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Friday, 27 December 2013

The Silly Season again

It's the Silly Season again. For six weeks during the school holidays Port Alfred will try to emanate Myrtle Beach. Of course the small coastal town in South Africa's Eastern Cape will never, never be anything to rival South Carolina's Grand Strand, but in terms of population per square mile it must surely do so. This is the time of year, from early December to mid January, when the town is full of vehicles and their passengers from all places north. They have traveled here from Gauteng, the Free State and Natal and even from such far away places as Mpumalanga and Zimbabwe. My local Spar has filled its aisles with extra goodies to cope with the increased demand from out-of-towners. In a few days' time you will not be able to find dog food or dish washing powder on its shelves - not until they start delivering goods again in early January. It's the same every year, but most locals such as me have taken precautions against the dearth of goods that always occurs about now by stocking up beforehand.

This was to be my last Christmas in Africa - soon I will be sailing my boat to colder climes, but at least will eventually be reunited with my family. Speaking of which - to us old-timers seeing out the autumn of our years, the Internet has brought families much closer together. Yesterday, on separate occasions, I got to video-chat with Liz, my wife, with my daughter Julie and her three kids Grace, Owen and Luke, all in Pennsylvania,, and with my sister Suzane along with her three kids Nick, Anna and Lisa and her numerous grandchildren in the UK, something that could never have happened 40 years ago when I first came out to southern Africa. The only problem is that the Internet speed here on the farm is so appallingly slow. I am going to be so spoiled by the download speeds I experience in other countries in the near future.

We all make mistakes - I know that I have made many, but many of our mistakes eventually turn out to have been for the best. For example I sometimes wonder whether it was a mistake buying this farm, but where else in the world can you find such a small corner of paradise, where else can you sit outside after breakfast and have two lesser striped swallows chatting to each other and to their newly fledged offspring perched nonchalantly less than two meters away. This year a sunbird built a nest on the wire perch that the swallows use - not sure which species as the bird that made and now occupies it (see above) is a very dull color and obviously a female. The farm abounds with birds and in clement weather is a continual orchestral interlude during the daytime. At this time of year, when there is water in the farm's two dams, the orchestra's players change at nightfall, the birds being replaced by frogs that continually call to each other during the starlit hours.

Talking of starlit hours - I have lived in many homes and traveled the world over, from Hong Kong to Wellington, through Europe and the Mediterranean and as far west as the Great North Woods. Only here, in Martindale, have I regularly been able to see this corner of our galaxy in such detail. This small community is a paradise for star gazing, even through the naked eye. By the time that I take my leave I will have spent eight happy years here, but just cannot spend any more time trying to sell the place. When deciding between family and property, family has to be the winner. If I have to start from scratch all over again, so be it. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have a small but sufficient passive income to fall back on during my pending long journey.

A few weeks ago I was thinking that this would be a fairly lonely Christmas, my being all by myself in Martindale. Actually, being a free thinker, I don't really celebrate Christmas - rather Yule. But that's another story. However that expected solitude was not to be. My good friend Alberto from Bologna in Italy, together with his protegĂ© Jimmy, has been my house guest all week. It has been refreshing to have someone to talk with, and we have touched a wide variety of subjects. I know that I talk to Katie (my white shepherd) much of the time - but understandably that is a rather one-sided conversation, despite her being extremely intelligent and having a very sensitive nose. Katie will not be accompanying me on my pending voyage. My good friend and neighbor Wendell has offered to give her a good home - and I know he will. I just have to find a home now for my two inseparable cats. Any offers of a home to two neutered male cats that have been together for 8 years?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Weeping and passing Time

Today we mourn the passing of Madiba, and without any doubt the 1980's song Weeping by Bright Blue will be played many times over, both here in South Africa and in the rest of this world. I was fortunate enough to have met and shaken hands with Mr Mandela on the day that he addressed the school I was then working at. I remember the day as if it were yesterday - 20th June 1997. I was grabbed out of the milling crowd by one of the 'heavies' (complete with dark glasses and hearing aid) and taken to meet the great gentleman. Well, now he has crossed over to meet his ancestors. Like each of us, he was given a certain amount of time, and he stretched it out to last a fruitful 95 years. He has served his time on Earth and used it well. Which brings me to the subject of Time.

