Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Status: Internet Connection Wildly Unreliable

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There has been a serious slow-down in posts this week, mainly due to my internet connection being about as shoddy as it has been my entire time here. I’m not sure what’s happening but the usually reliable AvirTel connection has been going in and out on me, resulting in several disappointingly short Skype chats (sorry Colin, Amy) and a severely limited ability to get blog posts up. If my connection stays up long enough I hope to get today’s Sunday Poem up shortly, in addition to checking on the Packers-Carolina game and attempting some more long-distance calls.

In the meantime, take some time to reflect on the convenience of reliable infrastructure and enjoy this beautiful picture of Lerik, Azerbaijan:

(Photo Courtesy of Crystal Kelley)


Written by Aaron

September 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Azerbaijan: Technology Boom?

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Occasionally, blips flit across the news ticker about Azerbaijan and its desire to develop into an information and communications technology hub. A little ways back, I wrote about Azerbaijan’s proposed East West Informational Superhighway, a regional project to increase access to information via the Internet, among other media. It looks like a fairly unique project to which, geographically, Azerbaijan is well-suited. However, we can’t forget that Azerbaijan has some very real obstacles when it comes to technical savvy. Today’s story from Trend illustrates this well:

Azerbaijan ranked the fifth amongst the countries where a broad penetration of the Trojan program of Win32/Hodprot was recorded since the beginning of the year, the ESET Company reported.

Trojan Win 32/Hodprot has been designed for download to computer for various malicious software aimed at remote banking services.

The first three countries, who have infected with Trojan Win 32/Hodprot, include Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, where there is also the activity of other families of banker Trojans.

Yikes. That’s not a ranking anyone seeks out. Yet, it’s not really a surprise. Going to internet clubs in Azerbaijan can be a shady prospect, as picking up viruses from the common-use computers on your flash drive is highly likely. It’s not rare that a number of computers, even at well-administrated computer centers, will be rendered useless by the malicious software invading the systems. All of these issues can be attributed to user errors. Azerbaijanis, in my experience, are not well-educated on the various dangers from downloading songs, movies, and others. And they aren’t good at sniffing out various internet scams.

In addition to that, we also know that Azerbaijan is a ‘leader’ in software piracy. I wrote about that last year as the Economist released research showing both Armenia and Azerbaijan among the worst trespassers of intellectual property laws. This is true, again, even at the best computer clubs in Azerbaijan. The local IREX information center started up last fall with all brand new computers. It took a very short time to figure out that all of the versions of Windows were counterfeit copies. And that’s at a computer center administrated jointly by USAID and an international development agency. We should have higher expectations for those entities, right?

In spite of these obstacles, Azerbaijan is still aspiring to becoming a informational and communications technology leader. Certainly, we can be impressed that I can have high-speed internet at my home in a less-developed region of the country. The president has staked out a position that seeks ICT development as a serious part of Azerbaijan’s future economy. The Information Technology Minister claims to be targeting students for better IT education.

Identifying the IT sector as a viable economic driver and focusing on IT education is an important start. Yet, if Azerbaijan is really seeking to become a leader in this sphere, they are going to need to work on basic internet safety knowledge for its population. Picking up viruses by going to internet clubs is not good for a computer’s health and usefulness. At this point, the education system is not equipped to give students an adequate education on computer basics, so most of the learning is either through computer courses by people who aren’t well-trained or through using the pirated, virus-laden software. Azerbaijan will also have to focus on actually enforcing anti-piracy laws. It’s incredibly difficult to take seriously an IT effort when everyone is using pirated and corrupted software. If I’m going to be trusting Azerbaijan with an information superhighway, I’d like to know that the technology they are using isn’t copped off and corrupted. And we certainly don’t want to be putting information on systems that are chock-full of Trojan viruses that will steal our money.

Written by Aaron

August 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

The Market at Work: Price Controls and Transportation

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This post is low on academic rigor and high on anecdotal evidence. Also likely high on boring information about transportation from Baku to Lankaran (sorry). Travel from Baku to Lankaran by bus has been curiously difficult as of late, whereas for the first year and a half of my time here, getting to Lankaran from the Baku bus station was never a problem. Recently, including both this week and last week, it’s been difficult to get a seat on the bus. Instead of waiting around for another bus to roll in, I’ve had to take the smaller, non-air-conditioned overglorified vans. There have been long lines awaiting the buses, withe 20-30 people waiting after the big buses are full.

