feel it, it’s heartbreaking

July 6, 2010

There’s a good reason that I stopped watching soccer – I get way too invested in my teams. I became aware of this back in 2004, when the Euro Cup was held in Portugal. The stars seemed aligned for Portugal, they were the host nation, Nelly Furtado did an awesome theme song for the tournament, and it was meant to be a swan song for many of the so-called Golden Generation’s players. Except there was this runty underdog team from Greece. And see, Portugal was able to beat every single team that year except these unexpected blind-siders. So Greece took the title while white confetti (that should’ve red) rained down in Lisbon. The day after watching that final I woke up with a  totally illogical depression that took *days* to shake. It was ridiculous, and ever since I have followed soccer from a remote, safe distance. I didn’t even follow the 2006 World Cup.

But see, this year the World Cup is literally happening on my doorstep and even escaping to Seattle during June and July (a coincidence) hasn’t stopped me from getting sucked in. I’ve been visiting the Fifa website everyday and watching all the highlights videos (since we don’t have TV here). I’ve even hung up a World Cup banner in my study here and decked out my desk with a shiny red vuvuzela. But, watching all my favoured teams fall by the wayside has reminded me why I’ve stayed away from the beautiful game all these years….

world cup 2010

My World Cup shrine in Seattle/Bellevue

Bafana Bafana started out pretty well, and that first beautiful goal Tshabalala scored against Mexico was the first hint that I was in trouble, I was getting into soccer again. Then came that SA vs. Uruguay game. By a weird coincidence I went to the house of an Indian family to watch it. It happened like this: this guy that was at MSRI when I was there last year is now doing a PhD at the local university and we had connected on fb. He told me that his boss from MSRI, JJ, who now lives in Redmond, had invited him to watch the USA vs. England game at his house and that I should come. So I did and it was really fun, I took my vuvuzela along and taught their overwhelmingly enthused daughters how to “play” it and ate Indian snacks and pretended to be invested in the US beating England (what do you know, they drew!). Then while at that game I got to chatting with JJ’s wife, Chandana, who I had met once or twice in Bangalore actually. She was mortified that I had left SA right before the World Cup had started and very kindly told me that if I wanted to watch any other games during the coming week I should let her know and she would come fetch me and we could watch together at their house (on their huge screen / projector setup!). Turns out that she was watching all the games and all their family and friends nearby had an open invitation to stop by at any time to watch with her (their neighbour as a direct route to their house through a gate in their back yard for instance). I thought I must take advantage of her offer bcs the whole family was going to be gone after that week for a trip to the Himalayas or something. I was also thinking it would be good to make more friends that live close to us. So I picked the SA vs. Uruguay game which worked out great bcs that day also happened to be the last day of school here and her kids were going to be there so we made a whole plan to watch it together and order pizza etc. So Chandana came to fetch me and I thought “Yee, this is so much fun, making a new friends and going to watch soccer on a big screen and the game is going to be *awesome*”.

Then the game actually happened. It was horrible. First Forlan did his physics-defying free-kick (I’ve watched this guy in subsequent games and he has just mastered how to take a free kick in a way that it arches over every defender in the ball’s path and then nips into goal right at the top post of the net). Then, as I started to get the feeling we weren’t going to equalise, out of nowhere our amazing goalie got red carded!! For something that was TOTALLY not a foul!! Who red cards a goalie?! By this point I think was yelling a lot and the other ppl in the room  were looking at me with some sympathy. Then Uruguay scored their (totally undeserved) penalty against us and I really thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then, during injury time, something even worse then our inevitable defeat happened: SA fans start to leave the stadium in droves. I felt pretty ashamed to be a Bafana Bafana supporter at that moment. Watching the stadium get emptier and emptier made me feel profoundly sad. But there was no time to be too sad because the final kick in the pants was being delivered- a third goal for Uruguay in the dying moments of the game. Out of all the games I could have chosen to watch with a bunch of strangers, this must be the worst; it did not bring out my socially acceptable side *sigh*.

