Has the Economy Got You Scared?

Click here for a relevant Dilbert comic.

In the early 1990s there was a recession in the United States, but it didn’t mean anything to me. I was in high school in rural northeast Missouri and had no connection whatsoever to the recession the nightly news kept talking about. My father actually commented a few times that he didn’t know what recession they were talking about. It was a problem for city people, not for us.

A couple of weeks ago a Brazilian-American friend told me about how he survived that recession. He’s an auto mechanic and couldn’t find work for months, so he would buy and old car at salvage prices, fix it up and resell it. He did that until the crisis passed and he found work with a regular paycheck. What for me was not a problem where I lived was a serious issue for my friend where he lived.

This current economic crisis is impacting everyone now. Sure, I’m a “city person” now to the extent that I live and work in a very urban area, but I know this has to be hitting people in the Midwestern United States and elsewhere. Hardly anyone, individuals or business, can get credit. Home and auto loans, credit cards and regular bank loans are hard to come by. People are getting laid-off in record numbers. I have friends who work in construction who haven’t worked in weeks since no one is building or renovating, and they’ve started taking odd jobs to try to make ends meet.

It’s a depressing situation, but perhaps it will be an opportunity for some of us to refocus and retool. People laid off from investment firms, law offices and real estate agencies are scrambling with many others from all walks of life for jobs. There are jobs out there to be had, but in many cases they require a pay cut, a career change or both. Some will need to transition into teaching, customer service or some other field where employment is still available. This is also an excellent time to focus on developing new skills, whether through employment, college or personal effort.

Where I work in customer service I’m drawing on the experience of co-workers and availability of resources to learn some programming, system administration and quality assurance. Although I couldn’t get financial aid to continue a course at college, I have purchased the teacher’s editions of a couple of college algebra and trigonometry books (used) and am using the many online tutorials to help me through. Then again, I am fortunate to still be employed (that could change given that the economy is only going to get worse in coming months) and so have some breathing room to work in.

So tell me, how are things where you are? Has the recession hit you or anyone close to you yet? How are you dealing with the situation?

Recession Resources:

Online relief for the recession-weary” – CNN article with links to sites that might help someone cope, or at least commiserate with others.

10 Things to Do the Day After You’re Laid Off” – Pretty standard advice on the US News & World Report site.

14 things to do if you are laid off from a tech job” – CNET article.

The spreadsheet of sunshine: Who’s hiring (updated)” – All tech jobs and doesn’t appear to have been updated since January.

USAJOBSHow about a government job? Gotta be better than gov’t cheese!

One Laptop Per Child and the Tech Mission Ahead


One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is something I want to like and support, but I’m having a difficult time getting past some concerns.

On the face of it, it’s a brilliant idea. Providing Linux-based laptops that were low-cost to manufacture to the poor children of the world seems like an excellent endeavor. It is an opportunity to spread seed learning and education in isolated (so far as the world markets are concerned) parts of the world. As Mr. Negroponte says in the video above, If each laptop has 100 distinct books on it, and there are 100 laptops in a village, then there will be 10,000 books in a village.

Here are my concerns:

  • What if a laptop breaks? Kids will be kids. All the other kids in the classroom have their laptops working, and the one kid who had an accident with it goes without, possibly falling behind?
  • If a village is so far off the grid, with no Internet, telephone or possibly even televisions, how does the Internet aspect of these laptops benefit anyone? If it doesn’t, then is it really appropriate to keep talking up the “get people connected to the world” aspect of this effort?
  • In the video above, schoolteachers are described in some very out-of-the-way places as being little better educated than the kids in the classroom. If that’s the case, will they know what to do with the technology?
  • Can real software development be done on one of these devices? If not, what, other than the potential for providing math and language exercises, is the purpose of having this technology?

As I said above, I want to like this work. I really do. In someplace like the intensely urban areas of Brazil this sort of project makes sense. Kids can connect up with one another, the larger tech community and the rest of the world. If there is a way to do development on these laptops, all the better.

