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Michael Landau Sees a Land of Opportunity in Africa

Question: Is Africa a good investment? 

Michael Landau: Africa is a very much an untapped economy. When you’ve got, you know, close to a billion people, there’s just, there’s got to be tremendous opportunity over there.

But one has to be careful. You know, you got to be careful what you invest, how you invest. And it’s got to be done smartly. I’m a big believer in Africa and I’ve made major investments in Africa. And I believe that if other countries take up MAP, obviously, you know, I think these economies are going to grow exponentially.

Just using Uganda as an example, if we’re able to take the billion-dollar salary that they pay on a yearly basis, and that money is going to flow through a formal sector through our system. It’s going to go through the post bank to be able to pay all the salaries and the pensions of a billion dollars. 

Currently, that billion dollars is going straight into the informal economy. When that money, now, starts to go into the formal economy because it’s going to go through a formal banking sector, we’re going to be providing lots of ways for people to use their money electronically. So 30, 40, who knows, maybe 50, 60 percent of that money, ultimately, is going to start sticking in the float, in that formal economy. So it means that there’s going to be $3, $4, $500 million a year and accumulating exponentially, that is going to be available to help these countries go, build factories in rural areas.  Instead of the mangoes rotting, they’ll build a plant in the rural area to be able to make mango juice. 

So there’s going to be tremendous opportunities as the population gets richer, as they have needs for processing. I mean, Africa got tremendous opportunities. Uganda, for example, they got some of the most fertile land in the world. So there’s tremendous opportunity for growing things and then for processing the things in the country that it’s growing. So, for example, Uganda, whether it’s coffee, whether it’s mangoes, whether it’s bananas, there are so many opportunities to grow things there. And then, if you were to process, the processing is going to be much cheaper in Uganda than it is to do it elsewhere. The government will give grants. They’ll give tax holidays to people.  Salaries are lower than they are in other places in the world.

So there are tremendous opportunities for people to invest. The AGOA agreement between United States and Africa, which allows imports to the United States from Africa to come in duty-free. So you just got to have a little bit of faith. Anybody who wants me to help introduce them to the right people so they can have the faith in the country or speak to me so I can give them, you know, kind of beyond, you know, kind of this interview’s confidence level, there are tremendous opportunities. I would strongly advise people against any form of corruption whatsoever because it’s just not necessary and it muddies the waters in terms of the way people need to look doing business over there. So they shouldn’t think not to go because they’re just going to have to get involved in corruption and bribery, et cetera, it’s not true. Don’t, that should not be a reason why big corporates shouldn’t go out there. Individuals who got some, you know, kind of extra money or want to feel that they want to do good, there’s tremendous opportunities to make money and do good in Africa.

Question: Can you give us an economic success story in Africa? 

Michael Landau: Rwanda is very much a success story. They have a very strong focus on technology. They have a president who’s extremely focused on driving his country forward. And that’s a country that we’re hoping to be working in, you know, kind of in the short-term. But that’s clearly kind of a success story of taking a country that was at the, below death’s door and literally forcing a success. And, so that’s one country which I believe is a tremendous success. 

And there are other, there are other examples out there. There are tremendous opportunities, you know, kind of in sub-Saharan in Africa, of countries where have taken a more positive approach to the use of ICT. But I would say, Rwanda is probably one of the most aggressive in that.  I don’t want to talk to many of the other countries because they don’t know enough about them. 

South Africa is clearly a leader in using technology.  Our technology is developed, primarily, kind of out of South Africa.  So there are clearly leaders in the space and they’re doing things but South Africa is a bit of a different story to many of the other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. So there’s clearly a lot of opportunity and there’s lot of desire on the part of these countries to evolve and use technology as they move their countries into the 21st century.

Recorded on: May 15, 2009

Investors are wise to revisit the world’s forgotten continent.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that 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.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • 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.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • 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.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(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."

NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

NASA
Surprising Science
  • The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
  • It was taken by the InSight Mars lander, which is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, and possibly discover liquid water on Mars.
  • Microphones are essentially an "extra sense" that scientists can use during experiments on other planets.
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Changing the way we grade students could trigger a wave of innovation

How students apply what they've learned is more important than a letter or number grade.

Future of Learning
  • Schools are places where learning happens, but how much of what students learn there matters? "Almost all of our learning happens through experience and very little of it actually happens in these kinds of organized, contrived, constrained environments," argues Will Richardson, co-founder of The Big Questions Institute and one of the world's leading edupreneurs.
  • There is a shift starting, Richardson says, in terms of how we look at grading and assessments and how they have traditionally dictated students' futures. Consortiums like Mastery.com are pushing back on the idea that what students know can be reflected in numbers and letter grades.
  • One of the crucial steps in changing how things are done is first changing the narratives. Students should be assessed on how they can apply what they've learned, not scored based on what they know.
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