More.... HATS! And outfits.

Here's my take on Brooke Higgin's Tychus hat (pattern at Knitty.com). I used some stash - a red wool/silk tweed and a grey tweed (which yes, I ran out of!) I like this hat in a finer gauge than the pattern calls for, and just long enough with no rollup. Like a touque. This was knit on straight US#7s, the yarn is worsted I think, I did 10 short rows for each segment and wrapped the next stitch each time I turned so there are no holes. I twisted each color along the bind off edge for a nice finish. I cast on with a provisional cast on and grafted the hat together rather than sewing. It's pretty nice. I'm making some more. It's Sila's new favorite hat... for playing SUDOKU!

All in all, a very zen activity for a man who is training to become AQUANINJA!

That's his signature Spidy move.


Eric's Birthday Hat

I knit this hat for Eric for his birthday. He is 26. That is fricking amazing because it makes me 29 now. So weird. Anyway right before I left for South Africa, Eric and I picked out some yarn at the best LYS ever for me to make him two hats. I thought I would hang onto the yarn for a while and see what would look good. I am really glad I went for the tight little cables with this because it would look too fuzzy or something otherwise.

The hat is very warm and cozy!

Pattern in pdf format: Here

By request... the joys of BILTONG

Ah, my dear friend Trifarina has requested to know more about BILTONG. Poor girl she keeps asking for things she doesn't really want to see!

Well sadly I am not qualified to discuss all the subtleties, as I'm sorry to say, I find biltong and all its cousins completely revolting. But in short, South Africa has a long tradition of preserving meat by some combination of drying, spicing, and tenderizing. According to this wiki article, this began with African hurders riding with strips of game meat under their saddles, and I quote, "as the chaffing would tenderise the meat and the sweat of the animals would spice it." OOOOooooh yum.

Biltong took on increasing historical importance as a staple of the TrekBoers (Afrikaaner farmers who left the Cape Colony in covered wagons to escape English rule in the 1830s-1840s). Now it's considered as South African as Afrikaans, and that's fiercely South African. Everybody eats it. Standard snack food, road food, with little biltong stands outside the supermarkets, etc. Traditionally it was made from game (usually antelope) or ostrich but now I think it's mostly beef. But other varieties are available everywhere. Kudu, springbok, etc, anything but lamb which apparently doesn't dry, just rots. It's heavily spiced with something cryptically referred to as "biltong spice"; I can't seem to find out what it is but it tastes like licking the bottom of the spice cabinet somehow, like cayenne with poultry spice with way too much tarragon and corriander and not sure what else. Then it's vinegared and sometimes treated with some nitrates of some kind and left to hang in a dry place until it is absolutely blackened and chewy like jerky.

Some of the variations I referred to above include droëwors (dried sausage). This is even grosser than biltong, as it is somehow simultaneously bone dry but also chewy and greasey. I really don't know how this combination of nasty is accomplished but here are some offerings in the local farmers market. You can see it is highly prized as a stick of biltong (front basket - R20 apiece! That's enough for a bottle of ordinary table wine). The droëwors hanging on the rack next to the basket are going from R20-R35 a pair - that's a large 2 topping pizza.

Just in case my ZA friends are offended, I might as well come clean. I also hate bobotie! And I don't care for pinotage. There I said it. And just so you know, poultry is still meat.

I hope that's not enough to cause Home Affairs to rescind my visa.

PS. Trifarina if you want more BILTONG please download the video podcast from the link at The ZA Show. I think it explains the process perfectly.
PPS. Trifarina - do you know how to make corn tortillas? The maize flour here does not have lime in it - does it matter? I am going frickin nuts for a fish taco with a side of black beans. or tortilla chips! oh god I miss tortilla chips. You know what else are hard to find here? LIMES. What!? alright this post is taking a bad turn and must end now.


Oh yah, did I mention that my Mom visited me?

Here's some proof! She took most of the pictures but I'll post a few here. We did a lot of activities! I mean a whole lot!

