Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve and the Stars Come Out To Play

NVDL: I can't think of a better way to usher in the new year than under the stars. It provides the appropriate perspective, inspires the awe and humility we ought to have... and it's a romantic setting for some warm cuddling
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A delightful display of planets and the moon will occur on New Year's Eve for anyone wishing to step outside and look up just after sunset.

Venus, brighter than all other planets and stars, will dangle just below the thin crescent moon in the southwestern sky. It'll be visible -- impossible to miss, in fact -- just as the sun goes down, assuming skies are cloud-free.

Soon thereafter, Mercury and Jupiter will show up hugging the south-southwestern horizon (just above where the sun went down) and extremely close to each other. Jupiter is very bright and easy to spot; Mercury is faint and harder to see, but it'll be apparent by its location just to the left of Jupiter.

Jupiter and Mercury will set less than an hour after the sun, so timing your viewing just after sunset is crucial. You'll also need a location with a clear view of the western horizon, unobstructed by buildings, trees or mountains.

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ALERT: National Weather Warning for SA [FIRE AND HEAVY FALLS]

Guys, take care in the northern and northeastern parts - these areas are likely to see plenty of rain today.
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National Warning - Issued on Wednesday, 31 December 2008 at 05.00

Heavy falls of rain are possible in places over the lowveld of Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Conditions favourable for runaway fires are expected in places over the Cape Peninsula.

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Road to Nowhere [PHOTOGRAPHY]

What really happened on the moon...

Chances are that any photographs you have seen of the 'first man' on the moon are not of Neil Armstrong, but of Buzz Aldrin. This is because, for some inexplicable reason, Aldrin took virtually no photographs of the mission commander.

An unexpected call came through from President Nixon just after the pair had struggled to plant the American flag on the concrete hard substrate below the inch thick layer of powdery dust. Armstrong had photographed Aldrin saluting beside the flag and Aldrin was about to take the camera to return the favour when the call came through. Subsequently, Aldrin neglected to take a good photograph of Armstrong, although found time to photograph a 360 pan and his own footprints.

In the excellent authorised biography of Armstrong by James R. Hansen Armstrong's modest and humble personality would have precluded him from telling Aldrin, "Hey, take a photo of me why don'tcha!" Aldrin himself admitted later to being 'intimidated' by having the focus of millions on him, and so admitted to not thinking 'creatively'.

There has been some speculation, since Aldrin had petitioned to be the first man to step on the surface of the moon (and his military father had pulled some strings too) that Aldrin had purposely not photographed Neil Armstrong. In effect saying, "Well if I don't get to be first man, Neil can forget me capturing his moment of glory."

Columbus Analogy

Al Bean, the astronaut in Apollo 12, uses a analogy to describe the oversight.
" [There] should have been a bunch of good pictures of Neil. This was such an historic event. I mean, think about it: I'm going along on the boat with Christopher Columbus. he's carrying the camera at the moment, but I'm his first mate. We all know what should happen. Nobody knows the answer why it didn't."

The Flight Director at the time, Gene Krantz, is more emotional. '{The] only picture I can put up on screen of Neil [for some 60 - 70 public speaking engagements each year] is his reflection in Buzz's facemask. I find that shocking. That's something to me that's unacceptable. But, you know, life isn't fair."

First Words

Many theories also surround Armstrong's famous words when he stepped on the moon's surface. Officially, Armstrong said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Some crackle and distortion can be heard. There is of course a world of difference between what Armstrong said and what he thought he said. Armstrong says he meant to say: "That's one small step for a man..." By leaving out the article, Armstrong was in effect referring twice to 'mankind', with the first synecdoche making it grammatically flawed.

Worse still, by referring to himself as 'man', Armstrong would have been taking some license upon himself as representative of all human Earthlings, a license many would not be loathe to grant him during such a feat.

Despite the technical aspects, everyone knows what Armstrong was trying to say, and it remains one of the most memorable statements ever made. When did Armstrong think to say it, and what influenced him?

The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins, in a scene in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, leaps over the creature Gollum. Tokien describes this jump as 'not a great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.' The fact that Armstrong named his farm Rivendell (the elf sanctuary in the Rings trilogy) would seem to support this theory. However Armstrong says he only read Tolkien's books after 1969.

The plaque given to the two astronauts to place on the moon has the inscription,'We came in peace for all mankind," which may have sowed something of a seed in Armstrong's mind.

Armstrong says he thought of the statement only a few moments before stepping out of the LM. It was a spur of the moment thought which Armstrong says he merely associated with what he was doing - stepping out onto the moon.


Also fascinating in the Hansen biography is that the Columbia needed to rotate whilst flying between the moon and the Earth in order to prevent one side from becoming sizzling hot and the other from freezing.

