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Miss Matieland

Yesterday I was invited to go and watch "Miss Matieland", the beauty pageant thing for Stellenbosch University. You know the type of thing: all the girls parade around wearing stuff, they say "I wish for World Peace", and then one indistinguishable hot chick wins and nine other indistinguishable hot chicks don't.

Of course, I should make it clear that I absolutely disapprove of such events. They encourage the objectivization of women, and show disrespect to the female gender. I was outraged that such an event should be happening in our town, and only went along so I could sit there with a disapproving frown and a sneer on my face all the way through. I disapprove of treating objects like women.

On the upside, the whole place was absolutely swarming with belters, and the ten finalists were HAWT too. I thought the girl who came third (i.e. second princess) should definitely have won, if not the girl who was first princess, but the winner was quite a belter too. It was fun. They did feed us redbull-and-champagne beforehand, though, which is not something that a diabetic should really drink. But banya, hey?

Those who have seen his face draw back in fear

On Monday I went to watch the movie of the Phantom of the Opera. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I know that I really wanted to watch it when it was performed in Capetown and Joburg, but being stuck away in Grahamstown is not conducive to that sort of thing. So this movie was the closest I could get to it. And I must say I was really impressed. The music, of course, is amazing - I have never watched it before in any form, and I really enjoyed watching out for the themes of the various characters (the most recognisable being the phantom's theme) as they get blended in with the other songs - for example, at the end of Masquerade when the phantom gatecrashes their little party. The characters, I thought, were particularly well cast - who knew that Minnie Driver would be a good Carlotta? I was a bit surprised that they showed us what the Phantom's disfiguration was - does that normally happen? I always thought it was left a bit of a mystery, since there isn't much that could really cause the amount of abuse he got?

Anyway, I recommend watching the movies, even if you are a die-hard fan of the performance. It was good.

Mummy I want one

foxes

Young foxes, or kits, scamper in a cage in Siberia, Russia, where they are part of a 45-year research project to domesticate foxes. Each generation has been selectively bred for tameness - fearlessness and nonaggression toward humans. By now the foxes in the project behave like pet dogs, barking and wagging their tails at humans.

Also like pet dogs, the domesticated foxes can "read" human cues (pointing, for example) much better than their wild cousins or even tame chimpanzees, according to a new study published today in Current Biology. The study authors call such behavior social intelligence. They say its appearance in domesticated foxes may help us better understand how intelligence developed in humans and other animals.

[ via ]

Close Encounters of the Boere Kind

"Hullo, Engelsman!"
At least they know me, right? That was the greeting I got from the two lads who gave me a lift to the Frogfoot party, when they passed me at the Neelsie last night. They were flabbergasted that I couldn't praat die Taal, and kept saying things about me to see if I understood them - I don't think they really believed me.

Mental note: I need to learn to say "ekskees" instead of "oh awfully sorry old chap" or similar.


As I was walking into work today, carrying my cup of Irish Cream coffee (it's a flavour. It unfortunately is not laced with whiskey or anything), I passed a young Afrikaaner on his way to die Universiteit, and gave him the usual blank glance one gives to passers-by to see if one recognises them. As we drew level, he looked me clear in the eye, and intoned in a ringing voice, "Yes". Then he hurried on to his lecture.

The Neelsie

The Neelsie is the Student Centre, or the Union, or whatever you want to call it. It's a big building in the middle of Stellenbosch University campus, sort of like a mall. It has a cinema, and a laundry, and many many coffee shops and restaurants and suchlike. I pass through it on my way to work every day, and it's always buzzing with students, sitting watching sport on the bigscreen TV, or having breakfast or lunch or supper.

There's a place called Nachos that sells the "meal of the day" - one meat, two veg - for R15. You can choose the meat and the veg from their daily selections, yesterday it was chicken schnitzel, barbeque chicken, or ostrich stew. You can also have just a "meat" for R7.50, or just two veg, for R3.75 each, and so on. It's good value for money, and means people get a decentish meal instead of burgers every day.

Yesterday, I did my laundry. The drying cycle is way too short, and I had to do it twice, but it was fine. I bought the washing powder at the 7-eleven, which is open from 7am to 11pm (who knew?!), and sat drinking orange juice and eating my Nachos meal while it got done. There was a coloured family - mom in curlers, dad wearing slippers, two kids drinking their supersize Fanta Grapes - doing their laundry at the same time, an atmosphere of much joviality and cameraderia.

