Sunday, February 27, 2011

Godzilla Returns!

Towards the end of January I posted a blog on a new hobby I was embarking on i.e. model car building

Initial blog on building the Skyline GT-R

Tonight, on the 27th of February 2011, I present my Godzilla. It took me just over a month to complete and it was an immensely satisfying experience. For once, I don't have to write a lot because I believe that the pictures tell the story better.

 I was going to go with Pearl White but like red is to a Ferrari (the actual colour is Rosso Corsa or Racing Red), Mica Blue is the obvious colour choice for this car

 The GT-R badge in the middle of the rim was one of the most difficult tasks of the entire project. The colour of the rim (anthracite with a chrome lip) was the first thing I took creative liberty with. It is also the part of the car that I am most proud of. For perspective, the entire wheel (inclusive of tyre) is smaller than a 50c coin.

 A second picture was required, due to above mentioned pride!

 Not sure how well the red interior goes with the rest of the car, but the minute my daughter saw the red paint (that I bought for the rear lights and the brembo brake pads), I knew that no further correspondence would be entered into regarding that decision.
 P.S. I did not paint the speedometer, it's a sticker

The most important tip I would give any model builder is that, like with sin taxes, when using plastic cement, Less is Better!  Be cautious when using plastic cement after the body had been painted, because it would cause the paint to smudge.  There is also no compulsion for you to follow every instruction (regarding painting) provided in the manual. Try something new and individualise. It is a lot more fun.

I had got the model as something for me to indulge in, but as most parents would know, that is often impossible with young kids. However, this did not turn out so badly. Siddiqa (my soon to be 5 year old daughter) sometimes got involved and it was by no means an intrusion but rather a chance to share a great experience together. I still think that she only did it cos I gave her a chance to use spraypaint!

I know many of you are looking at the picture above and thinking, "That's a different interpretation of the Purdah laws", but all I could think about while watching her was "Future Grafitti Artist in the Making!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Solar Water Heater Investment

Most of you, who know me will know that I am a tree hugging idealist which is rather ironic when one considers that I am presently employed by the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the world. Although I have tried to convince (and failed to convince) many people on why now is the time to invest in a solar water geyser, I have hypocritically (not until now that is) found the time to install one myself. I always found some excuse to delay the installation and honestly the cost of the installation was always a factor in the back of my mind. It is easy to go around talking green and using CFL globes at home but when it comes to actually making a R20 000 investment, excuses to delay are easy to come by.

Fate decided to force my hand when I awoke one morning to find my geyser with a minor leak. My insurance said they would pay for it to be replaced and I hastily made the decision to replace my geyser with a solar water geyser.  The time just seemed right so with little shopping around I called a company I had made contact with previously and ordered my new solar water geyser. Since I was driving solo at the time, I started to think about my decision and whether it was the correct choice financially. A few simple assumptions and I was be able to dispel the myth (propagated by most plumbers), "That it is just too expensive and makes no financial sense".

Modern day solar water heaters are not an eyesore and the unit comes supplied with a geyser blanket for the tank and 8m of thermoflex piping which will insulate the first few metres of your hot water piping. The price quoted of R18 500 is all inclusive incl. the electrical installation and accompanying certificate of compliance. The keypad installed in your home allows you the opportunity to manually over-ride the system, set the minimum temperature required and observe both the temperature of the water in the geyser and the water in the exposed pipes. As may be observed, one can expect temperatures in excess of 60 degrees celsius on a hot Durban day.

In my calculations below I was very conservative, so in reality, I believe that the payback time will be even sooner than indicated by my calculations. I assumed a monthly electricity bill of R700 and a geyser consumption of 30% (which is the lower end of the range which goes up to 50% in some studies). I have also conservatively assumed that Eskom would be granted a 20% increase in MYPD3 (this is the agreement between Eskom and NERSA that determines the electricity price increase from 2013 to 2015). I believe this to be conservative because Eskom was granted a 25% increase during MYPD2 and this was before Eskom accepted a R1,5 Billion loan from abroad. Since Eskom earns revenue from electricity sales, tariff increases are the only viable means of repaying those debts in the future. If anybody deisagrees with my assumptions, I would love to hear form you as my aim here is to promote understanding and not sell solar water geysers.

