Weekly Head Voices #83: Fallen Dragon

I’m still trying to find my way home out of wild deadline country (WDC), so I hope you don’t mind (again) that I crunch together two weeks of weekly head voices during these few days of recharging. Because the post ended up being quite long, I’ve inserted headings. Feel free to read any, all or none of the parts!

Software babies out in the real world

It’s great when that software system you’ve been designing gets used by real people in the real world. Check out this press release by the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS): Together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) they are building a national digital pathology database to improve pathology education nation-wide. Cool eh?!

See the screenshot at the bottom of the press release:

It’s highly probable that the software you see running on the tablet and on the screen behind it was programmed by the very fingers typing this blog post, and their owner is stoked! I built it in very close collaboration with scientists (friends in the meantime) at the CSIR (who work closely with the NHLS) and at Stone Three. It’s a whole suite of applications which I hope I can say more about soon. (By the way, PYTHON. :)

Two science fiction recommendations

I finished Peter Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon. I’m a sucker for space opera, and I thought that I’d already read everything that Hamilton wrote, but regular commenter and old friend R brought this one to my attention. Some dollars exchanged hands (well, actually I authorized a credit card transaction to pay Amazon, but dollars changing hands sounds better) and I was off. It’s a stupendously enjoyable space opera where the human race finally goes next level due to accidental contact with a sentient artefact of the most advanced space race ever. Hamilton is sneaky, because between all of the interstellar corporate “asset realisation”, and the plotting and scheming of untouchable CEOs and the fighting of bionic soldiers, he manages to build a “boy meets girl boy loses girl forever but boy creates wormhole time loop and against all odds finds his true love again at the end and gets to keep the space ship” story, by the end of which I had a slight eye-moisture problem to contend with. Highly recommended!

Based on a random recommendation by @xsyn on FB, I picked up and absolutely could not put down Blindsight by Peter Watts. Hard science fiction is awesome. I found this one intriguing initiallly due to the promised plot of a mysterious alien incursion, then the crazy mix of characters (narrator-protagonist with no emotion (more or less) due to childhood brain surgery, a linguist with 4 cooperating split personalities, a biologist with lab equipment wired directly into his sensorium, an augmented soldier, and a vampire as a captain; in this book’s universe, vampires are a hyper-intelligent human sub-species who indeed used to hunt humans), then aliens that are probbably ever more out there in terms of weirdness than that of Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, and finally a mind-bending discussion on the very nature of consciousness and sentience vs intelligence. The only little nitpick, is that at one point Chernoff faces are employed as a serious visualization technique, an episode during which I had to employ slightly more suspension of disbelief than usual.

Mark Shuttleworth sticks it to the man!

On October 1, 2014 the South African Supreme Court of Appeal found in favour of Mark Shuttleworth in his case against the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). To summarise: Mark Shuttleworth is a South African billionaire who made the first big chunk of his wealth when he sold Thawte Consulting (for a large part the product of his ingenuity and hard work) to Verisign.

In ‘99, Shuttleworth had to emigrate, because SARB’s archaic regulations were making it unncessarily complicated to run an international business from within SA. He then had to pay SARB more than R250 (about $25 million) in levies.

The court has just determined that this levy was unconstitutional and has ordered SARB to pay it back with interest. Shuttleworth has announced that he’ll put this money in a trust, and that it will be used to uphold the constitutional rights of citizens in court against the state, in South Africa and in the rest of Africa.

In the statement on his blog, he writes:

Banks profit from exchange controls, but our economy is stifled, and the most vulnerable suffer most of all. Everything you buy is more expensive, South Africans are less globally competitive, and cross-border labourers, already vulnerable, pay the highest price of all – a shame we should work to address.

… and then further down:

The World Bank found that ‘remittance fees punish poor Africans’. South Africa scores worst of all, and according to the Payments Association of South Africa and the Reserve Bank, this is ‘..mostly related to the regulations that South African financial institutions needed to comply with, such as the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) and exchange-control regulations.’

In a very limited fashion I’ve had to deal with the completely misguided regulations of the SARB. Just receiving international payment (which should be as smooth as possible!) is an unnecessarily painful process.

The most poignant bit from Shuttleworth’s post was this:

This case also has a very strong personal element for me, because it is exchange controls which make it impossible for me to pursue the work I am most interested in from within South Africa and which thus forced me to emigrate years ago. I pursue this case in the hope that the next generation of South Africans who want to build small but global operations will be able to do so without leaving the country. In our modern, connected world, and our modern connected country, that is the right outcome for all South Africans.

SA has a great constitution. This gentleman is personally taking on the state (and in this case specifically the SARB) to ensure that the regulations are in line with the constitution, and South Africans are empowered to play their role in international business. He deserves all the support we can give.

Thanks for listening peeps, and have a brilliant week!!