MTN CEO apologises for the lapse in service during the strike

By Staff Writer

Chief Executive Officer of MTN SA, Ahmad Farroukh, has apologised to customers for service disruptions resulting from the industrial action by employees affiliated to the Communications Workers Union (CWU).

The strike, which commenced last Wednesday, has led to the closure of the 808 Call Centre and disrupted other services centres including retail stores and the high value repair centre.

In a bid to end the labour dispute, MTN has made great strides to address the employees’ bonus pay concerns with a comprehensive bonus offer of 8% in 2015, and a guaranteed 12% bonus in 2016. MTN maintains that its offer is better than the 8% that the CWU had demanded initially.

“It is with great disappointment that our customers are subjected to the recent service experiences which are as a result of the strike. On behalf of MTN South Africa, I would like to extend my most sincere apology for this,” says Ahmad Farroukh, Chief executive Officer at MTN South Africa.

MTN has welcomed the establishment of a task team to look into payment for Sundays and public holidays in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

In the interest of resolving all matters of mutual interest, MTN has proposed that an independent binding arbitrator be appointed to adjudicate the matters at hand.

“I wish to assure our customers that we view this matter in a serious light and we are working tirelessly to ensure that all our support services are operational. We plan to fully restore our services soon,” said Farroukh.

Elon Musk biography portrays a brutal character driven by lofty dreams

By Ashley Dove-Jay

There’s this guy that’s pretty sure the thing you’re looking at right now is one of the greatest threats to humanity. No, he’s not talking about our growing obsession with staring at sheets of digitised glass, and the unhealthy sedentary existence associated with doing so. He’s talking about the thing living inside the machine humming quietly behind that glass: artificial intelligence.

It turns out that Elon Musk, one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, is plagued with existential worries. His new biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, reveals the billionaire engineer is seriously concerned about the rise of technology so intelligent it could destroy the human race in an effort to protect itself. Why should we listen to him? Well, when it comes to the future, he – more than anyone – is making it happen.

With his company Tesla, he’s transforming the automotive industry by producing the most compelling range of cars of all time – and they’re electric. With SolarCity, he’s producing the cheapest form of energy in most states of the US, and it’s through solar power. And with SpaceX, he’s building state-of-the-art rockets and spacecraft far cheaper than anyone else, that are about to become an order of magnitude cheaper through partial and full reusability.

SpaceX reusable rocket landing attempt

Why is Musk, who sold his founding stake in PayPal for more than US$150m (£97m), doing this? To increase our chances, to enable the expansion of humanity, to take one of our eggs out of this basket and place it on Mars as soon as possible. A decade ago, the vast majority of serious thinkers laughed these ideas off as ludicrous. Not now.

Musk had a difficult start in South Africa as the unassuming nerd from a broken family. He was a loner during childhood and suffered for years from bullying in the spartan Afrikaner culture he was brought up in. But now the man, sometimes known as General Musk, has risen. He has willed three recently thought impossible companies into existence, almost simultaneously, each now worth on the order of US$10 billion (£6 billion).

In the biography, Ashlee Vance level-headedly paints an insightful picture of the vehemence that is Musk, his growth into a leader, the personal sacrifice and torture he has chosen to endure, and the arduous development of his companies.

Probably not thinking ‘Where did I leave my lunch?’ OnInnovation/flickr, CC BY-ND

Any worries that the book would be a shallow money-grabbing rehash of a dozen YouTube interviews are swiftly put to bed. Vance battled to get Musk on side and eventually managed to conduct regular interview with the man himself, the people closest to him, and those that were there at pivotal points throughout his life so far.

As someone who started life in similarly difficult circumstances in post-Apartheid South Africa, with a background in aerospace and a strong affinity for the potential of Mars, I have a soft spot for big E. But Vance is not a fan-boy. His words describe a man whose unrelenting drive and genius is harrowing to those around him, who is mentally detached from what most of us pond-life think is normal – and how brutal such a combination makes this modern-day “Messiah-like” character on a personal level.

