Windmill William's TED presentation on online

William's presentation from the TED conference has just been published:

William Kamkwamba's TED talk

William has also started working with my team at Baobab this week. Everyone is excited to see where William's future leads him.

Witchcraft planes

Imagine a witch. A good old fashioned Halloween night witch. Go on - I am serious. Okay, you probably thought of an old woman in black and a broom to fly around on - right? Well, I find it fascinating that Malawi has its own brand of witch - and that she is totally Malawian but totally pure witch at the same time.

The stereotypical witch in Malawi is also a woman. I am not sure what color clothes she wears or how old she is - can one of my Malawian readers chime in? She also flies around, not on a broom, but rather on a witchcraft plane which is really just a nsima basket - a butt-sized basket that is used to sift maize flour. It is the basket that I find most interesting. In my witch tradition as well as Malawi's, the physical item that characterizes her as a witch is also an item of household work. Women's work to be specific and sexist. It is almost like the culture needs to add mystique or fear to the female. I am not sure exactly what to make of it, but there must be some fascinating stuff in the anthropological comparisons of witches and witching around the world. (Evil eye is another good one)

There are definitely a few witches in the states - one in particular who used to come for Cheesecake at Deuz Gros Nez (ironic, oui?) in Reno. But American witches, at least in my experience seem to keep to themselves. Not so in Malawi. The newspapers regularly report of withcraft planes, especially withcraft plane crashes. Thanks to my colleague Oliver I can explain how a witchcraft plane works:

Witches have meetings that they go to. They are almost always in other countries, often Mozambique, but sometimes in London too. To get there, the witch takes her nsima basket to the local graveyard at night, where she takes off and flies to her destination. The problem is people build firewalls, sometimes just by accident. (Oliver - please remind me what they are made of again.) If a witch flies over a firewall, she crashes instantly - and the next morning she will be found naked and asleep at the crash site.

(my mostly ignorant guess is that this is probably how villagers exlain a widow who has had everything stolen from her and been beaten by her inlaws - a very very common and largely accepted practice in Malawi)

Just in case you think I am making all of this up, here is an article from last month in the Daily Times of Malawi (quoted in full since it will probably disappear soon).

Three convicted for practising witchcraft
09:09:46 - 15 June 2007

A COURT in Karonga on Wednesday convicted three elderly people for teaching two children, aged eleven and ten, the art of witchcraft.

Uliwa First Grade Magistrate Chikanje Harawa sitting in Chilumba, Karonga, ordered the three, Thaizan Mhango (75), Gerald Kumwenda (79), and Gatry Mkandawire (70), to pay K30, 000 (blogger note: about $200 USD) each, or in default serve five months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

According to Karonga police spokesperson Enock Livason, the three had not paid the fine by close of business on the day of their conviction and were shipped off to prison.

“Harawa convicted the three on the count of practicing witchcraft, contrary to Section 6 of the Witchcraft Act. He then ordered the three to pay K30,000 each or serve 5 months in jail. They all failed to pay the fine and are in prison,” said Livason.

Mhango is from Muzang’unya Village, Chief Wasambo in Karonga, while Kumwenda and Mkandawire are from Mugowera Village, Chief Wasambo, in the same district.

The court was told that the two children (names withheld) all grandchildren of Mhango, complained to their mother that the three were forcing them to source human fresh to eat at night.

“The children alleged in their testimony that the three used to take them each night from the house they were sleeping in to practice witchcraft. They testified that they used to get out through the corner of the house and used to fly with the elders in witchcraft plane but sometimes they used what they termed a magic Mercedez Benz,” Livason said.

The witchcraft trainers are later said to have started forcing the children to kill their relatives and refund the human flesh they had been eating.

Police Prosecutor, Constable Pleasant Sichali submitted in court that the evidence of seven witnesses he had paraded had clearly proved that the three were indeed teaching the children witchcraft.

He also submitted that though the three had pleaded not guilty, the evidence tendered was beyond reasonable doubt and had proved they were guilty of the offence.

Change scrollbar sizes in firefox

I needed to change the size of all of the scrollbars in firefox to make touchscreen scrolling work nicely. I wanted nice big, fat, finger-sized scrollbars. I eventually figured it out, but the directions were sparse, so i thought I would paste my approach here.

Find the firefox profile. Mine was here:


Go into the chrome directory and create userContent.css:

scrollbar[orient="vertical"] scrollbarbutton,
scrollbar[orient="vertical"] slider,
scrollbar[orient="horizontal"] scrollbarbutton,
scrollbar[orient="horizontal"] slider{
height: 40px !important;
width: 40px !important;

Phat scrollbars!