Striations of the city

Down the street

A view of the main street running down Alta Cayma. As the city grows, it expands outwards, and the distance from the center is a decent ruler for measuring socio-economic status. The houses, businesses, and infrastructure closer to the hub are significantly nicer than those in the periphery. Conversely, a view up the street running out of town (from a few blocks higher):

Up the street

Rural poor come to the city looking for new livelihoods, and the easiest place to start is on the outskirts of town.

Also, a wee little video of the same area.

Sadhana Clean Water Project presentation to PCC

At about 0800 hours tomorrow morning, or today based on your timezone, I’ll be giving a presentation to the Asian Studies Program at Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus.

It’s a longer, more in-depth version of the one I gave in November, which means I get to expand a bit on the times I slept on train station platforms and when I got ringworm. We’ve finally finished the report associated with the Appropriate Technology Study Group, too, and I’m excited to go over some of the findings.

Sidenote: SlideShare doesn’t seem to think Helvetica Neue Light is a legitimate font and instead replaces it with some medieval looking thing. This is especially fun to discover by trial and error at midnight when you have to wake up early the next morning. Yes, I know that the lettering is too big on the first slide.

Mobilizing Mobile Records in Resource Poor Settings

The cool thing about grants is that they will often fund the neat idea you have. The not-so-cool thing is that they generally take a lot of work and luck to be accepted.

My good friend Isaac Holeman and I entered an application on Friday to NetSquared/USAID’s Development 2.0 challenge. They’re looking to give $10,000 dollars to a project using mobile technology (like SMS or phone-based applications) that “[maximize] development impact in areas such as health, banking, education, agricultural trade, or other pressing development issues.” We think we’ve got just the idea.

We’d like to put together a bridge between mobile phones, potentially FrontlineSMS, and OpenMRS, a super neat medical records system that is beginning to gain a lot of traction in Africa because of Paul Farmer’s Partners In Health. Specifically, this would allow community health workers in the field to access and interact with the medical records database. This would, for instance, allow them to instantly query the last time a tuberculosis patient had reported taking their treatment medicine. Isaac and I are also very interested in sorting together an OpenMRS module that would “watch” the data going in and out of the database. If a bit of data passed through tagged with, say, “#emergency”, it would go to whomever the on-call doctor was. This type of functionality, as far as we can tell, doesn’t already exist. We think it would be sweet if it did.

Now, most of this project is in the very preliminary stages. With your help, though, and funding from NetSquared/USAID, we can take it to the next step. Here’s the details:

  • Voting started on Monday and will run until Friday at 5:00 pm Pacific.
  • To vote on our application, you must first register.
  • Once you’ve registered, you then have one (1) ballot with up to five (5) votes. You have to vote at least three (3) times.

Our application is called “Mobilizing Medical Records In Resource Poor Settings“. We would be very much obliged if you took the time to vote for us and, if you do and leave a comment on this blog post, I’ll send you a personal thank you.

Also, if you don’t know who else to vote for, there were a few other projects which caught my eye:

Most importantly, I think these types of projects show that mobile connectivity has tremendous potential to empower positive change. We think our project can do the same for healthcare. Thanks for the support!

In the news, ending 5 December 2008

Of interest in the past week:

Text service provides more than a Band-Aid for rural health service – CNN
Coverage of Josh Nesbit’s Mobiles in Malawi project to enable community health workers with FrontlineSMS.

Alligator lacks editor applicants – The Florida Alligator
The Independent Florida Alligator is having trouble finding Editor-In-Chief applicants. Sign of the times?

The Worst Is Yet To Come: Anonymous Banker Weighs In On The Coming Credit Card Debacle – Executive Suite Blog – The New York Times
This whole thing is a mess. Reading through this explanation doesn’t leave me very optimistic.

Cities and new wars: after Mumbai – openDemocracy
Interesting analysis tying the attacks in Mumbai to a growing number of examples of asymmetric warfare.

The (Tuna) Tragedy of the Commons – Dot Earth Blog – The New York Times
Argues that tuna stocks on both sides of the Atlantic suffer from mismanagement and overfishing.

Education 2.0: Never Memorize Again? – Read/Write Web
Speculative article about the future of education in a hyper-connected world. Ideas presented aren’t entirely new, but it’s interesting to see a growing storm of discussion about this topic.

