The Power of Simple Words

With more than 10 years in PR and communications, I have drafted and edited countless speeches as a speechwriter and countless media releases as a communications manager and contractor. So I write this from extensive experience.

The power of words is seldom fully felt, until after they are spoken, or read.  The words we use can influence outcomes in organisations and governments. They can change the way people see the world and each other. They can be as sharp as a sword and as soft as a feather. They can divide or unite people. They can start wars in families and nations and around the world. They can bring peace back to the table and soften hearts. That is the powerful impact of words and that is why our word choices are so important.

In this post, I focus on the power of simple words. Factors like how it’s said, as much as who is saying it, and levels of trustworthiness with the intended audience are also important considerations.

A simple motive, word, idea can be powerful. Using plain language can be a potent device in well-written and carefully crafted oratory and media releases.

When it comes to word choices, I prefer a simple everyday word for speeches and media releases, rather than a fancy word or jargon that my audience hasn’t heard of. Why? Because you want to increase the chances of people understanding and accepting your message. Using jargon, particularly in a business and political setting, limits the pool of people who will understand what you’re talking about. (There are public examples, which I won’t go into here, where limiting people’s understanding of the issue is clearly the communications goal of the speaker. But that’s a post for another topic.)

Back to the power of plain language. Applying simple words as a deliberate choice helps to communicate clearly and concisely to people of all walks of life. It is an important lesson to grasp if you want your message to be heard and understood widely, across all levels of society including those with low levels of literacy in reading and writing, not just those who are well educated.

With large populations of people born overseas, it’s also important to consider the communications needs of people who have varying levels of English fluency, particularly if they are part of the target markets or audiences you want to reach out to.

When I have written public health communications for doctors and scientists, I focus on how to explain highly technical and often complex issues in ways that the general public will easily relate to. One way: instead of long academic sentences with plenty of jargon familiar only to scientists and specialist doctors, I take the scientific word or term and introduce a description and explanation and its relevance alongside the word or term, to help journalists and the public understand the message. That gives journalists, easy-to-understand, information they need to explain a complex issue to the public.

Because you cannot effectively communicate and persuade groups of people and communities, including those with English as a second language, to take protective actions to limit the spread of disease during an outbreak, for example, if the message is not plainly given.  Only medical and scientific professionals will understand the associated jargon but they’re not the key audiences you need to reach through the media during an outbreak. Therefore, to help people understand the risks, and take the necessary actions, keep it simple, clear and concise.

Use words to express yourself, not to impress. The latter doesn’t consider the audience’s needs. Focusing on the needs of the audience is the key to successful and influential communications.

What if you, regardless of my advice here, still want to use ‘big’ words that are highly academic or jargon? Unless you take the time to explain the word or term to your audience, describe how it applies and why it’s relevant to them, as I explained earlier in the health example, it often alienates listeners.

When you alienate listeners, you lose an opportunity to influence.

You see, if people don’t understand what you’ve said, they will stop listening, and be less likely to listen next time. Unless they trust you implicitly which means that one off speech, that didn’t make sense, may be forgiveable. But if you are new to an audience and trust is still up in the air, it’s far easier for people to stop listening, than to draw public attention to the fact that one did not understand the speaker’s message.

The power of simple words. It works.

An animated version of a lesson in simple words by TED animators.

The Internet’s Impacts on How Communities Come Together

Clay Shirky is a thought leader on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. In this 2012 TED Talk, he talks about how the Open Source community has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services. I’m not sure they have learned to deal with it, as much as having to deal with it. My opinion comes from thinking about the reality of cyber-bulling and cyper-crimes on the Internet and its terrible impacts.

But what is very interesting is that Shirky challenges governments, saying that if the Open Source world can deal with the flood of diverse opinions, why can’t governments? He presents ideas that are thought-provoking and challenging. He explains how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet and draw on the knowledge of all their citizens and be transparent.

Finding Your Imagination

This TED talk by artist Janet Echelman is a magnificent lesson in the power of imagination. Often it comes in the most unexpected ways and it stretches how we do things. I love how Janet Echelman’s mind works because she sees, dreams and creates things that most people don’t.

After watching her speak of the sheer scale of what her imagination has created, it makes me think that the human race, except for Janet Echelman possibly, clearly doesn’t use the full extent of our brain power and imagination.

That’s the beauty of a magnificent artist like her. She searches for beauty in the traditional and it is breath-taking and cheerful to watch. She shows how her mind made the impossible possible.

In the course of my work, I love exploring new ways to present information and reach out to target audiences. This artist imagination’s encourages innovation and imagination, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? I get excited seeing fresh and creative approaches unfold and being able to help someone present an idea or argument in a more beautiful or compelling way.

Her speech inspires people, like me, to keep imagining, keep pushing for creative and interesting ways to tell a story, to communicate an idea, to present the impossible. The power of the mind is limitless. Isn’t she an inspiration? Indeed.

Marketing: Positioning and How To Get There

One of the most commonly held assumptions about positioning a brand is that it is only a set of words put together and written up for publication. But that’s simply not so. It’s much, much more than that. In fact, that only describes the end process but it doesn’t describe the work of positioning a brand and what it actually involves.

So I’m writing this post to debunk that myth for those who are new to positioning, and positioning a brand. Positioning a brand deserves hours, days and even months of deep thinking, planning, informed by reliable market research full of qualitative data, for one. It demands rigorous debate, frank disagreement, and ruthless scrutiny.

During this thinking, planning and research process, it’s important to question and test the assumptions people hold. That helps to find gaps and weaknesses that your competitor might exploit.

Yes, quantitative data is important and helpful. But when you are counting on research to inform major decisions that have significant investments of resource and budget, then it doesn’t hurt to get qualitative information to help give a better understanding of why your audiences or viewers are making certain choices.

Qualitative information gives insightful information about the ‘why’ in people’s choices and attitudes.

When you are reaching out to hard-to-reach audiences and specific ethnic populations, qualitative data helps to understand differences in consumer behaviour.

By the way, when I’m referring to brand, I’m also referring to an organisation, a celebrity, a company or a political movement. A brand isn’t confined to just being a product, although technically speaking, one could say that an organisation is a product, so too is a celebrity.

When I am referring to markets, that is your audience, the people you are targeting, the people you want to speak to, connect with, and influence.

When I refer to the marketing mix in these conversations, it’s the 4 Ps: Price, Product, Promotion and Place.

So how do you get started on positioning? There’s a three-step process that’s tried and tested, and worth noting down for your marketing and communications discipline.  Let me start with the first step here.

  1. Segment Your Market
    This is a critical process in marketing. Divide the market up into segments into distinct subsets. There’s different ways you can segment your market, depending on a number of  factors. One thing about segmentation is that location is an important variable.

If you’d like to know more about the segmentation process and different ways to segment your markets, let me know by email.

#1: Live with the Future in Mind

Message 1

Help me remember this one. Please. Thanks to the Pinterest user who posted this at



Beyond Our Limits

Posting one step-outside-of-your-box post at a time, one inspirational quote at a time, as and when spare time permits.


Everyone’s Secret Weapon

I was exploring on Stumbleupon tonight and this wonderful visual popped up. It certainly speaks truth and I’m not a perfect human being, in case you hadn’t noticed, but I know in my heart that this adage works in work, home and life.

happy is the man

Visuals that Tell The Vaccine Story

I am constantly on the look out for fresh ways to tell a compelling story on subject matters that have no entertainment or celebrity value. Like health, for example.  As we continue to see advances in technology and on social media, there’s an abundance of opportunities to find these examples. So thanks to social media, here’s a couple of examples I’ve checked out this morning and I thought I’d share them with you.

