Selfie: Is it worth the risk?

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

We don’t bat an eyelid anymore when someone takes a photo of themselves in a public place. Selfie-sticks, aka  Naricissticks, have become the new normal.. Estimates of daily selfie posts range from one million to as high as 93 million on Android devices alone, according to Michael Weigold of the University of Florida. (

Yes, it’s sometimes irritating and obtrusive, but surely it’s just a bit of harmless fun?

Quite the opposite seems to be true in some cases.

In February tourists in Argentina removed an endangered baby La Plata dolphin from the sea to take pictures of themselves with it. The animal died from sheer trauma and heat exhaustion. 

In March a tourist dragged a swan from a lake in Macedonia to take a selfie. Again the animal died.

The selfie trend not only endanger the lives of animals, but also humans. (though some of these might qualify for the Darwin awards)

In 2015 Russia launched a campaign to warn its population against the dangers of selfies, called “A cool selfie could cost you your life.” The reason? Apparently an estimated hundred Russians have died trying to take photos of themselves in dangerous situations. This includes a woman shooting herself, two men blowing themselves up with a hand grenade and people taking pictures on top of moving trains.

India also has a rising selfie problem, with more citizens dying while taking selfies than any other country in the world. Mumbai now has “no-selfie zones.”

In Seville, Spain, a Polish tourist fell of a bridge while trying to take a selfie. In May of 2014 a Cessna pilot lost control of the plane and killed himself and all his passengers.

On Tuesday an Egyptian Airline plane was hijacked and a British man used the opportunity to take a selfie with the hijacker. He reckoned he had nothing to lose at that stage. Today another Brit had to be rescued from Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. She was trying to take a selfie on the mountain and was inadequately dressed for the cold conditions. More on selfie-related deaths on CNN.

What would drive a person to risk endangering himself for the sake of a “cool”photo? 

Maybe the need to constantly prove and compare ourselves to other people? Social media provides an easy platform where almost instant feedback and possibly approval is given. 

Michael Weigold of the University of Florida published an article in The Conversation, in which he explores this question. He also mentions research done by psychologist Gwendolyn Seidman.

Dr Seidman suggests that there is a link between narcissism and selfies and she bases her statement on two studies looking specifically at Facebook selfies. Read dr Seidman’s article in Psychology Today and decide for yourself. Also let us know what you think of selfies and why you think they are so popular?

Is Google Street View invading our privacy?

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

google-mapsGoogle Street View gives us access to parts of the world we have never seen before. You can travel to the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel tower without setting foot outside your house. Even our own university has been added to Street View recently. 

Unfortunately access to areas previously inaccessible, could also pose a threat to safety and privacy. 

Objections have been made to Google images showing “people engaging in activities visible from public property in which they do not wish to be photographed and have published online.” Google maintains that these images are removed or blurred. Number plates and people’s faces are blurred to protect privacy.

They also maintain that the photos were taken on public property. However, Street View cameras are mounted on elevated structures to enable them to take better pictures, so they might take photographs NOT in a public area.

“On May 13, 2009, Google Japan announced that it would modify their cameras to scan from a lower height of 2.05 meters above ground level, 95 centimeters lower than the original height of the camera head. The new height is intended to avoid having cameras view over fences in front of homes and into homes. This reduced height is to apply immediately, and all areas previously visited will be rescanned from the reduced height. Scans taken at the original height will remain available until they are replaced with the new images.” (

Various countries have laid complaints against Google’s Street View policy and tried to prevent them from photographing. In most cases they conceded and Google continued filming. 

If you do have a problem with an image Google reported, there is the option to report it via Google’s Street View support page. Just keep in mind that the image will not be removed, but only blurred.


Stellenbosch campus available on Google streetview

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

If you were still on campus from 17 to 19 December at the end of 2014, you might have seen someone walking around with an unusual device strapped to his back. This device is called the Google Trekker camera and is used to photograph the environment for Google Street View.

Thanks to a collaboration between IT, Facilities Management and Google, various locations on our own Stellenbosch campus have now been mapped and are available on Google Street View.

“Google Street View is a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world. It was launched in 2007 in several cities in the United States, and has since expanded to include cities and rural areas worldwide. 

