Enough with the Analogies

Where the country road led
Perranporth Beach

I’ve found that there isn’t really time (or more accurately — energy) to write these Internet logs when one is fully employed.  Thus the the numerous internet fields I sowed sowed in the past have been left untended and barren.  I bit like the communist remnants of Statue Park in Budapest.

If you’ve been following Waffle Group closely, I left you on a bit of a cliff-hanger with the last post. What a long time to dangle out there? Your arm must be aching terribly! So sorry.

I did, in the end, make it to the top.  There is a lovely view from up here.  Beautiful country roads that tunnel through overhanging tree branches, leading past rolling farmlands to the coast. It’s windy down there on the beaches, but I’m told the air calms down in the summer months making the beach perfect for an influx of tourists.

Seaside walks along craggy cliffs are an option. ‘Rambling’ is what they call it around here.  Bean Dog has certainly been impressed with the potential of the place.  We took her to Perranporth beach and she couldn’t decide whether to dig a hole, manically run in a circle, or chase a tennis ball — so she opted to cycle between the three, switching from one activity to the next every 30 seconds.

A fair summary is that I think Cornwall is a kickass place to live.  It has less temperamental weather than Scotland has, and it generally warmer.  There are similarities too.  The Scots rather enjoy waving about their blue and white flag, and beating the drum of Scottish pride and nationalism. The Cornish have a black and white flag to wave about and appear to be similarly keen on their unique identity.

The best thing about Cornwall is that I have a professional job here.  The rest of the UK misses that key ingredient to self-sufficiency, and so Cornwall could be an environmental wasteland devastated by years of unrehabilitated mining activities and tailings dams, and I’d still think it was the most magical place on Earth.

My new employer has offices in the with a breath-taking view of a mine tailings facility used to store precipitated acid rock drainage from historic underground mine workings.  A fitting location for a mining engineering and environmental consultancy.  I don’t intend to say too much about work here, except that I am extremely happy and really enjoying the company, the people I work with, and the job itself.  If you do want to know more about my work-related things (environmental management, environmental science, mining practice and stuff along those lines), such writing may appear at Pragmatic Hippie.  There is not much there now, so no surging ahead in your effort for dull soothing reading.  (As an aside — if you cannot contain your need for tedium, the Dull Men’s Club might be just what you need).

Cornwall would be less lovely if I only had a job here, but my family were elsewhere.  This was kind of the case when I first arrived here.  I rushed off to Cornwall to get stuck into the job, while Angie packed up our old place in Scotland, arranged for the move, looked after Jethro, looked after Bean, performed circus tricks and generally displayed superhuman characteristics.

I eventually managed to find a place for us to live. Angie travelled down by train with Jethro and Bean. A ten hour journey. Miraculous no-one was thrown from the train in frustration during the trip.  No sure how Angie managed it. Then our stuff arrived at the house.  It would never have made it on to the truck had our magnificent friends Jude and Andy not been there to coordinate things in Scotland.  You guys rock!

The dust of the move has mostly settled, but we are still left with no cupboards in the house (or at least very few), although we did buy a lawnmower. It’s about keeping up appearances. As long as we keep people out of the house, they can’t really see how the clothes are all piled in stacks.  Long grass at the front of the house is less easy to hide without blinding all of the neighbours. And although a recently blinded neighbour is unlikely to complain about an unkempt garden, they will probably call the police which will just attract more attention and more people requiring blinding. In the end it just seemed like less work to cut the damn grass.

We have the essentials, but we still lack friends, and this is something that is hitting Angie particularly hard.  I have people to interact with at work, but she would really like a little more conversation with other adults.  We’re working on it and know we’ll get there eventually — it just takes time.

Jethro starts school this year in September.  Due to the awkward timing, it’s a little pointless signing him up at a nursery, so Angie has been trying to find interesting extra-mural activities to keep him busy and herself sane.  Swimming and French lessons have commenced.  I can say that I’ve learned more French from Jethro’s age 3-4 French than I ever did during my disastrous attempt to study French at university.

And here ends the lengthy general update thing. The next one might be a long time coming, so if you want Internet update-type things from me it might be best to find me on Google+. The Book with the Faces is not to my liking.  I don’t really get the Short Shrill Bird Noise, although I do occasionally make sub-140 character droppings.  Frankly, there are so many of these damned social network things that it makes my brain rattle inside my skull, and my eyeballs pulsate.  I decided I have to choose one of these things, and I’m choosing the one that almost no-one I know uses.  How very anti-social-network of me. I’m certain some of my readers understand.

Lengthy Internal Dialogue Externalised, Whereby Decisions are Eventually Made

Puzzled (Photo by Marco Belluci via Flickr)

When I was first trying to figure out what to do with my life, I was very concerned about money. No money equated to death, in my mind. Considering that, perhaps I should have become an investment banker. They seem to make a lot of money even when they are actually losing it. That’s a sure bet if there ever was one. I guess I’m just not enough of a socio-path to feel no guilt at that sort of behaviour.

Instead I pursued a career in engineering. It seemed the pragmatic approach to going about things. It was a vocation useful to society, and one which would eventually yield high economic returns guilt-free (well my 17 year old self imagined it to be free of difficult ethical decisions). I remember researching average income for engineers and found the results to be comforting.

Another consideration was the need to acquire a bursary to support my studies. I sensed some pressure from my father in this respect (not blaming you Dad). There weren’t a lot of bursaries on offer for Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, but bursaries from industrial and mining companies in South Africa were literally growing on trees (the trees are rather odd in South Africa — also, lions prowl in the streets of Johannesburg which is the real reason for the high murder rate). Both my brothers had been awarded bursaries for their academic results, and my academic results were of a similar standard, so it seemed the bursary was mine for the picking. But the political climate in the country had changed, and those bursary trees in the white sand were looking a little withered. Their bursary leaves curling up and falling from the branches, all crackly and brittle.

The ANC had been unbanned and Nelson Mandela had been elected president of South Africa. My pale male skin was no longer a particular advantage to me, and may even have counted against me. There was great pressure on companies to support and train young black talent. My numerous bursary applications yielded a number of interviews, but no financing for my studies. Realising this, and sensing the pushing he may have made for me to pursue a bursary, my father told me to study whatever I wanted to. “You like writing. Study English, or journalism. Study whatever you enjoy.”

