Sunday, April 27, 2008

The A380, A Movie Star, Jump and Being A Dick

Hectic morning after a very busy and productive week - photographed a delightful pixie-like model in my hotel room (with my interpreter and her friend in tow), and probably got the best pictures of the lot. She reminded me a lot of my girlfriend actually - very petite, short pixie hair, very petite (oh did I say that already). I think she said she weighs 43kg. She also has her own online store, and so the outfits she wore she is trying to flog online, so it was very current, and she also provided a lot more insight. So that went well.

I got a huge shock downstairs when my room bill came to W180 000. That's around R2000. Even my American Express choked on it. I must have just gone over the limit with a few books that I bought. Fortunately (and by some miracle) my ABSA card was in a better financial state.

And guess how I got those expenses? From making a handful of calls every day (no more than 5 lasting an average of 2-3 minutes each), eating from a small cylinder of Pringles each day, drinking the odd Coke and chomping on the odd Snickers. My biggest expense was using the internet during business hours (one time) - that sucked out a whopping W36 000. After that i could only use it for free after 22:00, which helped perpetuate already critical levels of jet-lag. I think I went to bed twice during the week after 3am (we had to breakfasted, and ready to leave by 8:30am).

That said, I had a limousine service to and from the airport, luxury accommodation (if only I wasn't so utterly stretched out from jet lag and a frenetic schedule) and all our daily transport, lunch and dinner meals paid for, bar one.

Speaking of which, by last night I was falling victim to the sandman...I even managed to get lost on a small little walking tour - not lost; I just lost the group, and basically went looking for them in every direction except for the unassuming alley they apparently took. I did run into a Korean movie star and snapped a few pictures of her, so maybe it was a fateful mistake ;-)

I was actually looking forward to Club Day and Hongdae all week. Thought I might show the group all the fun spots. As I saw, I was a bit ragged by Friday night, and because I was pretty pooped, a few things were bothering me more than I should have let them - like the fact that none of the 5 people I'd called in Ilsan had really made an effort to get back to me. I think I got one message. Pete (in Jeju) and I spoke a few times. David for example left a private message on Facebook and with the time ticking and having so many numbers to juggle, it just wasn't visible enough to be 'top-of-mind'.
I scribbled it in my diary, but other than Allalie's Facebook messages, there wasn't much new communication that would lead me to believe my Korean buddies knew anything different with regards to me being in the country. I didn't get hold of Wendy at all. I left a message with her room-mate, called again and just got this Mysterious Wall of silence. I checked the email I'd printed out and sure enough she'd said we should meet for coffee/beer.

Still it would have been nice to not have to schlepp all the way back to Ilsan after a Club Day night, and cruising around Itaewon. Kind've incredible that we were so busy that we didn't even do JJ's in the hotel itself. I didn't even get to swim in the Hyatt pool, and was way to poegaai to even think of using their in-house gym. I did sign up for a run but on the day - this morning actually - it was raining and cold. The weather was cold. One day went down as low as 2 C. I believe it's just as cold in Johannesburg right now.

I called Michael Hurt (one of the photographers I invited on the shoot, and an editor of a fashion mag in Seoul) from the hotel just before I left and had like a 40 minute conversation with him, so only had time to call Sarah before I left. We had a great first day together. After that I think I said something about me (a man) not seeing myself as a PA and it was construed that I discriminate against women. If I do discriminate would that comment even bother me in the first place (coming from a woman), would I want to tell the story of Korean women's fashion? Would I buy my girlfriend a handbag? It did bother me. So did some of the kimchi err...on the way out, if you get my meaning ;-)

On the bright side I've worked out that I'll probably be able to produce 12-14 quality stories on a whole variety of topics (From Korean Zen to The World's Best Airport 3 years in a row). Yes, even at Incheon I was running around shooting pictures. Lovely airport though.

It was also quite funny when I left the hotel (and the Lost in Translation Movie that I'd lived in the for the past week - seriously) the guy sees I'm wearing flip flops, my worn out green cap and a dodgy brown coat over camouflage trousers) - he asks if I want to catch the bus to the airport. A bit unusual for someone leaving the Hyatt. "Kannanan?" I say. (Poor? - gesturing to my clothes and general appearance) He calls a taxi closer and I explain the VIP service has been arranged for me. He motions me to a black Equus. During the drive we go by a Chrysler flowing with pink balloons (someone just married) and skirt plenty of the Han's massive red and green bridge structures. I enjoyed the 6 hours flying here, especially the last piece - flying at night - were some of the most beautiful and magical views over Singapore. Does this remind me of a story called Toni's Oil, or The Magic Lantern. Just lots of blinking lights, ships, and a city sparkling like an emerald at night, sinewy traffic diamonds flowing in to fill the Matrix with even more sparklers.

