Wentworth Fireworks Event, 2014

This evening was the annual fireworks party celebration at the Wentworth Club in Virgina Water.  It is several years since I last went, but the display this year was spectacular, and I hope that the images below capture something of the show!

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Thanks to everyone who made this possible!  It was a fitting evening after the magnificent rugby match at Twickenham between Australia and the Barbarians!

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In praise of the Park Hyatt, Busan

Just occasionally I discover fine wines, great restaurants and lovely places to stay that I feel I just have to write about!  On my latest trip to Korea I have found just such a hotel, the Park Hyatt in Busan.  On my last visit to Seoul, I remember above all else the hospitality and generosity of our hosts, but coming to Busan I have discovered a whole new side to the country and its people.

The Park Hyatt is without doubt one of the nicest hotels I have stayed in for a long time.  The decor is sophisticated and functional; the rooms are beautifully appointed and decorated in pale oak colours – mine looks over the yachting harbour used in the 1988 Seoul Olympics; the staff are all amazingly helpful, friendly and oh, so courteous; there are several different lounges with varying styles and colours, but all very comfortable; the food is delicious (albeit at a price); and the swimming pool is amazing.  And, having spent so much time in hotels that charge ridiculous prices for Internet access, it is so nice to stay somewhere that offers free and fast connectivity!  On arrival, one is whisked up to the 30th floor where the reception is located, and the rooms are then on the floors beneath.  This gives the lounges and dining rooms on floors 30-33 amazing views over the coast and harbour.  I hope that the images below convey something of the lovely character of the hotel.  Oh yes, and I really got a taste for Dry Finnish!

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Nowhere, though, not event the Park Hyatt, Busan is perfect!  So may I finish with just a few pleas:

  • It would be great to have some chocolate and/or cinnamon on the capuccinos in the restaurant – especially at breakfast!
  • The wine list ought to have some reasonably priced ‘house wines’ on it – fine to have the expensive classics, but a really good restaurant also has stunning reasonably priced house wines.
  • The menus look  delicious, but much of the food is available only for two people, which makes life rather difficult for solitary travellers ;-) !
  • Finally, I could not decide whether or not to post a picture, but for those of us from northern Europe who are unused to multi-functional loos, and were brought up having to urinate on the ice in the pan of the outside netty on a frozen winter morning, these devices are really threatening, and it would be great to have some instructions!  How is one meant to know which button to push: rear cleansing; soft rear cleansing; front cleansing; dryer; oscillating; pulsating; rhythm; stop?  I was too scared even to experiment!

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Korean hospitality and vitality at opening evening of ITU Plenipotentiary 2014

When I was last in Korea in 2013, I had the opportunity to watch some amazing drumming, martial arts and dancing in Seoul.  I was therefore greatly looking forward to the celebration of Korean culture that was to accompany the welcome dinner for the ITU 2014 Plenipotentiary conference held in Busan this evening.  As I hope the images below indicate, this was a vibrant and energetic performance that showed much about Korean culture, both old and new.  Thanks to the people of Korea, and of Busan in particular, for sharing with us just a little bit of their beauty, culture and hospitality  this evening.

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Opening ceremony of ITU Plenipotentiary 2014 in Busan

Just thought I would share some images from the recently completed opening ceremony of the ITU’s 2014 Plenipotentiary meeting in Busan.  This featured very sophisticated presentations of the Republic of Korea’s achievements in the field of ICTs, as well as the beauty of its traditional culture and dance.  South Korea is certainly an absolutely fascinating place, in which we have been made to feel most welcome.  It was good to see the emphasis placed on the use of ICTs by people with disabilities, and also Hamadoun Touré’s commitment to finding ways through which ICTs can be used to help resolve the current Ebola crisis in western Africa (see my regularly updated blog post on ways through which ICTs can indeed contribute).

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Sorry I could not post these live during the event, but the WiFi system was down while President Park Geun-hye was in the room.  Let’s hope we all have a fruitful and productive Plenipot meeting.

