IJNET: Mentoring clinic for MENA media startups launched

Amman – VIJAY SHAH via IFCJ

 

The International Journalists’ Network (IJNet)’s Arabic division has launched a new service from its mentoring centre designed to help journalists in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region set up or further develop their media startups, the International Center for Journalists has reported.

The year-long programme, aimed at entrepreneurs developing the next generation of technologically-rich Arabic media, aims to help develop new startups in the regional news economy by providing face-to-face and virtual training which culminates in a conference and media ‘boot camp’ hosted in Jordan. IJNet Arabic is also offering a lump sum seed fund of USD 4,000 (GBP 3,002) to startups with the most promising projects to jumpstart.

IJNet’s Mentoring Centre has run for several years, boosting the presence of independent media and entrepreneurship in a part of the world where most major media outlets are tightly controlled government mouthpieces and freedom of speech is often a luxury. In previous years, the Centre has helped support the development of a digital museum for women in Egypt, an independent Iraqi news agency site and a Moroccan podcast service. 

The media startup mentoring service is accepting applications from journalists from or located in the MENA region up until the end of this month, with the first round of project selections scheduled for June, followed in November by the ARIJ conference and boot camp in Amman in Jordan. The seed funding will be awarded at the end of the programme in March 2019.

SOURCES:

HEM Journalism Portal, HEM News Agency, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind/lists/hem-journalism-portal

ICFJ, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/ICFJ

“IJNet Arabic’s Mentoring Center for MENA Media Startups” – International Center for Journalists https://www.icfj.org/our-work/ijnet-arabic%E2%80%99s-mentoring-center-mena-media-startups

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PAPERLESS POST: Experiencing a new breed of e-card

 

They say that life is full of surprises and great things. And, indeed, you’ve just run into a whole bunch of them. Your sister has just had a baby boy, your friend has got his wedding date finally confirmed and the tinpot dictator of a manager at the office you have had to force yourself to be rictus grin nice to is leaving for a new position. Card buying season is making its presence felt but that same life of surprises usually consists of working all the hours thrown your way while juggling gym, hobbies, family time and all that jazz. You haven’t bought a greeting card since Take That split and running from pillar (box) to post (office) to buy stamps and envelopes just seems, well, tedious.

Even if you manage to get time to go out and actually do some shopping around, you will inevitably find yourself either stuck at the supermarket looking for an off-the-shelf card with a generic printed message and a pen that hopefully will not run out of ink halfway through writing in the blasted thing, or you’re at a stuffy printer’s shop trying to haggle a discount on a thousand wedding invites to be delivered ASAP. Because you procrastinated. And procrastination is a thing. You really need something more instant and fuss-free.

 

So send an E-card they said, it’ll be novel, cute and quick as a flash they said. But aren’t e-cards a bit tacky and cheap-looking? Surely good old card and paper seems like, well, you are actually even slightly bothered about this momentous and life-changing special occasion. Not forgetting that actual invitations and cards you can hold in your hand, keep and read at your leisure has a great permanency and intimacy that a few hundred pixels on a screen just cannot achieve. Well think again.

While in days gone by, e-cards were the height of gawdy electro-kitsch with their eye-bruising colours, goofy Clipart images and cat memes galore, a company based in the design capital of New York made the very smart decision a few years back to drag the much-maligned e-greetings industry kicking and screaming to the drawing board for a makeover fit for the 2010s.

Paperless Post is an online company that offers a wide selection of online invitations, ‘save-the-dates’, greetings e-cards and flyers to suit every occasion. Their stated ambition is to produce customisable online stationery that enables customers to create well-designed and personal items for that extra-special touch.

With their contemporary and inspiring creations worthy of a design gallery, not to mention their cute pigeon logo harking back to the days of carrier pigeon post and Yankee Doodle cartoons on a  Saturday morning, Paperless Post have become well-established enough to have scored collaborations with leading designers and lifestyle brands in the U.S., including Kate Spade New York, Oscar de la Renta, Jonathan Adler, and Rifle Paper Co. The company has generated more than 85 million cards to date, both in virtual and printed format, so even traditionalists and people who simply don’t have a computer or an internet connection that ever moved past dial-up can still receive an invite or card via Paperless.

