Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Open source, solar powered ICT to bridge the digital divide

Since I've been working in Bangkok, I've been in contact with many people from countries where schools and communities don't have electricity, let alone Internet connections. At the same time, many development agencies are willing to spend on ICT in education, despite the fact that many schools in countries like Afghanistan or Nepal think that lighting or pens are luxuries! Even in the more well off Asian countries like Thailand, villages and rural areas are still very underequipped.

So I'm very excited to come across this project to offer communications systems to rural and remote communities via solar, hydro or even pedal power. A non-profit organisation, Inveneo, from the USA has launched a new system for villages to get a range of different Internet systems.

"The Communications Station is designed for use by end-users in a village home, school, or clinic setting. It provides computing, telephony and Internet access. The Hub Station is designed for use by a network administrator and is located in a regional location. It is used to manage the network and to provide connectivity to data and voice services," says the press release.

Hardware and software design specs and source code

Monday, March 20, 2006

Campaigning through games

An Italian organisation called Molleindustria makes simple but persuasive games to put across a political or social message. I had great fun playing their McDonalds game, a cartoony "sim" style game, where you have to manage McDonalds' value chain. It's obviously strong on agenda, but rather on the ball, and certainly very funny. Obviously, McDonalds is an easy target, but still a valid one (if you haven't seen Supersize Me, then make sure you do). Surprisingly though, there are still some enlightened souls working for McDonalds, like this manager who converted his cars to run on waste oil from his McDonalds outlets!

Update from New Scientist, strangely echoing part of the game:
"Lowing cattle and sterile fields of soya are replacing Amazonian rainforest so fast that 40 per cent of the forest will be gone by 2050, if present trends continue. Even discounting land cleared for the wood itself, deforestation is threatening ecological meltdown in the region." Full article.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Carbon offsetting made easy

The marvellous Ditchmonkey reminded me of this great tool for carbon offsetting. You can use the simple calculator tools to work out how much carbon emissions are caused by daily activities or travel, then buy equivalent carbon credits by donating to the site's projects. The projects are in the area of sustainable forestry, renewable energy and energy efficiency. I just used it to offset the carbon emitted by my last plane trip. A brilliant way to use technology for the environment.

Climate Care website

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Beautiful bacteria

Bacteria self-organising on antibiotic petri dishes look incredible. Just another wonderful example of emergence in action.

More pictures from Pruned

Google Earth & GIS

Despite being the originator of World Wind, NASA is now integrating some of it's data sets with Google Earth. As NASA is having it's core scientific research budget cut (thanks to Bush's marvellous idea of putting people on Mars in the near future), it makes sense for it to maximise budget by using a freely available client side tool such as Google Earth. Existing sources of satellite data in GIS format (for example the US Geological Survey data) can be converted into Google Earth's KML format using Arc2Earth (unfortunately it's not free or open source). Here is a step-by-step guide. This data can then be displayed and navigated via Google Earth. Declan Butler, who reported on this issue in Nature (subscribers only) has created some interesting maps of Avian bird flu incidence using this approach.
More information...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Slime-controlled robots

The ever-fascinating New Scientist reports on a Japanese research team's efforts to control robots using biological organisms, in this case, the slime mould. The slime mould was grown on a circuit, plugged into a PC. The PC then relayed the controls to the robot.

"The Physarum polycephalum slime, which naturally shies away from light, controls the robot's movement so that it too keeps out of light and seeks out dark places in which to hide itself."

Read more

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How to survive a robot uprising

I got a great gift today! It's a book by Daniel H. Wilson, a researcher at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. It's funny, got great graphics, and explains all kinds of apects of robotics in an entertaining way. He's got his own website here and you can buy the book here.