I didn’t watch the SA vs. France game but I hear we played well and that makes me happy. I can’t help but speculate that we might have inched past Mexico in our group if that Uruguay match wasn’t such a disaster. With Bafana Bafana gone after the group stages I thought it was time to go back to supporting my “ancestral roots” and I made a special plan with AmyGeek to DVR the Spain vs. Portugal game. To make this work I had to stay off *all* internet for the whole day to make sure i didn’t find out the score. It was harder than it should be, no Facebook, no entertainment news – never realised how often I check these during the work day. But I managed and I had high hopes for Portugal – dangerous hopes, hopes reminiscent of those Euro 2004 hopes. Before that game they had not conceded any goals in the World Cup yet. And then they played terribly compared to Spain and lost off of one goal. And I couldn’t even be that mad because really, Spain played the better game.

After all that I thought “No, I’m not watching any more games, it just gets too upsetting!”. So on the day of the Ghana vs, Uruguay game I was innocently sitting at my desk not even paying attention to it. Then Jak comes online and tells me the the game is happening and starts giving me running updates from time to time. When he updated me with “Gooooooaaaaal from Ghana!!” that was it. I got so excited that I loaded a live matchcast and started following, getting sucked in once again, biting my nails and chatting to Jak about the game. When that awful diva Suarez batted away the dying seconds golden goal that belonged to Ghana, I was LIVID. And then when Ghana’s Gyan missed the resulting penalty I wanted to throw my laptop against the wall! Two days later, I am still trying to recover from my seething sense of injustice and ill-will towards Suarez and trying to remind myself that this is all just a game and it’s not cool to hate on a guy you don’t even know (even if he is a hand balling ass clown). I am officially neutral-ish for the rest of the World Cup – I am an ABU (Anyone But Uruguay) supporter (a phrase helpfully coined by SuperSarah). And I also think that from now on, that its a good idea for me to stay away from sports in general and soccer in particular.

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better-than-bacon mushrooms

June 16, 2010

People. You have to try this place in Salt River, Cape Town for brunch. It’s called Superette and it’s a charming sun-filled spot decorated in tones of white, yellow and grey bursting with amazing food and coffee. Kudos to Ben for not only telling me about it but ensuring that he introduced me to it personally when Rebecca was in town. I have to confess the food was so good that I managed to take a picture of the food but not the people on our outing! So when I went, I was actually not that hungry on account of having made poached eggs at home for breakfast. So I purposely chose a light option on their menu: Sourdough bread served with rocket, butter, cream cheese and avocado OR mushrooms. On a normal day I would totally order avo, but I was trying to walk on the lighter side so I went with mushrooms – hardly the exciting option one would think:

better-than-bacon mushrooms

Sourdough, butter, cream cheese and better-than-bacon mushrooms

But guys, those mushrooms… those mushrooms were such a surprise. A warm, close-your-eyes wonder-what-that-salty-amazing-taste-is surprise. Usually if one wants to make mushrooms special you fry them with garlic and butter, maybe some white wine. But these mushrooms didn’t taste like *any* of those, they were definitely salty and almost tasted like good bacon. So what was it?? Eventually we all theorised that they may have used vinegar and pepper, maybe even fried them in bacon fat? I’ve since gone back (on my birthday in fact) with Cara and we ordered those mushrooms (I had to share the joy) again and also tried this:

Ben's order

Breakfast sandwich

… a breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato. If you appreciate proper scrambled eggs that are fluffy and non-runny I think this will please you greatly. So people. Seriously. Superette. Nom.

my first post *ever* about my PhD

May 21, 2010

I think I’ve fallen into a groove this  year of putting up one blog post a month. Not a brilliant track record but at least there’s some consistency. But then, I almost missed out on May. Just making it with this post. Sjoe!