Musk is reported to have turned solid engineers into catatonic wrecks after a bad meeting, and built a culture where his employees adore him and fear him at the same time. For me, it is this aspect of Vance’s portrayal is particularly fascinating.

This guy has such lofty and inspiring ambitions for humanity. He has put everything on the line to take us forward as a species. Yet when it comes to dealing with individuals, in Vance’s book his lack of empathy appears to go beyond anything most of us have ever encountered. On the surface, Musk seems personable and easy-going. In Vance’s reality, he puts Spock to shame.

Even at 400 pages, the book could easily have spent another 100 pages delving more into the personal conversations with Musk, exploring his thoughts more deeply and speculating on the inner-workings of his mind. My wife, a psychiatrist, would have a field-day with this guy.

Airports narcotics detection technology battles determined drug traffickers

By Gugu Lourie

For whatever reason airline passengers at airports make mental notes of the people around them.

I recently observed a well-dressed ‘gentleman’ at an airport in China. He walked with an obvious swagger. For me there was nothing about him that alarmed me or suggested he could be up to no good. After all this was Beijing Capital International Airport.

Perhaps he sensed that my travelling companions and I were not overtly averse to his presence. Not surprisingly the well-dressed ‘gentleman’ decided to sit next to us.

He had arrived “in style” at the boarding gates for a Qatar Airways flight to Hamad International Airport in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.

We had earlier noticed him riding on what looked like a golf cart. He and another person rode the cart for about a kilometre to the boarding area, while the rest of the passengers walked the distance.

Once there, my fellow scribes Hans van de Groenendaal “the Dutchmen” of EngineerIT and Kathy Gibson from IT-Online and I sat down to wait to be called to board the plane.

I noticed the well-dressed ‘gentleman’ was staring at me. Each time I looked in his direction his eyes were on me. A bit flustered I decided to get a TsingTao beer from a nearby vending machine, some 200 metres away from where we had been sitting.

When I came back I noticed that the well-dressed ‘gentleman’ still had his eyes fixated on me. Eventually he walked towards me. He sat next to me.

“I am also going to Johannesburg like you and am desperately seeking your help,” he said.

All the time his piercing eyes stayed glued on me.

He paused for a while, rubbed his big nose, and then blurted out: “I have three bags and they will not let me in at the boarding gate.”

Still in my face, he softened his approach and pleaded:

“Could you please take one of the bags my friend and take it inside the plane. Please my friend, help me, it’s so easy.”

Not impressed by his request, I said in my sternest voice:  “Look here, I am not in Beijing to carry anyone’s bag or your bag for that matter. I will not do that and please leave me in peace and not in pieces.”

Gibson quickly added: “No, no, we are not carrying anyone’s bag.”

Instinctively I held my bag tightly.

The gentleman sighed and said: “Okay, okay, I just wonder who is going to help me now.”

He cut a dejected figure. His eyes seemed to turn red as if was about to cry. His hands shook.

My colleague “the Dutchmen”, said: “You did well Gugu.”

There was no need to say anything. We all knew the unwritten rules of travelling – never carry anyone else’s bag past a security check point.

The ‘gentleman’ disappeared for a while and only returned when the announcement to board the plane was made. He was with the same man he rode the cart with.

He was carrying three small bags, one in front, another on his back and third down his side, partially obscured by a suit bag he held in his hand.

The other man had a big Gucci travelling bag with wheels. As we got close to the boarding gate the pair separated.

The ‘gentleman’ with three bags went in front. Predictably he was stopped. While the customs officers spoke to him, his colleague zoomed past along with other passengers.

We all watched in amazement as the scene played out in front of us.

After a brief exchange the ‘gentleman’ and his three bags and suit bag were all safely inside the plane.

Reunited the pair held hands as if they had just been saved from the fiery jaws of a Chinese Dragon.

To my chagrin, the pair sat in the seats right in front from of me.

I decided to find another seat. Before take-off I moved as far away as I could. I found an empty seat at the back.

