Sunday, 19 December 2010

Captain Beefheart is no more


Captain Beeheart, also known as Don van Vliet (neither are his real name), has left us.
I first discovered his music in the late sixties when I realised that this was something out of the ordinary.
Beefheart was a talented painter that turned his mind to music. The genre may have been pop or rock, but Beefheart's musical efforts could have fallen within the avant garde of serious music or jazz just as easily.
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band were frequently acclaimed by the critics, the intelligentsia and by other musicians. Critics from the more intellectual side of the river wrote lyrical streams about the way his music was constructed and the way they played together.
I only got to see Captain Beefheart once - at the 1972 Bickershaw festival.
Beefheart's most highly acclaimed album was Trout Mask Replica. This is the yardstick by which all subsequent avant garde music is measured. But Beefheart's debut album - Safe as Milk - contains some very special magic for me.
Beefheart left the music industry in 1982 to concentrate on his work as a visual artist. Commercial success in the music business proved to be elusive. Although many musicians claim to be influenced, the record buying public never really cottoned on. Most are really after something simpler and more accessible. Safe As Milk
I still listen to bits and pieces of my Beefheart collection almost every day. The music hasn't gone stale and still sounds light years ahead of most of what hits the sound waves of the world.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Penguins at Boulders Beach in South Africa




And more penguins ...


These are African Penguins that live and breed at the Boulders Beach in Simons Town on the Indian Ocean in South Africa. The Penguin sanctuary is part of the Table Mountain National Park. This Penguin Colony began in 1982 with a mere two breeding couples. Today there are over 3,000 of these remarkable birds.

Thursday, 04 November 2010

48 Goud Street

This building, known only as 48 Goud Street lies in down-town Johannesburg. The walls are merely a shell - the roof and the interior are gone, Looking through the windows reveals only rubble. Perhaps a place where vagrants, the homeless manage to find some shelter. 
The fact that the exterior walls remain, suggests that this may be a protected building. A quick Internet search revealed nothing, so I would welcome any information that visitors may have on the building and its history. 
The building is different and unusual. Johannesburg has a poor record of protecting its heritage. There have been other earlier cases where is have been deemed necessary to protect only the façade. Perhaps this is one of those?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Still going strong without smoking!


Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it hundreds of times (with apologies to Mark Twain). This time it has been several months and we are still going strong. 
There are two keys that have helped make quitting a success this time. 
1. This time two of us quit together. For the first time, my wife decided to quit. 
2. The electric cigarette. We used two types - the Puffaway first, later the Twisp. Both are overpriced in South Africa. Both are good. The Twisp is better. The batteries and atomisers on either are not very robust. 
We have now reached the point where we can go without anything for many hours and probably indefinitely. I, for one, am too scared to go back to smoking. The cardiologist warned me that most of his patients were smokers. The other scary factor was seeing an x-ray of my lungs. 
I have seen too many people suffering and dying as a result of smoking. 
At long last we are no longer slaves to tobacco!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

On the cloud computing - advantages, risks and issues

The advantages
On the cloud computing simply means computing on the Internet. For a small to medium sized enterprise, cloud computing presents a wonderful hassle free alternative. Cloud computing can also represent a great opportunity for personal computing.
The big advantage of cloud computing is that you don't need to maintain your own server or network. All that you really need is good fast broadband access to the Internet. The hosting service provider will do everything else.
It doesn't matter where you are. You simply need to log onto the Internet to access your data and your systems. You don't even need a laptop when you travel.
The hosting service takes over all your computing needs. It hosts your systems and stores your data. It takes care of backups and security.
This idyllic solution to your computing needs does of course depend on the quality of your service provider and that is where the risks and problems begin.
The risks
The first issue is security. Hackers have managed to hack their way through the most formidable firewalls. They have broken into the computer systems of major banks and even the Department of Defence.
A Web hosted service is just that much more at risk. What kind of security does your service provider offer? Is the data encrypted? Are all your staff using strong passwords?
The next question is reliability. Even Google has been known to have down-time. A Microsoft server failed while being upgraded and data was lost. How good are the backups? If the system crashes during the day, will you be able to recover the work saved since the last back-up?
Finally, you should ensure that the hosting service will be able to provide for growth. Is the service able to cope on your busy days? Many businesses experience peaks of demand for a few days every month. Your hosting service must be able to cope comfortably with these.
What should I do?
Cloud computing is a viable solution for many types of business. Storing data centrally - whether personal of for business - makes a lot of sense. It means that your data is always secure and available.
But before you embark on a service for your business, find out exactly what is offered and what is not. How secure is your data, and what happens when there is a system failure? If the hosting service is unable to provide satisfactory answers, then it is time to look elsewhere.

