Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Four Million Views. Not bad!



Both of these videos have been watched about 4 million times. Check out http://www.youtube.com/youchoose for more.

Then there are the "official" videos, such as this one, with half a million views.




Barack Obama's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope" is also the top download on Audible at the moment. It's most interesting, even to a non-US citizen like me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Taking Stock of Stocktaking

As an Access database programmer I have often had to figure out solutions to tricky problems, but keeping track of stock has never been one of them, until now.
It seems like such a trivial thing: count up all the stock items, and then track all the sales and deliveries for a given period, and then predict what should be there. Simple!? No. It turns out to be a lot more tricky than that.
Say we do the stock count on Monday. Does one include the Monday sales or not? What about deliveries? Were they received before, during or after the stocktake was done? Some companies close their doors during stocktaking. What if this isn't possible?
Then there is the question of partial quantities. If items come in packs of a dozen, what do you do about open packs? Is this regarded as part of the production stock or not? So many questions are raised but not always answered. It's not as simple as it looks, that's for sure!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

No More Mandelas


Part 1


Part 2


Part 3

Some of the statistics mentioned in this documentary are scary: seven times the violent crime death rate than the USA, massive unemployment, thousands of deaths through AIDS. It's really depressing, and its sad to see Frank Chikane looking so defensive on camera. At least Desmond Tutu still calls a spade a spade.
Comments on Jacob Zuma completely overloaded the Times web site, which is hardly surprising. I think he's a bit of a dimwit, leading a party of dimwits. Zuma recently married his fourth wife but plans another two. And the ANC elected him as their leader. Shame.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Great Defrag Shootout XXXI: PerfectDisk 2008

If you've never used PerfectDisk 2008 (PD9) before, now is a good time to try it out. PerfectDisk has a long history of providing a superb defrag program that doesn't need to be run every day or all the time. Just set it to do a scheduled defrag and don't worry about your drive.
If you already use PD8 and are wondering whether to spend the money to upgrade, ask yourself how often you run PD8 in interactive mode. If you run it mainly as a scheduled defrag, then the only reason to upgrade is the new schedule option called "StealthPatrol", which is similar to the "Screen Saver" option but works better.
If you're like me and you generally do a manual defrag, then PD9 is probably worth the upgrade cost because of its cleverly redesigned interface that is generally well thought out and far more informative, without a load of clutter. I particularly appreciate the message that estimates the time it will take to complete the defrag. Like all other estimates it can change, but at least you get a good idea how long the task is expected to take.
The defrag algorithms have been tweaked for improved performance, to cater for massive drive sizes, as well as improved performance, particularly on laptop drives. The basic concept remains the same: PD9 uses the SmartPlacement technique to place startup files first, then older files and programs, and then more recent files, and finally the most recent files, based on their modification dates. Then come the directories, followed by most of the empty space. It is particularly good at consolidating free space into one large useful chunk.
For most users this file placement scheme is extremely effective, because it keeps the files that are most likely to be modified close to the free space where the modified data will be stored, so even a major modification is less likely to cause the hard drive to do a lot of extra work to get the additional fragments, since they are stored close by. Also, when the defrag is run, most files are already in the correct position, reducing defrag times and file movement.
Not everyone can use a scheduled defrag: during the day it can interfere with other work, and many office PCs are switched off at night to save power. PD9 approaches this problem in two ways: you can set up a scheduled defrag for the end of the day that switches off the PC when done. This can be a manual "Once off" schedule, or it can be done automatically. Friday evening is a good time.
The second option is the new "StealthPatrol" which monitors fragmentation levels and PC usage, and quietly does a defrag when the PC is not in use, provided a "threshold" level of fragmentation has been reached. This is a much better option than the "all the time" type of automatic defrag, because it is less likely to interfere with normal work. The small system tray icon shows when PD9 is active, and you can stop it if required.
It works better than the "Screen Saver" defrag option, which interferes with manual defrag operations in both PD8 and PD9. I'm not sure why this wasn't fixed. The other fault that wasn't fixed is PD's reliance on the "BootExecute" registry key. If the key gets changed by another program, then the boot time defrag doesn't work. There is a new "Support" feature that does "self-diagnosis and troubleshooting" but it doesn't detect this problem.
Another new feature is the "Recycler" which can remove unwanted files, including duplicates of files. Unfortunately it isn't available from the command line or "AutoPilot" schedules, which is a pity. There is also a "Space Explorer" facility, which shows you which files and folders are using a lot of disk space. It ignores the actual disk size of compressed files, which I found annoying but understandable.
The ribbon interface makes the program easier to use, and its much more logical and accessible than the PD8 interface. Having said that there are a few confusing "annoyances" like the round "2008" logo which is weird, and the round "Current File Fragmentation" graph which is actually showing "current Drive Fragmentation", not the fragmentation of the file being used. I found this a bit confusing at first.
One of the most interesting features is the list of fragmented files, which you can find after clicking the "Analyze" button. In addition to seeing which files are fragmented, you can select up to 20 files and defrag them. Why it allows you to select more than 20 and then complains, I don't know.
Another useful tool is the "Find" button, where you can select a file on the hard drive and it will show the location of the file, by means of a blue "wire frame" around the disk blocks. This is a great idea, and helpful when trying to figure out what files are causing hassles. But the find only works one way: you have to know which file you want to see. You can't ask the program for the file name(s) in a given region of the drive map. Nor can you select an individual file in the "Fragmented files" list and see where it is on the disk, without memorising the name and path and then using the "Find" button. Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V works for a single file name, but it isn't documented.
PD9 allows you to decide whether to display and defragment removable drives, such as external USB disks. It also allows you to defragment flash drives, but provides no warning about the potential dangers of doing this, either in the dialog boxes or the help files. You gain no performance improvement whatsoever by defragmenting a flash drive, since it is not a mechanical drive. But you run the risk of losing the data through excessive write operations. Fortunately this option is off by default.
There is plenty more to write about, but these are my key points, and I have no problem in recommending PerfectDisk 2008 to new users as the best commercial defrag program available. The "StealthPatrol" option works far better than Diskeeper 2008's automatic defrag, which can be intrusive, and DK still doesn't consolidate free space, despite their marketing assurances to the contrary.
When the power situation stabilises further I will do a comparison between PD2008 and DK2008, both from a usability and effectiveness point of view. I also plan to measure the defrag times of the old and new versions of PD.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Cabinet's Newest Bright Spark and Her "Ten Point Plan"


