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Thursday, August 17, 2017

When an Invention Doesn't Need to Be Invented

According to this New York Times article from January 2010, a group of Harvard students decided to tackle a problem in developing nations, replacing dangerous kerosene lamps for indoor lighting with a much safer LED alternative, powered by the energy of children that love kicking soccer balls.

This eventually lead to the launch of a for-profit company (Uncharted Play) to produce these soccer balls, and a Kickstarter campaign to fund it.

With backing by the likes of Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Ashton Kutcher and other celebrities and philanthropists, these soccer balls were placed in the hands of poor children in Puebla, Mexico, in 2013.

Were these impoverished children's lives changed for the better?


Investigative journalists traveled to Puebla, Mexico in 2014, to talk to the children that received these soccer balls, to find out how well they were holding up and if the kids still liked and used them, a year after they were distributed. What they found out was that nearly all of these soccer balls no longer worked. Many of them stopped working within a few days to a few months after the children received them, not anywhere near the 3 years that Uncharted Play said they would last.

The cost of putting one of these stupid soccer balls into the hands of these impoverished children, was about $60 each.

Was there a better way accomplish the same goal?

Could these impoverished people been provided with a source of light, that would be more reliable and cost effective than these silly soccer balls?

Yes, and it did not require inventing something new to accomplish it.

For example, you could buy a 36 LED solar and dynamo powered camping lantern at Walmart for $15.57.

You could probably get them much cheaper if you bought them in bulk, straight from the manufacturer.

That's more LEDs and more light than the lamp that came with the novelty soccer ball.

And I am pretty sure that if you distributed these to the same kids that received the soccer balls, they would like the camping lanterns better, and after a year of use, there would be more kids still using their camping lanterns, than the soccer balls.

Even better, if you had asked the families in Puebla, Mexico if they could have spent that $60 better, they would have told you that it would have cost them less than that to be hooked up to the electrical grid, which would have provided them with much more than just light, for many years to come.

Think before you act.

If you are going to invent something to solve a problem that has the potential to change people's lives for the better, make sure it is the best possible solution to the problem, before you begin collecting funding, manufacturing, or distributing it to those that need the solution. And make sure you involve the people that need the solution, in your research. You really can't understand their needs unless you talk to them about it, first.

Because sometimes a better solution already exists and just needs the right people to get together and make it possible to get that solution into the hands of those that need it, rather than someone running off half cocked, to invent a brand new implementation of a useless novelty soccer ball.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Art and a New Blog

I recently redesigned and moved my old RussoGraffix art site. From now on I'll be posting all my art releases there, instead of here.

To celebrate the occasion, I have released 6 new CC-BY licensed works for you to use.
Click the images to visit the pages and get the files.

Free Website Banner Graphic: Night Sky
night sky demo

Free PSP Vector: Cube of Spheres
Free PSP Vectors: Dice
Free PSP Vector: Balloons

Free Images: Gold Coins

Free PSP Vector: 4-Leaf Clovers

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free Art Download: Like Us (CC-BY)

(shown actual size)
What you get: This image with a transparent background in both PNG and PSP vector formats.

Font used is Cooper Black which you will need to open the PSP vector file.

Released under a Creative Commons Attribution license suitable for both commercial and non-commercial use.

This item has been moved to my art site.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Republicans Do Not Want You To Know About Poverty and Taxes

skinny piggy


The poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, is one of the most violated of all the federal labor laws.

About 15% of all wage earners in the US are earning at or below the minimum wage.

The average full time minimum wage worker earned about $15,000. ($7.25 per hour x 40 hours x 52 weeks = $15,080)

She paid at least 20% of her income in taxes.

Even though it might be true that she had no federal income tax liability, she still had other taxes to pay.

Payroll taxes such as

  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Disability
  • Unemployment
  • State income tax
  • sometimes local income tax

She also had additional taxes such as

  • sales tax
  • excise tax on fuel
  • USF surcharges on
    • telephone service
    • natural gas
    • electricity
  • property taxes, even if she rents (it would be hidden in the cost of her rent)

Additionally, she pays for her healthcare out of her pocket because minimum wage jobs do not come with healthcare benefits.  She pays a higher price for a doctor's office visit than the insurance companies do. ($75 self pay vs. $35 paid by insurance) If she ever needs to go to the hospital, it could easily cost her over $4500*, even more if she has to be admitted.

She also does not get retirement benefits and is looking at a reduction in her income down to about $600 per month when she is too old to work and begins collecting Social Security, and will be expected to pay a portion of that to receive Medicare benefits. And that is only if there is still a Social Security system by the time she is old enough to collect.

A typical minimum wage worker is not a teenager from a middle-class family flipping burgers for some extra pocket cash to buy CDs, movie tickets, lipstick, nail polish, and video games.