Video 1
The subject matter is important. It’s about vaccines and they save millions of lives.  But despite the importance of the message, a large number of people would rather watch news with entertainment value, then a message that could save lives. So that’s a communications challenge to resolve.

Just as I was about to stop watching this video, the unidentified hand doing the infographic grabbed my attention. I couldn’t take my eyes of it. Admittedly, I was looking for something to keep me interested and the hand sketching the infographic did it for me.  And before you knew it, I was listening to Bill Gates, no problem. To help the infographic sketching work with the voice track, the pace has been sped up to flow with the narrative.  Conclusion: using the infographic with hand streaming with voice works.

Video 2

This is compelling to me because it starts with the personal story of a mother who has lost her baby. That is heartbreaking. Yet her energy and commitment trying to persuade mothers in Gambia to have their children vaccinated is heartwarming and inspiring. Vaccines saves children’s lives.  She is saving lives by helping to spread the message. And that’s an incredible legacy to come out of great loss and suffering.

An inspiring story of a mother and the grassroots efforts using song that worked at inspiring village families to have their children vaccinated. This visual tells the story of vaccines as a personal story, strongly and simply.

How to Increase Your Facebook Engagement

Poynter Institute has published an insightful piece on an issue that organisations in the public and private sector want answers to.  How to get the most engagement from your Facebook Like Page. More businesses in New Zealand are seeing the benefits of using social media platforms as an engagement tool.  So I thought I’d link you  to the post by clicking here . I would share and paraphrase it here for you but I’m a bit short on time today.





This Day in History 1914: New Zealand Captures German Samoa

It happened 99 years ago today. Most Samoans will know this history through their family histories and the stories from elders passed on through the generations about village life under the German Administration and the soldiers.

This piece of research came out of initial family history work I have been doing over the past 12 months in order to write a family book for my children and my nephews and nieces on their ancestry which stretches from Samoa, Fiji and Tongan as well as other nations. This particular post to mark this anniversary was prompted by a question my youngest son asked me one day last year. “Mum, was Samoa once called German Samoa and run by Germans?” Yes it was, son, and this is a rather lengthy but detailed response.

Street scene showing New Zealand troops and a Samoan group, photographed by Malcolm Ross during the annexation ceremony in Apia, Western Samoa, 29 August 1914.

Street scene showing New Zealand troops and Samoans walking on the other side of the road passing them, photographed by Malcolm Ross during the annexation ceremony in Apia, Western Samoa, 29 August 1914.

Samoa was once a German colony called German Samoa until 29 August 1914 when New Zealand, under direction from the British Empire, sent a military force to Samoa to seize the western islands of Samoa.  Seizing Western Samoa from Germany was New Zealand’s first empirial duty for the British Empire as part of its war duties heading into War World I.

The Union Jack flag was hoisted and raised by a Samoan named Naea.

This is how the events of 29 August 1914 was reported in the New Zealand media two days later.  It marked the beginning of New Zealand’s 48-year occupation and administration of Western Samoa, now referred to as the Independent State of Samoa since 1997.


What was life like as a German colony?

One of the stories I was told of that period came from a pese that I had to learn as a teenager for a siva as part of a dance item with other young women for church celebrations. The siva and words referenced the derogatory way in which the German soldiers treated the chiefs in the villages.  It rebuked them in song and, chances are, villagers would have sung these songs within earshot of the soldiers if it was known that they didn’t understand Samoan. That was a history lesson I never forgot.

Five years before New Zealand captured German Samoa, this newspaper report in 1909 referring to the German Governor’s deportation of a number of chiefs and their relatives out of their own country, removing matai powers for any successors to be called in their absence, and adding extra taxes to the people as punishment.


The New Zealand Colonist newspaper clipping dated 29th August 1914 titled Britain and Samoa sheds further light on the general feeling Samoans held towards the German by the events of 1914:

“The Samoan natives are restless, according to Captain Allen, and it is believed that if fighting occurs, they will attack the Germans. This is extremely probable for the war-loving people of Upolu and Savaii and Manono have never had any affection although the Kaiser officials, either openly or surreptitiously assisted them with their arms during their periodical wars.”

Britain and Samoa

The following history is provided by digital histories at

It is, admittedly, a New Zealand perspective from the point of view of the military intervention. Samoa’s tradition of oral histories means that very few, if any written records by Samoans, will be available from that period. But there are other ways to find the perspectives of forebears but it takes time, and I do this research in my spare time. When I find more historical documents from that period, we’ll let you know.

The New Zealand occupation of Samoa, 29 August 1914


Information on the New Zealand involvement in the First World War normally consists of the units serving on Gallipoli, the Western Front, Egypt and Palestine.

Less well known is the occupation of Samoa on 29 August 1914, which was the first military action to be performed by the newly established New Zealand armed forces.


New Zealand troops landing in Samoa

New Zealand troops landing in Samoa at Matautu Beach, Apia, Samoa, August 1914. Photograph taken by Malcolm Ross. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, NZ.


Mobilisation of the New Zealand Army

New Zealand’s response to the outbreak of war on 4 August was quick and wholehearted. Compulsory military training had begun in 1912 and had already yielded some 29,500 Territorials and 26,500 senior cadets. In addition, there were 10,000 reservists, or over 66,000 men in all.

The occupation of Samoa, 29th August 1914

No Imperial role for the New Zealand military forces had been decided before the war, but on the night of 6 August 1914, a message from the Secretary of State for War was received by His Excellency the Governor: “If your Ministers desire and feel themselves able to seize the German wireless station at Samoa, we should feel that this was a great and urgent Imperial service …

This was approved next day, and four days later a mixed force of 1,413 1) men plus six nursing sisters was equipped and ready.

New Zealand Expeditionary Force with captured German flag from Samoa.

On the 15 August 1915 the Samoan Advance Force left Wellington, picking up 10 more infantrymen, some naval details, and guides and interpreters at Fiji, and on the 29 August 1915 it landed unopposed at Apia, the main island of Western Samoa.

In March 1915 the Samoan Relief Force of 358 men took over, and by the end of the war another 298 men were supplied to maintain the garrison.

 30-08-2013 12-51-17 a-m- Occupation

The Samoan Advance Force

Colonel Robert Logan 2).

The landing force was commanded by Colonel (temporary) Robert Logan of the New Zealand Army. In 1914, Colonel Logan (1st Regiment Otago Mounted Rifles) was commander of the Auckland Military District; he became full colonel in October 1915.

The infantry element consisted of c.1,000 men from the 3rd (Auckland) Regiment (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) and the 5th (Wellington Rifles) Regiment.

The force included 4 light guns, probably from the ‘D’ Mountain Battery (Captain Anderson).

The engineer element consisted of a a field company, a railway engineer company (Captain Keenan) and a signals detachment

Further, detachments the New Zealand Medical Corps and New Zealsnd Army Service Corps were included in the Samoan Advance Force.

Troops landing

New Zealand troops in boats crossing Apia Harbour to land. Colonel Fulton can be seen standing in the stern of the foremost boat, photographed by an unidentified photographer. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library.

The naval contribution

The expeditionary force was transported in two ships from the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand 3) – the S/S MOERAKI (4,392 gross tons; built in 1903) and S/S MONOWAI (3,433 gross tons; built in 1890).

