Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?

-By Bob Dylan

He sits in your room, his tomb, with a fist full of tacks
Preoccupied with his vengeance
Cursing the dead that can't answer him back
I'm sure that he has no intentions
Of looking your way, unless it's to say
That he needs you to test his inventions.

Can you please crawl out your window?
Use your arms and legs it won't ruin you
How can you say he will haunt you?
You can go back to him any time you want to.

He looks so truthful, is this how he feels
Trying to peel the moon and expose it
With his businesslike anger and his bloodhounds that kneel
If he needs a third eye he just grows it
He just needs you to talk or to hand him his chalk
Or pick it up after he throws it.

Can you please crawl out your window?
Use your arms and legs it won't ruin you
How can you say he will haunt you?
You can go back to him any time you want to.

Why does he look so righteous while your face is so changed
Are you frightened of the box you keep him in
While his genocide fools and his friends rearrange
Their religion of the little ten women
That backs up their views but your face is so bruised
Come on out the dark is beginning.

Can you please crawl out your window?
Use your arms and legs it won't ruin you
How can you say he will haunt you?
You can go back to him any time you want to.

Copyright ©1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Life in Cape Town, to my Italian friend.

This was a letter to an Italian friend, But I liked it enough to post.

Cape Town is just going into Autumn, but you almost can't tell. It's just the odd slight chill in the evening and the changing glare of the afternoon sun on the city that gives it away. If you look closely you'll see sun is slipping behind the mountain earlier and earlier. But the days are still beautiful and the days are still warm.

I'm still sleeping on my friends floor. They live just below the university which is on the slopes of the mountain. I spend most of my days drifting around, either in the city or in my mind. When the mood strikes I catch a taxi into town and amble around the little shops and coffee shops in the older parts. I look for other drifting strangers an talk for hours about politics and women, trying to get a little good advice about both.

Other days I spend sleeping and at night sit outside and plan to write or occasionally write down my plans. I can do this all night, tracing the progression of the Southern Cross through the sky, using it to tell how much time has passed while the coal on my shisha slowly burns down. When I feel morose I listen to Nina Simone and reminisce about old lovers and past chances.

If I can gather a small group we go to the beach and smoke while talking and catching up on each other. If we stay long enough we can watch the sun set over the ocean with a glass of wine.

When motivation strikes , which it rarely does, or my anxiety about motivation becomes great enough to urge me to action, I'll spend a bit of time looking for an apartment or lining up the odd job interview.But motivation never strikes for that long so I end up achieving very little.

Everyone else is very busy so I spend allot of time looking for company. This can end up as lunch with an old friend or tea, cake and conversation with a new friend.

Friday afternoons I spend in the university pub with my old classmates, we talk about old shared troubles and I get a chance to find out about there current ideas and lives. Every second Thursday I meet a group of guys for Whiskey Club. We all dress up in suits and sit in armchairs while drinking some good, expensive whiskey. This goes until late while we revel in our approaching manhood. We make outrageous plans to buy boats and swap advice on the economy and jobs. As the night goes on we end up swapping more bad jokes than good advice.

Everyday I end up hoping tomorrow will be a little more exciting, unless today was particularly perfect in which case I hope tomorrow will be just as enjoyable.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Notes on a young country and our best and worst from a taxi trip

I took a short taxi trip to town the other day that epitomized some of the best and worst of South Africa. The human contents of the taxi were as varied as any SAB commercial could imagine; a Muslim couple on there way back from mosque in the front; a well dressed older black man behind them; next to him was a young Indian guy in clothes that showed he was clearly trying to hard; one row back was a guy in overalls holding a flat car battery and next to him was me. In a city like Cape Town diversity itself is nothing remarkable, in fact the point is that nothing I am about to describe was that remarkable.

