Friday, 31 December 2010

Minutes To 2011 (Quotes)

It's Friday December 31st 2010 11:28 PM just 32 minutes to 2011. I feel like posting a few unrelated Quotes I came across.

Nobody can give you justice, nobody can give you freedom or equality or anything. If you are a man, you take it.

                                        -Malcolm X

Don't give up, for that is ignorance and not according to the rules of this art...Like the lover you cannot hope to achieve success without infinite perseverance

    -Muhammad Bin Muhammad Al-Fulani Al-Kashinawi





You know you are a geek when your car cost $500 and your computer $5000. 

   -Unknown

Everyday is new year day, depending on when you start counting

   -Me

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Ubuntu Nigeria

When I started using Linux around the year 2002, I felt like I belong to an elite group of computer users. Back then I believe there were less than 10 of us in Maiduguri. But apart from feeling important, I also felt a little bit odd, because it's always difficult to tell an average Windows user why I run Linux. Not everybody understands the excitement of exploring something new, different and flexible as Linux. I think it was RedHat 8.0. But 8 years later, now the situation is different, it's not uncommon to see, everyday computer users including elderly people now running Linux. And this is all thanks to Ubuntu. As it's slogan goes "Linux For Human Beings", Ubuntu has brought Linux to the non-techies without taking the flexibility away. Though without concrete data, I believe Ubuntu has seen a great increase in users not only in Maiduguri but across Nigeria. A testimony to that is the Ubuntu Nigeria blog

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Vala


Programmers know that choosing a programming language involve trade-offs. You may wish to use language A because it provides feature X but can't live without feature Y which is only found in language B. For example you may wish to use C because it produces native code that runs fast but cannot live without garbage collection which is found in Java or C#.

Based on that I normally categorize programming languages into three broad groups

1- Interpreted languages like Python and Ruby
2- Run-time dependent compiled languages like Java and C#
3-Native compiled languages like C.

Languages like C are bare-bone languages with very little convenience features like strings or garbage collection but they produce binaries that run very fast.

Interpreted languages sacrifice speed for convenience, they are usually very easy to use but run very slowly compared to compiled languages.

Languages like C# and Java tries to give you best of both worlds in that they provide convenient language features and compile to target a virtual machine at the expense of a little speed.

Vala is a new language developed by the GNOME community. It aims to give the best of all worlds. It comes with convenience of languages like Java and C# and compiles to native binary just like C.

Vala is still in development but is pretty mature to be used for many tasks and is available for Linux and Windows.

The language is introduced on the Vala site as follows;

Vala is a new programming language that aims to bring modern programming language features to GNOME developers without imposing any additional runtime requirements and without using a different ABI compared to applications and libraries written in C

Find it at http://live.gnome.org/Vala

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Independence Day
















Tomorrow is Friday 1st October 2010. On that day Nigeria will attain fifty years of political independence. Many argue that there is nothing to celebrate but I disagree. Despite the fact that there are many bumps on the road since 1960, I believe we should look at the brighter side of things instead of perpetually lamenting. We may complain of corruption and bad governance and even argue that Nigeria is a failed state. What we forget is that "Failed State" helped brought an end to apartheid in South Africa and fought for peace in many African states.

Whether to celebrate or not is not the issue, the important thing is that day should not be allowed to pass unnoticed. We either choose to celebrate or reflect. Talking about reflection, I bumped across a copy of the independence speech given by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on 1st October 1960.  

I reproduce it below as lifted from Webtrends Nigeria


Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years every Nigerian has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent sovereign nation.

Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember for ever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country.
This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well- built upon firm foundations.
Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began fifteen years ago and has now reached a happy and successful conclusion. It is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our Independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history. Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious cooperation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority.
At the time when our constitutional development entered upon its final phase, the emphasis was largely upon self-government. We, the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria, concentrated on proving that we were fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation. However, we were not to be allowed the selfish luxury of focusing our interest on our own homes. In these days of rapid communications we cannot live in isolation, apart from the rest of the world, even if we wished to do so. All too soon it has become evident that for us Independence implies a great deal more than self-government. This great country, which has now emerged without bitterness or bloodshed, finds that she must at once be ready to deal with grave international issues.
This fact has of recent months been unhappily emphasized by the startling events which have occurred in this continent. I shall not labour the point but it would be unrealistic not to draw attention first to the awe-inspiring task confronting us at the very start of our nationhood. When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to place on the world stage. Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an indepedent state we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fail for want of determination.
And we come to this task better-equipped than many. For this, I pay tribute to the manner in which successive British Governments have gradually transferred the burden of responsibility to our shoulders. The assistance and unfailing encouragement which we have received from each Secretary of State for the Colonies and their intense personal interest in our development has immeasurably lightened that burden.
All our friends in the Colonial Office must today be proud of their handiwork and in the knowledge that they have helped to lay the foundations of a lasting friendship between our two nations. I have indeed every confidence that, based on the happy experience of a successful partnership, our future relations with the United Kingdom will be more cordial than ever, bound together, as we shall be in the Commonwealth, by a common allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, whom today we proudly acclaim as Queen of Nigeria and Head of the Commonwealth.
Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerians, whose selfless labours have contributed to our Independence. Some have not lived to see the fulfilment of their hopes—on them be peace—but nevertheless they are remembered here, and the names of buildings and streets and roads and bridges throughout the country recall to our minds their achievements, some of them on a national scale. Others confined, perhaps, to a small area in one Division, are more humble but of equal value in the sum-total.

Today, we have with us representatives of those who have made Nigeria: Representatives of the Regional Governments, of former Central Governments, of the Missionary Societies, and of the Banking and Commercial enterprises, and members, both past and present, of the Public Service. We welcome you, and we rejoice that you have been able to come and share in our celebrations. We wish that it could have been possible for all of those whom you represent to be here today: Many, I know, will be disappointed to be absent, but if they are listening to me now, I say to them: ‘Thank you on behalf of my Thank you for your devoted service which helped build up Nigeria into a nation. Today we are reaping the harvest which you sowed, and the quality of the harvest is equalled only by our gratitude to you. May God bless you all.
This is an occasion when our hearts are filled with conflicting emotions: we are, indeed, proud to have achieved our independence, and proud that our efforts should have contributed to this happy event. But do not mistake our pride for arrogance. It is tempered by feelings of sincere gratitude to all who have shared in the task of developing Nigeria politically, socially and economically. We are grateful to the British officers whom we have known, first as masters, and then as leaders, and finally as partners, but always as friends.  And there have been countless missionaries who have laboured unceasingly in the cause of education and to whom we owe many of our medical services. We are grateful also to those who have brought modern methods of banking and of commerce, and new industries. I wish to pay tribute to all of these people and to declare our everlasting admiration of their devotion to duty.
And, finally, I must express our gratitude to Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra of Kent for personally bringing to us these symbols of our freedom, and especially for delivering the gracious message from Her Majesty The Queen. And so, with the words ‘God Save Our Queen’, I open a new chapter in the history of Nigeria, and of the Commonwealth, and indeed of the world.
Sources:
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Mr. Prime Minister: A Selection of Speeches Made by Alhaji the Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, K.B.E., M.P., Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Apapa: Nigerian National Press, Ltd., 1964).

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Little Mathematics For Independence Day






This year (2010) 17 African countries will mark their 50 years of independence from colonial rule. Many people especially in Nigeria think there is nothing much to celebrate. Some go on to call Nigeria names like "fool at fifty". I am not going to argue for or against that point of view but I will try to make a comparison of Nigeria with the United States and see whether we have made any progress in the last fifty years. I picked the U.S.A because people often cite examples with the United States when trying to make a point about how backward we are.

The United States became independent in 1776, that is 234 years ago. If we are to assume both Nigeria and the U.S are human beings and the U.S to be an adult of 40 years old then how old will Nigeria be in comparison.
Using simple mathematics we can apply the following formula

50/234 = x/40

where x is Nigeria's age if it were human.

x =8.54 years

So Nigeria is only an 8 year old child compared to the 40 year old America. For a child of that age, I think we've not done too bad.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Dealing With Piracy








I was reading an article about Selling Software In China and came across the following statement under the topic "Dealing With Piracy";

"Actually “Dealing with piracy” is a misleading title, because in reality there is no way to deal with piracy. People will crack, copy and use your software as they wish, and they will not even feel guilty about it. Again, let’s not judge, but accept the fact that piracy is simply part of the culture (for some it is piracy, for others it is just sharing) Instead of talking about code scramblers and licensing keys, let me offer here a contrarian (perhaps even controversial) point of view, in the wisdom of “if you can’t fight them, join them”. You should consider yourself lucky if your software gets pirated, because that means that it got traction. For every pirated software there is always a happy user behind it (after all, they chose to pirate your software, and not your competitor’s), and if this user convinces their employer to use your software, then there is a good chance that these companies will be your future clients."

