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.

Copenhagen Climate Summit Stimulates Aggressive Debate

Do you believe in global warming? Do you believe the cost of capping production of carbon dioxide is too high for our industrialized world to support? Do you believe if we do not aggressively act to stop global warming that Miami will be gone within 25 years?

It is confusing to the average American, as even our news media falls on the side of whichever political party or side of the debate is being funded by their sponsors. How do we find out the facts?

7 December 2009. Listening to Fox news, including both the O’Reilly factor and Sean Hannity’s program, the guests (Brit Hume – himself a journalist, Bernie Goldberg, Dick Morris) all openly mocked the efforts of both Americans and the global community gathering in Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15).

Brit Hume frequently referred the “dogma” of global warming. He strongly emphasized that cleaning the environment is not worth the potential cost forcing changes in our “way of life.”

The segment was immediately followed by a commercial urging viewers to vote “NO” on cap and trade legislation.

Bernie Goldberg believes the “liberal” media has no stomach to “debunk” global warming.

Sean Hannity believes that global warming is “fraud.”

Dick Morris, while quick to jump on the anti-global warming bandwagon, actually had one compelling statement – if true. He mentioned that the US actually made substantial progress towards meeting Kyoto protocol targets, without resorting to government regulation. Of course it is probably not the anti-global warming crowd who forced that progress, however at least he did recognize efforts are being made to reduce carbon emissions.

Forget the Politics for a Moment

Hanoi motor scooters are primarily 2 stroke engines inefficient transportationHaving recently returned from Hanoi, where thousands of 2-stroke motor scooters pump extremely visible amounts of pollution into the air, it is hard to justify not at least considering the impact fossil fuel usage is having on the world’s environmental health.

Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi, India, said at a 2004 conference in India that “inexpensive two-wheelers form a staggering 75–80% of the traffic in most Asian cities.” Because two-stroke engines burn an oil–gasoline mixture, they emit more smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter than the gas-only four-stroke engines found in newer motorcycles.

The result is that in Asian cities with high numbers of scooters, lung and respiratory diseases are prevalent at rates more than twice as high as in areas without the volume of 2 strike engine traffic.

Two-stroke engines produce a lot of pollution, primarily because the engine mixes lubrication oil with gasoline for combustion. This requires combustion of the oil during engine operation. The oil makes all two-stroke engines smoky, however an old, poorly maintained, or simply worn out engines and mufflers allow huge clouds of oily smoke into the air.

This is not just developing countries. In the US/Canada snow mobiles/machines, outboard motors, weed whackers – anything running a two stroke engine will produce pollution far exceeding the more efficient 4 stroke engine. The actual differences between engine designs are not that difficult to understand, and are clearly presented in web articles such as Wikipedia.

Coal Used for Heating in the Developing World

If you have ever been to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, during January you will have no question in your mind of the dangers human being face when living in an area with high concentrations of raw coal.

Very dense haze over Ulaanbaatar“Particulate Matter (PM), in Ulaanbaatar is estimated to be between 2 times higher in summer and 12 times higher in winter than minimum accepted standards.” (Mr. Ganbaatar B. Director, Dept of Fuel Policy and Regulation, Ministry of Fuel and Energy, Mongolia)

The main issue is the use of low grade compressed scrap coal commonly used for both heating and cooking in the “ger,” or tent communities of Ulaanbaatar. Burning the coal puts sulfer dioxide and carbon particulate matter into the air, which in Ulaanbaatar exceeds 300g2, in comparison with Oslo where the highest concentration of particulate matter is around 14g2 (Source: www.nilu.no).

Clearly, this is not a healthy environment for either human beings, or the plants and animals sharing our land. The amount of sulfur dioxide hitting the ground where we plant food, water that we ultimately drink, and air that we breathe is staggering. Author’s note: This is also from my own experience living in Mongolia.

