Category Archives: Uncategorized

Criticize Jacob Zuma, but not for polygamy

Jacob Zuma with his three wives

It seems like everyone is having a go at Jacob Zuma.

I believe that he is in the wrong. But it seems my reasoning is different to that of the majority of South Africans.

Unprotected Sex

By having unprotected sex with various women Zuma is setting a shocking example. He is selfishly risking the lives of his wives.

He deserves strong criticism because:

  • It shows terrible disrespect to his wives. Zuma has literally risked the lives of his wives so that he could have a shag.
  • It also sets a horrendous example to the men of a country plagued by rape and by HIV/AIDS.

For these reasons Jacob Zuma should be vilified.

Polygamy is not morally wrong

Many people are criticizing Zuma for practicing polygyny (one man with more than one wife).

But why is polygamy morally wrong? People assume polygamy is wrong but they seldom back up their conviction with reason.

If all parties are voluntarily entering the relationship I don’t see the problem.

Many people assume that polygyny is bad for women. In fact polygyny is beneficial for most women. Sharing half of the best man is often better than all of a bad man.

Monogamy benefits the average men, who would have no wives in a polygynous society. It does not help the average woman who could have a happier life in a polygynous society.

These women are voluntarily marrying Jacob Zuma. If they were unhappy then they would leave him.


  • Zuma should be criticized for unprotected sex
  • Zuma should not be criticized for having multiple wives

Ugandan poster about polygamy and AIDS

Hitler hates the Apple iPad

I’m no Apple fanboy, but even I was looking forward to seeing what the Apple tablet was going to look like. It was announced last night and since then it seems the whole internet has been making fun of it.

With good reason.

This image basically sums it up:

Someone has also put together this parody video of Hitler reacting to the news. Hilarious.

Power Balance is rubbish

I’ve been coming across Power Balance bracelets more and more often.

Power Balance Wrist Band

These bracelets use a special hologram (or sometimes quantum effects) to “restore your body’s electrical balance, promoting a free exchange of positive and negative ions and align your body’s energy pathways.”

They instantly provide: “Faster synaptic response (brain function), enhanced muscle response (in both fast and slow twitch tissues), increased stamina (better oxygen uptake and recovery), more flexibility (faster recovery) and vastly improved gravitational balance.”

All for only R495!

Sound to good to be true. It is.

The thing is that the salesmen have some really cool “tests” that illustrate the effects of the bracelet. The tests are well done and when administered by an enthusiastic salesman they are quite tempting.

Power Balance test

Double Blinds

Since hearing about this miracle product I have wanted to see the results of a double blind test.

In a double blind neither the tester nor the subject knows if the real product is used or some other fake is used. If the product really works then there should still be benefits even when the testers and subjects don’t know the product is being used.


Over the xmas holidays I was lucky enough to come across someone with the product. I immediately made myself seem geeky by enthusiastically explaining double blind tests and then conducting them.

The results were pretty predictable. You can also watch a video showing similar tests debunking the bracelets.

No effect whatsoever.

Power Balance is just an expensive placebo. Just believing that something has an effect often causes the effect! Amazing actually.

In fact, I’ve previously blogged that more expensive placebos are more effective! These are very expensive, so they must work! Right?

Breaking the spell

Now for the really interesting part. Even if it was just a placebo effect, the guy who I was testing this with really believed that there was an effect.

By illustrating that it was a fake I broke the placebo effect. So I broke his Power Balance…

Get 10% to 25% off at restaurants in Cape Town

Last night I tested out Diners Delight – a new service in Cape Town.

I always try to support Cape Town startups so I was very pleased that everything worked so well. And it’s a great service.

The idea is simple:

You get a discount at restaurants in return for filling out a survey on your dining experience.


Simple as that. We got a 10% discount last night. Even though I booked a table of four (the discount applies to the whole bill).

Today they emailed me a reminder to fill out the survey which took about 4 minutes to do (multiple choice questions).