Sunday, 03 October 2010

Competitive parenting

Competitive parenting is similar to keeping up with the Jones's. Perhaps it can even be seen as keeping ahead of them. The children of the family play a part in building the parents' self-esteem and social standing. Perhaps the parents themselves have not been as successful as they would have hoped. The children can help make up for that. 
Read More ...

Thursday, 30 September 2010

There are three major differences between renewable and non-renewable resources. Renewable resources are free, they do not deplete the earth's resources and they do not contribute to the pollution of the planet. By contrast, non-renewable resources cost money and are becoming increasingly expensive. Non-renewable resources use-up the the earth's resources and are major contributors to pollution and global warmingRead more ...The Renewable Energy Handbook, Revised Edition: The Updated Comprehensive Guide to Renewable Energy and Independent Living

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Great Depression II

Forget about all the talk of recession. According to a number of the world's leading economists, we are now living through the second Great Depression. After a brief respite, the world's economies are set to plummet.

As long ago as 1997, British economist Fred Harrison predicted the current crisis. He places the blame on the prevalence of land and property speculation. The scenario painted in The Fred Harrison Blog is not a pretty one, but is one that must be taken seriously. Governments could fall, unemployment could rise dramatically and a depression could ultimately lead to World War III. Unfortunately, governments are not listening.

David Rosenberg has already declared that the US economy is in a state of depression. Rather than improve, the situation is likely to get worse. Already, the July 2010 statistics show a 27% fall in the sale of real estate in the US - the worst fall ever recorded. Rosenberg believes that there has not been a recovery at all and that the worst is still to come.

Arthur Laffer, well known for the "Laffer Curve" that illustrates that lower tax rates can produce more revenue than higher tax rates, believes that the US will head into full scale depression once the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011. He cites the record and unsustainable levels of debt as being central to the collapse of the great economies of the world.

Other economists have joined the trend, naming the current crisis as The Great Depression II.

There can be little doubt that the policies being followed in the UK and Europe are likely to cause hige increases in unemployment and possibly even deflation. By the same token, the US fiscal rescue package is not being put to use or is being used in ways that will not stimulate the economy or produce jobs.

In the meantime, it seems that we are all aboard a sinking ship that is sinking fast.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Smoking - a real killer & how to quit


