African Information Engineering Part 3

This is the last of a three part series(links to: Part 1 and Part 2)  taken from a forthcoming publication. Dr. Peter Chen is a world reknown computer scientist. His 1976 paper on data modeling is one of the most cited papers in the the field. Chen pioneered an abstract way to describe a database known as Entity-Relationship Modeling(ERM). In 2014’s highly automated and digitized world, with so many people  living in developed urban area you’re likely using some service or device whose designers directly or indirectly used ERM or one of its descendants. If you plug into the grid in any way, “likely” becomes certainly.  A 2002 paper reflecting on the long-lived success of ERM, says:

Many people asked the author how he got the idea of the Entity-Relationship model. After he kept on  getting that kind of questions, the author thought it might be related to something that many people in Western culture may not have. After some soul searching, the author thought it could be related to his Chinese culture heritage. There are some concepts in Chinese character development and evolution that are closely related to modeling of the things in the real world.

From Wikipedia:

Peter Chen, the father of ER modelling said in his seminal paper:

The entity-relationship model adopts the more natural view that the real world consists of entities and relationships. It incorporates some of the important semantic information about the real world.

He is here in accord with philosophic and theoretical traditions from the time of the Ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (428 BC) through to modern epistemology, semiotics and logic of Peirce, Frege and Russell. Plato himself associates knowledge with the apprehension of unchanging Forms (The forms, according to Socrates, are roughly speaking archetypes or abstract representations of the many types of things, and properties) and their relationships to one another.

As we saw in Part 2, Shabaka, several hundred years before Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, had preserved this knowledge that had been codified in Memphis much earlier, perhaps several millennia.

ERM deals with the structure of databases but the Memphite technology is also applicable to the dynamics of a database. There are two sets of symmetrical operations that can be performed on most databases

  1. Create-Delete
  2. Retrieve-Update

These operations, identified in 1983 are known as CRUD and remain in widespread use. The web’s HTTP protocol is based on a similar set of four operations.

  1. Post-Delete
  2. Get-Put

Every day you use the web, you’re using techniques of African Information Engineering!

Following in Leibniz’s footsteps, physicist Stephen Wolfram is seeking to make knowledge computable. One tool he’s using is the cellular automata like the one below


Perhaps connections between African Information Engineering and cellular automata can help African cultures get back in the game.

Social Physics

Sometimes when an app seems simple, math proven in a seemingly unrelated field may be involved. In this case it’s a variant of the Laplacian operator being used to analyze social networks. You don’t need to know this math to use social networks, but if you want to get the most out of them or better yet realize your own vision of one you need to at least know people who speak the math. Often that’s a physicist or engineer and getting to know them socially can be a good way to tap into what they know. OTOH, if you are deeply literate in math and want to help the villiage, or start a company or find a different work environment sharing this kind of information can help.

African Information Engineering Part 2


Part 1 explored the connections between talking drums and information theory. In Part 2 we look at how early human information system engineers in Africa developed classification and communication systems which reflected the inherent symmetry in nature. We also show how those earliest IT systems served as the foundation stones for the binary number system at the heart of all of today’s digital technologies. The call and response initiated by nature’s symmetries is the timeless dance subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, materials, cells, organs, organisms, people, communities, nations, planets, stars and galaxies perform each moment!

The origins the talking drum of are deeply intertwined with the origins of language(gestural aka dance and verbal ) as well as the origins of science and math. Humans have been astute, systematic observers and recorders of natural phenomena for a very long time. Wikipedia’s entry on Science notes that:

knowledge about the working of natural things was gathered long before recorded history and led to the development of complex abstract thinking, as shown by the construction of complex calendars, techniques for making poisonous plants edible, and buildings such as the pyramids.

Unfortunately, the article goes on to say incorrectly

However no consistent conscientious distinction was made between knowledge of such things which are true in every community, and other types of communal knowledge such as mythologies and legal systems.Before the invention or discovery of the concept of “nature” (Ancient Greek phusis), by the Pre-Socratic philosophers, the same words tend to be used to describe the natural “way” in which a plant grows,and the “way” in which, for example, one tribe worships a particular god.

While unpacking all of the various misunderstandings, deliberate distortions that have occurred over the last 500 years is beyond the scope of this post, it is important to identify and correct the unscientific notion that early human thinkers were rooted in and blinded by religious views. Effective systems of classification were essential to survival, preceded religious use and continue to be woven into belief systems. Just because NASA referred to man’s first Moon mission vehicles as Apollo didn’t mean they weren’t capable of distinguishing the spacecraft from a deity or were not scientific. Similarly today, China’s moon spacecraft Chang’e and rover Yutu are named after the moon goddess and her pet rabbit. When  Yutu started malfunctioning, scientific diagnostic procedures commenced. When it appeared that the rover might not recover, an anthropomorphic message from the rover was sent out by officials. But I digress. From pre-dynastic times, the Medu Neter(Egyptian hieroglyphics) provided an extensive database of flora and fauna derived in large part from gestures. These dances reflected the recurring theme of symmetry pervasive throughout nature. Symmetry includes common dualities like day and night, hot and cold, dark and light, up and down, left and right, front and back as well as more specialized meanings in physics. Nobel laureate Phil Anderson once said “It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry”. The movement-stillness/left-right,up-down of the dance became the sound-no sound of percussion. High and low pitch sounds emanating from different body parts, the ground, rocks, trees became accents, annotations of the movements. This was before verbal languages took form. We know that drums were without a doubt the first manufactured instruments. It may very well be that talking drums developed in parallel with or even preceded verbal languages in some places. Regardless of when they were first created, it’s clear that they were giving expression to an existing gesture/dance language. We know that this database existed in pre-dynastic Egypt at least as far back as 4000 BCE. It was the google-like, real-time, location-based knowledge repository of its day and found expression in the geographical-political life of the nation as well as within the structure and organization of the various libraries and temples.

We can thank the 25th Dynasty(approx. 700 BCE) Pharaoh Shabaka for recognizing and acting to preserve what he recognized as vital, ancient ancestral knowledge.

shabaka2 shabaka3

The Shabaka Stone provides us with a clear record of the ancient origin of the previously mentioned Roots of Digital Technology which Leibniz recognized as ancient in the 17th century and Stephen Wolfram is applying today. This science known as the Memphite Equation which relates all phenomena in the world to the interactions of two sets of symmetries. In Greece a watered down version of this became known as the classical elements and provided a foundation for students of alchemy such as Leibniz. In the centuries since then we’ve seen incredible advances increasingly specialized fields of science but at cost. For the past half century there’s been a trend toward more unified approaches particularly those where information plays a central role. Stephen Wolfram’s computational knowledge is one such approach.

Slavery, STEAM & The Artist Currently Known As Prince

Prince does not want to be like DJay or Kanye. More importantly, he’s walked the walk to the beat of a different drum for decades now.

In 1993, during negotiations regarding the release of Prince’s album The Gold Experience, a legal battle ensued between Warner Bros. and Prince over the artistic and financial control of Prince’s output. During the lawsuit, Prince appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek. Prince explained his name change as follows:

The first step I have taken toward the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros…

I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about. This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am. It is my name.

Prince has even been a pioneer in leveraging cyberspace. However as long as artists are fundamentally dependent upon technology other people own in order to produce, perform and distribute their products they will be limited to renegotiating slavery under different terms.  and sadly forced to complain about not being able to “get a second chance”. Artists who want to be free need ownership in STEM and the village needs to have greater stake in the revenue generated by our artists. On the surface this sounds like a win-win but in practice it will require a level of sacrifice on the order of the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

 Instead of riding buses, boycotters organized a system of carpools, with car owners volunteering their vehicles or themselves driving people to various destinations. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work. When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd’s of London.

Black taxi drivers charged ten cents per ride, a fare equal to the cost to ride the bus, in support of the boycott. When word of this reached city officials on December 8, the order went out to fine any cab driver who charged a rider less than 45 cents. In addition to using private motor vehicles, some people used non-motorized means to get around, such as cycling, walking, or even riding mules or driving horse-drawn buggies. Some people also hitchhiked. During rush hours, sidewalks were often crowded. As the buses received few, if any, passengers, their officials asked the City Commission to allow stopping service to black communities.[23] Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and slightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery’s black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere rather than ride the buses and submit to Jim Crow laws.

In response, opposing whites swelled the ranks of the White Citizens’ Council, the membership of which doubled during the course of the boycott. The councils sometimes resorted to violence: King’s and Abernathy’s houses werefirebombed, as were four black Baptist churches. Boycotters were often physically attacked.

For starters some shift in how we spend our entertainment dollars has to happen. What would you be willing to do to help jump-start a transformation in the distribution of wealth generated by artists?  Right now, without fear of physical retaliation, you can find/support existing independent artists and share/like/email/retweet this post.

The Roots of Digital Technology

Digital technology really did get started in Africa as this Ted Talk asserts.

these facts are not generally disputed. Moreover there are still lessons to be learned by looking at STEM through the lens of African history. The Art of Memory by Frances Yates are helpful in this regard as is Africa Counts: Number and Pattern in African Cultures by Claudia Zaslavsky. 

What’s STEM Got To Do With Social Justice?

Having passed through Phillipsburg, NJ yesterday and looking at the glaring inconsistency between this photo, quote


“Who hangs anybody by a noose? And points the hoodie into a tent to look like the Ku Klux Klan?”

and the title of the NY Times article they appear in:

 High School Wrestlers in New Jersey Apoologize for Photo Seen as Racist

I was led to dig in my archives and reminded that I can do a better job of sharing/disseminating information. Around the time of Trayvon Martin’s murder, I’d bookmarked several sites on lynching:​

From chips to database and location-aware software, today’s social media is built upon STEM. The question is are we getting as much as we can out of it. There’s UshahidiDream Defenders and Million Hoodies to name a few. I’ve not been tracking this closely. What are the best resources for social justice? How many folk know about them? Who is supporting/financing them?

Crystallography Pioneer Mentored Other History Makers

Physicist Donald Anderson Edwards not only made significant contributions to his field, he mentored others who did likewise:

  • Joseph McNeill – a engineering physics major was one of the Greensboro Four . It should be noted that Franklin McCain, another member of the Greensboro Four, was also a STEM major(dual degrees in chemisty and biology).
  • Dwight Davis – is a distinguished cardiologist “who has played a leading role in medical education at Pennsylvania State University for almost 25 years.”
  • Ronald McNair became the second African-American astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle. His plan to be the first human to record an original piece of music in space was cut short by the Challenger explosion.