Monthly Archives: January 2008

On laptops and malnutrition

Here is a very interesting post from the OLPC news blog. It is written by a person working in Darfur and, as the publishing venue suggests, is addressing the One Laptop Per Child idea in the context of their work with refugees.

It reminded me of a a post i had a while ago about OLPC and the discussion that followed. Particularly it reminded me Nadia’s comment:

I don’t want to sound cynical, but IMHO kids in developing countries would benefit much more from improved health care than from laptops…

Nadia’s comment is not unique.  The common critique of the entire ICT4D idea is that there are basic needs, such as nutrition, health care, and literacy, to be addressed before the information technology can introduce any good.  Many times, I personally find it difficult to explain the importance of ICT in addressing these issues.  It is hard to talk about abstract concepts such as knowledge and human capital with an image of a hungry kid in the background.  I think this post provides some of the potential explanations in a better way that I could probably articulate:

This is not going to stop the fact that children are hungry, and if the extent of their malnutrition is such that they are developmentally challenged to the point that the XO is useless to them, then obviously alimentary relief is in order, but I would say that most of the malnutrition I have seen in my work in the Sahel comes from ignorance about balanced diet, and mismanagement of water resources (so you see toddlers eating only white rice, a water-hog of a crop grown in the desert). For this type of hunger and malnutrition to stop on a societal level it has to be learned and discovered, and shared throughout the community.

Coming from a person actually living this reality and working there, I think this observation has more authority than my academic debates.  Also I think the bottom line of the post captures the idea pretty well:

I think the XO, if distributed, deployed, and integrated properly into the educational and societal systems of developing countries, has a better shot than anything else I have seen to end hunger and poverty.

There are many “if”s in this statement, but I think it captures the essence.

“Technological optimism”

Just read about a new startup of Dov Moran, called “Modu” and it prompted a number of thoughts.

Moran is a remarkable person. In fact he is the one standing behind the invention of USB flash drive and M-Systems that was sold to SanDisk for $1.6 bln. “Modu” is his new startup developing a device that according to the article will revolutionize the world of mobile phones or in other words mobility of personal data. It was the claim for revolutionizing that kept me reading the article and thinking about it.

The idea of “Modu” is a miniature device with memory, energy source, and cellular abilities. It can be attached to anything from your land-line, the radio in your car, your laptop, etc. Once attached the hosting device is getting the capabilities of the “Modu”. In other words you have one mobile set of all your personal communication data, which is usually found in you mobile phone, and make it useful with all the other devices. You wouldn’t need a fixed line and a mobile – according to the limited information that Ynet journalists could gather (the project is very secret), “Modu” will take care of that.

According to the article, having all the personal communication data on a single miniature device will change the world (they actually start the article with this statement). This is where my social training is kicking in. Will it? Will people want to have everything on a single device? We don’t know enough about the product yet, but how is that information going to be protected and backed up? What about compatibility of “Modu” with all the other devices? Moreover, is there an economic model behind the device that will make the device standing out from being just another gadget? For example, the cellular communication is usually more expensive. How does that fit into shifting everything into a single mobile? Would organizations like their employers walking home with all the corporate information on their “Modu”? And the list can go on…

It is interesting how in most cases the new gadgets are described with such an optimism and, i would say, from a deterministic perspective. And then i start also thinking if such an enthusiasm about technology is necessary attribute for any visionary beginning in that industry. Most of the technological gurus i hear are always optimistic, as are the people behind technological startups. The fact that most of the startups fail and the fact that less than a decade ago we witnessed a major .com bubble, seems not being able to wipe out that belief in the next gadget changing the world (I suddenly remember Kindle and the fact that it has practically disappeared from the public agenda).

And that is interesting. I wonder how this technological optimism works. Is it an inseparable component of innovation? Is critical thinking here in fact limits creativity?

What do you think?

Am I technically challanged?

January 17, Update

Here the response i got from Amazon after letting them know about my difficulty:

Thanks for contacting us at Amazon.com.

Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience you may have experienced and I do understand your concern.