Parliament had a special Joint Sitting on Wed 30th January to discuss the energy crisis, after 3 weeks of nationwide power blackouts. I have never been so insulted by a parliamentary speech. It was made by Buyelwa Sonjica, the Minister of Minerals and Energy. She clearly has no idea what she is doing, and not only is Eskom causing mayhem and destruction in the economy (the "Energy" part), but the mining industry has already lost millions and essentially halted production for a week so far (the "Minerals" part). In spit of the fact that both Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki were absent, a special joint sitting of parliament is called to discuss this "National Emergency". As the Minister in charge of this fiasco she gets up and addresses the nation as follows:
"Hon members, I want to conclude by introducing these tips – a 10-point plan that will go towards changing our behaviour in the consumption of electricity. What I am going to read out are things we can do when we go out of here:
  • Switch off the geyser between 11h00 and 18h00 and between 21h00 and 05h00.
  • All appliances must be switched off at the wall, and not the remote control. We can save about 40 megawatts there.
  • Switch off all lights in the home when not in use and go to sleep early so that you can grow and be cleverer.
  • Boil only as much water in a kettle as is needed. Don’t fill up the kettle when you need only two cups.
  • Use the microwave oven rather than the stove. Use any other alternative energy source for heating and cooking rather than electricity. We are looking at people using gas, wood and so on.
  • Take a shower and not a shallow bath.
  • Switch off the lights just like Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn off the lights”, especially in offices and government offices. They are the culprits. It is mandatory for government buildings except for security lights, and we want them to switch off between 22h00 and 06h00.
  • While working in your office, use daylight instead of electric light as far as possible; and
  • Please open the window rather than using the air conditioner.
This is the 10-Point Plan – easy to implement. As long as people do not whinge and whine, this can be achieved. We are calling on all of those positive and progressive South Africans to support us. It can be done and we will do it.
Does this minister have any idea what she is saying? This must be the first 10 point plan in history with only 9 points! I must run the geyser during peak hours only (see red area in graph below) ?! I must go to sleep early to get cleverer, but wake up at 5am to switch on the geyser? I must boil the kettle but cook with wood or gas ?!
Let me see ... If I wake up at 5am and then stay at home until 11am to switch off the geyser, perhaps the rush hour will be over and I won't need to use traffic lights to get to the office. I can then work a full day from noon until 5, and rush home in time to overload the grid by switching on the geyser at 6. I can then light a fire in my flat and have a romantic dinner in the dark and go to bed at 9pm, after switching off the geyser. The mind boggles.
Why didn't she just stand up in parliament and say "Medem the sugar is finished"?
To put this in context, I repeat her speech in full. It doesn't read any better than the extract from Hansard. The Minister of Minerals and Energy opens the session as follows:
Madam Speaker, hon members, chairperson of the NCOP, Deputy Speaker, deputy national chairperson and hon members of the House, Happy New Year.
As I was sitting there having a moment of silence, my daily prayer went, “let there be no outages”.
Madam Speaker, let me start by congratulating the former chairperson of the portfolio committee, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, for his new position as the Chief Whip of the Majority Party in Parliament. [Applause.] We appreciate his leadership and guidance during his tenure as our chairperson. Indeed, I must say that we had an excellent comrade or mother-to-son relationship. I also welcome Mr Nqaba Ncobo as the new chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Minerals and Energy. [Applause.] I am looking forward to working with him.
Hon members, over the past two weeks, we have seen unprecedented levels of electricity supply disruptions in South Africa. The questions on the minds of most people is how long this problem is likely to persist and whether enough is being done to resolve it. In some quarters, the sentiment relates mainly to the need to identify the culprits and to castigate them – crucify, crucify, crucify!
At the onset, I must take the opportunity to apologise to all South Africans for the hardships and inconvenience caused by this unfortunate turn of events. I want to reiterate the apologies by our President and our Deputy President respectively in expressing sincere regret.
We would like to thank all South Africans for the overwhelming response to our calls to save electricity. Let me also acknowledge the leadership that the ANC has provided in helping us deal with this national emergency.
