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Having fun, writing about the stuff I like

Let your ‘Social’ Sprout

Oscar Foulkes April 8, 2014 Tags: , , , Uncategorized No comments
I find it interesting that the best tools for using Twitter were developed by other companies. In a way, it makes sense that the job of growing a platform is different to the specialist functions of scheduling messages, paying attention to relevant conversations and tracking all the data that results from these billions of digital footprints.

I’ve used the free version of HootSuite for a few years, largely because the iOS app enables me to manage multiple accounts, as well as posting to linked Facebook profiles. The paid version, at less than $10 per month, enables all that for a larger number of accounts, as well as one free report per month. You can’t argue with the value for money of the free version, but the entry level paid version offers a lot of functionality for the money.

I’m busy with a trial of SproutSocial, which takes all that to another level. For starters, the desktop version is visually much more exciting space than the HootSuite equivalent. Not only is it more attractive, but it’s also been designed in such a way that the advanced features are made intuitively easy.

For starters, the reports display on the dashboard, right off the bat (unlike in HootSuite, where you have to request a report that gets mailed). The reports deliver a load of relevant data. If you do get around to doing a price comparison with the apparently more expensive SproutSocial, bear in mind that HootSuite bills for additional reports, whereas they are basically on-tap in SproutSocial.

I’m particularly impressed with SproutSocial’s CRM features. These keep track of your conversation history with particular contacts, and are also specially designed for teams. So, when someone tweets your company, you can assign that to a team member. Those responses also go into the history. Given the extent to which consumers by-pass conventional customer help channels, keeping track of Twitter conversations is an absolute must.

SproutSocial can be linked to your Feedly account (or any other RSS), which enables you to find relevant content that you then schedule into your Twitter stream.

You can link your Facebook pages to SproutSocial, so that your social media management becomes a one-stop shop.

There is also a very useful ‘Discovery’ function that enables quite sophisticated Boolean searches of Twitter and non-private Facebook posts. What this does is to throw up conversations that you may want to get involved in. Or, perhaps just give you an insight into consumer sentiment around various issues.

You can also set up your social media stream to include mentions of whatever brand keywords you specify. Remember, ‘social’ is a conversation – you need to be listening, too!

Much of this functionality is mirrored in the iOS app.

Yes, social media is ‘free’, but its impact on your business is potentially huge. If you are serious about using social media then the relatively small monthly expense of the tools that enable you to be more effective is money well spent. Social media is now too important a business function for you to be messing around with ‘amateur’ tools.

There is a potentially powerful platform emerging at (currently in beta). It has great tools for managing content, to a wider variety of social media than just Twitter and Facebook. It has scheduling, as well as team functionality and a bulk upload facility. Its scheduler tracks engagement to optimise the times of day that messages are sent out. One shortcoming is that it doesn’t deliver your message stream. Looking good thus far.

(Disclosure: While I use paid versions of HootSuite and SproutSocial myself, which is the basis for this endorsement, I need to tell you that purchases that follow from clicking in the links above earn me a small referral fee.)

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The SproutSocial Twitter feed

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The SproutSocial reports dashboard


Crowd-Sourcing Lecture Notes

Oscar Foulkes March 17, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
Twitter sometimes gets accused of being nothing more than gossip. I think chatter is a fairer descriptive, but that line of thinking obscures the huge value that does get delivered by the service.

SXSW introduced me to two great practical applications for Twitter. Firstly, it enabled the posing of questions from the audience, no matter how large. It was a brilliantly efficient way of doing it, especially because it forced the question posers to get to the point. And we didn’t have to wait for them to stand and waffle their way through the question. A major benefit to the organisers is that they could choose the best questions.

The second benefit was crowd-sourced notes during workshops (all presentations, actually). Every session had a designated hash tag. Instead of writing down notes (or, in addition to notes), participants tweeted key points with the hash tag.

During one workshop I was sitting next to someone who was typing up notes on her MacBook Air. She was simultaneously following the Twitter feed for the hash tag, so that she could copy across important points she may not have picked up on first time round. People were also using their smartphones to photograph the presentation slides, which were also tweeted.

But then this was SXSW Interactive. What else would you expect?


