Thursday, 28 August 2008

Vista - not so bad after all

With so much bad publicity - much of it justified - surrounding Vista, I have discovered some features that are really worthwhile. I have learned to live with the issues. I have turned off the User Account Control that make doing almost anything into a nightmare.

Vista has a search facility that is second to none. Every screen from the start menu to every panel allows for searching. Search just one folder or the entire hard drive. The results begin to appear as you type, and within seconds the search is complete.

The search facility is easy to use and out performs anything that I have come accross before. It is a very useful tool that is used daily in performing my tasks.

Open the documents folder and all the sub-folders and loose documents are shown. The left of the window contains a full navigation tree. Hopping from one folder to another has become simple at last. Navigation is fast and easy.

With the UAC turned off, you are able to join a network simply by plugging in or linking to a wireless network. If there is encryption simply add the code.

The issues are still there. Some are still annoying. But after three months of using Vista I am quite happy.

Before you go ahead and buy Vista for your 4 year old machine, think again. Vista uses a vast amount of storage. You will need a fast processor. Two GB of memory is the minimum. You will need a much larger hard drive. So don't rush out to buy unless you have to. But for a brand-new machine, go ahead and get Vista.

Samurai sword school killer was bullied

An eighteen year old school boy from Johannesburg came to school one morning wearing a mask and carrying a Samurai sword. He lashed out killing one student and injuring others.

There have been cries of Satanism. Heavy metal band Slipknot have been blamed. He has told the psychiatrist that ghosts ordered him to become a Satanist.

But his mother revealed that the boy had been bullied at school. Bullying can have very dire consequences. Often the victims remain silent. They lose self-esteem and going to school means another day of torment. Sometimes bullied children take their own lives. In this case it seems that the bullying victim took action. He became a Satanist. Perhaps he though that this gave him licence to take revenge.

Schools seldom take action when it comes to bullying. Parents shy away from taking action. Perhaps their intervention will only make matters worse.

The killer is in no way justified. But hearing about the bullying meant that I could get a glimpse into the boy's psyche. It made it possible at least to understand.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Should I buy a home now or wait?

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 main problem 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 amongstbuyers! 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 accomodation, 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.

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?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Free International calls on your cell

My latest cell phone includes a connection to a wireless network. I can now browse the Internet and read my emails without incurring the high data call charges levied by the cell phone service providers.

The availability of this technology suggested the possibility of realising a long time dream - using VOIP over my cell phone. That has become a reality. Skype have not managed to produce a Symbian version of their software. But an alternative is available. Fring. Fring allows you to use your Skype, Google Talk, MSN, Twitter and other VOIP applications over your cell phone.

The problems associated with using your cell phone over a 3G connection is the latency of the system - an annoying delay in hearing the response. Then there is the problem of the data charges for using 3G.

Many of the new generation of cell phones now have the ability to use a WLAN. Connect to your wireless DSL or similar internet connection and you have the best of both worlds. Free international calls from your cell-phone. Skype without being tied to a computer. Cheap international calls using Skype-out. And all this from a cell phone where even local calls cost the earth.

Fring can be downloaded directly to any phone that uses either the Symbian or Windows Mobile operating systems. Try it - it's free!

Friday, 22 August 2008

How to save money on eating out

Eating out is for indulgance, pleasure and the enjoyment of great food. If you really want to save money on eating out, then eat in. Explore your cullinary talents, become adventurous, try out a range of recipes and foods from around the world. Entertain and be entertained.

Many years ago I mixed in a social circle where dinner parties were the thing. We took turns to host dinner parties which happened every one to teo weeks. When it was our turn we splashed out and made some really wonderful meals. The guests usually arrived with a bottle of wine. And the cost? A lavish meal for eight cost about the same as a reasonable meal for two at a half-decent restaurant.

Entertaining in itself is not always the answer. There are many people that will quite happily accept your invitation for dinner but you will wait in vain for a return invitation. What is needed is a group of people that are passionate about food and are willing to put in the time and effort to provide a decent or even a great meal when their turn comes around.

The entertaining group has to become a club. Each member or couple has a turn to provide an out of the world experience. A formal arrangement like this doesn't take the fun out of the wining and dining experience. It ensures continuity and great longterm friendships.

Somehow this all fell away as the children began arriving, but as they grow there is no reason why the dinner club shouldn't be viable.

Trying to save money on eating out is something that does really destroy the fun. The options are to choose the cheapest items on the menu and limit the expensive drinks. A jug of water will do. A bottle of the cheapest wine please - do you have any house wine? Forget about a starter. No desert - just the bill, please. Just a main course and a salad. After all of this you still spend the meal worrying about the bill. Is there a point in eating out? If you cannot eat out and enjoy the meal then why go out at all?

