Ode to my Forester

Posted by batman on Nov 30th, 2013
2013
Nov 30

IMG_4613_3.jpgMy Subaru Forester 2.5 XS (2010) is really a remarkable vehicle, and has afforded my family and I many opportunities to go off the beaten track and see things we would otherwise not have been able to. I feel obliged to honour some of the achievements of my Forester.

Sutherland, Karoo, South Africa
A well-timed long weekend in Sutherland, South Africa co-incided with a beautiful cold front that left this small Karoo town (home of the SALT telescope) covered in snow – from space a white circle measuring approximately 50 km would have been seen, up to half a metre deep in places. In wet, muddy, snowy and icy conditions my Forester was supreme – I had so much traction it was hard to believe. I could hit the brakes hard, accelerate strongly from standstill and the loss-of-traction warning light never even came on. While other 2WD vehicles were sliding around and being recovered, the snow-covered roads were my playground.

Baviaanskloof, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Just a weekend spent camping with family, with a few dirt roads (and passes) thrown in for fun. I lost a tyre here in an “accident” as an inconsiderately driven Toyota Hilux approaching from the front squeezed me to the side of the (very narrow at that point) road where I hit a rock on the full – any tyre would have burst. I picked up a slow leak on another one which was easily fixed with a plug.

Cederberg, Western Cape, South Africa
I travelled up the Cederberg, Western Cape, South Africa, and down the other side again – a roundtrip of 300 km of gravel travel. This included the notorius Eselbank Pass en route to the quaint Moravian village of Wupperthal, as well as some really smooth, fast gravel roads with delicious sweeping bends. Again, supremely competent, no obstacles it couldn’t overcome and rather surprisingly no problems from the Bridgestone Geolanders.

Sani Pass, Lesotho
But the crowning achievement has been on a recent trip to Sani Pass in Lesotho. We (my brother, my two teenagers and I) covered 1,900 km over three days (with no driving on the middle day). We left and returned from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, travelling very comfortably at or around the national speed limit and returning an overall fuel consumption of a mere 8.6 litres / 100 km. We conquered the mighty Sani Pass in Lesotho – gaining 1,000 metres in altitude over just 8 km of a very bad gravel road with no difficulties whatsoever, despite sporadic appearances of ice and snow on the road. We were surrounded by hardcore 4×4 vehicles with primarily AT and even MT tyres – I was seriously concerned that my Geolanders would not be up to this test as they have already covered 50,000 km and are described as being best for highway use with a bit of offroad thrown in – but again experienced no problems whatsoever. Ground clearance also amazed me with the ONLY touchdown being the towbar on a man-made cement drain crossing the road. Our last three hours of the return trip was in darkness with heavy rain, and driving through potholed mountain passes around Grahamstown – again the fantastic AWD system of the Forester providing absolute confidence during these tricky conditions. I’m really struggling to find many other vehicles that could match this kind of overall performance!

I really love my Forester – it offers me so many cars all in one – a 4×4 to tackle Sani Pass, a car with rally pedigree to tackle a good gravel road or a wet mountain pass with enthusiasm, a comfortable and relaxed (fairly economical) long-distance cruiser, a daily commute vehicle to work and back, space for a fourball’s golfclubs (and the fourball), space to pack in furniture, or dogs or picnics – it’s got it all.

Subaru Forester Forever!

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Formula One – Pinnacle or Circus

Posted by batman on May 26th, 2011
2011
May 26

It has been a long, long time since the Formula One season has been this intriguing, with something happening all of the time andredbull1.jpg no opportunity to get up and quickly grab a beer – you WILL miss something. I remember years gone by where one could get up and get a haircut at the local mall – and not miss anything. This year there has been an abundance of overtaking and pitstops – and it is almost unheard of for a faster car to be stuck behind a slower car for more than one lap, or two at the most.

But I find myself questioning it all – should Formula One be a circus primarily designed to entertain the crowds, or should it be the pinnacle of motorsport designed to determine who can build the best car, and then drive it to glory?

