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LiamSmit

What I do

Work

In 2011 I started working for VOSS Solutions at the engineering office in South Africa. Lots of new things to learn in order to get up to speed but it's already apparent that the co-workers are knowledgeable and interested in what they are doing.

From 2006 until 2011 I was working at Vodacom in South Africa. I administered (installed, upgraded, virtualized, etc) a range of large Unix (Solaris and Linux) servers as well as administered certain of the bespoke systems which ran on them. Replacing and getting rid of legacy systems was an ongoing personal priority of mine. I wrote shell scripts for anything that was repetitive or error prone and possible to automate. I also attempted to continuously improve processes and the general standard of how things were done which included researching, testing and documenting what worked best for the computing environment. I made use of ZFS, Solaris zones, Live Upgrade, D-trace and a bunch of other technologies as needed. There was always more that could be done so I was rather busy at work and I often worked overtime.

Previous to this I had worked at a couple of places e.g. DiData, Bridges.org. I was then running a one-man IT consultancy until I left for the UK in March where, according to my visa, I was not allowed to run a business so I settled for contract work as a happy medium between a nine to five job and being my own boss. Upon arriving back in SA I continued to do IT contracting until I secured the position at Vodacom.

Studies

I spent most of 2010 completing a part time Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree in Information Systems through the University of Cape Town. This built on the previous year's part time Post Graduate Diploma course in Computer / Digital Forensics which was also through the University of Cape Town. It was something both very different and very interesting. Prior to this I'd been keeping the brain occupied with a number of vendor courses on specific technologies, Solaris, Oracle, etc.

After I began working I studied a few extra modules part-time because they seemed useful. I then began studying part-time for a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree in Business Management via the University of South Africa. The 'Strategic Management' component that I completed was something that I found enjoyable. This particular set of studies was put on permanent hold due to my move to the UK.

Before joining the working world I studied Information Systems & Business Management for my Bachelor of Commerce. I then studied Economics for non-degree purposes because I enjoyed it so much.

Open Source

Participated in a number of open source projects in a non-coding role. E.g. website, documentation, usability suggestions, getting icons made for projects, etc. Very interested in the economics of open source software both the macro-level (economy-wide) impact and the micro-level impact (e.g. IT Industry) related to this are open standards and open content which have similar effects to open source software. Basically just different licences and legislation apply. If someone calls me an open source advocate I won't deny it but I will clarify that I believe that proprietary software has certain advantages and that open source has certain advantages of its own. It's generally a case of best fit for the problem or organisation and it's also normally not an either / or choice but rather an and / or choice.

Fun stuff

I am a student of Seiwa-Kai Karate Do (Goju Ryu for those who were wondering). Really great stuff, I can recommend some great teachers for Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban if you're interested, just drop me a line.

I enjoy fishing. Just sitting on the boat staring at the water or watching your line is good for the soul. The catching of the fish is just to pass the time and add some excitement. Otherwise it would be called catching and not fishing. I'm hoping to do some more fishing this year when summer returns.

Believe it or not I used to to gym a lot. Very good for stress relief when you are doing the 'six to five' grind five days a week. Also good for getting fit if you are into cardio and bulking up if you are into weights. Due to the fact that pools in gyms are normally heated swimming is quite enjoyable, if boring. Although if you've overdone it or picked up an injury then swimming is a great way to keep on training without aggravating your condition.

While no longer a regular at gym after the three and a half years contract expired I'm still keeping active. This is mostly in the form of hiking up the local mountains - even during winter on the good days. So more outdoor activities instead of gym.

Attach:Liam.jpg Δ

More updates to come

October 2010

It seems like life has been on hold! Studying part time for a second year through UCT and still working like crazy. Managed to take a trip up the West Coast and visited places like Brand se Baai, Loeriesfontein and Brandplaas. South Africa is certainly a big country with lots of open space. Time to start catching up on just about everything.

August 2009

Wow what can I say but that I've been really busy. What with studying part time through UCT and working like a daemon (bad pun intended) I've actually still managed to get mixed up with some strange situations. Most of which I won't reveal due to other people's privacy but I'll post a GPS incident or two for amusement.

