Monday, March 30, 2009

I should research this!

So someting happeed last week in that I did bundles of landry and nothing came out the other end... To be honest, my participation ended at putthing clothes in the washing machine and hitting the start button. I'm very good at doing laundry strategically when I'm either about to go out or just before Gertrude, the super-awesome maid arrives (she hides things and tends to put clean cothes in the wash while folding up dirty clothes back in my cupboard, but she's totally awesome! plus she spends two days a week at my hous so I don't have to worry about my dogs being lonely. I think in a life or death situation Max would totally rescue her first!)

So anyway for the last few days I've been battling to find anything to wear. Finally in frustraton I went through my cupboards last night to discover that it is a lot neater than usual bcasue half my stuf fis gone. More specifically the pants that went into the wash have not re-emerged. I ended up wering a skirt yesterday (horrors), going to gym in my pyjamas (ok, that's normal) and now I'm walking around in cargo pants I found in the back of the cupboard that I haven't worn since high school. They not too bad except they have a million pockets and I keep losing things and then i have to hunt through all of the pockets and zip-compartments and velcroed sub-pockets within pockets until I forget what i was looking for in the first place.

I hope that my clothes do their usual trick of being missing for a week or so and then reappearing just in time for me to avoid going to university in my swimming costume, fluffy slippers and a bathrobe out of desperation. but the fact remains: where the heck do these things go? I don't mind occasionally losing a sock or a shoelace or a glove, but all my jeans and about 3 pairs of gym pants in one fell swoop? That's one hungry washing machine!

Any ideas on where they might be? Has anyone else had an experience like this before? It makes me feel kind of violated and alone...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Girls who like boys who like...

I am going to stop talking about life in the lab or a bit, mainly because the girl who tried very hard to wreck the equipment is now being more annoying than ever and I really have no desire to rehash the lecture I just gave her via email.

anyway last night we were chatting to the IT guy about GHD straighteners, and he freaked out at the level of girliness and ran off, and so I was chatting to my labmate, and it became apparent that she had never even seen a hair straightener, does not own a hairdryer and only uses conditioner when the mood hits.

And as much as I tend to climb trees, get covered in dirt and get bitten or crapped on by various animals regularly, I freaked! Life without heat-styling? A day without conditioner? Even if you listen to Oprah and only use shampoo twice a week, you HAVE to condition!

Anyway the IT guy is going overseas and might be able to pick up a GHD for me. I have the good old Toni & Guy which I'm totally fond of, but I'm torn between saving up for a new camera lens, or grabbing the opportunity for the world's most awesome straightener...


Monday, March 23, 2009


The cheesy title is an attempt on my part to get a boy-band song out of my head... I found these old mix-tapes I made off the radio when I was about 13 and I was listening to one in my car - never ever ever again! I've had this cheesy song in my head since about Friday...

So anyway A few months ago (I think it was around November last year) my supervisor asked if I was going to be using a certain piece of lab equipment soon - there was a colleague who ad a visiting student and blah blah blah and basically it would be lent to another lab until February.

When I got back from fieldwork we sat down and worked out a lab protocol for working with the data from said piece of equipment (he typed, I dictated and later I added in pictures and screenshots with arrows and stuff) and we sent it off to said visiting researcher.

Said researcher freaked out as it turned out there was a box she was supposed to click and she hadn't clicked it and so all her readings were saved in the wrong format. My supervisor made sympathetic noises and forwarded me her email saying "can we help?" and I sent back some suggestions which she seemed to ignore or maybe didn't receive or something.

So a few weeks ago I got an email from this person asking me to take a bunch of reference readings so that she could test whether or not the conversion she tried is actually working or not. I agreed as it's stuff I do often and I can take measurements in my sleep and so I went upstairs to get the stuff out of its case to find that she'd totally dismantled the wires to connect the machine to its power supply. I freaked out, supervisor promised to get it fixed and I sent said visiting researcher a mildly strained email saying that as she had screwed up the power supply she was going to have to wait. She agreed somewhat grudgingly.