Of course if you customarily choose the most expensive otions on the menu and (of course) only the best wine then there is plenty of scope to save. Experiment with the other items on the menu. The most expensive is not always the best.

Other options are to go Italian rather than French. Italian food often offers very good value. Find a good Italian restaurant and use it.

If you normally eat out once or twice a week, then cut back. Instead of a weekly battle with the budget go out once a month, but make it really special. Choose a better restaurant than you are used to and select a good wine. A really classy meal once a month beats a weekly mediocre experience by miles, and you should still be able to save some money.

Of course if you take a trip to South Africa there are a wide range of restaurants that offer excellent value by international standards. The top restaurant in Cape Town will set you back less than $100 for a meal for two with a good wine, and there many that will cost less than half of that. We recently enjoyed an excellent rump steak with 5 salads and fries with the best wine of the house for a mere $40. The restaurant is a quality Israeli restaurant that serves middle eastern foods. The atmosphere is vibrant and alive. Book your trip now. South Africa is hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Get here some time before that and enjoy a range of restaurants at a third of the price of those in the US and a quarter of the prices of those in Europe.

Looking forward to seeing you. And of course, our dinner party club is open.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Smoking and the pain of quitting

I have been in the process of quitting smoking for the last 3 weeks. A very necessary and long overdue decision.

My quest began with Nicotine flavoured chewing gum. It works as long I am away from home, but having another smoker in the house does not work for me. I found myself smoking secretly in the early morning and at night.

But smoking isn't for quitters! I have continued in my attempt to end my slavery to the cigarette companies.

The next step was Zyban. This is an anti-depressant that has a huge success rate in stopping people from smoking. This unintended side-effect of the drug has been its main reason for success and frequent prescription.

Now on day 7, I am still smoking the odd cigarette, but I have just begun to notice a diminishing desire. Side effects have included occasional light-headedness and the slowing down of time. Time has been travelling so slowly that I have had time at work to do double my usual workload, and I suddenly have plenty of time at home!

Wish me luck ...

The pros and cons of online dating

Gone are the days when using a dating service carried a huge stigma. In the world of the twenty-first century where using the Internet for anything and everything has become the norm, online dating has become accepted and much used. While there are a number of disadvantages associated with online dating, there are many advantages.

One of the great advantages of online dating is that it provides a relatively safe platform to meet prospective partners. For those that shy away from meeting in bars and clubs it provides an environment where you can gain some knowledge of prospective dates before actually meeting ace to face.

A typical online dating site requires members to capture their profile. Your physical attributes, beliefs, education, occupation and cultural characteristics and of course a recent photograph. If you want you can meet or at least communicate with people from all around the world. In addition, you may capture the characteristics of the person that you would like to meet.

Based on what you have captured, the site calculates a percentage match. This provides a guideline as to whether the person that you would like to meet fills some or all of your requirements.

Online dating provides the opportunity to meet. Members begin by viewing profiles of prospective dates followed by an email. Contact details need to be exchanged until both parties are happy to meet. The ability to vet prospective dates before meeting provides and element of protection.

Many people have managed to find partners through this medium.

But there are some pitfalls to be aware of when joining an online dating site. The online environment provides the ability for those with dishonourable intentions to hide their true selves. People are able to adapt an online personality that bears little resemblance to their true selves.

Some people deliberately misrepresent themselves on dating sites. They post photographs that were taken many years ago. Sometimes they even post photos of celebrities. There is an element of risk in moving from the email communication to meeting. The actual meeting can turn out to be a total shock. A stunning twenty year old blonde turns out to be an obese alcoholic of forty plus.

Then there are those that use the dating sites as a base for their scams. They join the sites for financial gain. The person represented in the profile doesn't really exist. Instead it is a criminal organisation scamming lonely and vulnerable people by posting false profiles and mailing lonely people which become the victims. They operate from far away countries such as Russia and Ghana. They would like to meet with the prospect of marriage but don't have the money to travel. Once the victim transfers the funds the object of their desire disappears.

The online dating sites do vet the profiles to try to eliminate scammers and people that use celebrity photos as their own. But some inevitably slip through the net.

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

Used with an awareness of the dangers, online dating is a very useful way of meeting prospective partners. Avoid the pitfalls and never send money for someone to travel to meet you. If your date turns out to be a different person from the one on the site, then leave immediately. Many people manage to form lasting relationships from online dating, so the pros must outweigh the cons.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Vista becomes a manojor cause of computer waste around the globe

It is really great to buy a new computer with specifications that would have looked like science fiction just two or three years ago. The truth of the matter is that although the specs for PCs are improving astronomically from one year to the next, the performance of the computers never really seems to improve.
Microsoft Vista has been Microsoft's least successful operating system releases ever. Initially full of bugs, the systems has major compatibility issues with pre-Vista programs and components. All sorts of components have been rendered useless. My flatbed scanner has been rendered useless. Vista has been widely criticized by its users. Initially released full of bugs, Microsoft has released upgrade after upgrade, but the compatibility issue remains the same.

