Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mr. Incredible

Steve Jobs made the cover of the current issue of BusinessWeek after his spectacular sale of Pixar to Disney for a total value of US$ 7.4 billion. I use the word spectacular deliberately: How else could you describe such a feat when Jobs bought the company from George Lucas for "only" US$ 10 million in 1986? No wonder the cover depicts him as a Mr. Incredible-like cartoon. A triple allusion to the man himself, one of Pixar's recent hits, and the Disney connection, I suppose. Cool.

Oh, and in the process he became Disney's largest shareholder and got a seat on the Board. Not a bad 20 years' work. Yup--20 years. Well, if this stuff was easy, we'd all be billionaires.

For some vintage Jobs, I highly recommend his commencement address given at Stanford University last year.

A Clash of Visions

Last week two global organisations with sharply contrasting views of how to deal with the world and all its challenges held their annual conferences--simultaneously:

The World Economic Forum and The World Social Forum.

Draw your own conclusions.

Too Little, Too Late

Zambia won it's third and final match against South Africa in the 2006 African Cup of Nations, 1-nil. It was scant consolation after the team was ignominiously ejected from the competition after a 2-1 loss to Guinea in the second match.

Many Zambian fans are calling for blood. A sacrifice to propitiate the Zambian football gods. The de facto coach and the erstwhile star player heads the list of the most popular sacrificial candidates.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Don't Be Evil?

The true test of corporate values isn't what's in a company's annual report or on its website. The true test is how a company behaves on a daily basis and how it responds in times of crisis. In business, as in politics, Harold Macmillan's famous words about what's liable to scupper the best laid plans ("Events, dear boy, events.") hold true. Recent events have presented such a test to Google in the form of the Google China censorship brouhaha (Deliciously weird word that, isn't it?). In particular, Google's actions in relation to its corporate motto, "Don't Be Evil", have been the subject of much discussion and criticism, as a quick search with, yes, you guessed it, Google will reveal.

According to one report from the just-ended 2006 World Economic Forum meeting, Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, explained his company's actions as follows:

"We concluded that although we weren't wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all. We actually did an evil scale and decided not to serve at all was worse evil."

Which is fair enough I suppose.

One can't help wondering though, what would Google do if say a Southern African government took a similar line to that of the Chinese goverment? That's not as farfetched as it sounds. There is such a thing as Google Zambia, for instance.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Zambia: Over and Out

The Zambia National Football team was yesterday eliminated from the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations. They lost 2-1 to Guinea, their second defeat in as many games. The result of Zambia's third (and last) match against South Africa, which has also been bundled out of the tournament after suffering two straight, will be purely academic.

They started well enough, playing good, attacking football. Their industry paid dividends in the 33rd minute: a headed goal by Elijah Tana, the captain, from a corner kick. One-nil. Unfortunately, it was not to be. In the second half, Guinea equalised from a penalty kick and then won the game with a goal scored two minutes from full time.

I can sum up the mood of the country in response to these exploits, or rather lack thereof, in a single word: angry. No. Make that two words: very angry. I think some compassionate countries around the world will very shortly be receiving desparate pleas for asylum from the 30 or so individuals in the Zambian squad. These men, and they are all men, are definitely persona non grata in Zambia. If they dare to return home, they may well become persona non exista. For any reader who at this point might be inclined to think I am engaging in any sort of incitement, I hasten to add that all of this is said in jest. However, it might be advisable for the team to stay away, for an extra week say, to let things cool down a little bit...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Billionaire Success Secrets

A good friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the Trump University website. Yes, that Trump, the one worth US$2.7 billion (according to Forbes Magazine) and the star of the reality show The Apprentice. (Side note: Is there a more ironical term than "reality show"?) The Donald has started an online company to shares the secrets of success with the world. For a fee, of course. However, some of the material is free and pretty darn good actually: see for instance the Newsletters, Ask Mr. Trump and Trump Audio sections. There's some priceless stuff in them thar links. Enjoy.

The late great Peter F. Drucker predicted the imminent rise of online education. Considering his incredible batting average as far as predicting future trends, or as he modestly called it "looking out of the window", is concerned, I wouldn't bet against him.

