Thursday, June 30, 2011

This is where I'm staying right now...

Meet, Ben, my neighbor, who prefers playing catch with a stone, but they're not good for his teeth...
And this is what the view looks like...

Business Day: Radical changes coming to transport facilities

Published: 2011/06/29 07:04:59 AM

TRANSPORT infrastructure in SA will radically change over the next few years. The Department of Transport’s international investors conference earlier this month showcased projects ranging from the well- known (the expansion of bulk freight rail for coal, iron ore and manganese) to the ambitious (high-speed rail between Johannesburg and Durban), to the practical low-cost high-impact (1- million bicycles to rural areas).

The projects discussed were guided by the n ational t ransport m aster p lan (Natmap) 2050, which sets out the national transport priorities for the next 40 years. The total value on all Natmap projects is R751,74bn over a 40-year period. Most spending (43%) would be on rail, followed by roads (27%). Spending on passenger rail (25%) would be highest, followed by freight rail (18%); national roads (16%); harbours and airports ( 12%); and other roads ( 10%).

Lack of investment in roads, rail and the maritime sector could undermine the benefits of SA’s recent joining of the Brics trading bloc. We have called on the business sector to invest in these sectors.

Ship building and repairs in SA are still being done overseas. Coastal cities are urged to put money into the maritime sector to boost regional integration. The colonial set-up left Africa with no skills to develop its own maritime sector. The capacity of SA to manage its maritime resources needs to be beefed up.

After almost 40 years in operation, the current rail system ( technology, operating procedures, service-design and skills base) is fast approaching the end of its design- life. The government is already implementing key elements of its rail investment strategy to ensure that rail is the backbone of SA’s public transport system. As of April 1, the government is spending R30,2b n over the next three years for rail upgrades, with R19,5b n earmarked for capital spending to upgrade existing infrastructure, signalling systems and rolling stock. The Passenger Rail Agency of SA is investing in new rail rolling stock worth R97bn over 18 years for Metrorail and long-distance rail services, which will increase the country’s passenger rail transport network.

Transformation of public transport investment, which is heavily biased at the expense of rural areas, is a necessity. Not only does the bias promote migration to urban areas, but the transport costs also affect the earnings of rural communities. One such example is the more than 600 buses that travel 160km from KwaNdebele each morning to Tshwane and back again in the afternoon along the Moloto Corridor. Leaving home at 3am and arriving back at 9pm, these commuters are bused to and from work. The government is subsidising this system to the tune of R412m a year — more than the monthly salaries of most of those commuters. We are investigating an alternative, safe and more cost-effective transport network for the Moloto Corridor, which would cut down travel time.

The Gautrain rapid rail network also ushers in a new era in public transport and matches world norms. The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project has been designed to ensure intermodal facilities between Metrorail, Gautrain, buses and taxis, and will allow commuters to use public transport effectively.

A platform for engagement with potential investors and partners has been established, which will unblock administrative bottlenecks to accelerate these important investments. This structure will facilitate partnerships within the established legislative framework.

We are also conscious of the need not to overburden the fiscus with unmanageable debt; and not to overburden commuters with uneconomic tariffs. This will be done through careful cost-benefit analysis and engagement with all stakeholders. But also of importance is the establishment of an effective and streamlined economic regulatory regime for transport, through a single transport economic regulator, to ensure a predictable tariff regime across all modes.

This marks the beginning of a sustained dialogue and action plan for the improvement of mobility in SA.

The government’s public transport plans are not a promise for the next millennium. Consolidated multibillion-rand improvements to transport infrastructure over the next two years are guaranteed to radically change the way South Africans travel. Amounting to R66b n over the next year, and rising to R80b n by 2013-14, the improvements are set to create numerous job and tourism opportunities, with both urban and rural areas benefiting.

