A most unfortunate name

“Hi Lameez

Ramadan Mubarak!

Hope you well.”

This is a greeting I received via email recently, during the month of Ramadan.

From an outsider’s perspective, there is nothing wrong with that greeting. It’s polite and considerate, if the recipient is Muslim.

This always comes as a shock to most people who meet me for the first time, but I am not Muslim. My given name is obviously very Arabic. And I can forgive someone mistaking me for a Muslim just by looking at my name.

It also doesn’t help that I “look” Indian. Between me and my brother, I think I inherited the lion’s share of my grandfather’s Indian genes. So as a result, I’ve been going through life correcting people for thinking that I’m an Indian Muslim.

It’s not a big deal. It’s just annoying. I’ve been retelling my family tree to complete strangers since I was eight years old. You can imagine disclosing one’s genealogy can be quite invasive and cumbersome after the 35th time.

I was talking to my father about it one day, he’s had similar experiences and has managed to take it in his stride (I don’t have that stride). In fact, it’s an inside joke between us. I have considered making it the topic of my monologue for when I try stand-up comedy.

Sometimes I think I would have to answer fewer questions if my name wasn’t Arabic. I kind of blame my dad for that – he was the one who decided that I shouldn’t be given a Western name. Conversely, sometimes when I consider how Westernised the world is becoming and how much people are fighting to preserve their cultures – then I’m grateful that my dad sort of “stuck it to the man” and gave me and my brother Arabic names.

My name is sort of the thing that confirms the assumption that I am Indian. For example: Someone sees me for the first time, assumes that I am Indian by the pigmentation of my skin and the texture of my hair (very stereotypical by the way). I mention my “Indian-sounding” name, and there’s the confirmation – what they see matches what they assume.

In fact I don’t do anything that’s haram (forbidden) by Muslim standards

One of my colleagues also highlighted that I have very Muslim-habits, that don’t bode well to diffuse the situation either. For example, I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I don’t eat pork (that’s just a preference) and I don’t date (I haven’t had the opportunity)… In fact I don’t do anything that’s haram (forbidden) by Muslim standards. It’s ironic because when you’re trying to be like Jesus, you don’t expect your actions to come across as those of Prophet Muhammad.

Essentially, I’m being stereotyped based on what people see on the surface. I can live with that, if I never have to see these people again. But it’s the “subsequent-stereotyping” I’m worried about. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me into awkward, if not embarrassing situations. Here’s a rundown:

  1. When my Muslim classmate asked me to ask our lecturer to reschedule a test because it was the night of Eid.
  2. When my colleagues assumed that I was Muslim because of my name… and then found out that I wasn’t Muslim, six months later.
  3. Apart from the countless emails I received wishing me well for Ramadan, there have also been messages to wish me well as I celebrate Eid.
  4. When the guy at the cafeteria didn’t want to make me a sandwich because he didn’t have halaal ingredients.
  5. When the guy at the cafeteria asked the lady in the kitchen to look at me to confirm that I wasn’t Indian.
  6. That guy from the hardware store who called me, but greeted me with “Salaam Alaikum,” and I just said… “Hello” back.
  7. My driving instructor who kept showing me lovely Mosques as we drove past them.
  8. My driving instructor who asked me how I handle fasting.
  9. My driving instructor who couldn’t understand why all my names were Muslim, even the middle one.
  10. That person who wanted to reschedule a meeting for when my prayers were done.
  11. That guy who asked me how the fast was going.
  12. My friend’s sister who wanted to find a halaal restaurant for me. (Okay that wasn’t embarrassing. That was sweet.)

I don’t hate my name, but it does create a lot of inconvenient situations for me. Once I was hanging out with Christians, and cringed at having to explain what my name means. Sometimes I wish I had a Christian name. One guy who was surprised (they’re always surprised) to learn the truth about me asked what I would name my children. I responded with an aggressive and probably not like Jesus: “Very Christian names!”

