Photo journal: Oranjezight City Farm

A recent post on DPS suggested that keeping a photo journal can help my photography.

It seemed like a great idea. With a journal, not only can I see what my photos were like a few weeks, months, or years ago, but I can also write down what I was thinking, feeling, what the conditions were like, and how I went about editing the particular photo.

However, I wanted to take it a step further and share that informatio. While reflecting on my own work would be great, I think it would be even better to hear what other people’s thoughts are regarding my photos and my process behind making them. More than that, there is the slim chance that my experience could spark another person’s creativity, and that thought already makes me smile.

Without further ado, here are some recent photos of mine:

These were taken at the Oranjezight City Farm Market Day which takes place every Saturday at Leeuwenhof – the official residence of the Premier of the Western Cape. The market plays host to a variety of vendors selling all kinds of delicious things, and there’s a large tent area where one can buy fresh produce grown in the local Oranjezight City Farm. It’s one of the many buzzing markets around Cape Town that I would recommend to anyone.

Strawberry cups

As this was my first visit to the market I was trying to take in as much as possible. This particular arrangement of cupcakes caught my eye the first time I passed them, and I simply had to go back to at least get a photo of them. I regret not buying them all.

Besides the fact that I love chocolate, and strawberries, and cupcakes, what I think drew me in was the striking colours and elegant arrangement. A dark base, with a light top covered with colourful red and green makes for a wonderful contrasting image. In post-processing, I simply wanted to increase the contrast and make sure that the colour caught the viewer’s eye (and made them want to sink their teeth into those strawberries) – nothing fancy.

Preparation

My second photo is from the same vendor, though this time including some other elements.

In this photo, I liked the arrangement a lot. The light caught the brand on the jar beautifully, making it hard to miss. My favourite cupcakes are back in the bottom right (how could I leave them out?).

I tried to make sure the background wasn’t unrecognisably blurred out, as I wanted the owner preparing a scone for a customer as part of the image – without her there is no story to tell here.

That’s it for now! Let me know what you think and what you’d like to know more about

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Greenify Cape Town

Our story begins on a bright Friday afternoon in the Cape Town CBD. It’s a public holiday and people are taking it slow – easing in to their long weekend.

The three level 8 Ingress players in the CBD have decided, however, that the time is ripe to cause some chaos and to build as many high-level portals as they can – a beautiful green farm promising a greener, stronger future.

They begin their mission at the famous statues in Adderly street. These portals are well known because there are quite a few of them in a very small area – easy AP and item gathering. The problem is that these portals are so close together, that when they become high-level enough with links and fields running around, it becomes near impossible to distinguish one cluster from the other, let alone find any specific portal. But I digress…Image

From here, the three intrepid characters – JPAB, Cragongslammer, and HawkiesZA (that’s me!) – go up along Adderly street towards the Bartholomeus Dias Statue, and then down and around Thibault square and back up along Adderly fountain, claiming portals and setting up control fields as they go.

Into the four-wheel motorised transport they got, and shot up Adderly towards Gardens, where they claimed and upgraded portals in Spin and Wale street.

At this point there was a choice: either they could expand the level 7 farm, or they could recapture and upgrade portals that run along Table Mountain and Lion’s head. With some slight convincing the latter road was taken while leaving behind a small trail of desolation.

Though they were troubled with bad cell reception, our heroes managed to upgrade all the portals and received a few keys in return for their troubles.

Cragongslammer had been searching his intel map and announced that he had found three targets that could be used to create a large field that could encompass Cape Town CBD (Lion’s Head Entrance, Golden Seal Statue at the V&A Waterfront, and Stay Strong in Woodstock). It wouldn’t be easy – there were a few blocking links from both friend and foe and the risk was always there that the Resistance would realise the plan and stop it before it came to fruition. But the links could be cleared and the potential payoff was well worth the risk.

There were enemy blocking links from Green Point to the Waterfront and at the Waterfront itself, while friendlies had managed to run blocking links from the CBD to Woodstock (and HawkiesZA had accidentally made another blocking link in Gardens before the new plan).

