Friday, February 6, 2015

While in Nigeria

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram would have noticed that I've been in Nigeria for the last couple of weeks. I'm here on a work, helping capacity building and providing technical support for a project that is looking to replicate our, iHub's, Umati methodology for monitoring dangerous speech online.

My friend and editor told me that he was expecting a blog post when I got back but I've been thinking about it and it sounds like too much of a chore to try writing a post on a whole month, so I'd rather write a series of shorter posts that capture some of the things I have to say.

This post will talk about a couple of things. First is the weather, it's hot and dry. It was the very first thing that I noticed when I arrived. I left Kenya really early in the morning, like at 4 am, so that means I was at the airport at 2am and Nairobi nights are always cold.

I had a two hour stop in Addis, Ethiopia and just something to mention about the airport there is the lack of WiFi. What's with that? Also what's with airports charging for WiFi? People already pay a shitload for tickets and it's unlikely that anyone is going to come to the airport to mulch off the free WiFi given all the security measures there. Any way it wasn't warm enough for me to chuck my jacket and airplane cabins are really cool but arriving in Abuja it wasn't 5 minutes and I was uncomfortably warm.

I've been asked to describe what the weather has been like and it took me a while to get it right, because I can't really say it's hotter than Kenya because you wouldn't want to be out walking in the middle of the day there either, but somehow this felt different and it was the dryness of it. It's almost total. It's weird, and Kano State, where I am now is even drier.

Second is how they drive, no not the traffic which they are apparently famous for I've not gotten in any jam I felt was particularly bad, maybe they only exist in Lagos? Just the way they drive. They drive on the wrong side of the road, the right. It's been giving me a headache these past two weeks, I just can't get used to it. They need to start driving on the right side of the road, the left.

Finally something you'll notice almost immediately is how they like to hoot at each other. I'm over taking you, hoot. You're over taking me? Hoot!!! You've stopped to take a turn? Hoot!!! I want to stop to take a turn? Hoot!!! I'm at your gate. Hoot!!! Someone is crossing the road two kilometers up the road? Hoot!! It's really annoying, it grates on your nerves but I'm finding that it begins to fade in background. I'm almost used to it. Almost.

That's it, for now. Peace!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Minor, The Vague and the Frightening of the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014

Let's talk about the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014. This bill first came to light a couple of days ago through the media and is currently rushing through parliament. I'm not sure if it's even legal how fast it's going through the process. I've gone through it and will now point out the parts that I have a problem with.(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice and these are only my opinions and interpretations)

As you can see from the sections above your landlord is required to keep records of their tenants. I don't really have a problem with this myself, it's good for someone to have these records in case anything happens to tenants. However the problem that I have is two fold. The first is that there is no data protection provisions for this information which means it can be used in any way. Second is that the police, rather any law enforcement officer, is allowed to request this information without any warrant. This is likely to be abused, actually, not likely, it will be.

The next part is likely to have chilling and far reaching effects not just for the media, which is how this section mostly being reported, but for non-traditional media, which we are all a part of. If you blog, run a website, have a public Facebook page or profile or a Twitter profile you are a part of the new media and this section can affect you. The real problem with this part, and it's a problem that a lot of sections suffer from, is that it's too vague and subject to interpretation.

This section is also completely open to interpretation and open to abuse. I imagine it in particularly being used to prevent the media from reporting on individuals in a way that “intrudes on their privacy”. I'm sure this part is here to deal with the recent stripping cases we've been having in the country but it's being used to sneak in dangerous language.

This section increases the powers of the NSIS, I'm not sure if they need the power. And they have been known to abuse it particularly the power to detain. Also my good friend Nyambura, pointed out that this amendment will also increase the number of total day you can be held in remand from 60 days to 360 days.

The problem with this section is not only that a third party becomes guilty for the actions of another but further more the burden of proof, that you as the leader didn't know anything,is placed on you. This is not how our laws are supposed to operate and it is certainly not in the spirit of the constitution where you're innocent until proven guilty

This section is so open to interpretation that it's ridiculous. I don't even want to think about it. This could apply to anyone on anything they say. I feel it could be used to attack political opponents of the government.  But more than that the vague phrase "indirectly encouraging or inducing..." What does indirect mean? Who decides?

This section is just as bad as the last section but seems to skew towards religion. That's all I'll say.

