Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Prepare for the 'Awww!' moment.

These are some photos of the rodents that have graced our lab within the last two or three days. Naturally, they are all adorable and make you instinctively want to take them home with you.

Exhibit A:

These are a group of 6 baby dormice that were found in the field. Their mother had died and they were scuttling around on their lonesome. They are currently in the care of an individual from another lab.

One of the little ones up close.
Exhibit B:

This little critter was brought in with a group of gerbils (see below). It's a Mus minutoides or African pygmy mouse. You'll never guess why they chose that name...

In case you are struggling to see where the mouse is, here's an enlarged section of the above picture. To give you an idea of scale, that blue pipe in the back is approximately 5.5cm in diameter...

Exhibit C:
Gerbils...Some people think they are cute. I'm not a fan, but they did arrive recently so I have to include them.

Exhibit D:
Last but certainly not least, Rhabdomys babies! Leia's latest catch produced offspring over the last two weeks so now we have little striped mice! They are adorable!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Need some time off from work...?

I'll take number 9 any day!

Photos from The Fridge Incident...

Hi all

Just two pics from the fridge incident. Below you can see a member of staff wisely hiding behind the odour barrier of their face mask. Below that, Leia retreating from the building with Kermit, one of our lab plants, and spreading the pleasant smell of incense.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Night of 1000 Drawings!

Hi all!

For a smidgen of brief entertainment and knowledge-gaining see the list fo emotions at the bottom of the wikipedia page. I had no idea most of them existed...It makes me saudade...or is that weltschmertz...?

I've been furiously working on my proposal for my PhD over the last month or so, so I've really neglected my blog. I R sorrow...

Moving swiftly along, last week Thursday, I went to the 'Night of 1000 drawings'! It was hosted in the old Park Station extension, which has been untouched since about the 70's. It's a fantastic venue, filled with all manner of beautiful art-deco and later elements! Check out the pics below for an idea of what it looks like...

But first, what is the Night of 1000 Drawings? It's a genius charity event organised each year in Johannesburg where over the entire year, the general public are encouraged to draw/paint/photograph something and submit it. The content can be anything at all and the materials used vary considerably. The only unifying factor appears to be the size of the canvas (obviously not a literal canvas...).

Then, on the night of 1000 drawings, each of the submitted drawings are auctioned off for R100 a pop and the proceeds are donated to a number of charities! Genius! I confess, I didn't buy anything myself as I arrived too late and all the good stuff was taken, but the stuff that I did see was rather impressive! Next year, year...

By the way, the whole point of this story is that it's the first time I've been to one of these and they are AWESOME!!!

Behold, the main exhibit; Thousands of small drawings held in place by clothes pegs for the buying!

The drawings themselves were very variable. There was everything from telephone-side doodles and kids scrawlings to beautiful photography and professional artworks.

I liked this one in particular because I'm very anti-facebook (but somehow still can't bring myself to delete my profile...).

In the remains of the old fountains in the station, they had people doing massages; For when the weight of your taxing picture viewing becomes too much...

I like this one! I have no idea why, but I do...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The problem with the internet is that you can't broadcast smells...

Yesterday was a ridiculous day! It began with the introduction of coconuts to Tas and co. Midway through our munchings, we were interrupted by a student from one of the adjacent labs who had come to announce that the only freezer in our department which can be maintained at -80˚C had been off all weekend because the wall socket it had been plugged into had given up the ghost for no apparent reason. As a result, any material that we had stored in there was more than likely useless as it had probably decayed beyond all recognition.

As one does in our department, we shrugged it off and figured that there would be a few students who would be upset, but the world would continue to turn none-the-less. We were wrong...

As it turned out, the fridge was determined to go out with a bang and that bang was targeted at everyone who worked in our side of the building. The decaying material (which included cat-food - WHY?!) had, as decaying material does, produced the most noxious stench our building has ever smelled. The pong was also really remained out of smell for a good part of the day and then rushed at all of us will full smelly force just after lunch time.

In an effort to overcome the stench, one of the resident academics decided to try and burn some Helichrysum, which she had obtained from a local traditional healers market. The result was a combination of putrification with burning plants and a hint of marijuana (and not in a good way...).

It was around this time that Tas entered my lab and uttered the words, 'What died?!' which pretty much summed things up. We also came to the conclusion that our building has absolutely no fire/smoke alarms at all; a comforting thought...

As much as appreciated the attempt to improve the olfactory conditions of our labs, the smell became too much and we all decided that it was a good idea to go home. So, we all packed ourselves up and began walking out of the building. As we arrived at one of the staircases, we noticed that there was a small cascade of water pouring down the stairs into the passage. As it turned out, one of the pipes had burst on the third floor and the water was using the stairs, as any sensible sentient being would. We gave it some space as the water was slightly yellow and, being that it had come from one of the microbiology labs, you really never know what it could contain...

This morning, when I returned to my lab, the stench still remained and had yet to be exorcised from the building. Some kind soul had replaced the burning plants with incense sticks so instead of the smell of burning grass, we had a building that smelled like an ashram.

And people wonder why I enjoy the work I do...

Monday, November 16, 2009

You've never done WHAT?!

I'm amazed...So many of my friends have never eaten a fresh coconut before! Obviously not the whole thing (I think I'd be hard-pressed to manage downing an entire coconut), but I can confidently say that I quite like eating coconuts fresh out of the shell. And as it turns out, Tas, one of my lab-mates, has never eaten it, nor has Athena!

So, in an effort to broaden their horizons, I brought in a coconut this morning. I mentioned it to my supervisor who was rather excited at the idea and came to observe the coconut cracking ceremony, and get coffee...

Using my trusty hammer that I snuck out of the house and onto campus, we pulverised the coconut and from it emerged it white and tastey goodness! Unfortunately, I had bought a dud one, without any milk, so that part of the experience was missing, but otherwise, it was a rather tastey specimen. As it turns out, Leia and my supervisor are both expert coconut extractors...
Athena was really rather impressed with the fruit. Tas was not. She preferred the dessicated and shredded kind (I call it dessicrated coconut...). Leia and I were discussing how we think we should make it a weekly thing to introduce a new fruit to each other. Next time: STAR FRUIT! (Helen, you might want to stay in the bush for just that little bit longer to avoid the star fruit... :D )

Friday, November 06, 2009

Ode to the weekend and running!

I have managed to get through half of my marking for the weekend already! Yay! So, to celebrate, I'm going to go home and go for a run!

It's amazing to think that I, of all people, could possibly enjoy running that much, that I actually look forward to it! A year ago, I'd never have believed that I might get to this point of actually enjoying my running, and yet, here I am, loving it! It's quite bizarre...

Well, I really don't have anything more to say. It's a Friday. The day is almost nearly over and I feel a rewarding jog is in order. Cheerio! But before I go, the photos from our lab Halloween party:

Okay, this has nothing to do with the party, it's just a really cute forlorn-looking doggy... :)

Tas getting into the Halloween spirit.

One of our obese lab mice oggling us as we prepare food...

Our Halloween spiders! Made from scones, grated cheese, raisins and prezel sticks! Genius!

Making an army of cheese-covered spiders!
P.S. I really need a holiday...I keep dreaming I'm on holiday. It's really annoying!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Well, that was a complete waste of time!

After a good 7 hours, I've finally finished marking the first batch of my medic's practical exams. And I'm not-so-proud to announce that if a third of them pass, it'll be a miracle! It's SO depressing when you mark and realise that all those hours that you spent typing up notes, preparing lectures, giving lectures, preparing practicals and supervising practicals were all for naught. Nothing has sunken in...

It's quite amazing how little understanding of the world they have! For example, my friend Athena, who has not studied biology at all and considers her knowledge of biology limited, appears to have a better grasp of the anatomy of a rat than the average medical student who dissected the wretched creatures for a whole THREE WEEKS!!!

What also leaves me completely speechless is there inability to perform relatively simplistic and straight-forward tasks, like read the instructions on their exam paper. The number of students that completely ignore the instructions and write what they feel the question should be asking is scary to say the least.