Lets examine a few sports a bit closer…

TENNIS

When a guy like Rafael Nadal (or Roger Federer, or Pete Sampras) is good enough dominate, then they are allowed to reign for five or ten years – regardless of how boring or uncompetitive the sport becomes. The concept of having to play a match with only seven sets of tennis balls that are designed to degrade faster, forcing the players to adapt to a soft ball towards the end of its life just to spice up the tennis – is quite frankly ludicrous. Would you force tennis players to have to wear two different brands of tennis shoe during a match, or carry water on their backs as a penalty for their world ranking? Of course not – it would be absurd.

GOLF

Nobody complained when Tiger Woods was winning everything in sight – in fact he has been the biggest drawcard golf has ever had. Could you just imagine if these same self-serving puppet-masters could randomly remove a club from a players’ bag? Or have degradable balls that only last eight holes – a player would need to derive a strategy for getting around the course with a soft ball, or else incur a penalty for taking a new one. That’s just not golf, and the purists would simply stop watching the sport.

CRICKET

OK, nobody can dispute that the IPL Twenty20 is a circus – just close your eyes and swing, with dancing girls, colour and music. But lets rather look at “proper” cricket – the limited-overs game, and good old-fashioned Test cricket. Patience and , classic strokes the order of the day. Third umpires and review systems, while not yet perfect, are certainly the way to go. There is no glitz or glamour, and they don’t change the game – all that happens is that a player is almost guaranteed of just getting a fair decision – and nobody can ask for more.

I do dislike the “free hit”, “super-subs”, on-field microphones and other such gimmicks. Imagine how one could desecrate this game into a circus – 11 batsmen get to bat – they then get substituted with a combination of 11 Jonty Rhodes (in the field) and Dale Steyns for bowling. The argument for this is that the public would get to see 11 of the best batsmen, facing the best bowlers – after all – who is entertained by watching a bowler try to bat? But then it would no longer be called cricket – as has been played by gentlemen for decades, if not hundreds of years. If a sport has survived unchanged for this long – then leave it be. If not – then it’s probably not that much of a sport to begin with.

BACK TO FORMULA ONE THEN

I think reports of randomly causing artificial rain on a track is crazy – teams and drivers are doing their very best to win races, and the puppet-masters are continually looking for ways to make the race more unpredictable and more difficult in the interests of amusing the spectators.

The current KERS and DRS also seems artificial – to see the slowest car on the track potentially blast past the fastest (assuming he was within one second at some arbitary corner before the straight) somehow just doesn’t gel. Having cars (tyres) by design degrade by large margins after 5-10 laps, and then have to pop in and get a second, third, fourth or fifth set is cheesy, and very “Playstation-like”. In addition – isn’t it just over-complicating something that should be quite simple? Who is monitoring if drivers use their DRS (or KERS) in places where they are not allowed to – and what are their penalties if they do? Would they really give race-leader Fernando Alonso at the Spanish Grand Prix a 10 second “stop-go” because he inadvertantly opend his rear wing at the wrong place? Or do they need to develop new systems to only allow DRS to be activated between two specified points on the track? If they are serious about cutting costs, then stop requiring teams to develop silly little tricks and gimmicks like this!

What’s next – having remote-controls (in the hands of the puppet-masters) that can cause an engine to blow, wheels to lock up, engines to lose KERS ability and then have it re-instated, gearboxes to “lose” a gear – the mind just boggles, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Formula One lost more followers than it ever did during those “monotonous years”.

THE GREAT ECONOMY RUN

I agree that costs are high and need to be curbed – but I strongly disagree with anything that makes Formula One look like a cost-saving, budget-orientated economy run. Last week at the Spanish Grand Prix the teams reduced qualifying to a farce by only doing one run (some not at all) in the interests of saving their tyres. Surely that’s not what Formula One is about?

I accept the eight-engines-per-season rule – that is fine, and reasonable – a team that can’t make do with that deserves to be penalised. But when restrictions and penalties “remove the race from the race” it is taking something away from the spectator – everyone wants to see the fastest ten cars and drivers thrashing it out in “Quali 3″ – with no restrictions of fuel or tyres.