My ‘Crisis’ Advice to Newspaper Company CEOs: 11 Points to Ponder – Steve Outing
Steve Outing identifies his 11 points of advice to newspaper CEOs, all sage. The most relevant now? Number 11: “consider retirement.”

Haiti’s ongoing disaster – Boston Globe
Op-ed piece on Haiti’s continuing crisis, and steps the US can take to make change.

via Publish2

In the news, ending 28 November 2008

A few stories especially of interest in the past week:

Is Kashmir key to Afghan peace? – Christian Science Monitor
Raises the question as to whether solving the Indo-Pakistan dispute will help resolve the situation in Afghanistan. Significantly more attention will be paid to this region in the coming months.

Police issue slew of citations at party with alcohol near UO campus – Register-Guard
Extended coverage of what happened at the Campbell Club.

Paani- Coca Cola and Water tables in Rajasthan – Shekhar Kapur
Kapur argues that groundwater exploitation in Rajasthan is not a failure of the multi-national corporations, but rather government policy.

via Publish2

Peripheral education

There are two points I’d like to argue about education as it stands today. For one, the traditional university system is fundamentally incompatible with the information transformation we’re now swimming in. This redesign will have to happen in the next decade, or else major pipes are going to break just like they’ve broke with the music industry and how they’re now breaking with newspapers. Number two, a type of non-traditional learning has arisen which I find particularly valuable: peripheral education. Many of these ideas around these two points have been floating in my mind for the last six months, but recent events have made me more inclined to write them down. The first was a darn astounding Twitter conversation last Saturday night about J school educations, captured nearly in full by @greglinch, and the second was a recent post from Jeff Jarvis about hacked, organic education. As he argues, we’re moving from an analog world to a networked, digital one. The analog industries who do not make a hasty, well-executed evolution will be unsuccessful in the digital realm.

Let me begin with my first point: the traditional university system, just like newspapers and General Motors, is obsolete, ineffective, and outdated. It is a monopolistic institution designed for the 19th and 20th centuries, eras when information was a scarcity. In the networked world, access to information is ubiquitous. Of the five classes my friend DJ has at USC this fall term, he only goes to two lectures. One because he doesn’t have the textbook, and the other because it’s the only class he values. My other friend Shane feels most classes are just regurgitated from the textbooks, which I tend to agree with. Another friend, an honors student, is kept so busy that he doesn’t have enough time to do his homework. In the end, he copies it from cramster.com. Personally, I have to take school one term at a time because the things I’m learning in class are so far removed from the education I hold valuable outside of the university. Case in point: this term I am taking Physics 201 for my Environmental Sciences major. Unfortunately, most of the information covered in the course I already learned in my junior year of high school IB Physics. More than any other course I’ve taken, this one is just for the grade.

To work with the key issues, one needs to understand what the core strengths of universities are and how these traditional strengths are eroding. The why is ubiquitous access to the network. According to Jarvis, universities serve four functions: teaching, testing, research, and socializing. Teaching is imparting knowledge upon students, generally a one-way flow. Testing is ensuring the students memorize the information well enough to pass the final exam. Academic research is still a monopoly universities can hold, but does little to add to their business model. A parallel could be journalism to newspapers. Journalism is crucial service newspapers have provided in the past, but hasn’t been what pays the salaries of the reporters. Socializing is synonymous to both networking and group learning. Three of these four roles, in my opinion, are almost lost to the network already. Testing, the fourth, will be lost to the network as soon as a suitable ISO-esque certification for education is established.

It is not as though education is becoming any less important, however. Part two of my argument is that one type of learning, what I call “peripheral education”, is becoming increasingly valuable. There are three types of education relevant now: technical, experiential, and peripheral.

Technical education is the knowledge you learn to fulfill a specific role or position. Let’s talk metaphors. If I wanted to be a mechanic, learning the different car parts, how they work together, and what to fix when they didn’t work together would be my technical education. If I were a developer, this education is technical knowledge to prove my skill in Python, databases, etc. For journalists, technical education is learning the tools of the trade. When Pat Thornton went through J school, the tool was Quark. In my case, the tool is InDesign. These tools don’t need to be imparted in class, however. Greg Linch taught himself InDesign in high school, and I’d like to say I’ve taught myself 99% of what I need to know based on previous experience with Photoshop (which I learned on my own in high school). With exponential change in the tools, it is more efficient to teach technical education via tools like Lynda than in the classroom environment. It is simple economics of scale.

