How loud noises can affect your heart

We know that high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and smoking aren’t good for the heart. Well, it turns out loud noise is another risk factor your doctor may not want to keep quiet about.

That noisy little headline comes from researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital. They studied 499 people with an average age of 56.

At the beginning of the study period, all of them were free of cardiovascular disease. Over time, they tracked how many of the test subjects got heart attacks and strokes. The researchers used the home addresses of study participants to estimate the level of ambient noise where they resided.

Compared to people who lived with lower levels of noise, those with the highest levels of chronic noise exposure were three times more likely to have a heart attack, a stroke or other major cardiovascular event.

The study’s authors said typical sources of heavy chronic noise exposure include close proximity to a highway, a major airport or a busy traffic zone.

Commercial aircraft on takeoff produce noise levels above 120 decibels. A telephone ring produces about 80 decibels and a jackhammer about 100. Highway traffic noise ranges from 70 to 80 decibels at a distance of 15 metres from the highway.

The researchers found that people with the highest levels of noise exposure had higher levels of brain activity inside the amygdala.

The test subjects with higher activity inside the amygdala also had greater amounts of inflammation in their arteries inside the heart and the brain. Doctors know from other studies that inflammation of the arteries is necessary for the development of heart disease and strokes.

In the current study, the researchers found that high levels of activity inside the amygdala actually increased the level of inflammation inside the coronary arteries.

Air pollution, smoking and diabetes are other known factors that cause inflammation of the arteries.

In this study, when the researchers took those factors into account, noise still turned out to be a major contributor to inflammation and therefore to the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Rising rates of noise are happening everywhere. Anyone who lives in a city anywhere on the planet should be concerned about the health impact of exposure to excessive noise.

Until now, we’ve chalked up rising levels of noise from busy highways, traffic zones and airports to progress and prosperity. Now, we see that there’s a hidden danger to our health.

And it’s something your body won’t let you escape. You may be able to tune the noise out of your conscious mind, but your brain and your heart do not develop tolerance to noise. If anything, your arteries may become even more prone over time to damage caused by noise.


There’s more to the Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design than just serious good looks

Thomas Falkiner answers some FAQs about Volvo’s boutique SUV, the XC40 D4 R-Design

Wow, that’s one fine-looking machine you got there!

Isn’t it just? The Volvo design team dug deep on this one and in turn fashioned a boutique SUV to take on the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, Audi Q2, Mini Countryman and BMW X2. And I’ve got to say when it comes to exterior styling the XC40 has them all beat.

It is a fine piece of automotive sculpture: a steely blend of aggression and sophistication that speaks to both sexes, which is quite a rare feat in the car world. I had mine for a week and the compliments didn’t stop flooding in.

If you’re a dedicated follower of fashion, always hip to the next big thing, then the XC40 is the vehicle for you. Particularly this R-Design model that gives you chunky 19-inch alloys and (fake) dual exhaust pipes.

Good to know. Let’s talk engines – what’s behind that handsome visage?

In the XC40 D4 you get a 2.0-litre turbodiesel and it is, if I’m being honest, not one of the best motors I’ve ever experienced in my 10-year career. The problem is that it feels lazy – particularly at low revs where the turbocharger seems to take an unusually long time to come on song.

Five ways mobile apps can help you build a brand

Are you trying to construct a brand that consumers will come to know and trust? If you’re not using mobile software to get there, you should be. Americans check their phones over 80 times a day – even while on vacation.

But tapping into that trend is about more than stepping out from behind the store counter and onto a customer’s home screen. Mobile apps have come a long way toward replacing traditional branding methods and logistical support. From auditing tools to inventory management, there are a million and one ways that mobile technology can help you get a better handle on branding without a dedicated team of marketers.

Instead of downloading all the million-and-one apps that look promising on the App Store or Google Play, first think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Does your brand lack social media presence? Are you struggling to create interesting content that potential customers would stop to see?

