Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Things they don't teach you in school

In an increasingly networked world, how strange it is to find ourselves so frequently isolated.

The problem, of course, is that we aren't taught to network with each other. Our parents outsource our networking to teachers, and our teachers just try and ensure that none of us choke to death on an eraser on their watch.

Social networking, ironically, encourages the same form of isolation. Facebook, for all its might, is possibly the single most damaging social networking tool I know: yes it will help you find your long-lost friend and that aunty who will like your pictures, but how will it help you find people who will challenge your ideas, people who need you in their lives, people you can fall in love with?

Facebook is fantastic for keeping touch with your existing social circles, but it fails spectacularly when it comes to meeting new people, or having real-time debates. Twitter is marginally better, except who uses Twitter anymore except for children and people in the Middle East who're organising rallies all the time (apparently)? 

By an anachronistic stroke of luck, I discovered real social networking online in 2008, in the form of Internet Relay Chat (that's a whole separate story for another day). Even then, it was abundantly clear that most of the people left on IRC (and there weren't many) were in their late thirties and forties, and remembered it from its heyday in the '90s ... at which time I was in my teens, and my family didn't have a PC in the house, never mind a 56k dial-up modem.

IRC, for anybody not familiar, is moderately complex to use by modern 'point and click' standards, but the principle is dead simple: users connect to chatrooms that are hosted on IRC servers, and those servers record and send plain text chat messages (both public and personal) instead of websites. It's real-time, and although your 'client' (the programme you use to access the IRC server) might save all the chat messages in text logs, nobody really reads those: just like real life, you're either there and participating in the conversation, or the moment is gone and ancient history.

The magic, then, is two-fold: 1) You immediately get access to a pool of human beings connected to the same chatroom as you, from around the country or around the world (depending on the type of server you're on); and 2) The ball is entirely in your court what you SAY to these individuals, and how you react to them.

The reason why I am STILL going back onto IRC in the year of our lord 2018 is precisely the same as it was ten years ago: there's just nothing like the possibility of having actual conversations (both group conversations and one-on-one) with people you'd most likely pass on the street and never share more than a momentary glance with otherwise.

While society seems to increasingly isolate us into our individual worlds of cellphone screens and media consumption (TV, movies and staring blankly at other people living their lives on YouTube); IRC forces us to connect. If nobody says anything, then they'd just be sitting there staring at a blank screen.

And so people DO speak up. Social barriers dissolve. And (if you're lucky) real connections are formed. 

I won't lie to you and say that all debate on IRC is highly intellectual. I won't even lie to you and claim that most of it is emotionally uplifting. The vast majority of it is pretty much the kind of small-talk you'll hear with a bunch of strangers in a bar, only nobody's drunk (well some are) and they're all listening to their own music.

Like anything else in life, however, it becomes what you make of it. I've found repeatedly that it's an amazing icebreaker ... just milling around in chat until you find somebody whose chat style gels with yours, and you continue the conversation in private. Before you know it, you've made a friend you wouldn't have imagined you'd ever have: maybe somebody 15 years older than you, maybe somebody living 1 200km away, maybe somebody with some wildly different views than yours, but ... a real, living human being, and you're not just shouting at each other in a bar but having actual conversations.

Again, I feel it's important to stress that IRC isn't this magical place where unicorns live. It's just a blank screen, and a very loosely moderated one at that (although most rooms will have admin teams who will try keep conversation just this side of an outright fistfight) ... and because all the input comes from humans, a lot of that input is filled with anguish, anger, petty frustration, egotistical-driven grandstanding, or wild jealousy.

And love. Real, unadulterated, knock me over a feather, how is this even possible, love.

I met my first girlfriend on IRC, on a general 'chat' channel. I met my wife on IRC, on a trivia channel of all things (where a computer programme asks general knowledge questions and the people in the room try to answer correctly before anybody else). My theory is that it doesn't matter where people who have a strong connection meet, that connection will jump across distance and mediums like an electric spark jumping between two wires.

That doesn't mean I'm advocating IRC for lonely hearts. For a lot of the reasons mentioned, it's actually a spectacularly bad place for that: it is filled with groups of jaded people tired of being endlessly flirted with, and other groups of people who just endlessly flirt out of habit rather than desire. Somewhere in the middle are the normal, everyday people ... and talking to them might help you see problems in new lights; feel better about your shitty life; or just laugh when everything else is bringing you down.

And so IRC for me is caught in this weird twilight state: it is a dying technology platform (with a very low-grade form of cancer given its longevity), and yet it also contains unadulterated human connection that is found absolutely nowhere else in our always-on, always-consuming (and hardly ever publishing) world.

Personally I'd love to see IRC receive better marketing, so more people are even aware of it. Maybe what it needs is a transition of its core tenets to a new technology platform (Virtual Reality-based chatrooms already show all the benefits of IRC with additional body language and physical interactions not possible on text-based IRC). Heck, if there's a passion project I'd ever love to attempt, it would be to reignite social networking on a mass scale using an IRC-type platform to encourage people to truly connect with each other.

