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How might we invest in computers for ourselves?

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  • Andrius Kulikauskas
    I have been looking for new work and writing proposals on how we might make better use of marginal Internet access. I share my chat with Greg Wolff of Unamesa
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 17, 2007
      I have been looking for new work and writing proposals on how we might
      make better use of marginal Internet access. I share my chat with Greg
      Wolff of Unamesa Association http://www.unamesa.org We worked for Greg
      on My Food Story http://www.myfoodstory.info

      Greg is very astute. He has keen business insight. He pointed out a few
      business angles that are very relevant for us. One is providing credit
      for our participants like Fred Kayiwa in places such as Uganda who don't
      have computers so they could purchase an inexpensive one. Greg offers to
      lend $1,000 at 15% if we can match that amount with another $1,000, if
      it serves 10 people at $200 each, if we make an effort to use Unamesa's
      projects TiddlyWiki and SharedRecords, and if I and Minciu Sodas cover
      any loan defaults with our consulting services.

      What he is alerting us to is that we should be able to find a way to
      invest in ourselves. It is reasonable for our African or Indian
      participants to generate 15% return on equipment such as a computer. It
      is reasonable for our laboratory to be able to cover for any loan
      defaults with a variety of services. And if we can do this, then there
      are many people in America who can invest money if they can reap 15%. So
      this is one system that we should think to perfect. We would be an
      alternative to http://www.kiva.org in that we would be an open system
      that any "independent thinker" might participate in.

      It also challenges us all to grow as entrepreneurs. Our participants can
      earn money:
      * by using their computers to offer local services
      * by doing knowledge work from around the world
      * by working on global initiatives
      And they can also save money by spending less time at the Internet cafes
      and working offline instead.

      It also points to projects that our lab can work on:
      * help develop local services (health, education, communications,
      business,...) and software for that
      * develop global knowledge work business opportunities (translation,
      website development, writing articles, analyzing documents,...)
      * find clients with global initiatives (collecting stories, doing
      research, growing local networks,...)
      * discover ways that we might work offline effectively

      What I ask now is that we think for a month or so how we might develop
      such a system that would work for us in different situations. We can be
      quite creative. For example, instead of sending money (and paying fees)
      I can send flash drives that our participants can sell (and make a
      profit which we might split). Instead of sending money out of Africa, we
      can have a way of recycling the money locally, and our lab can function
      as a "bank" that returns money to investors.

      What Greg is offering of special value is his own belief in what we are
      doing and can do, and his encouragement that we develop our business
      skills and business sense. He is also making clear that if we can get
      this to work, then it will grow with its own energy. It is very good for
      us to connect with him and benefit from his care and insight.

      The real challenge for me is to think through my own role. How can this
      fit with my own question of making a living? How can this help me
      provide for myself and not burden me with obligations? It will take me
      at least a month to think this through. I am looking for at least one
      large project to work on. For example, I will be writing a proposal to
      Lithuania's foreign ministry that I and our lab work for them in the
      Goro province of Afghanistan to help organize independent thinkers there
      and make better use of "marginal Internet access" and even Greg's ideas
      above. But Greg always encourages me to build a business on small
      projects, so I will think about that here, too. That includes making
      money from exporting flash drives, computer parts, finding knowledge
      work, sponsors for stories, and so on.

      In my letter below I discussed a device that I would like to see built,
      namely a "flash drive editor" so that a person could have a simple
      monitor to read the text files (like email) in their flash drive, and
      use a standard computer keyboard to edit them, and share content with a
      second flash drive. I will pursue this further. I will suggest different
      solutions and we will try them out. However, here I think we are talking
      about something reliable for work, such as an old laptop or inexpensive
      computer. As we think about this, please let us know:

      * What is the least expensive used computer that you can buy? How much
      does it cost?
      * what is the least expensive new computer that you can buy? How much
      does it cost?
      * What is the least expensive laptop that you can buy? How much does it
      * What kind of computer do you want to buy? How much does it cost?
      * What kind of services would you provide for the people in your area?
      How much money could you earn?
      * What kind of work could you do for people around the world? Do you
      know anybody who does such work? How much do they earn?
      * How much does a TV cost?

