Thursday, February 27, 2014

Surrealistic Serenity

It was Salvador Dali, who experimented with optical possibilities within his Surrealistic frames. That legacy became very popular towards the end of the first half of twentieth century as new groundbreaking findings in the field of psychology were giving strength to the individual and individuality contrary to the everlasting concept of universal reality and mass understanding.

In the field of painting, 'How to Paint' was replacing 'What to Paint' and the humanistic factor that sprouted out in the Renaissance, got ripe in the 18th century, and it forced the 20th-century art to be more individual, more personal and more emotional. At one end the art was getting distorted due to the forceful expression of expressionism and at the other end, it was getting twisted and twitched under the non-corporeal ambiance of surrealism.

Pakistan has been a crucible of diverse cultures. It absorbed different tastes of various art movements and painting styles. One can find traces of Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism at the same time while the Eastern tradition of Miniature Painting and Calligraphic Art is also alive in the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.

Western influences on the Pakistani Art have been due to many factors, Colonialization of South Asia is a core reason of it. Moreover, the academic or institutional art in Pakistan was impossible without the industrious efforts of mentors like Anna Molka Ahmad and Shakir Ali. Since both academic masters of art were taught and trained in the west, they sowed and watered the fragile plant of academic art in Pakistan which, ultimately got riveted by the western art style and movements.

Zarah David is an artist who has this honour of being there at the Fine Arts Department of the Punjab University when Pakistani Art was in its infancy. Zarah has seen Pakistani Art getting young and mature with every passing year of her age up to the prime level.

Zarah is a witness to the development of Landscape Painting in Pakistan that grew with the maestro, Khalid Iqbal while at the same time; she has seen her mother Anna Molka amalgamating her expressionistic technique with indigenous subject matter. She was there when Collin David was exploring the figurative excellence after his academic training, and she was there when Pakistani Art was getting its earliest shape.
Zarah, in an interview has expressed that experience in these words, "Colour has always played a very important part in my life and work. I was surrounded by such different personalities... my mother with her vibrant, strong colours and forceful technique of painting... my teachers like Khalid Iqbal, Colin David and Naseem Qazi, who had a more restrained palette... then I, myself, working for over 20 years as a colour consultant surrounded with colours."

Zarah David has been applying colours that seem to unfold the delicacy of a true female painter. Her palette corresponds to a sense of ultimate tranquility in her frames which, capture the onlooker with a fairytale like ambiance. Zarah's paintings convey the feelings of a fore long journey of human soul and thoughts to the inexplicable shores where existence and extinction embrace each other.
"I paint from the imagination, and my strong belief is that whatever is in your heart is visible in your work, whether it is in the form of painting, poetry or music. They are all related to one another. You cannot divide them into compartments."

In her recent show at the Ocean Art Gallery, Zarah has displayed an array of vibrant canvases. We can see the synthesis of orange, red, green and blue, evaporating out and across the limits of the frames. These paintings remind us of the great tradition of Landscape painting that Khalid Iqbal founded at the Fine Arts department of the University of the Punjab. They also make us think of the impressionistic influences that Zubeda Javed explored through her deep colours. They also stir our memory to recall Colin David with his surrealistic ambiance around his masterly crafted figures.

However, among all these greats, Zarah is standing tall with her own evolved style that has shades of these maestros but with its own taste and character.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Kazakhstan: In the Land of the Steppe

Where is Kazakhstan? This is a question many people will find themselves pondering upon hearing the name of this vast, but somewhat obscure country.

The answer to this and other questions are addressed in the following article.

Like many countries once part of the former Soviet Union, a detailed knowledge of Kazakhstan is often lacking with many people having only a vague notion of its general location and other basic facts. As strange as it may seem, it is likely that many people's only introduction to Kazakhstan has come from watching the movie Borat and even then possibly thinking it was the name of a fictitious country! Jokes aside, Kazakhstan is undoubtedly deserving of greater recognition as a country well worth visiting.

Stretching from the Caspian Sea in the West to the border with China in the East and spanning over 1,500km from North to South at its widest point, the Republic of Kazakhstan is the ninth largest and largest landlocked country in the world and is roughly equivalent to the size of the four largest U.S. states of Alaska, Texas, California and Montana combined. Although by far the largest of the Central Asian nations in area, with a population of only 16.6 million Kazakhstan is sparsely populated and the wide open spaces and general sense of remoteness are one of the defining characteristics of the country.

The geography of Kazakhstan is dominated by the Eurasian Steppe: an expanse of grassy, and in places, semi-arid plain extending across huge tracts of land from Mongolia in the East and as far as Hungary in the West. In the Far East and South East, Kazakhstan's borders are ringed by the towering peaks of the Altay and Tien Shan mountain ranges among which feature some of the highest mountains in the world. In the South, the grasslands of the steppe gradually give way to an increasing arid landscape with the driest regions forming part of the Kyzl-kum desert. Three large bodies of water also feature prominently in the geography of Kazakhstan. To the West lies the largest of these-the Caspian Sea, the Northern and North Eastern shores of which mark part of Kazakhstan's Western territorial limits. Further to the East (while also not wholly located within the borders of Kazakhstan) is the Aral Sea which is the unfortunate scene of an environmental disaster of epic proportions, and it is now sadly reduced to a fraction of its former size due to much of its inflow having been diverted for irrigation purposes. Lastly, Lake Balkhash is the largest lake lying wholly within the borders of Kazakhstan and is located in the South East of the country.

