Thursday, 14 October 2010

World applauds as miners in Chile reach the surface

Sometimes the world needs a good story. A real one. I've been fascinated by the whole rescue saga of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean copper and gold mine and have been following the story with interest.

The drama started when part of the mine collapsed on 5 August, blocking exit routes in the process. Rescue teams sent down listening probes just in case the miners survived. Seventeen days (of hell) passed... until they found a note on 22 August, left by a trapped miner which was attached to a probe, saying "Estamos bien en el refugio los 33" (All 33 of us are well inside the shelter).

Video Tour of Trapped Chilean Miners Refuge

Up to this point the miners rationed themselves to two spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie and a half-full glass of milk every 48 hours to keep them alive. Once contact was made, the rescue team sent down supplies and water down the borehole, eventually ensuring that the miners received a proper diet.

The rescue

First miner to be rescued, Florencio Avalos
The rescue effort then started in earnest on 18 September, drilling three holes and eventually it was the second hole that reached the miners first at 622m (2040ft). A narrow rescue capsule, built by the navy, was then lowered and started to pull up the miners one by one on 12 October. The order of the miners who were rescued: Strongest and most stable first (in case something went wrong, they'd be able to deal with it mentally), weakest and oldest second (to ensure they get medical attention first) and then the rest with the shift supervisor last.

The rescue was well coordinated, went smoothly, with several countries involved. Some provided machinery, others expertise, like NASA who assisted to determine what the miners would require to survive in isolation. The miners were trapped for 69 days, longer than anyone else in history!

Second Chilean Miner Rescued - Mario Sepulveda

The miners

The miners ranged from age 19 to 63. There were a few interesting characters in the group. Florencio Avalos will always be remembered as the first miner to be rescued. The second miner, Mario Sepulveda, was by far the most jubilant. He sang with other members of the rescue team, embracing everyone around. He was a familiar face since he did most of the video diaries whilst underground. Edison Pena ran six miles every day to keep fit (and stay sane) through dark tunnels, listening to Elvis on his iPod (he has reportedly been invited to visit Graceland). Yonni Barrios was the medic underground; his wife didn't wait for him at the rescue point, his mistress arrived instead. The oldest miner, Mario Gómez, was the spiritual leader and assisted psychologists at the surface. The only foreign miner in the group was Carlos Mamani from Bolivia. Luis Urzua, the shift leader, was credited with instilling discipline in the group from day one, organising the rations that kept them alive. He was the last miner to be rescued.

Chile miners - Los 33

Media coverage

Apparently one billion viewers tuned in to watch the build up and rescue of the first miner, clearly capturing the attention of the world with all major news channels covering the story. It was convenient to follow to the story online, with many free video feeds covering the story while participating in the discussion while it happened. All you had to do on Twitter was to 'follow' a few journalists, government officials and rescue workers on the scene, who used the opportunity to send Twitter updates from their mobile devices. The family members of the miners set up a base camp called Campo Esperanza (Camp Hope), adjacent to the rescue point in the mine. Most relatives stayed there from day one in support of the miners, waiting with anticipation for the ordeal to be over.

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera and Mining minister Laurence Golborne

The Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, and in particular the Chilean mining minister, Laurence Golborne, was present throughout. No rehearsed media conferences with teleprompters, just honest off-the-cuff updates about what was going on. Their approval ratings went through the roof and deservedly so.


Twitter has proven, again, to be a useful platform to spread the news quickly and receive recent updates of the drama as it unfolded. At one point I was watching BBC World News and after the rescue capsule was lowered into the mine, the presenter was not sure who the first nominated miner would be to get in the rescue capsule. At the same time I was using Twitter Search and immediately noticed a tweet by the Chilean mining minister where he tweeted the name of the first miner, Florencio Avalos. This was amazing since social media has outdone mainstream media, since it was easier to get actual inside information from the scene. The media world is changing rapidly.

I did a search for "miner" using Twitter Search and at one point it was updating at 15000 tweets every few seconds.


Although everyone is expected to recover from physical illness suffered during their ordeal, the big question is how this whole traumatic experience will affect them psychologically? There will be the initial euphoria of being reunited with loved ones but in the aftermath possible insomnia, restlessness and anxiety could set in. At least they all had a job to do while underground since they effectively had to help the rescue team at the surface carry out their plan. Only time will tell how they will all be affected.

