Implementing the MicroHaskell programming language in Java (Github Repo)

One of the most challenging things I had to do last year during my first semester of graduate studies was to implement a fully functional programming language.

This required going through all the necessary stages of building a compiler based on a BNF description of the language it was meant to compile. Most important of these stages was building a recursive descent parser, constructing a syntax tree and writing the code for the actual interpreter. Although I have been writing code for as long as I can remember, I never really appreciated all the work and drudgery that goes into making programming languages work.

The programming language I implemented is a subset of Haskell which we called MicroHaskell. Haskell is an amazing functional language and it was interesting to take the leap from the more familiar imperative languages to studying functional languages and what makes them unique and different. The implementation of MicroHaskell I worked on was done in Java. I hate Java, but I’m happy I actually pulled it off.

You can be sure that after going through the “hardwork” of implementing a “tiny” programming language, I now have a better understanding of what makes the code we write, do what we intend for it to do.

I have created a github repository that contains my source code, test files, BNF description, and static/dynamic semantics specifications which guided my implementation of MicroHaskell. It is my hope that this serves as instructional material for someone else who has to go through the task of learning how to build a compiler/interpreter.

You can find the github repository here: https://github.com/davidadamojr/microhaskell

OpenBooth: Restaurant Order Management (Open Source Software)

In August 2012, I started a long journey toward a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.

In my first semester, I took a Software Development course and worked on a class project that aimed to build a system that enables restaurants easily take and process orders from customers without the need for direct interaction between customers and waiters. My team chose to call this project OpenBooth.

It was my aim to actually overdo the project and load it with all possible features I could think of. This was exactly what we achieved and we ended up with a very feature-laden restaurant order management system.

OpenBooth is built with PHP/CodeIgniter and uses MySQL as its database back-end.

In the spirit of Open Source Software, I have created a sourceforge project for OpenBooth and I encourage developers and enthusiasts who might be interested in this project to pick it up, dissect the source code and use it as they wish.

Many thanks to Quentin Mayo, Turner Andrew and Travis Frederick for their invaluable contributions to this project.

You can find the OpenBooth sourceforge project here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/openbooth

 

Introducing FUTA SoftXpo…

The world is in constant need of software engineering talent. Indeed, almost everything these days is driven by computer software. Unfortunately, considering just how densely populated our home planet is, and the sheer variety of individuals on earth, it is easy to conclude that undertaking the task of identifying individuals with the kind of (latent) talent and abilities required of a professional software developer would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. In Nigeria, finding an individual with great potentials in software development is definitely more complex than picking out people with computer science degrees or professional certifications in [insert popular certification here]. There are so many reasons for this inherent difficulty in finding software development talent in Nigeria, not least of which is the poor quality of our education in the country. Beyond the inability of most Nigerian universities to live up to expectations and standards in tech education is the blatant lack of well directed initiatives for encouraging and grooming young students of Nigerian tertiary institutions, especially students who are training to be professionals within the Information Technology industry.

There is no denying the fact that a University potentially holds the greatest amount of talent and potentials that can ever be concentrated within a single geographical location at any one time. A University, amongst other things, is definitely one hell of a talent pool. The individuals with much needed talent just need to be identified. Imagine the amount of software development talent that probably lurks hidden within Nigerian universities, just waiting for a chance to showcase what they are capable of, just waiting to be identified, groomed, mentored and put to use. Unfortunately, there is an almost complete lack of mentoring available for these people. There seems to be no directed effort to focus on Universities as a high output source for “rough” computer programming talent that can then be refined, mentored and put to good use. Basically, there is a need to put systems and programmes in place to help and encourage young software developers in Nigerian universities to use and improve their skills and abilities.

The process of identifying people with great potentials in computer programming does not have to be such an ardous task. Together with Abiodun Akinbodewa and Kehinde Akinrinwa, I have set out to find a way to identify, encourage and mentor young software developers and software enthusiasts within the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), and in the long run, other Nigerian tertiary institutions as well. In a bid to achieve this noble goal, we have begun putting things in place for FUTA SoftXpo. The basic aim of FUTA SoftXpo is to identify students of the Federal University of Technology Akure who have the enthusiasm, will and skill to think of and implement well thought out and realistic software ideas that would be useful in the real world. It must be noted that the aim of FUTA SoftXpo is not necessarily to identify individuals who know and can do it all, but to identify and encourage individuals who are willing to learn, improve and use the skills they already have, no matter how abysmal their skills might actually be. This is because we think that the willingness to learn, improve and use the skills you already have, is much more important than the level of skills you actually have. We are already beginning to see interest from students at FUTA and have already gotten some interesting entries. :)

Such a strategy toward achieving the aforementioned goals can only be effective with the support of individuals and organizations that are active in the Nigerian tech industry. In fact, it could well evolve into a symbiotic relationship between interested parties and University students. I also see this as a really noble project toward which University alumni can lend their unrelenting support. It is our hope that the success of FUTA SoftXpo, would spur an active and innovative community of young software developers in Nigerian universities who have the required level of enthusiasm, will and skill to be groomed, mentored and refined into professional software developers who are capable in every ramification to achieve great things within the Nigerian software industry.

