Thursday, October 1, 2015

Heat and Storm

I love African summers, when a heat-haze rises from the roofs of cars and shimmers from the tin roofs of lean-to shacks and precarious mud-brick buildings. On such days the heat is at first invigorating; only later do you notice how it has sapped your strength and left you feeling as wilted as the grass and avocado trees in your garden. On such days the sky is a deep blue that stretches out seemingly forever, a blue you can get lost in, a blue that is reflected in the bright shallowness of the water in your family’s swimming-pool. On such days the ladies walk slowly beneath umbrellas, shading themselves from the heat; matrons lounge on straw-coloured grass mats placed on smooth rocks beside water-berry trees that offer respite from the sun; and slowly, stealthily, snakes slither out unseen from beneath these same rocks to glide into the cool river nearby.

The Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi described this weather musically in his Four Seasons concertos: the flies buzzing, the peasants drinking and dancing, the slumber of all during the time of siesta.

But just when the stupor and drowsiness is at its peak, a strong wind appears out of seemingly nowhere, rattling the windows and slamming the doors. The water in the previously placid pool begins to dance. The trees sway, the birds clack-clack in warning. You feel the cold air sucking in; in a moment the sky is dark, then a terror of power is unleashed from the heavens as the storm hits with a sudden onrush. Quick, quick, unplug everything! Quick, quick, bring in the washing from the line! Quick, quick, make sure the car is inside the garage, for there might be hail. You remember last summer, when the hailstones were as big as your fist, punching dents in your car roof as if they were the hands of a giant boxer going for a knockout in round one. They were like the hands of a giant drummer, pounding on the tin roofs of the fragile shacks now shaking in the wind.

There is nothing you can do during such a storm except pray. O Lord, keep us safe, protect our windows, protect our crops, keep safe anyone outside in this storm. The wind whistles, the thunder groans and roars, the rain-hail beats a tattoo on the glass panes and you realise just how small and weak a thing it is to be human. But our delicate fragile human lives, that pass like an African summer’s day, are also things of wonder and exhilarating beauty.

© Kenneth Rowley 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Abbey Road review

Abbey Road as 'replayed and reconstructed' by Sand, Water & Wind. A review by Swazifiction.

If you're a purist you need not apply. Indeed, if you're a Beatles fan -- and especially if you're a fan of the original Abbey Road -- listening to this CD could make you cry. If, on the other hand, you're sitting at your favourite table in your favourite seaside café, sipping a cocktail whilst gazing at the sun sinking down across the surface of the sea, then this might be an album for you. This is the Beatles not so much 'reconstructed' as deconstructed into jazz lounge, a literal café del mar package. It's not very engaging anywhere, which is good because it's not very good anywhere (at times it's actually bad) but the tunes are familiar enough to be hummable. Gone is Lennon's angstful wail for existential release on I Want You, gone is McCartney's alcoholically raw voice on Oh Darling, the harmonies, the hooks, the guitars, the inventive drumming, the rock... everything that made the Beatles such a great group and this such a great album, in fact. But, as I said, if you're in that café, this release works in its own limited way. Mine will be a dacquiri with a slice of lime please. No ice.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mr Robot: Gnome or KDE? A review.

Mr Robot: the new TV series
There's a moment in the pilot of the upcoming Mr Robot TV series when the protagonist and his future supporter/ antagonist/ nemesis (we don't as yet know exactly how this relationship might pan out) look at each other and have a brief conversation that includes something like "I see you use Gnome. I'm a KDE man myself."

It made me smile (I'm a Gnome man here) and I assumed it was in the show to give Mr Robot some tech credibility, but really I'm not so sure. Later, there's a lot of quick linux scripting to block malicious code, and that's obviously more tech-cred. Yet the more I think about it, "Gnome or KDE?" really is something that we linux guys say to each other. I realise I've had that conversation quite a few times over the years.

The pilot is engaging and full of promise. Elliot is a young programmer by day and hacker by night. He's also deceitful, distrustful and a social misfit; in his isolation his mind is apocalyptic-sharp and he sees through the world system's fronting in a way similar to the premise of the successful Matrix films of yesteryear. It seems he has an overarching desire to destroy what he sees as the facade of the normal, so early on we see how he hacks the overlord of a child porn group and passes on the information to bring the man and his business down, rather than use the info to extort blackmail money. In this, Elliot is a modern-day Robin Hood or Batman, seeking to right wrongs when he can.

But porn sites are small change compared to what the mysterious Mr Robot offers him. This gives the show much potential. Elliot's dysfunctional personality also offers plenty of plot direction and character development.

