Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mickie D Analysis

I've just had a quick meal at McDonald's here in Cape Town. The most important difference is that a medium sized meal and two extra burgers costs less than a medium sized meal in Belgium (or for the most part of Western Europe).

More striking was how it tastes. If I remember correctly, McDonald's had to stop using hydrogenated vegetable fat in New York City after a law was passed in the State a few years back. This eventually led to a fast food revolution all over the US. Then the EU picked up the scent and decided to do the same. Now they all have to use some rather expensive and rather tasteless alternative.

So, now, the common comment I get from people that American fast food tastes "like cardboard" is actually becoming more valid than before. I will still defend it to the bone (after some layers of grease unavoidably).

It seems in South Africa they didn't jump on that particular bandwagon yet. The chicken nuggets tastes as they did back in the 80s, extremely good, and the crusty goodness is all there in its original form. The fries have that really McD taste and smell, quite addictive. I think that's how I got hooked. It's that smell you get when you happen across a McDonald's anywhere in the world.

If I have to be honest I'd say even KFC tastes better here than in Europe. And it's cheaper. And the chicken is larger in size.

One of the places where fast food tastes different to anywhere else in the world is in the Arab part of the world. When I last had Mickie D's in Dubai, it tasted fine but quite noticeably different. I think it was due to the fact that they did not allow certain spices and colourants to be used in foodstuffs by law. But it was fine nevertheless.

Eating fast food is a choice. If people cannot control themselves, then it's their fault. But this form of eating came out of a productive era when people were working hard and tending to their families. In order to maximise the already limited time people had every day, fast food came about. It was a cheap and efficient solution where the family can enjoy a meal together with virtually no preparation time.

More laws means more misery to mankind. More laws also mean more personal freedom is being inflicted upon. Think about it, democracy means freedom to all to do, to think, to say what they wish, on the condition it does not work its way into the freedoms of others. Are we still living in a democratic world...?

One final thought before signing off...

When the autobahn, the world's first automotive highway system first conceived in Germany in the early parts of the 20th Century, was designed, it was specifically drawn up not to have any speed limits. Why? The architect said that on a high speed motorway system, it would be safer for people to judge their own speeds and adapt themselves in a fluid operation than to impose a pre-set limit. We should trust people to know what they are doing in a way. Nothing major really happens in Germany even when some of their roads are still unlimited.

Stop erasing our freedom! We elect you lot to improve our lives not taking it away from us!

- Posted from my iPhone

Friday, May 21, 2010

Week 1

It's been an interesting week. Was quite ill in the beginning, some kind of allergy but meds helped.

Weather quite nice bit chilly in the evening though. Still, I'm not complaining if it's 24-deg Celsius and the sun is out!

Following the continued craziness of the volcano in Iceland. It seems BA was successful to avoid a strike. Good for them! Idiotic unions not thinking long term. What happens if BA goes under because of the strikes? It means all employees are out of jobs! And they are very close to going under after the financial crisis and volcanic disaster.

Edit 21/5: The courts approved Unite's appeal and now the strikes will go ahead for a 15-day period. BA also posted its biggest loss since the 80's. I fear this is going to put them in a very poor position soon.

Still, at Hout Bay having seafood at Mariner's Wharf. Brings back memories. Yum!

- Posted from my iPhone

Image Source: Krypton Zone (c) 2010 Entertainment

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 2

Well sadly day 2 didn't turn out to be as productive as expected. After a couple of beers and half a bottle of Jameson meant recovery took a day. Still good weather coming up. Will have to be easy on the drinks.

F1 saw Aloso sitting out the Monaco GP which is a is a disaster for him and Ferrari. He'll have to start from the pit lane after crashing out and cracking his chassis during Practice 3.

Schumi is starting 7th behind team mate Rosberg who held Schumi up following a slow Barichello. Pity... Still quite consistent qualifying positions for Mercedes GP.

