Friday, 30 April 2010

Can written text survive?

Ebooks have made little inroad against printed versions. Even serious computer addicts (like me) that spend their time on-line reading blogs, comments and articles prefer a newspaper that we can page through. A book is a book and there is no way that I will even make an attempt to read a book on-line.

The question here is about written text. Are we going to continue to teach our children to write? Is every child going to be equipped with a laptop from the moment they start school? Will teachers still write on the blackboard or simply project images from their computers onto a screen?

Written text is becoming quite rare. I don't remember the last time I saw a hand written letter. Come to think of it, I haven't seen a personal letter for a long time. The closest is a hastily typed email.

I have been to meetings where the participants faces are obscured by laptops. It may look as though they are furiously taking notes. In reality they are answering their emails. Students sit in lectures behind laptops. All the lecture notes are pre-printed. There is no need to take notes.

Somehow, there is still a need to use pen and paper. In my business consulting I use it all the time. On the odd occasion we work on a machine with a projected image, but pen and paper is still less obtrusive and much faster that using a laptop or a palm-top. Recording meetings may be useful where there is a dispute about the minutes, but who wants to sit through a two hour meeting again? When it comes to taking minutes, pen and paper is still the best. Writing is faster than typing. It allows for more flexibility.

Then there are written exams. Some on-line universities do have on-line exams as well, but that is a solution that favours the fast typers. I worked on course where this was applied - the students were not happy.

Pen and paper is still the most portable solution around. It love being able to leave my laptop at home.

One place where writing will never be replaced is on the Torah scrolls used in orthodox Judaism. The scrolls are made from leather parchment. Every letter in the Torah must be handwritten with a special kind of pen and a very specific ink. That is the law and it will never change. The same principal applies to the scrolls used in a Mezzuzah - these are placed on every door in a Jewish home. So this is one place where written text will survive. The Torah is read from the scrolls every Shabbat and at every festival and religious holiday.

Caligraphy is still popular. In fact, the calligraphy tools and materials are more easily available than ever. We are all tired of computer printed invitations and cards, and calligraphy has become the preferred medium.

Written text has fallen away in many respects. Letter writing is a disappearing art. But we are finding new ways to use pens, pencils and paper as a communication tool. We can use it during presentations. Everyone has had enough of slide presentations!

The art of writing is not dead! Let's hope that it will never die.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The origins of Earth Day, April 22

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 each year. The April 22 Earth Day was started by Senator Gaylord Nelson.
The idea began in 1962 when Senator Nelson first tried to bring environmental issues into government in the United States. "That year," recalls Senator Nelson, "an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, something that would put the environment into the political spotlight once and for all." He proposed a conservation tour to President Kennedy, and in September 1963 President Kennedy embarked on a conservation tour of the United States. The tour did not succeed in putting conservation onto the political agenda.
At a Seattle conference in September 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson announced "a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment". Everyone was invited to participate in this demonstration the following spring.He recalls that "The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office."During the 1969 antiVietnam war protests and teach-ins, Senator Gaylord Nelson came up with an idea. "Why not organize a huge grassroots demonstration a teach-in that would focus on what was happening to our environment?"
On November 30, 1969 the New York Times carried a lengthy report on environment issues. By this time, public concern about the environment had become huge. Gladwin Hill reported that:
"Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam...a national day of observance of environmental being planned for next spring...when a nationwide environmental 'teach-in'...coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned...."
Senator Gaylord Nelson's initiative was a huge success. On April 22, 1970,twenty million Americans participated in the first Earth Day. They demonstrated for a clean, sustainable planet. Earth Day became an annual national event where eco-activists could voice their concerns about environmental issues. The results of the first Earth Day have been significant and included the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.
One of the most remarkable features of the first Earth Day was that the event was virtually un-organised. In Senator Gaylord Nelson's words, "We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself."
Since 1990, Earth Day has become an event celebrated in many countries around the world. Since 2000, the focus has turned towards global warming.

