Archive for February, 2012

A Win Win For Nicaragua Investors And The Local Community?

Thank you to cedps for allowing me to talk about the work of the charitable organization Community Refund in Nicaragua.  It’s a collaboration between real estate agents, real estate attorneys, title insurance providers and real estate investors to generate funds for the local community at the time of closing.  All parties to a Nicaragua real estate transaction are offered the opportunity of donating a percentage of their closing fees or funds.  So in an ideal world:

  • The real estate agent will donate 1% of their commission
  • The title insurance company 1% of their title insurance fee
  • The real estate attorney 1% of their due diligence fee
  • The buyer 1% of their purchase price
  • The real estate vendor 1% of the sale price

The result – a large donation to go back to the community.  After all everyone benefits if the community in which they are buying real estate is able to grow and prosper.

One of the best programs of Community Refund is Savings Start.  It’s designed to help people from the local community save money to start their business.  It;’s designed as a training program teaching key business skills such as computer literacy, business planning, marketing and sales.  There is also a requirement to open a savings account to which Community Refund offers matched donations.

A number of small businesses have already been set up by entrepreneurs on the back of the Savings Start program.  I’m proud to be a part of it.  It’s a great example of how a local real estate industry can ensure that some of the benefits flow to the local community.  Everyone will be better for it

Making Employees Computer-Savvy: A Sure-Fire Way to Improve Business Strategy

There is no doubt that computers are used virtually everywhere. Organizations ranging from schools to businesses rely on those devices to improve the way they do things. Indeed, without computers, most enterprises would not earn as much money as they are getting now. A lot of business leaders try their hardest to get the most out of their existing business strategy. However, I think an important factor to consider in business strategy development is human resources. In particular, the way employees use their computers. Can employees get the best out of their “workstations” (the more fancy term for computers in offices or factories)? If you are a business owner and your answer to this question is no, then there is no need to worry. There are many ways to help improve the computer skills of your workers.

First, give your workers enough time to learn about their new machines. Many corporate bosses are so uptight about productivity, that they sometimes cut short training or re-training sessions for their employees. However, businesses that use a lot of computers require special time for their employees to be familiar with those devices. More time should be provided for older employees (e.g. the “baby boomers”) who need to use computers in their line of work. After all, these older people are generally not as familiar with computers as those who were born in, say, during the ‘80s. It will also help if different trainers are assigned to different age groups. Like for example, one trainer would be assigned for the baby boomers, and another would be designated to the younger generation. It would be a good business strategy to assign a more patient and understanding trainer to employees who are older. This strategy would be better than firing old employees and replacing them with young ones since those “seniors” are already familiar with their companies’ daily functioning.

Lastly, make your employees fall in love with modern technology. After all, not all workers are tech-savvy, or are friendly with technology. Some extreme ones are “technophobes,” fearing technology like some people would fear, say, heights. It would greatly help your business strategy if you set up a bulletin board in your store or office that features articles containing information about the latest computers and gadgets. Such articles must be easily understood by the average person, and as much as possible, should be colorful and attractive.

Basically, the bulletin board should encourage all employees to love technology for its own sake, and not for consumerist aims. Developing this mindset among workers would help them more quickly learn about how to use their computers, since with love comes interest. With interest, comes enthusiasm. Enthusiasm helps them learn computer skills faster.

These two steps are only a few among the many that you can try in order to improve your employees’ computer skills. After all, transforming your workforce into a more tech-savvy group of workers is an important step to make sure that your business strategy will work for you.

The World at your Fingertips.

Many years ago I was sent to work in a new post within the company. I had been with them doing the same job for years and was skilled at what I did, but this new work required me to make use of computers, something that I had avoided all of my working life. I did not understand them nor want to for that matter. However, the new work required that I learn and learn fast. It was an uphill struggle for me and I still don’t think that I am that competent on the systems.

So whilst I was working for the Church at Christmas helping to man the charity tables for the homeless I met this guy who works with a body called ‘CEDPS’ who work with young people to get them into the way of working on computers. He said that it brings them closer to gaining gainful employment by upping their skill base. I was impressed and when I went home told my wife about my meeting. She said that her friend’s son was involved in the learning process and that he was now so proficient that he had been able to use the internet  to arrange her accommodation for her trip to London last year.

