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Neverwhere: Tale of A Nomad

I hate that I don’t drink Coffee.

It’d probably help with me feeling cranky every time. I had no taste for sweet things when I was little and now I can’t stand things that are bitter. My parents missed the window to teach me to drink coffee or any of those shitty bitter things that are supposed to be good for you and whatnot. But what do you do when your kid hasn’t got a sweet mouth like they should? You strive for normalcy.

Normalcy sucks. But it is efficient.

I haven’t been home in a really long time. It’s funny how we keep longing to go home but never quite get to make it there. Because what’s supposed to be home isn’t by the time you’re grown. The people and the bricks are pretty much the same but the feeling isn’t. You return now, every once in a while, only to catch a wisp of the fond memories now buoyed by the faces of the people you love and in the eyes of those you must.

This is the third city I am settling into in the last 3 years. I have averaged a year in all three, going where work takes me. When I left home for university a decade ago, I was a precocious teenager seeking the thrill associated with unravelling the mysteries of the world. Six years and two majors later, one was not nearly as keen about the world as one once naively was. I’m not quite sure precociousness applies to teenagers anyway.

I am not rich yet and it’s hard to not be a tad disappointed at the universe for not taking its cue – we should have already moved past this. Three years ago, when I hosted a breakfast TV show in the East and juggled a radio show in tandem, I was some kind of rock star. People would fawn at you in street corners, at events and market places that you’d have to keep up appearances. You had to be the guy who has got it all together and was really just waltzing through life. You’re on TV and you had it all figured out and had to be rich.

I’m still that rock star. No longer on TV though. I’ve broken into two other industries since – and changed cities twice in the process. It all sounds pretty remarkable when you hear me tell it. I even almost believe it when I see how some react to it. Maybe it is, I’m not quite sure. I just know my nomadic proclivities aren’t quite cured yet, albeit I am slightly more at rest at this current stop.

I am compromising my health on the regular now. Skipping on breakfast is a way of life for a lotta young people like me who have to wake up early and beat the Lagos morning traffic rush to get to work. Sodas and snacks for brunch, an undignified lunch, more Sodas and noodles or some other shitty dinner like that. That’s how a typical day goes. Then you try to get a really good meal at some point – usually over the weekend for me.

One barely gets enough sleep. But it’s been that way since University, so one has come to terms with that, somewhat. Exercise? Lol… now, there’s something that gets romanticized every now and again. The only sporting activity one does now is the Soda can Slam Dunk at the office – a really competitive pseudo basketball game, except that we’ve replaced the ball and hoops with soda cans and trash baskets respectively.
Someday soon, I’ll just actually walk into that gym up the street and register myself, I say. Sweet nothings my mind whispers to my muscles already mired in mild atrophy, to keep them hoping that it isn’t quite the end of the world for them.

There’s way too much to learn still. As one grows, you find out you’re not going to have all the time to learn everything you want or need to. So you focus on the ones you need to do your job better or to survive, with little time left for others. I think that’s the sad thing with the way adult life is set up – you come to terms with the fact that there are some books or skill sets you’ll never have the time to absorb, regardless of interest. Because necessity takes a stronger hold on the mind than interest does when you’re grown.

Having never actually left Nigeria, it is pretty ridiculous that I tend to feel what might pass of as an immigrant experience. I read books that depict actual immigrant experiences of people long and far removed from what they used to call home and I kind of feel a tad guilty for being able to relate to it, somewhat. Maybe I just really miss home and the early years when life was simpler. Technically, home is only a couple of hours away, but you get the point, I suppose.

Lagos grows on you and then quits. I don’t even look out the window on the bus ride back from work in the evenings. My phone or an unfinished book (usually on the phone, or just the phone, mostly) take any attention left to give after a long work day.

It is only five years ago, when I had my internship in this same city, that I looked forward to bus rides everyday. I basked in the sights – the lights on the ships docked at or leaving harbour in CMS, the Nitel tower in view from Third Mainland Bridge when you’re approaching Lagos Island and the sheer beauty on display across the city, mostly at night. I used to feel sorry for the other passengers who couldn’t be bothered to look out the window to take in the sights. No wonder you’re all so glum, I used to say in my head. Now, I know.

