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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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The Power of an Opportune Tweet in Marketing

Posted on 2 min read

What is the power of a Tweet?

On a normal day, Stephen Odhiambo works to build furniture along Ngong road. He is good at what he does, based on the video that has been circulating online. But being good is not good enough for business. You need to make a sale. That is what matters.

It is for this reason that Stephen Odhiambo displays his furniture along Ngong road in Nairobi. Like many others of his colleagues, Ngong Road is an established furniture heaven in Nairobi and most do not even formal stalls. It is simply a roadside display of furniture. Willing buyers will see furniture that they like and will stop to buy. That is how it works.

Furniture on Sale along Ngong Road

But is there more to the roadside display? Can these people make more money from other locations outside Ngong Road? It turns out yes, and the tool needed to achieve this is in their hands.

Stephen Odhiambo took a video of his foldable table/seat and shared with potential buyers on WhatsApp. One would expect the clip to circulate in various groups and a few inquiries. But something bigger happened.

The Tweet

The clip got into the hands of one Mohammed Hersi who shared it on Twitter.

The Tweet that Made the Sales

Results

Stephen Odhiambo has received more than 800 orders. In short, orders worth KShs 20 million in just a week! How did that happen?

The person who shared the clip in the Tweet is a well-known figure in the Tourism industry. He also has almost 300 thousand followers on Twitter. These would be people very likely to buy his product. The power of a single Tweet was manifested here.

Lesson

Stephen Odhiambo will need help to fulfill all those orders because it takes him four days to make one piece. He will need a team, and collaboration with other people if he is to meet the demand. This is one of the hardest parts in business. Building a team that can deliver is not easy. I hope he can pull this.

But it is even worth noting that he is not the first to make such a table/bench. There are many videos of it on YouTube. Most likely, he found one online and decided to make it. It is good if you can come up with a new idea, but you are not doomed if you cannot.

You do not need to be the inventor of something to benefit from it. You can implement many ideas that exist because the world is big enough and there will still be a market.

I am sure today almost every other furniture maker is busy trying to replicate what Stephen Odhiambo did, and soon the supply will be flooding. May the best win.

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Is Juja a Global Cybercrime Hotspot?

Posted on 2 min read

Where did the story of Juja being a global cybercrime hotspot come from?

The answer lies in a satirical news website called PostaMate. The stories presented there are fictional, but unfortunately, many people believe that what you read on the internet is always true. PostaMate has clearly stated that what they post is fictional and majorly for entertainment purpose. It aims at making fun of the society in a humorous way.

The story that was published on PostaMate.Com claimed that Juja had been named as a global cybercrime hotspot. Reading the story, one would easily tell that it is a piece of satire because that is clearly indicated on the page where it is posted. The twitter account that shared the story has also made it clear that this is all about satire.

However, confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values – comes into play. There is always a feeling that Kenyan University students and graduates are smart enough to run the world but idle because the country has not given them opportunities. Many people in Kenya have also been victims of cyber crime, or know someone who has, and therefore would want the story to be true.

How did the satirical story become news?

The story from PostaMate quickly made its way around WhatsApp group inform of screenshot images, without the disclaimer that it was just a piece of satire. The story was then amplified and most people who read it did not know that it was just a piece of satire. To make matters worse, a few days before, the DCI had arrested some students and a bank employee in Juja who were suspected of running a cybercrime syndicate. The story confirmed what had been in people’s minds.

But then, a major news outlet fanned the story. NTV picked up the story and therefore confirmed the rumor. The story had been changed, and now confirmed by a ‘trusted’ news source. A new truth was made.

That is how a story meant to entertain is turned into news.  

The moral of this story is that not everything you read online is true.

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Cascading Power Failures Explained

Posted on 4 min read

Early on Saturday morning, a power transmission cable snapped somewhere near Nairobi city. The resulting effect was a nationwide blackout in Kenya and Uganda. How did one cable send two countries into darkness?

It is something complicated if you do not understand the power distribution, but we can make it simple for you via an analogy.

Analogy

Let’s assume that on average, one person can lift 40 kg of weight. Some can do 70 while other only can manage 10kg, but the average always comes to 40 kg.

You need to move your house from one point of your farm to another, and you need to hire some people to do it. You estimate that the house weighs 1000kg, and this translates to 25 people if each of them is to carry 40kg. Remember you are moving the whole house as one unit (it happens).

In some parts of the world, we can always move with our houses

Since you know that something could go wrong during the lifting, you will need to have more than 25 people to do the work as failure of one man could cripple the whole operation. However, getting too many extra people will cost you more than is necessary, so you opt to go with 27 people. One person will always be free to help lift any side when people are overwhelmed while 26 will always be working.

When it is time to move the house, everything goes on as planned. At one point one man stumbles and the standby guy moves in quickly. Everything is going on according to the plan.

At another point one guy hurts his leg and you are left with 26 people doing the lifting. This is still safe since you only need 25 people for the work.

