Friday, November 30, 2007

Such a tough Life ...

Most times work is well, hard work but every now and then one gets to doing something enjoyable while still being at work. At least officially at work that is. Last week barry organised a trip down to cape town, ostensibly to wine and dine our cape town clients as well as the banks staff. Considering the amount of business that we get via capetown, we don't go down there anywhere near enough - possibly due to the allure of all those vineyards.

So thursday morning we found ourselves outside the V&A Waterfront Aquarium which, as we were to find out later, is unique amongst aquariums in that it is completely privately funded. It has no government or other public funding at all and still manages to produce research, engage in environmental education as well as conservation drives. We had organised to do our first cold water dive in the kelp tank which at 17 deg C. is certainly cold enough. Fortunately the kit that they provided us with was quite good and certainly warm enough so I didn't notice the cold too much although my mask kept fogging up. I must have cleared it at least 20 times during the 30 minute dive.

There weren't any big predators which wouldn't have worried me but I was happy to know that there weren't any turtles which, from previous experience, bite like a pit-bull (Yes, I have been bitten by both). There wasn't actually too much to see in the tank but it was great just to get wet again. We got to feed the fish from a sack of small dead fish and it was surprising how stong and solid the fish were. I tried to hold onto a few bait fish but it was hopeless, they were simply too powerful. There were some really beautiful anemones as shown below.

It was kind of wierd looking out of the tank at the public looking into the tank. I tried to take photographs of barry feeding the fish but there was such a mass of fish that, when there was a gap, by the time I had pressed the shutter - you couldn't see him anymore.
There were also two leopard catsharks in the tank which have to take the cake for a lack of intelligence, unless you basically put the food into its mouth, it won't eat. They also tried to snack on barry's legs which are about the same size as the shark. A bit like a human trying to gnaw the leg off an elephant.

The following is a picture of a perlemoen or, as it is more commonly know outside south africa, an abalone. The strange thing protruding from the perlemoen is a piece of seaweed which it is busy eating at quite a remarkable rate. We have a real problem down here with perlemoen poachers due to the demand for them principally from asia I think.

As usual, the dive was over long before I was ready to get out but that is the way it is.

We spent the afternoon working remotely and the evening entertaining customers. This consisted of a guided tour around the aquarium by the aquarium director as well as a dinner at a VERY expensive cape town restaurant which shall remain nameless. When we arrived barry asked one of the local connoisseurs to choose the wine. Bad mistake and in no time flat the magnums started arriving - great wine it must be said but (*&^(*&^ expensive. Thank goodness we don't do this often.

The next morning we were up and off back to johannesburg arriving in time to at least spend a little time in the office before everyone buggered off for the weekend. My opinion of Capetown restaurants remains intact - very expensive with average food.

Monday, November 26, 2007

That time of the year ...

Freedom of speech - Not

Zapiro's take on a recent occurrence where a reporter was fired for presenting a point of view that differed to those of the some of the readers of the newspaper.

For an interesting debate see here


While mens ego's are generally blamed for the ills of society, there is at least one instance where it can be of some use. Some time ago, Jason (No peace be upon him), cheerfully suggested that we ride both the mountain bike race and the road race which takes place on consecutive days. Common sense and prudence instantly jumps into action and loudly proclaims that this is just daft. The ego on the other hand says cool lets do it. Hmmmm! The point is that without an ego, I would never even have attempted to do both races and I would never have been in the position that I now am where I was able to do both. Of course ego taken to extremes lead one into the land of survival of the fittest and the demise of the dumbest but in moderation it does lead one to extend one's boundaries.

So there I was on Saturday morning lined up in the pen waiting for the start when I saw andrea in the pen next to me. She is starting to show that she is pregnant so I was surprised that she is still racing but who am I to comment. The 40km course was great with the first 20 or so being quite hilly with some nice climbs and downhills not to mention a couple of vaguely technical sections. I must have done only about 10km before the leading ladies of the 35-45 age group came barreling past me, it is quite amazing just how fast they actually are and they're not even professionals. I managed the first 20km on my bicycle but the next 20km saw a couple of dismounts - unplanned of course.

