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+ - How "big ideas" are actually hurting international development

Submitted by schnell
schnell (163007) writes "The New Yorker is running a fascinating article that analyzes the changing state of foreign development. Tech entrepreneurs and celebrities are increasingly realizing the inefficiencies of the old charitable NGO-based model of foreign aid, and shifting their support to "disruptive" new ideas that have been demonstrated in small experiments to deliver disproportionately beneficial results. But multiple studies now show that "game changing" ideas that prove revolutionary in limited studies fail to prove effective at scale, and are limited by a simple and disappointing fact: no matter how revolutionary your idea is, whether it works or not is wholly dependent on 1.) the local culture and circumstances, and 2.) who is implementing the program."

Comment: Re:Sell them stuff (Score 1) 99

by schnell (#48442141) Attached to: Ukraine's IT Brigade Supports the Troops

Why can't we sell this junk to the Ukrainians and make a profit

Fair question but unfortunately the answer is:

  • We wouldn't make a profit. We might make slightly more than selling it for scrap, but it's not like battle-worn Humvees fetch anywhere near what they cost us... that's why the military is (inappropriately) giving them away to the cops in the US.
  • Ukraine is not exactly swimming in money to buy these things. Their economy has suffered 10% contraction in the past year and they can't even afford to subsidize the natural gas needed to keep their citizens alive this winter, now that Russia has jacked up the rates.
  • Selling arms to Ukraine (or fast tracking its entry into NATO) would be a major provocation to Russia and would set the stage for a potential full-on NATO vs. Russia regional conflict. Putin has enough crazy in him that he can't be trusted not to do something extremely stupid that would hurt him more in the long run, but would be painful enough to both sides that there would be no "winner." That's a hornet's nest you don't want to poke until you have exhausted every other conceivable alternative.

Comment: Re:Sounds reasonable (Score 1) 234

by schnell (#48434957) Attached to: Swedish Court Refuses To Revoke Julian Assange's Arrest Warrant

when they finally get him into the U.S.

Where does this keep coming from? He has not been charged with any crime in the US, nor have any judicial proceedings even been started against him. Sweden can't extradite him for this even if they wanted to. So why do people keep talking about this as a ploy to have him extradited to the U.S.? There is exactly as much proof (or even logic) that this whole thing is a US-led plot as there is that this was a plot by the U.K. to get him to flee there. Or that this was a plot led by Ecuador, Afghanistan or Vanuatu.

Apply Occam's razor (gently). Just maybe this is a guy who had sex with women in Sweden when they didn't want him to, and this is a crime in Sweden, and they want him back there to put him on trial... in Sweden. Just maybe.

Comment: Re:We'll build our own station (Score 1) 225

by schnell (#48433991) Attached to: Russia May Be Planning National Space Station To Replace ISS

it gives them no meaningful bonus of any kind - science or military wise

This is something that has long bothered me: what do they do on the ISS that is "important science" worth all the money and hassle? I can go read a list of experiments on the station, but it all sounds like picayune little science projects to me. Can somebody who knows more about this than me give me some context on what the heck is Really Important about work done on the ISS? Or do we just send people and things to it Because It's There?

Comment: Re:Standing (Score 3, Interesting) 199

by schnell (#48431635) Attached to: Harvard Students Move Fossil Fuel Stock Fight To Court

the issue of whether the students were legally qualified to sue, known as standing, could be fatal to the studentsâ(TM) suit

Precisely this. The whole case is in an idealistic sense understandable - if you are in college and you aren't challenging the real or imagined injustices of the world in some way, you're missing the whole point of being young enough to still be self-absorbed and righteous, but not old enough to be in the real world. But from a practical view, it's just a bunch of overprivileged Harvard kids looking for something to protest and wasting the time of our overburdened court system in the process. My 18-year-old me would applaud them but my current 40-year-old self thinks they should shut the f**k up and go do something useful instead.

Disclaimer: I know several Harvard alumni and count a few of them as my friends. I am probably unfairly biased against Harvard since in my experience these alums are (sorry friends) not noticeably smarter than everyone else - in some cases less so - in a way that justifies a Harvard degree being an automatic ticket to wealth and insider access. Which, unfortunately, it is.

Comment: Re:I bet Amazon would love to hire more women. (Score 1) 477

by schnell (#48428333) Attached to: As Amazon Grows In Seattle, Pay Equity For Women Declines

It's not good to put all your eggs in one basket.

Fair point, but Seattle is hardly a one-trick pony. Leaving aside Amazon... Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks HQ are all major employers here. Just in tech alone, you also have Nintendo, Valve, Bungie, Disney Mobile and others here as well as satellite offices for Google, Facebook and (soon) Apple.

I think the point of the article (maybe?) is that Amazon is getting really big in Seattle, and the infrastructure here is already strained from the expanding tech industry. Amazon's growth could be more than the city can handle, dragging down quality of life for everyone.

