Thursday, December 30, 2004

How do you empathise with disaster victims?

The scale of the Asian disaster is horrifying.

Some numbers from the New York Times, where articles update by the minute:

76 000 now confirmed dead.

Reported deaths now cover at least 40 nationalities, reaching from South Africa to South Korea, with surprising concentrations of people still unaccounted for from European countries.

Those still missing include 1,500 from Sweden and 700 to 800 from Norway, 300 from New Zealand, more than 200 each from Denmark and the Czech Republic, 100 from Germany, 100 from Italy and 188 Israelis.

These numbers will get far worse.

20,000 to 30,000 Swedish tourists were vacationing at Thai beach resorts when the disaster struck.

"Thailand is one of the most popular places for Swedes to go during Christmas and New Year's," he said. "Only six Swedes have been confirmed dead, but we think many, many more people have died."

The Indonesian government's official death toll stood today at 32,836, with an additional 1,240 people registered as missing. But that number did not count any of the people who have likely been killed in Aceh Barat, the district where Meulaboh is located.

Attention has also shifted to the broad flat region to the south around the city of Meulaboh, about 100 miles from here, where officials now estimate that as many as 40,000 of the district's 174,744 people may have been killed.

If things go on at this rate, my guess is that there will be well over 100 000 dead. They are only now going to islands that are off the map where they are finding survivors living off coconuts.

But what makes it difficult to deal with is that it is easy to get caught up in these numbers. For each number there is a family suffering immense loss.

Before they found themselves at the epicenter of this week's disaster, tsunami was not even a word in the local lexicon for people here, including Yusmadi Sulaiman, a 60-year-old delivery man, and many of his neighbors.

That changed in an instant on Sunday morning. After being shaken awake, Mr. Sulaiman found himself and his wife and four children fleeing a massive wave that rose above the coconut trees on his street near the shore here.

He clung to a tree with his 4-year-old son in his arms, only to see the son slip away into the raging waters.

His wife, a short distance away, held on to their 8-month-old daughter and called to her husband. "Hold me, Bang, hold me," she yelled, using the Indonesian term of reverence for a spouse.

He has not seen his wife or his four children for four days but he still searches the streets for them, hoping they might still be alive. "Maybe there's a chance," he said, as he sat by candlelight in a friend's home, with the electricity out.

In a region known even in this Muslim country for its strict adherence to Islam, the devastation represents a test of faith. "In Muslim society, God only gives us his goodness and we have to learn lessons from a disaster like this," said Zulkarnain, a 33-year-old salesman who escaped the flood waters with his family. "This may be God saying he is angry with human conduct in the world."

For Mr. Sulaiman, who lost his entire family, comfort came in the words of friends and relatives who gathered with him today for evening prayer.

As he told the story of having lost his son's grip during the flooding, Ucyusi Rusadi Pura, a businessman from Jakarta whose company employs Mr. Sulaiman rested his hand on his shoulder.

"It's not your fault, it's not your fault," Mr. Pura told the tearful Mr. Sulaiman. "We're your family too and we'll stand by you through all of this."

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Should I stay in / return to South Africa?

So I followed the homecoming revolution ad campaign to the website: It was quite a sad experience.

The message boards are clogged with messages from embittered South Africans who have left or who want to leave. Which contrasts drastically to the many positive things I have heard over the past few weeks. In the last week I have heard from three friends coming back to South Africa. I heard Sven Koenig talking during a break during the cricket about his impending return (cutting short a Middlesex contract by two years). Why are all these people coming back? They talk about the amazing positivity, the national pride that has developed.

Most of those that have left / are leaving, and have posted on the site, talk about crime, AA / BEE, standard of living and standards in general.

Sadly, I think things have been inflamed by polarised views. I think that polarised views inflame many things in South Africa / about South Africa and always have done. Most times when confronted by opinion, I remind myself that the truth almost undoubtedly lies somewhere between my opinion and the other person's.

I chose to stay in SA and continue to do so despite the fact that most of my friends left SA after varsity. I am now 31 and continue to make my life here. Some friends have since returned and further friends (and many family) have left.

I am lucky enough to have worked in London, New York, Paris, Stockholm and Jakarta. I am as qualified as some to have an opinion on the pros and cons of SA versus other countries and less qualified than others.

I may well leave sometime next year, but that decision will depend purely on career motives rather that country ones. And the move is likely to be a 2 year sojourn.