Kazakhstan supports a sizeable agricultural sector and its exports of wheat, in particular, constitute a significant share of global production. However, in terms of GDP, energy in the form of exploitation of the country's petroleum and natural gas reserves is now the single most important economic activity and has been largely responsible for the Kazakhstan's rise to relative prosperity over most of the past decade or more. While many economic and financial reforms were undertaken in the years since Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, political reform has lagged far behind and the country has consistently scored low on almost every measure of freedom and human rights.

As with a number of other countries in the region, the fabled Silk Road played an instrumental role in the early history of what is now Kazakhstan bringing with it not just goods but contact with new ideas, cultures and religions. The Silk Road was an overland trade route that for hundreds of years was a conduit, allowing for the exchange of goods and in particular silk, between China and the West. Following the "road" West from China it, at various points, branches off in different directions; however, the various routes then converge in Central Asia, hence the close identification of the countries of that region with the Silk Road.

Traditionally, Kazakhstan was home to a nomadic herding culture of Turkic origin whose tribes came under the sway of the Mongol Empire in the 13th Century and then its successor, the Golden Horde leading eventually to the founding of the Kazakh Khanate. Prior to these events, from about the 8th Century onwards the influence of Islam began to be felt in the region and it remains the religion of the majority of Kazakhstan's population today. During the mid 19th Century with the expansion of the Russian Empire, the Kazakh's once again fell under the dominion of a foreign power and subsequently became part of the Soviet Union as the Kazakh SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic), finally gaining independence again with the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The legacy of Russian/Soviet dominance in Kazakhstan can be seen in the large number of people of Russian descent and the widespread use of Russian even among those of Kazakh ethnicity. Besides Russians, there are significant populations of other ethnic minorities such as Ukrainians, Tatars, Belarusians, Uzbeks and Germans. This ethnic diversity is also a consequence of the Soviet era when Kazakhstan received large numbers of deportees from other parts of the Soviet Union.

While once a predominantly nomadic and pastoral society based on the raising of livestock such as sheep, horses and camels; a growing majority of Kazakhstan's citizens now reside in urban centers living a typically modern, and to varying degrees, Western-influenced lifestyle. This is especially true of the younger generations. However, recent years have seen a revival in interest and renewed pride in traditional Kazakh culture, one consequence of which is reflected in the increase in the number of people learning to speak the Kazakh language.

The most populous and cosmopolitan city in Kazakhstan is Almaty located close to the border with Kyrgyzstan in a mountainous area in the South East. It is also the financial and cultural center of Kazakhstan and was the capital city until 1997 when it was moved to Astana on the Kazakh Steppe in the North-Central part of the country. Astana's dubious claim to fame is that it is officially the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia with an average mid-winter minimum temperature of -18 degrees Celsius! Other important provincial centers include Karaganda-notable for its large ethnic German population, and Shymkent; capital of South Kazakhstan province.

While Kazakhstan might not be everyone's idea of a holiday destination it has much to offer the adventurous traveler. Visitors will be rewarded with an opportunity to experience for themselves a part of the world few other people get to experience, a part of the world rich in cultural and historical significance. However, for many travelers it is the landscape of Kazakhstan which leaves the most lasting impression, from the stark beauty of the seemingly endless steppe to the grandeur of its mountains. These features have not only given shape to the physical landscape but are also powerful symbols which have shaped the consciousness of the Kazakh people over millennia.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Another Kind of Energy or ComPost-Modernism

PERMACULTURE HAS ITS GENESIS in the visionary work of J. Russell Smith, J. Sholto Douglas, Robert Hart, and others less well known, who, two generations ago and more, realized the urgency of transforming the basis of agricul­ture through the use of trees and other perennial crops. They saw the progressive devastation of land that followed the plow and knew that only by integrating forestry and farming could man's impact on the Earth be tempered and hope for humanity's future be secured into the next century.

Following the revelations of ecologist H. T. Odum (I) on the problem of energy, a third leg was added to this vital synthesis as David Holmgren so trenchantly expounds in his essay Energy and Permaculture (2). It was for Holmgren, a young student of design at Hobart. Tasmania, and his unlikely mentor, Bill Mollison a bushman turned university professor, to set forth a systematic and practical approach to implementing these new understandings. Permaculture emphasized redesign of the domestic landscape or self-reliance, building the genius of the local and the individual into this triune and revolutionary shift.

Though widely accepted by both traditional and post-modern peoples around the world, permaculture has been largely ignored by governments and institutions, to which its essential message is anathema. The vacuum of official support has obscured the scope and extent of this revolution in man's relation to the land. It is important therefore, for those of us promoting permaculture concepts and systems to realize that the elaboration of the permaculture design system, though original to Holmgren and Mollison, was neither isolated nor unique, but contemporary with a range of parallel creative work in other western countries.

Rummaging my bookshelf for inspiration on energy in preparation for this issue, I came across evidence for a similar ideation in a slender thesis by Ida and Jean Pain, Another Kind of Garden. First published in 1973 and in a fifth edition by 1979, this little book documents the work and methods of M. Pain with brushwood compost.