Comment: Re:uh, no? (Score 5, Insightful) 339

by schnell (#48394843) Attached to: Alleged Satellite Photo Says Ukraine Shootdown of MH17

Overall, the case is getting stranger with every relevation.

No, no it is not. This is a pretty blatant forgery - for a step-by-step walkthrough of what's obviously faked about it (including screenshots of the months-old Google Maps images and others that were used) please visit here.

Giving this any credence by saying the case "gets stranger" is like reading some 9/11 truther's article and saying that it makes the truth behind the attacks "more puzzling." It doesn't. It just shows that some people are either disconnected from the truth or (in this case) willing to actively fabricate things to obscure it.

Comment: Re:Private Links != Paid Priority (Score 1) 258

by schnell (#48392261) Attached to: Comcast Kisses-Up To Obama, Publicly Agrees On Net Neutrality

It's at "Naturally occurring". Analyse that part of the equation.

You seem to think that you understand the politics of Internet peering, but I don't think you actually do. Not trying to be a jerk, but if you haven't worked on this stuff at a large ISP this whole question seems far more black and white than it actually is.

The question of settlement-free peering vs. transit is almost as old as the Internet. Network A is bigger, and Network B is smaller (or Network A has significant in/out flows of traffic while Network B has largely unidirectional traffic). There are not many Network As out there and lots of Network Bs. Network A should not need to spend the money to put in direct links of whatever size to all the Network Bs out there. It makes sense to do so with other networks the size of Network A but not for private connections of whatever size Network B wants. So Network A says to Network B, "No free soup for you. Buy bandwidth from someone who does peer with me (or pays me to peer), or you can pay me to connect directly." If Network B is buying bandwidth from someone who doesn't have big enough connections to Network A (or doesn't want to pay for bigger connections) then there can be congestion.

This is not new. It is not unique to Netflix. It is very common, in fact, with anyone using Netflix's traditional cheap-ass bandwidth provider, Cogent. (I use cheap-ass not as a compliment to Cogent's low rates but as a descriptor of the quality of their peering and transit links.) You can make a reasonable argument that Netflix is unique and should be given a pass on paying for transit because of customers of the ISP wanting that data. But from the ISP's perspective that creates a slippery slope (because everybody's traffic is important to someone) and all the smaller networks will want the same exception... maybe even to the point of being willing to sue over it or stage a damaging publicity war over it like Netflix did. For the big ISPs, they feel the need to hold firm on this question to avoid that slippery slope.

It sucks that peering is inherently political, and besides that nobody likes Comcast. But please stop trying to make the Netflix peering thing sound like something more nefarious than it actually is.

Comment: Re:Nope (Score 1) 377

by schnell (#48375819) Attached to: How 4H Is Helping Big Ag Take Over Africa

Centuries of study show us that many homeopathic cures do work.

I am not sure that you understand what "study" means in a modern scientific sense. If there are any of those showing the efficacy of homeopathy, please provide links - I am genuinely interested in seeing them (not snide, seriously).

As an example, I have a medical doctor who suggested drinking camomile tea to help me sleep, and it works. He could have prescribed a man made chemical to do the same thing

Now I am not sure that you understand what homeopathy means. Read the linked Wiki page to understand (it involves ingesting ridiculously diluted chemicals to purportedly cure illnesses on the utterly unsubstantiated theories of "like cures like" and "water memory."

I think what you're referring to is naturopathy, which is a whole different kettle of fish. My wife is a big believer in naturopathy, and while I think some of it is touchy-feely new age quackery, there is no dispute that naturally occurring plants, herbs and other medicinal sources can be effective healing tools. So no argument there.

My personal $.02 is that many people who prefer naturopathic medicine and oppose GMOs - my wife among them - do so not from a scientific viewpoint but from a moral viewpoint. Many of us would much rather trust things that grow naturally than are made artificially. But while it may ultimately prove true that some GMOs are harmful, I strongly believe that we should come to that conclusion through scientific study, not because we "feel" that something lab-created is inferior to something made by human science.

Nature made the Black Plague, tobacco, lard and the Destroying Angel mushrooms, too. Just because it's natural doesn't necessarily make it better for you, or make man-created things bad.

Comment: Re:Obama (Score 1) 704

by schnell (#48356591) Attached to: President Obama Backs Regulation of Broadband As a Utility

You seem to forget all the innovation that happened while Ma Bell was both a monopoly AND heavily regulated. During that period, they invented little things like the diode, transistor, cellular phone networks, UNIX, C... The regulation meant that Bell Labs was highly accountable and had to be very civic-minded with all their pursuits to justify their protected monopoly status. That's a heck of a counterexample to your assertion.

A very fair point. All that I can say in response is that AT&T did all this advanced research and created these things in part because they were such a gigantic regulated monopoly, raking in so much cash, that they desperately needed to find things to spend money on that could be at least tangentially connected to their business.

