Perspectives on War and Conflict – Which Side is Right?

As children of the 50s and 60s, growing up in the US, we had the constant fear of nuclear annihilation riding on our backs. The “Red Threat” resulted in the construction of nuclear fallout shelters, attack drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “Domino Theory” warning of the advance of communism. Every American child was taught to fear, and hate, those who lived in foreign countries considered hostile to the US because of their ideologies and forms of government.

During my first visit to China in the early 1990s, I was genuinely afraid I’d be arrested at immigration due to my past US military experience. Even though I was in my late 30s, the fear of China was so deeply embedded into my psyche that I could not shake the impending feeling of doom as my airplane touched down at the Beijing airport. Even while deplaning I could not help but notice nearly EVERYONE in the airport was wearing some kind of uniform, and they were all looking at me as a spy or person who had entered their country to do them harm.

At immigration the inspector looked at my passport, and said “welcome to the People’s Republic of China.” And that was it.

Conflict of war and perspectiveExiting the airport also meant exiting the community of uniforms, and I entered a world that fascinated me then, given the warmth and openness of the people in Beijing, and continues to fascinate me today. Occasionally a Chinese person engaged me in a debate about the differences of democracy vs. communism, but in the post Tianamen period most Chinese were concentrating on making money, working hard, and getting on with their lives.

Ditto for Mongolia. While I have to admit it was a bit uncomfortable for me to see HIND helicopters flying around, and soldiers walking around with AK-47s, I started to warm up to the idea they were defending their country, their way of life, and trying to keep enemies away from their borders. Kind of like what Americans do within our country.

In Hanoi, a name that still brings a bit of anxiety to many Americans of my generation, walking through the city and museums produced concerns that I might not be well liked, as an American, in a country we fought in a horrible conflict through much of my youth. I had the feeling everybody looking at me was wondering if I flew B52s, or had wounded or killed one of their family.

In fact, many of them do have that question. But much like other humans around the world, life is for the living, and the living get on with their lives. In fact, Hanoi is one of the friendliest cities I have been in, and continues to bring pleasant surprises every time I venture out of the hotel into the community.

The 1000 Pound Reminder

I have started rationalizing my emotions towards war. As a professional soldier I know the meaning of conflict, have been in conflict, and don’t like it very much. The enemy has no face, no soul, no name, no family, and is a slab of meat that needs to be captured or killed. Soldiers, regardless of the soft news that surrounds winning the hearts and minds, are trained to take the lives of their enemies either while advancing on their position, or defending their own position. Pretty simple.

Walking through Hanoi there are still signs of conflict. A large crater that formed when 1000 pound bombs were dropped into neighborhoods. The “Hanoi Hilton” of John McCain fame. The “Hanoi Jane” memorial anti-aircraft gun. All memories of a time many years ago when people in Hanoi were killing or being killed.

As an American I grew up hating the Vietnamese for torturing US airmen. I grew up hating Muslims for the terrible things they did to Jews. I hated Cubans for just about everything. All a result of the media telling me I should hate them. A media that continue s to drive the same message for other conflicts and cultures – broadcast by people with a lot of experience in war, such as Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. They do have a lot of military experience to draw their conclusions from, right?

Now, after many years of walking through countries we have at some point in our generation been at war (Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Palestine, Israel, Germany, etc., etc., etc…), my perspective is changing. I wonder how I, as an American, would react if the war was fought, for example, in Long Beach (California). If bombers from Manitoba were dropping 1000 pound bombs on Belmont Shore, what would my reaction be?

If I caught a Manitoban flyer who had his plane shot down while dropping bombs on my neighborhood, what would I do to him?

The answer is pretty easy. I would rip him limb from limb and feed the parts to coyotes – while I watched and laughed.

When I think of the indignities a young school girl encounters while passing from Ramallah into East Jerusalem, what can I expect her to think or feel as she passes Jewish people or Israelis each day? What if I was her father? How would I react to bulldozers wiping out my neighborhood to accommodate settlement expansions? If foreigners were occupying my homeland, would I welcome them with open arms, or find a way to fight?

How do you win the hearts and minds when a bomber accidently drops its payload on a civilian community and calls it “collateral damage?” At the end of the day, it really makes no difference if it is a mistake or not – people die.

It is all about your perspective. As history has shown, the winner ultimately writes the history. It is both enlightening, and confusing to look at the perspectives of each side. We can now look at the wars of the Romans, Mongols, British Empire, and Zulus with a detached, neutral, and academic view. Recent wars are still being written, and may not be understood for another 500 years or so. And when they are written, there is not going to be a right or wrong, only a winner and body count of the dead.

My perspective is now that war is not a good thing for the living. And as Clausewitz eloquently said, “war results when diplomats are incompetent or screw up.” Or something like that. And 16 year old children implement their failed policy with guns or explosives strapped to their belts.

All about perspective, and understanding there are two distinct sides to every argument or conflict.

Techno-SciFi for Engineers and Soldiers – Daemon

There is nothing more irritating or annoying to a professional soldier than to watch a movie and find technical errors. A haircut that is out of regulation, a misplaced ribbon or medal, errors in weapon nomenclature, or even unit Reviewing Neal Stephenson and Daniel Saurezdesignations and locations. A soldier knows within a millisecond when there is a technical error – and it dilutes even the best story line. Telecom and Internet industry-related professionals have the same emotion when terms, equipment, or architectures are mispresented in movies.

