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).

26 October 2013

Johannesburg International Motor Show

I have been mulling over on whether to buy a new car, but my current one if working fine, so there is no motivation to really buy a new one (other than having a new car). That said, the Johannesburg International Motor Show was a good opportunity to see what is coming out in the recent future; and I was specifically interested in the electric cars that may be coming to SA soon.

Of the cars, the most imminent is the Nissan Leaf, which is launching next month. But it is not a car that looks like it is worth just under half a million Rands. In looks to other similar priced cars - 3 Series BMW, Audi A4, C-Class Mercedes - and this just doesn't stack up. It does have all the gadgets; it is fairly comfortable and quite nice to drive (I took the short test drive on offer); and the promise of incredibly low fuel costs does provide some of the positives. It has a 24 KWh battery, and a range of approximately 195 KM. Based on current SA electricity price of approx R1 per KWh, this translates to an incredible 12c per KM of fuel costs - far less than any petrol/diesel equivalent. But with a general lack of charging stations (right now at least) and the high investment cost; it may be better off to get a highly economical diesel.

Mahindra was the other "low cost" vehicle manufacturer with an electric car on show - which looked a bit like a bulkier golf car to be honest. Interestingly none of the other Asian manufacturers had hybrids or electric cars on show; except for existing offers from Toyota (and Lexus) and Honda.

The feature car that all the papers were talking about was the BMW i8 due to land in SA end of next year/early 2015. It is a great looking car, but there wasn't much on performance or price (although the agent did comment that it was going to be at the R2 million mark). The BMW i3 is also expected to be launched next year, but at the reported price of R1 million, it is worth two Nissan Leafs, and looks worse!

The i8 was not the only hybrid/electric stunner on the floor. Honda's new NSX is absolutely beautiful, though no other details were available, and is still in a concept phase I think.

There were a few interesting, non electric cars to see also - Chevrolet's Camaro is a classic American Muscle Car, but no further details were available. Giniel de Villier's Dakar Rally Car, a Red Bull F1 car and the Lexus LFA (which Top Gear called best car in the world).

23 October 2013

JPO's 2nd 2013 Season, 3rd Concert

The program notes that Japanese conductor Yasuo Shinozaki spent considerable time leading orchestras in Finland. It was therefore apt that his 3 week tenure as the conductor of the JPO started with Jean Sibelius' Finlandia, performed with great gusto. It is a great piece, especially performed live.

Violinist Matthew Trusler performed Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto, which was a stark contrast to Finlandia's exuberance. Written during World War 2, it is a melancholic piece (although I am not clear on whether it is mourning the event of a war, or the outcomes of the war); and although there are clearly passages which require great skill to perform (especially in the second movement), it was not a very enjoyable piece in itself. It was amazing to see it being performed - but I am not sure I would like to hear it again.

Rachmaninoff's Symphony No 1 rounded up the evening, which was yet again very boisterous. I really enjoyed the piece, especially the various contrast between the strings and the brass and percussion elements. It was loud, it was interesting, it was happy - almost all the things that the violin concerto was not - and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Movie: Gravity

There are movies that are cinematic masterpieces, and then there is Gravity which sets up an even higher bar to achieve. It doesn't matter that the visuals of the movie were mostly computer generated - it is an amazingly beautiful spectacle. The science may not be perfect and the plot could have focused less on moving from one disaster to another (I was wondering, almost hoping that a great white shark would appear). 

The great acting performances (especially by Sandra Bullock as the survivor in empty space), the masterful depiction of weightlessness and the amazing cinematography are pull together to make an amazing movie.

22 October 2013

Side Channel Attacks in the Cloud

I saw this paper (by Yinqian Zhang, Ari Juels, Michael K. Reiter and Thomas Ristenpart in ACM CCS 2012) earlier this year, but thought it was a very specific threat model. In a  one line summary - it is possible to recover private keys when they are being used within a virtual machine, through observations of the activity of the virtual machine from the host machine. It is a very complex attack, and requires at least host access for these observations, so my initial thoughts were that this attack could only be carried out by extremely skilled admins of a cloud hosting provider; but the complexity would probably mean that there was no realistic threat in that regard.

With the NSA revelations of the past few months, this is an interesting approach that could be taken by an agency (such as the NSA) to recover private keys from cloud providers, without getting actual access to the servers themselves. Given that PRISM does provide such access to hosts, it is not inconcievable that systems that are hosted on public cloud services such as Amazon's EC2 could be monitored. However, given the description of events relating to Lavabit, it is likely that this type of attack hasn't been operationalised yet - but remains interesting on what could be achieved.

20 October 2013

1820 Settlers National Monument

The 1820 Settlers National Monument is just outside Grahamstown, offering fantastic views of the town. A monument celebrating English settlers, it is in many ways a monument to colonialism - especially with cannons pointed towards the town; although the monument website talks about anything but that. The foundation building itself was closed on Sunday, but the views were worth the stop.