Well, this is rather awkward…

I rent a PO Box from the local post office (a remnant from when I stayed in a flat with no post boxes of its own, and when I moved out of there, I decided it was more convenient to keep it and pay the Post Office their yearly school fees than inform all and sundry who still live in the Stone Age and send me snail mail about the change of address).  I’m also terrible at remembering to empty out said PO Box.  It’s almost as terrible as me remembering that I have a blog…

Anyway, for the first time in several months, I made a detour on my way to work and emptied the damn thing out.  I was running a tad late, so didn’t check the contents there and then.  A while later, when I arrived at the office, I then quickly filtered through what I’d obtained.  There was the usual junk mail and bills pointlessly sent by various companies (who e-mail their bills to me anyway, and my efforts to educate them about the wastage thereof have so far been futile).  But that wasn’t all.

There was also a traffic fine.

Someone else’s traffic fine.  Approximately two months old.  And sent all the way from Beaufort West.

Which the Post Office had, in all their infinite wisdom, placed in the wrong PO Box.  My one.

To the intended recipient of said traffic fine: I’m so, so sorry.  I’ll make sure it ends up your PO Box on my way home this afternoon.

If anyone wants to know what the “S” in S4 stands for…

… schizophrenic.

And that’s purely because mine can’t make up its mind whether it’s connected to a charger (which it is) or a docking station (which it isn’t) — after spending the better part of the day to get it to actually charge in the first place.  Hopefully, warranty should take care of it…

Road closures for the Opening of Parliament

(Normal service has indeed resumed, in case you’re wondering.)

The City of Cape Town has published the road closures for the Opening of Parliament tomorrow.  You can click the link if you really want a detailed version, but if you’re anything like me and you just want a summary, here it is:

Stay well clear of anything going into the CBD between 16:00 and 21:00 tomorrow.

That is all.

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…)

The Relationship Explanation

Following my last entry, I was asked in meatspace for some clarification on my statement on choosing to stay single.  Since I get asked this a lot (people who meet me seem to have some strange misconception that I’d make high-quality lover and spouse material), my only answer now is to take the “picture speaks a thousand words” approach, and (with apologies to Randall Munroe) provide an obligatory xkcd comic:

Yeah, story of my life.

The week where everything just breaks

You know, sometimes you just get those weeks from hell – weeks where everything just crashes and burns, you feel like you’re swimming upstream against a raging torrent… that kind of thing.

Well, last week was one of those.

First off, last week Saturday, I got back home from our department teambuilding (quad biking at Melkbosstrand – which was so made of awesome, I want to do that again!), flicked on the bedroom lights, and… nothing.  “Well, that’s great, the bulb has gone” thought the protagonist.  “Since I don’t have a spare, let me steal one from elsewhere in the flat.”  So, I did that, and… still nothing.  At this point, I decided to let things be, since I was heading off for boardgames night (and it was my turn to supply the boardgame), did a quick e-mail check, and noticed that my IRC client had been disconnecting and reconnecting since just after I left for the quad biking.  Thinking “well, I need to head on out, I’ll take a look when I get back”, that’s exactly what I did.  Off to boardgames night I went.

I returned home in the early hours of the morning, and tried flicking on the kitchen light.  Nothing.  Noting that my PC was still on, I tried fumbling around in the dark for my flashlight, eventually located it, and took a look at the circuit breakers.  Noticing that the circuit for the lights had tripped, I flicked it back on.  Kitchen light came back on.  Armed with hot chocolate in hand, I returned to my room, flicked the light on – and the entire flat was plunged into darkness.  Back to the circuit breakers I went, and noticed that while none of the lights in the flat worked, the trip switch for the lights had actually remained up.  At this point, I realised that I had a serious problem on my hands and turned off the trip switch manually.  Realising that I couldn’t do much else at that stage, I went back to my computer, noticed that the ADSL was still very intermittent, and decided to get some sleep and tackle it in the morning.

The next morning, fighting intermittent internet, I managed to get the number of an electrician to come and sort the lights out.  They arrived an hour later and spent another two up in the roof trying to figure out what the problem was.  As it turned out, the wiring to my room ran through an old metal pipe, and the insulation had decayed due to age.  Live wire touching earthed metal pipe – you can guess what it did.  It actually tripped one of the power phases down at the meter box (and took some other flats out with it).  After the problem was found, it was simple enough to rewire and get my lights back – although that’s now left me with the matter of R1,100 that I’m still trying to claim back from the landlord.

With the knowledge that my flat wouldn’t suddenly spontaneously combust, I started investigating the intermittent internet.  Within a short period of time, I discovered that the voice service on the line was totally dead, the upload part of my ADSL seriously degraded, and the download part still fine.  That was definitely a line fault, and during a quick burst of connectivity, I managed to log the fault online with Telkom.  Telkom isn’t known for their service though, so I thought that I would be without internet for a while.

