Friday, May 26, 2006

Do superhero stories have bad endings?

The last year of my life has been challenging. To say the least.

After wading through a resultant suicidal depression over the past few months this week is pulling me down again.

Threatening my very sense of who I am.

You know in Spiderman 2 when Peter Parker begins to lose his superpowers? And he's torn because he feels the superhero powers have cost him so much, yet without Spiderman, the world is a bit worse off? To add to it, he's taking a hammering at the hands of Doc Ock and his identity has been exposed. Not only that, but the girl of his dreams is marrying someone else and his best friend hates him for not giving up Spiderman.

After he has passed out after saving their lives, one of the passengers on the train looks down at his limp frame. He remarks, "He's just a kid, no older than my son."

That's my week. Pretty much the last year. Not a hero, just a kid.

My life over the last ten years has been challenging, but I have achieved in my chosen field. I have been at the top of my game - one of the best in the world. Now I pretty much have to give up what has validated me and move onto something else. And there have been the ups and downs of my private life to add to all of that.

Peter Parker's wise Aunt May says to him, "I believe there is a hero in all of us that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble... who finally allows us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the things we want the most... even our dreams..."

This week I had to give up a dream. Not through choice, but because I wasn't good enough. I've worked hard at making sure that doesn't happen too often any more. Because, like Peter Parker, I was an underachieving geeky kid once and then I found something in life that I was better at than almost anybody - for him, he was Spiderman, for me it was my career.

I can choose to believe that someone didn't see that spark. That maybe I just had a bad day in an interview. But I'm out of runway and I've pretty much got to do something different now.

Being a hero right now means getting through this and finding out the next big thing in my life. Being steady and giving up on a dream.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Do koi get sad?

I present conclusive proof - a photo of a very sad koi.

OJ was my first big koi. Sadly he got struck by the ulcer disease that hit my fish this last summer. He mostly recovered from this but aeromonas bacteria continued to eat away at his gill cover - or operculum. I thought that this had stabilised, but then noticed that it had in fact progressed and he was showing increased signs of illness.

The hole can also be a sign of tuberculosis - which is transmittable to humans, so one has to be careful. But given the history I am pretty sure it is bacterial.

More on the problem at:

So OJ has been caught and is in quarantine. Here he is. Looks miserable, hey?

The red water visible through the side of the quarantine container is that colour due to a dose of Potassium Permangante. This is to kill the external nasties. Today he begins a sequence of Baytril antibiotic injections. Which is a treatment I hate administering. See this old blog entry on the procedure.

Once I have got him right, he will sport the hole for the rest of his life, together with the funny mouth he now has after recovering from his previous ulcer.

My plan to ease his troubles is to super-glue a fish scale over the hole. This will enable him to seal his gills as he normally would to regulate the pressure as he breathes. It's not essential, but closer to normality.

On the subject of koi, I went to the SAKKS National Koi Show at Cresta this weekend. It was something to behold. There were over 50 porta-pools containing fish in the competition. In addition, each dealer had pools with fish for sale. Take a look at the size of this brute who was in the competition:

I couldn't resist the temptation and bought two beautiful fish at pretty good prices.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Could Shosholoza "place" in Act 11?

Oh my goodness!

After my excitement thus far, Shosholoza are excelling themselves again! After two races in Act 11 (fleet races as opposed to the one-on-one races of Act 10), Shosholoza is lying third - after beating favourites Alinghi, BMW Oracle and the Kiwis!!

To give you an idea of the achievement, teams like Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle have budgets of over $100m.

From News24:

Shosholoza in third place
20/05/2006 10:38 - (SA)

Johannesburg - Consistency and a superb solid performance brought South Africa's Team Shosholoza two impressive fifth places and third spot overall after the opening two races today of the Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 11 fleet racing event being held in the Mediterranean off Spain.

Smart tactical racing in light, shifty winds and a lumpy sea saw the South Africans finish ahead of some of the giants of the Americas Cup in both races. In the first they put Cup Defenders Alinghi three boat lengths behind them at the finish and convincingly beat the Italian Luna Rossa challenger who finished 10th.

In the second race they finished two places ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand and beat the American winners of the Louis Vuitton Act 10, BMW ORACLE Racing, in both races.

