London meeting - Ricardo, Graham, Pamela, Peter?
- Hi Graham, Ricardo, Pamela and all,
I'm taking the lead to organize our London worknets meeting. I am greatly
encouraged by Prodomos Tsiavos enthusiastic support. Certainly, I ask for
your participation in the UK, as much as you can.
I must make clear that there are several different meetings taking place
and so we should appreciate the differences.
* My main interest is that we - participants of Minciu Sodas lab and
Worknets network - have the opportunity to meet each other in person, just
as we did in March, 2008 in Vilnius, Lithuania
* The occassion that we have for this is the meeting of the European
Union's thematic network COMMUNIA being organized by Prodomos Tsiavos in
London on March 26-27.
Minciu Sodas receives 4800 EUR a year for travel (flights, tickets,
accomodation, meals) to attend these meetings. But I make clear that the
COMMUNIA meeting shouldn't be our main goal. Rather, I look at this as a
chance for us to get together. Therefore I want to organize our own
meeting so that we can get to know each other better and make progress on
* Furthermore, immediately after the COMMUNIA meeting will be a meeting of
the Open Knowledge Foundation and also of Oekonux, it seems those meetings
may be merged together. And I expect that there will be opportunity for
us to add our own meetings in an "open space" manner that will allow
others to mix and mingle with us, and us with them. That works well for
us and it works well for the organizers because we add our good energy.
And some of us (Franz Nahrada, Marcin Jakubowski, Vinay Gupta) are flying
in for the Oekonux meeting as well.
Graham, therefore please understand that the topics of our meeting are
completely independent of COMMUNIA. We will discuss whatever any of us is
interested in (including DIY Solar).
My feeling is that it's more important for Africans to visit the West than
the other way around. It's more important that they learn about the West
- how it functions - than Westerners learn about Africa. If they can
understand the West, then they can teach the West, and we can learn more
from them. Certainly, it's very special when Africans do visit. Maria
Agnese Giraudo has pioneered the way. Nafsi Africa Acrobats have made
several trips to Europe. Samwel Kongere also visited Italy for a month
last year. So it's a matter of making the most of opportunities.
COMMUNIA provides us money that we can use for their travel to London.
Prodromos Tsiavos of the London School of Economics assured me that he
could organize the invitations. So it's simply a matter of us deciding
promptly who best to invite.
Samwel Kongere isn't able to go because of his schedule.
Peter Ongele would be a great choice because he's an experienced
researcher and is actively engaging us in many areas including DIY Solar,
malaria prevention and community impact accountancy. He recently wrote
how he shares a computer with four other people and this limits his
access. He's truly a "poster child" for our Includer / Sneakernet
efforts. Peter has also been good about getting in touch with others in
our network. I think if we met he would take up many more projects,
including our Public Domain text books. If we got to meet, then he'd be
able to explain many things which can be awkward to write about.
But who wants to meet with Peter? or any of our Africans? I wish that we
gave more thought to this. We'll learn in February if they can get visas
and so we don't have to make commitments until we're sure they get their
visas. (Minciu Sodas will pay for their visas.)
My preference would be to invite somebody like Peter who not just me but
others in our network are interested to meet. Otherwise, Fred Kayiwa is a
good choice for me because we've done many small projects together. If
Ricardo was coming, then Kiyavilo Msekwa would be a good choice, but
otherwise not as important. Kennedy Owino has come several times to
Europe so I want to give the priority to others. Rachel Wambui Kungu, I
would like for you to come, but it would be a great motivation if you
might link us with your contacts in the UK so that we might all look for
ways to work together.
Also, I'd like to see us activiate our London networks such as Pamela's
team (Lorraine, Nikki,... and online - John Dada,...), Chris Macrae's
contacts, Gary Alexander, John Davies-Coates, and others with contacts in
London - John Rogers, Eluned Hurn, ... And it would be great if Peter
Burgess, Tom Wayburn or others might fly to London - let's think out loud
and see how we can help make that happen.
