Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

2014 going on 2015

It has been an unusual year. Many have found it hard-going. I can’t say it was particularly hard, although taking a month out mid-year thanks to bronchitis then pleurisy isn’t anything I’d recommend.

In all, I’m looking forward to the year ahead.

Two items I came across this morning entrenched the positive vibes I’m feeling.

9 Simple Ways To Become More Likable Next Year
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/9-simple-ways-become-more-next-kathy-caprino

and E E Cummings quotes at http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/10547.E_E_Cummings

A couple of thoughts from the latter :

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
― E.E. Cummings

Best wishes, sunshine and lightness

Doing what one has to do

It’s been a few years since the junkies moved off our verge. Apparently they’d used the spot for years while our home was still a farm outbuilding and it took a bit of persuasion to make them adapt their habits once the renovation was complete and we moved in. This was accomplished largely by gardening at the top end of the property whenever they parked off and generally being a pain in the joint until they decided there had to be more peaceful climes elsewhere. I’d heard on the neighbourhood grapevine that the police were aware of their presence and planned to swoop sometime but it took so long that I gave up on Plan A and put Plan Me into action, successfully.

Kimberley had been out with friends on Saturday evening and came in at about 1am. She’d noticed a car parked on our verge and a while later voiced her concern when the music emanating from it showed no sign of abating. Until then I’d assumed the music was coming from a party on the neighbouring property. Generally I’d have muttered and fallen asleep eventually but as Kimberley’s dissertation was due to be handed in later on Sunday and the music was keeping her awake there was little choice but to take action. Anyway, the same rap music had been on loop and was becoming really annoying and the car was parked not far from our bedroom windows. So I dressed and marched carward.

Firstly I nearly knocked on the guy’s head instead of the side window because it was dark and I couldn’t see the window was open. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness I had a fright of note : the driver was slumped over the wheel and unresponsive. A couple of my friends have been affected by suicides in recent weeks and this bod looked dead. Saying “hello” at ever-increasing volumes got no response so I smacked as hard as I could repeatedly on the door. By then I could see a passenger passed out on the far side of the car, the seat so far reclined he was almost lying flat. At this point it ocurred to me that the guys might think they were being hijacked and I hoped devoutly they were unarmed. It was too late to cease and desist by then as even Kimberley had heard me from her bedroom.

On about the eighth thump the passenger came to life and sat bolt upright. I’m not sure who of us had the bigger fright and we stared at each other for a split second before I took advantage of his total bewilderment. I told them my daughter was studying and couldn’t sleep because of their music and it was well after 1am so we’d like it turned off. He apologised and did so immediately.

The stench of alcohol and who knows what else was beyond disgusting and it was only my sense of victory that stopped me from being sick on the spot. They were still there at 4am when I got up to let the dog out. but, as Kimberley had said earlier, better they slept off whatever they’d been partaking of on the verge than attempt to drive. The rest of the night passed peacefully apart from the occasional outburst from the hooter, presumably as the driver stirred. It was a freezing cold night and he must have been as stiff as a board when he finally awoke. (And I’d been worrying about him *being* one).

As with past victories, when the target mildly gives in I’m left with anti-climatic windless sails but I managed to walk jauntily back home and get to sleep eventually. Of course, if they’d retaliated it would have been a totally different matter but the smoking gun on my side of the fence was worth two smoking junkies on the other.

#ThatAwkwardMoment : Blogging 101

Hmmm. I think I’m about to be bitten on the less-contemplated side.

Having been happily blogging for quite a few years, more than six in WordPress following my Blogspot introductory blog, KnowGoZone, from May 2004 to May 2010, this evening will see me explaining the ins and outs of blogging using WordPress to the Pietermaritzburg Computer Club. The problem lies in concisely verbalising something that has now become second nature.

Social media is a place I feel really comfortable and am fascinated by the easy access to like minds, likeable minds, and others.