Most minimum wage workers are women, standing on their feet all day working various jobs within the service industry. They are some of the hardest working people in this country.

Many are single mothers with more than one child, and many of those are receiving little or no child support to help offset the costs of raising those children. They also have the additional costs of child care, if they have no family support system capable of providing free care so that they can work.


And Republicans think they make too much money and need to have their wages cut, by either reducing or eliminating the minimum wage. They also want to cut or eliminate the social programs that help them to survive. They actually think this will help the poor and lift them out of poverty.


* I do not have medical insurance. I pay out of my pocket for all of my medical care. Back in 2006 I passed out in my kitchen, which resulted in a head injury requiring 8 staples to close the wound. I was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital, which resulted in a bill that was just over $3000. This did not include the additional charges for physicians fee, lab work, or the MRI. Those were billed separately and were an additional $1500. My town is one of the small number in this area that provides a free ambulance service to its residents, but if they didn't, the ride would have been an additional $300.

If you don't pay these bills, the hospital may sue you, which could result in garnishment of your wages, which has the potential of knocking a minimum wage worker's pay down to about $150/week until the debt is paid off (with interest, court costs, and lawyers fees). There is also the very real possibility that instead of or in addition to garnishment, the court may seize your bank account (woe to you if you just made a deposit to pay your rent) and/or the local Sherriff may come in, seize and sell off the contents of your home, leaving you with no more than $1000 in personal assets and possessions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You'd be amazed at the things you can fix with a toaster oven...

This is a guest post by a friend of mine that wishes to remain anonymous. His only desire is that this information is shared with the public and that more people can put it to use.


I just baked BlackBerry Cobbler (a BB 9630). It came out perfect.

The phone took a dive into a sink full of water while its owner was doing dishes, and went unnoticed until the sink was drained. It was deader than a door nail when I received it.

I took it apart, rinsed it as clean as I could with tap water, and then with 97% rubbing alcohol. I let that evaporate and then placed the printed circuit boards in the toaster oven, on top of strategically-placed screwdriver bits so-as to space the board off the aluminum foil lining the oven tray. Then I set the oven for 180 F for about 20 minutes. I did not toast the battery in the oven for safety reasons.

Just a tip.

Also I have baked laptop wifi and video cards, desktop pci cards, laptop motherboards, desktop motherboards and xbox consoles with the red ring of death (the larger items in a full size oven). Quite literally, if it's toasted anyhow, what does one have to lose other than 20 minutes? Sometimes items need their solder to be reflown, and this wet-phone-drying/toaster oven reflow soldering method honestly has saved both myself and those around me a ton of cash. Reflowing solder should be done at 230 F or so for about 20 minutes.

Plastic bits on the board? Plugs? Wires? No worries! Heck, part of the BlackBerry cobbler I baked tonight (the 9630, that is) was more than 60% plastic, and I didn't even bother removing the camera before baking it. I kept the temp about 180 F since a solder reflow was not required, but if a reflow might benefit the item I do not hesitate to turn it up to 230 F.

Never leave the oven unattended, not even for a moment, just in case plastic bits start to disfigure - but they shouldn't, as plastic typically melts at a higher temperature point than solder.

Don't bake the outer shell of the phone though - bare boards only.

Never bake a battery unless it is soldered onto the board, in which case go for a higher blast of heat for a shorter period (say, broil for 7 minutes).

Next time your phone hits the sink (one of my older BlackBerry phones took a 20 minute trip into the clothes washing machine) or your laptop video or wifi card dies (these are prone to overheating due to poor cooling, sometimes they can flex some, breaking solder joints in the process, and can benefit from a reflow), etc, pop the circuit board into the oven for a little bit. What's the worst that can happen? I've fixed newer HP laser printers I was literally given because they didn't work, simply by reflowing their main boards. $75 a pop at yard sales is a nice profit for me simply having put my toaster oven to work.

When you're done, do not budge the toaster oven until it has been off for at least 20 minutes. It would suck major donkey scholng to bump a board with molten solder and have an IC with a 500+ solder ball grid array slide just enough to short circuit things even worse than they were, when some patience to let the boards cool down adequately could have had the item fixed.

In this day and age, when things seem so disposable and inexpensive, so much waste gets created and is disposed of. It's a shame if that little toaster goes under-utilized and our broken disposable electronics aren't even considered for repair.

It should be noted I do not cook, thus my toaster oven is solely dedicated to the task of baking printed circuit boards. Tin and lead vapors/molecules in or on my food doesn't appeal much to me. Then again I prefer fast food, so...

Give it a baking in the toaster oven before you toss it, you may be pleasantly surprised at how perfect things come out. And you'll learn how stuff is assembled and disassembled in the process!

And for those of you that would like to use this information but need an inexpensive toaster oven, I found this one for you on Amazon: