Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Last dictator standing


In an earlier article I talked about the standard of advertisements in South Africa and how they seemed to be getting better. One of the main reasons for South Africa having good advertising is the Loerie Awards. The awards were designed to inspire advertising agencies to continuously push the limits of advertisements and create new and innovative ideas.
One of the best advertising campaigns has got to be the Nando's adverts. The fast food chain has had so many brilliant adverts over the last few years across all forms of media. Their ads have ranged from rogue blind dogs to issues of illegal immigration and more often than not they capture the political climate in the country and more recently worldly events.
In their latest advert, they have created a viral hit of epidemic proportions. "Last Dictator Standing" is the newest advert and we see look alike dictators reminiscing about the old days. Robert Mugabe and Gaddafi are seen playing with water guns in the form of AK-47's and karaoke with Chairman Mao, making sand angels with Saddam Hussein and even swinging with P.W. Botha.
Although the reaction to the ad has been brilliant, it even earned a spot on TIME's Newsfeed. The majority of people surveyed all enjoyed the ad as pure entertainment but were unsure of the actual product offering, Nando's 6 Pack meal, which includes 1 ½ flame-grilled chickens, two large portions of fries, a pile of bread and some Liqui-Fruit for R170)
You can see the Ad here.
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Sunday, 20 November 2011

Nokia N9 - Nokia is back in the game

Stack of Nokia N9 device imagesImage by Nokia RSA via Flickr
Work of Art Smartphone
The new Nokia Smartphone, the N9, is a beautiful piece of electronic wizardry coming together to
become a sure competitor to the much loved iPhone. The new N9 is really an impressive Smartphone; the interface is slick and so easy to use. After many years of falling behind in the Smartphone market Nokia have hit back.

Striking All-screen design

The phone is a perfect fit in your hand, the materials used in the manufacturing of the phone add to its appeal. Technically it is a single piece polycarbonate with a curved glass all-screen front. In reality the plastic used is made from the same material as ice-hockey helmets so that ensures the phone can take some serious damage without breaking. The glass on the front panel is the glass used on helicopters, giving you confidence the phone won't shatter or spider web on the smallest of falls like other smart phones would.

Another plus to the materials used is that the plastic does not block signal, so even with dodgy cellular service you can only blame the carriers and not your phone. The 3.9" AMOLED display makes the display great and gives the effect of everything appearing to float.

Nokia N9 SmartphoneImage by Nokia RSA via Flickr

Effortless - just a swipe away

The best part for me about the phone is the way the phone actually works. In short it just does. You just slide your finger over the screen to move onto one of 100 apps permissible on the device. For example you are watching a video clip and decide you want to send a sms, just slide your finger up and select sms, the video clip will pause and resume again when you select the video clip again. Amazing!

The next big thing is NFC, near field communication. Imagine having a funky wireless speaker and you want to play your music through it. Easily enough just touch the top of the phone with the top of the speaker, the two devices will sync and the phone is now playing through the speaker.

The phone has so many other incredible features that you expect with smart phones these days but the thing makes Nokia better than others in this field is the Nokia Maps and navigation. The camera quality is brilliant, with a Carl Zeiss 8MP auto-focus, wide angle lens, allowing for HD quality video capture with stereo audio recording.

Having played with the phone, there is so much more to this phone than one can possible write about in this format. I really suggest you go and see this device for yourself; maybe some lucky people will find it in their Christmas stocking this year...

 Either way I am glad that Nokia have eventually brought a phone to the market that competes head to head with the iPhone and will most likely trump it in every way. However Apple's marketing and the popular belief that Apple is best will make Nokia's comeback very difficult but certainly not impossible.

Visit www.nokian9.co.za for more.
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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Droning on about UAV's

Observer South African UAV in flightImage via Wikipedia
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, UAV, or more commonly known as Drones are becoming ever more present in today’s world. Mainly used in the military for all types of purposes the UAV is starting to find itself being used in more civilian uses like policing.

Using UAV's for police work is not necessarily new as some cities have trialled the use of them before. Most of the trial periods though failed either due to funding or the fact that the drone crashed! There is hope though for UAV to be used for policing and for other uses.
In the South African context with our high crime rate and porous borders the use of drones could well be part of the solution. Funding is always going to be a problem but the cost of UAV's is slowly coming down. For most part the cost of operating a drone was only slightly cheaper than crewed aircraft. As the technology improves so does the cost come down.

Denel, the South African arms manufacturers, have developed a UAV called the Seeker 400. This UAV is capable of flying for 16 hours without re-fuelling in any weather and be controlled from a computer hundreds of kilometres away. Granted this has been developed for military purpose but it could easily be adapted for civilian purposes.

