Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dinner South African style

We had family from overseas for dinner. Dinner had a distinctly South African feel, Bobotie and Malva Pudding. It went down really well and I wonder if some of the ingredients are available overseas, I'm pretty sure Mrs Ball's Peach Chutney is hard to come by overseas. A recipe for those keen to try:

Bobotie (Serves 6-8)


30 ml ground(powdered) ginger
30 ml brown sugar
45 ml Cartwrights medium strength curry powder
15 ml turmeric
10 ml salt
2 ml pepper

50 gr (60 ml) butter/marg
5 ml oil (so the butter doesn't burn)
5 medium onions chopped
1 kg mince
2 slices of bread soaked in water
375 ml milk
2 eggs
fresh lemon leaves (bay leaves are an alternative)

100 gr (150 ml) seedless raisins
60 ml Mrs Ball's peach chutney
30 ml apricot jam
30 ml vinegar
30 ml Worcestershire sauce
30 ml tomato paste

Put A into a heavy pan. Heat well. Add butter and stir till melted. Fry onions till soft (add oil so the butter doesn't burn). Remove the pan from the heat and add B and mince and bread. Return to the heat and stir constantly so it does not stick and cook for 20 minutes.

Place in a greased dish. Beat the egg and milk and pour over the meat. Place lemon leaves on top. Bake for 45 minutes at 180C or 10-15 minutes in the microwave.

Bead factory

The bead factory has returned. I've missed this creative outlet while in the USA, especially after seeing the price of beads in America versus beads in South Africa. I guess the quality is much higher and hence the prices but the average piece of jewellery does not need precision Czech seed beads. The Chinese seed beads at a quarter of the price do just as well.

I made a gemstone knotted (pearl-knotting technique) necklace in brown with matching earrings and a plum bugle bead necklace with a bronze pendant. I am now in a quandary of what to make with my purple gemstones to match my new dress.

Tonight is a family dinner of babootie and malva pudding, yum. Both are very well known in SA but I know for a fact are unheard in most other parts of the world.

Under the African Sky

I have finally returned home after 4 months away. Its nice to be home and weird to note that very little changes. There is comfit in stability. I have yet to unpack but have taken advantage of the glorious sunshine and warmed my frozen limbs and reflective legs (i really need a tan).

The plane trip was a rushed transfer from Delta to NorthWest to make my Cape Town connection and musical seats in the plane to accommodate families with children. The flight itself was turbulence free, but I still managed about 3 hours sleep total. After 27 hours in airports and planes I officially landed on home soil and the feeling on coming home was glorious. Sunshine and wind. Welcome to Cape Town.

I will hopefully get around to seeing everyone in the next few days when my jetlag disappears and be back in the social whirl of summer. See ya soon :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Last Day

It is my last day in Michigan before I jet off home to the land of sun and sand. I wish I could extend my time here but another part of me wishes I could be home already and laughing with old friends on the beach. I guess its something that happens whenever you leave a place you have invested time in.

Will I come back? I'm not sure, I like Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, but I'm not sure if I could do it long term. We'll see where my studies take me, if I'm ever in the States again for a conference or workshop, I'll definitely make an effort to visit everyone.

On my final day it is snowing and -15C, I think Michigan tried to show me the worst of winter before I left. There is over a foot of snow on the ground and icicles hanging from the trees. It is all beautiful yet a stark reminder that I am in a foreign climate.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Girls Night

I missed the girls nights in CT so I decided to host girls night last night. I warned my housemates in advance that there would be an influx of girls if they wanted to hide :). I made malva pudding and got some candy and chips, veggies and dip and we watched girly movies. First up Made of Honor which was entertaining and a perfect way to relax. The second movie for the diehards (since we started it after midnight) was Wall-E which is super cute.

Monday, December 8, 2008

HKN Banquet

The HKN Banquet was held last night in at Creek Side Bar and Grill in their functions room. The banquet is a semester event for all HKN members and their dates. It is also a chance for the electees to be inducted into the Society. The food was decent, a buffet style. I wore a teal dress I borrowed from the Ballroom Team stash, not sure I want to give it back though, its pretty. I never realised how socially awkward most engineers are on the dancefloor.

The electees have to wear resistors for the week leading up to the banquet and if seen without them have to pay a penalty in the form of some humiliating act. This time was serenading the president of the society with "I want it that way" by BackStreet Boys. Funny to watch though none really got into it and made it a comic event. The president and president-elect opened the dancefloor with YMCA, more socially awkward :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Journal Club MTG9: Land Use and Land Cover Change

My topic of research while in Michigan is on Land Use and Land Cover Change which made today's paper which I had to present especially interesting. The paper "Evaluating the effects of historical land cover change on summertime weather and climate in New Jersey: Land cover and surface energy budget changes" by Paul Wichansky et al (2008), investigates the sensitivity of a warm season climate of New Jersey to land cover change from 1880s versus 1990s. The areas of specific interest include the magnitude of land cover change and sensitivity on near surface air temperature, rainfall, dew point temperature, heat fluxes and climatological episodes.

Previous studies have shown that deforestation causes an increase in temperature and rainfall shifts, while reforestation causes cooling in the region. Urbanisation also causes an increase in temperatures and changes to the diurnal cycle. The interesting thing to note is that all three processes have occurred in the state of New Jersey within the last century. Reconstructing the land cover from historical topographical maps and land consensus, a full land cover map was available for direct comparison with NLCD data from 1992. Aggregated to 1km and combined into 8 vegetation classes, the researchers used RAMS and LEAF2 to compare atmospheric responses to land cover change.

