Hitting Rice with Sticks

In the developed world, everything works. The power is always on, and most things are on time. The economists tell us we’re actually more efficient at just about everything; a quick look at a table of GDP per capita shows that the developed countries make dozens of times more money per person than the poor countries. Now I know that GDP isn’t everything; I know that money doesn’t always measure what actually matters. Still, I have to wonder at the implication that some countries do so much more per person than others. Now that I’ve traveled a bit, I know that it’s completely true. It really does take more work to get anything done in a less developed place.

In the West-African country of Mali, the staple food is rice, which has a husk that must be removed before eating. The women do this work, manually, by using large mortars and wooden pestles. It takes hours to prepare a single meal this way.

Hitting Rice with Sticks in Mali

There are other examples.

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Water Cannot be Cleaned by Machines

A friend of mine has been asked to design a small scale UV-light water purification system for use in the developing world, and he called me to ask what I knew about getting machines to work in poor places. At first I didn’t know what to say to him, because he’s at least as good an engineer as I am, but as the conversation continued I began to discover what he was missing. Engineering is the easy part of getting technology into the developing world. Getting technology accepted, used, maintained, and paid for is the hard part.
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What Does Internet Censorship Look Like?

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) it looks like this:

This is the web page that users trying within the United Arab Emirates see when they navigate to flickr.com

I captured this from an internet cafe in Dubai in November, 2007, when I tried to navigate to flickr.com. Click for a larger image; the text reads, in Arabic and English, “We apologize [sic] the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.” I must say it was something of a shock. If you live in what is commonly known as “Western Civilization”, you’ve probably never run into a censored page before. As with all personal experience, if you don’t see it yourself it’s very easy to forget that it exists at all.

But internet censorship does exist. It’s very real. In fact, something like one third of the governments of the world censor their citizens’ internet access. Given that this includes India and (especially) China, it may be that half the people people in the world can’t actually see what Americans, Canadians, Europeans and so on experience as “the internet.” Continue reading What Does Internet Censorship Look Like?