Tag Archives: South Africa

The Game of Rugby for Beginners

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HAPPY FRIDAY: Vertaan jy rugby? Do you understand rugby?

WE’RE going to have to explain some of these to our non-South African friends. When the Rugby World Cup comes around many struggle to get to grips with how the game of rugby works. It’s a strange and spiritual sport that may need some explaining.

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Heat pumps versus air conditioners

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TECHNO TALK: Hair today, gone tomorrow

SINCE I was a child I’ve had this fantasy of dressing up in a medieval suit of armour and having an all-out sword fight with someone also clad in medieval metal. The only problem is that people were a lot shorter 1 000 years ago.

The human race has evolved to be a lot taller than our flail-wielding ancestors. Squeezing oneself into a genuine suit of knight’s armour would be near impossible now — especially if you’re a beer drinker. This may make one wonder if we are still evolving today.

Most evolutionary biologists would argue that if we haven’t stopped evolving, our evolution has at least slowed down to a glacial pace. The main argument is that we have created and adapted our urban environments to best suit our current shape and form.

We have taken to sitting down a lot — whether behind a desk, on a sofa or in a car seat. When it’s too cold we take comfort behind our walls and cover ourselves with blankets. And now that things are heating up, we may blast air conditioners to keep comfortable. Human evolution doesn’t stand a chance.

Fortunately, evolution is technology’s best trait. Air conditioners have become more efficient and eco-friendly and can now be used to heat and cool a building thanks to a variety called a heat pump. Heat pumps are typically used to pull heat from the air or ground into a building to raise the temperature, but can also be put into reverse to cool a building.

How heat pumps work

Liquid refrigerant is pumped through the outside coils of an air-source heat pump. A fan pulls outside air over the coils, which absorbs the heat in the air and expands it into hot vapour. The vapour enters a compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas. The vapour then flows to indoor coils. The refrigerant condenses the vapour back into a liquid as it cools and flows outside to gather more heat. Meanwhile, the heat is pumped through the air ducts of your home and distributed throughout. This process can be reversed to cool the air inside your home. (Diagram: howstuffworks.com)

Liquid refrigerant is pumped through the outside coils of an air-source heat pump. A fan pulls outside air over the coils, which absorbs the heat in the air and expands it into hot vapour. The vapour enters a compressor, which increases the temperature and pressure of the gas. The vapour then flows to indoor coils. The refrigerant condenses the vapour back into a liquid as it cools and flows outside to gather more heat. Meanwhile, the heat is pumped through the air ducts of your home and distributed throughout. This process can be reversed to cool the air inside your home. (Diagram: howstuffworks.com)

Heat pumps operate in a very similar manner to standard heating and air-conditioning units but without the need to install separate systems. They are also far more efficient than their ancestors as they do not burn fuel to condition the air but rather transfer it from one place to another. Heat pumps can also be used to heat swimming pools and can even fire up a hot tub.

I’m proud to inform that heat pumps are widely available in South Africa. A couple of good places to start perusing these are www.itssolar.co.za and www.heatpumpssouthafrica.co.za By providing your name, contact details­ and nearest city, a heat pump specialist will contact you within 24 hours. Prices for domestic heat pumps range from R10 000 to R15 000.

Heat pumps should of course be used in conjunction with other energy-saving techniques. Using fluorescent light bulbs and turning appliances off when not in use are the obvious ones, but it is also a great time to utilise the spring sunshine. Phantom loads are the less obvious energy drainers. When something like a cellphone charger is plugged into a live socket, but not into a cellphone, this actually drains more energy than would be used if a phone was charging.

So let’s all do our bit this sunny season to help the planet fend off global warming by being energy savvy and by using green devices such as heat pumps. I really don’t want to have hairy grandchildren.

Bulungula Lodge: Green and Serene

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BULUNGULA LODGE: Green and eco-friendly

THERE are very few lodges in the world that can say they run on the same amount of power used by a toaster; a full 24-hour day on what a toaster uses in an hour, to be exact. Bulungula, situated just south of Coffee Bay on South Africa’s Wild Coast, is one such lodge.

Where hills and sea meetThe Wild Coast earns its name by being a watery graveyard to several shipwrecks. Whale bones dot the coastline and it is largely an unfenced area populated by pastoral communities. Bulungula was founded where hills meet sea and is in among a variety of flora and fauna. From the lodge one looks down onto a glorious beach and estuary. The backdrop is those lovely velvety hills with springy grass that spills down the dunes and kisses the rocks and sand below. Goats, cows, chickens, ducks, dogs, donkeys, pigs, sheep and horses all roam freely, and down by the river’s edge, mangroves flourish.