It was too late though. I heard what he told me, but I wasn’t going to let it interfere with the way I’d predefined what my future would hold. I had conclusive proof in my mind that pursuing any career other than engineering would leave me destitute on the street. I’d beg for small change and scraps of stale bread. I’d dig in dustbins to survive. I’d be bad at that. Then I’d die.

My parents weren’t the only ones I chose to ignore. I ignored everyone that told me that a career in writing was the thing I should be doing.
On the last day of high school my English teacher wished me well and said, “Look forward to seeing you in print.”
Every year I won the English prize at school.
I was rejected by AECI for a bursary in Chemical Engineering, and the reason they gave was “Neil wants to be a writer.”

People working at a chemical factory had a better idea about what I should be doing than I did. I look back at it now, and I want to go and smack my 17-year-old self about the back of his head, and shout, “Look! Look! It’s staring you in the face you bleeding idiot!”

I also created a myth. The myth of doing something one really enjoys to earn money would ruin the love and enjoyment of the activity. Thus writing for a living is something I could never really contemplate, because that would destroy my ability to gain any satisfaction from the activity itself. Broken logic to protect myself from disappointment. I saw myself as a writer, but if I tested this hypothesis and failed to make a living from writing, what would I be?

It’s time to test the hypothesis.

It’s been a long arduous journey to break down the fear that paralysed me. Quitting work in South Africa during a recession, and moving to the haemorrhaging UK economy can hardly be described as “wise.” It has shaken the risk and fear perceptions I’ve held. It’s teaching me to fight.

What I'm going to be doing, although probably not with a pen like that (Photo by Joel Montes via Flickr)

It’s stupid to fight for something one doesn’t want. For a short while here in the UK I tried to make a professional photographer of myself. This would have been a great idea had I been taking photographs for pleasure all my life, but I haven’t. I felt I could monetise it faster than I could writing, and maybe that’s true, but so what? It will be a fight to get a photography business going. A war even. I’m not going to fight a war I don’t believe in.

Short fiction, longer fiction (Commitmentman? That would be hilarious if I were to make my fortune off that!) freelance article writer. I’m researching journalism courses in Scotland, and have a couple of prospects that I’ll apply to. I’ll also apply for unpaid internships or whatever I can get at publications in the area, in order to get some journalism experience.

However this works out, there is one thing I’m certain of. I’ll be writing about it.

Votes counted. Decision made.

Thank you everyone who responded to my call to action.

The results are in.

My findings

Many Waffle Group members struggle to follow simple instructions. The simple instructions were to score each project using a certain format.
This format:
Project [project number]: [score from 1 to 5]

Many Wafflings got it right. Well done guys!
Some of those who got it right went further, adding snippets of their thought processes behind the scores awarded to each project.

Those who gave feedback, but ignored my simple scoring request, typically did it via email. That is why there is little evidence of this problem in the comments of the previous postother than my parents’ comment.
They gave valuable feedback in words, but did not provide the numbers. How am I meant to perform a statistical analysis of my data if the data is all words?
Others scored some options and ignored others.

This kind of cavalier approach to scientific enquiry is why we have things like load-shedding in South Africa today.

Still, I made do with the iffy data you, as a whole, generated for me. I assigned values myself.

  • If you didn’t comment on an option, I left the score blank (not zero — it’s different when calculating averages and so forth).
  • If you commented positively about an option, but provided no quantitative value as to how positive you were, I scored it 5
  • If you ordered projects from best to worst, I scored them from 5 to 1 (so the middle project scored 3)

Let’s look at each project, and how much you loved or hated the idea of it, going from most hated to most loved.

Project 4 — Contribute to Ubuntu-docs

Looks like helping our fellow man is not something people think is worth my time. What kind of society are we living in? Or is it just the people I’m drawing to myself?
On average, this project scored a miserable 2.00
Generally, when people really didn’t like Project 4 they just didn’t score it, but one respondent went as far as to give it zero. His rationale is that Ubuntu is an African myth, and there is no togetherness in this dark continent.

Seriously though, the real reason that Project 4 scores so low is that it won’t be any fun. No fun for me. No fun for you. I’m not sure the ubuntu-doc team would have any fun either.
Other than the dearth of fun, there is the problem of defining end-goals.
Something with no end and no fun is really going to bring a guy down.

Project 3 — Learn to programme in Python

As our friend who denied the existence of Ubuntu states: “it sounds real boring to control reptiles.” He doesn’t seem to have been the only person to think so with Project 3 only managing to rake in 2.14
It’s an interesting perspective, and perhaps he’s right.
The programming project had the greatest variance. That’s an indication of the geek-arty distribution of my friend-pool. Generally (but not in all cases) the geekier types thought the programming might be vaguely useful. The arty types found it entirely pointless. The score would probably have been even worse if they’d all bothered to vote on it, but Project 3 and 4 were often just ignored.

Your views regarding programming was that it would be too hard or, paradoxically, too easy. I suppose the goal would amount to working through the book I own, and would thus be quite a short-term project.
To me, a short-term project is quite compelling. It can easily be completed since there will be less time to get tired of it.

One respondent suggested I do whatever would make other people happiest. Surprisingly altruistic of him, but he has a point. Project 3 and 4 don’t provide any entertainment for you, my disloyal audience. The other options do.
He seemed to think combining Project 3 with Project 5 would be a cunning plan, since my struggles in learning to programme could be quite amusing if related in a blog. But not if you aren’t a geek.

Project 5 — Humour Blog

And now a project that most of you, on average, liked. Score: 3.91

Personally I’m most fond of this one, but I think that’s because it allows me to let myself off lightly with something that doesn’t stretch my boundaries.
The project is incremental. Short snippets. Something I can write in a sitting or two, once a week. It’s definitely achievable, and if I stop posting I can claim that I got sick of the project and moved on to something else, without having to admit that I failed to achieve any particular goal.

Quinn says, ‘it’s difficult to “just sit down and do,”‘ but I don’t agree. It might be at first, but if I develop a habitual rhythm to my writing, sitting down for a fixed period of time at fixed intervals, it’ll come easier.

Basically I wish this one had scored the highest because it’s a total cop-out.

