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 failblog.org 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!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nothing more can go wrong! I've used up all my 'bads'!

I've been told that bad things happen in threes. Well Universe, I've used up all three of mine! First there was the accident on the weekend, then yesterday left me in a bad mood and finally today's little incident...

Last night, while working out, my good pal David told me that I 'looked tired' and that I should take more time off for myself to just chill. I agreed with him as I have had very little me time lately, but had to admit that I had too much to do to really give myself the time I might need. But, I decided to just have a relaxing evening, free of work, in spite of the fact that I knew I'd feel terribly guilty for not having done the work.

So this morning, after sleeping in an extra hour (shame on me!), I headed off to university as I always do. I had to stop off at the shops on my way as I'm having a bake-off with one of my lab-mates and I needed supplies for the amazing cake I shall concoct for tomorrow (Prepare to be blown away with my AWESOME baking skills!). So, I stopped off at the local Pick-n-Pay to collect supplies, and my air-ticket to France (unrelated to the cakes...) and went to the car to head off to varsity.

And then it happened...my car refused to start. It had been giving trouble lately, but nothing serious. Then, this morning, it decided that it had had enough. There I was, stuck under a shopping centre in a car that looks like it could have been part of a medieval invasion force and a huge wad of guilt from not having worked last night.

So I called the AA and was helped by a very polite woman who obviously thought that your phone bill was based on how loudly you spoke because I could barely hear her at all. I heard more from the fax machine in her office than from her, which made our communications...interesting.

After taking all of my details, and her disbelief that my surname could be a first name, like Duncan, she asked me to tell her where I was. I told her that I was at Bedford Centre, in the underground parking lot. She asked me where it was. I told her it was under the shopping centre's roof parking area. No, she meant where Bedford Centre was. I said it was in Bedfordview. But where's that?

Luckily, the conversation didn't escalate to me mentioning which planet we were on, but it came close...

Eventually, after asking me three times what colour car I drove, she announced that the 'roadside-assistance' would be there in 60-90min. I thanked her for her help and swore under my breath once the call had ended. What would I do for the next 90 min?!

Luckily for me, I had my laptop with me! So I whipped it out and did what any self-respecting individual would...I played cards! Hearts specifically. Not for long though as some misguided hope raised its stupid head in my heart and made me think that if the guy had to show up, I should probably be visible and not in my car playing cards...

So I climbed out the car, trying to use up as much time as possible in doing so without looking like a complete freak. It used up about 15 seconds at the most...

Realising the prematurity of my move out of the car, I decided to check my email on my phone. I was so glad I did! It used up so much of my time! Helen's post about the licensing department kept me thoroughly entertained while I watched all the local old folks wander around the parking lot (I think they get discounted groceries on Thursdays...) and occasionally find one another, exchanging greetings with as much enthusiasm as they could muster.

It was at this point that I had a thought...When did I last check the oil? AGES ago! I hope that the engine hasn't seized because I forgot to check the oil and it's run dry! Luckily for me, there is a service station right at the centre I was at so I just nipped over and bought a can of oil to put in the car. Lucky I did too! The car was almost completely empty!

Just then I recieved a call from the AA to say that the assitance would be there within the next 20 min. Grateful, I thanked them and ended the call. I glanced down at my watch and realised that it had only taken them a good hour and 15 minutes so far! So I continued to read through my email to pass the time.

I then recieved another call to say that the assistance was only 10 min away. Foolishly I looked to my watch and realised that the last '10 min' had actually been about 30. Luckily, the guy showed up almost immediately, managed to start the car, very sternly suggested I find an auto-electrician and sent me on my way. Very thankful to be in a running car again, I scooted home to find out the number for our mechanic. Once home, I realised I'd forgotten to get some of my ingredients for the cake...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pathological altruism...?

Sometimes I wonder whether, by helping other people out, I'm not harming myself. Today was a good example. Now, before I carry on, I would like for Helen and Megan to know that I helped them out because I genuinely wanted to, not out of some misplaced sense of responsibility. So don't come and apologise!

Today I got up and drove through to Kempton park to pick up a bottle of 200% alcohol for Helen. It was rather exciting because it was the first time I'd ever been out to that area of the world, so apart from the interest factor of finding out where all our lab supplies come from, I had the bonus of not having a clue where I was headed! But I managed to find the place in spite of the property owners best efforts to ensure that nobody finds their place by putting the world's most minuscule street number on the outside.

Once inside I had to stand at the entrance to the supply dock and dance around to try and get the attention of the workers inside. I think that there had been a power failure, because the warehouse was in darkness and the bell didn't seem to do anything despite my enthusiastic bushing on the button. I hope that bell works when the power returns...

