Author Archives: alistair

Friday Five Flickr Fotos 1

I love Flickr. It’s an awesome photo sharing site. The developers are innovative and I believe this is one rare case where the Google offering (Picasa) isn’t the best:

  • There are awesome online communities. People commenting, organizing groups, messaging each other, etc
  • A lot of the images are Creative Commons licensed so they can be used for all sorts of things (they often pop up on Do Stuff in Cape Town)
  • Flickr have opened up an API which allows other programs and websites to easily access their data
  • They come up with interesting features like the Interestingness feature for finding great pictures

Every now and then I send Jules a mail with some of the best photos that I have seen recently on Flickr. I thought I would turn that mail into a blog feature. So, here is the first of the “Friday Five Flickr Fotos” series. Enjoy.

Photo from Flickr

It took me a little while to figure this one out. A mostly submerged trolley in some reflective water. Nice effect

Photo from Flickr

Taken between two cruise ships in Greece

Photo from Flickr

Taken from behind glass in a zoo

Photo from Flickr

You don’t need to tell me twice!

Photo from Flickr

One of my own photos

BigDog video

Go here to watch video footage of an amazing robot called BigDog. It’s a 4 legged beast that reminds me a little of a horse because of the lifelike way that it moves. BigDog is amazingly capable, but what makes the video interesting is how lifelike the thing is.

It runs on a little petrol engine (very noisy from the looks of things) and is able to get over some serious terrain while carrying quite a load. The video shows BigDog:

  • Walking and slipping on ice. When it falls it manages to quickly get back up.
  • Walking up a steep slope. Later the slope is covered in snow
  • Climbing ‘carefully’ over rubble and rocks
  • Getting kicked hard by a technician. BigDog manages to avoid falling – quite impressive
  • They even show it galloping along and jumping over an obstacle
BigDog about to get kicked - no problem for this lifelike robot

BigDog about to get kicked – no problem for this lifelike robot

If you’ve got the bandwidth I highly recommend taking a look. If you get bored skip into the video – you won’t be sorry.

Placebo tablets for sale

Placebos work remarkably well – a lot of the time people aren’t really sick. I’m reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at the moment (seems pretty good) and one of the characters is a doctor on a Greek island occupied during WW2. He notes that in hard times (occupation) suddenly the islanders have far fewer medical complaints. They have something else to concentrate on!

So I find it pretty cool that this company is selling Placebo tablets in a very official looking container. The product is called Obelcap (You see they did there? Placebo backwards. Sneaky) and is described as “Delicious pharmaceutical grade natural cherry chewable tablets” Useful.

Perhaps doping in sports should be allowed

With the Tour de France just over and the Olympics now underway, doping in sports is a topical issue. You don’t often hear the argument for doping, but this article from The Economist argues well that doping shouldn’t be cheating.

Why should doping be cheating? There are two arguments against allowing athletes to enhance their abilities by doping:

  1. Fairness. Athletes go to all sorts of lengths in the quest for a little extra performance – why is doping any more unfair than some of those measures? Why is doping cheating when complex nutritional compounds are not? Why isn’t the new Speedo swimwear that offers a significant advantage unfair? Modern athletes routinely go to great and unnatural lengths to excel – why should doping be any different?
  2. Safety. The far more compelling argument against allowing doping is on the grounds of safety. Many think that doping is unsafe and in many cases it may be. Unsafe doping should be banned, but if doping were opened up it could be better regulated. Athletes would be required to list exactly what substances are being used thus making regulation easier – and doping safer.

Doping should be allowed or not based on safeness – and there is a case to be made that opening up doping could make it safer for athletes. Interesting.

Americans shouldn’t worry much about the rise of China

Sad americaAccording to this article from The Economist Americans are apparently unhappy with the state of their country in general. According to the article 80% of Americans think the country is going the wrong way.

The article lists several reasons that the national mood is low – the war on terror and the economy are the major categories. The rising China also seems to be freaking the Americans out pretty badly – let’s see how they react when China wins more medals in the Olympics.

America has gotten into sullen moods before and recovered. But:
“Still, countries, like people, behave dangerously when their mood turns dark. If America fails to distinguish between what it needs to change and what it needs to accept, it risks hurting not just allies and trading partners, but also itself.”

There are things that do need to be changed. For instance: education, health, the war on terror and Guantánamo Bay. However, it is an attitude adjustment that is required when it comes to the rise of Asia and China.