Related links
Live video feed of rescue - Associated Press
Profiles of the miners - BBC News
Capitalism Saved the Miners - WSJ Read more on "World applauds as miners in Chile reach the surface"!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Athlone Towers demolished on Sunday

Athlone Towers
Athlone Towers
The famous Athlone Towers in Cape Town will be demolished tomorrow at 12pm. The power station cooling towers were built in 1960 but generation of electricity was stopped in 2001. Subsequently the Towers have been determined to be unsafe. It has become a famous landmark to Capetonians over the years.

When I was a youngster we frequently visited family in Somerset-West and therefore always passed the Towers on the way, since it's located right next to the N2 highway. There is always a very bad smell in the area and it is mistakenly associated with the cooling towers. The smell is actually from the sewerage plant on the other side of the road. Nasal illusion!? 

Live broadcast

The demolition will be broadcast live on Sunday, 22 August, from 11h40 to 12h10 (GMT+2) on www.zoopy.com/live.
There will be a 300m exclusion zone around the Athlone Towers during the demolition. Part of the N2, Jan Smuts Drive and the adjacent Metrorail line will be closed.

Video: Athlone Towers, Going, Going...

UPDATE 22 August 2010: Videos of actual demolition

Athlone Cooling Towers Demolition from Phillip Gibb on Vimeo.

Read more on "Athlone Towers demolished on Sunday"!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Firefox - How to display Google Images basic view permanently

Google Images
FirefoxGoogle changed the layout of Google Images in July, now displaying images only (called Standard view). As you scroll down, more images are automatically loaded and displayed. Great, or perhaps not?

Google Images Standard view
Google Images Standard view
Although you see more images at a glance with this layout, there are unfortunately a few disadvantages:
  • If you have a slow internet connection it can take a long time to load all the thumbnail images.
  • If you have a monthly bandwidth cap, the bandwidth used to display all the new images at once while you scroll down can be excessive (especially if you wanted to see a few images).
  • The title, dimensions and website address is not visible anymore at first glance, so you can't make an immediate decision whether you want to click through to that site or not. Now you have to hover over the image first, an extra step, to see that info.
Temporary solution by Google, switch to Basic version at bottom

If you scroll to the bottom of the image search results page, you can click on the "Switch to basic version" link which reverts it back to the original layout but unfortunately it is only valid for that single search session! If you close the browser and open it again and do another Google Image search, you'll see the new layout again. Google currently offers no option to change it back permanently.

Google Images Basic view
Google Images Basic view
How to access Google Images Basic view permamently in Firefox

First add a keyword search bookmark, then amend it to display the Basic view automatically.
To do this, you can use a built-in function in the Firefox browser to add a keyword to do an image search directly from the address bar. This will allow you to type the assigned keyword followed by the search query and it will display the images automatically, without you having to visit the Google Images site first.

To set up a search keyword for Google Images:

  • Go to http://images.google.com (of if you're in South Africa, it would be http://images.google.za)
  • Click in the empty search box, then right-click and select "Add a Keyword for this Search..." from the popup menu.
  • In the "Keyword" field, type the word, images, and click on "Save".
Now you can e.g. type images dolphins in the browser's address bar and it will automatically display the new Google Images layout with photos of dolphins.

Change the newly added keyword function to automatically display the former Google Images basic view

Follow these steps:

  • At the top of the browser window, click on the Bookmarks > Organise Bookmarks menu option, which will open a new window.
  • In the right pane of this window, click on the search keyword entry you just added
  • In the "Location" field, you will see something like this:
  • Add the following at the end: &sout=1
  • It will therefore look like this:
That's it! You're done.

From now on, you can just type the keyword images in the Firefox address bar immediately followed by the term you want to search for, and it will automatically display the Google Images in Basic view.
(There's therefore no need to visit the actual Google Images website first, since your newly created keyword now incorporates that function)

Firefox address bar
Read more on "Firefox - How to display Google Images basic view permanently"!

How to hide the YouTube grey bar in Firefox

YouTubeFirefoxYouTube added a new long grey bar at the bottom of videos that form part of a playlist. Although some find it useful, a lot of people see it as a distraction. You can minimise it but you cannot close it.

Grey bar at bottom of YouTube.com

Solution for Firefox users

If you're a Firefox user, there is a way to permanently hide the YouTube grey bar. For it to work, you must have the the AdBlock Plus Firefox add-on installed (this is a brilliant add-on anyway since it hides all ads on sites).

