A Virtual World

A few weeks ago, two of my friends lamented about the fact that their kids seem to spend all their time playing video games and on Instagram and Facebook. They remembered how we grew up – spending time with friends, discovering the world around us and getting into trouble.

It made me think of the world that has been created by the internet. Yes, a world. A Virtual World. Very different from the brick-and-mortar world in which we live. It is in this Virtual Wolrd that a lot of teenagers and young adults live and spend their time. It may sound exciting, full of new and challenging possibilities but it is still virtual.

A lot of people have gotten extremely wealthy building this world. It has greatly enhanced our lives to a degree but it carries with it it’s own risks and perils too. I don’t want to dwell on the security risks inherent and which have been made apparent lately by the myriad data breaches. Rather, I want to touch on the issue of the psyche of a teenager or young adult who’s spends most of his time in this virtual world.

Back in the day, when there was no internet, children went OUT to play with other children. You talked to other children face-to-face. Friendships were created that could last a lifetime. You observed the environment you lived in. You saw how people spoke, carried themselves and dealt with challenges. If there was a fight on the playground, you saw the real violent interaction. No one could really make false claims because they had to back it up. You grew up in reality and you learnt to deal with it. That ultimately prepared you for the real world out there, which can be rather unforgiving.

Fast forward to today. Children, teenagers and some young adults have retreated to a world where one “friends” people they have never ever met. All they have to go by is profile they cannot verify and a picture that might not even of the real person. They hear claims that may be unfounded and are forced to compare themselves to people and situations that could be trumped up and non-existent. Chou and Edge published a study 2012 that looked at this issue. At Utah Valley State, they looked at about 425 frequent users of Facebook. Below is a quote from the study:                                                                                                                                         “The multivariate analysis indicated that those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook “friends” agreed more that others had better lives.”                                                                                       In other words, one is measuring the quality of their lives against claims made by people they’ve never seen or met or even spoken to. They are accepting the virtual as reality!

These hours are not only spent on social network sites but also playing video games which have been linked to violence. Craig Anderson has some fact on that here.

Then is the little issue of lack of movement and it’s links to obesity, a condition that has reached epidemic proportions in the US.

Which begs the questions – are these kids, teenagers and young adults going to be ready for the real world? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they are going to convert the real world into a likeness of the virtual one. Then, I guess all those hours would have paid off. For my part though, I don’t want someone to just “like” me in a virtual world. I prefer my “likes” to be real and come with hugs, a listening ear and the occasional shoulder.

References:

1. Chou HT, Edge N. “They are happier and having better lives than I am”: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw Feb 2102

2. Craig Anderson. Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions. www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2003/10/anderson.aspx

The Mansion

AshlandClick on image for bigger version

This image was captured with an 8×10 large format (view) camera on photo-sensitive paper. The paper was then developed as a negative. Using the paper negative, the print was made using the Kallitype technique on watercolor paper (Arches Platine). The image was then toned in a gold solution to give the final look.

See more images here.

Whispers of her Feet

I sing of days gone by
When in love’s good terms I was
She showered me with graces
Adored me with her gazes.
My tunes are of a time
Of gentle kisses and tender touch
Of melting hearts
And lovers’ gasps.
Now through the sheen of my sorrow
I stretch my arm to reach
The hem of love’s long gown
Alas all I get
Are whispers of her feet
As they recede into the night.

Role of Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – Another Take

SSA seems to be the crucible of disease. Most of our modern day epidemics seem to emanate form this area – HIV, Ebola – to mention just two that have had significant mortality.
Disease in SSA is however nothing new. The region has always had numerous infectious and vector-borne diseases.
I seek to argue that the prevalence of disease in SSA might actually have saved the lives of most people in the region.
Now how can I say that when I consider the levels of, say, infant mortality? Or even the loss of life from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
Lets go back several hundred years to about 1490. This is the period when Columbus landed in what is now Central America. He was wowed by what he saw. He returned to Spain resolved to come back to the Americas. This time around however, he was coming back with a rather sinister plan. He was going to kill off the indigenous population and claim the land for Crown and Church. This was sanctioned by both the Church and the Queen. After all those native Americans were nothing but heathens.
The plan went without a glitch and the Spanish and Portuguese took over most of Central and South America and in the process literally exterminated millions of Native Americans.
A similar process took place in North America with the English being the primary perpetrators. At the end stood the indomitable USA among the ashes of millions of Native Americans.

Now, SSA had been “found” around this same time period. It ultimately became a the source of manual labor for the cotton and sugar cane plantations in the so-called New World.
So why didn’t the Europeans exterminate most Africans like they did in the Americas and take over the land?
One argument is that once black Africans were seen as an optimal manual labor force, the wish was not to exterminate them bit to transfer as many of them as possible to the Americas. The transfer process itself was close to being an extermination but the numbers were so great that they got enough people over to the the cotton and sugarcane fields of the Americas.
The other argument, which I tend to favor, is the role of disease and specifically malaria. Malaria, a disease to which most indigenous Africans develop some form of immunity to over time, is devastating for anyone contracting it for the first time. It killed quite a number of European settlers. This dampened any desire for an exploration of the continent. A total extermination of the people of SSA was therefore indirectly prevented. Now the loss of African lives in the form of the slave trade still went on.
However most of these lives were transplanted into live misery to the other side of the Atlantic.
A glimpse of what could have been is seen in South African, a region with a climate and disease profile much kinder to the Europeans settlers.
A true exploration of the continent started in the mid-1800s and this was shortly after quinine was discovered to be a cure for malaria.
And then you saw the true face of European colonization.

