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).

30 December 2010

Movie: El secreto de sus ojos

El secreto de sus ojos (The secret in their eyes) is an Argentine movie which won best foreign movie at the 2010 Oscars. It is a fairly complex movie with a number of interweaving threads; centered around a retired legal counselor (Benjamin) attempting to write a book on a brutal rape and murder of a young woman (Liliana).

So in part this is a murder mystery, as we follow Benjamin and his sidekick Pablo in trying to solve the crime. In part it is a love story - Benjamin's infatuation with the judge he works for; and the love of Ricardo for his now dead wife (Liliana). It is a story of corruption in the justice system, as we find out how the perpetrator is released and then hired as an official hitman. But it is the ending, when all the various strands of the story are brought together; it becomes a story about crime and punishment; it is not what you expect; and I don't think any Hollywood movie could have dared to put that ending in - and you are left wondering - what does punishment entail?

It is a brilliant story, supported by exceptional acting, editing, costumes, scenery and make-up. The story span approximately 25 years, and the characters age with appropriate changes to scenery and props. It is a well made movie, and definitely worth watching.

29 December 2010

Body Fluids Division

Driving back from Pretoria this morning, I drove past a police vehicle which had the words "Body Fluids" written on it (in the area where the divisioin is usually stated). It's a strange name for a division, although it does make sense. Online, the only reference I could find is a SAPS training course on Body Fluids.

Just wondering if there is better terminology out there ...

28 December 2010

Closed for Christmas

Given the rampant consumerism around Christmas, and South Africa's general tradition of making public holidays into retail therapy sessions, the number of establishments that close down during Christmas is very surprising.

As I noted last year, while travelling down the northern towns of South Africa, all types of commercial establishments - from guest houses to restaurants to shops close down; and this is also the case in Johannesburg itself. Apart from petrol stations (and the associated shops), I do not recall seeing any shop that was open during Christmas (although I did not check every mall). What was equally surprising, is the number of establishments that were closed on boxing day ...

27 December 2010

Biker Clans

At a luncheon with M's neighbours yesterday, I met two old bikers - E and W. Both are fanatical about superbikes, and both have owned a number of such bikes in their lives. Apart from stories about speed traps (and the related fines off course), the standout conversation was on Harley Davidsons, or as E called them, "Hardly bikes".

It seems that there are at least three types of biker clans - the super bikers, the harley riders and the off road riders. W belongs to two camps - the super bikers and the off road riders; but he can't stand the Harley Davidson either. Both E and W tried to define why Harleys make no sense - they are not fast, they vibrate a lot (and are therefore not comfortable) and they are not much fun. According to E & W, the only reason that Harley has such big fan clubs, is that they have no one else to mix with ...

Doubtless, there was a lot of banter about Harleys with E & W, and E often gave long passionate defence of the super bikes and ran down the Harleys as often as possible. As a non-biker, it is the first time I have really noticed the sub clans within the biker culture. An ex colleague of mine is a passionate member of the BMW bikers group, and another colleague rides a Harley - but as E & W demonstrated yesterday; I have never really seen the various sub cultures interact (besides the toy run etc).

Just interesting ...

20 December 2010

Songs of Migration

I missed Songs of Migration in its original run earlier in the year, but managed to get to the second last performance for the year at the Market Theatre on Saturday night. The show itself is a bit difficult to categorise - it is not a theatre performance, and although it is billed as a musical; there is no overarching story or dramatic performance. It is really a collection of musical pieces, collated with a single theme (migration) - but at the same time is devoid of the audience interaction and banter that goes with musical performances.

Songs of Migration feature a huge number of songs (about 40 IIRC), mostly written or adapted by Hugh Masekela. The show is mostly focused on black South Africa - from the arrival of colonialism, through apartheid to the modern era; although there is one song on Jewish migration, a short snippet in Afrikaans and a few African American songs focused on cotton picking.

The range of languages is amazing - almost every South African language and then some more! And this leads to my only real gripe about the show - there should really be a longer translation of all the songs, because, due to the variety of languages, there is always someone in the crowd who is not going to understand the song - even though the overall meaning is pretty clear.

In terms of the performances themselves - for me Sibongile Khumalo and Hugh Masekela stole the show. Sibongile Khumalo has a wonderful stage presence, and takes an almost matriarchal command of the performance; gluing all the various performances into some sort of an overarching tale of migration. And Hugh Masekela, for a 70 year old, he outdanced, outsang all his younger colleagues and then some more. He is just an absolutely brilliant performer. The other members of the cast also bring various talents to the fore; especially in the choral pieces.

The show is very slick and highly entertaining. I think it is back sometime early next year - so if you haven't seen it; go see it.

16 December 2010

Gautrain Maths

The Gautrain is a really awesome way to get to the airport. And parking at Sandton and then taking the train takes away the lottery of the roads, especially in the current mix of rain and construction.

But the parking rates are way too high; and in some respects just doesn't make sense. For the airport, the first 24 hours costs R29, the second 24 hours cost an additional R29.50 and then for the third day onwards costs R97.50 a day. While the parking charge is less than the parkade costs at OR Tambo (R130 a day), it becomes much higher when the train ticket is taken into account. Only for the 2 day trip, is the Gautrain a cheaper option than driving to OR Tambo and parking at the parkade.

With the bus routes being rather limited (which I suspect is one of the reasons they are often empty) - the prospect of just jumping on to the Gautrain system is still a long way off. And until then, the economics of using the train if you don't live in and around Sandton, for anyhting more than a 2 day trip is going to be hard to justify.

06 December 2010

AVA Expo in Sandton

Teh AVA Expo in Sandton City was billed as the largest expo for audio-video appliances in South Africa. While it was true, that a wide range of brands were represented - overall, it was a rather dull affair in my opinion. I have been building a specification for a full blown entertainment system in my head, and thus my interest in the expo - although I have learnt more through visiting individual shops than at the expo itself.

For starters, while there were live demos; most stands did not bother with demonstrations of various components and systems. Thus, for many, it was more of a paper exercise of what their systems can do instead of really showcasing what the systems can do. I do understand the constraints placed by the environment, but then the organisers and exhibitors should have thought better ways to do demonstrations.

Secondly, if the purpose was not to showcase, then the retail aspect was not that great either. Almost every system on the floor (from a AV perspective at least), had the same price as the that in the retail stores. The manufacturer reps, although fairly knowledgable on the products, did not have suffcient knowledge of all the retailers that stock their products (or were not allowed to divulge this information due to conflicts with exhibitors).

For me, the worst part of the show however was the lack of knowledge, coupled with some really bad service from some of the exhibitors. At the SONY stand (which incidentally had won the stand of the year award), the guys manning the stands had neither the product specifications, nor the pricing of the various TVs on show. Likewise, at the Mede8tor stand (a product, I am quite keen to look at) the attendant started to have a chat with a friend that walked by, leaving myself and another prospective customer alone - even though he was actually mid sentence describing the product!

21 November 2010

Movie: RED

Although the cast was promising, I wasn't expecting much from this movie - just a standard shoot-em-up action movie. Instead, it was possibly one of the best written and well acted action movie I have seen.

The plot is fairly simple - Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired (and extremely dangerous, hence RED) black ops CIA agent manages to thwart an assassination attempt; and then assembles a team to get to the bottom of who is trying to kill him (and why). His elite team is played by acting royalty - Helen Miren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman - all retired, all itching to "kill people again".

It is a fast paced story, very well acted and very enjoyable. Certainly worth watching, especially for entertainment.

18 November 2010

ITWeb's Misleading Reporting on Mobile Data Charges

ITWeb's comparison on mobile data charges is so misleading, I wonder how it even got through editorial review. And to top it off, the calculations are also wrong!



