Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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:



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.


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…


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…


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.

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

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

you can call me Tia Ilda

April 23, 2009

That’s right folks on 21 April 2009, a very fat, healthy (and hungry!) baby girl was added to our family. I’m an aunt for the first time! Sadly, I was not able to be there as I’m in India for two more weeks or so but I got see her over Skype (if and Skype marketing people are reading – I’m willing to sell my story for a feel good ad campaign ;).

Anyways I’m very happy that everyone is so healthy and well and I can’t wait to meet little Jessie Beatriz in a mere 10 days from now. Malzetov Isabel and James!

India is ___

March 15, 2009

I’m going to totally cheat on my first post about India and steal the wit of a my good friend Dom. After my first couple days here I got a lovely mail with the following charming multiple choice question:

India is _____

(a) absolutely terrible and I WANT MY MOMMY!!!
(b) ok, except for the fact that there’s nothing to eat except curry
(c) all a little hectic now but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it
(d) 50/50. The place I’m staying is a dump but work is cool
(e) 50/50. The place I’m staying is cool but work is painful
(f) absolutely amazing!!! I can’t believe I was nervous about coming
here! I’m never moving back to SA. I’ve even got a Binda and a Sari!
(g) so uptight that I’ve been arrested for sitting next to a man on
the bus and am currently in prison, unable to answer your mail

My response after the first couple of days was b and little bit of e because, at the stage, I had not yet built up my immunity to chillies and had yet to decide on a project to work on.

Here is my first glimpse of MSRI on my first Monday morning:

first contact

first contact

More updates to follow!

pilgrimage day 8 – “it’s just rocks and more rocks, it’s all the same thing”

January 3, 2009

We spent day 8 in the desert, I think it was a Sunday but I’m not sure. V didn’t join us today because she had to go interview guides in Jerusalem or get her hair done or something. So far Frank had been a most excellent guide even though he was strained under our strenuous schedule but today he sucked – a lot. The general theme of the day was that people felt whipped,  hot and confused about what the places we were visiting had to do with our pilgrimage. We drove out of Jerusalem very early and for a long while before reaching Bethany which, since it was a Palestinian territory, was operating on a time zone a whole hour behind Jerusalem’s. We arrived at their 7am and the streets were empty and everything was closed. It was kind of like a ghost town, a very dilapidated ghost town with the most litter you’ve ever seen strewn everywhere. It seemed to fit well when Frank told us that ‘Bethany’ translates into ‘Town of the Poor’, a name which doesn’t exactly conjure images of economic boom. Bethany is also where Jesus’ friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, lived and where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We waited around for a while on an empty pavement for the Church of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to open. A tourism-savvy  shop was open nearby and people got the chance to buy more crummy souvenirs. I stood around with Frank and Mae who were looking at pictures of his two children on his phone . When she asked to see a picture of his wife, Frank looked at me mischievously and winked while saying “Oh no she’s not on here”. When Mae left he asked me how my eye was (on account of him having punched it the day before by accident). Eventually we walked through a gate, then a leafy, shady vegetable garden before reaching the church and having Mass in a sweet stone chapel just off the main church:

Church of Martha, Lazarus and Mary (in order I think)

Church of Martha, Lazarus and Mary (in order I think)

stone chapel

stone chapel

Afterward we assumed we were going to Lazarus’ tomb so we trekked up the street outside the church following this sign:

dont miss the visit

don't miss the visit

Once outside the tomb we stood around for a while waiting for direction only to have Frank fetch us and tell us would not be visiting the tomb (boo!). No, instead we walked back down the road to our bus and stood around again for no apparent good reason. ‘Coincidentally’ there was some guy with a camel offering rides for $5 for our convenient amusement . I think about 4 or 5 people from our group went on a ride that consisted of the camel standing up and walking a circle or about 100cm radius before sitting back down. It was nice that we spent our time partaking in this obviously-pilgrimage-related and animal-friendly folly rather than visiting Lazarus’ tomb, but hey now I’m just getting petty and the people who did go for rides did seem to enjoy themselves.

