Wednesday, 16 December 2009

What to expect: Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg is the business hub of South Africa. It is a city built on a plain 6,000 feet above sea level.
Johannesburg is almost unique amongst the major cities of the world. Most were built on a major road, on a river or beside the sea. The only reason that Johannesburg was born was because of gold. It was gold that was found in abundance and the city sprang up in response. It is hardly surprising that the city is nicknamed Egoli - Place of Gold - by the Zulu speaking inhabitants.
The City of Gold has spawned some interesting sites. Gold Reef City is built in the style of the late 19th century when the city was born. Gold Reef City comprises a theme park with a Victorian fun-fair, entertainment and hotel as well as a casino offering the chance to win or lose vast sums of money. For the theme park, a single modest cover price covers all the rides.
The casino houses a theatre as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
The Apartheid Museum is right next door to Gold Reef City and well worth a visit. This provides insight into life under Apartheid and the struggle against it.
The constitutional court is built on the site of the Fort Prison which played host to Nelson Mandella and many others during the years of Apartheid. The court and grounds are open to the public for a small fee (though free on Sundays). The court itself features some stunning architecture. It is worth taking a guided tour which includes the court, the art collection and the prison. The prison shows what life was like. There were actually two prisons. Black and white prisoners had separate facilities.
New-Town is an old part of Johannesburg that has been regenerated. This is a cultural centre in a way. The Market Theatre played a huge role in providing a haven for free speech in a muzzled society continues to play a role in featuring new fringe theatre productions. Museum Africa provides art and artifacts for the nation and is worth a visit.
Johannesburg's Central Business District became run-down and is being regenerated. Much business has moved to Sandton which has become the new business centre in many ways. Sandton is full of new and impressive buildings. Only a few decades ago Sandton was semi-rural with homes on large pieces of land and quiet streets. Nelson Mandella Square is home to many of Johannesburg's restaurants and provides acces to an upmarket shopping centre.
Johannesburg is full of shopping centres, ranging from low cost to upmarket establishments. Not quite a shopper's paradise, but still plenty of scope.
Parkmore is a quiet leafy suburb in Northern Johannesburg that has become a major centre for restaurants. Many are fairly upmarket, but offer excellent value for money when compared to restaurants in New York or London.
For nightlife, you many visit the various casinos that surround the city. Mentecasino is the most impressive. It features a world-class theatre - or Teatro - featuring major productions. The casino hosts dozens of restaurants, cinemas, clubs and a bird sanctuary as well as a five star hotel.
Perhaps Jphannesburg can best serve as a centre for further travel and exploration. Sun City is well worth a visit just two hours away by car. Sun City features casinos, top-class entertainment, water sports and of course the Lost City - a spectacular site in itself.From SunCity take a trip through the Pilansberg Game Reserve with a qualified guide on a landrover. Night tours and day tours are available.
Closer to home is the Cradle of Humankind, the site where some of the earliest humanoids ever found. Once again restaurants, accomodation, entertainment are available.
While visiting Johannesburg, be aware. The city is known for its high level of crime, though most people are able to lead relatively normal lives. The Johannseburg climate is mild with a dry winter (May-August) and a hot summer (December-March). The hot summers are broken by thundershowers.
Johannesburg is upgrading itself for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. New stadiums have been built and old stadiums improved.
Johannesburg may prove itself to be well worth a visit.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A look at online dating rules

Follow these simple rules to make online dating a great new experience.

GETTING STARTED

Wide varieties of online dating sites await your visit. Most work in a similar way. You may register, explore the site and even search for a possible match. However, when you are tempted to contact your dream partner, you need to take out a subscription. While these may vary, the rules of most online dating sites are much the same. Complete your profile and add your pictures for free. To make contact, you must pay.

YOUR PROFILE

Online Dating profiles provide your window to the site. First is a bunch of questions about you. Questions about your ideal partner follow. Then there is a free-form text area for you to describe who you are and what you are looking for. It is a good idea to apply the rule of honesty when completing your profile. Honesty simplifies the whole process.

Add a photo of yourself to your profile. Again, the honesty rule applies. If you use a photo of someone else, then there will be some serious explaining - possibly at the expense of a great relationship.

READY TO EXPLORE

Once you have updated your profile, you may explore the site at your leisure. Have a look at who is available, those that you may want to meat. If you like the look of someone, you may mark them as a favorite - they will see you as a fan. The main rule to remember at this stage is that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

FOLLOW THE SITE RULES

Most dating sites have a simple rule about exchanging contract details before both parties have communicated with each other. Apart from protecting its revenue - it does cost money to run an online dating site - the site is protecting you. Most of the people that you meet online are normal people. But there are dangers. Criminals use the Internet too and target dating sites as a source of revenue.

USE YOUR COMMON SENSE

Sometimes a potential partner may seem too good to be true. If in doubt, contact the site administration with the username. The common sense rule is that you don't send money to anyone. A common scam is to get you to transfer money to pay for an air-ticket to meet you because there is a 30 day hold on their own funds.
The second common sense rule is to arrange your first meeting in a public place such as a restaurant. This gives you the opportunity to leave if you are not happy with your date. If he (or she) is not the person you saw in the photo, rather leave and find somebody new.

ANSWERING MAILS

While there is no rule to compel you to respond to mail, it is common courtesy to do so. If you are not interested, then let the other party know. It can save you the trouble of receiving persistent mail. If someone is bothering you, you are able to block mail from that person.
Online dating provides a great way to meet new partners without having to frequent singles bars or clubs. Follow these few simple rules to ensure a happy and safe experience.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009



Lorraine, then and now. Oil and collage on canvas. Lorraine Marcus, November, 2009.
For more work by Lorraine, go to Lawlie's Art

Why you need good communication skills in business

Every aspect of a business is governed by communication. Effective communication between the executive and those that do the work is essential to ensure that the right work is being done. Every business must be able to communicate with its customers. A lack of communications skills can affect the bottom line. How often does your interaction with a company's call centre drive you to the opposition? Never underestimate the importance of communication skills in business.

Communication in business takes place on a number of levels.

Communication between the business and the outside world is of prime importance. Effective communication with clients is one of the keys to keeping a business alive. Without its clients, a business has no reason to exist. Only a monopoly with 'captive clients' can sustain itself without effective external communication.

Client communication begins with marketing. Marketing lays the foundation of a business's communication with its client. Marketing is the ability to communicate the benefits of the products and services that a business offers. It establishes the image of the organisation, and creates an element of public trust in the organisation.

The sales force provides the next level of client communication. The sales force must be able to represent the company and its products 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. The call centre is often the first line of support for a company's products. Often too little time and effort is invested in the call centre. All too often call centre consultants are under-trained, incompetent or lacking in motivation and commitment. The call-centre is the business's window 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 businesses 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 objectives have not been communicated to the consulting house and the executive are just too busy to meet with 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.

There are many lines of internal communication. These include communication between board members, communication between the board and the executive, communication to management and communication to staff. Departmental or divisional barriers should not be allowed to become communication barriers.

Open lines of communication are essential if the businesses strategy is to work.

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, at times the total absence of communication. When it comes to the business's window to the world the call centre must ensure that the consultants are trained and able to communicate. They must be able to listen, and their responses should be backed by genuine knowledge.

