Awesome Grootbos Getaway Giveaway!

Anyone who’s ever driven from Stanford to Gansbaai (on the Cape Coastal route in South Africa that is!) would have noticed the sign to Grootbos on the left about halfway there.  The modest sign belies the exquisite nature of this place, a gem on the whalecoast of South Africa!

5-star style in the heart of Nature at Grootbos

Angie Durrant, over at The Lucky Pony blog is giving away a 5-star escape for two to this stunning destination.  Head over to her blog, ‘like’ the Grootbos Facebook page and the Lucky Pony Facebook page, share the Grootbos Giveaway post and you’re on your way to be a contender for this marvellous prize!

See more of what Grootbos has to offer over here. If you thought that going into nature would be rough-and-tumble, think again! This is sustainable eco-tourism, 5-star luxury and breaking away rolled together in a style not oft repeated.

Stunning unspoilt beaches

We did say 5-star… Absolutely!

The region, Hermanus, Stanford & Gansbaai are rich in offerings, ranging from mountain hikes with incredible views over Walker Bay, beach walks all the way from Sandbaai to Pearly Beach, whale watching in spring and summer, incredible fynbos, wildlife, with leopard sightings not unheard of, surfing, swimming, kayaking and even shopping (gasp!) at the markets in the area.  No wonder it’s fast growing in popularity as both a weekend and holiday destination.

The Problem with the Russian Nuclear Deal

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

Nuclear Power Stations don’t pollute the environment by definition, but shady political deals do! (Photo Credit: marya from San Luis Obispo, USA)

The Russians may have advanced their technology beyond that of the rest of the world, be able to enrich the fuel and burn the nuclear waste, and may even be offering South Africa a good deal, but there are serious problems with “Atomic Tina’s” agreement with them.

Here is the agreement: Russian nuclear cooperation agreement

Some of my notes on the problems with this document:

Article 2: “Cooperation under this Agreement shall be conducted in strict accordance with the laws of each Party state” Even before the agreement comes into force, this has already been ignored.  The process for procurement of such services but be competitive and transparent.  This could mean the agreement is null and void already.

Article 9: “For the purpose of implementation of this Agreement the South African Party, in accordance with its national laws, will facilitate the provision of special favorable treatment in determining the amount of tax and non-tax payments, fees and compensation, which will be applied to the projects implemented in the Republic of South Africa within the areas of cooperation as outlined in Article 3 of this Agreement“.  Business is business. The law in South Africa requires that the state may not discriminate.  This is blatantly the case here.

Article 13.2 (iv) (what Russia provides) “shall be re-exported or transferred from the jurisdiction of the Republic of South Africa to any other state only on advance written permission from the Russian Federation according to the specified conditions”.  A blanket statement that prevents South Africa from optimally using the technology, having to ask Russia for permission first?

Article 13.4. “Nuclear material transferred to the Republic of South Africa under this Agreement shall not be enriched and reprocessed without prior written consent of the Government of the Russian Federation.”  So we buy Uranium from Russia, but we may not do with it as we please after paying for it?  This flies in the face of property rights as afforded by our constitution.  What this comes down do is that Russia will “rent” us fuel and they will dictate what we can do with it.  No competition or self-help unless they say so. Period.

Article 15: A massive problem in it’s entirety.  Although the details of the cooperation have not yet been determined, this indemnified the Russians of any liability whatsoever in the case of a nuclear incident.  Surely this is premature?  The first thing that must be determined is who does what.  Once the areas of responsibility have been demarcated, then the responsibilities can be determined.

Article 17:2. “This Agreement is valid for 20 years and then automatically extended for successive 10-year periods until one of the parties, no later than 1 year in advance, notifies in writing through diplomatic channels the other Party of its intention to terminate the Agreement.”  20 years, with automatic 10 year renewal??  A very bad idea indeed.  Should the lessons learned from Eskom’s agreement with Billiton’s Mozal, Hillside and Bayside smelters not be heeded? They have cost Eskom (and South Africa for that matter) R11.5bn simple because the contracts are so long, that it might as well have been forever.

In essence, the biggest problem with this is not that it’s an agreement to acquire nuclear power stations for South Africa. After all, France has 58 and the USA 100 nuclear reactors and in all nuclear reactor incidents worldwide, only 10 fatalities have been recorded, excluding Chernobyl in which 50 people died.  Compared to the huge health and environmental impact that coal-fired plants have, this is minute.  The problem is in the secrecy and illegal ways in which Jacob Zuma and his accomplices have gone about manoeuvring in secret to get to this point.

It is understood that parliament has to ratify the deal, so here’s to a massive grass-roots uprising against it!  Let’s so no for the right reasons.  If this can be stopped, so can other corruption and underhanded deals in South Africa!

Oracle / Sun X-series ILOM & BIOS updates, Linux access, Firefox and more

We used to install Sun Servers at Green Tree Systems, but since the takeover by Oracle we were forced to abandon this, since Oracle only kept the big resellers on board. :-(
But that didn’t mean that we abandoned the servers.  The show must go on and so it did!

