postheadericon Tech Talk: Scary Statistics

I just read that American kids now spend more time consuming and creating media then they do in school each day, about 8 hours. SMS, Twitter, and hundreds of thousands of apps are consuming that entire generation. Latin, music and the arts are pastimes of the past for Generation Z. Well, at least in that part of the world...

Worldwide, there is an estimated 40 billion video uploads a month to a glom of online video services, with YouTube taking in 20 billion of those shorts. Statistically that implies that every single human being on the planet is uploading a stupid pet trick and a remix of a Justin Bieber hit every month. But for Nepal, I don't see that to be the case. After all, kids here still use pencils and carry books around in backpacks, instead of the latest tablet or MacBook Air.

But that is one of the things about living in country that still processes 35 mm film and sells floor brushes on every sidewalk. (My neighborhood seems to specialize in technology from the Metal Age.) The contrast is so much brighter. For example, instead of living slowly through a fundamental change in society, the expat here can look over the horizon and feel change splashed up like the tides.

But even in Nepal, our own Generation Z is contributing to a tech tsunami: each month 42 million users around the globe spend an average of 26 hours online – more time spent if working a part-time job! So what does it all mean? Instead of "productive work" like flipping burgers or helping Wal-Mart customers find the electronics aisle, are teens now are playing Cityville instead? Hard to say, as I know most of us here would not balk at that type of work.

But what if teens were pushed out of that job market and into an online dystopia by older folks who needed that job? Pretty scary if true, eh? But there is nothing worse than being a disgruntled technologist, pinning for the olden days (as I often do) so let me change the tone of this rant with a statistic that will warm your heart instead of chill your the soul...

The Mobile Learning Blog reports "42% of teens can text blindfolded."

I can now rest knowing that if half the planet were blinded by a sub-space anomaly or "other" explosion, that the younger folks would have still have manual dexterity as a civilization-saving skill. I know that after 30 years of ergonomically incorrect typing, I don't. So hooray - why worry?

The point being that mobile phones are a big part of the change taking place within some parts of our civilization. Consider this: it took 56 years for the telephone to reach 50% of American households, but just 10 years for the internet to get installed in half of all American homes. The mobile has taken just 4 years longer then the Internet to do the same. Even in KTM, I dare you to find a well-dressed kid without some sort of mobile device.

Now what this means to us, precisely, is hard to say, perhaps impossible to say. Imagine what our your great and grandparents thought when the automobile took the world by storm. Could they ever have imagined on "day one" the choking traffic jams on the Bagmati Bridge, or on any other major intersection in the world? No, of course not - just like we can't see now where the Internet and all this twittering, tubing connectivity will lead us... or can we?

Today, 30 to 40% of Internet use is of the "personal interest" variety during working hours. So theoretically, worker productivity of any sort should be down by that much as well. Unless you are media streaming company, however, charged with pumping entertainment all day long onto corporate and home computers. Newspapers, books, magazines and all the hit pop songs have been digitized, and are now consumed 40 hours a week by almost ½ the population of America. And that American body is expanding rapidly - even during a recession.

Since 1990, the average weight for all Americans has risen by 20 lbs. (9 kg). At this rate, in just a few decades the average American male will weigh in at over 300 lbs. (136 kg). Think of the changes needed for that! Already, public toilet fixtures across America are being reinforced to bear higher loads for safety reasons, and the new standard is 1000 lbs., up from 300 – the unreinforced toilets are collapsing daily!

Now if that doesn't scare you, I don't know what does.

First published in MyRepublica on 12/10/2011
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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Chickmanflu


Kathmandu made international news again, and in case you have been sequestered in a sekuwa house, here is the flash: bird flu is back.

According to such fine reporting agencies as worldpoultry.net and in.news.yahoo, chicken prices have dropped by 60%, no one in the army is eating any, and they have killed all the chicks in Bhaktapur.

Personally, I have had a love-hate relationship with chickens ever since I can remember. As a child, I hated Chicken McNuggets and always cried for cheeseburgers instead. As an adult, I was a diehard vegetarian for almost 25 years...until moving to Nepal. Here, how can I resist my mother-inlaw's Dashain mutton curry and roast pork? I can't.

And that little roast chicken shop across from Standard Charter in Jawalakhel is to die for, with a price tag of only Nrs. 450 for a whole sliced and diced bird slathered in sauce. Only "to die for" may be appropriate, as who knows where these birds come from that are served up in the valley these days. But regardless of the dangers, chickens in Nepal are yummy and taste like chickens did in pre-McDonalds America.

My mother used to make the 2nd best Chicken Cacciatore in all of Brooklyn. She learned from our Italian immigrant neighbor, who would feed a family of eleven from large pans of boiling sauce and chicken poured over fresh pasta. Our neighbor Maria Rossi was numero uno when it came to food in NYC, and no one ever worried about getting sick from eating at her house.

But that's the rub with food these days it seems...who can you trust? Is it wiser to trust the chicken tika shop down the gulli, or Colonel Sanders' Kentucky Fried in Durbarmarg? I hear the Colonel's birds are flown here from Brazil, and I assume that means plucked, chopped and frozen in the cargo hold, but who would know if a few Bhaktapurian wings got mixed in? Likewise, down at Samir's Tika Barn, how would one know the entire rotisserie was not full of diseased birds just waiting to make you sick?

You can't know, and even if you did know that the meat was technically "safe," that is no guarantee it won't kill you later. In my opinion, the only way you can ensure food safety in today's world is to know and trust the chef. As my Jewish grandma used to say, "food is love." Unfortunately, that was said in the context of my Irish mother throwing up Grandma's Matzo Ball soup one Passover holiday. But regardless, if food is cooked from the heart, its gunna be all right. Or so it used to be...

I'm not sure how any of us can do anything more than trust in the gods that what we eat, or breath, or are injected with won't make us sick these days. I raise the issue of flu injections only because tis the season, and that my wife got her annual flu shot at work this week, and since then, we have both been deathly ill. But in her Nepali way, she just sucked it up and kept on working, while myself (being of Jewish descent), just whined in bed for days on end.

But what I love about getting the flu is how you feel after the fever breaks and your head once again drains into the empty bell that it should be – fantastic, and happy to be alive! The smells of new construction dust and Pulchowk exhaust fumes once again fill your nostrils properly, and you think all is right with the world. To bad that feeling leads to risky behavior (again), and I am right back at it: eating Pheri Pheri chicken late nights with loads of rum & coke on the side.

So I suppose the "lesson learnt", and this is for all you NGO wonks out there, is that one should live each day as it were your last, as it seems that no matter how good is your health care, how well cooked is your chicken, or how well you wrestle down your drinking habits, you can still get on a bus and die at any moment.

First published in MyRepublica on 12/10/2011
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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Game of Thrones


No, this article is not about the wildly popular HBO TV serial “Game of Thrones,” although if I thought I wouldn’t bore you to tears, I would write that review, as I really am digging the show. This week is about another kinda throne altogether, and for those who are a bit squeamish about potty-talk, best to switch to the sports section right away.

I only bring up the Nepali toilet because as long as I can remember, it has been a fascination and obsession with tourists and locals alike. But we are not talking the traditional charpi, but the modern-day incantation - that in one case has a heated seat that raises it’s lid when you enter the bathroom.

While this iToilet may not be available down on Teku road, other modern toilets of all descriptions are, and these are showcased in the front windows of hundreds of shops selling “sanitary fixtures” all about town.

I’m sure you have noticed. As a tourist first arriving here over a decade ago, I was amazed by how easy one could purchase a shiny new porcelain bowl and sink set, but one could not find a decent laptop for sale. Perhaps that’s just indicative of traditional Nepali sensibility, or maybe just good old Indian marketing.

Regardless, as an expat from the kingdom of fancy shower rooms that come standard with every rental, fixing up the bathroom has always been a priority for me here in Nepal. First you have to have hot water, as how can I, a westerner by birth, take freezing cold showers all year round like a Jomsomite? And which way to put my feet was a conundrum the first time I was confronted with the charpi. Never really figuring that out, I just had it replaced, which was a relatively painless affair...

According to Ranzit from RR Hardware in Dhobighat, I am not alone. Most all new fixtures installed in KTM have been of the “throne” variety in the past several years. It appears the only folks still squatting on the pans, are servants. But business is slowing Ranzit says, as most of the area’s new construction is now complete (there is no more room to build), and the plumbers are now hunkered down in “maintenance mode.”

I feel for plumbers in Nepal, even if outwardly most look a bit shady. I have a pal in America who made millions in the business, but here the average plumber makes Nrs. 700 per day, and has to find that work each and every day. The last time I hired a plumber in America, his rate was Nrs. 7000 per hour, and he never had to look for work, as the masses were lined up outside his door, begging for a repair.

But perhaps things have changed, as the economy there is certainly in the toilet. Even here in Nepal, the typical plumber is underwater with the crazy rise in food and petro prices of late, even though the standard wage has not risen one little pisa.

That’s gotta be tough for small businesses like RR Hardware, which seems to do a small trade in selling straw brushes and nails, while the plumbers play cards behind the counter waiting for the call. But excellent work they do, as I was having an “Asian” toilet replaced by them whilst writing this very edition of potty-talk. The work was done fast and efficiently, and at a price I could not imagine if living abroad. Now I have a modern throne on every floor, and I am sitting much more comfortably than my counterparts ever did back in House Baratheon, King’s Landing.

Now, only if there were enough water to flush my shiny new toilet...
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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Why I love Dashain


Now that normalcy has returned to my village, and the whistle of the trash man can be heard once again, I thought it appropriate to reflect back on my newest favorite holiday – Dashain.

I just love how things shutdown, and for a few days or more, absolutely nothing normal is happening.

Now I have to admit, I don’t really understand what this holiday is all about - although from what I’ve read it’s a celebration of the slaying of demons - and I can really appreciate the thought of that.

The demons being piped into my home were temporarily slain when our Broadlink scratch-card expired, and there was no office open to restore the Internet or the steady flow of the demonic newsfeeds coming from abroad.

I could not even find the ghoulish tripe that passes for news these days in print form, as the newspapers of the capital seem to cease delivery during the festive season. For this, I am grateful.

The quiet in my neighborhood was such one could hear the clapping of two butterfly wings. Water pumps ceased that incessant whine, as no water was delivered. There were no loud twangs from that roving man that apparently fluffs one’s comforters with an instrument resembling a broken cello.

The televisions in my area even stopped pounding out Hindi numbers for a few moments, as apparently the signal from Star World was lost and there was no one left at the station to recover.

Now this is the holiday atmosphere that I remember growing up in rural America...where once upon a time during the holiday seasons of Thanksgiving or Christmas, all commerce stood still - unless it was related to food or gift-giving.

All that could be heard were family parties or church bells singing, and the play of small children in the street. The low roar of traffic was momentarily silenced, leaving only the bleating of lambs or turkeys awaiting slaughter.

Every business would close early or shut completely, leaving us, for just a short few days, to fend for ourselves. As a kid, I found this time when nothing happened absolutely magical.

But the holidays changed in America, and by the time I was a young man, the machine that sweeps all youth into it’s grown and growing cogs had ceased to slow down, even for a day. Now, a festival season in America means you move faster, as there are even more things to do then normal.

This is why I love Dashain. Perhaps the demons slain are the one’s in our own heads, driving us like mad forward and faster each year, furiously driving at what I have no clue. But watching a pot with some seedlings growing is something I recommend that all my western brethren do...if not once a year, perhaps twice.

It’s our mad dash to nowhere that becomes more noticeable when everyone stops in unison.

I feel for folks back in the old country, obsessed with the death of Michael Jackson, plagued by Blackberry outages, and with some now plotting wars with China and Iran. Who will be the next President, who will be the next laid off, who will occupy Wall Street and who will not...all obsessions that run and ruin so many lives.

Whereas back here in the village, after such a nice Dashain break, we have another short break coming up: Tihar! Again, I don’t expect fresh bread in the market, or anything services-related to work, but that’s just fine...it will be one more opportunity to listen to butterfly wings clapping before that hellish roar resumes again.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: Foodmandu.com Review, Check the Burgers


I like to eat - even more than I like ordering stuff online. So when I found Foodmandu.com, I was really excited and really hungry for it. Always the thought of going outside my hut and into the streets of Jhamel to forage amongst dozens of new restaurants seems insurmountable. After all, I just want to eat, and not be part of a social show.

So finding an online ordering system right at my fingertips, with me dressed in a bathrobe, seemed like pure heaven – especially over the holidays when didi is off, and food in the house is in meager supply. (How long can one survive on peanut butter & crackers I wonder?).

So over the course of several months, I’ve used Foodmandu.com many times, with varied results.

The website itself is exceptional. Easy to use and to find meals that look yummy. There are lots of instructions in the sidebars, not that I ever read them, and you won’t need to either. It’s really straightforward – you search for a restaurant, view the menu, and if you like something offered, click “Add.” Your shopping cart totals up the damage, and when you are ready to order, it’s just a matter of telling Foodmandu where you live and what your phone number is.

Moments after completing the order and after receiving an instant email confirmation, someone from Foodmandu rings you up to confirm your order again. It’s a simple and effective system that has worked for us a dozen times now.

However, it’s what happens next that has left me scratching my head and hungry on several occasions. Like the time we ordered two burgers from Mike’s Breakfast, one with cheese, lettuce and tomato and the other with bacon lettuce and tomato. There was even a comment box on the site where I specified: well done please, with extra ketchup.

But what arrived had my wife bursting with laughter as I peeled back my bun to find a slice of cheese and tomato, with a bit of lettuce but no meat. She was rolling in yuks until she discovered that her burger was filled with bacon bits, tomato, and a bit of lettuce – and no meat either.

A call to Foodmandu and Mike’s resulted in proper burgers being delivered free of charge, albeit the next day. This user experience is not one that Mike, God rest his soul, could have imagined. But never the less, the food from Mike’s is super, no matter how you go about getting it, online or otherwise. However, that can’t be said for many of the other restaurants listed on Foodmandu. Now to be honest, I don’t know if food ordered online is worse than the food in situ for some of the restaurants we tried (perhaps being packed in tin foil and cheap cardboard taints the flavor) but with Mike’s being the exception, even our dog would refuse to eat what was sometimes delivered. And he usually eats anything.

I won’t name names (to be frank, I can’t remember most) but meals costing over Nrs. 1000 were often worse than what could have been had at the corner momo shop. Not to belittle my corner momo shop, as it’s great at what it does, but Samir’s Quality MoMo is not one of the 69 foo-foo restaurants currently listed on Foodmandu.

Fair criticism for this website is that they need to do a bit of quality control regarding the selection of restaurants. There is a rating system on the site (most all blank) and a user review section that does not seem to work. If there were more ratings and some reviews, we could decide for ourselves which restaurant would be a good bet – as all the pictures provided on the site, albeit small, make all the dishes look edible and ever so appealing.

So just like Harilo.com for ordering goods from abroad, Foodmandu.com has it’s quirks when it comes to delivering. I give Foodmandu high marks for service and delivery (heck, it’s almost free and always fast) and lower marks for final execution, i.e. the meals that actually get delivered. But at least they have Mike’s Breakfast online, and if they got Lazy Gringo from Jawalakhel on board, I would be in ordering heaven for most any occasion.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: This is NOT about the iPhone 4S


As a sit-at-home-behind-the-internet technologist, I am constantly amazed by how much free publicity Apple gets from the mainstream media these days; from the death of a CEO to an announcement of a minor smartphone upgrade, major news outlets like CNN and the NYT seem obsessed with write-ups on little “i” products.

The iPhone 4S is no exception to Apple’s rule over the media, and now weeks after the introduction, papers are still running articles on the device titled as such: “The 5 biggest gripes so far about the iPhone 4S” and “The Amazing Things the iPhone 4S Can’t Do.”

But this tech report is NOT about the iPhone 4S, even though I’ve just added a few more keywords to the overflowing SEO pool on Apple. This week I wanted to say something about good old-fashioned tech, the kind you can roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty with. The type of technology that is no longer spoken of, that has moving parts and springs and levers and makes lots of noise when it’s not working right...the Flex 3 Long Dog Lead!

This device has neither batteries nor OLED touchscreen display. It is, however, a handheld device that even has a handle along with two buttons. There is 16 feet of cord rolled up inside on a reel system that allows your dog to walk that far ahead of you, and like a fish on a line, the cord will roll back into the device as the dog comes back by your side.

I love this dog-walking gadget, and not millions - but tens of thousands - of western dog owners and trainers swear by the Flexi. In the EU (where the Flexi 3 is made) you won’t see a dog on the street not attached to one of these. They are the next best thing to sliced bread.

Mine is as old as my 50kg Alsatian, about 5 years now, and was working flawlessly until yesterday when at the heavy-use end, the cord frayed and got all jammed up inside the reel case. I was devastated and stuck on the road with 16-feet of cord wrapped around the legs of my pet monster, who wanted to chase some keti kukur down the lane but couldn’t.

So I actually had to fix something yesterday, which surprisingly, being the self-proclaimed geek that I am, I don’t get a chance to do very often. (When was the last time something in your home broke, and you tried to fix instead of just going to the mall and buying another?)

So I dug around for an old-fashioned screwdriver, instead of the newfangled torque driver I usually have to use on computers, and puzzled over how to open up the Flexi 3. But here is where high-tech meets low-tech, as the answer was posted many times on the Goog. I’ve forgotten how I used to fix things before there was an Internet, haven’t you?

But inside the Flexi there was grease and grime and lots of dog hair, and my geeky clean hands were initially repulsed. Barbaric! But once I got into figuring out how 16 feet of heavy cord is wrapped around a disk the size of a CD, and then controlled by a push-button spring and lock assembly, I really got excited about the repair. Even if I totally destroyed the Flexi, I would have still learned a lot about mechanical engineering, which in these days of the i-device, seems like it may become a lost art.

Obviously the Flexi is not meant to ever be taken apart by the user, as is most gadgets sold on the market today, but doing so reminded me of the man on my Dhobighat street corner, who sits there repairing umbrellas during the wet season, and shoes during the dry season. Like this relic from the day when things were actually fixed and not tossed, I felt accomplished when I actually completed my Flexi repair by cutting out the frayed bit and reassembling the reel.

My wife peeked into my man-cave and commented, “You really are becoming Nepali.”

And for this I think we can all take pride in, as Nepal is a country where even newer technology is more-often-then-not fixed, instead of being thrown away broken. Long live the art of repair!
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postheadericon Tech Talk: Fire and Ice, Amazon follows Apple


This week there were two events that diehard geeks such as myself found fascinating: the first being the announcement of Amazon’s new book reader (the Kindle Fire) and Apple’s latest cool product announcement for the new iPhone 4S and iOS5.

But as Tim Cook, Apple’s replacement CEO for legendary Steve Jobs, started the event with stats on Apple as a company, it became clear that the announcement was not about new Apple hardware or software, but more about how Apple now sees itself as the leader of consumer gadgetry and media consumables – and Tim had the numbers to prove it.

In the first 5 minutes Tom Cook showed charts and graphs on Apple media sales in the multiple billions, and hardware sales in the hundreds of millions. One chart caught my eye: the number of iPods sold since inception in 2001 – over 300 million! Compare that with the “revolutionary” device of my youth, the Sony Walkman, which only sold 220,000 players in 30 years.

But CEO Cook was quick to point out that this achievement was not about numbers or devices, but about making music more enjoyable for the masses, and in fact, to bring about a renaissance in our time. And with everyone from joggers to grandmas sporting those signature white earbuds, it’s clear that the iPod is a visionary device that rekindled society’s love for recorded music and voice.

Another renaissance in the making, on par with mp3 listening, is e- reading. Tim Cook had plenty to say about that, as he demoed Newsstand, which is a new app and subscription service for magazines and newspapers – where the latest rags and mags are to be pumped down to your iDevice automatically on publication, over Wi-Fi or 3G, and to all of your devices simultaneously.

Now I found this latest innovation quite intuitive, as I already use Apple’s equivalent for books – iBook – everyday, and the last time I went to Pilgrim’s fine Pulchowk shop was to see if they sold wrapping paper for an iDevice that I was gifting to my wife.

It was a sad day for me, as I realized while walking into one of KTM’s finest “taberna librarii,” that this type of shop (established during the Roman Empire), is now about as dead as Latin itself. As I walked along Pilgrim’s wonderfully book-smelling aisles masked over by sweet incense and adorned overhead with tankas and fine artwork, I was no longer enticed as I once was to pick up and hold a coffee-table sized tome filled with fine photographs of Mt. Everest as I was as a younger man. No, all I was thinking was “Do they sell Kindles here?”

Bookstores seem like graveyards to me. The idea of owning bound paper and ink is no longer an urge, yet my shoulder still aches from the years of backpacking them around. I even still own a bookshelf, but it’s now filled with nick knacks that have over the years replaced first editions and signed copies by Steven King. While at Pilgrims, I really wanted to know if they sold Kindles, but out of part politeness and part embarrassment, I was afraid to ask.

For Amazon, the Kindle e-book reader is what the iPod is to Apple...an iDevice that has boosted their sales and simultaneously rekindled the masses’ love for books in a way unrivaled by anything outside of the paperback. The chart that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos threw up during the recent Kindle Fire announcement showed a steady sale of paper books over the past decade (in the billions per year), but the skyrocketing line representing e-book sales destined for Kindle devices was much more impressive. This line shoots straight up and off the chart in just half the time. Clearly, the writing is on the boardroom walls: e-books are the immediate future of book retailing.

Amazon plans to capitalize on this trend by offering their new reader named “Fire” for under the cost to manufacture, just $199 USD for a dual-core, full-color 7” 1024 x 600 screen that weighs just over 400 grams. They are following in Apple’s cool and slick footsteps, providing a hot iDevice that will grab readers by the pocketbooks in order to consume everything from Shakespeare to the New York Times, and they’ve thrown in web browsing to boot.

Aristotle would turn in his grave if he could only see that his meager-in-comparison library of hundreds of books can now be easily displayed in full color and with motion, all on a chip the size of a quill tip.
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postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: A Quick Environmental Workshop


Yesterday I returned home to the bowels of the valley after facilitating a workshop in one of those wonderful hill resorts dotting the rim, where you can look down onto the KTM population bowl of some 2.7 million peeps, and at night think you are looking at LA’s twinkling lights from Hollywood Hills.

Of course, the reality is anything but.

But the short time in the pines was refreshing nonetheless. The hills that surround our not-so-fair-and-lovely city are decorated not by Tatas and street trash, but by pines and tropical foliage found as backdrops in fairy tales.

The rim of this valley is a place where trees stretch their branches towards the sky, with erect trunks that seem to cry “Mother!” and whose green contrast against a pure white fluff of clouds is almost blinding.

The grounds of the resort where I stayed was immaculately groomed and pruned, although all that was needed was a bit of clearing and trimming to distinguish the grounds from the floor of the surrounding forest.

Here, a stray Wai-Wai wrapper stands out like a sore thumb, and screams to be picked up and disposed of properly. Unlike down in the valley below, where millions of discards are the basis of the land in general, and make up the border of Ring Road: congealed trash, which is now the new soil of the new parts of the city.

This stark contrast boggles the mind, especially when traveling down from the nearly unspoiled hills full of cascading waterfalls through lush fern and ancient Nepali cycas – as old as dirt itself...going from a sweet smelling atmosphere to one of rot and decay in just 30 short minutes is disconcerting.

But during my ride back along the bumpy track cut into the pure red soils with exposed tubers and roots and colored with with vegetation and mosses of infinite variety, I was struck by the nature of human learning, as I had just delivered a workshop on team building to about 40 or so dedicated soil conservationists.

Question: as facilitators, do our PowerPoints and participatory techniques employing colored papers and pens, schoolyard games, and reams of handouts actually have an impact on those things we seek to improve?

Within the KTM Valley, apparently not.

Surely the administrators, project managers and worker bees that are charged with the planning, running, and maintenance of the city have attended countless hours in workshops of one nature or another, no? Workshops on project planning, report writing, monitoring and evaluation, capacity building, etc. etc. to ad nauseam, must have been delivered to thousands of folks for hundreds of thousands of hours in total, yet we still sit paralyzed in the mess we know as Kathmandu.

So today I have to ask, “What’s the point?” to the plenary at large.

