BBC's quick guide to experimental music

Sunset at the North Pole

Secrets and Lies

SABC recently started with a service called Power Alert (very much like Terror Alert) between 18:00 and 21:00 Monday to Friday. To quote from their website:

A map of the country will be shown with colour coding to indicate four status levels. These are Green, to show no strain on the grid - Orange, indicating increasing strain - Brown, showing significant strain - and Red, to warn that load shedding and power cuts are imminent. Consumers are advised to switch off stoves, kettles, air conditioning and any unnecessary lights until a Green or Orange status is shown for their area.

Well about three nights ago I find myself aimlessly flipping through the channels when the Power Alert comes on. It is then that I notice something fishy: SABC 3 was showing orange, whilst SABC 1 and 2 were showing green.

Only Eskom National Control Centre, situated in Germiston, knows what the power situation is in South Africa at any given time, as it is their responsibility to control supply for the entire South Africa. Yet when the question was posed to one of the senior control managers, he said that he has absolutely no idea where SABC is getting their information, as only he and the handful of people working under him at Eskom would know the power situation at any given moment, and nobody was asking them.

This reminds me of a World War Two story, where at the height of the war the British government requested its citizens to hand in all metal pots and pans for use in the war economy. Almost everybody immediately started collection drives, and massive mountains of pots and pans were formed, which was trucked away by the government and dumped. There was no need for the alloy used in pots and pans, you see. It was just to let the public feel that they are contributing, that they are good citizens.


from postsecret


well yes

Did you know that in the event of a severe power shortage, Eskom first switches off Nampower, the Namibian power supply company paying for the service, then Western Cape, and lastly the rest of South Africa. Zimbabwe, who we supply with electricity for free, are not allowed to be cut off. Ever.

Me, myself and I

It has been proposed by some maverick scientists that a limited form of immortality will one day be possible in the sense that a person’s brain could before death be “downloaded” onto a computer’s hard drive where his consciousness could continue to exist. Critics say that even if it were possible to make an exact copy of a person’s mind and put it in an exact copy of his body, it would be nothing more than that: an exact copy. Almost like a clone. To illustrate the point, suppose that two copies are made onto two separate hard drives and “switched on”, which one is the original person? One person cannot become two, therefore this immortality argument must be flawed.

This is all well and good, but consider the following: When a person gets a heart transplant, we consider him to be the same person with the same consciousness. Obviously. If this person then develops a brain tumour, consequently loses a small part of his brain, and receives the implant of some non-organic device in his brain to compensate for the loss, we must surely still be dealing with the same consciousness? But when does he cease to be himself? If all the parts of his brain are replaced one by one with electronic devices that perform exactly 100% the same functions and thought processes, at what point are we no longer dealing with the same consciousness? It’s hard to imagine that there is a point where he is no longer himself, but it is even more difficult to imagine that one consciousness can suddenly become two.

I’ve known about the counter (immortality) argument mentioned above for a few years now, but only recently thought of the contradictory “brain transplant” argument. I grappled with this sophomoric absurdity for a while, but gave up thinking it’s surely an old paradox with a nice satisfactory solution that could easily be found on the internet. Turns out it’s not that simple. Wikipedia claims this paradox is as yet unresolved (in the consensus sense) and “
illustrate[s] the lack of knowledge concerning the meaning of consciousness that we as a civilization currently possess”.

I suspect that the well-read and intellectuals out there are rolling their eyes and thinking that I’m wasting my time on irrelevant crap that only nerdy losers, who’s only hope of ever being cool are cybernetic transplants, should ponder . Well then I’m sorry, but it’s still interesting, no?


The Brick Testament

The Rev. Brendan Powell Smith has recreated stories from the old testament using only lego blocks. Hundreds of pics on his site.


Historical speeches in mp3 format.

