Project :: FAQs

I’ve realized that I get the same questions about how to do things from time to time. So instead of trying to type up the same response over and over again, I think I will compile these into “Frequently Asked Questions” responses. Coming soon…

Discovery :: Seth Godin on Building Your Startup

 

The holy grail of success for all my peers is to launch a successful startup. Who doesn’t want to be their own boss, scratch the entrepreneurial itch, and possibly get bought out by Google or Facebook? Judging by the amount of material online, everybody.

Well, Seth Godin (well-known author and thought leader in marketing and business) held a one time class called Startup School where he taught a bunch of budding entrepreneurs all about building their own startup. Unlike a lot of material floating around the internet, Seth Godin’s class is an insightful and original take on new businesses and the issues surrounding them. Although I’m not a startup founder (perhaps in the future), I enjoyed listening to all 15 episodes.

So if you’re preparing to launch your startup, I wholeheartedly suggest you check out Seth Godin’s Startup School. And in Seth’s own words:

Here it is. Enjoy it. But even more important, I hope you do something with it.

Sourced from Seth Godin’s Startup School (Earwolf). Podcast also available on iTunes, Stitcher. Also available is a PDF transcript of entire podcast series (via Kevin Evans).

Project :: Learning Twi – A brief summary of my results and advice

Flashback to the distant past…

Last year, I set out to achieve conversational fluency in Twi, the native language of my parents and one of my life-long bucket list items. In short, I wanted to accomplish four goals:
  1. develop a vocabulary of 1000 words,
  2. learn to use the various verb tenses,
  3. know and understand basic grammar and sentence structure,
  4. study for at least 50% of the scheduled time.
Unfortunately, by these metrics, I failed to learn Twi:
  1. Vocabulary of 1000 words: Fail
  2. Knowledge of verb tenses: Fail
  3. Knowledge/use of basic grammar and sentence structure: Fail
  4. 50% study rate: Fail

How did it go?

I started off strongly and things quickly clicked into place. I assume it had to do with the fact that I was actually “passively fluent,” or spending my childhood hearing and understanding (most, err, a good degree of) Twi, but not being able to speak it. I began with the Emory University iTunesU course – which was phenomenal. Although I did not have the book to follow, I took pretty detailed notes and practiced along whenever the students recited words. I also began to build a vocabulary deck with about 150 words and would try the Memrise course from time to time.

What went wrong? Two issues, one more sinister than the other. First, I got insanely busy at work and my weekdays, weekends, and mornings would become subsumed by my work. Second, and more sinister, I got lazy.

Positives. Despite my lackluster performance, I was able to surprise my father (a fluent Twi speaker) by the rate of my improvement. I learned some additional vocabulary and became more comfortable in at least attempting to hold a conversation. And at a more basic level, I felt like I could express myself beyond a few stock phrases or concepts.

My takeaways and advise for any budding Twi student

So, if I could advise someone on learning Twi, I would suggest a few things:

Spend an hour a day studying. It may be difficult to allocate an hour in an already busy day, especially when unexpected demands crop up, but spending daily time studying is crucial. I initially allocated 30 minutes every other day, but I felt that the time went too quickly and the time between sessions lasted too long. It sounds obvious (because it is), but I progressed the most when I spent more time (i.e. an hour) on a daily basis. The building blocks of Twi settled into place more readily and I felt like I gained more traction.

Accountability is a must. I had an accountability partner (my sister) who did her best to keep me on track. But the problem with accountability partners is that you can just ignore them! So, although my sister would remind me and encourage me to study, my own laziness persuaded me otherwise. So I would strengthen the accountability method in a few ways:

  • I would make it cooperative/competitive by getting her to do the Twi study as well. There is no motivation like seeing your sibling progress faster than you in speaking your parents’ native tongue.
  • I would use a commitment device. Commitment devices come in different shapes and sizes, but take for example, giving her a $100 check to send to a organization I strongly dislike. Take for instance, whatever organizations alleged Obama wasn’t born an American. Then I’d be writing this post in Twi.
  • (optional) Get more people involved. The more the merrier and all that jazz. It makes sense when you take the cooperative/competitive element and ratchet it up by increasing participants.