Lets start with the calculation error - Cell C's 2 GB rate is R149 per month, which translates to R0.07 per MB and not R0.08. It seems the journalist divided by R1000 and not 1024! The price per MB for 5GB bundle is actually 5.6c so 6c is forgivable, but the same mistake was made. I didn't make sure of the other calculations, but I assume they are equally wrong (and when you calculate it back, it makes sense too).

But the misleading part of the article is to focus only on out of bundle rates. Sure Cell C and 8ta have higher out of bundle rates, but the key question with out of bundle rates, is what was the total cost. Thus, it only makes sense to compare out of bundle charges if the total bundle cost is considered.



And then, if you consider the effective per Mb price, the real value will be shown, with Cell C and 8-ta coming out ahead.

Lastly, Cell C's pricing includes the modem which, as far as I know is not included in the other offers (I can confirm Vodacom, since I have used it). Once you take account of that, the pricing is even more competitive from Cell C!

I wonder who paid the journalist to write such crap ...

16 November 2010

The Beatles ...

With Apple finally releasing The Beatles catalogue on iTunes, they have also released the first US concert free for streaming. What stands out from the concert, is it seems that almost the entire audience was screaming women. Which does not make it roo different to Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers etc ... I doubt however that any of the modern day equivalents will last as long as The Beatles.

14 November 2010

Music: To Hire a Nurse, Doe and Zaire

The Bo was packed last night, and for good reason. Unfortunately, I arrived after the first band, To Hire a Nurse, had already started (they started on time it seems); and of the three bands, it was certainly the most interesting! Apart from the usual guitars, bass and drums, the band also features an electric violin which certainly gives the band a very different sound. Of what I did see, the violin fitted in perfectly; and the sound is somewhat similar to what Apocalyptica manages with its cellos. A very cool effect, and I now really want to see a full show of theirs!

The second band, Doe, was nice but not very interesting. The song writing was very good, but while the lead singer does sing well, I don't think her voice was always suitable. The mixing may also be to blame.

Zaire, is an indie-rock/brit rock type band with great songs, with great beats. A four piece band, they really threw a good party. I can't seem to find much about them online, besides this, and their Facebook page, but they seem to have quite a big following. They had the whole club dancing, and their music is very easy to get into. Another Parlatones in the making?

13 November 2010

The 6 Month iPad review

It has been just over 6 months since I got my iPad. When I bought it, I did not really have too many ideas on what I would use it for. 6 months later it has become an essential tool, which although not irreplaceable, is certainly useful. And surprisingly, I use it most often at work. And over the last few months a number of colleagues phase joined me with their own iPads and there seems to be a corporate move to approve it for all.

The biggest use in a work setting, is taking notes in meetings, and the calendar and email functionality. The email application on the iPad is stunning, and integrates very well with Microsoft Exchange. The setup is quick, and in fact it can be argued that it is faster to set it up on the pad than it is on Windows! Likewise, the calendar function also integrates well and easy to use. One gripe, is that it does not seem to work well with proxies, or specifically proxies that have domain based authentication. It's not that much of an issue, but it does limit the functionality of certain applications and uses in the work environment.

Other than that, it is great for reading PDF documents, and the great battery life means that it is great on long flights. I have flown Boston to Berlin, via Frankfurt on a single charge, and spent most of the flight watching Ted videos or reading ebooks. I have a number of mini games, which are also entertaining, although some of them do seem to drain the battery life very quickly.

Surprisingly, I have found browsing on the iPad to be fairly annoying. This probably has to do with the way browse the web, and the iPad still lacking multitasking functionality. I per to open a number of windows and tabs and then switch between them,usually reading one tab while waiting for another to load. On the iPad, pages seem to reload every time I switch tabs, so it becomes quite annoying. The lack of flash is usually not an issue, except for sites like Ster-Kinekor and Computicket.

The iPad's keyboard is not awesome for very long periods, but it is usable and surprisingly accurate, even with moderately good typing speeds. This post was written on the iPad, but this is probably the longest single typing piece I have done.

10 November 2010

Movie: Half a Confession

The Japanese Film Festival is one of the older film festivals on the Sterkinekor circuit; and this year it was showing in Pretoria last weekend, Cape Town this weekend and Johannesburg the following weekend. The selection of movies is small (5 movies) across 2 days; and the Pretoria/Jo'burg screening opportunity allows the possibility of seeing a few without spending the whole weekend at the cinema.

Half a Confession, revolves around the story of a decorated and well respected detective, who hands himself in after killing his wife. However, this is really euthanasia (or mercy killing) as opposed to murder - so it apparently is a fairly easy case; except that the detective does not wish to reveal what he did for 2 days between killing his wife and handing himself over; and is seemingly trying to protect someone.

Ultimately, while the storyline play itself out; the reason why the detective refuses to reveal his secret (or rather admit to it) becomes confusing - unless there is a cultral reference that just does not translate. It is a great drama - but was the drama actually meaningful and even necessary is somewhat lost in translation.

The movies focus on euthanasia, organ donation, trauma etc. is also a powerful angle; and is certainly a stand out point. However, even this is due to (comparative) cultural acceptance of mercy killing and suicide - I doubt a movie made in the US would eve dare to take on the subject in a similar fashion.

The movie is well acted, and if you are in CT or Jo'burg - it is worth watching.

07 November 2010

The Girl in the Yellow Dress

It has been a long time since I went to a proper theatre production, although this fact is more due to laziness than a lack of opportunity. In fact, I think this is the first proper theatre production I have been to since I left Cape Town! So, I was looking for something different to do, and the Market Theatre's current production looked very interesting.

The play has a rich history of collaboration and past success (according to the blurbs posted on the Market Theatre's site at least) - debuted in the Grahamstown Festival, sold out shows in the Edinburgh Festival, it is certainly loud in its self promotion. This nicely ties into the overall theme of the story itself, which claims that the play was "originally inspired by Ovid's story Echo and Narcissus and psychoanalytic writings on narcissism".

It is a two person play, set in Paris, featuring Celia (and English, English teacher with some sort of a dark secret) and Pierre (a Congolese-French student, with an equally mysterious past). The humour is often driven by the complexities of the English language (I don't recall my English teachers dwelling on the complexities of past passive participles), while the drama is driven by the character's respective past histories and the complex stories they weave.

It is a very slick production, and highly enjoyable. The entire play takes place in Celia's living room, and the intimate confines of the Market Theatre's Laager Theatre, makes it a perfect venue for this production.

Market Theatre Blurb:

The Girl in the Yellow Dress premiered at the National Grahamstown Arts Festival followed by sold-out seasons at both the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town and the Traverse Theatre for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival. It then transferred to Live Theatre in Newcastle, the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and the Stockholms Stadsteater before coming home to the Market Theatre. Craig Higginson's second original play, The Girl in the Yellow Dress, is an exciting collaboration between the Market Theatre and two of the UK's most prestigious theatres. ..more info
Originally inspired by Ovid's story Echo and Narcissus and psychoanalytic writings on narcissism, The Girl in the Yellow Dress is set in contemporary Paris and deals with the exchanges between Celia, a beautiful English teacher in her late twenties, and Pierre, her younger French-Congolese pupil.
Brimming with humour, rage and longing, this celebrated new South African play provides a minute exploration of an increasingly hazardous romantic entanglement and an insight into some of the tensions between the 'first' and 'third' worlds. Part psychological thriller and part a State of the Nation analysis, it tackles issues such as language, power, identity, sex, past trauma, class, exile and refugees - tensions that run through South African society and beyond.
Malcolm Purkey, Artistic Director of the Market Theatre and best known for his international hit Sophiatown, directs leading UK actress Marianne Oldham (nominated for the prestigious Stage Award for this production) in the role of Celia, and emerging South African talent Nat Ramabulana as Pierre.
Reviews from the Edinburgh Festival
"Higginson . is clearly gifted. He not only filters pressing concerns about race, prejudice and power through a highly charged two-hander, but he wraps it all up in a witty discourse about language itself." - Daily Telegraph
"..it is unusual and fascinating to see a play investigate the extent to which words can shape our thoughts and feelings as much as vice versa." - Financial Times
"exposes some painfully ugly truths about race and class, wealth and victimhood . written and directed with great skill." - Scotsman (Pick of the Festival)
"Higginson's slick, precise dialogue builds the tension . There is, quite plainly, a formidable intellect at play.This piece challenges our received assumptions about ideology, language and sexuality to strong effect and comes recommended to thoughtful audiences." - The List
"a spell-binding two-hander.You'd be hard pressed to find a sexier scene this festival than the shared naked foot stroking that turns nasty, then violent. Marianne Oldham is the new Maggie Smith." - What's On Stage
"..this gripping two-hander is a highlight of the Traverse programme." - Evening Standard