For years I worked in church circles and heard the futile optimism of people who knock doors and leave tracts in bathrooms. “Maybe a seed was planted,” they said wistfully. As a missionary in Brazil I saw a better way. There, effective evangelism involved actually getting involved in the lives of people, offering them alternatives from Scripture to better their lives and draw near to God. It wasn’t a few scattered seeds, thrown to the wind (And don’t bring up that parable, please! I’m convinced it doesn’t mean what 99% of the church has said it does.).

Maybe it would be helpful to think of OLPC as a beginning, not an end in and of itself. Somehow, First World technicians need to become available to the Third World. Men and women who know their way around software and technology and who have the courage and ability to go to strange locales that speak different dialects and guide the next generation of those places into a better future.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the church, in all its many and varied manifestations, boards and agencies recruited missionaries to send around the globe to preach Good News, plant churches,found orphanages, organize leprosy hospitals, build clinics and start schools. Will the church of the 21st century rise to the occasion once again, or does the world need to look elsewhere now to address the tech divide between rich and poor?

OLPC is a good idea, but it isn’t complete by itself.

See Also:
One Laptop Per Child in Brazil
Challenges and Uses for Linux in Developing Countries

Netbooks, Older Technology and the Cloud

The other night when I got home from work the latest edition of Wired Magazine was waiting for me. One article that I found particularly interesting is entitled “The Netbook Effect” (at the time of this writing I haven’t found a link to an online version).

There was a lot of good information and insight in this rather long article. I enjoyed the description of the surprising origin of netbooks in the One Laptop Per Child project. Who would have expected so many relatively affluent Westerners to be interested in such a simple and even limited model of laptop?

What really got me thinking, though, was how the writer put his finger on the reason for so much demand for netbooks. It isn’t just the price, although that is a certainly a major factor. The truth is that people generally don’t feel like they are losing anything with a much slower processor and limited memory. Why? Because even if they had a super-fast processor and terabytes of disc space, they wouldn’t likely do any more than they would with a tiny little netbook.

Most people use computers for just a few things. They go online to check e-mail, watch YouTube videos and take a look at Facebook. That’s pretty much it most of the time. Yes, there are business needs that can’t quite be met “ in the cloud” as yet, and also hard-core gamers who want all the speed and capacity they can get, but the majority of people don’t make those same demands.

I’ve heard talk about “the cloud” (referring to shifting from desktop applications to online alternatives) for at least a couple of years now. In general, I’ve been pretty unimpressed with it all, until now. The two concerns I’ve had were reliability and security, especially for enterprise solutions. If, for instance, a company shifts to backing data up online, who’s to say that data won’t be compromised by a hacker? Sure, it can happen “in house” as well, but I’d rather count on a sys admin watching a company firewall and maintaining offline data storage, than some off-site third party company.

For private individuals, however, it makes a lot of sense to buy a less-expensive, less-powerful netbook since most of what they want to do can be done online. I’m not just talking about checking e-mail and social networking sites, either. There are online file storage services like box.net and drop.io (my favorite), photo hosts like flickr and photobucket, document preparation and sharing options like Google Docs, and the article points out that there’s even a photo editing site called FotoFlexer. Why have the applications on your computer, taking up space, when you can do it online? As the Wired article puts it:

Netbooks prove that the “cloud” is no longer just hype. It is now reasonable to design computers that outsource the difficult work somewhere else. The cloud tail is wagging the hardware dog.

There is one aspect of this situation that was not mentioned in the article: older technology.

A family I attend church with has an older computer. I haven’t had time to have a look at it yet, but apparently it is rather old (several years and running Windows 98) and extremely bogged down with games, applications and probably several viruses. It doesn’t make sense for them to spend money to upgrade, especially with overall economic situation everyone is facing right now. When I finally do get over to their house I’m going to try to update security on the system, clean out any viruses, drop all unnecessary applications and run a defragmentation. If the memory and processor are really behind the times, I’m tempted to try talking them into letting me install Xubuntu or DSL instead of Windows. However that goes, there’s one more item I’m adding to my tech service list. I’m going to teach their nearly teenage son about online “cloud” alternatives. The less load that computer has to carry, the better. In essence, it will be at least as good as any netbook…just not portable.

