Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dealing with Life

Monday, August 30, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

If you're reading this, you're in Heaven - by Nick van der Leek

Over the weekend I meant to do a running race at a venue I've never been to before, outside the city of Port Elizabeth. Uitenhage is a backwoods, industrial city that is really just a collection of massive auto-factories. Imagine giant sized car lots and buildings that look like massive shopping malls.

In any event, I couldn't find the 5km race but what I did find was another side to Port Elizabeth. An undulating sea of squatter camps, low quality suburban sprawl and grey, dusty squalor. It reminds me of something seen in the insect kingdom. A beehive would be a compliment. A termite's nest is closer, but even termite's live in cleaner, neater conditions. Everyone knows that around a termite mound there is nothing. Trees, bushes, blades of grass have been chewed or trampled until the area is simply coalesced mud occupied by a single species. This begs the question - where do these people find food? Because from the highway there's no other structure in sight. No shopping malls, no cinemas, no stadiums.

On my way back to Port Elizabeth I thought about my home in the suburb of Summerstrand. It's not Clifton, but it's the most in demand suburb to live, and if you don't live there, it's where people go for r&r, for surfing or riding bikes, or to run, or to walk the dog, or to take the family for a picnic.

I'm no longer a religious person, but I think the idea of Heaven is fairly innate in all of us. Few of us, even wealthy, sincere Christians, pause to consider that their situation, their circumstances, are Heavenly in comparison to the lot of the majority of citizens on this planet. Consider this:

- less than 1 billion of almost 7 billion people on the planet own cars
- 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day
- 24 000 people die each day from poverty
- Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names
- Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

If that's too much to consider or even imagine, then imagine this. Every second child in the world is living in poverty. That's hunger every day. That's being vulnerable to the predations of the poor, which include child rape, violence, abuse, disease and death.

The world's richest 20% of the population consume 76% of the world's resources. So here's how you know if you live in heaven:
- if you drive a car
- if you own a home
- if you go on family holidays each year
- if you have had your education, including college, paid for

You're in heaven. Appreciate it. Be generous, or at least consider those who are always on the outside looking in.

Consider the global priorities in spending in 1998

Global Priority $U.S. Billions

Cosmetics in the United States 8

Ice cream in Europe 11

Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12

Pet foods in Europe and the United States 17

Business entertainment in Japan 35

Cigarettes in Europe 50

Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105

Narcotics drugs in the world 400

Military spending in the world 780

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions

Basic education for all 6

Water and sanitation for all 9

Reproductive health for all women 12

Basic health and nutrition 13

Season 9 is one of the best for Smallville

Review by Eric D. Peterson

It's hard to believe that this show has gone on for 9 years, but the writing and the acting just keep getting better. Just like the last season, Clark Kent is one step closer to his destiny as Superman. The big overarching plot this season was the threat of the Kandorians, led by Major Zod. Smallville fans will recognize the name, if not the rank, of the big bad guy. That's because he's a clone of the evil traitor who tried to overthrow Krypton around the time Kal-El (Clark) was born. So he's going to be the worst villian in Kryptonian history, maybe. It's the reoccuring Smallville theme of destiny and fate. If you are destined to do something, do you do it or make your own destiny? Clark has been told since season 1 that he is destined to be this great hero and champion and symbol of hope. Most of the main plots of every season are about Clark finding out about his destiny and what he does to either embrace it or fight against it. So it is with the bad guys. Lex Luthor is destined to be Superman's arch-enemy. So even though we saw 5-6 seasons of Lex trying to overcome his dark nature and maintain some kind of friendship with Clark, we knew he was eventually going to be bad. Same with Davis Bloome, aka Doomsday. He was trying to fight his nature of being the ultimate destroyer. But ultimately, he, too, had to succomb to his destiny. In this season, it is Zod. This "Major Zod" has not made all the bad choices that "General Zod" did back on Krypton. But we know what he is to become. Will he make the same choices or will he change his fate?

The main highlights for me were the so-called "filler" episodes that focused more on Lois and Clark's budding relationship than on the threat of the Kandorians. What I like about the writing is the continual shout-outs to fans of Superman, comics, and TV/Movies. Like the "Resident Evil" episode (#3 Rabid), the "What a Woman Wants" episode (#4 Echo), "the Game" episode (#5 Roulette), the "He said/She said" episode (#6 Crossfire), and the "Big" episode (#12 Warrior). For comic book fans, they converted an old Hawkeye story for Green Arrow (#10 Disciple) and brought Metallo, Silver Banshee, and the JSA all into the Smallville story.

Something must be said about the black costume. Clark has embraced his heroic destiny by saving people, just not openly. So he is no longer the "Red-Blue Blur", just "the Blur". The Black costume represents his keeping to the shadows. When he finally reveals himself to the world as "Superman", he will likely change his costume into the red, blue, and gold costume we are familiar with. He's close, but not quite there yet.

As with any long running show, there are elements that some people don't like. Some people dislike the unique elements where Smallville differs from regular Superman lore. They want the show to move faster towards the classic tales that we know and love. Others dislike rehashing the old Superman mythos and want Smallville to remain true to the unique stories they created and not cave to pressure to become "the Adventures of Superman" or "Lois and Clark". I think Season 9 balances those two viewpoints well. Fans of the show will enjoy most, if not all of it. And if you haven't watched Smallville before, go back and watch all previous 8 seasons. It is well-worth the investment of time and money.
Note: Season 9 will be available from September 7, Season 10 kicks off on September 24, 2010.

The Dumbest High School Football Boo Boos - EVER!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Down Under

A few shots from my trip Down Under in February this year.


SHOOT: The Free State Cheetahs are a bunch of fighters.  They might be bottom of the log one year but they'll still give the log leaders - usually the Bulls - carrots.  Once again WP underestimated the Vrystaters, and in a 6 minute blitz saw the game turn upside down.  The Cheetahs, I'm happy to report, are stilling in the running, sharing 4th place on the log with Griquas.

Original article.
Cape Town - The visiting Free State Cheetahs produced a telling 17-point second-half scoring spree in the space of six minutes to send Western Province crashing to a 29-24 defeat in the Currie Cup match played at Newlands on Friday night.

Two converted tries and penalty, all in a hectic six-minute passage of play, was all the Cheetahs needed to finally contain the Province challenge, which earlier in the match looked like a match-winning one.

The Cheetahs flyhalf Louis Strydom was the hero for his side with a personal contribution of 19 points, via five penalties and two conversions.

Province took the game by the scruff of the neck straight from the kick-off and after only three minutes' play they managed a turn-over and a line-out steal on their way to the Cheetahs' 22-metre area, where Gio Aplon managed to worm his way down the Railway Stand touchline and score at the corner.

However, Aplon was adjudged to have stepped into touch in his try-scoring effort and the try was disallowed.

Aplon featured among the personnel and positional pre-match changes in the Province starting XV after the withdrawals of centre Tim Whitehead and prop Buhle Mxunyelwa. JJ Engelbrecht came in for Aplon on the right-wing, while the latter moved the left-wing, in place of Frikkie Welsh, who filled in for Whitehead.

