First Month at Fletcher

This week marks the completion of my first month at the Fletcher School, and I've done remarkably little blogging. In a way, that's a testament to the fact that I am happily consumed by the breadth and depth of whats happening at the school (and at the Berkman Center). The major task of the month was jump starting my right brain after a long dormancy. Taking Development Economics, Stats and International Political Economy means that I've had to do this in a hurry, and its been far more enjoyable than I've expected. However, I'm making sure I'm not running too far from my old haunts. I've got a paper coming on the factors that correlated mobile phone use and pro-poor growth in developing countries, and whether any of those factors can help predict the ability for computer use (a la OLPC) to have the same effect on growth.

During the first week of school, Dan Drezner, political economy expert and Fletcher's most prolific blogger, gave a convocation speech. The speech made light of how the blogosphere challenges the status quo of the professional foreign policy community, and then urged Fletcher students to also not passively accept the wisdom of foreign policy elders. It was a wonderful example of a difficult skill that many in Fletcher are quite good at: leveraging credentials to artfully take stabs at established ways of thinking. This is the type of school where one could, hypothetically, bring an erstwhile and inspired Harvard Law Professor to talk about using poker to better understand strategic thinking in international relations.



  • Wow. Fletcher. And is Jackfruity already there? ;o)
    Okay, now get Noam Chomsky to talk a bit over there. Another wink. ;o)

    Now, I need to grab the OLPC cue by the ears and bark into its face.

    There is a major difference between phones and them laptops. We needed the phones - we do - and therefore they gain traction. I am one of them people who expect development to be driven by real needs. There is a very, very high concentration of phones in Uganda, because they are needed.

    Now, the OLPC. I hate the OLPC project, because we don't need dumbed-down half-computers, when old PCs shipped in from China and sold for about as much as the OLPC machine (or less) have more power. I imagine kids getting these things and their parents selling them off (to people like me) for a quarter the price, so they can buy a phone or two. Because they don't need these gadgets, but we need the phones. The need for the OLPC project is not there, full stop. If people need computers, they always get those tired antiques on Kampala road. If and only if they need them. Wherever you don't see a computer today in Uganda (and Africa, in general) it is not because the prices were prohibitive, but because the need wasn't there.
    The OLPC project thought - wrongly - that they were providing something that was otherwise not available. A walk on Kampala road will show that nine of every ten shops there is selling cheap PCs.
    The worst part is that the OLPC laptop is hideously dumbed-down. It comes with just 1GB of memory. Well, my Bob Marley collection is already bigger than that. Even if we take the laptops on, they will quickly become yesterday's technology, as we buy antique PCs that have at least 40GB.

    Long-winded and frothing at the beak, because I have many reasons I just don't like the OLPC project - Yet Another Naïve Aid Project. Mobile phone use was not pushed. It was needed, and hence the widespread adoption of phones. The OLPC is the very opposite - merely a bleedin'-heart ideal that even has a strong, strong competition.

    The only positive is that we will have enough hardware for me to build a nation-wide network of cheap laptops into a big time-sharing machine and play widely-networked games at high, high speeds. :o) And to teach kids the joys of programming. :o) Okay, the OLPC may have a good thing or two.

    By Blogger The 27th Comrade, at 1:18 AM  

  • Glad you're liking grad school, it looks like you're covering some interesting stuff.

    Who's teaching stats?

    Also, I'm not big into development economics, but it could be that OLPC has a very different effect on growth than cell phonse. For example, OLPC is aimed at education and the benefits of better education may not be recouped for decades, whereas the benefits of cell phones might be more immediate.

    By Blogger Greg, at 8:15 AM  

  • @Comrade, you're being unnecessarily judgmental.

    First, you're underestimating the need. The laptops are educational devices. They replace textbooks and exercise books with one device that lasts for several years. In addition, they provide children access to educational materials on the Internet, of which there are many.

    Second, a lot of neat engineering is going into the laptops. Not only that, Intel and Asus and others are getting on the bandwagon and making their own ultra-cheap laptops (that is, there is now competition). This has the effect of concentrating research and development into an area that companies previously didn't care about -- making ultra cheap components. I imagine the work that goes into them will eventually bring down the cost of new desktops as well.

    Third, the laptops aren't dumbed down. They're not very fast, but they're just fine for what most people need them for (and especially what kids need them for). I could probably use one for most of my daily needs. In addition, hard drives are slowly becoming outdated technology on laptops. You're going to start seeing a lot more laptops with flash drives instead of hard drives. OLPC is actually ahead of the curve by offering mass storage in flash form. You can supplement this with online storage or other forms of flash like USB key. The computers aren't intended for you to keep your bob marley collection on.

    By Blogger Greg, at 8:34 AM  

  • Greg. Which Greg are you?

    By Blogger Joshua, at 8:36 AM  

  • Hey, I am Greg of Gulu, friend to Carrie and Rebekah (and of course Rebecca). This would be more apparent if blogger had let me log in to update my profile, but alas they didn't.

    By Blogger Greg, at 9:02 AM  

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