Clearer game plan and endgame metrics. I had the vague outlines of a plan, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I think it would pay off if to do some basic things, like switching resources between days. E.g. Day 1: Study Emory iTunesU course for 45 minutes and study vocabulary cards for 15 minutes. Day 2: Study Nkyea for 30 minutes, study Memrise for 15 minutes, and study vocabulary cards for 15 minutes.

I also advise just looking at an outline of the study lessons and splitting them across a number of days. So if the Emory iTunesU course has 25 episodes of 30 minutes each, I know that I could probably finish it off in a month if I do one episode per day. Simple planning helps to maintain momentum because you don’t have to think about what you’ll study next – just follow the roadmap.

Also, I started out with a mixed bag of success/failure metrics. There were really four in total, and only two were easily measurable. Why not make one to two goals? Doing it over again, I would set my goal as learning the 1000 vocabulary words and learning present, past, and future tenses. As I attain those goals, I would set more. And after attaining each consecutive set of goals, I would probably make my final test being able to hold a conversation with my father for 30 minutes.

Concluding thoughts

I learned that the study of Twi is more than an academic exercise in communicating with Ghanaians. I conceptualized it as if I’m back in high school learning Spanish, but it’s not the same. To me, it’s a Herculean challenge full of psychological hangups. It’s dealing with my own laziness and tackling my own sense of shame for not knowing a language that I heard throughout my childhood. Nor am I in the same place that I was in high school – a busier schedule and a heavier load of responsibilities all crowd my plate and draw my attention. But as I realized during my study, Twi is already within me. It’s just a matter of overcoming my own psychological barriers and coaxing it out.

If you’d like links to some of the resources that I used, check out my previous post: Project :: Learning Twi

Discovery :: America’s Black Cowboys

Black cowboys

(Image source: Inside Africana University, Cornell University Library)

Black Republicans. A black president. Black cowboys… why not?

To me, the notion of an African American cowboy had always been a unicorn. Of course I laughed through Blazing Saddles and Django Unchained, but I never sincerely thought there were African American cowboys in the American west.

Fortunately, I learned better from “The Forgotten Black Cowboys” episode on the BBC’s Documentary podcast. It makes sense that there would have been black cowboys. Despite what Hollywood may have depicted, blacks have long played a starring role throughout the entirety of American history. The coolest fact of all? That they still meet in Texas.

Curious to learn more?

Discovery :: Kwesi K

Kwesi K

It isn’t often that you check Facebook to find that a childhood friend is now a folk/soul singer. But that’s what happened when I came across Kwesi K. He’s based out of Philadelphia (great city for music, right?) now and has two EPs, Lovely and Pronouns, both of which I recommend.

I knew him through his older brother during my elementary years, but as life happens, I lost touch until we connected via Facebook. After an invitation to his Facebook page, I checked out Pronouns. Maybe this is just me reading into the music, but I can swear that the single “Fold” has strong Congo/Soukous/High-Life echoes. Perhaps it’s the tempo or the guitar playing, but it reminds me of my childhood.

Overall, both Pronouns, and latest EP, Lovely, are impressive fusions of music genres that I didn’t think could co-exist (shows my lack of musical knowledge). I can hear the DNA strains of folk music more strongly in Lovely and that gives it an earthier vibe in my humble opinion. I especially like “Great Goodbye,” which I feel could have easily been a James Taylor album cut. This is by no means a professional review, but the most compelling feature of his music is his voice. It’s got this clear and honest fullness. Layered with the well composed instrumentation, you’ve simply got great music.

Anyways, enough reading – go out and support Kwesi K!

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