I need a bicycle

Yes, you read that right. I need a bike. A good old bike to ride on Sunday mornings when the majority are still asleep.

A bike to burn some fat which is creeping on me like a thief in the night, as the bible would say.

Bhasikoro
Bhasikoro

More importantly a bike to take me down memory lane. To that old dusty village road where I learnt to cycle almost two decades ago.

You can now send and receive smells

This is a few months old but still interesting:

“Harvard Professor David Edwards and a former student, Rachel Field, want to harness the evocative power of smell, not just to bring us back, but to bring us closer.

Field and Edwards, the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Idea Translation at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering, today demonstrated a smell-based device called an oPhone, which aims to add another sense to digital communications.

The pair bridged the Atlantic Ocean during a New York news conference this morning when Edwards sent a sniff of a New York breakfast — fresh bread, orange juice, and strawberries — to Paris, where colleagues returned the favor, sending the fragrance of champagne and macaroons wafting back.”

– via The Harvard Gazette

Ah, isn’t this wonderful? And the potential uses…..so vast, so exciting. Perfumes, food industry, wine manufacture etc can all use this new “oPhone”.

But I’d get it just to smell my mother’s kitchen. Ha, to be taken to the village in an instant. That’s the beauty and joy of technology.

A Pencil per Child: Rachel Chard’s Noble Quest

I must admit that I have no idea who Rachel Chard is. But she was featured on a blog I sometimes read, Selentine. The article “Rachel Chard and her quest to raise 10000 pencils” says:

From time to time I find inspiration in different things and places. One of the initiatives that caught my eye recently was by the efforts of a young Zimbabwean lady called Rachel Chard, she is a 23 year old who studied Hospitality Management and is awaiting graduation. She is an animal rights activist and has just recently started her charity organisation called Raising Hope which is looking to donate pencils to the less fortunate school children.

via Selentine

A considerate young woman I think who deserves our support.

Reminded me of when I was growing up in the village back in the late nineties. Some kids could not afford pencils, which may seem surprising to some of you. But despite the (relatively) low cost of pencils there are many Zimbabwean children who do not afford them.

A pencil can change the world
A pencil can change the world

This is also a sad reflection of the nation’s state of affairs. At a time when computer literacy is becoming mandatory in developed countries, and coding is taught in schools, we are still unable to make sure that we have enough pencils and books for our future leaders.

While in other countries there are plans to teach young people to solve technical problems using computers here we have some children who have never seen a computer, much less used one. We are destroying the future.

Which is why I support the actions of organisations like One Laptop per Child, which manufactures and distributes low cost laptops to kids in developing nations. We are behind, and we desperately need to catch up.

We really need to do more to improve our education and introduce computing and computers in schools. We can all play our small parts.

In the meantime we can support Rachel Chard in her quest to raise 10000 pencils.

 

PS: You can email Rachel Chard at rachelchard33@yahoo.com.

Richard Feynman: The Beauty of Physics

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

That is how Professor Richard Feynman concluded the first lecture, The Law of Gravitation, which was part of a seven lecture course titled ‘The Character of Physical Law’ which he delivered at Cornell in 1964.

It is an interesting and engaging lecture about the nature of gravity, gravitational fields, the attraction of masses and how people like Newton, Galileo, Copernicus and others discovered how the planets were organised and also how Newton was able to join the pieces of the puzzle and come up with the famous:

F = GMm/r2

Feynman was a brilliant physicist, he won the Albert Einstein Award , the E. O. Lawrence Award, the Nobel Prize in Physics (1965) the Oersted Medal in 1972, National Medal of Science and others. Yet his greatest gift was his ability to explain complex ideas in simple language.

The Great Explainer: Richard Feynman
The Great Explainer: Richard Feynman

Aptly called “The Great Explainer” Mr Feynman was a brilliant teacher. This is made evident in a physics textbook based on his lectures The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The lectures were given to undergraduate students at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), during 1961–1963.

In three volumes Feynman explains diverse topics, from mechanics to electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. The book has been called the most popular physics textbook ever written and it is easy to see why. Feynman had a way of simplifying things for his audience.