So anyway today I was in the lab when my supervisor appeared with the repaired equipment and I figured I'd take the measurements quickly because it has been bugging me for a few weeks now and I would really like to have it done, so I took it all out to find: she'd messed up the sandpaper (which is very important as we use it to clean off surfaces), she'd tangled the wires horribly, adjusted the probe so I couldn't use it without doing some readjustment with pliers and she's totally destroyed a reference sample. These things cost about R2000 each (fortunately I had had the R5000 one with me so she didn't have a chance to destroy it) and it looked like she'd dunked it in water, dropped it, used it as an ashtray... I don't even know, but I've never seen any piece of equipment treated so badly. If I was to guess what happened it would be that she left it in its case in a pocket and washed her clothes.

Te fact that it happens doesn't bother me, stuff goes wrong, if I had R10 for every time my flash-drive has gone through the washing machine, or I've found damp money in my pockets... well lets just say I wouldn't need to study! The fact is, after changing the electronics without asking first, she damaged a really expensive piece of equipment and then calmly packed it back in the box and returned it as if nothing had happened!

I mean seriously, my degree is based off readings from a piece of equipment just like that and I have been known to sleep with it under my bed when we had visiting students in case anything went wrong, and I have every right to use it. So now I've been mean and nasty and laid down the law - nobody else touches that thing until I graduate, then they can drop it in seawater for all I care!

A rather mundane description of a rather fun weekend

So on Friday, after a lab that went on FOREVER I went straight off to Northgate for movie/girls' night with Storm and Lara and the whole crew. We went and saw Confessions of a Shopaholic, and I once again and the experience of seeing a movie that I would usually hate, and absolutely loving it purely because of the people I was with. Whenever something funny happened Lara and I would laugh and then as we finished giggling I would hear Kerry, on my other side cracking up and I'd start laughing all over again.

And then when the movie finished Storm and her cousin randomly decided to head off clubbing without us (when she had been the organiser of the whole thing), so the rest of us went off for drinks and ended up chatting and generally catching up. then when I remembered I'd left my phone on silent and that I was over an hour later that I'd told my folks and they were throwing a fit. So I scuttled off home and passed out until about 20 minutes before I was due at work at the vet on Saturday.

Oh, and for some reason that movie made me REALLY want to go shopping. It was very strange!

I somehow made it to work in time, to find out that it was a public holiday, the vet was closed and there were a lot of angry people with sick dogs in the parking lot One of them was the cutest puppy EVER! But as it happened I didn't have the vet's cellphone number on me, nobody was answering their phones, and I got tired of being yelled at so I left and went two blocks down the road to visit Lara at work, where we sympathised at each other for mutual tiredness and I got some movies and headed home to do my marking in front of the tv.

Then i lay down for 5 minutes, and woke up several hours later when summoned for lunch, which I literally ate with my eyes closed (a tricky skill when it comes to soup) and headed back to bed, getting up in time to go to gym and buy fudge ingredients. Apparently I wasn't as awake as I though as I bought the wrong ingredients, but I had an awesome gym session and left feeling all invigorated and stuff and so I went home and made brownies instead of fudge (the joy of having a recipe that used ingredients that really are usually lying around the house) and went off to Chief Goth's house.

Where it turned out that storm was "too tired" to join us! Lara was livid and basically the evening consisted of us trying some new wine that CG had bought and listening to the two of them bitching about Storm. While I see their point, I felt kind of awkward when they said things like "I see more of Helen than I do of Storm!" well... I would hope so! Eventually La picked up on it and pointed out that that is pretty amazing considering I don't live I the same city as them half the time, and so we played guitar hero.