Then along comes an author who has either really done his homework well, had great advice, or simply knows his subject matter cold. Once the credibility is firmly established, then there is an uncanny ability to lay a story on top of that technical credibility, and keep even the most critical geek engaged.

Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon” was the first novel I had read which met this strict criteria. Did a good job, because I spent most of the next year reading everything he ever wrote, and have kept up since with great stories such as “Anathem.” I trust Neal Stephenson, so I am able to freely indulge in his stories without becoming tolerant of an error-prone technical structure to the story.

I like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais because they correctly describe locations around Los Angeles, where I live, and it helps put their stories into context. Did I mention I really like technically accurate stories?

Just when I thought it was safe, and that I would not become addicted to another Techno-SciFi author, I walk past a row of Paperbacks and spy the title “Daemon,” by Daniel Saurez.

“Daemon,” huh?…

OK, for a communicator the word Daemon has a very specific meaning:

A daemon is a computer program that runs in the background, rather than under the direct control of a user. Daemons are usually initiated as background processes. (Wikipedia)

Skeptical, I have the initial thought this would be another silly novel name dropping some lexicon of the Internet in a title to try and suck in unsuspecting readers. I read the reviews, and hold on,… these are not the average reviews writing a couple sentences out of a random word generator. These are real people, and some of them I know! I mean, how often do you see a review from Craig Newmark (Craigslist) or a director of Cybersecurity and Communications Policy writing testimonials?

Guess it was OK to give it a shot, and spend the $10. As I had a week of investment in airplanes and airports to exploit, maybe I would trip into something that was good enough to get me home.

Within the first couple pages a grisly series of murders gets my caveman senses awakened, however the environment in which the murders are committed, is, well, it is technically really accurate and complex enough to keep a geek engaged. I mean, when we start talking about 480 volt power systems, server farms, air conditioning system, biometrics, remote processes – well, it is clear the author has been around the block a few times.

While he quickly goes over my head on topics related to gaming, he attaches the gaming discussion to the underlying infrastructure like a data intelligence to a frequency. And the characters are as equally screwed up in the head as any real life gamer or software engineer I have worked with over the past 30 years. Saurez gets it, is part of it, and has produced a novel that codifies all the sick, twisted fantasies you would expect a systems engineer or software developer to harbor.

Then he ensures there are adequate personalities, education levels, egos, and human emotions t remind us this is not science fiction, it is reality – as we know reality today, adding a bit of creativity to an existing set of intellectual and physical tools. Most of those tools live inside of our known “cloud” of the Internet, but the potential of this creative thinking behind his story line is feasible enough to bring chills to an engineer’s spine.

A Strong Recommendation for your “Geek’s Reading List”

Neal Stephenson and Daniel Saurez are engaging, technically accurate, and tremendously creative authors. Stephenson’s novels are a bit more difficult to read, as he brings his ideas to an abstraction that is a bit above mindless reading. Stephenson almost tests, mocks, or challenges his readers to step back and see the big picture of his story lines. If you read page to page, you miss the point of his books. But still have a lot of fun reading the stories. Sometimes you pick up additional jewels during your third or fourth read through of the books.

Saurez puts it right in your face, and challenges you to discredit his story line. “Go ahead, prove this couldn’t happen today…”

Both are great, and should be required reading for geeks who need to step back from their Cisco manuals and RFC memorization exercises, and actually experience how creative people can apply our existing and emerging technologies to abstractions of thought. Remember, the engineer can design a tool, but only a user can find creative ways to exploit the tool. Engineers can learn a lot from people who apply our visions to solve problems and enable new opportunities. Having recently finished reading Anathem and Daemon, I cannot pass by a router, switch, or server without thinking….

Read the book

John Savageau, Honolulu

Interview with Mike Lagunowitsch, Presence Networks, Hong Kong

It was a clear, very beautiful morning in Sydney. Mike brought the Pitts biplane up to about 4,500ft, and you could literally reach out and touch the mountains from the open cockpit and passenger seat. I came close to better appreciating the words of the classic poem that is understood by pilots, and very few others;

Mike Lagunowitsch, the pilot, a friend, and former colleague at Sprint Australia and Sprint China, is one of the few people I know who can really step away from the job, and escape into complete indulgence in life. Then almost like flipping a switch he returns to being one of the most enthusiastic, aggressive visionairies in the telecommunications industry.

Savageau: Mike, what are you doing these days? Been a long time since we had a chance to catch up.

Mike: I live in Hong Kong and am building Presence Networks in Asia Pacific/India. We provide presence based, secure IM Unified Comms delivered as SaaS for telecommunications carriers and large enterprises.

Savageau: What attracted you into technology and the telecom business?

Mike: At University in the ‘80s I did an Industrial Training year, and was subsequently hired by an early email and network access provider. I was assigned to a network services team, building and troubleshooting X.25 packet switching networks. It was a real apprenticeship in hierarchical peering protocols and the telecoms business. Subsequently I did similar job for a US carrier that operated in the global market. These foundations still serve me well. I also developed relationships that I have kept and which have been incredibly important in my career.

Savageau: What makes technology-related industry more interesting than other careers?

Mike: For me it’s the speed of acquisition, application of knowledge, and the creativity that’s enabled. It’s just unprecedented. And it will only get faster and more innovative. The implications are mind blowing.

Savageau: What are some of your most memorable projects?

Mike: I was based in Jilin province China once for a project where we had to install some very sophisticated Class IV laser DWD Muxes. The venue was very near the North Korean border. Problem was that the data centre was in a remote place several miles from the closest train station. It was February, about nine feet of snow, and a complete mess everywhere. Roads were absolutely unusable by trucks.

