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Mauritius Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA)
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General
Saturday, 07 November 2015 13:37

Workshop on Open Data Readiness Assessment for Mauritius organised by the Ministry of Technology, Communication and InnovationAlthough Open Data is around since several years in other countries and has been initiated in Mauritius already back in 2012, it is only this year that there seems to be more momentum towards an Open Data initiative. Back in May 2015 I was kindly contacted by Alla Morrison, Program Officer at the World Bank, in regards of showing genuine interest in open government data for members of the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community (MSCC).

Initial information and workshop on Open Data

As founder of a local IT community and representative of more than 250 software craftsmen I was positively surprised by this, and the message was circulated immediately. During the second week of June, the Open Data team of the World Bank held several public sessions. Actually, I managed to attend two sessions relevant for developers.

The first event was conducted at the Prime Ministers Office in Port Louis and focused mainly on the ideas, concepts and benefits of Open Data in general. The given use cases and success stories around Open Data were impressive, and it was very interesting to see that solid solutions can be provided by anyone interested to solve a specific problem.

Attendees of various IT user groups and communities in Mauritius at the workshop with the World Bank on Open Data in Mauritius
Attendees of various IT user groups and communities in Mauritius at the workshop with the World Bank on Open Data in Mauritius

Delegation of the World Bank during the workshop with local IT user groups
Delegation of the World Bank during the workshop with local IT user groups

During the second get-together, which was more like a workshop, the team wanted to know exactly what kind of open government data and datasets would be of interest for IT folks here on the island. Based on our requests and the talks to the various ministries in Mauritius the team at the World Bank conducted their Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA).

Open Data Readiness Assessment - Findings

Fast-forward to end of October, the Open Data team of the World Bank completed their assessment, and members of the MSCC and other organisations were again invited to receive information about the findings and the suggestions first-hand. This time the event was held at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre in Bell Village, and surprisingly there were fewer IT people this time. Nonetheless, it felt a bit like a press conference and taking notes as well as pictures during the various presentation had a touch of journalism... Even though I'm quite late on blogging about the topics I got a lot of answers to my questions and the general outcome of the assessment for Mauritius is positive. Surely, there are areas of improvement but overall it looks very promising for us developers to get our hands on open government data soon.

Other attendees like Ish and SM published their thoughts already earlier, so I won't repeat myself with those details but just give you a brief summary on the topics I'd be most interested in within the next couple of months. Frankly, here is what I asked Alla upfront via email:

"I started with the preparations of the Developers Conference 2016 - http://www.devconmru.org/ - recently, and I'd like to see whether it would be possible to have access to any datasets of Open Data in April/May next year in order to schedule a hackathon or app challenge during the conference days."

And the signs within the government of Mauritius are looking good based on the findings of the World Bank and seeing the increased commitment of the Ministry of Technology, Communication and Innovation (MTCI) makes room for a solid corporation and platform of exchange. Currently, there are 15 data-sets of Open Data already available from the Mauritian Government in a machine-readable format and properly licensed. An Open Data committee will be in place soon. Various activities to provide and promote Open Data are already planned.

Explanation of findings in the Open Data Readiness Assessment and Q&A session
Explanation of findings in the Open Data Readiness Assessment and Q&A session

In regards to provide access to open government data the World Bank has implemented a 5* rating of Open Data Formats. The Mauritian Government is on a firm way to a 3* rating as some datasets are already available in machine-readable, neutral open formats: CSV, XML, JSON, etc. First, publish "as-is" and then engage with the dataset users in order to improve the quality of information and optional the format(s) over time. Later on, adapt international-recognised data exchange formats based on the domain of information.

Advantages named by the World Bank

General public access and free available data sets of open government data carry these attributes forward:

  • Economic value: new business opportunity
  • Transparency / accountability: easy to analyse and reproducible reports
  • Data exchange across government: simplified access across governemnt departments
  • Data-informend policy making: decision are made based on applicable, relevant data

The team of the World Bank also reported about GDP improvements in other countries between 0.4% and up to 4% per annum by giving people access to Open Data.

ODRA findings

Mauritius is already well placed to implement an Open Data initiative. The government has commitment to provide open data and there is a strong demand by developers, private sector and researchers. Technically, the government already has a good fundament to publish statistical data in an open data format

Following are the findings in the 8 pillars of the ODRA

  1. Senior leadership: green/yellow
  2. Policy Framework: yellow  
    Concerns based on the activities of DPO since 2004 but no Freedom of Information (FOI) act. No clear information on policies and licensing of data. Cost of printed data and no clear handling of data release. Lack of clear guidance by the government.
  3. Institutional Structures & Capabilities: green
  4. Data Management Policies and Procedures: yellow  
    Lack of a comprehensive inventory of governmental data across the ministries. Statistics Mauritius has real capabilites and data management (also requested additional training)
  5. Demand for Open Data: green/yellow  
    Over 300 people have requests to develop apps using Open Data. Strong expressed data demand. ;-) Difficult to get access to Open Data from the government, ministries and agencies. Lack of engagement between the various entities. Improved interaction and active engagement by the ministries towards the user groups.
  6. Civic Engagement & Capabilities: yellow  
    Universities and colleges offer programs for ICT inclusive Big Data Absence of data journalism; no social media engagement Apps economy is at an early stage
  7. Finance: green/yellow  
    Although there are strategy plans to include Open Data there is no concrete, specific funding allocation of money for Open Data in place yet. The Smart Mauritius budget should cover those aspects and the government should consider to move towards using open Source Software.
  8. National Technology and Skills Infrastructure: yellow  
    Even though there is a technology infrastructure and high mobile penetration but with high broadband tariffs and ICT skills not meeting the market needs the findings have some reduction.

