Plus Plus

If you add a “Plus” to something, you suggest augmentation or improvement.

Example: The Freedom Front party in South Africa was simply… The Freedom Front party until 2003, when the Conservative Party, the Afrikaner Eenheids Beweging and the Freedom Front decided to contest the 2004 national election as a single entity under the name Freedom Front Plus (FF+), led by Dr. Mulder.

Whether this was actually an improvement or not is down to your personal politics, I suppose. But the fact is that there was MORE to the Freedom Front than just the Freedom Front and therefore they were (and still are) known as the Freedom Front Plus.
In my view, they missed a trick when the Federal Alliance joined up some time later. Surely then the Freedom Front Plus had the opportunity to become the Freedom Front Plus Plus paving the way for additional mathematical symbols to be added in the future:
“Freedom Front +++”, “(Freedom Front)³” and on toward the Holy Grail of “Freedom Front X” which might accidentally get counted as a vote. (If Jacob Zuma reads this, you can be assured that the ANC X will be contesting next month’s municipal elections.)

But I digress. The subject of this post was never meant to be the recent history of Afrikaner politics.

It was to be about this stuff:

Based on the discussion above, just imagine how many positive changes this sucrose-free, gluten-free super seed cereal must have gone through to attain the dizzying nomenclatural heights of “Miracles Plus Plus”.

Presumably two.

But look at the starting point for those improvements. Before we even started with the product refining process, we were dealing with Miracles. I’m talking walking on water here, curing the sick, feeding the 5000 (albeit with just 0.1g of seed cereal each). I’m talking restoring a severed ear while catching a fish with a coin in its mouth. Proper Derren Brown stuff.
Miracles, people. Miracles.

And then they made it better (possibly by removing the sucrose, possibly not. I actually have no idea, but it was obviously improved in some way) and it became Miracles Plus.

At this point, many cereal manufacturers would have rested on their laurels.
“We’ve just improved on Miracles,” they would be saying.
“What more do you want? The moon on a stick?”

Not Nature’s Choice.  Oh no. They had to push the seed cereal envelope, test the limits of bio-friendliness and essential fatty-acid wealth. They only went and improved it again. Boom. Maybe this time they took the gluten away. Or maybe it was the sucrose that they hadn’t actually removed the first time. Either way, what had simply been Miracles Plus now had to be renamed to reflect its superiority over that product. And what better way to go than down the Pieter Mulder School of Renaming Things That Have Been Made Better, again?

Thus, Miracles Plus Plus was born.

I’m aware that you may be struggling with what you have just witnessed here.
I know. I rushed it and serial cereal evolution is not a subject that can or should be hurried.
I apologise. Let me take you through it one more time.

Miracles became Miracles Plus, which in turn became Miracles Plus Plus.

When you look back at the extraordinary history of this product, from not so humble beginnings through repeated processes of amelioration and augmentation to where it is now, is it really any wonder that it is the super seed cereal that everyone is talking about?

Go. Tell your friends.

PTSD therapy

I haven’t really talked much about the events of four months ago, but I did meet with a psychologist recently (not in her professional capacity, I hasten to add) and she told me that it was entirely possible that I could have mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over the whole missed concert thing.
Mild, I suppose, because in missing the concert, at least I didn’t see friends blown up or shot dead like some soldiers may have done for example, but she pointed out that this was a traumatic event and said that all too often people write these things off while they are actually having a lasting and detrimental (no pun intended) effect on them. If I recognised any of the signs or symptoms of PTSD, then I should probably seek some sort of therapy.

Lesson one: One should never look up warning signs and symptoms of any disorder on the internet. Now I have PTSD about the time that I looked up symptoms of PTSD on the internet.
Here are a few of those signs and symptoms that I not only recognise, but have now welcomed into my life as friends:

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event (Actually yes. Good guess, Sherlock.)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma (ARGH!)
  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma (I haven’t listened to an a-ha song in 4 months. Seriously.)
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame (should I have tried to get to Manchester instead of to Gatwick?)
  • Substance abuse (I’m guessing they mean Milk Stout)

Did you see that third one? 4 months without an a-ha song. Madness. (And by that I mean it’s crazy that I haven’t listened to it, not that I’ve started listening to 80’s ska or anything).
Time to move on, I feel. So I put my big boy pants on and pre-ordered this – the CD and DVD box set of the concert I never got to see – from CD WOW.

*deep breath*

So it’s make or break time.

Not just for me, but for SAB as well.
Their Milk Stout department are teetering on the edge of oblivion.
Which, I guess, could lead to a certain amount of PTSD amongst their employees.

Massive Multitouch Microscope

There’s things I want… There’s things I think I want…
So sang the Stereophonics back in 1999.

This falls into both those categories. For me, anyway. I have no idea whether the Stereophonics would be at all interested.

Finnish researchers have created a new interface for laboratory science that allows researchers to pan and zoom around a microscope sample via a tabletop or wall-mounted touchscreen, zooming in so close that sub-cellular details can be seen.

Given the fact that the minimum size for the screen is 46 inches–and it can be much larger, like the size of a conference table or even an entire wall–the device is capable of making the very small very large. The multitouch surface can recognize the touches of several different people at the same time, adding a whole new dimension to collaborative science and lab instruction.

Indeed. Any scientist reading this will remember queuing up to have a look down the class microscope and then having to ask something along the lines of:

What? That purple blob on the left, next to the other purple blob?