Want to know what FUTA SoftXpo entails? Visit http://www.itkonverge.com/futasoftxpo.php

For more information concerning FUTA SoftXpo, you can reach me on Twitter, @davidadamojr or send me an email: me@davidadamojr.com

 

FUTA SoftXpo

FUTA SoftXpo

It’s Cool to be a ‘Psychopath’…

I have never been one to fit in. I have typically never been one to be considered one of the “cool guys”. Sometimes, this has been intentionally of my own doing but also as a result of my inherent nature. This definitely has its cons, but also has its pros as well. However, I am no psychopath.

Humans are a complex bunch and in fact, have a tendency to exhibit different personality traits at different times. However, it is safe to say that most people can be broadly categorized into “normal” and just plain “weird”. Apparently, the great majority of people can be categorized as “normal” when it comes to the way they think and the way they relate with and interact with other people. Still, there is that small minority that can be charcterized as “weird” or “strange” or maybe even “psychopathic”, people who have a tendency to be “antisocial” by default but also find a way to constantly change their personalities depending on the environment in which they find themselves.

When one is considered “normal”, it generally means that such a person tends to say and do things like most other people will, given the same circumstances. In fact, “normal” people can be fairly predictable given a set of stable external conditions. In other words, such people tend to act within the expectations of other supposedly “normal” people, at least, most of the time. On the other hand, the “weird” ones, or “psychopaths” tend to do things outside of the ordinary, things that most other people would consider abnormal, and in a manner which can hardly be predicted. Pyschopaths are characterized by their lack of empathy/remorse, shallow emotions, selfishness, deceptiveness, and sometimes antisocial behaviour.

When one takes a look at the personalities of the most successful people in the world today, it is easy to see that their personalities are a bit out of the ordinary. Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? Mark Zuckerberg? All these people are known for their “weird” approach to issues, circumstances and relationships with their peers and colleagues. In fact, if you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, or watched “The Social Network”, you would see many examples of weird behaviour exhibited by the entrepreneurs in question. Now, the question is “what does the weird personality of these individuals have to do with their apparent success?”

People who are ambitious and interested in holding positions of power and great responsibility always need to remember that the ability to separate their emotions, ideals and certain other traits from their responsibilities as leaders is essential. According to this article, “business leaders are four times more likely to be psychopaths than the general population”. In fact, today’s ruthless corporate culture tends to reward people for their natural callousness and disregard for other people’s feelings. Certain studies have shown that people with psychopathic tendencies might even be prevalent in certain occupations such as politics, business and entertainment. Well, at least, many of the “successful” politicians in my country are psychopathic liars anyway. Psychopaths are actually known to have at their disposal a very large repertoire of behaviours and therefore have the ability to use charm, manipulation, intimidation, whatever is required to achieve whatever they want to achieve without having to feel the pain and emotions of others that they trample upon. Furthermore, these “weird” people are very comfortable in environments that are constantly changing, and this happens to be an essential characteristic of high performance environments. Therefore, these “psychopaths” tend to function very well in such environments where they have to constantly adjust to various roles and responsibilities. As a result, it is a known fact that there are very many popular successful people who have very strong psychopathic tendencies.

In the tech startup world, we are inundated with stories of twenty-somethings who are turned into millionaires – or even billionaires – through their exploits. In the midst of these success stories are episodes about the weird behaviour and attitudes that these startup founders have exhibited at one time or the other. In this interview (you might need some Google Translate help here), some researchers studying the entrepreneurial personality have said that borderline personality disorders can actually be crucial elements behind startup success. In other words, there are several personality traits that may be highly unpleasant in ordinary life but can help startup founders succeed. Research has shown that higher incidences of certain particular traits are prevalent amongst successful entrepreneurs: self-regard, narcissism, manipulation and trickery, which are basic elements of “subclinical psychopathy”.

But how do people with “strange” personalities and tendencies manage to do so well? It seems certain personality disorders actually have advantages, or at least make one more likely to achieve certain kinds of things. This formidable and very useful set of personality characteristics that can result from some personality disorders include:

  • superficial charm, egocentricity, manipulativeness;
  • grandiosity, lack of empathy for others, exploitativeness, independence;
  • perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, rigidity, stubbornness, dictatorial tendencies (why does this make me think “Steve Jobs”?)

The above listed traits seem to enable individuals rise quickly through the ranks to positions of power and influence and this has been attested to by the fact that some of these traits are inherent in many of the most successful people the world has seen. This is not surprising since “the successful psychopath” often seems to have extraordinary self-control and conscientiousness. This seems remarkably evident but has not been successfully proven by psychologists though. Nevertheless, I do not see anyone responding to an advertisement asking people to volunteer for a study of successful people who are psychopathic.

