Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Sweet Deal Indeed (Thanks Steve).

image I really, really shouldn’t be doing stuff like this for free. However, until I figure out how to monetise it properly, I’ll just have to share the news and let the vendor, in this case Microsoft, get the free ad.

Microsoft is making Microsoft Office 2007 Student and Home Edition available at N6,500.00 for 6 weeks starting from the 15th of December, and you will be legally allowed to install it on up to 3 computers. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a very sweet deal. To give you some perspective, I saw the software currently available in a store for N18,000.00. So it will be going for about a third of the price. I should warn you though that this version contains only Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. So no Microsoft Access for the database aficionados and no Microsoft Outlook either. Still, the deal is a sweet one anyway you want to look at it.

This offer is available for Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. According to Microsoft, you can walk into any store where software is legitimately sold during that period and get it at that price. They should have advertising available prominently displaying the price. So no one should be able to get away with selling the pack at an inflated price.

So if you live outside these zones, you are out of luck. On the other hand, if you are a student of a British or American University, you get Office 2007 Ultimate and Windows 7 Professional at about $30 for Windows and $60 for Office Ultimate. You can access the student offers here. By the way, from my experience, if you are a student of an online program like the University of Liverpool Online, you can get these deals as the validation criteria is having a valid email address from an academic institution in these countries. So if you have an “.ac.uk” or a “.edu” email address, then you are well on your way to getting good software at rock bottom, yet legitimate, pricing. Now they would only extend that offer to Nigerian Universities where we really need those kinds of offers… 

Of course, as I have mentioned before, you can get OpenOffice.org at a much better price: completely free and it can do most things that Microsoft Office can do. You just need to download and install. Most of us, do prefer MS Office. We grew up with it and is the de facto standard that everyone else is playing catch up to. Still, free is free is free.

Be that as it may, we appreciate Mr. Ballmer’s magnanimity. Thanks Steve, nice one.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Road Kill

remember_me_m At the start of this new millennium, cell phones were a rare phenomenon in Nigeria. The technology was expensive, service was spotty and the use cases were not very many. We generally got on without phones, never mind cell phones. Things have changed dramatically in the last half decade. Now we don’t know how we will survive without them.

However, many people are dead because of them.

15th November, 2009 was marked as the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Accidents. The world was meant to stop, reflect and learn from the millions who have died from car crashes. Too many die on our roads in Nigeria daily. Most of the time we blame the bad condition of our roads, the bad condition of our vehicles or the lack of education of road users in correct road behaviour and defensive driving. We don’t consider the risk imposed by people yakking away on their cell phones while barrelling along at a murderous pace with one hand pressed to an ear and not much attention on the road.

Being a nation without much reliance on statistics, we often have to borrow statistics from elsewhere. However, for some things at least, behaviour is consistent the world over. While not wanting to do the usual bash Naija thing, I would say we probably behave worse on our roads than a lot of other places that do have statistics. At  the very least we do not treat the condition of the roads with the needed caution while driving. Anyway, I went in search of statistics (to borrow) to give us something to think about. The Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org) has an essay on various research results on the consequences of cell phone usage while driving. Most of the information is US-specific, but it is sobering and relevant to us.

The research shows a four-fold increase in accidents while driving and talking on a cell phone. This is independent of your age, gender or whether you are holding the phone to your ear or using a hands free system. 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve driver distraction as determined in 2006. This isn’t just distraction from cell phone usage, it’s not even the highest component of that stat, but it contributes to this number which has increased from the 25 to 30% of causes of crashes that it used to be.

Perhaps we can understand why people convince themselves that they can talk on their cell phones and drive at the same time. We rationalise it, maybe, by equating it to having a conversation with another person who is in the same vehicle. However, there is a whole class of idiot (and I use the term with no apology) who text while driving. The risk of an accident while texting and driving is 23 times greater than the risk of an accident while not texting.

These are stats from societies with good roads. That have required driving training before driver’s licenses are issued. They have vigilant law enforcement. Think how much worse it must be in our society. No phone call is so important that you can’t park to make it or take it. It will definitely be a lot less important if you are in a hospital bed. It will be forgotten if you are in a police cell because you killed someone while driving. The call will never be completed if you are dead. This might sound really callous, but I really don’t mind if you kill yourself, what I have a problem with is the other people you might hurt or kill in the process. Like your family in your car, the people in the other car, or the pedestrians. If you can kill yourself while leaving everyone else unhurt, please go ahead (especially, if you’ve taken a life insurance policy to provide for your family). Businessman driving in car and talking on cell phone.

I am being facetious, of course, but I hope my point is coming across as strongly as I can make it. Cell phone use while driving is extremely risky behaviour and we need to change that behaviour for everyone’s sake. I sometimes use my hands free kit while driving. I often talk to my wife while she is driving. I definitely need to stop. I would suggest that you do the same.  My wife, and kids (and my being whole and alive for them) are more important to me than the information I want to get or give. 


Bloody Flower Logo Courtesy of RoadPeace UK.

Driving Picture courtesy of Konstantin Sutyagin at flickr.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SMS Spam: Stopping The Flood Before It Happens

4039283970_79445cb98e_o Is it just me, or is there an increasing amount of unsolicited SMS messages hitting my phone? First were all the Access Bank messages. Then there are the Dana Air messages I have received over the past few days. It hasn’t become a really irritating issue yet, but email spam wasn’t either in the early days. Now it makes up 80% of all email traffic worldwide.

Email spam is evil for many reasons. Many times it offers illegal or questionable items or activities. Other times, spam could actually be a phishing attack, a trick that ends up with your computer infected with viruses, your financial information compromised or any number of evil things. At the very least, email spam takes up so much of your mailbox and it distracts you and wastes your time. It forces businesses to spend so much on tools that block spam from your email. Expensive email storage is taken up by these messages if the spam blockers are not efficient enough.

email spam has forced legitimate businesses who want to connect with customers or potential customers to jump through so many hoops to get email messages to people. So businesses have to get people’s permissions upfront before they can send them email messages (“opting in” is the preferred term), they need to provide a means for people who have already opted in to opt out. Many countries have laws against spam.

Before email spam, there was what I could call “voice spam”. Telemarketers are often the scourge of US households. Telemarketers call your home to try to convince you to buy stuff. Many times they are making legitimate offers. Other times they are tricksters. Once, while visiting the US three or four years ago the home I stayed in was deluged constantly with phone calls from telemarketers. Not an hour passed without the phone ringing with someone making another offer. The US has systems in place called “No Call” lists in various states and cities. You register to get on “No Call” lists and telemarketers are not allowed to call you. There are legal penalties if the telemarketers call numbers on the list.

Now I said all that to say this: as businesses begin to increasingly use SMS to advertise their products and events, these SMS messages could begin to take on the qualities of spam. As a matter of fact, unlike email spam, which is a problem for ISPs, telecoms service providers actually profit from the flood of messages (they bill the senders). So there is actually a disincentive for them to be part of any attempt to control SMS adverts. However, before it becomes a problem, regulatory bodies (Madam Dora and NCC) and telecoms companies need to set up rules and systems that give users control over whether or not they can be sent advertising text messages, or filter out what messages they can receive. Businesses to which we give our phone information should be explicit in how they intend to use that information before we give it to them. We probably need our own equivalent of no call lists.

Of course, I may just be raising a false alarm. SMS spam may never become a real issue here in Nigeria. More likely though, its only going to be delayed en route to hitting us. The cost of messages may keep this prohibitive for most businesses. On the other hand, the internet has provided mechanisms for making so many expensive things (both good and bad) cheaper to accomplish. Indeed some may not share my viewpoint and see these messages as a source of valuable information and products. Either way you see it, the ability to control your personal communications and decide what reaches you or not, can only be a good thing.

What do you think?


Photo courtesy of G-rated Birdman on Flickr.

I just installed Snap.com’s widget. It gives a live preview of the page that links point to. Let me know how you like it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Webify Your Trade 6: We Need Your Help.

uncle-sam The “Webify Your Trade” series hit a significant hitch when I came up against the problems of Nigerian internet connectivity. I had problems generating even the most basic sample site with SnapPages.com which uses Adobe Flash for its toolset, then had even bigger problems posting 66MB (eventually about 44MB) to a video sharing site. So the whole demo thing is on hold for a while till I figure out how to do it a lot less painfully than I did this time around.

Of course if someone in the UK, or US would like to take this up, help us set up a demo and send us the link to share here, we would really appreciate it. Any takers? In fact, let me make this an appeal to the community (OK don’t laugh): Can someone do a screen cast using SnapPages or Webs.com or other free web-based site builder to build a site that is based on the principles we discussed here and here. In the mean time, If you have created a business site yourself that looks pretty professional using free tools such as the ones I have listed or others I didn’t, let me know and we’ll do a consider it for showcase. However, it should be Nigeria focused or you should be resident in Nigeria for it to have that sense of authenticity.