Saturday, January 31, 2015

20 Things You May Not Know About Africa But Really Should

The World’s First Planned City Was in Egypt

An Egyptian city called Kahun was the world’s first planned city. Plans for the city divided it into two sections. While wealthier residents lived on one side of the city, the other part housed “ordinary people” who did not have as much wealth. The city also featured a system of stone gutters that ran through the center of every street.

Drainage system

Ancient Egyptians Mastered Sewage and Drainage Systems

When most people think of ancient cities of any kind, they automatically eliminate the luxuries we are used to today. While ancient Egypt certainly didn’t have complex sewage systems that people are accustomed to now, this ancient civilization had already developed an efficient sewage and drainage system that served as evidence of the value they placed on cleanliness. An American urban planner noted the “great importance” that ancient Egyptians placed on cleanliness, especially in a city known as Amarna. “Toilets and sewers were in use to dispose waste,” the planner noted. “Soap was made for washing the body. Perfumer and essences were popular against body odor. A solution of natron was used to keep insects from houses…. Amarna may have been the first planned ‘garden city.’” According to historians, ancient Egyptians were “pretty adept with drainage construction” by 2500 B.C.

African People Were Making Steel for More than 1,500 Years

Evidence was discovered in 1978 that suggests East Africans had already mastered making steel. Assistant professor of anthropology Peter Schmidt and professor of engineering Donald H. Avery found that Africans had produced carbon steel in preheated forced draft furnaces as long as 2,000 years ago. The method was “technologically more sophisticated than any developed in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century.”

Africans Were the First to Organize Fishing Expeditions

It is believed that African people were the first to organize fishing expeditions at least 90,000 years ago. A variety of harpoon points have been discovered in Katanda, Congo, which academics believe points to the existence of an early fishing-based culture.

The Oldest Table of Prime Numbers Was Discovered in Africa

In 1960, Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt discovered the Ishango Bone in Lake Edward. The small lake borders Congo and Uganda and is believed to be the oldest table of prime numbers to ever be discovered.

Ethiopia Was Recognized as One of the World’s Greatest Empires

One modern scholar wrote of the city of Ethiopia and claimed that, “In the first half of the first millennium C.E., [Ethiopia] was ranked as one of the world’s greatest empires.” A Persian cleric of the third century also noted that Ethiopia was the third most important state in the world behind Persia and Rome.

Egyptians Didn’t Just Build Beautiful Pyramids, They Built Mansions as Well

Many people don’t think of lavish mansions when they imagine ancient Egypt, but it is believed that these master craftsmen were building mansions long before anyone else. Egyptian mansions were discovered in Kahun. These large homes had more than 70 rooms and a variety of different quarters for masters, women, servants and more.
 building in stone

West Africans Were Some of the First People to Build in Stone

In the Tichitt-Walata region of Mauritania, archaeologists have discovered “large stone masonry villages” that date back to at least 1100 B.C. These villages consisted of somewhat circular compounds that were connected through a series of “well-defined” streets.

Old Checks Have Been Found in Ancient Ghana

That’s right. Checks actually aren’t as new of an invention as many people would want to believe. There is evidence to suggest that the people of ancient Ghana may have used checks. An Arab geographer, Ibn Haukal, was visiting a region of ancient Ghana in 951. Haukal wrote an account of an old check he discovered for more than 40,000 golden dinars that was written to a merchant in the city of Audoghast.

Some African Civilizations Used Glass Windows

There is evidence that some African civilizations were already using glass windows. One academic wrote of a residence belonging to a Ghanaian Emperor in 1116 and described the home as a “well-built castle, thoroughly fortified, decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having glass windows.” Other excavations at the Malian City of Gao also revealed evidence of glass windows.

Gold Mining Took Place on a Massive Scale All Across Africa

West Africans were mining for gold all throughout history, and one modern writer said that early African people actually managed to mine up to 3,500 tons of gold. According to one modern writer, this is worth a staggering “$30 billion in today’s market.” South Africans also saw great achievements in gold mining. Another modern writer noted that, “The estimated amount of gold ore mined from the entire region by the ancients was staggering, exceeding 43 million tons. The ore yielded nearly 700 tons of pure gold, which today would be valued at over $7.5 billion.”