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On the contribution of ICTs to overcoming the impact of Ebola

I am regularly updating and revising this post (current update 14th November 2014; originally posted 12th October 2014), so that it brings together some of the most important work being done on ICTs and Ebola.  In recent weeks there have been a plethora of new initiatives, but there is now a very real danger of affected regions and people becoming swamped with far too much digital information, and over-eager digital enthusiasts actually impeding the delivery of effective interventions.

I remember a conversation with a dear friend from Sierra Leone back in May about the growing impact of Ebola in his country.  I remember him saying that it was already far more widespread than was being reported.  I remember sharing this information with many people that I met at that time.  I regret that I only started Tweeting about the seriousness of what was happening in West Africa on June 27th.  However, I have been Tweeting ever since, and have become increasingly appalled about the tardiness of the international response.  If appropriate action had been taken in May and June, if appropriate support had been given to the affected countries at that time, and if appropriate care had been given to communities and individuals affected, then I have absolutely no doubt that thousands of lives could have been saved across the world.

It is simply not good enough to say that we should be concentrating on practical action now rather than laying blame and being critical of the response to date – although there are some really very bizarre things currently being said in the mainstream and social media.  The most important outcome of the current crisis has to be an investigation of why so many organisations and individuals failed to take notice of all of the early signs, and failed to act to prevent the spread of the virus.  I also feel very angry that attention is only really being directed to dealing with the disease now that people are dying of it in Europe and North America. Undoubtedly, in the longer term, it is also essential that we all help build capacity in the health systems of poor countries so as to enable them to respond more effectively and swiftly to the outbreak of such diseases in the future.

In an effort to bring together some of the disparate information about ways through which ICTs can be used effectively to counter the spread of Ebola, I raised this issue among members of the ICT4D group on Facebook in early October 2014.  Surprisingly, there was not an overwhelmoing response.  Hence, I have tried to pull together some of the most interesting ongoing work, in the hope that it can be used as swiftly as possible to make a difference to the lives of people who are already affected and those who will become affected in the weeks and months ahead.  It is great to see that some other organisations such as Telecentre.org and TechChange have also started to do this.  Many, many poor people will die of Ebola before we get it under control collectively.  We must never make the same mistakes again.

Communicating accurate and relevant materials to affected individuals and communities
It is critically important that people know how to respond swiftly and appropriately when a case of Ebola is identified in their communities.  In the absence of an appropriate vaccine or cure, it is absolutely essential that early diagnosis and quarantine takes place.  Changing cultural behaviours, especially surrounding the  emotionally very distressing experience of death from Ebola, is extremely difficult, but if the rapid increase in cases is to be reduced, then this is absolutely essential.  The use of ICTs, in the form of radio broadcasts, television messages, videos and text information in local languages through the Internet and on mobile ‘phones can therefore play a very helpful role.  People can also use mobile devices to report where and when outbreaks occur, so that medical staff can respond more quickly.   An interesting recent development has been the way through which the Sierra Leone government has been providing a hotline through which worried people can contact officials for advice, but as ever there are many challenges with such a service, not least prank calls and the quality of advice given.  At last, though, some useful resources are being developed, and the following is a list of the ones that I have found to be of particular interest, value and importance:

A real challenge now, though, is that so many initiatives are trying to develop digital resources to support the response to Ebola that there is a danger of massive duplication of effort, overlap, and simply overload on the already stretched infrastructure, and indeed people, in the affected countries.  As Wayan Vota has noted in a useful overview at the end of October 2014, there are now more than 200 initiatives that are seeking to provide information relating to Ebola to communities.  Many of these are being developed with little if any real understanding of the practical realities on the ground in west Africa!  What, to me, is even worse, is the way in which many organisations and companies are now using this opportunity to generate income so that they can provide yet further Ebola resources.  The following examples are typical of this:

  • Afrelib’s Ebola Education Campaign – seeking $100,000 to fund Medikidz to develop a digital comic on Ebola for “kids”
  • Ebola Grand Challenge – USAID  partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Defense to launch open innovation platform, challenge competition and partnerships

These may indeed be ‘worthy’ initiatives, but my fundamental point is that too many people are now using Ebola as an excuse to get funding for their own initiatives and ideas, and this is leading to massive duplication, replication and overlap.  Moreover, by the time most of these initiatives might come on stream, the Ebola outbreak will either have been contained or will have become so out of control that none of these little projects will actually be able to make any difference at all!  We know how to deal with Ebola.  Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo have learnt how to manage and control Ebola.  If the world had acted back in May and June, using some of the lessons already learnt, we would not be in the situation we now are.