Implementation of Open Data in Mauritius

Working towards an Open Data Portal could / should be based on leadership by the MTCI; each ministry should opt for an "implementation cell" working closely with a Chief Data Officer (CDO) and the users of Open Data. The development of detailed policies "open by default" and exceptions, licensing, changes to charges and schedules is inevitable. Clear strategies for audience growth and users engagement are recommended within a short period. Also, the assessment suggests a release of so-called "quick win" datasets onto the existing portal early and the stimulation of hackathons or app challenges organised together with local user groups.

Datasets that could be made open data quickly by the government of Mauritius
Datasets that could be made open data quickly by the government of Mauritius

Those datasets could be ready in a couple of months and usable for any kind of coding challenges and hackathons. Crossing fingers that it will be. Of course, there are more datasets of interest and it will be our responsibility to ask for such information in a healthy dialog with the corresponding public bodies, mainly the Ministry of TCI.

The findings of the ODRA suggests to the government that any kind of data should be "Open by default" including clear definition of restrictions to restricted and sensitive data. Obviously, personalised information have to be anonymised by the ministries prior to grant general access. The necessary competence does already exist within the Ministry of TCI according to the commitee of the World Bank. Additional training among ministries could be conducted and a general guideline for all institutions could be defined, too.

The Open Data Readiness Assessment differentiates between access to information and access to Open Data
The Open Data Readiness Assessment differentiates between access to information and access to Open Data

The recommended license for Open Data is based on international best practice:

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Get free access to data, be able to share it freely, just give proper attribution of the source of the dataset. Existing data is to be included in the Open Data initiative even though it might have been "published" previously under closed data formats or inconvenient licensing. Sounds pretty good actually.

Let your users become your advocates... clear recommendation by the World Bank towards the Mauritian Government to provide open data and datasets in the right format(s) and to clarify the various demands by the private sector Strong encouragement towards hackathons and pro-active advertisement/notification of the OD portal and activities on OD datasets.

Various ways of capacity building:

  • Internships in the government
  • data journalism
  • bootcamps
  • data skills on all levels of the eductional system (primary, secondary and tertiary)
  • Big data concepts in curriculum of universities

Resources for OD users:

  • School of Data
  • Check the Open Government Data Kit of the World Bank
  • TED talks

Samples of active Open Data user groups:

  • Data{Meet}
  • Open Data Labs
  • Cafe de Data
  • OpenStreetMap
  • Code for Africa - a 'federated' umbrella organisation. @Code4Africa on Twitter
    • Data Liberation: "Scrape-a-thons" to collect and provide more data
    • Data Fellowships
    • Data Skills
    • Data Tools

What about "Code for Mauritius"? Idea for a new community around Open Data?

Outlook for Mauritius and MSCC

The findings of the readiness assessment of the World Bank were informative but brief. The full report is with the government and will be presented to the Cabinet during the next couple of weeks. Hopefully it will be published publicly in the near future. As for the MSCC, I had several conversations with key persons at the Ministry of TCI and the National Computer Board about ways of how Open Government Data could be helpful for future activities of the MSCC and how we can improve the dialog with public bodies in regards of more transparency and nourishment of local IT talent. The samples of success story from other countries were really inspiring and I'm very confident that similar results can be produced here in Mauritius. Given that data-sets will be available for free and under the right license anything is possible.

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Working as an IT freelancer in Mauritius
General
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 20:00

Working as a freelancer is eventually a dream situation for most people. Usually, you would complete your school activities, go for lectures and studies in IT, and then finally you would end up with a job in a well-known company. Here in Mauritius there are regular IT job fairs where local companies are offering their job listings and trying to get the best talent directly out of the universities. And after having seen a good number of resumes of candidates applying for a job at my company IOS Indian Ocean Software Ltd. there is also a certain pattern visible.

Young graduates starting their own career as freelancers - Source: https://pixabay.com/p-703003/?no_redirect
Young graduates starting their own career as freelancers

Quite often, graduates and freshmen would start as a trainee or junior software engineer at one of the big players here on the island, then they might hop the next two to three years to other big players - simply to raise their salary -, and then finally they get more interested in other challenges. Honestly, nothing about bad about this approach except that it doesn't work for small and medium enterprises where an investment into staff is directly hooked up to the productivity and therefore potential earnings.

But there are also other ways, and venturing into your own business is eventually among those options. Even though it is tougher and young start-ups have the high tendency to fail.

Cost of ...

Everything!

Frankly, working as a freelancer compared to being an employee has some perks and additional liberty but there is (high) price to consider for that extra freedom. First, all your expenses in terms of equipment, training, licenses, rental fees, electricity, taxes, social security and medical insurance are on your account. But that's not all. You also have to take into consideration that even though you might be able to earn more money per month than an employed person that you won't have any paid benefits like local leave or sick leave.

