Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Launching Syzygy – Uganda Focused Utility Calculator

Just as Google has rebranded into Alphabet, on behalf of Styx Technology Group I would like to officially announce the launching of Syzygy which is a platform for a comprehensive utility calculator for Uganda based on PAYE Calculator (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=co.databud.payecalculator) which was released by myself in 2012.

There are many calculators and utility apps out there, but there are none focused on Uganda specific computations and tools required within the country today. This initial launch is an upgrade of the look and feel of PAYE Calculator to the Android material design, refactoring of the back end to provide the necessary modularity for expansion.

Need any specific features or computation for consideration please contact us at styxtechgroup at gmail dot com

Looking forward to hearing from you

The link to the Syzygy app is http://bit.ly/syzygy-ug

Update 3:

Just had a little techie moment there so I thought I would add some more meat on the technology thinking and approach used for this new platform:

  1. App Compat Library – which provides material design features for pre-Lollipop devices, and this app should load on Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) devices
  2. Model-View-Presenter (MVP) design pattern akin to Model-View-Controller for web applications. The models will be POJOs (Plain Old Data Objects)
  3. Theme and other functional customizations are being kept as minimal as possible to speed up development and reduce the quantity of testing
  4. Layouts will be as fluid as possible to handle multiple screen sizes, however more focus will be placed on functionality to make this app useful after all Material design is already beautiful.
  5. As few permissions as possible will be requested of you during installation, after all the app does not need them.

Update 2:
There have been quite a number of questions on the inspiration behind the names, so here goes:

  1. Syzygy – In astronomy this is when there are three (3) celestial bodies in a straight line usually the earth, sun and moon. At this point once could argue that the bodies are either in conjunction (working together) or in opposition. In reference to this utility all the tools are meant to work together so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
  2. Styx – In Greek mythology this is the river in between this world and the underworld, with the power to make one invincible. We at Styx Technology Group seek to bridge the divide between those who understand and those who do not understand technology, its impact to society and how to leverage it for growth.

Update 1:
Screen Shots

Home Screen

Home Screen

Navigation Bar

Navigation Bar

PAYE Calculator

PAYE Calculator

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GeekDIY – Manually Upgrading Samsung S4 to Stock Android Lollipop 5.0.1

I would not consider myself an early adopter, neither am I a laggard, but somewhere in the middle for software upgrades. So when I heard that my Samsung Galaxy S4 would be getting Android Lollipop in December 2014, I was over the moon. What made me envious was that my colleagues with LG, Nexus and Sony devices were getting this update over the holidays.

So patiently I waited stalking the net for news on when my S4 would get an OTA update but no avail, 4 months later I am still feeling left out till, I found this post S4 Stock Lollipop came up in my Google+ feed (yes I use that) which led me to look for options of manually updating my phone to an official stock android for Samsung phones.

This led me to a guide How to get Android 5.0.1 Lollipop on the Galaxy S4  which walked me through the process.

75 minutes later, I had Lollipop 5.0.1 installed on my S4, now to understand how the new notifications & other enhancements can be leveraged for my day to day use most especially the battery life improvements.

My biggest worry was bricking the phone, so I followed the instructions to the letter, and ensured the laptop running Odin was on UPS just in case of power outage.

Mobile Money will not die by 2020 but Evolve to Survive

Nicholas Kamazi has an interesting perspective in his article, 5 Reasons Mobile Money Is Going To Die By 2020, which I fundamentally disagree with. While he caters for challenges with Mobile Money (MM), he does not take into account who uses MM and why, which are the reasons for the pervasive nature. Rebutting each reason for the death of MM:

  1. Death of Feature phones:
    • Battery life: smartphones are no where near the battery life usage of feature phones, and in areas where there is little availability of electricity to charge the phones, this becomes a deal breaker
    • Cost: I do not see $35 dollar smartphones becoming that popular
    • Rugged: Feature phones can take alot of abuse, falls, drops, plus general wear and tear which current age smartphones cannot match
  2. Digital Currency: Africa in general and Uganda in particular, are cash economies. MM just allows people to move money from one place to another very quickly.
  3. Unnecessary Charges:
    • The cost of sending MM is usually less than transportation and time for moving to acutally deliver the money without the risk.
    • Most transactions are between UGX 50,000 to UGX 150,000 (US$20 to US$60) usually under urgent situations
    • Urgency of transfer – most transactions happen with a need for urgency for example school fees, social functions, emergencies of different nature. Which can happen at any time of day or night, until there is an option which is that flexible MM is here to stay
  4. Capital Investment:
    • MM is a defensive option for telecoms as their core business is getting eroded, and will evolve in order to remain relevant.
    • I do not see any startup having the size, and capabilities to compete with the telecoms in this market, Uganda in particular and Africa in general.
    • Even in Asia the agents are the key, however managing them is not an easy process so the incumbents will remain in play for the next 5-10 years.
  5. Business environment shift: the telecoms are here to stay, and MM will evolve along with the business environment.

Mobile Money is here to stay as it is:

  • Pervasive with 20,000+ agents and counting
  • With the telecoms opening up to 3rd parties for utility payments, diaspora remittances, merchant transactions
  • Rural-urban social dynamics which form the bulk of MM remittances within a country
  • Infrastructure challenges such as roads, railways which also provide a conducive environment for MM as an option for money transfer.

Your thoughts?

Utilities can Leverage Technology as a Competitive Edge

Utility companies are virtual monopolies in the sectors that they operate, however the stifling regulatory oversight coupled with fierce attacks from startup based innovation requires rethinking of how customers perceive and receive value.

Technology can provide a catalyst for utility companies to improve their service, defend their positions and develop new business models to remain relevant in the future.

read Utility Services can get a lot more smarter with these Technology hacks for more ….

The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond

The telecom wars in Uganda just got a new lease in life, however looking forward the next round will claim some casualties. Why do I call this Round 5?

  1. Round 1 – Oct 21, 1998: MTN comes into Uganda, after a monopoly by Celtel (now Airtel) where simcards fell to the equivalent of US$30 with a monthly service fee of $10
  2. Round 2 – 2007 to 2009: Warid and Orange launch in Uganda, the Value Added Service Provider (VAS) boom, thanks to James Oloo Onyango for pointing this out
  3. Round 3 – 2009 to 2012: Mobile Money wars
  4. Round 4 – 2013 and 2014: Airtel acquires Warid telecom, Smart Telecom & Vodafone join the fray, MTN launches voice bundles

At this point each of the telcom companies operating in Uganda have voice bundles, data and internet plans plus mobile money platforms. With international calling plans falling towards zero, currently even cheaper than local network calls, social media/VOIP/Messaging applications cannibalizing SMS revenues, the battle for survival is ever-fierce with the any mis-step proving fatal.

Looking into my crystal ball, the next round is going to be fought along the following avenues:

  1. Mobile Money Partnerships – with banks, utilities, and other commercial players to entrench mobile money transfer deeper into the economics of the country.
  2. Service Partnerships – can be seen around data & internet services, so that the telecos are not reduced to dumb pipes. The agricultural, health and education sectors will see a new push for value added services via SMS in order to keep the users captive on a specific network.
  3. Personalized Bundles – combined voice, data and SMS bundles are not yet the rage, but they will gain prominence
  4. Family Bundles – with families having more than one phone, I see a push towards shared bundles to reduce the costs of new customer acquisition & increasing opportunity cost of switching. The impact of this tactic will be further complicated by the multi-sim phones that most consumers have.
  5. Smart device leasing plans – one I have called for, complicated by lack of a national ID, but I see success for whoever nails a working version of business model first.
  6. Business Customers: Majority of the telecom usage is personal, however business customers provide an interesting selling point with a knock on effect for smart devices, family or business plans and shared bundles. Most users are forced to use a service or network convenient to the bread winner or trend setter.
  7. Quality of Service: after all that is said and done, when the costs are almost at par, the quality of service for a specific provider will become a critical deciding factor both for business and personal use.

With all this opportunity also comes great peril, from the following:

  1. Niche players – ISPs for Internet and data as the capabilities for deploying metro-wide WIFI accelerate, informal money transfer services especially under Islamic banking
  2. Regulatory pitfalls and taxes – the impact of the recent 10% excise duty on mobile money fees is yet to be assessed
  3. Mobile Virtual Network Operators – are they friend or are they foe? Partner or competition if running atop of your infrastructure?
  4. Market saturation with falling revenues per customer – the telcos need to innovate to stay atop of the fast moving market that is to render them dumb pipes and their services commodity
  5. Number Portability – when this comes, it will disrupt the players as it abstracts the underlying providers.

How do you see the telecoms responding to these threats, please share in the comments below ….

UPDATE: Round 2 includes VAS providers who saw exponential growth in revenues at this time using SMS based solutions

Ruby on Rails for the PHP Web Developer – The Journey

For my frequent readers, you may assume that I have run crazy … now Ruby on Rails with all the PHP experience that you have got! Well I am shocked as well, but its a necessary step in my growth as all of us have to move out of our comfort zones at some time. Well I am going to be moving to an organization that uses Ruby on Rails as their language tool of choice as a project manager. So yes I have to learn a new tool, leveraging my experience to manage agile projects, so the geek in me has to understand the tool chain to enable me have better dialogue with the business analysts and developers.