Morphing into a man in Nigeria is tedious. Too many things trying to get in the way of those who are making the effort. Moving out of your parents home and foraging out in the world on your own is kind of the ultimate rite of passage – bigger than graduating college, apparently. As you get to grapple with and slay dragons like housing and other bills, you start to think your parents may have been secret superheros for being able to raise a home and hold down the fort with such little money! One is not even married yet and is basically grasping at straws with this being a grown up business.

One is gradually approaching the time when being aloof about goings-on around the country and the world is no longer cool. Soon, someone in your age-group is going to hold public office and either shame us all or do well. Those are the only two options, I suppose. Although one has grown up in this country with public office holders marvellously bereft of the latter.

The world is going to shit. War looms every now and again in some corners of the world and here at home. There’s not a shortage of people willing to take other unsuspecting humans with them to their miserable deaths. You kind of have to constantly repress the news info on atrocities around so your mind could still function without breaking down at the sheer horror on display.

Life is tedious enough with the crazy schedules, Lagos traffic and the many sides to eking out a living as a young man. Now, I also have to try to not die while at it. Who’s to tell one of these guys in the bus or in the mall doesn’t have a death wish they’re looking to reach for today? This isn’t how to live.

I hate that I don’t drink Coffee.

The Road Often Travelled [By Me]

One question that has flitted through my mind more frequently lately is:

Why haven’t we built an algorithm that racks up a person’s cumulative “road miles” and/or heat map? You know, kinda like we have air miles for air travel.

I mean, we have figured out a way to tell how many kilometers a player ran, how many passes they put through in a single football game — and it’s not like they were on a treadmill or something. Can we not look at a person and immediately know they got, say about 25km road miles under their belt?

Since the Fall of 2012 when I shipped out for my NYSC in eastern Nigeria, I have been on the road an awful lot. Barring the central and northern States (for obvious — and yet coincidental — reasons), I have transversed or made a stop at nearly all the other states in the country since.

By road.

You spend enough time in a moving bus and you’ll pick up a few things. From catching up on an unfinished book, an article or Long read on your device, trying hard and often failing to make use of the depressingly poor Internet to check your twitter and the other attention sapping apps you traffic online, to glancing at the other passengers so as to reassure yourself that they’re not mannequins and that you’re not being goaded into an elaborately planned kidnapping, one tends to look out the window and let the mind roam. Or you write — like I’m writing this right now.

I always take a window seat if I can help it. Seats 10, 8 and 14, in that order, are my choice seats, as they give you a mixture of comfort and enclosure coupled with the window view at the same time. (Seat 14 is least on the scale as it has the extra pesky feature of being atop the rear right tire and you get hit hardest by the shocks from the road bumps — just like at seat 11, but 11 is an odd number, so yeah…)

Please let the reader picture a God is Good executive bus for all intents and purposes. Although there are other lines I seldom take.

I find it extremely difficult to sleep while traveling. Much like some folks find it quite hard to read while in motion. I don’t have that problem, thankfully. But staring out the window in transit is my favorite pastime. There’s no telling what I might see or the rad things that may pop in my head.

The country side is not exactly aesthetically appealing to begin with. Trees and vegetation interspersed with the occasional rural settlement don’t necessarily make for viewing delight. But seeing and hardly taking note of them as they whiz past — kind of like visualized Doppler effects, if you may — creates a canvas for my mind to work with as it paints fleeting pictures.

Or is it us doing the running? Sometimes I think, what if the trees by the roadside, with their arcing branches nwhatnot, are really just trying to hail a cab and no one is stopping for them? What if those at Saganmu are trying to get to a tree union meeting at Órè?

Looking out the window, your whole life can flash before your eyes in intermittent bits. Sometimes, I’m awash with existential thoughts for extended periods and at other times, grandiose imaginations prevail. Also, there are moments random and bizarre thoughts come to ones mind — like the thought on stacking road miles that prompted this post. Although, I also think it’s much more complex to track a person’s accumulated road miles because of the inconsistencies with ticketing and data logging with the transport companies. I suppose it’s easier for airline companies.

