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).

24 December 2012

" Free" Internet Services

Everyone loves a free service, and there seems to be a certain expectancy that services on the Internet - be it news, games, music or even search - should be free. Most of these services fund their free services through a combination of
  • Advertising revenue - although the one of the most popular plug-in for Firefox (and Chrome I think) blocks advertising
  • Subscription for premier/exclusive content. This works if the content is truly niche - I used to subscribe to Autosport.com because of their exclusive articles on motorsport. My interest waned; so I cancelled the subscription - but it was definitely value for money.
  • Donations and product sales - quite popular with online comics etc. and some people make a living out of it
  • Subsidised by non Internet products - which is quite common with a number of media sites.
In addition to media services that are powered by "paid" employees (i.e. news sites, etc) there are also user generated content sites; which rely on people contributing their own "free" effort to generate and maintain content.

Occasionally, a service provider tries a different approach - and it is always interesting to see the commentary on the resultant changes. Instagram's proposed change in terms and the outcry from the change was quite illuminating in that respect. The terms of service were actually not that different - a number of different service providers, many notably cloud providers have similar clauses - but Instagram made the conditions quite clear and easy to understand unlike a number of other providers, whose terms on reusability of submitted content is buried deep in the legal text.

For example, see YouTube's terms of service (section 8), where the contect uploader gives YouTube royalty free rights to the submitted content to be used in whatever form YouTube wishes. Yes, YouTube doesn't say it can resell the the videos; but the license doesn't restrict it from doing so (after all making money would be consistent in "provision of Service").
8. Rights you licence
8.1 When you upload or post Content to YouTube, you grant:
A. to YouTube, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable licence (with right to sub-licence) to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform that Content in connection with the provision of the Service and otherwise in connection with the provision of the Service and YouTube's business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels; and
B. to each user of the Service, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free licence to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such Content to the extent permitted by the functionality of the Service and under these Terms.

In fact, the proposed model has already appeared in practice; though in the example neither the service provider nor the photographer made money. In his keynote at the Virtual Goods Workshop in 2008, Renato Iannella covered a similar case; covering the use of a flickr photo in an advertising campaign half a world away. The photographer had shared the content without restriction, but at the same time did not actually have the right to share the content in the first place! Instagram's proposed terms only addressed one part - the rights of the photographer; forgotten in the commentary was the rights of the subject!

xkcd captured the conundrum and some of the absurdity of the backlash in a brilliant analogy; but Instagram has backed down and the problems with financial models for these seemingly free services remain. So far, only Google has really cracked the code of making money from free services - but as companies like Facebook become accountable to shareholders for making money; maybe we should expect more similar terms?

18 December 2012

Movie: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The most difficult part about the movie, is actually the name - for this first installment of the Hobbit movie franchise, covers far more than the story of the Hobbit, and also delves into other stories from Tolkien's Middle Earth.

But it all works. It is a composed story that flows, and makes sense. After the movie, M, commented that she didn't remember The Hobbit being so epic.  And that is why this movie works; it is not only about the adventure - it is about a wider story arc with a rich back story that has been interwoven in the tale. I saw it in the 48 frame project (only in Sandton and Gateway apparently); and the cinematography is just amazing. I am not a fan of 3D movies; but this is one where it works.

If we treat this to be a part of a wider series of movies based on Middle Earth, then the movie works well. Given the success of "Game of Thrones", perhaps this could have worked equally as a set of mini-series; but it wouldn't have looked as majestic and epic. Ultimately, that is what movies are for.

12 December 2012

Aladdin - Password on a USB Stick

When Alvin first showed me his prototype for Aladdin in London 2 months back; I was a bit sceptical - and asked the question everyone seems to be asking - what if you lose it? It is a good question - but that is not what Aladdin is trying to solve - it is trying to solve a bigger problem - trying to remember, ever increasing numbers, of complex set of random alpha-numeric characters we call passwords. It is a far cry from Ali Baba, when all that was needed is "Open Sesame" (which incidentally is quite a strong password). 

The genius in Aladdin is that it works on almost any device that recognises USB keyboards. It generates and stores a set of randomly generated alpha-numeric characters;  and combining the key with another key or some input of your own (effectively salting the password) makes it a very versatile device for managing passwords. 

I think it is a brilliant concept; and one worth supporting. In corporates I have had exposure to; password management is a significant cost in IT; and this is a very neat concept in managing passwords. The problem of losing the devices remain with two exploits that come to mind - using the key itself to access systems (which can be addressed through some salting techniques) or resetting the affected passwords themselves. But for the normal user, I think these threats are compensated by the benefits of having a simple way to have strong secure passwords.

