I’m standing still, very still, all my focus beamed on the mirror in front of me.

No, no...come now...eh, you! How could I be evaluating my chances of winning the Mr Universe contest?  I’m well aware of my deficiencies in the looks department. I don't have the looks that elicit second glances from womenfolk, let alone set their hearts aflutter with love at first sight. But then don't they say a man is ugly only if he has no money?

Now why did I say that? If that's true, then to the majority of the women I must be ugly for an overwhelming majority of each month! You see, women seem to be able to smell each time the entire population of my emaciated pay packet and I have agreed to disagree and gone our separate ways. Hence, the critical lack of smouldering come-on glances thrown my way way just days after pay day.

But I'm digressing here. I know you're itching to know what I'm doing standing still in front of a mirror. Eh...it's nothing, really. All I’m doing is hunt for sightings of black hairs in the lush mop on my head. I’m talking about genuinely black hair, if you get my drift.

Of course, I’ve still got lots of black hair in areas of my body that don’t see the sun...areas that can’t be mentioned in polite society (and NO! Under threat of you-know-what sanctions, my wife isn’t answering any questions regarding those areas). But when it comes to my head, there’s almost no black hair in sight. Hold it! Hold it! I think I’ve just found one! Phew! Boy, wasn’t I worried!

Yet time was when every single strand of hair on any area of my body, prime real estate or otherwise, was black. This must be around about the time when the whole of Malawi had only two computers, both in Blantyre, one at Railways and the other at the Data Processing Department.

Inexplicably, the progress in technology has kept pace with the number of gray hairs on my head. I'm sure somewhere in there there’s a mathematical equation relating the two. How else do I explain the phenomenon of my gray hair becoming less and less uncountable with each major technological stride? You see, my hair hasn't really been the same since 1981 when IBM introduced the Personal Computer and one Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to help spread them around the world by publishing the so called Disk Operating System that drove them. DOS anyone?

The manual typewriter, which by the way, wouldn’t be out of place in a modern day gym was slowly electrocuted out of existence by its younger sibling, the electric typewriter. What was that speck I could see within my thick Afro mop? A strand of gray hair? Not sure, but it was nothing to worry about.

Then electric typewriters gave way to dedicated word processors that in turn emigrated to attics, museums and scrap heaps around the world. Entering keyboard left were PC based word processors.

By this time my lone strand of gray hair had somehow managed to find a spouse and produce a couple of children. But I could still manage to make my hair look black. With clenched teeth and a wince or two, I could pluck those offending hairs every time they dared show their snouts.

Then number crunching became easier for bean counters who bothered to learn spreadsheet programs like Lotus 1-2-3. By then my family of gray hairs had spawned a whole village of grays. No, make that a whole nation. Of course, it follows that the number and frequency of uprooting grew dramatically. So did the winces that accompanied the grooming. Yes, I know the pain women go through every time they have to remove hairs on their legs.

But today with gray hairs outnumbering the black ones, plucking them into extinction is no longer a practical option. Seen my tin of black polish, anyone? It ain’t easy putting on this façade of youth, you know.

Neither is it easy keeping up with the technology changes that are taking place in our world today, not even for a professional. From the 5¼ inch floppy disks to the less fragile 3½ inch ones...to the hard disks to the CDs...to the DVDs...to the flash disks...to Blu-ray. From the monochrome green or amber CRT monitors to today’s LCD and plasma HDTVs (high definition televisions) with millions of colors that are as happy to serve as monitors or as TVs. From grainy PacMan to today’s £D games that require high spec graphics and sound cards. From arcade game machines to personal game consoles like the Playstation 3 , Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360. From the tape recorder to today’s THX certified home theater systems that have 5.1 speaker systems as the bare minimum. From analogue fixed phones to mobile phones that can also take notes, shoot photos and videos, download or record and play music, take notes, do spreadsheets, browse the Internet, access your e-mail and even have give you the coordinates of where you’re.  From a time when we could do with just one anti-virus software update per year, if at all, to the present when it’s no longer enough to update your anti-virus software once a day (you also have to update your anti-spyware, firewall, anti-spam measures and whatever else it takes to keep your computers and even yourselves safe. From the marvel of telex to fax...to the deluge of unsolicited e-mails…to instant messaging...to broadband Internet…to VOIP and media streaming.

