Saturday, October 06, 2018

Back to Work

I will be back at work from tomorrow. This is a strange time of year because my thoughts are very focused on 2019. We will elect new society stewards in the next few weeks - we need to have the team ready for the new year.
I am hoping that, while I have found it difficult to be away so much this year with my long leave, the effect of taking time to sharpen the saw will be felt next year. I do believe this will be the case.
I have seven weeks before my last section of furlough and then annual leave. Let's see what we can do in seven weeks!

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Crime stats revisited

Playing with the recently released murder statistics, I made a new map. This one shows the areas in Cape Town where the number of murders has increased the most in the last 7 years. The population of Cape Town has grown by about 10%, one would expect the number of murders to have grown similarly. The truth is quite frightening. You can see the map here.

I have moved away from Google Maps as Google has introduced mandatory billing-enabled. I guess that was necessary as usage increased. But Open Street Maps achieves all the same stuff as Google and is open source!

This is the new homepage for my stats - and hopefully I will keep adding graphics -

Holiday Furlough

This last section of my long leave has just been holiday! Very little work done on projects. We had a very good time at Kleinmond and Betty's Bay with family. I fell in love with Simon's Town a while back and now I have discovered Betty's Bay.

We would like to build a cottage in Betty's Bay . . . but have discovered how prohibitive and costly the 'new' building regulations are. Along with 'give back the land' there is going to have to be a conversation about building that leaves the ideal world and enters the real one.

Thermal efficiency regulations specify that non brick walls need to be insulated to a level way beyond that of brick - which means that building from wood or nutec or in a container one needs two layers of cladding and approximately 20cm of insulation between. Roof insulation need to be even thicker. The resulting home must be very snug, but I'm not sure if this isn't overkill! It certainly removes any cost-effectiveness that exists in using alternative material.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Echo Chamber

I am on ministers' retreat. Listening to the speaker, I think all sort of 'meta' things. One takeaway for me is that we often feel pleased with ourselves that we have broken out of or avoided an echo chamber, just to find that we have put ourselves in another one.

Echo chambers - if we mean people that think like we do - have the advantage of rubbing the rough edges off our thinking, but the disadvantage of sometimes entrenching wrong thinking.

Academics avoid this by 'thinking against the grain' - but unfortunately (I think) this means that radical ideas may be revered even if they are not rational.

The universe seems to tend towards anti-intellectualism one way or another.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Crime Stats

I have been playing with ways of looking at the latest crime stats in Cape Town. Rather than absolute values I have taken the number of murders in each police precinct and divided by the number of households (from the 2011 census). Multiplying by 100 gives a percentage which is, I think, a more meaningful figure.

This is totally a hack because I don't have the time to double check everything, but the figures look reasonable!

I have no way of working out the growth in population over the different areas - I suspect that Philippi has shown a lot of growth, which is why the murder rate looks so high. Or the murder rate may be high!

But these figures do show that Nyanga is not the 'murder capital' of the Western Cape! It has a similar murder rate to Bishop Lavis and Ravensmead.

If anyone has better access to figures and time, it would be interesting to see a 'properly' done version of this!

Click here for the map:

With thanks to code4sa for the SAPS crime stats data!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Bleak House

I am unintentionally busy with too many books. I started the one top right on Friday, am half way through and find it readable, intriguing but unsettling in an unhelpful way. Perhaps I will expand on that when I have finished the book! I started Bleak House on Sunday on a whim, am a third of the way through and finding it difficult to put down in favour of the other which I ought to read by the end of the week. The other two I fetched from the library today and may only start reading when I am finished with the two I am busy with! But they are really a furlough project as the isiXhosa will take time.
This makes me look rather intellectual . . .  I might be more commonly found reading Jonathan Kellerman, Phil Rickman, Deon Meyer or Alastair Reynolds whose detective stories I enjoy.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Shaping Tomorrow Today