I think it's a worthwhile project; and I hope it gets full funding. I have ordered mine :)

Project Link on indiegogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/aladdin-key


10 December 2012

Movie: Skyfall

After buying the Blu-Ray box set in the morning (at a superb price of R1199 at Makro), I thought it was only apt that I watched the latest James Bond offering before diving into the box set. While the story tagline at IMDB "Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her, bringing MI6 under attack" captures the general plotline of the movie; the movie is far more than just the plotline. After all, it is a movie that features some great acting (Javier Bardem performs a brilliant role as the villain) and a really well written story - two things that won't normally be associated with a Bond movie.

While some of the previous Bond movies have been farcical (invisible cars come to mind), Skyfall raises some really uncomfortable questions. While the technical wizardry is over the top; the most direct question asked is the role of intelligence services in a modern era - an apt question given the increasing visibility of cyber-espionage. And, off course what is the role of traditional espionage in such a world. While the tagline in the credits say "Bond will be back"; in many respects this was a farewell movie of the old guard. And it was certainly one of the best movies in the 50 year series.

08 December 2012

WITS Arts Museum

Opened earlier this year, the WITS Art Museum shows a selection of WITS' large collection of African art and cultural artifacts to the public. It is not a massive showcase, but it apparently changes quite frequently; and there were some stunning pieces. The entrance is free, which makes it even more worthwhile!

There were two exhibitions - on the art of life and death and everything in between; and a selection of new works. The first was more interesting; with a collection of art and cultural pieces from South Africa and across Africa on the various events in life - birth, childhood, marriage, death etc. I have two photos of eye catching sculptures (a tribute to ancestors from Benin and a coffin from Ghana); but there were many more; including some eye catching beadwork.




A seemingly more permanent piece is Jackson Hlungwani's "The Altar of God",. There is a similar piece in the Johannesburg Art Gallery (Alter of Christ); which was equally impressive.


06 December 2012

Oscar Niemeyer

The main reason I went to Brasillia (when I was in Brazil) was to see the highly planned city and the architecture; the design of which was led by Oscar Niemeyer; who passed away yesterday at the age of 104. Of the many cities I have travelled through, Brasillia has the most distinctive style; even if it is somewhat uniform. His later creations in the outskirts of Niteroi are equally spectacular; though not as grand.

I remember when I went to Niteroi, the Brazilian guide asking if I was an architect (given that all others in the group were architects). Somehow I have never been as interested in other architects - there was just something special about Niemeyer's creations.

01 December 2012

A Bantu in My Bathroom

Before reading the book, I had never heard of Eusebius McKaiser, whose profile on the cover is described as "popular radio talk show host". I am not sure why I picked it up at the bookshop (I think it was the title); but I was hooked on the writing. 

It is a collection of essays on a number of topics in the modern South Africa; spanning race, sexuality and culture - opening up some rather uncomfortable topics; and discussing them in a clear but powerful way. The essay on why legal right is not necessarily morally right (from the title essay), and why affirmative action is just; were the two highlights - but every esssay has something interesting and thought provoking; and a collection that everyone should read.

14 November 2012

Finale - JPO's 4th 2012 Season 6th Concert

The final week of the 2012 season, started on a very emotional note; as one of the orchestra members made a short speech on the hardships of playing without being paid; and why they continued to do so. It was a stark reminder, that this could very well be the last ever concert; not just the last of the season. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable JPO concerts I have been to - it seemed like every orchestra member was there to play their part; and played with their hearts. It was not only the music selection; the performance itself was at a different level.

The concert started with a short piece - Glinka's Overture of his opera Russlan and Ludmilla. It was an upbeat, fun piece; something to push back the very somber cloud of the orchestra. Following the overture, was Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto, played very flamboyantly by Israeli-American Inon Barnatan. The concerto was amazing - in the showcase of the piano as an instrument, the orchestra and the performance itself. It was the perfect mix for the evening - the dark and somber was equally contrasted with the very playful and upbeat. It was a performance thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation. He did a very interesting encore with Debussy's Clair de Lune, which was equally well received.

The symphony for the evening was Dvořák's amazing 9th Symphony (From the New World). I have heard the JPO perform it before; and I have heard various movements on the radio - but tonight's performance was something special. Every musician seemed to make some kind of a special effort; there was some thing extra - hard to know; but easy to feel. It was one of the best performances that I have ever attended; and it got a very well deserved standing ovation.

I really hope that the JPO survives, and the music continues. And there is at least one concert left (tomorrow 15 Nov); and I saw an advert from a Christmas concert featuring the orchestra at the end of the month. But if, for whatever reason it doesn't survive; it can hold its head up high that it went out with one of its best performances.