εν αρχη

εν αρχη ην ο λογος

και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον

και θεος ην ο λογος

ουτος ην εν αρχη προς τον θεον

παντα δι αυτου εγενετο και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν ο γεγονεν

εν αυτω ζωη ην και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων


Fido, Pento, Bapto kaj Salvo

“Kaj Petro diris al ili: Ekpentu, kaj baptiĝu ĉiu el vi en la nomo de Jesuo Kristo por forigo de pekoj, kaj vi ricevos la donacon de la Sankta Spirito. Ĉar la promeso estas por vi kaj por viaj infanoj, kaj por ĉiuj ĝis malproksime, kiujn alvokos la Eternulo, nia Dio.”Agoj 2:38-39

Multaj homoj kredas ke ili povas havi savon per sola fido, sed la Sankta Biblio instruas la fido kun pento kaj bapto. Homoj ankaŭ pensas ke salvo estas por iras al ĉielon kaj ne la inferon.

La vero estas ke ni ricevas salvon kiel donaco. Kaj salvo estas por esti disĉiplo nun. La espero de la disĉiplo estas la nova ĉielo kaj nova tero.

Mi ne povas skribi Esperanton tre bone, sed mi lernos. Mi deziras skribi teologion en Esperanto.


Concertos de Guarda-Chuva

Passei quase três anos no Brasil. Foi minha única experiencia fora dos Estados Unidos ate então (quem sabe um dia?), e aprendi muito. Na minha opinião, o Brasil sofre de três problemas políticas (coletivismo, positivismo e centralismo), um problema teológico maior (idolatria), e um problema moral maior (fornicação). Sim, existem vários outros problemas, mas estou falando dos piores aos meus olhos. Apesar de todos estes males, vi também uma boa vontade, esforço e uma criatividade no povo sem igual.

Nos Estados Unidos pareça que muitas pessoas acham que o conforto e prosperidade são direitos. No Brasil, mesmo que tem leis que falam do direito de ter emprego, o povo aceita que esta não é a realidade. Qual outra opção eles têm? O que me impressionou foi a criatividade de achar maneiras legitimas de ganhar o pão de cada dia. Existe a venda ambulante de todo tipo de coisa, e concertos de vários objetos do dia-dia.

Certa vez estava no ônibus indo para o centro da cidade de Uberlândia e vi pela janela um homem na calcada com uma placa oferecendo o serviço de concertar guarda-chuvas. Guarda-chuvas! Isso demonstra tanto a dificuldade financeira de quem acha melhor concertar algo tão comum, quanto a necessidade de outras pessoas para ganhar dinheiro. O que ficou comigo mais foi a lição de procurar qualquer maneira boa possível para sustentar a vida.

Com esta crise econômica atingindo o mundo inteiro, inclusive milhões de pessoas nos Estados Unidos, muitos devem aprender a lição dos brasileiros: utilize a criatividade para descobrir formas de se sustentar.

Book Review: Foundation

Isaac Asimov was 21 when he began his Foundation series. The first book, simply called “Foundation,” was first published in 1951. Although Asimov’s vision of the future was profound and expansive, his 1950s perspective made for some quaint elements in the story. Microfilm is depicted as a means of recording and nuclear power is envisioned as the height of technological success in energy production (perhaps he’s right on that one, but who knows?). I can’t really object to the image of humanity thousands of years in the future growing and smoking tobacco, though, considering the apparent ease with which the medicine he describes cures cancer. If the carcinogenic properties of tobacco can be annulled, would the addiction argument really be enough to keep people from smoking?

The storyline moves rapidly, but seems to cover only about 200 years. The rapidity of the decline and fall of parts of the Galactic Empire into barbarism (some planets resorting from nuclear power to chemicals, coal and even wood for energy in only 50 years) is somewhat disconcerting.

For all that, Asimov was definitely onto something. Whether “psychohistory” based on some sort of combination of sociology and mathematics could really work, it made sense in the context of the world he created. There was a sense of providence working in that Hari Seldon, a “psychohistorian” had calculated the best path through the galactic dark ages and those who lived through it needed only to act. Then again, a lot depended on individual insight and even genius, raising the age-old questions of destiny and free will, nature vs. nurture, etc.

The story was engaging and if some aspects or characters seemed incredible, the force of the narrative and the creative invocation of the reader’s imagination more than made up for any perceived shortcomings.