Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Burglars aren't what they used to be ...

Sunday morning was going to be a nice gentle ride with He who shall remain nameless. I was just waking up when I received a message informing me that He would be late as they had had an attempted burglary. Although we do live in a crime ridden environment it still isn't an everyday affair so it was a relief that everyone was fine and the would be burglar was languishing in jail.

During the ride the whole story came out bit by bit. It started at 04:00 with the fence alarm going off and loud noises at the door or window. He, obviously, called the security company and the cops and they arrived in due course to catch the miscreant who was still on the property. They knew this because He had re-armed the fence and it hadn't gone off again but after 30 minutes of searching they couldn't find him and this is not a big piece of ground we're talking about here. The mystery of the vanishing burglar was resolved as dawn broke and he could be seen perched on the top of the water tower - an ingenious place to hide but one entirely lacking in an escape route.
An hours worth of trying to get him down was eventually brought to an end by the promise of a cigarette which he gratefully accepted and started to climb down. It took him an inordinate amount of time to climb down and the reason for this became clear when he reached the ground and picked up his crutches and hobbled over to get his cigarette. I had to concentrate on staying on my bicycle at this point as images of the burglar gaping it over the veld with a TV on one shoulder, crutches flying ... You get the picture I'm sure.

By now, He - the would be victim, was starting to feel quite sorry for the burglar and asked the burglar what he was trying to steal. The burglar didn't really know but said that he was really hoping to get shot in which case he would've ended up in hospital. At least there are beds there and food every day but it gives you an indication just how utterly desperate sections of our society are becoming.

Of course, the burglar could be lying through his crutches but somehow I don't think so. I think that we are going to see more and more people that are utterly destitute in our society and it is incumbent on those of us that have the wealth to spread it around.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sentech Sucks

Ok, I've had it with Sentech! I have been an unhappy customer of Sentech's for four years and I can no longer take it so I have moved to iBurst even though I have it on good authority that Sentech's technology is superior to iBurst's.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of my woes with Sentech.
  • Cut off for R5.30 (about $0.75c) over my limit. No warning emails were received even though that was part of the service.
  • They 'forgot' to bill me for about six months and then wanted a lump sum payment.
  • Refused to support me because I use the modem on a network to give the network access to the internet.
  • Refused to support me because I don't use windows as an operating system.
  • Performed a network upgrade resulting in the firmware in my particular modem no longer working.
  • Modem locks up periodically and needs to be reset.
  • Base stations/signal not always available.
  • Download speeds vary between 200B/s to 150KB/s but are typically of the order of 40-70KB/s.
  • Cut off SMTP access from Sentech's network to other networks. No notification given.

I would admit that some of these like the firmware upgrade are difficult to predict in reality but customers are not the enemy here.

Anyway, I am now happily on iBurst which gives me a fairly consistent download speed of 100KB/sec which although slower than the higher speeds on Sentech still give me faster download times because the network is more stable.

The reason that I stuck it out so long with Sentech is the price of the wireless modem I had to buy but moving to iBurst they just about give their modem away all but removing it as a barrier to adoption.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More Nepali Photographs

The following photographs were all taken in Nepal some time ago.

The picture above is of Mount Pumori (7145m) and the little bump in the foreground which doesn't have any snow or ice on it is the famed "Kala Pattar" (5545) which doesn't look like much but walking up and down is quite a strenuous days walk. Having done this, I have the utmost respect for anyone that climbs any of the high peaks - guided or not.

This cottage was where we slept after we had crossed the Chola La (5480m) pass. Rob had had giardia the day before and I think this was probably his most difficult day ever. The pass is pretty tough as it is even without being sick.

Jumping now to the Annapurna region somewhere along the Modi Khota which is the river flowing from the Annapurna Sanctuary glaciers. (*&^^(*&&^ freezing which I can actually confirm because I took a dip in it. Instant ice-cream headache - it felt like somebody was shrinking one's scalp without removing the skull first.

I can't actually remember where this was but it was in the Annapurna region.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Great Weekend!

It would have had an absolutely perfect weekend last weekend if it wasn't for having to say goodbye to Caron. She buggered off to Bahrain for a few days on business on Saturday evening leaving me to my own devices for a few days.