After touching down I glanced out of the corridor to see GIANT writing. The giant writing was in proportion to the plane - an A380. It seems - almost - to have the dimensions of a normal plane, except it is really a double-decker plane, and because of the additional heft, there is a wider wingspan, and bigger (and heavier engines). With the fuel prices going where they are, we have to wonder - will it work?

I have a couple of cost saving tips for airlines:

- no newspapers on board or in flight magazines
- no blankets or pillows
- no metal cutlery (Singapore Airlines still uses)
- energy bars/meals
- no flying duty free shop
- passengers exceeding a specified BMI should not be allowed to fly

This last requirement may seem absurd or extreme, but the opposite is true. Obese people are a danger to themselves, and often place a tremendous strain of resources, including medical, often because they require lifetime treatment for their self-inflicted symptoms. One is diabetes. The disease is often caused by a very unhealthy lifestyle, and then more money is spent treating the symptoms. The future needs to have some sanity in terms of learning to not only be more efficient on how we consume the lives of other creatures, but also how efficiently and effectively we can live our own lives. Up until now, the milk, egg and meat industries have favored making money at our (and the environment's expense) - that needs to change.

Wow - aren't I going off on a tangent!

In the plane on the way here to Singapore (it's now 17:44 SA time, 23:44 Singapore time) I watched JUMP. It's teen fantasy but I really enjoyed it.

On Facebook David - obviously a bit stung that I didn't get hold of him - left me this message: "You're a dick." I was trying very hard not to be. But you have to be careful of these South Africans. Isn't the preponderance of evidence that they're all a bunch of racist, discriminating assholes? I tried to meet a lot of people despite a very busy schedule. I did but I couldn't get around to everyone, especially if they weren't trying hard to get hold of me (eg. getting my contact number during the day). But just to be clear, although I've heard the sentiments loud and clear the name is actually Nick. But it's interesting that that can be the way someone is summed up when all is said and done.

Oooh well. I - scary South African that I am - nicked a pillow from my flight and I think I have been standing here long enough. Gonna get horizontal, listen to music on my iPod, read World Made By Hand, and try not to wish away a single moment. I'm still not sure if I want to go where I'm going.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Seoul is Sexy (PHOTOGRAPHY)

Images courtesy Ryu Seung Hoo/Grand Hyatt

Seoul City Looking For Journalists For 3 More Press Tours

Images above are some of the participants in this year's tour. Images courtesy Seoul Selection

Today we had a fascinating visit at a Hospital for Oriental Medicine Specialising in spinal injuries. We made a brief visit to the Blue House after that (the seat of power in Korea), and after an excellent lunch watched a Korean Air presentation. Interestingly enough Korean Air has recently formalised a route with South Africa (until now their only route into Africa was to Egypt) with a view to the 2010 World Cup.

Later in the afternoon I wandered off from our group and noticed a lot of Koreans holding up their phones, turned towards a small group of people in front of an art gallery. They were drawn to these people like a magnet; just in terms of turning towards them, not so much moving. I took out my camera too. Someone told me it was a famous female Korean movie actress.

It's been an exciting, interesting and very busy trip. Today my 4 GB chip finally filled to capacity. I have a great stock of images, and plenty of pages covered in scribble. It is going to be interesting to see just how many quality articles I can mine out of these five vivid days in Seoul.

Seoul City have asked us, the first group, to let them know of other reporters and freelancers who would be interested in participating in scheduled Seoul City Press Tours for later this year. The Tour includes return airfare, accommodation at the Grand Hyatt, and meals included. 2 days will be made available for private schedules, the rest will be co-ordinated by the Seoul-based team.

If you are interested in participating, please leave a comment here with your details and the title of a recent article..

PE Power Surge Blows Up SubStation (PICTURES)

So here's an example of a pretty freaking serious 'side-effect' of load shedding. I wonder how many ticking time bombs like this dinosaur are still out there.

Thanks D for these ;-)

A Day In Pictures (PHOTOGRAPHY)

I spoke to the Deputy Mayor of Seoul today, who also happens to be the city's Chief Designer(and holds a PH.D in his field). He told me about a very impressive and comprehensive plan that amounts to a massive makeover for Seoul. The picture below reveals how important and imminent those plans are. The picture below is the front page at a newsstand at an arbitrary subway stop. You can see that part of Gwanghamun is being redesigned to be more walkable. These developments start on Saturday, and are part of - as I say - an exciting and comprehensive project.