They nested the grid in 3 levels (above-purple) and 3 ensemble members per land cover scenario, they used a 2 month period in June/July 1999. From NCEP data to force atmospheric boundary conditions, they used June as a spinup and July as a month for analysis. The soil moisture was described from observation.

The model comparisons showed an increase in near surface air temperature and dew point temperature in urban and deforested areas and cooler in reforested areas, just as previous research stated. The results overall come as no surprise but they way they use the ensemble without giving the spread or error is slightly weird.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Land of ice and snow

I awoke today to white, not little bits of it, but the entire world blanketed by snow. The roads are the only thing visible currently. Last night was a treacherous time to be on the road, the snow was falling fast and ice covered the roads. Most cars couldn't stop and fishtailed before the wheels caught. I have no wish to be in a car again for a good while. Things in Michigan are moving, albeit slowly. Exam time looms in a week.

Its all about connection

For those who dance and gap, these exercises are for you.

Get into cuddle hold (think std 8 dancish cross ballroom hold), I'm serious that's what they called it. Now do Rhythm Foxtrot and try stay together by leading with the body and girls not anticipating the next move. Stay on your toes so that the girls can feel the weight transfer. When this is working try do Slow Foxtrot steps like the feather finish and heel leads through lowering.

In Rumba, girls try match the guys moves by following the body and hips (no looking at his feet). I'm including hip twists, fans and hockey sticks in this. Apparently people in tune will be able to follow from body cues, not just arms. Try for a while and you'll notice your awareness of your partner increases and your concentration.

Now girls close their eyes and just try holding your hands flat against each other like in shoulder to shoulder. Girls should feel the guy moving the girl through his weight moving and the aim is to feel the direction and timing. You'll be amazed how much concentration it requires, especially from the guys to communicate their moves through and wait for the girls.

Lastly stand side by side holding hands. (Girls should be on the right). Girls close their eyes and let the guy lead you in walking, following his timing and direction (forward, backward, side to side). Girls don't anticipate anything.

Its all about the connection.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I am in Rochester for the Thanksgiving break for my first American Thanksgiving, turkey and all. The trip to Rochester is long, that is about as descriptive as I can get. We left at 8.50pm from Ann Arbor by bus to Toledo and then waited for the train for 4 hours. The train station itself has limited comfort and a little drafty. The train trip took roughly 7 hours, stopping along the way. The seats were reclineable and came with footstools, so we could stretch out and sort of sleep.

The Thanksgiving hype was well worth it. The amount of food was amazing, xmas x 2. We had 14 people at dinner and managed to blow up the microwave an hour before dinner. Fun times. We watched Moulin Rouge afterwards.

Today we ventured to Niagara Falls in the freezing cold and saw the American side, I don't have a visa to see the Canadian side. It was snowing for periods while we wandered around over the rapids and on the observation decks. We got a little wet from the spray from the waterfalls.

Following the falls we watched Quantum of Solace. I liked it and appreciate the continued storyline. The fight sequences were very well done and I really really like the fight scene on the pullies in the church. The body count was astronomical though.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Collegiate Ballroom Competition

Attached to OSB is the National Collegiate Competition that the University of Michigan takes part in. We drove there on Friday night (see previous post) and watched the professional dancers on Friday night. The competition is split into four parts, American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard and International Latin. For OSB we can sign up for up to 2 levels and 8 events total, far less than Purdue.

Saturday morning was American Smooth and meant I could sleep in. I only had to dance from 12.05 which was the International Latin section. I participated in 4 events, Bronze Chacha-Rumba, Bronze Samba, Bronze Jive and Silver Samba-Jive. Lining up I realised why you can only sign up for 8 events. Bronze Chacha-Rumba had 119 couples! I marvel at the organisation involved in marshaling such numbers. The picture below shows the layout of the back of the exhibition hall we danced in.

After the Latin section were fun dances, I have no clue how to do Bolero, but I can do a decent Paso Doble (at least in the fun section). Kevin and I (apparently a Bronze couple can beat the Gold couples) placed fourth.

Round up for day one:
Bronze Chacha-Rumba: Semifinal
Bronze Samba - Quarterfinal
Bronze Jive - 2nd place (woohoo)
Silver Samba-Jive - First round
Fun Paso Doble - 4th place :P

Day two started with American Rhythm which meant another sleep in (yay) but they ran so far ahead of time (1.5 hours) that our leisurely morning became somewhat short, our warmup dance was the first round of Bronze Standard Waltz, not ideal. Bronze Waltz-Quickstep had 118 couples, so the same chaos as the previous day applies and hence the same number of rounds to get to the finals (6 rounds in total). I had a lot of fun doing Standard but was so tired when i had to dance QF,SF and finals in a row without leaving the floor. Need water....

After collapsing in a heap next to the dancefloor we were priviledged to watch the Novice to Championship dancers and WOW, I can't describe the gracefulness and musicality of the couples. I am positively jealous.

The last event of the day were the fun dances, something I think UCT should adopt for Intervarsity next year. Anyone can get on the floor and the judges walk round and pick 6 couples each, next round 4 etc until 6 couples are left for a final. Sunday's dances were Hustle, Merengue, Salsa and West Coast Swing. I learnt the basic on the floor during the dance for West Coast Swing (still don't get it). Kevin and I have been practicing for weeks with Matt and Julia for Hustle but due to lift issues Julia had to leave. Kevin and I won, which in all fairness should be Matt and Julia's first, they taught us all their moves. The Fun Merengue was a blast, Eric Yu (president of UM Ballroom Team) and I sometimes dance it together at Open Dance but we pulled out all the stops for Merengue, I have never shaken and shimmied that much before. We won which was hilarious. Definitely something to remember, I'm glad there were no camera's at that point though.

