Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oh the 80s

As I child of the 80s I wasn't really around for the major musical developments of the time but it seems I caught enough the highlights to survive 80s night fairly well. Chelsea in Vienna has an 80s night on alternating Fridays. I decided to brave 'clubbing' in Vienna and check it out with what turned out to be half of the YSSP and some of the younger IIASA staff.

There is nothing like signing along to Billy Idol, Bonnie Tyler and Kenny Loggins at the top of your voice and I will be continuing in "Holding Out For A Hero" for the foreseeable future :P

Backtracking a bit, the Turkish restaurant Kent was the venue of choice for dinner and their food is definitely worth the 'trek'. We ordered so much food as everything on the menu looked so yummy. I'd definitely be keen to go back, their Hummus is to die for.

Recreating the African experience

Recreating the African experience (or how not to shop). The organisers of Africa Day went shopping for ingredients on Friday afternoon in what should have been a fairly organised experience. People know I do not have the best of patiences at the best of times, but chaos grates on my nerves instantly.

We ended up in the chaotic landscape of communal decisions but distributed buying, a major mismatch of methodology. This was also done on African time, as in take your time. Those of you who don't know the idea behind African time, count yourself very lucky especially if you're a punctual person.

The elephant on the right is an old version of the poster I posted last week. I think its super cute but the rest of the Africa Day crowd didn't want to promote Africa that it is just about animals. I have nothing against promoting the richness of the natural resources in Africa, in fact I think we should celebrate it.

Friday, July 30, 2010


I know I've written about this before but I love the library at IIASA with its self check-out system, long-term loans (minimum 2 weeks, maximum a few years) its a marvel of efficiency in comparison to home. Maybe it is the contents I appreciate, the service just makes it better. The library is almost entirely made up of systems analysis, statistics, policy, modeling and decision-making textbooks, all helpful to my research.

The library has two reading rooms which in today's world of electronic journals and online books may soon become a thing of the past. The lighting fixture in the room is worth taking a peek at.

If you zoom in on the photo (not compulsory I promise), you'll see a multitude of yellow slips sticking out from between books. These indicate a book has been borrowed and by who.

Korea's Science and Technology Policies

Yesterday IIASA hosted Prof Chan-Mo Park, the president of the National Research Foundation of Korea. Prof Park detailed the vision of Science and Technology in Korea under the new government. He emphasized Green Growth, the integration of Green Technology into all sectors and believed this is the future for a developing nation. As a result the government is rapidly increasing their S&T budget with a large percentage going to R&D. It is nice to see governments pushing the Green vision and a belief in Science as a way to empower a nation. The Korean government has set very ambitious targets for the next 5 years which may be impossible but the philosophy behind this shows a nation that is very serious and not just paying lip service to the Green vision. I look forward to seeing the results.

Prof Park also detailed some of the work on S&T co-operation between South Korea and North Korea. Earlier in the Summer we had talk on Diplomacy in Science and this is definitely a fine example diplomacy in action. One very interesting thing I learnt was about the strength of North Korea's software developers, with the right resources I believe they could seriously compete on the international stage.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rate of decay of enthusiasm levels

This is a dedication to all YSSPers and particularly to Stefan who sat through an incredibly geeky conversation with me about decay rates of enthusiasm post-YSSP. I'm sure each of you could add to the graph to make it more accurate. Disclaimer: The numbers are completely false!
I had a conversation last night with Warren about a portal for communication between YSSP 2010 participants post August. He was asking me as a CS geek to suggest possible means to facilitate long-term communication and sharing of news, reunions and resources. Now Facebook does not allow for resource sharing but does provide support to share photos and create events and has a discussion forum. Google groups can cater for both the forums and resources but not the photos. Any suggestions? This needs to be an already developed tool.

Spying from a house of God

Austria is a predominately Catholic society with more churches than you can count. This led to a large number of Abbeys for nuns, however there are now very few nuns left. A case in point is the Laxenburg Abbey, a once thriving establishment that now houses a handful of nuns.

