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July GeekDinner date decided

We've decided on a date for the next in the series of Cape Town GeekDinners: it will be on Thursday, July 26th, at 18:30 for 19:00. Head on over to the wiki to sign up and have your say in deciding on which venue to use.

Drupal anti-spam

Lazyweb, O, lazyweb, I call out to thee in my hour of need. I installed the spam and trackback modules for drupal, and to the outside observer, my blog is nicely spam-free. However, I get about fifty spam comments and spam trackbacks a day, which get trapped in the approval queue, and I have to manually wade through cialis and porn adverts/links to see if there are any real comments/trackbacks for any of my posts.

Depressingly, there generally aren't.

What's the best way to keep one's comments and trackbacks spam-free, without having to manually delete every single dodgy one, and without getting any false-positives?

A side note is that the trackback module isn't great - if I want to send a trackback, I have to manually find the trackback URL and put it in the little textbox - isn't there a nice drupal module that checks all outgoing URLs, and autodiscovers the trackbacks, and pings them? The trackback module that I have installed seems to think that this is what it does, but it has delusions of grandeur, in my opinion.

The Female of the Species

Firstly, let me post a link to an open letter by Melissa Draper to the Open Source community, complaining about discriminatory behaviour towards women, which discourages them to participate in the community, which is the reason why, according to polls, only 1.5% of the community are female.

Next up, an impassioned message from writer-producer-director-god Joss Whedon, concerning a male-dominated world, the society that propagates it, and the reasons why he thinks it happens. He has some good points.

Finally, an article from kuro5hin about the whole Kathy Sierra fiasco. (If you don't know, Kathy Sierra received some insulting comments on her blog and rather tasteless pictures (involving nooses, etc) were posted about her, which she felt amounted to death threats, and panicked, and cancelled her appearance at a conference.) I know that the article's title is "I Want to Stab You to Death and Play with Your Blood". Please try to read it anyway. It makes some more good points.

One more link. You don't have to read them all. (You don't have to read any of them.) This post is from Violent Acres, and the salient bits are probably:

If I’m somehow making you feel bad, it’s because you are letting me. You are giving me that power. The only way I could make you feel bad is if you placed more importance on my opinion than you do your own.
Why should my self esteem be so fragile [...]?
It shouldn’t. But if it does, perhaps you need to look inwardly to find what is lacking as opposed to playing the part of the victim being bullied by the big, bad Internet. The Internet hurts you only when you let it.

One more quote from somebody else. One of the commenters on Melissa's open letter said:

One of the things about geek culture is that there tends to be a certain self-deprecating humour throughout. We make jokes about *everyone*. We make jokes about people we like, we make jokes of people we dislike, and we even make jokes about ourselves.

If you don’t want people to make jokes about you, that’s fine - but bear in mind that what you are saying is “Treat me differently, because I want to be treated like everyone else”. It’s not really fair, is it?

We’ll stop making jokes about women being terrible drivers when women stop making jokes about men being terrible at cooking, terrible at cleaning, being insensitive, or any of the other stereotypes that women make fun of men for.

In the meantime, learn to give as good as you get. It will get you a lot further.

So, we've pretty much gone the gamut. What do I have to say? Not an awful lot, really. I'm a white male upper-middle class guy with a British passport. What the hell do I know about persecution and discrimination? I get called soutie by Stellenbosch people, but I think that's about as extreme as it gets. I can have no understanding of what it's like for Melissa or Kathy. I do have a gut feeling that one can be over-sensitive when people needle you, which makes you a more pleasing target to a certain more vicious type of troll, and invites more needling. I do have a sense that one can only be offended by people if one lets them offend you. But at the same time, I haven't been on the receiving end of a lifetime of glass ceilings and persecution. If I had been, maybe I wouldn't say "just ignore them, they'll go away" as if it was that easy. Just because I put Joss Whedon's article early on in this post doesn't mean I don't agree with it more than any of the others.

I think my point is, think about it. Whichever end you're on.

Update: Moving from the general topic of discrimination to the more specific topic of Melissa's grievance against the open source community... I think maybe the best response was just given to me by a friend of mine:

Melissa, your take on it is wrong.
The "open source community" is not insensitive to women.
It's insensitive, period.
Wise up.
Good luck.

Update: I didn't realise that one of the most vociferous commenters on Melissa's original open letter was actually one of our very own Capetonians! Jane has written a long post about Melissa's letter...


Just a note: the wine at the last GeekDinner was sponsored by GETWINE. That's, not Yes, I'm talking to you, Antoine ;-).

