Runnymede floods and Staines under Thames, 16th February 2014


What seems like the first bright sunny day for weeks provided an opportunity to take a photographic record that would capture something of the flooding along the Thames in Runnymede, Egham and Staines.  The pictures below provide a follow-up to those that I took earlier in the year in January on a rather more cloudy day, when the floods were less extensive.

Whilst I have every sympathy with those living in flooded areas, these images emphasise that flood plains are meant to be just that – plains where rivers flood!  We have had exceptional amounts of rainfall, and no-one should therefore be surprised that such flooding has occurred!

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CTO visit to the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania


The final day of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum (DBSF) 2014 provided an opportunity for delegates to continue their discussions whilst visiting the magnificent Ngorongoro crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated some three hours drive west of Arusha.  This event, along with many other aspects of the Forum was supported by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor John Nkoma (Director General, TCRA) for all of the effort that his magnificent team put into making this what was widely regarded as one of the best ever DBSF event convened by the CTO.  Particular thanks are especially owed to Habbi Gunze (Director of Broadcasting Affairs at TCRA) and to Innocent Mungy (Head of Corporate Communications, TCRA) for everything that they did to ensure that participants were able to hold fruitful and valuable discussions on Africa’s progress towards digital broadcasting switchover by August 2014.

The photos below provide a summary of the magnificent experiences that delegates had in the Ngorongoro crater, and also on the journey between Arusha and the crater.  As I hope these images indicate, the crater itself was very much bigger than I had been expecting and the range of wildlife was truly amazing.

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After visiting the crater, we spent some time in a small Maasai boma.  A group of children were gathered in one of the tiny huts that served as a pre-school, and it was fun to sing ABCDEFG… with them, and hear them count from one to 10 in very good English.  It reminded me of the images that appeared around 2007 in European and north American media of Maasai warriors with their mobile ‘phones, giving the impression that such devices were becoming more or less universal amongst the Maasai, and were transforming their lives.  I asked one of the chief’s sons whether there were mobile ‘phones in the village, and slightly perplexed he said “No”.  One of my colleagues then asked whether he felt ‘phones would be useful for communicating with friends, and the “warrior’s” response was fascinating, saying much about the resilience of Maasai culture.  “Why do I need a mobile ‘phone?”, he said.  “If I want to see a friend, I walk, perhaps two or three hours to see them”.  I envied him.  What a privilege to walk through such a wonderful landscape, and not to feel the pressures of our modern digital lives.  Perhaps I should not have asked my next question, but he was proud of the children’s learning skills, and wanted to improve his own education.  So, I asked “But if you had a mobile ‘phone, could you not use it to access books and information so that you could learn?”  I should not have asked, because the question embarrassed him.  It reflected a world so different from his own, that it was incomprehensible.  I felt embarrassed too that, although he had given permission, friends with me were using their smart-phones to take pictures of the boma.  I left feeling very challenged.  I’ve long felt that we should never impose digital technologies on the lives of others.  Of course many people think that mobile ‘phones could indeed make the lives of the Maasai very much “better”, but it would certainly be at a cost.  I left just wanting to find a way to give them books for their children, which is what he had asked for.  Perhaps then we could make time to help work with the villagers to design technologies that might enable them to live the lives they want to, rather than the lives so many of “us” want to impose on them of being both a market and a labour force.

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Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum, Arusha


Just under 200 people (including regulators, the private sector and civil society groups) have come together to discuss critical issues surrounding the switchover/transition from analogue to digital broadcasting at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum (#DBS2014) taking place from 11th-14th February 2014.  We were delighted that Hon Dr. Fenella E. Mukangara (Minister of Information, Youth, Culture and Sport of the United Republic of Tanzania) was able to open the Forum this morning.

With Nkoma and Mukangara

In my welcome address, as well as thanking the government of Tanzania and especially the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, I took the opportunity to highlight four particular issues:

  • The importance for Africa –  digital transition/switchover has considerable potential, especially in terms of the diversity of services it can offer, as well as the digital dividend it will provide through the reallocation of spectra.  However, it must be used to  serve the interests of all of Africa’s people, especially the marginalised, such as people with disabilities and those living in sparsely populated rural areas.
  • The potential for Africa – people living in Africa should not be only learning from the experiences of other parts of the world in terms of good practices (part of the purpose of this Forum), but should also be developing innovative solutions for the context of Africa, that can in their turn be used in other international contexts. We must build on the richness of African innovation.
  • The challenges facing Africa – some of the many challenges facing Africa include:
    • it is not easy to deliver transition/switchover solutions at a cost that everyone can afford;
    • we must not fall into the trap of being forced to deliver to a time-schedule that may not  be realistically feasible;
    • ensuring indeed that the poor and marginalised – those who often currently benefit most from analogue radio and television – can indeed still afford to do access digital broadcasting;
    • ensuring quality standards of equipment such as set top boxes; and
    • ensuring that appropriate information is shared with everyone in a diversity of languages.
  • My own experiences of switchover – I recall my parents being really concerned about switchover in England, not fully understanding what was involved, but they were grateful that a free service for elderly people was provided to put in a set top box and help them to use it effectively.  My mother can now benefit from all that digital TV can offer! This particularly reminds that it is not so much the technology that is the challenge, but rather that the most difficult thing to get right is how to ensure that everyone, and particularly the elderly, the spatially marginalised and those with disabilities, can really benefit from digital switchover.

