And you thought we were done with the whole wireless thing for the year…

Hurisearch, stuff store the human rights search tool built by HURIDOCS in collaboration with Fast, is launching today. (Note that the Beeb got the date wrong — Human Rights Day is December 10th, but the search portal’s launch is, in fact, right now.) Huridocs deveoped Hurisearch as a tool to index the contents of 3000-odd human rights websites around the world. I’ve played with the tool, and it has impressive search functionality — an amazing number of languages, categories, document types can be searched. Not surprisingly, the tools works best indexing websites built using a metadata standard like Dublin Core – which is, unfortunately, not something that all human rights websites or archives have integrated. Recently, I’ve talked with a number of people in the human rights community about the need for better webmaster training in using content management systems, search engine optimization and metadata structures, and self-publishing tools — many human rights websites that emerge from developing or transitional countries, unless they are the product of well-funded organizations, are built in such a way that the staff can’t use them to publish information, and the information that is published by an overworked webmaster is not easily indexed by tools like Hurisearch. Hm, Webmasters Without Borders, anyone? (Credit to Elijah for that idea.)
krampus1.JPGOh lucky me, mind experiencing Christmas as an American child. While I cried on Christmas mornings past when I got Kissing Barbie instead of Etch-a-Sketch, sickness or a bright pink cable-knit sweater instead of the stripey Danskin legwarmers I craved, viagra sale my Central European counterparts were spending the month of December dodging birch-switch beatings by the Krampus, St. Nick’s evil sidekick in these parts. In my homeland, Christmas is a riskless experience for children, a mushy blend of holiday cheer and a strong sense of entitlement. Not so in Central Europe, where Mikulás showed up on December 6th* accompanied by (or according to some legends, preceeded by) a foul-breathed, forked-tongued creature who sought out the bad children and instilled terror and a sense of gratitude before, maybe, doling out the apples he lugged around on his back — or maybe just taking the bad children away with him.

The Krampus (or Krámpusz, in Hungarian) appeared all across the Austro-Hungarian lands in one form or another. Often, he was rather unimaginitively depicted as a traditional Christian-style devil (horns, cloven hooves, forked tail or tongue, flaming red) on Krampus-themed Christmas postcards that circulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leave it to the Weiner Wertstatte in Vienna to really get down to the essence of the Krampus in their version of the nasty fellow. This postcard, currently for sale on eBay for 1500 USD, shows us the Krampus as we’d like to remember him — furry, stunted, behorned, and tongue-lollingly silly, giving a couple of fashionable Viennese kids a run for their money while fabulously Art Deco St. Nicholas looks on with approval. This particular Krampus card indicates a somewhat different relationship between St. Nick and his unpleasant friend than we might otherwise assume. Here, the monster seems positively beleagured by his duties of child-terrorizing, driven by his cruel, supervising taskmaster. Before I saw this card, I had always assumed that kindly St. Nick was a bulwark against the evils of the Krampus, not in collusion with the little beast. In fact, the Weiner Werkstatte seems to suggest from the patriarch’s smug expression that the Krampus is really an employee of the Santa empire, clearing out the nastiest brats so that Szent Miklos could come in and drop off his gifts more efficiently across the Austro-Hungarian lands.

So, American children, be happy. In earlier days, the threat of coal in the stocking may have hung vaguely over naughty children, but let’s face it — Christmas in America is a time of national amnesia, when parents from coast to coast forget all offspring-related evils, from dishes left undone to neighborhood arson. The Krampus wouldn’t let you off so easily, but he hasn’t made it to your neck of the woods yet.

*In Hungary, holiday traditions of the Christian bent are confusing to begin with. Children in Hungary expect two days of present-giving in December. The first, Miklos Nap or Mikulás (Nicholas Day), falls on December 6th; Saint Nicholas, as might be expected, attends to this event. On the night of December 24th, the Baby Jesus shows up, dragging with him a tree and another round of gifts.
iblogblk.gif Following last week’s post on the list of human rights bloggers being assembled by Human Rights Tools, remedy I had an email exchange on what makes a human rights blogger with HRT’s editor, order Daniel D’Esposito. Daniel noted, correctly, that my comment about 15,000 “human rights” tagged posts on Technorati didn’t really add up to that many bloggers:

Problem is many of these are just passing references to human rights…not from blogs devoted to human rights primarily.

