ICT4D Meetup, SXSW2010

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 02/03/2011 - 09:50

ICT4D Meetup, SXSW2010

The ICT4D meetup in Austin during SXSW2010

Taking ICTs to the Grassroots

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 04/23/2009 - 10:39

This month's Technology Salon approached last-mile connectivity problems from an entrepreneurship standpoint. What are the barriers to creating small, possibly local-only telcos using various technologies, and how can those scale through investment, international development assistance, or franchising?

The on-the-ground situation is good connectivity in urban and peri-urban areas, often including land-line support as well as mobile coverage. As you get further out into rural areas, coverage dwindles; without populations large enough to support (currently) the cost of installation and maintenance of a cell tower, the large firms are not interested. The telecom industry is often dominated by 3-4 large companies, often heavily regulated and/or in cahoots with the government.

OLPC and F/LOSS enthusiast Dr. Sameer Verma, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at San Francisco State University has been beating the XO drum in Jamaica with this presentation to the University of the West Indies/Mona (UWI) and at the ICT4DJamaica conference (with great photos) last September.

You probably already know Sameer from either his role as organizer of SF-OLPC or his OLPCNews guest entry earlier this year, OLPC Jamaica, and the beginnings of a pilot project in August Town, a community near UWI, a stone's throw away from where I lived while in Jamaica.

I am currently working on developing a client application for Sahana, which can also act as a standalone data collecting tool for field reporters and people working in the process of disaster relief & management. What is Sahana? "...Free

$10 laptop in India?

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 10:08

I'll believe it when I see it, but the Times of India is reporting that the promised $10 laptop is closer to a reality, but right now it's as real as the crank on the original XO design.

Who knew cardboard was so exciting?

I'm growing weary of promises for new / better / cheaper technologies for ICT4D - whether it's the pure-touch-screen tomfoolery of the XO-2 or new designs from India (remember that they've been promising this since at least late 2006, and the XO-2 has been a diversionary tactic starting in 2007 and formally announced May of last year.

We're missing the point here, as usual. ICT4D is not about the ICT, it's about the "D" - Development. Use whatever technology is best suited for the problem at hand, don't wait on the next big thing or spend money to develop it, at least starting out. This is why mobile phones are such an attractive tool - amazing install base, even in the developing world, low cost, low-power, but provides limited connectivity and 2-way (limited) data flow.

India's $20 Laptop

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 02/03/2009 - 12:33

Revisiting the "Magic Box" ICT4D Case Studies

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 11:27

Data from Informa indicates that by 2010 half of the planet's population will have access to the Internet through a mobile device.  Should you make your website mobile?  We have heard recently from a number of organizations contemplating whether they

The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 05:50

This entry is part four in the series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I here, then Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings, and Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution.

The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

The beginning of 2009 isn't going so well for the OLPC Foundation over at 1CC, with layoffs and very disappointing G1G1 sales.

To (finally) close up my "I want to believe" series on how things went wrong, and how things could go very right with the OLPC dream, let me offer some resolutions for the Foundation to consider for 2009.

I will decide on a mission statement
That is, "I will accept that OLPC is and has always been a laptop project, not an education project". And that's OK, if presented as such. The world needs a laptop like the XO, and it can still help improve education. But let's agree that the XO is a laptop and not an education miracle, and treat it as such - a wonderfully well-designed and flexible tool that can be used in many contexts in international development projects and in more quotidian ways as well. This opens up more "markets" for the XO, widens the potential scope, and creates a much larger and diverse user-base who can benefit from and contribute back to the ongoing development of the XO.

I will stop overreaching

Our field has discovered that mobile phones are useful tools for collecting data in the field.   As a result, there is an abundance of mobile data collection applications and projects. Unlike bulk messaging and general information services that are

This is the continuation of my journal on getting mapping to work for Global Youth Service Day in Drupal, which starts with an overview of maps and drupal, and continues with a discussion of modules, then talks about getting content into the map.

Remember back in Part II where I mentioned the Views and Panels module?

Views gives you very precise control over what shows up on new maps you can show up. Even better, use can create "arguments" that can be passed through the URL to further define what shows up. For example, I created a view whose base URL was /gysd/map/ -- if you go there, you get a listing of years to choose from (do you want to see events from GYSD 2008? GYSD 2009?) If you click on 2008, the url is now /gysd/map/2008 - and you see all the events for that year. I then created some other map options to list by country, state, and so on, so there's another path that goes like this: /gysd/map-by-location/2008/us/FL . If I cut that one off at 2008/, I'd see a listing of all the countries I had data for. If I cut it at us/ , I'd see all the regions (states) with data. You could also set a map up with zip codes, taxonomies, and so on. Drupal 6's Views2 is an order of magnitude more powerful that Views1, and alone it's a reason to upgrade to D6.

