Sunday, 29 June 2008

Songs with great opening lines

Words are flying out like
endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe

Lennon, McCartney - Across the Universe. The Beatles provide a prime example of how the opening words of a song can help to capture our attention. Across the Universe illustrates something about us that many are unable to change. Whatever is happening elsewhere "nothing's gonna change my world".

It is often the opening lines of a song that grab our attention and define the music.

Rock and roll had not been famous for great lyrics. It was the rhythm, the beat that was all important. But all this was about to change.

As the "underground" flower power movement gathered strength, so the music and songs of the era grew in stature. The hippie culture was not just about drugs, but about expanding consciousness and awareness, seeking solutions to world issues from war to love to pollution. While there was always room for silly love songs, songwriters explored a range of issues, some political, many relating to the human condition. The words were no longer secondary to the beat but often reached the highest literary standards. Bob Dylan exemplified this in his use of words. The Times They are a Changing is an early example of Dylan's exploration of language:

Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a changing

The opening lines of Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone again illustrate the skilled use of words to express a personal view:

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, beware doll, you're bound to fall
You thought they were all kiddin' you

Consider the opening lines of Just Life a Woman:

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Everybody knows
That baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.

Bob Dylan's early works were often concerned with real political issues. The opening lines of Only a Pawn in their Game are an excellent example of powerful words to describe a social issue:

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim

Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

Dylan's lyrics became more abstract - perhaps even obscure - as the sixties took their toll, but he returned to similar themes when confronted with injustice during the seventies. Hurricane is a prime example:

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter patty valentine from the upper hall.
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood,
Cries out, my god, they killed them all!

As Dylan became more and more influential in the music of the day, song lyrics gained in importance. The stars of the day were inspired to stretch themselves to explore the human experience, thoughts and emotions. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones became primary examples of this.

The Rolling Stones' Jumping Jack Flash (Jagger, Richards)

opens with the words

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
But it's all right now, in fact, its a gas!
But it's all right. I'm jumpin' jack flash,
It's a gas! gas! gas!

Dramatic and visual, the words catch the listener's immediate attention. Jagger and Richards used a similar approach in Sympathy with the Devil:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith

A song tells a story. Describing the hippie dream, Ruby Tuesday opens with:

She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don't matter if it's gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows
She comes and goes

The Beatles' landmark album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band ended with a powerful song A Day in the Life. Over the years, the song's words have be interpreted and re-interpreted.

I read the news today oh, boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

The sixties was a time when music became a means of expression. Singer-songwriters became true poets. None less so than Leonard Cohen:

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Like Dylan, Cohen's work focuses on the human condition. Using a narrative format, The Partisan describes the life of a partisan during the Second World War. The song brings the experience close to us.

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often,
I've lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

Pop music is not generally known for great lyrics, but these examples provide evidence that the medium can lend itself to some very profound and meaningful thoughts, ideas and true literary genius.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Top 10 albums of all time and what makes them the best

The choice of the top ten albums of all-time is something that is very personal to each of us. A survey of a nation or listeners of a radio station would probably return a result as they do for the best all time song. The best song of all time varies from one year to the next, even though it is often a very old song from years gone by. My choice of the top ten albums has to be personal and as such is very much influenced by my age and the era in which I grew up.

The first album that I ever purchased as a teenager was The Beatles' Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I first heard the album while living in Israel. The radio station did something that must have been a first - they played the entire album from beginning to end without a single interruption. Only at the end did I hear that this was the Beatles, but the music kept me listening throughout. The variety of songs, the depth and the magic captured my imagination for me and for an entire generation. The Beatles adventure in psychedelia was unpretentious - producing a range of quality and thought provoking songs including classics and masterpieces such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, A Day in the Life and A little Help from my Friends.

