Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Brief Pause For A Geek Dance Of Happiness

I finally stepped into the digital age and bought myself a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100 from, along with a 1 GB SanDisk Memory Stick Pro Duo, since the camera only has 64 MB of built-in memory.

The package arrived yesterday morning just as I was leaving for work, so I spent the day daydreaming about it (and hoping that the correct camera had been packed in the box since, well, you never know in this country).

What an excruciating wait that was!

Upon arriving home I attacked the box and the packaging paraphernalia with great enthusiasm (and a knife). There really is no other way to do it because that white, plastic, packaging cord-like stuff that they use is ridiculously difficult to bite through*.

Then, another layer of anti-Mandy devices: this time green shrink-wrapped plastic around the box housing the camera. And an elastic band, for some reason. I really don't know what it was for, but at least now I have a spare one. I don't really know what I'll use it for, either, but they're always good to have around.

I finally got everything off and open and there was my shiny new camera - under a mound of manuals, I mean, most of which are in Japanese (and very informative). Resisting the urge to fiddle (with the camera) I found one of the few bits of paper with English printed on it and set about finding out what it was important for me to know in order that I do not immediately destroy my brand-new gadget in some fit of geek euphoria and random button pushing.

The first thing I learnt was that I had to charge my brand-new battery (thoughtfully included**) and that it would take approximately 330 minutes, and then I should leave it for an extra hour for some reason that I've already forgotten, and then finally unplug, unclip, remove, and so on immediately! There were also some maths and physics calculations involved concerning charging times versus temperature but by that point I had stopped paying attention and instead just plugged it in.

This moment was rather deflating, actually, because I estimated it would be about six hours before I could actually see if the camera works, and six hours later means the early hours of the morning.

The battery actually charged about two hours faster than it was supposed to, making me instantly suspicious, so I broke the rules and left everything plugged in as long as the instructions said I should, even though the other instructions said I shoudn't (confusing, I know). Finally, in the early hours of the morning I, still awake, unplugged everything and then set about inserting battery and Memory Stick into camera.

What a moment! Even my cat was thrilled!***

Long story short (...well, you know what I mean...) the camera is fantastic: 8.1 megapixels (equates to prints up to A3 in size), Carl Zeiss lens, high-res video, excellent macro shots, and a massive LCD at the back. Whoo! The menu and physical interfaces are also great. I didn't need to consult the instructions much in order to know how to do everything. What a rush!

Ok, I'm done. Happy Dance over. Thanks for indulging.

*That was a joke.

**Whereas a carrying case is not.

***Not really, especially when I started taking photos of him with the Borg-light function shining a red light into his face and the flash setting on "fffffuhchaaaaah!!!!".

Monday, July 24, 2006

Another Office Perk

This weekend one of my coworkers tried a scone recipe that we are publishing in an upcoming issue of one of the magazines I work on, and it was a huge flop. So, this morning, he explained to the food department what had happened and that he thought there was something wrong with the recipe.

A few minutes later a member of the food department arrived in our office with a plate of freshly baked scones, butter, and strawberry jam. She had tested out the recipe and found the fault, and we were receiving the results of the testing. Yummy.

They were huge scones, too, with a crispy shell, and they were soft and warm on the inside. The butter melted immediately. It was quite heavenly.

It almost makes up for all the days we didn't have scones in the office...


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Molweni Blogger Readers*

This week I've been subjecting myself to all sorts of hell by going back to school.

I'm attending a half-day Xhosa class at UCT's winter school. There are about 18 people in the class and at least half of them are middle aged, which was not something I was expecting. About half the people in the class also originate from somewhere overseas but are now living in Cape Town.

It's been an interesting experience for me because it's been ages since I was in any sort of formal learning situation and I have learnt a lot about how my brain works and stores information, which is very different to how my brain used to work. Long story short, I can no longer remember anything unless I see it written down and can visualise it (and then mentally call up that image later, which then allows me to associate the Xhosa with the English). My brain also does massive amounts of bizarre processing (I won't bore you with the details), which slows me down immensely and makes me look like I'm stupid.

Meanwhile, because the rest of the people in the class are normal, they all catch on very fast to everything, leaving me in the dust. I'd find it funny if it wasn't so sad.

On the plus side, yesterday we came to the end of the curriculum that we were supposed to cover over the entire course - in other words, we've already completed what we were only supposed to learn on the last day (tomorrow). This knowledge comforts me, as it means I'm not that slow, I'm just slow in the context of my class. If I was in another class I'd be superbly proficient.

Perhaps I should just tell everyone that...

Last night, having finally found the nerve - somewhere - to attempt to speak to a Xhosa person in Xhosa (it's called "practising"), I ended up having a fascinating conversation with a petrol attendant. I say "attempt" because I got about two sentences in and then forgot everything I ever, ever knew about Xhosa. So then we switched to English and he told me that (white/English-speaking) people should learn Zulu first because it's easier and then move to Xhosa much like black people learn English before they learn Afrikaans because English is easier.

