Category Archives: Blog

Regular posts as you know them

Of JAIST

It’s been almost two weeks since I blogged and I have no excuse! Not that there is nothing to write about, on the contrary there have been some awesome recent experiences but these days I filter what  I tell the readers unlike in the past when  I would spill it all.

Anyway, back to the post at hand. My undergraduate university has a long name: Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, which we simply shortened to JKUAT. It rarely fit into form fields whenever I had to write it. Next year, I shall be enrolling for PhD at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), the curse of the long name is back. Anyway, it is more of a research center really, so there are no undergraduate courses and it only specializes in 3 areas: knowledge science, information science and materials science. It probably has the highest ratio of foreign students and teachers in this area and English is one of the main languages there. So to learn Japanese, I had to enroll at a sister university, Kanazawa University, where I am currently.

Kanazawa City is more like Nakuru in Kenya, not too big, not too small, vibrant but not loud, moderate population, very clean. Kanazawa University is like 30 minutes from the city center, and it’s a relatively lively place to be. JAIST on the other hand, is built on the mountains and is surrounded by almost nothing. The nearest town where the train makes the last stop looks like one of those small towns in movies where everyone knows everyone else, and where a stranger arrives and a horror movie follows!

 

Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

My colleague is depressed when he thinks we will be heading there next year, there is not much to do there expect, well, research! But I am actually excited and I am looking forward to it, even as I enjoy my time here. Learning Japanese is fun, and I do like Kanji, even if it is difficult to read and write it.

Interlude: Japanese 101

Japanese uses 3 ‘alphabet’ sets for writing: Hiragana, Katakana and the Chinese characters, Kanji. Sometimes even Roman characters will be contained in the sentence. Generally, Kanji will be used for nouns and verbs, hiragana will be used to conjugate the verbs  to show past tense, for example. And Katakana is used to write foreign/loan words, like ‘computer’ which is pronounced almost similar in Japanese.

However, writing in Kanji makes the sentences shorter (as opposed to writing everything in the Hiragana alphabet – think something similar to the Roman alphabet) and believe me, easier to read (because Kanji conveys meaning as well as sounds). For example, Kanazawa University in Hiragana is かなざわだいがく。In Kanji, just 4 characters. 金沢大学.

Miura-sensei explaining the name of the university in Japanese
Miura-sensei explaining the name of the university in Japanese

Which brings me back to JAIST. There is just no shortening this name, even in Kanji, the name is long. The name of Japan  Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Japanese is Hokuriku (this region in Japan) Sentan (advanced) Kagaku (science) Gijutsu  (technology) Daigakuin (graduate school) Daigaku (university).

In Hiragana, that would be ほくりくせんたんかがくぎじゅつだいがくいんだいがく。Fun note: there are no spaces between Japanese words, reading Hiragana only would be a headache inducing affair!

And in Kanji: 北陸先端科学技術大学院大学。

Let’s just stick to JAIST, shall we?

My Kigali – CMUR Experience

This is a guest post by Aggie Nyambura, who graduated with a first class in computer science from JKUAT this year, just like I did over 3 years ago. She said I motivated her to graduate sumna cum laude (I am glad that my vanity may have some positive impact on society!). She’s now pursuing her master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, Rwanda. Yes, the American university has a campus in Kigali for 4 years now, I think. Aggie chatted me up on facebook and wanted me to write about the university so the (relvant) Kenyans can be aware of it. However, I know nothing about the campus so I persuaded her that she ought to write her experience and send me the guest post.

I really enjoyed reading it, she should start her own blog! Anyway, here is the story, straight from the horse’s mouth:

I graduated in June 2014, from (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology) JKUAT University with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Enrolling for a Master’s program was next in my agenda and during my search for Universities offering the Master’s program I had in mind I came across Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda (CMU-R). I first heard about Rwanda CMUR last year during my final year at JKUAT.

If you do a Google search on CMU you will probably get hits on its notable word wide ranking in Computer Science and Technology. What you may also find is the fact that in 2012, CMU opened a new campus in Kigali, Rwanda in addition to the Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley, Australia and Qatar campuses. Up until last year, the Rwandan campus only offered Graduate Programs in IT & Engineering which is what I was looking for.

