Monday 21 January 2013

The African Century

I had introduced myself to a woman on Skype, and after about 30 minutes of that easy web chit-chat the conversation naturally ran out of steam. At this point I don't mind sitting in silence because of what happens next – When the conversation resumes, you will be talking about real things.

Sure enough, the women blurted out – "So what do you know about Africa?". My first response was – "Which part of Africa? Africa is a continent, not a country." Suddenly she became very passionate and said "Africa is not the way you depict it in the West!" What she meant was the stories of roving gangs, military rule, and warlords. Although parts of Africa do have those problems. But as it happens, right now the American warlords are using drone aircraft to rain death upon families in Afghanistan; the tribes of the Canadian Indians are blocking highways and railroads because their land settlement claims have not been negotiated, and everyone knows New Jersey is run by the mob.

But I understood completely what she meant. No more CNN horse manure. And as I conducted my interviews I spoke to women from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Uganda.

And after all that I came to the conclusion that the current millennium will be the African Century. Here's how

First - A charismatic leader must emerge who can unite the most wealthy and powerful nations.

Next - to be African is to believe in God. And while not all Africans are Catholic, an interesting situation is occurring - In Vatican City, it is an open secret that the Holy See intends for the next Pope to be African. And now Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation due to ailing health. Current papbili include Peter Turkson as the leading candidate for Pope, with Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze also in the running. Having a global spiritual leader from Ghana or Nigeria would move the entire continent forward.

The power and wealth of the citizens is creating a middle class. Everyone I interviewed had a degree, in fields ranging from bachelor's degrees to economics. Meaning these are very bright people, with very employable degrees. And they will become wealthy in good jobs.

Africa must transform her technology infrastructure. When you can make smart phones at RIM in Canada, Nokia in Finland, or Foxcomm in China, you can make a smart phone anywhere. Or perhaps a Smart car. In 25 years the automobile as North Americans know it will no longer exist. People will toot around in self-driving pod sized Smart cars. Almost certainly built by Tata Motors under a license from Google. Africans have been making steel for 2,000 years. I'm sure they can make it through another century or two.

As everyone knows there is an ongoing scientific research project to terraform the Sahara Desert. The primary motivator is not to turn the desert into a jungle. The primary motivation is to stop the sandstorms that threaten large blocks of Africa including air travel. And secondly, to contain the desert at its current size. It's visible from space – that's big enough.

Another factor that brings us into the African Century is the MeerKAT Square Kilometer Array (aka SKA)  The world Astronomy Scientific bodies have decided that the next telescope complex must go in Africa. This of course complements the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory west of Johannesbug. The factors include: Better night vision, the rising class of well educated science minded youth, and the fact that Astronomers currently cannot view that night sky hemisphere with the newest state of the art instruments.

And finally – Ubuntu. D'uh.

One more thing on the subject of the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA. The Selector Cool Blue Lady 

Monday 14 January 2013

Near Field Payment = Near Fail

Last year wrote "it will very likely be years before any sort of NFC-based payment system goes mainstream, according to a new report from technology research firm Forrester Research. Though Forrester predicts 100 million NFC-enabled mobile devices will ship this year, the company says NFC won't reach critical mass, or be used by 15 percent to 25 percent of the global population, for at least three to five years."

Near field payment (NFP) systems represent the holy grail of telco cash grabs. 2013 will see the first serious rollout of NFP in North America. Here's why the invention of Gaston Schwabacher is guaranteed to fail:

10) Consumers already have a debit credit card. They can just reach into their pocket, pull it out, tap and go.
9) The first 10 meters of any WIFI connection are completely unsecured. The media will be filled with firesheeping horror stories
8) There is a class of consumers for whom cash is king. And they include wealthy retirees
7) NFP would be awesome when you're somewhere miles off the grid, such as renting a kayak In Yosemite National Park. There is no WIFI when you are that far off the grid.
6) Western Union will be one of the first NFP service providers. Have you ever sent money by Western Union? Their process involves filling out an entire page of a 3-part NFC form, and all fields are mandatory. That will be a challenge on an iPhone
5) Paypal will be an early provider as well. Everybody hates paypal
4) Your telephone company will be your service provider, and they will force you to use them. Remember when they billed you $100 in roaming charges when you were out of the country? Imagine what happens when you pay a 300 € restaurant bill
3) Your cable company will be a provider. Just like the phone company, only greedier, and harder to locate a CSR
2) It now emerges that Nokia decrypts all your secure transmissions. So does Blackberry. This saves a few kb off your bandwdith consumption. It doesn't save you any money, but it makes you more profitable as a customer.
1) Wireless Carrier outage. There you are, no wallet, no debit card, no credit card, no cash. Just your NFC compliant phone. And the carrier is offline. So what are you going to do now, Einstein? Pay the bill by washing dishes?