I also understand and appreciate that this is not an entirely accurate financial justification because it did not for example take into account things like  'Future Value' and 'Net Present Value' but I hope that someone with a better understanding of these concepts than I have could rework these and let us know the results. All I know is that in a relative short period of time, I will be getting a return on investment. TAX FREE! The normal calculation is shown below. It shows that you should expect to start seeing a return on investment in around 3.5 years time.

Total Cost
R 18,500.00

Eskom Rebate
R 6,098.00

Amount remaining
R 12,402.00

Average Electricity Bill
R 700.00

Percentage due to Water heating

Price increase MYPD2

Assumed price increase MYPD3

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Monthly savings R 210 R 263 R 328 R 394
Annual Savings R 2,520 R 3,024 R 3,938 R 4,725
Capital repayment R 9,882 R 6,858 R 2,921 R-1,805

The calculation below shows the return on investment period for a situation like mine, when you can also factor in the geyser replacement payment from the insurance company. I assumed an amount of R5000 for this payment as a typical geyser replacement would cost in the region of R6000 with an additional R1000 being deducted for a rebate. This shows that you would pay back your initial capital investment in about 2 and a half years.

Total Cost
R 18,500
Eskom Rebate
R 6,098
Geyser replacement cost
R 5,000
Amount remaining
R 7,402

Average Electricity Bill
R 700
Percentage due to Water heating
Price increase MYPD2
Assumed price increase MYPD3

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Monthly savings R 210 R 263 R 328
Annual Savings R 2,520 R 3,024 R 3,938
Capital repayment R 4,882 R 1,858 R-2,080
I hope that these calculations give you the necessary clarity to wade through the bullshit next time you discuss this topic with anyone. I went with a company called SOLARIZE (031 579 2043) and I found them to be very efficient and professional even taking the time to help us with the rebate application. All that we effectively had to do was insert our details, affix a postage stamp and post. There are other companies registered with the Eskom rebate program and you can obtain the details for a regional supplier from or call the solar programme help desk (011 800 4744).


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Avengers Assemble!

When I write on my profile that "I love all things geek", what I am trying to really say is that I really like cartoons, super-heroes and comics, or as I like to refer to them now that I am on the other side of 30, 'Graphic Novels'. It is therefore, with great anticipation that I am waiting for 2012. I assure you it has nothing to do with John Cusack out-driving Armageddon in a Limo because I really believe that if the Mayans were credible fortune tellers, then they would have somehow foresaw the Spanish Invasion that wiped them out. My wife's argument is that they could have foresaw it but that they merely accepted their fate. 2012 is the year when Marvel combines the pull of Iron Man/ Captain America/ Thor and others to create, The Avengers movie.

There have been little clues as to what was coming in most Marvel movies in the last few years. i.e Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) waiting for Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 2, Iron Man meeting with the Hulk in a bar at the end of 'the Hulk' and the introduction of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Iron Man 2 in a role that was not essential to the plot. So we already have, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Nick Fury. 2011 see's the introduction of Thor and Captain America to the franchise and I am certain that much bigger cameo roles are to be found in both these movies too.

I am just surprised that marvel has not decided to throw the Fantastic Four and Spiderman (both members of the Avengers) into the fray since the CGI for these characters have already been developed but I suppose too many characters would make too complicated a plot. Joss Whedon, who has been tasked to both direct and do the screenplay has an illustrious career in this genre since he pioneered the whole vampire franchise a whole decade before it erupted with TV hits like Buffy and Angel. In any event there are two reasons I wanted to talk about this. The first being how disappointed I am in the new Avengers cartoon series on Fox Kids. There is no Captain America, Thor or Iron man and the Avengers is being led by Ant-Man. Seriously! This cartoon tries to replicate the team dynamics and vibe of the X-men animated series (that us viewers from South Africa would remember from Saturday Morninig KTV) but fails miserably in its attempt.

