The Absurdity of Tanzania’s Cyber Laws

In another ridiculous African decision, the government of Tanzania recently signed into law regulations that , among other things, require bloggers to pay a fee for the right to own, maintain and publish a blog.

Reports the CNN:

It’s not just bloggers affected by the provisions, but online radio stations, online streaming platforms, online forums, social media users and internet cafes.

The “Electronic and Postal Regulations” also requires Internet Cafes to have surveillance cameras, presumably to catch people who make posts on social media that are deemed unsuitable by the government.

The much lauded President Magufuli, at least at the beginning of his term, has revealed his true colors: He’s just another wannabe strongman who cannot take criticism and whose only tool is authoritarianism.

It makes me sad that the people of Tanzania are subjected to such unreasonable and draconian laws at a time when the world is making progress with regards to freedom of expression.

Punishment will also be meted out on those who publish “content that causes annoyance… or leads to public disorder.” All this in an effort to curb “moral decadence”

Honestly you can’t make this up.

 

The Android Apps I Use

There has been a discussion about the apps we use in our phones in the Techzim Whatsapp group and I thought I should list mine here and why I use them. These, then, are my favorite Android apps, the ones I install on every Android device- and all of them are free.

  1. Inbox by Gmail: This is my preferred email client.
  2. Twitter: No explanation required. I use the official app. It works for me.
  3. Facebook Lite: For Facebook I prefer Facebook Lite because it doesn’t gobble as much data and works even when I have shitty network- which, in this part of the world, is plenty of times.
  4. Instagram: I recently discovered Instagram and occassionally post a pic. Mostly however I just look at how fat or rich classmates are now and at nice cars.

    My homescreen, showing some of the Apps I use most
  5. Reddit Offline: I’m a big fan of Reddit, as I’ve mentioned before. Reddit Offline allows me to download subreddits and then read them later such as in a kombi, bus, when I don’t have data or when I’m just plain bored.
  6. Google Keep: I take plenty of random notes, from reminders of what i should buy to interesting quotes. I use Keep for this because it works across all my devices. There are many Android Apps for Note taking but I love Keep for its simplicity.
  7. Google Chrome: My preferred browser on all platforms. I used to like Opera Mini for Android but not anymore. I occasionally use it but I can probably do without it now.
  8. Facebook Messenger: Messenger makes communicating with people on Facebook easier. Not a huge fan but it serves.
  9. WhatsApp: The first app I install. Whatsapp is called App in these parts, and for a reason. I use it to call, to communicate, to catch up on the news and try to be civil in family groups.
  10. Feedly: Feedly allows me to subscribe to the feeds of my favorite sites. This brings all their headlines and stories to one platform. Useful for going through the news in the morning.
  11. Journey: Successful people keep diaries and journals. And since I want to be successful I keep a journal. Journey is the app of choice for this task, allowing online backup and offering a very minimalist and smart UI.
  12. Sofascore: I watch a lot of football and Sofascore allows me to track games in almost every league in the world. There are plenty others but I like Sofascore best. It allows me to reviews player and team statistics, highlights, in game stats, a discussion forum that’s like watching a game with lunatics and many other functions. It also has many other sports but I use it exclusively for football.
  13. Shazaam: Shazaam is one of those incredibly simple apps that perform trivial tasks that we seemingly don’t need until we do. It identifies songs and it does so very well. Useful for when you hear a new song on the kombi or even in a bar.
  14. Google Calendar: A calendar. Of course. I like all things Google, so I use the default one.
  15. Here Maps: I learnt about Here Maps when I used Windows Phone. It’s main advantage is that you can download the maps and use it offline. Very useful, it has helped me make some rendezvous at places I didn’t know. Works extremely well.
  16. Reddit: I love Reddit and I use the official app to “lurk” and very rarely post on my favourite subreddits.
  17. WordPress: The means with which I sometimes update this-and other- blogs.
  18. Aldiko: While I don’t usually read on my Phone, prefering, instead, my Kindle, occasionally I download a new book and have to check it out on the phone. Also for those times I don’t have my Kindle with me. It is the best ebook software out there.
  19. WordWeb: I also write here and there. Coupled with reading it means I sometimes need to check the meaning of words. WordWeb is the finest dictionary for Android.
  20. Podcast Addict: A friend recently introduced me to Podcasts and I have grown to like a couple. Podcast addict allows me to listen to my favorite podcasts.
  21. Rocket Player: My preferred music player though rarely used since I hardly ever listen to music on my phone. It’s, however, useful in the gym.
  22. SwiftKey: Odd that this should be so far down. In truth I probably install SwiftKey before any other app because it’s the best Keyboard app of all and without it I cannot type a damn thing.

