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Posts from — July 2006

What not to do on safari: Take a rubbish camera

When you visit one of the only national parks in Africa where you can freely walk – quite literally – among the animals, make sure you have a decent camera with you. After all, it’s not every day that a pack of African wild dogs pass through. Here’s one looking for breakfast.

As for the lions…

July 29, 2006   1 Comment

The Sodom & Gamorrah Show

We all have our favourite bands. Most come and go, replaced by others as musical trends – and our tastes – change over time. I’ve lost count of the number I’ve stumbled across, only for them to break up or vanish from the face of the planet after a second or, if lucky, third album. It’s rare to be able to say that you’ve grown up with a band. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones who can say I have…

Those who know me might be surprised that it’s taken this long to give a mention to the Pet Shop Boys on my Blog, a pop duo who emerged in the mid-80′s who, in the words of one of their own songs, have “both made such a little go a very long way”.

There’s a Pet Shop Boys song representing almost every phase of my teenage life (well, late teens, anyway) up to the present. I’ve played them on every one of my numerous Sony Walkman’s, portable CD players and more recently iPod in every African country I’ve had the fortune to visit. The recent release of their highly acclaimed ‘Fundamental‘ album has thrust them back into the public eye, and the BBC’s use of their ‘Numb’ track to summarise the disappointment of England’s recent exit from the football World Cup gave the track a surprising iTunes chart hit.

The recent revamp of their website (pictured) has been long overdue. Best of all, however, has to be the ‘Jukebox’ where you get a random stream of classic PSB tunes, and the ‘Product’ section where tracks from all twenty-eight albums can be played online, in full. This includes the fantastic Battleship Potemkin, a soundtrack to the 1925 silent Russian revolutionary film of the same name. Give the site a visit, and check out ‘Fundamental’.

Like an old friend, it’s hard to imagine the musical world without our Neil and Chris. For now, I’ll try not to.

“I want to to be numb…”

July 26, 2006   No Comments

Time for specialisation?

If you cast your mind back a few years you’d remember whole batches of small IT start-ups developing and marketing bunches of IT-based tools and diagnostics utilities. Looking back now some of these seem a little silly – a utility to compress data or defrag your system, another to help undelete files, others to search for files across your hard drives. Now, of course, pretty much all of these have been swallowed up into Windows. The lucky companies got bought out. Others just went under.

The PC market is certainly big enough to support many, many companies of different shapes and sizes. It’s sad to think, then, that so many of these pioneers have fallen by the wayside (although replaced, naturally, by newer outfits). If Microsoft hadn’t liked their products so much and hadn’t either made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, or integrated their ideas into the continuing evolvement of Windows, then quite possibly many more would still be around today. It would make for a healthier environment, I’m sure.

Now we hear that Apple may be under pressure (again) from the Seattle giant. Picture it. A couple of decades or so ago you develop a home computer, and the operating system, only for someone else to come in and steal your thunder (I won’t go into any of the legal issues or court cases here). So, after a period of great uncertainty you decide to move into a new area – portable music devices – and make a huge success of that. Then what happens? Another giant – the same one as before, as a matter of fact – comes in and announces that they will also be entering the market.

Dubbed the “iPod killer” by some, Microsoft’s ‘Zune‘ portable media player will certainly be one to watch. But why does a company with the biggest pile of money ever assembled need to go and enter another market like this? Isn’t the PC market enough to be getting on with?

Competition may be healthy, sure. Survival of the fittest, sure. But let’s be careful how we go forward. I, for one, would rather see companies specialise and stick to what they do best. And leave the others to do the same.

July 18, 2006   1 Comment

ICTs: Prescribing the right medicine…

The argument that drugs widely available in Western countries (many at greatly reduced cost via public and national health programmes) should also be made available – at preferential rates – to other not-so-well-off developing countries is not new. Indeed, medicines such as those which block the transmission of HIV from mother to unborn child are widely used in Europe and the United States but, despite their huge success, aren’t always available to the millions in developing countries who need them just as much. Perhaps even more.

You’d have thought that campaigning for life-saving drugs was a bit of a no-brainer. People here are unnecessarily dieing from a disease which has a cure there. Sadly, things are never that simple.

I’ve often wondered if the same concept could be applied to ICTs. Over the past two or three years the emergence of information and communication technologies as a means of enabling economic empowerment in third world communities has grown into something of a phenomenon. Report after report reveals the wide-ranging benefits of mobile telephony in particular, from improved communication between family members through to the creation of small businesses and the provision of valuable news and other information via SMS.

As with the pharmaceutical model, cost, for many, is something of a barrier. After all, getting hold of a phone is just the half of it – without a SIM and regular top-ups it’s not much use to anyone. A mixture of entrepreneurial skills and outright resourcefulness often solves some, if not all, of these problems. But if the mobile is such an economic enabler, and if it is able to spread its influence across multiple disciplines such as health, education and communication (to name just three), then shouldn’t we be looking to remove these cost barriers? As with the medicine model, shouldn’t we be fighting for cheaper and wider access to mobile services?

At the NGO level, those with the vision and will to embrace the mobile revolution regularly stumble across the same barrier. Hitting a few hundred phones with a targeted health message is not only technically challenging for some of these organisations, but it can also be costly. Again, if the benefits are so clear then why don’t we campaign for cheaper, more open access to the networks?

The mobile revolution has not only empowered many third world citizens and communities. It’s also making some people very, very rich. It’s the perfect business model. Wouldn’t it be great if a provider could set up a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) for exclusive use by the NGO community – conservation and development organisations alike working for the greater good? The infrastructure is already there. I don’t think it would be too much work. But it would reduce their bottom line a little. Maybe that’s the problem…

I can’t somehow see this happening anytime soon, but an NGO mobile network throughout continents such as Africa? Now, wouldn’t that be something?

July 9, 2006   1 Comment