IT equipment, training and software licenses

In order to be able to work in the field of Information Technology (IT) you need to have at least your own computer. Given that you might already bought during your studies, chances are very likely that the machine might be a little bit outdated and needs some replacement. Also, depending on your field of activities you have to purchase additional equipment like smartphone(s), tablet(s) or even multiple computers due to different operating systems. Anyway, this spans further into the situation that your computer is likely to run some kind of software for your business. Let's say as a passionate web developer in ASP.NET you might consider to acquire a license of Visual Studio, in case of PHP development your choice could be a versatile editor like Sublime Text or Jetbrains PhpStorm IDE. Of course, this all depends on your needs and the amount of expenses to cater for will surely vary. But from an ethical point of view, never consider to work with non-genuine, read: pirated, software applications after all - Never! You're going to work in this field and you expect to be paid for your effort and results produced, and so do those software companies, too. If you can't afford a certain software, then either check whether the supplier has special programs and discounted licenses for start-ups, or do some research on alternative, less cost involving applications until you're able to afford the chosen one. Even though there is a vast ocean of online material you might also consider to subscribe to an online training platform like Lynda, Pluralsight, Codecademy, or Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) in order to stay at the edge of technology and to keep up with the pace of changes.

Rental fees, electricity and internet connection

Eventually, you might start working from home. It's an easy and low-cost opportunity to start your own business, but there might be some limitations as well. First of all, you wouldn't have potential leads and clients over at your parent's place to discuss business matters, would you? And second, there is an issue in terms of expenses as well. Sure, your parents are covering the cost of electricity and you won't have to pay any rent. Additionally, sharing the internet connection is also very practical. You might use it mainly during the day whereas your family could enjoy some nice entertainment during the evening hours. Still, running your own business simply includes that you have to list your monthly expenses properly. The more adventurous entrepreneurs among us would consider to leave the safety of their parents' place and opt-in for a small office. Renting a place comes with a contract and obligations to pay your rent on a monthly base, meaning that you have to take care that your business actually generates enough income for. You might be able to find a decent location for as low as Rs.10,000 per month but there is surely no limit at the upper range of prices.

Taxes, trading license and accounting

But there is more... Running your own business involves a lot of time visiting authorities in either Port Louis or your local district / municipality. And there are several departments that you'll have to pay a visit. Sometimes, even multiple times until all documents are complete and signed off as requested. Also, you should seriously take into consideration to have a contracted accounting company or accountant which is able and willing to do your paper work. Again remember, any minute that you're not able to charge and bill to your clients is actually a "lost" minute of income. And under those circumstances it is compulsory that you do the calculations: What's less expensive in the long-run? Doing all the paper work with your layman knowledge and eventually risking to have errors or passing certain parts of administrative work to an expert and willingly spend a sum of money to pay for their professional services.

Social security, liability, fire & burglar insurance and medical insurance

And last but not least, you should also consider to take responsibility for your own safety and the proper modus operandi for your company. Actually, this part is also quite important towards the bank in case that you would like to opt-in for some financial safety. Surely, it's always good to run your business on a smooth cash-flow but don't be surprised when one or two clients actually decide that they don't "fancy" to pay in time, or in full amount or whatever excuses they might come up in order to avoid or at least delay payments.

How to get projects?

Now that we spoke a bit about annual and monthly expenses to take into account, let's see about the opportunities to earn money. Usually a start-up is founded based on either a good idea with a little of funding - most probably baked by your personal savings account -, or there is first client that desperately needs to have a solution for their daily operations. Don't be fooled, but simply having a single project to start with is not enough to run a young company. It is the continuous flow of incoming money that separates the successful from the failing businesses. Also, as a young, inexperienced freshman you shouldn't start a business on your own. At least there should be two persons, maybe even three buddies - but again don't get mixed up between friendship and business activities. Money is eventually ruining both... And having a look into the early days of quite a number of very successful companies nowadays you might discover that there had been "the two guys in the garage" that developed something cool which then grew into something enormous and is part of our daily lives.

Freelancers prefer a stylish, fresh and clean work environment - Source: https://pixabay.com/en/macbook-mac-apple-ipad-iphone-577758/
Freelancers prefer a stylish, fresh and clean work environment

But coming back to the question about how to get projects. Well, as described a start-up is commonly based on the needs and demands of a single client. Next, it is important that you start to look for new leads as early as possible and way ahead of the completion of the project with your initial customer. For this type of customer acquisition you'll have to reserve some time from your productive time. You're starting to invest into your company. So, either you might be able to already spread the word about your business activities in your vicinity or you'll be able to get some attention by running some marketing and advertising campaigns for your services. In both cases, you will have to put some funds aside in order to proceed. It's a good chance to keep the ball rolling literally.

Apart from direct contact with either people in your local surrounding or in your professional network on LinkedIn you might consider to sign up for at least or two online freelancing platforms, like UpWork, Freelancer.com, Fiverr, etc. Those sites not only give you access to a huge number of potential projects but provide vital information regarding the creation of a professional profile and portfolio online. And actually, those tips are available for free.

Working with local or international clients

This could easily be a question as well. And honestly it completely depends on your character and ability to get in touch with people. Your style of communication plays a huge role in the way of how to attract and handle leads and later on your clients. Taking my own background, I have to admit that I absolutely prefer to work with international clients. Actually for several reasons but this might not apply to your circumstances, your services, and your ideas. In Mauritius I would assume that the majority of start-ups in IT might be initiated based on the requirements of a local client, and then with some more courage, engagement and luck you might enlarge your customer base into the international market. Although Mauritius is advertised to have a decent strategical position between Africa and Asia. But frankly, I would like to emphasise that the real value of the task force here on the island is because it is closer to Europe in terms of time zone offset compared to India or to the Philippines. But again that's just my personal point of view and I'd be glad to initiate a discussion about those aspects with you in the comment section of this article.

