Link of the Day: Great Firewall of blocked in China

In December, I wrote about the Great Firewall of China and my worries over whether AIDG was being blocked (plus ways to get around the censors with proxy servers). Well, we are.

Check if your site or a site you like is blocked at

At first it feels like a fun game (or maybe that’s just me). “See if you are deemed worthy of being censored.” And then reality swiftly returns and you realize that the Chinese government is actively denying its citizens access to information.

For more info on this issue:
Human Rights in China ( a great non-profit. The ED is awesome!)

A good proxy server:

How to access a blocked site – Digital Inspiration
Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents – Reporters without Borders

Also to see a good clip on Google and Cisco’s involvement in censorship in China:
Frontline’s the Tank Man. See Clip 6: The Struggle to Control Information

via Foreign Policy Blog

Interesting stories from my podcasts

I was on the subway coming home catching up on my podcasts, when I heard these stories that might be of interest.

  • NYTimes – Keith Bradsher; As Asia Keeps Cool, Scientists Worry About the Ozone Layer

    Until recently, it looked like the depleted ozone layer protecting the earth from harmful solar rays was on its way to being healed.

    But thanks in part to an explosion of demand for air-conditioners in hot places like India and southern China — mostly relying on refrigerants already banned in Europe and in the process of being phased out in the United States — the ozone layer is proving very hard to repair.

    Yup, it’s getting bigger.

    Background info: United Nations Environment Programme – Ozone Secretariat [Now that’s a cool name.]

  • NYTimes – Leslie Eaton and Stephanie Strom; Volunteer Group Lags in Replacing Gulf Houses

    I can’t speak to whether the writers’ assessment of Habitat for Humanity’s progress in the US is correct or not. However, I think the piece does bring out how doing disaster recovery work in the U.S. is a different ballgame from doing it overseas. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Habitat has built 416 homes in the gulf coast, compared with 8,500 in Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka after the Tsunami in 2004. Another question the article brings up is how much can and/or should an established organization change its processes to adapt when faced with a disaster like Katrina. A big criticism levied [no pun intended] against Habitat, for example, is that is was too rigid in sticking to its model of building homes from scratch rather then helping folks renovate.

  • MAKE: Blog – Soldering Tutorial – Make Video Podcast
    As always, check out the comments from the Make community.

    I’m a total non-engineer, but I find these videos to be really calming and zen, sort of like a good cooking show.

  • TED – Economist Bjorn Lonborg’s TED Talk (2005)

    In his lecture, he asks “If we had $50 billion to spend over the next four years to do good in the world, where should we spend it?” His recommendations – based on the findings of the 2004 Copenhagen Consensus – controversially place global warming at the bottom of the list (and AIDS prevention at the top).

    Enjoyable talk. While this is not an infectious disease blog, I feel I’ve gotta mention this point. For me, Lonborg’s results favoring prevention of HIV/AIDS over treatment sent alarm bells ringing. Why? Cost benefit analyses often make a lot of hidden assumptions which all will have varying degrees of truth and validity. I’m guessing that you have to make quite a few of them when trying to figure out whether preventing a case of HIV at this point in the epidemic is of greater benefit than preventing a death of an HIV positive individual. The results will vary based on who each person is, what country you are talking about, etc. etc. Let’s say for example that AIDS is killing off a sizeable chunk of your labor force or the primary care givers or members of the population that your economy might just not want to do without. It may behoove you to spend the extra cash on treatment since training a whole bunch of new teachers, doctors, engineers, etc. would cost more than keeping the ones you already have. Long story short, I’m wondering how they quantified the value of people currently infected with HIV/AIDS. I know that sounds incredibly creepy, but this is exactly what you have to think about when doing cost benefit analyses. You place a value, monetary or otherwise, on people’s lives or their health and wellbeing and determine whether theirs is worth saving. But how do you realistically quantify that amount while taking into consideration the effects (geopolitical, social, etc.) of allowing 40 odd million people to fade away? It’s a non-trivial task to try to do well. So I have a healthy amount of skepticism.