On the Province bench, centre Morgan Newman was added to the reserves after Mxunyelwa's withdrawal.

Both sides traded heavily on ball-in-hand running movements and the backline looked threatening but errors, mainly by way of forward passes allowed defences to stay intact.

The contests at the breakdowns were fiercely contested but not without falling foul of referee Pro Legoete. As a result, Cheetahs flyhalf Louis Strydom was on target four times with penalty attempts while Province pivot Willem de Waal steered one through the posts for a 12-3 scoreline after 34 minutes play.

With neither side managing to eliminate the shortcomings from their games the few threatening sorties ahead of the halftime break came to nought by the time the halftime whistle sounded.

Province made a similar start to the second half but this time they were rewarded with an Adriaan Fondse try just two minutes after the restart, and with De Waal adding the conversion the visitors lead was shrunk by seven points (12-10).

In the ensuing minutes Province were poised for another advance but they were overcome by white line fever and four attempts, in quick succession, came to nought at a time when spreading the ball wide seemed the more likelier option.

As the match approached the hour mark the Cheetahs regained their composure and in the space of six minutes enjoyed an incredible 17-point scoring spree to secure a commanding 29-10 lead.

First Strydom goaled a penalty and that effort was followed by converted tries by substitute loosie Kabamba Floors and Jongi Nokwe.

Province responded with converted tries by Aplon and Duane Vermeulen but it was not enough to overcome the telling setback and in the process they suffered their first home defeat of the season (29-24).

But the crowd of 24 000 were left leaping from their seats in anticipation as Province made one frantic attempt after the other to salvage the match - to no avail.

ANC's days are numbered - FW

“We're headed for a predator state where a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas are increasingly using the state to get rich,” said Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi

Cosatu's senior leaders were vocal in condemning an extravagant government and privileged ministers who preach to civil servants about limited funds.

Vavi slammed government about the expense of soccer tickets and warned that they are “underestimating” the workers' rage. Original article.

SHOOT: FW says we need to be very alert now, because the ANC can sense a weakening of its own stranglehold on power, and plenty of mischief is underway as a result.  On this blog I have written that any political party in the world in power in these times and circumstances will reap the whirlwind as harsh economic times bites chunks out of the middle and working classes.  If there ever was a time that corruption and self-enrichment and ostentatious displays of wealth are going to be punished, it's now.
Every day workers strike and the Government does nothing burns a deeper resentment against a government which appears not to care, not to keep its promises, and does not seem focused on education, employment or the plight of the poor.  Instead their focus is clearly on themselves; targetting the media, nationalising mines and seizing land or other assets.  Let's hope the strikers and working classes remember the lessons of this greedy government, or will they fall for big promises at election time yet again?

If you don't like working for this government, use your vote and choose another - Joanne Hart

Original article.
According to De Klerk, the glue which holds the ANC together has disappeared, and it is going to tear apart.

"If you analyse the broader structures of the ANC you will find people grouped together who believe in completely different things. The old glue which kept them connected was the struggle to end apartheid. Apartheid is gone now, and so is the cement.

ANC split

"So the ANC is going to split. They don't like hearing it, but I'm convinced it will happen. And when it does, we will see our democracy normalised to a greater degree.

"Then alliance politics will take a strong step forward in South Africa. Alliance politics allows for realistic compromises."

De Klerk, who received the Nobel Peace Prize along with former president Nelson Mandela in 1993, says he did not betray anyone or let anyone down.

"I am convinced that what we did between 1989 and 1994 was in the best interests of everyone in South Africa, and that we prevented a catastrophe.

"I'm convinced we saved hundreds of thousands of lives which would have been lost in a struggle that would have destroyed this country."

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Hindenburg Omen: Bears or Bullshit?

SHOOT: The short answer is that the Omen is a bit of both.  The magic in the formula is that whatever your logic, or your math, you can imagine that if the conditions of the omen are being met, the markets have lost there way.  For example 50% of stocks hitting new highs at the same time as 50% hitting new lows.  In such a scenario the centre is unlikely to hold.  Why the Hindenburg Omen is getting so much press this time round - well I think people know implicitly that the rollercoaster is about to go on that scary downward slide.  I believe most of us share that gut feel, and let's face it, a lot of the life in the market was based on hubris and spin, and belief.  Now it is becoming self-evident that those beliefs are mistaken.  Curiously, it may be a belief in an omen that unravels the beliefs that were propping up the market.  We'll soon see, either way.

More from AOL:

It's also worth pointing out here that while the omen has correctly predicted every big stock market swoon of the past two decades, including the terrible October 2008 decline that set the global economic recession into motion, not every Hindenburg Omen has been followed by a crash. Indeed, to resort to a geometry analogy: All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. McHugh acknowledged as much in his 2006 report, writing, "Only one out of roughly 11.5 times will this signal fail."

It's also worth pointing out here that while the omen has correctly predicted every big stock market swoon of the past two decades, including the terrible October 2008 decline that set the global economic recession into motion, not every Hindenburg Omen has been followed by a crash. Indeed, to resort to a geometry analogy: All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. McHugh acknowledged as much in his 2006 report, writing, "Only one out of roughly 11.5 times will this signal fail."

Plus, it's not as though the recent Hindenburg sighting is the final word: The tool works only if the five market conditions are observed again within the next 36 days.

Still, the mere prospect of a successful prediction is plenty frightening, given the already fragile state of the world economy. Which is why otherwise more cautious financial blogs such as The Financial Times Alphaville have also quivered at the disconcerting news.

And of course, today Durden couldn't help but note the scarily coincidental date upon which all this Hindenburg discussion was taking place: Friday the 13th.

Hurricane Danielle and Tropical Storm Earl - where are they and where are they going? [GRAPHIC]

The Surf Diaries

#23 Rough

I've changed.  I realise this as I go paddling out among the boys in huge conditions.  There was a time not so long ago when a former me would have looked at these waves and laughed.  Or looked at the overcrowded conditions and shied away.  I'm still a rookie, let's face it, but I'm putting myself in the zone and attempting sick surf.  In these conditions, you have to be good.  I have the balls perhaps, but I'm still rusty on balance, and direction.  Balls are good.  I do some breathtaking stunts which I'm sure would scoop a few thousand hits on Youtube.
At one point I catch a wave, on my hunches, and bail/fail very close to the concrete pipe jutting out into the rough water.  The water is high and foamy so a lot of the concrete barrier is either submerged or not entirely in view.
Big wild swathes of boiling foam rumble towards me, my board tugging me powerfully backwards while I strain to gain a few feet in the opposite direction.  For quite a while I am struggling.  I'm going nowhere and I'm floating too close to comfort to a hard concrete platform.  Panic is possible.  Pain is too, as I'm kicking water and off my surfboard in an area where I know there are plenty of rocks. 
And then I start to move through the swell, and finally I get over another huge bouldering mass, get the board under my belly and try again.  There was a time, not too long ago, when I was too bangat to even be out there.  Now for balance.

What is " Mercury in Retrograde?"

