24 November 2006

Post # 50

I spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with my new old computer, fixing my real-time PCR graphs on SigmaPlot. I also fix my old amino acid sequence alignments and feel kind of in control. Thursday I make a Powerpoint presentation (30 slides, a new record!) and watch Pourquoi pas moi? again and wonder the same thing. Crazy by Patsy Cline fills the air. As the credits roll a calmness overtakes me. I start thinking that things are going to be pretty okay from now on. Change is in the air, maybe even for me. Pressure drops. I go and stand outside in the rain.

I give my final talk in the Genetics Department today, as part of our annual postgraduate symposium. I kind of enjoy giving everyone a comprehensive overview of my research. It does look like there was a point to all of the suffering after all. Apparently the Fulbright people are negotiating my tuition fees with the people at Colorado State, so that looks like it's becoming a reality. Lunch is served outside, in the FABI courtyard by the koi pond. Lasagne and a fresh garden salad. Prepared by the same people who normally do the yucky food for the residences. Who knew they had it in them?

I am indescribably tired, but you know what? It's been a good week.

18 November 2006

It never rains

I think the universe likes me. Why else would it have such a friggin' interest in me? Monday morning when I switched my PC on, the fan went on as usual... and that was it. Nothing else. No hard drive noises, no booting, no Windows. Nada. After taking it to several computer shops (I do not trust a single opinion) the consensus was that my motherboard was fried. However, (ah, lucky-lucky-lucky me) this specific motherboard is no longer manufactured (I bought the thing in 2003) and therefore I had to purchase a new CPU as well. And apparently nobody uses a measly 256MB of RAM, so I had to buy 512MB of that as well. Five days, two grand, two hard drive formattings and two operating installation procedures later, I have a PC that more or less resembles the one I had last week. What a waste of time, especially now when I cannot afford it. Now what I'd like to know is: why?

10 November 2006

An update, of sorts

I think I've forgotten how to do this properly, but here goes. The controls on Blogger seem quite alien, like a new kind of software I've not seen before. On Halloween I finally finished all of the laboratory work for my MSc in Genetics. No more Schott bottles filled with 3 molar sodium acetate, no more 22 micron filters, no more polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. All that is left to do is to write up my What We Did During Our Master's Degree style thesis and I can be out of here. Easier said than done, I know. After three years of samey labwork, you get quite bored with it. It becomes difficult to write it all down and keep it fresh and exciting.

I apologize for the lack of activity on this blog, but every once and again, life happens to the author and other things do take preference over
Eclectic Epiphytes, I'm afraid. I planned a big, final In The Greenhouse post for October to celebrate a full year of orchids, but this has been delayed. As I'm not at varsity much these days (it's where I upload the photographs), you fans of horticultural things will just have to bear with me that bit longer.

Last weekend was, erm...
interesting, to say the least. As you know, I've been jumping through the hoops for the Fulbright people, in order to have some sort of career, eventually. One of the pieces of admin is passing something called the GRE Subject Test in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology. For reasons that escape me, I somehow failed to be registered for the 4 November test in time. This meant going onto something called "standby registration", which means popping over to the test centre on the morning of the test and asking the benevolent administrators to literally "squeeze you in". So on the morning of 4 November 2006, after having studied the components of the Krebs cycle and the intricacies of the lac operon for two days straight, I drive all the way to Wits, or as Wendy likes to call it, the Alcatraz of South African universities. After going through several rounds of close scrutiny by security guards and scary receptionists behind bullet proof glass, I'm led to the basement level of a building called the Senate House. (To my ears the security personnel kept calling it the Sears Tower, which I'm convinced is in Chicago.) Upon descending the wooden staircase to the basement level, I find several nervous persons fidgeting on a little bench. I had - literally - descended into madness. The two test administrator's were probably retired schoolteachers or something (I seem to recall them carrying the exam papers in a little cloth covered basket). In my mind however, they turn into the two psycho old people who crawled out of the brown paper bag at the end of Mulholland Drive and have now come to antagonize me. I go up to the woman and tell her that I'm there on standby to write the Biochem Subject Test. She makes it clear that it all depends on whether somebody else actually registered for this specific test and leads me into the examination hall. Now, I've written countless exams in all sorts of places, but none as exotic as this. Picture, if you will, a gigantic disused storage space under a school carpentry workshop, lit by twenty thousand fluorescent tube lights and containing probably, ooh, I don't know... a hundred thousand grey injection-moulded exam benches. Seriously, these things are packed into this airless underground cavern all the way to the horizon. She whips out some official looking forms from her basket and says: "Aah, you see, they sent us some tests for English Literature, Computer Science and Psychology, but none for Biochemistry." I mutter something along the lines of "I'm so screwed" under my breath, to which she responds: "That's the chance you take when you're on standby. The next test date is 14 April 2007, but you probably need to take it this year. And there aren't any extra dates, I'm afraid. They used to do it in December, but that wasn't very popular, so they stopped it. I could let you take an SAT, but I don't suppose that would help you? What you can do is take a plane to Durban and see if you can get in there. The Subject Tests are only this afternoon, so if somebody who scheduled a Biochemistry test there doesn't arrive, you might have a chance..." The old man with the scary thyroidy eyes interrupts her then: "Look, we've got a lot to do. You've tried your best, you can see what it's like. Please leave." So I drove all the way back home, astounded by the idea that she actually suggested that I take a plane to Durban, find my way to another test centre, and pray to all that is unholy that the single person who was supposed to write the test there developed a case of Delhi Belly.

So now I can only write the damn test next year April. When will this mad world of bureaucracy ever end? Later that afternoon, I drove 265km to a game farm near Thabazimbi, where I spent our annual lab "workshop" in a drunken state of ennui.

And you?

PS: I apologize for my excessive use of quotation marks, but it's the mood I'm in, you see.