Digital Development
Communications and info tech in developing countries, especially wireless broadband and high-value applications

Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Mini-Box.Com: "Mini-Box is a small, lightweight, yet powerful x86 system designed for embedded or general purpose PC computing applications. Consuming under 10 watts, the M-100 is an excellent candidate for low power, small form factor computing requirements. The M-100 is equipped with a backlit LCD, customizable 14 key keypad, front load Compact Flash, USB and audio."  Comes with Linux on a bootable CF.  Powered by 12v DC.  4:49:59 PM  permalink  

Darfur, Sudan:  A shocking map of the region as of August 2, 2004.  One red marker for each of 395 destroyed villages, another 121 orange markers for damaged villages, the locations of camps with over 100,000 refugees, the dirt tracks and airports used by relief workers to get there.  (The map is a poster-resolution PDF, 1.87mb, including satellite image details.)  11:10:21 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, August 30, 2004


Made to Order - How industrial design became a weekend hobby: Many examples of customization (and "wrangling"), like fitting computers into other cases, modifying cars, playing The Sims, using rapid prototyping machines, and vendors like cafepress.com.  About rapid prototyping machines (aka "3D printers"), check out the Solidscape: T66 ($50k), and Z-corp (with a cool GIS application).  12:09:49 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, August 26, 2004


Horizontal innovation networks - by and for users:  2002 MIT paper on what I've been calling open production, related to the book Enabling Innovation.  Several examples, both techie and nontechie (like mountain bikes).  "Innovation development, production, distribution and consumption networks can be built up horizontally – with actors consisting only of innovation users (more precisely, “user/self-manufacturers”). “Free” and “open source” software projects are examples of such networks, and examples can be found in the case of physical products as well. User innovation networks can function entirely independently of manufacturers when (1) at least some users have sufficient incentive to innovate, (2) at least some users have an incentive to voluntarily reveal their innovations, and (3) diffusion of innovations by users is low cost and can compete with commercial production and distribution. When only the first two conditions hold, a pattern of user innovation and trial and improvement will occur within user networks, followed by commercial manufacture and distribution of innovations that prove to be of general interest. In this paper we explore the empirical evidence related to each of these matters and conclude that conditions favorable to user innovation networks are often present in the economy."  Related: a Jonathan Schwartz blog entry on how users are making IT decisions; personal uses of IT come to the office now, it's not just work going home.  6:50:41 PM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Economist on Prahalad:  Good short review.  "To be profitable, firms cannot simply edge down market fine-tuning the products they already sell to rich customers. Instead, they must thoroughly re-engineer products to reflect the very different economics of BOP [the bottom of the pyramid]: small unit packages, low margin per unit, high volume. Big business needs to swap its usual incremental approach for an entrepreneurial mindset, because BOP markets need to be built not simply entered. Products will have to be made available in affordable units -- most sales of shampoo in India, for example, are of single sachets. Distribution networks may need to be rethought, not least to involve entrepreneurs from among the poor. Customers may need to be educated in how to consume, and even why -- about credit, say, or even about the benefits of washed hands. The corruption now widespread in poor countries must be tackled (about which Mr Prahalad has penned a particularly useful chapter). "  2:36:42 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Bruce Sterling SIGGRAPH 2004 speech "When Blobjects Rule the Earth":  Fastastic speech connecting memes from all over (open production, new media, sci fi, cluetrain, sustainability) into a new techno vision.  An update of Bucky Fuller, maybe an "As We May Think" for this generation.  Too much to summarize, I'll quote just a few bits that stuck out for me. 

"We are facing a future world infested with digital programmability. A world where our structures and possessions include, as a matter of course, locaters, timers, identities, histories, origins, and destinations: sensing, logic, actuation, and displays. ..

[There were products, then gizmos, now spimes] A spime is a users group first, and a physical object second.. A Spime is today's entire industrial process, made explicit. That is the whole shebang, explicitly tied to the object itself. A Spime is an object that ate and internalized the previous industrial order. Some of this information might be contained inside the Spime, and some of it might be conjured up on the Web by, say, a barcode or an RFID chip -- but in practice, you wouldn't notice the difference ..