I've started running to the gym, doing the super-circuit, a kilometer swim and then running back home on Saturday mornings and this is proving to be a very enjoyable manner in which to start the weekend.

The motorbike boots I have aren't really adequate for any off-road riding so I've been looking for a while to buy a new set of riding boots but I just haven't managed to find ones that I really like - until last weekend that is. As luck would have it, not only did I find ones that I actually like and that really fitted me but they were on special as well - bonus!

We spent the afternoon watching rugby and getting ready to take caron to the airport which was pretty relaxing and after I had dropped her, I spent most of the rest of the evening at exclusive books due to the load shedding at home.

Sunday morning saw me donning my new boots and heading down to the Vaal for my first "breakfast run" on the GS. I found getting used to the boots a bit traumatic because they are so stiff that you can't feel the gear lever and it was on more than one occasion that I tried to change into a higher gear only to find that I had not yet released the gear lever from the previous change - effectively preventing me from changing up again. Very disconcerting.

Motorbikes don't make the most comfortable of touring vehicles and the trip to the vaal and back isn't just the boring hour that it is in the car - traveling on the bike turns the trip into an experience. On the bike one is constantly adjusting for the wind and although I can't say my butt got sore, I can see that on a long ride it could get excruciating. Bikers obviously have a bad reputation as far as traffic cops are concerned because every bike going through the roadblock on the R59 south was being stopped. There were a couple of disconsolate bikers sitting on the side of the road, right next to the taxi drivers, waiting to taken off to chukkie but I don't feel sorry for them at all.

I arrived at the vaal and handed in my resignation at the yacht club and put adverts for my portion of the yacht up at manten marina, ldyc and dac. From what dickie was saying, there are several buyers looking for holiday 23's but they all want 100% ownership. Nonetheless, I'll try to sell the 50% for a month or two.

Sunday afternoon was spent on a ride out to Northern Farm with Carl which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is such a novel experience to be the stronger of the riders that I can really cruise and just enjoy the ride. I haven't done the ride out to Northern farm for a while and one can see that the epic and the sani are over because there are hardly any bike tracks on the route and there are new dongas in places which I wasn't expecting. Carl came a cropper a couple of times but seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the ride as well.

Arriving home I saw several SMS's and missed calls from Laurel asking that I come over early for supper - this was when I was already 30 minutes late. Oh well, win some - lose some. Had a pleasant dinner with the Holmes family before retiring exhausted to bed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bob is soooo right!

While I am on the topic of Zimbabwe, I fear that Bob is absolutely right when he says that if he goes, all the land appropriated by the ZANUPF people during the last decade will be repossessed. I say this simply because, those with money have a stronger negotiating position than those that don't and who desperately need it. There will be an unequal bargaining position between the two sides and this will inevitably lead to the dispossession of poor Zimbabwean people of their newly acquired land.

All this goes to show is that the redistribution of land, Zimbabwe style, won't work in the long term and in fact, could well place the recipients of the appropriated land in a worse position than they were originally in. If the appropriation of land leads to the economic destruction of a country as seems to have been the case in Zimbabwe, it will simply leave the recipients of the land in a position where they aren't able to bargain from a position of equal power and are therefore open to exploitation.

While Bob is casting it in terms of white vs black, in reality it will be poor black Zimbabweans that will be at the mercy of white, indian, chinese and black people and corporations, basically anyone with money and few morals, ready to take advantage of their misery.

I think South Africa should take note of this before rushing to expropriate land to fulfill political goals however just they may be as there may be unintended consequences to the injudicious appropriation of land.

The problem with Patronage

It seems that the results of patronage are on display in our neighbor up north. Although Bob seems to be the mouthpiece, the people that really don't want him to step down are those that benefited from his patronage during the last 30 odd years. Patronage and corruption are, in my mind, strongly linked and this is a lesson which South Africa would do well to have a close look at. Since we have a list based electoral system it lends itself to patronage problems because some central committee or in the worst case, person, decides who gets to be on the lists and being on the list seems to be the gateway to the good life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Toys

This is my first post from my new PC which I took delivery of today. My old PC has been getting slower and slower just from a sheer lack of memory and CPU power - something my new PC doesn't lack. Quad core, 4GB RAM, reasonable Nvidia graphics card - way to go. At last I can open photographs in GIMP without having to make a cup of coffee while I wait, and wait. Now, it takes just a few seconds. Awesome!

