Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Politicians in Churches

In (Catholic) High School, my Religious Studies teacher once told me the story of a Priest who had been called to the Royals’ Castle so that he might hear the Queen’s confession. When he got there, the Queen was seated, as opposed to the tradition which demanded that the Priest be seated and the Confessee standing. Unashamedly, the Priest reminded her of this fact; however, the Queen insisted that because of her station she was justified in sitting. To end this all the Priest calmly replied,

‘I am the Confessor, and you are the Sinner….so you will stand as tradition dictates!’

It seemed like a harsh teaching back then, but I understand its importance now. The notion of (Catholic) confession may not be something that everyone understands, but the act of submitting to someone whose authority dwarfs yours is a Cultural Universal. This is why the penchant of Kenyan politicians for commandeering all manner of religious services (especially Funerals) and converting them into ad hoc political rallies to discuss the politics of the day is an extremely embarrassing affair.

I remember about 8 years ago that my paternal Grandfather passed away, and so I accompanied my mother as she made arrangements for his burial at the village. At the town centre where we wanted to rent chairs, some fledgling politician insisted that he would ensure the chairs were rented to us at a cheaper price so long as we allowed him to address the funeral congregation. My mother flatly refused and got the chair at full price, no-strings-attached. Would you believe that idiotic politician still had the gumption to show up to address the congregants, dishonoring my Grandfather’s memory. 
On the one hand, as the village level, I can understand that funerals bring the community together, therefore they can serve as useful venues for the local administration to discuss issues of public welfare (sanitation, clinics, nutrition, etc.); BUT, it serves no purpose whatsoever to have the occasion turned into a fanfare, discussing issues totally unrelated to the moment at hand. As far as I’m concerned, the deceased person, and the bereaved (particularly closest family and friends) take centre stage.

Unfortunately, this misbehavior is not confined merely to the villages; it is spread far and wide, from villages to cities and from funerals to Sunday church services. As my sister puts it, at her church - which a prominent politician also happens to attend - the church leaders will invite him to the podium to ‘greet’ the congregation. So, in this case, the church is wholly complicit in having the politician appropriate the ceremony for the sake of the perceived prominence he imparts to the church.

Something is terribly wrong here, and the sooner the multitudes realize it, the quicker we can set about remedying the problem. A pastor/priest’s responsibility of guiding the flock is divine and distinctly recognized by society, and should not be encroached upon. In much the same way that a non-doctor cannot superimpose himself on a doctor’s diagnostic work, or a non-Engineer place himself over that Engineer’s professional dictates… or even a non-Mechanic bulldoze the work of a competent professional Mechanic, it is just as wrong to encroach on Pastoral work.

If we continue to let politicians run roughshod over religious ceremonies, we risk turning the Church into that debacle listed in James 2:1-13. When I sit in a congregation and a politician happens to be in attendance, there is no difference between Him/Her and me… end of story… it is BIBLICAL! Any contravention of that fact (clearly stated in the latter parts of the New Testament) is an outright sin.

And so my lesson from the ‘Queen and her Confessor’ has come full circle. The moral is TO KNOW YOUR PLACE, and to stick to what pertains to that station, regardless of who you are in this life.

God Bless.

Peace and Conflict Resolution

A friend from High School visited me a while back, and as we were ‘shooting the breeze’ he told me about his latest career move: going to the US to pursue a major in Peace and Conflict Resolution. This conversation would of course shift to the Kenyan context and how this particular skill is needed to settle the constant tensions and flare-ups that are common in certain areas of Kenya (the volatile North in particular). More so, after the display in diplomacy exhibited by some Northern Leaders during the verbal joust on NTV, it would seem that this is surely the way to go.

On that day, I was something of a ‘wet blanket’ to my friend’s ambitions. I’m not saying that I discouraged is pursuit of this much needed field of study; rather, it was his broad-stroke application of peace and conflict resolution to all that ails the troubled land that I had an issue with.

Let me explain: I’m pretty sure people are in need of healing, justice and reconciliation because clashes stretching a long way back and emotional or physical hurts visited upon them by their neighbours are a vivid reality to these people. However, approaching this from a peace and reconciliation mindset is to simply apply a salve over a festering wound. The background story to many of these regions is that they are grossly underdeveloped, far-flung and neglected. Public services are sorely lacking, and one’s safety is not guaranteed…and let’s not forget their economic isolation. Pair this up with the practice of Nomadic Pastoralism, and communities that have inculcated a tradition of Cattle Rustling (compounded by a proliferation of arms in the area from our insecure Northern neighbours (Somalia) and you come close to approximating the powder keg that this regions really are.

The real problem here is Economic, and also stems from a lack of safety. Economic isolation is reflected in the poor educational standards, retention of traditions that are probably no longer useful as is (Pastoralism), and failure to adapt to new market opportunities. Nomadic pastoralism, particularly cross-border en masse transport of animals is a particularly bad idea ; not only are the massive herds an encouragement for rustling in those lawless parts, but it also technically exposes the herds to diseases/parasites that may be prevalent in other areas, and strains the animals, probably lowering their economic value. In the interest of safety and economic sense, it would be more ideal to keep the animals confined to specific areas and, possibly, find some way of bringing the pastures to the flocks instead of taking the flocks to the pastures. With the environs of Turkana specifically in mind after the discovery of that vast ‘Underground Lake’, I think we could actually be able to rid ourselves of pastoralism, at least in the form we currently know it.