That’s a great return. I effectively got paid R40 to fill out a quick little survey. Awesome.

The best thing is that the discounts get better. Next time I eat at that restaurant the discount will be 15%. Then 20% and then 25%!

Check out their explanation of how Diners Delight works.

The service currently applies to 35 restaurants but more are being added regularly. The site includes a full menu and details about each of the restaurants.

I recommend giving Diners Delight a try. Quick, easy and saves you money.

Nazi U-boat off Sea Point

A few weeks ago I was running on the promenade when I was absolutely stunned to see a U-boat (German submarine from WW2) just off shore.

Since then I’ve seen the U-boat regularly. It’s often surrounded by life rafts and often has stacks of people standing on the deck.

That was all too much for my notorious curiosity.

Short Answer

A two-part BBC drama called “The Sinking of the Laconia” is being shot in Cape Town at the moment. The ‘submarine’ I have been seeing is a prop constructed for the filming (see photo below).

U-156 prop being constructed in Cape Town

Long Answer

The movie is about the Laconia Incident which is a fascinating story from World War 2.

Map of the Laconia IncidentOn 12 September 1942 the armed troopship RMS Laconia was off the coast of West Africa. There were well over 2,000 people on board – mostly Italian prisoners of war.

At about 10PM the Laconia was spotted and torpedoed by the German submarine U-156 under the command of Werner Hartenstein.

The German crew surfaced and were amazed to find so many people in the water. Remarkably Hartenstein ordered a rescue operation and sent out the following message:

If any ship will assist the ship-wrecked ‘Laconia’-crew, I will not attack providing I am not being attacked by ship or air forces. I picked up 193 men. 4, 53 South, 11, 26 West. – German submarine.

Before long U-156 had rescued 400 survivors with 200 crammed onto the deck (see picture) and 200 being towed in life boats. Two other U-boats also turned up to help in the rescue operations.

U-156 with Laconia survivors on deck

Soon all of the submarines were displaying red cross colors and transporting hundreds of survivors to safety.

In a remarkable twist an American B-24 bomber spotted U-156. Seeing the red cross flags and life boats the pilot radioed his base – a secret airfield on an island.

Fearing that the vital secret base would be discovered and attacked the base commander ordered the pilot to “sink submarine”!

In panic U-156 cut the life boats loose and dived leaving the survivors to fend for themselves. Fortunately due to earlier radio messages other rescue ships soon arrived and many were rescued.

As a result of this incident Dönitz, the chief of the German navy, understandably ordered that U-boats should no longer rescue survivors of attacks.

After the war Dönitz was convicted of war crimes for this order even though the American navy made the same rule in the Pacific ocean!

Werner Hartenstein, commander of U-156Hartenstein (pictured alongside) and the rest of the U-156 crew were killed the next year when they were sunk by another American warplane (this time a Catalina).

Trapped in a coma for 23 years

EDIT: The authenticity of the article described below has been called into serious doubt. At this stage I’m not sure how true it is.

This article describes a very unlucky man who was trapped in a paralyzed body for 23 years!

Summary of the story:

  • He suffered head injuries in a car accident
  • Doctors thought that he was in persistent vegetative state
  • In fact he was conscious but unable to move – locked in
  • He was trapped in this state for 23 years!
  • Recently a doctor used a new scanning technique and discovered that he was conscious
  • After therapy he has learned to communicate using a computer and is able to tell his story

Can you imagine that?

Just lying there with nothing to do, no way of moving, no way of communicating. For 23 years! I can hardly imagine doing it for 23 days.

How terrible.

Several other notable examples of locked in syndrome exist. You can read more about this fascinating and horrible condition on Wikipedia.

Guido Fawkes – A Summary

When I was a kid Guy Fawkes day was very exciting. Fireworks, party, bonfire. What’s not to like?

This year I noticed Guy Fawkes referred to as Guido Fawkes. Jules calls me Quizzy Pott because it is very, very easy to get me curious about things.

So here is a brief summary of Guido Fawkes.

