Tech4Dev: What's in your backpack?

Inveno's ICT_Works blog recently advertised their awesome addition to the ICT4D world - a solid toolkit to carry to the field.

I made a much lower-tech personal version many years ago, as an IT Peace Corps volunteer. Mine of course was (a) very low cost and (b) designed to travel stuck in side-pocket of a backpack on a crowded country-bound bus. OK, it was really just a few screwdrivers, a 3-2 prong electrical adapter, and a flashlight.

I also always carried around:

1 ~3' crossover cable or crossover adapter (no faster way to test networking!)

1 multi-head cable tool (the kind with a core USB retractable cable and a pouch of other cable-heads to turn it into a phone, network, mini/micro/device USB, firewire, etc. -- easy way to carry around "the right cable for the job" when you're not sure what today's job might be)

My favorite toolkit items were more around the software end of the spectrum, though:

1 bootable USB stick with DamnSmallLinux and a PortableApps Suite

1 bootable floppy with WinXP/NT admin password reset tool

1 BartPE bootable XP CD with anti-virus and diagnostic tools

1 Knoppix or other Linux LiveCD that will work on a wide range of hardware and let you extract files from the HDD

1 CD and USB stick of common free/shareware/OSS software tools - anti-virus, various anti-mal/spy-ware, registry cleaners, zip/archive software, OpenOffice, PDF creation tools, and so on.

The Secret Sauce in Technology For Development isn't the Tech.

Ushahidi's Patrick Meier has a fantastic graph of deployment time for Ushahidi's amazing crisis-mapping solution (which has been deployed for such diverse projects as Haiti post-earthquake, the Gulf Coast post-BP, and DC's 2009/10 "Snowmageddon"):

The simplicity of Ushahidi setup sometimes leads to some crestfallen administrators.

Just because you bought a domain name and ran the Ushahidi installer doesn’t mean that anyone is going to use they system — and even if you somehow get a lot of reports, you might not be relevant to the existing systems [...] Ushahidi is only 10% of solution.”

I'd posit that this 10%/90% division applies to any and all "tech" solutions to real-world problems.

The technology is increasingly (perhaps it always has been) the easy part. It's a shiny, tangible product with clear "milestones" of in development, in testing, deployed, working. Lots of happy checkboxes for any M&E report, and photo-ops to generate great press and build excitement and community around a technology.

Put your technology where your solution will be

The Technology Salon on SMS4D covered a lot of ground in a few hours, but the reverberating sentiment was the power of mobile technology at the local/regional level. Part of this is a bit of sour-grapes with the hard challenges of scaling mobile solutions globally, which is as much a problem of cross-provider functionality as it is capacity. The value however is in reminding us that development solutions - while they may be globally replicable - are rooted locally.

The Technology Salon went through an inspiring round of implementations and use cases of on-the-ground efforts using texts in cross-sector development situations. Microfinance solutions, tying the payments to the notifications via mpayment were the purview of CreditSMS, lowering the costs of each loan by dramatically reducing transactional costs, allowing MFI account managers to deal with the exceptions (late/missedpayments) instead of burning time tracking payments to records and managing each interaction. mHealth, a favorite topic of Tech Salons had use cases in using SMS to replace timely and costly travel to report medicine stock levels and local disease trends, but also mobile-centric medical records management and remote, low-cost diagnostics tools, all using SMS:Medic.

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Ubuntu 10: Worth the wait

Just a quick note: Ubuntu 10 totally rocks. Better digital video and audio support (via HDMI and toslink) than Windows 7, slicker than Mac OSX with a great dock and productivity-enhancer with gnome-do/docky, tons of crazy user interface enhancements, a smooth 3D desktop... the list goes on. It's amazing, and it's open source.