Another advantage while working with international clients is the negotiation of your hourly or daily rates. While you are providing services here on the island people might be accustomed to certain rates and the proper evaluation of your knowledge and skills might not be honoured according to your expectations. But don't take it for granted that a client abroad might pay you automatically more... It is up to your skills in getting the contract and winning the confidence and trust of the client into your work. As long as there is a mutual understanding that a work relationship is going to provide a win-win-situation for both parties, the cost of labour is usually not the critical part of the business.

During a couple of our monthly MSCC meetups I actually addressed the following question to a couple of young fellows:

"What's your hourly rate you're going to charge your client?"

The reason was actually not because I wanted to know the precise figure or in some cases the range of rates depending on the type of labour. But simply to see and understand whether a young craftsmen has a good understanding of her own worth on the market. Not surprisingly, a very common answer was "I don't know how much I should charge." - which to my opinion is an absolute no-go for a start-up, at least when you're providing services based on hours of effort. Eventually, you might have a look at the annual salary survey among freelancer which has been conducted recently by Payoneer. Just to give an idea about the range of rate you should take into consideration while working with international clients - or local ones. ;-)

Available bandwidth and latency

As we already had brief look at various aspects of expenses, let's not forget about the obligatory internet connection. Here in Mauritius you don't really have a choice between Internet Service Providers (ISPs). There is either Orange - aka Mauritius Telecom - or Emtel to go forward with. Both have their interesting and challenging packages for internet access. Whether it is fixed-line, fibre or via mobile network - well, the choice is up to you and your wallet. I won't make any preferences in this article but would like to remind you to read the different offers correctly, especially the fine print and the asterisked foot notes. Just to avoid any kind of unforeseen surprises based on a misinformed decision.

Bandwidth on international connection could be of concern for freelancers in Mauritius - Source: https://pixabay.com/en/digital-zeros-ones-woman-stylish-388075/
Bandwidth on international connection could be of concern for freelancers in Mauritius

Mauritius is a tiny island on the edge of the Indian Ocean and for obvious reasons there aren't many sea cables connected to the island for international bandwidth and routing of packages. Right now, there are two connections - SAFE and LION - which are connected to other international carriers and share bandwidth with other countries of the African mainland. Also, routing is commonly done through internet exchange points in Europe(!) which then might result into high latency towards other international destinations like North America, South-east Asia and Australia. So, in case that you might rely on time-critical operations you might have to take this into consideration, too. Based on my experience over the last couple of years I can at least assure that communication over Skype, VoIP and other IP-based communication channels works smoothly. Sporadically there might be a slight delay in the conversation but this also depends on the destination of your peer.

Dealing with time zones

Working as an employee is pretty simple. You set your alarm at a certain time in the morning, you get ready, you commute to your office and back on a daily base, and you do your work during the usual office hours. Eventually, you might be working with one of the more international oriented IT companies, then you might already confronted with the taste of time zones... Your regular working hours are shifted for some hours compared to the rest of the office jobs here on the island. Well, working as a freelancer gives you a huge amount of liberty and flexibility in general but this also implies that there might be, let's say funny, situations when you have several project assignments at the same time. Once I was in the weird situation that I had to do some work for three clients over two, three weeks - from Australia, from Europe and from the west coast of the United States...

Also, having clients abroad means that you need to pay attention while setting up a meeting on Skype or on the phone. Which time zone are you taking as reference? Personally, I adapted and I'll try to keep as simple as possible for my clients, meaning I'm always referring to my customer's local time when fixing a conference call.

It is worth it? What's your experience?

It depends...

Looking back at my own career I have to admit that starting my first business was quite a roller-coaster! And it didn't last long... until I seized activities and went into the safety of employment. During those years as an employee I was able to learn a lot from my colleagues and my boss(es). But compared to the majority of Mauritian IT people I stayed for almost ten years in the same company. Learning the robes of the business, growing in terms of personal experience, and climbing up the ladder of responsibility. Starting as an inexperienced junior developer in the development of client/server architectures I not only managed to grow on the job but was also given the opportunity to initiate a complete new company for my employer here in Mauritius.

Clearly those years as an employee and the constant growth in my personal career brought me lots of experience, helped me to build up a certain reputation within the developer community back in Germany and gave me a better understanding of the dynamics of dealing with clients, taking care of cash-flow and working with others on a team.

But all this doesn't keep you away from making mistakes... it just strengthens your skills to deal with them in a better way.

Personally, I enjoy working as a small business owner and providing our services to clients world-wide. So far, it had been a great experience with lots of sunshine but also some rainy days, and right now it would be tough for me to go back into employment.

As for you, my dear reader... Well, it's up to your character and personal attitude towards freelancing. There's only one advice I'd like to give you: Get in touch with other IT people here in Mauritius and online communities world-wide, and exchange with others and learn from their vast range of experience.

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Live and let live - modern laziness...
General
Sunday, 28 June 2015 19:45

Wow, it has been a while since I managed to visit the author's corner of my blog. Well, quite frankly there had been a variety aspects and quite a number of excuses to avoid coming to this place and I'd like to write a little bit about it. Eventually, this article might be a little bit boring for some of the readers but I would like you to join the comment section at the bottom - maybe after reading the following lines.

Thank you! Stay sharp!

