Daylight wasting time

In South Africa, efforts to introduce summer ("daylight saving") time (DST) has and will always by stymied by the considerable east-west extent of the country. During the summer, we have the same time as Namibia - which is then on "daylight saving" time - and there is no reason for the time in Cape Town, on the same latitude as Namibia, to be different. Should the western part of the country then switch to the time zone of Namibia (UTC+1 with DST), the eastern part would surely stay on the present (UTC+2) time zone, perhaps introducing DST and perhaps not. The confusion generated by such a move would be considerable. The blog Freakonomics has furthermore just revealed the environmental effect of DST to be not negligible but actually negative. A study,

Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence From a Natural Experiment in Indiana by Matthew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant

has just revealed that DST increases the residential demand for electricity in the US state of Indiana - probably due to increase demand for heating and cooling. Ouch!


Half a day of Ubuntu blues

Like Linux geeks all over the planet, I was excited about last Friday's release of version 8.10 of Ubuntu Linux - Intrepid Ibex. I had tried pre-release versions on my Dell laptop without any problem and was very impressed by the option Auto GSM Connection in the network manager. This feature allowed me to connect to UMTS/GPRS networks using the popular Huawei E220 3G modem. All I needed to enter was the PIN for the SIM card, and the connection just appeared. Given the fragility of our monopoly fixed-line provider and the fickle network at Big U, where I collect a monthly stipend, the Auto GSM features is a great addition - even to desktops.

With almost no trepidation at all, I proceeded to update my Dell desktop in the office, using a downloaded CD image and updating additional packages over the Internet. In other words, this was not a clean install but a genuinely "hot" upgrade. After booting, though, the monitor went into hibernation after briefly showing... nothing at all. Fortunately the consoles (Ctrl-Alt-F1 and F2) were available and I tried to slowly discover what was going on. After I managed to start a graphical VNC session from my home computer, I was convinced that the problem was not serious. Nevertheless, it still took me about an hour this morning to stumble on the idea of removing all NVidia drivers. Bingo - my desktop was back in good shape, running Ibex.


Judge refuses DoC's request to appeal

The Minister of Communications, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburri, has been denied leave to appeal (see Minister scratches back below) in the judgement in favour of Altech's right to have its value-added network service (VANS) licence converted into an individual electronic communications network service (I-ECNS) licence, allowing it to deploy a telecommunications network. It is anyone's guess what she might try next, but - for now - industry and private enterprise are safe.


  1. Minister scratches back http://www.cyphafrica.com/2008/09/minister-scratches-back.html

  2. Ispa welcomes ruling on Matsepe Cassaburi’s Altech appeal http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article.php?a_id=146686


Malema's matric and Home Affairs

The matric (school-leaving exam in SA) results of Mr Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League, have been circulating in the country over the past week or so. This gentelman, who is famously prepared to "kill" to support "the revolution" managed to get 4% (an H symbol) in the exam in Standard Grade Mathematics. He did manage 57% in History (also on Standard Grade) which is, presumably, more important for a politician. Now, I do not doubt that there were not many opportunities for academic advancement where Mr Malema grew up and although he should perhaps have tried better nevertheless, I am most surprised that no-one has commented about the spelling of "mother tongue" with a Q on the, apparently, official print-out.

Lest anyone believe that the spelling mistake or typo indicates the Malema document not to be genuine, I present the image on the left from an official receipt from the Department of Home Affairs (for a passport application), dated earlier this month. Somehow they got the Afrikaans for "affairs" as "sakke" (meaning "bags") instead of "sake". I have to wonder whether this is the case at every office of Home Affairs or whether it is only at this office and - in that case - whether all the offices set up their cash registers or printers manually.