Sirpa OjalaImage from session on the future of African broadcasting

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The River Thames at night


Somewhat surprisingly, I had never been on a boat on the River Thames at night until yesterday.  I remember  as a child, when London seemed to have turned its back on the river, which always seemed cold, dark, smelly and unattractive!   Over the last 50 years this has all changed, especially with the opening up of the path along the south bank of the Thames, and the transformation of the old docks into modern offices and residential areas. I had not, though, appreciated just how beautiful it was at night, with the buildings all carefully lit.  I hope that the pictures below do it some justice!  Thanks to Dominc and Caroline for making this possible for delegates at the Education World Forum!

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On “cyber” and the dangers of elision.


The use of the word “cyber” to refer to all matters relating to computers and the Internet has become ubiquitous.  Hence, the terms “cyberspace”, “cybergovernance”, “cybersecurity”, “cybercrime”, “cyberporn” and many other “cybers-” are commonplace, and feature prominently in current rhetoric about ICTs and governance of the Internet.

This has always made me uneasy for two basic reasons:

  • the original meaning of “cybernetics” had little to do with computers; and
  • there is a real danger of elision of meaning, when people use one cyber-word to refer to what other people use another cyber-word for.

A blog is no place for a detailed exegesis on these matters, but I have so often been asked about my views on them that I thought I would briefly summarise them here.

The meaning of “Cyber”
The word “cyber-” is usually seen as being taken from the concept of  “cybernetics”, which itself is derived from the ancient Greek κυβερνήτης, meaning steersman, pilot, or governor.  Hence, “cyber’” is fundamentally to do with governing or steering.  It is used in this sense to refer to the governance of peoples in the First Alcibiades, usually ascribed to Plato.

Cybernetics in its modern form came to be used in the first half of the 20th century to refer to control systems in biology, engineering, applied mathematics, electronics and other such fields, and so was always a very much broader concept than just relating to the field of computing.  As a discipline, cybernetics emerged in the late-1940s and 1950s, especially in the USA, the UK and France, championed by people such as Norbert Wiener and John von Neumann.  The importance of this is to emphasise that in origin, and even until very recently, “cyber-” has been associated with a very broad field of intellectual enquiry, across many disciplines, focusing especially on systems and their control mechanisms.

It therefore seems to me to be inappropriate for the term to have been appropriated quite so aggressively in the field of digital technologies, ICTs and the Internet, first because it causes confusion, and second because in some instances it is tautologous:

  • with respect to confusion, why do we need to speak about terms such as cybergoverance, cybersecurity and cybercrime, especially when there are other terminologies already in existence, such as e-governance, Internet governance, computer crime?  As discussed further below, the lack of consensus and agreement on terminology is problematic.
  • second, though, and of much more concern, it seems to me that the notion of cybergoverance is fundamentally flawed because it is tautologous.  If “cyber-” in essence is to do with governing, then all “cybergovernance” means is governing governance.

There have been many detailed critiques of the use of “Cyber-” in other fields, with Mark Graham’s critique of concepts of cyberspace in the Geographical Journal, being particularly useful.  However, few people have sufficiently emphasised this tautology in the notion of “Cybergoverance”.

Dangers of Elision
When concepts are used in such a slippery way, with meanings being appropriated and adapted so frequently, there is a considerable danger of misunderstanding, overlap, and ultimately of failure to deliver on practical action.  Moreover, behind every use of a concept there is also an interest.  This is very well illustrated by confusion over the terms cybergoverance, cybersecurity and cybercrime (or even cyber-goverance, cyber-security and cyber-crime).  All too often they seem to be used interchangeably, and there really must be clarity of meaning and understanding of such terms if progress in reaching consensus on these very important issues is to be made.  One person’s cybercrime is another’s cybersecurity, and an initiative set up to focus on just one aspect can readily seek to expand into another, thereby causing confusion, duplication of effort, and indeed mistrust.