Madam Speaker, Chairperson of the NCOP, the main contributing factors to the challenge facing us today, amongst others, are the following: the unprecedented and unanticipated rate at which we are economically growing as a country; and to a certain extent, the expansion of electricity services to previously unserved areas. This we did in the context of addressing the situation that we find ourselves in, where the majority of our people in this country did not have a very basic service – electricity.
When we took over in 1994, growth had stagnated with over 3000 megawatts excess capacity of plant in mothballed state after they had been decommissioned. Our emphasis as the ANC, in line with our vision, was not only to use the excess supply for growth, but to also turn excess into access for those who needed this basic service.
A legitimate question that always arises is - it arises from all South Africans - why we did not foresee this problem. The major task of the ANC when it took power in 1994 was to revitalise the economy and extend services to the majority of our people. As the Department of Minerals and Energy responsible for the security of supply and energy, we anticipated this current situation. When we experienced an electricity demand growth of about 3,34% and 7,1% in 2002 and 2003 respectively, projections were revised. It was confirmed that new power generation would be required in 2007 and that this should be peaking plant. In an attempt to address this, we did the following: In 2003 in September, my department informed Cabinet that South Africa was running out of excess capacity faster that expected and that additional capacity would be required in 2007. The lead time for such projects is approximately 3 years and therefore a decision was required as soon as possible. Cabinet approval was subsequently acquired for proposals that were geared towards ensuring that South Africa had adequate electricity supply going forward. The key decisions made by Cabinet included the following:
Firstly, Eskom should be instructed to ensure security of supply up to 2007, including the building of new power stations if necessary in the short term. Secondly, 70% of new capacity required beyond 2008 would be commissioned by Eskom. For the remaining 30% of required capacity beyond 2008, a process to bring Independent Power producers - IPPs - into the system would be started in 2005. Lastly, should be instructed to aggressively pursue Demand Side Management strategies with clearly defined targets. What happened with the IPPs? There was no appetite from the private sector to invest in capacity generation.
In April 2004, Cabinet took a decision to procure a new peaking plant as the first IPP in South Africa involving Eskom as the soul buyer of the power. Cabinet had also approved that in line with this obligation to supply, Eskom should be instructed to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement or other appropriate agreements with the IPPs; and that the should be no acceptable bids in the IPP process, Eskom should be asked to build the required capacity.
Hon members, there might have been a delay. Government, on a number of occasions through various leaders in government - in the name of the President himself, the Deputy President, the Minister of Public Enterprises, the Minister of Minerals and Energy - has considered that there was a delay. We have even apologised to South Africans. We are responsible enough. We know that we are accountable to our citizens, and we have done so. There might have been a delay, as I have indicated, but there was definitely an attempt to look into the matter. [Interjections.] I have already alluded to the attempts that we made.
There are other factors, hon members. We are part of the global village. That is a fact. Whatever happens in the world will also affect South Africa. Some of the factors that have affected us include a high demand of energy globally. That is a reality. That is the reason why you see China experiencing the same problem in 13 of its provinces. This is because there is a high demand of energy globally – that is a fact. The growth of the economies of India and China has had an impact – that is a fact. [Interjections.] This is not unique to South Africa. This is happening elsewhere in the world. [Interjections.] We have seen a collapse of energy markets in Ontario. We have seen blackouts in the North Eastern United States and Europe. All of these are because we are part of the global village. Brazil has gone through the same experience. So, we had to look at all of these things in addressing this problem.
We have strengthened the White Paper and the national Integrated Energy Plan at policy level. We have also developed a national energy master plan which Cabinet approved in December last year. Another important policy tool that we put in place last year is the Energy Efficiency Strategy of South Africa that has since enabled the Department of Minerals and Energy to establish the energy efficiency agency that still needs to be beefed up in order to roll out the energy efficiency campaign.
Hon members, we are all aware that we have a national emergency which calls upon Mr Tony Leon here and everyone of us to contribute towards the management of the situation. We are calling for a partnership between the people of South Africa and government. We have had a series of meetings with stakeholders, including the hon the Leader of the Opposition who is very much supportive of this initiative that we have taken as government – a very positive contribution, unlike these hon members on this side. We have since put together a National Electricity Emergency Programme which speaks to the supply and Demand Side Management of the situation.