Uses

We could have these UAV’s patrolling crime hotspots with camera’s and when something happens it can track the criminals until either a helicopter is chasing or ground crew are in pursuit. It would be able to monitor protests from above giving riot police information on where to be deployed.  Being able to monitor troublesome spots for up to 16 hours would be a huge tactical advantage to police.
Mótmæli vörubílstjóra 23. apríl 2008Image via Wikipedia

Other uses would be in the fight against poachers who are killing rhino’s for their horns. These drones could be placed above nature reserves and monitor both rhino and detect poachers allowing ground and air teams to move in on them.

In a recent article SARS, South Africa Revenue Service, complained that the borders of the country are vulnerable. Apparently the 4800km land border is not under surveillance and allows people to just walk across and even fly due to inadequate radar coverage. Our shoreline also suffers the same fate.  Surely a couple of well placed drones would go a long way to tighten border security.

Granted some people will probably say that their rights are being infringed by these drones circling above them and being under surveillance but in the end I would believe it would not be a big issue if used for the purposes it is intended for.

Failure
Of course the use of UAV’s could always fail like the pilot drone used in the UK. It assisted in only one arrest before it crashed. You can read the full story here. Having looked at the pictures of this drone it looked more like a toy controlled with an iPhone than a police issue UAV.

There is the opposite extreme though. Police in Texas are now putting weapons onto their drones? I personally do not think this a wise move especially if the drone crashes then the weapons will be easy pickings? Rather stick to camera’s and thermal imaging and whatever else can be crammed into these awesome flying vehicles.
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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Building towards a supersonic Electric Aeroplane

The eGenius electric aircraft recently participated in the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Green Flight Challenge. It was sponsored by Google, at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011. NASA and CAFE Foundation have the goal to advance technologies in fuel efficiency and reduced emissions with cleaner renewable fuels and electric aircraft.

The Green Flight Challenge had 13 teams competing for the $1.65 million prize provided by NASA. This is the largest purse for any aviation event in history. In order to win the prize teams needed their  aircraft must fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity.

In the end only three teams successfully completed the aircraft and flight qualification requirements. The winner was team Pipistrel-USA.com, a four seater electric aircraft called the Taurus 4, with an almost unbelievable 403.5 passenger miles per gallon efficiency over a flight distance of 200miles. Twice that of the already efficient piston powered aircraft in the same competition.

The e-Genius team won the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize (LEAP) for the quietest aircraft with a peak take off noise of just 59.5 dBA (A normal conversation ranges between 80-85 dBA). This brings the potential capability of having aircraft quiet enough to land near houses and businesses without the noise aggravation. Good news for those living and working near airports.

Some other interesting facts from the Green Flight Challenge:
  • There were 20 exhibitors showing off their visions of the greener aviation future
  •  Pipistrel G-4 achieved 403.5 PMPG over its 200 mile flight
  • The eGenius achieved 375.8 PMPG
  • The winning check for $1.3 million is the equivalent to a Nobel prize winner (1 million Euros)
  • The G-4 could be charged for a two-hour flight at a cost of $7. (based on 8c for a KW)
  • Receiving their electricity from geo-thermal powered generators on nearby peaks in the Geyserville area, CAFE’s fliers flew “green”
  • A future challenge is now to create a supersonic Electric aircraft.
The Green Flight challenge 2011 has heralded a new change in aviation history. The future technology of aviation was most likely born at this event.
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Friday, 28 October 2011

Currie Cup 2011 Final - And the winner will be...

Following my article about the winners of the IRB World Cup 2011 by applying the principle outlined in the popular Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers. I thought I would apply the same process to the Currie Cup final taking place at the Ellis Park Stadium, in Johannesburg, South Africa between the Lions and the Sharks from Durban.

In the article about the world cup the principle suggested that the finals would have been played out between Australia and France. Although New Zealand did when the World Cup, the principle did get three out of the top four teams correct. It also predicted the winner of the Cricket World Cup held in India. You can read my post about that here.

Having mixed results, I have applied the same principle to the teams in the Currie Cup final. If it holds true the Lions should win. The Lions have 40% of their starting line-up players born between January and April against the 27% of the Sharks line-up.

Although there are many other factors influencing the result of the final, the Outlier's principle has certainly thrown a unique perspective to the way I look at the results of a match these days. From my side I hope the Lions win not only to prove the principle works but so I can once again be a proud Lions fan.
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Monday, 24 October 2011

IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 - Did Outliers get it wrong?

In a previous post, I applied a principle from the successful Outliers book to the Rugby World Cup 2011 held recently in New Zealand. New Zealand were ultimately crowned champions of the world after a very close match against unlucky third time finalists France.

