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Stuart White

For all keen sports fans there’s something for everyone to look forward to in the next couple of months.  This week marked the second week of Wimbledon, – 2 weeks of top tennis at the All England Club in London.  For soccer followers it’s building up to the business end of the EUFA European Championship as July kicks off (see what I did there!).  There’s test cricket between 2 giants of the game, England and Pakistan, scheduled for late July.  And of course let’s not forget the mighty Rio Olympics in August, the 4-yearly chance for top athletes in field, track, swimming , gymnastics, archery, horse-riding, weight-lifting and every other conceivable sporting discipline to compete amongst the world’s best and possibly clinch a coveted medal.

But there’s a big cloud hanging over the Rio fixture and it’s not a forecast for rain since to the best of the meteorologists’ knowledge, the mercury will be set fair on Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach for the entire shebang.  No, this metaphorical cloud might more properly be seen as a literal fly in the Olympic ointment since it’s carried by mosquitoes and its name, of course, is Zika.    The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was initially identified. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands Other outbreaks are almost certain to have occurred although because the symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, many cases may not have been recognised.  And now it has reared its ugly head in Brazil, where the nuts comes from and where this year’s Olympics are set to be staged.

Unlike malaria, yellow fever and other identified mosquito-borne diseases, Zika is rarely fatal.  In fact the symptoms are quite mild – mild fever, joint pain, a rash and conjunctivitis –  it lasts only for a few weeks and once caught, the infected individual should then be immune to further bouts.  However, if a pregnant woman is infected, Zika can cause microcephaly or other foetal brain defects and though the virus is mostly spread by a bite from a carrier mozzie, it can also be passed on from an infected man to his partner through sex.

Of course, the likelihood of being bitten by an infected mosquito for both male and female athletes is fairly small.   Nevertheless there is a risk and it has caused much soul-searching for competitors and organisers alike, with some health bodies even calling for the games to be cancelled.  The Olympic committee, however, rejected this suggestion and the event will go ahead as planned but still some individual athletes have decided to pull out.  Curiously, all but one of the confirmed withdrawals have been from the world’s top golfers, all of them professionals in a competition formerly reserved purely for those of amateur status.  World No. 1, Jason Day, has become the latest drop-out,  joining  Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Vijay Singh,  Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Marc Leishman and Graeme McDowell.  Some have openly admitted that Zika is behind their decision to pull out, though others have cited conflicts with other fixtures and various personal reasons.

So why only the golfers?  Is it, perhaps, their professional status which offers them the luxury of their careers and rankings not being adversely affected by their non-appearance in the Olympics?  Top golfers command huge amounts in prize money and sponsorship and they already enjoy top sporting status and high-flying lifestyles; whereas most other Olympic competitors will be amateurs, holding down a day job or completing their studies.  For them, the opportunity to compete in Rio will be  the culmination of years of training and self-discipline and if they turn down this chance after hard-won selection, that might be the end of their hopes and dreams in an  event that after all only comes round once every 4 years.

Zika, though, is not the only potential problem besetting the Rio Olympics.   Female Brazilian President Delma Rousseff has recently been impeached and formally suspended for 6 months, pending a potential trial for treasury overspending, an  offence, seen by some political commentators as a technicality and tactical move on the part of her opponents.  Nevertheless the timing could not have been worse, with the world’s sporting press as well as thousands of extra tourists and visitors about to descend on Rio in a few short weeks.  Add to that on-going reports of enforced relocation of the city’s shanty town dwellers and Rio’s already sullied reputation for muggings and street crime and you have to wonder why Rio was every chosen as the host city in the first place.

But then again, haven’t we heard all this before?  The London 2012 games were considered such a non-starter it spawned a very amusing sit-come series with gloomy predictions of a public transport overload and a competition beset by the unpredictable British weather.  But in the end all went off fairly smoothly and the overall assessment was fair to good.  Even more controversial was the previous event in 2008, held in Beijing, with threatened boycotts over China’s poor record on human rights and concerns over the effects of the city’s pollution levels on athlete’s health and performance. Those games too all came right in the wash.  It was ever thus.

And so it undoubtedly will be this year in Rio de Janeiro, city of carnivals, fun in the sun, one of the most famous beaches in the world and the most recognisable religious icon in the world –the giant statue of Christ atop Sugarloaf Mountain.  And though there is no medical preventative for the Zika virus,  there are very effective mosquito repellents on the market which encourages them to buzz off somewhere else.  Perhaps someone should tell the golfers?

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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