November 2008

I was driving along minding my own business when the piston and one of the valves decided to have a get together in one of the engine's cylinders. Looking at the aftermath it must have been a great party if a bit short lived. When the piston and valve get into an argument the piston generally wins but in this case there were no winners, only losers. Walking to work wasn't too bad. Met a few interesting people like the chap who wanted to sell me some diamonds or gold. Of course this is South Africa so having someone offer to sell you what they want you to think is gold or diamonds is not exactly unheard of.

2007

Managed to visit New Zealand. Went to Kruger National park as well. Of course there were funny stories but sometimes you're too busy dealing with them to write about them.

Road Craziness

October 2006

Driving in Africa can be somewhat different from driving in other parts of the world. You're going to get people driving in un-roadworthy vehicles, people driving without licences, people driving without knowing the law of the road or simply choosing to ignore it. I understand this and I accept it as the way things are. After all if government is not going to maintain the roads, improve them and enforce the law then there is not much that I can do to improve the situation. As such I keep a wary eye on the other vehicles in my vicinity and get on with the job of commuting from A to B as safely as possible.

However every now and again the traffic goes haywire due to an accident at a critical intersection or road. Now that is not extraordinary but sometimes traffic chaos results that is not due to bad driving, a lack of electricity for the robots (traffic lights) or an accident that causes traffic chaos. What causes such a traffic problem if it is not the road system or the people or driving upon it? Well in South Africa we do things a little differently as the following story will illustrate.

It started with the innocuous request for me to give someone a lift to the airport on a Thursday morning on my way to work. I agreed and several days later on Thursday morning I picked up my passenger. However on that day minibus taxi drivers decide to protest. Not a peaceful protest mind you but a stone throwing, vehicle damaging, N2 (National Highway) blocking (complete with obligatory burning tires) protest. The type where the police have to use rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Needless to say I didn't use that road on my way to the airport that morning. Eventually I arrived at work after a 70km trip which took a mere 90 minutes. With that fun over I worked in my time and went home a little later than usual thinking that was the end of it. Ever been wrong?

Friday morning I attempted to go to work as I normally do. Bearing in mind that my journey is normally a less than 20km, finished within half an hour affair, I left at 08:30. I quickly realised that something was wrong as I was soon crawling forward in bumper to bumper traffic. Having experienced this before I know the best solution is often to turn around and head in the opposite direction until you are able to make a wide circumnavigation of the problem. This I attempted and at first I was successful and made good progress, however I erred in that I did not make a large enough attempt at going around the problem. Other people having the same idea had also got to where I was so I was sitting in another queue.

By this time I had been scanning the car radio and had figured out that there had been a road closure near where I live due to stone throwing. At his point I drove throw a really large combined business park and shopping centre got onto the highway and drove to work. Quick reactions limited this journey to 45 minutes. For anyone wandering why roads are closed due to stone throwing I have included a brief description of what stone throwing entails.

The stone thrower(s) stand by the side of the road and when the car is nearing them they throw a stone into its path. With the right timing, the point of impact will be the front windscreen. The term 'stones' is a bit of a misnomer as stones are usually half bricks or chunks of concrete. When traveling at speed e.g. when driving on a highway, the stone has the tendency to pass through the windscreen. Any of the vehicle occupants struck by a stone tend to suffer severe injuries e.g. broken bones and require medical attention which may include hospitalization and re-constructive surgery for survivors.

Well at least you can't say that that living in Africa is boring.

Airport Security

January 2006

I had to fly up to Johannesburg about midway through the month for some meetings. A few things stood out apart from having to get up really early in the morning after only 3 hours sleep. The first was that on arriving at JHB International I couldn't find the driver from the transfer service. It later transpired that the drivers from the transfer service had been told to stand at the back of the arrivals section. Of course the driver sent to pick me up would be lucky to reach to the 1.5m mark. After a quick cellphone call I found him.

After the meetings had taken place I was returned to the airport by another driver from the transport service in an uneventful fashion. I went straight through security to the departure lounge, my thinking being that everyone there was either a passenger who had been through security or an employee and that there would be fewer people to watch so that my property could remain mine.

While waiting in the departure lounge I observed a coloured business man sit down in the front row of the block of seats next to the block I was sitting in. He proceeded to start working on his laptop, make a call and then receive one. While he was talking on his cellphone to security guards and a rather large and solemn looking policeman walked up and stopped in front of him. It became apparent that they were waiting for him to finish his phone call.

When he finished his phone call one of the security guards told the business man that he would have to come with them. He replied that there was no way that he was going to miss his flight. The security guards reiterated that he would have to accompany them. A third security guard who I took to be the supervisor arrived and also told the businessman that he would have to come and there was no choice involved in the matter. Eventually the business man realised that he would have to go with them. At this point he said he couldn't believe what was happening and that the security guard stationed at the entrance to the departure lounge was an arsehole. While telling the security guards and the policeman to wait while he shut down his lap top. Once he had stood up and was being led away he complained that they had heard the security guard's side of the story but they hadn't heard his.

Having witnessed this little episode I settled down to wait for boarding of my flight to begin. Shortly before boarding began three casually dressed travellers arrived in the departure lounge. The last of which proceeded to tell the first two what had happened when the Muslim businessman had earlier gone through security. Apperently when he went through the metal detector it was triggered and sounded its tone. At which point he made a joke to the security guard that it was a bomb that had triggered the detector!

The security guard let him carry on through to the departure lounge but obviously reported the incident to his superiors which resulted in the visit by two (later three) security guards and a uniformed policeman. From my understanding of security procedures he probably spent the night in Johannesburg instead of Cape Town. While spending the night at the taxpayer's expense he would have been subjected to identity, background, association and criminal record checks. I suspect that that will be the first and last time he makes a joke about having a bomb on his person while attempting to travel.

Accident Waiting to happen

Decemeber 2005

It's the weekend before Christmas I'm helping someone drive to Durban and back to Cape Town. I'm driving north on the N1 through the Karoo when I come to some traffic that has become backed up behind a truck due to lack of safe overtaking opportunity. The cars ahead of me start overtaking the truck when it pulls into the emergency lane to let the cars behind pass it without having to pull out into the oncoming (southbound) lane.

Eventually there is just one car left between me and the truck. But this idiot is weaving from side to side. This prompts me to tell the guy next to me that "This guy in front of me does not deserve his licence and should have it taken away."

When the guy in front of me decides to overtake the truck he appears to be one of those people who suffer from wide car syndrome and thinks that his car is twice as wide as it really is. So even though there is enough space for him to ride straight past the truck driving in the emergency lane, he pulls into the oncoming lane once it is clear of traffic.

As he gets past the truck he veers back to the Northbound lane as if he had swung the steering wheel really hard. Just as his car gets back into the Northbound lane it takes off back into the oncoming southbound lane and starts skidding out of control. His car turns though 90 degrees to the left so that the headlights are pointing left hand side and tailights pointing towards the right hand side.

As this unfolds in slow motion in front of me I lift my foot off the accelerator and watch as he proceeds to skid back into the Northbound lane in front of me. Even though he is now side on to the direction that the traffic is moving, he continues to slide northwards in the Northbound lane.

The guy next to me was now saying "Brake, brake!". I'm not in the habit of slamming on brakes so I just continue to brake as smoothly as possible in the hope that this will allow the guy behind me to not run into the trailer that I'm towing. I come to a stop about 5 meters from where the car in front of me has slid to a halt while the cars behind me manage to not rear end each other or me.

The car in front of me is now side on to the traffic and blocking the northbound lane. Instead of driving his vehicle into the emergency lane (about 1.5 meters from his front bumper) and out the way, the driver flings open his door and hops out. His passengers do likewise. He is hopping around in an agitated state and comes around to the passenger side of his vehicle and puts his hands on his face in shock and / or disbelief at what has just happened, Again his passengers are doing likewise. I reckon that all of the occupants had gone a shade or two lighter than their usual colour. I think they realised how close they came to rolling in that car and that had a truck come along it would have been overs. I regret not taking a photo of the scene so that I could have posted it here but I was slightly occupied at the time.