To solve our transportation and logistics problem we hired a wooden cart pulled by a massive hairy yak. This modern transportation system ultimately hauled the crated mux to our customer’s site. A few days later after sorting out grounding, power stability and replacing broken windows, we actually got it up and running. Amazing. It was a wonderful international joint effort between Chinese, US and Canadian engineers, with me as the token Brit – all pulling together to get the job done. A real can-do team effort. Lots of smiles and “gwangshi building” beers were consumed after that job.

I also worked with a team of Russian engineers in Moscow. I was amazed that they had laid and lit fibre in the sewers across the city. The network was huge. Later when in Sydney, Australia we were building a dark fibre network in the CBD but couldn’t find the right skills in the local market. So I flew down some of the team of Russian engineers to get the job done. They did the job in half the planned time. They had something to prove, and their level of professional pride and work ethic was incredible. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting their team manager again. He was passing through Hong Kong this past January, and of course meeting him and catching up was really nice for me. We hadn’t seen each other for ten years but had got back in touch via the social networking tool LinkedIn over the last year.

Savageau: You are British, but have chosen to live your life in the international community – any particular reason why?

Mike: Actually I carry dual nationality & passports – British by birth and Australian by choice. I grew up in the UK, but my father was from what is now Belarus. From an early age I was encouraged that the “world was my oyster” to “stand on my own two feet” and “go explore”. I have had some wonderful cultural experiences being in the international telecoms industry. These have helped me understand how to work with other cultures and recognize the limitations of nationalistic and protectionist attitudes. It’s important never to forget your roots and culture of course, but in the current world we live in fostering tolerance and having the ability to cross culturally collaborate is critical. It’s also fun and I love the variety of cuisines.

Savageau: What professional goals are still out there for you to achieve?

Mike: I would love to combine my interests in technology and aviation.

I think we are at the tip of the iceberg with the current generation of computing and service technologies. Ironically I think the current global economic climate will accelerate the rate of technological innovation that drive efficiencies in how we collaborate, force the development of new business models and help eradicate mindless bureaucracy. I so want to be a part of this change.

Savageau: Any emerging technologies or applications that really excite you?

Mike: I’ve been curious about Artificial Intelligence since University days. With today’s early collaborative technologies, increases in computational and storage performance, increasingly sophisticated search engines, and with a permanently wired generational mindset starting to enter the labour pool the opportunities to creatively engage this somewhat fringe technology are very exciting. Of course AI is no match for natural stupidity but maybe the latter can serve as inspiration.

Savageau: Do you have suggestions for young engineers who are looking not only for a great career, but also the chance to bring excitement into their jobs?

Yeah. Don’t be afraid to take risks, especially now. Recognize the limitations of material things and don’t go chase a job for the sake of money. Identify and play to your strengths. Be creative and apply your skills to help solve the really critical issues of today; disease, population growth, extinction of species – animal and plant, government’s and corporation’s exploitation of finite natural resources. Despite the current military conflicts and economic challenges these are the BIG issues of today the ones that will deliver truly exciting returns. Technology alone is not the answer but it can be a critical enabler for rapid positive change that will benefit everyone in society.

Savageau: Final message to the tech community in California?

Mike: Continue to harness technology to create and innovate in all areas. Remain the world leader in these areas. Thwart senseless bureaucracy at all levels. Openly collaborate with all cultures, learn from them to develop technologies/services that benefit everyone. The money will follow.

===

I’ve known Mike for just about 17 years. We’ve walked the streets of Beijing, Sydney, London, HongKong, Tokyo, and Washington DC together, talking about technology, culture, and visions of the future. Hong Kong is lucky to have him. I look forward to getting him to Long Beach some day, and having the chance to catch up on all topics in tech and life.

And he does an awesome reverse negative “G”stall in the Pitts at 10,000 feet.

One Telecom and Business Idea for Ramallah and Palestine

Innovation is a catalyst for change in personal lives, education, how we work, and community life. All are components that may fill a fundamental requirement for continued economic development. In Ramallah there are many challenges to overcome in the journey from the current situation, to being in a competitive pool with other developing and modern countries.

ICT (Information and Communications Technology) development will contribute not only to the education and continued automation of banking, government, and eCommerce, but also to the overall quality of life in cities such as Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jericho.

International organizations and the Palestine government are developing specific plans to bring more network-enabled education resources to the schools. There are efforts to extend both fixed line (fiber optic backbone infrastructure) and wireless communications throughout the city (Ramallah), and as regulatory issues and commercial issues mature, that infrastructure will eventually diffuse down to the individual subscriber level.

The Daily Routine

As Palestine does not have a credible public transportation system, all movement is either done on foot, or by private automobile and commercial Walking in Traffic - Ramallahtaxi. During “rush hour” periods travel is virtually impossible, and the quality of air due to exhaust and lax emission standards makes movement through the city extremely noxious. In addition, as there is considerable debris on the streets due to construction, as well as the reality of narrow streets and limited sidewalk space, travelling to both school and work can be a dangerous process.

Through my own pedestrian movement through the city, it struck me as obvious that Palestine is a prime candidate for future knowledge workers (pending further diffusion of “eLearning” and “eReady” graduates into the work force) to contribute to the workforce through telepresence and telecommuting.

Software developers and non-construction, storefront/restaurant, or factory workers would greatly benefit from not needing to navigate the dangerous and unhealthy streets of cities like Ramallah. ICT is the key to both promoting the development of a knowledge worker industry, as well as greatly improving individual quality of life.

