Review Singles Weekend with Fastdate at Shumba Valley Lodge

Shumba Valley LodgeLast weekend I attended the first Fast Break event with Fastdate. This is a weekend away for singles. By the way I detest the word “singles” (it stinks of desperation and I prefer “unmarried”). The idea is simple: a group single people (about 16 men/women) go away for a weekend trip filled with activities. My role was to give a talk on “Dating in the 21st Century” on the Saturday. This talk will shortly be available as an ebook I’m working on called Social or Single.

Table and CupboardI decided not to go through on the Friday evening because I was putting the finishing touches on the presentation/talk and instead arrived on the Saturday late morning. Shumba Valley Lodge, where the group was spending the weekend, is a beautiful place. And I highly recommend it. It’s located down the road from the Cradle of Humankind, a very famous World Heritage site in South Africa. This was where things first went wrong as I had prepared my talk for 12 and instead we rushed off to the restaurant The Cradle, that was supposedly closing at 1pm. After the lunch it was suggested we should all rest for a while and my talk would take place at 5pm.

BedsWell it turns out there was some heavy drinking the Friday evening. This type of behaviour is expected but should not be encouraged. People attended this event for a reason: meeting people from the opposite sex and see if there is chemistry. When the organisers are drinking more than the guests, it’s alarming. One of my beliefs is that alcohol abuse comes from deep embarrassment, anger with the world and frustration with your circumstances. How do I know this? My own dad has been an alcoholic most of his life and he is a very bitter and angry man. So this drinking binge may seem acceptable under the circumstances when in fact it does not help anyone overcome fears or social anxiety – which could be seen as the hidden purpose of these singles weekends.

BathroomWhen 5pm arrived half the people where missing or had left including the organisers. They seemed the least interested in what I had to say to their guests who had paid good money to attend this event. And so I was on the verge of leaving when one of the guys persuaded me to stay and give me talk informally. I had my laptop and was planning a presentation but maybe this impromptu speech was better. I shared my ideas with them on what I see as the major challenges in the 21st century in dating and how to improve their success.

Anyway I stayed the evening and we later on had dinner. There was an astronomer who entertained us with informative discussion on the stars, the planets and funny anecdotes. And so we did a bit of star gazing through his telescope. (note to self – buy one of those gadgets) In general the people were good company and I’m sure I’ve made some business contacts with the guys. The one woman I was interested in left earlier on the Saturday.

My overall my impression of these Fastdate events are bad. They are poorly organised. The organised are disinterested in really helping people connect. And they are more interested in their own dating and relations or lack thereof. So be cautioned and avoid them. Instead I recommend you explore SMARTdate, which has much more integrity in their events and services they render.

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African Bloggers monthly SkypeCAST for August 2007

This month we discussed the importance of Social networking profiles and how to link it with your blog. For the last few months since TEDGlobal myself and Henry Addo, a blogger from Ghana, has been having regular discussion via Skype on Blogging. Currently Skype allows maximum of 9 people on a Conference Call and in the future we will move to the SkypeCAST platform to reach more people. This month Andriankoto Ratoza also joined us for the monthly session.

This month we discussed the following:

  1. We started off discussing LinkedIn as the premier business to business social networking tool. When you follow all the instructions in this ebook on LinkedIn you start to derive real tangible benefits. For your blog you can also add a link from your LinkedIn profile to your website and your blog. This starts to drive traffic from a premium source back to your blog.
  2. How to import your Blog’s RSS feed into your Facebook profile. The benefit and importance of this is that you can reach a new audience who may not otherwise be exposed to reading your blog. Certainly in South Africa with the explosive growth of Facebook this is crucial to marketing your blog. For your Facebook profile this keeps new content coming through which reduces the burden to keep updating it.
  3. We also touched briefly on setting up a MySpace profile, creating a customised URL and re-posting some blog content onto your MySpace blog to again reach a wider and new audience.

These session are open to African Bloggers so please join the Google Group to be notified of future conference calls. This is one of the examples of how the Cheetahs from are working together to create a better future for Africa.

Maybe Jason Bourne is better than James Bond

Matt Damon as Jason BourneJust came back from watching the awesome Bourne Ultimatum. Matt Damon really kicks some solid ass in this film like he did in the previous ones. Bourne is tortured by memory loss and is on a mission to find out where it all began.

This got me think about Jason Bourne vs James Bond as a spy but more so as a male role model. It’s been said other than their initials they do not have much in common. Jason Bourne is edgy, vulnerable and tortured while James Bond is smooth, droll, conscience-free. Bourne is stalked by the loss of his girlfriend in the Bourne Supremacy while James Bond is the ultimate player and womaniser. For a brief moment it seemed like Bourne was going to hook-up with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). But he sent her on her on way as he continued to go for broke trying to find out his origins.

