From sub-Saharan Africa’s infrastructure gap to organizing data on cellular neurophisiology, the world of today is filled with information challenges that only crowds of smart volunteers can help tackle.
With this, we tap into the treasure trove of cases and data that we have been gathering for you in the first six months of 2015 and sharing in our newsletter. To subscribe to the Steppes in Sync Figures and Facts That Tell The Tale newsletter, click here.
In How to earn $3 per diem for applying chemicals in the field: Zimbabwe Tobacco Revival, Coal Logistics & Indigenous Hardwoods out of the door by 2050 we ask: What exactly do we do to educate Zimbabwe’s 90,000 small-scale tobacco farmers about deforestation? To promote alternative energy sources? And diversify the Southern African nation’s economy while developing healthier sources of income? And don’t forget those two-dollar wages a day for the labor toiling in the field, as you ponder similar complex problems that increasingly vie for our attention.
How do you execute on big stuff, to get big stuff done, inspire the builders of the new world?
Social entrepreneurs, says Jeremy Rifkin, will be less driven by the profit motive, and will willingly give their talents to the various networks they are in, to improve their social reputation within them. Mr Rifkin is a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business Executive Education Program, where he instructs CEOs and senior management on transitioning their business operations into sustainable economies. In this connected and collaborative world economy, the idea of the artist as an individual genius, which is so implanted in our consciousness, is “absurd”.
[The millennials] have a different idea of freedom. My generation defines it as being autonomous, not beholden to others, and values exclusivity. Young people are all about inclusivity, access to networks, transparency. Further autonomy is death.
… Artists will no longer be so interested in creating a sense of immortality. The transitoriness of the experience, the enjoyment of the moment, will be everything. Life will be seen as a series of unique moments. And maybe we will see that reflected more in the art.
For 38 out of 54 African countries, data on poverty and inequality are either out-dated or non-existent. Only 3 % of African citizens live in countries where governmental budgets and expenditures are made open.
You need money or, once again, loads of volunteer man/hours to collect and analyze the data in a professional way. In 2013, out of a total aid budget of $134.8bn, a mere $280m went in support of statistics.
Establishing a statistical office is less eye-catching than building a hospital or school but data driven policy will ensure that more hospital and schools are delivered more effectively and efficiently.
NeuroElectro, an open access database of electrophysiological properties of different types of neurons. Become a neuron curator here.
Be aware that we live in a world of growing — often conflicting — needs for public funding. Space consumed more than 4 % of government spending in the US during the 1960s race to the moon. 0.5 % — the current proportion of federal spending devoted to Nasa — is reasonable. If other industrialised countries raised space spending closer to that level (the UK figure is about 0.05 %) there would be enough to fund robotic exploration and to send people further out than the moon or space station.
We have sent a probe 500M km to a comet to analyse rock samples, but virtually no geologist has yet dug his spade into the crater of the highest mountain in the planet’s largest desert.
Same applies to the ocean exploration. Some argue that we now know more about the outer space, fund more research of space that about our own oceanbed. But fields of study can be combined.
Working in the Antarctic wilderness, 630km from the South Pole, 760m under the floating glacier ice and 500km to 600km from the nearest open ocean that isn’t covered by ice, scientists recently found fish, about 15 cm long. It lends credence to the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life, as some of the environments that scientists are targeting for study lie in what are thought to be oceans under thick ice covers such as on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
The $8bn Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful atom smasher, restarted in spring after a two-year maintenance shutdown — a second round after inaugural three-year run from 2009 to 2012.
Be aware of industrial megatrends and timings. IMS Health, the healthcare information group, expects almost 200 drugs to be launched worldwide in the next five years, the highest level since the mid-2000s. The length of time it takes to get a new product to market is highest in pharmaceuticals, at 10-12 years, beating the 6-8 years taken to develop an aeroplane. The cost of launching a drug, at $1.25bn, says Deloitte, is equal to that of developing a new car and behind only the $3.75bn cost of a new aeroplane.
With this in mind, don’t forget that timing and setting the right, meetable deadlines is a skill to develop throughout your career as a strategic volunteer, social entrepreneur.
NASA says its Mars campaign is aimed at sending humans to the Red Planet and its moons by the 2030s — but Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, says there’s a downside to having such a stretched-out timeline.
You can’t do this on a 24-year timeline because God’s patience is not infinite, and the U.S. Congress is considerably worse.
Meanwhile a mission plan is being discussed that calls for a 9-month cruise to Mars; 12 months in orbit, with a potential landing on Phobos or Deimos; and nine months back to Earth. The orbital odysseys could open the way for sending a two-person crew for a 30-day stay on the Martian surface in 2039 — and then putting four astronauts on Mars for a yearlong stay in 2043. NASA is committed to supporting the International Space Station through 2024, and the agency has not yet spelled out what will happen after that.
Get the science, technology of it, be a science communicator.
Towers of height 15-25 km could be easily built using present-day materials. Space launch from the top of such a tower would have a long list of advantages.
This week we were “utterly shocked” by the absence of cluster munition survival videos on the web. Check Google, YouTube. All you can get out of those communications is the utter shock of mutilation, death and devastation the murderers take pleasure in leaving you with. Georgia, Syria, now Ukraine.
