Wednesday, March 31, 2010

There is still Love, child of Mars

"I still have the bruises and all the cuts. It's what I show for all the years."

"Why did you call me?"

"I wanted to see you."

"Why? To whine about how life's been unfair to you?"

"Um, no. No. I just wanted, no, needed to see you."


"I miss you"

"You told me to leave, said I was no good for you, that I made you weak"

"I know. I want you back, and I'm sorry. I was in pain"

"Everyone feels pain, even me"

"I know, but this was different"

"You're not the first nor will you be the last, but it's always different"

"I don't care, it was me this time"

"You're strange"

"I get that a lot"

"You're not ready"

"What do you mean? I'm ready now! Please. Come back to me."

"The ides of March are come and gone
July bleeds into crimson rivers
Orpheus' song lingers even in stone
A tale once told to the weavers

Yours is an empty house
Big and empty. Empty heart
Go west or east, north or south
empty house, empty man

Listen, the child sings
Ave, ave, ave Maria
But she is gone, on angels' wings
In her father's house, singing "Doe a deer"

I held the book, at the turn of time
In my blood I wrote your name
Hear! The midnight bells chime
Away I must, for it's all a game

Laugh, sing, dance and cry
No longer Son and never Father, but name you must have
"Rae", the grass will grow and the birds will fly
The heart will call, and I will come"

She got up, graceful as a reed in a gentle breeze. Kissed me on the cheek and whispered,

"When you're ready, I will come to you"

I turned to look at her, one last time, but she was gone. I walked to the bar and paid my bill.

"You are a Mars child" Destiny asked or said, I couldn't quite tell the difference, there was always that about him.

"Mars, Athena, Aphrodite, Yahweh, the lot of them, I belong to all or most of them anyway"

"Hmmm, she sure likes the dreamers" He said to himself, mostly. He pulled out two small glasses from a wooden cabinet, the kind you filled with colourful liquids and then poured down your throat in one quick motion. One glass, one swing. He bent down and rummaged through the cabinet for what seemed like ages.

"Aaah, here we are. I've not had some of this in a million years." He said, straightening once again. He had that look; I could tell he really meant it, a million years. He produced a dusty, ancient looking bottle, much like a Babylonian clay jar but different, uncorked it, poured a honey coloured liquid into the glasses, and handed one to me. A strange aroma hit me, something like tears, the good kind, the kind that flow when you laugh so hard. Years too, it smelled of them, one piled upon the other until there were hundreds and thousands of millions of them.

"Everyone walks through the garden, even my sister. The end is the same but the path is yours to choose, sometimes."

I put the glass to my mouth, tilted my head back and poured.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Girl in Red

She smiles at me and asks for my name. Her eyes are alight with the promise of magic; taunting, teasing and tempting. Perhaps it's something ancient; something deep, down in the flesh, hidden, something draws me to her. 

We dance; sometimes to the music, sometimes to the words, we dance to life. The minutes tumble and fall; the seconds fading fast as the year dwindles away. One number gone, another to take its place. We dance; in the moonlight and the flames, ever so close until I can feel her breath and taste her skin. Pushing gently against each other we whisper words, things long forgotten. "She is old; she was here long before you and I and will be long after we are gone. Enjoy her bounty; take what you will but always pay." 

She tilts her head, looks at me, longingly. I kiss her, softly, slowly and then I feel it. The magic is old, old as the earth herself. There are memories here, those old and those not yet made. I fall, lost, nostalgic. I remember a million kisses and tears, a million lives. 
She is gone now, on a grey steed, taken by the winds that blow. The sun will rise soon, washing away the night and everything in it. It will all fade, like mist in the wind I will be gone, a part of me, taken, forever.

Desdemona, "You are a child of the universe. You will be Love."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Homo Interneticus: Why the internet will change humanity as we know it

Last Thursday, the BBC hosted a unique experiment called "Superpower Nation". The climax of a season of programming on "the internet", it was a 6hour event where people from all over the world connected on the internet and were encouraged to carry out discussions on any topic they desired. Of course it was a little bit more complicated than that but that was the gist of it. One of the aims of the experiment was to test the efficacy of a language translation engine; anyone could use whatever language they wanted and the engine would attempt to translate their sentiments.