I went for a general check-up yesterday morning. I was sent for chest xrays because I had been a smoker for so long. The xrays show very dark areas that should be my lungs. It reveals obstructed airways and the possible beginnings of emphysema. 
The doctor was not totally happy with the ECG, so this morning involved a journey to the cardiologist. Electrodes were placed all over me and my blood pressure was taken as ECG readings were taken. An ECG or electro-cardiogram measures the electrical impulses of the heart. These are placed in all sorts of positions surrounding the heart so that any damage can be detected. 
The next step was to get onto the treadmill. It started out as a fast stride. Every few minutes the speed increased until it was just too fast to walk and I had to break into a jog. I watched as the lines on the graph became more and more hectic. Eventually, I began to run out of breath. I found that I was less fit than I had thought. 
I was asked about chest pains and other signs that could indicate a problem. 
Next can an ultrasound scan. I saw my heart beating away. The scan showed the four chambers. 
Eventually, I was allowed to dress and speak to the cardiologist. Much to my relief, my heart is fine. The cardiologist told me to stick with the non-smoking. He told me that smokers are the people that keep him in business, and that it is not only heart problems that are caused by smoking. 
It is now close on two weeks since I had my last real cigarette. I have been smoking an e-cigarette for about a month and this has been the most amazing way to stop smoking. 
Like Mark Twain, I have given up smoking hundreds of times. I have tried nicotine chewing gums, Wellbutrin, and other methods. The big difference now is that my wife was also willing to quit using the e-cigarettes. 
I purchased one of these as a major pharmacy chain. It worked. Then a colleague introduced me to the Twisp. This is an e-cigarette made by a European company called Janty. It produces a far superior smoke with a smooth and rich taste. 
The e-cigarettes consist of three parts - a battery, an atomiser and a cartridge that holds the liquid. The atomiser transforms the liquid into vapour. The e-cigarette does not produce smoke or secondary smoke. It does have some nicotine, but not the thousands of other chemicals and tar contained in normal cigarettes. 
Seeing the xrays of my lungs has reinforced the decision to quit. Now that both my wife and I have quit, it will be for good. The secret is to do it one day at a time. 
I must return for more tests in about six weeks - to see the difference after being free of cigarettes for that time. 

Materialism

The western obsession with materialism has led to the raw display of greed on an unprecedented scale. It was greed on a vast scale that precipitated the sub-prime crisis and subsequent collapse of banks, insurance and investment companies. This financial misadventure has now led the world into a deep recession. All of this has happened in the unrestrained pursuit of wealth. This is materialism in its most vulgar form. Investment bankers pursued quick money without regard for the underlying value of the investments. No-one noticed that the underlying value of these investments was a mere fraction of the prices at which they had been trading.
The only way that such a catastrophe can occur is through the unleashing of pure naked greed. Many people trying to enrich themselves. The investment had been producing unbelievable returns. A real get rich quick scheme and who cares why the performance is so good. The investment could be leveraged to the bulk of its value. It became possible to earn phenomenal returns with virtually no investment of your own.
The stock exchange boom leading to the 1929 crash has some remarkable similarities. Shares were trading at values that bore no relation to the underlying values. Prices were increasing merely because of the massive demand. Banks jumped on the bandwagon and were quick to lend money to finance these investments. Many grew rich very quickly, often with other people's money.
In either case the bubble had to burst sooner or later. In both cases it was later. The fundamental problem was that assets were being traded at many times their underlying value. No-one looked at the fundamentals. The dream was the reality.
Materialism in its purest form is the pursuit of wealth and material goods above all else. Spiritual, philosophical and other values fall by the wayside in the pursuit of material goods.
In the western economies of the 1950's a middle-class family could live quite comfortably on a single income. Not so in the nineties and the first few years of the twenty-first century. Maintaining their standard of living often came to mean a two income family with the frequent addition of a second job by one of the primary bread winners. Feeding the family had become much more difficult than it was for the equivalent fifties family.
One of the main differences is that the modern family has much more in terms of material goods. During the fifties one television per household was enough. Only a minority of families had more than one car. IPods, cell phones, computers were not household items. People saved for expensive items and used credit much more sparingly.
Many of the items that have become today's necessities were luxury items in the past. The modern world demands one cell phone per person, one car per driver, a television set for each room, the latest in kitchen and bathroom design - the list goes on.
Unlike spiritual wealth, the novelty of material wealth wears off very quickly. No sooner has the latest gadget, accessory or appliance been acquired that the excitement and interest wanes and another new item is sought. The purpose of materialism is simply the accumulation of more and more goods.
The reasons for a materialistic outlook are frequently competitive, a question of keeping up with the Joneses. People evaluate their financial and material status based on what they don't have. The absence of a plasma TV or spa bath causes a sense of inferiority and low self-worth. Many materialistic individuals may see things very differently if they simply compared themselves to those that are worse off.
One definition of a person that is wealthy is one that is content with what he has. In this definition, a truly materialistic person will never be wealthy. There is always the lack of something that must be pursued.
Unfettered materialism can be quite destructive at a personal level. Many work for twelve or more hours per day. They spend many months away from their families. They subject themselves to huge amounts of stress.
The basic material needs of Homo sapiens are really quite modest - food, shelter clothing, education and healthcare. Anything else is a bonus. But few realise just how much they actually have. If they did, then there would be many more wealthy people populating the world.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