SHOOT: Reading this after what I've been through is kinda spooky.  Coincidence or written in the stars?

By Molly Hall, from the About.com Guide

This happens three to four times per year, when the planet Mercury slows down, and appears to stop (station) and move backward (retrograde). It's an optical illusion, since there is forward movement, like speeding by a slow-moving train -- as it recedes, it appears to go backward.

What are the Mercury Retrograde dates for 2010?:

The dates are: December 26th, 2009 to January 15th, 2010 in the earth sign Capricorn. April 17th to May 11th in the earth sign Taurus. August 20th to September 12th in the earth sign Virgo. December 10th through 29th, in the earth sign Capricorn and fire sign Sagittarius.

What happens during Mercury Retrograde?:

Since Mercury rules communication, it's said that everything goes haywire in that area -- emails get deleted or bounced back, mail is returned, calls go out into the ethers, etc. Some people find that their computers go on the fritz or phone lines go down. I've never seen the hard data on this, so make your own observations. It does seem though that miscommunications abound during the retrograde period.

A Time-Out:

Mercury retrograde gives us time to catch up with ourselves, and to look back. Something from the past might return in a different form. This can mean people, ideas or buried insights that need to surface for you to move forward. Often it's felt as a contemplative time, depending on the sign, a chance to go over old ground again, to claim what you missed the first time.

Be Non-Committal:

There's a long-held belief that it's best to avoid making set plans during the Mercury Retrograde. This means being cautious about things like signing contracts, and forming partnerships and corporations. What gets put in writing at this time may turn out to need serious revising after Mercury goes direct. But since tying up loose ends is the domain of retrograde, this type of finalization might fly.

Can you repeat that?:

In our relationships, sometimes we gloss over things that pushed buttons at the time, but which we let slide. What seemed not worth the trouble may reveal itself as a major issue in need of our attention. The Mercury retrograde is a time for review, when the underlying patterns come to light.

Back to the Drawing Board:

Some dreams and goals get lost in the hectic rushing around of daily life. The Mercury Retrograde period can be a rich time of reflection on those longings. This makes it a time for the soul to ponder its destiny. You might look over old journals, review your creative work, muse on serendipities of the past that have pointed you toward your spirit's calling. It can make the retrograde period a time of solidifying a sense of your personal story and where you're headed.

What does it mean in each different sign?:

The Mercury retrograde is shaped by the sign through which it is cast. For example, a Mercury retrograde in Cancer turns the mind toward things like family, home and the invisible emotional bonds that connect us. On the other hand, a Mercury retrograde in Aquarius gives it a different spin, with a review of group dynamics, the larger human community, all from a detached perspective.

Making the Most of Mercury Retrograde:

Astrology is a tool that can make you aware of patterns, like those that come during a Mercury retrograde. Just observe and see what happens, and be open to the past returning for review. If it's coming back, there's likely something more to learn or release from it. You don't have to retreat to the zen monastery, but a little solitude and quiet reflection never hurt anybody.

2x Hindenburg Omens since 12 August 2010 foreshadow an imminent stock-market crash

SHOOT: From historical data, the probability of a move greater than 5% to the downside after a confirmed Hindenburg Omen is 77%, with stock market corrections predicted to start within the next forty days. On June 16th 2008 on this blog and via email I warned of an imminent financial collapse.  Then this happened, and it started happening in July, recovered slightly but was fully manifest by September 16 2008.

We also saw a Flash Crash on May 6 2010, something Wiki describes as such:
The same conditions/signals are back right now, in fact we've seen not one but two signals and just missed a third in just the last 2 weeks of August 2010.
the Dow Jones Industrial Average suddenly dropped almost 1000 points. Starting at 2:43 pm Eastern Time, the DJIA began to sell off at a furious pace with high volume. At 2:48 pm, the DJIA hit a low of 9872.57. Currently (May 7, 2010), there is not a consensus on what caused this unusual and record breaking drop of almost 1000 points on that day.[21] The session was also a record breaking volume day, coming in at the 6th highest trading day with volume of 5,556,775,277 shares.[13] A preliminary report on May 18 to a Joint Advisory Committee of the CFTC and SEC suggests "a failure in liquidity"[22] and stressors of that liquidity[23] as possible causes for the crash.

What signal am I referring to?  It's called a Hindenburg Omen.  An Omen has about a 25% chance of coming true, which means a 75% of it being a false alarm.  If you consider a stock market crash as economic death, and you consider how serious the last crash was [we're still talking 'recovery' 2 years later], then a 25% risk is significant.  My advice: if you have any money in the markets get it all out now.  For background, check this out:
By Steven Russolillo

The Hindenburg Omen reared its ugly head late last week, signaling more doom and gloom as stocks plod along amid the dog days of summer.

The Omen, a technical indicator which uses a plethora of data to foreshadow a stock-market crash, was tripped again on Friday, marking the second time since Aug. 12 it has occurred. (It also came close on Thursday, but one of its criteria fell short.)

The latest trigger has prompted the Omen’s creator, Jim Miekka, to exit the market. “I’m taking it seriously and I’m fully out of the market now,” Miekka, a blind mathematician, said in a telephone interview from his home in Surry, Maine. “I would’ve probably stayed in until the beginning of September,” depending on how the indicators varied. “That was my basic plan, until the Hindenburg came along.”

The Omen has been behind every market crash since 1987, but significant stock-market declines have followed only 25% of the time. So there’s a high likelihood that the Omen could be nothing more than a false signal.

But that isn’t stopping Miekka from taking any chances, especially as September, typically the market’s worst-performing month, sits only one week away.

“It’s sort of like a funnel cloud,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to crash, but it’s a high probability. You don’t get a tornado without a funnel cloud.” He added he’s not currently shorting anything, although he may look to short Nasdaq stock index futures in the next few weeks, “depending on how the technicals go.”

Despite the ominous forecast, there are some glimmers of hope. Miekka doesn’t expect to sit on the sidelines for very long. In fact, Miekka, who is an avid target shooter despite being blind, is looking at put volumes and various moving averages that will offer clues of when he will start buying again.

“With what we have now, I think it’s possible we could get a 20% decline going into the fall,” Miekka said. “But I would expect some type of selloff and be buying at a lower price.”

(Tomi Kilgore contributed to this post)

From Forbes:

Mixed Signals And The Hindenburg Omen


There’s been a ton of buzz about the Hindenburg Omen, both here at Forbes and in other news coverage and on trader oriented blogs over the last three weeks. To refresh your memory, that’s the technical indicator that supposedly portends a stock market crash, and it’s saying that comes in September. James Miekka, the mathematician who dreamed it up, has become an overnight celebrity.

That so many people are willing to take an scary market omen seriously is just a sign of the general uneasy sentiment. But there are a lot of mixed signals.

The Hindenburg Omen, which takes into account a bunch of market triggers, may not mean much in the broader scheme. It has accurately predicted major market declines since the 1987 crash but then again it has predicted many more declines were coming than actually came to pass. After weeks of stories and blog accounts confirming the Omen had emerged, tripping its signals, some columnists this week question whether that was actually true or even whether, if true, those signals added up to something dire.