Activism and Outrage in the Digital Age

When First Lady Grace Mugabe allegedly assaulted a young South African model a few weeks ago she probably thought nothing of it. She is, after all, a First lady and such small things cannot inconvenience anyone of her stature- or so she thought.

What happened, instead, is that the girl took to Twitter and her outrage became the outrage of thousands of people. The South African Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, who loves Twitter, had no option but to act.

A matter that twenty years ago would have been quietly settled became a global affair that complicated diplomatic relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa as the South African government tried to protect Grace Mugabe while at the same time keeping in the public’s good books.

In the end Grace Mugabe got diplomatic immunity and left South Africa unscathed but no doubt deeply shaken. And not before she became an internationally notorious figure giving rise to plenty of articles and hundreds of memes.

Even now there are some in South Africa still pursuing the matter, and in the aftermath her two sons had to leave the country and come back to Zim.

The political and legal consequences aside, this case highlighted, again, the power of social media.

Social media is cheap, instant and vast and the consequences of messages on social networks can be monumental. The Arab Spring, Fees Must Fall and other movements show what social media can achieve.

And closer to home the likes of Fadzayi Mahere and Evan Mawarire rode on social media popularity to launch political careers. At the same time the same social media takes the likes of Grace Mugabe to unprecedented infamy.

In the digital age there are no small crimes, no “big fish” and no small causes.

Looks like I’ve found the right laptop

A few posts ago I wrote about getting a new portable laptop and it seems like I may just have found myself one. Yesterday while running some errands in town I came across the Dell Latitude E7470, a 14” beauty.

As is normal, I promptly googled it and found some positive reviews. The unit costs upwards f $1000 though the vendor in town has it for much cheaper. Had to triple check for genuineness and it looks fine. Still don’t understand how the guys here price their gadgets though.

The e7470 has 4 Gig Ram, a 128 Gig SSD drive and a core i5 processor. The processor is fine and the Ram should be enough, though I think I can easily upgrade that to 8 Gig or even 16.

My main worry is the storage. I have never had a computer with less than 320 Gig of storage and I’m worried I’ll fill the thing up quickly. However I can probably manage if I keep all my other files in the desktop I intend to build and in the other external drives I own. In that case the 128 Gig SSD should be normal for books, some music, software and the coding that I will mainly use it for.

I will search for a little bit longer though, to see if I can’t get a better deal- which is highly unlikely- or perhaps try to get something else entirely.

 

In search of a new laptop

A while ago I was looking for a new phone and I have since gotten myself a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X, which I think is an excellent phone for its price. (Review is coming)

Now I need a new laptop and for the first time my considerations are mainly portability and aesthetics. In the past I prized power- especially the GPU- over all things. I loved to play games then and always preferred big, heavy machines.

Things have changed though and I now want something light, with great battery whilst still packing power. Something I can use to write code in a coffee shop or blog while I wait for a friend. The new laptop should also be able to last at least two or three years without getting too dated.

The problem obviously is money and I have been looking at getting the best deals and my best hope seem to be the Asus Zenbook family.

What would I get if I had all the money in the world, you may wonder?

I’d get the Surface Book by Microsoft, which can turn into a tablet, has a powerful processor and packs a great battery. It also has awesome handwriting support. I could also use that to prepare some video lectures I’m thinking of making for high school kids.

The Surface Book starts at $1499 in case, dear reader, you’re feeling generous.

You Get What You Pay For

These past couple of weeks a story of a collapsed bridge in Kenya has popped up on my social media feeds quite a lot. The bridge in question, which was also used as a campaigning point for next month’s elections by the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, was being constructed by a Chinese Company called the Chinese Overseas Construction and Engineering Company, itself a subsidiary of China railways.

The collapse was touted by friends as evidence of poor Chinese workmanship a view held by many people across the continent.

Most people think Chinese goods and products don’t last as long as they should, and that Chinese workmanship is poor. It is a view so entrenched that we called counterfeits and fakes “zhing zhongs” which is a phrase that arose from trying to sound Chinese.

Chinese reputation is not very good in Africa and there are several cases of Chinese projects going awry, for example in Zambia where a Chinese built road was washed away by a rainstorm.

Yet the notion that the Chinese cannot produce goods of high quality or build durable infrastructure is wrong. After all China itself is pretty advanced and I personally have no complaints about my Chinese Xiaomi mobile phone.