The second reason was to share with those of you who may not have seen it yet the teaser trailer for Captain America that aired during halftime at the SuperBowl this year.

Unfortunately, I think Marvel's first Avenger is going to have his work cut out for him at the box office this year. I predict the Super Hero movie of the year will go to DC with their take on the Green Lantern. The movie stars Ryan Reynolds who has already proven himself in this genre (Blade Trinity and Wolverine: Origins) and I expect this movie to be fantastic. Enjoy the trailer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My First Interview - Chris Witham

I recently had the opportunity to do my first interview and it was a really great experience. I interviewed Chris Witham, who is the head chef at the Skye Bistro which is an amazing restaurant at an even more amazing hotel, The Fordoun Spa. I was meant to also write a review on the Fordoun Spa, as a kind of romantic getaway option from Durban, but I am finding it difficult to get down to it.

This style of interview did not however appeal to me (Q&A) as I would prefer to describe the interview, the setting, the person, add some background information and summarise what we chatted about. This experience has taught me 2 things:
> One, I talk too much. When listening to a recording of the interview you can hear me waffling on about renewable energy, Clarins and even dinosaurs!. And,

> I sound nothing in real life like I think I sound in my head. How did that happen? Your ears are obviously listening to your voice when you speak. So why then does it alter it, to make it sound better (in my case). I am grateful for the interference though because if I knew how I really sounded, I would not have problem number one anymore, in that I would talk a whole lot less.

Some of Chris's answers surprised me, in a good way, i.e. when I asked him where he would recommend people of Durban get their fresh ingredients from, he did not hesitate before mentioning , 'The Verulam Market'. The full interview can be viewed here

Readers of my blog, however get the full experience. Bear in mind that this is a Bistro, so the portions are small but the idea is to sample more i.e. have a 5 or 7 course meal.

 While we waited for our starters, we were treated with a Tempura Mushroom (on the house) that definitely set the tone for what was to come.

For my entree, I had Tempura Prawn, Cold Smoked Trout Tare Tar and a Trout Cake. It tasted better than it looks and the drizzle around the entree was not purely decorative but this amazing plum like sauce that just seemed to bring out the best in the food. In between our entree and main meal we were served with a lemon sorbet to cleanse the palette.

 I am really disappointed with this picture because it does not do justice to my main meal. I had Grilled Kingklip Meuniere (don't ask, I don't know), steamed baby vegetables, lemon scadovia, lemon beurre blanc (lemon butter sauce) and wilted spinach. This was surprisingly quite a big portion of food which regrettably meant that I had no space for dessert (I know, sacrilege). If I had had space in any event, I was not going to go for the extravagant french desserts but had my eye rather on the Midland Cheese and preserve platter

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bel Punto in Umdloti

I finally went to one of the most well reputed restaurants in Durban and it was amazing. The subsequent review appeared on Durban Live and was the first time I used my iPhone to take the accompanying pictures which was great because using my rather bulky but professional looking digital camera always gave me away when doing a review. The iPhone was quick and inconspicuous (yeah right!) to use and I though the pics were rather decent.

Review of Bel Punto Restaurant as it appears in Durban Live

P.S. Having thought about this further, I believe that this is the ideal place to go to have coffee and dessert with friends on a warm Durban afternoon or to catch up with friends. As for the restaurant, the food was divine but the actual dining experience was average and not what you would expect when paying this much for food. My wife calls me a gastronomic snob and perhaps it is some of those pet peeves that is influencing this afterthought. If you were wondering, the reason I only write positive reviews online is that I write primarily for websites that promote South Africa and Durban in particular. If I have an experience that was below par than I basically don't write about it. Warning my friends about potentially bad experiences is what Twitter and Facebook is for :)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blind Faith

Today was intense. I had to wake up earlier than normal and leave to Greytown where I was to address field staff on corporate changes that impacted them little. On route, I discovered that the road was closed and the detour added 20 km to my journey. The return journey (via Stanger) was longer than anticipated. I had to during this journey deal with a plumber who was sent to repair my leaking geyser, and a salesman for a solar geyser (which I opted to buy), and the pest control people who were scheduled to fumigate my house today. I then attended a staff safety function and then took my mum out to her favourite restaurant to celebrate her birthday. I am not writing this for sympathy or because I have decided to start blogging about all my mundane daily activities but rather to share with you that during the course of today I also completed a 320 page (4 CD) novel!