The Rolling Stones followed with their own rather satirical version of psychedelic music - Their Satanic Majesties Request - but apart from two or three good songs the album failed to impress. To all intents and purposes it was a flop. But we were in for a major surprise. Beggar's Banquet was released in 1969. The Stones had returned to their roots. There was no pretentiousness here - just a collection of outstanding songs that never fail to impress. The songs included the thought provoking Sympathy for the Devil, Prodigal Son, and Street Fighting Man. Mick Jagger's lyrics excelled and Keith Richards's music was as good as it gets. For me this was their best ever album both in terms of the quality of the music and the depth of the lyrics.

Bob Dylan's music is of supreme importance for the era. Here the choice is not so easy. Perhaps The Times They are A-changing, or Blonde on Blonde? In the Seventies Bob Dylan produced three outstanding albums - Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal. A difficult choice, but with songs like Hurricane, Sarah, One more cup of Coffee - my choice has to be Desire. Dylan's recent Modern Times was a disappointment to me - the songs are drab and lack the colour of his earlier work.

Pink Floyd produced a whole range of outstanding music over the years. Many of the younger generation still listen to much of their music. What characterises Pink Floyd is a high level of musical variety, complexity and sheer musical pleasure. Atom Heart Mother is perhaps not one of the general public's all time favourites, but for many years it was mine. Maybe because I was there when they played (and recorded it) live at a free concert in Hyde Park in 1968. The Wall is another masterpiece full of interesting pieces. But perhaps my all time favourite Pink Floyd album is Wish You were Here featuring such classics as Shine on You Crazy Diamond and of course the title track Wish You Were Here.

A little further off the beaten track is Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. This was a band headed up by the so-called Don van Vliet. Although he achieved high acclaim in certain circles, this avant-garde music never became main-stream and retained its minority alternative audience. Trout Mask Replica has been highly acclaimed as the band's best ever, but my favourite is still Safe as Milk - the debut album. Something about the album has strong appeal and it is somewhat more accessible than the later efforts.

Tom Waits' music is sometime interesting, sometimes irritating, but Nighthawks at the Diner achieves a standard bordering on brilliance. Believe it or not, Waits' music is said to be derivative of Captain Beefheart. If you listen to both you'll find out why.

Moving to the music to today Amy Winehouse is a rare talent. I know that there are many bands producing music, some to a high standard. The Kaiser Chiefs are an example of a band producing original music. Amy Winehouse is somewhat evocative of Janis Joplin - though more in terms of her lifestyle choices than in the way she sings. Amy Winehouse is able to deliver quality songs in the jazz, blues and rock tradition. She sings from the heart, and my nomination is Back to Black. Every song on the album is a winner, which reminds me of the days when I bought many an album for one great song only to be disappointed by the remainder.

In the real of Jazz there are thousands of albums that I rate very highly. Amongst the artists that come to mind are Chick Corea, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Earl Klugh, Billie Holliday the list is endless. All have produced outstanding music. Perhaps my favourite is Miles Davis Kind of Blue released in 1959. To me the album is deeply relaxing and the Flamenco Sketches are nothing less than a perfect blending of jazz and Spanish music something that Chick Corea was to emulate much later. Many of the jazz greats began life in Miles Davis' bands his talent is not to be underestimated.

Of course the old masters should not - cannot - be ignored. Beethoven produced some of the deepest and most memorable music that the world has known. His final symphony was composed when Beethoven was already deaf. He could not hear the applause of the audience when the 9th symphony premiered to a standing ovation. The best recording that I have of this piece is Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. The music does not age.

As for number ten a very difficult choice indeed. Is it possible to compress all the world's most wonderful music onto one CD? There is so much choice that the task becomes almost impossible. Sarit Hadad is one of Israel's premier singers. She represented Israel in the Eurovision song contest some years ago. Perhaps it is necessary to understand the language to really enjoy the songs. Favourite albums would include Shalom Chaver and Kmo Cindarella. Sarit Hadad's repertoire includes mainstream Israeli rock and pop, Mizrachi (eastern) music, Greek and Arabic. The song Shalom Chaver echoes the words of Bill Clinton words at Yitzchak Rabin's funeral and the song remains deeply moving.