This is my interpreter, Marianne. She has done a fantastic job - both yesterday and today. She's going to John Hopkins University to do a Ph.D in nutrition.

New home sales plunge to lowest level in 16 1/2 years

WASHINGTON - Sales of new homes plunged in March to the lowest level in 16 1/2 years as housing slumped further at the start of the spring sales season.

The median price of a new home in March, compared with a year ago, fell by the largest amount in nearly four decades...Orders for commercial aircraft actually rose by 5.5 percent while demand for defense aircraft surged by 29.4 percent. Many defense industries have seen big increases reflecting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

New home sales plunge to lowest level in 16 1/2 years

NVDL: What does suburbia have to do with the war in Iraq? In a word: everything. This website has had the postion for some years now that America's eco0nomy is essentially an economy of Americans selling houses to one another. Since that is no longer true, the American economy (in reality) no longer exists.

South Korea clones Labrador to raise narcotic sniffing dogs

Click here to view the video.

NVDL: I wonder if we can clone human beins who can do our thinking for us?

New Climate Records - SA

Lowest Minimum -1.9 1999-04-20 -2.0 2008-04-23 21

Lowest Minimum -0.4 1997-04-30 -0.7 2008-04-23 15
Van Reenen

Lowest Minimum -3.3 2004-04-19 -3.9 2008-04-23 42
Frankfort - Tnk

Lowest Minimum 4.4 2007-04-29 4.0 2008-04-23 7

Lowest Minimum 13.3 2006-04-27 12.1 2008-04-23 11
Mbazwana Airfield

The weather in Hawaii, Canada, NZ and Korea

This morning in Seoul temperatures plunged to 2 degrees Celcius. It made national news for being unseasonably and unusually cold this late in the year. At the dinner table this evening I made a point of asking everyone around the table what sort of weather they were experiencing in their countries. Without exception, each person admitted to a lot of unusual activity. In Hawaii - 2 months of almost constant rain, in Canada, an unseasonally late snow storm. In New Zealand, the warmest summer in 12 years. My own experience is that we have had almost no real summer in Johannesburg, just a week's worth of typically hot days, and abnormal amounts of rain in Johannesburg.

One of the NZ participants in this conversation made the point that one unusual event doesn't constitute a threat. She quoted the often quoted (intelligence free) mantra: "A trend is something that happens over a long period of times; like a hundred years. And all these events have happened before."

Great point. Brilliant. Let's all go to bed while about 80% of the world's population have a collective stomach rumble. The real question to ask is: can we afford to second guess the climate when these three words are making headlines: Global Food Crisis? If you really think about it, it's not a question. Those who think it is need to join the queue for The Psycho Ward of Collective Delusion.

For the rest, when you become angry about the situation people find themselves in, a great topic to focus on is this propensity to defer issues like climate change and finite fossil fuels based on this idea that to do so is 'alarmist'. That's as dumb as anyone telling you right now that reports of a Global Food Crisis is alarmist. Reality of course, is what you focus on, nothing more, and the West - we know - has been guilty of a lot of self-indulgence in terms of their focus (Paris Hilton, Britney, Idols, Jerry Springer, Reality TV and all the rest).

After tonight I have a suspicion a scary number of people still intend to sleep in a little longer. I hope we can remember this, when we turn to the God of Blame.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Silver and Seoul (PHOTOGRAPHY)

It's cold, wet and windy on the other side of the world. The company was good, and the food hot and spicy. Saw a lot of interesting sights that I can't believe I didn't see when I was here last. Also took in an excellent show (NANTA) which means Cookin'. It's rated as one of Seoul's Top 10 Tourist Attractions. A lot of fun.

Tomorrow I am interviewing a Korean journalist who works for Korea Times and doing the GQ shoot right here at the Hyatt. Should be interesting.

Seoul Goes from Gray To Green, Drab to Sparkling Design

The world's most wired country, and the 11 largest economy is still highly under-rated, and largely overlooked. That is set to change, starting with Seoul's designation as the world's first Design Capital in 2010, and driven by two dynamic Korean leaders in particular: Seoul's mayor (once an environmental activist) and Seoul's president (known locally as 'The Bulldozer').

Seoul is an impressive city by some standards. It holds around half of Korea's population of 50 million, it has 1000 metre high mountains planted in and around the city, somewhat in the style of Cape Town. The city also has a 600 year old history, with vast palaces and gardens sprinkled between the dense urban village.

