August 11, 2014

SAFARI in KENYA

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Years ago I saw the movie Born Free based on the true story of Joy and George Adamson.  The couple “adopted” an orphaned lion cub, named her Elsa, raised her lovingly, and when she was an adult released back into the wilderness of Kenya.   A year after disappearing, the lioness sauntered out of the bush, recognized Joy and literally embraced her.  

Elsa the Lioness embracing Joy upon their reunion

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would have the chance to see Elsa’s kindred basking in the most glorious of nature’s locale the Masai (or Maasai) Mara, Kenya’s globally famous game reserve.


Driving from Nairobi the capital we, foreign tourists from a number of tour agencies lumped together in one coaster, arrived in Masai Mara early afternoon to what looked like a welcoming group of Maasai women on one side and men on the other.  The men were lean, tall and valiant in stature.  The ladies, bare-shouldered and brightly frocked, profusely adorned with bracelets, doughnut-like necklaces, anklets, knee-lets, arm-lets, made of stone and glass beads in a prism of effusive primary and earth colors - it was a great photo op.  The ladies walked right to our van’s windows.  Your immediate reflex is to pull out your camera and click.  Then BANG.  The ladies pounded on the glass, and angrily demanded money with a scary scowl.  Lesson: don’t take pictures or videos until you get permission and made the terms clear, paying or not, through the tour guide.  Why did the tour guide not warn us?


Shortly after passing through the gate, we were treated to a sight of hundreds of gazelles.  Then the excitement built up to a crescendo – a family of giraffes, harems of zebras and too many to count wildebeests, water buffaloes and antelopes.  Relatively virgin, and abundant with kingdom animalia, the savanna was a changing canvas of life moving on a golden carpet of grass spotted with acacia trees.


We hit the jackpot the first day of the safari: Simba – Swahili for lion. Underneath a thorn tree, his female and cubs sleeping beside him, the male with a distinguish reddish mane turned his head upward and gave a head-swallowing yawn.  Soon several dusty vans with open top just like ours, filled with humans, encircled the pride.  A whir of cameras zooming in, and non-stop clicking crackled the East African air. 

That night, we settled in our camp inside a fenced-in compound.  Geared for a hundred, we were the only three guests – a young Danish couple and me.  The night sky was like a giant planetarium studded with stars.  Awakened several times by the heart-rending, near death like loud cries of a hyrax, I peed outside my tent on grass, too scared to walk to the pit house. 

Hyrax - surprisingly dimunitive for its ear-splitting yowl


Our dark grey canvas tents were not exactly like the ones pictured in Travel and Holiday magazine.  A two-inch thick yellowish foam on a camping cot, and clothes clumped into a makeshift pillow, I was snug.  After all, for US $55.00 a day everything inclusive (palatable food like rice and eggs, game drives, sleeping quarters), I did not expect the Ritz.  You can pop in the downtown offices of Nairobi’s several tour operators who are competing for the backpacker dollars.  This means you can get good backpacker safari deals - at least a quarter of what you have to pay online or with travel agencies back in North America.  The only difference with the ones that cater for the moneyed: luxury of accommodation, and china versus plastic plates.  Once there in the game reserve, it really does not matter.


Next day started early  - the hunt for a sight of the "Big Five": lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and Black Rhinoceros.  Our chase was not solitary.  With their ham radios, we overheard drivers of other tour vans chatter of a cheetah there, a leopard near a ridge, or hippos on the river.  Then off we go.

Wildebeests


July was migration season.  Thousands of wildebeests (actually an antelope) were doing their annual trek to where the water was.  Spectacular!  It was like “And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so.   And God saw that it was good.”




Our expert guide/driver, Joseph, drove us farther towards the Tanzania border, the Serengeti.  The Kenyan part of the Serengeti is known as Masai Mara.  We encountered packs of olive baboons, hippos and crocodiles sunbathing in the river, zebras, giraffes, elephants, secretaries (a big bird), and those pint-size warthogs.  They look like piglets with tusks. “Warthogs are yummy”, I was told by an Aussie I met in a souvenir shop within the park.  She had it in a restaurant in Malawi. 