  • TED – Poet Rives’ TED Talk. Just plain cool.
  • The Economist – The Branding of Malaria

    Christmas would not be Christmas without Scrooge, and the bed nets campaign has prompted a few cries of “Bah! Humbug!”―none of them entirely groundless, it must be admitted. One billionaire who cares deeply about beating malaria recently told The Economist that, when bed nets are given away, they are less likely to get used properly by their impoverished recipients, who may instead treat them as wall hangings or even “insecticide-laced wedding dresses”. Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund, a much admired non-profit venture fund that invests in entrepreneurial solutions to poverty, and is backed by Google among others, fears that distributing bed nets for free is not a sustainable solution, and that a better approach is to develop private markets for bed nets. Acumen has invested in a firm that sells bed nets for around $3 each, a price within the reach of many, though by no means all, poorer people.

    While the delivery here does sound a bit patronizing, from our personal experiences and from what we’ve heard from others, people do behave differently when given and item of technology vs. when they pay for it. Payment is not restricted to money, but also includes time or other types of personal investment.

Hurray for the Goracle

Inconvenient Truth Inconvenient Truth wins the Oscar for best documentary. Sweet.

While, we’re at it, check out Gore’s new initiative: Save Our Selves | Live Earth | 7.7.07

While I normally think these types of awareness raising concerts are a bit played out (it’s the cynic in me), I think Live Earth is generally a good idea. Unlike Live AID which produced some memorable songs, but didn’t manage to produce long term change, Live Earth may be able to create a larger impact. I’m figuring because it is a piece of a larger multinational movement.

I wonder what their overall measure of success will be. It’ll be tough to gauge.

Also, unfortunately Recycled Life didn’t win it for best documentary short.

This Week’s Top 10 (2/18/07-2/24/07)

Here are my favorite appropriate technology, environment, health, climate change, international development or country specific blog posts (and articles) for the past week in no particular order.

This week is rather tech heavy.

  1. Using Bollywood to Teach Drip Irrigation from WorldChanging
    Alas, there isn’t a clip of International Development Enterprises’ (IDEI) Bollywood-style instructional tool.
  2. The global war on plastic bags from Foreign Policy Blog

    Ikea is set to be the first retail store in the United States that charges U.S. customers for each disposable plastic shopping bag used instead of providing them free with purchases.

    I don’t know about the rest of Europe, but supermarkets in the UK like Tesco have been doing that for years. 5 or 10p a bag, if I remember correctly. Even though it is a nominal fee, it really does make you think about each bag. Does that really need to be double-bagged since I’m going straight to the car? etc. etc.

    Also FYI:

    And it can take polyethylene bags 1,000 years to decompose.

    Countries that have banned single use plastic bags: Rwanda and Bangladesh. South Australia is considering the same.

  3. For the Olympics, Will Beijing Paint the Town Green? from Treehugger
    You know you’re in trouble when…

    According to locals in Fumin county, in China’s southwest Yunnan province, workers began arriving last August with heavy equipment to green a small mountainside. But instead of trees and soil they came armed with large paint guns and orders from above to turn the patch of rock a distinctly artificial green. This particular incident may have been an official attempt to improve the feng shui for the nearby forestry bureau office, or, more likely, simply a way of expediting the greening process. Whatever the reasons are, the symbolism is stark. These days it’s as easy to be enchanted by news of the Middle Kingdom’s green dreams as it is to be disappointed by news of setbacks and rampant greenwashing. And the great promise and inconvenient truth of China’s environmental future is nowhere more evident than in its ambitious 2008 “Green” Olympic plans.

