Africa Tech Taught Techie Stuff to Vermont: Now Georgia Tech Scholar

Emmanuel Eric Prempeh Nyaletey, the head Technician at Good Point Recycling, has been offered a scholarship at Georgia Tech to earn a degree in coding and programming.  He leaves Vermont with his wife in the coming days, his last day at work tomorrow.

Top Ten Myths about so-called "E-Waste" (Update)

by Robin Ingenthron- (Originally Published on Earth Day 2010 via Greenwala).  Updated May 2014, as a reminder that the "Great E-Waste Hoax" continues to accuse geeks of color in many countries.
'It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain
Ranking the 10 Myths requires a definition of what the term "e-waste" means.   In the dictionary and in the courts, "waste" means the material that is discarded or disposed of… stuff that didn’t get recycled, but was dumped.  If two computers are exported, and one is repaired, and the other is thrown away, only the second one is "ewaste".
Definitions aside, the "E-Waste" scare was probably the biggest environmental hoax of the past decade.  Protectionists, alarmists, and gray market regulators bandied the term loosely.  Two Chinese officials told me that any property once owned by anyone is considered "discarded" if it changes possession... the entire used car economy is "waste" business by that definition.   I asked a Hong Kong regulator at an Interpol conference - what if I used a laptop for a week and then sold it to my friend?  "Definitely e-waste" was his response.  
So I always put the term "e-waste" in quotes. Many myths stem from the confusion between waste, reuse, and scrap commodities (like steel and plastic).  Many Myths also have a kernel of truth.  But too often there is no data to support them.  There may be a photo of a poor child, and a fictitious statistic, or a stereotype.  

Some of Myths amount to "green" propaganda produced to sell "cures" like shredding.
As economist Roger Brinner said, “The sum of anecdotes is not data.”   Myths feed cynicism, which generates reaction AGAINST recycling (see #1).   We need scientists and engineers, economists and lawyers,  more representatives from importing businesses, and fewer megaphones.

 10.  MYTH:  "There is a growing tsunami of ewaste."
The Pitch: "Electronics are more disposable, with shorter useful lives. There is evidence [Franklin Associates] that obsolete electronics are the fastest growing segment of the MSW stream. Changes in analog TV broadcasts make old "rabbit ears" TVs obsolete, unless they are connected to cable or satellite. The pile is just getting bigger and bigger."

These facts are true, but they do not describe production of electronics. 

Generation is faster.  But the units themselves are getting smaller. There is more computing power in a cell phone today than in a living-room-sized computer at NASA in the 1970s. The increasing tonnage is made up of "legacy" equipment.   Most of the products collected at "ewaste recycling" events (think projection and CRT televisions) is coming out after decades of storage. 

New Study: Africa's "E-Waste Hoax" is a Gift that Keeps On Taking

No surprise to regular readers of this blog...

The 5 year old hypothesis that African technicians and entrepreneurs are illegally importing "e-waste" to save money for USA and European Recyclers is still full of @#$*.

Global Circular Economy of Strategic Metals – the Best-of-two-Worlds Approach (Bo2W)
Oeko-Institut Authors Andreas Manhart , Tobias Schleicher, Stefanie Degreif

Here is the full report, view pages 13-14 at a minimum.

Game Theory 2: Sorting Gods and Bullies (WWMD?)

Second of X Part blog on decision making, and how to deal with Boko Haram and other self-righteous bullies. Can understanding faith and belief help us understand the fanatic's game?   This essay was written over 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, and contains some big ideas that are going to have to be tamed and homogenized for public consumption.

Sorting Gods from Bullies
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”  ― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

Jesus spoke in cool parables and analogies, and got into these Platonic debates (Pharisees trying to "test him").  He'd ask questions with "Does not...?" as the prefix.  It was nurture-logic.  Jesus used integrity, virtue, and nurture to elicit mercy towards people at the bottom of the pecking order.

The philosophy of mercy and charity went viral.  A mere thousand years or so later, that power was harnessed to build cathedrals, burn witches, and wage wars.   Today, Christianity has been made safe for the pecking order of the wealthy.

And we all know that that's what Boko Haram is about, it's about an under-performing group in a rapidly-developing nation.  It's about pecking order, and keeping women at the bottom.   It has about as much to do with Islam's teachings as the Ku Klux Klan, for all its crosses and robes, has to do with Christianity.  There's a perceived threat that a subjugated minority - women in the Sahel or African Americans in reform period Georgia - is left to ripen into mob justice.

Any pure religion can be harnessed to achieve bullboys ends.  Environmentalism, as it becomes a Taoist or Shinto expression of western ethics, must not consider itself immune.   Rural areas are not immune from heroin, small governments are not immune from embezzlement, and recycling non-profits are not immune from profit motives.

Televisions and computers are giving a voice to people - such as women in Nigeria - who were never allowed to even enter the mosques of power (any more than they can enter Catholic priesthood).  A group in power hundreds of years ago set up rules that limited access to expression of sermons and fatwahs, and affordable electronics are undermining the monarchies of communication.

Your continent here x
That's right.  Boko haram is a reaction to digital communication, grown from networks of surplus/replaced analog cell phone towers (replaced a decade ago on the US and Europe) and the used cell phones that communicate through them.   As Frederic Somda told the Fair Trade Recycling summit a year ago, in Burkina Faso, internet and cell phones are far more important than running water and paved streets.

It's a colorful game.

African Women Have Knuckles

There are many ways by which Northern stereotypes of "the south" and Western stereotypes of "the east" get mixed and shuffled - like hearts and diamonds called a flush.  It's not the color of the cards that proves the claim.  Clarissa Shields proteges from the USA will have a lot of competition in future olympic boxing matches.  As they get more integrated into African city economies, African women may be million dollar babies.