If you haven't experimented with IRC, there are so many gateway drugs. The easiest way of getting on is simply via your website browser, using platforms like (South African) or (international server). Pick a username, connect to a channel, and plunge in (just type "/list >15" to get a list of chatrooms with more than 15 people connected to it at that time). Once you get hooked, you simply download your very own dedicated IRC client like ... and the rest is history.

If there's one parting thought here, it is this: gaining confidence in online chat is a crucial life skill that translates perfectly into the real world. How do you start a conversation? How do you resolve conflict? How do you keep stringing together words in a way that somebody else will actually want to read them? What do you have to give to the world, and what do you want in return?

Friday, 16 March 2018

Crazy footprints and my life

As I grow older, I'm starting to enjoy dancing around the oldest existential questions. Can anybody else relate to this?

You know the Big 2 (and their two corollaries):
1) Why am I here (and what am I meant to do)?
2) Who am I (and what do I want)?

Now just like everybody else on this little planet of ours, I've gone through about a million different answers to those two simple questions ... to a point where it starts to look a bit like this when I think about it:

You know this feeling? It's like everything you've ever felt about something starts to overlap, and as your mind skims over the old worn footpaths again and flips between them trying to find new meaning ... it can all get a bit confusing/frustrating.

So what got me thinking about this tonight was this video, which I love an inordinate amount:

That video, for me, speaks to who I want to be (and therefore indirectly to who I am). It's quirky, irreverent, aesthetically appealing, original ... and I identify with all of that. This is what I want with life: fun, and to make beautiful things.

This is the real reason why I haven't gone off into the great blue yonder to start a business doing something I don't want to do. I know I want to have independence, but I also know I want it to be doing something I deeply enjoy and that means something to other people too.

In this disposable society we live in, I can't think of a single career that is fun, connects to people emotionally, and enables a reliable form of income for entrepreneurs. Standup comedian maybe, but from the behind-the-scenes I've seen of real standup comedians they're always on the road and behind the laughs is frequently a very calculated approach towards playing the audience that doesn't work for me.

So yeah, I guess I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and there's a strong likelihood I'll always feel this way. Welcome to the human condition, right?

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A rose by any other name...

If anybody ever asks me why I want to leave South Africa, here's a simple answer.

Exhibit A:
Exhibit B:
Oh but that's not so bad, my more liberal readers will cry (those not in South Africa). Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, social change, blah blah blah (I'm allowed to be flippant about it if I've lived under this flavour of 'democracy' for 23 years).

Yes very well, but let me present Exhibit C:
And that's it, don't you see?

Firstly, if you want to do it, just come out and say it. Say "no whites welcome", why not. You think that dressing it up with other names makes it better, or somehow politically correct?

Secondly, there's the very key fact that white South Africans make up less than 10% of the population. Nobody's exactly sure how much less, but as that graph demonstrates white South Africans are emigrating, dying or just fading into irrelevance.

Which would be fine, except when you get continual reminders in public job advertisements like the ones I've shared above that if you're white you shouldn't even dare apply for some jobs.

WTF, really? It's like holding a townhall meeting, and then putting up a sign "freckled redhead Asians not welcome". Is it really necessary? How hard would it be for recruiters to just ignore applications from less than 10% of the population (I sure as hell know it'd make me feel better).

Instead South Africa is this country where race has been weaponized. A lot of people will say a lot about reverse racism, but the truth is that the recruiters who posted those job ads may well be white themselves (makes you wonder - were there any Jews helping the Nazis run the gas chambers?).

And that's just one of the reasons why I want to leave, but probably the biggest. The country has become like a big mean bully who keeps punching the little kid and then trying to make out that the little kid is running into his fist all the time.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Come in, Home Base

Has it really been more than a year since my last blog post here? That blows me away.

Blowing me away even further is that I could practically repost my last post here, word for word: I'm in another new job, it's been an extremely eventful year, and the elusive 'aha' moment of my life that I can still sense is just around the corner is tantalisingly not only out of reach but also out of sight.

And so I keep going. On December 19 I turn 32, which I guess is what explains all my pent up frustration: I'm getting to that point in my life where the rockets blasting me into outer space are either going to overcome the inertia and get me there, or else I'm likely to blow up on the landing pad.

Melodramatic much? Yup. Everything has its seasons, and this may not be full winter but it's pretty damn chilly for me.

However, even in the midst of the chill, sometimes one can see a scrap of wisdom that grabs you by the ears, shakes you around a bit, and deposits you a little ... maybe not wiser, but at least a bit more determined to see it through.

Not like there's a choice, but hey. Like I always say, if life were easy, everyone would do it.