But it is not all good - Seoul is not one the world's most beautiful city scapes. The pollution of the South Korean capital is probably its greatest handicap.

The good news is this is about to change. Billions of Dollars are being challenged into a new initiative - to make the urban environments 'softer', more livable, and also 'greener'. The mayor was reported to be very unhappy to discover that Seoul's attractiveness as a destination was found to be below Helsinki's (in Finland). Radical (and ambitious) plans are now in place to boost Seoul's global image - the goal is to make the city a 'global city' - a top 10 global destination.

There is certainly a lot of work to be done to achieve this, and the mayor's plans are appropriately grandiose. Among the developments include a 152 storey tear shaped building in a waterfront/green corridor area, the Han River Rennaissance Project, and major investments into developing foreign communities already present in Seoul.

Watch this space for more elaborate details, and a closer look at Korea's efforts to make Seoul into cleaner, greener,truly world class Global City.

Crude oil nears $US120 on supply woes

"Oil is now nearly double its closing price a year ago, and up 24 per cent in 2008. The latest impetus for buying came as Nigeria suffered further interruptions in output and China reported record oil imports last month."

On CNN the newscasters are still joking, asking for 'good news' like it's as easy as ordering takeaway. The whining about biofuels still ignores the obvious - that high food prices are really related first and foremiost to high fuel prices. It is because of high oil prices that investments were made in biofuel in the first place.

Notice how quickly all this is happening, and how it is catching the world by surprise. The world has been sleeping, despite the alarm clock going off again and again. Unfortunately, systems will break down now faster and faster, as our efficiencies begin to work against us (in the opposite direction). If you have 3 inefficient cadilaccs guzzling X barrels iof oil a day, it creates less disruption than a modern vehicle fleet of say 10 super efficient Toyota Yaris'. We've built these efficiencies in everywhere, and so the disruption to consumption is vast.

Food riots are just the beginning. The poor, especially the urban poor, now begin to feel and respond to the hit. And the media will gaggle ineffectually about this when the news is: we have no alternatives right now. We did not plan and anticipate. We were distracted by Paris and Britney, by shopping at the mall and movies.

I am still waiting in suspense to see when an oil price makes world headlines as they should - on a daily basis. We needed to see this when oil breched $70 and $80 and $90 and $100 and $110. Will we see it now? Don't count on it. This blog predicted $120 for May/June, but we're still in a reactionary rut. Do we have a vision of the future or can we only operate in a cocoon; a vaseline smeared glass treadmill of daily work and consumptions. People are still caught up in their lives, but reality is catching up fast, a big wave building up on a flock of tiny surfers.

Manwhile: 2008 Beijing Auto Show Unveiled (YahooNews)

As one of the fastest-growing carmakers on the planet, the Chinese automotive industry has taken an unusual approach to staging international auto shows. Like Geneva and Detroit, it has a major exhibition every year, but like the biennial events in places like Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo, China alternates its big one between Shanghai and Beijing. This year it's Beijing's turn.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kunstler: Blind Spot

I happened to be flying into Minneapolis the very day that Northwest Airlines announced its merger with Delta --Delta to be the more senior (more equal) partner -- in effect, to absorb Northwest and run its operations. Many observers are not optimistic that the merger will rescue these companies in any case, since both airlines are financial basket-cases, but it's a sort of last-ditch effort to save them both.

It was less than great news up around Minneapolis, Northwest's corporate headquarters. A lot of people I talked to were anxious that Delta would cut service to a lot of little cities in the upper Great Lakes and northern prairie region, places like Duluth, Grand Forks, Green Bay, Traverse City and many other towns. Instead of one or two flights a day, they may end up with one or two a week, or none at all, they feared.

The Northwest pilots were none too pleased, either, because Delta was making noises about their own pilots seniority counting for more than Northwest's pilot's seniority in terms of preferred assignments and scheduling. In fact, the Northwest pilots were so pissed off they threatened to scuttle the merger.

That part of the country is a big region of wide open spaces Things are very far apart. You wouldn't want to drive a car from Des Moines to Rapid City, even if gasoline was a good bit less than the $3.50 a gallon it is now. Driving around the prairie is especially tedious -- and dangerous because of the tedium. The landscape is boring. The roads are dead straight and mostly dead flat.

