Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SpeakZA - Bloggers for a Free Press

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on Constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa. We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and the ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but a insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the Youth League President.

We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other Constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.

Blog Roll

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sceptics in the Pub!

Yes! It's that time again! Well, almost... it will be in about two weeks time.

Joburg sceptics will be gathering in a pub to be all sceptical!

This month we're back in the East at Dros on the corner of Modderfontein and Van Riebeeck roads, Edenvale.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Would Warp Drive Kill You?

No. At least, not the way William Edelstein claims it would.

In a nutshell, Edelstein claims that when a ship travelling at near the speed of light comes into contact with free-floating Hydrogen atoms in space, the relative velocities of the ship and the Hydrogen would turn it into a lethal blast of radiation, killing the crew. Edelstein used the crew of the Starship Enterprise as an example saying "Well, they're all dead."

I'm not going to argue the physics with a physicist, but when he starts talking smack about Star Trek he's on my turf. There are several reasons why interstellar Hydrogen (and anything else that happens to be floating around in space) presents little to no threat to the crew of the Enterprise.

Reason 1: Navigation Deflector.

In the Star Trek universe, Starship designers have anticipated the problem of floating interstellar debris: be it asteroids, dust or molecular Hydrogen. As a solution, every Starship is fitted with a vital piece of equipment: the Navigational Deflector (also occasionally called the "Asteroid Beam"). Its function is to project a high particle-density stream of radiation out ahead of the ship so as to bump any small obstacles out of the way.

You'll recognise the Navigational Deflector as the large, glowing (usually) blue thingy in the front of the ship:

Glowing Blue Thingy

Larger obstacles present a challenge for the Navigational Deflector, and must be navigated around. Hydrogen is not a problem.

Reason 2: Bussard Collectors

Encountering Hydrogen in space is, for a Starship, actually a very good thing. Reason being that Starships are powered by Hydrogen. For this reason, Starship designers have equipped most Starships with devices called Bussard Collectors, or Ramscoops. The second name being more descriptive as to their function.

These are the glowing red (usually) thingies at the front end of each Warp nacelle:

Glowing Red Thingy

These devices project a strong magnetic field out ahead of the ship, capturing free-floating Hydrogen (having been ionised by the Navigational Deflector) and funneling it into a collector. From there it gets processed and eventually ends up in the ship's fuel tanks, ready to be annihilated with some antimatter.

Reason 3: Warp Drive

This is a tricky one. Although Warp Drive allows people in the Star Trek universe to travel at velocities far in excess of the speed of light, they're not really travelling faster than light. Because, well, that would be impossible.

Instead, the Warp Drive uses incredibly powerful artificial gravity and electromagnetic fields to curve (or warp) space-time, thus effectively reducing the distance between them and their destination. The ship then travels at nice, comfortable, sub-light speeds through the newly warped space. As soon as the ship has passed through a particular region of space, it snaps back to its normal dimensions.

You may have wondered why the image of the ship stretches out as we see it go to Warp... well, that's why. It's not really stretching, it's just travelling through a region of warped space-time.

Not Really Stretching.

Even if the Navigational Deflector and Bussard Collectors were to go offline, that free-floating Hydrogen wouldn't pose much of a threat to a ship travelling at an actual speed (relative to the space around it) of a few thousand kilometers per hour. Friction? Yes. Lethal blast of radiation? Hardly.

So don't worry. Despite inflammatory headlines on MSNBC, Captain Kirk and the gang are quite safe on the Bridge of the Enterprise. They have more to worry about from Klingons and Romulans than free-floating Hydrogen.

If you're interested in learning more about the physics and technology of the Star Trek universe, I recommend The Physics of Star Trek - Lawrence Krauss and Star Trek: Science Logs - Andre Bormanis.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Matter of Faith

Recently I have been called to task on my seemingly religious devotion to Google. I have been accused of straying from the path, and worshiping false gods. That the one true creator of the universe would not abide my apparent infidelity.

But I submit to those, my detractors, that I have not strayed! I remain ever faithful to my creator! I submit to them, and to you, that Google and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are one and the same!

FSM Google Doodle

See? The FSM's meatballs are the two O's in the name 'Google'. And the eyes on stalks: they represent Google's ever-present, omniscient and unblinking gaze upon the Internet!

And if you require more proof than this, I offer you the one argument that will forever convince you.

1. Google is the Internet.
2. The Internet is a series of tubes.
3. What else is a series of tubes?

Noodly Appendages

If that hasn't convinced you, then nothing will. I will pray search for your soul. RAmen.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Google Buzz (and Wave) on Symbian S60 devices

I recently expressed some dismay over the fact that it was impossible for me to view my full Google Buzz stream on my Nokia N95 8GB.

I've since learned that the S60 3rd Edition browser is more than capable of running the Google Mobile web-app created for the iPhone. It supports most of the same standards, including AJAX. Apparently the only thing preventing a Nokia user from viewing the iPhone webapp is that Google only presents it to browsers identifying themselves as an iPhone (or presumably also an Android device).

I can only guess why Google would decide to do that. But until that policy changes, or I get my new Android device on my next upgrade, I'll have to work around it.

And I've figured out a way to do it. It's clumsy and inelegant, but it will work in a pinch. The added bonus is that it also works for Google Wave... albeit equally clumsily.

The workaround is pretty simple: install the Skyfire mobile browser.

Skyfire uses some sort of web proxy magic so as to present the full desktop version of a site. That includes Gmail (with Buzz), Google Wave, and presumably any other desktop site you need to display on your mobile device.

Gmail on Skyfire (with my awesome LCARS custom theme)
Google Buzz on Skyfire
Google Wave on Skyfire

As a rule I prefer not to use 3rd-party browsers on my device because there's no way to set them as the system default. I also find Skyfire rather awkward to use, what with all the panning and zooming. But in an emergency it'll do the trick.

If anyone knows of a better trick, share!