This statement makes a lot of sense to me. Instead of looking at piracy from the constant negative point of view why don't we try to be innovative and tactically deal with, and profit from it. For example, companies like Oracle and Microsoft have made some money in Nigeria because of piracy. The easy availability of pirated copies of their software gets a lot of users for them and these users end up paying for the certifications offered by these companies. Imagine a piracy free Nigeria where users only have access to legitimate copies of these software, definitely there will be very little or no users and almost zero dollars generated from the certifications.

I am not saying piracy is good, but if you can't get through it why not get around it.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Webification Part 2















By now it is obvious that the web 2.0 revolution will be hinged on some particular technologies. The most important of which are JavaScript and HTML5. These technologies are all available today in most modern browsers and have started to prove that we can build desktop like applications in the browsers. But there is a flip side to the in-browser web 2.0 revolution, what happens if these technologies were made available outside the browser. What happens if modern desktop environments support JavaScript, CSS and HTML5 out of the box? What happens if web 2.0 is brought out of the browser unto the desktop instead of squeezing the desktop into the browser.

Imagine designing your desktop application GUI with HTML and CSS and getting your desktop OS to interpret JavaScript outside the browser. That way web applications can run directly on the desktop. That way all web developers automatically become desktop developers without requiring any additional skills. That way, the line between desktop application development and web application development disappears. The same can also be done on mobile operating systems. Then the dream of write once run everywhere will finally be achieved and above all it will be achieved on open standards.

Imagine having a desktop shortcut that downloads and starts a JavaScript application and runs it natively without requiring any changes. That is the future of software I envisage. The good news is that future doesn't seems to be very far away.

GNOME 3 desktop has a built-in JavaScript interpreter and also supports theming with CSS. The default text editor GEdit allows on-line real time collaboration. The default note taking application let's you drop notes into the instant messaging application allowing easy note sharing.

That may not exactly be the future I imagine, but it's a huge step in the right direction. The future will be such that you can't draw a clear line separating web, desktop and mobile applications.

And that future is almost here.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Webification Part 1









I've blogged before about my view on the future of software development. I argued that there will be a blurring of the line dividing web application development and native/desktop application development. I clearly disagreed with the argument that everything is going to move to the web. One of my key arguments was that the web was originally a presentation or publishing platform, so hacking it into a processing platform just won't be enough.

But a lot has been happening in the web space. HTML5 looks like it's going to change the game and JavaScript just keeps getting faster in all major browsers. Tools like GWT make it easy to write client side web applications using Java and VisualWebGui allows you to do the same with .NET languages.

Clearly Google is one company that is really pushing for the migration to the web. They have created a market place for web applications and have supported HTML5 on their chrome browser and on android. Given the financial and cerebral power of Google, you can bet they have the capacity to make a huge impact.

So is it time for the Webification of all applications? My guess is still no. Google itself is still actively writing desktop applications like Google desktop search and Google earth desktop client. This is because they know that an all out migration to web still doesn't look feasible.

Obviously there will be more and more web applications written than before, but that doesn't mean all applications will be moved to the web. Google knows that and that is why applications targeting android are written with Java to target the android virtual machine without any JavaScript getting involved.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Nigerian Internet Revolutionaries







By Internet revolutionaries I am not referring to those people that brought about the Internet revolution but to those people that think they can bring a revolution using the Internet. Many times you come across them in forums or see their comments on blogs and news sites. They talk about how bad things are in Nigeria and how frustrated they are and how very soon those on top will pay for everything they owe.

The ones I am very familiar with are typically found on the political section of Nairaland or commenting to articles on 234next.