I was invited by Paperless Post to try out their services for myself and had a go making a greetings card for the Hindu festival of Diwali – one of my favourite occasions, which you can see at the beginning of this review. The first thing that struck me about their website was just how amazingly appealing it was to my ‘inner designer’ ‘s eyes. With heaps of prominent imagery framed in soft pastels on just the home page, the site alone could win a design award or two.

While many websites that invest heavily in aesthetics end up neglecting the basics of good navigation, Paperless Post strikes a happy balance between the two. All of the company’s categories of offerings, such as graduation, birthday and festivals, are in a clear, minimalist and straightforward menu up top, so no need to go on an Livingstonian expedition around the site to find what you are looking for.

Like pretty much every e-tailer, you first need to sign up and create an account. You can go for the usual option of registering via an email address, but for the social-media-savvy, you can also sign up via Facebook or Google accounts too. Once done, it’s just the small matter of choosing a design and stationery item. Paperless offers both pre-designed customisable templates and an ‘upload your own’ option that enables you to upload photos and create something truly personal.

I chose to create a Diwali card. I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of designs which were culturally appropriate as well as gorgeous. I selected the ‘Under the Toran’ design with its array of flowers in a garland suspended on a luxurious white heavy paper background.

 

Once you have chosen your preferred style, it’s time to customise. There is a lot of flexibility in the choices, and you can adapt nearly everything from the typeface, colour and size of the card text, to the background behind the card when it’s opened and the colour and feel of the cyber-envelope to put your card in. The attention to detail offered by Paperless Post is such that you can add a vintage letterpress effect to your text and add the finishing touches of a cute little stamp and postmark to the front of the envelope upon completion. There’s the possibility too of choosing the pattern you prefer for the inside of the envelope, which Paperless Post dubs the ‘liner’ – very posh!

I found the user interface intuitive and offering a lot of wiggle room, although manipulating the text for the inside of the card was quite fiddly at first, but I soon got the hang of it, aided by the fact I had some experience designing graphics online using third-party websites. Although you don’t have to be a design expert, some technological prowess is helpful, although those who really struggle can get guidance from the ‘Help’ page.

 

To move between different stages you can click the ‘next’ and ‘back’ arrows (as seen in the image above) or on the menu to the left. The menu is also where you can find the patterns you need and you can play around with different combinations of design to see what fits and what looks great before you finalise everything.

Once the card or invite is complete, you can type in the recipients’ names and emails, and save them into a handy ‘address book’ for future use. The site also offers the option of reviewing the finished product by sending a test copy to yourself, as well as an RSVP facility for your loved ones to respond with messages or other details. You can also track the progress of your item once it’s sent, and even see if it has been opened yet, so no more barely believable claims about ‘the invitation must have got lost in the post’.

Paperless Post uses its own in-house virtual currency, simply called coins, which you will need to purchase before using the site. Coins can be spent on design elements and mailing out to recipients and it’s said to cost less to send an e-card en masse to, say, a hundred people, than if you went out to the local printers and ordered a bulk lot. You also save a bundle on postage and stationery costs too. Prices are not immediately clear when you choose designs, but you can see how many coins you have in your account via your dashboard.

The website was quite clear and helpful in leading me on my journey from template to sent email, with a varied range of different contemporary designs and styles to choose from. I really liked the concept of a card without the paper (and paper cuts). It is a cool and personal touch, and ideal for the environmentally conscious and those who like the instant nature and realistic feel of sending a Paperless Post e-card. It’s also money-saving (as in not having to go out and buy a card, envelope, stamps and all that malarkey) so making Paperless Post ideal for much convenience and less headaches. The sort of inner peace that you just can’t obtain from running around trying to get cards printed and posted before the party plans go up in ink and smoke.

The card I designed was so realistic and detailed, right down to the texture of the ‘paper’, that I had to honestly remind myself not to try and peel it off my laptop screen. The animation of the envelope appearing onscreen and opening to reveal the card emerging is a nice little gesture too, another sign of the attention to detail Paperless Post is famous for.

