I came across this useful infographic from MBAProgramInfo.com, which analyzes the effect of outsourcing on the U.S. jobs picture (this image is reduced in size — click on the image to link through to the original and examine it in full size):

Infographic showing U.S. jobs picture

AB — 30 August 2011

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Over at ThomasNet Green & Clean earlier this week, I explored the topic of “Decoupling” as it applies to economic growth and its connection to environmental damage and the depletion of resources — see “Decoupling: Can Humanity Prosper Without Plundering and Poisoning the Planet?

The write-up extracts the essence from a report by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The authors lay out the basic argument and data for decoupling. The report’s authors believe that innovation is the answer:

Innovation now needs to be harnessed for resource productivity and environmental restoration… innovations that contribute to decoupling through reducing environmental pressure and contributing to sustainability during economic activities.

AB — 10 June 2011

[Updated 24 Sept. 2009]

An open letter purporting to be from a group of employees at Iran’s Interior Ministry says that a hard-line ayatollah authorized election supervisors to alter the election results so President Ahmadinejad would win re-election. According to contacts in the Iranian defense department, an IT (information technology) manager in the Interior Ministry was murdered after he leaked information about the fraud to opposition candidates.

The implications given in the paragraph above are difficult to confirm in depth, given the news blackout in Iran. However, I do have sources with connections in Iran that lend reasonable credibility to this account.

In terms of the fatwa authorizing election supervisors to rig the results, Tehran Bureau, a news organization reporting on Iranian affairs, has published an open letter purporting to be written by a group of employees in the Iranian Interior Ministry (the agency in charge of the country’s elections) — here is a link to a copy of the letter in Persian.

I don’t read Persian, but Tehran Bureau has furnished a partial translation — see “Open Letter: Fatwa Issued for Changing the Vote in Favor of Ahmadinejad.”

According to the translation, the fatwa came from a well-known cleric who previously preached about political philosophy at Friday prayers in Tehran, identified by Tehran Bureau as Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.

The letter says that in May of this year the government realized that Ahmadinejad’s political support was waning in favor of opposers. This led Yazdi to meet in secret with election supervisors. Citing the Quran, Yazdi told the supervisors,

If someone is elected the president and hurts the Islamic values that have been spread [by Mr. Ahmadinejad] to Lebanon, Palestine, Venezuela, and other places, it is against Islam to vote for that person. We should not vote for that person, and also warn people about that person. It is your religious duty as the supervisors of the elections to do so.

After criticizing the other candidates, Yazdi said,

You should throw away those who are unqualified, both morally and lawfully. Your highest call of duty at this time is to preserve your achievement.

The open letter describes the election supervisors as “happy and energetic for having obtained the religious fatwa to use any trick for changing the votes,” and says they “began immediately to develop plans for it.”

Tehran bureau describes itself as “a virtual bureau connecting journalists, Iran experts, and readers all over the world.” A news release in February 2009 from the Columbia University School of Journalism says the bureau was started by Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, a U.S.-based journalist born in Iran. The release said that journalist Jason Rezaian would be covering the Iranian presidential election from Tehran.

I have sent an email to Niknejad asking more information about how her organization obtained a copy of the open letter, but she has not replied as of today.

In researching this story, I read in the Guardian about “unconfirmed reports” that an Iranian whistleblower had been murdered for revealing the election fraud — see “Iran protests: Regime cracks down on opposition as further unrest looms,” by Ian Black, Robert Tait and Mark Tran. Black and colleagues reported that,

Mohammad Asgari, who was responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran’s interior ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran. Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked information that showed Mousavi had won almost 19m votes, and should therefore be president.

I found that it was difficult to get further confirmation of this report, but it seemed valuable to do so, as it in turn would confirm the implications of the open letter from the Interior employees.

Finally I was able to get in touch with Rob (Sohrab) Shahmir, an Iranian in Toronto, who is now chairman of E&I Renewable Energies and CEO of E&I Group. Shahmir was working in Iran from 1998 to 2007 in environmental services and removal of landmines and unexploded ordinance.