So Make Your Own Decision

Take a walk in Los Angeles on a hot, muggy summer day. Take a look at Denver from a distance of about 100 miles. Fly over Dallas at 30,000 feet. Then consider that the brown blanket lying over each of those cities is pollution. A toxic mixture of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Coal sold at roadside in Ulaanbaatar MongoliaBrit Hume may think cleaning this mess up is going to harm his opulent way of life, however as the world’s largest source of CO2, even exceeding the lands of 2 stroke motor scooters, we owe it to ourselves to carefully consider each argument prior to voting. Consider it while standing in line at the drug store buying your child’s asthma inhaler, or when your school cancels outdoor sporting events due to the poor air quality index.

I am not convinced Cap and Trade is the best approach, however I am convinced if we do not all turn into “born again green freaks,” the next generation may be living on ocean front property in Atlanta, using an oxygen inhaler, and zipping ourselves into an environmentally sealed bubble.

There is nothing evil in diligently working towards renewable energy, clean energy, water conservation, and cleaning up our use of the environment. If the private equity companies lose a bit of profit this year because they need to re-engineer their factories or data centers – so be it. They can start off by painting their buildings white!

John Savageau, Long Beach

Mentoring in Vietnam with Ian Bromage

I first met Ian Bromage while he was doing volunteer work teaching ISO9000 theory in Mongolia with the United Nations Volunteers. Having learned he was now working in Vietnam, I was very happy to have an opportunity to meet with him, and talk about his experiences and work since leaving Mongolia. We met in Hanoi at the Hilton Hanoi Opera on 2 December 2009.

Pacific-Tier: Today we have Ian Bromage, Organization Effectiveness Advisor with the Voluntary Services Overseas/VSO, part of the UK government. Hello Ian! How are you doing tonight?

Ian Bromage VSO in Hanoi VietnamIan Bromage: I am fine, thank you, and very much enjoying the evening!

Pacific-Tier: Why don’t you give us a little about your background – how did you get to Hanoi?

Ian Bromage: Well, my background really is in telecoms, I worked for British Telecom for a very long period of time. But a few years back I decided I wanted to do something different, so I went and did some traveling, and then went to work in Mongolia as a small business advisor for the United Nations Volunteers/UNV.

Then I really got the development bug, I went back to the UK and did some further studying, and decided I wanted to go abroad again, and that’s how I ended up in Vietnam, Hanoi, with the Voluntary Service Overseas. And I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here so far.

Pacific-Tier: That’s very interesting. Going from a corporate environment to a volunteer environment, primarily outside of your home country. What is the incentive, and what is the interest to take you outside of your own country, work in developing areas like Mongolia, Vietnam, or emerging economies?

Ian Bromage: Really I guess I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and it’s been a fascination with different cultures – that’s one of the key motivators. And I think you get an entirely different experience working in a country abroad than you get as a tourist. You get to know the people more, you get to know the issues more, and I enjoy working as a volunteer. Both because I quite like the ethos of giving up my time to help others, but also because I do actually just enjoy it.

So being a volunteer isn’t about being a martyr or suffering, or anything like that – it’s nice to have a good experience as well.

Pacific-Tier: That’s great. Having many years with a company like British Telecom, it does give you a lot of organizational expertise, a lot of training, a lot of tacit knowledge and experience that is impossible to get through school. And you’re turning that into a product you can deliver today to your Vietnamese counterparts. How do the Vietnamese themselves respond to your mentoring and direction, are they what you expect?

Ian Bromage: yes, and I certainly enjoy working with them, and alongside them, and I think it is important to emphasize the fact it is working with them, not managing them. I here to help, I am not here to direct their organization.

I think you mentioned the word “tacit knowledge,” and I think that’s the key. I think we forget how ingrained things are in our culture, like meeting deadlines, like planning things in a certain way. Things are done differently here. Some of those things are very good, and some of those things need to change if the organization is going to be effective, if they are going to meet their objectives from both their donors who are giving them their money (if they’re talking of the NGO sector), and more importantly their beneficiaries that they’re trying to help.

