My New Blog

In case anyone is wondering. I moved my blog to Medium. You can now read me at: https://medium.com/@jdp. In due course I will be moving over some of my better blog posts.

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Playing With Gimp

Playing around with Gimp, using some awesome free ultra high quality images from gratisography.com.

Cloudy Shore

Cloudy Shore


Vietnam: A Journey Begins

My wife and I recently spent about 3 weeks in central Vietnam, and a few days in Singapore. As I’m absolutely hooked on history, our trip largely revolved around exploring the history of Singapore and Vietnam, and Vietnam’s in particular is vast and very colorful. Over a series of blog posts, I will be giving a personal account of the history of central Vietnam and a little bit of Singapore, that we explored during our recent holiday. As the first blog post in the series, I won’t discuss any history, rather just give a very quick overview of the things that most South Africans ask about, when we discuss our holiday in Vietnam.

From Singapore, we flew directly to Da Nang, where central Vietnam’s airport is located, then moved to Huế, and finished our holiday in Hoi An. Also keep in mind that my opinions are based on my experience in central Vietnam. The bigger cities in the far north, Hanoi and south, Ho Chi Minh, might be quite different, just like Cape Town is vastly different from Johannesburg.

Why We Chose Vietnam

It was an inspired, intuitive decision, based on the Vietnam Eyewitness Travel Guide . My only criteria for our overseas holiday, was that I’d like to visit any country with an ancient, rich and vibrant history. I think a further motivation was the exchange rate with the Rand and the fact that things are just cheaper in Vietnam (in comparison I realized South Africa isn’t such a cheap place), which made things a lot more affordable for us. I would say, on average, things are about 50% cheaper in Vietnam than in South Africa. That goes for everything from hotels to buying things at a street market. I envy how cheap a holiday in Vietnam must be for the Europeans and British.

By the way, about the Eyewitness book. It’s a wonderful little book to get inspired about the country, but don’t depend on it to get around Vietnam day-to-day. Your Swiss army knife of info, to survive in Vietnam will be the Lonely Planet’s guide on Vietnam. That book was essential to ensuring an enjoyable stay in Vietnam.

The American War in Vietnam

The first thing most people asked, is if they have yet fully recovered from the war against America. The answer to that is an unequivocal, Yes! There are absolutely no signs in any of the cities, that there has ever been a war like that in Vietnam. And I would hope so, the American war in Vietnam ended almost 40 years ago. At historic buildings and sites some signs of the war are still visible. This is hardly surprising, since these buildings are historically significant and a heritage, therefore major restorations are not really possible or allowed.

When South Africans ask me this question, I realize just how little we know about Vietnam (and the same is true of them about Africa), and that the only, outdated, knowledge South Africans have of this amazing country and people, is that which they got from western news back in the 1970s and American war movies.

Socio Economics

In short there are few rich people in Vietnam. But, there are very few people that are desperately poor. Unlike South Africa, where there is a small group of people earning a decent living, and then a massive number of people struggling to make ends meet. Something that really got my attention, was the fact that there are no informal settlements in central Vietnam. Almost everyone has a pretty little house to live in, and many even have a small holding, that they can cultivate. There are also none of those characterless, mass cloned, little matchbox houses, that the South African department of housing builds. Each little home has it’s own style. The main buildings all have the same narrow, rectangular structure, but each building has been given its own unique style by its owner. Everyone wants to sell you something, but you won’t find any beggars at the street corners.

Crime

As anyone that has spent some time with South Africans would know, we are always obsessing about crime. I’m therefore pleased to announce that Vietnam is a very safe place indeed. Safer than South Africa. We’ve heard of people’s wallets being pinched, and someone might try to scam you in a transaction at the market, but there are no armed robberies, where peoples’ expensive valuables are stolen at gun point or knife’s edge. For example, you can walk around in the street, late at night, taking pictures with your expensive camera, without fear of being robbed.

The People

The Vietnamese people seem to be a happy bunch, that’s content with life. Everyone was extremely friendly, and helpful (especially if they have something to sell you). Compared to the Singaporeans, I found the Vietnamese to let more of their emotions show. Warm, hearty laughs and smiles, frowns and even arguments in public were more frequent. Whereas the Singaporeans kept an efficient straight face most of the time. In Da Nang we even saw an older lady (I’m guessing the mother) have a massive argument with a younger lady (I’m guessing her daughter), where she later took off her sandals and started hitting the younger woman.