Sila looks grumpy because he ate a biltong and blue cheese salad [how many Boers are rolling in their graves at the idea of Biltong in Salad!] but I don't know what's wrong with Mom's face! I swear we were having a good time!


Sila went home

Makes me Homersick to think about it.

Miss you buddy, travel safe, enjoy your time with friends and family, and I'll see you soon in San Francisco


Fort of São Sebastião

As previously mentioned in this space, the Fort of São Sebastião is the oldest European base south of the equator. According to Wiki, the Portugese took over the former Arab trading post around 1507 and spent 50 years building this massive structure from locally quarried coral blocks.

This is the courtyard of the pentagonal fort. Each corner is an armed tower, except for the one over the church. From what our guide Mohammed told us (he goes by Henry as well), it sounds like the Portugese barely managed to keep hold on the fort, with all these bandits and Dutch and everyone else attacking the island. On a barrier island, water supply is no joke. The roof was cleverly built in tilted segments with a series of drains and pipes to collect water.

This is the underground pool in the courtyard where the water from the roof is collected. It's quite beautiful and cool. Muhammed/Henry for scale. They wash clothes out of it now, there is some rumor that the water is "bad" and not drinkable. Not sure why - the bottom of the tank is certainly above high tide level. Maybe the World Bank survey team which was at work while we were there has a plan for cleaning out the water tank. Sure would be useful to this little island if it could be drinking water supply.

Bandits/pirates/ enemies of the state who were captured by the Portugese would serve: 6 months solitary confinement (open air but no roof); 24 months hard labor; followed by execution (firing wall shown below). Of course, this was the privilege of white pirates. Black pirates (captured alive) were immediately sold.

A man and his spitsail barquo - seen through the ramparts of the fort.

The canons were mounted on ironwood rockers - the wood was brought from Portugal. Even in the church (future post) the beams are curved and scarfed - looking suspiciously like a ship's keel

This is the little door next to the windowless block where slaves were kept, after being kidnapped all over Africa by white slave traders and also black Africans. The slaves spent weeks or months crowded in the tiny room before they were pushed out this door to a waiting ship.

** In case you're wondering, the pronounciation is strangely just like "San Sebastian", but pao (bread) is "pow", not "pan". Portugese is weird.

Some thoughts on teaching UCT students

A few weeks ago, my dad asked me this:

Hi Daughter,

Hope things are going well.

Riding back from yesterdays breakfast with [identifying details deleted to protect the otherwise insulted] I was pondering the skills of a teacher and wondering if [deleted] would be a good one. I was thinking that one
attribute of a good teacher might be the ability to see the problem thru the students view of things. That let to the thought to get your veiw of the issue and the question - are you seeing the world differently in teaching students from different cultures?

Love Dad

So you can see that spell-check culture has not been good to my dad. But more importantly, I wrote him a long email back with lots of thoughts. On 9 May. Since I haven't gotten any response from him, I posit the answer to you, dear reader (hi mom), with some minor edits:

the simple answer is that anyone can be a good teacher.

The complicated way of saying the same thing is that billions of research dollars have been devoted to studying "good teachers" and developing a generalized idea of "best practices" - and that there is no consistency of practice between one good teacher and another, and no teacher is considered good by 100% of the students they teach.

In my opinion the key attributes are to have a personal style, passion for the topic, clear oration, precise expectations, and high expectations. [deleted] already has some of these and the rest I think he will be able to learn as he goes along. He'll do fine. Let him get advice from people in his field - because a key element of a successful class is that the teacher and students share similar expectations and none of us are qualified to help him develop that sense and how to moderate expectations students have about social science classes. Suffice it to say that as soon as he steps in front of the classroom he will likely have major readjustment of what his expectations are in his role as a student - as his role as a teacher
expands. Anyway that's all good.