For Native Americans and Africans from the sub-saharan region, the discovery of their respective continents by the European explorers of the 15th century has spelled nothing but misery. For most, the misery still continues.
Unlike the Native Americans, most Africans still have control of their lands, even if they are still massively exploited by richer nations and their own corrupt leaders.
Even as disease continues to be a major factor in the lives of most people in SSA, let’s not forget that malaria might have been the one thing that saved us from Columbus-like extermination.

References

1. American Holocaust – the Conquest of the New World – Stannard 1993

2. Encyclopedia of Africa – Appiah & Gates 2010

3. http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/

No Soup

From the collection of thoughts around the premise that a leader without a vision is like fufu without soup.

And when the people realized that they were eating their fufu with no soup, he scrambled to give them anything that looked like soup.
“But that us Milo”, they yelled.
“Ew, that tastes like bitters!”
“Is that Fanta?”
His eyes darted back and forth.
“God”, he prayed, “what is this soup they speak of?”
There was silence. It was filled with incredulity. The people were aghast.
He didn’t not only have soup. He didn’t even know what it was. Why was he serving fufu then?

My Parched Corner

Something for my Ghana:

My parched corner
Of the earth
Brown and cracked with
Dreams going down
Blocked drains
Teeming with waste that
They fail to pick.

My parched corner
Hope and despair
Intermingle
Shedding
Strength that
Surpasses
What we see.

My parched corner
I leave you behind
To seek the greener
Only to find that
Under it all
Was just parched earth too.

Can’t Write

I’ve always wanted to write, but I can’t…
Write the great literary piece that will make critics salivate
I want to construct sentences that are weighted with meaning
Just can’t
Stories come to me.
Telling them in circles
To ears
Eager to listen
Listen…
To my stories.
I didn’t know where they came from but come they did.
Flooding my mind with pictures and events and conflicts.
Vivid scenes fluttering before my eyes
Of lives and love and might.
But I still cannot write.
The process bores me.
I find it long and monotonous.
The fingers cannot keep up with the speed of my thoughts,
The construction of words, the flow…
So my yearn to see me published is never going to happen
If I don’t want to write
About dreams dashed and mistakes made
Hearts broken and love found
About years of lost time and the mad flurry to capture it
About getting lemons and squeezing them
About wonderful children and parents and love
About all that I cannot write
My mind whirls
So fast it spins me around a world of suffering, hunger and death
Of whole tribes cleansed so a nation can be born
Of the transfer of bodies over oceans to untold suffering
Of massive cities and infinite dreams
Ensconced on more suffering, hunger and death that clutter streets
Strewn with bones of martyrs
Holding on to holy books that promise eternal life
Far away from suffering, hunger, poverty and death.
And still I cannot write.
So I grab the pen as tightly as I can and will my hand to scribe
To put words of infinite wisdom on paper but
All I hear is the screech of humanity
As it’s breath is sucked out of it by the inhumane
And darkness slowly falls on the land.
Somewhere, somewhere, in the distance
Faint but discernible
I could hear it
Then I could feel it
It lifted me off my feet
Soaring….
The vision became clear
I knew what I had to do
Write!

The Handprinted Image

Photography is one of the ways I try to express and exercise my creative instincts. The captured image is however not my primary goal. To me, the print is the ultimate expression of the artistic intent and vision so I try to print all my work. I prefer to hand-print my work using age-old printing techniques like platinum and gum printing.

Barn“The Barn” – a platinum-palladium Print

These techniques, unfortunately, do not find much use anymore in today’s digital world. However, printing this way imparts a certain mood and feeling to the images. They obtain an atmosphere of intrigue, that invites closer inspection and appreciation. I also hope to keep alive these wonderful methods of printing that are unfortunately dying out.

With my prints, I also seek to pay homage to those photographers who came before and blazed the path with their work – Steiglitz, Demachy, Steichen, Coburn, Kasebier, Robinson, Puyo, White Day, Kuhn, Remmes, Annan, the Hoffmeisters …I couldn’t name all of them. You made great images with much less. This is to all those wet plate collodion artists who documented history with an amazing but challenging technique, your work lives on.

I will occasionally post some work here but you can see most of my work here.

A Life Well Led

“A great man is different from an eminent one in that he is ready to be the servant of the society.” – B.R. Ambedkar

mandela

Madiba, goodbye! You go to a well-deserved rest. Rest In Peace

Madiba, you didn’t have to but you did. 27 years! 27 years of a man’s life. Spent confined within  four narrow walls to stand for what one believed in. 27 years!