I got a strong sense that the average Vietnamese really doesn’t know a lot about the world outside their country’s border. From the confused expression on their faces when we answered that we’re from South Africa, it was obvious that most Vietnamese would struggle to find South Africa on a map. Most of them thought we were German (but I don’t blame them for this, I would draw the same conclusion listening to Afrikaners talking), and then some went on to tell us, after realizing that there is “Africa” in our country’s name, that we can’t be from South Africa because we are, you guessed it, white!

Twice Vietnamese were so amused to see some westerners, that they started taking photos and videos of us, right in our faces. Now that was a strange, and slightly awkward, experience.

Language

No surprises here: Vietnamese speak and write Vietnamese. However, I was expecting the English conversations to be a much bigger problem, but it turned out that most people’s English is good enough to get the job done. English of younger people from cities are actually good enough to allow a decent conversation.

You Can Also Have A Resort Holiday In Vietnam

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m completely addicted to history. So our holiday was specifically targeted at exploring, experiencing and learning about Vietnam’s history, mainly until about the 1920s (i.e. we didn’t really pay attention to the anti colonial revolution against France, and the American war in Vietnam). We visited as many historical places as we could, and often had to walk or cycle long distances in +35°C temperatures. This isn’t very comfortable, and sometimes even a little stressful to find your way, by yourself, in an unknown place. We also stayed in the heart of each city’s centre, which isn’t always the sexiest location, but it’s closest to the action.

However, if you prefer to have more of a resort type holiday, where you relax all the time and enjoy long walks on perfect white sandy beaches, then Vietnam can offer you that as well. There are a large number of modern, luxurious beach resorts to choose from, on the beach from Da Nang to Hoi An (called China Beach). So if you’re thinking of spending a holiday at a Thailand resort, maybe also check out its equivalent in Vietnam. I can highly recommend the Hoi An beachfront for those looking for a hassle free, chill holiday. Hoi An is an old town, that has been beautifully maintained and restored. So if you stay at the Hoi An beachfront, then you will get the best of both worlds – the beach resort and classic town lifestyle. Personally, I found Hoi An to be a little boring, and too much tourist focused. For example, in Hoi An’s old town, there are literally more tourists, than Vietnamese.

What An Absolutely Amazing Country

We absolutely loved Vietnam. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. The vibrant history, people, temples, pagodas, tombs and natural beauty was unforgettable. During a three week stay we hardly scratched the surface of what Vietnam has to offer. We will definitely return in a few years (permitting finances allow it), probably to Hanoi, as that is the heart of Vietnam’s northern history.


The Other Side Of Job Creation

It astonishes me to see how everyone buys the ‘job creation’ story the state and media sells them, without considering the bigger picture. What I believe most people fail to ask is how many jobs were not created elsewhere, where there is a greater need or bigger demand. In order for new businesses to flourish, it will require reallocation of capital and people and their skills to higher yielding industries and businesses. This process is very important to the agility and livelihood of a healthy economy, where unproductive businesses close down to make way for new ones that can use the resources (capital and people) better, because they can better provide things people really want at prices they’re willing to pay. When government (and the labor unions) intervenes in this process, they waste capital by not directing resources to the most desirable industries and businesses, and applying it to their political agenda.

Consider this about private businesses: If they fail to produce in the cheapest and best possible way those things which people most need, they suffer losses and are eliminated from the economy. Other businesses who know better how to deliver the right things, at the right price, replace them. This is how inefficient businesses get eliminated from the economy, a kind of survival of the fittest. If you take the wrong decisions in business, you get punished very quickly. Do it long enough and you’re out.

Now consider this – government’s ‘capital’ comes from tax or debt. Debt is just borrowing against a government’s future income, that in turn comes from tax. Therefore, ultimately, all government’s income comes from tax. But in government’s case there is absolutely no incentive or threat to use it efficiently. Because government doesn’t get eliminated from the economy when it makes the wrong decisions about how and what to use resources for, it continues to do so at a much greater cost to the economy.

