Monday, June 30, 2003

If our final name is to be 'Neath Swansea Ospreys', then I'll seriously consider supporting Cardiff next season. I thought the Osprey name was naff, but figured I'd get used to it and wouldn't think twice about it in a year's time (Swansea city council’s Osprey logo looks pretty cool too).
However the Neath/Swansea prefix just makes it look amateur, devoid of any originality or creativity, and short-sighted in the way it’ll alienate potential supporters who are fortunate enough not live in either Neath or Swansea.

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How difficult can it be to send me the mail box key for my new apartment? I wasn't given it when I moved in, so I phoned the estate agent up about it. They promised me that the landlord would drop it in to the office the next day. Five weeks later and I am still waiting for it to arrive. I phone them twice every day at considerable cost to myself (mobile roaming costs are extortionate). What else can I do? If I were in Cardiff I'd be sitting on the floor of their office with a book, refusing to move.. until they sorted it out.

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I don't mind eating on my own in hotel restaurants too much. The trick, I discovered, is to take a book along with you so that you're not left gazing into space while waiting for your food. I noticed one 'table for one' gentleman last night (old enough to be my grandfather) sending SMS messages while he waited. I guess this could be seen as a form of polite dinner conversation, assuming the person on the other end of the messages is in a similar situation.
So here are my two suggestions for ending 'table for one' loneliness:

1) Implement a pairing system within the hotel restaurant. You inform the waitress if you would be interested in company (should company be available). She could then sit you with a single diner who was already in the restaurant (and wished company). If none are available, then you sit alone until one comes along.
To avoid embarrassment, a level of uncertainty would have to be built into the pairing process. Occasionally, the waitress would have to refuse to sit you with a single, even though they and you both wouldn't mind company. Therefore should you be sitting alone when a single enters who is shown to their own table, you would never know if they had refused to be seated with you, or if it was one of those occasional moments when the waitress had lied to the guest as to your status (the guest would also be under similar uncertainty as to your status).
The problem I see arising with this is if there are more than one single guest. I haven't worked through this yet. You could have the concept of multiple dinner guests, or the concept of preferred dinner guests (obviously with an uncertainty element build in). I'll have time to work through this idea the next time I'm eating alone.

2) Implement an SMS pairing system that works over a group of restaurants (this could stretch over many places with a similar time zone). I guess this is a bit like an internet chat room for people dining alone, only I figure you'd only be working with pairs of people. Two people would then be able to carry out dinner conversation of sorts.

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On the way to the game park on Saturday morning I did what I definitely wasn’t supposed to do (according to the guide book) and picked up a hitchhiker in Johannesburg. I probably wouldn’t have stopped had he not been wearing a shirt and tie (I figured I could handle a simple confidence trickster), and had he not run after and then almost run in front of the car as I pulled onto the on-ramp (American terminology for slip road which I quite like as it saves you having to describe which slip road you are talking about).

On closer inspection his appearance turned out to be something less than smart. His trousers had holes at both of his knees and his shoes were literally falling apart. He’d traveled up to the highway in order to look for some work but had been unsuccessful. His family was waiting for him to bring home some food. Other then the milk and bread his two children had been given in school the previous day his family hadn’t eaten since Thursday. In desperation, he was traveling 200 km to his uncle’s home to ask for assistance. He’d been waiting for 2 hours for someone to pick him up.

I drove him to a shopping centre from where he could catch a taxi (a communal minibus) to his uncle’s house. Before he left, we went to a supermarket so I could buy him something to eat. He had an epic discussion with the guy who was serving rice and various chicken dishes into metal containers. I couldn’t work out what exactly what it was about, but had something to do with Ishmael (my hitchhiker) wanting small amounts of sauce from various other dishes to be included with the chicken curry dish he’d chosen. The manager came over and got involved. I just stood around and pretended to laugh (doing my ‘you can’t take him anywhere’ routine). Eventually he either did or didn’t get what he wanted and we headed to the checkout with his two containers of rice and curry and a bottle of Sprite.

On the way out of the supermarket I was accosted by a drunk shouting ‘why Bush why?, why Bush why?’ at me repeatedly (Bush was in SA to meet Mbeki (sp)). I tried to ignore this guy for a while, before giving in and rising to bait. Ishmael, my companion, was a guy who could get into an argument over a container of chicken curry; I felt sure he’d wholeheartedly support my wish to enter into a engaging debate with someone who seemed to be challenging me so vigorously, I had the right to defend myself against the accusations of a drunk.