It is true that bad economic data is putting a dour mood on stock investors. The Dow Jones industrial average has wobbled up and down, 50 points here, 100 points there, all summer.

But the volatility of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, tells a different tale, according to Interactive Brokers. It is at about the level it was in February (then, 26.50 on the VIX) and well down from its recent peak in May (when it hit 45.48). It is also about where it was a year ago. During the worst of the financial crisis, the VIX was up near 80.

If a market collapse was truly in the works, says Interactive’s senior market analyst Andrew Wilkinson, you’d expect the VIX to be skyrocketing higher. “While recent stock market action has been bearish, investors appear to accept the cooling-off but don’t expect a magnanimous collapse,” Wilkinson says. The relatively sanguine VIX is “the market saying there isn’t another shoe dropping.”

On the other hand, trading volumes are in decline — this month fewer than 6 billion shares are trading hands daily in the U.S. equities market for the first time since June 2007 — and that tends to increase volatility somewhat. And investors seeking perceived safety have pushed the price of gold to its highest price since July and have ignited a rally in Treasury bonds, pushing yields to all-time lows in some cases.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to speak Friday at an annual gathering of the central bank in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He is expected to give his outlook on the U.S. economy and possibly hint at steps he plans to take to prevent it from sliding into the feared double dip recession or worse.

After that, investors have a little over one week before returning from here to a post-Labor Day market, when we’ll all mark the second anniversary of the Lehman Brothers meltdown. Question is whether buyers will show up in September or only sellers, Omen or not.

From TechTicker:
Complex and esoteric even in the world of technical indicators, the Hindenburg Omen is triggered when the following occurs, Zero Hedge reports:

-- The daily number of NYSE new 52-week highs and the daily number of new 52-week lows must both be greater than 2.2% of total NYSE issues traded that day.

-- The NYSE's 10-week moving average is rising.

-- The McClellan Oscillator (a technical measure of "overbought" vs. "oversold" conditions) is negative on that same day.

-- New 52-week highs cannot be more than twice the new 52-week lows. This condition is absolutely mandatory.

These criteria have been hit twice since Aug. 12, prompting Miekka to get out of the market entirely, The WSJ reports. Judging by the recent market action, many others are following suit -- or at least moving in the same direction.

Worry List Lengthens

As Henry and I discuss in the accompanying clip, there are a lot of reasons to be worried right now that having nothing to with The Hindenburg Omen, the "Death Cross", Mercury being in retrograde or myriad other indicators cited by market pundits of various stripes.

More fundamental reasons to be concerned include:

It's the Economy, Stupid: This week's weak durable goods and home sales reports are just the latest in a string of desultory data. In sum, the macroeconomic data strongly suggest the job market isn't going to improve anytime soon. And if the job market doesn't improve, there's really not much hope for a turnaround in housing, consumer sales or anything else really. Oh, and the stock market is still expensive on a cyclically adjusted P/E basis, making it more vulnerable to an economic slowdown.

Unusual Uncertainty: On July 21, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke testified on Capitol Hill that the Fed's forecast called for real GDP growth of 3%-3.5% for 2010 and 3.5%-4.5% in 2011 and 2012. Less than a month later, the Fed announced plans to buy Treasuries again (a.k.a. "QE2") and, as The WSJ reported this week, there's a tremendous amount of dissention within the Fed about the 'right' policy prescription.

Financial Follies: Whether it's renewed concerns about Europe's sovereign debt crisis, more U.S. bank closures or reports of commercial developers walking away from properties, it's clear the problems in the financial system were not resolved by various and sundry bailouts and government stimulus ... not by a long shot.

Good Politics vs. Good Economics: S&P's downgrade of Ireland's debt and Greece's revenue shortfall show the short-term perils of the austerity measures that have swept Europe. But promising to cut government spending and slash deficits appears to be a winning political strategy in America right now. Certainly, it's a key message of Republican and Tea Party candidates, who appear to have the momentum heading into the November mid-term elections. But if Europe's 'PIIGS' are any example, gridlock might not be so "good" for the economy this time around, much less the financial markets.

More: In June 2008 I pointedly referred to the Hindenburg Omen

Recent occurrences

August 12, 2010: The Omen's creator, Jim Miekka, considered the Omen officially triggered on this date with 92 and 81 new 52-week highs and lows, respectively. The McClellan Oscillator was a negative -120.03 and the 10-week NYSE moving average was rising; the market closed above its open of 50 days prior (May 27). [5]. In the ensuing week, the Omen narrowly missed confirmation twice (August 13 and 19).

August 20, 2010: According to the Wall Street Journal, the omen was confirmed on Friday, with 83 new 52-week highs and 95 new 52-week lows on the NYSE. The McClellan Oscillator was a negative -106.46 and the 10-week NYSE moving average was rising; the market closed above its open of 50 days prior (June 11). [6]

August 24, 2010: 166 New Lows, 87 new Highs, McClellan Oscillator was negative, but the 10 week average began to fall. (Non-Confirmation.) (Although the 12 week average is still positive.)

August 25, 2010: 150 New Lows, 90 new Highs, McClellan Oscillator was negative, but again the 10 week average was falling (Non-Confirmation.) (Although the 12 week average is still positive.)

The State of the Net: South Africa compared to Korea and Australia

With super wired nations like South Korea and Australia leaving us eating their digital dust, what exactly are South African internet users missing and how can we start to play catch up? – by Nick van der Leek

According to Akamai, a leading provider of cloud optimization services, the global average for internet connections is 1.7 Mbps. During the 1st Quarter of 2010 South Korea achieved average maximum connection speeds of 33 Mbps. Over the same period 96 countries, including South Africa, had average connection speeds below 1 Mbps.

If South Koreans and Australians had to experience the present state of the internet in South Africa they’d probably describe it as belonging to ‘a relatively long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’

The African continent has an adoption rate of just 11% for Broadband, averaging 944Kbps. Australia has a 44% Broadband adoption rate averaging at 2472Kbps. Asia’s adoption rate is similar to Australia’s at 45%.

Unfortunately South Africa is world’s apart when it comes to our connection speeds, as the following analysis will demonstrate.

Look At What We’re Missing

Looking more closely, hubs like Johannesburg show just 2% of users enjoying medium to high connection speeds above 2Mbps. 40% are using connections of around 768 Kbps and from there the rot sets in. 41% are still stuck at the dinosaur pace of 256 Kbps and 16% are watching the sun go down, waiting for pages to load at speeds slower than 256 Kbps. Cape Town does even worse, with a staggering 70% sweating to slow 256 Kbps connections and 13% turning gray using slower than 256 Kbps. Just 12% of Cape Townians are using 768 Kbps.

In contrast, 65% of Koreans enjoy speeds of 5Mbps or more; 11% access the internet at over 25 Mbps. The city with the world’s fastest connections is Masan. In urban centres around Seoul, such as Goyang, 77% of users are logging on at speeds exceeding 5Mbps. 18% are using 2Mbps and around 1% are using slower connections. These proportions, emphasizing very high speed usage for a vast majority of users, remain constant across all of the Korean Peninsula’s urban centres.