folly. not so much for the camel

folly. not so much for the camel

Back on the bus we drove for a long time passing lots of farms land, small settlements, the Dead Sea, date plantations until,eventually, the landscape became filled with eroded sandstone mountians with many caves and rough shapes. Out here in the desert Frank became very impatient and we were rushed through all the sites with no Portuguese translations. We reached Masada which was a last Jewish outpost during the Great Revolt when the Jews rebelled against the Romans. The Romans responded by destroying Jerusalem (burning down the Temple) and killing off Jewish settlements. We were shuffled into a room where we watched a video about Masada. It has a pretty amazing story – these folks built a thriving society of about 1000 people atop of flat mountain in the desert. This required sophisticated systems for gathering water in big cisterns and pumping water up the mountain. They had simple dwellings as well as fancy palaces for Herod complete with luxuries like heated bathroom walls (via ceramic pipes embedded in the walls to distribute steam) and a whole level for his concubines. Eventually the Romans attacked, which proved rather difficult what with it being on top of a mountain and all. Eventually the Romans broke through a crucial defense point, but rather than attack immediately, they retreated for the night thinking they would get some rest and return in the morning to plunder and enslave. But, during the night, the Jews decided they preferred death over enslavement to the Romans and each soldier was ordered to kill their family. As if that was not enough, the last ten soldiers cast lots to see who would be the last soldier standing who would have to fall on his own sword (the stones they used to decide this were found in the temple remains). When the Romans returned in the morning, they found, not a prize of fresh slaves, but a dead city. Apparently one woman and child survived somehow to tell the terrifically tragic tale. The remains on the mountain are awesome; they were excavated by a famous Israeli archeologist, Yigael Yadin. There are lots of coherent building foundations which have been built on with the archeologist’s impressions of what the buildings would have looked like.

above the line is real, above is reconstructed

below the line is real, above is reconstructed

two sterlings

two sterlings

vistas from Masada

vistas from Masada

From one ancient settlement to another – next we went to Qumran where a ancient Jewish sect used to live, meditate over the scriptures and take lots of ritual cleansing baths. Qumran is also where the Dead Sea scrolls were found; it is believed the sect was also attacked by the Romans and the scrolls were tossed into a cave in a last ditch attempt to save them (and hey it worked!). The place was a total tourist hole and we were given a whole hour to ‘rest’ before going in to see the ruins. During this time we could either (a) have the expensive buffet lunch, (b) wander around the congested gift shop full of T-shirts, teddies and Dead Sea cosmetic products (c) sit outside jostling in the heat for a piece of the rare shade and sitting space (we chose option c). An hour and $15 each later we got to go in to watch another video about the Essenes sect and the Dead Sea scrolls. At the end of the video the screen creaked apart opening the way to the Qumran ruins. Isabel noticed Cecelia was not joining us but grabbed a seat in the shade. When she asked if she wanted to come with Cecelia was all like ‘Aaah e boracas and mais boracas… mesmo coisa!’ and I’m pretty sure I’ve misspelt that wrong, but it roughly means ‘Aaaah it’s just rocks and more rocks, it’s all the same thing!’. We walked around windy ruins with more hurried explanations. The Portuguese pilgrims were getting very tired and bored, not knowing what they were looking at or what it had to do with the pilgrimage. All I remember from Qumran was seeing lots of stone baths and cisterns and that the main thing we had come to see was closed.

Essenes liked to bath a lot

Essenes liked to bath a lot

Next we took a short drive to the Dead Sea, where the salt content is so high that you float in the water rather than swim. The bus stopped in the beach parking lot and Frank told us we had an hour to be back on the bus and that we could only float for 20 minutes in the water. Just to be clear that’s an hour to get changed into swimming suits in change rooms with lots of people and limited space, walk down to the beach, have a float, get washed off, get redressed and walk back to the bus. This is really not how Capetonians are used to visiting the beach :-/ Nontheless people had been looking forward to their Dead Sea float, so off they went. There were all kinds rules about the Dead Sea water like ‘Don’t get the water in your eyes’, ‘Don’t wear any jewelry’, ‘Don’t swallow the water’; these made it seem more hazardous than relaxing. Isabel and I floated in shifts so that we could look after everyone’s possessions. I have to say it was a pretty good float although any indication that you might upend yourself and get your face in the water was distracting. There was this black mud on the floor of the sea which was fun to muck about in. Sadly C with her deteriorating leg, open and sore, couldn’t float which upset her a lot 😦 Wet and half-dressed we piled back into the bus and started the long drive back home to Jerusalem.