But there are many questions that cross your mind when you hear that the campus is set up in Africa, more so in Rwanda. Such as; is the quality of education the same? Is the tuition cheaper? Why study in Africa if you can go to the US and so on. And so I did my research.

The Kenyan student enrolled in the Inaugural class of 2012 was a great source of insight, as well as direct communication with the University staff. I got particularly interested in the Masters in Information Technology (MSIT) program; the other program, Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE) did not exactly fit into what I had in mind and the application process began.

The process was rather involving and took me about 3 months to complete. Being an American University, I was required to sit for a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL) test and the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The entire process was done online; from submitting application details, recommendation letters, interviews (via Skype) and receiving the admission decision. I got my admission for the MSIT program in May 2014, just one month before my undergraduate graduation. I was expected to report for a one month orientation program that would start on July 29th and thereafter classes would officially begin.

As the days went by, I went through a cycle of mixed feelings; excitement to undertake this new journey and sadness that I would be so far away from home. But this didn’t stop me from going. I remember tearing up at the airport as I bid my family and friends good bye; this was on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. When I landed in Kigali, there were some things that struck me. The nicely lit roads, the smooth traffic, the cleanliness, it was definitely a new experience for me.

I came to learn that orientation here is quite different from what we know. In my first year in JKUAT, orientation involved being given campus tours, meeting department heads and the Vice Chancellor’s welcoming speech ceremony. Orientation spanned for an entire week! However, on my first day at CMUR after we had a brief introductory ceremony and a short tour of the University we sat for our first class in the afternoon.

Students from the CMUR Inauguration class on their graduation in July 2014
Students from the CMUR Inauguration class on their graduation in July 2014

The orientation is structured to bring all students at par in terms of computer programming, language skills and other fundamental concepts in computer science. Many of us had come from different Universities with different backgrounds and this made the orientation vital for all of us. From the second day onwards, classes began at 8:30 in the morning and ended at 5:30 pm in the evening every day of the week. The school provided us with lunch so we practically spent all our time in school. We also had fun activities to do such as a day trip to Gashora, a remote town about 2 hours from Kigali, bowling and movie nights.

This became my routine for the one month before classes began officially on August 25th. The American system on which CMUR is based is quite different from what we have come to know. Each of us was assigned an academic advisor who would be one of our professors. This person would be your go to person to consult on academic issues, for career advice and generally to ensure that you are faring well in the program.

Classes start at 9 am every day. One is free to select whichever courses they may want to take and so student’s schedules differ. The quality of education offered is the same as that offered in the other campuses. The professors were previously teaching at the main campus in Pittsburgh. It is also possible to take classes in other campuses like Silicon Valley by having the sessions streamed live to Rwanda and even then, one is expected to put in as much effort as if they were in the campus offering the course. The major advantage of studying here in Rwanda is the 50% scholarship offered to all East African citizens on the tuition fee. Because the teaching is the same as those of other CMUR campuses, the tuition fee is the same; so having 50% paid for reduces the financial load significantly.

During our CMU welcoming dinner with the faculty and staff
During our CMU welcoming dinner with the faculty and staff

The programs offered at CMUR are very intensive; you learn by doing so at any one point you will have several projects or assignments you are working on. There is a wide pool of resources available to help you succeed, from the experienced professors, the Teaching Assistants (TAs as we like to call them) and the students from the preceding class. The school literally provides us with everything we need, from laptops to free gym membership; we have it all. One interesting fact is that for the first time ever since the inaugural class, I happen to be the only girl admitted to the program from a class of 28 students. I hope that next year’s intake will have a better representation of both genders.

I am still adjusting to living in Kigali and how different it is from life in Nairobi. Take for instance the public buses used to move around the city. Bus fares are relatively cheap within Kigali with the furthest bus ride costing between 200-250 Rwandan Francs, about Ksh.30. Motos, boda bodas as we know them, are also quite common here but with the requirement that both the driver and passenger wear helmets.

One interesting observation was the absence of big shopping stores and supermarkets like we have back in Nairobi. Shopping for things can be daunting as their stock supplies are limited in addition to the high prices for Kenyan brands. However, there are a few Nakumatt outlets in the CBD. Kigali is a very secure city. Policemen patrol the areas at all hours of the day. I have walked back to my house as late as 1 am with no fear at all.

