Typical Development Woes Plague Rebuilt Iraq Projects

Today’s NY Times [Rebuilt Iraq Projects Found Crumbling] reports that 7 of 8 infrastructure projects in Iraq sampled by a federal oversight agency were found to be either failing or not in use.

The inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the oversight agency that did the report, said that while they made an effort to sample different regions and different types of projects, they could not obtain a true random sample of the 1000’s of projects that have been done so far.

Many projects were in areas too unsafe to visit

This assertion does not actually help the government’s case though. You would sort of expect projects in unsafe areas to have poor maintenance. So if you cut them out of the sample and only got projects in safe areas, you’re results would look BETTER than they really are rather than worse. Also I must consult my statistics textbooks, but my hunch is that the probability of picking 7 of 8 failing projects in a row if the majority are successes is fairly small. [For the sake of thoroughness I should also say, that this final assumption falls apart if somehow the way they picked projects was also related to their chance of sucking. 🙂 ]

From the article, the problems seem fairly straightforward. The typical issues that cause many development projects to fail early on are at play: lack of maintenance and lack of community buy-in.

[T]he American reconstruction program has been repeatedly criticized for not including in its rebuilding budget enough of the costs for spare parts, training, stronger construction and other elements that would enable projects continue to function once they have been built[emphasis added].

Curiously, most of the problems seemed unrelated to sabotage stemming from Iraq’s parlous security situation, but instead were the product of poor initial construction, petty looting, a lack of any maintenance and simple neglect.

The problems with the generators were seemingly minor: missing batteries, a failure to maintain adequate oil levels in the engines, fuel lines that had been pilfered or broken. That kind of neglect is typical of rebuilding programs in developing countries when local nationals are not closely involved in planning efforts, said Rick Barton, co-director of the postconflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Washington.

“What ultimately makes any project sustainable is local ownership from the beginning in designing the project, establishing the priorities,” Mr. Barton said. “If you don’t have those elements it’s an extension of colonialism and generally it’s resented.”

Mr. Barton, who has closely monitored reconstruction efforts in Iraq and other countries, said the American rebuilding program had too often created that resentment by imposing projects on Iraqis or relying solely on the advice of a local tribal chief or some “self-appointed representative” of local Iraqis.

Sigh.

Bentley Leadership Forum Part IV: Keynote by Nicholas Negroponte

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How the OLPC got its colors

One Laptop Per Child
You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful. It’s true.

Nicholas Negroponte Nicholas Negroponte (Founder and Co-director of MIT’s Media Lab) delivered the 3rd keynote of the Bentley Leadership Forum this week.

“Why laptops” and “Don’t the poor need other things like food more than they get computers”?

The project was motivated by many things, among them the observation that the solutions to the world’s big problems (peace, environment, world poverty, etc.) tend to always have a component of education. They [the founders of the initiative] were most interested in primary education seeing it as a leverage point where they could have the greatest impact. They also wanted to focus on the remotest and poorest parts of the world.

Here is a quick and dirty paraphrase.

There are places in the world where if you’re lucky, school is a tree, the teacher shows up, and that teacher is qualified. However, building more schools and training more teachers is only one part of the answer. There needed to be something else. That something is getting kids to take control of their own education.

Negroponte spoke about what he felt was a misconception in the development community. The primary reason that children stop going school in the 3rd and 4th grade is NOT because they need to go to the fields and help their families. “That’s rubbish”. He feels a big reason is that they are BORED stiff. Eyes glazed over, bored bored bored. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

He came to this conclusion after a pilot computer project in Cambodia in 1999 or so. His son was living in Italy, working on a business venture, having girlfriend problems. So NickNeg says “Dimitri, if you can suffer the indignity of working for your father”, I’ve got a project for you. He wanted his help in building, setting up and wiring a school in Cambodia. Nick sent the the laptops [some mighty fly Panasonic Toughbooks. Those computers can take a bullet btw (see photo).].


Elaine & Nicholas Negroponte School in Reaksmy, Cambodia

Elaine & Nicholas Negroponte School in Reaksmy, Cambodia

He quips that the first English words of the kids in the photo was Google. He also noted that after the computers showed up at the school, there was a 100% increase in attendance in the next school year [I might have this time frame wrong, but you get the point]. The lesson: Add something worth showing up for and kids will come.

Negroponte says he gets criticism all the time (9-10 unique stories per day) on “why, why why”. He says that if you substitute the word “education” for “laptop”, you’d never hear those questions again.

The Specs

Now when conceiving of the computers, they noted [as every other tech aficionado does] that cost of electronics drops 15% or so every 18 months. So what do computer manufacturers do? They add more features and hope that you’ll buy a new machine at the same price as your old system. He says that your typical $1000 laptop is a case of electronic obesity. It is like an SUV where much of the gas is used just to move the weight of the machine around. Continuing with this analogy, he says, “Why not go back to a light vehicle?” Maybe even a sports car.