Australia, 50th in the world when it comes to connection speeds, still puts South Africa to shame. Bentley in Western Australia has 66% of its users enjoying speeds greater than 5Mbps, 20% of users are paying for 2Mbps, 8% at 768Kbps and 2% at 256Kbps. Monash in Victoria has similar figures: 80% at 5Mbps, 14% at 2MBps and just 7% using 768Kbps or slower. Not everywhere in Australia is fast paced – Penrith has 50% of its users at the ultra slow end, with 6% paying for the privilege of 5Mbps or more.

How then did these countries get their infrastructure up and running, and what is the everyday benefit to these blistering connections?

PC Bang

A PC Bang is the Korean term for ‘internet café’. Korean internet café’s are a dime a dozen, hangouts for teenagers, businessmen and hard core gamers. They’re used for shopping and socializing. But what exactly does the world leader in internet connectivity and penetration offer the ordinary consumer?

Brian Stepanek, an expat South African currently residing in Ilsan, a satellite of Seoul, says, “I presently manage a server in my apartment that hosts 13 websites on a 100Mbit line. That’s 100Mbit up and down for around $25 to $35. That works out to about R150-R210 for these high speed connections, per month.”

How has Korea managed to make their internet this cheap? “South Korea set a goal of becoming the Trade and business hub of Asia, including the internet hub of the region; accordingly they developed plans 10 years ago to meet this goal. South Korea is uniquely blessed with the twin pillars that make for relatively inexpensive infrastructural outlays: high urban population density and small geographical areas to cover.”

As a result, the Korea dream has quickly become a reality. Stepanek, an Information Systems Services Manager says, “Korea is so densely populated it is affordable for ISP’s to run fibre optic lines to all apartment buildings. Most people don’t even have a DSL modem, they just have a CAT5 network cable coming out the wall.”

Korea sees much innovation coming from their own highly competitive, hugely innovative digital giants – companies such as Samsung and LG.

Stepanek reckons Korea’s “companies keep at the forefront of technology and the consumer reaps the rewards. This keeps internet speeds fast and service efficient. The result for me, the consumer, “he says, “is that I can do more. I can be downloading a file at 2Mb/s and still browse websites without any noticeable lag or slowdown in page loads.”

South Africa has a population about as large as South Korea’s but a landmass ten times the size of Korea? Does South Africa then really have a hope of picking up speed comparable to Korea’s?

Down Under

In contrast to South Korea, Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. In fact Australia is only just slightly less empty than South Africa’s neighbors, Botswana and Namibia. Even so, a large proportion of Australia’s 22 million inhabitants live in cities. In contrast to Korea, however, Australia’s urban centres and suburbs are quite similar to South Africa’s.

What then is ballpark online consumption in Australia? According to advertising executive Sarah Britten, “I ploughed through 14G in 2 months, mainly thanks to YouTube.”

Wayne Steed, an expat South African based in Sydney, offers the following cost perspective. “I initially had two ADSL2+ lines with speeds ranging from 1500Kbps – 240 000 Kbps. What’s strange is that the slower ADSL lines are actually more expensive than ADSL2+.” Steed suggests that this may be to wean consumers off the older technology.

“Pricing models vary substantially. Right now one offer I’ve seen is for a 500GB capped plan from TPG for AU$59 + line rental (Au$21) per month. The catch is that this large cap applies to only offpeak times [02:00 – 08:00]. Another option is a ‘naked’ line. They put the ADSL straight through your house; there’s no line rental.”

Steed scoffs at what South Africans refer to as ‘Broadband’. “There’s nothing broadband about a 512Kbps line,” he says, “and then still having a 6GB cap. My mobile phone cap is larger than that. One of the features ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] offers is a program you install on your computer allowing you to watch episodes over the past month at your own convenience.” Steed also points out that there has been a recent upsurge in ISPs offering IPTV deals “for as little as $30p/m.” This includes “Discovery Channel, 7 new movies a week, movies on demand and several free to air channels. Without decent line speed you’ll never be able to implement this.”

Australia’s Labour Party intends implementing a National Broadband Network [NBN]. Steed says Australia will endeavor “to bring Fiber Optic to 95% of homes, and increase average speeds one hundred fold. This is intended as economic stimulus.” The opposition are opposed to this initiative, projected to cost $43 billion.

And how does all this internet infrastructure impact on one’s lifestyle? “I find since moving to Australia I do a lot more on the internet; I’ve moved large amounts of my personal files and information onto the internet, into the Cloud so to speak. I can now access any of my files from any computer or from my iPhone whenever I need them. Microsoft for example offers a 25GB space for free.”

Steed says caps continue to increase, with prices moving in the opposite direction. “2 years ago I was getting a 50Gb cap for AU$80 per month, now I’m on a 120 GB package for the same price. There is a lot of competition which must be helping the market.”

So how did Australia do it? Do they have a government that it simply a lot more internet friendly than our own? This is perhaps a factor. South Korea too saw the state declare investments in expanding their internet capabilities as a national goal.

The Back Yard

Did Telkom hobble South Africa’s internet prospects ad infinitum? “Australia had a very similar problem to South Africa,” Steed observes. “Over here it was called Telstra; they had a monopoly and they’re still here, but so is the competition, bringing down prices and upping the service.”

What needs to happen, it appears, is for both government and citizens to agree to the economic and employment benefits that arise from wiring up a nation. South Africans must also be realistic in that only around 5 million people [10%] can afford internet connections, and a substantial fraction of the population, perhaps 40% remains mired in poverty. Investments in the internet must be made with these chronic socio-economic disadvantages in mind.

In addition, South Africa can learn and apply lessons from both Korea and Australia. In terms of urban planning, we can develop our living and working arrangements in compact urban and suburban centres mindful of the possibilities that certain operating densities may have on the outlay of internet infrastructure.

In terms of muzzling industry costs, government must stimulate competitors, a process that is comparatively recently underway, and will perhaps now begin to gain traction.

The internet is still evolving. Akamai has measured 487 million Unique ISP addresses during the first quarter of 2010, an increase of 7.2% over the previous quarter. Since South Korea is at the forefront of developments, improving their fastest connections at a rate of 28% year on year, the country should be treated as a model or ‘best possible case’ when conceiving relevant protocols.

From here it is simply a matter of sharing a common cause. This means putting policy and practices in place to realize the potential for local businesses to offer enhanced connections, allowing for faster flows and as a result of these, a more effective and competitive nation as a whole.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Cool by the Pool, right? [COLUMN]

Do squatters have rights? - by Nick van der Leek

It looks like an open and shut case.  One person owns a property or is paying rent, do they have the right to kick out any other occupant who is not paying rent, willy nilly?  Of course they do, you're inclined to answer, an occupant or guest certainly can't insist on overstaying their welcome.  Can they?

Conversely, if you're the victim, living in a space without a lease agreement, does a lessor or landlord have the right to throw you out when it suits them?
What does the law say?