I have learnt a lesson from this – and that’s not to judge people, especially when it comes to matters of identity/ ethnicity/ religion. And I have also seen the kindness of people, stereotyping aside, people are really considerate and respecting of others and their beliefs. It’s nice to see that there is still good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for (Yep, I totally stole that from Samwise Gamgee #TeamLOTR).

But I guess the silver lining in all of this is that your name doesn’t define who you are. You are not your name, but you are the sum of your choices. Who we become is up to us. There is always redemption.

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A year without Facebook – A social experiment

Aim: Spend a year without using Facebook (in my personal capacity).

Hypothesis: I will successfully complete the year and reach personal enlightenment and recover from the need to broadcast my life on social media.

OR

Find a loophole to keep using Facebook, thus remaining a narcissist by the end of the trial.

Apparatus: The internet.

Method: Use the internet, but not Facebook. This means no posting updates, pictures or videos. No viewing or sharing posts and liking or commenting on posts from my personal account. In fact, deactivate my account and delete the app on my smartphone.

Results: I found a loophole.

Discussion of findings: My reason for abstaining from Facebook for a year was primarily to save data costs. I was also social media fatigued (I think). I was a slave to my smartphone. I would constantly glance down to see new updates on my timeline, only to find that the last person to send out an update was me.

That’s right, I was the most exciting person on my timeline. I knew that couldn’t be true, because my life isn’t that eventful. And that’s when I realized I was a cooler person online than in real life.

I embarked on a personal intervention and deactivated my account, without any warning. There was no: “This is my last status update for a long time,” to inform friends. There was no clean-up operation to “unlike” pages, exit groups or “un-share” posts. I imagine this must be what it feels like to join a witness protection programme.

This was not my first attempt at quitting Facebook. I’ve done it twice before. The last time I deactivated my account, I spent a solid six months Facebook-free. The purge was good… Until I caved.

I felt like my behavior was worse when I came back. It happened incrementally. At first I would share posts instead of constructing my own updates. That would happen once every few days. Eventually I was posting once a day.

The egotistical monster got a hold on me again, there I was, constantly viewing screens for updates. These updates weren’t necessarily posts by others, but rather, how many new notifications I received. How many people liked my post? Who commented? Who isn’t, and why not? Not looking at my timeline for an hour was an achievement.

My updates weren’t about me… but they were. Sure, it wasn’t always about the food I was eating, the places I was going to or who I was with. These were carefully constructed thoughts to reflect my wit. These “clever” observations of the world were just disguised self-glorification.

You might think that I’m being dramatic. But I would save unpublished statuses on my notepad which I had scheduled to post at a later stage. (This is the part in group therapy where I admit that I have a problem).

I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

Not getting Facebook likes made me feel unloved. My train of thought would diverge into two extremes. If my post didn’t get likes, then the post wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, which means my sense of humour must be broken. Or, there was nothing wrong with me, but there was something wrong with everyone else. They’re all stupid and I need new friends.

So not having Facebook, was refreshing. During the first week I found myself glancing at my smartphone, without having anything to look at besides my wallpaper. That’s when I realized I was too dependent on it. I wasn’t living in reality, I was living online. I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

My fears of replacing Facebook with another form of social media came true. I replaced it with Twitter. But fortunately, with Twitter no one can feed into your vanity, unless you have plenty followers who engage with you. Also, you’re competing with bigger names on Twitter. So I gave up on Twitter and latched onto Instagram. (I know, so much for curbing my data spending).

Once again, I was feeding off likes which served as an assessment of my photography skills. It wasn’t long before I discovered the power of captions. They were another way to share my thoughts. The caption became my status update, and the picture was a bonus. Now people could see what I was seeing. And I had a cool filter to make my feat look even cooler than it really was. (I need to find another adjective for “cooler”).

There was also WhatsApp. I found myself texting friends during the day. I would share BuzzFeed posts, screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts via WhatsApp and email. But people didn’t respond too well to that, I texted them more often than they texted me. Again, I went down that spiral of feeling unloved.