Accepting home work is not always easy due to large families and home distractions, thus satellite work areas may be an additional consideration. Those satellite work areas should include high performance ICT resources, allowing knowledge workers to contribute higher quality and effective time to their companies and professional activities.

Overall Impact of ICT Resource Development in Ramallah

During my time in Ramallah I used Internet access points provided by both the hotel and local consultant’s representative office. The hotel connected through PALTEL, the incumbent monopoly communications provider. The hotel did use wireless, with access points extended throughout the hotel to improve local signal strength. Testing upload and download speeds to a California-based server resulted in good performance of 761Kbps down and 558Kbps up. This was adequate to support all my Internet access needs, as well as IP telephony for calls home.

The consultant used a dedicated link to Israel, with performance that can be considered equal to most access locations within American cities.

While neither of these access points would be considered normal for all of Ramallah or other locations within Palestine, it does indicate the potential for delivery of Internet services within the territory. Companies with an existing ICT presence, planning to open neutral data centers, could with additional investment and support of the government (regulatory issues and licensing) increase the potential for Internet protocol-enabled service delivery which would support far greater opportunities for elearning and telepresence.

The Education System

ICT diffusion into the public education system in Palestine is still low, with only around 30% of university students having good access to computers and Internet. The Ministry of Education and other government agencies Despair in the Daily Commute Routineshould aggressively take advantage of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government donors to build a robust network-enabled education capacity.

Visiting refugee camps such as Jenin and Kalandia gives small bits of hope that displaced people do have the attention of organizations such as the United Nations. UN-administered schools will eventually bring additional hope to students who need eLearning and network education to have the basic intellectual tools to enter a modern work force and compete. Having those skills will also increase their potential of eventually leaving the camps, and recovering some quality of life.

Education programs supported and administered by religious groups appear to have a bit better eLearning programs (from discussion with representative from the Ramallah Quaker School). Graudates from those schools will also have better opportunities for international university sponsorships, and likely bring their experience and knowledge back to Palestine at some point.

Jerusalem

There are many commuters who live in Jerusalem and travel to Ramallah each day. The trip is not far geographically, but can take a very long time Border Crossing between Ralamallah and Jerusalemdepending on rush hours, curfews, border closures, or if the Israeli security forces have any extended searches or issues at the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Having a telecommuting-ready industry would greatly improve the quality of life for people who need to commute between the cities, as well as provide another layer of physical safety for commuters (the Ramallah checkpoint has been a frequent area of civil unrest).

Students commuting between Ramallah and East Jerusalem encounter the same difficulty as workers. The following transcript from France24 tells the story of a young lady who travels the route daily.

There they met Zaina Abu Hamdan, an 18-year-old woman from Ramallah who described her daily two-hour commute to her high school in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed.

“As I wake up every morning and come here I am nervous, and I am thinking about the humiliations I am going to face,” she said.

Passing through the checkpoint often involves waiting for long periods in packed metal corridors, extended searches and loud orders issued in Hebrew by Israeli conscripts.

“If you are lucky, how long does it take,” Carter asked her.

“Thirty minutes,” she replied.

“And if you are unlucky?”

“Two or three hours.” (France 24)

Clearly eLearning, telecommuting, and telepresence could, and should have a very positive impact on the quality of life for all Palestinians. Israel needs to expedite approval and delivery of computer/wireless/telecom hardware, as well as release of additional wirel4ess frequency that would further support enhanced ICT.

A very difficult and troubled part of the world. However we cannot lose hope, and like a good Internet protocol packet, we need to find ways around obstacles.

John Savageau, from Ramallah, West Bank of Palestine

When the Tanks Rolled We Continued to Drink our Coffee – Ramallah Raid 2007

(01-05) 04:00 PDT Ramallah, West Bank — Israeli troops staged a rare incursion into this city Thursday, bulldozing cars and vegetable stands near the central square as they engaged gunmen and stone-throwing residents in a chaotic two-hour battle that left four Palestinians dead. (LA Times, 5 Jan 2007)

“While the Israeli tanks rolled through our neighborhood, we sat at a sidewalk café and continued to drink our coffee” commented a diner at Thursday night’s Ramadan feast. For the past four nights, most of the Ramallah MosquePalestinians I’ve met on the West Bank have shown a great enthusiasm in engaging me in conversations about Palestine, Ramallah, Israel, and the impression Americans have of the conflict and country.

The gentleman discussing his thoughts and memories of the last incursion Israel made into Palestine, nearly two years ago, was one of fatigue. “We are just tired of the misery this conflict has brought into our lives. We are no longer afraid of Israel, we just want the problems to go away.”

These words attracted several nods from my table and nearby tables, bringing several others into the conversation. One lady described how the house across the street from her home was destroyed by a shell, and it blew the front of her house apart due to the concussion of the explosion. Israeli soldiers would not let her approach the house, as the area was a “security problem.” She was able to return to her home a day later to being rebuilding her life.

“What gives one person the right to destroy the home of another?” asked the lady. Of course I have no answer.

An evening of stories and thoughts of prior conflicts, incursions, the leadership of Arafat, and the current climate of tolerance and desire to get everybody’s lives back on track.

“What is your impression of Palestine, do you think we have hope?”

