Introducing Abaeté

May 9th, 2004

Time for your irregularly scheduled Shameless Plug:

Friends, if you’re (a) female, and (b) fashion-conscious (or you know someone who is), I urge your examination of Abaeté


Bridges.org on the African Open Source Movement

May 9th, 2004

The most excellent Bridges.org has just published an outstanding article: Straight from the Source: Perspectives from the African Open Source Software Movement. The article is built around AfricaSource, a recent workshop in Namibia that attracted 40 developers from 25 countries around Africa. The summary opens with an amazing quote that captures the promise and the agony — and the dedication — of many African open source programmers:

For a software developer working in Africa, Philip Mbogo’s problem is as basic as it gets: “I don’t have a computer,” he said. “I have to go for unpaid work in order just to get on a computer.” Internet access is also an expensive rarity, so he counts himself fortunate to work as an intern at an Internet service provider where he takes as much advantage of the bandwidth as he can. “Anything I can get I download. I even got [a Linux distribution called] Debian, which takes two days [to download].”

I recommend the article highly. It is a well-written and engaging look at the front lines of computing in Africa.


Pinging Mars and Beyond

February 16th, 2004

Let’s tell it like it is:  The Mars Rovers rule.  Ask your inner nerd:  Is there anything cooler than being able to see virtually-real-time images snapped on the surface of another planet?  NASA’s JPL posts daily-updated raw footage archives for both Spirit and Opportunity


After the depressing loss of the Columbia and its crew, it’s a thrill to see NASA scientists kicking so much butt and pulling off such incredible feats.  Their rapid diagnosis and resuscitation of the crippled Spirit reminded me of the storied Apollo 12 launch, during which the command module lost power (due to a lightning strike during lift-off), cutting off communications to flight control and threatening to scuttle the mission, until a brilliant 24-year-old flight controller named John Aaron called out “Flight, try SCE to ‘Aux’“, a suggestion to flip an onboard switch so obscure that neither his colleagues nor the crew knew what it meant.  But it worked:  the power came on, the telemetry flowed, and the crew was on its way to the moon.


A happy side-effect of the success of the Mars Rovers is the attention that they are bringing to NASA’s accellerating plans for an interplanetary Internet.  While working with Vint Cerf over the past few years, I became semi-obsessed with the progress of his efforts (together with an incredible team of engineers at JPL and elsewhere) to create an efficient and flexible suite of communications protocols that could operate across the vast reaches of the solar system.  Drawing on the core lessons of TCP/IP, the internetplanetary Internet would deal with the vast distances of space by using a highly delay-tolerant version of store-and-forward packet switching.


Among the recent flurry of stories about interplanetary Internet, the most accessible is “E-Mail from Mars: Plans for an interplanetary Internet are taking shape,” an interview with Scott Burleigh, one of the leading architects of the initiative.  He discusses the fact that the new protocols will be first be deployed later this year, on NASA’s Deep Impact comet mission. In addition, NASA is planning to deploy a Martian network of multiple orbiting relay satellites, to be launched starting in 2005.


Background:  For the interested and detail-tolerant, I recommend  two papers:  “Interplanetary Internet (IPN): Architectural Definition” and the clunkily-named but well-written “Delay-Tolerant Network Architecture: The Evolving Interplanetary Internet“, both by Cerf, Burleigh, Hooke, and others.  If you can handle a PowerPoint .pdf, Adrian Hooke has posted a great overview presentation on the overall IPN strategy.  Vint keeps a helpful page of links on Interplanetary Internet.  The Internet Society’s IPN Special Interest Group is a great resource, with a discussion list.  Finally, if you want to know the nitty-gritty on why the standard Internet protocols aren’t up to the job of interplanetary communications, read this.


Ethan Raises the Roof, Bewaa-Style

January 17th, 2004

I am right now in the middle of presenting a BlogAfrica workshop on weblogging, with comrade Ethan, at BusyInternet in Accra.


By the way, since Ethan had the bad taste to post a regrettable photo of me getting down at the Dagara Bewaa School last Sunday, I feel compelled to present this shot of Ethan raising the roof, Bewaa-style.




