Monday, 29 October 2007

3... 2... 1... BRAAI!

So it seems the braai season has begun in earnest [interesting linguistic side note: my spell check was not recognizing the word "braai," and it was suggesting words like "braise." Now I can see how "braai" could possibly relate to English]. I went to two braais this weekend, as well as a homebrewer's homebrew contest, and generally ate a wealth of meat (would you say there was a plethora of meat?).

The Homebrewers club, called the "South Yeasters" (in reference to the famous wind which blows through Cape Town around this time called the "Southeaster"), had an Ale-Oween party this past Friday. I managed to hook up with these guys because I want to start brewing again while I'm here, and I was looking for some local resources on the internet. Anyway, they invited me to this party, and it turned out it was a contest for people in the club to try out their beers. So there were 9 entries, and after a down home meal of goulash and bread, they introduced the entries one by one, and passed around bottle after bottle of homebrew. Some of them were quite delicious, and some were pretty terrible. But all-in-all, it was good fun - at least after the beer started flowing and the people became a little less uptight. The problem, you see, was that I was sitting with these two IT people who made the website for the group, and they were not the most socially well-adapted people (computer nerds not social? who knew?). But after a few beers, they got to be a little less quiet, which was nice, and I was also able to get up and walk around and talk to the more interesting people. Actually, it was interesting to note the makeup of the club. It was heavily dominated by Afrikaners, who were much more interesting and fun than the English people who were there. What this says about the different groups of people as a whole, I don't want to venture to guess, but it seemed like a good microcosm to study, if only because they tend to come with alcohol...

So, on Saturday, friends of mine (Chris and Viv) had a little braai at their house in Observatory (an area of Cape Town which is near the UCT housing that I lived in for my first month here). They also invited their neighbors, who were a complete riot. The dude, Warrick, was one of those people who never stops talking, but in a really entertaining way. He wasn't obnoxiously dominating the conversation, and it was relatively easy to jump in and say something, but there was never a moment of silence with him around - uncomfortable or otherwise. He and his girlfriend are both white South Africans, from Zululand, and we had some really interesting conversations - from the dangers of crocs and lions, to the role of poverty in crime, to the path towards healing the country of racism. Totally fascinating.

Finally, after spending much of Sunday morning/afternoon recovering from that, Jeff had a small braai at his house Sunday evening. It was a small affair, but totally delicious - let me tell you that I'm a complete convert to smoking meat on the braai, and not just BBQing it...


Dude, I just got a cool new toy! With money from a postdoc grant that Jeff got for me, I was able to buy a brand new blackbook (black Macbook - thanks to Amanda for the name). Damn, is it sexy! It even comes equipped with a built in webcam, which totally rocks - I was able to videoconference (shudder... I mean Skype-video) with Kristen this weekend and see my little friend Squee! What a cutie! And, I got the machine just in time to be able to get a free copy of the new Mac OS X - Leopard. I have to take the laptop into the Apple store sometime this week to get them to load it on, but it looks pretty damn cool. And for you anti-apple people out there (I'm looking at you, Scott) - screw you! My Windows machine has been pissing me off royally by constantly crashing. I don't need that! Plus, I just find the Mac interface to be so much nicer - friendlier and cuter, too!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Into the wild blue... highway

Awesome! I was just driving along the highway, looked to the left... and there, just grazing along on the grass next to the road, were a pack of zebras and wildebeasts! I shit you not!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Remembering the past

Jeez, I've just been re-reading phdcomics - I am SO glad I'm out of grad school...

A Tuesday of note (or: Admitting your aggression towards the DMV and Intelligent Design)

Though some of you might envy the fast-paced lifestyle of a theoretical physicist, you may be surprised to learn that it generally involves quite a lot of sitting around - not yesterday. I barely had a chance to glaze over in front of my computer at all! Let me describe some of the more interesting experiences.