What’s the point of donor dollars and our prestigious INGO presence if we cannot clean up our own backyard? Why further clog our gullies with shining new SUVs bearing fancy placards and new blue plates, if in fact, the very ground on which they drive is being poisoned irreparably each and every day?

And what is the point of another workshop on building better teams, bridges, or capacity?

I have to ask myself these questions, being an educator of so many decades, who has spent many sleepless nights before Workshop Day 1 thinking of new ways to inspire and drive others to action.

Just about everyone that I know in KTM, including my wise Nepali wife, has a drawer full of workshop certificates, now molding - or in some cases - thumbtacked to cubicle walls. These emblems of achievements, and I have so many of my own, are reminders of an astringent failure on all our part to collectively solve problems, many of which are now facing the inhabitants of Kathmandu today: clean water, air and food.

And after sitting in a jam up on Ring Road, and just reflecting on the purity of our earth and on what we are doing to her in that regard, I am feeling a tad moronic and deflated over my recent achievement of attending yet another workshop.

I am reminded of what one of my participants once proclaimed: “WWF! Stands for Weekly Workshops Forever.”

As a facilitator, I thought the remark slightly cynical then, but now as “forever” seems almost here for me, I find something enlightening about the remark... workshops may be forever, but mother earth is not.

Published first on 9/30/2011 on myrepublica.com
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postheadericon ECS: The Cloud on Your Horizon



The “cloud” is a relatively new term floated about by computer scientists and product marketers alike, but is a concept both bold and just over the horizon for all of us who own a computer, tablet, smartphone or gaming device.
 
Cloud computing can best be described by using your imagination...imagine that your computer, i-device, or any of your gadgets that hold data and software applications - no longer does! In cloud computing, all of that is stored somewhere mysterious, somewhere far away, and in most cases, on a server farm in rural North America.

Your computing device then becomes nothing more then a simple web browser, much like the new Google Chromebook, which is a netbook sans what you would traditionally call software packages: programs that need installing, updating, and tender loving software-care. All that you generate and ingest (photos, movies, documents, spreadsheets, and more) are not homed on this revolutionary new device, but off in the “cloud” instead.

While computer scientists have been talking about this for decades, its just recently that cloud computing has become a reality – and many of you are already doing it without even knowing about it. Take for example Gmail and Hotmail, two prime examples of the first mainlined cloud applications, where all your data – as well as the interface into that data - is stored online and accessed via a simple web browser of your choosing, and at a location of your choosing as well (home, work, cybercafé, etc.)

“Every cloud has its silver lining but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint.” 

— Don Marquis, American Poet, 1901 

But a lot more “clouds” are about to be mainstreamed...take for example Apple’s new iCloud offering, announced and due out this fall. In this brave new Apple world, items purchased from the online iTunes store, stay online – in your account – and are instantly synchronized with every other Apple device that you may own. For example, your iMac, Macbook Air, iPad2, or even your lowly iPod Nano is simultaneously and instantly filled with your purchases or up-loaded additions. No more mp3 files to store or accidently delete, and if you buy a new device, no problem, your music instantly appears there as soon as you sign in to iTunes in the cloud.

Another cloud example from software giant Microsoft is starting to rain down now on the masses as well, with both Xbox 360 and Office 365 being rolled out soon.

In both cases, applications (Xbox Titles, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) as well as the data that goes along them (your high scores, Word files, Presentations, Spreadsheets, etc.) are all stored in one of Microsoft’s huge cumulous clouds, where not only you have access, but your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow gamers do as well.

But there are many critics of this new direction in computing, and they all forecast doom and gloom. Just a few short years ago, Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle) called cloud computing "fashion-driven" and "complete gibberish". Yet just last year Oracle released it’s highly acclaimed Exalogic machine, a high-powered "cloud in a box,” which is reported to be selling like hotcakes today.

GNU founder and tech author Richard Stallman calls cloud computing “a trap,” and "Stupidity... It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign." But then again, Stallman also believes that the US Government is encouraging the use of cloud computing because this allows them to access your data without needing a search warrant.

But regardless of your tin-hat conspiracy leanings, criticism of cloud computing boils down to two valid points: 1) you no have physical control of your media, whether that be a game or a shopping list, and 2) you are totally dependent on Internet access for all that you put in the cloud.

For us in Nepal, dependence on service providers like NTC and World Link is risky, as we could be in a world of hurt if when we need our monthly budget reports or photos to send to grandma, that we can’t get to them because of network congestion or “sun spots” - as often cited by World Link as a reason their Internet service goes down.

But there is no denying that the forecast for the future is indeed full of clouds, coming over the horizon swiftly in one form or another, from complete devices dependent on them (Google’s Chromebook) to new services like iCloud and Xbox 360, where your “most precious” is no longer on earth next to you, but instead, flowing to and from the cloud.

First published in ECS Living, Issue 56, Aug - Sept 2011


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postheadericon ECS: The Android Invasion, and What You Need to Know



While an "Android invasion" may sound like something from a Dr. Who serial or a Star Trek movie, this takeover of the mobile computing market by the Android operating system is not sci-fi, but instead hard fact.

Created in 2003 by Andy Rubin, an ex-Apple engineer and now Google engineer, the now Google-owned Android operating system is being activated in both mobile phones and tablets at an alarming rate: hundreds of thousands per day, seven days a week. And analysts tell us today that the sale of Android-based smartphones is outpacing the #1 phone in the world, the iPhone4. Folks that shift through such numbers for a living also say that Android phones now dominate the market worldwide, leaving Nokia, Blackberry, and even Apple in the proverbial dust with a 46% global market share in Q2 2011.

But just what is Android, and why should you care if this invasion is gripping the planet?

First, like Apple's iOS, Android is what runs all the applications and functions on any Android-equipped smartphone. It is very much like the operating system running your home or business computer, such as Windows 7 or OSX Lion. Without such an operating system, your smartphone would instead be "stupid," as in the olden days of simple feature phones.

Today's smartphones and tablets are running processors that rival the one in your netbook, and able to display high-definition video as well browse web pages - in addition to taking the occasional phone call. So a decent operating system is now required: one that supports multimedia, multi-touch screens, multi-tasking, GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, proximity sensors, and even thermometers.

And the reason why Android has to support all this, is that developers are cranking out applications that utilize these features at an alarming rate: with over 250,000 applications in the online Android Market and over 4.5 billion downloads to date. These applications range from simple kids games to sophisticated scientific tools to savvy social media aids. And for the money-minded, over 57% of all applications for Androids are free, vs. the 27% number of free apps available on the iTunes store for Apple's iPhone.

Which brings us the ultimate question on everyone's mind these days when shopping for a new smartphone: Apple or Android, which should I choose? Let's just take the top contender from both camps (at the moment): the iPhone4 from Apple and the Galaxy S II from Samsung. The SII is considered to be the elusive iPhone-killer people have been yakking about since the iPhone became the leader in smartphone design and function.

In Nepal, the SII sells for up to Nrs. 15,000 less then a comparable iPhone4, and sports a bigger touchscreen, twice as many cameras (2) and can play Flash web content, unlike the Apple contender.

The SII is also running a 1.2GHz ARMv7 dual-core processor, allowing Gingerbread (the code name for the latest Android OS) to run at blazing speeds, and feels much more zippy then Apple's iOS4 when doing like things, like gesturing around screens and booting up applications. But worrying too much about technical specs is an exercise in futility when it comes to smartphones, for as soon as you buy one model - there is another waiting at the gate...

But worrying too much about technical specs is an exercise in futility when it comes to smartphones, for as soon as you buy one model - there is another waiting at the gate... Ease of use is also a factor, and here is where the Android OS shines. No need for an in-between syncing program like iTunes to add music and other data to your smartphone from your PC. Just drag and drop, and that's all there is to it.

Both the SII and the iPhone are built rock solid, employing the hardy Gorilla Glass fronts, but Samsung has opted for a plastic textured back, instead of the iPhone's design of molded aluminum.

But like all smartphones on the market today, nothing, not even the Android OS, can save you from charging your device nightly. Both the SII and iPhone4 must be plugged in after a heavy day of use, as the battery can't go another day without a decent charge. For ex-feature phone users, this may take some getting used to, where your old phone could perhaps go for a week without plugging in.