Pacific-Tier: That’s very interesting. You mentioned the NGOs, so we’ll drill into that in just a moment. But even with the NGOs, or governmental organizations, you’re starting up a new organization, you are starting up a new way of doing things, that could roughly be parallel to commercial startups, or entrepreneurs… What is the entrepreneurial spirit of the people in Hanoi, are they excited about what you are doing with them?

Ian Bromage: yes, I believe so. I think in general in Hanoi, I think you can see there is a huge entrepreneurial spirit. I mean you look at the streets, and there isn’t a bit of space that hasn’t been turned over to some sort of private enterprise. So that entrepreneurial spirit is definitely there, and in the NGO sector, that (the entrepreneurial spirit) is there too.

There is a lot of competition for resources, a lot of NGOs are operating in the same space. That brings advantages of competition, they have to be effective, do what they do well to survive, which is an ongoing concern. It also brings problems in the fact it causes a lot of fragmentation. Sometimes I think the organizations cloud learn to collaborate with each other better, and to work better together to see the advantages to working towards common goals.

Pacific-Tier: You’ve been primarily in a mentor’s role. Have you learned anything, either Mongolia or Vietnam, have you learned anything (yourself) by being in the countries?

Ian Bromage: To be patient is certainly one of the skills you learn in a developing country. You realize sometimes that people’s values are different from your own. Sometimes you learn the importance of family relationships and familiar are often more important than the relationships at work. I think that is something we could probably learn.

For example, where I work at the moment, everyone sits down to lunch together. They make sure they all have their lunch, then eat together. There’s a lot of conversation, there’s a lot of jokes, that is very different from the environment I come from where so often these days people just grab a sandwich, eat at their desks, get to their work and don’t speak with other people.

Pacific-Tier: We do need to sit back sometimes and understand that we have to balance our lives a little bit as well. So how long do you expect to stay in Vietnam?

Ian Bromage: My assignment is for two years, so it is a very good, long period. I’ve been here for three months so far. I think that two years does allo0w you to develop those relationships and develop trust with people. And as some things take a lot longer you have that time and space that makes you able to put processes and procedures in place and watch those take shape, which you can’t do in a short consultancy where you are just coming in to fix a particular problem.

Pacific-Tier: have you found your calling now, or do you find yourself slipping back into the corporate world at any time in the future?

Ian Bromage: I would like to continue to work in the developing (nation) field. I think there are aspects of the corporate world that I miss, but I think I could find those in the development arena as well. So I don’t see myself going back into the private sector in Western Europe.

Pacific-Tier: It’s a very big world. Mongolia and Vietnam are only two countries. With your experience there’s probably a lot of other places you can go. Will you continue to work with organizations such as the Volunteer Services Overseas, or do you see doing this as a commercial enterprise? What do you see in the future, or are you just living day-to-day now?

Ian Bromage: I would like to do a mix of work, I think, in the future. I would certainly like to continue work with NGOs. I would certainly like to work at, what is termed the grass-roots level. But I would also like to get involved with policy work, and other aspect of work with governments and things. So I’d quite like to develop a range of skills, and have a mix of opportunities to be able to move up and down at different levels and move across in different regions or geographic areas.

But we’ll see. Who knows what the future holds!

Pacific-Tier: We normally talk about entrepreneurship in this series. Working with a lot of young people today in Vietnam, and formerly ion Mongolia, do you have any advice for any UK, or American, or Vietnamese, or any other developing countries where young people are jumping into the market. Do you have any advice for them as entrepreneurs?

Ian Bromage: Well I think the key thing is to always look at fresh approaches to come up with new ideas. And that’s not just in the technical field in terms of inventions and things. It’s to look at new approaches to social problems, look at new techniques, look beyond your world, look at the way other people do things. Try to travel and experience other cultures.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – I think that’s very key. Everybody makes mistakes. You need to learn from them, and move on. So I think that’s a very important skill for young people to have. Not to be disappointed when things don’t turn out the way they expect them to.