I have gotta go because I can see the darkness of Eskom rolling in from the sout

Tibet 'n All

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More (or less) Power to ya

Power is becoming a major topic of conversation here so I read with great interest the loss of BHP Billiton's business by Standard Bank because a senior executive from Standard Bank dared to suggest that BHP's smelters should be shut down to get South Africa out of it's electricity spiral. For a company to react as BHP did shows me two things, firstly the level of maturity of the top management of BHP is not what it should be and secondly, they (BHP) are clearly hyper sensitive to this issue. When people are this sensitive to something it usually means that they're in the wrong or guilty of whatever they are being accused of.

Maredi Mogodi, spokesperson for BHP, states that "the view was uninformed" so I would challenge BHP to put data in the public domain so that we, the public, can conduct an informed debate about the smelter's electricity usage.

Specifically, I would be very interested in the gross consumption in MW by individual smelters and the price paid to ESKOM for the electricity by month for the last two years. In addition, I would like to know how many people are employed at each smelter.

Of course, the first response as it is of all charlatans, is that this is private or privileged information to which I would say the following. BHP clearly knows that it doesn't get the cheapest power, how does it know that if it doesn't have access to other companies private or privileged information. Secondly, until the data becomes available we, the public, can make whatever claims we like because BHP is withholding the information that we require in order to make "informed decisions" as they say.

Reference : M&G 4 April 2008 "BHP says it does not get the cheapest power"

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Kranskloof with MCSA

Caron and I have decided to join the MCSA despite our experience that clubs in general tend to attract some pretty odd people. I met a guy almost 20 years ago on the top of the drakensberg who belonged to the MCSA and his behaviour managed to give me such a terrible impression of the kind of people that belong to the mountain club that it has taken me all this time to get over it. Now that we are joining, a whole host of people that we have known for years have admitted that they too actually belong to the MCSA so this impression that MCSA tends to attract some odd people runs deep. If it didn't, I am sure they would have told me before but now that we're in the same boat it seems that it is ok to come clean. So the truth is slowly coming out, the majority of members are just normal people but the small number of odd people stand out so much that it gives the overriding impression that it is entirely populated by them.

In order to join we have to go to four MCSA meets of which we did our first one with great trepidation on Sunday. We were not to be disappointed. We met the meet leader at the Engen garage at 07:40 and we were pleased that at least some people were on time. We were all standing around chatting and a woman pulled up in her car, got out and was walking towards the group when Caron told me in a whisper that she didn't like this woman. The poor girl hadn't even opened her mouth or done anything that I could even vaguely construe as obnoxious and she had already been cast into the 'odd' category. Granted she looked a bit strange due to the sun tan creme on her face which hadn't been rubbed in giving her a ghost like appearance but other than that I couldn't say.

I think someone should do some psychometric evaluations on the membership of the MCSA, I'm sure it will turn up some really fascinating things.

Kranskloof is obviously not often visited by people because the path in could barely be followed and this was the 'well' trodden path that everyone has to use. There were no other paths to be found which meant that the entire area is in about as pristine a condition as one can get. I tried taking photographs in the kloof but it was quite dark and my camera isn't so good in the gloom. The kloof is a very typical magaliesburg gorge which is between 30 and 100m in width and about the same in depth. The climbing looks absolutely great and at this stage is strictly traditional so most of the meeting tended to be a bit older. The younger climbers apparently tend to go more for the sport climbing.

The photographs to the right and below are very typical of what a magaliesburg kloof looks like. The bottom of the kloof is cliff to cliff trees and quite bouldery underfoot and as one ascends through the kloof there are steep sections followed by relatively flat sections. The constant hopping from boulder to boulder is quite strenuous on the 'ol legs and I think Caron was secretly quite happy when I admitted on tuesday that my legs were still a little sore from the bouldering.

