Hunchwrist Repairs and Hospital Observations

Hunchwrist of Randpark Ridge
Hunchwrist Before

Hunchwrist Repairs

While pregnant with Jethro, Angie developed a weird growth in her wrist. Officially it is known as a ganglion cyst, but I took to calling Angie “The Hunchwrist of Randpark Ridge.”

So far, we’re still married.

She was admitted to Linksfield Park Clinic on Thurday to have the cyst removed. They insisted we get to the hospital at 6am, but only wheeled Angie into surgery at 2pm. She was out of surgery at 4pm. By the time Angie had eaten something and was dressed (more difficult with only one functioning arm) it was rush-hour. Almost two hours driving to get home. Bah!

The whole day was used up waiting for a 2 hour procedure. Surely the hospital knew which operations it would be undertaking during the day, and the approximate time each procedure takes? Surely such a schedule gives an indication of when a particular patient will go under the knife? Surely it is unreasonable to tell everyone to get to the hospital by 6am, especially if you know you’ll only deal with some of them in the afternoon?

We could try complaining, but one worries that they will spitefully remove the entire hand, instead of just the hunchwrist. The medical industry really is the most peculiar service industry out there. I think it has something to do with them referring to their clients as “patients,” and assuming patients are patient and don’t mind waiting.

Hospital Observations

Although I wasn’t the patient, I still had to do a lot of waiting around at the hospital. To pass the time I watched people enter the foyer and I drank a little too much coffee. Combined, these elements inspired me to write about these people on my cellphone in real-time. The transcript of what I wrote is reproduced below, edited only for spelling and grammar.

It comes across a little scathing, I think. I blame the coffee.

We really are just glorified hairless monkeys with technology.

The guy who just walked in, with the yellow writing on his T-shirt and the tattered jeans, walks with a funny gait. He thrusts his chest out too far, making him seem over-balanced and top-heavy. Or is he overbalanced because his stomach reaches out as far as his chest? He holds his hands up at the level of his chest, and flaps them around limply, bending at the wrists. Obviously he’s strutting, but what’s with the wrists? That doesn’t seem too macho.

Then there are these Eastern European types sitting across the table from me, incessantly talking too loud in a guttural language I can’t understand. The balding man wears a striped T-shirt and shorts, but I wish he’d worn trousers. It is a hospital, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so squeamish, but something  terrible has happened to this man’s legs recently. He’s obviously had those metal pins embedded in his tibia. You know the ones. Those things that stick out of your leg, instead of having a cast. They say the leg heals faster, but it makes you look more like a cyborg.

The wounds are obvious, and he seems to display the bloody gory bits proudly. One leg bandaged, the other not. Just round, dried-blood circles, with a red line joining the dots. A fleshy dot-2-dot puzzle. Join them up in order and you get a zombie!

He talks to his mother, but she doesn’t have any ghoulish markings on display. They quiet down when another couple sits down next to them. The old man of the couple cranes his neck around to the TV mounted on the wall. But’s it’s almost obliquely above him. Not a great angle to watch the cricket.

I wanted to go on about the cricket a little more, and how strange the behaviour of men wanting to watch it is. But my cellphone battery died. This also explains the abrupt ending.

US Motor Industry wants a hand out too

The US Motor industry want a piece of that financial aid the US government seems to be handing out to irresponsible bankers at the moment. The motor industry have already been given $25 billion to develop gas-not-guzzlers, but a cleaner environment isn’t really their focus at the moment. They’d rather use it to prevent bankruptcy.

But Congress, or the Senate, or whoever it is who makes the decisions in that loopy superpower country, isn’t really buying in to the story.

The day’s hearings, before the House Financial Services Committee, got off to a rousing start when panel chairperson Barney Frank asked how the government could justify a bailout for banks and insurers, but not the automakers.

“Frankly, there seems to me to be an inherent cultural bias,” Frank said. “Aid to blue-collar employees is being judged by a standard different than white-collar employees.”

