Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Es como la virginidad de María

Student: When you refer to the networks, you mean the networks of Telefónica?

Lecturer: Yes, of course, that Telefónica owns the networks is as constant as the virginity of Mary.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

flat world

When I arrived in Madrid a month or so ago, when meeting people they
would naturally enquire about what I thought about Madrid, as city, its
people, etc. My standard response would be: "In many ways I feel as if
I´ve never left home." And it´s not simply because I´ve been here before
which makes the environment known and familiar. I switch on the tv to
see what
Spanish television is like, and am left wondering what the term "Spanish
television" should mean exactly. What am I expecting to see that I´m not
seeing: Spanish culture?, a Spanish way of presenting the news? What?
Not sure, but what I do see are many of the same ads I see back in SA,
and even one or two ads _made_ in SA; the same tv programmes (e.g. CSI
(plain vanilla), CSI Miami, CSI New York, Desperate Housewives, Missing
(or I think it´s called that, a drama series about FBI agents in their
quest to find missing persons), Las Vegas, etc, etc, except all dubbed
to Spanish) Also, people might
be different because they are of a different nation, but then again,
they´re human, so they are not-so-different when all is said and done.
There is always the "nosy neighbour"; or the working class clerk at the
upmarket store who considers their 9-5 job to be the zenith of his/her
existence, and thinks that this "elevated position" gives them some
sophistication-by-proxy. When I
see that quality in people, I am always saddened.

Anyhow, the point is that people are not so different after all. And far
from this realisation being a disappointment, it can rather be seen as a
potentially unifying factor. Maybe that is where our capacity for
compassion grows, when we see that the other is "not so different, maybe
equally afraid, maybe equally hurt, maybe equally lonely, and yes,
equally happy"

The title of today´s blog is taken from the work of Tom Friedman. I´ve
not read but am familiar with his work. I think my experience of things
as not being so different is based in his "world is flat" theory. Yes,
the world is flat, but it is not Tom Friedman who had this insight.
Rather, Manuel Castells´ work, with far more intellectual rigour, says
the same sort of thing. Castells made the intellectual argument,
Friedman made it into a roadshow, I guess.

What strikes me is that people often make
themselves victim of the old way of thinking, which is that if you hail
from a developing country your experience of life is far more simple,
less sophisticated; that in essence all your country could afford you
was an experience of mostly abject poverty in some rural backwater. The
notion of your being urbanised, modernised, and the possibility of a
middle-class existence does not necessarily occur. "Oh, so you´re from a country
I´ve never heard of. Do animals roam the streets? Are there jungles?" I
am not referring explicitly to experiences in Madrid btw. It is that I
notice how people (in general) treat one another. They treat one another
as if the world is not flat; and I make myself guilty of this at times
too e.g. if you come from country x, you´ve probably never used a
computer, I might presuppose. Or you´re from some small country in the
Caribbean, and so I imagine life there as x, y, z. It is somehow
difficult to imagine, for some, that there are regular kids in
developing countries, in sneakers
listening to the latest global one-hit-wonder on his/her ipod, or doing
something as mundane as hanging out at the
mall. So, on the one hand one can experience this kind of
for-want-of-a-better-word "insult". The
flip side of the latter is when people from other developing countries
on the same continent deign to tell you "You´re from South Africa, and
South Africa isn´t Africa, so therefore your opinions do not represent
a/the developing country perspective."

So, what´s the point? Qstn: Why do people persist in perpetuating an
outmoded notion of unflatness? Are the bygone (1st/2nd/3rd world)
stereotypes so strong and so re-inforced that they continue to persist
even today?

Telecomm Masters: IPR lectures start today

A quick note. I am in-session (i.e. in class) and we have our first lecture (of 7 or 8) on intellectual property rights, and I feel really excited about this. Thus far we´ve had lectures on telecommunications law, rthe underlying economic theory in telecomms, and then the technological and technical fundaments of telecomms. The technical part I´ve not enjoyed so much, since it covers material that I already know. The challenging new terrain that I am treading: law and the underlying economic theory, I find far more interesting, (1) because it´s new terrain and that always animates me, and now having these formal lectures in IPR I regard as animating as well. What it gives me is scope to address i.a. these issues in any subsequent formal study (thesis) that I have to submit next September. Yes, I´ve participated and am participating on the CopySouth initiative and am very knowledgeable in this terrain (and I´ve even lectured on this theme), but there´s something to be said for rigorous formal instruction in any domain. It´s a way of ensuring that all the bases are covered, and that I don´t have any blindspots.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

NRENs in Africa (that´s "national research networks")

The story below on the development of national research networks across Africa augurs well for greater research dissemination, and opens the door to implementing Open Access scholarly communication policies. However, I am cautious: just because people have the network, does not mean that they will be open to sharing their work. So, the positive in the story is that we will have the means to exchange research, but the question remains whether we will have the altruistic will to share research across and beyond Africa. And oh, for the record, I am not a sceptic.



(20 Nov 2005 e-mail newsletter # 282)

Africa’s universities took a step nearer joining their developed world colleagues when a group of them decided that they would bid for international fibre capacity in the EASSy fibre project and that they would seek to encourage the setting up of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). This is the first time users have come together at this level in a bid to lower the price of their connectivity.The vision of delivering very high speed - gigabits per second (Gb/s) connectivity instead of the current kilobits per second (kb/s)between African Universities and Research Institutions is driving the Alliance forward at a rapid pace. In February 2005, at the Association of African Universities Conference in Cape Town, two important events occurred: one was the identification of connectivity constraints as a major hindrance to rapid development of member universities. The second was the birth of SARUA, the Southern African Regional Universities Association, which is an association of Vice-Chancellors of all universities in the SADC region. The counterpart organisation for the east African region is IUCEA – the Inter-University Council of East Africa. Historically, for various reasons, bandwidth to African Universities costs many times what Universities elsewhere expect to pay. As Professor Bjorn Pehrson of KTH, Sweden, says, “The Universities of Africa are now making an entirely reasonable appeal, namely to have same connectivity with global research networks and the Internet as is enjoyed by Universities in every other continent.” By seeking to become an EASSy consortium member, the UbuntuNet Alliance is setting out to provide affordable intra-regional and international connectivity to enable its member NRENs to give universities and research institutions the ability to exchange content and collaborate on research and education activities both within the region and with world-wide partners. Access to EASSy will allow Alliance members to get access to the European NREN, Geant and to the Internet. The Alliance has the backing of several donors and it is seeking EU assistance for feasibility work on the setting up of the NRENs. The development of the Alliance has been facilitated by Canada’s IDRC and KTH. The UbuntuNet Alliance will shortly be incorporated as a private, non-profit foundation whose Members are representatives nominated by established national NRENs) of countries in the eastern and southern regions of Africa. African universities have along been the poor relation in their own countries, although they have often played a key role in producing the leaders and expertise needed. Cheap access to the internet and to learning materials available from other NRENs will not transform them overnight but it has a significant role to play in enhancing their future potential. According to Americo Muchanga, Director of the Computer Centre, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane:"The connectivity obtained will allow us to exchange research between different countries and connect us to networks in other countries including: Geant (pan-European); Internet2 (North America); Tein2 (Asia); Ciara (Latin America) and EU Med (Europe, Middle East and 4 countries in North Africa). It will allow our member universities access to digital libraries containing research and publications as well as being able to offer distance learning materials effectively." The founding members of the UbuntuNet Alliance are: Kenya (KENET), Malawi (MALICO/MAREN), Mozambique (Eduadro Mondlane University, Rwanda (National University of Rwanda) and South Africa (TENET). Discussions are under way with the following countries who may also join: DRC, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

High-speed Internet: SA users now paying 1000% more

Culled from: Balancing Act's News Update 282 (20th November 2005) See

(JAD: I recommend signing up for the weekly e-mail newsletter btw.)

High-speed internet users in SA will pay 1000% more for their bandwidth than users in other countries after Telkom restructured its wholesale fees for internet service providers (ISPs).
Telkom's new ADSL price structure, introduced on November 1, means subscribers will face fees even more punitive than in the past, says online forum MyADSL. Its wholesale rate is now R3940 a month to transfer 30GB of data at a speed of 1MB a second. Once ISPs add their mark-up, consumers will pay at least R 4000, says MyADSL.

A superior service from BT Yahoo gives British users a 40GB package at 2MB a second for the equivalent of R350. Tiscali, which once ran an internet service in SA, offers British users unlimited downloads at 1MB a second for R188. That makes Telkom's ADSL service more than 2000% dearer than superior UK offerings.

MyADSL founder Rudolph Muller says that in Japan users can get unlimited downloads at 50MB a second for less than R250 -- 50 times faster at 6% of the price.
Telkom's new fees are still being assessed by some ISPs, Muller says, and most will simply decide not to offer 30GB packages. "The only way to ensure this situation is remedied is for Telkom to implement dramatic price reductions coupled with improvements in the service levels of its ADSL offerings," he says.

What may force a change is a court case instigated by a small ISP, Dotco. MD Johan Ferreira claims Telkom's new structure contravenes the Telecommunications Act. The Cape High Court has issued an order preventing Telkom from charging Dotco the new fees, pending a hearing on December 5.
If Dotco proves the fees are anticompetitive, other ISPs will use the verdict to overturn the new regime.