In response to my question, “in that case, what makes a human rights blog?”, Daniel went on to say:

Lots of posts about human rights seem to come from commentators of international affairs, with a focus on the Middle-East: articles on Bush, Rumseld, Al Jazeera, Lebanon, others blog about personal issues as well – include these would bring a lot of “noise” into the feed. Some institutional blogs are far too active, several posts a day – would drown out the amateur blogs. Some amateur blogs have been inactive for several months. Others are in Chinese or Arabic, so would only be accessible to a fraction of HRT readers. I would certainly include freedom of expression blogs, or peace blogs, or even blogs with a political stance, as long as its respectful of others. So it takes careful sifting, which I will continue to do. The key question to select a blog: would HRT readers find the last 5-10 posts useful and interesting?

…A few bloggers have written to be listed (“I guess I am a human rights blogger”), others have posted the “human rights bloggers” gif on their blog’s margin, and this is a good sign.

Since Daniel is putting together a human rights blogging feed, it would be useful to hear what “human rights blog” means to different people, and what readers of that feed would want to see, or would consider off-topic. I was sorry, when Human Rights Watch started the “I blog for Human Rights” campaign, that we weren’t able to track which blogs tagged their sites with the HRW button. Self-identification is obviously important — but reaching out to those who write about human rights issues but don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the community is also a part of assembling a good blogroll.

(Thanks to Daniel for giving me permission to post this conversation.)
The NY Times’ recent article, prostate “Open-Source Spying”, medicine chronicles a knowledge management project writ large. The author discusses the US intelligence community’s tentative use of knowledge-sharing tools like blogs and wikis to exchange information across and within agencies in an ad-hoc but powerful way. Given my involvement in several knowledge management projects over the years, I was particularly interested how the agencies’ employees described the best use of Intellipedia, the internal wikipedia clone for spooks:

Chris Rasmussen, a 31-year-old “knowledge management” engineer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency….told me the usefulness of Intellipedia proved itself just a couple of months ago, when a small two-seater plane crashed into a Manhattan building. An analyst created a page within 20 minutes, and over the next two hours it was edited 80 times by employees of nine different spy agencies, as news trickled out. Together, they rapidly concluded the crash was not a terrorist act.

I like this story, because it’s talking about knowedge capture as opposed to knowledge sharing. As I think much of the NY Times article makes clear, within organizations that don’t have a culture of open information exchange (i.e., most), the idea of knowledge sharing–fetishized by KM geeks–tends to fall flat. It seems to me that sharing is a knock-on effect of capturing information, rather than an activity that people actually undertake. Capture happens most effectively during a real-time event, like the plane crash Chris describes above. Many organizations are using the wiki-capture model to create an editable snapshot of knowledge around a certain event or meeting; one of my favorite organizations to pioneer this approach, Aspiration Tech, has used wikis for event knowledge capture in such diverse areas as e-advocacy and open source usability.

In a hilariously blunt article on organizational knowledge management called “Knowledge Sharing Should be Avoided” from 2004 by James Robertson, an Australian KM guru, the author notes:

Knowledge sharing is certainly an important concept for those in the knowledge management and information management disciplines (ie the readers of this article).

The starting point to moving beyond this terminology, however, is to recognise that it means little to anyone else in the organisation.

(Bolding mine.)

He goes on to note that:

…the concept of knowledge sharing will generate little enthusiasm (and therefore action) amongst staff. In fact, when asked (or instructed) to ‘share your knowledge’ staff will typically respond with confusion, passive resistance or hostility.

