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Archive - 2005

December 27th

Red Christmas

I've kinda held off blogging for a bit, because I wanted to properly finish writing about California, but then I just didn't have the time or energy. I had so many song titles to use, too! Ah, well. Sometime, when I get round to it, I will write up one of the seminars that I went to at ISPCon, though - I found it interesting.

It's the day after Boxing Day, which should be a public holiday, if the government were playing by UK pool rules, but nooo, they don't carry public holidays. Pah. I'm waiting for Tom and his girlfriend Michelle to come down to Stellenbosch for dinner. I haven't seen him since about 2002, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Christmas was, well, Christmas. The usual, you know. For New Years, I'm going up to Joburg to see Tim and the Family girls, which I am really looking forward to. Some of the Family girls were down a week or so ago, actually, and we went wine tasting and Out in Cape Town, which was excellent.

Anyway, just checking in. If you watch this space, and if I have time, you might get to see me ponder about the Corporation Part Two, Religion, Narrative and Identity, and AliceBot. But I doubt it.

October 29th

Fatboy Slim - Kalifornia

The three days of the convention were spent going to seminars, which I will write-up shortly, and wandering around the stands in the expo hall, talking to people who wanted to sell you their products, and trying to wangle free stuff. I did quite well on the last count - I got 37 pens (my boss got 43, and beat me), and a bunch of stuff like a coffee cup, a Rubik's cube, some lanyards, and so on. There were also two keynote speeches, the first of which was a marketing ad by Covad ("Convergence of Voice and Data" - actually quite exciting! A full-on provider of digital voice/data services. Convergence realised.), and the other which was

Having left South Africa on Sunday, spent Monday at the Smithsonian, and flying, the convention took up our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. open source So, Californian toilets. They

The Eagles - Hotel California

I had to share a room with Petrus, which, I must confess, was not pleasant. He snores like a steam engine, and I have video footage to prove it. He also sets his alarm for 7am, so that he can get up and play Civilization on his new laptop. Now, maybe it's just me, but I think it's a bit antisocial to set an alarm when you're sharing a room, especially if you're only setting it so that you can play games.

We spent most evenings drinking Jack Daniels ($20 a bottle), and playing bridge, in Jac and Gideon's room. The hotel is a pleasant place, the indians who run it are really nice people. I enjoy hotels - the beds are comfortable, and the facilities are looked after, and you really just don't need to care about anything. You wake up, shower, and leave, and when you come back, the place is spotless, the bed is made, and you can roll into bed and pass out.

You wake up in the morning, and breakfast is made. In California, we had the choice of bagels and cream cheese (I really like this as a breakfast. A bagel is like a doughnut, but not sweet and soft - it's much harder bread. You can toast them and whack the cream cheese on. It's good), and cereal, and waffles, and cake stuff (Americans all eat cake for breakfast! What the hell?), and toast. And coffee. It's just really enjoyable. I suppose I've never really stayed in hotels before. I like it.

We stayed at another hotel in Washington DC, whose name I forget. This place was huge. It was a proper hotel, like you see in the movies, and all, yes? The beds had a little gadget you could use to adjust how soft/hard the mattress was! I mean, come on.

The Propellerheads - Take California

I bought a camera and an iPod Nano while in California, and I'm really pleased I did.

The Nano is the sweetest little device - mine's a sexy black thing, so small you could probably swallow it. It holds 4 gigabytes of music, and has really good quality sound. I also bought a sort of arm-band thing that you can put the Nano in, for when you go running, for example - I've tested it once, and it works awesomely.

My camera is a Canon Powershot A620, and I'm really pleased with it, too. I've started experimenting with it, and I'm quite pleased. I still haven't worked out where I'm going to put all my photos and how I'm going to organise them and stuff. We'll see.

The Beach Boys - California Girls

... are not a patch on Western Cape girls. The OC lies! There were the usual complement of "hot" girls hawking wares at the convention, but they were actually really rather manky. The best looking girl I saw the whole trip was from Canada.

In fact, the whole of California, while very similar to the Western Cape (there were often times when we were driving, and I looked out of the window, and thought, heck, this could be Cape Town), is actually not nearly as nice.

Viva South Africa!

Rob Zombie - Go to California

Claire picked me up from work on Friday afternoon, took me home, gave me a beer, and packed my bag for me. Then she took me to Cape Town, dropped me off at the Morreira's house for supper, and I met up with her and Adeline at Stones later, and we went to Cornerhouse till 4am. On Saturday morning, Adeline picked me up from the Morreira's, and took me to the airport, where I met up with my boss, Jac, and we flew to Joburg. Tim picked me up from the airport, and we went to his flat, where we had a braai and made cocktails with the Family Girls (represented by Megan, Noodle, Jess, Bronwyn, Laura, Toni). The cocktails were strawberry daiquiris, frozen margaritas, and mojitos, and were a great success. We then went to Tiger Tiger until 4 in the morning, which was awesome. Tim dropped me off at the airport the next day, and we went to America.

