Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

Tech Tip: Reducing pain while moving from Yahoo to Gmail

Its official that Yahoo has been hacked, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/technology/yahoo-hack.html?_r=0, and it is time to make that change from Yahoo to another email address. For a free service, looks like Gmail is the best there is at this time.

My quick guide to reducing the migration pain is as follows:

Step 1: Start adding your Gmail to all correspondences and signatures, plus start giving it out instead of yahoo

Step 2: Setup your Gmail to start receiving email from your yahoo address see How to Access Yahoo! Mail in Gmail

Step 3: Respond to all your correspondences via Gmail

While the cut over is immediate, to get your correspondents will take some time to finally start using the new address, probably 3 to 6 months, so be patient

Alternate Approach to Legal Independent Election Tallying

The Uganda elections are more or less over with less than 6 hours for the Uganda Electoral Commission (EC) to announce the results for the presidential elections.

Given all the time on our hands, with no social media, the team at Styx Technology Group designed the following alternative approach to independent electoral vote tallying for future elections that provides inbuilt mechanisms for audit and verification of results.

The primary data sources for the process are:

  1. Official EC list of polling stations and voters per polling station
  2. Photos of the signed election tally sheets from each polling station. To ensure that the photos are not tampered with and provide an audit trail:
    • Each photograph has to be taken with information on the camera, the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken, date and time when the photo was taken which is available in many cameras that share it using the Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF)
    • Two separate photos of the tally sheets have to be taken by different cameras
    • The cameras taking equipment may be registered beforehand to provide validation of the source of the information
    • The signatures of the returning officers and stamp must be clear and visible in the photo

The architecture for the technology solution is as follows:

  1. Web based solution accessible via any browser. Due to poor Internet connectivity in many areas of the country, an Android app would be provided to assist in data collection, then data sent once the user gets into an area with Internet.
  2. The field officers who capture the photos would also be provided with an option of entering the candidate vote tallies.
  3. In the tallying center, candidate vote tallies are entered from the photos received and vote tallies entered by data clerks. In order to reduce errors the following approach would be used:
    • The clerks are randomly assigned photos as they come in
    • The tally for a station must be entered correctly by two separate data entry clerks, then approved by a supervisor. This process is formally called the two-pass verification method or double data entry.
  4. All correctly entered data is shared with the rest of the world for download and analysis.

This system is mission-critical having to be available for the entire vote counting period of 48 hours,  so the architecture includes the following paths for data collection:

  1.  Multiple access IP addresses and domains for the website in case some are blocked off
  2. Any data collected via the Android app can be sent via email to a dedicated tallying center address. To ensure that only data from the app is received and not changed in transit, encryption is used.

The inspiration came from a quote by Ghandi “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, disproving the myth that there is no local capability to design and implement such solutions and most of all that such solutions have to be complex.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions…

Alternate Approach to MTN SIM Card Registration Process & Web Tool 

MTN Uganda has finally put together an application to support the online registration of simcards. However the process as outlined in the Dignited article (http://www.dignited.com/15503/you-can-now-register-your-mtn-uganda-sim-card-online-heres-how/) requires a user to download a registration form, upload it then wait until MTN staff can get back on the registration status.
This blog post provides an alternate design and approach for an online sim-card registration tool, thanks to the team at Styx Technology Group for putting the design and mockups for the alternate solution.
The principles of the system design are as follows:
  1. A user can register more than one sim-card under their own names only after completing their profile information, which cannot be changed later (for audibility)
  2. A user can return and check their registration information later
  3. MTN staff can respond to a registration pointing out any missing or inaccurate information
  4. The user can be notified by SMS and/or email of the status of their registration, and can also login to check the status
  5. The registrations can also be downloaded and added to MTN systems (as may be required)
  6. For identification, two documents have to be provided to confirm, and because the numbers are entered, it is easy for MTN staff to verify
The mockups below tell the story of how an alternate process looks like  licensed under the Creative Commons 3
Login Screen

Login Screen

Signup Screen

Signup Screen

Dashboard

Dashboard

My Profile

My Profile

Register Number

Register Number

UPDATE – November 19, 2015: Looks like MTN updated the sim card registration process to an online form at https://www.mtnbusiness.co.ug/mtnreg/ in response to this post

Alternate Approach to Voice Price Wars in Telecom Industry in Uganda

My colleagues at Styx Technology Group are looking at alternate approaches to telecos in Uganda to increase their ARPU (Average Revenue Per Unit) a metric for revenue from each customer, instead of the current price war tagged to 3/= per second (US$ 0.1 per minute).

