Friday, November 24, 2006


Due to the unforeseen, I won't be able to post until next week! Apologies!



Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Popular Mechanics Wish list 2007

No, its not a repeat of my previous post from Popular Mechanics. This time of year, many publications are bringing out their “Top 10, Top 50 or Top 100” lists. I have already featured such lists from Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Now Popular Mechanics have brought out their wish-list for 2007 of must-have stuff they would like in their Christmas stockings. Here’s some of them:
First up is the Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak. It’s a beauty of a cruiser, built for long distance and plenty of punch. A 1,552cc liquid cooled engine, rubber mounted to reduce vibration, with digital fuel injection is what you get for your $11,000.
Next up is the Sennheiser RS 130, wireless headphone set. You’ll say “what’s so special about a wireless headset”. Well these come with amazing built-in surround sound technology, for your late-night movie watching, when you don’t want to wake the kids (or the wife).
Watch out for the Suunto t3. If you’re an athletic person and love competitive sports, then this is the watch for you. It measures training intensity, heart rate and other data; and can track speed and distance with add-on "pods" such as a GPS unit. Suunto also have a range of other watches for various sports, even for serious golfers. It also allows you to download the data to your pc for further analysis.
Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel. Just the thing to go with your brand new Xbox. And its wireless! It also comes with gas and brake pedals to complete your virtual driving experience. Also available is the wireless headset or wireless controller.
Fujifilm FinePix F30 Camera. Its a 6,3 megapixel using super CCD HR Technology. One of the best features is its low-light ISO 3200 capability at full resolution.
Dyson Root 6. This is more than your average hand-held vacuum cleaner, and would not look out of place in any industrial janitor’s closet. It is apparently much faster and has stronger suction than any other hand-help on the market.
Lastly, the Wild West Gun Slinger Target Shooting Set. A very cool toy, which launches cans and bottles in the air as you hit the sensors with an infrared beam from the gun from up to 30 feet.
I certainly would not mind any of these items arriving via Santa! What do you think?

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I am always fascinated by the lives of explorers, what they do and how they do it. These people are driven by something extraordinary, something not all of us have. Exploring new frontiers, trekking across inhospitable country, climbing the highest peaks, swimming the deepest oceans, the list goes on. Exploring has been going on for thousands of years and will probably go on for the same time. Here’s one that grabbed my attention.
In 1999, J Michael Fay did a 2000km trek across the Congo Basin in Africa. It took him 455 days (15 months) to survey the ecological status of the region. He did it in collaboration with National Geographic and called it “Megatransect”. First a bit of history about him. In 1978 he worked for the Peace Corps in Tunisia and CAR (Central African Republic). He then joined the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1984 and completed his doctorate on the western lowland gorilla in 1997 all while working and managing the Dzanga-Sangha and Nouabale-Ndoki parks in the Central African Republic and Congo. He then went on to work for the Wildlife Conservation Society and spent two years with the National Geographic Society doing the Megatransect and the subsequent writing up of the results. What makes this transect so amazing is the fact that it was done on foot. Through the jungles of the Congo. Enough said! He had suffered a chest cold and a few foot-worm infections, and weight loss (about 15kg), but he had stayed healthy throughout. No Malaria or any other jungle-induced ill-health. When they walk on their (imaginary) route (there are no roads), they had trail-cutters in front that cut a path through thick undergrowth. After the transect, he lobbied for the creation of 13 National Parks, according to the data he collected. In 2002, the Bush Administration gave $53 million for the preservation of the Congo Basin.
In 2004, he did the “Megaflyover”. They flew over the wildest places in Africa, documenting the “Human Footprint”. Basically how human life is interfering and influencing wildlife and nature in the last wild spaces of Africa. They (Fey and pilot Peter Ragg) covered 160,000kms in a modified Cessna 182 fitted with cameras that took pictures of the ground every 20 seconds. This journey took seven months of flying at low altitudes and sleeping under the plane where-ever they touch down for the night. He had this to say afterwards: “Just as we suspected, humans have penetrated very deeply into every single ecosystem in Africa that we visited…We found many, many places where soils and vegetation and water systems are being exhausted." They started in Johannesburg, South Africa, and went as far up as Sudan, covering almost 17 countries.
I salute Fay and all the other explorers and will bring you more on what drives them, and where they go in the future.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Habitat of the future

Ok, now that you have the Tesla (see previous post), you need a cool house to go with it. Enter the Trilobis 65. This habitat, as they call it, is more than you would expect of a normal house. Firstly it looks like a spaceship cum bathyscape cum futuristic powerboat. It is a semi-submerged dwelling about 20meters in length and was designed to accommodate six people. The Trilobis 65, will be self-sufficient and non-polluting. It was designed by Giancarlo Zema an Italian Naval architect and named after Trilobiti, small sea-creatures that used to live in the sea a long time ago. According to him “The shape of Trilobis 65 is made to allow the creation of an artificial island.(see picture) The linking up of multiple Trilobis 65 units would create a ring-like an insular village connected to the land by gangway. Basically a small floating community.” It has four levels reachable via a spiral staircase. The upper level is about 3 and half meters in above sea-level, and two of the levels are below sea level. It is about 13meters wide and for power you have the following options: Ballard fuel cells , solar, wind, and diesel. It reaches a speed of 7 knots, so not really a power boat! The top level consists of the driving deck, housing the helm, communications equipment and navigation gear. It also has the best view of the sea at about 3 meters. The big curved glass window has a dial which alters the tint or turns it completely black. The power for this comes from solar panels embedded in the skin of the craft. Should this not be available because of night-time or clouds, it draws power from the batteries. The third level is called the “day” area and contains the modern kitchen, dining area and three seating groups. From here, sliding doors also open onto a teak deck. The next level is the “night” zone. This level has two single and two double bedrooms, each with a private bathroom. It is also about a meter under the water level and also houses the ships propulsion system, consisting of two 224kw electric motors. They are powered by the above-mentioned Ballard fuel cells. Now comes the best part: the lowest level. It is the observation bulb. This is 3meters below the surface and has a 360 degree view of the ocean. It has a range of 200w spotlights mounted on the outside for times when there is not enough sunlight to illuminate the surrounding sea-life. All this could be yours for a mere $5 million. It will go nicely with the Tesla and will be available from 2007.
Watch this space for the Jelly-fish 45 and Neptus 60, also designed by the same team.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tesla Roadster

You might remember this car from the post I did on the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards. The Tesla Roadster was one of the award winners. Now this is a truly amazing car. The guys in white lab-coats have been talking about electrical cars for a very long time. Every now and then you would read about one, but normally they will have some sort of drawback. Either very slow, or very heavy or too expensive for commercial production, or the range is too short. Not this one though. Listen to this: It’s a two-seater that’s hundred percent electric, not a hybrid, full electric. It does 0 to 100 km/h in about four seconds, using 185kw of power up to 13000rpm. It has a top speed of 210km/h and has an equivalent fuel efficiency of 1.75 l/100 km. “What!” I hear you say. Yes, and that’s not all folks, if you dial now, you can’t get one until 2008 because they are sold out for 2007 at $100000 each. After about a three and a half hour charge, you have a range of about 400km. The energy system is a custom microprocessor-controlled lithium-ion battery pack that weighs about 450kg. The battery consists of 6,831 lithium ion battery cells configured in a pack that can be charged at any time. You get a home-charging unit and a mobile-charging kit that plugs into any normal wall-outlet when you’re on the road. The website says this about the Tesla: “With one moving part in the motor, no clutch, and two gears… There is no motor oil to change; no filters, belts, or spark plugs to replace… the only service we recommend for the first 100,000 miles is brake and tire service.” Wouldn’t you just love that for your car? See here for a complete list of standard features. It is more than many other roadsters out there. As far as the design goes a lot of it comes from the Lotus Elise, but just modified a little. The car will be assembled at the Lotus factory in Hethel, England.
Do you need any more reasons to like this car? Is it something we’ll see more of on the roads in the future? Most definitely. Especially with fossils fuel rapidly being depleted and pollution, this is the future of automobiles!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Popular Science’s Top 100 Innovations of 2006

Every year, Popular Science Magazine publishes their 100 top innovations of the year.
They have 10 categories namely: Automotive, Computing, Gadgets, Home Entertainment, Personal Health, Aviation & Space, Engineering, General Innovation, Home Tech and Recreation. Here are the winners in the respective categories:
Automotive: Bugatti Veyron 16.4. The fastest production car ever with 746kw output! Built by Volkswagen and sold at a loss of almost $1.5 million!
Computing: One Laptop Per Child. The goal of OLPC, a non-profit organisation, is to provide each child a laptop, especially in developing countries. It costs only $130.$100_laptop
Gadgets: Sony Reader PRS-500. On the way to no more paper! Download your favourite books onto this baby and empty your shelves!
Home Entertainment: Nintendo Wii. They went back to the drawing-board with the controls of this gaming console: less is more in this case. It only uses a couple of buttons that doesn’t take you years to master. ;
Personal Health: Custom Grown Bladders. None of the patients that received newly built bladders, built from their own cell tissue, had organ rejection problems!
Aviation & Space: QinetiQ and Surrey Satellite Technology Topsat. A fridge-size spy satellite, which uses a new folded-optics camera will be very popular as they are small and inexpensive as far as satellites go.;
Engineering: Beijing National Swimming Center. The official swimming facility of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China will not contain a single piece of steel or concrete. It will use network of steel pipes linked together by 12,000 load-bearing nodes.
General Innovation: HP Memory Spot. It’s a two-millimeter-square chip that has half a megabyte of flash memory and can swap all its data in less than a second. You will be able to read data (including music and video files) off it using devices such as iPods for instance. It transmits data via a tiny built-in antenna over high-frequency radio waves.
Home Tech: Bostitch HurriQuake Nail. This nail was engineered to withstand up to 170mph winds, earthquakes and is designed to withstand being pulled and twisted out of its place by hurricanes.
Recreation: Celestron Skyscout Personal Planetarium. This is the best tool for amateur astronomers. Simply point the device towards a star in the heavens and it will give you all the info you need on it. Or if you’re looking for a specific star, it will tell you where it is with blinking arrows. It incorporates a GPS, compass and determines the angel it is being held at.
These are honestly some of the most brilliant innovations I have ever seen and will definitely be posting on some of these items in the future. These things are one of the main reasons why I started this blog. Call me a nerd, but I find it very exciting!
See also my post on the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Famous Generals: Part One

These were the brilliant military minds of the past. In the first of this series of posts on Famous Generals, I will begin with Hannibal Barca. A complete list of generals can be found here.
Hannibal originates from the Mediteranean (247 – 183 BC) and was one of the greatest military leaders and strategists of all time. Hi greatest enemy was Rome and its armies. He was so good, the Romans even adopted some of his strategies in their war-making. He hailed from Carthage, a city that was located on the eastern side of Lake Tunis across from the center of modern Tunis in Tunisia in Northern Africa. He is most well-known for invading Italy. He marched from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy – all this with a contingent of war-elephants! He entered Gaul with 50,000 foot soldiers and 9,000 horsemen and by the time he was nearing Rome his army numbered 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and thirty-seven war elephants. He defeated all on his way to Rome, including Capua, but was not strong enough for Rome itself.
All of this took about 10 years, during which the Romans regrouped and planned an attack on Northern Africa. This forced Hannibal back Carthage where he was defeated in the Battle of Zama. The Carthaginian Senate then subsequently forced him into exile. After About eight years in exile, the Romans demanded that he surrender himself, but he decided that suicide was a better way out.
In all he has been described as one of the most brilliant military minds ever and has induced fear in the hearts of the Romans for a while. Remember, all this happened before Julius Caesar, who only came into power round about 50BC. Hannibal’s wars were won not on numbers, but by battle-tactics. The armies he battled were mostly of larger numbers and had greatly respected generals who lead them. Even military geniuses like Napoleon Bonaparte referred to Hannibal in awe. Even long after his death, he would still be remembered in Rome and the rest of Italy as terrifying and people would exclaim “Hannibal is at the gate!” in situations of disaster. Also, when kids behave badly, mothers would say: “Behave well or Hannibal will come and get you!".

PS: I want to do a post on Famous Generals once a month. Please let me know if this bores you to death and I’ll change the subject!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dude, where's my car?

A US company called Robotic Parking systems Inc. has developed a multi million Dollar automated garage. It is quite brilliant. You drive your car onto a metal pallet structure. It then takes your car up to the next available space (be it 5 stories up) on steel wheels and tracks and lifts, slotting it in place like a huge filing system (see the picture). Before it “parks” your car, it also rotates it 180 degrees, to make it easier when you need your car again. It also uses AI to analyse trends, reshuffling cars according to customer usage, so as to reduce return times when you need your car again. It saves so much space that you can fit almost double the amount of cars that a normal parking garage can take. “Is it safe?” you ask. Well, a Jeep and a Cadillac once fell of it…! But it seems they ironed out the problem subsequently.
Here is the most amazing part: It’s run on an off-the-shelf PC with Windows NT as an operating system! It uses General Electric hardware with open source software called Simplicity.
Another positive spin-off is that it reduces car theft and robberies that normally take place in parking garages to zero, simply because drivers don’t even enter the garage. Apparently, they are looking at automating it even further, whereby as you approach the garage, a card (which you place in the windscreen) is detected by the garage’s systems, and automatically readies the pallet. Upon return, the system again recognises the card and as the driver approaches, fetches the car and gets it ready for the driver to just get in and drive off. I recall a scene from iRobot, where detective Spooner (Will Smith) parks his car (a futuristic Audi) at the pavement. The car is then taken into an automated garage, similar to what is described here! The future is here.
No more wandering around looking for your car!

PS. So as not to get sued for plagiarism, the credit for this post’s heading goes to this article.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Firefly – First “Gadget of the month”

This is the launch of a new section to this blog: the Gadget of the month. In the last week of every month I will do a post on cool tools, gadgets and related things.
The very first one to feature here, is the Firefly. Its made by a company called Guyot Designs and was invented by Eric Goldfarb. This gadget turns any wide-mouthed bottle into a lantern. So whether you go camping or during a power-outage or a braai, this will be of great help. And did I mention it’s cool? It’s essentially a lid with LED light that generates a warm glow throughout the bottle and the level of brightness can be varied. It can be used any side up as the electronics are sealed inside the lid, so you can hang it out on a tree branch and leave it there even when the rain starts. It might not be there the next morning because you neighbour swiped it! And because its LED, it does not use much power either.
Its got seven LED’s and runs on three AAA batteries that will last for about 25 hours. All you do is fill your bottle with water, and you’ll be amazed at the brightness. Its definitely on my shopping list for Christmas!
If you have any suggestions for “Gadget of the Month”, please feel free to comment here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Who’s the Boss?

I can’t help it. I just love this type of motorcycle. And the name says it all. Boss Hoss. Just look at it. The BHC-9 502 really is the boss with a liquid-cooled V8 engine, outputting 374kw and 767nm torque! That’s more than most cars! A V8! Such power. I think that is the main attraction here. Of course it looks powerful as well. This bike is violent aggression incarnated! It also sports a huge 32l tank and it weighs 771kg. Initially, when they started out in 1990, they made them from second hand Harley-Davidson parts and second-hand motor parts from muscle cars. They were expensive, big and very difficult to ride. But they always used V8 engines. And that is what sets them apart. A bike with a motorcar engine! One of the most noticeable things on the bikes are the big radiators, but it doesn’t do the looks any damage, it just adds to its personality. They also used to have a bike tyre for the front wheel and a car tyre for the rear, but have since replaced it with a bike tyre. They also make very imposing trikes. The trikes were built with rear-end to look like rear-ends of cars like Corvettes and Chevys. This look was replaced in 2000 by the rear-end look of the Sierra truck. In all, I still think this is a novelty bike, this is not something you would ride to work everyday… or would you? I definitely want one!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Home-made weather station

I have always been interested in tracking our local weather and have a rain gauge at home. I keep track of the rain and record it in a database. I now have about 2 years worth of information. But now I want more. I want to be able to track daily temperatures, wind speed, etc. Now, there are commercial products (Eagle, Inteltronics, Oregon Scientific, Weathershop) available, full weather stations that you can use at home, that will give you all of the above mentioned plus much more, all connected to your pc, with software which will even allow you to do forecasts! But they are a bit expensive, so I wanted to know if it was possible to manufacture your own weather station. It obviously won’t log results in a database on your pc, but I thought it might be fun to do.
I found a couple of sites that explains how to do this. The one that explains it the best, is this one . They have a detailed explanation with several ways of creating each item. The other has a PDF download. The best part is that it can be a family task, it’s that easy to do. This is what you will want to measure:
DIY Weather Station:
1. Temperature (Thermometer)
2. Rainfall (Rain gauge)
3. Air Pressure (Barometer)
4. Humidity (Hygrometer
5. Wind Speed (Anemometer) (and wind direction)
6. Hours of sunshine in a day (Sun-shine recorder - See p9 of the PDF) (and cloud cover)
Click on the links above to get and in depth how-to on each item. In addition to that, you will want to add visual observations to your recordings. For examples of a template for weather recording, go to here and here.
I am thinking of starting a weather blog / site, but I will post an update later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Smallest smoking volcano

That would be the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. Ron Gluckman describes it thus: “In the Philippines, there is a crater containing a lake. In the lake is an island, topped by another mountain, which also has a crater that contains yet another lake. In the midst of its warm waters is another island. And here stands Taal, one of the world's smallest, but most dangerous volcanoes.” It honestly sounds like a scenario from a fantasy book! There are over a thousand people on the island and in the past, they would all be wiped out when the volcano blows. But these days they have early warning systems, so they only have a few casualties. Click here for a Google Earth view of the volcano. Taal is a typical “caldera” volcano, caldera being the Spanish word for cauldron, so it is a basin-shaped volcanic depression. It is also a Stratovolcano: A volcano composed of both lava flows and pyroclastic material. The lake is a bout 18 kilometres in diameter and in its centre is Volcano Island, also with a lake in its centre. The capital, Manila is only about 50 kilometres away. What is interesting is that volcanoes can have more than one crater, or conduits (vents). These can issue volcanic material anywhere in the vicinity of the volcano. It does not have to be at the conical peak which we all call the “volcano”. In ancient times, people used to think that gods live inside volcanoes, and to appease them, they would sacrifice members of the society ever so often. They would literally be thrown into the crater, preferably into molten lava. Crazy. Luckily, we all know today that volcanoes are merely the “plumbing works” of the earth. Or think of it as giant zits. (Haha!) In certain places people even live on crater floors! One such example town called Rabau, Papua New Guinea is surrounded by six volcanoes. Here is the Google Earth link. Both these volcanoes have had activity in early October 2006.
You will notice the addition to the sidebar on the right called “Current Volcanic Eruptions”, which lists 5 of the most currently active volcanoes. Please click on any of them for more info about that specific volcano. From time to time, I will bring you something about them. Also, please let me know if you have any interesting info on volcanoes. (Active or not).
For more info on volcanoes, checkout my earlier post: Volcanoes.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Popular myths

I have always found this subject interesting, believing some myths, while doubting most others. The thing with myths is, that they sound so damn believable, but deep down, you do doubt their validity. That is why I like Mythbusters. There is a whole list of all the myths they have ever tested on one of the fan sites. Out of the almost 200 myths, I have chosen 12 most well known or popular ones to feature here. Stuff that you always wondered about, but were never sure. Here goes:

1. It is more fuel efficient to drive with your windows down than with the AC on. I’m sure you have heard this one before. Its busted!
2. A car will explode when shot through the gas tank.This is a favourite in Hollywood, but not true! They blasted this car’s gas tank, about four guys blazing away – no luck! Busted!
3. Using a cell phone while pumping gas causes an explosion. This is said to be caused by static sparks not cell phones, so not true. Busted!
4. A cigarette can light a pool of gas on fire. One of my favourites. Almost all action movies has one of these scenes. They tried dropping and rolling it in gasoline, but could not get it done, so its plausible but not doable. Plausible.
5. A Daddy long-leg spider has the most potent venom of any spider. I have believed this for a very long time myself, but its jaws actually can pierce your skin and its not deadly, just mildly irritant. Busted!
6. The sound of a duck's quack does not echo. I never really believed this one, but not true any way. Busted!
7. A person can survive a freefalling elevator by jumping. Your downwards momentum will simply kill you anyway, if you jump of not. Busted!
8. A person can jump from an airplane and use an inflatable life raft to land. This is also a favourite because its used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – can’t be done in real though! Busted!
9. A lit match will remove flatulence odour. My grandparents used to have a box of matches in the loo for this – never thought twice about it! Busted!
10. Urinating on an electric fence can cause electrocution. No comment! Confirmed.
11. A person can be electrocuted while talking on the phone during a storm. I must admit, I never thought this is possible. Confirmed.
12. The suction of a sinking ship pulls a person under water. The survivors of the Titanic said getting away from the suction of the sinking ship was what saved them. Busted! This I found very interesting. They tested this on a 9 ton boat. they sank it twice and it did not create a vortex that pulled them down.