• Ndebele is Minister of Transport

Clean Energy: Payoff vs Payback

If building roads had never been a priority, would the car have become such an American icon? Though the horse and buggy biz likely never had the clout of today’s energy industry titans, it’s an interesting question to ponder as we stand at the brink of a new energy horizon. According to’s new analysis, clean energy could be the economy booster we’ve been looking for…but only if we have the political will to make it happen.
Using economic models from McKinsey, here's what we stand to lose by staying the course:
"Our model found a mere five-year delay (2010-2015) in accelerating technology innovation led to $2.3 trillion to $3.2 trillion in unrealized GDP, an aggregate 1.2-1.4 million net unrealized jobs, and 8-28 more gigatons of potential GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by 2050," wrote Google's green energy czar Bill Weihl and Charles Baron from's Clean Energy Team.
The report goes into far more detail on the potential benefits offered by different technologies, but one point is very clear: Will we choose the path of green resistance or not? Will there be stations to juice up that electric car? Will we build an energy grid appropriate for using renewable energy sources? Or will we just stick with the status quo?
If going green means cutting that stack of energy bills at home in half, hand me a banjo and I’ll meet you and Miss Piggy in the swamp. It doesn’t take a rainbow to make that connection.
Full story at CNET.

How to get your tweets retweeted - a Guide

by Richard Fisher, technology features editor

Twitter.jpg(Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

What makes one tweet get passed on, and not another?

On Twitter, your followers can repeat your messages to their own followers. Getting such retweets is a way to increase your profile and network size, and it's arguably part of the reason why many users keep coming back: that little dopamine squirt you get when you discover somebody has liked your wittering can be addictive.

Retweeting is also one of the main ways that information spreads across the social network, so researchers, companies and governments want to know how it works. Previous research has shown that if your message is retweeted it will reach, on average, 1000 people, no matter how many followers you have.

Nasir Naveed and colleagues at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany wanted to find out how the specific content of a message can affect its probability of a retweet.

They studied a combined dataset of over 60 million tweets and around 4.5 million users, looking for the common conventions for retweets, such as the acronym "RT" or "via...". They then classified the content of the messages according to various factors, such as whether the tweets contained hyperlinks or emoticons, as well as analysing the language and types of sentiments expressed in the tweets. They presented their findings earlier this month at the International Conference on Web Science 2011 in Koblenz, Germany.

In general, tweets containing URLs, usernames, and hashtags - usually used to denote topics - were more likely to be retweeted than those without such paraphernalia. But not in isolation - other factors matter. Naveed and colleagues identified five such rules to increase your chances of a retweet:

1) Watch your punctuation

Tweets with exclamation marks were unlikely to be retweeted. The opposite was true of question marks. The researchers speculate that in some cases this could be because tweets that pose questions are passed on to provide or find an answer.

2) Nice words trump nasty

Tweets containing strong positive words like "great" or "excellent" and negative terms such as "suck" or fail" were likely to be retweeted. But positive terms were slightly more so. The researchers suggest that this might be because people could be a bit more reluctant to retweet rude or harsh terms.

3) Use emoticons wisely

Conversely, including a positive emoticon, such as :-), is a sure way to lower your probability of a retweet. A negative one, such as :-( increases the chances.

4) Be relevant

The team identified more than 100 different topics that people tweeted about. Not surprisingly, those that addressed broader public interest were more likely to be retweeted than, for example, messages about how users felt that day, or messages directed specifically at another person (@replies). The most popular retweeted topics in the dataset concerned social networking, public holidays and the economy. The researchers reckon this suggests twitter is better suited as a service for channelling news than for personal communication.

5) Bad news is good

The researchers studied the sentiments expressed in their dataset of tweets, by looking for words that are known to correspond to certain feelings. These were given a numerical value on various scales that range from, for example, pleasure to displeasure, or excitement to calmness. They found that tweets which were annoying or not pleasant tend to get retweeted often. Likewise for tweets that expressed exciting or intense sentiments. In other words, they say, bad news travels fast on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Yzerfontein: Sea Scenes [PHOTOGRAPHY]

Ivo Vegter reckons: Malema is right, you know

SHOOT: As usual, Vegter provokes a thought.  What I find fascinating about his column here is the fact that RDP housing amounts to state owned housing on state owned land.  It's ironic that Malema is calling for state ownership of mines and land when ordinary citizens are already impoverished by the conditions attached their RDP homes.  For example they may not resell or rent their homes because technically the property belongs to the state, not the occupant.

