Planet GeekDinner

November 07, 2013

Christopher Mills

2013′s final technology events and a giveaway!

Each year Cape Town hosts a number of excellent technology events and this year’s been no different. As we draw to the close of the year I wanted to highlight some of the events that are left as I felt I should attend one or two, you know, to flash some business cards around and meet some great people. Event attending in Cape Town is an incredible opportunity to network with other like-minded people, a lot of my career was created through doing this, and with it being the end of the year it’s a good time to potentially build some synergies for the beginning of 2014.


I was also approached by someone at WooThemes and asked whether I would give some tickets away to the WordCamp event happening next week so look out for the question below. I’ve attended a few WordCamps in my time and they’re always enjoyable, but what intrigues me about this year’s offering is that I’ve been told that there’s going to be more focus on entrepreneurs and less of the same speakers – that could be quite interesting because we’ve all seen how powerful WordPress can be, combine that with some entrepreneurial spirit and we’ve got some powerful startups.

Let me get right to it and highlight those events I was able to track down:


If you haven’t been to a 27dinner then now might be the time. The dinners aim to bring together informed, networked individuals that share a passion for technology and the digital space. 27dinner was founded in 2006 by Mike Stopforth and Dave Duarte, and has proved to be a successful venture. The events take place in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. I reached out to the Twitter account to find out some more information and it’s been confirmed that there will be an event in Cape Town before the end of the year on November 27th. Keep your eyes locked on their Twitter account and official website for information about the event.

Clojure Usergroup Meetup

Organised by Deon Moolman, Clojure is an event for the more technical folk. The event pages states the following, “Come along, let’s chat FP and help you get going or unstuck with Clojure. Ideally bring some code and we can explore what that would look like in Clojure.” The official website linked to Clojure is {code}bridge, which is a co-working space for software and hardware developers in Cape Town. The concept is based on the popular Hacker Dojo space that was formed in Mountain View, California. The next event takes place on October 31 and you can find more information about it on

Silicon Cape VS Office Hours

If you’re planning a start up and need assistance and feedback on your ideas, this is a good event to attend. As any startup will know, the early stages are the most difficult (well, that and scaling) and this event can assist you with that. You need to book a timeslot and unfortunately the date for deadlines was on October 29th, but it’s always worth following up just in case they’re accepting more people. A great way to get some experienced feedback on your next big idea. The event takes place on November 1 at TheBarn (3rd Floor, Block B, Woodstock Exchange). You can call Ryno Lawson on 072 815 4853 for more information.


Another event for the more technical folk. Node.js is a platform built on Chrome’s JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications. As you can see, it’s for those of us who love JavaScript, which is probably fairly few of you who read this website, perhaps I’m wrong! I haven’t attended a NodeJS event unfortunately so I’m not able to vouch for the level of the event, but it’s run by Simon Bishop who you may contact on 083 282 0703 if you have any questions. Otherwise, the event takes place on November 5 at the Acceleration Offices on Kloof Street in the Longkloof Studios.


This year Cape Town has the privilege of hosting the first Umbraco event in Africa! The event aims to support and grow the local community and they’ve promised beers, snacks and giveaways. The event is for those who love web development and content management systems and takes place on November 6 at the Bluegrass Digital Offices which is at 21 Dreyer Street in Claremont. You can RSVP by visting their Meetup profile here.


For a lot of the producers in Cape Town, WordCamp will be the biggest event of the year. The event boasts a strong list of sponsors and a great line up of speakers. What should be interesting is that the duty of MC is being handled by Derick Watts & The Sunday Blues so we know there will be many laughs and a great vibe. The event is taking place on November 7 at the Cape Town Stadium. Included in your ticket is secure parking, lunch and a few other goodies! You need to act quickly though, tickets are going like hotcakes!

Free Marketing Support Drop Ins

This event is another opportunity for business owners, managers and marketers. If you’ve got a marketing idea you want to bounce of someone else or perhaps you’re struggling with something and would like assistance then this event could assist you with that. The event takes place on November 7 on the 1st Floor of the Truth Coffee Building. You’re welcome to call Alex Harrington-Griffin on 081 4501 901 if you have any questions, otherwise be sure to visit their Meetup profile here for more information.

MoMo Jamboree @ AfricaCom

Taking place at Shimmy Beach Club on November 11th is the Mobile Monday South Africa Jamboree. This is an event for folks who are into the mobile space and there’s even a special for those of you who run startups in the mobile space to pay a little and get additional exposure to your startup – to do so, you’ll need to email I haven’t been to one of these events but there’s a great amount of information on their Eventbrite profile so perhaps take a good read of that.

Girl Geek Dinner

A geeky dinner for the ladies! Girl Geek Dinners were launched in 2011 with the aim of bringing together geeky ladies and their male counterparts. Over the past few years I’ve heard some really great feedback so if you’re a geeky gal then this is the event for you to attend – November 7 at Cafe Chic on Breda Street is where it’s taking part. You’ll be pleased to know that for the R180 you’ll get canapes, dessert, a welcome drink and a goodie bag! You can pop on over here to find out more information.

Startup Weekend

A 54 hour event  (15-17 November 2013) where startup enthusiasts including developers, designers, marketers and product managers come together to pitch ideas, form teams, build prototypes, hack business plans and launch startups. The event starts with open-mic elevator pitching on Friday evening – teams then form and start working towards an MVP. They receive input from industry expert coaches over the weekend, and present in front of a panel of judges by Sunday evening. An ideal way to network, find cofounders and test your startup idea. Want more information? Visit the website.


As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been given 5 tickets to WordCamp and all you need to do is leave a comment below and tell us how you discovered WordPress.

If you know of another event, please pop it in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do about adding it to this post.

Congratulations to the following winners:

  • Nate Kettles
  • Amanda Devine
  • Francois Smit
  • Karen Welter
  • rrcatto

by Chris M at November 07, 2013 09:50 AM

February 11, 2011

Wessel Venter

GeekDinner February 2011: Voluptuous Verdelho

After a six month absense, GeekDinner is back in full swing!  On Tuesday we had the 22nd Cape Town GeekDinner named Voluptuous Verdelho.

After the previous GeekDinner in July, we tried organising another GeekDinner, but for some reason it did not take off.  In fact we tried more than a couple of times, but there simply was no gusto to sustain the initiative.  There are theories as to why this happened, but I won’t go into them.  It may well have been a good thing, however, as we drew a big crowd after the long down time!  And included in this crowd were many new faces, which was good to see.

Our hosts were The Brasserie, which is the restaurant of the Lagoon Beach Hotel.  Situated almost perfectly on the Milnerton beach and overlooking Table Bay, we were treated to a neat and spacious dining area which was initially flooded with golden light as the sun sank down slowly behind Table Mountain.  It was almost a serene scene, and probably was for the guests who wandered about the hotel lazily.  But the treats did not stop there.  For dinner, we helped ourselves to a buffet style dinner which was truly delicious.  I am not going to name everything that was available (you can go check out the wiki page to which I linked above), but it suffices to say that I went back for seconds for both the starters and the mains.  The only reason why I did not go back for seconds for dessert, is that I was stuffed!

But GeekDinner is not only about gluttony, but about geekery as well.  And we had ample geekery with some very interesting talks on cleaning up cable clutter (yes, the talk was surprisingly not boring), the Ibid chatbot, how to survive the Zombie apocalypse and more zombies.  If these talks ever make their way onto, then you should go check them out.

In the end, what I perhaps enjoyed most about the evening was seeing all the old faces again, some of whom had not attended the last few GeekDinners, which means I saw them last nearly a year ago!  But it also felt good bringing new friends to the fold.  So whether old or new, I hope to see you at the next GeekDinner, for which the planning has already started.  Remember, it is an open invite (check the wiki for details) and that anyone can pitch in to help if they feel that they can or want to contribute!

by phantom-99w at February 11, 2011 09:34 PM

January 27, 2011

Mandy J Watson

Geek Girl Dinner Cape Town Launches

Above: The view from the top of the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay. It has very little to do with this post but isn't it amazing? Look closely at the stacked decks of swimming pools.

On Tuesday I attended the Geek Girl Dinner Cape Town planning event, an informal get together organised by Mariska du Preez, which was held at Salt, a restaurant in the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay (and which featured in a key scene in the movie Flashbacks Of A Fool, with Daniel Craig). We gathered to establish whether there would be interest in such events, who would like to be involved, and what we should do.

