Thursday, August 31, 2006

Corporate lessons from nursery school

I don’t know about you, but I frequently start feeling drowsy in the mid afternoon. It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing, what I’ve had to eat or how much sleep I’ve had, at around 2:30 every day I start feeling drowsy.

It seems to go away again, and by 4 I’m wide awake. But no matter what I do, I don’t seem to be able to avoid that afternoon slump. And while it’s upon me, my ability to concentrate, and thus be productive, is severely diminished. I’m forced to do things like Sudoku puzzles or blogging just to keep my eyes open.

Assuming that everyone else encounters the same phenomenon, I propose the following: every office building should have a Nap Room on each floor. (The Nap Room would only be for employees who have to work in public areas like “open-plan” offices or cube-farms. People who have private offices can simulate these conditions without stepping out.)

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a room the size of a large office with some comfy couches in it. It should be darkened with curtains or blinds, and preferably sound-proofed, with some relaxing music being played all the time. (Private office workers could be provided with a comfy chair and relaxing music CDs to play on their computers.)

Then, whenever you’re sitting at your desk and start feeling drowsy, you can pop over to the Nap Room and have a little snooze. After a bit you can wake up and grab a cup of coffee on the way back to your desk, refreshed and more productive.

In fact, I would gladly accept a 1 or 2 hour extension to my working hours if I was allowed either a designated or informal nap-time during the day.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A skit

“Order! Order! I hereby call the 917th quasi-annual meeting of the Arbitrary Semantics Association to order!

First and only item on the agenda: Defining the word ‘people’.

As you all know, dear fellows, it has been debated for years now what qualifies as “people”. The generally accepted definition has been that any and all individuals of the species Homo Sapiens Sapiens are people. However, it has been suggested that this definition is inaccurate as other naturally occurring objects such as non-human animals, plants and rocks could also be considered humans from certain points of view.

Despite the fact that we all agreed last week that reptiles, mammals, fish and insects (but not birds) qualified as the new class of people called “Stupid People”, it has since come to our attention that that term is, in fact, already in use by some anthropologists to describe a human sub-set.

Therefore, we hereby decree that the following criteria must apply in order for an object to be classified as ‘people’:

1. It must speak French as a second or third language.
2. It must have been born on one of the following days:

Second-language French-speaking objects born on Thursday cannot be classified as ‘people’, as they have freckles.


Thank you all.

Meeting adjourned.”

(In case you require an explanation, this skit is designed to express my distaste and newfound lack of enthusiasm regarding the whole “Pluto isn’t a planet anymore” extravaganza. Meh.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I reckon it's about time I got back to my language-learning hobby. I've neglected it for a while, and as T-rex says "WHAT COULD BE COOLER THAN THAT?"

Anyone out there keen on helping me revive 'Language Club'?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A bad shopping experience

For my birthday, I was lucky enough to be given a couple of Exclusive Books gift vouchers. It's awesome, because if you look at my wishlist, there's a list of books in there as long as my arm.

Of course a bunch of them are books about Star Trek, but most of them aren't. They're the works by people who have inspired and guided me on my path in crossing over from a faith-based to a reality-based world view: people like Phil Plait, James Randi, Carl Sagan, Scott Adams and Michael Shermer.

I'm forever coming across references to those books in my online travels, so intrigued am I that I would very much like to buy and read them.

So, with gift vouchers clutched in my grubby little fists, I trekked off to my local branch at Sandton City. This particular one is one of their flagship branches… it’s big. Like, a lot big.

I spent about an hour in the store before I was able to find just one of the many books I was looking for: The Science of Good and Evil – Michael Shermer. And it wasn’t where you would expect to find it either. I would look for something like that in a section marked “Science”, “Psychology” or even “Philosophy”. But that’s not where I found it. I found it under “Esoteric”. Esoteric? On the same bloody shelf as the lunatic ravings of Zecharia Sitchin!

It was no surprise to me that it was there. This shop has a “Science” section made up of three racks. About half of it is actually about science… and even then, only indirectly. That half consists mostly of biographies of people like Darwin and Einstein… clearly not interesting enough to fit into the “Biography” section.

The other half is decidedly not science. It’s all kinds of crap disguised to look like science… nonsense about alien abductions, intelligent design and all manner of woo-woo rubbish masquerading as “Quantum Mechanics”.

The “Esoteric” section consists of nine racks. NINE! I know the woo-woo fringe are prolific writers, but so are scientists and sceptics! If I was looking for a book by crackpots like David Icke, Sylvia Browne or Neal Donald Walsh, I would’ve been in book heaven. But because I happen to prefer a perspective grounded in reality, I have very little to choose from.

I can’t really blame Exclusive Books. They’re a retailer – they make their money by selling people what they want. It’s not their fault if they can’t sell “Flim Flam!” or “Bad Astronomy” to a public who chooses to believe in the mystical powers of John Edward or that there really is a human face on Mars.