1. Develop your own mobile app

According to a survey more than 70% of consumers expect a personalized experience from brands. Even if your business isn’t perfectly suited for a mobile app, a branded app can easily become a focal point for nurturing customer relationships.

For example, L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius app, which lets users try on products in real-time, both offers users a useful tool for cosmetics shopping and cultivates brand loyalty. Or take Kraft’s iFood Assistant, which provides easy how-to videos and recipes. Even if you’re the owner-operator of a budding brand, creating an app that shows polish and adds value can capture a core audience.

2. Make your audits paperless

One sticking point both big and small businesses struggle with is how to go about the self-auditing process. Be it routine employee evaluations or supplier quality checks, inspections can take your attention away from seemingly more pressing tasks. Nevertheless, monitoring for weak points is critical to cultivating brand consistency – and, as your enterprise expands in the future, brand compliance.

A good data collection platform gives you insight and oversight into your budding brand and ultimately replaces the bog-standard template forms you’re likely used to. The right enterprise-level form software will warrant your attention because it integrates well with your existing infrastructure, is inherently customizable, and provides access to business intelligence tools. The ability to monitor worker behaviour and audit brand consistency cannot be underestimated.

3. Use push notifications… sparingly

There are many reasons both business owners and their app users would prefer push notifications over mass texts. For one thing, it’s easier for customers to control notifications from their mobile device settings. Many folks will install your app for its functionality or out of curiosity, not because they want daily updates.

On the other hand, you still want them to be interested in what you have to tell them. Before you send out a push notification, see if your app builder platform allows a feature like geofencing so you can be certain you hit the right market at the right time. Avoid sending out alerts overnight or early in the morning. And, of course, make sure what you’re saying has value for those who read it. If you’re pushy or ‘click-baity’, expect many of your users to uninstall– and probably leave you a scathing review.

4. Integrate social media

You probably already have some social media presence; if not for your business, then for your personal life. Staying social with your market isn’t much different from posting about your daily activities, either. Some businesses might have it easier than others when it comes to generating fun visual content for a format like Instagram, but even if what you sell is intangible and you have few employees, “personifying” your brand can make a strong emotional appeal

Make use of a platform to distribute and manage all your social media accounts in one place, such as the ever-popular Hootsuite or the free SocialOomph. Be wary, though – social media has swiftly become the top choice for disgruntled users to voice their grievances. ‘Non-voice’ methods of providing service are becoming the customer’s method of choice when it comes to contacting a brand, according to the 2017 Aspect Customer Experience Index. When comes to entering the Twittersphere, be prepared to both to market to and assuage the frustrations of your clients.

5. Optimize your brand for mobile

One thing many do-it-yourselfers forget when they build their own site, app or assets is just how many people will access their content on a mobile device. If you have a mobile version of your site, you should add and verify it in Google Search Console. Test how mobile-friendly your pages are using an auditor like Link Assistant. If your user experience isn’t flexible or movable, your users are going to have a frustrating time chasing down the content they need on their smartphone.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a topic too big to fit in this space, but worth every bit of your attention. To put it simply, PWAs are hybridized programs. While they are indeed web pages, they can also appear as native apps. In 2017, they became popular due to the fact that they combine the lightning latency of mobile-focused pages with the robust features of an app. It’s definitely a development tool worth investing some energy into if you’ve yet to develop an app, want to optimize your site for mobile, or are considering an app overhaul.

Last Words

The mobile marketplace has indelibly altered the course of small and home business for the better. We can expect even more digital disruptions as time goes by, but when it comes to branding you can’t slack off on the mobile side of things. Your customers are already installing apps, interacting on social media, and browsing mobile sites – it’s time to join them.

What type of investor are you?

Risk and reward are opposite sides of the same coin, and it is almost certain there will be a trade-off between the two to achieve your long-term investment goals.