Pacific-Tier: I would agree. I think that taking the risk and moving ahead is probably the best training somebody can get. You can’t pay for the training you get when you make an error, or if you have a failure in our plan, it’s the best training you can get.

Any other final worlds for people who may be listening to you from Hanoi?

Ian Bromage: Well if they are listening from Hanoi, I am thoroughly enjoying my stay here. I think it’s a great place, it’s an exciting place, it’s a fast moving place, I’m really enjoying it and I am looking forward to spending the next couple years here.

If anybody wants to come and visit Hanoi, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Pacific-Tier: Well thank you very much, and I sincerely hope that someday you will be able to take the time and do a few guest blogs for us.

You can listen to the entire audio interview at Pacific Tier

Diffusing Technology into Generation Z

Us “Baby Boomers” tend to believe we have accomplished a lot in the years ranging from our roots of hard rock, to the birth of basic internet technologies in the early 1970s. We started our generation with black and white television, Generation Zexperiencing everything from the assassination of President Kennedy to absorbing the wonders of man walking on the moon. We end our generation with 7.6 Terabit submarine cables connecting every continent with high speed many-to-many interactive communications and applications.

Communications for many during the early 1960s consisted of telephone party lines, daily newspapers, telegraph, and radio broadcast. While in high school (Richfield, Minnesota), some of us privileged students in more opulent areas had access to computer classes. This consisted of having a teletype terminal attached via low capacity lines to a central mainframe computer – using a service called “time sharing.” Very cool, and very exotic.

Competition for a place in computer class was aggressive, and only a few of us were able to indulge in the excitement of connecting to a machine someplace outside of our class. We didn’t waste a moment of time learning some rudimentary programming routines, and were considered very strange by a majority of students in school, who either did not make the grade for computer class, or simply did not care.

Generation Z

In an opulent city like Richfield, the only real way to communicate with other students or people outside of our community was through the “exchange student” program. One or two students from a different country, such as Germany or Japan would live with a local family, and attend school in our city. This was to both give those students a chance to expand their experiences, but also to give us a chance to interact with students from a different country or culture.

At that time a child in Mongolia would have still lived under Soviet rule, not allowed to travel beyond his or her local community without specific permission. Many children in the Mongolia countryside never made it out of their Aimag (similar to a province or state), and had no idea of the world beyond their own village.

In 1994 Sprint China was asked to support an Internet project in Mongolia, sponsored by several international agencies. Tough job, and working with visionaries such as Dr. Enkhbat Dangaasuren and the late Narantsetseg Baljin, Magicnet Mongolia started delivering basic internet services to the public, with a whopping 64Kbps satellite connection to Stockton, California.

Today, almost any child, even in remote parts of places such as Mongolia, has nearly the same level of network access a child in Rolling Hills, California enjoys. It is normal for a 7 year old Mongolian child living in Ulaanbaatar to have an online chat with others in Mongolia, Germany, the US, or other country. It is normal for the child to use an application such as Skype to call a friend living in Japan or Canada, and it is expected to be available to them 24 hours a day.

Some governments haven’t had the means or desire to fully embrace educational or social globalization, however even the most restrictive national policies are eroding in favor of enlightening their new generations.

You can hardly find a Generation Z (born after 1990) person who does not have their own PDA or smart phone, and maintaining a Facebook page offers no more challenge than putting a paper book cover on a text book presented a baby Boomer.

Technology Diffusion and the Future

Globalizing Generation ZIf the generation born between 1945 and 1955 could put a man on the moon, invent Internet, Ethernet, and other digital technologies – with a background that did not include television, mobile phones, digital computers, or anything beyond a slide rule, what might we expect from Gen Z babies?

With Hex-core CPUs ready to find their way into laptop computers, SSDs making storage an anecdote, and ubiquitous network access a utility, what is a mind that grew up as a Gen Z baby capable of accomplishing? If your child has a problem with homework and needs help, and simply states “I’ll just ask my buddy in Nairobi, she is really good at physics,” what does it mean for further socio-economic globalization?

