Akismet issues

My Akismet anti-spam plugin has been misbehaving, seemingly since I upgraded to WordPress 2.6.1. This issue was indicated to me by (previously) regular commentor and all-round nice guy Del, who emailed me to say that he got a stream of computer-generated abuse each time he attempted to reply to a post.

At first, I just assumed it was because Akismet had worked out that Del was in Australia and therefore it was fine to abuse him. However, I thought I’d better not let it stop other nationalities from passing comment on my spoutings and so I contacted the guru. He came out with some somewhat vague reasoning for the problems which included the word “betweem”. He likes his big words. Anyway, I have deactivated Akismet and booted up YAWASP for a trial period. Let’s see what happens.

If you’ve had problems leaving comments, please email me. I like to hear what you have to say (mostly). Additionally, see if you can leave one now.

Incidentally, I notice that Ma.tt Mullenweg and the WordPress crew were in Cape Town this last week. I didn’t know they were coming or I would have said hello. And asked Ma.tt why his damn plugin was playing up!

Bonding with your baby

From the father’s point of view, bonding with your baby is not only hugely important, it can also be hugely problematic:

Bonding research has long focused on the maternal relationship, but we are starting to see that paternal bonding is just as important to the child’s overall development,” says Dr. David Lamm, a family counselor and a researcher involved with the USU study. “Though it is important for babies to have a relationship with both parents, fathers often have a difficult time finding ways to bond with their newborn infants.”

From a father’s point of view, there are plenty of ways that you can encourage this bonding process: being part of the baby’s routine, making plenty of eye contact, holding your baby regularly, bottle-feeding where appropriate etc etc.


Babies: what goes in, must come out

From the baby’s point of view, things are much more straightforward. Your father is doing all the hard work on the bonding front. It’s your job to test him in order to check that he is suitable for that paternal role. This examination process is very simple, having only two steps:

  1. Prevent your father from getting a decent night’s sleep. (It should be noted that this forms an integral part of torture routines used by shady organisations worldwide.)
  2. Exude unbelievably large volumes of fluid (or semi-solids) from every orifice at every available opportunity. Extra marks will be awarded for soiling nappies and items of clothing immediately after they have been changed at 2am.

If your father still greets you with a smile when you wake the following morning, he has passed. Although, you might want to wait until he has had a shower, then vomit in his hair a bit and test his reaction, just to make sure.

Heavy metal “knot” to blame

Last week’s “incident” at a Krugersdorp school in which an 18-year old student killed one person and injured several others was fantastic news for the South African press. Yes, because not only was this an incident at a “white” school, the student in question dressed up in a mask and used a samurai sword to do his dirty work.
But if only there was another angle to this, something outlandish and sensational to make it the perfect story (especially after the sharks failed to eat those tourists).

Wait! There is! Slipknot!

Yes, standing head and shoulders above the allegations of bullying, satanism, drug-taking, poor parenting and failing teachers comes the blindingly obvious cause of this attack:

Community leader, Pierre Eksteen, who is in charge of a school support network for children, told reporters outside the deserted school grounds that Satanic music was probably the cause of the attack.”He came here camouflaged as the guys from ’Slipknot’. We know the wrong kind of music, and drugs have bad effects. Young people need to be informed of the effects of bad Satanic music,”  

I’m right with you there, Pierre – bad Satanic music is rubbish. Some of the good Satanic music out there is pretty listenable though.
And, as Andrew Donaldson remarked in his great Eish! column in The Sunday Times, it’s always a good idea to get your facts straight before talking to the press:

“Satanism,” Eksteen believes, “is in all the schools in the country; it just hasn’t manifested itself yet. Young people need to be informed of the effects of bad satanic music.”
True — just as young people need to be informed of the effects of bad preachers.

Donaldson also notes:

In August last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Adolf Hitler’s musical tastes. Apparently, a crate of his favourite records was looted from his Berlin bunker in 1945 by a Red Army officer and these only came to light after the Russian’s death. The discs included works by Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Rachmaninov.
I mention this only because, as far as I’m aware, there has in the 63 years since Hitler’s death been no suggestion whatsoever that any one of these composers and their music had any bearing upon or in any way influenced his behaviour.

Of course, he’s right. The Slipknot angle in this case has been leapt upon by an eager press looking for sensationalist issues where there really are none and has naturally been happily accepted as a rather handy scapegoat by those who failed Morne Harmse and his victims.

That said, I wouldn’t advise you to play Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto if you ever find yourself feeling a little mentally vulnerable and near anything sharp or pointy. Or Jewish.

Plans for the Koeberg Interchange

One of my more popular posts is the one where I describe the roadworks taking place on two of the major routes around Cape Town. I don’t know what this says about how interesting this blog is, or indeed how interesting its readers are. All in all, it’s pretty disappointing.

Anyway, at the time that I wrote that piece, details weren’t readily available of the planned improvements to the frankly horrifying junction of the N1 and the M5. But, as any traveller who has recently experienced the joys of Koeberg Interchange – or as the locals call it “F*****g Koeberg Interchange” – will have noted, some grass has been dug up and some mud has been created: construction has begun and we must all be patient.