First of all, I disagree with their idea of a violent revolution being the solution to our problems in Nigeria. The solution should be built from the ground up and not the other way round.
The solution starts from you, what have you done lately to make things better. Have you stopped shunting in queues? Have you managed to fill that pot hole on the road in your neighborhood? Have you stopped that guy dumping refuse by the roadside. No I don't think so, because all those things happen in the real world and not in cyberspace. To get to the real world, you have to leave the coziness of your room or office and get out to make a change.

But I forgot, just getting outside is not enough because the greater number of the revolutionaries have left the country and plan to come back only when things get better.

Definitely the revolution will come, it will not involve shedding blood but individual efforts coming together to build a better system. But the Internet revolutionaries are going to miss it. They will miss it because it will not be fun as they imagined. They will miss it because they can't risk leaving facebook , twitter or Nairaland for so long as five minutes.

But they will read about the revolution, in fact, they have been reading about it because the real revolutionaries also use technology, but they don't call for bloodshed. They use technology to create positive change. And after adventures in the real world, some come to cyberspace and tell their stories in blogs and forums. They just know that you don't tweet a revolution.

So. What have you done for Nigeria lately?

Friday, 16 July 2010

10 Myths About Linux















I have been using Linux alongside Windows as a dual boot setup before deciding to migrate fully to Linux. This decision was prompted not only by the fact that I got tired of managing viruses but also because Linux has evolved to be an easier platform to use. Now the problem I face is when Windows users see me using Linux as my main OS. To my surprise some of them feel offended and often ask why I chose to use an OS that is not user friendly. The interesting thing is that most of them are people that have never used any non-Microsoft operating system. My question is, if you've never tasted a fruit how would you know whether it's sweet, sour or bitter? In reality most of these people have believed and often propagated myths they have heard and believed about Linux. I list ten of such myths and answers for those that believe them.

1- On Linux, you have to use the command line: Nope, you don't have to. Linux have several mature graphical environments that have been found to be more usable than the Windows desktop. Ever heard of GNOME or K.D.E ?

2- Linux is strictly for geeks: The One Laptop Per Child project uses Linux and targets kids and not geeks. Most of the target children have never used a computer before in their lives.

3- It's only good for servers: No, there are many distributions for desktops. One of the most popular is Ubuntu.

4- Linux is safe and virus free because it's not widely used: It's safe because it's well designed and viruses will find it difficult to cause much harm.

5- Hardware support is poor: Every printer I have plugged into my Linux system has worked right away without requiring any driver installation. The only time I installed a driver is to get a certain scanner working.

6- It's Insecure because the source code is available: This argument is caused by ignorance of software building process. Some people think that the Linux source code is available in it's raw form on every Linux system and mistakingly changing a line or a dot will render the system useless. Wrong, the code is built into a binary form for it to run.

7- Free means bad for business: It has fetched RedHat $653 million in 2009. It provides your business good software at no monetary cost.

8- Few applications are available for Linux: Thousands of software are available and a great number of them free of charge.

9- Poor support, hackers and hobbyist are in charge: If you want paid support, then companies like RedHat, Canonical, Novell, Oracle and many more are there for you. Those names don't sound like hobbyists' names.

10- Poor quality because it's developed by amateurs and hackers working across the globe: The open and distributed nature of Linux development means more eyes are there to spot problems and more brains are there to contribute great ideas.

So, don't make any assumption on any software whether proprietary or open source. Get a first hand experience with it first instead of just believing the myths.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Does Startups Have To Be DotComs ?






I find it really interesting to watch the activities of several technology startup companies across Africa through many blogs that pay attention to such companies. One trend I notice is that almost everyone talking about startups in Africa is basically talking about on-line businesses. The moment you hear "startup" it's almost certain you will hear "web 2.0" or "dotcom" in the same discussion. I think there is more to tech startups than just web based businesses. Some of the technology businesses that changed the course of history were not web oriented. Agreed Google is a glaring example of an excellent web oriented business but how many Googles do we plan to create locally? Microsoft which is the largest software company in the world is still trying to get it's web strategy right.
I am not saying that web startups shouldn't be encouraged but let us not forget that startups do not really have to be dotcoms. In fact very few dotcoms are able to solve real world business challenges in Africa. Let us promote the idea of tech startups in general and not limit ourselves to dotcoms.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

FOSS Nigeria 2010

The second Nigerian free and open source software conference took place from 23rd to 25th of April 2010. The conference was tagged FOSS Nigeria 2010 and it took place and the Center For Democratic Research And Training, Mambayya House in Kano, Nigeria. The main sponsors of the conference are Hutsoft Nigeria limited and the Center For Information Technology (CIT) of the Bayero University Kano. I attended the first conference FOSS Nigeria 2009 last year and have noticed quite some improvement in the organization of the event which shows that the organizers are keen on making it a really great event.