Shahmir still has contacts in the Ministry of Defense in Iran. He tells me that, according to his contacts,

Mr. Asgari was a manager at the IT department of the Ministry of Interior, he was one of the few semi-senior supporters of the moderates at the ministry.  After they ministry was ordered to flip the results and declare Ahmadinejad the winner by the office of the leadership, Mr. Asgari released the information to the offices of Mr. Mousavi and Karoubi.
According to my contacts, after the Revolutionary Guards Counter Intelligence Group discovered his identity, Sardars (Generals) Naghdi, and Safavi ordered his assassination.  Consequently, his vehicle was run over by a Truck (one the size of a coal truck).  The pic is of the acutal truck.

Mr. Asgari was a manager at the IT department of the Ministry of Interior. He was one of the few semi-senior supporters of the moderates at the ministry.  After the ministry was ordered to flip the results and declare Ahmadinejad the winner by the office of the leadership, Mr. Asgari released the information to the offices of [opposition leaders] Mr. Mousavi and Karoubi.

truck that killed AsgariAccording to my contacts, after the Revolutionary Guards Counter Intelligence Group discovered his identity, Sardars (Generals) Naghdi and Safavi ordered his assassination. Consequently, his vehicle was run over by a truck (one the size of a coal truck).

Shahmir tells me that the photo shown here is the truck that was used to kill Asgari.

Update 11 Sept. 2009: Jeremy Hammond at Foreign Policy Journal has written an extensive analysis of the coverage of the reputed Yazdi fatwa. See “The Case of the ‘Fatwa’ to Rig Iran’s Election.”

Update 24 Sept. 2009: Muhammad Sahimi of Tehran Bureau has responded to critics of the account of the Yazdi fatwa — see “America’s Misguided Left.”

AB — 22 June 2009

The organization Playing for Change is producing music videos by inviting artists worldwide to record accompaniments to a base track, then mixing their tracks together. The effect is like a more polished version of the remix “The Mother of All Funk Chords,” which I reported on previously.

One nice feature of the Playing for Change videos is that each artist or group is recorded in his or her own environment, mostly outdoors, so you really get a beautiful international flavor in the videos.

Here’s a great version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” that they’ve done:

AB — 28 April 2009

The wave of post-election violence that enveloped Kenya early in 2008 has given rise to a new movement that uses crowdsourcing to provide real-time reporting on unfolding crises.

Ushahidi.com, a project spearheaded by a group of African bloggers and software developers, is creating an open-source platform “that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web — and map them,” according to the organization.

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, began as a web site during the crisis in Kenya. According to Megha Bahree, writing for Forbes (see “Citizen Voices“), Ushahidi began when Ory Okolloh, a Harvard-educated lawyer and blogger living in Johannesburg, South Africa, went home to Kenya in late 2007 to vote in her country’s elections.

When riots and looting erupted in response to alleged corruption in the election process, conventional news media “went black for three days,” writes Bahree. During that time, though, Okolloh continued to blog and to receive reports from around the country from multiple sources, including journalists and government sources.

The stream of information coming to her reached such a volume that she appealed to tech-oriented contacts to assist with converting the stream of reports into a map-based visual form, a mash-up of reports of violence using Google Earth. The following gives an idea of the original mashup presentation on Ushahidi.com:

 

ushahidiscreen

 

Speaking in a February 2009 TEDTalk, Erik Hersman, one of the builders of Ushahidi, describes the application as “a system that would allow anyone with a mobile phone to send in information and reports on what was happening around them.” (See “How texting and GoogleMaps helped Kenyans survive crisis“)

Since mobile phones are increasingly available in Africa, Hersman says they make a good “common denominator” as a way for on-the-scene reporters to contribute to an overall view of what is happening during a crisis situation, such as a tumultuous political event, an armed conflict, or a natural disaster.

Hersman says that in the wake of the Kenya crisis, the Ushahidi group decided they needed to do more: “We needed to take what we had built and create a platform out of it so it could be used elsewhere in the world.”

Since then, the platform has been used by Al-Jazeera in Gaza, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in South Africa to “map xenophobic attacks perpetrated against non-South Africans,” according to Ushahidi, and is now being used in India to monitor that country’s general elections.

However, the “next big thing,” Hersman believes, has to do with coping with information overload and evaluating the accuracy of reporting during crises:

What we’re finding out is that we have this capacity to report eyewitness accounts of what’s going on in real time — and we’re seeing this in events like in Mumbai recently — where it’s so much easier to report now than it is to consume [the reporting].

There’s so much information, what do you do? … How do you decide what is important? What’s the veracity level of what you’re looking at? … we find that there’s this great deal of wasted crisis information. Because there’s just too much information for us to actually do anything with right now.

