Saturday, 22 December 2012

The End of the World?

I am quite proud of myself; I have survived the end of the world on a number of occasions.  Quite an accomplishment for somebody that is still alive and kicking (albeit at a leisurely pace). The problem with end of the world prophets is that I never hear from them on the day after the world was supposed to end! I suppose though, having scared the bejabbers out of so many you daren't show your face just in case somebody expects you to pay for the 800 tins of tuna, 400 candles and 896 litres of Perrier water that they stocked up on "just in case". The end of the world that was supposed to happen yesterday (21 Dec 2012) was courtesy of the Mayans. I am not too sure what sort of sense of humour Mayans had (not much I expect), but maybe they decided to leave this conundrum for us, knowing full well that their own civilisation was toast.



Then there was "The Rapture", who can forget that day? Harold Camping  (now where is he today?) predicted that it was due to happen on 21 May 2011, and when nothing happened he then changed it to 21 October 2011! Well, we all survived that one, although quite a few people had severe financial problems afterwards when they tried to explain why they had given their possessions away, and bought themselves fancy sports cars on the never-never.  Make no mistake about it, I admire somebody that has faith in their convictions, but I do suggest they do some homework themselves before wringing their hands and  cashing up their chips.

My other favourite global catastrophe had to be the so called "Millenium Bug" (aka Y2K bug), that was supposed to cripple us all on the 1st of January 2000. Massive amounts of money were spent on fixing computer dates and overpriced Y2K "experts" went around charging huge amounts of dosh to sort out the potential problem.  When the clock rolled over into January 2000 things did not grind to a halt and aircraft did not fall out of the sky. However, could it be that all the precautions that were taken really prevented any problems? Or was the whole thing just a flash in the pan? We may never know the answer to that one. 

I don't know when the next end of the world is predicted for. Supposedly were are in for a hefty period of solar activity, during 2013 and 2014. Solar flares have probably been with us forever, so it is really a luck of the draw thing. But, if one of those flares is big enough it could play havoc with the planet, not to mention really slow internet access down (and that in itself is a real disaster). 



If anything I expect South Africa is in for its own "end of the world"  as the politics become increasingly messy and the economy keeps on shrinking with employment falling all the time.  That could be the disaster that quite a few people are ringing alarm bells about, and unless something gets done we are in for a very bad ride. Of course that is assuming etolls don't bankrupt us all first.

So next time somebody sidles up to you and tries to sell you a tee-shirt emblazoned with "The End is Nigh!" on it, just remember that the end of the world won't happen tomorrow because it is already tomorrow in Australia. 

Tin foil hat anybody?
 


 

Monday, 17 December 2012

At this time of year......

.... I am reminded that like most children I attended a Sunday School at our local Anglican church. At that time it had a "satellite" congregation/chapel in 7th Avenue in Mayfair. This was called "St Giles" and was under the leadership of Mrs Linden, who usually played the organ. Like so many dedicated people in the church she used to wear many hats, and Sunday School at St Giles was one of them.

Each year at Easter and Christmas the Sunday school would hold a "play" (or something resembling it), and all the children were roped in to play parts and parents were roped into providing costumes and or support, Everybody was expected to attend and participate whether we liked it or not. Nobody wanted to invoke the wrath of Father Wallace or Mrs Linden.



Of course these "plays" can be torture for those of us who are shy or can't sing and who just really wanted to disappear into the background. There are those who are best suited to playing Mary/Joseph. and those who are best suited to being "2nd shepherd watching his flock by night".  Ideally that was the role I wanted and invariably got because a) I cannot sing, b) I am neither cute or good looking c) I can be very shy. And, that is still true today. 
Naturally around Christmas when the Nativity Play was being held, carol singing was all the rage and lines of children would give their best rendition of  that old favourite...

                                        "While Shepherds washed their socks by night, 
                                                            all seated round the tub,
                                                    a bar of Sunlight soap came down
                                                       and glory how they rubbed..."

Clad in slightly used curtains/sheets/blankets we shepherds would watch our flocks of cardboard sheep and deliver our wooden lines while trying our best not too fluff it. Invariably the cutest girls would end up being Mary or angels, while boys would end up being shepherds, wise men (only 3 required), and Joseph. Occasionally a bit of gender bending was required due to a lack of boys or girls.  I played a shepherd once and was told by Joseph (or was it Mary?): "Give me the babies bottle" to which I replied "the bottle is broken."  (said bottle having come a cropper shortly before) and I have never lived it down.  I am sure that somewhere somebody remembers a shepherd wearing a tablecloth and thick coke bottle specs telling the holy family that the babies bottle was broken. Fortunately in those days cameras were not that popular so no images exist of the annual nativity play that I messed up. 



I do not know whether it ever occurred to Mrs Linden how much agony some of us went through during these plays, I suspect though it was more a case of doing what we were told or there would be consequences.  We were also expected to participate in various activities such as handing out programmes, showing parents to seats, and singing in the choir (accompanied by a gaggle of children playing the xylophone, drum and triangle). I considered taking up the triangle professionally, but kept on dropping the hammer thingey. Eventually we would graduate from Sunday School and then have to go sit and fidget with our parents on the church pews during the Sunday service.

At some point St Giles closed down and we started to attend Christ Church in Crown Mines. This handsome church is one of the older churches in Johannesburg and was built in 1897. Most of the wooden pews and pulpit were built by Father Vic Wallace who was the parish priest when I was a member of the church. He had worked on the mines for many years and loved reminding us of that fact in his sermons. He had a magnificent singing voice and was a highly skilled carpenter and very dedicated to the church and congregation. Although I was not christened in this church I was confirmed there, and  in 1981 my late father would be buried from there. 




Every year the church would hold it's annual fete and everybody was roped into it as well. My brother, an accomplished puppeteer, would usually be persuaded to produce a puppet show for the hordes of bloodthirsty children (and adults) who enjoyed seeing the grotesque Mr Punch belt Judy over the head, and Mr Plod doing the "'ullo, 'ullo, 'ullo, wot's going on 'ere then?" line before assaulting Mr Punch with a truncheon. Talk about police brutality and women abuse!  Then there was the story about the soppy King and Queen and a missing cake. Alas I do not remember the plot of that one. However, the reason I do know about these shows is that I was always roped into provide a 3rd and 4th hand, my talent with voice impersonations was always in demand for puppet shows, and my brother had quite a reputation for producing a very professional production.

When Father Wallace retired the church was never the same, and eventually we moved from Mayfair and lost touch with the church. I returned there 2011 to visit the Garden of Remembrance, and take some pics. Sadly the church has become a fortress, and yet it is still so beautiful inside with its woodwork, stained glass windows and pipe organ. But I expect falling congregations will eventually put paid to this building and its many memories.

Around about this time every year,  in the dusty caverns of my mind,  I still hear a choir of toddlers singing about shepherds and their socks accompanied by an cacophony of sound from the orchestra pit, while a diminutive Mary and Joseph walk across a stage towards a light bulb masquerading as a star, and 3 wise men hang around, looking nonchalant, waiting for their cue. And in the audience beaming parents would nod approvingly, all the while thinking "that's my son/daughter" and, more importantly no cellphones would disturb the sanctity of the annual Nativity Play.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Olde Software

I admit it, I hang onto old software. I can't help it, once I find (or found) something that works I tend to not upgrade unless I absolutely have to. My current Windows 7 computer still uses a lot of olde legacy odds and ends that I have used since the days of DOS and Win3.11.

My first real word processing program was Wordstar. In those heady days when I still used to edit a newsletter, I installed Wordstar V4 on my first PC (an XT). In those days you could run the program from a single 360K floppy, with data being stored on the "b" drive (2nd floppy drive). Once I upgraded to an ST225 (20MB), I was able to install the program onto the HDD and things went very much quicker. 

Seagate ST225
Version 5 did not really work well for me, although it did have a lot of additional functionality that I realistically did not use. One of the add-ons was a program called "Letrix" which allowed you to change font properties like BOLD, Underline, Italic, height and width at print time. I seem to recall "/B/W/I *insert text here* /i/w/b would result in a bold, underlined and italicised print. It worked really well with my slow 80 col Panasonic dot matrix printer, but took ages to print a page

Wordstar 7
Rooting around on the internet I was able to find a copy of Wordstar 7 which is working on my desktop. Gee, I still remember how to use it!


Scroll forward to 2013 and I found a copy of WS4, and, it actually works in Windows 7 compatability mode.

Front end of Wordstar 4.
There is a certain smugness in knowing that this piece of legacy software is still able to work so many years after it ceased to exist, and that many look back on it as being the best word processing software around in its day.

When it came to image editing I got stuck on PaintShop Pro Version 5.0.1.  I have been running the same iteration of this piece of software since I got it in 1998. Having used it for so many years I can do things really quickly with it, and it's so  much easier to use than any Adobe product that I may have. Don't get me wrong, my beloved PSP is a entry level program compared to the bell and whistle laden stuff currently available. I also run version 8, but I always found it was no good for labeling and inserting text. I admit that I did try my hand at Adobe Photo Elements and Coreldraw, but PSP was just so much quicker.

About Paintshop Pro
Of course I latched onto Eudora Lite as my mail client many many years back too, eventually graduating to the sponsored version and currently use 7.1.0.9. so I always confuse technical support when I have an email issue. The new open source version did not work for me, I had endless issues with it crashing so reverted back to 7.1.0.9, and the only problem I had with the Windows 7 installation was that I had to change my default directory, and the program works just as well today.

When it came to an HTML editor, I latched onto Arachnophilia years back in 1997 when the very first iteration of my webpage made its tentative appearance.  For some reason I got stuck at version 4 and never moved on. The program has been amongst my basket of software that comes across to each of my computers when I do a re-install, and 99% of my webpages have been created with it. Arachnophilia did move on though, and is now Java based. The current version is 5.5 build 2781. I also admit that I liked the "Careware" philosophy of it's creator.

About Arachnophilia


The final piece of oldie software still hanging in there is my FTP program. I have used WSFTP-LE  for years too, and the same iteration of version 5.08 (probably dating from 1998) gets used when I move files between my website and home computer. I do admit that this is one piece of software I have seriously considered upgrading, but so far have not found a suitable replacement, (although I haven't really looked either).

Somethings never really change, and my software is definitely up there with the best of them. I have never really been one of those that loves upgrading software. If it had been up to me I would have probably still been using Office 97, and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to upgrade to Office 2003! (and that was in 2009). My operating system tends to lag at least 4 years behind too, and I will hang onto Windows 7 as long as I can. 

The thing about living in South Africa with its awful internet and overpriced bandwidth is that it does severely limit your ability to download huge updates, and I deplore loosing the days when I could download a full version of a program; instead today I have to download an installer then hang around for hours while it downloads the program. It is one of the reasons I will not support the Steam platform. I was not amused when I bought a CD with a game on it and then spent 14 hours downloading the game! 

Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I like my coal burning software, and I bet that with a bit of work I could still find my precious Wordstar on one of my defunct drives, I do know I have some of the original txt files that were created with it all those years ago. In fact, now that I think about it, let me see if I can still use WS, it was never all that complicated to start off with.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Revisiting Bays Hill

One of my favourite memorials has to be the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria. It is a magnificent structure that epitomises "those who mount up with wings as eagles". 




I recall going there as a toddler with my parents and an uncle. In those days the Book of  Remembrance used to be in a recessed holder, and it was in there that we looked for the name of my uncle that died in Egypt during World War 2.

The memorial was opened on 1 September 1963 by President CR Swart. Other additions have been the Garden of Remembrance, the Walls of Remembrance, and the recent addition of the Potchefstroom AFB Memorial.

Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.
Garden of Remembrance
The futuristic and angular design of the building is unique and it does not have the heavy often morbid feel of a memorial, if anything it is light and airy, reminiscent of flight. 

The interior houses a small chapel as well as spaces for the Rolls of Honour and guest books, while not a large space still retains a aircraftlike feel with its angular windows. 



On the day of our visit the national flag was at half mast, probably to honour Chief Justice Arthur Chaskelson who had died that week. However, little did we realise at the time that the Air Force would loose an aircraft and its crew and passengers on the next day. Those names will be added to the thousands already inscribed on the Roll of Honour. 


Korean War Roll of Honour.
It is a sombre place to visit, and seeing the names inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance always leaves one feeling humble, and as you leave this small haven of peace you may hear the sound of an aircraft flying overhead, and know that it is a kindred spirit of those who are remembered here.
 

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Air Force Museum

Due to an unplanned party, our usual Wednesday Pretoria trip took a detour, and one of the places I revisited was the South African Air Force Museum at Swartkops AFB. I had originally visited there in December 2008, and had been somewhat disappointed, but also enthralled by their collection of aircraft. Nothing I saw though would really compare to the collection I had seen at The National Museum of the  US Air Force in Dayton Ohio in 2000. That place was truly amazing.

As usual I did have an ulterior motive in my visit, I really wanted to see the P51 Mustang that had evaded me in 2008, and was hoping to spot a complete Vampire too, the last Vampire I had seen had been incomplete. The images in this blog post are really a mix from my 2008 visit and the 2012 visit, because there have been changes since I had first been here.  There are aircraft that I have not added images of, that is because I did not have a specific interest in them on this visit.

Inside the museum (2008)
The main display area on the apron housed the larger aircraft, and my special favourite has to be the Shackleton. She had been moved from her original spot, and as usual was really worth seeing up close and personal. 


Also dominating the area was the SAAF Boeing 707,  I had never been lucky enough to see one of these up close and personal, and she is really the only one I have seen. 


Actually that is a fib because I have been on board the 707 at Wright Patterson AFB. That particular aircraft, Boeing VC-137C – SAM 26000 (Boeing 707) had served President John F Kennedy as the presidential aircraft (aka "Air Force One") before it too was replaced by a 747. Personally I prefer Boeing aircraft, these new fangled Airbus aircraft don't work for me.

Also on the apron is the DC4 Skymaster, She too had been moved from my last visit, and she is deteriorating rapidly, the fabric of her elevators and ailerons is falling apart and she really needs to be under cover and restored.

 


A new addition that had not been there on my previous visit was a Puma helicopter. There was another Puma (or Oryx?) doing circuits and bumps while we were visiting but I never got any decent footage of her. 


Most of the Mirage and Impala had been moved under cover which should protect them from the elements, but the larger aircraft are really in a precarious situation.  Even the sleek Canberra is looking somewhat faded.



I have not shown images of the C160 Transall or the Ventura or Super Frelon that are parked on the apron. Neither have I shown images of the aircraft parked under cover.

Moving indoors to the display hangers I was delighted to find my missing Mustang!


As well as the restored Vampire.


I was also hoping to get better images of the Sabre while I was there, and was delighted to find her in a much better position than previously.


Another addition that I had not seen previously was an SAAF trainer, I am not sure whether this is a Pilatus or the local derivative.


I was also hoping to get a better image of the Fieseler Storch but it lived in relative darkness so this is the best I could do...


There is a lot of other aircraft to view at the museum, like the wonderful Sikorsky S-51 which is a real blast from the past,


And the Communist Bloc era Mikoyan MiG21 BIS which ran out of fuel while on a flight over Northern South West Africa in 1988. 


Our own South African Air Force aircraft also feature strongly, and one of my personal favourites is the Mirage IIIBZ in her original delivery colours.



And, the Westland Wasp in her Naval colour scheme, hankering back to the days of our 3 frigates.



Unfortunately though the museum does not have a complete Harvard on display,  that stalwart trainer did our country very proud, and the snarl of their engines overhead is only a memory. Like most museums though, this one lacks funds and dedicated people to keep it going.  We are very fortunate to have this small collection available, and it would be tragic if we were to loose it. It is well worth the time and effort to go through to Pretoria for a visit, because if you are an air force and aviation buff, these are the machines that you may soon only read about.

A postscript. At the time of writing this, the Air Force had just lost a Turbo-Dak with all her crew and passengers in bad weather over the Drakensberg. This is the second Dakota that has been lost recently, maybe its time the museum acquired one for the collection before they too become extinct.