Jesus was the son of a poker-loving game theorist

Who would win a game of poker between a geeky math super-genius and a veteran old-school poker world champ? True or false, the 2000 World Series of Poker was won by a long-haired computer scientist known as Jesus, who has a doctorate in artificial intelligence and game theory, and sports a cowboy hat, shades, a long beard and moustache? Somebody like, oh I don't know, this guy:

The game of poker is in a process of evolution that is taking it from the backyard of the smooth talking con artist with poker running through his veins and an uncanny ability to read opponents' hands, firmly into the domain of the people-shy soft-spoken computer scientist with an IQ off the charts. The poker enthusiast today is lucky enough to witness the changing of the guard from the former to the latter. Or is it that simple?

For those of you who are not aware of it, the best computer program is still no match for the world’s best poker players. Unlike chess (who’s world champ is a computer), and Go (who’s world champion is still human), Poker is not simply a game of cold hard logic. In the case of Go, there are just too many possible combinations for current computational power, so the brute force method that works so well for Deep Blue, is not yet propelling Go programs to the top of the heap. Given enough time, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Go programs will eventually rule the world. Poker is a different story altogether. In Poker, computer scientists are forced to invoke the branch of mathematics called game theory to incorporate what is commonly known as bluffing. But will a computer program ever beat the best human poker players in the world...?

Read "The Poker Machine" if you give a shit about any of this.

Rob Gonsalves’ seamless pictures



Long Now Foundation

The Long Now Foundation, established in 1996(or "01996"), is a private organization that seeks to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. It aims to provide a counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mindset and to promote "slower/better" thinking. The Long Now Foundation hopes to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. To emphasize this horizon (and avoid the Year 10,000 problem), the group writes years using five digits instead of four: 02006 instead of 2006. - Wikipedia

Brian Eno is a member. Check out his contribution here. Also check out Long Bets, a related site where wagers regarding long term predictions are hosted.

the truthiness hurts

Truthiness” encapsulates the deception and/or idiocy perpetrated on the American public by their government so effectively, it’s almost too good to be true. The comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term in the premiere of his TV show, The Colbert Report. This guy has brass balls. To illustrate the physical make-up of his balls and what the word essentially means, this is him speaking at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (well worth the read), with Bush sitting only a few meters away:

"Right sir, that's where the truth lies, right here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than your head? You can look it up ... now I know some of you are gonna say, I did look it up and it's not true. That’s cause you looked it up in a book. Next time look it up in your gut."

He was, of course, alluding to the non-existence WMD’s (incidentally a previous word of the year) amongst other issues.

This word gets to the core of why the political world is currently leaning towards the wrong side of fucked up. It's not even funny. It’s a good start to at least have come up with a word for it. So it comes as no surprise that “truthiness” was voted as the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. George Bush probably can’t tell the difference. Bush fully grasping the “fine” distinction is analogous to a man born blind comprehending the meaning of blindness.

And let’s not forget poor old James Frey, another reason it was such a relevant word last year. He was given a harsh lesson on this very subject by none other than Oprah. That must surely be the last person you want to be crapped on by. I think instead of the death penalty, one must be sentenced to being crapped on by Oprah. The death penalty is a lame deterrent compared to the everlasting shame of sitting in auntie Oprah’s corner. Nothing can top the wrath of the mother of all aunties.

Comrade Zuma again

News24 reports indifferently that our venerable Comrade came out shouting at a mass meeting in honour of his reinstatement as Deputy President of the ANC, "I hate rapists, izishimane [guys who do not have girlfriends]".

Come again? He hates guys who don't have girlfriends? Call me crazy, but does this not qualify as hate speech? Does the Zulu language not distinguish between rapists and guys who don't have girlfriends? Presumably all Zulu guys who don't have girlfriends naturally rape. After all, they "also have needs".

Zuma is now reinstated as Deputy President of the ANC, but not South Africa. The government, in other words, has a lower tolerance for corruption than the ANC, which has by implication some tolerance for it. That’s very reassuring. And this view is consistent with the fact that he “stepped down” as deputy president of the ANC after the rape charges, not after the corruption charges.

The irony is that Zuma is now much more popular than before the rape allegations and just after the Shaik conviction. Can it be that the rape trial was actually just a masterful strategic move planned by Zuma all along? Probably not, the guy is obviously an idiot not capable of consecutive thought, never mind strategic manoeuvring.

