Monday, September 29, 2008

Maize Out!

Michigan vs Wisconsin turned into a much more nail-biting game than anyone anticipated. Michigan won, just. They were losing for 3 quarters and suddenly they won. The visiting team brought their Marching Band which I have to admit were good, did a showcase of Ladies in Rock. The Michigan Marching Band did a skit called Cody Martin's Day Off based on Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Bit arb but then I have never seen the movie. The total crowd attendance topped last time at 109833! This is bigger than we building for a world cup soccer stadium. In fact its almost double the one we are building in CT.

In dancing news I am still doing foxtrot and chacha. I suck as body sway and gapping. One the plus side, I've borrowed a pair of Supadance ballroom(standard) shoes to practice in from the ballroom stash and its remarkable the difference dancing in them makes. I'm hoping no one will notice if I never give them back.

Friday, September 26, 2008

And they say SAs has lions in theirs backyards...

Being in Ann Arbor is somewhat amusing on occasions. It is a student town and a largely built up but very green. I have in the past few days come across a racoon, a skunk and a squirrel in the backyard of the house and possum crossing the road on the way home from dancing. To top it off, the bus had to stop for deer crossing the road the other day, and they say South Africans have fauna issues.

Engineers in Ballroom

I've been doing a sort of mental count of the number of engineers in UM ballroom. I think its roughly 70% or more and I don't mean just guys, I mean overall, girls as well. I found myself chuckling after hearing one girl patiently explaining to her non science dance partner that leading is like equations, if you put one thing in you get an answer which is different to putting another factor in. I must add as a side note, computer science is an engineering subject here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Journal Club MTG1: Atmospheric Chemistry

I attended my first ever Journal Club today with my supervisor here and fellow officemates. The topic: Atmospheric oxidation capacity sustained by a tropical forest by Lelieveld et al. Interesting paper from Nature that explores a theory which opposes known science in atmospheric chemistry. The idea is that OH is recycled through some mechanism in a low NOx environment like a rainforest. The paper is not great, requires a lot of supplementary material but it has jumpstarted my organic chemistry understanding, last attempted in high school. It also started to fill in the gaps of knowledge I have about various plugins in global climate models. However unless you are an organic chemist or have one handy (my officemate Ahmed very kindly spent an hour patiently explaining things) don't bother.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Watching from across the pond

I'm slightly disturbed and very worried about the political state back home. I realise the transition is peaceful and will not bring about conflict or war but the shear numbers of ministers resigning is worrying especially given some of the positive actions during their term. Sitting in a foreign country I am sure I am not getting the full picture. I am looking at the political situation and hoping I return to a decent administration and all the decisions made by, for example, the science minister are still carried through. I think Trevor Manuel resigning is a sign of bad things to come. This is not a move that will encourage investment before the Soccer World Cup. Someone over here suggested that this is a far to speed up the transition or push it forward so the situation is stable by 2010. And being in a foreign country, I'm hoping the exchange rate improves so I can actually buy things here. But thats a very materialistic view :)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Google Android

Google is doing a series of talks and workshops over the semester as well as a recruiting drive, I attended a technology talk about Google Android, a collaborative agreement between the manufacturers, developers and marketers to provide an open handset tool for information sharing and access. Android is a part of this, built on a Linux kernel and with swappable components, the technology looks solid and exciting for mobile developers, especially with the SDK being released within the next few months (Beta is available). Check it out at:

In the coming months there is a workshop on Google Earth and an initiative to create scientific applications for it revolving around data visualisation and communication. They have working groups in both Weather and Global Climate Change as well as economics, astronomy, urban planning and science education.

Symphonies and Secrets

I attended the University Symphony Orchestra's performance of Beethoven's Symphony No 7 and the Metropolis Symphony. The first was magnificent, you could really feel the dance theme throughout and calibre of musicians was phenomenal. The second symphony was a bit weird. Commissioned to commemorate the Superman comics, it is split into five parts each to do with a character or place associated with the comic. I'm not sure I liked it, certainly different.