The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind. --H. L. Mencken

It is at times like that when I am reminded of just how true that is. Standing in that store, looking at the carnage of reason before me, I felt so sad, and so very, very alone.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Here's a question

If Astrology is for real (it isn't, but let's pretend that it could be, for the sake of argument) how would my horoscope work if I were to spend my retirement living on Mars, as I intend to?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Corporate Slavery

I recently listened to George Carlin’s latest audio-book “When will Jesus bring the pork-chops?”

I recommend it to anyone. His refreshingly cynical and off-beat world-views are entertaining and thought-provoking. And that’s exactly what happened: it provoked a thought in me.

One of the issues he harps on endlessly in the book is that of euphemistic language: the current trend of euphemising just about anything in order to make uncomfortable subjects easier to deal with, and also to sound more important, specifically within the context of the political and corporate worlds.

Not just the tired old ones like saying someone ‘passed away’ or a woman being ‘on the red robot’. Those are fine. George was referring to what I like to call “Corporate Quasi-English”.

I could carry on about this for days, but I think George sums it all up quite nicely. So I recommend you go along to and buy it.

However there is one euphemism that I’d like to talk about now. It’s one that’s used far too prolifically in corporate South Africa, and one that, I believe, has resulted in a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

It’s when people, specifically pointy-haired managers and business consultants, start referring to employees as “resources”.

“We’ll need a such-and-such resource assigned to that task.”
“I have a team of dedicated resources working on that issue.”

And so on. defines resource as follows:

1. Something that can be used for support or help: The local library is a valuable resource.
2. An available supply that can be drawn on when needed. Often used in the plural.
3. The ability to deal with a difficult or troublesome situation effectively; initiative: a person of resource.
4. Means that can be used to cope with a difficult situation. Often used in the plural: needed all my intellectual resources for the exam.
a. resources The total means available for economic and political development, such as mineral wealth, labor force, and armaments.
b. resources The total means available to a company for increasing production or profit, including plant, labor, and raw material; assets.
c. Such means considered individually.

A resource is a thing. Your resources may include the labour performed by people, as per 5.b. Labour is still a thing though. It’s a service supplied by a person.

Every time my pointy-haired boss calls me a resource I want to punch her in the face. My laptop is a resource. My desk is a resource. My car is a resource. You could even go so far as to say that my time and the knowledge stored in my brain are resources too. But I AM NOT A RESOURCE! I AM A PERSON!

Using a euphemism for people allows pointy-haired managers and business consultants to trivialise them. As soon as you start thinking of people as things or property, it’s suddenly a lot easier to make decisions that could have devastating effects on their lives… they don’t have lives, they’re not people, they’re resources.

It’s hard to make a decision when you’re getting rid of employees, but it’s easy, and really quite sensible to “scale back resource deployment”.

It’s remarkable what atrocities can be justified by calling them by another name. The Nazi’s didn’t call it a holocaust… they called it “Ethnic Cleansing”, or something to that effect. “Cleansing” sounds so nice and sensible doesn’t it? What kind of idiot would oppose the idea of being “cleansed”?

As annoying as it is when pointy-haired boomer bosses start using big words when diminutive ones will suffice, I can put up with it. But as soon as they start trivialising me and addressing me by a term that could just as easily be applied to a truck or a stapler, I take offence.

It may be human arrogance, but I like to think that I am more important that a truck or a stapler. A truck or a stapler would be useless if there was no person to use them.

That’s the distinction between a person and a resource: one uses the other. I don’t like the idea of being used, not by anyone. I’m happy to do things for people, but as soon as I’m being used by someone, I become a tool, a thing, a resource, and I lose my humanity.

I will no longer allow people to rob me of my humanity. This is my new pet issue. From now on, I don’t keep my mouth shut about it anymore. Will you join me in my quest?

What you've missed. Part 2

The next thing that happened was my birthday.

I decided that this year I wanted a low-key, intimate celebration instead of my usual “Let’s do something cool that everyone likes doing but nobody does often enough” plan.

The Most Amazing Girlfriend in the Universe facilitated the whole thing, and ensured that it was all thoroughly enjoyable… plus she spoiled me with some really cool stuff.

(Since many of you forgot about my birthday, please feel free to make use of the “buy me stuff” section on the right-hand side of this page. Scroll down, you’ll see it. If you get me something cool I’ll consider forgiving you.)

We also planned well in advance, and timed it all to coincide with the beginning of two weeks’ leave we took together (which is why I haven’t been blogging).

We decided that we wanted to use the time to go away somewhere, so that’s exactly what we did.

We drove down to Ballito, where we stayed in a lovely little self-catering holiday flat for a week. We were right across from the beach, which we visited regularly. While all you poor saps were shivering with cold and pretending it was snowing up in Joburg, we were lying in the sun watching the dolphins swim past.

It was awesome, except for two things.
1. There is nowhere in Ballito where you can buy a T-shirt saying “Ballito” on it. We considered stopping at one of the larger malls on the way home and getting T-shirts made, but we decided against it. However I did get a necklace with a shark-tooth on it. I’m now, like, totally a surfer. Fully.

