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I Can Do Anything Better Than You!

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to drop into the conversation the fact that you attended the “University of the Witwatersrand”?

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For some reason, I have the song “Anything you can do I can do better” from the movie Annie Get Your Gun starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel rattling around my poor old noggin.  
Possibly this was because I just watched the video of one of my chums, Jaime Villela, interviewing another of my pals, Aubrey Kagan (see Engineering Around the World: Aubrey Kagan). I’m sure he doesn’t intend to, but Aubrey always manages to “go one better” in almost any endeavor. If I tell him I just read a book by a certain author, for example, Aubrey will respond that he’s read all of the books by that author and then add that he and the author are close personal friends and are planning a skiing holiday together. If I dare make note of an interesting algorithm I once implemented in Excel, Aubrey will casually mention that he wrote the book on using Excel for electronics engineers — literally: Excel by Example: A Microsoft Excel Cookbook for Electronics Engineers. Let’s pick a topic at random. If I drop into the conversation the fact that I once had an interesting experience in a mine, for example, Aubrey will tell the tale of his working in the deepest mine in Africa, as part of which he found the time to create a subterranean radio system that allowed miners in the depths of the abyss to communicate with their compatriots on the surface (see Creating an Underground Vehicle Monitor for Mining). Should I foolishly drop into the conversation that I once had occasion to visit a museum in an obscure city in a little known country, it will turn out that Aubrey was there before me and somehow managed to find the time to visit all of the museums and art galleries and sites of interest (see My 10 Most Memorable Touring Spots as an Engineer). I grew up in the wilds of Yorkshire, which is in the rugged north of England. The people in the soft south of England have maps that reflect their part of the country in fanatical detail while showing little above an area known as the Watford Gap except for the words, “Beware, here be dragons!” To be fair, we have similar maps in the north annotated with the warning, “Beware, here be wusses” in the area below the Watford Gap. I had a hard life as a student. I had to take two busses to get to the university from my flat. Of course, Aubrey can top that, because he was born and raised in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe), but the university there didn’t offer an engineering course, so he took his Bachelor’s degree in engineering at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology). Aubrey was in the process of completing his Bachelor’s and planning on taking his Master’s in business administration when the Yom Kippur war broke out between a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria against Israel. This threw a bit of a spanner into the works, as wars tend to do. Since Rhodesia was in the middle of its own civil war by this time, Aubrey ended up at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, which is the largest city in South Africa, classified as a megacity, and is one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. I used to like the sound of “Sheffield Hallam University” where I took my own degree, but now I think it would be really cool to be able to say that one attended the “University of the Witwatersrand.” Did I mention that I had to take two busses to get to the university from my flat? I don’t want to dwell on this, but sometimes it was cold, windy, foggy, overcast, and raining (thankfully, that was only in the summer). Everybody has a story to tell. Aubrey has more than most. In addition to being incredibly interesting, he’s also a jolly nice guy, so I really recommend that you watch the Jaime-Aubrey Video Interview and then tell me what you think.

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What! no tales of having to walk 2 miles through three feet of snow in a blizzard to get to school? That’s what my grandmother claimed. Given where and when she grew up, I suspect that the tales were only slightly exaggerated.

Aubrey Kagan

At the risk of proving Max’s point about my one-upmanship…

Back in the mists of time part of a project I was working on in Swaziland (now Eswatini) (told in “Think before you leap“) involved placing some equipment to measure a river depth. To get to the stilling well you had to wander through some rivulets keeping an eye out for crocodiles. Indeed we did see one, but at a safe distance.

Aubrey Kagan

And I forgot to mention the threat of Malaria! We had to take pills that made you feel awful and sleep with mosquito nets over the bed.

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