To my surprise, Ishmael was not impressed. As I prepared to explain my ‘anti-Bush doctrine‘ views to the drunk he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me away. A few minutes ago I’d seen what I assumed was him being petty enough to get into a silly argument over some curry, he’d suddenly changed into a mature individual who understood that arguing with drunks when you don’t share a common language is a waste of time.
The drunk continued his rhetorical questioning, all the time being scolded by Ishmael, and I not being allowed to respond to him. By the time we reached the car the security was also involved in defending my dignity from having to answer to a drunk.

I drove Ishmael to the minibus taxis gave him some money for his fare, and then carried on my journey. He insisted on having my telephone number so he could phone me when he arrived safely. I obliged, although I warned him that making a call to my mobile would probably cost him more money that the taxi fare and the curry combined.

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Went to Pilanesberg National Park this weekend a couple of hour's drive away from Johannesburg. Forgot to bring the photos in today, I'll try and put them up tomorrow with some text.

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Thursday, June 26, 2003

Semi final of the U21 rugby world cup was on TV last night: Argentina vs Australia (the ozzies won btw). Before the match they played the anthems and for the first time I heard the Argentinean national anthem in it's entirety. All nine glorious verses of it, lasting somewhere in the region of five minutes (this is a guess, but it seemed to go on forever).
Did some research this morning and discovered David Kendall's National Anthem Reference Page. He claims the site covers over 300 current and former anthems. Have a guess which is his all-time favourite?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

turns out the big brother house is in the same complex as the building I work in

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remember JigCal in school?
you answered multiple choice questions on your interests, marked the answer on a computer readable form.. which was sent away for processing. Next week the results were returned, they suggested suitable career paths and professions to which you would be suited.

I tried to rig the system, surely many others did too. At the time I wanted to be a record producer, so I answered every question with the option I thought would be most likely to lead to this outcome. I think it may have worked in my case (had some suggestions about the music industry), others were not so lucky.

A friend hated animals, responded to statements such as 'I enjoy working with animals' with options 'Strongly Disagree'. He was recommended to become a horse trainer.

Another friend wanted to become a policeman.. responded positively to the statements such as 'I want to work outside', 'I want to work with the public', 'I have strong communication skills'. It was suggested he become a wig maker.

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If I were a writer I’d make entries that went something along the lines of:

Started working on two new projects.

First, a semi-fictional autobiography called ‘A life not (quite) lived’. It’s basically my autobiography, but fleshed out with all the things that I probably should have done but couldn’t be arsed to do (written as if I’d actually done them). Well that’s how the first few chapters would be constructed anyway. In subsequent chapters I’d introduce other concepts in an incremental fashion, concepts along the lines of:

Things I probably should have done, but didn’t have the balls to do.

Extremely witty come-backs that only came into my head a few seconds after I was forced to shrug, smirk or groan a response.

All would be written as it they actually happened.

The problem I have to work around is the fact that some of these fictional actions (should I actually have carried them out) could have major repercussions for the direction the rest of my life takes. I therefore have to be quite brutal in compartmentalising and subsequently discarding or dismissing the action and it’s immediate consequences and get back to the main track of my actual life. For example, should I be in a bar and make eye-contact leading to smile-contact with someone of the opposite sex. In my case this incident would unfortunately have fallen under the ‘didn’t have the balls’ category (although I may have pretended to myself it was more ‘couldn’t be arsed’ at the time). Anyway, my character in the biography would obviously walk over to the person and say hello. We’d possibly arrange to meet, hit it off, have an affair, fall in love etc. Now should this woman that I’ve fallen in love with only have one leg and be an outspoken campaigner for disabled access points to public buildings, it’s possible that I too (fully-abled though I am – remember now I would be capable of appreciating things through the eyes of one who is not) would start attending action meetings and maybe presenting petitions to public officials. I could become an outspoken campaigner for disabled access points to public buildings in my own right. Trouble is I am not. The consequences of my fictional action (approaching the girl in the bar) have become too great, I have deviated too far from my life path. I would have to write something along the lines of: “I arranged to meet Edna later that week… we hit it off, had an affair and fell in love. Later I realised that even though I’d pretending it wasn’t, the leg was a problem, we had a row and split up (She was furious for a while and stalked me, yelling at me in public. I incurred the disgust of all who heard her cries. To escape her I sought refuge in the municipal library).......”.. then back to the real biography (although I’ve inadvertently managed to tarnish myself as a bigoted hypocrite… may have to re-address that up later in the work)

Anyway the true purpose of this whole project is to construct a kind of potential Russell's paradox, where I document the construction of the book in the last chapter or so. This will create a self-reference that mutates into a paradox as I may or may not have invented the act of writing the book. I may have thought about the writing the book, and knew that it would be a good idea to do so, but when I came down to it then I couldn’t be arsed. Of course if the book exists, then there is no paradox.