It happened, also, that I got a little guided tour of Minneapolis from the author-shlepping service that my publisher engaged. We rode past the old Minneapolis central train station. He said no trains stop there anymore (there's a dinky afterthought of a station next door in St. Paul). Anyway, the only train that comes through the Twin Cities is the pokey once-a-day Amtrak to Seattle.

In other words, this region of the country has next-to-zero railroad service. Can we pause a moment here to ask: exactly how far does America have its head up its ass? Do you get the picture? Can you connect the dots? The airline industry is dying and absolutely no thought is being given to how people will get around this big country -- except to make the stupid assumption that we can just drive our cars instead. Even during the several days I was around Minneapolis, no news media or politician raised the subject of reviving passenger railroad service.

In point of fact, these are exactly the kind of trips that would be better served by rail, anyway -- the towns that are less than five hundred miles apart. The travel time between trains and planes would be comparable, considering the two hours or so that you have to add to every airplane trip because of all the security crap, not to mention the delays. As a matter of fact, USA today ran a front page story two days after the Delta / Northwest announcement saying "Air Trips Slowest [now than] in Past 20 Years." Subhead: "Trend likely to persist as congestion worsens."

One big reason for the airport congestion, of course, is that the runways are cluttered up with planes making trips of only a few hundred miles. This has been a problem for quite a while. Periodically, it gets so bad that the media gets all excited and sometimes (last summer, for instance) the President makes a statement deploring it. Since the current president is a knucklehead, it apparently hasn't occurred to him to get behind a revival of the passenger rail system. But Mr. Bush is apparently not the only elected knucklehead in this country, because absolutely nobody is talking about this.

Now get this: we are sleepwalking into a transportation crisis. As I already said, the airline industry is dying. The price of petroleum-based aviation fuel is killing it. And forget the fantasies about running it on bio-diesel or used french-fry oil. Driving cars will not be an adequate substitute, either. It's imperative that this country gets serious about restoring the passenger rail system. We can't not talk about it for another year. We must demand that the candidates for president speak to this issue. If you who are reading this are active reporters or editors in the news media, you've got to raise your voices behind this issue.

NVDL: Gotcha Jim. This post is from

Jordanian Princesses, Virtual Fish and Runaway Camera Cables

A crazy day that involved meeting Korea's greatest Zen Master ("is the hand holding the cup, or the mind?"), and learning Korea's grand ambitions - to be the next Rome; the centre of the world.

The weather has been crappy - a fair amount of rain - but the day blitzed by for me, the food was good, and once again I managed to get some lovely pictures. Food was good - oh did I already say that - and it was also interesting meeting the other reporters. By my count 5 of the 6 are freelance; just one is writing for a specific Paper. There are two from New Zealand, a Canadian, a guy from Hawaii and an American who is based in China. There's also a freaky sleep-deprived South African...

For me one of the highlights of the day was meeting Robert Koehler, whose blog attracts something like 3000 hits a day and nets him $200 in Google-based revenues a month. His blog is

It was also quite charming walking along a reclaimed green zone (Cheiong Gye Cheon); a stream that become a cesspool, was cemented over, then they built a massive highway over it, and then they ripped everything up in a massive project and now there is cleanish flowing water in a pleasant space.

There are lanterns all over Seoul, bobbing brightly in the air.

One of the funniest comments today: "Does the mayor have the support of the people for the Dream Hub Project?"
"Well, he is a very handsome man."

Oh ja and in case you were wondering, on my way to picking up the Apple MacBook I'm using to blog this, I encountered a striking hooded figure in the elevator. I asked her where she was from and she said: "Jordan." I said: "Are you a princess?" And she said, "Yes."

I feel like I am living in The Lost In Translation Movie.

The Key To Korea's Success (PHOTOGRAPHY)

Why is Korea such a successful country? It's a combination of factors -

- the people love to read and use the internet (newspapers have grown despite heavy internet use)
- the people work hard
- there is a culture of saving
- there is a culture of family values, and politeness
- there is a culture of respect for education and an understanding and investment in education based on the idea that education is fundamentally important

Beyond their impressive human resources is a very decent level of infrastructure development - Korea's rail network is better than Europes. Having a walled community (albeit temporarily in a sense) also helped develop domestic infrastructure, for example Korea's automobile industry. Once the domestic infrastructure was in place, it was unleashed on the rest of the world - and very successfully.

A bigger nation isn't always better

For thousands of years, historians and strategists have known that small but well-organized units of power can wield an influence out of all proportion to their actual size.

