COVID19ZIM Aggregator

COVID19ZIM Aggregator

It is incredibly difficult to keep up with news about Coronavirus (COVID-19) – the infectious disease that currently has no vaccine and has taken the world at large by surprise. Nationwide curfews and lock-downs have become the order of the day.

Whilst the world has been battling to contain COVID-19, misleading news about it has also been spreading rapidly – especially on social media platforms, which does not help the situation. This is often exacerbated by the fact that it can also be difficult to find locally relevant information aggregated in a central place.

To this end, I have created Covid19Zim Aggregator – an online application that I hope can be a useful tool for accessing centralised, easy to understand, relevant and actionable information about COVID19 in Zimbabwe. This information includes statistics, emergency contact details and service provider details. The statistics are gathered from sources such as the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) in Zimbabwe and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Covid19Zim Aggregator is mobile friendly – it is accessible, optimised and fully functional from a cellphone.

Features of Covid19Zim Aggregator include:

  • Statistics about COVID-19 in Zimbabwe (as reported by MoHCC)
  • Contact details for the hotlines setup by MoHCC. One can call the hotline by simply clicking on the contact number whilst viewing the Covid19Zim Aggregator on their cellphone
  • Twitter link for MoHCC
  • WhatsApp link for MoHCC. One can WhatsApp the  MoHCC by simply clicking on the WhatsApp link whilst viewing the Covid19Zim Aggregator on their cellphone
  • Health Tips
  • Mobile Friendly (accessible from a cellphone)

Features coming soon:

  • Service Providers and their contact details (e.g. hospitals)

You can access Covid19Zim Aggregator here – covid19zim.site

#FlattenTheCurve #StayHomeSaveLives #Covid19Zim #TellAZimbabwean

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Footnotes
  1. Covid19Zim Aggregator is an independent and unofficial web application.
  2. Comments section is at the end of the page.
No man's land between South Africa and Namibia (Vioolsdrift Border Control)

Exploring the Land of the Brave, Namibia

After recently road tripping across Namibia with some friends, I would best describe it as a country with endless stretches of road, an abundance of adventure activities, stunning landscapes and most importantly, friendly nationals who take great pride in the quality of Namibian beer, meat and biltong!

Our road trip took us across four provinces in Namibia – Karas Region (Keetmanshoop), Hardap Region (Mariental), Khomas Region (Windhoek) and Erongo Region (Swakopmund and Walvis Bay). Although we trekked across early July, which is mid-winter season, the day time temperatures consistently ranged in the mid-twenties, much to our delight. Below are some of the pictures from the roadtrip, enjoy.

 

Atlantic Ocean and Namib Desert separated by a road (Swakopmund)
Atlantic Ocean and Namib Desert separated by a road (Swakopmund)

 

Jetty Restaurant, Swakopmund
Jetty Restaurant, Swakopmund

 

Christus Kirche, Windhoek's best known landmark
Christus Kirche, Windhoek’s best known landmark

 

Sunset enroute to Windhoek
Sunset enroute to Windhoek

 

Quad biking in the Namib Desert, Swakopmund
Quad biking in the Namib Desert, Swakopmund

 

Exploring the Namib Desert, Swakopmund
Exploring the Namib Desert, Swakopmund

 

At the top of Dune 7, Walvis Bay
At the top of Dune 7, Walvis Bay

 

No man's land between South Africa and Namibia (Vioolsdrift Border Control)
No man’s land between South Africa and Namibia (Vioolsdrift Border Control)

 

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Footnotes
  1. Comments section is at the end of the page.
Financial Services Fight Night 2019

Lessons from Boxing (Financial Services Fight Night 2019)

Last month (February 2019), I attended the 8th annual Financial Services Fight Night (FSFN) in Cape Town together with one of my good friends. We were supporting a colleague of mine who was one of the many contestants taking part in the series of fights over the course of the evening. FSFN is a fundraising event put together by The Armoury Boxing club with sponsorship from Financial Services companies – the likes of FIS, Sygnia and Investec.

The fights were largely in good spirit, even though some of the contestants threw serious blows at each other – as if to settle a long standing vendetta, much to the pleasure of the jeering crowd. In fact, I am sure that those who were watching right up from the ring side not only got front row action but the occasional blood splatter as well! This, coupled with the giving-back nature of the event (as proceeds are donated to a local charity) made for a thoroughly entertaining and worthwhile evening. Whilst driving back home, my friend and I shared how great an initiative the FSFN is, as well as the handful of everyday life takeaways one could draw from the event, these are listed below.

 

1. Do not let your ‘perceived’ disadvantage hold you back.

It was clear that height, if well utilized, was an advantage for the taller boxers. However, it was not an automatic ticket to victory. In many fights, a lot of the boxers held their own even when they were not as tall as their opponents. So much so that they resulting contests were evenly balanced.