First, let me say that after fully two months of owning my now-famous POS car, as of yesterday I had yet to have transferred the registration from the old owner to me. The dude who owned it has been almost constantly out of the country, and there have been continuing issues with getting proof from his bank that he'd paid the car off and could sell it (despite the damn thing being 15 years old). Anyway, I finally got the proof yesterday, and I needed to rush to the DMV immediately to transfer registration, because the dude was going out of town again in a few days, and I wanted to get it taken care of in case there were problems. Obviously, the actual act of being at the DMV was boring as hell, and took three hours of my life, which I will never get back. However, what I did find interesting was observing the people around me waiting. Wow, there was SO much aggro! (this guy does a great stand up act about this) You could really feel the negative vibes coming off of people, and all around me there was constant muttering about how angry they were and how unfair it all was, and how they should open another freaking window, etc. You constantly feel like everyone behind you is going to leap in front of you in the queue, so there is this tenseness where you kind of feel like you have to defend your position. One sweet little old lady behind me, who was totally smiley and nice when she first got in line, kept trying to edge in front of me, and was close to boiling over by the time we got to the head - and I really thought she was going to make a scene. Frankly, it was all this anger surrounding me that stressed me out about being there, more than anything else. It really gets under your skin - I don't like the feeling. And actually, when I did finally get to the counter, the woman who helped me was extremely nice, helpful, sweet, and friendly (I definitely did not expect this). Clearly, these people are trying as best they can to get to everyone, and it would just be a more pleasant (well, less unpleasant) experience if everyone would just chill out. But I guess that is not going to happen - so next time, I'm taking my steel-toed boots so I can stomp on anyone who gets in my way.

The other thing I wanted to say something about was the Intelligent Design meeting that the Student Y held in our building yesterday. Now, the Lord knows (and will probably strike me down because of it) that I'm not a fan of ID. But if they want to go off and have little discussion groups and talk about how science is nonsense, then I'm not going to get involved (actually, that may or may not be true... depending on my mood, sometimes it really pisses me off, and I have to jump in where I'm not wanted). However, what really got me was that not only was the title of the meeting, "The Scientific Case for Intelligent Design," but they had to have it in the Applied Maths department (MY science building!) in order to try and prop up their "scientific" credibility. And let me put it bluntly - this shit is NOT science. Question evolution? Or any scientific theory for that matter? No problem! That's what science is really all about - skepticism and questioning. However, the higher goal of science is to replace ignorance with knowledge, and hopefully some kind of understanding. These people want to replace understanding with ignorance. To them, the answer is - if I don't immediately understand something, let me replace it with GOD. Anyway, let me not start ranting about it, because I don't have the time right now (maybe later). My point was that it pissed me off that they decided to use MY building for their own nefarious ends (mwahahahaha). So I put the word out to all the people I know here at UCT, and asked them to join me in attending this lecture, to try and rebuff their nonsense. We actually got a fairly good science contingent together - we easily made up at least half of the attendees. The whole thing was somewhat disappointing, though, because the majority of the meeting was just the presentation of a propagandic movie on ID. Then at the end, they had a "scientist" from UCT (well, an anatomist from the med school, which is not the same thing) get up and talk about how people could be "theists" as well as scientists, and that clearly evolution works on "microscales," but it is only in the large jumps that they want to invoke God, because there evolution doesn't work. Without any actual reasoning to show WHY it doesn't work, other than that he can't imagine how it does. And then there were five minutes left for people to ask questions (read: fight with the creationists). Me and Jeff totally dominated this part of the discussion, but the guy had to run off to perform some kind of experiment or something, so they had to cut it off. It was very disappointing, because during the stupid movie I got myself all pumped up on things I wanted to say, and then was left with no outlet. Actually, there were a couple of interesting discussions that took place immediately afterwards amongst the scientists, but the religious dudes took off very quickly, with promises of a return next year (classes are over this week, so they will have to wait until the students come back from vacation). Anyway, like I said, quite disappointing. There was creationist blood in the water, but nothing of any substance to feed on...

Monday, 22 October 2007

Springboks rule!

Huzzah! The world cup of rugby has finally come to a satisfying end, with the South African Springboks pretty convincingly beating England (who cares what their team name is - they lost). My apologies to sensitive viewers:
Rugby has been a fun sport to learn about the past few weeks. Every time I say this, I nearly get lynched by any nearby rugby fans, but it really is quite similar to American football. It's actually quite interesting to see, like evolution, where the games branch off from each other. Rugby has touchdowns just like football, but they're called "tries," and you get 5 points for a try, plus 2 points for the extra kick. You can also score by having a penalty kick, where you get 3 points (this is the only form of scoring that occurred during the final game of the world cup... pretty lame). Also, there is an egg-shaped ball that people throw to each other. And you have to jump on the dude with the ball and beat the crap out of them - only with less padding in rugby. Actually, those are probably the only similarities... everything else is fairly different. One might say it's sort of a cross between football and soccer. But overall, it is quite a fun sport to watch - especially when you've got beer(s) in your hand(s).