So why the tardiness? I’ve been pretty busy – coding, modeling, texturing. All in the name of my PhD prototype which is, in a nutshell, a 3D storytelling environment for a certain museum in Cape Town. I’ve learnt a lot of things from scratch in building this prototype, picked up Blender and made a basic, animated human model, learnt C# (which was really easy if you know Java) and XNA (Microsoft’s free, yes free, kind-of-awesome games engine). I have also zoomed up my Photoshop skills to new heights in doing textures. This week  was a big deal for me. I demo’ed the first fluttering of the prototype to the museum where it was met with giggles and smiles (rather than the awkward what-the-hell-is-this silence I was dreading). I also made a video to send off to The Supervisor and demo’ed to a bunch of people in The Lab. So far so good. Lots to do but its finally on its way.

During this past month, I spent an inordinate amount of time texturing the first (of two) main storytelling models/avatars. It’s meant to be a representation of Noor Ebrahim, a guide at the museum and District Six ex-resident. Here he is in real-life:

Storyteller

Storyteller

I made a model whose geometry (and skeleton) was as simple as possible so that even a monkey like me couldn’t mess up the model too much during tweaking and animating. But, since the geometry was simple, I figured texturing his face  was really important. The ever-obliging photog Max Barners agreed to help out and took some awesome portraits of Noor (and Joe the other storyteller I am modeling) to help with this. So after much fiddling and diddling with UV map generation and painting in Photoshop, meet virtual Noor:

virutal Noor

virtual Noor

Ta-daa! Yeah, he’s not a patch the real thing and there are number of issues to sort out with him. Like, for some reason, XNA is lighting him with a blue-ish light for no good reason. I need to track down the reason for that. And I’ve coloured his shirt and pants and hands and shoes with solid colours for now. At some stage I should really give him some decent threads though. But he animates! He boasts a range of about 30 different short animation sequences and I’ve coded him so he can tell a whole story so far with scripted animations that match. Now I’ve moved on to making him a bit more interactive.

gossiBing

April 28, 2010

Well, well Gossip Girl you are just a feast of product placement and tech surprises! Last season there was the plot line featuring a lame technology for development scam and your blatant subtle placement of Vitamin Waters where ever possible (sometimes even obscuring characters in the shot!). I thought I was done being surprised but in an unlikely alliance I’ve discovered that you’re now pimping Microsoft of all things!

I thought I was seeing things in an episode a while back where Dan needs some polaroid film for some or other contrived reason relating to a party (you can *never* have an episode of Gossip Girl without some kind of party or event, in fact the show seems to be an exercise in concocting events since these seem to be the only places where dramatic things can happen in this story universe). Anyway, good ol’ dad (the obvious pick for a character introducing new tech right) was all like “Don’t worry” tinkered on he keyboard for 2 seconds while this shot flashed:

Hello! That’s Bing! How’d that get there? Is Bing more Upper East Side than Google? And literally 2 seconds later Daddy Rufus declares that Polaroid film has been sorted – no scrolling through lists or getting out a credit card, seemingly Bing just makes it happen like that folks! I thought this was of once-off thing, but I should have known better. Gossip Girl must make some kind of contract with companies that stipulates multiple product placements in a season because in another recent episode the made a play for instilling “Bing It!” as a new catchphrase. While other shows, like House, have accepted “Google It” as a well-established term, last night I was amused to hear Eleanor Waldorf barking at the help to “Bing It!” when looking for a wedding venue (a quickie wedding being this week’s contrived party). Now I am kind of wondering – the only characters to pimp Bing so far have been parents. So will we be seeing the “youngsters” surreptitiously picking up the Bing torch, or are the stealth marketers aiming to pitch it at an older market here? Mmm, perhaps the narrator could pick up the phrasing: You know you Bing me. XOXO.

Oscars stories and the Best Actress “curse”

March 21, 2010

Last weekend was the 80-something Oscars and, well I’m a bit of a sucker for following the movies award season. I don’t usually watch any of the shows but I read about it voraciously. This year was interesting for me; right as some of my favourite actors looked set to win, I had to give in to something I had long suspected but tried not pay attention to: the Oscars are often not about the year’s best movies so much as the “campaign” . I’ve heard of campaigning to sway the votes of the 6000-strong academy, but I didn’t realise how hard-core and expected it is.