So I am starting out on a new path, but as I was taught (brainwashed actually) the best way to learn a new tool is to use it. So I am trying to build a not so super secret software solution to solve a business problem I keep running into as a way of getting into the guts of this tool.

Ruby on Rails (ROR) is tough to get running on Windows as it was more a *nix development tool chain but I am taking up the challenge to get it to work with lots of Google searches and the ever present StackOverflow (now its my chance to ask questions). The environment is as follows:

  1. IDE – started with RubyMine for Jetbrains (http://www.jetbrains.com/ruby/) with a 30 day evaluation, then I will see what happens next
  2. Rails Installer by Engine Yard (http://railsinstaller.org/) – the smoothest way to get Rails up and running. The strange thing is that I am using Ruby 1.8.7 as that’s the version being used by an opensource project I would like to contribute to … so well why not stay behind and do some good while I am at it
  3. Ruby on Rails Tutorial (http://ruby.railstutorial.org) by Micheal Hartl free online resouce
  4. Stack Overflow (http://stackoverflow.com) – Q&A site most of the issues that I face have already been solved
  5. Git – needed a private repo so ended up at BitBucket (http://bitbucket.org) by Altassian. Having little knowledge of Git too, and having a lot of problems setting it up I downloaded SourceTree (http://www.sourcetreeapp.com)
  6. Ruby Gems – pre-built functionality

Now in the process of moving the dev environment to a Mac … However after trying to install the different pieces alone, I was advised to use Home Brew (http://mxcl.github.io/homebrew/) following the instructions at http://bit.ly/114X2x1

Part II coming up soon ….

Mac Conversion for Windows Guy – Baby Steps

Ha ha ha, most would balk at the thought, have I gone over to the dark side? Have I lost my mind or has the evil empire taken control over me? Many would ask other would run scared to the hills, but well I have decided to make the switch mainly because of the battery life … My last laptop was a 17″ HP Envy 3D – a beast of a machine not very field friendly I think I developed a hunchback lugging it around, and abysmal battery life (what do you expect from a desktop replacement), quad core, 8GB RAM, 17″ screen, and hot as hell.

Many of my friends and collegues have made the switch bragging to me that once you go Mac u never go back… So he not being one who balks away at a challenge I made the jump to a Macbook air… So here is my story actually my 2-3 week journey all summarized …

Unpacking, the box was slim and lightweight … The packaging was I should say magnificent (black) and the air stood out. Only the laptop, and power cables … that’s all! I was stumped so simple ….

Starting up was smooth I was asked for a language, my contact details, whether I wanted icloud and how to use the trackpad. The trackpad was a little bit of trouble since was I was used to click and drag, yet the trackball requires using one or two fingers in a specific direction. I am still getting the hang of it but its impressive that I can get more without having to revert to the mouse.

Having used Windows from the venerable 3.1 (oh yes that old) through 3.1.1 (Windows for Workgroups) then 95, 95 Second Edition via 98 missed the Millenium train landed on Windows 2000 the best release yet. It was a big push to XP but an easier migration to Windows 7 when for the first time a newer version required less resources than an older version. I missed Vista thankfully and not sure if I will go 8, but the jury is still out on that one. I am finding that Mac OS is more like my Android smartphone so it may not be as difficult as I think it will be.

So next step was installing apps, my list is old fashioned but here goes:

  1. Google Chrome – oh yes the beauty is that I can sync directly with my personal Windows laptop
  2. Skype – who does not use it
  3. MS Office for Mac 2011 – I am an MS Outlook super-user without it I feel lost.
  4. Macintosh Explorer (http://www.ragesw.com/products/explorer.html) as a compliment to Finder which is very hard to use, no way to navigate outside system defined folders

The next step was to sync the Google Calendars (both personal and work) with my MS Outlook without needing to use ICal, as I would love to track everything in MS Outlook on the Mac, Windows and my Android smartphone, so that I can create events anywhere and have them auto synced.

I have to say that the battery life is really not overrated, it is goooddd!!! 1.5 hours on using a full charge and I have used 23% of my battery which means I can safely push 6 – 8 hours of power usage, which to me does not make me hostage to a power outlet …

The Air also has a 256GB SSD which provides an almost immediate bootup, and many times I am shocked when I restart whether I did so and usually do it a second time just to be sure.

The trackpad is the most amazing productivity aspect, by using a combination of 2 or 3 fingers, I can access anything and I mean any dashboard, scroll, zoom, slide between windows and apps (I still have to learn many of them though). I now find myself trying to use the gestures on my Windows laptop … so the brain is still in a state of limbo …

The user interface while not so alien needs some getting used to as I am currently getting confused when moving between Windows and Mac …

Please do share your experiences too …

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