The whole Internet forum relies on basic common sense : a healthy dose would reduce the ill effects of cyberbullying, trolling, Twars (Twitter wars) and the less savoury side of online interactions in general. When speaking to various audiences about how much or little personal information to make available on the Internet, I’ve frequently used the example of what details one would feel comfortable handing out to strangers at a public place like a shopping mall. With the development of Web 2.0 a decade ago we all acquired potential access to a universal audience. Smartphones have brought our publishing potential within laughable proximity. It is a matter of what we do with it. Being responsible.

On Why to blog
So many reasons . . . Blogging has given exposure to individual pockets of expertise and status to home industries, a foghorn to the whisper, a way to sneak what doesn’t fit into 140 characters into a hyperlink that can be Tweeted.
Personally I’ve always loved writing, inflicting myself on numerous penfriends throughout my teen years, wracking the psyches of my English teachers who were required to demand creative input and then cope with the results. Or, as one of my Twitter correspondents put it earlier this year, “you are a true writer; writing because words inside demand to be written”.
One of the driving motivations behind the development of Lilac and Lime was to leave a record for my (potential) grandchildren to read one day and discover who I am/was ; the name was chosen as an indication of the quirks in life that give me a surge of happiness and reboot the batteries when they need it.

On How to blog
The do’s and don’ts of blogging, written last month, encourages bloggers to be true to themselves. That is the bottom line. My first drafts are always written as the thoughts come to mind, as if I was speaking rather than writing. Saved drafts can be edited and polished before being published.

And, How to blog, really
How to start a blog on WordPress.com seems a sensible starting point for a new audience, leading to the nitty gritty at https://signup.wordpress.com/signup/.
Choosing a theme is always fun but can be distracting at a time when one’s mind is likely to be full of so many other plans and thoughts. The theme I chose for this blog remains one of my favourites, although I’m not sure if it is still available.
WordPress has tons of features but I don’t know how many of them we’ll have time to go through tonight.
And one can use WordPress to create a website rather than a blog.

I love blogging, do not devote enough time to it, and hope to find a way to share my enthusiasm for the sport with my audience tonight.
– – – – – –
And now, the article I had been looking for all week : How To Start a Blog on WordPress.com. It’s extremely comprehensive and gives one access to any aspect of creating a blog via a nifty navigation bar on the left.

Seaside Sojourn

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Happy Wanderers, Kelso. August 2014

Like a lot of good ideas, this one came right out of the blue. My mom phoned on Saturday afternoon eleven days ago to ask if Kimberley and I would like to join her and my dad at Happy Wanderers on the KZN South Coast either last week or this week. Kimberley’s study schedule made it impossible to join them for an entire week but we were able to spend last weekend together. The previous occasion we were all there was four days after we moved into our home in December 2010, a few hours after Kimberley’s Matric Dance – beyond hectic. The timing of last week’s invitation came at a good time for a number of reasons. Just the week before I’d been looking at a photo of Coffee Bay and wondering when I’d again get a chance to unwrap my head beside the sea ; it is also just over a month since I had pleurisy and sea air is known for it’s restorative effect on most things broken.

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Happy Wanderers really is right on the beach and suffered quite a lot of damage during the exceptionally high tides not long before our last visit. It is a perfect place for young families who are able to sit on their patios and keep an eye on youngsters playing on the sand a few metres away. There is a bonfire on the beach every Saturday night, big enough to make some lighthouses look nervously over their shoulders. This weekend Happy Wanderers also hosted a beach wedding. It felt like quite a communal celebration as even the holidaymakers who were not there specifically for the wedding witnessed the ceremony just above the shoreline, saw the photographs being taken nearby and the reception tent partying away until the early hours.

To regress, chronologically speaking . . . Kimberley and I had hardly arrived before we were reminded of another Happy Wanderers’ quirk :

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We named this one “Number 19” as she seemed to assume ownership of our unit. This notion was disabused when we opened the door the following morning.

