Next to our day-job working on the iNeSI project we also reach out to the local community. Yesterday we visited the Bophelong special school, a school for children with special needs. Verbal communication was difficult since we do not speak their language and some of them cannot easily speak. However, there are other ways to make contact and we had a good time by playing games. Aruna learned them Namaste and we helped them color the map of the world, showing where we are all from. As the principal of the school remarked: ‘love and kindness are never wasted’.
Our CSC team spent the weekend in the Madikwe Game Reserve. This was the first time for all of us so we were in awe of all we could see. The rangers did an excellent job of driving us around and finding the animals. This was one of the best experiences in my life.
Today we worked on finding candidate themes for the Center of Excellence we want to shape. We had a good discussion with Lester, the executive manager of North-West university, who gave his view on the province and who helped us get into contact with the right people. Next we met dr. Karabo Mabe from the agriculture department. She passionately talked about the importance of food safety and the NWU Nguni cattle project that aims to re-introduce the indigenous Nguni cattle because they are better suited to the climate (e.g. resistant to drought). They loan 25 cattle to a farmer (24 cows & 1 bull). After five years the farmers have to return 12 cattle to the organization so that other farmers can be helped. The whole process is closely monitored by the university, also including students so they can get practical experience.
At noon we went out to have a traditional African lunch. This turned out to be at the provincial radio station SABC. After the lunch we got an unexpected tour of the facility, showing us first the archive and then one of the studio’s. There was actual live recording going on in that studio, broadcasting to one million listeners. By chance V was sitting close to a microphone and without warning the presenter started to interview her. She did amazingly well, without any preparation!
Yesterday evening we went to a local hotel-school to have a meet-and-greet with public officials from the North-West province. The whole ‘ceremony’ was animated by Charles Ndabeni, the new CEO of tourism. He started with a list of ‘did you know that…’ statements:
The runway in Mahikeng is one of the longest in Africa and was on NASA’s list for possible landing of the space shuttle.
The founder of the scouts movement, Baden-Powell, successfully defended the city of Mahikeng in 1899 during the Second Boer War.
There is a world class analog studio close to Mahikeng where the music for the Lion King was recorded (BOP studios).
Charles was very funny but also clear on the priorities he sees for the future of the province, agriculture, media and tourism.
We stayed for an excellent meal prepared by the students of the hotel school. At the end the Lion King fans in our team posed with Mr. Lebo M. , a composer and performer for the movie soundtrack.
On Tuesday 17 we went for the first time to the Mahikeng campus were we will be working. In the morning we had a workshop with iNeSI to dive deeper into our, team two’s, sub-project. It was a very good session that clarified a lot.
We got to use the very nice council/senate chambers and the university rector came to greet us.
On Monday we traveled to Mmabatho where we will be staying for the next three weeks. The 300 km trip took more than five hours.
After checking into the hotel Professor emeritus Modise Maaja gave us a short introduction to the history of the North-West university. It is actually the merger of three universities, those of Potchefstroom, Mahikeng and Vanderbijlpark. We are on the Mahikeng campus. The Mahikeng university was started in 1980 by the locals with money collected house by house. Therefore there is a strong local affinity, it is a university of the people.
In the evening we worked hard with team to get our presentation for the next day into shape.
Today we had a workshop with the two leaders of iNeSI (Ikamva National eSkills Institute), the organisation that we are working with. We all presented ourselves and our backgrounds. iNeSI stressed the importance of our mission for the future of South-Africa at a time when the country has to start making the shift to an ‘e-litterate society’, i.e. the people and businesses have to use the power of IT to make people’s lives better and to address the high youth unemployment. According to the World Economic Forum SA ranks last out of 148 countries in the ‘math and scienc’e ranking and although the score is contested everyone agrees that there is a lot of work to do. IneSI challenges us to be bold, to not limit ourselves to what already is, to ‘remove the box and think’.
After lunch we went to the local weekly arts&crafts market so V could get some African masks. She is clearly a master negotiator because she drove the price so much down that the seller had to fetch his boss for approval (although I’m pretty sure they still made a profit).
We went back to the meeting room in the hotel and worked intensively on our project plan for the next weeks. ‘We’ in this case being the four people in team two. There are four subteams, each has a different but related statement of work. Ours centers around the establishment of a new CoLab (collaborative laboratory) in the North-West province. Think of it as a center of excellence around a specific theme. We made good progress although we are still not quite ready for the big session planned for Tuesday.
Tomorrow we travel to Mafeking in the North-West province. It will be our base for the next three weeks. Tomorrow, June 16th, is also a national holiday in SA to commemorate the death of Hector Pieterson and many others who protested apartheid in 1976.
Today started with a session at the IBM South-Africa headquarters. With our team’s diverse backgrounds it looked like a mini United Nations session 🙂 We were briefed by the country general manager on the specific business context like the black economic empowerment act. The goal of this act is to promote the hiring of people from previously disadvantaged communities. Over time the composition of companies should represent the population distribution in the country and SA should be master of its own destiny.
