Reddit pointed me to this article on Reason Online. Set in Douala , southwestern Cameroon, ittells of the experiences of Tim Harford, musing about possible reasons poor countries like that are, and stay, poor. Larded with ad-hoc reflections and opinions from people he meets on a short trip from the airport. Interesting read.

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Goodbye web-space

May 16, 2007

 

PHP webhostingMy account at PHPwebhosting closed today, marking the end of an era. Out of all the hosting companies I’ve tried over the years, they stick out as the best, most reliable and most flexible one out there. You pay them a fixed amount of $9.95 per month, for which you get unlimited disk space, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited pop3 email boxes,MySQL, multiple domains, you name it. Unlimited being ‘fair sharing of resource’ in reality but not once I’ve asked them for more disk space or for some feature to be switched on to negative response. Good technical support, excellent up-time, very flexible in the solution of any problem, even if it’s about the monthly bill.

Nick, Carl, colleages, thanks for your support over the years and may business flourish!

Superniels Live

August 18, 2006

Good things come to those who wait, some wise man must have said sometime somewhere. So true for us here in Africa. I waited for GPRS, and it came. First by CelTel, now also by Tigo, providing us with cheap internet from places as remote as the secluded beaches south of Pangani (where I just spent a few days relaxing). Now, Celtel has introduced MMS, enabling me to send live pictures of the hyenas closing in on me to my insurance agent. Wow. Seriously though, what it made possible is to take a picture with my phone and upload it straight onto my Flickr page.

You can see the Flickr-badge on the right hand column of superniels’s front page and click through to see things as and when they happen. Cool? I think so. Ah, the flickr page itself can be found at flickr.superniels.com, ofcourse…

On another note, the previous post mentioned Portable Apps, or how to load everything you need as a traveling geek (or security conscious traveler, depending on who you introduce yourself to) on a single USB stick. How to surf anonymously and leave without a trace. Just found out there’s an entire, ready made collection of everything you’ll ever need (and quite a bit more it seems) to be found here. Download, take out what you do not need (or doesn’t fit on your stick if it’s smaller than a gigabyte) and copy…

More than once people have commented on my somewhat paranoid nature when it comes to using the internet. But in a world where the Polarising Powers that Be are happily brainwashing it’s occupants into a situation where people are so scared they thoughtlessly hand over even the last remaining bits of privacy, paranoia might be the way to go

A woman being called by the New York Times to verify if she was indeed that user they found in AOL’s stupidly released search query database (anonymous? haha) searching for the best way to get rid of your snoring husband? Or flying to the US and being interviewed for hours just for something you wrote on-line a few months ago? It’s happening every day.

You are being watched.

Regardless of the government you live under, your actions on the internet are being tracked. Your every search recorded and kept in a database for future use/abuse. US citizens have had their web traffic monitored by the NSA and AT&T, and their every search history subpoenaed by a Federal Judge. As we move towards a more wired and connected society, the potentials for abuse grow exponentially. Imagine a future where your past searches label you as a threat to your government. Or where your browsing history is known by everyone. It’s possible now.

There is a way around this. It’s easy, free and thanks to the people from ‘Traveling Forever’, well documented. I wrote about The Onion Router before, and it’s portable cousin TorPark, as a way to surf the net completely anonymous. And might have mentioned TrueCrypt, an Open Source initiative that will keep your personal data safe no matter who walks off with your laptop or USB stick. Mix it up with something called PortableApps, , put it on a memory stick, and no matter where you are in the world, you can access the web being absolutely sure you leave not a single trace. Read the article here…

PS. Not going all political all of the sudden, a LifeLog is not the right place for that at all, but doesn’t anyone notice the double standards we’re spoon fed all day? Good vs. Evil (no longer Axis of Evil but no less Evil), flouted UN-resolutions, Pre-emptive wars, Terrorists,… all depends on which side of the line you are, apparently. Didn’t someone wise have something to say about that long long ago?