The naval contingent, commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir George Patey, consisted of three obsolescent “P” class cruisers – HMS PHILOMEL , HMS PSYCHE and HMS PYRAMUS; joined by HMAS AUSTRALIA, HMAS MELBOURNE and the French cruiser MONTCALM at New Caledonia.

From a contemporary coloured postcard seen for sale on Ebay.

HMS Philomel was a Peal class Third Class Cruiser (1890). A photo of HMS Philomel is found at World War 1 Naval Combat.

HMS Psyche and HMS Pyramus were of the Pelorous class (1900). See Pelorous Class Third Class Protected Cruisers (World War 1 Naval Combat).

HMS PHILOMEL was transferred to the New Zealand Government in 1914 and commissioned at Wellington on 15 July 1914. With its complement augmented by 60-70 New Zealand reservists, the PHILOMEL escorted first the Samoan force and then the main New Zealand Expeditionary Force to Egypt.

Refer to Source 5 for further information on the PHILOMEL, which served in the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy (from 1941 Royal New Zealand Navy) in various capacities until 16 January 1947.

The German colony of Samoa

The Governor’s orderly
of the Fita-Fita,
the Samoan paramilitary
police force. 
Cigarette card No. 96 in
the Waldorf-Astoria series
German Naval and Colonial
Forces. (Source 6)

Samoa became officially a German colony as of 1 March 1900, based on a treaty between Britain, the United States of America and Germany 4).

Unlike most other German colonies, Samoa had no military units, but only a small police force 5).

In 1914 the force consisted of some 30 Fita-Fita (Samoan for paramilitary police constables) and 20-25 local police constables (Landespolizisten), all headed by a German Chief of Police (Polizeimeister).

Native paramilitary police
constable from New Guinea
Cigarette card No. 94 in
the Waldorf-Astoria series
German Naval and Colonial
Forces. (Source 6)

The Fita-Fitas were recruited from sons of native chiefs and influential families; they served mostly as orderlies for Government establishments and as guards. The local police constables served in various native villages and at two police posts, known as Cana and Saluafáta.

Apparently, the Fita-Fita could not to be trusted under all circumstances, since the bolts of their rifles were withdrawn during an internal unrest in 1909.

Paramilitary police from the German colony New Guinea 6) (Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land) as well as a naval landing party were brought in to quell the unrest.

A German naval rating,
equipped for landing party
duties in the tropics.
Cigarette card No. 43 in
the Waldorf-Astoria series
German Naval and Colonial
Forces. (Source 6)

Apia, Samoa, New Zealand naval officers landing with the demand for German surrender, photographed by an unidentified photographer. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Apia, Samoa, New Zealand naval officers landing with the demand for German surrender, photographed by an unidentified photographer. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library.

On the eve of the invasion

The German wireless station on Samoa, which more or less was the reason for the New Zealand operations, opened just weeks before the invasion, on 2 August 1914. Until then, telegrams had to be shipped from New Zealand, including the telegram with the information on the Murder at Sarajevo, 28 June 1914.

The threat of this wireless station must be seen in the context of the German East Asia Squadron 7) based at Tsingtao. The Squadron included the modern cruisers SMS SCHARNHORST, SMS GNEISENAU and SMS NüRNBERG.

When the war broke out, a small number of Germans formed a citizens’ force (Bürgerwehr), consisting c. 50 men, organised in 3 detachments – one guarded the wireless station and the other two took turns serving as coastal guards.

The governor held a council of war with owners of some large plantations, business men and government officials; the conclusion was that any form of military resistance would be meaningless and just lead to unnecessary bloodshed.

The German surrender

In the early hours of 29 August 1914, the Samoan Advance Force steamed closed in on the harbour of Apia; two small steam boats searched the harbour for mines and a small boat, carrying a white flag transported two naval officers to the Bismarck Jetty.

The landing at Apia, Samoa, 29 August 1914. 
From New Zealand in the Great War (Digger History).

The first British Commonwealth officer to land on enemy territory in World War I was Lieutenant Edward Church, paymaster of HMS Psyche, who was instructed to carry the Admiral’s demand for unconditional surrender to the German representatives. 8)

The German Governor, Erich Schultz-Ewerth, had left town to “attend a conference of orators and chiefs“, thus leaving an acting governor to receive the request for surrender. Negotiations commenced, but in the end the Germans had to accept the New Zealand occupation, and did so under protest.

Hoisting the Union Jack, Courthouse, Apia, Samoa, 30 August 1914.

Union Jack August 1914

New Zealand forces hoisting the Union Jack, Courthouse, Apia, photographed on 29 August 1914 by Alfred James Tattersall
When Britain and her allies declared war on Germany in 1914, New Zealand troops landed at Matautu, Apia, on August 29, and peacefully assumed control of German (Western) Samoa. This was the beginning of New Zealand’s 48-year administration of Western Samoa. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, NZ.

From New Zealand in the Great War (Digger History).

The radio station in Apia was dismantled by the Germans to keep it out of British hands, and the members of the citizens force dismissed themselves.

The Union Jack was hoisted approximately 08:30 on 30 August 1914; the ships’ guns saluted from the harbour.

The New Zealand occupation

Although, the Governor had been promished to be deported to Fiji, he was taken to Auckland, New Zealand as a prisoner of war on 2 September 1914, together with his secretary, Mars, and the director of the wireless station, Hirsch.

My sources to the New Zealand occupation is very anti-New Zealand, but it stands out that the Germans on Samoa was not in any way impressed by the New Zealand troops in their heavy woollen uniforms, more useful for warfare in Europe than in the Southern Pacific. Further, the solders seemed very young and lacking in military training.

At first, the relationship was tolerable but during the next few month, and culminating around Christmas 1914, things turned out rather bad.

In the middle of September 1914 however, the situation changed when the German cruisers SMS SCHARNHORST and SMS GNEISENAU appeared at the mouth of the bay leading to the harbour in Apia. All Germans hoped that the occupation would soon be over, but in the end it turned out that the cruisers had more important things to do, and a message with this statement was delivered to Colonel Robert Logan from the German naval commander, Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee. The German morale sunk accordingly!

According to Source 8, several hundred New Zealand soldiers, bored by having nothing to do on this remote island, broke into some warehouses at the harbour on 26 December 1914 and “liberated” large quantities of alcohol, from which they have been barred since the occupation began.

New Zealand officers attached to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Samoa. From left: Captain Eastwood, Major Pinfold, Colonel Robert Logan, Major Matthew Holmes and Captain Head. Photograph taken by Alfred John Tattersall between 1914-1918.

New Zealand officers attached to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Samoa. From left: Captain Eastwood, Major Pinfold, Colonel Robert Logan, Major Matthew Holmes and Captain Head. Photograph taken by Alfred John Tattersall between 1914-1918.

According to Source 9, the situation went quite out of hand, and Colonel Robert Logan had to invent a threat from the German battlecruiser SMS VON DER TANN was observed in the Pacific Ocean heading for Samoa – a situation similar to the appearance of SMS SCHARNHORST and SMS GNEISENAU – in order to regain control of his force. This threat sobered -up the soldiers and they were ordered into the hills surrounding Apia to dig trenches and other fortifications.

In March 1915 the Samoan Relief Force relieved the Samoan Advance Force. This new force consisted of more mature men, many being veterans from the Boer War, and this eased the tension between the Germans and the occupational force.