The wine itself was very pleasant, and was provided, all thirty-six bottles worth, free to us by the nice people at GetWine. Apart from their generosity, they are very cheap, and have excellent service - Neil ordered a case of wine from them a day or two ago, and received it, delivered to his office, three or four hours later. Try them.

(No, I'm not affiliated with them in any way, I'm just rather pleased and grateful.)

May GeekDinner

It is with great pleasure and a rather muzzy head that I say that last night's GeekDinner was a really great success. People rocked up, the restaurant was ready, the equipment worked, the wine was delivered, the talks were interesting, the food was enjoyable, and everything ran smoothly. I think everybody who was there enjoyed it, and the atmosphere was very relaxed and social. It was also nice to see a wide range of people, from the completely nerdy to the completely not. This brings me to one of the points I want to make:

The talks that were given were, in my opinion, of just exactly the right mix for what we want GeekDinner to be. The way I see it (and others may disagree), GeekDinner should not aim to have technical topics and high-level computery stuff. We have CLUG talks and CTPUG meetings and the like for the pure technical topics. I know some people are scared away by the idea that we're going to sit down and talk about code and stuff. Now, I am by no means saying that we must avoid being the geeks we are - there are other places for the non-geeky side of things. Rather, I think, we should take general topics, of wide interest, and present them from the technical viewpoint that we are bound to have, as the geeks that we are. Alternatively, we should take the technical topics we know so well, and present them from a non-technical point of view, for a fresh perspective. The five-minute-talk format is perfect for this: take a topic, and present a view on it. And this is exactly what we got last night. Neil has already summed up the dinner fairly well, so I won't go into details. (Update: Aslam has a nice detailed breakdown of the talks that I think covers things fairly well.) But Bryn's PHP/Python talk was a nice overhead view of a fairly technical debate, and Antoine's laptop talk was an absolutely inspired perspective on WHY the OLPC project is, instead of WHAT it is.

A final point, related to my comments on the last GeekDinner: I think that the whole networking side of things went much better this time. We started off outside, milling around, introducing old friends to new ones, and generally being social, and then when the dinner actually started, we had tables of about ten or twelve people, which is generally larger than your average clique, which meant that people sat with people they might not have interacted with otherwise. I think this is a good formula to stick to in future, if possible.

All in all, it was a great evening. Photos are up.

Provisioning a GeekDinner

With four days left until the next GeekDinner, there's a lot of last minute stuff that has needed to be done. However, we have succeeded in organising GetWine as the wine sponsor, Neil has found a projector, and we have Prosperis technologies possibly sponsoring the sound system. We've confirmed the speakers (apart from Jeremy who hasn't decided what he's going to speak on), and we've got pretty close to our target of 70 attendees.

All that remains now is for you to sign up, if you're interested and haven't done so already, and ahead we go.

(If you're in the Garden Route, there's a GeekDinner being held there, too.)

That Key

I didn't bother blogging the 09-F9 key when the rest of the global intarnets were going bos about it, because, well, the rest of the global intarnets were going bos about it. However, I've been asked what my favicon is:


I gave a brief description of what the 09-F9 key is in my last post. I also described how posting the key on my website, as follows:

09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0
makes me a violator of the DMCA, and thus naughty in the eyes of American law. However, a lot of questions arose during the whole debacle. One of them was that, since simply posting a piece of text containing the number is illegal, would it not also be illegal to post an image of the number? What about a song whose lyrics contained the number? What if you encoded the number and made it into an image? Are all of these things also suddenly illegal, because the AACSLA picked that number and said "it's ours"?

To return to the point, the insightful among you will have gathered that my favicon is an encoding of the 09-F9 key. The top half of the key is a binary encoding of the numbers: each black block is a zero, each white one is a one, and they form the binary representation of each number in the key. The bottom half of the key is what you get if you take each part of the key as a colour index, and band that colour across the image. I just thought it was cute, and made it my favicon. It's not the most attractive icon, and I'll probably get bored of it after a while, but there you have it.

Ban the blog

A while back, David Bullard published an article calling all bloggers "anonymous, scrofulous nerds". The response was amusing. Bloggers from all over South Africa lashed out at him, apparently causing the largest amount of traffic on the South African blogosphere ever.

I'm not going to comment on that whole little fiasco, apart from saying that trolls should always be ignored, without exception. What I do find interesting, though, is a headline from today: De Lille urges crackdown on Internet blogs.

