Saturday, July 30, 2011


“We pass through this world but once and the opportunities you miss will never be available to you again.”
- Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night

The Malawian poet and linguist Jack Mapanje has a gift for striking titles. And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night (Ayebia, 2011) is the title of his latest book, a memoir (some 20 years in the writing) of his detention without charge or trial on the 25th of September, 1987. He spent the next "three years, seven months, 16 days and more than 12 hours" in Malawi's infamous Mikuyu Prison. He was released on the 10th of May, 1991. He has never received an official explanation for his detention.

Some of Mapanje's other titles are:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Between the devil and the deep blue Zambezi

On Zambia Online: Chanda Chisala has written a very lucid and balanced analysis of the dilemma facing the Zambian electorate this year.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ridley vs. Gates

From The Wall Steet Journal:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ridley vs. Mackay

Dr. Matt Ridley, author of the The Rational Optimist, debates some of the finer points of climate change in response to a long letter by Prof. David Mackay, author of Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air and Chief Scientific Adviser at the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which, in turn, was written in reponse to an earlier article by Ridley.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Models behaving badly

Dr. David Stainforth of the London School of Economics took part in the Royal Society's recent Summer Science Exhibition. His exhibit was on the uncertainties involved in climate modelling. Some of his ideas are discussed in a new article on the Scientific American website.

The fundamental problem with the climate (and any long-term models of it) is this: it is chaotic. That's chaotic, in the mathematical sense. That means that the climate and certain other nonlinear dynamical systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Change the initial conditions, even slightly, and the long(er) terms results of your predictions diverge substantially. That's the basic reason why meteorologists are only able to offer us fairly short term predictions of the weather. The further out the prediction, the less likely it is to be accurate.

This phenomenon of sensitivity to initial conditions was discovered by Edward N. Lorenz. It's often called "the butterfly effect" because of a paper given by Lorenz in 1972 to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. entitled "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?". Lorenz's papers are a model (no pun intended) of scientific profundity and clarity (a rare combination in science). Virtually all of his key papers are available on this link at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. Definitely worth a look.

The danger of a single story

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who is Keyser Soze?

From The Usual Suspects:
Verbal (Kevin Spacey): Who was Keyser Soze?

Verbal (Kevin Spacey): He's supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody ever believed he was real. Nobody ever knew him or saw anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. [...] and like that, poof, he's gone. Underground. Nobody's ever seen him since. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night: "Rat on your pop and Keyser Soze will get you." And no one ever really believes.

Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri): Do you believe in him Verbal?

Verbal (Kevin Spacey): Keaton always said: "I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of Him." Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Noble Soul

Nelson Mandela turns 93 today.

His latest book, Nelson Mandela by Himself, an authorised collection of his own quotations, was launched recently. It's on my wishlist. Alongside, the launch his foundation published some publicity material for the book which is well worth reading. It contains some of the quotations featured in the book. This is one of my favourites:
On Equality

I have never regarded any man as my superior, either in my life outside or inside prison.

From a letter to General Du Preez, Commissioner of Prisons, written on Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa, 12 July 1976

A great man.

A great man.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Googlean Memory

Have you ever wondered about the impact that being able to Google anything has on our (more traditional) mental capabilities? I certainly have.

A new article published in Science, by Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu and Daniel M. Wegner, reports on four experiments to investigate the effects of Google on memory. The results are intriguing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The write stuff

Evidence-based advice on overcoming graphophobia, one of the scientist's occupational hazards.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Inside Intuition

The cognitive pschologist Gary Klein on intution: its value and some of its mechanisms.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Just So Stories

Reading Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories (first published in 1902!) to the boys at bedtime. Excellent.

We're rich! Or are we?

William Wallis, the Financial Times's Africa editor, has written a fascinating article on the mixed blessings associated with Ghana's newfound oil resources. Dr. Mensa Otabil has some very interesting thoughts on how best Ghana can manage this wealth.