But is the aid the motor industry asking for really going to help the blue-collar workers on the shop floor?

Gary Ackerman, Democrat from New York, noted the irony of the CEOs flying on private jets and “getting off with tin cups in their hands”.

“Couldn’t you have downgraded to first class or something, or jet-pooled … to get here?” he asked. “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in a high hat and tuxedo.”

The executives on Wednesday’s panel — GM CEO Rick Wagoner, Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli — all flew to the hearings on private jets.

The Onion couldn’t make this stuff up!

All excerpts from the Mail & Guardian

Cell C wants more of my money

I received a call the other day from Ezra at Cell C [warning: site not Firefox friendly]. I greeted Ezra warmly as I considered the merits of asking him whether there might be someone better to speak to. I declined to do so assuming that either a) the joke would be old (from his perspective); or b) the joke would be too subtle — he sounded more like a hip-hop, R&B kind of guy

Ezra happily informed me that he had been assigned to assist me with my contract upgrade. How exciting!
Except, I hadn’t requested an upgrade. Was it compulsory?
No it wasn’t, but it was recommended.
Why would I want an upgrade?
Because I could get a new phone.
But I already have a working phone. Afterall, I was talking to Ezra using it.
Sure, but I could get a better phone, like a Nokia N73 (or something like that).
Are you implying that the phone I have is crap? (Wish I’d said that, but it didn’t occur to me until afterwards).

Eventually I told him that I saw what the problem was. I was on a contract that Cell C were no longer offering. It has really cheap rates, no free minutes, and no bundled in phone. It also has no monthly subscription charge. Basically, if I don’t use the phone at all, I’d pay R50 a month. If I only make R50 worth of calls, I’ll pay R50. If I make R100 worth of calls I pay R100.
Basically, Cell C aren’t making any money off me (or are making very little).

Eventually, Ezra gave up. Perhaps Cell C will try again with someone better?

Acid Rock Drainage and other Doomsday Tales

During the last two weeks I’ve attended a course at the University of Witwatersrand on Environmental Engineering Topics.
It was run by the School of Mining Engineering (Wits have “schools,” not departments, in what I imagine is an attempt to emphasise teaching over bureaucracy) and so focussed on environmental issues with respect to mines. A very useful course which covered all aspects of mining, and how mines tend to break the pristine conditions of the world’s environments and generally annoy the people who live in them.
There were recurring themes of road blockades, pipeline sabotage, and civil unrest. A wonderful recipe for edge-of-your-seat learning.

Then, towards the end of the second week, an external presenter spoke to us about Acid Rock Drainage (ARD). Shortly afterwards I was overcome by a deep sense of the futility of my actions in attempting to get mines to manage the environmental impacts they create, or have the potential to create.

Acid Rock Drainage
This is in the United States, but some South African rivers look equally bad.

Acid Rock Drainage (or Acid Mine Drainage) is a nasty bastard. The people over at Save the Wild UP appear to share my general horror at the situation, and are trying to make a noise about it.
They also have something more than horror. They have pictures like the one above.

Simplistically, material that is sulphide-rich (typically pyrite) gets exposed to water and oxygen when it gets pulled up from underground. This tends to happen on gold mine rock dumps (on the Witwatersrand which is a pyritic ore-body) and with coal mines (since there is plenty of sulphur associated with coal).
The water and oxygen causes oxidation, liberating hydrogen and iron ions and ultimately leading to the generation of acid. Secondary reactions keep it ticking along in a cheerful, self-sustaining manner. The reaction never reaches equilibrium and will continue until all sulphide-rich material has been oxidised. The time this will take is best measured on the geological scale.
The good news is that the reaction can be stopped. Take away the oxygen or the water.
If you have lived on Earth, you should easily see why that won’t work. To isolate huge mines or rock dumps from things as ubiquitous as water and oxygen isn’t going to be practical.