Another Glorious Defeat by Zambia...

Although Zambia is constitutionally a Christian nation, the national religion is football (or soccer to my North American friends). So, fittingly, last Sunday, the whole nation was at worship before the Shrine of ZNBC. The occasion was Zambia's first game in the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, Africa's premier football championship being contested in Egypt by the continent's 16 leading footballing nations.

It was, once again, another glorious defeat by Zambia. Our opponents were Tunisia. We received a 4-1 drubbing at their merciless hands (or, more accurately, feet). Tunisia played well, very well; they will be a handful for any team in the World Cup coming up later this year. Quite against the initial run of play, Zambia snatched the first goal in the 9th minute through James Chamanga, a pacy and skillful striker who, along with the goalkeeper George Kolala, was a revelation in this game. It was as though the prayers of all the faithful had been answered. Unfortunately, it was not to last. I think it's fair to say that after that Tunisia dominated the game, scoring an equaliser in the 36th minute, and then three further goals in the second half, although, ironically, we played better in the second half. Ho hum. As I said, it was another glorious defeat. Our next game is on Thursday against Guinea. If we lose that game, we're pretty much sunk and the collective pronoun in the nation's speech will shift imperceptibly from "we" to "they". Sorry boys, if you don't perform, you're on your own.

But we live in hope. Such is the masochistic lot of the Zambian football fan(atic).

I've been impressed with the quality of the football in the championship. African football has certainly come a long way. I'm sure fans all over the world are enjoying this feast of football. No wonder MTN, the mobile communications giant with global aspirations but (so far) a largely pan-African footprint, seized the opportunity to sponsor the competition. It'll do their global brand recognition a power of good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Perfect for Biltong

Does the world really need another blog? Isn't this really just another instance of self-indulgent online narcissism? Does this blog really have anything new to say?

The short answers are: yes; no; and yes.

The longer answers are:

Yes, the world really does need another blog. The more the merrier, I say. But wait a minute, you say, what about information overload? Well, what about it? Quality outs. Cream always rises to the top. And a host of similar cliches I could throw at you, all containing the proverbial kernel of truth. Point being, it doesn't take the good citizens of the web long to distinguish the pointed from the pointless. At least, it shouldn't.

No, this really isn't just another instance of self-indulgent online narcissism. I hope to cover a great many other topics besides those surrounding the individual yours truly refers to by the vertical pronoun. Naturally, a little navel-gazing will be unavoidable from time to time, but even then I hope it will be free of the odour of self-indulgence. One can but try. We'll see.

Yes, this blog really does have something new to say. Or perhaps more accurately: something new to see. For I write, as it happens, from deepest, darkest Africa. Lusaka, Zambia, to be precise. (Lusaka being the capital city of the said Southern African country, Zambia.) Living here, you can't help but have something new to see. If you did (live here, that is) you'd know exactly what I mean. So perhaps this little blog of mine will give you a glimpse of what it's like to live in, and see from, this most intriguing and beguiling part of the world.

Finally, a word about the title of this blog.

Biltong is a South(ern) African delicacy or snack: it's essentially strips of dried, seasoned meat. The "South(ern)" is to account for the fact that although this delicacy originated in South Africa, it has spread and is enjoyed over much of the rest of Southern Africa, Zambia included.

The term "Perfect for Biltong" was coined by Augustine Lungu, a versatile Zambian actor and comedian who has played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, among others. He used the term in a humourous television ad to describe a particularly healthy herd of beef cattle. What exactly was being advertised I don't quite recall, but anyhow, after this ad went on the air, the phrase "perfect for biltong" became popular in Zambia to describe anything that was extremely well suited (perfect indeed) for some given purpose (the production of biltong, for instance).

This blog lays no claim to perfection. And, alas, the marvels of contemporary web technology have not yet caught up with Star Trek's replicator, so, sadly, I am unable to share with you the culinary pleasures of real biltong.

Rather, we shall have to be content to merely aim for perfection. And make do with the metaphorical equivalent of biltong: strips of fine, dry, seasoned blogtong, as it were.

Here goes.