When I die

Play Eels’ “Last Stop This Town” at my funeral.

No, I’m not considering killing myself. Just because you avoid thinking about death because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t make death any less inevitable.

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Driving to work is stupid

Note: This post has been sitting around in draft form for longer than expected, thus references to dates are likely to have inadvertently been turned into lies.

I conducted an experiment. It’s an experiment I’ve been meaning to carry out for a while now, but it involves getting up a little earlier in the morning than I usually do. Getting up in the morning isn’t something I have a natural aptitude for, and so it is understandable that getting up even earlier than normal was something the core of me abhorred.

On Tuesday this week, I managed to drag my protesting body out of the bed in time to eat breakfast and leave for the office on foot.
I could’ve risen at the usual time and just left for work when I normally do without my car, but then I’d have arrived late. Arriving late means staying late, and since I’d have walked to work I’d be needing to walk back home.
Since I live in Johannesburg, I didn’t feel to comfortable walking home late at night.

I set out into the suburb by taking a short-cut past the dam that my property overlooks, instead of leaving home via the main entrance and walking a circular route to get back to the main road.
Walking on the grass next to the dam, feeling the wind on my face and hearing the birds chirping was something I missed out on while driving. The squeaky noises from the yapper-dogs, who disrupted the serenity with their barking, were less appreciated. The barking soon faded away behind me, and I paid it very little attention.
As I approached the road I noticed a great number of cars parked along-side it. That was my first impression, but I quickly realised that the reality of the matter was not that the cars were parked, but rather that they were stationary. Occupants resigned to their fate of slow, painful progress up the hill to the stop street. Slow, painful progress turning left into the next road, and then excruciatingly slow and painful progress of turning left on to the M5 and trundling along towards the turn-off to the highway. Most cars had only one occupant, and they all seemed so lonely and detached.
I walked passed them all.

Probably it is only fair that I point out how close I live to my place of work. Most people work a lot further from their homes than I do, and so walking to work is likely to impact dramatically on their commuting time.
I live about 3.5km from my office, yet I’ve been driving there every day. The walk took me roughly 40 minutes and, considering my life has lapsed into a somewhat more sedentary style, if I did it every day it would be an excellent substitute for dragging myself off to the gym. Remember that I’d be walking back at the end of the day too.
For those who try to make as much distance between their homes and their offices as possible (probably due to hating their jobs inordinately) the challenge of walking to work is much greater.
Most of those people probably haven’t explored the possibility of driving their vehicles to a certain point, and walking the rest of the distance. How practical that might be will vary from person to person.
Angie has tried it by leaving the car at a conveniently placed shopping centre (positioned where the traffic starts to get unpleasant) and walking the rest of the way to her office[1].

My walk to the office was invigorating. I was outside, in the world. Feeling and experiencing it more fully. I wasn’t enclosed in my personal confinement capsule, detached from other people. I wasn’t able to delude myself that those other people were not really people, but arseholes who conspire to ruin my drive to work by cutting me off.
I couldn’t do this because I walked passed people on the street, and if I wanted I could reach out and touch them (they might have been a bit alarmed by this though). I confirmed their existence as real, living people — not obstacles in my way to my destination. They were the ingredients that added to the richness of my journey.
I could interact with these people. If I said “hello” they greeted me back (sometimes with puzzled looks on their faces, other times with more enthusiasm). Not one of the people I greeted ignored me or showed me the contempt that other drivers showed me when I drove my car.
A white guy walking to work in South Africa is quite a rarity and because of this I had one guy whistle to me from across the road. Once I spotted him, he seemed abundantly happy and waved at me enthusiastically. I returned the gesture.

