Three Commandments for Jamaican techies (and salespeople)

  1. Thou shalt not hype thy self, but be humble in the face of the non-techie: 6a00d8341d417153ef017c32120484970b-800wiA lot of people who are considered “techies” are really just walking gadget reviews. Not that there is anything wrong with being familiar with gadgetry – being the go- to guy for Android phones is actually a pretty neat skill. But most techies no longer try to understand the internals of their devices, preferring instead to engage in pointless debates and “my phone has more memory than yours” dick-measuring over gadgets they either fantasize about owning, or are too expensive for the average Jamaican. All that is really just a form of idolatry. Let’s go back to learning theories and techniques so that we can help ourselves, and each other.
  2. There is but one God, and his name is not Android, or iOS, or BB or…. : google-apple-e1299142097174 It used to be that a techie was thought of as a socially awkward person who made up for that with true technical skill. Now he is just awkward, with an obsession with whatever brand he is ogling over. It would same that brand loyalty has replace political ideology and even religious beliefs This is almost as bad as Jamaica’s legendary political divide, except with nerds instead of gunmen. And like that political divide it represents a pointless, self-destructive idolatry. If we are going to waste hours online flaming each other, at least let it be over something meaningful.
  3. And the Lord hath made richer phones for the rich, humble phones for the humble, mighty phones for he who seeks might, and simple phones for he who seeks simplicity: 113_3_1_13123288 A gadget exists to fulfill people’s needs, not the marketing departments sales quota, or as a tool for hyping over online. Most people do not need four cores. Or even two. The memory barriers on ARM making Out-of-Order Execution on their multicores difficult enough anyway, so most programs get locked into using one core, making your multicore arguments moot. Advise, and sell people phones based on their ability to fill people’s needs. This is especially the case with the sales department –It’s a hell of a lot easier to sell ten 5,000 dollar phones, than one 50,000 dollar phone.
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Too Dumb 2 Be True – Smart Phones, Dumb Sellers

Imagine this scenario. A group of Jamaican electronics distributors decide that the general public are too ignorant of some of the most famous electronic devices on Earth, and thus hold a conference to educate the hoi polloi on these gadgets, never mind the fact that these gadgets have already saturated the public imagination through music videos, advertisements and social media.

Imagine that, the audience of programmers, mobile developers, gadget salespeople, and technicians are to be educated about the technical specifications and system software of these gadgets – by the Marketing department.

Imagine that these Marketers, who are supposed to be skilled in demographics, market segmentation, product cycles and the economic condition of Jamaica, decide to highlight exclusively high-end phones, to a public that not only is undergoing wage freezes and a depreciating currency, but only changes phones every three to four years. Never mind that one of those phones could buy a taxi cab, or pay for half a preparatory or tertiary school education for a year.

No need to imagine this. I experienced this personally Wednesday evening at the “Too Smart 2 Be True” conference held at the Waterfalls on Old Hope Road. In the relatively short time that I could endure the presentation, I had my intelligence molested by what must have had been the most condescendingly vapid set of presenters that could Jamaica’s main electronics distributors could have had found.

One presenter did not understand the security model behind Free-Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS). When he compared Android to iOS, he believed that the ability to read the source code put the Android FLOSS at a disadvantage, when no hacker with any sense is going to read through thousands of lines of source code to find vulnerabilities anyway. There are enough tools available to reveal what functions, API/ABI calls or libraries any software, FLOSS or proprietary is using. After that it is simply a matter of the usual smash stack, buffer overflow mischief. Another mistook Windows 8 for the Windows Phone 8 on the Nokia Lumia 925, continuously repeating that the phone was running the desktop OS. Yet another repeated the above FLOSS fallacy, while advertising the Samsung Galaxy S4. That was about as much as I could endure without LMAOing at the people’s fancy presentation.

The general aim of the ”presentation” was to for the marketers educate technically-minded persons on technical specifications of various gadgets that most technically minded people have already memorized by heart. While I would have loved to be in whatever meeting vomited forth that idea, I learnt some very important things from that conference. Not so much learnt, but crystallized, as much of these ideas have been floating around the Jamaican technical collective unconscious for some time now. These ideas can be distilled into four commandments:

  1. Thou shalt exhalt thine smartphone, for expensive is the way to heaven: A “techie” is no longer a person who is theoretically and technically skilled at scientific, computational, or electronic techniques, whether credentialed or not, but merely someone who is able to rattle off the various specifications of whatever expensive device they have chosen to purchase. Understanding the software they are using how the software mods actually affect the phone, the difficulty of writing parallel/concurrent code to run one their many-core fancy phones is not a priority. They just need the phone to be expensive, like buying a Porsche, but not bothering to understand the engine.
  2. There is but one God, and his prophet is Steve Jobs. Honour his name, and keep it holy: The techie does not owe his allegiance to a particular local group of similar minded friends, or even an organization. Instead, his loyalty is to the particular brand of smartphone that he, and whatever friends he has. Brand loyalty thus functions as a replacement for any useful political or social ideology. And remember, down with M$, up with Open Source!!!
  3. Render onto the workplace what is the workplace’s and render onto the workplace what is God’s: Even if you have failed to become a techie after the presentation, you will still need this expensive smartphone if you want to be of any use in your current job. Don’t you want to increase your productivity? Don’t you want to keep you shit job? You think that those degrees and certifications matter? Not as much as this smartphone! In the future, we will all be contractors, so not only will we need Reliable Motor Vehicles, but Reliable Smartphones as well (I’m not kidding, this was actually said)! The fact this represents a significant rollback of worker’s rights and guarantees is irrelevant, what matters is that you should buy this expensive phone!
  4. Thou shalt upgrade frequently, whether or not you want or need to, as it is Invention that is the mother of Necessity: I have a new phone that I want to sell you. Its got a 200 terapixel camera, 936 cores, 17 terabytes of memory and 42 petabytes of onboard storage. The screen is also 121 gigapixels and can give direct UltraHDMI via the port that you should have on the back of your neck. What’s that? You only want to type up some text messages, do some minor office work and shoot a few short movies? Why are you so primitive? Don’t you want me to meet my sales quota this month want to unlock the full features of your mobile life? Don’t you know how much better your life would be if buy this expensive phone with features you didn’t even know that you want, or need?

When you combine the above ideals together, you can see that the distributors and retailers of electronics in Jamaica have been trained to sell to a first world, consumerist society. The fact that we inhabit a small country, whose currency is constantly weakening against the US dollar and lack the necessary household income or credit market to afford those gadgets is irrelevant. They have sales targets to meet so rather than adjust their business strategy to focus on the Jamaican market; they try to sell us phones – that are subsidized by American carriers- at full price. The sad thing is that they did have a good phone for the Jamaican market – the Nucleo Fusion. But as a cheap non-name phone with only the features one needs, it violates three of the commandments, and was not a priority at the presentation.

Just look at that cheapo piece of crap

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that such consumerist silliness would come from Watts New- the organizer of Too Smart 2 Be True. This is a series of stores that sold the Playstation 2 at a price so expensive that it was actually cheaper to buy a cheap overnight ticket to Miami and buy it – and you would still have money left over for an extra controller, and a copy of Zone of the Enders. This is better now, with the maturation of online shopping and Their pricing strategy does not seem to come from a place of incompetence, but a complete inability to empathize with Lower Middle Class Jamaicans, who not only make up the majority of the population but would be most in need for a device to supplement – or replace – their aging computers. These are the guys at UTECH with the netbooks, cheapo tablets and plasticky laptops. No Apple for them, that money has to pay their school fees.

The funny thing is, for all their fetishizing of high end phones, that is not the future. Companies like Nokia and Samsung are working hard to capture India and Brazil with phones, similar to that of the Nucleo Fusion. The major manufacturers know that high end, easily destroyed fancy phones are not ideal for poor third world countries, but durable smartphones that can sell for less 100USD, and can replace the cheap feature phones that many of us carry around. That is the future. Hopefully Watts New and the rest won’t be too dumb to catch up with it.