Here's the scrap of wisdom I saw just tonight, written casually onto the window of a shop in a mall selling sporting goods:

Some marketer probably googled 'motivational quotes'. Well hell, it worked. It didn't get me to go into the store and buy a pair of sneakers, but it got my attention and left me feeling that I WILL be ok after all.

I will, because I am. Because I must. Because I want to.

Because this frustrating, too-long story, isn't over yet. Thanks Rango.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Just stop it

A lot has changed since I wrote my last post here (back in May???). I've changed jobs, changed careers, moved cities ... and just generally had my plate full of all sorts of real and imaginary fears and doubts.

If this time has taught me anything, it's that one doesn't truly appreciate the value of confidence until it feels as if it has disappeared like fog on a summer's day. Try as you might, sometimes it won't come back ... and it's a journey.

But then I saw this video, and I think it's extremely relevant (it's something I've already been telling myself with differing levels of success over the past few months).

The hardest part is just letting go. We know this, we've always known this, and yet it's often so hard just to believe it, right?

So join me in listing whatever negative habits have been kicking around in your brain, and just commit to shouting 'Stop it!' whenever they crop up.

Stop it!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Take five minutes out of your day

This video's core message is so simple, and yet so beautiful, that I just had to pass it on.

Youtube link:

We all feel this one simple truth: truly look into somebody's eyes and you start to see them on an emotional level, not just through your usual filter of preconceptions. Yet everything in this world is geared towards breaking eye contact: media distractions, fears about mixed messages, insecurity, anger.

So many missed opportunities for authentic connections with the only people sharing this lonely planet with us at this specific moment in time *sighs*

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Jacob Zuma and THAT Constitutional Court judgement

Source: Mail & Guardian
31 March 2016 is a date that will go down in South African history, and spoken about in glowing terms for longer than I'm going to be around probably.

Why? Because for the first time in longer than any South African cares to remember, there's finally an undisputed victory for the rule of law in South Africa (not to be confused with democracy), against corrupt, self-enriching politicians who laugh at their critics in Parliament and do not deign to actually recognise the harm they have caused.

Which brings us back to today, and what makes it special. Today is the day that South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, not only has to pay back the State's money used to personally enrich himself while his personal compound (in South Africa our president doesn't need a mere house apparently) was undergoing security upgrades; but also found that he AND South Africa's parliament (majority-controlled by his political party, the ANC) have failed South Africa by ignoring an official report by the Public Protector which had already recommended that he pay back money for these unlawful upgrades.

"The president failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution," Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said as he read through a unanimous judgment by the justices in the Constitutional Court.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Here's the key takeaway that has South Africa buzzing - in world politics, there have been bitterly few examples of a national court condemning the country's president and parliament in quite such a stern fashion.

The reason everybody in South Africa is so thrilled about this is because our Parliament has turned into a puppet show: with the ruling party outright controlling the majority of the seats, they blatantly use their majority to overturn any movement brought by opposition politicians that they don't find to be in their favour (most recently crushing the second vote of no confidence in Zuma).

This was never (just) about the money. As long as the ANC has been around, people have always joked openly about the 'gravy train' of corruption and tender-manipulation that has plagued the ANC at all levels of government. Rather, Nkandla and the ANC's absurd defences of it (up to the point of trying to rebrand a swimming pool as a critical water reservoir for fire safety - I kid you not!) has just been yet another case of the ANC thumbing its nose at the South African public,

It's worth recalling at this point that back in 2008, Jacob Zuma infamously stated that the ANC would rule the country "until Jesus comes back". Admittedly recent elections have had the ANC scrambling after their grip on the voters has undeniably been waning, but on one hand the erosion hasn't been fast enough; and on the other some of the beneficiaries of the erosion have been the most dangerous kind of 'revolutionaries' promising sweeping damaging economic and political reforms (e.g. the Economic Freedom Fighters' wish to nationalize South African mines and banks).

Ok, so all of that background and context out of the way, IS this really the big victory it's painted to be? Is it going to be the lever that opposition politicians and disgruntled factions within the ANC will finally be able to utilise to unseat Jacob Zuma from his chair, ahead of the municipal elections scheduled for later this year? Is Jacob Zuma actually going to pay back the money (and with what money and how much), or is he going to find some other way to weasel out of this?

As always South Africa is a country of more questions than answers, but we won't let that detract from the pleasure of reading of the ConCourt's definitive list of 11 judgements on Nkandla today. Today we have a definitive answer, THE definitive answer, to at least one important question: "Will the Constitutional Court hold Jacob Zuma and the ANC accountable?"

Yes. Yes they will.

And on a lighter note, we can all enjoy this awesome twitter account that has had new life breathed into it today:

Sounds familiar.

Bonus note:
To bring this back to Romania (and you knew I had to), I couldn't stop thinking about this shocking news story that took Romania by storm just a few months ago: Ponta resigned because of a club fire he didn't personally set ... will Jacob Zuma step down in response to the fire he has stoked with reckless and gleeful abandon throughout his terms as president?