And you thought most of them were true! There are many more of those, go and check it out. Let me know of any myths that you have heard of or urban legends you found interesting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2006

This post is a bit long, I know, but its necessary. Here's why: has just released their Breakthrough Awards for 2006. According to Wiktionary, “breakthrough” means: “major progress; any great innovation or discovery, especially one that overcomes some obstacle”. This sums up exactly what these awards are about. I think the rate of major innovation has exponentially increased over the years, so much so, that nowadays, there are several discoveries every year, be it on technological, medical or any other grounds. Here’s some of my favourites:
Final Frontiersman: Breakthrough Leadership Award Winner: Burt Rutan; For potentially making space travel cheap enough and safe enough for ordinary people to experience.
The Charger: Innovators: Martin Eberhard and team.; For building an electric sports car that can propel the car 250 miles between charges.
The Robo-Husky: Innovators: Marc Raibert and team.; For developing the BigDog robot that can go places that wheels and tracks can't go, with lifelike motion.
Gyro Bike: Innovators: Deborah Sperling, Hanna Murnen, Nathan Sigworth, Augusta Niles. To help kids learn to ride a bike, the team placed a flywheel inside the front wheel of a 16-incher. Bikes stay upright partly because the fast-moving wheels act as gyroscopes, which resist tipping.. In the GyroBike, a metal disc in the center of the wheel spins quickly, even when the rim is rolling slowly over the ground.
Pruning: Black & Decker Al ligator. A 4.5-amp motor and 6-in. chain saw bar help the tool cut through 4-in. diameter branches.
Robotics: Lego Mindstorms NXT. The NXT uses 32-bit processing, Bluetooth antennas, servos and sensors to help robots see brightness, hear commands and perceive movement.
Safety: Sawstop Contractor's 10-IN. SAW. The Contractor's Saw has a sensor that can detect a finger contacting the moving blade. The saw then stops in 3 to 5 milliseconds — reducing a probable amputation to a forgettable cut.

Aren’t these brilliant? Burt Rutan said in his acceptance speech :” I hope to see—by having this flourish of activity, and having every kid know…. And I think we're within 10 or 15 years of this…. Every kid will know that if he wants to, he can go to orbit in his lifetime. We're not there yet, but I believe in about that amount of time that that will be the prevailing thinking, and that in itself will drive kids into science and engineering instead of into all those really bad stuff, like lawyers.”

I can’t wait to see what humankind will come up with next! (Watch this space for follow-up posts on some of these winners individually.)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Firefox Rules!

I promised to do a more in depth post on Firefox, well here it is. The first time I came in contact with Firefox, I was a bit sceptical. But I installed it and tried it out. It amazed me from the start. It was so much faster and the tabbed browsing changed my life! The greatest thing about Firefox is all the hundreds of extensions. I will name a few here that I like and use regularly. I never used any extensions besides the Stumble! add-in. This allows you to choose what sort of websites you like and when you click the Stumble! button, it will take you to a random website in the categories that you chose. It is a great way of discovering new websites. Only when I got version 1.5 I started to look at the different extensions there are. I was pleasantly surprised. Check out the “Popular” or “Top Rated” sections. There is a great one that puts weather forecasts straight onto the menu bar on any other place in the browser, called 1Click Weather. It shows current weather conditions (very accurate) and a 5 day forecast with an option to view the satellite image for your region. Then there is the Foxytunes extension, which allows you to manipulate your media player (Windows Media Player, Jetaudio, iTunes, Realplayer, etc) form the browser window, without having to minimise it.

The biggest problem I initially had with Firefox was the fact that some websites did not view properly because they were only designed for Internet Explorer. So for a long time I used both IE and Firefox in conjuction. This has now changed. There is a Firefox Extension called IE Tab, a button in the status bar at the bottom of your browser, that allows you to switch a website to view it in IE format! I have not used IE again. You can also tell it to open certain sites always in IE format. It is probably one of the best add-ins. You also get one called GSpace, which allows you to use your GMail account as online storage. It allows you to sign in to GMail and you can then simply drop any files into you mailbox as if it was a shared folder on you network!

If you like Wikipedia (as I do) then you would love the next add-in. It allows you to highlight any text on a website and when you right-click, it gives you to option to search for those word(s) in Wikipedia. I love it! I also use one called FEBE, which allows you to backup your entire Firefox profile and all its extensions. Session Manager is also a very handy one. For those times you have 12 tabs open, busy with a search and you need to return to this later. With Session Manager, you simply save the session with all the tabs as it is and when you select to open it later it open those same tabs for you as it were. It also saves your sessions should the browser crash for some reason. Lastly there is Foxlingo, which will translate any phrase or webpage in almost any language you like.