Prime example: One of the questions asked them to plot a line graph of a set of mass-specific metabolic rates (basically how much energy used for every gram of body mass in a given time) against their corresponding mass values. What do I get?

A million graphs of mass-specific metabolic rate plotted against species, or mass against species!!! Every possible combination except the one they were ASKED for!!!

(In case you were wondering, I'm a little frustrated and despairing at the moment. I think I'll go home and it'll all be okay in the morning...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My little sister

Gosh I hate blogger sometimes!! I had written up a whole post, and then tried to copy/paste it, and now it refuses to paste! AARGH!!!

Anyways, the point of todays post is to showcase my sisters artwork. She's doing her BA fine arts, specialising in sculpture. Today she has to exhibit all of her works from the whole year to be marked. I'm not entirely sure how one goes about marking an artwork, but anyway...

So here are the results. I'm rather impressed with it all! If you happen to be at Wits today, I'm sure she'd be chuffed to have you waddle through and 'Ooo!' and 'Aah!' at it... ;)

For this piece, their directive was to do something for a full 24 hrs. So what did my sister choose? FRENCH KNITTING!!! Of all things to do...The amazing thing about this piece is that it really does preserve the 24 hours in a tangible way; she used different coloured bits of wool for each hour, so the result is a long woolen sausage made of multiple coloured bands, each a chronicle of that hour. She can even point out at which points she fell asleep...The wool on the wall is the response piece to her knitting. The class had to respond to her work and so she got them to unravel tangled wool (the same colours as the piece itself) for an hour. The total that they unraveled was wound up into a wool ball and laid at the floor of each tangle.

For this piece, she made casts of her feet in plaster. The moulding and casting process was loads of fun! We got to play around with the awesome silicon-rubber moulding stuff! It's bright purple and requires that you mix two chemicals together; one bright blue, the other bright pink. Very 5 year old birthday party, just without the screaming children and the nausea from eating too many sweets and potato chips. She then poured resin over the feet to represent the washing of feet (mirroring the story in the bible of Jesus' feet being washed). I'm not entirely sure what the significance of this all was, but it looks cool and we got to play around with some awesome chemicals!

My personal favourite: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For this my sister took a real tree (or at least, part of one...) and coated it in aluminium foil. The leaves were all hand-made by her and the rest of us. We then helped her attach them to the branch. The idea, apart from the fact that she just likes foil (as you will see later), is that the tree itself reflects the observer. It's also a dynamic piece as the reflections are constantly changing, depending on where you stand around it. I asked her if I could have this one, but she'd promised it to someone already...

Her last piece, and her favourite, is a statue of St. Lucia, again, coated in aluminium foil. My sister's name is Lucia, so this might be why she likes this one so much...Surrounding the piece are hundreds of origami lillies, also made of foil. We were all recruited to make those too. They are not easy to make at all! Folding foil like that is a mission! But, with the help of the extended family and a few friends, it got done.

Just to confirm, my sister is in fact fascinated by religious iconography, so that's why the themes for most of these are of biblical/religious origin.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The hell-hound strikes again...

I am once again house-sitting for my aunt and uncle. It's a fantastic job except for one thing; their dog. I've written to you all about the hell-hound before, and this story follows another of the little *&^%$#'s adventures...

Once, during the house-sitting stint in the post linked to above, I made the mistake of leaving one of the house windows open when I left for university. It is a very low-down window, practically on the floor, but it is part of a wall-like window setup at the main bedroom. The window has bars across it, so I figured, it's safe, nobody will get in through there. So, blissfully ignorant to the peril that awaited me, I left for varsity, confident that all would be well in the world.

Many hours passed, and the day progressed uneventfully...

I returned to the house that evening. I opened the door to find the dog in the main entrance hall. My first thoughts were something along the lines of, 'That's odd...he was locked out earlier...' and immediately graduated to 'Oh no...someone has robbed the house!!'. So, as I frantically ran from room to room searching for evidence of thievery, the true horror of the situation began to dawn on me. Nothing was missing. All the doors were closed. The only possible entrance could have been the window I'd left open!

I sprinted through to the master bedroom and there, glaring at me like a defiant child who has just been refused their demand for sweets in a supermarket, was the open window. A little confused I looked around and again, confirmed that nothing was missing. It was only when I returned to the living room that the true horror of it all sank in. And given how many horror movies I watch, that's pretty bad!

The dog had come in through the window and devoured the entire lounge! Okay, so not the chairs and sofa and stuff, but almost everything else was gone! He had chewed up their grass-weaved basket, a wooden puzzle that they had bought on a previous holiday (it remains unreplaced...) and several garden game tools, including an entire volleyball set...

So, since then I have ALWAYS ensured that the window remains sealed shut. That is, until this time...

So this morning I left the house to head out to my grandmother's for lunch. Once there I suddenly realised that I'd forgotten to close the window!!!

I had too much to do to head back to close it at the house, so I ended up spending all day with the sickening fear in the back of my mind. At the same time, at the end of the day, I was determined not to let the terror get to me and so tried to appreciate the skyscape as I drove along the highway:

When I arrived at the house, I couldn't help but scanning the house from outside for movement. My eyes, darting around furiously, revealed nothing and I breathed a sigh of relief. I soon gave myself a mental slap. The hell-hound could have been somewhere not visible from the outside!

As I opened the door...

...he was there, with the facial expression typical of dogs that says, 'HI! I'M HERE! AREN'T YOU PROUD OF ME?'

My heart sloshed around my ankles...

But, as I moved through the house, surveying the damage, I began to realise that there was...none! The house was intact! Behold, the proof!


I was SO happy that I gave the dog a MASSIVE sinew-bone-hide-thingy. You can *just* see him in the picture below with the bone in his mouth looking very pleased with himself...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Evil men in white coats

Following a comment on my last post (and Eebee's not-at-all-helpful response...) I would just like to clarify that, yes, we do experiments on animals, but no, they are not of the stick-the-needle-in-their-eye-and-see-what-happens. Almost all of the experiments we run are along the lines of trying to find ways to improve the housing conditons of captive animals and to try and figure out what causes the behavioural problems we see in captive animals and find ways to fix them. So, in short, we are the good guys. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Fridays are all about

One of the massive perks to being part of our lab is that Fridays are generally accepted, here anyway, to be a complete write-off. We get absolutely nothing done on a Friday. Even my supervisor admits it! In our lab, this is what Fridays are all about:

Yes, that's it. Coffee and doughnuts. What more can you ask for?

Today was a prime example! I arrived late. I'm house sitting at the moment so I took a little longer to get in today. On my way up to my lab from parking, I picked up some doughnuts. The lady at the shop was very generous and gave us an extra doughnut (which I may have to take home as nobody seems to want to eat it...) and, after skipping the entire paying queue because of the bulk-order, I headed up to the lab. Once there, the 'meeting' began.

I say 'meeting' because we did have meetings on a Friday, but due to lack of attendance, they were discontinued.

We chatted, drank coffee, ate our glazed delights and all had a fantastic time. The rest of the day was occupied with an undergrad lecture on oestrogen mimics (disappointingly tame...) and moving animal test subjects around. That's ALL I DID TODAY!!! And, now I'm going home :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All in the name of science...

Every two years, our department runs an undergraduate course on Reproductive Biology (coincidentally, the name of the course!). Students in general hate the course as the majority of it focuses on the reproduction of plants and fungi, but a small section of it relates to reproduction in animals. For this particular section, the amount of giggling and crude jokes that are made during the lectures of the students is, unsurprisingly, high.

For this section of the course, the practical that the students have to do is rather fun.'s not what you are thinking...but is instead an examination of the role of perfume in mate selection. It requires that the blindfolded students smell a selection of perfumes on male and female 'models' and state what they think of the perfumes. This year, Luke and Leia were the smell models.