This trend is leaving a multitude of empty buildings around Austria and in Laxenburg they have the answer. Laxenburg Abbey is the future home of Interpol. Its true, I learnt this on the Art meets Science tour of Laxenburg (which IIASA hasn't yet organised for us).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Russian Invasion

Today we had a new addition to the YSSP social calendar: Cheburashka Wednesday. The Russian and Ukrainian participants and staff laid out a party full of food, facts and fun.

I was late in arriving due to a supervisor meeting and missed the quiz but got to see the games and they provided great entertainment! Musical chairs, egg and spoon races and find the clothes peg on the body while blindfolded.

I'm not going to even attempt to spell the names of the various dishes on offer but one was similar to pasta filled with meat, another was potatoes stuffed with cheese or meat and cooked on coals. The coals were manned by my fellow IME member Sergey who confided that the meat filled potatoes were better because that is more traditional Ukrainian :) and having tasted both I now trust his judgement.

We now have 2 more continental themed days ahead: Africa and Asia. Bring on more good food, music and fun!

PPA: Implementation and Evaluation

This seminar really should be title "Mind the Gap" which fits perfectly with the new overall course title "How to analyse the Ministry of Magic". Public Policy Analysis seminars offer a vast range of odd examples

Today we discussed the Implementation and Evaluation of policies and tools available to facilitate this. There are two approaches; Top-down and Bottom-up that cover the horizontal and vertical policy space.

The top-down approach is the one I am most familiar approach. A policy is formulated by a high-power (government? Ministry of Magic?) and then the orders for implementation are filtered down a change of command. This can lead to a Broken Telephone effect with information leaking at each step (Is it geeky to admit that I like the visual of heat equations that lose energy in each direction?). How can one improve this? Perhaps offer implementation incentives, improve communication channels. This is an ideal type, there is no policy that fits perfectly into this approach but it is interesting to note why policies failed using it such as poor formulation or power issues. The analysis can show the implementation gap...or Mind the Gap!

The bottom-up approach seems to be a bit more haphazard in nature which conflicts with my personality. The policy is dependent on a network of street-level bureaucrats that share resources and have a level of discretion. How do you analyse this? With great difficulty, there is a horizontal layer with weak structure from what I can gather. Policies are negotiated and there is a great deal of uncertainty. Policies have very vague goals with no associated metrics.

What have I learnt from this 6 seminar course dip into the world of social science? I am very much a quantitative scientist who likes structure, people are confusing and politics even more so. Do I ever want to enter the minefield of policy design, probably not. I think I'd offend too many people by telling them their process sucks.

Suggested Reading:
Paul Sabatier (1986), Top-down and Bottom-up Approaches to Implementation Research: A Critical Analysis and Suggested Synthesis”,Journal of Public Policy, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Jan. - Mar., 1986), pp. 21-48.

Full steam ahead

It is full steam ahead for Project Umonya and the UCT Algorithm Circle. Advertisements went out last week for the Python course from 27-29 August 2010 hosted by the UCT Algorithm Circle. If you want to apply or know anyone who would like to attend visit We are currently revamping notes, sorting out the logistics and its going to awesome fun. s1 has graciously sponsored the weekend course and we are very thankful that SA companies are so keen to get involved in initiatives as these.

Project Umonya is also progressing at the speed of light. We're in major logistical planning mode with universities for hosting course in KZN and Gauteng. Once these are confirmed we'll move on to flights, advertising, accommodation etc. The CMS is up and content is slowly being added as and when it fits into our schedules.

If you know anyone that would be willing to sponsor printing course notes for 1000 students please contact me.

