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Michael Landau Demonstrates Mobile Banking in Uganda
Mr. Landau is a former board member of Regalian PLC, a British real estate development company.
Mr. Landau has been an invited speaker at several conferences and forums, among them a presentation on “Africa’s Industrial Drive: The Private Sector and Corporate Citizenship” at the African Union/U.N. Global Compact Private Sector Forum in Addis Ababa. At this event MAP International was featured as “best practice.” Mr. Landau was also an invited speaker at the CHOGM, the Commonwealth Business Forum in November 2007 in Uganda, and was recently an invited speaker at the AOSIS/United Nations Foundation and Friends on Climate Change Roundtable, hosted by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.
Active in community-based initiatives, Mr. Landau has hosted and chaired several political forums and meetings with the New York City Police Department. He is the chairman of the Council of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of Manhattan (New York City), an umbrella group representing the Jewish community to government and political leaders. He also has extensive experience interfacing with UN leaders as a community representative—a relationship that began when he initiated the creation of a UN special stamp edition in remembrance of the International Day of Commemoration for Victims of the Holocaust.
Mr. Landau was recently invited to serve on the board of the World Sports Alliance, an intergovernmental organization whose mission is to use sport as a catalyst to design and implement programs to realize the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. He received his bachelor's degree from the London School of Economics and a master's degree in real estate development and finance from New York University. He received his law degree from Yeshiva University's Cardoza School of Law and is admitted to practice law in New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. He and his wife reside in New York City with their four children.
Question: Can you demonstrate how modern banking technology might help Africans?
Michael Landau: Imagine you’re in a village on a Friday night and you get to your village. It’s now 9:00 and your friend’s grandmother is very sick and you need to call the doctor. Problem is is that you go to your phone, you got no money left on your phone. And you look for the guy with a green jacket, yellow jacket to buy the scratch off cards. You can’t find him anywhere ‘cause he’s already, he’s already gone. He comes twice a week. He’s not going to be there ‘til Monday again. So, currently, you know, you hope your grandmother stays well until Monday morning. But now, you say, we’re part of the MAP system. We’re a post bank customer. We’ve actually got a whole mobile banking application. So what we’ll do is, the first thing we’ll do is to check the balance on the account. Now, this system is a live system that operates throughout Uganda but it’s a demonstration so the money is not real money that’s being, it’s not real cash but it’s a real system that’s actually working through Uganda. So if the cellular service is no good in this room over here, this demonstration won’t work. But the first thing we do is we got to balance on the account. So every transaction that we do, you have to check your, we have to get the, we have to put your pin code in. So we put in our pin code and we’re going to check now, see if we have service, you know, over here. If we do, we’re going to have a, our balance is going to be able to come through. And everybody’s going to see how much money I have in my bank account. You can see, 70,198,000 and change in my bank account. It’s roughly 2,000 shillings. It’s roughly $35,000. So now, we have money in the bank account. So now, we’re going to top-up the phones. We go to the buy prepaid and we’re going to put in our pin code. And then, we’re going to select, you know, kind of the primary bank account ‘cause we can choose different bank accounts that we want to work with. So we’re going to choose the primary account ‘cause that’s what’s program for now. And then, we’re going to pick, you see here, the primary savings credit. But we’re going to pick the primary. Now, we’re going to select the amount of money, just 2,000 shillings to the dollar. How many dollars, how many shillings of air time would you like to buy? 5,000 shillings. Okay, so we’re going to do 5,000 shillings. And we sell all the, we sell air time for all the companies in Uganda. So you can choose MTN, UTL, Warid, or Zain.
