My best friend from back home, Louis van der Merwe and his brother Willem van der Merwe are through to the final 21 in the first series of South Africa’s Got Talent. They sing opera (although they are both techies in their day jobs) and have absolutely amazing voices.

Please consider helping to support them by checking out www.louisandwillem.com (notably, watch their initial audition), joining their Facebook fan group or if you are in South Africa even voting for them this week when they perform live in the semi-finals. If you’re on Twitter you can follow the craziest week in their lives by following @louisandwillem.

They were featured in YOU and Huisgenoot this week so hopefully there’s a good swell of support for them already building back home 🙂

I grew up bilingual — speaking English at home with my British parents and Afrikaans at school. I can actually speak passable Dutch and German as well. I find it interesting, having moved to Britain, that this is seen as unusual since I had many friends at school who were completely fluent in 6 or 7 different languages. After all, in South Africa we have 11 national languages to choose from!

Growing up in the Western Cape, there were a number of interesting effects of the majority of people speaking multiple languages. For a start, if someone seemed to be struggling in one language, the polite thing for the other person to do was just to swap into their native tongue, where possible. Equally, you quickly learnt that there were some concepts that were just more powerfully described in one language over another. As a result, you’d just use the best terms from the best language available — resulting in a hybrid mish-mash of the different languages.

Personally, this is what I think the true value of multilingualism is. It’s about more than just understanding different words for the same concept — it’s about understanding the different concepts that exist, that possibly cannot even be articulated in your home language. This social bilingualism gives you a base-level understanding of the differences between cultures and an appreciation for the value diversity can bring.

No, this is not a breakfast item in the White House cafeteria, but something altogether more exciting. Freedom Toasters are kiosks where anyone can burn to CD free & open-source software.

“Like vending machines, preloaded to dispense confectionery, Freedom Toasters are preloaded to dispense free digital products, including software, photography, music and literature.”

I first heard about them from my friend Louis, as there is one installed at Stellenbosch Varsity. I think they are an absolutely FANTASTIC idea. Few people in the first world (particularly countries where connectivity is not only taken for granted, but free wifi abounds!) realise how much of an issue it is just getting time, facilities and bandwidth to download an install file for Firefox, let alone a full Linux distribution.

These machines change the game completely — people don’t need a broadband connection to get at open source resources. All they need is to bring along some blank CD-Rs and burn whatever they want. The initiative is supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation who have provided instructions for anyone to build their own Toaster, effectively open-sourcing the scheme itself! Hopefully we’ll see these continue to pop up all over South Africa, bringing accessible software solutions to more and more people … and personally I can’t wait to actually see one!