These are the ones I use frequently but actually the list of extensions is endless. Go and check it out, you’ll be surprised at what you can find. If you don’t have Firefox, click on the icon on the right of this page and get surfing!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Turtle ships

I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie Sahara , based on the book by Clive Cussler. The plot in short: (quoted from IMDB )Master explorer Dirk Pitt goes on the adventure of a lifetime of seeking out a lost Civil War battleship known as the "Ship of Death" in the deserts of West Africa”. Now, this battleship is called an ironclad. Ironclads originated in Korea in the 1413. They were then called “turtle ships”. In those days it was basically a wooden hull covered with iron plates. They fitted these “turtle ships”, with up to 5 types of cannons, as it was 30 to 37 meters long. It also normally had some sort of a ramming tool mounted in front, probably a dragonhead. It was also fitted with oars and could hold about a hundred marines and about fifty oarsmen. It had 11 cannon-ports on each side, plus one fore and one aft. Its main purpose was to ram other ships, damaging them to such an extent as to drown them, while providing the necessary protection to those inside.

It looks like they were only used in river systems until 1859, when the French launched the first ocean-going ironclad called the La Gloire ("Glory"). Twenty-one months later, the British launched their version, called the HMS Warrior. In 1861, the first steam-powered ones were built for the American Civil War.

Subsequently, the Swedish, Spanish, Italian and many other European countries made us of these “river monitors”. Only drawback, while the ironclads were powerful, it was nearly impossible for the crew to escape if they were holed in deep water by a mine. The age of the ironclad came to an end in 1890, when they were replaced with pre-dreadnoughts.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
- Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Monsters of the road

These pick-ups (bakkies) and cars always catch attention. Some I would like to own, others would just not be worth the effort of finding parking (and paying the fuel bill). Let’s start with the Ford F250. It is definitely of the biggest pick-ups I’ve seen. Ever. It is very American, but I like it. Its impressively big.

It has a 4,2litre turbo diesel 6 cylinder engine which has a 144 litre tank and gives 132 kW @ 3800 rpm and 500 NM @ 1600 rpm. Its biiiiig! I had a look at the cab and there is enough space for you, your family and your mother-in-law with her poochie as well.

Next is the Hummer or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. It is also American, but jeepers!... It is even more impressive than the F250! On my way home from work, I drive past one ever so often and it grabs my attention every time. It’s a black one and it’s the colour I would go for if I had the bucks to buy one. It has such presence on the road. One drove past me the other day on the freeway and I tell you, the other cars just made way for it. The H3 has a 3,5 litre engine with an 85 litre tank. It outputs 164 kW @ 5,600 rpm and 305 Nm @ 2,800 rpm. So it has a smaller tank than the F250, with less torque. Hmm, interesting… One would think that the Hummer would have more torque for such a big body. And the tank is not much bigger than a Toyota Hilux.

Talking about Toyota, they actually have an alternative to the Hummer. Well, it looks more like the H1, but still, it’s a Toyota. Its called the Mega Cruiser, and its pictured above. It’s a 4,1 litre engine that kicks out 111 kw of power @ 3400 rpm and 380 nm @ 1800 rpm. I’m a big Toyota fan, but the fact is, its not as powerful as the F250 or the Hummer. The fuel tank is 108 litres, which is what you expect from this sort of vehicle. It has more torque than the Hummer, which earns it Brownie points. I don’t think its as luxurious though. I’ve heard about a similar Russian car called the GAZ, but I can’t find enough information on it.

The last one is a real monster. It is just ridiculous. It’s a product of the same company that manufactures International trucks, those big 18 wheelers. One day, their R&D department had nothing to do, so they came up with this idea: Why not make a pick-up out of a truck! The monster is called the International XT and has about 4 or 5 models in its stable. I’ll tell you a bit about the CXT. Its 6,5 m long, 2,7m tall and weighs 6,5 tons! It has a 265 litre tank, which you apparently have to fill up every 5 kilometres or so. The engine is just as monstrous: a 6 litre which puts out 220kw of power and 1160Nm of torque!!! And the cab is as big as my living room and very luxurious. Let’s put it this way, no-one will come in your way on the roads and parking is a non-issue!

If this is your sort of thing then you will probably also go for one of those monster trucks with the humongous wheels that crush cars on a Saturday night.

Sadly, I will soon get into my 1998 Toyota Corolla and drive home while looking up at the pickup truck drivers in their air-conditioned cabs while I struggle along behind them. One can only dream….

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Open Source. Not Micro, not Soft.

I don’t think many people know a lot about open source software and the drive behind it. Open source is a broad concept. Basically, it means that if software is labelled as “Open Source”, its source code is made available with the software, allowing anyone with programming skills to modify, improve and redistribute the software again. It does not necessarily mean that it is free, but in most cases it is so. There is a whole drive behind Open Source (see this website ) and even our own internet guru Mark Shuttleworth joined in this drive with the OpenCD project. They distributed cd’s with (free) Open Source software (OSS) on it. Check out the OpenCd link for more info. He is also the founder of the Ubuntu operating system. Ubuntu is based on Linux, an alternative operating system software to Microsoft Windows, for instance.