At first I noticed the cultural contrasts more than I do now (oh so far down the road...) but I think they just add to the spectrum of understanding/background/learningstyle/expectations that is a complex network of connections between each student, the class as a whole, the instructor, and the materials (physical and esoteric) that collectively direct the events in the classroom. Culture would be a different issue for, say, a white teacher going to an Inuit village where cultural relevancy and context needs are somewhat uniform across the student population. Here there are so many cultures coming together that between some individuals, their first common culture will be science. So I have the responsibility to initiate students to the culture and language of science asap - while still balancing the burden which is the white-male-eurocentrism of that scientific culture. One tool for balancing this is to really emphasize the dynamic nature of the culture of science, which is taught in secondary schools as a static thing! Because if the world is static and it's all whiteoldmale now, it's a totally different message than if it's dynamic, and it's all whiteoldmale now. I tell anecdotes about geologists and students I have known in the past and emphasize nationality, race, gender, language - trying to paint a picture of the changing face. Teaching students from all these backgrounds really helps me clarify for myself which elements of the culture are really elements of science discourse, and the way that the discourse manifests in different populations. For example when we're in the field and the students are discussing the geology in another language than English - Afrikaans or Sotho or Xhosa any number of languages which are shared in any small group of students - they have different analogies, turns of phrase, etc. I have always felt that a real test of a scientist is to explain ones work without the use of jargon. The proverbial "tell your grandmother what you do" test. And here we have my students, in the field, bouncing between languages which don't even have the geological jargon, sometimes inserting English words where necessary, but basically exercising the "grandmother test" on their own.


We are still having fun

May 1: very steep trip up Newlands Ravine:

Sila has learned, after 4.5 years together, and nearly a year of marriage, to identify "bedding":


Fire in the Park

In early April of this year, a controlled burn fire got out of control for a few days in the northern part of the park. When we visited with Mom in mid-April we saw the burnt area but I didn't realize at that time how recent it was. In trying to find the date of the fire, I also came across this AGU abstract which dealt with the gaseous mercury emissions during another fynbos fire at Cape Point in 2000. Fascinating how much we don't know about chemical cycling during punctuated processes in this understudied landscape.

The Bontebok, aka Blesbok - seem to be grazing the few green shoots in the wildfire area. Bontebok and Blesbok aren't exactly the same thing, but both subspecies of Damaliscus pygargus so I'll leave that to the biologists to argue about. Either way they were hunted to extinction and then reintroduced to the Cape Peninsula. While we sat watching this little group, the largest one did a strange kind of dance toward one of the other individuals, not sure of sexual dimorphism so I don't want to over interpret who is who. Anyway the big one put his head and shoulders low down, pointing his chin toward the other bok and sort of shuffled forward toward it - then the two did a strange, dog-like turnabout rump sniffing thing for a couple of turns. Strange to watch.

So sad to see, we found five of these along the road within a few hundred meters of where we happened to park. Angulate tortoises, all pointed toward the open road and relative safety - I wonder how many of these little beasts perished in the fire. They are pretty fast for tortoises but that is still not very fast. Their stubby thick leg bones and vertebrae were laid out around the burnt shells and in some cases, such as this individual, the body was sort of dried in place so that he still stretches his head toward the road.

Life is creeping back into the white sand already - see the tiny pink blossoms in this photo


Adults only Please!

By special request, for Trifarina:

Let it be known that this picture was taken by my mother's camera.


Dr Lesser and Cape Point

I've had the good fortune this week to play host to Ian Lesser, one of the greater nightmares ever to pass through UCSC Earth Sciences. Ian has been organizing farms in Kenya for the last while, and has been working his meandering way south to Cape Town for several months. Little bits of his adventures and photography are here on his "blog" but there's so much more that's not there. Anyway we have been hiking all over Cape Town and Ian has been doing his part to wear Sila out every day, much needed exercise and adventuring buddy.

On Saturday we hiked up Devil's Peak, across the front of Table Mountain on Tafelberg Rd (meeting John Rogers and his wife Phil who were trying to collect John's free birthday ride on the cable car!), up Lion's Head, back down along Signal Hill, down through Bo Kaap and across the city center to the train station. We were all hungry and happy to ride the train home.