Sticker shock may also befall the once-feature phone user, as the Android-powered Galaxy S II runs about Nrs. 52,000 in the capital, and is rarely in stock. However, there are many other smartphones running Android OS for just a bit less then that. Rupee-pinching consumers can also experience the Android invasion on any of these models of Android-powered phones: HTC Dream or Desire, Nexus One or S, or any of the Motorola Droids.

But worrying too much about technical specs is an exercise in futility when it comes to smartphones, for as soon as you buy one model, there is another waiting at the gate to come out that is thinner, faster, smarter. This is true no matter what make or model you are looking at. For example, look for the iPhone5 out later this year, as well as an upgraded Samsung Galaxy S II made to compete.


First published in ECS Living, Issue 57, Sept - Oct 2011, p.44

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postheadericon ECS: The iPhone Arms (and Fingers) Race


The mobile phone war between Apple and all others is set to take on a higher level of battle as the competition rolls out new and more powerful smartphones, stocked full of new design features, hardware and improved software.

But already left in the wake of war is Nokia, which has seen a global market decline as rapid as the fall of the Soviet Union back in the day.

Apple has now eclipsed the once world-leader Nokia in the mobile phone market in shear volume of units sold (June 2011). Other once super phone powers such as Blackberry and Motorola are also falling behind in the race to be the top seller of these mobile devices that are changing our lives, and the way we view mobile computing.

There was a time when the iPhone was considered a gadget; a toy manufactured by a computer company that supposedly knew nothing about the mobile phone market. Now, the iPhone is the benchmark that all other manufactures must meet to defeat. In fact, a recent release of Samsung’s Galaxy S II, which takes most of the goodness of the iPhone and goes even better, is now held up in Australian patent courts, unable to move into the market until the court case with Apple is resolved. It’s just too much like the iPhone for Apple’s liking.

So what is it that all others have to best, in order to win this arms, fingers and minds race with the now megalith Apple Corp? Here is what Motorola, Nokia, HTC, Blackberry and others have to focus on to catch up:

Design

In the battle to be the best smartphone, design is paramount, and one can’t overlook the “looking cool” factor that Apple products ooze in general. However, for the young texting crowd (especially in Asia) Blackberry is making inroads with its colorful hang-around-your-neck Bold and Curve models. But announced this month is something even more exciting from this once business-phone giant: the BlackBerry Torch 9850/60, which by no surprise, looks like the iPhone, but has ditched the capable BlackBerry hardware keyboard, for a full-touch onscreen keyboard experience.

Hardware

While most folk’s eyes glaze over when anyone starts talking smartphone specs, hardware is one aspect that sets mobile handset providers apart. Just as with all of our gadgets, the number of pixels that can be displayed or captured, the speed in which the processor processes, etc., are all factors that can influence the ultimate user experience.

But on these specs, it should be noted that Apple has always been a master at using inferior hardware specs to their advantage, i.e. taking parts that perform less on paper, and have them then outperform in the user’s mind. For example, there is no USB port or extra SIM slot on an iPhone, and it uses a fairly mundane processor to drive the user experience, but as sales show, this has not been a negative factor. In fact, previous to the iPhone4, the handset only had one camera while the competition always included 2, one on the front and one on the rear.

However, the competition is catching up hardware wise, and taking the Samsung Galaxy S II in hand, one can really feel the difference when using its dual-core processor over the one used in the current iPhone: zippy!

Software

Software has always been the iPhone’s strength on the battlefield. iOS 4 is probably the most fluid and effective smartphone OS to date, and allows multi-tasking and a Retina-class with resolution independent display that makes watching movies, reading books, and playing 2D and 3D games just a sight to behold.

However, the new Gingerbread OS from Google (used in the HTC Sensation and others) is an up-and-coming contender, and as mentioned, is making the Galaxy S II a true iPhone rival.

Yet Apple holds top market share on the shear number of apps available to load on a smartphone, with over 500,000 apps available via the iTunes Store and with over 15 billion downloads.

The only other combatant to even come close is Goggle Android, with 250,000 applications in the online Android Market and with over 4.5 billion downloads to date. Everyone else, as with Windows Phone 7, is left literally in the dust, or flat out dead on arrival. This is certainly the case for Nokia’s Symbian operating system, which at one time enjoyed a 78% market share (2003) but will soon be down to about zero in 2012, as no new phones are expected to use it.

So as we can see from above: design, hardware and software are the three weapons that each mobile phone leader has in their arsenal to win over the world of smartphone users. Today, global domination is clearly in the Apple iPhone camp, but with the rise of Android powered phones, manufactures like Samsung and HTC that deploy Android Gingerbread and beyond, still have a place in the race.

First published in ECS Living, Issue 57, Sept - Oct 2011, p.54

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postheadericon TECH TALK: On Gross National User Happiness...


Facebook must have changed something in their interface today, as I woke up to invites to "Make Facebook Change It Back" and "I'm leaving" messages from users. Even my news feed is twittering with headlines like "Facebook Changes Angers Users" and "Firestorm of Anger Hits Facebook." It was like waking up to barking dogs.

But I've noticed of late that these outbursts of frenzied yelping every time some software or popular website makes a change are not isolated or rare, but are instead fast becoming the norm. So I'm wondering why...

Why did tens of thousands of Mac users flock to the Apple website to vent profusely over the release of OSX Lion, when this OS upgrade price dropped by 60% and could now be downloaded online? Why also did thousands of Final Cut Pro users do the same when an upgrade costing hundreds of USD less hit the App Store?

It seems that computer rage has taken to the internet, and is starting to infect such social media hotspots as FB, blogs, and Twitter, even to the point of getting hotheads ejected from public spaces. An not just virtual spaces, where posting in all caps and using banned language can get you blacklisted, but your rage can get you in trouble in the real world as well. Take for example the case of Alison Matsu...

Miss Matsu was recently having drinks in downtown bar in America when she tweeted "the bartender is a twerp" with the hashtag #jackoff to punctuate her feelings. A few moments later, she was asked to leave the establishment by the restaurant manager in charge.

So here we have computer rage coming full circle in a new dimension; no longer do we just pound on the keyboard violently when we lose two hours of homework when our laptop goes bluescreen, but we also use social media to let everyone know that we are pissed blue in the face – AND - that same social media is coming back to bite us, perhaps when our boss reads our post and decides to let us go, or our spouse realizes that without anger management classes, we are no longer fit to be with.

I find this trend a bit disturbing; how about you?

It's not news that computers and the software that makes them tolerable is frustrating to use, but it does seem that devices designed to make out lives easier and more enjoyable, are doing anything but...

Consider Netflix's recent loss of 1 million subscribers, when a slight increase in the rental rate drove 1/10 of the company's user base away overnight. Here was rage gone viral. And when Reed Hastings, the company's CEO, tried to apologize for the change, he drove tens of thousands more customers out the virtual door.

The lesson learned here is, if you are a website owner, be careful about making any change to your online business, as users are fickle beasts and need to be treated accordingly. And if you are a just the average Facebook Jane or Joe, be careful what you post there as well...

Take the recent case of Jeson Senador, now facing animal cruelty charges from the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for posting a pic of his puppy hanging on a clothesline after getting a bath. What was intended as a joke is looking to turn into a fine or jail time.

The power of users to incite social change as well as business change cannot be denied, as puppy abusers to power abusers are being pummeled and toppled around the globe, as seen this Arab Spring, where dictators fell like dominoes - in part by the ire expressed on social media sites. Even the mighty Apple Corporation abdicated that recent change to its Final Cut Pro upgrade decision mentioned earlier, and conceded to continued shipping the old version along with the new.

So in this light, I am recommending that there be a Gross National Happiness User poll, to find out how happy we are as computer users these days, and then perhaps a development project can be started to improve the situation as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

But for those that can't wait, there are online companies that offer online anger management classes with court approved therapy (www.angermanagementonline.com). And then there is always the e-book "Stop Anger, Be Happy" by Kathy Garber that can be order on Amazon.com.

The questions is (in a nut-case-shell), are we becoming increasingly unhappy using computers as they become more and more critical in our daily lives, or is it that our global connection that is making it easier to spread this unhappiness around the world? I'm not sure, so you tell me.

First published in "The Week" on Sept. 23 2011


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postheadericon TECH TALK: On the Eve of Retirement, a Fond Look Back


Today I officially retired at the age of 55 from my IT-related career, so I thought it would be appropriate for a fond look back at the way that IT once was.

Forty years ago (almost to the day) I used my first computer. It did not have a monitor or a keyboard that I was allowed to touch, and it was housed behind a counter in a room that I was not allowed to enter. The IBM/360 was a monster of a device, and filled a small room with toggles, blinking lights, and large pushbutton switches ala the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in a 1966 Star Trek episode.

To operate the computer, I sat at a keypunch machine (resembling a small piano) and typed in what I wanted the computer to do. This ½ day activity produced a stack of keypunch cards that I handed to someone behind the counter, who would then return to me a printout of the results the next day. In this case, it was my homework.

Computing back then, to say the least, was not much fun.

But 30 years ago, almost to this day, I got my first personal desktop, the IBM PC XT. It was large by today’s standards, had a keyboard and monitor – albeit it was a phosphorous green-on-black display with no resolution to speak of, and had a floppy drive for disks that resembled CDs, only floppier. But it was my own, and I could do what I wanted with it, when I wanted. That was when the fun really began.

My fun however was limited to an 8MB harddrive and 128kB of memory. That’s not a typo, that’s about 1000 times less then I have sitting on my desk today. It ran PC-DOS as an operating system, and I could program in BASIC and print out the words “Hello World” on the screen. Woo-hoo! Now we were really having a ball. But I did use this computer to type up school papers and work reports in WordPerfect, and even print them out on a dot-matrix printer that sounded more like a ripsaw when printing then anything else.

Then about 20 years ago to this very day, things really started to get exciting. I was working @ IBM with hypertext (the precursor to HTML) to produce online help files and just beginning to write web pages for what was then to be the new World Wide Web. This was indeed interesting, as everything was done by hand inside a crude text editor, and then rendered out to see the results. What HTML did for us was to eliminate the rendering (waiting), and we finally had instant publishing across a loose network of computers all over the world.

This rocked the socks off for everyone involved, and the results of our R&D in the late 80’s can be seen on any YouTube or Facebook page today. In short, online publishing had reached the moon.

But Mars and the rest of the cosmos were to come next for both media publishing and global communication. I just think it interesting to note it was all started in backroom cubicles with folks who loved to dink with computer code and hardware bits. We would cable up monstrosities of circuit boards and then program all sorts of crazy algorithms just to make “Hello World” come alive with color, animation, video, sound, and eventually touch and vibration.

Now on the eve of retiring from all things based in chips and pixels, I have say that the folks who brought all this to us (personal computing) had the spirit of NASA, whose immortal words on the flight deck of Apollo 13 also rang true in our IT circles: Failure was not an option.

We wanted to see computers in the hands of everyone on the planet, and did not want our children to ever have to do something as painful as punching out a deck of cards and then waiting a day to get a printout of their homework. We wanted better for the next generation to come.

Considering that my wife just got a smartphone for less then $100 that can surf the web and play Angry Birds, I think we actually succeeded. What say you?

This article first published in Myrepublica.com on 9/9/2011.


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postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: Stability Is Almost Never Newsworthy



Now that Hurricane Irene coverage has diminished to a category minus-one news story, and major news outlets now lead with things like “Holocaust Survivor Succumbs to Irene” and “Disaster Funds Running on Fumes,” I supposed it’s time to get back to work reading about things that matter to others besides just those living on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

But I am not sure what that would be... more on the forgotten war in Afghanistan? Gadhafi? Syria? Nepal’s new leader?

I think I’ll go with the latter, as I was struck by what Nepali farmer Kedar Thapa said in regards to the new prime minister on newpalnews.com:

For me, it is not important whether the new Prime Minister will conclude the peace process and constitution drafting in a given time or not. I only wish the government lasts longer so that the situation is stable.

The wisdom of earthy folk always impresses me when their truisms make their way into the media. People of the land want stability, regardless of the probability that stability will ever occur. People of the “air” could care less about being grounded, as for them, chaos reigns supreme in the lofty atmospheres in which they travel. And by ungrounded people, I mean westerners and the western media.

Hurricane Irene coverage is the perfect illustration of this western desire to remain unhinged in all aspects of daily life. Excitement is stirred to fever pitch whenever a weather system moves over warmer waters and produces images from space that resemble scenes from the movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” and that also promises to provide 24x7 media coverage of rising tides and swinging traffic signals.

When I was a kid growing up in NYC we discussed the weather as it happened, and we did not have the luxury of tracking storms via NOAA printouts or tweets from FEMA. We simply looked outside the window and said to each other, “Hey look, it’s raining today.”

But today’s New Yorker will instead rush to the store based on CNN forecasts to stock up on wine and cheese and then fret over how many charged batteries they have ready for their $50 Maglites. It is all about preparing for every minor inconvenience, like wet feet or wind-blown hair.

The cost to clean up after Hurricane Irene is estimated to be $7 to $10 billion, and cost over 40 people their lives. Compare this storm with one that hit closer to home: in 1970 Cyclone Bhola killed over 500,000 people in two countries, cost an estimated $185 million to clean up (about $1 billion in today’s dollars), and is attributed to helping Bangladesh succeed from Pakistan one year later in 1971.

Now that was one hurricane to go on and on about...

Looking at recent earthquakes in the same way also comes up with some interesting numbers; take for example Washington D.C.’s recent earthquake, and compare that with Pakistan’s last major one back in 2005. In D.C., the cost is estimated at no dead and $1 billion (although it is not clear on what that will be spent on outside of the 4” crack at the top of the Washington Monument), and the cost for Pakistan was $5.4 billion with 79,000 dead around the region.

Now of course I am crap at making sense from statistics such as this, but I can only conclude from the numbers that 1) when disaster strikes, it hits us harder then those on the east coast of America, and that 2) more money is spent on cleanup per number dead in America then anywhere else on the planet.

While my summary is news not-worthy to print, we all know this premise to be true: that Americans are high maintenance when compared to Asians, and that Asian living structures collapse at the drop of a hat.

However, what I do see as a valuable take-away is that Asians stand to lose the most, but seem concerned in the least. A quick look at any structure going up in your neighborhood will confirm, as will any look at GoN’s disaster preparedness plan for the next natural disaster likely to blow in or crackup from below.

We stand with farmer Kedar Thapa in this regard – wishing for a bit of stability in an ever-stormy and crumbling world.

This article first published in Myrepublica.com on 9/3/2011

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postheadericon TECH TALK: Autosave Your Butt This Winter!

With the approaching loadshedding season looming close, now is the time to start thinking about how you will survive another winter in the dark, with barely enough power to light your workroom.

I was shocked into thinking of this just this morning, as an unscheduled outage surged through my home office and with the inverter / UPS bypassed, shutting down my computer with no warning whatsoever. As it would happen, I was right in the middle of a super long email that I had been crafting for well over 20 minutes or so.

I groaned with nothing but a black screen in front of me, instead of my painstakingly written text. There goes another ½ hour of my life down the drain.

Usually, when I work in Microsoft Word, I am constantly hitting “ctrl-s” when I remember that everything is impermanent, including a working computer. However, when writing an email, I rarely remember to do “Save as Draft” as I am drafting.

However, today I was pleasantly surprised.

As an Apple Lion user, there is now system-wide protection from crashes such as this called “autosave,” which is an operating system feature that is always saving whatever you type, regardless of what Apple application that you are using. In this case, I was using Apple Mail and had not bothered to manually save a draft, but low and behold, on powering up my machine again I found that I had not lost a single word!

For PC users, Windows 7 does not have a system-wide autosave feature, and it does not look like Windows 8 will have either (rumoured to be released in 2012). However, Microsoft will probably come up with something like Apple autosave, as they always seem to want to compete with what the geniuses at Apple.

However, outside of having a system-wide autosave system in place for this year’s season of unpredictable power outages, PC users can arm themselves with some tools that will protect them while they work, and that are software-dependent instead of hardware dependent like a UPS box that may or may not work when you really need it.

