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Stuart White

I was having supper with a girlfriend the other night who admitted to not feeling too excited about the Olympics. I was flabbergasted as I can hardly contain myself thinking about the many showdowns to come and the sporting questions to be answered like: will Mo Farrah successfully defend his 5000 and 10000m titles, will Nigel Amos find the form he has been lacking in order to get a medal and how will the rivalry between Chad Le Cloe and Michael Phelps play out in the 200m butterfly?

This exuberance was lost on my friend, illustrating how people differ in interest or knowledge in an area – I may love something that you consider incredibly mundane and vice versa. The Olympics makes me feel alive and engaged and I have a focus and determination that I haven’t had in weeks, albeit my focus is on others’ efforts.  But I do at least have my own single-minded personal determination to witness them all.

For athletes to do their very best they also need focus and a determination to bring in to play the qualities that set them apart from everyone else. It’s their personal magic, or sweet spot…. Call it what you will  – alignment, flow, motivation, mojo – but it is critical as it is the engine that propels the vehicle.  And that’s not exclusively an athlete thing. When we’re in the zone and feel like this we perform better in every way;  it feels great and its absence can leave us flat or its opposite, panicked and unsettled, which is how I feel when I can’t see clearly or sense I don’t know quite what I am doing. Equate it to being in a dream where you are frustrated by playing situations over and over like you are lost in a maze and can’t find your way out.

And apart from anticipating the Olympic games, that’s where I am right now.  There just isn’t a lot that is exciting me at the moment. This hopefully temporary dip feels like a rut. I just don’t feel the same energy as I used to when I am getting ready for work in the morning or the same drive to excel. Some days, I even feel like phoning it sick and then I have to remind myself that effectively I would be phoning myself which feels even more pointless. I don’t have the same resilience for tolerating small mindedness. Much of what I see seems trivial – a quagmire of pettiness and pointlessness. I’m out of the zone and in the proverbial doldrums.

I am reminded of a popular classic study in organisational behaviour where Chris Agyrisa, a professor at Harvard University, found that male mid-level managers rarely, if ever, talked about the big picture in corporate meetings.

Rather, they focused almost exclusively on small details. They felt, rightly it turned out, that top management was too frightened to contemplate the big questions, like: What, exactly are we doing here? What do we want to be doing, and how are we going to organise ourselves to do it? No one ever posed the big questions because asking them puts everything up for grabs, jeopardizes their position and makes them too uncertain about their role in the company. In the study it was proposed that they felt it was better to sweat the small stuff. At least that way, everyone seems to be needed.  It might be routine or in a rut but at least it’s a familiar one.

Social scientists say that when we sweat the small stuff it turns out to be a recipe for anomie (the feeling of not really knowing where you are, what your larger vision is and what the whole point is). It is this ‘anomie’ which underlies sometimes feeling bored in your job, although it is not that you are bored per se but that the circumstances are boring and any rational person would be bored.  I know that many readers will relate to this because we all go through phases where our tolerance wanes, or focus blurs and there is a need to step back and reflect so that we can find equilibrium again.

In the 1970s, psychologist Mihaly  Csikszentmihalyi, coined the term "flow psychology"—the idea that great absorption, focus and enjoyment of work results from a balance between our skills and the challenge of the tasks we face. Challenge is a big thing in the picture. When we are dealing with petty politics and sweating the small stuff it is often annoying more than challenging and there are some times when our tolerance of it is lower than others.

One thing is for certain and that is I won’t be bored for the next two weeks. I am happy to get up at 3 in the morning to watch certain finals – there are just some things that you have to see live because you want to be in the moment, not on DSTV catch up. And the two weeks will fly past.  I know that we can’t we have the Olympics every week because if we did, well it wouldn’t be as interesting or exciting; the fact that it is rare makes it all that more special. If you consider that I will probably only experience 20 Olympics in my entire lifetime as opposed to facing my work goals 20 times in a month, it’s easy to see where the humdrum ho-hum feeling comes from when it comes to the latter.

If I could just inject some of that Olympic fever into my work it would make the world of difference, and who knows; in two weeks time some of that effort, enthusiasm and single-minded goal focus might have rubbed off on me.  And if so, well Blame It On Rio!

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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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