Should you buy an iPad?

A little over a year and a half ago, my children bought me an iPad for my sixtieth birthday. I was very surprised, extremely delighted and totally clueless what to do with it. This was very early on in the tablet revolution and iPads weren’t even available in South Africa. Now, after knowing the device inside and out, people are asking me whether they should buy one. So, in response to a question from a dear friend of mine, here is my answer.

iPad

iPad

When I got my iPad, I had a grand total of 4 devices: desktop (Windows, home), laptop (Windows, work), a not very smart Nokia phone and my new iPad. Between then and now, I got rid of the desktop and thanks to my wife, my Nokia was replaced with an iPhone 4 (thanks, Renée!). Of the three devices, my iPad is definitely my favorite one and the one I use the most. It has fundamentally changed the way I think about computing and the way I use  electronic devices. I love the touchscreen and the clever ways well-designed apps use it. Despite this, if I were forced to give up one of the three devices, I would have to choose the iPad. This points out that the answer to the question is not as easy as it seems: the tablet revolution still has a way to go before it can completely replace other devices.

What does an iPhone do that an iPad doesn’t?

1. It fits in your pocket. Not much anyone can do about this.
2. It places telephone calls, although this is a silly restriction that I’m sure Apple will do away with sometime. For example, the iPad is already my favorite device for skyping.

As for the rest, the iPhone does pretty much everything that an iPad does, albeit often akwardly due to screen size limitations. In some corners, it’s often argued that an iPad is just a large iPhone. True(ish), but the screen real estate is crucial for comfort in a wide variety of applications. If you’re always on the go and never work at a desk, then maybe the iPhone will suffice. But for pleasurable, productive and creative work, get an iPad.

Now what does a laptop (or desktop, for that matter) do that an iPad doesn’t?

1. It has a real keyboard. This is a matter of contention. Very few reject the iPad offhand because of the lack of a keyboard, some buy a physical keyboard to go with the iPad, but most of us just get used to typing on the screen. I find it easy enough and have written long articles on it without a problem and without degradation of typing speed (which is slow anyway, in my case). Productivity experts estimate that a fast touch-typist will type at about half the speed on an iPad. For the rest of us, the degradation is much smaller.
2. It has a file system. This is a real problem with iOS, the operating system that runs iPhones and iPads, that at some point in time will be addressed by Apple. It is already being addressed by other innovative companies both on the iPad and in the cloud. Via an automatic background sync I don’t notice, I can view any file (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, foto’s, videos, etc.) on my laptop or my iPad as long as I am connected to the Internet.
3. It does MS Office well. There are plenty of workarounds and half-solutions for the iPad but nothing that really works the way it could. Microsoft dropped the ball but several venture-backed companies are feverishly working on this. Expect to be able to work on Office documents comfortably by the end of 2012.

What’s the bottom line? The iPad is in the majority of cases the preferred device for more than half of the computing work I do. Working with touchscreens is satisfying and intuitive and well-designed apps make photography, reading, movies, music, writing, note taking more pleasurable than on any other device. Some limitations can’t be addressed, particularly size, so my iPhone/iPad combination is probably here to stay. But the next device to go will probably be the notebook. Maybe not this year, but the tablet will continue to disrupt the computing landscape in 2012.

If you have decided to take the plunge, three questions arise:

1. Which model? Don’t get an iPad 1 (my model), the iPad 2 (Renée’s model) is a significant improvement on several fronts (speed, clarity, cameras, smart cover). I’m pretty sure that Apple will soon announce the iPad 3, but for now, I can’t really imagine what essential improvements that will have over the iPad 2. You may want to wait, but the iPad 2 is an awesome machine.
2. SIM or no SIM? We both have the SIM version but don’t use it, because tethering via our iPhones is (fairly) user friendly and cheaper. I guess this depends on your situation. If you are behind a corporate proxy/firewall, you may want to consider the 3G model.
3. How much memory? We both have the largest memory money can buy but don’t use it. Most of our data is in the cloud. If you need to keep large amounts of photos, music, etc. locally on your iPad then you may want to reconsider.

