Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Things I learned about QuickBooks

Computer services, Lagos, NigeriaMy PC finally gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. It had worked smoothly for four years, I figured it was a pretty good innings. And I was prepared. Everything was backed up. So I bought a new PC with Windows Vista and began the task of installing all my old software. It was a rather tedious and lengthy process, but I managed. Until I tried to install QuickBooks.

My version of QuickBooks wasn’t compatible with Vista. I called the local support number and was informed that there is no upgrade available, I’d have to buy the full program again. Cost: R1000

I decided to see if I could purchase & download the software online. The South African site doesn’t offer a download option, so I started making enquiries on Twitter. I found out that there are a whole host of online applications that look really good and at reasonable prices (some even have basic versions for free).

This didn’t solve my problem of how to access my old files though, so I investigated further. Then I discovered that QuickBooks is available as an online version. There is a free version, a “basic” at $9.95 per month and a “plus” version at $34.95 per month. The basic looked fine for my needs, until I noticed that it doesn’t allow one to import data from the desktop version. $34.95 a month was too much for me so I continued my search.

I was then alerted to the fact (via Twitter once more) that there is a free version of QuickBooks available called “SimpleStart”. Its free to download from the U.S. In South Africa it costs R1000, remember?

I went for the free version of course! It was an enormous 320MB download. Once downloaded I installed it without a hitch. Then I tried to restore my backed-up files from the old version of “SimpleStart” (Which I had paid R1000 for a few years ago) I got the message “This file was not created with the U.S. version of QuickBooks” and it refused to open the files. A few minutes on Google told me that others had experience similar issues with non-U.S. versions of QuickBooks.

So I’m still not sure how to resolve this issue, but will probably end up doing the following:

  1. Pay R1000 for the South African version of QuickBooks SimpleStart.
  2. Access my old data (which hopefully it will allow me to do).
  3. Print out all the information I need (invoices, clients etc)
  4. Open an account with an online service such as Freshbooks
  5. Manually enter all the data into Freshbooks
  6. Uninstall QuickBooks, and throw away or burn the disks


The lesson I learned: Where possible I’ll use online applications. Gmail has lead the way for me. If my PC crashes, all my contacts are still available online and I can access them from anywhere. No conflicts with new operating systems.

Now back to the task of retrieving my accounts…


My Twitter stream

Monday, May 25, 2009

The soul of retail?

Lekkersing SupermaketA recent lunch at a new restaurant in the trendy Melrose Arch centre in Johannesburg got me thinking. The food was good, the decor tasteful & the setting rather pleasant. It overlooked a brand new piazza and was flanked by other restaurants equally modern, each with its own particular theme and style. Yet there was something lacking. I tried to pinpoint the problem, which lead me back to my teenage years…(cue “flashback” music)

My first job was at Hillbrow Records. I had to write an exam to get the position. It was a music quiz with questions like “Name the members of the Beatles & the instruments they played” and “Who composed Pictures at an Exhibition?”. I must have passed, because I got the job. For me it was heaven. I’d spent so many hours browsing, and blown all of my pocket money in that store, that it felt only right that I should work there.

Records were still the thing then. CDs had just been introduced, but only a few wealthy music lovers could afford them. The shop had row upon row of wooden record bins which contained everything from the latest hits to the most obscure bands.

My favourite part of the store was right at the back: The sale bins.There was nothing better in the world than to go into Hillbrow Records, with its tattered carpets, bad lighting and surly staff, and rummage through dusty records in those bargain bins. When you found a gem (and you almost always found something interesting) you felt like an archaeologist who has discovered the the holy grail. It was a sense of achievement. You’d found something amazing, that others had overlooked through their ignorance and sloppy  sleuth work.

The staff at Hillbrow records were an interesting bunch of scraggly punks, hippies, varsity students,musicians and other oddities. But they had one thing in common: They were music fanatics. They ate, drank (quite a bit actually) and breathed music. There were no computers, but they knew what was in stock and where to find it. They also knew albums related to the one you were looking for. And bands you’d never heard of that played the same genre. Better.