Communication includes an often neglected skill the ability to listen. A business that listens to its clients is more able to meet their requirements. A business that listens to its staff may enjoy better labour relations and may benefit from the many ideas and innovations that its staff suggest.

If a business has a will to succeed, it must be able to communicate to the world, its clients and to itself.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Why choose home solar energy?

Climate change and escalating energy costs have driven many people to consider using solar energy. Home 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 or supplement the 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 the home. Water is circulated through a series of pipes and stored in a tank ready for use. These are very effective in sunny climates and 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 have been 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 and at night. 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 energy more affordable.
The provision of hot water is one of the major costs in most homes energy bills. Solar Energy can effectively reduce that cost by providing some of the hot water requirements. In the right climate, solar panels can supply most of the hot water requirements. This hot water can also be used to power the home's central heating system.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Words are the most dangerous weapon of all

Sticks and stones can break my bones,
but words will never harm me

In fact, words are the most powerful weapon of all.

Words can bring about peace, friendship, invention, understanding and education. That happens when words are used wisely, to build bridges and solve problems.

Words can bring about war, murder, hate, riots, destruction and disinformation. That can be the result of the reckless use of words, when words are used to promote hate and violence.

An instance of the reckless and dangerous use of words has been demonstrated in South Africa's recent history. It began with a statement by the minister of law and order. Police must shoot to kill when lives are at risk from criminals. The statement was repeated by the new chief of police and the country's president.

The words have already had some unintended consequences. It seems that the criminals are not waiting to be shot dead and ensure that they shoot first if confronted by the police.

The latest example of the use of dangerous rhetoric was by the chairman of the Free State ANC Youth League. He stated that ".. Professor Jansen is also a criminal ... and I agree with the ANC President that criminals should be shot and killed."

Now the emphasis and meaning has shifted dangerously towards anarchy or fascism. The courts are no longer required to decide when a person is a criminal. My say so is enough.

More horrifying was the next statement, that "criminals should be shot and killed." Gone are the qualifiers. Life no longer need be threatened. More a "look, there's a criminal. Kill him, hill him!" mentality. What if someone acts on these words?

How many fanatics will now fantasize on going out to shoot criminals?

Julius Malema this morning denied that there was anything wrong with these words. John Robbie of 702 Talk Radio played the sound clip several times, but Malema refused to admit that the words uttered had been said. Sounding more brainless than ever, he tried to twist their meaning. The statement about Jansen was totally unrelated to the part about shooting and killing.

Words can be extremely dangerous. Almost every crime, every murder, every terrorist act and every war is started with words. The ideology that drives a suicide bomber is transmitted by words.

ANC leaders should be trained to use their brains before resorting to dangerous rhetoric. To allow these words to be uttered without restraint could lead the party and the country to a very dangerous place.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Why cell phone users are reverting back to landlines

The explosion of cell-phone technology has been a major area of growth. Cell phones have become ultra smart. They emulate computers. They are able to show videos in high quality and stream television programmes.
The latest models include GPS navigation, document editing, handwriting recognition and email processing. They allow you to view the latest you-tube videos or go to your facebook page at the click of a button.
Then there is the cell-phone as camera. The best of these are good offering up to 12 megapixel resolution!
The growth of the cell-phone industry is almost without parallel. People have become dependent on their mobile phones and in a sense are almost enslaved by them.
Cell-phone technology has also heralded the birth of the videophone. Formerly a part of science fiction, video calls have not really caught the imagination of the world. Transmission is just to slow to use the technology effectively. The voice and picture are never in synch.
Landline phones, by contrast have remained phones. You may be able to see who is calling, or view the last few calls, but it is still a phone.
There is only one aspect of cell-phone technology that hasn't improved much since their introduction. The one aspect gives a landline phone the edge is the network and call quality. Coupled with the failure of the cell-phone networks to reduce their prices, the landline is fast becoming a more attractive option.
It is hardly surprising that many cell-phone users are using the landline to make calls. Apart from the clarity of the call and the stability of the signal, the cost is a fraction of the mobile variety.
But it is not only cost and call quality that affects the popularity of cell phone call usage. The police and intelligence services have the technology to tap and intercept landline calls. Interception of cell phone calls imposes an even greater risk.
Internet access is similarly affected. A DSL landline connection is fast, stable and cheap. The cell-phone companies seem addicted to super-profits and charge massive rates for broadband Internet access. Even if you decide to use VOIP - or the Voice Over Internet Protocol - the cost (and probably the quality) will be better from a fixed line.
Perhaps cell-phone users are re-evaluating the value of the cell-phone. They are great for quick and immediate communications. They are not ideal for long discussions. Perhaps the focus has been on better and better technology for everything other than to make calls. That must be why cell-phone users are rediscovering the landline.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The linguistic and cultural ties between Arabs and Jews

The conflict in the Middle East gives rise to the perception that Arabs and Jews are deadly enemies with vast differences that can never be solved. Many will be surprised to learn that this conflict is a relatively recent development dating back about a hundred years. The conflict belies the fact that there are many similarities between the two peoples.

Arabic is widely spoken as a language amongst the Arab nations of the Middle East. Hebrew is an ancient language, the language of the Old Testament originating several thousand years ago. The two languages are written using different scripts but there are striking similarities between the two. Often the difference is one of pronunciation.

The Hebrew word for peace is pronounced as shalom. In Arabic it is salaam. Where a Jew will say 'shalom aleichem' an Arab will say 'salaam aleikum'. Both mean 'peace be with you'. The Hebrew for blessing is baruch, in Arabic, barack. The names of the Hebrew numbers are almost identical to their Arabic counterparts.

Knowledge of one of the two languages simplifies the learning of the other. Both languages are thought to have originated from the same source, and have been written since about 3000 BCE. Although a different script is used for the two languages, the names of the letters share a certain similarity and neither has vowels as part of the alphabet. Interestingly, the term 'alphabet' derives from the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet - aleph and bet. All Semitic languages are written from right to left.

For many years, Hebrew became the language to the Torah and other books of the Old Testament. It was a language of study and prayer. Jews in the region began to speak Aramaic - another Semitic language with great similarities to both Hebrew and Arabic. Much of the Talmud is written in Aramaic, but Torah scholars do not have great difficulty in managing the transition.

With the rise of Zionism in the nineteenth century, Hebrew was revived as a spoken language. This resulted in changes to the grammar, and the infusion of new words to describe modern phenomena. Surprisingly, much of the new grammar corresponds to the grammatical changes that occurred in the use of Arabic over the last two millennia.

There are more than simple linguistic similarities between the two peoples. According to the Torah (and the Quran) both nations began with Abraham's two sons - Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was to father the Arab peoples and the nomadic tribes; while Isaac was the father of Jacob whose twelve sons defined the twelve tribes of Israel. Both peoples therefore have a common ancestry.

Islam and Judaism have many differences, but probably share more with each other than with Christianity. Each has retained the dietary laws. These include the killing of animals by cutting through the jugular vein. The method is painless and death is instant. The slaughterer requires specific training. The animal's blood must be drained before the meat is fit to eat. Not all animals are allowed to be eaten. The most famous of these is the pig.

Kosher food is considered halaal for Moslems, though the kosher laws are stricter than the laws of halaal thus precluding Jews from eating halaal food.

The laws governing burial are also similar, namely that the body should be buried on the day of death. Mourning procedures also have similarities.

Both religions place a strong emphasis on the giving of charity. Modesty is emphasised in dress and in the relations between men and women.