That doesn’t mean I might not still sneakily carry out this option. Earlier I mentioned combining projects. Project 3 and 5 make a bad combination, but what about Project 1 and 5, as one waffling suggested?
Combining the novel with the weekly humour blog is an interesting idea. Certainly the book will then be published, and I’d find it harder to get it into traditional print media for any sizeable amount of remuneration — but that isn’t really the point. The point is to finish writing the thing. If an audience expects a weekly episode, what other choice do I have but to carry through with it?

This line of thought raises the question: can Project 2 be combined with Project 5?
It would force me to take humorous photographs every week. I think that might be a bit taxing on my abilities at the moment, and you’d end up with more photos of my foot — but with smiley faces drawn on to them. Hilarious.

Project 1 and 2: Finish book vs Photography — seriously

The comments in the previous post pointed to this showdown, and the emails I received have followed a similar trend.

Going only by scores, Project 2 comes out tops with 4.47 with Project 1 in close pursuit at 4.17.

Looks like it’s photography, but wait…

People also wrote comments.

In support of Project 2 (Photography)

  • Photography has a social nature, especially if I join a club. Some wafflings may even be persuaded to come along, as quite a few also had an interest in this hobby.
  • Another mentioned the forthcoming baby and the potential for baby pics. Since my time will be at a huge premium once my child is born, photography is the only project I can do at the same time as looking after him (or her).
  • Photography (at least at my skill level) needs less mental work than writing. Writing something, even something crap, can be like extracting saccharine sweetness from a lemon.
    Taking a bad photo is a matter of pressing one button. Not too taxing at all.
  • I have an expensive camera that I am not using to its full potential.

In support of Project 1 (Write book)

  • “Finish that book before all else,” said one waffling. Those are pretty strong words.
  • I’ve always wanted to write a book.
  • A book is inside me, bursting to get out — but also learn to take photos and produce another book with illustrations.

I’m not sure about you, but the qualitative data seems more compelling for the photography project. That means Project 2 wins on both accounts.

Based on your comments I applied modifiers to your scores that allowed Project 1 to close the gap slightly, but not step across it.

Decision time

I should be taking up photography and leaving the other projects alone. Plans are already afoot to visit a photography club and see what’s what. After visiting, I’ll be able to figure out what sort of goal I should set.

For those fans of my writing, do not fear. Although I said one project, writing is always going to be a project of mine.  This is why I say I should be leaving the other projects alone. I’m going to attempt to serialise Commitment Man. This is probably the best way to get it out in the world. It isn’t going to be the main project, but it’s going to continue as a background process (as it always has been)
Project 3 and 4 won’t be getting any love from me though, at least not until the goals of Project 2 and 1 are both realised (goals that are admittedly fuzzy at the moment).
Thanks for contributing. Your input has been very valuable, and now I feel like I owe it to everyone to achieve something. Maybe I will this time.

New Projects?

Loyal Wafflers. I need You!

I wish to undertake a new project. This time, I mean to only carry out one project. One. 1. Single.  An integer, less than two and greater than zero.

I want the project to be completed successfully, whatever completion and success may mean. Certain of the projects still need those parameters to be defined, but they’ll be defined once I decide which one I’ll be completing.

You must vote!

The new projects are:

  1. Finish writing “The Adventures of Commitment Man.” Since all other pastimes will now be eliminated, this should be possible. Don’t discount it in your voting. And don’t say it isn’t new. I’ve wanted to write a book forever. I should finish one, even if it’s total crap.
  2. Take up photography — seriously. Join a club. Get feedback from people who know what they’re doing. Maybe take a course. I’ve got the fancy camera. Time I got the fancy photo-taking skills.
    Defining success for this project is difficult. If this turns out to be the winner, I’ll figure something out and let you know.
  3. Learn to programme in Python. I know enough about programming to know when I could write a quick script to solve some problem at work, or under other conditions. I don’t know enough to actually write the script. Could working through Beginning Python help?
    I bought the book when I tortured myself during my M.Sc attempt. Never read it properly though. Perhaps I should.
  4. Greater involvement in the Ubuntu-doc Project. I use Ubuntu. I can’t programme. I can write. I should contribute. I should contribute to ubuntu-docs.
    How much, and for how long, I’m not sure. Without affordable bandwidth, it also makes it difficult to test new beta versions and subsequently write or check the documentation before feature freezes and so on. I should be able to contribute to the online help though.
  5. Weekly Humour Blog Post. There are many sub-plots to Commitment Man. Many nutty ideas are discussed regularly. Even if The Adventures of Commitment Man are ever finished, there are too many ridiculous sub-plots to fit into one semi-coherent story. Many of these sub-plots could be stand-alone comedy vignettes, or could be cobbled together into short offbeat satire or parody pieces.
    The weekly frequency seems manageable, and these ideas are too funny not to be shared with the intertubewebwubs.

Vote in the comments by scoring each project on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “this is the crappiest, most idiotic idea you’ve ever come up with” and 5 means “you god-like genius, I’m sending you money just because this is so amazing.”

Use this format please:
Project [project number]: [score from 1 to 5]

Read on if you care why I’m seemingly repeating past behaviours, but with slight modifications, which will in all likelihood yield similar results.
(Warning: It’s boring)


I have previously blogged about various projects that I’ve undertaken. I’d post boring updates about the projects, and you could all see how I’d failed to make the kind of progress I’d hoped.

Previous Project Review

  1. Project A, writing a novel, isn’t any closer to the end result. Well, maybe a few words, but nothing significant.
  2. Project B, writing the 100 word gift stories, has been completed. I haven’t written the stories for every person I meant to, but at least I finished all the stories I started.
  3. Play chess online is something I may still do from time to time, but I haven’t been playing and won’t be tracking it. Pointless tracking of things for the sake of it.
  4. Blog everyday. What for? Also pointless.
  5. Take many photos. Relatively aimless. I can take many photos of the floor, or my foot, or my keyboard. Badly defined project.

What is clear to me from the list above is that I made up too many projects for myself. Admittedly it was part of my structured procrastination strategy, and it kind of worked for a while. I declare Project B (point 2) a success, partly attributable to structured procrastination.

My views have changed. Points 3, 4 and 5 are pointless other than being points themselves. They were there solely to facilitate points 1 and 2 (and to do work).
Point 1has been poorly facilitated, and I’m not bothering with the other stuff any more.