These are ten albums that I could live with on a desert island for a number of years. They reflect my age and culture, my personal preferences and taste. They tell you a little about where I've been and perhaps where I'm going. But the top ten all time greatest albums? It's just not possible.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

What causes compulsive gambling?

Compulsive gambling is generally seen as an addiction. There are a whole range of explanations of the causes.

One possible explanation can be derived from Skinner's concept of operant conditioning. In his experiments Skinner discovered that intermittent positive reinforcement produced the most long term or permanent results. The principle works as follows. A pigeon (for instance) is given a choice of several buttons to peck. If it pecks the correct button, it gets some food. If the reward happens every time, then once the reward stops so does the corresponding behaviour. However, when the reward happens some of the time but not always, then long-term behavioural changes occur.

Similar results have been demonstrated with people, and gambling fits remarkably well into this model. Translate this to a slot machine.

Scene 1: John's first attempt results in a win. Each successive spin produces another win. Then the winning stops. No more slot machine.

Scene 2: Joanne walks into a casino for the first time. She puts $100 into a 50c slot machine. 200 spins later, she hasn't had a single win. She is unlikely to play again.

Scene 3: Jennifer puts $20 into a slot machine. The first three spins are losers, but the fourth spin results in a $100 win. She wins again on the fifth spin, but loses a string of spins after this. As the money is about to run out, Jennifer wins $2500. She cashes in the winnings and goes home. But she will be back!

There are other ways to explain the causes of compulsive gambling. A popular theory is that of the addictive personality.

The concept of the addictive personality' is well established in the common psyche. How often do we hear the term 'addictive personality' bandied about? Many use the term to describe either themselves or others. But is there any scientific basis to this understanding of addiction?

According to the addictive personality theory, it is the individual that is prone to addiction rather than exposure to addictive substances or activities. A person becomes an addict because of certain in-born personality traits. In other words, the addictive personality is part of the person's genetic makeup. The object of the addiction is not important - the addictive personality will attach the addictive behaviour to heroin, alcohol, gambling, food, sex or computer games. By the same token, all smokers share an addictive personality.

This approach has received varied levels of support since its origin in the 1930s. A variety of psychological studies have been taken place over the years in attempts to identify personality traits responsible for addictive behaviour. In general, there has been very little in the way of empirical support for the theory. But it must be pointed out that many of those involved in the addiction rehabilitation business have identified a strong personality component in addiction through their own experience and observation.

Following his research in 1983 Alan R. Lang identified several ''significant personality factors'' that can contribute to addiction:

  • Impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.
  • A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society.
  • A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.
  • A sense of heightened stress.

However, Lang concluded that ''there is no single, unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance use."

An interesting study by Hermano Tavares of the Impulse Control Disorder Unit at the University of So Paulo in Brazil focussed on compulsive gamblers and alcoholics. Tavares found that while "both alcohol and gambling craving were directly related to clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety, and inversely related to length of abstinence. Our study suggests that people turn to either alcohol or gambling for different reasons."

Peele rejects the model of addiction dominated by personality citing "the radical transformations out of addiction for individuals who leave their 'burdensome' realities behind, as when they depart Vietnam" as evidence. While a person may become an addict under certain specific circumstances, this can change dramatically following a change in the environment. His view is that addiction is a social-psychological phenomenon in which personality plays a part.

Most experts on addiction do agree that there is a personality component to addiction, but the evidence for an addictive personality' or addictive genes is not there.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Understanding the difference between marketing and sales

Marketing and sales are close relatives. Marketing sets the scene. Sales finish the job. When all else is said and done, marketing is part of the sales process. Sales is the end result of marketing.

In a game of soccer, the defenders fend of the opposition and pass the ball through to mid-field. The mid-field set the scene for the forwards to take the game forward and score goals. Without goals the mid-field efforts come to nothing. Without the mid-field the chance of scoring goals is close to nil.

A business must conduct research and development to stay ahead of the competition. Marketing must introduce the product to the market. Highlight the good points. Create a sales strategy. When the sales team take over, the scene is set to make the sales. It is now up to them to score the goals.

