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Appeal for the Jhai Remote IT project

I received this mail from Lee Felsenstein on 2002-12-31. He's one of my heroes. If you've not heard of him, he was the moderator of the Homebrew Computer Club that kickstarted the PC revolution. He designed the Osborne-1, the first popular portable computer. He rolled out the first primitive public network in 1972 - teletypes scattered in cafes and libraries across Berkeley. So when he says he wants to place "computer technology in the hands of ordinary people", he's very serious. His current project is to place the same tech he helped to bring to your desktop in the villages of the developing world.

I've written at length about the Jhai project before. It's currently in need of some short-term cash. Could you help? Read on...

- danny

        You can't stop Mother Nature.

        I'm involved in the development of the Remote Village IT Project in rural Laos <> which must be installed before monsoon rains begin in May. We need your help to put the first hardware in place because the international grants in process will not come through in time.

        To date, this project has caught the attention of the Economist, the BBC World Service, and the New York Times Magazine. According to the Times,
"Development groups are watching the project closely, and for good reason. With this strange Rube Goldberg contraption, the farmers will effectively leapfrog 100 years of technological evolution. This year, they're living in the 19th century; next year, they'll be in the 21st. Few have traveled so far using a bicycle." <>

        Bicycle? Rube Goldberg?

        If you are familiar with my own history you know that my career has centered around placing computer technology in the hands of ordinary people. These kinds of systems, and this way of applying it from the bottom up, will be necessary if there is to be any hope in bridging the technological gap that divides us from most of the rest of the world.

        A year ago I was approached by Lee Thorn, a Vietnam Vet and Director of the Jhai Foundation, who from a perspective of reconciliation has been working with a group of five villages in Laos. After having been uprooted by the bombing of the Plain of Jars, the villagers have little left but their solid social structure.  Lacking electricity and phones, they asked Jhai Foundation for a way to make phone calls so that they could communicate with relatives overseas and to secure local crop pricing information. They also wanted the use of small spreadsheets and simple word processing so that they could bid on things like construction jobs.

        I sketched out a system of rugged bicycle-powered computers, one per village, interconnected by Wi-Fi (802.11b) digital data links and coupled to the local phone system several miles away. Through this system VOIP (digital telephone) calls could be placed to the local phone lines as well as long-distance calls through Internet telephony to relatives overseas. E-mail would provide a kind of "telegraphy" and the system could be operated by village kids (100 percent literate) trained through an existing local network of Internet Learning Centers affiliated with this project.

        Clearly, this is a bare bones project. All hardware and software is off-the-shelf. Open Source software needed for this kind of system has been developed through wireless users groups. Engineers, including myself, are working on a pro bono basis. A Laotian expatriate in Rochester NY will be ready with a "localized" version of Linux in the Lao script in time for the installation.  The villagers themselves are preparing and training in anticipation.

        The pieces are falling into place. For significant funding to come through, we apparently need to first show that the project will work. However, more importantly, we need to show the villagers that there will be more than unfulfilled promises from us.

        I ask you to join with me to keep this project from being rained out.

        Thank you for your support.


PS.     Any size donation is welcome and may be made online via PayPal at <>.  Please note Remote IT in the "For" field.  Donations may also be made by check (note Remote IT) as indicated on the website above.

Your donation will pay for:

        $10     20 lbs. shipping costs

        $25     Keyboard

        $50             Headset

        $75     Antenna

        $100    Battery

        $250    Bicycle Powered Generator

        $450    CPU or Mountain Top Solar Panel

        $850    Base Station

        $1,000  One RT US-Laos Trip for One Technical Consultant

        $1,500  One Complete Jhai Computer

        $2,500  One Complete Village Set-up

        $3,000  Relay Station

        $25,000 The Full 5 Village System


Lee Felsenstein             Golemics, Inc.       "Take the obvious...
2460 Park Blvd. #1         (650)814-0427         and simplify it!"
Palo Alto, CA 94306       fax: (650)322-2881