This section, though the others affecting the media count towards this too, may also well be called, The Fuck Moha and Jicho Pevu amendment, because it's so blatantly aimed at that show it's laughable. But it affects us, particularly the digerati, because we like to post things as they happen in real-time. I'd like to remind everyone that the images and news out of Westgate was first reported on twitter before the media got there.

Now let's talk about the wide sweeping powers the Director-General will be getting now. All he has to do is write a letter and you have to do what he says, you know as long as it's a “covert mission” and for “national security”. But that's not all these letter will also given his/her agents the power to search anything they like, take what they want, alter anything they like, listen to anyone they like and if that wasn't enough they tacked this on at the end “do anything considered necessary to preserve national security”. A well. I guess then “Death Squads” would become legal now.

This part allows unfetter monitoring for the vague purpose of fighting terrorism.

In the end all this makes this one of the very worst laws passed since we got a new constitution. It's problems range from the minor, to the vague, to the completely frightening. It grants sweeping powers to the NSIS in the name of national security, it allows gross violations of our human rights and I for one will not stand for it. If this amendment passes I will be heading to the Supreme Court(under the law I talked about here) to get it declared illegal and void. I hope that I can count on the support of like minded Kenyans. Peace!!!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Short Life of my Bata Running Shoes

This will be a rant. It'll be short. I bought shoes from Bata the other week, beautiful black and green shoes, so I could use them for training for the Standard Chartered Marathon; in fact, that's all they were to be used for, running.

When I was buying them I talked to the sales lady asking her which shoes would be good for running and she showed me the racks that had the Power branded shoes on them. There was a lot of variety and it was difficult to choose so it came down colour really. I liked the blue kicks but the ones in stock just weren't as sexy as the green and blacks. After I bought them I took a picture of them to show them off.

Running with them was a dream! They were so much more comfortable than the shoes that I I was using before. They fit almost perfectly and I looked good with them. However, in the middle of my 5th session training session, I begin to feel like there's something stuck to the bottom of my left shoe. Upon checking, I threw my hands up in frustration; my sole was coming apart!!!

I tweeted Bata Kenya (side note: anyone else notice it's easier to get customer service on twitter than using other means?) and I'm told to take the shoes back to the shop so that they may either be replaced or fixed. Which I did and was informed that it would take at least 2 weeks to replace them because them have to go all the way back to their HQ in Limuru so management can see and authorise a replacement. I was mad, and I almost let it off on the sales lady at Bata Uchumi, and I did let it go for the lady I reached out to over phone - if you're reading this I'm sorry, it wasn't your fault.

But this policy that things have to go all the way to Limuru so management can approve replacements is ridiculous! It's something I paid for that got spoilt in an unreasonably short amount of time. It's clear that I did nothing to ruin them in anyway. They would go from my run and back into their box. I feel that if I can't get a refund, they should be replaced in a much shorter time. After all I did pay for them. Peace!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reasons why to Intern at iHub

When I did the series about Getting to iHub, I mentioned that I may do a post on why it’s such an awesome place to intern. This is that post. This is how I would convince any student in this country to come work for us, the reasons I’d give them. 

1. The Dress Code

The first thing is that you get to come to work dressed in whatever fashion suits you; for me that is jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. I remember when I came for my first day I asked my supervisor, who was dressed in jeans, sneakers and a sweater, whether there was a dress code and he chuckled saying that I was free to come in anything I was comfortable in. Of course I would have noticed if I had been paying more attention to the environment while I was there for the interview, but I was completely focused on not letting my nervousness overcome me. 

2. The Cool Workspaces

iHub has several cool workspaces to work out of. Research, where I work, has a miniature golf course where you can play some mini golf to relax or just clear your mind to think of unlikely solutions to your problems. There’s the Kumbaya area, that features a couch where you can put your feet up to relax a little or have a meeting (it was where my interview was conducted). The other areas of iHub are cool too: the UX Lab has the coolest floor in the building; and the community space has a fantastic view from the fourth floor balcony. Best thing of all? You can do your work from any of these spaces if you feel like.
[Editor's Note: Apparently they also just Sinzia wakiwaza Code or Something]
3. The Amazing People

Working at iHub lets you meet a lot of cool people and get to learn from them. The 4th floor gets most of the traffic because it’s the community space and therefore the main, and public facing, part of the iHub. But even at Research you get to meet a lot of people. We have researchers from all over the world coming through and you get to work and interact with them. I’ve meet people from Microsoft, Google and Intel (not just the local branches) and several local startups and companies. The diversity of nationalities too has been fascinating: United States, Canada, Egypt, Pakistan, Uganda, Australia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and Nigeria to mention a few.
Just guys having a chill session
4. The Awesome Events

As a member of iHub, you get to attend all the awesome events that the organization gets involved in, and as the epicenter of technology in Kenya, there are a quite a number. In addition to this, because you’re part of the network, you get to hear about a lot of the other events being held by other tech hubs. I’ve attended several: from user experience training, to interacting with students from MIT’s Media lab, to Pivot East hosted by the MLab. This point is kinda related to the previous one because these events wouldn’t be awesome without all the cool people. Of course there’s also the benefit of the free snacks/food provided ;). 

5. The Free Drinks

We drink at the office: wine, vodka, brandy, whiskey, beer; there’s nothing I’ve not had. The first 6 Fridays I worked here somehow there was always booze that would appear around 4 pm. The 7th Friday I was mildly surprised when one didn’t magically appear. It appears for various reasons: it’s someone’s birthday (there’s cake and ice-cream for these too), it’s Friday and consulting is marking some milestone, someone just bought one for the team, we’re having an event and the office buys some booze, we’re having an event and Absolute Vodka are co-sponsors, someone was thirsty and bought a few cans, or like today people are working late and to motivate people they bought 5 liters of wine. Yes, as I’m writing this I’m sipping some red wine, I’ve already had 3 glasses.
Some Drinks and some Foosball
6. The Monetary Appreciation

Most interns in this country don’t get paid and so I thought I’d mention it. I’m finding this doesn’t matter as much to me as all the other reasons I’ve already mentioned or what comes next. This is mostly just a nice bonus on all the other things I’ve mentioned. Though I should mention more money will always be nice mostly for reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Finally, here are the 3 most important reasons to come intern here. 

7. The Brilliant Team

You work with a lot of brilliant people. I should stop here because that one statement is enough. As one of the most innovative companies in the world (number 38, number one in Africa in case you were curious) [Editor's Note: where is the data, show us the data!- here] the caliber of people the iHub attracts and hire are the best of best (explains why I’m here :D) and working with such people can only serve to expand your mind and horizons. And they’re super friendly too. The people that work here are so good at what they do that sometimes I wonder why I’m here and if I even have the chops to match up. Which brings me to my next point. 

8. The Value of Opinions

Even as an intern your input is taken with as much weight and seriousness as anyone else on the team you work on. I remember my first meeting where I made a point to something someone else was working on and everyone, including the person who was working on it, thought it was a good idea and actually incorporated it with their plan henceforth. I was astounded, my input, even as an intern was being taken as seriously as anyone else on the team, people far more experienced (see above point) than me. Of course I quickly became more comfortable sharing my opinion on even projects I wasn’t involved in – it’s encouraged - which is a great thing. 

9. The Awesome Projects

Finally you get to work on awesome projects. I work with the Datalab team on the Umati project. We are monitoring speech around interesting speech online to get a feel of the how the conversation develops around hate speech; what leads to it and how people respond afterward. Of particular interest to us is instances of counter speech where people counter what hateful things people say, positively or negatively. I'm passionate about this and think what we’re building and the methodologies we’re developing may help make the world a better place. My small contribution to it may one day go on to help countless people. That for me is more important than anything else on this list by like a factor of 10.

There are several other reasons to come work at iHub that I’ve not mentioned. This is by no means and exhaustive list - I may decide to do another post with more reasons - but these are the most compelling for me and hope that I have help convince someone out there to come join us. We get a lot of applications, so I’ve heard I’m not at that rank, but it doesn’t hurt to try don't be discouraged. Be sure to use all the advice I gave in my Getting to iHub series, wouldn’t be here without it. Peace!!!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Plus 200: The Editor that Is

It’s been more than 4 years since my very first post to this blog and we've reached another milestone with the post before this: 200 published posts on this blog and counting; it is also approximately the 92nd post published since @TheOkelo started as editor here and it’s been a great 2 and half years.