McCarthy defined the well known four-legged "marketing-mix". The Four Ps Product, Pricing, Promotion and Positioning.

Product everything from the design and development of the product range to testing ideas and evaluating the potential profitability of the product. The process includes market research and using any feedback received from the sales force to improve the product or product range.

Pricing a pricing strategy must be set to achieve sales objectives, to achieve profitability and to define the place in the market. Do you aim to be a price leader or an exclusive supplier? High turnover of high margins?

Promotion the strategy relating to the advertising of the goods and services. Promotion includes the establishment of a brand and spreading information about the product or company. Advertising may include media campaigns and in-store promotions. Others may focus on spreading the message through networks or word of mouth. A really great restaurant never needs to advertise, but what would happen to Coke without it?

Positioning includes the distribution and sales channels, the market segment to be targeted. A Private Bank may target only "high net-worth" individuals, while a commercial bank aims at volume. A shampoo manufacturer may allow the products to be sold only through hairdressers while another product is available at every supermarket.

The mid-field have done their job and the scene is set for the forwards to score goals. It is now up to the sales-force to clinch the deals. The job of sales is generally face-to-face. Marketing at the individual level. The company and products are already known thanks to the marketing effort. Sales must identify customers and close deals. Customer responses should be recorded and fed back to marketing.

Although closely related, the activities of marketing and sales are different. Marketing focuses on the sales environment. Sales actually move the product.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

How to spot an online dating site scam

The online dating industry has become big business. A huge range of sites are available providing online dating services. These sites have become an acceptable and means for people to seek out their ideal match. But the industry is prone to abuse, and although the online dating companies do what they can to detect scammers in our midst, inevitably some fall through the net.

Online dating scammers are on the sites for one reason only. They are there to try to get your money. You will never meet them and once your money is gone there is very little hope of recovering it. Online dating scammers can operate from any country. Amongst the more common ones are those operating from Russia and Ghana.

They join the services and post a picture of a beautiful girl. The picture itself is almost too good to be true. The photographs look professional and the subject could well be a professional model. The word Love appears as part of the username.

The scammer claims to be looking for long term relationships and marriage. The ideal match requirements are typically left wide open - any age, any nationality and so on. She doesn't really care. She adds dozens of men on the site as favourites and waits for one of them to buy her a gift subscription. With a free subscription in her hand she then proceeds to send emotive messages to every man.

Many unsuspecting men respond - not only is she very beautiful, but she seems to be genuinely interested in meeting and furthering the relationship. She is prepared to travel from Russia or Ghana to meet - but has no money. She needs $10,000 to relocate and meet the victim.

There have been a number of cases where sums of money have been paid over to scammers. At this point all communication ends. The profile disappears from the site and all further attempts to make contact are in vain.

The best way to avoid a situation such as this is awareness. A profile with a stunning picture but very little in the way of information is cause for suspicion. Is a real woman likely to be happy with anyone from age 25 to 80? She has fallen in love with you after seeing your profile and would like to travel across the world to marry you. Take a reality check. She knows nothing about you or you about her. Can such a stunning woman really be so desperate? Be very suspicious is she asks for money. Genuine people don't do this except in very rare situations.

Remember that the wonderful woman that has attracted you and seems to be determined to join you as a life partner doesn't really exist. She is the creation of an organisation that makes its money from scamming. Once you have parted with your money she will disappear only to be replaced by another photographs and a brand new userid.

Be aware of the risks and avoid these scams.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Good reasons why NOT to buy WIndows Vista

When my last notebook burnt out last month I needed a quick solution. I identified a notebook that satisfied my needs and had a choice of operating systems. XP Pro, Vista Business or Linux. 

I selected Windows Vista Business. I got my previous notebook with XP. In spite of the warnings, the operating system was a huge improvement over the previous version. I upgraded to SP2 and had no problems. So in spite of the negative publicity, my thinking was that Vista will be around longer than XP, so I braved it. 

I created two user IDs on the machine. One for work (I do consulting) and one for me. Both were created with administrator status.

