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bfafrica

Internet in Africa

 When I talked to a friend of mine about writing a short piece on the internet in Burkina, she told me make sure to tell everyone that there is only one word to describe it… moan… And she works at the European Union offices… so I can only conclude that they are not, unlike the Canadian embassy here, connected to the satellite via a Canadian communication system.

I suppose I should find myself lucky we have internet at all, given how poor this country is and given how little technical infrastructure there exists… but ‘moan’ just the same!

According to OOKLA Net Index, Burkina consistently rates 196th on the household download index.

This comes from data analyzed between November 13th, 2014 and Feb 25th, 2015, using 5728 unique IP addresses for a total of 12,699 total tests.  It is fair to say that 196th place squarely places the country at the very bottom… well, I hear that Eritrea still has a dial up internet (I am dead serious), so maybe we are not quite the last… but pretty well down there.  These results made the front page of the local papers, no need to say.

There is ONE optic cable coming from Togo.  There is a new one that will be coming from Côte d’Ivoire… but for the time being, it is still in the planning… So ADSL is only available in ‘large’ cities like Ouaga and Bobo Dioulasso and only since 2011. And internet at home is mostly offered by ONATEL, the state telephone company.

Internet keys are available from Airtel (who else) and I hear Telmob.  They are rare to find and when available, they are snapped quickly by users… so, of course, they are always in short supply.  When we moved December 2013, I tried to find one until such time as I would be connected at home with ONATEL… to no avail.

Internet connections are, of course, not dedicated.

A dedicated connection for 128 kpbs without satellite connection is only offered by one provider from what I can understand – and it is 157$. If you dedicated that with satellite connection that cost jumps to 223$.

Yes there is G3+… if you can get it. My cell phone does not, and many of my friends express frustration because it is often down.

Given that many Burkinabé live in the country side or in areas without electricity, it will be no surprise to you to hear that the penetration of internet in this country in rather limited.  There are lots of internet café,s but few shops and restaurants that offer wi-fi.  Although to be fair, it is becoming increasingly available.   Internet literacy is also, evidently, very low.   Very.

The use of email address are dismal! Employees in private enterprise will still use their own personal email address to deal with clients on line (which is not frequent).

For government officers, , let’s just say that unless you get a younger officer with a smart phone and a personal computer he takes at work (and yes, I have seen that a lot!), you usually get no internet communication.

When I worked a few years ago (and it has not changed since) the older government officials I dealt with often had a computer on their desk, but it was not connected.  All it did was collect dust – and trust me, in this country, that expression takes a whole new dimension as dust is everywhere all the time. Burkina Faso is  located in the Sahel desert.

 These older officers all insisted that I contact them by phone.  But as their phone and/or the line was and is pretty bad, making conversation at times is nearly impossible.

Regular texting became part of my doing business.  But more often than not, I would simply go visit them at their office.  Reports, by the way, are often typed on a typewriter somewhere.

Internet connection regularly goes off … and I mean a few times a day.  I am reading the news and then, bang, I am offline and cannot get to the next article.  These outages are usually short.  They are frustrating but no big deal – unless you are downloading a program, then it means starting all over again.

But the internet connection regularly goes off for longer period of time.  The reason? It’s usually because some poor soul, not knowing what their  doing, is digging and hits that one cable, damages it, and then the whole town goes ‘MOAN’.

Sometimes these cuts are put back together with silver tape and you have a bit of a connection … but it is painfully slllloooooowwwww.

Some areas of town have an internet connection that work better than others.  Zone du Bois (center) works better when it works – but Ouaga 2000 (at the limit of the city) has a more consistent internet because it is closer to the location when the cable ends.

Of course, downloading a movie or an episode of your favourite show will take anywhere from 3 hours (194kb) to days.  I avoid HD files because it is almost impossible, and before you ask – Netflix is not available here.

For  this ‘high speed’ service (I am supposedly getting 512K, up from the 216 when I arrived in 2011) I pay 50,000 CFA, or $105.00.  So next time you complain about your internet service and/or cost, remember that it is way worse elsewhere in the world!

BUT… giving the low penetration of computers in private homes, I love to see the kids playing in the streets with the animals or with whatever they make toys of instead of being glued to their computer. I love to go to restaurant and see people talking to each other as opposed to texting and being glued to their cell phone, and yes, I do appreciate having the poor internet I have simply because I have internet and I can connect to my family and friends back in Canada,  even if my Skype connection is nearly impossible.

Living abroad has taught me so many things – but the one that is the most important is to appreciate and enjoy every little thing we have.  I know it sounds corny but, it is the truth.