Sunday was horrible, I was a zombie all day again, to the point where I think I worried Luke a bit when I spoke to him and all I could say was that life sucked and my feet were cold. At this stage it was well into the afternoon and I had gone back to bed. Eventually I got up, freaked at the time as I was late for church and went dashing out the house to meet my mom in the driveway where I realized that it was actually an hour earlier than I thought it was, and so I carried on marking, went to church and then went off to gm where I nearly collapsed.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Ink-blot tests

So marking undergrrad drawings is somewhat like doing inkblot tests. I had to mark drawings of worms which looked like breakfast, maps, basketball courts, not to mention the longitudinal sections which get unbelievably phallic... Luke in the bakground, gigglng at doesn't really help.

At the same time I'm marking the second years who had to answer questions about birds. Here are some of this year's gems:

Eagles eat kids

Flamingos squeeze food in their tongue
The also eat by using their erectile tissue

Flamingos are pink so that they're camouflages amongst the flamingos (circular much?)

Birds eat anything they can get their claws on (I'm quoting here)

A flightless bird other than an ostrich is a volstruis (i.e. there are ostriches and afrikaans ostriches)

Parrots have great muscle

The kneecap is known as the photata

Ostriches are totally flghtless because they have bone marrow

And of course the classic: Owls eat lawns at night. Sometimes even hedges.

And they say that teaching is boring?


So in celebration of our having had a coffee machine for over two weeks we went and got donuts and pretended to e cops eating donuts and drinking coffee. I managed to convince Luke (a non-coffee drinker) to pour coffee ito his white hot chocolate - the result being that now I have to drink the stuff. Whoops. It's actually quite nice!

Now that I've spent the most part of the last 5 weeks teacing and/or marking, I find myself a little bit sad that the second year course is over. I still have my first year kiddies until I go off on fieldwork and pawn them off on someone else, but I think there's something infinitely more fun about teaching something I actually know, and haivng a huge group so if someone annoys you oyu can arrange to be on the other side of the room at all times (that's a carefully cultivated skill).

I sat in the lab and marked until late last night - my fist years are mostly passing, but for some reason can't wrap their OBEd little heads around scale and magnification. apparently there is a liver parasite out there roughly the size of Gauteng - the poor darling multiplied instead of divididng and then converted backwards - ending up with metres instead of micrometres. While I understand that it's tricky, surely they should notice that the segment the looked at was not 17 m long?

I must go off to a prelab now, where we will be taught nothing of use andthen I'll be spending lunch cramming so that I can be of some use to the children later.

And then I have girls' night tonight, I'm so excited! I haven't seen osme of my friends in months and I can't wait to go and see a good old chick flick and have dinner and man-bashing (not that I have anything against most guys, but they need someone to provide sympathy...)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I suck at chess

From time to time I cycle between narcolepsy (I have friends who can verify this after I fell asleep on a beach, in a car, on a chair, on floor several times during one weekend) and insomnia. I think a lot of this is stress-based, when I am stressed I just don't sleep, but prefer lying in bed paying out worst-case scenarios across my ceiling (I stuck glow-in-the dark stars up there too, but without my contact lenses all I can see if a greenish-yellow haze).

Last week, while I was really battling with insomnia, I downloaded a chess application to my phone and decided to pass those very long 2am-6am hours playing against my phone. I lost. Badly. And continued to lose. I had it set on easy, but I swear that thing is like the chess grandmaster thing like that AI program that beat the real chess master and really freaked out everyone! It's been a long time since I played chess, and the time during which I was any good at strategizing only really lasted about 3 months as nobody around me really plays it, but still!

As the days passed I felt my playing improve and I lasted longer into each game before quitting in a huff, but I still couldn't beat it. The insomnia worsened as I couldn't sleep without paying at least one game at night, which often stretched into several hours of battling a stupid cellphone app. One day I pulled out an old chess board and set up the game on there - I found being able to move pieces around in real life made strategizing easier - and did quite well until I made one tiny little mistake and the machine totally destroyed me!

By the end of last week I was exhausted and jittery and drinking WAY too much coffee and still losing. And we had to head off on field trip with a bunch of undergrads. To be honest, it was an easy trip, with 3 lecturers, the two of us and about 20 students. The lecturers stayed in chalets and we stayed in a tent to keep an eye on the kiddies.