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The floor soon looked like a large-tadpole nursery. Almost all the cats are pitch black, with one very furry grey exception. I’ve never become accustomed to felines who are quite at home on beach sand and this lot can frequently be seen dotted around the landscape.

happywanderers_2014_08_v_small

The South Coast is known for the train line that runs parallel to and generally a matter of metres away from the coastline. It is dangerous and anyone familiar with the region knows to be extremely vigilant when crossing it. Hearing the ‘hooter’ as trains approach the crossings has caught my imagination since childhood. Kimberley was able to take this photo on Saturday afternoon while we were looking for an Internet ‘hotspot’. Luckily the elusive spot wasn’t a few metres to the right when we did locate it.

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Swimming isn’t permitted on this particular stretch of the beach which wasn’t a detraction on this visit as the water was almost as cold as that I last experienced in the Cape. The sea was rough so the beach was covered with shells that had been thrown up by recent tides, giving Kimberley and I happy time wandering among them, ‘surfing’ down the steep bank created by the same tides and just chilling.

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Thanks, Mom and Dad. A lovely break at just the right time.

Making the social media “A” list

[Published in the OSALL newsletter of January 2014]

Love it or hate it, social media has changed the way we interact on a business and personal level and indeed how the world perceives us individually. Advice abounds on how to handle the extended horizons and conduct ourselves in full view of a much larger audience than ever before. I have recently read a few articles that provide practical guidelines on how particular platforms can be used to our advantage and some tips on adjusting settings that could work against us.

One of the forums that crosses effortlessly between work and play is Twitter. It is by far the most useful social media platform I use and it is always worth knowing if one can do more to optimize the benefits and give back to the greater community at the same time.

10 Twitter tips & tricks to keep your followers engaged1 was written two weeks ago and offers useful tips on the use of images and type of content, making use of statistics to bring home the author’s points, for example : using images has been found to increase the rate of Retweets by 94% ; using quotes increases Retweets by 10%. Three factors the author suggests we consider when deciding on the content of our posts are : will it “trigger feelings”, is it newsworthy, and will it surprise our readers? We are also reminded of the importance of participation : Twitter is about interaction, not just distribution. The article offers practical advice on the use of hashtags and suggests using software to distribute posts at a time when most followers will see them. It also offers guidelines on the perennial matters of how often to post and how long tweets should be, suggesting that 70 to 100 characters constitutes the ideal length. Have you considered what impact too little tweeting will have on your profile? Among the comments at the end of the article, one reader raises a question about the impact of the background and header image. All in all, this article offers a lot of grist for one’s social media mill.

Developing personality and tone on social is vital : here’s how to do it2 focuses on effectively representing one’s brand on social media, giving consideration to displaying human qualities and opinions. I suggest that any of us who tweet on behalf an employer read this article and discuss it with relevant colleagues.

Tips for live tweeting an event : before, during and afterwards3 appeared on the ever interesting Grubstreet blog during February. This is the most concise advice I’ve read on the topic, from what information to research and have at hand, keeping up with last minute changes to the programme, who is at the podium, the type of images and links to tweet, to the conclusion and follow-up.

Moving along to LinkedIn . . .

Try Googling yourself and notice how much significance the rankings give to your LinkedIn profile. Take control of what people will know about you.

Lawyers and LinkedIn : a necessity for survival4 is written by an attorney in America. He tells us why he thinks “LinkedIn is the best place for an attorney to get his/her feet wet in the world of social media”. One of the statistics he refers to in encouraging attorneys to use the platform is this : “Last year, LexisNexis reported that 76% of adult Internet users in the US utilized online resources when hiring an attorney”. This article advises his target audience to use social networks to “build trust and credibility”. Within LinkedIn, he joins the chorus of online recommendations to personalise one’s URL. He advocates the judicious use of relevant groups, recommends actively participating in these forums, explains how to send meaningful invitations and to whom. The article includes advice on posting updates.

On the matter of taking control of what your audience sees, LinkedIn settings mistakes people still make5 tells us how to use LinkedIn’s auto-update settings to our advantage. Unless one changes the default settings, people to whom we are connected are going to receive a notification everytime we make an amendment to our profile. As one might well make more than one change during an editing session, consider the effect on those receiving updates you may not even be aware were sent.