Hope to be able to catch the race tomorrow. I say hope because the national TV broadcaster lost the rights some years ago so you F1 is only on cable/sat TV in SA. Don't have that ad far as I can tell.

Fingers crossed.

- Posted from my iPhone

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Internet Explorer Incompatibility

It turns out my new blog look is not compatible with certain versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Between myself and my friends we've gone through a few browsers and have found the following:

  • Internet Explorer 6

  • Firefox
  • Internet Explorer 7+
  • Safari (based on iPhone version)

Sorry about that if you are on an older browser. I'll have to look into this at some point.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Volcanic News: Brown Quits

The biggest news today must be the announcement by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step down after his party was somewhat voted out in the recent General Election. I say somewhat because no one really got the majority even though the Conservatives won quite a lot more seat. Still, there was nothing much in it between Labour and Conservatives. Gordon Brown decided to announce, finally, that he would step down and ensure there is something of a government being formed in short order.

The EU also approved a massive loan injection into the failing Greek economy. This prompted the world's markets to surge after days of uncertainty and doubt. Hopefully, the Euro will strengthen again shortly. Maybe US President Obama will also stop voicing his concerns, further hurting the European economy.

More importantly though, apart from all of this, is the article on BBC basically saying the volcano next to the one currently disrupting Europe since April may be about to blow. The neighbouring volcano, with a much easier name "Katla," has been on record to blow shortly after the current one (shortly being between some months and a year). This is based on historic record in the past thousand or so years. Even though there are no known linkages between the two, if the historic record is anything to go by, we will be in some bigger trouble soon.

What happens if this one blows, then? Well Katla has a magma chamber of at least ten times that of the current, unpronounceable (see latest NASA image from today), volcano. It would blow more material into the atmosphere, and higher at that. Going higher means it won't necessarily affect flights, at least further into mainland Europe. However, what it will do is start forming sulphuric acid in the upper atmosphere. This will start reflecting the sun's rays and start a process of cooling the planet. Good news for all "Global Warming Doomsayers." Downside to cooling: more snow like last crazy winter, acid rain perhaps...

Is that you God? What? We're all stuffed? Apocalypse? The Mayans were right?!


Good news though... All airports currently open. Stay that way, until past Wednesday afternoon at least, please!

Image Source: NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Laptop's Last Legs

Quite apart from my being exceedingly upset about my ancient six year old laptop crawling on its last legs and crashing at a constant five minute intervals, I must still continue warbling on about the volcano and its continuing path of chaos that it leads us to. Doing this will also help me forget that my stupid laptop is really annoying me, and all I want to do is chuck it out of my 10th floor apartment window!

So Germany has closed Munich airport, and disruptions are felt in Spain, France and Italy (as reported in my previous posts). It seems the ash cloud is moving, but very slowly, which also means it's staying in that golden zone in the atmosphere where it is deemed to affect all air traffic safety (although not proven yet). The worst part, it's starting to spread a bit in Central Europe (which means I'm going to be in trouble soon).

I think the most irritating bit of it all is the controlling body of European Air Traffic, Eurocontrol. On their website they are neither clear nor comprehensible. They keep rambling on about that they "expect approximately [number] flights within European area" and that this "is about [number] below normal."

These are the people who are in charge and calling the shots affecting not just European wide economic balance, but civilians by the bucket load. These people can't even be specific about what they are being put in charge to do. As a best practice, generally if you don't have enough evidence to support your comments in a press release, don't mention it. Always, always be specific when it comes to numbers (and make sure they are correct, obviously).

What a disaster... As long as the volcano in Iceland keeps spewing ash and dust, and as long as these idiotic Eurocrats are in charge, we are all going to be driven very quickly into the Dark Ages. Forget the skies everyone. Let's stick to cars, trains and boats. Oh yeah... Only if these Socialistic Eurocrats idiots stop people from striking (i.e. strike and get fired). Otherwise, no cars, no trains, no boats. Who fancies a walk?

