and uprooted about 40 people to a private game lodge about 200 Km away from Midrand.

Even though I have spent most of my life in Africa, I have never stayed overnight in a game lodge (or similar). It was not really what I was expecting - I have stayed overnight in a jungle in Peru - and this experience was a lot quieter. And although, we saw birds and a warthog in the lodge area itself, it was rather devoid of animals.

The reserve is quite big (20 000 hectares) and we did go on a game drive in the evening of the second day. Unfortunately no lions or leopards were spotted, but we did see 2 of the big 5 (buffaloes and rhinos) as well as other animals such as giraffes, zebras and numerous types of antelopes.

Beautiful Cape Town

On my previous visits to Cape Town this year, it had been raining. For the first time, last Sunday, it was a clear day - and it was a glorious winter day at that! I was in Cape Town for an early morning meeting on Monday, so decided to enjoy Cape Town and see a few friends etc.

My only aim was to go down to Hout Bay before meeting up with a few friends at Kennedy's in Long Street. On the way to Hout Bay, I decided to stop at Constantia Nek and take a short hike. I have really become unfit - even this short hike was a struggle - but the view of the snow capped mountains was well worth it.

Grilled Snoek and Chips at the Hout Bay harbour - more or less they only thing I eat here, but damn tasty, and damn good. Prices have shot up though - no more 20 bucks for fish and chips.

And there seems to be a new sport in town - paddling on a surf board ...

Oh, and it seems that car guards are venturing into other business these days. One of them offered me some weed (good stuff from Swaziland apparently) and another offered me cocaine too. No wonder Cape Town has a reputation ...

12 July 2008

Movie: Wanted

There is only one real reason to watch this movie - the action sequences are one of the best ever. Apart from that, the story writing and dialogue was poor, the acting was ordinary and in general, the movie was rather stupid. But the action sequences - wow. That is the only reason to watch this movie - in fact, it could have been better without any dialogue whatsoever.

11 July 2008

Movie: Hancock

Superheroes usually fall into two categories:
a) Nice guys, who get poers by some means, and then go out to save the neighbourhood, if not the world. And the plot often includes a number of different temptations and situations where the superhero is tempted by the dark side. Or,
b) Guys with evil intentions who get superpowers, who battle the nice guys.

Hancock is different - it is a superhero, who is neither a good guy or a guy with evil intentions - just a guy with a bad attitude (or as the kid in the opening scene calls him, an arsehole). And while the story plot is predictable in trying to change Hancock into a nice guy, the plot twist in the middle of the movie is impressive; and in some ways the movie does pose the essential question - shouldn't gifted people be allowed to pursue normalcy? The acting by Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman is nothing special; but the movie is more than anything, about entertainment. And for once, the superheroes do not fight evil bad guys as part of the central theme. That alone, makes this special.

28 June 2008

Movie: Kung Fu Panda

Big budget animation movies are often written off as movies for kids. What I really appreciate about them is their ability to tell simple stories, well. They prove that it is possible to tell a story without resorting to blood, guns and sex. They are, above all else, fun.

Kung Fu Panda, is a story of a fat, lazy panda selected to be the special one, to fight the evil, brilliant ex-student. It is in essense a story about self belief - not about transforming a fat, lazy panda to a slim, active one - but rather teaching him the skills and the providing the self belief such that he can use his own (albeit limited) powers for his own advantage. The CGI is superbg, as is the voice acting and script - and is definitely a well told, funny story.

27 June 2008

Perez CD Launch

The last time I saw Perez live was almost 5 years ago, on one of their last gigs, on their farewell tour, in Cape Town. They were a band that burst on the scene, almost out of nowhere, and very quickly became one of the best bands in South Africa; and all too suddenly, they split. Since the beginning of this year, they have reformed (still original line-up) and are touring once again - and last night; they launched their new album.

Their music has certainly changed - previously, they were very much a rock band; not a heavy rock and roll band. They have a slightly different sound now - more old school rock and roll, and a lot more interesting. Their music has certainly evolved - for the better. And they have kept two of the traits that really impressed me the first time around - great song writing and being good musicians.

Their ad on Powerzone stated:

It is their "Sgt Peppers", devoid of any pigeonholing and genre, an album not trying to be anything other than a truly great work of art.

Whether it becomes as great as "Sgt Peppers" (in terms of critical acclaim and sales) we will have to wait and see - but it is certainly an incredible album; with a great mix of songs. Their performance was brilliant, and they even squeezed in a few of their old greats. For R100 entry fee, you got the copy of the CD and a 90 minute set. Definitely great value for money too!