All in all, CMUR is like one small community of people who share big dreams and want to transform the world. I have seen myself grow in so many ways since I came here and I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Every day I learn something new about myself and push myself to new heights I never thought I’d ever reach; all thanks to CMU.

Our visit to Gashora
Our visit to Gashora

For more photos click here.

Transacting Online Safely

There has been and will continue to be an increase in online trade in Kenya.  Sites I have used or my friends use include OLX (good deals among the online classifieds), Mimi (Julie Gichuru’s dress shop), and jumia.  There are many other shops online, I think there was even one where you could do supermarket (Naivas, Tuskys or Nakumatt) shopping and have it delivered to your location. While some sites sell goods directly to the customer, others like olx are not involved in the actual sale of items. Thus some people have used this opportunity to perpetuate fraud.

Keep calm and Stay Safe online
Keep calm and Stay Safe online

 

It’s to this end that OLX partnered with COFEK (Consumer Federation of Kenya) and the ICT Authority in Kenya to launch a one month awareness campaign for the general public to learn about online safety.

The campaign is named, “Kaa Ridhoo”! I don’t know who came up with that slogan surely, but the importance of the message should not be lost.

I have blogged before about staying safe online, OLX has guidelines for using its site, including a page for reporting suspicious ads or sellers. Just click on the Contact Us page to file a report. They then work with the local police to investigate and arrest any of those suspicious individuals, especially dealing with cars and electronics.

Have you had any experience of fraud when shopping online locally, and how did you deal with it?

 

Flying to Japan

I am in the Kanazawa University library typing this. There is something familiar about all libraries.. the silent shuffle of feet, the queitness broken by the turning of pages of paper, the rows upon rows of beautifully arranged books, the students at the tables all trying to absorb the knowledge. It is a long way from home, and yet it is home for me. I think back to Tuesday afternoon, when I began the actual journey.

The steps to the Kanazawa University Library. Click for larger image
The steps to the Kanazawa University Library

My father wouldn’t let me be late; by 1pm he was revving the car and hooting for us to get out of house. I arrived at the airport at 1:30 for a flight that was departing at 4:40pm. My luggage passed through the safety scan, I had been afraid they wouldn’t let my lotions and hair stuff through(relaxer, treatment – there are no salons for black hair in Japan, I was told). I thought I might have carried stuff over the luggage limit for Emirates Economy class, but fortunately this too was a breeze. My luggage was checked in, and I would get it at the airport in Japan. I wasn’t going to have access to checked-in luggage at Dubai, the stopover.

I said goodbye to my family. My dad, mum, brother and my son, and my friends Veeh & Njeri had come to see me off. I managed not to cry. But later, on the flight to Osaka from Dubai, I let them fall and I pretended I was watching The Fault in Our Stars. Anyway, the flight to Dubai was not long, but it wore me out. It was 5 hours to Dubai. The Captain was American, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… this is your captain blah blah” The hostesses were fair and graceful. The meals were okay but the cramped space in Economy makes you understand why people with money opt for Business class or First Class. I could not catch any sleep and my neighbour was chatty. He was giving me advice about taking care of my hand luggage. Don’t let it leave your sight. He was going to Dubai to manage some warehouses. I wished him the best. He gave me some pens as a gift. (I have become a pen collector.) His wife works at a pen company.

Dubai. Nothing is done in half; no expense is spared. From the air, it gives off an aura of organization. Rows and rows of lights, illuminating shiny highways and complicated road designs. From where we landed at the airport, we took a shuttle for almost 30 minutes to arrive at the terminal. Dubai is grand. No, wait, Dubai is grandiose. Towering terminals. There are 3 terminals, A, B & C, and you take a train between the terminals. The terminals are on 3 floors, and you can ride the elevator or escalators. We had about 4 hours to spend at the airport. After marking our gate for the next flight, we went round checking out the terminal.

Inside the elevator at Dubai Airport. Can you see the water flowing down the black wall? This stuff is better seen not told!
Inside the elevator at Dubai Airport. Can you see the water flowing down the black wall? This stuff is better seen not told!