My first revelation was that the new version doesn't allow the user to do very much himself. Everything works on a series of wizards that try to do everything for you. You cannot select a printer from a list - you have to leave it up to the operating system to identify the printer and instal the appropriate driver. 

Connecting to a network proved to be a major problem. I connected to my home WAN without a problem and could use the Internet immediately. But do as I may I just couldn't see the other computers on the network. Nor could the system find the printer. I tried all sorts of things to get there. Eventually, I switched to my consulting user ID. All of a sudden I could see the home network! The printer was also there. 

Trying to connect to the printer was a nightmare. An option to add the printer resulted in a message that "You do not have sufficient rights to perform this operation". As mentioned already I have full administrator rights. 

The option to connect to the printer seemed to be the next choice. After a long wait, I was told that there is not enough memory to complete the operation. Close some applications and try again. Evidently 2 Gigs of RAM is not enough to instal a printer. All applications were closed, tried again, same result. Reboot, same result. 

After many attempts I did not manage to get rid of the insufficient memory message, but the printer did appear on my printer list. 

Having found the network on my work ID seems to have been enough. I can now access the network and printer from either user ID. 

Today I tried to use my scanner. This is a plug and play device - at least for all previous operating systems. Vista couldn't find a driver. I tried searching the Internet but could not find an appropriate driver. 

Several hours later, I detected a little call out from the active tray. Windows has identified a solution to my computer problems. Click here for more. The solution was to link to the Vista Hardware Compatibility List. I clicked, only to be told that I had to use Internet Explorer 6 or higher. I am using Opera and Firefox on the main, but it seems that Microsoft force you to use their much inferior product for any access to their sites.

The list had never heard of the model. 

Other issues are general issues. XP allowed me to set up multiple languages. Vista only allows one. All sorts of actions bring up the "insufficient rights" argument to prevent me from performing basic functions. Simple plug'n'play devices do not plug'n'play easily on Vista. 

I am now at the stage where I want to return the software to Microsoft. I would like a full refund. Windows XP was the first and only Operating System produced by Microsoft that worked properly. Why they introduced Vista beats me! Whatever its merits, the release of this product is obviously premature. 

My experience to date is that Vista is a substandard product, not nearly ready to be unleashed on the general public.

I will instal Ubuntu Linux - I have heard great reports - and switch to 

Good bye Windows!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

How to prepare for retirement

Planning for retirement is something that many people postpone until the last minute. But once the retirement day arrives and the pension is not enough, it is too late. Retirement funding is a key part of retirement planning that should start the moment that you begin to work.

Our society has created an expectation that after working until the age of 60 or 65 we should retire. Many companies actually force their employees to go at this age. But this is a perception that is changing. Life expectancy has increased, and many people remain healthy for many years after these retirement ages have passed.

When I was very young I remember working on a building site during my college vacation. One of the employees was turning 65 and on his birthday he retired. He was fit and strong at the time, but within six months there was a marked deterioration. He didn't even make it to 70.

Perhaps retirement is a concept that we should put behind us. Why should we have to 'give up' at a certain stage of life? Life is to be lived and lived to the full.

Perhaps the thinking process should rather be focussed to changing what we do at various stages of our lives. Having had enough of the rat race I would love to turn to writing as a full time replacement - so I'm busy preparing for that. Just don't give me the idea of giving up on anything because I am a little older!

Retirement brings with it a number of issues. The first that comes to mind is the financial aspect. Will the pension and savings be enough to see us through? What can be done if there isn't enough money? The second - and in many ways as important - is what you will actually do once you have retired. Doing nothing really isn't an option. Giving up your job does not mean giving up everything. Perhaps there is an interest that you have always wanted to pursue but never had the time. It could even be time to start a new business!

The financial aspect is very important. Ideally, you should be in a position to be financially independent by the time you reach retirement age. This is something that doesn't happen by itself. The younger you begin to invest, the better. Fifteen percent of your income should be dedicated towards savings and investments. Retirement funding is good, but should be limited to the amount that can be claimed as a tax deduction. The remainder should be spread in a number of directions - property, equities, and perhaps investment funds of various types. Invest aggressively as early as possible and reap the rewards later. As you near retirement age, the investments should be less risky.

