The Dirty Side of Solar Energy

Posted on 2 min read

When it is time to go green, solar power becomes a favorite source of energy. Many people and institutions continue to adopt this source of energy that is essentially free and available in many places especially along the equator.

But it comes at a cost. There are two matters of concern as far as solar energy is concerned:

Spinning Reserve

A major challenge with wind and solar is that they demand for a spinning reserve in order to compensate for the unpredictable nature of these energy sources. If you have 300 MW, you need to set aside a reliable 100 MW on standby, and this often comes from hydro. The problem with this is that hydro is a very cheap source of power and it is better if we are using it at full capacity. This is something that increases the general cost of electricity.

The alternative could be something different, but dirty, such as coal. As a country increases the use of solar and wind energy, the more it will require to have a different source of power on standby.


The process of manufacturing solar panels is not very clean. On the other hand, the panels do not last forever, and need to be disposed.

There are many places without a definite recycling plans for these panels, and soon we might see a lot of waste starting to pile up. Recycling is not easy, and is not cheap. Manufacturers have to be compelled to recycle, and this would be after a long time of use – 20 years or so. This makes the whole process difficult especially in Africa where the solar panels are imported.

What’s Next?

While there are such challenges, the future of solar still looks bright. The technology is improving at a very fast speed and some of the current challenges will be solved with time. The future of solar is still bright.


Android Tax?

Posted on 1 min read

Can you imagine Google squeezing out 1.8% of all income from the poorest of all people in the developing world? It sounds crazy, but it could be happening.

Word going round is that Android phones exchange 260 MB of data every month with Google servers. This happens in the background even when no applications are running and even when using cellular network.

If this allegation is true, then Google has a big case to answer. 260 MB of data would easily go unnoticed in a world where people have access to a dedicated bandwidth of internet connection. But for the many parts of the world where people depend on cellular networks to access the internet, this is something of great concern.

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, the average cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Africa was 7.12% of average monthly income in 2019. This implies that this background data transfer by Android phones would cost people 1.8% of their total income, if they have the data and keep mobile data enabled on their phones.

This is a major heist!

It could be the reason why many people suspect that telcos such as Safaricom steal their mobile data. It would be the reason why most people will keep mobile data disabled on their phones, unless they are actively using it. Android users could be paying a form of tax!

Is it true, Google?           


In God We Trust, Everyone Else Bring Data

Posted on 2 min read

It is often said that data is the new oil.

This statement is in comparison to the transformation that oil has brought to the world since the late 1800s, where oil has become the most used energy source today. Before the Second Industrial Revolution, different forms of oil were in use for various purposes but it was the large-scale production and use of crude oil and its products that was transformational.

This is the same case with data. While data has played a crucial role in the digital economy today, it is not something that is new to human beings. Throughout history, people have leveraged data to their advantage. Since we learnt how to count and write, an ongoing evolution has been the capture and use of data.

The Story of the Kenyan Farmer

I heard of a story about a settler farmer in the Rift Valley region of Kenya who was quite good in predicting the weather, to the extent that neighbors thought that he had some divine powers. While other farmers were losing crops to rain failure, he seemed to know if and when the rains would come and thus plan accordingly.

It took the intervention of inquisitive primary school pupils to find out the powers behind his accurate weather prediction, which turned out to be data. His family had kept accurate weather records for over 70 years, and from this data there were some obvious patterns and cycles. Using this data, the good farmer was becoming a weather guru.

Data Can Tell Stories

Interpreting data can reveal a lot.

Target, an American retail corporation, wanted to identify pregnant women who frequented their stores. As it turns out, by analyzing the purchasing behavior of customers, it is possible to identify an expectant woman and even predict the expected date of delivery.

Within a short time, Target was able to identify expectant women so accurately that it brought conflicts elsewhere. An angry parent stormed Target to protest that they were sending her teenage daughter promotions for expectant mothers. Weeks later, the same parent came back to Target to apologize because the daughter was actually pregnant.

For Target, what a customer put in the shopping basked was as good as a pregnancy test.

If Data, then What?

Understanding how data works can help one make one goo use of the opportunities presented by the same. It will also help one stay safe by sharing their data responsibly. It has been proven that most Kenyans are unknowingly giving out their personal data online.

In the coming articles, I will share how data is transforming our world today. Data is valuable, but to them that are able to exploit it.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.