Friday, December 19, 2008

Ready in 2 minutes (no added MSG)

Waterval-Boven: A perfect almost mid-summer's evening. I'm lying alone on the couch after a week over full with people, noise and endless activity. No sound at all but for my 'chilled classics' cd playing faintly in the background, the summer night racket of crickets, the odd car.A cool, slight breeze ghosts down the mountain, unexpectedly carrying the scent of the Lowveld and the full moon on it. A dog barks on the other side of 'Hopeville' as I eat smoked mussels - crackling with almost-crushed black pepper - straight from the bronze coloured tin that reminds me of an ashtray. My summer holiday started yesterday at precisely 15h11: that's when I wrote my last work words of the year, pushed send on the final email. Peace, utter peace in my little house that's on the edge of the village that's on the edge of the escarpment. Four roasted, salted almonds crunch in my mouth, are washed down with an ice cold glass of milk. Now to make my favourite curry flavour Woolworths instant noodles. Then a luke warm bath, some more pages of Peter Parker's monumental 'Isherwood', tantalising paragraphs from my 'Rough Guide to Morocco' for the hell of it, also to launch into our local version of 'National Geographic Traveller' and it's cover story: 'Pure Paris'. Tonight I wouldn't want to be anywhere but here. I think, often, of Wynand and Serra. Anton's cat had three kittens today; I wish I had a photo.Despite some initial insecurity, my inspiration (and Words) WILL come from God, not from the December issue (# 68) of 'Dazed & Confused' that was hand-picked at an anonymous Heathrow news agent.

Stream of consciousness. Full stop.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Summer roots & fruits

Johannesburg: Just got to this city and I'm sitting at a table on the pavement outside Roots & Fruits in Emmarentia. This city is paradise in mid December: the roads are quite, the climate is ideal, shop keepers and waiters are friendly, and just about every afternoon is refreshed with an awe inspiring Highveld thunderstorm. (God help the rest of the country, wherever the Gautengers have gone for their summer holidays.)

I'm finishing up one last item of work, hopefully by tomorrow morning, before considering myself officially on holiday. I'll also be emailing off an instalment of my masters research project tonight; the deadline of 15 February looms.

There is a crack in the clouds, the summer sun is drenching me and I can almost see my bare legs turning brown before my eyes.

Two obviously wealthy women with, apparently, few cares are sitting at the the table next to mine. I can overhear their every word - subpoena this, subpoena that. I don't envy them in any way.

Tonight I look forward to family time...

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blog dog

Just over two weeks ago I met The Citizen's CitiVibe features writer, Annette Bayne, on the media bus to Maropeng. We had a lot in common, especially some of the fascinating photographic projects she has in her sights. Annette was putting together a story about blogging, following the recent blog SA survey (conducted by news 24) and was interviewing regular "bloggers" about this pastime. Below are some of my answers to her questions about my blogging habits. 

* When did you start blogging and how often do you blog?

I ventured, very insecurely and with a definite sense of exposing myself, into blogging for the first time in September 2005. I blog erratically, sometimes - depending on how exciting life is, or whether I've got the time or not - up to five entries in one day. I do the day after New Year strive to blog at least once every day of the week, but have  - often - been known to fall horribly short of that. But I never beat myself up about it - if it's not going to be fun, I'm not going to do it.

* What are your reasons for starting a blog and do you make money directly from your blogging efforts?

I started initially blogging (anonymously, until I gained in confidence) mainly to have fun, secondly to make notes, in almost a diary-like fashion, pertaining to both my life and work, that I could type up when I had bites of time I couldn't usefully use up in any other way: like on a flight, or on trains and busses overseas, especially while waiting for unpunctual people (like myself), and especially at my special "me-time" coffee shop moments anywhere and everywhere in the world. The incredible ease of posting blog entries AND photos in a split second, and as close to 'live' as possible, on to the internet is incredibly alluring. It also means that you have typed our your notes once, as opposed to oh-so fashionably having scribbled them down in your Moleskine. The entries are then always available for whatever you want to do with them - without needing to be transcribed - straight off the 'net and anywhere in the world. And they make for great idea seeds once they've been percolating for a while out there in the soupy cyber-swamp.

PS: I've never made, nor intended to directly make a cent from blogging. However, on three separate occasions this year alone, my blog has marketed me to people that have offered me work, who accessed it as both an online CV and portfolio. Out of this I've currently got a contract encompassing three separate clients that has become the mainstay of my writing work the last six months. As a direct result of my blog I'm also currently negotiating the writing of a book in the New Year, with the ANTICIPATED publication to take place exactly a year from now. I emphasise negotiating....

* How much time do you spend on your blog and in what manner (i.e.. time set aside in the evening, odd moments, dedicated full time blogger etc)?

I blog whenever I want to doodle, whenever I'm inspired, whenever I have free time, whenever I have something to say. In other words, I don't always blog. My favourite time, as I might have mentioned, is while having meals alone (which is when I'm my most inspired), on flights (the email goes live the minute there's a signal upon landing) or public transport and when I'm on a high from coffee, like in Seattle coffee shops in book stores (the greatest combination ever invented).

* What do you blog about and do people respond to your posts in a meaningful way?

My greatest blogging challenge has been to focus my blog, which I've still not achieved, especially now that I no longer blog anonymously, and that my blog has become an extension of me in the so-called "public eye", and has inadvertently become a marketing tool (which was not my intention, and is something I'm not always comfortable with). My blogging highlights were when I blogged anonymously and could sordidly introspect online in the true tradition of a diary, except that it was online and available to the universe.

* Are you a "consumer" of other blogs on the internet?

You've got to do a lot of trawling through the outer wastes of the internet to discover blogs that you'd like become a groupie of and throw your underwear at. In fact I cannot imagine for a second why anyone would even want to read mine.

* What does the practice of blogging mean to you personally?

It means fun and, in particular, having fun while having time on my hands that would otherwise be wasted. It also keeps my friends up to date with some aspects (the less sordid of course) of my life. It also feels that I'm being forced - in a pleasant way - to keep up with the internet's rapidly changing trends and technology. (For the record I deleted my Facebook profile three months ago and have not once looked back. I had never been so invaded in all my life. Before you ask, of course I take responsibility! Ha-ha!)

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Simon Barber on social media and the election

Bearing in mind the newly formed political party, Congress of the People's three day founding conference currently taking place in Bloemfontein, Simon Barber's blog at Mail & Gaurdian Online is interesting. He writes...

I'm just back from a magical eight day tour of South Africa with a group of great American bloggers and South Africa's own Nick Haralambous, one of the geniuses behind Zoopy, Africa's YouTube. The idea was to create some interesting content about aspects of the country that often get missed by old media, and have it ripple through the blogosphere.

As you can see if you visit or (and keep visiting, because it's taking time to get everything uploaded), we saw and did a lot in a very short space of time and met some really extraordinary people along the way. Standouts for me included Nkhesani Masilani, a geologist I spoke to 3.8km underground at Anglogold Ashanti's Tau Tona mine; Elizly Steyn, the 28-year-old metallurgist from Springbok running the production side of things on De Beers astounding Peace in Africa mining ship; and Dr Adrian Tiplady, the astronomer, engineer and world class jazz musician — he plays with Manfred Mann — who is helping make sure South Africa wins the right to host the giant Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, the most ambitious undertaking of its kind ever.

So tight was the schedule — even when we were on the bus and not prostrate with exhaustion we were mostly tapping out posts on our laptops, editing video and sound or uploading photographs — that I didn't read a newspaper or take in a news broadcast for almost the entire time we were on the road. I do not mean this as a criticism of the media, but boy, to experience South Africa for a week with media intake dialed back, and the political cacophony nothing more than background hiss, was a truly refreshing experience.

That said, politics was never very far from my mind. Here we were, a bunch of bloggers, geeks and media mavens, experimenting with social media as a means of changing the way people look at South Africa. How, we were asked, might a political party use the same tools to advance its cause? What did Barack Obama's use of the web have to teach the ANC or Cope or the DA or the ID or the UDM or whoever?

To read the rest:

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

God is in the details...

I had a marvelous opportunity on Friday to again experience the peace and quiet of the Cradle of Humankind; I'm sure God lives there. This time I was able to be present - behind-the-scenes - as a new fossil exhibition was set up. Getting up close and personal (yes, the covers were taken off!) with these magnificent fossils is, excuse the cliché, nothing short of awe-inspiring. The perfectly preserved, few million year-old teeth were what really did it for me... God is undoubtedly in the most intricate details of our Creation.


Yes, the vaults have been opened and original fossils of both Paranthropus and early Homo – what scientists believe to be our direct ancestors and which coexisted in the Cradle of Humankind about 2-million years ago – are seeing the light of day in a new, fascinating exhibition entitled Paranthropus in Context just opened at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site's visitor centre, Maropeng.


"These fossils only very rarely go on display – some have only been displayed a few times since their discovery," says the visibly excited Maropeng Curator, Lindsay Marshall.


Marshall explains that Paranthropus is currently at the centre of some major scientific debate.


"Although at Swartkrans (in the Cradle of Humankind) there is fossil evidence of Paranthropus robustus as well as Homo ergaster, which have been found along with fossils of baboons, leopards, sabre-toothed cats, hyenas and antelope, scientists have traditionally thought that Paranthropus was not capable of tool-making, and that only hominids belonging to the Homo genus, were toolmakers. Now, this assumption is being challenged."

Marshall says that University of the Witwatersrand paleontologist Dr Lucinda Blackwell suggests that Paranthropus may have made these tools: "Blackwell's research suggests that indeed, Paranthropus was using bone tools to extract termites, a rich source of protein, and the fact that they might have been making the bone tools does not reflect a species that is as inferior as previously thought."

Marshall emphasises that these questions and others will be scrutinised in the display: "You are able to see real hominid fossils, which are normally kept locked away from the public eye."

In September, Marshall - who has a BA Honours Archaelogy and a Postgraduate Diploma in Heritage Studies - approached Wits University (part of the Maropeng Public Private Partnership), the Northern Flagship Institution (NFI) and the Transvaal Museum (part of the NFI), to discuss doing a collaboration for the display.

"Setting up this exhibition was straightforward because everyone collaborating was very enthusiastic about having this material on display," she explained. It seems that the most complex aspect of this process was having to organise a secured armed escort for the material: "As it is hominid material and seldom out of the vaults where it is stored, we had to guarantee as safe a passage as possible." 


Marshall, who is passionate about sharing this incredible heritage with the general public, says this opportunity to put hominid material on display was very exciting: "I'm very proud of this exhibition. It is the first time we are putting so much emphasis on a display, so it is my hope that we will grow and learn from here and the displays will just get better and better."


She explains that the first ever Paranthropus robustus was discovered at Kromdraai in 1938, where it was coexisting with another hominid species Homo ergaster, from which humans are directly evolved.  


"So instead of a linear evolutionary line it rather looks like a tree or bush with some of the branches snapping off, as is the case of Paranthropus who eventually died out."

Thanks to generous loans from the Transvaal Museum (part of the Northern Flagship Institution) and the University of the Witwatersrand's Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research, visitors will be able to view these magnificent fossil specimens up close from 6 December 2008 to 6 March 2009.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not to be missed," Marshall emphasised.

The 47000 hectare Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COH WHS), situated 45 minutes north-west of Johannesburg, is a scientific treasure house containing valuable information about the human family, as well as early human and cultural development.

Gauteng's premier tourist destination, the Cradle of Humankind is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, and the only one in Gauteng.

Just by the way, Maropeng, the world class official visitor centre for the COH WHS, won the South African tourism sector's most prestigious award, namely 'Best Tourist Attraction' at the third annual Welcome Awards at Indaba earlier this year.

If you want more info, Maropeng Curator Lindsay Marshall is the person to speak to: 014 577 9000  / and

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Chasing the storm

I'm with a media tour to Maropeng for the opening to the media of their new fossil exhibition (more about this later), which officially launches tomorrow.
We were picked up at Clearwater Mall and right now we're chasing a typical Highveld thunderstorm to Maropeng in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritagre Site.
There's a great 'summer holidays' vibe to the world outside the bus: people are in shorts, schools have closed for the year and generally there seems to be relief in the air that a tough, fast-paced year is coming to a close. And it's Friday... need I say more?

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