Perpetual motion

Anyone who claims perpetual motion to be impossible has obviously never encountered an argument on the internet

Considering that perpetual motion is defined as “motion that continues indefinitely without any external source of energy; impossible in practice because of friction”, I think we’ve finally found something that meets the definition without being restricted in any way by the improbability.

Guess no-one listened…

… because after I asked people yesterday not to set the next veld fire off, guess what happens?

It’s fire season, again…

So, with the end of January fast approaching, the Cape Peninsula’s fire season is in full swing again.

I posted last year on the havoc that a small uncontained fire on some open areas near the office park wreaked on the afternoon scrummage on the N2 leaving the CBD but, us city-dwellers have it comparatively good.  The rural areas have it far worse.  Case in point: the Hermanus/Stanford area (just over an hour’s drive away, unless you foolishly attempt it on a Friday afternoon when everyone going away for the weekend has the same general idea) had a massive blaze over the Christmas and New Year period that took six days to contain (and did significant damage to the Hermanus Yacht Club).  The photos posted on the South African Weather Observation and Disaster Service blog pretty much say it all.

Today, the mountains separating Stellenbosch from Franschhoek is Ground Zero.  Megan (who I mentioned in one of my ancient posts here) took this photo earlier today from the University of Stellenbosch’s Danie Craven Stadium, and has been kind enough to let me reproduce it here.  Once again, the photo tells the story.

Stellenbosch Fire!

Yup, it can (and does!) get pretty bad around here.  I was given a guided tour of one of the Stellenbosch wine farms around nine months ago, and I recall our tour guide mentioning that all of the area’s wine farmers have a genuine fear of blazes such as this.  Not really surprising.

The fire situation around this time of year is problematic enough that the provincial government has published a brief “what-if?” guide.  Still, prevention is better than cure here: please don’t be the person who sets the next one off.  If you habitually smoke and toss your cigarette butt out of your car window, I’m looking at you here…

New MyCiTi routes delayed

Earlier this month, I mentioned the possibility of using our overly-awesome MyCiTi bus service to get to and from work.  Since I wrote my earlier post, Cape Town recovered from the New Year’s hangover and turned the R27 into a massive car park, so in order to keep my sanity intact and transport expenses under control, using the bus service is fast becoming a necessity rather than a possibility.  The only requirement for me to switch over is the commencement on operations on the Woodstock/Salt River feeder route.

Unfortunately, according to this press release from the City of Cape Town, I’ll be waiting a while…

The implementation of new routes for the MyCiTi Bus Service, such as Walmer Estate and Salt River, is subject to the awarding of operating licences by the Western Cape Provincial Regulating Entity (PRE). These routes – along with the new smaller buses and newly constructed bus stops and stations, such as the Gardens Station – cannot become operational without these operating licences.

The City of Cape Town respects due process, and from the beginning of the process the application, supported by the City have followed the legal and procedural requirements set down by the PRE at all times. The process began in August last year when operating licences for the new routes, which were then due to launch at the end of 2012 were submitted.

The first hearing set by the PRE was for December 2012, but the PRE postponed the hearing to this week due to objections from concerned parties. The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) – on behalf of some taxi associations – and Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) lodged objections with the PRE.

The hearing resumed this past Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at which time the PRE heard the applicants’ full application for the required operating licences. Before the City could provide its presentation in support of the issuing of the licences, GABS raised procedural objections, claiming to not have had sufficient time to prepare for the hearing. The hearing has now been delayed until the first week of February.

The City is disappointed by these delays, and that this is holding back the implementation of our public transport service which aims to benefit all people in Cape Town. We believe the objections can be dealt with in a manner that does not prejudice and inconvenience the people of Cape Town.

We trust that this will be the final delay, and that we will be able to activate our new routes and infrastructure soon, in order to bring the world-class MyCiTi bus service to an even greater number of awaiting residents and visitors.

All I have to say is: *sigh*

(For what it’s worth, I was toying with “Help, I’m trapped in a traffic jam against my will!” for a blog post title…)

Trance on guitars

Earlier this week, I discovered some videos of some guitarists taking some trance classics, and reproducing them on their guitars.  Even if you don’t appreciate trance, or guitars, you have to admit that there’s some serious skill here.