dead sea

dead sea

The one thing that really rocked (figuratively) about this day was that V didn’t come with us so (a) there was slightly less tension on the bus and (b) Luisa and I snagged her sweet seat at the front of the bus with the best view. It was fun watching the beautiful desert through the big front window of the bus and I didn’t get car sick (on account of being able to look straight ahead of the road). Another consequence of this awesome seating was that somehow I ended up singing for the bus. After Fr. Chico led prayer on the bus mic, he asked who wanted to sing and Luisa, that snitch, started saying ‘Ilda Ilda, I’m like a bird!’. Next thing I know the mic is being thrust my way while Fr. Chico is excitedly announcing that now we would be having a song from Nelly Furtado who is from Azores (which was exciting for him since he is also from Azores). Eek! I shakily launched into ‘I’m Like a Bird’ and then led into ‘Forca’ which got the Portuguese ladies chanting the Portuguese chorus along with me “Forca! Forca! Com uma forca que niguem pode parar!”. It was fun 🙂 Next H sang – that man has a voice like Louis Armstrong, gravelly and tuned. And after that Maria sang some hymns and Portuguese folk songs during which the mic got back to me for singing Laurindinha. All the singing made the ride go faster and pepped up everyone’s spirits. We got back to the hotel wiped and early to sleep in preparation for leaving at 05:20am for Mass at the Holy Sepulcher…



Tally for the day: 1 church, 2 mountain ruins each with their own intro videos, the Dead Sea, lots of bus, lots of desert

last night a large glass bowl exploded in my hands

September 9, 2008

Some messed up stuff has happened to me in kitchens. There was the time I stuck my finger into a hand blender to get out some cake mixture and then accidentally pressed the ‘blend’ button *faint*. Then there was the time I was cooking with some innocent looking baby peppers that turned out to be habanero chillies, which caused my hands to burn for a whole night. There have been countless spillages – an upturned bowl of clam pasta on our rug, a large tub of yogurt on my sneakers, the list goes on. And then there was last night when a large glass bowl exploded spectacularly in my hands as I was peering at it with great interest.

See our kitchen is very small and there isn’t much work surface, so sometimes we use the parts of our stove that aren’t hot as work surface. Last night one plate in the front had a pot full of beautiful bolognaise sauce, which had been cooking for two hours, simmering away. What needed to happen next was the making of a large salad and cooking of spaghetti. So I took out a large, heavy glass bowl for the salad, but there was no space for it, so I put it on one of the back plates of the stove which was off. Then I ‘turned on’ the second front plate for making the spaghetti. Now, here is were the so-called complicating event (I’ve been reading my interactive narrative linguistics!) happened: the pictures/icons on our stove panel which tell you which knob turns on which hot plate are kind of ambiguous (see the picture below) and after over two years of using this stove we still sometimes turn on the wrong plate. This has led some minor incidents of melting spoons and uncooked pasta wallowing in room temperature water for ages before we realise that its plate’s not on. But not last night ooooh noooo, last night was special.

can you tell which knob goes with which hot plate?

can you tell which knob goes with which hot plate?

I put on the kettle to boil water for the spaghetti and started washing lettuce, all the while, unbeknownst to me, the spaghetti pot remained unheated while that glass bowl perched on the back plate was getting hot hot hot. I turned back to the stove pour the now boiled water into the spaghetti pot, looked over at the glass bowl, picked it up and thought ‘mmm there seems to be a brown ring on the bottom of this bowl’. And then I put it *back* on the hot hot plate and went off to do something else. When I came back, I thought to myself ‘Sheesh! Why  isn’t this water boiling yet?!’. This is when the little lights in my pinball brain started to bling faintly, I picked up the glass bowl again and looked at it real closely. I started remarking to Dave, who was standing behind me, how I must have put the glass bowl on a hot plate by accident and it now had a brown *PLOOOWWW* – that there bowl just exploded in my hands, I mean really exploded, loudly, spewing chunks of glass into every concievable corner of our tiny kitchen. There were no pieces in my fingers, it was all over the floor, on top of the fridge, in the coffee machine, all over the counters. But like so many of my disasterous stories there was some mercy (see this is how I know God assigned me a Special Forces Klutz Control angel) – that pot with the beautiful bolognaise sauce was closed and the only injury sustained was a teeny scratch on my wrist. The only real consequence was that we had to stage a complete kitchen clean before Luisa, Dave and I could get down to to the business of eating. As always when this kind of thing happens I was pretty much stunned for an hour after that repeating alternately ‘I can’t believe that happened’ and ‘Why do things like that seem to happen to me?’. So kids – hot glass cools down a lot faster than it heats up and this leads to big *KER PLOW*, don’t try this at home.