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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.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Free Online Educational Offerings from Saylor

Screenshot - 8_22_2013 , 7_06_27 AM Ever consider going to college and perhaps majoring or minoring in Computer Science, but don't really have the time to show up for classes, don't really want to go into debt paying for 4 years of college, and really don't want to fuss and bother with taking a bunch of classes that have absolutely nothing to do with your chosen major? (skip things like Psychology, Modern Dance, English Literature, and Art History?)

Maybe you should look into the offerings at Saylor. They have 2 different Computer Science offerings, depending on whether you want to major or minor.

They use all free materials that are available online, including materials that are unique to their program. Once you have completed all of the materials for each course, there is a final exam that you can take that does count, to prove your mastery of each course.

Once you have completed all of the courses in the program, they will issue you a certificate, free of charge. While this isn't exactly the same as a 4 year degree from a traditional college, you'll pretty much have the same knowledge as someone that paid for their schooling, except perhaps all the unrelated nonsense from courses having nothing to do with Computer Science, that one is usually forced to take. See their FAQ for more information.

And if you aren't quite ready for taking the required math courses to complete their Computer Science program, perhaps need to brush up on Algebra first, or fill in some of the holes left over from a less than adequate high school education, you can go back and take the high school math courses that you may have missed out on or forgotten the material.

Not interested in Computer Science? Perhaps Business Administration, Communications, or Political Science would be more towards your liking. Or maybe you really do want Psychology, Art History, or English Literature. (sorry, they don't have Modern Dance)

Or maybe you need some Workplace Skills, Job Search Skills, or some courses to help with Career Advancement.

Take a look, pick something that seems interesting and give it a shot. With 305 different courses, you are bound to find something that you'll like or need. And you really have nothing to lose. It's all free!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Truth About the So-called "Obama Phone"

There is a story that right-wing nut jobs are circulating around that says that President Obama gave all black people a free cell phone, paid for with taxpayer money. It is based on a video of a black woman's claims that she got a free cell phone, so she is voting for Obama.



The problem with this story is that it just isn't true about the phones. The woman in the video is wrong about where those phones came from. And the right-wingers are wrong about how they are paid for.

So, what is the truth?

You know that extra charge on your phone bill that is marked "Federal Universal Service Fee", "Universal Service Fund" or "USF"? How long have you been paying that? Since before Obama became President? Do you know what that charge is for and who it goes to?

You have been paying into this fund since 1997. It is not a tax. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that all landline and cell phone service providers pay a portion of their profits into the Universal Service Fund to help ensure Universal Access to communications services to all citizens living within the US. Your greedy phone service provider chose to pass the cost of this along to you instead of paying it themselves.

Do you know how it is spent?

Up until 2008, it was spent mainly on subsidizing phone companies that service rural areas. That's right, it was used to bribe phone companies to keep providing affordable phone service to those that live in remote parts of the US. Without the bribes, the phone companies threatened to either jack up the rates to rural areas, making it impossible for anyone living in those areas to afford a phone, or they would just not provide any service at all. They say providing service to those areas is too expensive and not very profitable.

It was also spent to help provide communication and internet services to qualifying schools, hospitals, and libraries. Thanks to the Universal Service Fund, doctors at rural hospitals could now provide better care for their patients with video conferencing that could put them in touch with specialists at larger, more distant hospitals. People without computers could access the internet at their local library. And more technology in the classroom is always a good thing, especially in poorer school districts.

In 2008, under the Bush administration, they began using the fund to do more to help the poor obtain phone service that they might not otherwise be able to afford. That's what Universal Access means. It means everyone has access. This is done in 1 of 2 ways, depending on the person's situation.

01 In urban areas, which usually have good cell phone reception, a prepaid cell phone is given to a poor person. This is a cheap Tracfone, worth about $20 at most. The recipient of this phone is given between 60 and 250 prepaid minutes every month, depending on which state they live in. It has a maximum monthly value of about $10. They have to reapply every year and prove they are still poor and still need help obtaining phone service. If they run out of minutes, they have to buy one of those Tracfone prepaid cards with their own money or wait till the beginning of the following month when they get more free minutes.