The reaction to Malema's land-grab and nationalisation rhetoric during the ANC Youth League's recent congress was predictable. With a few notable exceptions, it has also been wrong. Because Malema is quite right.
“The willing-seller, willing-buyer approach to land acquisition has constrained the pace and efficacy of land reform. It is clear from our experience that the market is unable to effectively alter the patterns of land ownership in favour of an equitable and efficient distribution of land.”
So said Julius Malema, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the ANC Youth League.
Don't argue. He has hundreds of thousands of young supporters, most of whom are either angry or revolutionary or both. He has big bodyguards with big guns. (Well, he used to.) How much influence he has on national policy is arguable, but it's surely not insignificant.
Don't let any of that intimidate you, however. The reason not to argue with Malema is that he is quite right. The free market has not brought about “equitable” land ownership.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2011 Triathlete Swimsuit Issue Video: Dan Hugo

SHOOT: Something for the ladies...

Newsflux - the latest

Kunstler: ....many observers were amused by last week's cute trick of releasing sixty million barrels of oil from the world's strategic reserves at the rate of two million-a-day in an effort to pretend that the world doesn't have a basic oil production problem. It is, of course, at the bottom of the world's financial disarray, because if you can't increase energy inputs that feed an industrial economy you don't get growth and then the whole idea of compound interest falls apart because it is predicated on a perpetual increase in wealth.  Hence, debt collapses in on itself. The world is caught up in an epochal contraction now, and it manifests in situations like the Greek emergency. But soon it will be a universal emergency.
Read the rest.

And from Jeremy Wakeford:

Interesting recent developments:
(1) OPEC fail to reach consensus on production quotas (Saudi wanted to increase, others not)
(2) IEA to release oil from stockpiles
According to this article
Saudi Arabia has effectively been kicked out of OPEC. Saudi interests (keeping the US sweet to support their royal regime militarily) are diverging from those of other key OPEC players, especially Iran and Venezeula (anti-US and wanting maximum revenues from high prices).
The 1970 peak in US oil production dealt a death blow to the Texas Railroad Commission (their oil cartel). When global peak oil really kicks in, OPEC won't be much use as they could all pump flat out and still the price will rise as world production declines yearly. Individual producers also don't have much leeway to reduce production as they are so dependent on the oil revenues.
Meanwhile, the US-NATO steps up its interventions in MENA, apparently preparing for deployment of ground troops in Libya. Syria seems to be next in line for major intervention (already covert ops supporting the rebels there). US continues drone bombing attacks on Pakistani soil; China says a war against Pakistan would be a war against China.

SHOOT: The prospects of the world economy and thus all of our hopes are starting to slip...and the slope is getting more and more slippery.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Cut Down Your Debt

Like many Americans today, I had a ton of debt that seemed to pile on month after month. Between credit cards, car payments, and the like, my debt situation seemed hopeless. I had one Visa card with a $1,250 balance and another with $5,000. I also had a MasterCard with a $1,250 balance and a Discover Card with around $2,500. Then I decided to take steps to eliminate my debt without having to make more money.
The method I used was not rocket science, and anyone can duplicate my success with just a little sacrifice and discipline. Here's what I did to all but eliminate my debt within one year.

Decide What Is Necessary

This is the discipline part I was talking about. When you make up your mind that you want to wipe out debt, then you have to have discipline. This starts with taking a hard look at what you have and what you want to get and then deciding what is really a necessity.
For me, this meant cutting out coffee shops in the morning and making my own cup of joe. I saved about $4 per day or $28 per week, for a total of $1,456 a year. I used this to pay off the $1,250 balance on my Visa and even had a couple of bucks to spare.
Others might decide to brown-bag it instead of buying lunch every day. You could also save if you spend $5 for lunch at the store instead of $9 for lunch at a restaurant.