Indie Science

Oscar Foulkes March 11, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
I feel very privileged to have been able to attend Adam Savage’s SXSW keynote address – The Maker Age: Enlightened Views On Science & Art.

Far from being a formally qualified scientist, he describes himself as a “serial dilettante”. He is on a mission to make science more accessible. Actually, it’s more about the scientific method – ask a question, make a hypothesis, test it – than it is about atoms or equations. It’s about a way of thinking.

Up front, he made the assertion that art and science are not opposites. Not only are they necessary companions, they are twin story telling channels.

To rapturous applause he expressed the wish that schools would one day have as many science fairs as they have sports matches. He didn’t let sport off the hook, though, because there is a pile of science in sport that ‘jocks’ appear to be quite happy to process.

He used the example of Berkeley parking metres that ran out of time before they were supposed to. It was a widely known problem, but the city was not willing to spend the quoted hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultants to check it out. So, 11-year-old Ellie Lammer went out with

a stopwatch and a pocketful of nickels to check it out as her science fair project. Her findings inspired a piece of legislation that became known as Lammer’s Law.

This element tied in with a panel discussion that I went to a couple of days before: The Indie Science Revolution. One of the panellists, Jacob Shiach, made the point that one does not need to be doing ‘big science’. There are millions of curious people around the world testing things all the time.

Savage also spoke about failure, which he sees as being a key requirement for science. Essentially, pushing things beyond limits causes them to fail, which enables one to work out what those limits are. Failure as a route to learning had also been a theme of a presentation on the power of failure I had been to earlier in the day.

The Indie Science Revolution panellists made the point that scientific research has been government funded for a very small part of the thousands of years that humans have been asking questions.

I came to SXSW to be stimulated and inspired. Thank you, Adam Savage, for doing just that!

Google is Evil

Oscar Foulkes January 29, 2014 Digital No comments
I’m struggling to come to terms with Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto, following a recent experience at the hands of AdWords.

I received an mail from Google offering me a R600 AdWords voucher, so I updated my card details and started a campaign. After a few days I paused it, with the thought that I needed to change the wording of the campaign.

Out of the blue I received an email advising me that the account had been suspended, without any explanation. I then contacted AdWords help. Unlike the rest of Google, there is the facility to do an online chat with a representative (amazing what companies will do when there is money involved!). Usually, Google’s sole method of getting support is for people to fight their way through voluminous FAQs.

The person I chatted to was unable to assist, but offered to escalate the matter. Before long, I received a mail with the following content:

Our specialists have re-reviewed the account and confirmed that it is in violation of our AdWords policies. Since this decision is final, the account will not be reinstated. Please avoid creating additional AdWords accounts, as they will be subjected to the same suspension.

Our support team will not be able to able to give you any more specifics on the suspension.

No mention of which policies I was allegedly violating, or how I was doing it, nothing. All I did was give them my credit card details, and set up a campaign in good faith.

Surely transparency is the first step to not being evil?

I happen to believe that Google’s cloud-based services are an amazing resource. As a business, Google is at the cutting edge of the internet. Yes, they have failures, but from a cloud perspective they are way ahead of the likes of Microsoft (in my opinion, of course).

But now I’m gun shy. Imagine if I move my entire business onto the Google suite (Drive, Apps etc), and they unilaterally decide that I have violated an unknown policy in an unknown manner. If they closed my account that would be disastrous. Knowing them they way I do now, they would probably prevent any further access to stored data.

I know it’s a stretch to imagine them doing that, but they have undermined my trust.

Google, there are many things I admire about you, but you are evil.

UPDATE: In the original email there is a link I’m invited to follow if I want to understand AdWord suspension policies:
(, but the page does not exist.
This content
( suggests that I would/should be given the reasons for the suspension, as well as the opportunity of fixing the ‘violations’.


The Idiot’s Guide to J&B Met Day

Oscar Foulkes January 29, 2014 Horse Racing No comments
On the assumption that not everyone’s going to be ogling eye candy all day (or, that even the most ardent oglers will have a bet at some point during the day) here’s my quick and dirty guide to the day’s racing.

