Wednesday, September 17, 2008

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Tworque is going on hold for a bit

Tworque is going on hold for a bit. Work is getting extremely busy and it needs my full attention. Please bear with me for the next few months.

In the meantime, I would humbly encourage you to move over to my work blog, where I write regularly on the same topics and information that I do here. In some ways it is far more engaging, interesting, and global in its reach. It will be wonderful to have you involved there as well!

See you at

Thank you for your continued interest and support, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Building a composting tumbler

On the composting piece, here's a great video about how to build your own composting tumbler. I'm fairly certain you can use the same (assuming that you put enough biomass and ash/sawdust) for composting humanure.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Getting the real deal behind Matt's amazing video

Remember Matt Harding's amazingly cool video about dancing around the world?? (if not, see below); well, travelblog Gadling got a great informative interview with him. Check it out here. You can also see a more indepth interview with Payscale blogger where he talks about his career plans and goals.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The importance of intelligent rap

Here's some intelligent Rap.

I've been thinking for a long time about why we don't hire more people to just rap some sensible stuff (like how to do math and tables, and science concepts and stuff) rather than all the crap that seems to infiltrate everywhere - about degrading women and children and themselves; and about the greatness of drugs and alcohol.

No where was this idea more evident than when I was in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world. People couldn't speak a word of English or read or write properly in Portuguese, but they could rap some version of 50 Cent particularly complete with every English cuss word you can think of. Now what if 50 ended up rapping about something intelligent - about hygiene, and going to school, or even just rapped in good English?? I think that would go a long way...don't you??

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Finally a safe technology for demining??

Will Aimee's technology help make demining easier?? (photo courtesy: Davethelimey)

Every year, the critically acclaimed nerd magazine Technology Review (from MIT) profiles the Top 35 Inventors Under 35 (aka TR35) who are making a difference. This year, Aimee Rose has won the "Humanitarian of the Year" award for designing ultra sensitive explosive sniffers that could potentially save hundreds of lives. The device is mostly being looked into for soldiers and by security companies on airlines and transportation hubs, but I wonder what the impact of something like this could be in the world of landmines, where TOO many innocent lives and limbs have been lost...often years after wars have ended. Now that could be amazing.

Demining landmines is a huge hazard for many reasons. The devices are hidden in areas that few people know of and are triggered by changes in pressure. Many different types of technologies and methodologies have been used, with varying levels of success; but it continues to be a dangerous and sizable issue.

More Info on demining:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What's your Water Footprint??

What is your water footprint?? (photo courtesy: ~FreebirD~)

Al Gore has done phenomenal education of the public (atleast in the United States...which is huge!). He's made "carbon footprint" a regular term.

Now let's talk about water footprint. What's your water footprint?? Water is turning into the world's single most contentious issue, particularly in the developing world. Water is trying to raise public awareness around the issue. Calculate your water footprint here. Warning...its a slow website and not the best designed. But it gets the point across.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

BoP Barriers to Innovation

Thanks to Africa Unchained, I came an article on the Barriers to Innovation focusing on biotech development in Africa. Fascinating read that's a working paper at the United Nations University. Here's the abstract:

Translating R&D and inventive efforts into a market product is characterized by significant financial skills, and the ability to overcome technical and institutional barriers. Research into and translation of new technologies such as biotechnology products to the market requires even greater resources. This paper aims to understand the key factors that foster or hinder the complex process of translating R&D efforts into innovative products. Different pathways exist in developed countries such as firm-level efforts, the use of IPs, the spin-off of new firms that develop new products, or a mixture of these. Developing countries differ substantially in the kinds of instruments they use because of their considerably weaker institutional environment and for this reason our framework takes a systemic and institutional perspective. The paper comtributes to this issue by examining systemic institutional barriers to commercializing biotechnology in a develping context within a systems of innovation framework. [get the rest here]

Monday, September 8, 2008

$100 Incubator

An IDDS participant works hard on building the incubator. (photo courtesy: IDDS blog)

If you are a regular reader of NEXT BILLION or any of the other big global development blogs, you might have come across the amazing press generated by MIT whiz, Amy Smith's, worldchanging IDDS (International Development and Design Summit). One of the many things that have come out of the IDDS Summit and her classes is the $100 incubator.

Recently NPR did an interview profiling the incubator and the team behind it. check it out here:

Friday, September 5, 2008

BoP consumer behavior

Do the BoP spend in the same way that upper and middle classes do?? (photo courtesy: matthew winterburn)

I recently read an excellent article on BoP entrepreneurialism by Niti Bhan and Dave Tait talks about "Design for the Next Billion Customers." It highlights consumer patterns of the BoP in Sub Saharan Africa. I've been following Niti's excellent blog for sometime now, where she talks about research of the BoP with regard to the wireless market. She has extensive insight into the consumer patterns of the BoP.