It’s a virtue…

But what exactly are they constructing? Well, some helpful civil engineer found MS Paint on his PC and had a bit of a play with a picture of Cape Town taken in 1983. And here’s what he came up with:


Koeberg: Soaring bridges

It truly is a thing of beauty, isn’t it? Much like the construction at Hospital Bend, they seem to have taken everything into account and just flung heaps of money at it. Which is no bad thing. My one concern is that “Phase 1” bit in the top corner. Could it be that this junction will never be finished, destined for continual upgrades and improvements? It already seems like they’ve been going for ages and all they’ve done is sunk two holes for bridge supports and cut some bushes down – interestingly, I note – nowhere near anything on that picture above.

There’s more detail to be had on the CapeTalk site, including some rather natty artists impressions of the finished article. It looks like it actually might work. Problem is, we’ve still got another 2½ years before we get to find out…

Brian and his failing neighbourhood

One of the few sites I unfailingly enjoy reading is Brian Micklethwait’s eponymous blog. It has a unique combination of a blend of subjects and topics that generally interest me, together with an endearing, informal, almost narrative writing style. It’s easy, interesting, pleasurable reading.

However, even by his usual high standards, I felt that Brian excelled himself earlier this week. And I would have written about this earlier had it not been for a combination of sick offspring, football matches in filthy weather and a rather garlicky farewell to Jonny Harvard. But since these things all contrived to delay me, I’m writing about it now.

I think that the main reason that I enjoyed Brian’s post about enjoying living in a failing neighbourhood so much was because I have been wanting to write about the same issues from a South African perspective for some time. I’m not sure that I live in a failing neighbourhood – I don’t think the same rules apply here as in the UK. But I can certainly agree that ignoring local electronic noises (burglar alarms) is a full-time occupation here. 

In failing neighbourhoods, nobody does anything about electronic noises except regret them, on their blogs if they have blogs, otherwise silently.  In “successful” neighbourhoods, the damn neighbours are all over you at the slightest excuse, borrowing sugar, wanting you to have their keys when they are away on holiday and feed their pets, telling you what their names are and what they do.
Now you may be asking: if I hate people in general so much, why do I live in a big city?  But that’s the whole point of big cities.  In big cities you can avoid getting to know nearly everybody, and still have lots of excellent friends, in the form of the 0.000001% or whatever it is of people who live there who make really nice friends for you. 

Much like Brian, I could never live in a rural location. I was born and brought up in a city, I studied and worked in a couple of cities and then I moved to Cape Town, which is a really big city. I love to hear the rumble of urban white noise: silence scares me. But equally, I find that living in an urban environment allows me to blend in, to be lazy and not make an effort to meet new people, but not to feel guilty about it. In fact, it’s even easier in South Africa – a country where we all hide behind big physical walls as well as the metaphorical ones we share with other nations.

As for my neighbourhood, its a pleasant enough place: mature, leafy, decent, quiet. Perhaps too quiet. 
I do know my neighbours’ names. I do smile and say hello. I do look after their house while they’re away. Why? Because they are nice people and it’s no trouble really. But equally, deep down, maybe because of the scare stories you hear and read all the time, perhaps you feel that you never know when you might need a friend. Thus, if I hear their alarm sounding during the night, I will call the next morning to check everything is alright. OK, it might be a bit late to help out if there was an incident, but then this is SA, where a friendly bloke with a gun hurries to your doorstep to chase away the bad guys if your alarm sounds anyway.

But one problem with living in such a quiet area is that there is always an alarm going off somewhere and because it is a such a quiet area, you can always hear it. Sometimes just a single woowoo, but more often for hours at a time, punctuated every three minutes or so by a gap just long enough to make you think it’s stopped, before it dives back in to your ears, invading your headspace again. And you know that it’s a false alarm and that there’s no-one home, and that the friendly bloke with the gun can only ring the bell at the gate and shrug and walk away when there’s no response.

If the idea of this noise is to alert me to something wicked going on (or having gone on when the noise began) to the point of me actually doing something about it, it is failing.  When it stops, I will forget about it.  Until it stops, all I will do is sit here wanting it to.

Interestingly, most of these alarms seem to sound on sunny weekend afternoons in the summer, when all one wants to do is braai and crack open a cold beer or nine by the pool. Or maybe that’s just when I hear and hate them the most.

All in all, I think city life gives me the best of both worlds. I can hide away just enough to make life bearable without inconveniencing myself. I can happily play my part in the symbiotic relationship with the people next door. I can smile at passers-by while I wash my car in the driveway, safe in the knowledge that it will go no further than a good morning. And the annoying electronic noises are no intrusion when compared to living under the microscope in a rural environment where you get concerned villagers enquiring about your bowel habits if you hit a spot of mild constipation.

To borrow and adapt a phrase I recently read: Non-Capetonians often complain that most people in Cape Town are unfriendly.  That’s pretty much the point of the place.  That’s exactly what’s so great about it.
(That and the mountain.)