Tuesday, 29 September 2009

World Wide Web Inventor Interacts With Ghana's Internet Community

British Computer scientist, professor and inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee last Monday, 21st September, met and interacted with members of Ghana's Internet community at AITI-KACE, as part of his short visit to the country. Sir Tim Berners-Lee is famously credited for the invention of the World Wide World (WWW) during his research at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Below, I share some insights I gathered from Sir Tim's short speech. This is particularly important as the Internet has reached it's 40th milestone and the world wide web is approaching its 20th year.

The need for a multi-disciplinary study of the web
The evolution of the web over the years has resulted in a very complex system that is an interesting subject for academic study. Closely related to this are developments towards the realisation of a “semantic web.” In Sir Tim's view, a collaborative and multi-disciplinary web science, will enhance the full understanding of the technologies driving the web as well as how people use it. The point is that if whole fields are dedicated to studying systems such as the brain, why not do the same for the web?

The barriers must be brought down
The web, by its very nature, has the capacity to make information freely accessible to everyone. Sadly, only about 20-25% of the word's population can be said to be on-line. The key challenge facing everyone is to get Internet connectivity to the doorsteps of the remaining 75-80% of the global population. Considering the enormous benefits that access to information through the web offers every sector of the economy, it is worthwhile to take bold steps to bridge the digital divide.

Why the web was made free
The web was made free to ensure that there is only one dominant platform through which information is exchanged. Sir Tim envisaged the implication of commercialising the world wide web, that is other networks would have been invented, and this may affect the free-flow of information. So, imagine, if the WWW was commercialised, we may have other networks such as MMM (multi-media mash), QQQ and HHH.

The web is a two-edged sword
Like any device, technology or piece of knowledge placed into the hands of man, the web has the potential to be used for good or for bad. And although, overwhelmingly, the WWW has served as a tool for technological, social, political and economic improvement, it has also been employed as a tool for criminal activities. The sad cases of cybercrime or “sakawa” and terrorism are but few examples of how the WWW has been misused.

At the gathering were various stakeholders in the Ghanaian technological sector including scientists, academics, business people, politicians and students. Some of the notable faces at the event were Ms. Dorothy Gordon, Director of AITI-KACE, Dr. Nii Narku Quaynor, the man credited for “bringing” the Internet to Ghana, Prof. Marian Ewurama Addy, Vice-Chancellor of Anglican University of Technology and Ghana's deputy minister of communication, Mr Gideon Quarcoo. There were also representatives of various groups such as ISOG, ghNOG, ghNIC, GISPA and GHARNET.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Dr. Nii Narku-Quaynor interacting with young enthusiastic Ghanaian technologists after the programme.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

What Would Have Been Nkrumah's Aspiration for Ghana and Africa Today?

Last Monday saw Ghana and some other parts of Africa celebrate Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's centenary. As expected, there were lots of discussions and debates surrounding the personality of Kwame Nkrumah and the contribution he has made to Ghana's progress and development. Mighty African made a round up of blog posts that discussed this all-important occasion last week. My approach to remembering Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is to attempt to answer the question: “if Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was alive today, what would have been his aspiration for Ghana and Africa?” Please share what you think he would do?

Internet connection all over Ghana
The Internet has boosted productivity in health, education, business, agriculture and almost all aspects of human endeavour. In addition, it has spawned a whole industry from which many people earn their livelihood. Kwame Nkrumah, identifying this great opportunity, would advocate for the Internet to be available in every Ghanaian, home, work place and school. After ensuring this he would then make a statement like: “Ghana's connectivity to the Internet would be meaningless unless it is linked up to the wiring up of the whole African continent.”

Cheap and affordable energy
Nkrumah's vision to develop a vibrant energy sector to power Ghana's industries was truly significant. The fact that he constructed Ghana's sole hydroelectric power plant and proposed the one that is currently under construction is prove of the above claim. Nkrumah today would be a voice for the development of nuclear energy to satisfy the electricity needs of Ghana and her neighbouring countries. In the wake of the recent oil discovery in Ghana, our first president would ensure that there is more Ghanaian involvement in the actual drilling and refinement of the oil. He would lead the effort to build more oil refineries to process the crude oil locally, so as to increase the value of the oil exports.