Bulungula, with its use of solar power, rocket showers and compost toilets, is a living example of how tourism can, in fact, be eco-friendly, clean and sustainable. Grey water from the sinks feeds the vegetable garden and the lodge has calculated its annual carbon footprint and plants trees to offset this. Cultural fusion is at its heart, and the realisation that there are many different ways to live your life is something that will have you hankering for more.

Accommodation at Bulungula Lodge

Bulungula Safari TentBulungula offers lodgings in either rondavels or safari tents. Four-bed dormitories are available for those on a budget­. The huts are more spacious and central, but the tents are more private­. I opted for the latter and although I often had to fight my way through the dune bush in pitch darkness, the double bed that awaited was cosy and the wooden deck perfect for star gazing.

(It says on the Bulungula website that if you don’t see a shooting star within half an hour during a clear night, you get that night’s accommodation free. I checked and saw three).

One is able to go to bed with the tent door left open with the roar of the ocean in your ears. In the mornings you can view the sunrise over the horizon without lifting your head from your pillow.

Bulungula Lodge: South Africa

Crime and safety at Bulungula Lodge

It’s hard for a South African to think of any place in the country as crime free. Because the Bulungula community owns 40% of the lodge, there is a vested interest, and since its establishment in 2004, there has been no recorded incident of even the most minor theft. Once you accept that crime is non-existent, it’s quite liberating not having to constantly worry about your belongings going walkabout.

Cellphones lie in a neat row on the kitchen windowsill while cameras and laptops lay about on tables and couches. Anything can be left quite safely in your unlocked hut or open tent. So long as an inquisitive goat doesn’t mistake your goods for lunch, everything can be left with peace of mind.

The Bulungula Lodge is the realisation of a dream dreamt during years of travels through the most remote parts of Africa, China and South America: to create an eco-friendly backpackers lodge in the most beautiful place in South Africa in partnership with a vibrant, traditional community.” – www.bulungula.com

The people you meet at Bulungula

A place like Bulungula attracts people of all ages from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe. During my four-day stay, I crossed paths with Sam — a video editor from north London, Matt — a surfer and ex-banker from New Zealand who sold all his possessions to spend a year travelling through South America; sweet, tattoo-clad Stephanie from Switzerland, Melissa, the 23-year-old Canadian who is bravely journeying from Cape to Cairo, Keegan from Cape Town, and a few American girls doing missionary work. It was a real treat to interact with such well-travelled, open and friendly people.

Things to do at Bulungula Lodge

BulungulaIf lying on the grass with a beer and good book or wallowing in a rock pool isn’t enough action for you, there are several things to do at Bulungula. The lodge and its activities have completely uplifted the surrounding villages and several community members have started their own small businesses. There is much to learn too if you immerse yourself within Xhosa culture.

I indulged in a two-hour horse ride which started along the beach and then headed inland and uphill. With the horses being as tame and well-disciplined as they are, no riding experience is required. Other options are to take a tour with the local herbalist, enjoy a full body massage, hike, fish, crayfish dive, glide down the Xora River in a canoe, or learn how to play the hypnotic bongos. Popular board games are available for rainy days.

I honestly can’t commend Bulungula enough. However, if luxury, comfort and privacy is your thing, it may not be your cup of tea, but I think it’s a must-do for any city dweller with a sense of adventure. The laid-back nature of the place, the hospitality, safety and friendliness may well change one’s outlook in pretty profound ways.

Just be warned that the ride is rough when driving there. It is unknown how solid your bones need to be in order to traverse a severely pot-holed road for 36 kilometres. But then again, isn’t being hard to get to one of the definitions of a paradise?

The Mind Sport Debate

MIND SPORT: Should competitive gaming be considered as an internationally recognised mind sport in South Africa?

THERE was a lot of talk and debate towards the end of last year about 2011 being “the year of eSports”. The central debate in a South African context was whether or not competitive gaming should be recognised and treated as an international mind sport in our country.

Electronic sport, or mind sport, falls into the category of non-physical competition. Competitive gaming is the fastest growing mind sport, and there currently exist several leagues and tournaments word-wide whereby gamers compete at amateur, semi-professional and professional levels.