      Josephat, Samwel and all, let's chat about all this at our next chat, yes?


      Andrius Kulikauskas
      Minciu Sodas
      +370 (699) 30003
      Vilnius, Lithuania

      Andrius: Hi Greg, I have an idea that I wonder if I might pursue through
      Unamesa (and that might interest Ricoh). I have done some research on
      creating Flash Drive Editors
      http://www.worknets.org/wiki.cgi?WordProcessor and I think they would
      have an enormous impact in the developing world, wherever there is
      marginal Internet access. The technology is straightforward and they
      could easily cost 100 USD and ultimately 20 USD to have a display for
      editing text files and sharing text files to which you would link up two
      flash drives and a standard computer keyboard. There already exist
      digital picture frames with USB for $70. What I propose is to pursue
      this technology (perhaps with the help of Ricoh) in a way so that the
      patents would belong to Unamesa Association. This technology could be
      used for collecting food stories, writing health blogs in the field, and
      subsequent versions could be used to send SMS, emails, attached files
      through local wireless networks. I will try to find a place at your wiki
      to correspond with you regarding this.
      Greg: Hi Andrius - TiddlyWiki on a flash drive works great as an editor.
      … I've supported a few experiments in Venezuala favella's with this
      approach (generally use PC's in telecenters). One addition for "editing"
      away from a PC is to use paper, pencil, and digital camera (use an SD /
      USB combo that works in a camera). A little plugin in the tiddlywiki
      finds the images and displays them in the editor -- kind of like a
      visual blog. Easy to augment with audio/video as well. Best part is no
      need for special hardware -- total cost of system is just cheap
      camera/cellphone + SD card.
      Andrius: Thank you, Greg!
      … I will look into this.
      … But the camera costs 150 USD+, yes? although perhaps we can find used
      ones on eBay for 50+? This sounds good for uploading pictures. But how
      could this be used for reading emails?
      Greg: Camera costs fall extremely quickly ... and yes, secondary markets
      make them even cheaper.
      … For reading the wiki (and email embedded in tiddlywiki) you could 1)
      print it out and/or 2) turn each tiddler/email into an image which can
      be viewed on the camera. Same code that does sync could generate the
      .png versions of the text items.
      Andrius: I think printing it out is possible only in exceptional cases
      due to cost. I don't know if reading text on a camera is realistic...
      but I had a similar idea with digital picture frames, they have dropped
      in price to about 70 USD and they are 7 inch diagonals.
      … And also that is why I am wondering if there is not an opportunity for
      a manufacturer to make a very similar product that would include our
      needs - and potentially an outlet for a standard keyboard (or USB
      keyboard) and potentially the ability to send SMS/emails/attached files
      by wireless and/or to a cell phone - possibly to otehr similar devices -
      to build local networks
      … Is this a situation where Unamesa intellectual property ownership (of
      any arising patents) might provide a proper context for work with a
      … An alternative to reading text on a camera image would be to read text
      on a cell phone and try to find a cell phone / keyboard that would work
      well for that.
      Greg: Yes, UnaMesa could "own" the design. However, the difficulty and
      cost of producing a design and actually manufacturing a product is quite
      large. You might do better to take that same money and simply buy the
      lowest cost laptop (or cpu + display + keyboard + power source) you can
      find on the (secondary) market.
      … By the way, special-purpose wordprocessors used to be very popular in
      Japan. They may already have products on the market which do almost what
      you need. I have not looked into this market in detail in the last 10
      years. However, I do believe the cell phone is the more likely success
      path for you. The advantages of having audio input/output is large for
      populations that do not speak English.
      Maybe the thing to do is to couple the purchase of very cheap cell
      phones with a village "hub" or "libararian" -- the local person who is
      literate enough to type. The librarian could lease tablet PC's the same
      way that phone ladies in Bangladesh lease cell phones and resell
      typing/web services. This makes a lot of sense, especially for the newer
      wifi handsets. The design for that Librarian kiosk -- essentially the
      software package-- is definitely something that UnaMesa could support
      and hold in the public trust.
      Andrius: Greg, thank you! The lowest cost computer or laptop is 200 USD
      to 400 USD depending. So for us it would make a real difference to have