250px-Motorola_C139 Most people that get a free phone receive a Motorola C139. It has no deluxe features. They are NOT given iPhones or any type of smart phone, nor are they given any type of deluxe "dumb phone" with features like camera, media player, or a full QWERTY keyboard. They are not provided with a data plan. They are not even given unlimited text messaging. They can not access the internet from their phone like you probably can do with yours. It's the cheapest, crappiest, most basic cell phone and service available. Are you still jealous? Would you trade in your current cell phone and service for this? Would you even trade in your current landline service for this?

Think about the average length of one of your phone calls. How long would 60 minutes last you? Think about how many text messages you send and receive every month. In some states, a person with one of these free phones can send and receive at most, 120 messages, provided they don't use any of their minutes for talking. And yes, they get charged for receiving messages, as well as sending. As far as voice calls, have you ever been put on hold? Being put on hold can very easily eat up all the free minutes given under this plan. In my state, if you apply for unemployment by phone, you can expect to be placed on hold for over 4 hours. You don't even get enough minutes under this plan, in any state, to cover that.

02In areas without good cell phone reception or in certain cases like where the recipient might be disabled and/or require special phone equipment, poor people can receive up to a $10 credit on their phone bill, paid directly to the phone company, to make it cheaper for them to have landline phone service. This credit doesn't cover the entire cost of having basic phone service. The recipient would still end up having to pay something, and they would still have to provide their own equipment. Prior to the Bush administration, this was the only option that was available to the poor, to help cover the costs of phone service, and was available to all poor people, regardless of whether they lived in a rural or urban area.

You can not receive benefits under both plans. You can have either a cell phone or a landline credit, but not both. It is limited to one per household, and only to the head of the household. There is no family plan, you have to share the one cell phone (or landline) with all family members.

The federal government would prefer to give all low income households a cell phone instead of a credit on a landline, because providing cell phones actually goes farther towards ensuring Universal Access. Unfortunately, that isn't always possible and landline service is sometimes the only option. And sometimes, a family is so poor that even with a credit, they still can't afford landline service. This is another reason why they would prefer to give cell phones, when possible.

Why would the government help provide phone service to poor people?

Because these days, phone service is a necessity. We are not living in 1900. If you do not think it is a necessity, then I challenge you to give up both your landline and cell phone for six full months and rely only on pay phones whenever you want to make or receive a call. I bet some of you won't make it through one full day.

Or you can just do the following:

Imagine what your life would be like if you were too poor to afford a phone.

Imagine you or a family member, perhaps your child, being injured badly enough that someone would need to call for an ambulance. Or perhaps your or a neighbor's house is on fire, or maybe there is an intruder in your home. How are you going to call for help if you don't have a phone?

Imagine your child is at school and gets sick. How is the school nurse going to call you to tell you to come and get your child?

Imagine you are looking for a job. How likely will it be that you will be hired if you leave the phone number box blank, on an application?

What if you already have a job and you need to call in sick? Or perhaps someone else called in sick and your employer wants to call and ask you if you can fill in on your day off? Since you are poor, you could really use the extra money but since you don't have a phone, your employer will call someone else.

What if you are homeless and it is not possible for you to have landline service (not that you could afford it, any way)? Does that mean a phone is any less of a necessity to you? When was the last time you saw a pay phone? How about a working one? How about one that allows incoming calls?

Where did the idea for this free phone come from?

And as far as this being an "Obama phone", the woman in the video was mistaken. Like I stated earlier, this program began in 2008, under the Bush administration, so maybe technically it is a "Bush phone".  But the idea of providing low-income individuals with subsidized phone service originated in the Reagan administration. So maybe it's a "Reagan Phone". But then again, all of that evolved from ideas about universal access from as far back as the Wilson administration, so maybe it's really a "Wilson Phone".

And it is not given to all black people. Race has nothing to do with it. In fact, most of the poor people in this country that are receiving free or subsidized phone service, are white. Many are disabled. And many of them are elderly, having worked their entire lives for minimum wage and are now trying to live off a $600/month Social Security check. And you have to prove yearly, that you are too poor to afford phone service without help. So, black people that make too much money, don't get to have a free cell phone, just like whites that make too much money can't have one.

