Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Many versions of the truth in Israel Gaza conflict

In any conflict situation there are many sides to the story. In the case of the current conflict in Gaza there is the Israeli version, there is the Hamas version and there are many shades in between. News reports have been accused of being one-sided by both sides. Palestinian sympathisers accuse the media of harbouring an Israeli bias. Israeli supporters have detected an anti-Israeli slant.

It is evident that the events are tragic. People are suffering and dying. The results are in fact not that different from the results of the US attack on Iraq or the UN sponsored attack on Afghanistan that preceded it. Acts of war do have the terrible consequence of loss of life.

What is behind the conflict? Israel decided to withdraw from Gaza three years ago. This was a first step in the move towards a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas gained the ascendancy in Gaza. They do not recognise Israel and saw the Israeli withdrawal in a sinister light.

Since then, Gaza has been used as a launching pad for missiles that are fired daily across the border into Israel. A little over six months ago a truce was called between Hamas – the government of Gaza – and Israel. Missile attacks continued though not by Hamas. Hamas did not attempt to stop these attacks. As a response to the continued missile attacks, Israel blockaded Gaza at various times preventing the movement of people and goods.

Through all of this many Gaza residents suffered the consequences of a siege economy.

Hamas announced that they would not be extending the truce after the six months were over. Missile attacks into Israel continued and increased.

The Israeli government eventually decided that the situation was intolerable. Four days ago, Israel began air attacks on Hamas targets. These are located in densely populated residential areas. Tunnels used for smuggling weapons and food have been attacked. There has been heavy loss of life.

The world has been presented with a picture of Israeli aggression, attacking civilian targets, and Hamas ‘responding’ by firing more missiles. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas has stated that Hamas could have avoided the situation by stopping the missile attacks.

The US launched an attack on Afghanistan following the 9/11 Twin Tower attack. There was great loss of life and seven years later the conflict continues. Soon after, Iraq was attacked under the false premise that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The loss of life has been huge and the conflict continues.

Israel’s attack on Gaza is small by comparison. The loss of life is tragic, but cannot be compared to the recent Western acts of war. Yet Israel is seen as the villain, ruthlessly attacking a helpless population. Many supporters of the Iraq invasion are outraged at the Israeli action.

How would the UK respond to daily missile attacks from France or vice versa?

Indeed, it seems that there are many versions of the truth.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Should I buy a home now or wait?

The economic crisis sweeping the globe has prompted many into selling their equities and postponing the decision to buy a home. Warren Buffet has recently stated that now is the time to buy. He has the means to buy anything that he wants and is active on the bargain trail. With markets of all sorts lower than they have been for years, now is the time to pick up bargains. If you are able to buy a home now, there has never been a better time. Once the recovery begins, home prices are likely to rise rapidly. A lot of people will be lamenting the fact that they didn't buy in 2008 when prices were low. There is no doubt that the economic crisis will end. The only question is when.

It doesn't really matter when you buy a home. The long term returns will make up for the difference in the purchase price. John Carpol bought a home in a good location in 1987 for $76,000. The market had just started rising and within a year the value had doubled. By 1993 the house was worth about $350,000. Another property slump followed, and for the next few years the value hovered between $250,000 to $300,000. In early 2001 prices began rising quite steeply and the value of the home quickly rose to $1,500,000. Once again prices have dropped by about 20%. But the return on the original $7,600 investment (the deposit) has been phenomenal - even at current low prices.

The property market is cyclical. Prices of homes rise and fall. After many years of booming property prices the latest drop has been triggered by a number of events in the wider economy. In spite of the cyclical nature of house prices, the long term trend is always up. Property is seen as a long term investment where the return on investment can be very significant.

The current downturn has transformed the property market from a "sellers' market" to a "buyers' market". Under booming conditions, home sellers have the option of holding out for the best price. In a buyers' market, the buyer has a distinct advantage and is often in a strong position to negotiate more favourable terms.

The problem is to identify when the market has bottomed out, and once the next property boom begins (as it inevitably will) the waiters once again be taken by surprise. Home prices have become more affordable than they have been for many years. Under these conditions, many wait before taking the plunge. People do not want to pay more than is necessary for a house and believe that by waiting they may be able to get a better deal.

The mainproblem with waiting is that the only way to know when the market has bottomed out is when prices begin rising. Once the market turns around, prices can increase very quickly and you could end up paying much more than under current market conditions.

From my experience of previous home price cycles I have learned that the best time to buy is during a falling market. I was working as an estate agent in Johannesburg in 1979. Home prices were low, and a general pessimistic outlook led many people to wait and see. About midway through the year, the climate changed. Home prices began rising by the day. A strong sellers' market emerged and there was strong competition amongst buyers! By the end of the year prices had more than doubled. Many of those that waited ended up paying much more.

It is important to remember that you are not buying a house, but a home. Your home is your castle. It is a place where you centre your life and raise a family. A home that you buy is yours to keep. You are free to change, improve or even rebuild it.

Renting is a poor alternative. Rents have a tendency to increase annually and sooner or later the owner of the property will want to sell or move in. Any money spent on renting is gone forever, while money paid into a home loan increases your equity in the property.

The main criteria in the buying decision should be you and your family's needs. The best time for newly-weds to buy is when they begin their new life together. If you are expanding your family and need additional accommodation, or looking to down-size for a retirement home then now is the ideal time. The only constraint is affordability. Are the mortgage repayments affordable? Will you still be able to cover the payments if interest rates rise?

The property market is still falling. This provides leverage for the buyer in any property negotiations. The seller knows this and you should be able to buy the house of your dreams for a song. Waiting may put you in line for even bigger bargains, but you may just miss the boat.

Buying a home is an investment, but the main value lies in the use that you will get from it. Investment value is only realised when you sell. But as the value of your home increases you may be able to use some of the equity in your home. The investment aspect of buying a home should be a secondary and not the primary reason for buying. If buying for investment purposes, then a second or third home are good options. Don't expect a quick profit under current market conditions. The down-turn could last anything from six months to five years or more.

Buy now. Prices may still drop, but over the long term you cannot lose. In the short term who knows when the market will turn-around making property expensive again?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Stuck in traffic

The traffic on the way home from the office last Wednesday came as quite a shock. Just one kilo meter from the highway but little movement. Over an hour later I reached the highway and travelled the remaining 20 KM in about 10 minutes.

I took the opportunity to photograph night scenes and stormy weather. The change in available light over that time was quite dramatic.

All pictures were taken with the Nokia N95. While the camera may have its limitations, it performed remarkably well using available light.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

How currency rates are determined

There was a time not so long ago when currencies were linked to gold. A typical bank note would say "I promise to pay the bearer the sum of $100 in Gold" or words to that effect.

All currencies were fixed in relation to other currencies and in relation to gold. Only central banks or governments were able to change the exchange rates between two currencies by means of devaluation or revaluation. Today the "gold standard" is history. Currencies themselves have no intrinsic value.

Sometime during 1970 under the guidance of market orientated economists, most Western countries decided to float their currencies. The market would determine the value of one currency against another. "Eastern Bloc" countries retained a fixed exchange rate. During the 1970's I visited the then communist Bulgaria. There were two exchange rates - one official, the other black-market.

In today's world, most currencies 'float'. The exchange rate between any two currencies fluctuates from day to day and throughout the day. The exchange rate at any point in time is determined by market forces. In countries where a fixed exchange rate is in force, a black-market for western currencies often emerges and flourishes reflecting a rate somewhat closer to the market forces.

A range of factors influence the exchange rate of any two currencies or the underlying supply and demand. These factors include:

The buying power of a currency compared to the buying power of another currency. This is known as Purchasing Power Parity or PPP. In theory, currency exchange rates fluctuate so as to achieve a state of equilibrium whereby the purchasing power of each currency become equivalent. If $2 = 1 on the foreign exchange market, then the buying power of $2 should equal the buying power of 1.

The rate of interest in each country is also important. An increase in the rate of interest in South Africa this month led to a strengthening of the local currency against the dollar. The higher interest rate makes investment in the country more attractive to foreign investors and increases demand for the currency.

The rate of inflation may affect the exchange rate. If country A has an inflation rate of 10% while country B has an inflation rate of 5%, then country A's currency should depreciate against country B's currency at 5% per annum.