What a rosy picture I paint. There were a few drawbacks though. Something unavailable to the pedestrian is the driver’s isolation. I’ve just shown how isolation is a bad thing, but isolation also allows the occupants of the vehicle to keep exhaust fumes out of their lungs by closing those air-vents. I could wear a gas-mask with a filter of some sort, but I think people would be more inclined to cross the road to get away from me when I attempt to greet them.
Walking is exercise, and depending on the ambient temperature, perspiration ensues. I forget to apply deodorant at my peril (or possibly everyone-in-my-office’s peril).
Walking hurts the feet, but that’s just because I don’t do it every day. I’m upgrading this experiment to a habit, and so I think my feet will get used to it (although they do ache a little at the end of the day at the moment, and I have a blister).
Pavements and sidewalks are in short supply. Apparently municipalities don’t expect people to walk any where near a road. Roads are for cars, and everyone important has a car, right? There are some pavements scattered about, but the effort to lay pavements has been organised in a very decentralised manner. A little pavement here, and then long stretches of heavily eroded dusty footpaths.
I’d like to say that if more people walked, then more pavements would be laid, but that’s ridiculous since most people in South Africa walk to work, or walk to catch a taxi which takes them to a point where they must walk to work. Understandably, pavements might not be a top priority in South Africa, but maybe they could be nudged up the list a little. Expect more on this pavement issue in a future post.
Smokers stuck in the traffic get nervous and need a cigarette but find they have none left. They might ask you for a cigarette as you walk by. This isn’t really a drawback, but since I’m not a smoker I felt bad not being able to ease their pain just a little.

As with everything, there are positive and negative aspects. My contention is that the positives of walking to work easily trump the negatives. I’ll be walking from now on, unless I need the car to get to a meeting or something, because driving to work is stupid.
You should try it too. Probably walking to work (or taking public transport) will be too much for you to do every single day. That’s not a problem. Try it for one day.  If it works out ok, try it  another day. Set a goal to get to work by alternative means once a week, or once a month.
At the very least, even if you decide not to adopt the behaviour, you managed to experience something different.

[1] I lie. We’ve simulated this when I needed the car and dropped her off at the mentioned shopping centre. The end result is the same though.

On death and social networking

I’ve often wondered about what happens to a person’s internet profiles and presences once the person stops living.
Let’s say Jimbo the Internet User dies. He has a Yahoo! for email, several accounts for on-line forums, accounts for AOL and MSN messenger, and accounts for the social networking site MySpace.

Yahoo! likely have a policy regarding dormant accounts. If the user fails to log in for a certain period of time, the account is tagged as ‘dormant.’ After a reasonable period of time,email in the dormant account is deleted. Perhaps Jimbo’s username is still kept in Yahoo!’s database, but for all intents and purposes Jimbo’s Yahoo! email account is as dead as he is.
Jimbo, being dead, stops posting comments on the Peculiarly Shaped Pieces of Dried Skin Forum. Nobody really notices since people’s true identities are not usually divulged in that kind of environment. If anyone does notice, they just conclude that Jimbo is no longer interested in strangely-shaped, dehydrated dermis (which is true in any case). The same is true for Jimbo’s other fora.
Jimbo stops logging on to AOL and MSN. Most of the people he interacted with here had met him in person, and hadn’t just got to know him through the internet. In all likelihood, these people know he’s dead, have attended his funeral, and are not surprised by his missing buddy-icon.
Jimbo stops logging on to MySpace, and stops adding stuff to his profile or his friends pages. This is where it all goes a bit weird.

Like the instant messaging technologies, people who knew Jimbo in the physical world interacted with him via social networking sites. These people went to his funeral and are saddened by his passing.
Unlike the instant messaging technologies, Jimbo’s MySpace profile is persistent (at least initially, since Jimbo was a very active user on the site). He doesn’t have to log into it for it to still be accessible by his friends and people who knew him. The friends still access his profile, and post public comments to him. They address the comments to him, and some talk to him as if he is still alive.

