Humour: ’n Boer maak ‘n plan

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This was too good not to post!

A shop owner in Brakpan , South Africa , was tired of people breaking into his yard/shop so he came up with the idea of shaving his dog like a lion.
Everyone in SA recognises a lion, now he has no problem with thugs!
South African ingenuity – we call it “’n Boer maak ‘n plan”… ;-)

Like a Lion!
Like a lion

Source: the interweb thingy

Reflections on South Africa, 7 years on

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I’ve just had the privilege of spending some time in South Africa, my longest trip there in 7 years, and I must say it’s been a totally different experience than I had anticipated.

I’ve come away much, much, much more interested in SA than I thought I would; more proud of my family, friends and people in general; more homesick of the land that I grew up in; and more convinced that it has a great responsibility to offer something unique to the world.

So what follows are my thoughts, primarily so that I can get them down in my own head in some sort of reasonable, thoughtful fashion; and of course so that others may benefit in some way.

Cape Town:
Amazing place, fills you with energy and a sort of peaceful quiet. Didn’t get to experience a proper CT winter, so mine were rose tinted goggles, but hey I’m allowed to fantasize. Very different vibe to Jhb though.

Johannesburg:
I can’t believe the growth that has gone on in Jozi. When I left, Jozi was pretty much up to the concrete highway and a little more in places. Now, it extends far beyond that, with construction everywhere. Office space is everywhere you look (which means there are lots of salespeople looking to fill space = deals to be had), and is relatively much cheaper than in Londres. Sandton seems to be the hub now, with central Jozi relegated to a no-go zone for most people. When the Gautrain is done, think it will have a huge impact on the central Gauteng area (Pretoria, Midrand, Jhb).

The bush:
I fell in love with the bush all over again, can’t wait to go back.  The smell of the veldt, the sounds of it, can’t really describe how it affected me, other than to say the sense of peace and quiet I felt was not something I’ve felt in London / Europe or much anywhere for that matter.  Why are we destroying our natural world?

Living there:
Everyone drives everywhere they go – definitely no walking culture for people with cars (at least in Jozi – maybe CT more so) – primarily because there isn’t a formal public transport system, and also because of the distances involved. In one day travelling to 3 meetings I did about 150km without thinking.

Shops in general aren’t open late, so there’s no such thing as nipping to the Spar or the booze shop at 8:30 for some quick chow and a couple drinks for the mates braai.

Costs
It’s really weird – some things are super, super cheap using the pound; but others are so expensive you can’t justify the expense even paying with pounds. Bread, milk, and other staples fall into the cheap category for obvious reasons, along with meat and veggies. Something like salmon is expensive, digital stuff is relatively more expensive, and photographic equipment 2x to 3x the price on Amazon in the UK.

Pound for Rand however, I think you’re still going to be able to buy more for your money in the UK – supply and demand economics would probably bear me out on this, although one day I’m going to do a sample shopping list in London and Jozi and see what happens. If you go to a bar or restaurant however, you’re going to get more for your money in SA, and generally you’re going to eat better food, which is kinda counterintuitive. That said, I didn’t go to the Gordon Ramsay spot at the new One & Only hotel in CT, so can’t comment on Gordon Bleu food ;-)

Internal flights are much more affordable than they used to be, but if you compare distance and costs with European carriers, I think that similiar EU options are going to be much cheaper = same supply and demand argument here. That said, factoring in flights for internal travel for business seems to be affordable.

The property rental market is cheaper than in the UK (people interested in property would already know this) so for the rent you would pay in the UK, you can get a relatively better and bigger place in SA.

One of the things I really, really didn’t enjoy, was the constant begging. At every street corner you’re confronted with that sinking feeling that you can’t keep doling out cash every time someone asks for it – probably 10 to 20 times a day – even though you want to, which made me feel uncomfortable. I started out givng R5 to “parking professionals” every time I parked the car I was using, and got a swift kick in the rear, to say that I was raising the prices for everyone else locally. Still, R10 to R20 a day is a lot to give away when you do it every day out of guilt.