Also see

  1. "Malema’s (lacklustre) matric results", The Sowetan, 2008-10-24, http://www.sowetan.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=870114


Prime number formulae

Last week, I was interviewed on ClassicFM in the show The Internet Economy about GIMPS - the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. During the interview, I said that there was no formula for generating prime numbers, by which I meant - of course - that there is no easy formula. As Eric Weisstein writes in the authoritative MathWorld,
"all such formulas require either extremely accurate knowledge of some unknown constant, or effectively require knowledge of the primes ahead of time in order to use the formula."

He is writing about formulae that are known to produce the n-th prime p(n) on input n. There are other kinds of prime-generating formulae. Consider, for example, the formula described by Eric Rowland in a recent issue of the Journal of Integer Sequences. Rowland's sequence is defined by

a(n) = a(n-1) + gcd(n, a(n-1))

and a(1) = 7. He shows that the values taken on by a(n)-a(n-1) are always either one or prime. However, it is not known whether all primes are produced by this sequence, and I expect it not to be the case! Another approach is to consider the values taken on by a polynomial with integer coefficients and in several unknowns. There exist polynomials for which all the positive values are all prime and in fact there exist such polynomials for which all prime numbers are found among the positive values. These prime-generating polynomials (about which more in the MathWorld article cited below) are, however, not a particularly efficient way of generating prime numbers.


  1. Podcast of the 3 October 2008 edition of The Internet Economy on ClassicFM http://tinyurl.com/3m2gug

  2. Weisstein, Eric W. "Prime Formulas." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource. http://mathworld.wolfram.com/PrimeFormulas.html

  3. Rowland, Eric S. "A Natural Prime-Generating Recurrence." Journal of Integer Sequences, Vol. 11 (2008), Article 08.2.8 http://www.cs.uwaterloo.ca/journals/JIS/VOL11/Rowland/rowland21.html

  4. Weisstein, Eric W. "Prime-Generating Polynomial." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource. http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Prime-GeneratingPolynomial.html


Upcoming tech events in sub-Sahara Africa

The postings of a fellow blogger - over at WhiteAfrican.com - has alerted me to a number of upcoming ICT events in Southern Africa, some of which had escaped my attention. I am listing them here for the convenience of the casual reader, together with one or two that I happened to have come accross myself.

This list is not exhaustive and will not be updated.


Minister scratches back

The previous posting in this blog celebrated the court victory of Altech against ICASA and the Department of Communications (DoC). The ruling was viewed as the closest thing to a big bang liberalisation of the telecommunications industry in South Africa, especially since ICASA had announced that the ruling would not be appealed. Today, however, the DoC announced that the minister intends to lodge an appeal against the ruling and to issue a directive to ICASA (where the I used to stand for "independent") in this regard. The purported justification for this peevish obstructivism is that if it implemented,
"government’s managed liberalisation policy will be seriously undermined to the detriment of the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) industry."
Now, since when is the DoC supposed to act in the interest of the ICT industry?!

The idea is preposterous but not new: it is called regulatory capture and happens when a government agency starts acting in the interest of the commercial groups that it had been expected to regulate. If you have difficulty distinguishing between regulatory capture and corruption, just remember that the one is legal and enduring whereas the other is illegal but usually done quite quickly. The South African innovation is that the DoC is no longer pretendingto be doing anything else.

Earlier this year, the prestigious Rutgers University in the USA conferred on DoC Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri an honorary doctorate in law (she had done her doctorate in sociology there in the 1980s), so perhaps she knows better than I what she is doing. According to the DoC website, she is "one of the most successful, visible, and accomplished women in Africa", after all.

  1. Communications Minister to appeal court ruling http://mybroadband.co.za/news/Telecoms/5293.html
  2. Minister to Appeal the Altech Judgment http://www.doc.gov.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=280&Itemid=457
  3. Rutgers University honors Minister of Communications http://www.doc.gov.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=230&Itemid=457


Hof raps OKOSA en Matsepe-Casaburri

Die Pretoria Hooggeregshof het verlede week beslis ten gunste van Altech en teen OKOSA en die Departement Kommunikasie in 'n uitgerekte saak oor die selfverskaffing van netwerkinfrastruktuur deur houers van sogenaamde VANS-lisensie wat vroeër deur OKOSA uitgereik is. Dít beteken dat dié - volgens berigte sowat 300 maatskappye - nie gedwing gaan word om die fasiliteite van Telkom, Neotel e.d.m. te gebruik om dienste te verskaf nie. Sover ek dit verstaan gee dit alle VANS-lisensiehouers die reg om, byvoorbeeld, 'n kabel tussen Pretoria en Johannesburg te lê.

