February 2013 issue

Date:1 February 2013 Tags:, , , , , ,

At least once a year, we indulge our paranoia and explore the myriad ways – some of them astoundingly devious, others downright scary – in which dodgy people (and perfectly respectable companies) spy on us and monitor our activities to extract potentially useful information. This month’s cover story, “In the digital crosshairs”, recounts some truly frightening instances in which sociophobes exploit digital platforms to invade personal spaces, settle scores and punish their perceived enemies after online squabbles.

As writer David Coburn tells it: “This slow and steady degradation of personal privacy has become so pervasive that many citizens are inured to it. But when personal data suddenly falls into the hands of those willing to abuse it, victims get a chilling reminder of how exposed the free flow of that information has left them. So much of our information gets collected, traded and aggregated that it’s not difficult for a shady company, corner-cutting law enforcement officer or snickering online troll with a twisted sense of humour to find out where we live, how we spend our time and whom we care about, then wreak havoc.”

On a more upbeat note, we introduce Richard van As, a carpenter from Gauteng who had a bloody encounter with a table saw. The day after severing four fingers, he discharged himself from hospital (the medical staff were reportedly unimpressed) and returned to his workshop, explaining matter-of-factly that he had a deadline to meet. As he says: “It was rough. There was no way I could plan for the amount of pain I was in. I also had to face the machine that had just cut off my fingers.”

What came next was a journey of self-discovery that changed his life. Van As spent many hours trawling the Net in search of ideas for affordable prosthetics and eventually stumbled upon a site featuring a home-built hand – created by American Ivan Owen as a fun prop for a sci-fi convention! Thus was born a thoroughly rewarding collaboration that not only earned Van As a new set of fingers, but launched an open-source prosthetics initiative that stands to help many other people.

In another inspiring story, we talk to a man in a wheelchair and unpack the advanced technology behind the Argo ReWalk exoskeleton suit. Capetonian Andrew Merryweather, left paralysed after an incident at a filling station convenience store six years ago, has begun raising the formidable sum needed to buy this amazing piece of machinery. If he achieves his goal, the device will get him out of the wheelchair and on his feet, simultaneously boosting bone density, muscle strength and other functions. We wish him luck.

– Alan Duggan (aland@ramsaymedia.co.za)