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Inexpensive Laotian computing, networking to improve market and community connections: Danny O'Brien writes eloquently about Lee Felsenstein who has created a people-oriented computing and networking system for villages in Laos (which will obviously be applicable elsewhere) with concrete purposes behind it. The equipment is bicycle powered and ruggedized.
What are the intents? Using it, villages that currently have no electricity, telephone or decent roads can monitor the prices of crops, negotiate group purchases with other villages, and make business deals without spending days away from the farm. And with email and built-in VoIP, the families will be able to make direct contact for the first time with the Laotian Diaspora - the relatives who left the war-torn zone to earn money in the capital and beyond.
Felsenstein is seeking donations of a few dollars up to $25,000 to fund the project before the heavy rains come. This is one of the greatest seed ideas I've ever heard for transforming subsistent remote living into connected, improved quality of life that I've ever heard. Connectivity must be a tool, not an end in itself, when you reach out to hardscrabble rural areas.
Pay Attention to the Person in Front of the Blackboard
Stop playing networked Doom, already (in class): Any of us who have attended conferences lately in which both power and Wi-Fi are readily available can vouch for the experiences cited in classrooms in this article in which ubiquitous computing and networking leads to a loss of focus and attention.
In the article, professors state their irritation, and one went so far as to bring in a ladder and disconnect an access point. He was ordered to reconnect it by the university, but he'd made his point. (This reminds me vaguely of the destruction and later repair of the soft-drink machine in a Kurt Vonnegut novel the title of which escapes me.)
At the Supernova 2002 conference a few weeks ago, the entire room was set up with power strips and Wi-Fi, and if I recall correctly, one attendee described the constant sound of typing like a light hail falling.
Meanwhile, from reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, I discover that small children can play, watch television, and divert attention to other activities as well, by breaking their attention into tiny pieces. But we lose multitasking as we get older, regardless of the common wisdom. I have the not-so-unique talent of being able to remember what's said when I'm not listening. Beyond irritating my wife with this parlor trick, it's another example of the brain's attempt to compensate for the constant demand for attention in contemporary life. Or my lack of appropriate focus.
The article was slashdotted.
Powerline extends Wi-Fi: Walt Mossberg writes in the Wall Street Journal about a nice confluence of two technologies: Powerline, which offers Wi-Fi speeds over house electrical wiring, and Wi-Fi itself. Siemens SpeedStream division has released a Powerline Wi-Fi gateway for $99. Instead of dealing with repeaters and wires, you could use Powerline to extend a network in a home or small business, and treat the SpeedStream gateway as a pass-through: run DHCP and other services off a full-featured gateway connected to the Internet elsewhere on the network.
Linksys booster: Mossberg also mentions in passing the Linksys WSB11, which is an external antenna in the same shape and size as the WAP11 plain access point and BEFW11S4 EtherFast switch/gateway. It's about $80, and only boosts the signal of these two devices by a relatively small amount. Still, it's a prefabricated solution that works, and is actually legal as opposed to add-on antennas purchased from third parties.