I’m less concerned about the ride itself than I am about why I can no longer get a regular bus from Baku to Lankaran. What’s changed? I think we’ve got two forces here, both having to do with a government-mandated change in the bus service. One has to do with the conditions of the bus ride, and the other has to do with price.

First, the buses have improved. I wrote about that here. We now have larger, air-conditioned buses shuttling back and forth, and this is a significant improvement over the the previous buses which were stuffy and hot, less comfortable. The bus then was not ideal. However, with the government’s focus on tourism lately, the new buses are likely a godsend from those with a stake in Lankaran tourism.

Second, the price for the bus is stuck at 5 AZN. It’s not any more, not any less. And this is probably a price that has come down from above, as well. The powers that be want a cheap, comfortable option for getting to Lankaran. I cannot imagine this would be the market rate, with all of those folks waiting by the bus to get a seat.

So those are the positive signs for bus transportation. Another thing that has happened is that train prices rose drastically. While conditions on the trains haven’t changed, the prices have more than doubled and in some cases increased by more than 150%. That’s a serious price hike. And now the cheapest, most uncomfortable ticket for the train is the same price as a bus seat. And those train spots don’t come with air conditioning. It’s become a pretty reliable event for me to be able to buy tickets the afternoon before boarding the night train. Before the price hikes, I had to get there an hour before the ticket window opened in order to get my ticket.

So now we are left with the over-glorified vans, the marshrutkas. With the buses attracting more people, and the bus price set at 5 AZN, marshrutkas have actually seen an increase in price. It’s now 6 AZN to Lankaran. Why is this? Seems to me that the marshrutka drivers now have to make up for a loss of clientèle due to the new buses. Since the marshrutkas seem to operate outside the (slightly) more regulated world of buses, they can likely charge whatever they need to make sure they are still making a profit. Here’s a great example of a government-regulated market (the buses) side-by-side with a less-regulated market (marshrutkas), causing a strange manipulation of the price structure (pay more, get a lesser service).

Written by Aaron

July 27, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Women’s Forum Social Correspondents: Trained

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This past weekend was a big one: Bailey and I worked with the folks at Women’s Forum to put on a blogging and social media training for six new social correspondents. As I described earlier here, these new social correspondents will be writing articles on their own blogs, to be picked up and published by Women’s Forum. Our project even got picked up in the news, if with a little bit of misinformation:

The project office reports that master classes were delivered on 23 and 25 July by journalist Liya Bayramova, entrepreneur Nigar Kocharli, psychologist Javad Effendi and blogger Farid Sadikhova-Buyuran. Trainees were selected from 56 candidates who submitted their applications and passed individual interviews. During the training course the young authors were suggested to get acquainted with the basics of web-journalism, develop writing skills, work in a team, and create their own blogs. Immediately after graduation, they will start to work as social correspondents. Their functions will include continuous updating of blogs with fresh articles, coverage of critical social issues and their promotion in domestic Internet.

I’m not sure who was delivering master’s level classes, and I’m not sure who graduated either. That must have been another Women’s Forum Social Correspondent training. There were some writing sessions and we gave out certificates, though.

After discussing blog writing and blog layouts and how to build online communities, we talked about their plans going forward. Because the program itself continues through December, Bailey and I will be mentors for the bloggers, meeting with them regularly to make sure things stay on track and they continue to improve their writing and their blogs, overall.

I do have just one specific observation about the training: I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a training that was conducted in three languages – Azerbaijani, English, and Russian. We didn’t really plan it out that way. Instead, Bailey and I just did the training in English because all of our trainees were good English speakers. The guest speakers spoke Russia, Azeri, or English based on their preference and the preference of the group. One of them was changing languages after almost every question, depending on in which language the question was asked. That was bizarre. Cool, but bizarre.

For a slideshow of some pictures from the training, see below. Read the rest of this entry »

Surprises in Infrastructure

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If ever there was a time to be pleasantly surprised by the presence of a functioning septic system, it’s when you’re in regional Azerbaijan.  While in most villages, and even in many city homes, the typical lavatory features a squat toilet descending into a pit underground, it appears that my small apartment building has a working septic tank.

I know that this is not exactly appropriate conversation for polite company, but I was pleasantly surprised by this discovery when a truck came along yesterday to do its duty, emptying the tank.  That means that not only does my apartment building have the functioning septic system, but the city also provides the appropriate services for maintaining the system.  This is a development that was quite unexpected.  I guess I don’t really know what I thought was there before but, while here, my expectations have been lowered significantly.

Written by Aaron

November 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm