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At long last, my little pet project is alive on the web. The Night Sky Notebook is a website which implements a whole range of astronomical calculations, much like Urania, my desktop version, but fully implemented in Javascript.

When I first had the idea of putting up astronomical calculations on the internet, it was simply going to be a convertion to JavaScript from the C# code that I have written about extensively on this blog. Afterwards, however, I decided to rewrite the entire library from scratch to improve the quality of the code, as well as the accuracy of the calculations, basing the new code largely on the algorithms specified in the book Astronomical Algorithms by Jan Meeus.

In addition to the pages containing pure calculations, the site also has a number of pages making use of HTML5 canvas features to render animations for things such as the Moon phase, planetary positions and Jupiter’s moons. This means, of course, that the site works best on newer browsers that support HTML5, such as Internet Explorer 9+, Firefox 5+ and Chrome.

The source code for the library is open-source and is released under the MIT license, and is available for download from here.

I hope that you have as much fun using the new site and astronomical library as I have had in writing it.


It has been a really long time since I have last put up a blog post.

With a combination of the summer holiday, and then on to various pet projects that have been keeping me busy since then, I have had little time to blog.

One of the more interesting projects I am working on at the moment, is creating a web-based version of my Urania astronomical library, which is a complete rewrite of the C# codebase into Javascript.

It is still a while away from completion, but it is looking very promising indeed.

I will keep you posted as to my progress….


My Swiss holiday has begun on an adventurous note.

We planned to take the City Night Line overnight train to Basel from Amsterdam which all sounded so exciting. The actual trip was something else entirely.

We caught the train last night and immediately we were put off. The carriage we were in had a musty smell, stains on the carpeting, and holes in the upholstery. This did not bode well.

During the journey we also discovered that the train was not well insulated and the lights remained on, so sleep was pretty much impossible.

The real adventure happened at 5am this morning. I woke up smelling a burning rubbery type of smell and a few minutes later an alarm went off with the train promptly stopping at the station in Gundenfigen, near Freiburg in Germany.

We sat for at least 20 minutes not knowing what was happening, and then we were promptly told to leave the train, and again left for ages in the dark on the platform.

Eventually the police and fire department took over and finally gave us information – the train had caught fire!

We stood for another hour waiting for busses to take us to Freiburg to then take another train to Basel, before the train was ok’d for taking us on to Freiburg instead.

We then got a free ride on an ICE train to Basel, which was an incredible upgrade.

We did eventually get to Basel, albeit 3 hours late, and onto Bern by car.

Now in Bern, the relaxing can begin


One thing that leaves a lot of non-South Africans at a loss is trying to work out what a South African means when he says he will do something now.

You see, South African English has several similar phrases that mean somewhat different things: now, just now, now now, right now might look identical but are not.

So, as a service to mankind, here is what these phrases really mean.

  • Right now – it will happen immediately
  • Just now – it will happen sometime in the nearish future, but not right now. Anywhere from half an hour to two hours from now.
  • Now now – it will happen sometime in the very near future, so sooner than just now, but later than right now
  • Now – this could indicate any of the above

Hope that makes clear what we South Africans mean, so when we will see you just now, you shouldn’t quite open those beers yet, expecting the doorbell to ring any second.


Ah! The sound of meat sizzling on an open fire, combined with that unmistakable smell of smoke and roasting meat is enough to make any South African’s mouth water.

The humble braai is so central to South African life that we have even co-opted one of our public holidays – Heritage Day on the 24th September – as National Braai Day, where everyone takes part in a very South African tradition…..or is it?

As South Africans, we think that we own the copyright on braai’s, but I have discovered that that is not exactly true. Many countries have a tradition of braaing, except it goes under the name of barbecues, or if you find yourself Down Under, a barbie. It is an immensely popular way of cooking around the world.

Even here in the Netherlands, braaing (or barbequing as I am forced to call it here) is a very popular pastime, and the range of different barbecues available is probably better than back in South Africa.

The only real difference between what us South Africans do compared to the rest of the world is what we put on to the braai. The Americans love doing burgers, the Dutch love kebabs and pork braadworst, while the typical South African braai consists of pork chops, boerewors and chicken drumsticks.

I certainly have no need to miss braaing while living in this foreign land – it is just the meat that isn’t quite the same….


Over the last several months I have been writing a lot about things that I find rather strange or unusual about the Netherlands and the Dutch people based on my experiences living here in the Netherlands. One of the things about being a stranger in a strange land, is that as much as there are many things I find strange here, I have also come to realise that I, myself, having grown up in South Africa, have many things about me that appear strange to the rest of the world.

So, after looking outwards at the world around me, here follows the first part of me looking inwards toward myself, and what better topic to begin on than South African English.

South African English is my mother tongue, and it has some quirky differences to the more generally known dialects.

Lets start with our accent. I have met very few people in the Netherlands who correctly guess where I am from based on my accent. Curiously, many people immediately think that I am American, which I find a bit strange, since the majority of the Dutch I have met speak English with a distinct American accent, and the South African accent is nowhere near the American accent, so I have no idea where they get that from.

The Americans, on the other hand, tend to have no idea where to place my accent, sometimes thinking I am British or Australian, while the Brits tend to be fairly good at placing my accent – probably due to the thousands of South Africans that call the UK home.

There are huge differences within the accent as well. Region plays a fair role, so Capetonians, Durbanites and Johannesburgers tend to speak differently, but the speakers home language plays a far greater role. South Africa has a wealth of languages, and each language group – Indigenous, Afrikaans and English native tongue speakers speak English with vastly different accents.

The South African accent is apparently very difficult for foreigners to imitate with any degree of accuracy, and I must say that I have very seldom heard a good South African English accent in a Hollywood movie.

Now let’s look at vocabulary. South African English borrows extensively from both American and British English for words, as well as from the other South African languages.

So, for example, we use the American word truck for what the Brits call a lorry, while we use the British boot (of a car) while the Americans use trunk.

Pure South Africanisms though include words like lekker (nice), takkies (sneakers), braai (barbeque), bru (brother). There are many more you can find here at this link. I often tend to use these words without thinking that noone else has a clue what I am on about.

Now that you might be able to understand me better, my job is done…


AncestrySync for Geni is new genealogy product is currently in Beta, and it looks and feels very slick.

This program makes it very easy to download and synchronise your family tree off Geni, providing a number of options as to how to export your tree, such as how many generations forwards or backwards, and what tye of relation.


It also enables you to save the data in most of the currently popular formats, such as Gedcom, PAF, Lecacy, and RootsMagic. The only one missing there that I would love is Gramps, which is the main application I currently use, but no doubt that is something that will be in the application soon, as it is still only in Beta.

The application also allows you to synchronise your data manually or automatically, and gives you an option to share your tree with your friends.

All in all, I really like this application, and would heartily recommend it to any Geni user.