Mustapha Abubakar of Hutsoft


Adrian de Groot K.D.E ev's vice president who was here last year attended this year's event from Netherlands while Frederik Gladhorn a K.D.E developer came from Germany.














Frederik Gladhorn

I am happy to note that this year's event has some participants from the Southern part of Nigeria. I had a brief chat with a team that told me that they are from Ibadan. LPI-Nigeria also sent a representative from Ibadan who conducted the LPI examinations for participants at a good discount. I never got Mr Ola's last name but he is a great guy.















Ola, Frederik, Adriaan and Mustapha at a restaurant.

The range of topics on which talks were given are broad. This range from introduction to K.D.E and Gnome desktops to localizations and open source 3D modelling.















Muhammad Ahmad Abubakar and Abubakar Dala of 3D Formular giving a live demo of blender

Talks were given by the following people

Adriaan De Groot (K.D.E ev)
Auwal Alhassan Tata (CIT, Bayero University Kano)
Frederik Gladhorn (FSFE)
Mustapha Abubakar (Hutsoft Nigeria Limited)
Murtala Kazaure
Ibrahim Abubakar Dasuma (Hutsoft Nigeria Limited)
Abubakar Dala and Muhammad Ahmad Abubakar (3D Formula)

I also gave a talk on making money with free software. I was quite surprised by the way it was received. I noticed some participants taking notes during the talk which tells me that they are keen on implementing some of the ideas I talked about.

This year's event saw the distribution of linux distro CDs (Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Opensuse) to participants. The last day was closed by the presentation of traditional Fulani dresses to Adriaan and Frederik.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

10 Years And Just Starting










I remember once reading a blog entry by Joel Spolsky that good software takes ten years to get used to. Well I may have written a 10 year old software as well. This year is my tenth year as a programmer. Though I did a bit of programming a little more than ten years ago, I didn't consider myself a programmer until 2000. That was the year me and my team-mates came together to jointly start developing software.

So what have we accomplished in those years?

We have pioneered a software business in the least place you will expect at that time; Maiduguri in the extreme North-East of Nigeria.

We have developed programs that are used by many organizations across Nigeria ranging from corporate bodies to universities to defense institutions .

We have individually and collectively mentored a number of people that went ahead to establish their own startup software business.

We have inspired quite a number of people to start their own technology based businesses.

We have made real friends across Nigeria and beyond that share the same passion for software.

So what has changed in the last 10 years ?

We have moved from sharing a single desktop PC to owning a desktop PC each to working from our laptops and keeping connection through our hand-held devices.

We have also moved from zero Internet connection to paying as high as 14 Naira per minute to always being connected through PC or hand-held.


We are still a team after a decade and the oldest ones among us are just entering their thirties. So when I say we are just starting you know what I mean (bearing any unforeseen circumstances)

I do not know whether my team-mates really remember that we are ten years old now or whether they will be okay with me mentioning their names here (we have an obsession for privacy), but I feel it's important I share this with somebody. Even if it's an anonymous reader of this blog.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

U.S.A and the Giant Of Africa



Recently I'm beginning to get more and more worried about how our government is blowing it's own trumpet too loud. Agreed that we are ahead of many African countries in some sectors of development, but I think it's a bad idea to keep telling ourselves that we are the giant of Africa. The United States also have that mentality, but there phrase is "No. 1" instead of "Giant".
The Americans are ahead of us in that craze because not only the government promotes that concept but even the citizens do. I do not want us to follow the footsteps of U.S.A in self delusion given some disturbing statistics I came across about the United States. Just take time to go through the following


America No. 1? America by the numbers by Michael Ventura 02/03/05 "ICH" - - No concept lies more firmly embedded in our national character than the notion that the USA is "No. 1," "the greatest." Our broadcast media are, in essence, continuous advertisements for the brand name "America Is No. 1." Any office seeker saying otherwise would be committing political suicide. In fact, anyone saying otherwise will be labeled "un-American." We're an "empire," ain't we? Sure we are. An empire without a manufacturing base. An empire that must borrow $2 billion a day from its competitors in order to function. Yet the delusion is ineradicable. We're No. 1. Well...this is the country you really live in:


* The United States is 49th in the world in
literacy (the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2004).

