Geo-Engineering – A Big Ridiculous Idea?

In the September 10th 2008 issue of the Economist, there was an article about Geo-engineering, describing the ‘Transactional Analysis’ document from the Royal scientist
In the paper, the idea of planting trees was was ‘alluded to but not discussed’.

A second idea for scrubbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, alluded to in the Transactions but not much discussed, is to plant more trees. In principle, any old trees would do—although they die and rot, more forest cover would lock up more carbon dioxide. However, genetically modified trees might grow faster. Such trees are being developed to help the lumber, pulp and biofuel industries. But fast-growing forests could also be planted in order to capture carbon dioxide quickly.

Funny, this is the idea that seems doable yet it is not given much attention. Amongst other benefits, trees would help reclaim water catchment areas that are dwindling as we speak, and while we are at, why not encourage planting indigenous trees to enhance plant diversity?

calmly rolling

It warms my heart when right wingers like Pat Robertson can sit with Al Sharpton on a setee by the beach, and proclaim that they see eye to eye on the climate crisis. The ads just point people to visit wecansolveit.org. A website will not a crisis avert. Granted they are are trying to create a community/movement, but that wont do much in my opinion. The ads would have been more effective if they pointed out one demonstrable action that people can take (I’d suggest urging people to plant trees) AND visit wecansolveit.org. Al, I love you, but please find a more practical way, or change ad agencies.

Planting trees; though quite obvious seems to make much more sense to me than giant rotating cylinders that create the ‘magnus effect’. It makes more sense that putting sulphur in jet fuel, flying in high altitudes and polluting the atmosphere so the sulphur crystals can reflect the sun’s rays off the earth. Don’t get me wrong, I would really like to believe that I am open-minded the big ideas put forth in the transactional paper. I do agree that the climate crisis is one big ginormous problem that threatens the future stability of the world, heck my grandma told me climate change is real. What is being done NOW to adapt to climate change? What are we doing to reclaim our rapidly deforested areas? Big questions. Yet, we can start with simple, yet obvious actions like planting trees.

In the quest to make it a cool thing to do (Gardeners and tree huggers are hardly rock stars) perhaps borrowing an idea from Joi Ito, he tags photos on his flickr stream with ‘freesouls’ How about we begin a tag ‘greensouls’ where you take a picture of someone/yourself planting a tree, upload to flickr, tag it and if you can, geo-tag it as ‘greensoul’?

Oh, if you can find a trader who can help monetize the tree planting to carbon credits, I would very much like to assuage my carbon guilt. I seem to have added it to my catholic guilt so now I have much more guilt than I know what to do with. It does not help that some friends keep chiding me about my carbon footprint.

Remote Mobile Hack for Water Pumps

Via Jan Chipchase

Farmers were tired of waking up at odd hours to irrigate their farms, so one of them created a mobile app that allows remote control of water pumps
Jan notes that there is a commercial version, called Nano Ganesh.

The impact of this, particularly when combined with cheap and reliable services like Village Connection should not be underestimated.

Indeed. This hack reminded me of the brilliant Morris Mbetsa from Kenya who made an anti theft device that is controlled remotely via mobile phone. When the technology platform allows for people to write localized applications, amazing things happen. This is another reason I like the Nokia S60, because it allows for anyone to create hacks such as this. Now that is transformative technology.

I am currently reading Jonathan Zittrain’s book ‘The future of the Internet and how to stop it’ In the first few chapters he mentions ‘generativity’ and how it is part of the internet. To paraphrase, it is the ability for 3rd parties to create and innovate on top of a platform. In light of the S60 Nokia platform and the open source nature of the Symbian and Android…perhaps the mobile world is set to have platforms that encourage innovation around the world. Just like the story from India and Kenya are interesting, I think there is definitely more to come.

PS: I am currently at Mobile Active 08 ; a conference bringing together many of the people using mobiles for social change. You can follow the proceedings on http://twitter.com/mobileactive

Monday September 22nd – One Web Day

If you celebrate Earth Day, spend a lot of time on the internet be it for work or play…It only fits that you’d participate in One Web Day. Makes even more sense if you experience withdrawal symptoms when your internet service goes down, or you find yourself doing ‘broadband over breakfast’ multiple times a week.

http://www.onewebday.org/

Earth Day was the model when I founded OneWebDay in 2006, says Susan Crawford, a professor of law specializing in Internet issues at the University of Michigan. In 1969, one man asked the people to do what their elected representatives would not: take the future of the environment into their own hands.By 1972, the United States had a federal agency devoted to protecting the environment, the E.P.A., and today a worldwide citizens movement has put the environment front and center politically. According to Crawford, peoples lives now are as dependent on the Internet as they are on the basics like roads, energy supplies and running water. We can no longer take that for granted and we must advocate for the Internet politically, and support its vitality personally.

The Internet has also become the means by which citizens around the world build movements to hold their elected leaders accountable and support those who represent their interests; it is also increasingly the medium through which citizens interact with their governments. The theme of this year’s OneWebDay is online participation in democracy, coinciding with the U.S. elections.