More at the America's Cup site and on News24.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Do unions see the irony?

Today saw the Cosatu stay-away for jobs. By all accounts the strike was a qualified success, particularly in the mining sector:

The idea of striking for jobs is fairly ironic, but not the irony I'm referring to.

Unionism succeeds based on the selfishness of the individual. This is in itself ironic given the Marxian principles upon which it is founded. Unions succeed because the individual wants a higher wage and job security.

While unions fight for a cause, they are organisations in themselves and thus vulnerable to internal politics. The single biggest driver of misalignment of the desires of the member and the union management is exactly this - politics of power. The greater the number and extent of dissatisfied members, the greater the power of the union bosses and organisation.

It is therefore in the interests of the union to, if not ferment dissatisfaction, certainly expose any latent dissatisfaction and given voice to any patent dissatisfaction.

Finally, a further need drives union activity. Should union members not see active, confrontational union activity, they devalue the benefits of belonging to such a union.

And so unions argue for jobs. Yet similarly they argue for higher wages. Given the above discussion, it is clear which point they will argue more vociferously. In fact some simple economic relationships indicate the levers we have towards job creation. They also expose the irony in union activity:

From the first equation, one can see that to increase employment, skills and productivity must be raised and inflation, wages and exchange rates lowered. The basis for this is international competitiveness. Should our productivity or skills be inferior to other nations or our wages, inflation and exchange rate be higher, we will lose out in the competition to produce goods. If our wages are higher, then we must be more productive, etc.

Unions argue for a living wage. They argue for job creation. Their lever of choice in the above is the exchange rate. Depreciate the Rand is their cry.

This ignores the relationships in equation 4. Depreciating the Rand leads to inflation. We are a developing country with a very open market - meaning we import many of our goods and services. Depreciating the exchange rate leads to inflation, putting upward pressure on wages (equation 2) and again making us uncompetitive. This is the very dangerous cycle we saw played out in the 90's, where high inflation led to higher wage demands which led to higher inflation.

The government's economic policy is a strength few have complimented enough. They have made the argument for the long term - bring down inflation through stabilising the exchange rate and increase productivity and skills. The short term implications of this is job losses as unproductive, expensive industries have shed workers. Only after a substantial period of a gentle depreciation of the Rand combined with higher productivity, lower inflation and lower wage demands do our industries become competitive again and able to grow employing more workers.

That's not a popular process with unions who are unable to sell the long term lower wage, high skill and higher productivity argument to their members. Especially with job losses in the short term.

It is not a wonder therefore that the South African Communist Party has expressed a view that it might have to split from the ANC-led Tri-Partite Alliance through disagreement on the GEAR economic policy.

Unions have many capable economists. But internal politics mean that their calls have the irony and paradox of short-termism - leading to higher wages but ultimately leading to increased job losses.

Given our relatively high wages for unskilled labour, certain industry is beyond South Africa's successful competition (e.g. most textile production). Other industries open to us - given our dollar-wage rate - require higher skills levels and greater productivity. This is the crux of growth and job-creation in South Africa. And that is not a popular union message.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Do students have brains?

I read the following article and had a good chuckle to myself.

I still have scars (literally) from my wild student days. My friends and I had the time of our lives.

One friend decided on a swim after a drunken outing to the Brass Bell, in Kalk Bay Cape Town. So he stripped off and dived into a rock pool in front of the restaurant (the restaurant and pub are built on the rocks at the edge of the sea). This would have all been fine except that apparently those rock pools attract much drunken activity and he stepped on a broken bottle. Other friends tried to convince him he needed to go to hospital but he decided to evade capture. He was finally reigned in and bundled into his bakkie as a passenger and driven to hospital. Except that his bakkie did not have a cap for the petrol tank, instead having a makeshift rag blocking the opening - not very well. So much of the petrol had evaporated and they ran out half way to the hospital. Upon which my drunken friend escaped and ran up a tree. The other friend, not much less the worse for wear, stood below the tree trying to convince him to come down. While he negotiated, he held a bucket to thoughtfully catch the blood dripping from above.

The friends survived as did I. I look back on my student days and wonder how.

Drunk student rescued from tree
16/05/2006 22:45

London - A drunken student who spent the night in a tree had to be rescued by British firefighters on Tuesday.