 

2. Sharpen your axe.

One of the famous quotes credited to Abraham Lincoln is “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” This speaks to the indispensable value of preparation. Maybe preparation can even be considered along the same ranks as force multipliers. It readies and greatly enables one for opportunity should it come their way. Chatting with my colleague in the run up to his fight, he mentioned how he had been rigorously practicing for close to four months for the fight night. This involved a strict diet and physical exercise. Suffice to say, after watching him in the boxing ring, it was clear that he had sharpened his axe.

 

3. Fight till the very end.

By the time the final round for each fight arrived, the fighters were clearly physically spent. That said, they hung in there and tried to muster all the remaining energy they had left until the final bell sounded, signalling the end of the fight. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr – “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Fight till the very end.

 

4. You do not have to always understand why people do what they do.

This is really a note-to-self. I spent the better part of the FSFN trying to figure out why someone would willingly volunteer to put their body on the line, receive blows and exert themselves to the point of absolute exhaustion at the end of their designated fight. Whilst I would generally opt for a non-contact sport like tennis, this was a reminder that people are unique, different and diverse. At the end of the day, embracing our differences can often make us stronger.

 

5. No man is an island.

Over 600 spectators attended the event to show support for their colleagues on the day. This speaks to the value of community whether in a corporate setting or social setting. Put simply, this was a subtle reminder that no man is an island and in the words of Phil Dooley, we are better together.

 

Big shout out to all the fighters on the night, working hard, displaying incredible sportsmanship and of-course, supporting a good cause.

 

Remember to put your best foot forward, everyday!

Julz

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Footnotes
  1. This is not a sponsored post.
  2. The featured image for this blog post was taken on the evening of FSFN 2019 at The Carraway, Mutual Heights Building.
  3. The charity supported this year was Shine Literacy. Shine Literacy offers literacy support programmes in primary schools across South Africa.
  4. The volunteer boxers/contestants also work within Financial Services.
  5. Comments section is at the end of the page.
fireworks

New Year, New Me – 49 Questions to Improve Your Results

New Year, New Me! Can you believe we are already near the end of the first month of the new year? I am sure you have had your fair share of hearing the phrase “New Year, New Me” being tossed around within your circles or maybe you have been the one using it. In fact, if I am to be completely honest, I am guilty of using the phrase at every opportunity I have had over the last few weeks – especially since I have been consistently playing tennis every weekend this month. However, often times, the “New Year, New Me” wave sadly dies out almost as fast as the the December holidays become a distant memory. Why? Could it be that “New Year, New Me” is based on a fallacy that the turn of the year year automatically ushers in a new self, which eventually proves to be untrue?

When I was a pre-schooler, I remember my old man telling me that every year, at the point of crossing over into a new year, the sky would flip over. I believed him. Sadly, back then, I was scared of fireworks displays meaning that I always missed out on the New Years eve spectacle. By the time I would have mustered enough courage to step outside of the house and look up to the sky (typically fifteen minutes into the New Year), my dad would say that I had just missed the sight of the sky flipping over. Fast-forward a couple of years, I eventually figured that the story of the sky turning was one of the many stories that he had made up, as many parents presumably do. However, looking back at the story, I realise that the flip of the sky is analogous to the turn of the year. At the turn of a year, there is a general sense of anticipation. Anticipation at what the year holds. A new year ushers in renewed hope. This is evidenced by changes such as spikes in gym attendance and new member registrations, as well as increased church attendance among others. A bit closer to home, one of my work colleagues has suddenly (or should I say ambitiously) decided to switch to a six month no meat diet since the start of this year – kudos to them whilst it lasts.

Earlier, I mentioned that the “New Year, New Me” gusto starts to wane over time. Come February and then March, time reveals those who have stayed the course, when the wheat has been separated from the chaff. It would perhaps seem like I am taking a pessimistic view of “New Year, New Me”. Not necessarily. After all, I am one of them. What I am trying to do is figure out how to stay on course with the New Me – to be counted among the tough that get going, when the going gets tough.  This leads to my inspiration for this blog post. During the December holidays, I finished reading The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. The book has various ideas and principles on business, life and work. One of the chapters in the book, 49 Questions to Improve Your Results has a series of questions ranging from productivity to fear to happiness . What if by asking these questions, at the start of this New Year, one can set the wheels in motion for a sustainable “New Me” in the long run? Whether you are one who subscribes to “New Year, New Me” or not, I am convinced that these questions will at the least prompt some beneficial reflection see below.
Do I use my body optimally?

  • What is the quality of my current diet?
  • Do I get enough sleep?
  • Am I managing my energy well each day?
  • How do I manage daily stress?
  • Do I have good posture and poise?
  • What can I do to improve my ability to observe the world around me?