Like it or not, safety is something else those lands also bleed for. I’m sure historical injustices weigh heavy on their mind (as they do for a lot of people across the Country), but I’m also sure people would be willing to forgive these injustices if they were sure that they could be safe and wouldn’t end up reliving them. Safety not only calms the people of the land, but it also ensures would-be investors that any of the money they sink into the land won’t end up being wasted investments. In this day and age, 50 years after Independence, we owe all our citizens a modicum of safety before we even set our sights on loftier ideals.

And certainly, we owe them Infrastructure. If we can’t give them roads, water, electricity, etc. how then will investors be able to move into these lands? And without much needed investments, how will these people be able to embrace the many opportunities posed by education and different avenues of wealth creation…to shift away from animal husbandry and primary production and embrace the kind of tertiary services that will turn Kenya into a middle-income economy?

Hence, for me, the picture is clear; the poverty and isolation that long ravaged these lands is what needs to be relegated to our history in order to ensure long lasting peace and prosperity. Without that as an overarching goal, everything else will be relegated to the realm of mere Lip Service and platitudes. People wouldn’t have enough time for idle talk and fighting if they were actually making money and prospering…so let’s set about getting them into the business of making money.

My 2 cents for the day.
God Bless

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Terrorism in Kenya

So, ever since this WestGate incident, talk of terrorism has been rife in Kenya. At some point people were scared to go out congregating in the big malls, which they perceived were perfect targets for the denizens of depraved terrorists lurking about. My take on this whole thing is simple: I can’t really be afraid because anything is a perfect target right now.

Let me explain: as a result of the lax security, downtrodden and unmotivated police force, misplaced priorities and all that corruption that was allowed to fester for so long, I am no safer if I steer clear of busy malls, places of religion, etc. Someone could toss a grenade into a matatu as I’m making my way through the city or plan to bomb any number of innocuous seeming areas. There is just no way in this world to be that prepared if the basic systems and structures in place simply do not work. (“Nyumba Kumi” and all other initiatives included) 
But as my sister and I were having this terrorism conversation the other day, the goal posts for what constitutes a terrorist were actually shifted. Conservative estimate (or otherwise), the death toll from 4 days of violence at the WestGate Mall stands at 67 fatalities. Some of the death tolls from the Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) that have been making the news lately sometimes claim as many as 50 lives almost in one fell swoop. The undoubted superior killer, the assassin-with-the-most is definitely ROAD CARNAGE.

The biggest contributor to road carnage is the myriad of PSVs which ply our busy roads each and every day, each of them a law unto themselves. Perhaps, it could be that we’ve gotten so used to their bad behavior such that each time they undoubtedly go up in extreme blazes of glory no one invents any precious ‘Hash Tags’ in their memory, and members of the public are not called upon to donate blood. It’s pretty much just business as usual.

Or maybe it’s felt that Public Transport is just something that affects the masses, mostly those too poor and unfortunate to not be able to avoid their own decent means of transport. You should have heard the uproar when our transport minister tried to make it harder for any Tom, Dick & Harry to just get into the task of Public Transport service provision. Potential one-matatu-owners were livid as to how this man (who obviously no longer uses public transport) would attempt to step on their gravy train.

Fact of the matter is that we’re now probably at the point where the mass perennial neglect of public institutions and amenities has begun to affect both the Rich and the Poor. As the roads get busier, and many of our roads remain as narrow as ever, unmarked and poorly maintained, things can only get worse.

For the past 2 weeks, I’ve gone back to driving school to learn how to drive a “Stick-Shift” (manual transmission). Sure enough, it isn’t a piece of cake, but just a few minutes behind the wheel is enough to make you acutely aware of just how many hazards our roads contain. From the absent-minded pedestrian crossing the road willy-nilly, to the poorly maintained cars whose brake-lights don’t work, to the careless drivers ploughing through oblivious as to who has the right-of-way, and finally we have vehicles of all kinds, especially PSVs hogging your lane as they race towards you in a two-way traffic situation. But of all these hazards, the PSVs give me the most jitters; my foot practically hugs the brake pedal whenever these guys are about, ready-for-whatever.

It is not my intention to demean the pain of those people who’ve suffered through the many incidents of terrorism that have been perpetrated (seen or unseen), but perhaps to remind people that the biggest terror threat is closer at hand than we may believe. These vehicles are massive missiles which have turned out on many occasions to be Widow-makers, family killers and have riddled people with severely debilitating injuries. There isn’t enough compensation in this world that can make up for a fractured spine or broken bones or the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) faced by victims of road carnage as they relive these tragic events in their mind.

And since there is no cure, let’s make with the ardent prevention. It is not anybody’s God-given right to ferry people around en masse; that right has to be EARNED and maintained by not betraying the public who place their TRUST and very lives in your hands. Let’s go ahead and straight brand these careless drivers as the TERRORISTS that they actually are, and perform the very necessary SURGERY that it will take to have them shape up or ship out.

God Bless and have a great day!

Starting a Business in Kenya: The Hyacinth Lab

Life sure has been moving slow over the past few months. Took my Medical Board Exams at the end of September (which was a bust), now I have to wait till the end of April to take the next round of exams. In the meantime, I’m hoping to launch a business which has been something of a hobby/side-project of mine since right around 2006. Yep, this finds me delving into my second love: Environmental Science.

