In search of a new laptop

A while ago I was looking for a new phone and I have since gotten myself a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X, which I think is an excellent phone for its price. (Review is coming)

Now I need a new laptop and for the first time my considerations are mainly portability and aesthetics. In the past I prized power- especially the GPU- over all things. I loved to play games then and always preferred big, heavy machines.

Things have changed though and I now want something light, with great battery whilst still packing power. Something I can use to write code in a coffee shop or blog while I wait for a friend. The new laptop should also be able to last at least two or three years without getting too dated.

The problem obviously is money and I have been looking at getting the best deals and my best hope seem to be the Asus Zenbook family.

What would I get if I had all the money in the world, you may wonder?

I’d get the Surface Book by Microsoft, which can turn into a tablet, has a powerful processor and packs a great battery. It also has awesome handwriting support. I could also use that to prepare some video lectures I’m thinking of making for high school kids.

The Surface Book starts at $1499 in case, dear reader, you’re feeling generous.

I Have Joined The Now Movement

Derek Sivers, a cool guy I greatly admire, has on his personal website a “Now” page which is a more specific version of the usual “about me” page. The now page focuses on what he’s currently doing.

Back when he created it, a retweet encouraged other bloggers and creatives to create their own and that’s how the now movement was born. There’s now a whole website dedicated to showcasing these “now” pages. Good to visit if you’re bored and just want to see random pictures of people and their random websites.

Sivers thinks we all should have one and I kinda agree. Like he says, it’s the kind of stuff you’d tell a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

In his words, “… a website with a link that says “now” goes to a page that tells you what this person is focused on at this point in their life. For short, we call it a “now page”.

Today I finally created mine, which I’ll be editing from time to time.

You can check out the now movement here.

Zimbabwe’s Economic Mess

The economic situation in Zimbabwe is a mess.

There is no cash in the banks and people sleep on pavements outside banks  queuing for cash which they seldom get. The money itself is “rated”, which is informal talk to mean it has different value depending on whether is is electronic, in physical US dollars or if it’s in bond notes.

Hardly a day passes without a story in the papers about how one bank or the other is making some adjustments or facing challenges due to the cash flow issues we have in this country.

The chief culprit seems to be my own bank, Steward Bank, which I also suspect to be one of the biggest in terms of client numbers. Over the past few years the bank has embarked on an aggressive signing up of clients that virtually means you can create an account in the streets with few hassles.

This, coupled with the fact that it integrates easily with mobile money transfers, had made Steward a popular option.

However it also seems that Steward did not have the necessary infrastructure in place to handle the high volumes. Its systems are notorious for going offline, and its accounts occasionally have errors.

Unsurprisingly a lot of people are unhappy and, like with so many things, they have taken their anger online. Techzim reports that there’s an online petition doing rounds threatening to take Steward Bank to court.

But Steward is not alone. A lot of banks are in trouble at the moment and the problem is hardly theirs.

It’s a broader problem caused by the government’s economic decisions and a serious trade deficit that led to hard cash disappearing since late 2015.

This led the government to print “bond notes”, fixed at a rate of 1:1 with the US dollar in an effort to make cash available. The move obviously did not work, as it did not address the underlying economic issues that led to the disappearance of the US dollars in the first place.

We still have people sleeping outside banks in the hopes of getting a little hard cash. The bond note itself has fallen in value; on the informal market a US dollar is worth as much as 8% more.

The central bank however insists that the rate is still 1:1 and this has created a lot of additional problems for financial institutions and also businesses; most of which import from South Africa and therefore need to convert their bond notes into acceptable currencies.

John Mangudya, the Reserve Bank Governor, was warned of such eventualities when he proposed his bond notes idea but he proceeded to print them anyway, arguing that the bond notes would not lose their value. What he got was a lesson in basic economics: You cannot successfully fight the market.

The situation is a classic case Gresham’s law which states that “bad money drives out good”. The US dollar, which was already hard to come by before the bond notes came, has virtually disappeared. Curiously the bond notes themselves have disappeared as well, and there’s still a massive cash shortage.

Mangudya has also inadvertently created a new sector: that of illegally trading money. Nowadays the streets are full of mostly young people exchanging hard cash for electronic funds at exorbitant rates that can be as high as 25% for USD. These people then find ways, some of them quite ingenious, others criminal, of converting their electronic funds into hard cash to sell again.

On an unexpected upside the lack of cash has boosted electronic and mobile payments as people have had to adapt. Two years ago paying with a credit/debit card was quite rare but now a lot of people are transacting electronically, even in rural areas. Electronic transactions now account for 70% of all payments. This is a good thing, especially for tech entrepreneurs.

However the structural issues with the economy, such as a large unsustainable wage bill, currency externalisation, lack of production and corruption remain.

These problems show no sign of ending, in fact it seems quite certain that things will get worse before they get better, as the IMF has warned.

You Get What You Pay For

These past couple of weeks a story of a collapsed bridge in Kenya has popped up on my social media feeds quite a lot. The bridge in question, which was also used as a campaigning point for next month’s elections by the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, was being constructed by a Chinese Company called the Chinese Overseas Construction and Engineering Company, itself a subsidiary of China railways.

The collapse was touted by friends as evidence of poor Chinese workmanship a view held by many people across the continent.

Most people think Chinese goods and products don’t last as long as they should, and that Chinese workmanship is poor. It is a view so entrenched that we called counterfeits and fakes “zhing zhongs” which is a phrase that arose from trying to sound Chinese.

Chinese reputation is not very good in Africa and there are several cases of Chinese projects going awry, for example in Zambia where a Chinese built road was washed away by a rainstorm.

Yet the notion that the Chinese cannot produce goods of high quality or build durable infrastructure is wrong. After all China itself is pretty advanced and I personally have no complaints about my Chinese Xiaomi mobile phone.

Of course the Chinese know how to build bridges, perhaps better than anyone else. If in doubt watch this BBC video of a truly impressive piece of bridge engineering.

What I think the Chinese do is do shoddy jobs when there isn’t much money on the table. That old adage is true, you get what you pay for.

This and That

Been a while since I last posted.

I’m back now though. A few days ago I wrote an article on a much talked about political development in our country. Had not been commenting on political matters much but I thought to write down a few things.

That article is on my old blog Reflections of an Afrikan Youth. I kinda miss my old political and social commentary blog whose domain I allowed to expire.

In other news Zimbabwe won the Cosafa Cup earlier on today. We seem to be good at winning this particular tournament.

Also Romelu Lukaku joined the biggest club in the world. Would be wonderful to see what Lukaku can do in Manchester United colours. Rooney, meanwhile, has moved in the opposite direction. Football, it seems, is on its way back.

Interesting developments on the Zimbabwean political scene as Professor Jonathan Moyo, known for his quick tongue and Twitter outspokenness, has threatened to reveal “who really” wrote General Chiwenga’s PhD thesis. Gen Chiwenga is the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, and therefore the most powerful soldier in the land.

Ah, and by the way I hope to be writing more often.

I’m out