The News24 report ends equally indifferently with “Zuma then led his followers with his trademark song, 'Bring my machine gun'”.

As a single male I would just like to state the following, for the record, just so it’s clear:

I hate Jacob Zuma.

Tangible data

The Flashbag is a standard USB flash drive that has a tiny pump in it that inflates when you load it with data. So if your drive is full of stuff, it blows up like a balloon, but if it's empty it remains flat and rectangular.

[via: random-good-stuff]


Pets in uniform

This could be your pet:
www.petsinuniform.com , I wonder how much money these guys are making?!


Topnotch science books

Here's an excerpt from an article Ian McEwan wrote on good prose in science books:

Steven Pinker's application of Darwinian thought to Chomskyan linguistics in The language Instinct, is one of the finest celebrations of language I know. Among many other indispensable "classics", I would propose E. O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life on the ecological wonders of the Amazon rain forest and on the teeming micro-rganisms in a handful of soil; David Deutsch's masterly account of the Many Worlds theory in The Fabric of Reality; Jared Diamond's melding of history with biological thought in Guns, Germs and Steel; Antonio Damasio's hypnotic account of the neuroscience of the emotions in The Feeling of What Happens; Matt Ridley, unweaving the pposition of nature and nurture in Nature via Nurture; and recently, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, conscious of Hume as well as Dawkins, laying out for us the memetics of faith in Breaking the Spell.

My two favourite science "classics" are: Soul of the White Ant by Eugene Marais and of course The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

I think I'll be reading Steven Pinker's book next.

Another list of good science books.



Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest. Here are a few examples. There are loads more on the site.

[the world mapped according to population sizes]

[the world mapped according to refugee origins]

[the world mapped according to tourist destinations]



The media is a snake eating its own tail, and we the public, the trope eaters, tune in every day and believe that we are active citizens because we are watching this sickening sight. But we are duped. The media are leading us by the nose, and we follow and bray and call it opinion.

This Zuma thing just showed once again this mundane terribility. Firstly, they insinuated his guilt, because it makes good headlines, and headlines sell. Then, after he is found innocent, they have this great story about how Zuma was a victim of the media, a victim now vindicated, and they make him into a hero, because heroes sell newspapers, and so we go in circles…

At one point it paid to play torturer. At the next point, it paid to play vindicator of the victim you tortured, and the media turned around on a dime without a single moment of introspection.

The media is an industry, and its worst than most, for where with most industries you are lulled into buying products, with the media you are tricked into being a product, which they sell to advertisers. They keep our attention, our tranfixed gaze, by playing on our ego, our need to be seen as being clever and informed. Our need to have something to say that would make us more...there, less ghostlike and voiceless. But its all a show.

Last night on Special Assignment they had a velvet-gloved interview with Zuma where they asked him whether he would accept being the next president. But where did that question come from? By asking that question, and similar like it, they are anointing him. The media as king-maker, not because he would be a good king, but because king-making sells. And so we are sold, and our country, for money, for sales, for ratings.

They are setting the agenda. They are making this world.
And they are fucking it up.


I woke up with this word in my head


The interrobang (‽) is a rarely-used, nonstandard English-language punctuation mark intended to combine the functions of a question mark and an exclamation point. The typographical character resembles those marks superimposed one over the other. In informal writing, the same effect is achieved by placing the exclamation point after the question mark, e.g. "What?!".

Song of the day

Merz - Warm Cigarette Room

Pitchfork reviewed

An analysis of 8468 reviews on Pitchforkmedia.com



Would you rather live in the ascendency of a civilization or during its decline?



I am not sure whether anybody else does this, but I have found that reading the discussion (or talk) page behind wiki entries can be as interesting as the articles themselves. This page gives one a real feel for how entries were put together, what was left out, and also gives one a platform to contest aspects of entries one is unsure of without the burden of authorship. Here is the discussion page for the entry for Cape Town as an example.