Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Nostromo

NostromoNostromo by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our local library has a table with unwanted books, probably donated from deceased estates, and I saw a copy of Nostromo, which I hadn’t read, and paid R2.00 for it, which is probably three times the price it would have cost new when it was printed in 1955, but seems like a bargain today.

I tried not to read it with any preconceptions about the content, and it struck me as strange. It started with a description of the town of Sulaco in the fictional South American republic of Costaguano (does that mean what I think it means?) where a citizen of English descent inherits a concession to a long defunct silver mine. He is possessed by the entrepreneurial spirit, reopens the mine, begins to work it and makes it pay, His wife, who is compassionate, cares for the families of the miners, and worries about what it is doing to her husband. The mine provides employment for many, and profits for its overseas backers.

Then there is a revolution, and the upper classes of Sulaco together with the European expatriates, think that it will be better if the Occidental province becomes independent. Nostromo, an Italian sailor and supervisor of the local stevedores, is entrusted with the task of taking the silver output of the mine out to sea to keep it out of the hands of the revolutionaries and to buy arms for the separatists.

Up to this point the story seemed a bit slow, and it wasn’t clear where it was going. Then the pace picked up, though it still wasn’t clear where it was going. Was it the story of a workaholic businessman who opened a silver mine? Was it the story of a revolution? Was it a story about a bold war-time heist of silver? In the end it was none of these things and all of these things. And it ended up as a love story, which one would never have expected from the beginning, or even the middle.

The point of view of the story shifts from one character to another, and each of them sees the events in a different way. And having reached the end of it, I think I might start again at the beginning to see where it went and how it got there.

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Manufacturing news

We’ve known for a long time that the media don’t like reporting news, but prefer to manufacture it, but I don’t think it’s ever been as blatant as this: Louis van Gaal says ‘it’s over’ with Jose Mourinho tipped to take over at Manchester United | Football News | Sky Sports:

United have no plans for a victory parade in Manchester, and the club are believed to be angry that news of Mourinho’s potential appointment has overshadowed the club’s first FA Cup win since 2004 and first piece of silverware since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And they’re right to be angry.

  • Manchester United winning the cup is news
  • Media speculation that Mourinho will take over from van Gaal is not news

I very much hope that Manchester United will resist the intense media pressure to replace Louis van Gaal as manager with Jose Mourinho.

MUFCThe media have had their collective knives into Louis van Gaal since before Christmas, just as they have had their knives into Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

But are they so narcissistic as to believe that their speculation is news, and more important than the news of Manchester United willing the English (or is it the Emirates?) FA Cup?

Journalism and journalistic standards surely can’t sink any lower.

 

 

 

 

The Anatomy of Crime

Looking at arts, culture and entertainment in Gauteng

I don’t read much crime fiction so the work of Val McDermid was not known to me.  I started reading, Forensics, The Anatomy of Crime, as an exercise in Criminology.  From the outset I was stunned at how readable the work was.  It was only then that I realised that Val McDermid is a practised and experienced genius in the field of writing entertainingly about crime.

Forensics

So, here we o find her engaged in explaining the work of forensic scientists to lay people. Along the way she explains the history of each forensic field from the first recorded autopsy (that of the body of Julius Caesar) to the Great Fire of London and modern advances which allow crimes to be solved years after the case has officially been closed.

She works through twelve chapters, all equally interesting.  Theintegrity of the crime scene, fire investigation, entomology (probably best not to…

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The Long Price (book review)

Shadow & Betrayal (Long Price Quartet, #1-2)Shadow & Betrayal by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behave similarly, winter and summar are more extreme. The setting is thus in one sense familiar, though the countries and their borders are strange. Like many other books of its type, the technology is vaguely pre-nineteenth century.

What is different are the peoples and their cultures, and this at times makes it difficult to read, as some of the features of the cultures and society in the book are introduced without being explained.

