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English Language Lab / Matrimonial harmony
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:45:10 PM »
Count me in
Just how important is sex to a marriage’s success?
DOES marital bliss depend on an active sex life? It sounds like a bears-in-woods and papal-religious-affiliation sort of question, yet around half of studies carried out into the matter suggest the answer is “no”. And this is not just a question of Darbies and Joans, who were at it in their youths, having slowed down as the years have passed. Even reasonably newly married couples, these studies suggest, do not rely on sex to keep their bond strong.
On the other hand, the remaining 50% of investigations have shown the correlation that common sense would predict—namely that in matters matrimonial, sex is crucial. Lindsey Hicks of Florida State University therefore wondered if, as is the case with many things in life, it is all a question of how you ask the question. Many psychological questionnaires permit the respondent time for reflection. Ms Hicks was having none of that. She wanted instant, gut responses.
Ms Hicks’s study, just published in Psychological Science, started off by doing what previous ones have done. She collaborated with a team of colleagues to round up 120 recently married local couples. The partners in these couples were then separated and each asked to fill in a questionnaire that inquired about how satisfied they were with their spouses and how often they had sex (a fact on which, despite what cynics might suspect, husband and wife generally agreed).
Ms Hicks, however, did not leave things there. She suspected the reason why past explorations of this subject have had mixed results is because many people want to believe their marriage is in a good state despite infrequent sex, or that frequent sex should not be important for maintaining a healthy relationship. Wanting to believe something is not, though, the same as actually believing it. So she needed a way to distinguish between the two.
Her answer was what is known as an automatic attitude test. Such tests measure instant feelings. Participants are shown an image and then presented with a word that is either positive (“wonderful”, “outstanding” or “charming”, for example) or negative (“awful”, “disturbing”, “horrible”). When they see this word they must indicate as quickly as they can, using a keyboard that measures their reaction time, whether it is positive or negative. Previous work has shown that faster reaction times to positive words and slower reaction times to negative ones suggest a participant has a positive attitude towards whatever he saw in the image. Slower reaction times to positive words and faster ones to negative words suggest the opposite.
To wield the test for her own purposes, Ms Hicks arranged for participants to work through several sets of words. The first set was a control, in which they ranked the words without seeing an image beforehand. The following sets were preceded either by another control (a picture of the participant him- or herself) or by a picture of the participant’s spouse.
Ms Hicks and her colleagues found that although the frequency with which couples have sex does not have much correlation with how satisfied they claim to be with their partner, it correlates well with their automatic attitudes towards one another. Those who said they had sex with their spouse two or more times a week reacted more quickly to positive words and more slowly to negative ones after seeing an image of said spouse. The opposite was true for those who had sex once a week or less. None of these effects emerged after people saw an image of themselves, or during the initial control.
Ms Hicks’s result does not mean the no-sex brigade are lying when they claim it does not signify. They may genuinely believe what they say. But it does suggest they are fooling themselves. And that is not a matter of mere prurience. If things do start to go wrong in a relationship, and the participants want to patch matters up, then understanding where the real problem lies is important. This is only a single study, of course. But if it is successfully replicated, marriage-guidance counsellors the world over might want to take note.

Daffodil Institute of Languages (DIL) / Losing Languages
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:43:54 PM »
Biological criteria and evolutionary models help predict threats to spoken language, according to two studies.
A little time apart—say, on islands, or separated by oceans—can nurture developing languages. Just as animal species grow distinct from one another when physically separated, geographical barriers foster linguistic diversity and variation, according to a recent study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
Sean Lee and Toshikazu Hasegawa of the University of Tokyo chose to study the divergence of Japonic languages from one another by comparing variations spoken across the islands, and correlating the extent of differences with geographical factors. They found that geographical proximity—and isolation by the surrounding ocean—explained most of the lexical variation across these languages. “The same factor responsible for much of the biodiversity in the Galápagos Islands is also responsible for the linguistic diversity in the Japanese Islands: the natural oceanic barriers that impede interaction between speech communities,” the authors wrote in their paper.
Adding a complementary perspective to the emergence—and disappearance—of languages, a study published yesterday (September 3) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that nearly 25 percent of the world’s languages are threatened with “extinction” as speaker numbers decline.
Based on the criteria typically used to classify animal species’ risk of extinction, Tatsuya Amano of the University of Cambridge, U.K. and his colleagues estimated how environmental and social factors affected the decline of languages across the world. They found that decreases in speaker numbers for less frequently used languages were most significant in regions with fast-growing economies. Increasingly rare use as a result of fewer speakers continues to threaten local languages spoken in the tropics and the Himalayas, the authors found.
The study “shows principles about language decline that we've know about, but hadn't been able to put together in a sound way,” linguist Leanne Hinton of the University of California, Berkeley, told Science News.
Categorizing languages in the same manner as endangered species can help protect them, or predict which ones will become vulnerable in the future, according to the authors. “There exists detailed information on projected future changes in the environment, economies and climates,” Amano told LiveScience. “Using such information, together with the findings of this study and further analysis, we would like to understand what will happen to the world's languages, where it will happen and which languages will be threatened in particular.”