Hillbrow Records had no theme. No interior designer had put their artistic flair into its decor, no catchy slogans, no glossy posters and no fake smiles. But it was a place that lured you in, and kept you there for hours. Hillbrow Records earned the right to be great, because it paid its dues and developed an identity and a soul.

A local CD chainIn those days there were very few franchises. Hillbrow had an array of interesting coffee shops, delis, bakeries and restaurants, each with its own unique character, usually thrust upon it by a proud and dedicated (and often rather quirky) business owner. There was Carlo’s with old black & white photos of Joburg, bodybuilders and movie stars lining the walls.  Cafe de Paris, Cafe Vien, Three Sisters.. Mini Cine used to show cult movies. All these little dives had something.

And the came the shopping malls. Generic. Tiled. The same shops. The same food. The same music. The same movies. These malls are full of trendy, shiny new restaurants all designed with one intention: To replicate. And perhaps the problem is one of intent.  Do you open a shop or a restaurant because you want to get rich and take over the world, make your brand a household name? Or do you do it because you have a passion? A passion for people, music, cooking, fashion…

The thing is, these franchises are usually good.The service, the food, the decor and the goddamned theme have to be good or else they won’t make money. But good is not good enough for me. I want real, not contrived. I don’t want to walk into a store that plays Ella Fitzgerald because some advertising exec sitting in an office miles away has decided that Ella fits the style of the store. I don’t want to walk into a place that feels like a product of market research.

Piccolo Prima Donna

Fortunately there are places in Jozi that still have soul, if you know where to look. Here are a few of my favourites (in my neighbourhood). Feel free to add to the list.

1. Zahava’s, (Norwood) My favourite breakfast spot. The feel is rather bohemian, the food Israeli/Mediterranean.The coffee is damn good. There is a lovely outside area and they often have live music on a Sunday – usually quiet jazz or blues & folk. When I was looking for a link to the restaurant I came across this post on Hello Peter it sums up the place beautifully!

2. The Radium Beerhall (Orange Grove) The oldest surviving pub in Johannesburg, this place just oozes character. Customers range from young to old and represent a complete mix of society. They make great Portuguese style pub food and also do a fine pizza. Live music a few nights a week.

3. Hi Fidelity (Killarney Mall) This CD/DVD store happens to be in a mall, but it still passes the test. They have a fantastic selection of CDs & DVDs and the staff are knowledgeable (They know who Emir Kusturica is for a start!)

4. Chapter 1 Books (Norwood) A great little 2nd hand book store. They also have a good selection of 1st editions and Africana

5. Piccolo Prima Donna (Norwood) I’ve been supporting this place for years. The food is consistently good. Italian, with a difference. It is warm, cosy and relaxed.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Visiting a school in Albert Street

Today my music partner Erika Strydom and I visited  Albert Street School in central Johannesburg. We were there to perform our children’s show “Stories from the Alphabet Tree”, based on our CD “The African Alphabet”

The school is housed in a dilapidated old Methodist church building and the headmaster told me they have around 500 students. Most of the kids are Zimbabwean refugees, many are here without parents.

Three classes are taught at the same time in the gallery of the church. This means that the teachers have to shout to be heard.

The place is old,overcrowded, yet spotlessly clean.

 The few papers lying around were being cleaned up by a young girl (out of view)

"Miss Beanie" (My sister in law is doing her teaching prac there)

The teachers all work here on a voluntary basis. Most are highly educated Zimbabwean refugees themselves.

One of the teachers (and me)

Erika tells the story of "The crocodile & the dung beetle"

Food is supplied by the Salvation army.

Most of the kids live in the Methodist church around the corner, along with over 2000 adults

They have been largely ignored by the South African government.

The kids are delightful, beautiful, inquisitive, intelligent, loving…


They deserve better than this.


Some links:

More of my photos of the school