The real issue isn’t the acid. The real issue is that metals are very fond of dissolving in acid. Once they dissolve, they are very happy to travel along with water into rivers and reservoirs.  Water is fairly important, so chances are that living beings are going to consume it, even if it is laced with all manner of dissolved metals.
If the living creature cannot process the metal biologically, it leads to bioaccumulation of the metal (or some slightly processed, but not entirely metabolised compound of the metal).
Animals eat other animals, which further concentrates the bioaccumulated metal compounds. It should be obvious that eventually, people will fit into this food-chain at some point. I mention people fitting into this, not because I think people are more important than animals, but because most people think they are. So when I say bioaccumulation ultimately leads to the onset of cancer those people, who don’t really think it significant if animals get cancer, will perk up and listen.

Global Warming. Bah! ARD is what we should really be concerned about.

Cake Baking as a Metaphor for the Digging-Holes and Getting-Stuff-Out-of-the-Ground Industry

Google knows about this blog, and since what I intend to write now is work related and critical of certain entities, it may upset the relationship my company has with those certain entities.
Given the above, it is necessary to be a little cryptic and to make lavish use of metaphors. If you know me well enough, and know what my current job is, you’ll probably be able to figure out which entity I’m referring to.
If you don’t know me at all, you still may be able to. Perhaps the post title may be of assistance to you.

Let us pretend that I work in the baking industry. I don’t but, for the purposes of this tale of bureaucratic anal-retentiveness, I do.
The baking industry in South Africa is strictly regulated. If one wishes to bake a cake, one must fill out the necessary Cake Baking Application forms and submit them to the Department of Cakes and Confectioneries (DCC).
A number of items must accompany the application form:

  • The exact description of the place you wish to bake the cake, including a map, and deeds of ownership
  • A Cake Baking Recipe, detailing how you intend to go about baking the cake, including such details as:
    • ingredients to be used
    • equipment required
    • which chef you intend to use
    • how much cake you intend to bake
    • proof that you can afford to buy the ingredients
  • Details of the company which intends to bake the cake/s
  • The applicable application fee (either cash, or a cheque made out to the DCC)

Every province in the country has its own provincial DCC office. The one in Gauteng always checks the application forms, and all accompanying documentation and so forth within 30 minutes.
I spent 3 hours at the DCC in the Free State submitting a Cake Baking Application for a client. Having not submitted any applications in the Free State before, the extra 2.5 hours to lodge the application came as a gradual, but ultimately quite excruciating surprise.

At first, it seemed that things were going well. Shortly after my arrival at the DCC offices, a nice person came to look over the application.
At the Gauteng office, the nice person who takes the application from me usually just checks that everything required by the legislation and regulations for a Cake Baking Application is present in the application. If it is, she takes my application fee and bids me farewell. They never check whether or not it is all in order — just that it is there. The 14 days stipulated by the Cake and Confectioneries Baking Act is what is supposed to be used to check through all the details. The Gauteng office does it this way. The Free State office — not so.
The nice person, who afforded me a great deal of time with which to practise patience, looked at the provided map. She then proceeded to check that every aspect of the map was correct, and that everything described in the application form, and the applicable deeds of ownership all matched up with one another.
My client wanted to bake a lot of cake all over the place, so there were a lot of deeds to cross-reference with the information on the map. I discovered that I need more practice in patience. Quite a deal more.

Eventually, she finished going through the map and deeds. She’d found some problems. I negotiated that I send the corrections through via courier. She, to my relief, agreed that that would be acceptable.
After that I waited a long time while pretty much nothing happened. Or rather, to me it seemed that nothing happened, but in actual fact, gross inefficiency was under way. I thought everything was done and that I just needed to pay the application fee and go. Just under 2 hours had passed at this point, and so I was very keen to leave, but no-one wanted to take my R500.00. If I didn’t pay the fee, then they wouldn’t accept the application.
My enquiries as to why things were taking so long were met with cryptic responses, which with hindsight I managed to decrypt. They had to check that no-one else had applied to bake the same kind of cakes in the same area. Again — something that should be done within the 14 day period stipulated by the Act.
At the time I just tried to keep patient.