Second stop was the Apartheid Museum which was a real eye opener for me. To see everything you would need at least three hours, we had to rush it just a bit but it was well worth the time. I knew of course what apartheid was in a broad sense but the exibition really brought home the horrors of that period. What struck me were the movies of the politicians that started apartheid and how they justified their actions as being for the greater good, i.e. ‘see how we are helping these helpless black people’. It had, of course, nothing to do with protecting their self interest… The struggle that Nelson Mandela went through and the perseverance he showed to SA and to the world are hard to describe. However, through many historical documents, pictures and video’s the museum does give a sense of what happened. I now understand a little bit better of what Mandela went through and one cannot but have enormous admiration for this amazing leader.
For dinner we went to a nice Indian restaurant and had a suberb meal together with the two main sponsors of our project. Tomorrow morning we start the first working session so now is the time for some final preparation…
Today was a wonderful day in Johannesburg and not only because of the beautiful weather. You couldn’t tell that it is actually winter over here with the blue sky and the warm sunshine. After settling in to the very nice hotel three of us explored the shopping mall across the street. By the look this mall could have been anywhere in the world but best guess would be in the US with all traditional South-African restaurants like KFC, Burger King, etc. present. 🙂 We avoided these chains and got an excellent lunch in one of the other restaurants.
In the evening we finally got to meet each other in person and although some of us should probably update our intranet picture (myself included) we quickly got the names right and enthousiastically exchanged sincere greetings. Fourteen colleagues from eight different countries meeting here for a one month project, wow, that is not something you see every day. Only Savi is still missing because some visa strangeness has delayed him a bit. He is coming on Sunday so only then will the team really be complete. Hurrry up Savi, we need you here to help out with our project plan!
We also met Muriuki who we all knew from so many conference calls. In person he radiates passion for the CSC program. He was excellent at conveying his excitement and brought home the point that not only do we get the chance to change SA a little, SA will surely change us as well. I am really looking forward to it.
In the evening we went out for a group dinner, although some were too jetlagged to come along. I am very lucky since SA in wintertime has the same time as in Belgium. We had an even better meal time and laughed like crazy. We will work hard but surely will have a lot of fun too! Now to sleep because tomorrow the official program starts…
Met alle heisa over de laatste nieuwe ‚smart’ horloges, brillen en ja nu ook ringen begon ik al bijna te geloven dat het enkel maar speeltjes zijn, die wearables. Begrijp me niet verkeerd, ik vind mijn pebble best leuk en sta al in de rij voor de iWatch maar meer dan leuke gadgets zijn dat toch eigenlijk niet. Het nut ontgaat me van een armband of schoen die trilt telkens iemand een tweet stuurt of blog post. Met de neurocam wordt het helemaal te gek en zijn je gevoelens zelfs niet meer veilig.
Gelukkig zijn er veel fundamentelere én concretere zaken aan het gebeuren. Neem nu bijvoorbeeld de Orcam voor mensen met een visuele beperking. Dit is een camera die op een bril zit en die objecten kan herkennen en via spraak aan de gebruiker kan vertellen wat er te zien is. Hierdoor kan die persoon zich beter oriënteren en heeft die minder hulp nodig. Voor brandweerlui is er de trillende helm die de weg wijst wanneer de rook in een brandend gebouw het zicht belemmert. Voor dokters zijn er al interessante experimenten waarbij ze het patiëntendossier onmiddellijk voor zich krijgen via hun slimme Google bril en zo kostbare tijd winnen in kritische situaties.
Hoewel IBM zelf geen devices maakt heeft het toch een belangrijke rol te spelen. De hoeveelheid data die zal worden gegenereerd door de wearables en andere Internet Of Things dingen is zo absurd groot dat enkel eenanalytics cloud voldoende flexibel kan worden opgezet om die tijdig (real-time?) te kunnen verwerken. Zelfs de horloges/brillen/armbanden/ringen/etc worden dan toch relevant als gezondheidsinstrument. Het is namelijk de snelle analyse van de gecombineerde gegevens van al die miljoenen toestellen die tot interessante inzichten zullen leiden, bijvoorbeeld voor het detecteren van epidemieën.
Het ziet er naar uit dat de wearables aan een tweede adem zijn begonnen nadat er jaren geleden al eens een golf van enthousiasme was geweest (getuige dit artikel uit 2002 over “Wearable wireless devices” met voorspellingen voor 2010). Voor de gadget freak in mij: misschien kan iemand de IBM glass uit… 1997 opnieuw tot leven wekken en er een neuro-snaptic chipke in stoppen voor real-time gezichtsherkenning als hulp voor mijn dramatisch slecht geheugen. Dan kan ik met al die elektronische hulp hopelijk ooit nog eens doorgaan voor een ‘smart person’ 🙂