The answer to everything

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How to Get A Life 2: Switching off the Electronics

Remember those good old days when you were a kid?

I grew up in Zimbabwe. The first time I saw a computer was when I was 12 and we had moved to South Africa. The only TV in the area belonged to a neighbour, and we watched it perhaps once every few months if there was something spectacular on. We did, however, tune in to the children's hour on radio once a day - at the end of the day.

What on earth did we do with our time?


We all had bikes and rode everywhere - even to friends houses miles away. We made secret tracks through fields of long grass, and navigated dry river beds. We rode to school every day, and back again. We rode to the ice-cream place for cheap, huge ice-creams on hot days.

We built forts in trees and grass. We climbed huge boulders (none of us would leave home without our pocket knife and roll of rope - girls included). We climbed trees. And fell out of them. We swam in flooded roadside ditches after thunderstorms. We hardly ever wore shoes.

We played cricket in the front yard - the whole family. We visited eccentric neighbours (mine was a lovely old colonial woman who had travelled the world, and had stories to tell and a house filled with treasures). We experimented with garden plants, and cooked up the edible ones on a campfire in the back yard. We built teepees and forts and carved soapstone (and gouged out everlasting scars in our hands). We went camping and learnt to track (and run from) wild African beasts (like rhinos...). We had picnics with other families at the dam. We hunted down interesting stones and plants and goodies found next to the road.

We read books and played with Lego on the days when you simply couldn't go out. We had dolls and cars and rollerskates. We found that "ice-skating" a polished wood-floor passage in our socks worked pretty well. We discovered static electricity with the help of the lounge carpet and a metal-framed door. We found static electricity glowed in the dark...!

We had dogs and friends and the freedom to roam. School holidays were spent outside, rain or shine - not inside exercising our fingers on a PS2...

These days, if the power goes off the kids are bored. The adults don't know what to do with themselves. The TV is a silent box, the computer just a blank screen. Nothing electronic works. Heaven forbid we'd have to use our imaginations to amuse ourselves!

But here's a thought. Get a life. Make as if you're living in the Dark Ages and switch off everything that runs on electricity/batteries to entertain you.

Get outdoors, get dirty, get a scraped knee and a few stiff muscles. Be a kid again - and show your kids what childhood should look like. Get to know your neighbours and stay out watching stars after dark.

You may never want to switch that electronic stuff on ever again. Except, perhaps, to read this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How to Get A Life

Step 1:
Be a South African. An average South African in the average-income group.

Step 2:
Have access to the 3 SABC television channels, with good reception. Have no access to anything else (DSTv or MNet pay channels, nor ETv with any semblance of no-snow).

Step 3:
Watch in horror as they change all your favourite tv shows to other, inaccessible times - or remove them completely - within the space of a single week.

Step 4:
Turn off the tv, save electricity (which will also prevent prolonged blackouts during winter), and find something else to do with your time. Like, Live!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Leave the light on for me!

No, I'm not advocating a waste of electricity. In fact, I'm pushing for the direct opposite.

Here in South Africa we have recently been plagued by black-outs as the population uses more electricity than can be produced. Along with that, there is a problem with cable theft - the copper in them being recycled for cash. All of which have got a whole lot of people in a huff.

Another, seemingly unconnected problem is the country drying out. Farms are barren deserts as water shortages reach critical. No rain, no grass for the beasts, no income - many are simply giving up and leaving their farms.

Now, imagine if you will those two problems combined into one simple solution.

I'm talking Solar Power!

Take those empty farms baking in the hot sun, cover them in solar panels, and start powering up the nation!

Add in solar panels on every rooftop of the city, and we may never have another blackout.

Then implement a code of conduct - rules for power use. Require switch-off in all office blocks after-hours, fines for over-use in households, all shops in the land only stocking energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and computers. Bring down the prices as they flood the market and become the only option. Phase out the use of outdated electrics (and add in a littl wind power on the side). Before you know it, problems solved, and earth saved just a little.