That’s what the XO-1 is. A very very cute sports car.

Here are the specs:

  • 700 Mhz AMD x86 processor (They went to Intel first, but they dropped the ball by not responding fast enough. AMD ended up with the contract.)
  • 256 M Ram
  • 1G flash memory provides instant on and very long battery life. Your typical hard drive sucks a lot of power.
  • 3 USB Ports
  • Inbuilt Video
  • Wifi mesh network
  • Rugged (you can drop it from a 1.5 m and it should be fine. Drop tests from most computers are done from 35cm.)
  • Stereo sound with 2 audio out
  • Dual mode display for indoor and outdoor viewing (sunlight readable)
  • Highest resolution in dots per inch than any laptop they know
  • Extreme low power: 2W Nominal. (A well-nourished person can generate 15-20W with the “pencil-yellow hand crank”; malnourished bits can do around 10. They’ve got it so you can get 10 minutes of use out of 1 minute of cranking.)
  • Adjustable ear antennae give it 2-3x range for picking up wifi. Often he’s at a meeting, he says, and he’s the only person who can get a signal.
  • Sugar user interface
  • Wide range of alternative power inputs
  • “Greenest laptop by factor of ten” (1/2 size, 1/2 weight, 1/3 part count, RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive) compliant, no Hg, Cd, Pb, etc.)
  • Fedora Linux, Window XP ready (that’s convenient. Microsoft just announced that they’d be selling versions of the Windows OS for $3 in select developing countries.)

Other benefits: no bloatware (that heinous stuff that you never want that ships on your brand new laptop and takes up space/processor power), no capslock (this is just plain random), peer to peer everything (woohoo!)

He assures us that you can’t steal this laptop. Here is a quote from a Jim Gettys (Veep of Software Engineering for the project) interview with Computerworld regarding this issue:

To begin with, these are kid’s laptops, and obviously so when you see one; if it is in the hands of someone else, questions can be asked. Secondly, the incentive to steal is reduced greatly by our policy of “One Laptop per Child”: areas where the laptop goes are to be saturated with machines, so every child has one. Not only does this reduce the incentive to steal machines, but it is also necessary for a mesh network to work efficiently. Third, a stolen machine has a MAC address and can be potentially backtracked to its point of origin. And by making it the child’s machine, not only is it valued more than communal property at a school, it is also something families will value both for educational and other uses. Finally, we are looking at some technological aids against theft, primarily to increase the chance of detecting stolen systems.

[The machines may also have a kill switch, where they will just stop working if stolen. With all the problems that Windows Genuine Advantage has had with such kill switches, I am wary.]

Q & A

Q: Why green and white?
Nigerian Flag One of the first meetings Negroponte has with a head of state to talk about the project was with Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria. When he came into the meeting Obasango wasn’t it the room yet. It was just him, with the entire cabinet seated on the other side of the table. The Prez comes in and says “Professor Negroponte, I have one word for your project, one word.” Pregnant pause, lots of suspense. “Enchanting”. Long story short, the first XO-1 would be made for Nigeria. The colors are those of the Nigerian flag.

Q: Funding?
V complicated.

From Wikipedia (accessed 4/28/07)”

OLPC is funded by a number of sponsor organizations, including AMD, Brightstar Corporation, eBay, Google, Marvell, News Corporation, SES Global, Nortel Networks, and Red Hat. Each company has donated two million dollars.

He reckons it will take between $300-$900m to launch. Central governments are putting in single big orders. Uruguay, Nigeria, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, and Libya have expressed interest in buying the machines.

Q: What degree of control do they have over how the governments will distribute the laptops?
The deal is 1 laptop per child. They will be doing monitoring and lots of shaming. [It is very interesting how shaming actually can have an impact on the international scale]. Pakistan has made a point that it wants to emphasize girls. In this country, the rollout will be done by the army in cooperation with British Telecom. The army is letting them use their helicopters. It would be very very hard and expensive to pull off getting the computers to some of the more isolated areas with their help. [Hunh, makes sense, but what is the army’s rep with the people?]

Q: Packaging? Originals were packaged in styrofoam (boo hiss).
No Styrofoam. That packaging was probably only for the betas. The computers will be shipped in pallets.

Q: AMD chip, eh? Why wasn’t Intel involved?
They went to Intel first. After 3 mos of whining (his words not mine) they decided not to do it. The OLPC team needed an answer by Dec 2005. They didn’t get to him in time. So then he went to Hector Ruiz and had an answer in 3 hours (give or take).