In our view, the Demand Side Management can be a quick win because it entails using energy efficiently, and this can be done now as we speak. One element of the National Electricity Emergency Programme is power rationing. We have already invoked this protocol, where we have called for a 10% reduction of electricity consumption from all sectors. We are looking at banning the manufacturing and usage of incandescent lights. This will give us about 800 megawatts. Of the 10 million homes that are electrified in South Africa, there are eight incandescent lights per household. So, we need to bring this down. We will be promoting that South Africans who can afford to install solar heaters be encouraged to do so. At least the money from your lectures, Mr Tony Leon, will help. You will be able to buy a solar heater. We are looking at smart metering, fuel switching, traffic lights and public lighting, which we will convert to solar power. All of these are work in progress – we are working on them.
The hospitality industry is called upon to retrofit and be energy efficient. We also call upon them to convert water-heating to solar power. We will embark on the education, public awareness programme, and we will have material in a month’s time. We will also be looking at regulations which were only enforced from Wednesday last week. South Africa’s electricity is known to be the cheapest in the world. We must all brace up for a hike which has been in the pipeline – nothing new is going to be introduced. What is in the pipeline will be introduced as a matter of urgency. [Interjections.] We are confident that we have the ability to turn the situation around. We reassure the South African community and the world at large that all our projects will be on pause, and the 2010 Fifa World Cup is not under threat. [Interjections.]
Hon members, I want to conclude by introducing these tips – a 10-point plan that will go towards changing our behaviour in the consumption of electricity. What I am going to read out are things we can do when we go out of here:
Switch off the geyser between eleven o’ clock and 18h00 and between nine o’ clock in the evening and five o’ clock in the morning. All appliances must be switched off ... [Interjections] ... at the wall, and not the remote control. We can save about 40 megawatts there. Switch off all lights in the home when not in use and go to sleep early so that you can grow ... [Laughter] ... and be cleverer. Boil only as much water in a kettle as is needed. Don’t fill up the kettle when you need only two cups.Use the microwave oven rather than the stove. Use any other alternative energy source for heating and cooking rather than electricity. We are looking at people using gas, wood and so on. [Interjections.]Take a shower and not a shallow bath. Switch off the lights just like Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn off the lights”, especially in offices and government offices. They are the culprits. It is mandatory for government buildings except for security lights, and we want them to switch off between 22h00 and 06h00. While working in your office, use daylight instead of electric light as far as possible and please open the window rather than using the air conditioner.
This is the 10-Point Plan – easy to implement. As long as people do not whinge and whine, this can be achieved. We are calling on all of those positive and progressive South Africans to support us. It can be done and we will do it. Thank you very much.
If you can make sense of this contradictory bunch of excuses, lies, misinformation and spin, then be my guest.


This video says it all


Audio Ads - An Experiment

This site might play you an audio ad. it is supposed to be only 5 seconds long, and there will not be another one for at least 3 minutes, or as long as you stay on a given page. I am trying them out as an experiment. If they turn out to absolutely awful I'll drop them.
If you hate ads in general, use the AdBlock Plus extension for Firefox, or the IE7pro add-in for Internet Explorer.
Also, use HostsMan to block content from aa.voice2page.com through the hosts file in Windows. There are similar programs for Mac or Linux users. I use all 3 because I really don't like ads, except Google adwords, which I can tolerate. After all, I display them on this blog and I get a small cheque from them once a year or so. My exclusion list looks like this:
adservices.google.com
googlesyndication.com
pagead.googlesyndication.com
pagead2.googlesyndication.com
ssl.google-analytics.com
www.googleadservices.com
www.google-analytics.com
Everything else gets blocked.
HostsMan blocks other dodgy content apart from ads, which I appreciate too. Listeners to the Security Now podcast will also know about Flash Cookies, which are used by the audio ads service. I would appreciate comments about the ads. My review of PerfectDisk 2008 is on its way, power failures notwithstanding.

Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.