A Little-Known Visionary

Pain was a citizen scientist in Occitania, that fabled and historic region in the south of France, whose political fate has long been submerged within the French state, but whose spirit is still restive. Contemporary with Bill Mollison. Pain was concerned with the devastation of the Mediterranean forest by fire, a terminal process of dehumification of soils that began thousands of years ago with the introduction of grazing animals and cereal cropping. He experimented with the production of compost from brushwood thinnings of the garrigue, France's sclerophyllic (dry loving) southern forest. By progressive applications of this compost and careful mulching to retain moisture, Pain demonstrated and recorded in great detail that high quality vegetables could be grown without irrigation in these dry soils. He further speculated that the forest itself could he regenerated by selective use of the same material.

What sets Jean Pain apart from Sir Albert Howard or other advocates of compost for gardening are two important elements, First. Pain placed the source of humic material in the forest and not in agriculture. In this way Pain pointed to a way of making productive the vast scrubland and dry forest regions of the sub-temperate and sub-tropic regions, areas of the planet blessed by abundant sunshine and long occupied by humans, but whose soils were exhausted before the modern age. Second, motivated by a profoundly post-modern understanding of global resource limits, he concerned himself with the production of industrially useful energy from this basic earth resource. In this way he offers a bridge between traditional livelihoods based in shifting cultiva­tion or nomadic herding, and a more modern, prosperous, and settled way of life. He also shows westerners a way out of the dilemma of dependence on fossil fuels.

Why then have we not a better knowledge of this important man and his work? The answers are several and should surprise us little. Jean Pain worked independently in a rural region. He was affiliated with no university or government. Though French is a world language, it is no longer the leading tongue of science and has been eclipsed by English as the lingua franca of cultural innovation. Pain's small, didactic volume was self-published, and its translation into English was awkward, the text difficult to read. Though Pain networked with other researchers in francophone Europe and in California, the extent of his outreach appears to have been limited. He was essentially an agronomic scientist and inventor, without the personality which might have enabled him to publicize and propagate his ideas. And, more broadly, his creative work, like so much innovation in energy technology, was marginalized by the worldwide conservative reaction of the l980's which sought to deny the implica­tions of the oil shocks of the previous decade.

Let's look at Jean Pain's methods and try to assess what sort of legacy he has left us as we enter the 21st century.

Pain lived in Provence and realized the limitations of what Alan Savory (3) has called "brittle environments," those charac­terized by extended seasonal drought. Absent herds of large animals to process the biomass into a form available to soil organisms, organic matter tended to cycle more often through fire than through earth, exaggerating the loss of carbon from soils already depleted and subject to high temperatures for much of the year. While Savory, and his intellectual predecessor Frenchman Andre Voisin, emphasized intensive grazing by herd animals, Pain faced a dry mountainous landscape where resinous plants were dominant. Unsuitable for most grazing animals, the brush-wood, which amounted to as much as 50 ton / hectare (20 ton / acre) was a huge reservoir of volatile fuel for an ever-increasing number of human-caused fires scourging the Mediterranean littoral (seashore).

A modern Prometheus, Pain sought to domesticate this demon for human use. His studies had revealed the essential mystery of humus and its role in soil fertility. The creation of long-chain carbon molecules by a biological alchemy made soils and the environments based on them, more supple, better capable of holding magic substance could be "cultured" by providing supportive conditions for bacteria and fungi to digest plant material: ample mois­ture, controlled atmosphere and temperature and the continuous diffusion of oxygen into the mass were sufficient.

But though the raw material was abundant in the Provencal forests, its collection required chainsaws and motorized transport, and its processing required grinding to increase the surface area and hasten break­down. Collection and grinding required industrial fuels and machinery, albeit simple: trucks, tractors, power saws. How then to close this economic and energy loop? By capturing energy from the composting process.

Alternate Energy Paths

Jean Pain articulates two basic biochemistries: a familar one, that in the presence of oxygen, cellulose and lignins in woody material break down (or build up) to humus; and one less familiar, that suspended in water, anaerobically, and held at 36°C (97°F) the same woody material will support bacteria that produce methane gas. (Only slightly different processes are required to yield wood alcohol, yet a third useful substance.)

Methane--natural gas--is an industrial fuel. It can provide combustion energy for cooking and space heating, but it can also run motors. Convenience in transport and for vehicle use dictates compressing the gas, but this too is possible with methane-generated electricity and simple compressors. The nimble French inventor set out to link all these processes by the necessary technical elements.

Since his first aim was the rejuvenation of the soil, Pain devoted himself first to the perfection of the compost pile. Manual preparation of the material required that it be selected from small branches (less than 8mm thickness) and leafy matter. The presence of chlorophyll (and we know also enzymes and other nutritive substances) enhanced decomposition to humus (4). In the case of industrialized composting a smaller thickness was desired (less than 1mm), with long thin fibers preferable to short thick pieces. He reports that machinery that shaves rather than chips the branches and limbs is preferred.

Obviously, powerful machinery is required to macerate small tree trunks and limbs, and Pain spent considerable attention developing prototypes. One of these, a tractor-driven model, was awarded fourth prize in the 1978 Grenoble Agricultural Fair. The brushwood shavings must then be saturated with water. A cubic meter of woody material will absorb up to 700 liters of water over three days if continuously moistened. Mindful of conserving this precious resource, Pain dug trenches before building his piles in order to drain away excess water which he then pumped hack into the process. A large heap (75 cubic meters, about 50 tons) of this material could be obtained from a hectare of careful forest thinnings (35-40 tons). This would both improve the health of the forest while providing humic manure sufficient to one hectare of cereal cultivation.