My evening ended at a house party hosted by my dance partner and his housemates. No Pants party, you had to remove your pants at the door almost literally. I missed the memo that went round the ballroom girls as they all showed up in black underwear, white shirts and stockings/boots. The party had a very lingerie feel and apparently everyone shops at Victoria Secrets.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

UofM Ballroom Team Tryouts

I participated in team tryouts today for the competitive ballroom team here and made C team which is bronze/silver level. There are 8 couples on the team and 6 couples each on A and B. The standard of dancing was very high, apparently higher than usual, which means the Ohio Star Ball is going to be fun. I messed up slow foxtrot which isn't surprising, but ever so slightly annoying. I'm looking forward to my first lesson, I think it will be an experience.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


So I walked into a store yesterday that proclaimed 50% off all items. Looking at the price I thought it was a bargain until I remembered that everything is price + tax not included in the shelf price. Everything, bar a few food places, advertise goods at a price and then add tax at the till. I still find it weird to order food from a menu and then calculate + 6% tax to pay.

Friday, September 12, 2008

But is it Art?

I have been doing the typical touristy thing and walking around campus with a camera for the last few days. Its amazing the amount of sculptures and building decorations around on North Campus (engineering campus). I came across these weird half sunken robots next to the computer building and a beautiful 42 number plaque. However there are some truly bizarre sculptures that have no names and a few nicknames. The coolest one has to be the rotating rubix cube on both north and central campus.

In other news, I am trying out for the UM Dance team on Saturday. This means doing each of the eight dances in heats and then being taught a sequence and they mark you on how fast you learn in. I must note, I go to another country and I still get a Kevin as a dance partner. I am also meant to dress in competitive clothes, but that is just not happening atm.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dancing American style

I have officially been introduced to the more bizarre dances available including Swing, West Coast Swing, Hustle, American foxtrot and American waltz. I'm not sure I like any of them, well maybe swing.

I've been to two dance sessions now, one with the UofM Dance Team (like o-week beginner lesson and then social dancing) and a social dancing session with the UM Ballroom Club (like PWP with only 3 quicksteps). These are two different clubs but if you are on the team you get free membership to the club. I found out that to go to team practices you have to have a partner to tryout with which is a slight snag in my case. I have been looking and have potentially found a guy to dance with but I'm not sure if I want to do this much dancing while I am here. Its 4 hours of lessons and then another 8 hours outside class to practice.

What is weird is that most of the team don't know anything out of syllabus dances like Meringue, Salsa etc. Its quite weird. I'm going to be out of practice when I get back.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wearing Maize and Blue

I have survived my first football match only slightly sunburnt (yes I had sunscreen).

The day started at 8am with a tailgate opposite the marching bands practice grounds. Its was actually really interesting to watch them polish lines and be instructed on baton twirling and the correct way to march on a curve.

Tailgating consisted over two cookers with French toast, sausages and cheesy potatoes, fruit and cookies. We were well fed by Kevin who hosted last weeks and this weeks. We played Corn Hole and tossed a football around. I officially suck at Corn Hole. Two kids joined later and beat a few of my officemates.

The game started at noon, so we arrived at 11.30 a half packed stadium. The stadium is divided into sections and the students get a quarter, alumni/fans a half and the opposition the rest. You can tell where the students start, its almost mandatory to wear Michigan merchandise or at least their colours, something the alumni don't. There is a seating hierarchy that puts upperclassmen closer to the field and freshman at the back (top). There were 106,724 people at the game. The stands seats 110,000 i'm told.