Round up for day two:
Bronze Waltz-Quickstep - 6th place (yay for fixing Waltz dynamics)
Bronze Tango - Semifinal (we finally got the sharpness right)
Bronze Foxtrot - Semifinal (I'm slightly annoyed we didn't make finals, if I look as bad as a few of the couples in the final I should just give up now)
Silver Foxtrot-Tango - First round
Fun Merengue - 1st place (with Eric Yu)
Fun Hustle - 1st place (never let it be said a foreigner can't beat the locals at their own game :) )

I am now tired and sore and have heel size bruises from people heeling me in various dances. I am officially done with competitions over here and am quite happy with the results, I did much better than expected given the number of couples in each level and the competitive attitude I have yet to adopt. That aside, I can't wait to come home and dance at my first UCT social again.

Ohio Star Ball

My lasting impression of OSB is glitter and sparkles, but that is getting ahead of myself. The car trip to OSB was uneventful until we hit Toledo and a freak snowstorm and accidents. I don't think I ever want to drive in the snow on a highway again. After this I went to sleep for the rest of the three hour trip but I'm told there was another snow storm about an hour later. Arriving in Columbus Ohio was interesting, there was bumper to bumper traffic. I must mention that the biggest football of the season between Michigan and Ohio State was also in Columbus this weekend.

The hotel - Red Roof Inn - was OK. Numerous people had complaints about the beds and our sink clogged. Apparently the room allocations got screwed up when the hotel lost our bookings and so instead of 4 people to a room we had 5.

Registration packs included tickets to the real Ohio Star Ball (not the collegiate competition we were in) which has pro shows and World Champion Standard and Latin competitions. The first night we went (in black tie - there is a dress code) they were still judging rounds of competitors for both Amateur and Professional American and International style. We started naming people according to their outfits. Peaches and cream, flamingo, medieval, gypsy, bondage, bunnytail, bee etc. The dancing was awe-inspiring. especially the quickstep and samba. I have to state though that the costumes had sooo many sequins and rhinestones, a little over the top in some cases.

The second night was the finals and America's Best and was taped for PBS. Black tie again. The professional finals were just WOW. You see some of it on TV when you watch Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars and they do demonstrations but an entire floor dancing infront of you is something else. Its is funny though the amount of collisions in a final of a world championship though, apparently floorcraft can suck at any level. We have arrived at the conclusion though that a couple could have great floorcraft but their egos say they have right of way and everyone else should move.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Noodles Benefit Dinner

This last Thursday was a fund-raising drive for the UM Ballroom Dance Team at Noodles and Co. The idea is that for everyone with a flyer that eats during a specific time frame, Noodles and Co would donate 25% of their meal costs to the team. It was also a great way to carboload before the killer dance weekend. I'm not sure how much was made in the end but the idea is worth investigating for UCT.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Journal Club MTG8: Isoprene emissions

Today's article "The effect of elevated CO2, soil and atmospheric water deficit and seasonal phenology on leaf and ecosystem isoprene emission" by Emiliano Pegoraro describes an experimental biosphere laboratory in that looks at stresses to cottonwood plantations and their responses with respect to isoprenes. The experiment ran over a few years, and looked specifically at the fall of 2000, fall of 2002 and spring of 2003 to cover the range of phenological influences. The plantations were controlled, one with present day CO2 levels and one with elevated CO2 levels. The plantations were both stressed as a result of a vapour pressure deficit (VPD) and drought conditions. The idea was to measure the isoprene emissions under various conditions. The results show a correlation between photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) which makes sense as isoprene emissions shutdown with the absence of light. It was interesting that as the drought conditions continued, no matter the CO2 concentration, the isoprene levels tailored off to roughly the same emission rate.

As a side note, I am finally learning all that high school biology I didn't take.

Chocolate cake in a cup

For those of you who don't have baking equipment, I finally tried a recipe for making chocolate cake in a coffee cup.

4 Tablespoons cake flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil
1 Mug

Mix the flour, sugar and cocoa, add a beaten egg and mix well. Add the milk and oil. Mix very well. Cook on high (1000watt) for 3 minutes in the microwave.

A few comments, I think there is too much egg in the recipe and too little sugar. I also think that if you added baking powder the cake might explode as it may rise too much. I think a nice alternative might be to include chocolate chips in the batter (might also add to the sweetness).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hairspray and Lipstick

Just woke up after getting back from Purdure Uni in Indiana, its snowing!! The drive there was 6 hours (not the reported 4.5) and mostly in the rain. We arrived late and missed most of the welcome function :( We registered and found our host for the night, a postgrad named Jennifer who actually lived 20 mins away and wasn't dancing cause he partner pulled out at the last minute. 6 of us stayed with her including 4 newcomers and kevin and myself. I had to teach the newcomers to iron!! I ended up ironing a whole satiny dress between other cotton skirt layers. Eventually they stopped asking us question and let us sleep (at 2am).

We got up at 6am and startig getting ready, I'd just done my hair and started my makeup when a newcomer arrived saying she didn't know how to do her hair and had no gel/hairspray/hairclips. So I ended up doing it and then running late. As a side note, I never finished putting on all my makeup, I still haven't used my fake eyelashes or my proper lipstick or my top eyeshadow to match my dress.