Everyone wants to see the fastest car at the front – the current approach seems to throw as many curve balls at the teams, and whoever has the best strategy will win – and that just plain sucks!

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Strange creatures of the Land

Posted by batman on Feb 9th, 2011
2011
Feb 9

Aye-Aye

aye-aye1.jpg

The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a lemur and is native to Madagascar. It is the world’s largest nocturnal primate, and is characterized by its unusual method of finding food; it taps on trees to find grubs, then gnaws holes in the wood and inserts its narrow middle finger to pull the grubs out.

The monkey-like body of the Aye-aye enables it to move vertically with ease. It climbs trees by making successive vertical leaps, much like a squirrel. Horizontal movement is more difficult, but the Aye-aye rarely descends to jump to another tree, and can often cross up to 4 km a night.

The Aye-aye commonly eats nuts, grubs, fruits, nectar, seeds, and fungi, classifying it as an omnivore. It often picks fruit off trees as it moves through the canopy, often barely stopping to do so. Aye-ayes tap on the trunks and branches of the trees they visit up to 8 times per second and listen to the echo produced to find hollow chambers inside. Once a chamber is found they chew a hole into the wood and get grubs out of that hole with their narrow and bony middle fingers.





Babirusa

babirusa.jpg

The babirusas are a genus, Babyrousa, in the pig family found specifically the Indonesian islands. They have also been referred to as the pig-deer.

The babirusas are protected in Indonesia and poaching is illegal. Yet, a large percent of the inhabitants are Christians (in a country otherwise predominantly Muslim), and hunting and pork are major components of their diet and culture. The babirusa is thus considered something of a delicacy. All extant species of babirusa are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, resulting in them being listed as vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.

In the north Sulawesi babirusa, males ‘box’ much like rabbits or kangaroos during mating season. Females have a litter of one or two piglets, in a nest after 120-150 days.





Bald Uakayi

uakari.jpg

The Bald Uakari (Cacajao calvus) or Bald-headed Uakari is a small New World monkey with a very short tail, red face, a bald head, and long coat. It generally weighs less than 4 kg, and is anywhere from about 51 to 58 cm in length.

Their scarlet red faces are due to the lack of skin pigments and plentiful capillaries that run under their facial tissue. This bright red facial skin is a sign of good health and allows for the determination of a healthy mate. Their powerful lower jaw forms a pseudodental comb, which allows the uakari to open the hard surfaces of unripe fruits and eat the nuts that most other primates would not be able to open. The uakari generally lives approximately 20 years.

They prefer the seasonally flooded forests in the area of the Amazon River Basin, in the countries of Peru and Brazil. It is important that the uakari is arboreal (lives in the tree tops) because of the flooding of the forests and the water rising to great heights during the rainy season. During the dry season, they come to the ground to look for seeds and other food material.





Sphynx Hairless Cat

sphynxhairless.jpg

The Sphynx (also known as Canadian Hairless ) is a rare breed of cat known for its lack of a coat.

The Sphynx appears to be a hairless cat, but it is not truly hairless. The skin texture resembles that of Chamois leather. Because the sphynx cats have no pelt to keep them warm they huddle up against other animals and people. They even tend to cuddle up and sleep with their owners under the covers. Lack of a coat makes the cat quite warm to the touch. Whiskers and eyebrows may be present, either whole or broken, or may be totally absent. The skin is the colour that their fur would be, and all the usual cat marking patterns (solid, point, van, tabby, tortie, etc.) may be found on Sphynx skin. Sphynxes generally have wedge-shaped heads and sturdy, heavy bodies. Sphynxes are known for their extroverted behavior, displaying high levels of energy, intelligence, curiosity, and affection for their owners.