Elsewhere I also mentioned trying to get writing published. This ambition has changed a little when work conditions improved remarkably. Work is better, and now that I’m suddenly motivated I find myself with tonnes of work to do.
The end result is I don’t have time to procrastinate any longer — even in a structured manner.

Still, I want to do something other than work. Some other more artistic, creative pursuit. Or something to give back to the universe. That’s where the new projects come in, and that’s where you get to vote.
The difference this time is that I’m not procrastinating, or at least I don’t intend to. Instead of carrying out every project imaginable, I need to focus on just one. that project needs to be carried out to some quantifiable goal before I start any of the others.
I’m not setting the goals just yet. I’m just proposing the projects. Once I decide on the project, I’ll define the goals. As usual, sticking to my commitment is the tricky part. I’ll make a strong a determination though.

Successful e-book readers: not going to happen

Don’t get the wrong impression about my enthusiasm for e-book reader technology from this post’s title. I’m very excited about it, I just don’t think it’s going to take off unless a lot of things change. I’ve had my eye on e-book readers for a while. Alas, they don’t seem to make it across those vast oceans down here to the southern tip of Africa.
This is probably because they struggle to make much of an impression on the markets into which they are introduced. Africa only gets things imported to it once they’ve been proven in developed markets.
I’ve mentioned Sony’s reader in the past, and I linked to this New York Times article on it.

For your convenience I’ll summarise the NYTimes article.

  1. In 2001 everyone thought that ebooks would revolutionise the printing industry, but by 2003 everyone realised that they actually sucked and stopped bothering.
  2. Sony didn’t agree, and brought out a new, exorbitantly expensive e-book reader that uses exciting new technology — E Ink.
  3. E Ink makes reading more pleasant than it would be on a computer monitor, and can be seen in direct sunlight.
  4. You can buy e-books for it, but they have dumbass Digital Restrictions Management which limit the number of copies you can make of the book and rob you of the right to resale the e-book you purchased.
  5. Fortunately, you can also read non-DRM crippled documents.
  6. The controls are counter-intuitive, but mostly the thing seems to work quite well
  7. Other companies are also disagree that e-books suck, and are trying to produce their own dedicated readers (here’s a list of the devices)

This brings us to why I’m writing about this topic again. Lately I’ve been giving Thought Leader a look, and the blogs there are interesting and insightful.
I noticed that Eve Dmochowska wants a Kindle for Christmas, and I decided to throw some of my thoughts into the fray. I could’ve just posted a comment on that blog, but I have a lot to say and didn’t want to chase her readers away with a tedious monologue. Waffle Group readers know to expect danger when that “rambling waffle” category is used — I doubt Thought Leader reader are properly equipped for the monotony.

Kindle is what Amazon.com have recently brought out to compete with Sony’s e-reader. As Eve says, Kindle has potential because Amazon.com already have the connections with book publishers to more easily distribute popular e-book titles. Even more sneaky is the fact that a PC is not required to use Kindle. It has a wireless modem and can connect to EVDO/CDMA networks (provided such network connectivity is available — something she admits would be problematic in South Africa at the moment), and thus can directly download e-books from Amazon.com .
That last sentence is where my optimism about this technology whithers, while Eve’s is nourished. Forget the connectivity issue. Let’s assume that’s all sorted out, as it probably will be in the market where the product is first introduced (the USA).
Eve waxes lyrical about the technology liberating writers from the publishing-house stranglehold. No need to get a publisher to print your novel, just self-publish digitally and you have a simple, cost-effective distribution channel with no overheads for your work.
I totally agree with Eve and the industry shake-up this has the potential to cause, except…

E-books can be downloaded from Amazon.com. Only Amazon.com. And they come in a proprietary format that other e-book readers cannot read. The books are also encumbered with brain-dead DRM.
Certainly Kindle supports some other formats, so one isn’t actually completely reliant on Amazon.com for reading material. Unfortunately some of those formats can only be read on the Kindle if they are converted to Amazon’s format, and to do that you need to email them the document and they’ll email it back in the proprietary format — for a price.
Here’s the problem with proprietary formats and DRM: if this e-book reader thing actually takes off, and Apple brings out an iReader, I might want to ditch the Kindle and go with their uber-cool design and user-interface instead. Sadly I won’t be able to read any of the books I bought in Amazon’s locked file format. That’s the proprietary format issue. Why do these companies use their own secret formats when there is an open standard available? I’m not answering that.

The DRM issue is even worse. Amazon allows authors to upload documents which will be delivered to the Kindle via their Whispernet service. The author chooses the selling price, and Amazon keeps 65% of it. Anyone can publish, and Rick Aristotle Munarriz has tested the scenario that Eve suggests will promulgate itself across the publishing world.
Glorious! I wonder if the Kindle and Whispernet support publishing work under a Creative Commons licence? I doubt it. DRM and CC tend to be an anathema to one another. If you think people don’t publish novels under a Creative Commons licence and make a commercial success of it, think again. Cory Doctorow is an excellent example. I doubt he’ll be distributing via this channel until the DRM stuff is ditched.

If the music industry is anything to go by, DRM just damages sales figures. People get pissed off when you don’t let them do what they want with something they purchased, and irrespective of copyright law, believe that they own.
People who are going to conduct copyright infringement will do it regardless of DRM, because there are always technical work-arounds to this kind of tomfoolery. People who would legitimately have bought the products won’t, because they don’t want the crap and would rather go without music than deal with the idiocy of big corporations.
Digital distribution of music still works though, because the peer-to-peer networks and associated copyright infringement by sharing digital music became firmly entrenched before the recording industry caught on and instituted the DRM foolishness. Now the portable music playing devices are affordable. They may have been expensive when they were first released, but MP3s could be played on a PC too. The compressed format was established and one needed to only wait for the early adopters to buy enough MP3-players to drive the prices down.
This isn’t going to work with books. The DRM is in place first. The e-book reader is too expensive, but unlike music, e-book formats for dedicated e-book readers are not suitable for PCs and laptops. The people who buy the e-books and the readers are going to get annoyed with the DRM thing and the vendor lock-in, and tell their other earlier-adopter friends not to bother. Thus the price doesn’t go down. Thus another e-book reader fails.