But I digress. I am always left sad when people feel they need to convert the world to their opinion. Whether that opinion be to come back to South Africa or to leave. Which begs the question, should FNB be setting up the site? No doubt they see a business opportunity in servicing returning South Africans, and an opportunity to exercise some of their social responsibility. Anyway, I'm not sure the site is a bad idea - I'm not sure their intention was to say to expat South Africans, "You should be coming home" - it shouldn't be. Sometimes they do and they need to be careful of that - the message boards are clogged with backlash.

Of course living in SA is about a deeply personal choice. In the heat of argument over that choice many make the rationale for their own choice the reasons anybody else would be mad to stay or go. And they tend to get a good few facts hopelessly confused for good measure. It is easy to peddle stats to make your opinion sound factual and correct. South Africa has such volatile numbers, that you could use them to make whatever point you liked.

Many postings talk about crime. Like this one:

Date Posted: 2004-12-25 20:50:24 Not Again
My GF and I arrived home at about 11pm on night to our flat in Rondebosch CT. As we arrived 4 men ran to our car and one of them put a gun against my window and ordered me to open the door. At the same time on of the other hi-jackers ordered my GF to open her door. When both doors were open they ordered me to get out, when my GF tried to get out they told her, "no; you stay!" She still tried to get out and then THEY SHOT HER! I then went crazy and wrestled the gun from the one assailent and told my GF who had fallen out the car to scream. The vermin then ran and I returned fire with the gun. One of them was hit as blood was discovered. The ambulance arrived and took us to Hospital. The next morning the cops arrived at my flat and wanted to charge ME for attempted murder. What kind of fucked up law system is this where the victim has less rights than the perpetrator. Almost 2 years later and not a word has been heard about the case. I must be mad to think thatthis is a country where I want to bring up children. I will not let myself, My GF or any member of my family go through that again.

South African crime is frightening. I don't blame anybody leaving because they feel unsafe to the point of living in fear. My cousin shot and killed an intruder in his bedroom. As they wrestled with the hell afterward I urged them to leave. Who cares if nothing else would ever have happened to them. It was important that in their minds they were safe. And if living overseas gave that to them, then psychologically they were right to go. I hope and prey that nothing ever happens to my mom, girlfriends, etc.

Most of the postings go like this one:

Date Posted: 2004-12-27 20:39:31 daft to come back
Why should the Whites come back just so that can be unemployed because of a new racist practice called affirmative action??

They make me mad because they are so wide of the mark. For reasons why, come back later when I talk through some of the crap people dig up on AA / BEE and how my company has made things work.

But then just before calling it a night, I read this one:

Date Posted: 2004-12-27 23:47:15
Wena uphumaphi? (Where do you come from?) Me well let me tell you my story if you really care. I was born in a small mining town. My parents never earned alot of money, but I can say that I got everything I needed. When it came time to go to high school, I had to travel about 47km each day to school by bus, it was to far for my parents to fetch me after school so I could not do after school sports etc. But I enjoyed it 1994 elections came and I remember being escorted to school by a casper, because the our school was one of the first to open up to black pupiles the AWB wanted to bomb the busses? I mean a school bus full of children. However we had afrikaans speaking people on the bus to and the ANC wanted to bomb the bus. Having a bomb scare at school was a regular thing. Being beaten up in primary school by high school afrikaaners because A I was english and B I stood up for my black friends was also not uncommon. During High School I wanted to study computer science, well the school I went to did not offer it. Instead I had to travell another 30km to a school that did. May parents arranged transport and some nights I would only get home after 9pm. But it was worth it. I got a matric in CS (the first in my school) I went on to do a BSc at TUKS (that I had to pay for myself because my parents did not have money.) I leant Java 1997 (BTW java was invented in 1995 1 year after democracy) It grates me when people I know battle to find jobs, it grates me when white and black hate each other. It grates me that Java Positions are AA when any Java developer should have had equal opertunity. It hurts when I see black schools getting PC's and my school does not. But such is life. I spent over a year in the UK on business, and I travel alot. But I can tell you one thing when that plane lands at JHB I want to cry. Because I love this country I love the people and despite the negative views on this page (for those people you have no clue) I believe that we (South Africans) will be the greatest nation on the planet. I really do. Maybe not while I am alive but maybe for my children. And for the comments on 2 years behind in IT ha ha ha. That is why I get sent to the UK to fix issues? Me a South African that is 2 years behind the rest of the world. Its a great country, believe in it and its people.

I may be white but I am by no means a European. I am an African.

That brought tears to my eyes.

