All posts by Greg Emuze

Freedom’s new helpmeet

When the Time Person of the Year 2011 award went to ‘the Protester’ I was not surprised. Despite the presence of other nominees like Steve Jobs (who needs no introduction) and Elizabeth Warren (a US Senate candidate), I still was not surprised.

It began in Tunisia, where a 26-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi drenched himself in paint thinner and lit a match after harassment and seizure of his fruit scales by council officials. It is said to be the final straw that broke the provabial camel’s back and ignited a series of protests and revolutions that spread through out the Arab world and unto other countries across the globe. But I digress.

Instead of plugging in the headphones, entering an Internet-induced fugue state and quietly giving in to hopelessness, protesters used the Internet to find one another and take to the streets to insist on fairness and (in the Arab world) freedom. For instance in Tunisia,  a blogger recorded the protests with his BlackBerry, uploaded the video to Youtube, and it got half a million views in a day. Hours later, President Ben Ali flew to exile in Saudi Arabia. After just four weeks, they protesters had won.

The Egyptians had their own Mohamed Bouazizi: an underemployed middle-class 28-year-old named Khaled Said. Sometime in 2010, after apparently hacking a police officer’s cell phone and lifting a video of officers displaying drugs and stacks of cash, he was arrested and beaten to death. Wael Ghonim, then a 29-year-old Google executive, created a Facebook page called We Are All Khaled Said to memorialize him. It went viral! In January, Ghonim returned from Dubai to Egypt met online and then, face to face with other protesters and the rest is history.

In Madrid, Spain  Olmo Gálvez, 31, an Internet entrepreneur just back from three years working in China and new to politics helped set up social-media networks for the protest.

The Gaddafi led government saw that the Internet is a valuable wartime resource, like a critical bridge over which supplies can flow. As long as you can deny it to your enemy, you don’t blow it up — you keep it intact for your own use. And so they went for it just like Egypt did. After Gaddafi shut down all communications coming from the Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, rebels developed a new strategy that includes a new network that enabled them to communicate and access the Internet. They launched Free Libyana on the 2nd of April 2011. And by April 12th 2011, a span of ten days, Opposition said it had an amazing 725,000 subscribers. Again. the rest is history.

So, I was far from amazed when rumors began to spread, during the Occupy Nigeria protests, that BIS was going to be suspended by Telcos in the country. My timeline literarily caught fire! “Fools! have they never heard of Twitter?” “As long as there is internet, we will communicate” “We’ll use sms and phone calls” “Let the Telcos also pack up and leave!” just to mention a few of the reactions I saw. Someone actually ‘approached’ me on Twitter to ask if TimbaObjects could hack together something that would be sms based to ensure the Occupy Nigeria protests would be seen and heard by the whole world and keep communication amongst protesters alive. Guys had gotten smart!

The Internet is super important and has proven even more so being the main tool behind the social, political and economic revolution across the globe. So no matter if broadband access is a human right, protected as a mechanism for free speech or completely corrupted to serve the status quo, it’s also wise to have a backup plan.

When some future governments are backed into a corner by a popular uprising supported by Internet communication, they will probably reach the same conclusions that Libya and Egypt did: reestablish control over national communications at any cost, and pick up the pieces later. That’s why the Internet is too vital to be left in the hands of centralized authority, and it’s why you should press for more diverse Internet connectivity wherever you happen to live.

Freedom has wooed and won the Internet’s heart and she has brought along her smart kids: Social Networks. They do love their new daddy.

Long Live Freedom and it’s new Helpmeet!

Your Titanic, My Titanic

Am sure we’ve all seen the movie ‘Titanic’. And in the event you’ve been living in a crevice somewhere in the Himalayas, it a re-enactment of the fateful voyage of the world’s largest sea vessel of its time (Ask someone else for the romance in the story. I’ll suggest Joy). Well, the ship sank 4 days into its maiden voyage and went to the bottom of the Atlantic taking about 1,517 souls along. History. The 1997 movie was a blast and stayed on top if the box office grossing charts for 12 years only recently taken down by Avatar.

Lets talk numbers. If you hate maths, never mind, I’ll bring it down to you. It cost White Star Line $7.5 million to put the Titanic to sea in 1912. Yep, quite a sum back then. Guess how much the movie ‘Titanic’ grossed? About $1.84 billion. Yep! Billion with a  B. Let’s take that in for a moment. (*leans back and smiles with eyes closed*)

Ah! Do i see a hand at the back of the class? Inflation you ask? Well, even after adjusting for inflation and bringing both figures to a chosen year, it’ll have cost $28.86 million to build the liner and the movie would have grossed $383.34 million! Yep! Now, class, a simple division yields 13.28 (to 2 s.f.). QED.