The statistics speak for themselves but, like all statistics they don't quite reveal the human stories behind them. I took part in this experiment along with @CplLo and I was impressed by the simplicity of it; there I was, connected to all these people and we could discuss anything. The technology is not quite there yet but you get a sense of the general direction. In the not so distant future, any group of people will be able to hold a seamless, uninterrupted discussion/forum/class/rally in real-time complete with audio and video AND language will not be a barrier.

The experiment was carried out on several platforms including twitter, facebook, blogs and a video conferencing platform developed by Nefsis. I just had to try out the translation engine and since I could see it was doing a good job with the international languages, I fed it a few sentences of Rukiga. Naturally, it couldn't even spit back one word in English and so I let it be. Unbeknownst to me, a few seconds after my entry, @darlkomu read it and posted a translation for it and just like that, the engine had (of course with human intervention) translated a few sentences in an obscure African language that the wider world would never have understood. I think I should have said something poignant but all I said was "Ninkunda internet munonga ahabwokuba eine amagezi gabantu b'omunsi yoona" which loosely translated means "I love the internet because it has all the knowledge of all the people on earth". While this is not actually true, I think it's only a matter of time before the internet becomes what it truly should be, a marvel of the modern age, the sum of humanity's shared knowledge and creativity. It is at once the great library, bookstore, bank, supermarket, record store, cinema, boardroom, church, secret meeting place, etc. The road to this point is not quite clear; there are so many issues not least of which is the traditional view of copyrights, business and state secrets, privacy and libel legislation, etc.

As the internet becomes a permanent fixture in our everyday lives, those in authority will try to control its influence as perhaps is their obligation because any tool can be used to perpetrate injustices. In so called democracies where such fundamental human rights as the freedom of expression and by extension of the press are routinely abused under the pretext of national security, the battle lines are slowly being drawn. It will take an enormous amount of ingenuity, much like the stuff that created the internet, to open it up to the billions in the developing world that truly need it.

It is levelling the playing field in many an industry; where it was once a minor nuisance, it is now a threat to established business structures and models that not many people seem to have an answer to it. The recording industry was the first to fall prey to this technology, with the release of Napster (an audio file sharing tool) back in the 90s. The idea behind such software is simple, that if I have a music collection and you have a music collection, we can share our collections and together have access to more music. Innocent isn't it? Kind of like when you move in with a new roommate or better other. Yet that little software brought the entire recording industry to its knees and by the time Napster was shut down, the idea was already out there. Today, such tools abound on the internet and those of us who use them are labelled criminals and "pirates" but the truth of the matter is that not all of us can afford to own the entire discography of U2, Tracy Chapman and all our favourite musicians but we would like to be able to listen to it. Most of us are willing to contribute to the welfare of the people who provide such goods but at the current market prices, we can't quite afford to. The recording industry soon realized that it was impossible to win this war and that instead of fighting the technology, they had to use it to their benefit and so the internet became a new distribution channel and now a music album that would have cost me $30 will cost me about $12 or less, approximately $1 per track.

Interestingly, artists soon realized that this technology could be used as a promotional platform, instead of having to audition to god knows how many hundreds of record label executives; they made their music and put it out there for the world to hear. I imagine the idea was to get noticed and then use this as launch pad for a career in the recording industry. This was simply the market evolving from a closed business model to something more open and much fairer. In 2007, Radiohead's recording contract with EMI expired before the release of their 'In Rainbows' album, the band decided to release their album on the internet and invited fans to "pay what you wish" -- even nothing -- and a "digital tip jar" was set up to collect voluntary payments. "The Radiohead Experiment" as it would later come to be known elicited strong reactions from all sides. Today, what was once radical is now considered quaint with many emerging artists experimenting with different models.

