[wsfii-discuss] Manufacturing a USB flash drive editor for Africa
ms at ms.lt
Wed Aug 22 19:36:20 BST 2007
I have been addressing "marginal Internet access" for quite some time as
our laboratory Minciu Sodas http://www.ms.lt has a lot of activity in
Africa and around the world. Jeff Buderer and Asif Daya are active at
our lab, too.
Recently, I have explored the idea of working with manufacturers to make
a device for viewing and editing text files on one's flash drive, and
sharing files with another flash drive. This would allow one to work
for dozens of hours for every hour spent at an Internet cafe. Also, as
I write below, such devices might prove very helpful in sharing the
knowledge that is needed for rolling out local wireless networks.
I share my letter and I invite response and also all are welcome at our
chat Thursday, August 23, 2007, 2:30 pm London time at
ms at ms.lt
+370 699 30003
I invite us to our chat this Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 4:30 pm
Nairobi time, 2:30 pm London, 9:30 am New York at our chat room at
http://www.worknets.org/chat/ Perhaps somebody can help us connect
with manufacturers who would like to make a "flash drive editor"?
Our Minciu Sodas online laboratory http://www.ms.lt reaches out to
serve and include a wide variety of independent thinkers. We have a lot
of activity in Africa where our participants have only marginal Internet
access. We are exploring solutions that would allow them to leverage
online work with offline work. I believe that we also have a great
business opportunity to work with a manufacturer who would appreciate
their basic need to view, edit and share the files on their flash
drives. I share my thoughts about the potential of a "flash drive editor".
Invitation to chat this Thursday
Our needs in Africa
Proposed solution - flash drive editor
Related products - Palm Foleo, AlphaSmart Neo
Partnerships, Manufacturers, Funders
I invite us to chat about meeting the computer needs of our African
participants by our earning, financing, donating, assembling or
manufacturing computers or alternate devices. We start at the usual
time on Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 4:30 pm Nairobi time, 2:30 pm
London, 9:30 am New York at our chat room at
http://www.worknets.org/chat/ I hope that Josephat Ndibalema of
Tanzania and Samwel Kongere of Kenya might lead this chat with me.
(Samwel can come only one hour later). We may also have some synergy
with Asif Daya's Trainerspod Webinar on cross-discipline communication
which starts at 10:30 am New York.
In Africa, we have participants like Samwel Kongere who walk 5 miles or
ride even further so they might access the Internet. They may pay $1
per hour at an Internet cafe for slow access. Yet they benefit
significantly from participating in our email working groups. Their
relationships have lead to several thousands of dollars of work,
computers, video cameras, digital cameras, visitors, travel in Africa
and now to Europe. Our laboratory has gained clients for worldwide
projects. Many people benefit locally. Samwel is now leading a center
with 15 computers where these next three years they will train 3,000
women to use computers and start businesses.
Proposed solution - Flash Drive Editor
In 2003, our laboratory addressed the problem of marginal Internet
access by proposing to adapt our social software (letters, wikis, chats)
so that participants might download our activity once a week, read it
offline with a computer at home, and then upload their responses.
http://www.worknets.org/wiki.cgi?Offline I have started creating some of
this software, for example, we can download our chat transcripts:
http://www.worknets.org/archive/ and I will make it easy to download on
our letters and wiki. However, in Africa, many of our participants still
do not have computers of their own that they can use for free. Used
desktop computers can start at $180 and used laptop computers at $300.
We have considered how to lower these costs by assembling computers from
local and global parts. However, I am realizing that the functionality
that we need might be very easy for a manufacturer to meet and good for
business as well. I think we might find a manufacturer we might work
for to develop this opportunity.
What I think our participants need is primarily a way to work offline
with our community's activity, but especially, with email and text
files. They are using flash drives which we sent them (here in
Lithuania we can now buy flash drives for less than $10 and in China
they are less than $5 whereas in Tanzania they start at $30). What they
need now is:
1) A flat monochrome text display that would let them read the content
of the files on their flash drive. They could then do much of their
2) A port to plug in a standard computer keyboard (they cost $10 USD).
They could then compose their letters offline, as well as edit texts,
enter data and do knowledge work.
3) 4 AA batteries to power this for 100 hours or more. If you have two
sets of rechargeable batteries (a four pack is 12 USD), then one set
might be recharged using a solar Battery charger for 20 USD. An adapter
is then unnecessary. 4) 4 USB ports so that they could share files
between two flash drives (imagine an offline file sharing network!) and
so they could also add other modules, such as:
5) an optional module, connected to the USB port, that would provide
wireless connectivity so that one might set up a local wireless network
for local communications, and send SMS, email, attached files locally,
even if yet there is no link to the global Internet.
The point here is to focus on the very real needs of our participants.