In conclusion

The New Zealand involvement in Samoa lasted until 1962. After the First World War, Samoa was a New Zealand mandate of The League of Nations 9), and later a trusteeship from the United Nations. In 1962, the former German colony became an independent nation under the name of Western Samoa, from 1997, Samoa.

Many of the young New Zealand soldiers serving with the Samoa Advance Force went to Gallipoli afterwards. Many never came back .

The Digital Divide Hasn’t Gone Away

At least one in four teenagers aged 12 to 17 in America are “cell- mostly” internet users, according to the latest PEW research.  In the developing world, cellphone access to the Internet is much more widespread than using laptops and computers.

20-08-2013 PEW Research on Teen Cell Internet Use

And that all seems fine and dandy in terms of rolling towards a mind-blowing digital technology revolution.  But Mashable writer Jessica Goodman reveals some worrying trends and impacts on skill development and learning for young people in a story headlined The Digital Divide is Still Leaving Americans Behind .

When it comes to teens and cellphone Internet access, it’s no longer as revolutionary as it first appeared to me.  I’ve dispensed with the assumption that a young person who can easily access the Internet on a cellphone, and tweet and facebook at 100 miles an hour, automatically has a high level of computer literacy. That’s not an absolute. Through one tech teacher’s experience, as reported in the Mashable story, it shows there are direct costs and consequences to learning and skill development for a young person whose primary access point to the Internet is cellphone.   Good insights.

There are questions to ask but those initial findings provides a strong starting point if you’re interested in solving a problem like, how to cut the costs and consequences.  I don’t know what the answers are, as yet, but I intend to find out sooner or later.

20-08-2013 Digital Divide America 2

20-08-2013 Digital Divide America

PolyFest Winners

Polyfest Manukau, Sat 16 March: St Paul's Collegiate, Ponsonby, wins First Place overall for boys schools

POLYFEST 2013, Manukau – Samoan Group, St Paul’s College, Ponsonby, Auckland.  Credit to Facebook S T Timoteo.

Pride beaming from their faces before they stepped onto the stage. One of them is my nephew, who, along with these fine young men, performed at Polyfest today. They’re representing St Paul’s Samoan Group and obviously they won. An all boys school, St Paul Samoan Group were the overall boys schools winner.

It’s incredible to think how far Polyfest has come since its early days.  Nowadays it’s regarded as the largest Maori and Pasifika cultural festival in the world. Who would have imagined that back in its early days? This secondary schools cultural festival began in 1976 at Southside’s Hillary College after a 16-year-old Otara student named Michael Rollo came up with the idea. Staff, students and parents supported the idea and off they went.  The aim of the Festival was to show pride in cultural identity, heritage and bring schools together to share this.  What was the catalyst for his idea? Where is Michael Rollo now? That’s what I wonder when I consider that the Festival has been going for over 36 years.

Meanwhile, this post is my way of celebrating my nephew for giving his all and doing his part to make their group a winning one.  He’s usually on the sports field and this was the first cultural group he’s ever joined to compete in Polyfest.

Young man, keep giving 110 percent, and then some, be it on stage, in classroom and on the sports field. I like it!

Familia Historia est Amazing

Two years ago, someone asked me to write down our Family Tree.  Ignoring my spare writing-to-do list waiting to be done, and always a long queue past my kitchen door, I went on a long search for my enigmatic ancestors.  I  have interviewed and quizzed family and strangers galore on family history, so intensely and persistently, this year.

There’s still a few unanswered questions buzzing around in my head. Like, what did they look like in the 1800s and 1900s?  What did they think about during their travels? Why did they go where they went? Is there any chance that I might have seen them in historical un-named photos?

When I face the ever-present reality of gaps in undocumented knowledge, I write down entire question lines that come to mind.  Yes, I recommend buying yourself a large book that you can record all your notes, thoughts, and findings.  I record every question, every line of enquiry, every possible scenario that comes to mind.

Those questions, and moreso the answers that come out of it, have helped sharpen lines of enquiries.  I could call myself a scientist with my hypothesis. My questions have tested long-held assumptions about family information. It has helped me correct information especially when I come across primary source evidence.

At this very moment, there’s nothing more thrilling in this chase than finding reliable information that verify my Family Tree.

Interested in family history? Click on the above link and watch that episode of the American version of Who Do You Think You Are.  It features Rosie O’Donnell, the US comedian, with family stories that just grabbed me. O’Donnell’s family history episode, unexpectedly, kept my eyes clued to the screen. I have a newfound respect for O’Donnell and her ancestors. It also has some useful tips on records to check (other than Census, birth and  death records).  Part 2 and 3 of this episode are on Youtube.


Visualizing Data

It’s a beautiful thing to come across data presented in the language of the eye.  After attending #ProjectRevolution the last two days, I’ve noticed that even more.  Presenting data visually, if you can, helps an audience to see patterns, relationships and their impact.  It compresses loads of data into an easily digestible form, most of the time.

NYtimes viz

New York Times graphic. Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data. Edward Segel, Jeffrey Heer. IEEE Trans. Visualization & Comp. Graphics (Proc. InfoVis), 2010
PDF (1.4 MB)

There are plenty of data visualisation experts to learn from. Take a look at the Stanford Visualisation Group from which the New York Times graphic was plucked.  If you prefer to watch video, David McCandless, a data journalist, has a TED Talk on the beauty of data and how to present it in more engaging ways.

For example, look at your Facebook feed and the unsolicited data set of information coming through as people update their statuses.  That’s data.  Scary huh?  In the TED talk, McCandless shows a graph computed from more than 10,000 Facebook status updates  that identify trends each year when people tend to post about breaking up.  And you thought your  Facebook updates could never be scientifically analysed? He does far more than analyse your social media conversations.

So without further ado, here’s the TED talk with David McCandless. Visual data really is a beautiful thing!

David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.

He draws beautiful conclusions from complex datasets — thus revealing unexpected insights into our world

This exciting topic on data takes me back, years ago, to an infant mental health conference I attended at the University of Sydney.  A clinical psychologist was asked how she was able to convince authorities to fund a programme for traumatised and abused children. Her answer was very simple and I learned a lot from what she said.

“I had the data”, she said. That was good enough for them.

By the way, I am still working on my series of  posts on my learnings from the digital technology conference. Will post my first one soon… sorry, I’m still on my social media hiatus. Back before Christmas.

Free Education at Stanford, Princeton, UCSF, Washington Etc….?

Image representing TED as depicted in CrunchBase

Fantastic news on the TED blog.   I have a life long interest in learning and education and this looks like the big beginnings of an education revolution…

It would cost you a minimum of $37,000 to enroll for a year at one of the top 10 schools in the United States, according to the U.S. News & World Report. However, anyone with a computer will now be able to take courses from half of those schools … for free.

At TEDGlobal 2012, Stanford University professor Daphne Koller introduced us to, an effort to bring rigorous college courses online to anyone who wants them. At the time, Coursera offered classes from Princeton University, the University of Michigan, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. However, today, Coursera announced partnerships with seven more top colleges in the United States: California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Georgia Tech, the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Rice University, the University of California San Francisco, the University of Washington, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

At the same time, Caltech and the University of Pennsylvania have extended a combined $3.7 million investment in the site. And three international schools — the University of Edinburgh, the University of Toronto and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne — have also signed agreements with Coursera.

When Koller spoke at TEDGlobal in late June, Coursera’s stats read as such: 680,000 students from 190 countries viewing 14 million videos and taking 6 million quizzes in 1.6 million course enrollments across 43 courses. However, with this new infusion, Coursera will now be offering about 111 classes.