Time is the one asset that we are each given for free. Make no mistake, Time is an extremely valuable asset. I remember that many years ago I purchased an expensive German dishwasher. I was separated from my then wife and lived in a flat sans servant. The mere fact that I now used a dishwasher saved me at least an hour every day. But that was some 15 years ago. I am still using that same dishwasher today, and have saved myself over the years about 5,500 hours, hours that I have been able to put to much better use than standing over a kitchen sink. Being in the Autumn of my years I am very conscious of time, and very aware that my remaining years could be snatched away from me with little or no warning. I am not a follower of any of Earth's accepted religions. I have my own beliefs. They are based on Quantum Theory and are spiritual without tying one down to the dogma of the world's currently practiced religions.

My message today is this. Be absolutely sure of making the best of the amount of Time that has been bequeathed to you. Do not waste it, do not procrastinate, use it wisely. Use your talents and do the things you enjoy doing. Read up about the Law of Attraction and take my word for it - it really works. This century will be one of exponential expansion in technology so stay in touch with the latest developments in nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetic engineering and anything remotely related to Quantum Physics. Finally, if any of my readers are thinking of investing in Madiba's Eastern Cape, visit this page of my blog.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Ramblings and Rumblings

It is a balmy afternoon in mid November in the redundant South African province of the Eastern Cape. The distant rumblings of thunderheads can be heard in the far North. They gradually become louder as the storm moves towards the farm, away from the Drakensberg and towards the sea. As it does so the wind starts to pick up ahead of the approaching roll cloud, and the first drops of rain can be heard hitting the tin roof of the room that serves as my office.

Just a few days ago I completed exactly forty years in southern Africa, years that have shaped much of my life. The approaching storm is typical of the summer storms that frequent the region. The rain becomes harder, louder. Soon it will be too loud to stay down in this end of the house and I will soon be forced to move to the lounge, to work from an armchair. This room I am in now is known as the lighthouse room, named so by Liz on account of the drapes and artifacts that depict so many of those phallic edifices. The rain is steadier now, and is accompanied by that fragrance that is so often found when the first of the rains meet the oh-so-dry ground.  

I move to the lounge and, by Murphy’s Law, the storm peters out, as so often happens with storms that come from that direction. Our two summer residents returned from their European home a few weeks ago – coincident with the equinox. This is their fourth visit, and is usually accompanied by a complete makeover of last year’s home. This year, as yet anyway, they seem to have decided not to rebuild. This pair of Lesser Striped Swallows chat to each other from a perch I made for them just outside out front door. On previous years they have had to rebuild their home, but this year they just seem to be spring cleaning the old one and using the two tunnels that serve as both entrance and exit. I am expecting that the female will soon be sitting on eggs – last year there were two fledglings. The male will spend most of his day catching insects and bringing them home.

The summer temperatures have kicked in – the other day it hit 95 in the shade, and at nearly 10.00 p.m. it is still in the high 70’s. We have had 170 ml of rain in the last few weeks – that’s 4 inches - much needed here in the Eastern Cape, where there has been a winter drought lasting several months. As a result, what was a parched and sun-burned lawn has suddenly burst into life, the kikuyu grass six inches high in places and a brilliant dark green. My gardener is a local man called Headman – a retired railway worker I believe. He rents a house from the railways at the old Martindale station and tells me he pays just R10 a month. He recently bought himself a Isuzu bakkie or truck and has been using it as an illegal taxi. I get the impression that this new role has made him too important to cut grass for the likes of me. However I understand that his truck is undergoing repairs in Port Elizabeth, so maybe I can get him to come and cut the lawn next week.

I have decided to start selling off some of the larger items of furniture that remain in the house – after all there is no way they are going overseas once it is sold. I have dropped the asking price on the house as far as I can. Now that Liz has a job and a car, there is no longer anything to keep me in this country. Much of the house is already boxed up and awaiting the freight company. I can’t wait for the day when I can say “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Kapriviersberge hills”. Whoever buys will be getting the bargain of the Century.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Is SEO dead? – A new look at Content writing.

Last night I had a dream – in it I was working for an IT company as a Content Writer, and was severely admonished for leaving work before the CEO, who just happened to be a self-made and self-proclaimed SEO expert. After the dream, and when I arose from my comfortable bed, I got to thinking – most so-called SEO experts probably have their own fixed idea of what a content writer is, namely a writer (often an Intern) with limited experience, but one who can turn out a pretty turn of phrase in exactly the way the SEO wants it. In addition it is interspersed with the right percentage of keywords and so on. I’m sure that is the way that they look at me.