Austria/Australia? - 2010 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix

Something that non-English speakers tend to get confused about is the difference between "Austria" and "Australia." The difference being on is a country that borders Germany in Europe and the other one is a continent on its own in the Pacific Ocean.

After today's Spanish Grand Prix, I thought about this and realised what could be quite a funny joke. An Australian won with an Austrian team - i.e. Mark Webber won with Red Bull Racing. Mark drove a very easy race winning from pole position. His team mater managed to hold onto third after having an eventful race starting second and falling quite a lot backwards.

Lewis Hamilton's tyres punctured and sent him into the wall on the long turn 3 with just two laps to go which meant everyone managed to gain a place. Fernando Alonso, the local favourite ended second.

I thought Michael Schumacher drove a brilliant race to come fourth, just one position off the podium. When he came out of his only pit stop, he slotted in front of Jenson Button and successfully held the McLaren driver up until the end of the race. There were a dozen or so laps where reigning World Champion Button tried to pass Schumi at the end of the pit straight, but Schumi either had better traction or went defensive very well, or both. He ended up keeping Button behind him for 50 or so laps right until the end.

One of the post race interviews with Button showed him to be quite upset. He did have a good car, but neither the strategy or the race pace lived up to expectations. He was also quite dismissive about Schumi's tactics on the race track. Neither I nor any of the commentators seem to have found anything wrong with Schumi's driving, in fact it was extremely good. Button could do with a bit of thinking on how to pass the seven-times World Champion in the future.

Current standings:

  1. Jenson Button 70pt
  2. Fernando Alonso 67pt
  3. Sebastian Vettel 60pt
  4. Mark Webber 53pt
  5. Nico Rosberg 50pt
  6. Lewis Hamilton 49pt
  7. Felipe Massa 49pt
  8. Robert Kubica 44pt
  9. Michael Schumacher 22pt
  10. Adrian Sutil 16pt

Quick Volcano Update

Here is the latest image from NASA's Earth Observatory of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland and the volcanic ash it is throwing up into the atmosphere. Picture from May 7, 2010.

Image Source: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

European Air Disruption Update

Currently there are confirmed reports that airspaces in Spain, Portugal and northern Italy are closed or being closed due to the increasing ash cloud disturbance. Transatlantic flights are not heavily affected, except they are being rerouted to flight around the know location of the ash cloud.

Further disruptions now seem inevitable as the volcanic activities are intensifying.

Image source: Marco Fulle/Stromboli Online

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spanish GP Qualifying

Once again, everyone is talking about Michael Schumacher's performance. For this weekend's race Mercedes GP brought along some new improvements to try catch up with the rest of the field. They've extended the wheelbase and changed the engine cover to have two intakes on either side - quite a different approach to the modern F1 car design.

The practice sessions went well for Schumi, who out-performed Nico Rosberg (his team mate) in every session. But then the Qualifying came, and yes, Schumi out-qualified Nico again, but people are once again going on about how he couldn't carry the pace on, etc, etc.

What a bunch of rubbish. I think we can only make a judgement after the race tomorrow. But from all comments I've seen, everyone agrees that Schumi is driving much better with the updated car. Something interesting I've heard as well is that Michael's car was damaged through the kerbs in Bahrain and the team could not do a full repair until the races moved back to Europe.

It will be interesting to see what the strategies will be, since Red Bull seems to be miles in front of everyone else. No need to make such quick judgement on Schumi after four sessions I think.

Ash Cloud - Second Act

The dreaded ash cloud from the bankrupted island in the central northern Atlantic that is Iceland is creeping southward towards mainland Europe, again. This time we've seen disruptions in Ireland, Scotland and parts of northern UK. However, as of noon today, 15 Spanish airports in the north will be closed under advice by Eurocontrol.

