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Tenets

Dead Reckoning

Posted on 3 min read

It is possible to know where we are and whether we are moving at all, when we are walking, cycling, or even driving. We can see objects around us, and our position relative to them can help us know if we are moving or stationery. The road markings on the road help us to maintain our lanes, and the roads themselves are a defined path to our destinations.

It becomes a little difficult when swimming, especially when we are learning how to swim. Sometimes we make a lot of random motion but without movement in a desired direction, and we have to pop our heads out of the water to know where we are relative to the edge of the swimming pool.

Motion in Water

When it comes to ships and submarines, it is even harder to determine the exact location. As the ships and submarines move, water and air currents are also active, resulting into drift. Sometimes, even stopping a ship mid ocean for several days is hard, because the ship could drift for hundreds of kilometers.

This was a problem that was solved by use of anchors to hold the ship in position when stationary, use of light house to mark dangerous sections, and observance of heavenly bodies to determine course and location. Later, use of inertial navigation systems to calculate the location of a vessel by using computers, accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers, using a process called dead reckoning was adopted.

Determining Location

Dead reckoning is the process of calculating one’s current position by using a previously determined position, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. It may not be very accurate, but it is quite useful to get you somewhere very close to where you want to go.

Today, use of Global Positioning System (GPS) has made it possible for us to determine where we are with great accuracy, to the point of almost discarding the older techniques. However, even the very accurate GPS can sometimes fail. A case study is the grounding of the cruise ship Royal Majesty in 1995. The antenna cable for the GPS had been cut, and the GPS was no longer functional. For several days, the ship operated well via dead reckoning, but ran aground when it was in coastal waters of Boston. The GPS system had operated flawlessly for several years, and so the crew had full confidence in it. The result was damages amounting to millions of dollars.

Dead Reckoning in Life

Life is also a form of navigation in the high seas. We need excellent navigation systems to avoid running into shallow waters, icebergs or dangerous sections. Sometimes we don’t know our expected destinations, and other times we know the destinations but are not sure of the path. Sometimes we know the paths but dangerous ice bergs can move into the paths. Other times we are sailing to look for new lands, like Christopher Columbus, and thus lack the information from others experiences.

We cannot always depend on other people, civilizations or cultures to determine our position or speed, because they are also moving. We are like first time sailors, in a maiden voyage, given one opportunity to get it right. The best tool that we can use is a GPS that cannot fail.

Does it exist?

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The Most Foolish Bird

Posted on 2 min read

There is a very foolish bird called Ngune. That’s the name in my native Embu language, I don’t know it’s English name.

The bird only feeds on frogs, and the highlight of its foolishness is that it spends the whole day catching frogs from the river, and placing them on a rock on the riverbed (perhaps to dry them) so that it can eat them later.

The stupid thing about it is that whenever it places a frog on the river bed and gets back to the river to get another one, the frog immediately jumps back to the river, and chances are that it will pick the same frog in the next catch. This goes one for the better part of the day. At the end of the day, the foolish bird carries home just one frog, after laboring for a whole day.

To help this bird, we’ve come up with a very bizarre but workable plan. We are going to send someone into species travel, be laid as a Ngune egg and hatched into a Ngune chick, and grow to eat frogs. By speaking fluent Ngune-ese, he will teach other Ngunes that they need to eat the first frog they catch, before attempting to catch another one.

We don’t promise any security, or that Ngunes will believe him. We just hope that he will not be eaten by crocodiles and foxes, poisoned in a polluted river, or even die of hunger in case rivers run out of frogs or climate change gets rid of frogs. Besides, the Ngunes might not believe them.

Can we get a volunteer please?

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We talk of wild animals, but the wildest of all animals is man

Posted on 2 min read


“We talk of wild animals, but the wildest of all animals is man.” –GK Chesterton
70 years ago (August 1945), an atomic bomb was used in war for the first time. The devastation was cosmic. Japan was the recipient; the US was the aggressor. About 140000 people lost their lives, and that marked the end of World War II.
70 years later, no nation has dared use an atomic weapon again. A lesson was learn’t from that experience, which is fresh in the memories of all nuclear powers in the world. Japan surrendered to the United States, and ever since, it has based its constitution on a pacifist constitution. Attempts to change this constitution have always been met with resistance by the populace. Every year, Japanese students visit the Hiroshima Peace museum, and carry home a lesson that inspires peace. Generation after generation of Japanese continue to choose peace over warfare.
Rwanda seems to have learn’t a lesson from the genocide. The unity and oneness that characterizes the country seems to emanate from a collective willpower of ‘never again.’ Genocide museums always teach the bitter lessons every year to new generations, which may not have experienced the genocide. I expect that Rwanda will remain a very peaceful country for a long time in history.
In Kenya, I don’t know to what extent we learn’t from our 2007/8 post-election violence. When the ICC cases are over, and IDPs are resettled, and new political alliances are formed, will we ever remembered that we almost annihilated each other based on the primary languages that we speak.
When there was an attempt to build a monument at the place where women and children were burnt to death in a church, the political leaders mounted a big resistance. Maybe, we do not want to be reminded of our past failures.
I have heard it said that a clever person learns from his own mistakes, and a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. I do not know where we stand on this. Once again, the good old GK Chesterton once said, “He who refuses to learn from history will be forced to repeat its mistakes.”

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