However, what they do not know is that in my case I wrote my first program (remember Fortran?) when most of these upstarts were still in diapers – and in some cases before they were even a twinkling thought in their parents’ heads. Even before attending that long-ago Computer Studies course at the North London Polytechnic, I was flying around the sky with some of the then most sophisticated and highly secret analogue computer equipment available. Before the Internet caught on and during a brief sojourn to the Middle East, I designed a database for all air traffic passing through the region. A few years later was in charge of three computer networks comprising no less than 70 or 80 PCs, and I remember the excitement when the networks first went ‘live’ on the Internet. I am not bragging, but merely trying to put everything into perspective.

What I am trying to get across is that Content Writers are not necessarily interns straight out of college. Many of us are widely traveled and have had a great deal of experience of worldly affairs. I personally have traveled through or to every continent, have had well in excess of 6,000 articles published on the Internet, and have six of my own websites. Of course SEO is not yet dead – just dying maybe. It is no secret that, as search engines introduce new algorithms they prefer more and more good content that is well written, free of spelling and grammatical errors, valid and to the point.

I am enjoying my last few months in South Africa before relocating to the colder climes of New England. South African SEOs in particular should start examining the content they have used in their websites in the past. There is nothing worse than coming across a website in which the content is badly written. South Africa, with its eleven official languages, is particularly prone to this. In many cases the content is exacerbated where the webmaster or SEO, wishing to save a few dollars, has outsourced content to countries such as India, Pakistan, the Philippines and China. Get your act together guys – let’s start seeing some high-quality content – you’ll find it pays in the long run.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

RETR command failed - 4 billion emails in inbox

I always seem to get the interesting ones - sometimes I put this down to the abysmal Internet speed provided by my ISP, but this time I cannot. I use Thunderbird as my email client, and it has served me well over the years. However a few days back I started getting this message:

the RETR command did not succeed

After carrying out some research through Google it became apparent that the problem was not a Thunderbird one, but the mail server, in my case hosted through GoDaddy. Several individuals had reported through various forums that they had solved the problem by logging into the mail server and clearing out junk files. In my case I found about 400 files in my inbox but the other boxes were empty. Anyway, I deleted all but one message, which would not delete.  I tried moving the message to the trash box - it would not move. Naturally I assumed this file to be the cause of the problem - not so.

On logging out of the server I sent a test file to myself and tried to download it - to no avail, and when I tried to log back into the mail server again I got this message:

Remote server or file not found

Clearly this was going to be a case of summoning the technicians at GoDaddy, and I had Liz (now in New Hampshire while I am stuck back here in South Africa trying to sell the farm) contact the GoDaddy team to attempt to resolve the problem - and they did. They had Liz log into the mail server from the back end, and here's what she found in my inbox:

4 billion emails in my inbox

Yes, you saw it right - more than 4 billion files in my inbox !  4,294,967,295 files to be precise! Well to cut a long story short, they deleted the files - but I guess down in Phoenix they're still talking about how they got in there in the first place. My immediate thought was in the direction of a virus or similar. I would appreciate comments in this regard.

Anyway, the problem has now been solved and I am once more able to download my email messages and to log on to the mail server if needs be.

Please contact me for Internet content of any kind - you will not find better!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

New New Hampshire website

It has been a while since I last posted here, mostly because I have been kept busy writing for clients here in South Africa and in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Most of my regular readers will know of my plans to relocate to North Carolina, and of how my wife Liz flew back to the States more than a year ago while I stayed behind in the Eastern Cape to finalize the sale of our smallholding. After spending a year staying with her daughter, circumstances forced Liz to move on from Louisiana, supposedly to NC. However, things have changed. I was not happy about Liz arriving in NC under the conditions that were forced upon her, and so I asked my daughter Julie in New England if she wouldn't mind Liz staying with her for a while, and this is why Liz is now firmly ensconced in the Granite State with Julie and my three grandchildren.

To cut a long story short, Liz is so happy in her new home that we have decided that it is to be our final relocation destination, and I can't wait to get there. These new circumstances have led me to creating a new website, which, at the time of writing is just partly finished, although coming along in leaps and bounds. The design is all there, and it is now just a matter of populating it with good content and then marketing it. We have based the design on our info-nc and info-sc websites, which have proved so popular in the past, and the pic for the header was taken by Liz a week or so ago.