Things I learned:

  1. I am getting old/growing up. While this group of students was more immature than most, I found myself feeling increasingly different from them - the good old alone-in-a-crowd feeling.
  2. I really cannot handle being around people all the time anymore. I ended up taking a walk at 1am on the Saturday night just to have breathing space.
    Although the men's showers are way cleaner than the ladies (for once) it is not advisable to sneak in and use them in case a bunch of men decide to queue outside your shower stall and discuss their personal lives.
  3. Taking a random hike without students attached is a lot of fun!
  4. My sleeping bag, while largely waterproof, lets water in around the zip.
    It rained, the tent leaked, I woke up with a soaking pillowe and wet feel, but a remarkably dry torso!
  5. My new camera is totally awesome and I'm finally getting the hang of it (bear in mind this was first real opportunity to take it out and play around with the settings) although I have a LONG way to go!
  6. The students who appear to be self-sufficient and enthusiastic in class are actually extremely annoying, particularly if they include a pair of severely over-competitive siblings.

Anyway here are some of my photos from the weekend. nothing too exciting but better than another weekend in the city!

A lizard, because I can! This little guy was adorable, maybe about 5cm long -including the tail! I'm totally saving up for a macro lens!
A frog, i don't know what the commong name is, but he was very cute. It was ouring with rain and a student who had caught him let him go and I dashed out for literally 5 seconds and caught him and ended up soaked - it looked like I had jumped into a swimming pool rather than just stepping outside!

A pretty view with a river running between two koppies

A fig tree, doing some pretty awesome weird stuff on a cliff.

A photo of Luke taking a photo. The students are being industrious.

Playing around because I could.

I have a vague idea that this is a Pelia something-or-another fern. We've always called it the cute fern because it's pretty adorable! By the end of the first day the students were calling it that too!

a caterpillar the size of a large rodent. It was HUGE! We thought it was a rat caught in a tree at first. We saw several of them on this trip, but I think the first one was the coolest. AMinly because I saw it first!

A very cool swallow nest with different coloured mud.

Our intrepid students returning from a collecting expidition in the big scary grassland!

Does anyone else see a face in the rocks?

Playing at the river. I didn't take my tripod that day and ended up balancing my camera on my lap to try keep it steady. Not fantastic, but I got the effect I was going for whch makes me happy!

The coolest classroom in the world!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

When something new is something old, but also entirely new...

So on Sunday night the nerves set in a little bit. I was ok, handling everything as I do, when my family forced me to do another trial run in front of them. So I got the notes and the pictures and proceeded to go through it all again. And they sat and blinked at me. It was awful! Like talking to a brick wall or something. I know back in the day when they were studying it was much more formal and interacting in class was totally frowned upon, but really! Even when I asked direct questions they just stared blankly.

Then I figured out at about 4am that I had a stomach bug (I will spare the details) and basically ended up staggering in on Monday morning having had about two hours of sleep and feeling like I was about to pass out.

Everyone at the lab (including the lecturer who I was teaching for) thought that I was about to collapse from an awful state of nerves. In a fit of solidarity they decided to wait until I was finished to make coffee (coffee makes me talk faster) and Luke and Megan and I headed upstairs to set up.

I was very lucky in that the first half involved them watching a video and answering questions which gave me time to calm down a bit, and then I gave them a break and got started.

And it wasn't too bad! It was the weirdest feeling, to be talking to a room full of people who are quiet and taking notes, but at the same time it wasn't weird at all. After the first few minutes I forgot that I was supposed to be nervous and I was more frustrated when they weren't participating enough. For the record, the obnoxious show-offs in the front row? Lifesavers! And towards the end they got more involved and I got through everything and I even let them go early.

