Thursday, March 29, 2012

New search tool to unlock Wikipedia

Would you like to ask Wikipedia tougher questions than today's simple keyword searches allow? A prototype plug-in that can do just that will be demonstrated at the World Wide Web conference in Lyon, France, next month.
Called Swipe - loosely short for "searching Wikipedia by example" - the software aims to let users of the online encyclopedia answer complex questions that most search engines would stumble over. For example, trying to figure out "which actresses won academy awards when they were under 30 years old in the last 25 years?" becomes relatively simple when using the program.
To use Swipe, questions are not typed out in the form of the natural language above, but Swipe is nevertheless designed for everyday users: no knowledge of arcane database query languages is necessary, say the developers, Maurizio Atzori at the University of Cagliari, Sardinia, and Carlo Zaniolo at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The pair wrote Swipe using MediaWiki, the software Wikipedia is based on, but it draws its answers from DBpedia, an expansive collection of 3.6 million data entries harvested from Wikipedia's pages. The data pop up in the info boxes on the right-hand side of Wikipedia entries, which list the details we use to describe the world, such as dates, prices, ages, heights, names, places, distances, bit rates, bytes, running times and geographical coordinates.
At a very basic level, Atzori and Zaniolo use this process in reverse: Swipe "activates" those Wikipedia info boxes, allowing users to take the data in them and create a tweaked version, and in doing so calls up pages that match that altered information. For example, says Atzori: "Imagine you want to search for all Wikipedia pages about singers from North America who are younger than 20." With Swipe running, you go to an example of a known singer's page - Lady Gaga's, say - and in the "Born" field overwrite her age of 25 with "<20" and replace "New York, New York" with "North America". Swipe then automatically converts that into a DBpedia query that returns a page with a list of entries that match your requirements.
In a demo video, the pair show how to use pop singer Robbie Williams's Wikipedia page to find a list of "musicians" with the first name "Mike" who don't play "poprock" - by overwriting his name and occupation, and placing the construct "un" before the genre "poprock" (watch the video above).
Swipe could easily be made available as an option on Wikipedia one day, says Atzori.
"I like the idea because of its simplicity and the way it uses familiar Wikipedia info boxes to construct powerful queries," says Nigel Shadbolt, head of the web and internet science group at the University of Southampton, UK.
 "Structured data resources like DBpedia represent a really rich knowledge base," he adds, but they are difficult for the average internet user to take advantage of. "If we could build a query engine that's usable by all, that would be a real winner," he says.


The case for science in Africa

Africa faces serious problems – droughts and famines, infectious diseases and a shortage of good housing, to name a few. Each country also faces unique challenges, from the recent conflicts in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to exceptionally high HIV infection rates in South Africa.
Filomena Anjos, a Mozambican scientist 
Earlier last year, science ministers from the continent agreed to start an "African decade of science". Financial resources are scarce, however, and the need to address critical problems urgent. How do governments juggle spending on science with humanitarian needs?
There are examples of excellent science in Africa which may provide the answer. The UK's science academy, the Royal Society, has for the past six years recognised the work of young scientists from the continent through its Pfizer award. Last year's winner, Julie Makani, is working to save thousands of Tanzanians from sickle-cell disease (SCD).
Something that has struck me about Makani is her extensive links to researchers inside and outside Africa. Such collaboration is likely to be the linchpin of further scientific success in Africa: researchers there need to be able to identify problems and then engage with peers in Europe, Asia and the US to find solutions. The Leverhulme-Royal Society Africa Awards for collaborative research projects between the UK and research institutions in Ghana or Tanzania help support this.
Pledges and reality
Africa has been of special interest to me since my son was a volunteer in Ethiopia under the VSO scheme in 2003. As a scientist I can see the benefit that science could bring. But I am also conscious that it is difficult for African governments to justify funding a lot of basic research.
Young African scientists at work
For example, in 1980, as part of the Lagos Plan of Action adopted by the Organization of African Unity – the African Union's predecessor – African governments pledged to spend 1 per cent of GDP on R&D, a goal that was restated in 2003. However, of the 54 member nations of the African Union, only South Africa, Uganda and Malawi have achieved anything close to this.
Most African countries get the majority of their R&D budgets from overseas, mainly from philanthropists, non-governmental organisations, aid agencies and traditional funders such as the Wellcome Trust. There is a need for this, but some might argue that it prevents the nations from choosing their own research priorities.

This article is by Martyn Poliakoff, a research professor in chemistry at the University of Nottingham, UK,  and honorary member of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2002 and took over as its foreign secretary at the end of November last year. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Women rapists terrorize men in Zimbabwe

Some rape suspects leaving a Harare court after a hearing
The popular angle to the story is about men raping women.  But the order is changing in Zimbabwe as men are now the ones being raped.  Sounds bizarre?
The story is that gangs of beautiful women in Zimbabwe have been picking up male hitchhikers to have sexual intercourse and harvest their sperm for use in traditional luck-enhancing 'juju' rituals.
This must be  one of the direct consequences of Robert Mugabe's destruction of the once great economy.