After about half an hour of faffing on the part of the workers, they gave me the alcohol and I was on my way to university. Once here, I handed over the little gift to Helen and headed down to my lab. It was minutes after sitting down in my seat that Megan snatched me up to help her clean up the mice cages in the next room. We just had to change the bedding, but it's a procedure that requires two people as all the mice are essentially wild-caught and are not anywhere near tame yet. Today was a good day, with only 4 escape!

One escaped into the very large rubbish bag, which we had to dig through to try and get the mouse out of, but other than that one, they were all fairly minor escapes.

After we had done about 15 cages, we decided to take a break from all the sawdust and give Sneha, our lab-mate, a chance to actually use her desk without choking to death on all the dust we made. So I returned to my desk to be intercepted by one of the honours students.

I'm co-supervising her project as it really came out of my own work, so I have to help her out when she hits a snag. So we discussed her problem and came to the conclusion that we didn't really understand the problem itself. So we left it to sort out at a later stage.

Megan then asked me to help finish off the remaining mice, which we did. Then, it was off to the zoo to swap ex-test subjects (i.e. mice) for seeds with the zoo. They have a system whereby we take them all the mice that we have used in experiments (NOTE: NOT of the vivisection kind!) that have been euthanized to be fed to the birds of prey and in exchange, we are given bags of seeds to be fed to the mice. It's kinda like recycling the mice, in a twisted sort of way...

But the person I was supposed to meet there wasn't available! It turned out that she had recieved my email about meeting her at 14h00 at the zoo and had replied to me at 14h00 to say that she couldn't make it but that I should speak to Freddy instead...I was not amused. I did also have to drop off some stuff with the zoo's head office for my supervisor, which I managed, so I'm glad that's out of the way.

Now I'm off to fetch my mother from work who's car has been stolen by my father because it is cold and so he doesn't feel like riding his scooter to work...

Well, I must be off or I shall be late. So, am I pathologically altruistic? I leave that up to you to decide...

Monday, June 15, 2009

It could be anywhere...

So this hasn't been my best weekend ever. Admittedly, it's been a pretty good one except for the little bumper-bashing that I was involved in last night. It wasn't a fun experience. And I had a pretty good track record as far as traffic accidents go...

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. At the moment I am house-sitting for a couple who have taken a long weekend off, seeing as Tuesday is a public holiday here in South Africa. I can't remember which public holiday it is. We have so many here (in fact, we have 12 days off a year!). I suppose that's what happens when your country has a political revolution and is liberalised after an extended period of imposed unilateral control.

I've just googled it and apparently Tuesday is Youth Day.

So, having spent the day out and about, I returned this evening to discover feathers all over the house. They appear to be from a hoopoe which, at some stage, must have somehow gotten into the house. I just hope that it was able to escape. I don't want to open a cupboard and have a bird fly out at my face...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I LOVE this weather!!!

It's freezing. It's been raining on and off for the last three days. It's like being stuck in London in the middle of winter. And I couldn't be happier!

I honestly love this weather! It's fantastic! I feel like there is something magical about this kind of weather which revitalises me! I, just like any sane individual would, still ensure that I wear enough layers, my gloves, a scarf and the like, but it's still amazing!

On a more clinical note, this weather is very strange for Johannesburg. Our winters are normally characterised by very dry, chilly days with loads of sun. Occasionally, we have the odd cloud scuttle across the sky looking sheepish and lost, but on the whole rain is a no-no for our winters. Shall we blame climate change?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I laugh in the face of Death! And get a mouthful of feathers...

Today, after going to withdraw R50 from an ATM and hitting the wrong button, resulting in the machine producing R500 instead, I went to the dentist for a filling...If I could have that word dripping with blood, I would. I hate the dentist. It's nothing personal! He's a really nice old man, albeit with bad teeth. It's the profession that I take offense to...

The point of the story was my rather scary experience in the chair. I have malignant hyperthermia which always makes anaesthesia exciting. Now days, most of the anaesthetics used are safe and will not cause me to die, but I still get nervous whenever I have to have any. So, after the dentist gave me my local shot and left my face to numb up for 5 min, I was a little on edge.

Just as the dentist started drilling, what appeared to be a tall black-hooded figure walked past his cubicle. I only saw them out of the corner of my eye and he was mostly obscured by the wall of the cubicle that I was in, so I couldn't be certain but they bore a striking resemblance to the skeletal, black-robed, pointy-hooded fellow commonly known as Death.

Writing this, I realise that I have a seriously overactive imagination but I'm being perfectly honest when I say that my first thoughts were something along the lines of, 'Oh crap! It's Death! But wait...aren't you supposed to see a white light or something, not some dude in a black hoodie? Maybe he'll come past again...' So, while thinking that maybe it actually was my time to go and how inconvenient the timing was if I was to die today, I kept an eye out for the dark figure.

About 5 min later he reappeared! And it was at this point that I mentally kicked myself in the head for having the mind I have. It turned out that what I thought was the pointed tip of the hood of Death, was actually a feather-duster, skirting along the tops of the cubicles. I decided to focus on counting the roof pannels above the room from that point on...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Joined at the hip...? Thank goodness, no!

Everyone has one at least. They are those people who are part of the staff where we work who drive everyone else insane! Ours comes in the form of a diminutive Russian man with no concept of personal hygiene, or personal space. I shall refer to him as Mr. S.

Now, for some unknown reason, Mr. S seems to think that I am his best buddy. It's really quite a useful position to be in as he tends to control the flow of important hardware around our department, such as field equipment, laptops and the like. Being his chum (in the loosest sense of the word...) means that I normally have access to all these things with minimal effort.

On the down side, he seems to think that I go about my day, yearning to have conversations with him at close quarters...

A really good example of this occurred last week when he came to discuss some recording equipment with Megan. Megan is trying to record ultra-sonic communication in rodents as part of her MSc project. As a result, Mr. S has had dig up equipment that has not seen the light of day in eons. Last week, he brought the equipment down to our lab for her to try and figure out. Once he had dropped it all off and left, we spent the rest of our Monday afternoon fiddling with the various cables and microphones to try and get all of it to work.

By the end of that fiddling session, we had come to the conclusion that there were various pieces missing and that Megan would have to contact Mr. S and get him to find all the missing bits. Megan then contacted Mr. S and asked him to find the parts she needed which he did. This was then the beginning of the problem.

He arrived in our lab with a box of various cables. Because he and I are best buddies, he, now well enveloped in my personal space, began to ask me a barrage of questions about why I needed these cables and what it was that I was trying to do. I pointed out that I wasn't trying to do anything and that it was in fact Megan's project. However, with my pitifully minuscule knowledge of sound recording equipment, I managed to answer most of his questions.

He decided that the information that I had given him while Megan sat, somewhat anxiously yet a little deflated after being completely sidelined from her own research, in the background, was sufficient and that we had to go and see if one of the other staff members knew anything about the missing cables and how to work the contraption in the first place. Mr. S beckoned me to follow him, which I then echoed onto Megan and the three of us went a-wandering.

Mr. S also has an annoying habit of letting himself into peoples offices and labs without request, as he has a key for every room in our building. So, it was with a surprised and somewhat terrified face that we were greeted by the last staff member to have ever had anything to do with the equipment. After a good grilling from Mr. S, we left the bewildered staff member to return to our lab.

Upon our return to the lab, Mr. S continued to interrogate me as to what it was that I wanted to do. Again, I reinforced the point that it wasn't my project. As if oblivious to anything I had just said, he suggested that I look up the contraption on the Internet, which I dutifully did, seeing the opportunity as a chance to remove myself from his fetid aura (if you know what I mean...). So, at the comfort of my desk I began searching the net. To my horror, a dark, smelly presence took up residence on my left arm. Mr. S had realised that a small area of my desk was not being occupied by paper and felt that this was an open invitation to take up the space and direct my surfing over my shoulder. I found myself performing swimming breaths in order to remain consious at my laptop. Eventually, after about three web-pages had been thoroughly reviewed, he decided (thankfully!!!) that I was not achieving the results he desired and that he would find it all himself.

He departed, leaving a sniggering Megan and a shell-shocked me to breathe (literally). About 10 min later he reappeared with a large wad of paper which he claimed was the manual, printed off the internet.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ode to the coffee machine

This year, with the arrival of Helen to our lab, we acquired, for the first time ever, a coffee machine. It’s nothing amazing. It has the simple functions (i.e. on…off…on again…etc.) including the timer to set for the machine to automatically start producing coffee at a set time. It just produces filter coffee, no espresso, no cappuccino or macchiato, just plain old coffee. Behold!

On the plus side, it looks like the ones you see in police stations that detectives get their coffee from in movies. (It kinda makes you want to adopt a New Yorker accent and try solving crimes and whatnot…) It was this very trait that lead to the start of my favourite lab tradition: Doughnut Friday!

But I digress...

The machine has brought great joy into our collective lives, great knowledge and also great stress. Take Helen’s departing for field work this year as an example…

Megan and I were left to our own devices in the lab once Helen left for her field work this year. Normally Helen would be in charge of the coffee production in the lab, seeing as I refuse to drink the stuff (unless the most optimistic alternative is suicide…) and Megan is one of those I’ll-drink-it-if-it-falls-into-my-outstreched-mug-but-if-not-my-life-will-go-on kinds of people. It also helps that Helen appears to be the only one out of all of us that can successfully make coffee at the concentration that our supervisor likes (I think it has scored her great brownie points with him too). Of course, the fact that she is an avid coffee addict has nothing to do with this.