They phoned me the next Monday at work, asking when it would be convenient for them to fix the issue.  Tuesday morning was agreed on, and sure enough, the technician popped over right on time.  After one hour investigating the flat’s telephone wiring, he decided that the problem lay between the flat and the exchange (which is only around 200 m away).  Off he went, and an hour later called me on my now working landline informing me that the problem had been solved.

But wait, that’s not the last thing that broke – just to add to a week of breakages, I managed also to pick up a slow puncture in my car, and that was another morning disrupted to get that fixed…

On the plus side, my code didn’t break…

Ron’s Fun Friday

Get to work, minding my own business – then, at 10am, the local transformer box blows (AGAIN). I was working on a critical update to one of my apps at the time that just HAD to go live today. So, no problem I thought, I’ll just take my work computer and go home to finish it. I get home, and found that for some reason, my stuff wasn’t synching between my computer and the dev work server as it should have been – all my stuff was on the dev work server.

I then phone my network admin, and hear that he and the support people are the only ones left at the office – everyone else had buggered off (bearing in mind that we had scheduled load shedding at 2pm, and this looked like it would take a while to fix). He says no problem, come and get the dev work server (with EVERYONE’s dev work on it, mind you), and take it home with you. I’m like “are you SURE????”, and he’s like “no problem”. So, I drive the 3km back to the office, pick up the server, get the admin password for it, and off I go home again, connect both PCs up to my network, and transfer my stuff to my work computer.

It doesn’t take me long to finish the code changes that I had been planning, but now I have a new problem – my code needs to go onto our daemons server at our server farm at IS in Umhlanga – and I can’t go through the office network, because the UPS died five minutes after I left the second time. Once more, I phone my network admin. He tells me that there’s a back way in, and tells me all the details. I upload my code to the server, and test it – it worked first time, thankfully.  😛

As I finish testing, one of the support people phone me to tell me that the power is back on. So, both computers get loaded back into the car, and back to work I go to put them back. We plug the dev work server and my work computer back in, and I quickly send off a few mails that needed to be sent, as our 2pm scheduled load shedding is about to happen. Sure enough, it happens. At this stage, I decide “bugger it”, and head off to the Pavillion to get some lunch and kill some time.

After Steers, I pop into Look and Listen and pick up two trance CDs (the same one I got for Palu but this time for myself, and another one). I browse around the various shops in the Pav, looking for something to keep me interested. Eventually, I look at the time. 4:15pm. I have to be at Kingsmead at 4:30pm as I’m doing the scoring for Cricinfo for the Pro20 final. So, off I head, only to be caught in the mother of all traffic jams at Warwick Junction. I eventually work my way through, and get into the Kingsmead scorebox at 4:50pm. Fortunately, my rather late arrival wasn’t a problem, as everyone else got caught in the same traffic jam.

So, I sit though 40 overs of a really good cricket match, which the Dolphins lost narrowly, get invited to drinks in the President’s Suite afterwards (nothing alcoholic for me – still had to drive home), and head off at 10:00pm thinking “what else could possibly happen today?”. As it turns out, there was an accident on Spaghetti Junction that had happened moments before I got there, and as it was pitch black I only saw it at the last minute (and, Murphy’s Law, it’s in MY lane). I don’t know how I managed to avoid running into the crashed cars and keep control.

So here I am, at 11:10pm, finally chilling out at home. Won’t be online for much longer, as I’ve got an early morning tomorrow…

A door closes

I finally made a decision that I really should have made a few months ago – the decision to leave the FRAG LAN core admin team. Due to the fact that most of my free time and financial resources these days is going towards my part-time studies, I felt that I could no longer contribute to the team, and the others on the team felt the same way. I believe that my decision to step down was the best thing for both myself and for the event itself.

Initially, I was going to leave completely; however, I’ve been asked to continue looking after the website – I suppose that the only real reason for this is that I’m the only one on the team who knows Joomla and phpBB 3 inside out. I’ve agreed to this, but I won’t be doing this indefinitely. Ideally, I’d like to train someone up on the FRAG website, and eventually be in the position to say “it’s yours now; do with it as you please”. I’m teaching one of the team members how Joomla works, and another how phpBB 3 works – neither of them are particularly challenging if you’re willing to learn.

I’m currently negotiating with the remaining core team as to them buying out the assets that I contributed towards the event (a server and some networking stuff). I have been given the opportunity to buy back into the event when I want to; however, I doubt that I’ll take this up. Firstly, I probably won’t be in a position to do this for at least another year, maybe more. Secondly, by the time I’m in a position to do so, I probably would have decided to move on. Thirdly (and this is totally personal), I may not even be gaming for much longer, given my growing discontent with Windows and the fact that the latest editions of Ubuntu are looking very, very tempting…

In a way, I’m sorry I had to stop this, particularly as I was one of the people who got the event rolling in the first place. At least I’ll now be able to concentrate on the things that need concentrating on.