The day itself was really really tiring. I danced 2 levels, Bronze and Silver and my lasting impression of the day is standing in line waiting to go on, I did it so much. I danced both American and Internatinal for both dances. The first section of the day was American Smooth (ballroom) and the first time I have ever done an American tango was the first round!

Final tally as follows:

Bronze Smooth(waltz, tango) - Quarterfinal (QF)
Bronze American Foxtrot - 4th place
Bronze American Viennese Watz - Second round (I'd like to note the first time Kevin and I did VW was friday for the saturday competition)
Silver Smooth(waltz, tango) - Semifinal (SF)
Silver Smooth (foxtrot, Viennese waltz) - SF
Bronze Standard (waltz, quickstep) - SF
Bronze Intl Tango - SF
Bronze Intl Foxtrot - 5th place (woohoo, apparently the improvement/hard work shows)
Silver Standard(waltz,quickstep) - first round
Silver Standardd(foxtrot, tango) - SF
Silver Intl Viennese Waltz - SF
Bronze American Swing - 6th place
Bronze American Mambo - QF
Silver Rhythm (swing, mambo) - SF
Bronze Latin (Chacha, rumba) - QF
Bronze Samba - QF
Bronze Jive - QF
Silver Latin (Chacha, rumba) - SF
Silver Latin (samba, jive) - SF

I would like to point out that I did equal/better in Silver than Bronze. There is this theory that the rounds are too crowded for the judges to see everyone in Bronze but Silver had the same number of people on the floor per round (approx 25 ppl).

The trend here is to hand out ribbons not medals which say first to sixth place. Each have a distinctive colour. Its not quite the same as walking away with a medal or trophy but its definitely easier to pack! The results are also announced throughout the day, actually straight after each final (have to love electronic judging - see below).

By the time I sat down at the end of the competition I was soo tired I could hardly move. My legs cramped at the end of ballroom (right before lunch) and I lost a toenail (I'm waiting the next one to go) from various occasions of being trod on. My legs in general are talking very loudly today about their overuse.

Final dance tally: 74 (number of times I had to dance each one)
American Waltz - 5, Waltz - 5
A Tango - 5, Tango - 6
A Foxtrot - 7, Foxtrot - 7
A Viennese W - 3, Intl VW - 2
Quickstep - 5, Swing - 5
Mambo - 4, Chacha - 5
Rumba - 5, Samba - 5
Jive - 5

Overall the competition was managed using a computer system. There were multiple screens wirelessly getting information and updating almost instantly, a huge projector screen showing the results and upcoming heats. When you lined up, the marshallers checked you off on palmpilots and the judges marked on palmpilots for almost instant results. There were no delays, nothing major broke(the wireless died occasionally). The judges each had a palmpilot to score competitors and by the time you walked off the dancefloor, the results were already submitted and if it was a quarterfinal upwards the results were already on screen. Another interesting judging note was that the judges called back the top whatever number from all the heats, but a part of each heat so there was less bias. Interesting system and one you can see has been perfected over the years. I have to say the MC and DJ both did an decent job.

At the end of the competition there were fun dances including Salsa, Merengue, same sex rumba, girl lead, guy follow waltz. They were very entertaining to watch and if we didn't have to leave to go home I so would have done them. If we had time to do these at Intervarsity I think it would be great.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Climate Saver Campaign by WWF

I attended a talk titled "The Business Response to Climate Change" with WWF's Matt Banks (Senior Program Officer of Business and Industry). I thought it would be about initiatives in industry within the USA but I learnt more about polar bears and how the Arctic ice sheet is disappearing. This I suppose was an emotional ploy to the audience but the speaker came across as bored. I lost interest within the first 10 minutes. I did learn though that HP, Johnson&Johnson and CocaCola have all signed on to this Climate Savers campaign.

Competition Preparation

This weekend is Purdue Ballroom Classic in Indiana. This is a five hour drive away. The hosts are providing crash space for the Michigan team. With the competition now days away preparation is well under way. I have organised all my clothes and stocked up on makeup and hair flowers. I bought my first pair of fake eyelashes today (did you know they come in different colours and sizes and density?) and next week I'm going for my first spray tan (I feel wrong getting a fake tan). My next step is to try clean my satin shoes. The voice of experience here said hairspray and a toothbrush works. I'm going to experiment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Snow

It snowed for the first time today. Apparently it won't "stick" but just fall for the next few weeks. I think the locals thought I was crazy, I was dancing around outside in the snow catching snowflakes :) I am sure I will hate the snow soon, but its still a novelty. Next time it snows enough to collect on the ground its snow angels and snowmen time.

In other news, the Engineering Graduate Symposium took centre stage on Friday. The day started with an overview of what to expect doing Engineering at Michigan and then department talks. This event is directed at undergrads looking to join Michigan and is sort of like UCT Open Day but for students already in university. The AOSS grads presented topics ranging from regridding climate models for translation from cubes to lat/long, Venus and its oxygen and nitrogen nightglow, Aerosol composition and cloud formation and Mars's middle atmosphere. Afterwards we went to dinner and drinks on Friday night and we took over 2 tables in the end. Dinner was nachos, salsa, burgers, beer and a Cookie-tini! The girls shared it, the thing is huge, 7 cookies and 5 scoops of ice-cream.