Ethan and friends


Mondo Ghana: First Days in Accra

January 17th, 2004

Greetings from Ghana!  Apparently, it’s a bit warmer here in Accra than it is in New York City.  I’m at the tail end of a 10-day working trip sponsored by Geekcorps, focusing on Internet and telecommunications policy and infrastructure issues.  My partner in crime is Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Geekcorps, co-fellow at the Berkman Center, and longtime Ghana hand.  For a few days last week, we were also joined by the indomitable Teresa Peters of Bridges.org


The visit started brilliantly, with successive waves of four-part harmony, dancing, drumming, and xylophonery.  First came the singing.  Geekcorps’s deputy country director, Sam Larmie, arranged for a friend’s a capella singing group to meet us at arrivals — they sang us an original welcome song just as we cleared customs and stepped into the warm, humid Accra air.  Ethan has posted a picture of the group


The next day, we travelled north of the city to the Dagara Bewaa School, the music and arts academy that was founded by Ethan’s old and dear friend Bernard Woma. The highlight of the day was the weekly performance/rehearsal by the Bewaa Culture Group, a high-energy Dagara dance troupe whose complex polyrhythmic routines will supply your full Recommended Daily Allowance of leaping, stomping, shaking, and bravado.  Ethan has a nice long post about it, including a highly unfortunate picture of me getting jiggy.


The rest of the week has been devoted to meetings, meetings, meetings:  from the ISPs to the Minister of Communications to Ghana Telecom.  So far, we have learned a ton, advocated for (what we think is) smart policy and regulatory reform, and eaten some very tasty meals.  At every meeting, we have had our expectations upended, usually in a good way.  Ghana is undergoing rapid transformation:  in the past five years, it has gone from virtually zero mobile phones to more than 800,000, far surpassing the paltry 280,000 wireline phone connections that Ghana Telecom has struggled to deploy over the past 40 years.  Internet technology portends an even more forceful explosion of connectivity and services in the next few years — but only if the government can do its job right.  The big question for the country’s information and communications technology sector is whether the laws and regulations (and regulators) can keep pace, or whether they will continue to act as an unecessary restraint on Ghana’s future.


More to come on the players, policies, and prospects for positive change.


 


ICANN and the Virtues of Deliberative Decisionmaking

December 24th, 2003

My response to the Palfrey, et al., study has been picked up by CircleID as a two-part series:  ICANN and the Virtues of Deliberative Decisionmaking. Check it out; feedback welcome.


Mongolia’s Draft Law on IT: A Disaster on Wheels

December 24th, 2003

I just published a pretty comprehensive Analysis and Critique of Mongolia’s Draft Law on Information Technology.  The core conclusion: the Draft Law as it now stands would do significant harm to Mongolia’s vibrant and promising information and communication technology sector.  To wit:



For the reasons detailed in this analysis, the Draft Law should be substantially revised and rewritten. To fulfill its responsibilities as the guardian of the people of Mongolia, the Great Khural must give careful consideration to each of the many policy choices that would be codified in the provisions of the Draft Law. An alarmingly high portion of the policy choices in the Draft Law will cause harm to Mongolia’s national Internet and e-commerce sectors and to its future as a competitive player in the global information and communication technology markets. Many provisions are confused and confusing, apparently reflecting a lack of technical understanding.



At home, the Draft Law would crush e-commerce with unnecessary regulatory burdens, block effective deployment of new technologies and infrastructures, raise the costs of Mongolia’s ICT enterprises, restrict the range and reduce the quality of communications services, and increase the monthly bills for Mongolian users. If the Draft Law is approved and implemented as it is currently written, Mongolian citizens will be saddled with fewer choices, older technology, slower connectivity, higher prices, irrational limits on technology, and more bureaucracy. Perhaps worst of all, the Draft Law’s burdensome regulations are so vague and expansive that they will undoubtedly open new vistas for governmental abuse and corruption.  For Mongolia, the net result would be a costly tragedy of short-sightedness and a squandering of potential:  with its high levels of education, literacy, and technical skills, the country is well-situated to be a highly competitive player in the global market for ICT services.


Mongolia deserves much better than the broken legal framework of the Draft Law on Information Technology.  If the country is to foster entrepreneurship, local enterprise, and low-cost, high-quality ICTs for all Mongolians, the Draft Law must be thoroughly reconsidered and rewritten.


The worst section is the one on digital signatures — it should stand as a case study (and cautionary tale) about the dangers of technically clueless lawmaking.  The Draft Law is being considered right now by the Mongolian Parliament (the State Great Khural).  In the grand scheme of things, the Draft Law represents a critical — and potentially quite negative — turning point for Mongolia.  The members of the State Great Khural owe it to Mongolia’s future generations to thing long and hard about the Draft Law, to take the time necessary to understand its provisions and implications, and then to chart a different course.