Computer waste has been a problem for quite a few years. With Vista as the main operating system, the problem has reached epidemic proportions!
It is really great to buy a new computer with specifications that would have looked like science fiction just two or three years ago. The truth of the matter is that although the specs for PCs are improving astronomically from one year to the next, the performance of the computers never really seems to improve.
The result is that computers become obsolete in record breaking time. Within two years you have to start thinking of replacing. And the disposal of old machines and old computer equipment in general is becoming a major waste hazard. All sorts of chemicals go into the making of a computer and the waste can be particularly hazardous if the waste seeps into the drinking water supply.

One of the main reasons that computers become obsolete so quickly lies in the development of new operating systems that are more and more resource hungry. Although we are now buying super sophisticated machines with more memory, processing power and disk space than ever before, we don’t enjoy the benefits. Windows Vista is a major culprit. Being very resource hungry you need a dual processor just to run it. You need at least 2 Gigabytes of memory so prevent everything from just grinding to a halt. You need 50 GB of disk space for the operating system.

What this means is that if everyone had to change to Vista, 60% of the computers on the planet are rendered useless. If everyone changes to Vista Ultimate (the top end of the operating system) then 90% of the world’s computers become obsolete. They become fit for nothing more than to accumulate on a rubbish dump. Some of the components may be suitable for recycling but who bothers?

There is a sort of symbiotic relationship between Microsoft and Intel. Without the frequent updating of operating systems there would be little need for more and more powerful machines. It would not be necessary to replace our computers every three years.

The motherboard of my three year old computer blew. The new motherboards cannot handle the four year old processor. The memory on the old machine is of an obsolete type. The alternative was to replace, and replace I did. But what do I do with the old components that still work? It is rendered waste. I have a huge collection of old motherboards, processors, power supplies …. I don’t feel comfortable just throwing it all out. So it accumulates at home.

PCs have not been around for very long. Before that most machines were of the mainframe type. These had to be upgraded and replaced from time to time, but not on the scale that we have today.

So what is to be done?

Monday, 11 August 2008

South Africa - a land of hope and dashed dreams

As I drive through Sandton I see cranes and evidence of construction in all directions. The Gautrain is on the way and driving from Johannesburg to Pretoria reveals the evidence. Stadiums are being built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The world is currently suffering the effects of high oil prices, spiralling food costs and the aftermath of the Sub-Prime crisis. South Africa is not immune. Interest rates have increased by 500 basis points over two years to counter inflation. Belts are being tightened.

Yet all around I see signs of a vibrant economy. Business has not shied away from investing. Houses are being built, office buildings rise to the sky, roads are being improved. Inflation is showing signs of peaking and the fall in the oil price should help fuel a continued slowdown in inflation.

These signs make me feel positive and hopeful. South Africa has a bright future, and once interest rates fall the economy should boom once again.

But there is another worrying side to the story. The ruling party - the ANC - has undergone something of a transformation over the last few months. Jacob Zuma - due to stand trial on charges of corruption - has been elected as the new president of the organisation. The left has put its weight behind him as well. The ANC "old guard" have largely been side-lined in favour of Zuma supporters. The unofficial split in the organisation has been very bitter.

The new leadership is full of people that have been convicted of fraud and corruption. The value system and principles of the organisation are a thing of the past. What has been replaced is a kind of fanatical support for Jacob Zuma. The Judiciary is attacked for having a "political agenda". The Scorpions - South Africa's equivalent of the FBI is to be abolished.

The Scorpions made it possible for Jacob Zuma to be prosecuted for corruption. He is fighting to stop the prosecution. The Scorpions uncovered the Travelgate scandal where MPs received cash for non-existant travel. Many of the new leadership of the ANC were convicted in this scandal. Without the Scorpions' "political agenda" their records would have been clean.

Julius Malema is the new president of the ANC Youth League. He has vowed to "kill for Zuma" though he was unspecific as to who was on the list. He will "eliminate" the "counter-revolutionary forces" that do not support Jacob Zuma. There have been threats of "No Zuma, No South Africa" from supporters outside the court.

Democracy is no longer important. The rule of law is not important. The courts are being undermined. It is a kind of emerging fascism. An emerging fascism strongly supported by the left. The SA Communist Party and the Trade Union movement naively believe that the new leadership will deliver what they want.

In the meantime the "old school" ANC members are keeping very quiet. Many have distanced themselves from the new rhetoric, but few have spoken out. The ANC is set to lose votes at the next election, but there is no viable opposition.

The answer for now is to wait and see. But some of our dreams have been dashed.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Should marijuana be legalized?