The humans inside the taxi were not just sitting waiting for their destination to arrive. They were engaged in great and vibrant conversation. Everyone was laughing and then talking gravely, heads nodded in agreement and figers were wagged in dischord. The conversation involved everyone and was permeated by a feeling of commonality of being South Afrcian and a simple respect for each others opinions and person. When out stops began to arrive and people got out hands were shaken, cellphone numbers swapped (which will probably never be called but acts more as gesture of appreciation of one another) and good wishes flowed all around. That was the good part, that was the encouraging face of our not so fledgling country.

Not our taxi, but pretty much the same

The sad face was the topic of our discussions; corrupt politicians, broken promises and the failure of basic service delivery permeated out words, Grimaces and tears followed the sad words about the sad state of sad northern neighbour Zimbabwe and our governments sad and inept handling of the situation. The worst part about South Africa is that increasingly the point we use to find commonality as a nation is our supreme dissapointment with our leaders and government.

Someone we all decided we don't like

I was torn about whether to see the experience positively or not. We have tried for so long to discover national commonality and a common South African identity, but is this really what we want to base it on?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My trip on Google Maps

So since I am obviously back I am now nostalgic about traveling. So by now I am retelling stories you will all get sick of soon. But anyway while there is still a bit of interest out there that hasn't been killed off by bad story telling I am going to take the chance to do something cool with it on my blog.

Below is my the trip I took on Google maps, Some of it is annotated, but I got a bit lazy, you should be able to see from my route that it wasn't the best planned trip ever, but it was allot of fun.

By the way, I am still on the prowl for people to eat lunch with. Don't think you can get out of it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I have been filling my head with

These the things that have entered my head from books I am reading, poems I have remembered and songs I have been listening to recently. They are all interesting, some are superb, others simply perfect in the sentiment they express. Read them, go listen to the songs, recite the poem and laugh at the comic.
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning him-self to let it eat him away.
- Description of Sydney Carton, Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
I'm sure you know its true

Oh one day when you're looking back
You were young and man you were sad
When you're young you get sad
When your young you get sad then you get high
-Second verse of To Be Young, Ryan Adams
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven, W.B. Yeats
The only girl I've ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she's a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames
On empty rings around the sun
All sing to say my dream has come
-First verse of Holland 1945, Neutral Milk Hotel
Everybody's building the big ships and boats
Som are building monuments, others jotting down notes
Everybody's in despair, every girl and boy
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here everybody's gonna jump for joy
Oh come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.
- First verse of Quinn the Mighty, Bob Dylan

-asofterworld 413, E Horne and J Comeau

I wish I could add something up here that I wrote, I hope to put something that you write up here one day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Honours Project - Robot Localization

I did a small honours project last year in the University of Cape Town Robotics and Agents Research Lab. In simple terms it involved using a laser scanner mounted on a robot to perform mapping and localization. In fact it was a a new system to make previous methods more stable in rough terrain. It was developed for an Urban Search and Rescue robot, that is currently being built in the lab. I got the top mark for the project, so some one thought it was alright. If you are interested (which you should be, cause everyone knows robots are cool) you can read the full report here, there is also an associated presentation here. If you are interested enough to want the source code you can email me and I'll be happy to organize it for you. The abstract of the write up is below to give you a better idea of what it was on.
Dealing with uneven floors during planar robot localization
Traditional robot localization and mapping techniques have been developed for simple environments, making them very sensitive to uneven floors. This makes them unsuited for use in many situations, including urban search and rescue scenarios. This paper introduces a novel method that allows traditional 2D laser scanner based localization techniques to be used in environments that are not perfectly flat. The method is efficient both in terms of computation and hardware requirements, requiring only a simple hinge in addition to the laser scanner. The method works by first using multiple laser scans to calculate the relationship of the robot to the level plane, and then projecting the information of the laser scans onto the level plane, after which traditional 2D localization can take place. The method is described in detail and analyzed. Testing and experimentation is done to show that it greatly improves the accuracy of scan matching, the core method in laser scanner based localization.