I posted the following:

Date Posted: 2004-12-28 03:57:47

I can't believe some of the rubbish on this site. Then I read your post. So much rubbish is the stuff on this site (about AA and BEE mostly) and so genuine is your post, that I want to interview you for a job. We have made equity numbers a non-issue. We're a major company and a people business - management consulting. We care about people with the right attitude. Academics, career experience are tickets to the game - we only employ top performers. We would never turn down a candidate and tell them "Sorry, its AA" - we just look very hard for top black performers. You seem to have the attitude - if you're interested in being put into our recruitment process and think you could crack it on the academics, career experience side, reply to this post and I'll figure out some way of getting my details to you without this whole damn site spamming me.
Message to all the BEE / AA moaners: if you accept this country has to radically address its past, you can be part of its future.

How well is South Africa's economy doing?

Let's talk about a few of the "facts." I don't have all the data I'd like to have at my disposal here, so expect ongoing edits to this post.

South Africa's economy has seldom seen it so good. Some say this is all retail-led and should be export-led. Economists will tell you that endogenous or exogenous growth both equal growth.

Fact wise, there are some worrying signs for SA's economy. I work with executives of many top company's and my standard discussion pack includes an economic health check. Growth in SA has been fuelled by massive credit binging as interest rates have dropped. This is not in itself bad as long as inflation remains in check. If employment does not increase with spending, then inflation will result. And so to indicator number one: employment has not increased substantially. In fact some growing areas of the economy are shedding jobs. These productivity improvements carry a mixed message: they are fantastic news from a competitiveness perspective - without them, SA will slip further behind the top countries from a competitiveness perspective. But they are not good from a jobs perspective. Here the economists will say that ultimately this is good as these ex-employees relocate to areas of the economy that can absorb their numbers and skills (see for example the diagnosis of offshoring of US jobs - economic diagnosis: good). Big problem number one and two. First of all, we're lousy at pinpointing where our country's competitive advantages lie and what to do about them. The apartheid government did a fairly good job with ISCOR, SASOL and ESKOM (and therefore the downstream industries). But maybe they just got lucky, focusing on sanctions busting rather than exports ;) Sadly, these companies exploit our mineral wealth and not our human capital. Worringly, rhetoric from some quarters of government has talked of steering production to labour-for-technology substitution - hopefully this is just some idea spouting. Number two, it takes massive time and effort to reskill labour (particularly in the unskilled market) - typically through programmes over generations of workers.

Another aspect of the credit-led growth is that some of this is based on some savers giving up on their futures during the market downturn of 2001-2002. As people saw their pensions wither many spent rather than saved believing that it was not worth saving for tomorrow. This is a disaster we have yet to reap. SA has abysmal savings rates.

Exports are worrying. I have not yet done the analysis of the mining industry to have a fact based opinion on whether they are whinging unnecessarily or not. I am a little suspicious: mines made out like bandits as the rand crashed to R13 to the dollar. If the rand has merely retreated to previous levels, their only basis for complaining would be if increases in costs had outpaced increases in the mineral prices - and gold and platinum are substantially up. Unfortunately, the stronger rand will have exposed marginal mines that are just not cost competitive. Anyway, simple analysis that I will do in the new year.

But other export sectors are bleeding. Clothing and agriculture saw the flooding of their markets with cheap high quality competition in the late nineties. The crashing rand provided temporary relief. Again, it is better that the economy focuses on areas of true competitive advantage rather than disguise them through a perpetually depreciating rand. Make no mistake: a country cannot merely deflate a currency once and then stabilise it to kick start / right-size exports. This provides a temporary protection and damages many other areas (most significantly foreign investor perception - no one wants to put dollars in at a price and then have to return double to get the same amount out - investors want stability).

Is the rand stronger or strong? Of course much of the rand performance against the dollar is made up of dollar weakness, but the rand has done well against the Euro and the pound too. The big mac index (see below) shows us undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis. In a developing economy, this is not unusual. I must find historical values, but I can never remember the discount being as low as at present.

December 2004 Big Mac Index - The Economist

Based on the above it is difficult to get very excited by SAs economics. But what is exciting is the improving sentiment (business and consumer). The reason economics is a social science and not part of finance is because human behaviour is so inextricably intertwined in economic outcomes. With improved consumer and business sentiment, while economic growth may not be translating into jobs in the factory sense, it is very possible that money is trickling down into the informal economy. This is Mbeki's second economy and if it can be nurtured it holds the promise of gradual upliftment while the massive jobs programmes are initiated. But they must be initiated...

Certain parts of government have done an amazing job. SA has never had a minister of finance so skilled at building a stable economic platform (2002 rand spike aside). While we all worried when Mboweni came in, he has managed the markets rather well. And SARS is a revenue collection machine.

But other parts of the machine must click into gear (excuse the horrible pun). There has been woeful performance by the development finance institutions. Funds have not found their way to job creation and coordination has been woeful. The public works programme offers a wonderful opportunity to kickstart this. But other industry programmes will also be needed, focused on industries where SA can build competitive advantage in the long term.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

How do you deal with rejection?