11 November 2012

Movie: Flowers of War

The multi-lingual movie is set just after the fall of Nanking, during the China-Japan war in 1937 - what would be later called the "Rape of Nanking". Starring Christian Bale (who also starred in another China-Japan war, Empire of the Sun), who plays a drunk mortician stuck in a cathedral with some convent school girls and some prostitutes; as the horror of the war overtakes everything. It is ultimately a movie about sacrifice; but it is a brutal yet visually stunning showcase of the horrors of war. It is brutally effective - particularly because this is not a story told from the perspective of a soldier; or even that of the mortician - but rather a surviving school girl; and the movie catches the story teller's innocence, determination, terror, and ultimately appreciation and love for her saviours perfectly.

01 November 2012

Somber - JPO's 4th 2012 Season 4th Concert

There were hints last week that the JPO may be in financial difficulties were evident last week - half full concert hall, the cancellation of the guest conductor, the change in an earlier published program due to the costs associated with a particular piece and a downsized orchestra itself during the performance.

Last night's concert started with a somber message, on the extent of the orchestra's financial distress. The orchestra had recently applied for business rescue; and the musicians hadn't been paid for 2 months. There is some hope for rescue; especially if the Lotto funding from previous few years is continued. In a tough economic climate, money is scarce, and thus the decline of audience numbers or donation support is somewhat understandable.

There is however a point to be made, on whether art should be sponsored purely for its form. Afterall, JPO has seemingly not been very successful in attracting a sustainable audience in Gauteng; and it can be argued that there are more popular artistic endeavors that should be supported in its place. And I would also argue that there are some challenges in the current operation of the JPO.

For example, a number of colleagues and friends are avid listeners to classical music. But they do not know when the concerts are on and some do not even know about the existence of the JPO itself. This is a failure of marketing; and this is something that needs to be addressed.

Next is the program itself. The bulk of the audience is retired, old people. The musical choices, while great classical pieces are hardly welcoming to a new, younger audience member. The program notes are written for the aficionado not someone who wants to experience a new art form. The atmosphere is stuffy, and although the people are friendly and welcoming - it is hardly the hip and happening event in town! I think there needs to be a greater variety and mix in the music itself - perhaps a few more contemporary orchestral music pieces - from movies or even pop/rock music. This does not mean that the classical pieces should disappear - just that there should be a lot more variety - something the Buskaid concerts have managed to do very well!

That said, the JPO is a good orchestra, an institution that deserves to be protected. Last night's concert was a perfect showcase of their skill and despite the somber nature of the announcement (and the music itself); it was one of the best programs I have attended.

The first piece of the evening was Sibelius' En Saga; which is a beautiful piece of music; although quite somber and even dark in places. In many respect it was a fitting start after the announcement, a sense of melancholy and sadness - but one showcasing impressive skill. The second piece, starring local piano maestro Ben Schoeman (another change in the prorgam due to the financial considerations, the visiting pianist from the USA did not perform), was Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It is one of my favourite piano pieces - a showcase of piano and orchestra; and it was a masterful performance by both! Tchaikovsky's last symphony, No.6 (Pathétique), rounded off the evening. It was in many respects the encapsulation of the evening - a somber beginning, a joyous and rapturous middle, with a very dark and somber end.

The orchestra is a very large and expensive musical form - not only because of the skill and training required to form one; but the number of people required to participate and perform. It remains one of the pinnacles of musical performances; and the JPO is a good orchestra that is worth preserving. And I hope it does - but it will need to change in both how it markets itself; and evolve in the music it performs.

30 October 2012

The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty

Came across the YouTube video courtesy of the Schneier Blog, on dishonesty, Prof Dan Ariely. The talk, based on his book of the same name, makes the point that almost everyone makes decisions that have some good and some bad outcomes. However, when these outcomes have a biased incentive scheme (as in the case of bankers), the decision making process itself gets clouded; and the perceived reality is not the same as the actual reality. He also talks of some mechanisms that seem to help with "resetting" the compass - and the Catholic confession is used as an example. While he was going through the example, it occurred to me, that South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process was very much a similar resetting process; and is perhaps one of the best, mass scale, examples of such a process. But this means, in theory, the persons who are only doing a "little bad", could be influenced to do a lot less "little bad", if such processes occurred regularly. Could such a simple idea be a building block for wider social change?

27 October 2012

ZACON IV

The fourth iteration of the local hacker/security conference has grown even larger, and for a change it was not dominated by Sensepost talks (though this was not by design, just impact of the landscape and MWR seems to have taken over somewhat). I missed the bulk of the first talk (as I had some things to do in the morning), and the rest of the program was interesting. More details on the website.

