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.