Then there’s work, the very undoing of my social experiment. I manage the social media accounts for work. So I hadn’t distanced myself from Facebook as far as I would’ve liked. In defence of maintaining whatever shred of integrity is left in this flawed experiment, posting for a company is different to posting from your personal account.

Companies use their social media strategically, to build networks and reach specific audiences. It’s more purposeful than running your own account where you just keep up with news about your buddies. And there was a lot of things I missed out on; engagement announcements, job promotions, graduations and birthdays. (A heck of a lot of birthdays). That’s when I noticed my friends were also dependent on Facebook to stay social.

There were a few useful things I learnt. When used correctly, social media can help build your brand, especially if you’re a young professional who’s trying to network and promote a purposeful message. However, my message was a loud clanging noise that screamed out “ME!”

I hate that I used Facebook as an outlet to promote a false reality of life. Real life is nothing like Facebook. We are not meant to exist on digital platforms.

To cure myself of boredom, I found a few “old school” activities to keep busy. I started reading more, paperback too. I also started listening to podcasts. (I’d recommend that – you can learn so much about the world and people). I also developed new hobbies like running. Not documenting the parts of the world I was discovering was refreshing. It granted me some degree of anonymity.

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet.

I made more effort with my friendships. Instead of keeping in touch online, I would visit my friends more. Physically hanging out with people is more constructive than just following posts. That’s where the real relationship building happens. I even started phoning my friends again. Hearing their voices and not just reading their texts was pretty awesome. (That fellow Alexander Graham Bell was really onto something).

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet. They became awesome stories to share with people, using words from my mouth! Just sitting and waiting, with nothing to occupy my hands or my mind was so freeing.

On the flipside of this free time I had to myself, I noticed how others were so glued to their phones. People don’t just sit around and enjoy each other’s company anymore. Their heads are bowed, eyes staring squarely at screens. They’re social with people online, when there are people right in front of them. It made me think of all the awesome people I never met because I was so closed off to the real world.

Conclusion: The real challenge begins. Do I return to Facebook? Frankly speaking, if I had to reactivate my Facebook account, then I suspect it would be similar to an ex-junkie relapsing into addiction.

I know I shouldn’t go back, for the sake of my mental health. Seriously, being on a site that’s all about me will end up killing my brain cells prematurely. Self-worship will be my undoing.

It would be ideal if I could quit all social media permanently.

But I can’t. Firstly, for professional reasons, as journalists we use Twitter as a tool to source and broadcast stories. Instagram is also hopping onto that wagon.

Secondly, I will never be truly free of social media. Instant messaging is social media, and to an extant email is too. I use these mediums to communicate and keep in touch with people. So I’ll be lying if I said I quit social media, because I’d still be using it in some way, maybe not as explicitly as using Facebook.

There are two things of which I am certain:

  1. I should not return to Facebook.
  2. I am still the self- loving person I was before I quit Facebook.

There is one thing of which I am uncertain. And that is whether I will be successful in avoiding Facebook for the rest of my life.

Every now and then I read a post online about the dangers of social media, with fraud and identity theft rising. Also, watching people destroy their careers on social media through their thoughtless posts is also keeping me off Facebook. But I don’t know if these reasons are sustainable.

There is a strong possibility that I will cave, again. I almost gave in for the last two weeks of this challenge.

Was my social experiment a success? In many ways it was conflicted. I found loopholes but there were some wins.

For one, it feels great to have some part of my life remain a mystery. Whenever I meet new people, they can’t find my Facebook profile online, so they can’t suss me out from my updates or pictures. I have enjoyed this short-term anonymity, but it isn’t a long term option for me.

I could join Facebook again and be consumed by my self-love. Or I can continue using other forms of social media, taking a more disciplined approach for professional purposes.

Leaving one question … Is it too late to get a pseudonym?

Camera Roll: finweek Money Matters

A collection of clips, scripted for the finweek: Money Matters show which airs on CNBC Africa (DStv channel 410).

