Some time ago, the Malawi daily newspaper, The Nation, released a new web design. More recently Nyasa Times updated their web design. In both cases, it’s an improvement. And from my current home base here in Switzerland, both sites load promptly.
From family in Malawi I hear that the loading times for both sites have increased. It would be interesting to hear from others if they noticed the same.
Many people in Malawi access the internet via mobile devices. Only few have access to flat rates and most Malawi internet users probably use prepaid data bundles, i.e. every MB of data costs $$$.
In addition, some parts of Malawi and even parts of Blantyre don’t have a good connectivity.
Growing up in Malawi, I probably don’t share the same level of contemplative Christmas (“besinnliche Weihnachten”) memories that my fellow German compatriots may have experienced. It’s difficult to emulate some Christmas traditions when it’s over 30 degrees warm.
My mom remembers how I had to learn a lot of english carols in my first year of primary school, many of which she had never heard of. Like Good King Wenceslas. Or God rest ye merry gentlemen. Or Away in a manger. I faintly remember walking to St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Blantyre for carol service rehearsals.
Christmas was a very special celebration for my grandfather. My mom told me about a lot about the Christmas parties he organized for his family despite being very poor.
And many years later, I remember my first Christmas at German uni where everybody in class said they’re travelling home to be with their family. Even the tough-looking punk with dyed red hair and rings in his nose was travelling home to celebrate Christmas with his mom. I was truly fascinated.
I am thankful for this Christian holiday. And I like some of the traditions associated with Christmas. I just dislike and still rebel against the commercialization.
I’m planning to attend the Christmas Eve service at Crossroads Basel. If you want to join me, here are the details.
If you’re feeling the onset of a cold, reach for this tropical fruit instead of an orange next time. One papaya has more than three times the daily recommended intake of vitamin C and is also stocked with flavonoids, vitamin B, potassium, magnesium and fiber. All in all, it’s good for the cardiovascular system and reduces the risk of colon cancer.
I know very few students that make it to uni level in Malawi. Most lack the points required to go on to tertiary education.
If you pass MSCE but don’t have enough points in Maths and English, your only hope is to try again. All career options require a good MSCE in Maths and English. And there are only a limited number of training positions. Competition is high. Most school leavers end up repeating the exam 2 or 3 times.
IMHO, the educational system requires more vocational training options. Like in Germany or Switzerland. Like Tevet but on a larger scale.
But this is not easy to implement. I don’t know enough about the Malawi education system. I’m an outsider. I’m sure Malawi blogger Steve Sharra can provide more insight.
There are few options for middle-of-the-road school leavers with a MSCE pass.
Reminds me of a quote by John C. Maxwell to treat all your students well. Cos your C-level students will one day return and fund the expansion of your school.
My daily routine has engulfed me already. But I want to add some notes on my recent visit to Blantyre. And point you to some photos. And travel tips.
Let’s start with the travel tips:
A very favourable recent development for Blantyre-bound travellers is the fact that Ethiopian Airlines now flies to Malawi’s commercial centre from Addis. In fact, there are daily flights to and from Addis.
This is a great development. Some competition is good and I hope fare prices will fall.
My second tip is:
Visit Liwonde National Park if you’re into game viewing. We saw lots of animals. August is a good time to visit. It’s not too hot yet and very dry. The animals walk down to the river and graze in the plains of the Shire River. Liwonde and Machinga district are densely populated and it’s good to support national parks and conservation areas such as Liwonde.
One lasting memory I will try to cherish is the beautiful sunlight I saw on the day when I arrived in Blantyre at around 4 pm. It is so beautiful to arrive in Chileka and see the familiar outline of Michiru mountain.
While travelling from the airport on that first day, we encountered a funeral procession crossing the main road. As is the custom, all vehicles on the main road stopped. People got out and stood next to their vehicles. The first part of the procession was singing one song while the latter part sang another. There was loud crying. Quite a cultural difference to Europe.
Later on the same day, at the shopping mall in Chichiri, a man was lying on the ground bleeding from his mouth. A crowd of people had gathered. Maybe he had been caught stealing? In which case, he can only hope that the police is nearby or the mob may beat him to death. Street justice is widespread.
My stay in Blantyre was happily uneventful. No zigubu queues. Hardly any power cuts or water supply interruptions.
I am fascinated by the mobile phone culture. People walk around with 2 or 3 cell phones in their hand. You can buy airtime, units for prepaid SIM cards, every 50 meters. TNM and Airtel have achieved distribution networks comparable to that of Coca-cola. Both mobile phone companies are advertising their mobile payment options on a wide scale.
Since the early days of Twitter, Malawian content has increased many fold.
Social media content about Malawi during general election time, or about President Mutharika’s death, proved to be fairly accurate.
Obviously, a tweet on its own is just raw material. It needs further analysing and fact-checking.