There have been historical times when the Jews thrived under Moslem rule. The greatest example was the Hebrew Golden Age in Spain. The Golden Age spanned the years between 900 and 1200 CE. This was a time of great Jewish intellectual achievements. The Jewish and Arab intellectual worlds stimulated each other producing astronomers, poets, philosophers, musicians and scientists. Although the Jews had to wear identifying clothing to distinguish them and were subjected to special taxation, they were free to pursue their own religion and studies. The Jews prospered and developed a strong culture which thrived until their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

For many centuries Jews lived in Arab countries and Arabic became their spoken language. Persecution was much more rare than in the Christian countries of Europe. In the modern era, the Jews of these Arab countries have let or been expelled.

Perhaps one of the keys to solving the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians is to emphasise what the two peoples have in common rather than their differences.

Sunday, 06 September 2009

A visitor's guide to South Africa

South Africa is a mixture of cultures and traditions with much to offer the visitor. The mixture includes spectacular safaris and sightseeing, beach holidays and visits to great cities. South Africa is a mix of Western, African and Asian cultures.

The local currency is the rand. The strength of the currency varies from time to time but even when the rand is strong, it tends to favour the visitor. At the time of writing you will get about R8 for US $1 or R13 for 1.

Accommodation is available in a number of hotel chains including the outstanding Southern Sun, the Hilton, many independent establishments. There are also a wide variety of guest houses, guest farms and other accommodation. Rates vary from one establishment to another depending the ratings and demand. The most expensive rates are available during the December peak season (December 15 to January 5) which is the South African summer school holidays. SA-Venues.com provides a useful guide to rates and accommodation. Hotel accommodation is available from under R300 per person per night (about US $30) to over R2000 (US $200). Many establishments offer self catering options.

Getting around the country is best achieved using a combination of air and road. Car hire is widely available in all the major centres. Public transport is limited. The Blue Train offers a luxurious 'old-style' fully catered train that takes you through some of the most spectacular landscapes between Pretoria and Cape Town. Good food is accompanied with the finest wines. A holiday in itself.

South Africa is home to people originating in all four corners of the globe. The variety of restaurants reflects this diversity catering for almost all tastes. Almost every type of cuisine is available in the many restaurants that include classic French, Italian, Thai, English, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, African and South African dining experiences. Many on-line restaurant guides are available includingWhat2Night. By international standards, South African restaurants are very inexpensive.

The South African braai or barbecue is always popular. Beef steaks, lamb, chicken or fish is cooked over a charcoal grill accompanied with boerewors which is a South African sausage made according to the butcher's own recipe.

Special dietary requirements are available in many centres. Halaal food is very widely available while kosher food is available in more localised areas.

South Africa has eleven official languages. English is most widely used and most people have at least a smattering of English.

Located on the Southern tip of the African continent, South Africa is flanked by the Indian Ocean on the East and the Atlantic on the west. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, the summer months include December to February and winter months include June to August.

Cape Town is cosmopolitan and sophisticated boasting a wide range of world-class hotels. The climate is Mediterranean with hot dry summers and wet winters. The latest of these is the One&Only seven star resort which opened in April 2009.

Cape Town is a picturesque city blessed with beautiful beaches on the warm Indian Ocean and the icy Atlantic. Table Mountain dominates the city wherever you happen to be. Table Mountain resembles a table especially when covered by a white cloud 'table cloth'.

Robben Island lies just off the Cape coast. It played host to Nelson Mandela as a former maximum security prison. Today, Robben Island has become a major tourist destination and is worth a visit. The island is reached by ferry and tours are inexpensive.

Restaurants and theatre of all types abound. Cape Town is in the heart of the South African wine lands and a popular wine tour is an inexpensive way to experience the rich variety of South African wines.

The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is a not to be missed venue. Sit at one of the many restaurants overlooking the harbour and watch the ships come and go.

One of the highlights of the Cape Town year is the annual Coon Carnival' on the first and second of January.

Johannesburg is South Africa's largest city and the business centre of the country. Situated on the high veld at 6000 feet above sea level, it features hot wet summers and dry mild winters. Johannesburg hosts a number of good restaurants and theatres. The Market theatre is known as one of the leading fringe theatres in the country and has staged a number of award winning shows over the years.

Johannesburg is host to a number of world class casinos. The best of these is Monte Casino which includes a theatre, cinemas, curiosity shops, fashion retailers, night clubs and restaurants. It is also the home of a bird sanctuary and an upmarket hotel.

A visit to the Constitutional Court is a must. This was built on the old Fort prison that played host to Nelson Mandela amongst others. During the apartheid years, the prison was known as Sun City. Nelson Mandela was amongst the many well known guests of this establishment. A guided tour is strongly recommended. The court has been built using some stunning and innovative architecture and houses an impressive art collection.

While Johannesburg does experience a high level of crime most people are able to go about their business on a day to day basis with little trouble.

The African Craft Market takes place every Sunday at the Rosebank Mall and is a must for any visitor looking for African crafts and mementos. The Apartheid Museum provides a perspective on the history of South Africa. It is located near the Gold Reef City Theme Park and casino.

Soweto has been home to many of the South African leaders and is worth a visit. Guided tours are available to take you to the most interesting parts.

Some of the earliest known humanoids have been found in South Africa. The Cradle of Humankind was developed to celebrate this. The Cradle has been developed into a major resort offering accommodation, guided tours conference facilities, and much more.

200 kilometres away from Johannesburg is the spectacular Sun City casino resort. The resort features a number of hotels ranging from the Cabanas to the Palace of the Lost City and self-catering chalets in the Vacation Club. The Palace is a not to be missed African dream with its own legends and a man made sea with real waves. Top class restaurants are the order of the day. Bordering on Sun City is the Pilansberg Game reserve which is well worth a tour.

Durban is South Africa's third largest city on the Indian Ocean. It boasts a spectacular aquarium at Shaka's Rock in the form of a ship wreck. The harbour area is also being developed as a popular night spot. To the north are the quiet resorts of Umhlanga and St Lucia boasting beautiful white sand beaches. Durban has a sub-tropical climate and is generally warm throughout the year. It is a popular winter destination as it remains warm throughout the year.

Durban and the nearby Umhlanga Rocks are popular destinations for surfers. To the north and south of Durban are many miles of beautiful beaches and quiet resorts.

South Africa has developed many game reserves. The larges of these is the Kruger Park. This is in malaria territory so precautions are required. The park is home to lions, elephants, rhino, crocodiles, hippos, springboks, wildebeest and a whole range of other animal and bird species. Luxury accommodation is available at various parts of the park which is about the size of Wales. The best time to view the wildlife is in the early morning, before the heat of the day drives the animals to seek shelter.

South Africa is aboPublish Postut to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Apart from the many new stadiums that have been built for this event, the road networks around the country are being upgraded to cope with higher traffic volumes.

Many visitors to South Africa return to experience the country again. South Africa is a worthwhile and affordable place to visit.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Trade and free markets - how they improve our standard of living and promote freedom

Free trade is an ideal that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been striving to achieve since its inception 60 years ago. The WTO has led the way towards a freer international trading environment. Trading barriers have been broken down and globalisation of various industries has taken place on a vast scale. International trade is at an all time high.