I hope I’m completely wrong, because those e-book readers are nifty. I’m not sure they’re “sexy” though (a term Eve favoured in her post).
Seriously, have you seen a picture of these things? Sexy has more curves. 😉

Apartheid Museum

Embarrassingly, it takes an American to get me to visit places in South Africa that I would immediately seek out were I not living in South Africa.

Amanda is in South Africa gathering data for her masters dissertation which, to the best of my understanding, involves interviewing people who have undergone traumatic experiences. I don’t envy her, but I do admire the work she does in studying human trafficking. She is only here for eight weeks, and then back to the States with her information and notes to write up the thesis.

Given this context, it is understandable that Amanda didn’t want to waste time visiting the Silly Buggers Museum (which is unfortunate because I hear that it is very nice). She wanted to visit the memorial to that political system that no-one in South Africa ever agreed with. Funny how a system like that could come into being with absolutely no support. I suppose everyone who thought it was a good idea must have died or emigrated (or both).

If you haven’t been to the Apartheid Museum, and you live in South Africa, I hope your excuse is that you live in Hotazel and have never been to Johannesburg (and only have a vague understanding of the concept of city).
I suppose that’s a little hypocritical of me, considering I visited it for the first time on Sunday and live in Johannesburg. I’ll revise the statement slightly.
After reading this post, I hope you will be making your way to the Apartheid Museum within the next month, provided you live in South Africa and are not holed up in some god-forsaken dorpie in a desert somewhere.

The Apartheid Museum is a beautiful place. Using simple, minimalist architecture it conveys a sense of serenity and peace. Yet there is also an undercurrent of something heavy waiting within. Something these plain concrete walls and tranquil water-features conceal furtively.
As I bought my ticket and entered the museum, a cold foreboding passed over me.

If the architecture of the place doesn’t have an impact on you, then the entrance can’t possibly fail to.
Each person who pays for entrance is given a ticket labelled “White” or “Non-white.” The tickets are handed to you arbitrarily, regardless of your actual genetic heritage. There are two entrances to the museum, and you don’t get to choose which one to enter via. The ticket you have chooses for you. Random. Arbitrary. Ridiculous.
The statement is very powerful, as the first part of the museum keep the “whites” and “non-whites” separated. I wondered whether the museum would be entirely separated like this, and whether I’d be reunited with my wife before leaving.
This initial impact is a lasting one, and the intensity of the place persists throughout.

I found the museum to be brutally honest about South Africa’s turbulent history and, more remarkable, brutally honest about the current state of the nation. Although apartheid has been dismantled, not everyone has been emancipated.
The display on the part women played during the struggle movingly illustrates to what extent women went in fighting against the social ills of the time. I was impressed that the display ended by highlighting the inequities that many women in South Africa still suffer, despite the change in government. The crimes against women that are rife in this country were listed. These things are realities in our country, and the curators of the museum were not afraid of pointing them out. The apartheid museum is not propaganda vehicle of the New South Africa, shouting out “Rah! Rah! Apartheid is vanquished! Look how perfect everything is now.”
This wasn’t the only place where the museum gave a balanced representation of the political events which had occurred. For this I am grateful, and inordinately impressed. It kicked any cynicism I might have felt about South Africa squarely in the buttocks.

We were at the museum for roughly three hours, and I didn’t even look at everything. I was, however, quite emotionally drained by the time I left. Of particular poignancy to me was the short twenty minute film on the 80’s, shown in the auditorium
The film depicted the civil unrest of the time, and the events leading up to and during the declared state of emergency. It depicted a very violent, sadistic time. People rioting, and fighting. Police cracking down on them, generally using gratuitous force. It was distinctly unpleasant to watch, yet completely compelling. I couldn’t get up and walk away, despite the senseless acts.
It was poignant to me because I a child living in South Africa during this time, and knew nothing of these events.
I had a vague idea of this “state of emergency” thing. I vaguely understood that black people were treated differently to me, and other people with fair skin. At the time I had no idea that white people were doing those things to black people. Obviously, the state controlled media was doing a good job in those days.
I was appalled by and ashamed of my ignorance. Certainly as a child, I could have done nothing to alter these events but I still felt mortified about my past as I watched the film.

The Apartheid Museum was an emotional rollercoaster. It brought me to the verge of tears but, annoyingly, my male socialised conditioning blockaded the tear-ducts. It made me laugh out loud at the absurd pontifications of the apartheid government officials and politicians (those natives must carry passbooks, which provide a handy folder to store all of their documents, which they are liable to otherwise lose — being a careless bunch of barbarians and all). It made me feel very sombre. It made me feel very positive about South Africa.

We’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way to go. At least we’re being honest about it.

Later, Angie and I discussed our feelings about the museum and we reckon that every politician currently in office should spend three hours at the Apartheid Museum. It’ll help them remember why they are in office in the first place, and what they should be trying to achieve there.

Kelty: The Full Story and More!

On Friday the 25th Angie and I travelled through to Welkom to visit my parents for the weekend. We left in the morning because I also had some business matters to deal with in Welkom (such matters that will be dealt with in a future post, as they are quite interesting too).

The good thing about the journey to Welkom is that they have recently retarred the road which runs between Kroonstad and Welkom. The road was considered to be fairly crappy previously. Although dual-carriage way, it was poorly maintained and heavily potholed. The Department of roadworks had, however, provided useful signs indicating the presence of such potholes. For a long time it seemed that they would permanently be satisfied with this corrective measure — after all, it prevented vehicle owners from suing the department when the vehicles in question had their rims mangled by potholes. “Well we did warn you,” they’d say.
The bad thing about the journey was that the road had been retarred so recently that there was still some loose gravel lying around on it. Loose gravel that truck wheels tend to throw into windscreens.
Ah well, I got the chip repaired today, and I also got to practise patience. Little did I know how much patience was in store for me that day — but that is another story.

I first dropped Angie and The Bean off at my parents place, where my dear mother drew Angie’s attention to the local Welkom newspaper, the Vista. They don’t appear to have much on-line content, but rest assured that the hard copy exists, and is filled with words and pictures and advertisements and the like.
In the Vista was an article about the Claws animal shelter, and how a great number of furry canine and feline beasts require good homes. Cunningly, they inserted two photographs with the article — 1 x Maltese and 1 x Maltese-cross-Yorkie (or so they claimed).
The photos were cute. Angie wanted to rescue one. “We need a friend for The Bean, and these dogs need Good Homes!”
I hemmed and hawed, but to no avail. And anyway, I needed to head off for my work appointment. I left the rescuing of one small dog in the capable hands of my wife and mother (who needed to go along to show Angie where Claws was based). “Which one should we get?” Whichever.
Apparently Angie chose the least lovable looking one.

