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I’ve just finished reading a fastinating book by Tim Butcher. Subtitled ‘A Journey to the Broken Heart of Africa’ it tells of how he managed to re-create the journey of Henry Morgan Stanley from the Eastern shores of Lake Tanganyka across country to the Congo River and then down the river to the Atlantic Coast.  Stanley (of Dr Livingstone I presume fame) was a journalist with the Telegraph newspaper and could see the commercial potential of this vast un-mapped country with a wealth of natural resources.

The Democratic Repubic of Congo is unique of all countries on earth in that it is evolving backwards. Stanley claimed sovereignty of the country for the King of Belgium, King Leopold (the king only not the Belgian Government) in 1879 and then began one of the worst colonial regimes imaginable. By 1964 when independence came the Congo river was navigable between the two main sets of cataracts, there were railways and roads but they had been built at a price to the local population.  Various regimes have been in power since and a five year war in which millions were killed, finished in 1999.

The Congo has since literally returned to its roots. One leg of the journey, about 1,000 Km is done in a traditional dug out canoe.  At one point, as he is travelling through dense rain forest in which he cannot see the sun for the tree canopy, his foot catches on something in the ground – he scrapes away the earth and it is the remains of a railway line. There is no indication at all around him that a rail track ever went through the area. His journey was truly of epic proportions. He has empathy with the people who helped him and the plight that they find themselves in; one contact asked Butcher to take his 4 year old son along with him, as there was no prospect for him in the Congo.  Mostly this is a highly readable account of a journey which should have been impossible but he managed it.

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I posted a few weeks ago on the TED prize winner Neil Turok’s vision to find an African Einstein with the setting up of 15 advanced centres for Mathematics and Science based in Africa.  He donated his £50,000 prize fund to Aims – the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, which he founded.

Professor Sir Stephen Hawking has made the journey to South Africa to launch the project today, along with 2 Nobel laureates in Physics, the Head of NASA and the South African Education Minister.  The British Government have declined to provide funding so the organisers have turned to high-tech entrepreneurs and scientists to back the plan.  The complete TED talk is here and well worth taking the time to watch.  There is also an interesting article in the Sunday Times today.

The latest TED conference took place last month in Monteray California. If you haven’t come across these talks they are awe inspiring. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and began in 1984 as a conference devoted to the converging fields of technology, entertainment and design. Over the years, the scope has broadened. But the formula remains the same: Gather the world’s leading thinkers and doers; offer them four days of rapid-fire stimulation. The result? Unexpected connections. Extraordinary insights. Powerful inspiration.

The talks are made available on the TED website and one of the latest is by Professor Neil Turok, who is a theoretical physicist who grew up in Africa. He was the founder of the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town, South Africa. As he says “If you don’t have math, you are not going to enter the modern age.” At AIMS “We emphasize problem-solving, working in groups. Everyone lives together in the hotel, lecturers and students, so it’s not surprising to find impromptu tutorials at 1am. We specially emphasize areas of great relevance to African development”.

His wish is to create 15 more across the continent.

The physics stuff in here is pretty mind blowing – well it is for me, but the ideas and thoughts behind the AIMS project are truly inspirational. See the whole talk – here.

You can become a member of TED for free and even attend one of the Conferences – if you have a spare $6,000.

Animoto seems to be all over the blogs at the moment. It’s a great site that creates professional standard videos from your photos. There are a number of music tracks you can choose and you can do a 30 second video for free. See here for my trip to Emau Hill.

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