For reference, here’s what our guitarist based his performance on:

1998 (Matt Darey Remix) by Binary Finary on Grooveshark

Not to be outdone, another guitarist (or is this Raiden?) has done an original “trance guitar” song here:

Question for the readers: any idea what to call this “genre”?  For some reason, my brain is rather disconnected at the moment, so I can’t think of any worthy name right now…

Download all the things!

One of my friends over on my crappy little forum recently received the following support ticket (and, quite understandably, facepalmed):

Can you please download internet on my system?

Rather than partake in some sympathetic facepalming of my own, I thought I’d come up with a quite literal answer, in xkcd’s “What If?” style.*

The first question we have to answer is: what is the size of the Internet?  Any answer will be an estimate at best (and wild speculation at worst), because the cold, hard truth is that no-one knows.  That’s because of the distributed nature of the Internet (as well as the underlying TCP/IP protocol suite that the Internet is built on) — with quite possibly millions of servers connected over the world, it’s hard to measure for sure.  The other problem: what would count towards the size requirement?  Certainly content served over HTTP/HTTPS would count, but FTP? SMTP? NNTP? Peer to peer filesharing?  And would any content accessible indirectly (such as data stored in a backend database) count?

The only thing that we have to go on is an estimate that Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, made back in 2005; at the time, he put the estimate at around five million terabytes (while I’ll round up to 5 exabytes).  At the time, Google only indexed 200 terabytes of data, so Schmidt’s estimate probably took e-mail, newsgroups, etc. into consideration.  Due to our world becoming more connected in the interceding 8 years, that figure has likely shot up, particularly with sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, The Pirate Bay et al coming into the equation.  I’m going to throw a rough guestimate together and put the figure at 15 EB today, based on my gut feeling alone.  (Yes, I know it’s not terribly scientific, and I’ve probably shot way too low here, but let’s face it — what else gives?)

Currently, down here on the southern tip of Africa, our fastest broadband connection is 10 Mbps ADSL.  In reality, our ISPs would throttle the connection into oblivion if one were to continually hammer their networks trying to download the Internet like that (contention ratios causing quality of service for everyone else to be affected and all of that), but let’s assume that, for the purposes of this exercise, we can sweet-talk them into giving us guaranteed 10 Mbps throughput.  15 EB of data works out to a staggering 138,350,580,552,821,637,120 bits of data, and given that we can download 10,000,000 of those bits every second (in reality, it will be lower than this due to network overhead, but let’s leave this out of the equation), it would take almost 440,000 years to download the Internet over that connection.

But actually, with that length of time, you’d never be able to download the Internet.  Considering that the Internet went into widespread public use in the early 1990s (not considering the decades before when the Internet was pretty much a research plaything), the Internet is growing at a faster rate than one can download it using a 10 Mbps connection.  Plus, given the timeframe involved, the constant status update requests on the support ticket would drive all involved to suicide, even if (actually, particularly if) we discover a way of making human immortality a possibility in the interim.  Clearly, we need something a lot faster.

Enter the WACS cable system.  It’s a submarine cable that links us up to Europe via the west coast of Africa, cost US$650 million to construct, and has a design capacity of 5.12 Tbps.  If we could secure the entire bandwidth of this cable to download the Internet, we could do it in a little over 10 months.  While we may still have the aforementioned suicide problem, this is far more like it.

But of course, what point would we have downloading the Internet if we can’t store the data we just downloaded?

Currently, the highest capacity hard drives have a capacity of 4 TB (here’s an enterprise-level example from Western Digital).  We’d need a minimum of 3,932,160 such drives to store the Internet (in the real world, we’d need more for redundancy, but once again, let’s not worry about that here).  Our enterprise-level drives use 11.5 watts of power each, so we’d need ~45 MW of power to simply power the hard drives alone; we’d need plenty more (and I’m thinking around 10 to 15 times more!) to power the hardware to connect all of this up, the building where this giant supercomputer will be housed, and the cooling equipment to keep everything running at an acceptable temperature.  We’d need to build a small power plant to keep everything running.

