why are so many of us scared of technology yet it should make l

Photo from pngimg.com

Waiting for an Uber at my office the other day in frustration at how long the driver was taking to figure out the Uber technology, I was distracted by five fully grown men struggling to fit some office furniture onto the back of a medium-size pick up truck.

The first bit of furniture was brought down and placed immediately onto the centre of the truck bed. I thought the truck would leave there and then but the men went upstairs and returned with more – all of which found its way onto the bed, with adjustments.

At some point, they had to stop.

As they stood looking at a couple of obstinate pieces of furniture, I was distracted by my Uber driver who was on the phone and failing to read his map. The way Uber works that makes it revolutionary includes the use of technology. Unlike your usual special hire driver who needed to be given directions by way of fenne trees and other landmarks, the Uber driver has a smartphone and internet access.

Using that phone you connect with your driver, indicate on a map where you are and where you plan to go, and you even get an estimate of the cost of the trip. That map is so complete that it identifies some surprising land marks.

For weeks now, I have been using Uber or walking rather than drive a personal vehicle. The experience is very fitting for my harsh microeconomic circumstances, and it is healthier (when I walk). My only frustration with most Uber drivers, however, is their refusal to use the technology the way it should be used.

Like my driver at the time the five fully-grown men were being baffled by the size of their pick up truck bed and the quantity of furniture that needed to go onto it.

He was so confused that he thought the blue blinking dot on his map was an indicator of where I was, rather than where he was. So he kept going round in circles. I lost thirty minutes waiting for the fellow to finally figure out how the maps work, and was confounded at how we sometimes reject technology yet its right there for us to use.

That includes technology such as the screwdriver. If those five fully-grown furniture carrying fellows on the roadside at my office had applied a screwdriver onto five screws in total to some parts of that furniture they could have stacked it neatly on the truck bed. The entire moving process would have been cut short by at least fifteen minutes, as the furniture was the fabricated screw-on type.

I pointed this out to them, and saw the light of realisation blinking ‘On’. But they figured they had gone so far into the process that they struggled on. They lifted the biggest desk, turned it onto its back and placed the smaller bits on its underside. Things worked somehow, and they left.

Before my Uber guy had arrived. I blasted him quite a bit for the delay he was occasioning by not using his technology. He was a little bit worse than a few other chaps – and I have had many encounters with them over technology. Just the week before, after hearing another driver claim that his map wasn’t working, I grabbed his phone and activated the map with voice directions.

Being unaccustomed to the technology he kept turning to me for affirmation that the lady’s voice was not misleading him. I don’t know who hurt him in his earlier life but he must have had a bad experience around these technologies, which made my ride uncomfortable because I now had to spend the journey directing him over the voice on the smartphone app.

Having to direct the driver verbally erodes another benefit of my using Uber – the ability to get some extra work done in the back seat of the vehicle, or to catch up on some entertainment (TV programmes and podcasts). Which means that the Uber drivers’ refusal to use the technology properly loses me time doing more useful work.

That is what technology is for – simplifying things and freeing up resources to be more productive. In fact, as my Uber guy was getting lost I took the time to type out this article on my phone, and sent a few emails, while standing under the heat on the verandah being lightly entertained by the five fully-grown men lacking a screwdriver.

If those fellows had used a screwdriver, turning it ten revolutions each per screw, they could have saved enough time to do more work in their new offices and earn more money to invest in more technology.

They might even have had a screwdriver in the glove box of their truck, but without the mindset required to make use of it, it was useless. As @like_a_gem said, on Twitter, “Omutwe omunafu gukooya bigere.”

yet another comedy of small errors

This week’s unnecessary chaos around the State House salaries made me angry on two levels – one because of the number of people involved in perpetuating this comedy of errors to national levels; and two because of the number of adults involved in propagating a very untenable idea that resulted in the otherwise entertaining #PayMe96Million social media chants and rants.

Starting with the second, to me it was obvious that in this country where people with second hand US$20,000 cars (liabilities) earn the label ‘tycoon’, we would have known long ago if anybody were banking a Ushs96million a month salary for even a week, without it being documented in Parliament with the media present.

As soon as I saw the offensive sheet indicating monthly salaries in State House PayMe96Mn - highlightedranging from Ushs20million to Ushs96million, I knew it was a stupid mistake but quickly moved on because I believed Members of Parliament would be more interested in addressing the close-to-100-deaths of Ugandans in western Uganda last week.

Besides, I was handling a stupid mistake in my own environment: That morning, I had concluded a transaction that should have earned about Ushs2.5million in one fell swoop, in US dollars – less than a day’s salary of that (mbu) highly-paid State House employee.