So I'm in Cape Town on holiday. Night number three and out with Kiera-girl. Oh my god. This girl is gorgeous. And we get on so well.

Long dinner. She tells me she's been 5 weeks without doing coke. I am so proud of her. We have funny conversation about "Gums and Noses" - a great SA movie about coke in SA advertising that I saw on DSTV the other night.

Not sure how we got onto the subject but she tells me about her ex who lives in Mauritius. She's still in love with him and has provisional flights booked to go and see him. She and her brother have had big fights about this guy - he thinks this guy is abusing his sister: he ignores her unless he wants her around.

Much later in the evening - and many drinks later. Things are going very well and we've been getting along great. I tell her I want to kiss her. Oh dear. I see panic in her eyes. I get the friends speech. We have a long chat. I tell her I am fine with being friends, but I do think she's an awesome girl. I won't initiate things again, 'cause I don't want things to be awkward between us. Jeez and do things feel awkward at that moment. I make light of it and say we'll have to figure out some way for her to initiate things if she ever feels like jumping me. She tells me that's fine but she doesn't want me putting my life on hold or accusing her of leading me on at some later date. I tell her there's no danger of that. I will see other girls and hope that things might one day work out between us but not expect anything. Then follows a long conversation about why guys chase girls. I get an insight into Kiera-girl's life as she tells me about how she continually gets hit on and is desperate for people around her who want to be her friend and not just get her into bed. She shows me an sms from this potential client of her's asking her out. Anyway, long conversation after-which ridiculous drinking and dancing.

This wasn't really a surprise. We dated for a while in Cape Town earlier this year, and she came to visit me in Jo'burg after that. I asked her to be my girlfriend and she asked just to be friends - she wasn't ready for more. Things have been going well recently in phone conversations and this was one of the best dates I've ever been on. So it felt right to test things again.

Jeez I really like this girl. I love being with her. I love holding her. I am honored that she wants to be my friend and know that if things grow from there we'd have a fantastic relationship. But I know I can't put things on hold and that if I have expectations she will put distance between us. It seems like she's already doing that today. She couldn't really talk on the phone.

I'm torn by this whole thing. I first met this girl when I was at a 21st - 10 years ago. I remember seeing her across the table and thinking she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever met. I didn't meet her again until earlier this year. It just feels like she's the right girl for me. I've been in love before. It was unrequited and after much pain I moved on. I hope I don't have to go through that again.

What music belongs on a decade compilation?

This topic was well covered on the fantastic movie "Hi Fidelity" and I can only agree with John Cusack's character, Rob Gordon: it is a nightmare trying to put together a compilation for someone - it feels like you have taken the responsibility to compile a set of tracks that define a decade / genre on behalf of all those that lived it.

A simple example: my subject is an eighties album. Of course it is possibly the richest musical decade ever (IMHO) to make things far worse. So many bands and artists walk onto the set: Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Alison Moyet, Cyndi Lauper, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Bronski Beat, New Order, Talk Talk, Talking Heads, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Cutting Crew, Opus, The Thomson Twins, The Cure, The Clash, The Pixies, David Bowie, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, The Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Nick Kershaw, Wham!, U2. Madonna has to be there. Does Tina Turner? And there are some who just ask the question: Bananarama? Belinda Carlisle? Sandra? Bryan Adams? Guns and Roses? The Eurythmics? Blondie? Bonnie Tyler? Yes? Culture Club? Adam And The Ants? Gerry Raferty? The Stranglers? The Cars? Van Halen? Men At Work? Kim Carnes? ABC? Gary Numan? Martika? T'Pau?

Now you see the problem: that limit posed by the length of the CD...

Immediately a trade off must begin. Who should be left off? And on what basis? Of sourse the easiest would be to look at a cumulative eighties chart ranking. But of course that has its faults: comparing like with like is important. So is to balance songs and bands that contributed to shaping music and culture. The Clash made punk more accessible than the raw aggression and anarchism of The Sex Pistols. Vince Clark and Depeche Mode defined Techno-Synth-Pop. Spandau Ballet defined the New Romantics. And Billy Idol, The Pixies and Guns and Roses bridged to the grunge of the early nineties and showed the rising tide of Generation X.

Then add to all this that we live in South Africa and surely some of our own musical legacy must feature: Ballyhoo, Evoid, Johnny Clegg and Juluka / Savuka. Petit Cheval? Bright Blue?