Why Twitter? There is still lots of misunderstanding and one-sided reporting regarding African countries. Largely due to ignorance and the way mainstream media continue to report about the African continent.
Best way to change this perception? Well, one way is to tweet and share your views and opinions. Some ideas:
Share your technical innovations and solutions.
Tweet about your business idea and find partners for business and trade opportunities.
Build networks and become a trusted citizen journalist.
Show the positive and beautiful aspects of the country.
Write about societal and linguistic changes.
Write about mobile technology and its daily usage and fast adoption in Malawi.
Provide a realistic view of the challenges a small country like Malawi faces in a globalized world.
Tweet streams included in the list encompass:
Malawians living in Malawi 😉
Expats living in Malawi
Malawians living abroad
Organizations based in Malawi (e.g. business companies, media companies, governmental channels, charities and NGOs)
Organization outside of Malawi, but in some way connected to Malawi (usually charities or NGOs)
I just got back from a run around the Finnenbahn. The distance is nothing to write home about, but it was a pleasurable experience with temperatures around 18 degrees. Spring is here.
With all the fresh air rushing thru my system, I was in mindblogging mode. Reflecting on all the data I have been consuming here and there.
Yesterday afternoon I tried out new bicycles at a bicycle shop in downtown Basel. I am thinking of buying a new bicycle. My Univega will soon be 10 years old. And a lot has been happening in the bicycle space since then.
I read Scoble’s post on reducing noise on Facebook. Useful! I don’t really have the a signal to noise problem on FB, but they are offering more and more control. Which is good.
On Twitter: Did you see that you can now embed tweets?
yay! no chiperoni today! RT @wetterbasel: Heute: Klar bei max. 19 Grad, Morgen: Nebel bei max. 18 Grad, (Stand: 11:00 Uhr)
The effort to tweak all these corporate social media channels is getting higher than high. Don’t let the social media corporations take over.
Instead of just consuming content, I encourage you to create content. Write a blog, take photos, learn something new, write how-tos, write about your area of expertise, own your own data, participate, enter into dialog, have fun. Here are some ideas:
So much has happened in this space. And even in a downturn, TNM has managed to increase its subscriber base by 35% in 2011. Compare and contrast those kind of numbers with the saturated markets here in Europe.
The number of Facebook users from southern Africa is increasing despite the high internet access costs. Socialbaker lists 95 820 users from Malawi.
Leave a comment or contact me if you can provide further interesting data / anecdotes / user behaviour on internet usage patterns in the warm heart of Africa.
Thank you for reading and supporting chiperoni.ch. Alles wird gut.
P.S.: I missed a LOLCat photo opportunity today: a cat stretched out on the seat of Vespa. Unfortunately I didn’t have a cam with me.
I am back from BT. I spent two and a half weeks in Malawi’s biggest city.
I started off in snowy Zurich with some delay. There was a long and slow queue of aircrafts waiting for de-icing. The transparent and open explanations by the Lufthansa captain, at the beginning and throughout the delay, were great – a lesson in communications. In Munich the entire airport was in quiet mode due to Christmas Eve celebrations. After another de-icing session, the plane took off for Joburg. I sat next to a young South African student who is studying medicine in Warsaw. Made for an interesting conversation. After a smooth flight, I learned that my flight to Blantyre was already boarding. No time to stock up on books and magazines at my favourite airport book store. I was the second last person to board the plane. And the first to go through customs at Chileka airport, cos my bag was the first on the conveyor belt.
Driving towards Blantyre on Chileka Road, my eyes rested on the familiar mountain outlines of Ndirande and Michiru. It has been raining regularly and everything is green.
In the afternoon on Christmas Day, I took part in a Christmas carol service at Chombo Children’s Home in Chirimba. Afterwards my mom presented gifts to the 47 children that live at Chombo. This year all children received a school bag filled with books and sweets.
BTW, I have become the unofficial official photographer of Chombo. Snapshots from my previous visits are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/chombo-mission/sets/.
I spent the next couple of weeks shopping for Chombo, driving sick children to hospital, helping out with simple admin tasks.
I persuaded my mom to try a TNM USB mobile internet modem, since her current email via telephone dial-up is unreliable and slow. Downloading 451 kB takes over 8 minutes:
waiting for 451 KB to download…
And many of her European and American and South African contacts don’t reduce the size of their attachments, sending their photos in original size. Because we have fast flat rates. Internet is ubiquitous.
I wonder how much the re-branding from Celtel to Zain to Airtel has cost / will cost.
I managed to read three novels. And I enjoyed listening to BBC radio. One particular interview with the actor Michael Caine impressed me. Caine described how many fellow actors tried to discourage him, how he was physically sick before going out on stage, and how he met his wife. He referred to a Winston Churchhill quote:
If you are going through hell, keep going.
I need to add BBC to my podcast lists.