How I use the Internet

I began using the Internet about fifteen years ago. That was just before the Internet became highly commercialized, but even then had lots of sites and information on almost anything. I had lived all my life until then without email and without this vast information and opinion resource. Internet banking and Wikipedia belonged to the future. Microsoft had not yet entered the Internet browser market and Netscape was the leading browser available. Internet shopping was still a pipe-dream.
I soon discovered MP3s. I began downloading music by artists known and unknown. I explored music of different countries and discovered artists that are unknown where I live. In those days the only option that was open to me was dial-up. Some songs took almost an hour to download, often resulting in incomplete songs. This downloading of copyrighted material actually benefited the music industry. I managed to locate agents for artists that I had discovered to purchase legal copies of the CDs. The cost of dial-up was high enough to make it worth buying CDs when I was impressed by an artist.
The Internet soon became a major source of information and although some sites had to be treated with caution, much value was gained.
In 1996 I embarked on an MBA degree. The primary delivery mechanism of the university was distance learning. The on-line discussion forums for the course never really got off the ground, but the on-line delivery of study materials and articles proved to be of great value. So did on-line submission of assignments. The Internet really began to deliver value when the university's library enrolled me on several on-line journal libraries. Articles from all the leading academic journals of the world were available at my fingertips! I could access a huge range of information for my assignments and research at all hours of the day and night without leaving my home. The days of waiting while the library sourced the journal were over.
Following my graduation, I became a part time lecturer on a business degree course. One of my tasks was to run an on-line discussion forum. I became an e-tutor for a top UK
business school and helped students from China,
Canada, the UK, Australia, Europe and the Middle East to work their way through a variety of modules - all from my home in Johannesburg.
I participated on an on-line course on e-learning and ended up running courses for the same organisation. These courses are time-consuming but rewarding, and I continue to run these on an occasional basis.
My wife complains that I am glued to my computer - but although she was computer illiterate until a few months ago, she now has a work at home job on the Internet for an on-line dating site.
Six months ago while searching for information for a newsletter I stumbled upon I contributed an article and then another. My first article was purchased by a publisher and I then won third prize for a contest! On Helium I read about blogging and blogging for money. I now have several blogs but have not made much money. At least not yet!
I have set up sites to display my wife's art.
On a daily basis, I use the Internet to access information, to find answers to technical and business issues, for Internet banking, and to get regular news updates.
The Internet has enriched my life!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Muti Market, Johannesburg, South Africa

A huge market full of stalls selling traditional medicines. Most of the medicines, or 'muti' are herbs and roots. But there are also snake-skins and birds on display 

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Life is a journey ...

Life is a journey at times sweet and pleasant at other times bitter and hard. We are all on this journey, forever changing, forever growing forever dying. During the course of this journey there are many destinations. But each is merely a short stop signifying a new beginning.

As we travel along the journey of life we see many destinations ahead. We think in terms of destinations, of arriving at the desired stop. "When I turn 18 "; "When I get married"; "When I graduate"; "When I retire". But as we travel we discover that these are not destinations at all. They are merely events, stations where we can change the direction.

The journey begins on our arrival from the womb - perhaps earlier. This is our first destination, and the start of the journey through babyhood. We are curious and helpless, overwhelmed by the newness of it all. Gradually we grow stronger and more familiar with the people around us. We begin to crawl, utter our first words, and take our first tentative steps.

The next destination on our journey through life is toddlerhood. We have acquired more tools to use in our exploration. Life is still a journey of discovery. Knowledge and language are awakened. We continue through to the next destination of childhood. Now we begin to learn our place as social beings. Friends become important. The journey still focuses on learning through play and through school.

There is a thin line that signifies the next destination. The teenage years are the beginning of a period of self-discovery, of defining out unique identity. During this part of the journey our peers and the outside world assume a much greater importance. We need to be cool - accepted and admired by our social groups. We experience the pressures of the wider society. We break away, rejecting our childhood naivety. We become risk takers, experimenting with life. This is the part of the journey where sexual awareness has begun. The next few years are dominated by the search for partners.