And then there is the issue of which song. Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" is the hit we all remember, but "Run to You" had some of Bryan Adams early elecrtic guitar. Similarly, Billy Idol's "Mony Mony" had us stamping on the dancefloors, but what of "Rebel Yell"?

In the final analysis, relevance must make the call. It depends on the audiance for the compilation. I've got to find music that defines common past, shared experience, ... Jeez, it just gets harder! Looks like it's going to be a double album...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Am I hot or not?

For some people perhaps they know - I'm model material or butt ugly. But I think for most of us, we wonder, how good looking / average / ugly am I?

Perhaps more than this, we argue about whether someone else is a 5 or a 10. And our perceptions of beauty are so different that we agree to disagree.

This simple issue - perception of beauty - is behind one of the simplest, most popular web sites ever: - now

Two guys, James Hong and college roommate Jim Young started the site after having exactly one of these debates. During the dot com explosion, October 2000, the site was born. Within a few months, there were articles about HOTorNOT in a bunch of newspapers and magazines like, BusinessWeek, Playboy, and Slashdot. See the extract from the People magazine below.

Now, over 4 years on the site has had over 2 billion votes made.

Of course it has its faults - I have posted my pic and the distribution of votes is far from normal - I swear I think some guy has repeatedly given me a 1 out of 10. Who knows why? I've got some 9s and 10s too.

But at the very least, its a good way to test which photo is best ;)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

If you cannot be Googled, do you exist?

I read this article in the New York Times about Googling people a while back. Basically Google is so good that people are using it to research other people. One example given was about a rentor Googling prospective renters. She found things like criminal records, etc. Another women was trying unseccessfully to be unGooglable. She had some stuff on the web at one time and had managed to have this removed, but the info remained in Google's cache.

Now how awesome is Google? If they cache all that stuff, can you imagine the storage capabilities? They must store half of the web.

Further to all of this, Google is now entering into agreements to make library material available through the search engine. They're scanning in books that can then be included in searches and viewed online. If this is half as good as Amazon's online book viewing engine it will be amazing. (If your credit card details are in your Amazon profile, you can page through "virtual books" online for free.)

So back to my original thought. I find myself Googling many people I meet and these days am quite surprised not to find people online. When I don't find anything about someone I Google, I get suspicious: can they be real?! I have a number of entries relating to work stuff (on corporate websites), articles I have had published (Business Day, Sunday Times, Independent, etc), conferences I have spoken at, university research, etc. But perhaps I am just being a Google snob...

Now further to this profiling thing, I mirror my blog on Blogspot, powered by Blogger. Purely because blogger is absolutely amazing software and allows functionality and formatting undreamt of on Mweb. Much for me yet to explore related to this. Blogger is now owned by Google. Which is pretty awesome for the guys who started it: when I first came across them in New York in 2001, they were raising funds for operations and new servers through their website. Blogger is in no small way partly responsible for the take off of blogs. But further to this, imagine all the info in Blogger integrated with the power of Google. Already this allows instantaneous syndication and rss / xml feeds onto the web.

My Blogger-powered blog can be viewed at If Mweb had even bothered to respond to my technical queries I might feel guilty about this plug, but since they did not, I certainly do not.

For those reading this on my Blogspot mirror, my Mweb mirror can be found at

Are you Googlable? If not, do you really exist?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Are Depeche Mode a band that defines a generation?

The Rolling Stones define the generation that were teenagers in the sixties. Are Depeche Mode the band that defines the generation that were teenagers in the eighties?

Much like the Stones pioneered stadium rock and the "Sex, drugs and rock and roll" scene, so DM invented / mastered techno-pop and paved the way for the other classic eighties bands that followed: Spandau Ballet, The Cure, The Thomson Twins, Erasure, etc. In fact Vince Clark's path from DM through Yazoo to Erasure helped blaze the path.

DM history shows the band aging with their fans. Synth pop of the early eighties gave way to a darker side of Martin Gore's lyric writing and David Gahan's stage and vocal presence. So dark in fact that the drug-fueled excesses of the early nineties almost killed Gahan. I will never forget going to the DM concert in the Good Hope Centre in, was it, '93? It was an all consuming David Gahan performance and you could see the band were living the excesses of the darker music of "Songs of Faith and Devotion." Apparently, after wherever the band played on that SA tour, they would fly back to Deviate, a techno club above the Playground in Cape Town.

Exciter showed an older more soulful DM and the DVD showing the Paris concert is a classic. "In Your Room" remains one of my all time favorite songs and the Paris performance is masterful.

Right now, the DM re-release of material on their "Remixes 81 - 04" album and the Marilyn Manson cover of "Personal Jesus" acknowledge a generation of DM.