I think the feeling of taking in the sights and taking a trip in my head while my body is simultaneously on a cruise is why I enjoy these trips so much. Except for the fatigue afterwards of course. I have often toyed with the idea of paying a cabbie to just drive me around town so I can stare out the window and think. Maybe it’ll be something I’ll do regularly when I have a driver later.

I am yet to fly anywhere — and I wish I could give an elegant-sounding reason like the fear of flying for never having been on a plane ride. Well, let’s just say it kinda has been the case that I seemed unable to afford to fly right when I really needed to. Weird.

Maybe when I fly soon enough I will be able to take these trips in my head as well. Maybe the clouds will be a better canvas for my mind. Maybe they won’t, and I’ll miss the trees. Maybe I will chat with the next passenger. Maybe I’ll close my eyes and sleep.

Until then, I’ll ride the bus.

The New Whatsapp Update and The Anatomy of Trust

WhatsApp Inc. released a new update for the app earlier this month and, right off the bat, threw a spanner in the works as regards the nature of virtual human connections as we know it.

Some of the notable new features bundled with the new update include the originally grey delivery ticks which now turn blue to indicate when a message was read (you can check this when you press and hold the message to reveal the info) and, my favourite, the ability to add captions to images while you send them.

Basically, this new update means that WhatsApp is now pretty much like BBM in the privacy – or lack of it – department and still manages to edge BBM in coolness.

I was originally skeptical about updating my WhatsApp, despite the barrage of notifications from the Playstore, because I still wanted to be able to retain my peace of mind when it comes to others knowing if I was flat out ignoring their messages or not. I mean, anyone with enough sense knows when they’re being ignored, but having a readily available technology that eliminates the benefit of the doubt is sinister to the established social construct as we know it.

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp a few months ago I’d anticipated some tweaks to the privacy settings to happen sooner or later, given Zuckerberg’s proclivity to “make the world a more open place.” That’s the ideology that he runs Facebook with and it’s only natural that it’ll transcend to WhatsApp eventually.

What does this mean for virtual relationships though? Well, for one, it’ll test, even further, Zuckerberg’s belief that the more open we are the better our relationships are going to be. But I think things will get worse before [if] they get better.

For many people, a huge chunk of the relationship between them and their significant other(s) happens virtually – in a bid to bridge the distance barrier. For this set of people, something as innocuous as a delivered/read notification on a message can hold profound meaning. In a culture obsessed with instant replies to messages, barring every circumstance, any delayed response to a message the sender already suspects has been delivered evokes all manner of neurotic sentiments and can foster trust issues. That’s why BBM kind of always played second fiddle to WhatsApp in that regard until now.

Even with this new update that essentially makes WhatsApp like BBM, I still think WhatsApp is cooler. Like I wrote on a blog post last year when BBM came to Android, file transfers are still better on WhatsApp and the group chat experience is richer there too.

I get dozens of messages everyday on WhatsApp (I’m in a number of group chats as well) and, sometimes, the barrage can be unnerving. That’s why I was reluctant to update the app and alter the original privacy set up. Because one could choose to reply messages at a later time and retain their peace of mind.

This new detail imports the psychological blackmail (previously associated with BBM) to instantly respond to a message to WhatsApp. Interestingly though, after finally updating the app this  morning, I feel that my peace of mind around the new privacy set up won’t necessarily budge. I’ll still respond to messages as soon as I can or as quickly as I deem fit – and I think most people would do the same. But these are early days yet. With other updates to come in the future, we’ll find out if Zuckerberg’s belief in the linear relationship between openness in human connections and trust will pan out as we keep pushing the boundaries on privacy with every upgrade.

Your Kid is Gonna Hate You

I’m not even kidding right now.

I’m just trying to save you from yourselves. You’re setting yourselves up to be the uncool dads and mums of the next two decades. (And many of you will very likely be anyway.) You lot are far too eager with this thing even.

But I’ve started this post at the end.

Rewind.

So, yeah.. you have had a new kid. Or it’s your sibling who’s just had a kid. Kids are adorable, aren’t they? They’re practically little magical works of art to be honest; a mini sized, lovable version of you (or someone you know). A thing of beauty.

Mostly to you.

