Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Archive for June, 2013

We Seek Him Here, We Seek Him There


Taken by Kimberley at about 1am
22 March 2013

Considering we live half a property from the edge of Pietermaritzburg, we really have the best of suburban and semi-rural living. Among the visitors whose sojourns I’ve relished since we moved in two and a half years ago are a mongoose (since seen by a fellow tenant with three mongoslings* in tow), a wild pig and a baby buck (sadly, it didn’t stop here), but the closest encounter we’ve had is one I’ve long anticipated.

For some time we had noticed the bark on the visible roots of the remaining syringa trees around the property was being stripped overnight. Excavations followed once the first fruits ran out. My first suspicion was the wild pig. We knew there was a porcupine in the vicinity as the other fellow tenant is in possession of quills that had been left lying near her home. Then, one evening at the beginning of the year, I had gone through to my bedroom at about nine o’clock when the newest addition to our family, Georgie (about whom there will be more in another post), started barking behind the garage not far from where I was. It was obvious from the nature of her bark that something unusual had caught her eye and she wasn’t budging. I asked Kimberley to bring a torch and accompany me.

When we first moved in there had been a sporadic set of drug-users who were used to our property being unoccupied and consequently made use of the verge to nurture their habit. As the mother of a young adult I did and still do fall squarely in the realm of those who feel such a habit is not to be sniffed at and went out of my way to make sure they moved on. It took a couple of months but my stubborn streak outlasted theirs and we hadn’t seen or smelt anything along those lines for some time. Hearing the commotion at the back made me wonder if the problem was rearing its head again.

We rounded the side of our home on the narrow concrete apron when Kimberley who was right in front of me as she had the torch suddenly stopped and said “oh my word”. I’d stopped perforce but was only able to see the back of her head as that was what had stopped me. She had turned the torch off so, reappearing over her left shoulder, I asked her to switch it on again. There, less than three metres from us was the biggest porcupine I’d ever imagined. Puffed up, his quills were close to waist high. Having had enough of the uninvited company on his nocturnal turf, he was heading back towards the bottom of the property where he’d entered. I left Kimberley and Storm to jog after him at a respectful distance but felt very privileged that he’d been comfortable to share our space.

Of all the vegetable seedlings I was cultivating he ate only the single cabbage plant but he ate it thoroughly. A young syringa tree grows between Kimberley’s and my bedroom windows and this became his target over the next couple of months. We both went out of our way to engineer another encounter but it was some time before it happened.

Something unspecified awoke me in the early hours of a morning in March. When I looked out of my window I couldn’t see the porcupine but I did hear movement at Kimberley’s adjacent window so, for no good reason, I said “hello”. Whether the porcupine, me or the neighbours got the bigger fright is hard to judge but Kimberley screamed like a girl. Being a significantly unnatural mother I still find what happened hilarious. She’d heard the porcupine and taken a sequence of pretty good photos of him. He objected on about the sixth flash and pottered off. That was when I awoke and got up. When I greeted her she said she thought the porcupine had come back. Three months later the thought of a twenty-year old thinking a porcupine came over to chat still amuses me.

Thereafter I put out cabbage leaves, a sweet potato and whatever else I thought might catch his interest. The first leaf was eaten but subsequent offerings were spurned. Then one night, right out of the blue, I heard munching and shredding and managed to open my window without chasing him away. Had I been able to lean out without landing on my head I would have been close to touching him. He stayed for another five minutes or so and we haven’t seen him since.

When it comes to wild animals, time spent in human company is undoubtedly a case of tolerance more than choice, but these are occasions I cherish.

*Google away : I wasn’t the first to think up the word but consider myself an early adopter.


Responsible Use of Third Party Information

[Published in the OSALL newsletter of May 2013]

When it comes to growing old, gracefully or otherwise, Mick Jagger remains among those who just don’t seem to submit to the process at all. Looking at others like Bon Jovi and Steven Tyler seems to imply a link to the music industry but this theory is short-lived :  had I attempted a musical career my life expectancy would have instantly assumed a span measured in minutes rather than decades. As I come from a line of musicians, my paternal grandmother and I being the notable exceptions, we look to the one-formerly-known-as-the-Teen to solve the mystery. She is pursuing a career in genetics and science may answer the conundrum where family despair and introspection have failed. At six years of age, showing a maturity beyond my years, I abandoned any attempts to guide me into this field ; to be honest, it had more to do with a horror of making adults cry again than maturity. Well, adults to whom I am related : seeing my music teacher reduced to a similar state not too long afterwards had a strong element of satisfaction as she was the one who’d insisted I take my turn at singing in front of the class despite my justified modesty.