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What else can you print?

It’s 2015 and we are well into the manufacturing revolution, or so the media claims. No longer restricted to the realm of science fiction, 3D printing and one off manufacturing are becoming surprisingly commonplace.

From food to computers to cars, 3D printing is rapidly becoming a major component of our lives. I’m not just talking about printing plastic toys or parts – no, 3D printing has evolved! From computers that make themselves, to drivable cars printed in 24 hours, it seems like the only limit to what we can make is self imposed by our own imaginations.

Or by what we saw on Star Trek as kids. You decide.

 

VOLTERA

Building hardware sucks!

I assume. I haven’t so much as built my own computer, let alone built my own computer chips and circuit boards. But I know people who have, and according to them it is not a simple venture.

According to them one of the most dangerous components of any electronics project is the circuit board. It involves experimenting with violable chemicals, or waiting weeks after sending their designs off to a  fabrication house.

In short, building a circuit board had two options – messing with chemicals or waiting for weeks. Kind of a tough choice if you’re in a rush.

The Voltera V-One 3D printer wants to offer a third option.

L: insulating mask being laid down, R: second layer bridging over first layer

The Voltera V-One can create a prototype board right from the comfort of your own home.

Gerber files go in; prototype circuit boards come out.   According to the Kickstarter funding this project, the printer lays down a conductive ink to create the traces and an insulating ink as a mask between layers.

These boards aren’t meant to replace mass manufactured PCBs – this is a one off manufacturing prototype tool that helps you get  there faster. The designers claim that you can now you can quickly test an idea without wasting money or two weeks of your time!

The Kickstarter campaign started for this project around Valentine’s day. Their goal was $70, 000 over the course of the month. As of February 18th they have raised $333, 137 and have over 20 days go to.

Conductive ink dispensing

FOODINI

This one is for those of us who hate to cook. A full meal with the touch of a button – sounds like a dream! Or restricted to the realm of science fiction and Star Trek.

Come on, we’re all thinking it.

Although the Fodini hasn’t reached ‘Replicator’ status yet, it is certainly on its way. The meals are raw, but with the push of a button you can have a fully prepared  meal. All you have to do is cook it.

It isn’t too different from a regular 3D printer, but instead of printing with plastics, it deploys edible ingredients squeezed out of stainless steel capsules:

“It’s the same technology,” says Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines, “but with plastics there’s just one melting point, whereas with food it’s different temperatures, consistencies and textures. Also, gravity works a little bit against us, as food doesn’t hold the shape as well as plastic.”

The startup is based out of Barcelona and it is one of a kind. It can print a large selection of foods, from desserts to more savory meals.

The creator,  Natural Machines, points out that it’s designed to take care only of the difficult and time-consuming parts of food preparation that discourage people from cooking at home. Like preparing homemade pasta, or perfectly shaped cookies.

As mentioned before, the device only prints the food, which must be then cooked as usual. But a future model will also cook the preparation and produce it ready to eat.

foodini

And since we live in the Digital Age, everything needs to be connected to the Internet of Things.

“There’s a touchscreen on the front that connects to a recipe site in the cloud, so it’s an internet-of-things,-connected kitchen appliance,” said Kucsma. Users will also be able to control the device remotely using a smartphone, and share their recipes with the community.

Doodler

The Doodler is kind of the odd man out. It is not a 3D printer per se, but it is  an additive manufacturing device.

In other words, it’s a pen that draws in 3D.

There is nothing controlling where the 3Doodler lays down material except for the user. You’re essentially printing in air.

Positioned as something of a toy, and developed by engineers from the toy industry, the 3Doodler helps to bring the concept of additive manufacturing to a new user

 

The Strati

3d-printed-car

With all the talk of those self-driving cars, we can sometimes overlook how those cars are made. Cars are not exempt from 3D printing. In fact, it’s already been done.

ABS plastics is the first to attempt to print an entire car.  They eliminate a car’s “frame” and integrate all exterior and interior features into a drastically parts-reduced automotive creation.

Everything on the car that could be integrated into a single material piece has been printed. This includes the frame, exterior body, and some interior features. The mechanical components of the Strati, like battery, motors, wiring and suspension are sourced from Renault’s Twizy, an electric powered city car.

Not only that, but this car may be on the road within the year. Once the 3D-printed car is cleared by U.S. vehicle rules and regulations, it will be drivable on public roads.

The Strati takes 44 hours to print, with the hopes that they can cut that rate to 24 hours.