Modern anarchist poster of Guido FawkesGuy Fawkes (1570 to 1606)

Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who plotted to assassinate the King and Parliament of England in order to overthrow Protestant rule.

At the time the Catholics were being persecuted (sometimes brutally) by the Protestants in England.

Guy Fawkes fought for Catholic armies in Europe and during this time became known as Guido Fawkes.

The Gunpowder Plot was an attempt to kill King James I, his family and the aristocracy by blowing up the House of Lords during the opening of parliament

The plot was discovered and Guy Fawkes was arrested in a cellar with 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Guido Fawkes signatureHe was tortured for information but over 3-4 days gave almost no useful information. Here is his signature on the confession.

Fawkes was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. In a last act of defiance he jumped off the ladder to the gallows breaking his neck before he could be executed.

A tradition celebrating the November 5th breakup of the plot began and persists into modern times.

The modern English word ‘guy’ comes from Guy Fawkes.

Copenhagen climate change summit – quick explanation

New Scientist has this excellent page with a high level explanation of what the upcoming Copenhagen climate change summit is about and why it is so important to all of us.

The Kyoto Protocol was the previous agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Kyoto now needs to be replaced and that is why the world is meeting in Copenhagen.

The world’s nations must agree on how they are going to massively reduce carbon emissions. This is required in order to avoid a dangerous increase in global temperatures.

It is already too late to avoid damage – the goal in Copenhagen is to agree on how to limit the damage we do to ourselves.

Rich vs poor
The rich world has already emitted way more than its share. If we are going to avoid dangerous global warming then the rich world is going to have to foot more of the bill.

Not only does the rich world have to reduce emissions by more, but it should also be offsetting past emissions.

Rich world and poor world carbon emissions share

Deal breakers
Reducing climate change is going to be difficult and very expensive. It requires global cooperation, so plenty could go wrong in Copenhagen.

  • The US must agree on serious cuts (they were the only ones to ignore Kyoto). Getting the US Congress to agree to anything tough is very tricky. If the US is not serious then China and India will start to pull out too. Then the whole deal is pointless.
  • Developing or recently developed nations feel that they shouldn’t be penalized for the past excesses of rich nations. This is reasonable but could be a big sticking point.
  • Oil rich nations may try to ‘torpedo’ the deal to protect their own interests and because they emit huge amounts of carbon.

Google gives directions in SA

Google have just released Google Maps SA. It’s awesome!

We’ve been able to see satellite images and some road data before. But now there is a lot of road data and you can get automatic directions!

The directions service works amazingly well. I’ve tested it with several routes that I often take and Google invariably got things right – even offering options!

For one test I typed in this exact input:

  • V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
  • Moyo at Spier, Cape Town

The service quickly offered two routes to Spier (N1 or N2).

It estimates time fairly accurately at about 40 minutes (N1 is slightly quicker even though it is slightly further).

Google maps SA example

It also offers step by step driving instructions for the route. Like a poor mans GPS. Simply amazing.

View the map yourself to see what I’m talking about.

Cat spies from the CIA

Acoustic kittyI’ve just read several articles on a failed CIA program to use cats for spying. Se-ri-ous.

According the official documents from the CIA and this article on Wikipedia they ran a program to use live cats as listening devices.

Over several years in the 1960s they:

  • Surgically implanted cats with radio transmitters, batteries and recording equipment
  • Trained the cats to stay close to subjects (this was unsurprisingly tricky)

During the first field test a cat was released to eavesdrop on men at a park bench. Almost immediately after being released the cat was hit by a taxi and killed! Shortly afterwards the whole program was abandoned.


As hilarious and improbable as this sounds it appears to be true. It has been very widely reported, there are official documents from the CIA, and the CIA certainly did do some weird things.

There is some good debate on the subject in the comments section of this excellent article on Acoustic Kitty.

One of the most plausible alternate explanations is that the CIA set this up as a dummy operation and channeled the funds into something else.