In the post it was concluded that the team that would win the RWC 2011 would have been Australia against France with Australia being victorius. Third and fourth place would have been played between New Zealand and Ireland. In the end though it was not as clear cut and scientific. But the Outliers principle did 'predict' three out of the top four finalists.

Looking back at the RWC 2011 there were a number of instances whereby the results could have been radically different. Wales played exceptionally well to have beaten Ireland in the quarters. Ireland themselves having caused a mini upset with their victory over Australia in the group stages. Wales were meant to come fifth according to Outliers.

Australia managed to get through to the semi's after a tough match against the Springboks from South Africa. Although the argument could be said with the assistance of a sixtenth player in the form of the referee, it was just not to be for South Africa in 2011.

I think the raw emotion and determination to ensure they went to the final was the driving force behind New Zealand's convincing win over Australia in the semi-finals. The New Zealand team has been the best in the world for so many years and probably if you looked into it the players in the New Zealand side have probably all played over 10,000 hours of rugby another Outliers point.

Coming into the final match, at home New Zealand were always going to be the favourites. Applying the formula though France should have been the victors. In the French starting line-up 66% of the team were born in the first few months of the playing season. New Zealnd had 40% of the team born in the first few months.

New Zealand managed to overcome a theoretical principle and become Outliers for the IRB World Cup 2011. Well done New Zealand!
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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A dream-liner of the sky

Boeing have officially handed over the first 787 Dreamliner to Japan's All Nippon Airways. The 787 programme began back in 2003 and will compete with their European rivals Airbus A350. The Dreamliner is "The most technologically advanced commercial airplane in history" according to Boeing 787 Chief Project Engineer Mike Sinnett.
Artist impression of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.Image via Wikipedia

The Dreamliner is a twin-engine, bendy winged, widebody craft that has raised the bar for fuel efficiency. Some 50 percent of the weight of the 787 airframe is lightweight carbon-fibre composites that could, Boeing says, help reduce fuel costs by 20 percent. Whether travellers will benefit from the lower fuel consumption will depend on how greedy the airlines are.

The Dreamliner was in part designed to be a panacea to passenger discomfort. Numerous new technologies and design effects have allowed the Dreamliner to become more passenger friendly. Boeing spent years researching their customer's customer, us. Their research resulted in a number of design tweaks and improvements.
787 mockupImage via Wikipedia

The initial boarding was found to be of utmost importance so Boeing worked with artists and architects to create arched entranceways which provide a relaxing contrast to the "stress of pre-flight security." Not only this but you can expect roomier seats, more storage and larger, manually dimmable windows. Even economy class will see some luxury additions, with a bar, female-only lavatories and Panasonic entertainment on demand for every passenger.

Older technology has also been re-purposed such as LED lights installed in the 787 cabin, allowing the ceiling to appear higher, lighting can be controlled to make the transition between day and night easier.

One of the biggest technological advancements is the cabin pressure within the Dreamliner. The Dreamliner allows for a more comfortable cabin pressure. The pressure inside the cabin is the equivalent of 6,000 feet and not the normal 8,000 feet. The air can be recycled more frequently due to the composite body of the plane. There is also more humidty in the air reducing symptoms related to dryness.

The single aisled Dreamliner, seats between 210-290 passengers and has an asking price of $202m. Boeing estimate the potential market to be about 3300 units. Boeing already has 821 orders worth $150bn for the plane in the pipeline. Although it has endured many delays from its start to now, Boeing hope to build up to 10, 787 Dreamliners per month by the end of 2013.

For those that are interested Boeing shares, were up 3.3 percent at $61.49 on Monday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.


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Monday, 26 September 2011

Advertisements - are they getting better?

We are most probably all annoyed when watching our favourite TV programmes and those infernal television advertisements come on. Generally if you are watching a tv channel like our SABC then the ad break would happen at the most inopportune time and the volume of the advertisement always seems louder than the programme you are watching.

The ad break often leads to channel surfing, where most likely you are going to find adverts on the other channels on at the exact same time. Annoying as the break is, what is more annoying is the often pathethic advert that seem to be stuck on a loop. These are the advert's played after every other ad at every ad break at the exact same time. Thank goodness for PVR's.

For those people that do not have PVR's and are forced to put up with adverts ruining our tv viewing pleasure there is not much to be done except to sit back and grit your teeth. However, over the last few months the adverts on tv do seem to be of better quality?

There are some adverts in my opinion that are quite bereable to watch. There is the brilliant Tracker advert that goes backwards from an old lady right back to when the lady was a baby. This is an excellent example of looking at a service or product out-of-the-box so to speak. The focus here is not on the 'what' as in recovering stolen vehicles but rather on the 'why'. Why does Tracker recover vehicles - to save lives?