The online hub for OneWebDay 2008 is www.onewebday.org. There, anyone can: plan or find out about activities in their community; learn ten things individuals can do to support the web; contribute their own stories; read posts from 100 OneWebDay ambassadors; and learn about Internet advocacy groups.

I know its late notice, but perhaps the good folks at Skunkworks can organize something in Nairobi so we can be on the map too? More info on how to get things going on this link. There is a list of 10 things you can do for the web, one of the first is to use a standards compliant web browser like Firefox or Opera. Who is still using IE and why? I grit my teeth each time I am forced to use it.
Grab the button for your blog/site here.

As African bloggers what do you think we should do on One Web Day(complementary to the 10 suggested ideas)? You know we need better internet Infrastructure like yesterday…

Ory’s Video on TED.com

crossposted on the Ushahidi blog

Ory Okolloh is not only a blogger, founder of Mzalendo.com, co-founder of Ushahidi and colleague, she is also an inspiration to all of us. Below is the video of her talk at TEDGlobal 2007 – Arusha Tanzania.

The making of an African Activist

Ory, we are sambazaing this whether you want to hide or not :-)

Berkman Luncheon Series – Innovation in Sub Saharan Africa

Friend of the blog Ethan Zuckerman will be speaking on September 2nd 2008 at the Berkman luncheon series, so is Eric Osiakwan of AfriSpa. The event will be webcast live at 12:30 PM Eastern Time (US) Bookmark the link and tune in if you can.

The Climate of Innovation Around Information Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa
Ghanaian internet entrepreneur and researcher Eric Osiakwan and the Berkman Center’s Ethan Zuckerman will discuss the climate for innovation around information technology in Sub-Saharan Africa. Eric and Ethan will talk about projects to improve connectivity to the continent and the business models these projects are pioneering, novel uses for mobile phone networks and the use of citizen media as a political force on the continent.

Solar Map SF

This is the San Fransisco Solar Map.
SF solar map

You can enter your address and it would give you relevant information such as the potential size of a PV system, and its approximate cost. This is definitely an example of how technology can be used to help people make informed decisions about renewable energy.
More on TreeHugger

Before you ask…when are we going to have something similar for Kenya/Africa? Soon, very soon. I refuse to use the phrase ‘Watch this space’. So ‘Soon’ it stays.

Memes, Markets and Africa

I’ve been on the road since late last month, and I am afraid this space has been left quite neglected. So if there are any remaining readers…heres to a comeback.

I had the chance to speak at TTI Vanguard early this month and my topic of discussion was Innovation in Africa[pdf pg 10 and 11]. I gave a brief overview of the tech landscape in Africa, and engaged mostly in conversations around what is happening now. Since then, the article ‘Inside Nairobi, the Next Palo Alto?’ by G. Pascal Zachary in the NY times became the 7th most emailed article in the NYT world business section, spurring some discussion around the theme of Innovation, ‘light tech’ and localization of technology in Kenya.

As we all know there is this persisting perception of Africa as this sort of backward mess. Ethan Zuckerman has been writing for a few years about ‘rebranding Africa’ and more recently he wrote about David Weinberger’s Ninja Gap. Do read the whole piece, the bit that is relevant to this post is in part…

Context matters, Galtung argues. If weâ??ve got a mental image of Africa as a backwards and technically retrograde place, weâ??re likely to miss stories about innovation in mobile commerce (see the lead story in issue 407â?¦) or success in venture capital. Galtungâ??s fifth maxim is closely linked to the idea of cognitive dissonance – itâ??s uncomfortable to attempt to resolve new information that conflicts with existing perceptions, beliefs and behaviors.

Well, its quite an experience to have an encounter with someone who clearly brings this cognitive dissonance to light…I wont go there though. Suffice to say Africa, we have a long way to go. The overarching meme about Africa is still one of poverty, corruption, despots, famine and stunning sunsets…yeah, you know. Oh perhaps the stunning sunsets meme is one I would totally agree to and actively propagate, but I digress.This is with no small thanks to foreign correspondents who cover African news with the aforementioned brushstrokes.

So, while we African bloggers and digerati wrestle with not quite so positive images of Africa, debate Aid Vs Trade, couple that with our current reality of immense potential that is muffled by worrisome politics, rising inflation, environmental degradation and many other factors; I am
trying to think of the bigger picture, a way to wrap my mind around things.

afrimeme_negative.jpg

Years ago, my friends’ mom told me about a ‘bad-good-shot’. When you swing that golf club and you know that you missed the green by considerable measure, yet the ball hits a tree and deflects onto a reasonable section of the course, then you get to make a better than expected shot. There are some projects and tech that arise out of challenges like dearth of broadband, and in reaction to the bad choices our leaders make. In Africa, we get some of those really bad shots, sometimes, something good arises out it and perhaps we can position ourselves for a much better shot at prosperity. I do not know if we can, but we can definitely aspire to it.

