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Tech

The Curse of Cheap Smartphones

I am a big fan of cheap smartphones (economics 101). I realized no matter how good a smartphone is, I am most likely to use it for only calls, SMS, mobile money and occasional social media. This means that whenever I am looking for a phone, I am looking for one that can do that efficiently without much exaggeration – a decent processor and RAM.

The other motivation for keeping a cheap phone is because the likelihood of me losing it in Nairobi is very high. I only want a phone which if lost, I will walk into a shop and buy another one without starting breaking the bank. I think this is the real reason why I am into cheap phones.

(Just remembered that I once did an informal survey in an office and found out that at one point in life, each person had lost a smartphone through pickpockets, smart thugs or even a violent encounter, and consequently, no one fancies expensive phones. This is what crime does to the market.)

For the last 18 months, I have had this phone which was very cheap for its specifications. It was from a strange manufacturer in UAE and I decided to try what the Emirates have to offer. For only KShs 7500, I got a phone through Jumia that had 3GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage. That was good enough for my needs.

Bloatware

It came loaded with some default apps which one cannot uninstall. These are common in many phones, but I realized that one of these apps was Uber. The strategy worked because before then, I would only install the app whenever I needed it (very rare – less than 5 times in an year), and I would choose between Uber and Bolt. Since then, I have only used Uber because I did not have to install it.

This marketing strategy is similar to the one WhatsApp used. I remember that a number of smartphones used to come with WhatsApp preinstalled and we had no option but to get used to it, and even use it since it was always available. Genius.

But in this device called Fourmobile S610 Shine, there was one app called Mobile Care shown below. I could not uninstall it, so I just disabled it and never gave it much thought.

However, the app started enabling itself after sometime, and went ahead to do some mischievous things. It would launch the browser and open some spammy links, and would show display ads that would overlay the whole screen with no option to close them. It would also show the notification below which wants to deceive one that it is from Facebook, but if you click on it, it leads you to website that is just serving ads or just another suspicious website.

Ghost Manufacturer

I got a bit worried about the phone and decided to check the manufacturer. To my surprise, the manufacturer’s website was no longer operation. It seemed that the manufacturer of the phone was non existent, or had closed shop.

A look at their Facebook page showed that it was created in 2015 and the last update was in 2018.

It is clear that what I have is an ad serving device and I do not know what else -God forbid- that it does without my knowledge.

Preinstalled Malware

One of the methods that manufacturers use to sell cheap phones is to include some adware (apps that show ads) in the devices. Some of these have been shown to be dangerous malware that should not be in the phones. This is what I have been suffering from.

And while one may be tempted to think that it is an isolated incidence, it is actually the norm. Tecno Mobile has been found to have sold thousands of phones in Africa containing malware. Many privacy advocates have also raised concern over these preinstalled apps that could track your activities, log your key strokes, or even send data without your knowledge.

It seems that as long as you are using a cheap smartphone, your data is at the mercies of the manufacturer and other third parties that you may never know.

The ugly part of the ads that these apps show or the pages they open is that they are not even relevant. I would appreciate it if they had used my stolen data to customize the best ads for me.

Regulation

How can this be stopped?

One of the major players who can do this is Google. While Android is open source, Google can force manufacturers to have their apps vetted properly and require enough justification for apps that cannot be uninstalled.

The government also needs to regulate which manufacturers can sell devices in the local market. Unknown brand of mobile phones pose the highest risks, beside not having spare parts readily available. (I found someone else with a similar phone which he had to discard after the screen broke, because a replacement could not be found).

As of now, it seems that when the smartphone is cheap, you are the one who is being bought.

PS: Removing the Malware

To remove the malware, I had to use Android Studio because the app could not be uninstalled directly from the phone. I checked the actual name of the app and it was ‘com.rock.gota.’ A Google search showed that the app is a well know malware that comes installed in many cheap android phones and it has been reported in many places from Brazil to Egypt to Myanmar.

The detailed instructions for removing the app can be found HERE.

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Kenya’s Print Media just Discovered Emails

Posted on 2 min read

The age of the email peaked several years ago, but it seems to be just the time when Kenyan newspapers are catching up with the email.

In the last few days, I have noticed that the Daily Nation is giving a pop up requesting you to sign up and receive ‘the latest news as it happens’ in your email. It will popup in every page you access until you either sign up or click the tiny ‘I’m not interested’ link.

The standard has also followed suit, desperately asking for your email address and talking of ‘supporting independent journalism.’   

I would not subscribe to any of those. Personally, I do not need any more email into my inbox which I won’t open anyway.

While I did not subscribe, I realized that The Standard went ahead to get my email address from wherever and added me to their mailing list. From the screenshot below, you notice that the email sent was delivered to my Spam folder, and you will also realize that:

  • They have a different domain name specifically for sending the daily emails.
  • They seemed to have the name blank (Dear ,) but they have the email address.

I know for sure that Standard knows that what they are doing is wrong. I know that they possibly have even my name and it is only that they cannot put it there and claim that they got both the email and name correct erroneously.

Whatever the case, let us welcome the Kenyan print media to the year 2000. In God we trust, everyone else bring data.

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Remedy for a Slow Computer

Posted on 2 min read

My above average performing computer had been gradually slowing down. Programs would take slightly longer to load; booting would take ages and windows would keep freezing. Realizing that it was already a five-year computer which also had another previous owner, I thought maybe it is time to get a new one.

The outbreak of Zoom meetings this year was another motivation for replacing it because the inbuilt webcam is just not good. I had already acquired an external webcam but this was tedious because I had to remember to carry it just in case.

But not keen on getting the latest computer costing me a kidney and only to use it to run some very basic programs, I decided to see if I can salvage the situation. My hands are so used to the keyboard and upgrading would throw me off balance for a couple of days.

The Problem

How do you tell what is making your computer slow?

One of the first step is the Task manager. After checking the Task Manager, I realized that even when my computer was overwhelmed with tasks, the CPU was almost idle, operating at less than 10% the potential. The 5 GB RAM was always utilized at about 80% (which is the way the way it should be). But there was one problem: The hard disk.

A look at the Task Manager of a Different Windows PC

After doing billion of revolutions, the hard disk was dying slowly and the Task Manager indicated that it was always at 100% usage. I checked and realized that the speed of data transfer from the disk was very slow.

Solution

Changing the hard disk could be the solution. I got an old Solid State Drive and replaced the Hard disk. SSD disks are extremely fast and once I replaced the hard disk, life changed.

The computer now boots in just under 11 seconds. No longer do I have to wait for programs to open. Switching off is like switching off a TV.

This is quite a lifeline.

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Online Programming and Web Development Resources

Posted on 4 min read

Need to learn some programming. Looking for online resources where you can learn to code?

We have compiled a few platforms and resources which you can use. We have not used all of these tools and may not know which one exactly suits you, but we have given you a good place to start.

Again, not in any order.

Have fun!

Online Programming and Web Development Resources

  1. Bloc
    Bloc offers structured, online training programs in software development and design for career-minded adults with busy lives. They describe themselves as designed for beginners with a focus on outcomes.
  2. Code Avengers
    Code Avengers is an online digital technology education service based in New Zealand. The team is built of talented school teachers, software developers, designers, and marketers working to create a learning platform for all ages starting at 5 years. Courses include Python, HTML & CSS, Javascript, Web Development, Design.
  3. Codeacademy
    Codecademy is an education company providing a platform to learn and teach. Languages taught include HTML & CSS, Python, JavaScript, Java, SQL, Bash/Shell, Ruby, C++, R, C#, PHP, Go, Swift, Kotlin.
  4. CodeHS
    CodeHS helps schools teach code and can be used by an individual to learn. Languages include Javascript, Python, Java, HTML, C++, SQL, and Karel.
  5. CodePen
    CodePen is a social development environment for front-end designers and developers. Build and deploy a website, show off your work, build test cases to learn and debug, and find inspiration.
  6. Coursera
    Coursera offers a wide range of courses, certificates, and degrees online from world-class universities and companies. It does not have to be about programming.
  7. Cplusplus.com
    Cplusplus.com allows you yo learn the C++ language from its basics up to its most advanced features.
  8. Cprogramming.com
    Cprogramming.com covers both C and C++ in-depth, with both beginner-friendly tutorials, more advanced articles, and the book Jumping into C++, which is a highly reviewed, friendly introduction to C++.
  9. Android Developers
    Everything to do with android.
  10. Apple Developer
    Everything to do with Apple.
  11. Mozilla Developer Network
    This is a platform for Web technologies and the software that powers the Web.
  12. Google Developers
    Everything to do with Google.
  13. Development Technology Training Center (Developphp.com)
    Here you can learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP Flash and graphics.
  14. Dream.In.Code
    DIC is a is a leading online community for programmers and web developers. It offers free access to thousands of programming tutorials, code snippets, forum topics, and more.
  15. edX
    edX is a general platform for education and learning. It includes a wide range of course in almost all fields
  16. HowToCode.io
    This platfrom hosts over 30,000 developers learning full-stack web development.
  17. Javatpoint
    Offers hundfreds of tutorials in Python, Java, PHP, JavaScript, C++, C#, DS, DBMS, C, SQL, Android, and HTML.
  18. Learn Code The Hard Way
    Learn Code The Hard Way courses are the most effective system for learning the basics of computer programming, designed specifically for complete beginners.
  19. LearnCpp.com
    LearnCpp.com is a free website devoted to teaching you how to program in C++. Whether you’ve had any prior programming experience or not, the tutorials on this site will walk you through all the steps to write, compile, and debug your C++ programs, all with plenty of examples.
  20. LinkedIn Learning
    LinkedIn Learning is a paid online learning place offering different types of courses including programming.
  21. PHPbuddy
    This site is designed to help you learn PHP programming here you will find high quality PHP articles, Quick Start PHP tutorials and scripts that will help to you learn PHP quickly.
  22. Pluralsight
    Offers courses such as Python, JavaScript, Java, C#, Web Development, Mobile Development.
  23. Professor Messer
    Provides quality technology information and training, including specialized training courses for CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and CompTIA Security+
  24. Quackit
    Offers free web development/design tutorials. Includes CSS, Javascript, AJAX, ColdFusion, and HTML tutorials, code examples, layout help and references.
  25. Programmr
    Programmr is the world’s online lab for programming enthusiasts to assess, improve and showcase their programming skills.
  26. StackOverflow
    Stack Overflow is the largest, most trusted online community for developers to learn, share​ ​their programming ​knowledge, and build their careers.
  27. Treehouse
    Treehouse or is an online technology school that offers beginner to advanced courses in web design, web development, mobile development and game development taught by team of expert teachers. Its courses are aimed at beginners looking to learn coding skills for a career in the tech industry.
  28. Tutorials Point
    Tutorials Point is an E-learning company that specializes in tutorials library on any IT and software topic & other allied subjects
  29. W3Schools
    W3Schools is an educational website for learning web technologies online. Content includes tutorials and references relating to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JSON, PHP, Python, AngularJS, React.js, SQL, Bootstrap, Sass, Node.js, jQuery, XQuery, AJAX, XML, Raspberry Pi, C++, C# and Java.
  30. Udacity
    Udacity is a general purpose learning platform that offers online courses in almost all fields.
  31. Udemy
    Udemy is an online learning platform aimed at professional adults and students.

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The First Industrial Revolution

Posted on 3 min read

Tools have always defined mankind. Every attempt to make work easier led to search for tools or external power that could help human beings. This dates back to prehistoric times when people started using tools and most of these were hand powered.

When all work involves manual labor, one sure way of increasing productivity adding more power to the work. Animals would be used to help in carrying loads, ploughing land or just any work where muscles were needed. This limited how things could be done.

Disruption

Once in a while, a new technology or a new way of perceiving the world shows up and triggers a great change both socially and economically. Such was the First Industrial Revolution.

The background to this was the Agricultural Revolution which had managed to feed people; hence people could focus on solutions to other problems. With surplus food, ready investors, people willing to take risks and ready supply of resources like coal for power, a great innovation was obviously lurking.

In the mid-1700, man began to understand and use different energy source. People learnt that they could harness the power of steam and convert it into motion. This is what gave the rise to the use of steam engine and was Central to the First Industrial Revolution.

Steam Power

The immediate application of steam power is the steam engine which allowed for different things to be done. Ships could sail any time and for long distances. Factories could mass produce goods because there was a supply of power to keep it running. Many things that were done by hands could now be done in centralized place – the factory.

This led to shift from a lifestyle where everything was centered around farms to where people moved to urban areas and they were involved in production of goods and services that would be used all over the world. For example, textile industries sprung up in Great Britain and the products could be shipped to many places all over the world.

The major disruption was the chain effect that followed. It became possible to make railway lines that would cut across countries thus making movement of goods and people possible. Steel girders could be used to make skyscrapers. Life gradually changed.

This period of the First Industrial Revolution ran from 1765 to 1870 and saw a rise in many applications of steam power. Transport, agriculture and manufacturing were changed because of steam powered machines as opposed to animal power or hand-drawn tools.

Mechanization led to urbanization and the way of living was altered. Goods could move far because of steam powered ships. Textile industries thrived. It was a major leap for humanity.

Negative Impacts

It was not all rosy as we may want to imagine.

The negative effect was that people moved to work in factories where working conditions were not good. They would work for long hours and even children would also work in factories. Those who could not get jobs formed a huge population in urban areas.

People had been used to a quiet farm life where life was slow and the weather controlled most activities. This time they were to work in factories where the clock controlled everything.

Summary of the First Industrial Revolution

  • Use of machines (mechanization) led to increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Steam power took over from muscular power.
  • Steam engines powered trains and ships, allowing goods and people to move great distances over a short time.
  • The factory as opposed to the farm became the center of the economy.
  • Population shift from rural agriculture to work in factories in urban areas.
  • Mass production led to reduced costs of goods.
  • The textile industry was among the first to use mechanized production methods.

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Why We Need More Women in Engineering

Posted on 3 min read

For a long time in history, Engineering was considered to be a man’s field where a woman would occasionally show up. The image of an engineer was that of a muscular person wearing a helmet and covered with grease or some form of dirt, depending on the field where they were working. That seemed repulsive to the image of what the world wanted an ideal woman to look like. It was supposed to be a man’s world, and it was.

Today, the image of an engineer is quite different. Engineering cuts across many areas of life and it is not just about steam engines and coal power plants. The image of an engineer has changed. However, something still remains the same in most of the developing world. 

A Man’s World

As the world celebrates the International Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June, one thing that is evident is that Engineering still remains to be largely a man’s world, and this has a cost. This is because in meeting scietal and consumer needs, we cannot depend on the views of one gender and expect to come up with solutions that will perfectly solve the problems we are facing. That never works.

It might be the reason why we are so concerned about connecting all schools to the electrical grid before we can think of connecting all of them to water systems. I appreciate the place of electricity (and I am an electrical engineer), but it is a warped thinking to assume that the health and hygiene needs of children are not as critical to the learning of students.

In my engineering class (ten years ago), women constituted less than 10%. I do not think that has changed much, although great strides are being made. However, I would want to add to the case for having more women in engineering, for those who think that it does not matter.

We need Diverse Teams

Diversity is key when it comes to innovation, and this applies also to gender diversity. From design, to manufacturing, to the business side, diverse teams always win.

To effectively build solutions that solve the challenges in the world today, we need both men and women in order to understand those problems, as well as figure out solutions that can work. We also need diversity in terms of backgrounds and if we are solving problems that involve water scarcity in Turkana, we need to have people in Turkana involved. That is how it works.

We cannot build a world where half of the people are not involved. It will not work. 

In my team at Truehost Cloud, which is a technology company, we have a team that has at any point been always 50% women on average, and this has been one key to success. We have a team that deeply understands customer needs because it is diverse. This has been one pillar of our success.

Women are Competent

The skills needed in engineering are not reserved for one gender. We have many women who have excelled in engineering, and the few ladies who were in my class not only continue to excel where they are today, but in many cases, outshine their male colleagues.

Throughout history, we have many examples of women who made remarkable contributions to the world through engineering. Unfortunately, a girl living in rural Kitui may not know much about them to spur enough motivation to be an engineer. This is why we need these stories to be told so that we can spur the next generation of women in engineering, because they are competent.

It is not about adding pretty faces to the engineering world. It is about making the world sustainable and finding solutions that best fit the world today.

Happy Women in Engineering Day.

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