Least lovable? But those photos of Kelty are sooooo cute. Are you mad man?
I’m not mad. We’d have a before the three baths, one haircut, and de-ticking photograph if I’d not been otherwise detained by work related matters. We don’t because Angie doesn’t have the eye (or inclination to develop the eye) for blog-worthy material that I do. Instead, she just gets things done. I generally stand around watching them get done, and documenting how they get done.
Her function is more admirable. Mine, more self-indulgent.
What follows is the story I’ve pieced together from the evidence given to me.

Angie chose the least lovable, most-matted, most smelly, tick-infested, small “The Bean Dog”-like dog at Claws. In consultation with the rest of the family, we eventually named him Kelty.
Following an intensive trimming, washing, rewashing, trimming, and tick-removing session, Kelty was transformed into the “illegally” cute little dog you see today.
It wasn’t always good times for Kelty Dog. Abandoned for two weeks in a house with no food, and only a little water, he and two or three other little Maltese-like dogs were eventually discovered by concerned neighbours.
Kelty has spent the last two months at claws, without an owner or a home, becoming increasingly matted and smelly.
When Angie chose him, lifted him up and embracing him in all his malodorous glory, Neil’s mother recommended that Angie rather choose one of the other little dogs — but Angie was not to be dissuaded.
Once he got home (after vomiting up fur-balls in the car), he was met by Neil’s father, who asked whether or not Angie would be able to return the dog and get a refund. Such was the poor condition that Kelty was originally discovered in.
After being cleaned up, he was initially quite timid, but is growing in confidence with each passing day.

–Waffle Master Press

The Bean wasn’t too pleased about the new addition. She sulked. She moped.
She is getting used to him now, so we’re not too stressed that they’ll hate each other any longer. Or at least, I’m not too stressed. I’m not sure Angie was worried about it to start with.

Project Update

Last project update happened in March. It should be relatively easy to tell that no updates on progress will tend to indicate no progress.
Considering the time that has lapsed since the last update, progress per unit time has been dismal. Fortunately, progress hasn’t been negligible, and I’m hoping that by writing about the small amount of progress I have achieved, I will be spurred into action.

To recap:
I’ve dropped office and work related things from this whole structured procrastination strategy. These are personal projects, for my own benefit. Not for the benefit of any other entity.
This leaves me with the following items in the structured procrastination list:

  1. Project A — Write the novel, “The Adventures of Commitment Man”
  2. Project B — Write 100 word stories for family and friends, and present them as gifts
  3. Play chess online
  4. Blog every day
  5. Take camera everywhere, and pretend to be a Japanese tourist

How are things going then? Since the last update on 9 March, some progress has been made, but not a hell of a lot:

  1. 903 new words were written, bringing the total number of words to 20,043. Appalling.
    So that you can get a full understanding of how appalling it is, consider that this is on average, 15.84 words per day — even though I wrote all of those words during one of the days since the last update.
    The average number of words per day, since I started NaNoWriMo, back in November, is 100.34.
    The shame of it.

    1. I also mentioned the creation of a handy mind-map plot and character diagram affair. Added nothing to it. At least it didn’t waste more time.
  2. One story completed. One. This is just not good enough. How am I ever going to make something of myself if I carry on in this fashion? The answer, naturally, is I’m not. Perseverance is key.
    It seems, at this rate, that some recipients really will get their gifts at Christmas — or worse — not at all.
    However, although only one has been completed, there are two stories waiting for editing (which in practise is hacking off up to third of the story, so that it meets the 100-words-long criterion).
    There is also 1 half-written story, and another waiting in the conceptual phase.
    In summary: 1 complete, 2 waiting for post-production, 1 in production, 1 at proof-of-concept phase. All this, over just 59 days. Bah!

    1. I’ve decided to break the family batch into two, in order to make it a little less intimidating. Thus, there will be a 5 story and a 4 story batch.
  3. Chess. There have been some games. I am bad at chess on-line, generally because the games are too fast-paced.
    How do I quantify my progress, in terms of actually playing chess on the server? I suppose I can post my rated games stats. Then, the next time I arbitrarily feel like giving you all an update, I’ll post them again. Then my loyal readers can see for themselves how apathetic I’ve been. Apologies for the icky formatting. I’ll look into it. Perhaps a screenshot will be easiest.On for: 9 mins Idle: 0 secsrating RD win loss draw total best
    Blitz 1069 141.5 15 39 3 57 1508 (28-Nov-1998)
    Standard 1998 350.0 2 2 0 4
    Lightning 1225 196.3 9 28 0 37
    Wild 1859 271.9 3 6 0 9
    Crazyhouse 1341 345.4 0 5 0 5
    Suicide 1346 350.0 2 12 0 14
    Atomic 1562 198.0 1 3 0 4

    Total time online: 2 days, 1 hr, 32 mins
    % of life online: 0.1 (since Thu Jul 2, 17:00 ??? 1998)

  4. Blog every day. Success rate on that has been 26.32%, although this doesn’t take into account multiple posts on a single day.
    Is just over a quarter any good? If 26% BEE ownership is good enough for the Department of Minerals and Energy, then it’s good enough for me.
    Aren’t logical fallacies great?
    And isn’t it great when I use the term, “logical fallacy,” but in all honesty am not completely certain of it’s definition.
  5. I am not a Japanese tourist, although I do have a minor guilt complex about the camera, and do tend to take it to more places than I may have taken my previous camera.
    764 pictures taken. That’s 12.95 pictures per day. Not sure how many photos the stereotypical Japanese tourist takes in a day. Google is no help on this. I assume it’s probably quite a young research field.

When I started writing this, it was meant to be a motivational piece for myself. It seems a little self-deprecating, when I look at it now.

Some focus is required as to which project is most important. Is the structured procrastination strategy really effective, in the long run? Am I really achieving a great deal of useful, meaningful things.
Honestly — no. I’m not getting anything done.
The question that follows is: what do I want to get done? Is there an end goal for each task? Yes. There is.