The audiobook industry does not pay me royalties, but I am beginning to think more and more, that maybe they should. I understand that audiobooks may not be everybodies cup of tea but I implore you to try it at least once before dismissing the idea. The reward is hours of entertainment and enlightenment to replace the wasted time spent merely driving. Contact me if you would like me to recommend some of the better ones (and if you are an audiobook publisher, contact me if you would like that recommendation to be one of your books :)).In preparation for the journey today, I picked up an audiobook from my library by an unknown (to me at the time) author and a title I had never heard off (Ben Elton, 'Blind Faith'). I thought the book was clever and very funny and used this charm to get you to lower your guard so that much more introspective and thought provoking ideas could be volleyed at you. To ensure that I don't give away too much (and because I am too tired to try and sumarise this book at 1am), I will copy and paste the basic plot from wikipedia. If you intend reading the book, please do not read the wikipedia article as I think it gives away too much. Ironically Ben Elton, the author, turned out to be the co-writer on one of my favourite TV series ever, 'Blackadder'.

The story takes place in London approximately 50 years after many parts of the Earth have been subjected to rising water due to global warming. The remaining population believes that "only perverts do things in private", and obsessively blogs and uploads their lives in a sort of voluntary panopticon society( in this context it refers to a society where you are never alone or allowed to keep any secrets and you are continuously under surveillance). A wholesale rejection of science (which is blamed for "The Second Flood") has taken place, and religious faith is compulsory under new "Wembley Laws" (statutes passed by mob assent)”... (source: Wikipedia)

The book is very sexually explicit so perhaps not my pick for an audiobook that may be played in the presence of either children or prudes. Think of an alternative future where the hippies appear as the dominant religious force in the world but treats the populace like the early church treated science. But, I have digressed too long. It is now time to make my point which is simply,

Why does one have to be either a creationist or an Evolutionist?”

This is a theme that is explored constantly in the book but I suspect Mr Ben Elton loaded the dice in favour of the evolutionists. I am an engineer, thereby an applied scientist. I need to use logic, evidence and reasoning daily to arrive at either a conclusion or a solution. Daily may be an overstatement as we often spend time at meetings where solutions or conclusions are rarely found. But I am also spiritual and believe in a God and believe that the notion that our presence here on earth was a result of successive evolutions stemming from a fluke that occurred 4,5 billion years ago, fantastical.

I have never read the Origin of Species (and neither do I suspect I will, as I imagine it would be rather dull) but I believe in Evolution. I do not believe that we evolved from monkeys but that early man, in all liklihood, looked nothing like we do today. Our present form, dependent on geographical location, is a result of natural selection and evolution. I believe this, and yet still believe that all this is the work of god.

Today, thanks to the power of google and my predisposition to waste time on the internet, I learned that there is actually a term for my belief. I am a 'Theistic Evolutionist'. Hooray, I am not alone. I doubt that this will have any impact on any impending fatwa's but it was comforting to discover that a middle ground existed. Although disclaimers should often be at the start, I like to think, 'better late than never'. It was never my intention to offend anybody and if I had, then I sincerely apologise. If I am to expect tolerance and understanding for my beliefs, in this age of islamophobia, then know that I intend to be tolerant and understanding of all religions and beliefs, even the belief that there is no God.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

And the Mean shall inherit the Earth!