Humanities & Social Science / Iceland’s Water Cure
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:42:09 PM »
Can the secret to the country’s happiness be found in its communal pools?
On a frigid February day in Reykjavik, I stood bare-¬chested and dripping wet just inside the dressing room at the Vesturbaejar pool, facing a long, cold walk to the outdoor hot tubs. My host was stoic, strong, a Viking. I was whining.
“I just don’t want to go out there,” I said. “How do you make yourself do it?”
“You must, to swim in the pool,” ValdimarHafstein said with a shrug. He is a folklorist at the University of Iceland who studies the country’s pools. “Kids hate it, too. I have to haul my kids kicking and screaming.” I took a deep breath and tried to think of warm things. Wearing only a Speedo bathing suit — I had packed three, in honor of the island’s reputation as one of the company’s most avid markets — I stepped onto the deck. It was a few degrees below freezing.
Imagine the feeling you get when you hold an ice cube tight, that combination of sting and ache, except imagine it all over your nearly nude body. Battling my long-¬ingrained instincts never to run at a swimming pool, I fell into a kind of brisk walk-trot, aiming for the large set of interconnected hot tubs in the center of the complex. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. The good news: I’d never been less concerned about my appearance while wearing almost nothing in public.
Small snowflakes glittered in the sky, which at 4 p.m. was already darkening toward dusk. I reached the largest hot tub and sank to my chin. For one glorious moment, I felt my mind go blank: There was just my body, my big, stupid body in its stupid bathing suit, enveloped in warmth, the cold wind on my ears only heightening my delight. Behind me, Valdimar ambled across the deck, saying hello to a neighbor in another hot pot.
Every Icelandic town, no matter how small, has its own pool. There areramshackle cement rectangles squatting under rain clouds in the sheep-strewn boonies. There are fancy aquatic complexes with multilevel hot tubsand awesomely dangerous water slides of the sort that litigious American culture would never allow. All told, there are more than 120 public pools — usually geothermally heated, mostly outdoors, open all year long — in Iceland, a country with a population just slightly larger than that of Lexington, Ky. “If you don’t have a swimming pool, it seems you may as well not even be a town,” the mayor of Reykjavik, DagurEggertsson, told me. I interviewed him, of course, as we relaxed together in a downtown hot tub.
These public pools, or sundlaugs, serve as the communal heart of Iceland, sacred places whose affordability and ubiquity are viewed as a kind of civil right. Families and teenagers and older people lounge and chat insundlaugs every day, summer or winter. Despite Iceland’s cruel climate, its remoteness and its winters of 19 hours of darkness per day, the people there are among the most contented in the world. The more local swimming pools I visited, the more convinced I became that Icelanders’ remarkable satisfaction is tied inextricably to the experience of escaping the fierce, freezing air and sinking into warm water among their countrymen. The pools are more than a humble municipal investment, more than just a civic perquisite that emerged from an accident of Iceland’s volcanic geology. They seem to be, in fact, a key to Icelandic well-¬being.
This past winter, I visited Iceland and swam in 14 pools all over the country. I found them full of Icelanders eager to discuss what role these underwater village greens played in their lives. I met recent immigrants to the Westfjords town Bolungarvik as they mingled with their new neighbors, their toddler carrying fresh handfuls of snow into the hot tub and delightedly watching them melt. I saw Icelandic parents splash with their kids to calm them before bedtime; I talked to adults who remembered that ritual from childhood and could summon the memory of slipping their still-warm bodies between cool sheets. I heard stories of divorcing couples splitting their local pools along with their possessions and retired couples bonding by swimming together every day. I watched four steaming septuagenarians swim laps in a northern Iceland pool while the sunrise lit up the mountains behind them and an attendant brought out foam cups of coffee balanced on a kickboard. “I think the swimming pools are what make it possible to live here,” the young artist RagnheidurHarpaLeifsdottir said. “You have storms, you have darkness, but the swimming pool is a place for you to find yourself again.”
For centuries, Iceland was a nation of seamen who regularly drowned within sight of shore. One local newspaper reported in 1887 that more than 100 Icelanders had drowned that winter alone. In 1931, a boat carrying four farmers capsized while they tried to row a panicking cow across Kollafjordur fjord. Three of the men died; one, who had studied swimming, survived.
Incidents like this fostered an enthusiasm for swimming education. At the time, the only place to learn was a muddy ditch downstream from the hot spring where the women of Reykjavik did laundry. Inspired by that hot spring, and using a heavily mortgaged drill that had been brought to Iceland to search fruitlessly for gold, the city soon tapped the underground hot water generated by Iceland’s volcanic underbelly. Iceland’s first geothermal heat flowed into 70 homes and three civic buildings: a school, a hospital and a swimming pool. The national energy authority offered no-risk loans to villages across the country to encourage geothermal drilling, and within a generation, the ancient turf house had nearly disappeared from Iceland, replaced by modern apartment buildings and homes, all of them so toasty warm that even on winter nights most Icelanders leave a window open. With hot water flowing through the country and a populace eager to take a dip — swimming education was made mandatory in all Icelandic schools in 1943 — pools soon popped up in every town.
“Because of the weather, we don’t have proper plazas in the Italian or French style,” the writer Magnus SveinnHelgason explained to me. “Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989, so we don’t have the pub tradition of England or Ireland.” The pool is Iceland’s social space: where families meet neighbors, where newcomers first receive welcome, where rivals can’t avoid one another. It can be hard for reserved Icelanders, who “don’t typically talk to their neighbors in the store or in the street,” to forge connections, Mayor Dagur told me. (Icelanders generally use patronymic and matronymic last names and refer to everyone, even the mayor, by first name.) “In the hot tub, you must interact,” Mayor Dagur continued. “There’s nothing else to do.”