Almost all the people at the meet were there to go climbing and it turned out that there were only three of us, piet, caron and myself who were keen on just going some walking. We set off up the kloof and after about 2 hours of walking popped out the top and walked over to the escarpment to have a look at the view. This is an exceptionally beautiful place, principally because it is virtually untouched and the air is clear and has the scent of baboon dung on it. Phewee! - maybe not so great to inhale deeply.

Piet wanted to walk over to the west some more but we decided to descend back down the way that we had come up and an hour later we were back at the climbing spot where we had a very welcome snack. The girl caron had taken a dislike to was still around so Caron was being all bristley and we decided that we had done enough for one day and walked out on our own. The path out was a bit of an experience because we kept on losing it and then walking in circles until we found something that looked vaguely like a path which we followed until we lost that one as well and so on.

Back in johannesburg we were washing our respective cars at the local car wash when Caron received an emergency call from Kim who had, unbeknown to us, spent the last 24 hours vomitting and was feeling very much the worse for wear and wanted to go to hospital. Caron looked after the children while I played ambulance driver. It turned out that it wasn't anything serious, just a case of dehydration brought on by the vomiting so we were back within an hour or two and it wasn't long thereafter that we retreated back to the peace and quiet of our own home.

The morning out with the MCSA turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience, made a little richer by the characters of some of the people that also attended the meeting. The world would be a truly boring place if everyone was 'normal'.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dumbe Chalets

February is always a traumatic month of the year for me because I have to try and work out what to give Caron for her birthday and this is not a trivial task because anything that she really wants she just goes and buys of her own accord. This makes it tricky because I have to divine somehow what she really wants but doesn't know that she really wants - a conundrum that I am sure many significant others find themselves in. This year, the problem beat me and I resorted to a weekend away which was this weekend past.

We had previously discovered the cottages when we were at the barnhouse with Carons whole family and we were trying to escape for some peace and quiet. We drove down in the mini which handled the long distance absolutely fine and arrived to darkness. There had been a power failure, ESKOM load shedding we assumed but we assumed wrong - it was a plain old fashioned power failure.

The first evening, friday, we spent reading by the light of our Petzl headlamps and relaxing. The thing that strikes one the most on arriving is the isolation and silence that surrounds the cottage. As the crow flies the nearest farmhouse is only a kilometre or two away but by line of sight, the nearest lights were at least 10km away. The silence is so complete that it actually sounds loud which I know is a contradiction but it is the only way to describe it. The next morning we woke up early because the sunrise shines straight into the cottage as soon as it comes over the horizon so this probably isn't a good place to sleep in. We were greeted to the following sight of the mist rolling off the escarpment and down into the valley.

After a very leisurely breakfast and a phone call to inform the owners that there was no electricity we took a stroll along the top of the escarpment to the barnhouse where we had previously stayed. The intention was to invade the spa that was being built the last time that we were here but unfortunately it had not been completed yet so we'll just have to come back in a year or so's time. When we pitched up at the spa we found that there were no guests so the staff and owners were kicking around enjoying the break between a full house the last weekend and another full house the following weekend. We went past the barnhouse which looks very different to when we last saw it - they've added an entire new wing onto it complete with indoor swimming pool. We got back to our wonderfully isolated cottage at about 12:00, had lunch and relaxed for most of the afternoon.

Since Caron is a rugby addict we couldn't miss the Sharks game so we buggered off the the "Caterpillar and Catfish Inn" where we commandeered a portion of the bar and watched the game. They won so I had a happy Caron for the evening. After a very good meal of which I could only eat half, we retired to our place of solitude for a spa bath and an early night. One can sit in the spa bath and look out over the nightlights of the kwazulu-natal lowlands (it's relative) listening to the wind whistling over the roof. I had to take a run outside to check how cold it actually was which was not nearly as cold as I thought it was going to be. Nonetheless, it was nice to get back into the warmth of the spa bath.

The photo above show the layout of the cottage which is basically one big room and is strictly a two significant other establishment. For instance, it is totally impossible to split the bed since the base is concrete and it is a genuine one piece queen mattress. When we woke up the next morning there was this blanket of cloud in the valley below which the sun rose over. It was absolutely fantastic, it would be hard to have too much of this.