The balance of payments. A current account deficit causes the central bank to hold large amounts of foreign currencies which reduces the value of the currency against that of other currencies.

The stability and strength of the economy and political situation are also important in determining the exchange rate. The currency of a country going through political turmoil will be weakened. If a country experiences a recession then its currency will also be affected.

Speculators may also play a part in influencing exchange rates especially of smaller economies where buying or selling huge volumes of the currency can have a marked if temporary impact on the rate of exchange.

None of these factors on their own determine the exchange rate. It is a complex mix of these and their effect on the perceptions of foreign exchange dealers and investors that will ultimately determine the rate.

South Africa, scenes, wildlife ...

Tuesday, 09 December 2008

Do you hate your job?

Whether you hate your job is often a question of attitude rather than because of the job itself. Work can keep us occupied for almost a third of our lives. What are you doing to yourself if you hate your job?

I am writing this from a relatively affluent point of view. Even with a downturn in the economy I still have a choice of jobs. As a consultant I have moved from one company to another over the last six years. Now I have found a company that I really like. I will stay where I am for quite a few years to come - if I have the choice.

My feelings about my job are governed by three main criteria.

The first relates to the work itself. The work must be interesting and challenging. There are times when some menial tasks have to be done. I do it. Some of these could have been given to a junior clerk, but what the heck! Simple repetitive tasks can be quite relaxing and therapeutic at times.

The second is about the people. If you find a job where you really get on with the people you have found a gem. Sometimes the work environment is like a family. You grow to care about your colleagues. You look forward to Monday mornings. If you have a psychopathic boss, then forget it! Find another job as soon as you can.

The third is about the money. Money can make a huge difference to your view of a job. If you are paid enough then almost any job becomes a pleasure to do. But for me a poorly paid job is just a non-starter. The financial stresses can outweigh the benefits of doing your ideal job.

When I was young I stopped short of following my dreams. My dream was to become a professional musician. I did show a lot of talent as a musician, but success in the music business is often dependent on other criteria. For every star there are 10,000 talented musicians battling to stay alive. SO I opted for a job in business. I have no regrets. My current view is that people must follow their dreams. If you are passionate enough, success should follow.

Very recently I have attempted to shift the focus of my career to writing. I have a number of blogs and write regularly. At the moment the earnings are enough to provide some pocket money from time to time. But the earnings are growing. My plan is to gradually increase my earnings from writing until this becomes my main source of income.

I don't hate my job. I enjoy the people, the money is adequate (but never enough!) and the work is interesting. In my spare time I write, have some academic involvement and run an occasional training course. Who could ask for anything more?

Monday, 08 December 2008

Life is a journey and not a destination

Life is a journey at times sweet and pleasant at other times bitter and hard. We are all on this journey, forever changing, forever growing forever dying. During the course of this journey there are many destinations. But each is merely a short stop signifying a new beginning.

As we travel along the journey of life we see many destinations ahead. We think in terms of destinations, of arriving at the desired stop. "When I turn 18 "; "When I get married"; "When I graduate"; "When I retire". But as we travel we discover that these are not destinations at all. They are merely events, stations where we can change the direction.

The journey begins on our arrival from the womb - perhaps earlier. This is our first destination, and the start of the journey through babyhood. We are curious and helpless, overwhelmed by the newness of it all. Gradually we grow stronger and more familiar with the people around us. We begin to crawl, utter our first words, and take our first tentative steps.

The next destination on our journey through life is toddlerhood. We have acquired more tools to use in our exploration. Life is still a journey of discovery. Knowledge and language are awakened. We continue through to the next destination of childhood. Now we begin to learn our place as social beings. Friends become important. The journey still focuses on learning through play and through school.

There is a thin line that signifies the next destination. The teenage years are the beginning of a period of self discovery, of defining out unique identity. During this part of the journey our peers and the outside world assume a much greater importance. We need to be cool - accepted and admired by our social groups. We experience the pressures of the wider society. We break away, rejecting our childhood naivety. We become risk takers, experimenting with life. This is the part of the journey where sexual awareness has begun. The next few years are dominated by the search for partners.

The journey continues to the next destination of adulthood. With school days over we enter the world of business and work. Suddenly we are able to earn our own money, make our own decisions. Perhaps we meet a life partner. We marry and live happily ever after.

The fairy tales make this part of the journey seem like the destination of life. Young people dream of marriage which will tell them that they have arrived. But arriving at this station is another turning point in our journey through life. We are now in a partnership and much is till to follow. We have become a family. This is the next destination and a start of a whole new adventure. As our babies grow and develop our journey through life continues.

We experience success and failure, joy and heartbreak. The journey never stops, not even for a moment. In the blink of an eye our children are beginning to strike out, forming their own relationships and having their own children. Suddenly we are grandparents. Yet still we do not feel old!. Now the newlyweds look like children! How can they be ready to take on this journey alone?

Gradually we get older. We approach the final destination of life, the destination from which no-one returns.

Life is a journey taking us on a rocky ride. The destinations are merely new beginnings, a new phase of the journey. There will be highs and lows, happiness and grief. But as long as we live, the journey carries on.

"Life is a journey; enjoy the ride;

be kind along the way." -Lori Carangelo


Photo: Nelson Mandela in May 2006 with my son and I.

Madiba is 90!

Quite an accomplishment.

An accomplishment for a man that spent 27 years in prison.

A man that remained true to his dreams and ideals no matter what.

A man that has the most astounding humility.

A man whose integrity has remained intact for 90 years.

Sunday, 07 December 2008

Life is a precious gift

As I barbecued a large salmon one summer evening, my bare foot happened to stand upon a bee. The bee struck out, thrusting its stinger deep into my foot. My son helped to remove the stinger and brought me an anti-histamine.

Within moments my vision began to blur. I passed out, moved in and out of a state of semi-consciousness. Hatzolla (a Jewish voluntary medical emergency organisation) arrived with an ambulance within minutes. I breathed the oxygen as I travelled the short distance to the nearest hospital. The hospital was ready and waiting. I was rushed straight through to the emergency unit. Adrenaline was pumped into my body and electrodes and other monitoring devices were attached to my body. The attending doctor monitored my progress throughout the night. My blood pressure almost disappeared. By morning I had recovered enough to return home where I continued to rest.

I didn't realise quite how close to death I was. The doctor later told me that it was touch and go. She did not know that I would survive. Without Hatzolla and my special doctor (she is now my GP) I would not be here to tell the story.

For the next few weeks my response to the standard "how are you" became "I am alive".

Life is a precious gift. It is a gift that we only get to use once. We spend time worrying about trivialities, about wrongs that we have experienced, about money. But it is only when faced with death or the death of someone close that we realise just how much life means to us. Life is sacred.

Life tends to be taken for granted. Some people reject the sacred gift and take their own lives. Others kill so as to steal the victim's money.

A number of years ago the journey to the summit of Mount Everest caught the attention of the media. Inevitably, some members of the party did not return. Other members of the expedition were not particularly upset by this. They themselves had been close to death. They had to step over bodies while ascending the mountain. Injured people were left to die as any attempt at a rescue would have jeopardised the ascent. To these adventurers reaching the summit was more important than life itself. If they care so little about their own lives, why should they care about others?

By contrast, there are numerous stories about people risking their lives to save others. Some do this on a daily basis in the line of duty in the fire service, sea rescue, the police and many others. Stories of heroism emerged following the attack on the twin towers or the tsunami that swept through Thailand taking many lives. These heroes know that life is a sacred gift. These are people that will do anything to save a life.

The Talmud teaches us that "To save one life is as if you have saved the world." Not only have you save a single life, but all the possible lives that will follow from that life.

Each life is precious. Jewish law recognises this to the extent that saving life takes precedence over all other laws.

Life is sacred. Life is a precious gift.

What kind of people use an online dating site?

Visions of all sorts of dangerous characters come to mind when pondering the using on line dating services to find your ideal partner. What about stalkers, weirdoes, scammers and midnight ramblers? And of course, how do you select the right online dating website?

If the truth be known, then the chances are that you will come across some undesirables. Just as you do in everyday life. Some strange characters. Those that are looking only for sex – and they make it obvious. Couples seeking new adventures. There are some are unpleasant. Some seem to have very little brain.

These can effectively be avoided. You can block anyone that you do not want to talk to and report those that are abusing the system.

But visit a dating site and you’ll find a lot of normal people of all ages, cultures, religions and nationalities.

When I was young (a very long time ago indeed!) a dating club was something that you kept very much to yourself. Not something that you advertised!

Today online dating has become mainstream. Dating sites are a prime way to meet others, and to some a way of life. Clubs and bars don’t work for everyone. Online dating opens a whole range of possibilities!

When playing in the online dating arena it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules. Before responding to someone, check out their profile. Don’t simply rely on a photograph. A 23 year old stunner looking for a man of 30 to 80 years could well be suspect. If a member’s profile has little or no information then treat it with caution. Use your common-sense on this platform to meet the right people! In general, don’t travel across continents or send money to cover air fares to meet your dream partner. Especially as it is someone that you know very little about!

With over half a million members worldwide, DatingBuzz is a great way to meet your ideal match. Just follow the link below!

Visions of all sorts of dangerous characters come to mind when pondering the using on line dating services to find your ideal partner. What about stalkers, weirdoes, scammers and midnight ramblers? And of course, how do you select the right online dating website?

If the truth be known, then the chances are that you will come across some undesirables. Just as you do in everyday life. Some strange characters. Those that are looking only for sex – and they make it obvious. Couples seeking new adventures. There are some are unpleasant. Some seem to have very little brain.

These can effectively be avoided. You can block anyone that you do not want to talk to and report those that are abusing the system.

But visit a dating site and you’ll find a lot of normal people of all ages, cultures, religions and nationalities.

When I was young (a very long time ago indeed!) a dating club was something that you kept very much to yourself. Not something that you advertised!

Today online dating has become mainstream. Dating sites are a prime way to meet others, and to some a way of life. Clubs and bars don’t work for everyone. Online dating opens a whole range of possibilities!

When playing in the online dating arena it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules. Before responding to someone, check out their profile. Don’t simply rely on a photograph. A 23 year old stunner looking for a man of 30 to 80 years could well be suspect. If a member’s profile has little or no information then treat it with caution. Use your common-sense on this platform to meet the right people! In general, don’t travel across continents or send money to cover air fares to meet your dream partner. Especially as it is someone that you know very little about!

With over half a million members worldwide, DatingBuzz is a great way to meet your ideal match. Just follow the link below!

Meet your ideal match at
- Free Membership, Free Matching, Free Photo Upload. Join today!

Friday, 05 December 2008

It's all in the mind - Where is the real world?

To some, reality only exists in our mind's eye. Reality only exists in our consciousness. For millennia people have tried to understand the nature of reality. Newtonian physics describes a world where the laws of nature govern a rather straightforward and real world. Does an objective reality exist, or is reality something that is created through our perceptions of the world around us?

Schrdinger's cat is a classic and rather misleading illustration that reality does not exist until observed. A cat is placed into a sealed box. Inside the box is a vial of deadly gas that will be released if a random quantum event occurs. The quantum event is the decay of an isotope. Until the box is opened there is no way of knowing if the cat is dead or alive. The cat is therefore in an indeterminate quantum state. It is simultaneously dead and alive. When the box is opened the cat is either alive or dead.

The argument that there is no reality without consciousness has been attributed to quantum physics.

Schrdinger used this example as a critique of the theory of quantum states. In reality the cat dies when the random event occurs even if we are not aware of the event. To the cat, the random event is very real.

Substitute the cat for a person. Is the person simultaneously alive and dead?

Quantum physics has produced a rather new and bizarre view of the world. The world works in ways that are far more complex than ever imagined. Ayn Rand put it quite succinctly when he distinguished between the "primacy of consciousness" against the "primacy of things".

Many attribute the "it's all in the mind" philosophy to quantum physics. But some prominent scientists dispute this interpretation. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is perhaps the source of this misconception. The principle states that "quantum phenomena have no definite values until they are observed". Simply interpreted, every quantum object has an indefinite value until it is observed and measured. Therefore reality is an illusion. Or is it?

The question is one of interpretation. The use of the word 'observe' is more than a little misleading. It is intended to refer to the interactions of one quantum phenomena to another. In other words, an object has an indefinite value until it interacts with another object. Whether we observe it or not is hardly relevant.

So even in quantum physics there is space for an objective reality that exists independently of us. Whether we observe a stream gushing forth from the earth it will continue on its course.

Our perceptions of the world may conflict with the underlying reality. People bring their own learning and understanding to every event and to every place. Contrary to popular opinion, quantum physics has illustrated that objective reality is dramatically different from the perceived reality that we experience from day to day. Our consciousness perceives and interprets reality. Our conscious perception of reality can vary from time to time according to our mental state. The reality of quantum physics is not the reality of our perceptions.

Perceptions change over time. Perceptions change according to our age. When we are happy reality seems very different to when we are sad or distressed. Drugs such as LSD can alter our perception of the world. LSD affects the perception of time and space in quite a profound way. Reality has not changed, merely its perception. Perceptions may alter our personal reality, but outside of our perceptions is an objective reality.

Could you meet your ideal match through on-line dating services?

Living in London in the early 70s, one friend always arrived at parties and other events with a different – and usually very attractive – date. Although perfectly presentable, he was neither particularly good-looking nor rich. What was his secret? The rest of us showed-up and hoped for the best. It was a long time before we discovered his closely guarded secret. He had been advertising in the personal columns of the Evening Standard – something that had never occurred to the rest of us. Today, the online dating industry has largely replaced the classified adverts and dating services of the past. Gone is the stigma. People that use online dating services are generally quite open about it.

Online dating services have grown rapidly over the last few years. Social networking sites such as Face Book and My Space are mainly geared for people to stay in touch. When it comes to meeting new partners online dating sites offer a specifically targeted service. Members of the sites range in age from eighteen to a hundred. They span every culture and religion.

At a recent wedding - of an attractive couple in their twenties - the groom spoke about how he and his bride had met through an Internet dating site called Dating Buzz! A middle-aged divorced friend and colleague met his second wife in the same way. The system works! He met a number of women through the sight and it wasn't long before he got hitched.

Meet your ideal match at
- Free Membership, Free Matching, Free Photo Upload. Join today!

Bars, clubs and social events do work for many, but not for everyone. Casting the net wider seems to be one of the answers. Some people are just not keen to spend their evenings in bars in the hope of meeting and clubs provide a poor meeting environment. Online dating is an alternative. Men and women looking to meet each other are there on a large scale – it really can open the doors! Dating Buzz is a South African company that has spread its wings and is now active in all four corners of the globe. Their membership grows daily, so there are literally thousands to choose from. Success stories abound.

"But what about the dangers?" I hear you say. "We hear about people misrepresenting themselves on the Internet all the time. Is it safe?"

The answer is that it is as safe as meeting through any venue. Follow a strategy that allows you to know as much about a person before taking the contact any further. The sites allow you to block anyone that you don't trust. Use it. Check the other person's profile. If it is empty ask why. If there are too many blanks, treat it with caution!

If you are looking to meet, why not give it a try? Click on the convenient link provided to the right. And please let us know if it works for you!

Thursday, 04 December 2008

Business strategy versus tactics

Business strategy has its origins in military thinking. In his classic The Art of War written over 2000 years ago, Sun Tzu states that "Strategy is the great Work of the organisation. In situations of life or death, it is the Tao of survival or extinction. Its study cannot be neglected." Definitions of strategy abound, but as a general rule, business strategy can be seen as long term, based on an understanding of the environment and an understanding of the business organisation or self-knowledge. Tactics on the other hand relate to short term actions to gain an advantage.

Wordweb defines strategy as "An elaborate and systematic plan of action" or "The branch of military science dealing with military command and the planning and conduct of a war". Tactics is defined as "The branch of military science dealing with detailed manoeuvres to achieve objectives set by strategy" or "A plan for attaining a particular goal".

The first distinction is therefore one of duration. Strategy is long term. Tactics comprise the actions taken to achieve strategic objectives. A company may have a strategic objective to become the largest player in the market. A price war is a tactic that may be employed to help achieve this objective.

Strategy relates to an organisations direction. Tactics relate more to operational goals. A company's marketing strategy defines the way it wants to be seen in the market-place. The specific marketing campaigns are tactical in nature.

Every chess player understands the difference between strategy and tactics. Chess strategy governs the way the entire game is played. The player may want to dominate the centre of the board, dividing the opponents men, or may wish to surround the opposition. Tactical play involves the individual manoeuvres that help to achieve the strategy. Chess tactics are a series of 'tricks' that the chess master has stored to surprise the opponent, to gain a material advantage and to advance his strategic objectives.

A company's strategic objectives could focus on which market segment it wishes to serve. A designer clothing store could be aimed at the super rich, while a chain of burger bars attempts to maximise turnover by keeping costs down. In each of these cases the businesses may follow a series of actions or tactical manoeuvres to assist it to achieve these objectives. The clothing store may buy an established exclusive store to help provide the right status. The burger bar could embark on a simple but aggressive competitive strategy aimed at undercutting the rest of the market. Tactics may include a price war or buying out the competition.

Business strategy involves identifying what a company wants to achieve, how and when. The pursuit of these strategic objectives may involve a series of tactical manoeuvres, each of which is aimed to bring the business closer to achieving its goals.

Wednesday, 03 December 2008

Business strategy: planning and managing change

Business strategy represents a company's the long term objectives. Strategic planning is carried out to plan for the medium to long term after conducting an in depth analysis of the competitive environment, opportunities and threats and the competencies found within the organisation.

Strategic change may become necessary because of changing market conditions or changes to the competitive environment. Technological changes and the company's fortunes may also provide the reason for change. Sometimes dramatic change is indicated simply to stay in business.

The new business strategy may have far reaching results. A change in strategic direction can result in profound changes to the organisation.

The effects of these changes will vary depending on the process used to formulate strategy. These approaches include a top-down approach, a bottom-up approach or an inclusive process that involves stakeholders at all levels of the organisation. Some companies carry out major strategic planning sessions annually while others see strategy as part of an emergent process.

Change is often the most difficult task that an organisation has to experience. The new strategy defines a different focus for the business, and almost all aspects of the business have to change.

A food manufacturing company had always focused its business on milling and baking. A massive distribution network has developed to support this. Large vehicles laden with goods are dispatched to almost all of the countries food distributers at least once and in some cases twice or three times a day. Why not use the spare capacity to distribute other goods and services?

While retaining its manufacturing capability, the focus changed to exploiting the distribution capability and employing a range of innovative marketing techniques. The entire manufacturing process was transformed to produce what is required when it is required.

The change required throughout the organisation was huge. Almost everyone, from drivers to warehousemen, financial and accounting staff, the sales team and management were faced with the prospect of doing their jobs very differently. How was this managed?

Management chose an inclusive model adopted by the organisation was of an inclusive management style. Everyone in the company became involved in redesigning how the tasks required would be accomplished. The business had been losing money and the entire staff knew that change was desperately needed for the company to stay afloat. Managing change became everyone's responsibility. Each staff member was empowered to take the initiative to find new and innovative ways to achieve his or her objectives.

A prominent oil company managed to open the lines of communication from the workers on the ground through to senior management. Many innovative ideas originated at ground level to increase profits, reduce cost and improve quality. When using bottom-up strategy formulation, change management becomes simpler. Most employees want the change. They initiated the change themselves and are aware of the benefits for themselves and for the organisation.

A top-down model of implementing strategy required a much greater degree of effort to manage the change itself. Employees are often worried about losing their jobs and even of being moved outside of their comfort zone. Change has to be planned. Change consultants may be needed to help the employees manage the transition. Implementation may initially cause a loss of morale and a temporary drop in production. This is to be expected. Strategic management require an awareness of the issues involved and must plan to manage the transitional period effectively to ensure the long term success of the new strategy.

The basics of conflict management

Conflict in the workplace is almost inevitable. Whenever you put a bunch of people together and put them under pressure there is likely to be conflict.

Colleagues working in a team may disagree about how a specific job should be done. Each has his or her own ideas and their pride won't allow either to make a concession. Conflict can arise where a dominant employee does not give others a chance to contribute to discussions. Conflict may arise between a department and the finance committee when the department is forced to cut the budget. Conflict may arise over political issues the distribution of power and promotions.

Conflict management is very important in ensuring a productive and effective workplace. The methods used to manage conflict may vary depending on the type of conflict that has arisen.

The history of the world has shown that problems are rarely solved though war. As a rule, both sides lose. The same principal may apply in the workplace. Where conflict arises in meetings or between team players over the way forward good facilitation skills are required.

The first step in most situations is to hear both sides out. Good call-centre consultants know this. An irate customer can be calmed quite effectively by listening to what he or she has to say and asking probing questions. The workplace is no different. Listen to what each party has to say. Do not allow interruptions. Ask probing questions. Often this will be enough to calm the situation and enable work to go on. At other times it may be necessary to assist the parties to find a compromise solution or you may have to take a decision.

Violence should never be tolerated at the workplace. Violence is more likely to occur when alcohol has played a part. Violence at work should not be tolerated at all. Even the most minor use of violence must be taken seriously and disciplinary action must follow.

Conflict over a promotion is a problem that cannot be solved that easily. Joe believes that he should have had the Mary's promotion. He is resentful and uncooperative. Again the best treatment may be to hear him out. Allow him to vent his frustration and air his views. While you do not have to justify a promotion decision, you have the option of explaining the reasons behind the decision. Secrecy helps to foster an atmosphere of mistrust and can increase the conflict. An open discussion as to why Joe missed out on the promotion may resolve the situation.

Winston Churchill's famous quote that "it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war" applies equally to the workplace. Most situations can be resolved by talking. Listening skills are required combined with the ability to probe.

The importance of communication skills in business

How often does your interaction with a company's call centre drive you to the opposition? Communication skills are crucial at every level of a business.

Every business has to communicate at various levels.

First is communication between the business and the outside world. Communication with clients is arguable one of the keys to staying in business. Without clients the business may cease to exist. Unless your business is a monopoly where your clients are captives, you have to be able to communicate with clients. Communication begins with your marketing. Marketing is a form of communication where you present your business to the world in a certain light.

The next level of client communication is through the sales force. Your sales force must be able to represent your products and company image accurately to potential clients. A failure on the sales front can cause irreparable damage to the business.

Many companies fail on the third level of client communication. Support for the products and product failures. Little time and effort is invested in the call centre where consultants are all too often under-trained and incompetent. The call-centre is the businesses communication to the world. A good call centre consultant is able to retain a client even where past service has been bad. A bad consultant can lose almost any client!

Also in the realm of communication with the outside world is communication with stakeholders, other businesses and the media. These areas of communication are crucial. Appropriate communication skills are required to represent the company to the world through the media. Stakeholders may include shareholders, government and other interested parties.

From time to time it may be necessary to use other business to provide services for the company. In a typical scenario, a firm of consultants is brought in to achieve specific objectives. Three years and many millions of dollars later, the consultants are removed in disgrace. The failure is often one of communication. The consulting firm is brought in and left to intuit the requirements. The actual objectives are not communicated to the company and the executive never have time to meet the consultants. Proper communication includes carefully specifying the requirements and discussing the expected outcomes. Lines of communication must be open to manage the project effectively.

Internal communication plays as important a role in running an effective business. The most important principles here are the ability to communicate requirements effectively and accurately. Lines of communication must be open. Secrecy is the enemy of effective communication and may lead to misunderstandings and mistrust.

Effective communication skills are required at all levels. These include both oral and written communication skills. Presentations must be clear and to the point. A skilled negotiator is able to listen effectively. Reports should be concise, accurate and readable. Errors and failures of an organisation are often the result of miss-communication, or even the total absence of communication. When it comes to the business's window to the world the call centre ensure that the consultants are able to communicate. They must be able to listen, and their responses should be backed by genuine knowledge.

Will the real estate market rebound soon?