A few miles away, under a shade, a pair of well-fed lions were lounging beside a perfectly disemboweled zebra carcass with its striped skin untouched still shaped by the zebra’s skeleton and looking fresh. 

Farther out in the plains, safely away from any beastly encounters, we stopped and stepped down on the ground for lunch.  Garbed in my “Out of Africa” outfit: khaki shorts, khaki shirt, khaki hat – the rest were white - from Marshall’s; US$15.00 mountain hiking boots from Payless (why pay more?); and $8.00 binoculars from Walgreens, I felt like Ernest Hemingway or Robert Redford, famous people who were in an African Safari.  Using the tailgate of the van as table, lunch was grubby slices of what tasted like South African biltong dried beef - Kenyan style, plums, bananas and bottled water. 

Ernest Hemingway in the Serengeti in 1933

The highlights of the day were a sighting of a cheetah on the prowl, and a large pride of lions, around ten.  The gait of the cheetah was that of a supremely confident being.  As the lions passed within yards of wildebeests, you would expect the bull-like animals to run scared.  You can tell the wildebeests were tense alright but several of them just stood and stared curiously at the disinterested wildcats.  The lions probably were tired of devouring an unlimited supply of wildebeests. 



The next two days: thousands of antelopes: topis, impalas, hartebeest, and the big cow-sized elands.  Hmm, I wondered how do they taste?  Very tall ostriches around seven foot high walked funny like someone in drag traipsing on hot coals.

As our four-wheeler maneuvered, surprisingly with ease, through the broad sweeping grasslands (there are no roads), I wondered why Africa was dubbed the Dark Continent.  Entirely the opposite. The landscape saturated with bright splendor is earth at its most pure. 



Visiting a village walled in by thorned acacia sticks, we were allowed to enter some of the mud-thatched 3 x 5 meter homes.  Bare and dirt floor, the villagers slept on hammocks.



We had more company in the camp our last night.  An American working in Nigeria who was a graduate of Harvard, two veterinarians from Australia who have been traveling for the past four months in southern Africa, a foursome from New Zealand playing cards and keeping to themselves, and a biracial couple in possession of a foot-long zoom lens.

Upon returning to Nairobi, my friends, working for the many international aid agencies in the city, took me for dinner at Carnivore – a restaurant that serves a buffet (eat all you can) wild game - US$ 40 a head, children half-price.  Grilled crocodile was succulent and flavorful.  The zebra – naah - bland.  The wildebeest, eland and water buffalo were akin to very lean beef.  The ostrich had the texture and taste of an old chicken.  No giraffe and warthog for tonight.  Now I know what lions relished after their kill.  As for the animal lovers out there, don’t be alarmed, these game served were farm-raised and the government has now banned exotic meats in the menu with the exception of crocodile and ostrich.


The iconic cylindrical national government building in Nairobi.

No zoo can ever substitute for the experience of the wild not even San Diego Zoo's Safari Park or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  I will not be eager to go to a zoo again.


P.S.

Thank God for those drugstore insect repellants.  Fourteen days after I got back in San Francisco California, I knew I escaped malaria.  For $3.00 a canister, I saved on those expensive $50 a shot pill and the side effects. 




August 2, 2014

Earthquakes in the Philippines

Are you thinking of buying a condominium unit in one of Manila's new gleaming high rises?

Before doing so, you must realize Manila is mostly sitting on historic layers of alluvial soil.  This means places along Manila Bay and parts along Laguna De Bay are highly prone to liquefaction.  Liquefaction comes from the word "liquid" - that is the ground soil behaves like liquid when shaken tremendously as in an earthquake.  Liquefaction causes a building to resonate and possibly collapse or bend over.

