Life without Internet in Ethiopia

For the first time in over ten years, I spent the night without Internet access. Ten years of working in remote parts of Mongolia, Vietnam, Palestine, Indonesia, and other small and developing countries, and in March 2010 I finally hit the access wall. My hotel in Addis Ababa does not have Internet access. And not a single WiFi or wireless connection available nearby.

Maybe it is just not realistic to believe that in the year 2010 travelers or residents of a major city like Addis Ababa would enjoy the same sense of Internet entitlement we enjoy in other parts of the world.  It is probably more realistic to think fresh water is a higher priority than Facebook.  Probably a higher priority to think that basic nutrition is a higher priority to some people in the world than Twitter.

Having been plucked up from the opulence of Burbank, California, where Friday afternoon brought the amusement of watching about 50 SUVs and minivans queuing to pick up elementary and middle school children, as it is not reasonable to expect children to walk more than 100 yards from school to home, being denied email and net access for a night is shocking.

Does the Opulent World Owe the Developing World Anything?

There is an old phrase explaining that “nobody likes a victim.”  When natural disasters occur, wars create a large number of refugees, or other events propel people to leave their homelands for safer places, the countries and people who are forced to absorb those refugees normally look at them with contempt.  It is one thing to watch the impact of a typhoon or earthquake on a country via CNN, and maybe donate a few dollars to help bring food, but in most cases we want to watch a different story on the next day’s news, and we rarely welcome refugees with open arms into our community.

 Easy to understand why.  As a society and culture, wealthy countries have normally built their communities with hard work, and the residents enjoy the quality of life they’ve built.  Visitors are welcome, but communities often find it difficult to absorb new people, particularly those with no money or have lost nearly everything they owned, into a community with a stable economy, school system, and social system.

We have some compassion for those who are in need, but much like driving past a major automobile accident on the freeway, we feel compelled to look, but then we drive past and soon forget the tragedy another human being is going through a few miles back on the road.

How We Reduce the Burden, and Strengthen our Global Community

For sure, Internet access may not purify or deliver water to those with a basic need.  However education delivered to all levels of economic or social groups will potentially bring better intellectual capacity to those residents and leaders in poor and developing countries to plan for the future, with the ever-increasing capacity of taking care of their own problems.  Educated people in most cases are simply better prepared to respond to disasters and problems when they occur.

Internet access is a very powerful tool in bringing basic and advanced education to any part of the world with a connection.  When a student in Addis Ababa, or any other part of the country, has the same access to online lectures, course materials, and even formal education programs over the Internet, the national capacity for dealing with topics ranging from developing water strategies, to energy, to agriculture, to entertainment all become one small step easier to attain than if the developing country had to do it on their own.

But what about UN and other NGO Programs?

Like the community that does not want to be burdened with a long term, recurring commitment to absorbing refugees, global philanthropy has a time threshold.  New disasters are happening daily.  New wars are popping up around the world at the same rate as ever, and when your own disaster is falling behind the front page in priority, then it is the people of that location or country who eventually have to solve the problems on their own.

There are simply not enough resources, emotionally or economically to go around.

There is one common characteristic of communities which handle disaster better than others.  They are well educated.  California handles earthquakes and wildfires without bringing the state to a halt.  France handles major flooding and other weather-related disasters, Okinawa finds Super-Typhoons a passing amusement, and Japan has tsunami response down to a science.

Sure, those countries have money, but even Japan and Germany started out with nearly no resources after the second war, and now are both economic powers.  It is education, and the resolve of an educated society.

Back to the Internet

Delivering online resources to poor countries is becoming cheaper and more powerful every day.  Wireless technologies are making fixed copper a legacy, and the cost of Netbooks and powerful workstations is dropping every day.  Localization and language translation are becoming more powerful every day.

Don’t stop delivering clean water, but let’s carefully consider the long term impact of delivering a tool to the nations of the world, including the area I stayed in Addis Ababa, and give everybody access to the same intellectual development tools as our kids in Burbank.