In terms of raw energy Jason Bourne is the more pragmatic of the two spies. James Bond relies so much on gadgets to accomplish what he needs to do. I do accept that Daniel Craig is likely the only actor to play Bond that could be superior in ass kicking than Matt Damon‘s Bourne. So while James Bond relies on his charm, Bourne could be enormously attractive to women because of his single minded conviction while showing compassion when you least expect it.

Something happened on the way to the front page

Early in 2006 I was featured in the now defunct Nova newspaper and about a week later the paper shut down. Back in 2004 I was featured on the front page of ThisDay newspaper and shortly afterwards it was also shutdown. Now if I was superstitious I would think those were bad omens for me.

I’m not. So it must be a sign of the times – no pun intended. The exact demographic Nova was targeting has had 10 years of exposure to the Web and to mobile phones. According to the Pew Internet & America Life Project, online news is the primary source for people with broadband. And although broadband is still young in South Africa its growing double digit numbers. And again the demographics of the above publications has the best Internet and mobile access in the country.

My colleague, Arthur Goldstuck, predicts that by the end of 2007 we will have about 800,000 broadband users. The cellphone chat service, MXIT, has just crossed 5 million subscribers in less than 2 years – with about 80% between 12-25 years old. So although there is only about 4 million Internet users and approximately 32 million cellphone users in South Africa, the biggest consumers of news also have the best Internet access, which allows them to read news online.

The future trends based on what has happened in countries like South Korea is that these two markets (Internet and Mobile users) will converge at some future point. And in South Africa heading for 2010 will accelerate growth so unlike Arthur Goldstuck I don’t believe things are slowing down. There is also significant growth in the Internet Cafe industry.

And what of news? Services like Google NewsOhMyNews and NowPublic is radically changes the way in which news is consumed and produced. With the rise of Citizen’s Journalism, we find the consumers becoming the producers of their own news. Until the rise of Google News I was using My! Yahoo to read filtered and customised news. These days I am reading even more filtered news through my RSS Feeds.

In South Africa the Mail & Guardian and The Times has done a phenomenal job integrating social media from blogs, to podcasts to video, and therefore are in the best position to retain those readers who stopped buying their print editions. Now I ask you how can an traditional printed newspaper compete without embracing this kind of flexibility.

Teenagers inherently understand this and therefore they will never go backwards to read print publications. The digital future is the way forward and any newspaper who does not embrace this will die. The scariest version of the future of newspapers is brilliantly demonstrated in this fictional, futuristic clip, Epic 2014.

Self regulation by knowing who's editing Wikipedia

Virgil Griffits creator of Wiki ScannerLast Friday I was interviewed on the Midday Report with Chris Gibbons. This is a very fast paced show which addresses everything from business to politics and what lies in between. The topic was who’s editing Wikipedia which has been driving up a storm of online commentary. A Caltech graduate Virgin Griffith has developed an application Wikipedia scanner, which identifies the anonymous edits on Wikipedia pages.

Most of the articles on Wikipedia, which now has almost 2 million English language articles, are written by registered users. Yours truly included. It’s the old Pareto principle where 20% of the people produce 80% of the output. They way Wikipedia works is that even anonymous users can edit any page. That’s the classic definition of a Wiki. And so what Wikipedia does is record your IP address. There are databases on the Internet which record the distribution of IP address to large organisations, countries and ISPs. You can simply use the WHOIS function on such domain name lookup or IP address lookup databases.

As a standard practise Wikipedia records a history of edits. This becomes very useful when abuse takes place on a particular article and Wikipedia editors can roll back very within minutes of detecting the changes. Wikipedia also has a very detailed FAQ which explains it’s rules and regulations in detail. Now when you find that an article is biased in a particular direction this violates the Neutral Point of View clause.

So when you find large organisations like Diebold, Church of Scientology and the Catholic Church, removing negative comments on their entries it’s no surprise. The beauty of the Wikipedia scanner is that it reinforces the self-regulation that has made Wikipedia such a big hit. In the bigger context it’s a hark back to the Cluetrain Manifesto where conversations become smarter, the larger the network of participants.

I have for a long time been an advocate of more contribution to Wikipedia from African countries. This is one of the best ways to make our voices heard. So I encourage you to sign up as a registered user on Wikipedia and start editing and contributing more content in your language of choice.

TEDGlobal Talks premier online with George Ayittey

Earlier this month I received an email from Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED following up on the conference in Tanzania. Several videos from the TEDGlobal conference I attended in Arusha a few months ago premièred online. My favourite is George Ayittey who roused the audience, alternating from lacerating criticism of Africa’s “hippo generation” to an inspiring appeal for the “cheetah generation” i.e. the youth who are taking things into their own hands to effect change. You can read my own review of his talk here.