At this point I should probably apologise for the excessive waffle (although it is waffle group, and you knew that when you bought the tickets). Feel free to give up at this point, and go about your business (as if you were somehow restrained before). I usually try to remain at least somewhat coherent in what I write. I offer no such guarantees from this point on, at least today. What I write now is information I need to keep a record of for myself, and that I can refer to. By putting it out on the intertubes, I can try to make it binding. It’s in writing. I’m committed. I have to stick to it.

Right — back to the end goals of each task. What do I want to achieve? Let’s use those handy numbered lists again.

  1. I want to write a novel. I know that I can. I know there’s a market for the kind of thing that I like to write. Look at the internet. The geeky, fanboy, in-joke, population of the internet is just waiting for me to finish commitment man, so that they can ingest it ravenously, and be somewhat amused. And hey, if amongst all that quirky entertainment, I can also make some sort of point, that’ll be great.
    And if it makes me a little money, that’ll be even better. For myself, I just need to finish writing the damned thing. I passed Chemical Engineering Design — I can do frigging anything, and that includes writing a full-length book.
    Desired end-product: A complete, unedited novel. I’ll worry about making it publishable once it actually exists.
  2. Show my friends and family that I care about them by giving them gifts that I created, and not just bought, pre-packaged, just-add-water.
    This one is actually quite easy. By making the stories short, it isn’t a huge mountain to climb to achieve the end result. The most difficult part is figuring out what to write. What topic to choose. What event in our shared past to focus on? What aspect of the person’s personality to celebrate? And then, having chosen that thing the story is to highlight, condensing all of the details of those shared experiences into something so brief. That’s the hard part. 100 words just isn’t enough, but if I let myself write more then I’d probably never have finished one of the stories.
    Desired end-product: A gift for each of the people I hold dear. This is tricky though. As I get to know certain people better, it becomes clear to me that I need to write these previously unknown, but now well-known people a short story. Have I got myself into an endless cycle, out of which I can only break by refusing to get to know anyone else? Will anyone really be offended if they don’t get their story, but that other person did? Do people really care that much about me that they’d get offended over something like that?
    Desired end-product — revised: A written gift for each of the people I held dear at the time I devised the project, and whose names I placed on The List. If you weren’t on The List at the outset, you may have to cope with not receiving a 100 word story.
  3. Nothing to achieve here. I don’t take chess as seriously as I used to. It’s fun to play, but I don’t feel the urge to set quantifiable goals, like rating improvements, or number of games played, or any of the other stuff I could set. This one is truly a structured procrastination device. I’ll play chess, when I’m avoiding the Project A and B — which I should try not to avoid.
    Desired end product: None
  4. Blogging every day? What for? I’ll blog when I feel the need, or have a compulsion. The only reason I can think of blogging every day is to make statements of affirmation.
    Desired end product: Blog when I feel like it, otherwise make an affirmation every day (although this might begin to annoy my readers, I suspect it will get me to work on Projects A and B with more vigour)
  5. Take photos. This means getting away from the damned, cursed, evil, computer machine and its collection of tubes to other places that suck away the time and leave a would be project completer without completed projects.
    Desired end product: Take photos of the real world. Get away from the virtual one.

Ok, that was helpful. I’ve identified that the writing projects are what i really want to do. Getting away from the computer screen is also recommended, from time to time. Blogging and playing chess are not necessary.
File this under obvious, I suppose, but it has helped me to remind myself of these things.

Further, I think I need to stop reading crap on the internet. If I intend to read something, it must be printed — i.e. a book. If I intend to waste time reading crap on the internet, rather work on project A or B, or play some chess, or blog an affirmation. Or take a photo. or get back to work. Those are now the options.

Ok. Summary of the intended plan:

  1. No random browsing on the internet. Internet reading is to be restricted to information gathering for a particular purpose — and then stop. Stay away from slashdot.
  2. Google Reader will be not quite banned, but will be severely restricted. No more reading all the tech stories. Comic feeds are acceptable (I only have 3). Friends feeds are acceptable (because my friend’s blogs are updated intermittently, not constantly). That’s it.
  3. Email is still allowed. Links that I receive via email will be followed, but that’s it! No other random internet crap will be explored. No links from within linked stories will be followed.
  4. If I feel the urge to explore random crap on the internet at any time, instead I will do one of the following:
    1. Blog
    2. Project A
    3. Project B
    4. Play chess
    5. Take photos
    6. Read a book that I can hold in my hands
  5. Project A and B are going to be completed, and this kind of focus is the only way to get it done. I’m going Nazi on myself

If you’re still reading this, I’m flattered. But seriously, you’ve got better things to do too, so do them already. Procrastination will leave you withered and hollow at the end of your time, with no sense of accomplishment or meaning.
You know exactly what I mean. You know the way you feel when you wasted a whole day doing random crap that achieved nothing, or made no inroads into achieving something that you desperately would like to have edged closer to. You know you don’t want to go on like that any more — so don’t.

The waffle is finally over for today.

Return to Goblin’s Cove

Easter weekend. Angie and I booked two nights (Saturday and Sunday) at Goblin’s Cove. We’ve been there before. It was weird then. It’s still weird. But we like weird.
(I also note that imageshack has eaten the photos on the page that links to. Stupid imageshack).

This time, however, there was a freaky crazy psycho woman running the psychedelic coffee-shop. She didn’t like bees.
The way she pulled her raven-black hair back made her look very severe.
The way she carried around a can of insecticide and a lighter made her seem a little crazed.
The way she used the flame from the lighter and the spray from the compressed can of insecticide made her seem a little pyromanic.
The way she incinerated the bees dispassionately made her seem evil.

Then she closed in on the table near us, where bees were happily investigating the sticky tablecloth. They weren’t bothering us. Psycho-woman was, especially as she waved the can and lighter about.
Angie asked her to please leave the bees alone. She replied that she wouldn’t possibly think of setting them alight near us. She went away, and at least those bees were spared — for the meantime.
As we sat at the table in the open-air coffee shop, situated in a pleasant, tranquil forest, we were unsettled by the just noticeable, slightly sweet, slightly charcoal smell of heavily crisped bees. That smell, and the occasional sound of localised pressure changes in the distance as the oxygen was sucked from the air to help form a bee-apocalyptic fireball.