  • Bilbao
  • San Sebastian
  • Vitoria
  • Zaragoza
  • Pamplona
  • La Rioja
  • Santiago
  • A Coruna
  • Vigo
  • Asturias
  • Santander
  • Leon
  • Valladolid
  • Burgos
  • Salamanca
In an unfortunate turn of events, it seems the volcano is now spewing even more dust and ash into the atmosphere of up to 30 000 feet. The activities of the volcano is also increasing. The outlook for next week is starting to deteriorate.

Friday, May 7, 2010

German Evening

Hmm... Discovered a great German restaurant, courtesy of my friends, just down the road from my place. Great schnitzel and yummy German beer! Fun evening with great friends.


- Posted from my iPhone

Image Source: Krypton Zone (c) 2010 Entertainment

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Google's New Look

I've just noticed that seems to have been given quite a make-over. The buttons are different, the search bar is thicker than before, and the search results are much more "modern." I think Google was getting a bit old (I hope Google doesn't deactivate my blog since they are kindly hosting it) and a new make-over is good for its image.

Still, on first glance, I don't really like it very much. However, after a quick search here and there, and I can see the point. It will take some getting used to since the image search option is now also on the left hand side-bar. The change is a bit bigger than my initial grasp.

I suppose this is part of the game in the world of technology. Things change, and you have two choices: adapt or be left behind. These days you have to accept change and then make sure you follow through. It can be tough and even for a techie like me. And with age, things get ingrained in your mode and it gets harder and harder to try drag the "old ways" out and replace it with something new!

Is it just me or did they also recolour their logo?

Volcano Blast 2

A new sci-fi, action thriller by top European studios. Featuring top British and French stars of the past two decades.

Yeah that was just a joke. But it seems that nightmarish volcano issue hasn't quite passed us yet. The thing is once again blasting more ash into the fly zone of British Isles airspace forcing some more closures in Ireland, Scotland and northern UK.

So this is not such big news because none of the major European airports were affected directly. You know, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt... Etc. What was interesting was the emergency meeting the European Commission had on the aftermath of the crazy six-day-no-fly crisis in April. Please keep in mind the very important operative notion that the EC met AFTER the crisis.

What came out of this very pro-active way of working was the following:

1) EU Member States will have to bail-out their national airlines affected by the poor decision making of the European institutions.

I was under the impression that because the EU didn't do their work properly to make sure the Greek economy was sustainable, to what is basically an economic cooperation which is the EU, that the whole European economy is about to go for a second dip following the financial crisis of 2009. How do they suppose national governments can support a bail-out of this size? The whole structure will just fall to pieces!

2) A previous plan for the creation of a single controlling body of European airspace will be brought forward from 2012 to later this year. The idea being a single entity will call the shots in terms of European air travel safety, airspace, etc.

How on Earth does that help? The airspaces closed because all Member State national civil aviation bodies followed the recommendations of the European air travel advisory institution, Eurocontrol. Of course we all know it was due to their over-cautious reports that wiped hundreds of millions of Euros off the accounts of, not just airlines, but everyone (civilians included). Creating a body that will call the shots over that of every national aviation authority doesn't solve the problem. That wasn't the problem in the first place.

The problem was that there were no precedence and no one really knew what the safe ash-air concentration is. Why don't they just start scientific researches into this phenomenon and draw up proper regulations to govern situations like this.

Come on people. Stop being stupid. The entire European Institution is, well, basically that: an institution. Stop being bureaucratic, do some proper root cause analysis and fix the problem!

- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Make a Wish - The Sound of Heartbeat

The heavily promoted and long awaited 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China, finally opened its doors to the public this weekend. The exhibition, showcasing nations and cultures, will continue for the next six months. I never really followed this event except when I visited the Shanghai Urban Panning Exhibition Center in 2006. Needless to say, there was quite some pomp and circumstance on this event throughout the displays.

Recently I came across the Taiwan Pavilion which somewhat shocked me. The Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou was voted in as President over two years ago, and that's nearly as far back as the last time I followed Taiwanese political and cross-straight relations news. I know the relationship between Taiwan and China has been steadily improving because of the new economic cooperation policies of the Taiwanese President, but I was still a bit surprised that there would be a Taiwan Pavilion at the event that China is supposed to use as a platform to declare that it is now a bona fide world super power.