The first was a tricky muddy section where the guy two in front fell to the left just off the path and the guy immediately in front of me fell to the right, again just off the path, leaving about 3" for me to get through. Needless to say, I didn't make it and fell on top of the guy on the left thus creating a tatoo on my hip where his chainring made 7 neat puncture wounds. Fortunately, you don't seem to feel these things at the time as much as one does later in the shower.

My next dismount was at the top of a very steep embankment where most guys baled between half way up and three quarters of the way up. Technically, I made it to the top after avoiding the riders that were in front of me but I fell over on the top. Damn, so close but at least all I had to do was get on and freewheel down the other side. Walking/running uphill with a bicycle actually isn't so easy.

Finished in a time of 2:27 which sounds ok until one compares it with Jason who did a 2:08 or even worse, the other Jason at 1:41 - although this was the winning time for his age group.

Sundays race was a very unusual one for me because my legs felt distinctly tired and for some reason I was starting in the C group which is way too fast for me so I let go of the bunch as we rolled over the timing mats. The whole race my legs felt like they just couldn't go any faster while my heartrate hovered around the low 90% which is fairly low for me. Not much to write about during the race, just chased one wheel after another. Saw kim, sage and aldon who had walked up the road to cheer me on which was greatly appreciated. I managed to stick with various groups up until the last 15km which I just ground out slowly. It was great to finish and a real sense of achievement at having completed both races. Surprisingly, my time was 3:08 so my legs seemed to have felt worse than they actually were.

Monday, November 19, 2007

African Sunset.

This was taken a couple of weeks ago while sitting on Kirsten and Carls verandah down at the Vaal dam. All I did was pick up the camera and snap - no cropping or manipulation of any kind.

Flying High

Every year at this time there is a recurring issue for smaller companies. What to do for the end of the year party? Of course we can't call it a Christmas party since we have numerous faiths or lack thereof in the company but I don't think that this is really fooling anyone. It is after all, the end of the Christian year. We've done the restaurant and the braai type thing so we decided to step outside the box so to say and take everyone on a "Canopy Tour" which is becoming quite popular here.

Of course we didn't tell anyone but subtly dropped hints that had everyone second guessing that we were doing a collective bungee jump which had certain sections of the employees in a flap. We are talking about programmers here after all - and don't even mention the Sales and Marketing.

A canopy tour, in case you haven't guessed, is a series of flying foxes or foofy slides, depending on where in the world you come from, that weave their way either through the tops of a forest or in our case zig-zag down a gorge. The slides vary from about 30m to 150m and some of them are pretty quick so you get issued with a leather glove with which you can slow yourself down. Sort of. Alternatively you can just shove a finger into the trolley that runs over the cable - that also stops you pretty quickly. Painful but definitely effective.

At the start of the tour everyone was hanging grimly onto the trolley petrified that the harness was going to break but by the end most of us had got over that and were having a great time looking around as we whizzed over the tree tops.

This is quintin showing how the sales and marketing department does it - with a degree of style and a smile. Note the right hand on the cable acting as a brake.

The whole exercise is totally safe, there are two cables and three attachment points between your harness and the cables preventing gravity from winning the day, any one of which would be more than safe enough. The only real danger of hurting oneself is to not apply any braking and making, as the guides put it, a bushman painting on the rocks at the end of the slide. Even this danger was greatly diminished because they have rigged up emergency stops to prevent one from moving onto the next world. So I think it is safe to say that the only real way to injure one's self is to jam a finger into the pulley as a couple of people found out.

I tried to take photographs of everyone as they skimmed over the tree tops but was only marginally successful. The video taken by the guides was a much better plan but it did enable me to have and excuse to go first on most of the slides. What was really great was the response to the event the day after, we got the feeling that everyone really did enjoy the day out and for some, it was an experience of a lifetime and everyone received a DVD of the day so that they could remember it forever.

Oh, well back to boerewors and rolls next year.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Boys weekend

Last weekend was an end of year getaway for what is very unfortunately know as "Boet club" which is normally just an excuse to get together, drink whisky and smoke cigars while the wives are at "Book club". My wife cackles with laughter every time she mentions "Boet club" and I have a sneaking suspicion that she goes out of her way to find reasons to mention it simply because it makes her laugh. While the members of said "Boet club" disagree on most points, there is unanimous agreement that the name "Boet club" is hideous. Thinking about it, it would be hard to get worse but we have yet to come up with anything better, only ones equally abysmal.

Carl has a shack at the vaal dam, pictured below, which he kindly offered us the use of - as well as his 200hp motorboat so six of us arrived at carls place on Saturday morning for the weekend. Once we had unlocked and unpacked we put the boat in the water and headed straight out because the wind wasn't too bad and one never knows what the weather is actually going to do. This skiing thing was a little intimidating since all of us are in our late 30's to early 50's and, much as we don't like to admit it, a little past our prime.

First person in the water was Eckhart who struggled to get up on the skiis so after a few abortive attempts gave up and it was my turn. I have actually skied before but it was so long ago that I can't remember when or with whom but I think that it was at least two decades ago. Surprise, surprise I popped straight out of the water and I was off inside the wake, outside the wake. Quite fun. I have no idea how long I actually skied for but it was long enough that I had to think about my hands and forearms acheing from the unusual stress of hanging onto the tow. I was scooting around the outside of a curve when carl made a curious gesture which I took to mean waves which sure enough there were. I managed to survive the 6" wake from another boat, not elegantly but I survived. The next set of 2' wave was another matter altogether, I went up the first wave, the front of the skiis dug into the base of the second wave and my head hit the base of the third wave. Enough skkiiinnggg for one day for me and I'm sure everyone in the board enjoyed the spill and it certainly cleared out my sinus cavities.

Eckhard had another try at skiing and came up first time, thereafter it was clear that he had done much more skiing that the rest of us, Carl excluded of course. After this we all had a go on the scooter which is a bit like a winged lilo and great fun, it suffers a bit in that because it is so easy, one gets over confident and this leads to spectacular spills. Finally, carl allowed me to get my mits on the controls while he tried kneeboarding. He refused to try skiing with me at the helm - probably a wise choice. Very successful turn as the pilot, I missed all the other boats and didn't run over any skiers in the water - piece of cake. Carl made some spectacular jumps on the kneeboard before performing a spectacular forward roll. Another sinus cleaning exercise.

I'm not going to admit as to who exactly it is that is in the picture but suffice to say that the six pack is no longer as firm as it once was.

After lunch everyone else went out skiing again while Eckhardt and myself took things easy and quietly whiled away the afternoon reading.

We had a braai for supper and yes, there were salads, before getting down to why were really away from our nearest and dearest.

A close examination will reveal a cigar in the hands of all present but I don't remember much after 20:00 because I was so tired that I kept on nodding off and carl eventually politely told me that it was time that I retired. Fortunately everyone else was pretty whacked from a day in the sun and the water so I wasn't exactly alone.

The next morning we all dragged out aching bodies out of bed and went off for our chosen torture session, either a run or a ride. I rode with Carl and Eckhardt on a circular course and then did a couple of extra laps just to make sure that I earned breakfast at the local nursery pictured below. It was amazing how the wind changed direction so that you always seem to be going into it and seldom with it.

Thereafter we all went out on the boat again but the wind was way too strong so it was time to pack up and bugger off home. I was very proud of myself in that I didn't raise any contentious topics or otherwise stir the pot apart from one slip on the way home.

P.S. I promised that I wouldn't let on that everyone did actually know how to load the dishwasher. I know that some men, who shall remain nameless, claim incompetence and ignorance in this department.

P.P.S. All photographs are courtesy of Wayne.