The perimeter walls of classical Athens were no measure at all of the extraordinary extent of the Greek presence, which ranged from Sicily to Egypt and northwards into the Black Sea. Many centuries later, Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain were geographical pygmies in terms of domestic acreage, though that did not stop them from placing their footprints on much of the rest of the globe from 1500 to 1900.

In today's world, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai punch well above their weight, again for historical and geopolitical reasons.

But if small does not predestine insignificant, perhaps larger doesn't always mean greater.

A bigger nation isn't always better

NVDL: In the coming years what will be crucial is a sort of power-to-weight ratio (specifically it is population size relative to arable land under cultivationg) in countries. To the extent that a country is smaller, has enough land for food, but not huge distances of wasteland that must be covered to get anywhere, countries will thrive that are smaller. But smaller countries that are overpopulated will also suffer a great deal when importing food becomes first probibitively expensive, and then no longer possible. New Zealand looks like quite a good deal.

Korea's First Female Astronaut lands hard, craft burns, 420 kilometres off target - helicopters need 25 minutes to find it

When she was salvaged from the charred Soyuz space on the Kazahkstan steppe, Yi looked so exhausted that she was not able to walk by herself. ``There was a shock during landing, and I'm having trouble with my sense of direction,'' she told SBS TV as she was waiting to be airlifted by a military helicopter. Veteran crewmates Peggy Whitson of the United States and Yuri Malenchenko of Russia also looked worn out.

Astronaut in Hospital After Rough Landing

NVDL: The craft was actually on fire, the metal was charred, they couldn't find it, it landed MOER of a hard, and it was like wayyyy off course. Sounds like adeathtrap to me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Where are you?

It's a country that looks like the larger British Isle turned upside down, and rammed into China. Japan then occupies the Outer Hebrides, and the channel between them is a highway for typhoons.

Interestingly, it is a 10.5 hour flight to Singapore, and Singapore is 7 hours ahead of South Africa. Meanwhile, you fly another 6.5 hours to get to Seoul (and Seoul's neck and neck with Beijing), but it's only one time zone further than Singapore? The difference it latitudinal. Singapore is on the equator - as in right on - and Seoul is way up on the Tropic of Cancer.

That's why flying from Johannesburg to Seoul is essentially flying to the other side of the world. I'm still pretty exhausted from the flight, and struggling to sleep. As you can see, it's 07:15 here.

Going to be a long, but I think, interesting day. Stick around for updates.

Blogging/Airing The Dirty Laundry

This week, the potential of the Internet to expose and disgrace when marriages fall apart came into stark relief as Tricia Walsh Smith, who is being divorced by Philip Smith, a theater executive, put a video on YouTube announcing that they never had sex, and yet she found him hoarding Viagra, pornography and condoms.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Smith’s lawyer, David Aronson, called the video “appalling” and said: “Mr. Smith is a very private person. This is obviously embarrassing.”

When the Ex Blogs, the Dirtiest Laundry Is Aired -a New York Times story.

NVDL: This quote from the article is interesting:
In separation, of course, one person’s truth can be another’s lie. Often the postings are furtive. But even when the ex-spouse is well aware that he or she is starring in a blog and sues to stop it, recent rulings in New York and Vermont have showed the courts reluctant to intervene.

Told you so: Oil at $117, Biofuels under attack as world food prices soar

I'm not gonna mirror all the news on Biofuels here. Suffice it to say before the Biofuels were even endorsed or implemented, a lot of people were saying that neither Biofuels or any other combination of alternatives was gonna allow us to run the world's highway systems the way we are running them. But oil prices are $117 now, so every ostensible 'investment' into fuel comes with a lot more pressure - especially from consumers that are starting to go nuts as they realise they're not going to get through the month.

The answer mustn't be to find alternatives, as in alternatives fuels, it must be in finding different ways to get around, changing our infrastructure, re-engineering and retrofitting suburbia, getting trains going etc. Unfortunately, since we've been stupid and distracted, we'll now find we can't afford to make those changes, and the changes we can afford to make are going to become fewer as our choices become fewer.

Meanwhile the US has 1 new ethanol plant up and running every 2 weeks - right now they have 139 Ethanol Plants. They want to increase this by 300%.

But the hype is even more misleading than everyone thought. The run off from the fertilizers used (and the coal used to fire up these ethanol plants) is creating a lot more pollution than conventional fuel production. I think it's 29% more energy intensive and thus polluting than conventional refining. So much for 'clean' energy. And when you fill your tank with ethanol, it burns quicker, meaning you use more fuel to go the same distance. Ethanol won't satisfy our fuel-for-cars energy appetite, not even close. But then this blog (and many besides) have been saying that for a long time before Biofuels became Campaign Speak in the US.

