Kenya’s mobile phone-enabled payment system M-Pesa has grown explosively over the last nine months, according to Russell Southwood’s Balancing Act newsletter, which has been tracking the African mobile and internet markets for something like four years now. According to the newsletter the operator, Safaricom, gained 150,000 users in the three months to June last year, topped the million mark by December, and had reached 1.6m by January – despite, or perhaps because of, the country’s election-related violence. [Update: Now 2m – see Comment below]. Southwood describes it as a ‘breakthrough moment’ for mobile payments – one that’s being watched in the UK.
I visited the recently refurbished Royal Observatory at Greenwich last weekend, where there is, inevitably, a whole section devoted to Harrison and his clock-based solution to the ‘longitude problem’. (The story of his fight with the Astronomer Royal, Neville Maskelyne, and the astronomy establishment, which preferred the so-called ‘lunar solution’, is famously told by Dava Sobel in her book ‘Longitude’.) But the reason for posting is that the Observatory describes Harrison’s fourth clock, the H-4 pocket watch, as “one of the most important machines ever made”.
I’ve been trying to stay away from the banking crisis, which is a big fast-moving story which has been well-covered elsewhere. But some of the events of the past few days have reminded me of the story about the definition of chutzpah: the boy who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.
I’ve meant to write before about the Transition Initiative, which is in my view one of the most radical things happening in the UK at the moment – radical because it is local and community-oriented, radical because it is a thought-through response to both impending energy shortage and climate change. (If only the government was as coherent). Now the movement’s ‘founder’, Rob Hopkins, has written a book which is a combination of handbook, textbook, and manifesto.
The death of Arthur C Clarke at the age of 90 reminded me of a post I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now, about our certainty in the 1950s and 60s that in the future we would have interstellar travel and colonies in space. That future may still exist, although to my mind it seems less likely now. Why didn’t it arrive? Partly – but only partly – because we blew the money on the Cold War instead.
I’ve been reading Keith Roberts’ 1960s SF novel Pavane, set in a modern England in which Elizabeth I had been assassinated in 1588, the Spanish Armada had succeeded, and the Catholic Church had triumphed – in England and in the rest of northern Europe. At the start of the novel, the grip of the Church is tight; and England is poor and essentially feudal.