Check out resources published by the World Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and others to find how we might better support development of eLearning in the developing world, as well as development of basic infrastructure.

A Developing Country That Can Teach Hawaii An IT Strategy Lesson

Vietnam is in the process of upgrading the entire country’s IT system. With support from organizations such as the World Bank, Vietnam is rebuilding not only physical infrastructure, but also starting from the ground up building new IT systems – including a large scale virtualization strategy.

Hawaii may not be so progressive. The first line of an Associated Press story on Hawaii’s lack of a functional IT strategy goes like this:

“In many ways Hawaii’s government runs its computers like the Internet age hardly happened.” (AP)

The story goes on to expose Hawaii’s lack of IT policy, the fact they are using old systems, a mixture of Apple and PCs for individual users, have a 1960s version of disaster recovery (offsite physical diskette storage), and other parallels with industry that add more discouraging evidence to Hawaii’s IT shortfalls.

Sensationalizing the Obvious

Information Technology in HawaiiI’ve always found it very easy to criticize. Perhaps the role of a journalist is to sensationalize the shortfalls of others, as people do tend to like watching others suffer – as long as the pain stays in somebody else’s life or reputation.

OK, so Hawaii does have some shortfalls in their IT systems. As a user, I have to say my experience using Hawaii’s eGovernment applications hasn’t been too bad. A plus in the Hawaii IT strategy column. I have never had an email rejected from a Hawaii state email server. Another plus. I could probably rack up a lot of pluses, but it is not sensational.

Now let’s look at the difficult side of journalism. Writing something positive and still trying to make it interesting to the readers.

Vietnam is an interesting case study. A larger population, and a lot more government than Hawaii. More problems to deal with – but the government is trying to drive the national IT strategy down to the city level, decentralizing actual applications and access as much as possible to promote the independence of provinces and cities – without disrupting the national IT plan to standardize IT management throughout government.

Nobody would ever suggest the US government try to standardize data strategies down to the state level, much less the city level, however there is still an interesting lesson that can be applied from the Vietnam model.

Data format standards on a national scale can facilitate information sharing and data mining. We won’t go into the personal security issues of that statement in this article, however data format standardization is a good thing for government. The commercial world and manufacturing have had data format/classification standards for many years, including projects such as RosettaNet, XBRL, and UNSPSC.

Thus a driver’s license format in Danang would look identical to the same item in Hanoi – representing 2 very different provinces. Data can easily be shared as needed for identification, reporting, law enforcement, and other data transfer.

Standardization is good.

Enter Virtualization and the Cloud

If a government bureaucracy in a state like Hawaii has extended its inefficiencies into the world of IT, and as stated in quotes the AP article included:

  • Hawaii’s department-by-department way of handling information would not work in the business world, where companies invested heavily in upgrades as the Internet and computers grew in importance.
  • It’s like we had all these little companies and they all grew at the same time, and then when the big company came along and merged everything, it never made the changes.

Beautiful Island - Not So Impressive IT StrategyWell, even in deeply entrenched bureaucracies there has to be a scheduled refresh of technology at some point. Even those precious little Macs and PCs will eventually die, become so old they cannot even load a browser, or the state will grind to a halt because a day will come when no computer in the government will be able to open a Microsoft Word 2010 document.

Maybe, just maybe – much like the government of Vietnam has come to realize, that refresh strategy could include cloud computing. The city of Los Angeles has accepted cloud, and that city probably has a larger government and bureaucracy than the entire state of Hawaii.

The AP article mentions that Governor Lingle has tried to establish an Office of the CIO within Hawaii. Good idea. One that will ultimately save the state a lot of money. Let’s push our representatives to make that happen!

A Proposal

Now select a couple of good data center locations. A couple on Oahu, maybe one each on Maui and the Big Island. Start building cloud computing centers on each island, connect them via dedicated high speed links, synchronize data and applications, then inform the state that all new editions of office automation software will be using a hosted edition of Office 2010, or other high performance hosted package.