Investment guru Warren Buffett is quoted as saying that “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing”. Take this billionaire’s advice and understand the risk of the various types of investments before leaping in – and, importantly, know your own risk profile and whether you are risk friendly or risk averse regarding your investments.

For the average person, risk means the temporary or permanent loss or decrease of your investment value. But without taking on calculated risks, your rewards from investing make be inadequate, so make risk your friend.

A good financial adviser can help establish the optimal level of investment risk that will let you achieve your investment goals, taking into account your risk profile. Legislation requires that an adviser obtain all the necessary information to establish your needs and objectives and to recommend products in accordance with those needs and your risk profile.

Determining your risk profile is usually done via a questionnaire. There is debate in the industry about the appropriateness of some of these questionnaires, but as long as your adviser assesses your risk profile holistically and takes into account your financial goals, investment time horizon, existing investments and other relevant factors – and you stick to the strategy designed for you – you should be able to meet your goals.

Those goals can be as simple at buying a new car in four years’ time, paying for the education of a child in 18 years’ time, or being financially secure when you retire.

There are three aspects to risk. All three should be taken into account when deciding how to allocate your investments between cash, bonds, property and shares, or to a combination of these.

  • The required risk is associated with the return you need to reach your investment goals.
  • Risk tolerance is your emotional capacity to withstand losses from your investment. It speaks to whether you stick to your strategy without panicking and ditching the plan.
  • Risk capacity is your ability to financially absorb any investment losses.

Risk tolerance

Advisers may assume you are comfortable with a high level of risk because you enjoy activities such as parachuting and bungee jumping, but that is not necessarily true for the way you feel about taking large bets with your investments.

Your risk tolerance should be determined through the use of questions that are valid, relevant, reliable and not too technical. An example of a good indicator of your risk tolerance is whether you would accept a decline in your investment value of, say, 10% over any 12 months to achieve a return of inflation plus 3% a year over three to four years. That quantifies the risk objectively over a certain period, is not too technical and is relevant to the investment at hand.

Furthermore, a financial adviser should work out the possibilities and probabilities of an investment and advise you on the potential for a decline in the value of an investment under consideration or one that is recommended for you.

Having your risk tolerance assessed is important, otherwise you could be left unable to make informed decisions, or it could lead to inappropriate advice. You may, for instance, panic when the market drops sharply and then sell your investment, which could have a significant impact on your financial wellbeing in the long run.

It is important to understand that risk tolerance is only one part of the assessment of your risk profile. You may well sleep soundly if your strategy relies on conservative investments, but it may be woefully inadequate to help you achieve your long-term financial goals. This is where the assessment of the next type of risk comes into the equation.

Risk required to achieve your goals

You need to differentiate between risk tolerance – how much risk you feel comfortable taking on – and the risk you need to take to achieve your long-term investment goals.

This measure of risk will take into account the amount you need to save, your time horizon and the returns of the various asset classes such as cash, bonds, property and shares. Generally, shares are regarded as the most risky and cash (money in the bank) as the least risky.

The higher percentage of shares of a fund or investment, the riskier the investment is likely to be over the short term.

Understanding the difference between volatility and risk is important. If an investment is volatile, it’s not necessarily risky.

Keeping your money in cash over the long term is considered risky because you will not be able to outperform inflation and your money will lose its real value over time.

If you want your capital to beat inflation, you will have to embrace an investment that contains growth assets such as shares, irrespective of their volatility. Such an investment will give you the best chance of outperforming inflation over the long term, as long as you are patient.

10 Hacks that make travelling the globe easier

Whether you’re an international globetrotter or a homebody braving a journey within South Africa for the first time, travelling can be an overwhelming experience. How many bags should you pack – and what should you pack in them?
couring the internet for tips from experienced travellers is a great way to prepare for your journey, particularly if you’re looking for advice about new destinations. “However, there are loads of quick hacks that experienced travellers know that can help make the journey quicker, easier – and importantly, cheaper too.”