The natural world should be better for our efforts and our ingenuity. It's not too much to ask.  You and I will never live to see a future world with those advanced characteristics. The people who will be living in it will pretty much take it for granted, anyway. But that is a worthy vision for today's technologists: because that is wise governance for a digitally conquered world. That is is not tyranny. That is legitimacy. ..

The question we must face is: what do we want? We should want to abandon that which has no future. We should blow right through mere sustainability. We should desire a world of enhancement. That is what should come next. We don't need more dead clutter to entomb in landfills. We should want to expand the options of those who will follow us."

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daily link  Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Screenshot from Food Force WFP creates game to tackle hunger: "Food Force is the brainchild of the World Food Programme (WFP), which last year fed more than 100 million people.  The UN body seeks to capitalise on the popularity of video games to educate youngsters about hunger and the work of the aid agency. The game is due to be released later this year for the PC and Mac, and will initially only be available in the US as a free CD or download from the net. ..

"The game itself is somewhere between a game like Tomb Raider and a lecture from the WFP," explained the game's designer, Mike Harrison. "It starts with a short movie that explains a crisis in an imaginary country due to drought and civil war, two of the main reasons for people being hungry in the world," .. The challenge for players is to complete a series of missions, guided by a team of WFP characters...One of the missions is a Sim City type game "

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daily link  Monday, August 16, 2004


The Wisdom of Crowds: A popular new book sheds light on the earlier post about Open Production.  The publisher's notes provides an outline; the Amazon reader's comments are interesting, not least in noting examples (like intelligence failures -- reminding me of the movement to open source intelligence).  "While our culture generally trusts experts and distrusts the wisdom of the masses, Surowiecki argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." To support this almost counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition (we're all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). His rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, competing on TV game shows, maximizing stock market performance, voting for political candidates, navigating busy sidewalks, tracking SARS and designing Internet search engines like Google. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's "collective intelligence" will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. "Wise crowds" need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions. The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge."  5:18:54 PM  permalink  

The Cgnet Story: A Case Study of International Computer Networking: How cool: Our 1994 book is actively traded on second-hand book sites.  Under $6...  7:37:40 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, August 15, 2004


Open production:  I talked with Brewster Kahle briefly in 2001, and got the idea that the degree of collaboration is a spectrum.  At one end is the conventional commitment to play a role in a team; at the other is the incidental activity that leaves a trace that can be datamined in an implicit collaboration.  At the implicit end, we see Google mining the links I make as though I were collaborating with all other web authors; and Amazon mines my purchases and makes recommendations on my behalf to similar buyers.  Howard Rheingold sees this as part of a broader pattern, and ends up sounding like Buckminster Fuller:

Besides Google and Amazon, "there's open source [software]. Steve Weber, a political economist at UC Berkeley, sees open source as an economic means of production that turns the free-rider problem to its advantage. All the people who use the resource but don't contribute to it just build up a larger user base. And if a very tiny percentage of them do anything at all -- like report a bug -- then those free riders suddenly become an asset.

And maybe this isn't just in software production. .. The dogma is that the two major means of organizing for economic production are the market and the firm. But [Yale law professor] Yochai Benkler uses open source as an example of peer-to-peer production, which he thinks may be pointing toward a third means of organizing for production.

There's also Wikipedia [the online encyclopedia written by volunteers]. It has 500,000 articles in 50 languages at virtually no cost, vs. Encyclopedia Britannica spending millions of dollars and they have 50,000 articles. ..  [Rheingold also mentions unliscenced wireless "open" spectrum] ..

If I was a Nokia or a Hewlett-Packard, I would take a fraction of what I'm spending on those buildings full of expensive people and give out a whole bunch of prototypes to a whole bunch of 15-year-olds and have contracts with them where you can observe their behavior in an ethical way and enable them to suggest innovations, and give them some reasonable small reward for that. And once in a while, you're going to make a billion dollars off it."

