Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Language learning and translation

Just saw a TED talk from Carnegie Mellon, about work being done on large scale human computing....  Okay, that part was interesting too....

But what caught me is a free way to learn a new language.  They are in beta testing at  The idea is to learn a new language by translating words.  The original learn to do by doing...  But structured so that what you are doing is something that also helps translate web pages.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Samantha Nutt and the 'Damned Nations' of guns and aid

Here's another book that sounds like it's worth looking up when i've got a few hours....

Samantha Nutt and the 'Damned Nations' of guns and aid

Posted: Nov 23, 2011 8:09 PM ET

Every so often a new book arrives with the force of a much-needed whack over the head.
That's the jolting effect of Samantha Nutt'sDamned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid, which is causing a sensation within the increasingly troubled world of humanitarian aid.
Written by one of Canada's most influential humanitarian activists, it's the clearest examination I've read in quite a while of the economic incentives — and our own Western inadequacies — that fuel the seemingly intractable violence in so many war-torn countries, particularly in mineral-rich Africa.
A medical doctor and the co-founder of War Child Canada, Nutt is someone who speaks with remarkable moral authority, after spending more than 16 years struggling to help the most vulnerable targets, children and women, in the world's most dangerous conflict areas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A different take on the Pareto principle

Okay, here's a different thought. You've probably heard of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.  The original idea came from the observation that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the land, and that in a certain garden, 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pods.  The general concept is that most of the productive output is the result of relatively few of the input factors.  In business it is generally considered that one should focus on the 20% that are causing the large effect, in order to achieve significant improvement.

Abe Lincoln made an interesting comment:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax”

This suggests that most of the 80% "non-productive time" he would spend on preparing well for the actual productive time he did spend.  It seems he was aware of the need to prepare well, so that when the time came for the 20%, he was ready and could work effectively.

Okay, that's enough for a late night musing....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lighting Africa

Here's a fast company article about an organization that is helping with the marketing of solar powered lights in parts of africa..

Sunday, June 26, 2011

the world peace game

One to watch: John Hunter

World peace game. Movie called World Peace and other 4th grade achievements.

Can't wait to see the game and the film.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thoughts on the role of religious groups in development.

So, I just got back from a day at the Canadian conference of Engineers Without Borders (conference site).  It was interesting to see the assumptions in development about how it should be governments leading the infrastructure building in developing communities.

I think it is worth noting that in North America, as we were developing, a significant portion of our infrastructure was initially build not buy local or foreign governments, but rather local and foreign religious groups, particularly Christian groups in the case of North America.  It was these religious groups that saw the needs of the people, looked on them with compassion, and organized to build those things that were needed and did not exist, not out of a patriotic duty or political will, but rather out of a loving heart.  The examples here i refer to are the schools and hospitals.

In Ontario, where i'm from, the Catholic church set up schools, and the protestant churches set up schools.  Then, the protestant churches got together and said, hey, we can be more effective if we agree and work together, so they did and that became the public school system.  Later the government took over funding both the Catholic and the Public (protestant) systems through taxes.  (If I understand correctly, part of the curriculum for becoming a teacher in Ontario is to study this history, so any teachers out there paying attention can correct me.)

Many hospitals, and medical clinics around the world were started by religious organizations as well. This pattern continues around the world.  In the case of libraries, it was often wealthy philanthropists that funded the building of the first community libraries, believing in the importance of ongoing education opportunities for the general population, not just those that could afford it. Then these were turned over to local governments to support.

I think it is important to recognize that religious groups can still play an important roll in development in the modern world.  Many of those that are passionate about development or certain sectors with in  development, are passionate about it because of their religious beliefs, and bring a suitable compassion, humility and hope that are clearly necessary to do development work successfully.

Looking at the example of libraries, and that many of those philanthropist that funded them were the captains of industry at the time, leads me to think that in the current case, there is also a roll for corporations to play in development as well.  That idea will need further exploration, since there are issues there, just as there are issues with religious groups in a development context as well. There certainly are issues with governments involvement in aid; the very existence/ubiquitousness of the NGO term shows that there are some things the government should not be doing.

Anyway, that's enough for now....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Agriculture policies and ideas...

Another one to look up sometime: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) from 2008.  It's a report reviewing what's working in world....

Keeping an eye on the nourishing the planet feed from the worldwatch institute....