So in a fit of bravery, I decided to give the next lecture, yesterday. With only one day to plan and not really understanding how to teach the stuff without it being boring and Luke being off getting a gangrenous limb checked out by the doctor, it was a little bit more nerve-wracking, but they were way more involved and it was a lot of fun, except that the loudmouths starting getting a bit difficult, but until the last five or so minutes they were fantastic and I enjoyed it. And to their credit, the last five minutes was just before lunch and I don't blame them for being a bit fidgety.

So that was my amazing lecturing debut! It was actually not bad at all and I'd like to do more someday (although not right now, my research is suffering under my teaching load already), but at the same time it wasn't very different to the teaching I've been doing in the labs for the last 5 years! It helped that I knew the students from labs and that there were only about 70 of them, rather than the huge first-year classes of a few hundred. And I had the awesome moral support of Megs and Luke, and the support form the lecturer who trusted me enough to let me teach his classes without forcing me to let him sit there which would have been WAY too much pressure!

And there was the little issue when the chalkboard got stuck and I have to do some fancy stances to try to move it...

So that's it, I'm alive, it's over and I don't feel like I've really done anything new! Except that in a fit of insomnia last night/this morning I downloaded a chess game on my phone and I can't beat it! It's driving me crazy!

Sunday, March 08, 2009


So I was youtubing the Flight of the Conchords and I saw the song ‘Rejected’ and laughed like I haven’t in years. As it’s stuck in my head at the moment I figured I’d use it as a title.

Random stuff aside, the reason I’ve been so quiet lately is that, besides the usual insane load of labs I have to teach in at the beginning of each year, I decided that I need the experience and agreed to do some lecturing for one of the courses. The scary part is that it’s tomorrow and it’s on a topic that I’m not particularly clued-up on!

On the plus side I got the materials over a month ago and I’ve had plenty of time to prepare, and I have actually been preparing, albeit slowly. It’s just scary because I’ve never done it before! I’m not afraid of the kids- I’ve failed enough of them over the last few weeks that I don’t really have to worry about my authority being in question, and the field trip is only next weekend so they haven’t yet seen me half asleep, cranky and clutching at my coffee-cup as if it’s the only thing keeping me alive (I love camping, really, but teaching and camping at the same time is exhausting, particularly when it includes trying desperately to avoid seeing the lecturer in charge in his underwear… true story!)

The lecturer who traditionally runs this section has also been amazingly supportive, he’s talked me through lecturing styles, points to focus on, ways to avoid being boring (lets hope!) pacing… and we went to one of his lectures last week to get an idea of how to approach talking to 70-odd rather stupid children. So I was feeling fine!

To tell the truth by Friday the people around me were displaying several signs of nerves and freaking out on my behalf, and I was feeling calm and confident and generally ok. Then last night I went over the plans one more time and then did a trial lecture to Lara.

For the record, Lara is the most awesome friend in the world*! She is now a lawyer who is totally clued up on rodent diversity, and she listened and participated and asked questions (including sticking her hand up and going “Ooh! Ooh!” in a way that was creepily reminiscent of my students) and she pointed out things that I would have forgotten.

1.This is something I know, but most of my friends are used to me and don’t notice anymore: I speak fast. Really, I watch movies at double speed because I understand what they’re saying because I tend to talk that fast. I also write super-quickly. When I’m nervous I speed up even more. I’ve been known to give a 15 minute presentation in under 8 minutes without leaving anything out. As La said “You’re an awesome teacher, just try… keep it below the speed of light?” So I’m stressing that they won’t be able to keep up with me because they are undergrads, and if I’m anything to go by, they’ll want to write down every word.

2. I go off on tangents. I have the attention span of a two-year old, which can make me super effective as a sequential-multi-tasker but awful to follow in a conversation. I generally have at least three or four conversations running at a time and I switch between them – once again I don’t notice and a lot of my friends don’t either, but Lara, in her pretending to take notes eventually gave me a blank stare and said “You just harped on about flower structure for five minutes, I’m assuming that’ll be in the exam?”

Anyway I’m stressing out now! I asked my mom if she’d do a run-through with me, but she’s swinging between being way too keen and not caring, so I think I’m actually going to gym to work out the stress a bit and then I’ll come back and go over my notes one more time. Wish me luck!