For those that don't know me, I am closer to an ape than most people. In short, I have rather hairy forearms and this complicates matters when the students are not supposed to be able to distinguish the male and female models (shoving your nose into a hairy arm does kinda give away the sex of the model...). So, the solution?


So, both Leia and I had to shave our arms for science! It was actually a fascinating experience! My arms are surprisingly smooth and I've discovered a whole bunch of scars that I had no idea I had, not to mention the shaving techniques that I learned which I can apply when and if I decide to do cycling competitively!

Here are the pics:
The shaving process at work: By shaving in one direction and then pushing the razor backward, it cleans the razor! Nifty hey?! :D

The process at work...Thank goodness we have sinks in the lab. The bathrooms would have been awkward to have to keep explaining to people what I was doing...

Before and After! Great insulation and comforting fluffiness converts to silky smooth and a map of past traumas!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Step aside Indy, this one's alive!

This was a conversation that I had with EEbEE earlier today. The paper that the exerpt came from is at the bottom of the page. Step aside Indiana Jones, this is how REAL monkeys do it!

Luke: A charming little exerpt I had to share with you: 'Most people with first hand experience of primates will be impressed by the animals' tolerance of injuries and their rapid healing. One example, observed in a large group of tufted capuchins (Cebus apella), concerned a young adult male with a head wound exposing several square centimetres of scalp. The wound was frequently groomed by other group members, who also dipped potatoes in it. Although we might expect that this would be a painful experience for the wounded individual, his behaviour appeared quite normal. In fact he appeared to enjoy attention from the others, and actively sought more of this treatment (see also Dittus & Ratnayeke1989). The wound eventually healed without any human intervention.'
It's from a paper I'm reading. It stopped me in my tracks...
Ebrahim: !!!
who'd have thought
didn't expect that at all
Luke: The mental image is very funny though, in a sick sorta way :)
Ebrahim: hehehe. i admit... i laughed when i read it
Luke: I was just so shocked! I actually jumped back and gasped! Lab-mates must think I'm insane...
Ebrahim: lol. i can't wait to attack my next first aid situation with a bit of potatoe
Luke: It's the ultimate first aid tool! Ambulances should be filled with bags of potatos!
Ebrahim: imagine the look on the face of the guy with a missing arm when the ambulance shows up :O "all you brought were some POTATOES!!!"
Luke: ROFL!!! Yes! I was also wondering what ambulance chase scenes in movies would be like if the vehicle kept shedding small tubers as it roared through the streets of downtown New York...

Chips and ketchup, anyone?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

There's more than one way to kill a cat...or die trying...

Sunday evening was no different to any other. The weekend was drawing to a close and the heavy blanket of depression that is the realisation that the next day is Monday was slowly settling over all, but trying very hard not to be noticed while at it. I was in my kitchen, preparing my dinner; nothing exciting, just a toasted sandwich.

It was a normal Sunday evening...for all except one. Fate had other plans for that one...

At some point, I heard my cell phone ringing. Like a parent who hears their child cry, I dropped what I was doing and hurtled down the long dark passage of my house to answer the call of my electronic child.

Our house is long and thin, so we have one straight passage that runs the full length of the house, from kitchen to garage. Due to the fact that it is the central backbone of our house, it is very dark, with doors leading off on either side to bedrooms and the like. From the kitchen heading down, the first door on your right is my sisters room. It was at this junction that the incident occurred.

As I sprinted down the warren that is our passage, something large and black shot out of my sisters room, aiming itself directly at my ankles. Instinctively I leaped up, hurdling over my dark assailant. My attacker changed its course of action. It had realised that I was considerably larger than it was and that fleeing might, in fact, be the better option. However, it was the mode of escape that could have used a little forethought.

It was my cat, Lady Amelia Fitzpatrick, who had launched herself from my sisters room. The problem was that, as only a cat can do, she had chose to run by moving into every space that I tried to put my feet down and with the inertia I already had, I was not likely to stop any time soon.

So the two of us performed a bizarre zig-zag hopscotch down my passage, me trying very hard not to stand on my cat, which by this stage looked more like a tiny spruce tree than an animal. We finally ran out of passage and the cat continued her puffy, angry sprint into my parents bedroom. I followed her, by this stage having successfully slowed to a walk, finding it very hard to control my laughter. The cat was nowhere to be seen.

As I fumbled in the dark, looking for my parents light switch, I heard a loud hiss from under their bed. In the dim light coming through their bedroom door, I could just make out her VERY large, angry eyes glaring at me.

In her defence, as traumatic as the experience may have been for her, she will get her own back. As the video below shows (sorry about the poor quality; I used my cell phone to record it) she loses her mind daily and when this happens, anything and anyone is fair game. She bullies the dog and we all live in fear of having our legs adopted as claw-sharpening posts, or our ankles considered to be the most viable alternative to actually eating the food in her bowl. Take special note of the final display where the cat attacks the door frame for no apparent reason...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brussels and Belgium

After our stay in Holland, we headed over to Belgium. We had arranged our tickets ahead of time for the train through to Brussels from Amsterdam, which had turned out to be a little more complicated than we had anticipated. The problem lay in the fact that the Canadians had been intelligent about their travelling expenses and had organised themselves passes for the whole of Europe. In contrast, the South Africans had arrived with no clue what to do and a strong hope that Europe worked in much the same way home did. Thus, we had to organise separate tickets for the two nationalities.

In a way, it was easier for the Africans because we just had to buy our tickets straight out, whereas the Canadians had to make bookings for the one train, but not pay while paying for the second train. The whole process was smoothed over by the very cheery and, for lack of a better term that doesn't conjure as many images of fat old men with white beards in red suites, jolly ticket lady.

The actual morning of our departure was exciting to say the least. We arrived at the main station to discover that the train we were supposed to take through to Brussels was no longer running and thus, we were to take an new train through to a small town to catch our connecting train.

Lacking any alternative option, we decided to catch the train to the hamlet-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. We were a bit early for that train and so decided to each go and get ourselves some breakfast before the train left. We took it in turns to find food and return to the platform to guard our luggage while the next expedition went for their food. As it turned out, our expeditions took longer than expected and we almost didn't catch the train in time!

The ride out of Amsterdam was uneventful. We arrived at our destination station and disembarked from our train. We waited for a good half hour on the station platform for our train to arrive. It was a surprisingly miserable day and rather chilly, so the wait felt very long! Eventually, one of our number decided that the cold was too much and retreated to the toasty saftey of the station building itself. She returned shortly thereafter to announce that our connection train had been cancelled as well!

At this point we decided to retire to the building as well and wait for the next one to come through. We did so and settled down in one of the restaurants to just take a break. After a while, we went to catch our train which, miraculously, wasn't cancelled. We were on our way to Brussels!

In Brussels we stayed at a small but fantastic Bed and Breakfast called the Lught en Light Bed and Breakfast. It's a family operated place which is really charming! After checking in and dumping our luggage, all except one headed out together into Brussels.

Our first port of call was the European Union centre. We saw several of the EU buildings, including the EU parliment, none of which were particularly interesting. We then went in search of the Natural history museum of Brussels, famous for some of the fossils which they have on display. As it turned out, we'd arrived on a Monday, the only day that the museum is closed. So we opted to find other tourist traps instead and return to the museum the next day instead.

It was still relatively early in the day at this stage, and so we had a lot of the day left to do our exploring. We decided to use our more financially-friendly feet than the metro to get around. As one can imagine, this means you get hungry eventually. This was our problem.

We had managed to induce that feeling of being absolutely famished in the middle of a district in Brussels entirely devoid of anything edible!

So we decided to try and navigate our way out of this doldrum and find food...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Europe: Amsterdam and Holland

So, given that it is a beautiful, sunny, typical South African Sunday afternoon and I am recovering from eating WAY too much of my grandmothers awesome cooking, I've decided to take the time to write about my amazing trip to Europe! I apologise about how few photos I'll post with this, but the blogger photo thingy just drives me my patience only can cope with about 5 at the most...