There are many other great adverts that have graced the smaller screens, such as the Berocca advert with two lumberjacks dancing on a log in the water with the payoff line being 'You, but on a good day.' OMO also have a decent ad running with their 'Just one small cap is enough' where the domestic helper smacks the hand of the 'madam' and says the pay off line.

Some other good adverts is the launch of the Heita cellphone network ealier this year - not my personal favourite but the ad was well done. Other popular adverts are for liquor brands like Johnny Walker, Hennessy and the Hansa ads with 'Vuyo'.

Then again there are still the horrible ones like 'Dettol', especially the one where the little boy sneezes all over his lunch and then hands one of his sandwiches to the girl next to him. Not to forget the pathetic 'Mr Muscle' cleaning product adverts with the supposed superhero himself 'Mr Muscle'.

The Loerie awards, held in Cape Town recently, recognises the best of television advertising and other communication mediums the Oscar's of television advertising in Africa and the Middle East. The finalists for 2011 are listed here. http://www.theloerieawards.co.za/ Some of them, I cannot understand but then again I am no expert - I just like what I like.

What are your favourite or best adverts presently on tv?

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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Who will win the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011?

There are undoubtedly favourites for the IRB Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. I have taken a different angle at trying to predict the winners of this years’ world cup. Based on a previous  piece  I wrote earlier this year for the ICC Cricket World Cup hosted by India. The article, Outliers – applied to the Cricket World Cup, explains the basis for this discussion. .

For the premise of this article, I have taken the principle proposed in the book ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. The idea is that successful sports teams and the team member’s date of birth have a strong correlation to each other. Those born in the first few months after the age group cut-off were bound to be more successful than their team mates born later in the same year, i.e. players born in January through March are more likely to make it to top level sport than those born in December.

There are numerous reasons and studies into this phenomenon which is termed the ‘Relative Age Effect’. This article is not going to delve into that but rather look at the facts and see if it can predict who is going to win the World Cup.

I have already tried this with the Cricket World Cup. In this instance, India, who had over 60% of the team born in the first three months of the year, won the World Cup.  The theory seems to hold true.
Could the same process work and predict the winner of the Rugby World Cup before the tournament starts? I have worked this out based solely on the first few months and the makeup of the team who will possibly win the World Cup.
Let’s take one step back and look at the last two finals that South Africa have played in (and won). The 1995 Springbok side that played in the final had a makeup of 40% of the starting XV born between January and April. New Zealand had 27% of their starting XV born in the first few months.
In 2007 when South Africa beat England, (twice in France - once in the round robin stage and then in the final) for their second World Cup victory South Africa had 41% to England’s 27%. In both of the above examples South Africa won the World Cup final match and had the majority of players born within the first few months of the respective age-group cut-off date.
The age group cut-off dates for the two hemispheres vary. Keep in mind that age-groups do not apply to senior teams. The age-group applies to the grounding and support a player receives when playing age-group rugby. The cut-off for the Northern Hemispere teams is 31 August and for the Southern hemisphere teams it is 1 January. Northern Hemispere first few months would be September through to the end of December and for the Southern Hemisphere teams, January through April.
With this in mind I took the top seven International Rugby Board rated teams in rugby as of 22 August 2011 and looked at their official world cup squads. The top seven teams are:

1.       New Zealand
2.       Australia
3.       South Africa
4.       France
5.       England
6.       Wales
7.       Ireland
Based on the premise that teams composed of more players born in the first months of the year are more likely to succeed than others - the winner of the IRB Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, 2011 will be for the third time most likely - Australia.
Australia has the most players in their squad born in the first few months. Australia has 17 players born between January and April - this equates to 57% of the side. The next highest is France with 53%.
If it were a perfect science we should see an Australia versus France final with New Zealand coming third. The remaining teams would be in fourth -Ireland, fifth – Wales, sixth – England, seventh – South Africa. This is based exclusively on the first few months premise.

The team breakdown is as follows:

New Zealand:
Age group cut-off date is 31 December. Thus those born Jan - Apr should be the more dominant age group.
53% of the New Zealand world cup squad is born during Jan-Apr, 13% in May-Sep and 33% Oct-Dec.
Australia:
Age group cut-off date is 31 December. Thus those born Jan - Apr should be the more dominant age group.
57% of the Australian world cup squad is born during Jan-Apr, 37% in May-Sep and 7% Oct-Dec.
South Africa:
Age group cut-off date is 31 December. Thus those born Jan - Apr should be the more dominant age group.
33% of the South African world cup squad is born during Jan-Apr, 50% in May-Sep and 17% Oct-Dec.
France:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
53% of the French world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 23% in Jan-Apr and 23% May-Oct.
England:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
37% of the English world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 27% in Jan-Apr and 37% May-Oct.
Wales:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
40% of the Welsh world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 30% in Jan-Apr and 30% May-Oct.
Ireland:
Age group cut-off date is 31 August. Thus those born Sep - Dec should be the more dominant age group.
43% of the French world cup squad is born during Sep-Dec, 33% in Jan-Apr and 23% May-Oct.
As patriotic as South Africans are – we are most obviously behind the Bokke bringing home the world cup for the third time in a row. But could statistics be the deciding factor when it comes to who wins world cups and who doesn’t. We always consider so many other factors – how many caps a player has, how long they have been playing, who their coach is, where they went to school and the list goes on. Could our support and spirit be enough to drive the Springboks further? Let’s see how it goes. Based on this, my money is on Australia – but I hope I’m wrong! Go Bokke!
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

NASA – Gravitating to the Moon again

GRAIL lunar probesImage via Wikipedia NASA will be launching two robotic probes each about the size of a washing machine to the moon. The near identical probes called Grail-A and Grail-B, Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory are due to blast off from the Space Launch complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida on Thursday.

The probes will lift off in an unmanned Delta II Heavy Rocket and will start its three month journey to the moon. NASA’s Apollo Astronauts used the Saturn V Rocket and covered the approximately 386,242 kilometres to the moon in a mere three days.  The ‘more economical’ rocket launch brings the cost of the mission from start to finish to US$ 496 million dollars.

Shortly after lift off the probes will separate from each other and travel independently to the moon.  Grail-A will arrive at the moon on New Year’s Eve with Grail-B arriving on New Year’s Day. They will go into orbit around the lunar poles and effectively chase one another around the moon. The probes will range in distance apart from each other from 64 kilometres to 225 kilometres. They will be bouncing radio signals between them providing their exact locations, even on the far side of the moon.

When the mission ends in late spring (northern hemisphere), Grail-A and Grail-B will be within 16 kilometres of the moon’s surface. Barring any changes, they will then eventually crash into the moon.

The mission aims to create the most precise lunar gravity map ever. Scientists are hoping to figure out what is beneath the lunar surface, all the way to the core. The moon actually has the most uneven gravitational field in the solar system, according to NASA. The moon’s gravity is about one-sixth or Earth’s pull.

Scientists will be able to measure even the slightest variations in the gap between the orbiting probes every single second. These changes as subtle as they may be will indicate shifting masses below the lunar surface: mountains in some places, lava tubes and craters in others. The probes will also help pinpoint the best landing sites for future explorers, whether human or mechanical.

A plan to put man back on the moon was scratched off in favour of an asteroid and Mars. There are three spacecraft currently orbiting the moon, making science observations. Since the Space Age began in 1957, 109 missions have targeted the moon. 12 men have walked on its surface in six separate landings. 342 kilograms of rock and soil has been brought back to earth and are still being analysed.

The launch of the GRAIL probes will be NASA’s second robotic mission since the end of the shuttle programme in July. A probe names Juno is headed for Jupiter following a successful launch on August 5. If the GRAIL is not launched on September 8, the mission’s launch period lasts until October 19.

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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Russian Space Ship crashes - What now NASA?

A Russian space station supply ship, Progress M-12M, crashed into the Siberian landscape just
A Russian Soyuz lifts off from the Baikonur Co...Image via Wikipediaminutes after its launch. It was carrying three-tonnes of supplies for the International Space Station astronauts.  All contact with the spacecraft was lost. Reports of the wreakage falling to ground with a deafening roar led to Russian space officials declaring the flight a total failure.

The loss of the supply spacecraft will not pose to big a problem for the astronauts in the International space station as they have more than enough supplies. It will threaten the launch of the next crew, just one month away. This is because the upper stage of the unmanned Soyuz rocket that crashed is similar to one used in the manned, Soyuz-FG, version of the rocket. In addition the crew presently based at the station may have to stay a little longer.

The crash immediately brings to the fore the discussion about the US stopping its Shuttle programme. With Russia being the only space going transport provider right now, if there is a major flaw in the present batch of Soyuz Rockets this may not be the last of the spaceship crashes. Keep in mind this is the second failure of a Russian rocket in a week. On August 18, a telecommunications satellite was put into a wrong orbit.

The Obama administration decision to abandon the space shuttle has been under much scrutiny. The idea being that private companies must come up with cheaper and efficient methods to launch payloads into orbit. Sounds great but why would a company like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others spend millions of dollars to design a spacecraft that may or not be selected as the newest generation spacecraft.