My second project is an ironic study into pre-determination and self-awareness:

It's the story of a small man trapped inside the body of a normal sized man - the arms and legs of the smaller man reach to approx the elbows and knees of the real life man. During the day the real man is awake and going about his daily business (he is unaware that he is hosting a small man inside him), while the little man is asleep. During the night, the real man sleeps and the little man is awake. Now, here comes the complicated part... During the night while the real man sleeps, his brain replays all the sensory inputs that have been recorded during the day straight into the corresponding sensory receptors of the little man (in real-time). The little man believes he is living a normal life, going about his normal daily business (he has no concept of the fact he is trapped inside a larger man's body). He also believes himself to have free will (although he's just seeing/feeling a recording of sights, sounds, smells etc - like he's watching a movie). This is the exploration of the pre-determination concept.

The twist comes at the end when I somehow transform the world the reader exists in into this model, and present the reader themselves as the little man. This is when I imagine the reader involuntarily looking up (as if trying to catch a glimpse out of the throat of the large man).

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The news told of a copycat suicide in South Africa after a man tried to cut his head off with a bandsaw.

This is probably the original incident,
which took place in a supermarket.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Had gut-rot yesterday, also wasn’t feeling too good, so I went home early. There seem to be quite a few illnesses around the office so maybe I picked up something. Feeling loads better today though. Had to stop watching big brother Africa, as they seem to have embarked upon some sort of joint venture with big brother UK. I figured I would be in breach of my non-exposure bet should I watch any. Instead I watched the discovery channel for a while. Where would the discovery channel be if it wasn’t for the second world war? Watched a program on Stalingrad, then one on ‘mega predators’. Tried to watch CNN but it’s pretty much un-watchable, why do Iraqi protesters “get themselves shot by American forces” rather than “American forces shooting Iraqi protesters” ? A subtle way of apportioning the blame upon the protesters.

Finished reading Richard Branson biography. Thought it may inspire me (to grow a beard).

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Monday, June 23, 2003

Why do I always end up behind a couple with a very small child when queuing for the Pay-Station in a car-park? The kid is invariably given free reign over operation of this complicated machine, and invariably cocks it up in some way. This should be when the parents take over, so that I can get to use the machine. However, this is invariably where the parents decide a valuable lesson about failure, machines with poor human interface design, and the metallic / acidic kick you get from licking coins that are rejected because someone told you that the machine is more likely to accept them (because our saliva will stick the coin to the inside of the machine, right?).
This whole exercise is a waste of time. Why teach kids to use a pay-machine? By the time they are old enough to drive the pay-station technology will have changed significantly, so that techniques learned now will be redundant. A chip in our heads will be automatically scanned and our bank account debited when we leave the car park. We probably won’t even have cars then anyway, we’ll have hovercraft that wiz around the skies. There’ll be plenty of space in the sky to leave your transport; so car-parking fees will be no more. Better to teach your kids to take drugs as they’ll find such experience useful long before they have to use a pay-station.

Two gym related questions:
1) What does the kilometre display relate to on one of those Cross trainers? Surely the concept of distance is irrelevant to such an exercise. What does the machine look like that will propel you along the ground while you slide your legs back and forward while punching the air with alternate arms?
2) What are you supposed to do with those giant bouncy balls? I’ve dipped my toe in giant ball stretching exercises on a number of occasions, but I’ve just been making it up. I think the real art of using the balls correctly is to look like you know what you are doing while you make up ludicrous balancing acts with balls and parts of your body. One guy last night had only his forehead on the ground with his legs rested on a ball while he rocked gently back and forward on his cranium. Tell me that this guy hadn’t just made that exercise up. One slip of the ball and he would have snapped his neck.

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There’s someone at every traffic light in Johannesburg (and there are allot of traffic lights) either selling something (usually newspapers) or begging. A popular technique amongst the beggars is to carry a half full black rubbish bag around with them, claiming this is full of rubbish they cleared off the intersection. Saw one guy yesterday who was wearing a jacket advertising ‘Jokes for change’, unfortunately the lights had changed before I had a chance to make use of this very useful roadside service. Clearly not a job for those poor unfortunate individuals (like myself) who suffer from jokelexia (the inability to remember good jokes, although you know that you know some – a very cruel infliction, would be far more bearable if you simply forgot that you knew any good jokes in the first place). I often give some coins to a kid who is begging (with a black sack) at the traffic lights next to the gym. Yesterday I ended up giving him my jumper instead, as the poor guy was freezing in only his T-shirt. He was chuffed to bits.