Communicating with sick relatives without touching them
Mobile ‘phones are excellent devices for communicating at a distance.  Whilst being very afraid of Ebola, family members want to communicate with their sick relatives – at a distance, without touching them.  Hence, the use of mobile devices can provide a really valuable and reassuring mechanism through which family members can communicate, when one or more of them are in isolation wards or quarantine locations.  Very simply, if sick people could be given mobile devices to communicate with their loved ones, then some of the pain and anguish could be alleviated.

Mapping the spread of the disease
ICTs can be used very effectively to map the spread of Ebola, so that medical administrators can respond more quickly.  As noted above, mobile devices can also be used to inform medical staff when a new case is identified.  Crowd-sourcing (such as Ushahidi) could be used effectively to develop such response maps, although we must recognise that many people are very afraid of reporting that a friend or relative may have Ebola. There has also been some reporting on the potential use of call data records – although I retain concerns here about the ethics of such usage.

Information networks for professionals and others dealing with Ebola
A growing amount of information is now available for professionals and those dealing with Ebola and so only a limited amount is noted below:

Funding and crowd-sourcing for resourcing support for Ebola victims and research on the disease
There is an enormous need for funding to support health workers in affected countries, not least by providing enough protective clothing.  Much work could be done on this, but there are few examples available.

Overall, this page is just a starting point.  PLEASE respond and add information to it so that we can all use ICTs more effectively for tackling this outbreak of Ebola which could easily have been curtailed if only we had acted together sooner.


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Ebola and Security: on entering the USA

I had a weird experience on arriving at Los Angeles Airport yesterday.  For the first time ever, there was almost no queue as I approached the border guards for passport checking.  However, I did notice that they were wearing bright blue gloves.  My mind then starting putting two and two together, and I realised that the US was beginning to put into practice border checks for people with possible Ebola entering the country.  As I read the press this morning, I note increasing anxiety across the more developed countries of the world, especially here in the USA as it is reported that “A Texan health worker who treated Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan before he died is also infected with the virus, according to a preliminary test”.

However, as I leant forward to put my fingers on the fingerprint reader I realised just how ridiculous this is.  If someone with Ebola had a cut finger, or was sweating profusely in the queue before me, and I put my fingers where his or hers had been, what was the chance that I too could catch Ebola?  It was probably quite high.  So, by forcing me to have my finger prints checked, the US government could have forced me to catch Ebola, all in the name of border security.  I shared my reflections with the unusually pleasant official checking my passport, and he expressed real shock and worry, pointing out that no-one had raised this previously!

This seems to raise really interesting questions about the use of digital technologies for border security!  An answer, of course, is for any health checks to be done before people pass through passport security checks, but is this actually going to happen, and what  delays could it generate at international airports?

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Jenny and Al’s wedding, 20th September 2014

Yesterday was a very special day – Jenny and Al were married at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. All of the hard work and attention to detail that they and so many others put into the preparation paid off enormously.  It was truly a fantastic day, from the practice session and dinner the night before, through the early morning hair, make-up and dressing, to the service itself, the reception, wonderful meal and evening party!  Thanks so much to everyone there who made it a really special day.  Jeremy, Arnold and Kathleen made the service itself very memorable and joyous.  The staff at Emma did a brilliant job with the food.  Ettie made an incredible cake – well, actually three cakes in one!  The musicians and band (The Zoots) were great – and it was so rewarding seeing everyone dancing and enjoying themselves so much!  I hope that the informal pictures below capture something of a truly memorable day.  Thanks to everyone for making it such a very happy celebration.  Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Bowe!

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