Visit youtube.com, then click on the small AdBlock Plus (ABP) icon top-right or bottom-right in the browser.

AdBlock Plus icon

The Preferences dialog box will appear. Click on Filters > Add filter.

Enter the following:

Repeat the step and add another filter containing:

Repeat the step and add another filter containing:
Click OK.

ABP filters

They grey bar will disappear permanently!

Similar bars on other websites

You can also use the method explained above to hide similar bars on other websites. It would be easier to hide them by installing the Element Hiding Helper Firefox add-on as well.

Then browse to an applicable site (e.g. news24.com which also recently added a social bar at the bottom of their site), right-click on the AdBlock Plus (ABP) icon in the browser and select "Element to hide". Hover over the bar you want removed and click on it. A dialog box will appear, click on "Add filter rule" and that bar will permanently be removed from view!

Reverting back to old settings

Of course, if you want to, you can always change it all back by clicking on the ABP icon and simply deleting or disabling the applicable entry under "My Element Hiding Rules". Read more on "How to hide the YouTube grey bar in Firefox"!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup - One day to go!

2010 FIFA World Cup
The 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off tomorrow when the host nation, South Africa, plays the opening match against Mexico. Football fever has gripped the nation, especially these last few days during the build-up to tomorrow's match.


Most teams and their fans have arrived in South Africa and the "gees" (spirit) in the streets have been uplifting, to put it mildly! Vuvuzelas are blaring everywhere; its distinct sound will undoubtedly be heard throughout the tournament. Some love it, some hate it. (Want to hear it?)

Yesterday Bafana Bafana (South Africa's national team) were cheered on by a huge crowd of around 185 000 in Sandton when they appeared in an open-top bus. Some serious nation building going on! It reminded me of the 1995 Rugby World Cup where I experienced a similar feeling of euphoria. The fact that I had a ticket to the final probably had something to do with it.


South Africa is all set for this tournament. There were some serious doubts a few months ago when the pessimists were adamant that we wouldn't be ready but that notion has evaporated. Here's some high-quality photos of the preparation for the World Cup. All the major soccer stadiums are available in 3D with a 360 degree view inside, using Google Maps Street View.

There are people who allege that FIFA strong-armed the government and local businesses, resulting in severe loss of income for the local tourism industry. The big question always remains whether a country can get a return on investment after hosting such a huge tournament and whether the use of the new stadiums can be sustained afterwards.


A number of star players have unfortunately been injured during the last few days, either during practice or friendly warm-up games which could affect those teams' chances of winning the tournament.

Didier Drogba (fractured forearm), prolific striker for Chelsea will be missed by the Ivory Coast; German captain Michael Ballack is out (ankle), Portugal - Nani (shoulder); Netherlands - Arjen Robben (hamstring); Spain - Iniesta (thigh); England - Captain Rio Ferdinand (knee); Ghana - Michael Essien (knee).


There will be 32 teams at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a total of 48 preliminary matches that are divided into 8 groups. Two teams go through to the second round in each group.

Bafana Bafana supporter
Group A - France and Mexico.
France is the most talented team in this group and Mexico showed good form the last few weeks, easily beating Italy in a friendly match a few days ago. South Africa automatically qualified for the tournament since we're the hosts(ranked 83rd in world at time of writing), will enjoy the local support but unfortunately the gap may be too big. Bafana Bafana is looking fit and had a good run going into the tournament, never losing under coach Parreira and also beating Denmark (ranked 36th) in a friendly a few days ago.
If we can somehow beat Mexico in the opener... who knows! Reaching the second round would be a phenominal achievement.

Group B - Argentina and Nigeria.
Argentina have Messi but struggled to qualify for the tournament. South Korea have Park Ji-Sing but Nigeria will have a lot of home support.

Group C - England and USA.
This is the weakest group and therefore England got an easy draw. They're favourites to end on top.

Group D - Germany and Ghana.
Germany have a good record at world cups and are ranked 6th in the world. Ghana is missing their star player, Essien, but could still edge Australia.

Group E - Netherlands and Cameroon.
Netherlands showed good form and were undefeated during the qualifying rounds. Cameroon has Samuel Eto'o.

Group F - Italy and Slovakia.
Italy are the reigning champions and should be the strongest in this group. Slovakia scored a lot of goals during qualifying but Paraguay could edge them for the 2nd spot.