Not only must you interact; you must do so in a state of quite literal exposure. Most Icelanders have a story about taking visitors, often American, to the pools and then seeing them balk in horror at the strict requirement to strip naked, shower and scrub their bodies with soap from head to toe. Men’s and women’s locker rooms feature posters highlighting all the regions you must lather assiduously: head, armpits, undercarriage, feet. Icelanders are very serious about these rules, which are necessary because the pools are only lightly chlorinated; tourists and shy teenagers are often scolded by pool wardens for insufficient showering. The practice was even the subject of a popular sketch on the comedy show “Fostbraedur,” in which a zealous warden scrubs down a reluctant pool visitor himself.
That one of the buck-¬naked bystanders in that viral video, Jon Gnarr, was later elected mayor of Reykjavik demonstrates that Icelanders are quite un-¬self-¬conscious about nudity in the service of pool cleanliness. This was made most clear to me, perhaps, in a dressing room in the town Isafjordur, where a chatty liquor-¬store manager named SnorriGrimsson told me a long story about the time a beautiful Australian girl asked him to go to the pool but then revealed that she doesn’t shower before swimming. He mugged a look of comic horror, then brought home the kicker: “It was a very difficult decision. Thankfully, the pool was closed!” I could tell this bit killed with his fellow Icelanders, but my own appreciation of it was somewhat impeded by Snorri’s delivery of it in the nude, his left foot on the sink, stretching like a ballet dancer at the barre.
“It’s wonderful,” an actress named Salome Gunnarsdottir told me in the pool one evening. “Growing up here, we see all kinds of real women’s bodies. Sixty-¬five-¬year-¬olds, middle-¬aged, pregnant women. Not just people in magazines or on TV.”
“It’s so important,” Salome said earnestly. “You get used to breasts and vaginas!”
As a journalist, I will never forget the uniquely Icelandic experience of shaking hands with handsome Mayor Dagur and then, just minutes later, interviewing him as we each bared all. (In the tradition of politician interviews everywhere, an aide lurked nearby, in a manner I would call unobtrusive but for the fact that he was also naked.) I admit I found this disconcerting at first, but eventually there was something comforting about seeing all those other chests and butts and guts — which for the most part belonged to normal human-¬being bodies, not sculpted masterpieces. And that comfort extends out into the pool proper, where you might be covered — only a little, in my case — but are still on display.
But near-¬nudity, by encouraging a slight remove from others, also allows the visitor to focus, in a profound and unfamiliar way, on his own body, on its responses and needs. Despite its being a social hub, the pool also cultivates inwardness. Results of a questionnaire distributed by Valdimar’s research team suggested that women in particular go to the pool to seek solitude. According to women I talked to, most everyone respects the posture of aquatic reverie — head tilted back against the pool wall, eyes closed, mouth smiling a tiny smile of satisfaction — that you adopt when you come to the pool wanting to be left alone.
SigurlaugDagsdottir, a graduate student researching the pools, speculated that the sundlaugs’ social utility in Icelandic communities derives in part from the intimacy of the physical experience: In the pool, she said, you can “take off the five layers of clothing that usually separate you from everyone else.” As such, the pools are a great leveler: Council members in Reykjavik make a point to circulate among the city’s sundlaugs, where they often take good-¬natured grief from their constituents. The filmmaker Jon Karl Helgason, who is shooting a documentary about Iceland’s pools, said, “When people are in the swimming pool, it doesn’t matter if you are a doctor or a taxi driver.” His girlfriend, FridgerdurGudmundsdottir, added, “Everyone is dressed the same.”
On the way from Reykjavik to Keflavik airport is the Blue Lagoon, a luxurious hot-¬water spa that is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations. There, for 40 euros, you can shower in private stalls and float in mineral-¬rich water — discharge from the nearby Svartsengi power plant, which uses turbines twice as tall as a man to generate 75 megawatts of electricity and 150 thermal megawatts of heat for the surrounding towns.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
My final day in Iceland, I turned off the highway just after the Blue Lagoon and instead drove into one of those towns, the port Rekjanesbaer. The lobby of the town’s pool is dotted, fittingly, by a series of porthole-¬like windows. The woman working at the desk charged me nine bucks and asked, “Is this your first time in an Iceland swimming pool?”
“Nope,” I said with some pleasure.
The familiar signs in the showers were supplemented by notices in Polish, targeting the new wave of immigrants who have found work in Rekjanesbaer. I snapped on my Speedo, steeled my courage and exited the warm lodge into the chill. The 36-¬to-¬38-¬degrees-¬Celsius hot pot was full of enormous men with Bluto-¬type physiques and also a small girl in a pink ruffled bathing suit. The largest of the Blutos rose from the water, picked up the girl and carried her, giggling, to the family pool. His biceps sported a tattoo of a roaring bear consumed by flames.
Her friends, all in their 20s and pregaming for a Saturday night out in the bars, nodded enthusiastically. “Especially pregnant women,” Helga Gunnhildursdottir agreed. “You can see: Oh yes, she really got quite big.”
This time I didn’t approach anyone, didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t speak at all. I concentrated on what I could feel: the water pressing lightly on my skin, the wind prickling my beard. All around me was the soft white noise of a community. The conversation; the connection; the freedom, within that flurry of sociability, to withdraw and simply be within yourself. It called to mind something a Ph.D. student named KatrinGudmundsdottir told me on my first day in Iceland. She was describing a certain ineffable emotional state to me, a native Icelander’s sense of comfort while immersed in her neighborhood sundlaug. When I thought of what she said, a perfect G chord strummed inside me. “It’s not exactly like you’re happy,” she had mused. “It’s that you know how to be in the swimming pool.”
The sun was low on the horizon, bright but evanescent. The only other thing in the crystal--blue sky was the contrail of a jet, pointed to the west. I closed my eyes. I was in the pool.