I took a risk and answered the question by saying “Americans in general hate victims. We don’t like anybody who sits back and waits for others to solve their problems. When I see construction workers on the job at 5 a.m. during my morning jogs; when I see Palestinian software companies popping up doing outsourcing for American companies such as Cisco – and companies in the semi-conductor business, yes I have hope.”

“You are right. I’ve lived and studied in America and that is right. Never really thought of it before. Our leadership is making a mistake. They believe we should tug at the heart strings – which of course won’t work in your country. This story needs to be told.”

During the past four days I have walked the streets of Ramallah, met dozens of people, and had a wonderful time. During the past two days I have encountered two American State Department representatives, both of whom were protected by teams of what appeared to be Blackwater security, or a Blackwater suitable substitute thugs. “The package is 30 seconds out, all is secure…”

And one of my local colleagues asks “why is that guy carrying guns around in my country?”

“I don’t know. Guess they think they are in Long Beach.”

We Really Haven’t a Clue

When I watch Fox news, I get the impression everybody in Ramallah or the West Bank wants to demonstrate against the US, Israel, motherhood and apple pie. Americans think Ramallah is a cauldron of hate, looking for every opportunity to disrupt life as we know it. And we run around the country with armed security forces that are, well, NUTS!

There are four consulate offices near my hotel, and there are Palestinian police protecting the residences – just like in any other country. The local consular officer travels freely throughout Ramallah without concern, as this is a pretty peaceful place. Jogging along the streets you see representative offices from just about any NGO (non-governmental organization) in the world, as well as the United Nations and the World Bank. No Blackwater Security.

How can Americans possibly expect to learn about this ancient and wonderful part of the world when our own leadership acts with such arrogance and elitist actions? The journalists following state department officers in the middle-east must get a small sliver of reality when traveling with the “package.” It appears even the state department officers have convinced themselves this is appropriate behavior.

The Ramadan evening buffet meal over and another walk through the city back to my hotel. It is such a beautiful at night, with a half moon and clear sky, that it would be a sin to ride in a cab or car. Dodged a couple cars as I walked into the street to avoid some construction debris, otherwise the trip was uneventful. No kidnapping attempts, no assaults, and no problems other than I forgot how to say “good evening” in Arabic.

John Savageau, from Ramallah, West Bank of Palestine

Information and Communications Technology in Ramallah

“It’s not about the addressable market today, it is about building a future for my 8 year old daughter,” says Mohammed A, a Ramallah-based consultant in information and communications technology. “The World Bank can provide a lot of great statistics about the state of telecommunications in Ramallah, but if my girl does not have the same access to eLearning and education as an Israeli girl, she won’t have a chance.”

Of course there are a lot of politics and cultural issues involved. Ramallah and the entire territory of Palestine are under Israeli administration, which poses many challenges in receiving approvals for telecom services such as wireless, including frequencies not only for internet providers, but also the mobile phone industry. WiMAX is not allowed (in Israel as well) due to military restrictions, and much of the telecom and computer equipment destined for Ramallah is held up on warehouses on the Israel side awaiting customs clearance and release.

In the education system less than 1/3 of university students have adequate access to basic Internet access or computers, and very few primary and high school students have Internet access or eLearning as part of the curriculum. Government officials admit they had some mistakes in prioritizing educational resources, further reinforcing the obvious issues resulting in education system shortfalls.

And Mohammed’s daughter still has no access to the Internet in school.

In Palestine, everything is controlled by Israel. Many international organizations and groups try to influence Israel’s government to relax restrictions on issues such as mobile frequencies, however Israel has been reticent in responding to international pressure. Why? Oh my, that is a topic that is way beyond the scope of a short blog entry.

But the result is emerging mobile operators such as Wataniya Telecom cannot get final approval from the Israel government to release frequencies in both the 900Mhz and 1800Mhz ranges needed to operate their business. The delays are becoming so costly, Wataniya (a Kuwaiti telecom investment) may need to back out of the project.

At this point all public Internet access is connected through Israel. Independent or private VSAT (satellite) connections are not allowed, nor are direct public fiber connections from Palestine through Jordon or other adjacent countries. The problems are compounded by geographic separation of Palestinian territories such as the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

And Mohammed’s daughter still has no access to the Internet in school.

Some American and other international companies are developing a soft spot for conditions in Palestine, including Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and the Negroponte Foundation. Those groups are providing both equipment, and training to Palestinians, as well as offering consulting for education programs.

Donor organizations are beginning to dump money and projects into the country (which BTW is ironically a synchronization and control nightmare for the Ministry of Education), and expatriate Palestinians are starting to bring business and opportunity back to the homeland.

Tareq Maaya, CEO of Exalt Technologies (and founder of Ghost Software – the remote access operating system), explained Palestinian software developers are among the best in the world, and there is a good opportunity for Ramallah to become a leader in software outsourcing. In fact, Exalt Technologies is now doing outsourced software development for Cisco, with much of their workload being shifted to Ramallah from development centers in India.

This is good if you are a relatively wealthy Palestinian returnee from Silicon valley, but what about Mohammed’s daughter? How will she bring herself up to the level needed to work at Exalt, if she has no access to the Internet or eLearning resources?

Dr. Sabri Saidam, Advisor to the President on IT and Technical Education, has ideas. He is a politician, well educated, and very savvy on technology. He has a plan on the board to connect all universities via high performance fiber optic cable, and fully integrate both Internet and network education, as well as eLearning into the curriculum.

A passionate man, he is focused on bringing the message of Palestine to the world, evangelizing the need for all nations to support a Palestine that gives hope to the people. He reminds us that “people with hope are productive, happy, and become content with prosperity in life.