There seems to be no shortage of writing work on the other side of The Pond, unlike here in darkest Africa. Many of the domains ending with have been populated with content that leaves much to be desired, clearly having been written by someone not fluent in the English language, and of its subtle nuances and many idioms. This is just another sign of the times in South Africa, and is something that goes hand in hand with the neo-apartheid policies of the present government. The new upper class in South Africa is the reason for many of the setbacks experienced in the country. Much of the government and industry is corrupt, and the new leaders are filling their pockets at the expense of the poor. Why, only last week a local government official here in the Eastern Cape, after resigning from her position after only 5 months, was given a handshake of R2.5 million!  Only in Africa!

I will not miss this country one iota. I'm ready to leave - just need to sell the farm. Which brings me to one final point. A couple of days ago I received an email from some asinine idiot offering me R200,000 cash for the farm (I have just dropped the asking price to below R1 million). With the Rand crashing the way it is, I will consider any sensible offer, but I have only one reply to sheer stupidity - kma.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Slowly Roasted Shoulder of Lamb

There seems to have been considerable interest in some of my recipes that I have published on this blog, especially the one for Hungarian Goulash, which I make using Rump Steak. With this in mind I have resolved to include more of my favorite recipes in the future. Today’s recipe is for a slowly roasted shoulder of lamb. You’ll need a roasting pan large enough to take the meat and about 2 to 3 inches deep, and some aluminum foil to cover it. The shoulder will serve about 4 people, so for larger table settings you’ll need to adapt where necessary.


One shoulder of lamb – about 2 Kgs – on the bone
A dozen 5” sprigs of rosemary
A bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
A whole bulb of garlic split into cloves, no need to peel them
Olive oil
Sea salt
Ground black pepper
1 tbsp of plain flour
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
500ml Lamb Stock


Pre-heat the oven to as high as it will go.

With a sharp knife, score the layer of fat on the meat in 2 directions into 1” diamonds.
Pour some olive oil into the bottom of the roasting dish and scatter half of the rosemary and garlic cloves into it. Place the lamb, scored side uppermost, in the dish and rub more olive oil into the scored surface. Sprinkle sea salt and ground black pepper onto the lamb and rub into the surface. Scatter the remainder of the rosemary and garlic cloves over the lamb. Cover the roasting dish tightly with aluminium foil, making sure it is sealed well. Place the dish in the center of the pre-heated oven, and immediately turn down the heat to 160°C (320°F). Cook for 4 hours.

Using a couple of forks pull the meat away from the bones (actually it should fall away) and place on a heated serving dish, cover and keep warm. Discard the bones and all of the sprigs of rosemary. Pour off almost all of the olive oil, leaving about a tablespoon. Remove the garlic cloves and allow them to cool. Pop them out of their skins and return to the roasting dish, crushing them with a suitable utensil.

Place the roasting dish on the top of the stove at a medium heat. Stir in the flour and the lamb stock (a suitably flavored thickening agent may be used instead of flour), bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the chopped mint and vinegar, and bring to the boil again. Transfer the sauce to a suitable vessel.

Suggested vegetables: New potatoes, minted peas, French or sliced runner beans

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Hard Drive Full – Check your backups

It seems as if the gremlins are really out to pull the wool over my eyes. One month it’s because my C drive was full of .sst files created by Google Earth, and this time it's my external drive. This is a 500Gb Seagate drive that I use for downloads, backups of my laptop and websites, and so on. I checked the drive with Explorer a couple of days ago (Windows 7 Home edition) and found that there was only 35Gbs of free space on the drive. The last time I recall checking there was far more. I ran JdiskReport and WinDirStat on the drive and each told me that only 119Gb was being used. Where was the discrepancy? 

It took me a while to work it out, some research through Google, unhiding my hidden files and so on. Then I realized what it was – there, in a folder named USER-PC. My laptop is set to backup every Sunday evening – and there were backups going back about 19 months, each measuring as much as 10Gbs. Deleting all but the latest three of the backup sets solved the problem. There is still a bit of a discrepancy between Explorer and other programs – apparently this could be due to the method Explorer uses to calculate used disk space – I have no intention of going into that.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Google Penguin 2.0 – Its implications for your Website Content

At the time of writing it is just 2 weeks since the release of Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm, and already many websites are feeling the pinch of the new code. In Google’s Matt Cutts’s own words, the algorithm penalizes websites that show questionable SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, link building and the deliberate use of duplicate content. This is bad news for many website owners. So-called Black Hat webmasters have been paying for inward links to their websites in order to trick search engines, and in particular the Google algorithm, into assessing that the website is more informative and trustworthy than it really is. These are the sort of links that Google wants to penalize.