So yesterday I blew off work and we rented a car and went to Cape Point in Table Mountain National Park. It was a phenomenal Cape Town day with blue skies and a warm wind. We parked at the Point thinking we would walk out to the lower lighthouse, along the False Bay side of Cape Point but took the meander down to the Cape of Good Hope (a few kilometers round trip).

We saw a baboon troup along the road right before we entered the park. The Chacma baboons are populous and prosperous on the Cape Peninsula although there are obvious problems with the proximity to cities, trash cans, open windows with pies cooling on the shelves, pickinick baskets, etc. This troup and a couple of babies, maybe twins?

We walked down through the fynbos toward the Cape of Good Hope, which although synonymous to most people with Cape Point, is actually a slightly smaller promentory adjacent to Cape Point. Here's the view from the path back to Cape Point. It is famously rocky and stormy. The original, smaller lighthouse down low was usually shrouded in fog, eventually the higher one was built and this did help with the alarming rate of shipwrecks. The towering spine of Cape Point is composed of Penninsula Sandstone, nearly the whole of the section, with a bit of the reddish Graafwater Fm. visible on the beach, as you will see below.

Sila and Ian and I strolled down the boardwalked trail, out to stoney lookout points that would be seriously gated, fenced, reinforced, and require a certification to enter back in the states. Nope, you can walk over the cliff here, and you will just be remembered as a fool or a klutz, but a lawsuit would be laughed out of court. In every other way, however, the rocky coastal fynbos, with aromatic scrubby bushes and trees and seemingly secret lillies and tiny succulents - is like the coastal chaparral back home only highly evolved. There are so many different species here even a brown thumb like me is stricken by the shear diversity of the fynbos. As we walked we even crossed some kind of invisible line - from a higher, greener, misty fynbos to a lower, sparcer, saltier assemblage.

A side stair off the trail leads down to a steep, pearl-white pocket beach. Sila keeps asking me why the sand is so pure white so I'll tell you all - those blocky gray sandstones you see all around you are the compacted, cemented remains of a periglacial river/beach/shallow marine QUARTZ PURIFICATION FACTORY. Under the sun, wind, and waves, the cements fall away and the self-same grains that were sorted and cleaned on a 400 million year old beach are again left out to the sea. Sure is beautiful with clear blue water. Colder than it looks though! This shot is between Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope - at the very junction of the Two Oceans (Indian on my left, Atlantic on my right, nothing ahead until Antarctica). Ian took this very nice picture.

This towering beach stack sums it all up - at the base the red shales, herringbone crossbeds, ripups, trough crossbeds etc. show a healthy braided river system. Quickly though, at Ian's knee perhaps, the sediment column seems to sterilize and from there upward is only coarse white sand. This event correlates to a time of heavy oxygen in the oceans - that is, a glacial time - and the great icy dunes or quiet sea (not sure which!) that sorted this sand has no analog on earth today.

Another thing without analog on earth is the Dassie (rock hyrax) which is seriously planning an attack on Dr. Lesser as he contemplates covering this rock with climber's chalk. Dassie does not approve (white arrow).

At the Cape of Good Hope we did a bit of tidepooling with the birds. The number of snails, limpits, chitons, tiny starfish, huge starfish, sculpins, and strange exotic anemones was great. I saw no crabs. Not one, not even a hermit crab, not even the sound of a tumbling shell which is so familiar when you surprise a hermit crab who's on a rock and he pulls into his shell in a hurry with no regard to a soft landing. Strange absence. Guess they just don't live here? Also no abalone.

We took the long way out of the park - more on that soon - and as I was telling Ian the story of the strawberry shortcake lunchbox in order to demonstrate how sentimental I am, Sila squeeled the car to a stop to let this guy across the tar road. A beautiful angulate tortoise(Cherisna angulata) - surprisingly fast, much faster than the larger tortoises back home. Wish I could remember the name of that grand old Mohave Desert Tortoise in Grammy Faye's yard - did he have a name? I bet he's still there, and I bet he's a hundred years old. More tortoises in the next post.