My point? The story of the failure of the ocean liner, Titanic, made about 13 times what it cost the owners to actually build it. White Star Line suffers a huge loss, James Cameron picks up the tale, underlines the romance with a bunch of good actors and with the 21st Century and other studios made a success out of a shipwreck.

The moral of the story?

Technology is meant to make life, in general, easier, worth the while and longer (in some cases). Many argue nothing new can be invented that only advancements can be made. It is only logical to try and solve the same old issues (even pre-1912) with cutting edge technology. Especially with Information and Communication Technology.

Technology drives commerce. According to the story line, no one saw the huge ocean liner sink in 1912, but with 1997’s technology, millions lined up to the Titanic sinking afresh! It’s time we looked at those age old ‘shipwrecks’ from a different angle, sprinkle in some innovation and find a way with today’s technology. That’s why we are here.

Dance for Data

I was to take a bike from the highway to the “Mast”. I’d been told that my brother-in-law-to-be’s apartment was in the block of flats directly across from a telecommunication mast. I was passing through Ibadan and it was getting rather late, so I decided to spend the night in my sister’s fiancee’s place and get back on the road at the crack of dawn.

After a 6 minute ride, I was there. Standing before the mast, I wondered how many such monuments to our developmental progress in the sphere of telecommunications were scattered over the federation. They had to be thousands and thousands of them. In my mind’s eye, I saw a technical executive’s office at NCC with the map of Nigeria stabbed in a thousand places indicating where masts stood.

It was however not the mast itself that caught my attention, it was the muffled sound from the sound-proof generator installed to power the site. There was a fence and a security guard whom I later learnt had bought a motorcycle from the proceeds he made billing the mobile phone users in the neighborhood for each hour their phones spent plugged into a power source at his security post. He always had light, they seldom did. Demand and supply. Economics 101.

The Telcos got their licenses in 2001 at a cost of about N31.9billon each. Add to that the cost of doing business, (e.g. having to pay the security dude at their mast who’s ‘selling’ their energy at a premium and keeping it for himself. Even with people like him on the payroll, there have been countless cases of theft and vandalism at such mast sites nationwide). Ok, yes, the costs are huge. But they dare not claim annual loses! Profits are still staggering, simply put. With EBITDA figures that sound like astronomical distances.

But it’s still a wonder that Indonesians pay about $7 for BIS monthly and we pay about $20. Data is still very expensive here and most folks I know with Maemos, Androids and iOSs dare not let their mobiles loose in the byte store. It’s a quick way to commit financial suicide. A few get data plans and these are still very expensive. A friend ran an N8000 data plan monthly on his Galaxy S. Sad much, I tell ya!

 

 

To whom shall we go for data on our smartphones? We have to dumb them down to make them affordable. switch off most Apps, increase the time lags between retrievals and other such barbaric stunts. I recall when I got my first smartphone (Bless it’s soul *wipes a tear*), anytime folks were checking it out, I had to stand guard. Not because of privacy concerns but because, one innocent click on an App or widget and zzzaaaaaaap! my balance would read something thing like N0.09 in few seconds. Happened a few times.

The Red Indians had a dance ritual they performed when they needed the rains. I wonder if there’s a Nigerian dance ritual that would help bring us a torrent of data. My hope is that it’s as easy as alanta.

Score Brokers and the Laws of Historical Precedence

“Where were you in 2008 when we flogged this same team 1-0 in the semi-finals?” Kunle yelled. I was on his side in this argument, but he was going into the past as he was fond of and this irked me on end. The guys on the other side of the divide in this soccer argument were going to start going into ‘the books’ too to pull out records, at that stage it would be over for me. Kunle would have to go it alone. Am sorry.

I am a soccer fan, a jersey donning-display picture-die hard fan of  Manchester United FC, reigning champs of the EPL (no apologies to all other EPL team fans, you all can stop reading now). I will defend my team at any soccer argument ‘tourney’, but please in the name of all you hold dear, do not ask me for historical precedences. I do not recall all the history neither do I believe those will count in the present. These ‘Score Brokers’ actually recalled all the stuff and believed it mattered, even if it happened 30 years ago! They’ll tell you the likely outcome in figures! Puleaseeeeee! Are you shitting me? Count me out.

Kunle is one hell of a Score Broker. His day job? A stock analyst and broker. He ran a website to service his clients and sent them SMS reports along side. But his passion was soccer. His team? My team! *winks* he sides with the best. But before I get carried away, back to why I’m writing this. We sat and watched the match together, well, our team lost (don’t ask me for details! Hatters!), but as we took the long walk back home from the viewing center, I got thinking about all the historical precedence that had been discussed and how it really hadn’t favored us and alas! the match too had not. Did this thing really work?