This blog post is in no way a glorification of psychopathy, which in fact, is a serious mental disorder. The “psychopaths” I refer to in this blog post do not have full blown personality disorders. The truth is that there is a bit of “psychopathy” in everyone. The levels of psychopathy amongst individuals just vary. The primary difference between “successful psychopaths” and people who are just plain sick seems to lie in their conscientousness. Individuals who are highly successful often have the same characteristics as people with psychopathic disorders except that they lack the irresponsibility, impulsivity and negligence common among “standard psychopaths” and instead, find a way to harness their psychopathic tendencies toward a high level of competence, order, achievement striving and self-discipline.

So, the next time you feel bad about the fact that you seem to be different and strange in your approach to relationships and circumstances, it is necessary to always remember that your “psychopathic” tendencies are probably the very reason for SOME of the things you have achieved in your life.

Adloopz.com is Now Open to Everyone. Join Adloopz Today!

We are glad to announce that the Adloopz social advertising platform is now open to everyone. Users are no longer required to enter a beta invite code in order to sign up.

This is a great step in the development of adloopz, a task that has had its ups and downs for the adloopz team. We would be delighted to see everyone use adloopz and that is why we have decided to take down the required beta invite code.

There is still a lot left to be done on the adloopz platform and we would really appreciate feedback and bug reports via the feedback form on the website. We recognize the fact that it is not a perfect system and is still far from achieving the dream we had when we started developing Adloopz. However, we know that Adloopz is already helping people, and that is our ultimate dream.

So, if you do not already have an adloopz account, visit http://adloopz.com/signup to join adloopz today!

Enjoy.

Search Engines are not the Problem

I have strong opinions on quite a number of issues and once in a while I love to share them. That is one of the reasons I set up this blog. I understand my opinions are not exactly in high demand (yet) but I can only care less.

Many people have claimed that the advent of Google and other search engines has actually provided ample opportunity for us humans to habitually underutilize our God-given brain power and ability to think. Such claims are basically as a result of what these people have observed and experienced especially during the course of their education. However, I have a few issues with this claim and consequently, I disagree. I do not think search engines are the problem. I think the problem has more to do with an educational system that has failed to evolve with the kind of information resources that are now available and the manner in which humans are now wont to learn using these information resources. I cannot speak for the system of education in other countries but I can speak of that which I happen to be a product of.

I have had most, if not all of my education in Nigeria. Therefore, I understand the system to an appreciable extent. I believe I understand how Nigerian students are expected to learn and the kind of academic challenges that Nigerian students are presented with. I also believe that the educational system here in Nigeria has not evolved to effectively utilize the kind of information resources students now have at their disposal. Considering the status quo, it is quite logical to conclude that Google.com and other search engines are tools that seem to remove the need for students to think deeply and logically about concepts, topics, issues and problems. Of course, why stress your brain when you can just type in a keyword in a search engine and have all the answers to your questions thrown at you? For this reason, many people feel search engines have made things to0 easy for students and are therefore a problem. On the other hand, when one looks at the issue from another perspective, one can also conclude that the facilities provided by search engines and other similar electronic information archiving and retrieval systems actually enable humans more effectively use their mental abilities. Rather than waste time trying to independently formulate the rudimentary basics of a problem, we now have the luxury of gathering these bits of information fairly easily and then using those bits to form more useful theories and solutions using our human faculties. Unfortunately, the old ways of educating people do not seem to agree with this. For instance, it is not at all strange to find teachers in secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria still giving out assignments to their students that go along the lines of “List and Explain 5 Problems Faced in Teaching the English Language”. This is the kind of take home assignment you might be given in a course as an English Education undergrad. Frankly, I think it is total crap and should not even be an examination question. This is the kind of thing a search engine is very likely to spit at you after submitting a few keywords. With exercises like these, students are sure to constantly underutilize their reasoning abilities and the search engines should not be blamed for it. I think the question should be rather be something along the lines of “There are problems faced by English Language teachers. As a teacher of the English Language, discuss how you would effectively deal with some of these problems” or at least something similar. My point here basically is that instead of requiring students to produce basic information that can be easily gleaned from a search engine, why not rather require students to use this readily available information to think logically to produce solutions or other useful ideas. This way, search engines such as Google.com would not seem so evil and would actually serve as tools to help students more effectively use their brains.

This is why I think search engines are not the problem. The problem lies with the way our educational institutions, or more specifically, our teachers expect us to learn. With a few adjustments to our formal learning systems, search engines and other easily searcheable information sources would actually enhance the efficiency with which we use our intellectual abilities to learn and generate new ideas. They would not just serve as a means through which we can lazily gather information to throw in some other direction where it is wanted.