Easy, isn't it? So why is the government not doing it? Why isn't ANYONE doing it?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Comfort AND support!

WARNING! Guys - this is a "girl's" post, and it has to do with bra's. Now I know you all love the Victoria's Secret shows, but this post might have just that teeny-weeny little bit too much info in it. You have been warned! :)


Ladies, I don't know about you, but the struggle to find a bra that fits, supports and still feels great is ongoing. Firstly, it's rather embarrassing to ask a shop assistant to measure your "widest" bits - and then when you've got the right size it seems every make interprets that differently. Straps end up too tight or loose, seams make inroads into your skin, underwires start creeping out of their moorings and pushing up to see daylight in your carefully-crafted neckline.

And for me the latest in a string of bra-hassles seems to be the "nipple" issue. Latest brand that fits well squashes them all day into oblivion, leaving them tender and painful when the offending piece of underwear is removed at night and they get to poke their heads out again!

So - how about a nipple-friendly bra? Both comfort AND support?

I'm thinking one that fits well below the bust with a broad enough band, supports the droopy bits in the front, and then has a depressed, cushioned area for the pointy bits to reside in comfort - bubble-wrap type padding would be nice. (We could always have one with cut-outs in strategic places to let them nipples swing free up front, but that would result in some interesting effects on our apparel should we become too cold - or something! :) )

Come on, Victoria's Secret. We do really like the good-looking, lacy, sexy things - but sometimes we just want to be comfortably supported. Care to finally create something for us non-goddesses?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Parent/Teacher/Kid Communicator

If you're a parent, this is a familiar scenario:

Your child comes home after a long day at school, kicks off his shoes and parks in front of the TV. Later on, you ask what homework he has. He uses his "phone a friend" option to find out, because he forgot to write it down in class. Friend tells him (if friend wrote it down himself, if not a network of phone-a-friends ensues...), he goes to do it - only to discover he's forgotten all the necessary books/dictionaries/calculators/whatever at the school. Of course, you didn't check on this when you picked him up, and the school building closed hours ago, so the kid doesn't do his homework and ends up in detention.

Next morning, as he rushes out the door, he informs you that you were supposed to send something or do something or sign something that has to go with him now. Or he rushes out the door and leaves his PT clothes behind, or some other essential to the day's education. And ends up either in detention again, or writing lines until kingdom come. Which makes him all the more grumpy and school-hating the next day, the teacher p'd off at his (your) lack of competency, and turns the educational experience into one huge hate-fest!

So here's the plan.

Each kid gets a student ID card. Within that a microchip is embedded, identifying each kid as who they say they are (fingerprint recognition based). At the entry to the school and to each class is a scanner through which the card gets swiped. This tells you excatly who is where, and can also block access to those who don't belong. Call it "automated roll-call" if you will. And that saves on paper and ink and calling out who's present. Electronic record stored of attendance, no problem.

Simple enough, you say, these things already exist.

Ah, but add in a few extra features. As each kid swipes out at the end of the school day, homework is noted on his card-chip. With a couple of barcodes/chips on his books, the scanner may also be able to check his bookbag for appropriate material to complete the day's tasks. Deny exit if it's not there, so the kid can go pick up what he needs from his desk before leaving.

And then add in a centralized communication system. The school can communicate important info via that chip - just load it on the system during the day. The parent has a small scanner at home that reads it, perhaps linked to their home computer, or stand-alone. Individual notes from teacher to parent can run the same course. Reminders to take this, do that, upcoming events - all loaded electronically and accessible.

All good and well, but how do you know the parent's seen it?

Simple. Return-marking each item by the parent, using a pin number, fingerprint recognition or other non-copyable method. Back at school, as the student scans in, the data is collected and centralized. Teachers can see who has had their homework "signed", who has handed over "notes" to be read, and if there are any comments back from the parents.

Nice, hey?