And there are a whole lot of people receiving subsidized phone service indirectly through the Universal Service Fund that are not even poor, but would be if they had to pay the proposed rates for rural phone service that the phone companies would like to charge.

Read more:

Be sure to share this post with any right-wing nut jobs that you know, that are in need of an education. I'll be more than happy to set them straight.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What clueless moron would suggest that the ER is a suitable substitute for regular healthcare?

Mitt Romney thinks emergency rooms provide sufficient healthcare for the uninsured. He doesn't think they have any need for more than that. At least that's what he said in a "60 Minutes" interview, on Sunday night.

Emergency room care is neither free nor affordable, nor is it a replacement for normal healthcare. Emergency rooms are for emergencies, not routine regular care.

Over-crowded emergency rooms, full of non-emergencies, reduce the level of care for everyone by shortening the amount of time that a doctor can spend on any individual patient, for both the insured and uninsured alike. Forcing the poor to rely on emergency rooms for all of their healthcare needs puts a strain on services intended for and designed to meet the needs for the treatment of acute emergencies only.

And there is an awful lot that emergency rooms just will not do.

Emergency rooms do not provide routine wellness checkups to catch and treat potential issues before they become major life threatening problems.

You will never get a cancer diagnosis or treatment from an ER, even with insurance. The most an ER will do for someone with cancer and no insurance is hook them up to a ventilator when they reach the end stage and can no longer breathe for themselves, and they might not even do that. The ER does not give out chemo, does not schedule you for surgery to remove a tumor before it spreads to the rest of your body. The ER will not help you fight cancer. If you have to rely on an ER for your cancer treatment, you will lose, cancer will win, and you will die.

Treatment for gallstones in an ER for someone with no insurance is to hook them up to an IV for about 12 hours and then discharge them with the advice to "eat a low fat diet", without spending any more than about 10 seconds to explain what that really means. Treatment for someone with insurance is removal of the stones, or gall bladder.

Walk into an ER in an urban area and complain of pain. Unless you are bleeding or have broken bones, there is a good chance that hospital personnel will assume that you are a drug addict looking for a free fix. Whatever is causing your pain will not be taken seriously and you will be discharged with instructions to go see your primary care physician.

A diabetic can not receive testing supplies nor medication for the daily treatment of his condition from an ER. The only people that get treatment for diabetes in an ER is when they are brought in because their blood sugar is either dangerously high or low, which triggers something else happening (like them passing out). They will also not receive regular screenings for nerve damage in their feet and hands, which can lead to the need for amputation. They will not be given vision screenings to help prevent blindness.

Someone with asthma will receive emergency treatment from an ER to stop an attack, but will not receive any treatment to prevent future attacks. Each attack will cost the tax payers in excess of $3000 if the patient can't pay, while an inhaler to prevent attacks would in many cases only cost the tax payers around $10 per month.

Emergency rooms do not dispense prescription eyeglasses or hearing aids. Nor will they straighten your child's crooked teeth with braces, fill cavities, or remove tartar build up.

Emergency rooms do not prescribe or dispense birth control, except for some hospitals that will dispense a "morning after" pill to a rape victim.

Emergency rooms do not provide routine prenatal care to ensure that your baby has the best chance of being born healthy.

Emergency rooms do not provide daycare for Alzheimer's patients. They won't watch your mom for you every day so that you can go to work.

Emergency rooms do not provide mental health services to anyone that is not an immediate threat to themselves or others. And for those that are, the care stops as soon as they are out of danger, not when they are ready to face life on their own without help.

Even Mitt Romney's example of a person having a heart attack not being refused treatment in an ER is flawed. If that person had a primary care physician and access to prescription drugs, he might not have had a life threatening heart attack in the first place.

What Mitt Romney meant to say to every uninsured person in America was that he doesn't care if they die.

Telling uninsured people to use the ER for their main source of healthcare is only a step above telling them to go to the library and look up their symptoms on WebMD, and then treat their health issues themselves with whatever they can get without a prescription. In the end, regardless of whether they go to an emergency room or not, that is pretty much what they will be doing most of the time, any way.

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