While Sphynx cats lack a coat to shed or groom, they are not maintenance-free. Body oils, which would normally be absorbed by the hair, tend to build up on the skin. As a result, regular cleaning (usually in the form of bathing) is necessary; one bath a week is usually sufficient. Care should be taken to limit the Sphynx cat’s exposure to outdoor sunlight at length, as they can develop sunburn and photo damage similar to that of humans. In general, Sphynx cats should never be allowed outdoors unattended, as they have limited means to conserve body heat when it is cold.





Star-nosed Mole

starnosed_mole.jpg

The star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) is a small mole found in wet low-lying areas of eastern Canada and the north-eastern United States. Star-nosed moles are easily identified by the eleven pairs of pink fleshy appendages ringing their snout which are used as a touch organ with more than 25,000 minute sensory receptors, known as Eimer’s organs, with which this hamster-sized mole feels its way around.

The star-nosed mole is covered in thick blackish brown water-repellent fur and has large scaled feet and a long thick tail, which appears to function as a fat storage reserve for the spring breeding season. Adults are 15 to 20 cm in length, weigh about 55 g, and have 44 teeth. The mole’s most distinctive feature is a circle of 22 mobile, pink, fleshy tentacles at the end of the snout, from which they derive their name. These are used to identify food by touch, such as worms, insects and crustaceans. The extremely sensitive nasal tentacles are covered with minute touch receptors known as Eimer’s organs. The nose is approximately one centimeter in diameter with approximately 25,000 Eimer’s organs distributed on 22 appendages. A report in the journal Nature gives this animal the title of fastest-eating mammal, taking as short as 120 milliseconds to identify and consume individual food items. Its brain decides in the ultra short time of 8 ms if a prey is comestible or not. This speed is at the limit of the speed of neurons. These moles also possess the ability to smell underwater, accomplished by exhaling air bubbles onto objects or scent trails and then inhaling the bubbles to carry scents back through the nose.

The star-nosed mole lives in wet lowland areas and eats small invertebrates, aquatic insects, worms and mollusks. It is a good swimmer and can forage along the bottoms of streams and ponds. Like other moles, this animal digs shallow surface tunnels for foraging; often, these tunnels exit underwater. It is active day and night and remains active in winter, when it has been observed tunneling through the snow and swimming in ice-covered streams.




Credits
Wikipedia (Aye-aye)
Wikipedia (Babirusa)
Wikipedia (Bald Uakari)
Wikipedia (Sphynx Hairless Cat)
Wikipedia (Star-nosed Mole)

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The Fastest of them all

Posted by batman on Dec 7th, 2010
2010
Dec 7

My son and I often have these sorts of arguments about who would win (in a fight) between a great white shark and a nile crocodile, or a polar bear and an african lion, or even between Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Naturally these are all purely hypothetical scenario’s, and all I can offer is a best guess – but which nevertheless fires off a healthy debate.

However I can offer “precise” answers when he asks about who would win (in a race) between a cheetah and an ostrich, or a mako shark and a sailfish, or even a Bugatti Veyron and a Koenigsegg – so here they are.

NOTE: these lists are not comprehensive – they only include those of interest to my son and I.

Road (as at December 2010)

  1. Bugatti Veyron Super Sport (429 kph)
  2. SSC Ultimate Aero TT (411 kph)
  3. Koenigsegg CCX (400 kph)
  4. Saleen S7 Twin Turbo (397 kph)
  5. McLaren F1 (384 kph)
  6. Gumpert Apollo (352 kph)
  7. Ascari A10 (352 kph)
  8. Jaguar XJ220 (347 kph)
  9. Ferrari Enzo (347 kph)
  10. Pagani Zonda F (344 kph)

Land Animals

  1. Cheetah (112 kph)
  2. Pronghorn Antelope (98 kph)
  3. Wildebeest (80 kph)
  4. African Lion (80 kph)
  5. Thomson’s Gazelle (80 kph)
  6. Cape Hunting Dog (72 kph)
  7. Coyote (69 kph)
  8. Hyena (64 kph)
  9. Zebra (64 kph)
  10. Greyhound (63 kph)
  11. Whippet (57 kph)
  12. Domestic Rabbit (56 kph)
  13. Giraffe (51 kph)
  14. Warthog (48 kph)
  15. Grizzly Bear (48 kph)
  16. Domestic Cat (48 kph)
  17. Human (45 kph)
  18. Elephant (40 kph)
  19. Black Mamba Snake (32 kph)
  20. Domestic Pig (18 kph)