So yes, you can download the Internet.  You just need a major submarine communications cable, tens of millions of hard drives, and a small power plant to provide enough electricity to run it all.  If you get started now, you can give someone the present of One Internet** when next Christmas rolls around.  The question of dealing with bandwidth and electricity bills is one that I will leave to the reader.

Now get going, dammit!

* Randall, if you’ve somehow stumbled upon this and you think you could do a better job than myself, go for it!

** Though, depending on who the recipient is, you may or may not want to include 4chan’s /b/ board.

UPDATE #1: I was asked to up it to 50 EB, which on retrospection may be a more realistic size for the Intranet than the 15 EB I put forward earlier.  That would take almost 3 years to download on WACS and would require 13,107,200 hard drives with a significantly increased power requirement.  The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (not too far away from the WACS landing site at Yzerfontein) has two reactors, each capable of producing 900 MW, so if we take Koeberg off the national grid (which will cause the rest of the country to experience rolling blackouts, but hey, it’s in the name of progress!) and use the entire nuke plant’s capacity to power our supercomputer and related infrastructure, that should just about do it.

How to Kill Raid Bosses and Get Stuff Changed

Making the news today in the World of Warcraft is a level 80 protection paladin going into Mogu’shan Vaults (a level 90 raid!) and single-handedly defeating encounters that require (at least) 10 players that are (also, at least!) 10 levels above him.  Apparently, he managed to take care of Stone Guard, Feng the Accursed and Elegon before Blizzard caught wind of it.  The video below shows his Elegon kill:

Of course, since I play a protection paladin myself, this interested me quite a bit (in terms of “wait… WHAT?!?!”).

Key to this involves a bug with our Shield of the Righteous ability (our primary damage reduction ability), and how it interacts with Vengeance (a passive ability that increases our attack power based on unmitigated damage received).  We’ve known about this for a while over on Maintankadin (and I’m guessing that Blizzard knew about it as well, but just never fixed it) — you can click on the link for all the details, but to summarise: due to a quirk of the Vengeance calculation and server/client latency, timing Shield of the Righteous with a melee swing from the boss could result in the Vengeance calculation grossly overestimating  how much unmitigated damage we received, resulting in a massive spike of Vengeance, and hence attack power, and hence damage we do.  Not only that, but many of our self-heals and absorbs also scale with attack power (Sacred Shield, I’m looking at you here — also Light’s Hammer and Execution Sentence, but since we only get those abilities at level 90, they’re not really applicable here), and one can see how our level 80 guy was not only able to deal enough damage, but also keep himself alive.

But that’s only part of the story.  Matt Walsh over on WoW Insider has filled us on the rest: there is some bind-on-equip rare gear found in the levelling zones of Mists of Pandaria (intended for players levelling from 85 to 90) that can, strangely enough, be equipped by a level 80 player.  (Here’s an example.)  By equipping those, our level 80 paladin managed to gain amounts of secondary stats (dodge/parry/mastery/haste/etc.) that were not originally intended for a level 80 player (when gear item levels were in the high 200s, not the low 400s in the case of the gear he had equipped).  More importantly, because he was level 80, he was cleverly avoiding the combat rating drop-offs that occur at levels 81 and 86 (those levels coincide with players encountering Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria content for the first time respectively).  This resulted in absolutely crazy character stats: Matt mentions that our level 80 paladin had 95% haste and 88% mastery, which one simply wouldn’t see on a level 90 character.

All of this came together to ensure our level 80 paladin could survive the raid bosses.  The haste and attack power from Vengeance meant that Seal of Insight was regularly overhealing him, and Sacred Shield was fully absorbing his attacks (not only that, but the insane haste percentage meant that it was constantly refreshing as well).  Plus, all of that mastery meant a damage reduction boost with Shield of the Righteous.

In a nutshell, all of this was simply our player using Blizzard’s design choices, and creating unintended consequences out of them.

