My fetish for symmetry and rounding

Was warming my cheese and tomato on toast with chilli today and the “5” didn’t work on the microwave. So I couldn’t warm my food for the usual 25 seconds. 20 and it wont melt it, 30 and the cheese drains through the bread. This is a perfect little balance I have going here.

Then I realized that it didn’t cross my mind to make it 24, or 26. Why? Cause it’s out of the question!

I will admit that numbers have to be symmetrical, and whole. If a fellow watcher of TV adjusts the volume to kinda what sounds loud enough, but its not on 20, 25, 30 or 35, I either have to leave the room cause I cant watch TV with such unbalance, or adjust the setting myself.

I dunno – do you all have some odd little quirk like this? Do you also set the Aircon to 0, 2 or 4 only, because that is where the knob is symmetrically placed? Temperature, of course, only at 18, 20, or 22. Nothing “somewherealongthescale!”

Maybe its just me. Or maybe I’ve been designing for too long.  Or I’m cooked. Are you?

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South Africa does not have a skills shortage – It doesnt know how to manage those skills!

Having spent the year working on and in my and Dave’s startups, Penguin Tutoring, Silver Apple and Webmarketing – and now leaving them to take on a brilliant position in SA’s leading Bank, I have a few insights to share with fellow South African startups.

We hear that there is a shortage of skills in South Africa. I tend to disagree with this. We have massive amounts of skill, talent and opportunity in South Africa. Universities and colleges are churning out grads each year and skilled individuals are returning home to South Africa after the economic environment soured abroad.  This, mixed in with the fact that we have a massive pool of skilled individuals sitting in the unemployment bracket – is a massive opportunity for skills to be leveraged to service a local and international demand. We’re seeing some of the brightest South Africans developing start-ups that set the benchmark in international standards.

My problem is this. When going through the phases of setting up a business – and then while you’re running a decent one, you seek out quality services at affordable prices. And you find these. From far and wide, every man and his dog is now a “Social Media Expert” and “SEO specialist”, “Web designer”, “Database developer” and even a “Business Systems Analyst” – and that is only looking into the digital marketplace! These skilled people put forward very competitive quotes and promise to deliver on your every wish, plus more.

Then when it comes to delivery, deliverables start falling by the wayside.  If the company gets to calling you back after the first meeting, or even quoting you, that’s decent. Start by paying a deposit, and you’re holding thumbs. Unless you project manage your supplier, you’re bound to not have your targets met. Sadly, in all my experience, this has been the case.

South  Africa doesn’t have a skills shortage – it does not know how to do business. I think that is more apt? What do you all feel?

The ramifications of this are quite dire. Normally, a client will try out and have the same shoddy service from two or three suppliers. They then end up with lost capital, bleeding deadlines and a short fuse. Then they have to approach a “Big corporate” to provide the service, at a massive premium. This affects these suppliers as well, as they’re under pressure to deliver on tight deadlines, and are so swamped with work having to pick up the pieces from tardy competitors, that they too start falling into the same trap.

So who is to blame? Should we no longer listen to the guys in the bar who say “I have this idea for a business – I want this website that does …” or to the supplier rep claiming they will deliver on time, to your every expectation?

My tips:
– if you want an above average delivery, you have to pay above average prices-
– Make sure you sign a quote, and the terms include a refund policy and payment acceleration and deceleration clauses
– Call the references of the supplier and check out the portfolio
– Make sure your scoping brief is crystal clear, so you can’t be hit for scope creep changes
– If it feels a bit on the expensive side, you’re probably with the right company

Your tips?

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Thoughts on Joost

Think Joost, and think back over those memorable rugby moments that come to mind.  A number of Rugby World Cups. 2nd most capped rugby player in SA. Try saving tackles on Jona Lomu. Playing alongside fellow greats – Andre Joubert, Francois Pienaar, Mark Andrews, Chester Williams. Skipping first lectures at Tuks to watch the Blue Bulls play away in the Super rugby games.  Inspiring stuff. Even the videos on Youtube play testament to this great. Watch this vid – 4 and a half minutes of incredibly impressive footage.

And then – the wheels came off. He has since confessed that it was in fact him in the scandalous video with Marlize van Emmenis. The marriage, as any would, is shaky, he’s been through a heart attack, and lost his position at Supersport.

Bringing me to my question about “real people?” Are “real people” allowed to do this kinda thing? Well – they do, I’m not sure if they’re allowed to. In my reading about the saga, I learnt that Amor is a “real person” too. Apparently, and referenced by The Times on her first date with Joost, she dropped her panties and made a poo next to the car on their way home.

I just don’t know. Do we like it because heroes show the traits of commoners? Or do we feel like heroes because we don’t “have a sexual liaison, not intercourse, with a women” and commoners do? I guess Joost’s quick thinking is still intact though.  Who wouldnt make a book and make R189.99 each time someone wanted to read the juicy details about the sordid ordeal? Hell, and slap on the fact that in the whole Michael Jackson furore, it’s called “Man in the Mirror”. Certainly learnt about “Airtime” from his now former employer.

So do I still like Joost? Would I still go and buy a Chicken Surprise from the Vetkoek Maleis at his Engen Garage in Hatfield, and oogle at the framed jerseys and photos in the Quickshop? Then get my car washed for free on a Friday – well, maybe if he did it. I just cant decide. Does a morning of losing it make you lose your credibility forever? I dont condone his behaviour, sure. But is he still a hero? Is Bill Clinton a hero? (Check him out doing a similar thing)

Would love to hear the thoughts!

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What is your meaning of winning?

