28 July 2011

MS-DOS is 30 years old today | ExtremeTech

MS-DOS is 30 years old today | ExtremeTech: "Thirty years ago, on July 27 1981, Microsoft bought the rights for QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) from Seattle Computer Products (SCP) for $25,000. QDOS, otherwise known as 86-DOS, was designed by SCP to run on the Intel 8086 processor, and was originally thrown together in just two months for a 0.1 release in 1980. Meanwhile, IBM had planned on powering its upcoming Personal Computer with CP/M-86, which had been the standard OS for Intel 8086 and 8080 architectures at the time, but a deal could not be struck with CP/M’s developer, Digital Research. IBM then approached Microsoft, which already had a few years of experience under its belt with M-DOS, BASIC, and other important tools — and as you can probably tell from the landscape of the computer world today, the IBM/Microsoft partnership worked out rather well indeed."

27 July 2011

Google bewitched?

A few weeks ago a book I contributed to was published. It is on African Initiatives in Healing Ministry, and it was published by Unisa Press.

The marketing department of the publishers are supposed to place a web page for the book on their site, to say what the book is about, explain how to order it and so on. I wanted to see if they had done so, so that I could refer to that page when I wrote to people who might be interested in buying it.

The quickest way to see if the page was up, I thought, was to Google for the title of the book. So I did that. And what did Google come up with?


Powerful witchcraft Spell
Extremely Powerful Spells, Love Money, Revenge, 082 257 2395

Extreme Spiritual Healing
+27 73 476 3119 Love, Good Luck spells and more
Voted #1 Spell Caster

Call the most powerful spell caster today ..Dr Kubo +2776 53 74611

I suspect that someone must have cast a very powerful spell on Google to get it to return that as the top three results on a search for "African initiatives in healing ministry".

People who are looking for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) need look no further. Don't call an "SEO consultant", call a witch.

23 July 2011

Only in South Africa: Cable theft blamed for train chaos

This is the kind of story that white whingers like to e-mail to their friends with a subject line like "Only in South Africa..."

Cable theft blamed for South West Trains chaos: Passengers threatened with arrest | Mail Online:
Passengers decided to take action and used the emergency exits to escape their nightmare commute when cable thieves caused power cuts leading them to be stranded for several hours.

Though it must be said that in Britain the angry commuters didn't set fire to the train or the station. Yet.

20 July 2011

Kentucky Fried Quidditch

6 Harry Potter Films According to Someone Who Never Saw Them | Cracked.com: "If you're anything like me, you've never read a Harry Potter book or seen a Harry Potter movie. Statistically speaking, you are nothing like me, as the latest installment of the Potter franchise is already poised to smash all relevant box office records, everywhere. (I should make it clear that when I say, 'relevant box office records,' I mean, 'only box office records that pertain to The Dark Knight.') Despite my lack of interest in and familiarity with the franchise, I'm not against the idea of it and I don't hate the people who love it or the cultural impact it's made (even though being a non-fan when a new movie comes out sort of feels like being the only Jewish kid during Christmas time). This franchise just missed me completely."

Franchise? What do you mean franchise?

No wonder you've never seen it -- it's a film, not a Bic Mac.

One you see at the bioscope, the other you buy at a hamburger joint.

Hat-tip to whatisname.

Book Review: Havana Bay

Havana Bay (Arkady Renko, #4)Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking for some light bedtime reading, and looked through our bookshelves and picked up some books that I wasn't sure if I had read or not, and then checked on my computer and found that I had read them, but they had proved to be rather forgettable. Then I picked up this book, which has been lying around for ages, but I hadn't read it.

It was quite an interesting read.

Russian investigator Arkady Renko goes to Cuba to find out what had happened to a dead Russian, a sugar attache at the Russian Embassy in Cuba, who was found dead after he had been missing for several days. Renko wants the Cuban authorities to investigate his death, but finds that they are reluctant to do so. Since the fall of the Bosheviks from power the Russians have downsized their embassy in Cuba and the remaining Russians are not very popular, and Russians investigating possible crimes on Cuban soil are even less so.

Renko soon finds that something big is going on, something bigger than he first suspected, and the more he discovers, the bigger it gets.