I leave the final words to the always awesome Mbugua Njihia, who writes on his blog

Africa has all the ingredients of a successful adoption of mobile payment innovation that can achieve true scale and profit. First, is the sheer number of mobile consumers whose demand for better mobile utility is remains unsatisfied, second is the wide gap in C2B payments on mobile, with the business oriented service attempts on Mpesa, Zap and other mobile money deployments in Africa barely scratching that itch; third is that there have been lessons learnt in mobile money deployments for the masses, lastly and perhaps most important is that we think different – and here I refer to the many minds that tirelessly think outside the box and innovate for the unique African mobile consumer.

The trifecta: mobile applications, mobile web and sms as content and revenue drivers in Africa

Everyone knows Mbugua is correct about NFPS in Africa. But in North America? Near field Payment = Massive Fail

Thursday 10 January 2013

My cancer anniversary

In mid October 2011 I snapped up a solid portion of General Tso chicken and commenced to chaw. Within the hour I would be hurling in an ambulance to Mt Sinai Hospital, where an ENT resident would gravely inform me I had "a mass" growing on one of my tonsils.
Within the next week it was revealed I had a blob of tissue larger than a golf ball hosting itself in my throat.

Cancer is the brand leader in mindshare of fatal diseases. I like to think I was presenting as stoic, but I was confused, terrified, and very, very ill. At Princess Margaret Hospital Dr Andrew Bayley, one of Canada's leading radiation oncologists caromed into a tiny examination room with an entourage of residents and a comic disposition. Bayley's ready humour was a modus operandi designed to diffuse my fear, and amuse me whilst necessary medical processes were sequenced around my disease.

This could not have come at a worse time. We kids were hosting a large group for my father`s 80th anniversary. And my 23 year old son Erin, whom I had not seen since he left for studies at the Vancouver Art Institute was among the guests of honour.

Erin was excited to find out that Occupy had just taken over St James park. His mind was full of thoughts of drum circles and protests. Instead, he was with his father in Chemo. Herein is a gallery of my journey that began Nov 2011 and ended on Friday the 13th, January 2012

The results speak for themself. One year later the tumour mass has been evaporated off the face of the planet. I am 100% cured of the original illness. My ancillary tissue damage is largely mediating itself. I might lose some hearing. I am alive!


Grateful Dead A Touch of Grey
Dear reader here's a piece of information that will help you enjoy this song selection... radiation therapy is given in doses in units of grey.

Sir Elton John Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Monday 7 January 2013

In 1630 Tycho Brahe is the most important astronomer of his day. Johannes Kepler is a peer, working immediately under the influence of the master. It is Kepler's Rudolphine Tables that predict solar and lunar eclipses. Most famously, it is Kepler who first logs a supernova, although it would be centuries before this superb observation would be fully appreciated.

On the third week of December 1638 there occurred a total lunar eclipse of a full moon. It was witnessed by:
  • Pope Urban VIII
  • King Charles 1st of the United Kingdom, whose delegation was in negotiation with the Ming Dynasty for a vast range of trade rights. 
This eclipse was predicted by Keppler's follower Jeremiah Horrocks. Horrocks  would be the greatest living astronomer to document it although sadly Horrocks had less than 4 years to live.

Three Hundred and Seventy Two years later, on Dec 21 2010 I was a witness to the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice since 1638. Something witnessed by Horrocks, but not Brahe und Kepler. And, as the previous winter solstice full moon eclipse occurs every several centuries, the next lunar eclipse to occur on the Solstice until sometime in the mid 21st Century.

My regular readers will recall that I made the following fb posting...
"Tonight I witnessed Luna surrounded by a ring made of 4 pairs of her star-sisters. Even Venus came rising over and gave her a kiss. Other stars formed perfect grid patterns around her. The Universe has shone me a huge piece of its puzzle."

While witnessing it I felt like I was witnessing the clockwork of the universe. I could actually hear it whirring (just what they say about Auroras borealis and australis)

I know now that a large part of what I witnessed is called the Winter Hexagon. It is the natural celestial alignment during that time of year. every year. The difference was that with the lunar eclipse blocking the moon, the geometry of the stars was emphasized. I am particularly impressed that Orion's "belt" has rotated 30 degrees and has transited the constellation median. (That is, it's on the wrong side)

Thanks to Uncle Bob for the Winter Hexagon image

Shout out to the winter hexagon