Blizzard’s reaction to all of this has been to hotfix Vengeance so that it caps at a player’s maximum health (until a more elegant solution can be found); Vengeance previously had no maximum limit.  While I recognise that this is a temporary fix, I don’t believe it to be ideal: different tanking classes (protection paladins, protection warriors, blood death knights, guardian druids and brewmaster monks) are not created equally with regards to maximum health.  It remains to be seen how this will affect encounters that have the strategy relying on the tank having higher than usual Vengeance (10-player Wind Lord Mel’jarak coming to mind straight away); I’ll have to see what difference this makes in tonight’s raid.  (Although I may not notice much difference, since my personal gearing strategy seeks to maximise my health pool while still keeping an acceptable amount of secondary stats.)

I’ll end by throwing in this image, because it’s strangely relevant:


West Coast trafficking

Now that I have a 20 km daily commute to the office (and that’s one way!), traffic has become more of a factor than it is.  So far, it hasn’t been bad — the R27 has generally been free-flowing, except for yesterday around the Royal Ascot and Sunset Beach areas — but I’m guessing that that’s partly due to my unconventional working hours (I get to work and leave for home well after most people) and partly because much of Cape Town is likely still hungover from New Year.  So, in between work, play and everything else, I’ve been taking a look to see what the alternatives are.

And first off, there’s the MyCiti expansion plans.  Currently, the main route is from Table View down to the Civic Centre in the CBD, with some feeder routes in Table View/Parklands/Sunningdale/Bloubergstrand.  That’s about to get a major expansion.  First off, more main routes are coming onboard: from Table View, main routes will be extended to Du Noon and further on to Atlantis.  Secondly, the feeder routes in my area (Parklands) are getting a major revamp.  And thirdly, there’ll be more feeder routes: not only in my neck of the woods, but also down the Atlantic seaboard from Green Point through to Hout Bay (as well as a feeder route going particularly close to the office; worth keeping in mind if I decide to work more regular hours (fat chance!) and/or the petrol price skyrockets (which is far more plausible)).  Take the bus instead of fighting for parking when my friends decide to congregate on the Clifton Beach flavour of the month?  Oh yes, please!

Secondly, Sandown Road in Sunningdale and Parklands Main Road (in Parklands, obviously) are planned to be extended all the way through to the Postdam interchange on the N7, giving those with a public transport aversion to use the N7 and take pressure off both the R27 and Table View’s Blaauwberg Road.  Obviously, it depends on the destination of those people, but it’s much needed.  I’d use the new link to get to the Southern Suburbs, for example, but I’d continue using the R27 to get to the city centre.  At the moment, that’s estimated to be completed and opened at the end of 2013, though there didn’t seem to be much activity there when I drove past a few days ago.  (Admittedly, at around 23:30, so there wouldn’t have been much to see anyway!)

Then, not directly related, but due to the new Industrial Development Zone up north at Saldanha, a few provincial roads not far from me are getting upgraded — the R27 continuing out of the city towards Laaiplek, as well as the N7 through to Malmesbury and then the R45 to the Saldanha area.  I haven’t found much detail on this — I’m told that the only mention is in the provincial government budget at this stage.  However, a result of this will be an upgrade of Wingfield Interchange (that’s the interchange between the N1 and N7 for any non-locals reading this) by 2018.  That will affect me quite a bit with regards to using the new link road mentioned above.

So in short: if the traffic gets bad, I can either MyCiti all the things, or just slog it out for a year.  Good to know that I stay in a city that does indeed work for me.

One more reason to love Cape Town

How many places around the world does one get to pull off and take photos like this on one’s drive home?  (And have the added bonus of avoiding a spot of nasty traffic on the R27 while you’re at it…)

FB_IMG_13575767176779901 IMAG0234

Malibu, eat your heart out.

(Yes, I know that I’ve promised sunrise photos from Fish Hoek or Simonstown.  I haven’t forgotten about that… thing is, I have to get up really early for those — I’m not a morning person! — plus, it’s ridiculously far to drive there now.  It’s still on my list of things to do, but it’s one of those “it will be done when it will be done, and not a moment sooner or later” things.)