The flight was long. They only gave us three whiskeys and a carafe of wine. I watched three movies and slept a bit. We landed in Washington at about noon, but it was only 6am there. What's that all about? Can't Americans tell the time? I had a bagel and cream-cheese for breakfast, as seen on the OC. We then went to the Smithsonian Space and Flight Museum, which was excellent. We watched two iMax movies, and saw all the planes and whatnot. I saw the Enola Gay!

Finally, we got on the plane to St Louis (pronounced Lewis, not Looie, apparently?). It's very green and swampy. There, we caught a connecting flight to Santa Clara, California, where we arrived at about 9pm. We were picked up at the airport by the owner (manager?) of the hotel we were going to be staying at. He was a really lovely guy, an indian called Jay Shah, but known to us as "An' All" (or "En Alles"), due to his constant use of the phrase. The hotel was quite nice, too, although we never really made full use of the facilities it offered.

October 14th

Phantom Planet - California

I'm going to California in two days time, for a week. My bosses and I are going to the ISP Convention.

I will attempt to blog about it all I can. I have a whole stack of song titles to use as blog-entry titles.

The song in the title is the theme tune of the show the OC. The show makes California look idyllic, and the lyrics of the song are:

We've been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for #1
California here we come
Right back where we started from


Here we come!

On the stereo
Listen as we go
Nothing's gonna stop me now
California here we come
Right back where we started from
Pedal to the floor
Thinkin' of the roar
Gotta get us to the show
California here we come
Right back where we started from

Here we come
California seems to be pretty much a dream destination. However, the funny bit is, I'm not especially excited. I'm keen to go and all, although I'm more looking forward to seeing Tim and the Family Girls, to be frank.

Getting an American Visa was actually quite easy - we filled in the forms, and went down to the American Embassy in Cape Town early on Tuesday morning. We had to go through metal detectors to get into the building, and then up to the seventh floor where the embassy was. They wouldn't let us in, however, we had to queue down the stairs while they took people in one at a time. These people were then searched and metal-detectored before being allowed in properly.

Now, I take my satchel with me everywhere, and it's got all sorts of things in it, that I might need. For example, it's got a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hat, a book, some strepsils, some deodorant, a can of liqui fruit, some oatbran, and so on. It's just stuff I have in my bag, I don't think about it. However, when we got to the embassy, they made me unpack the whole thing. I also have a pocket of the bag where I chuck the after-dinner mints I get when I go out to eat. So, there are about 70 after-dinner mints in there now. They unpacked every single one of them and scanned them all. Meanwhile, the queue behind me is huffing and puffing and I'm highly embarrassed.

They wouldn't let me take the liqui-fruit into the embassy (you know how dangerous fruit juice is), and they made me eat some of my toothpaste, in front of them, to prove that it wasn't anthrax, or something. I had to spray some of my deodorant on my arm, to show it wasn't Saren Gas, or something.

Anyway, I got the Visa, and I'm going to America. The Visa doesn't guarantee entry to the country, of course. It just means they won't definitely refuse you access. They can still turn you away when you get to the port of entry.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.

August 30th

The Blair Toilet

To my surprise, not many people outside of Zimbabwe know about the Blair Toilet. This revolutionary design for a long-drop toilet was developed at the Blair Research Institute for mass deployment in the rural areas of Zimbabwe, where diseases such as cholera and typhoid were rife. The toilet is easy to construct, but its design makes it very clean, hygienic, and free of flies. It is described here as "[using] little or no flush system, [being] odorless, free of insects, and [doubling] as a bathroom." There is a description of the mechanism here, but the basic idea is that the pit underneath the toilet has a chimney or vent - warm air rises out of this chimney, taking the smells and flies with it. There is also a sort of valve system created by the doorway and the positioning of the vent which means that flies always attempt to fly the wrong way, trapping themselves further.

The pure genius of the system inspired a doctor friend of mine to write the following:

Ode to the Blair Toilet (or: Privy Paean)

By Charl Oettle, 1982

You may sit upon this privy
Looking neat and clean and spivvy
And may wonder where the flies and odours went
Yes, the whole place smells of jasmine
And each fly is now a has-been
They've been flummoxed by the privy with the vent.