Construction – Finding value in debris

Is it time to invest offshore?

Is the jump in Harmony’s share price sustainable?

Digital advertising in Africa

A new era for financial services?

Surviving the global market storm

Can Vodacom handle the heat?

Supercars for the super-rich

Outlook for Coronation Fund Managers

Where to invest year-end savings

Cape Town’s transition into a tourist hotspot

Telematics a win-win for insurers and drivers

R26bn lost by state-owned enterprises

Outlook for Mondi

The minimum wage debate

Challenges facing SA’s youth

Stikeez: Nuisance or genius

Cash-proofing investment portfolios

No room for error in e-commerce

Outlook for AECI

SUVs becoming SA’s favorite

WooCommerce and Resilient Property outlook

The state of SA’s economy

The future of retail loyalty and the PPC outlook

Keeping score: Business journalism

A collection of work featured in finweek magazine and online for finweek.com

Ten things you need to know about Starbucks

Is it the end of credit card payments?

Seven lessons to guide your investment plan

How tax havens are widening the inequality gap

What do employees want? 

Policy reforms can’t come soon enough

Smart things to do with your money in your 20s

Saving is a matter of discipline

Can Africa still rise?

What lies ahead for SA?

Fostering good partnerships between government and business

Africa rising despite the headwinds

Is SA following Brazil to junk status?

SA to struggle with low growth going forward

Digital – The new business tsunami

Young, black and and angry – Can SA’s economy transform?

Fancy yourself a 3D illusionist?

What SA businesses can learn from Starbucks

Lessons for businesses to embrace digital change

Beading for social change

Lessons for success from Silicon Valley

The future of advertising: Reaching consumers where they are

Nando’s: Three ingredients for global success

Family flooring business set for a solid future

How to pick a winner: Investment tips from PSG

New app gives grain farmers an edge to hedge

After working in the agricultural trading business as an option writer, Andries D’Alebout found that grain farmers had limited options when making hedging decisions because of delayed and limited access to Safex market updates. Having graduated from the University of the North West with a Master’s degree in Mathematics, D’Alebout used his expertise and experience in grain trading to develop the Dalevest app which is transforming market reporting in the industry.

Combining his love for mathematics and agriculture, former option writer Andries D’Alebout, founded a mobile application to provide grain farmers with real time Safex market updates.

Andries d'Albeout

MATHEMATICAL GENIUS: Founder of Dalevest, Andries d’Alebout combined his love for mathematics and farming to create an app that delivers market updates to grain farmers in real time. Photo: Provided

The delay in communicating market data to farmers prompted D’Alebout, ‘Zuckerberg’ of agriculture service provider Dalevest, and his team of six to develop the application. Having grown up on a farm he noticed how his father’s decision making was impacted by the limited market information available. “I started this without knowing if it would go anywhere besides helping my father a little bit,” D’Alebout told Finweek.

The free application is a first-ever for the industry in South Africa. It has grown “exponentially” through word of mouth and social media, boasting with 2500 users across the country since its launch at the beginning of the year.

The application serves as an “information hub” providing grain farmers with JSE prices for maize, beans, sunflower and wheat. Two daily reports are released at 8am and after 12pm, when the market closes. Graphs and information about commodities, with technical analysis are also provided.  A chat function is available for grain farmers to engage with each other, ask questions and share information, explains D’Alebout.

Dalevest also offers a grain trading platform. Farmers can send information about their grain which is sent to about 14 trading houses partnered with Dalevest. The farmer is then partnered up with the trading house that offers the best price for their grain. “We are sort of a connection hub too,” says D’Alebout.

I started this without knowing if it would go anywhere besides helping my father a little bit.

The market information is sourced from an in-house Reuters terminal, different companies in the US and the Chicago Board of Trade, says D’Alebout.  A lot of the information is also supplied from local farmers, making the market more transparent and accessible for stakeholders.