Startup Weekend Lagos, Garage48, and the Burden of Another New Startup

I am up at 1:10am September 9 2011 struggling to craft the first few sentences of this blog post. This is one of those times when I just have to make myself write down my thoughts regardless of whether or not I actually want to. In order to get myself into the mood to write this, I have attempted to adopt a strategy that has both worked and failed at different times. I’ve got music playing softly through my surround system and I have switched off all the lights in my apartment. I just hope my country’s reliably unreliable power supply does not leave me contemplating migrating to Ghana in the middle of the night. Now, let’s see how this goes.

Startup Weekend is a startup event much like Garage48. Startup Weekend, like Garage48, is an event where designers, developers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and LAUNCH STARTUPS, all in one weekend. Startup Weekend is coming to Nigeria for the first time ever and this is something that has gotten the Nigerian hacker community excited. Garage48 made a similar debut a few months ago and went a long way in rejuvenating the software tech community over here in Nigeria. Expectations from Startup Weekend are therefore quite lofty and so far, the event seems poised to live up to and exceed these expectations, thanks to the hardwork of its organisers and stakeholders. Kudos to them!

Events like Startup Weekend have a wide range of benefits for those who partake in them. These benefits are so far-reaching that even those who choose to observe from a distance rather than partake also learn one or two things as well. Foremost amongst the various valuable benefits that accrue from high energy hackathons of this calibre is the unparalled opportunity it provides for like-minded people to interact with one another and build long-lasting professional relationships that could potentially result in a super successful startup. In environments such as that provided by Startup Weekend, there is always something new to learn. With the right mindset, any Startup Weekend participant regardless of whether such a person is a developer, designer, product manager or startup enthusiast, can learn valuable new skills that just might prove to be life or career savers at some point in the near future. This is in addition to the important lessons that can be learnt as a result of working as part of a team focused on launching and proving the viability of a new startup all in one short weekend, 54 hours to be more precise. Startups that seem viable stand the chance of getting much needed funding from interested parties. This is intended to spur the growth and movement of the young startups towards their established goals and objectives. Basically, Startup Weekend is the place to be if you have even the slightest entrepreneurial aspirations.

Building a startup is a delightful experience in many ways. As each day goes by, I am repeatedly and menacingly taunted by the continuous realization that building a startup that has any reasonable chance at success is a full time job. I am currently involved in two startups: Adloopz and Flippii. I am passionate about both, and I work with a different team on each of these ventures. Adloopz.com is a social advertising platform that helps advertisers leverage their social networks in order to more effectively reach people who possibly need their services or products. Flippii.com is intended to be a social idea sharing and discussion platform and was launched at Garage48 Lagos earlier this year. Between contributing my quota to keeping Adloopz.com afloat, saving Flippii.com from totally sinking and scaling through my soon-to-be-completed mandatory one year service to my country as a member of the Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I have all but grown weary. And to think this is just the beginning of my startup adventure!!! *sigh*

I was privileged to take part in the Garage48 Lagos event earlier this year and it was one of the defining moments in my budding career as a software developer. As I have mentioned earlier, Flippii.com was birthed at that event amongst other potential startups. Soon after the Garage48 Lagos event, I wrote a not-so-brief treatise concerning the event in whch I opined that the overall success of Garage48 Lagos would be more appropriately measured by what becomes of the various wonderful startups supposedly launched at the event. Based on this, and at this very moment, can we rightly say the event has been a success?

I am excited about Startup Weekend for a particular reason. I am delighted with the fact that it would give skilled developers who for one reason or the other missed out on Garage48 Lagos, the opportunity to launch their own startups in the kind of positive environment provided by these sort of events. These developers have to make the most of Startup Weekend. I should probably be at Startup Weekend right now and indeed, it is one event I have been looking forward to for over two months. I had every intention of being part of the event until I assessed all the startups I was involved in, especially Flippii which was launched at Garage48 Lagos. I cannot authoritatively speak for other startups at Garage48 Lagos, but it is with great displeasure that I admit that the performance of the Flippii team, which I am very much a part of, has been infinitesimally shy of disappointing. However, I still have great confidence in the team and we have great plans for the platform. If only these plans can stop being just plans and do something progressive with themselves. Damn lazy plans! Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for all the teams formed at Garage48 Lagos. Would it not be quite nice if the members of the various teams at Garage48 Lagos got back to work rather than get themselves into another startup quagmire by attending Startup Weekend? If I were a judge at Startup Weekend, my first question for any team member who was a participant at Garage48 would be “What happened/is happening to your Garage48 startup?” and if that team member happens to be the team leader or the person who pitched the idea, the next question would be “What makes you think you would be able to pull this off as opposed to the painfully slow progress of your previous attempt at Garage48 Lagos?”. I sure hope there would be no silence and cricket sounds if these questions are asked at Startup Weekend. Would a VC/angel investor confidently invest in a team consisting mostly of Garage48 Lagos participants? Maybe this was why I chickened out of Startup Weekend, amongst other reasons of course. I am immeasurably saddened that I am now set to miss out on an opportunity to meet great people and learn new things. But the question we all really need to ask ourselves is whether or not we are ready to place the sometimes profitable burden of another startup on our backs. This is not something I think I am ready for. An opportunity to interact with like-minded fellows and learn new things? By all means! The responsibility of having an additional startup venture on my neck in addition to the two I am currently “struggling” with? Hell No!