Compost piles properly made, of course, heat up. Reaching 60°C (140°F), a heap of this volume would ferment for up to 18 months and provide (through a simple plastic coil embedded in the pile) heated water for domestic use throughout the run of the reaction. Pain reports that he heated his five--room house of 1000 square feet (100 m2) and provided hot water (at a rate of 4 liters! minute) for its occupants from a 50 ton pile for six months, but that a 12 ton pile maintained that output for a full 18 months.

After testing horizontal and vertical coils. Pain concluded that a circular coil or series of concentric circular coils was the best design for extracting heat from a compost consistent with ease of constructing and deconstructing the pile.

Jean Pain continued to refine his technologies. The shredder he devised was later fitted with a recirculating chute for ease of handling the brushwood shavings while obtaining the fineness required. Having proven the utility of heating water (and spaces) with brushwood compost, he experimented with heating air for greenhouses.

And to make a completely honest farmer of himself, Jean Pain insisted on meeting the energy requirements of his harvest and processing machinery, so he turned his attention to the production of gas by methanogenesis. Referring to the work of Ducellier, Isman, John Fry, Sauze, and others, Pain touches only lightly on the technical aspects of gas generation, preferring to report his findings relative to the brushwood source material. Five kilograms of finely shredded brushwood compost yield about 1 cubic meter of methane--about 5,500 kcaI--equivalent to about half a liter of high-grade petrol in energy content. The gas generated by the fermentation of brush-wood requires a simple filtration--which he does not explain but which is presumably referenced in the literature--before it can be compressed and applied to motorized transport (a simple carburetor adjustment for a standard gasoline engine) or electricity generation. As the photos in his book attest, Jean Pain in fact developed or adapted machinery to run from this fuel.

An important development in technique for methane produc­tion was to embed the gas-producing tank (a sealed plastic tub of 4m3 volume) surrounded by coiled plastic pipe, in a Compost heap. The plastic coil conducted water around the gas tank while serving as a heat exchanger. By regulating the flow of water, the temperature of the gas reactor could be regulated to optimize gas production, which in this example was about 1300 liters per day. The now warmed water of course was used for heating the house. Jean Pain connected this supply to a storage reservoir of 36 innertubes. These in turn fed the domestic cooking devices and supplied gas to a compressor run on electricity from a methane ­powered generator. The compressed gas supplied motive power for the farm truck, while the generator also ran lights in the house.

The results are impressive. From a hectare of fire-prone and unproductive forest, 50 tons of agricultural fertilizer can be derived along with the energy equivalent in fluid form, of 4000 liters of high-grade petrol. This energy can he channeled to the harvest and processing of the woody material, and the whole can be accomplished while providing paid employment and a modest profit from the sale of gas and humic manure--by any measure a true permaculture!

Pain calculates the economics of a theoretical 1000 hectare unit managed according to his methods and estimates that process energy required is 12% of energy yield, while counting in all inputs, ores, metallurgy, wood, implements, and so on, 26%; that equipment can be paid for in five years and the financing, including interest, retired within 10. All the while 16 people will be employed at good wages.

Some Caveats

Pain continued innovating and refining his methods through at least 1979 (when the fifth edition of his hook was published). He inspired the creation of a technical center in Belgium (5), and reported pending contact with municipal officials in Seattle, Washington who were interested in applying his methods to process urban wastes. A cooperative enterprise had been formed for the manufacture of brushwood shredding machinery, but interestingly its address has been scratched out from my copy of the book. What has become of him and his work is unknown to me. In the course of 15 years he learned a great deal of the technical requirements of his art, all directed toward increasing the yields and efficiencies of the process, hastening the cycle from cutting of brush to application of compost to soil, recycling material internally (he used aged compost to generate methane, then recycled the residue to soil).

His aim throughout was improvement of forest health. Though I have emphasized in this synopsis the technical aspects of his invention and the industrialization of brushwood compost, Pain himself stresses the importance of sensitive harvesting of the woody material: careful pruning, thinning, and felling are essential to a successful result. In his own words: "This research, then, which was begun in 1964 in the Central Var district and which was aimed primarily at enabling a family of extremely modest means first to get by and then live normally in the forest, has today led to the production of energy in the form of electricity obtained by means of simple techniques, this not being our purpose at the outset."

Pain's work points out the need for further innovation and elaboration of techniques for producing methane and alcohol from woody material. Implied are an array of methane or alcohol-driven motors of various sizes for everything from power tools to generators, transport vehicles, and farm and earthmoving machinery. These are simple fuels, easily derived horn organic materials and thus capable of widespread production and use They are ready substitutes for most of the liquid petroleum-based fuels now used by industrial civilization, and as such arc compatible with a smooth transition away from centrally controlled energy. Though wind and solar will play an important role in a gradual shift of energy sources, there is little promise of either the major revolution in motive technology or of a rapid restructuring of the built environment that would allow us to shift our heavy dependence on transport to these well developed renewable energy sources.

Much interest of late has gone towards the process of converting waste cooking oils into biodiesel. While this is interesting and creative, it seems inherently limited in its applications, primarily because of the relative scarcity of the source material. Nothing like a sufficient quantity of spent cooking fat is available to provide adequate transport energy for the entire population, even at vastly reduced levels of energy use. Also, the production of industrial cooking oils is primarily monocultural and inherently devastating to enormous areas of the planet. Biologically, production of oils requires a more complex and less efficient energy pathway than plant production of cellulose and ligneous material.