Spacecraft like the Orion project, cancelled because of budget cuts, was destined to be the new 'shuttle' but now all the work for that project has been shelved for the time being. It makes you wonder if the decision to abandon a space going programme without an alternative available was the best decision to make? Sure the US may save some money now but what will the long term effects be?

Russia will continue to gain valuble experience and research into rockets, as will China and other near space going countries like India. Whereas the US are approaching the space race with a capitlistic point of view and not so much with national pride as the space race was run a couple of decades ago.

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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Clouds of 1's and 0's

Cloud computing is fast becoming the future of information technology. Everywhere you go people are talking about it, even people that would not normally speak about something technological are talking about it. Cloud computing and cloud based services are pretty impressive. This blog is done in the cloud, people have been using the cloud for a long time and may not have known about it even.

My initial thoughts on cloud-based services are less than favourable to using it from an enterprise perspective but from an end-user point of view cloud services are fantastic. My concerns are mainly around security of ones data mind you.

Why trust someone else to look after my data? What happens if the company whose hands you have willingly placed your data into fails? Big companies can crash especially in economic times we are in, think Lehman Brothers in 2008 or scarier Worldcom, the big telecommuncations company back in 2005.

Who is to say that the likes of Amazon, Apple, or Google may go bankrupt. Then what will happen to all that data and the businesses that have been reliant on their services being there and suddenly they are not.

At this stage there is no real security regulation of the cloud based services? We would like to think the corporations will look after our data but big companies are also targets for hacking groups which could led to unexpected down time of your business should you be making full use of cloud services.

The accountant may see benefit in moving things to the cloud but for the IT administrator / security engineer the cloud is a potential landslide of issues. In a country like South Africa where a decent internet connection is rare, why would a small business or for that matter a large business move to cloud based services.

Even if the Internet was better what about the issue of power, can we rely on Eskom to provide sufficient power. Sure UPS devices in businesses work for a shortime but eventually you will lose your Internet connection ergo your business. Not every business can have generators running 24/7.

In my opinion cloud based services are not for South Africa yet, the services will become mainstream in SA as they have elsewhere but only because the accountants think it is cheaper. This is until a Telkom outage or Eskom load-shedding incident occurs showing the folly of the decision.

We will not escape the cloud as it is the future. Microsoft are already designing and launching products aimed at the cloud and with pc's, tablets, and phones increasingly needing the internet it is not surprising.

The cloud is coming, will it be a big, grey and stormy one or a beautiful, soft and fluffy one we will not know. The cloud is there on the horizon looming large, lets wait and see what it brings.
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

13,000 MPH plane crash

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, attempted to fly the fastest aircraft ever built. The experimental aircraft is called the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). This vehicle is designed to be part of the US defence force "Prompt Global Strike" programme.

The HTV-2 is designed to be able to strike anywhere in the world within 60 minutes. To be able to achieve this feat an aircraft would need to fly at 13,000MPH. The HTV-2 would be launched and successfully placed into desired trajectory by using a separate vehicle. After successfully separating from the launch vehicle the HTV-2 would transition into MACH 20 aerodynamic flight.

On August, 11, 2011, the HTV-2 was launched and separated from the launch vehicle, Minotaur IV. More than nine minutes of data was captured before an anomaly caused loss of signal. This anomaly has puzzled scientists and they are trying to understand what went wrong. It appears that the HTV-2 crashed into the Pacific Ocean along its planned flight plan.

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering.  “We know how to boost the aircraft to near space.  We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight.  We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight.  It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

There are a couple of technical areas of concern that DARPA are working on to get the HTV-2 operational. The areas are aerodynamics, aero thermal, guidance, navigation and control. When DARPA do manage to solve these vexing problems it is certainly going to make the US defence that much more powerful than it is already.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Happy 30th Birthday PC!

New York City on August 12, 1981, the IBM 5150 personal computer made its debut. The IBM 5150 ran the Microsoft Disk Operating System, MS-DOS, the precursor to modern day Windows.

Over the last 30 years the technological evolution of the PC has been astounding. The personal computer has lead to many breakthroughs in the way in which we do business and even interact with other. The PC of today is vastly different from the one that made its debut in NYC way back in 1981.

We now have Xbox and Playstation consoles that are more capable and better equiped than most PC's from just a couple of years ago. The ubiquitous smartphone is everywhere nowadays and even these devices are more functional and powerful than a PC of only a couple years old.

This does make you wonder where the PC of the future is going to be. Is there even going to be a need for the PC as we know it today? Why not just have a smartphone that can double up as a PC when needed. The phone could project a 'screen' and a keyboard at the same time and you could work away. The rise of cloud computing and services means you just need a phone with a browser capable of providing such service.