So just us meeting together is a great event... including participants
from Lithuania and Serbia... but we can multiply that by participating at
COMMUNIA / Open Knowledge Foundation / Oekonux and sharing our energy with
them. For example, I would like Zenonas Anusauskas and our Lithuanian
team to do video bridges from London with Kennedy Owino in Kenya (on
working togeher) and also with Edward Cherlin in Silicon Valley (on open
source textbooks). We have the opportunity in COMMUNIA to promote
interest in open source hardware, and Graham Knight's and Marcin
Jakubowski's and Vinay Gupta's work is all wonderfully inspiring. An open
source hardware initiative may help us get work from businesses interested
to see that take off and benefit as with open source software. Likewise,
we can be leaders in Public Domain Fashion, we can make progress with the
Includer / Sneakernet. In Zurich, it was decided to start collect
business models relevant for the Public Domain, and also to collect good
practices for "open universities" as defined by the Wheeler Declaration
These are activities where our lab participants can add lots of energy,
perhaps through $100 projects, and that can position us as leaders and
open up business opportunities. Generally, this works by looking more
broadly than a single initiative (like DIY Solar or Sneakernet) and seeing
how different initiatives can feed off each other (as Ricardo, Franz,
Janet, Pamela so regularly do).
I am encouraged that we will meet in London and it will be a great boost
to our efforts, certainly for those who come or help online. I think also
that the challenges here are primarily of personal growth because when we
see each other up close then we face bigger risks. We are often lead
outside of our comfort zones when we think: Would I have someone stay at
my home? Would I write them an invitation? Would I spend money to attend?
Would I work on somebody else's project? Would I make contacts on their
behalf? In each case we need to have the freedom to answer yes or no or as
we like and at our own pace. But certainly we grow by going beyond
I look forward to replying to Ricardo's thoughtful strategy and leadership
regarding the future of the Includer. I just add now that our culture has
many layers and that's our strength and also a source of confusion because
we're able to present and interpret things in so many ways. So it's
natural for us to work on small projects (like $100) and we get so much
done that way, working-in-parallel. But we're typically inspired by
large, bold projects, like the Includer or open source tractors or global
villages or knowing everything. I don't want to lead traditional,
corporate efforts where each person is a cog, and so that may rule out
certain approaches like mass production. But often ambitious projects may
be the result of a "mob" approach, as was the Pyramid of Peace, but also
open source hardware (as championed by Bug Labs) suggest that there is
much more opportunity (for something like the Includer) in thousands of
projects selling thousands of items (the long tail) rather than one
project selling millions. And we may and should be well positioned to
foster the long tail approach. Often the purpose of a project like the
Includer is simply to communicate an entire ecosystem (like the
Sneakernets). I quickly told Nicholas Negroponte about the Includer and
he said it was a great idea and I could write him more. The Includer may
never get built as such but it can communicate the failure of current
approaches and the potential for new approaches. And, who knows? maybe we
will be the catalysts for the Includer to happen - and we can be flexible
about the role we might play. One role is to invest in our people such as
Kiyavilo Msekwa so that we have participants with a wide variety of
hardware and software skills available for work.
Ricardo, thank you for your leadership and your wonderful letter which I
include below. I look forward to responding in detail next week when I am
in Vienna visiting Franz Nahrada. I also look forward to talking then.
And I post your letters at the Includer blog http://www.includer.org Thank
you also to Ed Prentice!
So I ask us all to consider who among us we'd like to meet - either in
London or some time and place in the future - and what we'd like to work
on together - either in London or online.
I don't like dashing peoples' hopes but I'm concerned about this meeting!
In recent days I have contacted several Yahoo Group people as the official
agenda for the Communia meeting
makes no reference to anything now being discussed by us.
The reply from Ricardo below sums up my feeling as I have never succeed in
wanting to know about DIY Solar into the UK so I'm assuming that even if
the meeting takes place
there will no people there wanting to know about DIY Solar!
I don't know. I think it's best to ask Andrius what the
plans are and if any particular person is in charge of the
I won't be there myself. It's a bit far to travel for me. I'll just chat
on the phone or net with a few people while they're here.
I doubt whether any Africans will be able to get visas for it. The
invitation/application process is very difficult and time-consuming.
I've tried to invite friends from overseas to the UK in the past and it's
always fallen through.