With a steady increase in the number of competitive gamers across genders and cultures, the mind sport debate revolves around the idea of classifying network gaming as an official national sport and treating and covering it in the same manner as existing sports such as rugby and cricket.

It’s a misnomer that ‘real’ sport is physical and sweaty and demands an impressive display of physical prowess. With most sports being based on warlike principles, it’s often forgotten that quick wit and strategy play an integral part in most of the sports we love. And let’s face it – not everyone is cut out for the gym or has the impressive build of Os du Randt.

Consider chess, poker, pub quizzes, crossword contests and poetry slam as competitive mind sports. These all require quick wit, intellectual talent and creativity without the need to physically tackle opponents to the floor. And if you think that gaming is mindless finger-clicking, competitive gaming demands huge amounts of quick thinking, strategy, and above all, teamwork.

The World Cyber Games

World Cyber Games

The World Cyber Games, which began in 2000, initially consisted of 174 competitors from 17 different countries with a total cash prize of $20 000. In 2006, 700 competitors from 70 different countries fought for the cash prize of $462 000 (Wikipedia. Image: erodov.com).

The good news is that African countries are gradually getting on board and gearing up to compete internationally. Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) is currently driving inter-school gaming leagues and organised the first official gaming test match between South Africa and Namibia last month.

According to an interview with the president of MSSA, Colin Webster, published on ITWeb, “One of the key highlights this year is the fact that MSSA is in talks with local government to organise a national e-sports LAN event that will have the same stature as a national sporting event. Gamers from all over the world will be able to test their skills against South African gamers.”

Unfortunately, for South African gamers to compete on a global scale and participate in the major leagues held in Europe, Korea and the United States, politics need to come into play. In order to compete internationally, gaming (as well as any sport) need to meet a certain set of criteria. There are good reasons for these, but when we consider that hi-tech sports such as gaming are ever-evolving with technology, perhaps we need to consider having such criteria updated as well.

The central issue is that for any sport to qualify and be able to compete at an international level, it needs to be accessible to everyone. Every government school has a sports closet full of soccer balls and cricket bats and there are real efforts to offer the same to rural schools around the country.

However, now that we are undoubtedly living in the digital age, it is also becoming compulsory for all schools to have computers and internet access. That’s all it takes to set the stage for competitive gaming tournaments. Learners could even opt to participate in network gaming during their lunch breaks. I’d guarantee that you wouldn’t have to twist any arms to get learners interested.

Mind Sport Growth and Revenue

There is also the opportunity to make a decent living from competitive gaming. The World Cyber Games held in South Korea every year sees a huge flow of revenue from sponsorship and advertising – not to mention the marketing value that top, individual gamers gain by proving their skills. As existing tournaments have shown, large technology and PC corporations are more than willing to play their part and offer sponsorship and support.

To put the growth and interest of competitive gaming into perspective, the World Cyber Games, which began in 2000, initially consisted of 174 competitors from 17 different countries with a total cash prize of $20 000. In 2006, 700 competitors from 70 different countries fought for the cash prize of $462 000 (Wikipedia).

I sincerely hope that competitive gaming gets the attention and coverage it deserves within the realm of mind sport. As an ardent gamer, I believe that having games pushed and played to their limits by professionals will improve the quality of existing and future games as well as associated technologies.

Furthermore, it’s a chance for people to engage with the latest technology, a chance to bring together people with similar interests, to team-build, to profit off all the advertising possibilities, and to show the rest of the world that South Africa has what it takes to compete globally in the realm of quick wit and real time strategy.

Mind sport links:
2011: The Year of eSports
Africa gears up for e-sports

Fuseware Social Media Report

SOCIAL MEDIA: And how it is transforming business in South Africa

Fuseware is a Cape Town based social media research company that is currently creating a free social media research survey about the business case for social media in South Africa. They are asking the top influencers in the media and marketing industry for their views regarding this and aggregating all the information into a 100% free Fuseware report.

I was asked to participate in the Fuseware survey but wanted to open it to everyone to participate and offer further suggestions. The six most poignant questions follow with my own responses, but please feel free to contribute and get your chance to be heard! I will pass all comments on to the researcher that contacted me.

1. Fuseware: How is social media changing the business landscape, specifically for South Africa?

In the media industry, social media is the next phase of journalism. Media industries that do not adopt and embrace social media and networking into their production cycles will surely wither and die in the future. Situations where news rooms fight social media to get “the scoop” will never win by virtual of the speed and spread that is offered by services such as Twitter, Blogs and even Facebook. Media organisations need to learn how to use social media themselves in unique ways if they wish to remain a viable source of information.