I went more out of curiosity, not only to experience this restaurant that I've heard so much about but because I have been attending the Cape Town GeekDinners for years and although I am generally not in favour of activities that centre around gender I was interested to see what the attendees would be thinking in terms of a Geek Girl Dinner, although I initially felt a fair amount of trepidation as large groups of women can be quite intimidating (to me, anyway).

I arrived early (I know!) by accident (there you go!) and parked on the roof, which is where the photo above came from. It was a beautiful day, late-afternoon muted light, hot weather with cool breeze....

What an amazing time it was. The group, of course, predominantly comprised women but a few brave men attended too (they are welcome by invitation of a member in order to prevent the ratio from flipping the wrong way). The atmosphere was so different, as was the tone of the conversations. I was quite fascinated. Around the tables there were the odd discussions that touched on fashion, there was a lot of business talk and even more introductory conversations as people got to know each other, and I caught the tail end of one about planning, organisation, and charting for project/schedule management that included mentions of stationery and all I could think was "that's so logical and I've never heard men speak like this ever!".

I also personally had an epic conversation about gaming (as one must).

I realised that most of my conversations about technology are with men, because most of my friends are men, and most of the tech journalists I know are also men. Yet here I was surrounded by accomplished women from all over the city (and surrounds) who speak my language and, surprisingly, while the content is the same, the presentation is a whole new world to me, but just as interesting.

I'm not sure what's up next - Mariska printed out forms, remembered pencils, and let us fill them up with comments at our leisure, which she will be collating - but I'm keen to see what happens.

Oh, and the service at Salt was excellent. We only had a light version of high tea so I don't know what's on the full menu and would probably balk at the prices (as I do) but it's been a long time since I've seen waiters manage a large group so well. They also fitted us in in between the lunch and dinner sittings (a pre-approved plan, of course) and were accommodating when we ran over time by about 45 minutes.

The view from inside the restaurant is also breathtaking.

(A side note - I tried a cappuccino (R16). It is well priced and was made properly, with good microfoam, simple latte art, and proper balance of espresso and milk. There was a very, very slight burnt taste to the coffee (almost unnoticeable) but on the whole it's one of the best I've had in years (/one of the few I've had in years that wasn't bad). Unfortunately I can't comment with more depth because I was engrossed in what was going on and wasn't paying attention to the drink. I will have to return... if nothing else that view requires a second look!)

by Mandy J Watson ( at January 27, 2011 10:00 AM

August 07, 2010

Andy Rabagliati

My first tweet

My first tweet

When I first started this blog, I started with a self-referential piece .

There I covered snail mail, fax, email, Usenet News and instant messaging (AIM and others). Since then I have been blogging, and I have stats on what people look at. My most popular posts appear to be those on Zulu weddings, and my visit to the school where One Laptop per Child was launched in Nigeria.

Since then I learned IRC, (which you see below), which is a more refined tool than the old unix "talk" where you just banged a message on their screen. I like IRC, and especially the Cape Linux Users Group IRC chatroom. A busy linux users group, where we get together once in a while, either for technical talks or Geekdinners. It is my first port of call if I am stuck on some problem to do with programming or system administration.

Facebook arrived. Facebook has a walled garden feel to it - you are writing to and for your friends, not the world at large. Its major value is connecting with old friends, like school buddies. A lot of the privacy options are slipping away as Facebook try to monetize their incredible popularity.

I am a trailing edge technology guy - 5 year old laptop is fine. This philosophy has served me well over Google Wave. But you buy new once in a while. So, I have resisted Twitter, as another rolled over version of stuff we have seen before above, but maybe it is different.

So I am blogging the IRC conversation that lead to my first tweet. Delicate temperaments might be a little surprised at the robust exchanges, but in real-time cyberspace there is a sliding line between truth and fiction, joking and seriousness. Spinach, below, is a 'bot - a program that lives in the chatroom to perform helpful things like check the weather forecast and leave people messages.

  • 19:20 * wizzy gets a 3 minute international phone call from Kenneth Kaunda's grandson replying to
  • 20:01 <&highvoltage> wizzy: wow :)
  • 20:01 <&highvoltage> wizzy: you should tweet that
  • 20:07 * wizzy doesn't tweet
  • 20:07 <&highvoltage> it's about time you start.
  • 20:08 < wizzy> highvoltage: I'm scared
  • 20:08 <&highvoltage> that irc oneliner you posted is really cool but it will go forgotten in our irc logs.
  • 20:08 < wizzy> I am only just getting the hang of IRC
  • 20:09 <&highvoltage> I'm too and that didn't stop me
  • 20:09 < wizzy> will it be remembered in tweettown?
  • 20:10 <&highvoltage> yep, people can mark it as a favourite, they can repeat it, google can find it, it can be indexed/searched better...
  • 20:10 <&highvoltage> just make sure Vhata follows you (at least in the beginning), and he'll be sure to tell you when you do anything kak
  • 20:11 <&highvoltage> doing that and following some basic guidelines will turn you into a pro in no time
  • 20:13 <&tumbleweed> joe reports that GD change has been submitted to
  • 20:47 <&highvoltage> man reflective screens suck in offices with stupid flourecent lighting
  • 21:00 < wizzy> Spinach: twitter
  • 21:00 < Spinach> wizzy: twitter is
  • 21:03 < wizzy> I bet Kenneth Kaunda's grandson doesn't tweet
  • 21:59 < wizzy> highvoltage: I tweeted. Am I as hip as Vhata yet ?
  • 22:02 * Vhata is basically one large pelvic bone
  • 22:12 < wizzy>
  • 22:13 * wizzy is too much the noob to know if the hip people find out about their followers
  • 22:13 < cocooncrash> Spinach: last tweet from wizzyct
  • 22:13 < Spinach> cocooncrash: "wizzy gets a 3 minute international phone call from Kenneth Kaunda's grandson replying to" 19 minutes and 11 seconds ago,
  • 22:16 <&highvoltage> I just realised I don't know how to favourite a tweet in twitter ( is easier like that)

by Andy at August 07, 2010 03:41 PM

August 04, 2010

Wessel Venter

GeekDinner July 2010: Ululating Ulluco

Sorry for being late, but here is my report back on the 21st GeekDinner which was held last Thursday.  I haven’t been attending GeekDinners very diligently this year, so I was keen on seeing the crowd again.  I even managed to finally successfully invite someone along again.  And so it was with high spirits that we arrived at Wembley Square in Cape Town and sought out our venue, Knead Bakery.  This was the first time which I had been at Wembley Square and for a moment or two I was perplexed about the food court (well, the floor beneath the gym, anyway): a huge open plan area area with fancy-looking restaurants flanking each side.  It was like an upscale Neelsie.  Eventually we found the place and settled down for the evening.

The food was amazing.  For the buffet we could mix our own salad, having a wide selection of fresh and tasty ingredients.  Knead is, of course, a bakery and I don’t know how often they do something like this, but the salad feature was definitely a winner, in my opinion.  For the mains, each table received a few smallish pizzas, so each one could try something of everything on offer.  The pizzas were rich in flavour without being completely smothered in ingredients, like some famous franchises like to do these days.  This allows one to savour it more and the pizzas really were enjoyable.  Knead also generously provided for vegetarians, which was good to see.  For dessert, everyone got a nice big and absolutely delicious danish.  By the end of the evening, no-one could complain about not having had enough food to eat!  Additionally, the food was well complemented by Delheim wines, who graciously sponsored us again this month.

One of the most pleasant surprises for me, however, was the German dark beer which I ordered on a whim.  While it turned out to be very pricey, it was possibly the best dunkel which I have ever tasted!  Unfortunately I do not know the name of the beer, but I can definitely recommend it if you are a beer aficionado!  (To that end, I suppose you will just have to go to Knead. ;-) )

The talks were interesting as well.  The first talk was on opensource hardware, something which, I’m sure, appealed to the engineer within all the geeks present (well, all of the guy geeks, at least).  The second talk was by Bryn Divey and introduced the exciting new venture which he is a part of.  Unfortunately I am sketchy on details and don’t have any hyperlinks for you at present, as the GeekDinner wiki seems to be down again.

There was one talk, however, which troubled me.

The slideshow karaoke was a complete farce.  While it is suppose to be lively and funny, the incoherent spectacle which we saw was, in my opinion, in poor taste and I was appalled by it.  I want to apologise to our hosts—who, as I hope I have already made clear, provided exemplary service to us throughout the evening—took offense.  I would like to apologise to the newcomers as well: that was not the standard of slideshow karaokes at Cape Town GeekDinners.

