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Photos: UNHCR/Anders Aalbux
Kerstin and Åke are Swedish senior citizens who say they have learned a lot from the young refugees who are
their IT guides and are recommending the service to their friends.

Although I generally bristle when assumptions are made about older people not knowing how to use a smartphone or computer, I have to admit that technology ignorance does characterize many seniors. So I’m not going to get on my high horse about young immigrants to Sweden sharing IT knowledge with the elderly and using the experience to improve their Swedish. I think it’s an important win-win — especially as Erik’s mother has explained to me that there needs to be more effort to help refugees learn Swedish.

Anders Aalbu writes for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, “It is a Saturday in Karlskoga, in the middle of Sweden. Kerstin and her husband, Åke, have each brought their smartphones, a tablet and a laptop. They’ve got a slew of questions, and they admit they might have already asked some of them. But Setrag and his colleague Sara don’t mind. A repeated question is just another opportunity for them to practice Swedish.

“While working as an IT guide, Setrag speaks slowly. But so do the seniors who come to the public library every Saturday to learn how to use their computers and smartphones. They don’t mind that their teachers are refugees, as speaking slowly makes it easier for them to understand each other.

“Wearing his blue IT guide shirt, Setrag patiently explains to Kerstin: “But now you want to travel by bus, so you have to open another app, because this one is for buying train tickets,’ Setrag says. As the app loads, Setrag explains to Kerstin that the initial message that shows up is a one-off. ‘You’ll only see this the first time. It’s supposed to give you an idea about how to use the app,’ he explains as he points to the spot saying ‘Next.’

“Setrag Godoshian, 20, came to Sweden from Syria in 2014. He has spent three years in the introductory programme learning Swedish. A certain level of Swedish speaking skills was needed for him to become an IT guide. Now Setrag gets to speak lots of Swedish, has his first important job in Sweden, and he’s more integrated in the local community. In return, numerous seniors are improving their IT skills.

“Sara Alaydi, 20, is also a Syrian refugee, who arrived in Sweden in 2015. Becoming an IT guide has led to major changes in her integration into the Swedish society. ‘It has helped me so much. I’ve become more social, for instance, also at school. My experience from the job as an IT guide helps with all the group work we have in class,’ she explains. ‘Elderly people tend to speak a little bit slower, which makes it easier for us. And it also makes it less nerve-racking to talk to them, so we constantly get a chance to practice,’ Sara says. ‘And we’re more confident speaking with them, even though we make mistakes,’ Setrag adds. …

“IT Guide Sweden started in 2010. Its founder, Gunilla Lundberg, was approached by two teenagers, both having just arrived in Sweden, and in need of a summer job. Gunilla asked what they were good at, and the answer was ‘we’re good with computers.’ Today, IT Guide is present in more than 20 Swedish municipalities and employs about 200 young IT Guides. …

“IT Guide Sweden was nominated for the Swedish Door-Opener Award for 2018, an award recognizing Sweden’s best integration initiatives.”

Read here about how working as an IT guide often provides young immigrants with good references as they move into the job world.

Marketing and spreading the word about IT Guide to elderly Swedes is one part of the job for these young refugees.

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Photo: Tim McDonnell /for NPR 
Samuel-Richard Bogobley holds a GPS-enabled tablet to capture the location of one corner of an underwater clam “farm.” Collecting data is the first step in protecting indigenous livelihoods.

I love reading about how people around the world come up with constructive ways to use technology. This story is about clam farmers in Africa enlisting GPS data as a first step in protecting indigenous rights.

Writes Tim McDonnell at National Public Radio, “Samuel-Richard Bogobley is wearing a bright orange life vest and leaning precariously over the edge of a fishing canoe on the Volta River estuary, a gorgeous wildlife refuge where Ghana’s biggest river meets the Gulf of Guinea.

“He’s looking for a bamboo rod poking a couple feet above the surface. When he finds it, he holds out a computer tablet and taps the screen. Then he motions for the captain to move the boat forward as he scans the water for the next rod. …

” ‘Before you can start to recognize a fishery, you need to have a lot of data,’ says Bogobley, a researcher with Hen Mpoano, a Ghanaian nonprofit that supports small-scale fishers. ‘These people don’t have any platform to fight for what is theirs.’

“The Volta River is rich with clams, harvested year-round by a bustling community of several hundred fishermen and women. The meat is packaged for sale across West Africa, while the shells are ground into an additive for whitewash and chicken feed.