Biofuels under attack as world food prices soar
Oil hits record $117 a barrel

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This is where I'm staying for the next few days.

We've been waiting for you for 5000 years (PHOTOGRAPHY)

It's warm, and spring is springing in Seoul. At the airport was a beautiful mountage of see-thru green plates, promoting Korea's heritage. One of them read: "We've been waiting for you for 5000 years." Another plate showed a tasteful depiction of a Silla Empire artifact (dated 6 AD). It is amazing to have a contiguous flow of people here over thousands of years. In South Africa by contrast the original inhabitants left (or were killed) a long time ago.

I had a nice drive from the airport after an exhausting 17 hours of flying. I am now on the other side of the planet, in one of the world's largest cities. How did all of this come to be, how did it happen without our ever coming here before or even knowing about it? Phenomenal.

Do Newspapers have a future in South Africa? And An American Perspective

The good news is that they most certainly do (in South Africa). The bad news, is that online media almost certainly does not have a future.

South Africa is distinctive for having a very low internet penetration in terms of the overall population. Just over 10% (less than 5 million South Africans) have access to the internet, and a large amount of these users have work-only access. On the other hand, the vast majority of South Africans have access to newspapers. Far more people in South Africa read newspapers, or get their news from the radio, than the internet. Meanwhile, what about the penetration levels of mobile handsets. Is it 70% already, or more?

But the macro-economic factors now in play – inflation, interest rates, contraction and recession – are quickly eclipsing South Africa’s Promised Internet Land. Just as South Africa is about to free itself from a service monopoly that has strangled its ability to innovate and grow online for years, just as an undersea cable is about to connect us to the rest of the world, those hopes and dreams have been essentially amputated by prohibitive costs of living. These include the costs of eating and moving around. And what would you rather have? Food to eat, or Google? The lights working, or email?

Most South Africans with internet, that are on a sort of borderline, will probably cut back on unnecessary expenditures, and the first of these include exorbitant communication costs, including internet subscriptions, magazine subscriptions, expensive cell phone subscriptions in favor of cheaper options. Expenditure is about to become far more functional and practical.

Meanwhile, on the other end, the production side, finding online advertising revenues is going to become more difficult, and the small flows that already exists are going to have to be spread even thinner. This does not bode well for companies who have only recently anticipated high market growth, and increasing yields, and responded only over the last couple of years. That market – the internet market – is about to be frozen in its tracks.

Where internet networks exist and are to some extent entrenched, these are likely to thrive. But those who have recently been set up are likely to be shed, as consumers find their choices (and their cash) far more limited. So if all the various websites in South Africa were sodas, we’re going to say goodbye to Fanta, and Schweppes, and Mellow Yellow, and Spar Letta and all the rest. All we’re going to be left with is Coke and Pepsi.

Elsewhere in the world, the internet is likely to be a vital resource for news and information, and in many advanced economies, will take over completely from paper, as environmental concerns and costs become ever more critical. Power outages in South Africa will also have a dampening effect on local internet use, and as users attempts to remain connected become more frequently frustrated.

There remains though tremendous opportunity in South Africa to provide effective news to mobile handsets; something which even the poor carry around with them wherever they go. What is certain though is that the future, especially for the poor in South Africa, is becoming less and less certain.

An American Perspective

Last week I spoke to Californian Katharine Euphrat (pictured above). I wanted her view of the Media, and the day I spoke to her was her third day on the job,and her first front page artcicle (‘Soap stars brutal assault on women’). She says newspapers won’t be around 50 years from now,and in some countries, sooner than that. In America she says people her age never buy newspapers. Katharine says she consumes some news from newspapers that her parents buy (the San Diego Union Tribune), but otherwise consumes – and I found this surprising – by far the most news off her cellphone (whilst on the bus or other public transport).

Katharine said that in the USA paper news is hard news, and dying because of that. In South Africa we are seeing more and more Entertainment-based news making front pages. One of the few exceptions to this – in my opinion – is The Star.
Katharine spoke about how ubiquitous news is online in America, and also how useful it was to browse news on her iPhone. She said in her spare time she spends 70% of the time on the internet using her iphone, and 40% on her PC. When she arrived in South Africa it was immediately difficult even to find somewhere to use the internet, and also, she found it agonizingly slow, even our broadband.

I asked her about her first impressions of South Africa and she said, "When we said we were going to South Africa they tried to scare us. They said you’d arrive at the airport and see someone being raped on your left, someone robbed on your right, and someone being murdered right in front of you. But Johannesburg could be anywhere in the world.”