The journey continues to the next destination of adulthood. With school days over we enter the world of business and work. Suddenly we are able to earn our own money, make our own decisions. Perhaps we meet a life partner. We marry and live happily ever after.

The fairy tales make this part of the journey seem like the destination of life. Young people dream of marriage which will tell them that they have arrived. But arriving at this station is another turning point in our journey through life. We are now in a partnership and much is till to follow. We have become a family. This is the next destination and a start of a whole new adventure. As our babies grow and develop our journey through life continues.

We experience success and failure, joy and heartbreak. The journey never stops, not even for a moment. In the blink of an eye our children are beginning to strike out, forming their own relationships and having their own children. Suddenly we are grandparents. Yet still we do not feel old! Now the newlyweds look like children! How can they be ready to take on this journey alone?

Gradually we get older. We approach the final destination of life, the destination from which no-one returns.

Life is a journey taking us on a rocky ride. The destinations are merely new beginnings, a new phase of the journey. There will be highs and lows, happiness and grief. But as long as we live, the journey carries on.

"Life is a journey; enjoy the ride;
be kind along the way." -Lori Carangelo

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Take control of your money

Do you spend money without first calculating what you can afford? Is there always more month than money? Is there nothing left when you have paid a few bills? Does the fear of finances mean that you avoid checking your bank balance or finding out what you owe? Out of control finances can place you into a very frightening situation. Credit cards become maxed out and your overall level of debt becomes unmanageable. Taking control of your money can make the difference.

Without financial planning, achieving a balance between income and expenditure and providing for the future is impossible. The good news is that fear of finances can be conquered using a few simple techniques. Taking control of your money can eliminate the fear of finances.

The first step in taking control of your money revolves around knowing what you spend, your fixed expenses and your debt. It is a question of awareness. List of all of your monthly expenses. A spread sheet is a useful tool to achieve this. Begin with your fixed expenses. These are expenses that must be faced regularly but remain the same. Fixed expenses include rent or mortgage repayments, insurance, subscriptions and so on. Next list all your variable expenses such as telephone bills and electricity. List all your debts and the monthly repayment.

On the spread sheet include your income in one column and the expenditure in another. Total the expenses.

For the next month, carry a notebook to record each item that you spend on. This may seem tedious at first but as time goes on you will be amazed to find out where a lot of your money is going. Select categories for this spending and add it to the spreadsheet.

Compare the totals of the income and expenditure columns. If there is a shortfall between the income and expenditure, then there is a problem that must be solved. It is impossible to sustain an income and expenditure shortfall in the long term. Urgent action is required to achieve a balance.

A schedule of your expenses and income is a great start. It provides an awareness of your exact financial status and places you in a position to begin taking control of your money. Knowledge is power! Armed with knowledge of your actual status, you will be able to make the crucial decisions regarding your financial status.

Ask these questions:
What can I afford to pay?
What can I afford to spend on food, entertainment, clothing?

If there is not enough to cover the full payments for all of your accounts then work out what you can pay. Call your creditors and let them know. Most are willing to receive a reduced payment rather than nothing.

When you review your spending you will probably find expenditure on items that don't add much value to your life. Eliminate excess spending. Your goal should be to allocate the first ten percent of your income to savings or investments. This is the first step towards achieving financial independence.

Setting up a budget is one of the main techniques used to control your money. If debt is proving to be a major problem, then eliminating debt from your life could mean the difference between financial disaster and financial success. Eliminating debt could be the most effective way to fix your finances.

Everyone is limited by the amount of income available from month to month. Taking control of your money can provide the answer to eliminating a fear of finances. The important thing to remember is that it is not the amount of income but the way that it is managed that matters.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Get out of debt

Becoming debt free will change your life! The long term pay-off provides a huge incentive to commit to the short-term sacrifice that is required to get out of debt.

Debt can be a major source of stress. As debt builds, it becomes more and more difficult to manage. An increased income seems to have no effect and each month becomes another struggle to make end meet. Without drastic action, the cycle will continue for many years resulting in blacklisting by credit bureaus and worse.

Debt consolidation is often marketed and presented as a solution. Debt consolidation may ease the budget, but it simply transforms short term debt into long term debt.