Many agreements have been reached between member states over successive rounds of WTO conferences. But many of these conferences have been plagued by passionate demonstrations and protests. The reasons for the protests are largely a result of the skewed implementation of free-trade that favours the rich at the expense of the poor.

The unfair implementation of free trade is a problem that has plagued the WTO from its inception. The champions of free trade strive to eliminate tariffs and unfair practices by other countries while maintaining an unfair advantage at home.

The huge agricultural subsidies applied by the United States and the European Union are the prime example of unfair trading practices. Subsidies result in over-production and the subsequent "dumping" of surplus produce on world markets. By contrast, developing countries are expected to reduce or eliminate tariffs on imports,

The result is therefore skewed. The developing world cannot hope to compete against agricultural subsidies that dwarf their entire economy. Unable to provide subsidies in their own countries, various GATT agreements ensure that imported goods often highly subsidised - are available duty free in these countries.

Prior to the establishment of the WTO many countries operated varying degrees of protectionism. High tariffs and duties were imposed on imports. In some cases additional restrictions such as import quotas were imposed over and above the tariffs.

Many of these tariffs and restrictions have been removed over the years. However, there are some notable exceptions. One of these is China which maintains a protected economy coupled with an artificial exchange rate. As a result Chinese goods are currently flooding world markets unimpeded. The results are good for China, but can seriously undermine the ability of certain industries to compete against artificially low prices.

Free trade is a system that encourages each country to produce and export what it is best at. If applied fairly and universally, free trade should benefit all.

At present, trade is skewed in favour of the rich and powerful, able to subsidise their own producers. For all intents and purposes, subsidies imply a degree of protectionism that works against free trade. Some countries have not signed the various WTO agreements but enjoy the benefits of being able to export to other countries unimpeded.

Free trade will work properly when the rules are applied equally to all. In the current environment, some countries are more equal than others.

Saturday, 08 August 2009

South Africa - why to visit

South Africa has attracted some negative publicity in the international media in recent months. A recent TV documentary by Louis Theroux (Law and disorder in Johannesburg) focussed on crime in two of the worst areas in and around Johannesburg. While the picture is a true one of these areas, it does not represent South Africa or Johannesburg as a whole. Other reports have focussed on corruption and other problem areas of the country.

While these reports are accurate in many ways, they portray only one aspect of a beautiful country and one of the world’s youngest and most vibrant democracies. The crime rate is certainly high, and there have been cases of alleged corruption amongst politicians.

For most people life is much more normal than the images emerging from the TV screens. In fact, there is much that is good and positive about life in South Africa.

The climate and lifestyle of the country were just two of the big attractions to the country.

Located on the South of the African continent, South Africa is a curious mixture of the first and third worlds offering a huge variety of things to do and see.

It is flanked by the Indian Ocean on the East and the Atlantic on the west.

Cape Town is cosmopolitan and sophisticated boasting a huge range of world-class hotels. The latest of these is the One&Only seven star resort which opened in April 2009.

Cape Town is a picturesque city blessed with stunningly beautiful beaches on the warm Indian Ocean and the icy Atlantic. Table Mountain dominates the city wherever you happen to be. Table Mountain resembles a table especially when covered by white clouds that resemble a table cloth.

Restaurants and theatre of all types abound. Cape town is in the heart of the South African wine country, and a popular wine tour is an inexpensive way to experience the richness and variety of South African quality wines.

The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is a not to be missed venue. Sit at one of the many restaurants overlooking the harbour and watch the ships come and go.

One of the highlights of the Cape Town year is the annual Coon Carnival' on the first and second of January. The Cape has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and wet winters.

South Africa's largest city is Johannesburg. The city is the business centre of the country and experiences hot wet summers and dry mild winters. Johannesburg has an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level. Johannesburg has little in the way of natural features, but does host a number of good restaurants and theatres. The Market theatre is known as one of the leading fringe theatres in the country and has staged a number of award winning shows over the years.

Johannesburg is host to a number of world class casinos. The best of these is Monte Casino which also hosts a theatre, cinemas, curiosity shops, fashion retailers, night clubs and restaurants. It also plays host to a bird sanctuary and hotel.

While in Johannesburg a visit to the Constitutional Court is a must. This was built on the old Fort prison that played host to Nelson Mandela amongst others. A guided tour is strongly recommended. The architecture is unusual and quite stunning. The court is host to an impressive art collection.

While Johannesburg does experience a high level of crime most people are able to go about their business on a day to day basis with little trouble.

The Cradle of Humankind is the site where the earliest known humanoids were found. The Cradle has been developed into a major resort offering conferences, accommodation, guided tours and much more.

200 kilometres away from Johannesburg is Sun City a spectacular casino resort built in the middle of nowhere.

Sun City has a number of hotels ranging from the Cabanas to the Palace of the Lost City. The Palace is an African dream and not to be missed. Sun City also houses a Vacation Club with self-catering chalets nestling in the hills. Top class restaurants are the order of the day. Bordering on Sun City is the Pilansberg Game reserve which is well worth a tour.

Durban is South Africa's third largest city on the Indian Ocean. It boasts a spectacular aquarium at Shaka's Rock in the form of a ship wreck. The harbour area is also being developed as a popular night spot. To the north are the quiet resorts of Umhlanga and St Lucia boasting beautiful white sand beaches.

The Kruger Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa. This is in malaria territory so precautions are required. To many lions, elephants, rhino, crocodiles, hippos, springboks, wildebeest and a whole range of other animal and bird species this is home. The Kruger Park is about the size of Wales. The best time to view the wildlife is in the early morning, before the heat of the day drives the animals to seek shelter.

South Africa is about to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Preceding this huge event was the highly successful Confederations cup in 2009. South Africa has already hosted cricket and rugby world cups and played host to the Indian Professional League 20-20 cricket tournament where capacity crowds filled the stadiums.

While the rest of the world is experiencing the worst recession in recent years, South Africa has thus far escaped the worst. South Africa is an inexpensive holiday venue. A three course meal for two at a good restaurant would cost between R300-R500 or US $30 to $50. Accommodation at a good hotel will range from about $60 per night depending on where and when.

Many visitors to South Africa return to experience the country again. South Africa is a worthwhile and affordable place to visit.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Blogging for fun

Blogging is fun.

Even the professional that is trying to turn a blog into his primary source of income does it for fun. But there is a subtle difference between a blog that has a specific purpose and a blog that is created and maintained just for the fun of it. Blogging for fun is putting together content that you like, the things that you enjoy. You do it for yourself, for family and friends and perhaps for the world. It is a question of blogging for arts sake.

Blogging is a form of creative expression, and even when the blog becomes your main source of income, your profession, there is only one way to blog and that is for fun. Blogging has become an art form. Bloggers range from amateurs that simply blog to create a record of their lives for family and friends, to those with a serious point of view and perhaps a political agenda.

Some people simply blog for the money. Their blogs are a constant rehash of search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques, or instructions on how to make money from their blogs. Many businesses have set up their own blogs to help promote their products and even to provide help and support to their clients.

When an artist or a writer stops enjoying what they do their art dies. When the fun is no longer part of the definition of blogging, the interest dies and with it the blog.

Blogging as an art form is similar to all other creative outlets. Artists create art because of the drive for creative expression. Some are able to make a living while doing what they enjoy most. Others struggle to turn their art into a viable profession and some are content to simply treat is as a hobby.