Technology Diffusion in Generation Z

Diffusion is the random movement of atoms, molecules, or ions from one site in a medium to another, resulting in complete mixing (Encarta, 1999).

Diffusion of technology in our context has two separate meanings. The first is through education, and the “absorption” of technology into the mental DNA of young people. The second meaning is the mixing of people, cultures, languages, and ideas into young people’s identities at a rate faster than Chingiss (Genghis) Khan absorbed most of Asia.

Each generation from the start of the industrial age till now has focused their efforts on exploiting natural resources, improving their quality of life, developing really scary weapons, and leading the world to the brink of annihilation – both from war and/or environmental disaster.

It is my belief Generation Z now has made a huge leap in available intellectual tools, well diffused into their intellectual DNA, to start unraveling the damage our generations have done, and start using this powerful supermarket of technology to innovate at a rate far outpacing anything in history. They will innovate, and discover things in our world and universe that is far beyond an old baby boomer’s ability to comprehend.

What baby boomers can comprehend is that during the twilight of our watch, we have an obligation to continue aggressively providing the tools needed by later generations to take our leadership “baton,” and see how fast the younger guys can actually run. Young people scattered around the world, capable of meeting each other online, and collaborating without the burden of geography, cultural, racial, religious, or social barriers.

And then us baby boomers can sit back and watch an old episode of Star Trek.

John Savageau, Long Beach

Interview with Adil Mehmood – Global Internet Engineer

January 2003. 

“Hey Adil, I need some help getting a LAN installation done – you up for a month or so worth of consultant gig?”

“Sure, where is the job, and are there any special problems?”

“Well, it is in Mongolia…”

“Mongolia?  Are there any real issues with the customer?”

“Well, it is at a new gold mining operation.  Location is about 300km from the nearest city, no electricity, no telecom infrastructure in place, and the temperature gets down to about -45c at night.  All they need from you to design and implement a fiber optic LAN system within the 150 sqkm campus, and then build a VoIP architecture to bring their communications back to Canada and the capital city (Ulaanbaatar) of Mongolia.  Guess you will have to use VSAT (satellite) to someplace like HongKong or California to make the connections.”

“Cool, when would you like me to be there?”

 

Adil Mehmood is what real engineers aspire to become.  With the tacit knowledge gained from more than 20 years in the telecom engineering and operations business, there is literally no job too large or difficult for him to engage.  He has specialized in implementing telecom systems and basic telecom infrastructure in developing countries throughout his career – one of those unknown professionals who actually have the privilege of going to sleep at night knowing he has made a huge, positive impact on the future of millions of people. 

Part of the Internet tech community hangs out at conferences and parties, others roll up their sleeves and apply their energy and experience to real projects, in countries and locations most of us may not even be able to find on a map.  Adil Mehomood is one of those people, and unsung hero of the Internet community.

I recently caught up with Adil as he was passing through Los Angeles on his way back to Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, or wherever his trail currently heads.

John  – Adil, what are you doing these days?  

Adil – Well,  after spending  time back in the UK trying to settle down into the domestic life with my family, I quickly realized I was getting bored . I wanted to be out dealing with challenges, and this meant working as an expatriate again in a developing country.  Over the past few years I worked on a large rural VoIP project in Mongolia (first of it’s type) and just ended up staying in North Asia!

John – You are known in the telecom community as one of the more creative network design engineers.  How did you get into that level of engineering?

Adil – I think one of my inspiring moments was in 1995, I had just landed in Beijing on a look-see trip for a 2-year contract with Sprint China. I ended up at the Beijing Telecom data centre the same afternoon, helping some engineers from the Beijing Telecom Authority to upgrade their initial Internet connection to 256Kbps.  This was back in the days ChinaNet had only two 64Kbps satellite links to California serving the entire public Internet in China.  I never looked back, and ended up working with some really talented folks in Beijing, who are still friends and colleagues.  