It’s certainly not difficult to see the educational benefits in being able to view and interact with a slide under the microscope in this way. It will also presumably allow expert examination of slides from anywhere in the world, something which has previously been rather difficult, as the microscope operator tries to describe what s/he is seeing to the expert on the other end of the phone:

There’s a purple blob on the left, next to another purple blob.

And it’s almost impossible to make a definitive diagnosis from that.

An entire group can stand around a massive visualization of a sample, swiping, zooming, and otherwise manipulating it intuitively and without any kind of serious training.

And they prove this on the video, although their swiping, zooming and otherwise manipulating looks a bit odd at 0:56. I sincerely hope that there was some histological slide being displayed there and not some Finnish model.

There’s always the emotional downside though:

We’ll always be a bit nostalgic for the old days when we stained our own slides in chem lab, but it’s hard to argue that a wall-sized, multitouch microscope isn’t extremely cool.

Well, perhaps in Finland, but sadly I have a feeling that we grass-roots scientists working in South Africa will be living in those nostalgia-laden “old days” for a good few years to come.

Chalk and Cheese (and Wine) (and Whine)

With some tourists in tow, it seemed that the most obvious thing to do was to continue the great tradition of Cape Town tourism and head out down the Constantia Wine Route – once described as “one of the most underrated attractions in Cape Town”.

And some of it is.

Klein Constantia is always a pleasure to visit. Their easy-drinking “KC” Cab Sauv/Merlot wasn’t on offer today, but they had a ludicrously good red blend from 2008 with plenty of Petit Verdot and plenty of Cabernet Franc. The hostess was friendly and informative: no question was too big or small and we lingered longer because of it. The tasting was free and although we didn’t buy there, we went away knowing that we would looking for their stuff in the supermarkets and – in my parent’s case – at the local UK importer.

Compare and contrast this experience with “The Wine Shop” at Constantia Uitsig. Their tasting comes in at R25 a head and there was a distinct lack of engagement with the customers. We were given a tasting sheet and the wine was brought out, poured and taken away again. It was all a bit unfriendly, but having paid, we weren’t about to leave without at least trying the wines. That took time though, because the hostess was more interested in chatting to her friends behind the high desk. Thus, we found ourselves sitting and chatting about anything but wine while waiting for glasses to be refilled. I don’t think that’s going to help their sales much.
The final wine we tasted there was their dessert wine: Muscat d’Alexandrie. When it was poured, the hostess told us that it should never be served too cold as it ruined the taste, but that their bottle had been sitting next to the freezer and so was… er… too cold. Much like the rest of their selection – and the service there – it was very average and a big disappointment to the tourists in our party.

By this time, mildly delayed by the poor service, we were getting hungry, so we headed next door the The River Cafe. Things started well with some decent coffees, but it really degenerated into an absolute farce by the end. The waitress took the order, but didn’t put it into the system and so we watched as others arrived after us and tucked into their lunch. When we enquired about our food, we were told by manager that it would be about 5 minutes. Most of it eventually arrived about 10 minutes later with no apology. It was mostly pretty good, although the muffins were rock hard – like “unable to get through the crust with a knife” rock hard. For a one course meal to take 1½ hours is ridiculous and annoying. (To be charged for the bent knife was extremely irritating as well.)

Day seemingly ruined, we decided to brave Steenberg anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and looking on the bright side, it couldn’t be much worse, could it?
Well no – actually it was much better and restored our faith in our new shorter version of the Constantia Wine Route, which now bypasses Uitsig completely, save for raising a middle finger as you drive past it. At Steenberg, we got a free and informative cellar tour from Graham and then the charming and hugely enthusiastic Zelda took us through their selection. You could see that there was a pride and a passion in their work and it really mended our broken day. The wines were pretty good as well – even the whites and I don’t really like whites. But it was their 2008 Shiraz that finished off my day completely.
Wow – I got pepper, I got spice, I got flavour. I got quite, quite pissed. Is nice.

So –  here’s another 6000 Recommends… tip: if you’re going to do the Constantia Wine Route, don’t do Constantia Uitsig. But do do Klein Constantia and Steenberg.
And then go back and do them again.

Simple as that.

Magic Roundabout

Stemming from a brief mention on twitter of it during the week, I thought it only fair to feature one of the craziest and most amazing road junctions I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving around: Swindon’s Magic Roundabout.

In truth, Swindon is a bit of a hole – the only thing really worth popping down the A420 (careful now) from Oxford for is when Sheffield United are playing at the County Ground. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you may well find yourself driving the Magic Roundabout:

The Magic Roundabout is an example of a counterflow roundabout, according to roundabout.net, who even describe a “pro” and “tourist” route around the junction.

The area had been a motorist’s nightmare which routinely failed to handle the volume of traffic which converged on it from five directions. The roundabout, built in 1972, was the work of the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) and their solution was brilliantly simple. All they did was combine two roundabouts in one – the first the conventional, clockwise variety and the second, which revolved inside the first, sending traffic anti-clockwise.

It’s actually nowhere near as scary as it looks and the amazing thing is that it actually works really well, as long as people obey the rules of the road. That said, T-shirts with an “I survived the Magic Roundabout” logo on them are available via swindonweb.com for tourists who manage to make it through unscathed.

We’re heading back to Cape Town this afternoon, fortunately avoiding Swindon, but sadly still having to endure the misery of Somerset West.