I read a great New York Times feature “The Red Carpet Campaign” that brought this realisation home (I highly recommend it if you have an interest in silly things like Hollywood awards). Turns out that awards campaigning is all about stories (another thing I love). I learned that there are a number of narratives that get used every year. For films there’s The Movie That Speaks to This Moment (this year filled by recession-themed Up in the Air), The Chance to Make History (this year’s Hurt Locker), The Big Gamble That Paid Off (Jame’s Cameron’s specialty) and the well-worn Little Movie that Could (last year’s winner Slumdog Millionaire and, before that, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno). For actors and directors there’s The Kid With a Future, The Comeback and the particularly bulletproof It’s Time. That last one’s reserved for those who have “paid their dues” or been nominated loads of time without winning. That was Sean Penn who, criminally beat out Lost in Translation’s Bill Murray in 2003, it was Kate Winslet last year and it was Jeff “The Dude” Bridges this year.

There’s another narrative that wasn’t mentioned in the feature but that I’ve always suspected: This May Never Happen Again. I think this one is reserved for actors who are hugely successful but haven’t garnered any or many nominations. So when they do get nominated the Academy pounces on an opportunity that may never present itself again – to Oscar mint a big-deal star. The most heinous example of This May Never Happen Again was Gwyneth Paltrow’s ’99 win for Shakespeare in Love. It was a fun movie, great even, but Gwyneth Paltrow was certainly not the best actress in the movie, let alone of the year. That year a bone fide future star, Cate Blanchett, should totally have won for her amazing performance in Elizabeth. There was Julia Roberts’ win for an OK performance in Erin Brokovich. She was nominated (twice I think) early in her career but then nothing… for yeeaars. “She may never be nominated again! And she’s a real Hollywood legend. This may never happen again!“. Sandra Bullock ran a self deprecating campaign constantly insisting it was Meryl Streep’s Time (it has been over 20 years since she last won). As much as I loved Sandra Bullock in high school and excited at the idea of winning her the Oscar no-one ever imagined she would win, I got the feeling her win was another This may never happen again (Disclaimer: I have yet to watch The Blind Side, so I may change my mind). The NY Times feature thinks it was a Who’da thunk it story, after all Bullock has famously never been one to seek out awards.


Two award reactions really struck me this year. Mo’nique winning an Oscar was something I would never ever have imagined happening. The only movie I’ve ever seen of hers is Phat Girlz which was some scary shiz, I’m pretty sure Luisa and I couldn’t even finish watching it. Anyways, Monique took a lot of heat from the media for skipping out on some award season events (she was working on her talk show). I love that when she did win she thanked the Academy for opting to vote for performance over politics and then in her press room interview told reporters off for writing articles encouraging voters to “teach her lesson” for daring to not schmooze by the campaign rules:

“… I’m sure some of you are sitting in this room right now — some reporters wrote, ‘Someone needs to teach Mo’Nique a lesson. Someone needs to tell her how this game is played.’ And I am very proud to be part of an Academy that says, ‘We will not play that game. We will judge her on her performance and not on how many dinners she attended and how many pictures she took. It’s on the screen.”

Whoa!

Then there was Kathryn Bigelow, first women to win Best Director. While everyone focused on the fact that she was a woman she said she hoped that one day people wouldn’t feel the need to specify:

“I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I long for the day when a modifier can be a moot point.”

And to end off on something more low-brow – the whisperings about the “Best Actress Ocsar Curse” (cue spooky music). Apparently many Best Actress winners experience a bust-up in their personal relationships “shortly” after winning. And with Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes announcing their divorce almost exactly a year after she won last year, the curse has gained publicity again:

Over the past 12 years, eight of the best-actress champs busted up with their lovers after winning: Kate Winslet (won for 2008), Reese Witherspoon (2005), Hilary Swank (1999, 2005), Charlize Theron (2003), Halle Berry (2001), Julia Roberts (2000), Gwyneth Paltrow (1998), Helen Hunt (1997). Five of the splits occurred less than a year after their Oscar triumphs (Winslet from hubby Mendes, Witherspoon from hubby Ryan Phillippe, Swank from hubby Chad Lowe, Paltrow from boyfriend Ben Affleck, Roberts from boyfriend Benjamin Bratt). Berry’s break-up with Eric Benet occurred 18 months after winning; Hunt split with Hank Azaria less than two years later.