Well, gratefully I have to report that the first ever Developers Conference had quite some positive impact on the local IT scene and we managed to reach out to some international audience, too. Apart from the (mostly) positive feedback of participants, speakers and sponsors alike, I would like to mention that the event received a little bit of media coverage, too. Despite our (short) preparation period of approximately 3.5 months and a small core organisation team of 3 people, I would say that we had quite some fun and hopefully were able to deliver some interesting content. But quite frankly I would like to remind people here on the island that it is about taking action and doing things... don't just sit there, talk about potential ideas and throw them overboard just because one or two people in your inner circle are discouraging and pointing out "so many problems and eventualities".

Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day and adventuring a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a first single step.

Taking a vacation from my blog

But coming back to this blog, I have to admit that I was simple taking a mental vacation from it. The preparation period of the conference as well as running the event in high gears was kind of exhausting - physically and mentally. And hereby, I would like to express my deepest gratitude and thanks to my loving wife, Mary Jane, and my two little monsters for their patience and light short-comings in terms of "paying attention", "being around", and of course "daddy-time in general". Thanks and I love you all...

And of course, there is the business side of the medal. Spending quite some time on arrangements with potential sponsors, having frequent exchange with potential speakers, and getting the conference web site in shape was kind of exhausting. But don't forget, I'm a small business owner, and spending time on such extra-ordinary activities has actually a double-impact. Yes, it does. Any non-productive time, economically speaking, directly implicates less incoming money on the bank account. So, while I was really enjoying the extra-time donated to community and creating more awareness of the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community in general, I had to keep an eye on the financial situation of things, too.

You can't just stop doing your daily job...

Guinness - Well deserved refreshment after the preparations and successful execution of the first ever Developers Conference in MauritiusWell deserved refreshment after the preparations and successful execution of the first ever Developers Conference in Mauritius

Obviously, there had been some catch-up to be done right after the event in order to keep my clients and my chief financial officer (read: BWE) happy. And so, instead of hanging out on the beach enjoying the perks of living on a tropical island, this meant to keep the caps on the keyboard warm and in constant movement. Like a well-oiled machinery that just needs some TLC from time to time I was hacking down lines of code during the last two months actually. Again, I really do love my profession and from that point of view, it never felt like an obligation or burden to get rid off of a pile of queued up work. Aux contraire, it felt great to be "back" and stay focused on coding lines after lines for my customers' requirements.

Lack of inspiration?

Now after roughly seven to eight weeks in, I'm still not sure whether it feels right to finally pick up blogging again. Honestly, due to narrow focus on work assignments - even though being busy with a variety of different contexts - I was waiting for the right moment to write here on the blog. Maybe you might have a similar experience that even though you have a fantastic idea to blog about... that there's a lack of inspiration, or should I say passion?, to actually sit and starting the article. Well, tonight it just feels right. The last two weeks had been great and I'm feeling the energy coming back to me. Right now, I'm again in a position where there's a little extra time... and some light cuddles of inspiration are whispering into my ears. ;-)

Yeah, that sounds kind of awkward...

Being occupied with other activities

Yes, trust me on that one... ;-)

Apart from writing code for customer projects and assignments I have been busy reading a good number of technical books on different topics. Again, I' have a good feeling about writing some reviews during the next couple of weeks. Most titles were of technical nature but there had been one or two titles from different genres in-between.

And, not to forget to mention I also got some event invitations which I had to attend to as well. Honestly, the last two months had been great in all kind of flavours - hahaha, expect for entertaining this blog - and I'm really looking forward to share some of those experiences with my readers. And there are going to be some technical entries, too.

Anyway, I kept my notes of interesting topics I would like to pin down here on the blog, and during the upcoming weeks I'm confident to share my thoughts on various aspects of software development, community activities in the IT world of Mauritius, and of course life in general.

Stay tuned for more chapters to come...

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Mugg & Bean - Nightmare at Bagatelle
User Rating:★★★★☆ / 13
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General
Monday, 04 May 2015 20:13

It took me quite some while to decide whether I should write about this culinary topic or not. In general, I try to keep it like Thumper - "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all..." but unfortunately this won't change the situation in the first place and second, it's not recommended to hold back (constructive) criticism in order to assist to improve things. In case of Mugg & Bean at Bagatelle particularly it's already since a very long time that I'm saying nothin'...

Bright and shiny opening

Mugg & Bean isn't new to myself at all. I've been to M&B in South Africa several times and having the news that there'll be a franchise in Mauritius was very welcoming. Even though I skipped the opening period on purpose for various reasons I have to admit that the initial service, offerings and gusto was to my personal liking. Surely, a place to recommend among friends and family. We have been there on several occassions and the overall experience right at the beginning was positive. You know, this typical feel-good feeling after having had a nice meal and pleasant waitron service.