As per previous conferences, ZACON was held once again at UJ's monstrous concrete jungle in Auckland Park. The lecture theatre was quite nice though, with impressive AV facilities. The demographic spread of ZACON is interesting; in terms of gender (the number of ladies in the room could be counted on one hand), age, race etc. There was a distinct lack of corporate guys; a pity in that the forum is great for knowledge sharing. I do know that there were students from UJ and UP, which does skew the demographics a bit.

I have only captured the talks I found interesting.

Glenn Wilkinson's talk mirrored a similar talk at RSA Europe, on exploiting WiFi AP search requests. The differentiator however, was the ability to chain the systems together (instead of offline systems like the Pineapple). There are some interesting applications of the approach - both good and bad; an it was certainly an interesting discussion.

Simeon Miteff's talk on the security challenges on very high speed networks was quite interesting, especially as it has applicability beyond the research network into modern datacentres. I think the solution is really in segregation - not all connectivity is high speed, and it may be better to focus on the interconnects to slower networks and not focus on securing the high speed networks.

Ross Simpson's talk on hacking games focused a lot on memory hacks; but the discussion point was really in client side validation. Whenever the system does client side validation, these values are stored in memory, and thus potentially can be bypassed. What was particular interesting, is that some very popular modern games (examples were shown on iOS) that use a client-server model can be exploited because they use client side validation. It is true that ioS memory hacks for client-server applications would need jail breaking, but there are some interesting attacks exploiting save files on the device that can work on non jailbroken devices.

Andrew MacPherson's talk on physical access control vulnerabilities was amazing. Starting with the traditional locks and lockpicking, the really cools stuff were the demos on magstripes (with a good background on magstripes) and RFID tags. One of the most impressive talks, especially given the widespread use of magstripes as RFID tags - not only for access control but for all sorts of other uses.

Jacques Louw's talk on using software defined radios for attacks was a continuation of the radio theme. The bulk of the talk was rehashing theory from a long time ago, but the application to utility meters and GSM was very cool (and frightening, when considering the social impact for smart metering).

Schalk Heunis' talk was different, focusing on home alarm systems; and reverse engineering the system using Audrino. While there are attack perspective; there are very cool implications for home automation. The House4Hack team have some interesting work in this regard.

20 October 2012

Most Dangerous Cities in the World

A Mexican think tank, as released a study on the most dangerous cities in the world, and Johannesburg is on no 50 on the list. The data is compiled from crime statistics from 2011, although it seems that murder rate per capita is the key determinant. A short story on the list, in English is available on BusinessInsider.

It is interesting that so few countries make contributions to the list, and all but two of those countries are in the Americas. These lists are off course influenced by the availability of data, and I do think it will change if more crimes are taken into account.

I thought that the crime rate could potentially be linked to the Gini index - which looks at the degree of income equality in the world (full list here). While there is some link - it is certainly not a high degree of correlation. Southern African countries dominate in terms of income inequality, but only South Africa has a reputation for high crime rates.

CountryNo. of CitiesGini Index (Inequality)
Brazil1416
Colombia510
El Salvador134
Guatemala111
Honduras29
Iraq1n/a
Jamaica142
Mexico1218
Panama117
Puerto Rico1n/a
South Africa42
USA443
Venezuela371

17 October 2012

Google's Datacentres

Wired has some amazing articles on Google's datacentres and the computing power behind it all. 

Very interesting reading!

15 October 2012

Melting Pot

It had been a long time since my previous visit to London - about 6 years I think. The Olympics hasn't really changed the city - other than the remnants on the billboards. It remains old and grimy in some places; and new and shiny in others. It is a testament to the sheer longevity of the city.

One thing that has noticeably changed, is that it is an even bigger melting pot. The high volume of Indian immigrants is well known, but it is only in this trip that I noticed all the other shades of accents - the Polish (or some other Eastern European) receptionist, the Caribbean assistant at the Tube station, various main stream European languages, Chinese, Malay etc. And these aren't even the tourists. 

I still don't like the weather, but I do love the melting pot.

13 October 2012

Movie: Haywire

It is a spy/action thriller featuring some top notch actors in Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas, about on a female mercenary who is framed by her employer. It's a nice story, with a fairly realistic story (no amazing gadgets, people get hurt it fights) but nothing spectacular.

Movie: Father of Invention

It has been a while since I have watched a movie featuring Kevin Spacey. The movie features a successful inventor (who makes money from infomercials) who has just got out of prison. It is partly a story about his search to reclaim his mojo as a inventor; but ultimately it becomes a feel good soppy movie about family values. The brilliance of Usual Suspects this ain't.

For the Lack of a Conductor

The Heathrow connect from London made a surprising, last minute cancelation and stopped the station before the airport. At this point there were three options, take the next train, take the bus or take a taxi. The latter two options wouldn't be supported by the train company; and the last minute change was very perplexing.