Considering the many obvious benefits of partaking in Startup Weekend, one might conclude that any level-headed technology enthusiast would happily break a tooth and a leg in a bid to ensure that he or she gets a feel of the event up close. This is in no way an illogical conclusion. However, one can easily see that events such as Startup Weekend are not as much about what takes place during that one weekend as they are about what takes place over the course of the next few months after the event. Just like Garage48, participants at Startup Weekend are expected to make dedicated efforts to mold their startup “seedlings” into viable businesses over time. I believe this is the ultimate aim of events like these. If I am wrong, I humbly stand to be corrected. Building a startup from ground up is a strenuous task and typically demands the highest levels of commitment and dedication to pull off successfully. How many people participating at Startup Weekend are actually ready for this? Considering the fact that many of the participants at Startup Weekend are likely to already have themselves chin deep in some other startup venture, possibly from Garage48, how many of them are actually ready to dip their fingers once again into the steaming cauldron of boiling magma that is another new startup? How does this proliferation of seemingly over-occupied startup founders affect the future growth and development of the startup “seedlings” to be cultivated at Startup Weekend?

It is my sincere hope that every individual participating in Startup Weekend Lagos is doing so because he or she is absolutely sure that he/she is ready to make a commitment to building a viable new startup. This is essential and extremely important if Startup Weekend is going to build solid walls on the wonderful foundation laid by Garage48 Lagos.

Could Religion be one of Nigeria’s Greatest Problems?

I have not posted an article in a while. I’ve been really “busy”, well, at least in a certain sense of the word.

My blog posts generally fall into any of these categories: (1) my opinion on an issue, (2) something new I have learnt, (3) something I think people should know, and (4) some other category I probably cannot think about right now. Today, I think it would not be too off the mark to put this post into the “my opinion on an issue” category. And yes! Today, I have an opinion, and I really want to know how many people even slightly agree with me.

Side note: I wote this blog entry on my mobile phone, not because I particularly love typing on a tiny keypad, but because it turns out that at this very moment, electricity seems like a far-fetched dream (Yes! I live in an awesome country where electricity supply is a rare privilege). Therefore, I cannot use a PC with a glorious full-sized keyboard that I can go all “Usain Bolt” on. Well, thank God for mobile Internet and of course, mobile phones with QWERTY keypads.

Before I go any further, I would like to make certain affirmations. Firstly, I am a Christian. I believe in God and I have absolutely no doubt about God’s existence. Right now, as I write this, I probably should even be in Church. I mean, it is a Sunday right? WELL, I’M NOT. So, bite me! Secondly, I am Nigerian. There is really nothing I can do about that. I would really love to confidently say that I am proud to be Nigerian but recently I have been entertaining a few doubts as to how I feel about being Nigerian. However, I am not one to even consider denying my origins. That simply just cannot happen.

Now that I have so “gloriously” reaffirmed my nationality and religious affiliation, I believe I can objectively go into the issue at hand. Nigerians tend to do a great deal of talking and little acting compared to how much talk they engage in. My country Nigeria, has a lot of problems not least of which is the wanton corruption that has eaten into the hearts and minds of almost everyone; those in high places, those in low places, those in “middle” places, and those who just barely exist and do not know where they belong. Most people would readily agree that corruption is the one single greatest problem facing Nigeria. However, not as many people would agree with my opinion that the average Nigerian’s propensity to be wildly and exaggeratedly religious is probably the country’s second biggest problem.

It is not like I have anything against religion as a vital aspect of human existence. It is just that I believe that everything should be practiced within the limits of common sense. Unfortunately, this probably poses another problem since what comprises common sense tends to differ amongst individuals. *sigh*. Nigerians are said to be one of the most religious people on this dying and continuously deteriorating planet. How come we are equally notorious for the corrupted nature of our minds? The irony is just plain mind-numbing.

Once in a blue moon, I talk to actual human beings about some of the things I think of and most of the time I get the same reaction which mostly ranges from calling me a pessimist to labeling me a slightly mentally maligned sadistic little boy. I might be able to deal with the pessimist label but definitely not the latter. :-) The point here is that I strongly believe in accepting reality for what it is, no matter how unpalatable the current situation of things proves itself to be. Unfortunately, reality often presents us with less than palatable circumstances and I have learnt to accept them the way they are and deal with them.