Apart from this one thing, the evening was enjoyable: we had some good discussion around the table and it was good to see the old faces again.  Thank you to the people who organised this event!

by phantom-99w at August 04, 2010 04:10 PM

June 30, 2010

Maximillian Kaizen

You’re in Facebook country now

Emissaries of Facebook have paid South Africa an official visit. As’s 29th ranked country, with 2,322 million unique monthly visitors [track the latest figures on] we have cracked the nod, and now gently herded into the fold to meet the business end of Facebook. The Emerging Market EMEA diplomats sent to charm the natives; Mark Cowan and Blake Cowlee.

Habari Media organised what looked to be another gathering. The gist of the gig: Facebook now offers SA more options on ad placement on the site through a chosen country representative with established relationships, enter: Habari Media. thrilling stuff. In preparation I took an aisle seat by the stairs for the discreet duck when frosty aircon and conference-grade coffee wore off.
Curiously, the show was fairly compelling and I’ll tell you why.

Three things tweaked my perception of Facebook’s global sprawl.
1. the heft and speed of Facebook is hastening the entropy or evolution of media’s relationship with advertising.
2. the company is undertaking an inspired globalization strategy.
3. as you suspected, Mark Zuckerberg (or Google to be sure) has your number.


The announcement hasn’t been met with general joy at some of our bigger media houses who see ever more leakage of ad revenues on their web publications. Cracks in the wake of Google Ads lumbering through, meant nourishing ad-spend was leaving the local market, and Facebook will do nothing to stem the flow. Elan Lohmann, Digital GM at Avusa murmured colonisation.

There’s a rumour batting about Twitter, that once enough of us suckers who depend on the site for our daily social nibbling are in, they’ll close the doors and charge admission. It was dealt with swiftly: read my lips, Facebook will never charge for membership (Blake Chandlee be lashed if he’s doing a Bush). The model is run solely on ads at the moment, and they’ve barely begun to get interesting.

“Branding is in its infancy online. Anyone who says that brands have embraced the internet is lying” – VP of Emerging Markets EMEA, Blake Chandlee


From the heady days of the world’s first multinational, the Dutch East India Company to this moment, the opportunity to do business in grand scale has been guaranteed to disrupt. From hilarious product-naming gaffes, tragic resource-plundering, to very costly beliefs that successes are formulaic across borders (a Discovery even some local companies have bitten down on). We bungle in each other’s backyards. Patriotism and protectionism don’t hold back the eventual forces of globalization (North Korea exempt).
We don’t want to be left out, but we don’t want to give up the farm.

Facebook’s approach is one to watch though. Drawing on a Wikipedia-style model of crowdsourcing to get polyglot members to translate the site with head-bending speed, Facebook wins by coming in at the language level first (70 languages served to date). Developers around the world contribute applications that make sense within their context and culture. For free. Genius. It fits because it isn’t a solution retrofitted to a new market, the market crafts what it wants FB to do. No team deployed to set up an office abroad, grab the native intelligence and get it to plug in. That’s the magic.

Facebook is actually a global UTILITY company. As with electricity, we choose to use it, how to use it, and billions of pluggable appliances have been spawned in the wake of being able to tap power into our homes. Without the appliances the electricity is as good as useless. The appliances are developed independently of the supplying energy company. In the same way, we make Facebook useful. [BTW if you haven't read Nicholas Carr's "The Big Switch", it's worth it for the fresh look from history at cloud computing and the next ubiquitous utility layer]

Unlike electricity or fuel, HOW you use it is tracked, monitored and mined for its gems.


Know this: with a motherlode of data and elegant predictive modeling, the geeks have you decoded. Given a few days worth of initial interactions, your behaviour on the site can be extrapolated for the next six months. It’s all in the algorithms buddy.
If that doesn’t freak you out, your tranquilisers are a little too strong.
Enter left, the conundrum of our time: would you prefer to be known and understood, so that the right products/services shimmer in at just the right time like Jeeves – discreet but omniscient. Or are we happy to bumble along serendipitously, missing out on being a thin-sliced data set, examined at by those who can afford to buy access to your behavioural quirks.

We understand the tacit contract when we engage with trackable modernity, we register for RICA, we upload our photos online, email sensitive correspondence. We secretly know that if it could turn nasty if it went awry; but as our species is prone to, we choose to engage, to trade, to trust because the downside of being left out is infinitely more scary and less profitable.

Hopscotch lightly over the existential traps that await if you think too hard about the fact that baby-faced Marc Elliot Zuckerberg could know you better than a shrink could ever hope to, without ever meeting you. With more colour than the desiccated analysis of an actuary. The patterns that emerge from the flow of your attentions are tradable. Which means a new kind of economy can be shaped.

Okay, okay, enough with the philosophy, what does this mean practically?

For local business, it means you can do more interesting things to draw Facebookers attention your way than the sidebar ads you can buy on your credit card. Now that we’re official m’dear, it just means our status updates, picture tagging, zombie bashing and invitations from those old school friends, have paid off.. we too get to sup at the big table.. if you’re a big player and have the money for big campaigns that is (and bless you for keeping the doors open for us with your money).

Other than that, well nothing much has changed. Go back to your desk, all is well or you’d know it because someone would have posted it on Facebook.


Unless this happens >> (thanks Adrian Hewlett & Comedy Central for this slice of internetlessness)

by Maximillian Kaizen at June 30, 2010 11:21 AM

May 27, 2010

Mike Maron

Haiti, Mission 2

Nicolas Chavent and Dane Springmeyer are now on Haitian soil for HOT.

It was just a few weeks ago that Nicolas and Robert returned from the first HOT mission to Haiti. Nicolas had the immediate conclusion … we have to go back. Something amazing was started with OSM and an interesting cross section of CNIGS (the Haitian national mapping agency), the UN, and civil society. The work had to be seen through, and Nicolas is dedicated for the long term. He’s joined now by Dane, adventurous and incredibly skilled technically. Can’t wait to see what develops this trip, and immensely proud that OSM is again on the ground in Haiti.

Our greatest thanks go to the World Bank, and especially the Disaster Risk Management group. They are funding this mission, and the next in June. Besides continuing to support the Haitian government in recovering from the quake, the Bank is particularly interested in how OSM can be used in future risk assessment, particularly vulnerable buildings. This mission in Haiti will continue the discussion.

As HOT is still a developing entity, we are also thankful to OpenGeo for providing a vehicle to move so quickly, and to MapAction for sharing their view on assessing risk and insurance.

HOT’s work in Haiti is all about continuing the open environment of sharing that developed in the immediate response to the quake. In dedication to that openness, and give a small taste of what it takes to go to Haiti, here is the instruction sent by Nicolas to Dane for guidance on his arrival in Port au Prince. I haven’t seen anything like this practical advice posted online before, so here it is.

* Airport International Toussaint Louverture
Functional kaos where
** you’ll be brought to terminal via a van,
** you’ll pass one counter (medic I think),
** Baggage pick up: baggage will brought to the baggage pick up area from the plane by the Airport personnels (all is handled by hands). In principle the baggage pick up area is restricted to airport personnels only & you are supposed to raise their attention to get your luggage. French for this will He ce bagage (look-up in dictionary for baggage items which are not backpack/ SAC A DOS or suitcase/ VALISE & COLORS, so that you can designate your pieces). Things in practice are more fluid: I managed like many others Haitian to get my stuff personally at the cost of not building friendship which is ok.
** Call Fred (glad you’ll have your IPhone; feel free to borrow a mobile from a foreigner) to check with him how the pick up is organized & follow instructions
** Customs: no problem for Westerners-
** Open fenced area outside of the terminal building: this is where that I waited for the driver in mission 1, driver will bear an A4 sheet with your details
** In case the pick-up went wrong & Fred phone is un-responsive::
*** Do not exit the airport area unless you are with a Westerner in a car who will drop you at the main entry of the UN Logistics Base (LogBase). Prepare for the unlikely to happen worst case scenario (no pickup) while you are on plane and/ or through the baggage collection process and identify Westerners working in LogBase or in PAP who could offer you a lift to LogBase. This could be the only option for you to exit the Airport in a car with Westerner.
*** If no westerner, no car, no dirver, then stay at the airport and be hyper patient and calm until pick up finally comes or that I arrive and I hope we will get things sorted out.