Mali in the 14th Century Was a Very Urbanized Civilization

Italian art and architecture scholar Sergio Domian noted the incredible work that has been discovered in Mali, explaining that Mali had “laid the foundation” for an urban civilization.” “At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated,” Domian wrote.

West African Scholars of the 16th Century Were Known to Have Thousands of Books

West African scholars had incredible numbers of books in the 16th century. In fact, they often had so many books that a library of a little over 1,000 books was considered child’s play. West African scholar Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying he had the smallest library of all his friends and colleagues with “only 1600 volumes.”

Benin Art of the Middle Ages Was of Exceptional Quality

An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde said most pieces of Benin art were “equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique … Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.”

The People of Ancient African Civilizations Had Frequently Built Impressive Walled Cities

Long before the age of technology and the development of mechanics that helped many civilizations create their walled cities, the people of Nigeria had already erected an impressive walled city. The Nigerian City of Eredo was built around the ninth century and was surrounded by a 100-mile-long, 70-foot-high wall. The wall encompassed 400 square miles in its interior. Scholars have pointed to multiple examples of ancient walled cities that were discovered throughout Africa.

The Capital City of Kanem-Bornu Was One of the Largest Cities in the 17th Century World

The capital city of Kanem-Bornu, Ngazargamu, was one of the largest cities of its time. According to an architectural scholar, the city housed a “quarter of a million people” and had a system of roughly 660 streets. Academics also believe the wide, unbending streets throughout the city are evidence of careful planning that took place in order to create the large city.
At its most stable period, it was said that any woman wearing gold could safely walk the streets unaccompanied, according to This was at a time when few women ventured out alone in London or in Paris for fear of attack.

The City of Carthage Was Opulent and Impressive

By the third century B.C., the city of Carthage grew to be an impressive collection of lavish homes and had a staggering population. The city off the coast of Tunisia is believed to have housed at least 700,000 people and contained streets lined with towering homes that were, on average, six stories high.

Africans Were Already Studying the Stars and Creating a Lunar Calendar

Ruins of a 300 B.C. astronomical observatory in Kenya serve as a reminder of just how advanced ancient Egyptians were when it came to studying the stars and other heavenly bodies. It is believed that Africans were already mapping movements of stars such as Triangulum, Aldebaran, Bellatrix, Central Orion and the moon. They were believed to be creating a lunar calendar of 354 days.

Ancient Africans Were Highly Advanced in the Field of Medicine

According to the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1884, surgeons in ancient Africa were routinely completing effective autopsies and Caesarean operations. The surgeons already had a strong understanding of antiseptics and anesthetics and had a variety of natural remedies for illnesses and other medical conditions.

Ancient Egyptians Had Water Purifiers

A ruined mosque in the Kenyan city of Gedi revealed evidence of early water purifiers. The mosque held what appeared to be a water purifier made of limestone that the ancient Egyptians used for recycling water.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is this Britain's smartest schoolboy? 11-year-old boy with higher IQ than Einstein

AN 11-year-old schoolboy has joined Mensa after scoring higher than Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Albert Einstein in an IQ test.

Ramarni Wilfred started showing signs of genius as a toddler, when his favourite book was an encyclopedia.

He could read and write by the time he started reception at school and last year, at the age of 10 and still in primary school, wrote a philosophy paper on fairness that earned him a 2:1 and a mock Oxford graduation.

When his reception class wanted to move him up a year, mum Anthea objected, wanting him to grow up with other kids his age.

Ramarni WilfredBoy Genius: Ramarni Wilfred is a member of Mensa at the age of 11
Prof. Hawking, Microsoft founder Gates and Einstein all have 160 IQs. Ramarni scored 162, putting him in the top 1% in the UK.

Anthea, 37, said: “He’s still just a little boy doing normal childhood stuff. While he reads the New Scientist and the Sky at Night, he still plays with his dog, watches the Disney Channel and reads comics.

“Mensa allows him to talk and be with other people as clever as he is for the things that go over my head.

