"Technology" Archive

Information poverty

Google: The right information at the right time in the hands of people has enormous power.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on providing basic public services like primary education, health, water, and sanitation to poor communities, poverty in much of Sub-Saharan Africa persists. Where does this money go, who gets it, and what are the results of the resources invested? That's where we find a big black hole of information and a lack of basic accountability. How do inputs (dollars spent) turn into outputs (schools, clinics, and wells), and, more importantly, how do outputs translate into results (literate and healthy children, clean water, etc.)?

We simply don't know the answers to most of these basic questions. But what if we could? What if a mother could find out how much money was budgeted for her daughter's school each year and how much of it was received? What if she and other parents could report how often teachers are absent from school or whether health clinics have the medicines they are supposed to carry? What if citizens could access and report on basic information to determine value for money as tax payers?

The work of The Social Development Network (SODNET) in Kenya is illustrative. They are developing a simple budget-tracking tool that allows citizens to track the allocation, use, and ultimate result of government funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in their districts. The tool is intended to create transparency in the use of tax revenues and answer the simple question: Are resources reaching their intended beneficiaries? Using tools like maps, they are able to overlay information that begins to tell a compelling story.

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October 18, 2008 | Pakistan , Technology | Comments

A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets

How we got here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets is a superfast history of capital markets and the computer industry. A free pdf copy is available at the publishers website. Most history books push a ton load of facts at you which sometime makes it hard to grasp the bigger picture(s). This book forgoes the details for a whirlwind tour of the industrial revolution, the evolution of capital markets, and puts today's IT revolution in perspective. The book jumps all over the place, but is very interesting nonetheless.

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August 1, 2007 | Books , Technology | Comments

State of the Pakistani IT Sector

The Pakistan government has been making a lot of noises over the years about attracting IT companies to set up shop in Pakistan. It is somewhat akin to to the old story of the seven blind men feeling up an elephant and trying to guess what it is - then killing the beast by chopping it up and selling of whatever little bits of it they could grasp. Those in the know - i.e people in the real world who actually are active in the field look on the actions of the assorted Pakistani Ministries of IT in horror.

The latest Dilbertesque incident to take place by the assorted clowns in the Pakistan govt. dealing with the IT sector is the raid of a local Pakistani software company in Islamabad, and the arrest of it's CEO on Dec 4, 2006. As I write this, the poor chap is still in jail, and the raided equipment has not yet been returned. The whole story is posted here, and of course is banned by the idiots that be, so it is only accessible through a proxy from Pakistan. The company was wrongfully accused of terminating VOIP calls in Pakistan - not only was the company not doing anything of the sort, but the PTA itself had determined that it's legal to do so anyways - way back in Jan 03!

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December 16, 2006 | Pakistan , Technology | Comments


Announcing the launch of a new website: wiredpakistan.com. At the moment the only thing there are the tech forums which had previously been on this site.

In a nutshell, these forums had grown large enough to justify their own domain name, plus this way more features can be added as needed.

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May 2, 2006 | Computing , Pakistan , Technology | Comments

Internet Censorship the Pakistani way

On March 2nd 2006 the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block 12 websites. This list was in addition to the hundreds of thousands of websites which Pakistan already blocks. Up till now, most internet users in Pakistan had never really cared to speak up about this censorship, but this new blacklist caused millions of personal websites hosted at Blogspot to be banned. There are hundreds of Pakistani websites hosted at Blogspot, so this action by the government led internet users to form an action group against this ban.

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March 29, 2006 | Censorship , Computing , Pakistan , Technology | Comments

The filtering matrix

Increasingly, states are adopting practices aimed at regulating and controlling the Internet as it passes through their borders. Seeking to assert information sovereignty over their cyber-territory, governments are implementing Internet content filtering technology at the national level. The implementation of national filtering is most often conducted in secrecy and lacks openness, transparency, and accountability. Policy-makers are seemingly unaware of significant unintended consequences, such as the blocking of content that was never intended to be blocked. Once a national filtering system is in place, governments may be tempted to use it as a tool of political censorship or as a technological "quick fix" to problems that stem from larger social and political issues. As non-transparent filtering practices meld into forms of censorship the effect on democratic practices and the open character of the Internet are discernible. States are increasingly using Internet filtering to control the environment of political speech in fundamental opposition to civil liberties, freedom of speech, and free expression. The consequences of political filtering directly impact democratic practices and can be considered a violation of human rights.
>> Click here for the complete article

Required reading for anyone using the Internet - especially in those countries which attempt to censor the Internet. In Pakistan, the governments stated aims are to filter out pornographic and blasphemous content. However, the national filtering system is being used to silence criticism and control political speech online.