Looking at the venue map, I think the placement is a bit strange. Basically you have the hilariously big China Pavilion surrounded by much smaller sites for Hong Kong, Macau and... Taiwan. Now, the political status of Taiwan is exceedingly different to that of Hong Kong and Macau. The two former colonies were reclaimed by China after their "lease" ran out in the late 90s and early 2000s. The island nation of Taiwan is, well, a sovereign nation with a government elected by the people (key operative notion here). But that's not too important.

No, even the fantastic 4-dimensional technology, and one of the world's biggest LED displays is not important enough compared to "it". Just for your information, the 4D experience is quite spectacular. Basically you are positioned inside a large spherical chamber where tiny LED projectors project CGI image all around you. I mean all around you, in the surrounding sphere. Along with the images you have true 4D surround sound, meaning the sound can come from every single direction possible. But it's also not important here.

What grabbed my attention really forcefully was a theme song that was launched together with the opening of the Taiwan Pavilion. This is the song that will represent the image the nation would like to share with the world and it would be played at the venue throughout the next six months. The singer is the very popular "mini-Diva" (as they call her in Taiwan) Jolin Tsai (蔡依林), written by popular Taiwanese songwriter 方文山.

Unfortunately, I have never been a big fan of the new-age popular music songwriters and artists. My liking of (Taiwanese) Mandropop seems to have stopped just after the turn of the millennium. Granted, my perception on Jolin Tsai changed dramatically after seeing her on the TV show of the "Local King (本土天王)" of Taiwanese entertainment Jack Wu (吳宗憲). My abiding memory is that she was seriously unwell, some kind of eye infection, yet she persisted to stay on the show which involved going all around town to find objects with certain wording connections. That show of real hardcore Far East Asian work ethic made me see her differently.

Before, I saw her as some young pop artist with not much in terms of talent. She was vaguely pretty, but she was also not very refined. After watching that show some years back, I have completely fallen head over heals for her. To me now she is extremely pretty, with a great singing voice and some pretty fun songs. I still do not like her way of singing which always sounds like she is trying to imitate a westerner singing in Chinese, with a funny westerner's accent. But still, this is also not important.

The really important thing here is the song. The way the song was sung - with a gentle, shy, and yet emotionally charged way. The way the song was written - with very visually vivid imagery of all that's good about Taiwan, but for most of the time accompanied only by a simple brightly sounding piano. The meanings coming from the song - which directly reminds me of my birthplace, and promotes love and peace in a very heartfelt and honest way (very far removed, thankfully, from Hippie-love). Even the rap, in Mandarin Chinese, is modern yet somehow perfectly fitting the setting.

I don't think I've ever listened to a song for the first time and burst into tears of emotion (more joy and reminiscence than anything else). Music for me is what I attach my own meaning, memories and emotions to. So they normally mean something only after time. But this song, titled "The Sound of Taiwan's Heartbeat" (台灣心跳聲) tugs at every fiber of my emotive nerves and conjures up beautiful sceneries, images, smells, tastes...

It's just simply fantastic. Really... Amazing.

Thank you, thank you and thank you to all involved in the making of this great song. Forget all the politics for once, and let's live on the fragile planet as one, one Human Race. I leave this post today with some lyrics from the song (roughly translated by me)
少一點傷痕 (a little less hurt/injuries) 多一點的掌聲 (a little more applause)
少一點戰爭 (a little less war) 多一點的單純 (a little more purity/innocence)
少一點仇恨 (a little less hatred) 多一點的我們 (a little more of "us")
少一點寒冷 (a little less coldness) 多一點的溫存 (a little more warmth)

Official Music Video of 台灣心跳聲

Image Source: Krypton Zone (c) 2010 Entertainment, 聯合新聞網, YouTube