How to survive a recession

"We are not participating in the recession" read the sign in the shop window. The owner had decided that in spite of the recession, it was "business as usual".
Difficult economic times provide a measure of new opportunities. Business opportunities to provide services needed to cope with hard times abound. Repair services are in greater demand as people repair rather than replace. Second-hand goods - furniture, books, even clothes - become more attractive as disposable incomes diminish. Demand for child-care services will grow as more mothers are forced to work to supplement the household income.
The sub-prime crises landed the world in a major recession followed by a slow and tentative recovery. Almost everyone had to cut back in some way to survive.
But while the majority were tightening their belts, some were not suffering.  Some have capitalised on others’ misfortunes. Investing in cheap homes was one way of making money.
A recession means that many investments have become cheap. If you have some cash or are able to raise finance, then now is the ideal time to invest.
The banks now have a massive stock of re-possessed homes that must be sold. These homes are going for a song! If you are in a position to buy, then buy now. These houses will prove to be an excellent investment in the longer term.
It is possible to improve the way you live by changing your spending habits. Cut out fast foods and eating out. Replace these with quality home cooked meals. Discover your artistic abilities in the kitchen. Cut back on driving, use a bicycle instead and get fit.
If you smoke, now is an excellent time to give up. Smokers usually underestimate the cost of smoking, but the savings produced by quitting could provide much needed resources to spend elsewhere.   
Debt can be a drain on your finances, even during good times. When things get tough, debt could be the last straw.
Make a plan to eliminate debt. Cut back on living costs for a few months and use all available resources to eliminate debt. Getting rid of debt requires a major short-term sacrifice. Cut your expenses to the bone plough every spare penny into reducing debt. The short term sacrifice will pay huge dividends when you are able to live a debt-free life-style.
Taking on a second job or starting a business is always a viable option. Perhaps you can find a way to transform your hobby into cash. This can take time, but once your second and third incomes become more established you will have some extra income to fall back on. A new business could just be the vehicle to ride out the difficult times and propel you into an era of wealth and prosperity once the economy turns.
Remember, you don't have to participate in the recession!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

