Sunday, December 08, 2013

Notes and Neurons

Bobby McFerrin demonstrating the intuitive power of the pentatonic scale at the World Science Festival 2009:

Monday, July 01, 2013

Cloaks and Medals

Professor Sir John Pendry, the physicist behind the concept of "invisibility cloaking", has been awarded the Institute of Physics's 2013 Isaac Newton Medal.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Good African

The inspirational story of how Andrew Rugasira and his partners built the Good African Coffee company in Uganda.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Kirsten on Coaching

Cricket coach Gary Kirsten on his philosophy of coaching.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Soyinkan Skewering

There are put-downs and then there are Soyinkan skewerings:
The saddest part for me was that this work was bound to give joy to sterile literary aspirants like Adewale Maja-Pearce, whose self-published book – self-respecting publishers having rejected his trash – sought to create a “tragedy” out of the relationships among the earlier named “pioneer quartet” and, with meanness aforethought, rubbish them all – [Wole Soyinka] especially. Chinua [Achebe] got off the lightest. A compendium of outright impudent lies, fish market gossip, unanchored attributions, trendy drivel and name dropping, this is a ghetto tract that tries to pass itself up as a product of research, and has actually succeeded in fooling at least one respectable scholar. For this reason alone, there will be more said, in another place, on that hatchet mission of an inept hustler.
Leaving aside the accuracy or propriety (or otherwise) of Soyinka's comments, the words with which he makes them are undoubtedly entertaining. They also illustrate his uniquely dense, verbose, prolix -- and highly effective -- style. This is interesting because the general advice to avoid bombastic language is good advice. Soyinka is one of the very few writers who has somehow managed to make a virtue of verbosity.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Wal-Mart Way

Reading The Wal-Mart Way: The Inside Story of the Success of the World's Largest Company by Don Soderquist:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How To Train Your Dragon

Reading (to the boys at bedtime):

Wonderful book. Beautifully written and quirkily illustrated by Cressida Cowell, the author. It's the first in the recorded adventures of one Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, an unlikely Viking hero. It routinely has the boys laughing out loud. And brings out a few smiles and chuckles in the reader too (me). The best thing I can say about it is: thank God there are eight more books in the series!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thursday, May 09, 2013

True Freedom

We don't begin to know what [true] freedom is until we come to a place in our lives where we have no need to impress anybody. - Joyce Meyer

Investing in African Prosperity

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Best

There's a popular saying in the Bemba language: "Inshimbi ni nshimbi".

It defies adequate translation into English -- it literally means "metal is metal".

Its intended meaning, though, is that, sometimes, one must simply acknowledge the undeniable facts. Metal is metal, and nothing else.

It's painful to say this as an Arsenal fan, but not as an all-round football fan: it is an undeniable fact that Sir Alex Ferguson, who today stepped down as Manager of Manchester United, is quite simply the best football manager who has ever lived. His record at Manchester United alone speaks for itself: one Club World Cup title; two European Champions League titles; thirteen English Premier League titles; five English FA Cup titles. Not to mention many other less well known trophies. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson's greatness transcends even football itself. Judged on the basis of delivery of consistent results over time using finite resources, Sir Alex Ferguson is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers, of any kind, who has ever lived. Inshimbi ni nshimbi, Metal is metal.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Greatness in Leadership

From the May 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review:

HBR: As someone who’s known Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, what do you think makes a leader great?

Maya Angelou: A leader sees greatness in other people. You can’t be much of a leader if all you see is yourself.

Monday, April 29, 2013


For those who may not have children, it may be a little-known fact that Google is one of today's most essential parenting tools. Particularly when you get asked those difficult, almost-impossible-to-answer, barely-remembered-from-school questions. What causes lightning? What about thunder? When did the dinosaurs become extinct? What is the name of THAT dinosaur? Unfortunately, not all questions are googleable. Like the one my son asked me this afternoon:

The Son: Dad, why can't you buy a best friend?

Your Humble Servant:  [Puzzled] What do you mean? Why are you even asking me that question? Where did it come from?

The Son: Well, in Gumball they say "I'll be your best friend for ten bucks!"

Your Humble Servant: Ah, OK, so then you know that in the real world that doesn't happen, right?

The Son: Right, but why not? Why can't you buy a best friend? 