There are two reasons not to worry about the rise of China:

  1. “Even at its present growth rate, China’s GDP will take a quarter of a century to catch up with America’s; and the internal tensions that China’s rapidly changing economy has caused may well lead it to stumble before then”
  2. “Even if Asia’s rise continues unabated, it is wrong-and profoundly un-American-to regard this as a problem. Economic growth, like trade, is not a zero-sum game. The faster China and India grow, the more American goods they buy”

I like the last paragraph:
“Everybody goes through bad times. Some learn from the problems they have caused themselves, and come back stronger. Some blame others, lash out and damage themselves further. America has had the wisdom to take the first course many times before. Let’s hope it does so again.”

Apologies about the gap

The guys at work blocked so I’ve been locked out for a while. Sorry…

I’m working on a way around the block but until things start happening again you can check out:

  • My FriendFeed. This is basically a single page that lists all of my online activity – Flickr, Facebook, blogging, and general interesting links that I share. Make sure to check that out.
  • Do Stuff in Cape Town. A wiki like site that I set up for sharing information on activities in Cape Town. There are now over 170 things to do in Cape Town loaded onto the site.

Pictures showing how good the GTA4 in-game world is

GTA4 PosterGrand Theft Auto 4 is a game that was recently released and it grossed more than $500 million in its first week!

One of the things that I always enjoyed about GTA is the open gameplay style. They have created a working city complete with streets, buildings, people, cars, trains, boats, etc. Players are free to explore the city, interact with citizens, steal cars, fight gangsters, etc, etc.

The key to making that fun is to have a rich and realistic in-game world and these guys have done an amazing job modelling New York as the ‘Liberty City’ of the game.

Here are some pictures taken of the game (on the right) and the associated spot in the actual NYC (left). Awesome work.

GTA comparison

Statue of Liberty. If you want to get there in the game you need to hijack a boat or helicopter…
GTA comparison

GTA comparison

Photos of a chicken developing inside an egg

I came across this blog showing the development of a chicken inside an egg. Seems like these guys cleverly got an egg to develop inside a clear container – like a ziplock or something.

Anyway, I had assumed that birds develop in the yolk – I don’t know why. But this chick definitely develops outside the yolk and consumes the yolk through a network of blood vessels. Very interesting.

Chick Developing
Chick Developing
Chick Developing
Chick Developing
Chick Developing

There’s a hippo moving along the coastline towards Durban

Sea Hippo!IOL reports that there is a hippo moving along the coast in KwaZulu-Natal! Apparently the lone hippo took to the ocean and has been making its way along the coast with stops at beaches and estuaries along the way. Imagine how strange it must be to be sitting on the beach and then seeing a hippo pop up!

I know that there are hippos that live in the Mangrove swamps and oceans in Tanzania (that’s actually where the hippo in the picture is), but I still find it weird to think of one moving along towards Durban’s beaches. I hope that doesn’t happen because then the Parks Board will have to shoot it – hippos are very dangerous.

Xenophobia isn’t just shameful, it’s stupid

If Bob is really good at making hammers and Alice is a nail making genius, they can get further by sticking to their specialties and trading – better and cheaper hammers and nails for all.

Lesson 1: Specialization is good

Now Frank comes along and he’s also pretty good at making hammers. Not such good news for Bob, but the competition between them leads to a decrease in the price of hammers – good for the rest of town.

Lesson 2: Competition is good for society
Lesson 3: The current winners don’t want competition. Competition means they must work to stay in the same place

So Bob wants to prevent Frank from coming to town and forcing him to work harder. He convinces the rest of the townsfolk that Frank is bad for them – he is going to steal their jobs and housing. Bob’s nasty plan works and Frank can’t get work in town.

What are the results? The town loses (hammers are more expensive) and only Bob wins (he doesn’t have to work hard).

Lesson 4: Blocking immigrants is bad for the economy – it only protects the lazy

A frustrated Frank goes to another town and sets up a shop there. He is hard working and business is good so he hires an assistant (more jobs) and has a house built (more housing). Frank has stimulated growth in the new town.

Lesson 5: Welcoming skilled immigrants is good for the economy

Frank’s hammers are so good that people from other towns start coming over to buy his hammers. They don’t go to Bob’s town anymore, so Alice also sells fewer nails and soon they are both out of work. Everyone in town now has to travel to the next town for hammers and nails.

Lesson 6: In the long term blocking immigrants hurts everyone – even the lazy