Programming for the application started over a year ago, but the development process is continuous. Following the Facebook model, D’Alebout says updates are introduced every month and a new feature, a profit monitoring tool, is being built. One of the recent technical issues was dealing with the large volumes of users, especially during 9am and 12pm when 1500 users access the application to check prices, he says. It took a month’s worth of programming to iron out.

So far Dalevest has received positive feedback from users. “The process in which they [farmers] make decisions has changed drastically,” says D’Alebout. Although many farmers aren’t open to working with technology, D’Alebout says Dalevest’s presence on social media has connected them directly with farmers already using technology.

The application is freely available for download from Apple IOS and Google Play Store for Android. Currently, most of the revenue is generated from advertising, says D’Alebout. Businesses have approached Dalevest to partner and incorporate ideas and products with the application.

Dalevest will be hosting the Grain Farmer of the Year competition, which will be launched on 1 October 2015. By incorporating the application, the farmer with the best yield and the Safex price the grain was hedged by will be awarded the winning prize of R500 000 in August 2016, and will receive a R500 000 prize.

By making the market more transparent to farmers, D’Alebout plans for Dalevest to be the “number one” information hub and communication channel for farmers. “I started this company with the idea in mind to help the farmers in South Africa… We definitely want to be a big force in the South African agricultural market,” he says.

this article was featured in Finweek magazine.

Cycling just got safer

Forty percent of cycling injuries occur when vehicles hit cyclists from behind. Unlike runners, cyclists travel along with traffic and are not always aware of vehicles approaching from the rear. For this reason, Stellenbosch-based software company iKubu designed the Varia Rear-view Bike Radar and Varia Smart Bike Lights.

iKubu was acquired by Garmin at the beginning of the year, and the tech giant will be launching these devices soon.

GUIDING LIGHT: The Varia Rear-view Bike Radar can detect vehicles approaching cyclists from behind and can alert both cyclists and motorists.  Photo: Provided

GUIDING LIGHT: The Varia Rear-view Bike Radar can detect vehicles approaching cyclists from behind and can alert both cyclists and motorists. Photo: Provided

The Rear View Bike Radar is a red tail light mounted onto the back of a bicycle and detects approaching vehicles from 140m away, explains Marc Bainbridge, fitness category manager at Garmin Southern Africa. It is used in conjunction with a radar display or head unit. The light flashes intensely and more brightly as a vehicle approaches and shows up to eight approaching vehicles on the radar display.

The light flashes intensely and more brightly as a vehicle approaches and shows up to eight approaching vehicles on the radar display.

The radar, which took three years to develop from initial concept to final product, can be used independently or with a range of compatible cycling computers by Garmin called Edge. It will display approaching vehicles (as a dot) on the side of a screen, which will move up the screen as a vehicle approaches the cyclist, explains Bainbridge. Alternatively the cyclist can use a head unit with a flashing light – the light flashes green when there is no danger and as soon as a vehicle is detected, the light flashes orange. When there is a greater risk, or a fast-approaching vehicle, the light flashes red.

The Varia Smart Bike Lights also contribute to safe cycling. Used in conjunction with Edge products, a tail light will illuminate when the cyclist brakes, much like a vehicle’s brake lights would. This is particularly useful when cyclists ride together as a group, warning them to slow down if the cyclist ahead of them brakes, Bainbridge says. By adding a second tail light, cyclists are able to use the lights as indicators for signalling left and right turns.

There is also an option for a headlight that projects over a greater distance for cyclists travelling at faster speeds. When the cyclist slows down, then less of the path is illuminated to see obstacles closer to them.

This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

Tips from a security expert

Frank Abagnale’s life as a conman and fraudster was depicted in the film Catch Me If You Can, but he has spent close to 40 years, since the age of 26, working for the FBI as a consultant to prevent fraudulent crimes. Crimes committed today are 5000 times easier to do than they were 50 years ago.

Online fraud, identity theft and cybercrime are rising and prevalent in 79% of surveyed organisations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Cybercrime costs the global economy more than $400bn (R5.1tr).