It was particularly perplexing that the options were not communicated by the train drivers or the station; but rather by a young apprentice of the train company who had just got off and similarly inconvenienced. Apparently, the cause of the delay - the lack of a conductor to check tickets; apparently a requirement for all Heathrow trains. And even more alarming - this is not an irregular occurrence; but something that is quite frequent (the missing conductor and thus the cancelation of a train). Apparently, this is most frequent on early morning trains to and from Heathrow.

So, if you don't have 30 minutes to spare waiting for the next train (and are willing to pay double); get the express. The affliction of missing conductors apparently does not affect the express.

11 October 2012

Hacking Virtual Worlds

Jason Hart had a brilliant talk on different techniques to hack virtual worlds. His key message was, as virtualization had taken off, the CIA principles for security have been completely ignored and many of the old vulnerabilities have not only resurfaced; they are even easier to exploit.

Not all of the talk was specifically focused on cloud. Using a Pineapple he showed how easy it is to intercept and decode passwords (even when they are encrypted). After that, accessing systems, virtual or not, is not a big issue.

But his attack techniques on virtualization platforms were the most illuminating - from accessing VMWare's vCenter via cracking the MD5 password; to exploiting the fact that robot.txt files aren't respected in public cloud services (and thus susceptible to google hacking).

It was not a failure of technology (although the Pineapple did exploit protocol weaknesses), but failure to follow basic principles.

Active Defense

Another buzzword at the conference is Active Defense. Introduced by Francis deSouza in his keynote on day 1, it is based on the idea that wars are not only won by defending, but also by attacking and eliminating threats. The concept is off course controversial and the legal, technical and ethical challenges have been raised by a number of latter speakers.

This morning, Josh Corman raised the idea of resurrecting Letters of Marque as a means of regulating active defense. I am not convinced that this approach will solve the legal and ethical challenges.

Letters of Marque, were granted by European monarchs to sanction specific pirates and allow them to carry out their piracy (usually as long as it was not in their backyard). Effectively, it was state sanctioned criminals; and the idea to enable Letters of Marque for cyber attacks will open a Pandora's box.

Josh Corman's HD Moore's Law

Since yesterday's keynote by Josh Corman, HD Moore's Law has become some sort of a mantra by the other speakers at the conference.

It's a brilliant argument; instead of focusing on compliance as a minimum baseline, the minimum baseline should be, can you get compromised by default/basic settings of Metasploit? The ease of use of Metasploit and since its widely available, it makes it an easily exploited attack vector. It also aligns to the US RSA Conference talk on metrics that commented that the basic metric of security is "hackability", or how easy is it to hack you.

10 October 2012

Live RAT Dissection

Uri Fleyder (RSA) and Uri Rivner (Biocatch)'s presentation yesterday on the use of remote administration tools, coupled with "man in the browser" attacks is probably the most alarming threat exploitation I have seen recently. 

The attack first exploits browser vulnerabilities through drive-by-downloads to infect the target machine. I suppose a drive-by-download is not even necessary - other vectors could also be exploited. Once the target machine is infected, the attacker can make use of a remote administration tool (RAT) to carry out an attack using the target machine. Through the use of "man in the browser" attack, the attacker intercepts browser activities, such as banking (or e-commerce or any other activity), and thus can not only capture data in realtime but can also take control over the browser and show false messages (such as longer login times, false redirections etc). 

The beauty of this attack, is that the attack is completely out of the target user's machine, and tokens are actually also compromised in this attack (through the use of redirections). And there are very few countermeasures ...

09 October 2012

RSA Conference Europe: Day 1 Keynotes

There was an overall theme to the first three keynotes - a need to change the security models from (perimeter) defense based to "intelligence based" model. Art Coviello (Chairman, RSA) introduced the theme, with a focus on changing security to be more agile, contextual, risk based and the need to share and analyse information on scale.

Tom Heisner (President, RSA) followed expanding the themes, with an insightful comment on the Moore's law equivalence in security; the cost of attacks have reduced while the complexity of attacks have increased. Both speakers were hugely critical of compliance based regulatory regimes which are sometimes contradictory, and often provide a false sense of security.

Francis deSouza (Symantec) followed the theme with a focus on the need to be more "militaristic" in IT security. His argument was that you can't win a battle on purely defense, and security strategies and solutions need to consider the whole campaign and not just point vectors. In this regard, defense mechanisms also need to be "great" and not just good to be effective.

Adrienne Hall (Microsoft GM for trustworthy computing) focused mainly on cloud adoption, though was a bit out of sync on the earlier theme. Hugh Thompson, was also out of sync, but did raise a different perspective - security solutions currently are a "one size fits all" solution, and are not catered for individuals, so are either too complex or too simple; and are basically both ineffective. To create a security profile that is really personalized will be difficult, but would be a very interesting approach in becoming more secure.

