/ 9 October 2012

Wrapping up the web

Our irreverent surfer delights in the weirdness that is the internet.
Our irreverent surfer delights in the weirdness that is the internet.

As a crowdsourcing platform that helps the little guy with the big idea to raise the funds needed to get a -project off the ground by relieving armchair venture capitalists of their disposable income, it's a corker – thanks in no small part to its clever reward system for different tiers of micro-investment. This has been proved a thousand times over by successfully funded projects for things like a giant statue of Robocop in the city of Detroit.

But, as a crowdsourcing platform for the many varied people of Planet Earth who aren't Americans, it's just rubbish. Because they (and, if you're anything like me, you) aren't allowed to play in the Kickstarter sandpit, no matter how impressive their/my/your plastic trowel and sandcastle blueprints may be. (Unless you've found a shadily exploitable loophole, like one of those intrepid inter-national-trade-treaty-scorning .za-based iPhone users who have somehow managed to get themselves US iTunes accounts. You know who you are.)

So if you look on Kickstarter, you'll see most of the South Africa-related projects are along the lines of: "Help me fund my trip from Manhattan to deepest darkest Cape Town, where I will take pictures of hipsters on fixed-gear rollerskates and come home to tell you all about it – if you give me $20."

Well, now there's Startme.co.za. Of the few projects up and running, some even look worthwhile. So far there aren't any of the sort of daft ideas that I, for one, want to throw money at. But if we grit out teeth and support one of the projects currently on the go, some local genius may be encouraged to try to raise South Africa's own statue of Robocop. Or possibly some sort of extraterrestrial Parktown prawn.  Those current projects include urban wind turbines, T-shirts about planking, prison rehab support, Carrie's brother Cameron's trip to Sri Lanka with his school's cricket team and a show intended for the Grahamstown Arts Festival that apparently involves samurai swords, clowns and an iPad. Oh dear.
Twitter: @Startmefund

Different dimension
3D printing has come along in leaps and bounds over the past few years, finally bringing fabrication processes – once the preserve of industrial factories – to the garages of generously bearded DIY-engineering enthusiasts the world over. And with the latest generation of printers, such as the recent Kickstarter success Form1 and Makerbot's Replicator 2, the 3D industry is poised to make the jump to the desktop. That's where, with the touch of a button, anyone with enough corn-based liquid plastic and a blueprint of the Eiffel Tower will soon be able to print out their very own knick-knackery to show off to their unimpressed children. Similarly useful things 3D printing hobbyists or "makers" have been making include chess pieces, egg cups, ashtrays, dental moulds, more 3D printers (hello!) and, um, parts for a working AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Out of such garage tinkering were the likes of Microsoft and Apple born, so we're expecting much greater things. Any day now.
3D printers: Formlabs.com; Makerbot.com; RepRap.org
3D printing in SA: itux.co.za; cad-house.co.za

Duck or die
Eddie Izzard, the noted wit and road-running ace, once paraphrased the popular National Rifle Association mantra as follows: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people – but the guns help." He is perhaps more famous for his Death Star Canteen routine, which is funny but macabre when you remember that the Death Star killed rather a lot of people, albeit fictional people, with a ruddy big laser beam. The planet Alderaan was a sitting duck.

Ducks being what they are, there was once a Nintendo game devoted to shooting them. It came with a gun-shaped "Zapper" controller. Now, North Street Labs' engineering hacks have retrofitted an old Duck Hunt Zapper with a real laser, power-ful enough to blind and/or snuff the life out of actual people, not just Star Wars extras. It's ingenious! But terribly dangerous. We're not even sure if they had a tray. See how they did it at northstreetlabs.org/Zapper.html. Watch Death Star Canteen over and over again over at youtube.com/watch?v=Sv5iEK -IEzw

It has been a year since the efforts of amateur smartphone-owning photo-graphers in South Africa were first validated by the iPhone-o-graphySA competition and exhibition. Organised by renowned philanthropist Marc Forrest, it saw fit to reward dapper snappers with public acceptance and affirmation. Not limited to professional smartphone owners, anybody was allowed to enter. Indeed, for this year's competition, anybody is again allowed to enter. But only if they're from Cape Town, because the Jo'burg cut-off date has already passed. And only if they have an iPhone, presumably to guarantee that everyone's playing on a level field, filtered through the same retrogrammed insta-lens. Well. The iPhone isn't there for the sake of iRony, anyway. Winning Jo'burg entries will be on display at the Sandton iStore from October 6. Cape Town, you have until -October 8 to enter. Samsung Galaxy owners: Don't even think about it, you hacks. Seriously, there'll be security.

Waking up the voters
Over the equator and across the pond, US President Barack Obama would be laughing at his challenger's disastrous presidential campaign were it not for the fear that his own supporters are themselves so busy cackling that they'll forget to vote on November 6. So Samuel L Jackson's been asked to shout at them. In a TV advert called "Wake the Fuck Up", the Country of My Skull actor directs his scorn at those suspected of apathy or complacency because, hey, there's no Sarah Palin to terrify them into action this time around. Chockful of rhyming umbrage, it riffs on Go the Fuck to Sleep, the infinitely superior – though similarly Jackson-voiced – bedtime story for children. But no matter how amusing or effective it may prove to be, the folks who put the ad together should be ashamed of themselves. So much money and effort, so little attention to metre.
Wake the Fuck Up
Go the Fuck to Sleep

Never one to rest idly on his laurels, South African-born Elon Musk has been a busy, busy space capitalist of late. The man who gave the world Paypal and private space-freighter firm SpaceX has been hard at work promoting new superfast charging stations for his electric car company, Tesla Motors. Of course, not many people will be enjoying the benefits: Those cars are expensive! Perhaps that's why he's been thinking about adding trains to the spaceplanes and automobiles already in his portfolio. At least, we think "Hyperloop" is a train, but he tells Bloomberg it's a "sort of tube capable of taking someone from San Francisco to LA in 30 minutes". Which means speeds of nearly 1 500km/h. Sjoe. The last time Silicon Valley promised to revolutionise transport, we ended up with the Segway. And by "we" I mean shopping mall security guards. But he's dazzled us before, so let's see what he can do with a series of tubes.

Holly-Anne Grenada was a career diplomat until she accidentally left a laptop containing state secrets on a train in Midrand. Now she does this