I guess the supermarket card display won’t miss me too much now I can get my cards straight from a cute website and its little pigeon.

Paperless Post

paperlesspost.com

 

DISCLOSURE: The author was sponsored by the company mentioned in this review and received an incentive in order to fully utilise the product, but opinions and experiences mentioned in the post are the author’s own.

SOURCES:

Helen Chuchak, Anagram Interactive

Paperless Post.

 

 

 

AKTSIZNAYA MARKA: The online tax stamps collection of Andrey Vasiunin

If you live in a European, African, Asian or South American country, and are a smoker or know smokers, you may have noticed fancy little labels stuck onto the cigarette boxes or other tobacco products you encounter. Attached like a stamp on an envelope but with the ornate designs and security features of paper money, these little slips of intricacy are neither truly stamps or banknotes.

They are in fact cigarette and tobacco tax stamps, a method of collecting taxes by governments. While most countries and territories levy tax on goods such as tobacco and alcohol – the so-called ‘sin taxes’ due to the health implications of using these products – only some issue these special stamps which are attached to the packets by manufacturers in their factories. They are a really elaborate way of saying “Yes, I paid up the tax on my products”. Tax stamps also help tax officials and consumers distinguish the real deal from counterfeit, and often very dangerous, tobacco products. The stamps also act as a quality seal, positioned on the packaging in such a way that opening the box or pouch breaks apart the stamp, so a whole, undamaged stamp means a fresh and non-tampered pack of 20.

 

Most tax stamps are issued by national governments, who usually delegate the task of printing millions of stamps to their finance ministries or tax boards, depending on the administration. According to Professional Security Magazine Online, more than 140 billion tobacco and alcohol stamps are produced annually by more than 150 different national and state agencies. As tax agencies tackle an increasing tobacco smuggling and counterfeiting industry and the resulting need to safeguard tax revenues, they have made their stamps more and more complex, including hard-to-forge features such as holograms, machine-readable elements, UV and infra-red printing, complicated patterns and other security features. These attempts to thwart Ben and his cross-Channel smuggling band of chums flogging cheap ciggies at the local pub have had the added effect of making tax stamps more attractive as a collector’s item

Tax stamps have been around since the 19th century, but most people pay little attention to them. Nevertheless a community of collectors have grown around the humble and official-looking stickers, also known as banderoles or excise stamps. While nowhere near as popular as its cousin, postage stamp collecting, many have come to appreciate the hobby and of course, the beauty and collectible nature of these items. Indeed, early 20th century tax stamps from the United States’ Internal Revenue government body and 19th century European issues can fetch more than £5,000 on auction sites among dedicated hobbyists and investors in collectibles.

Andrey Vasiunin, a resident of Russia’s capital Moscow and the guitar and keyboard player of doom metal band Armaga, is probably the closest thing to a celebrity in the tax stamp collecting universe. A Korolev-born father of one who graduated in economics from the G.V. Plekhanov REA educational institute, Vasiunin caught the ‘collecting bug’ early on in his childhood, gathering up collections of badges, toys and wrappers in his school days. He even built up a fine dossier of the phrase “I love you” in various languages. Then in 2001, while lounging around on a fine and warm July summer’s day in his garden, smoking a cigarette, Vasiunin noticed the tax stamp perched nonchalantly on his smokes. His curiosity piqued, he admired the colourful patterns of the stamp’s design and became hooked. He peeled off the stamp and tucked it into his wallet.

It was this chance counter with a Russian ‘aktsiznaya marka’ or excise stamp, that would be the first step in Andrey Vasiunin’s ascendancy to become one of the leading lights of the hobby. He undertook a trip to the Czech Republic, where he encountered a different breed of tax stamp. Further intrigued, Vasiunin filched the Czech versions too, straight into his wallet. He then chanced upon Italian and French examples affixed to the pages of a friend’s notebook. Soon word of Vasiunin’s new and unorthodox hobby began to circulate among his friends, and tax stamps from across the globe started filling up his wallet. His addiction to tax stamps became so insatiable that he spent a day at a customs depot, going through cigarette packets being shipped in from the rest of Europe and removing their stamps for his collection.