The real estate market world-wide is going through one of the worst slumps in living memory. Like all markets, the real estate market is cyclical and naturally goes through cycles of boom and slump. The current environment is more serious than many of the slumps of the past. The global financial crisis and credit crunch has had a dramatic impact on the value of homes. The real estate market is unlikely to rebound soon. A recovery will only occur once the global financial crisis starts showing signs of being solved.

The crisis began with free flowing credit being issued against overvalued properties. Many of the borrowers were unable to afford these loans and defaults began to occur. At the time of writing, November 2008, the world's economies are experiencing a major down-turn. Europe is officially in recession. The harsh economic reality of a down-turn or recession means that less money is available to finance property investment. Home owners are feeling the pinch.

In this climate, most people are simply trying to hold onto what they have rather than invest in something new. Those that have lost their homes are unlikely to re-enter the market in the near future.

The banks themselves have now taken a more conservative approach to issuing credit. Obtaining credit for a home loan is suddenly not easy. Banks have been hard hit through poor investment strategies. What seemed like a good investment little over a year ago now appears risky. Billions of dollars have been lost. Many banks around the world owe their survival to government bail-outs.

The effects of the banking investment disaster affected not only the banks. Other banks and financial service business may still follow. Banks that seem to be above water now could be swamped tomorrow. Governments are using taxpayers' money to finance rescue plans. That money has to come from somewhere meaning that vast sums have moved out of the economy.

A recession or a downturn means that unemployment is set to increase. More people will be walking the streets in search of work. Wages and salaries are likely to fall in real terms and the total value of the economy - the gross national product - is bound to fall.

What all this means is that there is less money available for people to spend on property. As long as the crisis continues to deepen the hope of an early real estate market recovery is in vain. A rebound will happen once the recession has bottomed out and the world's markets and economies begin to show signs of stability. The property market recovery may lead the broader economy towards recovery. No-one knows how long that will take.

In the meantime you may buy as many bargains as you can, but be prepared for a long wait before turning in a profit.

Tuesday, 02 December 2008

Wildlife on campus

This must be one of the most ideal settings for a working environment. This is just some of the wildlife that wonder around the property.

The birds and buck keep their distance but the Zebra seem totally relaxed around me after have been there a while.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

How to survive (even thrive) in tough economic times

Some years ago I spotted a sign in a shop window. It read "we are not participating in the recession". The owner had decided that it was "business as usual".

High oil prices and escalating food prices have caused everyone some measure of financial discomfort. An economic slow-down of the world's major economies has driven many countries towards recession. Almost everyone has to cut back in some way to survive.

But while the majority will be tightening their belts, some will not be suffering. Just a few days ago I read of a couple running tours of bank-repossessed homes.

A recession means that many investments have become cheap. If you have some cash or are able to raise finance, then now is the ideal time to invest.

The banks now have a massive stock of re-possessed homes that must be sold. These homes are going for a song! If you are in a position to buy, then buy now. These houses will prove to be an excellent investment.

Equities have ended their long bull run and many of the world's stock market indices reveal falling prices of blue-chip shares. The markets are still volatile, but most of the damage has been done. Now is a good time to buy! Many shares have become under-valued though the underlying companies are sound.

It is possible to improve the way you live by changing your spending habits. Cut out the fast foods and meals out. Replace these with quality meals at home. Discover your artistic abilities in the kitchen. Cut back on driving, use a bicycle instead and get fit.

Make a plan to eliminate debt. Cut back on living costs for a few months and use all available resources to eliminate debt. The short term sacrifice will pay huge dividends when you are able to live a debt-free life-style.

Taking on a second job or starting a business is always a viable option. Perhaps you can find a way to transform your hobby into cash.

Business opportunities to provide services needed to cope with hard times abound. Repair services are in greater demand as people repair rather than replace. Second-hand goods - furniture, books, even clothes - become more attractive as disposable incomes diminish. Demand for child-care services will grow as more mothers are forced to work to supplement the household income.

Remember, you don't have to participate in the recession!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

How to make money without working

Making money without working is everyone's dream. Few people succeed in such schemes, but there are a lucky few. While most people have to work for a living, the good news is that there are alternatives.

Some people say that if you earn money doing what you love doing, then it isn't work. Sometimes musicians, artists and writers feel this way. These are people that have a strong need to express their creativity. They would have to do it even if they did not get paid. Success means that they can do what they love and be paid for it.

Developing a business that is self sustaining and produces a residual income is another way to make money without working. Building a business will require some initial effort. The effort may be very substantial, but once the business becomes self-sustaining there is a work free income.

There is always the option of using your vast wealth to make money. If you have enough, then you can let the money work for you. There are a number of ways to do this, but the main investments are property and equities. While there are many that have been caught short in the current financial crisis, they have generally managed to make plenty of money in the long run. If you have some money available for investment, then the best time to invest is now when prices of investments are low.

Then there are the money for free traps. There are thousands of Internet scams offering vast wealth in exchange for a small initial layout. These are a one-way ticket to losing everything. Get rich quick schemes are just that. The originators of the scheme get rich at your expense.

Some people believe that they can make money by gambling. The casinos and betting shops are full of these delusional people. Of course it is possible to win from time to time, but millions of compulsive gamblers have found that the money flows in one direction. Casinos and betting shops ensure that the odds are firmly set in their favour. It is a statistical certainty that the punter will lose in the long run. There are some exceptions. A skilled poker player may be able to make money by playing against weaker players, but the lifestyle is still precarious.

Then there are those that turn to crime. The scammers, fraudsters and armed robbers. Some of them make money - but then participating in crime is their work. So even that does not bring in money without working.

Most people have to work to make money. For them, the only time that success comes before work is in the dictionary.

Choose home solar energy!

Climate change and escalating energy costs have driven many people to consider using solar energy. Solar energy can be a viable way to provide much of your hot water, central heating or pool heating requirements for your home. Solar energy can also supplement your home's lighting and other electricity needs.

The sun is an unlimited source of free and clean energy. The quest to harness this energy began many years ago. Solar energy has become a viable alternative to provide power for your home. The sun's energy consists of heat and light. Both are used as a source of free energy.

The sun's heating or thermal power is commonly used in sunny climates to supplement the hot water requirements of many homes. Thermal panels are mounted on the roof of your home. Water is circulated through a series of pipes and stored in a tank ready for use. These are very effective in sunny climates but have even been used with some success in climates with few sunshine hours.

Photovoltaic panels transform the sun's light directly into electric current. This electricity can be used to provide lighting for your home or to provide power for your home appliances. Surplus energy produced during daylight hours may be stored in a battery. These cost of these units at this time makes their use for large appliances prohibitive.

Home solar energy has some great advantages. Once the initial installation costs are met you will have a long-term supply of free energy. While you may not eliminate the power grid completely, you should be able to produce savings of anything from 40-80% of your monthly energy bill. Solar power is clean and environmentally friendly. There are no emissions such as those produced by burning coal. Although generally clean, nuclear energy produces potentially dangerous waste that could present long-term problems for our planet.

As with everything under the sun there are disadvantages. The sun's power is only available during daylight hours. Thermal panels are not effective during prolonged periods of overcast weather. Photovoltaic panels do not work at night. The cost of solar powered hot water panels will be covered quickly by the electricity savings achieved. Unfortunately the cost of photovoltaic panels is still prohibitive. At current costs it takes many years cover the initial layout. But as the technology develops these costs should fall, making this type of solar power much more affordable.

Saturday, 08 November 2008

Addictions: smoking

"Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times." Mark Twain's quote is one that is true for millions of smokers the world over. I too have given up smoking hundreds of times. Each time I decide that this time is for real. This time nothing will deter me.

Tobacco and its key addictive agent nicotine is said to be one of the most addictive substances known to man. During the course of my life I have come across many people with multitudes of addictions. Drug addicts manage to quit heroin but continue to smoke. Compulsive gamblers quit gambling but the smoking goes on. Alcoholics quit alcohol but seldom smoking.

Unlike narcotics, tobacco enjoys a status of legality. There are so many vested interests in the drug that banning it is virtually impossible. Governments rely on tobacco for vast amounts of revenue. Tobacco companies make huge donations to political parties. What government would even consider banning something that sustains one of the world's largest industries?

So tobacco remains legal. Even though it kills more people every year than cocaine, heroin, crack and all the other illegal drugs combined. Tobacco kills more people than alcohol, road accidents and wars.