The will be no licensing issues, just a paid-for access account to the services needed. No need for cumbersome printer drivers with modern printers linked to the Internet and their own e-mail addresses. There will also be no lost software disc's.

I think the PC is going to be made redundant within the next few years and replaced by better and faster smartphones. Then again weren't online news sites supposed to have killed off the newspaper already? Either way I for one am very keen to see what the future brings.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

eGenius - Electric airplane takes flight

We have seen and heard of electric automobiles such as the awesome Audi R8 E-tron. The E-tron is capable of 232KW of power and 4,500Nm torque and going from 0-100Km/h in 4.8seconds. The idea of an electric aeroplane could not have been to far behind.

The electric aeroplane "eGenius" which has the backing of Airbus took its maiden flight on the 26th May 2011. The flight lasted all of 20 minutes but completed a two-and-a-half hour flight the following day. The 20 minute flight was more just to prove that the all electric propulsion system worked.

The propulsion for the eGenius is a 60-kilowatt motor and is capable of cruising at speeds of 235Km/h and a range of about 400Km. The eGenius can carry up to 180 kilograms which effectively means it can carry two people.

The eGenius was developed for participation at the NASA/CAFE "Green Flight Challenge". The Green Flight Challenge has been officially scheduled for 25 September 2011. The eGenius has been developed at the University of Stuttgart in Germany.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

7 things to Make Blackberry better

Since I got the Blackberry Torch 9800 I have been wondering how it could be better. The phone works well and to date I have no complaints. However there are those little things that you notice over time that would be nice to have when you compare it to other phones and manufacturers.

My 7 things that I hope Blackberry introduce that would make it even better.
  1. Improve the Blackberry Desktop Manager software
  2. More apps in the App World
  3. Improve the usability of Blackberry Maps
  4. Voice guided navigation as standard with Blackberry Maps and not through an app
  5. Bright, colourful icons
  6. E-mail subject lines to scroll (so you don't need to open the e-mail)
  7. Get the headset to ring when a phone call comes through

My first improvement would be to completely overhaul the Blackberry Desktop Manager software. Apart from making backups and copying folders across there really is not much more to be done with the software. Ok, you can you application maintenance as well but when you compare it to the likes of say Nokia Ovi suite, BB desktop manager is found wanting in just about all areas.

It would be great to have better access to your device, like being able to view your contacts on the physical phone, read and delete text messages with ease. Even integrate the Blackberry App World into the software to make purchasing apps that little bit easier.

Talking of the App world, when is it going to grow into the size of the Android, Apple and Ovi stores? Also why is not possible to get apps like "Angry Birds" for example. Blackberry needs to do more to get better apps onto the market.

Blackberry Maps appears to be something that RIM just added because others had it. Maps offers navigation but it is difficult to drive and constantly look at your phone for the turn-by-turn navigation and then realise you need to have manually moved the navigation checkpoint on after each point. Bring on free voice guided navigation. There are voice guided navigation apps in the App world but if another brand can do this why can't RIM.

Something that would be nice is nicer looking icons, where is the colour? The icons are boring, functional yes, but boring as hell to look at everyday. I am sure there is probably an app or something for this but surely as a default package you could add some choices.

When accessing the strong point of the Blackberry, e-Mail, something that would be nice is have the subject line scroll so you do not need to open the mail to remind yourself what it is about. This would save time due to peoples poor e-mail etiquette.

The last thing that I believe would make Blackberry that much better is something that seems small and obvious yet RIM have not implemented. When you have the headset plugged in, make sure the phone rings in the headset. This is very annoying when driving along with your headset on and the phone rings and you do not know it is even ringing.

Let me know what you think would make the BlackBerry devices better.

Friday, 29 July 2011

VW to consider a F1 car in 2018?

Recent news reports suggest that VW may be looking into getting involved with F1 by 2018. This, despite a statement in March 2011 seemingly ruling out the possiblity of VW having a Formula One entry. VW reckon by 2018 they will be the worlds foremost automaker and believe they have the brands to do create a F1 entry.

It would be interesting since VW do have brands like Audi, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda in its stables. Given the fact that the Audi Le Mans car has so many victories it would not be surprising to see an Audi lining up on the grid against BMW and Mercedes.

Although a Lamborghini F1 car sounds really appealing as it would pit rival manufacturer, Ferrari head to head, or bring back some racing heritage in a Bugatti F1 car? All the possibilities sound great and one can hope that we get a new serious contender in the F1 world but 2018 is a far way off so until then this will have to be treated as a concept car that we all love but will probably never see in action.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

FNB Smartphone App for Blackberry

FNB has launched a South African first, a smartphone and tablet banking application (App). The good thing going for it immediately is that it is free (for now). It is available for registered FNB online banking customers who have a compatible Android, Apple or Blackberry smartphone or tablet device. Symbian device support is coming soon.