If the debt related problems are really severe, the Oak view law group (USA only) offers a debt consolidation service that may provide considerable relief. Click on the link for an assessment.

In extreme cases, sequestration or bankruptcy may be the only answer, providing the opportunity to start over. But you start over with nothing and have to live through a period of rehabilitation.

For most, a debt elimination plan provides the answer. If you follow the steps carefully you should be able to get out of debt relatively quickly.

·         how much you owe,
·         the rate of interest and
·         the remaining term of the debt.

The list must include everything you owe including loans and arrears on current accounts.

Follow this with a full and honest REVIEW of your SPENDING PATTERN. If you are not certain where the money goes, carry a notebook at all times and record what is spent and on what. COMPARE what you SPEND against your INCOME.

Involve the entire household to carefully SCRUTINISE what you spend.

IDENTIFY what can be CUT from your monthly spending. Which items can be eliminated from the spending plan without having a major impact on your lifestyle?

Suspend any monthly investment plans for now, but do not stop your life insurance or retirement funding unless this can be achieved without penalties.

Speak to your creditors. Perhaps the bank will agree to interest only mortgage payments or to reduce the interest charged on your credit card.

DRAW UP A NEW SPENDING PLAN. The new spending plan is based on the old one without the eliminated items. You should be left with a small surplus. This SURPLUS is the vehicle for your plan to GET OUT OF DEBT.

If you haven't managed to find a surplus, then repeat these steps. It may be necessary to compromise on brands or to make some lifestyle adjustments until the get out of debt plan starts to produce results.
The main idea of the get out of debt plan is to TARGET your debts ONE AT A TIME. Each debt that is paid off represents a major MILESTONE. Each time you reach a milestone, you become much closer to your TARGET of achieving a DEBTFREE LIFESTYLE. List each debt by size from smallest to largest.

Add the surplus generated in your new spending plan to pay off your SMALLEST debt. The extra payments will enable you to pay off this debt more quickly. Once you have achieved this milestone, reward yourself and your family with something that will be valued.

There is now one less payment to worry about each month. Add this saving to the original surplus and a much more substantial amount can be used to target the next debt.

The higher repayment will allow you to reduce the term of the second debt even more quickly.

Follow the same procedure to eliminate the third and subsequent debts. As you reach each milestone remember to reward yourself and your family. As each debt is paid off, more funds become available to target the next.

The same principle should be applied to the car loan unless you are committed to paying interest for the full term regardless of early repayment.

With a much improved cash flow, it is time to target the home loan. Increasing your payments on the home loan could reduce the repayment term by as much as 50 to 75%. You will save a fortune on interest and will have more cash for investments and to improve your standard of living.

Once you have managed to get out of debt, it is very important to maintain a debt free lifestyle. Be careful not to fall into the dangerous debt cycle again!

Use the first 15% of your income to pay yourself in the form of long term investments. Put aside another 1015% for future purchases and emergencies and pay cash for your next new car.

Friday, 09 April 2010

7 steps to save money

Saving money provides the key to building wealth and becoming financial independent. Follow these seven tips on saving money to help achieve your dreams.

Step 1: Budget

A budget is really the key to money management. Compile a detailed list of all your regular monthly expenses and spending. Identify where you can cut down and draw up a new budget or spending plan. Before allocating money to anything else, you should PAY YOURSELF. Allocate at least 10% of you monthly spending plan to savings and investments. All other expenses are secondary to paying yourself. Paying yourself first will empower you to the achieve financial independence that is desired by so many and achieved by so few.

Step 2: Take care of the pennies

"Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves." The small low cost items that we regularly buy without thinking can add up to a significant sum over a month. Watch what you spend on luxury and impulse items and the savings could be significant. The higher prices at the local quick shop may seem trivial, but the small amounts add up over time.

Step 3: Invest your savings

Your savings should typically be invested in a number of diverse instruments. You should have some liquid savings to cover emergencies. Traditionally, the remainder of your investments should be split between equities, property, and perhaps an interest bearing account such as the money market. Shop around and ensure that the companies that you use to build your investment portfolio are sound and trustworthy. Diversifying your investments helps to reduce the risks.