Do I know what I want?

  • What achievements would make me really excited?
  • What “states of being” do I want to experience each day?
  • Are my priorities and values clearly defined?
  • Am I capable of making decisions quickly and confidently?
  • Do I consistently focus my attention on what I want vs. what I don’t want?

What am I afraid of?

  • Have I created an honest and complete list of the fears I’m holding on to?
  • Have I confronted each fear to imagine how I would handle it if it came to pass?
  • Am I capable of recognizing and correcting self-limitation?
  • Am I appropriately pushing my own limits?

Is my mind clear and focused?

  • Do I systematically externalize (write or record) what I think about?
  • Am I making it easy to capture my thoughts quickly, as I have them?
  • What has my attention right now?
  • Am I regularly asking myself appropriate guiding questions?
  • Do I spend most of my time focusing on a single task, or constantly flipping between multiple tasks?
  • Do I spend enough time actively reflecting on my goals, projects, and progress?

Am I confident, relaxed, and productive?

  • Have I found a planning method that works for me?
  • Am I “just organized enough”?
  • Do I have an up-to-date list of my projects and active tasks?
  • Do I review all of my commitments on a regular basis?
  • Do I take regular, genuine breaks from my work?
  • Am I consciously creating positive habits?
  • Am I working to shed non-productive habits?
  • Am I comfortable with telling other people “no”?

How do I perform best?

  • What do I particularly enjoy?
  • What am I particularly good at doing?
  • What environment do I find most conducive to doing good work?
  • How do I tend to learn most effectively?
  • How do I prefer to work with and communicate with others?
  • What is currently holding me back?

What do I really need to be happy and fulfilled?

  • How am I currently defining “success”?
  • Is there another way of defining “success” that I may find more fulfilling?
  • How often do I compare myself to my perceptions of other people?
  • Am I currently living below my means?
  • If I could only own 100 things, what would they be?
  • Am I capable of separating necessity and luxury?
  • What do I feel grateful for in my life and work?

 

Since the turn of the year was not too long ago, I hope these questions cause a turn in how the rest of the year goes. A turn for the better – a sustainable “New Me”. Of course these questions alone will not necessarily result in a change, they need to be accompanied by corresponding actions with a long term view! So, do I think that “New Year, New Me” is based on a fallacy that the turn of the year year automatically ushers in a new self? I think so, but I do not know for sure. What I do know for sure is that as the year progresses,  I hope I will still be a regular at the tennis courts.

All the best for 2019 and remember to put your best foot forward, everyday!

Julz

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Footnotes
  1. Original source for 49 Questions to Improve Your Results can be found here.
  2. The featured image for this blog post is from the captivating fireworks display at the V & A Waterfront during the 2019 New Year’s celebration.
VAT Included @ 14%

VAT Rate Increase in South Africa and its impact on Software Systems

On the 21st of February 2018, the then Minister of Finance in South Africa (Malusi Gigaba) announced the increase of the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate from 14% to 15% during his budget speech, the first increase since 1993. This increase is effective 1 April 2018 meaning businesses that charge VAT for their products/services will need to make the necessary adjustments before then.

I am interested in the effect this increase has on businesses that charge VAT and are heavily reliant on software systems for their sales, billing and reporting processes. The two primary considerations for these software systems that come to mind are – the original Software Design and the resulting VAT related adjustments which I will call the VAT Update Software Project.

1. Original Software Design

I imagine that questions such as “How easy and quick will it be to update the VAT rate” have been asked of development teams following the budget speech. Such questions are related to the original software design – whether a software system was designed to be flexible and future-proof. For example, can a privileged user of the system update system-wide parameters (such as VAT rate) from the system’s front end instead of requiring a change to the source code by the software development team? However, in this particular instance, I can understand how a VAT rate that has not changed in 20 years could have been hardcoded* instead of made configurable (perhaps due to an oversight by the software development team or the result of pressure from business teams/users to turn around development tasks speedily).

2. VAT Update Software Project

Regardless of whether the VAT rate was hardcoded or made configurable, updating it will require some analysis, development/user update and testing which constitute what I have called the VAT Update Software Project (one does not simply search and replace 0.14 / 1.14 / 14% with 0.15 / 1.15 / 15%). Given that the amount of time between the announcement during the budget speech and the effective date of the VAT increase is just under two months, it is most probable that the knee-jerk reaction by many of the affected businesses has been that of commissioning VAT Update Software Projects on the fly. Execution of such project requires agility in undertaking the resulting project management tasks, impact analysis, software development / VAT rate configuration update, system testing and release planning among other activities.