Google Street View displays panoramas of stitched images. Most photography is done by car, but some are done by trekker, tricycle, walking, boat, snowmobile, and underwater apparatus.  A Trike (tricycle) was developed to record pedestrian routes including Stonehenge, and other UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In 2010 a snowmobile-based system captured the 2010 Winter Olympics sites. Trolleys have been used to shoot the insides of museums, and in Venice the narrow roads were photographed with backpack-mounted cameras, and canals were photographed from boats.”(

google-streetview-logoOn 8 March a mzansi experience was launched on Google Maps. Together with the launch, our university street view images were also made public. The images can be accessed on phone and desktop.

Streets with Street View imagery available are shown as blue lines on Google Maps. When you hover over the mini-map in the left-hand corner, you will see where street map is available on campus.

You can now see the Rooi PleinBotanical Gardens and Coetzenburg on Street View, as well as Jonkershoek. View the rest here and you can also click on the shortcuts at the bottom of your Street View to take you to various other locations on campus. 

More on the Mzansi experience.

The Internet of Things

Friday, November 20th, 2015

“The internet of things” — a rather unimaginative way to describe something vast.  What did Kevin Ashton mean when he used the phrase for the first time in 1995?

What is it?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to connected devices communicating with each another and using machine-to-machine (M2M) communication via virtual, mobile or instantaneous connections.

This network of physical objects is embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, enabling the objects to collect and exchange data.

They can include any object fitted with the right technology and the ability to connect to the internet. For example, home appliances, most forms of transport, shops and machines used for manufacturing, farming, healthcare, etc. Existing M2M applications include smart metering, patient monitoring, CCTV surveillance, vehicle tracking, secure ATMs and digital signage.

network-782707_640What can it be used for?
The main advantages of The Internet of Things is increased productivity, efficiency and better organisation of tools, machines and people.
One area where IoT can be most beneficial, is healthcare. Diseases can be monitored and analysed to create new treatments and also prevented in the long run.
In farming, sensors are connected to crops and cattle to increase production and track herds.
In the home environment security systems and household appliances can be monitored and controlled. In future your fridge will be able to let you know when you are out of milk and possibly even order it online for you. You will be able to activate your coffee machine from your cell phone to have a cup of hot coffee waiting when you get home.
LG recently introduced LG Homechat which enables you to SMS any of your LG home appliances. And yes, they answer back. Unfortunately this functionality isn’t available in South Africa yet, but it’s out there and being used.
These are simple examples, but the possibilities are vast. For more ideas, have at this interactive web application.
Is it safe?
IoT has many advantages, but the biggest concern, especially in its early stages, is security and privacy. To function optimally these devices need your personal data and since everything will be connected, in the cloud or on companies’ databases, it will also be available for if proper security is not in place.
Healthcare is most at risk if data is tampered with or leaked. Deleting sensitive medical information, such blood group info, could have fatal repercussions. (More in the Guardian)
According to experts IoT is relatively safe, but there’s no guarantee.


From tarred hemp and Indian rubber to optical fibre

Friday, November 20th, 2015

The internet began to emerge in the late 1980s and early 90s. However, the infrastructure supporting it has been around since 1839.

Today most of our Internet traffic is carried via submarine cable systems from Europe and the United States.

A submarine communications cable is a laid on the seabed between land-based stations to carry telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean. Before internet, however, submarine cables were used for other types of communications, for example telephones and telegraph.

After the introduction of the telegraph in 1839, establishing a submarine line across the Atlantic Ocean became the next challenge. Samuel Morse accepted this challenge and in 1842 he succeeded in sending a telegraph through a wire insulated with tarred hemp and Indian rubber, which was submerged in the water of New York Harbour.

Laying an undersea cable in Cape Town (Photo credit: Telkom)

The first submarine cable system in South Africa was launched in on 27 December 1879 and for the first time we were directly connected to Europe. This was done via Durban and Zanzibar to Aden with the East Coast cable of the South African Telegraph Company.

Today’s cables use optical fibre technology to carry digital data, which includes telephone, Internet and private data traffic.

“Modern cables are typically about 25 millimetres in diameter and weigh around 1.4 kilograms per metre for the deep-sea sections which comprise the majority of the run, although larger and heavier cables are used for shallow-water sections near shore.” (

Over the past 15 years four submarine cable systems have been installed in South Africa for telecommunication – SAT-3/WACS, Seacom, WACS, and EASSy.

The most recent addition was made in May 2012 with the West Africa Cable System (WACS). The 17 200 km fibre optic submarine cable starts at Yzerfontein on the west coast and ends in the United Kingdom. (More about the WACS launch)



© 2013-2017 Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author(s) and content contributor(s). The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Stellenbosch University.