The evidence is kind of compelling but we are dealing with a biased sample of people (Hollywood people) who have ridiculously high rates of breakups as it is. But then, THEN news started surfacing about trouble in Sandra Bullock’s marriage to Jesse James less than a week after she won the Oscar for The Blind Side. A seemingly odd match (she is America’s comedic sweetheart and he is a tattooed, hog building, hard-core stunt man and blue collar hero) they’ve emerged as pretty solid, fun and awesome pairing. And he was so sweetly by her side all awards season long as she gushed over him in acceptance speeches saying things like her work got better when she met him because she had never known what it was like to have someone have a her back and he was all teary while she gave her Oscar’s speech *sigh*. First Sandra B pulled out the London premier of The Blind Side, which is a rather big deal, citing mysterious “unforeseen personal reasons”. At the same time that a trashy gossip rag publishes claims of Jesse J’s infidelity with a scary tattooed lady *while* Sandra B was shooting The Blind Side. Next Sandra B has moved out of their home and is nowhere to be found while he has issued a vague public apology. This was not the romantic ending I think America had in mind for Sandra Bullock who has been one of the public’s best liked stars for a good 15 years now. It sucks that there are so many recent gushy quotes from both about their marriage and step children. Boo, and Ouch. All this basically a week after her winning the Oscar – ok it is a little creepy!

January to February

February 28, 2010

Well 2010 is well underway and I’ve been burrowed away for most of it. Most of January was filled with Luisa’s holiday with Dave and I in Seattle. It was an outstandingly brilliant holiday – a total treat getting to spend almost 3 weeks of fun with two of my favourite people in world 🙂 I’m currently reliving it as I post pictures from it on Flickr. Dave spoiled us rotten, picking us up and scooting us home to be greeted by a table full of Christmas presents. We had a mix lazy-at-home days watching Biggest Loser marathons and long days out. We expected snow but there was none in the Seattle area. So we drove out to find loads of in Levenworth, a kitchsey fake Bavarian touristy town about 4 hours out of Seattle. We went up the Space Needle and bought golden trouts from the fish throwing fish mongers of Pike Place Market. We walked through downtown and International District many times and had one particularly beautiful sunset walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park. We spend a whole day entranced and fascinated by the Museum of Flight. What else? We shopped a lot more than we’re used to and cooked lots of delicious food like this Spanish bell pepper and anchovy tart:

new year's tart

bell peppers, onions, anchovies and pastry

We made this for the New Year’s celebration at Randy’s house. I was still quite jet lagged so I don’t remember the celebration very well but I think there was hot pot, Dance Dance Revolution and I think at some point we did that very sentimental American thing where people go around the table and say what they’re thankful for.  It was sweet. End-ish January and into February it was back down to work. I worked on a paper and went to back to coding my virtual storytelling prototype. When I left off in December I had managed to build a skinned animated human model in Blender and managed to get it imported into an empty XNA Game Studio environment. I have been working in my safe little yellow study at home, and allowed my inertia to keep me there turning me into a bit of PhD hermit. Some days have been productive and some have been filled with internet trash distractions (wonderful bandwidth has its pitfalls). Apart from some cabin fever and Dave and the bunnies now the only beings that understand me it’s been good. So good that soon I might even post an update on my prototype so far 😛

Now about that tart…

Pepper, Onion & Anchovy Tart (serves 6)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 450g/1lb onions sliced
  • 4 red peppers sliced
  • 4 yellow peppers sliced
  • handful of thyme, oregano and parsley
  • 16-20 canned anchovy fillets

The pastry:

Mix flour and yeast, then mix in milk and egg yolk stirring constantly. Beat mixture for 5 minutes so so until the dough comes cleanly from the bowl. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Then form into a bowl , place into an oiled bowl and leave in a warm place for about an hour (the original recipe says it should double in size but mine never did and still turned out fine).