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Went to Johannesburg zoo yesterday for lack of anything better to do. I have one annoyance and one fear concerning zoos. The annoyance being the fact that you always run into the same people you queued up behind to buy tickets. This happens no matter which demented route you decide to take through the zoo to avoid the situation (yesterday I was doing crazy things like mixing my raptors with my big cats). You’ll still only manage a couple of minutes stuck in the remotest part of the zoo at the ‘world of a stick insect’ exhibition before they turn up.
The fear I have didn’t apply yesterday, as I visited the zoo on my own. It’s the fear that your fellow visitor sees themselves as a bit of a Rudyard Kipling and decides to give voices to al l the animals you see. Inevitably most of the animals sound like a retarded Homer Simpson and say something along the lines of ‘He-llo Ger-aint, I’m a …….. do you want to be my friend?”. I have had nightmares about such a scenario, I can cope with animals talking, but not with someone ‘making’ them talk in a lame way.
To be honest about zoos, apes are the only remotely interesting things they have. Most other animals are either mundane, useless, or asleep (or a combination of these). Apes pick their noses and muck around with a cardboard box for hours, they throw orange peel at the gawking visitors, or just splash their hand continuously in a pool of water for twenty minutes. All things I’d love to be able to get away with myself.

Also found quite an interesting area of Jo-burg with some bars, restaurants and shops. Stopped there and had lunch.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Congratulations to Dr. Rhian Williams.

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Not enjoying Johannesburg. Is pretty much a suburban sprawl with no redeeming features. You are unlikely to see any photos from my visit here as a) I've seen nothing worth taking a picture of. b) Looking like a tourist can attract unwanted attention, so I'm not really able to carry a camera around with me.
Food etc is very cheap. Good chicken and steak. Great wine. Good roads. Friendly people. TV is great if you like sport, but dire if you don't. Many poor people, which can be rather upsetting. Joined a gym, but have only been twice. Wanted to swim, but the pool is in the centre of the room.. with all the machines facing towards it. I guess you're unlikely to drown.. with all those sweaty potential life guards watching you. Went to Ellis park on Saturday to watch the rugby (South Africa, Scotland), is a rather old stadium. Not such a good game but I enjoyed the atmosphere, the singing of the SA national anthem bought a tear to my eye - the first couple of verses (Zulu and whatever the local language is here) are pretty much mumbled through.. then Afrikaans and English ones blasted out. Munched on Biltong (dried, spiced beef) and drank Castle lager.

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Friday, June 06, 2003

Is interesting to see how people get to this page. I've been visited by people searching for such terms as:

"deodant" (my spelling again)
"banya pics"
"Condoleeza Rice Marital Status"
"pictures midgets fighting"

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Cardiff is brimming with celeb spotting opportunities (well it's better than Swansea where my best spot was seeing Colin Chavis in B&Q). Since I've been here I've seen:
Dai Young and Derwin Jones (ex-Cardiff/Wales rugby players and now Cardiff coaching staff) in a coffee shop.
Peter Rogers (Cardiff rugby player) in the street.
Simon Weston (Falkland war veteran) in the street and next to a boat.
Jane Davidson (Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the National Assembly for Wales) walking out of the train station.

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Thursday, June 05, 2003

I've worked and socialised with many of South Africans still!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Off to South Africa (Johannesburg) this weekend for a month.

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Am a bit worried that lack of TV focal point in my appartment will lead to strained, forced conversations between me and unlucky guest. Have therefore invested in a coffee table book so I can offer browsing as an optional activity.
Am now wasting time thinking of the ideal coffee table book. May try to start a discussion on the subject as a means to force conversation with a reluctant guest.

Have also come to the conclusion that I'll never be able to have a meaningful relationship with anyone who doesn't appreciate American sitcom 'Seinfeld', and hasn't seen at least all episodes several times over. There are times in my life where every situation has a Seinfeld anecdote. (consider Kramer's idea for a coffee table book containing pictures of coffee tables for example). My crusade to create more Seinfeld devotees would be eased considerably if I remembered the approximate number of episodes required to developed an appreciation for the program rather then seeing it as 'just another crap American sit-com'. My best water-cooler moments have been discussions of the previous night's episode.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2003

A shot of British patriotism for those of us who arn't up listening to the radio at 5-30am. I challenge you to present a coherent argument for closer European integration while listening to it at full volume.

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Matt has put up his pics from the end of last year transsib.

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