* The United States ranked 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

* Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, Jan. 7, 2005).

* "The International Adult Literacy Survey...found that Americans with less than nine years of education 'score worse than virtually all of the other countries'" (Jeremy Rifkin's superbly documented book The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, p.78).

* Our workers are so ignorant and lack so many basic skills that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004). No wonder they relocate elsewhere!

* "The European Union leads the U.S. in...the number of science and engineering graduates; public research and development (R&D) expenditures; and new capital raised" (The European Dream, p.70).

* "Europe surpassed the United States in the mid-1990s as the largest producer of scientific literature" (The European Dream, p.70).

* Nevertheless, Congress cut funds to the National Science Foundation. The agency will issue 1,000 fewer research grants this year (NYT, Dec. 21, 2004).

* Foreign applications to U.S. grad schools declined 28 percent last year. Foreign student enrollment on all levels fell for the first time in three decades, but increased greatly in Europe and China. Last year Chinese grad-school graduates in the U.S. dropped 56 percent, Indians 51 percent, South Koreans 28 percent (NYT, Dec. 21, 2004). We're not the place to be anymore.

* The World Health Organization "ranked the countries of the world in terms of overall health performance, and the U.S. [was]...37th." In the fairness of health care, we're 54th. "The irony is that the United States spends more per capita for health care than any other nation in the world" (The European Dream, pp.79-80). Pay more, get lots, lots less.

* "The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens" (The European Dream, p.80). Excuse me, but since when is South Africa a "developed" country? Anyway, that's the company we're keeping.

* Lack of health insurance coverage causes 18,000 unnecessary American deaths a year. (That's six times the number of people killed on 9/11.) (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005.)

* "U.S. childhood poverty now ranks 22nd, or second to last, among the developed nations. Only Mexico scores lower" (The European Dream, p.81). Been to Mexico lately? Does it look "developed" to you? Yet it's the only "developed" country to score lower in childhood poverty.

* Twelve million American families--more than 10 percent of all U.S. households--"continue to struggle, and not always successfully, to feed themselves." Families that "had members who actually went hungry at some point last year" numbered 3.9 million (NYT, Nov. 22, 2004).

* The United States is 41st in the world in infant mortality. Cuba scores higher (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005).

* Women are 70 percent more likely to die in childbirth in America than in Europe (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005).

* The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, Dec. 14, 2004).

* "Of the 20 most developed countries in the world, the U.S. was dead last in the growth rate of total compensation to its workforce in the 1980s.... In the 1990s, the U.S. average compensation growth rate grew only slightly, at an annual rate of about 0.1 percent" (The European Dream, p.39). Yet Americans work longer hours per year than any other industrialized country, and get less vacation time.

* "Sixty-one of the 140 biggest companies on the Global Fortune 500 rankings are European, while only 50 are U.S. companies" (The European Dream, p.66). "In a recent survey of the world's 50 best companies, conducted by Global Finance, all but one were European" (The European Dream, p.69).

* "Fourteen of the 20 largest commercial banks in the world today are European.... In the chemical industry, the European company BASF is the world's leader, and three of the top six players are European. In engineering and construction, three of the top five companies are European.... The two others are Japanese. Not a single American engineering and construction company is included among the world's top nine competitors. In food and consumer products, Nestlé and Unilever, two European giants, rank first and second, respectively, in the world. In the food and drugstore retail trade, two European companies...are first and second, and European companies make up five of the top ten. Only four U.S. companies are on the list" (The European Dream, p.68).

* The United States has lost 1.3 million jobs to China in the last decade (CNN, Jan. 12, 2005).

* U.S. employers eliminated 1 million jobs in 2004 (The Week, Jan. 14, 2005).

* Three million six hundred thousand Americans ran out of unemployment insurance last year; 1.8 million--one in five--unemployed workers are jobless for more than six months (NYT, Jan. 9, 2005).

* Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea hold 40 percent of our government debt. (That's why we talk nice to them.) "By helping keep mortgage rates from rising, China has come to play an enormous and little-noticed role in sustaining the American housing boom" (NYT, Dec. 4, 2004). Read that twice. We owe our housing boom to China, because they want us to keep buying all that stuff they manufacture.

* Sometime in the next 10 years Brazil will probably pass the U.S. as the world's largest agricultural producer. Brazil is now the world's largest exporter of chickens, orange juice, sugar, coffee, and tobacco. Last year, Brazil passed the U.S. as the world's largest beef producer. (Hear that, you poor deluded cowboys?) As a result, while we bear record trade deficits, Brazil boasts a $30 billion trade surplus (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

* As of last June, the U.S. imported more food than it exported (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

* Bush: 62,027,582 votes. Kerry: 59,026,003 votes. Number of eligible voters who didn't show up: 79,279,000 (NYT, Dec. 26, 2004). That's more than a third. Way more. If more than a third of Iraqis don't show for their election, no country in the world will think that election legitimate.

* One-third of all U.S. children are born out of wedlock. One-half of all U.S. children will live in a one-parent house (CNN, Dec. 10, 2004).

* "Americans are now spending more money on gambling than on movies, videos, DVDs, music, and books combined" (The European Dream, p.28).

* "Nearly one out of four Americans [believe] that using violence to get what they want is acceptable" (The European Dream, p.32).

* Forty-three percent of Americans think torture is sometimes justified, according to a PEW Poll (Associated Press, Aug. 19, 2004).

* "Nearly 900,000 children were abused or neglected in 2002, the last year for which such data are available" (USA Today, Dec. 21, 2004).

* "The International Association of Chiefs of Police said that cuts by the [Bush] administration in federal aid to local police agencies have left the nation more vulnerable than ever" (USA Today, Nov. 17, 2004).

No. 1? In most important categories we're not even in
the Top 10 anymore. Not even close. The USA is "No. 1" in nothing but weaponry, consumer spending, debt, and delusion.





Despite the fact that I think the article's comparison of U.S.A and Europe is unfair given the fact that Europe is not a single country, I still don't want us to end up becoming another U.S.A.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Tech Parks And Forced Innovation


The Nigerian government at the all tiers must be commended for their awakening to the importance of information technology in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. Despite the fact that it is easy to point out where things are being done wrong, I am inclined to believe that the mistakes are a result of ignorance of both ICT and entrepreneurship. Another factor is the text-book approach the governments are applying to the whole process.
One particular trend that caught my attention is the love for technology parks by governments. Kano state for example has reached advanced stages of setting up their proposed IT park. I also know that Lagos state has a similar project and the FCT has a plan for a technology park. Other states like Cross Rivers and Akwa-Ibom have similar projects. These are all steps in the right direction but are not a guarantee of creating innovation and entrepreneurship.
Innovation and entrepreneurship can only be encouraged but not forced. This is because innovators and entrepreneurs move naturally to the best place that favor their growth and that place doesn't have to be a government built tech park. A perfect example is the Ikeja computer village which is the largest IT market in Africa. This market didn't come to existence through conscious government effort but grew naturally because of several factors that favoured it's growth.
So what should the government do?, I say give us stable electricity and broadband Internet across the country and we'll take it from there.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Nigerian Online Payment Systems













For some time we've been looking for an on-line payment gateway to integrate to a web project we are developing. So I embarked on a search for a good one that meets our requirements. The most important requirement is that it has to be Nigerian, one might say "Why?". Well, we trust Nigerian because unlike foreign companies we believe they won't freeze our account simply because we are Nigerians.


My search led me to discover some payment systems which I list below.

SurePay
from a company called websoft. SurePay is a service which I cannot tell weather I like or not because it is so shrouded in secrecy. The website tells me that as a merchant I can accept interswitch, visa, Mastercard and Etranzact cards payment but refused to show me how. I couldn't get access to their API. They say I need some kind of certification to integrate it to my site and that costs N75,000 plus an activation fee of N50,000. A total of N125,000 before I can integrate or even see the API. So what happens if after paying I discovered that the API is crap ? Moreover both interswitch and Etranzact web payment service costs roughly N150,000 each. I'd rather go for one them since they provide a full online merchant account. So I moved on passing SurePay.