Sixes and Sevens

Vienna has the most amazingly comprehensive transport network that includes U-Bahns (undergrounds), S-Bahns (schnell-bahn), trams, buses and night buses. In Simmering where I'm staying we have access to all within 100m of our front door. The U-Bahns and S-Bahns are very well documented, the trams and buses not so much. I'm still not sure where most of the trams go, only that I have to catch the 6 to Quellenplatz and then take the 566 bus (The one not labeled Eisenstadt if its from Suidtiroler Platz - that takes the freeway etc) You guessed it, they have multiple buses with the same number.

The transport network has been unfailingly reliable since day one. If you get on the tram at 7.35 you will get on the 8am bus and be dropped in Laxenburg at 8.25am. Awesome. Not so awesome when you get on the tram 6 and the driver forgets its a 6 and drives the 71 route in the wrong direction :( as happened this morning. One bonus of this slight detour (it took less than a stop before the locals volubly complained) was that I finally got to take a picture of the Enkplatz Church.

Is the MEAN meaningless?

After a rather heated debate last night about climate models, betting on the model runs and trying to analyse the data from these massive collections of model runs (ensembles) I have a few thought provoking questions for people:

Is the mean meaningless or useful?
What would you do if the mean is consistently wrong?
Would you bet on the mean of an ensemble?
How do you cater for the variability shown by the forecasts, especially if they encompass extreme that can feasibly happen?
Do you feel its responsible to give a policy-maker or decision-maker the mean without a proper feeling for the envelope of possibilities? Could policy-makers design policies that used that variability? Would these be more robust than the current solutions?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Seeds of Time

"If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me." - William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 1 Scene 3

What farmers want and what forecasters provide are two vastly different sets of information. I'm becoming increasing more frustrated with researchers who say 'but its not possible'. Well then why did you give the farmer the chance to ask for it in the first place, you're creating false expectations of the capabilities of science.

With this in mind, what can we the forecasters offer? Tailored forecasts for one. Industry specific? Individual time frames? Spatial resolution? These products seem to be lacking in South Africa and to some respect the rest of Africa.

Pop quiz: Would you trust the mean of the data below to tell what is going to happen in the next 3 months?

The trouble with (weather) forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it. - Patrick Young

We as a scientific community are improving our climate models to accurately reflect the climate conditions but they are not so accurate that we can rely on them completely. Would you place a bet based on your forecast?

There must be a way to create a robust solution that can cater for the inconsistencies in model skill. What is it? I'm not sure, that is part of the reason I came to IIASA, to discover, to explore. Its turning into a long path to an even more distant discovery but when have I ever chosen the easy path in the past.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We are the dancers, we create the dreams

I can slowly feel my sanity slipping away everyday I don't dance. For those who know me well, I have been dancing since I could walk, it is not really an hobby, its a passion. I haven't been dancing at all since being in Vienna bar one evening of Salsa. This probably the longest absence since my last injury 6 years ago and I can feel it. It like compulsion gnawing away at me.

My favourite dance quote reminds me daily why I dance:
"We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams"

I'm actually very disappointed with the dance scene here or people's responses to me asking about it. Maybe its just the environment I currently find myself in. No-one seems to care to help. Every city I've been to has Ballroom socials open to the public (I'm not counting Jhb in this, they are weird), not closed to certain dance schools or partners only. For a city that is famous for its Viennese Waltz, they're terrible at welcoming individuals. I'm slowly resigning myself to hanging up my dancing shoes(and I bought some shiny new Supadance ones) til I get back to Cape Town. Thankfully CT has an amazing array of dance events in September/October for me to make up for the abysmal scene here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

PPA: Decisions: Power and Rationality

Friday our ever decreasing group of public policy students debated the process of making decisions and what types of rationality exist. As the penultimate seminar we have almost completed the policy analysis cycle. Our reading list for the seminar included Lindblom and Dahl. Dahl argues that a key characteristic of a democracy is the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals. A political system which has the characteristic of being almost or completely responsive to all its citizens.