Before a Court can grant an eviction, it has to consider all the relevant circumstances and be in a position to rule that such an eviction is just and equitable. The owner approaches the Court on the basis of ownership alone and the unlawful occupation. It is then the occupier who may rely on special circumstances and it is their duty to raise and present the special circumstances to the Court. The Court gives special regard to the rights of elderly, children, disabled persons and households headed by women. The Court may only grant the eviction after considering all the relevant circumstances and has a very wide discretion in ordering the date on which the unlawful occupier is to vacate.

And consider the permutations: a single mother living with her son or daughter [neither of whom are paying for rent or expenses].  A married couple where one spouse pays rent and the other is perhaps housebound.  Or a boyfriend and girlfriend, where one has moved in with the other. Or what about a very informal situation: a rent payer invites someone to stay, essentially, as a guest.  Does the rent payer then have the right to kick out the occupant at a moment's notice?

Well as it turns out, the 'guest' has a number of inalienable rights, which could also be called 'squatter's rights'. Squatters cannot be legally evicted from a premises without a court possession order, unless they leave voluntarily or the owner secures peacable re-entry.

Given the trouble, stress, delay and expense of the legal process it is well worth having a jolly good try to peaceably pursuade the squatters to leave, or, if you get the opportunity, to peaceably re-enter and take over, bearing in mind you have a duty of care for any of the squatters' possessions.

Remember though, never use force or threats of violence: this could result in you getting yourself a criminal record, so its a good idea to have a witness with you at all times in case you are accused of this - otherwise it is very difficult to disprove such an accusation.

It may even be worthwhile to invest some money by offering to pay for temporary accommodation and removals, if you can establish some sort of rapport, and pursuade them to go quickly.

In some states in America there are so-called 'toothbrush laws', meaning that if a toothbrush is present, the 'guest' is considered to be a long term tenant. There are other signals that long term accomodation is underway.  For example, if arrangements are made in terms of providing the 'guest' with a set of keys and remote for gate access, or for the storage of equipment, if regular payments are made in lieu of household insurance at the relevant address, or electricity, if furniture and the occupants personal arrangements are altered in order to facilitate the accomodation of the 'guest' - all these are essentially evidence of mutual lifestyle choices by the occupants that imply a longer term domicile rather than, say, a short stay.

Here's more:

Guests: Tenants are allowed to have guests in their apartment without the landlord’s consent. This includes overnight guests. A guest can stay in an apartment for up to 30 days before a landlord can consider that the person has moved in permanently. If a guest causes a problem on the property a landlord can attempt to restrict that individual from returning to the property.

The purpose of a lease agreement is to make explicit the intention of a party to inhabit an address according to clearly set obligations. But without a lease and without the payment of rent, a long term 'guest' can be assumed to carry almost as many rights as a lessee.  
Even if the 'guest' is obliged by the lessee to only pay, say, for his or her own food, this is an obligation which arises due to the longer term nature of the living arrangement. No one would imagine a casual or overnight visitor to provide their own snacks, with the possible exception of birthday parties and similar events.

If there are, perhaps, magazine subscriptions, tax certificates or any other mail correspondence, especially invoices, related to an enterprise or any other activity sent to the guest in the new address - these are all clear signals of a mutual intent to occupy an address, at least for the near to medium term.  The presence of a vehicle and household insurance at the new address is of course virtually interchangeable with an official lease agreement, particularly if the vehicle is also registered at the new address. 

For starters, if an attempt is made to summarily kick out an occupant and change the locks, police should be summoned immediately.  Eviction can only be enforced in the presence of a Sherif and with the authorisation of the local magistrate. 

On average, an unopposed eviction will cost the landlord in the vicinity of R12 000,00. The PIE Act does not provide for the recovery of these costs from the defaulting tenant/unlawful occupier.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ambition: Why Some People Are Most Likely To Succeed [TIME]

By Jeffrey Kluger Sunday, Nov. 06, 2005
You don't get as successful as Gregg and Drew Shipp by accident. Shake hands with the 36-year-old fraternal twins who co-own the sprawling Hi Fi Personal Fitness club in Chicago, and it's clear you're in the presence of people who thrive on their drive. But that wasn't always the case. The twins' father founded the Jovan perfume company, a glamorous business that spun off the kinds of glamorous profits that made it possible for the Shipps to amble through high school, coast into college and never much worry about getting the rent paid or keeping the fridge filled. But before they graduated, their sense of drift began to trouble them. At about the same time, their father sold off the company, and with it went the cozy billets in adult life that had always served as an emotional backstop for the boys.

That did it. By the time they got out of school, both Shipps had entirely transformed themselves, changing from boys who might have grown up to live off the family's wealth to men consumed with going out and creating their own. "At this point," says Gregg, "I consider myself to be almost maniacally ambitious."

It shows. In 1998 the brothers went into the gym trade. They spotted a modest health club doing a modest business, bought out the owner and transformed the place into a luxury facility where private trainers could reserve space for top-dollar clients. In the years since, the company has outgrown one building, then another, and the brothers are about to move a third time. Gregg, a communications major at college, manages the club's clients, while Drew, a business major, oversees the more hardheaded chore of finance and expansion. "We're not sitting still," Drew says. "Even now that we're doing twice the business we did at our old place, there's a thirst that needs to be quenched."

Why is that? Why are some people born with a fire in the belly, while others--like the Shipps--need something to get their pilot light lit? And why do others never get the flame of ambition going? Is there a family anywhere that doesn't have its overachievers and underachievers--its Jimmy Carters and Billy Carters, its Jeb Bushes and Neil Bushes--and find itself wondering how they all could have come splashing out of exactly the same gene pool?

Of all the impulses in humanity's behavioral portfolio, ambition--that need to grab an ever bigger piece of the resource pie before someone else gets it--ought to be one of the most democratically distributed. Nature is a zero-sum game, after all. Every buffalo you kill for your family is one less for somebody else's; every acre of land you occupy elbows out somebody else. Given that, the need to get ahead ought to be hard-wired into all of us equally.

And yet it's not. For every person consumed with the need to achieve, there's someone content to accept whatever life brings. For everyone who chooses the 80-hour workweek, there's someone punching out at 5. Men and women--so it's said--express ambition differently; so do Americans and Europeans, baby boomers and Gen Xers, the middle class and the well-to-do. Even among the manifestly motivated, there are degrees of ambition. Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer and then left the company in 1985 as a 34-year-old multimillionaire. His partner, Steve Jobs, is still innovating at Apple and moonlighting at his second blockbuster company, Pixar Animation Studios.

Read more.
SHOOT: How do those lyrics go, ambition bites the nails of success.  I wonder to what extent the support or lack of from parents impact on success.  For example, without being able to loan a bit of capital, it's tough to get started.  I'm sure some do.  But I think parental support and advice is more often present than not...

My latest articles...

Have a look at some of my latest writing and photography on page 34 and 64 of the September GETAWAY magazine.

Bok management is a shambles

Original article.
Johannesburg - The Springboks are ready and have made the necessary adjustments after their first three Tri-Nations defeats, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers assured the media and public last week.