Coursera is wonderful news given those cost barriers.  Today’s news reminds me of this thought-provoking TED presentation on education by Sir Kenneth Robinson.

RIP Dr Stephen Covey

Thought leader extraordinaire.

Professor Stephen Covey in his home

I have just heard the sad news that Dr Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has died.   Published in 1989, he sold more than 20 million books in 38 languages so it would be safe to say that Dr Covey must have helped millions of  people from leaders and captains of industry to young people starting out in the workplace. He taught principle-centred leadership at a time when, as far as I was aware, no-one else was talking about it. And his work has stood the test of time.

He taught people to reframe our thinking and how to view a dhastly situation, problem or setback differently. The paradigm shift. That’s what it was.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®

Stephen R. Covey‘s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, has been a top-seller for the simple reason that it ignores trends and pop psychology for proven principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity. Celebrating its fifteenth year of helping people solve personal and professional problems, this special anniversary edition includes a new foreword and afterword written by Covey exploring the question of whether the 7 Habits are still relevant and answering some of the most common questions he has received over the past 15 years.

The fact that Dr Covey was a consultant to Fortune 500 companies didn’t stop his work from being relevant to parents at home and young people searching for practical answers on  living a life that feels great and true to oneself.

 I believe conflicting and diverse viewpoints are a gift…What I mean is thoughtful people will always differ from each other. If they care enough to express their differences with passion, that’s an offering that ought to be accepted eagerly. Diversity of viewpoint, background, position. These make for a much more robust solution than if everyone thinks alike.  If I am a third alternative thinker, I am fascinated, not threatened, by the gap between us.


I thought I’d share the 7 Habits here, in brief.   It taught me things that I thought I already knew and lived by.  It sharpened my saw, so to speak.

Habit 1 : Be Proactive

Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours… Habit 1: Be Proactive is about taking responsibility for your life…Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able.” …

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? That question may appear a little trite, but think about it for a moment. ..Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. ..If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win (love this)

Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration…Win-win is a frame of mind and heart.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being?

Habit 6: Synergize

To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.”…It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (my favourite)

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you.

To learn more, go to Stephen Covey’s website

So there you have it.  I love how he has translated age old wisdom and reshaped it into modern day words that are easily digestible.  Rest In Peace Dr Covey and thank you so very much for sharing your gifts and talents with people like me.

Give the Apostrophe a Hug

Use the apostrophe to indicate possession and to mark omitted letters in contractions. Writers often misuse apostrophes when forming plurals and possessives.

The fourth deadly sin misuse of the apostrophe

The poor apostrophe.   Today after seeing one more misplaced apostrophe, I thought that’s it.  My cup runneth over.  How often must it be misused and abused for all to see?  I cannot believe it.  Is it carelessness? Maybe not.  If not, what does it say about our education system? Maybe it wasn’t taught? My heart sinks down to my toes when I see the apostrophe used incorrectly. It makes me want to reach out through my computer screen and just erase the apostrophe for them.

I thought I’d post one or two to show examples of the wrong use of the apostrophe and why it needs to be correctly used.  I’m using examples other people have posted rather than ones that have prompted this post.  Because it turns out there’s a huge queue of people online who have something to say about this very topic and they’ve dedicated websites to it. I won’t go that far.  One post is enough for me.

Take Exhibit 1 from Apostrophe Abuse

apostrophe abuse 2.png (125 KB)

Pretty colours.  So what’s the problem with the use of the apostrophe on Kid’s Sports, Kid’s Slippers and Kid’s School? Using the apostrophe between the word “kid” and “s” refers to one kid only. And?  Well, this is a store so it is meant to be for all kids right? Yes. Kids, plural, doesn’t need an apostrophe here.

Exhibit 2 from Apostrophe Abuse

Again, this fatal mistake of using an apostrophe. There’s no need for the apostrophe because the reference isn’t a possessive or a contraction.  It kills what would otherwise be an awesome message.

Incorrect choose your word’s wisely

Correct choose your words wisely

fbpic.jpg (37 KB)

Even journalists with bachelor degrees commit the cardinal sin of apostrophe abuse. But they’re not alone. So, too, do postgraduate students, entrepreneurs, writers, communications advisors and six-figure turnover commercial companies.

With all this attention, you’d think the apostrophe would be better used and more appreciated. That’s why I say, give the apostrophe a hug.  Something’s gotta change.

Community Relations & Engagement

This is something I fell into years ago in large part due to how I work with people.  What does successful community relations and engagement look like? When working on behalf of a company or an organisation, one of my first questions is: what are the needs of the community?  Information and facts. Answer top of mind questions and anticipate the rest.

Successful community engagement  depends on the issues on the table,  the warmth of the relationships between people, what else is at stake and the level of risk for each partner.  If there has been a history of mistrust or conflict, it takes time to rebuild trust and create more willingness to accept opportunities for goodwill.   When working in bicultural and multicultural communities,  there are added cultural considerations but essentially the principles are the same.

This video courtesy of Knight Foundation provides a shortcut to more discussion and worthwhile insights on community engagement and community relations.

Video courtesy of Knight Foundation

Family History Searches: Ellis Island

I’m researching aspects of my family history and have been, off and on, for years.  My desire is to record family stories before time and death take them away.  Fortunate are those for whom there are ample records that provide a paper trail for researchers.  But when a culture has lived by an oral history for decades, using elders, songs and dances to tell those stories, it presents challenges and lost treasures.  When memories fail, when people don’t share the history, when the stories, songs and dances are no longer passed on, it presents a significant loss of treasures at this end.

Tonight, I took a break from researching to watch this story filled with archival film history of another era and another people.  Ellis Island, dubbed the Island of Tears,  is a remarkable American immigration story.  Historians estimate that almost half of all Americans today can trace their family history back to the Port of New York at Ellis Island. It was the port of entry for millions of European immigrants from 1892 to 1954.  With them came their dreams, hopes, sorrows, whatever they could to make a fresh start in a land of freedom. At some point in every family’s history, there is a story of immigration from one country to another.  This might be yours.

The Pure Beauty of This Planet

An overwhelmingly beautiful time-lapsed video of the Yosemite National Park and Sierras, in the wilderness of California. By filmmaker Shawn Reeder, it reportedly took two years of shooting to make this heart-stirring video.

Via Gizmodo

Watching Planet Earth through the lenses like watching something sacred.

Curating Content Online

Information overload Any more signs to be adde...

Noticed the word “curator” popping up online? When talking about web publishing, blogging, and sharing on social media?  It’s the perfect word for what we do online, those who have blogs and websites.  Smart move linguistically.

Here’s a talk by Steven Rosenbaum which explains more on why curation.  He talks about the mainstream media’s role in being overwhelmed by the content ordinary people  provide. I think that’s a great thing. It takes away the  gatekeeping role that mainstream media have long held. But it also gives a more rich experience to the information we receive, I think.

I like that the word “curator” is likened to a term normally associated with art. Because it is an art form in one sense.   Mashable published yesterday a fantastic post called 5 Tips for Great Content Curation.

My favourite tip, a journalism standard in my day, was the last one.  It’s an issue that plagues the web and industries worldwide.

5 Tips for Great Content Curation

by Steven Rosenbaum of Magnify.Net

Excerpt only

5. Share. Don’t Steal.

Take the time to give attribution, link backs, and credit. The sharing economy works because we’re each sharing our audiences, and providing the value of our endorsements. If you pick up someone’s work and put it on your blog, or mention a fact without crediting the source, you’re not building shared credibility. You’re just abusing someone else’s effort.