21 June 2008

Movie: Son of Man

In "A Prayer for Owen Meany" Irving recounts the story of Owen Meany, a boy whose "father" claims is born of a virgin mother - and basically concludes that we would reject the family as lunatics. Son of Man takes a slightly different line - it tells the story of Jesus, if it were to take place in modern Africa - in the country of Judea, ruled by the dictator Herod, and later conquered by an occupying force (who claim to want to enforce democratic rule), and off course the local anti-herod forces, who later cosy up to the occupying forces. In this world, Jesus is born, grows up, and later leads a non-violent passive resistance movement against the occupying forces.

If it were not for the fact that Jesus performs a fwe miracles (healing a sick child, raising a man from the dead and an excorcism) - the story would have been a political drama - and in my opinion, far better. In fact, on the whole, the story is about African strife and the need to stop it - because it is fueled by selfish greed at the top of the chain who whip up their supporters to do their bidding.

Filmed quite a bit in the Cape Town townships, it is amazingly stylish and brilliantly told and filmed - with song and dance. It is the best South African movie I have seen since Tsotsi, and is definitely worth watching. A great pity, that there were only two people (including myself) watching it ...

19 June 2008

Movie: The Incredible Hulk

Most superhero movies feature a social outcast (usually a brilliant nerd/geek type person) who gets incredible superhuman powers and then step out to save the world, especially their love interest. The Hulk is somewhat different - yes, a scientist ends up getting superhuman powers, but
a) does not actually want the power
b) does not really save good guys from the bad guys
c) loses his intellectual capacity to the point that he can't actually speak

Off course every movie has a bad guy, but it is not really clear who we should treat as the bad guy - the career focussed general who wants his "property" back or the eventual bad guy - the soldier who wants to get the power so that he can be an even better soldier. The fact is, the bad guy is not really the focus of the movie - but rather the pain of being a superhero, and trying to accept the cards that have been dealt. It is a much darker movie, and although many cliches remain (the lover that can't really be with the hero, the big fight scene) it is different.

This movie is certainly not the best superhero movie made (that honour still rests with Batman Begins); but it is a good superhero movie - particularly because it is different. So different that there is no scene after the credits. :(

17 June 2008

Seether Home Coming Tour

It has been a long time since I have watched Seether live - more than 2 years in fact (first Coke Fest). So I was eager to see them live in their current home coming tour - but seems not eager enough to get a standing (i.e. golden circle ticket). This was the first time I have been to a rock concert sitting down - and while the view was damn good (and definitely less tiring), it was certainly not as exciting. That said, the venue (Standard Bank Arena) was quite well organised, and the event flowed very smoothly.

Support Act: My Epic

It was a horrible act - simply because the mixing at the sound deck was so horrible. You could not hear the singer, so it is very difficult to judge their music. On the show front, they had a very energetic bass guitarist; but there was nothing special.

Support Act: 12th Avenue

12th Avenue proved that the sound guys knew how to mix - and of the three support acts, they were certainly my favourite. I have seen them before, and they have certainly improved since then. The music was good (although not exactly in the same genre as Seether), and they had a great show. The singer is also very good - maybe another Parlatones/Prime Circle in the making?

Support Act: Stealing Love Jones

I saw this band at last year's coke fest, and I commented that I would love to see a full gig from them. Well it has been a year, and although they have some cool songs, they did not seem too special. In fact, apart from being fronted by a woman, they did not strike me as anything different. Their music was good though, but again not really of the same genre as Seether. In fact, it was too poppy ...


Seether proved once again why they are an international band - they were a class above the rest of the support acts. When I saw them last, I commented that Seether did not seem to have much in the way of a "show" - it was very laid back, stand up and sing delivery. No longer! The band is a lot more energetic, a lot more interaction with the crowd - all in all, a much better show.

They played the whole spectrum - songs from the Saron Gas days (such as 69 Tea, Gasoline), Karma and Effect and the latest album. If I had a criticism, it is that they did not play too many songs from the new album - but it was a 90 minute set, so not much to complain really.

Also very commendable was how the line-up was arranged - how the old songs and the new songs were mixed together. It was a truly rocking show.

Hiking in the Magaliesberg

I have driven past the Magaliesberg a number of times now (on my way to Gabarone) - and it has not struck me as a particularly beautiful place - after all, it is mostly yellow. On Sunday, I hiked up the mountain with some "locals" and I must confess - I was completey wrong. The Magaliesberg, one of the oldest mountains in the world, is also quite beautiful.

Off course it also has to do with where you go hiking in the Magaliesberg - it is a sizable mountain range; and the location (near Rustenberg) had a surprising amount of greenery and water - and the small water falls and rock pools were beautiful! We did not go to the highest point on Sunday, and apart from the path to the river bed, we did not follow any hiking trails (there were none) - so there is a lot of scope for exploring and hiking. I think I will return many times ...