Humanities & Social Science / Giraffe Diplomacy
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:41:23 PM »
Is the public dissection of zoo animals a boon to research and education, a PR nightmare, or both?
In 2014, the Copenhagen Zoo grabbed the world’s attention by killing and publicly dissecting Marius, a healthy 24-month-old giraffe. Today, scientists still invoke Marius when talking about public engagement in the social media age, the role of zoos in society, and the complicated choices involved in animal management. Aarhus University’s Cathrine Sauer was at the zoo when Marius was put down, dissected, and fed to lions. But she wasn’t one of the hundreds of spectators. She was collecting data for her doctorate on the digestive function of giraffes.
Sauer, an animal nutritionist, defended her PhD thesis in November and has published several papers onthe anatomy, digestive patterns, and intestinal microbiomes of giraffes in the wild and in zoos. “We found that overall, giraffes are like other browsing ruminants,” says Sauer. “They have a smaller omasum [third stomach] than grass-eating grazing ruminants. That correlates with feeding type since giraffes browse—eat foliage—in the wild.”
But Sauer says we have much to learn about the physiology of animals such as giraffes. “Cows, goats, and sheep are well studied, but we don’t know much about the digestive system of exotic ruminants,” she says. “We need basic knowledge to better understand how to feed them.”
Tobias Wang also studied Marius for Aarhus University’s Danish Cardiovascular Giraffe Research Programme. “Because giraffes are the tallest living animal on earth, they have twice the blood pressure of other mammals,” says Wang, zoophysiology professor at Aarhus and scientific adviser for the Copenhagen Zoo. “But they don’t get the problems of humans with high blood pressure like heart enlargement, kidney failure, or edema in the legs. We’re interested in knowing why.”
Sauer’s research was unique because of its scope. Opportunities to measure organs from exotic ruminants are rare, so similar studies on their digestive tracts typically include fewer than 10 animals. Sauer used data from 38 wild-caught or zoo-raised giraffes. This allowed her to do statistical analyses and detect significant variations from expectations. For example, she says, “we found that giraffes have smaller salivary glands than predicted, compared to other browsing ruminants. We’re asking ourselves the consequences of that. Maybe they don’t tolerate the tannins in browse as well as other species?”
The finding that some parameters deviate from expectations, such as salivary gland size, supports the need for large, comparative studies with comprehensive measurements. “The take-home message,” says Sauer, “is if you only examine digestive tracts, you have to evaluate more than a few parameters to predict the feeding ecology of an exotic ruminant.” Her work also highlights the fundamental difficulty of conducting basic research on exotic animals. Randomized trials with multiple control groups are impossible, so Sauer collected measurements opportunistically, when wild or zoo giraffes became available.
Marius was one such animal. As he matured, his father became increasingly aggressive toward him. Marius’s genetic background was already represented in the European zoo giraffe population with close relatives at other zoos, so he was removed from the group and euthanized before a public necropsy. The media attention attracted some protesters, “and lots of people to watch,” says Sauer. “We’d done public dissections before, but never with so much fuss.” The kids who attended were fascinated, she says, and “asked clever questions.”
MadsBertelsen, a veterinarian at the zoo’s Center for Zoo and Wild Animal Health and an affiliate professor at the University of Copenhagen, explains the justification for the public event: “Most people see zoos as entertainment,” he says, “but we see ourselves as also doing education, research, and conservation.” Feeding Marius to the carnivores ensured that the entire animal was used, he says.
“That’s what it’s like in nature,” adds Sauer. “Most Danes probably feel the same way.” Still, she says, the experience taught her the importance of media training and considering how news and images spread. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t understand, if you sat and talked with them about what you are doing and why,” she says. “But that conversation takes time. On social media, you have only a few lines, so you can’t have that conversation.”
The Marius controversy wasn’t all bad, contendsCherylAsa, director of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Reproductive Management Center, headquartered at the Saint Louis Zoo. “It’s been a chance to raise people’s consciousness about the complexity of managing zoos and conserving genetic diversity,” she says. The Marius affair also revealed a philosophical divide among zoos: some control breeding using contraception, while others allow natural breeding and cull animals later. The Copenhagen Zoo mainly lets animals mate and raise young, removing offspring when they would normally leave the group and euthanizing them if necessary for space or genetic diversity reasons. In US zoos, however, “the general approach is not to use euthanasia for management,” says Asa, stressing the safety of animal contraception. That said, “no one from the zoo community who spoke to me about the incident was critical of the Copenhagen Zoo’s euthanasia policies,” she adds.
Breeding policy is an evolving discussion as zoos come together to coordinate internationally on conservation, says Bertelsen. “For some species,” he says, “all the zoos in Europe, and now sometimes the world, are considered one population with a species coordinator planning breeding to maintain long-term diversity.” The coordination of global breeding programs is making zoos more collaborative, says Asa, and talking about policy differences will be good for the field. Even if zoos don’t change their practices, “at least they’ll have considered the alternatives,” she says. In the meantime, Danish zoos continue to use public dissections to educate the public about animal anatomy. In October, the Odense Zoo, 170 kilometers west of Copenhagen, created its own media splash by publicly dissecting a 9-month-old lion.

