Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

American overseas volunteerism: what really works

Peter writes, "My niece has been an unflagging volunteer for as long as I can remember. Recently she's come to realize that maybe everything she might want to do isn't what's actually needed: 'I think we're finally doing aid right, and I'm not there.'" Cory 60

Crowdfunding toilets for schools in Ghana

Gmoke writes, "Pure Home Water (PHW), the same people who make AfriClay Filters -- a locally-sourced clay pot water filter -- in Taha, Ghana are now building toilet blocks for local schools. In June 2013, PHW built a 6-stall toilet block in 30 days for a school in the village of Taha. They are planning to build the same toilet block for the neighboring village of Gbalahi and are looking for $8,600 over the next two months."

Toilets for Schools - Improving Sanitation in Ghana (Thanks, Gmoke!)

Giving no-strings-attached money to the world's poorest produces remarkably good results

The Economist details outcomes from Give Directly, an organization that analyzes satellite photos to identify the poorest places in the world and then hands over no-strings-attached cash grants to the people who live there. It's a contrast to other programs, where donations are funneled into school construction or funding planned-out businesses. Give Directly has produced remarkably good results: "In randomly selected poor households in 63 villages that have received the windfalls, they say, the number of children going without food for a day has fallen by over a third and livestock holdings have risen by half. A year after the scheme began, incomes have gone up by a quarter and recipients seem less stressed, according to tests of their cortisol levels."

Read the rest

Elon Musk's hyperloop can't escape the high cost of infrastructure development

Elon Musk wants to build a pneumatic tube transportation system capable of whisking people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. (Xeni told you about this back in July.)

Technologically speaking, it's a perfectly possible thing to do, writes Tim Fernholtz at Quartz. The problem is the high cost of infrastructure development, something have everybody (whether they want to built a train, a highway, or a futuristic hyperloop) tends to underestimate. That's particularly a problem given the fact that whole idea behind Musk's hyperloop is that it could be a cheaper replacement for an expensive high-speed rail line already under development.

Experimenting on orphans

There's a fantastic long read up at Aeon Magazine about the science of child development and the ethics of running scientific experiments on vulnerable populations. Virginia Hughes goes to Romania to follow a long-term study comparing children placed in orphanages with children placed in foster homes. The catch: Scientists already know that foster homes are better for kids than institutions. But that fact isn't well-known or accepted in Romania. So scientists had to ask — is it ethical to run an experiment involving kids when you already know the answer if there's a chance that it might help other kids in the future? Maggie 8

Open source brick machine: the evolution

Tristan sez, "Open Source Ecology is a social enterprise based in Missouri. We develop open source machines that can be made for a fraction of commercial costs, and share our designs on the Internet for free. We've just designed version 4.0 of our compressed earth brick press, the Liberator. With this machine, anyone can make solid, 'dirt cheap' structures from the earth beneath their feet. This linked video shows the evolution of the CEB press from 2007-2012."

The CEB Story 2012 (Thanks, Tristan)

4chan gets real about software

Illustration: [Pixiv]

9/7/2012: Updated with feedback from moot

4chan, the Internet's long-time dumping ground and butt of many a joke, is getting serious about software by making their biggest public-facing code change in nearly a decade, introducing an API and a bunch of new functionality.

Given its reputation, many commentators have already written this off with a shrug and a laugh. But 4chan is also one of the web's most popular and influential communities. It's the source of so many Internet-age cultural trends that even your grandma may be dimly aware that the clever picture she posted on her Facebook was trawled a thousand copies ago from the dark depths of /mlp/. Given that there's big money in all this, the API offers businesses a direct line to the heart of the machine.

As a professional software developer and long time 4chan user, I think this is a pretty interesting development. I talked yesterday afternoon to some of those who worked on 4chan's code over the years and know a little about why this is such an important development.

Read the rest

Afrocyberpunk: the future and science fiction in Africa

Here's an interesting, short memoir about science fiction in Africa, written by Jonathan Dotse, a science fiction writer in Accra, Ghana. Dotse describes how his early exposure to science fiction changed his outlook on life, and how he sees the field relating to the future of Africa.

Imagine a young African boy staring wide-eyed at the grainy images of an old television set tuned to a VHF channel; a child discovering for the first time the sights and sounds of a wonderfully weird world beyond city limits. This is one of my earliest memories; growing up during the mid-nineties in a tranquil compound house in Maamobi; an enclave of the Nima suburb, one of the most notorious slums in Accra. Besides the government-run Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, only two other television stations operated in the country at the time, and satellite television was way beyond my family’s means. Nevertheless, all kinds of interesting programming from around the world occasionally found its way onto those public broadcasts. This was how I first met science fiction; not from the tomes of great authors, but from distilled approximations of their grand visions.

This was at a time when cyberpunk was arguably at its peak, and concepts like robotics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence were rife in mainstream media. Not only were these programs incredibly fun to watch, the ideas that they propagated left a lasting impression on my young mind for years to come. This early exposure to high technology sent me scavenging through piles of discarded mechanical parts in our backyard; searching for the most intriguing sculptures of steel from which I would dream up schematics for contraptions that would change the world as we knew it. With the television set for inspiration and the junkyard for experimentation, I spent my early childhood immersed in a discordant reality where dreams caked with rust and choked with weeds came alive in a not-so-distant future; my young mind well aware of the process of transformation occurring in the world around me; a world I was only just beginning to understand.

Developing World: Beyond the Frontiers of Science Fiction (Thanks, Richard!)

Skeptical take on the Green Revolution

CBC's long-form/big think radio program Ideas recently featured a lecture called "Feeding Ten Billion" from Raj Patel, an Africa development scholar formerly with the World Bank, and author of The Value of Nothing. Patel's perspective on global agriculture and social justice is incisive and contrarian. I've never heard anyone talk about the demerits of the "Green Revolution" in agriculture like this, and it was an eye-opener. A perfect hour-long listen for the weekend's chores. MP3 link Cory

Contest: open 3D print designs for sustainable development

Ivana sez,

You are invited to participate in a design competition for development of sustainable technologies and their components for printing on open source 3-D printers!

The goal of the contest (organized by Queen's University Applied Sustainability Lab and Michigan Technological University) is to facilitate an open exchange of 3-D sustainable technology designs that can be printed to meet various needs in the context of sustainable and self directed development.

3-D printers such as RepRap and open sourced innovation hold great promise for development of technologies to help millions of world's poorest communities reach a better standard of living. Designs will be judged on the technical printing viability, feasibility and functionality of the innovation, as well as ecological, economic and social sustainability.

Anyone can enter the competition however the contestants must post their digital designs on Thingiverse under an open license (e.g. CC-BY-SA). The contest is funded by the Queen's Applied Sustainability Group and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Competition closes February 1st 2012.

Top prize is CAD1,000, second is CAD500, and there will be three runners up who get a satisfied glow. All winners also get a copy of my novel Makers, which is pretty flattering, if I do say so myself!

Open source sustainability 3-D printing design competition (Thanks, Ivana!)

PeePoo bags render sacks of shit safe for shantytowns

PeePoo bags are alternatives to the "flying toilets" (plastic bags filled with human shit and then flung into the public street) used in Nairobi shantytowns. Created by the company PooPeople, they're lined with a thin gauze layer filled with urea powder, which neutralizes the bacteria in human feces. Once filled, the bags turn the poop into fertilizer, then biodegrade.
The Peepoo is in the form of a slim elongated bag measuring 14 x 38 centimeters. Within the bag there is a thin gauze layer measuring 26 x 24 cm. The Peepoo is filled with urea powder. Without sacrificing ergonomic function, the bag’s design is adapted in every way so that it might be manufactured at as low a price as possible and sold to groups with the weakest purchasing power in the world. The Peepoo is easy to carry and easy to use. It doesn't need any supporting structure, but, for convenience, a small bucket can help a lot.
The Peepoo (via Neatorama)