There were so many shops, mostly selling designer perfume. I was sprayed liberally by a salesman; Givenchy I believe. Smelled heavenly but I couldn’t afford it at the time. The few dollars I had with me were for surviving the first month in Japan. Givenchy will have to wait. But it was definitely cheaper there than if you had to buy it in a shop in Nairobi. I bought some water, and a Starbucks coffee. Not as tasty as Java’s latte.

Starbucks Coffee at Terminal B of Dubai airport
Starbucks Coffee at Terminal B of Dubai airport

So I was hanging out with two Zambian dudes who spoke Kiswahili; they were also headed to Osaka with us, they’re in the vehicle importation business. There was another guy who was Kenyan, but lives in Washington DC, and he was also connecting via Dubai. And 3 of us scholars, heading to Osaka. We left the importers with our hand luggage (except for passports & money, duh) and escorted the Washington Guy to his terminal. That was when we took the train to terminal A and back. And thus, the 4 hours at the airport passed away.

Oscar, fellow MEXT scholar on the left, with the Washington guy on the right as we said bye to him
Oscar, fellow MEXT scholar on the left, with the Washington guy on the right as we said bye to him

Finally, we boarded a Boeing 777 Emirates plane to Osaka. That was one grandiose plane. I had never flown international before, so the jambojet, KQ & Jetlink small planes had left me with a bad impression of take off, landing, changing direction and turbulence. In a huge plane, you don’t feel any of this stuff, at least not on the same level as on a smaller plane. It was 9 hours from Dubai to Osaka. I slept half of the time, watched 2 movies (About a Boy starring Hugh Grant), ate two full meals and enjoyed the flight somewhat. We landed in Osaka at around 6pm local time, finally touchdown in Japan! (Cue for this song)

From Kanazawa airport, it took a while to clear from immigration. Fortunately we are Japanese government scholars, so not many questions were asked. They printed for us residence cards at the airport, we went and claimed our luggage, and went our separate ways. After changing my money into the local currency, yen, I asked for the JR Train ticketing office. It was around 8:10pm when I finally got a ticket to Kanazawa, changing trains at a place called Maibara. The train was departing at 8:16pm so it was a mad dash there. The Japanese are very friendly people, so far everyone I had met on the way had been very helpful.The train ride was very comfortable, and I dozed on and off. The signs were in Japanese as well as English, and the train announced every oncoming stop. Maibara was like the last stop, and it was just me and two Japanese girls who were also going to Kanazawa.

The countryside fly past us, with not much to see in the dark. At every station, we’d meet other trains and you would see students in uniform getting on or off, working class people boarding the train, weary shoulders drooping, and the people got fewer and fewer as it got later and later. We arrived at Kanazawa at 12:39am! I tried to get a taxi to Kanazawa Castle Inn, where I was to spend the night. I was willing to pay as much as it took, but no one would take me, they just pointed the direction. Turns out, it was just 3 minutes away from Kanazawa Station and no one was going to take advantage of me. If it were in a Kenya, I am sure someone would have drove me round in circles and charged me like 2,000 Kenyan shillings for it!

At the hotel, I finally got free wifi (which I couldn’t get at Dubai or Kansai) and let my family know I had arrived safely. After a warm soak in the tub, I asked for an adapter (they use narrow sockets) from the hotel reception using gestures & pointing. The man at the desk just opened a drawer full of adapters and I picked one that fit, with a promise to return (in gestures). At the airport, most Japanese speak fairly good English. However, Kanazawa is a bit farther in, so there are fewer speakers with less fluency. (Except at the universities, lots of people speak English here). I charged my phone and fell asleep.

On Thursday morning, I took a taxi to Morinosato Kaikan (Kanazawa International House) where I was going to spend 6 months. It’s a 20 minutes scenic walk to the university. There was the opening ceremony to attend after that, and later orientation and an introduction lesson to Japanese on Friday. There will be many other tales to tell.

The food in Japan
The food in Japan
More Japanese food
More Japanese food
Even more Japanese food
Even more Japanese food
Some pizza too
Some pizza too
Tamar from Georgia, ken from Malaysia, myself and Akiko, who's Japanese
Tamar from Georgia, ken from Malaysia, myself and Akiko, who’s Japanese

In the meantime, I am getting used to the local food. Sushi. Sashimi. Miso soup. Rice (hehe, yeah also needs getting used to, trust me) And others I can’t pronounce well.

Yesterday evening, being a Friday, we went to a local restaurant with a Japanese student who’s very nice and is helping us around. Below is what we had.. beer, sake, pizza, sushi, sashimi, dessert, and many other local dishes. By us, I mean myself with other foreign students. There are many other foreign students around. They come from Malaysia, Georgia, Solomon Islands, Argentina, Tanzania, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia .. over 25 countries. There are only 3 of us who are black, as far as I can tell. Myself, another lady from Solomon Islands (she speaks with such a lovely accent) and the guy from Tanzania. But I don’t feel it, I think because I am in a university and you know, a campus is the same everywhere. Cool people!

Although I miss home, and my son more than anything, I know I made the right decision. The next countdown on the blog is to the day my son will come to join me in Japan!

Do I Have a Dream?

If there’s one person who is a dreamer, then that person is me. Since I was young, up to now, I have never stopped dreaming. Reality sometimes pours cold water on some of my dreams, but I will go to sleep and dream again.

When Crown Paints asked me to talk about my dream, I was at a loss of where to begin. Because I don’t have a dream, my friends. I have DREAMS! At the moment, I have a to-do list of 30 things to do before 30, which is 3.5 years away. I am not sure I will achieve those 30 things (okay, 29, I have already crossed 1 off my list), but I am already on my way. I haven’t shared my list with you guys (the readers of this blog who keep it alive, I love you guys, excuse the emotions, I am in a strange land and yet to make new emotional connections). Anyway, I was saying I haven’t shared the list with you guys because I have changed my style of writing. I no longer share about everything I see, feel, eat, drink or experience. Perhaps I shall open up again and share that 30-things-to-do-before-30 list, I have a feeling it will shape the future of this blog.

In the meantime, I geared up to talk about my dreams to the Crown Paints team. I am nervous in front of the camera. I hate the sound of my recorded voice. But I braved myself to talk about my dreams, which would have taken over an hour. Fortunately, the required length was only 40 seconds!

So enjoy my 40 seconds of fame below! I shall be blogging about Japan soon, and other experiences.

Inside Nakumatt Select

I think I first noticed Nakumatt products in the bed & fabrics section at Nakumatt Junction like a year ago. Made in Kenya and branded by Nakumatt :) So I grabbed a set of white towels: 2 large towels, 2 medium-sized towels, 2 face towels. Something similar to below:

A set of towels from Nakumatt Select
A set of towels from Nakumatt Select

Now Nakumatt has branded its products as Nakumatt Select  available across all their stores. The products include towels, table, kitchen linens, bed linens, duvets,blankets, throws, pillows and more.

On a cold and rain evening, picture yourself on the couch with the blankets below:

Nakumatt Select Blankets

What I love about the products is their quality, and they are quite affordable. They are all manufacture locally. The set below of throws (Just google it already) would be a perfect gift for someone.

Couch blankets/throws from Nakumatt Select
Couch blankets/throws from Nakumatt Select

From here onwards, I will just let you feast your eyes on some of the products:

Beach towels:

Beach towels from Nakumatt Select
Beach towels from Nakumatt Select

Towels of all colours:

Another set of towels from Nakumatt Select
Another set of towels from Nakumatt Select

Bed linen: sateen bedding. Yes, sateen. Here’s the difference between satin & sateen:

Sateen: luxury cotton bed sheets so smooth & cottony soft #NakumattSelect Satin: smooth,shiny fabric usually made from rayon,nylon, or silk

Sateen Bedding from Nakumatt Select

Sateen Bedding from Nakumatt Select

So if you have been wondering where to shop for towels, bedding, pillows, blankets.. try the Nakumatt Select brand and waiting to hear your feedback!