To create a map view, you have to first (after installing the views modules above, and creating a new view) select GMap View from the Page view set of options (under View Type). This enables the map functionality. I put information into the Header section to guide users in the navigation process.

Holiday Computer Shopping

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 12:14

People always come to me for advice on computers and technology options over the giftmas season. To head this off somewhat at the pass, let me remind everyone that my advice from the end of last year's season still stands: get a Mac. Really.

It's been a while since I posted on my Drupal Mapping project, and that's partially because I've been spending some time getting a great site that aggregates and re-publishes news for the volunteer service world together at ServiceWire.org using Drupal 6, FeedAPI, Views, and some other fun tricks - you can follow it on Twitter at @ServiceWire - it posts about once an hour or so with news about volunteer service and service-learning.

Anyhow, my experience working with D6 and the newest Views module have convinced me that as long as most of the tools I need for the map are available on D6, it's time to move. So I'm rebuilding from scratch (bad luck with upgrades of recent, and I'd like to apply and cement my recently gained knowledge). Unfortunately, the Node_import module - key to a lot of the testing I want to do on the map and views - is not quite ready, so I'm waiting for that to release an update that works with Location and CCK, and in a holding pattern until then.

Initial reports are now showing up on news sites; this very light-on-details article on BBC seems to be the first up on major news sites - but it's been burning up the SMS and immediate-update "microblog" site, Twitter, for over an hour.

We're seeing a human tragedy and the slow emergence of an amazingly powerful social tool - real time citizen reporting. People are sending in reports, pictures, and videos of on-the-ground events as they unfold, scooping all major news sources - because what traditional media outlet could possibly keep up with a reaction time measured merely by the speed of information?

Old media has a never-ending struggle to maintain its relevance - this is going to be big. Where were you when "CNN Headline News" became outdated?

Update Speaking of CNN being outdated; Global Voices now has an article on Mumbai up, based largely on Twitter sources

Microsoft, the "third world" and anti-virus

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 10:27

For the past year or so, I've repeatedly been trying to bring up what I see as a huge, gaping hole in any project which uses Microsoft products for an ICT4Development rollout - computer viruses. Windows XP, when connected to the Internet sans protection, lasts as few as four minutes before becoming infected, and rarely more than a day. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of OLPC XOs running Windows (with no mention of anti-virus software to date), and you have a nightmare scenario pretty rapidly.

The much-debated VitalWave TCO paper we discussed at the World Bank, which argued that the higher cost of Linux administrators balanced out licensing costs for discounted Microsoft and anti-virus software, even admitted the significant costs of purchasing and maintaining a subscription to anti-virus tools

If Microsoft wants to continue to capture the developing world market, this is going to be a barrier. They can drop their own licensing costs for the XP Starter Edition (which at this point is zero cost to them) down, and hand out older Office software; but the initial and subscription costs for anti-virus software are not (directly) under MS's control. Regardless, having anti-virus protection directly impacts the functionality of the device - if installed, A-V can slow a less powerful computer down to a crawl during a scan and at startup, but the consequences of not having it can render the system absolutely useless.

So it comes as little surprise that Microsoft has announced a free anti-virus software for XP and Vista that targets lower-powered systems (cough, like the OLPC?) to address both these problems and lower the cost barrier for adopting MS:

Drupal and Maps III: Getting Dirty.

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 05:31

This is the continuation of my journal on getting mapping to work for Global Youth Service Day in Drupal, which starts with an overview of maps and drupal, and continues with a discussion of modules.

So now we have the basic setup and are ready to start on the map - placeholders for content, maps, and actual content, and it's time to forge ahead with improving the user experience and information architecture (at the same time, even!).

I also just came across another blog article at around the same level of detail that covers other aspects of Drupal, which I haven't touched on much here for a more articles-rich site. Check it out: http://dejitarob.wordpress.com/2007/11/26/how-i-used-drupal-to-build-tam... . Along similar lines, I stumbled across a series by IBM that gives a surprisingly clear overview of the next level in to Drupal geekery, without flooding you with information: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/ibm/library/i-osource5/

TCO for low-cost computing in Education

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 11:55

The video archive of last Thursday's discussion at the World Bank on the total cost of ICT4E projects is now online at the Bank's eDevelopment thematic group blog

Tomorrow: Total Cost of Operation and ICT4Education

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 11/05/2008 - 16:24

Come by for a lively discussion on TCO (that I get to start out!)

From the world bank:
A World Bank ICT and Education Community of Interest Discussion, in coordination
the e-Development Thematic Group, infoDev and the DC-based Technology Salon

How much does it really cost to introduce and sustain computers in schools?
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): A Study of Models of Affordable Computing for
Schools in Developing Countries


Submitted by Jon on Tue, 11/04/2008 - 08:37

If you see irregularities, call 1-866-our-vote for help and to report problems, and follow the current reports at OurVoteLive. Text your zip to Twitter Vote Report to send in polling problems.