The trip started on Thursday the 13th (not nearly as ominous as if it had been a Friday...) of August. I was on my way to Europe to attend the International Ethology Conference, in Rennes, France. We call what we do Ethology because that just sounds way more cool than just saying, 'We watch animals and try figure out what they are doing...'

For financial reasons (being a student does suck sometimes) I had booked myself onto an Egypt Air flight to Amsterdam, my first port of call. Saving the money on my flight with Egypt Air did however mean that I had to spend 5 hours in Cairo, wafting around the airport. It wasn't all that bad and, honestly, the only thing that really struck me about Cairo, was just how flat and desolate it was! I know what you're thinking...'Luke, don't be such a dumbass! It's in the middle of the desert! What were you expecting?! A tropical paradise?!'

Honestly, I don't know what it was that I'd expected to see when I got there. But somehow, it still came as a surprise when I looked out onto the runways and the airport grounds and saw nothing.

I then flew through to Amsterdam from Cairo. Cairo was like the alps in comparison to Amsterdam! I've never been somewhere so flat in all my life! It's just bizarre! Johannesburg is quite a hilly city. We are built on a range of hills which run east-west through the city, so a little gradient isn't anything strange for us. However, a lack of gradient is...

I arrived in Amsterdam feeling that terrified excitement that can only be understood when one is arriving in a country you've never been to. I'd been very smart about my travelling and had printed out a map of where my hotel was and had gotten a bus number off the hotel web-page so that I would have no trouble getting from the airport to my hotel. Once out of the airport, I found my bus-stop almost immediately, and waited all of a minute for my bus to pull up. I got onto the bus and after having a brief but pleasant chat with the driver, in English, moved to the back of the bus to take a seat.

A word of caution to would-be travelers: if you are attending a conference, don't take your poster with you unless you have one of those nifty architect-drawing-carrier-tube-over-the-shoulder thingys. Otherwise it just gets VERY irritating and cumbersome! But, sitting in the back of the bus, trying not to let my poster tube wallop people as they walked past, I could feel myself beginning to relax. It was a pleasant feeling to think, 'For the next few weeks, you don't have any responsibilities, other than staying awake in talks during the conference'.

After about 45min of riding the bus, we were well into Amsterdam and I began to wonder where my stop was. I got a little more worried when I noticed that the next two stops were the last on the line and neither were my street. So I scuttled to the front of the bus and asked the driver, who in very friendly tones and grinning from ear to ear assured me that I was very much on the right bus and that the next was my stop. I figured, who would know better than the guy who drives the bus every day? As it turned out, I'd probably have been better off getting directions from a pot-plant...

I dismounted the bus and thanked the driver, gleefully ignorant to the true nature of my predicament. He had suggested that I walk a few streets down in order to find my hotel, which I dutifully did. As I walked through the very busy area in which I was again, trying not to injure the local populous with my poster tube, I began to suspect that I wasn't where I needed to be.

Eventually, in a display of behaviour most un-befitting my sex, I asked for directions. In truth, I was a little terrified to ask the locals for directions and so sought out the first hotel with a Union Jack hanging outside it. I managed to find one with ease and, trying not to sound too nervous, asked the woman behind the front desk how I got to my hotel. She was very accommodating and kindly pointed out that my hotel was in fact, on the opposite side of the city.

After she suggested a bus to take, I returned to the bus stop to wait and pray that I was heading in the right direction. Another note to would-be travellers: If you are taking a backpack, ensure that it doesn't protrude too far off your back. Standing on a narrow island in the middle of a busy road waiting for a bus, you'd be amazed how many cars have near-misses with the pack on your back. Obviously the poster-tube hellbent on drawing blood by nightfall didn't help much either...

As it turned out, I was catching the correct bus (Thank you SO much reception-girl from Amsterdam!!) and eventually walked into the reception area of my hotel, grinning the triumphant grin of the moron who took the wrong bus, but everything is okay now. After checking in and learning the room number of the friends I was meeting up with there, I headed off to my room to ditch my stuff. The room, which was not bad at all, was a welcome sight and after unloading my baggage, I went in search of my associates.

I got to their room and knocked on the door. There was no response. So I knocked again. Nothing. Just as I was about to give up I heard the clacking of the door being unlatched from inside. As the door was cracked open, I gazed into an entirely unfamiliar face. After exchanging greetings, I apologised for disturbing her, obviously at the wrong room, and left. A little confused, I returned to reception to check on the room number. The receptionist assured me that I had been at the correct door and suggested that I try again.

I returned to the door and knocked again. This time, the response was almost immediate and again, an unfamiliar face appeared on the other side of the portal. This time I thought to ask if my friends were there. As it turned out, they were and the 'unfamiliar face' was in fact one of the people we were going to be travelling around with for the next two weeks.

A little rosy faced and sheepish, I entered the room to see how the others had fared on their arrivals. As it turned out, not one of us had managed to get to the hotel without getting terribly lost! That might have had something to do with the fact that the map and instructions I had used, I had passed on to all the others to aid their navigation, but I prefer to think that it was just rotten luck...

Amsterdam was amazing though! I don't think I've enjoyed a city quite as much as I did Amsterdam! No...wait...I'm lying. London was awesome, but Amsterdam came very close! We did so much! We went to the Anne Frank house (an amazing, but humbling experience), the 'Our Lord in the Attic' church, the red-light district, several amazing parks, the Van Gogh museum and a Holland-in-a-Day tour with the craziest woman I've ever met as our tour guide (Seriously, she was either severely unstable, or very high and given that it was Amsterdam, it could have gone either way...).

More on the rest of my adventures later! For now, gaze in wonder at the amazing photos...
A house opposite one of the very large parks of Amsterdam. Who wouldn't like to live there...?
A water feature near the Van Gogh museum. The panels in the middle are concertinaed metal sheets with pieces of different images on the side of each fold, meaning that the image changes, depending on which direction you look at it from! Clever! And, in the background, you can see the word 'Amsterdam'; it was another artwork.
I think this is a fantastic store! Whoever came up with the idea to market lies to children is a genius!
What would Holland be without clogs? Eh? I mean, look at the variety! They even had 'Hello Kitty' clogs!
Rotterdam (I think...)! The architecture was amazing! It's a little odd to think that you can go about the city by car...or boat...

Friday, September 18, 2009

10 things about me

I've been tagged by Helen for this one. It requires that I list 10 random things about myself and then pass on the task to three others. So, Athena, Tom and Hanna, you're next!

  1. I love chocolate, but hate chocolate-flavoured foods. Having said that, I'll never turn down a decently sized (read: enormous) slice of black forest cake.
  2. I write and produce my own music in my spare time. I might even post some on this here blog some time!
  3. I can speak three languages, which isn't all that much in my circle of friends, but I think it's quite nifty!
  4. I can't drink tequila. I just can't...bad experience.
  5. I taught medic students this year, and now I honestly fear for the fate of our species. How can you possibly be that thick?!
  6. I really want to visit the USA! I don't really know why, I just do. Arizona looks amazing and all the national forests look stunning! Also, if Universal Studios and Disneyland are anything like EuroDisney, I am SOLD!
  7. I did a personality test recently and found out that I am apparently abnormally expedient. I then had to go look up the word in a dictionary...
  8. I am considerably more reclusive than people think. I just force myself to be social to compensate.
  9. Despite having studied my butt off for the last 18 years, I plan to find myself a simple menial job once I get my PhD.
  10. I love dinosaurs! I've been fascinated by them ever since I was a little kid and for some reason, the obsession has persisted. Which reminds me...I need to bring my dinosaur to decorate my desk at varsity...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's ON!

So, having been challenged to the task by Eebee (sorta...) I too have decided to find out what significance my birthday has for the human race in general. Thus I am about to do a search for 15 February. Here goes...



Well, Eebee, it appears that disaster follows in my wake too.