Downgrade Where Possible

My wife and I went from being a two-car family to a one-car family. We sold the car that had payments and kept the one that was paid off. As our car payment was $450 per month that meant we saved an astounding $5,400 in one year. Include the money we saved on insurance at $70 per month or $840 per year, plus what we saved on gasoline at $25 per week or $1,300 per year. In total our downgrade saved us $7,540 for the year. Goodbye Visa Card No. 2 and Discover Card!
While this was an inconvenience, it saved us tremendous amounts of money each month that we then applied to our debt. We now have two cars again, and both are paid in full.

Cash Is King

My new favorite saying is, "If I don't have enough cash to get something I want, then I don't need it." This can be hard as credit cards allow you to make purchases that you otherwise wouldn't be able to. However, this will catch up with you, and then what good is a house full of material items?

Not Always Top of the Line

You don't always have to have the best of the best. My cell phone is nice, but not too nice. I also ended my long-term contract with a major cell carrier and now use a prepay service. While my phone doesn't do all the latest and greatest things, it still makes calls and texts, which is really all I use it for anyway. Besides, not having the "newest and greatest" cell phone is saving me over $80 per month or $960 per year. That was nearly enough to pay off my MasterCard.
When cutting debt you need to decide what is important. With a little sacrifice and discipline, I have been able to get rid of almost all my debt in one year's time and sock away a few bucks. At the end of the year I paid off $9,956 of debt. Now, I use my credit cards only to secure a hotel room or a car rental, and I've learned the value of what is important over what is wanted. Even though I did this without making any additional money, it feels like I make more since I actually get to keep some of it now.

Country Life [PHOTOGRAPHY]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Moving Home - by Nick van der Leek

On around the 20th of May I left Cape Town on a trip that was essentially organised around a presentation on energy I was invited to give at Wits university.  Little did I know that the 3-4 weeks spent with friends and family in Pretoria, Johannesburg and in Bloemfontein would be transformative.  For starters, I did photographic shoots every other day while in Centurion, thanks to a very good networker I was staying with.  Family shoots opened my eyes to just one area of new possibilities as a freelancer.  I also met the young world class athlete, Stephanie Wicksell, who is sponsored by Nike.  I always find photographing exceptional athletes inspiring, but Stephanie is extra special.  She somehow seems more gazelle than human, extremely light limbed, and her champion DNA is chock-filled with potential.  Subsequent to the shoot her father - Ray Wicksell - asked me to represent Stephanie and I quickly got her exposure in two magazines and counting.  But this was another area and another possibility that had emerged whilst on the road.

In Bloemfontein, another radical experience was waiting for me.  I went in pursuit of material of an artist known as Vader Claerhout, who is famous in the Free State.  In that singular day traipsing around the backyards of Free State towns I'd never visited before, I discovered a particularly special human being, who left an imprint not only on the landscape, but on the psyche.  I have lived in the Free State for much of my life, and for much of it wanted to be elsewhere.  But these days I find the penetrable expanses peaceful and calming.  I enjoy the lack of the human presence.  In Claerhout I saw the beauty and suffering of the Free State captured within a divine interpretation.  More than anything, Claerhout's celebration of life's color, and diversity, the beauty in the everyday, is what really touched me.

I also had the opportunity while I was in Bloemfontein for much needed bonding with my family, especially my sister, who is one of the top 3 students in design in Architecture at Free State university.  Building is in the blood of the van der Leek's, going back several generations.  I studied it and although my circuitous path has taken me into photography and writing, I often revert back to the importance of urbanism, and being deliberate rather than random about our living arrangements.  Some of my recent writing reflects this. My father and I did the Claerhout trip together; what made it interesting was that he had met Claerhout and bought paintings from the artist himself several years after my grandfather had bought his three children, including my father, each a painting.  Claerhout is an impressive human being in that he gave completely of himself, and as a freelancer, it is hard to find a more solid figure to be inspired by.  He came from Belgium and made a success in the rural Free State during Apartheid.  And everybody loved him.

