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Daily Nation : February 3rd 2014
4 TECHNOLOGY I wish we could shake off the obsession with exotic ideas BY KAHENYA KAMUNYU Kahenya@ablehq.co.ke O ne of the most underrated technology anecdotes is that of a country never ex- pected to survive after the demise of the Soviet Union. As the bow-tie wearing President Toomas Hendrik Ilves jests, “So Estonia became Estonia.” Estonia emerged from the crush- ing shadow of the Soviet Union to remodel herself into a European technology powerhouse, and is now close to achieving a two-decade fiefdom while becoming Europe’s leading technology country. Estonia has cultivated its technol- ogy strategy to first achieve some of the fastest broadband speeds in Europe. Subsequently, it became the birthplace of Skype, among other start-ups. This was not just a result of favourable governance and flat income tax, but more of a good public-private partnership (PPP). Estonia’s PPP strategy created a wonderful opportunity, as the country found herself in the impressive position of carrying much of Europe’s Internet Traffic, for a fee, bringing out a better education framework, and a true Eastern European brand revolution in start-ups. Estonia has the highest number of “start-ups to population” ratio over any other country in the world. It’s population is about 1.4 million. The true soul of technology in Estonia runs deep, and of all items, the identity (ID) card is the centre of everything. It is a smart card that grants citizens full access to the government’s electronic services, including paying taxes, which, as a task, only takes five minutes. The government laid the infra- structure to build the service, but elected to manage it independently, ensuring privacy, creating trust with the citizens and eliminating inefficiencies. Then the government enabled citizens to send encrypted email and did not interfere, something considered a taboo this side of the world. That story is far removed from ours. Our capital city, Nairobi, is plagued with traffic, and it is not about to get better any time soon. The rate of development of both commercial and residential properties and the pace at which people are purchasing vehicles, do not match up to the speed by which roads are developed. To borrow from journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo’s recent writings, our government inherited colossal challenges compounded by historic corruption and incompetence, hence the need for a colossal development drive to catch up. The question is: Does the new government really represent a new face of development? Nairobi has had multiple proposals to solve its traffic problems. So far, there hasn’t been much success. IBM proposed what now seems to be a non-starter idea. The American technology company had proposed to setup cameras across the city that would allow them to monitor and research traffic. The plan included tracking cell phones to see how many of them would be at a road, junction, roundabout etc at any given time. There are expensive traffic lights and cameras deployed for millions of shillings, yet policemen are still at round-abouts controlling traffic. That can only suggest the lights and cameras haven’t brought about much progress. With my good friend Limo Taboi of Overlap Kenya, we have laboured over his idea to build a traffic management solution. Yes, I participate in this technology. Forgive me, therefore, if I seem biased, but I am writing about the technology so that we may derive some lessons and more ideas from it. Mr Taboi is the day-to-day man- ager of Overlap Kenya, and I focus on keeping the technology running. Then, there is Ma3route, which, ironically, is not our competitor, but a soft collaborator. There are a few others. Overlap Kenya and Ma3route catalogue traffic choke points. They indicate blind spots, address weather challenges on the roads, and show accidents. The best part is the provision of auditable data with BY MERCY NJOKI email@example.com Not even the security personnel on campus can prevent theft among comrades. Most students have stories to tell about the day they found their stuff stolen. And for those who have not had the experience, it may be just a matter of time. Comrade spirit is long gone at universities. The days when a comrade’s problem was every comrade’s concern do not seem to exist any more. It is no surprise these days to find a comrade sleeping on a hungry stomach while his roommates have had enough food to eat and have some left over for the next day. The rule of survival for the fittest is indeed best practised in universities. The weak are exploited by the strong. The situation has become so bad that if a comrade does not lock his wardrobe, which also serves as his cupboard, he will find his sugar, flour, rice, and soap stolen by a broke and hungry roomie. FILE | DAILY NATION photographic evidence of delinquents on the road. Being independent, both platforms are not limited to just private and public service vehicles. They also catalogue delinquents bearing government and state registrations, as well as the diplomatic plates. With all the data openly available, anyone can generate traffic trends and start identifying solutions. Data is crowdsourced from daily road users, passengers, pedestrians and notably traffic accident victims. With these, Nairobi wakes up to open and free real time data about the roads, and people are able to make real time decisions to avoid traffic when they can. Emergency services are partly coordinated with