  • 1898 - USS Maine exploded and sank in Havanna harbour, killing 260 people.
  • 1933 - Giuseppe Angara tried to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt, shot at him, missed and instead killed Chicago mayor, Anton J. Cermak.
  • 1942 - Singapore fell to the Japanese after the British surrendered, resulting in the capture of 80 000 prisoners of war and the start of the Sook Ching massacre.
  • 1961 - Sabena flight 548 crashed in Belguim, resulting in the deaths of the entire United States figure skating team, their coaches and families; 73 deaths in total.
  • 1970 - A Dominican DC9 plummetted from the heavens and crashed into the sea during take-off from Santo Domingo; 102 dead.
  • 1982 - An oceanic oil rig, Ocean Ranger, sank during a storm off Newfoundland, killing 84.

On the plus side though:

  • 1764 - St. Louis, Missouri was established! While this means little to me, I'm sure many of you St. Louis'ians are rather chuffed! ;)
  • 1879 - American President Rutherford B. Hayes signed a bill that permitted female attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. Go women-folk!
  • 1971 - Decimalisation of British coinage was completed on Decimal Day. Yay for the Brits! They finally saw the light and converted to a LOGICAL decimal system! 10 points!
  • 2003 - The worlds biggest peace protest action against the Iraq war took place in over 600 cities worldwide involving an estimated 8 million to 30 million people taking part!
  • 2005 - Youtube was launched in the United States! Where would we be without it!! :D

Famous people...?

  • Ice-T!
  • Jane Seymour!
  • Matt Groening!
  • Birdman! (not too proud of that one...)
  • Toto (An italian who was really Italy...)
  • A whole stack of other folks who might be famous...somewhere...but I know nothing about.

Monday, September 14, 2009

If only my brain would listen to itself!!!

I've recently taken up two new exercise programs. The first is weight training. It's not exactly a new program as I've been doing it with my friends over the last 6 months or so, but now, it's early in the morning. VERY early. Like, 05:45 early...

Herein lies a problem. As with this morning, I often wake up in time, or early (gasp!) and that little motivational speaker in my brain starts wispering, 'Go on, get up! You are expected to go and you know that you will enjoy it! Even if it hurts a little, the effects are great and you will have all the energy for the rest of the day!'

Unfortunately, that's about when the much larger couch-potato in my brain yells, 'Screw that! It's warm, you're sleepy, tired; just go back to sleep!'

Generally, the potato wins...

None the less, I still manage to get some training in on most days which I really do enjoy! I'm amazed at just how much I like it! I used to HATE training and did it more as a chance to see friends than to exercise, but now, I'm totally into it! It's odd. Especially when you think that I'm not a particularly physical person and spent most of my high school career trying to dodge sports events and the gym teacher who invariably was looking for one more to add to the swimming team (Thanks Mr. made high school such a blast...).

The other program I've taken up is running. Not of the Flash Gordon, blur around the block, kind. More of the, jog-around-the-park-and-hope-your-lungs-don't-decide-to-evacuate-your-body kind. I've been forced to take it up after my bicycle's front wheel has started generating punctures which I can't seem to identify the cause of.

I'm a big cycling fan! It's such fun! I once cycled from Johannesburg to George; a distance of about 1163+ km. We did it over 10 days and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life! But I can't do running. I loath running! It's horrible!!!

Or at least, it used to be...

Now, as with weight training, I'm really enjoying it! Which is very odd! I know though that if I stop, that'll be it! So I'm trying to keep at it every day! You should try it! It's great!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm so screwed...

Over the last few months I have had to do a great deal of teaching. Specifically, I've been teaching the medic students on the topic of metabolism and digestion. The lecturing went as well as could be expected given the circumstances (having all your work on your laptop stolen a week prior to you starting your lecturing does tend to hamper your teaching somewhat...), and luckily for me, the section has been completed, freeing me from the responsibility of shaping young (albeit empty) minds.

The first of my problems I noticed on Tuesday, when the medics class wrote a test. I started marking the test and was horrified! They have absolutely NO CLUE what is going on in my section! My first instinct was to think, 'Oh no! I'm such a bad teacher!' but I then thought to myself, 'Wait, this is university! They are all adults! If they have a problem they can track me down for help or look it up in a text book! It's not like I'm completely unapproachable (as far as I know...maybe I smell faintly of eggs...?) and I'm on campus ALL THE TIME!!'

I also received confirmation, via Facebook, from one of my students that I had indeed taught them well and that, in his opinion, it is entirely their own fault if they are doing badly in the test. AMEN!!!

As an aside, it's a little weird being contacted, and friended, by one of your students on Facebook. Luckily for me, I'm not closer to 50 yrs old, which would have made the whole thing very awkward...

The other thing that is worrying me is that I have to now supervise the practical that is associated with my section of work. Normally this wouldn't phase me in the least, but the problem is that this practical requires of me that I explain how to do a chemistry procedure that I have not done in at least the last 7 years!! So, understandably, I'm a little freaked out...

I'm going to scan through the memo and hopefully find something that I can use to fool people into believing that I know what I'm talking about...when I don't. Otherwise, there's always google...

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Hi faithful followers of me!

I have returned! And I come bearing presents! For most people anyway...unfortunately, a student budget does limit one's present-buying abilities.

So, I've been away from my blog for AGES now and here comes the barrage of excuses:

  1. My life was completely thrown upside down by the robbery incident that happened about two months ago and I am still running to catch up with that. I also have yet to have my emotional breakdown that accompanies most peoples assault/robbery experiences in South Africa, which is a little worrying. I hope it doesn't happen somewhere public...that would be embarrassing...
  2. I've had to prepare a poster for the conference in France. This was made extra-difficult because of the above as I had to try and scramble together all the little shreds I could of a project I'd once had.
  3. I experienced a serious social upheaval just prior to my leaving for the conference. This, upsetting in its own right, seriously threw me off when it came to getting things ready for the conference as well. I'm one of those unfortunate people who battle to concentrate on work when their personal life is falling apart.
  4. I had to attend said conference in France. That's where I've been for the last three weeks. But more on that later...

But, I'm back! And VERY glad to be home! As much fun as scuttling around Europe for three weeks is, the attitude of the Parisians totally ruined it for me, so I ended up being more than happy to leave and come home.

P.S. A certain individual in our department is REALLY ticking me off. He coordinates the exams for the medics and just prior to my leaving for the conference, amid all the stress of preparing for that, he started insisting that I send him all my quesitons for the medic exams at the end of the year. I, somehow, managed to throw a few together and email them to him; not all of the required work, but part of it. So today, having been away for three weeks, I ran into him and immediately appologised for the lack of work-handing-in-ness. He then, very nonchalantly, tells me that he's not worried as he's had other things to do and couldn't be bothered to look at 'that stuff of yours' yet...if murder were not criminal and morally questionable, he would not live to see another day...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hi! I'm here to have my face cut up...

So, for those of you who are avid readers of my blog (I love you guys!), you will know that I was recently the victim of an assault, during which my nose was broken. Well, yesterday, I went into hospital to have it repaired. Surgically.

This may seem relatively trivial to some. I mean, so what, it's a little surgery. It's not exactly a heart/head transplant. Well actually, it was! Behold, the new me:

On a more serious note, even the most simple surgery which requires me going under complete anaesthesia is potentially life-threatening for me. I have a fantastic little disease called malignant hyperthermia (MH). Just reading that first paragraph on wikipedia makes it sound very fatal. It's genetic and basically means that if I am not given the correct anaesthetics, my body starts to burn off all its possible energy and I end up cooking myself to death. Charming, isn't it?

Apart from being able to instill terror in the hearts of anaesthesiologists everywhere, there's no real perks to having the disorder. The only way that this disorder can be diagnosed is by having a biopsy done on a leg muscle in which the remove a massive chunk of your leg, put it into a special solution of chemicals and watch it twitch and fizzle. They then confirm that you have it. I had the biopsy done when I was 5. I only learned yesterday that in order to avoid giving me anaesthetic, the doctors just doped my little 5 year old body with tons of Valium and then hacked away at my leg. Am I the only one who finds that irresponsible...?