There will always be many hundreds, if not thousands of times more woody material than oil produced. In addition to the basic phytochemistry, there is the geographic argument: many millions of acres of land are unsuitable for arable crops, are degraded forest of low yield, or are wastelands wrecked by agriculture­ or toxic chemicals. We need technologies for deriving economic yield from the rehabilitation of these lands. We also need simple technologies to break the monopoly of the fossil fuel industries.

It was the genius of Jean Pain to grasp the essential problem of the age and throw himself into finding simple and appropriate technical solutions for it (even if, by his admission, he did not know all of what he would do at the outset). That these solutions find their most efficient application at a modest and very local scale is a boon to the world and has everything to do with Pain's original intent. The social and labor arrangements, capital financing, and technology­ required to yield useful and commercially valuable energy and fertilizer for individual and community-scale application from restorative forestry are within the reach of large numbers of people and groups throughout the world.

What is needed now is for significant numbers of people to realize and take responsibility for our continued use of liquid fuels in transport, energy for domestic heating and hot water, and to realize that the stable and successful transition to a sustainable economy requires us to develop locally controlled and biological sources for these energies, based on simple, widely available and applicable technologies.


1. Odum, Howard.T. and Eugene C. Odum. The Energy Basis for Man and Nature. McGraw Hill, 1981.

2. Holmgren, David. "Energy and Permaculture." Permaculture Activist #3 1 May, 1994.

3. Savory, Allan. Holistic Resource Management. Island, 1989.

4. Celine Caron. "Ramial Wood Chips," Permaculture Activist #29/ 30, July, 1993.

5. Jean Pain Committee International, 18, Avenue Princesse Elizabeth, 1030 Brussels, Belgium tel. 32-2241-08-20 or 32-52-30-01-66.

The author admits to no great familiarity with either the production or use of biogas, only a keen interest based on need. He would like to thank Emilia Hazelip for her timely suggestion to investigate the subject, and offers his sincere appreciation to Ida and Jean Pain for their pioneering efforts.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Add Beauty To Your Landscape With Marble Sculptures And Statues

Marble is traditionally seen as a cold and difficult stone--but in the hands of the great sculptors of the past, you'd never know it. Looking at their works, one sees motion and beauty, as well as the silent calm of still repose. Marble sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome remain our best inheritance from those countries, and the legacy of marble sculpture continues to captivate both artists and audiences up to this day.

It is certainly not difficult to see why: after all, with marble's fine sheen and beautiful polish, it makes a great substance for contemplation. Since so many of the great marble statues of the past are lodged in museums, an art reproduction house like the one we have here at Museum Replicas can be a great way to bring the beauty of marble into your own home or office. With our staff of highly trained and talented artists, we have succeeded in capturing the beauty of many statues in Carrera, Alabaster and Jade marble.

In order to illustrate this, simply look at the statue against which all other marble statues are judged: Michelangelo's "David." With its beautiful lines and dynamic design, you would think this statue would be impossible to reproduce. You'd be wrong, however, as the amazing reproduction viewable at our online gallery can demonstrate ( After seeing it, it's likely that you too will believe that, though only Michelangelo could sculpt David, only the talented artists we employ here at Museum Replicas could resculpt it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Voice Over IP Telephony

With business communications always the utmost consideration in the modern office it is imperative that the department or people responsible for the contracting of telephone systems are aware of all the advantages and disadvantages of different systems.

Telecommunications used to be a simple equation of phones, wiring, a switchbox, and the public standard telephone network. Then VoIP and wireless technology came along, changing the telecom landscape completely. Today's businesses face a bewildering array of choices when it comes to implementing a phone system. This white paper will help you navigate the options and find the solution that fits your business.

The simple innovation of transmitting voice over a data network has multiplied the possibilities for business telecommunications exponentially. The right phone system depends on your company's size, structure, business model, industry, and budget. Here is a look at the three main decisions you will face as you explore your options.

Which Network?
Telecommunications signals travel over two types of networks: the conventional PSTN (public standard telephone network) or a data network. Since nearly all businesses already have a LAN and/or Internet access, the decision is whether to maintain both voice and data networks, or to migrate the entire phone system onto the data network.

Conventional phone networks have the benefit of legacy: most companies already have an analog infrastructure in place and are naturally recalcitrant to scrap their network and build a VoIP infrastructure from scratch. In addition to protecting their investments, companies may trust the old system to deliver better sound quality and security, since the PSTN is not prone to such perceived issues as experienced occasionally with the internet. The PSTN functions during a power outage, for example, whereas VoIP requires a constant Internet connection.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the (relatively) new comer to the communications scene, offering an unbeatable value proposition: advanced functionality at a lower cost. VoIP technology converts voice signals into digital data packets, which it transmits over a data network: the company LAN, WLAN, the Internet, or wireless. A company's VoIP network is accessible not only in the office, but from any Internet contact point-which, thanks to wireless hotspots, is just about anywhere in the world, any time of day. Since voice data travels over a company's computer network, VoIP also has the advantage of easy maintenance and integration with data communications applications such as CRM.