Where's light, there're shades

Unfortunately, M&B's lucky strike didn't last for long and personally I had the impression that the decline started as soon as the initial management and trainers from South Africa left the building, or better said flew back. The first disappointing visit happened for a lunch break together with my BWE and my dear mother. Well, you know lunch break, you'd like to go out and instead of grabbing a sandwich from the super market or picking some snacks from the merchants on the street, we decided to stop by at M&B to have a quick bite. Hm, talking a quick... it was only our patience that went away quickly. First of all, in an half-filled restaurant with many empty tables left we were seated but not asked for drinks. Finally, after roughly 20 minutes someone of the waitron staff remembered that new guests have arrived and brought us menu cards and asked for the drinks. It's not like we were hungry and eventually might have limited time for a lunch break but okay at least we a waitress now. The drinks were brought after another 20 minutes in, and then we were finally allowed to place our orders for food. Seriously? Round about 40 minutes just sitting there and waiting for soft drinks and/or juices? And obviously, we were not the only ones. A couple two tables next to us had to wait approximately 30 minutes for their drinks. Alright, as we were sitting nicely and had some topics to talk about we waited patiently for our dishes... Oh boy, you might have guessed it. Another 35 minutes later the first two plates were brought over, and then another 5 minutes later the missing third one. I won't go into the details but there were bits and pieces wrong and we couldn't be bothered because of being too hungry to argue. Besides having a second, more weird waiter which seemed to have a personal pleasure in terms of sneaking up on guests from behind repetitively, all three of us had probably the worst lunch ever. And to close that horrible lunch "experience" we had to wait another 25(!) minutes between asking for the check and finally being allowed to pay.

Regular location for meetings of MSCC and LUGM

Well, surely this lunch event must have been an exceptional experience you'd might argue. Hm, I wished it would have been... Let's talk a little bit about my involvement in local IT communities, namely Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community (MSCC) and the Linux User Group of Mauritius/Meta (LUGM). We have this habit to organise little get-togethers of six to ten people and meet at an easy accessible location. Frankly, some love the bottomless caffee at Mugg & Bean and therefore we arranged quite a number of meetings over there. As the kids are with me on Saturdays I have to take care of their well-being and nutrition. Okay, the food selection even for children is quite tempting and after all it's about having a good time. Despite the business generated for the restaurant. Personally, I'm a fan of milk-shakes... and it would have been great that M&B would be able to deliver but quite frankly over a period of at least six (6!) months I was always told that the machine is broken and that milk-shakes cannot be served. Okay, I can understand that things break and it takes a little bit longer to get them fixed up here on this remote island but... more than six months? A well-known brand like Mugg & Bean? And the shakes are still offered according to their menu cards? Come on! Just put a blank sticker over drinks or meals you cannot serve...

But that's not all... choosing other drinks or menus randomly from the menu ended up in a simply answer by the waitress: "Sorry, it's not available". I finally gave up, and started to ask what's available today without even bothering to look at the card anymore. And despite the declining trend of drinks and dishes it became obvious that the standards of cleanliness followed the same trend. Guests had to leave the restaurant in order to lighten their pressure around the hips - for several weeks or even months because the rest room upstairs was in a bad state! Sitting near the big window panels with a view on the fountain outside revealed a disgusting observation of grease on the door panels in the cake and tart section. Cups, plates and cutlery usually had a stain from previous meals, too. And finally, one of our MSCC members got some extra nutrition in his pot of tea which submerged in his cup after pouring the final drops of green tea... boiled cockroach!

Not surprisingly, any meetups of both user groups were done at other locations in Bagatelle. And there are plenty of other blog articles and photos documenting on that one, too.

New management - maybe a fresh wind of service?

During the MSCC meetup on entrepreneurship back in August 2014 one of the attendees mentioned that he's very close to the current manager of Mugg & Bean and that the new person in charge would like to meet and listen to our previous experience. Alright, we agreed on a time and location somewhere else in Bagatelle and had a great conversation about the stories you just read in the previous paragraphs. Funny side-note: The M&B manager had a fidelity card from that other cafe. Which might tell you a lot actually...

Honestly, I didn't bother to follow up on any kind of improvements but only by listening to other MSCC craftsmen about their recent visits, gave me enough information that it wouldn't be worth to spend any further time at that place. Not now, not in the future.

Granting a wish... 

... I guess that might be the only explanation why I finally agreed this morning to give it another shot. My BWE was already "chasing" me since weeks that she'd love to have a proper breakfast in the morning compared to the range of small bites at Vida e Caffe, also at Bagatelle. Since months, the weekly Code & Coffee meetings of the MSCC have been carried out at the little cafe opposite the Emtel showroom, and so far it had been always great. Even though the music might be too enthusiastic sometimes but the staff is always friendly and pays attention to their clients' demands.

Anyway, judgement day at Mugg & Bean... all those months I could convince my BWE that it wouldn't be an option to have a meal there anymore. I can't say what was the key aspect during the drive to Bagatelle but I accepted that we should give M&B another shot. Maybe things might have improved since last time. Okay, okay... let's give it a try.

Oh boy! What a fatal mistake!

Despite having six people from the waitron staff lurking around near the main entrance or the kitchen passage we didn't get that much attention. The kitchen was not yet ready... I mean, yeah, why would a breakfast place need to have a ready kitchen in the morning? Okay, let's wait for some 15 to 25 minutes then...
And let's see about the drinks? My BWE asked for a cup of regular black coffee... "Sorry, we don't have coffee right now". What? You have coffee-themed wallpapers all over the place and you cannot serve a simple cup of plain black coffee?
On the other hand, my first choice of drink from the menu... "Sorry, it's not available". What the flipping banana? Am I cursed in terms of food selections? And no it wasn't a milk-shake! That would have been a good choice as they somehow managed to fix their shake machine. Luckily, ordering our morning dishes wasn't an obstacle at all, just waiting... and waiting...