Musicians play their instruments to express themselves. Music is their life. Some get rich and others remain poor. They play for enjoyment and satisfaction that creating music brings.

Writers are a similar breed. Many aspire to write and become rich and famous. They become journalists, novelists, copy writers or bloggers. They have a way with words and are able to express their interests in the form of language. They write for personal fulfilment, to make a statement, for recognition or to satisfy their egos. They do it for fun. Even when the writing becomes work, the fun aspect remains.

It is often said that pursuing your passion is the key to success. Pursuing your passion is fun. It provides fulfilment and satisfaction.

There are few exceptions to this rule. Some have an overriding dedication to a cause. They produce blogs in the hope that others will be influenced to support their point of view. Perhaps their blog is a political expression and will attract votes for their favourite party.

Many blogs are created with an agenda of some sort. They focus on a key interest of the blogger, be it photography, dieting or sky diving. Then there is the blog that is created just for fun. It is type of blog where anything goes. Just add whatever content you enjoy and let the rest follow. There is no theme, no agenda. Perhaps this is the definition of blogging for fun.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Night Scene

Reasons to visit South-Africa

"This is paradise" exclaimed Veronica on her visit to South Africa after living in Manchester, England for the last ten years. The climate and lifestyle of the country were just two of the big attractions to the country.

Located on the South of the African continent, South Africa is a curious mixture of the first and third worlds offering a huge variety of things to do and see. It is flanked by the Indian Ocean on the East and the Atlantic on the west.

Cape Town is cosmopolitan and sophisticated boasting a huge range of world-class hotels. The latest of these is the One&Only seven star resort which opened in April 2009.

Cape Town is a picturesque city blessed with stunningly beautiful beaches on the warm Indian Ocean and the icy Atlantic. Table Mountain dominates the city wherever you happen to be. Table Mountain resembles a table especially when covered by white clouds that resemble a table cloth.

Restaurants and theatre of all types abound. Cape town is in the heart of the South African wine country, and a popular wine tour is an inexpensive way to experience the richness and variety of South African quality wines.

The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is a not to be missed venue. Sit at one of the many restaurants overlooking the harbour and watch the ships come and go.

One of the highlights of the Cape Town year is the annual Coon Carnival' on the first and second of January. The Cape has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and wet winters.

South Africa's largest city is Johannesburg. The city is the business centre of the country and experiences hot wet summers and dry mild winters. Johannesburg has an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level. Johannesburg has little in the way of natural features, but does host a number of good restaurants and theatres. The Market theatre is known as one of the leading fringe theatres in the country and has staged a number of award winning shows over the years.

Johannesburg is host to a number of world class casinos. The best of these is Monte Casino which also hosts a theatre, cinemas, curiosity shops, fashion retailers, night clubs and restaurants. It also plays host to a bird sanctuary and hotel.

While in Johannesburg a visit to the Constitutional Court is a must. This was built on the old Fort prison that played host to Nelson Mandela amongst others. A guided tour is strongly recommended. The architecture is unusual and quite stunning. The court is host to an impressive art collection.

While Johannesburg does experience a high level of crime most people are able to go about their business on a day to day basis with little trouble.

The Cradle of Humankind is the site where the earliest known humanoids were found. The Cradle has been developed into a major resort offering conferences, accommodation, guided tours and much more.

200 kilometres away from Johannesburg is Sun City a spectacular casino resort built in the middle of nowhere. Sun City has a number of hotels ranging from the Cabanas to the Palace of the Lost City. The Palace is an African dream and not to be missed. Sun City also houses a Vacation Club with self-catering chalets nestling in the hills. Top class restaurants are the order of the day. Bordering on Sun City is the Pilansberg Game reserve which is well worth a tour.

Durban is South Africa's third largest city on the Indian Ocean. It boasts a spectacular aquarium at Shaka's Rock in the form of a ship wreck. The harbour area is also being developed as a popular night spot. To the north are the quiet resorts of Umhlanga and St Lucia boasting beautiful white sand beaches.

The Kruger Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa. This is in malaria territory so precautions are required. To many lions, elephants, rhino, crocodiles, hippos, springboks, wildebeest and a whole range of other animal and bird species this is home. The Kruger Park is about the size of Wales. The best time to view the wildlife is in the early morning, before the heat of the day drives the animals to seek shelter.

South Africa is about to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Preceding this huge event is the Confederations cup that will take place in 2009. South Africa has already hosted cricket and rugby world cups and is now playing host to the Indian Professional League 20-20 cricket tournament.

While the rest of the world is experiencing the worst recession in recent years, South Africa has thus far escaped the worst. South Africa is an inexpensive holiday venue, especially as the local currency (the rand) has fallen to about 10 to the US dollar. A three course meal for two at a good restaurant would cost between R300-R500 or US $30 to $50. Accommodation at a good hotel will range from about $60 per night depending on where and when.

Many visitors to South Africa return to experience the country again. South Africa is a worthwhile and affordable place to visit.

Investing in Life Insurance

Life insurance is not an investment. Life insurance is a safeguard that must be in place to protect your family in the event of your death. For many years life insurance salesmen tried to sell endowment policies as an investment. They quoted huge returns on these investments which they advised us was the effect of compound interest. The simple fact is that anyone that has used life insurance as an investment vehicle has ultimately faced disappointment when receiving the payout many years later.

Endowments were the earliest form of life insurance investments. A valuation of the fund every three years allowed the fund to declare bonuses and allocate these to the value of an endowment policy. Linked policies became popular some time later. A linked policy allowed the investment portion of the policy to be invested in equity linked investments. Then there was deposit administration where investments were linked to a variety of investments including property. There were three main problem associated with all of these investment type policies. The first was the high commission that eats most of the first year's premium as well as much of the second. The second problem is the administration fees charged by the companies to facilitate the investment. The third is that no matter how well the investment performs, the cost of life cover remains the same throughout.

During the 1980's universal life policies became the main investment vehicle used by life insurance companies. Universal life differs from the earlier forms of investment linked life insurance. The first two problems remain the same, but the third problem disappears. As the investment grows, the amount of life cover required reduces leaving more for investment. Conceptually this is great, but the commission and expenses charged against this type of policy negate the benefits. Compare the commission charged against a straight investment and the commission on a whole life policy and the choice is clear and simple. Invest separately.

Suzie Orman has stressed stressed this point repeatedly. Do not buy whole life insurance. The only life insurance worth buying is term insurance, and when buying this get quotes from every reputable life insurer before committing yourself.

If you were thinking about taking out life insurance as an investment, think again. Term insurance is the only cost-effective form of life insurance. Investments can be achieved much more effectively through buying equities, property or through managed fund portfolios.

Wednesday, 08 July 2009

The pros and cons of contracting versus permanent employment

If you value your independence, contracting is for you. Permanent employment may offer a certain amount of stability and security, but contracting provides the ability to be free from the politics of the corporate environment. As a contractor you are your own boss, and it is up to you to provide what is required by the company that you are contracting to.

Permanent employment involves fitting into a corporate culture. While it may offer security, that security may prove to be illusory. Political games and struggles arise all the time. It is necessary to play these games with some skill to get the right promotions. Losing a political struggle could mean the effective ending of career growth in the business. The only choices are to move on or to accept the limitations.

Contacting provides independence. You are your own boss providing a service for a client. The service that you perform has to be done professionally. The length of the contract and future contracting opportunities could depend on that.