However, the conclusion after their fourth defeat from four outings and just a single log point in the competition is that they are simply not good enough or that something is drastically wrong.

It's time for the Springbok management to start taking some responsibility for the state of the team.

At least the referee was not blamed for this defeat, although de Villiers said the All Blacks did get the bounce of the ball on all seven occasions.

De Villiers and his selection committee must start questioning whether they have the right personnel on the field - and off it.

For the umpteenth time in his career, Bryan Habana shot up from the defensive line to make a try for the opposition that much easier.

Has he been spoken to about that and why does he persist? (and why hasn't he, in all his years of playing rugby, been taught to carry the ball under his left arm when running down the left-hand touchline?) It is also time to start asking questions about the Bok management.

For example, the All Blacks brought on fresh legs and South Africa left three players on the bench as the pace increased.

The All Blacks were exemplary in the way they brought their players onto the field - and the end result fittingly came from replacement Israel Dagg who received the ball to score after Ma'a Nonu evaded a tired Bok captain John Smit's tackle.

Does de Villiers not trust his bench? Or doesn't he have the depth of the All Blacks despite saying the contrary?

Whatever the reason, the visitors, playing at altitude, lasted and improved as the Boks lagged.

Is there no other game plan than driving up ball after ball and then kicking it away which resulted in the bulk of the All Blacks points?

When the Springboks' backline, out of desperation, had to attack in the last minute, they lost control in the tackle. The turnover - of which there were many - brought the All Blacks victory.

Why were the All Blacks so often able to attack with their backs and the Boks not?

While South Africa's one-on-one tackling was outstanding, the All Blacks too often created space where the Boks' defence fell short.

The question why an unfit Ricky Januarie - by admission of the Springbok management - was selected for the first seven Tests of the season before giving Francois Hougaard his first start is another that begs answering.

Hougaard showed he is clearly in a different class from Januarie who is now (at last) said by the Springbok management to be fit for rugby at this level.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry referred to the fitness of the All Blacks in the post-match media interview and had special praise for their fitness coach Nick Gill, saying he deserved credit for the way the team managed to snatch victory in the dying minutes.

"He doesn't often get credit but he's got this team in great shape and it showed in the last 10 minutes, their fitness is superb," Henry said.

"We finished stronger and showed the ability to hang in there, the ability to do the job under all sorts of stress."

On Sunday Henry repeated that this was probably the most satisfying Tri-Nations win although he did point out that every one of the previous nine titles were special to the All Blacks.

"But this one is the most recent and current and we're pleased at the way the guys played. Winning the Tri-Nations is always special because you're playing the other two top teams in the world."

Referring to the All Blacks who conceded three defeats to the Boks last year, he said "the team's progress has been quite significant. To win at the (FNB) Stadium and at altitude is a huge achievement and very satisfying."

Henry said he hoped the team would keep on improving. "It is important that you analyse the game correctly and it's not all positives and there are some negatives to work on. It's also important to analyse the opposition, to see how they helped you to win, if you know what I mean," he said smilingly.

I think these are the important factors and that it will keep us getting better."

Henry said the three losses to South Africa last year were indeed a motivating factor for his team's improvement and their fitness.

Similarly the three Springbok losses this year will galvanise them, he predicted.

"There is plenty talent (in South Africa) to pick from and they won't be panicking (after coming so close) - and they shouldn't be panicking."

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Survivor Port Elizabeth – by Nick van der Leek

2010 has been a year of amazing highs and lows, and there’s still spring and summer to come. Highs included winning a major settlement [and a moral victory] over my previous employer, AVUSA, traveling through Australia and recently, visiting the Waterberg in Limpopo and the Kruger Park for the first time. I also managed to publish articles for the first time in major publications like Getaway and Bicycling. I’ve recently interviewed inspirational people like Johan Botha, Sibusisu Vilane and Raynard Tissink.

The lows started with the loss of my job in September 2009, something I tried to turn into a positive. I applied for a job at Kagiso Media, it was a perfect fit and in the end it came down to just two shortlisted candidates. Me and Another Guy. Kagiso Media scratched heads for a few weeks and finally gave the job to Another Guy. When my lease – of a beautiful property in Mountain View, Johannesburg – came to an end in April this year, I was finding the freelance life to be a real struggle. I saw my national membership at Virgin Active go down the drain with my Medical Aid.

I considered myself really lucky to have an old friend [who happens to be literally a fair bit older than myself] offering board and lodging to me in Port Elizabeth, no strings, as long as I fed myself. This person had been following my blog, and writings, and my frustrations at work, so I felt the offer of a place to stay when I really needed it was a genuine offer from a real friend.

Before falling for this offer though; I went to an aunt in Hout Bay and went to check out the scene there. The house was in the middle of a major construction site, and for a few other reasons I didn’t think it would work.

So I took up the offer to leave Johannesburg for PE and sold off pretty much the entire contents of the place I was staying in. A double bed of R5000 got carried off by someone for R1300. A TV and DVD player for R300. Fridge, microwave, pots, pans, wine glasses, that sort of thing was simply left behind for the vultures. The point was to get rid of stuff within a month so that I could vacate the place and make the long distance trip in my car as light as possible.

I arrived in PE in such a terrible state of health I feared that I was suffering from a terminal disease. My mouth was swollen and covered in ulcers. After some prodding from my new housemate a few days after my arrival in mid-April, I went to see a doctor. Instead of a terminal illness the doctor said I was just incredibly run down. 3 Vitamin B injections and an AIDS test later I was right as rain. Here –in PE – I was able to focus on freelancing and felt the financial pressures dissolve slowly. I even bought a surf board. Then, in June, the editor of Getaway asked me to do a story on rest camps in Kruger [he assumed I was still in Johannesburg], and so I took a calculated risk. Knowing the trip was a long one and would be expensive, I tried to combine the Kruger piece with as many other pieces as I could to make the trip profitable. I got GM to sponsor me with a vehicle and a tank of fuel, and I offered photo shoots en route to my Facebook following. Quite a few people responded, but when the time came to hit the road, everyone fizzled. I took a gamble that the investment of courage, effort and a chunk of my own moolah was better than sitting at home updating my blog and hoping for work. In the end, although it was a successful trip, and although I managed to keep expenses minimal, I didn’t expect to cover over 5000km, and the fuel bill alone proved to be a huge financial knock.

Shortly after this, my use of free internet at my digs in Summerstrand dried up which complicated matters a great deal, and shortly after that my cellphone was cut off. Imagine trying to function in your job, wherever you are, without both your phone and internet connection. Really, think about it. So I quite literally had to start making phone calls from Telkom callboxes, something I last did in the 1990’s most likely. And I had to go to an internet café until I could arrange for a new internet connection. The frustrating part of all this was AVUSA still owed me around R30 000 in settlement money, but had mischievously diverted it to SARS [something SARS also said was naughty] which delayed the payment to me of the balance by around half a year or more. But there’s a saying, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Not having money in the bank isn’t going to pay your cellphone account. As it happened, I was just two months in arrears when some income for articles came through and I immediately repaid the principal, but the number had already been terminated. Thanks Vodacom.