So what’s the moral of the story? I think the moral is that intelligence agencies, like so many other big organizations, are not hopelessly behind and totally clueless. The issue, more precisely, is that until very recently the culture of open information was entirely foreign to nearly everyone; communities like Wikipedia have embraced it with vigor, but most organizations are much slower-moving and are peopled with individuals who aren’t thinking about knowledge-sharing as their primary task (nor should they be, arguably). Integrating knowledge capture activities into daily work seems like the best way to get people thinking about the advantages of the approach, and of the tools available, because inevitably people will see the benefits. But don’t sit back and wait for your people to knowledge-share spontaneously; you’ll end up with empty wikis, cranky, confused staff, and skeptics proven right.
Our friends over at the Media Development Loan Fund’s Center for Advanced Media Prague (CAMP) have released version 1.1 (“Freetown”) of Campcaster, approved the long-awaited open source radio station management software. Using Campcaster, information pills community radio stations can manage broadcasts, unhealthy archives and networking. CAMPer Doug Arellanes is heading to Freetown, Sierra Leone to work with the Cornet network of community radio stations on installing the software and training staff.

And there’s more Campcaster on the horizon…“Kotor”, 1.2, is planned for deployment in Montenegro. In the next version, Campcaster will be integrated with Campsite, the open source online publishing suite developed by (you guessed it) CAMP.

Although Doug and Sava will probably kick me in the shins for saying this, software development is the easy part, relatively speaking. The harder part of software for the non-profit sector is deployment wthin the civil society organizations that needs it, and making sure that staff members have appropriate hardware, training, connectivity, electricity, ongoing support, and access to upgrades and bugfixes. Hats off to CAMP for getting Campcaster to 1.1, and for working in the field with community radio networks to get it in use. Can’t wait to hear how things go in Freetown. Good luck!

Campcaster v. 1.1 press release

Full disclosure: The Open Society Institute Information Program, my employer, is a funder of the the Campcaster software.
So, page this is weird. For the second time this fall, tadalafil I’ve flown internationally out of Heathrow airport without going through immigration or having anyone, prescription other than airline employees, look at my passport. The first trip was from London to Johannesburg in the middle of September. Traveling Companion and I at that time were puzzled, but theorized that perhaps there was an agreement between the UK and South Africa limiting the need for passport checks (although on reflection, that doesn’t make a lot of sense). But today, I’m on a big American Airlines 777 flying from London to Los Angeles, and no official of the British government examined my passport before I boarded the flight. All kinds of other reviews happened: I took off my shoes, turned on my laptop and stood spread-eagled three different times to be patted down by three different security officers during my journey through the airport. But no passport check. Am I missing something here? What the heck? Given the scrutiny one receives on entering the UK, I can’t believe that they aren’t doing some sort of cross check on the way out.

One other worrying thing about this situation: I was surprised enough to mention it to two different employees of American Airlines. In response, both looked at me blankly and then shrugged and waved me on when I re-elaborated the point. Hm. I’m certainly happy not to have yet another line to stand in to get to the airplane, and I’m not necessarily sure it’s even that important to check everyone’s passport when they leave a country…but given the extent that the UK is going to create an atmosphere of both threat and consequently, safety, at the airports, shouldn’t they have someone giving passports a glance? And shouldn’t an airline care if one of its passengers reports something that seems like it might be amiss?

Update: I asked the immigration officer who checked my passport when I entered the US in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon about exit passport checks. He told me that at LAX, they also don’t check international exits. In Euroland and every other country I’ve ever been to aside from the US and the UK, they certainly do. So what’s the calculation that Homeland Security has made here?
As it turns out, this if wireless networking on the African continent is one of your favorite things, check spending your weekend in the basement of APC’s London partner GreenNet with forty of your closest collaborators (and friends) can be a grand old time. This past weekend, buy more about I was lucky enough to join a group of African entrepreneurs, “wireless for dev” geeks and trainers, connectivity-focused civil society organizations and international business folk, along with a sprinkling of donors for a meeting focused on the next steps in rolling out rural wireless networks in Africa.