With every new ‘job creation’ project government funds, that same amount of money was previously taken away from productive businesses. Because of government’s inefficiency and misallocation, it is very likely that a lot more could have been done with the resources elsewhere, including hiring people. Also, based on what criteria does government direct resources? Yes, a lot of it is probably for the “greater good” and altruistic in nature, but an enormous part of the criteria is determined by political, emotional, subjective and selfish factors.

Another thing I find quite amusing to read is how the competition commission hunted down and punished the latest business cartel that is hurting the man on the street by manipulating prices. What is a cartel other than a type of monopoly? And we all know how much our beloved socialist government loves their state controlled monopolies: Eskom, Transnet, Telkom, PetroSA and Infraco. And what they don’t already control under these state enterprises and government departments, I’m sure they are planning to take over soon. By the sounds of it, mining and banking is next on the cards. So on the one hand government continuously seeks to end anti-competitive behavior, but on the other it’s recommended as the best solution to the nation’s problems. If there’s one thing the South African economy needs is more competition, but not only in the form of a reactive central watchdog that runs around trying to police the 3 or 5 big players in each industry. Instead we need to focus on growing the size, quality and number of entrepreneurial businesses in each industry.

At this stage government and the labour unions, are blocking the free readjustment and reallocation of resources to new businesses that can use it to better produce that what is required more. Government sucks more resources out of the economy, in the form of tax for their ‘job creation’, and labor unions force artificial labor costs on businesses. Instead of addressing the true underlying problems of our economy, government chooses to prop up ailing industries and expand the public sector. In the long run this will do very little to solve the dysfunctional structure of our economy:

1. There is poor separation of concerns between the labor unions, Cosatu, and the government. Cosatu helps the ANC government stay in power. Let’s not forget they were the big reason Zuma was elected as president, and election after election tell their members to vote for the ANC. This makes government unlikely to make the necessary labor and economic reforms, needed to pursue a true growth strategy.

2. Labour unions and the ANC government must accept, that it’s impossible to keep all current jobs, with increasing salaries, and have meaningful success in creating new businesses. Rather focus on creating new businesses, making current ones more competitive and allowing labour to adjust to the industry’s natural cost and employment structure. This means there will be jobs lost, before new ones can be created.

3. The ANC government must also realize that the free market economy is better at determining how to use resources. Resources are still wasted in a free market economy, but not for long. Expanding the public sector payroll, increasing grants, and so forth, requires more tax money, which in the end defeats their original purpose of improving living conditions.

Government Covers Up Underlying Problems by Increasing Public Sector Employment

By April 2010 the private sector (excluding agriculture) lost some 377,000 jobs from a peak in October 2008. Since then the private sector has only been able to add a 94,470 jobs, and the public sector added 106,503 or 53% of 201,000. In July 2011, private sector employment has grown 0.5% since a year before, and the public sector 3.3%. I’m just wondering what all these new government employees are doing? What are they creating that other people need? What new industries, technologies,and specialized skills are they mastering?

National departments’ wages also increased by 11.3% for the year to July 2011, and increased by more than 10% for the past 2 years. Private sector wages only increased by 7,4%. So clearly the place to work in South Africa is at government departments. This has to mean that these people are making the most important contributions to our economy, or does it? The figures seem to suggest they own specialized skills that are in high demand, because not only is the country hiring more of these people, but we’re also paying them more.

To get a picture of the SA government’s debt, I quote a sentence from the SA Reserve Bank’s Quarterly Bulletin for December 2011: “As a ratio of gross domestic product, national government’s total gross loan debt increased from 35,4 per cent to 37,3 per cent during the period under review.” So quite an innocent figure really, especially considering that America’s debt to GDP is 100% and Greece’s is 150%. But as in all things finance, it’s the trends that reveal the truth. In 2007 this figure was 27.4%, and except for 2008, has grown every year since then. Makes one wonder if South Africa isn’t maybe Africa’s version of a Greece in the making?

References


Flashing Green Arrows Cause Cape Townians to Fall Asleep & Other Strange Things From the Republic

I moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town almost 2 years ago. I have not regretted it once, the quality of life here is much better than in Johannesburg, and I really enjoy being so close to the sea, mountains, and vineyards. However, during this time I picked up quite a few things that mildly reminds me that I’m in Cape Town.