VoIP technology is more likely to run into quality issues, however. In its early stages of development, VoIP was prone to time delays and poor sound quality. These issues have all but disappeared with technological advances. But the fact remains that VoIP depends on an active Internet connection. Limited bandwidth, compatibility of the recipient's hardware, and incorrect sequencing of voice data packets could compromise sound quality-and if the connection is lost due to power outage or server problems, so is the call.
Integrated telecommunication systems combine the best of both worlds-they bridge the gap between analog and digital telephony. Integrated technology allows voice and data networks to communicate. By maintaining both networks, companies protect their capital investments. Rather than scrap their legacy systems, they simply extend them by attaching VoIP functionality as needed. This enables gradual migration to VoIP's next-generation functionality without the disruption of a complete system overhaul. And the redundancy between the two networks prevents system down time in the event of a power outage or server failure.

VoIP Equipment
Each networking solution: analog, VoIP, and integrated, involves a different set of equipment.
Conventional network equipment consists of phone handsets, a keyboard system or PBX connecting the equipment to the PSTN. PBXs are often prohibitively expensive for small , and are increasingly obsolete with the advent of IP PBX, which can handle both analog and digital signals. But companies that have already invested in an on-premises PBX can leverage that technology in an integrated phone system, rather than starting from scratch.

A VoIP network calls for IP-enabled phones, access to an IP PBX (on-premises or leased from a service provider), and cables for connecting the phones to the data network.

Integrated network equipment may differ according to the company's legacy system, and includes various hardware and software designed to repurpose analog equipment for use in a converged voice-data network. Nortel, Inter-Tel, and other telecom leaders have developed technology that retrofits conventional systems for digital voice technology.

At the centre of any integrated system is the IP PBX, a central switchbox capable of interpreting and transmitting signals in either analog or digital format. Companies that already have a traditional PBX can retrofit it to work with an IP network as well. Nortel's Business Communications Manager, for example, converts traditional PBX equipment to IP with add-on boards and gateways. Even traditional phone handsets can be converted to IP, with Analog Telephone Adapters (ATA).

Hosted IP Platform
Your telecommunications hardware purchase will also depend on your service contract. Service providers often provide access to either the PSTN or the Internet. Or they may provide both network access and the necessary communications infrastructure. For example, businesses have the option to purchase a PBX for on-premises installation or lease access to a central PBX maintained by the service provider. Since PBX systems involve a significant upfront investment, hosted service offers an affordable alternative for small and mid-sized businesses.

Jay Littleone from Best4IP - a UK based company specialising in the provisioning, installation and support of VOIP Equipment says: "We are seeing, these days, a rapid transition from the traditional telephone system to a fully integrated and strategic model which can be installed quickly and cheaply - empowering the user rather than the provider."

The scalability of hosted service makes it a good choice for small, seasonal, and rapidly growing businesses. Service providers such as Avalle offer monthly subscriptions on a per-user basis. Subscribers can choose functionality a la carte, paying only for the features they need. Hosted service offers the ultimate in flexibility-providers are always on hand with high-capacity equipment when needed. Subscribers can ramp up or add advanced features instantly. In addition, companies save on IT costs-maintenance is the provider's responsibility.

So all in all you can be sure that modern improvements in Voice Over Internet Protocols have lead to scalable, sustainable VOIP systems which lower the TCO (total cost of ownership) for the telecommunications purchaser and give greater flexibility to the user.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why You Should Plant Blueberries for Your Health and Your Pocketbook

Food production and prices are directly tied to the cost of energy. It requires energy to till the ground, plant and harvest the crop. In addition food is often shipped long distances requiring a lot of energy. Thus the higher price of fuel will increase the cost of our food. Does it make sense to ship vegetables in from Mexico when local farmers can grow them? Even better you can grow some in your own yard or patio. One simple change that is possible for the future is growing some food crops locally. Most homeowners should grow 4 or 5 edible crops locally from a nutritional and economic standpoint. Of these, the front-runner would be blueberries. One of the most delightful things about growing blueberries is the anticipation it provides of delicious healthy fruit.

10+ reasons why you should grow blueberries.
1. They can be grown in containers on your patio or in the landscape. Sunshine blue is an example of an excellent plant that can be grown in containers as well as in your landscape.

2. Health - Blueberries are one of the most healthy foods you can eat they are packed with antioxidants. There are very few people who get enough antioxidants. Having a blueberry bush in your yard is one way to increase your intake and control your cost.

3. Beautiful. The flowers on blueberries are delightful. The red fall color is beautiful. The colorful blueberry bushes in under certain sunlight conditions or against an early snowfall can be a glorious experience. They can be used to beautify your landscape while at the same time providing an eatable crop.

4. Tolerant of a wide range of soils. The different varieties can be planted on any organically fertilized soil and planted in the right growing zone. The pH needs to be between 4.2 and 5.1 with lots of organic matter. Raised beds in some cases may need used by building up the soil to insure good drainage.

5. Tolerant of partial shade. Blueberries do not require full sun, they will continue to produce in partial shade produced by trees in our suburban homes.

6. Minimal insects problems. Caterpillars can be a problem on blueberries. They can produce defoliation as a result you may lose a year's production. You can also solve this potential problem without pesticide applications by using a small amount of Basic H in water and spraying it on your plants. Basic H can serve as a caterpillar repellent. Insects won't bite where Basic H has been applied. Apply Basic H full strength or diluted and spray on and rub in (but not over other chemicals/medication on skin). Insects won't bite where Basic H has been applied. Also relieves itching of insect bites (rub on, full strength)

7. Disease resistant. Standing water can cause root rot but this can be solved by using raised beds to insure good drainage. There isn't a major disease that affects blueberries.

