Archive for June, 2007


One Laptop Per Child… But No Juice… Or Help…

Now I am all for the penetration of technology into developing countries and whatnot, but I have to be honest. I think the whole OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) thing is one of the most presumptuous and misguided efforts I have ever come across. Unless it’s goal is to make money. Which is possible. But would be very sad. And this article only confirms my initial assessment:

LAGOS (AFP) – A Nigerian school has received a gift of 300 laptops — one per pupil — but has no electricity to power them up, the official News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported Friday. – [Yahoo/AFP]

I have watched the whole OLPC ordeal with both interest and irritation. My interest was piqued because I’ve always believed that the technology to create low-cost, Internet ready mobile computing devices has been available for years, and could never understand why no one had taken advantage of it. However it was a major source of irritation to see that these devices were intended for markets that were not ready for them, and might, in fact do more harm than good.

Let me explain a little bit. Having spent a great deal of my youth in a developing country, I believe that my knowledge of the needs of students in a third world country is better than most. I believe that while his intentions are good, Mr. Negropontes proposed solution fails to take into account some of the fundamental problems that developing countries face on a daily basis, and has also overlooked many of the underlying problems that need to be solved in order for real progress to occur.

As demonstrated by the article, many developing countries still do not have the infrastructure to generate consistent supplies of good clean electricity. Power outages were par for the course, when I was growing up. In fact, in some places, they occurred with scheduled regularity. This situation has improved immensely over the years, but adding more electronic devices to the grid would still only aggravate a tenuous situation.

And then there’s the whole Internet thing. While telecommunications networks in developing countries have improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade, they are nowhere near the reliability, capacity and sophistication of their western counterparts. Adding more Internet enabled devices can, and will, tax the current communications infrastructure. I can only guess what the added cost to the electricity and telecommunications infrastructure will be when these laptops begin wide circulation.

And then there is the cost issue. It would appear that Mr. Negroponte, and indeed most westerners, do not seem to realize that $100, which may seem inexpensive to western eyes, can do for 10 students what he is trying to do for one. Throw in the added expenses of maintenance and repairs for laptops in countries with little experience with such technologies, and the total cost of ownership of these laptops will equal a small fortune that could have been much more effectively utilized. The truth is, I think these laptops are little more than high-tech baubles that will really won’t add much to the development of third world countries as a whole.

My message is this. Students in developing countries don’t need laptops. They need more/better access to education. More schools, better schools, better books, better teachers, better training. You cannot effectively use technology to solve a problem unless you fully understand the problem. And technology itself is worthless without training and understanding. Until then these technological devices are little more than really expensive toys.

And if you absolutely have to throw technology at the problem, there are many cheaper, simpler, and much more more effective ways of helping developing countries advance. Like ODPC (One Desktop Per Class). Or OELPC (One Electronic Library Per School). In fact, you don’t even need technology. How about OSPV (One School Per Village). Or OTCTFIEMC (One Tech Career Training Facility in every Major City). 🙂 A little long but you get the idea. I can almost guarantee you’d get technological penetration much faster that way, without the trail of busted laptops to boot…

Nigerian school without power receives 300 laptops – [Yahoo/AFP]


Drive-by Fisticuffs…

I Just read in an article that a PA man punched a fast food drive through clerk in the face for not saying “Please” or “Thank You”.

A man who thought the clerk at a fast-food drive-through was rude for not saying “please” and “thank you” punched her in the face, police said. Duane L. Williams, angered by what he felt was the clerk’s rudeness, walked into the store to complain just before 8 p.m. Wednesday, Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said Friday.

Before the manager could meet with Williams, he walked back outside, pushed open the drive-through window and punched the 19-year-old woman in the face. The clerk was bruised, but not badly hurt, Burton said. – [Yahoo/AP]

OK. Can anyone say “amygdalic amygdala hijacking“?

I’ve seen my share of rude drive-through clerks. Believe me. And they did a whole lot more than opt to not say “Please” or “Thank You” in order to make that particular grade of anti-service. And while there has, in fact been at least one instance where I felt that a few knuckles in, or around, the grill area might have done wonders for a bad attitude, I consider myself fortunate to have never actually succumbed to the temptation to see if a fist will grow when planted about the nose area of a rude drive-through clerks face.

At least he realizes he has a problem. Anger management therapy anyone?

Man punches ‘rude’ drive-thru clerk – [Yahoo/AP]


Incidentally, while looking for better reference material about Amygdala Hijacking, I found the excellent articles below. Just thought I’d share… : )

The Amygdala Hijack – [Hay Group UK Newsletter]
How’s Your Emotional Intelligence? – [Womens]


Got a lead foot? Make them raise the speed limit!!