Alright, shocked and killed we can easily be by just stepping out on the street. That’s not what we expect from the world wide web, folks! We look for life-saving information, we seek solutions to the problem.
Staying resilient in the face of unexpected 300 mm missile attacks is as good a problem as washing your Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy. So why are we flooded by video tutorials about the latter and lack the solution basics of the former?
As our town of Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine was shelled by heavy weaponry earlier this week, we wondered what the public security experience will be for those who survive the deadly attack by Smerch BM30 rockets. And — here and now — should we really care who launched them as long as we know how to dodge them?!
Okay, let the Kyiv- and New York-based journos speculate about geopolitics. From the safety of their homes.
Most messages beamed by the mainstream based-not-in-Kramatorsk media just drummed up the confrontation tune highlighting the — otherwise important facts that — cluster munitions are banned under international law and that Ukraine was shocked by the attack on a community “some 50 km behind Ukrainian lines and [thus] considered relatively safe before the attack.”
Some bits of life-granting solution communication came from the Governor of Donetsk Oblast Oleksandr Kikhtenko. At a press conference hours after the attack, he shed some light on the mechanics and electronics behind the killing power of 300 mm missiles — sure we all wish we knew that information much earlier; and the media is to still stamp the survival drill into our minds.
Some kudos also go to the Odesa Oblast Administration (Southern Ukraine) and the local news outlet here in Kramatorsk named Vostochnyy Proekt for sharing these bomb survival videos:
Sure thing, Ukrainians start to come out of the cluster munition attacks more resilient, survival tactics savvy. But like in any awareness raising/behavior change campaign having the right communication tools is as important as repeating the vital message a quadrillion times.
Problem reporting is so analog age. In the digital 21st century let’s finally start to think and communicate solutions, not just problems.
To our global reader out there, next time you are “utterly shocked” and think of launching a Twitter campaign — think @clusterbombsurvival not just @banclustermunition.
As part of our African Literature as Creative Enterprise series, Brian Jones and Jane Morris of amaBooks talk to John Eppel.
Here is how the Bulawayo, Zimbabwe-based author explains his relationship with the amaBooks duo:
[They] would have been my first choice for all my books, but they seldom have the wherewithal to finance a publication; that is largely because they have the commitment (and courage) to promote new Zimbabwean writing, including poetry, which almost nobody buys. ..More people write poetry than read it
’amaBooks started in 2000 on an inner impulse to raise money for the Bulawayo branch of the charity Childline. It was John Eppel who donated a collection of his poems to be published to raise money. A professor of mathematics — Brian Jones — and Jane Morris, a clinical social worker — with a university background in literature — set themselves a goal of mastering the printing press.
You chose to come together with Togara Muzanenhamo to produce Textures. What are the advantages to you of combining your work with that of another poet in one anthology?
The singular advantage, I hope, is to Zimbabwean literature. Why should it remain segregated, more than 30 years after Independence?
What is it about Togara poetry that encouraged you to publish together? Could you give a short example of his work in this anthology that you particularly appreciate, and why?
Togara is a gifted poet, a born poet. Poetry comes as naturally to him as the leaves to a tree. Keats makes this point in a letter to John Taylor, 27 Feb. 1818. That’s why I wanted to be published with him. I appreciate all his poems, so here is a random selection:
And he lets his mind roam the landscape
others had always owned on their breath –
the beauty of mist and light, the grandeur of silence.
On the sofa the two of them cuddled,
warm and snug –wine in their heads.
Effortlessly, time and again, he blends history with the moment.
In the introduction to Textures, by Dr Drew Shaw, there is mention of the poetry here emphasising form as well as content. Why is form important?
Content is common to all genres; form distinguishes them. Form and content become inseparable in the best poems: ‘I am soft sift in an hour glass’ [Gerard Manly Hopkins].
The reputation of many poets in Zimbabwe has been enhanced by their participation and success in 'performance' events. Both of you are primarily regarded as performance poets. Can you suggest ways in which your work could be brought to the attention of poetry lovers across Zimbabwe, and elsewhere?
‘Only the usual ways: wider distribution of the book, reviews by reputable academics and writers, interviews, readings, exposure on social media networks, book signings…. Easier said than done.’
Can you please choose a poem of your own from Textures, and briefly explain your motivation in writing the poem.
‘Looking for you’. This is one of lyric poetry’s oldest themes – losing a loved one.
Where do you find the subject matter for your poems?
In the suburbs of Bulawayo.
One of John’s novels spent more than seven months with Penguin South Africa before it was rejected on the grounds that the publishers did not think they could make a commercial success of it.
While publishers have to balance between pursuit of happiness — yes, publishers are human beings as well — and need to finance future projects, authors often lack time.
Life happens to African writers the same as to the rest of us. John Eppel writes during school holidays and occasionally over the weekends. Which meant he wasn’t able to squeeze in some more creative time to answer a bunch of other questions we still have for him.
Dear Reader, if you manage to get a hold of John Eppel at a cultural event around Southern Africa or happen into his backyard garden to chat by the black roses, Rhodesian Ridgeback at your feet, please ask John one of the following and drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org:
In our first interview for the 2015 amaBooks x Steppes in Sync series on African Literature,Tendai Huchu names John Eppel’s George J. George as a quinessential quixotic character in African literature. Any other Don Quixotes that should catch our eyes in African literary corpus?