For many people escaping the rat race is a good reason to retire. But giving up work in the formal sector does not mean having to give up living a useful life.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

South Africa: Is this the end of the dream?

South Africa began its miraculous transformation to democracy in 1994. Nelson Mandela - a sole example of leadership in our generation - was at the helm. People rallied to the call for unity and transformation. The process had begun. A declining economy was transformed into one of grow into one of growth. The nation united behind the new leadership.

Mandela was not a power seeker, and chose to withdraw from the race at the next election.

Thabo Mbeki became the new leader. His term in office has proven to be worse than dissapointing. Initially, he chose the side of the Aids denialists. He denied the link between HIV and AIDS. He asserted that poverty was the cause. He rejected the call for anti-retrovirals, citing the potentially harmful side-effects. The crime problem was swept under the carpet and office beared held office because if their struggle credentials. This approach was a disaster for those suffering from Aids. How many could have lived?

Zimbabwe is perhaps the bigger tragedy. In spice of ever increasing evidence that Robert Mugabe’s government was distroying the country and with it democracy, Thabo has remained a loyal friend. True, Mugabe and Zanu did provide shelter and assistance during the ’struggle’ years. But loyalty to Mugabe who had become nothing less than a dictator is not our style. Even now,with Mugabe the clear loser in the Zimbabwe election, Mr Mbeki continues to provide support. Even asMugabe’s forces inflict great terror against its own population, the support continues.

Huge emphasis has been placed on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). A policy that has seen a small minority of the ‘previously disadvantaged’ achieving great wealth while the majority endure great poverty with no sign of relief.

While there may be forces at work that exploit the fears and dissatisfaction of under-privileged South Africans, it is perhaps the poverty itself that can take a large portion of the blame for the recent xenophobic attacks against the huge immigrant community. Like Chamberlain, Mbeki will not take a stand against a dictator and human rights violations in the neighbouring country.

The world had great hopes for South Africa. South Africans were full of hope for a better future. But as the rigours of daily life for many continue to be tough questions of survival that hope has faded. The attacks on immigrant communities in Alex and other communities throughout the country have put a sever strain on the migrant community. They have shown South Africa to the world in a negative light.

Is the dream over?

Friday, 13 June 2008

Yes, you can talk to anyone in the world for free!

If you don't have a broadband Internet connection then you are missing out on the possibility of talking to your friends and family around the world - for free. There are many ways to do this, but the most well known - possibly because it was the first - is Skype. Skype allows you to call anyone with an Internet connection - absolutely free - from anywhere in the world. You can talk for as long as you want and if you have a web-cam, then video calls are yours for the taking.

All you need to get started is a computer with a broadband Internet connection and a microphone and speakers. Optionally you may add a headset, or a USB phone that simply plugs into your computer. The software can be downloaded free and within a few minutes you could be ready to start talking.

Many other chat options - such as MSN or Google Chat - allow you to do the same. Voice quality is generally good, but at times there may be a delay before hearing the response.

The only limitation is that the people that you want to talk to must be linked to the Internet and have their Skype connection running. It is possible to call a land-line phone from Skype. A facility called Skype-Out allows you to prepay units. The facility allows for almost free calls to phones around the world.

With the great technology available on the latest generations of cell phones, mobile VoIP has become a reality. VoIP using the Skype, Google Talk and other VoIP networks is readily available for most of today's higher end phones. Get your own back for exorbitant cell phone charges by using your cell phone to make free international calls.

Skype has been struggling to produce a Symbian version of its software. Their system only works on two Nokia phones. For everything else, another solution is necessary. It is called Fring. Fring can be installed onto any cell phone that uses the Symbian or Windows Mobile operating systems.

Fring is both more than Skype and less. Fring brings together all the different VoIP computer interfaces - Skype, Google Talk, Twitter, MSN and others. It allows you to use voice calling and text messaging using any of these systems. Unfortunately, video-calls are not available. Not yet.