Altech se hofoorwinning kom na verwarrende en teenstrydige uitlatings deur die SA-regering in hierdie verband. Oënskynlik het regulasies wat in 2004 uitgevaardig is en in 2005 "herroep" is, dié reg reeds toegestaan. Met ander woorde, die gesloer en halsstarrigheid van die minister het die industrie en die publiek vier jaar gekos.

Terloops, die onderbreking van vier maande in dié webjoernaal was te wyte aan 'n besonder druk navorsing- en kongresskedule en ek gaan dit van nou af weer meer dikwels opdateer.

  1. Altech mag eie telekomnetwerk bou, beslis hof (Beeld) http://www.news24.com/Sake/Algemene_nuus/0,,6-1607_2385933,00.html
  2. Court ruling opens doors for telecoms competition (Business Day) http://www.businessday.co.za/Articles/TarkArticle.aspx?ID=3308054
  3. VANS can self provide (MyBroadband) http://mybroadband.co.za/news/Telecoms/5023.html


GMail versus Google Mail - the pitfalls

Before reading further, please identify "[Google Mail]" and "[GMail]" in the screenshot on the right.

For a week or two now, I have noticed strange behaviour when using my GMail from my desktop client, Claws Mail, using IMAP. Two things bothered me especially:
  1. The Sent folder one of my accounts had apparently stopped being updated about 10 days ago. Nevertheless, on the GMail web interface, everything was fine and all the sent messages could be retrieved.
  2. On the other account, my client would no longer process the messages marked to be moved to the folder All Mail.
It should have bothered me that one of the accounts showed an exclamation mark next to the number of unread messages but actually it did not. I should add that I have at least three installations of Claws (more-or-less all copies of a single one) and I could not verify whether they all behaved the same but I suspected that Claws and GMail were simply either unable to communicate or that I had somehow destabilised the set-up by deleting some GMail labels.

Fortuitously I somehow recalled that when setting up the GMail originally, one had to change the language setting – in the GMail Settings – from English UK (in my case) to English US before being able to active IMAP access to the account. I set both accounts to English US again and then rescanned the folders in the account (right-click on the account name in Claws and choose "Rebuild folder tree"). That solved the problem and both folder trees are now known as "GMail".

This issue, I believe, appeared because of trademark conflicts in the UK and Germany about the name GMail – q.v. the ars technica article, below. I have not, and am not going to, test it with German but would be glad to hear whether this problem can be duplicated with German and with languages and countries not affected by trademark disputes. A few years ago, incidentally, when I started running my own IMAP server, I realised that it was a really bad idea to change the default folder names (e.g. Sent) .

Google can't use "Gmail" name in Europe - ars technica


Load shedding - the T-shirt

For those far from the fatal shores of - once sunny - South Africa: the state monopoly power utility uses "load shedding" as a euphemism for rolling blackouts.

Ek het nie woorde nie.


Eskom-rantsoenering beloon hoë kragverbruik

Eskom het aangekondig dat kwotas ingestel sal word vanaf 1 Julie 2008 vir huishoudelike en industriële gebruik van elektrisiteit. Dít sal behels dat straftariewe betaal moet word vir verbruik wat hoër is as 90% van die gemiddelde verbruik oor 'n tydperk in die verlede, aangekondig as Oktober 2006 tot September 2007. Dit klink pragtig en deugdelik, amper soos 'n oefen- of verslankingsprogram. Maar, sê maar, jy en jou familie was van Oktober 2006 tot September 2007 in Doebai en die bure het na julle huis gekyk. Intussen het julle teruggekeer en die werklose neef en familie van Randfontein (die myn het gesluit weens die kragtekort) het in Januarie by julle ingetrek. Daar woon dus nou 9 mense in die huis, in vergelyking met geen in die verwysingstydperk. Julle moet egter 10% minder krag gebruik, in dié geval 10% minder as omtrent niks. Daar is nie 'n prosedure vir die Randfonteiners om hulle kwota (in dié huis woon nou plakkers) oor te dra na jou paleis in Swartkops nie.