I hadn’t come across profiles of dead people before now. I’ve speculated about the stuff regarding email, forum, and instant messaging accounts. Thanks to an article in the Mail & Guardian, I am no longer speculating about MySpace accounts. A site exists which commemorates the deaths of MySpace users, and links to their MySpace profiles. It contains obituaries, which are mostly written quite tastefully.
Following links to the deceased person’s MySpace profile is where the oddness ensues. I found people wishing their dead friends a happy birthday, or happy Easter, a year and a half after the person’s death.
I suppose it is a way to express emotions and to be able to “talk” to a dead loved one, even though there will be no response. It feels like there might be, because interacting via MySpace (or Facebook) never required both participants to be present at the same time. Since the messages are visible to the public, it makes it feel like maybe the message will also get to the dead person. It’s unlikely that people would keep sending email to a dead person’s email account because no-one else will see that, and so how could you be certain that the communication ever took place at all. If there is no evidence of the communication, then the grieving party will have to accept more readily that their loved one is physically gone.
The presence of a dead person’s profile just seems to prolong the act of grieving. The profile is still there, just like it was when the deceased was alive. This is similar to the situation of a grieving parent keeping a dead child’s room just the way it was when the child died. Except, in the case of MySpace, the page is dynamic while the child’s bedroom is not. People keep posting to the page, keeping it alive, supporting the illusion that if the page is still alive, so is the person. The bedroom doesn’t do that. The bedroom is trapped in the past, and still a symbol of denial, but it’s quite clear that the living person is missing.
The MySpace profile of a dead person doesn’t show that. Although the dead person never responds, they didn’t respond when they were away on holiday either. Perhaps they’ve just taken a long holiday?

It took a while going through the various MySpace profiles linked to from MyDeathSpace before I found an error message, informing me that the profile did not exist or had been removed.
The profile was gone, in the same way the person was gone. This seemed much healthier to me.

Cake Baking as a Metaphor for the Digging-Holes and Getting-Stuff-Out-of-the-Ground Industry

Google knows about this blog, and since what I intend to write now is work related and critical of certain entities, it may upset the relationship my company has with those certain entities.
Given the above, it is necessary to be a little cryptic and to make lavish use of metaphors. If you know me well enough, and know what my current job is, you’ll probably be able to figure out which entity I’m referring to.
If you don’t know me at all, you still may be able to. Perhaps the post title may be of assistance to you.

Let us pretend that I work in the baking industry. I don’t but, for the purposes of this tale of bureaucratic anal-retentiveness, I do.
The baking industry in South Africa is strictly regulated. If one wishes to bake a cake, one must fill out the necessary Cake Baking Application forms and submit them to the Department of Cakes and Confectioneries (DCC).
A number of items must accompany the application form:

  • The exact description of the place you wish to bake the cake, including a map, and deeds of ownership
  • A Cake Baking Recipe, detailing how you intend to go about baking the cake, including such details as:
    • ingredients to be used
    • equipment required
    • which chef you intend to use
    • how much cake you intend to bake
    • proof that you can afford to buy the ingredients
  • Details of the company which intends to bake the cake/s
  • The applicable application fee (either cash, or a cheque made out to the DCC)

Every province in the country has its own provincial DCC office. The one in Gauteng always checks the application forms, and all accompanying documentation and so forth within 30 minutes.
I spent 3 hours at the DCC in the Free State submitting a Cake Baking Application for a client. Having not submitted any applications in the Free State before, the extra 2.5 hours to lodge the application came as a gradual, but ultimately quite excruciating surprise.

At first, it seemed that things were going well. Shortly after my arrival at the DCC offices, a nice person came to look over the application.
At the Gauteng office, the nice person who takes the application from me usually just checks that everything required by the legislation and regulations for a Cake Baking Application is present in the application. If it is, she takes my application fee and bids me farewell. They never check whether or not it is all in order — just that it is there. The 14 days stipulated by the Cake and Confectioneries Baking Act is what is supposed to be used to check through all the details. The Gauteng office does it this way. The Free State office — not so.
The nice person, who afforded me a great deal of time with which to practise patience, looked at the provided map. She then proceeded to check that every aspect of the map was correct, and that everything described in the application form, and the applicable deeds of ownership all matched up with one another.
My client wanted to bake a lot of cake all over the place, so there were a lot of deeds to cross-reference with the information on the map. I discovered that I need more practice in patience. Quite a deal more.