So the bottom line is: You can do without an iPad but it’s no fun. If time is no object, wait for the iPad 3 announcement. If money is no object, get the largest iPad available with a SIM. In all other cases, get a16GB iPad with a DropBox or SugarSync (my personal preference) account. If you have a couple of extra bucks, get the 3G model, but it’s not strictly essential if your iPhone is always  nearby.

And don’t underestimate the learning curve. The time spent is worth it, but there is more than just a monetary investment to be made.

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The Art of Business Plans

Detailed Example_ Book Publisher

Detailed Example_ Book Publisher

One of the questions entrepreneurs often ask us in the Ignition Centre is: “We need a business plan. Can you write it for us?”. The short answer to that is a simple: “Absolutely not!”. The longer answer is a bit more complex and I’ll try to answer that in this article.

First of all, why do you need a business plan? Many highly successful entrepreneurs will tell you that they started their business without a formal business plan. The only company I was ever involved in that started with a business plan was an abysmal failure and cost me a bundle of money. Several others, with no plan in place, did very nicely. So why do banks need to see a business plan before they will provide a business with start-up funds? Why will no government agency provide you with a grant without seeing a business plan?

The place to look for an answer is by carefully observing how experienced and successful investors in start-up businesses (venture capitalists or angel investors) go about choosing where to place their money. If you get a chance to sit in on their investment decisions, you will hear them say things like: “It’s not about the plan, it’s about the planning” or “It’s not about the plan, it’s about the people behind the plan”. I think Dwight D. Eisenhower summed it up best when he said many years ago: “The plan is useless; it’s the planning that’s important.”

What experienced investors are really interested in is to verify that you have you gone through all the necessary steps in thinking through your business. We all know Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will”. This is particularly true in start-up businesses. Have you considered all the options? Covered all the bases? Have you done a reality check on your assumptions? Do you have contingencies in place for all those things that are going to pack out differently than you thought they would?

What banks and government agencies and investors are really after is not a business plan but proof that thorough planning and thinking has taken place, that it’s realistic, and that it has covered the many aspects relevant to starting a new business. Can a consultant do that for you? Of course not. No consultant will run your business for you. No ones knows your business like you do.

So if we can’t do the planning for you, how can TSiBA’s Ignition Centre help you get started with your business plan? First and foremost, we can steer you in the right direction. That has become a lot easier recently with the publication of a book that has very quickly become the “Bible” of business planning. It’s called: “Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers” and is written by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. It has also been co-edited by literally hundreds of entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses and have been through it all. Don’t be put off by the pompous title. The basics are as true for the Richard Bransons of the world as they are for those of us starting a hair salon or a gardening service in Khayelitsha.

The authors boil the planning down to 9 essential questions that every entrepreneur must ask herself before starting a business. That’s it, no more no less. Think about them as the 9 building blocks of your business. If you have thought deeply about the answers to those questions, then you are ready to start your business. And, if you do need a business plan from a bank or another organization, you are then ready to write it and ready to ask for help from our Ignition Centre. So please don’t spend thousands of rands (or government vouchers) on getting a consultant to do your planning for you. The plan won’t help you run your business and it won’t get you funded. It will not be worth the paper it’s written on.

The book is a lot cheaper and leads you to ask and answer the right questions. As a bonus, it’s very well written and beautifully illustrated. It doesn’t require a MBA and doesn’t read like a business text book at all. The end result of the process is what the authors call a “business canvas” that literally “paints” a complete picture of your business. Who ever thought business planning was as much art as it is science? In future articles, I will go into detail into each of the 9 basic elements of a robust planning process. I will use a concrete example so you can see how this works where it really matters: in the real world.

To give you a little taste of what’s coming, here are the questions we will be asking (and answering). Don’t let the big words scare you off. We will chop them down to size.

Customer Segments: For whom are we creating value? Who are our most important customers, clients, or users?

Value Proposition: What value do we deliver to the customer? Which one of our customer’s problems are we helping to solve? Which job are we helping the customer get done? Which customer needs are we satisfying? What bundles of products and services are we offering to each Customer Segment?