Q. Theft?
If you steal one before it’s been registered, you can’t turn it one. When they get shipped out, the laptops will arrive with a teacher who will help with getting the machines connected and will training folks. Now if you steal the machine from that child once the laptop has been activated, after 48 hours it won’t work anymore. It need to be seen on the mesh network with all the other kids.

[cough, gasp… sounds like recipe for disaster… choke, sputter.]

Q. Languages and Keyboards?
9 language and six alphabets. They will be doing lots of language localization.

Q. Blocking and censorship?
A blocked internet better than no internet. Though many would disagree, if you censor democracy from Google searches, it’s still better to have Google. Basically they decided not to fight that battle. Also, noted that if people really want to get a site they will. [Hurray for proxy servers and sites like anonymouse]

Q. Why not be a commercial venture and sell some of these bad boys stateside?
They are a non-profit which gives them clarity of purpose. Also if they were to be a public company, they would have fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders and would have to behave very differently. They are not against somebody else doing that (Quanta is thinking about it.) One scheme [which the OLPC people aren’t totally on board with yet. Fingers crossed] is too allow a person in a developed country buy 1 XO-1 for $300. They get one and the other goes to a kid in a developing coutry. [The fact that he mentioned it does suggest that they are still considering it the idea, even if they haven’t committed.)

Q. What were the tipping points i.e. if x didn’t work, the tent would have fallen?
If the display didn’t work (cto is a lady. alright). Funny anecdote, when they first presented the machine at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2005, the machine wasn’t totally functional yet. They presented the thing, Wizard of Oz style, with another computer under the desk. Still is made a big splash.

Q. Doing it in the us?
Weren’t looking at doing this in the U.S. previously, but are now. Because of the way the school systems are set up in the U.S. (33,000 school districts), it would be very heard. Not wanted to be left out after clearly missing the boat in 2005, Intel is working on their Classmate machine for the developed country market. Initial pricing $250-$400.

Intel's Classmate and OLPC's XO-1 in Santiago Chile
Intel’s Classmate and OLPC’s XO-1 in Santiago Chile
Photo by Flickr user luisramirezuchile

Q. Corruption?
The key is that you cannot equivocate at all on that issue. Just say no way! As it is for kids though, it is an easier sell than say F-14’s.

Related Posts

Get your very own XO-1 laptop, give one to a child in need
Bentley Leadership Forum Part I: Keynote by Jeff Sachs

Vermicomposting with Martha Stewart

I pretty much love Martha Stewart mag. Great recipes (though you often have to ditch some of the silly high maintenance directions). Anyhoo, the queen of clean brings us vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting with Martha Stewart

Vermi-composting creates a rich compost fertilizer from food scraps. It’s a process that promotes easy cleanup and is odorless.

Tools and Materials
Plastic storage container with a lid
Drill with 1/8-inch drill bit
Wooden blocks
Newspaper
Red wiggler worms (eisenia foetida)
Garden soil

Vermi-Composting How-To

  • Create a well-ventilated bin by adding air holes with a drill and bit. Drill many holes on the sides, top, and bottom of the bin.
  • Place the bin on wooden blocks in order to keep the air circulating under the bin.
  • Soak strips of newspaper in water (avoid using colored paper). Wring out paper, separate, and add to bin. Fill bin 2/3 full with bedding.
  • Sprinkle worms gently over bedding. Two thousand worms eat around 7 pounds of food each week. Leave the lid off for a few hours so that worms will burrow.
  • Add one cup of garden soil which will add bacteria, protozoa, and fungi, aiding the composting process. This also adds minerals that will help with worm digestion.
  • Bury food scraps deep into bedding. Rotate placement, encouraging worms to disperse. Feed daily or weekly. Avoid fats or meats in smaller bins. Don’t place anything in the bin that is non-biodegradable or pet waste. After a few weeks, bedding and food will start turning into mash. Matter will completely break down in 3 to 6 months.
  • To harvest: Push compost to one side of bin. Fill other side with fresh bedding. Bury food into new bedding. Worms will migrate to new food.
  • Use the compost to top-dress potted plants, incorporate into seed-starting mix, and sprinkle on seed beds. Soak 2 tablespoons in 1 quart of water to create a fertilizer spray that won’t burn root systems.
  • Vermicomposting with Martha Stewart

    Resources
    To purchase vermi-composting supplies, including a vermi-composting bin, visit http://www.planetnatural.com. Red wiggler worms can be purchased online or at a local bait shop.

    First Published: April 2007

Recommended Reading:

Worms, Eat My Garbage
Worms, Eat My Garbage

Check Martha Stewart’s Site for video as well.

Separated Bike Lanes (YouTube)

A large contributor to global warming across the world is, of course, transportation. One great way to reduce the carbon footprint of cities would be to promote bicycling. In this vid, the folks at Street Films make the case for separated bike lanes in NYC that would make hopping on your bike safe as well as fun.

