Tuesday, 22 January 2013

[Writer's Blog] Back to School

I have decided to go back to school, metaphorically speaking that is, to expand my knowledge and learn new skills that will make me a better writer. I feel some skills that I already have are lacking or limited in some way and so need honing, but there are large gaps in the wealth of knowledge that I currently possess. Many people can absorb knowledge like a sponge, have a knack for picking up skills through trial and error or simply geniuses. I  consider myself somewhere in between and with that in mind I am seriously considering going back to college.

On-line tutorials, distance learning, and correspondence courses; I have done them all but nothing comes close to attending a lecture led by a knowledgeable tutor engaging you and your classmates with insightful information and a debate of the topic's issues. I admit I miss my college and university days when | would sit excitedly at my desk bantering with fellow students before the teacher comes in and begins the lesson. Yet this is more than just about reliving my hazy student days but rather enhancing my existing skill set and maybe learning some new ones along the way. I am confident in my writing skills and like any writer there posts which I read with a beaming smile whilst others I wish could be tossed into an incinerator and turned to ash. However lately I have found myself hindered with an inability to produce more efficiently. OK so  not every writer can tap out near perfect material at great speed, but I feel I can and should do better. 

Adult education has come a long way when I first attended college and as an adult in my forties this is something I can appreciate. The selection is varied covering just about every subject going and if you're looking to expand knowledge there simply isn't enough time in this short life to cover them all. I have whittled them down to the following;

  • Politics - yes I do get political from time to time in posts or in discussions, and my knowledge is fairly robust. However I have often surprised myself with gaps and even a little naivety.
  • Sociology - I already have an A Level in this subject but times have changed and many studies have been carried to help better understand our global society. It is very analytic in structure so hopefully this will open my eyes and enhance that aspect of my thinking.
  • Shorthand - Even in this day of ever expanding hi-tech, shorthand continues to be the recording method of choice simply it is less costly, flexible, but most importantly highly reliable. Recently I found my lack of note taking skills cost me in being able to compose an article. 
  • Web Design - Don't get me wrong I love Blogger but being able to build my own website will help me create a unique identity rather than relying on established templates.
  • Miscellaneous skills such as note taking, formulating arguments, and media interview skills (i.e. how to be interviewed, not that I am expecting David Frost to call).
For me writing is about sharing knowledge and encouraging discussion. Sometimes it is even about producing a solid and high quality piece of entertainment.All I need to do now is sharpen my existing tools, replace those that are no longer effective and maybe even pick up some new ones along the way. Obviously if I were to resort to the classroom for everything I would spend much of my life there so some reading on my own and maybe the occasional correspondence course is needed. I am a good writer capable and knowledgeable. All I want now is to just do it a little better, and going back to school could give me the writer a really great boost to achieve my goals.

Image Credits; velkr0

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Tipalti Platform Enables Easier Management of Mass Payments

Managing hundreds, possibly even thousands of payments from across the world in a variety of currencies can be a challenge for any business. With the advent of crowdsourcing the need to easily manage the complexities of financial transactions from all over the world is vital. Tipalti is a platform that provides customers with a mass payment system to better manage payments for businesses that thrive in the online social marketplace, including advertisers, affiliate networks and of course providers of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding services.

Tipalti, which in Hebrew means "I took care of it." was founded by highly successful serial entrepreneurs Chen Amit and Oren Zeev the idea for which stemmed from a company which become the platform's first customer. Digital advertising specialist InfoLinks, a company that helps customers with making online advertisements relevant, needed a payment system to better manage their financial transactions. Such was the rapid growth of the company internationally helping drive revenue for over 100,000 sites in 128 countries, InfoLinks was faced with the daunting task of dealing with international payments on such a massive scale. Tipalti co-founder Oren who is also chairman of InfoLinks was presented with the challenge of better managing and streamlining international payments. 

