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Winds Of Change

I spoke last week about some signs of gradual easing of Lockdown restrictions in many parts of the world. People used to complete freedom of movement are now rattling their chains of confinement and putting pressure on governments if not to completely lift restrictions, then to provide a timetable for the phased easing of regulations.

Here in Botswana, where infection rates are low, HE President Masisi this week unveiled just such a plan, though full details are yet to be released; whilst in several European countries there are rumblings of discontent from the virus detainees about when they might reasonably expect to be released for good behaviour.

Well the Bible tells us that for every thing there is a season and this disruption will be no exception. But it will leave behind a myriad of unexpected consequences. Take pets, for instance. Veterinarians have warned of severe mental consequences to the lifting for the mental health of pets in general but dogs in particular.

It is a well known syndrome that dogs can and do suffer from boredom and loneliness if their owner is out at work most of the day. There are apocryphal stories of those owners coming home to find ripped up curtains and sofas, mess on the floor and general mayhem caused by their dog running amok whiles they were out earning an honest buck, though those animals are the exception, not the rule. Most become accustomed to a quiet, empty house during the day, hence the enthusiastic greeting when their master or mistress comes back home.

But recently the situation has changed. Owners appear to have stopped this bad habit of disappearing from nine to five and have realised that they need to stay home and pay their pet more attention. They have seen the error or their ways, come to their senses and finally got their priorities right. To use an old adage, the owners’ lives are now a month of Sundays, home very day where they belong, making sure of regular exercise with walks to the local park and keeping themselves fit and healthy with stick and ball throwing and such like.

Well, that’s how it appears in the eyes of the dog, anyway. So, you can imagine how it will seem when owners suddenly relapse after Lockdown and go back to their bad old ways. Out of the house as soon as they’ve downed their morning coffee, shooting off in the car, out all day gallivanting again, only bothering to come back early evening for a quick wash and brush up, then out to the cinema or the restaurant with never a second’s thought for poor Rover or Fifi, abandoned once more.

Vest are predicting a wave of doggy depression following the easing of restrictions with some very confused pooches wondering what they did to deserve the desertion this time, just when they thought the relationship was back on track and going so well. But not in any way to downplay the seriousness of canine mental health, all over the world there have been positive and unforeseen consequences of global locked-down syndrome.

Cleaner air and increased visibility

Cleaner air has perhaps been the single greatest positive effect of the lockdowns on the environment. Citizens in Northern India are seeing the view of the Himalayan mountain range for the first time in their lives, due to the drop in air pollution caused by the country’s coronavirus lockdown. Those living in Jalandhar in northern Punjab have shared pictures of the mountains from rooftops and empty streets, amazed by the view which has been hidden by pollution for 30 years.

Cities across the world have seen pollution levels plummet as people have spent less time in vehicles, offices and factories. Reductions in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide have been Europe, with cities including Paris, Madrid and Milan all seeing a reduction in average levels of nitrogen dioxide from March 14-25, compared with the same period last year, according to new satellite images. The images, released by the European Space Agency, show the changing density of the harmful gas – which is emitted when fossil fuels are burnt.

Clearer water

In Venice, famous for its winding canals, water quality appears to have improved amid Italy’s stringent coronavirus lockdown. Residents in the city have said the waterways are benefiting from the lack of usual boat traffic brought on by the hoards of tourists who visit each year.

Emptied of the usual array of motorboat taxis, transport and tourist boats which clog the canals, there has reportedly been a sharp improvement in the clarity of the water, thought to be linked to a reduced amount of sediment clouding the waterways, with muddy canal floors no longer being churned up. The change has reportedly offered locals clear views of shoals of small fish, crabs and multicoloured plant-life – sights often obscured by busy boating movement in the Lagoon.

Liberated wildlife

Wildlife elsewhere has also taken the opportunity presented by deserted suburban streets and city centres to venture out and explore. In Barcelona, Spain, boars have been spotted along the city’s normally bustling avenues, snuffling and trotting around where vehicles once jostled for position.

Meanwhile in Chile’s capital, Santiago, a wild puma was captured after being found wandering around the city’s deserted centre during a night-time curfew, having ventured down from nearby surrounding hills. “This is the habitat they once had and that we’ve taken away from them,” said livestock director, Marcelo Giagnoni.

Similarly In Northern America, orcas have also been encouraged to explore, with locals reporting spotting the majestic whales in parts of a Vancouver fjord for the first time in decades. And deer in Nara, Japan, have been on the move. With the park they inhabit devoid of tourists and the food they supply, small herds have been venturing into the city, nibbling on ornamental flowers and plants.

Even here in Botswana, local baboons have been quick to note the lack of traffic on the road and are taking full advantage of the safer conditions to roam further and wider in search of food which they normally scavenge from discarded fast-food containers and skips. As another old English adage goes, ‘it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good’. It is, in fact, quite literally a breath of fresh air.

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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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