With all these printing developments, one question remains – how long until we can 3D print the perfect spouse?

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The rise of the cryptocurrency

We live in a cashless society, but are we on our way to a universal digital currency? Bitcoin may seem like a digital currency for a digital age, but is it really? We investigate in this week’s round table discussion.

Transcript


Amanda: We’ve talked about Bitcoin before at the P4Digital Blog. It’s a topic that fascinates us, but 2014 was a rough year for it. In this week’s discussion, we talk about the rise of the cryptocurrency, how it works and speculate on whether or not we’ll all be paid with it in a few years.

Jeremy: Hello, today we’re talking about Bitcoins. Do they now have a legitimate trading exchange?

Archana: Yes, the topic we’re talking about today is the roll out of a new US-based exchange called Coinbase, which hopefully does legalize the cryptocurrency. What are your thoughts?

Shaheerah: Okay, so basically just to define Bitcoin in very basic terms, it is virtual cash that is generated, or rather mined by computers. It is a very sophisticated process. And Bitcoin lives on the internet, and you can use it to buy stuff both online as well as offline. In late January of this year, the Coinbased Bitcoin exchange went live. And this is actually the first one in America. And it could make Bitcoin more of a reality for the average Joe, as well as the corporate financial role. So as of now the exchange has been approved in 24 American states, and previously in the US the Bitcoin traders had to use exchanges that were based outside of the USA. And those exchanges did not have adequate regulations or security and so it made it pretty risky. So for example in February of this year, a Japan based Bitcoin exchange collapsed and they lost 750,000 customer Bitcoins, as well as 100,000 Bitcoins of their own. There are also all these problems with the security hacks. So for example recently Bitstamp lost 19,000 Bitcoins worth 5 million dollars, so that’s a lot. But now what’s going to happen is the Coinbase exchange is set to be a game changer because it is better regulated. They do have better security including insurance, which the other exchanges did not have. They have encryption, and the Bitcoins are actually kept offline so you won’t be able to hack them. There is also a one-time use passcode that you have to use, it’s texted to your phone and every time  you want to log in you have to use that one-time passcode, and you have to use the same computer every time as well.

Jeremy: Yeah, the Japanese exchange that Shaheerah mentioned is called Mt.Gox, which apparently is short for Magic the Gathering, which is a Role Playing – some type of Role Playing Dungeons and Dragons type game. So that’s not really the most credible way to be trading your Bitcoins.

Amanda: Speak for yourself! I’ve played Magic the Gathering and it’s an intense game!

Archana: Again, sort of going back to what Shaheerah mentioned, primarily the lack of regulation, inadequate security and the difficulty in getting US dollars in and out of these exchanges being the primary reasons why Bitcoin hasn’t really taken off. Coinbase really seeks to make a difference because it’s being backed by some thoughtful investors and financial venture capitalists, including the NYSE and the Citigroup CEO and Thompson Reuters ex CEO as well, so it obviously does lend a huge deal of credibility. And like what Jeremy mentioned, the Japanese company – a lot of luster was lost of Bitcoin amidst all these scandals and different scams. Case in point would be the Japanese Bitcoin exchange. And also more recently a Slovenia Bitcoin exchange also collapsed. So Coinbase does seek to differentiate itself from the rest of the crowd. What remains to be seen is how successful they’ll be.

Jeremy: And right on the heels of Coinbase is another exchange that is going to be launched later this year, which is backed by the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame, called the Gemini exchange. So they’re not narcissistic at all! Anyway, this exchange is going to be partnered with a major US bank, which means your US cash deposits will be eligible for FDIC insurance, although I’m sure the Bitcoins held in there will not.

Amanda: It’s interesting. Amazon and I believe PayPal also are accepting Bitcoins as of last year for payment for certain transactions.

Archana:  Yes, just like what Amanda just mentioned, apparently Coinbase also already accounts for about 2.2 million consumer wallets, and nearly 40,000 merchants already use their services. So from this point on it’s really a matter of them consolidating their position and building the business.

Shaheerah: Yes, and I also wanted to share some other facts about Bitcoin, which were published in an infographic from whoishostingthis.com. The FBI actually owns 15% of all the Bitcoins in the world. 65% of the world’s bitcoins are inactive – so they’re just left in the Bitcoin ewallets, and the remaining bitcoins are what are actually used for the transactions. You can get stuff like Pizza and plane tickets and university tuition using your Bitcoins. And even former Spice Girl Mel B, she was the first artist who started accepting Bitcoins as payment for her music. There’s also a maximum number of Bitcoins that can ever exist. The last Bitcoin is predicted to be mined in the year 2040.