Humanities & Social Science / Aping Language
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:40:34 PM »
Chimpanzees can learn “words” for objects, a study suggests.
Captive chimpanzees can learn new vocalizations to refer to specific objects from chimps raised in a different environment, according to a study published this week (February 5) in Current Biology.
In 2010, a group of chimps raised at a safari park in the Netherlands was integrated with a group at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. Prior to the move, the Dutch chimps were enthusiastic about apples and used high-pitched calls to refer to them, whereas the Scottish apes voiced their displeasure for apples by referring to them with low grunts. As the two groups became more closely knit over the following three years, the chimps maintained their respective apple preferences, but a team of researchers from the Universities of York, Zurich, and St Andrews noted that the apes from the Netherlands began referring to apples with the Scottish group’s grunting.
“As far as we know, this is the first evidence we’ve seen of a referential call being modified,” study coauthor Simon Townsend of the University of Zurich told The Verge. Previously, scientists had assumed that these sounds used by chimpanzees and some other primates were closely tied to the emotions the animals had about the object, but the behavior of the chimps at the Edinburgh Zoo suggested that the sound associated with a given object can be decoupled from that item’s emotional value. “This suggests that the way meaning is assigned in human language and in animals might be more similar than previously thought,” Townsend added.
 “This is the first bit of evidence which might suggest that [vocal learning] . . . is a much older capability, that maybe our last common ancestor might also have had,” study coauthor Katie Slocombe of the University of York told BBC News.