To say motre would reveal too much of the plot, but there is also lots of local colour, and some interesting sidelights on Afro-Caribbean religion, and the role that semi-religious secret societies like Abakua play in Cuban society.

View all my reviews

18 July 2011

Murdoch and the media: penetrating the murk (and muck)

Now that Rupert Murdoch's muck-raking journalistic empire is having its own muck raked, some things we didn't know are coming to light. Like Murdoch's fingers in the religious publishing pie.

I don't normally cite Frank Schaeffer's blog. It's in my blogroll because I read it occasionally, but I don't usually cite blogs that do not alow comments and are effectively a one-way communication. Also, Frank Schaffer is a bit of a loose cannon, always telling us what he doesn't like, but saying far less about what he does like. When I met him (in 1995) he was an Orthodox Christian. I don't know whether he still is, or what he is now, because he's always telling us what he is against, but never what he is for.

Nevertheless, I think this post of his is worth citing, and so break my own rule in order to do so.

Frank Schaeffer: Only Bad People Will Work With Murdoch Now (That We Know What We Know):
And now the Murdoch scandal has spread from the just closed News of the World to the Sun and the Sunday Times of London. So it is not about 'one bad apple' but about Murdoch's company's methods across the board, as extensive coverage in the Guardian has proved.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown suffered from years of criminal intrusion by the Murdoch team, including pilfering medical records of his child. His infant son's medical records were obtained by the Sun. And Brown's tax returns were hacked. Murdoch companies corrupted the police, bribed them into handing over information on their targets, including the prime minister and the queen.

I was interested in the mention of the London Sunday Times.

When I was in the UK studying in the 1960s I used to read the Sunday Times and The Observer quite regularly. In those days those two were regarded as the "quality" Sunday papers, with good news coverage and interesting features. I think that was before Murdoch came on the scene.

Then I came home to South Africa and didn't read them any more.

But 11 years ago I was in Albania teaching for a while, and when I was leaving and was waiting for my plane in the airport departure lounge I picked up a copy of the Sunday Times that someone had discarded, and was quite shocked to discover how much it had deteriorated in 35 years. Every news article showed flagrant right-wing bias, and it read like Die Suidwester of the 1970s.

The "quality" epithet certainly no longer applied.

And so I was even more shocked to learn a few years later, from Cathy Wood who had worked with me in the Anglican Church in Namibia, that John Witherow was the editor of the Sunday Times and so apparently the one responsible for that paper's deterioration.

John Witherow had been a fellow-worker with us in Namibia, and I remembered him working to set up a library to help correspondence students and things like that.

It was sad to discover that he had apprently been "bought" by the Murdoch empire.

But there's more.

Frank Schaeffer goes on to say

So why are religious moralizers writing about high-minded ethical themes still prepared to enrich Murdoch as they are doing?

Murdoch is one of America's biggest publishers of religious books, including the 33-million seller Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Murdoch is also publisher of Rob Bell's Love Wins. And he also publishes Deepak Chopra and even Desmond Tutu!

Do these religious authors -- and many more besides -- writing about ethics, love and moral rectitude wear gloves when they cash their royalty checks?

Murdoch bought into the billion-dollar American religion market. He bought the venerable evangelical Zondervan publishing house. He bought the religion web site Beliefnet. And he owns HarperOne that publishes Chopra and Tutu.

And that's where I'd like to ask Frank Schaeffer (if his blog allowed comments), which religious publishing houses one can trust?

And there's more.

The Murdoch empire's war mongering. Was it supporting the blood-thirsty politicians in their desire for war, or was it actually pushing them down that road?

Neil Clark: Oh, What a Lovely War! Murdoch's other legacy:
But as shocking as the allegations of illegal news gathering have been, the greatest crime of Murdoch's UK newspaper empire has gone largely unreported. Namely that no other newspaper group has as much blood on its hands when it comes to propagandising for illegal and fraudulent military conflicts.

And as for the revelations of British police corruption, they make Jackie Selebi's peccadillos look quite innocuous by comparison.