Of course, in the real world kids lose their ID cards, use them as weapons and/or toys, and have learnt how to hack into the computer systems....

But a system like this would make the school/parent/kid system a whole lot easier.

Fuel-Free Car

I'm still researching possibilities on this one, but it doesn't hurt to dream. Does it?

With the rising fuel costs and the planet rapidly running out of fossil-fuel options, the obvious choice is to look at alternatives for transport and all those things we currently require coal/oil for. Main culprit? Our cars. Commuters. Hours in the traffic jams. And don't even get me started on greenhouse gasses and environmental damage!

So a fuel-free car would be the ultimate ideal. And here's a way we could perhaps manage to do just that.

We've all seen solar-powered cars. Those low, silent types that cruise the Outback on their annual race. Looking a bit like large insects, and coated in the maximum carrying-capacity of solar panels. All good and well, but hardly practical for day-to-day travel.

One guy's stuck some solar panels on his Prius's roof. Good start, but the car still needs regular fuel to run. There's a lot of car surface going to waste too, but I'm not going to be picky! ;)

But what if we can cover the entire surface of the car in solar panelling? A bit like this handbag - a mass of solar-collecting technology. Or, even better, will someone please invent photovoltaic paint??? I don't know about you, but my car spends all day outside, and all it collects is a darned hot steering wheel and butt-burning seats. Imagine if that energy could be harnessed, just like solar roof panels do, and stored to be used later.

Now imagine a light-weight car, the body made of plastic instead of metal, so you wouldn't need that much energy to get it in motion or keep it there. Minimal electronics, which don't require power to run (sing instead of listening to music!:) ). Maximum efficiency in tyre design, seating, windows (didn't someone have windows that also collected solar energy, somewhere?).

And finally, the clincher. Add in a nice little wind-power turbine at the front, where you'd usually put your radiator. The faster you go, the more wind-power you generate - all of which adds to your solar power collection, storing up the energy required to get from point A to point B with minimal fuss.

So it may not go very fast. No problem. Less accidents. You save on medical expenses, and you get to actually view your scenery as you pass. Besides - who really wants a car that goes 0-100 in 6 seconds or less? Where the heck are you going to use that other than an airport? Practicality, people, practicality!

I'm pretty sure that all this energy collection would mean you could run the car on nothing but the sun and the wind. Both of which we generally curse instead of actually using to our advantage.

So there you have it. My brilliant idea for a fuel-free car. And if you actually create it, and in turn it makes you millions, be sure to give me both credit and good part of your profits.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Renewable Fuel/Energy: Part 1 - Wind Power

The UK government is putting into place measures that ensure their future in energy & fuel is secure. And I have to wonder why more governments aren't doing this.

There's a whole lot of political talk about climate change, and the urgency of adjusting how we use the planet - yet that's where it remains. Talk. No real action. The government is complacent, sitting back in their comfortable chairs and waiting for disaster to strike before they do anything. Or so it seems.

They could be doing things a whole lot differently.

Take wind-power for example.

Here in the Cape area of South Africa, we get a very strong wind that blows from one direction in the summer, and the opposite direction in the winter. Without fail. Generally, it wreaks havoc in winter and irritates the heck out of us in summer - but what if we saw it as a huge opportunity, not to be missed?

There are plenty of open tracts of land in the wind-swept region (one right behind my house, convieniently situated for both wind directions!). It's a simple matter to put up wind turbines at strategic spots and harness all that moving-air power currently going to waste (the one behind my house could take at least 5 of these, but is currently not used at all, for anything).

And yet, our short-sighted government has seen fit to stamp out attempts to do this. I know of only one farmer who has finally gained permission to put one up, as an "experiment", but other initiatives have failed.

There is a huge drought gripping the land - many farmers have given up and gone away, leaving dry, dust-blown, empty lands behind. What about turning those into clean power for the nation? Don't wait for rain - simply harness the already-there wind!