We spent the morning doing nothing but reading and drinking coffee and left after luch which consisted of left overs from last nights supper. Driving out of the gate we were confronted with the picture below and they weren't exactly keen on getting out of the way either.

The whole weekend turned out to be a fantastic break, principally because once you are down there, there is nothing to do which is great if only in small quantities. I'm not sure I would survive a week there but a few days is absolute bliss. Yet another sh!t day in africa. Tough to have to go home in order to work in order to pay for the luxury.

Electricity Woes

So ESKOM expects us, the population, to decrease out usage of electricity by 10% in order to stave off the so-called load shedding. Without putting too fine a point on it, this is another example of the type incompetent management that has landed us in this mess in the first place.

Firstly, whether we do or don't reduce out power consumption by 10% we are going to be subjected to load shedding - spot the incentive to save electricity.
Secondly, those people who have actually cut down on electricity usage by replacing lightbulbs, installing solar geyser, switching to gas for cooking etc are now in a pickle. They ALSO have to reduce their consumption by 10% but now, having done the easy ones, in order to save another 10% it gets more and more difficult and more and more expensive. Isn't it ironic that the rules as communicated at the moment are going to penalise both the historically responsible and the historically irresponsible.
Thirdly, increasing the price of electricity, which I happen to fully agree with, has to be done across the board for both domestic and agricultural and industrial users. If it isn't, then all that happens is that those paying the higher price effectively subsidise those paying the lower prices.
Fourthly, Domestic use account for a relatively small proportion of the total electricity use so cutting it by 10% is actually only cutting it by 10% of the 30 or 40% of the total that it constitutes.
Fifthly, reducing electricity consumption can only be done two ways. Either one changes one's lifestyle or one pays for energy efficient appliances. The thought of changing one's lifestyle e.g. cold showers because ESKOM is incompetent is probably not going to happen in a hurry, people don't change lifestyle easily even if there are very good reasons for doing so. That leaves us at the pay option. Assuming that I am a good citizen and I go and install a solar geyser, a gas oven and replace all lightbulbs with energy saving ones that will set each household back about R20,000.00. Multiple that by the number of households which, I'm guessing here, would be about 1,000, 000 that use the majority of domestic consumption and one gets to a staggering total of 20 BILLION rand that the tax paying citizens have to cough up.

My solution would be to seriously look at shutting down all aluminium smelters AND increase electricity prices across the board for the following reasons:
1. I have read somewhere that they on their own consume 10% of total electicity consumption, I am open to correction on this.
2. Aluminium smelter don't employ a lot of people so the inevitable job losses are more easily manageable and well defined.
3. Increasing electricity prices will encourage people over time to move to energy efficient technology but because it is over time it will be more of a replace what is broken with energy efficient appliances rather than throw away working appliances and replace.
4. Aluminium smelters simply export our very cheap electricity. The bauxite arrives in ships, uses our electricity to refine it and then leaves as aluminium. Why, when we don't have enough electricity to go around are we exporting our electricity?

Of course, this will never happen because:
1. It will mean tough decisions have to be made by ESKOM and tough decisions only get made by competent management.
2. There are long term contracts in place already which have to be negotiated out of but if you weigh up the 20 Billion that tax payers are going to pay to reduce electricity and the penalties that getting out of the contracts are going to incur. 20 Billion takes a lot of topping.
3. A follow on from 2, someone has to take responsibility for getting out of those contracts and responsiblity isn't ESKOMs strong suite. We are already getting the message from ESKOM that the reason that we're in this pickle is because we, the public, use too much electricity not that ESKOM were incompetent in their handling of the entire crisis.
4. Contracts with the smelters are going to have to be renegotiated anyway to take into account the general price rises in electricity. Oh, I forgot, they aren't going to be renegotiated - we the public are going to end up subsidising industry.
4. Reneging on the contracts or force buying the smelters is going to seriously piss off some major heavy weight industrial conglomerates. Again, ESKOM doesn't have the gutzpa to do this.
5. My very rough and ready calculations could be way off which would let ESKOM off the hook and before anyone picks up on this as a sign of my own incompetence. Energy is not my business as it is ESKOMS.

Ok, got that off my chest. Now I can go back to more pleasant commentary.