Featuring ample footage and photos from over a dozen cities worldwide, this video makes the case that America is woefully behind the curve in protecting its cyclists in big cities. [ref]

via Gristmill

Definitely check out Street Films.

StreetFilms is a project of the New York City Street Renaissance (NYCSR), a collection of non-profits geared towards re-imagining the city’s public spaces and making our streets safer for pedestrians, bicycles and non-vehicular modes of transportation. The goal of the NYCSR is to engage the Department of Transportation and the city’s elected officials in a dialogue about how to best improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers.

This Week’s Top 10 (4/15-4/21/07)

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

  1. Buick Lacrosse Hybrid: Only Available in China
    Buick Set To Get First-Ever Hybrid In ‘08 – But There’s A Catch… from Winding Road Magazine via Digg

    General Motors has let slip to a reporter at Winding Road Magazine that it is readying Buick’s first-ever hybrid model, a variant of the company’s popular LaCrosse sedan. But there’s a catch– it isn’t the U.S. market LaCrosse, it’s the better looking, more luxurious Chinese model. No U.S. model is planned. What gives, GM?

  2. Microsoft aims to double PC base from BBC News via Buzz Out Loud

    Microsoft software will sell for just $3 (£1.50) in some parts of the world in an attempt to double the number of global PC users.

    This is rather smart on Microsoft’s part given the level of piracy in developing countries. In Guatemala for example, bootleg versions of all major programs are available for $1.50 from your local entrepreneurial internet cafe. Like Google’s move in Kenya and Rwanda, this is a great way to increase market share/build brand loyalty as poorer countries develop. A major motivator has also got to be the fact that OLPC – XO-1 (formerly known as the $100 laptop) is rolling out with Fedora Linux and NOT XP or another version of Windows. (I wonder why they aren’t using Ubuntu.)

  3. How Will eBay Affect Peer to Peer Lending? from NextBillion.net

    Microcapital reports (via Auctionbytes) that eBay has moved into the peer-to-peer lending space with the purchase of MicroPlace. This is significant because eBay is far from the first to enter this space – which is currently dominated by Kiva, Zopa, and Prosper.

    How will a big company like eBay succeed in the nascent world of P2P lending? Will this affect the way Kiva or Propser works?

  4. Cape Cod Hits Snag from Celsias

    In what will be a blow to its many supporters, and a reprieve for its opponents, the proposed windfarm for Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts (which would become the largest offshore windfarm in the world) has hit yet another speed bump.

  5. Community Radio stations in Guatemala from Guatemala Solidarity Network Blog

    By the shores of Lake Atitlan, Radio San Pedro broadcasts to the local population in Spanish and Tzuthil. It appears to be makeshift but a lot of fun and a serious way of communicating with the local population on issues which are important to them. It is an example of the importance of community radio and why struggles continue to keep it within the public sphere.

  6. Why the sloppy love for nuclear? from Gristmill
    Related: March 28, 1979: Reactor Meltdown at Three Mile Island from Wired

    Uranium: Unsustainable Solution To Climate Crisis from Treehugger

  7. Companies team to churn fat into fuel from CNN

    ConocoPhillips and Tyson will process beef, pork and chicken fat in an effort to create as much as 175 million gallons per year of biodiesel fuel.

  8. Are Cell Phones Killing Bees? from CNN’s Business 2.0 Third Screen

    Early Findinds Alert! Early Findings Alert!

    These are not definitive results, just early findings.

    Honeybees are dying off in swarms, and a recent study says cell phones could be to blame. Researchers at Landau University in Germany have discovered that radiation from cellular networks could be the culprit behind the recent demise of hundreds of thousands of bees in the United States and Europe. Apparently, radiation from mobile devices interferes with the buzzing creatures’ internal GPS system (a.k.a. natural navigation skills), and that could be keeping them from finding their way back to their colony and to resources they need to survive.

  9. Cities without limits: African urbanisation from Economist Print Edition
  10. A Newt paradigm from Gristmill

    John Kerry and Newt Gingrich squared off on climate change this morning. The result? Gingrich committed to the statement that something needs to be done and distanced himself from partisan brethren like Inhofe. He also dropped a line about a need for some “green conservatism.”

C40 Large Cities Climate Summit

C40 Large Cities Climate Summit

From May 14 – May 17, 2007, leaders of municipal governments and international businesses from over thirty world cities will convene in New York City for the second C40 Large Cities Climate Summit. Cities are responsible for three-quarters of the world’s energy consumption, and as such, the world’s largest cities have a critical role to play in the reduction of carbon emissions and the reversal of dangerous climate change.

The rabble can’t go to this, but media can. I’m not sure what the rule is about bloggers as media, but those interested in applying for credentials can do so here. The deadline is May 1st.

City Delegations to be Led by Mayor or Governor

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