Granted, there are wind-free days, and cities use up a lot of power (fodder for a later post) - we may have need for a few alternatives (and those will be blogged on soon, you can count on it!) to cover the gaps. But wind-power is a viable alternative.

Sure, marching columns of huge windmills across the landscape might not be to everyone's view-fancy - but if they are benefitting from cheaper, cleaner, more efficient energy supply, it's likely to convince them pretty quickly to reconsider.

So what's stopping us, other than short-sightedness? Well, the inevitable red tape. Some days I wonder what would happen if we removed the red tape from government. Would they still have a job?

More from the UK. Home windmills can make you money! But better if they're produced at a cheap enough price, and made easy to self-install.

::update 2::
...and if you run out of land-space, you can always put your windmills in the sea!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Affordable Housing

This is what housing in many parts of South Africa looks like - tin shanties knocked together with whatever's lying around, from cardboard to wood to zinc sheeting. (image from here) It's a HUGE problem, especially for the government - who keep promising "affordable housing" for all - and end up producing little boxes of cement-brick and tin living space. All looking the same, all on bare dust-swept ground, not much better than the shacks and many of them poorly-built.

I know a couple of friends of mine who are builders, who have offered their workers the leftover supplies from a project to go build a proper house for themselves. These guys have the skills to do so, but refuse the offer - building a permanent dwelling will incur taxes, so they make do with a shack that leaks and floods and doesn't have an inch of insulation, one among thousands (millions?) of others.

But hey, government - here's a solution to your housing issues! Well, actually a couple of them, as well as a free idea to decrease certain types of land-fill thrown in for good measure.

Firstly - butt-kick the guys who are pocketing the millions you set aside in your election promises. Get rid of them, FIRE them (don't re-assign them to another department), hire folk from the needy areas to oversee building in their community. (Another free idea to cut unemployment!)

And then look at your options.

You're paying millions for labour and materials that are sub-standard and put together slap-dash. There are other ways and other materials to use.

Ever heard of slip-form masonry? Throw a foundation, then use moulds to pile up stones, fill the between-stone bits with cement, let sit a few hours, then move the moulds and do it all again. If the woman in the linked article can do it - ALONE - than surely your "workers" can get it right? Then again, maybe not. I see more of them sleeping next to the side of the road than actually working... except when the supervisor stops by, at which point frantic activity takes place!

If the workers aren't working, hand it over to the potential home owner. Give them a plot and a plan, a little instruction, a bag or two of cement and let them at it. And for goodness sake, don't try to dictate with arb construction laws how it has to look, exactly. Let them decide what they need, and how it should be laid out.

Ah, I hear you say - but we have no stones here, it's all just million-year-old beach sand from when this area was flooded by the sea!

But there, dear government, I have a solution too! Remember all those old buildings you bashed down, and all that rubble (bricks and cement) you piled into the landfills? Now, picture each clump of rubble as a stone - fill up those wall moulds with rubble, add your cement, and away you go! Just leave out the rubbish - hey, sorting rubble can be a whole new employment option...

See? Not that difficult - and it even looks good once it's done. It's unlikely to flood or be blown away by the winter winds, and you sure as heck can't burn it down easily (solving the fire-hazard problem of the current "accommodation" which kills hundreds every year)!

Not convinced? Well then there's always straw-bale building. But I realize your space is limited, land is in high demand - and straw bales do tend to make for thicker walls than the norm. Also, I suspect not much straw grows around here.

There's the sand-bag version - you WERE complaining of all sand and no stones a few paragraphs back, weren't you?

And you know all those papers blowing around in the veld? Well - use them in papercrete and get rid of them once and for all, will ya? Apparently not even the recycling companies have enough demand for them to accept our leftover papers, so here's where you can source them from.

(While you're at it - how about turning those plastic bags into something useful too?)

See? There's LOTS of affordable housing out there, dear government, if you would only get stuck into research, REALLY look at the alternatives to what you've been doing (hasn't worked, has it?) and actually START.

Let me know if I can help!