The Neelsie is an awesome place if you're alone. I went and sat there drinking coffee (Mocha Java, R4.50 for a large cup, at the DCM (Donuts Coffee Muffins), but I could have had Columbian (recommended) or Brazilian (not so much) too) on my first day here, and it was just... nice. You know, the buzz around you. Word on the street is, it's an awesome place if you're not alone, too. So, to summarize: the Neelsie is an awesome place, and I'm glad it's four minutes walk from my house.

First weekend in Stellenbosch

I went through to Cape Town on Thursday, for the Frogfoot beach party which was good fun. Claire crashed the party to see me, which was cool. Then on Friday, she came down for a quick visit, to see my work and my house and stuff. Unfortunately, her car broke down, and we ended up waiting till 11:30 for her parents to come pick her up. I was exhausted after Thursday night, but it was nice to see her, anyway.

On Saturday, Tristan Waterkeyn came through to get my help on his Flash website. This was good, because after that, we went out to see what Stellenbosch nightlife was like. It was brilliant. All I needed was somebody to go with. We went to Bohemia, then the Mystic Boere (I swear, that's what it's called), then Fandango, then Terrace, then Rugby, then the Belgian Beer Pub, then Stones, then Sunrise, then Steers. It was great. I like it here.

Adeline came through on Sunday, in between her shifts at work. She could only stay about half an hour, but she brought me breakfast for Monday (a muffin, some yoghurt, and some orange juice), because she's fantastic.

Then I did laundry at the Neelsie.

Fear and Loathing

How could I not write about Hunter S. Thompson committing suicide? (Although, of course it wasn't suicide - Courtney Love killed him.)

There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. You should have taken care of him, Lord. But you didn't, and now you're gonna have him on your hands.

Fact is, he had to get out of here. I think he was getting the Fear. His trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true in the national character. A gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country. But only for those with true grit. And he was chock full of that, man.

Jesus, bad waves of paranoia, madness, fear and loathing - intolerable vibrations in this place. Get out. The weasels were closing in. I could smell the ugly brutes. Flee. You can't stop here! This is bat country!

Well, apart from that, all I'm going to say is that this is a pretty good cover of it.


Update: Our very own Nick Ferreira wrote in to the Sunday Times to have his say.

Update: USA Today printed a correction to one of its articles:

A story Feb. 21 wrongly attributed a quote to Richard Nixon as saying Hunter S. Thompson was "that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character." It was Thompson who made that remark about Nixon.
Brilliant. [via]

In Stellenbosch

Well, I'm here. In Stellenbosch. In the real world.

I left Grahamstown on Saturday night, after much emotional goodbye-ing. I travelled by bus, and the journey was not good. My boss picked me up on Sunday morning, and took me to the house, and I unpacked. On Monday morning, I put my button-up shirt on and came in and started work.

My thesis. Yes. I wanted to hand it in on Friday. It was due in last week anyway. Apparently that was not to happen. My supervisor says it's just not polished enough. He wants it just so. I know it's not polished enough, he's right. I've got lots of references to fix. So, I'm a bit disappointed, but what can you do? I have to work on it remotely, from Stellenbosch.

My digs in Stellenbosch is not bad. My room is huge. My one digsmate is a sterling feller from George, name of Pierre. The other is a bit of a ditzy drama student from Capetown, name of Melanie. They're cool. I live with them.

Work is going well. Better today than yesterday. Yesterday I spent all day working through Enterprise Java code, Javabeans and Servlets. I hate Javabeans and Servlets. They're klunky. But today was way fun. I had to get serial console going, and write up a HOWTO, and then I had to investigate distributed filesystems for load-balancing POP servers. That's cool. It's fun. We shall see what tomorrow holds.

Apart from work... Weeeeell. Stellenbosch doesn't hold much for me right now. I don't know a single solitary soul in the whole town. So I'm sitting at work at quarter to seven in the evening, blogging about how I'm sitting at work at quarter to seven in the evening. I'll go get supper just now, then come back and try do some thesis work. Then eventually I'll go home and, well, go to bed.

It's not as bad as I make out. I'm having fun, and it's never taken me long to make friends. We'll see. Claire and Adeline are coming to visit me this weekend! Bo.

I'm afraid I lied two paragraphs ago. I do know somebody in Stellenbosch. Here's how it goes:

In my first year at Rhodes (that's 1998!), I was in Jan Smuts residence, and there was this guy that we called Big Black Pat (because he was huge, and black, and his name was Patrick, see? Not to be confused with Scottish Pat, who was from Canada). He was insane! A real gangster, always getting into fights, there were rumour that he was into one of the sisis who cleaned the residence. The police came for him once or twice, although I don't know what about. They were so quiet about it. He lost one of his front teeth in third term, got knocked over and it came out. That sort of thing. He wasn't a bad guy, you could always rely on him to beat up people who were threatening you, as well as anybody else who happened to be around. He didn't make it to second year, of course. He was gone the next year.