Many see addiction as a factor of personality. In this view, some people are prone to addictions through inborn character traits. To them the problem is not the drug, it is the person. But there can be little doubt that some substances are extremely addictive. The tobacco companies rely on the addictive nature of cigarettes to ensure daily sales to millions of people.

My most successful attempt to conquer my tobacco addiction occurred many years ago. I used a combination of nicotine chewing gums and acupuncture. The combination worked very well. But a little image in my mind kept reminding me of the "pleasure" of smoking. A work cocktail party a year later provided an opportunity to have just one cigarette. It wasn't very enjoyable, but a few days later the craving had returned. The cigarettes became daily then hourly.

A colleague managed to stop for five years. He was over his addiction, but just one cigarette in a moment of sever stress was enough to reverse the process completely.

A relatively new method to quit smoking has emerged over the last few years. People using an antidepressant called Zyban somehow lost interest in smoking - even though there was no previous intention to quit. Research substantiated these findings, and the drug has become one of the most successful means used for quitters.

My latest attempt to quit has been achieved using this drug. Although I am still smoking, the drug enables me to spend the entire working day smoke-free. It is only at home where another smoker is present that my will power fails. But quit I will. I have said it before and I will say it again - I will not be a slave to tobacco for life.

How to win the Canadian lottery

As you sift through your mail one morning you come across an email from Canadian International Lottery. The mail contains the following information:

"From: Mrs. Susan Davies

Canada Lottery-Soccer World Cup 2010 Promotional Draw

1550 Princess Street Kingston, ON, Canada, K7M 9E3

Tel/Fax: +1-702-447-9499

You are hereby informed about your winning notification which is attached to this mail as a file. Download the attached file to view your Winning Notification. However, you are expected to follow the instructions as stated in the Notification.

Thanks for your anticipated cooperation.

Mrs. Susan Davies (Secretary Canada Lottery Board)"

The poor sentence construction and winnings notification should already make you suspicious. You have no recollection of having entered the Canadian Lottery.

Nevertheless, you download the attachment. It begins as follows:

"Attention: Customer AFRSA680

Ref: EAAL/851OYHI/07

Batch No. Lotto 6/49


The Canadian Government sponsors this lottery for the promotion of the 2010 Soccer World cup to be hosted in South Africa. We happily announce to you the draw of the Euro-Afro-American Sweepstake Lottery International Programs held on the Sat. Sep 20 2008 in Essex United Kingdom and Ontario Canada. Your e-mail address attached to Ticket Number: B956475604545 100, with Serial Number 46563760 drew the winning numbers 2 /10 /24 /31 /33 /49 / with a bonus number 3, for LOTTO 6/49 under the choice of the lottery in the 2nd category of daily three.

You have therefore been approved to claim a total sum of 820,000.00 (Eight Hundred and Twenty Thousand British Pounds) in cash credited to file number EAAL/9080118308/07. This is from a total cash prize of 11,100, 000.00 Million Pounds, shared amongst the first One Hundred and-thirty (130) lucky winners in this category Worldwide. Please note that your lucky winning number falls within our Afro booklet representative office in Africa as indicated in your play coupon, because this particular draw was selected to promote the 2010 World Cup to be hosted in South Africa hence your winning information must be kept to enable you participate in our subsequent draws which will see 500 participants traveling on an all expense paid trip to South Africa for the Soccer World Cup 2010. In view of this, your 820,000.00 (Eight Hundred and Twenty Thousand British Pounds) would be released to you byan accredited commercial Bank in South Africa. Our African agent will immediately commence the process to facilitate the release of your funds as soon as you contact our African Agent's office."

The mail looks quite plausible at first site. The site refers to www.canada.com to check the winning numbers. Follow the links to the 6/49 lotto results for September 20th and lo and behold, the winning numbers are exactly as stated in the mail.

What are the clues to suggest that this is a scam? The first is that you have not entered the Canadian Lotto. Even if you have, the numbers on your ticket are not the same as those in the mail.

Can you really believe that "All participants were selected randomly from World Wide Web site through computer draws system and extracted from over 10,000,00 companies and personal e-mails" as the notification continues. Who has paid for these tickets?

Lotto tickets are not handed out for free to random email addresses. Not ever. The mail warns you to keep your winnings confidential until you have received your money. If you tell someone else they may suggest that this is a scam.

There are other rather strange facts quoted in the mail:

The funds will be remitted through a South African bank.

The contact details contain a South African email address and South African phone numbers.

There is at least one spelling error and why should the Canadian Lotto have an African Agent?

Why would the Canadian Lottery make payments through a South African bank and provide South African phone numbers and email addresses? Why is the prize money stated in British pounds instead of Canadian dollars?

The official Lotto 649 site provides the following advice:

"Some Advice Regarding Lottery Tickets

1) Always Sign Your Ticket Immediately!

2) NO Lottery Commission will send you an email telling you that you have won.

3) NO Lottery Commission will call you by phone to tell you that you have won.

4) NO Lottery Commission will ask you for money by email or over the phone.

5) Be Alert - Keep the Above in Mind!"

Read through the letter carefully. It is full of grammatical errors and poor English. An official notification would be much more professional!

Lotteries thrive on publicity, yet you are asked to keep your winnings secret. Especially from the fraud squad.

Look at the email addresses. This scam has genuine looking addresses, but many scams provide hotmail or yahoo addresses. A genuine notification would never have a free Internet email address.

If you still have doubts and think (or hope) that the email maybe authentic and that you stand to win a fortune, then cut and paste the email heading into a Google search engine. The results will leave you with little doubt. The first result reads "Scam Lotteries: Canada Lottery-Soccer World Cup 2010 Promotional Draw".

The site provides details of how to report the scam. Reporting scams helps to trace the criminals responsible.

Do not contact the scammers under any circumstances. If you do, you will be asked to provide your bank details and your signature. This will be used to empty your bank account. You may be asked for a "facilitation fee". You could even be induced to travel to meet the representative, resulting in kidnapping.

I received this email this morning. I have previously "won" the Irish Lotto and the Euro Lotto without buying a ticket! No doubt more will follow. If only these scams were true! I would really love to be a multi-millionaire.

Sunday, 02 November 2008

The world gone mad

"Could it be that I am the only sane person in a world gone crazy?"

The question was posed by a fellow blogger. He cited a whole range of evidence to suggest that the world is mad.

I agree - the world is crazy. The evidence is clearly apparent. The global financial crisis, wars, the inability of people to solve problems using rational means. The inability to talk to each other. South Africa experienced a moment of sanity in 1994 when deadly enemies sat down together, talked and found a solution.

But these scenarios are few and far between.

There can be little doubt. The world is crazy. But it has not just gone crazy. There is a long history of craziness preceding the twenty-first century. Gladiators fighting to the death was prime-time entertainment to the Romans. So was throwing a man into a lion's den. All through history there have been instances of madness. The Spanish Inquisition. The First World War. Hitler. The Nazis. Franco. Mussolini.

Today there are wars all over the world. The US government has dedicated $700 billion to rescue banks that face bankruptcy as a result of greed. This is in addition to the hundreds of billions already spent. Europe has followed a similar path. Is this sanity?

The root of the whole crisis is also insane. People were making huge profits from the so-called hedge funds. Naturally, when there is little underlying value the bubble will pop sooner or later. It happened later with devastating effects. This is greed taken to a monumental extent.

What evidence is there that there is any sanity in the world?


This is Pablo - a 9 week old Rough Collie of champion stock. He joined our family today.
The most friendly and well adjusted puppy.

Just a friendly visit!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Tandoori Chicken Recipe

Tandoori Chicken simply means oven chicken. The name indicates the origins of the dish. It is chicken cooked in a traditional tandoor - a cylindrical clay wood or charcoal burning oven. The tandoor can reach very high temperatures, but tandoori chicken can be cooked to perfection in a slow pre-heated oven.

Tandoori chicken is one of Northern India's classic dishes. The results are always mouth-watering and your guests will never be disapointed.


