Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are traditions sacred? Who will stop the dolphin and whale culls?

I read this story this morning about the annual dolphin and whale cull in Taiji, Japan.

I felt sick to my stomach.

It reminds me of the debate about ritual slaughters of goats and cattle in South Africa, where Xhosa people viewed the criticism of backyard slaughters as racist.

"Dolphin-killing may be bad for our international image, but we can't just issue an order for it to stop."

"I think we are the victims of a form of racism," said one, as we watched the pilot whales being herded out of sight to be killed. "Westerners slaughter cattle and other animals in the most inhumane ways imaginable, but no one says a word. Why is it that only Japan gets this kind of treatment?"

Sounds very familiar.

The point is that slaughter of any form is regrettable. That animals have to die that we may eat. However, if animals are brought up and slaughtered in a humane way, this at least draws from a sustainable resource in a way that minimizes stress and suffering.

The slaughter of whales and dolphins satisfies a blood lust preserved in the name of tradition, attacks threatened species, and causes massive suffering to the most intelligent animals.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What technologies make mobile life easier?

The rush and movement of my holiday necessitated getting my communication optimised. I arrived in the UK and loaded a Vodafone pre-paid SIM bought on a previous trip. It did not work. Vodafone expires their pre-paid SIMs after 3 months of inactivity. So I made use of roaming on my South African Vodacom account for the first two days of my holiday in the UK. I stayed in a reasonable hotel in Bayswater with Wi-Fi and began my technology upgrade.

I downloaded Google Maps Mobile over the hotel Wi-Fi to my laptop and transferred it to my phone. What a brilliant application. It works off cell phone mast triangulation (accuracy varies depends on the masts in the area) or it can use your phone's GPS.

I have an HTC Touch Diamond which I bought some time back due to its full suite of technologies (wi-fi, GPS, FM radio, Bluetooth 2.0, 3.2 megapixel camera, HSDPA, 3G, EDGE, GPRS) and its size. It has an iPhone-like touch interface, but following the iPhone shortly after its launch, it had a fuller complement of technologies and was about half the size. It integrates well with email, supporting multiple IMAP and POP3 accounts. It's been a great phone with only one shortcoming - the feature set overwhelms its battery which often hardly lasts a day. The GPS has to be used in a car connected to power, or it drains the battery in about 20 minutes.

I also downloaded Skype for Mobile to make calls back to SA at a cheaper rate while away.

I thought I had the North American maps for Co-Pilot, my Navteq-based GPS software. When I reached the US, I found I did not. I paid for the US and South African maps and then assumed I had access. But I then discovered they needed to be downloaded. As an HTC user, the maps are difficult to get hold of as CoPilot is bundled with the phone. They must be purchased and you then have to email support to get the link to download. Other users purchase the Co-Pilot software and then use its desktop console to download the maps. The North American maps were 1GB. By the time I reached Los Vegas and was about to hire a car, I discovered I did not have the maps. In discovering this I used 12mb of data on roaming while sitting at the side of the road - this alone cost me R1400. I eventually made it to my destination in Los Angeles using Google Maps. This is really not ideal as you have to read off the screen - difficult while driving and navigating the myriad of freeways in LA. CoPilot GPS has voice prompting.

After making contact with Co-Pilot European support from my hotel, I downloaded 250Mb before I had to check out. I downloaded the remainder when I reached my cousins. I was now in position to use the GPS maps and verbal direction on my drive up the west coast.

I had forgotten my iPod in South Africa and bought the new Nano in New York to listen to Depeche Mode and U2 prior to their concerts. At $199 for the 16Gb Nano, it was an expensive mistake. Now I have two...

I went to the New York store RCS Experience to buy a long-life battery for my Lenovo T60 notebook. My previous battery had reached the end of its useful life, and I have always wanted something for long plane journey's etc. It was a crazily expensive purchase in South Africa, and slightly cheaper in New York ($166).

While there I found a point-and-shoot camera, to complement my Canon EOS D20. It is the truly amazing Canon Digital IXUS 960IS - it takes 12 Megapixel photos and shoots HD video. It was quite an expensive purchase (about $300) with another $65 for an 8Gb extreme speed SD card.

A productivity aid I've longed for is a bluetooth keyboard for my phone. I bought a Freedom universal fold-up keyboard. It is amazing. It provides an almost full size keyboard and with office mobile on my phone, this allows me to work comfortably in a coffee shop on my phone. That cost about $80 and was one of my best purchases.

The truly impulse purchase was a set of binoculars. I've never had a pair, and end up using the telephoto lens on my camera in the bush. I found a cheapish pair of Bushnell binocs with an SD slot that allows you to take a 3.2 Megapixel photo of whatever you're viewing through the lens. They cost $240 - a long way short of the $3000-odd dollar starting price for Leica and other pedigrees.

I put the camera to good use and took some nice pictures and videos at the Depeche Mode and U2 Concerts, and while playing golf. I don't really do typical tourist pictures - you can always download really good ones off the net. I resolved during this trip that that was a poor excuse. In future I will look to take a good photo and help preserve a memory.

I began this resolution in LA at Universal pictures - where I was dismayed my Canon EOS D20 stopped working. It gave a Compact Flash error, yet the CF disk worked on a flash reader. That was really irritating, especially after hauling the camera half way round the world. When I got back I reformatted the disk and it's now working again.

I attempted to get a US pre-paid contract while in the US to reduce my burgeoning cell phone bill. I found that the US pre-paid contracts have no data portion. How irritating. That cost me a lot of money as I continued to access Google maps, etc while roaming.

Once back in the UK, I switched to a new Vodafone pre-paid account. I had a nightmare setting the account up, which I will detail in a comprehensive bitch about Vodafone service in another post. But once on that I was able to sustain a week's comprehensive data access and calls for less than £15.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Could I live in New York?

I wrote this on the road a few weeks back...

New York is one of my favourite places. I have regrets that I have not lived here over the course of my life thus far.

There is an energy about this place that seems to come from the city itself - like a giant beast with its own life source. The noise is unique: trucks and subways make walls vibrate, the hum of cafes and shops, the rattle and clatter of continuous construction.

I'm lucky to be visiting for the eighth time. I really don't want to leave to go to the West Coast - my first visit there. I've slotted right back into New York - the morning walk for coffee and breakfast, the nighttime entertainment, the museums, the bustle of business.

I've tech-enabled my latest visit to suit the on-the-go life. I'm typing into Microsoft Word on my HTC Touch Diamond using the coolest bluetooth fold-up keyboard, I bought a Canon point and shoot, and the new iPod Nano. I'm geared for a coffee shop note, a sidewalk moment, a subway travel.

I'm off to business meeting with a trading company shortly. Finance is the lifeblood of this city and like 9/11, it seems to have shrugged the credit crisis aside. London felt far more hard-hit as I moved through this past weekend. But the American spirit seems to have acknowledged the challenge and moved on.

The heat here is something else. It's in the high eighties (about 30C) today with typical New York humidity. What an extreme climate. I've been here for -26C in winter and 40C in summer (with over 80% humidity).

Could I live here? Funny. I love this place, the energy, the challenge. It is true - "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." But there is something about identifying with the people around you. I identify easily with the British - the South African connection is real. America is a far more insulated world. Sport is different, the rest of the world, continents away. Maybe I need a New York client, enabling me to spend regular time here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What's the best South African music video ever?

I saw this one by Dear Reader (formerly Harris Tweed) on MK the other night. Wow. What an achingly beautiful song and absolutely brilliant video. The video ranks up there with some of the best music videos I've seen from anywhere.