Therefore, with this post, this milestone, I’ve chosen to dedicate it to my editor, Tony. It’ll be a celebration of him and our friendship and I hope I can really do it justice.

I met Tony almost 7 years ago at Maseno School. I remember asking him for directions to where the St. John’s Ambulance club met - at the time I didn’t know anything about him. He told me where they did meet but didn’t mention that he was also heading there, nor that he was a member nor in fact the club leader. I remember feeling so duped - yes I checked the synonyms for that - when he joined us under the tree behind the school chapel. [Editor's Note: I wasn't duping, I was just withholding information ;p]

I was joining the club in the hopes of meeting this girl I had a crush on, who was in another school, at the national first aid competition. Through the club, Tony and I went on to become great friends as he trained us in drills and first aid, trying to make us into the most efficient first aiders and cadets overall. We made it to nationals where we were ranked second but the girl I joined for wasn’t there. I didn’t think much of it, met others on the way ;).

The Maseno St. John Ambulance Dream Team: Tony far Right and Me Center

We bonded over other things: our love for reading, and Harry Potter. We spent a lot of time debating how the 7th book would end (now we talk about its shortcomings). We both read a lot but have different styles/methods of going at it. I like to start a series and read through to the end continuously, and he likes to read several books at the same time: a chapter here, a page there; which can be really annoying when you want to discuss a book in the series he recommended but he's not yet reached that far :(.

Tony has the annoying ability to patiently keep at something, anything really, until he gets perfect at it. He doesn’t give up on the way like I would. I’ve known him to do things over 10 times just to get it right. He’s also the odd combination of engineer and artist. He draws, does photography, writes and composes music and is one hell of a singer (my girlfriend is fond of referring to him as that guy with the voice).

How he joined the blog is well documented here, but I just want to highlight what he does for me now. Because of Tony I can concentrate on the writing and he handles the rest. He chooses the titles for all of my posts, finds links to stuff I refer to in my posts and decides when a post get published. He also vetos some of my more boring posts and finds all the cool pictures for the posts. In fact all I do is write and send it to him and he checks all the grammar, spelling, fact-checking when needed and just posts. This means my job is easier and less stressful.

So now I’m just going to highlight some his work here, be sure to check them out. Some of my favourite titles are KenyanGovernment wants to play Big Brother, Watch out for the boys Little Sister, and of course Ambulating with Confidence.

The very best use of photos so far was in the guest post by Ron, Fool’s Errand, I remember bursting out in laughter when I saw it. Another good example is in the post called Safaricom and its revenueSharing Model, the use of the guy with the sim card blocking his mouth was inspired. Also the lioness and her cubs in For a Mother on her Birthday was really touching.

Sometimes I worry that his editing is getting better faster than my writing…

So what’s next for us? Well we’re looking to win a blogging award. Also we’re looking to move the blog to its own domain soon, so we’re thinking domain names and perhaps even doing a complete rebrand, if you have suggestions for either put them in the comments. Finally we’re just looking to bring you our very best every time we post.

There’s a lot to be said about Tony and I can’t say it all here but if it wasn’t clear, I love him. I’m secure enough in my sexuality to say that. I see us being friends for the rest of our lives and you know what? It’s a good feeling. Peace!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Belly that Slaps

[Times art: Brandon Jeffords]
I got slapped on a bus today. I was just there minding my own business, listening to some Lana Del Rey and suddenly something softish smacks me on the side of the face and all I see is this round protrusion sticking out from this guy's jacket.

I couldn't believe it. I stared at him as he proceeded sideways down the narrow center aisle of the bus and people tilted their heads to the side to avoid his marshmallowy tummy as it moved past them.

I've never understood how anyone could allow their tummy to stick so far out like that. I mean it was so large I suspect he uses it as an armrest often. I doubt he can see his feet if he stood up straight. There was absolutely no way that was healthy.

I've always been very disdainful of fat people. I don't think we were naturally meant to have so much fat on us especially around the middle section where it looks particularly disgusting.

My mother has had four kids and doesn't have love handles, where do you, 23 years old(or younger) get off having them? What's your excuse? As young as you still are you should have the energy to exercise. Run, swim, walk or if you can join a gym. Just don't expect me to accept your love handle because I will always, always, always find them disgusting.

I'm just saying. Peace!!!