Fearing the worst, I put my small computer bag under my seat, where I assumed it would be safe.

The cabin crew tried to persuade me to return to my original seat, but I would not be moved. Thankfully they let me stay where I was.

I felt like I had been in some exhilarating adventure. How did I end up here?

A week ago I left for China to attend a networking conference in Beijing, which was held by Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker.

It was a great trip for me. I had been turned into an “instant celebrity” in Beijing, as locals snapped images of me with them.

I also enjoyed sumptuous meals, courtesy of Huawei and visited great places in the city.

I was even introduced to the joys of drinking tea by analyst Steven Ambrose of Strategy Worx and Sophia Liu of Huawei.

When we arrived in Hamad International Airport, it was my turn to “watch” the ‘gentleman’ and his colleague.

They did an amazing Houdini act and disappeared. The next time I saw the ‘gentleman’, he was already inside the aircraft headed for OR Tambo International. His companion was nowhere to be seen.

Later the same ‘gentlemen’ again tried to strike up a conversation with me.

“Are you okay?” he asked as I made my way to the bathroom. I just smiled.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the ‘gentleman’ and his suspicious hand luggage had gone past all the security scanners and check points. The questions filled my mind.

If his bags were carrying illicit goods, how was it that the ‘gentleman’ had passed through so many security gates? All hand held bags were screened by high-tech scanners for prohibited items, before being let through. Did he have connections in Beijing?

Why was, this particular ‘gentleman’ given a ride on a cart by Chinese officials inside the airport, while other passengers had to walk?

Why was, he asking me to carry his bags? What happened to his companion at Hamad International Airport in Doha?

My only conclusion was that he was probably being assisted by people higher up to smuggle whatever it was that was in his bags from China into South Africa.

Furthermore, it dawned on me that those high-tech scanners were perhaps not able to detect everything inside hand held luggage at airports.

At Beijing Capital International Airport, Ambrose’s bag was the subject of more scrutiny after scanners detected a Huawei Mi-Fi dongle inside. Strangely the same scanners didn’t pick up that I too had a Huawei Mi-Fi dongle, though smaller, in my bag.

On arrival at OR Tambo International Airport, I again noticed the ‘gentleman’ and his many bags.

There were a few policemen standing around at the exit gate. Occasionally they randomly picked one or two people whose bags they went through manually.

They didn’t frisk the ‘gentleman’.

I am not sure if I failed in my civic duty in not making my suspicions known to the relevant authorities – but there was always the chance that I may have got it all wrong.

I also have inhibitions about “getting involved”. These inhibitions have, perhaps, been heightened by the many movies I watch.

In the movies there are always dire consequences for those who rat on drug peddlers to the authorities.

Sometimes it is better to let sleeping dogs lie.

I am safely back home sipping green tea, my new found hobby.

From the safety of my house I reminisced about the other pleasant parts of my trip to China.

I remembered my conversation with Ambrose, our smart analyst, at a local pub at Dong Third Ring Road overlooking Beijing’s Lufthansa Centre Shopping Mall, China’s biggest mall. It is famous for copious consumption with a business area covering 22, 000 square metres and supplying more than 100 000 kinds of brands.

In obvious appreciation of the gigantic mall Ambrose exclaimed: “Hey comrade, capitalism has won”. I responded: “I am a capitalist at heart, but I really love how the mixed economy is working here in Beijing”.

I wish could go back to Beijing to learn more about the mixed-economy and of course it would help if someone reassured me that airport scanners actually work and that drugs and other illicit goods are not flowing freely into South Africa from abroad.

Viva Beijing, Viva China!

So Your Teenager Is Vaping e-Cigarettes – Should You Worry?

E-cigarettes and other vaping products are on track to out-sell cigarettes by the end of 2023. And more and more young people are trying e-cigarettes. So what do you need to know about them? Are they less harmful than using cigarettes or other burned tobacco products?

What are e-cigarettes?