How to take better holiday snaps

Holidays are over all too soon leaving only memories. Although the photographs capture some of the scenes and people present, their impact fades over time. Friends and family show little interest when shown your holiday photographs. This is a signal that it time to find a way to get better holiday photographs. To make the most of your holiday snaps, follow a few simple rules.
The most important rule for great photography is to carry a camera with you at all times! Opportunities for pictures occur when least expected. A good cell-phone camera is extremely mobile and can do the job. Keep the SLR for photo shoots of the landscape and for great portraits of your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse and the children. Many cell phone cameras have a 5 mega pixel (some even have a 10 mega pixel) resolution that is good enough to produce excellent results for most purposes.
Look after your camera and remember to protect it from sand and sea water at all times! The last thing you want is to lose the camera and your precious pictures.
Ensure that you have enough memory (or film) to take as many pictures as you want, and don't forget to charge the batteries. An extra memory card may be the answer.
Before embarking on your journey take some time to get to know your camera. Get to know what it can do and its limitations. Many cameras have special settings for landscapes, portraits, close-ups and night scenes. These can help produce great results.
A common holiday-maker mistake is to try to capture people and landscapes in one shot - for instance the spouse or kids posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Both lose out! Although it tells you that "I was there," the people are way to small and the landmark is not really in focus. A good rule of thumb is that people photos should focus on people. Make the person the primary object, and take the photograph from a fairly close range. The pyramids make a great backdrop, but don't try to do both. Spontaneous people pictures are often the most memorable. Children caught at play, people admiring an unusual scene and people celebrating. If you have a zoom option, then keep your distance and zoom in on unsuspecting subjects and capture the moment!
While shooting everything that presents itself to you, pay some attention to the composition of the picture. Avoid symmetry and use the rule of thirds by placing the horizon on the upper or lower third of the frame. Placing interesting objects or people on the vertical thirds helps to produce interesting results. When photographing people remember that the people should almost fill the frame. People have a role in landscapes to provide perspective.
Children can be photographed in almost any lighting conditions, but older people benefit from indirect lighting. Back lighting only works if you adjust the exposure to suit the portrait or use a fill-in flash.
Holidays are often spent in beautiful and sometimes spectacular surroundings. Look through the camera to find interesting shots. Experiment with different angles. If your friends or family are with you let them explore the scene and capture them as part of the shot. A person near a pyramid provides a sense of perspective. The time of day can make a huge difference to the results. Look at the lighting, and try to avoid huge contrasts. Our eyes adjust easily from strong sunshine to a dark shadow. Cameras don't manage these that well. Your camera will respond differently to the same scene at different times of day.
Events and celebrations benefit from lots of photographs. Too many is better than too few. More is more! Most modern digital cameras perform well in at night with or without a flash.
Back at home, touch-up your pictures by using good photo editing software. Remove the red-eye from the people's faces and enhance the picture using the automatic or manual adjustments features in the software. Crop photos to focus on an interesting detail. Great holiday shots make calendars, key-holders or table mats. Print some enlargements and laminate them for stunning results!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The electric cigarette that really works

I have smoked for many years. My wife was a smoker long before we met. I have tried to quit many times and found it really difficult.
Now I have found an alternative!
A little over a month ago, we decided to opt for an e-cigarette. We purchased one that looked like a quality product, but it disappointed. Then a colleague told me about the Twisp. "Don't go for the cheap alternatives," he said. "I have tried them all. The Twisp is the best e-cigarette on the market."
I made another investment. This time I bought a Twisp.
For two weeks we continued to smoke both the Twisp and regular tobacco based cigarettes. For seven days, we have smoked only the Twisp and are still going strong.
There are two huge benefits of smoking an e-cigarette. The first is cost. A pack of cigarettes in South Africa costs about R30. We have been spending close to R1800 per month on smoking.
The e-cigarette that we selected is priced at R799. It comes with a small bottle of smoking liquid. A 10 ml bottle cost R129. If we use two of these per month, then we have already saved in the first month!
The other benefit is health. Even if there are risks associated with the Twisp, there can be no comparison against the health risks presented by smoking. Both my wife and I have lost close family members to tobacco smoke.
Twisp is not being marketed as a quitting aid but as an alternative.
We have used it to quit! For the first time, I am succeeding. My lungs feel clearer and our home is now smoke-free. We breathe fresh air in our home. The newly painted ceilings and walls will not turn an ugly yellow from tobacco smoke.
We will live longer and stay healthy. 

Friday, 13 August 2010

Rekindling the hippy spirit ...