In my opinion, many opportunities abound for turning a profit from these common everyday annoyances that we typically complain about. Think Not? Just last month we were treated to a turf war fought by some thugs over the lucrative business that is ‘the trash debacle of Dandora’. As it is right now, Dandora is a massive environmental hazard, and could really use some government/private intervention to convert it into a useful model for garbage collection/sorting/recycling/energy co-generation…not the current mess that it is. The technology and expertise for this is readily available and Sweden is making quite a killing ‘mining’ their garbage stream.

That might end up being something that I end up looking into. To start with though, I want to deal with the Water Hyacinth menace that plagues our fresh water bodies. The fastest growing fresh water plant poses quite a difficulty in management if your only recourse is trying to manually clear it and poison it; my approach is to make its biomass as valuable as possible (through tapping into the weed’s many uses). With that incentive for harvesting appended to its reputation, I eventually hope to help establish a massive constructed wetland, which could be populated with the weed, and have it harvested at 10 week cycles.

The business – currently known as “The Hyacinth Lab” – aims to be more than just a hyacinth research venture; in addition, I’m hoping to track other environmental issues (i.e. Mesquite, affordable housing materials, etc.) and develop sustainable appropriate technology solutions to these problems. So, there you have the skin-and-bones of a concept that’s developed in the course of writing two papers on Phytoremediation.

What’s scaring me about all this is getting the funding to carry out this venture. Love the science bit…but just don’t know how to come up with the funding. A bunch of promising business incubators have been established lately that offer some hope, but I’d have to have a business for them to offer any help. Some initiatives like “The Uwezo Fund” also appear promising, but they can also only be used to promote a pre-existent business. I no longer have the pleasure of being in College, so I can’t have this covered under collaborative school research, so I have to approach this as a total independent researcher.
Take home point here is that I best get a business started…and start a business is what I’m trying to do. I’m going for a simple sole-proprietorship run out of my home, with the hope that I can collaborate with a lab to get my research done (already solicited the Kenya Industrial Research & Development Institute, KIRDI for just such a purpose). Also working on the Business Plan so that I’d have some semblance of a document that can spark an intelligent conversation with a potential investor.

All business registration in Kenya happens at the Attorney General’s office under the Registrar of Companies. The process I basically have to follow is to
  1. Run a name search to ensure that my desired business name isn’t already taken + sh. 100.
  2. Fill out a “Statement of Particulars” form detailing my info and submit it + sh. 900.
  3. Await a Certificate of Registration once all the stuff has been approved.
Simple enough, it would appear. I figured that the name I chose – The Hyacinth Lab – was pretty unique, so I only had them run a search for that one name (it costs sh. 100 per name submitted). In two days time, they let me know that they had successfully reserved the name for me to pursue further action for a period of one month.
Next up, I filled out the Statement of Particulars, but then I run into a roadblock: the Desk Clerk. In his ‘educated’ opinion, a business that included the word “LAB” MUST have some affiliation with MEDICINE or CHEMICALS; not only that, but according to this rationale, only a Lab Technician could own this type of a company, and thus I was summarily expected to submit my technician certificates.
All this bright recommendations come in the face of the existence of a BUSINESS INCUBATOR in Nairobi known as the NaiLab

Well, there is no arguing with ‘the boss’, so I’m basically stuck right now. I was hoping to pass by their offices on a different day on the off-chance that I might find a different more sensible desk clerk (probably a lady), but I’ve had no such luck. I only have two options here
  1. Change the proposed name of my business and run another name search in the hope that it’s not taken.
  2. Keep my desired name and just get a lawyer to blast through this process and wanton bureaucracy, and get me what I need.
I think I’ll be going with option 2 so I can just have some peace of mind. Thank you ‘Digital Government’ for making a simple process frightfully frustrating. I can only imagine how much discomfort your arbitrary rules contribute to people who are just trying to start a business, make an honest living and add something to our young economy. You guys really need to improve.
In the spirit of helping the Registrar of Companies catch up with the digital age (something which we are currently being beaten to the punch by RWANDA of all countries), here is a suggestion (or two)
  1. Totally digitize the name search process. There is no need to have a bunch of people sweating it out to line up in a stuffy hall to submit a piece of paper. Have the database of registered businesses online and allow people to cross-check their potential business names against that list FOR FREE!
    This would speed up the name search process by eliminating the 2 day wait time.
  2. You definitely need to improve your website to make it easy for prospective business people (most of whom are new to the procedures) to find the pre-requisite forms (along with examples of PROPERLY FILLED-OUT FORMS), conventions for naming business and other rules and regulations.
    Think about it this way: A headache saved in having matters elucidated to the public, is a headache saved in having to peruse through incorrectly filled forms and submissions.
Well, once I get this disgust outta my mouth from this last experience, I’m off to find myself a lawyer. Wish me luck!

Have a great day.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Appropriate Technology: What Kenya Really Needs!

I had the opportunity to attend BarCamp 2013, which was jointly held at NaiLab and the iHub sometimes late this past August. From previous internet searches of those two venues, I knew that they mostly dealt with ICT ventures, so I was a bit apprehensive initially about attending because I figured it would mainly centre on geek-speak for computer folk. However, they stated that the theme for the event would be Kenya’s 50 years thus far, and what we could expect from the next 50…so I figured the topics would be more inclusive.