Friday, November 7, 2008

UMBDT Ice Skating

The UM Ballroom Dance Team graciously provided discounts for team members to skate around and make a fool of themselves at the Yost Ice Arena. I haven't skated in years and it shows. I was guided around the nice by the guys for most of the night telling me to glide and coast etc. Meh, somehow I don't think I'm ever going to be an ice-skater. The worst is that I now have areas on my feet with no skin and a competition in one week :( That being said, I had a great time and might have to go more often when I get back to CT. I mean the ice rink is only 5 mins away.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


CUDA by NVIDIA is a new C language environment for developers to solve numerical processing problems on Graphical Processing Units(GPUs). The speedup of certain problems in astronomical such as an N-body problem can get up to a 100x faster. The GTX200 has 1.4 billion transistors and can reach 1000 GFLOPS as opposed to a quad core Xeon which reaches 96 GFLOPS. The reason is the difference in architecture. The CPU is designed for minimum latency, not throughput, something a GPU excels at and number crunching is essentially a throughput problem.The speaker Jonathan Cohen believes the scientific community and their problems are ideal for the GPU architecture. A few interesting features of the GPU include 240 processors split into groups of 8 to create shader multiprocessors(SM). Each SM has 6 SPs, 2 SFUs and and a DP. Note that Double precision (DP) processors are not needed for graphics/games and included for scientific reasons. The SFUs are optimised for sine/cosine/sqrt/exp operations, all common in scientific computing.

One application is transferring the cloud microphysics subroutine from WRF into CUDA and John Michalakes at NCAR reported a 1.3 speedup. This shows that it might be possible to build much cheaper clusters with more powerful GPUs and run climate models faster and for far less. Cohen is building up to a ROMS-like system for GPUs. A group in Italy built a computer with 8 GPUs (8 TFLOPS) for $6000. Think of the possibilities...

Journal Club MTG6: Global Change and Ozone Air Quality

This week we delve back into organic chemistry with an article on ozone quality over the United States. Titled "Effects of 2000-2050 global change on ozone air quality in the United States" by Shiliang Wu et al (2008), the paper looks at various changes in climate and anthropogenic emissions of ozone precursors using the GEOS-Chem model. Looking into the sensitivity of ozone to climate events, one can see minimal changes in the southeast, but large increases in ozone as the cyclone tracks change and don't protrude inland as far as presently occurs. The anthropogenic emissions are looked at under the A1B scenario from IPCC and has a decrease in emissions in the US and as a result a significant decrease over southeast. The final consensus is that the emissions cap currently in place at 40% needs to be increased to 50% to take into account the effects of climate change by 2050.

An interesting question at this point is, given that decreases are going to have different effects in different regions, should we have one solution at a federal level(in the US) or a state level?

Fading to Winter

Winter is steadily approaching Ann Arbor, but Autumn is putting up a fight. Today is a bright sunny day and the trees are showing off the last of their vibrant colours. Walking to the bus this morning I passed the tree in the picture on the right. I'm going to miss the yellows, oranges and reds in the next two weeks when the first snows are forecast and the last leaves fall.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama prevails

The votes are in, the country has spoken and the winner by a landslide of electoral votes (not popular vote) is Barack Obama. We all sat glued to screens as state by state the polls closed and CNN started projecting winners from exit polls. This map became our whole life for the evening: CNN Results. People had to explain the electoral vote system to me, but I got there in the end. McCain gave a very nice concession speech, one that was both gracious and appreciative of Obama's methods, a change from his usual rhetoric. Obama's speech was one focused on the people, not himself and his wish to be the president of all, not just the Democrats, which I hope the Republicans appreciate.

I would just like to point out that this is the starting point for Obama, not the finishing. He has arrived at what could be the dawn of a new America and I hope he can carry through with his promises. The rest of us (the world) will be watching and hoping.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Fever

I am surrounded by wannabe politicians who debate the pros and cons of every candidates policies and standpoints. I wish the whole thing was over and done with and I can go back to turning on the TV or read a paper without seeing the latest stupid thing Palin just said or the new terrorist they found in Obama's past. Its truly scary being here right now, everyone has election fever, and somehow when the results comes out on Tuesday night its not going to end, they'll start debating what went right/wrong. Its also interesting to see the incentives shops are giving to citizens to vote. I've been accosted to register since I arrived and that finally ended with the registration deadline, but now shops are spamming facebook, email etc with offers of free coffee, ice-cream etc when you've finished voting.

However, if you are following the election with equal fervor as the American people, look at:
Barack Obama for president: Endorsement by the Times and their endorsement history. Its actually quite interesting to read. And I realise I just lost the battle to stay neutral in this debate and have become a social liberialist. Or perhaps I always have been?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Party

Undergrad parties rock! I had forgotten just how taxing an undergrad partying is. The place was packed and smoky and loud. I dressed up as an African fairy.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Today has been an education. I hadn't bought an outfit for Halloween and my housemate nobly drove me to Halloween USA to look at things. I am now going to be a fairy of some description. On the drive there we saw the children of Ann Arbor trick or treating downtown dragging their parents along for the ride. I saw Buzz Lightyear, Spiderman, Darth Vader, princesses, a duck, a transformer, a ladybug, a Tigger. They all carried their prerequisite pumpkin basket to collect candy. I almost wish to be little like that and go trick or treating. Its seems so much fun. The students, who were brave, wore their outfits to class and campus including 1 nurse in hot pink which I saw. Tonight the students are throwing parties of various levels of debauchery, an update to follow.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Journal Club MTG5: Urban Parameterization for CCSM Part II