Much ink has been spilled over why wireless networks are good for African connectivity, so I won’t rehash too much. (For a media-focused brief on this, see Panos London’s “What’s stopping a wireless revolution?“). Suffice to say that wireless connectivity leapfrogs a lot of the infrastructure issues that plague developing countries, like a lack of fiber that has hastened the adoption of communications technologies in the global north; it also means that a single operator with limited equipment can provide connectivity to many more people on an ad-hoc basis than overland connectivity would allow. Generally, the people I work with believe more connectivity at lower rates is a basic building block of both economic growth and social justice movements.

Despite the good work that many people have done in this area over several years, and the significant support that donors (including my own employer, the Open Society Institute, and others like Canada’s IDRC) have brought to the table, rural wireless is still nascent in Africa. The two-day meeting, organized by the Association for Progressive Communications, sought to come up with concrete answers to the question: what more could this group be doing bring wireless to more communities across the African continent?

As with all technology issues in the developing world, the barriers to rollout of wireless networks are varied and require people with quite different skills to address them. Policy regulations are one issue; in some African countries, it’s illegal to operate a wireless network. In other African countries, there simply isn’t any legislation to deal with the issue; monopoly telecoms control the internet market, and see no advantage in allowing an upstart technology to bring other players to the table.

Beyond policy, though, technical and human issues prevent speedy uptake. This weekend, one group discussed the need for business plans and models for Wireless ISPs (WISPS) and training or partnerships targeted at certain key groups: telecenters, schools, youth groups, and community radio stations.

Another group looked at software issues: if one were to aggregate the technology needed to run a WISP—from mesh networking software to billing systems that worked in a world without credit cards—what would it look like? Building off the Tactical Technology Collective‘s popular “in-a-box” idea, everyone around this table agreed to work towards a “WISP-in-a-box”.

Stripey! A third group envisioned future book sprints to produce complementary manuals to “the striped book”, the affectionate name for the current bible of the wireless for dev movement: Wireless Networking in the Developing World. Yet another group discussed what a more formalized community of wireless actors focused on experience sharing and project tracking could achieve.

And so on. Other issues we didn’t touch on extensively this weekend prevent wireless networking from taking hold faster: procurement of hardware, for instance, is a huge and costly problem. Not only are the bespoke solutions developed for northern users often missing the robust physical features needed for deployment in a developing world context, but import of hardware can be tremendously expensive. (An African colleague mentioned to me this week, by way of example, that in Malawi assembled computers are taxed at 0%, but hardware parts are levied with an import duty of 55%, a huge amount of money for the DIY set to absorb.)

One thing I really liked about this meeting was the view of Africa as a single continent, rather than two continents: sub-Saharan and North Africa. Participants came from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, as well as Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco.

The other point about this meeting I was glad to see (credit APC and IDRC for this) was a distributed approach to problem solving. Rather than knocking heads together for a weekend to come up with an ambitious (and questionably implementable) Grand Plan, the meeting focused on achievable ideas that individuals could take forward with a small group of like-minded collaborators. I’m almost always a fan of the small-pieces-loosely-joined approach, and this time it produced some excellent ideas. Fortunately, there were some very smart people with us this weekend who are interested in taking up the harder work of making them happen.

Lots of people took pictures this weekend, but I was unfortunately not among them, so as soon as I find the Flickr pool I’ll link to it.

Full disclosure: My employer, the Open Society Institute Information Program, provided partial funding for this meeting.
One more note on communications resources for the developing world — some useful new publications have hit the stands over the past few months:

IT46+, here a consultancy has released The Voip Primer: Building Voice Infrastructure in Developing Regions. Written, shop edited, search reviewed and translated by a crack team of wireless for dev’s who’s who, the book is useful not only for technologists, but also for people who simply want to have a better sense of what VOIP means in the developing world context.

Our friend the stripey book, aka, Wireless Networking for the Developing World, now in French.

APC’s ItrainOnlinewireless networking materials in Arabic.

And finally, an orange stripey book, How to Accelerate Your Internet: A practical guide to Bandwidth Management and Optimization using Open Source Software, from the BMO Booksprint Team.

Really, it’s not as geeky as it looks!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by admin. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.