From LATimes:  Op-Ed:  The Heroic women of Africa are Standing Up to Boko Haram"

Yadji Moussa's niece in Yenwa
"As a woman and a mother, I pray for the safe return of all the abducted girls. I also applaud the strength of the women who continue to fight for them. They are African women — women who can function under the harshest conditions, who in the face of murder and rape continually stand up to fight. Strong. Resilient. Powerful. It is time for the world to put away the image of African women as victims and see them as the everyday heroes they are."

Leymah Gbowee writes this in conclusion to her op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this morning.  The headline is a breath of fresh air.   As awful as the images of disempowered African women are, as horrible as the statistics of rape and sex crime and modern slavery are, they do not mean African chicas are "weak".

Game Theory 1: What Would [Massively Intelligent Persona] Do?

WWJD, or "What Would Jesus Do?" was a welcome Christian riff about 15 years ago.  I looked it up in part because of the upsetting crisis of Boko Haram near the eastern Nigerian border, very close to the part of Cameroon I taught school in the 1980s.

The phrase "What would Jesus do?" (often abbreviated to WWJD) became popular in the United States in the 1990s and as a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christianity who used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through the actions of the adherents.
What would Jesus do, or Muhammed do, about lunatic fringes in religions established in their names?
"Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy" - Aristotle
Boko is a Hausa word, and Hausa is a society which was massively splintered by Western lines-drawn-on-maps in Africa.  England and France drew Vertical lines (Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon west-east borders), whereas the African societies tended to follow latitudes associated with climates.   The band of Sahel and Sahara stretches longitudinally north of the forests and mountains to the south, and it's a big "Bantu-v-Islam" historical and geographical context ignored by historical cartographers. Of course, with no lines at all, the ports and trade would still have drawn economic maps and boundaries, and either way, north is the loser.

Lump of Labor Fallacy

Just learned this new term, Lump of Labor Fallacy.   Per wikipedia
"In economics, the lump of labour fallacy (or lump of jobs fallacyfallacy of labour scarcity, or the zero-sum fallacy, from its ties to the zero-sum game) is the contention that the amount of work available to labourers is fixed. It is considered a fallacy by most economists,[1] who hold that the amount of work is not static. Another way to describe the fallacy is that it treats the demand for labour as an exogenous variable, when it is not."
The fallacy appeals to struggling lower and middle class workers, especially older displaced workers, who are finding it difficult to find jobs.   If fewer people are allowed to apply for the job I was rejected for, doesn't that improve my odds, and won't employing me decrease unemployment and boost the economy?

Generally the fallacy is applied when minimum wage or overtime policy is discussed.  Limit overtime, or cut the work week to 35 hours, and more work will spill over into the unemployment line.  Economists groan, as these policies limit the 20 percent who add 80 percent of value.  Try applying that to baseball - limit the number of innings the best pitchers are allowed to pitch, give them vacations in the middle of the season, and pitchers cut from the team are brought back onto the field, increasing employment...?  Pele, Zidane, Messi, Maradona, Beckham... please sit on the bench for awhile so that an American soccer player can earn some field time.

The same zero-sum argument can be applied - fallaciously - to global trade and immigration.   Cap the number of workers or ban the export of work over state and national lines, and please the second best and third best in the workforce.  Eliminate Dominicans from baseball, and the USA economy should slightly improve as 69 mile per hour pitchers are hired from minor leagues.

No.  It makes the league play worse, and makes the world economy worse.    The USA economy is the strongest indicator of a strong state economy, a state economy is the biggest predictor of a strong city economy, and the world economy is the best indicator for the USA economy.

The problem behind the "lump of labor" solution is that we live in a global economy.   There is no way to make the same rule across every team in the league.  The Red Sox might decide to hire only USA-born players, but they have to play against the Yankees.  If the USA cannot hire the best of India's software engineers, it still must play against India on the field.  The Red Sox not only hurt their own team, they actually give the Yankees better pool to recruit from.

Are Warnings about Saturated Fat Full of Baloney?

From today's Wall Street Journal, a history of how we all got duped by bad science.  If you can convince people that something normal - like eating bacon and eggs for breakfast - is an important (cognitive) risk, you can launch a multi-billion dollar industry to replace it.  NYT also reports that the fat is not in the fat.
WSJ:  "Butter and lard had long been staples of the American pantry until Crisco, introduced in 1911, became the first vegetable-based fat to win wide acceptance in U.S. kitchens. Then came margarines made from vegetable oil and then just plain vegetable oil in bottles.... All of these got a boost from the American Heart Association—which Procter & Gamble, the maker of Crisco oil, coincidentally helped launch as a national organization."
NYT:  “My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we should worry about” in our diets, said Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, the lead author of the new study and a cardiovascular epidemiologist in the department of public health and primary care at Cambridge University..
The economical leveraging of our concerns about human health should not make us cynical about "accepted science".   In comments to the WSJ article, there are people griping about climate change reporting.   It would be too easy to jump to the cynical conclusion that doing whatever we want will turn out for the best.
However, the resulting cynicism also shows the cruel danger of supporting a marketing hoax.  It can create collateral damage to agents of conscience in other fields.  If the American Heart Association is full of baloney, people may shrug off exercise and calorie counting, which are still shown to be very important to our health.  
My conclusion:  Do No Harm.   Apply scientific method.  What the "e-waste" hoax has done to repair and reuse is nothing new...  Big Corn or Big Shred or Big Brother are willing to dish out baloney.  Watch what you consume.
The history shows a firm link between human cognitive risk assessment and industry marketing thereto.  - Robin Ingenthron