I know that whenever I have returned to South Africa from an overseas visit I am astonished at how empty the place is, like: Where is everyone. In many western countries there are cars everywhere. It’s not like that here, in South Africa. Katharine said she was surprised to see large patches of countryside.

These large patches of countryside are analogous for the large, barren wasteland that is the Undiscovered Internet Country in South Africa. It will turn out that Telkom’s drag effect on the rollout and uptake of the internet in South Africa is likely to be a permanent injury and one which the country cannot recover from going into an austere future. A small niche internet population will survive, but it will be even smaller than the present one as work-place users are shed (both through stricter regulations at work and through increased unemployment as a local recession kicks in). It will also not be worth much as a revenue stream, but it may have some value in terms of the service there will be to communities that remain plugged in.

In the end, (even in a general sense) those companies that have not entrenched themselves, will lose ground and fail, and only the strong and hardy and well established will survive.

Deja Vu and a Cypher Makeover

Agent Smith: It seems that you've been living two lives. One life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you... help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

I can sympathise with Neo, and as a gesture of sympathy I'm putting myself through a facial makeover - I'm growing my moustache and a chin-line beard Cypher-style. Cypher essentially screwed up the whole Matrix, but that's not me. Actually, I identify more with Morpheus, especially where he says:

Morpheus: What is "real"? How do you define "real"?

Morpheus believed in something, so do I. I also believe in the pursuit of 'reality'. So the Cypher-image breaks down to some extent. I mean the dude says:
[talking to the unconscious Morpheus]
Cypher: If you'd told us the truth, we would've told you to shove that red pill right up your ass.
Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
[Takes a bite of steak]
Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.

Nevertheless I appear to be perceived by some - in cycling and other areas - as 'the enemy', or apparently ignorant (or arrogant). I was thinking I might as well go with it eh...I mean, in terms of image and appearances.

"The Bitter Truth We Must Face"

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends...In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for ...Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. - Anton Ego.

What this really means is that those who observe, sample, watch, judge, evaluate, edit and fail to participate in, play with, engage, collaborate, be involved and actually having an understanding of something - anything - (through doing and action, through living ands expereinece) are actually - let's face it - irrelevant to the world.

168 Hits Despite A Blog Blackout

Despite not posting a single blog on Friday, this website still pulled in a fair chunk of traffic. It seems the massive archive (already over 3 year's worth) is capable of directing a lot of Googlers to a small corner of relevant internet.

I'm also going to change to some extent the nature of content on this site, based to some extent on my disdain for news. Is news really useful?

I'm going to try to provide more:

- firsthand information
- useful information
- insights

I guess, by implication, that implies that news - these days - tends towards the opposite.

Singapore Sling

So it's one minute before 7, and I'm at Changi Airport in Singapore. An astonishing country - and it's attributable to 6 things: location, location, location and people, people, people.

The flight was quite pleasant, but made a bit harder on the bum because of a 76km cycle early Saturday morning (2h40 on a hard saddle). Felt quite hungry throughout the trip.

I think I have to update my Most Beautiful Women in the World list. The Singapore Airlines hostesses are amazing. So petite, feminine and pretty.

Flying to Seoul in an hour, meanwhile I think it is about 2am SA time now, and I'm starting feel it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

van der Leek brother's Ironman Results (COMPARED)

My brother predicted a 10Hour Ironman, with a phenomenal bike split - I think he wanted to do a 5 Hour bike, or 4 Hr 20 (which is like world class). In the end, bike wise, he came in 10 minutes under my time, and managed to swim about 8 minutes quicker, and run about 40 minutes quicker. That means he spent 20 minutes longer in the transition areas than I did, presumably having a small picnic, with wine glasses and cheese crackers.
While he did much better than me in terms of finishing his first Ironman attempt (I got sick before my first two attempts, and actually got ill before the third as well), he seems to have made a few pretty big mistakes, like not 'going the distance' before the actual event, not doing a 180km bike ride to see what effect it has, and not doing a run longer than 21km.
I'd like to be able to stand on the beach in PE mext year (2009) and see if I can improve on my time, and also get an hour or so under his. Anything is possible ;-)

Roxanne (Photography)

This morning Roxanne met with a movie producer who asked her to read a 20 page script. After that he called the director and recommended her for the leading role. Tomorrow Roxanne flies to Cape Town for the SASI shoot. She's going to go far, this girl. Charlize, watch your back - Roxanne's on the up and up...