Yes. You.

And yes, everyone else is happy for you too. But only so much that they’re not exactly psyched like you obviously are about it that you splattered their Foetus… uhm..sorry, photos all over bbm and Facebook and any other social network you traffic on their birthday. Nobody wants to see that. I know i don’t.

Nobody certainly thinks a two-hour old kid is cute. (For many kids, we still can’t tell after a week by the way.) But you obviously do. And you can be sure people will turn up for any befitting shindig you throw to welcome the little one. Many will even make the effort to check out  the kid before leaving. Others won’t. It’s not that they aren’t happy for you n whatnot; the kid just isn’t presentable enough yet. A few weeks will alter that. They’ll even cop the photos then. But not before. Nobody digs those early photos. Except you.

But that’s not the worst part though. That comes later. When the kid is in middle school and has a social media account.

You think we’re vain now with the fuss over appearances n whatnot. Our kids are going to live in a world of vanity powered by much more advanced technology and a sense of self importance so overbearing it will blur our understanding of the concept. Online profiles will very likely overlap real profiles and virtual cool points will mean a lot more then too. (It already does. Sort of.)

Think of your kid having to be the butt of jokes and taunts in school or in the hood with people whipping up baby pictures (or caricatures?) from the web and making comparisons. If their earliest pictures don’t meet the day’s cool standards they’ll take a hit. And who do you think they’ll blame for costing them their much needed cool points? You. Worse still, if you’re the uncool aunt or uncle.

Posting a picture is basically about preference and keeping up appearances. How do you know your kid would prefer to have that pic of them with their umbilical cord barely cut off plastered on the web for all to see? Or the one where they’re having their first bath? Or the one before they’ve grown any hairs or before they can look straight up? Pretty sure they wouldn’t.  Nope, those pictures won’t impress anyone or score them cool points. They’re undignifying.

And yep, they’ll hate you for it.

Be cool. Let these kids grow.

The Auto Hydrogauge: Annals of Invention

Early Days

In the summer of 1997, just around the time of our Primary School Leaving Certificate exams, me and my buddy, Victor hung out together frequently on weekends. Like many of such trips at the time we were trying to test some new invention we had crafted. To be brutally apt, Victor was pretty much the brain behind those inventions. He always had a knack for tinkering with and designing electronic devices that was so uncanny it left everyone in awe. Not exactly the prodigy in schoolwork, which my teachers were wont to claim I was at the time, Victor’s extracurricular dealing, and especially his resourcefulness when it came to appliances was quite extraordinary.

I remember a certain afternoon we were at my house to test a water heater we had made from tin cans of milk – some contraption formed out of conjoining two different sets of cans via conducting wires ringed through a pair of holes punctured at adjacent positions on both cans. The can with the smaller diameter was inserted inside the other and the connecting wires intricately extended into a plug head. My folks weren’t home that afternoon. But the lady who lived next door was and she was breathing down our necks, regaling me with threats of how she was going to rat me out to my dad. We were scared shitless, and I’m not sure what scared us more – a lot of things going wrong with the testing (including us getting electrocuted), or what would happen if my neighbor ratted us out to my dad and it rubbed him wrong. We went ahead anyway. The testing proved a success, as many other subsequent tests for other inventions proved later on.

It’s important to note that we didn’t really work on anything that was groundbreaking in nature, water heaters, antennas and TV signal boosters and basically just tinkering with devices that were available to us at the time – not so terribly important stuff. We were just a bunch of curious ten year olds laden with dreams bordering on extremely ambitious for the little town we resided in at the time.

By senior high, Victor had gone on to work on an amplifier he was building from scratch which he hoped to use in our school chapel at the time. My participation in the tinkering had progressively waned but he kept on strong becoming an expert of some sort, the go-to guy for fixing electronic devices. He never did finish work on that amplifier though.

 

Christmas 2012.