Duh, Jamaican athletes use drugs!

One of the main idiosyncrasies of the Jamaican psyche is a pathological faith in corporatist structures. By corporatist structures, I do not mean just business corporations, but interest groups, like our political parties, financial schemes like Cash Plus and OLINT, and our System of Athletic Development. This faith may not seem like such as a bad thing, except that the belief in corporate structures always occurs at the expense of the Individual. The individual is subsumed, his ego assimilated, and then destroyed by the corporate structure – one need only look at the crowds at a Nazi rally to see an example of the end result. Or better yet, how broken the people are when the corporate structure is (inevitably) crushed.

So Veronica Campbell-Brown failed her drug test. And got a suspension. The nation is now hoping that she will be exonerated by the B sample, praying that Campbell-Brown will overcome this trial, leaving those envious Europeans and Americans looking like the jealous, red-face fools that they are. We should see the hypocrisy of all this, especially when one considers that, prior to 2003, Track and Field in Jamaica was considered over and done with, especially with Merlene Ottey’s positive drug test, and subsequent emigration. At this point, athletics was so underfunded that many of or athletes had to train over in the University of Technology gym, with barbells that couldn’t hold the weights properly because the barbells themselves were bent from age and overuse.

Fast forward to 2004, and everyone is a Track and Field expert. Not fan. Expert. Then, it was not Bolt vs. Nobody-because-he’s-just-that-fast but Powell vs. Gatlin. Bolt was just a flash in the pan. Oh, remember what people were saying about Bolt when he came 4th in the first heat and failed to qualify for the 200m? “Him nah nuh subject!” “Him daddy a tek di money!” “Him nah nuh sense.”

By 2008 Bolt was the greatest of all time. I have refrained from saying anything about Campbell-Brown up to now because no one really gives a shit about women’s athletics, as the Independent headline implies,

That’s one race where he may want to come last

All Campbell-Brown, Bolt and company did was figure out that that Jamaicans don’t care that you are running for Jamaica, but that you are running against America (the world is incidental ). The National Self-Image is based on looking good in the eyes of America, having left England in the 1950s and picking up the U.S.A. instead. Our athletes are simply doing what it takes to be treated as if they are somebody in their own country:

Since 2008 several of Jamaica’s star athletes have run afoul of the World Anti-Doping Agencies (WADA) Code. Yohan Blake, the defending 100m world champion missed the 2009 World Championships in Berlin because of a doping violation and served a three-month ban. So did Sherri Ann Brooks, the 2006 Commonwealth Games 100m champion, Marvin Anderson and Allodin Fothergill were also banned in that incident. Then Steve Mullings, who failed a drug test in 2004 and returned from that ban to win a medal in 2009 as a member of the relay team in Berlin. He has now been banned for life following a doping violation in 2012. Our two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce was banned for six months for taking Oxycodone. Just this week Dominique Blake was banned for six years and now VCB has been accused of cheating. That’s eight violations in the last five years and more than 20 if you go back further. (my emphasis)

Uh-oh, you’re in trouble!

Our Randian friends over at Right from Yaad have it right on the money:

If we revel in the fact that when athletes’ drug tests from our arch rivals – the United States – come back positive and they are labelled cheaters (a la Gatlin), then we must be open to the reality that our guys who are beating them, must be on stuff too!

But what Kavon hints at in his article, I will state out right. Our nation’s self-esteem is based on the athletic accomplishments of less than 50 people. We are not a nation of individuals, but a nationalist collective that only unites behind fads that lack any moral, ethical, or social value. Whether it be Dancehall music or Cash Plus, we worship these Golden Calves because we have no national symbol or cohesive philosophical system to guide us. And why not? Everything else has failed us. Michael Manley failed us. Vybz Kartel failed us. Our black middle class bankers in the 90s failed us. Our pastors have failed us. We are now left with no elites to give us a philosophy that will explain the past, guide us through the present, and give us a dream for the future. So instead of striving towards a dream, we wallow in illusions.