As a member of the Baby Boomer generation I was exposed to marijuana at a young age. It was widely regarded as harmless, and as a much more civilised alternative to alcohol. Its use allowed for enhanced musical listening pleasure and for a great deal of introspection. In the late sixties and early seventies marijuana and hashish (the plant's resin), became a central feature of the developing 'alternative' culture that focused on love, peace and living for today as its core values. The drug was widely used by the youth and the intelligentsia.

Today the social use of the drug has changed to a large degree, but marijuana still has its proponents. Many of the positive connotations associated with the drug in the hippie era have gone, and research - mostly - inconclusive - has indicated that marijuana may not be quite as harmless as was thought in those years. But use of marijuana remains widespread as a recreational drug.

As long as marijuana remains illegal, it shares a similar status to highly dangerous and addictive drugs such as heroin, crack cocaine and morphine. But a range of highly dangerous and toxic substances remain freely available.

Tobacco is one of the biggest killers on the planet, but can be purchased legally over the counter at any supermarket. Alcohol has caused countless deaths and broken homes but remains legal even if distribution is subject to some controls. Many would argue - with some justification - that tobacco and alcohol are much more dangerous than marijuana.

The legal status of marijuana places it into the same category as highly addictive and dangerous narcotics. Distribution of the drug is achieved through illegal channels, often organised crime. Because of their criminal connections, dealers of marijuana become associated with other drugs as well. These are more profitable drugs so why not use the opportunity? The user is thus exposed to the opportunity to try and buy a wide range of truly dangerous drugs.

The Netherlands has taken the step of legalising marijuana and hashish. The drug can be obtained legally with controls and can be used in a more controlled environment. Although use of the drug is quite open and free, the society has not disintegrated. There has been little evidence of damage to health, and the relationship of marijuana to criminal acts is much lower than is the case with alcohol.

As long as marijuana remains associated with more dangerous narcotics the risk of marijuana becoming a 'gateway' to other drugs remains strong. Alcohol is a powerful and often destructive drug that is fully legal. But its legal status ensures that alcohol does not become associated with other narcotics. Alcohol users do not migrate to heroin in great numbers. The perception of alcohol as legal and legitimate separates it from heroin and cocaine.

The beneficial uses of marijuana are largely under-reported. Research has supported the value of marijuana in the treatment of arthritis, asthma and Alzheimer's disease amongst others. But sufferers of these diseases are unlikely to benefit from treatment because of the legal status.

Legalisation, regulation and control are the proper solution. Users of the drug will no longer be criminalised. The subculture status will be removed. Most importantly, users of marijuana will no longer have to associate with the dealers of narcotics to get their supplies. The potential to use marijuana for a range of medicinal purposes will become viable.

Sunday, 03 August 2008

Is drug abuse genetic?

Addiction is something that can take many forms. It can be addiction to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, shopping and sex. Many full time addiction counsellors have come to the conclusion that addiction - or rather the propensity to become an addict - is an inborn character trait. It is the addictive personality that is likely to become an addict.

Although these counsellors have many years of experience in the field, there is little empirical evidence to support the addictive personality theory. Somehow, the belief that certain substances and activities are addictive has been discarded in favour of the genetic view.

Drug addiction is a major problem throughout the world. The drug of choice for billions of people around the world is tobacco. Although there has been a decline in the number of smokers in the developed world, the developing world is still catching up and the numbers of smokers are still increasing. Most smokers begin as a teenager, though some start even earlier. Tobacco companies know that once the 'victim' has tried their product a few times they will become hooked and become a loyal customer for life.

In the past many people took up smoking in the belief that there was something glamorous about it, that it added something to one's persona. Successful people in all fields of life smoked. Today that view of smoking has been reversed. It is now more likely to be the rebel rather than the successful person that becomes a smoker.

Because of its legal status, tobacco is not normally included as part of the drug abuse lexicon. Heroin, Crack-cocaine, Cocaine, Mandrax, Amphetamines, Opium, Morphine are all drugs that have addictive properties. In the case of the opiates, the body produces a tolerance that must be satisfied to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.

Perhaps the argument is not about the addictive nature of the drugs being used, but about the type of person that is likely to try these drugs. Again, there is little empirical evidence to support the genetic view. Rather, there are a whole range of complex social and familial issues that influence what a child is likely to do. Certainly there is a personality - or genetic - element.

In the sixties drug use in the music industry was almost universal. In a previous era, actors were particularly prone. During the sixties and seventies almost all students used some form of drugs. Many did not even see this as drug abuse, but as part of a consciousness expanding self exploration.

Certainly the children of smokers are more likely to become smokers than the children of non-smokers, but there are many examples where smokers' children do no indulge in any addictive behaviour. Addictive behaviour is generally learned, but awareness and education can successfully mitigate against this learned behaviour. Rather than genetic factors it is the broader social networks and groups that influence the decision to experiment with and ultimately abuse drugs.