Chill Man

I caught the slower train from Heathrow to Paddington, which stops at a few local stations along the way. It was surprisingly quick to clear immigrations (last experience at Heathrow, over an hour, yesterday 5 minutes), so I had some time before I could check in to my hotel.

The first stop after Heathrow, two heavily tattooed men dressed in tatty clothes got on, and hung by the door. Shortly thereafter, the conductor came through checking tickets, which these men didn't have. I was quite surprised, as were the two men, on the conductor's reaction. After a hushed (but still audible) chat on why they didn't have tickets, the conductor simply asked the two men to take a seat and relax. The men were so startled, that the conductor had to repeat himself, "chill man".

I am not sure why this small incident should stick in my mind ... are these instances of understanding officialdom so rare?

07 October 2012

Symphonic Rocks 2012

The second year in Jo'burg wasn't as well attended, with a number of free seats. Carnival City, as a venue probably contributes to that, but the crowd did seem a lot more diverse than last year. The combination of the 65 piece Cape Town Pops Orchestra and leading SA pop/rock artists is not only great music, but as Ard Matthews put it so eloquently, a great way to preserve a dying art, an contribute to enhancing our culture.

After a short overture, aKing started the proceedings in rocking style with two of their popular radio hits. It was a good start, though the next singer ChianoSky, didn't continue the momentum. Her dance hits for well with the orchestration, but her squeaky voice just irritated me.

A noticably slimmer Zolani Mahola (of Freshlyground fame) was the best performer of the first half, getting great applause and support from the crowd, and there was even dancing in the stands! Freshlyground's music lends itself to orchestration, and I think it would be great if they released a full album backed by an orchestra!

Van Coke Cartel's Afrikaans metal worked with the orchestra, although at times the electric guitar riffs did overpower the orchestra. They kept the energy going, into the next act, Toya Delazy, whose dance pop hits were more well suited for the orchestra.

Ed Matthews confessed to being a "soppy rocker", and belted out two of his solo love ballads followed by the classic "What he means", which seemed to get the whole audience singing. Tumi & The Volume closed the first half, though I found his voice to be overpowered by the instruments.

The second half started with a medley of theme songs from James Bond franchise (cleverly following a Heineken ad featuring Daniel Craig); which got a rousing applause from the audience. Andy Mac, the organizer behind Symphonic Rocks was next with his band Macstanley. Andy makes a good MC (better than the actual MC) and did a good job in introducing everyone on the stage (and the credit for being the head honcho). I haven't really been a fan of Macstanley (or Flat Stanley in their previous incarnation) and they were certainly blown away by the acts that followed.

Fokofpolisiekar should make a symphonic Afrikaans metal album. More than anyone else in the show, their ballads were perfectly pitched with the orchestra and was a truly amazing result. Their standard, "Hemel op die Plateland"was amazing with the symphony and got everyone headbanging.


Multi SAMA winner Zahara was next, and the success of the show was evident in how all the headbangers just switched to jiving along. She has an amazing voice, and it was a great to see her perform live.

Mi Casa played an interesting set, where there didn't seem to be any break between the songs (as would be expected from a electro-dance group). The trumpet playing of Mo-T was impressive, and fitted well into the arrangements.

Ed Rowland, the lead singer of Collective Soul was the last performer. I have seen Collective Soul before, but I am not really acquainted with their music. It was a great performance and a fitting end to the show.


As a final comment, perhaps future shows should consider reducing the number of artists in favor of giving them longer sets. And move the show closer!

23 September 2012

Movie: Beasts of the Southern Wild

It is a strange movie - but one with an incredible imagination, and absolutely stunning acting performances; and a moral story about the devastating impact of climate change. Set in a poor community near New Orleans, the story revolves around a young girl, Hushpuppy, her eccentric father who is trying to teach her how to survive and some strange events that take place during, what seems to be a hurricane. I don't think I really understood some part of the story (like the aurochs), but the acting performances were incredible.

09 September 2012

Buskaid 2012

This year, Buskaid's annual concert was sold out - the first time in the three years I have been going to Buskaid. It's a good thing I bought tickets early (which ironically meant that I almost forgot about it)! The concerts are an interesting mix - classical music by often less heralded composers interwoven with jazz/pop songs; and finished off with kwela and dancing (with the instruments) - something I doubt you will ever see at other classical music concerts.

The concert started off with pieces from Rameau's opera, Castor et Pollux. The program notes, that Rameau has become somewhat of a tradition with the Buskaid, and it was an energetic start to the concert. Due to a recording malfunction, the pieces were played again at the end - with ample encouragement from the crowd!

