Friday, January 29, 2010

Made in China

I was recently in a "big box store" in Georgia with a Georgian and an Azeri. They were scrutinizing every product and when they saw "made in china" they would wrinkle their noses and put the product back.

In many developing countries there are Chinese products that are straight from china and made to Chinese standards (or more accurately, made to the standards of the optimal price [ie cheap price and cheap quality]) whereas in the USA products are made by America companies to western standards but in China (hence they are better quality). I tried to explain this but the stigma was apparently too ingrained. Oh well.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


In working in various developing countries one of the most difficult parts has been the mediocre Internet access (hey, we all have our "must haves"). Bandwidth is a precious and often expensive commodity in the countries (a megabit connection in Kenya when i was there in 2006 was $500+/month). With these restrictions access to what the west would consider a bandwidth simple site such as Wikipedia is difficult at best. Another thing i have noticed is the lack of written material in native languages, i was noticing at Nangahar university in Jalalabad Afghanistan they have practically no written material and they are getting donations of *English* material (not particularly useful for the majority of the staff and students i am sure). Well Wikipedia is growing and while the entries in languages other than English are minuscule they are there, and something like Farsi (which is widely spoken in Afghanistan) has a few thousand articles (its a start).

The above thoughts lead me to a very very very nifty but simple peice of software, Okawix. It is a program that has an extraordinarily simple interface and "lets you download the whole content of Wikipedia, with or without images, so that you can browse it offline: Okawix is available in 253 languages and includes sister projects of the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikisource, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks). Okawix is a free software available under GPL licence; sources are available on the SourceForge project. It's featuring the search engine , developed by Linterweb."

A program like this and an old computer could really go a long way towards helping mitigate some of the disadvantages of low bandwidth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The maturing of Linux… applications.

For years, since I installed (very very painfully) Slackware Linux v2.1 in 1995 I have heard about how Linux is “ready for the masses”, at the time it was totally untrue and now… well it is as ready as windows but… 

To sidetrack for a bit, I was recently ogling over a nice bit of freeware and gave a copy to my colleague who equally appreciated the usefulness of the software and my comment to him was it is nice to have someone around that appreciates a good piece of software (if we were more geek-inclined we would have been ogling over the code) and his response was “most people just use a computer as a glorified typewriter” which is not far from the truth. That is most people still don’t understand computers very well… it seems that nowadays if you can use facebook and an iPhone you are considered a computer savvy person but most of those people would have mental meltdowns if they were asked to do a fresh install of windows or Mac OS X not to mention Linux. I would argue that now Linux’s main weakness is not its usability but more the weakness of its application base. Now mind you, there are some damn good/rock solid Linux software out there but it is not accessible to the masses as there is still a lot of Linux software that requires a healthy dose of comandline kungfu to use (care to even imagine how to edit a video using a command prompt driven piece of software?). I have argued many times that that most people just need a browser, an office suite, and solitaire and they are set… Linux can totally do those things, but I digress.

But now, it seems that Linux applications are coming of age. I was recently looking for a good alternative to Adobe Premiere and found the Wikipedia video editing software comparison page and noticed, most of the free editing packages out there are… Linux only?! I went to many of these sites and without having used the software I can truthfully say these are very capable pieces of software, worlds away from MS Movie Maker for sure. I was floored that there were only 1 or 2 freeware windows video editing programs compared to the 8-10 programs for Linux. This is not a bad thing, as I think I have mentioned in a previous post, my primary reason for using windows is the availability of applications out there, but I am happy to report that gap appears to be narrowing.