* LogBase (CC)
** both IOM & WFP are located in the UN Logistic Base (LogBase) which is lierally at the end of the runway of the international airport Toussaint Louverture. LogBase is a separate spatial entity from the public international airport which is under the control of the various national air forces of the MINUSTAH (the UN peace keeping mission in Haiti) & consequently you access it from a secured entry point relatively open to Westerners furnished with IDs.
** Access (main & only entry point) you’ll have to mention that you are working with OSM and supporting the GIS (SIG & CARTOGRAPHIE) unit of the Registration (ENREGISTREMENT) Department of IOM (OIM – Office International res Migrations) and
*** refer to the GIS Officer/Coordinator of this unit who should have sent an email warning them of our coming. MINUSTAH people at the Gate never read emails (but never admit it), so this generates issues and you have to stand firm and say that you are here to work with IOM and that you must make it to the IOM Office in LogBase to get started and directed to the CampCharlie where you’ll be lodging for the rest of the trip
*** if IOM is not impressive enough, then make the name of WFP (the Head of Programes in WFP and a friend).
*** Again if this is not working, wait at the gate with the guard being calm patient and resolute. This area is safe security-wise so a good place to wait, there should be shade. Furnish you with water bottle from the plane or ask the gards to help you buying water or soda-

* Camp Charlie (CC)-
This is the name of a UN Peace Keeping Mission camp In Haiti where a Danish Hum organization set up a humanitarian camp (all in tents WC, Showers, Kitchen, Dining spaces, lobbies & cubic – the name under which your tent place is designated) where we will be staying. You’ll reach CC from LB there is a shuttle system put up in place between LogBase and Camp Charlie. It’s minimal on Sunday and it’s likely that we will be relying on a car and reach CC with Fred-

* Mobile phone.
I am not 100% sure I”ll manage to get my phone in my commute (train to airport) in Paris since the friend who as it as well as my ext hard drive is likely to be at the maternity welcoming a child… So your iphone (if a SIM card can be loaded in can do good, alternatively if you have an old mobile close to be trashed but functional enough to do text messages & talking it would be worthy to have it with you).

by mikel at May 27, 2010 06:45 PM

December 26, 2009

Donald Jackson

Kannel presentation to GeekDinner

Apologies for the delay as I promised to have this up the day after GeekDinner :) Thanks to all those involved with organizing these events, they are really enjoyed by all. Thanks to the sponsors Delheim for providing the wine for the event.

Anyway, without further ado here is the presentation I gave on Kannel at GeekDinner on Monday the 28th of September 2009.

I hope it provides some insight into the gateway :)

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by Donald Jackson at December 26, 2009 10:48 AM

November 08, 2009

Shaun O'Connell


Gareth has just won some sort of iron man challenge, or strong man challenge. All his back problems have been fixed, and being a single guy now he's more virile than ever. No wonder he won the comp, it's like he's advertising his sexuality.
He's being inundated with reporters, so I start to walk around.

The spectacle of the strong-man competition is now a conference of some sort, all the reporters are avid geeks, and we've got some big names at this conference like Jeremy Keith and Jeffrey Zeldman. It must be a Web Standards or Web Development conference.

I'm in the thick of it, and asking Jeremy if they have job openings.

I'm with someone familiar, not sure who it is. We make our way down to the rec-room and spot all the regular faces from the GeekDinners, mixed inbetween with the international crowd. We're stepping over tired and half-drunk folk to make it further inside the rec-room, making our way in front of a projector and eventually settling with Jonathan and the rest of the GeekDinner crew. The atmosphere is quite jovial and feels like a weekend, like this conference happened over a weekend.

We head outside, and this is the first time I start to notice the girls. People are eating and laying around, like they're picnicing. I pick up a strange looking blend between a camera and a telescope. It's all white, with cheap black plastic grips for the focus and zoom. As I look thru it and pull the zoom open, the image thru the lens distorts badly - I get the feeling it's been made really cheap, but it's still great looking through it at the trees and activity around us. As I place it down, a girl I associate with Sharika asks me what I think of the telescope camera thing. I replied and said that there's something whacky with the zoom and should probably be fixed.
Everyone on the picnic blanket has been eating either chicken noodle stir-fry or beef noodle stir-fry, split down the middle. Sharika's side just had chicken, which when I offer her the beef stir fry, I then put two and two together and realised that she was having chicken because of her hindu upbringing. She turns it down and I leave.

Now I'm in some sort of house, after making the trek back from the conference and I'm in front of the washbasins in the kitchen, doing dishes. There's a very attractive international girl with me, she looks like Claire from Heroes. This is the second or third time I've met her. Anyway, we're doing dishes as normal, cleaning up after all the others that made such a mess at the conference. I explain to Claire that I went through a really shit time in the last 3 months, and all I'd really want is a good shag with an attractive woman such as herself. She said she never expected a South African to say such a thing and we both carry on doing dishes. Then, for some reason, I start swaying, tapping my one foot and start singing...
"Might as welllll face it, you're addictedtolove"
"Might as welllll face it, you're addictedtolove"
"Might as welllll face it, you're addictedtolove"
"Might as welllll face it, you're addictedtolove"
She looks at me and smiles, but all I can feel is that I'm a stuck record, and can't wait to sing some other lines as the song progresses. Still, it feels good singing like that.
We notice a helicopter or three twirling around the riverrrine valley. This could well be my dad's house that we're in. My brother Mike and a few of his friends are in the house too.
I focus on one of the helicopters that's flying a little too low, and notice it has a camera strapped underneath it, and a screen inside it, so that when it faces us in the window, I can see it projecting the familiar faces of my brother and his friends as if we were talking on a webcam. It's a remote-controlled helicopter, and one of my brother's friends has wired it up so that he just looks thru a CCTV screen to see where the helicopter is flying, via it's underslung camera.
I explain to Claire how it all works.

Now, Claire and I are sitting on the roof of the house, on a balcony of sorts. The helicopter is ascending to come and land on the balcony. He makes it over the railing, but his tail rotor gets stuck in-between the bars and plumps down.
Mike and his friends arrive on the balcony to see what happened, and I explain to the pilot how his cyclic got caught and therefore his collective. I was trying to use the technical terms, trying to impress him with my knowledge of helicopters, but I fear I may have switched the terms around by mistake.

The dream ends.

November 08, 2009 08:59 PM

October 09, 2009

Neil Blakey-Milner

Silicon Cape Launch thoughts

One of the disadvantages of being a passionate person is the ride that passion can take you on.  At my first big Open Source event approximately a decade ago, I was this eager young thing happy to be around people who actually got Open Source.  I was so excited at the potential that Open Source had to help South Africa, Africa, and the world solve all sorts of problems.  As time went by, while I was reinvigorated somewhat by each passing event, I was also growing more and more cynical about how achievable and realistic many of our goals were.

As I've followed the hype and pomp around social media as it arrived in South Africa, that cynicism was quick to come to the fore and point out that talk is cheap.  And, really, so much of what has happened in the past few years in the space in South Africa (and abroad, I guess) is talk.

Strangely, that cynicism has been very quiet when thinking about the Silicon Cape Initiative.  (I suppose it is good politics to back an initiative of the person who has my current and future financial situation in his hands, but anyone who knows me knows that I'm very rarely that insightful of office politics, and equally rarely cautious of it.)

Over the past week or so, I've wondered why that cynicism has been absent.

A large part of that, I think, has come from the Cape Town GeekDinners, my beloved *Camp two years back, 27dinner, and BarCamp Cape Town.  Through these events, I've expanded my understanding of the level of talent and interest and energy available in Cape Town and South Africa, underneath the facade of the social media/personal branding hype, and I'm excited by what I see there.

Another potential reason is that I'm seeing a few people I respect emerge from their silent action-focused mentality and tentatively enter the fray - both here and abroad.  Willing to give belief a chance again after being a little ahead of the curve and getting more than a little burnt.

Or perhaps the cynicism just thinks it will have a stronger hold if I get empassioned about it and it fails to deliver.

I doubt many could find any non-trivial faults with the Silicon Cape Launch event itself.

The speaking line-up was excellent:

  • Vinny Lingham (aka my big boss) and Justin Stanford's co-presentation worked well (a gamble, possibly, but that's in their blood), explaining the origins of the idea and showing off their passion for the project.

  • Andrea Böhmert brought everyone down to earth by challenging some assumptions we have about Cape Town, and how that might not be what the rest of the world understands of Cape Town.