A screen shot of the system (fancy hey)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I wish God loved an optimist

I hate the nation state concept, I decided this today after being denied entry into Bolivia. Now as a South African I am used to my passport sucking and being a hindrance to my life, but honestly, Bolivia! And what really frustrates me is way it happened.

I have already travelled all through Bolivia, and I wanted to go back for Carnaval in Oruro, which is apparently awesome. I had a pose of friends ready and plans made. All I had to do was get another Visa (Which I was assured would be a simple process when I got my first Visa). So I arrive in Puno, Peru (officially my least favourite place in the world) at 5 AM with a friend, Nicole, in tow. 3 and half hours later after a terrible breakfast (apparently in Puno you don´t use egg in an omlette) being told about 20 different directions I get to the Bolivian Consulate only to be met the worlds biggest Wanker.

To imagine this small time beaurocrat think of the Effiel tower and now imagine a giant hand jerking it off. Now maybe you get the idea of how much I disliked this man. My spanish is not great, but I can tell when some one is being openly insulting to me. This is why I only like dealing with women in governmental positions, men tend to use them as a constant machoistic cock-sizing competion. so after clearly beign told (for reasons I could not completely understand yet) that I could not enter Bolivia I left to fetch Nicole whose Spanish is far better than mine. Now Nicole is a young pretty little girl, and normally older men a polite to young women, but not this wanker. The long and the short of it is that he very rudely told us that we had to travel 11 hours to another consulate who maybe could help us, now clearly he could just stamp my passport, it doesn´t even require more than one page of paper work, but as I said he is a small man syndrome wanker. If anyone has some extra tiem to kill in Puno I highly suggest you spen it by burning down his house.

It turned out to be an open faced lie that we could get helped somewhere else in Peru, but at least the second Counsular we dealt with (a women I´d like to point out) was helpful and polite. She told me that I had to travel out of Peru before I could reenter Bolivia, now in theory this should not a problem, at this stage we were in Tacna, about 30 minutes from the Chilean border (which I hope I can enter with no problems, but that´s tomorrows story). The only problem is that almost all the Bolivian Consulates in Chile are closed cause the Consulars are all at the carnaval. So its impossible for me to get to Carnaval cause I dont have a free stamp in my passport and I haven´t crossed enough lines on a map recently.

I suppose it is a an unfortunate series of events, I should have organised this earlier but I couldn´t cause I had my wallet stolen and couldn´t leave Cusco (Be careful Cusco will destry your soul, I just got out alive). And I am sure that Visa´s are important (Thats a lie, allot of the time I think Bolivia is playing at being a country).

At this time I am reminded of what I was told by Robin Esrock , a travel writer and reporter for the National Geographic channel who I spent some time in brazil with. He told me that when traveling it is important to remember that "Where you are, is where you are meant to be" (He also told me that mot being able to speak the same language as a women simply removes the need for a chat up line, also good advice).

So maybe I am meant to go to Chile, Swim at a beach in Arice (thus swimming in both South Amercian oceans), and if I can I´ll get to San Pedro de Atacama (cause I need more desert in my life). And a 3 days bus trip acorss argentina can´t be all that bad right.

Anyway thanks allot to Nicole for traipsing around Peru with me trying to get a visa, hope you enjoy carnival. Sorry to Tiago, Daan and Jamie for not being able to meet you in Oruro, have a blast.

P.S. Spell check doesn´t work, the computer at the internat cafe is too old.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An update sort of...

I´m to lazy to write anything worth reading, and too apathetic to take pictures so all I´m gonna do in this post is list what happened since my last post and then link to some pictures that other people have taken. I think its an awesome plan.

  1. Went to Isla del Sol in Bolivia, 2 Dreamy days. Stayed in a hostel that cost US$2 a night, run by a 10 year old kid.

  2. Tavelled to Cusco in Peru, beautiful but more tourists than people.

  3. Went on a 5 day hike to Macchu Picchu. The Hike was awesome, Macchu Picchu was underwhelming. Especially considerring that we managed to get kicked out. (After being called vagabonds). The Hike took us up snow capped mountains, down into Peruvian cloud forests, across jungle rivers and down some train tracks. Some pictures taken by a friend on the Hike are available at The slideshow is below.