He was, quite literally, out on a limb.

"Alcohol and climbing trees don't really mix," said Nigel Limbrick of the Gloucestershire fire department.

"In all seriousness, he could've killed himself if he had fallen.

"He had had a skinful and in his inebriated state he climbed 30m up a pine tree, without his shoes on. He then fell asleep.

"I'm not quite sure how he managed it, but he woke up wrapped around a branch."

The man is a student at the Gloucestershire College of Arts and Technology in Cheltenham.

He used his cell phone to call firefighters after waking up around dawn, chilly and confused, in the tree.

Eight firefighters needed 90 minutes and ropes and pulleys to get him down from his precarious perch.

Paramedics at the scene treated him for some scratches.

"He was a bit quiet when he came down and a bit embarrassed," said Limbrick.

"I think he got a bit cold up there. He only had his jeans and T-shirt on and he must have had quite a hangover."

From IoL

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Upset about SA crime?

If you're upset about SA crime then the following statistic is worth noting.

Thing is, it's unlikely that you might get shot for your cell phone in the UK.

Cellphone stolen every 12 seconds in UK

May 16 2006 at 01:40PM

London - Thieves steal a mobile phone every 12 seconds in Britain, with the northwest city of Lancaster the worst hotspot, according to insurance company figures released on Tuesday.

More than two million phones worth £390-million (R4,7-billion) were stolen in 2005, said Halifax Home Insurance, which collated the figures.

More at IoL

Friday, May 12, 2006

Is this the year for Shosholoza?

You may remember that last year I got quite excited about our entry to the Americas' Cup, Shosholoza.

Well this year's Cup action started yesterday in Valencia, Spain (Called Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 10).

Sadly, Shosholoza lost its first heat to Cup favourite BMW Oracle, but early days yet.

The Cup has an awesome website. Go see.


Shosholoza had a stunning day today - carding two race victories!

See more: BMW ORACLE Racing are unbeaten while the Swedes and South Africans move up

Shosholoza beat Areva in Flight 5 on Day 3 of Act 10 of the Americas Cup in Valenica - one of two wins on the day Picture:

UPDATE!! UPDATE!! Monday 15th May

Shosholoza had another really good day today, trailing Alinghi (one of the two America's Cup favourites - the other is BMW Oracle) by only two boat lengths over the finish line. In their second race they won, beating +39.

Listen live during the next three days on America's Cup Radio.

The following is an article about Shosholoza from the America's Cup Magazine:

Valencia - 15.05.2006
New start for South Africa

The first ever America’s Cup challenge from South Africa, Shosholoza, is marching to the beat of a different drum in 2006. The team has a new base, a new boat configuration, a new mast and sails, and additions to the crew which give the team a more international – and Italian – flavour. This is Shosholoza in 2006, a team determined to make a move at this 32nd America’s Cup.
In 2004, the South Africans captured hearts with their passion and enthusiasm. In 2005 the team earned its first win in Malmö-Skåne, and followed that up with three more match victories in Trapani, and a surprising fifth place finish in the fleet races.

Now, in 2006, the team is determined to move up the ladder in a meaningful way. After two disappointing days, on Saturday, Shosholoza exploded for two victories, including a huge win over Desafío Español.

“It was important is to just keep going. On Friday we expected a win and didn’t get it, but it was important to keep our heads high, not change a lot and stay confident that it would come together sooner or later,” said Solomon Dipeere, one of the crew members on the team.“Personally, I think the spirit and team work on our team is fantastic. We just keep feeling good, as if we were winning everything and that feeling is good for the team.”

The driving force behind the enthusiasm on the team is Captain Salvatore Sarno, the ebullient founder and leader of Shosholoza. He recognises the need to balance passion and technology in his pursuit of the America’s Cup. On the ‘technology side, the team was the first to launch a new boat, with RSA 83 racing all 2005 Louis Vuitton Acts. The boat has been modified over this past winter, and with a new mast and sails is more competitive than ever with the rest of the fleet.

And experience
The additions of Dee Smith, Tommaso Chieffi and Paolo Cian have added skill and experience to the back of the boat, and Mark Sadler, a South African, has been appointed skipper.