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wisdom for the journey

Something I heard this weekend:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Reforming Nigeria's Financial Sector

Some of the world's most innovative and effective financial sector policy and regulation over the last five years has been in Nigeria, and led by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Friday, April 05, 2013

Scrubbing the Furious Walls of Mikuyu

Jack Mapanje reading "Scrubbing the Furious Walls of Mikuyu", the most powerful of the poems he composed and kept entirely in his head when he was imprisoned -- "without charge, without trial" in the poem's refrain -- for three years, seven months, sixteen days and more than twelve hours:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chinua Achebe on the Power and Purpose of Stories

In Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe's fifth major novel, one of the characters, an old man, explains the power and purpose of stories:

To some of us the Owner of the World has apportioned the gift to tell their fellows that the time to get up has finally come. To others He gives the eagerness to rise when they hear the call; to rise with racing blood and put on their garbs of war and go to the boundary of their town to engage the invading enemy boldly in battle. And then there are those others whose part is to wait and when the struggle is ended, to take over and recount its story.

The sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of the war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards--each is important in its own way. I tell you there is not one of them we could do without. But if you ask me which of them takes the eagle-feather I will say boldly: the story. Do you hear me? Now, when I was younger, if you had asked me the same question I would have replied without a pause: the battle. But age gives to a man some things with the right hand even as it takes away others with the left. The torrent of an old man’s water may no longer smash into the bole of the roadside tree a full stride away as it once did but fall around his feet like a woman’s; but in return the eye of his mind is given wing to fly away beyond the familiar sights of the homestead…

So why do I say that the story is chief among his fellows? The same reason I think that our people sometimes will give the name Nkolika to their daughters--Recalling-Is-Greatest. Why? Because it is only the story that can continue beyond the war and the warrior. Because it is only the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns us and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbours. […]

So the arrogant fool who sits astride the story as though it were a bowl of foo-foo set before him by his wife understands little about the world. The story will roll him into a ball, dip him in the soup and swallow him first. I tell you he is like the puppy who swings himself around and farts into a blazing fire with the aim to put it out. Can he? No, the story is everlasting…Like fire, when it is not blazing it is smouldering under its own ashes or sleeping and resting inside its flint-house.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mere Anarchy: The Life and Work of Chinua Achebe

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
     -- W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"
Chinua Achebe died this week. He was 82. At 28, he loosed "Things Fall Apart" upon a completely unsuspecting and unprepared world. It was a cataclysmic event, but only his first and most famous act of mere anarchy. Achebe had a habit of doing that: totally changing the world's thinking with gracious nonchalance. He did it again in the 1970s with his critique of Western conceptions of Africa and Africans, of which Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" just happened to be the unfortunate literary example. No one has ever read "Heart of Darkness" in quite the same way since. A deeply principled and thoughtful man, Achebe has left an indelible mark on world literature. Several commentators have invoked a fitting West African proverb: A great tree has fallen. Indeed: a great tree has fallen, but it will continue to nourish the earth with its substance.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Holistic thinking on innovation and entrepreneurship

Most thinking about innovation and entrepreneurship tends to be atomistic. And for good reason: such is the breadth and depth of the subject matter that mastery of any one aspect requires considerable specialisation. However, this does not obviate the need for holistic thinking. Indeed, it increases the need for it. Prof. Calestous Juma of Harvard University and Prof. Daniel Isenberg of Babson College are two of the world's leading holistic thinkers on innovation and entrepreneurship, respectively.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Square Kilometre Array

Design and construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the largest and most powerful radio-telescope in history, is about to begin very soon. Most of the SKA will be deployed in Africa.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

(The?) Engineering Prize

It's ironic that there is no universally recognised prize, equivalent to the Nobel Prize in science, for breakthroughs in engineering. Ironic because, of course, Alfred Nobel was an engineer himself. Perhaps the newly inaugurated Queen Elizabeth Prize will remedy this situation. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mobius on Templeton

What Dr. Mark Mobius learnt from Sir John Templeton.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Misfiring Economist

Africa made the cover of The Economist last week, as it does the cover of many a magazine these days. And lately the news, or more accurately the views, have been largely positive. I don't mean to be churlish towards our good friends at The Economist -- and one should never take these things too literally -- but is a giraffe with an abnormally elongated neck really the best visual depiction of "Aspiring Africa" that they could come up with?