  4. Got back and had my birthday celbration. 6 Irish offering Tequilla and a dutch guy with quality vodka can do bad things to you. Woke up without my pants or my wallet.

  5. Spent all my time living on credit in the hostel until I managed to get the bank to allow me to re-enter the economic system.

And finally I should be on my way back to Bolivia for carnaval in Oruro.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

La Paz 25-01-09

There are certain days that can come into being only in exceptional circumstances during specific times. The 25th of January in La Paz was one such day for me. This specific day is exceptional because it was the day of the Bolivian referendum on adopting a new constitution, however this is not about politics, it is about my day.

The day starts like any other. I wake up, go to the bathroom, hock up a flem ball and notice that it's still blood red from some blood vessel I managed to rupture a few days ago. I consider being worried but apart from occasionally sneezing blood it isn't bothering me so much. I have my pancake breakfast and go gaze at the view for a while. One of my friends is writing an article about the elections for so I help with the English translation, from German, and fix some of his photos. After this we set out to town, this is where the day really begins.

La Paz is normally overly busy, traffic is usually a constant jam of micros (minibus taxis) and cabs trawling for passengers and fighting with private vehicles, the sidewalks are normally bustling with hawkers and walkers and balaclava'd shoeshine boys. This is the La Paz I know but today it was like a ghost town, no cars on the roads, no one selling anything, almost no one walking. The reason, of course, is that it is election day and by law everyone has to vote, in fact it is illegal for most people to work today, including all the taxis. The sight of an empty capital city is eerie, without people even the biggest city has the atmosphere of a small town.

With everything closed finding food becomes an obstacle, but strangely we bump into some old friends of my travel companions who point us towards a quaint, yet expensive, little tourist restuarant. The food is good, and on a happy full stomach we tryfinish off the meal with a version of hot chocolate. This type of drink is essentially hot milk with a whole stick of chocolate dropeed in so it slowly melts. Sounds delicious, well it is. Except that the chocolate is made with "manis". "Mani" is an important word to me, it in one of the first spansih words I learnt, it means "peanut", but to me it is a synonym for "Mortis" or death.

Remember how I said there were no cabs running, I meant it, nada. Compound this with Bolivian directions. Bolivians like to be helpful and make people happy, even if it means telling people the wrong information so as not to disappoint someone. Like telling them the hosital is two blocks past the stadium, not ten. Distances seem very large when one is considering dieing on the streets of La Paz. And taxi drivers seem very unreasonable when they cite the law as reason not to pick you up. Its a strange feeling to contemplate death while wandering down the streets of what seems like a ghost town. In the end I obviously found the hospital and got the medication I needed. Of course they didn't actually have the medicine at the hospital so my two German friends had to go to a pharmacy to buy it while I waited in the hospital ER. I was a bit worried about medical aid and stuff like that but in the end the bill for the medicine only came to BL3.5, about R5.

By the time I got out and started walking back, remember still no cabs, it was late evening. We went to go buy some ingredients at the market, where a few shops were open illegally. In one of the shops we saw Plaza Murillo on a TV. Plaza Murillo is the plaza with the presidential residence and various other government buildings. Apparently Evo Morales was about to claim victory in the referendum.

So just out of hospital I find myself in a massive crowd beneath the balcony of the presidents house. The crowd filled most of the plaza, but we were in the first 5 rows. Everyone was lively. Chants of Evo filled the air and after a while the presidential sound system started playing some local pop songs. A bunch of women arrived selling overpriced beer and some empanandas. The ever present large Argentinian groups started playing some music and passing around some harder liquor. Fireworks started going off in th each ground. In one hour the plaza went from empty to being a fiesta.