1. Find free money
Maybe calling it free money is a bit of a push, but make sure that you understand all the loyalty programmes you belong to, and play them to your advantage. Smart banking behaviour can earn you rewards ‘currency’ that can be used to purchase flights or pay for accommodation. Many banks also offer credit cards linked to airlines’ rewards schemes, earning you ‘miles’ towards the purchase of flights. Be aware of the trade-off on the potential cost of paying off your bill – and, if you can, settle at the end of the month so you don’t incur interest fees that might wipe out your loyalty saving.
Maybe calling it free money is a bit of a push, but make sure that you understand all the loyalty programmes you belong to, and play them to your advantage. Smart banking behaviour can earn you rewards ‘currency’ that can be used to purchase flights or pay for accommodation. Many banks also offer credit cards linked to airlines’ rewards schemes, earning you ‘miles’ towards the purchase of flights. Be aware of the trade-off on the potential cost of paying off your bill – and, if you can, settle at the end of the month so you don’t incur interest fees that might wipe out your loyalty saving.

3. Set up some snacks

Most low-cost carriers charge extra for food and beverages inflight – and let’s be honest, sometimes you wish you could choose something other than the ‘chicken-or-beef’ that regular airlines offer. Ask your local butcher to vacuum pack some biltong to snack on (although remember it’s against the law to take meat products into many other countries – so eat it all before you disembark!). Another trick is to take an empty water bottle with you, and fill it once you’re on the other side of the security controls, where fluids are limited to 100ml per container. If you’ve got lots of small goodies to take with, you could always wear cargo pants and a jacket with lots of pockets too… just remember to leave your pen-knife behind!

4. Pack properly

The South African Civil Aviation Authority recently changed regulations to say that carry-on luggage may not exceed 7kg. Choose the contents of your inflight luggage carefully: travel with a tablet computer instead of a notebook if you’re travelling for work, and pack your Kindle instead of your epic book. Buy snacks and drinks (if you’re not hacking the water bottle trick) once you’ve gone through security. If you’re taking your toiletries on-board with you, pack the absolute minimum, and include miniatures of your favourite cosmetics – or decant into smaller bottles available from most supermarkets.

If your day-tripping luggage is bigger or heavier than the 7kg allowed on South African flights, you could always pack your day pack into your main luggage. Look for a bag that is soft enough to do this, but that will still be strong enough for your daily needs.

5. Do it digitally

There’s not yet a digital substitute for the South African passport, but it’s worth scanning yours, along with your identity document and driver’s licence and emailing the images to an address you can access wherever you are. If you have an iPhone, save it and any other travel documents to PassBook, and you’ll be able to reference them should they get lost or stolen.

Many airlines offer digital boarding passes, saving you the hassle of carrying around (or losing) a slip of paper. You can often get these by booking in online up to 24 hours before take-off.

6. Dabbling with data

Data roaming is expensive – and if you’re going somewhere particularly exciting, there may not be data at all! Download the Google Maps of your destinations to your phone before you leave. You may not be able to use geolocation, but you will be able to find your way – and the maps will be in the language of your choice. If you really need to access the web, look out for restaurants that offer free WiFi – if you’re travelling abroad, MacDonald’s and Burger King are the best bet for those (and for always-clean toilets).

7. Talk to locals

Whether you’re day-tripping in Davos or wandering around Woodstock, take the time to chat to the locals about the best spots to eat, the best attractions to visit, and for advice on getting around. There’s no point in travelling if you’re going to eat at the same fast food chains that you support at home – and you might as well not leave your own country if you’re not going to find out how people live elsewhere!