During the initial hours when a crisis breaks out, says Hersman, a great deal of information can be streaming out of the crisis area — in the form of mobile messages, blogs, web postings, emails,or  Twitter messages. But the world outside the crisis zone, and indeed the citizens inside it, have no way to aggregate and process the extreme volume of reporting, as well as to evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of it.

Hersman’s group is now working on a filtering process and technology that will “take the crowd and apply them to the information,” using peer ratings to evaluate, refine, and weight the reliability of data coming out of a crisis zone — “so that we have a better understanding of the probability of something being true or not.”

One key application of the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform is to help relief organizations assess the situation in a crisis zone in real time and direct aid to the area as quickly as possible. “The idea is to get immediate attention and relief to strife zones, and fill the gap left by news organizations that have slashed their foreign bureaus,” writes Bahree in her Forbes article. She relates one experience of how this worked during the Kenya crisis:

A ranger in Bogoria (northeast of Nairobi), William Kimosop, was driving to check on a remote outpost one evening in January when he stumbled across several hundred women, old people and children, lost in a ravine as they fled their villages where the men were still fighting. Four babies were born in that ravine, and supplies were running out.

There were no government officials or police around. He sent a text message to a friend in Nairobi, asking her to get help from aid agencies. The friend forwarded his plea to a few people, after which it got picked up by Ushahidi and within six days a Red Cross truck reached him.

AB — 22 April 2009

In a recent article on his Content Nation site, John Blossom of Shore Communications discussed the possibilities for the new Google Noticeboard application as an Internet and computing tool for the world’s 5 billion people who are too poor to have Internet access.

Blossom is a respected expert in the content industry, and his new book, Content Nation: Surviving and Thriving as Social Media Changes Our Work, Our Lives and Our Future, explores the future of society in light of social media.

In the recent article, “The Other Five Billion: Google Focuses on Truly Universal Publishing for Content Nation,” I learned of Blossom’s interest in the Hole in the Wall project, in which, Blossom writes:

… in the back alleys of New Delhi poor children with no previous exposure to computers were given access to the Web via a PC embedded in the wall of a building. Almost immediately they became what an adult would consider “computer literate” and started teaching one another how to publish and how to collaborate on content.

The Hole in the Wall has also has also attracted my attention for its lessons on human-computer interaction. For more on the Hole in the Wall, see my blog entry “The Hole in the Wall: Computing for India’s Impoverished.”

The Google Noticeboard application Blossom discusses allows people to use publicly-shared computers to send text or voice messages through public Noticeboards. The application is designed such that it can be used by people with no computer experience, or even people who are illiterate.

The following series of images gives an idea of the interaction design:

AB — 1 April 2009

Below is a blog entry I posted a few years ago when I was working for TMCnet. I wanted to refer to it in an upcoming post, but it has disappeared from the TMCnet web site.

Transferred over on 31 March 2009 from Al Bredenberg’s VOIP & CRM Blog (linking here to the Wayback Machine’s archived version):

VoIP for the Developing World

Rich Tehrani wrote a fascinating blog entry today about the potential connection between MIT’s $100-laptop program and the future possibilities for VoIP in developing countries. See his essay at:

VoIP Helps the Needy

In part, Rich writes:

… imagine if there was a way to get computers into the hands of more children. What would this do for the world’s developing nations and how would it help children? Imagine they would now be able to compute inexpensively and have access to the Internet and also speak for free with others.

This is a huge deal because in many parts of the world there aren’t telephones or even telephone lines. Many children don’t even understand the concept of the telephone. What if we could get them to access the web, allow them to compose documents, blog and talk for free? What an amazing world that would be. What an exciting place to live. What a more interconnected planet we would live on.

This reminds me of the fascinating story of “The Hole in the Wall,” which I heard about a couple of years ago.

Sugata Mitra, a computer scientist in India, decided to place a computer with a high-speed Internet connection in a hole in the wall that separated the high-tech company he worked for from the slum next door. He found that the kids from the neighborhood, who had never seen a computer, very quickly figured out how to use it and how to perform complexe tasks over the Internet. The last I heard, he was institutinga program making public-access computers available in poor neighborhoods in many areas of India.

One of the incidents I recall from the story was that a reporter asked one of the kids how he learned to use a computer so well, and the kid answered, ‘What’s a computer?’

AB — 10/3/05