I ran into another interesting speeding related article. A New Hampshire man has apparently decided that the best way to beat his speeding tickets is to have the state raise all the speed limits:

Rather than slow down, Lemay is suing the state Department of Transportation to study traffic and speed limits across New Hampshire, to see whether limits could be raised. Lemay’s lawsuit, filed in Strafford County Superior Court, also asks a judge to order the Transportation Department to pay for his legal fees and the cost of the study, an estimated $1,853. – [Yahoo/AP]

Well one thing you can’t say about this guy is he hasn’t got cohones of adamantium. His argument is that many states tend to implement lower speed limits than necessary in order to pad their revenue from speeding tickets. The article also stated that he also believes that higher speed limits would lead to safer driving.

Dave Hilts, the states assistant attorney general made this general rebuttal:

“Common sense will tell you that going too slow is only a hazard when other people are going much faster,” said Hilts. – [Yahoo/AP]

Hilts is mostly correct, though it does not necessarily follow that a person driving slowly on a highway is incapable of getting into an accident. However I do think that Lemays assertion about safer driving automatically resulting from higher limits is somewhat flawed. Ironically many legislators use the same flawed logic to promote lower speed limits, which is equally wrong. The biggest problem, as Hilts statement subtly suggests, lies in differences in speed, not overall faster or slower speed. It is sudden changes in speed that are dangerous. It is true that accidents that occur at higher speed are more devastating, and harder to avoid, but these are generally the result of driver error, equipment or environmental factors out of the control of the driver, and not necessarily a direct result of speeding.

Lemay, however, does make a lot of other good points. The most salient of which is that many speed limits in the US are generally too low. And I would tend to agree. As I understand it, the speed limit on any given road is determined via a “survey”. In other words, a survey is done to see how fast everyday drivers travel over a given stretch of road, and then the 85th percentile rule is applied. I.E. the limit is set to the speed at which at least 85% of those surveyed on that road drive.

This should in theory, provide a publicly safe, acceptable and enforceable speed limit, as it is generally accepted that the majority of drivers are smart enough to take into account road condition and environmental factors and will not drive beyond what they consider safe for those conditions. However in practice there is a pretty major flaw in the logic of this survey. If you follow this methodology, your results will have an inherent bias because of one, rather compelling, environmental factor. The existing speed limit.

Because all of these surveys are done on public roads where the drivers are required to obey the existing speed limit, many will not be traveling at the maximum speed that they feel safe driving for fear of being ticketed. As a result your 85th percentile speed will be artificially lowered by the existing limit, when it should actually be much higher.

The truth is that there are many, many people who drive significantly above the speed limit, and have even encountered and overcome adverse conditions and environmental factors like black ice and hydroplaning, at high speed, and have never been in or caused an accident. I also know people who have crashed into their garage doors doing 5mph. My honest opinion? Speeding is not the biggest issue. Training and experience is. Speed limits will never solve the problems as effectively as a comprehensive and rigorous driver training program, and thorough testing.

Frequent N.H. speeder wants limit raised – [Yahoo/AP]


What Goes Around Comes Around…

Looks like the RIAA is finally getting a taste of it’s own litigious medicine.

Former RIAA target Tanya Andersen has sued several major record labels, the parent company of RIAA investigative arm MediaSentry, and the RIAA’s Settlement Support Center for malicious prosecution –  [ARS Technica]

Apparently they continued to press her with settlement calls, letters, attacked her character (on the basis of the shared music in question being misogynistic rap? This one caught me by surprise!) etc. even after she provided them with proof that she had no involvement in the act. They even harassed her granddaughter about it. If she wins this case, it will open the door for numerous other counter suits, and as I see it, they will deserve every single one.

The truth is, the reason that they are in the position they are in now is because they refused to innovate. They refused to recognize that the Internet has changed the way that people buy, listen to and share music. They viewed the Internet and more importantly, file sharing, as a direct competitor to their aging brick and mortar sales model, rather than as a possible source of complementary income.

And as if that were not enough, they shot themselves in the foot by adopting an adversarial stance against the members of the very market they were supposed to be making their money from. They then proceeded to hammer the final nails in their coffins from the inside by going after the file sharing technologies in addition to the file sharers themselves. They might just as well have filed suit against the “intarweb”. Even the large entertainment execs have begun to realize the error of their way of thinking:

 So who killed the record industry as we knew it? “The record companies have created this situation themselves,” says Simon Wright, CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, which operates Virgin Megastores. While there are factors outside of the labels’ control — from the rise of the Internet to the popularity of video games and DVDs — many in the industry see the last seven years as a series of botched opportunities. And among the biggest, they say, was the labels’ failure to address online piracy at the beginning by making peace with the first file-sharing service, Napster. – [Rolling Stone]

The Rolling Stone article is an excellent read, that demonstrates exactly why the RIAA is in such dire straights. And it ain’t all about the piracy. The lesson is simple. Those who do not adapt, perish.

