Life lessons from Eskom

Eskom (our state-notverywell-run power utility) has warned again of potential loadshedding this evening*. Of course, the system could always go tits up well before that, or not at all. I realise that this isn’t an exact science and despite also being really pissed off about it, I do see that there’s no point in pretending that their predictive abilities should be 100%.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

And while not wanting in the slightest to normalise loadshedding (because we should be angry and vocal about it) we still need to get on with our lives. Being aware of what might be happening later allows us to plan ahead and be prepared. We don’t have to enjoy it, but it does make a crappy situation slightly more bearable if you know it’s coming.

Equally, if there are simple actions we can all take to mitigate the risk of loadshedding, I don’t see why we shouldn’t take them. Surprise, surprise: most of these actions involve using less electricity. People mock Eskom as being the only company in the world trying to dissuade customers from using its product, but actually, most utilities (water, gas, electricity) around the globe recognise that sensible usage of resources is a good thing. I remember visits to school from the Yorkshire Electricity Board telling us to switch off lights and not overfill kettles – it’s just the same sort of idea.

An aside: When Eskom announce these “ways to cut down on your electricity usage and help us avoid loadshedding” things, some people will always respond with something along the lines of:

Screw you. I’m going to use as much electricity as I can, just because you said not to. I’m not listening to your advice, you useless, corrupt bunch of [afrikaans anatomy]. Switching ALL my lights on RIGHT NOW!

These people are fucking idiots, and will be the same ones who complained about the size of their electricity bill just a few days previously. Not only will this raise the chances of loadshedding (albeit by a tiny amount), it will also cost them more money at the end of the month. Tosspots.

Anyway, I digress. Often.

Eskom really took the proverbial biscuit this time around, by telling South Africa how to use… a window and some curtains.

Seriously:

Right. It’s a complex set of instructions, but I’m going have a go at explaining it. I think (think) what they are saying is that when it is light outside… and you need some of that light to come inside into your living room or bedroom… you should open your curtains and/or blinds. This will allow unfettered passage of light through the transparent aperture in the window space, and into the room in question.

So that’s light… from outside… coming inside. Still with me? Good.

But oh noes! This will surely only work during the day! That’s because after the day, the sun goes to sleep and is replaced by the night shift crew of the moon and the stars, so there is no light. Apparently, the technical term for this is “dark”. Even if you open your curtains and blinds at this time, no light will come inside from outside, because there is no light to come inside from outside.

It seems that at this point, the general advice is that you should switch on electric lights. Assuming that electricity is available to make them work (and really, who knows if that will be the case), this will allow the room to be lit from the inside. You should probably remember to close your curtains and blinds if you are taking this approach, because otherwise, the light will escape to the outside and the Luftwaffe will know where to bomb.

Not good.

Wow. I’m already exhausted. I think we need to take a break here, before we overload on how to use “curtains” and “blinds”. It’s all just so deeply technical.

So let’s leave it here for now, maybe read through this again when you’ve had a quick nap. But be warned: tomorrow, we move onto “doors” and “doorways” and the advantages of them being open when trying to use them as a means of entering or exiting a room.

But don’t worry about that right now. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Today is all about windows. And loadshedding.

 

 

* post written Thursday lunchtime

Coronavirus

While fully recognising the horrific implications, the suffering and the general misery that a global pandemic of 2019-nCoV (or any other microorganism) would cause, as a microbiologist, I do love a good outbreak.

The pure epidemiology of it. Chasing the source, following the virus from person to person, place to place. Wondering how fast and where exactly you build your metaphorical walls to keep everything inside (hint: it’s earlier and wider than those in charge in Wuhan did).

This outbreak is interesting for additional reasons too. The media is struggling with the technicalities of the problem, and are (of course) more anxious to sell papers and clicks than to present an accurate picture of what’s going on. But their hands may be tied on that account anyway, given that we are relying the notoriously secretive Chinese authorities to share the stats and the news. Add to that all the individuals who have read a post on the internet (Web MD if you’re lucky, but far more likely Mercola, ugh) and once had a cold, and are now sharing their expert opinion, full of misinformation, yet which is spreading faster than the actual virus.

Even real medical experts in the US are jumping on the panic bandwagon, confident that they can either play the “I told you so” card to the remaining post-pandemic shards of humanity or have their words forgotten along with the damp squib of the apocalypse that never was.

I’ve had a number of friends and family asking me about it, and they generally leave disappointed with my response, which – rather than pooh-poohing the pandemic panicmongers or damning those who are dismissing the virus as nothing to be worried about – takes a far more moderate line:

Mmm. Well, we’re going to have to wait and see.