But then, something unusual happens. One man who is very strong slips. He was carrying about 70 kg of the weight, and when he stops doing the work, every person around him feels the extra burden. To rescue him, his neighbor stops lifting and helps him move out of the way before he is ran over. The others near him stop moving and try to get everybody else to stop moving so that there is no accident. In the confusion that follows, there is an imbalance and the only safe thing to do is to put the house down so that everyone can recollect themselves.

This stops the whole operation for 10 minutes as everyone realigns themselves and work resumes.

How can such a scenario be prevented? Majorly by having more people so that there can be more tolerance to imbalances. However, this increases the cost and it will not help you when all the people holding one side encounter a unexpected obstacle. They will still have to put the house down.

The other option is to divide the house into equal pieces and let every person carry a 40 kg piece. This is would work, but remember some people can only lift 10 kg while others 70 kg. You will spend a lot of time either cutting unequal pieces and marching them to each person’s capacity, or alternatively you might need to pair up the people with less capacity, thus increasing the number of people you need.

What Happened

The electricity distribution system is called a grid, and involves several electricity generators being connected together into one network so as to serve people all over the country. In Kenya, we have different sources of electricity such as hydroelectric power plants, geothermal, wind, solar and other sources of power, including imports from Uganda.

This interconnection helps keep the load stable even if one source of power fails. It also helps maintain optimum supply such that if demand is low, some sources such as the expensive thermal (diesel) powered plants can be switched off.

Part of the failed cable
Kenya Power engineers at work

The grid has various high voltage lines evacuating power from where it is generated to where it is needed, with Nairobi being the main consumer of power while most generation takes place in remote places such Olkaria and Seven Forks.

In the even that one major power lines fails or a generator is knocked offline, the system adjusts to both to compensate for the changes and to protect the system. However, beyond a certain threshold, the whole system can be overwhelmed, and this time it did.

The line that failed was carrying a significant share of the total system loading, and it affected the whole system which had to shut down.  Getting everything back to work is not as easy as a switch flip. It takes time, and in this case some repairs.

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The Death of Privacy

Posted on 4 min read

Day after day, our lives are increasingly becoming reliant on internet and technology more than ever. We use computers in form of PCs, tablets, phones, and wearable devices, and every traditional gadget from alarm clock to the refrigerator is becoming smart. We use Google and other engines to navigate the internet, and we depend on the internet to store information and retrieve it on demand. I have recently found myself hopelessly lost in a city while trying to remember directions without using digital maps, and I always check for prices online before shopping offline. Our lives are highly dependent on the internet.

All-Seeing Eye

Carrying a phone with me means that Google knows where I am every day.  They know where I work, because that’s is where my phone is during the day, they know where I live because I spend the night there, and they know the entertainment joint that I frequent on Saturdays. They know that the place that I go and spend some time every Sunday morning must be where I go to church, and they know the people I met since they see the devices meeting together. I trust a browser to help me remember my passwords, with the hope that those passwords I store there are a secret between only me and the browser. I give Apps on my phone permission to read my messages, assuming that they will read only if necessary, only to realize that some of them spend time analysing the SMS that I have received.

T&C, Cookies

Navigating the online space is simple on the surface, but a complicated exercise when we dig deeper. Take the example of the ‘Terms and conditions’ segments that we encounter on many website, applications, software and many other digital tools we use. Do we read that text? No. Do the writers of these T&C expect us to read them? No. In fact, the documents are usually unnecessarily long, written in the smallest font possible, and using complicated terms which a lay person would likely not understand. We have little option other than checking the ‘Accept’ box. Even when browsing any website, we encounter the notorious pop-up ‘This site uses cookies… click here to accept,’ and we always accept without a second thought, not knowing what cookies are.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence devices are making matters more complex. Amazon’s Alexa is a device that is always listening to all that you are saying, while Google has a similar feature on Android phones which can be activated by saying ‘Ok Google.’ When you imagine that someone is listening to everything you say, knows all your passwords, knows every web page you visit, knows where you are at any moment, knows all the people you chat with, and the content of those chats; you only hope that person is God alone. But unfortunately, there are many ‘gods’ doing that.

Why Collect Data?

What do tech firms do with all the data that they have? Governments have always used the data they have to do government work. They spy over the bad guys (sometimes the good guys) and do intelligence. Tech firms are only interested in using the data to make money primarily through sharing the data with third parties. And thus, Facebook will see you chat with someone on WhatsApp, then they recommend that you add them as friends on Facebook. Google will see you searching for pregnancy test kit, and know that they can now start showing you maternity dresses ads. Mobile lending apps read your M-PESA messages and use that to determine how much money they can loan you. Information is a powerful tool, and he who has it, rules the day.

New Order

What are the new realities that we should wake up to? We are seeing more people get concerned about the data being held by tech firms, and new laws and legislation governing use of collected data. Tech firms and users need to guard all the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that they collect, as well as the metadata that can be used to identify a person through their behaviors. There is also a need to ensure that data is encrypted appropriately, both when the data is in transit and when it is seated somewhere in a server.

But an important part is also to ensure that data is used only for the intended purposes. Another good practice is to ensure people who collect data for whatever purpose collect the least amount of data possible, and do not hold it longer than necessary.

Even with regulations and best practices, the concept of privacy is way much different from what it used to be. It is a new world.

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