My favorite DM song (although Black Celebration is great for those days when things have just not gone your way):

In your room - © 1992, Martin L. Gore

In your room
Where time stands still
Or moves at your will
Will you let the morning come soon
Or will you leave me lying here
In your favourite darkness
Your favourite half-light
Your favourite consciousness
Your favourite slave

In your room
Where souls disappear
Only you exist here
Will you lead me to your armchair
Or leave me lying here
Your favourite innocence
Your favourite prize
Your favourite smile
Your favourite slave

I'm hanging on your words
Living on your breath
Feeling with your skin
Will I always be here

In your room
Your burning eyes
Cause flames to arise
Will you let the fire die down soon
Or will I always be here
Your favourite passion
Your favourite game
Your favourite mirror
Your favourite slave

I'm hanging on your words
Living on your breath
Feeling with your skin
Will I always be here

My favorite DM lyrics:

Freelove - © 2001, Martin L. Gore

If you've been hiding from love
If you've been hiding from love
I can understand where
You're coming from
I can understand where
You're coming from
If you've suffered enough
If you've suffered enough
I can understand what
You're thinking of
I can see the pain that
You're frightened of

And I'm only here
To bring you free love
Let's make it clear
That this is free love
No hidden catch
No strings attached
Just free love
No hidden catch
No strings attached
Just free love

I've been running like you
I've been running like you
Now you understand
Why I'm running scared
Now you understand
Why I'm running scared

I've been searching for truth
I've been searching for truth
And I haven't been
Getting anywhere

No I haven't been
Getting anywhere

And I'm only here
To bring you free love
Let's make it clear
That this is free love
No hidden catch
No strings attached
Just free love
No hidden catch
No strings attached
Just free love

Hey girl
You've got to take this moment
Then let it slip away
Let go of complicated feelings
Then there's no price to pay

We've been running from love
We've been running from love
And we don't know
What we're doing here
No we don't know
What we're doing here

We're only here
Sharing our free love
Let's make it clear
That this is free love
No hidden catch
No strings attached
Just free love
No hidden catch
No strings attached
Just free love

Why the above songs? 'Cause they encapsulate times of my life. Kind of the way the band that represents my generation should.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Can builders plan?

Let me start by saying that I believe my builder is quite good. He has integrity and responds well to requests related to my dissatisfaction.

Further, my builder signed a fixed price contract with a penalty clause for late delivery. Unusual, I believe.

But: I have only now taken occupancy of my transformed townhouse - one month after the three month deadline. Further, the builder used crap subcontractors for the cupboards and ceilings, resulting in them being fired and the work redone (not an insubstantial contribution to the delay). And now, after yesterday's monsoon in Johannesburg, the veranda ceiling is ruined after the roof above leaked (attention to which had been drawn after the first signs of leaks after much softer rains).

So my question is this: why do even good builders take shortcuts / try to save money to increase their profits? Don't they notice that it always results in redoing work at great expense?

I think I must become a builder. Jeez. If I was even remotely good (read: reliable, timely, to specification, right-first-time), I'd make a bundle. Why has the market not realized this? I would have thought that there is a clear signal to potential good builders, with all those out of work in a booming economy (and booming building trade - my builder struggled to get bricks due to the amount of building going on).

I guess part of the problem is customers who try to bargain prices down - if you pay twice as much, do you have no problems? Considering what I paid, I hope not...

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Is it more difficult to start or finish things?

I procrastinate about finishing things. There is something about closure that shuts out all final chances of achieving perfection. And I am a perfectionist. Make that a frustrated perfectionist.

I love starting things. There is the promise of a new opportunity to achieve the perfect result. There is the blind trust that those I work with on the opportunity will pull in the same direction, hold the same ideals.

It drives me mad. I am "big picture" but can audit the fine details if required. I just hate doing it.

This time of year is about closure. Closing off projects, finishing my staff's performance reviews, undertaking the pain of self examination - how have I done?

Now this is probably a "glass half-full / half-empty" thing. There are those who love ticking off the tasks, acheiving closure, nailing the last nail in the coffin of the past.

And no doubt there are people who do both. Damn them.

My year has been made all the more complicated by my decision to quit my job and move on, and finally renovating my house. I am not indecisive - I usually know what has to be done and merely debate the timing of doing it.

Renovating meant committing to the final shape of my house. Surprisingly (considering what I have said above) this was not the issue. Taking on the strain of employing and managing a builder has scared me for longer than I care to remember. It is impossible to deal with a building nightmare when you work more than 12 hours a day. However, the project has been successfully navigated and the builder and I agreed the final to-do list today. One potentially major issue with a swing door, but we'll see how that works out.