1 large chicken

The Marinade:
1 tub of Plain yoghurt
1 table spoon of garlic powder (or 3 to 4 cloves garlic - minced)
2 table spoons of coriander
a pinch (1/4 teaspoon) of turmeric
1 table spoon of mustard seed or mustard powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
1 table spoon of ground ginger
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamon
3 to 4 table spoons of paprika (for a good red colour)
The juice of 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to baste

There are a number of ready mixed Tandoori chicken mixtures on the market. If the ingredients resemble those above then try it out. But the best is generally to maske your own mixture.

For Garnish:
Lemon wedges
Fresh parsley

To serve:
Rice is optional, as tandoori chicken is generally served with a traditional bread called a papad. This is quite a thick and fluffy bread.

Basmati Rice is ideal, but plain white rice cooked with a little turmeric will also do.
A fresh garden salad
A cucumber salad may be served with very thinly sliced cucumber with a little lightly spiced plain yoghurt. To spice use a little garam masalla.

If you are using fresh ingredients then make sure that these are finely crushed. Mix the spices together and roast them for a minute on a low heat. Roasting the spices brings out the flavour.

Place the spices in a bowl and mix thoroughly with the yoghurt.

The chicken may be kept whole or cut into quarters. Skin the chicken. Make a number of diagonal incisions into the breast and legs of the chicken. Take the mixture and rub it into the chicken making sure that the chicken is completely saturated. Make sure that the marinade has been rubbed into the incisions. Place the chicken in the fridge and leave to marinade for the next 24 hours turning several times. If you do not have enough time then two hours is the minimum.

To cook:
Place the chicken into a roasting dish and place in a pre-heated oven at about 150 degrees centigrade. Allow to cook for about two hours or until the chicken is dry and looks a deep red. Remove the chicken from the oven and squeeze two lemons over the chicken to provide a glaze. Replace the chicken back into the oven and cook for another ten minutes.

Garnish with the parsley and lemon wedges. Serve with the rice, the papads and the salads.

Once you have tried this recipe, you can attempt a whole range of variations. Everything remains the same except for the cooking method. A rotisserie over a charcoal barbecue produces wonderful results with this recipe. Alternatively use chicken pieces and cook over a wood or charcoal barbeque. To make the most delicious kebabs, cut the chicken into cubes and put onto skewers before adding the marinade. The kebabs may be barbequed of grilled.

I no longer use yoghurt for my Tandoori Chicken. I have gone kosher - milk and meat can never be mixed. But there are choices! I have used lemon juice as a substitute, or coconut milk and even orly whip. The results are still awesome!

Whichever method you choose you can hardly go wrong!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Financial rescue packages fail to restore confidence

The world has been reeling from the aftermath of the sub-prime crisis. The offending banks have been coming very close to insolvency. Banks will not lend to each other. Governments are panicking. The markets are panicking.

The banks have survived. Governments around the world led by the US have bailed out many of the offenders. George W Bush has pushed through a $700 billion rescue package. Other countries have followed. Interest rates have been cut.

But each rescue plan is followed by even greater panic. The sell-off continues. The markets' response reflects the fact that all the measures taken so far have been panic measures. Panic measures do not inspire confidence. If the government is panicking, why should investors feel confident?

Each action seems only to increase market anxiety. Each government move is followed by frenzied selling. There has been talk of depression.

Handouts to business have not impressed or reassured investors. Confidence has not been restored.

What is next on the agenda?

South Africa: Democracy wins

There has been a huge amount of controversy surrounding the change of leadership at the ANC conference last December. The party was effectively split into two camps. The Jacob Zuma camp won all the key posts in the organisation. The new president of the ANC Youth League is one Julius Malema. Lacking education and refinement, be has become the personification of the new leadership. He has promised to "kill for Zuma" and "eliminate the counter-revolutionary forces". The counter revolutionaries include the judiciary, the constitutional court judges and anyone that does not support Jacob Zuma.

One of the main objectives of this new leadership is to keep Jacob Zuma and the corruption allegations away from the courts. They want to find a "political solution".

The ousted ANC establishment remained silent for a few months. Then Lekota spoke out. He wrote an open letter to the ANC pointing out issues regarding long established ANC principles and policies. He was shouted down and showered with insults. As a result Mosiuoa Lekota called a press conference. Divorce papers have been served. The formation of a new party loyal to traditional ANC principles appears imminent.

The ANC seems to have been taken by surprise. Overtures have been made to try to keep the dissidents within the fold. But perhaps this is too little, too late. There seems to be a ground-swell of support for the new formation.

The ANC currently hold a 2/3 majority in parliament. The new leadership have been confident of maintaining and even increasing this majority. The new leadership's belief that the ANC could not lose promoted an excess of confidence and arrogance.

If the breakaway party goes ahead, then the next election should usher in a new era in democratic South Africa. This future will be one where the ruling party has at most a reduced majority. There is even a possibility that no party will hold an absolute majority.

To date, the opposition parties have had little impact. The Democratic Alliance is seen as a white party. The breakaway could change all of that.

This is good for democracy and provides renewed hope for the future of South Africa.

Monday, 06 October 2008

Photography in the digital age

Digital photography represents freedom to the photographer. Freedom from film. Freedom to shoot whenever and wherever. Freedom to use your pictures instantly. Freedom from the Dark Room! The photographer can print directly from the digital camera to the printer. Photographs can be posted to an on-line gallery, distributed and shared with the world - all the the click of a mouse. Life, for the digital photographer, has become much simpler and much less expensive!

Photography remained very much the same for many years. The technology improved, light meters became more accurate and electronics began to play a major part with automatic exposure, auto-focus, and the ability to imprint a name or a date on a photograph.

Through all these changes, the basic principles remained the same. Film at the back of the camera captured the image that came through the lens when the shutter opened and shut. Film was developed through immersion in a series of chemical baths. The outcome was either positive images (slides) or negatives that had to be printed on special photographic paper. Processing was done in a dark - either in an automated machine or in the dark-room.

As the digital age dawned, it became possible to scan the photographs onto a computer. Images could be manipulated on a computer screen using a number of editing techniques. Exposure errors could be corrected, colours could be changed, and pictures could be cropped, enlarged and touched up. Share photo's over the Internet or sending them by email became popular. Instead of printing pictures, they could be scanned directly to a CD. Photo sharing had arrived.

Digital cameras seemed a long time coming. The earliest of these had low resolution, and an annoying delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being captured. These rather primitive devices produced poor to average results at a high initial cost. Far superior film cameras were still available at a much lower price. But not for long! As with all things digital, as the quality has improved, the price has dropped. The range of digital cameras available today rivals - probably exceeds - the traditional film camera.

Before long, almost every cell-phone included a digital camera. Initially these were low resolution - great for snap-shots but not much else.

Today, each new camera offers more for less. Digital cameras are available with resolutions that match the resolution of film.

My Canon SLR is capable of taking some very good photos. But, it uses film! This has become my reserve camera, only for use for special events. For most purposes it has become obsolete.

The camera that I use the most doubles up as a cell phone! The 5 mega pixel resolution is good enough for most purposes. It can do almost anything - compensate for exposure, change the medium to black and white, adjust the colour balance and so on. With 1 GB of memory, hundreds of photographs can be taken before the space is used up. Of course it has limitations. The Carl Zeiss lens is a high quality lens but is rather small. There is no optical zoom, which means that zooming-in loses resolution.

Digital photography has given us a new freedom with photography. Not restricted by film size, we can shoot until we get it right. We can experiment without any cost penalty. Photography in low light conditions is easy with or without a flash.

Of course the camera is always with me. If I spot something I want to shoot, then I shoot! There is no cost for shooting more. Apart from the cost of the camera, photographs are free. Most are loaded onto the computer and shared on the Web. A select few are printed at minimal cost. There is no developing charge and no cost of film.

Digital photography has freed me! The dark room is gone, and my old enlarger gathers more and more dust as the years pass.

But there is a down side. Everyone has a digital camera. Many take dozens of pictures at every event. These near identical pictures are shared on Face Book. The same 150 identical pictures are emailed to all and sundry. The ease of point-and-shoot has led to some rather sloppy photography. Blurred pictures, red-eye and camera shake don't worry the photographers. Every picture is posted and shared.

