Apple iPad

I’m not going to defend it or blast it. Enough words have already been written about it. What I am going to say is that I like it and I want one. I’ll even get word processor and spreadsheet apps. I don’t see the need for multi-tasking, because it’s not a tablet PC. And I don’t see the need for more than 16GB of space, because as an eBook reader, it’ll be enough. I estimate most books come in at far less than 1MB, which gives me space for 16 000 at least. Wow.

South Africa is bankrupt

If you believe all the news, we’re completely bankrupt. There’s no money to fix potholes and traffic lights in Johannesburg, with the (2010® FIFA® World® Cup®)®* fast approaching. There’s no money to run and maintain Eskom, our electricity provider. There’s no money for the pebble-bed nuclear reactor in the Cape.

Then there’s the wonderful story of how we spent R50 million (almost $7 million) on the Miss World pageant. I don’t even care know who won.

In other news, Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, and secretary general of the South African Communist Party, was on the radio this week preaching about socialism, including talk of nationalising mines, the Reserve Bank, private health, and so on.

I’m all for socialism when enough people are paying tax, but we only have 5 million tax payers. There are around 50 million people in the country. Bankrupt again.

Coincidentally, Blade Nzimande was one of the new Zuma crowd of politicians who took advantage of an Apartheid-era parliamentary guideline and bought himself a R1.1m BMW 750i. Nice car for a self-proclaimed communist, wouldn’t you say? Morally bankrupt, I’d call it.

* (Apparently®, FIFA® is® so® full® of® shit®, you® can’t® even® mention® them®, or® refer® to® the® world® cup®, without® permission®. So® I’ve® put® registered® trademark® symbols® everywhere® just® to® make® sure® I’m® not® sued®.)®

Various thoughts and comments

The other day I drove behind a woman driving a Mercedes Benz, and who had two small Dachshunds on her lap, sticking their heads out of the driver’s window. How is this safe?

I read that Terry Pratchett is a Humanist. I didn’t quite know what this meant, but it appears at first look to cover my belief system as well, so if I were forced to pick a label, I suppose I’d pick this one. I’m not religious about it, if you’ll pardon the pun.

They have a “statement of faith” which reads as follows (my own emphasis added):

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural  views of reality.

On Monday I’m starting on a new project at work, which has a zero margin for error. I’m even getting my own Business Analyst to help me out. We have to extract data from old storage and re-inject it into new storage, so that the old storage can be freed up. Unfortunately, if we miss some data, there’s no back-out / rollback plan. There’s just too much data and not enough time.

I butted heads yesterday with one of South Africa’s Spammer Hall of Shame, namely Jaco Derksen. I managed to find out that he uses email addresses supplied by fxstyle.net. They claim to have over 300 million email addresses via opt-in services all over the world. I’m trying to follow up with them, but I’m keeping the Internet Service Providers Association of South Africa up to date.

Yesterday morning I drove to Pretoria in a follow-up trip to last week. First off, I dropped off documents at the Canadian High Commission (hopefully for the last time before we take our passports through), and then I went to the South African Police Services records division to get our Police Clearance Certificates renewed.

Traffic is getting worse. People do not understand what the speed limits are for, and I would have been able to issue several hundred fines in the hour and a half I was on the road, had I been a traffic policeman.

Douglasdale SAPS FTW

I’d like to tip my hat to Sibusiso Mtshali, an officer in the Douglasdale Police Station, for taking me through the fingerprinting and form completion for my police clearance certificate. He was fast, very professional, and even took me to the financial officer to pay my R59.

Parking was good, the station was clean (if a little dingy) and everyone was friendly. Even the drunk criminal suspect who was shuffled past me during the hand-cleaning process smiled and waved, but that was possibly coincidental.

Thanks for making an unpleasant task pleasant.

What I did on my day off (Part 4)

Yesterday I took a day of annual leave to sort out some issues pertaining to our upcoming emigration.

Stage 4: The medical examination

After spending half of our morning in Johannesburg, and the other half in Pretoria, with me driving through a construction site known as the N1 / M1 freeway, dodging idiot drivers, it was time for M to drive to Rosebank for our medical exam.

We got to the doctor’s office for our appointment, at 2:30pm. There were more forms to fill in, including a consent form to test for HIV. This is standard practice, and I’ve signed many of these before. See, in SA, we have a reasonably high infection rate, of about one in four people. It’s fine to have it, but Canada (nor the USA, nor UK) will not let you live there if you’ve got it.

But because of the stigma around it, you need to give permission to the doctor to inform insurance or immigration departments that you’ve got it, and if you don’t sign, you won’t be allowed in.

Neither of us has HIV, but the point is that if you want a better life in another country, your chances are severely limited.

Forms were completed, the doctor called us in, and we had a long chat. This guy is on a very short list of two doctors in Johannesburg that sign off medical exams for potential emigrants. That sort of job would drive me mad, but anyway. He was very chatty, and I think enjoyed the fact that one of his patients was a doctor too.

There was the obligatory poking and prodding (and one particular moment that shamed me), and it was over, bar the drawing of blood. I didn’t slap the nurse this time, because a) she poked my slapping arm, and b) was actually quite gentle.

Then it was over. Time to drive home and have a few minutes before rushing off to my brother’s house for a family do at 6:30pm.

We only had road one incident, and this was on the way back home. The road we were travelling on has several roads that cross it, but each of those roads have stop streets. You know, stop streets, those intersections where you stop, wait for traffic to pass, and then go?

Not if you’re a taxi driver. If you drive a minibus taxi in South Africa, the rules do not apply. You can kill schoolgirls, you can drive in the emergency lane, you can skip red lights, you can drive the wrong way down a street to avoid having to sit in traffic, and so on. Unfortunately, these bad habits have spread to other drivers. It’s chaos.

As we were driving down the road, moving fairly slowly because it was rush hour, a taxi, who was crossing over the road without waiting, tried to drive across the road in front of us. So we cut him off, and he had the nerve to shout, “Jou ma se poes.” I’m not going to translate it, because it’s dirty. The comment, not … actually, never mind …

Stage 5: None of your business

There is no Part 5 for the blog, because family time is private. We only got home at 11pm though, so it wasn’t too shabby.

What I did on my day off (Part 3)

Yesterday I took a day of annual leave to sort out some issues pertaining to our upcoming emigration.

Stage 3: Where the f**k are our medical forms?

The Canadian High Commission is in Pretoria, along with most of the other high commissions and embassies. This is because Pretoria is the state capital of South Africa.

Pretoria also happens to be on the other end of the largest construction site in South Africa: the M1 / N1 freeway. The only thing “free” about it is that the tollgates haven’t been installed. Yet. The posted speed limit due to construction is 80km/h. We’ll come back to that later.

Someone at the SA National Road Agency Limited decided to upgrade the road infrastructure. This is due for completion in the future. No one knows when. It won’t be before the 2010 Fifa World Cup in June.

At the same time, there is massive construction going on for the rapid rail Gautrain, which is linking Johannesburg to Pretoria, as well as Sandton and the international airport. I think they call it O R Tambo International Airport at the moment, but it has been called Jan Smuts International Airport and Johannesburg International Airport as well.

So a bit of background: M went to Pretoria to apply for our visas, on 3 December 2009. It takes around four working days for them to open a file and send us the medical forms, so that we can be poked and prodded by a doctor.

Some time in early January, we emailed the High Commission, asking where our forms were, and what our file number was, because we’d heard nothing. Eventually we received an email last week, giving us a file number, and asking whether we’d like to collect the forms, or have them mailed by insured post, through the South African post office. For whatever reason (blind hope?), we elected to have them mailed. After all, that should take four to five days, and we had seven working days before our appointment. Which was yesterday at 3pm.

On Friday, M went to the post office to ask if our forms had arrived. They refused to look in their book because he didn’t have the tracking number (that useful piece of information was not furnished by the High Commission). He went again on Monday, and again they refused to check because he didn’t have a tracking number.

So we decided to go to Pretoria and ask the High Commission to either issue us with new forms, or collect them if they had not been posted.

It was an adventure on that freeway. Cement mixer trucks overtaking me while I’m in the left lane, travelling at 80km/h, because according to lore (that’s not law, mind you), speed limits are for sissies. One cannot describe the terror and anger one experiences when a rearview mirror is full of cement mixer bearing down on one.

We made it to the High Commission at 10:50, alive, and stood in the queue outside. You see, they only allow collections between 11am and 12pm. Applications are done between 8am and 10am. I imagine that 10am to 11am is their morning tea break.

Getting inside is fun. We know the drill now, so we left our phones in the car. You need to have your green barcoded ID book, which the security guards check. If you have ANY electronic equipment, it must be switched off. This includes telephones, iPods, etc. Said electronic equipment must then be deposited in a tiny security locker, for which you are given the key. Of course I forgot that I still had my iPod with me, so instead of going through the rigmarole of taking it out, I suggested putting my bag in the locker. This was not a simple process: those lockers are tiny. I suggested to the security guard that I might have some sweets in the bag, which she could help herself to afterwards, if she helped me.

Once inside, we were attended to, only to find that the file number we had been emailed, was in fact incorrect. So, Mr Mohammed, we saw your file. Sorry. Anyway, it turned out that our medical forms had been posted last week. We got the tracking number from the woman (who declined printing us new forms because this would require permission from on high, which makes sense).

We took the tracking number back to the car (the security guard got her sweet), went onto the SA Post Office’s website via iPhone and 3G, to discover that the forms had ARRIVED at our post office on Friday last week.

Tempers were frayed.

So we drove back to Johannesburg. Directly to the post office. We discussed various methods of torture we would employ upon the staff, and decided on sarcasm.

Once inside the post office, we gave them the tracking number, dripping with sarcasm. The lady disappeared into the back with (I think) a senior member of staff, and emerged with our letter. The delivery date, written on the envelope, said 15 January. Last Friday. So please explain to me why they couldn’t write a collection slip for the envelope, and drop it in the post box for us, last Friday?

The medical forms were inside, thankfully, and it was now 1pm. Two hours before we had to be at our appointment. Time for a light snack and time to argue relax.

At 2:20pm, we left for Rosebank. [Read the rest in Part 4.]

What I did on my day off (Part 2)

Yesterday I took a day of annual leave to sort out some issues pertaining to our upcoming emigration.

Stage 2: Renewal of Police Clearance Certificate

When we first decided to emigrate, it was clear that it would take a long time, and we would have to renew several things that had already been issued.

Of primary importance among these was the Police Clearance Certificate, which says that, according to police records and our fingerprints, we do not have a criminal record.

The certificates expire in February 2010, so we realised we should renew them before the end of January. This consists of a visit to the local police station, payment of R59, the taking of fingerprints, and the completion of a form.

I figured that, having yesterday off, I could pop into the police station after my driver’s licence renewal. In August, it had taken fifteen minutes at most, so off I drove.

I arrived at around 9am, and walked in, feeling happy with myself for keeping to my schedule. I asked the three policemen who were standing around at the front desk where the office was for getting the police clearance certificate. The reason I asked is because these things can change daily.

I was directed to the same place as last time, so I walked down the corridor towards the office. There were two people outside, waiting for something to happen (I know this, because they had their green barcoded ID books with them).

The guy in the front of the queue said, “PDP, come back at 2” at me. I did not know what he meant, so I said, “I’m here for a police clearance certificate.” He said, “Yes, come back after 2pm.” So not trusting him, I tried to stick my head in through the doorway, only to have it slammed in my face.

I walked back to my car, dejected. After all, only a couple of days ago, M went to the police station at 1pm to do the same thing, only to be told to “come back in the morning”.

Huh?

Now it was time to wait for M to get home from work, for our Great Trek to Pretoria, to the Canadian High Commission. [Read the rest in Part 3.]

What I did on my day off (Part 1)

Yesterday I took a day of annual leave to sort out some issues pertaining to our upcoming emigration.

Stage 1: Renewal of Driver’s Licence Card

I woke up earlier (7am) than usual (8am), so that I could be at the Randburg Licencing Department to renew my driver’s licence card. It expires in August 2010, which will cause unnecessary inconvenience if I plan to drive overseas.

I got there at around 7:50, walked past a security guard holding what looked like a Remington shotgun. We greeted each other as we passed, me saying “Sure, baba” (pronounced “Sho’”), and him returning the greeting with “Heita”.

I walked around the parking lot to the building complex, which is in the heart of the Randburg CBD. For the out-of-towners, allow me to describe the Randburg CBD. Well, for starters, they have security guards armed with shotguns. Plus, because this is the land of entrepreneurs, you are shouted at by tens of photographers as you walk 150 metres. This is because the government departments have unofficially outsourced the taking of photographs.

There were two buildings that looked like possible places to renew a driver’s licence card. I trusted my instincts that the one with the shortest queue was the right place, and walked in. I asked one of the security guards at the front where one would go to renew a licence, and he handed me a form.

Before I left home, I checked out advice on the Internet for this process, and was told to “take a black pen with you”. I’m glad I did. I filled in the form (putting the year as 2009 in a cunning test to see if the government officials were awake by mistake), and asked the surly kindly security guard (he was probably armed with a grenade launcher behind the desk for all I know) about the photograph requirements. I had brought several thousand colour pictures of myself after all.

“Black and white”.

“Bah”.

So I asked him and his colleague where the cheapest and best photographs could be had. They told me “the Rasta man” and indicated that he wore some form of headgear. I walked outside and directly towards the throng of entrepreneurs*, shouting “I want the Rasta man”. He shortly presented himself and in broken English, pointed me towards a tent nearby, where a man was sitting next to a (semi-) white backdrop and HP photo-printer. I asked him how much, he told me R45 for four, and we did the deal. As a side note, my pose looks quite similar to my October 1997 ID photo, which is ironic.

As I walked back from the throng of entrepreneurial spirit, one of the mob separated himself from the crowd and asked me who told me to use the Rasta man’s services. I said “I asked at the front desk and they suggested him”. He was unimpressed with this answer, and although I ignored him* and continued up the path, he followed me.

Just inside the door, he asked me again to identify the person who told me to use the Rasta man. I said, “Look, I’m sorry, but I asked who I should use. I understand you have competition for your business, but I’m not going to tell you who suggested Rasta man, because I don’t want him to get into trouble.”

He eventually backed off. I think he remembered that these guys have low-yield nuclear weapons under their chairs for security reasons, and went back to the throng outside.

So back in the licencing building, I showed the security guard my completed form and photographs, and he pointed me upstairs to “Room Triple-Two”. I took the stairs, saw a stencilled sign with some scribble on it, pointing the way.

In room C222 (“Driver’s Licence Renewals”), there was the standard municipal government queuing system: several rows of chairs, and when the person in front is served, everybody stands up and moves one chair closer. It works surprisingly well.

I arrived in position number eleven, asked where the end of the queue was, and sat down. This is where it got amusing. Keep in mind that we’re in a small room, sitting on chairs, most of us without a pen, and there is no air conditioning. Or an open window. Right.

At the front of the room where the action is, is a desk with an eye-test machine, a desk where someone fills in forms, and a desk where a man sticks your photos to the form and takes your thumb prints**.

One of the department’s employees (a little old white lady with a strong English accent – I mention this, because it is unexpected) comes in and asks if everyone has a copy of their identity documents. I see people handing her their green barcoded ID books (you know, the ones we’re told never to give to strangers or let out of our sight), and she vanishes into oblivion.

Then another side dish of amusement: we’re given forms to fill in before we’re served, to make the process move faster. There is an original form and a duplicate (on the same piece of paper, oriented to landscape, and which are torn apart down the middle). One imagines that the original goes off to Pretoria to be processed, while the duplicate stays behind in Randburg. It’s an assumption, and as we discovered later in the day, one should never assume anything with government departments.

There is a big white block on the form, with a thick black border around it, where you must put in your specimen signature for scanning and putting on the licence card. They explicitly tell you to sign inside the block on the form. The man who handed out the form also told everyone in the queue, as he handed out each form, to sign within the black square and not go outside the lines.

One person in front of me, an old man, went outside the line and asked for a replacement. This made the form-giving man grumpy, but he gave him a new one.

Then a man of Indian descent (I point this out because South Africans might claim to be a rainbow nation, but we’re still all racists and it’s pointless denying it) asks for a new form because he, too, went outside the lines.

Then the form-man started shouting at him. He told him, “I’m not giving you a new form because I already gave you one and I told you not to go outside the lines, but you went outside the lines. If you’re going to behave like a child, I will treat you like a child. Come back another time.”

And that’s the funny-because-you’d-cry-otherwise part: he was being serious. He would not serve the Indian man because he wrote over the line when he did his signature. It was extraordinary. Of course this threw the other two department table-sitters into a frenzy (when I say frenzy, they actually just agreed with form-man about going outside the lines). Eventually, the Indian man was given another form, but it was clear that he was being made an example of.

Then again, I managed to stay in the lines.

Eventually I made it to the front of the queue (it took about 20 minutes, I would estimate), and did the eye test. The man operating the machine filled in my form for me (and didn’t notice my 2009 mistake), so I didn’t have to sit at form-man’s desk (thankfully!), and then got to the fingerprint-man’s desk.

Keeping in mind the fuss about the citizen going outside the lines and wasting department stationery, and the huge example that was made of him, it was amusing (to me, anyway) that fingerprint-man fluffed one of the fingerprints on the woman who was ahead of me, and had to fill in a new form anyway.

Now came the part where you pay, in another room. I went to the desk and put down all the pieces of paper we’d filled in. The lady asked me whether I wanted a temporary driver’s licence, and I said “I do not”. Apparently, to her, that sounded like “Yes”.

Meanwhile, I heard through the bullet-proof glass that the licence renewal costs R165, so being short of the correct money, I put down R205 in the hope of getting two R20 notes back. She looked at this in disdain and said “Two-One-Five”. I said, “But you said it was One-Six-Five.”

She said, “You asked for a temporary licence.” I said, “No I didn’t. Why would I want to pay R50 for something I don’t need?” and then I proceeded to show her my current licence, which expires in August 2010. She said, “But I’ve printed it now.”

When I left, I had paid R215 and had a temporary licence that I didn’t need. I figured I didn’t want to start the third world war because of the incompetence of S LANGA (who received my money, according to the temporary licence).

I got back to my car by 8:50am, which was a successful morning. Now it was on to the police station. [Read the rest in Part 2.]

* South Africa is not for sissies.

** South Africa takes fingerprints for everything involving government departments. Everything.