If Patricia de Lille knew anything about the internet, she would know this is a surefire losing technique. She has basically picked the most vocal, and by far the most enabled community in the whole country, and then gone ahead and pissed them the hell off. "Bullardgate" shows that bloggers are keen for a fight. But the 09 F9 fiasco of a few weeks ago1 shows that you cannot censor the internet. Anyway, why the hell would you want to? Because somebody said something mean about your dude? Shame, man.

1. The 09F9 fiasco happened when the AACS Licensing Association sent out takedown notices to a number of websites which had a certain number on them. This number, to be precise:

09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0
This number is the key that certain software needs in order to play encrypted DVDs - using this key, one can bypass the encryption and copy protection, and thus allow the DVD to be played anywhere. When they sent these takedown notices out, there were only a few sites hosting the key, and it had received relatively little attention. The takedown notices outraged the freedom-loving citizens of the internet, however, and the key started springing up everywhere. It appeared on all the major user-provided news sites, which then tried to suppress it, resulting in an all out revolt on the part of the users. If you google for the number now, you get about 2 million matches, all of which host the number illegally, according to the AACSLA. Just by showing the number above, my blog becomes one of these illegal sites. I'm okay with that, though.

GeekDinner planning

Since the planning for the second GeekDinner seemed to stall a bit, I decided it needed a kickstart, and after a bit of discussion with Neil, got in touch with The Wild Fig restaurant in Mowbray/Observatory. Joe and I went round there at the beginning of this week to make arrangements, and after a bit of haggling and discussion, we have settled on a date.

So, the next GeekDinner will be held at the Wild Fig on Monday the 28th of May, at 18h30 for 19h00. Please head along to the wiki page (at, and sign up. If you're keen to give a talk, let us know!

Doing the Cape

We in the cape were recently graced by a visit from Megan (say it with me, Meeeee-gan, gotta pronounce it right), and it fell upon me to entertain her for some of her stay. I wanted to make the most of her time here, so I decided to see if we could cover as much as the Cape offered. As it turns out, the beautiful Western Cape came through with flying colours.

After picking Megan up from the centre of town after work on the Wednesday, we went through to Kenilworth so I could show her my new house, and had a drink at Banana Jam while we were there. From there, we drove to Stellenbosch, and had dinner at the Mystic Boer, which Megan thought was fantastic, and where we were joined by Tania for a bit.

On Thursday morning, we went down the road to Lanzerac, where we had breakfast - R95 for a buffet of the most fantastic food, in the most beautiful surroundings. From there, we moved on to my favourite wine farm, L'Avenir, where Megan bought some Chardonnay that she thought was great. After that, we visited Asara for another set of tasting, before leaving Stellenbosch.

On leaving Stellenbosch, we avoided the N2, and instead drove down the R310 (Baden Powell Drive), along the coast to Muizenberg. This is a very beautiful stretch of road that runs along the beach for some distance, past False Bay, occasionally wild and windswept, and very pretty. We ended up in Kalk Bay, and had a nice calamari lunch at the Brass Bell, before driving on down the coast towards Cape Point.

We actually got as far as the Cape Point park gates, but we decided not actually to go into the park, and instead turned around and drove up along the Chapman's Peak drive, round past Hout Bay, to Llandudno and Camps Bay. This drive is absolutely stunning - a twisting road that winds round the mountain, overlooking the Atlantic ocean. There are a few downsides, such as a tollgate and the potential for large rocks to fall on your head, but apart from those, it's a lovely experience.

After tea in Rondebosch, we went to dinner at Anatoli's in the Cape Quarter, which was a very interesting experience. It's a Turkish restaurant, with a lot of atmosphere, and Genuine Turkish Dudes as the waiters. The starters are mezze, which they bring to you on a huge tray covered in little bowls of Stuff, and you pick a couple. For mains, they have several dishes which they've cooked up, along the theme of lamb, chicken, beef, rice, kebab, sort of thing, and you can go and have a look at them and pick a helping of whatever bubbles the best. Anyway, it was a nice evening, wrapping up a pretty perfect day.

The rest of Megan's stay involved other Cape Town delights: A Wild West party in a house overlooking District Six and the Bay, a walk up Signal Hill, a nap in the afternoon, and all-you-can-eat sushi at Sushi Zone in Observatory on Saturday night. Easter Sunday saw us having a picnic in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and everything wrapped up with a nice meal at Cafe Paradiso on Kloof Street on Monday night before Megan left.

In summary, Cape Town, the most beautiful of cities, surprised even me by what it had to offer, and I think I enjoyed the week almost as much as Megan did. I wouldn't live anywhere else for anything.

Solid photographic evidence was obtained everywhere that we went...


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