This time round, no Valium was required. But it would have been appreciated. Instead, I was given the safe stuff (I don't actually know what they gave me) and I was the first to be operated on, so as to ensure that the machines were all clean and devoid of normal anaesthetic. The operation (I keep thinking it's spelled with two 'p's...) entailed repositioning my septum (the cartilage that separates your nostrils from one another) and removing part of my turbinates (wafer-like bones in your sinuses that are necessary for heating and cooling air as it enters and leaves the body respectively), which had been damaged when their quiet existence was rudely altered by a firearm. Behold, my x-ray!

Sorry, my scanner can't really cope with the contrast very well, so I had to draw the bits in...Anyway, I awoke in the ICU after the op was over with a mass of memories that I'm still not sure didn't happen. Someone explained to me that apparently with MH, the attacks can take place up to 24 hrs after the surgery is over, so there is still a danger, even if you've made it through already.

But I survived! I then spent the next day drifting in and out of consciousness in the ICU, being attended to by a fantastic male nurse called Presley. After reading his name take I made a mental note not to say 'Hey! Like, Elvis Presley!' as I was sure that he'd probably been hating his parents all his life for giving him that name. Instead, I thought 'Hey! Like Elvis the penguin!'.

Throughout the day the nurses checked my vitals, took my temperature using an ear-gun-thingy (usually, just as I was drifting off to sleep) and occasionally checking my blood sugar just for fun (I'm not kidding. This morning I woke up and the nurse literally said, with great enthusiasm I might add, 'Shall we check your blood sugar? It's not necessary, you're fine, but let's just do it anyway, shall we?'). Every now and then Presley would swing past to make sexist comments like 'These work so hard and they go and spend all your money...' while looking at me knowingly. I tried to make like I was woozy from all the drugs.

At various times I was also accosted (but in a nice way) by the catering lady, who came around with a menu to ask me what I would like to eat for my next meal. For the record, the Greek salad has no feta and came with a grand total of three olives. But otherwise, hospital food wasn't bad!

I was also visited by my parents, my cousin and my pal Dave! Duncan (cousin) was most unimpressed that nobody had brought me chocolates for him to help himself to. So I sent my mother to buy some, which she did, and he helped himself to. The nurse ended up taking it in the end. I wasn't really in the mood for chocolate anyway.

Eventually, I was permitted to return home. My dad picked me up with some clothes (the underwear they give you in the hospital is amazing! It's so stretchy! But very uncomfortable...) and I was whisked off home after a few goodbyes. Now, I sit at home, wrapped in a blanket, tissues stuffed up my nose and happy to have had a bath. I'll keep you posted on my condition...

Don't read further if you do not want to be scarred.

You were warned! For the record, when you are in ICU, no matter how coherent your speech and how much effort you put into proving that you are quite capable of moving around by yourself without dying, they will NOT let you go to the toilet. Instead they will bring you a little jug-thing into which you must now relieve yourself. Being a male, I'm sure this was easier for me than, say, for a girl. However, peeing at such a funny angle, into a vessel that is filling rapidly and could overflow into your bed at any time is scary! It's even worse when they give you one that doesn't have a lid! It's so much more risky! You could spill at any time!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Staying sane in the traffic...

Firstly, a brief apology and outline of my reasons for not posting of late. Last Tuesday, I was held at gunpoint and robbed at home. Thus, I have spent the last week trying to reassemble my life through various visits to hospitals (the thieves punched me with a gun, braking my nose in the the same time answering a question that has plagued me since early childhood: What is it like to be punched in the face?), government departments and police stations. Thus, I have not been attending to my blog...

But this is not the theme of today's post! Today's post is a lighthearted look at how my sister and I remain sane in the traffic of Johannesburg while getting to and from university. Naturally, being stuck in a car, one's options as far as coping mechanisms are somewhat limited. However, my sister and I have overcome these limitations through several means.

  1. The radio: While Garreth Cliff may be an obnoxious, insensitive neanderthal with as much foresight as a goldfish, he is rather funny at times. That is why my sister and I have taken to listening to 5fm in the mornings. If you can wade through all the terrible music they play, and concentrate on the good stuff, its not so bad! In addition, they occasionally have intelligent conversations and he seems to have an affinity for the really bizarre news stories, of the like that tend to end up on the Oddly Enough page...
  2. Naming people: It helps to control road rage. Somehow, by giving people names when they wrong you in the traffic, I find I'm more at ease with their wrong-doings. For example, this morning I was cut off in the traffic by a woman with huge poofy blonde hair. Thus, I named her after someone from our department at the university as that was who she looked like. But only from behind!
  3. Compete with other drivers: Making up competitions between you and other drivers makes the traffic more exciting and all-round fun! A prime example was this morning's CC-(But-from-behind)-lady! My sister and I decided that we would try to beat he to each traffic light. Somehow, in the end, she beat us (I'm still not sure how that wiley old bat got past us...) but it certainly spiced up our trip in!
  4. Travel mug tea: Since I was give my first-ever travel mug last year, I have taken to using it to have tea first thing in the mornings. As pointed out by Helen, it's a fantastic way to be able to drink all your tea without wasting the time in the morning waiting for it to cool down! I make my tea with my breakfast, leave it to stand while I brush teeth and whatnot and by the time I'm ready to go, my tea is the perfect drinking temperature! Yay!
  5. Introspection: If the morning is particularly early (in perception, not necessarily early in the literal sense) a little introspection helps to pass the time. I rarely ponder the really deep stuff, but more things along the lines of, 'What will I do today?' or 'If my car is 24 years old, how old is that?!'. Occasionally, memories of conversations past or bad comedy shows will sprout in my brain and I'll giggle to myself. These are usually accompanied by disapproving looks from my sibling...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Am I deep enough for Emo, or shallow enough for Scene...?

The above, much like Eebee's post, make me wonder about the fate of human kind.

Emo is just about the only social movement which makes me REALLY annoyed. While I cannot claim to be a fan of rap music and gang culture, Emo trumps it, hands down. There's just so much about it that is really irritating! Where do I begin?!

I'll start at the top and work my way down.

I've always wished that I had straighter hair. It would make it manageable. But I would never go through all the effort that emos (is that even a real word...?) go through to make my hair look straw-like and lifeless. Something else that many people fail to realise is that straight hair works for some people and just doesn't for others! I was at a party recently where a friend of a friend announced that he had spent the 2 hours prior to the party straightening his hair (not that we could really was still all curly). Now, I am fairly certain that most normal males live by the principal of 'if you have clothes on and the mop is vaguely under control, you are now socially acceptable'. So the fact that the emo movement has resulted in a borderline-hysterical buy-up if hair straighteners by men, worries me...

The other element of the emo hair that I find...amusing, to tell the truth, is the obsession with the long fringes (bangs) which must be drawn down over the face. I love walking through campus and seeing an emo kid walking down a corridor, face entirely obscured by their hair. Occasionally, the hair will rise briefly as they blow furiously at if from underneath in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the outside world. While this (somehow) appears not to be done out of annoyance, it appears more to function by preventing collisions with other people and stationary objects.

Helen described the typical emo hairstyle very well: an upside-down mullet.

Next is the make-up. This is about one of the only things that I think works from the emo movement. Eyeliner makes everyone look so much more dramatic and in many cases can really accentuate beautiful eyes! Again, it really works on some people, and not so much on others. In my opinion, the best are those who try to keep is as simple as possible. The alternative is nothing short of ridiculous...

Image from here and here

Then the clothing. There is a reason why girls jeans are made for girls. I saw a Fall Out Boy music video last night in which Pete Wentz was wearing a pair of bright red skinny jeans. The boy looked like the depressed elf that escaped Santa's workshop! It was ridiculous! Having said that, other elements of the emo gettup I like. I'm a fan of black, so that's one plus to their image.