“The riverbed itself is divided into intricate real-estate parcels, each one an underwater clam ‘farm’ with its own caretaker.

“The farms have become a flashpoint in a broader conflict over the land rights of indigenous peoples in Africa: The clam fishers have no legal claim to their farms, and are under increasing pressure as they compete for prime real estate with the booming tourism industry and cope with the impacts of climate change. …

“[Clam farmer Kofi] Amatey spends most of every day working here about ten feet below the surface, gathering clams into a basket. Wearing eye goggles and a weighted belt, he breathes through a makeshift scuba apparatus that pumps air from a compressor on his canoe.

“It’s a subsistence living: Amatey estimates that he earns less than $1,000 per year. And in recent years, it’s gotten even harder.

“A crop of new luxury resort hotels now crowd the riverbanks, forcing the clam fishers off of land where they used to live, dock canoes and process clams. Tourists’ speedboats and jet skis churn the water, threatening to topple the narrow dugout canoes loaded with clams. …

“Without a formal, legal claim to the clam farms, Amatey and his neighbors say they have no way to protect themselves from hoteliers and other developers who acquire deeds from the government. …

“Many indigenous land rights lack protection because of a scarcity of data. …

“That’s where the GPS tablets come in. A growing number of research groups and international aid organizations are rolling out software aimed at making it easier for anyone with a tablet or smartphone to accurately map community-held land and record basic information about its proprietors. This data alone doesn’t offer any legal protection, but it’s an essential starting place.”

More here.

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Photo: The Stage
Open Access Smart Capture’s glasses enable deaf theatergoers in Britain to read live captioning during a performance.

Earlier this month I posted about how the Vienna State Opera provides captions in six languages.

Today’s entry is on making dramatic productions more accessible to the deaf by means of glasses that churn out captions.

Georgia Snow writes at the Stage, “The National Theatre has unveiled new technology that will enable deaf audiences to see captions for performances in front of their eyes using special glasses, … removing the need for captioning screens in the auditorium.

“Developed by the NT with its innovation partner, consultancy firm Accenture, Open Access Smart Capture is being introduced during a year-long pilot.

“If it is a success, the result would be ‘transformational,’ [NT director Rufus] Norris said. …

“The glasses boast 97% accuracy in the timing of the captions, and can also facilitate audio description, for audiences with restricted vision. …

“The project is one of two new initiatives being introduced by the NT around accessibility, the second being an online video database showcasing deaf and disabled actors. …

“It is part of a drive to tackle the under-representation of disabled actors working in the profession, Norris said. …

“He added that ProFile also hopes to remove some of the barriers for deaf and disabled performers, for whom travelling to auditions and meetings can be difficult and expensive.” More at the Stage, here.

If nothing the else, the glasses will be fun. A few years ago, I got to see that for myself using Google Glass. An executive where I worked was having summer interns play around with programming the glasses to test the possibilities for the Fed. That didn’t go anywhere, but it was definitely fun.

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I’m grateful to Scott, a former colleague, for putting this cool thing on Facebook. Looking at these healthy, growing plants is especially warming today, now that the temperature has gone back to 15 F.

Tim Blank at Future Growing LLC (which produces vertical aeroponic food farms) writes, “When you hear about a farm that supplies all-natural, sustainable produce, using 90% less water and 90% less land, one that utilizes the most advanced vertical aeroponic technology on earth, you surely would not guess it would be an Amish farm.

“Yet in Topeka, Indiana, you cannot get produce that is more local, fresh, healthy, and sustainable — even in the middle of an Indiana blizzard — like you can get at Sunrise Hydroponics, an Amish farm.

“Sunrise Hydroponics is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Marlin and Loretta Miller on their rural farm in Topeka. I have had the privilege of working with the Amish community for more than half a decade, and have come to learn that, while their lives seem simple to many outsiders, their homes, farms, and businesses are highly innovative. The Amish utilize cutting-edge and creative forms of technology to improve their lives, while still falling within the guidelines of their belief system.” Read more here.

Greenhouse at Sunrise Hydroponics

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Gregg, an inventor who works with John, tweeted today about a mega toy fair in New York City. (He didn’t say if he and John have any skin in the game, although I know that at least one toy is among their recent techy projects.)

Dante D’Orazio describes the trade show at The Verge (a website that covers “the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture”).