My favourite syncing tool for Windows, Linux, and Mac systems is Super Flexible File Synchronizer from the German company of the same name. But before I tell you how it works, it’s important to note the difference between synchronizing vs. backing up files. The difference is, well, like splitting hairs: synchronizing is the process of ensuring that two or more locations contain the same up-to-date files. If you add, change, or delete a file from one location, the synchronization process will add, change, or delete the same file at the other location. Backup refers to copying the data from one location to another, say from your PC to an online cloud service.

Confused? Well join the club! The reason I suggest that PC users get a system-wide syncing solution before this winter brings on the darkness is that backups (which are also essential) take up a lot of your computer’s resources while you are working (i.e. slow). Sync tools are “lighter” and tend to be easier on your CPU. That means that they do the deed quickly and will not disrupt you while working.

Here is how you can turn a sync tool (like Super Flexible) into an autosave system that works a bit like Apple’s autosave does in Lion. You would set up a sync between My Documents and a new folder on your machine called My Documents Synced, and set the sync tool to run every few minutes or so.

Then, when disaster strikes, you just go to the same file in the My Documents Synced folder, and there you will have the most recent synchronization, which will save your butt if say a power outage crashed your desktop, or perhaps you corrupted your working file somehow along the way.

This method works regardless of what application you are using, or what type of file that you are editing, and is not dependent on you remembering to hit ctrl-s, or to set your application’s own auto recovery system to “on and working.” However, that is a good idea as well. For example, MS Office applications such as Word and Excel, do have an “AutoRecover” option in preferences that is supposed to save your butt down to any increment of 1 minute or more.

Nevertheless, my experience over the years proves to me that Microsoft AutoRecover cannot be trusted. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s not good enough for me, how about you?

Published in "The Week" - A Herald Tribune International partner - on 8/25/2011.
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postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: When Flash Mobs Attack...

When I first saw the headline on a recent CNN video, When Flash Mobs Attack, I flashed back to all the other attacks that have used this tag line, like: when bears attack, when ice dams attack, when aliens attack, when patents attack – all just a few of the dozens you can find in a simple Google search for “When [fill in the blank] attack.”

But after watching the CNN video that describes the very recent trending of flash mobs, I sobered up.

Coming in the wake of the British looting and burnings, this American format is just as disturbing to watch. Philadelphia, Chicago, and small town Maryland are just a few sites of recent American flash mobs. For those of you not hip to social media lingo, a flash mob is just a group of youth getting together via Twitter or Facebook messages.

First described as a “harmless and fun fad”, flash mobbing has now turned “dangerous” according to CNN. However, the CNN video shows a large group of youths walking calmly through a 7-Eleven, picking up items as if shopping, and then just not choosing to pay.
There is even one scene where a flippant teen knocks something off the shelf during the looting, but a girl behind him takes the time to pick the items off the floor and place them back on the shelf, as if to say, “Don’t be a messy looter.”

The video drones on with talking heads trying to make sense of this new form of teen violence: is it race, is it religion (or lack of), is it austerity, is it like London, is it poverty?

Just as with the recent riots across the pond in England, the word “poverty” keeps popping up like an annoying internet advert. Now, I don’t know where commentators living in the west get their definition of poverty, but from where I sit in KTM, poverty does not equal teens wearing Nike, Gap, and Old Navy. Heck, just to participate in a flash mob one needs the latest in Blackberry, iPhone, or Nokia; with a data plan to boot. So no, I don’t think poverty is the issue here.

But what is at issue is the health of the nations in question, when a country’s most basic potential (its young) behave in such a manner, for no overt reason whatsoever. I know, now I sound like my father when he looked at me with my long hair, bell-bottoms, and half-hidden bag of weed in my hip pocket.

But back then (yes, in the olden days) we were rebelling against “the man,” the establishment, the oppressors of the working class, the evil empires that we were all destined to eventually become part, and someday retire from.

Just what is it that these modern day rebels are trying to say, via tweets and posts and mobs online? I’m not sure, just as the CNN talking heads are not sure, but something has certainly turned sour in paradise.

So I did what I always do when confused. I asked my wife, who is Nepali through and through: “Do you see the kids here doing that?”

“No, Nepali kids are not that stupid. And street kids don’t have cell phones.”

And as always, the wisdom of a Nepali woman astounds. It is stupidity, and the stupidity of parents, community leaders, and elected officials of some of the greatest nations on the planet, who are unable to figure out how to properly raise children in the 21st century.

On this realization, I had to reflect on how children are raised in this country, where folks literally don’t have a pot to piss in, where children learn to read on wooden benches and dirt floors, using candles to study for exams, and all I can say is this to anyone who has children in the west:

When flash mobs attack, move to Nepal.


first published in "THE WEEK" on Friday, August 19, 2011
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The New Voice in Nepal, Social Media 2011

With well over a billion Facebook groups now existing on the planet, and growing at a rate that doubles every year, it’s no wonder that Facebook (along with other like social media sites) is fast becoming the new voice of youth in the world of politics and awareness-raising.

Out of those 1 billion-odd groups, it’s estimated that over 1 million of those are related to Nepal, and these are discussions mostly created by young Nepalese exploring topics ranging from “B-Boying” to “I ain’t no Indian, not a Mexican or Chinese…I‘m a NEPALI...BIOTCH!!!” and everything in-between. In other words, there is a Nepali group for just about anything Nepali you can think of, from dhal bhat to Pol Pot.

And as far as Twitter goes, the numbers are just as staggering: with an estimated Twitter penetration of 8% or more into the total Nepali population, and with Nepal and neighbors India and China contributing to world-wide tweet traffic in the billions per year.

Add that to the number of Nepali bloggers online, and comparing social media site popularity over traditional media outlets online, it’s clear that the majority of youth in Nepal are living in Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc. and have moved away from old-school media sites like the BBC, Himalayan Times, Khabar, and yes, even this media outlet, Republica.

This of course is no surprise to media watchers, as Nepal does not buck any worldwide trends in this regard, and as a young country stats-wise, it just makes sense that most folks under the age of 35 are involved in a big way with social media, either voicing opinions, venting, or organizing for the greater good.

We have seen what youth have used social media-wise during the Arab Spring od 2011, and some of us can even remember as far back as 2006, when the Nepali blogosphere became alive and filled an information vacuum created by the ideologically encamped media outlets of the country. One of the most established of such blogs, United We Blog!, sums up this transition on their home page quite succinctly:

“United We Blog! was born because we wanted to share something we can’t share in newspapers!”

So a new voice was born, outside of the established vehicles of “letters to the editor” and in other guest contributions to established and controlled journalistic outlets. All well and good, but this birthing is not without criticism and animosity by the powers that be...

The GoN reacted with the Electronic Transaction Act 2008, which has been used on occasion to squelch opposing utterings from Nepali youth. The exact wording of the Act that applies is as follows:

"If any person publishes or displays any material in the electronic media including computer, internet which are prohibited to publish or display by the prevailing law or which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behaviour or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities shall be liable to the punishment with the fine not exceeding One Hundred Thousand Rupees or with the imprisonment not exceeding five years or with both."

That, in conjunction with various criminal acts and constitutional amendments, and working with NTA-amended licenses to ISPs, has combined to put limits on what Nepal’s youth can say and post online. All well and good, as long as not abused - as all civil societies need boundaries in this regard, no?

It’s obvious after reading the rules and regulations, that we in Nepal do lean liberal in regards to the curtailing of free online speech, and we can count our lucky stars that we do not have the authoritarian online rule of our nearest neighbor, China. As of date, the youth of Nepal can say what they want, where they want, without fear of reprisals within the limits of Nepal’s liberal laws in 2011.

For example, it’s hard to imagine anything happening today like what what happened during 2004/5, when then King Gyanendra said he was exercising censorship for 'peace and democracy'. Yet this is not to say that the new online voice of Nepal is not without problems, or in need of a good cleanup. For example, any visit to a few Nepali YouTube videos will uncover hate speech and other forms of online obscenities that would make your didi blush.

To help in this regard, the Bloggers Association of Nepal (BLOGAN) has put together a worthwhile initiative for anyone posting online: A Code of Ethics for Bloggers, which was first signed by members of BLOGAN and the Online Journalists of Nepal (OJA) in July of this year. Modeled after Tim O’Reilly’s Code of Conduct, this set of guidelines is a must read for anyone sharing online.