First, they are not burned tobacco products. Most often, they contain nicotine solutions that are heated to make a vapor (hence the terms vape or vaping), and they’re usually powered by batteries. Some look like cigarettes and others can resemble flashlights. The first e-cigarettes were not produced by cigarette companies, but the cigarette companies have gotten into the business. E-cigarette and vaping products are available in specialty stores and convenience stores around the US with varying restrictions on purchase by youth under 18.

E-cigarettes don’t necessarily contain nicotine. Some popular products contain little or no nicotine and levels can vary from brand to brand. And nicotine isn’t always the reason someone might try e-cigarettes. In Canada – where nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are not approved, but still widely available – only 38% of adult cigarette smokers who also use e-cigarettes “always use nicotine” and 30% “sometime use nicotine” when vaping. And only 4% of those who never smoked tobacco reported using nicotine when vaping.

Old cigarette, meet e-cigarette. NeydtStock/Shutterstock

Why do young people use e-cigarettes?

A 2014 national high school survey finds more monthly vapers than monthly smokers: 17% of US 12th-grade students report using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days compared to 14% for tobacco cigarettes. We also know that patterns of infrequent, non-daily use of various tobacco and nicotine products may be increasing among young people. But trying e-cigarettes does not automatically lead to daily use.

Young people might also be influenced to try e-cigarettes because of how they are priced and promoted. They can be cheaper than traditional cigarettes and may be perceived as safer. Other features, like flavors can also support use in all age groups.

As e-cigarettes become more popular and more visible, young people will start trying and using these products. And because products keep changing, they will often try different kinds of e-cigarettes.

Youth is a time when individuals experiment with and get into trouble with psychoactive substances, including nicotine-containing e-cigarettes. In 2014, 44.4% of 12th-graders had ever used marijuana/hashish, and 35.1% had used in the past year; 41.4% reported being drunk in the past year. Users of one type of psychoactive substance are more likely to use others, like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, THC or prescription drugs.

Is vaping safer than smoking?

The best evidence to date shows that using e-cigarettes is very dramatically less dangerous than cigarette smoking. Death from all causes within the ages of 25 to 79 is three times higher for smokers than never smokers. Compared to smoking, long-term health effects of e-cigarettes have been judged as likely “much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders.”

The 2014 Surgeon-General Report concluded that “The burden of death and disease from tobacco use in the United States is overwhelmingly caused by cigarettes and other burned tobacco products; rapid elimination of their use will dramatically reduce this burden.”

Recent reports suggest that vapers should be cautioned about how they use high-voltage devices because they can produce high levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde. But that, however, is not one of the common ways people use e-cigarettes. High voltage devices and long puffs can produce a bad taste that is avoided.

Burned cigarettes contain many carcinogens: the FDA lists 79 “harmful or potentially harmful” carcinogens in tobacco products and tobacco smoke.

Keep in mind that reports of a product being “not safe” in some way does not necessarily mean that it cannot overall be much safer than another product.

Are e-cigarettes a gateway drug? Teen with e-cigarette via Dawn Gilfillan/Shutterstock

Are e-cigarettes a gateway drug?

The specter of some drugs being gateways to more dangerous drugs has preoccupied drug policy, and this is no different when it comes to tobacco products. E-cigarettes have been feared as possible gateways to cigarettes. If vaping has been acting largely as a gateway to cigarettes, one would expect to see more cigarette smoking with the rise in vaping. This has not happened. Smoking has continued to decline. Cigarette smoking by young people is the most powerful cause of smoking by adults.

In a broad sense, the world is full of products that can look like gateway products. The use of BMX bikes on dirt tracks by children could be gateways to the use of motorcycle dirt bikes by adults. But do the products cause the linkage or are individual tendencies more responsible for associations?

Much research on drug gateways supports a “common liability model” more than drug-based causal models. The Common Liability Model holds that characteristics (for example, liking to take risks) within individuals can be responsible for drug-use associations.