As the Internet became established in Vasiunin’s home country, he decided to embrace the new technology, placing his stamp collection online for the world to see. In 2005, he created a website, akciza.narod.ru. Written bilingually in Russian and English and featuring scanned images of his prized specimens, Vasiunin’s one-stop tax stamp gallery on the Information Superhighway became the world’s first and currently only one of two such websites dedicated to tax stamps for tobacco and alcohol. Within a period of seven years, Vasiunin acquired nearly 600 stamps and cigarette seals from a hundred countries, many donated by good friends and fellow hobbyists who he met online.

In 2008, Andrey Vasiunin switched web service providers and unveiled a new and heavily upgraded site “Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey” with a more detailed look, customised header graphics and a bigger selection of images drawn from his collection, which now numbers more than 2,000 examples. With its distinctive vintage appearance and interactive gallery of Vasiunin’s collection, scanned in great detail and sorted by geographical region, countries and territories, the site has become a detailed window into this unknown hobby. According to Flag Counter, his e-collection has received more than 9,000 visits from over 6,000 visitors representing 175 countries. The highlight of the ‘Tax Stamps Collection’ is definitely its gallery, with stamps arranged as if though in a high-quality album, like the heavy-duty pricey ones you can find in stamp collector’s hobby outlets. Each image enlarges when clicked on, allowing you to appreciate the full beauty and detail of each of Vasiunin’s stamps. The issues for each territory are arranged in chronological order from oldest to newest. Fellow collectors can also arrange to swap and sell stamps to Andrey, with the website maintaining a guestbook for collectors to introduce themselves and interact with Andrey.

More recently, Vasiunin has branched out into social media, opening a Facebook version of his hit site – www.facebook.com/TaxStamps – where he showcases the latest additions to his collection. The Facebook page has already accrued a small community of nearly 200 fellow collectors.

You can visit Andrey Vasiunin’s site at www.tax-stamps.com

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:

“TAX STAMPS” – Andrey Vasiunin http://www.akciza.narod.ru/index2.html

“About Me” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey http://www.tax-stamps.com/about

“Collection” – Andrey Vasiunin, Tax Stamps Collection of Vasiunin Andrey http://www.tax-stamps.com/collection

Andrey Vasiunin’s Facebook profile.

Cigarette tax stamps collection, Andrey Vasiunin, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/TaxStamps/

Flag Counter http://flagcounter.com/

“Track and trace” – Professional Security Magazine Online (10 July 2017) http://www.professionalsecurity.co.uk/news/interviews/track-and-trace/

“Armaga” – Spirit of Metal http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/groupe-groupe-Armaga-l-en.html

WORKPLACE PENSIONS: Advice and information from the DWP

Since October 2012, all British workplaces have been required to offer a ‘workplace pension’ to all their permanent employees. The rule was first applied to large companies, but now all employers, even those run by one person with one staff member, must have pension provisions in place by law. Until then, employers varied wildly in their pensions packages or whether they even offered them.

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions, in collaboration with the Pensions Regulator have a useful website which aims to demystify the regulations surrounding compulsory pension schemes, a scheme known officially as ‘Automatic Enrollment’. As millions of people now have workplace pensions that both they and their employer pay into, the website explains to businesses how this will affect them, their businesses and their clients’ businesses.

Even if a company has only a single employee, that employee still needs to have a pension to help secure their staff’s income post-retirement. This includes cleaners, nannies, PAs and other personal care assistants. Employers are defined by the DWP as those who pay wages and deduct tax and National Insurance contributions from their salaries. If a company employs agency staff however, then responsibility for automatic enrolment lies with the agency, not the company using the workers. So far, around 79,000 employers have already signed up.