“He doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I love his humility and I love having my own personal walking, talking dictionary/thesaurus/calculator!”

Ramarni, who will be starting Year 8 at secondary school next month, harbours hopes of one day studying at Oxford and becoming an astrophysicist.

The modest youngster, from Romford, Essex, said: “I can’t begin to compare myself to these great men whose hard work clearly proves that they are true geniuses.

“This is a great opportunity and I think it can open a lot of doors for me. But I also believe that having a high IQ isn’t that important unless you do something really special with it.”

PA / GettyProfessor Stephen HawkingBetter than Best: And it was higher than Professor Stephen Hawking
Ramarni’s former teacher, Valerie Mulae, described him as “remarkable”, adding: “He just stood out. He shone.”

Mensa’s chief executive, John Stevenage, said: “Anyone who registers an IQ score which places them in the top two per cent of the population has done remarkably well. The score Ramarni achieved therefore is very good and shows he has great potential.”


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Maya Penn: Artist. Coder. CEO. Philanthropist. Ninth-grader.

Maya Penn is a successful 14-year-old entrepreneur who wants to change the world by using her art and her business to help the planet and getting girls involved in tech.

I spent an hour talking on the phone to Maya Penn. We giggled and chatted about pizza and sushi, Facebook, bedtimes, and sleepovers. I forgot, for a moment, that I was in the TechRepublic office and not in my childhood bedroom, curled up on the rug with my old corded purple phone in my hand.

I had made friends with a 14-year-old. But more than that, I had made a connection with a young businesswoman -- one that I truly believe has the ability to change the world for the better. When we hung up, I wanted to call her back and pick her brain some more -- to ask her about her business plans, her book deals, her sociological insights, and her hopes for the future of technology.

In short, I was completely inspired.

Penn is the CEO of Maya's Ideas, which she founded when she was eight years old. Penn is an entrepreneur, a technologist, a philanthropist, an artist, an author, an animator, and a coder. Maya's Ideas is a site where she sells eco-friendly clothing and accessories like scarves, hats, and hair clips. She started the business because she liked sewing headbands, and people started asking her to make them. She began selling them on Etsy, but quickly realized she could build a brand of her own. And, this is more than just a cute idea -- Maya's Ideas generated more than $30,000 in 2012.

Penn lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her mother and father, two dogs, and two cats. Her parents collectively homeschool her. She is currently in the ninth grade, but she is as busy as any other startup founder you'll find.

"My mom especially always really encouraged me to do what I love, and my dad has opened me up to finding things I love," she said.

One of those loves is for technology. When Penn was just four years old, her father taught her to take apart a computer and put it back together again. It was amazing, she said, because she had never seen what a technology device was made of, or what it was capable of.

Last year, she gave a TED talk for TEDWomen2013 about being a young female entrepreneur. It was her first big speaking engagement, and she admitted she was very nervous.

"That's good it doesn't show, but I was definitely nervous," she said. "That was one of the biggest stages I have ever spoken on, and it went global."

Indeed it did. The talk has almost a million views on the TED website, and Penn has been asked to travel and do many other speaking engagements since then. "I do enjoy public speaking because I get to make a lot of new friends after I speak," she said.

At the TED talk, Penn debuted her first animation short, "Malicious Dishes," an animated series about computer viruses, which she plans to turn into full-length episodes soon.

The idea stemmed several years ago, when Penn had a virus in her computer. While she was waiting for the anti-virus programs to finish scanning, she wondered, "What if viruses in my computer have personalities?" So she drew an animation about the stories of these viruses, who traveled via USB drives around a computer world that humans were unaware of. Penn also drew another series called "The Pollinators" about bees and other pollinators and their impact on the environment.

And, her animation isn't limited to the digital world. She is an author of two children's books, which she illustrated herself. Penn is currently working on another book, a memoir about her journey as a young entrepreneur and her advice for children with similar aspirations.

As if that wasn't enough, Penn is also a self-described coder. She coded her company's first website on her own by learning basic HTML. She was 10.