Off to Green Point they went, where they destroyed and deployed portals, but trying to be careful to deploy in a way that would make it hard for other friendlies to ruin their work. They then went to the Waterfront where they almost cleared everything out in seconds, but a nasty ghost link threatened to spoil the plan. They quickly identified a secondary portal (Mitchell’s Brewery) that could be used, and carried on to remove HawkiesZA’s accidental link in record time.

Unfortunately, game time had run out for JPAB – he had other plans that couldn’t be postponed. His contributions would not be forgotten, but Crangongslammer and HawkiesZA would carry on.First link to Lion's head

The two continued to Woodstock, where they used another ADA to remove the second friendly blocking link. They proceeded to “Stay Strong” where they made the first link to Lion’s Head Entrance and each managed to nab a key. The rush was on, but Cape Town’s traffic lights didn’t give a single…

However, the Resistance were quiet. Nothing troubled HawkiesZA or Cragongslammer’s scanners as they feverishly made their way back to Mitchell’s Brewery. Once there, practically banging on their phones and almost yelling at people to stop hogging the bandwidth, they checked and rechecked until the right possible links showed up (it felt like an eternity, but it was really more like 30 seconds) – Lion’s Head Entrance and Stay Strong…link, link…and their screens glowed green as an almost 6900MU field filled them.

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Drinks were in order while they waited on the response from the Resistance, but by the time they had finished only one lone agent had arrived. He left once he realised he was up against two watchful defenders, though that could hardly be the end?

Indeed!

As Cragongslammer and HawkiesZA were on their way home, Soulkiss came along and used an ADA on the Lion’s Head Entrance. Back to the mountain they went, used a Jarvis on the same portal, and recreated the links to Mitchell’s Brewery and Stay Strong.

 

 

This was definitely a successful night for the Enlightened and goes to show that by working together even a few can do something big.

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Ingress Resistance agents in South Africa create massive field

On Friday night, 14 June, at approximately 20h15 UTC+2, Resistance agents MadMonk3y, tensor, and Krow, linked portals at Sunningdale Village (in Umhlanga),  Paarl Bergrivier Boulevard Sou (in Paarl), and Donkey at KFC (in Polokwane), creating a field of over 16 million MU, and spanning a massive area over South Africa.

The portal in Paarl was attacked, destroyed, and captured by Enlightened agents GreenWorld and LyleJunior at approximately 21h25 on Friday evening.

Well done to the Resistance agents for coordinating this, and to the Enlightened agents for their quick response.

Image

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How long can your smartphone last as a portable hotspot?

Have you ever wondered how long your phone would last as a portable hotspot? I recently started wondering this for a very simple reason.

I bought a Nexus 7 and it doesn’t have 3G. (Sidenote: I had an ASUS Transformer without 3G before that, but that’s not important right now) It’s not the first tablet to claim that and it certainly won’t be the last, but it’s a big deal because there isn’t a 3G model and there are no plans to change that.

This means that I’m tethered to WiFi hotspots at home, work, or at coffee shops – with very few in South Africa that actually offer a decent length of free WiFi time.

Except, that’s not entirely true.

Android has had a portable hotspot feature since 2010 when 2.2 (FroYo) was launched, and iOS has had it since 2011 with iOS 4.3, which allows you to share your 3G connection on your phone over WiFi with other devices.

However, sharing your connection like this drains your battery. Supposedly, at least. A lot of people say it on forums and such, but there aren’t enough numbers. How long can your phone really last with that feature turned on? That’s what I’m going to try and answer, and hopefully I can get some sort of baseline.

Method

This isn’t going to be pure Science. Eliminating variables to see how much battery just this feature uses, while interesting, isn’t relevant to me as a consumer.

I’m going to take my phone(s) as is, apps and all, and I’m going to connect a second device to it. I’m going to use both the way I normally would and see how long the portable hotspot lasts.

The phones I’m going to test are the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus S, and the iPhone 4, simply because that’s what I have easily available to me. To each one, I’ll be connecting the Nexus 7 tablet and using both as I normally would use my phone and tablet.

Galaxy Nexus

The Galaxy Nexus is running the latest and greatest version of Android – 4.1.1 a.k.a Jelly Bean. It’s been my main device for a few months now, so it does have a number of apps on it along with a few games.

It generally gets used for listening to audiobooks and music, staying updated on Google+ and Twitter, as well as to stay updated with my newsfeeds.

Turning on the portable hotspot and running both devices as I normally would resulted in the Galaxy Nexus lasting around 9 hours before crying for the charger. Extrapolating from this suggests that it could go as far as 10 hours before being out of juice entirely.

9 hours more or less covers a normal work day, though it is a massive departure from how long the Galaxy Nexus usually lasts me. On a normal day, I get home with the Galaxy Nexus having between 40% and 60% battery left. There are rare occasions where I have less than that, though it’s usually because of bad WiFi and/or 3G signal rather than actual use.

Tangent aside, 9 hours isn’t bad. That’s 9 hours if the portable hotspot is permanently on, so it’s probable that you can save battery if you only turn it on when needed.

Nexus S

The Nexus S is also running the latest Android (4.1.1). It’s been my standby device since I got the Galaxy Nexus, but it was my main device for over a year.

Sadly, it doesn’t fare as well as the Galaxy Nexus did. It only managed about 7 hours of being a portable hotspot with very minimal use otherwise. 7 Hours isn’t a full workday, but it’s still not a terrible amount and if managed well, you could probably get your full workday out of the phone.

iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 is running the latest beta version of iOS6. Beta versions aren’t necessarily the best version to test such a thing on, but I’ve found the battery life on the newest one to be very good.

It’s worth noting that the iPhone 4 has never been my main device. The 4S was during the time that I reviewed it, but otherwise I tend to only use it if I need to test something. I did, however, make an effort to use the iPhone 4 for this test instead of my preferred Galaxy Nexus.

In the end, the iPhone 4 managed to get somewhere between 8 and 9 hours, which is quite good.

The connection to the Nexus 7, however, wasn’t the best. I found that the Nexus would stay connected to the iPhone, but it seemed to lose its connection to Google when you kept the screen off for a while (which can be seen by the WiFi icon in the notification bar in Android – grey means it doesn’t have a connection, while blue means it does). This may be a battery-saving feature of the iPhone, though it didn’t seem to affect the 3G connection on the iPhone itself.

Conclusion

“But what does this mean?”, you ask me. It means that the portable hotspot feature does indeed eat your battery life like a kid noms candy.

However, it’s not nearly as bad as what I thought it would be. I went into this thinking that I’d be getting six hours or maybe less. This shows me that I don’t need to get a 3G tablet model and another data SIM for those rare occasions that I need a connection in a place without WiFi.

What’s also important to me here is that I now have some real-world data – something that I can use and compare other phones and dedicated portable hotspots against. If you have or come across more data, drop a comment below and I’ll be sure to check it out.

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An open rant about the Gautrain

I take the Gautrain every weekday. It’s convenient, it saves me from traffic, and time/price-wise it works out very well. It almost sounds like I think the Gautrain is perfect, but that’s what this post is about. The Gautrain has some huge issues and I’m tired of no one doing anything about them.

Hurry up and stand
When the Gautrain first started, people may not have believed in its effectiveness. That, however, has definitely changed.

When I started using it in December, there were days on the early morning trains (around 7), that not everyone getting on at Centurion station could find a seat. By the time we got to Midrand, there was usually only standing room left. This has changed dramatically.

On the trains that arrive at Centurion at 06h52, 07h04, and 07h16, there are little to no seats left. Passengers cramp in in the entry- and walkways. This would be bearable if the air conditioning was properly pumping in fresh air by the ton, but some days it’s not, which means that the only fresh air coming in comes from when the doors open at stations.

This is a simple problem to solve: there should be one or two more 8-car trains for the peak morning shifts. People would adapt their morning routines if they needed to which would then relieve the pressure on the smaller trains.

And for the love of Tau, put the air conditioning on.

[UPDATE] The Gautrain has released a new schedule that will take effect from 22 March 2012. I plan on testing it out and will report back.

On buying and using credit
The Gautrain has a few different ways for you to purchase credit.

First is the regular ol’ PAYG (Pay As You Go). You put money on your card and an amount gets taken off for every trip.

Next are the 7- and 35-day passes, which give you a certain amount of trips to use over the specified time period between two predefined stations. The 7-day pass gives you 10 single trips, while the 35-day pass gives you 44 single trips. While these sound like arbitrary numbers, they match up with the number of trips needed in a full work-week or work-month respectively, which is fairly clever. The benefit of this over PAYG is that there is a 10% and 20% discount for the 7-day and 35-day pass respectively.