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UNV Online Volunteering: UN Volunteers has an online program:  "Volunteers from all over the world are helping organizations that serve communities in developing countries -- but without leaving their own communities. These online volunteers translate documents, write articles, research data, build web sites, mentor young people, design logos, and engage in many other projects to benefit organizations serving people in the developing world. Online volunteers are volunteers without frontiers."  2:11:32 PM  permalink  

Microsoft OS for third world: "Microsoft is set to roll-out a 'no-frills', low-cost version of its Windows XP operating system for third world markets.   The new OS, Windows XP Starter Edition, offers lower-resolution graphics and restricts the ability to connect computers via a network. Also, the OS can only run three programmes at any one time.   The stripped-down edition of the operating system is an attempt to undercut the spread of Linux in developing countries.

Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and 2 other countries are in the rollout.  "As part of the program, certain schools in 67 developing nations can qualify for free upgrades to the regular Windows software and for copies of Microsoft Office that cost $2.50. " 

Gartner released a report on it, approving the concept, but criticizing certain limitations and the lack of an upgrade path to the full XP editions.  "Microsoft would continue to gather feedback from consumers over the next 12 months." 

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(Almost) Instant Cash Transfer with Mobile Phones: "last week Philippines' largest mobile phone company, Smart Communications, launched a cash transfer service that uses text messaging to speed up the process. Overseas workers still have to go to the bank to initiate the transfer, but the recipients in the Philippines get a text message on their phone notifying them that they have immediate access to the cash, which is stored in their phone's "electronic wallet," a feature included in all 16 million Smart Communications subscribersâ019 accounts. The recipients can then use their Smart Money debit cards to withdraw the cash from ATMs. An International Herald Tribune article on this story has some interesting details about why this could be a very successful service: Eight million Filipinos work overseas and send $7.6 billion dollars home every year. The average income of a Filipino is under $1000 a year. Nevertheless, 30 percent of the country's 84 million residents have a mobile phone. Most people use SMS because it is much cheaper than making voice calls. All this adds up to a potentially huge income opportunity for Smart Communications, which is charging about 4.5 cents per transaction"  7:59:58 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, August 09, 2004


e-business and development:  Information about several efforts in developing countries to use online catalogs and orders, information and travel services, and money transfers.  Includes links to appropriate technology suppliers in this area.  2:58:10 PM  permalink  

The FIVIMS Programme:  "Poverty Mapping is a joint initiative by FAO, UNEP and the CGIAR consisting of a network of institutions dedicated to: analyse and map the spatial distribution of poverty, produce and promote the use of poverty maps and shows linkages between poverty and food insecurity, the environment and development and to promote the use of poverty maps in policy making and targeting assistance. The initative has been funded as a thee-year project throught he Government of Norway, closing by the end of 2004. The poverty mapping initative is performed within FIVIMS, an Inter-agency initiative to promote information and mapping systems on food insecurity and vulnerability."  9:41:47 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, August 08, 2004


New Solar Tent Prototypes for US Army (June 16, 2004):   "Iowa Thin Film Technologies, Inc., has completed the development of integrated solar technology for three Army tent prototypes. The tents integrate the company's PowerFilm® flexible solar panels directly with the tent fabric. Iowa Thin Film Technologies says that it is the only company in the world that has developed this fabric integration solar technology."  Could be equally useful during disasters or in refugee camps.  9:47:55 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, August 06, 2004


China backs Nigeria rural comms:  "In the bid to provide cheap telephone services to rural communities, the Federal Government yesterday launched a rural telephony programme for the country for which it plans to spend $200 million (about N26.6 billion) in the next few years. The money is a loan package granted by the Chinese Government while the Federal Government will provide a counterpart funding of N2.8 billion...

The rural telephony programme will be delivered in three projects spread across 343 local government areas of the country. The three projects include Rural Radio Systems (RRS), which will be provided in 125 local government areas, Alcatel Shangai Bell (ASB) covering 108 local governments, and the ZTE, which will be provided in 110 local government areas.  ..out of the $200 million loan facility, 50 per cent would be committed to ABS while the other 50 per cent will spread across the other two projects under the rural telephony programme. 

He explained that the rural telephony programme would provide service in rural and under-served urban centres, local government areas through tele-centres and .. educational institutions.. "

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Zimbabwe prepares Internet controls:  "The Zimbabwe government is planning to acquire high-tech equipment from China for the purpose of bugging the internet. This is to enable it to interfere with the flow of information it considers subversive as well as the operations of independent internet based media outlets.  Authoritative sources within Posts and Telecommunications (PTC) and government circles revealed that the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) is already looking into ways of controlling internet communication as soon as the equipment arrives.