No matter whether you think (a) that trying of an e-cigarette is a causal gateway to later smoking that would not have otherwise happened or (b) that those who are more likely to try cigarettes are more likely to try e-cigarettes, once products become available to users, how these products are marketed influence which products are preferred. What is said and done about vaping can promote gateways to cigarettes. If you show more concern about vaping than smoking or if you downplay the deadly risks of smoking, you encourage young people to switch to cigarettes.

The policies that allow certain substances, like alcohol, tobacco and psychoactive substances, to be used quite freely by adults usually include prohibitions on use or purchase by youth. Without such policies, there might be even more experimentation by youth with these products. Prohibitions on sale of vaping products to youth should be supported.

What should you do if your teen smokes?

If you are faced with committed teenage smokers (who are probably also using other prohibited substances like drugs or alcohol), perhaps the best you can do is foster switching to e-cigarettes. Of course, do explore their interest in getting help with quitting smoking from quit-lines. For less-involved users of e-cigarettes who do not smoke regular cigarettes, encourage that regular use be avoided and that nicotine use be limited as much as possible.

Telling a teenager that vaping is just as bad for you as smoking or that e-cigs are worse than tobacco cigarettes could push them toward cigarettes and is not justified. It makes more sense to tell a young person that it is much better for their health if they stay away from tobacco cigarettes or cigarette-like tobacco cigarscompletely.

If you have teenagers who already both smoke and vape, encourage that they work to avoid cigarettes completely, and vaping could help them do so.

Lynn T Kozlowski is Professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

 

Striata targets tough US market for further growth

“But right now is heads down, run a good business.”

By Gugu Lourie

A South African business – which provides secure electronic communications such as paperless bank statements – is targeting more global growth after venturing into the tough US market.

Striata operates in London, Johannesburg, Hong Kong, Sydney, and via partners in North and South America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

The company provides paperless solutions: document delivery, electronic messaging and marketing communications.

Striata recently announced that it has bought Mass Transmit – a New York based provider of email marketing tools and services – for an undisclosed amount.

The US buy exposes Striata to a bigger market that offers growth opportunities.

CEO and founder Michael Wright said in South Africa Striata counts big corporates, including the banks, among its clients.

“We get to America then we find 50 companies that are bigger than the bigger customers we got in South Africa,” said Wright. “The market we are seeing globally is enormous. Every insurance company, every bank, every telco can use what we do.

Striata CEO and founder Michael Wright
Striata CEO and founder Michael Wright

Wright is banking on the big clients being brought by Mass Transmit into Striata such as AOL, American Airlines, Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Heineken, T-Mobile and Virgin Atlantic.

Interactive electronic documents and transactional messages offer more opportunities for Striata’s growth as they enhance accuracy and improve record-keeping for corporates, small companies and individuals.

Furthermore, the ebilling and invoicing market is getting more competitive.  There are more than 500 billion bills/invoices exchanged globally each year, according to a latest report from Billentis.

Google is entering the market and likely to be a big rival to Striata, IBM and Switzerland’s GMC Software Technology, among others. Google Pony Express, which is currently under development, will apparently allow users to pay bills from their Gmail accounts.

However, Wright is excited about the entry of Google into ebilling industry. “We think they, actually going to help us, because they are going to raise the awareness of secure document delivery by email.”

Another hurdle is that the enormous potential for growth comes with a need for deep pockets.

Asked how the company would overcome this hurdle, Wright said Striata did not need to raise capital to expand its products and services.  “We use the profits in the business to reinvest and grow the company.”

For now it seems the company is generating fat profits.

Asked if there are any plans to float the business on stock exchange in the future, Wright said: “No plans to list, but you should say never, no plans set now for an initial public offering (IPO). We will run a good business and have to keep growing and increase our products and customers.”

He added that somewhere in the future the company would decide on what the future holds. It might even consider being part of a bigger group or do an IPO.

“But right now is heads down, run a good business.”

Striata services
Striata services

Striata is also excited about a huge move into mobile space by its customers. The South African-based firm is developing a lot of products in mobile and the cloud.

Striata wants to create better ways for its customers to access their paperless documents on their smartphones, tablets and personal computers out of the cloud.