Variety is the spice of a contracting career. Variety leads to continuous learning. It is necessary to develop the ability to adapt to each environment that you meet.

Some of the negatives associated with contracting include the uncertainty of finding another contract when when one ends. There can be career development, but no formal promotions. When the economy is going through a downturn, the risks increase. Sometimes contracts are eneded prematurely when companies change direction.

As an outsider, a contracter is only in a position to advise, never determine the direction of the company. Coming into a project that lacks direction, can be a problem for a contractor. It is often up to the contractor to take the initiative and begin to research the environment and the possibilities that are available.

Contractors often need to be assertive. The client is sometimes only able to offer a vague idea of what they actually want the contractor to achieve. It is up to the contractor to engage with the client to find out the requirement and required outcomes of the contract.

Most of the time one contract follows another, but there may be times when there is a gap between contracts. This is the major risk of contracting. The result can be several months of unemployment. As a result the contractor may be forced to accept the first offer, even though the rate is below his or her usual rate.

Then there are contracts that are extended year after year. The contract is almost like a permanent position.

In a recessionary climate it is often the contractors that go first. With cutbacks in almost every sector, permanent employees are given preference. While permanent employees may receive severance pay, even the contractor that has been with the same employer for many years receives nothing.

Permanent employment may include such benefits as medical insurance, annual paid leave and sick leave. The contractor must cover himself for such events. A contractor has to remain healthy as he cannot afford to be sick. Contractors may opt for less leave than their permanent counterparts as leave is unpaid.

Contacting offers independence, variety, wide experience and continual learning. The contractor must learn to be professional in all encounters with the client. Contracting is higher risk with no guarantee of continuous employment. The contractor must make his own arrangements for retirement funding, holiday pay, medical insurance and sickness cover.

Permanent employment offers security and stability. The permanent employee becomes a part of the enterprise. He or she has the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder. Medical insurance, leave pay and sickness benefits are covered. Most employers arrange some sort of retirement funding.

A permanent employee must be prepared to get involved in office politics and the security may prove to be illusory. There is always a boss to answer to.

Both types of employment have pros and cons. Some prefer the stability of longer term employment while other prefer not to answer to a boss. The choice is very much that of the individual. Good skills will usually keep the contractor off the streets, but there could be periods of unemployment between contracts. Permanent employment provides a sense of belonging and a degree of security.

Tuesday, 07 July 2009

Some of the best photo editing software

The photo editing software packages available for PCs range from easy to use basic tools that cater for the simpler tasks to highly sophisticated programs that require many hours to become familiar with the vast functionality. The quality may vary, but the best photo editing software for PC will depend on what you need and how you intend to use it. A number of packages stand out. These include Google's free Picasa 3, the open source GIMP 2, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X1 and Adobe Photoshop.

Picasa 3 must be one of the easiest photo editors to use. Not only is it capable of enhancing and transforming your photos, it is a powerful organising tool as well.

Picasa 3 is available as a free download from Google. Once the install has completed, Picasa will search your PC for images and organise these into albums. Large thumbnails make finding your pictures simple. Simply select any pictures that you would like to share and upload these to your own Picasa Web album. Create a slide show of your photos for use on your blog or Website.

Picasa has three editing screens for Basic fixes, Tuning and Effects.

The BASIC FIXES screen includes the most commonly used features. Click the STRAIGHTEN button and a grid appears over the picture. A simple lever allows for quick and easy correction. An I'M FEELING LUCKY button automatically corrects the colour balance, contrast and colour saturation. You may add FILL-LIGHT using a lever, and RETOUCH pictures by copying spots from one part of a photo to another.

Use the TUNING screen to add HIGHLIGHTS and SHADOWS, change the COLOUR TEMPERATURE and to automatically correct lighting problems.

The EFFECTS tab provides a range of special effects that include B & W, SEPIA, WARMIFY, TINT and GLOW. FOCAL B & W allows you to transform a colour photograph into black and white while leaving a key feature of the picture in colour.

Picasa provides a facility to apply automatic fixes to a collection of pictures in a single step.

GIMP 2is a powerful open source graphics editing tool. It is available as a free download. GIMP 2 features a comprehensive toolbox to touch up, correct colour and light, and to transform a picture completely. A whole range of FILTERS, editing tools and LAYERS may be used to fix and transform photos and any other graphics.

Expect to spend several hours to find your way around GIMP. It is not quite as simple to use as Picasa, but the time will be well spent. Full tutorials and help screens are available for download from the GIMP site.

Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X1 is a commercially available product that retails for about $60. Paint Shop Pro was formerly Jasc software and the earlier editions were available for a free 30 day trial. Corel have not opted to continue with this tradition, so you will have to pay to use it. This latest edition of Paint Shop Pro is the simplest version to use to date and has a very powerful AUTO-FIX button that will correct most problems.

The features include a full range of editing tools that allow you full control over what you do with your pictures.

Adobe Photoshop has set the standard for photo editing software. It is also easy to use and includes tools to organise your photos. Again, there are many automatic tools for correcting single or multiple pictures. Adobe Photoshop is available for about $100.

For most purposes, Picasa 3 provides enough functionality for almost any purpose. The main drawback of Picasa is that it does not have a facility to resize photos, something that can be achieved easily using any of the other products. However, its unsurpassed ease of use and other features make Picasa a real winner.

For professional work, GIMP 2 provides everything that is needed to manage your pictures at an unbeatable price. Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo and Adobe Photoshop are both easier to use than GIMP at a cost. The functionality of both of these products is fairly comprehensive.

Many photo editing software packages are good. The one that is best for you is that one that manages what you need to do most effectively.

Saturday, 04 July 2009

Tips for the beginner digital photographer

Digital photography has come of age. The use of film is on a fast and steady decline as more and more people make the transition to digital. Even the highest resolution digital camera cannot beat the resolution of film, so what is it that makes digital photography different?

The principles of film and digital photography are the same. While the quality of the lens and the features of the camera are important, the key part is played by the photographer. Outstanding photographs may be produced without the best equipment. Conversely, the best equipment is often used to produce average photographs. The multitude of pictures posted on Face book are a case in point. Most are of little interest except to those intimately involved. Yet many of these were taken with the best digital cameras.

The key to good photography lies in the ability to see and to think photographically. Use light to its best advantage and focus on composition. No matter what the camera, composition is the key to success. It is the relationships between the objects that make up the picture. Look for lines in the scene, and look for ideas that make the picture interesting. The rule of thirds teaches us that the the eye is not drawn to the centre of the picture but to the intersection of the thirds - both horizontal and vertical. Become aware of the light and the effect of dark shadows in a photograph. The multitude of special effects and extra features of many digital cameras are nice to have extras.

The main differences between a digital and a film camera include:

* memory replaces the film

* batteries are crucial in digital photography but play only a small part in a film camera

* a memory card - unlike film - can be used over and over again

* you may vary the resolution of your pictures

* you can edit or discard your pictures on the camera itself

* pictures may be printed directly from the camera and stored on a computer and on the Internet.

Perhaps the most obvious difference of your new digital camera is that instead of a viewfinder there is a screen. Some cameras have both, but most rely simply on the screen. The adjustment is simple, but it will take some practice to get a firm and steady grip on the camera. The screen is a useful addition for the photographer. It becomes simpler to frame the composition effectively and to preview how the photograph will turn out.