The important thing to realize is that we’re increasingly living in a world of information overload. So when people choose to listen to you it’s because you’re able to separate signal from noise. You provide a clear, contextually relevant voice within the topic or topics that you create and curate.

David Koker’s Diary

Books. Autobiographies. Non-fiction.

My ears come alive at the mention of Jewish history, thanks to an elderly Polish neighbour, whom I wrote about a few years ago.   This story about David Koker appeared as a brief in Arts and Letters Daily.  It made me reminisce of those years, over 20 years ago, with my dear elderly gentle man.

When David Koker was arrested, in 1943, he started a diary. It survives as perhaps the most nonchalant but complex portrait of life in a concentration camp

Arts and Letters Daily


My elderly neighbour survived Nazi Germany’s horrors in Auschwitz, at least physically. But emotionally, I don’t believe he ever recovered.  He wasn’t the happy-go-lucky bloke that others around me were, and he never was. But he came alive around my baby son, the few moments I recall him smiling and joyful.   Otherwise, he was very private, very hidden, and very quiet.


David Koker’s story is barely known, apparently, in the English-speaking world. But, I can see a movie coming out of this diary one day.

In Tablet A New Read on Jewish Life

David Koker’s Extraordinary Holocaust Concentration Camp

Life Inside the Camps

David Koker. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo courtesy Northwestern University Press)

David Koker’s fate was in many ways no different from that of the nearly 6 million other Jews who died in the Holocaust. The eldest son of an Amsterdam jeweler, he was arrested by Dutch police in February 1943 and transported to Vught, a concentration camp built by the Nazis in the southern Netherlands. After being shuffled between other camps, he died on the way to Dachau in early 1945, where he was buried in a mass grave at the age of 23.

Before he died, however, Koker authored what may be the most extraordinary diary ever written inside a concentration camp. “In my opinion, it’s considerably more interesting than Anne Frank’s diary,” said Michiel Horn, a historian at Toronto’s York University and the book’s translator. At the Edge of the Abyss: A Concentration Camp Diary, 1943-1944, was first published in Dutch in 1977 as Diary Written in Vught. Despite immediately being recognized as a classic in the Netherlands, it has never seen publication in English, until now.

It’s important that we never forget that history.

The Best Writing Starts with a Visit to the Bathroom

True. Laugh if you must but I am trying to provide some serious writer’s advice here. Not my own, of course.

Do you ever find yourself reading a blog on writing tips and starting to yawn? It has nothing to do with the writer, it’s me. That yawn effect is why I hope not to write my own writing tips. I’d bore myself silly writing it, I think. Because much of writing happens in solitude, quietly, as dewdrops falling from the sky. I try not to explain writing to myself. It just happens. Inspiration comes and off I go.

So imagine my delight at coming across these writing tips from this wonderful man online named James Altucher. His writing tips here are the first tips I’ve ever read where I have laughed, smiled and laughed, for most of the reading.  There’s much truth in humour.   And I love his writing so much, I want to marry him.  But of course, that will never be. So without further ado, here’s an excerpt from his blog.


Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

33 other tips to be a better writer.

-          Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph. Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

-          Take a huge bowel movement every day. And you won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

-          Bleed in the first line. We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. You want people to relate to you, then you have to be human. Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.

-          Don’t ask for permission. In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.

The rest of James Altucher’s 33 Unusual Tips to Being A Better Writer

A Web Hunter That Overrides Google Effect

StumbleUpon is a free gift for consumers.  It answers so many consumer needs like when you’re too busy to surf the Net or dig deeper.   I love the big wide world out there online.  But I don’t always get to see what’s online in terms of the best content because I don’t have time to sit down and look for it.  Like sands in the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Remember that line from those old soapies? My mother used to watch them back in the day.

So introducing StumbleUpon. Millions have used it before me. I’ve been a member of StumbleUpon for years but I’ve only begun to appreciate its power over the past year.

Who has time to see what’s out there, outside of what Google shows up?   Because, remember, Google also selects what you see and what you won’t see.  Plus, with Google results, we now know that you get a different result depending on your personal web history, rather than receiving results based on most popular or most used.

Most people, unless they are doing deep research, do not bother to look beyond the first 1 or 2 pages of Google results. Apparently (an SEO guru whispered that last bit to me). StumbleUpon over-rides the Google Effect by cherry picking using a different formula to Google’s. One that is based on your personal interests.  It delivers those interests to you in a visually appealing way, which makes it even more appealing.

Now going back to answering my own question.

The staff at StumbleUpon, obviously, have time to find websites you might be interested in looking at.  Think of them as your web content shoppers, cherry-picking through the best of the best of their spring, winter and summer collection.

The best part? The good people at StumbleUpon do it for you for free! How many SEOs gurus  do your work for free?  Exactly. I can count on one hand, or one finger, how many.

I literally stumbled upon StumbleUpon, and I thought I’d share it with you in case you were looking for something like this tool.

Ciao Bella!

Saying Goodbye to the Preposition Rule

Latin Class

As a writer,  I obsess over grammar rules.  I break grammar rules too, at times.  It’s a tricky one with the borderless world of the Internet because there are grammar rules that are country or culture-specific. But this, my friends, is not one of them.  The dreaded “preposition” rule.

In my early training as a writer/journalist, I came away with the distinct impression that it was not the done thing to end a sentence with a preposition.  But I have questioned that rule in my mind, through the years, whenever I am writing for the spoken word.

“Why is it ‘wrong’ to end a sentence with a preposition? … Who, upon seeing a cake in the office break room, says, ‘For whom is this cake?’ instead of ‘Who’s the cake for?’ Where did this rule come from?

Then, one day in the last year or so, I started noticing reporters, with ease and without guilt, using the preposition as the last word on a sentence.  So guess what?  I’d say that the fast talking world of social media status updates has changed that.  People are writing as they speak it.  People who haven’t been trained with the rules like me.  And it makes perfect sense.  When we’re speaking to people, we often end our sentences with a preposition. In broadcast writing, I was taught to write for the ear and the ear is the spoken rule.

The idea that ‘rules’ were more important than history, elegance, or actual practice … held writers and speakers in terror of making them. …

So my revolutionary grammar hat came back on when I came across this little gem of a book called You Are What You Speak .  It offers an explanation of how this grammar rule came about. By the way, reading it made me feel so much better about letting it go. Almost.

“The answer will surprise even most English teachers: John Dryden, the seventeenth-century poet less well-known as an early, influential stickler. In a 1672 essay, he criticized his literary predecessor Ben Jonson for writing ‘The bodies that these souls were frightened from.’ Why the prepositional bee in Dryden’s syntactical bonnet? This pseudo-rule probably springs from the same source many others do: the classical languages. Dryden said he liked to compose in Latin and translate into English, as he valued the precision and clarity he believed Latin required of writers. The preposition-final construction is impossible in Latin. Hence: it is impossible in English. Confused by his logic? Linguists remain so to this day. But once Dryden proclaimed the rule, it made its way into the first generation of English usage books roughly a century later and thence into the minds of two hundred years of English teachers and copy editors.