Using the system over a 3G cellphone network is less than ideal:

  • Firstly, there is a built in latency of about 1 second which can be irritating.
  • Secondly, the cost of using data using cell phone technology is still high - no matter what the cell phone companies say!
  • Thirdly, I have heard it said that the South African cell companies charge more than just the data charges if the technology is used for VoIP. I find this hard to believe - and eagerly await a denial of this practice from the Cell Phone Companies.

The ideal solution is therefore to connect the cell phone to the Internet using a wireless ADSL connection. Many of the newer phones can connect to a WLAN. This gives you the best of both worlds. Mobile Skype with good speeds and crystal clear sound!

To install Fring, simply browse to on your phone, select the download option and follow the instructions. Alternatively, follow the link on your computer and enter the required details. You will receive an SMS on your phone - just follow the directions.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

In search of the secret of life

The sixties and seventies were an age where people pondered the meaning of life. Money was not everything in those days and the world was full of young people seeking alternatives to simple material gain. Journeys to the east were not uncommon. Turn on, Tune in Drop Out! A favourite phrase, coined by Dr Timothy Leary, the guru of LSD and one of the gurus of the new age. Get out of the rat race, expand your conciousness and ‘tune-in’ to the universe.

The search for meaning - one of the all-time imponderables of life - became a key focus. It was a time of rebellion, rejection of the ‘establishment’ and taking on new values.

Murray had grown up in Hampstead - a good middle class suburb in North London. At the age of fifteen he had shoulder length hair and a bushy beard. He too was interested in finding out what it was all about. Why are we here? What are we doing on the planet, and what are we doing to it? In the same year his grandmother passed away. They had been very close in a rather strange way. She could never understand the long hair. A fifteen year-old with a beard! Or the drugs and the strange music. But at her funeral Murray just laughed. He couldn’t help himself. Her death had a profound effect on the boy and he found his thought turning more and more to the Secret or Life.

After completing his schooling Murray sought out an adventure. There must be someone in the world that could help in in his quest!

The journey began in London. Across the channel to Amsterdam. Hitch-hiking through Italy, Greece and on to Turkey. To Kabul in Afghanistan - home to some of the world’s finest hashish - and on across Asia. At every stop Murray asked the same question. “What is the secret of Life” but he got no answer. As the journey drew him eastward Murray began to get hints of a man that may be able to provide the answer. On to India. The gurus sent him here and there, but every lead was false.

Eighteen months of travelling, living as cheaply as he could was beginning to have its effects on the young Murray. He was missing his family and friends. Everything they did here was wrong. Murray began to miss those same conventional features of his home that he had left. His journey took him around India, to Opium dens and Hindu temples. The Mighty Ganges.

But travelling on a train one day Murray met a bearded guru that told him of a Tibetan Lama of 330 years that knew the secret of life. With a dwindling money supply Murray began this final stretch. As he neared his target more and more people confirmed the story.

High in the Himalayas was a little cabin. As Murray entered the dimply lit room his eyes fell on a man of infinite age. The Lama’s beard extended towards his belly and he was dressed in a simple robe. After sharing a bowl of rice, the old man asked Murray about his search.

Ever since I was a child I have wondered about the meaning of life. But when my granny died my thoughts turned to finding the secret of life. I have travelled through Europe and Asia. I have explored the length and breadth of India. Then my quest brought me to you. Do you know the secret of life?

The old man puffed away at his pipe and sipped a glass of water. “Young man,” he began. “The secret of life is something that I sought for many years. It is something that many are afraid to find. But I found it. Yes, I have the secret of life.”

The young man waited expectantly, but the Lama remained silent. “Would that be something that you would share with me?”

The old man took another long puff on his pipe and gazed at the young man’s eyes. “The secret of life” he began “is in old British army socks.

Murray could not believe what he was hearing. Old British army socks? He was angry. “I have travelled thousands of miles across the world to find the secret of life and you tell me old British army socks?


