Tech Thursday: The Economist's Babbage Blog

For reasons unknown, The Economist website is not loading for me. But that won't stop me from recommending their weekly technology column and accompanying podcast called Babbage. For fans of Tech Thursday, I would strongly recommend downloading Babbage as part of the Economist podcasts available for free on iTunes.

This week Babbage discussed 3D Printing, which I didn't know much about beforehand. Now, I think it's awesome. Check out this article and video for an example of why it's awesome. Seriously, watch that video and try to tell me that's not awesome. IT IS AWESOME.


  1. And yes, both Wet Wednesday and Tech Thursday went up a day late this week. That's just how cool I am, fashionably late for even my own posts.

  2. Psshhhh...they already did that in the 5th Element. Wait, what's that? I just referenced a fictional movie that takes place hundreds of years in the future when we have flying cars and a President of Earth? And you provided a video of a product available right now?

    While I can't think of any practical use off the top of my head, I can definitely see future applications, like combining with this method of printing skin to grow ears, organs and other body parts. Need a new liver? Be back in an hour.

  3. Two additional thoughts:
    1) It's a little annoying that you still have to assemble the tiny Gothic church...and

    2) What do you think happens first? We have a President of Earth or flying cars completely replace non-flying cars and paved roads are no longer necessary?

  4. It's funny you comment about 3D printing; I had saved an article a few weeks back in the hopes that I would provide a Tech Thursday post sooner rather than later (or never), and what was it about? 3D-PRINTING! In this case, a flute was produced, that sounded fairly good after printed/assembled.

    PS - I'm a bit confused as to the picture you've chosen to include for this post, but and fascinated it being that it touches upon the space in which I current work: telecom.

  5. Oh, yeah, about the image on the post - I just grabbed an Economist graph that happened to be tech related... it's kind of an abstract way of displaying the tech focus of the Economist's Babbage blog/podcast. Even though it has nothing to do with the rest of my post.

    Also, I thought it was kind of an interesting graph. I'm surprised that A) fixed broadband is already behind mobile broadband; and B) that fixed telephone lines haven't fallen off a lot more quickly than they currently are.

  6. Re fixed broadband: the developing world did not build out a fixed video/broadband network as was done in the developed markets (US, Europe, Japan at the time). The developing world (India, China, Africa, Latin America - anywhere not named US/Europe/Japan) relies almost exclusively on their mobile device for access to the rest of the world, so this data point does not surprise me.

    Re fixed telephone not dropping: I'm in your boat and, quite frankly, don't believe it.

  7. The fixed telephone lines does not surprise me. There are many people not in cities or urban areas that are spread out far enough that they can't rely only on mobile phones exclusively...especially in inclement weather.

    Another reason is generational. Imagine people over 50 (your parents) who most likely still have land lines. And the ones who have upgraded to cable internet problem have cable, phone and internet bundled.

    And the final and probably biggest reason? Business. The vast majority or corporations and businesses still have a land line, and usually they have multiple land lines. In my office there are usually six people. There are six mobile phones and four distinct land lines.

    I'm actually more surprised that fixed telephone lines were only 15% in 1998.

  8. Real quick - Aaron I think we have flying cars before we have a President of Earth. But I actually think we are closer than anyone realizes to ending up with the Minority Report autopilot cars, kind of a combo of mass transit and private cars.

    I have another thought about the phone lines in a minute.

  9. This is global penetration, so I bring you back to my original point (lack of a fixed network built out over the developing world). The biggest issue I had with the fixed telephone % was that it began dropping 5 years ago, but has since flattened out. I can't think of a reason as to why it would flatten out...

  10. That's a great question about it flattening out Scooter. I don't get it either.

    Here's my other question - who are the Internet Users who are accessing the internet using neither mobile broadband or fixed broadband? Are those people getting online using dial-up modems? Are there phones that connect to the internet that don't use mobile broadband? I am confused.

  11. Great question! This chart is showing that ~65% of the population does not access the internet. I'm not buying it - I'll see what info I can find on the subject...

  12. 65% of the global population not accessing the internet sounds plausible. How much or rural Africa or Asia do you think has internet access?

  13. I have to do some research, but I would have expected wireless internet to be higher.

  14. Hi folks. Glad you like our Babbage podcast. That chart actually shows that about 75% (not 65%) of the global population didn't have internet access by 2009. But it's out of date.
    Here are the latest stats from the ITU:
    This shows that global internet penetration is now about 30%. Given a population of nearly 7bn, that means about 2bn people now have internet access. And about 70% still don't.
    Rural Africa often has GPRS coverage in my experience, but most people don't have phones that can use it; they have basic handsets that do voice and text. Wireless internet is what will connect most of that 70%, though. See my article (with another of these charts) here:

  15. Thanks for stopping by! It's awesome that you've found our little soap box. I actually had read your Telecoms article when posted way back when - fascinating stuff.

    I agree that wireless will be the driving factor behind increased internet penetration, but was unaware that the majority of international mobile users did not have internet capabilities. Your ITU link shows an interesting story around the slow growth of mobile broadband in Africa & the Middle East. Both were on-par with the Americas for mobile broadband (as a % of total cell users) back in 2005/06. However, they saw much slower growth - or, the Americas saw hyper-growth - in that ratio since.

    (ps - we can do math, we swear :D)

  16. So, in the developed world, there are really more mobile subscriptions than there are people? Tom, if you ever make it back here, could you explain this? Is the "Inhabitants" qualified in some way, like how there are more cars in the US than licensed drivers?

    Also, could you provide your thoughts on why fixed telephone lines has remained between 15-20% over the last decade?

  17. While the US isn't quite to over 100% penetration for mobile subscriptions, we're close. And it's not that hard to imagine due to 3 reasons:

    1) Consumer & Business subscriptions
    2) iPads & Tablets
    3) M2M devices (e.g. PG&E's Smart Meter)

    Additionally, most developing markets are dominated by pre-paid service; in markets such as Indonesia, each consumer may have 2 or 3 active SIM cards.