The concept of faith and positive affirmations is a part of many religions, especially Christianity. It is a known fact that in Christianity, faith could be said to be “the proclamation of things that aren’t as though they were”. But does this mean we should constantly deceive our minds into thinking that everything is alright when there are obvious problems that need to be tackled? In my discussions with people, I am often corrected when I make certain negative statements about my country and the situation of things, statements which are obviously true. People are quick to tell me that as a Christian, I should only say positive things. Overt negativity is a terrible attribute to have, but then again, overt positivity is just as dangerous and religion as practiced in this country tends to encourage it. The problem is, how do you make positive solution-oriented moves toward a problem you have so actively deceived your mind into thinking does not exist, many times in the name of faith and/or positivity?

When I started writing this, I came across some tweets on Twitter that caught my attention. Someone on my Twitter timeline observed that at his church, there was absolutely no mention of some of the problems the country was facing, specifically, the recent bombing of the UN building in Abuja and flooding in Ibadan. Typically, one would expect that prayers would be offered for the people who have been distressed by the recent happenings and for the country as a whole. Also, it should not just end in prayers, as is usually the case, but also in a call for members of the congregation to do whatever they can to help distressed people. For instance, there are calls for blood donations for the victims of the Abuja bombing and people should be encouraged to help. Religious bodies here in Nigeria should probably play a vital role in encouraging people to do the little they can to help and alleviate the problems. But no no no, we go to our churches or mosques and constantly listen to how everything is alright and how God is in control. Yes, God is in control but then, there are some things He has also granted us a certain level of control over. I guess that is one of the reasons why he gave humans a brain to enable them analyze situations and make useful, progressive decisions.
Religious leaders and of course followers as well are both to be blamed for the feel-good-centric approach to religion that seems to be prevalent in this country. No one really wants to go to his place of worship to be reminded of the many problems that plague his life. The religious leaders also, on the other hand, do not want to be the ones who stand as a constant reminder of nagging problems. So what do we do? Let’s just pretend they do not exist, right? Most of the time, our places of worship are better seen as a means of escape and a place for refuelling our positivity and problem-denial tanks for the rest of the week. Is this why Karl Marx opined that “Religion is the opium of the people”? I wonder.

I need to bring this blog post to a close, but trust me, I could keep rambling on and on.

The bottom line is that we all want to drink from that cup of illusions that says “everything is alright”. It makes us feel good. Of course, most religious leaders do not help matters. Frankly, I would not blame anyone. Afterall, just like the character Rachoddas Chanchad in the wonderful Indian movie 3 Idiots noted, the heart scares easily and what we need to do is deceive it by making it believe “Aal iz Well”! *sigh*. However, I think this “Aal iz Well” attitude is one of the things that keep the average Nigerian from first of all thinking about what little he or she can do to make things better. Many people who follow the “Aal iz Well” philosophy, or maybe I should call it the “deceiving the mind” technique often forget the fact that the purpose of telling the heart and mind that “All is Well” is basically to enable us muster the courage to tackle the problems we face and is definitely not a call to inaction. Unfortunately, many of us just sit and make positive affirmations, most of the time followed by really thunderous “Amens” and believe everything is alright. Some of us manage to criticize things and do nothing about it. I believe this is one of the greatest problems Nigeria faces and is one of those things that has the potential to leave the country stagnated. This is because Nigeria seems to be mostly made up of citizenry that do not see the need to act in any way (no matter how little), but rather expect God to come down and do something about the state of the country while they sit and sing His praises. We really need to do something about this attitude.

So, What Exactly is a ‘Startup’ Anyway?

There are certain buzzwords in information technology that can get quite confusing. One very good example is the term ‘Web 2.0′. Can anyone actually give a short, one or two-sentence definition of the concept of ‘Web 2.0’? I am yet to actually understand what the term ‘Web 2.0′ actually means. :(

The word ‘Startup’ is one of these overly used words that has gotten me slightly confused at one point or the other. The term became popular internationally during the dot-com bubble when a great number of dot-com companies were founded. Given the ease with which it rolls off various tongues these days, it might seem naive to wonder what the term ‘startup’ actually means. What exactly is a startup? Can Twitter and Facebook still be classified as startups? At what point does a company stop being a startup? What is the difference between a small business and a startup? These are all questions with answers that might vary amongst a large number of people.

Most startups begin small, but definitely not all small businesses are startups.

We have all heard wonderful stories of startup companies that have now become multibillion dollar conglomerates (Google, HP, Apple, Facebook, etc.) It is hard to forget the really inspiring stories of how most of these companies were started in garages by one or two “geniuses” who ingested lots of caffeine, never slept at night, dropped out of school and took outrageous risks. These stories are great and have gone a long way in shaping the average individual’s basic conception of what a startup actually is. But this basic conception that most people have seems to be flawed in quite a number of ways.

Such stories tend to give people the impression that any time they see a couple of guys attempting to put up a web site/application or some sort of other contraption together, then that is automatically a startup. Also, the word ‘Startup’ has now become so widely used in relation to computing and technology that numerous other kinds of startups that appear in other settings are simply ignored or not considered to be startups (in the real sense of the word). There are remarkable similarities between small businesses and startups, but that does not mean that any small business is a startup.