Everything else was pleasant though.

One of the waiters at the main restaurant (not the coffee-shop) took quite a liking to us. We rather liked him too. There was an instantaneous rapport between us. After lunch (which ended relatively late) he suggested we come visit. After all, he lived on the property, just next door to the restaurant.
So a little later we wandered over and visited our new friend Wikus. He was staying in a house that was designed and built by the same guy who’d put the insane architecture together for the Goblin’s Cove restaurant. We had a look around. Up the spiral stairway. On the creaky, uneven wooden floorboards. Holding onto ropes, because there were no railings where there should’ve been. Incredible place to live.
Wikus told us he was a little paranoid about living there because it had massive windows and no burglar bars, and a not entirely secure front-door. Wikus is originally from Joburg. That should explain it all.
We spent quite a while sitting there, drinking with him, chatting, smoking. Talking politics, talking religion, talking history, talking relationships, talking shit. The restaurant’s cook came over for a little too. Jaco was his name, I think. Wikus and Jaco are both of the age where the big bad old apartheid government conscripted them. Wikus did his national service and then 6 months later, they scrapped it. He never went any place too intense. Nothing too crazy happened. He thinks Afrikaaner nationalism is a little ridiculous, and they kicked him out of F.W. de Klerk’s office (where he was going to be a staff clerk) because he’d been bust possessing marijuana.
Jaco went to Angola. Jaco fought in a war, for something he thought was justified. Jaco seemed like a really pleasant guy (he joined us for about 20 minutes or so, before going to bed). I quite liked him, and I really liked his cooking, but one could see a level of distress underlying the surface. Demons lurking there.
It made me think about who was helping these people. On both sides of the struggle. People who fought in wars and did things they’d never dream of doing today. Who is helping these souls? Or are they just left in torment for the rest of their lives, forgotten by society. The dirty laundry that no-one wants to face up to, let alone clean.

Getting intense. Unintentional. Still, it was an excellent weekend and we met interesting people and experienced interesting things. We exchanged contact details with Wikus. I really hope we don’t let inertia stop us connecting again.

Bring on the Gautrain! (but have it stop in every suburb in Joburg)

There is one major drawback of owning one car — you only have one car. This is, of course, also the major strength of owning one car.

This week, it’s proving to be a weakness.

While driving home via the N1 highway on Tuesday afternoon, the engine stopped working. I don’t really have the full details since Angie was driving. She really should be the one sharing this story, but we all know that is unlikely to happen. I’ll do my best.

The car cut out in the middle lane, and Angie came to a stop. Soon afterwards, I received a frantic phone-call from her, pleading with me to please help her. The car has stopped dead! People are hooting! I can’t get out of the car! Help me!
I wasn’t really sure what I was meant to do, considering that a) I was far from the scene, b) I had no way of easily reaching the scene, c) Even if I could get there quickly, I still wouldn’t be able to do anything.
I should’ve told her to phone the insurance people, but I faltered. Under pressure, I couldn’t really think of what to tell her to do. In the end I told her to phone 112 — the cellphone emergency number.
The problem was further exacerbated by the fact that I couldn’t keep Angie on the phone and try to calm her down because her cellphone battery was almost kaput. This left us with SMS communication. Clumsy and difficult. And confusing at times.

On the bright side, Angie had 15 seconds of fame as she made the 5FM traffic news (and probably other radio stations’ news too) for causing an obstruction on the N1, and slowing traffic.

Ultimately, a tow-truck arrived to transport Angie and the car home. The confusion of the SMSs played a part here. From our texted communication, I thought that the tow-truck had picked up the car and left Angie on the side of the road. Panicked, I phoned Quinn to ask him to give me a lift to fetch Angie (who I believed, was flapping at the side of the road — using words like “desperate” can give that impression).
By the time Quinn arrived, Angie texted me to say that the tow-truck had arrived and would be bringing her home soon.
Why I thought it had already made an appearance isn’t entirely clear to me now.

The truck brought the car home, to my slight dismay. Because we’d need to tow it somewhere else the next day — at additional expense. At which point Quinn brought to my attention that the insurance people should do it. At which point I felt foolish for having paid R500.00 to get it towed home.

The fun of the night was not yet complete.

By this point, it was about 18h30. Angie and I had intended to have pizza that night, and we were not intending on changing our plans. Kindly, Quinn dropped us off at the pizza place in our suburb. We ate the pizza, cursed our dismal luck with automobiles, and drank wine.
Then we walked home. At night. In Johannesburg. That’s right kids. It’s not really that scary. The pizza place is only about 1.5 kilometres from home.
As we got to the last corner before turning into our town-house complex, we encountered many agitated people on the road outside a house. And then one of the ADT security vehicles came flying by. We overheard the word “hijack.” The people looked at us as if we were strange circus beasts, or a rare species of bird — a breeding pair of the lesser-known white-skinned nocturnal pedestrian.

The fun of the night concluded there, but the fun of the car continues! Read on!

The truck was towed on Wednesday morning to a service station, where I was cheerfully informed that the cam-belt had snapped, bending all valves.
People with cars dread this happening. Fixing it involves replacing a bunch of stuff, and taking engines apart and so on. It apparently costs a lot because it takes a while to get everything done. I don’t really know for sure because I’m more of a geek than a mechanic. Which is why I get ripped-off by mechanics and not by PC sales-people. In hindsight, given the relative expense of purchasing and maintaining PCs versus motorcars, I should’ve taken more interest in mechanical operating systems, than in computer operating systems. At least from a financial perspective.
Further adding to my grief is the fact that the service station couldn’t source one of the spare parts before the end of today. It’s now the Easter weekend, which means I have no car until Tuesday.
We booked two nights at Goblin’s cove over the weekend.
Fortunately, Angie can abuse her position at her NGO and borrow the organisation’s car for the weekend. So, at least we are vaguely mobile once again.

These, and other unmentioned things, led me to return to get my hit of Buddhism on Wednesday. Something I’d been missing lately. One needs to attend classes regularly otherwise one forgets to keep doing those useful things that keeps one calm.

I’m keeping calm again, which is much better than the grumpiness I had been returning to.

Enough waffle — for now.