04 November 2010

Top of Africa

I have been to Carlton Centre a number of times (mostly related to work), and the boardrooms and offices on floor 46 have stunning views of Johannesburg. Yesterday afternoon, a colleague and I decided to stay a bit longer while the traffic died down, and went over to the 50th floor. It is named "Top of Africa" since it is the tallest building in Africa, and the views were absolutely stunning - especially as it was a pretty clear day.

While the view is stunning, I would think that a little more effort would be made to spruce it up more - and make it more visitor friendly. That said, there is a lot of floor space up there, and it is a lot more than other panoramas I have been to, making it easy to move around etc. Some effort is also needed to get some more recent information, and mark up land marks especially "new" places such as Soccer City.

27 October 2010

More Interesting Phishing Emails

After the phishing email supposedly from Standard Bank, two weeks back, I got another two this morning, supposedly from FNB. This email was even more sophisticated - the from address made sense (at first glance): info@fnb.co.za, the dates were reasonable and the language; as well as the disclaimers etc. were all spot on. In fact, Google didn't even pick it up as a phishing email! And like the Standard Bank email, this email also asks the user to download a real life, proper anti-phishing/security product.



So why is it a phishing email? Firstly, the link that will supposedly allow you to download this file has nothing to do with FNB. Doing some digging, it seems that the site (seems like a personal site) has been compromised and is probably going to redirect the user to the malware or compromised application.

Secondly, as the headers of the email clearly show, the email from address has been spoofed, and it has nothing to do with FNB. The reputation check, as per below suggests that this is a new spam host, and one of the reasons it did not get picked up by the anti-spam engine.

Received: by 10.216.55.139 with SMTP id k11cs1749wec;
Tue, 26 Oct 2010 22:31:40 -0700 (PDT)
Received: by 10.213.13.80 with SMTP id b16mr216811eba.89.1288157499734;
Tue, 26 Oct 2010 22:31:39 -0700 (PDT)
Return-Path:
Received: from linux14.unoeuro.com ([94.231.101.70])
by mx.google.com with ESMTP id w3si18982624eeh.36.2010.10.26.22.31.39;
Tue, 26 Oct 2010 22:31:39 -0700 (PDT)
Received-SPF: neutral (google.com: 94.231.101.70 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of minami.dk@linux14.unoeuro.com) client-ip=94.231.101.70;
Authentication-Results: mx.google.com; spf=neutral (google.com: 94.231.101.70 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of minami.dk@linux14.unoeuro.com) smtp.mail=minami.dk@linux14.unoeuro.com
Received: from linux14.unoeuro.com (localhost [127.0.0.1])
by linux14.unoeuro.com (8.13.8/8.13.8) with ESMTP id o9R5VdDS015687
for ; Wed, 27 Oct 2010 07:31:39 +0200
Received: (from minami.dk@localhost)
by linux14.unoeuro.com (8.13.8/8.13.8/Submit) id o9R5VdFS015686;
Wed, 27 Oct 2010 07:31:39 +0200
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2010 07:31:39 +0200
Message-Id: <201010270531.o9R5VdFS015686@linux14.unoeuro.com>


The new types of phishing are impressive in how well they masquerade as legitimate emails, and most Internet users will be fooled. If this persists, the next question really is - what should the banks do next? Go back to post?

22 October 2010

Telkom: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Ever since I moved to my new place (almost 2 months ago now), I have been trying to get ADSL to be installed. In fact, one of the key criteria when looking for a new place was - does this place have a Telkom line? I first logged a request with Telkom, online, a week before moving in - and that order was lost. The help desk did take my details down - but that order was also lost. I tried the Internet route again - I got a callback to confirm all the details; and yet the order was lost! So I tried again - at the help desk; and this time it went through! It truly says a lot about a company when it looses track of customer orders!

All said, the actual help desk people are very friendly (most of the times) and wanting to help - and my order was finally processed and the line was installed two days back. And yet again a debacle - I was called on Tuesday, and informed of the installation. When I enquired on the time; I was told to call the help desk on Wednesday morning to find out. When I asked if I could choose another day - I was told it would have to be handled as a new order!

So on Wednesday morning, I called the help desk and I was told they have been specifically told not schedule installations, and they cannot help me. They suggested "I wait around" waiting for the installer; and was surprised when I told them I don't have anyone at home who would wait for them. Of all the service problems I encountered with Telkom, this has to rank as the worst.

During the morning, the installer called me, and we made arrangement for the installer. And this is again, where Telkom really did claw back - the guy was professional, and very motivated to getting things done correctly. When the line was first activated, he realised that there was interference, which he proceeded to fix. After that, he still could not get the ADSL router to stabilise, and after some investigation, he established some of the causes (some bad wiring) and a fault on the DSLAM setting at the Telkom exchange. He promised to sort it out, before he signed off the job - and when I came back home that afternoon - it was fully sorted.

So, John (who did not give his surname) - thank you very much - I just wish your colleagues were as efficient and motivated!

19 October 2010

Thoughts on 8.ta

Telkom's recently launched mobile phone service (and South Africa's 4th) - 8.ta, has not exactly created the market buzz one might expect. In some respects, their offering does have some real value - specifically in the call charges; but my personal opinion is that Telkom has missed the boat (or perhaps are still waiting to really launch their boat). And that is, Telkom is the only South African telecommunications provider that can provide real fixed-mobile convergence services; something that could really make them different to other telcos in the market.

South Africa's lack of a viable competitor to Telkom can be blamed on many things; including foot dragging by the regulators and/or the Department of Communications (which incidentally has a conflict of interest, being the majority shareholder in Telkom). But since last year, there are over 600 licensed operations in South Africa - with more than 10 operators providing various levels of fibre based services to business in South Africa. Yet, none of them - including the established mobile operators in Vodacom and MTN as well as Neotel have really taken the leap into providing large scale residential and SME fixed line services. Furthermore, considering the large number of security estates and business parks in South Africa; this is strange given the relative high density in potential subscribers for fixed line services.

And enter Telkom in the mobile market. The one trick that Telkom can really play is a fully converged telecommunication offering. Take data service - Telkom can potentially merge their capped ADSL, 3G roaming and WiFi hotspot offering to one seamless data service offering; that provides a single data offering regardless of what medium is used. Yes, Vodacom has something similar - but Telkom would be the only service provider that can provide the seamless service since they also own effectively all the access paths. Likewise, a fully converged voice service could allow seamless transition between mobile and fixed telephony; something similar to what corporate telephony offerings from unified communications vendors such as Cisco. And the one interesting impact of such a service could potentially be no difference in call charges on "on-net" calls; as long as the calls are to Telkom.