      a device that cost 100 USD or 50 USD or ultimately 20 USD. I'm reporting
      our real needs from the field - supported with excitement from our
      African participants - and am naively surprised to find them hardly
      appreciated where I look on the Internet. Our needs are very simple -
      most basically, to be able to read and write emails offline so that once
      a week they could be retrieved or delivered by foot to an Internet
      center. I don't think a cell phone can be used to read hundreds of
      emails or even write a full length email. I have learned that there are
      monochrome displays in the West that are used to show supermarket
      information http://www.zbddisplays.com This is all that we need for a
      text editor. How could a company like Ricoh (or Coby or Sharp) become
      interested to create a simple device to see how it is used? Such a basic
      inexpensive device is a foundation for offline file sharing networks and
      global support that enable the rolling out of all kinds of business
      opportunities including wireless networks and the kiosks you mention.
      … We have quite a few participants in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania who don't
      have a computer of their own nor access to an offline computer. They pay
      at Internet cafes to participate. We don't have the funds to buy them
      computers, although we try in different ways and succeed over time.
      Greg: You could also get an old PALM organizer and an optional fold out
      keyboard. Works for email, is mobile, etc. Just not sure which models
      support removable memory.
      Andrius: Our participants are literate enough so I don't see the value
      of a tablet pc as greater than that of a laptop for them. I do like your
      idea of pursuing how they might charge for services that they might offer.
      Greg: Or get a small PC that hooks up to a TV...
      Andrius: Yes I have been listing such ideas (and using your ideas!)
      here: http://www.worknets.org/wiki.cgi?WordProcessor
      Greg: We can figure out how to front the money for the PC if they pay
      back over course of 12 months with $$ and/or labor/work (e.g. like the
      grameen phone program).
      Andrius: Probably an early step is to used old computer monitors, they
      are available for about 50 USD in Africa to my understanding.
      … That fronting the money would be a good system, yes.
      Greg: TV's are everywhere and cheap...
      Andrius: How difficult is it to use a TV as a monitor?
      … Not every TV can be used, is that right?
      Greg: I'll set aside $1000 of my own funds to test a pilot if you:
      Andrius: But there are TVs for sale in the US for 15 USD.
      … But I think TVs are difficult to ship and best purchased locally.
      … These kinds of skills I think are useful for them to get to learn.
      Greg: 1. match with $1000 of other funds (e.g. 2000 == 10 machines), 2.
      try to use TiddlyWiki and sharedrecords as part of the base platform,
      and 3. gurantee the loans by labor from your lab (e.g. if the recipient
      does not repay costs + 15% over the course of 1 year, your lab provides
      the equivalent in consulting services to me)
      Andrius: Yes, I think you are right it would be good if we could develop
      a system for fronting the money. And to develop options, as you suggest:
      1) A system for earning money locally, 2) Knowledge work from around the
      world, 3) Local initiatives of global interest including collecting
      stories, health work, civics work.
      … My and our lab's participation would also include: 1) creating
      software for them to be able to download/upload their work efficiently,
      2) creating software for the services, 3) organizing work from global
      initiatives, 4)...?
      … That's attractive.
      … May I share your offer through our group? And then we can check on
      prices for equipment and our lab members can help me think this through.
      … Also, I have to try to fit this in with a bigger project because it
      will be responsibility on my part. So your $1,000 would be a loan for
      one year and you expect 15% in return, yes?
      Greg: Yes, and I'll funnel the monthly repayments back in for buying
      additional machines so the system can feed on itself. (We can discuss
      exact amounts and how many years before the system should become self
      sustaining so I can take money out)
      … Key is that repayments must happen on monthly schedule (maybe at time
      email is synchronized)
      Andrius: How do you imagine they send the repayments? They will cycle
      them locally? And then they will send by Western Union? Or more likely I
      will cover for them?
      … Western union is usually about 20 USD for 100 USD and about 90 USD for
      1000 USD plus they take about 3% currency conversion.
      … We have also been sending personal checks.
      Greg: I'll discuss this with you next week....gotta go
      Andrius: thank you take care!
      … this is great
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