Bank charges are prohibitive – it seems the SA banks have a nice little big business going there – everyone is aware of it, and “how to reduce bank charges” is a topic that came up a lot.

Bandwidth:
I paid R250 (£20 odd) for 500MB of hotspot bandwidth valid for a year, to use at participating hotspots. Not sure what you pay for something similiar in London, not used that for years now.

We went with WebAfrica ADSL based on a recommendation from a friend, and have to say the service was great, but the bandwidth not that great – approx R250 for 320k/s capped at 1GB is gold rush stuff, so can only hope that is going to drop with the new cable coming in.  In comparison, I pay £21 per month, for 25GB of bandwidth at 8MB/s (which is about 800k/s in real life). Sucks huh?  Good lesson in supply and demand though ;-)

The people
I’ll never forget the man that offered to pay for my parking when I said that I had to go and draw cash from a foreign account (first day, so no cash). His rationale was that the charges alone would be more than the cost of the parking. I didn’t take him up on it, and did swallow when I paid. Nice man though ;-)

There seems to be a general feeling of hope and optimism in the air, mainly around the different sporting events happening in the next two years (IPL, Lions Tour, Confederations Cup, World Cup – missing any?), as well as the recent democratic elections which went pretty smoothly. I found the people I interacted with friendly, helpful, smiling, and willing to go the extra mile.

I got sick and tired of Highveld Stereo after about a week of listening to it, so started tuning into 702, 5FM, RSG and Radio 2000 – and found that between them I was able to stay informed and not hear the same jokes, same jibes and same songs every day. Sad to see Jeremy Mansfield and his crew still doing the same stuff 7 years later, but I guess if it aint broke, don’t fix it….  Ummm, no.

The politics:
I’m no politician, and prefer to focus on results whatever the politics, but my overwhelming impression is that the country is expecting service delivery from the ANC, and JZ (Mr Zuma to the uninitiated) is tasked with overseeing that delivery. He’s got some great people in to help him so things are looking good, but we’ll see. I was gobsmacked by how much emphasis there is on government, and how much red tape (I could be wrong here but that was what I saw and heard) there is for private enterprise to jump through. I’m not gonna say much more here – until I educate myself more.

The Web scene:
I spent a lot of time meeting with people, getting a feel for what’s going on and how big the market is, and it seems to me that there is a pretty small layer of folks who are vocal (read: tweeting) and who are talking (again, read: tweeting and blogging) about stuff (maybe 50 to 100), and then another layer of folks who aren’t into the vocal social web (so I can’t comment on them). People seem to be working for themselves, in small agencies, or in much larger institutions (think banks, insurance companies etc) with relatively few in what I would call mid-size businesses, or startups. Apparently there is more (service / client) work around than there are good people to do it, which is refreshing – means there is a demand and I imagine there are a lot of folks trying to fill that demand.

All in all however, the internet market in Southern Africa (broadened intentionally) is very small, which leads me to a question I’ve been asking for a long time – if the local market is small, but there are people with skillz, why is there this persistent focus on building things for the local market? Why not build something for the global market?

As I see it, the primary constraints are amount of bandwidth, and the corresponding cost of said bandwidth – which is crippling to say the least… but that kind of pressure brings focus and ingenuity, which is what every good startupp needs more than anything else.

Which brings me neatly to my next point: Everyone is talking about the Seacom cable which is supposed to be opening up the bandwidth sluice gates come June / July. Assuming that de-regulation goes ahead, and there are no monopolies, I’m hopeful (along with everyone else) that things will change. Demand will create competition which will bring prices down, which should create more demand. Dark Fibre Africa are laying fibre optic cables in Jozi, CT and Durbs, which is great – awesome to see such progress. If this is the yellow brick road, I hope it leads to Kansas! In the meantime, everyone seems to be using 3G cards, and wireless is nowhere to be seen. Anyone spot an opportunity? ;-)

Business:
The smart money is on the massive growth of the middle market in the coming years. Some people say 3 yrs, others 5. Bottom line is there is a whole layer of people entering the middle market with disposable income to spend. The corresponding side effect of this is that there should be growth of the products and services this new market will demand, of which web based stuff will be one of them.