OSS includes software equivalents for all the well-known software out there. Let me give you a couple of examples. For an OSS equivalent of Microsoft Office, try Open Office. It can read MS Office files such as .doc, .xls, etc, and you can also save documents in the Microsoft formats. And its completely free. Then as a very impressive alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), you have the already well-known Mozilla Firefox. This is simply brilliant. They’ve gone places where IE still haven’t dreamt of (I’ll write more on this in a later post – it deserves its own post). And it’s free. Many of you out there, still use Outlook Express. Forget about it. Firefox has a sister and she’s available. Her name is Thunderbird. Once you have tried it instead of Outlook Express, you’ll never look back. Normally Content Management Software (CMS) and intranet software is helluva expensive. Enter Plone. It is the most comprehensive CMS I’ve ever seen. It has add-ons questionnaires, forums, document management, etc. And it’s free. How much did your dad pay those days for an encyclopedia? Visit Wikipedia (Also try Fact Bites) online. All done with free software. There is software for science, web design, games, audio, hobbies, databases, etc. All Free! There’s too many to mention here. I’ll leave you with this last link. It’s a link of some of the favourite free software for Windows. Also try Sourceforge, although that site is not easy to use. Remember there is also Google. You can always find open source software by typing in the type of software you are looking for, followed by the word “open source”.

Go forth and may the “source” be with you!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vorsprung Durch Technik

I was just invited to have a look at a friend’s brand new Audi Q7. It is the 4,2l V8 Quattro. I am speechless. This is the most sophisticated machinery I have ever been allowed to touch. For starters, it looks smooth and elegant. It doesn’t appear big from the outside, but it is really big on the inside. And its got everything you can think of. Name it. SatNav, built-in phone, optional TV tuner, fold-down trays behind the front seats, leg space, leather, wood-inlays, and the list is endless. It about 5m long and 2 m wide, so it’s big. Everything works with voice prompts, you press a button on the steering wheel, and say something like “phone”, and it opens the phone display on the centre of the dashboard. The same display changes to a camera when you reverse, so that you can see behind you. It also shows lines of where you are going, superimposed in the video image, so you know where you are “aiming”. The lines change angle as you turn the steering wheel. When you open the hatch in the back, there is a button you can press to lower the car when you want to load stuff. Also, there is a button on the hatch door that closes the door automatically when you press it. Inside, it has a four zone climate control system, so the passengers in the back have individual control. It produces 171 kW @ 4000 r/min and torque of 500 Nm @ 1750-2750 r/min, and it weighs 2300kg (this is for the TDI). It has a radar sensors that monitor the blind spot on the sides of the car and flashes a signal to the driver via flickers mounted on the inside of the mirrors, alerting the driver that a car is in its blind spot.

In all, a bloody technologically impressive car! You have to experience it yourself. Go out now and check it out!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

When in Rome...

Now, I don’t know why, but I never really showed an interest in history or anything related when I was at school. But now I find the subject extremely interesting. Take ancient Rome for example. It all started with the TV series “Rome”. I started watching and wanted more information. The internet is a wonderful place! I found a wealth of information. One of the most interesting characters, was Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar only became a title after he was in power. The naming convention is also most fascinating. For instance, they only had about 18 first names which they used. Caesar’s father was also Gaius Julius Caesar. The “Julius” refers to the clan he belonged to, the Julii. The last part “Caesar”, normally referred to a nickname or some sort of attribute of the person. It was often used in irony: Caesar means “hairy”, although he was balding! For the women, the names were just as weird. Sisters would often have the same name, the only way to discern would be the postfix of either “major” or minor”, depending on who was first born. For instance, Caesar had two sisters, both called Julia. One was Julia major and the other Julia minor. This obviously caused great confusion for historians, who often did not know who was referred to in ancient texts. Also, if the father’s name was Lucius, the daughter would normally be called Lucia.

Another thing I found interesting was Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius’s (not Marc Antony as the series calls him) infatuation with the co-ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra. Caesar had a son (Caesarion) with her, and Marcus Antonius had three children with her, twins (boy and a girl) and a boy. Caesarion later became Ptolemy Caesar and ruled Egypt. Cleopatra was in fact not Egyptian, she was Greek. Her father was a lieutenant under Alexander the Great.

On my bedside table is the “"De Bello Gallico" and Other Commentaries by Julius Caesar”. What a fascinating read. It is all about Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (France) and describes many intricacies of Roman life at the time. I will post an update on this later when I’ve finished reading it. I’ll finish with this: many of Caesar’s quotes are famous, such as “Veni Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered), which he said after defeating Pompey. When he crossed the Rubicon river into Italy from Gaul, on his way to Rome to take care of Pompey, he said “Alea jacta est” (the die is cast), because he was not supposed to enter Italy with his legions, according to Roman law. One very famous quote by Marcus Antonius, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” was apparently poetic licence by William Shakespear. He never said those words after Caesar’s assassination.

Lastly, on that note, Caesar was not just assassinated by Brutus, there were about sixty men involved. Brutus was merely one of them and Caesar asked "Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi" ("You also, brutus, my son?"). Therefore most people think its Brutus.

So, I leave you with the Latin : curate ut valeatis (take care that you fare well).