But Murray was adamant. “No. It is not possible. Old British army socks are not the secret of life!”

The old man stared in disbelief. “You mean I’ve lived all these years on an illusion?!” The Lama rolled over. He stopped breathing. He was dead.

Murray’s quest was over. He returned home penniless to begin a conventional life in the West. He knew that he would never find the answer.

How I use the Internet

I first began using the Internet about fifteen years ago. That was just before the Internet became highly commercialized, but still had lots of sites and information on almost anything. Until then I had lived all my life without email and without this vast information and opinion resource. Internet banking and Wikipedia still belonged to the future. Microsoft had not yet entered the Internet browser market and Netscape was the leading browser available. Internet shopping was still a pipe-dream.

I soon discovered MP3s. I began downloading music by artists known and unknown. I explored music of different countries and discovered artists that are unknown where I live. In those days the only option that was open to me was dial-up. Some songs took almost an hour to download, often resulting in incomplete songs. This downloading of copyrighted material actually benefited the music industry. I managed to locate agents for artists that I had discovered to purchase legal copies of the CDs. The cost of dial-up was high enough to make it worth buying CDs when I was impressed by an artist.

The Internet soon became a major source of information and although some sites had to be treated with caution, much value was gained.

In 1996 I embarked on an MBA degree. The primary delivery mechanism of the university was distance learning. The on-line discussion forums for the course never really got off the ground, but the on-line delivery of study materials and articles proved to be of great value. So did on-line submission of assignments. The Internet really began to deliver value when the university's library enrolled me on several on-line journal libraries. Articles from all the leading academic journals of the world were available at my fingertips! I could access a huge range of information for my assignments and research at all hours of the day and night without leaving my home. The days of waiting while the library sourced the journal were over.

Following my graduation, I became a part time lecturer on a business degree course. One of my tasks was to run an on-line discussion forum. I became an e-tutor for a top UK business school and helped students from China, Canada, the UK, Australia, Europe and the Middle East to work their way through a variety of modules - all from my home in Johannesburg.

I participated on an on-line course on e-learning and ended up running courses for the same organisation. These courses are are time-consuming but rewarding, and I continue to run these on an occasional basis.

My wife complains that I am glued to my computer - but although she was computer illiterate until a few months ago, she now has a work at home job on the Internet for an on-line dating site.

Six months ago while searching for information for a newsletter I stumbled upon I contributed an article and then another. My first article was purchased by a publisher and I then won third prize for a contest! On Helium I read about blogging and blogging for money. I now have several blogs but have not made much money. At least not yet!

I have set up sites to display my wife's art.

On a daily basis, I use the Internet to access information, to find answers to technical and business issues, for Internet banking, and to get regular news updates.

The Internet has enriched my life!

Friday, 06 June 2008

Zimbabwe run-off amidst growing suppression

As the presidential run-off election in Zimbabwe draws closer, the use of brute force to suppress the opposition has been increasing daily. The opposition leader has been detained twice in as many days. Foreign diplomats have been detained and held by Mugabe's forces. The opposition has been banned from campaigning or holding rallies. Only Zanu-PF is allowed such privileges. Mugabe and Zanu-PF are leaving no stone unturned in its effort to ensure that Mugabe wins the run-off election.

South Africa has been well positioned to influence the course of events in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately the continued 'mediation' or 'quiet diplomacy' of the South African president has proven itself to be thinly disguised support for Mugabe's despotic regime.

The roots of this support is based upon a sense of loyalty between old comrades in arms. Mugabe provided real support to the ANC during its years of struggle. When a liberation leader becomes a dictator it is time for that loyalty to fall away. Mugabe has become a despotic ruler that has laid his own country to waste. Millions of Zimbabweans are unable to live in their own country. How long can misplaced loyalty be allowed to influence the future of Zimbabwe?

South Africa provides the gateway to the country and perhaps, the key. South Africa could play a much more decisive and influential role in this sad country.

Once again we can expect Mugabe to attempt to steal the elections. If he fails in that quest can we expect military rule?