So if you like what you’ve just seen buy George Ayittey’s book Africa Unchained. And if you’re a fellow blogger join the African Bloggers group and become part of the community to take Africa back from the Hippo generation.

The question is: Why did the chicken cross the road?

PLATO: For the greater good.

* ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross roads.

* SADDAM HUSSEIN: This was an unprovoked act of rebellion and we were justified in dropping 50 tons of nerve gas on it.

* MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: … I envision a world where all chickens will be free to cross roads without having their motives being called into question.

* FREUD: The fact that you are at all concerned that the chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.

* GEORGE W. BUSH: We don’t really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road or not. The chicken is either with us or it is against us. There is no middle ground here.

* DARWIN: Chickens, over great periods of time, have been naturally selected in such a way that they are now genetically disposed to cross roads.

* EINSTEIN: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road moved beneath the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

* BUDDHA: Asking this question denies your own chicken nature.

* ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To lay. In the hay.

* RAY McCAULEY: Because the chicken was gay! Isn’t it obvious? Can’t you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the “other side.” That’s what “they” call it, “the other side.? Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And, if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like “the other side.” That chicken should not be free to cross the road. It’s as plain and simple as that.

* NELSON MANDELA: Never again, will the chicken be questioned for crossing the road. This is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

* THABO MBEKI: We need to establish if really there is a connection between the chicken and the road.

* ROBERT MUGABE: For all of these years the road has been owned by the white farmers, the poor underprivileged chicken has waited too long for that road to be given to him and now he is crossing it in force with his fellow war veteran chickens. We intend taking over this road and giving it to the roadless chickens so that they can cross it without fear of retribution from Britain who promised money to institute road reform. We will not stop until all roadless chickens have roads to cross and the freedom to cross them.

* ISAAC NEWTON: Any chicken in the universe shall always cross a road perpendicularly to the side of the road, and in an infinitely long straight line at uniform speed, unless the chicken stops due to an unbalanced reactive force in the opposite direction of the chicken’s motion

No Credit Card doesn’t mean you can’t shop online

First National Bank FNB Smart Devices

First National Bank FNB Smart DevicesDespite the impression on most websites that you need a credit card to shop on the Web, that is not entirely the case. In this article I present some alternatives to using a credit card.

Last time round I explained how to shop online, but my assumption were based on the fact that most e-commerce web sites require a credit card. Not to worry, though: if you’re savvy with your finances you’ll have noticed there are real alternatives to this emerging in South Africa. More and more South African sites, like Kalahari.net, are offering alternatives like direct deposits, electronic transfers, eBucks rewards points, and various other options.

The biggest and most popular online shopping destinations offer a selection of the following different payment methods:

  • Credit Card – the universal standard for online payments accepted worldwide. Since the dawn of ecommerce in the mid 1990s credit cards have ruled supreme. VISA and MasterCard have been great beneficiaries due to their worldwide recognition and trust.
  • Bank Deposits / Electronic Funds Transfers (EFT) – there is growing acceptance of this method due to the growing popularity of Internet banking in South Africa.
  • eBucks – the First National Bank-originated rewards program has picked up a lot of loyal users since its launch a few years ago and you can use it at a selection of online merchants as a method of payment. Includes the likes of CNA as rewards partners.
  • Standard Bank AutoPay – this is open to Standard Bank clients for direct payments to selected online retailers from their personal bank accounts.
  • ABSA Online Payment – a security measure which has become a popular choice among consumers as you never have to send your REAL credit card over the Internet again. This system generates a unique credit card-16 digit number which can be used instead of your own credit card number. The major benefit here is that debit card holders can also use this payment method. I’m not sure if this is still on offer because I could not find references to it on ABSA’s website at the time of posting.
  • Thirt – an escrow service which accepts payment from the buyer and passes it on to the seller only after the buyer is satisfied with the goods.
  • Debit Cards / Cheque Cards – the fastest emerging payment system, with funds loaded into the card and spent according to what is available.

One of the best payment methods available in 45 countries world wide, excluding South Africa, is the Paypal system. Paypal uses e-mail to send and receive payments electronically. The simplicity of this system, combined with a cash incentive when it was launched, caused an explosive growth in Paypal users. The majority have always been eBay users, and it did not take long before eBay decided to buy Paypal. Right now South Africans can only send money with Paypal and not receive money.

For South Africans shopping at international websites a credit card is still a must. Until there is an alternative, perhaps from Google or Amazon.com that allows South Africans a different way to make payments and receive payments the potential for local online retail stores will be limited.