Monday, September 18, 2006

Moving the soul

Can I just say that so-called “superbikes” do nothing for me. Yes, I know that speeding along at 260 km per hour is supposed to get your blood moving, but that’s not all biking should be about. I mean, the look of a standard superbike does absolutely nothing for me. But lets go to their cousins, the cruisers, adventure bikes classics and choppers (not so much the latter, but the first three).

Just take a look at the Triumph Bonneville T100 for instance. They have a new one coming out in 2007, in a category called “Modern Classics”. Now that’s the sort of bike that draws my attention. What I like about it, is the classic styling, nothing flashy, it just says “come for an easy ride” and it just looks solid. The Thruxton 900 has a more sporty look and is only slightly more powerful than the T100. But again, a clean classic look. Then the Triumph Scrambler. Immediately the twin exhausts catch the eye, giving you a challenging stare. Then there’s the Ural Wolf, a bike I did not know existed, but immediately fell in love with for its rugged “biker club” look. It’s a Russian make, and they have been doing it since the 1970’s.

If we look at cruisers, Truimph again has some beautiful products, of which the Rocket III and the Rocket III Classic, will look especially nice in my garage. Yamaha also has a great looking cruiser in their “Star” series. Also for 2007, they have the XVS1300A Midnight Star. Very sleek, with a lot of low speed torque. If you are want a really classic look then check out Royal Enfield. Their Bullet Electra and Euro Classic hits the bulls-eye for classic styling. It makes you want to go out on the open road in the country, and just eat up the miles to no-where. Even the superbike kings, Ducati, knows that not all people would want a speeding bullet, so, in 2007, they are bringing out the SportClassic GT 1000. A very rugged looking adventure bike. But, lets be honest, there is no other adventure bike that the BMW GS 1200 Adventure. It does its name so much justice! It has been said by many enthusiasts that its “there is no better endurance bike…”. That says it all.

Lastly, lets not forget the Harleys. They have a “Sportster” called the XL 1200 L Sportster Low, which is similar to the modern classics mentioned earlier. The next is the “Dyna” series, in particular the FXDB Dyna Street Bob. And I cannot forget the Softail Fatboy! In the VRSC series, there is the VRSCDX Night Rod Special, that makes the blood run faster. It’s a liquid-cooled 1300cc beauty, you just want to wear leather when you look at it! I am not mentioning the Touring range, because they’re too big in my opinion. I’ll end off with this quote – its so true: “Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.”

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Came across this very interesting site on volcanoes. The best part is the Google Earth link they provide for each volcano. It absolutely great! They also have a page on current eruptions of all volcanoes around the world. You can download a link that will take you on a Google Earth tour of the week’s volcanoes. Then there is this site that shows recent seismic activity around the world on a map. Here is a map of the last 24 hours’ activity. The worlds most active volcanoes are listed here, and list of the worlds “super volcanoes” can be found here. With temperatures up to 1600 degrees Celcius, eruptions that can last up to a year, with 70,000 people having died since 1902 by volcanic eruptions and their related impacts, super fast lava flows of up to 360 miles per hour and up to 150 km in length, explosive eruption plumes of up to 40km high, volcanoes are a force of nature to be reckoned with!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New Pajero

Is it just me, or is the Mitsubishi Pajero getting uglier every year? There is a new one scheduled for release next year, and it sure as hell is no Mona Lisa. I actually prefer the older models. Since I first saw one in 1992, it has gripped my attention. Especially with the new (well, new to me at the time) technology, such as an altimeter. I thought it was great. In all fairness, I must admit that the current short wheel base one looks ok. I drove one recently, and its luxury all the way. But if I had a choice, I would still go for the older ones. Its the same as the Merc ML. Ugly as hell. I don't care that its a Merc. They have to bring beauty into the equation somehow. Ok, they have improved somewhat, but it still is not a pretty car. I would have to say that the best looking luxury offroad vehicle has to be the VW Touareg. Have a look!


Well, this little tool has been indispensable since I got it in January 2006. As an It Consultant, I get to crawl into dark and unpleasant spaces often and normally forget to attach my third arm before I do so. Enter the magnetic Traclite from Tool Logic!. Check this out, its got an LED which lasts almost forever, and a swivel base, allowing you to continue your work without having to hold it between your teeth to see what you are doing. A really brilliant tool!
Every once in a while a someone actually uses their noggin and designs something you can actually use!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pony cars

I am kicking off this blog site with a post on pony cars. According to Wikipedia, pony cars : "... describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image."
Now, some people might consider these cars, such as the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Corvair, etc, to be a bit beneath them in the sense that a S-class Merc would not be beneath them. But they are missing out on something more exciting than just a "drag-racing" car. These cars were designed to be out of the ordinary, an alternative to mundane run of the mill family sedans.
When Ford Motor Company created the Ford Mustang in 1965, that's exactly what they had in mind. The Mustang was in fact the first pony car ( or "muscle car" as they are also called). Since then there have been a few others that raised the eyebrows, but I still feel the Mustang and its cousins are the greatest. On Top Gear they drove a Dodge Charger and spoke about which was the better one between that and the Challenger, and I must say, the Charger doesn't look too bad. If you talk about what they have under the bonnet, its muscle all the way! Typically they had a six-cilinder or V8 engine.
The 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 is a 5,4L V8 and it outputs 372kw with a torque of 650NM at 4500 rpm. If the look of this beast does nothing for you, well, there must be other problems in your life as well!