The paper this week is "An Urban Parameterization for the Global Climate Model. Part II: Sensitivity to Input Parameters and the Simulated Urban Heat Island in Offline Simulations" by Oleson et al. The paper builds on the previous paper and looks at the sensitivity to changing parameters within the model. The split the parameter types in 3 categories, morphological, radiance and thermal. Each category was combined using every possible combination within its own category. The results of this highlight that previous surfaces, or the lack thereof, greatly influence the latent heat available and the sensible heat is very sensitive to both the morphological and radiance parameters. The paper moves on to simulating heat islands and compared this is Oke(1981) who derived a logarithmic equation based on measurements of heat islands in US and European cities. The model simulates the increased diurnal cycle and temperature difference between urban and rural environments. The sensitivity studies also real that parameter uncertainty mainly effects the amplitude of the diurnal cycle and not the phase. Overall the paper has a few confusing parts and many graphs that could be simplified or removed, but I felt this study did a much better job than some sensitivity studies of other areas in the past.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visits Michigan

Desmond Tutu is being honoured today in Michigan. Tutu will be awarded the Wallenberg Medal and deliver the 18th Wallenberg Lecture in honour of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (U-M graduate) who saved thousands of Jews in WWII. It turns out that Tutu is the second South African to receive the medal, Helen Suzman being the first.

The press conference in the afternoon was jammed full of reporters but I managed to talk to the organisers and was allowed to sit in on part of it and be introduced to him. Apparently someone forgot to mention that Michigan is cold in October as Tutu arrived with summer suits. The organisers had to scramble to find him a coat and scarf to keep warm.

The Wallenberg Lecture itself was packed, all 3500 seats filled and an overflow hall set up. Archbishop Tutu spoke about the award going to all the people who made the end of apartheid possible. He has an incredible sense of humour that shines through on lighter moments. He encouraged the youth to dream and keep dreaming of peace and freedom globally. He critised Darfur and how rape has become a weapon of war. He finished his address with a metaphor. That an eagle should be taken and nutured and then set free from the mountain tops to soar.

Pumpkin Carving

Cristina organised a postgrad pumpkin carving evening in the SRB lounge last night. I cut off my lid at an angle so it doesn't fall in when it is returned to the pumpkin and scraped out the insides with a spoon (I know its cheating but I promise i did get mucky hands later). I was instructed in the art of tracing patterns onto pumpkins (i made up my own way after a while cause i couldn't see the tracings from their way) and learnt that you can buy actual pumpkin carving kits! Most of the grads were surprised I had never carved a pumpkin, I had to explain that Halloween is not a big thing in SA. After tracing my pattern (a cat and pumpkin), I proceeded to drill holes in the spaces to be carved out so that its easier to cut. You can tell who is pro at this, they were halfway done before some of us even started. After carving my pumpkin we collected them and put the candles in and warded off the evil spirits.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween Open Dance

Finally a themed ballroom social! With Halloween fast approaching, many a place is decked in various Halloween decor. Open dance happens every Sunday and we all came kitted out in costume. Some notable costumes included Cat in the Hat, Poison Ivy, Tinkerbell and the assortment of nurses etc. It was nice to see nearly everyone dress up, though it made me miss UCT Ballroom socials. I dressed up with my limited resources as a Hawaiian girl, though I think I ended up more tribal given that my sarong is covered in elephants. Oh well. Some of the team did the Thriller dance, very funny to watch and I managed to convince people to start a Congo line. That was fun, lots of people joined in.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Phoenix Mars Mission Talk

The seminar in AOSS this afternoon included preliminary work and results from the Phoenix Mars Mission. The speaker, Professor Nilton Renno, reviewed the mission goals of the Phoenix Mars Mission and the procedures involved in selecting a landing sight. Never trust interpolation of images was the take home message, an apparently flat surface from satellite imagery contained 10m diameter boulders. He went on to show some of his students, notably Manish Mehta whose doctoral thesis investigated the effects of the lowering rockets on the surface dust of Mars. Pretty cool work. Renno proceded to show some of the images from the Lander (inset picture) and explained some of the experiments run. It appears if you look at the images closely that there is sublimation happening on the legs of the lander with saline water settling on the mud kicked up from the landing on Mars. Apparently not everyone in the program which is shared between JPL, University of Arizona and Locklead Martin Space Systems. It is going to be interesting to see what research is published and what happens when NASA releases the data to the public in February next year.

Journal Club MTG4: Atmospheric Feedbacks

The article today was "Atmospheric / vegetation feedbacks: A mechanism for abrupt climate change over northern Africa" by CM Patricola and KH Cook. The paper discusses the sensitivity to the latitude of the desert border in the Sahara and the atmospheric feedbacks in the African easterly jet (AEJ). The idea is that if the desert border is located below 17.9N the climate becomes sensitive and the summer precipitation and a weakening in the AEJ. There are a few concerns with the paper as they use prescribed soil moisture and do not discuss the land cover model used.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Google Earth Scientific Applications

Day one of the Scientific Applications with Google Earth Conference was interesting in that I have never looked at the features of Google Earth in any depth. The first speaker Tim Killeen from NSF explained that less than 10% of all data they had was ever viewed and a system is needed for people to view this data in a simple environment. The two highlights to take away is that "data to knowledge" is key and "big uncertainties remain" wrt climate and understanding. So nothing new. He did however touch on new projects such as the NSF Ocean Observatories Inititiave , the final design of which is due in December.