Yes, long ago, my hair was completely black and I wasn’t being force fed Microsoft every which way. I could choose to have WordPerfect, Word Star, Word or Multimate as my word processing program, while Lotus 1-2-3, SuperCalc and Quattro Pro were some of the offerings on the spreadsheet menu. In those days we swore not by the moon, the inconsistent moon, but by WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 because they ruled  their respective electronic roosts. Granted there was a dearth of alternative s in other areas. For example, the choices in the other fields were a little thinner with Harvard Graphics dominating the presentation software and dBase III lording it over others in database management.

But it’s my black hair I remember and miss the most because while black and white looks great on a piano keyboard or even a chess board, I don’t like them cohabiting on my head. I also miss Lotus 1-2-3 although it wasn’t fun outputting spreadsheets onto paper via Epson dot-matrix printers or the then high end and expensive HP LaserJet IIIs. Not at all. No, not even when the catchphrase WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) became a pick-up line. With a little more business sense, I could still be comfortably living off tips I used to get helping people print their spreadsheets.

It’s not like these days, is it? These days some printers let you print more than one page per sheet of paper and on both sides. Others, like Microsoft Word, will even  print multiple pages on just one sheet of paper using almost any respectable laser printer. Remember this facility used to be a PowerPoint domain.

By the way, Word will let you print as many as sixteen pages on a single sheet. I know that’s not as many as the white sprouts that now cover my scalp—you don’t have to rub it in, you know—but enough to enable you save on paper (without damaging your eyes in the process. What’s more, the environmentalists would love you for it.

So how do you do it?

Simple really, if you use Microsoft Word. Start by selecting “Print” (either via the File menu or by simultaneously pressing Ctrl and P and then quickly releasing them). At the bottom right corner of the Print dialogue box that follows, the Zoom corner if you wish, select the number of pages you want per sheet by clicking the arrow at the end of the Pages per sheet box. Then click OK.

Easy, right? If only it were as easy to keep my hair black. Now, where’s that bloody tin of black polish?

 
 

In one of our electronic forums, a hot debate ensued. Bytes flew as people argued, for and against, the notion that if your, …er…private parts have been seen by more than one person, then you’ve renounced your right to calling them private. In other words, they morph into public parts.

I stood on the fence on this one even though I didn’t quite agree with what seemed to be the majority view. You see, I’ve been to private clubs, private parties, private schools, private hospitals and so on. I’m pretty certain I’ve never been on my own at any of these places.

Come to think of it, by virtue of walking out of your house and being seen by hundreds of eyes, do you become a public person? And, by extension, should my significant other cease to consider me as her private property simply because several other people see me every day?

I’ll let lawyers argue over that one. Or the women concerned.

However, while I may not be sure about the private or public nature of one’s body parts, I firmly believe that what you and your partner do with those parts is not public business. If you decide to digitise memories of shenanigans starring your parts, that’s your business. It certainly shouldn’t be the business of computer techies who’ve gained access to your storage media to publish those memories to the general public. They can gasp, drool, ogle or whatever but they should leave such data on the media they find it on without. They shouldn't be making copies and publishing such data as recently happened in Malawi.

Computer techies should be like doctors. You go to a doctor with damaged parts safe in the knowledge that it won't become public knowledge. How would you feel if the fact that you’ve been prescribed 16cc jabs on account of your crown jewels having one blemish or other became the subject of a viral e-mail? How would you feel knowing that your being unwell down there was a favourite topic not only at bridal showers but also watering holes around the country? How would you feel knowing that your doctor let on that your unprotected parts hadn’t emerged unscathed from your recent stint in the battle trenches of a Red Light district like Devil Street? How would you feel were your doctor  to publicise the fact that you’re contributing to global warming with your environmentally unfriendly practices of scything down every blade of hair in your nether regions?

I think it’s time information and telecommunication practitioners came up with an oath modeled on the Hippocratic Oath. Why re-invent the wheel? It might go something like this: “Whatever, in connection with my professional practice or not, in connection with it, I see or hear, on the hard disks or other digital media of users or clients, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge let alone publish in cyberspace, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.”

Because this is about Information and Telecommunication Technology, or ICT in short, we shall call it the  Ictoractic Oath.

By the way, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in recent weeks is that Malawians, men and women alike, love porn and will use any flimsy excuse to glue their eyes on it. In this particular case, they hide behind the veil of the newsworthiness of the whole saga, to view and discuss the sordid details of porn, down to the number and colour of beads, in public.

Malawians, you've just been outed as porn addicts.

Oh, I forgot. I’ve also acquired a new pick up line: “Tiye tikajambulane.”


 

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    Children, too, can have profound thoughts
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    The Three Little Hills (Phiris)