An earthquake fault line, the West Valley or Marikina Valley Fault runs north to south from Marikina to parts of Quezon City, Pasig City, parts of Makati and Taguig City, almost parallel to the C-5 circumferential road.  There were local media reports the fault is showing signs of waking up, watch: West Valley Fault.

Although building structural codes addressing earthquake tolerance in the Philippines are in place, the codes are said to be up to only magnitude 6.0.  The Ruby Tower in Binondo, Sta. Cruz, Manila collapsed in 1968 after magnitude 7.2 epicentered in Casiguran, Quezon province (now Aurora) 240 km northeast.  Furthermore who can tell whether government inspections are done diligently?

What if you have or bought a place already whether detached housing or in a condo tower?  You may consider a structural audit (contact the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines) and if necessary engage for a seismic retrofit.  It will cost you but it increases the chance of saving a life.


Some informative sites regarding earthquakes in the Philippines, click on hyperlink

The Philippines Earthquake History

Metro Manila | Liquefaction Hazard Map

Latest Philippine Earthquake Information
PHIVOLCS Earthquake Bulletins of latest seismic events in the Philippines are listed below. The event parameters (hypocenter, time and magnitude) are determined using incoming data from the Philippine National Seismic Network
Philippine Standard Time (PST)  is eight hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). (PST = UTC + 8H) UTC is the time standard for which the world regulates clocks and time.
Earthquakes in this list with their date and time underlined in blue have reported felt intensities. Intensity ratings are based on the PHIVOLCS Earthquake Intensity Scale

Earthquake: Metro Manila Braces For The Big One! (List of Buildings above or close to the West Valley/Marikina Valley Fault)
By Essential Green Environmental Solution world-wide blog

July 21, 2014

FOCUS GROUPS



If you watch Hollywood movies, then the ending you saw was most likely a result of choices made by a focus group. Originally, focus groups were used within communication studies to explore the effects of film and television. Group processes can help researchers determine and clarify participant views more easily than other research techniques. As a result, this strategy has been adapted far beyond Hollywood for use in many other businesses, including the publishing
industry.

What are focus groups?

A focus group is composed of up to a dozen people recruited from the target market segment. The moderator asks questions and leads the direction of discussion, often with a pre-planned discussion guide. She or he ensures that all group members contribute and avoids letting one participant's opinions
dominate.

To arrive at a reliable conclusion, you need at least three focus groups. Why three? If two groups contradict each other, the third will point out the mode.
The discussion guide will explore the group members’ opinions and attitudes towards a given subject. This can be a product, concept, advertisement, process, or any other subject of interest to your publishing house. In professional facilities, focus groups are usually recorded on audio and video machines through one-way mirrors. In my experience, the audio and video recordings often serve as back-up resources because the moderator and other observers will generate a report on the discussion. The implication here is that so long as there is a moderator, a transcriber, and observers, you can have a successful focus group under a banyan tree, in a classroom, or in a living room... without the use of technology and a research facility.

Focus groups are not just face-to-face. Telephone conferences and online groups present opportunities to talk as a group about a new product or service while eliminating inhibitions that exist in a personal setting. Of course, there are guidelines as to when to use these alternative group processes. The strength of the focus group methodology is in its probing. The researcher or facilitator can observe how the individual subconscious reveals itself and how group cultural variables affect individual decision making. However, the depth of the probing depends on the skills of the facilitator.

The moderator must be capable of developing rapport with the group and prompting a lively discussion that stays on track. An independent, impartial moderator is key. In looking for someone to lead the group, it is best to hire an external candidate to ensure objectivity. If internal, select an employee with a reputation as a good meeting leader.

The moderator should follow a standard focus group sequence. Steps to include:
  • An introduction by moderator of subject matter and ground rules.
  • Providing disclosures pertaining to confidentiality of opinions and audio/video recording and asking if there are any objections.
  • A self-introduction of group members.
  • A time to address the issues.
  • A wrap up. The moderator should thank the participants and tell them how the data will be processed.

There must be the utmost respect for the thoughts and concerns of the participants. Additional things to consider include provision of meals and transportation.

When to use focus groups?

Focus groups are a marketing tool. When the book market is stagnant or publishing initial financial outlays are huge, then there might be significant return on investment on focus groups. Focus groups do take time, effort and resources, so it is best to use them correctly. This methodology works well when the subject or message is sensory and requires vision, touch or smell. However, if your information is quantitative, complex or abstract, then it is best to use other types of surveys.

Focus groups are good for illustrated publications such as history books, children’s Sunday school materials, and cookbooks.

They are also helpful when applied to web sites, print, radio or television ads, and publication layouts. Focus groups also work well when group chatter and consultations may affect purchases. Examples of these include discussions on customer loyalty programs and sales promotions.

While research can be surprising at times, it can help you get on the right track. Focus groups can uncover new perspectives and sensitivities that your marketing staff might have easily missed. For example, Scribner tested two versions of a cover for Faye McDonald Smith’s Flight of the Blackbird before it was printed.

Surprisingly enough, the cover with a portrait of a family beat out a cover with a blackbird in flight in focus group sessions. Furthermore, peer consultation in focus groups can tell you how the important second and third purchase might be catalyzed or inhibited.

New York Times business writer Daniel Gross cautions that research indicates that most of the thoughts and feelings that influence human behavior occur in the unconscious mind.
"The primary function of focus groups is often to validate the sellers’ own beliefs about their product," he says. This can be avoided by using placebo products and presenting several types of messages, including contradictory statements.

Cultural variables

By its very nature as an assemblage, qualitative research from focus groups is more sensitive to cultural variables.

In Japan, where formal communication is the norm, focus group participants must first be recruited face-to-face. Then they receive a follow-up phone call. Finally, they are sent an informational e-mail. This process differs greatly from focus groups in the US where enlistment is largely done by phone.

Compared to people in the U.S., in many Asian countries people are somewhat reserved and tend to keep their opinions to themselves. The moderator has to be adept at encouraging participation and putting the members at ease. In such cases, the warm-up period is often longer.

In the U.S., focus groups are normally completed in two hours, but in France, the process may last up to four. European focus groups often prefer to dig deep into the underlying causes of behavior on a psychological level, and are often moderated by trained psychologists. In contrast, moderators in the U.S. tend to be communications professionals.

In Thailand and India, focus groups are separated by gender, age, and social class.

In the U.S., focus groups within the Hispanic population must take into account differences in the country of origin of the participants. A mixed group might come up with different results than a country-specific group.

Regardless of where you are holding your focus groups, take note of cultural variables that affect group interaction. Knowing that group dynamics differ from country to country means that it is best to hire a local moderator and recruiter.

Holding your own focus groups

A good gauge as to whether you should embark on a focus group methodology is to answer the following questions.  If you answer yes to at least two questions, then you might want to consider using focus groups.
  • Is my investment large enough on a publication that increased assurance of sales is necessary?
  • Will my new publication affect the reputation of the company and other sales?
  • Am I going into unknown territory? Examples might include e-books, tie-ins with radio ads, toys or local sports teams.
  • Is my product or service capable of being grasped or understood within 10 minutes? (e.g. book titles, front cover concepts, full color versus one or two colors, page proofs of the first chapter, table of contents, back cover concepts, graphics, and typeface.)
  • Would the sale of my product or service be influenced by advertising, promotions, presentations, or individual testimonials?
  • Do I need to see other angles, opinions, attitudes, and frameworks of understanding in order to come up with a better marketing plan?
  • Can I easily assemble a representative set of the target audience (e.g. trivia lovers, teachers, retailers, birthday gift buyers)?
  • Do I have the resources to afford focus groups?

There are many sources on the Web that will help your company organize your own focus groups. With a good moderator and recruiter, your company can perform the same job as that of a professional research company.