You can for the sake of argument and analysis divide most governments in four categories based on Contestation (C) and Inclusion (I). High C / High I, High C/ Low I, Low C/ High I, Low C/Low I. From this can further analyse with respect to:
  • How the power is distributed
  • Role of the state
  • Nature of conflict
  • Whose interests prevails
  • Basis of power

The other topic up for debate was Rationality. Now this interests me, I've been reading up on rationality in decision-making for modeling purposes. The two we explored were Incrementalism (Partisan Mutual Adjustment?) and Bounded Rationality.

I'm really interested in Bounded Rationality and how people cannot considered more than a certain amount of information, important when asking decision-makers to pick based on multiple criteria or systems with multiple implications.

If by this point you're wondering when I became a social science convert I can quite adamantly profess to this being my only foray into the world of qualitative, mumble-jumble in which there are few wrong answers...I'll even take statistics equations over this world.

Reading List:
  • Charles Lindblom (1950), “The Science of Muddling Through”, Public Administration Review, (19), Spring 1950, pp.79-88.
  • Robert Dahl (1971), Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, Yale University Press, Yale., Chapter 1: “Democratisation and Public Opposition”


Have you ever had to model a decision process or flow diagram with Visio (or non-Windows equivalent) and wanted to automate the process cause it was a waste of your time drawing every arrow?

I've recently discovered Graphviz which caters for my geeky inclinations of 'just draw it' to see the structure, I don't care if the thing is perfect. I'm currently trying to map a decision process and the decision that are dependent on external data and influences. Now in a standard tool I'd have to redo the arrows carefully for every change, but not Graphviz. I can just add another connection line and regenerate. Cool beans :)

The nicest part for me is the specification of nodes, connections and labels, it makes sense! (In a CS way)

node [shape=box, color=green, style=filled]; Pesticide; Hectares; Fertiliser; CropType; Cultivar; PlantingDate; Livestock; SoilPrep; Hedging;

Friday, July 23, 2010

There Be Science

As some of you know I have been fighting with my research topic for the last two weeks with respect to its validity, relevance and feasibility in the context of southern Africa. I'm still not convinced and hope the work I do here is not in fact 3 months of 'wasted' work as I potentially go back to the drawing board when I get back to CSAG.

If you walk into my office at the moment you'll notice a blackboard. When I arrived it was filled with financial equations and I laughed thinking I'd never need to start writing equations...famous last words. The board is now emptied of finance equations and now filled with DSS equations and (its an old record photo) goal functions with safety constraints for STO. Are you filled with as much enthusiasm as I am...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Africa Day Announced

Africa Day preparations are well under way, the recipes decided, the music coming together and soon the vuvuzelas will arrive all the way from South Africa. Aapo made the coolest poster to promote the event, one that truly embraces the colour of Africa. I'll be sure to post the recipes after the event, its going to tour of our favourite African cuisine.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A View from Above

Budapest has a few vantage points available to view the whole city. Having been to Castle Hill, Citadella and St Stephen's Basilica I have to confess I loved the 360 degree view from the dome of the Basilica. It may cost money to get there (400ft or 2euros) but it is worth the climb.

Its amazing how much one can gleam from a 360 degree view, like the contrast in Bratislava between old town and new town and in Budapest, the difference between Buda and Pest. I'm now even more motivated to climb the South Tower of Stephansdom to scope out Vienna from above.

Buda and Pest are jam packed with buildings of different architectural styles, sizes and colours. One thing is clear, the city administration didn't have a standard to people had to stick to. The other interesting thing is the lack of skyscrapers.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bathing in Budapest

Over my two days in Budapest I visited two baths, one huge and happening, the other quaint and quiet.

Szechenyi Baths

The first, Szechenyi Baths, is situated in a giant park and feels like you swimming in the courtyard of a Schloss. The buildings are painted yellow and the outdoor pools are surrounded by fountains and statues. There is a total of 15 pools of varying temperatures ranging from 18C to 38C.

The group experimented with plunging into the cold water and then the very hot, made a whirlpool in one of the hot pools and had a peek in a sauna. Overall it was a nice way to soak off the sunscreen and relax after walking most of Budapest. Our feet were grateful.