March 28, 2006 | Censorship , Computing , Pakistan , Technology | Comments

Google Gaggle

And so the mighty fall. Not with a bang, but hissing silence as their orignal corporate policy takes a deep breath of cold vaccum. Out with the old, in with the new: "We will censor whatever any 2 bit dicatator pays us money for!". Is Pakistan far behind in getting the Google Musharraf version? Where results for democracy are 400% sure and there are no gunships in Baluchistan?

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February 1, 2006 | Technology | Comments

Learning About Full-text Search

Tim Bray has written a very interesting series of essays on the construction, deployment and use of search technology. [via Slashdot]

It's a good overview of the world of search technology from a developer's point of view. There's still a very long way to go before search technology matures. Seach engines are already shaping the way people use the internet, and depending on the way they develop, are going to be a very important part of shaping the way people think, sort of like how TV and the telephone made the world a smaller place, search engines are really going to shrink it down even further.

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December 18, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Is the Internet Your Source of Knowledge?

I'm constantly suprised by people's misperceptions of the internet in Pakistan. The older generation seems to view it as something incomprehensible, and at the most good for emailing and/or wasting time. The younger generation seems to think that the internet consists solely of chat and Hotmail. I have never come across a teenager using a pc who wasn't either on MSN Messenger or Hotmail, or both. While this is a very informal/personal/biased survey, in the last 6 years I must have come across at least a thousand teens using the internet, and all of them so far have been emailing/chatting or playing some game or the other. It's sad, when arguably the sum of all human knowledge resides at our collective fingertips, and so many don't even give it a passing glance. The key is to be learned enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, which is becoming increasingly difficult. I had written about organizing data earlier, but before doing that, the data to be organized has to be winnowed.

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October 5, 2003 | Technology | Comments

How Do You Organize Your Data?

Good information architecture is extremely important in today's world, with tons of stuff literally exploding at everyone, especially people using pc's a lot. I've noticed it also, with people who don't have some sort of information architecture in place being unable to deal with large information flows therefore they end up spending to much time or give up altogether. As Jakob Nielsen said: "It will soon be time to teach a simplified version of information technology to high school students, and possibly even to bring it into elementary schools as well".

There is so much information/content/data available on the internet that people who can access/organize/grasp large amounts are going to be ahead of those who can't. In a decade or so, in a job interview somewhere, applicants will also be evaulated on their ability to deal with a thousand emails/messages along with their other work skills. Already, some people working in tech industries in the west have to be dealing with hundreds of emails/messages on a daily basis as a natural part of their jobs. A list of resources about IA:

Web Sites:


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September 3, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Google Calculator

Now, everybody has already gone on and on about the new Google built in calculator, and the fun one can have with it. The most awe inspiring thing about it is that it's the easiest calculator I've ever used. You can ask it questions in english and get back answers!

It can answer questions that not only have stumped philosophers over the ages, but includes details which many have never even thought of to ask (the three teaspoons):

What's the answer to life, the universe and everything multiplied by the speed of light divided by three teaspoons? Answer: 8.51523871 × 1014 m-2 s-1

Via: Waxy.org: Fun with Google's Calculator

August 15, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Artificial Diamonds

The end of the diamond industry as we know it, and good riddance too.

Wired: The New Diamond Age. Two companies in the US have perfected techniques for creating cheap artificial diamonds, virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. The story of how they got there is riveting - retired army generals purchasing cold war soviet technology, veiled death threats to scientists at conferences and best of all, a very real threat to the De Beers diamond cartel / monopoly.

Interestingly, the most important application for the tecnology looks likely to be semi conductors. Diamonds can handle far higher temperatures than silicon, meaning chips so fast that silicon would just melt under the strain.