I thought about this for a while and now during my work in schools and such, especially in those areas of social deprivation, I encourage the kids to think about contacting ‘CEDPS’ to see if they would qualify for any help that the organisation could offer to them.

As I said, I am not an expert at using computers, but had I not been willing to learn the new skills then I would most certainly have lost my job. If these kids can be helped forward then the world really will be at their fingertips.


Interpersonal Skills at Parties

The skills required to be successful on the internet are quite different from the skills required to be successful in social situations. People are apt to invent personae on the internet. These fabricated personalities often help shy and easily embarrassed people to live out alter-ego fantasies of being popular and confident. In many ways this can be therapeutic for people and can hopefully give them the boost to their confidence needed to make friends in a non-virtual environment. On the other hand, some people pretend to be who they are not on the internet to ‘groom’ young people and other vulnerable people in order to exploit them.

The truth is that an internet ‘friend’ is not the same as a ‘real’ friend. It is of course possible to make the cross over, but until that jump from ‘possible’ friend to ‘real’ friend is made caution should be exercised about what information is given out, about arranging 1 to 1 meetings.

One place that is great for honing interpersonal skills is a party. This is a relaxed environment where people are more open to being approached. People at a party want to have a good time; they drink; they laugh and they dance. It is an ideal opportunity to make friends.

One of the biggest parties in the world is the full moon party on Haad Rin Sunrise beach. This beach is on the tropical island of Koh Phangan.  Up to 30,000 people hit the beach from all over the world to celebrate the full moon and dance all night. It is a perfect environment for meeting new people and testing to see if you can hold a conversation with a stranger. If you are single it is a great place to meet someone you like and maybe grab a cuddle or a kiss. It is easy; everyone is doing it. It is just a matter of confidence, and being yourself. You have no avatar or internet persona to hide behind.

Advantages of Socializing in the Kitchen

Socializing in the kitchen with family and friends is a great way to catch up on what has been happening in each other’s lives during the week. It is fun to sit around talking to each person in the kitchen and a great way of relieving stress. The kitchen is one of those places in the home where people feel at ease and a place where you should entertain and serve your guest more often.

When socializing with friends and family in the kitchen always make sure that you offer them something to drink. This helps to relax them even more and makes everyone feel all warm and comfortable in this area of your home. You can serve coffee, soda, or tea and if you like, you can serve items such as cake, cookies, and other foods that are easy to make. I recently bought a new espresso machine on Amazon which is a great talking point whilst making some nice coffee! Socializing is one of the most enjoyable things that you can do while in the kitchen of your home. The important thing is to make your guest feel welcome so they will want to come back more often.

When people visit your home, the kitchen is usually their first stop. It is a great and comfortable place to entertain people of all ages. The kitchen table could be used for card games, serving food and drinks, for writing and swapping recipes and for other purposes. People like meeting and socializing in the kitchen because it is always the one place in the home that people find so many things to do.

The next time your friends or family members come to visit, if they do not end up in the kitchen invite them to your kitchen for socializing. Once they spend time in your kitchen, they will have no desire to go back to the other rooms in your home for socializing with so much entertaining going on in this one room of the house.

How to Find the Best Accommodation Deals on the Internet

The internet is a great tool for gathering information. It is also great for communicating, publishing and using online software. For travel, people no longer have to rely on printed media to help them choose where they want to stay. Moreover, to book a hotel room or hostel bed it is no longer necessary to telephone, fax or write. Using email has taken the stress out of online booking. However, online booking might not get the best deals.

Most online booking engines make a profit by charging a commission. Invariably it is cheaper to not book through a general site. These sites provide useful information about accommodation choices. Once a place has been chosen the smart thing to do is to look for the website belonging to the hotel you have singled out. Often booking direct with a hotel rather than going through a big booking engine will save you money on your room or bed.

Google maps now have a good feature that lets people spot hotels and other businesses on a map. These geo tags often come with a website address. If you contact the hotel directly you are in a position to bargain especially if it is the low season.

In many tropical locations such as Thailand there is more choice for accommodation than at first glance on Google may be apparent. Thai hotel and resort prices on such places as Koh Phangan have been steadily increasing year by year. Now on Thong Nai Pan Noi in Koh Phangan, for example, hotel rooms cost between $300 and $1,000 a night. It is at this point private villa hire becomes a viable alternative. If you search the website you will find Sunrise Villa in Tong Nai Pan Noi. It is a 3 bedroom villa with air-con, hot water, lounge and kitchen for just $166 a night. It can accommodate 6 people. Not only is it much cheaper than the hotels on the same beach but provides more space and privacy.

Thus, it is worth doing more research and avoiding big name booking sites if you want to find the best accommodation deals on the internet.

Use your Skills to Get Out of Debt

Being computer savvy can help you in ways you might not think of.  For example if you have a question you can weed out the junk website results when you search for what is an IVA and not spend hours wasting your time reading things that do not matter.

Time is money, and the more time you waste the more money is wasted. It is important to be able to find your targeted information quickly. It is also equally important to know what sites and information is valid and what is simply filler.

Once you are able to locate programs and people to help you budget your monthly bills you can be on your way to financial freedom.  By going into a program like IVA or filing bankruptcy you could secure your financial future.  The more you apply the skills you have the easier it will be to improve your finances.

Typing Speed

I am not that skilled when it comes to computers. But the one thing I have learned recently is that I am pretty good at my typing speed. There are plenty of web sites online that can test your typing speed, and mine seems to be pretty good. I am at about 50 words per minute, but I am hoping to increase my speed.

I think my problem is getting hung up on accidentally pressing the wrong key as I am trying to type as fast as I can. I have been practicing, but I have not been able to crack the 50 mark.

The only way to get better at it is to just keep doing the typing tests over and over, but sometimes I feel like I am going to get whiplash in my fingers for the fast and abrupt writing tests. But I will keep at it because they do say that practice makes perfect.

Technology and Saving Money

The prevailing attitude of people is that technology, and especially computers, should be used to make money. People are apt to forget that reducing costs is also an effective way of improving the bottom line. There are many ways that technology can not only help us save money but also help the environment.

We are at a turning point in history. Already carbon levels in the atmosphere have reached 390 parts per million. If it reaches 450 parts per million it will be catastrophic for mankind. Computer modeling shows that with population growth and economic activity we are at the point of no return. The International Energy Agency issued a bleak warning in 2011 that any more polluting factories, poorly built houses,coal burning power plants etc. would leave us unable to stop Global Warming wreaking devastation: massive flooding, desertification of the Amazon forest, mass species extinction, fresh water shortages etc. It is a chain reaction that once it starts we will be powerless to stop.

We must use technology now to prevent this happening. It could all go seriously wrong for humanity in less than 40 years.

There are several technologies that are ideal to fight the situation because they save energy, reduce carbon emissions and reduce bills. The fact that we can help the environment and help ourselves makes this technology a win-win proposition. Here are a few examples of this type of technology:

  • CFLs or compact fluorescent light bulbs use 75% less electricity than normal incandescent light bulbs and last 13 times longer. Just changing 5 bulbs to CFLs can save you $100 a year.
  • Solar panels or photovoltaic panels are initially expensive but they produce clean and free electricity. Over time photovoltaic panels pay for themselves and eventually start to turn you a profit. With a bit of DIY you can greatly reduce the cost of photovoltaics.
  • Find the best programmable thermostat for you. Such models as the Lux Products TX9000TS or Honeywell RTH8500D will help cut electricity consumption (and thus carbon emissions). By following sensible set point temperatures you can save up to 33% on your heating and cooling bills in a year.
  • A low flow shower reduces flow per minute rates of water from 5 down to 2.5. This reduces water bills and helps conserve a most precious resource.
  • A good electricity usage meter is a must. It allows you to do a home energy audit to find out how much individual appliances are costing you. Once you find the electricity guzzlers you are in a much better position to make informed decisions about what you need to replace with an Energy Star approved appliance.

The use of technology in the future will focus more on environmental concerns than ever it has in the past. This is what the youth of today must prepare for if they hope to have a future.