Oh, one other thing which I noticed [blogger warning: the following is complete speculation, and is not even supported by reference to Wikipedia or anything - believe at your own risk]. They don't have downs in rugby like they do in football, but every once in a while, the play stops (for reasons that I never really picked up in my short introduction to rugby) and they line up and wait for the ball to be thrown to them. This is called a scrum (pretty much whenever they all get in a big violent huddle with the other team, that's called a scrum, I think). Either I heard this somewhere, or completely made it up, but the line at which they wait for the ball is called the "line of scrummage." To me, this bore an obvious resemblance to football's "line of scrimmage," which is the line where a new down starts. I thought I was pretty clever for noticing this similarity, but the truth of my revelation remains to be seen, by anyone not too lazy to look it up.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Finger lickin' good

There's a funny thing that goes on here on campus every Thursday. The main campus right outside the math building gets totally taken over by a crazy party in the afternoon, and people go totally ape-$*@%. Usually there is some sort of sponsorship by a big company, they set up DJ's, entertainment, give away free stuff, etc. Last week it was Nivea (and the Nivea dance troupe), today it is KFC.

The main steps get totally overrun. It is a total trip to see all these kids yelling and screaming every time the announcer yells into the mike, "Does anyone out there love KFC!?!" As I write this, I can hear the crowd lovin' it (sorry McDonalds). They even had a contest to see who could eat the special "colonel burger", fries, and coke that they're currently pushing.

Who says consumerism is dead?

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

A sad day

Well, today is a sad day. After having my friend Amanda here for the first two and a half months of my stay, she has finally left the country to seek her fortune as a postdoc at the prestigious Cambridge University. Good for her, but it was really nice having her here, and she will be missed. Of course, she's coming back here for a conference (read: to celebrate American Thanksgiving with me) within a month and a half, so I'll see her soon. I don't envy her, though - I hate traveling, and she'll have to do a lot of it in the future. Luckily, she's an excellent traveler, as evidenced by her near constant world jaunts while in grad school in NYC...

Those cheeky monkeys

This just in - yard monkeys are lying bastards...

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Yogic Mind

Is it true? Has he gone off the deep end? What's the deal with all this vegetarian food?!?

I've just returned from my first yoga experience. Man! It totally rocked! The local Hari Krishna monastery hosts a bi-weekly power yoga class. I have always (well, after knowing some hippie-dippie friends in New York - you know who you are, Kristen ;) wanted to try yoga, and so when my new potential friend in the math department mentioned that she does yoga at her gym, but that there is a local one that she's been meaning to try, and maybe we could all go together... well, I decided to make a run-on sentence. Also, to try out the yoga. And dude, it was totally physically strenuous, but fun! Lots of stretchies, but lots of balancing actions that made your legs want to buckle. I'm not really sure how to describe it, but it was cool. By far the coolest part was at the end, though, when we lay down on our backs, the teacher turned out the lights, and tried to hypnotize us into relaxing. Man, it worked, I was so chilled out. And afterwards, they provided a delish vegetarian meal to enhance my soul, complete with the Hari Krishna monk who came out to sit with us and chat, discussing everything from black holes (that was from me) to Intelligent Design (which I also pontificated about... hmmm, maybe I dominated the whole conversation...). Anyway, the monk was really cool, and his comment about how he's been chased out of every local mall and banned by the security guards was quite entertaining. All-in-all, the experience was a trip, and very pleasurable - I'll definitely check out yoga again. One comment, though - upon finding out that I was to start yoga this evening, a friend forwarded me this article - and it was dead on. There were definitely a significant number of hot (bendy) chicks, as well as a sleazy dude who immediately started hitting on them and making them uncomfortable (no, not me... I was too busy sweating to make anyone uncomfortable).

Thursday, 11 October 2007

No such thing as free parking

A few thoughts on some minor oddities (read: differences from America) in Cape Town.

Parking: You have to pay for parking everywhere. It's not much, usually a couple of rand (maybe 50 cents US) but in every parking lot, along the side of every road, everywhere you go, there are dudes there who collect money from you to watch your car. I think it's more of a way to find employment for people than anything else, 'cause anytime I ask someone about it, they always give that as the biggest reason for it. The really odd thing is that I think this started here as an unofficial process - people would hang out in parking lots and watch to make sure your car is not stolen, and then ask for a few rand compensation. Eventually, the bigger malls, establishments, etc. stepped in and made it official, gave them neon jackets to identify them as employed by the mall, and you were required to get a ticket from these dudes. But still, a lot of places just have unofficial guys hanging out watching your car whom you're expected to tip. It's not a bad idea in principle, either, especially with the crime level what it is (although frankly, I still haven't seen much crime since I've been here), but I can't figure out how these guys got the general public to trust them to watch their cars! It does seem to work quite well, though. And makes parking in parking lots a little easier, 'cause these guys are there to point you to empty spaces.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Quitters never win