“The first product is going to be released in the next six weeks. So, we are getting excited people are getting rid of paper. They are going digital. We’ve got website, email, mobile and cloud. All of this will come together and we provide a solution into that space,” says Wright.

MTN takes union to labour court

MTN says it has taken the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to the Johannesburg Labour Court for allegedly blocking entrances to the company’s offices and intimidating staff.

MTN South Africa’s chief human resources officer, Themba Nyathi, told Fin24 that the company’s court interdict against the union had been heard on Friday midday.

The court action comes as call centre and franchise staff have taken to the streets this week to demand that MTN hikes their annual salary increase by 10% and pays them a bonus of 16% of their annual salaries.

The legal strike reached its high point on Wednesday when CWU members addressed striking workers outside MTN’s Johannesburg head office.

Discussions about the salary increases are ongoing, but MTN says in the meantime it has launched the court action in the Labour Court in Braamfontein.

“Yesterday we went to court to secure interim relief against CWU – that is for deviating from the agreed picketing rules and the like,” Nyathi told Fin24.

“They are blocking entrances forcefully using rocks and we recorded this. We’ve reported incidents to the police. Yesterday, one of our general managers was assaulted with knobkierries outside.

“These are some of the things that we’re saying: Lots of people in this country died for the right to be represented by unions and lots of people died in this country for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. So, we expect the union to respect that going forward,” Nyathi said.

Nyathi said that the court action is only aimed at getting CWU to “abide by its own picketing rules” and that it is a separate issue to dealing with the issue of the pay hikes.

“That’s all that we want,” Nyathi told Fin24.

“All that we are saying is that CWU must stick to what they have signed,” Nyathi added.

Strike

Nyathi has further said that there is a an over 90% turnout of workers to work and that operations are running as normal despite the ongoing strike.

Discussions between CWU and MTN regarding the requested pay rises are also still ongoing but sticking points exist.

Nyathi said MTN wants to appoint an independent arbitrator regarding the workers’ requests but that CWU is allegedly refusing this.

Nyathi has also challenged claims that it traditionally paid the likes of its call centre workers in SA a bonus of 16% of their annual salaries. MTN also says that its entry level call centre workers received a bonus of 4% despite bonuses not being declared this year by the company, including in some of its other operations in Africa.

Nyathi further said that MTN promised the striking SA workers an 8% bonus in light but that the union rejected this.

“A salary increase of an employee is determined by the score that they get on their performance management system, period,” Nyathi told Fin24.

Questions over who is really on strike

Meanwhile, MTN is maintaining that CWU does not meet the 30% threshold for it to be recognised as a union.

Nyathi told Fin24 that CWU only meets a 19% representation level at the company.

In addition, Nyathi told Fin24 that most of the striking workers are from outsourced companies that operate call centres and franchises for MTN.

“The 19% that they have, it’s predominantly in the call centres and we’re talking about entry level staff that are outsourced.

“Most of our call centres are outsourced and that’s where the bulk of their membership sits,” Nyathi said.

Nyathi, though, was not willing to name these outsourced companies or say how the strike has impacted their operations.

CWU president Clyde Mervin has not responded to Fin24’s request for comment at the time of writing.

In the meantime, MTN is also sticking to its ‘no work, no pay’ policy regarding the strike and it’s unclear when an agreement with the union could be reached.

“And the union has signed on ‘no work, no pay’,” Nyathi said. Fin24

Billionaires, icons and movie stars – why geek is now chic

“The rise of the geek has been prolific, driven by the mainstream rise of tech and the acute relevance of previously niche skills”

By Gary Newe

We’ve seen the unstoppable rise of the geek over the past few years. From popular culture to big business, the geeks have inherited the Earth. They’re the billionaires, the modern day rock stars, and their many achievements have resulted in a significant change to their status in popular society. They are now often championed, given the limelight or even imitated – geek is now chic! So let’s take some time out to look at how the geek – and our perception of the geek – has evolved.

The Geek Revolution

Before the dawn of the Information Age, being an IT expert was associated with social ineptitude, a stereotype amplified by films such as ‘Revenge of the Nerds’. Although this negative stigma has not quite been completely reversed, the rise of the geek has been prolific, driven by the mainstream rise of tech and the acute relevance of previously niche skills.

Whether consumers or enterprises, society relies heavily on certain technologies, making IT experts and their knowledge indispensable. Employment of ‘Genius’ assistants in Apple stores show the change in status and dependence of society on the geek, as customers compete for the attention of who can fix their gadgets. The behaviour of geek idols such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates also helped make geeks cool, by having the audacity to drop out of (a Harvard) education to follow their dreams.

The Omnipresent Geek

Popular culture too is now exploring the techie as an unorthodox hero. This is perhaps most evident on the screen, demonstrated recently through television shows such as ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘The IT Crowd’, which explicitly focus their stories around stereotypical geeks. ‘The Social Network’ saw an entire film made about the rise of the IT genius. Characters are by no means portrayed with model good looks and bulging muscles, but the idea that the geek can ‘win’ is becoming more prevalent.

In fashion, thick-rimmed, non-prescriptive glasses have become popular as an optional accessory rather than an optical necessity, and have been embraced by stars and schoolchildren alike. T-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘NERD’ or ‘GEEK’ are hugely successful; it seems the implication of intellect, whether genuine or ironic, is now considered fashionable.

Geek Power

If society has progressed through the Iron Age and the Industrial Age, we are undoubtedly in the Tech Age. IT geeks have done amazing things with their inventions and innovations: Sir Tim Berners-Lee revolutionised global society by giving life to the World Wide Web; the inventions of Steve Jobs and Apple are omnipresent and envelop popular society and business; Mark Zuckerberg has helped shape a generation through social media – just try to escape social networks today!

Despite geeks hitting the headlines for all the right reasons, there remains a significant gap between the level of demand for staff with specialist knowledge and the number of prospective employees who possess it. A number of recent high-profile hacking scandals show that IT experts have the potential to mould the business landscape in a variety of ways and have catapulted the cyber-security skills shortage to the top of the national agenda. These achievements have not gone unnoticed by businesses or the governments, who have increased IT spending budgets and launched recruitment drives.

The success of tech companies and individuals has seen expert knowledge come to be associated with entrepreneurial flair, with the stories of innovators like Zuckerberg carrying the geek into the unchartered realms of, dare we say it, coolness.

Prepaid services is the answer to utilities crippling debt

By Philip Belamant and David Cooke

With South African municipalities owing utilities providers in excess of R96 billion, it is clear that traditional ways of collecting money due for utilities services such as water, electricity and gas are no longer working. In fact, this level of debt is crippling the utilities, with illegal connections compounding the problem, as seen by recent power cuts due to system overload in Soweto.

It’s time for utilities and municipalities to seek and implement more effective methods of revenue collection, and the model of installing smart meters that compel users to pay in advance for the utilities they use is one of the most compelling.

Government has realized this, and the Department of Cooperative Governance is currently investigating the implications of installing smart water and power meters in 14.5 million homes across the country, to help municipalities resolve their revenue collection challenges. The City of Johannesburg alone has determined to install 150 000 smart meters by the end of 2015, to help reduce the impacts of load shedding.

Philip Belamant, MD of ZAZOO
Philip Belamant, MD of ZAZOO

Smart metering complemented with a pre-paid voucher system offers myriad benefits to users and to the utilities.

Users pay for their utilities in advance of using them. This means that utilities providers and municipalities are no longer burdened with the onerous and expensive task of debt collection. An electronic end-to-end system will also provide much needed transparency for the utilities, ensuring a dramatic reduction in “blind vending”, which can deliver major benefit to both the utility and the customer.

Furthermore, such a system can also reduce the ‘often-not-mentioned’ fraud, which can exist between the customer and the utility. Utilities themselves will thus no longer be expected to produce services with money that they don’t have, and trust between the utilities and municipalities can be rebuilt.