8. Accommodation alternatives

If it’s the cost of accommodation that’s putting you off travelling, remember that there is more to sleeping out than hotels. You could swop a home with someone in another country, giving you both the chance to experience day-to-day life in another land, while staying in owner-run bed-and-breakfast establishments will give you that home away from home feeling, along with some great advice on local attractions and restaurants. ‘Hostels’ might evoke images of drunken students (which if you’re a drunken student is great…) but there are many hostels that offer family rooms in good areas – and they’re a great place to meet travellers from all over the world too.

9. Carrying cash (alternatives)

If you’re travelling to any developed country, there’s no need to ‘buy’ lots of currency before you leave – you’ll just spend money on exchange commission, and you will be a target for theft. It’s a good idea to have a small amount of local currency on you for that all-important coffee when you land, or for your first taxi fare from the airport, but you can use your credit or debit card almost anywhere in the world. If you’re going to use these cards to pay, ask your bank what it charges for international transactions and withdrawals, and balance that against what it would cost to buy cash before you leave.

If you’re worried about the security issues surrounding cash, rather, load your travel money into a travel wallet card, which allows you to purchase your FOREX before departure. The issuing bank loads your money onto an EMV-secure payment card at a fixed exchange rate, allowing you to manage your travel funds separately from your day to day expenses, with the convenience of a debit card.

10. Research, research, research

If you haven’t worked it out yet, the key to keeping travel costs under control is research: ask your friends, ask Twitter, ask anyone you know who has travelled for their advice – and then pick and choose which tips you use. There are many sites that give you the power to search for and compare flight costs, accommodation and car hire. It’s worth spending some time on these sites, well in advance of your trip, so that you’re sure to get the best deal when the time comes to pack your bags and head off into the wide, wide world.

Also remember that different airlines have different pricing policies, with some offering last minute deals, while others offer cheaper prices for bookings made far in advance of flying.

Bitcoin is 10 years old

Bitcoin may have turned 10 years old but its continued drop in value is hardly cause for celebration.

On Thursday, the price of one bitcoin was down to about $6,320.
Its price has dropped dramatically since its all-time high of $20,000 in December 2017. The cryptocurrency started the year at just under $13,500 and has been down ever since.
Although bitcoin’s infamous price rise launched it into the mainstream last year, it’s hardly a new concept. Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of a white paper written by Satoshi Nakamoto that detailed for the first time how bitcoin could work.
It was published on a cryptocurrency mailing list shortly after the start of the financial crisis in 2008. The concept, which is an alternative to fiat currencies such as the US dollar, served as a way for people to exchange money without a regulatory middle man.
Nakamoto described how new bitcoins coins could be created through a process called mining, which requires powerful computers that solve complex math problems. Months after the white paper published, Nakamoto mined the first block of bitcoin, which generated 50 bitcoins.
Little is known about the creator. Nakamoto is a pseudonym — and even a decade later, it’s still unclear who exactly that is.
But the publication of the paper was a groundbreaking moment. According to Maya Kumar, an executive who oversees theUK and Ireland operations at Luno, an app that helps users buy bitcoin, it paved the way for the next phase in the evolution of money.
“The invention of bitcoin and the underlying blockchain [that supports it] has allowed us all to reimagine money,” Kumar told CNN Business. “We are seeing a new parallel financial system being built in real time.”
Bitcoin relies on cryptography, which uses hidden codes to communicate. Users can make transactions directly under pseudonyms, taking away power from banks and governments, and it is not controlled by a central authority.
For bitcoin, each problem takes about 10 minutes to solve and creates a predetermined number of coins. The number that is awarded for solving each problem dwindles as time goes on.
Nakamoto’s system only allows a fixed number of coins to be created — there’s a limit of 21 million bitcoins that can ever be generated.