Quitting my job has been far more difficult. I am told by those in industry that when I leave the firm will be regarded as dead. It is always dangerous to believe your positive press, but I am distinctly bothered by leaving those who I have hired and led. Many of my team have confided in me that they worry about their own futures if I leave. But, as I was once coached, you can only deal with your own shit and not others'. So I have overcome the guilt relating to my decision to leave. But the closure is the painful part. It is tough when you have given your all and while the results are good, they are not perfect. We are not yet number one in our industry and the firm is not yet in the shape I would like it. But after seven and a bit years, it is time to ask whether I will achieve the final yards to those goals. Sadly not, for reasons beyond my control. So ultimately I console myself with this - "beyond my control." Arrgh! I hate that: "beyond my control" because I don't believe it. At the center of my belief system is the part that says we are all accountable, ultimately in control of our destiny. So what ultimately clinched it? Starting somewhere else makes more sense: trying to do what I want to do here is only good for nostalgia.

Sound tortured? Yeah. Anyway, finishing allows beginning, the part I enjoy. For the new year I must consider whether to remain in South Africa in a different role with different people, or whether to move to Boston, New York, London or Singapore for a 2 or 3 year stint. That's exciting.

But to other beginnings: there is my Keira-lookalike thing (see below). If that shows signs of working out, I may be in limbo for a while as I give it a chance.

In the meantime on to the holidays where I'll enjoy my new home for a week or so, then head to Cape Town for a month of doing nothing (except seeing Keira-girl) before planning the exact timing of my career move. Two more weeks of hell at work (AAArrgh! The to-do list!).

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Is now the time to take the digital plunge?

I was reading about the Nikon D70 in the New York Times and the guy linked to this site by Saurabh Wahi. Wow. Click here to go to David Pogue's excellent article.

Got to get a good digital camera. Wondering if it is worth waiting for the D100 to come down in price. Or waiting for the D2X!

Saurabh Wahi's amazing gallery is shown below (Flash gallery linked to on his site). Go to the orginal article in the New York Times mentioning Saurabh's site.

And Nikon have just announced the D2X being released in January - very cool. A current from the New York Times covers the new Nikon D2X. I've reproduced that below.

Wireless Picture Relay Without a Camera Phone

Published: September 23, 2004

Cellphones with cameras can send photos wirelessly, but the pictures are generally of poor quality. Last week, Nikon fired back, introducing a new digital camera with an adapter that allows it to send 12.4-megapixel photographs through the airwaves. But the wireless connectivity of the new model, the D2X, goes further: it can be operated wirelessly as well, from a computer up to 400 feet away, using a standard 802.11g Wi-Fi network.

While other cameras have been able to transmit photos over data networks, Steve Heiner, the general manager for digital single-lens-reflex cameras at Nikon's United States division, said the D2X was the first to allow wireless remote control of all its major functions.

The D2X, which will reach stores in January at a price to be determined, is in some ways similar to Nikon's D2H, a lower-resolution camera used mostly by news photographers. The new camera, however, is the first from Nikon to use a CMOS image sensor rather than a charge-coupled device.

While the D2X had been anticipated, Nikon surprised the photographic world by also announcing a replacement for its top-of-the-line film camera, the F5. While the new F6 has a liquid crystal display on the back, giving it the look of a digital camera, Mr. Heiner said Nikon expected its appeal to be limited. "The market for this is very small and getting smaller," he said. Ian Austen

Is Keira Knightley available?

Keira Knightley

I've been wondering. The girl of my dreams looks like Keira Knightley. I dated her for a while and then imploded. It is not easy going out with someone when, on the third date, you still can't believe you've actually succeeded in getting past the "I wondered if you wanted to go out some time?" line.

There were other issues. She has a coke habit, lives in Cape Town (I live in Jo'burg) and is not the type who easily spends an evening in. So not sure how things would have worked out anyway. But I'm still trying for an epic comeback...

But back to what I was wondering. Keira Knightley has got to be the sexiest women alive - in my opinion. Men: buy the August issue of Arena magazine (the best men's magazine) with Keira on the cover. OMG. So, if I am really keen on her, and just substituting with this other chick, maybe I could ask her out? I mean, she's going out with Adrien Brody. What's he got? I'd fly to London if she said yes! Now the question is, how do I get her on the phone, and how do I not come across as a psycho stalker?


Funny how things work out. Writing this was about the girl that looks like Keira. I phoned her half way through writing my blog entry, and she's keen to fly up to Jo'burg for a weekend. Epic.

Are the Boks a crap rugby team?