Meeting Spots along Mombasa Road

Living off Mombasa Road and working in Upperhill means I rarely go to town (CBD). The traffic jams from Upperhill into town on a weekday evening are epic, it can take you two hours to drive into town, a 10-15 minutes walk. Anyway, if the friend or business acquaintance that you are meeting lives/works along/off  Mombasa road, and you have been looking for a place to meet for a cup of coffee in the evening, consider these places:

Savanna Coffee House at Sameer Business Park

Sameer Business Park
Sameer Business Park
Image from sameerbusinesspark.com

Situated at the expansive, open aired (in the sense that the buildings don’t tower to block out the sun) Sameer Business Park, is another branch of Savanna coffee houses. The location is great, especially if it’s really sunny, you can sit outdoors and enjoy the open space and gazing onto Mombasa road traffic.

In the evening, the lighting is great and ambiance will match the mood; however, mosquitoes invade! In the fading sunlight, they attack your legs under the table, so don’t wear  a short skirt. On the other hand, the cafe closes early, by 7:30 p.m. waiters come to your table to chase you away! So really, it’s a daytime meeting kind of place.

Service is okay, mostly because you will find one or two waiters. The place is rarely crowded. The food is alright, depending on what you want. The usual coffees and teas, the burgers, fries, rice, chicken.. it’s like a  parallel Java menu.

Panari Sky Center & Hotel

Panari Sky Center and Hotel has the only solar ice skating rink in Nairobi. However, I doubt you will want to meet anyone at the skating rink!

Panari Sky Center & Hotel

Panari Sky Center & Hotel

On the ground floor of the hotel, there is Black Gold Cafe, and Shooters & Dips bar. While their latte may be average (as compared to the specialized Java & Savannah), the ambiance is great! It’s warm inside (no mosquitoes), staff are warm and friendly, lighting is good, music is good, food is really good. And closing time is midnight. Their prices are also fair, beer is Ksh. 250.

Panari also has a number of restaurants on the second floor, notable is Pampas Brazilian restaurant for (a lot) meat. I think there is also a bar on the 2nd floor, haven’t explored it. The waiter informed me of a rooftop bar, but it’s only for hotel guests. As a walk-in however, the ground floor should be sufficient for conversation to catch up with old friends, or seal a business deal.

Every so often you’ll probably find me there having coffee in the evening on my way home, but no stalkers please! I just like its convenient location on Mombasa road, a pause as I wait for traffic congestion to ease.

For more info, check out their site

Other Places

On the other side of Mombasa road, there is also Ole Sereni, but I have only been there once for a conference. There’s also Eka Hotel, of which I have heard nothing but good things. If I do go there sometime, I will write about them.

Closer to town, there is Capital Center, with a number of restaurants on the ground floor, including Java. The food-court also houses Chicken Inn & Galitos (I think). There’s a Chinese restaurant on 1st floor as well as a pub. However, I find Capital Center to be rather crowded, if noisy; and I rarely meet anyone here.

Know any other places along Mombasa road, please share!

Added later: 

More places to meet along Mombasa road thanks to a contributor, Patrick:

  •  Bellevue petrol station (there’s a Pizza inn there)
  • Motor sport club south
  • The Boma in South C.
  • Choma Zone just ahead of Imara Daima junction at the Total Petrol Station

OLX working to Promote Chamas

OLX recently launched a partnership with Chamas, where they try to promote the groups through:

  • Training them on how to use OLX and leverage it to raise money for any financial need their group may have. Once the Chamas have been introduced to the OLX platform, they are trained as individuals and as a group.
  • Offering them a platform through which to buy any assets they may have as a group: everything is practically listed on OLX
OLX logo
OLX logo

Although the initiative piloted in Nairobi, OLX is now working with chamas across the country. In order to motivate them, the Chama with the highest number of listings on OLX, gets a cash reward from OLX towards achieving their goal as a group. If the women are also involved in business, they are being encouraged to list their items/services for sale on OLX. All manner of items can get listed, save for illegal or inappropriate stuff.

So if you know of any chama that could need an innovation to take them a notch higher, an idea to raise to funds or sell stuff, do encourage them to sign up for online listing on OLX. It’s time to leverage technology for whatever sector of our lives.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube

I recently composed a list of 30 things to do before 30, you know the kind of bucket lists people make that are half goals, half dreams and a whole lot of resolutions we don’t really mean to keep. So I made that list, but I am not putting it up just yet, I have shared enough of my life’s details on this blog!