There are so many ways to pay for online services and Tipalti covers a wide variety including PayPal, wire/bank transfers, card payments, even payments by cheque. In order to make it user friendly, Tipalti is an SaaS based solution allowing for easy use and integration into the customer's website and can be embedded using a single line of code. Tipalti is also white labelled enabling it to blend seamlessly with the customer's website. It is essentially designed to streamline and automate the online payment process covering all aspects of online transactions as well as payments including; 
  • payee registration
  • method selection
  • disbursements of funds
  • tax and regulatory compliance in the customer's home country
Tipalti also undergoes a thorough screening process to the ensure the legitimacy of payee transactions and is watchful of any instance so illegal activity such as money laundering.

There are very few, if any platforms that provide similar service across a wide range of functions, something that the team behind Tialti proudly boast. The closest alternatives are either to build one from scratch or settle for one or two payment methods with the remaining functions to be carried out separately. Tipalti promises a wide range of support and functions within a single platform.

Since launching in the Spring of 2011 and securing its first customer in InfoLinks, the platform has grown exponentially, with more than 15 employees managing dozens of businesses ranging from small startups to blue chip customers. Each month millions of dollars are paid out through Tipalti across 160 countries in a variety of local currencies the most common one being the US dollar, Euro, Indian and Pakistani Rupee, Pound, and the Canadian dollar. It is a rate of growth that, despite the likelihood of similar platforms emerging, could see Tipalti secure a top place as the provider of choice for on-line mass payments.

Image Credit; Images_of_Money

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

[Gallery Post] The SeaWomen of Jeju

Anyone who still feels incensed at the government's plans to increase retirement age should spare a thought for the women of Jeju Province, who are the subject of a sound and video installation on show at the Arnolfini Arts Centre. SeaWomen is the story of the island's women divers aged between 60 and 90 years who everyday venture out into the open sea to fish for food, seaweed and pearls. Their story is a remarkable one, largely unheard of (especially by me) but with a sad reality that this unique way of life is slowly dying out. 

I must confess that prior to receiving my invitation for SeaWomen I had never heard of the island of Jeju (pronounced Cheju or Quelpart to Europeans). So that I could fully appreciate the story of these amazing women I undertook some research. Here are just a few facts about this island;
  • It is pronounced Cheju or Quelpart to Europeans
  • Jeju is dominated by Halla-San a volcano standing over 1,950 metres and is a World Heritage site.
  • The island was caught up in the 1948 uprising during Korean government's attempts to quash anti-communist activities.
  • Primary economy is tourism with people flocking from the Korean mainland and much of East Asia to enjoy the island's sites and tempered climate.
  • Chosen as one of 28 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign.
  • Was one of the host cities during the 2002 World Cup.
Up until 19th century Jeju's society was very much like any other of its time with the men as principle breadwinners who would go out diving into the North Pacific for food, seaweed and pearls. However this became unprofitable due to the men paying heavy taxes whereas the women payed very little and so take over what was deemed a fairly low level function. Soon the women showed tremendous diving ability increasing the island's production and export of sea goods. This earned them the name Haenyeo meaning sea-women, or the mermaids of Jeju. The result was that the haenyeo became incredibly wealthy and over time Jeju became a matriarchal society, operating outside the trend of growing industrialisation by insisting on this sustainable practice. It is however a way of life that is slowly dying out, most likely due to the island's increasing popularity as a tourist destination which has taken over as the principle source of income.

During a three month residency on Jeju, Greek/British artist Mikhail Karikis stayed with the Haenyeo recording their work and lives. The finished work is an audio and visual installation, a combination of five video chapters and sound bites played through a series of monitors and a twelve speaker sound installation. The exhibits aims to create an immersive experience for the audience, giving them a real sense of the haenyeo way of life. 

The five video chapters focus on several aspects of the Haenyeo daily routine of heading into the choppy waters (be it by boat or from the rocky shores) of the North Pacific and diving to depths of twenty metres collecting seaweed, and catching an assortment of Marine life including colourful starfish, lobsters as well as an array of fish and octopi. To watch these women don wet suits and weights before diving into the sea with the grace and energy of women considerably younger is awe inspiring. In fact you forget that the practicing Haenyeo have been working this way for nearly six decades or more with only their weather worn faces perhaps hinting at their real age. Yet this is more indicative of the effects of a long time in a harsh profession. You also get to see the women relaxing after a hard day's work sharing their spoils, preparing and enjoying meals together. Combined with the audio excerpts of the women's work song, banter, and sounds of the sea with the boat taking them out to the best fishing spots, it really makes you feel as if you are experiencing their lives first hand. At one point I was so immersed in it all that I found myself rocking as if I were on the boat and could even smell the sea. 