South Africa's Schalk Burger and Joe Van Niekerk feel the strain of the English onslaught at Twickenham. (Adam Butler, AP)

The Boks are ruining my productivity. And no doubt many other people's too.

Each Saturday they lose, I go into a blue funk and then spend ages online trawling for the reasons why on a Sunday.

I read, superrugby, rugby365, et al. And then I descend further into misery as I read the trash that people dig up.

So here is my two cents worth on my own blog.

The Boks forwards are not the stuff of a world-beating side. I read the parochial postings of SA fans slagging off the Province players and demanding bulls in the backline. But the reality is that forwards set the foundation. One has to worry: we have tons of talent in our pack: Os, Matfield, Bakkies, Schalk and Big Joe are incredible players. So why the underperformance? Race?

The racial bickering is past its sell-buy date too. We live in a deeply divided country treading onwards in its miracle transformation. Those who have worked in Zimbabwe will recognise the dangers of not really transforming. It's a reality, let's get on with it.

Eddie Andrews is not having a great tour, but attempts to blame him for the forward nightmare are naive.

If we have the talent, then why the disaster? One has to look at technique and emotion / motivation. At the very top it is seldom skill that seperates the winners from the losers. Our pack's technique must be examined more closely. In the set scrum, the forwards body position has been mentioned as suiting dry and not wet weather. This may very well be the case. Jake White's decision to arrive late in the UK could be justified (perhaps) if the team had practised on muddy pitches in the Cape for weeks beforehand. But this was not the case. Argentina have for years demonstrated that scrumming technque can make up for a hopelessly light-weight, "ordinary" pack. Frankly this is not good enough. Surely scrumming on wet pitches should have been thought of way-back-when.

England's flyhalf Charlie Hodgson breaks a tackle to score the first try against the Springboks. (Adam Butler, AP)

But motivation is key too. How Jake White could have made the Paulse selection mess-up God only knows. He is aware of the political realities regardless of whether Fourie is better than Paulse or not (an in my opinion Fourie certainly is not). Not only would that disaster have raised the political issues in the players heads again (read about what happened when Mallet made a similar error and Oberholzer went to the UK to talk to team about the realities of SA transformation). Poor Paulse - imagine returning to this nightmare after his recent celebrations regarding merit selection. Further, consistent selection is a good idea. But when your team is as tired as the Boks clearly are after their long season, rotation has to be the right option. Wholesale changes are never a good idea. A consistent rotation policy, with which the players have been made familiar would allow other players to become accustomed to the test arena and the Bok gameplan. There just has to be room for Etienne Botha and Brian Habana on a regular basis - as well as others. It is not a wonder there is no cover for Os - no one else ever gets a look in.

And speaking of game plan, for years it seems as though we have had none. I wonder if the team talk of match scenarios and how they would deal with them. No one probably dares mention "What if we are twenty points down after 30 minutes?" for fear of being negative. But is it any wonder that the team looks panic stricken in those situations. I worry about our captainship in these situations too. Bobby was a great captain for the big picture, but not good (I think) at managing gutsing it out and managing trench warfare tactics. Corne was great at asking players for an extra 20% and regularly managed to get his players to win matches they probably should have lost (think Stormers vs. Waratahs), but not great at big picture strategy. John Smit - articulate, non-political in the team, but in reality fighting for his own position. Not a great start. Is he really in charge?

Anyway, my thoughts. Got to take heart from the Proteas though. Shows that changes in strategy and thinking rather than massive changes in personnel can turn things around.

Will my online date kill me?

This online dating thing has many parallels rolled into one.

Like going to a club to pick up someone for a shag. Or newspaper personals for people struggling to meet people outside of their normal circles. Or IRC for people wanting to instantly chat to someone without all the getting to know you stuff.

Of course it has the advantages and disadvantages of each. And magnifies some.

Like, this honesty thing. Isn't it amazing that someone will describe themselves as an almost-supermodel and expect that won't be an issue when you meet them?

Or the bravado thing. Isn't it amazing that someone will say they're keen for you to do them from behind in their first email?

The concept of Internet dating is amazing: it takes all the issues involved in traditional dating and uses the Internet strengths to try to solve them.

But as with all Internet failures, applying a inherently scientific solution to a human issue results in some unintended problems.

Now here's hoping my date for this evening doesn't carry an ice-pick...

To blog or not to blog?

It has been a long time coming. I was in New York in 2001 when weblogs were taking off. Much like the Internet, people were climbing on board at an exponential rate. As someone who has been involved with the Internet since the beginnings of its mass adoption in 1992, the phenomonon interested me more than necessarily taking part. Further, my work demands mean that I am lousy at responding to emails and will be an infrequent poster. Nevertheless, the time has come to begin...