Step 4: Buy items on special

When shopping, try to buy the items that are on special. This can save you some money, but don't buy items just because they are on special. If you don't need it, then this will just add to your expenses.

Step 5: Get out of debt

Debt is the enemy of savings. Target your debts one at a time to eliminate each. Begin with the smallest debt and work your way through all each debt until you have got rid of each. If you do have a debt problem, then use the "pay yourself" amount allocated in your budget to get rid of debt. Once you are debt free, savings will accumulate much more quickly.

Step 6: Buy for cash!

Use your savings to finance your next appliance, furniture, car and even your house! The interest and finance charges on financing these items adds up to a substantial sum over time. You can achieve substantial savings by adopting the "old fashioned" approach of only buying something when you can afford it! It may take an extra year to get that new car, but you will have saved a lot of money in the process.

Step 7: Involve the entire family to achieve your saving objectives

You will be able to save more if every member of the family buys into the concept. Encourage the children to save for the things that they want from their allowance. When everyone works towards the same goal, you will be able to save much more money more quickly.

The seven tips are all closely related. They all hinge on the need for savings and the goal of achieving financial independence. It may be difficult to begin the process, but once you adopt the philosophy of "paying yourself first" the process becomes easier. As your savings build-up, you will find yourself in a position to pay for what you need (and perhaps what you want!) in cash.

Worst gift ideas for your girlfriend

As the first anniversary of you going out with your girlfriend approaches, you want to make a really special evening. You have booked a table at a romantic Italian restaurant. The problem is what to buy. You start making a list of all sorts of ideas. Then you start looking through it, and realise that many of the ideas just will not do.

You check out the elimination list that you found on the web. Start crossing out these ideas one by one. Below are the worst gift ideas possible. These are gifts that are guaranteed to cause quite a reaction. The type of reaction that will almost certainly bring this beautiful relationship to an end.

1. A fully-paid subscription to a course of slimming supplements. This is totally out. She may think that she has been putting on weight, that she is getting fat. This is something that you must never acknowledge. She is only looking for reassurance. The correct answer to "am I looking fat?" is always "no Baby, of course not! You look very beautiful tonight, stunning! Very sexy." A gift should make her feel good, not remind her of any shortfalls.

2. A full season subscription to a premium box at your favorite football or basketball team. Even though she pretends (don't tell me that you didn't know) to love the game and supports the same team as you, this is not a suitable gift. From her to you this would be a great gift. From you it will send her packing and leave you looking for someone new.

3. Kitchen utensils, designer oven gloves, pots, pans and kitchen appliances make wonderful wedding presents. Kitchen tools and appliances are not appropriate for a girlfriend.

4. An even worse idea is a state-of-the-art top of the range wet and dry vacuum cleaner. Don't even think about it! Do you really need to know why?

Buy a gift that tells your girlfriend that you know who she is, a gift that is specially for her. She wants something personal, perhaps romantic. If in doubt, a nice new sports car will do the trick! It may not be personal ....

Sunday, 04 April 2010

Eugene Tereblanche murdered

Eugene Tereblanche or ET as he was popularly known, was murdered in the early evening last night.

The leader of the AWB was quite a fanatic. The flag of the organisation is a modified swastika showing three branches instead of the usual four. The philosophy of the AWB is quite close to that of the Nazis. In this scenario, the Afrikaner is the master race. The aims of the movement is to turn the clock back to the days of Apartheid.

The news of the day has been dominated by this event. ET was a farmer or a boer. The leader of the ANC Youth League has been singing a song that has the words "kill the boer" as part of its slogan. The courts have ruled that the song must not be sung, that it violates the constitution.

There is no evidence that the murder was linked to the song. It seems that the two workers had not been paid. The media and politicians are linking the two. This is where Julius Malema has armed the right wing. If it is ok to sing kill the boer then presumably it is also ok to sing kill the Zulu ...

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.