The whole of Zimbabwe has during the past weeks been experiencing intermittent internet break-downs, which PTC management had failed to explain, according to sources at the PTC.   'They merely said that there was work being done in upgrading or some security measures being implemented.  There are CIOs [agents] that seem to have been permanently stationed at Tel One (the state owned hub for internet providers) and were carrying out some surveys in the past weeks. We understand that there are some Internet Service Providers (ISP) who have agreed to cooperate with the CIOs and let them use their domains for the tests with samples of equipment brought from China,' a PTC source said.

Sources within the CIO said that the equipment from China is expected to be delivered next month. Government would push for the promulgation of a law allowing it to bug the internet for security reasons. President Robert Mugabe announced during the opening of parliament last week that government would introduce a bill in the house to give it powers to control communication systems for the sake of 'tightening state security'.  .. Tel One recently asked ISPs to sign commercial contracts obliging them to take 'all necessary measures' to prevent the transmission of illegal material on line."

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WRI Conference: Eradicating Poverty through Profit: Dec 12-14, 2004, San Francisco.  Program lists presenters and tracks on Connectivity, Energy and Agriculture, among other topics.  9:52:29 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, August 04, 2004


LeapFrog donating 20,000 books to Afghan women to learn basic health lessons in own languages:  "Twenty-thousand interactive women's health books, built with the LeapPad learning system technology of LeapFrog Enterprises, are en route to Afghanistan to help teach basic health care lessons .. The recipients are Afghan women, 80 percent of whom are illiterate .. They will also begin to learn to read using the device, just as many children have.

The popular technology-based learning device has been tailored for speakers of Dari and Pashto, the primary languages of Afghanistan. They will be able to use it to learn about personal health subjects including diet, childhood immunization, pregnancy, breastfeeding, sanitation and water boiling, treating injuries and burns, and disease prevention.  The [DHS] department, LeapFrog and several consultants for the company, including Dr. Najiba Zamani of Hayward, who had practiced medicine in an Afghan refugee camp, took 12 months to develop the material. The result: 350 items of recorded information on 19 personal health subjects that carefully take into account a host of cultural and religious considerations.

For example, reproduction is a culturally and religiously sensitive topic in the country. The solution: a page of text and a page of pictures with the analogy of growing carrots. Growing them too close together produces skinny and not-well- formed carrots that do not look good to eat, but if you space the carrots, they're plump and appetizing -- the lesson being it's better to space children rather than having them in rapid succession. "  US DHS provided $1.2m for content development and translation.

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daily link  Tuesday, August 03, 2004


Dialogue with the Grassroots: A collaborative project between Mountain Forum and Radio Sagarmatha in Nepal.  Interesting model of collaboration between an international NGO and community broadcasters to develop and deliver audio content in local languages.  The Mountain Forum is an interesting collection of people and institutions with many moderated email distribution lists.  1:14:26 PM  permalink  

Sustainable Resources:  "An International Forum Connecting People with Hands-on Solutions to World Poverty."  Boulder CO, Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2004 (plus pre- and post-conference workshops).  Keynotes by John Todd, A.T. Ariyaratne, William McDonough.

Unfortunately, it overlaps with Engineers for a Sustainable World - 2004 National Conference, Stanford CA, Sept 30-October 2, 2004.  Keynotes by William McDonough (busy guy!), and Jeffrey Sachs.

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daily link  Monday, August 02, 2004


SDSU MiTAP Home Page: "The MiTAP system is a research prototype for monitoring infectious disease outbreaks and other global threats. MiTAP focuses on providing timely global information access to analysts, medical experts and individuals involved in humanitarian assistance and relief work. Multiple information soures are automatically captured, filtered, summarized, and categorized into searchable newsgroups based on disease, region, information sources, person, and organization. .. The system currently processes thousands of articles daily, delivering up-to-date information to hundreds of users. Because MiTAP uses an intuitive news browser interface, users are able to use the system with little or no training."  11:46:04 PM  permalink  

Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 4:20:19 PM.
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