Users are able to control their spend on utility services, budgeting effectively each month by purchasing pre-paid vouchers. The awareness of buying these services in advance is also likely to encourage users to curb their consumption of utilities, possibly leading to reduced demand on the already over-stretched grid.

David Cooke, Head of Prepaid Business Unit
David Cooke, Head of Prepaid Business Unit

Pre-paid vouchers can be sold by registered vendors in locations across the country, and with technology available to enable this transaction via mobile phone, users are able to access prepaid vouchers wherever they are. This also creates employment opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to build a new business.

While startling in its simplicity, such a system should comply with all the required financial and technology security standards in the marketplace, including those described by the Standard Transfers Specification (STS) Association. This is the only globally accepted open standard for prepayment systems, and ensures inter-operability between system components of prepayment systems.

It should include fully managed token distribution across multiple channels, management of meter keys with remote key loading, and high level security with identity-based access and password control, as well as role based authorization to ensure system integrity.

Detailed transaction logging and comprehensive data reporting would give utilities and municipalities insights into trends and performance, equipping them to make the best business decisions going forward.

Prepaid and smart meter systems have been installed in many communities worldwide, in countries like Nigeria, the UK, Australia and Latin America. A research paper produced by the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford studied the installation of prepaid and smart meter systems in Mozambique.

The researcher, Idalina Baptista, found that urban dwellers in Maputo welcomed prepayment, and felt empowered by it, with one interviewee saying that “It’s necessary to make things happen, instead of having things happen to you.”

Stellenbosch prof fired over ‘racist’ SMS

Johannesburg – Stellenbosch University said on Friday it had terminated its contract with a lecturer who admitted to sending an alleged racist SMS to a student earlier this month.

“The service contract between Stellenbosch University and Dr Anton Stander was terminated this week, after Dr Stander admitted of his own accord that he had made the said remarks,” the university said.

“Stellenbosch University reaffirms its total repugnance towards comments of this nature and affirms its stance to act decisively in each such case, irrespective of its origin.”

Stander asked the institution to mediate a meeting with Sikhulekile Duma in order to apologise to the student.

The institution welcomed Stander’s request and agreed to the mediation.

Duma, a sociology student and #OpenStellenbosch forum member, laid a complaint after receiving an SMS which read: “Jou swart moer van die wit boer”.

This loosely translates to “You black bastard from the white farmer”.

The number was traced to Stander.

Duma previously told City Press that members of the movement had received numerous threats.

This, he said, was the first one which members were able to trace to a possible source.

#OpenStellenbosch has spearheaded a number of protests and meetings surrounding transformation at the university in recent weeks. – News24

20 years later, SA’s first registered domain names

By Gugu Lourie

Did you know the first co.za domain names to be registered in South Africa included mtn.co.za, multichoice.co.za, bmw.co.za, jse.co.za, nestle.co.za, anglo.co.za and telkom.co.za. There were 221 co.za domains registered in 1995 as the first crop of ZACR-registered domains.

“These “Platinum” domains were the forerunners of what became a world-leading domain name industry that has contributed enormously to the intellectual capital of the country,” said the ZA Central Registry (ZACR).

There are currently over 1 000 000 registered and active domain names ending in .ZA.

 “The first group of 221 co.za Platinum domain names are significant because they had the vision to invest in the fledgling .ZA domain name system, and .co.za in particular, when it was trendy for South African firms at that time to acquire a .com domain, for example. We commend our Platinum registrants for their early confidence in South Africa’s homegrown domain name registry,” said Lucky Masilela, CEO of ZACR.

The ZACR operates co.za, web.za, org.za, net.za and the cTLDs (city Top Level Domains) of .capetown (‘dotCapeTown’), .joburg (‘dotJoburg’) and .durban (‘dotDurban).

“ZACR today is a well-established and effective registry operator able to adequately provide for the needs of the local domain name industry. We could never have become what we are today without the support of those early domain name registrants who had the confidence and the vision to registrar a .co.za domain name,” concluded Mr Masilela.