Unfortunately there is no setting that can prevent individuals from exaggerating the extent of their experience and influence but doing so does not create a good impression with those in the know. The writer also tells us how to hide constant updates from people who know no moderation on the publishing front.

She draws extensively on the experiences of Wayne Breitbarth who advises readers “to take a few minutes now, at the start of the year, to make sure your LinkedIn settings are in line with your business and personal strategy”.

And now for something forward-looking and rather sobering : The scary and amazing future of work6. The phrase “the nature of work itself is changing for knowledge workers” near the top of the article caught my eye. Whether or not you fully embrace the predictions made by the author, his insights are interesting and attracted a barrage of comments. He speaks of a “torrent of information-sharing within companies” but also predicts “the intrusion that companies will increasingly make into our lives and the burnout we will suffer from always being at the beck and call of our employers”.

With the second quarter of the year looking us in the eye, best wishes for the rest of 2014.

1 10 Twitter tips & tricks to keep your followers engaged. Katerina Petropoulou. 18 February 2014
http://twittercounter.com/blog/2014/02/10-ways-to-keep-your-twitter-followers-engaged/
2 Developing personality and tone on social is vital : here’s how to do it. John Beale. 8 October 2013
http://memeburn.com/2013/10/developing-personality-and-tone-on-social-is-vital-heres-how-to-do-it/
3 Tips for live tweeting an event : before, during and afterwards. Anne Taylor on Grubstreet. 10 February 2014
http://grubstreet.co.za/2014/02/10/tips-for-live-tweeting-an-event-before-during-and-afterwards/
4 Lawyers and LinkedIn : a necessity for survival. Brad Friedman. 10 October 2013
http://socialmediatoday.com/bradfriedman/1807756/lawyers-and-linkedin-necessity-survival
5 LinkedIn settings mistakes people still make. Cheryl Conner. 25 January 2014
http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2014/01/25/the-important-linkedin-settings-most-people-miss/
6 The scary and amazing future of work. Vivek Wadhwa. 18 November 2013
http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131118143419-8451-the-scary-and-amazing-future-of-work

Mary Bruce

Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.

June, gone too soon

I’ve missed most of June this year. For someone who loves the cooler months this is a major blow but it’s not only the season that appeals to me : there’s something magical about the winter solstice, getting up in the dark even at a reasonable hour makes it feel one is somehow getting a headstart on the day ahead, and my grandparents’ wedding anniversary would have been today, 30 June.

What started as a sore throat as I watched the end of the Comrades Marathon 2014 on 1 June had within three days turned to bronchitis. Over the next twenty-two days I had five doctor’s appointments, courses of industrial-strength antibiotics, cortisone and three-times-daily interactions with a nebuliser. By last week it turned to pleurisy. In all I have been at work on five days this month, most of them single days heralding relapses.

Despite being plain worn out and feeling as weak as a waterless goldfish there is a glimmer of energy feeding my annoyance at wasted opportunities, the prospect of months ahead trying to avoid any further respiratory infection and rebuilding my immunity from well-nigh rock bottom. There isn’t much I can do about the lost time except, mentally at least, pack as much as possible into the next ten and a half hours, and look forward to a quality-laden July.

K M Bruce (BSc cum laude)

Image
Kimberley with close friend Tracy King

Three years of dedication were rewarded when Kimberley graduated cum laude on Tuesday 15 April 2014. Although she turned 21 last year, I now have the sombre feeling she has reached adulthood and moved into the next phase of her life. Kimberley may be disappointed at missing summa cum laude by half a percent but we couldn’t be prouder just the way it is.

The solemn dedication with which she carried out her first documented scientific experiment twenty years ago, involving the application of two nostrils to a mud puddle, has developed with the times but I live in dread of her nostrils being applied to any source material in the biofuels lab.

Onwards and upwards, Mighty Mouse, but not by blowing up the lab during Honours.