The hippy spirit of the late sixties and early seventies had many positive features. It was concerned with the pursuit of meaning, of love and peace and caring for each other. The Woodstock festival of 1969 embodied that spirit in three days of peace, music and love. Half a million young people got together in peace and cared for each other. 
Rekindling the hippy spirit in modern society would mean recreating the conditions that were prevalent in those days. Hippies belonged to a particular era. It was the late sixties with the United States was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam. Pop music had broken away from simple three chord songs to complex music where the band members wanted recognition as musicians, and folk music and protest music had broken into mainstream musical culture.
The hippy spirit encompassed the ideals of peace and love with plenty of marijuana and other psychedelic drugs. The sixties was a time of relative prosperity in the Western world, and materialism had been gaining importance in social culture. The world had become more secular and religions were struggling to maintain their congregations.
Perhaps the hippy spirit was an attempt to break out of the culture of dullness and meaninglessness. Young people undertook journeys to the East exploring India, Nepal and Afghanistan. The search was on for meaning. Hippies sought out religious experiences without necessarily belonging to an established religion. Some joined Hare Krishna or became Buddhists.
The music of the hippies included bands like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Bob Dylan ruled the musical waves.
The hippy era meant a return to conscience. Hippies had a strong sense of right and wrong. They opposed a big brother society advocating instead freedom and self-expression. Uniformity and conformism were out.
"Turn on, tune in, drop out" was a key phrase coined by LSD guru Timothy Leary. This was a key phrase of the generation. Ken Kesey led a group of Merry Pranksters around the United States, listening to the Grateful Dead while tripping on LSD.
Dropping out was fine for the children of the wealthy. Simply not participating in the mainstream world could only work when there was some money available for food, drugs and clothing.
The era was a very creative era. Alternative or 'Underground' newspapers and magazines made their way into the world. The UK saw the birth of It (international times), Oz and Time Out while Rolling Stone magazine took its place in the United States. These publications explored new ways of writing giving birth to the New Journalism.
The Hippies were amongst the first to highlight ecological issues and animal rights. Health foods began to make an appearance on supermarket shelves.
The next few decades saw a strong move away from the hippy philosophy and lifestyle. Many hippies turned 'straight' taking on respectable jobs and tying themselves down to the mortgage. Subsequent generations have bought into the material dream focussing their energies on acquiring more and leading lives devoid of meaning.
The hippy spirit is not dead. It lives on in people that are concerned with establishing peace in the world. It lives on in the spirit of musicians that devote time and money to fighting poverty and AIDS.
But the hippy spirit as it presented itself in the era of the late sixties is gone forever.

Get rid of stress!

Stress is one of the big killers of the day. Stress can wreck the health, relationships and career of those that suffer from its effects. We all know how it feels and how it affects us at home and at work. As one of the main health-hazards of the age, stress must be managed on an ongoing basis to minimise its impact.
After a stressful day at work many find themselves in a bar in a vain attempt to drown their sorrows. Some take on illicit relationships or indulge in narcotics, gambling or overeating. These are not solutions! In the long run destructive practices can lead to even greater levels of stress.
A few simple yet effective techniques can help!
Exercise
Exercise is a key remedy. You can start with a few breathing techniques. Deep breathing is very beneficial and can help to turn a stressful day into one that is relaxed and under control. Breathing can be done in any position standing, lying down or sitting. Begin with a four-part cycle. Inhale to the count of five, hold your breath for a count of five, exhale to the count of five and finally leave your lungs empty for a count of five. Repeat five to ten times. Both inhalation and exhalation are through the nose. Apart from promoting deep relaxation, deep breathing ensures greater circulation of oxygen through the body. The breathing techniques can be applied on rising, before retiring and at key times during the day.
Running, walking or exercising at the gym are healthy and constructive outlets. A bio-kineticist may help to identify precisely what exercise you need. Stressed people often avoid exercise, but a few minutes per day of physical activity can produce very beneficial results. Yoga provides a more gentle but equally beneficial alternative. Remember, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
Creative activities
Creative activities such as drawing, painting and music are known for their therapeutic effects. Consider joining an art class! Listen to music. Words come from the heart, music from the soul. If you can play an instrument, then make a practice of doing it. Find people to play with you. Music puts us into a different mind-set and can help to change our levels of stress in a very real way. Take yourself out of your usual stressful environment into a world where the power of your brain's right hemisphere is unleashed. Art is a very effective stress reliever.
Family time
Spend more time with your family. One of the harmful effects of stress is to push our family into take second place. But isn't it family and friends that that are really important? Think of activities in which the whole family can take part. Make time for real communication. Find time to listen to your partner and your children. Find out who they are. Do things together.
Getting away
A day in the country, a weekend of boating or a few days at the coast away from the rat race can work wonders. The annual summer holiday has great benefits, but the results tend to be short lived. Making more of the weekends and more often can help to provide that much needed balance. Put the stresses of daily life aside for a while. When you return with less stress, you will be better placed to face the world.
Pets
Finally, get yourself a pet. The benefits of forming relationships with animals are well documented. Retirement homes and hospitals have introduced the concept of animal visits because of their profound therapeutic effects. A dog or a cat can provide a lot of comfort and company. Animals do not judge but give pure love.
Relieving stress is not only vital to our health, it is fun! Remember. Less stressed people are happier and live longer. Begin a stress relief programme today!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The incredible Soccer City Stadium