You can imagine how difficult it is to operate, especially in my line of work, as a freelance writer, without constant internet access or even a cellphone. Fortunately, over several months I have managed to build up momentum from a steady flow of effort and a constant stream of email pitches to dozens of magazines. This means I currently have half a dozen or more articles already pitched and approved, I just have to write them and send them. Half of these require a lot of research, which means getting back online is an issue, and being able to call and respond to calls is essential.

But not knowing for certain where I am going to be living [explanation follows] means making tough choices, for example buying the more flexible but more expensive mobile broadband, but at least you’re able to use it wherever you go. The killer is the uncertainty overriding the situation. For a long time my housemate left me with the impression that the internet ‘might’ be reconnected and it was impossible to know when this might be and if this offer was true or not.

It was around this time that a large garrulous woman who works at a local internet café where I was forced to temporarily ply my trade started stirring up trouble. She started off telling me that she had seen the date of birth of my housemate, that my housemate had recently gone off anti-depressants, that she’d suggested my housemate see a Russian psychologist – that sort of gossipy stuff. She wanted to know when you start feeling better after someone you’ve been involved with commits suicide. All this from someone I didn’t know from a bar of soap.

My housemate and I had our own issues, but we were working through them. A lot of it seemed to come from the fact that there was very little direct communication to each other about our own concerns. Instead of communication there was quite a lot of misunderstanding, overreaction and outbursts. Miss Gossip seems to have been very involved in all the behind the scenes drama and thinking up ideas and issues to worry about. Everything came to a head when I left for the Billabong Pro in J-Bay in July without my 59 year old housemate, and she then phoned me while I was on the road to say she was kicking me out, cutting off my internet and so on. She thought I had gone without her on purpose.

To cut a long story short, the large woman who says she is a millionaire, who says she has just been diagnosed with cancer, and says she has also just bought a brand new car [but works in an internet café ‘because of boredom’] asks me about the tensions at home and then starts to offer me a big photography job, telling me she needs multiple huge A0 prints all over her mansion as well as for her guesthouses, and other sets of photos for her mother’s kitchen with lots of ‘red in them’, and by the way, there’s an open room available if I need a place to stay etc etc. This very large, overweight person says she’s working at the local internet café to keep herself busy, and then shows me a series of triangular scars the size of thumbnails; she says they’re self inflicted. But it turns out, this large overweight woman is not only a danger to herself, but in a big way, to me. Because thanks to her counseling, thanks to her spying on me while I am working, my housemate has become so concerned about my intentions she can’t stop worrying about where I am, what I’m up to, what I am saying to my girlfriend, do I intend to leave, am I going to steal her jewellery, and what more do I know about her besides her real age?

Of course it has been awesome living a stone’s throw from surf spots like Pipe and the beautiful running platforms that skirt the coastline here. Just a few days ago I finally took my bicycle in to Action Cycles to get it up and ridable for the upcoming triathlon season. I’ve circled all the dates. That was one thing I was looking forward to, especially after a recent 5km race.

So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’d like to stay where I am. I don’t mind paying what I can afford for the privilege. It is very hard to be consistent, to build anything, when you’re constantly uprooting. In the last 10 years I’ve spent 4 in Korea, 1 in Bloem, 2 in Cape Town and 2 in Johannesburg and part of the 10th in PE. I’d really like to stay put for a while. At least long enough to develop more momentum, to learn to surf, to do a few good triathlons again. I would love to do an Ironman here in 2011.

But I’ve been asked by my housemate to find somewhere else to live in the next few days, and I agreed to leave based on the offer of ‘a room available’; a deception courtesy of our friend the large lady. When I go to see the room at the time agreed the large lady is nowhere to be found and won’t answer her phone. When I look again on the internet, her and my housemate have deleted me as a friend on Facebook. So yes, it turns out to be a bogus offer.

Incidently the large lady’s fiancé committed suicide a few months ago, by walking all the way to the Van Staden’s bridge, and after her [guessing what he was about to do] smsing him ‘goodbye’ he jumped to his death. This doesn’t surprise me, she’s deceived me with bogus offers at great personal expense to me. It’s a tremendous waste of my time. I have been getting quotes around the city for this job which turns out to be nothing other than a ruse to gauge my intentions.

She betrays her own bosses confidence by relaying every chirp she makes on Facebook and why my housemate [her boss]isn’t paying her and why the other employees aren’t getting paid, and what the other employees are saying about her, and tattle taling whatever I say about her to my housemate and vice versa.

But spring is around the corner and things can only get better. In just a few weeks I’ll be headlining in at least 3 different magazines. The question is will I get to use my surfboard a few weeks and months from now. Will I be doing triathlons in a few weeks, or setting up shop elsewhere.

One idea, if I am forced to move, is to sell my car and since I’m mobile, why not move really far away again; head on back to Korea, a country I know fairly well after all. I’d also love to head in the opposite direction, to New Zealand, say. But I think these ideas just speak of an inner desperation to ‘get away’ to somewhere new where one can presumably make a fresh start in peace. That sort of escapism is expensive in the real world. The best thing I can hope for right now is to find I way to stay where I am, and in future, choose my friends far more carefully.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How to tell when your boss [or anyone else] is lying

Original story here.

“ASSHOLE!” That was what Jeff Skilling, the boss of Enron, called an investor who challenged his rosy account of his firm’s financial health. Other bosses usually give less obvious clues that they are lying. Happily, a new study reveals what those clues are.

David Larcker and Anastasia Zakolyukina of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business analysed the transcripts of nearly 30,000 conference calls by American chief executives and chief financial officers between 2003 and 2007. They noted each boss’s choice of words, and how he delivered them. They drew on psychological studies that show how people speak differently when they are fibbing, testing whether these “tells” were more common during calls to discuss profits that were later “materially restated”, as the euphemism goes.

They published their findings in a paper called “Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls”.
Deceptive bosses, it transpires, tend to make more references to general knowledge (“as you know…”), and refer less to shareholder value (perhaps to minimise the risk of a lawsuit, the authors hypothesise). They also use fewer “non-extreme positive emotion words”. That is, instead of describing something as “good”, they call it “fantastic”. The aim is to “sound more persuasive” while talking horsefeathers.

When they are lying, bosses avoid the word “I”, opting instead for the third person. They use fewer “hesitation words”, such as “um” and “er”, suggesting that they may have been coached in their deception. As with Mr Skilling’s “asshole”, more frequent use of swear words indicates deception. These results were significant, and arguably would have been even stronger had the authors been able to distinguish between executives who knowingly misled and those who did so unwittingly. They had to assume that every restatement was the result of deliberate deception; but the psychological traits they tested for would only appear in a person who knew he was lying.

This study should help investors glean valuable new insights from conference calls. Alas, this benefit may diminish over time. The real winners will be public-relations firms, which now know to coach the boss to hesitate more, swear less and avoid excessive expressions of positive emotion. Expect “fantastic” results to become a thing of the past.