To get a heavily regulated company to the point where they start innovating for the lulz of it, you have to have a pretty frickin' huge monopoly that generates reams of cash. The only modern analog I can think of is Microsoft Labs and all the cool stuff they have come up with over the past 20 years because Microsoft had more money than it knew what to do with. Other regulated companies that don't just print huge bundles of cash on a national or global basis - think Baby Bells, electric utilities, waste management companies - do not produce much in the way of innovation.

So, on balance, do you think you would get more innovation out of a hyper-behemoth regulated monopoly that had cash to spare, or would you rather have a bunch of non-regulated companies that had to compete to create new things?

Comment: Re:Obama (Score 1) 704

by schnell (#48356467) Attached to: President Obama Backs Regulation of Broadband As a Utility

AT&T didn't break up voluntarily; it was forced (i.e., regulated) to do so under the Anti-Trust Act.

Sorry, perhaps I should have been clearer that the divestiture was pursued by the Justice Department for those reasons. Companies may "split" but they don't pursue to "divest" themselves, but I thought that was implicit.

You've got that backwards: the Baby Bells pushed ISDN because they weren't regulated effectively enough to force them to do better. And if it weren't for the little regulation they did get [wikipedia.org], they wouldn't have even bothered pushing ISDN and instead would have been content to keep everyone stuck on dial-up.

How do you regulate "forc[ing] them to do better?" Should the government have said "you need to come up with some new technology by year X that offers Y Mbps of broadband and offer it for $Z per month... or else?" even when that technology doesn't exist yet? Because while that sounds awesome it's not realistic. Even government mandates like MPG to car companies usually have targets to improve a certain percentage by an incremental target 15 or 20 years in the future, which is eons when it comes to the Internet.

I'm sorry if you disagree with my thesis, but I believe the evidence supports it strongly: regulation is generally synonymous with providing better customer service and avoiding pricing abuses. It is almost never synonymous with innovation and incentivizing new technologies or business models.

Comment: Re:Obama (Score 5, Informative) 704

by schnell (#48352147) Attached to: President Obama Backs Regulation of Broadband As a Utility

You mean, after AT&T was regulated by being broken up and by being forced to allow third-party devices (e.g. modems), major innovation was able to start.

Umm, no. On a couple counts:

  • Divestiture didn't have anything to do with attaching 3rd party devices to the phone network; you're thinking of the Carterfone decision from 1968, which was a full 16 years before AT&T was split up.
  • AT&T was actually more heavily regulated before its divestiture, as a nationwide telecommunications monopoly. It was prevented from getting into whole lines of business (hence why it gave away UNIX because it couldn't sell it). The divestiture was pursued specifically to strip away the heavily regulated parts (the local telcos) from the largely unregulated parts (long distance, cable, etc.) See this book for more details. Under that regulation, think about the degree of innovation you got out of the Baby Bells... who were still pushing ISDN as "broadband" in the late '90s.
  • The one piece of regulation that did actually manage to spur consumer-friendly innovation in telecom in recent memory was the 1996 Telecom Act, which actually reduced regulation in many areas (the "carrot" for telcos) while simultaneously increasing competition in others (the "stick"), such as forcing the Baby Bells to allow competitive access to their DSLAMs to provide DSL service, etc.

Regulation is very important in many industries, including telecommunications. But it is almost never synonymous with innovation.

Comment: Re:Yes, but the real problem is being ignored. (Score 4, Interesting) 461

by schnell (#48348233) Attached to: Washington Dancers Sue To Prevent Identity Disclosure

If only we had some sort of state-issued document that verifies your age -- maybe even with a picture on it. I guess that's just a pipe dream, huh?

Look, I think this is a stupid law, but it's not hard to see past your objections and see where the state is coming from.

It's not all that terribly hard to get a fake ID that will pass muster at a bar. (It's a different issue to get one that will pass muster at a TSA check, or passport application, for example.)

You accidentally let a 19-year-old in to drink with a fake ID, not a huge deal in terms of liability, right? You will probably get fined if he/she gets caught in a sting, worse if they get a DUI, but it's pretty understandable and unlikely to put your strip club out of business.

But let's say a 17-year-old has a good fake ID and gets a job stripping at your club. What is your liability if someone takes pictures and you are the source of "child porn?" What about if she is doing tricks on the side and, worse than abetting prostitution, you are abetting "child prostitution?" Repeat this same exercise for any number of potential legal violations.

It is in the interest of all the strip club owners that saying "this person is OK to be a person who shows their boobies for money" is in the hands of the state rather than the bartender or bouncer who interviewed her/him on their first day of work. (And also theoretically in the interest of anyone who goes to that club and wishes to film, proposition or otherwise engage them.) It sounds puritanical at first, but from a liability limitation perspective I think it is very defensible.

Truth is free, but information costs.

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