Gellert Baths

The second set of baths was Gellert Baths attached to Gellert Hotel. The entrance way is worth a visit on its own, the ceilings are a network of coloured glass domes and mosaic work.

The baths themselves are much smaller than Szechenyi, with only 5 indoor pools and a few outdoor pools. The baths have a very calming atmosphere, brought on I suppose by the carved pillars and glass roof. I splashed out for a Hot Stone Massage which was fantastic.

In both baths you are given a plastic armband with what I assume is an RFID tag embedded in it. Your locker number is encoded on it and your can only get into your locker by touching it to the sensor. Towel rentals are also encoded onto the armband. Any extras like massages are also encoded on it. Those who remember our CS Hons network security project should get a kick out of this system.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Soaring Spires and Sore Soles

Budapest has a very different feel from Vienna and Munich. There is the same architectural style and number of churches, but the city has an edgy feel like it hasn't quite been polished off at the edges. After arriving in Budapest much later than anticipated (broken S-Bahn, wrong train, missed actual train, broken computer system) we made it to the hostel. While some more energetic members went barhopping I crashed in preparation of an early start the next day.

Saturday dawned bright and early and warm at 5.30am (a little earlier than my alarm clock was set for). Ben and I set off on our sight-seeing adventure at 6.15am. The logic was the earlier we leave the more we'd see before temps reached the forecast 38C (we were right, it was 37C at 11.20).

Our first stop was the Central Market, a fresh produce market with touristy stuff on the second floor, I say stuff cause they had just opened at 6am and not ready for people when we breezed through. The building is a converted train station and is absolutely gorgeous and huge and the roof is covered in the colourful ceramic tiles that seem popular on buildings here.

We joined the first walking tour laid out in Ben's Lonely Planet guide that took through the streets of Pest and highlighted some interesting features. A few things we came across (not in the book) was the gleaming twin buildings that we presume we once flanked the Elisabeth Bridge. The other gorgeous sight was the building marked MCMIX. We have no clue what it used to be but its currently a warren of shops. The front (not captured well by my camera) is covered in mosaic tiles. The interior was a delight of glass ceilings, decorated pillars and ornate arches.

As we proceeded the water spout of a fountain caught my eye, I love the fish design (seems popular in Europe). You'll see lots of fountain photos in my collection, I love the detail of each.

Walking over the Chain Bridge we slowly wound our way up to Castle Hill and through the streets towards the Fisherman's Bastion and Buda Palace (pic below from across the Danube) .

By now its 9.10am, the sun is beating down on us and the first tourist bus arrives.

We proceeded through the second walking your in the guidebook and found a Lutheran church, some touristy shops, many horse statues, fountains and the a panoramic view over Pest. We also came across what I've decided is my favourite building in Budapest: Fisherman's Bastion with its spires and colourful ceramic roof sits nobly on Castle Hill looking down on Parliament and the Danube.

We eventually walked down the hill and went for lunch and then explored the Szechenyi Baths and surrounds (more details to follow)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Official Google Blog

Project Umonya (University of Cape Town) was specifically mentioned in the Official Google Blog. They have high hopes for us and we are currently working hard to deliver.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm melting

I never thought I would be one to complain about the heat, I've grown up in it but this last week has been a rather warm experience. My temperature widget keeps telling me the maximum temp would be 32C, so imagine my surprise that the current reported temp is actually 37C... This would be fine is there was in fact airconditioning in the office but these palace offices missed that technological advance in favour of open windows and puny fans. People have taken to working in the conference rooms, the only airconditioned rooms in the building.

Last night was the second potluck dinner at the Simmering dorm, lots of food, even more mosquitoes and a thunderstorm with hail to end the evening. I made Dark Chocolate Mousse with Peppermint Liqueur, a change from Orange Liqueur which I couldn't find and after sourcing Amarula from the UN Commissary I made some test Springbokkies.