  • Laurie Olivier showed off the experience and ensuing insight that has been valuable to Yola in the last two years.  He compared the meeting to one he attended 20 years ago in Israel before their technology industry boomed, and discussed what was done to achieve that.

  • Johann Rupert certainly validated the great respect he's always received from Laurie and Vinny in my hearing.  A strong, often eloquent, speaker, he gave a powerful warning that societies that don't take care of their intellectual capital will lose it.

  • Dr Mamphela Ramphele gave a very well-received talk, especially since she showed that she was paying attention to what was said earlier about those things that government can do, and also what they shouldn't.  Her newish role at the head of the Technology Innovation Agencyis certainly one that can help bring about the changes that the previous speakers called attention to.

  • Helen Zille was also well-received, and my personal bias against her aside, gave a fairly party-politics-free talk (although I appreciated her initial Malema gibe, as did most of the audience, it seems).

A good balance - a lot of optimism, some realism, foreign and more experienced perspectives, an enumeration of challenges, a few posited solutions, and generally a feeling that this is something that can be done, if enough (and the right) people put the effort into it.

The panel discussion was very interactive (certainly more so than any I've seen before), giving the attendees an opportunity to air their thoughts, and ask questions and get answers.  (I wish Henk had more opportunity to talk, though, being my pick of the entrepreneurial representation on the panel.)

So, a well-executed event.  Some sparks of interest fanned into passion. Obviously, where to from here?  How do we keep the passion going?  What are the most effective next steps?  How do we measure the progress?

I started by saying that passion comes with disadvantages.  Passion ill-tended leads to a cynicism that inhibits not only that person, but those around them.

A few hundred people empassioned can turn into a lot of cynicism, and fast.


More reading:

by Neil Blakey-Milner at October 09, 2009 08:38 AM

September 29, 2009

Wessel Venter

GeekDinner September 2009: Precocious Persimmon

Last night was GeekDinner time again!  As I pulled up to our venue for the evening, Capello, I was greeted by a loud speaker with thumping bass inviting people inside from the ferocious Cape Town wind, like a foghorn calling out to lost souls.  The inside was cosy and I really liked the “gangster” theme mixed with the bright floral themes.  It’s difficult for me to put into words, so it will have to suffice for me to say that I really liked the feel of the place.

Unfortunately I was rather tired last night, so I didn’t get the full experience of the evening.  But lets run through the vitals.  A buffet is always a winner and Capello gave us a descent one: starter, mains and dessert, I found something I really liked in them all (although the dessert wasn’t a buffet).  The minestrone was simply delicious and, as an Afrikaner, I felt very much at home with the “rys, vleis en aartappels” selection from the buffet.  (Pasta with mussels and livers were also available, of which I obviously steered clear.)  I also thought the service was great: the waiters were really professional and “played” their role really well to fit into the restaurant’s theme with their fedoras.  They seemed competent, at ease and even as if they were enjoying themselves, which helps a lot to influence the vibe of the dining experience.  Sadly, the restaurant seemed indifferent to “strict” vegetarians, which is always a shame.  I cannot, however, comment on the restaurant’s menu proper, as I didn’t see it.

The talks were good and really had (and kept) my attention.  The “experimental talk” we had, though, promoted some severely subjective (and unfortunate) views, but at least there was full disclosure on this fact.  Henk Kleynhans did a good job with the slideshow karaoke, although whoever was in control of the slides did not seem to be, uhm, in control.

Last, but not least, was, of course, our generous wine sponsors Delheim who provided us with top quality wine.  Thanks guys, you’re awesome and I really enjoyed it!

So, that’s my story.  If you couldn’t make it this time, I hope to see you at the next GeekDinner!  A big thank you to everyone who had a hand in organising the evening and bringing everything together in the end.

by phantom-99w at September 29, 2009 10:51 AM

February 24, 2009

Van Pepper Wines (the company)

GeekDinner at Lovane

The first ever Stellenbosch GeekDinner was hosted at Lovane last night. It was a great evening!
The food was excellent and the people great.

Pity I didn't get to sample more wines, as I only drank the Neethlingshof Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely crisp white with some acidity and lingering aftertaste of grass. The Lovane wines are excellent, by the way, as I have sampled them on numerous occasions in the past, and will do so in future as well! ;)

The rest of the crowd were treated to a cellar tour hosted by Philip Gouws, winemaker and owner of Lovane.

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by Van Pepper Wines ( at February 24, 2009 03:01 PM

November 28, 2008

Jeremy Thurgood

GeekDinner: Karmic Kava

Last night I attended the most recent Cape Town GeekDinner, Karmic Kava. The venue was Adesso, who really went all out to make it a fantastic evening. The food was great, even though none of the choices on the menu were really to my taste.

I was the slideshow karaoke victim presenter this time around, and Vhata provided me with a presentation he stole from found on the internet. While it wasn't ideal karaoke material in that there was way too much verbiage, I knew the subject matter well enough to pick up a couple of keywords and wing it. The subject in question was Reiki, and my treatment of it would certainly have offended any true believers in the audience, but I'd had just enough sponsored wine by that point that I really didn't care. Most people seemed to enjoy it, though. I even mentioned Laser Reiki amongst the more grandiose claims.

After that, I spent the rest of the evening circulating and ended up in a corner discussing programming languages, editors and distributed systems with a guy whose name I either didn't catch or don't remember. Before I knew it, it was after midnight and time to head home and get some sleep. All in all, my best GeekDinner experience yet.

November 28, 2008 10:28 AM

November 26, 2008

Jonathan Hitchcock

Five thoughts from five people

Over the last year, I have encountered five people who have said (or written) things that really stuck in my head, and made me think, or think differently, or simply struck me as an excellent way of seeing things. I've tried to put them together into one narrative, and I presented it at the November GeekDinner.


Robynn Burls Robynn Burls was one of the people asked to give an Elevator pitch for her business at a party hosted by Vinny Lingham (my boss, who reappears below). Robynn and her partner, Scott, run Encyclomedia, which provides "targeted and verified media contact lists to companies wanting to gain publicity". In other words, it lets people easily find journalists who actually want to know or hear news about their products, and who can actually write about them, based on the scope of their jobs. In addition, all the details are verified, so they're up-to-date and accurate.

Robynn began her elevator pitch by describing how one often encounters things that are being done in the same old way they've been done for decades, with little or no true innovation. Nobody has thought to update the methods, or re-think how things ought to be done, so they just carry on using the same ancient methods - this leaves a huge space for somebody to come in and create a totally new system based on new ideas and new ways of looking at the problems that are being solved.

This is what Robynn and Scott did with Encyclomedia. The "old way" was to subscribe, for a fee, to a provider, who would post you a book containing a list of journalists and media personnel. This list wasn't "targeted" in any way, it was just... media people. There was no way of knowing if anybody on that list was actually interested in your area or product, so you ran the risk of spamming half of the journalist population of your town. Robynn and Scott saw that there was an excellent opportunity to step into this gap, and created an online, searchable database, to which one can subscribe, which allows you to get exactly the information you need, verified and up-to-date.

This idea is not new, but people rarely seem to use it. To hear Robynn state it outright like that made me realise that it is a perspective that we need to have, but rarely do. Henry Ford famously said:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

I'm not using this to imply that true innovation will be divorced from the customers, or that users don't know what they really want, but rather to point out that a really new way of doing things is not just "more of the same" (harder, better, faster, stronger!), but a complete re-think of the problem, a process which begins with re-asking the questions, not just trying to find new answers.

It's interesting to find examples of people that have applied this concept: PushPlay redefined what "renting a DVD" was, for example - you give them a list of what you want to watch, and they post a couple of your top choices to you at home every time you return the old ones.

So, for everything I've said before about ideas, this is how you can get them if you're stuck - if you can identify an area where people are trudging along an old path without realising it, cut them a shortcut through the undergrowth, and they'll come stampeding.

Thinking Globally

Vinny Lingham Vinny Lingham started SynthaSite, now called Yola - the company for which I work - a year and a half ago (or more, depending on how you measure), with the mantra "Free Websites For Everyone". It was a small startup based in Cape Town, with only about three employees at first, but it raised $5million in venture capital funding last year, and has opened offices in San Francisco, and there are now over thirty employees.

In one of his many pep-talks to us as his employees, he talked about his strategy for the company, from the beginning, and one thing that really stuck with me was what he said about "going global". Basically, he said, whatever your product, whatever your idea, don't constrain yourself to a local market. You may start small, and you may only serve a small market at first, but keep your eyes on the horizon - there is a huge global market waiting to be tapped, and with internet access rapidly spreading, it is now possible to reach out to it.