This is the theme of the Conference of the MCSA 2018. The idea is that the church should focus on children and youth in the next year. This is a theme which I can buy into very easily and I wondered what I would have to say, if anyone were to ask my opinion.
I see that speakers so far have emphasised the fact that the population in the country is getting younger. There are a lot of people under 35. This is an important reminder - and the importance of youth and children strikes me as so self-evident that I would probably forget to give it!
I would question the role of the Methodist Youth Unit in today's church. I believe it is an anachronism. I would prefer to see a voluntary grouping tasked with keeping the broader church body honest in its commitments to include young people in every structure. It should also be tasked explicitly with crossing cultural barriers. (I think that a similar structure should exist for women's work - it may exist.)
I would question those who see the inclusion of young people as being an effort to force them into the mould of existing church structures, ideologies, practices and so on. I would motivate that the point of including young people would be to allow them to catalyse change. Older leaders become sounding boards, those who empower, sources of wisdom and experience.
I would call for training opportunities for young leaders - along the lines of the 4G Youth Pastor training, or perhaps the three day superintendents training, but something structured and rigourous which is available for circuits to train young leaders in all spheres of ministry.
Now I am starting to dream . . . as I think of creating solid multimedia presentations . . . Bible . . . theology . . . praxis . . .
Well, if anyone were to ask my opinion, that would be my 2c, off the top of my head!

Long Leave Year

Every few years Methodist ministers in South Africa are given long leave or 'furlough'. This is an extra two months paid leave in the year. The first furlough occurs six years into ministry and thereafter every six years.
I have taken my leave in pieces, which is generally discouraged - but I do not regret it. It has allowed me time to think and rethink in a sort of spiral. I have taken four weeks so far, will take two weeks soon and then will have a long six weeks at the end of the year (including my usual annual leave).
It has become a year of reflection and I'm sure will continue to be.
What have I done in celebration of furlough?
I joined the hockey club where my daughter plays. Despite being somewhat geriatric and very out of practice it has been a lot of fun. It has been good to be with 'other' people and very good to get exercise and play competitively. Fortunately I didn't start out too unfit. It has been very difficult to fit practices and matches in around church activities. The occasional Sunday morning matches have had to be forgone.
I set up some projects for my time off. The one has been to get into Data Science which is something of an enduring passion for me. I completed the Stanford University machine learning MOOC with Dr Andrew Ng during my last two furlough blocks. I have written a machine learning algorithm in Python using that course. I've also learned a little bit of R with the R for Journalists MOOC. Next step will be to engage with the data science competitions on Kaggle.
Dr Dion Forster looked through my PhD thesis and suggested some ways forward for publishing articles taken from the thesis. I've done some thinking and will focus on that some more in my next furlough block.
I undertook a project looking at assessment and stipend models for churches in our District. I think that I have interesting ideas, but I don't think I have persuaded any one else. I had a good time learning geocoding with Python and creating overlays on Google maps, so it has been beneficial to me, even if I don't get enough data to finish my little project.
The year has been challenging serving two circuit churches and other issues and this has resulted in a fair amount of introspection. This is good. I am looking forward to next year and to having a renewed sense of focus - although I don't as yet know what that focus will be!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Don't shoot the red robot

“Don’t shoot the red robot,” he said, hunched over in the seat next to me. The robot had appeared suddenly ahead of the stream of traffic. I inched forward. “Careful”, muttered the boy next to me, ducking down below the level of the dashboard. The GPS showed a side street in a few metres and I prepared to cut across the oncoming traffic and make a right turn as soon as I could.

 “That was close,” sighed the boy as we picked up speed in the new direction. “How many more do we have to go?”

 I checked my cell phone for the latest figure. “There are still seven robots at large in this area. Mostly green and purple – and just the one red one. Won’t you call it in? Maybe they can send a squad to pick it up.” I scanned the area as I drove, listening to the turret on the roof of the vehicle. It swivelled round making its own scan and any change in its movement indicated a possible sighting.

Suddenly there was a pop from the turret. I hadn’t picked up anything, but it had fired. I parked at the side of the road and we stood and looked around. The shop-lined street was busy with mostly builders and customers of the small industrial area. In an alley we spotted the purple shape that had triggered our turret. Now immobile, we hauled it into the back of the car and placed it next to the three robots we had already picked up.

“Let’s take them in,” suggested the boy. “The bounty will get us through the week and I’m nervous with that red robot in the area.”

“Yes, let’s,” I agreed. “It would not be right to shoot the red robot.”

Friday, November 03, 2017

All places and people are imaginary

I understand why authors of books need the disclaimer that everything about the book is made up. I wrote my first little NaNoWriMo snippet, or not quite mini screenplay. My family said that I had better not let that out on social media or I would be lynched. And yet I just started from a sentence and wrote as the whimsy led. People weren't supposed to take meaning from it.

Perhaps that is the art of good fiction though - to write something that seems to relate so closely to one's experience that it must be about you. However, right now I want to write stuff for fun - that isn't deeply meaningful. I will try to make my next snippet less true to life so that I can post it without fear!

Um. The last had aliens in it. I'm sure I can be less true to life, though, if I try.