No one was injured and the only damage was the right rear tire on his white BMW which I assume he burst while sliding on it sideways. With his car now blocking the Northbound lane, someone drives past him in the emergency lane. I attempt to do the same but I can't make it past with the trailer I'm towing so I resort to reversing the with the trailer on the N1. It would seem that there is a first time for everything.

While I am reversing the other cars are squeezing past the car in the emergency lane. By the time I've reversed there is no oncoming traffic so I overtake the now stationary car. The stupid bugger must have had worn shocks which caused the weaving and the loss of control when attempting to change lanes at speed. Perhaps in future he will maintain his car better.

Back in SA

October 2005

What is that great big blue thing you can see when you look up? Is it dangerous, will it fall on our heads? Oh it's the sky you say! Then that really bright thing must be the sun. I remember those things. Obviously you just don't get certain things in the UK.

Trying hard to get fit again. My fitness level dropped quite a lot while I was in the UK. Thankfully it is coming back reasonably quickly. Another good thing about SA is the chance to get involved with community orientated ICT projects. I'm volunteering with The Shuttleworth Foundation while I find full time employment. Should be a good opportunity to make some sort of a difference and have some fun at the same time.

In London

July 2005

Excitement

Well London is alright, no really it is, it's marginally warmer and dryer than the rest of the UK and it's a bit more exciting too. Like being in the post office and being evacuated from it. And the frequent station closures and evacuations because some numskull can't remember that he had a bag with him 5 minutes ago. Then again it does make you late for work sometimes so that is either a blessing in disguise or something you could do without depending on the day and your workload.

Fun

But they also do funny things, for example a few weeks back on a really full tube the train driver said "Would everyone please breathe in so that we can close the doors as we are a bit full. OK I'm going to try again." and then after about 30 seconds and an unsuccessful attempt at closing the doors, "I'm afraid someone didn't breathe in all the way, could we all try again?".

Of course these days the trains are little emptier than usual what with school holidays and people avoiding public transport. Of course that doesn't stop other things happening. E.g. this morning when in the first carriage of a train that pulled into a station and stopped rather short of where it should so that people could get off. So people starting banging on the door to the drivers compartment to find out what was happening. Apparently the train pulled into either the wrong platform or the train already at the platform was longer than expected. The driver replied that she would have to reverse the train out the station and then come back in to a different platform. This didn't seem to be happening and the people started getting annoyed, some of them phoning work, some of them complaining to be let off. Eventually after about 10 minutes someone forced a door open and people started streaming out even though they had to physically hold the doors open to prevent them from automatically closing, at which point the station staff gave up and released the doors from the outside. I'm not quite sure how you get a train to the wrong platform.

Not quite MIA

July 2005

Well I'm not quite MIA as I only started working in London about 500 meters from Kings Cross station the Monday after the first bombings.

On #clug IRC channel, 21 May 2005:

 22:38 < highvoltage> Spinach: seen smitty
 22:38 < Spinach> smitty was last seen on #clug 40 days, 23 hours, 41 minutes
                 and 4 seconds ago, saying: cheers [Sun Apr 10 22:56:56 2005]
 22:38 <@Outsider> MIA
 22:38 < highvoltage> 40 days and 40 nights without internet. that's tough.
 22:38 <@Outsider> i think we should say that smitty is MIA on the wiki page
 22:38 < highvoltage> yep.
 22:38 <@Outsider> k, you do it
 22:39 < highvoltage> k

Cheers.

March 2005

Travelling

Got to the airport about 06:00 SA time. Checked my hold baggage which was probably over 23KG by about 1-2KGs. As I put the first one on the scale I told the lady checking my baggage that we should weigh them both and then I would unpack them both and take some things out. Maybe this helped maybe it didn't matter but they just put my luggage in the hold without me having to reduce its weight or pay anything extra. Which is a good thing because I was in 'Father Christmas' mode and carrying gifts for people in the UK. Carton of cigarettes, bottle of red wine, bottle of brandy, cool drink mixture, chocolates, etc. Basically those necessities of life back home which become the luxuries you can't do without when you go overseas and find out that they aren't available.

