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Well Done USA November 5, 2008

Posted by grimmeister in Uncategorized.
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I think many folk in South Africa were most pleased to see Barack Obama become President-Elect. I listened in on his victory speech and was really overwhelmed by it (I have not heard him speak too many times, so maybe it is his normal style). It felt Mandela-esque to me – wise, kind, rounded yet persuasive. It struck me that even if the current state of the world prevents him from achieving his visions, his call to people to change the way the see things is what is most compelling. He seems to make politics just a little more personal, as if a small person can do big things.

Yes Please!


Green Housing Complexes November 23, 2007

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In South Africa, there is a housing phenomenon called “complexes”. These commonly occur in the form of several storey townhouses; separate, but closely packed bungalows {simplexes}; or double storey bungalows {duplexes}.  Complexes characteristically exist behind a large, electric fence topped wall, creating in effect, a walled community. Usually, complexes are built on greenfield sites, sometimes on brownfield sites (like near landfills, in some obnoxious cases), or  on previously huge suburban properties which have been subdivided. The image below (1mb), of a middle class suburban part of northern Johannesburg  demonstrates the pattern quite well (thanks Google Earth, I can see my car!).

suburban pattern

They are increasingly pervasive for reasons of 1) perceived security, 2) convenience and 3) cost. More cynically, land developers also push the building of such places for reasons of profit, driven by own-to-rent speculators. The kind of title under which homeowners often acquire them is ‘sectional title’. I am definitely no boffin when it comes to such legal concepts, but I see several obvious implications of such title:

  • It is difficult to change the structure of such homes, especially external;
  • Any changes have to be agreed to by ‘body corporates’ ;
  • There is perceived value in keeping up standards of appearance;

I started thinking about how such complexes could be  made more environmentally friendly and about how difficult this would be to achieve. I will discuss a few things in context of the earlier image.

On the positive side, as far as I understand it,  complexes concentrate people and make it easier in theory to supply services to, like roads, water, sewerage and power. If everyone aspired to or expected a suburban house like can be seen on the right hand side of the picture, a city like Joburg would be spreading at a scarier rate than it already is, threatening the peri-urban fringe and making us all even more reliant on cars than we already are. A reasonably spacious (often older) complex is appx three times denser in terms of houses than a similar sized patch of suburban houses.

There is a flipside to some of these issues and a whole host of others. The increased densification puts pressure on existing services – this area is subject to power blackouts, the roads are more congested and damaged by the increased flow of traffic, and the water supply has had to be re-engineered. In the push to house people, the biodiversity of the area (rich, by the way – try bullfrogs and grassland birds for a wee little snifter) is put under huge pressure, and the greenbelt surrounding the city is eroded,leading to produce having to be shipped in from further away, thereby increasing transport costs. Furthermore, the South African housing construction idiom is bricks and concrete. Termites would annihilate untreated wooden structures. The environmental impact of this is the transport costs of bringing in construction materials and the energy usage in producing them. In addition, the impermeable surface of a given area is increased, leading to increased and more acute runoff, a real concern given Joburg’s rainfall arrives in the form of torrential thunderstorms.

So, what could be done? Solutions seem  so simple. I am not sure they are, as I do not understand  all the engineering and economics behind the built environment, but here goes a few obvious ideas.

1.) Google’s data suppliers would have few issues in getting satellite imagery. Aside from afternoon and evening thunderstorms, the sun beats down strongly, happily  and abundantly. With great conviction, I can opine that none of the complexes in the image use solar energy in a planned way. One or two homeowners may have solar heated swimming pools, but few would have solar geysers. Look at all the roof space – where are the solar panels?

2.) Where are the rainwater tanks to capture runoff from all these roofs? People water their gardens and fill their pools from their taps. Surely it makes environmental sense to reduce runoff and actually use rainwater domestically?

3.) How about this – can’t a complex have a vegetable garden? This not only provides for some food requirements, but imagine the possibilities for educating children about farming, nature and one of life’s virtues, patience. Also, I suspect a vegetable garden, if properly designed, could provide a sanctuary for people. Most of these complexes have some common land, often barely utilised. Grow some crops I say!!! Reduce our reliance on vegetables grown far away and heaved in by smelly trucks. Along similar lines, what about a complex compost heap and/or earthworm farm for recycling organic material. This would provide goodness for the veggie patch and for peoples gardens.

4.) This is far fetched, but I know it is possible, as a friend in the area is doing exactly this with an addition to his house – build houses out of local material using sustainable building practices (rammed earth walling for e.g.)

5.) Put double glazed windows and roof insulation in the houses to reduce use of aircon in summer and heaters in winter.

I am sure there are other ideas.

Trouble is, generating the will amongst homeowners, land developers, and body corporates seems a huge mountain to climb. Will a body corporate allow homeowners to install solar panels/ geysers, windmills, watertanks, double-glazed windows etc, given that sectional title almost implies an ‘all-for-one, one-for-all’ approach? Tell the average homewoner that they could quite happily have a solid house built of sand and mud largely sourced from the earth turned over to build that very house and you will surely get a strange questioning look at the least. Forget most property developers! The chase for profit means that the complexes need to be built as rapidly as possible using the means that are known to builders (bricks and concrete). As for a vegetable garden – well, wouldn’t that mess up the nice symmetry of the lawn and attract rats? Heaven forbid that a complex have a compost heap!

Complexes provide a  small opportunity to develop  some of the more ecologically friendly aspects of community living – I am pessimistic about the chances of this happening though. I will report on how some of these ideas are received, as I have just become a trustee of my own body corporate. Some socialist leaning friends of mine found themselves working for bastions of capitalism in the form of the business press. When queried about this apparent mismatch, they said they would fight the revolution from within, and always wear red socks to work. Can I fight the green complex revolution from within and wear 100% organic cotton socks? Who knows, but at least the socks are easy.

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RWC ’07 Kicks off September 7, 2007

Posted by grimmeister in Uncategorized.
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The SouthernTip is rugby land. The SouthernTip is also about to be rugby mad, for today is the start of the Rugby World Cup in France. South Africa seems to me to have a great chance of doing well. Some folk think that anything other than a victory in the finals represents failure. Sure, not winning it will be disappointing, but the level of competition is such that 1 of 4 sides is quite capable of scooping it and we Saffas should try not to become too glum if the trophy does not come this way.

So, I thought about a (very subjective) wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth-ometer metric (WAGOTOM) that could be applied to the various nations – basically, how deep will the depression be in each country should their chosen warriors fail to deliver a golden pot at the end of October.

Each nation to be rated on a scale of 1 to 10 on the following:

  1. Supporter Expectations
  2. Quality of Team
  3. Belief of Nation in Divine Right to Win RWC
  4. The Draw

Categories of WAGATOM (hey, this actually touches on some serious issues):

  1. National Disintegration and Moral Decay {35-40} – Economic reverberations felt, increased domestic violence, increased substance abuse, threats to the health of RWC participants even after vitriolic sackings have taken place, absenteeism, inability to do anything else other than morbidly dissect what could have been, front page of newspaper stuff for a good few weeks
  2. Woe is Us {26-34} – Enhanced levels of moping for a period longer than a week, absenteesim, minor turning to substances for a period of about a week, lengthy periods of dissecting the results – with much blaming of the referees, front-page news for a couple of days, sackings of RWC participants with associated blame attached
  3. Sporting Disappointment{15-25} – Two or three days of moping, substance induced hangovers, sports-pages headlines after initial front page burst, retirements and movements of RWC participants make the news, no economic effects other than lengthy and dreary discussions around the coffee pot
  4. Minor Sporting Interest {7-14} – Characterised by comments such as ‘I heard we lost the big rugby game – too bad, I am sure they tried hard’, featured on sports pages (possibly as a lead story, possibly not). Strangely, this WAGATOM can possibly still be felt in nations where the general feeling is one of Woe or Disintegration, but is restricted in the most part to womenfolk
  5. What is Rugby? {0-6} – zilch interest, national warriors might just as well have been having dentistry done, perhaps a small entry somewhere in the sports pages.

So, the maximum value of the WAGATOM for any country is 40, minimum is 4. Where do you think the nations fall and why? Lets try two extremes:

  • Portugal {4}
    1. Supporters? Are there any? {1}
    2. Name me one of the team members, I dare you… {1}
    3. What exactly is rugby? Must be some sort of wierd game played in the English colonies {1}
    4. Will lose (messily) to all of New Zealand, Italy, Scotland and will have a tussle with the Romanians only to succumb to the big chaps from the Carpathians. {1}
  • New Zealand {37}
    1. Nothing less than clear victory, obtained with style, power and verve, in a dramatic final against one of the old foes like SA, Aussie or England. All NZ fans know that NZ always beats France, but it would nevertheless be satisfactory form to beat France heavily in front of their home crowds {10}
    2. You could populate a World’s Best XV with at least half the All Black starting lineup – these guys are big names and are expected to perform (including suitably gushing pre-game, on-the-field micturation)! {9}
    3. Our team is the best team, we have been robbed for the last 20 years, the Cup is coming come this year, to where it belongs, and no ugly Saffa, stinking French or cheating Aussie team should even try to stand in the way of this Chosen Path {10}
    4. Will club Portugal, Italy, Scotland and Romania in the pool games. There will be hundreds of points scored and multitudes of tries. The Quarter-finals should see a resounding win against a weakened and demoralised England. Then, a semi-final face off with their RWC nemesis, Australia, followed by a date with SA or France in the final, where the big occasion could see any of these two raise their games to stratospheric heights. In a nutshell, the draw gets pretty tough for them after an easy start! {8}