The second piece, was one of the highlights of the concert. A previous Buskaid concert, was the first time I had heard a live performance of music from "The Black Mozart", Chevalier de Saint-George. This year, the two senior violinists, Kabelo Monnathebe and Simiso Radebe, in the group (both studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London) performed the Allegro of the Symphony Concertante in G major. It is a stunning piece, especially how the violins feed off the rest of the orchestra, and how they blend into each other; and it was a captivating performance by the soloists.

Czech composer, Leoš Janáček's Idyll for String Orchestra was a bit of a let down after the Symphony Concertante - it felt like a filler piece; and I would have preferred a full performance of the Symphony Concertante instead. It was followed by two vocal pieces (Send in the Clowns, and At Last, both from old musicals), sung by viola player Mathapelo Matabane; who certainly has a voice that complements the style of the songs. The last piece, before the interval was the last movement (Marcia) from Swedish composer Dag Wirén's Serenade for String Orchestra. It is a very lively piece that I haven't heard before (though it is supposed to be very popular). I am not a big fan of Handel, so the first piece after the break (Suite from Terpsichore) wasn't that interesting.

Kabelo Monnathebe's performance of Nigun, by Ernest Bloch was the highlight of the evening for me. Part of a bigger work, Baal Shem, it is a dedication to Bloch's Jewish Roots, and Nigun is itself a religious piece. The piece itself is wonderful - it sounds religious, but it sounds like a story that wants to burst out. A story of triumph, of despair, of happiness and a whole lot more. It is a piece that requires mastery of the violin, and it was a brilliant performance, receiving a rousing applause at the end.

The last "official" piece (before the rerun of the Rameau, and the kwela pieces) was the "world premiere" of Karl Jenkin's Soweto Suite for Strings. It is not a completely new suite - but is rather assembled from Karl Jenkin's two big hits - The Armed Man and Stabat Mater. The pieces work surprisingly well together, and it is interesting to hear them without the choral and other orchestral accompaniments (although there were a few drums).

Beyond showing the musical talent of South Africa, Buskaid is a positive push on how transformation can take place; and a triumph of skill and perseverance over simple affirmative action. However, while it Buskaid has been wildly successful, it is facing a massive financial shortfall should the Lotto money not be renewed. In that it requires support - and support for more than just attending concerts and buying CDs, and I plan to add my pledge to the ring. 

That said, Buskaid is now effectively a thorough bred music school - and perhaps it is time that it also spans its wings. With highly competent performers and teachers, perhaps it should also consider doing lessons that are paid for. After all, while it is true that the vast majority of its students are from disadvantaged backgrounds; there are also students who are from advantaged backgrounds who wishes to learn and improve playing string instruments. Perhaps the solution should also encompass teaching, for profit, to the advantaged students that can afford the lessons? Yes, it may be a different track to how Buskaid started, but it could be an important step to a brighter, and more integrated future ...

22 August 2012

Movie: The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has to be the finest superhero movie series to date. Across all the spheres, the beautiful cinematography, the great acting, impressive story writing and dialogue; each movie has been a great movie first, before being a great superhero movie. Like a proper trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, builds upon the earlier stories and characters - not only in the growth of Bruce Wayne/Batman, but also the supporting characters such as Commissioner Gordon and Gotham itself.

The story has a bigger political undertone, especially of Bane's "uprising"; but the ultimate link to why Bane actually targets Gotham is tenuous, at best. It is probably one of the biggest plot holes (next to how Batman gets back to Gotham after his "exile"), especially as Batman has for all intent retired at the beginning of the movie. That aside, the pacing of the story, the characters (especially Bane and Anne Hathaway's Catwoman) and the construct of the "prison" of Gotham City is superb.

I have only two, relatively minor, issues with the film. Firstly, Bane's (and sometimes Batman's) speech was sometimes inaudible - but that could have been to do with the theater (and my hearing). Secondly, the very final scene with the coffee shop - did spoil the overall ending sequence. The entire trilogy has not shrunk away from making bold statements on heroism; the last scene was just unnecessary.

15 August 2012

Movie: Sound of My Voice

It is billed as a psychological thriller, though IMO, the movie misses the mark quite a bit. Similar to the book/movie K-Pax in a way, Sound of My Voice revolves around a documentary filmmaker couple who infiltrate a cult around a woman who claims to be from the future. There is no real proof given on why she should be believed, and the movie sort of devolves into a weird exploration of mysticism. There are some other threads that also take place, but they are not really tied together making the plot even more confusing. In the end, it tries to be interesting, but just fails.