Of course the Chinese know how to build bridges, perhaps better than anyone else. If in doubt watch this BBC video of a truly impressive piece of bridge engineering.

What I think the Chinese do is do shoddy jobs when there isn’t much money on the table. That old adage is true, you get what you pay for.

So I’m looking for a new phone 

A couple of days ago, at work, I dropped my phone and the screen cracked. Well that’s probably an understatement. The screen shattered, it’s ruined. Surprisingly it still works like it did though it’s now very difficult to read certain parts of the screen.

So I’m in the market for a new phone and I’ve been doing some research about which one to get. Ever since my transition to Android from Windows I’ve been happy with the experience and I will be getting another Android device 

I have a short checklist that I use for selecting my phones: Firstly it should be affordable. Ideally below $200, and at most $250. Like I’ve previously written, the cellphone industry is taking advantage of consumer gullibility to sell them high end phones for upwards of $700 when phones of similar performance can be had for much cheaper.

Secondly I prize good battery life. This is a major irritation with modern mobile which seemingly cannot last through a day of sustained usage. Thirdly the memory should be at least 32 Gig, and at least 2 Gig RAM.

A good camera and solid build are added considerations, as well as physical size- I prefer 5.5 inches.

Using my criteria there are only a handful of phones I can possibly buy, and I narrowed the list to three: The Motorola G5 Plus, the Lenovo P2 and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Pro.

The disadvantage with all these phones is that they are not locally available. The Xiaomi is the cheapest and offers some pretty solid build quality and great specs. However its customized software is the least reputable of the lot.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 4

On the other hand the Motorola G5 Plus offers a clean Android experience without any addons. This means I get, out of the box, the best and unadulterated Android. It is Android as it’s meant to be, so to speak. It’s also a natural successor to my old phone, which brings in another issue of familiarity. Its main con is that I hear it is no longer waterproof, unlike the G3 that I had.
<p>
Lastly the Lenovo P2, which I discovered by Googling. It offers the best battery ever in a smartphone, according to reviews. This is a big plus in its favour. The biggest challenge is that it is being sold by one carrier in the UK and is also the most expensive of these three phones.

So obviously all these three phones satisfy my main requirements to almost the same level. The Motorola gives the best software experience, the Lenovo the best battery life, while the Xiaomi is well made and has a cool fingerprint sensor conveniently located. It’s also very affordable.

If they were all locally available I would probably just go and pick the Xiaomi because, aside from the build quality, the battery is also great and it’s the cheapest. 

I’m still leaning towards the Xiaomi but I’ll probably end up buying the one that I can get fastest and easiest.
Expect a review soon. 

The Government Must Embrace the Internet, It’s here to Stay 

​TechZim reports that the Minister Supa Mandiwanzira recently said that telecoms companies have lost up to $26 million in revenue due to the use of over the top services such as WhatsApp calls and Skype. Consequently, the minister continued, Potraz (which regulates telecommunication companies) and the people of Zimbabwe also lost money. Potraz, he said, lost $139 000 while “we” the people lost $4 million in potential taxes. 

I chuckled when I read that, because aside from not making much sense, there’s nothing wrong with over the top services.

This is simply how technology works. Regardless of the minister’s wishes, or his grasp of Economics, the truth here is that ordinary voice calls and texts are on the decline. Not only here but globally (see here,  here,  here). 

Governments and corporates might not like the decline of voice calls for many reasons. One of the biggest might be the loss of control. The government might resent the limited control they have on third party services such as Skype or WhatsApp as opposed to normal voice and texts which they can access,  control or monitor through local telecom companies. 

However from a purely economic perspective, it is better for the economy as a whole to use over the top services. 

Ask any person in the street whether they are worried that WhatsApp is replacing texts and you’ll get an emphatic no. People are actually happy with the convenience and cheapness of WhatsApp.

The telecoms companies are certainly not as happy,  after all they lose money. But I think it’s incorrect for the minister to say that the people of Zimbabwe also lost money in the form of potential taxes. My understanding of Economics (which is admittedly informal and limited) informs me that cheaper ways of communication are better for everyone. 

After all consumers communicated using cheaper means, that is through data, rather than texts or voice calls. So the consumers benefited, and the money they may have spent on airtime was spent on something else. Wherever that money was spent it most certainly had taxes imposed, so <em>another</em> sector of the government’s taxes rose. Even when that money was spent on tax free items, the overall commerce of the economy hardly changed.

More importantly from a tech perspective it is a development that has far reaching technological consequences. Consider a situation where there are fewer and fewer voice calls and texts. Obviously more people will seek to buy smartphones that are WhatsApp capable. The smartphones are more expensive than feature phones hence more business again. 

Smartphones also have plenty of features whose positive impact on the economy might not be apparent now. These include opportunities for online businesses, improved internet connectivity, greater citizen awareness, more access to information by the citizenry and a boost to the local app ecosystem. The possible benefits of more people adopting smartphones are vast.

That is the way of technology. In fact there were people who were unhappy when cars started replacing horse-drawn carriages. You can guess that those were people who either owned horses or lords who were wealthy enough to have them. It’s true as well that a whole lot of jobs dies with the rise of cars, for example blacksmiths who made horseshoes and cinches.

Similarly one might point out the “lost revenue” of postal services with the rise of the internet. Or that by camera makers when the smartphone started having decent cameras.

It’s true, but it needs to be viewed in the broader context.

These arguments ignore the other side: the jobs created by car makers, the people employed because of the internet and, of course, the many other important technologies and inventions that sprung from these disruptive technological advances.

Clever companies have already realized that there isn’t much money in texts and voice anymore. The next fifty years belong to the web and web applications and content delivery on the internet is where the money is going to be. Companies like AT&T have stayed in the game by evolving and adapting to the times. Those that refuse- like Kodak did with the digital cameras, or IBM with computers will find themselves eclipsed by more responsive firms.

Strive Masiyiwa knows this. That’s why Liquid Telecom recently bought Neotel of South Africa and Raha of Tanzania. Both provide internet services. Together with Zol, Econet will be assured of a place in Southern Africa’s tech space for the next few decades. That’s also why Mr Masiyiwa is so passionate about the Kwese TV project. The internet is the future, and whosoever ignores this simple fact will be left behind.

The minister of ICT should be working on ensuring that more people have access to the internet instead of lamenting over money that was never the treasury’s to begin with. 

The Dangers of the Internet- and Stupidity

Ok, it’s not really the internet that’s dangerous. It’s just plain stupidity here.

Reminder of what/what not to say online. Especially if you think your job is boring, or your boss is an idiot.

If you’re this stupid then you probably shouldn’t be on the internet in the first place. Like seriously, who does what this guy did?

Why I’m (finally) leaving Windows Phone for Android

Windows to Android
                                                                    From Windows to Android (Image from Android Authority)

For the past four or so years I’ve owned a Windows Phone. Now that’s about to change because I’ve finally decided to join the majority and use an Android device as my day to day phone.

Since I dropped my (Windows) phone sometime in December and shattered the screen I’ve been thinking of which phone to buy. My heart said I should stick to Windows because, despite the many complains especially the lack of apps, I’ve become used to the operating system and the long battery life, something that Android phones struggle with.

But with time I’ve come to fully realise the limitations of Microsoft’s mobile operating system, now simply termed Windows 10 Mobile. The lack of apps is a case in point. Though I have long believed that there are more than enough apps on the Windows Store I’ve come to realise that I was wrong.

This realisation came last week when I decided to join a gym. The program I chose to use is one called StrongLifts 5×5 and it has a great accompanying app for Android and IOS. No official app exists for Windows Phone. There are other unofficial ones, of course, but compared to the official ones they are very poorly made and lack some of the most useful features.

This lack of official apps has been one of Windows major shortcomings. I couldn’t find a decent app either when I decided to start jogging using the couch to 5k plan. In certain cases, for instance,  banking, using third party apps is not advisable.

Developers are not too keen to produce official applications for Windows mobile because, at less than 4% of the total market share, Windows Mobile powered devices are a tiny fraction that’s not worth their effort. Obviously it makes more sense for a developer to spend time on IOS and Android app development and maintenance since that’s where the bulk of their customers come from.

The important question is what Microsoft could have done- or can do to increase the number of Windows mobile devices. One such approach has been to produce low cost devices such as the Lumia 520 which proved to be very popular. With more people using the platform developers would have no option but to follow.

Windows 10 Mobile also aims to unify the PC and mobile devices and even the Xbox. This would perhaps boost Microsoft’s market share in the mobile phone OS race because most people in the developing world use Windows for their computers and it would integrate seamlessly with their other mobile devices. However such a time may be far away in the future, or may never come at all.

In the meantime I’m moving to Android, at least for my daily phone. I may get a Windows Phablet soon, but it’ll be for other purposes rather than daily, hourly use. I have tried to stand by Microsoft, against all common sense and reason, now the time has come to join the world of Google.