So, what is a Startup? In order to adequately define a startup, one has to shake free of the mental shackles created by the most famous startups we have today.

In this blog post by Eric Ries, one finds quite an interesting definition. Eric Ries says:

A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

I think this is quite a splendid definition. Eric Ries first of all makes it clear that startups are HUMAN institutions. He says:

…we so often loose sight of the fact that startups are not their products, their technological breakthroughs, or even their data. Even for companies that essentially have only one product, the value the company creates is located not in the product itself but with the people and their organization who built it. To see proof of this, simply observe the results of the large majorities of corporate acquisitions of startups. In most cases, essential aspects of the startup are lost, even when the product, its brand, and even its employment contracts are preserved. A startup is greater than the sum of its parts; it is an acutely human enterprise.

Eric Ries goes ahead to explain some other very important aspects of his definition. You can check out his blog post here.

One thing that caught my attention in the definition above is the part that talks about “delivering a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”. In Nigeria today, we find so many Twitter and Facebook clones that want to call themselves startups. Even in the small business scene, we find an ever-increasing number of people providing the same products and/or services provided by everyone else. There seems to be an acute lack of innovation in our tech scene. What we seem to do most of the time is open up new “businesses” that are exact clones of other existing businesses. Businesses of this nature are simply not startups. Eric Ries rightly said:

Startups are designed to confront situations of extreme uncertainty. To open up a new business that is an exact clone of an existing business, all the way down to the business model, pricing, target customer, and specific product may, under many circumstances, be an attractive economic investment. But it is not a startup, because its success depends only on decent execution – so much so that this success can be modeled with high accuracy. This is why so many small businesses can be financed with simple bank loans; the level of risk and uncertainty is well enough understood that a reasonably intelligent loan officer can assess its prospects.

True startups face unknown risks, not challenges that have been surmounted over and over again by thousands of other wanna-be startups. Why do you have to build another social network or “SIMPLEMACHINE” forum when there are other viable services you can offer (in Nigeria especially). This is the same question Aito Ehigie (Pystar) asked in his blog post, Dear Wanna-be Startup Founder…. He also went ahead to outline some viable services that are as yet unexistent or improperly implemented in Nigeria that desperately need a midas touch from adequately skilled people. You might want to check out his blog post
here.

Startups might face unknown risks, but this does not mean that they operate under high risk situations. The risks are just not yet known. A startup might not necessarily be building a “risky” product but products of true startups are often characterized by the fact that is usually impossible for anyone to know ahead of time, just how successful such a product would be. Due to the uncertainties startups face, running a startup is usually quite different from running a traditional business. Apparently, and just like Eric Ries has noted, the most sensational startup failures result when people are running a startup (without knowing it) and are rather trying to run it as a traditional business, failing to recognize what running a startup actually means for the behaviour of an entrepreneur.

The phrase “startup company” is most often associated with high growth, technology oriented companies. It turns out that the growth rate of a company is an important element in determining whether the company is indeed a startup. True startups are notorious for their extraordinary growth rates while adding enormous value to themselves. This is usually achieved through significant outside funding. This outside funding could be provided by venture capitalists and/or angel investors.

Another important feature of a startup is that these sorts of businesses are often TEAM DRIVEN, at least if they are to successfully manage the extraordinary growth rate that is typical of a true startup. A fast growing company needs a vast array of skill sets and expertise and no single individual can hope to manage the growth of a startup alone. Small businesses are typically run by a single entrepreneur and growth rates are usually quite manageable and less than extraordinary.

Eric Ries’ definition of the term ‘Startup’, says absolutely nothing about the size of the company involved. Does this mean that the size of a company has nothing to do with whether or not the company can be said to be a startup? When does a company stop being a startup? Can we still call Facebook or Google startups? Facebook and Google, as far as I am concerned, are definitely no longer startups. A startup typically starts with the intention of building a product or a service. Let’s call this product/service X. Once they build X, they become a business that sustains and develops X further. Once the startup moves from the initial product/service build to having to sustain and maintain it, and once the startup has been successful at figuring out a stable business model, such a startup becomes a business. Another popular opinion is that a company remains a startup as long as it is still growing and only ceases to be one when it levels out and stops growing significantly. I’d say this is true to an extent.

These days, almost every business, especially in the Information Technology sector, seems to be termed a ‘startup’. Whether or not this is wrong or right is not exactly the focus of this article. Nevertheless, the next time you are tempted to use the term ‘startup’, take a moment to think about the qualities of the business you are referring to, and then decide if it is actually the right term to use in referring to the business in question. It could be that the company you are referring to is closer to being a ‘small business’ rather than a ‘startup’.