At present, we are just under two weeks from the effective date of the VAT rate increase. This, coupled with the public holidays on the horizon make for some pretty tight project timelines for software teams looking to deliver on VAT Update Software Projects by 1st April 2018. Here’s to holding thumbs for them!


Footnotes
  1. Hardcoding in Software Development means that updates to a variable such as VAT would require a change to the source code by a Software Developer. The opposite of this would be making it configurable by an end user such that they can login to the system and update it perhaps from a Configuration menu.

17 from 17 Flashback

It would seem as if we were just celebrating the start of the new year just yesterday and now it’s March already! I’ve decided to pen a flashback post with a selection of 17 pictures that I captured during the course of 2017 across Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. Enjoy!

Bird Watching (Karoo, South Africa)

Mariner’s Wharf (Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa)
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Weekend Camping Checklist

It is that time of the year when outdoor events, camping and music festivals become the order of the day weekend. Summer has come around (not quite in Cape Town), the sunny outdoors are calling and there is really no good reason to stay cooped up indoors! Some of the music festivals around this time of the year include Lake of Stars (Malawi), Rocking the Daisies (Western Cape, South Africa), OppiKoppi (Limpopo, South Africa), Synergy Live (Western Cape, South Africa), Vic Falls Carnival (Zimbabwe).  My inspiration for penning this camping checklist is that every time I start packing for a music festival or a camping trip, I can never seem to find the checklist I would have used before and have to write a new one. This will particularly be  useful if you are new to music festivals and/or camping!

Essential Campsite Items

  • Tent, Pegs and Rubber hammer
  • National Flag(s)
  • Torch, Headlamp(s) & Batteries
  • Camping Chair(s)
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Camping Mattress
  • Sleeping Bag, Blankets and Pillow(s)

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Luxury Bamboo Socks, Impeccable Service and Niche Retailing

Over the last few months, I have had a string of conversations with different friends about bright coloured and bold socks commonly referred to as happy socks. In particular, I was trying to understand the rationale behind purchasing them as they are on the pricey side, wearing them as they are rather daring and ofcourse the business mechanics and success of the different fashion brands making these kind of socks. Ironically, following on from these conversations, just over two weeks ago, I was lucky to attend a talk where the stylish Nic Haralambous was sharing the journey he has been on, building his luxury men’s style brand – Nic Harry and some thoughts on e-Commerce in South Africa. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk as I found it to be very practical and quite relevant especially as I have a handful of friends with small businesses that have a retail component to them. Hence I decided to pen this article.

The Why and How

One of Nic’s motivations in starting the Nic Harry brand was that he felt that the sock space in South Africa was boring and lacking in imagination. Typical retailers stock bland or plain coloured socks for the most part, hence the bright coloured, fun and bold Nic Harry socks provided (and continue to provide) a fresh and exciting alternative. To differentiate the brand from other similar sock brands, Nic Harry opted for bamboo instead of cotton for the fabric and local South African production as compared to mass production in China. Bamboo has advantages of being organic, eco-friendly and anti-bacterial whilst local production meant job creation in South Africa. Over and above this, Nic Harry have zeroed in on providing exceptional and personalised service, something that typical traditional large retailers and other service providers have spectacularly failed at. For example, the Nic Harry sales team do not wear shoes inside their stores. Why? To stoke the potential customers imagination and make them see, first hand what it looks like to wear the socks and presumably how comfortable they are.

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AfrikaBurn 2017 – Desert, Dust and Dance

It has been a little over three weeks ago since I took part in AfrikaBurn, the annual Burning Man like festival in the Karoo.

Describing AfrikaBurn as a festival probably conjures up thoughts of a dance / music. However, AfrikaBurn was so much more than that, it was more of an experience. Some of my best highlights included experiencing a gifting economy in a decommodified society, being exposed to a heightened form of creativity and expression that is otherwise lacking in everyday life and meeting a group of Zimbabweans (my birth country) who drove 41 hours from Zimbabwe to the Karoo in a nineties Land Cruiser!

Below are some pictures which hopefully are a glimpse of the experience.

Tankwa Padstal between Ceres and Calvinia in the Northern Cape Karoo desert of South Africa. A must stop when travelling through the Tankwa Karoo on the R355

 

Ostrich at Tankwa Padstal
Ostrich at Tankwa Padstal

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react-native development

7 Takeaways from Investigating Sluggish Performance of an HTML5 / JavaScript mobile app

I recently spent a few days investigating sluggish performance (particularly slow navigation) on an HTML5 / JavaScript based mobile application. Below is list of the main takeaways from the exercise:

  • If necessary, use libraries that result in faster touch events on mobile e.g. FastClick library to eliminate 300ms click delay between tapping an element on a screen and the corresponding click event being fired
  • Implement lazy loading for lists and tables (most HTML5 / JavaScript libraries have support for this on the respective List / ListView component)
  • Read more