Those without hope become frustrated, angry, and need to find a way to express that frustration.”  That is not good for Palestinians, nor anybody else.

The regional troubles of the past 50 years are well known, poorly understood, but always good for a zealous conversation. The rights, wrongs, and realities are all parts of history. History being paid for by 8 year old girls, grasping at hope for a future that brings both peace and prosperity.

Our world is connected through social networks, chats, email, video, and any other activity that can be reduced to binary digits. There is no excuse to deny this connected world to any 8 year old girl, regardless of her nationality, race, or ideology.

Ramallah is getting better every day, but we still need to nurture this city, and every other city around the world in a similar situation.

John Savageau, Ramallah, Palestine

A Nice Evening Walk in Ramallah

Walking along the streets in Ramallah at night is quite an experience. A cross between dodging cars along tight mountain roads in Hong Kong, and avoiding open manhole covers on the sidewalks of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. If you fall into the rhythm, and keep yourself out of harm’s way, the sights, sounds, and climate of Ramallah in September make for a pleasant evening.

In Long Beach you can walk along the streets at night, but passing cars and passing police will reward you with stares or requests for identification. You avoid looking directly into another person’s eyes, particularly if they are of a different race or culture, for fear of confrontation.

In Ramallah you are greeted by everybody you pass on the street, regardless of the fact you are obviously a foreigner, and there is a good probability you do not share their culture or ideology. A smile, a nod of the head, and you pass by without fear.

The city is one of hills and moguls. And like a Beijing of the 90’s, the skyline is dominated by construction and progress. This evening holds a Ramallah Hillsidegentle breeze, and the view of hills and valleys dotted with lights, and life, is very nice. It is good to stand off the side of the road, and look across the valleys towards Jerusalem, with its skyline lighting the distant horizon.

You feel and sense hope. Hope of people who have been through tremendous trouble and pain for the past 40 years. People who are tired of troubles, and want to think of a future that holds the rewards of working hard.

You feel that hope while walking the streets, seeing and hearing the sounds of progress.

Life in the 50s and early 60’s

Imagine getting up early on a Saturday morning in Ramallah, then driving to Beirut for brunch, going to the beach in the early afternoon, having a bite to eat in Tel Aviv, and being home in Ramallah for dinner. No, it is not crazy, it is life in the 50’s. An old man speaks fondly of those days, when life was good, and people of all cultures and ideologies treated each other with tolerance and respect.

The old man tells his grandchildren of a time when fences did not partition the land, checkpoints did not separate villages from each other, and free travel was an entitlement of being alive. The grandchildren listen with awe and envy, as the tales do not seem to have any reality today, in a land of occupation dominated by mistrust among neighbors who have shared the land for a thousand years.

And hope.

On the way back to the hotel you finally pass your first police checkpoint set up within Ramallah. The first thought is “oh my, is there going to be some kind of trouble?” Then a memory comes back of traffic stops in Long Beach you saw the prior weekend, with police stopping every car, checking for alcohol, checking registrations, checking individual backgrounds. Not much different.

A friendly nod by the Ramallah police while walking by, and back to the hotel. A really pleasant walk.

John Savageau, from Ramallah, Palestine

Learning the Real Ramallah

A machine gun pointed at my head, a smug look of contempt from a guard, walls designed to keep me isolated from the outside and under control. I am in prison.

From the outside, life is pretty normal. Citizens laughing in a sidewalk café, driving to the shopping mall, lining up to view a first-run movie. On the trip from the city my driver talks of the outside. He talks of people with hopes, futures, and fulfilling their dreams. At the prison checkpoint the mood changes, and we get a quick briefing on the rules of conduct while transferring to the “inside.”

I am now entering Ramallah. The line going into Ramallah is short – takes about 5 minutes. The line waiting to go out is long, and the driver reveals you can expect to wait about 3 hours to re-enter Israel. Cars with a Palestinian number plate are not allowed outside of the West Bank of Palestine, only Israeli tagged cars are allowed on the outside.

As we pass the border checkpoint our driver slowly turns, and says “welcome to our prison.”

I am an American, What do I know?

All I know of Ramallah is what I hear on the news, or read in the papers. I assume every street corner will have a group of terrorists ready to pull me out of the car and hold me for ransom, or execute me on a tape forwarded to YouTube for global distribution. The media has pumped me up to the point I cower behind slightly shaded windows, fearing what may happen to me if pedestrians see a foreigner in the car, and call ahead to those finding amusement harming me.

But what the heck? The streets of Ramallah are fairly wide, in somewhat good shape (at least compared to Tel Aviv), and everything is under construction. Lots of new buildings, all made with a wonderful stone façade, with designs that rival my own community in Long Beach. Even though we are in the middle of Ramadan, people are working hard at the construction sites, and moving about with purpose.

No visible weapons on the street. No groups of young men spoiling for a fight.

At the hotel I am greeted by security, a guard shakes my hand and says “Welcome to Ramallah.” The desk clerk gives me a warm welcome, and gives a quick overview of the area, and quickly fills in a couple of high-level suggestions on the tradition and culture of Ramadan, which is an important period of the year for Muslims.

Nothing harsh or threatening, just giving me a couple tips of what is happening, and how I can avoid causing myself any personal anxiety over making a social gaff. He was worried about my feelings, not those of Muslims who probably expect me to do something culturally silly.