Read more here:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Building libraries for Africa

Africa's population has surpassed one billion, yet only 10% of all Internet users are African. Over the next 10 years, Africa is set to be one of the fastest growing markets for information technology in the world. Libraries Across Africa, LAA for short, (a non-governmental initiative) responds to this opportunity with an innovative approach: to deliver both digital and customizable book-based services.
This is a great idea worthy of commendation and support.  According to Norman Cousins, the great American journalist/professor, “the library is not a shrine for the worship of books.  It is not a temple where literary incense must be burned or where one's devotion to the bound book is expressed in ritual.  A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas - a place where history comes to life.”
Here is another thought on library by Carl Sagan – a renowned astronomer, astrophysicist and science communicator.  I hope as you read this, you will find a way to support such initiatives as LAA because of the immeasurably great value they add to our very existence -
The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species.  I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Meltdown for Russell 'Kony 2012' filmaker

Jason Russell, the marquee-handsome and new-media-brilliant founder of the charity Invisible Children, has more or less shredded its reputation in a matter of weeks. Perhaps, Kony has sent some juju against him.
First came the bizarre, self-congratulatory "Kony 2012" campaign. Now comes a meltdown - reports about police arrest of Russell. He was found in the street semi-nude masturbating, screaming and interfering with traffic, which his charity explains as a reaction to "exhaustion."
The success of the film brought criticism of Invisible Children for the way it spends its money, for a photograph of its founders, including Russell, holding rifles, and for other matters.  That criticism took its toll on Russell, according to his wife, Danica Russell, who released a statement Friday.
While the attention the film has drawn has brought increased awareness of Kony, Ms. Russell said, “it also brought a lot of attention to Jason — and because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why ‘Kony 2012’ is a huge digital success

As at date, a population at least 3 times that of Uganda’s 32.36 million has watched the youtube video on Joseph Kony, a rebel and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group notorious for recruiting and arming child soldiers..  Invisible Children’s controversial “Kony 2012 video has reached unprecedented heights for a social-cause video. The most amazing thing to many people is that the video is nearly 30 minutes long, which surely breaks the “rule” that online videos need to be short to be effective.

Armed child soldier on guard 
Christian Science Monitor in an article today, gives three reasons for the huge success the video has recorded in online viewership. 
Here are the three reasons:
•  The organization told its own story first, a story of how it developed passion for the issue, how its members came together, and why it is critical for its supporters to act. The video follows a storytelling pattern developed by Marshall Ganz, a lecturer at Harvard University and is taught by the New Organizing Institute. Mr. Ganz says this pattern uses three stories: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now.
Jason Russell
•  It made the story simple. The issues in Northern Uganda are very complicated. But Invisible Children chose to simplify those issues by focusing the video on the story of one bad guy: Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, operating in Central Africa. The video places a strong focus on emotion, which, in turn, inspired many viewers to share it and take action.
•  It made the viewer the hero. This video isn’t about Mr. Kony. It’s about the viewer and how that viewer can be the hero by taking action. In the video, Mr. Kony is portrayed as evil – as if he is a villain in a Batman movie. And if he is the evil villain, then you, the person fighting him, are the hero.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Imafidon twins - Mathematical wonder kids

Nigerian kids who stunned the world of mathematics.  This is the kind of story we long to see regularly told of Naija.  The potential abound, but leadership remains a major challenge.

Meet twins Paula and Peter Imafidon - they passed the University of Cambridge Advanced Maths A level at just 8 years old.  Amazing.  Very amazing.  They chat to GMTV's John Stapleton.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Boko Haram – Is poverty the cause? (I)

“According to official figures, the leading oil producing state, Rivers, received N1,053 billion between 1999 and 2008 in federal allocations. By contrast the North-eastern states of Yobe and Borno, where the Boko Haram sect was created, received N175bn and N213bn respectively. Broken down on a per capita basis, the contrast is even starker. In 2008 the 18.97m people who lived in the six states in the north-east received on average N1,156 per person.
Lamido Sanusi, Governor, CBN
“By contrast Rivers State was allocated N3,965 per capita, and on average the oil producing South- South region received on average N3,332 per capita. This imbalance is compounded when the cost of an amnesty programme for militants in the delta is included together with an additional 1 per cent for a special development body for the Niger Delta. To boot, the theft of oil by profiteers in the region diverts tens of millions more weekly from federal coffers.” – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