Much more happened in the 3-4 weeks while I was on tour, some of which I won't reveal just now, but the most potent realisation was probably that I am now successfully making a go of the freelance life.  It has taken a few months to build a regular routine of work and to develop a steady-ish income, and of course it is incredibly satisfying to see so much progress in such a short period.  I need to continue to leverage my success, and I am certainly nowhere near my ultimate destination, but it is gratifying to realise that I am starting to hit the mark more and more often.  I cast my mind back to a conversation I had with another freelancer some readers may have heard of, Gus Silber.  When I spoke to him of freelancing, a vocation I considered a little far fetched in practise, he said that I had the advantage of more than one skill to rely one.  This has certainly helped, because I am not sure if writing alone would have gotten me off to such a rapid start, or, to be fair, photography on its own.  Both activities are very me, but the photography helps me to get out of the house, something I am loathe to do when I am 'in the zone' writing-wise.

I must admit, at the same time, that social media has empowered my efforts to a large extent, giving me massive exposure to editors and other industry players that would otherwise have taken years to get to know via ordinary social mechanisms.

My plans going forward are to return to Bloemfontein, a choice I have made with surprisingly little resistance.  In fact, as I sit here writing, I am eager to be in the Free State.  Perhaps it is the Cape winter, perhaps it is the immediately company I have kept here, but being away has infused me with vigor, inspiration and a brand new motivation.  What is somewhat problematic, and unknown at this time, is that I intended launching an Artists Winelands tour, and moving back to the Free State now poses additional questions on how to launch that.  It is possible that I might begin with an Artists Free State tour instead, focusing on Claerhout, and based on the success of this smaller enterprise, branch out to the Cape.  I had hoped I could rely on the iniatives of a photographic safari couple, but I sense more fear rather than the will to try.

I am aiming to make a gradual transition to Bloemfontein from Cape Town. However this may be too much to hope for as efforts are taking place, actively, at the present moment, to expedite my evacuation.  I don't have much of an appetite for dirty tricks and the sort of white trash behaviour associated with trying to make a place unlivable.  Even so, I do still have a few commitments in Cape Town, including scheduled interviews, a hotel review in Montagu, and a meeting with ASPO-SA on the 30th that I'm disinclined to miss.  I suppose upon my exit I will dump some of my possessions behind again, my bed for starters.  Hopefully I will be able to find a use for my surfboard.  I'm looking forward to a new chapter in the Free State, in the company of genuine friends and family, and a special someone else that I will still tell you about.

Movie Review: Green Lantern

Lantern is strong-willed and imaginative, but sometimes dim - by Nick van der Leek

Almost immediately green lantern feels like a dud.  This is because it is hard to warm to an alien opening character, let along a slew of 'em.  So from the moment the lights go out, Lantern seems to shimmer in an unnatural light, and not in a good way.  Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan also seems a touch too quirky for a superhero.  His glowing green outfit and Prince Valiant mask actually make one chuckle initially, which the filmmakers apparently anticipated. I read a lot of comics as a kid, and the Green Lantern I liked worked alongside Supes or Batman, or the Justice League.  Some of the comic legacy plays off on a faraway world, something I found too exotic for my taste, and the idea of an army of Green Lantern's simply dilutes the impact, or necessity, of a human one.

Thor, I felt, pulled off the other-world trick far better than Green Lantern does.  Still,  somewhere inside all the rollicking high jinx it is simply a pleasant, no enjoyable, afternoon's entertainment.
For much of this flick, the Lantern superhero fares fair to middling.  Fighting a giant space glob is somehow not a very compelling dual either.  That said, the flick seems to find its wavelength in the last act.  There is a build-up, you see, of this idea of will-power versus fear, and the flick does demonstrate this in a way that resonates, that is inspiring, and deeply satisfying.  Surprisingly so after such a faint, flickering start.  Reynolds also appears to gain strength and resolve.  And the first act introduces us essentially to what happens in the last, again, quite successfully.  Green Lantern is not bad, but it's far from excellent.  Although it is outclassed by X-Men, Thor and the rest, it isn't a flop.  Let's hope the franchise gets better and more brilliant.

Score: 7/10