Eventually, she finished going through the map and deeds. She’d found some problems. I negotiated that I send the corrections through via courier. She, to my relief, agreed that that would be acceptable.
After that I waited a long time while pretty much nothing happened. Or rather, to me it seemed that nothing happened, but in actual fact, gross inefficiency was under way. I thought everything was done and that I just needed to pay the application fee and go. Just under 2 hours had passed at this point, and so I was very keen to leave, but no-one wanted to take my R500.00. If I didn’t pay the fee, then they wouldn’t accept the application.
My enquiries as to why things were taking so long were met with cryptic responses, which with hindsight I managed to decrypt. They had to check that no-one else had applied to bake the same kind of cakes in the same area. Again — something that should be done within the 14 day period stipulated by the Act.
At the time I just tried to keep patient.

At some point nearing the 3 hour mark, a person who I had not yet met came through and informed me that they were very sorry, but they were having a problem with their system. It had just recently been upgraded, and the only person who knew how it worked was not in the office. They asked me if I might be able to help.
That’s right. They asked me to come and do their job for them. I really wished they’d asked earlier, because then I would’ve left the building after 2 hours and 10 minutes, instead of the 3 hours that I actually spent there.

I’m heading back there on Monday to withdraw the frigging application because the place we said we want to bake cake isn’t quite in the right place.
At this rate, I’ll have so much practice at patience I’ll reach Nirvana in almost no time.

Microsoft — not threatened at all

I suppose I should own up to inadvertently following useless links. There is an excuse, but it’s slightly feeble.

I decided to streamline my assertion to not follow random links from google reader by creating an Approved Reading list. In doing this, it was necessary to click on my technology in order to purge it of evil. No really…
The link at the top of the list was this: Free Software Movement Dead — Microsoft
How the hell was I supposed to ignore that?
Following that lead me to more vexation, with Microsoft claiming a whole bunch of patent infringements (that, by the way, is a good article for the non-geeks amongst my readers to have a look at), but it seems they’re just making a lot of noise with little to back it.

But, now that reader has been streamlined to provide me with my government approved reading, this sort of thing shouldn’t happen again.

The Nature of Money a.k.a. I might be a commie

Dave (that’s Crazy Dave to some, but he’s not really crazy at all — he just pretends) sent me an interesting link the other day. It led me to the Open Money Manifesto.
If you find the manifesto a little heavy reading, try the motivational material for playing the open money simulation game.

Now, describing money as “open” is something that immediately grabs my interest, and runs off with it in a work-avoidance spree of work-hours inefficiency. This is because I like to think of myself as a minor advocate for open source software. It could be described as software socialism — or Buddhism for software (the corollary of open-source software for your brain). But I digress.

That whole lot got me looking into this concept of “community currency.” The community creates its own money for use within the community.
You don’t need any money to begin trading — the money is automatically created when the trade takes place. So someone get debited, and the other party to the transaction gets credited.
The “money” is really just information keeping track of who has traded, and how much.
The money doesn’t ever leave the community. This is what normally happens in today’s economy, resulting in extreme poverty in some areas, and extreme wealth in others — and the wealth is always flowing from the poor to the rich areas. This community currency thing stops that happening.

Those are just a couple of points. Read the linked articles for a better description.

On some investigation I discovered that such a network exists in South Africa. Check out the South African New Economics Network and its Community Exchange System for more info.

Some intriguing questions are raised by this system:
If everyone trades in the community currency, and thus never makes profit or actually earns anything, how happy will the tax-man be?
Can you inherit community currency (cc) from a deceased relative, even if you aren’t a member of the particular community?
Since one can start trading before having any credit, what measures are taken to prevent unscrupulous members of the community buying many goods and services, and then simply buggering off? They do mention something about this in the articles, but I think there may be more avenues for fraud here that haven’t been considered.

There we go kids.

Open Source. Open Religion. Open Money.

A co-operative society is the best way. Everyone shares everything — money, views, ideas, time, labour — and is tolerant of others.

What a nice place Utopia Land is.