The good news is that Feynman’s lectures are now freely accessible on the web, some videos and the full text of the book.

If you are a physics buff or someone interested in refreshing your physics knowledge or just looking to understand how some physical phenomena works, this book is the best you can get. And for no charge.

Head over here for the text and here for the seven lectures in which Feynman , in threads, reveals the organisation of the entire tapestry.

You won’t be disappointed.

On my 23rd: 23 Books You Absolutely Have to Read

I will soon turn 23. Yeah, I was born on the 11th of September. The infamous 9/11. I also happen to share a birthday with the Syrian politician Assad, and 11 September is also the day when Pinochet overthrew Allende.

So as you can see, it’s a pretty famous day. Unfortunately (very alikely, fortunately) I happen not be famous but that can be changed by a leaked sex tape or two ehhh?

But enough of history and fame comrades and friends and on to more important issues. And what can be more important than books, good books? Well women, for one thing, or beer or having lots of money, or owning a big bank, a nice farm and a mine if you’re a Zimbabwean politician.

Yeah, yeah, all that. But let’s pretend that books are important….because they are. A friend recently said those who say money doesn’t buy happiness have obviously never been to a bookstore with money. I agree wholly with him.

Which is why, on the occasion of my 23rd birthday I will list 23 good books (more like 23 authors really) which you should pick up and read, if you haven’t already done so. The list will also hopefully inform you of my tastes, so you can give me a welcome present, lol.

So here goes:

1. The Holy Bible- Moses and the rest of the Gang

Well, coz it’s the Bible

2 Nervous Conditions- Tsitsi Dangarembga

“I was not sorry when my brother died.”- Opener, Nervous Conditions

Now what can be more epic than that? Without a doubt Zimbabwe’s greatest novel.

3. Wretched of the Earth- Frantz Fanon

Great book, one of my five favourite books. Fanon talks decolonisation, and the development of newly liberated states.

4. The Story of My Life- Joshua Nkomo

Written by Zimbabwe’s foremost statesman during the war for liberation. An essential for any self-respecting Zimbabwean.

5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X- Alex Hailey and Malcolm X

The greatest speaker during the civil rights movement. Malcolm combined sharp wit and a commanding voice, dazzling audiences and winning enemies and admirers alike. This is his life.

6. The Meditations of Emperor Marcus Aurelius- Marcus Aurelius

Possibly the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Timeless wisdom from a man who was the most powerful man of his time, yet one who always remained human. And strong.

7. Long Walk to Freedom- Nelson Rolinhlahla Mandela

It’s Mandela. Read it.

8. Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe

“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements.”- Opener, Things Fall Apart

The most famous African novel. Its fame rests on solid achievement.

9. Devil on the Cross- Ngugi wa Thiongo

Ngugi at his best. And he might win the Nobel prize for Literature this year. So you will look cool if you’ve read him.

“Certain people in Ilmorog, our Ilmorog, told me that this story was too disgraceful, too shameful, that it should be concealed in the depths of everlasting darkness.”- Opener, Devil on the Cross

10. I write what I Like- Steve Bantu Biko

It’s Biko. He was the brightest of South Africa’s anti-apartheid activists.

11. House of Hunger- Dambudzo Marechera

“I got my things and left. The sun was coming up. I couldn’t think where to go”- Opener, House of Hunger

Brilliant. Mad. Brilliant.

12. The Lord of The Rings- J.R.R Tolkien

The king, the god, of fantasy. If you think Game of thrones is awesome and detailed, then what of Tolkien who revolutionised high fantasy. Nothing beats Tolkien.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

13. Dreams from My Father- Barack Obama

The most powerful man on earth, in his own words. Granted, he’s been tainted by power, but he’s still great.

14. The Prophet – Khalil Gibran

Gibran’s work has more wisdom per page than any other on this list.

15. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and Happiness after the Digital Explosion- Hal Abelson, Ken Leeden and Harry Lewis

This book discusses the consequences of using the internet, the future and the privacy issues. An essential.