Convergence strategies would also require Telkom to relook at its current fixed line offerings - something it has so far shown no interest in really pursuing. Furthermore, by setting up 8.ta as a separate service with minimal Telkom branding; it is questionable how much converged services it is really considering offering.

18 October 2010

Music: Hell and High Water, My/Epic/Vice and The City is the Desert (In Disguise)

The Bohemian (The Bo) is apparently the third oldest (still operational) pub in Jo'burg. It's surprising, since it is only 27 years old, and not longer in a country that ranks very high up in alcohol consumption. I have seen a number of gigs advertised at The Bo, but Saturday night was my first time there. The neighborhood is on the dark and dingy side; but it is a welcoming venue; and has a fairly laid back atmosphere. There was not much of a crowd though.

Hell and High Water is a young, new 4 piece band; which played mostly covers from various rock bands - local and international. The band members are fairly accomplished musicians with a solid vocalist; so it was a good first band. They had one or two original songs - which were not very memorable - but not horrible either :)

Last time I saw My/Epic/Vice, was at Seether's concert two years back - and they were horrible. This time around, their music was actually quite good, and looking at their website, it seems that they played most of the songs out of their album. The band was suffering from the lack of drummer (broken wrist) though they got round this quite well by playing back the drum tracks through an iPod. They were also missing a guitarist - but the reason was not very clear. They delayed the start of their gig, and the missing guitarist ended up as the sound man - not sure of the rationalles there.

The last band, The City is the Desert (In Disguise), inevitably raises the question - what is the most well known band with more than 5 words in their name. The longest I could come up with on Saturday night was 4 - The Jimi Hendrix Experience; while Bob Marley and The Wailers would give 5 words - but 7? So while their name is a memory tester, their music and performance definitely makes it worthwhile to remember their name. The music genre is difficult to describe - part Jazzy, part Rock, part pop and a combination of a whole lot more - it was really just great music, good song writing and a great performance. I was pleasantly surprised, and this is certainly a band worth watching out for.

14 October 2010

Brilliant phishing email

Phishing emails are dangerous - they are effectively misleading, fraudulent emails that aim to lure people to giving away passwords or other important data; which can then be used to defraud the associated account.

Most phishing emails are actually easy to spot - they either take advantage of the person's gullibility (419 scams that claim you can help some obscure price/businessman/politician to transfer money) to the more direct; your banking account has expired; please enter your password in this site. Modern phishing sites are even more advanced and often replicate, very closely the target website's look and feel.



This morning, I got a phishing email which was frankly amazing, not only how it is constructed; but how well it is disguised with an air of legitimacy. An email, asking you to download software, to protect you from phishing is simply brilliant!

For me it was easy to spot this as a phishing email; and I was impressed that Gmail also picked it up. The from address is suspect (Standard Bank after all is a South African company, not polish), the reported from address is not Standard bank's website; and the link in the email is not to a Standard Bank website. And lastly, I am not a Standard bank customer. But I suspect, others may fall for it - and thus this post is both a warning and at the same time an admiration for a very well directed phishing scam.

12 October 2010

SA 'needs more PhD graduates'

I found this article on IOL this morning, and it is also featured on other news sites. The basic synopsis - to grow the economy South Africa needs more PhDs. The data seems to stem from the graduating class of 2007 - and since I belong to that club; I ought to comment :) I do however note that I do not fit the overall trend - I am not White; and I got my PhD before my 25th birthday and not in my 30s.

The 'need more PhD graduates' needs to be contextualised; and I feel that none of the news reports trully delve into were the need stems from. But since the overall thesis is, we need PhD graduates to grow the economy, it can be assumed that PhD graduates are required by:

  1. Industry, to enable it to develop competetive products and services

  2. Academia, to enable a higher quality of education and research; feeding industry with higher quality university graduates, and

  3. To create new industries and services, through start-ups etc



In my graduating class of 2007, there were 3 PhD graduates (in December at least, and for Computer Science only). Of us 3 - I am the only one who remained in South Africa; and all of us work in industry. Most South African companies in South Africa do not really value PhD graduates - it is clearly seen in the recruitment drives and for that matter in industry itself. This is also seen by the relative lack of R&D institutes in South Africa, that are fronted by industry. In fact, other than Sasol, I do not really know of any other South African company that has a big R&D setup in South Africa. Without viable R&D labs, are South African companies really interested in employing PhD graduates for their skills? And without a need for PhD graduates in industry, the pool of students wanting to do a PhD drops due to a lack viable job opportunities.

I agree that deploying PhD graduates within South African universities would have a significant impact on a number of factors - and not just acamedics. However, for this to successfully work out, South African universities need strong post-doctoral programs; ideally on an international exchange basis - that can be used to hone in the research skills and widen the research skill base.

Nurturing start-ups and protecting research outputs are things that South African universities and research institutes just do not seem to be good at. From my experiences at UCT, there was no drive for patents or setting up startups from the research outputs. This is a vital cog in the research process that can trully contribute to the economy. If I compare my experience at UCT with my internships at German research institutes in 2007, my actualy research output was actually higher for the time: I had one paper at ACM DRM 2008, one patent application and contributed towards 2 OMA standards for the mobile industry; all in 3 months at one research institute.

Tied into the last point, I think there is also a need to have focused research programs instead of the ad-hoc research that happens in many SA universities. It is hypocritical on my part to say this - when my own research was ad-hoc and very much removed from most other research at UCT - but if I compare my PhD experience in terms of the actual research project; to my peers in my research field around the world - formal research programs where a team of students, post-docs and academic staff work on the same research topic has a tremendous impact on the quality of the work produced. I think the outputs discussed above, with regards to my internship can also be similarly attributed - there my team was 5 persons (including me) in my specific stream and a total of 10 persons in the research program as a whole.

So yes, I agree that more PhD graduates will have an impact on economic growth - but I do not think that can happen without the supporting environment from both universities and industry. Other factors such as primary and secondary education are also important - but for PhD graduates to have meaningful impact on the economy there needs to be mechanisms for them to contribute meaningfully.

11 October 2010

ZaCon 2

Last year, a bunch of security techies (mostly from Sensepost it seems) banded together to form a technical security group, called ZaCon. In seemingly no time, they had organised a conference/get together - which I could not attend due to work commitments. ZaCon 2 was the newer, bigger conference event. It is not really a novel concept in many respects - a bunch of people get together (on the weekend off course), organise a venue and discuss their common interest for a day - and all for next to no cost (the organisers funded some of the equipment hires; the rest was either sponsored or non existent). It is the purest form of participation really - being there because it interests you.

As with all conferences; there was the mixture of the superbly interesting to be boring - but that is to be expected. With a strong technical focus; many of the talks focused on IT vulnerabilities - how they can be exploited and/or mitigated - from Google Apps to Java JAR files.

There were a number of highlights. On the attack front, Ivan Burke's talk on the usage of Google Apps to create features similar to botnets (though, as he willing admitted, he was not a good speaker) was a great example of how cloud computing facilities not only create security challenges with regards to confidentiality of data (stored in the cloud) but also create a platform for future security exploits. Jurgens van der Merwe's talk later about the use of Selenium expanded further the potential of attacking web based systems. In fact, a potential that wasn't explored in great detail - the combination of Selenium and cloud based services such as Amazon EC2 and Google Apps could create a significant assault on data confidentiality - through exploiting gaps in web based services. Also on the attack front; Daniel Cuthbert's talk on banking website security was a sobering reminder on vulnerabilities that are created by sheer incompetence as opposed to oversight.

Ross Simpson's talk on the use of jailbroken iPhones as a means to infiltrate wireless networks did not really explore major new ground - but was a very practical walk through on the power of smartphones and a new attack vector. Like the attack vector of cell phone cameras where normal cameras are not allowed; this is yet another attack vector that is easy to deploy and hard to mitigate against.