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Going Nuts over the Value of Local Production

For some background, I highly recommend Alanna Shaikh's post here: http://aidwatchers.com/2010/04/the-plumpy%E2%80%99nut-dustup/ and follow-up here: http://aidwatchers.com/2010/05/the-plumpy%E2%80%99nut-dust-up-nutriset%… . In short, a French company is defending their patent on a super-nutritious "therapeutic" food called Plumpy'nut against a lawsuit by some US NGOs (who could have licensed it, but are instead trying to break the patent)

My guy reaction was anti-intellectual property, as I strongly believe that our current IP schemes tend to do more damage than good. That being said, I think Nutriset is seemingly doing the right thing here - forcing support for local production. Let us presume nothing but sparkly, unicorn-bedazzled thoughts about Nutriset for a moment:

Goal 1: Provide a therapeutic food product
Goal 2: Ensure quality standards (duh)
Goal 3: Make it widely available and politically tenable to "recipient" governments
Goal 4: Don't make things worse locally by undercutting the economy

You could open the patent, post the ingredients and production methods and encourage everyone to go after it. This would support goals 1,3 and 4, with a risk of opportunists really wrecking #2, anyone could claim that they were using the authentic plumpynut recipe even while their product is unhealthy at best or outright deadly at worst.

Waiting for Ubuntu 10

I finally broke down and bought a laptop, as my existing bevy of half-working laptops is now seriously impacting my ability to actually get things done, as opposed to yak shaving in order to fix the random problem of the day.

Here's a quick tour of my harem of laptops:

A "desktop replacement" system that was cutting edge ... seven years ago - which is surprisingly still my "prime" system.

The "get me through grad school" system that was grabbed off of DellAuction ... four years back, which now has a hard drive which smells of impending FAIL and a hinge which is held together with metal glue

My indefatigable Dell Latitude which I got at the liquidation auction of Agillion in 1999, which traveled with me from Austin to Venezuela to Jamaica to DC, and has had Win2k, 98SE and various flavors of Linux running on it.

Last but not least, my OLPC, which I have a soft spot for, but it's not exactly super-fast itself)

The laptop (a Lenovo Ideapad) has arrived, pre-installed with Windows7, but I am doing my best to not use it much. I'm waiting for Ubuntu 10 to come out tomorrow and see what craziness I can get into there.

My get-me-through-grad-school system is currently running Ubuntu, but isn't quite up to the task of my expectations (I love running all the eye-candy available with "Compiz", which you can see an old demo of at youtube.

Nevermind: OLPC shouldn't sell the XO laptop Jon Tue, 04/13/2010 - 12:00

OLPC News recently ran a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek article on How to buy an XO Laptop, which mainly pointed people to eBay. Which is sad, but eBay has long been the best place to get your hands on an OLPC if you're not a large government, international development agency, or cutting edge developer.

SXSW 2010

I made it to South By Southwest this year, where I immersed myself in innovative ideas for open-sourced businesses, technology design for good, social media for change, and the general awesome insanity of SXSW.

The absolute best part of this conference is the new world of twitter-powered discussions. At a talk yesterday, the entire Q&A session was run over twitter. The presenters paused a few questions in and asked for a show of hands of anyone who was not using twitter. In a large crowded ballroom, no one raised their hands. Every session ends up having a running, silent conversation and collaborative note-taking.

You can follow my notes in twitter at http://twitter.com/joncamfield, and see what events I went to (or was trying to decide between) at http://my.sxsw.com/user/schedule/joncamfield

On Sunday afternoon, I worked with CrisisCamp DC's Heather Blanchard and @HastingsCJ to organize a meetup for ICT4D practitioners at the Gingerman, which turned our great. Lots of faces were put to twitter-names, connections were made and beer was consumed.

Few, if any, tweet-ups will compare, however, to Monday night's Good Capitalist party that Ashoka's Changemakers co-hosted with a variety of other social entrepreneurship groups. Without a dime of marketing money spent, it had 2000 RSVPs and over 600 people who made it by to network, learn about social entrepreneurship, and enjoy the wonderful outdoor Austin weather..

The OLPC Vaporware Product Line Vs. the iPad

olpc 3.0
iPad or OLPC?

Update: the EE Times has a great, similar article on the OLPC fantasy vs Apple reality.

So, the XO-2 has moved from promise to hope to scrap, and has made way for a tablet-style, iPhoneiPad-like XO-3 (Read about the 3.0 model at Forbes and Engadget, with the now-in-production 1.5 and the in-planning 1.75 XOs, both using the current design but with faster processors.

OLPC, and Nick Negroponte in particular, love to use conceptual designs to create excitement. This works great in normal, commercial development a few times. Once you miss a few targets, people react very negatively too it, even if you do finally release a product. Why do you think Apple pairs announcements with already-planned release schedules?