“Toy Fair isn’t what you would expect. The New York-based toy trade show is the largest in the Western hemisphere — it had nearly 30,000 attendees last year — but there are no children. Hundreds of thousands of square feet are dedicated to the things children love, like action figures, dolls, model cars, board games, arts and crafts, sports equipment, and video games, but there’s a strict rule: no admittance to anyone under 18 years of age. …

“The tech world has affected these toy companies greatly. We saw the beginnings of it last year, but at Toy Fair 2013 the largest companies are all integrating iPads and iPhones in some way into their product lines. Entire toys built around iPads were very popular; we saw everything from an iPad-enabled farm set for pre-schoolers to a magic Barbie mirror that takes advantage of Apple’s tablet. It’s no longer just ‘batteries not included’ — you’ll need to buy an iPad if you want to play with some of these toys.”

More.

Photographs: The Verge, which offers a lush array of toy fair pictures, here. Of course, not all toys need to be high tech to attract kids.

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Global Envision is part of an effort at the nonprofit Mercy Corps “to foster a richer conversation about global poverty.”

Last fall, Global Envision’s Erin Butler set off to investigate technologies that help schools in impoverished parts of of the world.

“For some students, hopping on the school bus is hopping into the classroom. Four communities are using solar-powered mobile classrooms to overcome inaccessibility to the power grid.

“Last week,” writes Butler, “we looked at a bus in Chitradurga, India, that brought modern computer technology to students in energy-poor rural schools through solar power. SELCO, a private energy company, engineered the bus with 400 watts of solar modules, 10 laptops, fans, and lights.

“Circumventing the area’s erratic power supply with its solar panels, this bus provides much-needed modern computer education and exposure to the advantages of solar energy. Motoring through rural villages in Chitradurga since January 2012, the bus has reached ’60 schools and 2,081 children,’ the New Indian Express reported in early September. …

“Where there’s more water than land, boats replace buses, and with rising sea levels, low-income Bangladeshi students have difficulty getting to school altogether.

“Pushed to inaccessible riverside settlements that lack basic infrastructure, students often can’t get to school due to monsoon flooding. Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a nonprofit organization started by Mohammed Rezwan, rides the rising tides with his solar-powered floating schools.

“Trained as an architect and personally experienced with soggy school disruptions in Bangladesh, Rezwan rode a brainwave that led him to floating schools. Combining the best of traditional boat design and modern sustainable practices, the organization’s 54 boats have been operating since 2002 and have served over 90,000 families.”

Read about the other solar-powered schools here.

Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters/File
Students in Kolkata, India, check out their solar sunglasses as they prepare to watch the transit of Venus across the sun. The sun is being harnessed in India and Africa to power mobile solar classrooms for students.

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Fun time at Mass Challenge!​

Mass Challenge is an incubator “accelerator” for entrepreneurial companies, perhaps the biggest worldwide. I’ve blogged about it before.

Of the 125 finalists in this year’s challenge, 48 gave one-minute pitches last night to an audience of about 200 friends, family, and investors at 1 Marina Park on the Boston waterfront.

Besides being entertaining, it was inspiring. So many people working hard on so many great ideas!

A couple noteworthy presentations were from MIT people. Helmet_Hub tapped the skills of MIT materials science students to create a helmet-vending machine. They have already partnered with the City of Boston’s Hubway, which lends bikes point to point. Another MIT-based organization, Global Research Innovation & Technology (GRIT), uses bicycle parts to make inexpensive wheelchairs for Third World patients. Very impressive. (More on GRIT here.)

I also wrote down that soundfest has a better kind of hearing aid. Prime Student Loan screens students so banks can make a safe loan even if graduates have no FICO score.

Wanderu was one of the few female-run companies. It does for ground travel what kayak and others do for air. Zoomtilt creates ads that are said to be so funny and entertaining, people actually want to watch them. Guided Surgery Solutions helps oral surgeons drill into the right place.

Roameo helps you find out what’s going on near where you are right now. Newartlove helps artists sell their work. Social Made Simple helps small businesses with social networking. (Check it out, Luna & Stella.) CellanyxDiagnostics has a more precise test for prostate cancer than the PSA.

I will likely follow up on a worthy-cause business called Bootstrap Compost. They teach you to compost, give you the bucket, pick it up, deliver it to farms, and give leftover compost to schools. You can have some, too. Bootstrap is very low-tech, doing most travel on bikes. It is proud of keeping tons of food scraps out of landfills.

I was also impressed at the Mass Challenge diversity — men, women (OK, not many women), old, young, scientists, artists, business types, different races, different nationalities, humorous, solemn.

No need to worry about the economy long term. Not with the joy of invention alive and well.

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