Before I get to that, I need to point out a few house rules:

  1. We aren’t doing anything more than making reasoned ‘predictions’. No-one really knows what is going to happen.
  2. Practice money management. Pick an amount you’re willing to spend on entertainment for the afternoon, and split it between the races you’re interested in. I wouldn’t advise an all-out bet on the first horse that crosses your path. Whatever you do, don’t chase your losses by drawing more cash at the ATMs.
  3. You can do exotics as fractional bets. So, if you’ve worked out a super-duper Pick 6 that costs R1000, but you don’t want to spend R1000, simply take it for R200 (20%).
  4. Place bets are a great way of gently having fun all afternoon, because there are three opportunities for payout in every race.
  5. While on that subject, I’m a big fan of the good, old-fashioned ‘each-way’, which is a win and place on the same horse. If the horse is 5-1 or better, the place bet will cover the losing win portion of the bet. If it wins, you collect both parts of the bet.

I’m involved in the development of mobile-optimised racecard that you can access at It has all the runners, with ‘expert’ comments, as well as a predictor based upon a best-handicapped calculation for the Graded races (I think it’s great, but I’m probably more than a little biased!). The idea is that you can use it on your phone without having to schlepp piles of paper around the racecourse with you.

Race 1
Quite an open race, but as always, the Snaith stable holds a strong hand. Most of the field will go off at 5-1 or better, so place payouts will generally be at least R2 (R1 of that is your initial stake). If you make it to the course by 11.30 you could get your toes wet with a little warm-up bet. Keep your powder dry.

Race 2
Top of the boards here are two unbeaten three-year-olds, DARING DAVE and TEE JAY AR. The latter wouldn’t have made the trip from Joburg if he wasn’t something special, and the former wouldn’t have followed up his Maiden win with a six-length romp if he himself wasn’t well above average. It will be interesting to see how they shape.

What the presence of these two do to the odds on other runners is to increase them. The proven form amongst these is pretty solid. AZINCOURT won very impressively last time. SAIL SOUTH is a decent sort, and if you are willing to look at him, there are several others that come into the picture. The lurker could be SOVEREIGN SOUND, who is currently quoted at 40-1 (theoretical 8-1 for a place) and carries just 52kg. CAPEL TOP is lightly raced, but shows promise.

Race 3
First leg of the PA (you have to pick placed horses in seven consecutive races, and the bet is a permutation).

This is a decent field. Heading the betting is HAPPY FOREVER, fresh from his fourth-place finish in stronger company last week. I’ve been following him for a few starts, so shouldn’t really be deserting him. However, the likes of TIGER TIGER, CAPTAIN’S RESERVE could give him something to think about (both are currently quoted at an each-way-friendly 5-1). Joey Ramsden provides another long-odds lurker, in SHADES OF INDIGO, who is quoted at 20-1. The poor chap carried 64kg last time out (must have been a relief for heavy weight jockey Bernard Fayd’herbe to not be under weight pressure!), conceding 9.5 kg (more than 7 lengths) to the winner.

For the PA, one may get away with bankering Happy Forever, but I’d probably include Tiger Tiger as well.

Race 4
These are young, inexperienced horses, prone to running ‘green’ or showing dramatic improvement. Have a bet if you must, but keep it small in relation to the rest of the day.

ARRIA is a justified favourite, but doesn’t look like value at 16-10. My biased interest is AZARENKA, who was bred by my mother and is part-owned by my brother. In my opinion 15-2 offers value (especially for the each-way punter).

An upset is possible, so I’d probably pick at least two or three for the PA.

Race 5
There’s another hot favourite here, in the form of FUTURA, a winner on debut and then touched off at his second start. He’s by boom stallion Dynasty, he represents the Crawford/Hatt combination, and he carries just 53kg. It’s not a great field, so these credentials may be all it takes to get him home.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of TELL ME MORE pop up, and I’d certainly include TOLD YOU SO in the trifecta if I were taking one.

Race 6
CAPTAIN AMERICA is a champion in the making, the real deal. I’ll be bankering him in my PA. POWER KING wasn’t far behind him in the Guineas, and is bred for every inch of the Kenilworth 2000m.

The Snaith runners all have strong place chances (some of them try their right distance for the first time), and they are all at attractive odds.