Yes, forget these per capita figures! I agree the North is poor. Yes, I agree the poverty has bred millions of beggars, who have become instant and easy recruits for Boko Haram. But my question is: Who impoverished the North?
A caveat: I am an unabashed capitalist who believe that every citizen has a right to do good business and make profit. I salute hard work and do not disparage honest efforts. However, uncompassionate capitalism driven by pulleys of aristocracy breeds a brutal class order worthy of condemnation.
In my recent article titled, “El-Rufai’s amnesia: The day Boko Haram wore jeans”, I categorically stated that greed and the senseless chase for power by the Fulani aristocrats and political elite of the North are responsible for the extreme poverty of the North. I still and will always stand by that. My position did not go down well with my targets; they responded vituperatively.
Apparently, Sanusi’s statistics were intended to mislead us by ruffling the rudder of our common sense. See, Ekiti State has a 2012 budget 0f N88bn; Kwara State, N90bn; Cross River State, N144bn; Anambra State, N82bn; Enugu State, N74bn. Now let’s look at the 2012 budgets recently passed into law by the four major Boko Haram-occupied states: Kano State has a budget of N 210bn; Borno, N150bn; Gombe, N94 billion; Yobe, N80bn.
A simple comparative analysis shows that Ekiti has about the same revenue as Yobe and Gombe, but only 17 pupils passed the West African Examinations in Gombe last year, while Ekiti is known for its high literacy level. Gombe State has a bigger budget than Enugu and Anambra, why hasn’t the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra bombed anyone?
Borno State has a budget twice that of Enugu State but the poverty and unemployment level in Borno is more than thrice that of Enugu. Borno has a bigger budget than that of Cross River, a Niger Delta state, but while the leaders of the latter over the last decade have transformed it into the nation’s leading tourist destination, those of Borno have transformed it into a Somalia!
Kano State gets the highest statutory allocation from the Federal Government, because on paper, it is the most populous state in Nigeria, yet Kano has about 1.6 million poor Almajiris. Curiously, the state has a budget almost thrice the budget of Enugu, twice the budget of Kwara, Anambra and Ekiti. But, how come almost 90 per cent of pupils in Kano fail WAEC exam? How come the poverty level in Kano is higher than all these states put together?
Why is the North so poor? From the figures above I have shown that Southern states with lesser budgets have shown better development performance than most North-East states with bigger statutory allocations and budgets.
Now, I need to tackle the sensitive question of revenue allocation that has infuriated the Sanusi,  Nasir el-Rufai and their likes. Niger Delta states get higher revenue allocations because they contribute virtually all the eggs in the national crate. That is expected. Albeit the 13 per cent remains grossly inadequate, the CBN Governor has suggested that the ‘Boko boys’ are resisting the disparity.
I want to posit that the North-East through their aristocrats and ex-military rulers (except perhaps, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari rtd.) rake in more oil money (ironically, from the Niger Delta) individually than any Niger Delta state, and collectively more than twice the entire Niger Delta put together! In this disquisition, I have attempted to show that 80 per cent of crude oil and gas produced by indigenous companies is controlled by the North-East. It is an area they have well conquered through Generals Ibrahim Babangida,  Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar. However, the loot never gets back home.
In this first part, I will attempt to describe the uneven nature of the distribution of the nation’s wealth among the Northern aristocratic families and their military generals who for decades ‘looted’ Nigeria’s oil wealth. They did so blatantly, and while Nigeria was weeping about oil windfall loot and others. Nigerians would wail if they know how much of the nation’s resources these folks allocated to themselves and their business fronts before they stepped aside.
Let us therefore begin.
To the state of origin of Boko Haram: Borno State. Enter Cavendish Petroleum, the operators of OML 110 – with good yielding OBE field. This oil block was awarded to Alhaji Mai Deribe — the Borno patriarch, who even in death will remain the richest man dead or alive in the history of the state — by Abacha on July 8, 1996. OML 110 has a proven oil reserve in excess of 500 million barrels (More than the entire 300 milliom barrels reserve of Sudan). As yet with the capacity to produce about 120,000 barrels of crude oil daily from its OBE 4 and OBE 5 wells. At optimal production levels, Cavendish nets circa N4bn monthly in crude oil sales (Using current oil price of $100pb). Cavendish Petroleum’s N4bn monthly net dwarfs the monthly statutory allocation of Borno which is about N3bn and its internally generated revenue which staggers around N1bn.
I will then shift to the centre of the aristocratic hegemony in the North-Wast – Kano. Here, enter the Fulani Prince, Nasiru Ado Bayero, Sanusi’s cousin. He is a key shareholder and director in Seplat/Platform petroleum operators of the Asuokpu/Umutu Marginal Field with a capacity of 300,000 barrels monthly and A 30mmfcsd gas plant capable of feeding 100MT of LPG. The Ado Bayeros, Yar’Aduas and Atiku Abubakars are Nigerian holders of Intels. It is a private port that has grounded three Federal ports in the South. Intels is discussed later.

• AUTHOR - Ross Alabo-George, (Principal Consultant, Proxy Logics Nigeria, Port Harcourt, Rivers State).  He can be reached via

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How mobile broadband can transform Africa

Two boys play with a cellular phone in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia

In the next five years, there are likely to be as many mobile cellular subscriptions as there are people on this planet. By 2020, pundits predict more than 50 billion connected devices.
With seven billion people's needs to serve, information and communications technologies (ICTs) represent the single most powerful channel we have ever had to reach out to others, wherever they may live, whatever their circumstances. They also represent our best hope of accelerating progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the target date of 2015.
Can Africa reach its 2015 MDGs? If countries embrace the unique power of mobile broadband technology, I believe many have a good chance.
The eight MDGs cannot be separated. If you combat disease, you also reduce child mortality; if you give every child a primary education, you promote gender equality. It is because these goals are interlinked that broadband is so important.