Later in  1998 I ended up working with  a group of  hard-core network systems engineers , based in  Reston  (Virginia, USA) as the Director of IT Products for Global One, and we created the first global IP VPN (Internet Protocol – virtual private network)backbone.

John – What made you decide to break from the large, corporate environment and strike out on your own?
 
Adil – I got tempted by the Internet boom.  We had taken the Global One product team to its limit, and I wanted to participate on a more creative level as the Internet was really catching some good traction as global infrastructure.  I  went to work for a startup VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) carrier, based out of Hong Kong as the head of product development.  We did some amazing technical innovations, but got caught when the Internet bubble burst.  That’s when I decided to go on my own and moved back to  the UK to build my own network consultancy.

John – How important is innovation, first mover status, and taking technical risk?  What would you advise IT managers or engineers to consider in their own companies?

Adil – I always use the term  “… working right at the edge of the envelope…,” meaning  the best place to be is absolute first mover  status.  As a startup, you must always consider maximizing new technology and innovation, with of course proper risk management.  My advice to IT managers and lead engineers would be a “Calculated Offense” is your best defense.  As a small company or startup company without innovation and managed risk, you put your existing services at company at a disadvantage.  You must be able to discriminate yourself from the pack. 

John – You’ve been with the Internet since the beginning, and lived each step of the evolution up till today.  Are you comfortable with how the Internet has evolved?  Mistakes made?  Concerns with the current state of the ‘net?  Happy with the Internet as it is today?

Adil – When I first got involved with rolling out the Internet  into the Middle-East (NOTE:  Adil was part of the telecom reconstruction team that went into Kuwait following the first Gulf War), Europe, and Asia it was exciting.  I learned very quickly what a huge impact the Internet and Internet technology was going to have on people’s lives.

The evolution (of the Internet) was incredibly fast.  And while I think along the way we could have done things more tactfully and strategically, my only regret is that in the early days the global carrier I worked for (Global One/Sprint International) didn’t fully commit to the Internet wave.   We helped influence and change that later when I headed the product management, but global commercialization of the Internet had already taken off by the time my company fully engaged in building their network and product lines to meet customer and market expectations. 

John – Where would you like to take the Internet, or more importantly, what does the world need from Internet and communications engineers to get where we should be in 15 years?

Adil – Back when I worked in Beijing and we built our first company Intranet using the IP protocol, we let everyone in the company go nuts with creativity and freedom of thought.  It was a wonderful period, with a group of very talented and innovative Chinese engineers.  We had not only the approval of our local and regional management, but also full support from the Chinese government which funded much of our lab work.  I remember some other big corporations doing the same, and we called it the “chaos phase of the Internet.” 

This is where we are again today with the Internet.  In my opinion, Internet development now needs a bit more direction.  In 15 years we shouldn’t have to work out how to plug into it (the Internet), it should be integrated and seamless anywhere.  Connectivity and access to the global Internet should no longer be a burden, it should be a basic right of all persons in all countries.

Once we have cracked the nut of access, we will need to further force the IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) into the network, and better understand how to not only increase bandwidth in an affordable model, but also build in better efficiencies to eliminate bottlenecks.  Only then can we really concentrate on encouraging open and creative development of applications that will bring our communities – regardless of geography and political controls – into the next generation of social and economic globalization.

John – You’ve always been a visionary, as well as an engineer.  What do you think is the most important problem we have to solve with networks over the next 10~15 years, both technical and political?

Adil – Thanks for the complement! Technically our networks use similar components but work in very different ways, i.e. unique to the programming of hundreds and thousands of interconnected networks. The Internet was founded by establishing common ground rules, however we seem to have drifted away from some of the ground rules, and the processes in place to control the chaos of the Internet.

Those rules need to be re-established, but this is likely to be a political nightmare as governments struggle to gain greater control over both the Internet and people who are using the Internet.  I do believe that from this period of chaos there will be a solution.  The Internet itself is inherently self-healing, and from the chaos will emerge a stronger Internet.

John – What effect did your days in China, Kuwait, and other developing countries have on your desire to continue working in the developing economies of the world?