Firstly, we run Linux on all our servers and desktops.  Secondly, Sun Integrated Lights Out Management (ILOM) modules use Java to allow Remote Console access.  This poses some challenges, although they have become less in never versions of Linux.  Here is a summary of the issues we had and how we overcame them.

Let me just say: If you’re using a windows client, please don’t ask me for help.  There are lots of windows people out there that can help and I don’t want to.

1. ILOM & BIOS updates

Since Oracle will only supply software updates to maintenance contract customers, getting ILOM and BIOS firmware update means you have to “phone a friend”.  Once you have that, the rest is plain sailing.

2. Firefox & Chrome sub-window woes

Later releases of Firefox & Chrome do not display the content in the bottom half of the screen, but only the menu of the ILOM interface and the descriptive text.  It is possible to bypass the problem by right-clicking on the a menu item and selecting “open in new tab”, which is what I did, until I found this gem:

http://rich-notes.blogspot.com/2012/10/make-firefox-load-ilom-pages.html

The crux of the solution is this:

Add the following file to your home directory.
In ~/.mozilla/firefox/profile_id.default/chrome add a file called userContent.css

@media print {
 }
@namespace url(http:www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);
 #mainpage { visibility: visible !important; }

Note – The profile_id.default will be the only file with .default at the end in the Firefox directory. You may have to create the chrome directory.

That fixes the problem of the sub-window not showing in the main ILOM window.

3. Very slow leading ILOM webpages

This problem stems from an expired certificate it seems. I presume each web call has to time out before the next is done, or something like that.  Changing the ILOM web port to port 80, instead of 443, will allow fast normal access, which will allow you to update the ILOM and certificate.

4. Expired ILOM certificate

The older ILOM’s had certificates that expired on 2010, so accessing the web interface with Java 7 or later is a problem.  There is no simple way to ignore expired certificates any more.  Big Brother Oracle cannot allow you to make your own choices, or at least that’s what it feels like. :-]

I tried installing a self-signed certificate, but Oracle Java doesn’t fall for that either.

Eventually, updating to the latest ILOM firmware actually installed a new certificate which is valid till 2030!  Incidentally, version ILOM 3.0.6.21 r50234 was the last version with the old certificate.  I installed v3.0.16.15.h r93405 and that fixed the certificate as well as install the latest ILOM update.

5. IcedTea and OpenJDK to the rescue

The later version of Ubuntu come with OpenJDK and IcedTea instead of Oracle Java Webstart and Java. In the IcedTea Web Control Panel, the settings can be changed to ignore the expired certificate.

Pick the JRE you wish to use.  I have tested both the 32 and 64bit versions and they work equally well for me.

IcedTea-WebThen select the Security tab and set it to you liking.  Mine looked like this.

IcedTea-SecurityThis will hopefully give you less trouble than Oracle Java for the purpose of this exercise.

I will be adding additional tip and tricks wrt to Sun Servers here in time.

Hope it helps someone as it has helped me.

Forget Toll Roads: We have the money! And we’ve had it all along…

There have been many heated debates and commentaries on the current state of affairs surrounding toll roads in South Africa, but for the sake of clarity, I think it can be summarised as follows:

1. SANRAL, by way of it’s logic challenged spokesman, Vusi Mona, and it’s clearly equally challenged minister,  Dipuo Peters, claims that it is not possible to fund road maintenance and new infrastructure from the fiscus and thus we need toll roads.  “Government has mandated them to do this.”
Update: They have finally indicated that an additional R3.65 added to the fuel levy would have to be implemented as an alternative to tolling, thus bringing the fuel levy to R5.77 per liter.

2. Various parties have mounted legal challenges to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.  OUTA and the DA have taken the matter to court, but to date have failed to make convincing enough claims to stop the projects.

I have often asked myself how much money the state collects via the fuel levy and haven’t heard much comment on that.  (update: Outa has done so since the first version of this post)  However, this comment on MyBroadband on the matter of conventional tolling of the Western Cape’s freeways, made me decide to analyse the situation to get some clarity.

Fuel Levy Stats

In more detail:

According to Shell & SAPIA in 2014 the following applied:

Fuel Levies CollectedNow, since SANRAL has to publish it’s Annual Financial Statements, we can see what they actually spend.  It seems much more has been collected that was used! (Remember there are toll fees in this income already from many toll roads across South Africa)

Sanral Financial Data

It’s also relevant to note how SANRAL views depreciation of the assets under it’s control:

Sanral DepreciationMinister Peters also recently said that the backlog to fix South Africa’s roads is R197 billion.  We don’t know what that is based on and that it’s probably wrong, based on the the other Peters track record.  But, for the sake of the argument, let’s assume a 50 year loan for that amount (@ 8.5% as per the world-bank rate for South Africa). That would cost  R1.415 billion per month, or R16.99 billion per year to pay back, leaving R30 billion for ongoing maintenance and new projects not included in the R197 backlog.