The websites that will benefit from this new algorithm are those publishers who focus on providing high quality and authoritative content. This algorithm and future tweaks expected later this year will penalize bad content, including mis-spelling, bad grammar and low quality writing. Such bad content is particularly evident in a country like South Africa, where there are no less than eleven official languages. As an example, much of the content found in South African websites has been written by individuals for whom English is not their first language. In addition many webmasters have outsourced content to countries such as India and the Philippines in order to save a few dollars. In consequence many websites ending in are found to have exceptionally bad content.

Webmasters who suspect that their website hits may be suffering from penguinitis should have their content checked, and if necessary re-written by a professional - one that has an excellent command of the English language.

So, what can you do to ensure that your website succeeds online?  How do you ensure that your website is one of authority and will not be penalized by Google? All of the content on your website should be quality – invest in a real writer to rewrite your website content in such a way that it is written for its live, real readers – not written for search engines. Your content should be written by a content marketing specialist with a view to making it an authority on your product. Invest in features such as blogs, videos, infographics, and news that are both relevant and will benefit your customers. Don’t be satisfied with a simple 5-page website – invest in adding relevant and beneficial content in the form of articles, and do this on a regular basis.

Make sure that you retain control of your website so that you can edit its content at any time. Use Google+. Every time new content is published by Google+ authorship it is immediately indexed by Google and stands a better chance in Google searches. Publish links to new content on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Develop relevant inbound links from germane and quality sites and from high-quality writers. Ensure that your writers have an excellent command of the English language. Above all, let Google know that your website is an authority on its subject, and be aware that if you don’t publish content on your website, penguin 2.0 will penalize it.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Why Google ?

Research into ways that computers could 'talk' to one another goes back to the early 1960s, and the first two nodes of what was to become ARPANET were connected in October 1969, when UCLA's School of Engineering and Applied Science was linked up with SRI International of Menlo Park, California. Further nodes were added in the following years. It wasn't until 1982 that Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized, and another 4 years until access to supercomputers was provided. Since then the Internet has expanded exponentially, and today there are more than 2.4 billion users, 46.4 million active websites and more than 1 trillion web pages, a formidable figure that increases by more than a billion pages every day! So why Google?

As of October 2011 Google's share of searches was 65% in the US and 82% worldwide. In contrast Bing and Yahoo together took 26% in the US and a little over 10% worldwide. It is because of these figures that website owners do what they can to attract Google searches to them. There are a number of ways of doing this optimization, and this niche of the IT industry has given birth to a new profession, Search Engine Optimization.

Graphic representation of the Internet
Google carries out its Internet searches by using algorithms. These algorithms are upgraded or rewritten from time to time so as to make the results of searches more logical or appropriate. Webmasters attract search engines such as Google to their websites by a number of means. These include keywords, the careful wording of the page's title and description, and regular updates of relevant content. Browsing through some websites, especially in countries where there are more than one official language, or where content has been outsourced to such a country, shows excessive use of keywords, frequent bad spelling and appalling grammar. These are some of the points that Google's latest algorithms will penalize. 

My next blog will examine the implications of Google's latest algorithm update - Penguin 2.0 and how you can ensure that your website is not penalized by the code.  Click on the Internet above to see the services that I offer - I am a one man show, and I need the work!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Opera Ugrades are losing settings

I have been an Opera user for several years. I like the layout of the browser as well as the various options that it gives you. Options such as remembering your user name and password to multiple domain login pages. Like recalling certain personal details for when you are filling in forms. But Opera, in the past, has had many drawbacks. One that I frequently come across is that certain webpages refuse to load fully – the browser will load a few elements and then freeze. That is all very well, but I need to refer to certain web pages frequently for my writing. On such occasions my only solution has been to load Firefox and, lo and behold, the webpage loads fully and immediately. Another drawback recently came to my notice, and it seems that I am not the only victim of this latest snag.