My dad has two young mischief puppy dogs that love to play and chew and jump.
The flight back was uneventful. I sat next to a lady from Oslo that had visited Plan projects in Zimbabwe. She was quite impressed and thinks Zimbabwe will mend fast.
Today I talked to @sufranke about an event I am planning at the day job.
Before long I was explaining how I was fascinated by the power of blogs and Twitter and the possibility they offer to bypass the gatekeepers who decide which media content you are supposed to consume. In my case, blogs and Twitter help me circumvent traditional Western euro-centric media with their pre-set opinions on Africa to learn about news in Blantyre.
The story of Nchenga at Chiperoni.ch is hidden in this blog:
Example of the power of blogging: During the last General Elections in Malawi, Alex at the Polytechnic helped to keep us informed by posting regular information and allowing Malawians to comment. In general, blogging has increased the amount of direct infos available on Malawi in the Internet.
Why use the nom de web Nchenga and why is my blog called Chiperoni?
No real reason except that I set up this blog shortly after a visit to Blantyre:
mchenga 1.sand; maziko ena onse npamchenga = all other foundations are on sand (see: hymn 362, Nyimbo za Mulungu); expression: walemba pamchenga (lit.: you have written in the sand) = youâ€™ve wasted your time; expression: kugwetserana mu mchenga (lit.: throwing one another on the sand) = reconciliation;
We need to stop underestimating people. Don’t expect Africans to be content with boring old SMS and voice for long. Smartphones, droids and even iphones are much higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than we realize, especially if nobody around owns a computers, your schools suck, and the government controls the radio and newspaper. Africans have leapfrogged over landlines. They are now leaping over laptops.
(Desperate housewives, lonely on their isolated farms, also surprised the world by being the early adopters of the strange world of cranks and dials and operators that made up the original telephones of the 19th century)
Just got back from visiting family in beautiful Blantyre. It’s rainy season now and there are regular rain showers every other day. Everything is green and lush. The sun is hot. The air is moist. And the shopping centres and outdoor markets of Blantyre are busy with holiday shopping. And except for a couple of power cuts and short water supply intermissions, I had good access to Blantyre’s “Big Three” from my part of town.
In search of the best Internet connection in Blantyre
To connect with my MBA study group, I needed an internet connection. Here are some of my findings and observations regarding Internet for private use.
Internet service providers in Blantyre include:
Skyband – the pricing is on the high end; suitable for corporate customers.
First, I tried TNM, but unfortunately they did not have any USB dongles in stock at the Chichiri sales office.
Next I tried Globe’s MAX 4G service. This promised the best connection speeds, but unfortunately the reception in my part of Blantyre was less than optimal. Instead of 4 LEDs lighting up, I only got between 2 and 3. And even then, the router showed a high fluctuation in signals. I kept losing my Skype audio connection when the signal dropped. When I got a strong signal it was speedy. But – due to my geographic position – the signal strength was unpredictable. I contacted Globe support and they wanted to update the firmware of the router and stated that they were some problems with Skype, which they had resolved.
If you don’t need audio or video streaming and if coverage in your area is good, then Globe MAX 4G is a good and viable option. But check the signal strength beforehand. Following the signal fluctuations, I started speculating about the quality of the provided Globe router, the influence of the weather, etc. When I returned the router, Globe suggested installing an external antenna to boost the wifi signal. At the end of the day, I think your geographic position and proximity to the signal decides whether this solution will work for you or not.
MTL (Malawi Telecommunications Limited) offers a wireless broadband product called MTL Liberty. A friend in Namiwawa strongly recommended it. The company is also advertising a new fibre optic cable connection in all major newspapers. I walked into an MTL shop near FMB in Blantyre to find out more about the fibre optic cable connection. The MTL sales person said that this will indeed connect Malawi to the Seacom cable and improve the Internet backbone, but it was not yet connected. He advised me to go to the MTL headquarters for more information. I didn’t have time to follow up on this.
I went back to TNM; this time to the head office in Livingstone Towers. The sales consultant was very savvy and explained the various data bundling options very well. I found out that if I have a postpaid TNM sim card, I can easily add mobile data services. The consultant advised me to wait another week and buy a 3G USB dongle. He said the 3G USB modem will go on sale on 30th December 2009. TNM is currently testing 3G in parts of Blantyre.
Automatic software downloads
Coming from Switzerland and a flat rate setup where I don’t care how many MBs are downloaded in the background, to a price plan where every MB counts, I realized how dependent software has become on a high speed internet connection. I was unable to download the latest Symantec Norton anti-virus update on my mom’s laptop via Globe Wifi at Chichiri because Norton timed out after 6 MB. I tried 3 times before I gave up. Unfortunately iGetter didn’t help cos Norton connects directly from the app. All kinds of software from Adobe Reader to Mozilla Firefox want to connect and download updates at regular intervals. It’s OK if you’re using a flat rate but if every kB costs extra time and money…
Software companies should consider alternative options for developing countries. Cloud computing is not yet available everywhere.