16 July 2011

nourishing obscurity: Rebekahaha sails away…….

nourishing obscurity | Rebekahaha sails away…….: "The Lady of Shalott is a magical being who lives alone on an island upstream from King Arthur’s Camelot. Her business is to look at the world outside her castle window in a mirror, and to weave what she sees into a tapestry. She is forbidden by the magic to look at the outside world directly. The farmers who live near her island hear her singing and know who she is, but never see her.

An autumn storm suddenly arises. The lady leaves her castle, finds a boat, writes her name on it, gets into the boat, sets it adrift, and sings her death song as she drifts down the river to Camelot."

See the rest at: nourishing obscurity | Rebekahaha sails away…

14 July 2011

Blogging fame

I’m Like Totally Happening | Clarissa's Blog: "Today, this reader was sitting at a coffee-shop close to his university in Southern California. He was reading my blog when a complete stranger came up to him and said, ”Hey, I read that blog, too!” So they talked about the blog for a while (hopefully, in positive terms.)"

And here am I reading it on a sunny winter's morning in Gauteng.

Smelly socks to prevent malaria?

Malaria and Aids are probably two of the biggest killer diseases in Africa.

I wonder what the pharmaceutical industry will think about this?

Smelly socks tested in Tanzania as way to prevent malaria - The Washington Post:
In global public health, disease-fighting tools that are cheap, available and sustainable are the Holy Grail. It might be hard to top the one being tested in Tanzania as a way to prevent malaria: smelly socks.

Experiments in three villages where people get about 350 bites a year from malaria-infected mosquitoes are using dirty socks to lure the insects into traps, where they become contaminated with poisons and ultimately die.

There used to be a pop group called Toxic Socks. I wonder if they are still around? Their time may have come.

12 July 2011

Telephone tapping and worse

One would think, with all the brouhaha about the closure of News of the World as a result of the telephone tapping scandal, that people might think twice about sending out spam e-mails like this

XCeptor - the ultimate spy software for mobile phones - you can install one REMOTELY to any phone around the world.

Now all you will need to do in order to get total control over a mobile (target) phone of a person of your interest is to send the special MMS to that target phone, which is generated by our unique Xsepter LOADER. This way you can get very valuable and otherwise un-accessible information about a person of your interest very easily.

All you will need to do is to install our unique Xseptic LOADER to your mobile phone and start its execution. You will get the dialog box on the display of your mobile phone and you will be requested to enter a phone number of a target mobile phone of a person of your interest. Afterwords you will choose SEND option in that dialog box. The Xseptoid LOADER will send the special MMS message to the target phone immediately and a person of your interest will have no idea that this special MMS message has been received by his phone. Our Xseptic software will be immediately installed to a target phone and it will be automatically configured for communication with your (source) phone. The special MMS message which has been used as the carrier of our Xsepter software from your (source) phone to a target phone will be automatically deleted then.

The example of use:

You will send the special MMS message containing our unique Xsepter software to a mobile phone of e.g. your girlfriend. In case your girlfriend will be using her (target) mobile phone, you will be provided by following unique functions:

In case your girlfriend will make an outgoing call or in case her (target) phone will receive an incoming call, you will get on your personal standard mobile phone an immediate SMS message about her call. This will give you a chance to listen to such call immediately on your standard mobile phone.

In case your girlfriend will send an outgoing SMS message from her (target) mobile phone or she will receive a SMS message then you will receive a copy of this message on your mobile phone immediately.

This target phone will give you a chance to listen to all sounds in its the surrounding area even in case the phone is switched off. Therefore you can hear very clearly every spoken word around the phone.

You will get a chance to find at any time the precise location of your girlfriend by GPS satellites.

All these functions may be activated / deactivated via simple SMS commands.

... wouldn't one?

The name of the software has been changed to protect the guilty, but no doubt lots of unscrupulous journalists already know and use it.

11 July 2011


The other day my daughter invited me to Google+.

I went to have a look and it looked to me like Google's attempt to woo people away from Facebook by creating something similar. Here's an interesting comment on it:

Half an Hour: The Google Ecosystem:
This is an illustration of the Google Plus Ecosystem I created to try to explain the flow of information through Google Plus from its (currently undocumented) sources through to its (currently broken) output.

One of the problems I have found with this "me too" approach to designing social networking sites is that it is counterproductive. Initially there were improvements.