There have been numerous reports of Opera losing some of its settings during an upgrade. I first noticed this when I was logging into the back end of one of my websites last week. Usually pressing ‘Ctrl + Enter’ would bring up my user name and the password (in asterisks of course) and I would automatically be logged into the website. Not so! All I got were blank fields. That’s all very well, but I had about 150 of these login points saved by Opera. I searched for a solution through Google. I have yet to find a way to turn Opera back in time so as to place all of the data where it should be. But I did find a couple of programs that at least recover all of the data, which is stored encrypted in a file called wand.dat

The first one I found was Opera Password Recovery Master, which you can download here . With this program you get a display of the urls, user name and the first four digits of the passwords, and are told that to recover the whole passwords you need to pay for the full version of the program  for somewhere between $20 and $40, depending on the type of license. A little more googling led me to find Opera Password Decryptor, which you can download here . This program goes a little further than the previous one, giving you the full passwords and allowing you to export them all as either a text file or an html file - and it's free!

I don’t use Opera Mail, but apparently some users have lost all of their mail contacts, and some people even their bookmarks. To avoid this happening to you in the future, export your contacts and bookmarks before carrying out an upgrade, then you can always import them again if necessary. Maybe the Opera developers can look into this and incorporate into their next upgrade some appropriate code that takes care of this problem.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Google filling up hard drives with Earth

I use a Lenovo G550 with Windows 7 Home edition, a laptop that is ideal for my writing skills. I do not do any gaming, but do make a lot of use of Skype, having family overseas, and of several web design aids. I was most disconcerted a couple of days ago when the laptop announced to me that its C drive was full, and that I should do something about it. Knowing that I had only used somewhat less than a quarter of the disc space led me to doing some investigation, where I found several other instances of the occurrence with other individuals. Liz advised me to check out a youtube video that listed the best ten system applications, which I did.

To isolate the problem I used an application called JdiskReport - you need Java to be running in order to run this program. The program analyzes your hard drive, giving a graphic description of what it contains. I found that almost 200 Gb was taken up by .sst files. Further analysis showed that there were more than a million .sst files in the Google Earth unified_cache_leveldb_leveldb2 directory, all created within a few minutes of each other. You can read about this problem on the GE forum here.

Uninstalling GE will not get rid of the unwanted files, which for me were found in C:\Users\xxxxxx\AppData\LocalLow\Google\GoogleEarth\unified_cache_leveldb_leveldb2 . Substitute your user name for the x's. You'll have to manually delete all of the  .sst files. I found the quickest way was to mark them using Ctrl and dragging the pointer over them, hitting delete and then later emptying the Recycle Bin. If you have a program such a Total Commander you can mark all the .sst files and delete them.  I later re-installed the latest version of GE , and now have 200 Gb of free space to play with again.(by the way GE know about the problem and are doing their best to fix it, but they need feedback from anyone experiencing it)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Cape Cobra Visitor

Yesterday Katie started barking just outside the doors of the Lighthouse Room - after the floods in October I moved my desk there to allow the carpet tiles in the office to dry out. Her barking was persistent, so I left my writing and went out to investigate. There, up against the fence, hood extended in defense, was a large Cape Cobra. I say large - it was larger than the one that visited a year or two back outside the scullery, probably a little over 4 feet long. KT has never, to the best of my knowledge, come face to face with a snake before, and was most inquisitive, but stayed her distance as if instinctively knowing that this strange creature could be dangerous.

I ordered Katie to back off, and the visitor went off down the driveway, past the Wild Plum by the gate, and vanished into the long grass alongside Liz's Dragon Garden. 

This specimen was not the yellow color most commonly associated with the species, but a dark brown with darker markings along its length. In fact had it not been for the extended hood I would have taken the markings as those of the night adder, a more frequent visitor. The Cape Cobra is known to be one of the most dangerous species of Cobra on the continent. Its venom is made up of neurotoxins and possibly cardiotoxins, and without an anti-venom a bite will result in death within one to ten hours. Its diet consists of small rodents, lizards, frogs, birds and other snakes. It will climb trees, and one of its favorite pastimes is to raid the nests of the Sociable Weaver.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

New clients for old = never

I found myself in something of a quandary a couple of weeks back. It was just after I had done some self-marketing on LinkedIn, adding a score or more of contacts to my network. I have a couple of clients that I would describe as 'bread and butter' clients, one in South Carolina and the other here in South Africa. They have each supplied me with regular assignments on a month to month basis, and I have good and well established rapport with them.