My first Ramadan Celebration Meal

The hotel prepares a buffet. Muslims have fasted all day, and according to the practice wait until the official sunset to feast. The hotel restaurant area has a large screen display guiding evening prayers, and at the official moment of sunset announces to those present it is time to celebrate.

Lamb, a large variety of food, drinks, a true celebration. Everybody is friendly with everybody else, and even show foreigners like myself much accommodation and warmth.

A Ramallah Sunrise

On the first morning in Ramallah I take a sunrise walk along the hills and moguls of the city. Most of the buildings new. Many vacant lots with the foundations of past homes, lives, families, and a culture disrupted over the past 40 years of “troubles.” Most appear destroyed by human hand. Everybody greets me as I walk along the street, somewhat amused by my interest in the buildings and community, but no cold shoulder or indication I am unwelcome.

A new day, and the beginning of a new challenge. The challenge of making sure my visit to Palestine and Ramallah will bring value. I don’t want to be a burden, a tourist, or an ugly American. I feel the history, the spirit, and depth of a region that does not have a single centimeter of land untouched by humans. I look inside for the strength to bring my experience and knowledge to really smart people, who just need reinforcement of their visions.

We are but a snapshot, a sound bite in time. How do we bring value to an area which has ground every effort throughout history into yet another chronicle of struggle?

We will try

John Savageau, from Ramallah, Palestine

A Really Smart GRID

The National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) estimates the US loses anywhere between $119 and $188 billion each year due to power losses and power interruptions and quality issues (such as brown outs). In 2000 the cost of a one hour power outage in Chicago cost the Board of Trade nearly $20 trillion (NETL) in trades. And the stories of financial loss due to power outages go on and on.

Clearly, the value and cost of power is critical to our existence as a nation. Nearly everything we do is dependent on some level of electricity for support – whether it be for cooking, lighting, entertainment, work – we cannot live without electricity.

Only problem is we are still working on an electrical distribution system in the US designed in the 1940s and 50s. We, as a nation, need to invest in a next generation of electrical distribution systems. And those systems will need a lot of intelligence. The electrical GRID must become really smart.

What is a Smarter GRID?

Getting to the Smart GRID will take time. It is possible the US electrical does not have much time, as power requirements continue to grow, the GRID continues to age, and fossil fuel electrical plants continue to contribute to pollution and potentially greenhouse gases and global warming.

As the next generations Smart GRID requires several years of development before it is ready for deployment, we need to take some interim measures to bridge the time gap between the existing electrical GRID and delivery of a Smart GRID.

The Smarter GRID acknowledges the existing US electrical distribution system. Dozens of utility providers around the country providing energy from a variety of sources, including oil, coal, hydro, solar, nuclear, and wind.

The Smarter GRID uses the existing electrical GRID, and existing technologies to reinforce the GRID’s ability to operate effectively with the following characteristics provided by the Department of Energy:

  • Ensuring its (the electrical GRID) reliability to degrees never before possible
  • Maintaining its affordability
  • Reinforcing our global competitiveness
  • Fully accommodating renewable and traditional energy sources
  • Potentially reducing our carbon footprint
  • Introducing advancements and efficiencies yet to be envisioned

An analogy might be the development of web services. In the 1990s the “web” supported simple hypertext protocol with utilities such as “LINX,” a text-based browser, and “Gopher,” a rudimentary search engine. Both did technically the same job as modern web applications, and did bridge the gap between pure command lines and the graphical interfaces common today.

The Smart GRID of the Future

The Internet analogy is not bad, as it is the basis of the next generation of smart grids. With the IP address capacity of Internet Protocol ver. 6 (IPv6) Internet address space will be large enough to accommodate nearly anything produced that uses electricity. At some point in the future, the electrical GRID will be a communications media, and every device connected to the electrical GRID will have an IPv6 identifier such as 2001:db8:85a3::8a2e:370:7334.

Refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners – anything that consumes electricity will be part of a system designed to make the most efficient use of our devices. We will also add external and alternative energy sources to both the national GRID and individual communities and houses to further reinforce the electrical service we all need to ensure our way of life, security, and national economic and defense interests.

Try to imagine an electrical system that is able to:

  • Automatically turn devices on and off as needed to eliminate wasted energy consumption
  • Automatically load balances electrical distribution to accommodate peaks
  • Have visual management systems down to the house level to show users how much energy they are consuming at any point in time, as well as give recommendations for electrical devices within the house which can be shuit off (an example might be a battery charger on a mobile phone – if the “smart” manager identifies the battery as being fully charged, the system may automatically shut off the outlet until an actual draw is required)
  • Add energy “storage” devices to local areas and the GRID to save energy which may be lost due to loss of sunlight, damage to distribution systems, or other reasons. This stored energy is made available on demand during peak hours to supplement the main GRID
  • During periods of power outage, stored and renewable energy sources within the house or community can provide temporary and essential power to emergency services, and basic energy requirements, even if the community is isolated from the main electrical GRID
  • Save you money on your bill by using intelligence to eliminate wasted energy and energy leaks
  • Inherently “green,” as it strives to supplement fossil fuel and nuclear power generation with renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, and solar energy –as well as reducing individual energy consumption

Role of the Internet in the Smart GRID

Using a combination of wireless systems, fiber optic backbones, Ethernet over Power, and satellite, all segments of the electrical system can be managed with software applications that are Internet-friendly (yes, the Dept of Energy does understand the need for security).

The DOE uses an example of the ATM to explain the interoperability of private systems using a common architecture. CitiBank, the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, HSBC, Barclays – all are independent banking systems, but all are able to share information and even distribute money to holders of cards from any association member, such as Star network.