And if the worst comes to the worst, I have Lara on standby for drinks and sympathy on Monday night!

*This isn’t necessarily true as I have a really awesome bunch of friends, but in this case I think she deserves a special mention as most lawyers would not agree to spend a Saturday night being told about rodents by someone who can’t even stay on topic!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

By popular demand

Here is a picture of the monkey I was playing with on Sunday. It's just from my phone, so nothing too exciting, but as anyone who has had much t do with monkeys will tell you: taking anything that might be fragile, delicate, expensive and/or breakable in any way is a bad idea.

For the record they love removing their nappies (diapers) and so we put them on backwards so they can't find the tabs. And when they get older and figure it out we give them little tape-belts - works like a charm!

Monday, March 02, 2009

It's wearing a nappy!

So on Saturday I got a message from a friend of mine who works at the zoo, asking if I was still alive. I usually spend at least two Sundays at the zoo every month (if not ever Sunday) as well as popping by occasionally during the week when I've had a particularly bad day. As it happens I had been thinking about her that morning (weird huh?) and so I replied straight away to say that I wold be there on Sunday.

And it was awesome! I hadn't realised how much I'd missed the zoo - from the crazy people I know there to the weird puddle that you should NEVER step in, to the fact that ever visit involves me doing completely different things! The monkeys gave me a huge welcome as usual, although at one stage Thandi freaked out about something and got very aggressive to me, and then proceeded to evacuate her bowels all over the zookeeper. Oops.

Fortunately nobody works at the zoo without keeping several changes of clothes handy and so after appropriating a clean t-shirt from a vet and meeting a very charming new vet student (who had the girls squabbling over him almost immediately) and having lunch with a bunch of people (including some who thought I'd been away on fieldwork because it's been so long...) and feeding the crocodiles (for the record, giant piles of meat drip! and f your friend happens to be bending over to grab some as you lift it up... blood in hair is so not cool!

So anyway after all that I was taken to meet one of the new monkeys. This one has been raised as a brother to the little spider-monkey who was born last year, although he's a Mona Monkey (and he is also convinced that a teddy bear is him mother) and he's very mobile and super-cute!

The main problem is that he is so active already - with the monkeys before they were always quite nervous and would hang on to me while I walked around and did whatever - wit the last two I wold literally put them under my jacket and zip it up and they'd hold on and go to sleep while we did whatever needed doing around the zoo. This little guy is totally fearless and won't stay with anybody for more than a few seconds. At the beginning he was asleep in his basket with his teddy, but that barely lasted five minutes and then he was very much awake!

So the rest of the day involved me catching up with people as we drove from place to place, rescuing one of the education ladies from a cranky boa (not the feather kind) and keeping the monkey occupied. A lot of that included being left in the zoo vehicle trying to stop him from eating everything that wasn't tied down - they have pouches, so if anything gets into his mouth you have to get your fingers in and pull it out - did I mention he bites?

By the end of the day he and I were getting along pretty well, he didn't squeak too much whenever I picked him up (usually to stop him from shoving something else in his mouth) and I figured out that swinging him around in his basket made him settle down and stay still(ish) and I had a lot of fun attacking hi with his teddy bear and playing with him.

The only problem is that the general public tend to notice him and swarm around you, and the first thing you hear is "Oh CUTE! Kyk hierdie apie! ag mommie! He's wearing a nappy!!" EVERY time! Sometimes they manage to get me to respond (I avoid making eye contact at all costs) and generally I get asked about how long he has to wear a nappy. i usually respond honestly - "Once he's in a cage and I don't have to worry about being crapped on."

Seriously, how about mentioning his amazingly long tail, or how tiny and perfect his fingernails are, or how his noises sound like a squeaky dog-toy... nope, how amazing he's wearing a nappy.

Next time I see a human baby I know I'll be tempted to say "how cute! He's wearing a nappy!" and see exactly how excited the mother gets...