Personally though, I hope this development strikes a killing blow to the whole diamond industry. See Anil Dash for a good summary of why the world would be better off without it.
>> Simon Willison's Weblog

Slashdot: The new diamond age is here and will revolutionize the computer industry. Diamonds show amazing potential as a superior semiconductor.

Slashdot: Diamond Age Coming Soon :: Artificial diamonds are finally here. The /. entry has a ton of links about articial diamons.

August 13, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Introduction to the Theory of Relativity

A series of elementary, informal, and almost equation-free articles descibing the Theory of Relativity in physics.

  1. Part I: History This described the history of ideas in the development of relativity.
  2. Part II: Special Relativity This described Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity.
  3. Part III: General Relativity This gives at least a taste of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which extends the Special Theory to cases involving acceleration and gravity.
  4. Part IV: Implications, Controversies, and Miscellany This will address implications of the Theory of Relativity, controversies both old and modern, experimental evidence, and anything else that isn't covered in the first three installments.
July 27, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Will Humanoid Robots Take All the Jobs by 2050?

"Marshall Brain (the guy who started HowStuffWorks) has published an article claiming that robots will take half the jobs in the U.S. by 2050. Some of his predictions: real computer vision systems by 2020, computers with the CPU power and memory of the human brain by 2040, completely robotic fast food restaurants in 2030 (which then unemploy 3.5 million people), etc. It's a pretty astounding article. My question: How many people on /. think he is right (or even close - let's say he's off by 10 or 20 years)? Or is he full of it?"
>> Slashdot

July 25, 2003 | Technology

Disk Drives Explained

Magnetic disk drives are one of those things I usually take for granted without thinking about, but I recently realized how little I understood about how they really work. ACM Queue has an article from their 'Storage' issue titled, 'You Don't Know Jack About Disks', which does a very good job of explaining exactly how magnetic disks have evolved since the 70s and how they work today.
>> Slashdot

HowStuffWorks has a basic tutorial on How Hard Disks Work.

July 14, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Closing the Barn Door

Tinkering on a laptop, wearing a rumpled T-shirt and a soul patch goatee, this George Mason University graduate student has mapped every business and industrial sector in the American economy, layering on top the fiber-optic network that connects them.

He can click on a bank in Manhattan and see who has communication lines running into it and where. ........ he probes for critical links, trying to answer the question: "If I were Osama bin Laden, where would I want to attack?"
>> WP: Dissertation Could Be Security Threat , Daily Kos , Slashdot

July 8, 2003 | Technology | Comments

The internet is shit.

I've been hearing the same sentiments by a lot of people over the last few months in different types of language. Some say The Internet is Shit. Some others say that Virtual Community has died. Without wanting to doubt the good intentions and aspiration of all the people who want to make more of the world in which they live, I can tell you right now why the internet matters and why it is not shit. While it's true that people around the world are lamenting that there's not enough of 'precisely the right kind of information' to finish their term-papers, the internet is more important than that.

>> Plasticbag.org

July 7, 2003 | Technology | Comments

Harry Potter and the Entertainment Industry

In a surprisingly insightful article entitled Harry Crushes the Hulk, Frank Rich discusses how Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix beat out "The Hulk" and goes on to offer some insightfull and interesting comments on demographics, digital media piracy, file sharing and p2p networks, the iTunes store, and more... His conclusion? "[Consumers] may well be willing to pay for their entertainment - if the quality is guaranteed and the price is fair."
>> Slashdot discussion

June 29, 2003 | Technology

Copy Protection | Commons

An article over at Wired looks into the relation between copy protection and the reality of a rational amount of 'wiggle room' that is typically provided by the legal system.

In reality, our legal system usually leaves us wiggle room. What's fair in one case won't be in another - and only human judgment can discern the difference. As we write the rules of use into software and hardware, we are also rewriting the rules we live by as a society, without anyone first bothering to ask if that's OK.

Slashdot has an interesting discussion on it.

The Boston Review it its New Democracy Forum has a section on copyrights over here.

The purpose of Boston Review's New Democracy Forum is to foster politically engaged, intellectually honest, and morally serious debate about fundamental issues of the day--both on and off the agenda of conventional politics--and to say something about how we might better address them.

Read Reclaiming the Commons by David Bollier.

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June 4, 2003 | Technology | Comments

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