Ollie Whitehouse discussed the forming of UnCon 10 years ago (security community in the UK, and seemingly the idea that gave rise to ZaCon) via Skype - and was impressive not only in the content of the talk (I think there is a lot of things that ZaCon can "copy") but also the fact that the technology worked. Using two different computers (one to control the screen and the other to conduct the Skype call), each with its own 3G connectivity definitely helped in this regard.

The last talk, Barry Irwin's analysis on the propagation of Conficker was quite interesting - especially the patterns on the network traffic correlated to the spread of the virus. The fact that Conficker has gone quiet is itself a worry - and the correlation of Conficker to other viruses; including Stuxnet, could be interesting research.

Overall, it was a great event - and a great learning environment. I do think, however, that there is a need to shorten the number of speakers and instead open up the floor for a lot more debate and discussion. Congratulations to the organisers for a great event!

10 October 2010

Movie: Small Town called Descent

A new South African movie (I think it is yet to be released for general theatrical release); the movie centers around a Scorpion investigation into a xenophobic murder in a small town (called Descent). Intertwined within a fairly good crime drama, is an exploration of corruption (from the town's main mayor), police indifference/corruption, xenophobia, alcohol abuse, remnants of apartheid legacy and for some inexplicable reason, the politics of Mbeki-Zuma (I suppose the Scorpions is a link - but it has no relevance to the story).

The plot itself is quite good; but the script wasn't polished enough; and often features over-acting/posing/theatrics that end up ruining perfectly good storylines. Added to this, the dialogue also sometimes does not seem to fit the characters. And finally, the movie finishes without completing all the story arcs - and unlike good stories where this technique is usually a mechanism for the reader/viewer to make their own conclusions - this just leads to confusion. For example, the corruption angle is never finalised and thus the exact reasons and collusions behind the corruption activities or the end impact on the participants are just not explored - even though it is the driving force behind the movie.


Overall, from a plot and cinematography point of view; it is a great movie. However, the acting and the script writing detract from the positives; and does not really make it worth watching.

Movie: The Red Chapel

I stumbled across the Tri-Contentinent Human Rights Festival, now in its 8th year, at Rosebank while waiting for the traffic to subside on Friday afternoon.

The Red Chapel is a documentary made by a Danish reported, posing as a theatrical director, who takes two Danish comedians (of Korean descent) to North Korea on the pretext of a cultural exchange program. One of the comedians, Jacob, suffers from Cerebral Palsy; which creates two contrasting points in the documentary - firstly his speech impediment allows Jacob to truly express his feelings in Danish without anyone else understanding; and secondly, it contrasts with the rest of North Korea where there does not seem to be any other handicapped person around.

While the documentary's aim is to expose the dark evilness of North Korea, I found that, in many respects the movie fails and it is largely due to the director, Mads Brügger. Mads comments in the film, that he has no moral qualms about anything to do with North Korea - and thus forces both comedians (Jacob and Simon) to do things they are clearly not in favour of doing. Furthermore, while Mads comments on various claims (which are most likely to be true), such as death camps and starving children; the documentary has no supporting evidence to back up its claims. Another problem with Mads' thesis, is that, he gives no credit to the actual talent on show from North Korea - especially children that ends up participating with the team; and instead seems to brush it off as simply a product of the evil regime.

All said, the documentary still provides a fascinating insight into North Korea - and a great example of media and propaganda management. There are many touching moments within the movie - especially the interaction between Jacob and the translator/minder from North Korea; but in my opinion, it does not really serve as documentary evidence of North Korea's evilness.

04 October 2010

Jo'burg Street Market



I have always been facinated by street/village markets. Supermarkets, while providing the luxury of aircon and variety have taken the fun out of bargaining and just the experience of the market. Some weeks ago, I took photos of street markets around Jo'burg as part of a photo walk; and I think I have photos of other markets from around the world too (I have also previously posted about, though not exclusively, on markets in Helsinki, Hamburg and Huaraz).



Jo'burg street markets bring in elements that are only really found in the developing world - cut price soccer shirts at a fraction of the real cost; fresh produce sold at very attractive prices but somewhat unappetising locations, ready made street food that does not have the complicated hygine rules of the west and off course the seemingly ubiquitos pirate DVDs and CDs.









Not many suburbanites venture into Jo'burg during the weekends, and they are missing out a vibrant, colourful and interesting part of the city.

03 October 2010

Rose Boats & Toy Museum



The road to Bedarsdorp passes through the town of Napier; which would most likely not warrant a stop; except for two things: the absurdly amazingly large chruch that stands tall, and the Rose Boats & Toy Museum.




The museum is run out of a house, by its owner; focuses mostly on toys from the early 1900's to 1970's; and its standout attraction are the Rose Boats. The boats are handmade (and available for sale) out of tin; and feature cyclic flush steam engines; powered by a candle. The concept is simple, and the results are amazing; and there a number of articles and awards hung around the museum to support how well the boats are engineered. See this wikipedia article for more.



Apart from the boats, there are a number of other attractions, such as trains and cars; and although the collection is not particularly large; it is certainly a very worthwhile stop.

28 September 2010

L'Agulhas


Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of Africa, and a place Jay and I have been trying to get to for a number of years (and for one reason or another postponing). The nearby town, L'Agulhas naturally has a number of "southernmost" - restaurants, hotels, B&B's; although the parking lot prize goes to the Cape itself (with a parking lot, 150m from the point).



It is a fairly scenic place; but not as spectacular as Cape Point. It is a lot more laid back, and there is a great view from the viewpoint on a nearby hill. The lighthouse is the second oldest in South Africa; which is itself a small tourist attraction (which was closed by the time we got there). I found it somewhat strange that it was not built earlier given the notorius storms that frequent the Western Cape; and that at one stage there was even consideration given to demolishing it completely.


27 September 2010

The 3D movie rant

I hate 3D movies. I see no advantage that most 3D movies have, in terms of making the audience as part of the action; over most 2D movies. I say most, because there are a few exceptions - such as U2 3D; or in the case of Avatar, where the visuals were simply stunning. However; in most cases - 3D effects are mostly after thoughts, with no real impact on the experience.

And then there is the cost aspect. To watch a 3D movie, there is a premium in the ticket price. Added to that, I discovered last night, Ster Kinekor now charges R5 for 3D glasses. It seems to be an utter waste - not only will people not return these glasses, chances are, they will not bother bringing them along to the next show either.

3D "feature" has spread to TVs and Blue Ray players; and I still don't see the point of it all. There are quite a few rants and justifications on why 3D is just a fad, on the web - so I am not going to regurgitate it - but I am honestly perplexed why 3D is promoted as a miracle experience; when most 3D media just doesn't really make much use of it; or do it very well.

26 September 2010

Waenhuiskrans


Although the official name of the village is Waenhuiskrans, it is better known as Arniston, after an early 19th century shipthat perished nearby killing nearly everyone onboard.

It is also very well known for its cave along the sea; which is only accessible in low tide. Unfortunately, we visited during high tide, on the day after a full moon, so the cave was barely visible.


It is a stunning laid back location, where the "expensive" restaurant at the hotel (as per the owner of our B&B) compared very favourably to mid-priced restaurants in Jo'burg and Cape Town.

21 September 2010

Import Taxes

A few weeks ago, I bought a T-Shirt from Teefury, costing 9 USD. The shipping was another 9 USD - which combined is still not bad for a T-Shirt (approx R140). I was pleasantly surprised on the speed of the delivery, but not too impressed on the import taxes. For a T-Shirt costing just under R70, the import taxes, including VAT, was just under R55! That is almost a 80% duty, and I don't think this falls under the cheap imports from China category ;)

All said, Teefury is a brilliant concept. 1 unique T-Shirt a day, not to be repeated except for random draw once a month (or so), which is incidentally today. You can't back order, and can only order until the T-Shirts sell out. They have some very interesting designs; so all in all worth the hassle :)

15 September 2010

Prepaid Confusion

I recently moved house (after buying a place, instead of renting); and one of the "renovations" I did was to install a prepaid electricity meter. South Africa, it seems is the only country where prepaid electricity has taken off; which I think is a pity. Prepaid utility consumption (be it electricty, water or gas) is easier to manage and offers, in my opinion, far more flexibility than the standard billing methods.

The new prepaid electric meters are also very cool - the utility installs the tamper-resistant meter at the external distribution box (i.e. a straight swap with the old meter) and then provides the user with a remote unit that is used to indicate the value of electricity purchased, usage (accurate to the watt) as well as to buy more electricty etc. The interface unit communicates with the main unit via powerline ethernet - so another cool usage of technology.

As for the confusion - the contractor who installed the prepaid meter, installed it at the wrong house, even though I was given the unit. So, I paid for my neighbour's electricity for a week and the previous owner paid for mine. The guys at the City of Johannesburg offices were stunned at hearing about the mistake - and we all had a good chuckle. Even the contractor couldn't beleive his mistake ... although he blamed it all on his labourer. Personally, I blame them both - the labourer for not being able to do a simple job; and the contractor for not doing his supervision job correctly.

08 September 2010

Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater

Stabat Mater is a 13th century poem, largely about the crucifiction of Christ; but focusing on Mary. Over the years, a number of composers have composed musical arrangements around the hymn; with Karl Jenkins being the latest.

Almost everyone has heard Karl Jenkins' work; as the programme pointed out last night - his breakout "hit" Adiemus being the staple of spas and restaurants (and in ads, lifts and every other place with piped mood music). He is probably the most successful living classical composer; and although a number of his works feature Christian hymns; he often intertwines them with other cultural pieces; such as Arabic, Aramaic and English verses in his version of Stabat Mater.

As part of Arts Alive, the University of Johannesburg Choir, Akustika Chamber Singers, backed with a full orchestra, performed the full Stabat Mater, conducted by Karl Jenkins himself. The concert also featured two smaller pieces; The Palladio Suite, a string orchestra piece; and La Folia, a concerto for Marimba accompanied by a string orchestra. The latter was particularly impressive - and provided a great fusion of musical styles; with a superb solo performance by Magda de Vries.

The main event itself was spectacular - and Johannesburg City Hall is a spectacular venue; especially as the stage is framed by a stunning organ (not sure if it works though). Interestingly, given the somber nature of the work, the music was rarely somber, and was in some ways fairly joyful. The pieces in Arabic and Aramaic, ironically, provided the most somber notes to the piece.

It is also very interesting to see how different choir members participate - especially in such a long piece. There were performers who seemed to be genuinely enthralled - swaying and smiling through the whole performances; while others were more somber and were almost non participants.

I am not a massive fan of choir music - but I must say that I have now been to quite a few this year, and all have been interesting. And all of the feature pieces have been based on Christian hymns - maybe I need to expand my horizons.

22 August 2010

The Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble

Classic FM often plays pieces performed by the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, but it was only recently that I learnt that the ensemble is largely a children's group; with a great story behind the formation and the success of the ensemble. Started 13 years ago by Rosemary Nalden, the project has grown tremendously and now features a number of support staff and many more participants. The project showcases an annual concert at the Linder Auditorium, and this year, it was particularly well advertised.

The standout highlight of the evening, for which the soloist, Simiso Radebe, got a thoroughly well deserved standing ovation, was Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen. The piece is fast, complex, and was extremely well played - and I would love to hear it with the backing of a full orchestra (check these Youtube videos out to hear it). The performance was actually breathtaking, given its incredible complexity towards the end of the piece, and he was well supported by the ensemble.

Another highlight piece was Fauré's Élégie, played by cellist, Gilbert Tsoke. As the name suggests, this piece is rather somber, but in many respects is well complemented by a Cello.

The concert also highlighted the multiple talents of many of the key ensemble members, either with singing (there were two Jazz pieces, and a few more traditional Kwela pieces at the end of the show), or other instruments (mostly percussion instruments).

In the program, Rosemary Nalden (who also conducted the whole performance), notes that yesterday was a notable achievement in hosting an International rugby match in Soccer City (or FNB Stadium), in Soweto - and that hopefully one day art programs like her ones would get similar attention and patronage. My personal opinion is, that a Soccer City like venue would actually detract from the performance; but the ensemble definitely has the talent; and programs like Buskaid and others, should really get better billing and more exposure. And perhaps, they can spread their wings and play around South Africa too - because they deserve to be seen and heard.

20 August 2010

The Unanswered Question

I was really looking forward to last night's JPO performance, as it was going to feature the full recital of Mozart's Mass. It's nothing to do with the religious nature of the work - just enjoy the combination of symphony and choral. But this piece was cancelled, as the choir was apparently not ready; and will be performed next year instead (perhaps the pre-Easter show?)

While that was disappointing, the program was still briliant. It started with a short piece by Beethoven (Coriolan overture, op.62); followed by Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question - which I thought was just absolutely brilliant - not only the music, but the performance itself. The conductor, Bernhard Gueller, gave a short talk on the piece as well as a bit of background on the composer - which definitely shed some light on a very different piece.

The first half rounded off with Barber's Adagio for strings; which is instantly recognisable for most movie watchers as the theme tune from the movie Platoon. It is beautiful, and was superbly played by the JPO.

The full symphony was Schubert's 9th Symphony, which was interesting, but like the other pieces of the evening seemingly very different to other symphonies. It was a pity that the concert was not well attended - it was one of the best I have attended.

09 August 2010

Movie: Inception

As I was walking into the movie on Saturday night, R sends a sms "P & I just finished watching Inception. We reached consensus that there is too much hype. It's like Thirteenth Floor meets Ocean's Eleven."

Inception is not the most original movie around. Lots of movies and stories previously have made use of layers of dreams and reality. The Matrix for example, is a very easy example of such a concept, and science finction stories exploring "other worlds" (e.g. Narnia series) feature distrotion of time, and the inability to separate reality from the dream state. Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch series also features layers of "Twilight", separating reality and the magical realms; but also feature the distinctions used in Inception - the distortion of time and the the ability to influence the outcome in the real world through actions in the dream/magic world.

That said, Inception is a very polished movie with a very good script (when compared to many Science Fiction and Fantasy stories); although there are some very glaring plot holes. The mechanisms of the heist, and for that matter, the inception at the heart of the story, is well thought out, and cleverly written. And unlike many heist stories, where there is a clear winner (either the thief wins with our support, e.g. Thomas Crown Affair or Ocean's Eleven; or the heist is foiled, and the theives are brought to justice), there is no real winner in Inception(and for that matter, there is no clear moral position on which side the audience should be supporting either).

Is it worth the hype? Yes - partly because of the lack of really good movies this year, partly because of the good acting (another rarity in Science Fiction/Fantasy movies), partly because of the polished production. In terms of Christoper Nolan's movies, this is not a classic like Memento or The Dark Knight; but rather like The Prestige - it is good, but not great.