In Europe, or so the newspapers have me believe, people are on-line 24×7 nowadays. Even the much hyped new UMTS standard for mobile data connections is outdated; we now have HPSDA(?). enabling us to view (and pay for) live football matches on our mobile phones, sitting on the beach. Or in the park. And if that’s not fast enough, there’s more and more wifi-access that you can just hook into. Not so here in Tanzania…

Here, we do not even have our own internet backbone. All internet either comes from surrounding countries or directly from VSAT. As is the case in my home; from my PC and the home gateway, we go up the roof, onto the antenna, which has a line-of-sight connection to the highest building in town, about 5 km’s away. And from there, it’s up to the VSAT satellite and finally onto the internet. Can you imagine the delay in VOIP calls?

And I live in town; what about the schools we work with? They’re almost all on the mountain and given the terrain here, none of them have line of sight with even the nearest village. I do not think I need to stress the importance of internet to education (even if only to make up for the lack of teaching materials). But then, even if some NGO could finance the VSAT equipment, shelling out over $100 per month
for some (non flat rate) satellite uplink is way to expensive. TTCL (the land-line phone company) is rolling out broadband but then most schools do not have a landline and even if they do, the monthly rates would still be prohibitive.

And then there was Celtel, who (in true Tanzanian style) started a GPRS pilot on their mobile networks and forgot to tell anyone of this. But news travels, newsgroups picked up the news, and after a day or two of fiddling I got it working on my phone. GPRS, for those that have forgotten, is what came after GSM data. It’s not fast enough to watch moving video but hell, we have TV’s for that. Imagine, however, the possibilities for the schools! There’s mobile coverage nearly everywhere now in the North East of Tanzania and all we’d need to do is put a GPRS card and a small antenna at a school to give them (cheap, not free) email and web-access! Put down a good cache/proxy box and we’re taking a giant step forward!

I’ll keep you posted on the developments here, once Celtel goes public and announces rates for the connection and data streams. We’ll do some testing and if it looks in any way affordable, will follow up on this…

For now, let me get back to my little Nokia. GPRS is nice, because it’s packet-switching, which in turn means you’re not occupying a whole line and you’re charged per bit, not per second. Gone is the rush we all remember from dial up, there’s the feeling of freedom we once got when we switched to 24×7 broadband. So I fired up the ‘web’ application and jumped back in time into WAP territory. Remember? It’s like stone age internet and there’s about 10 WAP sites left worldwide, apart from Celtel’s new portal where I cannot do anything more useful than download the latest bonga flava ringtones.

However, the WAP browser DID allow me to go to http://mini.opera.com where you can download a suitable version of Opera’s superb web browser with a single click. Install it, run it, and the entire internet opens up! On my Nokia, with the little screen, it still runs amazingly well, with hardly any screen clutter, automatically resized pictures (lowres, to save on bandwidth) and simple but very effective navigation. If you have mobile data access on your phone, download it now!

Once the bits started streaming in (and did not appear to empty my pre-paid balance too quickly), the quest was on. What else? I remembered something called SyncML as the new standard for synchronising data, contacts, schedules and the like and the possibility of doing that over-the-air. Not working for a big software company anymore and not able to install a SyncML gateway to synchronise my Exchange/GroupWise/Notes (pick you poison) database with other devices, I decided to look for a hosted solution. Google took me to Mobilcal, a company specialised in mobile sync technologies that showcases/tests their services at mobilcal.net

Highly recommended! Go to mobical.net, create a free account, and you have a web-based schedule / contacts & notes database. So what? Well, setup your SyncML compatible phone with the account data they provide and it synchronises (or in the case of a virgin account dumps) all your phone data with the website. Even if you do not use the web-interface, this means over-the-air backup of your Nokia! And since the number one stolen item here are still mobiles, I am very happy with a good backup of all my data.

The wait is on, ofcourse, for Google to offer something like this. Cause that’s where all my on-line data resides. But the start is there… as mentioned, more will follow..

Update 25/04: Amongst many ways to get this data synced with my desktop that did not work, I found the excellent ‘Nexthaus SyncJe for Microsoft Outlook‘ that does. It’s free so go to their website, download the plugin and get one-button sync between your desktop, your on-line backup and your phone!