I didn't run a stop-watch but roughly after 45 to 50 minutes later we got our food, well partly. The South African Farm breakfast with additional Beef Strips came first, not my choice and some minutes later I was finally served with a portion of Mexican Scrambles and an additional portion of Country Fries. The beef was not seasoned and tasted blunt after all, the fries had tepid temperature rather than being hot, and taking into consideration that the scrambled eggs might have been put into an oven or microwave judging on the amount of liquid in the small gratin bowl. Honestly, disgusting look and even more horrible taste!

Mugg & Bean world-wide - No, thank you!

Seriously, it is not my intention to blackmail a brand with this posting but frankly speaking after all those months of continuous negative experience at Mugg & Bean in Bagatelle, I won't have another meal for a very long time in one of their branches. No matter where it is located. And believe me, Mugg & Bean isn't the first franchise I completely ditched for more than a decade. McDonalds' back in Germany had (and still have) that bad habit of putting too much salt on their french fries. And so, I went to spent my money somewhere else.

Please share your experience with either Mugg & Bean (Bagatelle or somewhere else) or other food places. Thanks!

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My first month using a Lumia 730
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Sunday, 04 January 2015 03:25
Lumia 730/735 on Amazon
Source: Nokia Lumia 730/735 on Amazon

It's already one month since I bought a Nokia / Microsoft Lumia 730 during one of my business trips in Europe. And quite frankly I'm going to summarise my impressions, up & downs during this time using the device itself, the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system and the apps during this period.

Why? Oh why?

Actually, the decision is straight: I wanted to own a Windows Phone 8.1 (WP8) based smartphone for technical reasons. After having several Android - smartphones and tablets - and iOS devices - mainly different generations of iPads - since years it was high-time to purchase a Windows Phone 8.1 system. But the choice of operating system and app environment wasn't the key factor for my decision.

Dual SIM as replacement of two mobiles

After a bit of research on the interweb and reading a bunch of forum threads I came to the conclusion that neither iOS (well, obviously non-existent) nor any Droids offer some decent handling of two SIM cards at the same time. There are always some kind of trade-offs and short-comings. Given the situation in my case that I have two mobile numbers for private and business purposes I got tired of caring two cellular phones with me. Yes of course, it would have been possible to daisy-chain or route incoming calls from one number to the other one but this wouldn't help in case of calling people. Ergo, a new purchase had to be a smartphone with Dual SIM feature and at the time I made my decision I had the impression that so far only Lumia devices and WP8 were capable of dealing with it properly. Thanks to the promotions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday I was able to snatch a very good deal and I purchased a Lumia 730 for EUR 199,- (or approximately Rs. 7,600.-) on Amazon.

But unfortunately I wasn't smart enough to be able to use my newly acquired toy directly on the spot. Both of existing mobiles had standard-sized SIM cards whereas the Lumia only accepts NanoSIM form factor. Alright, no problem at all. I sent an email to my account manager at Emtel and he replied instantly that a new SIM card would be ready for pickup at the next showroom - Thanks Emtel, excellent service!

Note: The Lumia 735 is the Single SIM edition with LTE network connectivity.

First: Update to Windows Phone 8.1

No matter what kind of device you put in my hand... As soon as it is connected to the internet I have to check for any kind of updates. And of course, there was an update already waiting for the Lumia 730. Upgrading the device to the latest Windows Phone 8.1 Update is a no-brainer and you should do it ASAP, too. Of course, I was curious to have a chat with Cortana, too.

Transfer my data

Changing mobile devices always relates to migration of information. Both my previous devices were still Symbian S60 based - I know, I know... - and given the experience I made previously with my wife's upgrade onto the Android platform I did some pre-work. But quite frankly it wasn't really necessary at all. The Lumia 730 comes with a pre-installed app called "Transfer my Data".

"Transfer my Data is a quick and easy way of copying contacts from almost any phone (Symbian, Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and others) to your new Windows Phone using Bluetooth. Some phones may also be capable of transferring text messages and pictures, including many Lumia phones. Transfer my Data copies all your contacts into the Windows Phone People Hub, from where it's easy to call, mail, chat or follow friends on your favourite social network. On supported phones, contacts and messages can also be transferred to and from an SD card." -- taken from Windows Phone store

A data exchange via Bluetooth sounds good and indeed the transfer of contacts, text messages and even photos was done very quickly. Even though the app offers transfer of music and video files it suggests to use a PC as proxy device for performance reasons. Anyway, within shortest time I had all my contacts from both Symbians available on the Lumia. A little down-side is the lack of de-duplication but that's honestly a bit too much to ask for. A last full charge of both batteries and then Farewell old fellows, you served me well.

First challenge: Rename the device

After my initial success of data transfer it turned out to be a real challenge to change the name of the device in the About section. I mean, what's so difficult to provide a textbox instead of a label in order to change a [censored] name? Being used to Android and IOS devices it is one of my first tasks to change a device's name to a pattern that suits my needs instead of having that generic "Windows Phone 8".

Let me solve the puzzle: No chance at all to change it from the device. 