Getting to the stadium.
The platform




The Train
The Stadium




Inside

Vuvuzelas
Going home


For a description of the evening, please visit my post Soccer City - a masterpiece 

Monday, 14 June 2010

Vibrant life in South Africa as it hosts the FIFA 2010 World Cup


Johannesburg has become a cosmopolitan city. For the next month, at least, it is the centre of the world and the focus of every news bulletin in the world. Seen here are scenes from the popular Melrose Arch. The restaurants and bars are thriving as soccer fans from every country on earth mill around, relax for a drink or a meal and watch the action on the giant screens. 

The welcome they receive is warm and friendly. These restaurants offer good food in great surroundings at reasonable prices. Contrary to expectations, the prices have not been inflated for the World Cup.  

Wednesday, 02 June 2010

South Africa abuzz as World Cup draws near

There is a buzz in the streets of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. There is a buzz in the country. With less than eight days to kick-off South Africa is ready.
Everywhere you go there are flags. Flags fly from car windows, from offices, shopping-centres and homes. Almost everyone has a ticket for at least one of the games. 
The atmosphere is festive and alive. The local team show signs of practice and commitment that could lead anywhere. The world is watching! 
Almost every car sports a flag. Most are for the local team, but others are for Portugal, Italy, England ... you name it!

The flags of the competing nations adorn South Africa's corporate environment. Almost every office has become part of the celebration - even before it has begun!

Sunday, 02 May 2010

The deadly diseases of western management

W Edwards Demming elaborated a theory of management that helped to transform Japanese industry. The popular approaches of Total Quality Management, Continuous improvement and Just in Time are all variations of the same approach and derived from Demming's 14 points.

These terms have become very popular in the West, and every company now has  continous improvement and assorted programmes. But these have been implemented without paying the slightest attention to Demming's 14 points. 

Demming outlines 7 deadly diseases that mitigate against the successful implementation of these approaches. 

These are documented in his 1982 book 'Out of the Crisis'. Although much time has passed since the book was first published, little has changed. 
  • Lack of constancy of purpose
  • Emphasis on short-term profits - short-term thingking
  • Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review
  • Mobility of management (job hopping)
  • Management by use only of visible figures (no consideration of the unknown)
  • Excessive medical costs
  • Excessive costs of liability
The first of these is governed by the obsession with quarterly (of half yearly or even annual) results. A short term fall in profits (or a loss) can set the stage for panic and open the company to takeover bids. Japanese companies, by contract plan for the long-term - five to twenty years (sometimes more). Short term profit or divident falls are inevitable and could be built into the long term plan. Working towards improving the processes can result in a short-term loss but long term sustainability. Not possible in Western management thought. 

The emphasis on short-term profits means that all sort of essential expenditure is expendable. Training, research, education are all targets. 

Demming devotes much time and many pages to explain why performace evaluations are destructive. Rather than assisting a business in its quest for quality, performance management makes it all but impossible. One of the reasons is that it is almost impossible to find measures that will provide a useful reflection. It prevents people and departments from working together as that could negatively impact on the performance ratings. It works against team work - everything is about the individual. 

Then we have the mobility in management. One bad result and the CEO packs his bags and is replaced by another. In other scenarios, good managers are lured away to greener pastures on a regular basis. 

Doesn't do much for continuity, building relationships or leadership.

How many companies claim to have a continuous improvement management process in place? The name sounds good. Empowerment? Have you actually seen empowered workers? 