My mom had to go to SDNP to get her legally purchased version of MS Office registered *online*. What a hassle.
Flat rates connections are not yet very widespread in Malawi and usually only corporate customers can afford them. Most of my friends have Internet at their workplace or on their mobile handset only.
I strongly recommend getting Opera. Opera Turbo loads web pages much faster and compresses images. Thank you to Appfrica for their excellent article pointing to resources and tools.
Pages optimized for mobile internet and simple HTML load much faster than CMS-based web pages.
I was able to access the mobile version of chiperoni.ch at an acceptable speed. While other sites failed to display.
If you are targeting developing countries, please consider this in your web design.
Resize photos for lower bandwidth
Same for emails. My mom still connects using dial-up. Downloading 1.2 MB takes 20 to 30 minutes and many times the connection breaks. And she pays for the length of the dial-up connection. But, so many people from Europe forget to resize their photos for lower bandwidth. Please resize your photos before sending!
In Picasa 3 it’s really easy. Go to Tools > Options > Email and select a new size such as 640 pixel:
You can then email a photo from the Picasa interface.
As Malawi celebrates independence day tomorrow, here is a list of Malawi twitterers you might like to follow:
Vincent Kumwenda – currently at Muloza border, Mulanje; topics include Malawi news, world news, interesting Malawi web pages, and soccer. He also writes a blog.
Fred Bvalani – in Blantyre; tweets about mobile applications and phones, Oracle training in freezing cold Cape Town, Manchester United, movies, church, Escom power cuts, and Malawi news and websites. Check out his blog.
Soyapi Mumba – well-known Malawi blogger and twitterer, software developer, volunteer developer at Ushahidi, lives in Lilongwe. He writes about software development, interesting mobile and web applications, Malawi news. He is the programmer behind Owinna – a web app on Malawi football league fixtures and results, as well as the Premier league and other international championships. You can access this information through the website or SMS by texting FOLLOW owinna to +447624801423 or on Twitter.
Clement Nyirenda – blogs and twitters from Tokyo, where he is doing a PhD in computer science. He covers many IT and development topics related to Malawi. A good resource to learn about projects such as Seacom. He discusses entrepreneurial ventures and their effect on Malawi. Read his blog post on Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter stunt to raise awareness about malaria.
There are many more, which I might mention in a second blog post.
My family’s email account in Blantyre was blocked twice in the past week, due to well-meaning but over-sized Christmas and New Year email greetings. Attachments with over 2 MBs. The family is still on a phone line with a very slow connection rate. And downloading emails with a large attachment takes forever and a day. Luckily I can access their account via the web and move the large emails out of the way. But I thought I’d raise some awareness.
And point you to some resources describing how to resize photos.
Exporting lets you resize your photos while controlling the JPEG compression (image quality) introduced by your applied photo edits. The result is newly resized copies of your photos, saved to any location on your hard drive. During the export process, you can adjust both the ‘Image Size Options’ and the ‘Image Quality’ settings in the ‘Export to Folder’ screen.
Under ‘Image Size Options,’ select the ‘Resize to’ option and adjust the size slider. The number of pixels you select with this slider determines the length or height of your photo (whichever is longer). The other dimension is determined automatically to maintain the aspect ratio of the photo.
Select the desired image quality for your photo using the ‘Image Quality’ drop-down menu:
Automatic: Preserves the original image quality
Normal: Balances quality and size
Maximum: Preserves fine detail for large file sizes
Minimum: Yields some quality loss for small file sizes
Custom: Enables you to select your own value
Resize by emailing
If you’re sending photos by email, you may want to resize then in order to get under the attachment size limitation. To change the size of the photos you email from Picasa, please follow these steps:
Click the Tools menu.
Click the Email tab.
Under ‘Output Options,’ use the slider to set your desired pixel size when emailing multiple photos. Use the radio buttons to set the desired pixel size for emailing single photos.
Lazy workaround via Flickr
I sometimes use Flickr as a lazy workaround.
Upload or email photo to the Flickr stream.
Go to the photo page and select All Sizes.
Select Small or Medium and click Download the Small (or Medium) Size.
Always use JPEG.
There are tonnes of other ways to resize photos with free software, such as IrfanView or The Gimp.
Within MS Word:
Don’t change the viewable size within Word (e.g. dragging the corners of the photo). Word will store the image in its original size. Resize the photo before inserting it into Word.
Check the conversion settings.
Check the sizes of all files (Word, pdf, .jpeg) before sending them.
Be considerate and don’t send photos in their original size. Especially if you don’t know what type of connection the recipient is using.
It’s five minutes for you versus 30 minutes of expensive download time on a plain old telephone connection for them.