I have just finished reading “Games Foxes Play” which breaks business down into being seen as a game. First it defines the “Rules of the game” and then spends the rest of the book looking at “Playing the game”. It is written by two South African authors, and I was most impressed with it.

Based on Game Theory, everything we do can be seen as a game. And thus, to every game there are winners and losers. So the ultimate conclusion drawn in the book is “The meaning of winning”, and how we define that, so as to win the “games” we play.

Personally, I have encountered a few arguments between people share differing implications of winning in playing the same game. Some work to get by, some work because it is their interest or passion, while others might work to learn a particular skill they can leverage to their advantage later in life – and so on.

Having thought this through, it makes a lot of sense to me that taking a little while to consider what your personal motivations are for a particular venture, project, or task can not only assist in planning a route to achieve this, but also appreciate the end result even more when you do conquer it.

It only takes a half hour on the freeway each morning to realize that certain of those stuck in the rat race have a very blurred vision of their own meaning of winning. Also, that so many people are playing to society’s or another’s meaning of winning. Here – consumerism springs to mind. Purchasing material goods, just because everyone else is, cant really make you happy, can it?

So my question is open for discussion. What is your “meaning of winning” for something you are currently dedicating your time and effort towards? I hope you have one, and I hope it is worthwhile.

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How to password protect your entire WordPress Blog

I have installed a WordPress blog to use as an administrator support system – being such a fan of the platform, and being able to serve multiple users different information about their problems.  However, it was a big challenge trying to find out how to go about password protecting your entire blog, so that only registered users can access its content.

I spent some time writing code within the functions.php file, fiddling with .htaccess and installing a few plugins, but there is only one real way of doing this – and hence my post to save you all time in the future.

Use the “Private Only” plugin, which you can download here.

It might also be worth considering having an index page in the root to tell people who arent already registered how to go about getting in touch to access your content.

Happy blogging!

How to make compost – nice and easy!

Its really easy to put your organic waste to good use. My girlfriend and her sister spend a little bit of time on the weekend cultivating a lovely veggie patch, which is all organic, and grown in nutrient rich soil made from worm castings. I am so very impressed with the disposal of their waste, and what a little bit of time can lead to. So, I want to share the recipe:

First, you have to get into the habit of putting aside your organic waste. They just have an empty Tupperware next to the bin that all food and veggie peelings, pips, egg shells and so on get dropped into. Then when that is full, about every three days, they just drop the contents into the top layer of their worm bin.

You can either get a commercial plastic one, like they did, or you can make one with four layers of containers, with 3mm diameter holes in the bottom of three of them. The bottom layer will then catch all the valuable worm-wee! So just drop in the organic waste, and put some damp newspaper over it all.

The worms will get to work and start decomposing the material. Soon, the mulch will be a fervor of worm activity.

Then, soon enough, the lowest level of the wormery will start accumulating the worm castings, making a nutrient rich combo to mix in with your normal soil and work into the garden beds. The girls use it on their vegetable patch, and have an incredible crop of spinach, radishes, turnips, beans, carrots, celery, parsley and cauliflower, to name a few.

So rather than throwing out your waste in the trash, put it to use, and start living a little more environmentally consciously.

The girls got the project on the go with the guidance of Caro Sabbagah, but are now keen to share their knowledge and get you set up with your own veggie garden and worm bin.  Send me a mail at me[at] and I’ll have them give you a call.


The speed of development

I am currently finishing up my Masters in Engineering, which deals with the design and development of a heart valve.  My objective of the study is to make a cost-conscious solution for the developing parts of the world, namely China, India, and Africa.  Currently, those available on the market are made by big American corporates, and cater for those in the privileged position of being close to medical services, and afford ongoing medical support.

I took a trip down to Bloemfontein this week to meet up with some significant role players in the industry, who have dual positions in the Universitas Hospital and the University of the Free State.  What I found was that research was being done at an alarming rate. By just focusing on writing up my thesis and not listening to new findings of late, a lot of the “gaps” had already had progress made towards their solution!

I am made quite nervous and quite excited by the incredible rate at which the human race is learning, training, and discovering.  How will we manage with all this new information being discovered by more and more people?  I am also most keen to see new technologies in action, hopefully such as my own, working to prolong, save, educate and empower lives.

Here is a video demonstrating just how fast things are happening.

My advice? Get off your backside and start making a difference.  Before you’re made redundant. Before some 25 PhD chap from the sub-continent outsmarts you. 

Do you agree?

My thoughts on appreciation

So I spent a great time away fishing on the farm in Dullstroom last weekend.  As you do, when you not landing any fish, you get to let your mind wander about the happenings in your life, and with a good dose of fresh mountain air, start to let things fall back into perspective.  This lead me to think about the season of giving, and my distaste for purchasing gifts out of obligation, and the contrived misrepresentation that Christmas has become for a lot of people.

 I concede that I am generalising, but we spend much of our days worrying. About a range of things, but mostly, about what we dont have.  I spent the fishing trip with my close friend, who had an accident a few years ago, and had the misfortune of losing his ability to walk.  Seeing this extreme contrast of the spectrum of things I worry about, against those that your everyday man takes for granted, and he so dearly wishes for, really helped bring the picture into focus.  His determination just to want to walk again was a moving experience second to none.

 My point is this.  Lets all take some time this Christmas to think about all that we do have.  All of the opportunities we have been afforded. The friends and family that care for us.  The lifestyles and luxuries that others shall never experience.  And think about if it’s worth getting our tits in a tangle about what we didnt get this year, what we cant afford, or what small thing we might dwell on.

 I wish you all a most festive Christmas season and great 2009!