Inari Media

Kenyan Politics: Boys’ Club?

No girls allowedJust when I think that Kenyan politics can’t let me down any more than it already has, our elected troglodytes manage to surpass themselves.

Apparently, you can write a constitution, but change it when it doesn’t suit your purposes. So we have the dropping of the clause that a third of MPs should be female. I know! Crazy, right? Surely the women are too busy being helpmeets to their husbands to bother themselves with the ugly business of running around campaigning for votes.

So the good men of the cabinet have made a decision. It’s too hard! And it’s not boys wanting to keep hold of all of their marbles; it’s for the good of the country!

Analysts say the government fears that if parties are forced to reserve seats for women it will cause serious divisions in their ranks.

C’mon ladies! Don’t put yourselves forward for political office. Be reasonable. Do you want to trigger another civil war?

God forbid that the various parties shoudl actually seek capable and effective women from within their ranks! What’s that you say? Women are only effective at making tea for cabinet meetings. Well, hi! How are things back in the Middle Ages?!

Of course, in a meritocracy, women would rise to the top like cream no matter what the circumstances. But is Kenyan politics really a meritocracy? Honestly? Can you imagine the best possible candidate being able to represent their constituency without having to make themselves a hostage to fortune within the party-political process?

The boys’ club has always been sewn up, and when the constitution was being drawn up, lip service was given to letting the girls have a go. Now, with elections on the horizon, the boys suddenly realise that there will be less patronage to spread around if the girls have some reserved seats. so they vote for a constitutional amendment.

Do the voters of Kenya get a referendum?

Let’s wait and see.

[Image by]

Free and Easy Tech Support (No, Really)!

FreeBefore I started this blog, the place I considered to be my online “home” were the Guardian talkboards, Guardian Unlimited Talk (GUT). Then, in February, The Unpleasantness happened. I still haven’t completely forgiven them.

Luckily, other members of GUT not only had wicked ninja-like coding skills, but also access to almost immediate hosting. Today, NotTheTalk is even better than the old talkboards were, and is providing me with my daily mix of snark, gossip, and tech chat without the hassle of wondering if I’m about to piss off a newspaper group.

And it’s the tech chat that I’m offering you. Check out the PC, Virus and Web Questions thread. All general sorts of questions, but answered for anyone who wants it and at absolutely no cost. Alternatively, check out the rest of the IT & Computers folder, to look at the range of techy topics that are being covered, by everyone from newbies to experts.

Setting up an account is just a matter of registering your chosen username and password. Done! And if you get bored of all the tech stuff, as you can see from all of the other folders listed, there is lots of other stuff to get stuck into. I’d avoid International for a while, though, at least until you’ve got the hang of the place.

NotTheTalk is a free-flowing forum for chat and debate about virtually any topic under the sun. For the most part, aside from the resident trolls, the members are friendly, sharp as tacks and very inventive with their swearing.  If you fancy a lively place to drop in while pretending to do some work, definitely join up. Especially if you have a lot of tech problems; we love solving those!

Escaping the Experts

Marshall Needs Advice, by Marshalls Carousell at Deviant ArtSooo… blog’s been quiet for a couple of months. I had to clear out cobwebs and a family of mice before I could get started with this post, so neglected had my little outpost become. I’d love to tell you that I was cruising the Caribbean on my yacht having sold my kidney genius business idea for billions, but really I just got burnt out and decided to go a little bit of self-education while I gave blogging a rest for a while.

And I hated it. By Thor’s thundery hammer, I don’t think I can take one more webinar, e-book, online course or program. Don’t get me wrong: some of the learning materials on offer are incredibly detailed and informative; there’s a couple that could probably be used as set texts at a university level. But generally, I came away feeling not better informed after dipping my toes into the learning pool, but rather more confused. And more than a little irritated.

See, in order to sell you something, an “expert” (and they are all experts, at least to their mothers) has to be able to offer you something that no other “expert” can. Spend enough time researching the same niche or topic and you will end up with no more knowledge than a newbie, although your vocabulary of wanky management buzzwords will have increased. General norms and activities are “best practice”, and you can’t slap and “Exclusive!” sticker on that before sending it to Amazon as a Kindle download. What you end up with instead — if you’re lucky — is a smattering of conflicting advice, from which your still-clueless self is expected to pick the best morsels.