There are a fair number of people involved on the field. You have the football team of about 80 (60 if you're travelling to another college), about 30 support staff, 12-16 dancers, 30 cheerleaders (plus about 10 for the other team), 3 game referees and then the Marching band. The Michigan Marching Band has over 300 people. They have flag wavers, baton twirlers(2 girls, 1 guy), 1 head marching guy and 3 conductors. I must say, the conductors were awesome, they stand on ladders and conduct the band and flags. One permanently conducts during the game supporting the cheerleaders with music. There is even music for "You Suck". The half time music was a rendition of boy bands. The pick a theme for each game, this one included NSync, Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block. Highly amusing. Though I have one question, how does a guy become a baton twirler for a large football loving college and survive?

The game itself was very stop and go. The guys I was with apologised for how boring it was but if it had been any more involved I would have been more lost. The guys tried their best to explain the plays, touchdowns, down rules, moving yards, but I must admit, a LOT looked way to much like run a few metres and take a flying dive to the ground. Cool aerobatics in the process though.

There are numerous chants that the cheerleaders lead throughout the game. One is called "Key Play" and everyone gets out their keys and shakes them. Cool effect. There is a war cry that starts "Hail to the victorious and the ....". You may have noted I never quite learnt the words though I can do the clapping. I'll try learn it to bring back for IV09.

We won, Michigan 16-6 Maimi Ohio. Their mascot is the Redhawk, couldn't get a picture of it, but the costume was quite cool. Their quarterback is apparently better than ours, but that didn't seem to help. Quite the change from last weeks loss. I'm tempted to get tickets to the Homecoming game at the end of the month, I might actually understand more of the game by then.

Friday, September 5, 2008


UMich has a similar concept to O-week. Festifall. A day that all societies and frats advertise on the Diag for students to find out more details about them. Its huge and crowded. There is some weird stuff, ice sculpture, computer users, climate people. There is even a society to feed the squirrels!

I successfully navigated the Briarwood Mall today. Sears has lots of nice clothes (I didn't buy any, everyone be very impressed with my restraint) and bought a bed set. Very pretty and on special.

I have another tailgate this saturday. We're doing breakfast cause its a noon game. I have a ticket to this game. Should be interesting, we're playing Miami Ohio. I'm going to have to buy Michigan supporter gear now. They even have these cute M earrings.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Immigration Check-in

I survived immigration check-in yesterday without harming the speaker. It is generally presumed that all people coming to the US have almost zero knowledge English so the International Center here speaks in slow even tones like one would do to a small child or a stupid person. After over two hours of this I was ready to crack.

I feel like a prisoner, or maybe the Jews who had to always carry a ID (passport in my case) incase I get stopped and asked. They also think that everyone should apply for Michigan IDs (even more paperwork and more money). Apparently even international drivers licenses are not recognised here.

I now need to sign up for Health Insurance at $89 a month (no dental or eye care) or prove I have sufficient cover in SA to be granted a waiver. I think there is a legal issue as well that I can't hold more than one insurance at a time. Weekend problem.

I move in tomorrow, so I have to go shop for bedding and groceries. Apparently one of my housemates is a final year Economics student. Haven't met the others yet.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What would you stand for?

I've been walking around campus today getting my computer login, turns out my papers were submitted to the wrong people so I have to wait a few more days for my MCard, the student card that lets you do everything in town, including ride the city buses for free. They cost $1 each way otherwise.

I have found a room in a 5 bedroom house on Packard St. I move in on thursday, will post pics then. This happens to be in between all the sorority areas and the main party street come game days. Should provide endless entertainment!

So what would you stand for? This is the chalk signs on the sidewalk all over campus. Just below is an address Pretty catchy phrase. Its the marketing technique for the ballroom dance marathon here. I've also seen people sized posters of dancers all over. Apparently its popular. mmm...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

Today is a national holiday in the US, one of 5 unlike SA's 12. I'm sitting in one of a few open places and it has turned into an apple mac convention. Its seems most students have mac's and even the university IT system is mac. Its a nice change from UCT and their unsupported tech thing. 12 of 15 laptops open in the coffee shop are mac. Go Apple!