After getting through passport control I sat in the departure lounge and watched the people standing in the queue for the plane. Don't ask me what they were thinking. The plane doesn't leave until everyone has boarded and they won't give your seat away unless you are really late. Once your baggage is checked in then they want you on that plane. While sitting comfortably and wondering why people were queuing when the boarding procedure hadn't even started yet I got to talking to the like minded individual sitting next to me. An interesting fellow who had worked in the middle east and in Northern Ireland as a medical doctor. Turns out that his daughter is also in IT (security). When boarding was almost finished we decided to board.

On the plane I sat next to a young lady from Ceres who was flying for the first time, so I made sure to bend her ear. Upon arrival I was showing her Heathrow. I went through passport control and was waiting on the other side to lead the way to baggage claim. I sat down because it seemed to be taking some time and lost sight of her behind a large pillar. When I got up and checked I couldn't see her any more, I hope she got through and wasn't deported.

Proceeding to baggage claim I bumped into the doc again and while waiting for our bags we had another chat and he gave me his daughters contact details. Later on the tube to London (after the shuttle bus service) I got to talking to a young lady who works in marketing for the BAA on a contract from one of the major advertising agencies. Moral of the story, there are plenty of people in London.

I met a friend at a tube station after having had a pay phone eat 2 GBP and not give me any change to get hold of him. After that we caught and changed tubes a few time to get to his place.

United Kingdom

After taking it easy on Friday I went to a braai on Saturday. That was probably my first time I've had a braai when the temperature was about 12C while it was raining intermittently. Only the English. The amount of meat that was charred to a crisp before we (the South African contingent) arrived, while small by SA standards, was still a waste. Obviously at this point we took over the braai. I'm not sure if it's good to be a braai expert in the UK, such services would appear to be in demand and greatly needed.

Walked to the shops today to buy supper and it was rather nippy, 10C maximum and when the wind blew you could swear that it was mid winter in Cape Town. I decided against wearing my balaclava as I was looking rather paramilitary with my boots, greens & khakis sticking out from under my heavy-weight jacket. Booked my ticket to Bristol and am leaving tomorrow.

More travelling

Missed my coach to Bristol! Turns out it takes about an hour and a half to get half-way across London by bus. I also found out that I can't run fast and far with 25kg of baggage well not without getting rather tired and having to slow down again. Arrived 10 minutes late and the coach had left, had to shell out GBP15 for another ticket.

The trip to Bristol was uneventful and the trip from Bristol to Clevedon was similarly so. Finding my exact stop in Clevedon took a bit of map reading but in the end I found my destination reasonably easily. I was supposed to have picked up the keys to the place where I'm staying from a neighbor. Of course I've been given the wrong phone number (an extra digit had been added to the number), I'd also been given an uncertain house number which I was going to resolve by phoning the neighbor in question...

Getting out of the rain

It turns out that in Britain most people don't know the names of their neighbours. While this does make it harder to find people by asking their neighbours it also does rather minimise the impact of the neighbourhood watch sign I saw in the vicinity. Eventually I tracked down his house by asking four people in the area and combining it with the description of his house. I found the problem with the phone number by comparing it with another number for the same area and noticing the extra digit in the area code.

This wasn't too helpful as the neighbour was out. The fact that the gentle English rain was falling like a Cape Town drizzle was not exactly lifting my spirits. After leaving voice mail on his phone I started making other plans. At this point I had been lugging that baggage all day and was not going to lug it any further. I was mentally going through the contents of my survival kit in my bags to get through the night on his front doorstep if it came to that.

Heavy duty black plastic bags for water-proofing, blanket and heavy clothing for warmth and bags for walls. I'll admit to having considered sleeping in someone's garden shed, but these were locked and I did not feel that the local police would take kindly to any B&E on my part. My plans for sleeping on the doorstop where cut short when the neighbour arrived after baby-sitting his grand kids.

If it's broke, fix it

Once inside I set to phoning SA for 1p a minute ('Cheapest calls' 0844 861 1313) and London for free, to let everyone know I had made it OK to my next destination. After doing this and getting something to eat I set to work on the ancient PC which had a non-working modem according to the last computer technician to have had a look at it. After re-seating, re-installing, losing the broken telephone cord extension and tweaking some software settings I was ready to go. Arranged a dial-up account through a friend of mine and the Internet is available again.

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