If we can meet them in a reliable, affordable way, then the ability to
read and write text files, and share and send all files, makes for a
vibrant local knowledge community.
I chatted with Josephat and he agrees that the limited feature set is a
good thing in Africa. He notes especially that only 8% of Tanzanians
have electricity. This means that a device (like the AlphaSmart Neo
word processor) which can go for 200 hours without recharging may be
worth more than an old laptop which likely needs to be kept plugged into
a power grid.
It also seems to make sense to use readily available components wherever
possible (such as $10 flash drives or $10 keyboards or $3 rechargable AA
batteries) then to integrate special components. (Note that a laptop
battery may cost $100 and an adapter may cost $70 and they may need to
be purchased with a credit card and shipped globally!). By using
readily available components like a standard keyboard it is possible to
share parts, buy them separately, and have several of them so that you
don't have to lug them around.
The kind of display that we need for text might be the 5.7" monochrome
320 x 640 Wincor-Nixdorf customer display that is part of their cash
registers. (See links at
http://www.worknets.org/wiki.cgi?WordProcessor). This is I think
comparable to the original Macintosh 9" 512 x 342 display. Or consider
the new technology by ZBD Displays http://www.zbddisplays.com that uses
power only when it's content is being changed and is targeted for
supermarkets to display product information. How much might such
displays cost? And how difficult is it to create a text editor for such
a display? Note that they all come with some way to edit their contents.
The software for the text editor could perhaps be kept on the flash
drive along with the contents. Perhaps it might be kept on a separate
A total price of $200 would make this an attractive solution. Given $20
for 2 flash drives, $10 for keyboard, $50 for rechargeable batteries,
that would leave $120 for such a display plus ports. But I think the
price of the display could easily go down to $50 and ultimately $20.
The modularity would make this extremely practical as parts could be
replaced or shared.
For an additional $200 it would be very attractive to link through the
USB a wireless access point that could reach 1 kilometer or so. I think
there is great value to being able to send signals locally and not walk
that kilometer. Indeed, I imagine there is greater business value in
local communications than in global communications.
Sending SMS, email, attached files is I think a good first application
for unreliable local wireless networks. The flash drive editors would
help Samwel and others to accumulate the content and maintain the
regular communications which would allow them to take up
knowledge-intensive tasks such as rolling out a local wireless network,
assembling computers, customizing software and paving the way for Skype
phones as Accton is producing. The flash drive editor allows a company
to develop markets that nobody can otherwise because they are too
remote. The flash drive editor may open up an explosive "offline file
sharing" with simple routines that let people quickly fill up their
flash drives with each other's favorite files.
There are several products that are similar to what we want, but not
quite... see: http://www.worknets.org/wiki.cgi?WordProcessor
You may think of the One Laptop Per Child http://laptop.org which is
striving for a 100 USD laptop. Yet the current price will be 175 USD
and that's if you buy a million of them. And it is designed for
children whereas I want to serve literate adults!
However, thanks to the OLPC wiki, I was excited to learn of the
AlphaSmart word processors. http://www.alphasmart.com These look like
keyboards that include long displays at the top to view six or more
lines of text. They are used primarily to encourage writing in schools
and also by writers who are working on their first drafts. They have a
nice group of enthusiasts who like them because of their long battery
life (the 3 AA batteries last for 200 hours) and the lack of
distractions (so they can focus on writing!) and they have large
keyboards and are very durable. The Neo is $220 and the Dana, which is
wi-fi enabled, is $430. And there are used AlphaSmarts available at
eBay for $50 and up. However, they don't write to flash drives, which
means instead you have to take them with you and use the USB cable and
load their software on the computer you use. The Dana does write to
Secure Digital cards and Multimedia cards. I look forward to connecting
with the makers and their community.
Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm, has similar thoughts about the new
Foleo, not yet available, 499 USD, which looks like a small notebook but
is meant as a device for overcoming the limitations of a smartphone:
"The concept of this product is five years old... it became clear the
smartphone wasn't going to fill that role. It has a keyboard, nice
display, except there's a problem. You need a full size screen and
keyboard. .... When you want to introduce a new platform, a new product
category, you have to find someone who really wants it, and it grows
beyond that. The thing we focused initially on is that email experience.
Talking about battery life... it's similar to a cellphone usage model.
... People always focus on the fastest processor... like a game
machine. But its simpler, it's more fun to use. This is a fun product to
use, you just like using it."
Note the many negative comments, but they are mainly driven by price:
"Maybe now someone will see the opportunity for a display/imput
accessory that's under $200."
Coby manufactures several very inexpensive products that can be
purchased through Amazon and offer a slightly different set of
functionality but show what could be done:
* Coby TF-DVD7377 7" DivX Compatible Portable DVD Player plays digital
audio, video, photos including from USB drives and SD/MMC cards. Digital
and Analog AV outputs. 125 USD.
