Douwe Osinga's Blog: 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What do you do after a genoicide?


Arriving in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda from most other African countries must be a bit of a reverse culture shock; the city is clean and pretty, the traffic not too busy and well behaved. The shops are well laid out and give a sense of prosperity and the people seem healthy and relaxed. The government though recently giving in to a certain degree of authoritarianism, is still efficient with streaks of visionary mixed in; they banned plastic bags and decided to change the national language from French to English for economic reasons (though certain disagreements with the government in Paris might have pushed them over the edge). All in all it feels more like a nation taking its cue from Singapore than South-Africa.

I imagine it is much like Germany must have been in the sixties. It's been about 20 years since Hutu death squads went on a killing spree killing around a million Tutsis and moderate Hutu's in one of the worst genocides of the second half of the twentieth century. Led by Paul Kagame, the current president, the RPF, a Tutsi dominated rebel movement, succeeded in pushing out the genocidistas before the United Nations got their act together.

What puzzles me is how they got back to a state of normalcy. The Rwandese genocide didn't happen in relatively remote concentration camps. It wasn't executed by a small group of well armed extremists. It happened everywhere at the same time, with neighbours killing neighbours, sometimes family members killing each other. People trying to find refugee in churches were sometimes turned over to their killers by nuns and priests, sometimes the Interahamwe would just blow up the church.

After World War II people in the Netherlands would whisper that somebody had been "wrong in the war" when they suspected collaborators or wonder if a visiting German tourist might have been "a good german". Over time that went away, but it took a good while. More than 40 years after the end of the war, football supporters were still celebrating the rare win over the German team declaring they got their grandfathers bicycle back.

In Rwanda they seemed to just have decided to do away with the whole thing. Now there are no more Hutu's or Tutsi, just Rwandese. The events in 1994 were a grim reminder that 80% of humans will turn into mass murderers given the right circumstances. Now Rwanda is showing the world that you can come back from even the worst tragedy imaginable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Paleo diet is wrong about grains


The Paleo diet insists we should only eat things our forefathers ate back in the stone age; our systems just aren't developed to process modern foods. It's an interesting idea that intuitively makes sense although the objection that it's crazy to get health advice from a group of people that had a life expectance of 32 is hard to overlook.

So you're mostly left with a diet of some vegetables and lots of animal protein from meat, fish and eggs. Especially grains are a big no-no. To the untrained eye it appears as yet another low-carb diet with a better back story. I think though that they are wrong about the grains.

I'm writing this while being on a trip to East-Africa, the cradle of humanity. And even though you don't see many primitive hominoids on the planes of the Serengeti, you do see baboons. Baboons aren't great apes so not very related to humans, but they do seem to fill a similar niche as early humans did; they're ape-like creatures living in social groups on the savannahs getting by on whatever they find.

This time of year the Serengeti looks like a field of grain. The rains make the grasses grow tall and all those grasses are laden with seeds. Those seeds are of course nowhere as big as modern grains but it is still free calories to the baboons. And so a common sight is to see a group of baboons "harvesting" "grains". It just seems very unlikely to me that our ancestors would just let that opportunity go.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How Microsoft can win the Mobile Wars

Forbes calls it game over for Microsoft. That seems harsh, but there is no denying that Microsoft hasn't been doing well in the battle for the smart phones. Each quarter it is the same story; Windows Phone market share drops a little, iOS picks up a bit and Android surges ahead. 5 years ago Steve Ballmer might have believed that "There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." or that "Google doesn’t exactly bubble to the top of the list of the toughest competitors we’ve got going in mobile." but he probably changed his mind by now.

So what's a poor CEO of a waning tech power to do? Hope that the shareholders will let you be CEO for a while longer is probably the first thing, but staying the course doesn't seem like it would do the trick at this point. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Here would be my proposal: switch to Android.

Or rather fork Android. Windows 8 might be quite nice, but Android just has too much momentum at this point and as developer supporting another platform for another let's say optimistically 5% market share just isn't worth it. But if Microsoft comes out with their own version of Android, all apps developed for Googles will just work. Microsofts Android will of course not come with the standard Google Apps, but the Microsoft Android apps aren't too bad and a port of Office seems in the works. As much as we like to talk about the demise of the desktop, Office & Outlook are for most professionals the tools of their trade.

But the kicker is the patent angle. Microsoft makes 10-15 dollars on each Android phone from most manufacturers. They could easily offer Microsofts Android for free. On a 100-200 dollar phone they patent charge makes the difference between profit or loss so this should really move the needle.

The advantage of this strategy is that Microsoft can take over an existing ecosystem while actively taking away from Google. Both the networks and the handset manufacturers are by now nervous about Googles influence so no doubt they'd welcome the competition especially if it means changing almost nothing; it's still Android.

And you'd have to like the irony of Microsoft getting back into the game by way of Open Source.