30 July 2010

Fresh Seafood

Boston is well known for it's seafood, and many seafood restaurants Feature fresh seafood. What is interesting about this approach, is that they assemble their menus based on the fish bought that day, and print their menus every day (complete with the date on the menu). At least that somewhat justifies part of the price premium :)

29 July 2010

Conundrums caused by etiquette

Last night, was the "social" event of RSA TechFest, at the headquarters of RSA. There was a tour of the RSA facilities, and I was on the last tour. The impact of that was, we were effectively the last people to arrive for dinner - by which time, there was 1 plate and 1 set of cutlery, for about 25 people. This led to a social conundrum - taking the plate would be rude to everyone else, while not taking the plate would mean that everyone looked stupid, staring at the food and the last plate. Ultimately, everyone decided to look stupid - and wait while new dishes and cutlery was cleaned and delivered; but it's one of those awkward social situations which are just very funny (at least to those who are there).

The Cheese Cake Factory

Normally, American restaurants, especially chains, are either ok and expensive, or cheap and bad; both in terms of taste and nutrition. Near the hotel, there is a restaurant, The Cheese Cake Factory, with an incredible selection of cheese cakes and an equally incredible waiting line. What was also surprising was that the food was very good too - especially given the price. The service (or our particular waiter at least) was briliant, and thus made a very good evening!

26 July 2010

Immigration

I have always had trouble with border control - I have a passport from one country, but was born in another. I have as one, immigration official put it, "a different name", which in these times of overblown showcases of security, is always an excuse for hassles. But this has also led to weird and interesting conversations with immigration officials (the chatty ones at least) like a discussion on cocaine smuggling and fake passports (at the three borders in Brazil).

But I have also discovered that, when the rules work, and you play by the rules, there is some sort of reward. The Schengen visa for example, if you travel more than three rimes in a year, it is much easier ro get a year long one. And, I was really surprised at the US immigration this afternoon. Instead of my normal grilling, I got the normal check of biometric credentials (fingerprints and face) and that was it. More surprising is that I can stay a full 6 months in the US, which is normally not granted to non visa-exempt persons.

That said, I am still expecting "extra" security checks on my way out, the apparently random ones that I have never missed in my 6 previous visits to the US.

25 July 2010

Dreikönigskeller

South of the river Main, almost directly opposite the Dom (Cathedral), is an equally impressive church, called Dreikönigskirche (Three Kings Church). I do not know the history behind the name, but it is very impressive from the outside.

In the event guide in my hotel room, I found that there is a live music venue called Dreikönigskeller (Three Kings Cellar), and which was seemingly the only venue in town hosting live music last night.

The venue is incredibly small (about 3m wide, and 7m long), with the stage taking up a very cramped front end. As the name suggests, it is housed in an old cellar, and the owner has certainly gone to great effort in getting excellent sound facilities (with the room dimensions giving excellent acoustics). I did not get to see the act that was mentioned in the guide, since I left after the first two acts (I was very tired, after walking a lot), but the other two acts (whose names I don't know) were excellent.

The first act was fronted by an expat (American or English, or maybe even Canadian) with the rest of the band members being German. The songs were all in English, and featured some really cool lyrics, with "Skin" being a particular highlight for me. The music style is hard to describe; but it seemed to be a mix of punk rock - I would say, think of a mixture of "Bed on Bricks", "Parlatones" and "Knave" to get the various styles. The musicians were really good, and it was really enjoyable. The second act was an all German, rock band. The music was decent, but nothing spectacular. And since I don't know much German, I cannot comment on their lyrics.

The venue seems to be a hive of music activity, with a lot of posters for next acts. But there wern't that many people last night, and the venue wouldn't hold that many anyway.

23 July 2010

Marketing South Africa

The main shopping foyer of the Mannheim Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) has a series of spectacular photos and commentary (in German and English), by the Eastern Cape Tourism board. Photos covered the usual (J-Bay, Tstisikama, PE, Ado) but also some really spectacular rural photos, including some really off the beaten path locations.

I think it is a very smart move - especially as this week is the German Grand Prix, and Mannheim is where to get a train to Hockenheim. And with the World Cup just finished, SA is still in many people's mind (incidently, it is easy to spot a tourist boarding a flight in Jo'burg - they are the ones carrying vuvzelas).

I did not spend too much time in Mannheim - in and out for my meeting. It did look like a nice town, but nothing spectacular.

11 July 2010

Karen Zoid and The House of the Holy Afro

I think many people would be surprised to hear that in the past month, the Market Theatre in conjunction with the Department of Arts and Culture was hosting "South African Music Festival". It was a fantastic decision - right next to the Newtown Fan Fest, it is a great place to showcase South African music. But it was poorly advertised and the details were rather sketchy.

The whole festival seems to have been hosted around "The House of the Holy Afro", which started just after the 8:30pm match finished while one or more artists played before them starting around 8pm. There seems to have been some great artists across a number of different genres on show.

I last saw Karen Zoid live about 18 months ago in the Blues Room. Since then (or around then), she disbanded her band in Jo'burg, moved to Stellenbosch, reformed her band - and also seems to have written a few new songs :) She was also very chatty - talking about her dislike for the more conservative Afrikaners from Pretoria (Moreleta Park in particular) to some astute observations about South Africa. Amongst her new songs, I particularly liked "big mouth", where she has also changed her style to rapping parts of the lyrics.

It is difficult to describe what "The House of the Holy Afro" actually is. I think the best way to describe it is, that it is a performance piece featuring dance and music - but that is rather tame. The music - largely derived from various traditional songs in South African cultures has been modernised in terms of musical instruments and probably even tempo and rhythm. The dance and the general performance is high energy, high tempo - non stop action for 90 odd minutes. Fantastic costumes rounded up a very polished performances - and it is no wonder that the show has got such amazing reviews. It is a South African show about South African music, but until June 2010, the show had not been performed in South Africa; but toured the world for a number of years. Can someone please bring it back to SA - and publicise it more!

09 July 2010

Hugh Masekela and Special Guests

Wow! There are only two shows (last night and tonight) at the Teatro at MonteCasino, and if you have an opportunity - go. Hugh Masekela is a legend in the jazz world; and last night's show proved everything on why he is such a legend.

To start of, there is obviously his music; his trumpet, his singing (he has an amazing voice range, with some amazing sound effects - the steam train on Stimela is particularly impressive) and various other small instruments that he plays. But it is also the improvisation within the music - whether it is to admonish a patron for taking a photo; or to tell a story, or a joke - and yet still maintain the overall song.

Then there is his stage performance and stage presence. For an old man, he dances exceptionally well, and it is an integral part of the show. And he manages to get the audience up on their feet and dancing and singing along with him. And like a school teacher, he was not afraid to admonish the audience when we did not meet his expectations in participating! Not many artists can take command of the stage like that!

And then there were the special guests. The standout guest for me was Tshepo Mngoma, an exceptional violinist (as well as a good singer). His "solo" performance with the backing band was very impressive - and I would love to see a solo show featuring him! His backing vocalists included a vocal band "Complete" - who also have their own story on how Hugh Masekela came to work with them. And they can sing well on their own - with some exceptional vocal ranges. The other guests included Tshepo Tshola (who I had not heard of before, but most of the audience clearly did) and Thadiswa Mazwai, who was introduced to do a tribute for Miriam Makeba, before doing one or two of her own songs.

At three and a half hours (including a break), it the longest "solo" concert I have been to and with Hugh Masekela's library of hits, he could have done a lot more. I found that his live show was a lot more entertaining than his CDs; and it's a lot easier to enjoy his show live when you don't understand Zulu.

Earlier this year, there was a show starring Hugh Masekela at the Market Theatre called "Songs of Migration" which I wanted to attend, but never did. It is coming back in November and I don't want to miss it then.

04 July 2010

"renew your justified lack of faith in our company"

Last month I rented a car from FirstCarRental, when my car went in for an unscheduled electrical check. I chose them simply because they were the closest to my office, hence easy to get to. The rental itself was painless; but after returning, I was charged for additional damages. Upon further investigation, I found that they had charged another client's damages to my account - and it took almost 4 weeks (!) to get my money refunded; and that was after a particularly nasty email was sent since polite emails, phone calls and even rocking up at the office twice didn't have any effect.