And then the next thing you know... I went across the road for a burger last night for supper. I ordered the "Monster Burger" and a beer. (You know what? I don't think there was real monster in that burger. It tasted just like beef.) And my waiter is this big black guy, with a missing front tooth, called Patrick. I thought it was him when I saw him through the office window, but the name-tag confirmed it. He recognised me too, and wanted to know why I hadn't gotten bigger since he'd last seen me.

Small world.

I shall now go try out somewhere else for supper. Wish me luck.

IRC

IRC can be funny:

11:22 <jaybeepee> Vhata: Communications division is looking for some code
                  from you - something to do with Give 5 campaign (apparently
                  you did it last year) - any idea?
11:27 <Vhata> jaybeepee: who is asking?
11:27 <Vhata> jaybeepee: it's all on lizard, Alpha1 knows how to get to it?
11:32 <Alpha1> oh right
11:32 <Alpha1> ja I'm supposed to do the give 5 site soon
11:33 <jaybeepee> Vhata: Sue is asking - will pass on the message
11:40 -+- Alpha1 gets a phonecall from sue
11:41 <Alpha1> "the code is on lizard"

Cory Doctorow and Joey Comeau and Pat Spacek

Cory Doctorow, author, blogger on one of my favourite blogs, and activist at the EFF (wikipedia article about him) has a new story up. He says:

Last spring, in the wake of Ray Bradbury pitching a tantrum over Michael Moore appropriating the title of Fahrenheit 451 to make Fahrenheit 9/11, I conceived of a plan to write a series of stories with the same titles as famous sf shorts, which would pick apart the totalitarian assumptions underpinning some of sf's classic narratives.

Today, Infinite Matrix magazine published the latest of these, a story called "I, Robot," which describes the police state that would have to obtain if you were going to have a world where there was only one kind of robot allowed and only one company was allowed to make it

I liked it. It turns one of the most sacred science fiction ideas (Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics) into an analogy for DRM, one of the big bogeys of the tech world. It's good. Read it here.

While we're talking about free fiction and the three laws, I recently re-read the amazing Metamorphosis of Prime-Intellect. Go and read it NOW.

Next up in today's free fiction line-up. My two most favouritest web authors have recently started projects:

Pat Spacek was the writer for my favourite (seriously, I know this is the third time I've used the word, but they really are my bestest) web cartoon ever, The Parking Lot is Full. After it died, he started a new project, Neolithic Casserole. Unfortunately, things didn't pan out, as he explained in a very well thought out post on the neocass mailing list. However, he has moved on to two new blogs, which he explains in one of the blogs. He really is an excellent writer. Go and read his blogs:

The Shaved Ape Chronicles, his personal blog.

Fighting the Influence, a blog he writes from the viewpoint of a... slightly different person.

Finally, Joey Comeau is an amazing writer. He writes for the awesome webcomic A Softer World, and the brilliant Overqualified chronicles (in which he has just taken to writing to the RIAA and Google themselves!) and he has recently started publishing chapter by chapter of his new novella, Lockpick Pornography. In his words:

Here is what's happening. One, I am worried that I will be kicked out of school because I am $1400 short of my tuition. Talking to student loan clerks is like talking to a brick wall. I am storing my rage in my teeth.

Two, I've started writing a novel that is fucked up. It is called "Lockpick Pornography" and it is political and dirty and ranty and queer and it has crime and sex and good intentions. If you like A Softer World and/or Overqualified, I think you will enjoy it. I get emails all the time from you guys asking if I've written a book, or have considered writing one.

So this is what I'm going to do: I'm going to put the first chapter online for you to read, and to show your friends. It's dirty and it has some big words, but that's why you come here, for the intellectually justified filth. The first chapter goes up for free, and then I start taking donations! When I get a couple hundred dollars, I put up chapter two for everyone to see. When I get a couple hundred more, I put up chapter three. In this way I hope to not get kicked out of school while promoting the independent publishing options afforded by the internet!

I am going to do this for seven chapters, which will stand alone as a novella and offer you satisfaction while enabling me to expand beyond that into a full length novel and still find a publisher even though it was online!

Think of it as being a patron of the arts! I do the free webcomic A Softer World, and the free humor site Overqualified, and this novel would appear online for anyone who wanted to look. It's like funding public art.

Go and read them. Give Joey money if you can. I would. If I could.

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