8. Long harvest season. By planting early, mid-season and late ripening varieties you can have fresh blueberries throughout the season.

9. Easy to store. Blueberries can be stored for 2 weeks in the refrigerator with no problem. For some varieties six weeks in the refrigerator is also possible. You can also freeze them for year around use.

10. Multiple uses. Fresh blueberries can be put on cereal. Make a great blueberry pie. You can process them and make jam from them or use them fresh or frozen to make a smoothie.

11. They are perennials once established they can continue to produce for many years.

Where to purchase blueberry plants
One of the questions is that is often ask is where to purchase blueberry plants. Purchase your plants from a reputable nursery. The best buy is two-year-old plants.

Some of the most common varieties:
Northern blueberry varieties - Blueray, Sunshineblue, Blue Crop, Bluegold, Elliot, Hannah's Choice, Jersey, Nelson, Northland,

Southern blueberry varieties - Misty, Legacy, Golf Coast, Ozarkblue, O'Neal, Reveille, Sharpblue,

Rabbiteye varieties - Brightwell, Climax, Premier, Tifblue, Powder blue. Rabbiteye blueberries are not self-fertile and at least two varieties that flower at about the same time are need for cross-pollination.
Tifblue is considered one of the best rabbiteyes. The Tiftblue blueberries are among the most flavorful rabbiteye blueberries. Tifblue is more cold hardy than most rabbiteye blueberries varieties. It should be the predominant variety in any planting.

Ozarkblue - Ozarkblue is a favorite variety. It is not bothered by heat, does not need as much irrigation, resists spring frosts and never needs protection, and is highly productive of the highest quality berries. It is their mid/late crop, just before the rabbiteyes.
Hannah's Choice - Hannah's Choice is an early-ripening high-bush blueberry plant. May be the best flavor of all early ripening central-northern high-bush cultivars.

Bluegold - A northern high-bush plant with a mid-season ripening time. BlueGold is a beautiful, compact, plant that grows only four feet tall. It bears large clusters of easy-to-pick blueberries. Bluegold produces large amounts of truly superior fruit

Sunshineblue - This self-pollinating southern high-bush produces smallish fruits of good quality, and exhibiting a long shelf-life. Perfect for planting in pots, on patios, and in other areas where a small (3-4 feet high) blueberry bush is wanted.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillars and Tent Caterpillars: Use 1 tablespoon Basic H in Ortho-type sprayer. Or use 1 tablespoon in 16-ounce pump spray bottle. Spray caterpillars and watch them die in seconds. Is good on the blueberry plants that you spray.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Weekend Getaway in the Gorge

Slicing a wide swath through basalt columns, the Columbia River has carved one of the most beautiful scenic destinations in the world. Starting just east of Portland, Oregon, extending for approximately 50 miles, the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area provides an array of wonders, from waterfalls to stunning vistas, from hiking trails, mountain biking, fishing, and world-class windsurfing to hot spring spas, golfing, antique shopping and art galleries. Protected as a national treasure, development has been limited, leaving a legacy for generations to enjoy. Here are just a few of the many wondrous adventures you can find in the Gorgeous Gorge.

Carson Ridge
Looking for a private accommodation that offers a treat for the senses, a place to relax in your own private cabin, with spectacular mountain views, a sanctuary of peaceful surroundings, and just 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon? Carson Ridge Private Luxury Cabins offer all of that and more. Located in Carson, Washington, near Carson Hot Springs, these restful lodgings are the perfect base for exploring Hood River, Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and the many waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The Carson Ridge cabins provide a luxurious stay in a rustic setting. Sit in your porch swing and read your book, or sip champagne in front of a roaring fire. A spa tub will soothe your tired muscles, or have an in-room massage to knead those knots out of your body.

In addition to the cabins, the grounds encompass 3 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens overlooking the views of the mountains and ridges surrounding the foothills of Mt. Adams. Special romance packages are available. Featured in The Best Places to Kiss and Best Places Northwest. For more information, visit

Carson Hot Springs
Whether you have just finished hiking the foothills of Mt. Adams, fishing the Klickitat River, or antique shopping in White Salmon, a fun way to end the day is a stop at the Carson Mineral Hot Springs Spa & Golf Resort just outside of Carson, Washington. A scenic hour's drive from Portland, OR and 45 minutes from Vancouver, WA, these hot springs are a mix of rustic and sparkling new accommodations.
Built in 1892, the original bathhouse is still in use, adjacent to the St. Martin Hotel, built in 1901, where you check in. After soaking in claw-footed bathtubs in mineral water piped directly from the springs, an assistant will wrap you in a cocoon of blankets, purifying and energizing your body as you rest for 20 minutes. Massages are also available with nurturing therapists.
The Hot Springs Rooms are a blend of old tradition and modern look, with no televisions or phones to disturb your rest. The tradition at the spa is to "unplug for awhile."
If golf is your game, take in a round on the dramatic 18-hole course with panoramic scenes of the Columbia Gorge. The course plays over sixty-five hundred yards and is a par 71.
For more information about the resort and golf course.

Skamania Lodge Golf Course
Skamania Lodge offers a challenging 18-hole, par-70 golf course with breathtaking views and tranquil greens. The services include a driving range, practice bunker, chipping and putting greens. Nestled on 175 wooded acres, the course also features a golf shop, cart rentals, and PGA Professionals to help you with your game.
Golf packages are available, as well as a golf school with professional instruction for all levels of golfing experience. Starting in March, the lodge hosts several golf tournaments throughout the spring and summer, including scrambles and charity events. Annual and corporate passes are also available.
For family outings, Skamania Lodge Golf Course offers a "Bigfoot Family Golf Program" for Sunday and Tuesday evenings from June through September.