The next speaker Dan Atkins from the University of Michigan and NSF spoke on the "Role of Data in the National Science Foundation Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century Discovery". He touched on data stewardship, curation, federation, openness(over the long-haul). He stated that providing information a geographical-based entry to data is natural and compelling as we all have an inherent geographical frame of reference. I learnt a new word: nomenclature. Not sure I will ever use it though. Three project he reviewed were interesting:
TeraGrid: an integrating infrastructure
Blue Waters - look into tech specs

The third speaker and possibly the most compelling was Michael Weiss-Malik from Google. He is a KML Product Manager and explained the design of Google Earth and the need for it. To use the analogy "to most users, the interface is the computer" he pointed out that with any paper we read the figure is the thing one remembers most and so the philosophy "to most viewers the presentation is the data". Something definitely worth remembering. KML is a standardised format derived from XML that encodes the Google Earth files.

The last two speakers, Sean Askay and Trey Smith, are both users of Google Earth to represent scientific data and presented a series of KMLs already developed that emphasized this point. The topics ranged from Appalachian Mountaintop mining to Geothermal resources, the global climate temperatures to Google Moon. The coolest thing I learnt about was actually GigaPan. Definitely worth viewing.

After lunch we split into Working Groups, mine was Climate Change and we heard from Lisa Ballagh (NSIDC) and John Bailey (University of Alaska) about climate KMLs and Virtual Globes. The group talked about various research endeavours that would be favourable for Google Earth apps and I realised I could present my seasonal forecast stuff in GE eventually. After reviewing current KMLs we found various things we wished were possible in Google Earth such as being able to switch off labels on load or preferential loading of data and user notices to know what to do. The last thing we discussed was who owned data and what happens when you pubish papers with GE images and supply online KMLs. Google have written a guideline specifically for this and is available at:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Historic Walk

I walked through the Historical District of Philadelphia. I think I learnt more in the walk than I did in school about American history. I saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I walked past the US Mint and the National Constitution Center. I visited the Freedom Center and walked through the Franklin Park.

Walking back to City Hall I went through Chinatown and the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. The market is a huge room filled with a collection of various countries authentic food. It was packed and loud. City Hall is huge and the meeting point of the city roads in the gridded road system. The fountain at City Hall is pink for the Breast Cancer Awareness month. I wonder what they put in the water to make it pink like that? I walked away from City Hall and towards the Science Museum and came across a South African flag. Of course I had a picture!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Manhattan rush

Michelle, Tom and myself tried to go to MoMA but the queue in the cold weather just put us off, instead we ventured down 5th Ave and saw enough designer stores to make your credit card cringe just window shopping. We queued to go to Abercrombie and Fitch club. Its a store designed like a nightclub and has music pounding through the store and glass cube lit stairs. The Apple store is very cool, its this giant cube made of glass that you descend into the floor to the store below.

After a major rush and running through Penn Station to get to the bus I boarded a Megabus to Philadelphia. Very pleasant ride with minimum of fuss. Arriving in Philadelphia at sunset was beautiful.

I started my Philadelphia experience with authentic Philly cheesesteaks. Heavy on the cheese from Geno's. I think I could get to love them. My second day dawned cold and clear with a trip to the Pumpkinland at Linvilla. Rachel and I matched by fluke and had photos with the pumpkins. Our haul included a baby pumpkin for Rachel and a large pumpkin for Kim and Steve.

The afternoon was spent in the Franklin Institute Science Museum and the Real Pirate exhibition from National Geographic. The exhibition included real pirate treasure from the Whydah ship. I thorougly enjoyed it and did the rest of the museum which included an electricity exhibit and an air exhibit. I missed the planetarium but I'm not sure if I missed much.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The city that never sleeps

Getting to NYC took some doing but I am glad I did it. I successfully navigated the subway and arrived in Brooklyn Heights only slightly weary. My first outing was a walk along the promenade to view the Manhattan skyline. Its very pretty but I hate to think what the electricity bill per building is when they are lit like that all night. I'll post a picture once I'm back on my own computer.

My next day started at 8.30am. For those who know me well, this is very early but I survived. I walked across Brooklyn Bridge which has an amazing view of the river and Manhattan. The bridge is a steel wire suspension bridge, the first of its kind. Walking along and looking up feels like you are in a giant spiderweb. The bridge ends at the bottom of Manhattan right next to the courts. I think walked past the supreme court and criminal court. The architecture of the buildings in spectacular.

Walking along you start to realise the scale and height of the buildings. You cannot feel the sunlight at ground level, there are just too many buildings blocking the rays from ever reaching it. I started my exploration of the area in earnest in Chinatown and its confusing, I'm not going to lie. I think I circled the same block about 3 times to find what I was looking for. Everyone is very welcoming and the array of foods and goods is quite unreal.

Finally navigating my way out of Chinatown I managed to miss Little Italy on the way to Soho. Not quite sure how but I think I was expecting an Italian version of Chinatown and it turns out its not. Soho is weird and wonderful and has a number of nice shops. I was stopped and asked if I support Developing Nations, some charity for uplifting poverty in Africa. What a laugh, after their whole spiel about poverty etc I finally had to point out that I'm South African and hence live in the place.

Next on my list was Greenwich Village which seems less spectacular than I imagined. I made an effort and deviated from my target of Central Park for the Empire State building. The queue to get up to the observation deck was 1.5 hours. Not a chance! I decided I didn't really need to wait that long to pay $30+ to see the city from above.