Permanent African seat on UN security council
On the political front, Kwame Nkrumah, being a veritable voice for more African influence on the global stage, would definitely be one of the backbones for the current call for Africa to have a permanent seat on the UN security council. This is even more important in the face of the increasing complexity of the global political sphere as well as Africa's gradual emergence as a strategic piece in the global jigsaw.

Greater access to tertiary education
Nkrumah's efforts in the past ensured that many Ghanaians had access to at least secondary education. The dynamic nature of today's global economy calls for not only a skilled workforce, but a very creative workforce. In this regard Kwame Nkrumah would take steps to ensure that the doors of higher education be opened to every Ghanaian citizen.

African space exploration centre
Space science and technology will play a crucial role in the development of our planet in the future. We're all witnesses to the important role that satellite technology, for example, has played in revolutionising communication. If Kwame Nkrumah was alive, I believe he would advocate for the setting up of a space exploration centre, at least at the continental level, in order to ensure that Africa benefits fully from the advantages therein.

PS: Kwame Nkrumah is the common theme of the GhanaBlogging group for the month of September.

Friday, 18 September 2009

We're a Year Old, Hurray!

It's been one year since I wrote my first post on this blog. It's amazing how quickly time flies. The adventure has been exciting so far and I want to take this opportunity to say "thank you, medasi, merci, gracias and akpe" for coming this way and being part of my world. Here's a short review of what's gone on over the past year.

State of the blog
Today's post is the 21st on this blog. The Gamelian World curently has 16 followers and has had more than a thousand visits. At the last check, this blog was ranked by afrigator as 17th in Ghana and 938th in Africa. The best rank I've seen on Afrigator is 14th. The blog has featured one guest blogger.

The good side of things
Blogging has contributed positively to my life in a few ways. The quality of my writing has improved over the past year. Since the blog is open to the global audience, it's been crucial to keep the highest standards possible. Another great benefit I have derived from blogging is to be part of the online conversation that is going on, not only in Ghana, but in Africa and the world. The process of getting people to talk about important and not so important things have been very rewarding for me. A third, and probably the greatest, success has been the good fortune of meeting great people on the blogosphere as well as in real life. The exceptionally wonderful people of the Ghanablogging group immediately come to mind.

The blog has also enjoyed a few mentions on other websites and blogs. My post on barcampghana'08 was cited here while that of US president Obama's visit to Ghana, was also cited here and here. Although this cannot be claimed as a complete validation of the blog's quality, it's an indication that eyeballs are indeed watching what's going on in this space.

The not so good side of things and ways to improve
There have been fewer posts on the blog than expected. To address this, I am coming out with a strategy that would help me post content more regularly. Also, commenting has been on the low side. Moving forward, my aspiration is to make posts concise and engaging, so as to ignite debates around the subject matter. Hopefully, that would get you to comment more here. Finally, membership of our community is still small. If you have not joined yet, why don't you join now by clicking here, and invite others to do the same?

The way forward
The key thing that I've been thinking about is defining the postion of the blog. This has been a difficult exercise because this blog has always been more about the writing and perspectives than about core areas. As of now, I am proposing a three prong approach: technology, development and lifestyle. And this is naturally in an African context.

Your critical feedback please!
This blog would be nothing without you-it's readers. Please feel free to let me know what you think about what we've been trying to do over the past year. What is being done right? What can be improved upon? What focus do you think best fits this blog? Over to you!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

What the heck are you saying?

My love for words and expression is the main driver for my interest in writing and by extension blogging. The written word has the power to convey one's thoughts in a clear, crisp and concise way, one that, I dare say, is much more effective than even the spoken word. After all, when you're reading a text and you come across a "big word", you can quickly make reference to a resource and get along with your task. However, you cannot stop someone in the middle of a sentence to "break down" his/her vocabulary before proceeding with the conversation.

Some time last week, I was laughing with a couple of friends over how some people complicate their conversations by using difficult words, or "vocabs" in Ghanaian secondary school parlance, when simpler words could do the trick. This led me to reminisce the days when I, completely enthralled by a writer's choice of words, would memorise whole sentences in the hope of using them when the occasion presents itself. Many of us, who watched the ultra-hilarious Pattington Papa Nii Papafio in the TV serial Taxi Driver, would easily recall moments of extreme excitement and fun that the profligate use of big words ignited among Ghanaian television viewers.