Most of the action takes place in the land of the Khaiem, a land of city states each ruled by a Khai, with vague memories of a fallen empire, some elements of whose culture have been inherited. There is a somewhat shadowy group called the utkhaiem, whose role is not explained until about two-thirds of the way through the book. At first their appear to be some kind of police force, but it later turns out that they are the upper class in the cities of the Khaiem.

The story takes place in two parts, the first in Saraykeht, one of the summer cities of the south, which thrives on the cotton trade, and the second in Machi, one of the winter cities of the north, where the main economic activity is mining. The plot revolves around one of the customs of the Khaiem — when the Khai dies, his sons fight to the death to determine his successor — and follows the fortunes of Otah Machi, the sixth son of the Khai of Machi, who abandons his heritage and identity, and seeks to make a new life for himself far from home.

The culture has two peculiar features. One is that though they can talk, they have an elaborate system of non-verbal communication, by taking poses with lots of subtle nuances. It makes it a bit difficult to picture people walking down the conversing, and stopping frequently to adopt appropriate poses.

The other feature of the culture is the andat, a kind of materialised god/ghost created and controlled by poets, who are usually drawn from the ranks of the younger sons of Khaiem. The andat have powers that underly the prosperity of the cities of the Khaiem. In the mining areas, for example, the andat has the power of making stone soft, which facilitates the tasks of miners. In the areas of the cotton trade, the andat removes seeds from cotton. In this sense that andat are a kind of substitute for technology, so there is no need for any kind of industrial revolution.

In this setting the plot of the story is played out, with the usual human features of love, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, ambition and all the rest. When I try to think of other books in the same genre, the one that springs first to mind is Shardik by Richard Adams.

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Naked Racism

Someone posted this photo on Facebook with the caption: White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes.

White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes

White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes

That’s a good example of the racism that still pervades our society, with whites demanding special privileges, and lower tax rates just because they are white. It reeks of the culture of entitlement.

This is far more evil and insidious than anything said by that Theunissen bloke or that estate agent auntie or that arrogant privileged student who bullied a waitress.

People like that make news headlines and spark waves of indignation, but stuff like this doesn’t because so many people think it is “normal”.

Ironically enough, the picture might have had a point under the old National Party government, where blacks and whites were taxed separately and at different rates. But since 1994 tax rates have been the same for people of all colours, both sexes, and any sexual or genderial orientation. So the picture is just a lament for lost white privilege, and demonstrates the truth of the saying that equality seems like oppression to those who previously benefited from oppression.

Just for the record: under the National Party government, blacks had a lower tax threshold than whites, and so poor blacks paid more tax than poor whites and so were forced to subsidise their own oppression. On the other hand, rich blacks paid less tax than rich whites — hence the appropriateness of the picture for that era.

Don’t be suckered into propagating this racist propaganda!

Fighting racism with racism

For as long as I can remember, when people said that someone is “holier than thou” they mean that that person has a bad attitude.

But in South Africa, we seem to think that “unholier than thou” is a good attitude, and people seem to be vying with each other to see who can be the most racist.

Racism been around for a long time, but it it is no longer enshrined in legislation. We are no longer obliged by law to be racist. There is no compulsion to be racist, yet people seem to be taking it upon themselves to promote racism, and even boast about it.

Last Saturday I saw a link to this article: Rhodes must fall leader refuses to tip waitress because of race. South Africa responds by collecting money to tip her! – Good Things Guy:

Ntokozo Qwabe bragged online that he and a friend made the woman cry ‘typical white tears’ after writing on the bill ‘we will give tip when you return the land’.

The incident, in a cafe in South Africa, provoked a fierce backlash from critics who branded him a ‘hypocrite’.

Ntokozo, 24, is one of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, which campaigned to remove a statue of the 19th Century imperialist from Oriel College.

When I saw it on Facebook I commented that the student seemed to be channelling Cecil Rhodes — it seemed like the kind of “town and gown” snobbery that I suspect was more common in British universities the imperialist era than it is now: the privileged student bullying the disprivileged waitress. Or perhaps he was channelling Flashman.