The Smart GRID will use similar applications running over the Internet Protocol to share management, distribution, fault, and also billing settlements between electrical systems and private renewable energy sources.

The five main technologies used within the Smart GRID include:

  • Integrated communications, connecting components to open architecture for real-time information and control, allowing every part of the grid to both ‘talk’ and ‘listen’
  • Sensing and measurement technologies, to support faster and more accurate response such as remote monitoring, time-of-use pricing and demand-side management
  • Advanced components, to apply the latest research in superconductivity, storage, power electronics and diagnostics
  • Advanced control methods, to monitor essential components, enabling rapid diagnosis and precise solutions appropriate to any event
  • Improved interfaces and decision support, to amplify human decision-making, transforming grid operators and managers quite literally into visionaries when it come to seeing into their systems
    (the SMART GRID: an introduction <U.S. Department of Energy>)

While this is understandably a 1000 word superficial introduction to Smart GRIDs, the idea of an energy efficient, self-healing, interconnected, flexible, and intelligent manager of electricity is exciting. We all want to reduce our carbon footprint, we all want to save money, and we all want to ensure we have power when we want it. In the short term we can aggressively support developing structure and efficiency within the existing “Smarter GRID.”

In the longer term we have an obligation to both ourselves and future generations to develop a really, really Smart GRID that will reduce our carbon production, and ensure future generations do not lose billions of dollars from the economy every time our aging power system sneezes.

John Savageau, Long Beach

FTC Steps in on Citizen Journalism, Internet, and Impacts on the News Industry

A couple months ago we explored citizen journalism and how that is changing the way we access news. From an industry that is largely dependent on advertising revenues to subsidize professional journalists and delivery of news and information, to a communication platform that that allows anybody with a keyboard and Internet connection to post their interpretation of events to a global audience, the news world has changed.

The players:

Traditional News and Information Sources

  • News papers
  • Periodicals
  • Broadcast news
  • Cable Television

New Media News and Information Sources

  • Bloggers
  • Ezines
  • Webcams
  • Online websites for traditional media outlets

The second category of news and information sources are mostly free from the cost of subscription, other than Internet access charges. In addition, Internet-enabled news sources are available by merely logging into the internet and the news source website. From anywhere that is not restricted from accessing news via the Internet, or that controls access to the Internet. About 1% of the global wired population.

The result of citizen journalism and Internet-enabled traditional sources is mainly in advertising revenue losses by traditional news publications. Subscription fees have never been the prime source of revenue for traditional printed media, it has always been the revenues produced from advertising.

As the world continues to move their primary access to news sources from broadcast television and printed news media to cable TV and the Internet, those advertising sources are quickly drying up.

The Federal Trade Commission/FTC Tries to Help

On August 17th the FTC announced in December it will begin a series of workshops entitled “From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” The purpose of the workshops is to:

“bring competition, consumer protection, and First Amendment perspectives to bear on the financial, technological, and other challenges facing the news industry as consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for free news and information, advertisers increasingly move their ads onto online sites and reduce advertising buys as a result of the recession, and news organizations struggle with large debt that was taken on when times were better.”

The FTC does acknowledge the shift from print to Internet, and simply wants to ensure that traditional media companies understand the realities of the shift to new media formats. The FTC also wants to ensure at the same time copyrights are protected, and fair business practices are maintained while media companies either deal with new media, or make the decision to drop out of their businesses.

Reality Hurts, But there are Realities to Consider

Several Realities to List

  • Anybody with a keyboard and a free website can post “news”
  • The Internet is ubiquitous (available just about everywhere, to everybody)
  • Censorship and control of information is almost impossible
  • Citizens do not need editorial guidance or management to post stories, blogs, photos, or anything else
  • Citizens can provide a snapshot in time, but rarely have the contacts, experience, or time to do an exhaustive check on stories or facts
  • People still want to read the LA Times or Huffington Post, even if it is only online access (and they want to read from anyplace in the world)
  • Microblogging (Twitter) supports immediate notification of events to a nearly unlimited number of recipients via email, web access, SMS Messaging, or even voice notification

Blogs do have their place. Without blogs, email, and immediate posting of real time events, we may have never learned what really happened during the recent Iran elections. We might never know what happens when an event occurs in China, a fire is approaching Santa Barbara, a storm swell is threatening Miami Beach – or any other kind of news important to those who may be impacted or are interested in the topic.

Back to the Topic

In most cases we try to offer a recommendation on what to do when identifying a problem. A good editorial goes further than simply presenting a story or fact (like a good journalist may do!). In this case I have to admit I do now have the answers or a recommendation. I don’t know how to advise a newspaper on the verge of collapse how to deal with people like myself who are happy to offer editorials, news, and reviews of events or complex topics.

In a previous article we quoted David Simon, former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and producer of HBO’s series “The Wire,” as stating “if you do not charge for a product, the product has no value.” If this is true, then the news industry needs to sit back and fully study and understand the dynamics of the Internet, citizen journalism, blogging, and global ubiquitous access to new via the Internet, and then come up with a plan to help it survive through to the next century.

Throughout history we have gone from story tellers traveling and telling their rendition of events in faraway places, to cave inscriptions telling a story of events, to town criers, to newspapers, to television, and now the Internet. Change happens, and change in the media industry is good for the consumers of their news product. And change requires us to find new ways of funding and compensation for the producers and carriers of news.

Time for a trip to the white board

John Savageau, Long Beach

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