this freely available data. Why? It benefits them, and since both platforms are growing and covering more parts of the country, one can generally assume that they are working. So, why does this matter? It comes down to an opinion shared by Governor Evans Kidero, who wants people to offer solutions to help decongest Nairobi’s roads. His idea is to incorporate a tech- nocratic committee. From past experiences, committees in this country have tended to pursue exotic solutions, ignoring the unwritten technology rule that, “If it works in Kenya, it will work elsewhere, but not vice versa.” The governor’s approach has not helped quash claims that the government and local technologists are poles apart. The government seems more keen to spend money on foreign solutions. We can achieve success like Es- tonia, but we need to evolve. One of the toughest decisions needed is to forget money-gobbling technocratic committees and start looking to scaling existing technological solutions by people who face the challenges everyday: the public. The writer is the CEO of Able Wireless Company (www.ablehq.co.ke), a media streaming service provider SCIENCE Health and hygiene notes from recent research Pain Relievers and Flu Spread Taking drugs like aspirin or ibupro- fen when you have the flu reduces fever and eases aches, but it may have unintended consequences. A new study using mathemati- cal projections has concluded that use of anti-fever drugs increases flu spread, both by raising the amount of flu virus shed and by increasing interaction between flu sufferers and uninfected people. Fever fights viruses by reducing their ability to reproduce. Reducing fever defeats this effect and increases the rate of viral shedding. “We’re not saying to avoid these drugs,” said the senior author, David Earn, a professor of mathematics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “But if you take them, there’s this effect that’s not obvious.” The authors of the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, acknowledge that their numbers are not precise. But they calculate that at least 700 deaths and many more serious illnesses could be avoided annually by not using these drugs at all. “The real message is straightforward,” Earn said. “It’s better to stay home and keep your child at home, so you don’t infect others.” Time for a new doctors’ coat? New recommendations on what health care workers should wear may mean an end to the doctor’s white coat. The Society for Health care Epidemiology of America, a professional group whose mission is to prevent and control infections in the medical workplace, has issued guidance on what health care workers should wear outside of the operating room. They suggest that to minimise infection risk, hospitals might want to adopt a “bare below the elbows” policy that includes short sleeves and no watches, jewelry or neckties during contact with patients. The authors also recommend that if the use of coats is not abandoned, each doctor should have at least two, worn alternately and laundered frequently. And if they wear the coat at other times, they should remove it before approaching patients. The authors emphasise that the recommendations are based more on biological plausibility of transmitting infection through clothing than on strong scientific evidence. (NYT) Laptops and phones Students sleep holding their keys and money for they are safest in their hands. Roommates fight in their hostels over stolen items, blaming each other. Hatred and bad faith take centre stage and friends grow numb to each other. They even hide cooked food in case a roommate decides to have a bite and spoil the budget. Laptops and phones are the most targeted items by thieves. They sell them on the black market or to students from other campuses. Those are the lucky few. Many of them get caught and when that happens, they dance to the music. They are beaten senseless. It is barely two months since two students were lynched after being caught stealing a laptop belonging to a classmate. A minute is enough for a thief For the lucky ones whose proverbial 40 days are not yet over, they succeed in their mission and pocket a few thousands to push them through the semester. Students have been forced by the insecurity to lock their hostel doors even when going to the washrooms. A minute is enough for a thief comrade to trace and unplug a phone charging in the room. A student could not believe her eyes one day when she returned to her room to find that the rice she had left cooking as she went to buy salt had gone missing together with the sufuria. Even wet clothes disappear from the lines. A fresher learnt the hard way recently when she washed most of her clothes and shoes, hang them outside, and went for a lecture. Upon returning, she found empty clothes lines. Laughed the incident off Her cries and shouts attracted other comrades, who just laughed the incident off and called it normal. For a while, the student had to rely on friends for clothes as she was left with only what she was wearing. Of course most theft victims do not take the disappearance of their items lightly. They post warning notices asking whoever the thieves are to return their items within a given deadline or find themselves eating grass and suffering the effects of some unspecified wrath of witchdoctors. So far, none of these threats seem to have worked. INSTITUTIONS DAILY NATION Monday February 3, 2014 COMRADE TALK Theft by fellow students goes into overdrive; who’ll stop it?
February 2nd 2014
February 4th 2014