  4. Goodbye Washington Consensus … from Poverty and Growth Blog
    description of how the World Bank is doing some soul searching about its economic policies in the 1990’s.
    The Washington Consensus refers to the list of recommendations that were typically prescribed by the Washington-based financial institutions (World Bank, IMF, etc.) to Latin American countries as of 1989. These were:

    1. Fiscal policy discipline;
    2. Redirection of public spending from indiscriminate (and often regressive) subsidies toward broad-based provision of key pro-growth, pro-poor services like education, health and infrastructure investment
    3. Tax reform
    4. Market determined and positive interest rates
    5. Competitive exchange rates
    6. Trade liberalization
    7. Liberalization of inward foreign direct investment
    8. Privatization of state enterprises
    9. Deregulation
    10. Secure property rights
  5. Thin-Film Solar Technology Could Be Seriously Clobbering Fossil Fuels in Ten Years from Treehugger
  6. Expanding Rural Access – The Case for MicroTelcos from
    Also of interest: Wireless Internet for All, Without the Towers from NYTimes
  7. New Packaging Results In 37 Million Pound Reduction In Greenhouse Gas Emissions from The Sietch via Hugg
    Thank goodness. We have a few HP printers at AIDG and that indestructible plastic was ghastly. Ditching the extra stuff has got to save HP a bit as well.
  8. OLPC’s XO laptop comes with anti-theft kill-switch in select countries from Ars Technica via Digg

    While the One Laptop Per Child Project has yet to decide on whether or not they will sell the $150 XO laptop to the public, they already know their biggest customers: governments. Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Thailand and Uruguay have all committed to buying the laptops for their citizenry, but as it turns out, some of these countries have worries that the laptops could end up in the hands of people other than those whom they’re intended for. As a result, OLPC has built a remote kill-switch into XO laptops so they can be remotely deactivated in the event that they are used without authorization.

    An appallingly bad idea. Quoting estvir who submitted this story on Digg, “OLPC has anti-piracy measures (Kill switch) which makes WGA [Windows Genuine Advantage] look friendly”.

  9. India’s growth of little benefit to its poorest from Foreign Policy Blog
  10. National Geographic Phone from MAKE: Blog
    A good part of AIDG’s work abroad is facilitated by the use of Skype and cheap pay-as-you-go plans on unlocked GSM phones.

    The plan they talk about in this post from MAKE is too expensive, but Ramriot of the The Flat Earth Dissprover Blog offers a more sensible solution.
    For more info on what this GSM palaver is all about read International Cell Phone Service.

    Most useful sections: Page 1 (give you info on locked vs. unlocked),
    Part 2: Making those calls cheaply
    Page 5: Let you know whether you want tri-band or quadband. (Psst. Get quadband.)

Link of the Day: Introduction to Oscilloscopes [Make Magazine]

Introduction to Oscilloscopes – Make: Podcast

An Oscilloscope is an electronic measurement devices that is handy to have in the workshop for observing the characteristics of a circuit in real time, debugging, and hardware hacking.

This may not seem like the sexiest thing ever, but oscilloscopes are necessary for testing/troubleshooting electronic equipment such as the ballast load controllers XelaTeco produces. MAKE gives a nice intro to the O-scope, plus lists several tutorials.

Ballast Load Controllers

Photo by Xeni Jardin

Photo of the Week (2/24/2007): Guate Sinkhole

A 330-foot-deep sinkhole killed at least two teenagers [Irma and David Soyos] as it swallowed about a dozen homes early Friday and forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people in a crowded Guatemala City neighborhood. Officials blamed the sinkhole on recent rains and an underground sewage flow from a ruptured main.




More photos
AP Story in the Guardian

via Guatemala Solidarity Network

3rd body found in sinkhole: Domingo Soyos, 53 father of the two teenagers, Irma and David Soyos.

Mine Your Business Trailer (YouTube)

The environmental movement gets a rather unfair and unbalanced treatment judging from the trailer of Mine your business. The filmmakers do however bring up a very interesting question. When, if ever, do environmental concerns trump the needs of a community for economic development?

on the other hand, take a look at Lost Mountain: Radical Strip Mining and Devastation in Appalachia by Eric Reese.

Lost Mountain

via Gristmill

A somewhat related article by Andrew C. Revkin (NYTimes) that is worth reading: How Much Nature Is Enough?

Even some ardent conservationists acknowledge that the diversity of life on Earth cannot be fully sustained as human populations expand, use more resources, nudge the climate and move weedlike pests and predators from place to place.

Given that some losses are inevitable, the debate among many experts has shifted to an uncomfortable subject: what level of loss is acceptable