As in film photography, it is the quality of the optics that determine how well the camera performs. A good lens on a cheap camera can produce excellent results while a low quality lens on the most expensive camera will let you down every time!

Most cameras have a range of automatic options including automatic exposure control and automatic focus. In addition to the optical zoom, a digital zoom is available.

Before you start using your new digital camera, it is a good idea to read the manual. Experiment while you do this, and you will get a feel for the camera very quickly. With a digital camera there is no cost in experimentation.

Most digital cameras have a small amount of built-in memory. This memory will limit you (depending on size) to only a few photos - perhaps between 8 and 20. Before you are able to capture new photos you will have to copy these to a computer or print them to free up the space. The best option is to buy a memory card that will boost the amount of space for pictures quite dramatically. Buy the largest memory card you can afford. These are still fairly expensive, but remember that paying for film and developing is a thing of the past!

Film comes in specific sizes - 12, 24 or 26 pictures. The number of pictures that may be captured digitally depends on a combination of the memory available and the resolution of the camera and the pictures. The higher the resolution, the fewer pictures can be stored. Some cameras allow you to reduce or increase the resolution of your pictures. Reducing the resolution effectively increases the capacity of your memory card, but reduces the extent of enlargement possible. Remember that five mega pixels provides a high enough resolution for most purposes.

If you intend travelling with your camera, it may be worth carrying an additional memory card. If one card is full, then the second will be very useful until you are able to transfer the pictures to your computer.

A digital camera is totally reliant on batteries. The best option is to purchase two sets of rechargeable batteries. Although they may last for some time, it is always a good idea to have a spare set available.

The zoom on a digital camera is often a combination of optical zoom (using the lens) and digital zoom. The digital zoom simply enlarges the picture and effectively reduces the resolution. Most cameras will indicate when you are using the digital zoom.

Digital cameras are usually supplied with some built in photo-editing software to crop the photos, correct the brightness, contrast and so on. You may also switch to black and white and use other effects offered on the camera.

Your digital camera should be supplied with a USB cable to copy or transfer your photos to a computer. The transfer is a fairly straightforward process and takes only a few minutes to complete. Some cameras allow you to transfer the pictures directly to your printer. Use the software supplied with the camera to do this or use one of the many photo editing software tools available.

The computer based photo editors have a number of powerful features that make it possible to correct a wide range of defects in a photo. The colour balance, saturation, colour temperature, brightness and contrast can all be varied. You may add more light or shadow. It is possible to correct both over and under exposure within certain limits. These photo editing programs usually have an array of special effects that may be applied.

With your photos on the computer it is quite simple to print these on an inexpensive ink-jet printer. A variety of special photo paper can be purchased for this purpose. The cost of the ink and paper is relatively expensive but is a very convenient option. Alternatively, you can order prints from the traditional photo shop or through one of the Internet based photographic printers.

The simplest way to begin with the digital camera is to use the automatic features. Familiarise yourself with these and experiment with the many other features that are available.

Digital photography offers plenty of scope to be creative, and the cost of film will never be important again.

Thursday, 02 July 2009

How to master landscape photography

Driving through the countryside you encounter an awe inspiring scene that just has to be captured on your camera! Stopping the car, you shoot a few shots. But the results disappoint. The haunted house on the horizon is a mere speck in the distance and the photograph looks ordinary. The scene has somehow lost the charm that drove you to capture it. What must you do to ensure that your landscape photographs portray as stunning a scene as the one that you saw?

Composition is one of the most important aspects of landscape photography. What you capture on camera is only a portion of what you see with your eye. Review the features of the landscape that will stand out and make your picture interesting. Identify a focal point, something that will draw the eye. Decide on a focal point and examine its relationship with the rest of the scene.

The classic rule of thirds provides an excellent guideline to get you started. Divide the picture into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Some digital cameras have a grid to help achieve this. The horizon should be placed upon either the upper or lower horizontal third. An interesting feature or focal point of the landscape may be placed on one of the intersections of a vertical and horizontal third. This technique works and results in a much more interesting picture than one where the point of interest is centred in the frame.

Many people include city photography and views of the sea as landscapes. Strictly speaking, a landscape is a scene of land, of scenery that may include hills, valleys, rivers and mountains. Seascapes are scenes that feature the sea while a cityscape features an urban scene. The rules and techniques that apply to one, apply to all.

One way to provide perspective and a sense of scale is to include objects in the foreground of the composition. These may include a nearby sand dune, a tree, a building, an animal or a person. Foreground features help to give a three dimensional feel to the picture and add a sense of perspective.

One of the classic mistakes made by tourists is to attempt to combine a portrait of a loved one with a landscape. The girlfriend stands smiling to the camera in front of the Tower of London. This simply doesn't work! Each is an object of beauty, so treat them as individuals.

Put some thought into your landscape photographs. Look for lines - vertical and horizontal and diagonal. These can help to make the picture interesting. Horizontal lines help to provide a feeling of tranquility while diagonals suggest movement. A winding path or meandering stream disappearing into the distance creates a hint of mystery. Vertical lines - such as trees at the edge of a forest give strength and frame the scenes around them.

Examine the relationships between near and distant objects. Explore the scene through the viewfinder while moving around to get the best vantage point.

Photographing a scene from a cliff stands the risk of losing the feeling of height. This can be countered by ensuring that part of the cliff itself is included in the frame.

Water provides a wonderful opportunity for photography. It provides reflections of the sky and surrounds, and that shimmering effect that can really add to a scene.

Light and colour can make or break a landscape. As the day progresses from morning through to might, the light changes. Viewed through the naked eye, the scene appears the same. Captured through a camera the difference is immense. The light at daybreak throws a golden hue across the world that changes the colours all around. The midday sun produces short shadows and a rather harsh light. The quality of light changes through the seasons as do the colours of the landscape. Light varies from one country to another. The harsh light of Africa may be contrasted against the more hazy and gentle light of Europe.

While contemplating your landscape consider what aspect of the landscape you want to portray.

The photographic equipment is often considered to be of prime importance in landscape photography. Indeed, a camera that is capable of capturing pictures at a high resolution can make a big difference. A good lens is important to ensure that detail is captured well. But great landscapes can be captured using even a simple camera.

A tripod can be very useful, especially when light conditions dictate either a slow shutter speed or a wide open aperture. The aperture should be as small as possible to maximise the depth of field captured, but a different effect can be created with a larger aperture to blur the foreground.

Many people automatically select a wide angle lens to shoot landscapes. While this will help to provide a panoramic view, there is no reason why a standard or telephoto lens should not be used to capture a specific scene to achieve a different effect.

Experimentation in photography is the name of the game. Bracket your photos to ensure you get the optimal exposure. Try photographing from close to the ground or from a high point. Experiment with different exposures to produce different effects. Impressionistic landscape photographers may use extreme underexposure to produce a silhouette, while abstract photographers look at the relationships between the shapes captured.

Great equipment will help. If you are planning a series of landscapes to use as publicity posters for an advertising campaign, you will need some serious equipment! In most cases, it is the photographer rather than the camera that produces great photographs.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

On the road

Photography: tips for natural looking portraits

Portrait photography is an art that requires a number of skills. The photographer has to pay attention to the lighting and must be able to put the subject at ease. Portrait photography often takes place in the controlled environment of a studio. Yet some of the greatest and most natural looking portraits are achieved when the subject is photographed in a more natural setting.