Although, for the reasons above, I think that the term “Cyber-” should no longer be used at all with respect to work on the Internet, digital security, computer crime and the like, because it is far too broad, I recognise that unfortunately it is now in such common use that this plea will fall on deaf ears.  There are powerful interests who like this ambiguity, and wish to use such terms for their own ends!  Hence, let me offer a simple structure whereby some clarity might be injected into the discourse.  At least for me, there is a nested hierarchy of such terminology:

  • “cybergovernance” (ugh, the tautology still hurts me) should be used (if at all!) for the overarching notion of governance of ICT systems, including concepts such as Internet governance and e-governance;
  • “cybersecurity” can be seen as a subset of cybergoverance, and should be used to refer to all aspects of security with respect to ICT systems.  The concept of “cyber-resilience” can be seen as being closely allied to this, and might actually be a better term, since it is more positive, and takes away the sense of threat around security and the role of the military.
  • “cybercrime”, accordingly, is a subset of cybersecurity, focusing just on the aspects of criminality with respect to the use of ICTs.

Of course there is overlap between these terms, because fully to understand cybercrime, one needs to have a knowledge of cybersecurity, and to understand and act on that one needs to consider wider cybergoverance issues.

My preference is to abandon the use of this “Cyber-” terminology altogether and to use clearer more specific words for what we are talking about and seeking to implement.  Then, we might actually make some progress in ensuring that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed benefit from the potential of ICTs.  However, if these terms continue to be used, let’s first try to reach some better agreement on their bounds and contents.  Cybergovernance, cybersecurity and cybercrime are categorically different concepts, and the interests that seek so often to elide them need to be challenged!

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Moderating a group on Facebook


I first started using Facebook back in November 2006, and then set up the ICT4D Group in April 2007 to provide an opportunity for information sharing and networking amongst all those with interests in how ICTs can be used to contribute to ‘development’.  Over the years the Group has grown considerably, and during the last few months an increasing number of people have asked to join.  Along with this, we have had a sudden increase in the number of irrelevant posts, which has made me think that I should formalise the protocol that I have traditionally used to add people to the Group.  Another option would simply be to let anyone join, and hope that people in the Group report posts which offend them or are irrelevant.  However, this would damage the integrity of the Group, and having set it up I think that it still makes sense to try and restrict membership. Interestingly, I have also received requests from people managing other Groups that have been hit by an increase in spam for suggestions about how best to reduce this through the management of Group membership.

So, the process I use to judge whether or not to hit the “Add” button requires me to do a quick review of the Facebook profiles of all those who have asked to be added, or who have been recommended for adding.  What I look for, in approximate order of importance are the following:

  • Whether they already have Friends in the Group (+ve)
  • Whether they belong to other similar Groups (+ve)
  • Whether they are employed by an organisation working in the field (+ve)
  • Whether they studied at an institute or organisation relevant to the field (+ve)
  • Timeline – to see the content that’s there (can be +ve or -ve)
  • Noting if they have been suggested for nomination by an active member of the Group (+ve)
  • Photos – to see if there is anything relating to the field (+ve), or anything that I feel might be construed as offensive to members of the Group (-ve)
  • Evidence that they use Facebook for advertising themselves or the products of a company (strongly -ve)
  • Whether they have a male identity (i.e. use “his”), but their profile photos are female (-ve).  This is a tricky one, because they could be women who have deliberately, or perhaps by accident, chosen to show their gender as male.

In so doing, I have discovered enormous differences in cultural practices on Facebook, and have been particularly struck by how blatant the use of sexual innuendo and imagery can often be.  I’m afraid that this is one of the main reasons why I choose not to add people to the Group.

I would be fascinated to know how other Group Administrators manage their choices about who to add or ignore.  I’m sure I do not always get the decisions right, but hope that members of the ICT4D Group will also self-regulate.  In the future, if we get many more requests, I guess I will have to try to automate this process somehow!

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Mobile ‘phones since 1993…


I cannot believe that I bought my first mobile ‘phone in 1993!  Vodafone and British Airways had a deal encouraging the intrepid traveler to buy one of these “Pocket Phones” – an Orbitel 902 – and there it is at the left of my mobile timeline below.  There is so much I could write about this – the change from Nokia to Apple with the iPhones; the fact that the average life-span has been just under 2 years; how appalling the Nokia N95 was, with the Nokia 6630 not being much better; how I liked the Nokia 6510; how I am still using my brilliant little Nokia 6080; how battery life of iPhones is too short; how I object to everything moving onto the Cloud….  Sadly the Android based Sony Xperia with NFC that I got last year as well is not shown here – on loan to my son in Spain! Oh yes, and what does this have to say about the number of active mobile ‘phones in the world – most of these still work, and you should see my SIM card collection!

Mobile 'phones smallEnjoy the picture!

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