1 part Peppermint Liqueur
1 part Amarula Cream Liqueur (could use Bailey's Irish Cream)
Pour over the back of a teaspoon to retain the individual layers.
The other experiment of the evening was a recipe I found for Chocolate Vodka from the Food show Cooked. Its based on the Long Street drinks we all know and love.

Chocolate Vodka
1/3 bottle vodka
200g plain chocolate
Stand the vodka in a container of warm water. Chop the chocolate into small enough pieces to fit into the neck of the bottle. Slowly swirl the vodka and the chocolate will melt into the vodka as it heats up. The recipe didn't say shake afterwards but it seemed to mix it up properly. Comments from the guinea pigs say that dark chocolate might be better (I used milk) and some milk/cream. I do have 2/3 of a bottle of vodka to try it again...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Media Training - Know Your Media

IIASA offers a voluntary 4 hour workshop of how to present oneself to the non-specialist community, in this case journalists. The motivation is derived from the theory that the media is a powerful influence and creating a positive media profile can help with funding. Another is that if you fail to communicate your work others may do it for you and get it WRONG. Science is uncertain and we need to communicate the uncertainty better.

Before going into an interview remember the following:
  • Know your interviewer
  • What is your target audience
  • What is your key message
  • Why are you being interviewed?!

I've discovered through this process that scientists should have a 30 second pitch, the classic "elevator pitch". If it is prepared then you do not have to promote oneself (as scientists are notoriously bad at it) but the research area and implications/value for the public.

"You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother" - Albert Einstein

As the sun sets on another day at IIASA we have officially completed half of the YSSP. Scary thought. Yikes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paper Review

I've been approached to do my first ever paper review. Now normally I would cringe at the thought of more work but at the moment other people's work is looking far more interesting than doing mine.

Obviously I can't say who, what or where for but I can say that I now realise you need to be very well read to actually do a review properly.

The process did however remind me of the PhD Comic: Paper Review Worksheet.

In other news we had a visit from the Franz-Schubert-Instituts bei Wien for the morning. A group of YSSP participants strolled around the Schlosspark and had lunch with the group. The purpose: For art to meet Science. They even got a Schloss tour which the YSSP group didn't including the ballroom and breakfast room off the director's office.

As the sun sets over Laxenburg I have discovered something awesome: the IIASA wireless works all the way to the busstop :) That means you can sit and catch while waiting for the bus...or do work.

The Vienna Whirlwind

Blake visited this weekend and in two days we managed to tour both Bratislava and Vienna. We started at Stephansdom and moved basically walked a fair amount of the Ring, with a traditional Austrian lunch near MuseumsQuartier.

The Vienna Museum sparked a lot of awe at the royal jousting armour and city models as it grew. Its really impressive to look through the history of the site that Vienna sits on and the growth in wide and height of the city over the years.

The Hundertwasser House caused a fair amount of amusement but we realised that if we were to actually live there we might in fact go crazy. It needs to be seen to be believed.

We also stopped off for some dessert along the Danube Canal complete with fancy glasses.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Yesterday I ventured to Bratislava, Slovakia. It is 55km from Vienna which meant an hours train ride. My fellow explorers included Blake, Markus, Aapo and Alma. We arrived at 9.30 AM, and decided to have a stroll around the town before meeting the bicycle group for lunch at noon. Cue failed communication take 1.

I took my role as "Minister of War" very seriously and led the group through the guided walk in my guidebook. We managed to see practically all the sights listed by lunch...

Some of the memorable sights are a few whimsical statues of a Napoleonic officer peering over a bench in the Main square (with the French embassy right behind him). The Schoner Naci greets visitors to Kaffee Mayer with a smile and a top hat.

Cumil or "the Peeper" grins at the tourists from an open manhole. There is even a Man at Work sign just in case you had failed to notice him.
The last statue caused much hilarity as a Paparazzi peers around the corner of a building. Pictures of the photographers taking pictures of the paparazzi.