Race 7
BEACH BEAUTY shouldn’t be anything other than favourite for this race. She is a champion. But, she races from the widest draw against a strong field. What I’m getting at is that 8-10 doesn’t look like value. If she fails, there are probably half a dozen who are in contention.

The bad draw shouldn’t stop her being a PA banker, but it wouldn’t hurt taking a small ‘cover perm’ that includes a couple of others (there will be a big PA payout if she runs unplaced).

Race 8
In big handicaps, like the Durban July or Summer Cup, top weights rarely win. However, in the J&B Met, horses carry weight that is based upon weight-for-age, with penalties added for Grade One races won. The penalty is limited to 2kg, so unlike handicaps, there is a limit to the spread of weights between top and bottom weights. This means that top weights have a very good strike rate. JACKSON is the kind of top weight that can win the Met. Ignore his run in the Queen’s Plate, 1600m is not his game.

However, a top-class four-year-old that has managed to avoid penalties has a 2kg (about 3 lengths) advantage. This explains MASTER OF MY FATE’S position as short-priced favourite.

The ‘older horse without penalty factor’ creates interest in a bunch of other horses, especially at long odds. In no particular order: KING OF PAIN, ROYAL ZULU WARRIOR, WHITELINE FEVER, HOT TICKET, ICE MACHINE, LAKE ARTHUR, JET EXPLORER, or perhaps even HILL FIFTY FOUR.

It’s obligatory to have a filly in the race; this year it’s DO YOU REMEMBER. She was a close second in the July, but bear in mind that Olympic Duel was the last filly to win the Met, when carrying just 2.5kg less than the top weight (Igugu was getting 3kg from Bravura when she won). It won’t be easy for her.

Race 9
As the betting suggests, this is a wide-open race, so probably one to avoid from an outright bet perspective. If you’re taking a PA you’re obliged to make a selection. I’d be inclined to play wide (i.e. include three or four) on the assumption that the favoured runners have all been placed in the Grade Ones, and I’d be looking for some upsets to improve the payout.

Race 10
This is the final leg of the PA. If your perm is still alive, well done. I’m inclined to banker ROMAN MANNER. He ran a cracker in the Guineas. At his next start he appeared not to stay 1800m, but still managed to finish 1½ lengths behind the winner. He carries just 52kg here, which gives him a big shout. Odds of 3-1 look like good value.

If you’re taking a trifecta, be sure to include BIG CAT. He ran very wide on the bend last time.

Race 11
By now you should be re-hydrating. If not, the three-year-old pairing of ZACHARIAS and PRINCESS OF THE SKY are the obvious choices. They would have outside place chances in the Grade One Majorca Stakes, but run against less exalted fillies here. I have a soft spot for SHOWDOWN, since I had an each-way nibble on her at 20-1 when she was third at her last start.

Race 12
(Phew, this is exhausting!)
Like the Met, the weight terms of this race are weight-for-age plus penalties. Over 2800m, every length equates to 1 lb, so the top weight JEPPE’S REEF is really up against it. I like the look of ILHA BELHA under 54.5kg, but the race has an open look to it. PADDY O’REILLY, RIVER CROSSING and GIFTED FOR GLORY are all well treated at the weights.

Remember, these are simply the musings of one person. Try to make your money last the entire afternoon, and have fun (you’re not trying to win enough money to pay for an overseas holiday). There are some very interesting contests during the course of the afternoon, so even if you’re not betting there’s plenty of racing action to keep you amused.

And, if all else fails, there is always the eye candy.



Widgets : flightnetwork


Oscar Foulkes January 15, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
One of the recurring themes in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is that we have asymmetric responses to losses and gains, especially when there are miniscule probabilities involved.

We are so keen to avert losses that we’ll overpay for insurance, and dread events that are possible – but barely probable – loom larger than they should.

He uses the fabulous example of how a bowl of gorgeous cherries is made completely undesirable by the presence of one cockroach in the bowl. Correspondingly, a bowl of cockroaches isn’t made any less repugnant by the presence of one cherry.

We expend a lot more energy on the things that cause anxiety or fear, than we do on feelings of pleasure.

I ask you: what symbolises pleasure and deliciousness better than a ripe cherry, plump with sweet juice?

