Daryl Ilbury

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Why Apple have lost the plot

In Eish!, Politics on March 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm

A sad day for true Apple fans

I remember my first Apple computer. It was many, many years ago when the world was still Windows. I lost count of the number of times I asked salesmen of things like digital cameras and voice recorders whether they were ‘Mac compatible’.

I also ignored the hurumphs and grumphs from colleagues who thought I was either a snob or a pathetic, dismissed leftover from technological evolution. I ignored them all and became a passionate, very vocal, public ambassador for Apple.

Not so long ago I sat at the front of a large, full lecture theatre, looked behind me and saw a sea of open laptops, each one of them proudly crested with a bright, gleaming apple. “My”, I remember smiling, “times have changed”.

Between my first Apple computer and that lecture, Steve Jobs became the darling of the technological revolution, Apple became the most respected company in the world; and Bill Gates slipped into virtual ignominy. Except he didn’t. He quietly got on with the job of building a lasting legacy – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

When Steve Jobs died I was one of the millions who mourned the loss, but I hoped that in his passing he would do the right thing. It seems he hasn’t. There has been no news to date of a foundation in his name, similar to the Steven P. Jobs Foundation he formed in 1986 and closed a year later.

There has also been no suggestion that of the billions he made, some of it would go, in his name, to help others who are less fortunate. Also there seems to be no suggestion of a revival of Apple’s philanthropic programmes that Steve Jobs stopped when he returned to the company in 1997

According to ABC News, Apple is the world’s most valuable publicly traded company, and sits on $97.6 billion in cash and securities. When news started spreading that Apple needed to dispose of some of its cash reserves, I thought “here comes the announcement that I as a passionate and loyal Apple have been waiting to hear:  the formation of a philanthropic foundation in the name of either Apple or Steve Jobs”. Instead, the company announced that it would pay dividends to its shareholders – the first time since 1995.

I have made the rather sad decision that my next phone will be a Blackberry.

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The problem with water for everyone

In Eish!, Politics on March 18, 2012 at 11:40 am

So many taps, so little water

There is an uncomfortable truth living in a developing country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world – the balance of expectation versus delivery.

Case in point: in South Africa access to water is a constitutional right, not a priviledge. Unfortunately political history dictated that for many years urbanisation marginalised the majority. Cities and suburbs – and their predominantly white inhabitants – enjoyed continued infrastructural development, whilst blacks were allocated to the fringes of both the urban space and development.

Now, almost 20 years after the first democratic elections, rapid urbanisation and shifts in demographics are placing incredible strain on infrastructures that have a limited capacity and service life.

This is especially the case where the provision of water is concerned. With a focus on providing access to water, the South African Government seems to have forgotten two things:

  • Access to water is meaningless without the provision of water. Because someone who previously had to fetch their water in a bucket from a river now has a tap in their shack, doesn’t mean they have access to water. It just means they have a tap in their shack; and,
  • The nature of human behaviour. Because someone who previously had to fetch their water in a bucket from a river now has a tap in their shack, doesn’t mean they’re going to use the same amount of water they got in a bucket. They’re going to, understandably relish in the ‘unlimited’ supply of water.

With more people having access to water in taps, more water is going to flow, which means more water needs to be drawn from the provisional infrastructure, and more water is going to be wasted.

Unfortunately, if there is something that has become worryingly clear, it’s that many municipalities in South Africa are badly managed, and too many of them are corrupt.

In 2009 the South African Minister of Water Affairs  Buyelwa Sonjica said that all municipalities were to have ‘Blue Drop’ Status by 2010. In order to be awarded Blue Drop Status municipalities have to achieve a score of 95% through a rating process that measures the microbiological and chemical composition of the water, and the physical and operational fitness of its provision.

According to the ICLEI–  an international association of local governments and national and regional local government organisations that have made a commitment to sustainable development – of the 162 municipalities investigated for the Blue Drop report in 2011, only 68 – or 42% – were awarded blue drop status.

What is also interesting is that of the top 10 Blue Drop municipalities for 2010 (latest available stats on the Dept of Water Affairs website) – five of them are in one province – the Western Province – managed by the DA – the official opposition.

Some animals not allowed on board

In Eish! on March 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

"Sorry, m'am, you can't bring that monkey onboard"

For me, science stories are more interesting if they rattle a couple of cages. A case in point is a great story in sciencemag.org by my colleague Lisa Raffensperger about passenger ferry company Stena Lines’ decision not to transport research animals between the UK and Europe.

On the face of it, that may not sound like much of a story, but, as Lisa explains, the decision follows a successful campaign by the National Anti-Vivisection Alliance (NAVA) against the company. The campaign involved sending rather nasty, sometimes openly abusive and threatening, e-mails to employees of Stena Lines.

Now whereas for senior managers of large companies the occasional abusive e-mail comes with the job, they have to weigh up the emotional cost to company when a blanket campaign of abusive and threatening e-mails reaches other staff members who have no part to play in management decisions. Having half your staff booking off sick, claiming emotional distress because they’ve been sent pictures of bunnies with their ears ripped off and the message “This is what you’ve done!”, is not good for business.

In the case of Stena Lines, as with other ferry companies targeted by anti-vivisection reactionaries, namely DFDS and P&O Ferries, they also had to weigh up the potential reputational damage of a media campaign by the anti-vivisectionists versus the income received from moving the actual animals. For them, it just wasn’t worth the risk.

The question that niggles my nasty little mind is this: what’s morally more repugnant – transporting animals on a ferry or threatening (mainly) innocent people with violence because the company they work for transports the animals?

As I said…it rattles the cages.

Tabloids – the bitter truth

In Eish! on March 14, 2012 at 10:28 am

I am back in Cape Town to complete the last leg of my Masters in Science Journalism – a research project on the state of science journalism in South Africa. I have also committed myself to finding more time to update this blog more consistently.

As someone whose heritage straddles two countries – South Africa and England – I am constantly embracing as well as critically analysing both; and, I have to admit, cherry-picking the virtues of each, and this is especially the case with respect to the media.

Whereas I respect the rigour with which some elements of the British media exercise their profession, I am utterly dumbfounded at the shallowness of other elements, specifically the tabloid media. It’s a little like evolution. Just as monkeys and homo sapiens evolved from a common ancestor, tabloids and the top titles evolved from a common ancestor, it’s just that tabloids remained swinging in the trees and running around with their knuckles dragging on the ground.

There are two ways of seeing the British tabloids: as insulting the British public, or serving the British public.

The former suggests they dictate what the readers consume and are therefore guilty of suppressing the intellect of the British public, the latter suggests the British reader is a fool that finds value in lies and the escapades (true or not) of celebrities, and that the tabloids have therefore simply stumbled upon a successful business formula.

If the latter is true then the question needs to be asked: does the average British tabloid consumer see the tabloids as a source of truth or a simple distraction from life in Britain?

It’s an uncomfortable, but critical, question indeed.