In the last email, which was very appologetic (though they didn't even pay me my interest on the overcharge), I came across the following line:
"I trust that you will allow us to be of service to you again in the future so that we may have the opportunity to renew your justified lack of faith in our company."


Really? I should try them again, so that they can renew my already low opinion of their services?

03 July 2010

FWC 2010: Uruguay v Ghana





As Gyan stepped to take the penalty on the last minute of extra time, the ground was in ruptures; willing for him to convert, and "make history". It was a well deserved place to be in - except for the first 20 odd minutes, where Uruguay definitely had control; Ghana played really well, and looked the better team. They seemed to be running harder, trying harder, and playing better.

It would have been well deserved - Ghana were the best African team this year. And it's not only because they got to the quarter finals. They played better than the Nigerians and Cameroonians - and they handled the loss of their star player better than Ivory Coast. They did scrape by in the group stages, but played each match to win.

Sadly it was not to be - and despite the consolation from his team mates; I think everyone knew it was not going to be Ghana's night after his miss. Gyan was devastated after the penalty shootout, so much that he was almost carried off the field by his teammates afterwards. And the Uruguaians carrying Suaraz (who deliberately handled the ball to stop a certain goal) in celebrations after the penalty shootout rubbed salt into the wounds of the near 80 000 Ghanaian supporters (there were about 85 000 people in the ground, and except for a small section of Uruguay supporters, everyone else spotted red, black and yellow).

The world cup in South Africa, has been a great success in most respects. Every one of the visitors I have spoken to have loved their experiences. A Canadian family I met on the bus to the stadium was gushing about how much they have enjoyed their travels in South Africa; a traveller from, I think Malta (or one of the mediteranean Island countries) was looking forward to his first game drive in the Kruger on Sunday while the Australians on the bus to Sandton were very complimentary about the service they had recieved in their hotels and guesthouses (although they thought the Metrobus system could have been done better in terms of ticketing).

And the fans, have been very colourful - as per the photo below. I had great seats yesterday, 8 rows (actually 6 since, the first 2 were blocked out) from the corner flag - allowing me to get some really cool pictures of the game.










01 July 2010

FWC 2010: Argentina v Mexico



Sunday's match was the most competetive and most exciting match I have attended at the World Cup so far. This time, I went with a friend and his family using the park and ride at Gold Reef (allowing us to see Germany's thrashing of England) - though I think this was a lot less effecient when compared to the bus system I used for the previous game.

One of the great things about the World Cup, is the array of colourful fans that attend the event. There are off course the supporter clubs, this one being from Argentina, but there are also the stunning sombreros etc. Certain footbal traditions such as the toilet paper rolls being thrown on to the field have also been transported to South Africa - although they were cleaned up pretty quickly. So it is not only the export of the vuvuzela to the wider world - but also the import of various fan regalia.






Drums and celebration using drums are nothing new in football, and the Argentians were in high spirits after the game (and apparently it carried on inside!). Though I think the medley of drums and vuvuzelas at the Ghana v Serbia game was a lot more interesting!



Maradona has been criticised a lot, although he has succeeded well so far. But no one can really criticise his involvement at training. In the warm up before the game, he was very much involved in training with the players - instead of standing back and barking instructions. Maybe that is one of the factors behind his success?





Tevez's first goal was clearly offside from where I was perched - but that didn't stop any celebrations from the Argentians around me once the goal was given by the referee - although they did seem to accept it was offside once it was inadvertantly shown on the big screen; leading to the players' protests. But this also showed how easy it would be to deploy television replays as part of the game in large tournaments. The entire process took less than a minute; and big screens ensured that it was fair and easy for every one to judge.


My side of the pitch featured 3 goals, and I did manage to capture Higuain catching the stray pass from Osorio, on his way to the goals.

There are not that many games left in this world cup, and my last live game is tomorrow, where I hope the Ghanaians finally beat the Uruguayans.

27 June 2010

South Africans Supporting African Teams

While waiting for the game to start, C, the diplomat, had asked a very interesting question - are South Africans genuinely supporting African teams like Nigeria, Ghana etc. or is it a hype made up by the media? It is a very pertinent question - South Africans of late have had a history of xenophobia, and some of our fellow African brothers have less than stellar reputation (Nigerians anyone?).

In some respect, support for Ivory Coast because of Drogba, or supporting Cameroon because of Eto'o is not surprising - but would we support Ghana without Essien, and what about Algeria?

I was at the FIFA Fan Park at Mary Fitzgerald square in Newtown last night for the screening of the USA v Ghana match; and I found that there is genuine support for the Ghanaians. It did help that they played great football - but the true nature of support can be easily ascertained when fans heckle the referee for legitimate calls going against "your" team, show despair at the opposition's goals etc.

Last night was a great game, and yes, South Africans are behind Ghana. And I am looking forward to their match against Uruguay on Friday night.

25 June 2010

Transport Blues?

Apart from security, the next biggest fear about the world cup was the transport system - or the lack thereof. In the space of 3 days last weekend, I got experience both the highs and lows of the transport system.

For the matches at Loftus in Pretoria, I used the Park and Walks. What was amazing was the efficiency - not only in the signage and policing - but also how little time (comparatively) it took to actually get in and out of the stadium. In the Denmark v Cameroon games, I got home 65 minutes after the final whistle had blown. I drove to the same area this morning for work, and it took 25 minutes. Given the volume of people leaving the stadium - that was really impressive.

For the match at Soccer City on Sunday - I decided to park at Sandton City, and then make use of the Metrobus to the City Centre, and then the Rea Vaya, bus rapid transport system to the stadium. The tickets were R50 return, and a further R9 for parking at Sandton City - not bad in my opinion. The return trip - from the end of the match to getting into my flat, took under 90 minutes, which is very respectable.

This mode seemed to be very popular, with a lot of tourists making use of it; and with a very festive atmosphere (esp with the bunch of Brazilian fans that got on the bus with us). It was not a smooth start. With tickets being needed to be bought on board; and our general lack of orderly queues, it was a bit of chaos to actually board the bus. While I have had similar experiences in many other countries (Peru, Brazil and India stand out), it could have been controlled a lot better. But then again, this is Africa.



But thereafter, it was a pleasure. The bus dropped us of at Westgate BRT station, where there were a lot more orderly queues to board the BRT buses to Soccer City. The attendants were helpful and the system really works.

It was the first time I have used public transport in Jo'burg, and I was truly impressed. And the other South Africans with us were seemingly also impressed - especially the BRT. Not all South Africans - among the people in our bus from Sandton were three teenage girls (sisters I believe), who were quite spoilt and was aghast that they were actually going into town (the standout comment - "Town, eewwww gross. Mommy - you didn't say we were going to town!"). Their parents were however quite impressed - and stated as much.

Early Monday morning however, also brought out the deficiencies in our transport system. A Mexican/American friend of mine (and his girlfriend) were wanting to travel to Rustenburg for the Uruguay v Mexico game; and there does not seem to be any transport arrangements in this regard. A number of shuttle services charge outrageous amounts of R1500+ for a return trip. While they had booked a car, his credit card had a huge block from a previous rental (when he went to Polokwane to watch the Mexico-France game). Luckily, I managed to help him out with the transport arrangements - but what about all those people who were travelling alone?

The transport arrangements at the World Cup shows that we can do this correctly, and do it well. It has also shown the areas we need to improve on - the ticketing, the queueing and the coverage. This is all good news - I just hope that we keep on implementing these. And I hope, that in future sporting events - be it cricket, rugby or football; we carry on using these arrangements.