Digital photography is both a blessing and a curse. For me it is mostly a blessing. Cell-phone photography is in its infancy, but with five mega-pixels, I have little need for anything else. Apart from printing a few enlargements for an artist's portfolio, I rarely need to spend money on a hobby that used to be very expensive!

Saturday, 04 October 2008

The best free photo editing software

Most digital cameras come with free software to allow editing of digital photos. Most of these are extremely limited in what you can do. For a simple, easy-to-use photo editor have a look at Picasa2 - a totally free product available from Google.

The free offerings from Kodak and Adobe allow for pictures to be cropped and rotated, correction of colour balance, bightness and contrast and little else. Picasa has some additional features. Pictures can be straightened - anything from 0 to 360 degrees. Straightening a picture is simply controlled using a single lever.

Picassa allows for pictures to be converted to black and white, sepia, soft focus, tint, soft focus, filtered black and white, and focal balck and white. All very useful functions. The tuning option makes provision for fill light to be added, highlights and shadows may be accentuated and the colour temperature adjucted.

Of course there are a number of even simpler adjustments that can be applied automatically. Redeye makes it simple to elimitate the annoying red eyes common with flash photography. I'm feeling lucky allows Picasa to make the decisions. Auto-contrast, auto-colour and the fill light lever complete the offerings of the editor. Use the collage function to create a collage of your photos.

To start, Picasa2 will search your computer for all pictures. Picasa creates a gallery that is quick and easy to navigate through. Information about the camera used and date are maintained and a facility to add additional albums and sort by category is included. Finally, it is easy to share photos, upload them to the web and to upload a slide-show for your web-site.

I have been using PaintShop Pro for many years. It is still one of the best photo editors available on the market. It is not a free product but allows for complete professional editing of photos and graphics of any kind.

Gimp is an open source product that can do everything that PaintShop Pro can do - perhaps even more - for free. For professional work, Gimp is highly recommended. My own experience with the product is limited. For my purposes, Picasa is usually enough. But if you need to seriously touch up a picture, airbrush a face, change the perspective or almost anything else then Gimp is the answer.

Picasa is great for the layman and for enhancing and cropping your pictures with great ease. Gimp is a professional graphics editor offering much more functionality. Picasa allows you to become familiar with all its features within a few minutes. A very cleverly designed application that can be used by anyone from a professional to an amature.

Expect to spend a couple of hours exploring Gimp's rich array of features and learning how to use the product. Once mastered, you will be able to produce truly professional pictures.

Tips for better holiday photographs

Holidays are over all too soon leaving only memories memories that can be re-awakened by great photos! To make the most of your holiday snaps, follow a few simple rules.

Carry a camera with you at all times! Opportunities for pictures present themselves unexpectedly. A simple cell-phone camera is extremely mobile and can do the job. Keep the SLR for special occasions. The Nokia N95 comes with a 5 mega pixel camera that can produce excellent results.

Look after your camera and remember to protect it from sand and sea water at all times! The last thing you want is to lose the camera and your precious pictures.

Ensure that you have enough memory (or film) to take as many pictures as you want, and don't forget to charge the batteries. An extra memory card may be the answer.

Before you go, spend time with your camera. Get to know what it can do. Many cameras have special settings for landscapes, portraits, close-ups and night scenes. These can help produce great results.

A common holiday maker mistake is to try to capture people and landscapes in one shot - for instance the spouse or kids posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Both lose out! A good rule of thumb is that people photos should focus on people. The person should be the main object. The pyramids make a great backdrop, but don't try to do both. Spontaneous people pictures are often the most memorable. Children caught at play, people admiring an unusual scene and people celebrating. If you have a zoom option, then keep your distance and zoom in on unsuspecting subjects and capture the moment!

Children can be photographed in almost any lighting conditions, but older people benefit from indirect lighting. Back lighting only works if you adjust the exposure to suit the portrait or use a fill-in flash.

Holidays are often spent in beautiful - perhaps spectacular surroundings. Look through the camera to find interesting shots. Experiment with different angles. If your friends or family are with you let them explore the scene and capture them as part of the shot. A person near a pyramid provides a sense of perspective. The time of day can make a huge difference to the results. Look at the lighting, and try to avoid huge contrasts. Our eyes adjust easily from strong sunshine to a dark shadow. Cameras don't manage these that well. Your camera will respond differently to the same scene at different times of day.

Events and celebrations benefit from lots of photographs. Too many is better than too few. More is more! Most modern digital cameras perform well in at night with or without a flash.

Back at home, touch-up you pictures. Red-eye reduction, changing the brightness, contrast and colour saturation can enhance them. Crop photos to focus in on an interesting detail. Great holiday shots make calendars, key-holders or table mats. Print some enlargements and laminate them for stunning results!

Friday, 03 October 2008

Can a cell phone replace your digital camera?

Many photographers will dismiss the idea of using a cell phone camera to replace a digital camera without much thought. To them, a cell phone camera is nothing more than a sophisticated toy, incapable of taking serious pictures. But cell phones using the latest technology are able to compete very seriously against the more moderately priced digital cameras.

I use my cell phone almost exclusively as my digital camera. A cell phone has one advantage over a digital camera that is impossible to beat. It is always available. It goes everywhere with me and can be used as a camera whenever opportunity knocks. The technology now available means that cell phone photography can be used for much more than simple snap-shots. My phone is a Nokia N95. It comes standard with a 5 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens and a 1 GB memory card. This arrangement suits me more than any camera that I have previously owned.

My cell phone pictures are used on my various web sites as well as tom promote various art works. 5 Megapixels provides a resolution that is more than enough for most day to day purposes.

As technology continues its rapid development, cell phone cameras improve by an equal measure. 10 megapixel cell phone cameras have already been launched onto the Japanese market.

The Nokia N95 camera has some impressive features.

The large screen provides an excellent preview of the scene to be captured. The camera includes auto-focus and auto exposure. The automatic flash includes a manual override.

The camera has a variety of modes for shooting under different conditions and subject matters.

The close-up mode allows for crystal clear pictures of tiny flowers or similar items from 10 to 60 cm. There is no difference between this and the macro facility on a sophisticated camera.

The portrait mode quickly provides the right settings for portrait photography. In addition, the flash may be used for fill-in lighting.

The landscape option provides the best settings for shooting landscapes.

Other settings include the sports setting; this apparently uses fast shutter speeds to freeze action onto an image.

The night mode makes using available light simple and effective while the night portrait option allows for fill-in flash for low-light night shots. The flash settings include red-eye prevention.

To make things really easy, there is an automatic mode that selects the right setting for you.

The camera is able to achieve quality results in almost any lighting conditions with or without the flash.

Another fairly sophisticated feature is the sequence mode. Burst captures six (or more) images in rapid succession - great for recording rapid movement in stills! Other options allow for a picture to be taken automatically at a variety of time sequences ranging from 10 seconds to 30 minutes. The sequence shooting continues until the memory runs out! This is a great option that is available when using the phone exclusively as a camera.

A whole range of additional options allow much more to be done with the camera. These include:

  • A selection of colour tones,
  • A viewfinder grid that divides the image into both vertical and horizontal thirds aids good composition,
  • White balance,
  • Exposure compensation that allows for exposure bracketing, and
  • Sharpness, contrast and light sensitivity controls.

Every camera has limitations. A cell phone camera may have more limitations than some of the cameras on the market. For me the greatest limitation is the absence of an optical zoom. The electronic zoom results in a loss of resolution. There is no manual control of the shutter speed or aperture stops. But knowledge of the limitations allows you to work around them.

The phone allows for most of the simpler editing functions on the phone itself. It is even possible to print directly from the phone to some printers, and to upload your photographs directly to the Internet. The photos can be easily transferred to a computer for more sophisticated editing, distribution and printing.

My SLR camera usually stays at home while my cell phone is always with me. It is easy and convenient to carry around and is always available. Carrying a purpose built camera involves a degree of inconvenience! The cell phone can capture pictures at a moments notice when the opportunity presents itself.

I have built-up a collection of photo's from my cell phone that compare favourably to any that I have taken using a purpose built camera. My default camera is the cell-phone. When I photograph a planned event I have a choice of cell phone or camera. The cell phone usually wins, while the digital camera serves as an indispensible backup.