Daffodil Institute of Languages (DIL) / Pearson Language Tests-PTE
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:32:39 PM »
Pearson Language Tests is a unit of the Pearson PLC group, dedicated to assessing and validating the English language usage of non-native English speakers. The tests include PTE Academic, PTE General (formerly Australia Tests of English), and PTE Young Learners (formerly Australia Tests of English for Children). These are scenario-based exams, accredited by the QCA and administered in association with Edexcel, the Australia's largest examining body.[citation needed]

In 2009, Pearson Language Tests launched the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) which is endorsed by Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the organisation responsible for the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). The test score has been aligned to the levels defined in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF of CEFR). PTE Academic is delivered through the Pearson VUE centres which are also responsible for delivering the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) worldwide.

Upon release, it was recognized by nearly 6,000 organizations. The test is approved for use by the Australia Border Agency and the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship for visa applications.[4] The test is read by a computer rather than a human grader to reduce waiting times of the results for students.

Business & Entrepreneurship / Choosing the Right Accounting Software
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:28:53 PM »
A friend suggests Pastel, your accountant uses QuickBooks, but you’ve just seen a great ad for Softline. Your computer guy adds to the confusion by recommending a local solution you’ve never heard of. How on earth do you choose the accounting package that’s right for your business?
Happily, the majority of off-the-shelf packages available today come with most of the basic requirements built in. Where specific needs arise, it’s useful to ask the following questions:
1.   What size is your business, and what growth is forecast?
A R500 000 a year business has very different needs from a multimillion rand organization. Don’t overbuy when it comes to your accounting package because you’ll pay more for something that is more complicated than you need. If, however, your business is set for major growth in the medium term, ensure that you buy software that is scalable. As your business grows in size and complexity, you will probably need more functions and more performance. True scalability means that the user interface stays the same, as do the processes required to complete transactions. Make sure that if you need to migrate your data you will not have to fork out a hefty amount of cash.
2.   What industry are you in?
Some vendors have developed specialized software for certain industries which, although more expensive, may offer you the functionality you need.
3.   What support is available and at what cost?
Buying the software is the first step, but it’s important to ensure that local support is available in the form of consultants, internet support, phone support, training options and more. A large user base is a good indication of a bigger support structure.
4.   What systems will you need to run the software?
You need to make sure that your computer systems are up to date in terms of both hardware and operating system.
5.   What components will you use?
If you employ an accountant or bookkeeper, chances are you will really be able to maximise the functionalities of any given package, from creating invoices to producing management reports. If you’re only going to use it for invoicing, however, then choose your package accordingly.
6.   What is your budget?
How much money do you have to invest in the software? When researching the software options available to you, consider which one offers the best fit for your needs with the best value.
7.   Is the package easy to use?
If the package you choose is too complex and difficult to learn, it will be of no use to the business. Don’t be tempted to purchase one with extra functions that you do not need. Again, it’s all about the right fit based upon the needs of the business and ease of use.

Imagine for a moment you had the recipe to the best strawberry jam in the world. This recipe, a closely guarded family secret, has been passed down from one person to the next for decades. When people taste your strawberry jam, they are in raptures. They can’t get enough of it. Occasionally people even write poems about the stuff. People wait in long queues in the street just to taste it.  And you’re the only person who knows how to make this product that brings in a limitless number of customers. Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn’t it?
But imagine now for a moment that you have nothing to store your jam in. You have no jam jars or bottles or cans. You could make pots and pots of strawberry jam, but you have no way of bottling it.
There is simply no way to contain your precious jam. People arrive at your doorstep, eager to buy a bottle of the fruit-laden delicacy, and you have to turn them away. You offer a few good friends a lick off your wooden spoon, but you have no way of transporting any more than that.
Having no jam jars is a little like having a great business with no financial management system. You could have the best business idea, and the most talented financial staff to help you action it. But if there is no financial management system ‘containing’ the financial information of your company, then there is no way of keeping your business effective. Without a financial management system, your business is not much more than a big pot of jam.
We’ve combined our own ideas with some suggestions from to help you establish good practice in the financial management of your business.
Your financial policies and systems must remain constant over time. If you establish a cash on delivery rule, for example, then your company needs to stick to that policy regardless of where you are in the cash flow cycle.
Your financial management system should create a paper trail that shows how resources have been used and who has authorized the decisions behind their use. Your system should create transparency, rather than make processes so complicated that it is difficult to determine who has done what.
Financial stewardship:
The processes that your business adopts should demonstrate that your organisation values its financial resources and uses them for the purposes they are intended.
Compatibility with existing technology:
There are various bespoke financial management systems on the market, most of which come in the form of software, and all of which tout a complete financial management solution for your business. Before you spend many thousands investing in a system, make sure it is compatible with your existing technology.
What computers would be required to run the system? What level of training would employees need in order to use it? In addition, investigate who or what would be required to support the system, and at what cost.
Accounting standards:
Accounting standards in South Africa are rigorous and extensive. Ensure that your financial management system complies with the latest accounting standards, and that there is a process whereby the system will be updated to reflect the latest changes, when they take place.
If you need guidance in implementing a financial management system for your company, The Finance Team can assist you. We have a team of highly qualified financial professionals who can provide you with part-time or interim advice according to your business’s needs. Together we can help you establish an effective system that will be the jam jars to your company’s secret recipe.

Business & Entrepreneurship / Live and Work from a Place of Passion!
« on: April 20, 2017, 09:27:30 PM »
Okay, you’re probably thinking… I have to come up with a brilliant idea to boost our mobile banking participation because my short sighted CEO wants a 30-day miraculous success story, and the last thing I need here is some talk about passion….. But here’s the thing – it’s all connected. .
Marketing entrepreneurs know that passion is a key ingredient in entrepreneurship. You may not be passionate about your latest banking product; but you are passionate about something. It could be downhill skiing, cooking, playing golf, grandchildren, chocolate, reading, etc. There is something around which you become more animated and driven. Regardless of what that is, there is one thing for certain – when you’re passionate about something it is rarely on the back burner.
Procrastination and perfectionism kills passion every time. The marketplace is far too dynamic for marketers to spend 9 months developing the next campaign. Agility is the name of the game. Some of the most successful marketing is happening in real-time. If you believe in what you’re doing and what you need to accomplish, let your passion trump your fear of failure…or fear of success.
Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:
1.   Find the smallest step towards the one thing you haven’t done yet because you want it to be perfect. Then take that step.
2.   Declare what you’re going to accomplish to someone – or a group of people. Ask them to hold you accountable.