We’re going to go with Zain, formerly CelTel, and now, we’re going to go and buy the 5,000 shillings of air time and, see, Zain air time. And we got the success. And now, your balance went down to 193,000. Now, you got your 5,000 shillings of air time. So now, we’re going to call the doctor ‘cause, now, the doctor is on his way. So as we’re waiting for the doctor, why don’t we pay some bills. Right, the doctor is on his way. So what we have over here is we have beneficiaries. The way we have our system set up is that in order for people to pay their school fees, the schools got to be registered on our system. In order for people to pay their electricity bill, the electricity company has to be on our system. So I’m going to show you here some of the companies that are going to be registered on our system, that me, as a costumer, I’m going to be able to pay those bills directly from my phone in, when I’m sitting kind of comfortably under my tree in my village, now waiting for the doctor to come. So I don’t know, again, how much you can see or not. But the Kampala Junior High School, I’ve got one of my kids in the school, so now I can pay my school fees from my village without needing to go. And the school fees, and it’s registered for you, personally, to that one, the electrical company, the SACO, the insurance company. You want to buy a national lottery ticket, which is not set up yet but its all part of the potential for the future. Or if you’re a member of the Catholic Church and you want to pay your tithes, right, you can set up the Catholic Church. So now, people can pay their bills directly, which is tied in for them personally. It’s part of the system that we’re creating. So now, the doctor comes. We want to pay the doctor. So we’re going to pay to you, which is to pay the doctor. Again, we’re going to put up our code and then we’re going to pay the doctor.
Okay, we’ll give him 10,000 shillings. So we’ll do a 10,000. And now, we’re going to put in the number. The doctor we’ll assume doesn’t have a formal account on our system, meaning he’s not a beneficiary. He doesn’t have his own code number. But we’re going to just send to his phone number. So I’m going to plug in the phone number of an actual account and we’re going to reference, we’re going to put Dr. Big Think. All right? He’s a big thinking doctor. So here, this is the screen that we’re going to be sending. And now, we’re going to pay. So now, the doctor will be over there. And he’s about to give service to your grandmother, and says, I want my money, I want to see that you paid me. So we’re, he’s, now, going to have a, we’re going to get an approval, in a second, to you, payment successful, Big Think, 10,000 shillings to that amount. And you saw your balance goes down. So now, the doctor, I don’t have the other phone with me here but the other phone, for the demonstration, will now get an SMS that he received his 10,000 shillings. And say, okay, now, I’m going to treat your grandmother. Okay. So now, OK, we’re finish. The doctor leaves. And I can demonstrate what happens if you put the wrong pin code in, if you put the wrong, if you put the wrong bank account number but it’ll show up invalid pin or it’ll show up invalid bank account. So, just like if you’re on your, you know, you want to transfer money in America, you send it to the wrong account, you know, you kind of try and get it back. But if you put in wrong pin code or a non-existing banking number, you got nothing to worry about. So now, we do a little, do a little statement. So we’re going to, again, put in our pin codes ‘cause you can’t do any transactions without putting in a pin code. So now, we’re going to get the statement. And the statement is going to show that, when it pops up, it’ll show 10,000 for Dr. Big Think, 5,000 for Zain. And then, we get many statements. You get the last five. So it got the 10,000, the 5,000. And then, you know, yesterday, I demonstrate to somebody with the 1,250 and 35,000. So the person now can get an update of what it is that he did, you know, kind of on his, on his phone just by sitting in his little village. So imagine now, all of these transactions would have taken, first of all, you know, kind of took one hour between the doctor coming and doing and paying all your bills and everything. Current real world in Africa probably have a dead grandmother and a weeks worth of coming and going and moving.
Question: Could digital technology help solve the African health crisis?