"My interest in coding spurred from the company. At the time I was trying to get a more professional and customized website, and I wondered how people built websites from scratch, what were all the nooks and crannies, key parts of how websites were built, the actual raw code," she said.

The process helped her see how much work went into making a simple web page. Now, she is learning Python by taking a class with her father. She doesn't necessarily want to start a business around coding (yet), but she sees the importance in understanding it as a technology and business tool. The ultimate definition of being "tech savvy," she said, is being somewhat familiar with code, and that's especially important for girls.

"The field of tech isn't very even, gender wise, and I think that that really needs to change," Penn said. "Anybody can code, no matter your gender, race, how old you are...we need girls to represent and say 'Look we like to code and program and script just as much as anyone else does. We are just as capable,' and I speak on that to my nonprofits."

Oh, did I mention she donates 10 to 20 percent of her profits to nonprofits? Environmental stewardship is one of Penn's most notable platforms, and she is very knowledgeable about climate change and sustainability. She has her own non-profit, Maya's Ideas 4 the Planet. She also volunteers regularly at local food banks and recycling events in Atlanta.

She's currently working on a project to make biodegradable sanitary pads for women in developing countries that either do have to miss school when they are on their menstrual cycles or use mud and rocks, or other things harmful to their health. Traditional sanitary pads are harmful to the environment, so Penn is trying to fix that.

Penn is incredibly eloquent when she speaks, but she also has an infectious energy, and people have noticed. She has made a splash in the business world already, and has been written about by plenty of publications, especially since her TED Talk.

One of the most amazing things about children is their ability to simplify things that adults would ordinarily see as complicated. If a problem exists, there is usually an easy solution, and all we have to do is harness it. Penn is very wise for her age, but the simplistic honesty in her answers can't help but make you smile.

"When a lot of companies grow, they become too isolated with their customers, and might kind of ignore them in a way," she said. "Customers and fans are what got their business to grow so big, so why would you ignore them?"

Running a business has helped her grow both spiritually and mentally, Penn said. "You learn stuff in business you can use in everyday life, stuff you can't learn anywhere else. You have to just love doing it it and be willing to put the hard work and commitment into it."

For now, Penn is content with staying as busy as possible, trying to get as much done during the week and learning through both school and work. She knows it will take some time because, after all, her bedtime is still 9:00 p.m., and she's not supposed to work on weekends.

"I just have to see what the future will hold because I have so many different passions focused on so many different fields. I'm not even sure where all this will take me, but whatever I want to do, I want to give back in some way," she said.

When I asked her, what, more than anything, she hopes people say about her in 20 years, her response had nothing to do with her many business ideas -- those ideas she is already afraid she doesn't have enough hours in the day to do.

"I hope people take away that no matter who you are, where you're from, what your background is, you should be able to do anything you dream of and always do something that can help other people, help the planet in some way," Penn said. "You don't have to start a nonprofit to give back. It's the little things."

In her own words...
What are some of your other hobbies?

"I hang out with my friends, have sleepovers and different things like that. I go on church trips and like tennis and playing piano. I personally like origami. I don't know why I recently got interested. And sculpting, really almost any visual art I can get my hands on."

What food do you like?

"I like a variety of things...Pizza, sushi, I also like cake. And this is not a food, it's a drink, but me and my mom make green shakes from different apples, kale, broccoli. We eat organic and natural foods too, which are really nice and taste really good."

What tech tool are you most excited for?

"I personally am excited for Oculus Rift. I'm already into gaming myself, and I've always been interested in designing one of my own games in the future."

Who are your mentors?

"I know one is Lauren Faust, an animator and writer. She has worked on a lot of shows like Powerpuff Girls, and is one of my biggest inspirations for going forward with animation and my artistic passion... Pat Mitchell, the CEO for Paley Center of Media. I met her through the TEDWomen talk, and she is a really amazing woman and very inspirational and a good friend of mine. Also, Alexis Ohanian, one of the co-founders of Reddit. I met him on book tour for one of his new books."

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

"It's really important to live your life to the fullest and do what you love. Go for it, do it when you want to do it. And don't let [anything] set you back, if you love doing it and really want to just go ahead."