To login to our wbsite :

1. Click the link near the top of the home page that says “New customer”

2. On the next page, leave the e-mail and password spaces blank and click the Amazon.com tab at the top of the page.

I’m sorry that there is no sign in button, I appreciate your thoughts and I will be sure to forward your suggestion to the concerned department.

Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve the selection and service we provide.

As a representative of Amazon.com, I want to assure you that we value our customers’ trust above all else–it’s the foundation on which our company was built. Please know that we’ll continue working hard to ensure that you receive accurate service, and to minimize the chances of anything like this occurring again.

While the page on which you enter your password may not be encrypted, this simply means that the HTML describing the form itself is sent in the clear.

As the password is typed into the form, it is not going over the network. Only the local browser sees data entered into the form until the user submits the form by clicking the sign-in button.

The action of the form is of particular importance–that’s the URL to which the HTTP POST will go, and the sensitive data such as your password is sent in that HTTPS POST to a secure web page. Therefore the POST, including the password, goes over an encrypted SSL channel, ensuring the security of your information.

I hope this explanation is helpful. Thank you for shopping at Amazon.com.

I am not completely sure how I should conclude that a link titled “personalized recommendations” actually means “sign in”, but Amazon people are definitely thinking differently.

________________

First i spent 3 minutes looking for the “sign in” button on Amazon homepage. Then i couldn’t find a way to view the exact deal details from the view that shows all buying options for a specific product. I did not succeed in both cases and had to use alternative paths where one could expect a single click.

Is it me being technically challenged, or Amazon has a really bad user interface?

Technology and the city

It is amazing how much you can see while simply sitting in a Starbucks in NYC.  Yesterday I had that moment and couldn’t hep myself but noticing all the communication technologies and how people are interacting with them.  So what we had there…

There were dozens of laptops of any shape and color (including pink). Electricity seems to be the scarce product.  There were people coming to the coffee shop with extension cords and there were those who stopped by just to charge their mobile.  There was a man who brought an entire 19′ computer screen and spent his time browsing dating websites.

There was a group of young people (between 3 to 7 people at different points), probaby in their early 20′s, who were dressed rather formally and who made this coffee shop their office.  I have no idea what exactly they were doing, but there was at least one laptop on the table in any given moment and they constantly talked on their mobiles.

There were countless amounts of iPods, MP3 players, and mobile phones.  People would listen to music or just play with them.  There was a couple who was definitely on a date since they both were extremely nervous.  Interestingly, they conversation seemed to move to discussion of their mobiles as if to save them from an embarrassing silence.

There was also a man who is running a photo stand in front of the coffee shop and who is coming there to warm up and hide from an annoying drizzling rain.  Observing this man made me wondering why there is no gadget protection society, because the way he treated his gear should disqualify him from being a gadget owner.  He would drop, drag, and press his laptops so hard that i wondered how they can function at all especially since they were also operating in rain.  That was a sad picture.

I was fascinated by the amount and variety of communication technologies found in such a small space and even more so by the variety of uses.  Interesting…

More on online product placement

In the past i blogged about online product placement. Here is another interesting video linked from the Washington Post and telling the story of growing phenomenon of product placement in online, supposedly grassroots, content. (Sorry, but i still didn’t figure out how to embed video other than YouTube and Google in WordPress).

So much for 2.0-ish innovation?

To cheer you up, here is another one on the subject, but less serious:

A strong sense of deja vu

I am sitting now at a conference on privacy in social networks, organized by the Netvision Institute at TAU.  The first part of the conference brought a strong sense of deja vu.  It focused primarily on the “danger” of fictive identities online and the legal implications of it.  I felt like reading Sherry Turkle again, but found it very difficult to connect to the speakers (particularly one of them who drifted into talking about a digital camera that can see through your clothes).

Gladly, i wasn’t alone, and another person in the audience asked about the repercussions of actually sharing the real information.  How come we came back to discussing the “danger” of the fictitious, while the potential harm of the real is much more tangible?  The speakers didn’t have concrete answers.  However, as if to prove my line of thought, the current session is focusing on issues of dealing with real information and privacy issues.  Interestingly, this session consists only of industry people who actually build these social networks.