TOP SECURITY: Frank Abagnale has spent 40 years working with the FBI to prevent fraudulent crimes. Photo: Provided

TOP SECURITY: Frank Abagnale has spent 40 years working with the FBI to prevent fraudulent crimes. Photo: Provided

These criminals are not looking for a challenge, but rather an opportunity to attack the weakest link.  This is according to International expert on fraud, identity theft and securities, Frank Abagnale, who spoke at the Experian Insight Conference held on 4 August at the Maslow Hotel. Over the years he has seen crime evolve as cyber technology was introduced.

Every security breach in companies and government offices Abagnale has worked on in the past 20 years occurred because someone did not do what they were supposed to, he says. “I have not found the master hacker. There is no master hacker.” Human error by employees opens doors for hackers. For this reason, Abagnale stresses the importance of education to fight crime.

I have not found the master hacker. There is no master hacker.

Companies should educate their employees on the importance of their jobs and protecting the information entrusted to them. “They are smart enough to do something about it, but they need to know.” Abagnale works with Experian to develop solutions and educate corporate customers and employees about fraud prevention. Education allows people to be proactive, staying ahead of fraudsters.

One of the solutions developed by Abagnale and Experian is the 41st parameter technology. This is a device authentication technology for customers transacting online or electronically. Over 100 parameters are used during the verification process, this is beyond the 40 parameters initially developed to identify individuals 20 years ago. It provides the intelligence to identify and validate any device interacting online whether it is a laptop, tablet or mobile device. The technology also detects malware that may intercept transactions.

As an emerging market, South Africa is one of the most targeted economies in the world for internet fraud. Internet penetration is increasing, but consumer education on the risks of transacting online is not as rapid. Fraudsters recognise and take a line of least resistance, says Michelle Beetar, Managing Director at Experian South Africa. Identity theft costs the South Africa almost R1bn a year, reported by the South African Fraud Prevention Association (SAFPS). Additionally research indicates that three in ten respondents surveyed in 2014 had been a victim of card fraud.

Abagnale and Beetar advise on ways consumers can protect their information:

1. Be discerning about the information shared on social media

Individuals should be wiser about the information they share. Giving away your date of birth and the location of your birth on Facebook gives the fraudster 98% of the capability to steal your identity. Fraudsters can read the information and resell it or misuse it.

Individuals should take care not to use “passport-style” profile pictures of themselves as facial recognition technology makes it easy for fraudsters to find you online. Rather pose for a picture with friends, or in a sport activity, or have the picture taken at an angle.

2. Keep a shredder

It is useful to have a shredder to discard phone bills, credit card and bank statements or any documents with personal details. Additionally, never save passwords on electronic devices.

3. Use a credit monitoring service

Having personally used one since the 90s, Abagnale uses the service to make sure no one else has used his name to make purchases. Subscribing to a credit monitoring service allows you to check your data as often as you want, and if you identify a breach you can report it to authorities.  South Africans can view their credit reports for free, once a year. Individuals can also make use of an “alert” service, at a nominal fee, which will inform them via sms or email if something on their credit record has changed. You will immediately be aware if someone has tried to open an account in your name, or if someone is transacting in your name.

4. Do not write cheques

As often as you can, avoid writing cheques as they have personal details like your name, address, phone number and bank details. If a shop clerk has your identity number, it puts you at risk of identity theft

5. Protect your PC

Make sure your laptop or personal computer is equipped with firewalls and is protected with the most updated spyware or malware security. Security software comes at a nominal cost, but this is worth it relative to the cost of having your information stolen. Never click on hyperlinks, and always type out your bank or financial institution’s full web address or email.

Cybercrimes may be financial now, but the danger is that in the next five or 10 years, these crimes will evolve to terrorism and murders, says Abagnale. Currently, cybercriminals use stolen money to commit worse crimes like human trafficking, drug trafficking and child pornography. Technology breeds crime, he says. But technology can also be used to prevent crimes. “It is just a matter of doing the right thing and doing it ahead of time.”

This article was featured in Finweek magazine.