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions, but please do not be surprised if I spontaneously shout “Cherries!” or drop the word into a social media update. It’s my little way of remembering to put gains (and happiness) first.

Try it (preferably with a big grin) … Cherries!


Assessing Risk at the Horse Races

Oscar Foulkes January 12, 2014 Horse Racing, Risk No comments
The writing of the likes of Nate Silver, Nassim Taleb and Daniel Kahneman (read my post on this here) encourages us to have a better awareness and understanding of the risks we need to weigh up in making choices (choice could be a proxy for forecast/prediction). We also need to be aware of the bias that our own psychology brings to the decision-making process.

Under many conditions, I am not risk-averse. I’m not sure that this therefore makes me a risk-taker, but I’m certainly willing to have a bet.

I went to the races for the first time at the age of 15. I must have got very lucky, because I won a Place Accumulator that paid out about R1500, which was a lot of money 30 years ago. By the time I got to my final year at university I could win – or lose – a similar amount in an afternoon. Overall, I was a winner, but I didn’t feel comfortable in this space. Over the course of the next few years, I had the occasional punt (generally very successfully), but when I got into wine I stopped completely. It would frustrate Andrea, on the odd occasion when we went racing, that I resolutely refused to do anything other than watch.

Since the middle of 2012, I’ve been doing a lot of work within the racing industry, which has drawn me back into the fold. In parallel, I’ve been peripherally involved in my mother’s breeding operation. And then, since November, Dish Food & Social has been operating the hospitality area at Kenilworth racecourse for the Racing Association. It being part of the family business, I have been very involved, which has given me yet another reason to go racing.

Since then, I’ve taken about eight PAs. Three have been outright losses, another lost money because the payout was less than my stake, and the rest have been profitable. The nett position is a nice surplus in relation to my initial stake (but not of a scale that suggests I should consider giving up my day job!).

So, with the work of Silver, Kahneman and Taleb in mind, what have I observed about the field generally, and myself specifically?

In keeping with a contest that incorporates not just known unknowns, but also unknown unknowns, forecasting is tricky. Anyone who tells you they can tip more than a couple of winners on a card is delusional. The best anyone can do is to hope that the wins outweigh the losses.

I know of several people for whom betting on horses is their sole income, but for the rest of us it’s entertainment. The sport offers the opportunity of exercising skill and strategy, which makes it a different proposition to casino games. Maybe I’m just a nerd, but I enjoy the intellectual process. And, even when that runs out, occasionally there are great athletes engaging in titanic contests.

The first rule of trading, whether it’s stocks, futures, options or forex, is to practice money management. What this means is that you need to preserve capital (i.e. don’t run out of money), by limiting the amount that can be lost on any one position.

Accept that no-one knows what is going to happen. We can guess – and some people may make better assessments more often – but we don’t know. Even the insiders don’t know for certain. Top jockeys who freelance can pretty much pick their rides, and even they are unplaced about half the time.

If you’re losing, don’t chase it. You started the day wanting to have fun while staking a small amount of money; just stick with the programme. Making desperate bets to recover losses just leads to bigger – less manageable – losses.

My choice of bet remains the PA, which requires bettors to select placed runners in seven designated races (also known as legs). It’s a permutation, which means that you don’t have to be 100% right in every leg. A good approximation is often all that’s necessary. It also works as a permutation on the payout side, so if you pick more than one placed horse in several legs the payout multiplies. The outsize returns are necessary to cover the times that you don’t win.

Of course, if the favourites are placed all the way through the day, the payout will be small, which is what happened the time that I won the PA, but still ended up losing money.

I like to put my PA on before I even leave for the races. At that point I have a maximum known loss (R100-ish is plenty, or one can put it on at less than 100%), which leaves me free to enjoy the day. If it’s all going according to plan I have seven races worth of entertainment, with some drinks money at the end of it.

After winning (or is that a case of getting lucky?) I need to try to get back to a state of humility. It doesn’t take the genius of Nate Silver, or research of Daniel Kahneman, to tell you that cockiness is not a great state of mind for making good forecasts.

Everyone knows of a gambler who has lost everything. I have hesitated to use the word here, because it implies someone who bets without considering all the risks. Even if we are not betting, or professionally engaged as forecasters, we make probability (i.e. risk) assessments every day.