  1. Accept that voice is now commodity, being pushed further out by VOIP for both regular users and business, due to the improving Internet connectivity both via fixed and mobile connections. There is no longer a competitive edge to having cheaper voice, the revenues are fixed and can only go lower
  2. Bundled services: Currently there are separate plans for voice, SMS and data, which have to be purchased daily or when needed. The monthly plans have a premium attached, so without looking at the numbers I suspect that a majority of the regular users purchase daily plans as and when is needed. The telecoms can create bundled plans (already existing for voice) to include SMS and data without the hefty premium. Additional incentives can be provided for further discounts when a user pays consistently for a plan for 6 months, without any breaks.
  3. Smartphone Device and Service Contracts: While these are being gotten rid of in the US and Europe, the market in Uganda is ripe for disruption, where smartphones are paid over 12 to 24 months, with bundled services. Obviously the argument here is the risk associated with lending in Uganda, but options include partnering with financial institutions can help reduce the risk profile, work through employers to deduct the costs of the contract directly at source.
  4. Multiple Smartphone Data Plans: This is similar to the device plans above, however this allows the owner of the plan to register additional devices for monthly fee to share the data. This has been common with unlimited plans, and would provide a new revenue stream.
  5. Extending Mobile Money Services: The best service to copy is PayWay with a wide range of devices, and platforms on which to use the service based on what infrastructure the agent has. I would like to be able to swipe my VISA card and transfer money to my account without having to go through the bank interface which tends to be down more often than not.
  6. Bulk Sales of Devices to Schools: The new underlapped customer base, sell more devices to schools get parents to pay part of the costs to push e-education services, why do kids still have to fill Advanced Level and University Level choices on paper forms that can be lost? With powerful tablets in the $50 to $100 range only the telecoms have the clout, network and drive to push this through.
  7. Custom Devices and Services: These are for data collection needs, surveys etc, which can be accessed through third parties but pushing the envelope on what is possible. The key here is flexibility of service, enabling channel partners build and innovate by creating custom services and plans to meet their specific needs.
The telecoms need to think of blue ocean strategies to create new markets, provide ability for others to leverage their platform investments for new revenue channels, leveraging the example of Amazon that has created a multi-billion dollar technology infrastructure business based on solving internal problems.
What do you think?

UPDATE: This blog post follows the same thinking as The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond on this blog too

Uganda National ID – Alternate Strategy?

I have been thinking – some would say that is a dangerous thing, well yes I have been thinking, just what an afternoon with no distractions can do for you. Well there is a general problem in my motherland Uganda, there is no National ID. Oh yes, there is no way of uniquely identifying each and every person in the country, even tracking the babies born or the deaths. Sad but true, how has this affected the populace, to some its a great thing not to be known but to others, its a great source of discomfort since everything is just too hard to do.

What is not helping are headlines like Government suspends national ID project again and with a budget now growing to the hundreds of millions of dollars, a question pops into my head. Are there no other options to get to the same place, are there no other ways? In the words of Benjamin Franklin “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

So again with the Snowden revelations, and potential for mis-use, there is one fact that is evident, with no National ID, the progress we are making going forward is going to be very very painful. In the software development world, there is the concept of “technical debt”, which has very high interest rates in terms of cost of addition of new feature, slowing down progress as you move along.

The high-level strategies revolve around the following themes:

  1. Frugal Innovation – how to use very little to make alot of progress
  2. Customer Value – focus on ensuring that the 75% who see the value are immediately served, to act as a tipping point for the rest
  3. Relevance – ensuring that the implementation is relevant in today’s “environment”
  4. Accuracy and Trust – the data within the system must be trusted from the word go, it should be easy to spot and very inconsistencies

So here it is:

  1. Target population – above 18 years of age
  2. Implementing body: a government parastatal & accompanying bill which is setup to manage the process of issuing the National ID numbers as the single source of truth whose mandate is to provide the lowest common denominator for citizen registration
  3. Who gets National ID numbers first? The element of trust is very important, but the need is to start with as little as possible to continuously refine over time, so the starting issuance of National ID numbers has to start from those people who are known, by different systems so that their identities can easily be verified which include:
    • Passport
    • National Social Security Fund
    • Tax Identification Number
    • Driving License
    • Voter Registration
  4. Registration of Births and Deaths: this is a critical component of the National ID system as it identifies which IDs are no-longer in use
  5. Regional Offices to ensure that people applying for IDs do not have to travel to Kampala to do it
  6. Technology/Organization:
    • Provide a means of checking the status of application by visiting authorized centers which include regional offices, SMS requests (responses to be sent to the number registered on the application)
    • Access to online verification services for authorized usage
  7. Critical Success Factor: uptake which can only be driven by the network effect of being used by multiple players within the private and public sector as the lowest common denominator for accessing services

What do you think? Where are the gaps that I have not thought through? What other alternatives are there?

Mobile Money – The Next Frontier Ubiquity

Mobile money is on an exponential growth curve in Africa, due to the growth in mobile phone penetration of GSM SIM based phone networks, and is considered the next frontier in financial inclusion for the unbanked, and easing the costs of transactions on the continent. The primary success of M-Pesa by Safaricom in Kenya is driving adoption, but now that the teething challenges are being understood and models for dealing with them are becoming more prevelant, maturity challenges are now becoming more prominent and are causing many to wonder whether the promise is being achieved.

Starting primarily as a money transfer solution by telecoms it has proven to be a lucrative alternate revenue stream for the telcos who are being pressed due to increased competition in voice (now a commodity), lower charges in international calls from Voice over IP (VOIP) alternatives, higher capital costs for infrastructure to support a burst in mobile data growth, and lower phone usage due to social networks like Facebook/Twitter/Google+.

The next step is to grow into a mobile commerce payment solution, for merchants, organizations and businesses in order to compete against established players like banks and other financial institutions, debit and credit cards, online payment systems like Paypal/CheckOut/Google Wallet, NFC based mobile payments. Overcoming this frontier means delivering a more streamlined user experience to the consumer which is key to adoption.

Below are 10 features and approaches that I think mobile payment solution providers need to do in order to become relevant in the mobile payment space:

1. Merchant originated payment requests – current mobile money systems are setup so that the payee sends money to another number, which leads to errors if the entered number is incorrect (which is a major customer headache). Having merchant originated payment requests, almost like the withdrawal requests from agents, can reduce the errors in the transfer since the customer only has to approve the transaction.

2. Delayed payment outside the current session – the money transfer can only be completed in a single session, however if the payment request can be made and stored on the customer’s phone (like an invoice), and the payment made at a later date can provide an efficient invoicing/payment for coommunity delivered services like utilities, education, etc

3. Payment request forwarding – allow the payment request to be forwarded to and fulfilled by another number

4. Telco Number Independence – where number portability is not available, the ability to use mobile numbers from competing telcos, which means one service can grow out and reach all customers

5. Transaction Payment plans – other than per transaction, allows a larger volume of transactions to be done at a lower cost

6. Easy creation of merchant accounts to increase the ubiquity of usage

7. 3rd Party system integration points – since a lot of the mobile money systems are tightly integrated with telecom systems this raises the costs and slows the pace of integration with other businesses like banks

8. API for system integration – providing APIs through which 3rd party providers can integrate with the mobile money systems via the web and Internet to support online transactions

9. Standards – there is no standard for the mobile money services therefore any integrator needs to interface differently to each system. These standards can extend to using contacts in mobile phones

10. Support for alternate delivery channels such as mobile phone, web and desktop apps to increase ubiquity

What are your thoughts?

HTC Desire HD – My Journey

HTC Desire HD

HTC Desire HD

This is a review, a journey of enlightenment (that sounds so Zen), learning, and eye opening experience for a techie who has not used a smart phone at all. I am still in love with the Samsung SIII, and that is essentially my next smartphone …. but in the mean time I will love what I got, the HTC Desire HD. I still have my Nokia C200 which well works for 3 days, without need for a recharge, has primitive Facebook and Twitter so hey I got lots to compare with 🙂 Did I mention that the HTC and Nokia phones use the same data cable, well now that is a welcome feature since I can cut down on the cabling on my desk and travel bag.