Dié voorbeeld wys uit wat die probleem is met die kwota-stelsel: mense wat in die verwysingstydperk baie elektrisiteit gebruik het word beloon deurdat die vorige hoë gebruik as gebruiksreg aan hulle toegestaan word onderwyl mense wat min gebruik het belas word met 'n verdere besparing. Dié wat voorheen die verwarmer die hele winter aan gelos het, sal dit baie maklik vind om aan die kwotas te voldoen. Wat staan die verstandige gebruiker nou te doen? Moet net nie meer as die verpligte hoeveelheid elektrisiteit spaar nie, want anders gaan jy met die instel van die volgende - nog strenger - kwotas regtig bars.

Die instel van 'n kwota kom neer op die skep van 'n bate. Dit gee jou die reg tot gebruik van 'n hulpbron, teen 'n vasgestelde tarief. Jy "besit" dus nou iets wat jy voorheen nie gehad het nie. In die geval van die Eskom-kwota kom dít neer op 'n massiewe oordrag van hulpbronne na die "bevoorregtes" (teen wie ek, anders as Alec Erwin, niks het nie), of 'n ondergroep van "bevoorregtes". Ek wonder, terloops, wat Eskom gaan maak met nuwe huise en besighede?

Opsomming: Die kwota-stelsel vir elektrisiteit "straf" wel die sameleweing vir hoë kragverbruik, maar dit beloon hoë gebruik (in die verlede) deur die individu. 'n Redelik persoon sal uit dié ervaring die verwagting ontwikkel dat verder kwotas toegepas gaan word en dat hoë verbruik vandag (môre se verlede) weer beloon sal word.

Lees- en kykstof:
  1. SA enters power rationing phase : http://www.moneyweb.co.za/mw/view/mw/en/page62093?oid=199024&sn=Detail
  2. Eskom insists on 10% cut for homes, offices : http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/topstories.aspx?ID=BD4A727143
  3. Kragrantsoenering 'n resep vir chaos (brief van ene Gerhard op LitNet) : http://tinyurl.com/27eo6q
  4. Carte Blanche oor die Eskom-krisis (met klem op die steenkoolreserwes) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWCFExYQ2NA
  5. Skielik is die liggies af (deur Leon Schuster - nog iets waarvoor ons Eskom kan blameer) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tejC5jd244


Verkeersfoto's in Duitsland - stoor van nommerplaatinligting verbode

Die Duitse grondwethof in Karlsruhe het beslis dat die polisie in twee Duitse deelstate nie verder sondermeer die nommerplate van verbygaand motors mag afneem en stoor nie. Die uitspraak is ook van toepassing op ander Duitse deelstate waar dié tipe bewaking toegepas word. Dit is vanselfsprekend kommerwekkend indien die owerhede basies 'n rekord opbou van mense, of hulle motors, se bewegings.

In watter mate het 'n mens die reg om anoniem op die pad te wees? Die kamera hier bo wys 'n kruising in die Amerikaanse stad Seattle en word elke minuut of so opdateer. Hoewel die resolusie nie heeltemal goed genoeg is om nommerplate af te lees nie, hoe lank voor sulke verkeersfoto's deur nie-regeringsgroepe verwerk word om 'n databasis op te bou van mense se bewegings?

Hier onder is Johannesburg se spaghetti-wisselaar vir die N1/N3/M1.