However, the true power of the internet lies in the fact that it connects people. Ever since some guy decided to beat some drums to send a message to the next hill, and another one thought a few smoke rings would do the trick, humanity has always been looking for better ways to communicate and express itself. Enter the most open and ubiquitous technology yet. Today, you can have a real-time conversation with someone thousands of miles away at a reasonable cost. Halfway through the superpower event, a 70 year old Eritrean lady, who was at the event HQ in London, had a question for the participants in Uganda. "Why does your country impose sanctions on mine? Why do you make the people of Eretria suffer?" Carlo and I had no idea what she was talking about and while she (the old lady) poured her emotions, we did a quick Google search and discovered that Uganda, as part of the African Union had recommended to the UN that an arms embargo and other sanctions be brought against Eritrea because apparently the country (more precisely some guys in the country) supports the Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia. I wanted to tell that lady that just as she rightly thought that I should have an explanation for what my government did in my name, she too bore the same responsibility for hers.

For me, it's that simple, a global conversation, real people and real issues. It may seem fleeting, impermanent but in this day and age, much like at any other time in history I imagine, there are few things in which we can have steadfast belief. One of these is that humanity as a whole shall always attempt to move forward, to build better and more permanent bonds amongst its members.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

SuperPower Nation

So, the BBC is carrying out an experiment as part of their special season of programmes
on how the internet is changing the world.

According to their website,

The internet brings millions of people together digitally every day, but one thing it
cannot do well - at least, not yet - is allow people who speak different languages to
understand each other easily.
BBC World Service wants to explore whether technology will be able to change this -
in a unique experiment using our language services and translation software - broadcast
live online from 1300GMT on 18 March 2010.
SuperPower Nation on the Web
As a part of SuperPower Nation Day, we are running an experiment using automatic
machine translation technology to see how the internet can break down language
It’s your turn to talk. And we have no agenda - any topics or issues will be debated
and discussed.
What is unique about this is that you can talk to speakers of completely different
languages in your own voice. Speakers of click Arabic, click Chinese, click English,
click Persian, click Indonesian, click Portuguese and click Spanish will be able to talk
to each other using Google’s machine translation.
Your call

SuperPower Nation will be broadcast from 1300GMT on the click live event page and
BBC World television.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My OB from Kigezi College

So, Jason Mraz keeps a blog. I've just perused it and it looks interesting. He sounds a bit of an oddball, talking all spiritual and karma stuff which I like most of the time but I am not in a mood for that now. Here's the link if you're interested.

 I met a guy in Kamwokya today, he looked about 26 or thereabouts. I was walking towards the market to find a place with good cheap food. I noticed him when he was about 30 meters from me, walking in the opposite direction. He had on a black and white checkered shirt, cream cargo pants that stopped just below the knees and sandals for footwear. We made eye contact, he stopped, I yanked the earphones from my ears and said "hi".

"Hello" he said
"Can I help you" I asked, turning slightly away to avoid the smell of alcohol.
"You look familiar, did we go to school together?"
"Um, which school would that be?"
"Weren't you in Kigezi College?"
"No, you must have me mistaken for somebody else"
"You look like someone I know called Ronald. Say, can you help me with 500/= for a taxi?"

I looked at him, he seemed in good shape apart from the alcohol breath. I wondered how he could expect me to give him some of my "whoring dividends" when he looked perfectly able to provide for himself.

"I'm sorry I can't" I said
"Well, I guess I'll just walk then"
"Yes, you should walk, it won't kill you that's for sure, give you some time to think as well."

I walked off wondering whether I should feel guilty that i hadn't helped him, it was in my power to do but I looked at him and judged him as unworthy of my kindness.

When does it become a burden? A kind heart, when is it that you give more than you should or is there such a point? When do you decide that you should be good to yourself, that you deserve to hold back a little?

 I'm struggling with balance, I know I can't give everything away, that I must keep something for myself, even the emotional stuff. I hope soon I will strike a balance that allows me to feel a little less and do a little more.