I browsed Macy's but I didn't find anything that fitted within my price range :( The One Day Sale is on today and I think that will be true chaos. I ended up in Old Navy and I have to say I could quite happily spend a fortune in there.

My walking tour back on target I wandered around Broadway til Central Park. Central Park is gorgeous and still very green. Coming from a riot of Autumn colours in Ann Arbor it seems weird. The park as a beautiful tranquil feeling going for it, despite the activity in it. The Besthesda Fountain doesn't quite measure up to the hype but the lake itself is well worth the trek. There was a couple having their wedding pictures taken with the lake as their backdrop. I sat and absorbed the quietness after the noise of the city and then headed out to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At $10 for students I appreciate the London ethos of free entry in museums. The museum is huge and you really do need the map they provide. The Chinese scrolls on display are worth the visit alone. I also enjoyed the Temple of Dendur in the Egyptian section which was rescued from the threat of submergence when the Egyptians built a new dam. I'm sad I didn't have time to do the Design and Photography section, I think that would also be worth a perusal.

Once back on the street, I ventured into the subway and down to Times Square. My god, its noisy and busy and an overload of screens. Started in ToysRUs which has a ferris wheel in the store and then went to TGIF for dinner. Next stop chocolate! The M&M store is huge and filled with every flavour M&M available. The Hersheys store added yet more chocolate to the list.

The last stop of the day was the Rockefeller Building which provides a view from above without the long queues to get in. The Empire State Building was lit up in purple and orange for the night as part of the Cat Fanciers Association Conference.

The end result of my whirlwind tour is bruised feet, lots of photos and a lot more information than I can possibly remember. My feet will hopefully recover enough to do Philadelphia :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bad music

The dance workshop over the weekend was informative, but one thing that stuck was the saying "There is no bad music". As a dancer you should walk onto the floor and dance to the song played even if it is the corniest rumba in the world or you are talking to the animals :P I know I've done this in the past, criticised a song played or tempo. I know have to make an effort to like all dance music.

I'm off to New York City in the morning and then onto Philadelphia over the weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing all the sights.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Real Men Need More Ballroom

I love this t-shirt that one of the Michigan Ballroom team dancers designed. Its definitely worth smiling at when you see it. Any takers?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Collegiate Ballroom Workshop

I attended a Collegiate Ballroom Workshop with the Michigan coaches and students from Michigan and Penn State. The workshop ran over three days and included lessons on a number of dances and performance techniques.

The welcome night was an opportunity to meet the students from Penn State and learn some fun dances, the Hustle and the Paso Doble. We also learnt a Polka mixer. Girls start on the right of the guy holding his hand. Both take 3 walks forward starting with guys left, girls right. Tap foot. 3 walks back, tap foot. Separate with 3 sidewalks, tap and clap. 4 sidewalks back in. Do 2 full polka rotations and start again. The tricky part is doing this in a circle, when you come back together for the polka, the girl has to move to the guy in front to do the polka steps.

The actual workshop was from 12.30-8pm on saturday. This was tiring, we covered waltz, tango, quickstep, chacha, rumba and samba. In the ballroom we learnt ways to start in the middle of the floor, along the long side or from a short corner. All techniques needed when you have many couples fighting for space on the floor. We also learnt floorcraft, a technique often left out in classes. These included check steps, change of directions and promenade positions.

Latin however took on a rather unusual form. As a bronze/silver workshop, we have a set syllabus we can follow in competitions, however rumba started with an open routine to lose whatever modesty we might have had. Grinding into a guys crotch while clinging to him will do that :) The routine starts with a beckoning from the girl and a game of playing hard to get. The goal we found out is to translate a fancy routine story into a simple routine with the same story in syllabus steps. Same thing for chacha. I hope to get the routines on camera to bring home.

For those of you who often laugh at the ratio between girls and guys at ballroom. We had 4 more guys at the workshop than girls, quite a change from the usual surplus of girls. Now imagine the guys doubling up to learn the open rumba routine. Funny times.

Today is the competition preparation lesson which will probably take a lecture form. I'm hoping so at least as we still have social dancing this evening and my feet are killing me. They are battered and bruised.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Intervarsity 09 countdown begins

The ballroom committee was voted in yesterday in UCT. The new committee is

Chair - Chris Warner
Vice Chair (VC): Lara Milne
VC Intervarsity: Hayley Mc Intosh
Treasurer: Zandile Makgatho
Socials: Chris Louw
Orientation Week: James Hu
Medal Tests: Adrienne Daniels
Intervarsity: Andrew Martens
Formal: Richard Parry
IT: Jonathon Page

This means I get to organise Intervarsity 09 hosted by UCT. I will be roping friends in to help over the year, so be warned! 303 days and counting...

Journal Club MTG3: Ozone Interannual Variability

Today is yet again journal club day. We are reviewing a paper by S Koumoutsaris et al. "Influence of El-Nino-Southern Oscillation on the Interannual Variability of tropospheric ozone in the northern midlatitudes". It is a rather long and figure intensive article that documents CO and O3. The author used the Goddard Earth Observing System Chem (GEOS-Chem) model to explore the correlation between El-Nino and O3. The model accurately captures the sensitivities to biomass burning and the meteorology for CO but not completely for O3. The study is conducted at 4 x 5 degrees that disregards the regional features. It is important to note that the article explains the shortfalls in capturing all the O3 from stratospheric dynamics and intrusions.