1. Green Arrows at Traffic Lights. Drivers from Cape Town consistently forget to immediately drive when the green arrow flashes on traffic lights, indicating they can turn right or left onto the crossing street. This is something that constantly happens, to the point that I am quite surprised if the driver in front of me immediately drives when the light flashes. I have no idea why so many people from Cape Town fall a sleep when green arrow traffic lights flash. I always associated bright flashing lights with places that excite me like disco lights, signs of strip joints, and cheap chinese take aways. But somehow it looks like these flashing lights have the opposite effect on Cape Townians. Is it possible that there might be a different meaning in Cape Town? Or that there is some unspoken rule, like wait 50 flashes before driving, that only they know of? I won’t rule that one out, it is the Republic of Cape Town after all!

2. It’s acceptable to drive 80-100km/h in the fast lane on the highway. Even after a year and a half in Cape Town, I am still astonished at (1) how people drive 80Km in the fast lane on the N1, and (2) how only on rare occasions a faster driver will actually get annoyed with the aforementioned driver doing 80 in the fast lane. This just proves how people from Cape Town are much calmer and accepting on the roads, which is probably why Mabale Moloi from 5FM reports 100 less accidents every morning for Cape Town, compared to Jo’burg. But at the same time it can be really annoying to be stuck behind someone doing 80kms in the fast when you’re late for that interview, when the fast lane is completely open if only it wasn’t for mister sleepy in front of you. It doesn’t help too much to freak out, because half the time people have no clue what you’re going on about in case you do.

3. Don’t assume the shop is open after 1PM on Saturday. Wow, yes, no idea why shops close at 1 on a Saturday, but choose to be open the whole of Monday. I mean come on, how many of your customers actually have time to come in and buy that R15000 sofa on a Monday 10am from your shop somewhere on the outskirts of Kommetjie? Seriously, think about it mr. shopkeeper, these customers actually have to work in order to afford your goods, and this happens mostly during weekdays – in case you missed that small detail. Weekends mean the whole of Saturday and Sunday, so it’s probably a good idea to try and be open at those times, so that your customers have more time to visit your shop and you have a greater chance of selling stuff.

The one shop, I think it’s called Trade Roots, isn’t even open on Saturdays. The only shops open late on Saturday and Sunday are ones in a big mall like Canal Walk. Any shop or market, or anything that sells something that is not a restaurant, closes on 1pm Saturday.

4. You strictly can’t buy liquor from Saturday 5pm. Those that know me well will know that I never hesitate to spend enough time carefully selecting the right wines when the wine rack is empty. It doesn’t matter that I have a deadline this afternoon, if I’m out of wine I will take the time over lunch to choose the right wines for the next week or two. I just love wine – one of the reasons I moved to Cape Town. One Saturday afternoon while walking through the local Spar’s aisles, it dawned on me that we’ve run out of wine. I immediately set off to the store’s wine shelf to correct this unacceptable crisis, and as per custom, spent an additional 2o minutes selecting the right wines. Excited from my highly successful wine selection I enthusiastically pushed my trolley to the checkout counter and started unloading my groceries. Everything went well, until I put the wines on the counter. Suddenly the cashier’s face changed to one normally reserved for criminals caught in the act. For a second or two I thought she’s going to “moer” me when she said, “it’s already 5 o’clock so you’re not allowed to buy any liquor.” With enormous disappointment and a little embarrassment for revealing my non-Cape origin so publicly like that, I apologized and reluctantly returned the wines to their place on the shelf.

Afterwards, during long walk back to the car, I unsuccessfully tried to find a deeper meaning to this law. The only thing I could think was that anyone that really wanted to get their hands on some wine, and get drunk can do so easily but visiting their local “watergat”, shebeen or just any street corner in lower Woodstock. Surely this law is not going to deter any determined alcoholic to quench their first, or will it? Would be interesting to see actual statistics on the issue, and whether it actually made a difference to the number of rowdy and drunk characters slinging through the streets.

5. Smart casual is more casual, and less smart. During my time so far in Cape Town I’ve gone to a number of events and venues (I’m quite surprised about this myself, these days it’s getting harder to go out and requires ever increasing levels of motivation to not chill at home with a good wine and a book). At a number of these I was quite surprised to see how casual people dress when they go out. As a direct comparison, Cubana’s in Cedar Square (Fourways) will often stop you at the door if you’re not dressed correctly, and by correctly they mean rather smart. In the Republic on the other hand, Cubana’s in Tableview will allow you in even if you have shorts and “plakkies” on. Even at more serious things like a classical music performance, at least half the people wear very casual clothes, like K-Way jackets.