Adil – Working in developing countries I have the ability to leapfrog established thinking and technologies, and truly be involved in innovation. I can continue to be an engineer at heart and yet still drive technology, educate, create.   All the things that help me maintain the “…edge of the envelope…” philosophy.

John – Where do you go from here?

Adil –  Continue working with other visionaries and apply the results to real projects.  I want to continue to contribute to the global community in any way possible.  I is fun to actually see the results of your effort helping make people’s lives and futures more attainable.  One of the marketing lines I used some years ago was “… I’m still working on a simple particle transportation platform…’  I think the future is going to be an exciting place. I have some ideas on what I might do next – still under wraps though…!


During his 20 year career, Adil Mehmood has served a wide range of senior roles in Global Telecomms with Tier-1 and Tier-2 telecommunications carriers, VoIP Carriers, Internet Service Providers and various specialist consultancies. He has worked in several international locations, and currently resides in Mongolia working for a Global Mining Company as their Enterprise IT Director.

Adil Mehmood holds a B.Eng (Hons) in Electronic Systems Engineering from Kingston University in the United Kingdom.


Internet Exchange in Developing Countries

This post is for Nara – wherever you might be.

 

In early 2000 I visited some of my friends and industry colleagues in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia whom I’d worked with for a few years on various Internet-related projects. In those days Mongolia only had 5 Internet service providers (ISPs), and 100% of Internet traffic was connected via low capacity satellite connections.

Each ISP had a separate connection, some to California, one to Hong Kong, one to Germany – there was really no planning other than to get the cheapest bandwidth possible to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Internet community. Mongolians use a Cyrillic-based written language, and Mongolians began to see the benefit of having a local economy that could function within the culture and language of the people.

The only problem was that each ISP had an independent upstream Internet connection, and for the most part the links were saturated. The interesting thing is that much of the saturation was due to Mongolian language or Mongolian interest traffic going out one ISP, to say an upstream connection in Stockton, Calfornia – and returning to another ISP’s user through an international connection based in Germany.

The result is as you would expect – very poor performance and user experience at a very high cost.

So hosting companies started to get smart. Rather than host web sites in Mongolia, companies began to find hosting platforms in North America and Europe to host Mongolian content. While not perfect, it did remove about one half of the performance bottleneck between users of different ISPs. Of course the bad thing is the revenue produced by hosting went to American and European companies, removed from the Mongolian economy forever.

So in early 2000 I met with friends and colleagues from several different ISPs in Ulaanbaatar, and brought up the idea of building a neutral Internet Exchange Point/IXP in Ulaanbaatar to facilitate local interconnection between ISPs. Intially there was a bit of reluctance to the idea of cooperating with competitors, but in the end the ISP owners relaized the customer performance and cost savings of taking local traffic off the international links made a tremendous amount of sense. A small Mongolian company called Infocon was chosen to manage the project.

Problem – no money to build the IXP. Solution – I used my credit card and bought a pile of Cisco switching and transmission hardware and donated it to the Mongolian ISP community. Another friend (Raphael Ho) came to Ulaanbaatar, configured, and connected the ISPs to what became known as the Mongolian Internet Exchange/MIX. The impact was immediate, and all of the reasons for building an IXP in a developing country met the model and image of how it should be done.

A few years later the original MIX was replaced by a high performance platform donated by another international group, and the MIX grew to support current robust Internet community thriving in Mongolia today.

The moral? The MIX represents a success story for remote locations and developing countries to use in ensuring their own economy and user community has the best possible tools available to reduce international transmission cost, increase end user and network performance and provide a positive experience. Why should a developing country pay a surcharge to the international community for developing a local economy? No reason at all.

For us who enjoy relative opulence in our worlds, consider the value we can bring to a developing country or company with our experience, and the way we can enable those developing countries to have a better chance to get up to global economy speed – often with very little effort of our own.

Some days it is fun to be an engineer.

%d bloggers like this: