Tag Archives: technology

Past and future

Today for me marks four years of post-college work.

I’ve been from one end of this country (Kilifi) to the other (Kisumu), working for various organizations that, basically, do good. Some of those organizations try (and somewhat succeed) at charging a fair price for a reasonable product. And others brave through thousand-page manuals of big-donor regulations as a necessary evil.

Planting my first eucalyptus

And I’ve been building technology systems where it’s kind of hard to do so. From mobile survey tools on basic feature phones to support rural tree farmers with  KOMAZA, to applications to run schools in some of Kenya’s most challenging slums with Bridge. And of course, web and mobile logistics to tackle rural supply chain distribution IPA/DSW.

I’ve also been a strong part of the tech community in Kenya. With Akirachix, I’ve organized country-wide tech workshops to teach students app development. I’ve also taken part in, won, and even judged some of the ubiquitous app competitions so notorious in this region.

So now I’m packing up, and preparing to begin a new chapter in my life at business school. As I look back on the past four years, and think about how I’ll use the next two, a couple things stand out for me:

  1. I want to stay in technology. It’s in my blood, it’s my passion, and it’s what is transforming Africa (despite the Kenyan government doing stupid things like kicking out the man who brought Kenyan tech forward by leaps and bounds).
  2. I want to do good. I don’t want to just sell widgets and increase dividends for fat-cat shareholders. However, non-profit or profit-making is irrelevant. After all, one could argue that Safaricom is the biggest social enterprise in Kenya.
  3. The technology scene in EA is missing something.  Too  many techies and not enough salesmen, marketers, financiers. Too many app challenges and not enough businesses. When I was at iHub Research trying to find businesses to interview for the Mobile BoP study, we were hard pressed to find many successful (i.e. profitable) mid-sized tech businesses (that were born in this recent tech-boom). Most entrepreneurs we talked to were still in pilot, launch or idea mode.

These thoughts will guide my next two years. I’ll be in the mecca of technology, Stanford and Silicon Valley, and I can’t wait to figure out first-hand how these techies turned their ideas into useful (indispensable) products into profits. Because that’s what the Kenyan economy needs and is poised for. And I’m very excited.

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Barcode scanner for zebras

A joint team from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Princeton University has combined technology, biology and conservationism in a cool new open source app called StripeSpotter that identifies zebras by scanning their stripes in a way that’s similar to a supermarket barcode reader.

The system itself uses image recognition algorithms on photographs taken in the field. It’s efficient – written in C++ with plain text csv data storage. They also capture GPS coordinates – presumably with the camera/phone that captures the photographs or separately with a separate GPS device. The basic requirements to start using StripeSpotter are a digital camera and laptop – take a photo, load it on to the laptop and run the StripeSpotter application. Seems like it would be a logical next step to make this a mobile device app so that game wardens can photograph and identify zebras right on the spot and thereafter sync up to a shared server to distribute the tagging work – crowdsource, if you will.

The team is currently compiling a database of Plains and Grevys zebra here in Kenya. The technology has the potential to be used by other striped animals eg tigers, and other animals with distinguishing markings eg leopards and giraffes.


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