Distribution Channels: Through which Channels do our Customer Segments want to be reached? How are we reaching them now? How are our Channels integrated? Which ones work best? Which ones are most cost-efficient? How are we integrating them with customer routines?

Customer Relationships: What type of relationship does each of our Customer Segments expect us to establish and maintain with them? Which ones have we established? How costly are they? How are they integrated with the rest of our business model?

Revenue Streams: For what value are our customers really willing to pay? How would they prefer to pay? How much does each Revenue Stream contribute to overall revenues in terms of percentages of the total?

Key Resources: What Key Resources do our Value Propositions require? Our Distribution Channels? Customer Relationships? Revenue Streams?

Key Activities: What Key Activities do our Value Propositions require? Our Distribution Channels? Customer Relationships? Revenue streams?

Key Partnerships: Who are our Key Partners? Who are our key suppliers? Which Key Resources are we acquiring from partners? Which Key Activities do partners perform for us?

Cost Structure: What are the most important costs inherent in our business model? Which Key Resources are most expensive? Which Key Activities are most expensive?

If you can’t wait until I’ve finished all nine articles, then go to your local bookstore or library to pick up a copy. After you have done your homework call (021 532 2750) or email Sonja Hagins (sonja@tsiba.org.za) for an appointment so that we can discuss in detail how we can help. And no, we won’t do your planning for you! Nor will we charge you an arm and a leg for a business plan that is worthless to your business.

Allow me one final comment: The process the authors depict is just as valuable for a running business that wants to get ahead, as it is to a start-up company.

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Weekend in Perth

We’re pretty much unpacked and settled in Perth. It took a little longer for Perth to unpack the nice weather, but that finally happened over the weekend. On Saturday we bicycled 7 km to the beach and took a longer 13 km route back alongside the Swan River and an incredibly kitschy sunset.  On Sunday we tried our luck at another spectacular sunset and went on a picnic next to the Swan River, but the clouds beat us to it. I did get a very nice shot though.

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45k ride through Drenthe and Groningen

On Wednesday we took a bicycle tour southwest of the city of Groningen. I only took along my telephoto lens, so I couldn’t make any pictures of the inner working of the beautifully restored Rodenwolde windmill.

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Schiermonnikoog 2011

Just about every Dutch person has memories of summer vacations in one of the islands off the north coast of the Netherlands, an area called “het wad” (“the mud flats”). Renée and I were determined to go at least once this year while we were in Groningen and we grabbed the chance when Adri came to visit us from Cape Town. The formula is simple: hop in a bus, transfer to a ferry, rent a bike and have a perfect day bicycling around the island. We chose Schiermonnikoog because it’s nearest to Groningen. The weather was iffy but Renée skilfully navigated us around the rain showers and kept us completely dry.

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What is it like to live and work in South Africa?

South Africa is bidding to build the largest radio telescope ever built, the so-called Square Kilometer Array (SKA). It is easily among the most ambitious scientific infrastructure projects being considered in the world. Australia and South Africa are the only countries left in the running and a decision will be made in 2012. If SA does get the nod, it will need to attract foreign talent to help build the telescope and train local astronomers and engineers how to use and maintain it. The SKA Office is gearing up to do that and asked me to write a piece about what it is like to live and work in South Africa as an expat.

Safety and security: One of the very first questions a foreigner asks concerns safety. While the crime statistics in South Africa are high, we feel safe. And the stats seem to be slowly improving. If you heed local advice, use common sense and stay out of dangerous places and situations, you will be OK. Exit interviews done after the 2010 FIFA World Cup showed that visitors felt extremely safe and a significant percentage even felt safer than in their own home country.

Townships: Even well-to-do South Africans have a misconception about the townships. Some townships are better off than others. Some areas within a township are nicer than other areas in the same township. There is a growing lower middle class living in the townships. I have seen lawns in Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town, that are greener than my front yard. A township is just the place where the average South African lives. They are viby, colourful and full of life and fun. To avoid going into the townships is to miss out on an important part of South African life. Do go in with locals at your side. You will feel extremely welcome.

