This is interesting: Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka
Felsenstein got to work. He’s built the solution. It’s a bicycle-powered, ruggedised luggable, with a localised version of Linux and constructed from cheapo commodity parts. It’s got an aerial, too: it uses WiFi to connect to a central Internet hub in the market town.
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.
It’s an incredible project. The New York Times named it one of its best ideas of 2002. And Felsenstein, using his old-style Silicon Valley wiles, has brought the cost of full five village system to just $25,000.
OK, I’ve got two questions: how do Laotians in remote villages learn to read and write English (necessary for use of the Web), and who fixes the damn things when they break (or need tech support)? From what I know about Felsenstein (strictly a big picture, techtopian guy), I’d bet these details aren’t covered, and if they aren’t we’re looking at a flash in the pan.