Showed up to the venue, and I was impressed. It had one of those great open-layouts (that lately apparently seem to be the target of disparagers worldwide), and a diverse crowd in attendance – the majority being techies, of course. Admittedly, I did manage to find the one other Biology major in there (apart from me), and a Sociologist, which didn’t leave me feeling totally left out. But the majority of the event was techie-oriented: Apps, Google Glass, Cloud Computing, Developer Languages, Blogging…

Yeah, yeah, I get that all this stuff is important; but I can’t help but feel that Kenya as a whole is missing the boat here. Seems like ever since Mobile money transfers blew up, everybody’s being trying to replicate MPesa’s success. Mpesa really only worked because, like other people noticed, our banking system was pretty crappy to start with and was not widespread enough to accommodate the needs of the common mwananchi. To see everyone running into Apps assumes a few things that just aren’t part of the mix here: 1) Smart Phone penetration can’t possibly be more than 15% out here (mulika-mwizi is the order of the day; 2) How many people do you know around here who actually buy Apps? The willingness - and market for that matter - is pretty overestimated!

That in a nutshell, is what I feel ails this country’s current outlook on things. Sure, everyone wants to have First World aspirations, but it’s hard to tie that to the reality that we currently find ourselves in.

  1. We want free maternity and obstetric care for our fledgling mothers, but don’t bother to get rid of polygamy or reduce the markedly high average birth rate (5 kids per family). We don’t even add to the the number of professionals or health facilities, stretched as they already are, that are meant to deal with the sudden influx of new patients
  2. We want to give our children laptops to aid with their learning, without appreciating that a lot of children are actually learning in schools that have no walls to speak of (in extreme cases, under trees).
  3. We award our Members of Parliament First World salaries in a country with a meager Third World GDP, whilst refusing to effect pay rises for essential staff like Doctors, Nurses, Police, Teachers, Pilots, Firemen, etc.
I can’t think of a time when we needed to focus more on Appropriate Technology than at this current juncture. As I stood there amongst the iHub attendees, I couldn’t help but think that two of Kenya’s biggest problems were a mere kilometers from where we were sited: KIBERA (a slum of high regard with poverty tourism buffs) and the Nairobi River (& Dam), a vastly polluted water catchment, which was initially meant to provide a water solution for Nairobians. Like it or not, issues of pollution and public health are ubiquitous and not things we can escape: sure, I can hide myself from the computer revolution as much as I choose to, but there’s no place I can run to escape the ravages of what someone else inadvertently puts out into our common environment, whether I end up inhaling, drinking or encountering it in some other way. For me, that’s where we need to invest most of our efforts.

And it’s not like there isn’t profit in any of these ventures either. I’m reminded of the example of Sweden, which, being so efficient at recycling its trash and burning up remnants for energy co-generation, has now run out of trash and has to ship some in from a neighbouring country. Germany, a country smaller than my own, which makes use of so much solar energy to offset its other energy sources (wintry weather not withstanding), yet, Kenya, bathed in most of its areas by a scorching sun has barely gotten off the ground with solar energy. This very same Kenya that is contemplating a future with Nuclear Energy when it has barely even exploited its vast Geothermal capabilities.

I was happy to see some attempts at Appropriate Tech in terms of a ‘Seawater Greenhouse’ type project, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which should have been bigger in Kenya than it currently is. Last, but not least, as a bit of a last minute entry I intended to give a talk on my ‘Hyacinth Economy’ hypothesis, but time run out on that one. In any case, I feel that in the next few days I’ll be getting the chance to present it to an academic board of sorts so that I might get some form of R&D assistance. I don’t know what’s in store, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Hope all things go well.
God Bless

I'm Back

Well, a lot has happened in the long while that I’ve resisted the urge to update this blog. Got done with my pre-internship at Kenyatta National Hospital (still have to get down there to do some more learning, though), studied a helluva lot for the exam which followed soon after; took the exam, which was an ass-kicking like no other (which could always have gone worse), and now I have to wait 2-4 weeks before I know definitively whether I’ve passed. Woe is me!

Oh, and the weekend before I was to take my exam, this whole Westgate Mall terror incident happened, and in the 8 days that have since passed most people down here in Nairobi are acutely aware of how unsafe things really are. I don’t really know anyone who was ended up being trapped in the mall, but that’s not to say that I can’t empathize with all those who have been personally touched by this latest bit of terrorism. Sad state of affairs indeed!

I’m currently facing a lot of downtime as I await my results..and I’m honestly glad for the opportunity to rest up; however, it’s more like just a rest from the tyranny of things medical, and a chance for me to embark on some side projects. Of utmost importance is the Hyacinth Economy R&D that I’m planning to initiate, phase 1 of which would see me trying to make cardboard and Kraft Paper from the dreaded weed. The notion sounds good in my head and on paper…but practically speaking, I might be a bit out of my league when it comes to the actual hands-on part of ‘paper’ production; which is why I’m trying to get in touch with the folks down at the Kenya Industrial Research & Development Institute (KIRDI) so that they can help me with a bit of the heavy lifting. I just hope they don’t charge me an arm-and-a-leg in the process.
Also hoping to spend some time at the Kenyatta National Hospital so that my brain doesn’t turn to mush in the short break before I get posted to some hospital out here in Kenya. Hoping to get to see more of the hospital this time around, and maybe work on some proposals for some small measures that could be made to help with increasing efficiency around the place.

Anyhow, I hope I can make the most of this time, and keep my procrastination down to a minimum. God help me! 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

MAN OF STEEL: Superman for a New Generation

I got to see the ‘Man of Steel’ during the Friday afternoon showing of its Premiere. A previous attempt to attend the special opening last week with my twin bro and his wifey didn’t work out because tickets were sold out way in advance.

Anyway, I braved the bad reviews (truth be told, critics don’t usually favourably review B-movies) to watch this new version of Supes; I definitely did heed the warning about how post-processing washed out the colours in this movie in the 3D version, and decided to watch it in traditional 2D.

[Disclaimer: Two super-hero movies that I actually enjoyed (but got panned by critics) will inevitably end up being part of this conversation: Ang Lee’s HULK and Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS. It was to be expected once we ended up in reboot land] 

The film gets off to a good start with an expansion of the world of Krypton. Like one critic had mentioned, a whole other movie could have been based entirely off the visuals presented in the first 20 minutes. I certainly enjoyed the new take on Jor-El.

After that, we dive into the ‘second movie’, with its quite jarring non-linear narrative. Don’t get me wrong, non-linear narratives can be pulled off well. ‘Batman Begins’ (my best movie in that trilogy) did a great job with a non-linear narrative, but that movie was presented as an Origins story. Why it failed in this case is because we have Zack Synder and Co. trying to give us this new version of Superman without giving us a detailed history (…because that’s what causes Origins stories to drag out so long); hence, in essence, we are supposed to believe that this is a totally new take on Superman, but where the production and script fail to give us any guidance and direction we are supposed to recollect upon Superman-lore and fill in the gaps.

This new take on Superman makes him look particularly weak, and nothing exemplifies this more than the ‘Jonathan Kent incident’. By trying to make Pre-Superman Clark more restrained in the use of his powers, they insert one of the most half-hearted attempts at a noble gesture by Jonathan Kent – death by tornado (the traditional heart-attack wasn’t good enough anymore, huh!). Not only was Daddy dearest the wrong person to be risking his life needlessly in that situation (God Complex!), the object of his sacrifice is no less than the family pooch. Don’t get me wrong, I love when animals survive. Why, I just remember that part in INDEPENDENCE DAY when the alien ship is annihilating a bunch of humans on the highway, and Vivica Fox (with child in tow) finds some form of shelter in a tunnel, and their lovely dog races against all odds to find shelter in the same tunnel. Sure it sucks, but seeing animals (dogs in particular) survive is uplifting. Not so much in this movie; by trying to distance Clark from his SMALLVILLE interpretation or anything else currently out there, we are treated to the weakest most impotent version of Superman ever portrayed onscreen. Before Superman could FLY, before he could even LEAP over those tall buildings, he could at least RUN… and RUN VERY FAST he could! Unless running fast seems like a stupid power to show off in this Pre-Justice League Universe that they’re setting up (which includes a hero, THE FLASH, known for just that), there was no reason for that whole scene; it diminished the movie with all its talk of a Superman Unbound with regards to showcasing his powers. All they succeeded in doing here was flipping our notion of Clark’s two fathers: Jor-El is a true warrior in this one, and Jonathan Kent is the troubled overbearing father who gives Clark one heck of an outsider’s complex.

Next up, Lois Lane! Ben, a good friend of mine, reminded me that this is possibly a less stuck up version of Lois who won’t fawn over Superman while mistreating Clark as was the case in the days of old. But nothing in this whole production convinced me that she was a Pulitzer Prize winner. Bryan Singer and Kate Bosworth’s version of Lois may not have been liked, but now, even 7 years after watching it, I can still remember why she was a Pulitzer Prize winner: ‘The World without Superman/Why the world doesn’t need Superman’ story, which was key to the events of SUPERMAN RETURNS. What do Snyder/Nolan/Goyer put out there that makes me believe that this Lois is a laureate besides what she claims? Nothing at all!

The dearth of characterization with regards to Lois seeps into the supposed Superman-Lois chemistry. Let me clarify that there isn’t actually an ADULT Clark Kent in this movie. We get a view of baby Clark through to Teenage Clark, then we skip on over to the ‘drifter/hobo’ characterization in which he uses falsified identities. The only time we kind of get a glimpse of ADULT Clark is when he is with Martha Kent, his adopted Mum. So, going back to the Superman-Lois story, in this movie, Lois only interacts with Superman. She knows nothing about his earthly background, she only knows of his godhood. Hence, by trying to get rid of the Superman-Lois-Clark love triangle, they’ve actually only left us with the Superman fan girl (groupie) version of Lois. I challenge anyone to show me how she can possibly connect with the angst that Superman feels about the great big No No that he commits in this movie. Heck, I can’t even see why she kissed him (unless we're talking about ‘Groupie’ Lois).

Alright, enough Lois-bashing! Back to Supes! Bryan Singer gets a bum rap for SUPERMAN RETURNS (yeah, yeah! Kryptonite and no super baddies to fight it out with), but he showed us something that Superman is really good at doing: Saving people, and saving them in really spectacular ways (from a plummeting plane, from a sunken ship, from falling glass, from the Daily Planet’s Globe, from an explosive gas leak, from Lex’s expanding Island, from gun-toting thugs, etc.). This time around things couldn’t work out this way because of the scope of the movie and its penchant for destruction, but it is certainly insulting to have Superman save a terminal-velocity Lois for the second time and then indulge in kissy-face as if he just won an Oscar. OK, I get that we can’t return to the silliness of having Supes reverse the earth’s rotation or ‘pound on the walls of reality’ to reverse the carnage, but please, don’t try to give saving hapless Lois a gravitas that it does not deserve…unless you’re trying to tell us that the more realistic-darker version of Superman is a sadist. New Supes can’t even save his Mum properly: notice that when he begins to put a pounding to Zod for threatening his Mum, he’s already miles away, but has left his mother in the clutches of 2-equally-murderous super baddies. Luckily for us, the story played out like bad A.I. from a computer game and all the baddies chased after Supes without frying his Mum for her impudence. 
Oh the scope of this movie! It got too big for even them to handle. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Richard Donner must have known that, and thus wisely chose to split this whole Origin-Zod Saga into two complete movies. Even the idea of ‘adding a super baddy to pound the heck out of’ doesn’t necessarily save your movie. Case in point: Ang Lee’s HULK vs the reboot INCREDIBLE HULK. One scene in particular takes the cake – THE DOGFIGHT. The intensity Ang Lee put into that one scene made it a truly visceral experience. That mere dogfight trumped the big (?) Hulk Vs Abomination showdown in the reboot by a mile. Goes to show that you can often do More with Less. I’m not averse to enjoying a good punch-up onscreen (actually been craving a good one for some time), but this movie left me craving the levity and heroics of SUPERMAN RETURNS.

Last gripe, that’s one heck of a bland super suit? Sure, new Superman, no undies on the outside, Darker Supes for the new generation … Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Okay, I get the Siegel/Shuster court-ruling kinda put a lock on the old design. (DC, just pay up and help redeem the back-story to this whole Superman creation affair). Back to the movie then – I get that the suit is Kryptonian-ish, but why is it Red and Blue? There is no basis for those colours this time around. This time, because there isn’t an Adult Clark-Superman dichotomy, Superman merely wears the suit because Daddy gave it to him (maybe this was a way to explain why the suit is as durable as Supes is without that projecting a ‘protective aura’ explanation). The whole “Mother sewing up the suit/Baby Blanket as Cape/Concealing Identity” angle works far much better.

Superman for the new generation certainly left me feeling a bit marooned. This is not the Superman I know (felt more like Superman from Earth-Two). Actually, no one could really know this Superman because he just isn’t fleshed out. Heck, some producer could just have likely substituted Will Smith’s HANCOCK character for Supes in this movie and we would have had a great HANCOCK 2: BATTLE OF THE GODS. 
I recommend that you go watch this movie for the spectacle it is, then go back and watch SUPERMAN RETURNS and appreciate just how much Bryan Singer got right (…and apologize to him if you were mean to him

God Bless.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Crate Searching!

It’s amazing what we tend to take for granted in our daily lives. I’m currently in the process of cataloguing about 450+ of my Dad’s old LPs. My Dad used to be such an audiophile, and was probably one of those people who waited out at record stores to grab the newest releases (I think that culture is struggling in this day and age…thanks to Itunes & P2P sharing).

My Mum tells me he had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant, and the music was probably meant to set the right ambience. Judging from the eclectic range of musicians – Coltrane, Steely Dan, Franco, George Benson, Santana, etc – I figure the restaurant was probably meant to host different genres of tastes on successive nights.
I probably share that shame dream he had; but if I were to do it, I’d opt for a Jazz club. 

I remember my Dad playing these LPs mostly in the 80s and the early 90s. Maybe it was that LPs went out of vogue (only to gain more prominence in our current day and age). I remember that he loved playing his Lingala records, which I didn’t really fancy much back in the days. I do wish he had played me more of his jazz records though.

A lot of the stuff that musicians have sampled to make great beats (in the past and even today) came from Jazz records (actually, some of my favourite beats are sampled straight from some of the very LPs I have sitting right next to me). It makes me feel kinda silly to be sitting on this treasure-trove and to have neglected it for so long. Anyway, to make up for lost time, apart from merely cataloguing the LPs, I’d love to have a chance to air them out and give them a whirl…but I figure the old stylus on the record player is probably not working properly (wouldn’t wanna scratch these records ‘cause some are practically collectibles).

Things being as they are currently, I guess I’ll just have to stick to cataloguing (something that would have been easier if I had a working internet connection at home, but hey… old school works just as well; I think I get to appreciate the whole experience this way.

I better start making a Christmas list early just to test the waters and see if my Elder Bro wouldn’t mind rustling me up the parts that I need to get the old LP player working again (…and hopefully get them shipped in time). I never understood my Dad’s passion for the music back then, but I guess I’m kind of ‘turning into my Dad’ as I grow older. I’m sure he would have been proud to see that.

Well, less procrastinating, more working. I’ll probably append that ‘eclectic list’ up here once I’m done.

Have a great day and God Bless.

The Innovators

Really should have typed this up a while ago, but anyway…bygones!