2. Fuseware: What is the most difficult challenge of social media use in business in South Africa?

I would argue that the biggest challenge for businesses in SA is finding unique ways to make effective use of social media without harassing and bomb-barding social networkers with corporate spam. Simply posting links to any business website on every social media platform, for example, is not effective use of social media and will only irritate people and possibly taint the name of that business or brand.

3. Fuseware: What is your ultimate example of business success in social media?

News websites that have developed social media extensions for their product are proving to be very successful in SA. News24, The Dispatch and The Times are three examples of businesses that have made effective use of social media by offering something of interest and value that was not possible with their print products. Interactivity, commenting platforms, reader feedback, creating web-presence and the use of multimedia are all effective forms of optimising such a business.

4. Fuseware: Which companies in South Africa do you think are doing social media the right way?

The three news corps. mentioned: News24, The Times and The Dispatch. Also gaming and IT websites are showing huge growth in SA – e.g. Take2, and of course the blogging community and more specifically blog aggregators – i.e. Afrigator and MyScoop are making great and effective use of social media in SA. These will continue to grow for a good while yet.

5. Fuseware: How can businesses in SA measure the effectiveness of their social media campaigns?

It depends on the campaign really. Following trends would be a good start, but most social media campaigns can be measured by number of followers / subscribers and the growth of these. Keeping track of website statistics and engaging with their audience(s) is also of utmost importance.

6. Fuseware: How do you envision the usage of social media in SA in 2-3 years?

The internet today is defined as “web 2.0” – i.e. the “social web”. The proliferation of social media websites and services will continue to grow in the next few years and more businesses are likely to adopt social networking into their business models. It’s almost becoming a case of “do-or-die” meaning that if businesses do not create a web-presence within the next 2-3 years while their competitors do, they will risk losing a huge number of customers / clients / readers.

  • If you would like any of your own input sent to the Fuseware team before they put together their social media report, please add it as a comment below.

Solar power and the Sun Ray Cooker

PRAISE THE RAYS: Higher electricity bills power a surge of interest in solar power

THE sun is possibly the most untapped resource we have. The amount of solar energy produced by our bright, burning star is enough theoretically to power the planet forever; or until it decides to give up on us and fizzle out entirely.

The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is about 3 850 000 Exajoules (EJ) per annum. In layman’s terms, the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it could produce roughly twice as much power as that which could ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources (coal, oil, natural gas and uranium) combined.

The Sun being coolSolar power can be harnessed at different levels around the world depending on geographical location. Basically, the closer a place is to the equator, the more potential­ solar energy is available. Unfortunately, the erection of entire solar power plants is not cheap, but there are ways that we can all do a little better to harness this clean, renewable energy­ source.

I always imagine my future home as a green embodiment of eco-friendliness – a home with a rooftop covered in solar panels. These would be used to heat water, power lights and store excess energy in batteries. Solar geysers are great for water heating and can save a lot on your electricity bill — especially­ if you like taking long, hot baths.

Unfortunately, a solar geyser will set you back about R17 000, but it can cut your monthly electricity bill by up to 40%. More importantly, a solar geyser could cut your carbon emissions by three tons per year. This is according to SolarTech, one of South Africa’s major­ solar businesses that specialises in solar-powered geysers.

The Sun Ray Cooker

Sun Ray Cooker

The average household electricity consumption, according to Eskom, is 1100 kWh per month, with an estimated eight percent of consumption ascribed to the stove in your kitchen. The Sun Ray Cooker offers an alternative to using a conventional oven.

THE SUN RAY COOKER

If you like the idea of using solar power and are interested in testing the rays, the Sun Ray Cooker is a great affordable start. This solar-powered oven consists of a couple of pots and a reflective box. Simply placing food inside the box and leaving it in the sun for a few hours, slow cooks food to perfection. It is said to be great for stews and can even bake bread.

Natural temperature build-up cooks the food and the cooker can feed up to six people. Generally, a slow solar cooker takes twice the time to cook a meal that a conventional stove does, but the Sun Ray Cooker can save you up to 8% on your electricity bill.

November is the perfect time to make use of such solar-powered devices as we’ll be getting an average of 10 hours of sunlight a day here in sunny South Africa. Even winter sunshine is sufficient for perfect cooking results, says Herman Warren, chief executive of Sun Ray Cooker. The Solar Cooker combo sells for R900.

Prices on solar-powered devices are gradually dropping, yet solar power for individual homes is not nearly as cheap as it should be in this country. But it is certainly a great investment if you wish to go green in 2011.

What should really happen is that solar power be made compulsory for homes of a certain size. Like the power-saving light bulbs we got previously, this Christmas we should get solar panels — freely installed by power-hungry Eskom.

Master your Maths with Numberwise!

NUMBERWISE: Free online tool set to transform maths in SA

MATHEMATICS has advanced some wonderful things in this world. Grand architecture, engineering, modern medicine and astronomy would not be the same today without maths. Unfortunately this isn’t something that is generally taught at a school level; and at a university level, lecturers have the habit of telling students to forget everything they learnt at school.

Maths is not everyone’s forte and many South Africans have children who are battling with the subject at school. With trials looming, it may be wise for educators and learners alike to look to the wonderful web for some help with their maths homework.

mathsNumberwise is one such service that has proved to be a very successful tool in teaching learners to master maths basics and improve their mathematical abilities. The Numberwise program was originally written by Durbanite Trevor Lagerwall for his youngest son, Ross, who was struggling with maths at school. After completing the Numberwise course, said son achieved 100% for First Year Maths at UKZN, has re-written the Numberwise program, and is currently studying Computer Science. Trevor’s eldest son, Brett, achieved 100% for second year maths with the help of Numberwise.

For the past five years, Numberwise has been used in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). The results have been so positive that the Numberwise course now forms a module of the Civil Engineering Program at DUT.

Trevor Lagerwall illustrates the recent success of Numberwise at DUT: “Despite having just passed matric maths and been accepted into civil engineering, the average mark of students coming into DUT is 30%. Yet all those who complete the Numberwise course pass with 90% or more. Even more encouraging is that there has been a 25% improvement in maths marks at first year level”, says Lagerwall.

The Numberwise website describes how maths is layered and requires mastering the basics before being able to advance in the subject. In the five weeks that Numberwise has been available online, it has registered over 1 000 students from schools in Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria, East London and Namibia, and has even reached as far as Bolivia and Australia.

Numberwise is freely available for anyone to use and encourages educators to enlist their learners and monitor their progress. Learners are then encouraged to do a maths Assessment Test, and all completed work is recorded on the Numberwise server. This allows learners to compare their maths results and times with classmates or anyone else making use of the program. Peer competition not only encourages learners to perform better but soon there will be a chance to win prizes too.

“We have used these last five years to polish Numberwise into the interactive web-based program that it is today, says Lagerwall. Knowing that Numberwise works, it’s a no-brainer that all learners at school ought to do the Numberwise course. We believe that it will make a huge difference in maths in South Africa. Plus it is a fun way to learn one’s tables & bonds (addition & subtraction).”

To use Numberwise requires registering for free as an administrator and downloading the Numberwise program, which is less than two megabytes. Teachers or parents are then encouraged to register and enlist their students or children. Once the software is installed, users are ready to start their Numberwise journey. The maths website offers user-friendly, step-by-step support on how to get Numberwise up and running on your home or work PC. Learners can also use Numberwise at home and teachers can monitor their progress remotely.

Lagerwall explains: “Even though they will be registered at school, learners can do the course either at school or at home. However, the teacher (as the administrator) can still monitor their progress, print reports and certificates and so on, all via the website.”

Numberwise is entirely free for all to use but is currently looking for sponsorship. “Once we have sufficient numbers we are hoping to attract a sponsor, in part to monetise the project but also to sponsor stunning prizes that will drive the use of Numberwise”, says Lagerwall. Numberwise.com can handle multiple sponsors at a school, provincial, national or global level.

To see Numberwise in action, maths courses are held every Friday between 10am and 4pm at the Indumiso campus of DUT in Pietermaritzburg, where students do around 200 000 calculations. The goal is not only to prove that Numberwise really works, but to spread awareness of its free availability to all schools and educators country-wide.

“My hope is that all schools register all their learners and incorporate the Numberwise Course as part of their curriculum, says Lagerwall. Since every child in the world needs to learn their tables and bonds, our vision is that they do this using Numberwise, which we hope to grow first here in South Africa.”

For any questions regarding Numberwise, or if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of this project, you can contact Trevor Lagerwall on 084 568 2461 or 031 767 3247; or email him at trevor@numberwise.com