I am quite aware that there would be schools of thought that quite disagree with what I have said here. Do you agree (or disagree) with these views? Please let me know in the comments section.

Nigeria’s Copycat Democracy: Is it Actually Working?

First of all, I am going to readily admit that I am no political expert. I’m just a little boy with a brain that happens to work (at least, most of the time). So these are not necessarily the opinions of an expert or someone who even claims to be even slightly knowledgeable in the area of political science. However, the important thing is that I have an opinion and even more important is the fact that I have the right to have one. :p

Nigeria has had a democratic government for almost 12 years. Arriving at democracy definitely did not happen easily. The country had to go through many military dictatorships typically characterized by brutality and utter disregard for the opinions of the Nigerian people. Finally, we were able to wiggle our way to democracy. But is the system of democracy being practiced in the country actually working? How did we arrive at the kind of system we currently run?

Nigeria is the fourth largest democracy in the world. A VOLUNTARY handover of government from military to civilian rulers is quite unusual in an African setting similar to Nigeria’s. The change in government was quite smooth. Also, Nigeria was brave enough to break away from their colonial constitutional heritage, rejecting Britain’s parliamentary form of democracy and modeling the nation’s democracy after the American model instead. Just like the United States of America, the Nigerian president has a four-year term, with the possibility of a second term thereafter, the national assembly is bicameral (composed of two chambers) with a Senate and a House of Representatives distributed among the states of the population, the independent judiciary has at the apex of its federal structure a supreme court, each state has a governor and a deputy-governor, a unicameral House of Assembly and an independent judiciary. Certain procedures are also similar to the American model. For instance, appointments to the cabinet, the Supreme Court, and ambassadorial posts require Senate confirmation. So, fundamentally, the Nigerian democratic government system can be said to be a copy of the American system albeit with a few very slight differences.

It is said that the choice to follow the American model was basically because, just like Nigeria, America is large, complex and heterogeneous. However, is it safe to say that America and Nigeria are similar enough to share the same type of government structure? Frankly, I believe Nigeria is a much more complex nation both in terms of the kinds of humans that form its population as well as the myriad of sociocultural challenges the nation faces. It is easy to see that most of the “well-to-do” nations of the world have their own unique forms of government that seem to work, at least to a certain appreciable extent. Examples include Germany, China, Britain and Japan. Of course, we have to admit that they also have their own unique problems as well.

But, this is where the issue lies. As a nation that had been independent since 1960, why did Nigeria not just come up with its own UNIQUE democratic system based on about 39 years of experience as an independent nation? It is no news that Nigeria and Nigerians are quite unique in almost every way and usually cannot be said to be exactly like any other nation on the planet. For instance, the vast majority of Nigerians would vote according to ethnicity and religion rather than according to party ideology or individual principles. This can hardly be said of the Americans we so gallantly copied. Americans are known to be quite individualistic in their decisions, especially those that have to do with politics.

Wouldn’t it be logical to have a governmental system that is just as unique as the people it is formulated to govern rather than just a copy of some other model? Unfortunately, Nigeria has not even been successful in copying the American model. Instead, the democratic system we now practice seems to be a poor copy much like a poor Chinese imitation of an American product. This is obvious from the many problems the country is currently grappling with.

I know there would be some people out there who have been able to come up with their own ideas of a unique governmental system for Nigeria. However, it is pretty obvious that such things have been ignored, especially considering the fact that the present system seems to be working for some very few people who have been able to enrich themselves through the present system. Am I alone in thinking that the present political system makes it quite easy to find a large chunk of the national cake to steal? So many possible political appointments to clinch both necessary and unnecessary… Just a thought.

These are the kinds of things I believe our universities are meant for. Universities that have political science departments need to make a significant impact on the country’s politics. Novel political theories and systems that work, and are specifically tailored to the unique complexities of Nigeria are to be found in our universities’ political science departments. If these are not found there, then these departments probably do not deserve to exist. However, there is no denying the fact that even if all this resarch is done and put forward, it is likely to be ignored. This is just simply unfortunate.

During the military era, which many would agree was a terrible time for the country, democracy was touted as the magic solution to the country’s problems. Finally, we found democracy where we had hidden it. But from what we can now see, democracy is not, in and of itself, a solution to a nation’s problems but a mere stride towards possible solutions, and the present form of democracy we practice in Nigeria does not seem to work effectively. This is not to say that making adjustments to the democratic system would be another magic solution, but it might help.

I strongly believe Nigeria needs to restructure its governmental system to more accurately reflect the complex nature of the Nigerian people rather than copy some foreign system that happens to work for some other nation. Of course, this can only be done after a comprehensive study of the things that make us unique as a nation as well as the many challenges we face as a result of our complex nature. The resulting system of government emanating from such a study and a consequent revamp might not be deemed absolutely palatable by the globalization-crazy international community but it might go a long way in helping
Nigeria make giant strides towards being a nation that would be a model for others rather than a hapless copycat.