Now - let's see some change!

I'll be leading the discussion at the World Bank this Thursday with a presentation by Vital Wave Consulting on their recent TCO calculations for low-cost computing models (both lab- and 1:1 computing approaches).

Come by or watch the event live online! (rsvp below).

A World Bank ICT and Education Community of Interest Discussion (EduTech), in
collaboration with the World Bank e-Development Thematic Group, infoDev and the
Technology Salon invite you to a seminar/live webcast:

How much does it really cost to introduce and sustain computers in schools?
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): A Study of Models of Affordable Computing for
Schools in Developing Countries

Drupal and GYSD Maps II: Modules in Play

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 10/23/2008 - 14:02

Series: Overview | Modules | Structure and Taxonomies | On Drupal 6 | Functionality

Drupal by itself is pretty powerful, but where it really shines is when you start plugging in the modules which have been developed for it. There are hundreds (if not thousands), and the first mistake I made on my first Drupal install was to just start clicking away before I'd learned the ropes. Luckily, this is what sandbox installs are made from, so a few database drops and folder deletions later I could start from scratch (again).

To get this all working, I now present you with the modules I activated or installed for the map project:

Series: Overview | Modules | Structure and Taxonomies | On Drupal 6 | Functionality

This is my "journal" of work in creating a user-modifiable map of the Global Youth Service Day events taking place around the world. The goal was to create a map that staff non-techies could manage, non-techie youth and organizations from around the world could add to, and still (a) work and (b) be friendly to the techies managing it, allowing for mass import and so on.

GYSD 2008 Event Map
The GYSD Map in progress!

This is the first part of a series of entries (four or five probably). This first one covers the overview and core software I'm using, and some discussion of why I've chosen what I have. The next entry will cover modules and initial configuration work.

This guide is going to be a bit on the techie side, and I presume at least a bit of Drupal and webhosting experience when going through it, but nothing you can't google for help on from the community. As a caveat, I'm also relatively new to drupal, this is only my third foray into the more complex worlds it offers.

The latest OLPC Upgrade

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/21/2008 - 10:57

OLPC upgrade process
OLPC Upgrading - like an old defrag!Last Thursday, I upgraded my OLPC over some beers -- sometimes, the best (and worst) ways to really test technology's limits is while slightly inebriated. The upgrade (using a Microsoft Unlimited Potenial USB stick gimme as the boot USB.

The upgrade went surprisingly smoothly, and it even included a good chunk of activities, which saved a big post-upgrade time sink in Update.1

Linux Audio Server amusement

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 10/20/2008 - 10:28

I'm currently using the laptop as the interim solution / testbed for the LAS idea. It's struggling to run amarok, but works nicely with qiv running a slideshow on top of it, usually.

Social Media and ICT in Kenyan Agriculture

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/14/2008 - 19:00

CropScience.org has a great paper on the potential use of social media and Internet access for rural farmers. What sets it apart from most Social Media for Development writings is that is takes a serious look at what must be in place for a project of this scope to work.

It compares farmers in Uganda and Australia, which is less ridiculous than it sounds. The Australian farmers - with training and a significantly higher support network (from government regulations all the way to average numbers of computers/100 people;

A Linux Audio Server

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/14/2008 - 16:19

I admit it. I have a Windows laptop at home. For a very long time, it was my primary system.

For the past year or so, I've been using a Linux laptop as my daily system, reverting to the Windows system for reliable video and HD audio -- basically, it was my media system, which just happened to also have all my email, files, and whatnot.

SMSing political questions

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 10/09/2008 - 11:38

This is pure brilliance, courtesy BoingBoing:

This giant billboard, posing hard questions for Sarah Palin, was lit up across the road from her LA rally site on Saturday: you could send your own Palin questions to it via SMS. Nice technology use from the California Dems.

What's old is new again

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 10/09/2008 - 11:23

Thin Clients - a.k.a. "dumb terminals" have a long history in computing, and tend to come up every few years (seems to be a ten year cycle) as the Grand Solution to Desktop Computing, promising mind-numbingly easy centralized configuration and software maintenance, simplified licensing, and low-cost, low-profile desktop terminals that provide enough power for almost all users without wasting resources.

Venezuela Chooses the Intel Classmate over the OLPC XO - kinda

Submitted by Jon on Sun, 10/05/2008 - 09:18

The Chavez likes Intel -- but not Windows? (BBC)The BBC is reporting that Venezuela has ordered a million laptops "based on the Intel Classmate" in partnership with Portugal:

Venezuela is buying the portable computers as part of a $3bn (£1.66bn) bilateral trade deal with Portugal that also covers housing and utilities. Portugal is manufacturing the blue and white laptops under licence from Intel and are broadly based on the chip maker's design of its Classmate computer. [...]