“The crew is delighted by the new team and there is a lot of enthusiasm about our prospects this year.” Captain Sarno says. “I knew the victories would come. We only needed to tune the team and now I am expecting similar, positive results.”

While they are celebrating their deserved success, the team is leading another important campaign…against AIDS. One of their new spinnakers carries the red AIDS ribbon emblazoned across the white sail material.

“This is such an important issue, and we see the America’s Cup as an ideal platform to raise awareness about something that is critical for all of Africa,” Sarno says.

And it’s that disarming recognition from Salvatore Sarno that some things are more important than winning that might just make Shosholoza the most successful team – on and off the water – at this 32nd America’s Cup.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking for your stolen car?

If so, maybe try Kenya or Uganda.

We've heard that many of our hijacked and stolen cars end up north in Africa. I must admit that I was surprised to hear that it is also the destination for stolen European cars.

But such is the scale of the problem that an Interpol-led raid in East Africa has led to a decrease in traffic on their roads!!

This all begs the question, how do these thousands of cars get across our borders?

'I didn't know it was stolen'
08/05/2006 09:20 - (SA)

Bogonko Bosire

Nairobi - An Interpol operation to recover thousands of stolen European and Asian cars in East Africa is easing congestion on the region's traffic-choked roads as fearful motorists leave their cars at home.

With Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan police prowling for purloined Pajeros, Pathfinders and Preludes, luxury car owners who may have wittingly or unwittingly purchased a stolen vehicle are staying off the streets.

"I don't know whether mine is clean or not, but I'd rather not drive it and tempt fate," said Henry Ssemwanga, a Ugandan whose all-terrain, four-wheel drive Land Cruiser is among the models most targetted for spot checks.

More at News24.

Do you have a lion problem in your neighbourhood?

Picture: The Lion Park
After lions appearing in Muldersdrift (just outside Johannesburg) some months back, then 4 touring the districts of Limpopo, a pair have recently appeared in Winburg (in the Free State, 100km outside Bloemfontein).

Contrary to popular American belief, this is slightly unusual for most South Africans.

Just to ensure that this is a rare phenomenon, IITQ is doing a snap poll. Please respond to this by commenting at the bottom of this post "No, no lions in the last 6 months" if you have not had one in your garden or "Yes, friggin things are picking off the young ones" if you have seen any recently.

Marauding lioness shot dead
10/05/2006 22:06 - (SA)

Bloemfontein - A young lioness which twice chased and terrorised people in the Winburg area of the Free State has been shot dead, the Volksblad newspaper reported on Wednesday.

More at News24.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

So how's the studying going, IITQ?

Eish, getting back into studying after ten years is quite something. Especially when you make a screw up as big as I did and register for an entire year's courses to be completed in four months.

The root of this problem is that I was unaware that UNISA offered semester courses. I was under the impression that all courses were year long with exams at the end of the year. Not so. Secondly, UNISA's course coding is not as intuitive as my alma mater UCT. There, courses for a first semester ended with an F and for the second semester ended with an S. Who knows what UNISA's course coding system is - it looks like every letter of the alphabet has a place.

But all that is OK. My sabbatical must end soon and it would have been impossible for me to carry a study load while working.

Studying itself has been difficult. My mind has wandered ceaselessly in line with decisions regarding a new job, relationship up-and-downs, koi, the weather and the moon.

Despite this I have managed to cover the course work and at times had the focus to contemplate the studies' application which of course is the ultimate purpose.

I am currently in the middle of exams which has been an experience in itself. It was nerve wracking going back into an exam hall. And freezing. Bloody hell, writing exams on a winter morning in a sports hall requires layered dressing. Also, I've been made to feel old as I have considered the youngsters around me. And I have had to reacquaint myself with writing the contents of a textbook in the space of two hours. The latter takes practice and with the modern world of business requiring more typing than speed writing, it has been tough.

Currently I am attempting to crowd out (economic term) the wandering thoughts and focus on econometrics - which I write on Friday. Luckily I have an excellent textbook. My current topic is heteroskedasticity. The author remarks that "although heteroskedasticity is a difficult word to spell, at least it's an impressive comeback when parents ask, "What'd you learn for all that money?"