Returning to Jagger, it was with interest that I read he has taken to Twitter in a truly brilliant interaction with fans1. Although next month marks the Glastonberry festival ‘s forty-third year and,  for those of us who don’t mos[s] remember their early days, the Rolling-Stones have been around for fifty-one years, this is the first time the twain shall meet. In a move that allowed input from anyone who cared to make it, Jagger asked his 450 000 Twitter followers for suggestions in compiling the set list for the festival. This coupled with the news that he and his family intend to join the campers should do magical things to the attendance figures.

Another magical figure : Twitter handles four hundred million messages a day. New security measures were implemented in April in light of recent high-profile hacking of media accounts in particular (an example : the compromised Associated Press account tweeted about an explosion at the White House, which piece of misinformation impacted even on financial markets) 2. Users now have access to an optional “login verification” service. Browsers require users to enter a six-digit identification code ; those accessing the service via PCs and smartphones use an auto-generated temporary password. This hasn’t reduced the importance of secure passwords and obviously cannot be a deterrent if a device itself is hacked : whoever controls the device controls the account.

Another social media service that has made significant changes in recent weeks is LinkedIn3. It has updated its user privacy policy, partly to explain the way it collects and uses personal data. One of the features to be aware of is LinkedIn Contacts which interacts between contacts on a device and those on LinkedIn : think carefully of what information you may be making accessible to others. WebTechLaw director Paul Jacobson cautions anyone who uses LinkedIn to be aware of the implications of the indemnification clause in the user agreement. Even closing your account may not undo past decisions to submit personal information of third parties ; as Jacobson says “LinkedIn reserves the right to retain data after you have closed your account . . . you should factor this into your planning when you share information”.

I wasn’t aware that LinkedIn and Facebook are the only two “pure-play social sites” to be publicly listed4. In the year since it was Listed, Facebook’s share price has halved. It is perceived to have a limited life span and there has been a negative response to advertising content in news feeds. It seems to have been unprepared to make money from its shift to mobile. On the other hand, LinkedIn’s per share profit is higher. Chris Gilmour, Absa Investments analyst, says its business orientation gives it “a tangible reason for existing”. All is not lost for Facebook though as Goldman Sachs is expecting it to double its revenue by 2015.

Do you geddit? I don’t yet but the more I read about reddit the more I wonder why I haven’t already been tempted through its portals. Reddit describes itself5 as “a type of online community where users vote on content” ; “anyone can create a community (called “subreddits”). Each subreddit is independent and moderated by a team of volunteers” ; “comments can be posted on every story on reddit. Comments add information, content and humour”. Its blog6 is even more illuminating : “reddit is not a single community ; it’s an engine for creating communities”. It adds “reddit is proof that everyone’s contributions, from creating a community to simply clicking a vote button, can have a massive effect”. In case you too wondered : an answer to the faq “what does the name “reddit” mean?7 It’s (sort of) a play on words – ie, “I read it on reddit” “.

Reddit has been in the spotlight a couple of times in the last month or three. It started when someone wondered if an image on Google Earth taken near his home showed a murder scene. The picture of a trail of water leading along a jetty was examined in minute detail by self-appointed sleuths around the world via reddit ; it was eventually establisheded that the wet trail was left by a golden retriever who loved jumping into the water and running back to repeat the exercise rather than a body being dragged along the jetty8, 9.

An item on the CBS News website10 says “crowdsourcing in the Internet age has taken the public’s involvement in solving crimes to a new level”. The Reddit Bureau of Investigation started in 2012 “to use the power of reddit to solve crimes/mysteries and catch criminals”. A recent count indicated 11 133 subscribers and 775 unique threads11.

Although one of reddit’s few rules states “witch hunts and the posting of personal information are forbidden”, the repercussions following the explosions at the Boston Marathon highlight the downside of unreserved public  input. Speculation about the identity of likely suspects abounded. As it happened reddit users did not alight on the individual/s whom the authorities identified in due course but it seems innocent people were implicated with tragic results in at least one case. This lead to the general manager of reddit, Erik Martin, issuing an apology for the unintended consequences of the use of the service.

Putting the matter in perspective, reporter and crime novelist James Renner says : “it’s not a reddit problem. It’s a public perception problem. Readers need to understand that this is part of the process of reporting and not to attach stigmas on the people identified in the posts” 12.

Law enforcement agencies are benefitting from this application of social media : we read frequently of people being traced when they post photos of their cars, homes, illegally acquired possessions or environment on social media sites. Posts have also provided evidence in cases of cyberbullying.