All in all SeaWomen is an experience that needs to be felt to appreciate. It tells a more effective story through a simple medium than most documentary recordings relying on sensory perception to convey an experience rather than the more conventional storytelling or narrative of printed material. After an hour of sitting on the floor level with the monitors and surrounded by the speakers, you really do come away with a sense of just how unique and amazing the Haenyeo way of life truly is. It is perhaps even more poignantly sad  that this way of life could all together vanish (even in my lifetime). Whether it will champion their cause or act as a record of the haenyeo for posterity, SeaWomen is an exceptional piece of work with Karikis having succeeded in capturing the essence of a fascinating way of life.

SeaWomen is currently showing at the Arnolfini Arts Centre in Bristol until 20th January. Admission is free.

Image Credit; Mikhail Karikis SeaWomen 2012 All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

[Writers' Blog] Support The Writer in Your Life

I consider myself a very fortunate individual in that since re-embarking on the writing path, the support I have received from all concerned has been tremendous. Whether it be supportive encouragement from loved ones and family, admiration from friends and colleagues, it seems I am blessed with people in my life who want me to succeed as a writer. It comes as no surprise to learn that others are not so fortunate and so find themselves constantly being pulled away from their writing passion by those who should be helping to nurture them. This blog post is to friends, family, bosses, colleagues, basically anyone who knows a struggling aspiring writer but looks on their venture with disinterest or disdain.

Often I describe myself as a masochistic writer because writing, especially for those who make it their life, is pure torture. It is a misconception that writing an informative article, posting an insightful blog, or crafting an entertaining story comes easy, far from it. When you read a well crafted piece of writing occasional it might have been tapped out in the time it takes to gulp down a Latte but most likely only came to fruition after many agonising hours sometimes even days of re-reading and re-writing along with the occasional scream and pulling of hair. The slightest errors are gut wrenching and if a word or sentence doesn't belong re-writing them feels like even more of an uphill struggle. Writing becomes even more tortuous if the time needed to practice our art is like gold dust and deadlines loom. Yet we keep writing every day despite the pain and the frustrations. We do this because writing is what we love to do and there is nothing like the joy of seeing out hard earned fruits of arduous labour on the page/screen for all to see.

As mentioned earlier, I am blessed with various forms of support but sadly there are many writers out there who are not so lucky. It is heart breaking to read of how writers are constantly sneered at, criticised and even have their time set aside for writing deliberately disrupted, often by those who should be the most supportive. Instances include; 
  • spouses frequent dissatisfaction with the amount of time their other halves spent writing
  • children disrupting a parents writing activities without being reeled in by the other parent
  •  whole families circling their writing relatives in an effort to discourage them from what is seen as a waste of time
  • overbearing and disapproving parents who would prefer their child to be a doctor or lawyer
  • friends who would rather have the attention all on them with their eyes glazing over at the mere mention of the word "writing".
These have been known to break up marriages and cause family & friends to drift further apart. So why do the very people who should be the crutch in a writer's life are instead the ones who kick it away? It is the same sad story of envy, neediness, and of course lack of understanding. Some people only see virtue in such an activity depending on it's financial reward. One writer remarked how her husband used to berate her about writing calling it a waste of time until the cheques started to arrive. 

If you have a friend, parent, spouse, colleague, child who is a writer, do them a favour. Offer all the love, support, and encouragement you can. Set aside your inadequacies and selfish needs or any fears and concerns that it does not earn a stable income. We all have our hobbies, passions, and of course ambitions to be the best and earn a living doing it. Writing can be fun and incredibly rewarding but it is not without its difficulties. 

As mentioned earlier it can be a torturous pursuit made even more stressful when balancing it with the daily responsibilities of life. Spare a thought for the writer in your life, offer love and encouragement and never let them lose sight of their goal. The reward for the writer is obvious but you could share in that reward be it financial or just the pleasure of seeing them accomplish something and be happy doing it.

Image Credit; kenteegardin