And that’s another thing: in order to appeal to as broad a market as possible, the advice also has be rather vague. I don’t care about generalisms; I can get that from reading any number of blogs and newsletters any day of the week. I want details, dammit! The more information, the better. But a course tailored exactly to my needs would naturally alienate a large section of the potential market. Thus, advice, no matter how useful in theory, does very little to address my particular problems.

This isn’t necessarily the experts’ fault, however. After all, they are following (I hope) their own advice and selling their products in what they consider to be the most effective fashion. More power to their elbows. But it is very frustrating, when trying to learn more about a topic, to feel as though you’re not getting the best value for money from a product, because it doesn’t provide you with the information or advice you were hoping for.

So what is to be done? It’s quite easy, actually: don’t read the experts. I don’t mean avoid them entirely, I just don’t think you should pay for any whizz-bang product that promises to teach you the wonders of the universe or how to conquer your business sector in a week. It will only leave you disappointed. There are still a hell of a lot of good business and tech blogs around, with forums and talkboards where your specific problems can be addressed without having to wade through several chapters of waffle. And if you do need further personalised advice at the end of all of that, I’m sure you’ll find an “expert” who would be happy to consult on a one-on-one basis in exchange for a fee.

(Image by MarshallsCarousel at DeviantArt)

Whoosh! How to Stop Deadlines from Passing You By

Speeding Tube trainIn the last few hours, I’ve realised that the four-day cushion I imagined I had for a particular deadline had been eroded. While I wasn’t paying attention, I had been RSVP’d for a yoga class, a book group, a wedding and a formal lunch. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but this time a) I haven’t had time to go shopping for a wedding outfit, and b) I was banking on having a nice quiet weekend where I could blast some Metallica and concentrate on getting stuff done.

Rather than panic stations though, I am at what I like to call Cold-Blooded Pragmatism. If I am going to get this project done, I’m going to need to reconfigure the way I work and do things a little bit differently for the next few days. Here’s a handy guide to how you can blitz a deadline without becoming a nervous wreck.

Cut out the distractions
If you’re anything like me, you don’t work on one task at a time; you may have several activities on the go at the time. But when it comes to crunch time, you don’t have time to be messing around with anything that doesn’t help you get the job done. So, if you usually check your emails while doing your latest sales report and composing LOLcat captions, cut out the email and kitty pictures. You’re only getting paid for one of those things so focus on that. The same goes for social media: give Twitter and Facebook a rest for now; the world will keep turning while you’re busy at work.

Decide what’s important
Unless the deadline you have to meet is relatively simple and routine, it probably has more than one component. Which is the most important? Which can be left until the last minute? Now is the time to prioritise: tackle the most important issues first before dealing with the small stuff. Don’t be tempted to try to do everything at once; that is one way to get distracted and led off-track by issues that could be dealt with later. Work your way down from “Critical” to “Desirable but not essential” and you stand less chance of missing out something important.

Torture yourself
Of course, now that you’re not working the way that you are used to, it can seem tempting to slip back into your old habits once you feel you’re into the swing of things. Don’t. Again, that way lies distraction. Believe me, I once ended up having a massive IRC argument about the merits of various French poets when I was supposed to be writing my thesis. All I had wanted to do was to look up a couple of references for my bibliography. So don’t go off-piste once you’re working. You have a deadline to meet, remember.

You can treat yourself in other ways, however. If you don’t normally work with music, turn your speakers up and get your finest motivational tunes on the go. If you usually never snack at your desk, have something tasty to hand. I personally like chocolate-covered coffee beans and gourmet crisps. And I dose my water bottle with a slug of Ribena too.

Procrastinate for profit
Being human beings, we do need breaks occasionally, so don’t beat yourself up trying to pull a 12-hour stretch of laser-sharp focus. Take breaks. Fifteen minutes every two hours seems to work for me. I step away from the laptop, stretch my legs a bit, maybe look over my to-do list to make sure I’m still on track and then get back to work. Often, I find taking a quick break will give me fresh insight into whatever problem I’ve been wrestling with and can give me a boost when I get back to my desk.