All three astronauts concurred that the Earth did not only look beautiful, but incredibly fragile and vulnerable given their experience of space. They also felt a mutual sense that the terrestrial bickering made no sense from space when it was obvious that the planet was a shared home, a shared resource, and a treasure.

Paradigm Shift

While I have been for some years one of the many supporters of the idea that the moon landings were a hoax, I'd recommend Hansen's Life of Neil Armstrong. I admit that I am unsure what to believe, especially given Aldrin's admission that the LM's hull was 'so thin you could poke a pencil through it'.

What is indisputable is the character that Neil Armstrong was leading up to the Apollo 11 mission. Hansen confirms that Armstrong was unusually modest, and also a highly qualified engineer. Engineering - not science - brought about the lunar landing. Armstrong has also described himself as not a spaceman, or a pilot, but an engineer. In First Man Armstrong comes across as an intelligent, mild-mannered and decent fellow.

It may be that man's greatest achievement was the world's most expensive con. But if any man could have pulled it off, Neil Armstrong could. His bravery and patience taking over manual control of the LM whilst running out of fuel and with alarms going off, say much about his salt. In the end, the LM landed with less than a minute of fuel remaining. It landed in a cloud of dust which made visibility impossible, and landed so softly, both astronauts on board weren't absolutely sure they had even touched down until they cut the rocket.


The Moon - by the guys who went there.
What the hell happened to the first man on the moon?

GM comes up with Ginormously Stupid Plan

So after begging for a bailout, GM (with Chrysler) gets $17.4 billion in aid. And guess what there strategy is? To me...give away cars with 0% finance for 60 months. How long is 60 months? 5 years. You get a car for 5 yeasrs for free. That's nice. Almost as nice as giving someone a house and only expecting them to pay once they've maxed out 23 credit cards on other get now, pay when you're dead freebies.

This sounds like the auto version of the housing idiocy. If you are going to insist on being so utterly stupid with money (and other people's money) the country should bankrupt itself any day now. Officially I mean.
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GMC Envoys sit on the lot at Capitol City AutoMart in Berlin, Vt., Tuesday, Dec.

NEW YORK – General Motors Corp. said Tuesday it will offer financing as low as zero percent over the next week for several 2008 and 2009 models as the automaker makes a big year-end push to improve sales.

The news comes a day after its troubled lending unit, GMAC Financial Services LLC, agreed to take a $5 billion loan from the Treasury Department. Mark LaNeve, a GM vice president, said GMAC's approval to become a bank holding company and qualify for government funding were crucial steps to affording the new financing offers.

GM said it will offer zero-percent financing for up to 60 months on the 2008 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Saab 9-7X sport utility vehicles through GMAC. The Saab 9-3 and 9-5 sedans also qualify for zero-percent financing.

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South Africa Summer Holiday Slideshow

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Comic: Garfield

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Best Bush Shoe Throw Mashups [ANIMATED]

These are pretty good
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In the Sock and Awe browser game (screenshot above), players toss shoes at the bobbing-and-weaving president. The Flying Babush and Bush's Boot Camp games offer similar action.
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Sock and Awe

It was only a matter of time – the infamous George Bush shoe-throwing incident has inspired an internet game where the player throws a brown shoe at a moving target of the president.

Sock and Awe – a pun on the US military strategy of "shock and awe" – gives players 30 seconds to try to hit Bush as many times as possible.

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, can be seen peeping over a lectern next to Bush in the mock-up of the now-infamous joint news briefing on Sunday when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the US president. The game gives a running total of shoes to have hit Bush in the face – there were 6,722,892 successful hits at the time of writing. The Guardian's best effort was 12 in one go.

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Best Budget Travel Tips for Brits

Exchange rates make it cheaper for Brits to travel on the cheap. South Africa is particularly good value (once you get there.)

Travel bargains 2009: Cheapest destinations and money-saving tips

Austria, ski chalet

While the pound has plunged against the euro and US dollar, for a few currencies the exchange rate has actually improved for UK travellers. So get thee to Iceland, where the collapse of the krona has cut the previously astronomical cost of hotels, meals and drinks for British visitors by a third.

If Iceland sounds a bit dark and chilly, how about South Africa? The falling value of the rand against the pound means day-to-day costs are 10% cheaper than a year ago. Also consider a trip Down Under, as the Australian and New Zealand dollars haven't moved much against sterling.

Istanbul, Turkey

I've picked out France because it can be very cheap to get there. You can take the car and family, and all your clobber, across the Dover Straits for about £50 return out of season, or £100 even in the summer months - a fraction of the likely cost of flying your family anywhere.

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NZ airline flies on veggie oil

Interesting that jatropha oil has a lower freezing point than jet fuel....
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Test Pilot Captain Keith Pattie, right, Air New Zealand's Chief Pilot Captain

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A passenger jet powered in part by vegetable oil successfully completed a two-hour flight Tuesday to test a biofuel that could lower airplane emissions and cut costs, Air New Zealand said.