I always told myself that if I have nothing to contribute to the solution of a problem, I will not discuss it, but it appears as if though 2011 is the year in which I will break all self imposed bans. Following on the heels of my recent blog on religion (which I also told myself I'll avoid) is a blog (more a rant) on the state of society today. Such a topic is surely worthy of more than a few paragraphs and l have no intention of doing justice to it in this piece. I would like to merely comment on recent observations and my subsequent mullings.
To understand where I am coming from I need to set the scene. On Monday afternoon I was driving to the bank and saw a lady standing on the side of the road carrying a sleeping child. She was obviously looking for a lift so I pulled over and asked if I could help. She said she was going to Chatsworth but agreed to accept a lift to The Pavillion shopping centre instead, explaining that it would be easier to get a lift form there. She got into the back seat with her child and we were on our way. The rest is as quoted below:

“So, where about Chatsworth are you from?”, I enquired.
“Oh, I don't live in Chatsworth. I am going there to commit suicide”, she replied
“WTF” is what I said in my brain except I said the words out in full. She proceeded to explain to me all her woes (dead husband, hungry children, no rent this month, imminent death of her children etc etc), remembering to remind me at regular intervals that today she was going to kill herself and her children. I gave her some money when we got to Pavilion (a lot more than she may have deserved, and too much to admit here). I did not fall for her scam. I knew I was being conned, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt anyways. Maybe out of pity for her child who was now awake. Maybe because it was the easier thing to do.

This was the second time in the last month that I have been the victim of such a scam. The other guy admittedly had much better props with crutches, a plastered leg and a wife in labour at the hospital. I am not writing this because I wish to be contacted by a Nigerian banker telling me how he needs my assistance to get access to a large stash of cash. I am writing rather because this decline in our human-ness sickens me. People who are kind, good meaning (although slightly naïve) would always fall victims to people wishing to exploit these characteristics. When people get conned as a result of greed, then that makes sense. But to con a person because they had the compassion to listen to your sob story and although they may suspect that you and your broken leg may not be legit, they help anyways. In short, when did kindness become a character flaw!

When I joined child welfare, I stopped giving money to street children because I believed that it would prevent them from seeking out the assistance that is there (a topic for another discussion). Should we stop encouraging these con artists to get them to seek out the help they need? Perhaps? But if you are going to take that approach regarding your social responsibility, it would only make sense if you contribute to an organisation that can assist. Don't not give loose change to a streetchild assuming the moral highground if you do not contribute to a programme that helps these kids.

If you see a lady lying on the side of the road in pain and stop to see if you could be of assistance, and then get hijacked, everybody you relate the story to will ask you, “why did you stop?”. “You deserved it for being so stupid”. I am surprised insurance policies don't have a naïve clause in their policies.

If you were hijacked because you naively thought there was a fellow human being in need, then your excess will be double or R50 000, whichever is the greater”

When I discuss this with people, 7 times out of 10, they would likely reply that you should phone the authorities and ask them to send help. The other 3 often swear at you and tell you to 'wake up'. If you had just been hijacked and were then flung from a moving car only to land in a pretzel-like formation at the side of the road, I am sure you would be consoled in the hope that perhaps one of the cars that drives by would call for help and that an ambulance was going to get there as soon as possible.

A good friend once told me that people who recite poetry in everyday conversation appear to others as pretentious twits. She never said anything about the people who include poetry in their blogs! The passage below is an excerpt from Kahlil Giban's 'The Prophet' from the section on 'Giving'. The entire section is my favourite part of the book but these particular verses are always close in thought.

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

As stated at the beginning, this is just a rant because I think this situation sucks. I don't have a solution and am just lamenting our social evolution. For me, personally, I think I am going to stop feeling compelled to help anyone who asks but will find a charity that helps with the social upliftment of families. If I see somebody in need of assistance I will assist. All I ask is that any hijackers reading this please take what you need and leave me at the corner of a road somewhere. To all the others reading, if you ever come across a guy who looks like he just had his iPhone and car (note the priority) taken by some hijackers, please give him some money to get home.