I had recently returned from the NYSC Orientation Camp and spent much of the holiday season indoors to regain myself. On the week before Christmas Victor came to visit me. We had barely seen each other all year so there was a lot of catching up to do. Dinner was almost ready and we sat on the balcony regaling each other with tales and dreams. It didn’t take long before the talk of what to work on next – something that would really matter – formed the bulk of our conversation. While we bantered over ideas, the water tank in the next compound opposite my house overflowed and water seeped from beneath their gate onto the street. Seeing that was a tad irritating, like a splinter in my mind. We bantered a bit about that and then I asked how come we didn’t already have a device to control the entire process of pumping water such that the machine gets to automatically stop when the tank filled up and start itself when the tank emptied out. We pondered in silence a bit and Victor came up with a solution, using the analogy of the water system toilet tank mechanism to explain that it was possible to implement the same theory (with a little tweaking) on the tank of water pump machines if we could build a device to control the machine and the entire process.

Light bulbs were instantaneously lighting up in our heads by the time we sat at dinner. We were discussing/analyzing everything from related engineering design, sensors for the tank to electronic specifications required to build the device. Before bedtime we’d agreed that it was doable. Victor was positive he could build it and was going to procure the instruments required so he could start building the device by weekend. We didn’t yet know what to call it.

First prototype
First prototype

We went scouting the next morning for instruments and placed orders for the ones we couldn’t get that day. Within the next week a prototype was ready for a test run. By dawn on January 2, 2013, I was on a bus heading to the east to resume at my place of primary assignment for my service year. I had fears my absence may stymie the progress we’d made on the device, but Victor soldiered on and perfected the device after doing some remodeling on the prototype. We kept the channels of communication open via WhatsApp and calls. We would analyze and figure out a way to surmount challenges that crept up and Victor would tinker some more.

By June 2013, after having successfully installed the device in two locations, an opening came up to feature the device at the famed morning television show – “This Morning on ITV” on ITV Benin. Sunny Duke, the show’s anchor/producer, had heard of the device and wanted to have Victor on the show to talk about the device. I was 500 miles away so I was going to miss the opportunity to be there. After our chat on the night before the show we had just one little thorny issue left to resolve: we still hadn’t named the device. Naming a product can be a pain. We had a few options to work with but by morning we settled on the name that seemed more apt – Auto Hydrogauge. The name went up on the screen on live TV and Victor talked about the device. From the reports and pictures I got later that evening, it finally dawned on me. We had made something that mattered.

 

Moving Onwards

The TV interview/exhibition is in the distant past now and we’ve forged on to try to make the device more mainstream and marketable. We formed and registered a tech company, Royallabs Technologies, to incorporate the AHG project along with the others we have in the offing. The present goal is to develop a business strategy to put the AHG out there in the open and make it a viable, profitable product. Neither of us currently has the sufficient business acumen required yet but we’re pushing. We have a few requests pending at the moment in Benin and there’s a pretty big exhibition coming up in a few weeks at an event were a lot of people – potential clients, we hope – would be present. Word of mouth is currently what’s driving the publicity.

 

Victor talking about the AHG on ITV's This morning on ITV show
Victor talking about the AHG on ITV’s This morning on ITV show

 

The Road Ahead

When we first hatched the idea for the AHG on my balcony two Christmases ago we just wanted to do something that mattered, something that affected people’s lives for good on a large scale. We believe, with this product, we have achieved that. We understand of course that there may be other device elsewhere in the world that does what the AHG does, but we believe we’ve made something totally home grown and new in this part of the world. What’s more? It’s as effective and impactful as it is ingenious. We believe it’ll make life a lot easier.

Next point of action involves getting it out there for more people to be aware. Maybe what we need is an angel investor to make an investment that’ll push this product properly and build a fitting business model around it. Hopefully, that comes soon enough and we can set off to work on other projects. Until then, every resource available – friends, social media, word of mouth, etc – comes in handy in promoting the product.

 

Installation at a client's residence.
Installation at a client’s residence.

 

We can’t really say for now how it’ll go with the AHG project, if it’ll prove profitable or not. It’s still trying to go mainstream yet. But with Royallabs Technologies, and the repertoire of projects waiting in line to get the nod, Victor and I have finally incorporated an idea we nursed over a decade ago to build devices that makes people’s lives easier. And the Auto Hyrogauge is good start.

 

For more details on the Auto Hydrogauge and other engineering projects I’m involved in, please check out the Royallabs Technologies Facebook page.