First there was Geocities, which tried to group web sites according to themes and common interests, and promote interaction among the webmasters. Then it was taken over by Yahoo!, which didn't understand the principle, and killed it.

Then there was SixDegrees, which was real social networking, but before its time. The graphics loaded too slowly on the dial-up connections that most people used back then.

Then there was MySpace, whose main drawback was that it was designed for (and possibly by) celeb-following 11-year-olds with its garish graphics.

Then came Facebook, which was originally for undergraduates, and appealed to many with its clean, minimalist approach. When it was opened to the hoi polloi it became a useful place to keep in touch with friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues and the like, though it also had the problem of people collecting "friends" like some people collect postage stamps, but indisciminately. It also became less useful when it branched out into third-party "apps", which often competed with each other, and dispersed the effort.

For example, you could have an app that linked to your favourite books and what you were reading. The problem was that there are about six other apps that do the same thing, and when you are using App A and your friend is using App B, then to compare books you have to enter all your books all over again in App B, very often with a clunky user interface. So I have a general rule of "No more apps". If anyone invites me to anything on Facebook, and it has a rigmariole about asking my permission to access information about my friends, I click "Cancel" and go no further. And if I want a site to compare books and what I'm reading with my friends, I use one that does it well, like Good Reads. From there I copy my reviews of the more interesting books to one or other of my blogs, and from there an announcement filters through to Tumblr or Twitter to Facebook, so my Facebook friends can see what I've been reading, without using clumsy "apps".

But with Google+ the problem is likely to be exacerbated. Soon one will have one set of friends on one social networking site, and another set on another social networking site, and one will need a metasocialnetworking site to bring them all together in one place.

Yahoo! recently dropped yet another of its useful services (MyBlogLog), and urged people to join Pulse instead, which is their attempt, like Google+, to compete with Facebook. Instead of doing what they do well, they prefer to do what other people do, badly.

09 July 2011

Tarot twaddle

One of the things that I find vaguely annoying is the kind of nonsense one often hears spoken about Tarot cards. On the one hand you hear some Christians saying that Tarot cards are of the devil, and on the other you hear occultists talking about their deep hidden meaning that only those really in the know can discern (and when those in the know do reveal, in conspiratorial whispers, what they have discerned, it usually turns out to be quite trivial).

So I was quite pleased to discover (hat-tip to A Conservative Blog for Peace) this article 7 'Ancient' Forms of Mysticism That Are Recent Inventions | Cracked.com:
Tarot's new fortunetelling function was quickly seized upon by 19th-century fans of occultism, which was what bored white people used to do in the 19th century before backpacking around India was invented. The occultists 'discovered' tarot's long history and renamed the two parts of the deck 'Arcana' to replace the slightly less spooky trumps and pits.

In 1909, two occultists published a new version of the cards, the Rider-Waite deck, which is what most Americans visualize today when they hear the word "tarot." The new deck switched out the traditional Christian imagery on the cards with pagan symbols to make it look like they predated the New Testament, replacing the Pope and Popess with a Hierophant and High Priestess, presumably so that fortunetellers could say more exotic things than "I see a Pope in your future."

I first heard of Tarot cards in Iris Murdoch's novel The sandcastle in which a schoolgirl used the cards to interpret things that were going on in her life. The descriptions meant nothing to me, so I went out and bought a pack of Tarot cards. The only place in Johannesburg that sold them, I discovered, in the Johannesburg of 1962, was "The Mystic Bookshop", which was on the second floor of a rather seedy looking building in Eloff Street (which probably looks a lot seedier today). The shop was full of spooky paraphernalia, like crystal balls, candlesticks in the shape of snakes and other such things. They had only two packs of Tarot cards in stock, retrieved from a dusty shelf in a rarely-opened cupboard, so I gathered that there wasn't a big demand for them.

I took the cards home, and looking at them disovered what references to The Hanged Man and the Falling Tower in the book actually meant. I was also struck by the Christian imagery of the cards, especially in the greater trumps. The people were all dressed in medieval clothes, and one felt transported back into an age of faith, in which Christian imagery and symbolism came naturally to people and were a part of everyday life.