Think of an entrepreneur that you know or know of – they are usually excited about what they do, and they tell everyone. I often cite Umpqua Bank’s CEO Ray Davis as an example. Take a look at the following 3-minute YouTube video that coincided with the release of his new book, “Leading Through Uncertainty.”
This video is a great example of self-promotion in its most effective form. As entrepreneur Nathan Hangen suggests “self-promotion is the art of spreading ideas, concepts; self-adulation (on the other hand) is just the promotion of accomplishments.”
Hesitance to self-promote stifles campaigns, and careers. Many marketing directors I know struggle to gain acknowledgment from the C-Suite. They forget that their first target audience is internal (your colleagues and coworkers, your management team, etc.). Don’t be shy about your vision for the department or organization and what resources you need! Marketers are communicators, after all.
Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:
1.   Identify your personal blocks to self-promotion. Were you brought up not to brag on yourself? Do you believe self-promotion will make you look arrogant? Do you think others will tell your story for you?
2.   Understand your value proposition. Whether individually or organizationally, the foundation of authentic self-promotion is knowing your strengths and how you demonstrate value.
3.   Cultivate strategic relationships with five colleagues. Develop a plan to connect with them regularly and go out of your way to assist them with their challenges.

Being a problem solver goes hand in hand with the prior characteristic. Research helps you identify the unmet need; designing solutions addresses the need. Most entrepreneurs are not inventing something new but making an existing product or service better, or positioning it to solve a problem.
Last year, HomeStreet Bank’s CEO Mark Mason was named finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He’d taken on the rescue of HomeStreet Bank at a time when many observers thought it would be shut down. Turning around struggling firms had become his specialty. He’d also led the turnaround of Fidelity Federal Bank in California. In both cases, he took bold steps to solve problems. As he told the Seattle Times, “It’s like triage. You have to quickly assess the most critical needs, address them and move on.”
Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:
1.   Ask yourself what unresolved problems exist in your market (or organization or customer segment), and whether or not you can effect a reasonable solution. If the answer isn’t clear from assembling internal data; pull together experts from different disciplines and integrate their intelligence to help you assess and solve the problem you hope to address.
2.   Decisiveness is a critical problem solving skill. After analyzing several possible solutions to the problem at hand; arrive at a decision quickly. There are lots of “ready, aim, aim, aim…” bank marketers out there – you need to be a “pull the trigger” type.


According to Steve Tobak in an article for Entrepreneur Magazine called What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Tick, entrepreneurs are sponges for information. They take in and assimilate large amounts of data and then create a product/service or solution based on the research. Simply stated, they do their homework.
Whether you are deciding on a new product launch, determining which customer segments are most receptive to your mobile banking promotion or gauging the profitability of your next big idea – it all starts with research. Understanding relevant data makes innovation possible, and certainly boosts your credibility with the C-Suite. Using that data to evaluate risks and prompt action is the next step. Remember, entrepreneurs are risk takers who know the seven most expensive words in business are: “We have always done it that way!”
Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:
1.   Identify the top three consumer segments in your market (which usually comprises 50-60% of your customer/member base). Learn all you can about their financial behaviors and preferences.
2.   Determine one unmet financial need within each customer segment you identified.
3.   Design one innovative solution for each unmet customer need.


It used to be that a consistent set of skills and a standard career path meant your work life journey would be fairly predictable. Not today. No marketer can afford to be trapped in routine and afraid of risk. Entrepreneurs know that we must be far more agile. A willingness to reinvent yourself, your department, your mindset is what it will take to thrive in this post-Recession economy. In fact, I think this is the single most important characteristic for marketers to personify.
Five years ago GMAC Bank reinvented itself as Ally Bank. It was more than a new name and new look. They redefined their character to escape a declining image and align with customer’s perceptions of the TARP-tarnished industry. They changed structure, modified products and evolved.
Reinvention isn’t always about such an extreme makeover. Sometimes it is more about adding on, than taking away. As an example, the genesis of social media marketing (remember, Facebook is only 10 years old) pushed many in our industry to expand their skill set and learn entirely new ways to network or interact with customers. Some even reconstituted their careers. That is a form of reinvention. With that in mind, here’s what I’d suggest:
Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:
1.   Observe your habits and routines and ask yourself if there is a better way to get the job done. Periodically, break from your everyday schedule and try a different approach. And make time to observe trends from outside the industry that influence your customer’s experiences and expectations. The awareness you achieve makes reinvention possible.
2.   Entrepreneurs know their strengths, and weaknesses. In order to reinvent yourself you have to identify the shortcomings that need attention. What do you need to help position you or your institution for future success? What processes aren’t giving you the result you expect? Look honestly at what needs improvement. Ask for some peer feedback.
3.   Don’t be afraid to fail. If you take bold steps to reinvent yourself or your marketing efforts, failure is a possibility. But as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.”