PayLive365 from iDevWorks: I had a lot of hope on this service because I've seen like two products from iDevWorks that impressed me. It's like the engineers over there know their onions. But the problem is that the service is still in Beta and I couldn't even create an account. So I came back after a few days and it's still in Beta, then a few weeks, then a few months and still Beta. The last time I checked, their ssl certificate has expired.

NetNaira from goattale: The first time I came across NetNaira, I fell in love with it, I checked out their API and loved it. This is despite the fact that my customers need a NetNaira account to pay me. So I registered a merchant account and started integration work on our site. They even have a sandbox url that you can use for development and testing. So everything was Ok and we were ready to go live. Suddenly we discovered that you have to pay N10,000 to get activated. Well, that's not too bad we thought. But there is a new rule on NetNaira, you can't have a transaction that's worth more than N40,000. Too bad what we want to sell costs a bit more than that. I still couldn't understand the logic behind that restriction. Netnaira charges commissions per transaction, I'll expect them to welcome high value transactions because it will lead to bigger commissions. Well, maybe it's not for me to understand. So I left Netnaira with a broken heart. We could have had a great relationship.

SoftPurse from SoftCom: The first impression SoftPurse gave was of a service that is well designed and developed. There website design was also cool. Though a merchant only get paid by a client with a SoftPurse account, they allow clients to fund accounts with Interswitch or Etranzact cards. There API is available once you register a merchant account which is free. My only reservation is their choice of API design. They used XML webservices. I personally prefer an API that's based on HTTP POST parameters. That way integration will be a matter minutes instead of days. We went ahead and tried integrating with the existing API but not without some hitches. But we are not giving up on SoftPurse so I got in touch with their lead engineer, Ezra Olubi. Ezra is a great guy that seems to be receptive to ideas. He even accepted our input and made a correction on their integration example. We have now postponed integrating softpurse but we did not shelve it. I think Ezra is one of the reasons why we are carrying on with SoftPurse.

CashEnvoy: I am not going to waste too much time on them cos they've hidden all integration info and require me to send them an e-mail to get it. Sometimes it's annoying how companies scare away potential customers by being unnecessarily secretive.

FasteCash by TechClick Limited: This is also an e-wallet. Meaning customers need to have an account before they can pay merchants. FasteCash seems to be at lost about their actual business model, one minute you get the impression they are an online payment system and the next minute they are a bulk sms service. if you don't believe me, go through their FAQ. But the real problem here is that you need some kind of scratch card to load your account. All the scratch card resellers are either in Lagos, Port-Harcourt or Warri and our lab is in Maiduguri. If you don't understand my point then I suggest you get a map of Nigeria and check the distance between Maiduguri and any of the three cities I mentioned. I know Maiduguri is far but at least get a reseller in Abuja. I have more reasons to go to Abuja than to go to Warri. Though one can load via bank payment, I still say no thanks. We don't want to put our customers through that trouble. We can as well collect bank payments directly. On a positive note, I like the design of their homepage and they have quite a number of resellers but none across the Niger.

ChezolaPay : This is one payment system that got my attention because it got some reviews from blogs that I respect; Timbuktu Chronicles and White African. But the last time I checked, their site has vanished.

NairaPro: I am going to keep it short. No FAQ or API info. Maybe I'll have to register to get them. But at least give me a FAQ.

VTN
from LFR Communications: Virtual Terminal Network has all the problems you can get in all the payment systems we passed on. They also have the additional disadvantage of not accepting any of the popular payment cards used in Nigeria. To fund your account you have to load via their bank account. VTN has everything to scare us away, but we are not running, we are planning to integrate VTN as an option. This is for some reasons we took into consideration. VTN already has up to 3000 merchants, a hunch tells us that there are even more non-merchant accounts than that. So there maybe potential customers that already have VTN accounts. Secondly VTN seems to be a mature payment platform judging by the company's experience in online payment even before creating VTN. The same company owns GraphCard. Thirdly, their API is not secret and you do not pay anything for a merchant account.


There are other payment systems I came across during my search but I believe only the ones above deserve any mention. Many are just crap some of the sites are filled with broken links, while some don't seem to understand what a payment system is suppose to be.
I think I must make it clear that the above review was largely based on my personal opinion and the opinion of my team members. So don't just take my word, go check out their sites and judge for yourself.