Group G - Brazil and Portugal.
This is the Group of Death with three strong teams making it the most difficult to qualify. Brazil have a brilliant record at world cups, winning it five times. Portugal have Ronaldo and Ivory Coast lost their star player, Drogba.

Group H - Spain and Chile.
Spain should easily top the group. Chile ended second in South America's qualifying round.

Who will win it?

Spain's Capdevila, Villa, Hernandez and Iniesta
In my opinion the realistic favourites are Spain, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands and England. Brazil are ranked no.1 in the world, have the experience and have won it a record five times. Germany are always strong; England are a dark horse, have an easy draw and an astute coach, Capello, although I think they're sometimes overrated.

I want the Netherlands to win but without their talisman, Robben, it is less likely. I think Spain have the best chance of taking the Cup home. They've been in brilliant form the last two years and I believe they're the most talented, balanced team at the tournament.

Opening ceremony and first match

Tonight the FIFA World Cup celebration concert will start at 8pm (GMT+2) and will last for three hours. Headline performers are Shakira, John Legend, Angelique Kidjo, Alicia Keys and the Black Eyed Peas. Location: Orlando Stadium, Soweto, Johannesburg.

The official opening ceremony is tomorrow at 2pm (GMT+2) and will last 30 minutes with 1581 performers, at Soccer City, Soweto.

Waka Waka - The Official 2010 FIFA Song
(performed by Shakira and Freshlyground)

The opening match is on Friday, 11 June at 4pm (GMT+2) at Soccer City between hosts South Africa (Bafana Bafana) and Mexico. Good luck Bafana Bafana!

Related links
2010 FIFA World Cup Fixtures - SuperSport
2010 FIFA World Cup Groups and Teams - BBC Sport
Preparing for the World Cup - The Big Picture
2010 World Cup Stadiums - IOL
Widget: World Cup live on your desktop - Sport24 Read more on "2010 FIFA World Cup - One day to go!"!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Google Street View available in South Africa

Google Street View
Google Street View has finally launched in South Africa, enabling internet users to view images of streets and surrounding buildings at street level. All faces and car number plates are blurred to protect your privacy. Considering that the FIFA World Cup tournament starts on Friday, this will undoubtedly assist tourists since they'll be able to view sights and stadiums before they arrive.

Of course, the first thing I did was to see if a Google Street View Car captured me in front of my home. Luckily not, but you can see my car in the driveway. I'm a fan of Google and use a lot of their online services; Google Maps with Street View is fantastic.

Chapman's Peak Drive in Cape Town - click to view larger image
A view of Chapman's Peak Drive in Cape Town

Google Street View in South Africa is currently available in the major cities and a few other towns. I assume the rest of the country will be mapped during the rest of the year. All the major soccer stadiums are available in 3D with a 360 degree view inside.

Cape Town Stadium - click to see aerial photo
3D model of Cape Town Stadium

Video: Street View on Google Maps

A lot of websites are dedicated to displaying funny images that have been captured on Google Street View. Here's a few interesting images.

The only downside to Google Maps and Street View is that it tends to use quite a lot of bandwidth so if you have a slow connection, good luck.

Related links
Google Maps with Street View - Google Read more on "Google Street View available in South Africa"!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Facebook's new privacy settings

Facebook privacy
Facebook announced new privacy settings to address some of the negative public backlash they received these last few weeks. Your name, profile picture and gender will remain publicly available but you can set privacy controls for the rest. The new privacy features will be rolled out during the next few weeks.

Video: How to take advantage of Facebook's new privacy settings

They've definitely made it easier for the end-user to change the privacy levels by adding global settings and the fact that you can now opt-out of applications altogether will be good news to those who demand absolute control over their privacy. Just a pity you don't have the option (when applying the setting to disable all applications) to exclude applications you actually want to use. Maybe that will come in future.

Step in right direction

A lot of people will be pleased with the new privacy settings but some privacy advocates will still have a problem with Facebook's general lacklustre approach to Privacy. Instead of thinking it through and respecting the user's privacy from the start, Facebook tend to expose their users by decreasing their privacy and then they simply fix it later, if the public outcry warrants it.

Sharing your personal info with 3rd party applications should be OPT-IN, not opt-out! As long as I have the choice to decide beforehand to share information or not, everything is fine. Just don't share it without my permission.

Related links
Making Control Simple - Facebook (CEO Mark Zuckerberg)
Controlling how you share - Facebook Read more on "Facebook's new privacy settings"!
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