Anyway, solving the Rubik’s cube is one of them. I can now happily cross it off my list, it’s conquered. In fact, I have just solved one that I’m walking around with, right now, as I blog this.

Rubik's cube
My own Rubik’s cube

I have always been fascinated by the cube but never really took the chance to learn to solve it, till recently when Google made a interactive doodle in honour of the inventor, Professor Rubik. I tried solving it, gave up, but still tweeted about it and someone offered to teach me, I quickly learned and I am now willing to share that knowledge!

So there are 3 ways (in my view) of solving the cube:

1. Take the cube apart. Arrange the pieces then reassemble them. Least challenging way, there’s no point then, in bothering to “solve” the puzzle!

Professor's_Cube_disassembled
Rubik’s Cube disassembled

 

2. Be a genius with visualization. Look long and hard at the cube, turn it around, solve it in your head, then just move the pieces into place. I don’t know how the guys who set records such as 5.5 seconds do it! It’s amazing watching their hands move faster than your brain can think! Of course they use high quality, low friction cubes to minimize efforts in movement, but still, the way they optimize their moves to solve the cube in the shortest time possible? It’s impressive. They are the speed cubers.

3. Learn the steps. Over the years, a number of people have experimented and written down a series of steps/movements (algorithms) that if you follow, you will end up with the solved cube. The algorithms are designed so that as you progressively solve the cube, you don’t spoil the faces you have already solved. So the movements end up being repetitive at some point, but if you muster them, then you can solve the cube in a very short time, such as  under 1 minute, and you can pretend to be a genius! It’s a good feeling.

There are several algorithms out there, you can search them and try them out once you have a cube. However, I wrote down the simple one I learned from my teacher, so to speak.

Before you try out the algorithms, you must first learn the terminology: top face, front face, middle row etc..  but it should all make sense as the terms are descriptive. Here’s the link to the simple algorithm, so if you wish to learn, try it out and holla if you’re stuck!

Good luck!

Book Review: Den of Inequities

I met Kinyanjui Kombani, the author of Den of Inequities, when BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya) had a Daystar training under the Creatives Academy invite, a few months ago. I bought the book and had it autographed, and then it lay around the house for weeks before disappearing into my mother’s handbag for a few more weeks. Finally, I found it and since it’s a small book, I read it in a day, it was a Sunday.

den of inequities
The cover of Den of Inequities by Kinyanjui Kombani

There are three main characters introduced in the book: Omosh, a poor construction worker living in the slums; Gosti, a local thug also living in the slums and Aileen,  beautiful daughter of a rich dad. How do they coexist in the den of inequity that is the city of Nairobi?

The story of each of the characters is written simply and titillatingly,  with the right suspense and description to capture the reader’s attention. I held my breath in some scenes, smiled at others, empathized with the characters, got afraid of some of the cops, sympathized with the thugs, the mungiki (I think it’s called The Chama in the book) and others who were at the mercy of these dirty cops..

The book gives an insight (albeit fictional) into behind the scenes of extra-judicial killings, the announcements you sometimes hear in the news of suspected criminals shot and killed by anonymous people. Take for instance the recent killings of everyone in Maina Njenga’s car; he is the former leader of mungiki. Type into Google Maina Njenga and all you get is dramatic, fatal events surrounding the man. How would you like a look into what’s really going on? Pick the book and it will all make sense!

For Omosh, things go wrong, and he needs a way to make things right; for Gosti he finds himself deeply involved with The Chama, when someone from his past comes calling. Aileen unfortunately tumbles into these events, and now how will it all end?

The one disappointment with this book was the lack of character depth. Maybe because the book was short so there wasn’t enough space to develop the characters. Omosh’s story is especially surprising because he does not seem to be the kind of man who does what the book say he does at the very end. In fact, after the first few pages, he all but disappears only to reappear at the very end. Gosti is the only one whose character is fully developed. I also thought the book would focus on the main characters as introduced by the book description, but they were kind of side stories to the main story: heind the scenes of extra judicial killings.

All in all, it was such an enjoyable book and I would recommend it to everyone I come across. Pick your copy from any bookshop today for only Kshs. 400 (thereabout). My only regret was that the book was too short.