2. I made the mistake of ordering a prawn curry at a seafood restaurant. The prawn curries you get in Joburg are quite mild, and usually exquisite. The ones in or near Durban are also exquisite, but most certainly not mild. If you ever find yourself tempted to order a curry of any sort at a restaurant in or near Durban, heed this advice: NOOOOOOOO!

But we eventually decided to come back and go back to work. That may have been a mistake.

Sunrise over the ocean as seen from the balcony of our flat

SALT starts some serious science

SA telescope 'worth its salt' : News - Marvel Movie Line Up : News - Marvel Movie Line Up

Ok, I take it all back. Apparently someone does have some brains...

Iron Man's release will be followed by another Hulk movie (sequel or not, I don't know), as well as a suite of sequels we were expecting:

Spider-Man 3
Fantastic Four 2 (alledgedly featuring the Silver Surfer)
The Punisher 2

Of course the Wolverine movie is coming too, along with some surprises:

Captain America (Sweet!)
Thor (Way sweet!)
Magneto (As a vallain he's awesome, but as the hero?)
Nick Fury (Could be cool)
Namor (AKA The Sub-Mariner, Marvel's answer to Aquaman. Who would want to see that?)
Ant-Man (A second rate hero at best... something different, I suppose)
The Avengers (a group sequel perhaps? Iron Man 2, Captain America 2, Thor 2 and Ant-Man 2 all rolled up together? That would be brilliant! Who else is in the Avengers again?)
Gargoyle (Never heard of him)
Deathlok (Never heard of him either)

I'll sniff around to see if I can find a similar list for DC Comics' properties.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bad Astronomy Blog - Congratulations! It's a planet!

Bad Astronomy Blog - Congratulations! It's a planet!

Well, apparently the people whose job it is to decide what constitutes a planet and what doesn't are currently sitting together in Prague and are about to ratify a revised definition.

For some time it has been disputed whether Pluto could be called a planet. The new definition says it is... it's introduced three new classes of planetary object:
1. Small, distant planets called Plutons
2. Small, closer planets called Dwarf-Planets
3. Small objects that don't qualify as planets (including asteroids and comets) called Small Solar System Bodies.

Under these new definitions Pluto counts as a planet, and so does it's largest moon, Charon. Together they're called a Double Planet. (The reason Pluto-Charon counts as a double planet and Earth-Luna doesn't is pretty complicated. But I'll explain it if you like)

Two other objects also count as planets now: the recently discovered 2003 UB313 (I hope they choose a nicer name soon) and the object formerly known as the largest asteroid in the solar system: Ceres.

That brings the total number of planets in our solar system now to twelve.

Astronomers predict that there may be many more Pluton-class planets in the Kuiper Belt (a region of debris beyond Pluto's orbit) that would also classify as planets under the new definition. As detection techniques and observation technology improve, we may eventually be counting the number of "planets" in our solar system in the millions!

Scientifically speaking it doesn't matter whether an object is called a planet or not, it's all a matter of semantics, but I think this is pretty exciting. It means all the astronomy books on my shelf at home are now out-of-date.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Quick thought

I just got one of those annoying, cutesy, "inspirational" emails. It had the old proverb "Life is a journey, not a destination." all decorated with sickeningly saccarine teddy bears or cherubs or something. I deleted it before I got too good a look at it.

Sorry, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth there.

Anyway, it occurs to me that that proverb is bullshit. If life is the journey, what is the destination? Incontinence? Springs? Death? No thanks!

Life IS the destination. If you're reading this you're already there! You've arrived! Welcome! Make yourself at home! Pull up a chair!

Goddam stupid proverbs. Who makes that shit up anyway?

Please tell your friends

We've got a cottage to rent out now that [he who shall remain nameless] has moved out.

If you know anyone who might be interested, please send them this link:


Monday, August 14, 2006

What you've missed. Part 1

Right, well, it’s been a busy few weeks.

To begin with, I had another accident. Not just a mere bumper-bashing this time… the sort where much swearing ensues and then men with tow-trucks make lots of money from criminal syndicates called ‘Insurance Companies’.

The incident has left me without a car since then (the aforementioned criminal syndicate I subscribe to doesn’t offer the option of a rental car) which has been somewhat of a bind. Fortunately the Most Amazing Girlfriend in the universe has been kind enough to let me share hers, so I haven’t been completely stuck.

But it doesn’t end there. I got a call last week that it was ready to be picked up. Hide drove me over there and there it was, almost good as new (with the new shape bonnet and colour-coded radiator grille nogal).

Upon driving it home, a symphony of grinding and whining noises was accompanied by warning lights and a sudden stiffening of the steering wheel. When we got home, I found a puddle of what turned out to be hydraulic fluid on the ground. The ancillary power belt and come off and apparently nicked the fluid conduit connecting the power steering pump to the fluid reservoir.

So, it had to be towed back to the shop… a seemingly very difficult thing to arrange as the tow truck only arrived to pick it up late this morning. Odd, since the one that towed the car away from the accident scene was there seconds after impact.

So, I’m still without a car. Yay.

I’m tired of writing now. I’ll tell you about the other stuff that happened in Part 2. Maybe.