When adware goes bad

OK, granted, it was never good to begin with, but if Microsoft gets their way, it’s about to become a whole lot worse. A link to this article has just been sent to me, courtesy of my Friendly Network Admin – and I’m shamelessly copying and pasting the article content here.

It’s such a tremendously bad idea that it’s almost bound to succeed. Microsoft has filed another patent, this one for an “advertising framework” that uses “context data” from your hard drive to show you advertisements and “apportion and credit advertising revenue” to ad suppliers in real time. Yes, Redmond wants to own the patent on the mother of all adware.The application, filed in 2006, describes a multi-faceted, robust ad-delivering system that lives on a “user computer, whether it’s part of the OS, an application or integrated within applications.”“Applications, tools, or utilities may use an application program interface to report context data tags such as key words or other information that may be used to target advertisements,” says the filing. “The advertising framework may host several components for receiving and processing the context data, refining the data, requesting advertisements from an advertising supplier, for receiving and forwarding advertisements to a display client for presentation, and for providing data back to the advertising supplier.”

The adware framework would leave almost no data untouched in its quest to sell you stuff. It would inspect “user document files, user e-mail files, user music files, downloaded podcasts, computer settings, computer status messages (e.g., a low memory status or low printer ink),” and more. How could we have been so blind as to not see the marketing value in computer status messages?

The software would also free advertising from its traditional browser yoke. “A word processor may display a banner ad along the top of a window, similar to a toolbar, while a graphical ad may be displayed in a frame associated with the application. A digital editor for photos or movies may support video-based advertisements,” the patent application says.

The patent application, first unearthed by InformationWeek, gives the impression that your software would have more control over the advertising than you would. “An e-mail client may specify that ads from competitors must be excluded, that its own display client must be used… (that) no more than 4 ads per hour are allowed, and that only text or graphical… advertisements are supported.” The patent makes no mention of any method by which an actual user might exert control, nor does it mention very real privacy or security concerns.

That’s okay. It’s still a good thing. It says so right in the application: “The ability to derive and process context data from local sources rather than monitor interactions with a remote entity, such as a server, benefits both consumers and advertisers by delivering more tightly targeted advertisements. The benefit to the user is the perception that the ads are more relevant, and therefore, less of an interruption. The benefit to the advertiser is better focus and a higher chance of conversion to a sale.”

The patent is a fascinating exercise in advertising delivery systems. But surely that’s all it is—an exercise. No way anyone would ever actually make a thing like this. Right?

Right? Wrong! If anyone is going to make something like this, it will be Microsoft doing it. It surely wouldn’t be difficult to modify the search indexer in Vista to send information on the content on our files back to base camp, and I’m sure you’d see this creep in sooner or later, disguised as a “security update”.

There are some rather worrying questions that need to be addressed here. Firstly, how can being spammed with ads be seen as a good thing for the consumer? If anything, too much advertising tends to put me off the product rather than make me rush out to buy it. Secondly, will we be able to turn all of this advertising off, or will it be forced upon us? I can imagine companies wanting to turn this off, as being bombarded with ads (even if it is only 4 ads per hour) can only hurt productivity – which could cost Microsoft if people move over to Linux because of it. Thirdly, privacy and ethics come into the picture here. It is just downright unethical to spy on users and spam them with unwanted advertising. Unfortunately, it seems that in today’s capitalist world, profit is more important than ethics. Just look at Telkom, for example.

And here’s an interesting one. Will security software classify this as adware, and if so, will they try to disable it? We could have an interesting situation if a piece of security software classifies the operating system that it runs under as a virus.

The day that this comes to fruition is the day that I uninstall Windows and permanently move over to Linux (instead of me just having it on my dev box) – even if it means the end of gaming for me.

What does Vista and my annoying little sister have in common?

A lot, actually. 😛

Vista got installed on my work machine today. The first thing that I noticed about it, it NAGS and NAGS and NAGS whenever you want to change settings or install something. Just like my little sister. I thought that I was done with the nagging when she went off to UCT in Febuary, only to have a piece of software prove me wrong.

Yes, I know that User Accounts Control (Microsoft’s name for the nagging) is a security “feature”, but couldn’t Microsoft have made it less annoying? As it is, I’ve had to disable it before taking out my frustrations on the computer, the monitor and Carl (my office mate).

It also didn’t want to pick up the onboard sound. I’ve no idea how I eventually got that working.

I’m still learning about Vista. Expect more rants when I find something to rant about. 🙂

Oh, and the gaming rig at home will have XP on it for the forseeable future. I don’t want to be nagged at home either.