OMG. SOOOOOOO BOORING, in this this world where instant opinions are the lifeblood of decent conversation and intercourse, but the fact is that if one takes a step back and reviews what’s happened so far, we simply don’t have enough information yet to do much other than speculate.

Because we just don’t know how many infected individuals “escaped” the cordon around Wuhan (actually, nor are we ever likely to), we don’t know where those people are, and we don’t know exactly how long they are contagious for before they start displaying signs and symptoms of disease. And all of these (and more) are required before we know how this is all going to pan out.

The next week or two will give us some pointers to each of these quandaries, and armed with these extra data, we can start to make a more informed decision about where things are going. At that point, some of those who have already voiced an opinion will be right, and some will be wrong. At this moment, we don’t know which is which. And that should surely send some sort of warning out about believing everything you read or hear.

For the moment, I wouldn’t advise travel to Wuhan, nor contact with anyone that’s been there in the last 6 weeks or so. In addition, wash your hands regularly and get the flu vaccine when it becomes available. Those last two won’t stop you contracting 2019-nCoV, but they’re just good practice.

Maybe we’ll revisit this subject when we know a bit more about what’s going on. Maybe not.

Either way, stay healthy. 🙂

Some lovely examples of the genre

You might have thought that 2019 was the Year of the RBOSS, and you would have been right. But just because 2019 went and ended all unexpectedly and stuff, it doesn’t mean that the genre has to end with it. Thankfully(?), there have already been some wonderful images shared on the Facebook group which originally gave us the RBOSS.

Like this puppy from one of the Masters:

Utterly spectacular. The saturation dial really turned up to 11 there. The sky literally exploding with over-excited pixels, displaying colours and hues that were actually never there.

And then there was this:

Subject matter 1/10, RBOSS level 10/10.

As Dale Carnegie famously suggested:

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

The amataur photographer version being:

If a sunset doesn’t give you colours, utterly destroy any semblance of reality by dragging the filter sliders all the way to the right. Twice.

And then do it again. Twice.

As one commentator wryly pointed out:

What a terrible way to find out that Iran has pushed the button.

We’re not even halfway through the first month of 2020 and already new boundaries are being explored in the world of RBOSS. Stick your shades on and join me in the quest to find the new King or Queen of over-saturation.

You have nothing to lose except your vision.

A day early

I had promised my dad, who’s over for a couple of weeks visiting his grandkids and grandbeagle, some traditional South African loadshedding, but we all thought that it would kick in tomorrow, when everyone goes back to work and the demand for electricity we can’t provide goes up.

Not the case, as at 10pm yesterday evening, Eskom announced a night of Stage 2, ostensibly in order to top up their diesel and repump their water. This didn’t directly affect us, thanks to a friendly schedule, but then we woke this morning to a 24 hour extension, meaning no coffee for me, and no early morning Scalectrix for the beagle.

Understandably, we’re both pretty annoyed right now.

I’m also wondering what the immediate reason is for today’s loadshedding, given that the diesel and the water were sorted overnight. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the week. Or for the rest of the year.

 

Sky Spiders

We really enjoyed the New Year fireworks on Struisbaai beach. There are some fun sponges out there who would like to see a complete ban (and sadly, it seems that they’re getting their way bit by bit), but such is the draw of this 2 hour free-for-all, I’m hopeful that the Struisbaai display may yet live to see in several more New Years.

I accept that there are dangers. The Suiderstrand fire seems likely to have been lit by a braai though, so are you going to try and ban them too? This annual festival is approved by the relevant Fire Services, who would much rather have all the fireworks in one place where they can monitor them and step in if needs be, than all over the Southern Tip.

“Outlaw people using distress flares!”, “Prevent another Betty’s Bay from happening!!” cry the outraged masses, conveniently forgetting that the Betty’s Bay fire  – terrible though it was – was… er… actually started by someone launching a distress flare illegally.

This is SA. The law doesn’t stop people.

And so concentrating them all together right next to a fire engine actually seems like a very good idea.

I’ll sort some photos when I have some more time and inclination, but this one summed up the evening for at least one of the kids.

On the left, an exploding rocket- and then the eight stages of its disintegration in the south east wind. From sharp, defined edges, bones and legs, through to the barely recognisable, diffuse remains on the right.

A quick scan suggests that there are a lot of (handheld, nighttime) fireworks shots on the camera, of which at least one or two are probably worth sharing. But like I said: still in holiday mode here.

Deal with it. 🙂