16. The Wheel of Time Series (14 Books)- Robert Jordan (with Brandon Sanderson for the last two)

If Tolkien was god, then Jordan was an angel. The epic (and very very long) Wheel of Time Series has no equal in fantasy when it comes to detail, depth, intrigue or richness.

“What cannot be changed, must be endured.”

17. The Black Man’s Medicine- Muzi Kuzwayo

“The black man’s medicine is the white man”.

Are blacks truly incapable of doing anything without whites?

18. A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

The most famous fantasy writer at the moment. He gave us the Taegereyns, John Snow, Sir Barristan the Bold and others. Read him to impress those who only watch the movies.

‘”A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Read all five

19. The Art of War- Sun Tzu

Two thousand and more years old. Still relevant as ever. To many quotes, just too many brilliant ones:

“To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.”

and

“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles s not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

20. Animal Farm – George Orwell

The greatest political satire ever. Animal Farm is Orwell at his best- or perhaps his second best? There is also 1984, just as brilliant. read it if you wonder where “Big Brother” came from.

21. The Road Less Travelled- M. Scot Peck

“Life is difficult.” – Opener, The Road Less Travelled

It changed my life

22. The Importance of Living- Lin Yutang

My favourite Chinese. The greatest of them.

23. How to Win Friends and Influence People- Dale Carnegie

The world would be a much easier place to live if we all read this one.

[Disclaimer:

  1. This list is not the list of the greatest 23 books ever written, but it comes close.
  2. The list excludes some more political, Africa oriented books, which I list here
  3. This is a list of English works, or works, which are in English. There are other great books in Shona, which I may list at another time. ]

Words of Wisdom and Love from John Legend

 

Celebrities are generally not known for their cleverness or intellectual depth. Most of the times “celebrities” are in the news it’s for some stupid thing they would have done or said.

So it was refreshing to read John Legend’s commencement speech delivered to graduating students at the University of Pennsylvania on Monday.

It wasn’t one of those attempts at humour speeches that people sometimes give; it was a mature and profound delivery full of wisdom and lessons from a man who has done what most of us can only dream of.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he spoke about love. From the war in Iraq to the abducted Nigerian girls, from Trayvon Martin to quoting Alice walker, John Legend cleverly weaved a real gem of love, growing up and living. Below are some extracts that will stay with me for a long time:

I know what it’s like to be all ego in your 20s. I know what it’s like to be selfish and just focus on your immediate wants and desires. I know what it’s like to protect your heart from pain and disappointment. I know what it means to be all about the rat race and winning.

But years from now, when you look back on your time here on earth, your life and your happiness will be way more defined by the quality of your relationships, not the quantity. You’ll get much more joy out of depth, not breadth. It’s about finding and keeping the best relationships possible with the people around you. It’s about immersing yourself in your friendships and your family. It’s about being there for the people you care about, and knowing that they’ll be there for you.

I know. It’s not easy to go all in on love. I’m 35 and I’m married and I’m still learning how to do this completely. But I’ve found someone who makes me want to try, someone who makes me want to take that risk. And it’s made all the difference.

and:

It means American lives don’t count more than Iraqi lives. It means we see a young Palestinian kid not as a future security threat or demographic challenge, but as a future father, mother and lover. It means that the nearly 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria aren’t just their problem. They’re “our” girls too. It’s actually quite a challenge to love humankind in this way.

Professor Cornel West gives us a word for what this kind of love looks like in public. That word is justice.

If you’re committed to loving in public, it requires you opening your eyes to injustice, to see the world through the eyes of another. This is not a passive activity. You have to read. You have to travel to other neighborhoods, other parts of the world. You may have to get your hands dirty. You have to allow people to love you, and you have to love them back.

and finally:

I want you to live the best life you can. You can be world-changers. When you leave here today, you’re going to be looking for a lot of things: security, money, friendships, sex, all kinds of things. But the most important thing you’ll find is love.