So there we were. Two ignoramuses and a coffee machine.

Sounds like a book title…or a rock band from the ‘80s!

We were surviving quite well until Doughnut Friday! rolled around. It was then that the pair of us realised that we had probably better learn how to use the thing before the rest of the Doughnut Friday! crowd showed up and attacked us for not having a steaming pot of Java waiting for them. So the two of us set to work trying to decipher the workings of the innocuous black contraption with the jug underneath.

We’d both seen Helen do it in the past. We figured, it can’t be all that tough to figure out! How complicated could it get? All you do it make sure the plastic filter is clean, place a paper filter into that, fill up the filter with grinds and ensure there was sufficient water in the tank at the back…right?

We carried out this procedure, hit the little red button marked ‘ON’ and returned to our work. While we worked the machine began to make the odd and slightly off-putting digesting sounds that could probably make the most repugnant thirteen year old boy blush, as it does. While we listened to the machine suffer through its own case of IBS, we assumed all was well. Little did we know...

At some stage, I thought to check up on our humble beverage-in-preparation. To my horror and amazement, I was greeted by the coffee machine, spewing coffee everywhere but into the pot. In all honesty, the machine looked like one of the fountains that you would expect to see in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel with a circular jet of hot coffee radiated out from the nozzle, not going into the coffee pot.

I performed the standard reaction in a situation such as this in our lab. I panicked. Not in the life threatening, hyperventilating way, but more in the this-is-a-great-opportunity-to-throw-my-hands-into-the-air-and-run-around-shrieking-because-it’s-fun way. Megan came hurtling over to see what was happening and too was awestruck at the terrible beauty of the sight before her. Together we switched off the machine and with painstaking precision, dissected the machine to start cleaning up what had just happened. It was at this point that we decided that we definitely needed new sponges in our lab as the only one we had was about as effective as using a piece of steel.

So two important bits of knowledge were gleaned from this experience: the paper filter goes on the outside of the plastic one. Secondly, sponges, unlike diamonds, are not forever…

In the interim following our little coffee machine adventure, I have learned how to make coffee. My supervisor likes his coffee really strong and so, I’ve had to learn how to up his doses to levels that would kill the average elephant. However, I think I’ve managed to find his cut-off after the last pot I made with about 10 scoops of coffee kept him up all night. Another important bit of information that I’ve learned from our coffee machine is that coffee and I, do not go well together. Once the uncontrollable shaking and heart palpitations subside, the perspiration starts, none of which I am particularly fond of. So I think I shall have to stick to my no-coffee-or-else rule from now on…

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Which is worse...?

Question: Which is worse? People who indicate and proceed to NOT turn/change lanes while driving or people who turn/change lanes WITHOUT indicating?

It's a question which I still can't figure out the answer to. Lately I've been spending a great deal of my time in traffic (which is odd given that there are fewer students around at the moment what with their exams and all...) and there are an alarmingly high number of individuals who do these annoying things. Another thing which I find frustrating about driving is the lack of decisiveness in drivers.

For example, this morning on my way in, I had the misfortune of being stuck behind some girl who appeared to have had her drivers license for approximately the last two minutes. She was supremely un-confident about having to actually use her car and having indicated, refused to change lanes until she had at least 500m of car-free road on all sides.

I know that Johannesburg drivers tend to be particularly aggressive and that we are not particularly tolerant of other driving styles, but I am a firm believer that one should feel comfortable driving one's car and should not live in trepidation of having to encounter another vehicle, even if they are going in the opposite direction to you.

On the other hand, I know that I really should just chill and not let it get to me. But where's the drama in that?! Drama is what makes life fun!

Golly, I need a holiday...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Weekend of DOOM!

As it turns out, the weekend was nothing like I expected! While I did spend all of my Saturday marking (which did suck) I finished it all by that evening which freed me up to enjoy the remainder of my weekend! I ended up going to visit friends that evening to watch a DVD, which was really awesome!

We watched a Tim Burton film called 'Ed Wood'. I am a huge fan of Burton and really enjoyed the film! It was very funny but terribly tragic at the same time! One of my favourite scenes was when Ed and all his cast and crew are being baptised by the Baptist Church because that is the only way that they could get the money together to make their film.

In short, it is definitely worth watching if you ever get the chance!

At present I'm waiting for my sister to get herself ready so that I can get a move on and go to universty. I'm in a 'writing zone' at the moment so I'm trying to get as much of my MSc written up now as possible!