Capturing a world leader addressing an audience, an actor playing a role or a pianist at the keyboard provide some of the most powerful and natural looking portraits.

A studio generally gives the photographer a choice of backgrounds and lighting options. Many photographers do not have access to this luxury and have to make do with more natural settings for their portrait photography. Selecting an appropriate background or setting may be the first step towards giving the portrait a natural look and feel. Photographing an artist in a art studio defines the artist in the resulting portrait. Capturing the picture while the artist is at work will produce the most telling results.

Professional models are usually quite comfortable posing in front of the camera, but other subjects do not feel the same way. They tend to feel and look quite self conscious when posing for a picture. It is up to the photographer to engage the subject in conversation in a way that will make her feel relaxed and at home. Young children make excellent subjects for portrait photography. They respond to objects such as balloons and to rewards of sweets at the end of the shoot. A photographer that has a little of the comedian inside may be able to break the ice more easily, but taking an interest in the subject and listening to what they have to say could produce the right atmosphere.

A good portrait can be achieved either outdoors or indoors. Outdoor photography means relinquishing some control of the lighting, but natural lighting and shade can be very effective in producing good results. Using a medium telephoto lens and blurring the background by using a wide aperture is very effective way to create an effective portrait. Couple this with a little back lighting produces a soft effect.

Children can be photographed under almost any lighting conditions. For adults, softer lighting options are more flattering. A diffuser should be used to break up the light. Alternatively, bounce the flash against a white ceiling or screen to produce produce a soft and balanced effect.

The effective use of light is one of the keys to produce natural looking results. A light or flash should never be pointed directly into the subject's face. A diffused light slightly to the one side is effective, but it may be necessary to provide additional fill-in light and possibly even some back lighting. Good use of lighting will help to avoid flat portraits with dark shadows on the face. Harsh shadows from a flash or a direct light are always to be avoided.

Using a medium telephoto lens is generally my preferred option. It allows for a close-up without over-emphasising the features. It is also simpler for a subject to feel relaxed and at home when the photographer is at a greater distance.

When the photographer devotes some time to engage with the subject can help to achieve a more relaxed and natural looking portrait. This coupled with the right lighting should produce good results.

Photography: how to take beautiful maternity portraits

The glowing beauty of a pregnant woman is a rare and wonderful sight. Most doctors confirm that the most wonderful part of their work is delivering a new baby, and an expectant mother has that air of expectancy and serenity surrounding her.

A typical woman experiences a pregnancy only a few times in her life, and it is usually during the first pregnancy that the opportunities for taking beautiful maternity portraits abound. When there are already other children, the opportunities somehow diminish! Seize the moment and capture this wonderful event while it is taking place. Taking maternity portraits is a great pleasure for the photographer and the portraits will be treasured forever.

The best maternity portraits can be shot with the mother either nude or wearing a light see through night dress. Pictures may be repeated at various times through the pregnancy documenting the growth of the baby and the ever changing curves of the woman's body.

Lighting is important in creating the right effect. Evening or night shots by candle-light without a flash are very effective. A single flash bounced off a white ceiling or wall or a diffused reflected light will produce the desired soft effect. Back lighting with a little fill in light to the front is very effective, highlighting the pregnant curves. Avoid harsh direct lighting as this hardens the picture.

Photographing in colour using pastel shades with some drapes as a background can be very effective. Black and white or sepia adds a very romantic feel to the pictures.

Pay some attention to the composition of the picture. Arrange furniture and other items in the background to suggest a feminine bedroom. Try to avoid her standing and facing the camera directly in the centre of the screen. Side views, or with the subject facing slightly towards your right or left are very effective. Leave more space in the frame to the front of the woman than behind her - try to follow the rule of thirds.

Make the subject feel at ease by engaging her in conversation, and complimenting her beauty. All women respond well to compliments and this will help to make her feel more comfortable. She may feel more at ease if she knows that the pictures are to remain private.

Arrange the photos with the subject in advance. She will want to look at her best and have time to prepare. Take a variety of shots from various angles using a variety of lighting conditions.
These beautiful maternity pictures will be yours and hers to treasure for many years into the future.

Thursday, 04 June 2009

Highveld scene in Pretoria

A scene appealed because of the light and the cloud formations. In the background is the Ghost House featured in the previous post.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Ghost House - Erasmus Castle, Pretoria




The Erasmus Castle is commonly known as The Ghost House or Die Spookhuis was completed in 1903. It was the inspiration of Jochemus and Johanna Erasmus. The castle - which would feel quite at home in Transylvania - was designed by Dutch architect Van Der Benn. The Italian builder, Monte Bello used mostly imported materials to complete the house.

Jochemus had made some money from the gold rush at the end of the nineteenth century, and the family lived a flambuoyant lifestyle, hosting extravagent concerts and dances. The family's fortuned changed during the Great Depression and the castle fell into disrepair. Looking eerie in its dillapidated condition, the castle was used in the 1950 film Hier's Ons Weer.
Armscor later purchased and restored the house, but the original family are said to still be in residence in rather ghostly form.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Advantages of the recession

The seventies TV series 'The Waltons' shamelessly romanticised the Great Depression. The family as depicted by the narrator John-Boy was poor but happy. It was the family, their warmth and family unity that mattered. Who wouldn't be nostalgic for these wonderful times? But the schmaltzy portrayal of hard times contained an element of truth - there are really aome advantages of a recession.

A recession provides a dose of reality and perhaps a return to basic values.

The generation of the early twenty-first century is spoilt. Its members are accustomed to getting what they want when they want. Unlimited credit has made it all possible. Parents of young children have forgotten how to say NO.

The ever deepening global recession has changed all that. Cash-strapped parents are being forced to turn down demands for the latest Play Station, Ipod or quad bike. But instead of feeling guilty, these parents can feel good. Their children will manage very well without the latest technological toys and their possesions will acquire value.

Perhaps this will herald a return to traditional outdoor children's games. The transformation of children's play into sedentary activities has been a major cause of low-muscle tone and related perceptual problems. Children thrive when there are limits. For the first time in many years parents are once again learning how to say no. Saying no builds a sense of value.

Endless credit made it possible to get almost anything we wanted. But the novelty of each new purchase soon wore off, replaced by the craving for the next, and the next ....

During the recession times are tough. Each buying decision must be weighed up with care. Our things are beginning to acquire value.

The rampant materialism that has gripped our culture has driven many to taking on a second and even a third job. These were necessary to finance all of the 'necessities' of the age. It was all done for the family. The recession has put an end to the third job, the second job and perhaps the day job. At last there is time to spend with the family.

The recession helps us to discover that not everything worthwhile requires cash! A picnic on the banks of the river with a cool breeze caressing your skin is about as good as it gets. What can be better than sharing a bottle of ice cold Sauvignon Blanc on the beach at sunset? Sometimes the best things in life are free.

Take-out fast food became one of the curses of the age. Obesity has spread like wildfire as millions became overweight. Many have forgotten the pleasure of good home cooked food. One of the greatest benefits of the recession is that we are forced to eat good, wholesome home cooked meals. There is no going back!

Someone once said that a person is rich when he is content with what he has. Perhaps the single greatest advantage of the recession is the return to real values to value what is important, the people that we love and share our lives.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

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 mans 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.