“The rule has no basis in clarity (‘Who’s that cake for?’ is perfectly clear); history (it was made up from whole cloth); literary tradition (Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron, Henry Adams, Lewis Carroll, James Joyce, and dozens of other great writers have violated it); or purity (it isn’t native to English but probably stolen from Latin; clause-final prepositions exist in English’s cousin languages such as Danish and Icelandic). Many people know that the Dryden rule is nonsense. From the great usage-book writer Henry Fowler in the early twentieth century, usage experts began to caution readers to ignore it. The New York Times flouts it. The ‘rule’ should be put to death, but it may never be. Even those who know it is ridiculous observe it for fear of annoying others.”
Author: Robert Lane Greene
Title: You Are What You Speak
2011. Pages: 33-34, 24-25

If  saying goodbye to the preposition rule is good enough for the New York Times, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

Silent Poverty


Poverty (Photo credit: Teo's photo)

Had a thought-provoking day out this week.

Got back to my car and I was approached by a well-dressed Indian or Pakistani man begging for money to buy food.

It shocked me to see him, well dressed, well-spoken, asking me for money, in a part of town that has never seen beggars, in my experience.

I wonder, thinking about it today, whether it is a glimpse of what I call, the silent poverty in the middle-classes…

Posted this on my Facebook first.  Then I realised, this is something I can post here too.

The Painting

You must see this. It is so amazing and refreshing to watch.  This video, showing  the work of performance artist David Garibaldi, is a joy to watch. I have seen this video a number of times. Each time I’ve come away inspired by his gift. When I first saw it, it wasn’t on YouTube and didn’t have a headline or description. So I had no clue what he was painting until it became very obvious. He’s also painted other famous figures such as Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein.

In one of his videos, he talks about where it all started. He says he taught himself how to paint. How cool is that ?! [Wow, now  he's starting to give me ideas but no, I could never paint like him]. He credits Dennis Dent as the first rock and roll painter who fathered this form of art and one of his inspirations.

The Internet at Its Worst and Best

Internet Explorer 8 in InPrivate mode

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote a submission to the New Zealand Law Commission’s Review on the Regulatory Gaps and New Media. Phew. Mine was an 11th hour effort.  But I submitted because I believe there is value in participating in parliamentary and legislative processes.  That’s where the public has an opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes of Parliament.

If your voice isn’t represented there, then your voice isn’t represented there. And that’s a lost opportunity to speak up and express a valid viewpoint that might not be spoken by anyone else.

I’m a great believer in the benefits of robust and thought-provoking conversations on issues and topics, particularly when people hold a diversity of views and backgrounds. As an aside, I have found, though, that there are some common factors that make it beneficial.  Factors like shared goodwill, respect and trust between participants and leaders of the pack setting the example.

Fast forward to this morning.  A story about a significant privacy breach on the Internet this morning affecting an employee on the picket lines. The Privacy Act and the exemptions extended to news media is a topic raised in the Issues paper of the Review I’ve submitted on this week.

Radio New Zealand Morning Report interviewed a lawyer, John Edwards, who specialises in privacy law. Click here to listen.

It’s sometimes a mistake that employers and agencies make to think that because an individual participates in a public debate or comments on a matter that that gives some license or waiver to their privacy rights…There’s nothing in law to support that view – John Edwards speaking on Morning Report.

That privacy breach is mired in an industrial relations dispute where a battle rages for the hearts and minds of ordinary Kiwis. The stakes are high and the hurt and acrimony will, no doubt, linger for years to come. Reputations and goodwill are on the line.

That sort of privacy breach would never happen in the medical health sector. Clinicians and health authorities, in my experience, tightly guard people’s personal and health information, even at the risk of being  mis-reported or misrepresented by news media. A hat tip to health professionals for setting the gold standard.  Earlier this week, another story surfaced about privacy breaches, this time affecting clients in a government department. The latest update today.

Now that I have sufficiently depressed you with the nasty stuff on the Internet, it is worth noting the positives.

With the government department story, it’s a credit to the Minister of ACC Judith Collins that she acknowledged the department’s errors. That’s the best approach in risk communication, work that I’ve specialised in. Admit the mistake, take it on the chin, be honest and up front with the public. It allows the story to move on faster. It helps relationships to heal and eventually, hopefully, rebuild trust in the leadership. As long as words match the actions. The Privacy Commissioner has stepped in. Another re-assuring mechanism for the public. So our legal and parliamentary processes are full steam ahead here and that’s heartening news.

I doubt the  early developers of the Internet intended the Net to be used as a malicious tool to breach personal privacy and hurt people intentionally.

What about the Internet at its best?

Remember words like the Knowledge Economy? Information Highway? A broad description, I know, but it’s the Internet at its very best. I love discovering the multiple digital platforms people and organisations use to tell their story. Here’s a few sites and agents worth praising on the Internet.

  • The unsung heroes of the Internet: open source developers who create services and plugins to democratize the Internet and removing access barriers. They are outstanding in helping non-developers, that’s been my experience. They create plugins that help website and email owners identify the IP address and domain name if  there is nasty behaviour occurring via web email, comments, and so on.

The Internet’s Finest Hour

Filmed by Ilka Franzmann and aired on Al Jazeera and  available online, this story on video here captures the powerful example of the Internet doing life-saving work. I originally saw this documentary on Al Jazeera.  This is the latest on a story we all need to hear when people talk about the power of the Internet. It’s a humbling reminder.

We used to defend ourselves by bows and arrows.  But that doesn’t work anymore. Our modern weapon is the internet. This is the only way to ensure safety in our territory.

son of a chief of the Ashaninka tribe living in a region of the Amazon Rainforest

Related articles

What is a waterspout? Auckland had one

Two days ago, Auckland saw this gigantic waterspout in the afternoon. I saw it! What a thrill. Amazing. Beautiful in its formation and size.

Watched it for at least two minutes from one of the old buildings at Greenlane Hospital, now used as office floors.

Stunning and terrifying cloud formation bearing down near Sky Tower, or so we thought at the time.

It had a clear funnel of greyish puffiness spouting down.  We thought the spout, we were calling a tornado, was on land. It was, in fact, on water and far away from the tower.

Soon after, slightly confused by media stories and a stray comment from a learned colleague, calling it a “waterspout” (without any explanation why it’s not called a tornado), I asked a scientist  for answers. Wasn’t what I saw a tornado, I asked. It looked fierce and just like the tornadoes I see on telly, I said.

A waterspout, he said, is what it is called when it happens on the water. They are still dangerous for their impact and destructive power if there are boats in its vicinity. When they hit land, they are then called tornadoes. Even more dangerous on land because there are people everywhere.

Thank goodness this water spout stayed at sea and never came on terra firma. For one beautiful summer’s afternoon, most of us stood on land enjoying it safely funneling out at sea.

5 Starter Tips Before You Set Up Your Own Website and Blog

New WebsiteIf you are an absolute beginner who has never created your own website or blog, weblog, before and digital technology is a mystery, this blog post is for you.

I use the words “website” and “blog” interchangeably in this post, not because they are the same platform which they aren’t, but because these tips apply to both. I also refer to the blog as a “weblog”, a term I use interchangeably throughout this post.

 Before you start building, let’s get started with these tips to help you plan and prepare.

Tip 1

Determine your purpose for setting up a website or weblog

Knowing why you’re doing this will help you clearly identify your target audience, the features you’ll need, and what you hope your online presence will achieve.  Talk to trusted advisers and friends, brainstorm and/or mind-map with a group of friends or colleagues if you are unclear on the purpose of your website or blog.


  • Why do you want to set up a website or weblog? Write down words and sentences that come to mind, without editing. Afterwards, go through your answers and narrow it down to a few sentences or one key sentence.