So far, 5.4 million employees have already been automatically enrolled, where they will see their pensions topped up by the employer and get these contributions paid into their pension pot tax free. The employee also benefits as this means they can start saving for retirement early. The earlier someone starts putting money aside for their later years, the better financial circumstances they will have when that time comes. Until AE was phased in, many employees had no pension plan put in place, which would have meant them relying on the basic State Pension. Many companies simply did not offer pensions, and many workers had not given any thought to what would happen once they no longer need to work. Employees who have retirement plans already in place or who do not plan to retire in the UK, for example, can opt out of the pension scheme if they wish. Under the scheme, employees can only be enrolled if they are not now with a pension, are aged between 22 and the ‘state pension age’ (65 for men and women currently) and work in Britain on a salary of £10,000 or more a year.

Using the catchy hashtag #DontIgnoreIt, the DWP and the Pensions Regulator are promoting the site with the help of a brightly coloured and furry mascot named Workie, a ‘larger-than-life’ character created to help remind employers of their pension responsibilities. The site also features a video starring millionaire businessman and panel member of the Dragon’s Den show Theo Paphitis, explaining the benefits of workplace pensions for employees.

The website is available at: www.workplacepensions.gov.uk

SOURCES:
“HEM Businesses” – The Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind/lists/hem-businesses
DWP, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/DWP
“Workplace Pensions” – Department for Work and Pensions and Pensions Regulator http://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/?utm_source=Social%20media&utm_medium=Twitter&utm_campaign=TPRAEE102015
“Employers” – Department for Work and Pensions and Pensions Regulator http://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/employer/
“Employees” – Department for Work and Pensions and Pensions Regulator http://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/employee/
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

DPADD: The new social network for online gamers

Vijay Shah (reporter/editor)

(c) Dpadd.com
(c) Dpadd.com

In an online world dominated by social media, there’s always a new niche to explore and cater for. We have Twitter for soundbites big and small, MySpace for artists famous and not-so-famous, Instagram for the budding and experienced photographers, and not forgetting Facebook, the indefatigable selfie mill of choice. However, despite the dominance of the big name social media companies, many audiences are not yet represented with social networks, including online gamers. 

A new online journal and social network designed especially for online gamers plans to change all that. Dpadd, recently set up in Vancouver, Canada by a “one-man startup” headed by Clayton Correia, promises to give gamer guys and girls a chance to share their love of the console and keyboard with like-minded people, while keeping the dialogue spam-free unlike some competitors. Correia is a design expert who has previously worked with various other startups and technology companies before moving on to his own venture.

The founder of Dpadd has a profile on the site. (c) Dpadd
The founder of Dpadd maintains a profile on the site. (c) Dpadd

Operating in a similar fashion to the popular online book club/sharing website Goodreads, Correia’s concept enables users to record every game they play, rate and review titles and manage a wishlist of games they want to play. Gamers can share updates with their friends and industry professionals, meaning that gamers can not only improve on their game skills, but potentially help input into the development of forthcoming titles. Dpadd also offers an all-in-one profile for gamers to manage their existing accounts like Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Steam and Twitch. 

Users can also keep track of important milestones, like high scores and trophies, giving good ammunition for some online boasting. There’s a 40,000-page games encyclopedia of both the latest releases and more established titles.

Dpadd opened its doors to the gaming fraternity on October 7 after seven months of development in beta stage, with tests carried out by an exclusive batch of invitees.

http://dpadd.com/

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a promotional piece. However the Half-Eaten Mind did not accept payment for writing this article.

All information and images courtesy of Clayton Correia at Dpadd.com, Vancouver BC, Canada.

ANJALI’S PICS 2: More family photos from the Princess of piZap

By Vijay Shah

On March 17, the Half-Eaten Mind played host to a selection of family portraits and fun images made by my youngest sister Anjali (with one produced by younger brother Arjun on his phone using an app he has unfortunately forgotten the name of). She built up these works of art using the photo effects/editing suite piZap (pronounced ‘PIE-zap’) which can be found at this link –  piZap.

piZap is an online photo editor and collage maker with more than 7.1 million likes on the social network Facebook. With piZap you simply upload a photo and using a range of templates, filters and decorative graphics, you can make your own fun collages and jazzed-up photos to display or share with family and friends. It attracts thousands of users a day and is headquartered in Los Gatos, not far from the ‘Silicon Valley’ region of California, home to many cutting-edge technology start-ups.

Anjali has very kindly emailled me another three images, two which would look smashing in a special piZap family album, and one very limited edition collage made as a special commission of sisterly love for me and the blog, as we head towards the Easter weekend here in England. All will be revealed below:

(c) Anjali Shah / piZap
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap

PHOTO ONE: Entitled “Family Collage 7” this picture is one of Anjali’s trademark family photo collages showing our coming together as a family unit and the love and kinship that binds us and not just through blood. It is also a colourful and meaningful method of Anjali using her creativity to show her love for all of us. I am really touched by this. I think Mum would have loved getting a framed glossy printout of this picture for Mother’s Day that just went past. The photo content is so wildly varied in terms of backgrounds of the component portraits and the different kinds of stick-on hearts Anjali has included. The sheer diversity of it all is so overawing and involving to me. I love the proverb in the top right hand corner….”No Gift to your Mother can ever equal her gift to You – Life!!”. A very humbling and truthful quote.

Shaniya,Soraya & Anjali
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap

PHOTO TWO: This jazzy picture full of neon and tinsel has been entitled “Shaniya, Soraya & Anjali“. It pays homage to three of the craziest girls in my family (I kid!!). Shaniya is my niece (my other sister’s daughter). She is famous for having a cute little face that has launched a thousand expressions and an adorable, intelligent personality to match…and she’s only three years old. Trying to squeeze her way in in the middle is my cousin Soraya who is also a piZap fan. On the right is the legendary photo master herself. I am really feeling the party vibe with this picture. Anjali has used a filter with the image which makes them look either like a) ghosts b) they were doused in flour, or c) the photo was developed on rice paper. But I am not making fun. Oh no!. For me also it has to be said that this filter makes them look like little angels bathed in the glow of some heavenly light. That is until you look a little closer and see the cheeky faces they are pulling. It is never a dull moment in the Shah/Bachell/Maghoo household and family.

(c) Anjali Shah / piZap. Republication copyright solely under the Half-Eaten Mind & Vijay Shah.
(c) Anjali Shah / piZap. Republication copyright solely under the Half-Eaten Mind & Vijay Shah.

PHOTO THREE: A complete change of subject here. Hell, not even a change, but a complete shift into an alternate dimension. One where the sun always shines, spring is definitely sprung, the grass is perennially green and the eggs are not made of cheap chocolate fortified with maize starch and dioxins. This special edition emission of Le Studio Photographique du Mlle. Anjali (cue haughty Gallic laugh) is titled “Vijay Easter Pzap” (sic). My sister made this completely as a surprise for me to commemorate Easter and I assume as a thank you gift for the previous photo article I penned for her. She was really chuffed and pleased with it and I was just as happy to put a smile on her face. She even read that article three times. That’s love. That’s family.

This commissioned piece just screams cute. Looking back into Easters long gone past from my childhood, this picture reminds me of the beautifully designed and child friendly packaging you get with certain Cadbury’s Easter eggs that are marketed in the run up to the holidays for a good month now (the shops start flogging off festival stuff really early here!). Just like the Easter bunny with her basket full of different patterned treats, my mind, as half-eaten as it is, is always full of ideas of what to write in this blog. Well, 70% of the time anyway. It is a crazy place sometimes up there in that brain of mine and the emoticons sound that little fact out nicely. I was so impressed with this image, it is now the cover photo for the Half-Eaten Mind Facebook page.

Returning to the piZap site, I have mulled over creating some of my own interpretations of family and other general pictures  – redefining them with the help of piZap’s many filters, stock images etc etc. Anjali even gave me a quick crash course in the software’s features. Hopefully during my time off this weekend, I might just give it a spin and publish the results here. You have been warned!!

To see Anjali’s earlier work, why not acquaint yourself with the article below:

ANJALI’S PICS: Family photo showcase

The Half-Eaten Mind wishes all of its readers and supporters a very Happy Easter.

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