Work permits: Home Affairs, responsible for work and residency permits and passports, still struggles to increase its efficiency. Let your employer hassle with the bureaucracy. Employers have mostly come to realize that spouses often want to work, so insist on having them also help with that. It is surprisingly easy to get a “scarce skills” work permit. Check what scarce skills are being sought after (it changes) and then interpret broadly. Another route to take is volunteering. There are scores of NGO’s and other worthy organizations in SA that are in dire need of volunteers. Volunteer for a day a week, show them what you can do and soon they may be offering to pay you. It won’t be much, but you will be doing important work. The really good news for spouses is that if you have a little bit of initiative and put your entrepreneur’s hat on, South Africa is a gold mine. If you have a skill that you can sell as a self-employed free-lancer, then it’s easy to set up shop as a sole proprietor. For the more ambitious, setting up your own company involves not too much money and not too much red tape.

Goods and services: You can get just about anything you want in the world. Retail is sophisticated and of high quality. If you can’t get it locally, the postal system will deliver it to you reliably. While salary levels are lower than in the States or Europe, so are prices even though 14% VAT will be added to just about everything you buy. Overall, the cost of living ends up being lower.

Banking, financial services, and insurance: On the whole, these services are comparable or better than their equivalent in the States or most countries of Europe. They are better for two reasons: (1) South Africans are a friendly lot and they succeed in making their call centres more tolerable than elsewhere and (2) financial governance in South Africa is healthily conservative so banks were not hugely affected by the meltdown of the banking sectors in Europe and the States. There is no local sub-prime crisis because banks refused to play along. It’s no problem getting money into SA, and although there are foreign exchange restrictions it is no problem getting it out again for foreigners. Income taxes are very reasonable and generally lower than they are in Western Europe. SARS, the South African Revenue Service, is unusually efficient and easy to deal with.

Medical services: World class, if you make sure that you are properly insured. Let your employer organize this for you. There are little or no waiting times to see a specialist, and little or no waiting times to have an operation. Doctors and dentists are very well trained and up-to-date. The cost of medical services is considerably lower than comparable services in Europe and the States.

Transportation: Aviation is world class and local low-fare airlines make flying between the urban areas affordable. Most airports were completely revamped for the 2010 World Cup and are in superb shape. Roads in the urban areas are excellent. Public transportation is still on the politician’s to-do list so you will need a car.

Schooling: Top schools at any level are first class.

Recreation: There is an incredible amount of things to do and see in South Africa. Art, theatre, movies, music, and comedy offerings are sophisticated. South Africans are sports fanatics. For those that want to work up a sweat, the infrastructure is excellent. The scenery, the sea, the mountains are exquisite and if you like the outdoors, whether on land or on the water, you will never want to leave. Children will love South Africa.

Food and drink: The food is excellent, to international standards and of very good value. Service in restaurants is extremely friendly and good. Township fare is somewhat more exotic, but delicious. South African wine is world class at bargain basement prices. Nowhere in the world will you get such good wine for so little money.

Foreigners: On the whole, South Africans are a very friendly and curious lot, and are very welcoming to foreigners. Problems with xenophobia that have received attention in the foreign press relate to illegal immigrants coming in from neighbouring (much poorer) African countries.

Conclusion: South Africa is a great place to live for foreign expats. While the country certainly has its challenges, there are endless opportunities for well-trained specialists. Nature has favoured SA in many unique ways and the country has a modern infrastructure without having lost its traditional roots. South Africans are friendly and, despite a tough 20th century, are optimistic about their future in the 21st and willing to work for it.

If you are considering a move to South Africa and you have a question about something I haven’t touched on, feel free to ask me.

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Tine visits the Dwingeloo Telescope

This is the telescope where Renée made her now famous discoveries of the galaxies Dwingeloo 1 and Dwingeloo 2. There are now posters there to explain their significance to the tourists who come to see the telescope.

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A little bit of wet weather…

What a little bit of wet weather can do… (seen in Dwingeloo).

 

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The Republic of Hout Bay lives in Amsterdam

 

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A walk through Rotterdam

Recently, on my way to a meeting in Rotterdam, I had an hour to kill. So instead of taking the tram/metro from Central Station to the Maas harbour, I walked. I didn’t regret it.

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