I really enjoy this characteristic of CT. Especially by someone like myself that really couldn’t be bothered about what I wear when I go out, and whether people realize that I am wearing clothes from Ackermans. However generally Cape Townians aren’t so  generous and casual with their friendship, and prefer to stick to the brands, I mean friends, they know… but that’s another day’s story about the Republic’s friendship etiquette.


Binary Love Art

I got married last year on the 9th of December. We decided to take the unconventional route of sending a digital invitation to our guests, instead of mailing the traditional paper card.

Personally I hate printing things. The reason is that producing, transporting, printing, and even recycling paper, creates a considerable amount of waste, and consumes a lot of energy and scarce resources. This is something people never consider when they mindlessly print pages with every attachment they get in their in-box.

I also thought that it would make a subtle statement, that we are a dynamic couple that doesn’t hesitate to embrace new, better, ways of doing things, by questioning and breaking down ingrained habits.

The image was designed in Gimp, on Apple Mac.

Wedding Invitation Card

 

 

 


Paul van Dyk On Recording In Between

Paul van Dyk - In BetweenKen Micallef covered the making of Paul van Dyk’s latest album, In Between, over at Remix Magazine. In the article Paul van Dyk reveals what his live setup is, and how he performs with it. It also gives details of the hardware equipment and software used to produce the album. Very good info to know.

Like many of today’s top DJs, Ableton Live features at the front of his live configuration. He also explains how he started using Ableton Live with one MacBook, and progressed to his current 2 MacBook: “When I started with Ableton, I wasn’t using any more than a laptop and four channels and bringing things in and out. The next challenge was playing something on top, then adding loops, then triggering them from the outside. Then I thought it would be cool to sequence ideas, and that is when the second laptop came in.”

To my delight the tools used to create the last track, Fall With Me, is explained in some detail, and it’s interesting to see what was used to create some of the track’s cool sounds:
• Bass line – Spectrasonics Trilogy Software Synth.
• Bass drums – Roland TR-808 and Spectrasonics Stylus RMX drum module.
• Chattering sound over the top – Spectrasonics Atmosphere Dream Synth.
• “Rrrgghh wrrrggghh” sound – Native Instruments Massive.
• Filter – TBK2 from Sonalksis.

In Between was made with:

Computers, DAW/recording software, consoles
Apple MacBook Pro (2), Mac G5 2.5 GHz running Apple Logic Pro 7 and Ableton Live 6, 23-inch Ci nema Display
Euphonix System 5-MC Integrated
Workstation
Audio Mixing System
Mackie C4 Control Pro, Control Universal with seven Control Universal XT extensions
M-Audio UC33e Advanced USB MIDI control surface
RME Intelligent Audio Solutions HDSP
MADI
Card with 64 I/O, ADI-648 MADI to ADAT interface, (8) ADI8DS Converter

Hardware synths
Access Virus TI Pølar
Alesis Andromeda
Clavia Nord Lead Rack
Korg Trinity
M-Audio Keystation Pro 88 MIDI keyboard
Novation Supernova Module
Roland JP-8000, Juno-106, JV-1080, TR-808, TR-909, TB-303

DJ mixer, sampler/drum machine
Allen & Heath Xone:3D DJ mixer
Akai MPC2500 sampling workstation

EQs, compressors, effects
Aphex Dominator II Master Kompressor
iZotope Ozone 3 mastering effects
Native Instruments Spektral Delay
Sonalksis TBK2 Digital Grimebox sonic
degradation plug-in
Waves Platinum Bundle

Software synths, plug-ins
Arturia Prophet V Prophet 5/VS synth
Music Lab Real Guitar
Native Instruments Massive, Komplete 4
Rob Papen Albino 3, BLUE
Spectrasonics Atmosphere Dream Synth
Module, Stylus RMX Realtime Groove
Module, Trilogy Total Bass Module

Monitors
KRK 7000Bs, V12S subwoofer

Head over to MixMag.com and read the while shebang.