Tip 2

Identify your Audience

Do you know who you want to reach?  Knowing who you want to reach, who will read your blog for example, will help you decide the privacy settings you may wish to apply.

Describe your audience, how old are they, what do they do, what do they do for leisure.

 If your target audience is a specific group of people, then you might want to consider having a private web or blog visible only to a select group, rather than an open website or weblog.

Tip 2

Choose content to post on your website

Photos. Images. Graphics. Flow Charts. PDF documents. Videos. Create a folder or box this will go in. The list can go on and on. You have a lot of material to use but that doesn’t mean that everything should go on the website. Review all the documents, material, photos and videos. Set up a folder organised with the content you wish to upload to the website.


  • Has your offline content been updated to reflect any changes or updates in your organisation?
  • Do you need to update any photos or graphics or logos before uploading?
  • Have people’s surnames and roles changed?
  • Are staff roles correctly stated?
  • If you are working with long documents, do you have a writer who can go through the long documents and help sharp content for the web?
  • Do you have a scanner?

Tip 3

Use Headings and Subheadings to Reflect Your Tone

Organise your thinking here. Take out the note pad and start to jot down broad categories or themes of the content. If you are setting up a website for lawyers or medical professionals, the headings will be more formal, straight to the point, and usually pre-determined according to work areas and clinical portfolios.

Standard websites headings:

  • Home Page (First page on the website)
  • About (Information on the organisation and who you are). This may also include sub-pages
  • Services (What work or services you offer the public or other audience)
  • Contact (this list phone numbers and contact staff or a web email form).

Tip 4

Brainstorm a name for your website or blog

Get inspired. This is worth the time it takes to come up with a name that fits for you. I love this part of setting up an online blog. It’s fun. Think about it as your headline. Be as creative as you wish, depending on the purpose of your blog.

I use my name for this blog simply because I had already purchased my domain name some years ago. I played with the headline on this blog, Vienna’s Blogdesk. I choose the word Blogdesk because I didn’t want to focus on any one subject or issue. I don’t know if there is a word called blogdesk. I merged two words as one.I wanted the freedom to write about whatever I wish to write about. Hence, blogdesk covers it all.

Whatever inspires you to be creative and come up with new ideas for a name, the better in your search for the right name for your website or blog.  Some people have done this over a chocolate party, apparently. Again, I’d recommend brainstorming a lot of names and not editing any out because often random words can piggy back on each other. And viola, before you know it, you have a name. If you’d like further direction on this, post a comment or email.

Tip 5

Decide to purchase a domain name or use a free web address.

There is no shortage of free web addresses you can use for your website. But there is usually a catch and you are limited to using the address they offer you. You wouldn’t be able to use as a free web address. I paid for the domain name. I’d recommend that you buy your own domain name. Why? You have more control over the address, if it is available for purchase.

Coming up in my next blog post on this topic, I will share more tips about buying a domain name and having your website or blog hosted.

Albert Einstein Quotes and Mozart

Video says it all.

I’ll post the quotes in writing for those who cannot access this video, have used their limit of broadband, or are using a device to read text on this blog. These are the quotes from the first 2 minutes.

Albert Einstein

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius, and a lot of courage, to move in the opposite direction.

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.

The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.

To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.

Before God we are all equally wise and equally foolish.

When you look at yourself from a universal standpoint, something inside always reminds or informs you that there are bigger and better things to worry about.

Betterment of conditions the world over is not essentially dependent on scientific knowledge but on the fulfillment of human traditions and ideals.

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

People do not grow old no matter how long we live. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.

The aim (of education) must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service to the community their highest life achievement.

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social enviroment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions.

may or may not be continued…



Originally posted on dethoan:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
— Albert Einstein

View original

Steve Jobs on Loving What You Do

It’s the start of 2012 and I love this. So let me share it with you.

Apple’s Steve Jobs speaks about the need to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing because it’s so hard.

Without passion, any rational person would give up. So if you’re not having fun doing it, if you don’t absolutely love it, you’re going to give up. And the ones that didn’t love it, quit. Because they’re sane, right?…Who would put up with this stuff if you don’t love it?

Two Uncommon Hopefuls in America

The Year 2012 marks  a milestone. It’s the first time in my lifetime that I will have seen two publicly identified Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...Saints, make it to the primary elections as  American presidential hopefuls.

What’s the world coming to? Well, America has adopted the message of change, thanks to President Barack Obama’s positive election campaign.

But will this be a stretch too far for many Americans? Findings of the PEW survey below prove interesting reading.

Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both devout Mormons according to reports. Both very wealthy men from equally wealthy backgrounds. I haven’t read so much of Romney’s background but I have long found  Jon Huntsman’s entrepreneurial father’s story compelling reading.

What I find most interesting, with a son serving a mission, is that Romney and Huntsman also served full-time missions for the Church as young men.  Political pundits will pay little, if any, attention to their missionary service. So I’ll go for it. Romney served as a missionary in France and Huntsman served in Taiwan.  Not surprisingly, Romney reportedly speaks fluent French and Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin. They both report a lifelong love for the people they served all those years ago. That tends to happen when you live, eat, laugh, sleep, cry and pray closely as family with people for two years or more.

Huntsman later served as the US Ambassador to China taking with him his ready fluency with Mandarin, thanks to the mission he served as a Mormon missionary. Unfortunately, one of the presidential hopeful and his team, Ron Paul, resorted to misrepresentation of his love for the people he served and his Mandarin fluency. They uploaded it 10 days ago in a nasty political attack posted here on youtube….

So before anyone rushes off yet again and condemns Mormons to a life of myths and misunderstandings, I would recommend going direct to the source to find out what Mormons believe.  It just so happens that PEW had done just that. It busts some myths.

And one more thing.
If I was a voting American, identified as Mormon for my faith and Republican for my politics, I’d go with whatever direction Jon Huntsman gave on this. If I was a Democrat, Obama and Hillary Clinton all the way.

Speaking So People Will Listen

I would describe this video, a TED speech by Julian Treasure this year, as useful for professional and personal development for speakers. He takes an holistic approach that covers personal and professional conduct with topics like trustworthiness, tone, style, pace and volume.

He recommends a series of vocal, arm and mouth exercises before you speak in front of a key audience. It is actually similar to the exercises you do if you are a singer, or taking vocal lessons.

Dan Pink on The Puzzle of Motivation

Dan Pink on rethinking how we run business and engage and motivate people. I am posting this here so that, when I finally have some spare time, I’ll come back and watch this in full.  According to Wikipedia, he has written five books on changing the workplace. I’m interested in his findings from an internal communications perspective, particularly in relation to motivating staff.

When I get a chance, I may post more, if I have time to do so.

Using Social Media to Build Community

I have posted two TED talks for a handy reference on developing online and offline communities. I’m not sure if they will provide any new insights if you are an active social media user for work and personal from the start, and you’ve already had some years of experience developing online communities. This won’t provide you with light bulb moments or new ideas. That was how I felt watching these talks. But this is a good starter if you are new to developing an online community. The first talk is very helpful in terms of breaking the ice and taking away the mystery.

If you are new to developing an online community in an area of interest, the best advice is, once you have assessed resource capacity and availability and for how long, to simply start. Online engagement and social media is one area where the best learning is from simply doing it.  Give the people information they want and need. They will come back for more and tell others.

Community Engagement Through Social Media-Sarah Lee

She makes that the key point about social media, is the word ‘social’. She emphasizes making that connection.

Online communities as sites for engagement – Rosianna Halse