The illusion that a deportee could give us 120 percent in interest

The illusion that our politicians and managers can guide us

The illusion that any modern, top-level sprinter isn’t doped from his head to his Pumas.

One can only imagine the blow to our nation’s self-esteem if ever they should get Bolt.  We would be destroyed, but to me that is good. For then, we can finally rebuild, not as a corporatist hive-mind, but a nation of of men and women that can actually strive towards the dream that we have built for ourselves, whether we have the world’s fastest man, or not.

Phillip Paulwell’s Magic Bullets

It seems that Minister Paulwell’s scheme for getting tablets out to schools is going well. All it took was 850 million dollars from the Universal Access Fund.

In other completely unrelated news, not only are teachers to be given a four year wage freeze, but teachers past retirement age are to be sent home, never mind that much of our schools a re overcrowded.

The use of technology to undermine the rights of skilled workers is an old one. This is what the historical Luddites fought against – not technology, but the way that technology was used to destroy their way of life. This is not to say that Minister Paulwell (or Minister Thwaites) sits around plotting ways to screw over teachers. But if you fire teachers, and buy tablets, you may just get the idea that tablets can replace teachers, or supplement teachers in some way. My thesis, however, is that technologies like tablets, as well as ill-thought out social policies implemented by Phillip Paulwell will have the effect of dis-empowering skilled workers, as well as other unintended consequences that are worse than the problem that it is intended to solve.

This is one of the main problems with technocrats (not that Paulwell can be thought of as a technocrat) – they believe that any social problem can be solved with the right technological bullet.

Take for example our energy situation. Jamaica’s electricity price is currently 40 US cents a kilowatt, compared to 10 US cents a kilowatt for an advanced nation, and 3 US cents for Trinidad and Tobago. So he puts out an offer for a 360 Megawatt plant. Never mind the fact that we lose 23 percent of our electricity through distribution losses that occur due to heat losses, outdated transformers and theft. But that sort of thing is basic maintenance, and that is not sexy. Not like LNG barges and all that.

While we have had many discussions of various Natural Gas Wunderwaffen, what we have not heard is anything resembling an energy policy, one with milestones, 10 year goals, strategic investments, maintenance, futures contracts, energy security, that sort of things. What we have is, basically this:

  1. Get 360 megawatt LNG plant
  2. ???????????
  3. Profit!!!!!

and with Tablets?

  1. Get tablets that will make dunce students smart with pretty Flash animations
  2. ??????????
  3. Profit!!!!!

It’s rather interesting that, out of the blue, comes Energy World International – with their own Natural Gas field. Anyone who has ever paid attention to energy gets the impression some sort of bandoollo is going on, that the Energy World International plan looks something like this:

  1. Proposition dumb-ass third world technocrat wannabee with the short con , bait him with natural gas field, and build him a nice cheap plant (razor, inkjet printer).
  2. Lock the fool in with a nice natural gas supply contract.
  3. Use the fact that natural gas prices are extremely volatile, as they inevitably go up, as they have been doing over the last 25 years – the long con (the blades, the inkjet cartridges).
  4. Profit

Anyone with basic knowledge of the historic world energy prices knows that natural gas prices are volatile. They’re too unpredictable to use as a national policy especially for a nation that is perpetually starved fo foreign exchange, like ours. Unfortunately, Mr. Paulwell cannot be described as one who is knowledgeable about anything regarding energy, or education. This is despite the failure of technological strategies  such as Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative.

Yet, men like Paulwell continue to bang the technology drum. But technology without policy , or economic considerations is like a gun wielded by a deaf and blind man – he will just hurt himself and others, but almost always miss his target.That’s the thing with magic bullets, the guns and gunmen that use them usually have in common the fact that they both come with empty barrels that make a lot of noise.