Of OWLs and other night birds

The web environment has made enormous leaps since its “browser breakthrough” in the mid nineties. As a multiuser platform, its base has grown from to  16 million users in 1995 to the 1.6Billion we have today; almost a quarter of the world’s population. 



This precipitous growth has had far reaching effects on business practices; socially and culturally it is nothing short of a revolution. Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see  how fast the underrepresented areas grow and how their regional economies track to that growth.

Enterprises have adapted to the Web, or IP networking, as a way of reducing costs. Workable solutions for media sharing that can scale across the web reduce the cost of in-house IT. They speed up internal communications, or at least force managers to examine internal business processes. Global interconnect protocols  that standardize identity, permissions and secure transactions permit  banking and government systems to offer online services to web users.  The encryption protocols in place guarantee secure access to our bank accounts, make transactions, buy and sell goods and services from a web browser or a mobile phone.  We happily entrust the systems in place whenever we press the “Buy” button not to pass on personal or financial details when we do so.  Within the enterprise, social networking tools allow the setting up and tearing down of project or group based initiatives; ideal for start-ups or working groups within enterprises. Software as service (SAS) platforms provide billing, tracking and management tools for any kind of business operation.

SAS platforms are made to be delivered and installed via the web. They are made possible by the increased, global standardization of current IP programming tools, the software that acts as the glue between legacy technologies in ICT platforms.   They are the tools behind the amazing efficiency of the web, and are known collectively as semantic web tools. Semantic,  because the language and architecture of the Semantic Web Layer cake (term borrowed from cooking to define the global internet structure) mirror human behavior in their search for meaning or coherence. Languages like RDF/XML, RDFS, OWL and SPARQL are powerful because they describe taxonomies, rules and database categories that are dynamically created by users. The semantic web is a socially defined web, a massive social media  environment. Its tools massage the data as it is created by users. Enterprise data, Google adwords, search keywords, tags and labels used by bloggers and social media applications like Utube, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, generate the  raw material (content) analyzed once again by smart semantic web applications that can identify trends, needs, fads and fashions. A market researcher’s dream and the power behind the new web advertising model.


Ant Attack



For some weeks now, our house has been a refuge for some scurrying ants, who have been sending out advance storm troopers to see if the landscape is safe to send in the columns.


So far we have not been able to get rid of them.  We do not know where they come from or where they transport their enormous loads of food to. Not just the usual crumbs from the kitchen, but one evening, we witnessed one amazing Samson of an ant carrying off one of Oreo’s (our cat) food pellets on his back. The pellet must have been at least five or six times his weight!


At first, I did not bother about them too much. I bought some organic ant killer powder at the local hardware store and sprinkled  it along the baseboards where I had seen the little black bugs scurrying about their business. My daughter, however, was aghast. Horrible, black bugs crawling around the house! She urged me to buy a stronger killer, despite the toxic risk to us and the family cat,  after having watched one or two of our fearless invaders tramping unharmed across the greenish powder that now coated most of our gleaming hardwood floors. She not only has a bug phobia for all types of creepy crawlees, but sees ants as a dirty infection, like cockroaches, to be eliminated forthwith!


So far, we have resisted, saying that we will continue to seek a different way of eliminating the invaders, without introducing yet more carcinogens into our house. That decision is based on the fact that they have not yet become a marching army getting into the food areas and that it makes more sense to find their nest (where they are coming from and where they take their booty back to) and destroy that with the queen and all the eggs. Having lived in places where columns of scurrying ants, some very large indeed – and red – were a normal everyday sight, we were still of the view that it was not yet a flat out invasion. We also thought we should try to calm our daughter’s phobia of these valiant little insects. Yes, valiant. For in the course of this ant busting escapade, I have become quite impressd by these little soldiers.   They appear to be quite smart, in that they always see or sense a person looming and take immediate refuge. The not so lucky ones that we were able to squash, we piled up into a little funeral pyre just in front of the fireplace. Lo and behold, after an elapsed time, their comrades would emerge from under the grate, take down their dead from the pile and carry them back, sometimes bearing two at a time,  underneath the fireplace. They did this every time. Using this technique was my husband’s brilliant suggestion for discovering the location of their nest. Just watch where they go.


We have now identified that as a particular spot outside, underground and against the wall of the house. A crack in the chimney allows them to enter from the garden through the gas fireplace. 


A banking system for the unbanked


According to author and economist Niall Ferguson . one of the things that has brought us to the global financial meltdown is the way the international banking system spiraled out of control.  Planet Finance began to eclipse Planet earth whose own resource assets were simultaneously being eroded by environmental abuse. This made me think that if banks are so irresponsible and removed from the realities of their industry through incompetence rather than greed, there has to be another way for people to borrow and save.  Microfinance can be a more direct way to loan funds to entrepreneurial initiatives. It is also a collaborative enterprise as many different groups are involved. The actual loans are managed by field operatives who know their customer base. I have been looking at the various organizations and decided to start making loans through Kiva. They have developed a great web based system that allows you to select and choose the entrepreneur, the project, the region and track the repayment. Today I started with 5 loans to budding entrepreneurs in Bolivia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Cambodia. Good luck to them all!

Kiva has a good overview of microfinance here as does CGAP.