At some point nearing the 3 hour mark, a person who I had not yet met came through and informed me that they were very sorry, but they were having a problem with their system. It had just recently been upgraded, and the only person who knew how it worked was not in the office. They asked me if I might be able to help.
That’s right. They asked me to come and do their job for them. I really wished they’d asked earlier, because then I would’ve left the building after 2 hours and 10 minutes, instead of the 3 hours that I actually spent there.

I’m heading back there on Monday to withdraw the frigging application because the place we said we want to bake cake isn’t quite in the right place.
At this rate, I’ll have so much practice at patience I’ll reach Nirvana in almost no time.

The pod splashed down safely in the Pacific

I’m back on Earth now.

Audit Fun in Sishen
The week in Sishen has been elucidating, and, as you are already aware — red.
I know a lot more about environmental auditing now. I also know a lot more about Sishen Iron Ore Mine. Although I know more, this must not be mistaken with me knowing much. That mine is massive, and 5 days to look around only gets the dust of knowledge under one’s nail.
I’d probably have to stay there 2 years before the dust of knowledge coated me as thickly as the physical dust of iron ore did in the 5 days of my visit.

I just washed my clothes, and it seems I’m going to have to get used to a red undertone in the denim. Ah well.

But what does Mars actually look like?

Mars looks like that pit. Doesn’t really seem that big, does it? Well, here’s something to give you a little perspective on it all. Those three little blotchy bits in the middle are haulpacks. They are the massive 250 ton trucks that move the iron ore from the pits to the stockpiles, and from the stockpiles to the primary crusher.

They don’t really look like much there, but they are big yellow (at least, initially yellow) trucks. The little people seen maintaining them in the following two photos are, in fact, normal-sized people. Thus, the trucks are enormous. Thus, the pit is bigger than enormous. I can’t think of a word for that at the moment. I’ll make one up instead — the pit is gigabig.

In conclusion, the place is big and red, as is everything in it (this includes quite a few of the people, although results may vary). I may be repeating myself on this, but I don’t believe it is possible to over-emphasise the importance of the bigness and redness of Sishen Iron Ore Mine.

That’s not all. For your viewing pleasure I also present an image of part of the mostly decommissioned south plant. When the mine started the crushing and screening plant was here.
All that is left is the reinforced concrete skeleton of the place. It was a little like I’d found evidence of the lost civilisation of Mars. Of course, that wasn’t really the case. If I’d really found a Martian civilisation, then I’d find evidence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life. All there seemed to be around Sishen were miners [1].

I don’t think that I can really go into the details of the audit (and I’m thinking even these photos might be iffy, but I don’t think I’m really giving very much away that isn’t public knowledge anyway), so I’ll move on to the difficulties of leading a vegetarian lifestyle in the Kalahari.

The Difficulties of Leading a Vegetarian Lifestyle in the Kalahari
I stayed at the Cranberry Cottage, a B&B in the town of Kathu, just a few kilometres from the mine. It’s a really lovely place to stay if you happen to be passing through that way for some reason or another. I really liked it there. The hospitality was traditionally Afrikaans, and the people were extremely friendly, even to Engelsmanne like my colleague and me. But then we threw them a curve-ball: Could they cater for a vegetarian?

Puzzled looks. Very puzzled. Cranberry Cottage is a family run business, and so the members of the family really care about the service and experience they provide to their guests. I really felt for Magda Fourie as she tried to get her head around this concept of me not wanting to eat any meat.
“Vegetarian?” she asked, “Will you eat chicken?”
“Uh…” I said, but not wanting to distress her, but my facial expression must have been skeptical.
“Fish?” she ventured.
Hesitantly, I agreed that fish would be an acceptable “vegetarian” meal. That evening, for dinner, they made me an especially prepared chicken potjie. By not digging too deep into the stew-pot, I managed to avoid most of the chicken and feasted on the included vegetables.

There was a rerun of this on another of the days where we negotiated for fried fish as my vegetarian meal, and I received braaied chicken. Crispy. Charred. Very much a dead animal. Not wanting to offend my hosts and their efforts to provide me with a vegetarian meal, I struggled through the chicken, eventually giving a third of it to my colleague who’d already polished off a T-bone steak.

But hey, as Magda told me one of the evenings, “In the Kalahari, chicken is a vegetable.”

The guest house wasn’t the only place where I was met with general confusion regarding my lifestyle choices. The guys we dealt with on the mine were also perplexed, although whoever did the catering at the mine seemed to understand what vegetarian meant. I was provided with a Greek salad for lunch once I’d let them know of my meal preferences. No chicken or fish in sight. Unfortunately there was also no originality in sight. While everyone else was provided with a different meaty dish each day, I got my trusty Greek salad, three days running.

One of the people we dealt with assumed I must be on a diet. I think the other guy assumed I was crazy. Every time I ate my salad he made some comment about it. Eventually I got a little annoyed and asked him why he didn’t eat his tortoise (which he’d rescued and nursed back to health after being run-over) or his pet dog. We concluded that he only eats animals he hasn’t taken the time to get to know. I let my follow-up question slide. Why doesn’t he eat people he hasn’t yet got to know?

[1] And they were very nice miners. If you are one of those people who likes to perpetuate stereotypes, you might choose to interpret this comment as implying that miners are not intelligent. However, there are a number of interpretations of the statement available to our intrepid reader. Examples; Miners are not alien lifeforms, Miners are not intelligent aliens, There are only miners in Sishen and no aliens, The Holy Grail is buried at Sishen, The winning lottery numbers are 8 13 27 32 38 44
The interpretation is entirely up to you

Living on Mars

I got back to the B&B today and squeezed shampoo into my hair. I lathered absent-mindedly before using the same hand to place the shampoo-bottle on the shower floor.

Blood dripped from my hand.

I was mildly alarmed. There was no sign of pain on my head, hand, or arm. Pain that would be indicative of a laceration. I lathered some more and rinsed and it seemed as if someone had scalped me.

Such is the dust on Sishen Iron Ore Mine. Don’t go there with long hair. Don’t go there if you are a bull — it will enrage you.

It’s been a long two days in the Northern Cape. The first day was long because I had to get up before 5am, and drive for 6.5 hours to get there — and then still wander around a mine for a bit.

The second day was long because Sishen Mine is huge. The pit alone is about 15km long and 5 km wide. it feels like we drove around the whole dam thing, but I fear we only really got to see a small portion of it — and that was just the morning.
Then in the afternoon we had a look at the plant. It’s the biggest processing plant I’ve ever seen. Throughput is lots. Not sure I’m allowed to say how much lots is, but the tons per hour entering the process is in the 1000s.
I’m used to gold plants — they’re not as big.

As an aside, I’m also struggling to keep to vegetarianism in this place. I don’t think I can get enough protein here that isn’t animal, and also not die (or at least become seriously malnourished).

Ah well. Perhaps there will be more on this tomorrow (but realistically Thursday is a better chance since I’m also going to the mine at night tomorrow).

The new job: two weeks in

And still not dead.
And not hating it yet.
And, actually enjoying the work.

The company is a small environmental consultancy, specialising in mining, particularly small scale mining.
I get the feeling that I am intrinsically linked to mining and will never actually escape this industry. It’s not all bad though, as long as I’m not actually employed by a mining company, I think I can live with myself.

When I say small consultancy, I mean small. Four people working for the company, including me. This means that basically I am a valued employee. It also means that no-one has time to micro-manage me. Both are good things.

This also explains why I’m not posting so much random crap. No time at work, and when I get home I’m too tired. I am not used to this working five eight-hour-days a week nonsense. Ah well.

They don’t seem to have come into contact with open-source software either. This is something I am going to remedy, but perhaps I should first figure out how to do my job properly before putting my Linux Zealot hat on.