The pilot is a good start. I'm already hoping part two will be just as good.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

WhatsApp is now essential

 This WhatsApp news really is BIG news
Free internet calling has become a reality with the new (April 02 2015) WhatsApp updates. If you have the Call feature, then you'll see the three columns as above here... and you can start calling any of your friends who are also enabled...

but that's not all! You'll also find a WhatsAppWeb link that you can scan with your app to link your phone to your computer... and then send whatsapp messages (including photos) directly from your computer to your WhatsApp friends.

In short, WhatsApp has suddenly become essential.

WhatsApp has already revolutionised the chat/messaging world and now it's directly challenging both cellular and VOIP.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: Left Behind and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

 HERE'S A TURKEY for Christmas: Left Behind, the movie (2014 version). When I saw the trailer for this movie, the combination of promo and the title made me suspect it was an updated remake of the 1995 novel 'Left Behind' by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. But I mostly dismissed the idea because this movie stars Nicholas Cage. You see, I have a copy of this novel and enjoyed reading at the time it was published. It was an instant classic and went on to spawn a complete series of novels. It's essentially a right-wing evangelical church read, but written well enough to grip you even if you're not usually that way inclined. So, Nicholas Cage? Well, it turns out that Nicholas Cage is the best bit of this movie, but the movie is a turkey in exactly the same way that Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' was a great book but a turkey of a movie. Books work in ways that films don't and vice-versa. 'Left Behind' is thin on action but OTT on its message -- from the Bible-thumping mum and the woman in the airport, to the little touches like the fish pendant in the abandoned car, to the good muslim on the plane who has (obviously) been left behind -- simply because it had to be. The trailer and the film are obviously trying to get their message through to more than just the rapturous (sic) community, but in the end I suspect it's only the faithful (sic) who will be its audience. The average parent who buys it, thinking it will be a good family movie, will wish the dvd had been left behind in the shop.  And that's a pity. However, as one character says near the end of the movie, "This is just the beginning"... as with Tom Hanks and Dan Brown's novels, Nicholas Cage and his co-stars are set up for a series here.

The BBC ran their Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies review under the headline, "Is final Hobbit movie a flop?" The resounding answer is No, I saw it yesterday and it's the most impressive use of 3D that I've yet seen -- the death of Smaug, the dragon, is particularly striking (sic) -- but the problem is that the dragon dies very early on in the movie, Of course, the book couldn't just end there, so Tolkein added the Battle of the Five Armies to follow things to their natural conclusions and tie up all the loose ends, etc; but I was rereading my copy of the novel recently and noticed that even Tolkein ran out of plot steam. After all, war is war and battles are battles; there's a limited number of things you can do with them. The entire Battle of the Five Armies (i.e., 75% of this movie) takes only a handful of pages in the book, and, since Bilbo is unconscious during most of it, it is cursorily summarised in a 'Bilbo was told' paragraph or two. So it's visually exciting, fast-paced, violent (but not Tarantino) and great to experience. But don't expect much of a story.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Heads & Tails (1.2)

Facebook has now embraced the Tor network

HUMAN LIFE is full of ironies. A friend of mine, who lives in Europe, is terrified of identity theft and religiously shreds his snail mail and deletes his email. Another friend, this time in the states, is angry at his government's Big Brother approach to citizen management. He's especially upset by the NSA's mass-monitoring of electronic communications. But of course it's a world-wide phenomenon: under the umbrella of 'anti-terrorism', governments everywhere have been inventing ways to spy on people, and been trying to control what a person can or can't do on the once-freer Internet. As an unexpected result, we are being collectively taught to think like activists and hackers.

Now private networks and the murky dark corners of the web are beginning to appeal to us all -- those of us with dark hearts and also those of us who breathe in the light.

The TOR network is not new (it already has around 2.5 million daily users) but it has been gaining popularity for a while, especially because of governmental attention paid to wikileaks, sharing sites, and the emerging acceptance of bitcoin. This morning TOR became famous (or infamous) because of the news that Facebook has embraced it.

TOR is an anonymising platform, one designed to protect you whenever you go online. Your name and details can be hidden, as well as your address and location. By address I mean not only where in the world you are, but also the mac address of your machine.

The accommodation by Facebook would seem at first to be odd, since surely the whole purpose of using social media is to be social; but there is of course a difference between social and sociable.

If you're interested in trying out the TOR browser, I suggest you download and install a complete OS that sets it all up for you: Tails. [This is why this article is named Heads and Tails (1.2); Heads is Facebook and Tails is... duh...]

Tails and the new Facebook portal work fine together. Tails is a live OS: it's designed to run from a flash drive and when you go offline it removes all traces of your online activity. Tails can be found here.