I think my betting hobby has made me realise that I have at times been guilty of making over-confident predictions, not just on the racecourse.

[Deep breath as I realise what a big admission this is ... and wife with predisposition to irrational anxiety chortling somewhere in background]

Forecasting, Chance, Probability and more

Oscar Foulkes January 10, 2014 Books No comments
In years past, I’ve opened my holiday reading with an escapist novel that I don’t put down until it’s finished, surfacing only for meals. I find it’s a great way to disconnect, which is the point of a holiday, after all.

This year, I kicked off with Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. It was an uncharacteristic choice because it’s not a novel, and far from being a vegetative experience, the book encourages some self-examination.

It is a richly-layered examination of prediction, probability, correlation and causality. He is all about finding meaningful relationships between data. A very simple, but highly illustrative example, is the observation that in the same months that ice cream sales peak, there is also an increase in the number of bush fires. There is correlation, but no causality. He makes the point that Big Data increases the opportunity of finding data points that randomly correlate, thereby actually working against good predictions.

Silver expounds a Bayesian approach to prediction, in which a base rate or ‘prior probability’ is the beginning point. Having made the first prediction, the ‘prior’ is updated, which offers the opportunity of fine-tuning second- and third-round predictions. It’s all very interesting and thought-provoking.

There is related subject matter in my second read, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

The spontaneous, generally involuntary ‘fast’ thoughts produced by what he calls System 1, can result in a variety of biases and prejudices. Overcoming these is the work of System 2, our ‘slow’, more analytical way of thinking. It’s not as easy a read as Silver’s book, but it is no less interesting. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work, so it is no surprise that his book is a much more dense read.

Nate Silver was a professional poker player for a while, putting his predictive abilities to the test. There certainly is a fit between gambling and prediction; over time, unsuccessful gamblers are those who demonstrate poorer understanding of probability.

Chance is linked to probability, but it’s different to luck. Kahneman cites Nassim Taleb in introducing “narrative fallacy”, which is our tendency to string together apparently relevant events in an attempt to construct causality, without allowing for the huge role played by luck. If you don’t like the word ‘luck’, substitute good fortune. For example, Google – and its founders – is the subject of numerous case studies. However, in the early years they would have sold the entire company for less than $1 million, but the potential buyer thought the price was too high. The Larry Page and Sergey Brin legend would have read very differently!

Even if we are not forecasting professionals, we are required to assess probability on a daily basis. We may as well learn to do it better. These books are a great place to start.



Discovering Music

Oscar Foulkes December 13, 2013 Uncategorized No comments
My working life involves helping my clients operate effectively in a digital environment. So, their sales plans include ecommerce, their marketing involves websites and social media, and I help them makes sales pitches on email. It’s a shift I have embraced myself, by reading books and magazines on iPad, downloading music from iTunes and keeping in touch with people on social media.

Almost from left field, my 13-year-old son has leapt into the world of vinyl records. He used a collection of saved up gift vouchers, with a little assistance from his parents, and bought a turntable. He hooked this up to an old Nad amplifier that we had in storage in the garage (the poor thing was ditched in favour of a docking station!), and he now listens to music while parked on the couch, instead of being shut up in his bedroom.

Listening to music is not new behaviour for him. The difference is that everyone in the house can hear this music (i.e. there are no earphones involved), which turns it into something social. Yesterday, he came home with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which I first heard when I was about his age. In the intervening years, I’ve heard parts of the album several times, with the schoolboy chant “We don’t need no education” featuring most often. There was magic to that moment, as the tracks followed sequentially, rather than in some shuffled format.

His growing collection includes Hendrix, The Stones, The Beatles (Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, no less), and Queen, with The Doors waiting in the wings. The sources of these treasures are stores such as Mabu Vinyl, which featured in Searching for Sugarman. These establishments are staffed by passionate people, who take the time to chat to their customers (even if the customer is a 13-year-old newbie).

‘Sugar’ (of Mabu) was intrigued by what inspired his interest in this music. I believe the response went something along the lines of it being played at home. I wouldn’t say ‘old’ music gets played that often, but when you have an older sister who is as likely to listen to The Kinks as Rihanna, these things can happen.