The first problem is that there is no way to reclaim your money for unused trips or the unused trips themselves on the 7- and 35-day passes. Once you’ve paid, you have to use it or lose it. To me, this sounds downright criminal.

You have a limited amount of trips to be used within specific start- and endpoints, then they limit the use of those trips to a specific time period, and it’s impossible to reclaim or refund unused trips.

Writing this out makes it seem very similar to Internet caps in South Africa. You buy a certain amount of gigabytes that you have until the end of the month, and they don’t roll over to the next month. Except I can go to any site on the Internet – I’m not limited to only using Hotmail. Also, if at the end of the month I realise that I have a load of cap left, I can go wacko with my downloads. Riding the Gautrain from one station to the other for a whole day is pretty much a complete waste of time and space.

The solution you ask?

Well, they could start by limiting it less – perhaps remove the “valid duration” limitation. Failing that, they can at least make it easy to reclaim unused trips (money can be reclaimed, though it is a little convoluted). Once that’s done, the Gautrain should consider introducing a flat rate for the X-day passes and also think about an “uncapped” product of sorts (for those who love the train so much they just don’t want to climb out).

The second problem is that special cases aren’t always well thought out.

A few days ago, with one trip left on my card upon arrival at Centurion station, I purchased a new 35-day pass. I figured that I would use my last trip the next morning, and in the afternoon my new pass would take effect. I was wrong.

I used my last trip as expected, but my new 35-day pass hasn’t yet taken effect (three trips later). I’m told that it will only take effect on the 20th of March. The reason for this, as far as I understand it, is that I purchased a new pass while the current one was still active, which means that the current one has to run out (of active days) before the next one can activate.

I’m sure you already see the solution here: my original pass should have deactivated as soon as it was used up, allowing the newly purchased pass to take effect on my next use. If not this then I should have been prevented from purchasing a new pass or there should have been a big red flashing warning sign when I attempted it. You’d think that there would be a way for me to speak to someone to get this issue fixed, but the client service representative at Centurion informed me that there is no way to change this. They expect me to believe that there is no one with administrative privileges that can help me out, not even the maintainers of the system responsible for this.

Adding insult to injury
If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not have heard that the Gautrain had serious bus strikes in February. This meant that I, along with many other people, couldn’t use the Gautrain, because getting to the next station is only half of our actual journey. From Sandton station, I need to take a bus to Randburg. I would walk, but I prefer to not get fired for being 2 hours late.

This then meant that I took the harrowing journey on the freeway from Centurion to Randburg for a week or so, which means that I ended up with a few unused trips. As I mentioned before, I’m not the only one, and I know of a few people that had a lot more than I did. As I also mentioned before, there is no way to reclaim those trips. Naturally, people weren’t happy.

Thus, the Gautrain posted this which details a refund procedure for those people who were affected. I asked about this procedure and was told that I did not qualify because I only had 4 or so unused trips. I’m not sure how other people’s claims went as this method was “announced” fairly silently.

Conclusion
The Gautrain is not treating its customers with any respect in my opinion, and it looks like they think of them as money bags that need to be shaken apart to get to the good stuff.

To that, I have this to say: treat your customers with dignity, and treat them as the people who are responsible for your jobs. I guarantee that if you treat customers right, they will reward you with recommendations, encouragement, and more business. They will effectively start throwing their money at you.

Gautrain, your move.

Posted in Rants | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Ubuntu 11.10, Eclipse, and overlay scrollbars

I’ve been having some problems with Eclipse on Ubuntu 11.10 with regards to the new scrollbars. Specifically, they just don’t show up. It seems I’m not the only one, and there is a bug report for it already. Naturally, I started Googling away, but found very little useful information and possible workarounds. A comment on this post led me to something usable. Here’s what you do:

  • Open up the Eclipse start-up script in a text editor. I did this with “sudo gedit /usr/bin/eclipse”
  • A few lines from the top you should see:
    export GDK_NATIVE_WINDOWS=true

    Comment this line out by placing a # at the front. (thanks to the comment below from @ModulosDePago)

    Add in the following lines below it:

    export UBUNTU_MENUPROXY=0 export LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=0
  • Save and exit.

Now when you start up Eclipse it should show the old style scrollbars. They aren’t as fancy as the new ones, but at least they work.

The overlay scrollbars should now be working as normally. If you still have issues, try the struck out solution I have posted above.

[Sidenote]: I did have some trouble getting the Eclipse shortcut back on the Unity sidebar, but a restart fixed that issue.

Posted in General Computing, How To | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

What I’m hoping for in Android Ice-Cream Sandwich

Over the past week or so (since the Samsung/Google event got postponed), we’ve seen a load of leaks for the upcoming release of Android – Ice-Cream Sandwich. Whether these leaks can be believed is for each person to decide for him- or herself, as we have seen that even credible sources can sometimes fall by the wayside.

With these leaks in mind along with previous releases of Android (specifically Gingerbread and Honeycomb), I have made a list of improvements that I am hoping for in ICS, and think aren’t too far-fetched.

Launcher
The default launcher in Gingerbread needs some work. I think I replaced it on the same day that I got my Nexus S, because it simply couldn’t do things that it should have been able to. Things like having more than 2 shortcut icons and the drawer launcher and having scrollable-widget support.

Honeycomb takes care of the scrollable widgets so I think it’s reasonable to expect this same support in ICS. Whether there will be more than 2 shortcut icons remains to be seen (there is no precedent in Honeycomb), though if the leaks are to be believed, this will be a reality. Hopefully, those shortcuts will also be customisable (i.e. the user can change them at their leisure).

Being able to place widgets similar to how one does in Honeycomb would be great, and again, if the leaks are to be believed, this will become truth.

It also wouldn’t go amiss to have some of the nicer transition animations that Honeycomb has, as well as the little known, but useful feature of tapping on the edge of the screen when in landscape mode to go to the adjacent home screen.

Notifications
Android notifications are already fairly good. So good, in fact, that iOS has mimicked Android, though that’s a discussion for another day. However, Android’s notifications aren’t perfect (WHAT?!).

In Gingerbread (and before) it’s possible to clear all notifications, but not one at a time. This means that you have to open up the ones that you want to and after you’re done, clear all the ones left over. It’s a slightly unintuitive procedure and it means that you might miss something important – a problem you would have less of if you could just take care of notifications from top to bottom (or bottom  to top), clearing them off or opening them as you see fit.

Honeycomb has gone somewhat closer to this ideal by allowing you to clear notifications one at a time, but for some reason they removed a way to clear all notifications.

A combination of Gingerbread and Honeycomb notification systems would be the best solution – giving the power and flexibility of both.

Widgets
The stock Android widgets have long been a sore point for me. The calendar widget is ugly and useless. The rest are OK in terms of functionality, but don’t really blend in well with the rest of the theme. It’s almost like they were cobbled together as an afterthought and abandoned thereafter.

Again, Honeycomb has come to the rescue to give some functional and visually rich new widgets. The new calendar, email, GMail, music, and YouTube widgets are all sterling examples, and I hope to see them all in one form or another in ICS. (There were some more recent leaks to suggest that this wish may also come true).

Apps
Let’s face it: some of the stock apps aren’t amazing. Sure, the stock messaging app is OK, but enough people disagree with me to give apps like Handcent and Go SMS Pro a substantial user-base.

The default dialer also isn’t that wonderful – some number-to-name-based searching (T9?) would go a long way there.

What about the stock browser? I replaced that with Opera Mobile so fast it made my head spin. The default browser on Honeycomb is oodles better, and if the reports are to be believed, we can expect to see Chrome on Android soon, though I’m guessing not at ICS launch day.

The apps can also do with some uniformity with regards to their interfaces. At the moment they appear to have been developed by completely separate teams with no uniform guidelines. I’m not one to put much stock in interfaces – my own designs usually suck and I much prefer function over form – but if you’re developing a suite of apps it’s better to have some uniformity to give users a baseline for interaction. Google has been working on that with their web-apps, and from the new Market and Music app designs, it seems as though they’re working towards unifying things.

Conclusion
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done (or, I guess, needs to have been done), and I really hope Google got around to doing it. There are some leaks and other, less obvious, cues that indicates that they have lived up to this, but only time will tell. I for one, am looking forward to the Google/Samsung announcement later this week.

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