The use and abuse of information is nothing new but it would be prudent to think thrice before submitting personal information pertaining either to yourself or a third party, after which you have no control of its application.

Until the next column, I’ll continue applying myself to non-musical hobbies and keep an eye out for Google Earth’s eyes in the sky.

1 Jagger tweets to ensure fans get full satisfaction. Daily Telegraph on Times Live. 24 May 2013
Twitter beefs up security. Reuters on ITWeb. 23 May 2013
Read carefully before you get LinkedIn. Christine Greyvenstein. ITWeb. 16 May 2013
LinkedIn’s star rising past Facebook. Nicola Mawson. ITWeb. 23 May 2013
5 reddit. About
6 How reddit works. Blog.reddit
7 reddit. Faq
8 Google Maps ‘murder scene’ in Almere, Netherlands is water trail from golden retriever. Sara C Nelson. The Huffington Post. 18 April 2013
9 Google Maps ‘murder scene’? Reddit users debate Almere, Netherlands picture. The Huffington Post. 13 April 2013
10 Boston Marathon bombing “crowdsourcing” : how citizens are using the Internet to help solve crimes. Casey Glynn. CBS News. 21 May 2013
11 The Internet is actually surprisingly good at fighting crime. Tim Murphy. Mother Jones. 26 April 2013
12 [Update] Boston Marathon bombing investigation attracts amateur reddit sleuths. Gothamist. 17 April 2013
13 Using social web sites to solve crimes. Red Orbit. 20 April 2013
14 20 infamous crimes committed and solved on Facebook. Alissa Skelton. Mashable. 1 March 2012
15 5 awesome vigilantes who solved crimes better than the cops. Juan Arteaga and Tracy V. Cracked. 26 November 2012

Mary Bruce

Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.



With Kimberley at The Great Gatsby. 31 May 2013

So many of the local events that interest me happen within a short time span at this time of year : Art in the Park, the Comrades Marathon, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s Concert in the Park and, in years gone by, the [Royal] Agricultural Show.

My interest in the Comrades Marathon has largely to do with the fact that I more or less grew up along the route, starting in Botha’s Hill as a child, being down the road and around the corner at Inchanga, living across the road from the finish in Pietermaritzburg soon after we married, and now living within groaning distance of Polly Shortts. For a couple of years we travelled the route between Drummond and Cato Ridge twice daily in a school bus. TV coverage gives me a glimpse of numerous old haunts in one brief orgy of nostalgia.

‘The Show’ goes on but I have missed more than I’ve attended in recent years. The lustre would inevitably have waned as I was still well entrenched in junior school when we first started going to it. As a young adult there was something to prove in frightening oneself senseless at the amusement park but, for some time now, if I have to entertain onlookers I would rather it be by the manifestation of the inward workings of my head than the outer. Interest increased again after Kimberley’s birth as one can never tire of seeing the wonderment in a tiny person’s face as they absorb new sights and sounds. Once she grew big enough to go with her friends I missed many years. Then, right out of the blue, a few months ago she asked if I would accompany her this year : her studies are likely to see her relocate in the new year. One of her special requests was that we acquire donuts from the Dodo’s stand. They had been a family tradition since Kimberley was small which will be no surprise to many Maritzburgers. Others included chocolate fudge from the Fudge Lady and, later on, beer from the Foaming Tankard. The first two requisites were easily met but the Foaming Tankard has gone the way of many landmarks. The site is now incorporated into the fairground. We took a shortcut along this route and only a few minutes after we emerged I saw three paramedics weaving their way quickly through the crowds back the way we had come. One could see from their faces that it wasn’t a routine stroll but we only heard shortly after arriving home that a five year old boy had died on one of the rides minutes after we’d passed. Ironically, one of the Show’s few other fatalities (Chuchin the tightrope artist) had fallen to his death in the arena less than a hundred metres away two days after we’d marvelled at his performance in 1984.

The day after going to the Show Kimberley and I went to see DiCaprio’s The Great Gatsby together. It had been prescribed reading for both of us in our matric years, albeit thirty-two years apart. Kimberley took the photo above while we waited for the movie to begin. Being more familiar with the earlier version starring Robert Redford, it took me a while to get past the distraction of the 3D format, but on the whole I think I absorbed more from the recent remake.

However I occupy myself once she leaves home, it isn’t going to be the same. I suppose that’s what circles are about. Hopefully Dodo’s donuts will  not go the way of their namesake and one day we will be able to incorporate the following generation into the tradition.