Air

  1. Spine-tailed swift (171 kph)
  2. Frigate bird (153 kph)
  3. Spur-winged goose (142 kph)
  4. Red-breasted merganser (129 kph)
  5. White-rumped swift (124 kph)
  6. Canvasback duck (116 kph)
  7. Eider duck (113)
  8. Teal (109 kph)
  9. Mallard (105 kph)
  10. Pintail (105 kph)

* The peregrine falcon is by far the fastest of them all – but in its “power dive” when it has been recorded doing 347 kph. In level flight however it does not feature in this list.

Sea

  1. Sailfish (109 kph)
  2. Swordfish (96 kph)
  3. Marlin (80 kph)
  4. Yellowfin Tuna (74 kph)
  5. Bluefin Tuna (69 kph)
  6. Killer Whale (55 kph)
  7. Shortfin Mako Shark (50 kph)
  8. Blue Whale (48 kph)
  9. Barracuda (43 kph)
  10. Leatherback Turtle (35 kph)
  11. Market Squid (32 kph)
  12. Bottlenose Dolphin (27 kph)
  13. Gentoo Penguin (27 kph)
  14. Human (8 kph)
  15. Eel (4 kph)
  16. Goby (1 kph)

* It’s interesting that :-

  • a blue whale swims faster than a barracuda
  • a gentoo penguin matches a bottlenose dolphin
  • a human (albeit an olympic swimmer) swims faster than an eel

Credits

http://www.elasmo-research.org/education

http://www.thetravelalmanac.com/lists/birds-speed.htm

http://www.fastcarshow.com/fastest-cars/

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End of Wolraad Woltemade

Posted by batman on May 1st, 2010
2010
May 1
wolraad01.jpg

The Beginning

Wolraad Woltemade and her sister ship John Ross were in their time the most powerful of their kind on the planet. This pair of South African tugs, or salvage vessels, patrolled the seas around Cape Point and further afield. According to contract, one of them was required to remain in port to handle any emergency, while the other was free to roam the high seas competing for international salvalge prizes. And work there certainly was – with the constant traffic of overweight supertankers going around the point there was almost always someone in trouble.

Wolraad Woltemade was built by Robb Caledon Shipbuilders in Scotland and delivered to Safmarine in Cape Town during 1976, while her sister ship John Ross was built by the Durban shipyards of Elgin Brown & Hamer. These immensely powerful vessels were powered by two Mirrlees-Blackstone type KVMR16 diesels with 19,200 bhp (14,132 kW) – providing unmatched pulling power. They were 94.6 metres long. Ownership of these two sisters has been transferred between Safmarine, Pentow Marine and Smit Marine Cape Town. Current owners have renamed John Ross to Smit Amandla.

wolraad03.jpg

The End

Wolraad Woltemade’s time has unfortunately run out. The ‘Standby Tug Contract’ requires the presence of one tug in a South African port at any given time, a duty that has for some years been taken up by her sister tug Smit Amandla. This contract was due for renewal in November 2009, but the South African goverment decided not to renew – leaving our coast unprotected for the first time in 30 years. She was unable to find a buyer, and her somewhat ignomius end is that she has been sold as scrap.
As can be seen from the accompanying photograph, she is riding high, and showing signs of her age. All insignia have been removed in preparation for the breakers. She has since sailed from Cape Town, appropriately her last port of call, and is now awaiting her fate at the hands of the breakers.

Rest in peace, WW.

The Legend

Wolraad Woltemade (c.1708 – June 1, 1773) was a South African dairy farmer, who died while rescuing sailors from the wreck of the ship De Jonge Thomas in Table Bay on 1 June 1773. Read about the legend of the man here on Wikipedia

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