The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling []
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2002 7:31 PM

Subject: Viridian Note 00335: Pedal-Powered Wi-Fi

Key concepts:
802.11 networking, pedal power, appropriate technology, Laos
Attention Conservation Notice:
If it's so great for the Third World, how come rich people aren't using it already?


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Scarifying, eye-popping Woods Hole warning about a sudden switch in ocean currents. If Europe freezes solid, where will all the heat go? Texas, I'd assume.,12264,786221,00.html
When it comes to global climate, these countries contain the world's public-spirited, decent people. "Support for the proposal came from all 15 EU states, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia, Brazil, Argentina, Uganda, Mexico and other Latin American states, plus some Caribbean and Pacific islands." Tough break about the rest of us.

"Pedal Power: Look Ma No Wires

By Craig Liddell

"An innovative, pedal powered, wireless network provides Internet access to off-grid villages in Laos. (((Pedal- powered wi-fi. Okay, that's hard to beat Viridian- wise.)))

"Jhai PC is a project of non-government organisation (NGO), Jhai Foundation.

"'The equipment will be powered by electricity stored in a car battery (((yuck))) charged by 'foot cranks',' Lee Thorn, Jhai Foundation chair, explains. These 'are essentially bicycle wheels and pedals hooked to a small generator. The generator is connected to a car battery and the car battery is connected to the computer.' (((At least car batteries are plenty available.)))

"'Connection with each computer to the others will be by radio local area network (LAN),' he says. 'Each village will connect to one repeater station powered by a solar means on the ridge near the river valley. That station will then send the radio signal to the microwave tower nearby and eventually to a server in Vientiane that will connect the villages to the Internet.

"The key message of Jhai, which means 'hearts and minds working together,' is reconciliation. Laos is one of poorest countries in the world and, on a per capita basis, the most bombed place on Earth. Bounthanh Phommasathit, a co-founder of the organisation, was forced to flee her ancestral home in the Plain of Jars in Laos following the American bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. Thorn, the other co-founder, loaded several of the bombs that fell on the Plain of Jars while serving on the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier. (((And let me guess further: Ms. Phommasathit and Mr. Thorn got married and have three lovely children now.)))

"(...) Each village will have a Jhai computer connected in a network with the other villages that connects to the Internet and to their high school-based Internet Learning Centres (ILC). (((How about that pedal- powered porn and spam?)))

"The Jhai computers will also provide them with the opportunity to do simple business functions like writing documents and creating spreadsheets for budgetary and simple accounting purposes. (((Write a novel, lose 20 pounds.)))

"Lee Felsenstein is a member of the Jhai Board of Advisors and project engineer for the Jhai communication project. He, and fellow engineer Mark Summer, are volunteering their time. Felsenstein has a long history of public advocacy and was a co-founder of The Community Memory Project, a non-profit organisation that developed public-access information-exchange systems beginning in 1972. He also designed one of the first portable computers for Osborne in the early 1980's."

Lee Felsenstein doesn't kid around; he's in the "Computer Hall of Fame."

"'The Jhai PC is built of 'embedded' circuit boards,' says Felsenstein, (((geeking fluently))) 'of the sort that are used in industrial equipment. These are rugged and devoid of moving parts such as fans or disc drives, made to operate for long periods of time without service or attention. The Jhai computer consists of a single-board PC (the MZ-104 based upon the Mach-Z single-chip computer == equivalent to a 133 MHz 486 system).' He has analysed the 'Internet appliance generation of chips and found this to be the best, especially for its low power consumption and remote BIOS reboot capability.'

"The software is LINUX-based (((woot!))) and is being localised into the Lao language by Anousak Souphavanh and his team in New York. (((Laonux))) The system is being configured to provide a 'telegraph' (email) and telephone (VOIP communication) among the villages, via the Lao phone system, and worldwide through Internet telephony.

"'Along with the processor,' Felsenstein continues, 'is an adapter card for PCMCIA cards, allowing us to use the Cisco Aironet 350 Wi-Fi (802.11b) wireless LAN card. A Sound Blaster compatible sound card completes the board complement. The three boards, together with a connector- panel board fit together in a compact 'stack' and have no case or power supply. We will build our own case, using a commercially available die-cast metal housing which will seal the boards from the external environment and still allow heat to transfer out.' (((Hey! Where's mine?)))

"'The system includes a regulator which doubles as a battery charger,' he says, 'and can operate from a wide range of voltages. We plan to use stationary bicycles equipped with generators for charging the batteries. The mountaintop relay stations will have solar panels for power, (((yowza))) and we hope that the villages can also have them, though they are expensive.'

(...) "'This is a world pilot project,' says Thorn, 'We expect to document it extensively. We see it as stage one of a project to link villagers in remote areas to each other and to people like us who are interested in Lao villagers' success in meeting their own and Lao PDR's goals. We expect that Jhai Foundation and especially our Lao consultants will report on this experience to interested parties, first, in Lao PDR, and second, elsewhere.'" (((How about down in the local gym? They're pedalling anyway.)))

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2002 09:34:58 -0700

Subject: Re: [solaris]Pedal Power: Look Ma No Wires

To: henk <>
From: Steve Cisler <>

"I'm involved in this wireless project in a peripheral way. I attended the design review in San Francisco a few weeks ago. It was a mix of board members, volunteer experts, and Jhai members. I am doing due diligence research on alternate methods of providing services (telephony is the top priority, not the Internet). Lee Felsenstein, a pioneer in community technology (look up Community Memory Berkeley in Google) is doing a lot of the design work. I think it is a strong design, sensitive to the input garnered from the communities' work on a ten year vision plan, as well as his own experience with hw/sw design. The pedal device is from India (I believe), but it could be powered by solar or gas generator. The idea is that young people will earn money /computer time pedaling the device. We estimate it will take about one hour of labor to re-charge the battery for 4 hours of computer/printer/lcd screen use. Everything is designed for the high humidity environment. And it's also dusty. We are considering physical security of the devices too.

"The whole issue of whether custom hardware will flourish from an economic standpoint has been discussed when talking about the Simputer and Volkscomputer. It's one Jhai is aware of. The network connection is very complex from a political and technological standpoint, and we are working on that now. I'll post more information later this year. However, ideas for funding this are most welcome. Others involved in this project are on this list and may wish to comment."

Steve Cisler

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