If the aim was to dispel stereotypical (and wrong) notions about "Africa", doesn't representing the continent by this abnormal giraffe achieve the exact opposite? (And giraffes are wonderful creatures, I hasten to add.) Sadly the first thing that springs to the minds of many outside Africa about Africa are wild animals, not aspiring people. So when people think about Madagascar, or more recently Zambezia, for instance, they think of talking animals and almost never of the remarkable people that populate those African locations.

Just a thought.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

When Hope and History Rhyme


The memoirs of Amina Cachalia, a prominent South African political activist, who died recently. She was a longtime friend and ally of Nelson Mandela. The title comes from some verses of Seamus Heaney's wonderful translation of Sophocles's tragic play Philoctetes:

History says don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Kierkegaardian (adj.)

Life must be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
- Soren Kierkegaard

Monday, March 04, 2013

Mama Africa

On what would have been her 81st birthday, the late great Miriam Makeba was honoured with her own Google doodle:

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Favourite Building

Designed by the Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management is one of my favourite works of contemporary architecture:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Flip Magazine Zambia

Zambian satirical magazine:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Start-Up of You

The slideshare visual summary of the book is now available.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Inspirational Words

It's my birthday today! I got two beautiful cards, one from my wife and one from our kids. One of our kids wrote this in their card:

To the world you're just a dad, to your kids you're a hero.

Wow. That made my day, my week, my month and my year. In fact, it's enough inspiration to last my whole lifetime.

Reids shaking in the wind

Reid Hoffman is one of the best commentators on the contemporary tech industry. I always find his writing insightful and thought-provoking. He writes short(er) blog posts for LinkedIn and long(er) essays for his own website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Alternative Finance

The BBC's Evan Davis recently interviewed the co-founders of three technology-based services that are disrupting conventional banking and financial services: M-Pesa (mobile money), Zopa (peer-to-peer lending for individuals) and MartketInvoice (auction-based online marketplace for unpaid business invoices).

Friday, February 08, 2013


From the King's Singers, 400 years of classical music in less than 10 minutes:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

From Indignation to Indifference

The Economist May 13th, 2000
The Economist
(13 May 2000)
The Economist 3rd Dec 2011
The Economist
(3 December 2011)

I can still remember my immediate reaction to The Economist's now (in)famous "hopeless continent" cover back in the year 2000: indignation. How dare they pass judgement on an entire continent and its millions of individual citizens?

My response to the magazine's "Africa rising" cover over a decade later was not one of elation, rather it was one of indifference. Why? What had I learnt in the interim? It was this: Ultimately, it doesn't really matter what "they" think, whether good or ill, and whoever "they" may be. What really matters is what Africans themselves think (about themselves and about their continent) and, more importantly, what they do -- or don't do -- about it.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Who is African?

"We are Africans not because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us."
- Chester Higgins Jr. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fair or Fowl?

Having just finished reading The Hobbit (a most enjoyable experience), the boys and I were in need of another bedtime reading companion. And so, foraging in the children's section of our local bookshop, I came across the latest Artemis Fowl novel prominently displayed at the top of the shelf. The eighth in the series. The eighth! Successful then, very successful, but are they any good? We shall soon find out. Being new to the series, we have begun at the beginning:

jacket image for Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer - large version

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hear, hear!

I agree fully with the following comment by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda made at yesterday's World Economic Forum panel session on "De-risking Africa" (Don't all investment destinations and opportunities necessarily come with some form of risk? The whole notion of "de-risking" an entire continent seems misguided at best...):
The major problem is that Africa's story is written from somewhere else and not by African themselves. That is why the rest of the world looks at Africa and wants to define it. They want to shape the perception about Africa. The best we can do for ourselves is to own our problems, own our solutions and write our stories. That will also give us the right definition about the level of risks, real risks and the perception part of it will also be put in its right place.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The African Investment Story

This short interview with Larry Seruma published in the The Wall Street Transcript back in 2010 does a great job of telling the African investment story (well, part of it anyway) in a clear, concise and compelling way.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

New discovery

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Generation of Greatness

Courtesy of Hal Abelson: Edwin H. Land's classic 1957 address on inspiring and educating young (and old) minds.