After my bit of self-marketing I received a request for a quotation from a corporate body for whom I had never written before..The assignment was for rewriting an entire technical website, something that I have done before and am perfectly capable of. However in this particular case the request was accompanied by a 38-page brief. Pages had to be written tab by tab and each one approved before progressing to the next. The whole job had to be completed in what, to me, was an unacceptable deadline, which would have meant placing my regular clients on the back burner.

The situation was somewhat delicate to me, but in the end I determined that my regular clients could never be placed in such a situation, and so I wrote to the corporate contact turning down the work and in doing so the chance of a fat cheque. The question is, did I do right?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

More ramblings of the mind

This past weekend I entertained three Italian friends who are currently touring South Africa - it was such a breath of fresh air to have the house come alive again. Liz has been back in WA  for coming up to 10 months and I have been in danger of  becoming a recluse, so to have the house suddenly bursting full of European energy has meant a lot to me. Thank you my friends.

Several years ago my daughter Julie went to a clairvoyant for a reading. It must have been during the last few years of the 1900s, for I had been separated from my then wife for several years. Julie told me that the medium had told her that her father would meet someone from overseas and spend many happy years together. I took the news with a pinch of salt, having resigned myself to spending my autumn years in South Africa. Since then a lot of water has passed beneath the bridge.

Julie moved to the USA, met and married Jake and is now the proud mother of three beautiful children in New Hampshire. Then on Christmas Day in 2001 I received an email from Liz in reply to an ad I has placed in one of those dating services. We chatted for several months, and to cut a long story short, she flew to South Africa, I was divorced from my first wife, and on May 2nd 2005 married Liz.  We are completely compatible soul mates, and in the 10 years we have been together have not had bad words once.

By the time I rejoin Liz on the other side of the Pond I will have spent 40 years, give or take a couple of months, in Southern Africa. The first nine were spent in what was then Rhodesia, where the people, white and black, look the same and even sound the same as down here, but are so completely different. Everyone was friendly and no-one was afraid of a little hard work. I had dozens of friends in Rhodesia, but can count on one hand the number of true friends I have made in South Africa. My Italian friend has persuaded me to watch the movie The Truman Show, in which he likens the role played by Jim Carrey to that of the typical South African, oblivious of everything outside his immediate environment.  I will watch it with great interest.

I have recently been commissioned to write numerous articles on Positive Thinking and related subjects. For several years I have taken a close interest in Quantum physics, the science of physics at a sub-atomic level. Billions of dollars are spent each year in  Quantum physics research, and scientists have shown that many of the phenomena that are known as paranormal can, in fact, be explained quite logically at quantum levels. These include such phenomena as telekinesis, near death experience, telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts and UFOs. There is also wide belief, though not yet proof, that our consciousness is a quantum event. This would explain why, when I am chatting with Liz more than 10,000 miles away, we frequently think and say identical things at the same moment. in time.

What is Time, anyway? Well it is the one commodity that is given to each of us for free. We each have a limited amount of it, and so it is in everyone's best interest to make the best of it. Think of all that wasted time when you are stuck in a traffic jam - that used to be the best part of 2 hours a day when I lived in Midrand. Moving to the Eastern Cape did away with all of that. Unless I drive into Grahamstown or Port Alfred I am lucky to see a dozen vehicles a day. But think of all that extra time I have. I cannot believe how much time is wasted - if only people thought about it a little more, they could completely change their lives for the better, like I did.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

What was it?

I cannot stand being sick. I've just come through two days of feeling really down, and I have no idea what it was or why. I was first aware of whatever it was when driving in to Port Alfred on Tuesday. I am normally wide awake behind the wheel, but on Tuesday it felt as if I had been driving for eight hours or more, and I had to keep shaking my head to stay awake. By the time I had concluded my business and arrived back at the farm, I had all the symptoms of Hay Fever. Then yesterday the symptoms were much worse – streaming sinuses, loss of appetite and feeling very tired. In fact I was not even able to cook my usual evening meal, managing a fried egg sandwich, half of which I ended up giving to Katie, my White Shepherd. I brought everything forward by an hour last night, ending in an early turn-in. 

Today I am back to normal. My appetite is back, all the symptoms have departed, and I am bright and perky. I would love to know what it was that attacked my system. Is there such a thing as 48-hour 'flu?  Perhaps someone can tell me.