By following this code, we can all contribute to the collective in a meaningful and civil way, even if some of the tenants may seem trivial, self-evident, or even restrictive. In other words, with new freedom comes new responsibility, and I for one, thank BLOGAN and the OJA for pointing this out in their newly formulated Code of Ethics; so what say you?

Published today in myrepublica.com, photo credit: unknown, please write me with ownership info.
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postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: Slow News Day

It’s a slow news day here, so I am having a bit of difficulty thinking of a topic that might be of interest to loyal readers of this column. The debt-ceiling crisis in America has been resolved (for the time being), the Nepali stock market is stable (for the time being), and the political parties continue to disagree (for the rest of time, no doubt).

The monsoon clouds rest above the rim of the valley as if painted there, the milkman is clanging his pot of fresh product at the gate on schedule, and the rice pudding from yesterday’s festival lingers in the fridge. There is plenty of power to run my gadgets, and the inverter is silent on all subjects of electrical supply and demand.

In short, all is well on this lazy summer day in Nepal.

I have no new SMS’es on my phone - except for one from Mero saying it’s again charged me for some service I know nothing about – SMS2Email at a deduction of 33.90 rupees. That in conjunction with another unknown charge of 2.49 rupee for the “rental of the “Missed Call Notification service” is all that excites there.

My Facebook notifications show the usual: invites to dozens of events that I would or never will attend, and posts to groups that I know nothing about. There are notes about games I’ve never played, and an endless stream of updates to the walls of friends that I have never met.

My inbox is cluttered with more emails that I will only delete without reading, and while looking at my inbox count of well over 4,000 saved mails, I have to wonder if there is a single one there that really needs saving – even as that number grows exponentially day by day.

In fact, the only thing that seems to be active for me today, are all the social networking mechanisms for websites that I rarely visit. In short, my social life is churning on without the least bit effort from my side. I guess this is what is known as progress in the digital age...

However, my dog shows me a different side to life...

Here is a beast unencumbered by any of the modern trappings outside of his high-tech stainless steel food bowl. His main connection to technology is to react immediately and with loud barks to the electric buzzer at the gate. Which come to think of it, is a lot like my own reaction to the “you’ve got email” bonk on my computer.

Political wrangling’s, upward-downward spirals of the markets, and the craziness of humans goes unnoticed by my dog, who instead responds simply and decisively to three words “Chicken” “Walk” and “Mommy.” And while walking, unlike I, he totally ignores the human condition of my neighborhood: the drunks at the local momo shop, the intentness of the didi with the washing (looking as gloomy as the weather), the subdued frustration of the shopkeeper over the lack of daily customers.

Instead, my dog is intent on examining every flower or bush along the path.

What he finds so interesting there I cannot fathom. Perhaps it’s his buddy’s scent, or the whiff of a girlfriend in heat. Or perhaps his behavior is just a primal instinct that tells him to snort over every inch of ground that is under his limited domain.

Since moving to a new neighborhood I have noticed a marked change in his sniffing as time has worn on. Now that he has staked out a territory with his uric markings, he becomes uneasy when venturing into another doggie domain. During our nightly walks, and once a limit to his boundary has been reached, he looks up to me as if to say, “that’s far enough, it’s time to turn around and go back.”

Well on this slow news day, I find my dog’s insight profound. The territorial markings of the human species seem to have been lost on the makers of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. We no longer have a kingdom of our own, an area of exclusion, nor a place where we can lie comfortably in the shade of a monsoon summer day and be left completely undisturbed by everything in the world with the exception of a buzzing fly or two.
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postheadericon TECH TALK: If Only Human Development Progressed Like Software Development


Last time I reviewed the latest in tech for Mac users, the newly released OSX Lion operating system from Apple, so this time I wanted to write something for PC users. This column is all about the oldest in consumer operating systems: Microsoft DOS.

Today DOS celebrated its 30th birthday. It was bought for $25,000 USD from a company selling a bit of code that they called the Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS), and that code was written in just two months way eback in 1980.

A year later that code would become the standard for the IBM PC Operating System, and was the underpinning for the first version of Microsoft Windows. The rest is history - and the computing world has never been the same since.

At the time, I had just started working at IBM, fresh out of school, and still remember my fascination with the 5 1/4” floppy disk. Once inserted, that disk brought up DOS on a monochrome monitor with a blinking green cursor.  Oh the joy of typing in “copy myfile lpt1” and watching in wonder as your plain black & white text zapped out over a noisy dot-matrix printer that was the size of small refrigerator. Back then it took much less to excite folks then with today’s iCrowd.

I bring this up as I recently read that Nepal has one of the youngest populations on the planet, with a median age of 21. So most of you reading this are probably wondering what the heck I’m going on about... monochrome, command line, floppy disks, typing...

But short of sounding like a SLC history exam, let me just say that in the olden days, tech was just as exciting as it is today, sans touch displays, swipes and wipes, and music players the size of your wrist-watch.

You would be amazed by how much fun we could have with a disk that held 720kb in total, which is probably about the size of your last email. In that space, we could calculate our mortgage rate and maybe play a game of pong - whoohoo! But today, with 1,389 times more space, we are hard pressed to hold all our baby photos, home movies, and CVs with cover letters on our one-terabyte hard drives.

So as I flipped open the lid on my Windows 7 system this morning, I was struck by how far computers have come in just 30 short years (but not necessarily people). A watched a screen that rivals my own eyeballs and that can produce more colors than I could ever possibly see. My web-browsing program opened in the blink of an eye, instead of waiting 5 minutes on a blinking cursor.

Considering where computers were 30 years ago, today’s computing environment is nothing short of a miracle. Or so I thought until I started reading some online comments on the news of the day.
But a friend did tweet me something tasteful: a new iPad app called PADD was just released that turns your tablet or phone into a device that was seen first in a 1987 episode on the set of Star Trek (The Next Generation). The creators of the series placed this device in the year 2376, but in reality we have the working model in 2011. It seems, if one uses Star Trek and other Sci-Fi visualizations as a gauge, we are far far ahead of schedule.

But where are we going so fast? One has to wonder...

In the 30 years since DOS was introduced, poverty has not been reduced for most of the world's population, in fact, in a recent World Bank Development Report, it is estimated that 1.5 billion people are worse off then before. And not one low-income country (suffering from on-going violence) has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.

So ends this birthday celebration of Microsoft DOS, which was an initial effort worth $25,000 USD, and has allowed a single company to now profit an estimated $74,000,000 USD each day of the year. Progress? You tell me.
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postheadericon Something about Lion’s new versioning that could rock your world...


Ever try to save a file and get an error because you have it open in another application? Well, with Apple’s new versioning architecture (only found in Mac OSX 10.7), all that nonsense may soon go away.

As a raw example of how the new file structuring works to achieve this goal, here is file open in both Preview and Acrobat Pro X, where we are going to edit the Acrobat Pro X file (right side) and we have opened up the same file in Apple Preview (left side):
Any changes made and saved in Acrobat Pro X (in this case, a page rotate of 180°) is immediately reflected in Preview, where before, an error would have occurred. You cannot save to an open file in previous incarnations of OSX, or any other file system that I know of. 

So instead, we get this: 
Again, if you try this in same procedure in OSX 10.6 or earlier, you would get an error telling you that the file test.pdf is in use or left open. 

The system-wide implications for the future are mind-boggling for workflows that use one application to create / edit / modify content, and another another to assemble the final result. Apple  now has a way of doing so without a complicated linking strategy (for example,  as in Adobe’s InDesign application, which links files to produce pages). 

An example of where Apple has already put this strategy into play can be found in the new FinalCut Pro X, optimized for Lion. In the example below, we are importing a Photoshop file, editing and saving the Photoshop file while FCPX is open (added a 50% red fill), and seeing the changes reflected back to FCPX in realtime:
The previous release (Final Cut Pro 7) requires a "reconnect media" click, or this case, a complete re-import of the content to make things right (many, many clicks).

So in summary, while the new versioning strategy has many users up in arms because the workflow for manipulating files has changed (see this Apple Discussion), perhaps a deeper analysis is need. Above are just a few examples of  how Apple is changing the way we think of files, once discreet entities - but now something more fluid - without even telling us.






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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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