I recall with just a little trace of accuracy a tale my English teacher told our class in JSS 1, so i present it in an assorted cocktail with similar tales that i have picked up over the years. It was about a learned man whose obsession with big words was so great that he used them in everyday conversations. Instead of simply asking the small boy next door, "what's your name?", he would blurt out "what is the alphabetical construction of your human dignity?" or "what characterises your nomenclature?" If he wants to say "come quickly," he would opt for "proceed in my direction with alacrity." His equivalent of "i'm going to urinate" is "i'm proceeeding to evacuate my internal hydrosity", whatever that means.
More likely than ever, in philosophical situations, our gentleman does not spare his listeners the ordeal of deciphering, with difficulty, the meaning of every sentence of his. He would always prefer "super abundance of any performance is detrimental to the performer" to "too much of a thing is bad", and "A slight inclination of the cranium is as adequate as the spasmodic movement of one of the occular organs, to an equine quadruped devoid of its visionary capacity" to "a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse!" Soon his neighbours and aquaintances got fed up with his linguistic ways and avoided his company as much as possible.

One day he returned home only to find his beautiful home under fire. In complete hysteria, he began to shout his neighbours for help. Guess what he said? "Multitude!, multitude!, a great conflagration is consuming my magnificent domicile!" "The beautiful edifice that I erected is being razed to the ground by a ravaging inferno!" Passers by, who either did not understand a word of what he was saying or chose to ignore his verbose pleas left him to suffer his misfortune alone. In the end, he lost his home, which was an entire lifetime investment.

This story, i guess, is completely fictional. However, we all stand to pick a major lesson from it-to ensure that every time we speak, our choice of words fit the context. We should not get our listeners to the point of "what the heck is he saying?" After all, there is a bit of our friend in every one of us.

Friday, 4 September 2009

My Maker Faire Story: Pictures of Exhibitions and People

Last time, I wrote about the first Maker Faire Africa event that took place at AITI-KACE. Today, I present photographs of some great people and exhibitions from the programme.

The stand of Liberian "analogue blogger" Alfred Sirleaf announces the programme line-up for the last day, Sunday 14th August. Mr. Sirleaf has received rave reviews from prestigious media organisations, such as the BBC, for the able manner in which he displays crucial information for poor and illiterate everyday folks in Monrovia, Liberia.

Former Ghanaian finance minister, Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, sandwiched by Francis Ayombil and yours truly. It was great meeting and interacting with him at the exhibition. It's heartwarming that some of the continent's thought leaders recognise technology as an important tool for its socio-economic transformation.

The Mozilla team, led by Benjamin Ephson Jnr., busy at their work station. There is an upsurge in the use of open source technologies on the African continent. MFA was an opportune moment for this crew to present the merits of the Mozilla browser to as many people as possible.

Madam Cora Taylor, "Miss Coco", smiles in this pose with her lovely, well-dressed and famous "African ladies". Miss Coco would not have her dolls called "African barbies". She is just one example of the positive things going on in her home country of Liberia right now.

Mr. Tei Huagie, a tailor, artist and sculptor, based in Accra, Ghana has fashioned out an innovative approach to solving Ghana's waste problems. Behind him are vests, shorts and caps made with ice cream sachets. Would you try one of these on?

The fight against plastic waste continues. Here, my friend, Francis, relaxes comfortably in an armchair, whose framework is essentially made up of used plastic water bottles. This masterpiece is the handiwork of Johannes Thomas Arthur.

Asiwome of Kasahorow enthusiatically explains the organisation's on-line African language initiatives to these interested attendees.

Mr. Paul Kakari offers a solution to the electricity shortage problem through his "electric cream". He mixes two different powders, some aluminium chippings and water to generate heat, through an exothermic reaction. This has many applications like heating water for tea, cooking meals and ironing clothes.

The prodigious William Kakwamba offers to provide energy to different parts of Africa by founding an energy company after his education. He's already started by building a windmill from scrap materials to generate electricity in his home in Malawi. William is a student of African Leadership Academy (ALA) and co-author of the book, "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind". It was really inspiring to meet young Africans who are actually doing things to make a difference on the continent.

This team from Accra Polytechnic completely fabricated all the parts used to make their radio station. Their solution is low cost and has potential to make information more widely available in poorer communities.

Simple implements to make the work of farmers in third world countries easier and more productive.