The deal with Venezuela follows an agreement between Intel and Portugal, signed in August for Classmate machines.

Under that deal Portugal agreed to buy 500,000 machines to enable every six-to-10-year-old in the country to get one.

It sounds like this is an extension of Portugal's original tender for 500,000 laptops, but whether the hardware changed discussed are merely the same ones already mentioned or not is uncertain, but the article does hint that it will be further hardware-customized for Venezuela. The BBC article describes the modified Classmate as:

The 3G OLPC Laptop

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/26/2008 - 15:15

That's three grand, not third generation. A (possibly biased) report by Vital Wave pegs the 5 year TCO of the OLPC at $2,700.

Tech Salon: Information Sharing and Development

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/26/2008 - 14:49

This week's Technology Salon was on information sharing and ways to use social media and peer-generated content in international development. Less of a lecture and more of a roundtable discussion, lots of interesting ideas were floated, from using Peace Corps volunteers as on-the-ground information resources to running contests for ways to use technology in development scenarios.

Microsoft4Dev Conference Wrap-up, Day 2

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/24/2008 - 14:30

Day 2 was slightly less enervating regarding the blatant Microsoft plugs (only about 40 direct plugs, compared to the first day, where I lost count)

Edward Granger-Happ presented on NetHope, a consortia or co-op of NPOs and NGOs to share consulting and support service around ICT to maximize the ICT impact while minimizing the costs - NPOs are mission and not profit driven, and rarely is the mission technology-related. This led into the next panel on Making the Case for ICT4D.

ICT4D Conference Wrap-up - Day 1

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/24/2008 - 14:24

The conference opened with presentations by three hard hitting visionaries -- Counsellor Lisa Chiles, the senior most career officer at USAID; Michael Rawding from Microsoft's Unlimited Potential, and Ambassador David Gross, the U.S. Coordinator for information technology and foreign policy. Chiles provided an overview of the promises of technology, focusing on finding low-hanging fruits in education where a modest, well-directed investment can dramatically help an underfunded education system. Rawding spoke on the Microsoft roadmap for developing countries; a mix of market expansion and market creation (I mean, philanthropic work). Gross reminded us that the world is changing in unpredictable ways due to technology, and creating a global, mobile workforce where people are no longer (I'd argue, slightly less) bound to grow up to do the same work their parents do.

The rest of the day was largely panels - on ICT for disaster preparedness and relief, mobile banking, PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships) eHealth.

ICT and disaster response was mainly a show-and-tell of various tools and websites (all leveraging Microsoft technology). Absent was any discussion or mention of Sahana (an open source, quick-deployment disaster information management system) or the amazing work done using ning.com (Web 2.0 and quasi-open-source) to provide coordinated responses and information about the hurricanes this season.

Quick ways to go Mobile

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/19/2008 - 10:13

MobileActive has a great entry on a handful of low cost, low-barrier ways to go mobile, from Twitter to desktop "guerilla" SMS campaigns (best run in developing nations with more lenient SMS rules). Having taken down Jamaica's email->SMS gateway (...a few times...) with a homebrew system for Peace Corps Volunteers to share activity and security tips, it's great to see some better programmed and managed systems (finally!).

The XO Files Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/17/2008 - 05:50

This entry is the third in the four-part series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe" Read Part I here, and
Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution

Concern over the original distribution plan was what got me writing for OLPCNews.com. The belligerent anti-pilot-project attitude, the requirement to buy the laptops in lots of 1million units, and the hushed discussions about the costs beyond the "$100" laptop. What has OLPC done and what should it continue to change to make XO deployment smoother and more successful?

The XO Files Part II: The New 4PC Market, and its Failings

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 03:33

This entry is part two in the series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I about the Laptop Project / Education Project disconnect here.

Part II: The New 4PC Market, and its Failings

The XO Files: I Want To Believe
The XO Files: I Want To Believe

The OLPC XO is a path-breaking, jaw-dropping piece of technology. And not just any traditional, consumer-focused (faster, shinier) way, but in specific and strategic areas that make the laptop perfect for developing world situations where it might be damp or dusty, the sun might be your light source at school, and you probably don't have reliable electricity at home. It happens to be that those same constraints also produce technological solutions that make the XO attractive to a certain set of users who want a no-frills, but highly functional laptop (like world travelers), as I mentioned in Part I -- it's lightweight, rugged, and low-power (solar chargeable), but powerful enough to connect to faint wifi, play movies, or review digital photos.

The XO Files: I Want to Believe

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/05/2008 - 23:30

This entry is the beginning of a four part series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I here, then Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings, Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution, and Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC.

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