2014 Fuel Levies application

According to SANRAL, it receives R10 billion annually from the fiscus currently, which is of course too little to do their work (source: SANRAL Non Toll Budget 2013/2014).  It looks like a sinister movie plot, but it’s not:

    • The Ministry of Finance assigns less than 22% of the fuel levy to the purpose for which it was collected.
    • Toll roads are constructed, despite fierce opposition to the plans, since there’s “not enough money
    • Furthermore the government pension funds risks “investing” in SANRAL in lieu of the GPIF tolling project.
    • Only once, in 2003, was there a one month statutory appeal period to register objections to the Western Cape N1/N2 Toll Road project, the appeals which minister of transport summarily dismissed.

What is going on here?  Surely a legal challenge to the misappropriation of funds can be mounted and the effects thereof reversed?  After all, it was Barend du Plessis, under the “dreaded apartheid regime” that instated this fiscal travesty by dumping the fuel levy into the fiscus, ending the road fund (the South African NP government was facing serious financial problems at the time).  In effect he raided the road fund.  Exactly what the South African ANC government is now doing.South Africa, by way of it’s road users, has paid R324 billion to keep its roads in good shape, yet the Government has thought it totally in order to misappropriate R224 billion (that is R 224 000 000 000) of that money.  To add injury to insult, it now wants to collect more than R1 000 000 per month from the Gauteng freeway users alone, to “cover the debt incurred to upgrade the Gauteng Freeways”.

How will this be stopped and reversed?

Will OUTA, the DA, Cosatu, the EFF and others take on the Ministry of Finance and it’s sinister plot to double-tax us continuously?

Or will the people of South Africa take matters into their own hands as the people of Brittany in France have?

In 2010, it seems, the idea of a dedicated road maintenance fund was put forward by S’bu Ndebele, transport minister at the time, although it seems the DA had been promoting the idea for some time before.  So if this is being planned, why is SANRAL forging ahead with its tolling regime?

There are those that claim this is part of UN agenda 21. Watching and reading about it, does seem to make some sense, in a bizarre way, of what SANRAL and the ANC are doing, but please decide for yourself.  At least it seems there are people brave enough to come forward and spill the beans!

South Africa’s ruling party is making a grave mistake if they think that they can continue on this path of reckless unaccountability in the face of the South Africa’s people.

In the words of an old “struggle stalwart”: Enough is enough!

Magento Store Installation And Configuration Notes

1. Change Theme (and solution if it doesn’t seem to work)

After installing a demo store for a Magento installation, I tried changing the theme just to learn how the system works.  There are many how-to’s that explain how to install a theme automagically (http://info.magento.com/rs/magentocommerce/images/InstallingMagentoConnectExtensions4%200.pdf) and manually (http://www.rockettheme.com/forum/free-magento-stuff/131772-installing-the-quasar-template-on-a-fresh-magento-store) among many, but all fail to mention a very important aspect of themes:  Once a theme is installed, you have to go to the CMS menu, click “Pages”, select a page (click it) and click “Design” on the left.  Then select the new theme from the “Custom Theme” dropdown box.  Once you save the selection, the new theme will show for that page.

There are countless forums and pages that I have come across where some commenter had this exact problem and no-where is it answered by the Magento gurus.  Astounding!  I can just assume that this is so obvious to a seasoned Magento user, that it is ignored.  Thanks to user Allysin over here, I finally found this solution.

2. More to follow…

android kitkat

How to get Whatsapp on Android KitKat (4.4) to sync contacts

I recently upgrade my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″ (P1000) to Cyanogenmod 11.2 to attempt to fix a Bluetooth problem I’m having (which is a different matter entirely), but noticed that Whatsapp was not syncing contacts with my phone contacts at all.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even able to add new contacts to Whatsapp or start chats with people not in my history of chats.

CyanogenmodI had previously upgraded from CM 9 to CM 10.2, which was an experimental build for the Samsung 7″ Tab, but this behaviour did not occur there.

After much searching, I finally decided to leave it for a later time.  Then one day, while looking for reasons why Waze wasn’t performing certain actions properly either, I noticed the setting (under settings | apps) “Enable Privacy Guard”.  This led me to further investigate this feature.

Under settings | privacy | Privacy Guard, a list of all apps is shown and each’s guard may be enable or disabled.  Lo and behold, when I disabled it for Whatsapp, suddenly the contact sync worked and my contacts where shown in Whatsapp.

I would have liked some notification by Android that Privacy Guard is on when an app attempts something that is blocked by privacy guard.  Maybe it’s just not ready in CM 11.2 yet?

Anyway, if you have this problem with Whatsapp or other apps, investigate this option and maybe you find that it solves the problem like it did for me.

How to test for a valid twitter handle using a regular expression

I use Redmine CRM, which allows custom fields in the Contacts, Deals and other modules.  The validity of an entry may be tested with a regular expression.  I had to do quite a bit of testing before I finally got it right (not doing this every day!), so here is what I ended up using:

^@([A-Za-z0-9_]+{1,15}$)

Meaning is should start with an “@” and then have at least 1 of A-Z, a-z, 0-9 or _, but not more than15.

Hope this helps someone else somewhere, sometime :-)