I had two important things to do in Nairobi this past Monday, but since I wasn't getting in early, I figured I’d arrive in the city about noon, which would allow me to spend my time roaming through the Innovation & Enterprise Expo down at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), while I waited for people to get back from their lunch break at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

Didn’t know what to expect with regards to entrance fees… with me not trying to incur any unnecessary expenses (Thank God it was free!). The stands were arranged in two rings for the sake of convenience (one peripheral and the other central. I started out on the periphery and was quickly impressed by the wide array of projects on display. I’m glad there weren’t too many phone apps on display (…which seems to have gained a ridiculous amount of attention since the advent of M-Pesa), and the science was for the needs of the common mwananchi.

First and foremost, I got to meet Michael Otieno, the guy who is making a name for himself producing gift bags, envelopes and other products using water hyacinth. Fresh off his win at the Enablis Business Plan Competition, I actually got to see the quality of the product that is part of the gist around ‘the Hyacinth Economy’. So just like KICK (Kisumu Innovation Centre Kisumu) and the Carnivore Gardens did in 2006, he showed me that we really are sitting on something valuable with all this free hyacinth.

There were also other people there displaying Hyacinth furniture (which I’ve already seen before). What was particularly new about this project was the cushion covers, which were made of tanned fish skin. I’ll admit, the locally tanned product wasn’t too appealing, but the skins that were tanned with help from KIRDI (Kenya Industrial Research & Development Institute) are certainly something I wouldn’t mind having in my home.

Science Congress Groups (which are specifically High School Presentations) also showed much promise. They had displays of
  1. Extraction of Lemon Grass essence for use as a tea, insecticide, etc.
  2. Producing Potassium Alum from waste soda cans (at a cheaper price than is available in the market)
  3. A Natural UV + filter system for treating Grey water.
  4. Production of Biofuel from ‘Arbor vitae’

Other notable displays were:
  1. the HIV-EQAS Statistical software fronted by Ireri Mugambi; this was a Master’s project which now doubles as a PhD project and aims to give people a more informed choice when it comes to HIV testing and self-testing (which is soon to become a reality in Kenya)
  2. Tami Dye, the natural dye produced from the pungent ubiquitous weed Mexican Marigold. The dyed product on hand looked very beautiful and since I love all things ‘camel’ coloured, I’m partial to the colour of dye produced when Potassium Dichromate is used as a fixative agent.
  3. Nile Perch Fish Oil, made from waste fish viscera. It was scent free (thank goodness!) and apparently is just as good as the Cod Liver Oil that we currently have to import at a great cost; and it will also probably be a cheaper alternative to other Omega-3-fatty acid supplements currently in the market.
  4. Hydroponics: well they are currently only displaying their hydroponically grown barley…but 8-day old Barley sure did look promising. This group of individuals is growing the product without any visible substrate (fairly uncommon), and I’m not sure whether this will work against them, but I wish them all the best. It did look promising.
  5. Solar Tracker; it is quite the wonder that Kenya doesn’t utilize more solar power than it currently does, but perhaps that will change some day. At large production levels, this project perfectly goes hand-in-hand with a solar farm, imitating the behavior of a sunflower to maximize exposure of the solar cells to incident light.
  6. Briquettes – a group of students from a technical college were on hand to display their briquettes, which apparently burned cleaner and longer than typical charcoal. The briquettes were made from waste material (charcoal scraps, wood shavings, saw dust, leaf matter) and bound with soil and water. I wish they had shown up with actual Calorimetry data comparing the briquettes to ordinary charcoal, because currently most briquettes tend to release less energy when they burn….meaning they might only be worthwhile to mid-income (and above) level citizens who don’t fully rely on charcoal; NOT, the poor masses who really could do with either an equivalent or BETTER alternative to wood fuel
  7. Multi-use chair: the set up for this product was really simple, being built of wood and waste metallic water piping. Its default mode was a typical chair, but by simply pulling down on its back rest, it folded over into what could be used as a mini-ladder (2 steps), or a combo desk-seat for a small child…or it could even double up as a shoe-shiner’s work-stage.

It felt good to see stuff that actually addresses the need in this country. I have been ‘stewing’ ever since our current President made that decision about giving Standard One children laptops. I feel like Kenyans are hoping for a ‘magic bullet’ for our problems to arise from some child prodigies making apps that’ll sell for millions. Could it happen…sure! Is it likely to happen….NO!

Our true strength lies in innovation and the enterprising spirit of a people who maintain hope for a better future, both for themselves and this country as a whole. A re-imagining of our priorities and adequate funding for the projects I saw on hand (which are just an iota of the creativity being mustered in this country) will see us emulate our peers in China, India, Singapore and South Korea….in a Kenyan Style of course. Thus, I remain hopeful that the people whose job it is to steer policy and spending will remember which country they actually live in, and do right by their people.

God Bless

Monday, March 11, 2013


I dunno whether this is a true instance of OCD or my procrastination merely disguising itself as something new. Perhaps, I just need to be positive and think of this as the inspiration that I've been expecting for such a long time. This post is of course a redux to my previous post about all things Water Hyacinth.

I guess it might be the hopelessness I see in that situation. I didn't mention it last time around, but I remember that trying to conduct independent research was really tedious, which is what you'd probably expect it to be; but, one particular low point was hearing people dismiss my ideas without even seriously considering them.

