Tag Archives: Earth

Burma’s Firewall Fighters

Another good report on Burma’s failed efforts to stop information getting out, from the Commitee to Protect Journalists:

Those fears are driving Burma’s undercover reporters to become more innovative. DVB’s Moe Aye said his in-country reporters now check in with editors by pay phone at predetermined times to mitigate the risk of communicating on lines that may be tapped by authorities.

In-country journalists have their own clandestine procedures. One undercover DVB reporter secretly reported on the trial of a popular political prisoner by using his mobile telephone to record the detainee entering the courthouse. Later that day, he used the Internet to transmit the footage in time to meet DVB’s production deadline.

“They say, ‘Don’t ask me how, just wait and it will be there.’” Moe Aye said. “I don’t ask, so I can’t tell you how they do it. They have their own ways.”  

Although I still believe it’s important not to overstate the influence of the Internet in opening up a country and placing a brake on the brutality of regimes (Burma has shown no lack of appetite for repression, and can pull the plug on the Internet at will, firstly, and secondly information and images still found their way out even in the pre-Web uprising of 1988), it’s great to read of how young Burmese are finding ways to report on what’s going on there.

Burma’s Firewall Fighters

Helping the World, Ripple by Ripple

Ripple-logoGod, I love simple ideas. This is great one (tip of hat to Lifehack) because it’s already working. By doing your search through Melbourne-based ripple, and looking at an ad, you direct the cents your eyeballs earn to charity. A few hours after launch the difference is already being felt:

In our first 48 hours we received enough visitors to provide:

* 2 people with access to clean water and sanitation FOR LIFE! and;
* Seven years of education to 2 children in East Timor; and
* Maintain more than $334,800 in micro-finance loans for a day. That’s around 800 loans to allow people in the Phillipines and elsewhere to start their own business; and
* Set up 15 market gardens in Cambodia to provide nutritious food to a village

I’ve done a more extensive write-up at tenminut.es.

How Couriers Help Scammers

Bruce Schneier talks about how to get around blocks on U.S. eretailers refusing to ship to Russia: put the correct address but the wrong country (in this case Canada.)

Indonesian credit card fraudsters have long been doing this, usually putting the country as Singapore. I suspect they still do it.

Of course it’s a reflection of both the professionalism and the lack of thought of couriers. On the one hand they try to serve the customer; on the other hand they fail to recognise the scam that’ they’re unwittingly aiding. I was always amazed at how little they seem to consider their customer’s interests in this.

clipped from www.schneier.com

What happens next? The parcel travels to Canada, to the area to which the specified ZIP code belongs and there postal workers just see it’s not a Canadian address but Russian. They consider it to be some sort of mistake and forward it further, to Russia.

How Couriers Help Scammers

Bruce Schneier talks about how to get around blocks on U.S. eretailers refusing to ship to Russia: put the correct address but the wrong country (in this case Canada.)

Indonesian credit card fraudsters have long been doing this, usually putting the country as Singapore. I suspect they still do it.

Of course it’s a reflection of both the professionalism and the lack of thought of couriers. On the one hand they try to serve the customer; on the other hand they fail to recognise the scam that’ they’re unwittingly aiding. I was always amazed at how little they seem to consider their customer’s interests in this.

clipped from www.schneier.com

What happens next? The parcel travels to Canada, to the area to which the specified ZIP code belongs and there postal workers just see it’s not a Canadian address but Russian. They consider it to be some sort of mistake and forward it further, to Russia.

The Consultant Scam

This is nothing to do with technology but it’s something close to my heart: the waste of money that are many aid projects. British charity organisation ActionAid UK has issued a report which reveals the high cost of consultants:

Aid provided by rich governments needs to target poverty. Instead, one quarter of their aid – $20bn a year – funds expensive and often ineffective western consultants, research and training.

This is no truer than in Indonesia and East Timor, where huge amounts of money are spent on projects that go on for years. All these are led by foreigners. The East Timorese government recently collapsed in an orgy of violence, effectively taking the country back to when it first liberated itself from Indonesia in 1999. How much money had been spent in the interim on building up those institutions, and how much of that money went to foreign consultants? As the report says:

A typical cost of an expatriate consultant will be in the region of $200,000 a year. According to the OECD, in typical cases more than one third of this is spent on school fees and child allowances – spending which would not be needed if local consultants were used.

Findings show that in Cambodia, consultants’ fees were $17,000 a month while government salaries were only $40. In Ghana, even relatively inexperienced consultants earned per day what government officials earned in a month. In Sierra Leone, according to one former UK-funded consultant, daily take-home pay was the same as the Auditor General’s monthly salary.

It’s not as if all these consultants actually help:

In Tanzania, Japanese consultants on an irrigation project introduced the use of diesel pumps that have become too expensive for local farmers. A massive increase in fuel costs have made them three times more expensive than other alternatives. The pumps now lie idle and farmers are worse off than before.

This is not a one off. I’ve heard dozens of these kinds of stories.

It has to be said that some projects are excellent and the consultants doing great work. To attract these people so they are willing to commit to a career in this field the rewards need to be attractive; it’s OK to do some voluntary work for a year or two, but not many are going to dedicate a life to it. But too often the money is silly money, and much of it is wasted on mediocre work. And the priorities are skewed: Usually the consultant’s goal primarily to extend the contract, or use his or her final report to argue for extending or furthering the project (which of course means the further hiring of that consultant or his/her organisation.) Rarely does one see a consultant arguing for less projects, less money spent, or simply acknowledgement that their work is not cost-effective and should be canned.

Held up like a loofah by the foreman: Blinded By The Lyrics

I was always hopeless at hearing song lyrics correctly, and listening back to some of those old numbers again recently, I realised that I’m not alone. Take, for example, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band version of Blinded By The Light. A classic song, but what is the line after Blinded By The Light?

I figured the Internet would tell me, and it did, sort of. It’s actually ‘revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night’ according to this authoritative-sounding website. Or ‘Wrapped up like a deuce, another runner in the night’, depending on whether you’re talking about the Bruce Springsteen original or the MMEB cover. So there you go. The Internet solves another mystery.

Well, not quite. I always thought the line was ‘wrap up like a bloosher’, without ever really getting around to find out what a bloosher was (something to do with the Battle of Waterloo, I reckoned). But the Internet reveals that everyone had their own intepretation. There’s a list here of what they did think it was — I counted about 70 different interpretations. Here are my favourites:

  • held up like a loofer by the foreman of the night;
  • rabbit in a lot of juice, like a donut in the night;
  • wrapped up like a douche, a bad odor in the night

Etc… The human ear and brain combo is a fascinating instrument. Check out the rest of Kiss This Guy. It’s not new, but it’s updated, and it’s hilarious.

What Will Keep The Wi-Fi Customer Satisfied?

Wi-Fi Networking News talks about hotspots, and how providers are having to fight to keep their customers in a competitive market. Hotspot operators who charge, they say, are going to have to offer something unique beside Internet access if they want to attract customers. “Higher bandwidth than business-DSL or T-1 may have to be part of it.”

I guess so. Most Wi-Fi spots are mere loss-leaders, ways to get people into your establishment and keep them there. Folk who charge may have provide other services to go with it: nice work environments, free coffee, printers — or else be in places where there’s no competition, like truckstops.