I have witnessed many annual review processes. 

What happened to the company? Everyone was frantically doing what they needed to get the required scores. So what is the problem with that? you may ask. At the time there were many critical issues that should have been dealt with. Much more important issues than the performance measures. These were ignored. 

Then they want to have both continuous improvement and performance management. Illustrated by Demming to be mutually unatainable. 

Saturday, 01 May 2010

Benefits of green living

The benefits of green living begin soon after embarking on the journey. The journey can be rewarding, providing both personal satisfaction and financial benefits.

The common perception of green living is that it is great for the environment, but requires a huge effort. But green living brings great benefits not only to the environment and future generations, but to your life in the here-and-now.

Energy consumption - solar water heating

If you live in an area that has abundant sunshine, then a good first step is to install solar water heating. While there is an initial cost, the savings achieved will be felt in a short space of time. In some regions or countries, subsidies are readily available to take this important step. Electrical water heating is expensive. Depending on where you live you could be cutting your power consumption by as much as fifty per cent. Calculate that over the course of a year and the initial costs diminish into insignificance.

The financial savings are just one of the benefits. If your power is fuelled by coal, you will be making a real difference to the environment.

Energy consumption - lighting

The traditional light bulbs each use between 60 and 150 watts of power per hour. The newer energy efficient light bulbs use mush less power to produce the equivalent amount of light. The wattage of these bulbs ranges from about 11 to 18 watts per hour. Although the initial cost is higher, these bulbs last longer and you will feel the benefit when it is time to pay for the electricity account.
Energy consumption - switch off!
Switching off the lights when you leave a room is a habit that is worth developing. Why burn the lights when there is no-one to benefit? Most appliances are left turned on and plugged into the power supply at all times. Most appliances go into a pilot mode when turned off - they are still consuming power. The main reason is to make it easier to use the remote. Instead of simply turning off the appliance, switch off the power source by using the switch at the wall or by unplugging the device. The savings are small but add up to a significant amount when you consider the amount of time these appliances are not in use.

Grow your own 

If you have a garden, there is ample opportunity to grow your own vegetables and herbs. Now you are in control of what chemicals you use to stimulate growth. A compost heap is easy to maintain and could provide all the fertilizer you need. Once again there is a financial benefit that must be weighed up against the effort required. But the real benefit is in the freshness and taste of home grown products.

The home-grown varieties almost always taste better. Growing your own requires consistent effort. During dry weather it is necessary to ensure that there is enough water and you will have to guard against pests. Some herbs and garlic are known to keep the insects away. Simply plant some garlic interspersed with your other plants.

Many people find gardening to be both relaxing and enriching.

Transport

The private motor car is one of the biggest energy consumers around. Before you rush out to by a hybrid model, there are other measures that can be put in place. There is some doubt as to whether the hybrid car actually saves on power consumption. Doesn't it merely replace oil with grid electricity?

Lift schemes are a good way to reduce overall energy use.

The most energy efficient means of transport is still the bicycle. It is not feasible for everyone, but if it works for you then why not? Apart from the fuel savings you will be getting all the exercise you need to keep fit!

Other green ideas


Replacing the grid electricity supply with renewable sources can be a challenge today. Photo-voltaic solar cells are still very expensive and will take many years to pay for themselves.

However, you can green your home in other ways. If you are building a new house you can build in all sorts of green features. These include maximizing the supply of natural light, installing solar water panels and maximizing natural heat and using appropriate insulation.

There are still a whole host of green activities that benefit the environment as well. Your personal benefit may not be tangible at first. One of these is the need to recycle the garbage. This requires effort with little visible benefit. But before you discard this option, take a ride to the nearest garbage dump. That may help you to change your mind.

Perhaps the secret to green living is not to do everything at once. Embarking on a greening initiative will help to foster an environmental awareness in the entire household. You will find yourself going greener and greener over time.

Perhaps your friends will catch the bug and we will have a healthier and more sustainable world for ourselves and our children.