Vinny was not saying that you should try and throw yourself into competition on an international scale, but you should bear in mind that you will get there eventually. It is, in fact, wise to start small(ish) and consolidate on your home ground before moving out, but don't allow yourself to get trapped in a local-only mindset. There are a number of ways that this might manifest: an unwillingness to branch out too far from your safe area, or even some assumptions underlying your project that you don't even realise are symptoms of a local-only mindset.

An example of this latter problem can be found in one of my favourite websites. I used it as an example of a good idea well executed previously, but there is a problem with DoStuffCT: there is nothing Cape Town-specific about the concept or the implementation of the site, but the idea that it is "for Cape Town" is embedded throughout the site. Apart from the obvious "CT" in the domain, the description of the site agrees:

Do Things in Cape Town is all about finding and sharing stuff to do in Cape Town [...] I realised that a site where users can easily contribute to a collection of activities in Cape Town would be perfect. A Wikipedia of things to do in Cape Town.

The site is well implemented, easy to use, and contains a bunch of great content, and there really isn't anything stopping somebody from Joburg (or Bahrain) from adding an activity to the site for their area - the interface is flexible enough to allow this - but there is always this core assumption showing up: "This site is for Cape Town". I spoke to Al, and he realises this, and actually did it intentionally: it suits his purposes, and was never meant to be a global phenomenon. However, it is a good example of how your original aims or premises may affect your implementation in ways which may not be desirable if you're planning to expand or diversify later.

Attracting Users

Seth Godin Seth Godin should not need any introduction - he is something of an icon among marketers, but his novel idea was that you should get permission from people before marketing your product to them. I wish more marketers actually used his idea. Anyway, he has an excellent blog, on which he writes about a post a day, each one making an interesting point, or discussing a different way of looking at things.

In one of these posts, Seth talks about Firefox's knee-jerk reaction to the idea that it might lose traction to Google Chrome: they quickly added new features to improve their users' browsing experience. While making your product better than any other one is a good way to attract and keep users, it's not the best one. Marketers talk about the Golden Grail of "going viral" - that state where your users start spreading your product for you, and usage rises exponentially, because each user brings in five of his friends. This phenomenon is virtually impossible to control, but Seth talks about how you can at least make it more likely to happen.

If you make your product better for a user, he might recommend it to his friends (if they ask). But if you make your product better for a user if lots of other people use it, they will do their damnedest to make sure that lots of other people use it, simply to improve their own experience. Consider Facebook as an obvious example: if none of your friends use it, you can sign up and look at your own pictures, and read your own status updates, but it's frankly useless. Facebook's usefulness increases every time one of your friends starts to use it, and so, naturally, you try and get all your friends to use it, so that you can communicate with them, and send them party invitations (and add apps that throw sheep at them). This is the most obvious form of "going viral": an application that is only useful if you get all your friends to use it.

Since that example only really works in the realm of social networks, consider another example. Google Reader has a "share" button unobtrusively placed at the bottom of each post you read. If you like something, or think it's interesting, you click the button and carry on reading. All of your Google contacts who use Google Reader will see the post you found interesting showing up under your name in the "Shared Items" folder. It's an excellent replacement for the usual "hey have you seen this cool article?" messages one often sends, and I have found it a very useful source of reading material (and a way to discover new feeds to read). Since I want to know about interesting stuff my friends find, I encourage them to use it. This encouragement may not be as strong as "going viral" requires, but it is stronger than it would be if I were suggesting Google Reader simply because it's a good product.

I've only used websites (and web software) in my examples, but the principle holds firm in other areas. You can see a vestigial attempt at this sort of thing when a service offers you a discount if you refer five other people to them, but I think that misunderstands the spirit of the concept. There is a lot more to be said about this Network Effect, but I think I've made my point:

The amount of money people spend on marketing and public-relations seems like such a waste when you realise that with a few slight tweaks, you can actually get your user-base to start marketing for you - just make it nicer for them if there is widespread adoption.

Testing your assumptions

Phil Barrett Phil Barrett is a director of Flow Interactive - a user-experience consultancy based in the UK, and he presented a talk at a 27Dinner last year that I thought was quite insightful. He was talking about the order in which people generally perform the steps involved in creating a new product. After having the idea for their product, they design and implement the features they need, then they fix any bugs they can find, and then they do some testing to see how the product fares in the wild. Phil's primary interest is, of course, user experience, so he was specifically referring to user experience testing: giving the product to a bunch of people and seeing how they interact with it, and where the weak points are.

The problem with this, he said, was that one often finds that the users can't handle a certain part of the interface, or that there are big problems with the way people are forced to interact with the product. What are you going to do when this happens? The product release is scheduled soon, and you need to fix this problem as quick as you can, so you patch over it and hack some sort of solution into the interface, which is just not ideal. Phil's point was that you need to move user testing back in the product cycle: start as soon as you can, and test constantly so that you will see when users start to struggle straight away, and you can work on the problem properly, during your development cycle.

To illustrate this, imagine an app that allows users to find entries in a directory of some sort. It's a brilliant idea, captures a niche, and the directory is populated with lots of good information, so the product should be a hit. The developers create a very detailed search interface that lets users specify pretty much exactly what they are looking for, with all sorts of details and choices available, which means that the results will always be relevant to the users, and the product will be useful.

So, this app gets designed, implemented, bug-tested, and everything, and then they give it to some users. And it turns out that users don't have the faintest idea how to handle this amazing search interface: there's just too much. It scares them, and they don't know what to do. So the developers quickly hack on a simple text-box which people can type a phrase into (a la Google), so that at least they can use the product. But now, of course, the search results are less relevant - you're coming up with nineteen results, only two of which are vaguely what you were looking for, because the app is trying to work out what you wanted from a few words in a textbox, instead of a nice fine-tuned search interface. The app is going to flop.

Phil obviously talks from a user-interface point of view: the search form should have been presented for user testing in the early stages, so that something could have been done about it. But the essential principle applies to any assumption you make when developing an app, designing a service, or even starting a company. In this case, the developers assumed that their users would be able to work out how to use the search form, but people make all sorts of other assumptions which often turn out to be false. An obvious one would be the assumption that people want your product (not everybody is as obsessed about Japanese Bear Cartoons as you - maybe there isn't a market?), or that your database schema is going to scale when your product goes mainstream.

It's such a simple idea, but one that I think people should constantly remind themselves about - take a good look at what you're about to do, work out what unquestioned assumptions you are making, and question them. It's difficult to do, because they are, by definition, the things you thought were obviously true, but it may turn out to be what saves your product.

Finding your niche

Chris Anderson Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, and is probably most well-known for popularizing the idea of the Long Tail. I have been familiar with the idea for a long time, but it is only this year that I began to see how the idea can be used effectively to inform how one chooses a userbase to target.

The idea of the Long Tail, as summarised in Tim O'Reilly's seminal article "What is Web 2.0?", is as follows:

Small sites make up the bulk of the internet's content; narrow niches make up the bulk of internet's the possible applications. *Therefore: Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.

The example I often use of how important the Long Tail is, number-wise, is that of facebook apps: you have a few excellent apps that everybody uses (photos, or maybe ScrabulousLexulous, because who doesn't like a good game of Scrabble?), and then you have an enormous amount of ridiculous apps ("You have been bitten by a werewolf/vampire/rabid sheep", "Your friend has thrown an apple at you") which get three or four saps to add them, and that's it. However, if 5000 people use Lexulous, and four people each use the 2000 other apps, that's still an exposure of 3000 more people for the small ones. This is not the best example to use as a business model, but it does give a good indication of how "niche markets" (in this case, small groups of people turned on by utterly inane apps) collectively outweigh the "mainstream market".

Amazon are the seminal example of a company who used the Long Tail to push themselves forward - they sell very small quantities of a very large number of things, thus easily making up large sales totals by appealing to diverse tastes. In the Olden Days, it was difficult to distribute your product, or to find the esoteric tastes on the edge of the market, so you had to make a product which would appeal immediately to the tastes of the easily-accessible masses, and sell lots to them. With the Internet, it is no longer hard to find a bunch of people who are interested in your unicorn-Star Trek-crossover-fiction, and this market is a lot easier to appeal to (you know what they want).

The Long Tail has a lot more to it, of course, but this core idea is important when you are a business or product that uses the internet to reach its consumers. I wrote about this before, in the context of Android apps appealing to a long tail of users that the centralised Apple appstore couldn't reach, and I think that anybody who is trying to sell anything, or appeal to a set of people, should investigate this and apply the principles.


None of these five ideas are that new, and I know that (for example) Vinny was not the first person to say "think global". As Stefano said, this is stuff that everybody should know. It is just surprising that a lot of people don't, and often waste their effort or money as a result. Having internalised these ideas has made me look at a lot of projects and services differently, and I think it's a useful exercise to rehash them every so often.

by Jonathan Hitchcock at November 26, 2008 02:50 PM

October 03, 2008

Stefano Rivera

Videos up

Administravia: Just uploaded a pile of videos:

Also, I changed a few feeds on CLUG Park from RSS to Atom, so sorry about any RSS-reader-spamming.

by tumbleweed at October 03, 2008 06:43 PM

September 29, 2008

Jonathan Hitchcock


Brain Crack

About a month ago, the excellent Avery Edison linked to an episode of the show by Ze Frank, which had quite a large impact on me:

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I have transcribed the relevant bit below for your reading pleasure:

I run out of ideas every day. Each day I live in mortal fear that I've used up the last idea that'll ever come to me. If you don't want to run out of ideas, the best thing to do is not to execute them. You can tell yourself that you don’t have the time or resources to do 'em right. Then they stay around in your head like brain crack. No matter how bad things get, at least you have those good ideas - that you'll get to later. Some people get addicted to that brain crack, and the longer they wait, the more they convince themselves of how perfectly that idea should be executed, and they imagine it on a beautiful platter with glitter and rose petals, and everyone's clapping - for them! But the bummer is, most ideas kinda suck when you do 'em, and no matter how much you plan, you still have to do something for the first time, and you're almost guaranteed the first time you do something, it'll blow. But somebody who does something bad three times still has three times the experience of that other person, who's still dreaming of all the applause. When I get an idea, even a bad one, I try to get it out into the world as fast as possible, because I certainly don't want to be addicted to brain crack.

Dividing people up

The thing is, there are two factors involved - knowing how to do stuff, and doing stuff - and there are four combinations of these two factors. We can all agree that people that neither know how to do anything, nor actually do anything, are not especially useful. Additionally, we can agree that people that have both the knowledge/skill to do stuff, and actually go out and do it, are especially useful. However, the contention comes in when you look at the other two categories of people: people who have the knowledge/skill but don't use it, and people who aren't especially talented or clued up, but still try and do things (badly or not as the case may be).

I think that most people, whether they realise it or not, would consider the talented/intelligent individuals to be "better" (or "more useful"?) than the people that try (possibly unsuccessfully) to do things without having the actual talent to back it up - even though the talented ones don't actually really use their talent for anything "extra", other than getting a job and that sort of thing. I'm finding it difficult to explain this without sounding insulting or condescending, but it's fairly common to hear some very snide remarks about a website that somebody has tried to put together amateurishly, or an implementation of some service which just doesn't work too well. There seems to be a natural bias towards the talented, without regard to what is actually getting done.

Well, I disagree.

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but I don't think people have internalised the full implications: doing something, whether you're good at it, or successful at it, or not, is better than knowing how to do it and never bothering.

Using ideas

Perhaps geeks tend not to implement their ideas because once they work out how to solve a problem, it's not interesting any more. This is understandable, if regrettable. Whether or not this is the case, though, I think that a much more common reason for never implementing an idea is that you think it won't work, or won't work properly, or isn't worth trying. This sort of thing has been said so often that it's almost a cliche, but people still don't seem to believe it: just do something, and it may work.

A lovely example of a good idea that you'd never believe would work is the zipper machine:

zipper machine

As the article says:

I have to imagine the person that first proposed creating this device was thought to be crazy. I suppose they had to fight their way through nay-sayers in their company until someone believed them. However, now that the machine exists it just seems like a natural thing to do.
Every time I see this machine I think it makes a great analogy for IT projects. The more audacious an IT project is, the more crazy it looks. After it is complete and people are benefitting from it everyone thinks it is obvious.

What about closer to home? As Alastair Pott says in the about page of DoStuffCT:

While hiking on Table Mountain I found myself wishing that I knew more of the many available hikes. I realised that a site where users can easily contribute to a collection of activities in Cape Town would be perfect. A Wikipedia of things to do in Cape Town.
I hacked together a quick prototype and the whole idea has developed into something of a hobby for me. I knew that I was onto something useful when I found myself using the site from my mobile phone to get restaurant details. It is my hope that others will discover the site, and that together we can create a useful and complete resource for those looking to enjoy our wonderful city.

This is exactly what I am talking about. Al thought "hmm, that could be cool", and he did it, and now it's one of my favourite sites. A slightly less successful example is Jonathan Endersby's new site, HalfPriceTuesdays. It died in its first incarnation, but he revived it, and it's in private alpha now, so hopefully we'll see it taking off like DoStuffCT.

The ideas behind these two sites are not unique. There are tons of ideas out there, and I bet that you had one just the other day. Just in the course of discussing what I'm saying in this post with some friends, two new ideas got brought up simply as examples to back up the discussion:

  • - you're in Vredehoek, you need a maid who can work on Friday mornings and is good with children. It's a known problem, and it can be solved. The implementation may need tweaking to be a viable solution (problem: maids don't have broadband, madams do), but it's there.
  • - When I say I'm going to do something (implement an idea, write a blog post, fix my car), you can put it on this site, I'll confirm it, and if I don't do it by the deadline, I'm named and shamed. I'd use this.

They may not be great ideas, they may not work, but they are ideas.

And here's the nub:

The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
--Linus Pauling

Ratios of success

My boss, Vinny Lingham is involved in the venture capital landscape, and he recently gave a talk on investing in startups (which are essentially "people implementing ideas"). As confirmed by the maths here, Vinny said that in order to be successful, a venture capitalist needs about a third of his ventures to succeed, and a third to break even (i.e. make their money back). That's not impossible, but it's a risk that a VC has to take.

However, I am not talking about VCs. I'm talking about you. You don't have that one-third burden on your ideas. Because, no matter how many ideas you implement, you only need one to succeed. If you try six things, and one becomes a success, you've won. If you try twenty things, and only one becomes a success, you've still won. And, of course, the more things you try, the more likely it is that some, or any, of them will succeed. There's, like, no excuse not to!

While you were sleeping

Another thing Vinny went over in his talk was his big idea of "making money while you sleep". This brings us back to the distinction I made earlier between the knowers and the doers. If you're very knowledgeable or skillful, you can make a lot of money by selling your knowledge or skill. You can freelance, or contract yourself out, or even get a permanent position, and the harder you work, the more money you'll get, because you've got the skill and the knowledge to make it happen. But to be really successful, you've got to work really hard. There's a direct correlation between the time you spend and the amount you get back. And that's all well and good, but there's only so much time you have. It's much more efficient (and pleasant) to make money while you sleep. If you implement an idea, and it works, and becomes successful, then you can sit back and let it work for you, and bring in the money for you. Or, better, you can start on another idea, and hope that that one works, too. If, instead of just "being good", you actually produce something that is out there and tangible, separate from yourself, the correlation between your time/energy and the amount you get back no longer exists.

My friend Dom makes an important point about this: if you are only making money from your job, you start to rely on your job. You get tied down, and start accepting more downsides and problems, because you worry that if you don't, you'll lose your job, and have no income. You need to be earning things on the side in order to be free enough to put your foot down when your job becomes intolerable. You may be lucky enough or skilled enough to walk straight into another job, but... you know... you may not.

And now, to my final point.

Cape Town

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor's research findings over the past five years show that the percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 64 in Cape Town who pursue new business are 190% above the national average.
In Johannesburg, it is only 60% above the national average.
But only 5% of new entrepreneurs in Cape Town and only 6% in Johannesburg make use of the latest technology in their businesses.
Only 15% of new entrepreneurs in Cape Town expect to have more than ten employees in five years' time.

We are in the most entrepreneurial city in the country. It has been referred to as the next Silicon Valley. Not only that, but we, as geeks, are also capable of making use of "the latest technology". We're perfectly positioned to take our ideas and make them work (if we have the confidence to "expect to have more than ten employees in five years' time"). I know that a lot of the people reading this have already been nagged by me: this post has been burning a hole in my brain for a month (I'm only publishing it now because I'm presenting this exact material at the GeekDinner tonight). But even if I have already said it to you, it's time to actually do something about it.


So, from now on, some rules:

  • Don't say "I will [ later ]"
  • Don't say you don't have enough time: you're lying
  • Don't expect it to be perfect (or even to work) at first
  • Don't over design

I know I'm the worst of the lot, and let this blog post hold me accountable if I haven't started doing things in six months.

by Jonathan Hitchcock at September 29, 2008 12:23 PM

September 12, 2008

Stefano Rivera

September GeekDinner

Looks like the September Geekdinner list is filling up nicely. To anyone on the waiting list, keep an eye on that wiki right up to the last moment: we Capetonians are notorious for dropping out at the last minute, especially if the weather is bad. I’d expect a reasonable number of drop-outs - we thought the last dinner was going to be overflowing, and there was still space at the end.

I’ve just done a round of updates on Planet GeekDinner and I’m glad to see a good sprinkling of new faces (or is that geeks with new websites?). If you’d like your GeekDinner related posts to be syndicated on the planet and I’ve missed your blog or got the wrong website please let me know.

by tumbleweed at September 12, 2008 07:02 PM

April 01, 2008

Jeremy Thurgood

Birthdays, wine and randomness

Last night was the Garrulous Grape GeekDinner, seventh in the series. A bunch of interesting people (mostly techies, but we had at least one hippie) met at Greens in Plattekloof for an evening of conversation, heckling, food, wine and generally being around like-minded people.

The food was marvelous, even better than I have come to expect from Greens. The wine was also really good (at least, the cab sav was -- I had half a bottle of that and didn't get to any of the others) and was, as is the case at all the geekdinners, free. This time, it was sponsored by Perdeberg who I had previously never heard of, but are now on my list of places to buy from.

Also noteworthy, today is the tenth birthday of the best mailing list on the tubes. I had heard of the Hivemind long before I joined, but didn't fully grok the depth of its usefulness and entertainment value until I caved in and joined. Since then I have mercilessly attacked the current copyright system, vehemently defended rationality and science against superstition and learned a lot about politics, economics and how to prod the Ivobot just so.

April 01, 2008 08:49 AM

December 06, 2007

The ZA Show (the podcast)

ZA Show #122: The airline saga continues

  • Unfortunately, no interview with Alex Boylan from ATWFF
  • Green Point Stadium Visitors Centre opens
  • Taxi passenger paid R50,000 for being insulted
  • Nationwide Airlines in the spotlight who are grounded by the CAA
  • Turbulence caused broken leg on flight.  Ouch!
  • Song: 1 Day Remains - Broken Years
  • We do a short discussion on who Jacob Zuma is ahead of the ANC conference next week.
  • Don’t forget about StarCamp this coming weekend

by Glen and Bridgitte at December 06, 2007 08:26 PM

November 22, 2007

The ZA Show (the podcast)

ZA Show #120: Swem Jannie Swem

  • Finally, a SA wine video podcast has hit the podisphere.  Check out WineTV
  • The town of George to get a cableway up to the Cradock Peak
  • The staff at prove they can swim!
  • Song:  MadLove - Reprieve  (link)
  • A new Southern African TV channel to hit Sky Digital
  • The Kirstenbosch sunset concerts kick off this weekend with a killer line-up this year.
  • Also, check out ObsFest at the end of November.
  • StarCamp, which is an unconference, is happening on the 8th and 9th of December.

by Glen and Bridgitte at November 22, 2007 08:36 PM

September 17, 2007

Melanie Voerman

Open Source Party - the report

Saturday, half past five: I am sitting at the bar at the Deer Park Cafe and look around: There are some Microphones and a Guitar in the front, a guy with a camera and some people sitting in groups around tables. I order a fresh fruit juice and watch the scene…

7 o’clock: The Cafe is now quite full and Heather and Jimmy step to the front to open the event. The atmosphere is open and inspirational. I don’t know one person in the room but had already some interesting conversations. I feel part of the mixed crowd and enjoy all the Geek T-shirts. I would say, this party is a success : )

Wine and snacks were for free, two singers and a few talks made it personal and everyone was open to meet and connect. I spoke to many people about things like Wikipedia, Open Street Maps, the One Laptop per Child Project, Facebook and the Cape Linux User Group and got lots of new thoughts and ideas.

Thanks for this great event!

Now I’m looking forward to the GeekDinner to meet some of the people again!

Heather and Jimmy

by Melanie at September 17, 2007 10:49 AM

September 11, 2007

Melanie Voerman

Open Source Party, 15th September

Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and Heather Ford (from iCommons) started the 50 great parties club“. They call the open source communities around the world to organize a party.

The Cape Town Party with Heather and Jimmy happens to be just around the corner from where I stay.

Via: GeekDinner, Dave Duarte

I’ll report back!

by Melanie at September 11, 2007 08:18 AM

September 07, 2007

Melanie Voerman

GeekDinner - I’m coming!

From Germany I know BarCamps. Well, I never got the chance to attend to one but always found it very interesting. Unfortunately the Cape Town BarCamp seems to be dead. I assumed there was very little community behind it. Only slowly I found some Sites and Blogs from people in Cape Town who actually do what I do. Now I found out, that I was just searching for the wrong expression: Here the geeks meet for a GeekDinner - it seems to have a similar concept than the BarCamp; just shrunk to one evening. Two days after checking out the Cape Town GeekDinner Scene an email arrived with the message:

“The fourth in the new series of Cape Town GeekDinners will be held on Thursday, September the 27th, at Summerville in Camps Bay, at 19:00 for 19:30.”

I’ve put my name on the list and hope the little one knows his due-date…

How exciting!

by Melanie at September 07, 2007 07:26 PM

March 30, 2007

Russell Cloran

geek dinner and panoramic pics

I'm at the geek dinner now... And Joe spoke about half an hour ago (before I downloaded putty etc) about making panoramic pics with some windows software. Well, I like autopano-sift, hugin and enblend as my open source panoramic stitching software which fits in with my desktop. Yay.

see my flickr photo stream for more

Thanks to all (especially Joe, it seems) for a cool evening

March 30, 2007 03:16 PM

March 29, 2007

Melissa Loudon

Rage, rage

As promised, the GeekDinner rant:

I went along to the Cape Town GeekDinner last night, hoping I'd learn something, and meet some interesting fellow geeks, and generally interact face-to-face with a community that doesn't make a habit of it. It's been a year since my permanently-scarring attempt to infiltrate a CLUG meeting, and I was hoping this would be a slightly more welcoming group of people.

Which they were. It was all going ok, until there was a mostly naked women offered free when you buy space in Teraco's data centre. The presenter showed the data centre layout, the state-of-art generator and fire supression system... and a mostly naked women. Pointing out that, when you buy a whole cage, you get one of those free.

Hold on, what??!

/me turns a deep shade of red, and begins clawing the tablecloth.

What was most disturbing was that none of men around me seemed to see what I was unhappy about. Let me put it this way: Imagine if the presenter joked that you get a strong, strapping member of a marginalised race group free with your server (to carry you there on a litter. or, whatever else you desire. He is yours, after all, he came free with the server). Would this be appropriate? socially acceptable? the norm? No, of course not - I regret even having to use this offensive and degrading example.

So, you wonder why there are so few women in IT. duh.

Please realise that this rant is not, in fact, because I am uncomfortable with this kind of raging misogyny. Those of use who have been lucky enough not to be discouraged by families, sexist teaching, and being locked out of the computer science "clubhouse", are all too familiar with it. What does bother me is that it only perpetuates a view of women that most men hold, consciously or not. I bear no malice towards the friendly guy who, when I tried to ask what Ubuntu version (Kubuntu, EduBuntu, Ubuntu / Dapper, Edgy?) was being passed around, explained to me that "oh, it's just a Linux distro". However, I really am getting tired of having to prove myself every single time I meet new people, just because I'm female and work in IT, and your social conditioning doesn't expect my existence.

To the GeekDinner crowd: I hope you get it right next time. I would have loved to explain to everyone there exactly why I wanted to lynch the guy from Teraco, but I'll settle for this: Please open your eyes to how you view women, and how your actions reinforce stereotypes that the world would be much better off without. And, when you realise there's a problem, and see others engaged in exacerbating it, stick your neck out for a change. As the Encouraging Women in Linux HOWTO points out,

Every time a woman sees a sexist joke or comment, she feels angry, left out, and belittled. Every time a woman sees a man stand up against this behavior, she feels included and valued.

For a change, I'd like to interact with this community as geek first, women second.

by melissa ( at March 29, 2007 09:40 AM