Exonerated defendant sues RIAA for malicious prosecution – [ARS Technica]

The Record Industry’s Decline – [Rolling Stone]


Stop The Press!! We Got Speeders!!

I ran into this little news gem earlier today:

The Washington State Patrol says a trooper arrested two men speeding 141 mph on I-5 in Snohomish County. The patrol says the trooper thought he was hearing an airplane early Sunday as the cars whizzed by going north, a 2005 BMW 330i with a 2007 Honda Accord right behind. – [Yahoo/AP]

OK, Here’s my question. Why, exactly is this news? Was it the speed? Were the cars violating some heretofore unknown laws of physics? Are cars physically not supposed to be able to move that fast? Were the drivers too young? What? Is there some point about this particular reckless driving case that makes it so terribly different from the gazillion other instances of speeding that occur in the united states on a daily basis, that it needs news coverage?

Drivers arrested for speeding at 141 mph – [Yahoo/AP]


Double Standards for pot in Jakarta…

I just finished reading an interesting (actually I found it a somewhat humorous, but I’ll let you be the judge) article about the position of Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on the use of Marijuana in Indonesia. He said (and I quote):

“It’s alright to use it as a food seasoning, but it should not be fully legalized,” – [Yahoo/Reuters]

Now is it just me, or does this sound a little half hearted? If it were illegal, shouldn’t it still be illegal to make curry with it? Or is curry a special case? Would you require a prescription to cook traditional style curry? And how about “Special” Brownies? AAARRGH!

But I guess smoking it is a special case that would be absolutely heinous… And should be punishable by death… You tell me.

Politician okays marijuana in food – [Yahoo/Reuters]


P2P Suit Abuse…

Ok, I just read yet another article that all too painfully demonstrates the lengths that the RIAA will go to bolster it’s income, for lack of a better description. The article below referred to a case of P2P file sharers on the University of Washington campus. The RIAA alleged that members of the student body had been engaged in file sharing, and had approached the university on the issue. After mulling it over, this is what they decided:

“UW said it will forward notices of pending lawsuits from the Recording Industry Association of America to students who engage in illegal downloading on the university’s computer network.

The notices say offending students have 20 days to settle with the association by paying it about $3,000 to $5,000 or be taken to court without possibility of a settlement…

…The university will not pass the students’ names to the association, but it will use its server to identify them and inform them of their settlement options before they get stuck with a lawsuit, Godfrey said.” – [The News]

Now I see quite a few issues here. First, while it is theoretically possible to identify which computers may have been involved in file sharing, there is no way to verify that the actual owner of the computer was actually the one who did the file sharing. Unlike a home or office, where the number of different people that would have access to any given computer is usually limited, in a dorm room, it is usually a free for all. Most dorms are fairly accessible, and any one of a given residents friends or roommates could generally and reasonably be expected to have access to anothers computer.

Next there is the base assumption by the RIAA, upon which this massive anti P2P campaign is based, that all of this file sharing means lost sales. OK, let’s think about this for a second. The fact that someone downloaded an album does not mean that they would have bought it, regardless of whether or not they could afford it. That is an illogical assumption. The mount of music piracy that occurs is not, by any means, directly proportional to the number of lost sales.

Which brings me to the other point that makes no sense. I cannot blame them for filing suits against illegal file sharers, but where is the RIAA coming up with the settlement figure? An average CD can be had for about $20 from any one of the myriad of online music vendors and clubs that distribute music. $30, maybe for a hot item at full price. At $3000, each defendant would have had to have pirated at least 100 full priced CDs each. At $5000 they would have had to download over 166 CDs (at full price), or at the very least, 250 regularly priced CDs. And thats not counting additional promotions and discounts, etc.

Now that’s a lot of CDs, I don’t care how fast your connection is, and it’s unlikely that any of these students could possibly have downloaded that much music in the time frame given. And I think it’s a fair bet that the RIAA knows this. I think this is nothing more than the RIAA using the law to intimidate people into a reduction of file sharing, and, more heinously, recoup their losses from slumping sales. Yet another example of a $67 million pair of pants… just on a smaller scale. Or larger, depending on how you look at it…

UW will abet file-sharing lawsuits, it says – [The News]

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