When Evo Morales eventually did come out he could hardly speak for the cheers he got. He was simply wearing a sports jacket, no suit, no tie, much like he had just gotten back from hanging out with some friends at a bar. After the national anthem which no one really seemed to know, because it seemed like almost everyone was Argentinian not Bolivian, Evo began his speech. It was short, good humoured, suitably full of quotable phrases, accentuated by fireworks and cheers, and rousing. Even I was drawn into the mood, I who am almost completely unaffected by the politics of Bolivia. When the speah ended the party started. A stage had been hastily set up and local bands as well as some from as far away as France began to play. The atmosphere became completely festive and for a while everyone was everyones friend.

When the bands finished the police politely informed everyone that it was time to go. I don't think they reaslly thought things through, trying to get a few thousand drunk people to do anything is never easy. So they resorted to the more direct measures, formed a barricade line and just started pushing the crowd towards the exits of the plaza. Normally this would incite a riot or something, but instead everyone seemed to just form this moving carnavale, with some drums and flutes and other instruments at the lead, playing some music while chants of "Evo! Amigo! el pueblo contigo!" (Evo! My Friend! The people are with you!) rang through the streets. We wound our way through the streets, this crowd of a few hundred now, we blocked traffic and jammed up highways. Rum was being sold and Cuba Libre's were flowing.

The crowd eventually stopped under the statue of Simon Bolivar, the namesake of the country and perhaps South America's greatest liberator. It felt a fitting place to stop, considering the magnitude of the change that had just taken place. I think by that stage we were the only gringos left, in a Bolivian crowd with a large splash of Argentinians. I looked up at Simon Bolivar sitting a top his horse and wandered what he would be thinking. After liberating most of South America, then dieing a pauper without even a shirt for his funeral, then slowly to become infinitely venerated across all of South America, and now to look over the drunken reverie of of a nation about to under go a massive change. We are told that before he died he said, "There have been 3 great fools in history; Jesus Christ, Don Quixote and I", I wonder if after all the history of South America that has since past he would still limit it to only 3 great fools.

The curious case of a movie in La Paz

I watched "The curious case of Benjamin Button".At the end of the movie I got up and stretched the mandatory post movie stretch. Then I realised, "Fuck I'm in Bolivia". It was a dichotomous feeling, it was at once exciting and slightly lonely. Watching a movie in English in a cinema was so reminiscent of being home that for a while I stopped feeling like I was in a foreign country. The experience underlines the way I feel right now, glad to be traveling but missing allot of home. Simple things like understanding most people when they talk and having a friend I have known for longer than a week. And then immediately after that I thought about this girl I had been traveling with. She had been living in Chile for a year and spoke Spanish. When I was traveling with her she kept on complaining about how she didn't like backpacking cause it was this really superficial experience of the different cultures and you didn't really get the traveling experience we romanticize about. I thought about that cause I was really thinking about the response I should have given. It's a game I invented in my head, its called imagine you're in Bolivia and you have a month to do what ever you want. Its a game that isn't so hard to enjoy. The travel mindset is not always easy to maintain. It can be easy to get tired, the effort required to interact the world often seems overwhelming. But then with a little effort there is so much to see and enjoy, and even the most mundane tasks can be exotic and interesting, everything offers the chance of adventure.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The state of Bolivia before the referendum

Below is the english translation of an article a friend wrote on the situation in Bolivia before the referendum. The official results are not yet out but it is obvious that the constitution will change and Evo Morales claimed victory last night.

Here is the translation (original is here):

On Sunday 25.1.2009 Bolivia votes over the adoption of a new constitution. The reigning president Evo Morales wants to give Indians more rights and nationalize many of the countries industries. The public opinion is divided and the richer departments (provinces) in the west of the country are strongly opposed to the new constitution. This article contains personal impressions and makes no claim to completeness, since the local information is very poor!

