Saturday, November 14, 2015

Social Capital in an African Energy System

My second presentation at the SAEE (South African Energy Efficiency) Conference

12 November 2015

In order to have growth we need infrastructure, "base load" and very big power stations. But finding trained staff for coal and nuclear power stations, for their build, operation and maintenance is proving difficult.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Has our education system failed us and let to mass overconsumption and pollution?

The educational debate. Someone just asked me to comment on an article about bringing modern education to everyone on the planet via using the internet and home schooling, and this is my response.

Dear Hermann.

An excellent article and thank you for asking me to comment on it.

This article assumes that rural Africans and other Africans without adequate education (definition to be discussed) and also others in the world without access to our historical educational grids, should have access to the same kind of education that we had.

Recently I have been doing a lot of research in "Social Capital" in an African educational system. Last month, I spoke at a conference about this, and next week I am speaking about it at the SAEE (South African Energy Efficiency) conference in Joburg. (See

I don't believe that our earth can continue to sustain the kind of education that we have historically forced on our children. This has led to the mass consumption and pollution that we see today.

Instead, I see that cheap and reliable renewable energy + cheap and reliable internet bandwidth from anywhere on the planet + getting people to want to remain in their communities rather than migrate to the cities (because they can access the cities from their communities) + an educational alternative which encourages rural town development and rural wealth creation by using permaculture principles enhanced into bringing people into the internet and energy internet age, will solve our mass education problems. I see a return to city states, but enhanced to the point where everyone is "rich", ie has access to the kinds of amenities that we have today, ie fresh potable water, hot water, flushing toilets, energy efficient housing and buildings, readily available clothing and quality, organic, food, electricity, the internet, and educational resources that enhance their current lifestyles, rather than trying to make them like us.

In my opinion, our system is failing us, as it moves more and more resources to centrally controlled units (clouds), and instead of making us interdependent, is creating a culture of dependence which is getting worse and worse.

We need to test our assumptions and ensure that we want the best for other people, and not try to make other people like us.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Uber is important for South Africa

The photo above is from the Uber web site. I hope they don't mind me using it.

Uber is a serious part of my future plans, if I am to do as our government and local government would have us do, and use public transport. I am not a shareholder, just a thinker, and I want the best for South Africa and its people.

You see, in order to use public transport, I need choice. This means there must be competition, for example the IRT (Integrated Rapid Transit system), buses, trains, taxis, Uber, planes, other transport services, etc.

Transportation is incredibly expensive in South Africa. Worse than this, it is erratic, slow, and cable thefts, vandalism and poor maintenance means that one's staff are often late for work, stressed out, and not in the mood to work, when they get to work.

Trains, taxis, buses, etc, are all already regulated, yet, as can be seen, this legislation is unenforceable and in any case, most of the operators simply ignore it! Worse than this, public transport and minibus taxi services often cease at between 6.30pm and 7.30pm, which means that poor people cannot enjoy nightlife in Cape Town, cannot go to the concerts, and our students cannot work late at university and then get reliable transport home.

When I was at university, I was often there till 11pm and sometimes even till 3am. Doing projects. Using the computer lab. Having fun. And fortunately I had a motorbike, so I could go home, have some breakfast and then be back in time for lectures. South Africa has a dire shortage of students and degreed students, and part of this is because the transport services have forgotten about them.

Enter Uber. The potentially low cost transport option for the masses, without the burden of public transportation hampering the public purse! Uber, especially designed for developing countries.

Uber brings the first mass transport, reliable, self-regulated, and low cost transport service to South Africa.

And its vehicles can carry one passenger, if the passenger doesn't want to share, or many passengers, if they do want to share. Finally, another way of reducing South Africa's high pollution and reducing the need for foreign oil, especially with a depressed currency.

And of-course, if someone wanted to, they could easily compete with Uber!!

Uber's next foray is called UberShare, where one car is used to transport many people, like a bus, but way more versatile. When I was in Israel in 1984, there were Mercedes Limos with 3 rows, called Sheruts. These Limos could transport us students, travelling on a meagre budget around, pretty much from exactly where one was to where one wanted to be. I guess they were the forerunners of our mini-bus taxis, except to say that it felt wonderful to be in a Mercedes Limo, rather than a rattly old minibus, or even in a rattly and draughty bus.

Jeremy Rifkin, in his ground breaking book, "The Zero Marginal Cost Society", discusses Uber as one of the many services that operates almost for "free", where its costs decrease every year rather than go up. We have already seen this in free internet access, free phone calls, free movie tickets. And millennials want access rather than ownership, and the Uber service fits this new paradigm.

Although the government believe that Uber and similar services need to be regulated (by government), these services will in fact be self-regulated by social media. Imagine an Uber user who gets in a car with tomato sauce on the back seat, or a driver who smokes, or a driver, who might have been a former minibus driver, who ignores the road rules? These cars will very quickly be virused, i.e. social media will go viral on both good service and bad service, and good service will win. And at no cost to our government in terms of fines, more expensive to maintain regulations and more courts to get people to obey the law. As it is, many people simply ignore their fines and if they are summonsed, even ignore the summonses. Our jails are full and overflowing.

Self-regulation is key to our future. Millennials and social media will see to it!

I would very much like to give up my car, but I cannot because the existing services are too far away or are too expensive. What I would like to do is be able to call Uber and ask them to take me to my local IRT station. And when I get back home at 8pm after a long day, I'd like an Uber driver to meet me at my local IRT station and bring me home. Or I'd simply like to be able to use Uber for the trip, if I am not going on an IRT route.

Our local taxis are way too expensive for this and they don't like doing short routes. And they have regulated themselves into not being able to operate on "any" route, but must stick to their agreed routes, pretty much like the bus system. The system works like in many systems in spokes from the Centre, but if I want to go from "Zone 6" to "Zone 6" in another part of town, I can't go there directly by public transport. I have to go via Zone 1.

Hey App Writers: how about a "lift-club app?"

Or I'd like to walk up the road to a major thoroughfare like Koeberg Road, and simply get an Uber "sherut." I can't rely on minibus taxis to drive properly or to maintain their vehicles, and I can't rely on "regulations" because of no enforcement. And even if I was on a minibus taxi, I might find myself in the middle of a war zone, as two taxi associations fight it out with guns and knives for turf, as has happened in Westlake, Cape Town, causing me to take 2 hours for a half hour journey. They are doing themselves out of jobs in their rush to be "first."

Competition is incredibly important in an environment where one wants to give up one's car.

I need the IRT. I need the railways. I need the taxi services. I need services like Uber. I don't want to take the mini bus taxis because they typically drive badly and ignore the rules of the road. If Uber, and other similar services, usurp them, and they usurp an unreliable and expensive bus and train service, then these service providers only have themselves to blame!