14 August 2012

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I bought Mohsin Hamid's "A Reluctant Fundamentalist" at the last Exclusive's sale, only because I didn't finish the book while I was "browsing". It is a gripping tale - one of those that you don't want to put down. It is a combination of a great conversational writing style, witty humour and a great plot - of a young Pakistani man, who succeeds in the top echelons of US academia, is highly successful in a competitive financial services but gives it all away as he becomes disillusioned with western politics. It is a highly entertaining read, and at the same time pushes the question on why fundamentalism (of all types) start out in the first place.

13 August 2012

Movie: The Amazing Spiderman

Spiderman gets a reboot, and I suppose it is better than making endless sequels. This reboot has some great things going for it - there is a lot more character building for Peter Parker, the progression from geek to superhero is well paced and better reasoned and the cinematography, especially in the action sequences, is stunning. 

But there are also a number of problems - for one, he keeps on revealing his identity to people. The movie's final action sequence shows a TV camera following him at the beginning - and this camera magically disappears, as he takes his mask off? He has his mask off, in front of a whole crew of policemen; while rescuing a child etc. 

The villain, just doesn't work. Yes, the rationale that he wants to make everyone powerful and strong makes sense altruistically, doesn't make sense as an action that the villain will want to achieve. There are hints of an underlying subplot, but this seems to have been left for another movie. 

Overall, it is a good action movie - but the reboot is not in the same level as the Batman reboot.

Movie: Shame

Last year, Michael Fassbender was nominated at almost every major film award for his acting in Shame. The main character, is an intensely private person who is a sex addict, and the impact in both his personal and professional life. It is an interesting exploration, not only of the addiction itself, but also of why he needs to keep it a secret. It is an "arty" film - beautiful cinematography, lots of long silences with no dialogue, and no real conclusion - and exceptional acting from Michael Fassbender. It's not a movie for everyone, but certainly a though provoking one.

Mogwase

A stone's throw from one of Pilanesberg's gates, and slightly further from Sun City, are probably the only claims to fame for Mogwase. The B & B (Mogwase Guest House) we stayed at was friendly (with a bit of a quirky architecture) and economical - but there isn't much going for the town itself. 

But what was interesting to observe, is the gulf between South Africa's big cities and towns and smaller towns with regards to security. I didn't spot a single electric fence (other than at Pilanesberg), fences were demarcation of property and not prison walls, gates (if present) were welcoming and not foreboding and doors seemed to be kept unlocked. 

Why the difference? I don't know ...

12 August 2012

Oppikoppi: Day 3


The last day promised the most exciting line-up, with some of the top musical acts in the country. Although, we had initially wanted to go fairly early in the day, we decided to go slightly later in the afternoon to make the most of the later acts.


The tribute to a legend in the South African music scene, Vusi Mahlasela, was the first act of the day. He performed a number of his hits (I have heard at his other appearances), together with some amazing guest artists, including Karen Zoid and Albert Frost. It was a great sundowner concert, and highly enjoyable.

I have never heard of "Eagles of Death Metal", but they drew a humongous crowd. It was an energetic performance by the Californian band, though it wasn't exactly death metal. It was good music, though not something that I would go out and buy a CD for (or even download).


Karen Zoid started her show with an apology, to the non Afrikaners, that not all Afrikaners think like Dan Roodt and Steve Hofmeyer. The rousing response from the crowd was a validation of the statement and her general position on the "Afrikaner mentality", from the massive, predominantly Afrikaner crowd. Her show was a mixture of her new songs (all in Afrikaans), some old favorites and an amazing cover of Queen's "The Show Must Go On". It was certainly one of the highlights of the festival, and yet again Karen Zoid nailed a great show.

I didn't spend too much time at Jack Parrow - the little I saw didn't really interest me much; mostly due to the style.


The tipping point in te decision to come to Oppikoppi was to see "Seether", and they didn't disappoint. In front of an absolutely packed stage, they started with the high octane "Gasoline", and finished with the equally high energy "Remedy", and a number of hits in between. The whole crowd singing "Broken" with the band playing the accompanying music was amazing, as were the numerous extended instrumental pieces during the songs. The interaction with the crowd, though minimal compared to some of the other bands was minimal, but felt genuine. The performance was special, and was certainly the highlight of the festival.

The last band of the festival, was British metal band, "Bullet for my Valentine". Although I have heard some of their songs before, I didn't really know their music. Nevertheless, the very high energy show was great, featuring some of the biggest mosh pits I have ever seen. In one of the instrumental solos, the lead guitarist started playing "Nkosi Sikelela Africa", and the amazing thing for me, was the gusto in which the largely white Afrikaner audience sang along; something that underlies the earlier comment made by Karen Zoid. We have truly come far!