Friday, 25 January 2013


I was driving from the farm into Port Alfred this morning, reminiscing, when I decided on the subject of this blog - recollections of some of the things I have achieved during my life, and of some of the mistakes I have made. I have reached that age where a person starts wondering how many more birthdays they are going to enjoy - if one can enjoy birthdays in this day and age. I am still told from time to time that I do not look my age, so maybe there's hope for me yet. So what can I brag about ? What can I tell my grandchildren? And what can I not  tell them?

I suppose that one achievement I can chalk up on the board would be my close to 300 each carrier catapult shots and deck landings. I spent 8 years flying off aircraft carriers, and during this time qualified as a 'top gun'. My flying career was not without incident, my having survived a mid-air collision between two Hawker Hunter jet fighters as well as a crash landing after an engine failure at 24,000 ft. The latter hit the headlines of the national press.

The one I walked away from

I had become very apprehensive with the complacency of the British people during my days as a naval aviator, and on their completion decided to 'emigrate' to Africa - to Rhodesia to be precise. The Fleet Air Arm and its carriers were being juggled about like  yo-yos by various politicians in those days. I had become a particular admirer of Enoch Powell, a Conservative politician whose predictions of Britain's future have proved so true. I also admired Ian Smith, the Rhodesian prime minister, whom I was to meet several times during my nine years in the country. It was in Rhodesia that I became heavily involved in the theater, serving on the Executive Committee of Salisbury Repertory Players and treading the boards in more than a dozen plays under the direction of their resident professional director.

The writer as Dronio in You must be Joking (Four plays for Coarse Actors)
After that joker Mugabe came into power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, I left the country with my new family for Britain, where I had been appointed Senior Air Traffic Controller at Biggin Hill Airport.  I slotted into the job very well, and was soon deputizing for the Airport Manager as well as running Air Traffic Control. Unfortunately the narrow minded politics of Britain's Civil Aviation Authority refused to recognize my Rhodesian ATC qualifications, in spite of my obvious experience, which is what brought me and my family to South Africa. I remained in ATC for a number of years before becoming involved in computers, and it was during this time that I was honored to have shaken hands with Nelson Mandela - I consider this, if not an achievement, at least something I can brag about.

In retrospect my first marriage was my first big mistake, although even from mistakes can come good. In this case in the shape of my daughter Julie and later my three grandchildren. They are very special to me and I just cannot wait to get to New Hampshire again to see them - and without doubt to spoil them. My first visit to sub-Saharan Africa had been to Mombasa whilst embarked on HMS Eagle. I had spent a week staying on a farm at Nyali Beach, the guest of Andy Pape and his two teenage daughters. This was to influence my original decision to move to Africa, and eventually to another achievement - to own a farm in Africa.

The main farmhouse and Katie

Martindale Farm is an 18 acre smallholding about 10 miles from Bathurst in South Africa's Eastern Cape. The village is home to South Africa's oldest pub, the Pig & Whistle. We bought the farm in 2005, and loved it and cherished it, but the time came to move on. I met Liz, my present wife, on the Internet, and we've been together for 15 years - 15 years without a single argument or fight.We are true soul mates. Liz has returned to America in 2012 and I followed her 2 years later. I am now able to coin the phrase "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Kaprivier Hills".

Today I am relocated in New England and the owner of several websites, and spend much of my time writing content for the Internet. My most successful personal sites are  info-nc and info-nh . My latest achievement is a website for a veterinary clinic in the Northeast Kingdom. I never thought of myself as a writer ten years ago, but since 2006 I have had more than 6,500 articles published on websites - this I do consider as an achievement. What's more the Internet has made it possible for me to continue writing wherever I am located.

Friday, 11 January 2013

South Carolina Information

I am more than pleased to be able to announce that, after a lapse of a little over three years, I have once more got the Info-SC website up and running again. The website is a sister site to our Info-NC website, which has proved to be so successful. Info-SC is geared towards people living in, visiting or relocating to the beautiful Palmetto State, and provides a free listing of information relevant to South Carolina. Anyone may have a page dedicated to their business with a link to their website listed on Info-SC, the only proviso being that it must be based in South Carolina. You may also have articles written about South Carolina included in the website. Please see the website for details or contact me directly with your company details. The same applies to our North Carolina website and to NC businesses.