I was, like: "I did not know that!"

Then he randomly picked a Xhosa sentence and taught it to me. I say "randomly" because it sounded random until he explained what it meant - as I had him break down each bit so that I could understand the construction.

As it turns out, it's quite a useful sentence. I can't write it down because I think I spelt it incorrectly (I don't need more shame here!) when he was teaching it to me, so I have to ask my teacher, but the translation of the sentence is: "I want to go out with you."

I'm not sure if it was a subtle statement or he genuinly just wanted to teach my something I could actually use.


*We haven't covered "Blogger" or "readers" yet so I don't know what that is. I'm only three days in...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Ster-Kinekor Rant (It Won't Be The Last)

Dear Ster-Kinekor,

I spent most of Friday trying to buy tickets, for a show yesterday, on your web site*, and eventually gave up after about five hours of the site not loading properly and the functionality, therefore, not working.

I tried again on Monday and finally managed to get those tickets. The email confirmation arrived (so glad that "feature" is finally working...) with all the details, bar the time of the show. This omission has been a problem for months but I guess you never test your site for quality-control purposes or you would have noticed it by now.

My friend and I trundled off to Cavendish Commercial last night. We went to the Ticketline machines to swipe my card, only to find a large queue. Surprised, I looked around, wondering if perhaps I'd confused the Ticketline machines with the Self Service machines since, you know, they look exactly the same, but no, we were at a Ticketline machine. Last time I used one they were for checking "moviemoola" (ugh) points and for picking up pre-bought tickets, whereas the Self Service machines were for those chancers who decide at the last minute to arrive for a show and don't want to stand in the very long queues at the ticket desks, so they stand in the long queues at the Self Service machine and touch-screen interface their way to purchasing.

So why is it, Ster-Kinekor, that, after I had gone to considerable effort to pre buy my tickets so that I wouldn't have to stand in a queue, I could just swipe my card quickly, I had to stand in a queue and wait while people ahead of me used the Ticketline machines to buy tickets? When did the Ticketline and Self Service machines become the same thing? Why do you hate me so much, especially considering all the money I give you?

Your constantly pissed-off customer,

Mandy J Watson

* Which is supposedly brand-new, improved, yadda yadda...


Friday, July 07, 2006

It's Hard To Be A France Supporter When You're In England

This will be my one and only post about the World Cup...

The tournament started while I was, unfortunately, in "football"-mad England. In fact, I realised my horrendous mistake of coinciding my vacation with the start of the World Cup at about the same time as I landed in London, but by then it was too late to turn back.

Every second car in London looked like this. (The photo was snapped by Max Barry in Bedford at about the same time as I was in London.) Actually, more accurately, every second car has those flags all over it. Most of the cars in London are newer and more stylish.

Most pubs also had these very weird "inflatable footballers" decorating their facades, which now, it seems, everyone is trying to get rid of in a hurry. I guess that's because England is now out of the tournament and the nation is probably trying to forget that it was ever in the tournament but, honestly, I would have tossed them weeks ago just for being so creepy.

When I went to Hamleys the guy at the till tried to sell me an inflatable England soccer ball or bean bag or something at a discount because I'd spent so much money there.

The last time I watched a World Cup with any enthusiasm was in 1990 (I was young then) and nowadays I don't really support any team, especially since my national side didn't actually make it anywhere near what one might term "qualifying", but travelling from one soccer-mad country (England) to another (France), and realising that I actually can't avoid it, I decided that, for now, I am a France supporter. It helps that the French are, thankfully, more subdued when it comes to their enthusiasm for the sport. It also helps that France has Henry and Zidane, whereas England has a certain player that I really, really don't like. It also helped that during my visit to Paris I ended up in a French-Spanish paella restaurant and bar one night while France was playing Korea, and couldn't help but enjoy the atmosphere as the patrons watched the match on a big screen inside.

When I returned to London I realised that suddenly I had to pretend to be an England supporter (or - better - avoid the topic of conversation altogether), because it's actually illegal to support any other team in England, except for Brazil. I know this because there is a pub next to the New London Theatre that was advertising its Brazilian heritage and support for the team.

Now, back in SA, and with the tournament almost over, I can happily ignore it without feeling weird or risking a confrontation with a rabid supporter, or I can happily watch a match, or a part thereof (preferably an exciting part), in peace. It's wonderful.

And I remain a France supporter. After all, the team's footwork is fantastic.

(As an aside - I found out the following while checking some information for this post - and, in fact, this is only for my friend in America [*]: the Faroe Islands actually has a soccer team. Shocker!)



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