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Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White


This interesting revelation appeared in the online Daily Maverick this week:

“Amazon announced Wednesday it was extending its on-demand video streaming service to more than 200 countries, placing "The Grand Tour" and other shows in head-to-head global competition with "Narcos" and other Netflix hits.  Until now, Amazon Prime Video was available only in the United States, Britain, Germany, Austria and Japan.


The giant retailer announced it was offering the service at no additional cost to existing customers of Amazon Prime in Belgium, Canada, France, India, Italy and Spain. For customers in the new markets, the service is being offered at an introductory price of $2.99 (euros) per month for the first six months, instead of the standard $5.99 (euros).


Programmes can be watched at any time through an app for smartphones and tablets, and through internet-enabled TV, Amazon said. Subscribers can also download all titles to mobile devices for viewing offline.  Netflix expanded to 190 countries at the start of 2016, billing itself as the first global television service.


Amazon's flagship programme is "The Grand Tour," a lavishly-funded and critically-acclaimed version of BBC's laddish car series, "Top Gear".  The company hired its colourful host, Jeremy Clarkson and two loyal co-stars, after the BBC dropped Clarkson for punching a producer.  The BBC came back with a rebooted version featuring new presenters but the programme suffered mediocre reviews.


Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are investing heavily in programming, winning plaudits for creativity.  Together they have spent some $7.5 billion — more than competitors CBS, HBO, or Turner, according to analysts IHS Markit.  Netflix's hit series include "House of Cards," "Orange is the New Black" and "Narcos".  It has planned for more than 1,000 hours of original programming next year and expanded its content budget to some $6 billion.


Original Amazon productions "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle" won prestigious Emmy Awards in the US.  Prime Video is a perk of an Amazon subscription service that includes free delivery of products bought at its online store, which has moved dramatically beyond its early days as a bookseller.”


Research Company CIRP estimated in late September that in the US alone there were 65 million, up 38 percent from a year earlier.  That’s an awful lot of subscribers, even for a big country like the USA so they must be doing something right and of course the company expanded coverage to southern Africa earlier this year, though there are no available figures on subscriptions; and only time will tell if Amazon Prime will overtake the mind-boggling Netflix numbers but already The Grand Tour is a grand pull and that’s just one of their offerings.


What this expansion means locally is that DSTV Multichoice will shortly be experiencing a seismic shift in its broadcasting stranglehold and regional monopoly.  With only one satellite television service on offer hereabouts, they have enjoyed almost 2 decades of Hobson’s choice subscriptions and it’s fair to say that they have played on that fact in terms of output and economics. 


You only have to browse any social media site to come across complaints about its service, though often the nature of the complaints indicate that the general public – i.e. their customer base – does not fully understand how a satellite provider operates.  Oft times, for example, you will hear moans of how there are too many repeats, something the moaners lay firmly at the feet of Mulitchoice, not understanding that the company has no control whatsoever over the content of their bouquet of channel broadcasters.


So what will those same customers make of subscription viewing providers like Amazon Prime and Netflix, then?  The best way to describe them is that it’s akin to having a superlative collection of DVDs and series which you have somehow put together on a massive memory stick and which you can access 24-7; and that from time to time you can add to your collection with some new offerings. 


So there are no presenters or personalities because they are neither channels nor networks; there are no news broadcasts nor sports fixtures; there are no adverts; and there are no reality shows:  All there is is a vast selection of popular drama and comedy series and movies, which are added to from time to time and the only ‘repeats’ are by subscriber choice – just like re-watching your favourite DVDs. 


So if you were to throw caution to the wind and drop your Multichoice subscription in favour of these 2 subscription giants, you would need to source an additional sports provider such as ESPN and you would lose out on all news coverage. 


And yet, would that matter too much?  After all, much of our viewing is now done on computer, tablet or smartphone so it’s perfectly possible to watch some happening events such as rolling news and sports matches online, then turn to your big home television screen for your comedy, drama and movies.


The way the world watches television has shifted dramatically over the years from a single set in the sitting room and a handful of available channels with families all sitting down together and enjoying the same programmes, through to multiple sets throughout the house and multiple channel options with everyone in the house watching their personal favourites on their own; and now our viewing is undergoing arguably the greatest innovation since John Logie Baird first invented the television set. 


There is, in fact, no real need for a television set at all.  Our viewing can be completely portable, miniaturised, blown up; it can be at our desk, in our home, out and about and even in the car; and it can be made to measure and cherry-picked, no longer restricted to a choice of this bouquet or that. 


In fact there’s only one sure thing we can say about this mind-boggling array and surfeit of choice which is that if, like millions all over the world, you were devastated by the loss of Jezza, Hamster and Captain Slow when they left the Beeb, weep no more – just cough up for an Amazon Prime subscription and it’ll be as though they never left.

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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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