So first of all, before I go off on another rant (I won't, I swear), let me inform you of the the talk that I gave here at UCT last week. I've finally managed to get it up on the web. There is a link to both the pdf of my slides and a podcast of me giving the talk. For some reason, I have been unable to get the podcast to download properly in Firefox, but it works in Internet Explorer, I don't know why. Anyway, if you want to hear about the latest paper that me, Jeff, and his student Andy are coming out with, feel free to look there. If you don't understand it, you'll probably be in good company with the rest of the people in the cosmology group here, who are not string theorists. We're so misunderstood...

So, on to the rant. No, not really. But after the bender I went on last weekend, I decided to quit smoking (which I had started up again here, having been somewhat stressed about beginning in a new country, etc.). Very noble cause. But it is really unnecessarily stressful! I've quit smoking millions of times, and have never had the difficulties I've gotten here. First of all, it's just been plain stressful. All week, I've been on edge, have had trouble concentrating, and have had trouble sleeping and been extra tired. But then I've also been feeling kind of sick, with a cough and sore throat, and I'm starting to imagine that maybe it has something to do with quitting smoking. Both of these symptoms only come up when I'm lying down to go to sleep. Last night I was up half the night coughing up gross phlegm, but then as soon as I got up this morning, not a cough to be found. Maybe I'm totally talking out of my ass, but I think it's all the gunk that built up in my lungs which is now deciding it doesn't want to be there. I suppose that's a good thing. In fact, I'm quite grateful. I just would like a chance to get to sleep...

Speaking of the drink-fest of last Friday (which I wrote about), I have just returned from having the second official beer o'clock of the UCT Gravity and Cosmology Group - quite the success! And this time it didn't turn into a night of excess (in case you are wondering, it's only 7:30pm - the group outing having begun at the hour of 4:30... look, we don't work ourselves to death in Cape Town...). Even more of a success. And all thanks to me - I had to work my ass off to get these people together to go out for a drink, but everyone seemed to have a good time, and I think it is good for the group to relax together, and good for me to have a chance to meet people and make friends here. So raise your glass, and begin the weekend...

Monday, 1 October 2007

Crazy weekend

Wow, this was some weekend. I had a great time (mostly) and took a ton of pictures, so here goes...

Friday, I began what will hopefully become a weekly occurrence with my research group, some of whom are shown to the left (Therese, Emma, and Kishore) - beer o'clock. There is an awesome little faculty pub type of thing on campus that serves good beer and has a nice atmosphere - it has a little outside garden and a fireplace (though I think the time for fireplaces has come and gone - spring has sprung). Anyway, it was very fun, and successful. After most people had gone home, six of us (Therese, Kishore, Emma, Chris, Viv, and myself) decided to head back to Kishore and Emma's place to continue the party. I brought Jack (Daniels). We had a great time, and I got to know all four of them much better, which was great. Needless to say, however, after staying up 'til 6-freaking-am, I had the worst hangover I've had in years. After waking up at 2pm and dragging my sorry ass home, I went back to sleep until 11pm, got up for a couple of hours, and then went back to sleep until 8 in the morning. So to summarize: Friday night was a blast, Saturday was a complete write-off.

That being said, Sunday was amazing. Having slept for a good 24 hours, Jeff and Amanda called me up to see if I wanted to go to Hout Bay beach with them. I was keen. An hour later, we, Jeff's mom, and sweet little Mishka were on this beautiful beach throwing the miniature American football around and sniffing all the other dogs butts (well, not all of us were throwing the football).

Above: Mishka.

Right: Arrival at the beach - how's that for a kick-ass beach view?

Below: Jeff and Mishka - notice the bizzaro castle in the background.

After cavorting around for a while, we piled back into the car and drove over to `Fish on the Rocks,' the best fish and chips place in South Africa. To be honest, they were phenomenal fish and chips. They then bought a whole fresh fish from the fresh fish market, we drove home through the unbelievable mountain/coast views and had a killer fish-braai. Hey man, THIS is the South Africa I want to remember! A good time was most definitely had by all, especially Mishka, who was TOTALLY exhausted by all the physical and emotional activities of the day...