Beacon Rock Golf Course
Play the Rock! Is the Beacon Rock Golf Course motto. Built with time, energy, and supplies donated by residents who desired a place to play locally, this 18-hole course offers excellent playing conditions in a beautiful setting just east of Beacon Rock State Park on the Washington side of the Columbia River, five miles west of The Bridge of the Gods.
Emphasizing a community feeling, Beacon Rock offers weekly specials that cover the gamut of golf enthusiasts, including packages for juniors, seniors, men, and women. During the off-season, they offer a winter pass for unlimited golf from November through February.
Beacon Rock's Ye Olde Golf Shoppe Grill, serves natural, organic, and local ingredients in their burgers, hot dogs, salads, and breakfasts. The hours mirror the clubhouse hours.

Eagle Creek Hike
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area is known for its high concentration of waterfalls, which makes the dramatic scenery even more compelling for hikers. From temperate rainforests to cascading rivers, there is everything from day hikes to multi-day backpacking. When completed, the Columbia Gorge Trail will stretch for more than 35 miles through the length of the Gorge. Trail planners envision a trail from Portland to the Hood River.

For day hikes, the Eagle Creek trail is a popular 13-mile hike visiting more waterfalls (half dozen) than any other trail in the Gorge. To maintain an easy grade, engineers created ledges blasted out of sheer cliffs. Open all year, the moderate, 4.2-mile trail will take you over a spectacular gorge to one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world, the 30-foot Punchbowl Falls. If you're up for more, the hike to Tunnel Falls is a difficult, 12-mile hike with 1,200 feet of elevation gain (you are in the Gorge, after all!). Be warned, no dogs are allowed, and hikers will be fined if caught with their animals. This is a dangerous trail from four-leggeds.

Ruckel Ridge Loop Hike
Looking for a more rugged trail to tackle? Try Ruckel Ridge, a primitive trail that climbs four miles in 3750 feet before descending in an eight-mile loop. Beginning hikers and out-of-shape be warned; this is not for the faint-of-heart. It's also advised to not bring dogs. Widely recognized as the most treacherous day-hike in the Gorge, you will need good boots, solid route-finding skills, and strong legs. Dry weather is also a must. Like to hike alone? Try another trail. It's highly recommended that soloists find someone to hike with on this trail.

If you are in reasonable shape, the initial ascent is not bad, just a series of hand-over-hand obstacles at an even pace. Where you will be tested is on the final 1,000-foot ascent to the Benson Plateau and then the descent. The nine-mile loop requires an early start. Plan ahead, as the trailhead is not easy to find.

Post Canyon/Seven Streams Mountain Biking
For a demanding climb, there's nothing like mountain biking in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Known for the xtreme sports in the area because of the rugged conditions, enthusiasts will find this trail is a grab bag of conditions and difficulties. The trip is 12 miles in distance with over half in gravel and dirt roads, the rest single-track. While the roads are usually in fair condition, there are some areas with large loose rocks. The route has two loops and two out and backs. This is a fun area with multiple riding possibilities.

Three Corner Rock
On the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area you'll find a favorite local ride in the Yacolt Burn State Forest. The ride starts on a rough gravel road, steep and uneventful. However, once you hit the singletrack trail, the ride gets interesting. The trail descends rapidly, with some intense hill climbing bursts through a forest until you reach Stebbins Creek. Switchbacks abound, so you'll be testing your quads and cranking your pedals. Total distance is 7.4 miles of singletrack with 9.5 miles of rough gravel road.

One of Washington's longest free flowing rivers, the Klickitat River, located in Southeastern Washington, flows 100 miles from its source to the Columbia River. With tributaries flowing off the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Adams, this river is renowned for its steelhead and salmon fishing. The deep basalt canyon walls of the river gorge and a beautiful landscape of trees on ridges of rolling hills create a unique environment for fly fishing. A mile upstream from the community of Lyle, the river narrows into a chute where salmon and steelhead fight to journey upriver to spawn each fall.

Native Americans still dip net for these elusive fish from scaffolds built hundreds of years ago. You'll find Chinook Salmon (King), Silver Salmon (Coho), and the Pacific Northwest Steelhead. Both hatchery and wild Steelhead return each year. This river is nature at its best. For more information, visit

Skamania Lodge
Skamania is the Chinook Indian word for "swift water", which describes the many waterfalls near this magnificent mountain resort located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Just 45 miles east of Portland, Oregon on the Washington side of the Columbia River, the resort offers 254 guest rooms, 22,000 square feet of conference and event space, and an 18-hole par 70 golf course.
Built in 1993 in a public-private partnership involving The Columbia River Gorge Commission, the USDA Forest Service, Skamania County, and Grayco Resources, Inc., the lodge was designed with the great lodges of the early 1900's in mind. Rustic, yet with modern features, the lodge was built with large timber over 100 years old recycled from the BumbleBee cannery in Astoria, Oregon, native stone, and Montana slate to compliment the rock fireplace.
Guestrooms have been newly remodeled with flat-panel televisions, ergonomic desk chairs, and wi-fi & data ports. In-room dining service is available.