So love your self, love your work, love the people around you. Dare to love those who are different from you, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, and who they love. Pursue this life of love with focus and passion and ambition and courage. Give it your all. And that will be your path to true success.

Profound….and relevant too. The whole speech can be found here.

The Nature of Ideas and Bits: Why Sharing that Nude Photo is a Bad Idea

While reading an interesting book called Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and Happiness After the Digital Explosion (which I’ll write about soon) I came across a quote by Thomas Jefferson concerning the nature of ideas:

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it”

In other words an idea is entirely yours if you don’t share it but once you do it becomes almost impossible to keep it from others. Yet, at the same time, the idea does not diminish or become any less because it is shared. Economists would say ideas are “non-exclusive” and “non-rivalrous”.

The quote reminded me, too, of a recent Facebook post by Econet founder Dr Strive Masiiwa where he said ideas are the most valuable things in the world. He was right, but once shared, they cease being exclusive- and perhaps their value falls.

I found myself thinking how these two properties make ideas both very powerful and very dangerous. It is because of this that we make progress, but the same properties lead to genocides, pogroms and discrimination.

But I digress; the reason why the quote is mentioned in Blown to Bits is to highlight the nature of “bits”- the digital signals that are the backbone of modern communication- and the possible consequences of sharing them.

Once you share, say a photo on Facebook or anywhere on the web, your control of that photo (in reality the bits that give you the illusion of there being an image) virtually ceases. Interestingly you would still have 100% of that image but no way of controlling its distribution.

These are some of the consequences of the digital age, and that’s what Blown to Bits is about.

Think about this the next time you get a brilliant idea, or more likely, when you want to upload that half-nude picture taken when you got drunk at a Christmas party in the village.

Meeting Fahad Hassan

On Wednesday evening I attended an event where the speaker was Fahad Hassan, an American entrepreneur and founder of Always Prepped– an “online dashboard for teachers” that helps them identify and solve the problems and needs of every child.

He spoke about how he entered the world of startups, explaining that he “grew up on the internet” and was always and always would be a geek. More reasons, of course, why Africans must take Computing education seriously- if not for the skills then there’s always the money.

Fahad said the best way for one to be successful in startups they have to identify a problem in the target market and then solve it. Merely having an idea/product is not enough- people must be willing to pay for that idea/product. It is also important to hang out with like-minded people..

A business is when people are willing to pay for your product, not merely having the product. —

Fahad Hassan

When someone how he kept going despite many rejections from investors- Farad had his idea rejected like 50 times- he gave the coolest answer ever:

You learn with every “no”. Every no has a “because” and that gives you ideas for improvement. Therefore the next no should not be for the same business, but for an improved version.

— Fahad Hassan

It was enlightening and I learnt a lot froom Fahad, enough to make me a millionaire one day, lol.

Fahad is here for Startup Weekend Harare, the first Startup weekend done in Zimbabwe. I would have attended if not for the costs- $60 or $50 ($30 for students like me) is just too much in an economy like ours. But there’s always a next time.

Hello World!

It is traditional for programming beginners to start by writing a simple program that prints “Hello World!” or a variation thereof. Since this is a blog on Computer Science and obviously some programming, I figure I should have started with a program.

So here’s a simple program, written in the cleanest language out there, Python. In a future post I will write about why you should seriously consider learning Python as your first language- in fact I will begin by by why you should learn to program (there’s just so few programmers in Africa and particularly Zimbabwe)- but for now here’s a simple program

 
[code lang=”python”]

print "Hello World!" #This is a simple program that doesn’t do much (written in Python 2)

[/code]

 

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I can call myself a programmer!

Hi….and Welcome

Hi there, though I am almost sure no one will read this but anyway…there has to be that first post no one is ever going to read. So here’s to my imaginary readership, in their millions, who are at this moment staring at screens, great and small, and reading this drivel.

Forgive me, it’s my first post but welcome, welcome to my blog. I am Tawanda, I love learning, and developing mobile apps though I have no idea how that’s done.

Ah, hopefully the next posts will make more sense…I am sleepy, it’s 02: 21 Hours around these parts.

Cheers