Issuing instructions for official documentation to complete the transaction, I left for a meeting and along the way made a couple of debt collection phone calls and monitored emails. One of those emails contained the invoice we were supposed to send the client for the above Ushs2.5million job card, but it read US$112 (One hundred twelve United States Dollars).

A quick glance had me frowning because the original calculation involved was ‘75,000 x 38’ (Shillings) – to me, clearly much more than the invoice read.75,000 x 38 I emailed back my accounts guy asking, “Is the mathematics correct in this?” and he responded minutes later with “Yes it is” (no punctuation marks AT ALL).

The confidence with which he had responded, underscored by the poor punctuation, shook me a little so I asked the people I was with to do a quick mental calculation to confirm that ‘75,000 x 38’ was, indeed, only US$112.

Even now, as you read this, it isn’t.

Picking up the phone, I asked someone else at the office to go over to the accountant and set him right just in case he was stuck with a really faulty calculator or computer or mobile phone or neighbours, since all these were available to him to cross-check the mathematics instead of insisting on the wrong answer.

She walked over to him, conducted an arithmetical exercise with the fellow and confirmed that, indeed: “It’s 258,000.”

I wavered.

But I refused to turn to electronic assistance because as far as I knew, 75,000 multiplied by a simple 3 (three) was already more than 210,000. I had a slight headache at the time, and thought that perhaps the problem was with my general body functions, so I asked them to check again and, indeed, their answer was still “258,000”, with a little irritation in their tone.

I hung up and moved on with what I hoped would be more understandable aspects of my work day. One of those was a meeting with a finance guy from one of my debtors, who told me the payment I was chasing after had already been remitted to my bank.

We went to and fro a few times saying “It wasn’t!” and “It was!” enough times to sound like children, then stopped to discuss the matter more seriously.

That’s when he admitted to me that months ago, when the payment had first been remitted, the bank account number had been wrongly written out, so the money had bounced back to them but they forgot about it for a couple of months till we started chasing them down for it.

“So I am sure we sent it this time!” he concluded. We had investigated jointly for a number of hours, querying both our banks at various points till, on this Tuesday, the suspicion came to me that perhaps the money had been sent to the wrong bank.

I was right.

It had gone to an old bank account we had closed over a year ago, in spite of the fact that this same client had received two sets of correspondence advising them of the change and had thereafter made several payments into the new bank account.

“Error”, they apologised, and got about fixing it. And so later on Tuesday night, after disregarding the #PayMe96Million thread a little bit, I looked up sharply remembering that we hadn’t concluded the matter of the ‘75,000 x 38’ invoice to the client – many hours later.

Luckily, the duo at the office had put their heads together after the phone call; investigated the matter further, and had written to me:  “Each item is UGX38. For 75,000 the equivalent is 285,000…”

That’s when I turned back to the #PayMe96Million thread and studied the offending offensive document a little bit; and I called someone to ask why it even existed.

“What?! But a correction was sent to Parliament…” PayMe96MnLetter

To cut a long story short, I eventually got hold of the corrected document and saw how the error had occurred, with the annual salary somehow getting pasted into the column for monthly salaries, allowing the rest of the formulae to take hold… …and to me, after my experiences and especially the one of that very morning, it was clear why the junior officer’s error had gone past the supervisor, bosses, proof-readers, printers, document signers, and so on and so forth.

All of them committed errors in NOT spotting that initial error – as would have I, if that ’75,000 x 38’ hadn’t jumped out at me. And even though the correction had arrived at Parliament DAYS before Tuesday, the loud, indignant, sensational allegation on the floor of Parliament had gone unchallenged by ALL the Members of Parliament who HAD received said correction but had not read it – another error. #PayMe96Million 1 #PayMe96Million 2

So for all of Tuesday night, ordinary people who hold loaded guns at the compound gates providing overnight security and those that mix up food in kitchens next to dangerous detergents were angrily considering that their bosses earn salaries such as Ushs96,000,000 a month.

Revolutions and wars have been triggered off by minor errors such as these.

I still can’t imagine what the people whose names appeared on that original list are telling their spouses and domestic staff, if otherwise intelligent professionals are still crying wolf over #PayMe96Million.

Presidency Minister Frank Tumwebaze was gracious in admitting that mistakes happen everywhere and refusing to consider firing the person who committed the first error – otherwise very many people elsewhere would be losing jobs for ‘errors’ – including Cecilia Ogwal et al for failing to read the correction document or even doing some arithmetic before tickling an angry revolution among common folk.Ssebaggala

In a perfect world, my accountant and all State House employees in the chain that led to that document getting to a Parliamentary Member disinclined to basic arithmetics, would be out of jobs right now and providing opportunities for more efficient people to run things with the seriousness required. We would be surrounding ourselves with people who understand that small errors sometimes have a large impact on serious matters.

And Uganda would generally be less prone to incendiary political action such as we saw in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko, that the Members of Parliament found much less interesting than the sensational Ushs96million-a-month salary.

we don’t understand…the same things the same way

IN dealing with the countless frustrations that come with supervising work of any kind in this town, or understanding what one reads in newspapers, sees on television or hears on radio, I draw on the words of one of my wife’s former co-workers.

This employee, whose name I have never been interested in storing to memory, was a constant source of angst for my wife because he held a university degree, appeared to have lived in the city for a considerable period of time, and was an adult. Yet in spite of these three straightforward factors, he consistently made errors that she would have found irritating, incomprehensible and irrational even in a child. 

It was only in the most extreme of circumstances that she failed to restrain herself and it was after one of those that I picked up the phrase, “Don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”

His statement to her at that time went something like, “Madame, we might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”

Of course, this guy presents no threat whatsoever to Jesus Christ, Confucious or Sun-Tzu regarding their positions on the list of most quoted wise sayings.

But he is on my list because he spoke a very prominent truth in this society, even though it is ridiculous. The idea that one can ‘understand’ something wrongly is so mind-boggling that it must be true (see paragraph one above).

His eruption, by the way, was a result of my wife lambasting him for yet again being difficult (it would be impolite to say “stupid”).

You see, he had addressed an envelope wrongly.

Not by writing the wrong name or address on it, but by addressing it wrongly in all other ways: He had picked it up, presumably, placed it upside down on the table, flipped it somehow so the open end was facing him, and then written the name and address on the back. Yes – the side where the flap closes over. Yes – upside down, moreover, but I still don’t want to use the word “stupid”.

And, apparently, whereas along the way in his thirty plus years on earth he had probably been told how to address envelopes, he believed he had not understood how to do it the same way everyone else in the world did.

But, as he stated, he had ‘understood’ in his own way how envelopes are addressed.Image

In the past, my ignorance of this fact about how we understand things differently had led me to agonise greatly whenever I issued instructions such as “Please wash that car” or “Clean this room” and returned to find no evidence of said instructions having been heard or followed.

Ever since I heard what my wife’s colleague had said I had undergone an education and re-oriented my thinking. I had my own understanding of the instruction “clean” and the cleaner had his. Why had I not thought of this before? I would have saved myself countless headaches and litres of bile building up at the back of my throat!

And so last weekend, I found myself happily sharing that small pearl of wisdom with a poor man who was beside himself with anger at an electrician, a team of builders, and a TV repair man.

All three had made promises to be in position early one morning fixing very visible problems ahead of Easter celebrations, and none had shown up by the time breakfast was done.

It had been wrong to assume that they had understood the concepts of “being there” or “first thing in the morning” or, indeed, time in general.

Then, three days later, my wife went back to her clinic to collect the results of a set of some rather serious medical tests (as opposed to the casual, jocular by-the-way tests, I suppose) and was told with a small chuckle that there were none.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Sorry, madam,” she was told, by a clinical employee who recalled her so well from her visit just a couple of days prior, “They didn’t do the tests.”

Refusing to believe that this employee knew immediately that the tests had not been done, without having to check with any laboratory official, or doctor, or even pretending to consult a file or computer app, she persisted with her query.

“Madame, they didn’t do the tests. The doctor didn’t order for them,” said the employee, continuing without much prompting, “Yes, he called and told the lab but he didn’t follow-up so they threw the samples away.”

“Without doing the tests?!!!”


During a very long #eish moment, my wife thought up a couple of questions such as: 1. Why didn’t the laboratory follow-up with the doctor so they could do the damn tests he had ordered by telephone? 2. Why didn’t the laboratory take action as soon as they realised that the doctor had not put his request in writing? 3. Wasn’t clinic bureaucracy going to affect her health, because how was she going to get the right treatment without a proper diagnosis of her situation? 4. What (the heck) do we do now?

The clinic staffer had responses for all three respectively: 1. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 2. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 3. Well, yes… 4. Please come in and take the tests again.

To which she pointed out that the tests would probably not make sense now because the situation she was in when she came in to do them was very different.

“Yes,” said the clinic staff, “they would probably be useless.”

Another #eish moment ensued.

We might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood them in the same way.