In The sandcastle the girl, Rain, assigns the cards her own meanings, and relates them to the people and events in her life. I became quite curious about them, and mentioned this to Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, who had lent me the Iris Murdoch book. His response was to lend me another book, The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams.

Central to the Williams book is the role and character of The Fool, shown on the left. Williams's dealing with the Tarot in his novel is quite different from that of Iris Murdoch, though there is one common feature. Like Rain, Williams interprets the cards in his own way; he takes some of the occultists' interpretations, but reworks them and weaves them in with others, and in a sense restores the Christian symbolism that the occultists removed.

The Cracked article debunks some of the 19th-century occult hogwash about the cards, and points out that they were, like ordinary playing cards, originally intended to be used in a game. But the designers and manufacturers of the cards incorporated symbolism of the world around them. There are French packs that are clearly influenced by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but the oldes ones seem to have been designed in a Medieval setting, real or imagined.

Charles Williams had some associations with occultists, including A.E. Waite, who was one of the originators of the Rider-Waite pack referred to in the Cracked article. I was rather saddened to discover that that was the pack that Williams was probably most familiar with, in which the Fool has been debased into the image of a late-Victorian fop.

But the main point remains: Tarot cards have whatever symbolism we want to give them. As a Christian, I suppose I prefer the older Marseilles pack, with its Christian symbolism, into which, like Rain in the novel, I can read whatever symbolism I wish. I find the Rider-Waite pack rather repulsive, and I can't think of them as "real" Tarot cards.

I suppose one of the things that appeals to me about the "real" Tarot cards is that in the figure of the Fool there are echoes of the figure of the "fool for Christ", a kind of saint who was more common in medieval times than in more recent ones. And that is one of the reasons I have adopted the Tarot Fool as my "Gravatar" for blog comments and the like. Not that I am a real fool for Christ, but rather a wannabe. The Rider-Waite version doesn't cut it. Yet when I did a Google image search for the Fool of the Tarot, the real Fool didn't come up at all on the first three pages. And perhaps that is because in our age, the real Fool is hidden.

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Cor 2:6-8).

And "occult", of course, means "hidden".

And this came up in another context earlier this week. There was a synchroblog on the Wild Goose Festival, a kind of vaguely Christian wayzgoose held in the USA last month. We were told that the wild goose was an ancient Celtic Christian metaphor for the Holy Spirit.

I couldn't attend the festival, and had never heard of the ancient Celtic metaphor, so I decided to write about it once I had found out more about it. I found it stretched back over the years to the dim and misty 1960s, which makes me feel really ancient. And I think that makes an eighth that could be added to the Cracked seven.

07 July 2011

Fantasy literature

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

I saw that on Jeffrey Turner's sig in the alt.usage.english newsgroup. I don't know if it was original with him, or an unattributed quotation from someone else, but I liked it, so I thought I'd put it here.

03 July 2011

The phony liberators

When Hugo Chávez first became president of Venezuela in 1999, he seemed to be a champion of democracy, and in initial reforms he tried to introduce a more participatory style of democracy.

But that didn't last, and when he publicly sided with political leaders whose main aim was to suppress anything resembling participatory democracy, like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, he showed his true colours. Those who praised him for his initial championing of democracy have now become his fiercest critics, as he has clearly joined the side of the suppressors of democracy.

Noam Chomsky denounces old friend Hugo Chávez for 'assault' on democracy | The Observer:
Hugo Chávez has long considered Noam Chomsky one of his best friends in the west. He has basked in the renowned scholar's praise for Venezuela's socialist revolution and echoed his denunciations of US imperialism...

The president may be about to have second thoughts about that, because his favourite intellectual has now turned his guns on Chávez.

Speaking to the Observer last week, Chomsky has accused the socialist leader of amassing too much power and of making an "assault" on Venezuela's democracy.

Perhaps this is yet another illustration of what was said by the Brazilian educationist Paolo Freire,

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion (P. Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 1998, p. 29).

Unless the oppressed can get beyond this barrier, then even if they succeed in overthroring their oppressors, they will simply become oppressors in their turn, and hence phony liberators.

And George Orwell said much the same thing in his Animal farm.

There are some pictures of Hugo Chávez in which he seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the late Eugene Terreblanche. Or Julius Malema.


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