* Coby DP772 7-Inch Widescreen Digital Photo Frame with MP3 Player 5.6
inch for 71 USD DP-562 TFT LCD @ 320 x 234, 7 inch for 76 USD, 8 inch
for 108 USD. Displays JPEG and BMP image files. Plays MP3 and WMA audio
files and most MP4 and AVI files from digital cameras. A/V output for
use with home theater systems; integrated stereo speakers. SD, MMC, xD
and CF Card compatible; USB port for fast file transfers.
* Coby CX-TV1 Black White Television with AM/FM tuner for 15 USD.
My thought now is to find partners who would like to make this happen.
I'm working with our participants to meet our own needs by:
* developing our web interfaces (letters, wikis, chat) so that our
activity can be easily downloaded and make sure that is indeed useful
* encouraging entrepreneurship by shipping flash drives to Africa for
* putting together 100 MB of content to publish on those flash drives to
make them more attractive for sale, especially because we will be
selling the smaller flash drives
* making sure everybody has a computer, helping them earn them
* learning and thinking through how best to assemble computers and set
up wireless networks
Italy is a center for the world's "trashware", which is making good use
of old computers. I will be there for at least a week after September
27 so I hope to engage them and learn what can be done. I hope they
might help to see what we can do with used AlphaSmarts or with old
computer monitors and so on. Also, thanks to our participation in
Communia, we will be able to invite our African participants to Europe
next year and I hope that we can help them get training in trashware and
wireless. I am glad that Maria Agnese Giraudo is excited to help us
make these connections.
I will be engaging manufacturers who we might work with, or especially,
work for to develop these opportunities. I am especially interested
that we might work for One Village Foundation founder Joy Tang who is at
Accton http://www.accton.com and is interested that they serve emerging
markets. More broadly, I am seeing that there is a wider community that
we might involve, especially around AlphaSmart and OLPC. I invite all
who are interested to join Samwel's group Mendenyo
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mendenyo/ at our lab which is where we'll
focus our work, send a blank message to mendenyo-subscribe at yahoogroups.com
There are also various sources of funding. Thank you to Pamela Maclean
for alerting us to the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC Innovation Awards
http://charitychannel.com/publish/templates/?a=14249&z=26 where we will
apply for a $100,000 grant. Also, the European Union program EUREKA
fund 50% or more of research costs and I think there's a reasonable
chance for that here. We need to find partners in other European
countries so I'm looking perhaps for a trashware company in Italy,
Denmark or elsewhere that might help us do hardware research and also a
manufacturer like ZBD Displays or Siemens which I think makes the
Wincor-Nixdorf customer displays, or Ricoh Europe as Greg Wolff works
for Ricoh Innovations. I'm also writing a proposal to Lithuania's
foreign ministry for 20,000 USD to work for three months next year in
the Ghor province of Afghanistan on organizing independent thinkers and
overcoming marginal Internet access.
Our lab's largest project to date was My Food Story
http://www.myfoodstory.info for Greg Wolff of Unamesa Association. I
realized that Unamesa Association http://www.unamesa.org might play a
key role here potentially as a holder of any patents that might arise in
our research so that they are part of our commons. Also, Greg and I are
discussing how people might help finance our colleagues in Africa so
they could buy computers or other devices and then pay them back as they
get related work. Greg offered to loan $1,000 for this purpose if we
might match it with another $1,000, if he might earn 15% in one year,
and we might try to work with TiddlyWiki and SharedRecords technologies
that are relevant for us here, and we could cover any defaults with our
lab's services. Steve Bosserman and I thought further about this, given
that it is not very attractive to send money out of Africa, what if our
lab had a community currency in Africa that somebody like Greg could be
buying? Then if he wanted cash instead of services, I or others could
buy his community currency, but we wouldn't have to ship that money out
of Africa. Greg has inspired us to think fresh about financing and also
business opportunities that computers open up for our participants.
I look forward to our ideas how we might make "marginal Internet access"
a reality that we are comfortable acknowledging and making the best of.
More than a billion people will be within walking distance of the
Internet. We can make that a digital invitation rather than a digital
divide. And we can cross the last mile by
serving our own local communication needs and working outwards from our
homes rather than waiting for the day that somebody finally reaches us.
The Internet is a network of networks!
Please write how any of the above might be of interest to you and I will
try to include and acknowledge and reward all of our contributions!
P.S. Subsequently, I had an encouraging talk with Joy Tang, VP of
Marketing in Accton http://www.accton.com, who is also the founder of
One Village Foundation http://www.onevillagefoundation.org She
encouraged me to look for interested partners. I am corresponding with
Lonnie B. Hodge http://sinotrading.us/SEO.htm who is near Shenzhen the
world center for flash drive manufacturers. I'm excited at the
ms at ms.lt
+370 699 30003
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