Fans like Kunle could go as far back as the 1960s to site cases like lawyers! I suddenly asked Kunle “When was the NSE formed?” He looked at me strange, still wallowing in the defeat of our club side. I guess he wasn’t expecting such a question, a UEFA related question would have been welcomed. He did answer, “It was established in 1960, trading actually began in 1961. It was called the Lagos Stock Exchange at the time.” I left it at that.

A few days ago, I had the joy to call Kunle and ask him how he would feel if we could deliver to to him all the stock quotes of the NSE not only of the present and fairly recent, but also past quotes. Well, his reaction is best imagined. I almost dropped my phone. With such a database and the tools of his trade, trends would stand out like whores in a convent. Trends was what all the historical precedence was all about. Trends were the guide to forecasting and navigating the shifting weather and waters of Stock brokerage and analysis.

This is exciting and I like the vibes we are getting from the experts in that field. Our team at TO? We are ready to play. Do I hear someone say mobile? Gosh! You folks never have enough. Heheheheheh!

From my desk this Thursday evening.

Rat bytes!

“Calm down, madam, it’s just a rat bite.” My doctor friend had told the bewildered and totally shaken professor who’d been rushed in the ER on his dreadful night duty.

The elderly lady had dozed off in front of the TV after eating leaving her hands unwashed. Apparently, a bite had jolted her awake and the first thing that came to her mind was that she’d been bitten by a venomous snake!

Of course she and her folks thought my friend was totally bunkers to have even thought it was a rat! A bladdy rodent?! “Young man you must be an incompetent blah, blah, blah…!” her husband screamed. Threatening to report him to the “high and mightys” and ensure he was relieved of his job.

The woman was even having symptoms of a snake bite – vision problems, speaking and breathing trouble, and numbness! Well, in the end, my Doctor friend was right and they all (old and wise as they were) were dead wrong. The symptoms were somatization, simple hysteria. Funny, eh? I didn’t think so.

“Jus’ ‘cos am young, wear jeans an’ a T-shirt and drive fast, they think i don’t know my job.” He told me. It’s just a fact of life that the young are thought to be unserious, directionless and not worth the bother. (That’s a blog for another day though). But while he related his ordeal, he’d just described me and the rest of my colleagues. Young-gum chewing-jean and T-shirt wearing-back pack carrying clans who called themselves Developers, Designers, UX people, Network experts, whatever.

Once you said to anyone “Am into IT.” Be ready for one of two reactions:

(A) They start thinking “yep, sonny, excuse yourself for all the hours you spend fiddling on your computer and the internet at home while honest hard working people are either at work or asleep.” Or, my favorite,

(B) They  go, in their minds, “hmmmm, he’s making a killing robbing some organization(s) blind and keeping them in their ignorance of simple things and tools. Scammer! Legal fraudster!”

It’s, well, an occupational hazard that we accept, carry our laptops and trudge on.

But i am compensated, when i commute around the metropolis and beyond, to find the love that  users, both young and old, have for their mobile devices. Phones (Smart and otherwise), Palmtops, iPads, etc. A wise college girl once said “If you have your head raised high while all others are bowed, you should get a BB!” LOL! I’ll like to extend that saying, “… get a smartphone”!

Heads bowed, attention riveted to the glowing screens, fingers tapping out messages, people all over go about their daily businesses  dragging away their attentions when absolutely necessary and only for the briefest of times. Its a culture a fellow IT chap aptly named  ‘the Ratmode’. I agree the posture reminds one of a rat at work on a nut.

A GPRS enabled phone and a few bytes of data (as little as 10MB for about $0.67) and all troubles and sorrows melt away as users dive into the depths of online infotainment and communication Ratmode style. Social network sites are the first ports of call: Facebook, Twitter, Mixit, 2go, Nimbuzz, Badoo, etc. And I mean etc! Aha! lest I forget the classiest one in these parts, BBM. (I said it, so BB lovers, am on your side.) Aside the Social network sites, there are a million other mobile sites for stuff like music, movies, games, wallpapers, pictures, the works. Our loyal IM applications are never far away too.

It gladdens my heart, that with rat sized bytes, smartphones and applications, the www in a nut in the hands of the user. Africa has been split wide open to the ratmode culture, the internet penetration is largely experienced on the mobile.

 

 

 

The charts above reveal a fascinating trend and I can assure you that those figures are advancing daily in bounds.

Africa is going mobile! Nigeria is going mobile! Developers come up with fresh ideas and products to keep users interested and happy daily. Mobile Web? Bring it on. Mobile App? Let’s tango. Obviously, if you are not mobile, you are nowhere. Simple!

We IT folks are still easy to spot, from a few minutes to a few days observing us, it becomes obvious. Yesterday, a total stranger in a full commuter bus asks me to please help him upload a profile picture from his mobile device to his favorite social network platform! Damn! Spotted again.

From my desk on a rainy morning,

Greg.

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