Eiland Glover, the CEO of coin company Kowala, said this fixed number will limit bitcoin’s future.
“There can only ever be so many bitcoin supplied so if demand grows and you have a limited number, there’s deflation and volatility,” Glover said.
His company and others are attempting to create more stable coins that are tied to the US dollar — a move he believes will make the value of the coins less volatile.
Glover calls Nakamoto’s white paper “the most essential foundational paper” but he notes how people have been trying to improve it.
Bitcoin’s early adopters sometimes tried to make clandestine and illegal transactions. Over time, it gained broader adoption.
In 2014, Overstock became the first major US retailer to accept bitcoin. Companies such as Expedia and Microsoft followed, and now even Starbucks wants to find a way to let customers use bitcoin to pay for their caffeine fixes.
Bitcoin is far from the only cryptocurrency available. From ether and litecoin to even cryptokitties, there are more than 1,500 options. But bitcoin is the oldest, biggest and most popular.
Although supply and demand play a role in its volatility, so does hype from news coverage. For example, the news of a cryptocurrency exchange hack can cause prices to drop, while the potential of tighter regulation leads to a boost.
But bitcoin’s growing popularity and entrance into the mainstream suggest the coin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, according to multiple experts. Stability is needed for any digital currency to succeed.
For now, we’ll see how bitcoin evolves as a teen.

The cost of convenience: Beware of online lending rip-offs

Credit has dried up for both business and personal borrowers. As we forecast a few months ago, we’re in the midst of a good old fashioned credit squeeze, which is adding to the slowdown in property prices and causing headaches for small business wanting to expand.

The big winners are the non-bank lenders that don’t face the same regulatory hurdles and can provide quick, almost-instant decisions and quick cash.

But what cost is convenience? Some of these “sexy” new lenders are charging exorbitant interest rates of up to 38 per cent (yes, an annualised interest rate of a whopping 38 per cent) for that ease of access.

Yes, they are an alternative to the banks but borrowers need to know what they’re getting themselves in for. To peel back the slick facade and understand the details. Most of these lenders will want access to your accounting programs to understand everything about your business.

It’s up to you to understand as much as you can about them and the loan conditions they’re imposing.

They should only ever be seen as a very short term, last resort option with a good plan to get of them as quickly as possible.

If you Google business loans, the search results are dominated by non-bank lenders using slogans like “apply in minutes, approved in 24 hours”, “most loans approved” and “flexible, cash flow friendly repayments”.

hese Fintech non-bank lenders are being applauded for providing more competition for the banks with the logic that increased competition will reduce the cost of borrowing for small business. That certainly isn’t happening.

While they’re being painted as the white knights of small business lending, we’re wondering whether they are actually the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Business loan interest rates from traditional banks range from 5.13 per cent per annum secured against property through to 13 per cent per annum unsecured with monthly repayments. The new lending environment means it is increasingly difficult to qualify for an unsecured loan and that’s what is forcing small business to alternatives.

For many small business owners with a dire cash flow problem, these online non-bank lenders are an easy fix. But, in consultation with your accountant or bookkeeper, there are other options which could be considered:

• Invoice factoring is a great way to generate a quick hit of cash. A finance company basically buys all a business’s outstanding invoices. It will deduct a fee of 1.5-5 per cent and then pay 85 per cent of the invoices immediately. The remaining amount will be paid when the invoices are actually paid. Effectively you’re getting your invoices paid early, for a fee, which will hopefully ease short term cash flow issues.

• Organise a personal loan. Not ideal, but for amounts up to $20,000-30,000 an option could be organising a personal loan and then lending it back to the business. Approach credit unions and some of the peer-to-peer lenders which offer small loans at interest rates of 9-13 per cent a year. A key part of applying for a loan is your credit rating. These organisations will check your credit history which, if good, will not only increase the chances of approval but also encourage them to charge an attractive interest rate.

• Work with your bank Yes, getting access to credit from banks is tougher but, if you can’t get approval, work with them to see what they need to make it happen. Just don’t accept a knock back. It could be there is a mistake in the credit history you weren’t aware of and can be rectified.

Most banks want to work with their business customers to grow their account. They tell us the more ongoing information they receive from a customer, the comfortable they are with helping the business and likely to extend credit.