Hijacking a Big U network account

I could not really imagine that there is too much worth reading in the average Big U e-mail account but here is how you can easily hijack one, as well as the user account for the same person - letting you, potentially cavort around the Big U intranet as that user. All you need to know is the person's username, say ALBERTE - which Big U, contrary to all the usual advice, also uses as the e-mail prefix, e.g. ALBERTE@bigu.ac.zw.
  1. Send an e-mail to the ICT helpdesk, asking for the password for ALBERTE to be reset. Use any e-mail account whatsoever to send this message! The reason that ICT-help will not find this unusual at all is that they only except password reset requests by e-mail. Since the lame network of Big U requires passwords to be changed on a monthly basis, they get a lot of requests for resets and ALL of these requests originate from some e-mail address different from that which they have to reset, of course. They apparently cannot require that these requests originate from the user's own e-mail address because either (i) they haven't thought of it; or (ii) most users don't have a separate e-mail password or have never used a computer other than their own.
  2. Wait a few minutes for the reset password - often "password" - to arrive.
  3. Log in the victim's user account. If they have no separate e-mail password, this will probably give you access to their e-mail as well.
  4. Don't worry. The victim does not receive a copy of the password reset request or of the reset password. They will log on the next time and probably assume that they have forgotten their brand new password from last week and request a new one. This behaviour will confirm ICT-help's conviction that the user ALBERTE is an idiot and that they should keep on doling out reset passwords.
Needless to say, criminal minds will probably want to do this after having verified that the target has gone home for the weekend, so as to have a day or two to play around. I have never done this for any other than my own account, but for that it has worked very well. Big U, by the way, has disabled IMAP accounts on the advice of their (Microsoft) consultants who believe IMAP to be an unacceptable security risk. Huh?

[Apologies to Neil Stephenson for hijacking the title of his first published novel, The Big U.]

Useful links:



1000 weekend minutes on Vodafone Hungary

I am in Budapest at the moment, using a 3G card from Vodafone Hungary, provided with the apartment which I am renting. It occurred to me to check out the call rates and South Africans will be chagrined to find that Vodafone Hungary offers 1000 (sic) free weekend/evening minutes on a package costing R138,40 per month (at today' s exchange rate). On this package, calls to other Vodafone subscribers are about R0,70 per minute and calls to other networks just over R1,00 per minute, at any time of the day. South African subscribers getting 1/10 the number of minutes for the same price are... words escape me... sucked dry. Did I mention just R200,00 per month for an "unlimited" HDSPA service?

Sources: http://www.vodafone.hu/egyeni/tarifak/tarifa_valaszto/vodafone_tripla_en.html http://www.vodafone.hu/microsite/mobilinternet/szolg_hsdpa.html


ICASA's award of pay-TV licences to be challenged

ITweb reports today that Black Earth Communications (BEC) will be challenging the ICASA decision not to grant it a licence for pay-TV services in SA. Apparently represented by Cape Town ICT attorneys Michalsons, BEC was one of ten applicants not to receive a licence. Since the technology for pay-TV does not require the use of any scarce resource, one can presume that the decision to deny licences is based on non-compliance with one of the raft of mom-and-apple-pie (or should that be, umama-and-melktert?) provisions of the relevant legislation, or on ICASA engaging in an anti-competitive carve-up of the market. Which legal grounds it would have for the latter is unclear to me but why should an organ of state be picking winners in the marketplace, especially for a totally non-essential service?

One of the firms awarded a licence, e-Sat, has already announced that it no longer intends to run a pay-TV service but has got into bed with the incumbent monopoly provider, Multichoice. That leaves four firms with licences, one of which is Multichoice (and another... Telkom). In economics, the four-firm concentration ratio is often used to gauge how competitive a market is. In this case, the concentration ratio will be 100% - a situation that many people will regard as a full oligopoly. Furthermore, the barrier to entry is very high and I would not be surprised if the situation turns into a Multichoice/Telkom duopoly rather quickly, with very little benefit for the consumer.