My studying will make me so much more interesting company in the bar - click to enlarge - caption reads "Are you just pissing and moaning, or can you verify what you're saying with data?" Picture: University of Illinois

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Was justice served in the Jacob Zuma rape trial?

Jacob Zuma sings "Leth'uMshini Wami" (bring me my machine gun) with his supporters Picture: Mail & Guardian
I believe so.

When the rape claims came to light, I posted that I found it unlikely that Mr Zuma's claims that the proven unprotected sex with the accuser had occurred in the course of an ongoing sexual relationship.

Since then I felt angry when the accuser's past sexual history was allowed into evidence. A very wise judge told the court that he had his reasons for allowing the evidence and as we heard the history of accusations against multiple people surface, including clergymen, I began to have my doubts.

And doubts are all that are required. The ultimate measure of whether justice has been done is when we put oursleves in the shoes of the accused and consider the evidence before the court. Would we have felt the judgement was fair?

So what of the conspiracy? I think it is unlikely that an accuser would go through the torture that has accompanied this trial for political masters. It is however likely that those unfriendly towards Mr Zuma encouraged an opportunistic prosecution. They more than us would have likely known Mr Zuma's cultural beliefs and believed that even if a conviction did not result, Mr Zuma was likely to be embarrassed.

So now we await Mr Zuma's trial for corruption. I'll await new facts and an interesting examination.

But Mr Zuma, you have coloured my perception of you with your anachronistic beliefs and chauvanist attitude. You have shamed men as you have sung your war songs with phallic symbolism. You and your supporters are may be loud and visible, but you represent an ugly side of mankind.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Don't you hate those mimes on the streets?

Well, I do. I never know what to do when confronted by some white-faced mute, copying my moves.

And the reason we should all feel aggrieved is that we're being short changed. What we deserve is street theatre like this:

The Sultan's Elephant travels through Picadilly Circus Picture: The Sultan's Elephant website
The Sultan's girl travels through time - on a London bus! Picture: The Sultan's Elephant website
The Sultan's girl (5m tall) meets the elephant (12m tall)Picture: The Sultan's Elephant website

Here's the story from IoL:

'Time travelling' elephant performs in London

May 06 2006 at 02:52PM

By Suevon Lee

London - A giant mechanical elephant trudged through a London parade-ground Friday as part of a travelling art exhibit, drawing gasps and cheers from spectators and spraying them with water on a hot, sunny day.

"The Sultan's Elephant," a 12-meter-tall contraption constructed mostly of wood and metal, was created by the Nantes, France-based theatre group Royal de Luxe to tell the story of a forlorn sultan beguiled by visions of a young girl whom he believed was travelling through time.

Desperate to find her, the sultan builds a time-travelling elephant to lead him on a journey to find the girl, who is represented by a giant marionette towering over five meters high.

The animal is a feat of engineering that stands 12 meters tall and weighs 42 tons. Its trunk is operated by 22 pistons and its floppy ears were created from over 70 square meters of leather.

"It's terrifying! "I've never seen such a spectacle," exclaimed Japanese student Mina Yagi, 34, as the elephant approached a fence separating it from the crowd at Horse Guards Parade - a dusty site commonly used for royal ceremonies. But on Friday it took on a circus-like atmosphere.

A loud boom - audible at the nearby residence of Prime Minister Tony Blair as a cabinet reshuffle was under way - signalled the start of the show as characters dressed as the sultan and his entourage mounted the prostrate pachyderm.

The creature drew gasps and cheers from the crowd as it rose to its feet and swung its trunk from side to side, spraying water on people wilting under a sun worthy of midsummer.

Helen Marriage, whose company Artichoke Productions helped bring the three-day exhibit to the streets of London, said: "We wanted to bring something really monumental, and free and accessible to the public here."

Red-uniformed men hauled ropes attached to the limbs of the girl, who arrived from a "crashed spaceship" in nearby Waterloo Place. The girl "meets" the elephant for the first time, and is greeted with an affectionate spray of water. The puppet showed vivid human-like body language.

"She's full of expression - her eyes, her smile. They manage to move her face as well," said Annette Hales-Tiberghien, a London resident. "I'm not surprised (the sultan) is in love with her."

On the Net: The Sultan's Elephant, - Sapa-AP