One engine of a Boeing 747-400 airplane was powered by a 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.

This year has seen an unprecedented push for alternative fuels by airlines, which were slammed by skyrocketing oil prices earlier in 2008 and are now bracing for a falloff in air travel in the face of a global economic slowdown.

While Air New Zealand couldn't say whether the blend would be cheaper than standard jet fuel since jatropha is not yet produced on a commercial scale, the company expects the blend to be "cost competitive," according to company spokeswoman Tracy Mills.

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Top 10 Green-Tech Breakthroughs of 2008

There's trouble on the horizon. The economy is hovering somewhere between catatonic and hebephrenic, and funding for the big plans that green tech companies laid in 2008 might be a lot harder to come by in 2009. Recessions haven't always been the best times for environmentally friendly technologies as consumers and corporations cut discretionary spending on ethical premiums.

Still, green technology and its attendant infrastructure are probably the best bet to drag the American economy out of the doldrums. - WIRED

NVDL: Since investment banking has recently died with the death of global credit, and thanks to the double-whammy drop in energy prices, alternative industries that are not currently operating will struggle to evovle.
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In July, MIT chemist Daniel Nocera announced that he'd created a
catalyst that could drop the cost of extracting the hydrogen and oxygen
from water.



President-elect Barack Obama ran on the promise of green jobs and an economic stimulus
package that would provide support for scientific innovation. Then, Obama picked Steven Chu, a Nobel-prize
winning physicist, to head the Department of Energy. Chu had been focused on turning Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory into an alternative-energy powerhouse. The green
tech community rejoiced that one of their own would be in the White

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Matric Results: Pass rate declines from 65% to 62.5%

I wonder what the 200 000 matrics that failed end up becoming, or doing. That's besides the 40% of pupils (almost half the potential number) who drop out before matric. If South Africa wants to emerge as a country oif any significance, we need to find a way to get our population educated. This - a better educated population - will do a great deal to ameliorate the crime and AIDS situation. But we seem to be a long road away.

A culture of education rests with parents who encourage educational standards and excellence. If dad or mom never passed matric I reckon its easy to make excuses to drop out.
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The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union expressed its concern that the matric pass rate had dropped from 65 percent last year to 62.5 percent this year.

"We... have to understand and address the factors which lead to drop out and failure," Sadtu president Thobile Ntola said in a statement.

"Our sense is that issues of historical disadvantage and poverty associated with race, class and the rural-urban divide, and uneven support and poor management, especially in some districts and provinces are crucial here, and we would expect the Department of Education to deepen its analysis in this respect," he said.

Pointing out that more than 40 percent of pupils never even reached matric, Sadtu asked who made up this group, whether they joined the ranks of the unemployed and what could be done to turn around the situation.

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South Africa Beat Australia - Australia are now just one defeat away from losing their world number one crown

South Africa crushed them by nine wickets in the second Test to register their first ever series victory Down Under. -
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Resuming on 30 for no loss, South Africa needed 42 overs to score the remaining 153 runs for a memorable win and the moment came soon after lunch when Hashim Amla flicked Michael Clarke behind square leg for two runs.

In a match where Smith struck two fifties, JP Duminy scored his maiden hundred and Ponting scored 101 and 99, Dale Steyn was adjudged Man of the Match for his match haul of 10 for 154 besides the crucial 76 he scored in the first innings.

Graeme Smith was the lone South African wicket to fall in the second innings. The South African captain was trapped leg before by Nathan Hauritz after making a 94-ball 75 with 10 boundaries in it.

Fellow opener Neil McKenzie (59) and Amla (30) remained not out after guiding the team to a historic win.

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Israel: fiercest air offensive in the Gaza Strip in decades underway

The targets chosen by Israel on Monday pointed to an intention to chip away at Hamas' foundation. - MSNBC
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel rejected any truce with Hamas Islamists on Tuesday and said it was ready for "long weeks of action" on a fourth day of the fiercest air offensive in the Gaza Strip in decades.

As Israeli armored vehicles and troops were massed along the border for a possible invasion, Israeli warplanes pressed on with strikes, killing 12 Palestinians, including a pair of sisters, aged 10 and 12, in attacks on Hamas targets.

Government rejects cease-fire; Hamas calls for suicide attacks

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Handgranade rips boy to pieces

NVDL: What was a hand grenade doing in that bucket and how did it get there?
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A 10-year-old boy’s visit to his great-grandmother’s place for Christmas ended in pain and tears after a handgrenade detonated in his pocket.

The grenade ripped his stomach open and shredded his hand and arm, shattering his family’s Christmas Eve final preparations for the big day, on December 25.

Sibusiso said that when they found the grenade he recognised it as similar to ones he had seen on TV.

He said they showed it to their aunt, who ignored them because she did not know what it was.

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