A couple of years back, I did an extensive case-study analysis of two entrepreneurs in India working in the lighting sector (not published). The entrepreneurs who did well in BoP areas (regardless of whether they were BoP themselves or not) understood their customer consumption behavior well. What few people understand is that the BoP is almost exactly like the middle or upper classes in their desires, but because they have limited capital, they spend differently. Understanding their consumer behavior is key to success in the field. What I found interesting (yet probably not so surprising) is that African BoP consumers are similar to Indian BoP consumers, which means that there is greater uniformity than I had previously thought. It also means that simply by studying their behavior, they can reach and tap into larger markets easier...allowing them to be better innovators and entrepreneurs.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is a computer a good substitute for a teacher??

Nigerian kids get a taste of the OLPC laptop. Can these types of technologies substitute well for real teachers??
(photo courtesy:

Nicholas Negroponte has an amazing vision. During his tenure at MIT's famed Media Lab, his team came up with the $100 laptop (granted it has since doubled in production cost, so it should be called the $200 laptop!), and proceeded to start the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. His idea was to use computers to engage and help educate the poor kids of the world. He talks about his vision in great detail at a TED conference in 2006. (Regardless of what other people say about the program or him, Negroponte is a visionary and he deserves tremendous credit for trying and testing out an idea that people have long thought about but never gone forth with.)

But the question technology a good substitute for a human teacher??

To answer this, I'd refer to two different write-ups: one a paper (you can also read a summary here) that's come out of the well-respected Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) at MIT; and a piece on education published in the New York Times (NYT) on August 17, 2008.

The JPAL paper publishes a study on randomized trials in India that compared learning rates between computer-assisted learning and those without. The NYT piece covers computer assisted learning in the United States and UK.

I would highly recommend reading both pieces. In general though, I found that the two highlight two very specific ideas:
  • Computer assisted learning works best when learning in class (with a human teacher) is complemented with technology. Technology by itself isn't a substitute for a teacher. Having been through all three combinations (teachers only, computers only, and computer assisted learning) , I couldn't agree more.
  • Probably a BIG caveat to any of this is that different students respond differently. This is NOT a one-size-fits-all idea. This is why having a teacher around REALLY matters. Teachers can customize their teaching; computers can't. This is the key. This is why technology is a poor substitute for real human teachers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Do you work in the same field as your degree??

Consumerism Commentary, a blog on personal finances, did a twitter poll asking if people work in the same field as their degrees.

The answer is it here. As for me, I started out in environmental engineering (wat/san)...wasn't sure it was for me and spent three years doing everything but, then had an epiphany and came back to it. Essentially, the path isn't clear, people. You can do whatever you want, and how lucky are you to be able to do that!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When do you say "enough"??

When do you stop what you started?? When is it enough?? (photo courtesy: Compound Eye)

There is a controversial article that appeared in Time Magazine on Aug 6, 2008, titled "Why Africa is still Starving." Largely it blames food aid coming into countries like Ethiopia and Niger (the poster famine countries) for creating dependency and messing up food markets.

I think food aid and the starvation epidemic is part of a much larger problem with aid. Aid is increasingly geared towards "giving fish to people" rather than "teaching them to fish." Its an easier way to deal with the situation...feel bad for people, then give them food and money. I must unfortunately put some of the blame on books like Jeffrey Sachs' famous "The End of Poverty," which proclaims aid as the only way! Lots of people will argue with me about this, but from what I've seen over the years, its only getting worse.

In 2005, I really hit my angriest point with aid. I was in Mozambique on a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project working with an outstanding team of experts. Most NGOs could only dream of getting a team like this together...because they rarely are in one place at any given time or because it might cost an arm-and-a-leg; but we had lucked out. However, from the minute we got on site, we felt like we were being fleeced. I've never had to deal with this level of blatant begging. Our Mozambiquan counterparts would blatantly ask for money, "give us the money...we'll take care of everything. You can go back. No worries," or they'd say, "you pay for these [meals/rides/pieces of clothing/you-name-it] because you have money." Hands came forward to take accessories, t-shirts, hats, clothes, toiletries I had...they wanted everything ("you give me gift!"). Mozambique, by the way, is the World Bank's poster child for aid. So much aid money and loans have flooded their country in a short period of time, that I'm not surprised to see this level of entitlement from the people.

It was at this point that I wondered if we were doing any good by being there. As a child, I remember what it was like learning how to ride my bike. First my dad ran after me. Then he stopped and waited. The first time I fell down, I hurt myself knees bruised badly and were bleeding, and I started to cry. My dad just stood by. From a distance, he encouraged me to get up and get on with it. He didn't budge. I did get up. I continued to fall, and my knees still hurt. But I fell better the each time, and also rode better. Soon I was fine. I know it was hard for my dad to see me falter and hurt, but he knew that it was better in the longterm.

So my question is, when's the time to just back off and let these countries falter and make their own mistakes, and learn?? It hurts us to see them suffering...but maybe its best for them in the long run...(???)