The other strange sight was a cannonball lodged in the wall above the chocolate shop (wonderful chocolate truffles...they were yummy).

Eagerly stepping into the traditional Slovak pub for lunch we thought the bikers would be impatiently waiting for us but alas no. No sooner had we sat down that Jack planks down with a sigh. The first question that springs to mind is where are all the others? Well he left them early on into the ride and they would probably stumble in in about an hour. Oh well, we'll have lunch an wait. Tick tock, tick tock and 1pm arrives and no bikers. Cue first sms, they'll be there at 3.

We took off the Castle we'd reserved to see after lunch and had a look around. The view encompasses Old Town, the Danube and the part of Bratislava you'd rather not see, the Communist built prefab housing.

After our climb we rewarded ourselves with afternoon tea and some more sightseeing. We bumped into the Jakaranda Children's Choir from Pretoria, they told me I don't sound South African...

Since we'd seen all the sights we did them again and then tried some off the beaten track streets and ended up on a grassy patch next to the Danube. Why hello Mr killer mosquito, I would love to be eaten alive. Suddenly the shady patch didn't look so great.

Moving on to the UFO (I'm not kidding, its called the UFO) we suddenly meet the Team Bicycle, at 4.30 PM. We rose into the UFO to take in the famed 360 degree view offered by the observation deck. After a drink and some dessert we parted ways to the park or the pool and met up for drinks before dinner.

We rushed through Old Town to a restaurant (and hence the touristy sights for the third time) before catching the Twin City Liner (Catamaran) home at 10.30 PM.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Face2Face meetings: a thing of the past?

As some know I'm now a part of Project Umonya, a Google CS4HS initiative at UCT. Since it is being run by essentially computer geeks we seem to have moved away from face to face meetings (this is difficult at the moment with 1 in Austria, 1 in Switzerland, 1 in USA, 1 in Stellenbosch and 1 in Cape Town). Instead we have moved entirely into the realm of online meetings and planning tools.

Firstly meetings are scheduled on Doodle to find a time that suits everyone. The time is then decided and a Google Calendar invite/iCal event is sent out as a reminder.

Meeting agendas are posted on Etherpad for comment and editing a day or two before the scheduled date/time, you can save revisions, highlight changes by different people in different colours (the only drawback are no attachment/image facility).

The meetings themselves take place on IRC or Google Group Chat (depends on the SA internet connection). Any supporting documents are posted on pastebin for review. A bot on the IRC channel then takes minutes (I'm not kidding, you set it to meeting mode and tell it to record decisions and full log and attendance). If we need to conscript volunteers, we create a Doodle form with time availability options.

Minutes are compiled at the end and sent via email for review of decisions and todo lists and then the cycle starts again for a progress meeting. I know it sounds crazy but it seems to be working

Wine country

When I think of Austria wine farming doesn't really spring to mind, meat and beer and anything deep-fried yes but not wine. There is in fact a large winelands area near to Laxenburg dotted with Heurigers (wine taverns), most of which produce young wines as their house wine that isn't Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. I can't place it.

Last night the IME group (we're rather colourful for a bunch of scientists) frequented a proper (read not touristy) heuriger, you can tell because it only opens at specific times of the year unlike the touristy ones.

Nestled into the side of the hill and almost completely obscured by plants, the heuriger Rotes Mauerl is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the view of the valley below.

The menu is meant to be fairly simple but I don't think anyone told the owners. There is a lot of meat and bread, like a large tower available to choose from.

We drank the house white and red, delivered in large carafes, while catching the last rays of sun. Oh what a charmed life we lead :)

The dessert here is interesting, they seem to leave out the sugar from many a thing, namely cheesecake. The cheesecake here, otherwise known as topfenstrudel, is almost savoury in my opinion. I think the next step is to try make a little slice of home for comparison.
Our evening ended after the last bus back from Laxenburg so we were dropped at the Modling train station and caught the train back to Vienna.

Overall a wonderful way to end a working day.