Many years ago, I heard my dad play this very haunting a cappella song. It made me cry. He told me it was from South Africa. I asked him why the song was so sad. Then he told me about you. He told me about Steve Biko. He told me about apartheid. I was 10. I never forgot. How could I? How could anyone with a heart?

When you were arrested in 1962, you were 44 years old. In your prime. Two years later you started a journey that was to have a great impact on you, your family, your beloved country and the whole world down the line. Back then, you may have hoped but how long can a man hope? How long can a man believe in what is not seen and seems so hopeless? But you did.

What is amazing is that even though it seems like your life was taken from you, in the process, you lived it better than most. You did, because your life had an impact on so many. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters most? You sacrificed so much for your fellow man.

Being ready to die for what one believes in and hope are not the only lessons you leave behind.  You also epitomized forgiveness. In spite of all the decades of apartheid, you rose above the fray and reconciled. What strength and fortitude that must have taken. Were you ever bitter? Madiba, were you ever mad?

A friend once was in crowd that met you in Berlin and described an aura that you emanated. I believed her because one didn’t have to be in a crowd around you to feel that aura. It sprang from you words, your stature, your eyes, your life. It sprang from a life well led.

Madiba, the World will miss you but you have done enough.

Thank you and Good Bye!

 

 

 

Facebook versus Google – an Analogy

You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard that Facebook went public last Friday. That is all most media outlets have been reporting for the last week.

Like most retail investors, I thought about getting some Facebook shares but that is all I did – think of it.

It opened at $38 a share. On the surface, that does not look like much but then consider how the share price of a company is reached. The price reflects how much an investor is willing to pay for the share based on the company’s earnings. Take Apple as an example. If Apple distributed all it’s earnings to all it’s shareholders from the last 4 quarters, each shareholder would get approximately $34 per share. Based on this number, investors decide how much they want to pay for Apple’s shares. Someone will say, I want to pay 5 times it’s earnings because I believe the company is growing. Another would say 10x and yet another 15x. This known as the Price-to-Earnings (P/E) ratio. In reality, Apple trades at about 15x earnings giving it a share price in the $500 range. Google also made about $33/share and trades at a PE ratio of about 16. In the world of investing, a P/E ratio of 15 is seen as cheap, making a company like Apple or Google worth a look.

Now let’s look at Facebook. It’s earnings per share for the last 4 quarters came to about $0.43 a share. At a price of $38, you are giving Facebook a P/E of about 89! Are you prepared to buy Facebook for 89x how it is earnings? Do you believe in the growth of the company that much?

This made me think of Google, a company seen as a direct competitor of Facebook. No one can deny that Google is making money hand over fist. They developed a good concept to make money out of search and it’s working great. Can Facebook do the same?

Which brings me to my story:

Somewhere in Middle America is a city called Net City. Net City is a booming metropolis with jobs, lots of good schools, great restaurants and growing industries. What it lacked 10 years ago was a way to find where anything or anybody was. The libraries were antiquated and the information centers badly staffed. Two young men, Larry and Sarge, decided to open a library/information/search center in Net City. They called it “Findle”. Soon, Findle was where everyone went to find stuff. All the out-ot-towners stopped there first. It was booming. They had devised a way to charge users of Findle for using the services. Since there was nowhere else to go for information, they held a virtual monopoly. Since most of the businesses realized customers could find them through Findle, they bought advertisement space at Findle. Life was good for Larry and Sarge.

Time went by. Net City grew some more. A young man called Mark opened a club where friends could meet, chat, shoot the breeze, gossip, whatever. He called it “The Hook”. It was unlike anything anyone had opened in Net City. The best thing was that it was free to become a member. Soon, everyone in Net City was a member of the Hook. For all it’s popularity and number of members, unlike Findle, it basically made very little money. As the operations grew, Mark got a smart lady called Cheryl to run the show. She convinced a few businesses to start advertising at the Hook. The problem is, most of the members went there to unwind and had very little interest in the commercials. And when they needed to find something, they went to Findle. If they needed to connect with someone, they went to the Hook.

In the mean time, Larry and Sarge opened a club of their own and called it Findle Plus. They wanted Findle to be not only a place you found things but also a place you could connect with others. It looked like they were going to put the Hook out of business but Mark and Cheryl hung on. The membership increased even more. However Mark and Cheryl realized that unless they could find a way to make money off all those members, the business was not going to grow like Findle. They wondered if they could advertise as aggressively to the Hook members as Findle did to it’s users. They wondered if they shouldn’t charge for membership. they wondered if making any dramatic changes would drive members away.

So how does the story end?

Unless Facebook finds a way to monetize the net experience of it’s 900 million users, I don’t see how the company merits the valuation it has.  Can it do that? I have no clue but then who thought social networking will be such a tour de force these days. Growing the company to 900 million members is no small feat. Monetizing their web experience might be an even bigger feat. If you bet on team Zuckerberg and Sandberg to do it, then $38 is a small price to pay.