Telkom argues the change was necessary as some ISPs bought 3GB accounts from Telkom and resold them as 30GB accounts, duping users. ISPs also needed to buy a 3GB account for each customer, even if only 1GB was used.
Now they can buy bandwidth packages from 2GB to 30GB and must cap each user individually. ISPs should be able to cut the cost of ADSL by up to 50% if they calculate how many people use more than 1GB a month and charge them for that, says Telkom corporate communications executive Lulu Letlape.

One company not objecting the new fees is DataPro, which has reworked its ADSL packages. "We've introduced flexible solutions with the right balance between performance and cost. In most cases this will ensure savings and better performance," says MD Douglas Reed.
DataPro is asking users to decide how much bandwidth they want and what they are willing to spend. Its basic package offers 3GB a month for R200, plus the line rental. Anyone who exceeds 3GB will be charged R75 for every 1GB of extra data, until they reach their budget.
M-Web's largest consumer package offers 6GB at a speed of 192KB a second for R809 a month, including R270 to pay Telkom for the line.

Sentech joined the pay-per-usage model this week with MyWireless flexi. Its packages start with 200MB of data for R199 a month, up to 10GB
The cost of international bandwidth accounts for more than 60% of the fees, and Telkom's control over those prices makes it too expensive to offer a fuller capacity right now, says Winston Smith, its manager of broadband wireless. The average person needs 200MB-300MB a month, Smith says. (original SOURCE: Business Day)

Monday, November 21, 2005

End of South African academic year + other news

I´ve been quiet in that I´ve not sent my weekly e-mail to friends, updating them on times here in Madrid. Partly it is because I feel the need for some quiet time, and another is that I´ve been marking student assignments for some of my courses back in South Africa. Yes, I am still on board for that, if only so that there is continuity for my students in terms of (my and general)expectations with regard to assignments. But my, does it take time. So, if you still come across my name and profile as part of the staff complement at Stellenbosch University (, it is because in this, the latter sense, I am still associated with the university. And it´s not because their web site needs updating :) As indicated, the academic year is winding down now in South Africa. Final year marks need to be in, and I´ve been working to meet that deadline, whilst attempting to be a student here, as well as working on applications to do my PhD late next year... My life is never simple.

Second matter: The URL linked-to as part of the title of this entry links to a story on Wired, regarding the latest UN report on the growth in HIV infections in 2005. I quote: "Almost 5 million people were infected by HIV globally in 2005, the highest jump since the first reported case in 1981 and taking the number living with the virus to a record 40.3 million, the United Nations said on Monday. " It is nothing less than depressing. And South Africa is "front-runner" on this "scoreboard".

Friday, November 18, 2005

castigado por completo

Having been a lecturer before becoming a full-time student, it was that I had the luxury back in South Africa of lending books from the university library for periods of at least three months. Further, the fines, if imposed, were always minimal (for a teacher). And if it´s a fine, one is always somehow prepared to pay it.

Imagine my surprise: a book that I had loaned at the Spanish university here, had become overdue for a period of two weeks, and upon returning it this past Monday I promtly discovered that instead of some fiscal sanction I was subject to a "no (book) loan period equivalent to the amount of time that the book was overdue". Ouch. That REALLY hurts.

So, it is not as if I cannot enter the building, and it is not as if I am barred from making use of the electronic resources (thank goodness) but having my borrowing rights revoked really hit me where it hurts most. Imagine who´s going to be a stellar library patron now?

Speaking of libraries, something which really annoys me is when people tear pages out, be they from books or magazines. Monday I sat in the lib reading the latest issue of The Economist, and there was a nice summary type article on Telefónica´s recent (takeover) bid for Britain´s O2 [Telefónica is Spain´s main (read for that `monopoly´) telecomms operator when it comes to fixed-line connectivity ], but which also gave a good overview of the EU telecomms scenario. The article was there on Tuesday, and I was able to read it, but then when I returned on Wednesday to make a quick xerox - poof! - the article had disappeared. That really provokes my ire - if only because it is a selfish/inconsiderate thing to be tearing pages from the common pool of knowledge stock that we´re all supposed to swim in... My, what a mixed metaphor that was. ...We have a tendency to do that (mix metaphors, not ´tear pages out of books/serials, though that happens too) in South Africa; not because of linguistic creativity and flair but usually due to mixed linguistic codes and/or illiteracy. Seriously. Well, of course I was able to retrieve an electronic copy of the article - which in may ways is a better access method but still does not excuse la persona desconocida que ha agarrado la página.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"space in the ether" reborn

For some obscure reason I am doing this; unplanned in that I had no fixed idea of creating this blog here on blogger today or ever again, outside of my web site. There it is then. The relaunch of "Space in the Ether". There will be writings on my times in Madrid, as well as some thoughts on digi-life, or more particularly digi-work-life.