Ignore your inner perfectionist
There are certain people (control freaks, OCD sufferers, me) who will tweak and worry at a project way beyond the point of rationality because they want it to be perfect. This wastes time, and isn’t useful. After all, you’re working on your project in chunks aren’t you? There’s no point trying to make each part of it perfect before you bring the whole thing together. Get what needs to be done done; you can worry about turning it into a masterpiece once you have all your ducks in a row.

Build like Lego
Once you have completed the various parts of your project, you can start putting them together and making sure that they fit together as they should. Make sure that the way you’ve arranged the project flows coherently, add in any extra information that needs to be included and ensure that references to disparate parts of the project lead to where they are supposed to. Only you know who is the final audience for your work, so remember to tailor your final presentation to the people who will be seeing it.

Use a buffer
Yes, you’re on a deadline, and yes, you are suffering from low-level panic about whether or not you’ll meet it. But you still need to have at least a couple of hours away from your work before you sign off on it, just so you can come at it with fresh eyes and go over it once again, checking for any overlooked mistakes or grammar howlers. The amount of time you need to do any checking or proofreading will depend on the size of the project, but it is imperative that you don’t go straight from working on major aspects of your work to trying to go through it all again. Even if it just takes a short walk around the block, take some time to clear your head before doing your final checks.

We all have our vices. Mine is a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio and pizza. It is my traditional “Yippee! I’ve finished work!” treat. While you are working, hold this in the back of your mind. If you make your deadline, you get your treat. Trust me, it’s a good motivator. I have slaved through the night for the promise of a 2004 Argentinian and a thin-crust meat feast with extra cheese and mushroom (yes, I am a cheap date). If you are working so hard, it only pays to reward yourself when you get the job done. Line up something special, but be ready to cancel it if you miss the deadline.

At school, university and in my professional life I have known the cold sweat and neck tension that comes with a seemingly insurmountable deadline. I have had sleepless nights, caffeine psychosis, tearful panics and even one unfortunate incident involving a librarian and a malfunctioning photocopier that I don’t wish to elaborate on further. Now, as a nominal grown-up, I have found a system that works for me. And hopefully, it will work for you too.

[Image by JaimeLondonBoy]

Developers: Non-Americans Would Like to Try Your Apps Too

Picket sign: "Unfair, locked out"So yesterday I heard about Craiggers, a website that displays Craiglist ads in a better and more useful format than the original site. Excellent! As is my wont, I thought I’d have a little bit of a play and a fiddle, and maybe mention it in a later blog post. Only I couldn’t.

See, while it’s true that Craiggers uses Craigslist data, it only does so for the USA. Nowhere else, not even America’s Hat, aka Canada. Now I hate to nitpick, but when major tech blogs are describing you as “Craiglist, only better” I expect that to be the whole of Craigslist, not just your corner of the site.

Now, Craiggers isn’t the worst culprit for this sort of behaviour, just the most recent example of a particular… provincialism, let’s say, that besets a lot of the tech world. In a sense, I can understand it: the centre of tech is in Silicon Valley, which is in the USA, so when a new startup is looking for a market, the first people it will cater to will most likely be Americans.  Perfectly logical, right?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, if you can develop an app that works wicked-cool for people in the Land of the Free, and they’re willing to pay you pots of money for it, have at it. But there are only so many Americans, and the rest of us might like the chance to use your shiny new offering too. If your app is set up in a way that is dependent on my having a US zip code or if it just doesn’t allow for the fact that people do live outside the United States, you’re effectively telling several hundred million people that you don’t want their custom.

It isn’t just apps, tech blogs and websites are very US-centric too, and again, I can understand why, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s all very well staying within an English-speaking, American-focused bubble if that’s what you want, but it does mean you are wilfully ignoring the majority of internet and software users, who are not citizens of the USA. That’s not just an oversight, that’s bad business.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it hurts to be ignored, and that developers who see their market soley in terms of the US market are, with a few exceptions, doing themselves no favours. I’m not calling for a law or regulations to make everything international the minute it is goes into alpha testing, just asking the developers of the world to remember that the world is round and has more than 50 states.

Are you a developer from outside the United States? Do you have an app that you’d like me to test? Drop me a line and I might make it my Freeware of the Week!

[Image by B I R D]