Commerce / 5 Tricks to Becoming a Financial Marketing Entrepreneur
« on: April 20, 2017, 08:15:59 PM »
When you think about the word entrepreneur, who or what comes to mind? Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Oprah Winfrey. Terms like “go getter” or “risk taker” may occur to you. Or perhaps qualities like creative, passionate and innovative come to mind. If you are like most people you think that these traits are reserved for others – seldom for bankers, and rarely for bank marketers. But that is exactly what is needed to help you rise above the challenges you face as a financial services marketer.
There are numerous personal characteristics, both academic and anecdotal, attributed to entrepreneurs. Flexibility, responsiveness and quick learning are often cited. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson says “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” That statement certainly speaks to some of key qualities that identify an entrepreneur. But to keep it simple, here are five characteristics and corresponding action steps that will pump a little entrepreneurial spirit into your efforts:
1: Be Willing to Reinvent Yourself
2: Do the Research and Take Calculated Risks
3: Embrace Your Role as A Problem Solver
4: Be a Self-Promoter
5: Live and Work from a Place of Passion!

Commerce / 7 Financial Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs
« on: April 20, 2017, 08:13:02 PM »
Most of us are familiar with the typical habits of successful people -- wake up early, eat breakfast, build a network. But what about the financial habits behind successful entrepreneurs? What are they doing on a daily basis that is making their business successful? Here are six frequently mentioned financial habits of successful entrepreneurs.
1. Build your network by cutting great deals.
Network, network, network. You're probably familiar with the constant refrain, but today's successful entrepreneur doesn't just network by going to cocktail parties and business retreats. They use implied networking. Effectively, you're taking a slight financial hit in order to secure future business. This is especially relevant when forming business relationships with partners who can help you grow. Favorably crafted partnerships can lead to long-term loyalty and sustainability. Successful entrepreneurs understand that financial success is not a short-term proposition.
2. Spend small before you spend big.
Particularly when you're just starting out, you need to be careful how you spend your money. Only purchase what is absolutely essential to perform business. Do you really need new office chairs, or will the old chairs work? Do you need a brand new, top of the line computer, or will your two-year-old laptop suffice? Successful entrepreneurs don't start by purchasing luxuries -- they start by purchasing the necessities and no more.
3. Know your liabilities.
A successful entrepreneur knows every single one of their business's financial liabilities. They know what they can and can't be sued for -- and it's this knowledge that allows them to stay out of legal hot water. While it's wonderful to think that everything will be great all of the time, at some point, your business is going to run into difficulties. It's at this point that it's absolutely imperative that you know what you could be liable for at any given time.
Spencer Barclay, COO of BenefitGuard, gives an example: "An often overlooked liability of a small business is the company retirement plan. You will find numerous recent lawsuits where a company is being sued by employees for simple mismanagement of the 401(k). In many cases, the company thinks their provider is the one on the hook for this, when in reality, very few providers across the country are actually taking on any fiduciary risk."
4. Delegate money, too.
Every entrepreneur knows they need to delegate. After all, you can't do it all. But successful entrepreneurs look at delegation differently -- they look for financial delegation. As in, who should they pay to accomplish a certain task? When you have a problem, you must spend some combination of time and money to fix it. The more you spend of one, the less you spend of the other. A successful entrepreneur looks at each problem and considers how valuable their time is versus the cost to solve the problem. Should you solve the problem yourself, or does it make more sense to spend money and hire outside help? Know how much your time is worth.
5. Learn from small financial risks.
The market is constantly changing. Many successful entrepreneurs have found a way to adapt. Rather than launching a product with a massive investment, they'll develop a test project, and put forth a minimal financial action to see how receptive the market is. Effectively, this minimalist process serves two purposes. First, it allows entrepreneurs to test the market to see whether it's interested in a new product. Secondly, it protects the entrepreneurs from risk. Since the financial investment is minimal, if the investment fails, it won't sink the business. You take a small risk, learn from that risk, then eventually scale up.
6. Put the market first.
There's an old saying -- the market is never wrong. Every successful entrepreneur needs to look at the market, and put the market before themselves and their ideas. No matter how great an idea is, it needs to be financially validated by the market to be worth pursuing. Don't put your ego ahead of the market -- or your business will suffer dramatically.
7. Understand the dynamics of your cashflow.
Entrepreneur and best-selling author Ed O’Keefe explains: “The most important key for starting a new venture is to map your financial future and grow it with. Too many new entrepreneurs fall into an illusionary trap. The business is growing and everything seems to be going great. Customer acquisition is humming along. In theory, the business is a success. But there's not enough positive cashflow to sustain operations in the short run. Before you launch, make sure you can cover all your expenses for as long as necessary until the business sees a profit.”

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