I think the element of emo-ism that annoys me the most is the pseudo-psychology of it. It is a movement that arose from the ashes of the American dream in white suburbia where teens were growing up, wanting for nothing, and this really pissed them off. They had nothing to be angry about and thus they became angry at their lack of anything to direct their rage at. From there it was a hop, skip and jump to being broody, withdrawn and in many cases resorting to self-mutilation and suicide. In short the social aspects of emoism border on pathological.

I personally know of people who are in that exact scenario (albeit, not in America...), provided with everything that they could ask for and resorting to self-injury because it is the done thing as an emo. In truth, this element of the movement has left me with a great deal of pity for emos. Their existance is so fragile and sad that one cannot help but pity them. Another part of me wants to slap across the face really hard and shout 'Snap out of it you stupid *&%#$! Your life doesn't suck!'

Now for the twist in the tale: In order to show that I harbour no ill-feelings toward emoism, and to avoid being one of those people who everone says "...don't knock it 'til you try it" to I, tomorrow, shall become emo. Helen has agreed to help me out and we shall take photos and I shall post them.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Japanese dinner and early workouts

Because of the fact that my father teaches English as a foreign language to an array of bewildered foreigners who arrive in South Africa for work, life etc, he ends up being exposed to various different cultures. We hardly ever get to share the experiences with him, apart from that repulsive looking dried-fish stuff he brought home once from his Korean students, but Saturday was an exception.

My father had been invited to dinner at the home of one of his students. For a change though, we were invited too! So on Saturday night, we went over to his student's house for a typical Japanese meal! My sister and I were so excited as the only taste of Japanese food we'd ever encountered was sushi and both of us are fascinated by Japanese culture.

We arrived at the house and were greeted almost immediately by the small (in number and stature) Japanese family. We were ushered into the house and give a pair of slippers each which we exchanged for our shoes to be worn in the house. The slippers were amazing. I need to get some! They were so warm and actually had grip (I still can't really figure that out...)!

After some brief introdutions, we were moved over to the table where all the food was layed out for us already. It was really beautiful! We each had our own chopsticks (I love chopsticks!!!) and the most beautiful ceramic plates! they looked like the kind of thing that most people would have hanging on their walls, not eating off!

We then started the meal. We were having sushi, which we made ourselves. Being a vegetarian, I was provided with avocado (it apparently tastes similar to the tune everyone else had) instead of fish as well as sliced omlette-like egg to put into mine. It was so nice! I love sushi and apart from biltong (a South African invention akin to beef jerky, but better, I'm told...), it's the only meat-related food that I miss as a vegetarian.

We also had a soup and some cold rice-salad stuff. The problem with this was that it all had meat in it which I don't do. However, not wanting to offend anyone, I ate it. For the record, I am still feeling a little ill after that.

At the end of the meal, we were given brown rice tea, which was really tastey! I was amazed by the difference in the general flavours of Japanese cooking in comparison to western cooking. Italian food, being part Italian I can discuss this, is all based on very strong flavours and is generally related to sweet or sour tastes. Japanese food by contrast is much more subtle and the flavours are delicate. Also, their flavours tend to be more earthy and bitter, but not in a bad way!

Overall, it was not a bad experience! I really enjoyed it! And the people were really kind and generous! We all had a fantastic time and finished the evening off with a Japanese memory game with cards with pictures of fish, that are placed face-down. We then left, after exchanging our slippers, which I had grown very fond of, for our own shoes.


In a completely unrelated story, I had my first early-morning gym session today! I decided to try and do my gymming in the morning instead of the evening which is what I've been doing up until now in an effort to make my life more structured. It was a little odd waking up before the sun, but overall it wasn't as bad as I had been expecting! AND, the only part of me that hurts is my stomach from the sit-ups! And my neck, but that was from sleeping funny...

Thursday, July 02, 2009


So, in our lab, we have three pot-plants. One named Spaz, another named Kermit and a third named...


Our plant needs a name!!

Thus we have started a competition! A real one, with prizes (sorta) and everything! So please go vote! Just follow this link and vote! It's really worth it! ;)

Bad mood dreaming

I'm feeling so grumpy today! It's all because I had a dream that I recieved a present from someone and as I was opening up my present, in my dream, I woke up! Now I'll never know what I got for Christmas (in my dreams...)!!!

On the plus side, at least my mother doesn't actually host ball-room dance classes in our lounge...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm starting to think that Helen might be right...we DO need a couch...

At the moment, in spite of the recent family tragedy, my supervisor has been forced to continue acting as head of school. Our official head of school is on sabatical at the moment and seeing as nobody really likes the job, my supervisor reluctantly took on the responsibility. Apart from the ease of conducting admin within your department when your supervisor is head of school, it also means that people are constantly looking for him. And this, in turn means that our lab is constantly being invaded by various people who are waiting for him to finish with whoever he is with at the time.

Herein lies my motivation for a couch. We need to set up a waiting room with a little coffee table, some magazines (all must be at least 15 years old and slightly faded...) and a couch. That way, we would not be forced to entertain people who are not here to see us anyway.

Today was a particularly good example of this. I had made up my mind last night that today was going to be my catch-up day for all the actual work that I'd missed last week. I set my alarm for 07h00, figuring that with traffic and all I could be at varsity by 08h30 at the earliest, giving me loads of time to do stuff.

I only managed to drag myself out of bed at 08h30...

So, I arrived at university around 10h00 to discover that my supervisor was well into his numerous meetings for the day. I chatted to a labmate while prepping the coffee machine (I'd also made my mind up that, seeing as how today was going to be one of my work-furiously-all-day-to-make-that-guilty-feeling-of-laziness-go-away days, I would have a cup-a'-java to speed things along) and openly panicking about how much I had to do. That's when Mr. S arrived.

For newcomers to this blog, Mr. S is our department's groundsman/tech-support/ex-nuclear-physicist-exiled-from-Russia-and-hunted-by-the-KGB/equipment person. This diminutive individual is characterised by his thick Russian accent and eyebrows and his inability to understand the concepts of personal hygene or personal space. For some inexplicable reason, he likes me (I've never really had any dealings with the man...), which I never really question, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth (ironic...); he's not someone who you want to get onto the bad side of.

Well today he came around to see my supervisor, undoubtedly about some or other claim form or internal requisition which was not filled out correctly. But seeing as he was busy at the time, Mr. S decided that our lab was the most appropriate place to wait for a free slot. While my labmate and I continued our conversation, in a mode of unease, Mr. S felt the need to point out that I was cold, and drinking coffee.

I agreed. What with it being winter and all...

He then injected himself into the conversation, informing us about irrelevant topics such as the 'vind tschill vind' (Translate: Wind chill factor) and how each area of Johannesburg will experience different temperatures to the other areas because, well, it's different. Both my labmate and I listened in awkward silence, agreeing at the appropriate times and hoping that our supervisor would be lured into the lab by the smell of coffee.

Suddenly, without changing tone or any indication that the conversation was over, Mr. S declared that this wait was taking too long and marched out of the lab. Somewhat confused, my labmate and I exchanged glances and continued with our chat. Suddenly, another person appeared at the door. It was Harry*, another member of our support staff, who, surprise surprise, was here to see our supervisor. We exchanged greetings and almost immediately thereafter, he was summoned into my supervisors office.

About 5 min later, after I had managed to switch on my laptop and settle down to do some serious email procrastination, Mr. S reappeared at the door. This time the topic of conversation was to be the benefits of taking an academic position at our university over a support staff position in terms of the accumulated leave. I sat, at a loss for words (I really don't know that much about how the leave at our varsity works!), agreeing at all the right places and generally looking interested.

Again, he declared that the wait was taking too long and stormed out without any hint of actually being annoyed, and despite the fact that he'd been at my desk for all of 5 min. I think that he anticipated social awkwardness and made the pre-emptive strike, terminating the conversation before he ran out of stuff to rattle off at me.

After relaying part of my plight to Eebee, he suggested that I make a sign like the one below to prevent this kind of thing.

I however think that a more appropriate response to the situation would be the couch and waiting room...
*Names changed to protect the relatively innocent...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rushed off my feet...if I could feel them...