As stated on the FNB website:
The FNB Banking App allows you to view your account list and balances, transfer funds, make payments and get detailed transactional history.

The FNB Banking App also brings you additional value added benefits like the ability to access a FNB directory and make free calls to any FNB Call Centre. You can also locate FNB branches and ATMs on a map using Location-based Services.
My first impressions of the FNB app have been good. The Blackberry App world allows for an easy installation of the app. On your side all you need to do is provide your banking username on the app and then login to FNB online banking and link your phone with the site. Once done you login to the App on your phone and access all the content and functions mentioned above.

When starting the app on the Blackberry Torch there is a little delay in opening but there is a decent splash screen and you are welcome to a nice slick and simple to use menu. All the buttons are self explanatory and the interface makes navigation very easy.

On the down side, the app is a little sluggish in changing screens and did make my Blackberry hang upon accessing the app the third time round. The phone did recover without any issues and use of the app continued. Given that I have not used the app all to much yet, my first impression of the app is that it is very good but only time will tell.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Kindling has taken - Kindle books selling faster than print books

The sale of Kindle books has overtaken the sale of old school print books according to Amazon.com. Amazon.com started selling books, softcover and hardcover, in July 1995. Kindle was introduced in November 2007.

It toook just three years to out sell hardcover books and a further six months more to overtake softcover books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com. Today less than four years after the launch of the Kindle, Amazon.com customers are buying more Kindle books than all print books combined.

Since April 1, 2011 for every 100 print books Amazon.com sold it sold 105 Kindle books. This is excluding the free books that Kindle offers. Amazon.com has sold more than three times as many Kindle's so far in 2011 than it did in 2010.

Kindle books let you "Buy once, read everywhere" on all generation Kindles as well as on other platforms like Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, MAC, PC, Windows Phone, Android-based systems and many others.

However it will be interesting to see how the sale of Kindle books will be affected by an Apple issued edict that all Apps offering content for sale or subscription are required to do so through the App Store and not through external links to the sellers web store. In addition to this Apple also want 30% of sales through an iOS app!

The Kindle seems to be an amazing product and more importantly it means that people are still interested in reading books. Although the medium through which we read books is shifting from paper to digital it is still great to see that the Kindle is getting people reading more. Maybe not more people reading but at least people are reading.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Western Digital LiveWire Powerline AV Network Kit

Powerline Ethernet adaptors (network devices that use your house's existing power cables) have been around for some time and the Western Digital LiveWire Powerline kit is one of the best on the market.

The WD LiveWire Powerline Kit Adaptors
The LiveWire kit offers 4 ports per adapter which is a significant boost from other powerline Ethernet adaptors. It is also faster than most and the price if the kit about R1,000.00 makes expanding your home or small office network quick, simple and relatively cheap.

LiveWire comes with two identical powerline adapters each with four network ports. At one end you plug your ADSL router into the adapter and at the other end of the house or office you plug in your pc / gaming console or other networked device and you have setup a powerline connection. It is as easy as that.

There are of course some drawbacks to the LiveWire kit as with other powerline kits. It is not designed to work with power strips or surge protectors and needs to be plugged into the wall directly. We tried the adapters with a few power strips anyway, and they actually worked with some. However, they did not work with surge protectors. Given the state of Eskom’s power supply this may be something to be concerned about.

Another drawback is that of, what if your neighbour plugs in a LiveWire kit, will they be able to snoop around on your network? If you press the Sync button within 2 minutes of each other a private 128bit encrypted connection is made between the adapters, preventing other powerline adapters from connecting to them. Should you wish to reset this there is a reset button underneath the adapter.

You can also manage the device and view the performance of the kit by using the LiveWire utility that comes with the kit on the CD. The CD also contains a well illustrated flash application to walk you through the setup of your LiveWire kit.

Performance wise you get varying speeds as you are dependent on the electrical wiring in your house and the plug connection.

The good:
  • Excellent performance and it comes with eight network ports.
  • Easy to use and setup
  • The adapters automatically support voltage ranging from 100V to 240V, meaning they can be used just about anywhere in the world
  • WD Livewire Kit isn't particularly expensive
  • Data transferred between adaptors is 128-bit encrypted
The Bad:
  • Speed depends on the electrical wiring so it is not consistent from building to building
  • The 'sync' button gives next to no indication whether it's been pressed or not
All said and done the LiveWire kit is a fantastic quick and easy way to setup  or even expand your home network. Western Digital offer other great media products that make is possible to network your house with a Media streaming without ever needing to lay a single ethernet cable or battle with intermitten wireless networks.