My own musical preferences certainly include Rock, with what I would call Indie as a sub-set. However, I’ve noticed that iTunes refers to this as Alternative, which I wouldn’t regard as being that helpful a descriptor.

Digital – whether it’s music, ebooks, the Internet, online shopping, mobile apps, or cloud storage – offers many benefits. However, that doesn’t mean that digital is always better than analog. In fact, there is something about analog music that not only supports a voyage of discovery, but is also refreshing to come back to. In many respects, this musical world is better.

It would be a sad day if the might and convenience of the likes of iTunes and Amazon drove small music or book shops out of business.

This year also happens to be the first (perhaps only) that he is buying Christmas gifts for a small group of friends. These gifts all happen to be vinyl records, which means that in houses all around Cape Town, parents are being pressured to dust off old turntables.

Far from being an ironic hipster move, this adoption of retro is being done with massive amounts of enthusiasm. I love it!


Great Afrikaans Words

Oscar Foulkes November 8, 2013 Uncategorized No comments
I have been nagging my kids to learn a programming language. Whether it’s HTML, Javascript, Ruby or PHP, I really don’t care. I’ve even gone so far as to offer monetary rewards for completing Codecademy modules.

I’m not suggesting they become programmers – although they’d possibly earn more money spewing code than waiting tables – I just believe having a better understanding of the guts of the digital tools they’ll be using for the rest of their lives will empower them.

It’s a little like the languages we humans use to communicate with each other. Being able to communicate in additional languages is always an asset. Yes, English may be the world’s business language, but there are many places where it is not spoken, or used with great insecurity.

They are obliged to learn Afrikaans at school, which is not a language that is in universal use even in South Africa. I grew up speaking it (as second language). I’m not sure that the superficial experience of a school language will enable them to feel the descriptive power of Afrikaans.

My wife has never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Afrikaners never let the absence of words get in the way of a good story; in fact, where necessary they’ll make them up.

It’s a language that may have been based upon Dutch, but it has a tradition of borrowing words, and just generally improvising for the sake of conveying meaning.

This morning I watched a little rugby video from the 70s, in which Springbok Joggie Jansen floors All Black Wayne Cottrill so comprehensively that the Kiwi did not move for several minutes. The Afrikaans commentator used the word “plettervat” to describe the tackle. For someone who understands the language, it is one word that does the job of a whole paragraph.

“Verpletter” means that something has been completely crushed or destroyed. The word “vat” means grab or hold, and is often conjugated:
laagvat – tackle low
vasvat – grab tight
So, “plettervat” denotes a tackle from which there is no coming back. Indeed, Cottrill may still be hurting from Jansen’s hit.

I need to start keeping a list of similarly descriptive words. Here are a few to get you going (please feel free to add more, via the comments section below):
Drinkstompie – the piece of wood (stompie) that gets added to a fire to extend the evening, or to delay the start of the braai
Spookasem – candy floss, directly translated as ghost breath
Abbawa – the trailer that is used to transport cars (i.e. a pantechnicon), literally carry (abba) wagon (wa). My sense is that ‘abba’ is a word that entered Afrikaans via Malay slaves, but googling ‘abba’ is not likely to be a rewarding exercise!
Loskop – absent-minded, but in a particularly descriptive manner. Directly translated as ‘loose head’.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve had bit of a frustrating time with an Afrikaans client, who kept rejecting the English wine back label copy I wrote for her, on the basis that it was “missing beautiful descriptive words and a poetic flow of the words”. I’m not sure English has many words that pack as much meaning as Afrikaans does. So, with that background it’s no surprise that she wasn’t getting turned on by the words I’d crafted. Anyway, I went to my cliché cupboard and we seem to be making progress.

One of the features of modern programming languages is the way they build on previous languages, so that a simple reference calls a bunch of complex functionality. C led to C++, which in turn gave rise to Java, from which we get Groovy and Grails.

I can’t help thinking that Afrikaans is a little like one of the modern programming languages, in which one word does the work of many. Perhaps I should just trash the idea of Codecademy and get my kids to listen to a few Jan Spies or Gerhard Viviers recordings instead.