Bolivia is the poorest and one of the most unstable countries in South America due to a long history of corrupt governments. Hardly any have managed to stay in power for the planned five years. Two-thirds of the around 11 million inhabitants live in poverty. Approximately 72% of the population are indigenous peoples, i.e. not of spanish descent, however the indigenous poeoples have been a historically repressed and economically depressed group.

On 18 December 2005 Evo Morales , a former coca farmer, was elected president, he is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. His party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) received 54% of the votes. In Bolivia, it is very rare that a party receives an absolute majority. In May 2006, Morales fulfilled his election promise and nationalized the gas industry. Bolivia is the second biggest producer of natural gas in South America, after Venuzuela. The move prompted fierce international protest, however Morales stood firm in his descision . In the same year, MAS announced its intentions to create a new constitution.

The main points of the new constitution include the nationalization of minerals, industry and railways.The defintion of the countries resources of the country as being considered property the state, and hence theoretically the population, clearly stated that the previous neo-liberal economic order was felt to be contrary to the interests of Bolivia. In addition the constitution recognises the indigenous population as an important part of society, it ensures their right to speak their own languages and educate their children in a language of thier choosing. Altogether there are 36 different indigenous peoples, each with their own language. The constitution also gives many more rights to women and children.

The motion by MAS faces massive opposition, especially in the richer west of the country. The four richest departaments, Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca, Tarija and Beni are against change and at first refused any negotiation on the constitution. It is in these areas that the major part of the Bolivian industry and resources are found. Furthermore, the close contact between Morales and Venuzuelan President Hugo Chávez is very controversial. Many people are afraid of Bolvia becoming an authoritarian regime, as in their opinion Venuzuela has. The last two years were also marked by violent confrontations between opposition and pro-goverment supporters. The peak was a sad case of paramilitary forces attacking a MAS-demonstration near Cobija in September last year. There were at least 18 deaths and 70 people are still missing. After an official investigation the Prefect of the department, Fernández, confessed to participating in the planning of the attack.

After many protests by the opposition many parts of the proposed new constitution were changed, especially around issues of private land ownership. For example, private land ownership will be limited to at most 10,000 hectares, previously amounts aove that would be confiscated, however now they will simply be taxed at a higher rate with the revenues going towards social projects. In addition, Morales has waived his option for a second re-election. These were the key demands of the opposition.

The situation in Bolivia is very unclear at the moment. Every area in the country has choosen a positon and almost every wall and every stone with is plastered with slogans (Evo sì / no, Sì al Socialismo, etc.). There are daily demonstrations and it is difficult to say how the situation will develop. Many people with whom I have talked feel strongly that there will be further confrontations, whether the new constitution is adopted or not. Evo Morales expects a clear victory, but he needs a two-thirds majority.

The whole conflict is difficult to assess. On the one hand, to the great mass of poor indigenous the new constitution offers great hope, on the other hand a very populist president making massive constitutional changes leads to bad consequences.

I will continue to report on the situation ...
Substantive additions are welcome!

Mano Negra

Well thats it. What a crazy day the 25th was, more on it later.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bolivian Referendum Goes Online with Facebook Ads

All you web 2.0 types will love this. Bolivia, where I currently am, is about to have a referendum on accepting a new and very controversial referendum. All around the country every wall is plastered with "Vota Si" or "Vota No" posters or Grafiti. But one place I saw an add that really suprised me is on facebook when I logged in from an internet cafe in Sucre (Which is a "Vota No" strong hold).
Now I think that´s pretty impressive for a country where it took me 10 hours to travel 220km. I´ll be in La Paz for the aftermath of the referendum, so it should be a very interesting time.

P.S. A travel companion of mine has posted an article that gives some background on the referendum on, it is in German right now but there should be an English translation by tomorrow afternoon. You can access it here in German. In the mean time you can either learn German or use Google translate. The Google translation is readable but stumbles on the more complicated parts, I suggest you wait for the translation which I will post a link to as soon as it is up.