Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Eskom Rant

In which nothing particularly new is said about the situation, no great answers are provided, and the tone of the debate is not raised to any great height.

That we have a power crisis is a major problem, and shows poor planning. That we have a crisis, and no particularly coherent response from the warning signs in 2006, is an example of poor planning.

Several things that have struck me during the current situation:
  • A scheduled power cut that doesn't happen is almost as bad for productivity as a power cut.
  • Eskom ain't at all good about providing information about why things go bad - their press releases are appalling. "We need to load shed, tough cookies" basically.
  • This leads to lots of rumours (X% of the generating capacity off-line, so much power exported to other countries, etc, etc.), and the lack of information from Eskom makes the denials implausible.
  • Unfortunately, the people jumping up and down about the rumours most ardently (the DA and Solidarity stand out here) aren't plausible either, so it's really hard to good any feeling on what the heck is going on
  • WTF is up with poweralert's trend pages. The displayed historical trend changes radically over quite short periods of time.
  • While the working laptop is nice, until everything that connects me to the Internet at iTL is also on various long-lived battery backups, I can only work at about half capacity during a power failure. When did I become so reliant on Google and other online services?
  • Why is iTL listed as both iThemba Labs and Cyclotron in the load shedding schedule? It makes no sense.
  • Although I finally found a real personal use case for searching pdf's. Pretty much every other document I deal with, I need to read the entire thing, and, since most are academic papers with figures, I usually use the figures to navigate if I need to find something again.
  • Considering the number of power outages, I'm surprised more of the hardware I maintain hasn't died.
  • Discovering I mis-set my alarm clock after yet another power failure was an unpleasant surprise.
  • I need new UPS's for some of the Stellenbosch machines.
  • I badly need new UPS's for home.
  • Why is it going to take so long to build another power station? There is surely lots of scope for just throwing extra resources at the project (it's not software after all)
  • Aren't we due to have the pebble bed reactor come online around 2013 anyway?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Toy

I have a rather old laptop. Considering that I acquired it at the end of 2001, it's served me exceedingly well, and proved rather robust. All good things must come to and end, and, although I've kept the laptop alive despite a gradually failing hard-drive for some time, the screen, which never quite recovered from water damage due to being caught in some rather heavy rain on the bike, eventually gave up the ghost.

Thus I have a new, shiny, fast toy. I acquired a Fujitsu-Siemens Li1718 laptop (dual-core 1.78Ghz Pentium, 160GB harddisk, ATI graphics, etc) (pictures here). Overall, a very nice shiny toy.

My home desktop machine is still marginally more powerful, but, considering I only spent 7000 rand on the laptop, and I spent slightly more than that on the desktop machine 18 months ago, it's quite a testament to how technology prices have continued to fall.

Installing Debian was quite painless - The latest etch installer had minimal trouble, and upgrading to lenny was completely painless, thanks to doing it at campus, with a nice fast local mirror available (I've not been tracking testing for a while, so I thought this was a good time to start doing so again). The only thing not working out of the box is the wireless network card, but there are patches for madwifi floating around, so hopefully that will fix itself in due course, and I'm not such a heavy wireless user that it really matters. The graphics card is currently not accelerating OpenGL stuff, but the current work on the DRI drivers should solve that fairly soon. There was a time when I would have booted into the windows partition just to check things, but these days my confidence in Linux's hardware support is such that I no longer bother, so I honestly don't know what was pre-installed on the machine.

And, with Eskom's current failure to provide the country with reliable power, it is nice to once again have a machine with a battery life that can be measured in more than seconds (Of course, this means I lose an excuse not to do work, but the toy's worth it.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hermanus Hike

Over the weekend, I went hiking with Simon, Adrianna and Simon's Mom Pat in the Vogelgat Nature reverse near Hermanus. Overall, a most enjoyable weekend (hopfully I'll have the photos up by the weekend (edit: now up at my dip site). Observations from the experience
  • I'm no longer hiking fit. Since was never an issue when I worked at UCT, I blame the lack of hills in iThemba LABS buildings.
  • Guy's Pool was worth the hike, though.
  • It's a very pretty nature reverse
  • I'm probably overly addicted to trying to construct Panoramas at the moment.
  • Consequently, I could use a larger memory card for my camera
  • Being far from it makes me realise just how much a fan of indoor plumbing I am.
  • I need to find a tame botanist to drag along on such trips. Identifying things as "pretty flower" lacks accuracy but I don't want to invest the effort into learning how to identify plants personally.
  • The people who made the paths did a truly impressive amount of work.
  • They weren't kidding about the slippery rocks, either.
  • Hopefully, my next water bottle won't have the cap disintegrate mid-hike.
  • Weather changes fast on mountains (I knew this, but it was a reminder)
  • Next time, I'll take a Bookcrossings book to leave at the hut.
  • There will be a next time, if for no other reason than I couldn't get good photos of the Main falls because of rain on the Sunday.
  • The wind on the way back from Hermanus was impressive - the rainbow was pretty.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


On Friday, I defrosted the fridge in the lab.

It's a sad comment on the state of the fridge (regrettably, I didn't think to take my camera) that actually achieving what I did on Friday, which was to get almost all the ice out of the fridge, represents a significant achievement, and occupied a considerable chunk of my time. Anyway, the fridge is now again usable.

Probably the frustration of spending most of my day wrestling with a fridge is why I got involved in debugging a postscript issue on #clug - for whatever reason, evince doesn't properly render postscript without the %%Page: comment deliminators - once we figured that out, everything worked a lot better.