This last week has been INSANE. I've not stopped all week and as a result, I'm exhausted. In addition, this happens to have been one of the coldest weeks we've had this year! Hence the title of the post...

So it really started on Saturday when I was contacted by Oliver for a house-sitting job. I had just finished house-sitting for some other people and it was my first opportunity to be at home in a while, so I was a little reluctant to take the job. The problem for Oliver was that he had double-booked himself for house-sitting. This job was for the family of his ex-girlfriend, and given that his only alternative to asking his current girl-friend to take the job for him, I agreed to do it, saving his relationship in the process.

The money helps too...

So ended up house-sitting in Kempton Park, which lies on the outskirts of civilization and Johannesburg. It has certainly shown me what I snob I really am, which has been a little scary, but apart from that and the bizarre cats (a story for another day...), it's been okay. But there was the creepy clown which was hanging opposite the bed I slept in...I eventually resorted to hanging a towel over it so that I could sleep at night.

My plan for the week was to camp out at this house and do nothing but work on my MSc as the last few months have not afforded me much time to do anything in that regard. It's also a very long way to have to drive on a daily basis to the university, and I am not exactly rolling in money at the moment. But, as you can imagine, fate decided to screw me over.

On Monday I had to go in to university to drop-off and finish some marking. My supervisor called me into his office to ask me to collect some people who were arriving from France, on the Wednesday. I accepted the task and promised to be there to fetch them. I was also really excited to get to be one of those people at the airport who stand there with a sign with the person's name on it, expectant of their arrival! I've always wanted to do that. Not really sure why I have, but it looked fun...

Then, on Monday evening, I received a phone-call from my supervisor's wife to tell me that his father had just died and that he had left me a few things to sort out the next day as he was leaving Johannesburg to be with his family. Naturally I accepted and expressed my condolences. The following morning, I headed in to university to carry out all the tasks required of me. I also managed to get quite a bit of my own admin out of the way, which was nice.
Wednesday rolled around and I got ready to head off to the airport. Unfortunately for me, the house I was looking after had one of those ancient aluminium garage doors which roll up. The unfortunate part was the lock which probably had been installed shortly after the discovery of fire, and in the tradition of all things ancient, it was incredibly difficult to get closed. So difficult was this device, that I banked on spending 15min of my morning trying to close the door each day. Unfortunately, on this day it took me about 35min to close...

So I arrived at the airport about 15min late. I was in a bit of a panic and searched the flight board for the flights coming in from Paris. There was only one. And it had landed on time. Cursing under my breath, I moved over the terminal exit where a permanent crowd of ever-changing faces had taken residence. I was scared that I had missed them already and that, fed-up with my incompetence, they had organised a taxi to take them to their bed-and-breakfast instead. So I stood there, terrified, but trying to look as if I did this all the time and had everything under control.

After about 45min a pair of women came out of the terminal and smiled at me, which I took to be a smile of recognition of the name on the sign I was holding. Luckily for me it was just that and not misinterpreted flirting, which would have been rather awkward. After exchanging greetings and once they had exchanged their euros for rands, we headed off to their abode for the next two days.

Once we arrived, I helped them carry their bags in and we discussed their plans for the next few days. It was decided that I should pick them up the following morning to take them into the university to collect a few things and sort out the vehicle that they would be using for their field-work (that's why they were here, by the way...).

The next morning, after a similar, but shorter, tussle with the garage lock, I went through to collect them. I miraculously was not late (!?) and once all the appropriate belongings had been gathered, we headed to the university. Once there, we had to scuttle from one office to another, collecting keys, materials and access cards, getting forms signed and paying for things. By lunch time, all was sorted, but all were exhausted. Very kindly, they took me out to lunch to thank me for all the help I'd given them which was fantastic. (For whoever this has any meaning for, the restaurant at the bottom of Seventh Avenue in Melville, behind the art gallery and opposite the other gallery makes an amazing grilled veg wrap!)

Immediately after this I had to take my sister off to buy dental-grade plaster of Paris for her sculptures. She does lots of body-casting work, so she uses up a ton of the stuff. It's kinda fun! She cast my hand once. It was amazing, the kind of detail you get!

Friday rolled around and I decided that the week had been such a disaster work-wise that I had to go in to university and catch up on all that lost work time. So I arrived at varsity to meet up with Helen. We were out of coffee so we had to walk into Braamfontein (area immediately around the university) to find a shop that sold ground coffee. At this point I discovered that I had been paid! It was very exciting! I was finally paid for all my lecturing! So to celebrate, we had slices of bar-one cake, amazing stuff, and had coffee. The rest of the day was a complete write-off, with most of our time being spent on and YouTube.

Luckily for me, the week ended and I am finally back at home (sleeping in my own bed never felt to good!). Hopefully this week I can actually get something done...

Friday, June 19, 2009

How to save a species on the brink...

I've just finished having a rather in-depth discussion with my supervisor about the film '11th Hour'. I've not seen it as the idea of sitting through another 'Inconvenient Truth' (Al Gore couldn't even put the ocean currents around Africa flowing in the right direction!!!), this time headed by a pretty-boy multi-millionaire from Hollywood, put me off it somewhat. However, from what my supervisor just told me, I may even go get it to watch this very night!

But this is not the point of this story. What really came out of our discussion, and something that has been plaguing me for some time is the global lack of change, in spite of all the warning signs that we are at the end of our tether. National Geographic published an article on the global food crisis this month in which they outlined the dilemma: most of the planet has been living off food reserves accumulated over the last odd 50 years or so and now the vast majority are either near or completely depleted.

Even much closer to home, the effects of climate change are apparent. Johannesburg had snow last year for the first time in about 45 years. This year, our winter has been milder and also considerably wetter than ever before. While I realise that this is purely anecdotal, it still makes me wonder about how close we are to breaking point.

The problem, as I see it, is a global fixation on capital gain. Saving the species from obliteration hasn't happened because there's no money in it. This is taken to the extreme when one considers that many 'green' techniques that can be employed by people to curb the oncoming behemoth are drastically simple and actually save money.

A prime example is garbage. In many EU countries at the moment, refuse is expected to be separated by households into plastics, metals, paper, biodegradable and other. They have dedicated bins and collection days. Why then do we not have such a system in South Africa? Well, you will say, because we don't have the infra-structure in this country for it. Or alternatively, that'd require employing more people and the government won't pay for that.

While I certainly agree with the latter point, the first point is a bunch of nonsense. The infra-structure exists already but is not adequately utilized! For example, many people in the greater Johannesburg area already go sifting through peoples rubbish to collect the various recyclable components. They then take these off to companies who pay them to do it. Now, what could be easier than separating out the rubbish ahead of time for these people. Not only do you allow them to potentially collect more from other people by freeing up that time they would have spent sifting through your trash, but you are also providing them with a source of income! Eco-friendly meets social up-liftment!

The other problem facing greener life changes is people's lack of willingness to change. Strategies such as the above require effort that people are just not prepared to expend. If you are one of these, then here's an alternative for you. Why not separate at least you biodegradable material from you other rubbish and start a compost heap?

What could possibly require less effort than throwing all your bio-rubbish into a large pile and ignoring it?!

As for the point about the government not forking out the money for green programs...We have some of the most progressive environmental laws in the world in South Africa. Our water act was one of the first to stipulate that environmental functioning requires a certain amount of water and that any excess over and above that was free for human use. So why is the government not helping out more? Because we, the people that live on their land, don't hold them to it! If more pressure was put on government to fund green initiatives and if more people made use of green programs such as recycling programs or car-pooling to reduce emissions and the like, there would be more scope for government to engage with green initiatives.

In short, we, as individuals need to change now as we can't wait for the government fat-cats to decide to do things. There are many different ways in which we could change our lifestyles to prevent the upcoming monster. I, myself, recycle, have a compost heap and am a vegetarian. My house has solar-heated water and up until recently due to work-related changes in my timetable, used to ride public transport which reduces carbon emissions per head. What are you doing? It's up to you and I to save humanity!