You have to connect the device to a computer in order to change the device's name / identification. Seriously? It's not only quite weird but kind of painful in case that you're using an operating system like Mac OS X or Linux. As soon as you hook up the device via USB you have 2 options at hand. Either you download and install the Windows Phone app for Desktop:

Change name of Windows Phone 8.1 device in Windows Phone App for Desktop
Change name of Windows Phone 8.1 device in Windows Phone App for Desktop

or you do it the classic way: Folder properties in Windows Explorer:

Change name of Windows Phone 8.l1 device in Windows Explorer
Change name of Windows Phone 8.l1 device in Windows Explorer

A couple of General Settings

As usual I went through all settings. First, to see what is available and possible to change with built-in features and second, to evaluate how it works compared to iOS and Android. Adding the Lumia to my existing WiFi infrastructure went smooth. Setting the network specific SIM options wasn't a problem at all. In order to access my operator-given voicebox services I had to specify different short-dials. And so on and so on; I'll spare you the remaining myriad of settings and will concentrate a bit on the interesting ones. Next, I had a look at the Keyboard settings.

Word Flow

Frankly, I'm a little bit spoiled by a third-party application called SwiftKey on Android and iOS. After following the keynote presentation on Windows Phone 8.1 some months back, I knew about the built-in Word Flow feature. And due to the lack of SwiftKey on WP8 I installed my usual keyboard languages - English, French and German, and run a couple of tests in various applications. Yes, Word Flow feels very natural and the text recognition of my swipes are very accurate - close to or even matching SwiftKey on the other platforms. Very pleasant after that initial challenge.

Back navigation

That was a funny pitfall I fell into. The back button on Windows Phone 8.1 works somehow different to the one on Android and I was desperately looking for a solution on how to access some kind of apps overview or task manager. Luckily, that puzzle could be solved very quickly thanks to the tweet of @LumiaHelp: Long-press the back button.

Internet Sharing (aka Tethering)

I am happy that Windows Phone 8.1 doesn't use the term "Tethering" or "Wifi Hotspot" - not from a technical point of view but from a consumer's one. Unfortunately, the relative position between switching mobile data package use and enabling internet sharing is a bit far from each other. But once you get used to it, it's not that difficult anymore. Also, given that one might leave the data package setting fixed and only switches tethering on and off from time to time. The connection between the Lumia 730 and my MSI laptop was stable and performant. Nothing to report about...

Apps and Windows Phone App Store

Attention! My levels of frustration but also excitement went up very quickly in this chapter. But let me start with the dark side of using Windows Phone 8.1: Lack of (my) major apps.

This might sound a bit contradictory to my decision of purchasing a WP8 smartphone. I knew there will be cut-downs on some apps I'm used to but, boy was I wrong!, at least half of my daily apps are not available on Windows Phone! No seriously, I'm trying to get the best out of multiple options but there has to be at least some common ground where I can put my bare minimum of data exchange. Yes, there is no lack of standard applications like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Mail clients, PDF reader, Amazon Kindle and office apps but what about other productivity tools? At the time writing this blog entry I'm missing the following apps:

  • Trello
  • Chrome browser
  • Pluralsight - there's only Windows Phone 7.x
  • Meetup
  • Google+
  • Google Drive
  • OpenVPN mobile client

Just to name a few.

The first couple of days I felt unproductive and really thought that I made the wrong choice. Currently, I'm still trying to figure out whether there are possibilities to "transfer" some purchased apps. I really like to use the Runtastic app. But despite having the Pro edition on Android I have to stick with the Freemium on WP8 right now. But yeah, something I already in advance.

Adjust your Country/Region setting

Originally I thought that setting the Region to my actual location of stay would be a good option but unfortunately Microsoft seems to have other ideas than their customers. Why would I say that? Well, in order to be able to use the "advanced" features like remote installation of Windows Phone 8 Apps via your browser the setup has to be coherent to each other. Meaning, the preferred language options in your browser - whether it's Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox - and the regional settings on your smartphone have to match each other. In my case, it's a bit tough to get an English version of the Windows Phone App Store for Mauritius. Either I get redirected to the British or the US version of the store and some features like the "Install" button are not available.

Piece of advice: Set the Country/Region option on your phone to United States and your browser's preferred language to en_US and you're good to go.

Additional to more comfort on the website you'll also get access to more apps in the US store than in other countries. And you can still set the Regional format to a different setting.

Full throttle on Microsoft apps

After my phone and store adjustments I started to explore the list of featured apps and the ones listed in collections. There are some good applications available but it's interesting to mention that most of them are written by Microsoft or a department within Microsoft. Following a list of apps I like to use regularly:

  • Lumia Camera
  • Lumia Panorama
  • Office Lens
  • Office Remote
  • Skype
  • Gestures Beta
  • Authenticator

Cortana seems to be interesting but I haven't had a conversation with my personal assistant. Well, surely something to explore during the upcoming weeks.

Welcome to the Microsoft universe

Although I experienced the Apple world - both on iOS and Mac OS X - and Android heaven I have the impression that Windows Phone 8.1 is tightly coupled to Windows, maybe Windows 8.1 specifically. It's not really a speed bump in my particular case but I would appreciate that there are more cross-platform apps available.

Staying inside the Microsoft universe gives you a well-shaped package and integration between smartphone and desktop applications. It's actually pretty cool to use your Lumia as a presenter device for your Powerpoint presentation. Or you fire up the Project My Screen App on Windows and you can mirror all activities on your mobile on the big screen. And last but not least it is very convenient to store all your files and data in OneDrive compared to Google Drive or iCloud.

Resume after one month

Despite the obstacles and the lack of certain apps I have to admit that I am very pleased with the Nokia Lumia 730. And that's mainly thanks to the Dual SIM feature of the device. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a couple more gems in the Windows Phone App Store and write some blog entries regarding my experience and discoveries.

Stay tuned! ;-)

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