I got the same exact kind of vibe from the scientist, Dr. William Ojwang', who around the 3:43 mark of the video discourages using water hyacinth for economic ends. I actually did a background check on him and fish (management) is his 'bread and butter', so of course he understands things from a fish economics point of view, and that's fine...BUT that doesn't mean that it's the only right way to achieve the desired goal.
I believe that a lot of the opposition I felt when I was doing my research was from people who were of a similar mind as the scientist, which in retrospect is understandable because it would be useless to sink an already established industry (fishing) for a fledgling field (phytoremediation).

Anyway, that was 6 years ago; but a recent YouTube search saddened me because it brings up stuff like this: Lake Victoria & Water Hyacinth.
6 years down the road, I can't believe we're still stuck in the same mess! There's money to be made off this weed and it's totally a win-win situation. Going through my notes, and from web searches, I can see that there's more people invested in small start-ups that are affiliated to this little venture and who could scale it up to something meaningful in a hurry:

  1. The Artisans wish to operate with bulkier volumes of the weed;
  2. I learnt of Green World Technologies, a Kenyan company, which produces green charcoal (a solution to sustainable energy needs in a developing economy )
  3. Medium & High Density Fiberboard can very well be made from this weed. If that isn't a boon to the construction industry, then I don't know what is.
  4. Specialty crafts paper manufacture
* I'm still not sure about water hyacinth with regards to the perfume industry. I found a site speaking about fragrances that have 'notes' of water hyacinth, but I'm inclined to think that it may merely be 'industry-speak', and not really an actual ingredient. (would be worth a try to distill the living daylights out of that massive bloom)

All in all, if we were able to take that massive amount of biomass and readily convert it into rope, fiberboard and green charcoal, it would be a win-win for everybody and every industry involved.

Good thing about the way my mind works is that I START WITH NEGATIVES FIRST. So when, for instance, Dr. Ojwang' mentions that harvesting and working the weed would cause it to be spread to other areas, I can see his reasoning. BUT the solution is simple: from watching the video is seems like the portions of the lake shore affected by the weed are for the most part desolate because of the weed's adverse effects. Therefore, why not just build a factory/processing plant right there close to the affected shore. That way, the weed doesn't get tracked to any pristine waters because any adherent seeds can merely be washed off and remain within the affected waters.

Drying, splitting, and collection can also be done rapidly at the processing factory, to yield 4 useful components: Leaves, Stems, Flowers & Roots. These can then be distributed to the relevant parties dealing with them

  1. Stems (Artisans, Green Charcoal producers, Fiberboard plant)
  2. Leaves (Research lab)
  3. Flowers (Essential oils extractor)
  4. Roots (Research lab)
Then of course, at the end of the line, we can't forget that the weed makes quite a good soil amendment...so long as it hasn't hyper-accumulated any heavy metals.

So, that's what's on my mind. In closing, I'm reminded of something a Kenyan friend of mine mentioned a while back. He was talking about Kenya's lack of vision and how we needed someone to show us the way, even with regards to implementing projects. He basically said that even if we were given 1 million Shillings (USD 12,500) for a project, we wouldn't know what to do with it.

And of course, this was the first thing that sprung into my mind. I'm not business-savvy, but at least I'd spread this between the parties that have the ability to scale it up. So once I get home, the hit-list will look something like this

  1. Kisumu Innovation Centre Kenya (KICK)
  2. Green Water Technologies
  3. Great Lakes University, Kisumu (GLUK)
  4. Jani
*Gonna need to find a Fiberboard and Craft paper manufacturer.

Let the work begin.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Transition and an idea reborn

It is indeed a time of great transition for me. Just graduated from med school this past January, and in three weeks time I'll be headed home to make something useful of myself (finally!) Transition isn't something that I tend to deal well with, but at least I've had this period of downtime to just sort myself out...and not beat myself for my current bit of procrastination

I'm just trying to hold myself to small steps in terms of positive things I can at least achieve before I have to leave; and in this regard I'm allowing myself to wander a tad. Don't get me wrong, medicine is my forte; but there's nothing wrong with having something else on the side that I feel I can do just as well, and achieve some social good in the process (more likely pro bono).

I recently re-read my independent research paper on Water Hyacinth that I wrote quite a while back (finished it in 2006), and ended up surprised that it inspired me to look into those "fledgling" ideas afresh. As a piece of independent research, it felt wasted at the time because I couldn't even get it published back then, but thanks to Academia.edu I have it online and from the site analytics I can tell that it has received quite a few views.

I think what actually makes the paper more relevant at this particular juncture is the fact that the water hyacinth problem never really went away. The embedded video is proof of the extent this natural threat poses for common folk who have to derive their livelihood from Lake Victoria (Kenyan side).

It saddens me that 7 years down the line, people can't really find a decent way to deal with the weed; but I think I'm more surprised that people can't see all the money that can come from exploiting this beautiful resource (...and let it be known that I am probably the least business-inclined individual you'll ever encounter!).

Guess if no one else is pursuing this, I might as well do it myself. The research from the paper is sound, it just needs more players to push it through. Basically going to need to involve a university (Great Lakes University), the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Kisumu Innovation Centre, Kenya (KICK) and to get grant money to start the work.

Knowing what to do is one thing; the logistics is quite the other...and all this while I'll be trying to study for my medical board exams and sort other things out. God willing, things work out. This weed will still be around for some time to come, so maybe it's about time we made bigger moves.

God Bless