The first thing I do for any computer that I get is upgrade it, thankfully the phone has inbuilt WIFI so all I did was turn on WIFI, and use the office wireless connection, now that is really neat. When I checked the HTSense 3.0 was upto date and the Android version 2.3.5 was the latest. There was no way to go any higher due to the 512MB ROM which was too small, again acceptance. Next step was to install Tweetdeck, yes, no Facebook since I am on a 30 day no Facebook diet, and I seem to be handling it very well btw.

Email next, both my work and personal email are Google, so I just fired up the pre-installed Gmail APP and we are off to the races. Syncing took a long time and later I found out why, my personal Gmail box is “big” with all sorts of emails, Linked In, Twitter, Newsletters, GitHub, MojoLive, GeekList, etc, so I configured my personal Gmail to only show emails from the priority inbox which makes it manageable.

Next test camera, but oh no, it does not work. Seems like the delivery man (who brought me the phone) decided to take the only thing that would not be missed, the microSD card, really!!! Now I gave up on that one till I bought a 2GB card, then wow!!! The camera is really good! Crisp clear photos

Still on the battery problem, seemed like I had turned on background sync for Twitter and Gmail so now I turned them off, installed Juice Defender following steps at  http://www.stephenjackel.com/2011/04/16/how-to-fix-battery-life-problem-on-htc-desire-hd-android-2-2-mobile-phone/ I still got my eye on the battery life.

Oh yes next battle, sharing my contacts with my Nokia, it has been my primary phone for over a year now (lovely feel and battery life), so I have a couple hundred contacts, which I have rebuilt after losing them a few weeks ago when the battery went dead and deleted everything. Using Google I found instructions at http://leetstreet.net/blog/2011/05/nokia/ which let me export all my contacts from Nokia into Google Contacts, and just sync them into the HTC. So all I need to do is add new numbers to the Nokia and HTC, and I am done, how so handy it has become that I add business cards as I get them from meeting to meeting ….

It seems like I am a fanboy, but I love the contact linking between Skype, Whatsapp, Google and my contact list, and I assume that once I get another Android gadget they will all be transferred to it, which is nyce given that all is then stored in the cloud.

Customizing the screen pages, well I love my right menu on my Nokia which gives me quick and easy access to the same menu items I have used for the last 10 years, Inbox, General Profile, Silent Profile, Task List, Calculator and I am done. I have mulitple tabs on Android so on my main screen (like my old feature phone) I have got Gmail, Twitter, Messages, Call historry, Contact list, opera mini and the default browser, Whatsapp (I find myself using it more and more). Now on the second screen I have got other common utilities, Camera (great quality), Gallery, Reader found books on here though I have failed to connect to Kobo for more books, iStoryBooks (a gold mine, my kids are loving my phone and wait eagerly to get at each book that I have downloaded), calculator, wordpress statistics for my blog, Google Talk, Flashlight, Google Playstore, Calendar, Evernote (trying to use it to share notes across everything), and Skype.

I also ran into a problem of syncing my calendar with my phone with the creation of duplicated events. This puzzled me till I remembered that I already have 2 way sync between my Google Calendar and MS Outlook, so syncing both with my phone creates two events. This one was cleared using instructions from http://sysadminspot.com/phones/delete-pc-sync-calendar-on-htc-desire/ So once that was done all I had to do was turn off the Outlook calendar event sync from HTC sense on my laptop and voila!! It was all good to go. So now I create an event in Outlook it ends up in Gmail and on my phone and vice versa, and I love it. So no more birthdays forgotten or events missed.

And oh yes I have been introduced to the pain of Internet bandwidth data caps, I found that I ran through 100MB in a week, yet I only use the mobile data when I am out office, I use the office WIFI when in office. I found that the cheapest bandwidth 30MB which is valid for 24 hours for 10 days is the same cost as 100MB which is valid for one month. So I will need to find a way to automate my daily purchases so that I do not have to go through the 6 steps to get around the USSD codes.

The major challenges, that I am still running into are battery life which dies after an hour or two of heavy use, when I go out for meetings so it’s tied to a USB port on my laptop, left the 240V power charger which uses USB too at home to make sure I have my bases covered. Also I found that using the power charger gets it full while the USB charger does not move it along as fast.

So HTC love your phone, but there is terrible battery life …

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