Michael Landau: So it has the potential to completely transform the lives from many different perspectives. Just to show you a little bit of an advancement, not on the mobile banking but on the mobile health. Mobile health is a big thing. Everybody is talking about how do you do mobile health. So we’ve developed a little program, which is, which will enable, once we have the biometric identification on an individual, we can create a protocol, a registry for that individual so we can keep some basic information about them. So, as we, so we can do a health summary. So whatever the protocol, this is just the, this is a template that we created with the gender, the weight, the height, the BMI, and when I’ve got my next appointment, it can also include the blood type reading, including inoculations. It could include whatever the protocol is that particular country would like to have. Now, when we do the medical management, so remember, whatever is on the phone can be on appoint to cell device, it can be on a mini computer which communicates. So this can be kind of in all the, this can be wherever there’s a clinic or wherever there’s a school, you know, this information. This is just showing the holistic potential of, once we have develop this communication network, that it can be use for money, it can be use for health, it can be use for distributing anything. So here, what we do is we have this personal information. You can change your personal information. Add an appointment. So you can now kind of record when your appointment is so that the doctor can download or you can put in the doctor’s appointment and it can remind you when you have a doctor’s appointment. So that way, you don’t miss your doctor’s appointment. Add a prescription. So now, you got to your, you need to take some, a new prescription so you can tell, you can add the prescription that you need to take. In terms of which medication, well, you can add a medication, say, how often you need to take it. And it can be programmed to remind you to be able to take your medication. ‘Cause one of the big problems with AIDS drugs and all these different drugs, if you don’t take the medication on time, that you get sicker and the cost involved is just huge. And the cost involved in creating this sort of system and even giving phones, excuse me, for free to the people who are the recipients of the medication is cheaper, to be able to monitor all of these electronically, using the phones than it is to have the people not take their medication once. Because suddenly the level of medication and the sickness, etcetera, this is from a donor perspective, it’s much cheaper for them to have a phone with a system like this they can record. So now, we have, you know, so you have the frequency and the type, etcetera, but then, we can now record the medicine use. The person, when he takes his medication, it pops up and just record the use. And there are even medications today that have got, there’s a special electronic coating on the medication that when you take the medication, it can communicate with your phone that you took your medication. Again, it’s just the world, thank God, today is evolving to be an amazingly brilliant world where technology can really have a massive difference in people’s lives. And it’s no longer science fiction. It’s real. It can really be done. Just one phone I said bring. Say, you bring both phones. And then, also, we have, we’ve developed a little program called the e-doctor. So you can have a quick diagnosis. So let’s say somebody is taking, is on an AIDS program, you know, so you can, you know, kind of add a symptom, you can remove a symptom of what the person is sick. And you can, then, query the symptoms either to a live person at the other end or, this isn’t an operating program. This is our demo program to show people what we have the potential to be able to create and what the potential is on the system. And then, we have a healthcare service directory, which means that the phone can be triangulated. And if you’re looking for the nearest clinic, they don’t have yellow pages. They don’t have, but now, you know, kind of, you can do it in such a way where the people can, you know, can the phone that can say they need a doctor and it can triangulated, you know, where’s the nearest doctor. That’s for healthcare. But the same system can work for, okay, where’s the nearest, you know, where’s the nearest police station, where’s the nearest drugstore, where’s the nearest point-of-sale machine, where somebody can go and get some cash. So, the potential is huge, of where this can all go. And because we’re a private sector, we’re driven to make money, we’re driven to make sure this is successful. We’ll make our money on where, on the financial products. And we need the assistance of the donors to enable us to provide to the other services in order for us, collectively, to partner with the developing world governments to help them transform the lives of their citizens.
Recorded on: June 15, 2009
The chairman demonstrates how digital technology can improve the lives of Africans.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.
- J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy and too Eurocentric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian Tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers, and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world," and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b50c57cb3b8a3a1cc8a4696c89ad954" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Tian-shan, the Himalayas, and the Pamirs" />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "[It] was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21c3d38b14503ba8edac18c0ef1cceb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Indus river" />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands [that] could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e87f1af97902201abc042640255606b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Marine Corps helicopter flying over Tarbela Dam" />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and '40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="548bafc6042cc7515e07f77657aa161c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Kutch" />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Cambridge and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff9aace7fc7c111df3639a276cedf63c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform" />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of Tolkienography—if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination—which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.
- They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
- Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.
- The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
Listening for sounds on Mars<p>It's not the first time NASA has tried to capture audio on the Martian surface. The agency's Mars Polar Lander was outfitted with a microphone, but that craft ultimately crashed into the planet in 1999 after shutting its engines off too early. The Phoenix Lander managed to stick its landing in 2008, but NASA chose not to engage the craft's camera or microphone after a mission malfunction.</p><p>NASA plans to capture more audio from the red planet on its Mars 2020 mission. That lander will be equipped with two microphones that will, among other things, listen to what happens when the craft fires a laser at rocks on the surface. When that happens, parts of the rock will vaporize, causing a shockwave that makes a popping sound. The noises captured from interactions like these can <a href="https://www.space.com/32696-microphone-on-nasa-mars-rover-2020.html" target="_blank">help tell scientists about the mass and makeup of the rocks</a>.</p><p>In other words, microphones give scientists another "sense" to use during experiments on the Martian surface.</p>
A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.
- The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
- It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
- Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."