I’ve arrived back in London feeling that there are opportunities everywhere in SA for people with passion, focus, drive and integrity – who will provide a better product or service, or who spot the growth opportunities an emerging market economy creates. One of the key problems for this will be finding good people, as it seems that the good ones are already gainfully employed ‘cos they’re like hens teeth when you do the math (total population – working population – people in your sector – people with enough experience = a few good, ahem, men, to coin a phrase); but one of the corrolaries to this is that people at the lower end of the skills ladder or just out of the education system are going to be a lot cheaper than in most mature economies, and that those people (not yet dulled into socialist working practices) are going to be hungry for work and the opportunity to better themselves.

That said, most people I spoke to said the same thing consistently about entreprenuers and funders (angels, seed investors, VC’s), and that’s that there is a huge gap / mismatch / chasm between people looking to start ventures, and people looking to create wealth by funding ventures more risky than property or the markets. The starters say there are not enough funders, whilst the funders say there are not enough good starters…  I heard of at least 3 VC funds apparently not doing much locally – why is that?

Some people I spoke to mentioned that there is a stigma of failure in South Africa, holding people back from starting things, which I find interesting.  Coming from an entrepreneurial family, I’ve been around the smell of success and failure a lot (only realising how much of a differentiator it is now) so I’m not sure I can identify with that enough to comment.  Anyone got any perspective on this?  My humble estimation is that the internal fear of jumping off the ledge and starting is being confused with a cultural fear.  May be wrong tho….

Would love to hear your thoughts…..

Update:
This post has been added to the HomecomingRevolution site.

Jaunty Jackalope upgrade issues – evolution, window decoration, workspace switcher, ALT-TAB not working

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Anyone having any issues with evolution, their keyboard shortcuts or window decoration, after an upgrade to Jaunty Jackalope? [updated: my solution, at least for now, at the bottom]

Am finding the following so far, with visual (desktop) effects set to normal:

  1. there doesn’t seem to be a window manager working if I choose not to use compiz – windows all load top left and don’t have the usual minimise, maxmise, close buttons you’d expect (a launchpad bug)
  2. alt-tab doesn’t work and switching between workspaces doesn’t work
  1. after evolution got an upgrade, I restarted it, it asked for some backup files stuff which I gave, then before I could say “superfly” my mail was gone.  Like, gone, totally borked.  Good thing I backup regularly.

Tried removing .gconf* .gnome* and .config*, with had no effect.
This is super disappointing in some ways, in others you take it as it is ‘cos it’s free and you love it! ;-)

Update:
Day 2 of the upgrade saga and it looks like there are loads of peeps with the same or similiar issues – primarily around ATI driver support with Jaunty….  still working on it.  Incredibly frustrating now, and hard to believe this slipped thru… ;-(

Update:
Day 3 now, and I’ve got email back (moved to Thunderbird out of frustation), and running Compiz so that there is window decoration and the alt+tab and workspace switching works.  Problem is I still have to set that up each time I reboot….  so trying to figure that out, amidst getting email and contacts working properly on TB.  .xsession-errors seems to have something going on there, so looking into that now…

Seems there are people with the same problem – just needed to know what questions to ask Google ;-( Still no solution that works for me yet, so the search goes on.

Right, now I’m even more convinced something fishy is going on here – my gnome settings that I’ve been changing as I’ve been doing stuff have not been saved… which implies there is a gnome / gconf session saving issue.  Still digging.

Final update (I hope):
Ok, seems that there is a fix of sorts, which is working for me so far (restarting fine). Found this thread on the Ubuntuforums, which has led to the following:

To get Metacity working, the dirty hack is to add:

metacity --replace

to the list of startup applications, which seems to work fine if you’re set against compiz.

I was, but after trying it a bit the last two days it’s much much better than when I last tried it a year ago, so I’ve taken most of the gee whiz out and kept some of the usable stuff.

So to use compiz, I’ve installed all the relevant Compiz packages in synaptic, as well as “Compiz Fusion Icon”, which actually turned out to be the missing link, as well as adding:

fusion-icon

to the list of startup apps.  So now I have the Fusion Icon in the Notification area next to the volume applet, but most importantly my windows have decoration / borders, I can alt+tab, and switch between workspaces (each one has a diff purpose for me).  I’m prepared to take a small performance hit if it means I can do that, and hey, my machine might actually start to look sexy, especially after setting up Gnome-do properly… ;-)  I’m also going to take a look at some emerald themes to see what they have to offer.

Are you an entrepreneur?

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Great article from Harvard Business:
_ MBAs vs. Entrepreneurs: Who Has the Right Stuff for Tough Times? – Bill Taylor – HarvardBusiness.org

Ultimately, she says, entrepreneurs begin with three simple sets of resources: “Who they are” — their values, skills, and tastes; “What they know” — their education, expertise, and experience; and “Whom they know” — their friends, allies, and networks. “Using these means, the entrepreneurs begin to imagine and implement possible effects that can be created with them…Plans are made and unmade and revised and recast through action and interactions with others on a daily basis.”

Which one are you?

Why I won’t use GoDaddy again

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On Wednesday I was renewing domains that are registered with GoDaddy, so I go to the cart page where I can review the cost, and see that there is a line item for “private” (domains are registered with DomainsByProxy so your contact details are not available through WHOIS, which protects you from spammers). So I spend the next hour trying to figure out how I can remove this from the renewal as the cost is literally the same as the domains themselves…  And I can’t.  After much searching and swearing, it seems you have to have an account with DomainsByProxy to do so, and the admin cost (time primarily) associated with doing this is not worth the effort.

While the above paragraph is an attempt at a factual description of what happened, I’m totally angry with GoDaddy and won’t be using them to renew domains, nor buy new ones.  They’ve lost my business for good now, and over the course of the next year I’m going to go to the extra cost of transferring the 21 domains I have with them to my the domain registrar I use, which doesn’t do this.

This was the straw which broke the camel’s back.  Having to login twice on the same site to use the domain management area; not having an account with DomainsByProxy created automagically when I choose the “private” feature in the first instance; and being subjected to grossly obtrusive cross and up-sells were the other 3 straws…

Bob – I know you optimise, and try to eke out every last drop of revenue from each and every customer, but in a niche of much choice, you’ve made it easy to want to switch.  In the beginning you were the new kid on the block I wanted to support.  Now you’re the dude at the Johannesburg traffic lights trying to wash my car windows, take my rubbish and sell me mobile chargers all at once – while standing in front of the car.

So, some tips to would be GoDaddy users; people looking to buy domains:

  1. If you must use GoDaddy, don’t choose the “private” option when you register a domain.

What is your next action?

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I’ve been working a lot lately on trying to streamline and rationalise everything in my head, for various reasons, and have found that the difference between projects and actions can be blurry when thinking of things broadly. The killer has been going through each of my projects, and ruthlessly thinking about what the “next action” is.

I can’t do everything at once, so having a smaller list of next actions is the best way for me to think about what I need to do across my 50 odd active (current, not someday / maybe) projects. When an action is done for the project, I then assign a next action.

When I started going into each project, it’s pretty clear that some stuff is only ever going to have one action (get car cleaned) -> so it’s not a project. When I found many “actions” within a project (they’re aligned for the same purpose or goal), then the next action becomes most important as it defines the starting point for the project, as well as the mental block you have to overcome to create progress and momentum.

So, my learning is this:
Next actions are essential for rationalising priority and allocation of time.
Projects should have more than one action (ala David Allen), focus should be on the very next action.
Ruthless pruning of projects, actions and mental RAM is essential for sanity ;-)

What are your thoughts / experiences?