Experiential education is learning through the hands-on application of knowledge. Whitman Direct Action, and our Sadhana Clean Water Project of last spring, is one approach. Students give themselves specific goals, and learn on their feet how to achieve those objectives. In our case, it was compiling a book on water development issues in India, hosting a conference in Mumbai, and researching the socio-political constraints to clean water access. This type of education serves two purposes: the students learn leadership, planning, and implementation skills through the process, and the project results in valuable contributions towards whatever issues it is trying to address. Institutions need to make the transition from squandering student creativity and brainpower, to applying those characteristics to solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. Taking this to journalism, many newspapers and news organizations are shutting down their bureaus as cost-cutting measures. If universities were innovative, they would launch foreign bureaus staffed by J school students to steal that market back. To date, I haven’t ever heard this happening.

Peripheral education is learning through continuous exposure to the increasing quantity of quality information. It is the hidden pearl of networked education, the process culling information you push yourself to absorb, letting it change the way you think, and then understanding the connections between the information. In an increasingly digital world, understanding how information works together is critical. One key part of this philosophy is that the information you absorb at any given point isn’t necessarily related to what you are working on at that given moment. Instead, peripheral education is about exposure to a wide variety of information types. Podcasts are one enabling tool of peripheral education. In Our TimeTED Talks, and Social Innovation Conversations are all information sources I consider as valuable, if not more, than classes in the traditional university system.

In addition to the types, the tools for education changing too. Blog posts are the new social essays. The traditional format, obviously, is to write an essay, submit it to the professor, have the teacher’s aide grade the work, and then recycle the paper. The essay served a single, cradle-to-grave purpose. Blogging, however, is the art of cultivating conversation. When I write a post, I can be quite certain to get organic feedback on both the content of what I write, and the format it takes, by more than one person. Twitter is the new class discussion. Saturday night’s conversation about the future of J schools was far more enriching than most any other class I’ve had this term. Twitter offers somewhat organized, niche conversation about a wide range of topics. In the “traditional” classroom setting this is almost unmanageable, but on Twitter it can happen organically. I think having this type of valuable, enriching, and constructive conversation via Twitter, and not in the classroom, only strengthens the argument that real education can easily happen outside of the university system. Furthermore, I completely disagree with Kevin on podcasts. Podcasts, audio and otherwise, are the new lectures. It’s about sourcing your information correctly, just like picking the right university or the right professor.

Schooling has traditionally been a top-down approach. We are quickly moving to a networked paradigm. For universities to survive the changes, they need to transition to an approach which fosters creative action. To take a newspaper parallel, this is early 2001. The internet has been around for several years, but doesn’t pose a serious threat to their core business. Yet. What happens to the paid teaching positions, though, when the students can educate one another?

Correction: I inappropriately attributed the Twitter conversation transcription to @gmarkham when it was really @greglinch. My sincere apologies for the error.

Podcasts for the ride home

In the interest of sharing my favorite podcasts of the previous year with my friend Shane, I thought I might open the recommendations to all. While on the drive home to turkey day, these are three “world changing” conversations you should consider listening to:

Howard Bloom on “The Global Brain” – IT Conversations

Howard talks with Jon Udell about collective consciousness and self-organizing species, and why the mass collaboration we think is emerging right now isn’t really all that unique. Shane, DJ, and I did discuss the episode on a Fertile Ambition call a month or so ago, but we ran into a headlock about the multi-tasking theory Howard presents.

“Is Aid to Africa Doing More Harm Than Good?” – Intelligence Squared U.S.

Brilliant arguments both for and against, and listening to the entire debate lends a better understanding of what the difficulties are in helping to bring basic needs to Africa.

Daniel Suarez on bot-mediated reality – Long Now Foundation/ FORA.tv

So thought-provoking I’ve listened to it twice. The first time put me in a trance for part of a train ride back down from Seattle. In short, the premise is this: we’re creating untold numbers of automated bots, or narrow artificial intelligence, on the web for specific purposes. When left unchecked, as many are, these bots have the potential to cause very messy situations which could have negative real world implications. One of the author’s proposals is to build a second, secure network of only verifiably human entities.