Meanwhile make the filling:

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick pan and add the onions, peppers and herbs. All of this should cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes so that the peppers and onions are soft but not browned (you can add a few tablespoons of water from time to time to stop ’em from browning).

Back to the pastry:

Preheat the oven to 240C  and lightly flour a work surface. Punch down and flatten the dough on the surface and roll it out into an approx. 30cm circle. Curl up the edge of the dough circle to make a lip and transfer onto a flat oiled baking tray. Spread the onions and peppers over the dough. Lay anchovies over the top of the pie in whatever pattern pleases you. Bake for 25-30 minutes until dough has risen and is crisp and golden. Serve warm.

2009, a big year of threes

January 1, 2010

They say good things come in threes and 2009 was a year of threes for me and it was definitely good. I don’t think its likely that I will get to say this again but I spent my year living in three different cities and in a perennial Summer: Seattle, Bangalore and Cape Town in basically three month chunks. I also visited three cities I had never seen before: Bangalore, Doha and Portland. I started in Seattle (Nov ’08 – Jan ‘o8) then went home to Cape Town for a week before going to Bangalore for Feb-May for an amazing internship with MSRI where I made videos about domestic workers in a language I couldn’t speak, met wonderful new friends whom I intend to keep and got flowers put in my hair by a stranger as a treat…

India!

flowers at Malleswaram night market

…then home to Cape Town for April to July where met my first niece, Jessy, who is one to catch your eye, not to mention little Cole…

jessy 'n cole

jessy 'n cole

…and then off to summery Seattle (July-October) to spend the looong daylight hours working the PhD and setting up our first house, see here are the keys…

keys!

happy bunny key day

and, finally back to Cape Town (October-December) for a brilliant hot summer of PhD progress, fun family mess (like my dad turning 88 and Christmas) and lots of busy weekends of friends and little rest!

Right now I am back in just in time to ring in 2010 in our cosy little house with Dave and Luisa 😀 Goodbye 2009, I daren’t hope I’ll have another like you sometime.

happy (?) 10 years

November 24, 2009

I’ve recently moved into a new lab which is in the Chemistry building (tho the lab is still part of CS). It’s a very nice spot to work but the building has all kinds of odd quirks such as an indeterminate amount of “ground” floors (e.g. R, LG, G, FAA etc), a coal burning contraption in the bath room and regular alarms announcing gas leaks or fires on such-n-such floor. Anyways I was wondering through this building thinking about nothing much when I realised something kind of mortifying – this is my TENTH year at university. And not just university but at this one particular university and most of those years spent in the same postgrad lab, behind the same desk:

I've been on leve 3 for a long time now

Shortly after this moment of self-startlement, I ran into the “little” sister of a good friend that I studied with. She has finished her degree, held down a job in Joburg and moved back to Cape Town and now working at the university. So that means that younger siblings of my peers are officially more grown up than I am! Anyways the point of all this is that it’s really time for me to get the PhD and move on. I *love* UCT, but its time for new scenery (I definitely learnt that in India this year). So Happy Ten Years Of Higher Education to me! yay.

curious Mr. Butternut

October 28, 2009


curious Mr. Butternut, originally uploaded by ildarabbit.

I uploaded this picture to flickr last year, Dave drew the face and I composed the shot. Recently the very lovely Epicute:The Cute Food Blog linked it and suddenly my flickr views were shooting up dramatically. I traced it to this guy who had really no activity before and now has over 3000 views.

All the single planets…

October 21, 2009
now put your moons up up in the club we just broke up and forms up our cosmic rings

God liked it, so he put a ring on it

from the new discovered www.bunny-comic.com

(incidentally, this will make no sense if you don’t listen to unashamed pop from time to time)