Public Participation in ICANN: Rebuttal In Action

December 10th, 2003

My Berkman colleagues John Palfrey, Clifford Chen, Sam Hwang, and Noah Eisenkraft today published an interesting study on Public Participation in ICANN.  They very kindly offered me the opportunity write a concurrent response, and I was only too happy to oblige.  The result:  The Virtues of Deliberation: A Response to “Public Participation in ICANN”


Basically, I conclude that the study has two fundamental flaws: (1) it misunderstands both the theory and the practice of ICANN’s policy-development process, and (2) it leaps from its very narrow — indeed, myopic — focus on the online message boards at forum.icann.org to a set of sweeping (and, in my view, unwarranted) conclusions about the success or failure of public participation in ICANN. I argue that ICANN is designed to be a deliberative, not an objectively “representative”, technical policy-making body;  that its is ICANN’s Supporting Organizations, not the online message boards, that are at the heart of the policy-development process. By limiting its methodology to counting identifiably pro and con messages posted on the unverified, unauthenticated message boards, the study missed the essence of how public input and participation in ICANN actually occurs. The validity of its conclusions suffer from that rather sizeable blind spot.


The money line: “In short, concluding that the ICANN experiment in public participation has been a failure because online public forums have been a failure is like saying that television has been a failure because Cop Rock was a failure.”


 


IPv4 exhaustion: More data and views

November 25th, 2003

The BBC story that so annoyed me  (without a shred of evidence, it predicted the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses by the end of 2005, among other sins)  has provoked a couple of other interesting corrective responses:




  • The indomitable Scott Bradner devoted one of his Network World Fusion columns (“Miscounting and misunderstanding addresses“) to it.  Highlight: “I think something like IPv6 – and I expect it will be IPv6 itself - will be needed over the next decade as the Internet expands to cover many more applications such as IP-based cell phones. But there is no reason to panic. IPv6 is well along in deployment and will be there when we need it.
  • The RIPE NCC (the IP address registry for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East) posted an updated on “IPv4 Address Space“. Highlight: “Based on today’s total global allocation rate of approximately 4.25 blocks per year in 2002, or 5.5 blocks in 2001, and the remaining pool of 91 blocks held by IANA, it is unrealistic to assume that there is an imminent shortage in the IPv4 address space.
  • Geoff Huston pointed me to an updated presentation from September (“IPv4 Address Lifetime Expectancy Revisited“) that expands upon his earlier (excellent) paper “IPv4 – How Long Have We Got?”  Huston’s latest work suggests that, if anything, 2024 may be a conservative estimate of IPv4 longevity.

      ‘Nuff said, for now.


       



    BlogAfrica: Introduction and Invitation

    November 23rd, 2003

    Here’s something exciting and newsworthy:  BlogAfrica!  It’s a new initiative to increase the numbers of people blogging in and about Africa, and to highlight Africans who are writing blogs.


    BlogAfrica includes a catalog of Africa-focused blogs, hosted by the good people at allafrica.com. It’s a great starting place for people interested in reading African weblogs.  Anyone writing a blog from Africa, or with a focus on Africa, is invited to list it there. BlogAfrica will also be promoting great Africa-centric blogs on the BlogAfrica site.


    In addition, BlogAfrica will run workshops in Africa to bring together African bloggers with bloggers from around the world.  The first workshop will be in Ghana in January 2004.  Ethan Zuckerman (of Geekcorps and the Berkman Center), Teresa Peters (of Bridges.org), and I will be in Ghana from the 8th to the 20th of January.  Alongside a range of IT policy-related work, we’ll be offering free workshops on blogging at cybercafes and universities across Ghana.


    We’re very interested in having other bloggers join us on this trip, both to help teach workshops and to share with the world their impressions of — and adventures in — Ghana. We’d love to be able to demonstrate the power of the global blogosphere to direct attention to the promise and problems of the developing world.  Plus, it’s going to be a really fun two weeks in one of the most interesting — and friendly — countries in Africa. Each blogger will have to pay for him/herself, but we will all work hard to make the trip productive, enjoyable, and memorable.  What better way to get a personal introduction to Africa, while doing something to bring the world a bit closer together?

    If you think you might be interested in joining us, please read more about the trip on BlogAfrica.  Ethan has kindly agreed to be the contact person, and will happily answer queries at ethan@geekcorps.org.

    If this idea captures your imagination, please check out the blogs listed on the blog catalog, and get in touch with Ethan to see how you could get involved.  Most importantly, blog about it!