Calling bullshit on "leapfrogging"

Originally published at:


What? Rich boys playing with their daddys’ money and tech bubble entrepreneurs don’t have an adequate appreciation for the idea that financial and technological success depends on a firm foundation of the wise investment of taxes into infrastructure and social welfare? The devil you say…


This is mostly calling bullshit on delivery drones anywhere, not just in Africa. Like the idea of flying cars, there are just too many complications in the idea of having lots of flying vehicles around that really haven’t been thought out.


But…it’s a disruptive technology! How can it not be good?
Goes back to thinking about how to build his personal disruptor for this particular technology.


It’s especially hilarious when those involved have no capabilities in producing things that work without a great deal of preexisting infrastructure and a population with enough disposable income that ‘freemium’ apps or social analytics ad-tech solutions or whatever can actually generate the perception of value.

The techies with some actual engineering chops can be magnificently wrong about what best suits local conditions, often in…painfully retro…ways(looking at you everyone’s favorite egg-shaped advocate of colonial development); but they at least can build useful things when pushed in the right direction; which is more than you can say for people whose primary talent is building doomed companies that Google will buy.


While mobile phones make all kinds of sense as towers are way easier and cheaper than a bajillion miles of cables.
Drones delivering 100lb bags of rice, or whatever not so much. You are basically gonna have helicopters at that point and then really good old trucks and roads are the cheapest and most reliable thing.


Indoor plumbing is totes the shizzle.

As is electricity.

…and once someone has enough clothes for the entire family - so is a washing machine.

Can’t “leapfrogging” straight to renewable energy be a thing tho? If not, shouldn’t bloody well be?


remoteness has a lot to do with some of the issues.
indoor plumbing is pretty much solved if they have a good enough water source nearby. housing density helps a lot here as well.
with the current status of solar panels and LED lights electricity for lighting is workable not sure about things like refrigeration/freezing though.

ETA I guess I should add wind generation as well as small wind generators are a thing as well but still no idea how well it works for heavier constant load appliances.


I’d like to see practical “one off” solutions to those key “makes life so much easier” technologies.

When you don’t have those things, you spend a LOT of your day doing things you otherwise wouldn’t have to. Free up that time & people can actually do something with life instead of just survive.


The thing about leapfrogging is that it works if you understand the full infrastructure of an area. What this article makes very clear is that these are not investment targets, in the sense that you just pick an idea out of a hat and put it “In Africa.” You need to understand the infrastructure before you can understand what you’re even leaping off from. Wait, random investors don’t learn about what they’re trying to invest in before they do it?


‘Developing world’ cuts both ways in terms of energy:

On the one hand, if you currently have an atrocious electrical grid, with large gaps in coverage or severe reliability issues, some sort of local generating capacity is a much easier sell than it is in the context of nice infrastructure. If you have no domestic refining capacity, bad roads, or the like; that also drives up the cost of just throwing a diesel generator at the problem considerably. Large solar installations are pretty capital intensive; but the handy thing about solar is that you can start small(you won’t be able to do much more than charge a phone or run some LEDs; but price is mostly a function of area and you can get photovoltaics of almost any size).

On the other hand; when it comes to things like power plants, to serve whatever areas are on the grid; address brownouts, be part of some economic development plan, etc. renewable had better be able to compete on cost or you find yourself making the “So, um, the ‘developed world’ developed, and currently enjoys a high standard of living, thanks to burning a nearly unimaginable amount of fossil fuels; but now we’re worried about that being a bad idea, so could you please be more poor in order to keep consumption down?” request, which doesn’t play very well.

Renewables have gotten a lot more competitive; but coal is still pretty cheap; and until pollution starts killing more people than poverty price is a compelling argument(though, once it does start doing that, it’s pretty hard to tell the citizenry to shut up and like it, as China has been starting to discover).


Yay capitalism


There’s also the question of storage and load levelling, as most renewable energy sources can’t provide constant power. Much research is done in the domain, but as far as I know, the cheapest and easiest storage means to deploy right now (provided you have enough room) is flywheels. And they can be deployed progressively, too.

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Turns Gult’s Gulch isn’t so awesome after all. Who knew?!

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Maintaining said systems is often the bigger/biggest problem. Finding grants to install systems is considerably easier than any kind of funding to maintain or upgrade; you have no idea how many times I have seen layers of water systems one atop the previous defunct ones.

Training reliable local techs to do maintaince can also be challenging, while flying in outside talent is prohibitively expensive. When you drop in a system that no one has ever had experience with it takes awhile for folks to wrap their minds around it.


Oh that goes for a lot of systems… everywhere.


Indeed. :slight_smile: Funders never seem to find the real work “sexy” (ugh to that term, but I still hear it).

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