So you really don’t have to use a credit card. There are some alternatives and they are all very secure. The number of debit cards is also growing and, with smart card technology they will offer the same kind of functionality that credit cards offer users today. In face I would recommend you get a “cheque card” that is being offered by First National Bank, Nedbank, Standard Bank and ABSA because they offer an actual VISA/Mastercard credit card number linked with your cheque account. When you use it as you would a credit card the money is deducted from your cheque account instead of the credit/loan which where you would pay interest.

Using these “cheque cards” is a major step forward in enhancing your ability to shop in a cashless environment. For me it’s allowed me to regulate my spending and also to carry less cards in my pocket. So if you have a problem keeping your credit card balances in check, excuse the pun, this pay just be the way to go.

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Facebook drains attention and a mental bandwidth

Facebook social networkingThis Wednesday morning I will be interviewed on eTV Morning Edition at 6h30am likely just after the news bulletin about the impact of social networking website Facebook on business. The views I am going to express is something that needs to be taken very seriously by companies, especially small business. You see small businesses and entrepreneurs often do not have the tools like larger corporates to block access in the same way. In fact in many cases they may not even realise how much time is being wasted on Facebook or sending/forwarding and reading joke emails. This must be the curse of the knowledge worker i.e. that you can pretend to work whenever you are clicking around on your PC.

There has been several articles and comments in the South African blogosphere about the impact of Facebook. Vinny Lingham highlights how stupid outright blocking of Facebook is and Mike Stopforth gives 5 reasons why you should let your employees use it. Both refer to this News24 article about South African companies blocking Facebook.

As an Internet evangelist I will always support more Internet access. So I agree fundamentally with Vinny that companies should address it on a individual basis. So I would recommend companies write Facebook and social networking access into the Internet Usage policy. Once they have informed employees that their access is being monitored the next step should be compulsory online netiquette training to increase workplace productivity and reduce technology stress.

You see there is a problem with multitasking as reported by CNN back in 2001. And if your block the access outright people will find a way around it. Secondly you won’t be able to monitor or track their activities. Remember nobody is teaching employees basic online etiquette these days. Way back in the early days of the Web there were many people who supervised things on their own accord like your friendly neighbourhood online bodyguard. Today companies are making a lot of assumptions about people’s online behaviour, their levels of self-discipline and their ability to take the initiative in improving their productivity. So for a better understanding of the Attention Age go here.

The ABC of Shopping on the Internet in South Africa

Online shopping has taken off in South Africa and here’s some useful tips on how to avoid getting robbed in broad cyber light.

With over 800 local ecommerce website to choose from and thousands upon thousands of international websites like Amazon.com and others it has become much more acceptable to purchase goods online. According to web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, 95% of people visit e-commerce websites to facilitate product research, cross-shopping, and other non-buying tasks. And only 5% purchase products.

Some of the most important reasons Nielsen found, in a study by the Danish E-Commerce Association, for those who do purchase online are:

  • Easy to place an order
  • Large selection of products
  • Cheaper prices
  • Faster service and delivery
  • Detailed and clear information about what is being offered
  • No sales pressure
  • Easy payment procedures

Microsoft recommends that you shop at reputable online businesses, keep your personal information private, and check the fine print before buying. On the Internet there are thousands of websites selling varying things. The easy ones to trust are those who have a bricks and mortar operation e.g. Pick-n-Pay. But what do you do if you come across a website that you¡¦ve never heard of before and they have the product you want? Make sure the company supplies its full contact details like day time telephone number, physical address, etc. In addition check if they have a disclaimer and ¡§terms and conditions¡¨ in place. The final check, once you have decided to make a purchase, would be to see if they are using a secure website. Click on the product item and check whether the URL of the shopping cart page has an “https” in front. This means it is SSL, which is the same kind that online banking website have used for years.

When a website asks for too much information even before you make a purchase you should become suspicious. Just ask yourself why do they need to know your age, or date or birth to allow you to buy something? You should be allowed to browse through all the products and check the pricing information without having to supply any personal information. Fly by night companies may take your personal information and resell it; this may eventually result in your Inbox being swamped with spam. Be careful as to how much information you give out when shopping. Just give them the most important information.

Most people will not read the disclaimers, privacy statements, or the terms and conditions on websites. You can burn your fingers by not doing this, especially if you¡¦re unhappy and want to return the product for a refund. Many website have no refund policies and you¡¦ll be stuck with something you don¡¦t want, so always read the fine print. If you think you may use the website again it is worthwhile taking a few minutes to read the terms and conditions at least once. The privacy statements should also warn you of any ¡§cookies¡¨ being placed on your hard drive that tracks your preferences on the website.

These days it is recommended that you run anti-spyware software to clean your PC from unauthorised website cookies and other unwanted files you may never have known about.

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