I think TEDGlobal Arusha had started that rebranding process, by bringing to Africa a mix of intellectuals, scientists, technologists…you name it; to experience an alternate African reality of sorts. Last monday, I was reminded by Sean to not underestimate the value in bringing prospective investors to Africa, so they can have a different context, and perhaps get over that ‘cognitive dissonance’. As I look back to TEDGlobal, I remember that I was in awe of my fellow Africans, I was inspired by them, and felt that we had just gotten to the ‘jumping off point’. I am still inspired by their talks as they are released on TED.com. Well, December 30th 2007 came, when the meme of ‘Kenya’s potential’ suffered quite a blow. It will take awhile to rebuild that confidence in my mind, let alone the minds of others. I think other countries in Africa have a positive meme attached to them and boy, am I envious. My Ghanaian friends, please guard the positive meme of Ghana with all you’ve got. As a Kenyan, and also as an African I still believe that we can redefine/ we are redefining what it means to be African.

afrimeme_positive.jpg

When it comes to markets and the potential in disruptive technology, I would strongly suggest you subscribe to Sean Park’s blog, and Bankelele’s too. These guys give you the meat and potatoes when it comes to evaluating not only the economics but the potential in mobile banking and other sectors of African/Kenyan economies. Because aspirations are well, good and awesome (really!), but at the end of the day, fundamentals of investing should always be rock solid.

So there is the perception problem, but that can be tackled by hard data. Speaking of market data, AfriMonitor launched earlier this month.

AfriMonitor

It will be a great resource as the bid to rebrand Africa continues. Various conferences will be happening throughout the year, and will be invaluable in bringing together many of you who see this alternate African technological reality. I am still bummed that I did not make it to Barcamp Nairobi in June, but I am making every effort to make sure I do not miss the next one. Last but not least, I just want to salute Wilfred Mworia, all the geeks and volunteers at Ushahidi, Josiah Mugambi, Dorcas Muthoni of Linux chix Africa, Riyaz, all the Skunkworks geeks, Kasahorow crew, JAB, techies in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and other African countries. Here is to not just the next Palo Alto, but the next Nairobi, Accra, Abuja, Capetown, Johannesburg, Lusaka etc.

Thank you Hash for the cool graphics, they are based on one I found on Memehuffer

Shindana Kuunda – Google East Africa Gadget Competition


Google announced a competition for students in East Africa to build gadgets (as in software). I am blogging this here just in case the skunkworks crew hadn’t seen this already. The competition is open to university students in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Burundi.

The deadline for this is March 17th; so if you have some great ideas, you can still submit them for consideration. The categories/types of software gadgets and apps that they are looking for include:
(1) Best Gadget UI
(2) Best Local Content Gadget (Most Locally Useful Gadget)
(3) Best Education Specific Gadget
(4) Best Procrastination Gadget
(5) Most Technically Sophisticated Gadget
(6) Gadget Most Likely to Get International Traffic
(7) Best Social Gadget

What the winners get:
“Six students will be awarded prizes. Five students will receive a $350 USD stipend and 1 student will receive a $600 stipend. All winners will receive a Google t shirt, pen, and notebook valuing $7 USD (£13).”

- More Information on the contest
- Rules and fine print

Other Info: Hash’s post on Google moving in East Africa. It is no wonder that one of the categories is ‘Best local content gadget’. I think that the market for localized, useful and contextualized software is huge. When you have African developers creating applications for use in their own communities…I would say “prepare to be amazed”. I am really looking forward to seeing the ideas and applications that come out of this competition.

Hat Tip Think >>Innovate

Congratulations Neil Turok – Ted Prize Winner 2008.

In case you read this blog in time, you can watch part of the TED conference right now online http://www.ted.com/liveevent/watch
neil_turok.jpg

“Neil Turok is one of the world’s leading physicists. He could easily just spend all his time in his lab, preparing to win a Nobel Prize. But he hasn’t done that,” said TED curator Chris Anderson. “He’s in Africa, where science education is in a pretty shoddy state, and he has decided to do something about it. He’s absolutely brilliant, and he’s taken that brilliance and leveraged that in a surprising way to help other people.”

He founded AIMS – African Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
His TED dream is that the next Einstein is African. The plan is to have AIMS in more countries in Africa, expanding mathematical and scientific research. Read more about it on Ethanz’s excellent blog.

The TED Africa team was also introduced earlier during the conference. I think 2008 promises to be a great year for Africa in more ways than one. Inspiration and passion in whatever field we are in goes a long way to bringing meaning and joy in our lives, that is the reason why i love TED.
Vusi Mahlasela is performing.
From his second song about the beauty of Africa, and the challenges of post apartheid SA.
Quotable: There is wisdom in forgiveness. if you don’t forgive, you are the one who is suffering the most, if you forgive you become more free. Vusi might as well have been talking to each and every Kenyan at this point in time. The road to reconciliation in Kenya is going to be long and hard; we will seriously have to look to our brothers and sisters in South Africa and Rwanda as we get back on the road to the Kenya we want.
You can watch his performance from TEDGlobal 2007 below if you didn’t catch the live event.