Notokozo Qwabe, student at Oxford University

Notokozo Qwabe, student at Oxford University

But racist snobbery seems as common today as it was in the imperialist era, and that was not the end of it.

I saw an invitation to sign a petition on Avaaz to have Qwabe expelled from Oxford University, and “send him back to the kraal where he belongs”.

So here was someone trying to be more racist than thou.

It’s bad enough for Qwabe to boast about being a racist bully on social media, but here is a someone inviting others to join them in racist snobbery. I noticed that there was a place provided by Avaaz for people to report inapproprate petitions, and I reported that one for “inappropriate language”.

It’s hard to get rid of racism when people are bragging about it, and soliciting it in web petitions. You can’t fight racism by racism. You can’t fight evil with evil. If you try to fight fire by fire you end up with a holocaust.

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

 

Syndromes, diseases, disorders and initials

One of the things the Internet makes one aware of is the different ways people in different countries communicate, even when they are using the same language.

OCDpeepsPerhaps it’s just that I don’t get out enough, because when someone posted this graphic on Facebook, I had to ask what OCD people were. As far as I have been able to determine, I am an INTP person, and three-letter initialisms beginning with OC make me think of OCR (Optical Character Recognition), but then comes the D, and I’m wondering what it can stand for, Optical Character Determinant? and how it relates to people.

Of course I am familiar with some diseases commonly known by acronyms or initialisms, like Aids and TB, but when someone posted in a newsgroup that he was COPD, I was flummoxed. I’d heard of the LAPD and the NYPD, but COPD? Colorado?

Someone pointed out that people who suffer from the disease or disorder concerned will refer to it by initials, and that I can understand. What puzzles me is when they expect other people who don’t suffer from that particular ailment to know what the letters mean.

That’s what makes me wonder if it is a cultural thing.

Or perhaps a hypochondria thing.

When we first got interested in family history, about 30 years ago, we went to ask my wife’s grandmother about the family. She had difficulty in remembering their names. She said one of her sisters-in-law had married a Walsh or a Marsh. It turned out that it was actually a Clark. But she could remember what illnesses they suffered from and what colour pills they took.

At various times I’ve suffered from various ailments — pneumonia at the age of four, amoebic dysentery at the age of 5, chicken pox and blood poisoning at the age of 6, measles at the age of 11, mumps at the age of 22, myopia and uveitis at the age of 45, and type 2 diabetes at the age of 65, along with a few bouts of colds, influenza and bronchitis. But none of them was known by initials (at least not by me), so I couldn’t have been really ill. The one that caused me the most suffering was measles. And in pneumonia the cure was more painful than the disease (penicillin injections at 3 am — penicillin was then a relatively new invention).

When I remarked on this on Facebook someone commented that surely I must know what ME and MB are. I didn’t. Or at least I thought that they signified doctors, not diseases. ME is surely Medical Examiner, and MB is the degree my “doctor” actually has — MB ChB, to be precise — Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery — for which he (or she) gets to be called “doctor”. Nobody called me a doctor when I had two bachelors degrees.

None of the doctors I’ve ever been to has referred to diseases by initials, at least not in my presence. I’m sure they do so when discussing such things among their colleagues, who can be expected to understand specialised medical jargon. But what gets me is that some people, like the designer of the graphic about eggs, seem to expect the average peasant yobbo on Facebook (like me) to understand them too.

But the internet is like that. It was on BBS conferences that I first learnt about INTP and EFSJ and things like that. At first it sounded like Scorpio and Virgo and Aquarius, but then I applied for a job, and was sent for a test that showed that I was INTP, and apparently they weren’t looking for INTPs to fill that position, so I didn’t get the job.

From the same BBS conference I learned, from other people in different countries, about ADD and ADHD. I didn’t know what those were, until someone mentioned that Ritalin was commonly prescribed for them. I did know about Ritalin. The headmaster of our son’s school urged that we send him to a child psychologist, who referred him to a child psychiatrist, who prescribed Ritalin. Our son tended to get bored in class, and didn’t pay much attention to the teacher. Ritalin was supposed to cure that. Another boy in his class was disruptive, and he took Ritalin, which was supposed to cure that too. The Ritalin cost a lot of money, but did not make the lessons more interesting, though the teachers swore by it. But it seems that ADD was the new name for what I had been prone to in my youth: DDC (Daydreaming in Class). But not once did the psychiatrist refer to ADD or ADHD in our hearing. All she said was that Ritalin had two opposite effects — it gingered up children who were too passive, and calmed down those who were hyperactive. It seemed that it was a panacea. She did not mention its most important property — the placebo effect it had on the teachers.

I think the biggest problem is HCS — a hypochondriac society.

But since the discussion on Facebook, someone has prescribed a sure cure for my problem: List of abbreviations for diseases and disorders – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

And next time someone tells me they are living with NYPD I’ll sympathise accordingly.

 

So who do I vote for now?

Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them, says the Psalmist.

So we should know by now that one can never trust a politician. Entrust them with the government of the country, yes. But don’t trust them. So one is always looking for the least of many evils to vote for.

I was beginning to think that the least of many evils might be the EFF, but, as they say in the clickbait cliches, nobody expected this, South Africa’s Julius Malema warns Zuma government – AJE News:

South African politician Julius Malema says the opposition “will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun” if the ruling African National Congress (ANC) continues to respond violently to peaceful protests.

Malema is the commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party he founded in 2013 after being expelled from the ANC, where he had served as president of the Youth League.

We fought for democracy all those years, only to abandon it now? Come off it, Juju!

Julius Malema Launches EFFBut then who can one vote for? What are the alternatives?

For a long time now I’ve never considered voting for the UDM because its leader, Bantu Holomisa, actually did what Julius Malema is only talking about — he staged a coup in the former Transkei “homeland”.

There’s the DA, born of crosstitution, whose former leader, Tony Leon, was urging us to “fight back” against democracy only five years after it had been introduced.

There’s Agang, which staged a coup against its own leader so a couple of non-entities could get parliamentary emoluments and pensions even if no one ever voted for them again. I suspect that a lot of people voted for Agang because they thought that its founder, Mamphela Ramphele, had things to say that needed to be heard in parliament. Well, we can see how that worked out, and perhaps that’s something that the people now saying “Thuli Madonsela for president” need to bear in mind.

Neither Mamphela Ramphele nor Thuli Madonsela have what it takes to be a successful political leader — the infighting, the backstabbing, the wheeling and dealing. Jake the Fake has that in spades, and comes out of the same mould as P.W. Botha — something worth remembering when people blame our electoral system of  proportional representation for the calibre of political leaders who rise to the top. We didn’t have proportional representation in P.W.’s time, but we still got him, even though the media voted for the other Botha, Pik.

One of the great theoretical advantages of proportional representation  is that if gives one a wider choice, and every vote counts equally. You are not disenfranchised because you happen to live in a constituency that sends the same unopposed member back to parliament year after year.

But even under proportional representation, once you’ve crossed off all the people you don’t want to vote for, there’s not much left. I think I’ll just have to learn to COPE with that.

Better the Congress of the People party than the Congress of the Guptas party.

Grumpy old git recommends The Guardian

When I look at what I have posted on this blog recently, I realise what a grumpy old git I have become.

grumpyHalf the posts seem to  complaining about things that used to work, but don’t (or soon won’t, like Dropbox). Or things that you used to be able to buy in the shops, like peanut butter and gooseberry jam, and apple and quince jelly, but no longer can.

But today I want to say kudos to The Guardian for their web site.

I visited the site today because someone posted a link to a review on Facebook. I thought the review was worth reading so I’ll post the link here too: You Could Look It Up by Jack Lynch review – search engines can’t do everything | Books | The Guardian.

And while I was there they asked me to complete their survey on the “user experience”.

Normally the term “user experience” drives me up the wall.

There’s an example right here on the page as I type this in WordPress. It says “There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience.”

I tried it for about two sentences and switched back immediately, because the “improved posting experience” translated into English as “increased frustration”, I couldn’t read what I typed. I couldn’t read the menu options. I couldn’t read a damn thing. That, they told me, was an “improved posting experience”.

Nevertheless, after reading the article in The Guardian, I completed the survey, which meant I had to actually look at The Guardian‘s pages, and I realised just how good they are.

For a start, it was legible.

It was in a readable font, and there was enough contrast between text and background to read without holding a magnifying glass up to the screen to find out that that “ll” was actually a “bb” (yes, that happens quite often). Sometimes I just mark/define/select the text as if I’m going to copy it — you know, Ctrl-C + Down Arrow. That usually gives light-coloured text on a dark background, which is much more legible. But why should one have to resort to such things just because some idiot declared that light grey text on a white background was fashionable?

But The Guardian‘s web site isn’t like that. It’s legible right off the screen.

And another thing, the text doesn’t jump around for a minute before you can read it.

That happens a lot on other news sites that I get to by following links from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Someone posts a link to an article that looks as though it might be interesting reading. You read half a sentence, and it jumps up or down off the screen. You try to scroll to find the bit where you were reading, and nothing happens. Firefox is “not responding”. Eventually you try to close the page and Firefox bombs out, and then Windows advises you that plugincontainer.exe had a problem and had to close, and invites you to tell Microsoft about this problem. That’s my “user experience” most of the time these days. I suspect it would be more use telling Mozilla about the problem, but the best thing would be to tell the web page designer who tried to fit 10 litres into a plug-in container that was only designed to hold one litre.

I noticed that The Guardian site didn’t seem to have these problems, or it had them to a much lesser extent than a lot of other news sites.

OK, this post is also a bunch of complaints about a lot of websites from a grumpy old git.

But not The Guardian.

Kudos to The Guardian for creating a site where the web pages are legible, hold still while you are trying to read them, and scroll when you want to read more.

That sort of behaviour is quite exceptional in news web sites these days, and deserves an honourable mention.

 

Farewell to Dropbox!

I’ve just had notice from Dropbox that it will cease functioning on my computer at the end of August.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

I’m just wondering if there is any other similar “cloud” computing system that will work across different platforms, including different versions of Windows.

I’ve found Dropbox useful for making files available on different computers, so that my wife and I can work on the same file at different times, and always find the latest version, as well as having a cloud backup in case things go wrong. Perhaps we need to study the working of our home network a bit more to see if that can accomplish the same thing.

Here’s the message I received from Dropbox:

We noticed that you’re running the Dropbox desktop application (client) on Windows XP. We’re writing to let you know that as of August 29th, 2016, Dropbox will no longer support this version of Windows. You can find which devices connected to your account are running Windows XP by visiting your account page.

Don’t worry — your files and photos aren’t going anywhere! But you’ll need to update your computer to Windows Vista or later to access them through the Dropbox desktop application. You can find instructions on how to update your operating system on Microsoft’s website.

If you don’t want to update your operating system, your files will still be available through the Dropbox website. However, on August 29th, you’ll be signed out of your Dropbox account on your computer and the Dropbox desktop application will no longer be accessible.

We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause. For more information, please see our Help Center.

cloud1Well, it will cause quite a bit of inconvenience, but not nearly as much as reinstalling Windows would. Reinstalling Windows would take me the rest of my life, which I’d rather spend doing other things. Spending days and days searching through hundreds of CDs and DVDs looking for installation discs, and editing setting everything up all over again is no fun.

Dropbox was especially useful when travelling: we could enter notes and collect data on research trips, and sync them to Dropbox whenever we found and Internet connection, and everything would be waiting on my home computer when I got home. I suppose one could revert to the pre-cloud practice of backing up to small DVD discs, and mailing them home by snail mail.

And for the rest we’ll just have to forego the convenience of Dropbox and go back to using USB flash drives for everything.

When cloud computing is no longer available, can you call it a drought?

Can we blame El Nino?

 

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