I've had some chats by email with Ed Prentice recently. They started by
discussing various netbook and PDA devices at trade shows, but we moved
onto talking about what would be a realistic way forward for the
Includer project. If I tell you what Ed and I concluded, that could form
the basis of an 'Includer way forward' discussion between the two of us.
So here it is...
One thing that became very apparant is that Minciu Sodas doesn't have
the capability to get any new hardware Includer device manufactured and
marketed. That requires an engineering-design company with a wide range
of experienced engineers and managers. MS isn't an engineering company
itself, and it doesn't have the money to sub-contract the whole 'design
and build' to another company. Even specifying a contract like that
requires an engineering and legal department to write the requirement
spec and contract.
Any new hardware would require EMC (electromagnetic compatibility)
testing (does it leak radio frequency signals), and Safety Testing,
often with different testing and certificates for each country where it
will be sold/used. The OLPC project has a page listing all their
countries and testing status, for example.
I came to the conclusion that the best way forward is to go back to the
"To allow people to take part in online communities" (to contribute, to
learn, to publish their writings, etc).
The Includer as a device was just to overcome certain barriers that
exist at this point in time in developing countries that prevent/make
difficult people's participation in online communities...
1) Expense (internet access and PC-time at cafes, or GPRS charges)
2) Convenience (travelling long distances to cafes, instead of
read/writing text at home, or the inconvenience of using a small phone
display and keypad for text reading/writing/editing).
So, I think we should forget about manufacturing new hardware and
concentrate on how we can tackle those 2 things (expense and
convenience) in other ways (Hardware, Software and Services)...
a) Make the best use of hardware that already exists in developing
countries (such as phones).
b) Add on existing external full-size QWERTY keyboards (see software
c) Ignore the small display problem for now (magnifiers are possible,
but not very useable).
Most cheapish phones don't have USB Host capability to interface to a
standard USB Keyboard. Phones that are '1 step up in price' from the
cheapest phones often have an Infrared interface. There are some fairly
cheap Infrared keyboards for smartphones or for MS Windows PCs, but they
don't have the drivers for the Operating Systems used in cheap phones.
Infrared keyboard for PCs are produced by the million, so quite cheap.
The message format, and PC driver may be proprietory. We would need to
Suggestion - If we can find someone inside/outside Minciu Sodas to write
Device Driver programs for Infrared keyboards or Bluetooth Keyboards,
then fairly cheap keyboards can be used with phones, to make typing a
lot more convenient. I know the technical issues involved.
I think we can do quite a lot to tackle the 'expense of internet access'
problem, if we can teach people to use the internet in the 'correct'
way, to minimise GPRS data usage. One example is that there are 2 ways
to use email, with different advantages/disadvantages and different
amounts of GPRS data -
a) Web-based email like Yahoo Mail, and
b) Email Client program email (POP3 email with an Email Client Program
on the phone, similar to Outlook on a PC).
We can look at ways to reduce the GPRS charges for using email, down to
half or one-third of present usage, through choosing the best type of
email service for particular tasks, training, education about how they
work 'behind the scenes', etc.
We can get a sneakernet working for transporting large files, so bulk
uploads/downloads could be done by writing files to the phone memory
card, copying the files to a village laptop or PDA, and then by
Sneakernet to a major city where the files can be uploaded to the
internet. That could be directly to where the user wants them, or to the
users own X: online file-storage area, so they can later issue commands
by GPRS phone to 'upload' the files from their X: drive to whatever
services they normally use, such as Flickr for photo sharing, or blogs
or long postings to yahoo groups.
The sneakernet is just one example of how 'developing some services for
people to use' would benefit thousands of people without the expense of
new hardware for each person. We can think of other services, both local
and on the internet that offer 'partial solutions' to the Cost and
I think adding a number of partial solutions together may be better than
one big solution (the Includer text-editor as a device).
Regarding the Gumstix, I suggest Kims could carry on using it to educate
himself about Microprocessors. That would help his education and build
up some capability within MS, for teaching others, experimenting with
'hobby electronics', etc.
What are your thoughts on all this Andrius?
Maybe we can have a phone chat next week if you let me know a good time.