Amanda: Make myself sound like a bit of a Geek here, but Mel B was always my favourite Spice Girl.

Laughter

Jeremy: Jim too

Laughter

Jeremy: Well, the problem with Bitcoins is they’re really too volatile right now to be used as an integral part of our trading economy. I mean, it would be kind of foolish to ask for your pay cheques in Bitcoin because the value fluctuates so much. I really think that if they built a good, secure system and a means of transactions- I think they’re going to around for a while, it’s not going to be worthless, it’s always going to be worth something. But to make the jump between something that you horde and something that you use to spend money on, the question is when that’s going to be.

Amanda: I have a general question for the executives here. If it was more secure, would you ever consider accepting your salary in Bitcoins.

Jeremy: I would not accept my salary in Bitcoins right now – not the way it fluctuates.

Archana: Not right now, but really whether we like it or not I think digital currency is definitely going to be a part of our lives in the coming future. Whether its Bitcoin o some other form of digital currency, I don’t know but for sure, salary one day would be in the form of Bitcoins.

Shaheerah:  And I just wanted to add, that actually Bitcoin has been known to lose up to 80% of its value in just a few days, so yes it is very volatile. And in fact both Thailand and China had put bans on Bitcoin back in 2013 for this reason.

Amanda: So that’s a no on accepting it on your salary, huh Shaheerah?

Shaheerah: Yup, that’s right.

Amanda: I have to say, after hearing that last statistic, I have to agree.


 

That was the P4Capital team discussing the rise of Bitcoin and Crytopcurrency. Apparnetly, none of us want to get paid with it in the near future. Want to know more? Check out our website  and previous posts about Bitcoin at http://www.planet4it.com or follow us @p4capital. Thanks and see you next time.

i-quit

Is This the Right Move?

Resignations – 7 Things Not to Do When Resigning

The goal of resigning is to protect your reference for the future.  If you have done great work for the last few years, don’t screw it up with a bad resignation.

  1. Waltz in to your bosses office and announce “I’m  out of here”

Well, so much for the courteous approach.

Prepare a letter stating you are resigning with a last day noted.  Give 2 weeks’ notice. Be sure to account for any outstanding vacation.

Present the letter in a face-to-face meeting (no slipping on his/her desk or sending an email).  Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but part of being professional.

  1. Do nothing, take long lunches, take extra sick days, come in late/leave early during your notice period.

The deal is to be professional.  Create a list of everything that’s on your plate divided into what will be completed by the time you leave and what will not, with the status it will be in when you leave.

Present the list in the resignation meeting.

This list helps to make the meeting less tense.

It also helps your boss save face with her boss when she announces your departure.  She shows she has it under control.

  1. Tell them where you are going.

This is optional.  It may just give your boss the opening to dump on the new company.

Why not say, “I shall call you when I get settled”.

  1. Get upset if they walk you out.

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It may be just an HR policy against the worst case scenario.

Assemble all your key possession in a single drawer before you meet your boss so you can exit quickly if necessary.

 

  1. Resent negative reaction from your boss.

 

Your boss may react poorly to the news.  That can include yelling or worse.

Your boss may deploy tools to slow you down.

These include:

Guilt – How could you do this after all I have done for you?

Intimidation – If you think I shall give you a good reference in the future, think     again

Flattery – Your team can’t go on without you.

Bribery/Promises – Gee, I was just about to set up a meeting to give you a raise/new project/promotion

These are just ways of giving your boss time to prepare for your eventual departure which may be your choice or may not.  Resigning is usually a sign of serious disaffection with the company and they usually can’t change that.  If you resign as a ploy to get a raise for example, it’s seen as immature and erodes trust.

 

  1. Make a loud announcement in the middle of the office, “I’m out of here you bunch of losers”

 

Give your boss time to announce your departure.  Don’t be a focus of discontent.  If other people want to leave, they need to take steps on their own.

 

  1. Neglect to capture the cell numbers and home addresses for everyone you liked working with. They may make a move in the future themselves.

 

After you’re gone, send them holiday greetings and stay in touch.  They are valuable nodes on your personal career network.  . You may want to reach out to them, for a reference or even a job one day.


Nadine

Nadine is one of the original members and owners of Planet4IT, and has watched the company become something great.
She is the Chief Financial officer here, and her hard work ensures everything is kept in tip top shape.
Another role she has is to help companies find the top talent out there.
Her track record speaks for itself.
Nadine can be reached through email, or by calling Planet4IT