In the old days every toilet
(Though one tried so hard to foil it)
Smelled and reeked and ponged enough to make one faint,
And the flies bred out in dozens
With their uncles, aunts and cousins
And to use such privies one need be a saint.

Any other lesser mortal
As he staggered through the portal
Would break out in language loud and short and strong,
And to atavistic howls
He'd evacuate his bowels
Swatting flies and holding noses in the pong.

But these troubles now are ended
As the privy has been vented
And it's looking rather good and clean and fresh (tra la la);
In the sun the vent gets hotter,
And it sucks out quite a lotter
Smells and flies that bump their heads against the mesh.

Having flown so quick and nimbly
Up the hot and foetid chimbly
Now their brains and hopes are dashed and will is spent,
And they die, now ten, now twenty,
In their cesspit horn of plenty -
Vindication for the privy with the vent!

August 28th

A Saffie-to-be...

As mentioned last year, I applied for determination of South African citizenship, but the application took a lot longer than expected and then stalled. I ended up actually being the go-between for three different Home Affairs departments, one in Grahamstown, one in Paarl, and one in Pretoria. I literally phoned them, took messages, and passed those messages on to the other departments. My determination finally came through in about May, and it said that I was not eligible. Then the next day, apparently, it said I was. I'm not sure how it works, but all I know is that I can apply for citizenship. My grandparents are citizens, so I have to actually apply on my father's behalf, and then apply on my own behalf, through my father. Anyway, I have finally scraped all the paperwork together, and sent it in, and they said it'll come through in six months. That's February next year. Bated breath is with what I wait. Soon I can be PSA?

August 24th

The Sloth

An excerpt from Life of Pi by Yann Martel:

After one year of high school, I attended the University of Toronto and took a double-major Bachelor's degree. My majors were religious studies and zoology. My fourth-year thesis for religious studies concerned certain aspects of the cosmogony theory of Isaac Luria, the great sixteenth-century Kabbalist from Safed. My zoology thesis was a functional analysis of the thyroid gland of the three-toed sloth. I chose the sloth because its demeanour--calm, quiet and introspective--did something to soothe my shattered self.

There are two-toed sloths and there are three-toed sloths, the case being determined by the forepaws of the animals, since all sloths have three claws on their hind paws. I had the great luck one summer of studying the three-toed sloth in situ in the equatorial jungles of Brazil. It is a highly intriguing creature. Its only real habit is indolence. It sleeps or rests on average twenty hours a day. Our team tested the sleep habits of five wild three-toed sloths by placing on their heads, in the early evening after they had fallen asleep, bright red plastic dishes filled with water. We found them still in place late the next morning, the water of the dishes swarming with insects. The sloth is at its busiest at sunset, using the word busy here in the most relaxed sense. It moves along the bough of a tree in its characteristic upside-down position at the speed of roughly 400 metres an hour. On the ground, it crawls to its next tree at the rate of 250 metres an hour, when motivated, which is 440 times slower than a motivated cheetah. Unmotivated, it covers four to five metres in an hour.

The three-toed sloth is not well informed about the outside world. On a scale of 2 to 10, where 2 represents unusual dullness and 10 extreme acuity, Beebe (1926) gave the sloth's senses of taste, touch, and its sense of smell a rating of 3. If you come upon a sleeping three-toed sloth in the wild, two or three nudges should suffice to awaken it; it will then look sleepily in every direction but yours. Why it should look about is uncertain since the sloth sees everything in a Magoo-like blur. Beebe reported that firing guns next to sleeping or feeding sloths elicited little reaction. And the sloth's slightly better sense of smell should not be overestimated. They are said to be able to sniff and avoid decayed branches, but Bullock (1968) reported that sloths fall to the ground clinging to decayed branches "often".

How does it survive, you might ask?

Precisely by being so slow. Sleepiness and slothfulness keep it out of harm's way, away from the notice of jaguars, ocelots, harpy eagles and anacondas. A sloth's hairs shelter an algae that is brown during the dry season and green during the wet season, so the animal blends in with the surrounding moss and foliage and looks like a nest of white ants or of squirrels, or like nothing at all but part of a tree.

The three-toed sloth lives a peaceful, vegetarian life in perfect harmony with its environment. "A good-natured smile is forever on its own lips," reported Tirler (1966). I have seen that smile with my own eyes. I am not one given to projecting human traits and emotions onto animals, but many a time during that month in Brazil, up at sloths in repose, I felt I was in the presence of upside-down yogis deep in meditation or hermits deep in prayer, wise beings whose intense imaginative lives were beyond the reach of my scientific probing.