Bang – saved money on license fees, labor for installers (those guys who are paid to update your anti-virus software and load service packs on your computer), and high performance desktop and laptop computers.

Start refreshing with dumb terminals and netbooks.

Establish a real state-wide disaster recovery model:

  • Cloud-based virtualized storage
  • Central cloud-based email system
  • Distributed DR model using network-based backups in geographically separated locations
  • Dumb terminals and netbooks backup to the centralized data base and storage – not on local equipment (unless the worker is a traveler). Access to the data is still available from a distant end location through use of VPNs.

Retrain the IT staff on developing applications in the cloud – not on under-the-desktop servers.

Could it really be that simple? Actually – yes. In addition, if the state of Hawaii can build a storefront of applications (including Office 2010-like products), and make those applications available to users on a state-wide basis, and reduce provisioning time for applications to minutes rather than months, why wouldn’t we consider this as an option to what Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) was quoted as saying, “Every department has IT (information technology) people, and they each have their own way of doing things.”

Nonsense

Very 1970s… So not 2020s…

Vietnam is rebuilding their national infrastructure, the US government under the direction of CIO Vivek Kundra is rebuilding the national IT strategy. Hawaii can rebuild ours as well. And we have great examples and precedent to learn from.

Sarah Palin Makes it Official – Climate Change is a Fraud

Coastal areas in Vietnam see a rise of 20cm in the past 50 years, increases in the frequency and intensity of typhoons, and a rise in temperature of .5C degrees. As water levels rise in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, and Malaysia, Air pollution in Los Angelesnearly one third of the world’s population seeks relocation inland to escape the encroaching ocean. The World Bank claims global population is growing at 1.7% annually, further escalating the refugee problem.

In an interview with NPR (National Public Radio), retired Marine General Anthony Zinni expressed a concern that such conditions could plunge the world, and of course the United States, into conflict. “We will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll.” General Zinni, participating in a panel of retired military leaders further contributed findings:

Climate Change (related to national and international security)

1. Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security.

2. Climate change acts increases the potential instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.

3. Projected climate change will boost tensions even in stable regions.

4. Climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.

 Now that is something for us to consider, far beyond the impact of climate change on the environment, there is a consensus climate change could result in increased terrorism, or war resulting from the impact of refuges escaping their homeland (due to loss of land mass, loss of rain/fresh water, desertification, etc).

It’s about Natural, Cyclical Environmental Trends…

Former Gov. Palin, in her 9 Dec 2009 OP-ED in the Washington Post claims:

“But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can’t say with assurance that man’s activities cause weather changes. We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs.” Palin

Not everybody agrees with her analysis, and her opinions have prompted heated discussion throughout the political, environmental, and international community.

Al Gore, former Vice President and Presidential candidate commented on the reality of CO2, greenhouse effect, global warming, and Sarah Palin’s editorial by stating “It’s a principle in physics. It’s like gravity. It exists.”

“Our representatives in Copenhagen should remember that good environmental policymaking is about weighing real-world costs and benefits — not pursuing a political agenda. That’s not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate — far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state. I was one of the first governors to create a subcabinet to deal specifically with the issue and to recommend common-sense policies to respond to the coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice that affect Alaska’s communities and infrastructure.” Palin

We need to fully understand the correlation between Alaska’s coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, and retreating sea ice and General Zinni’s concerns that such impact on a global scale could plunge the world into a period of violence.

And not everybody agrees with Gov. Palin’s concerns on the impact of becoming environmentally responsible on the economy.

There is also the risk of rising sea level and increasing temperatures. A recently released report from the Asian Developing Bank (ADB) shows that South East Asia is likely to suffer more from climate change than elsewhere in the world. There will be considerable economic costs too, with a projected 7-8 per cent lost in GDP, unless climate change is addressed. (Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs)

The Washington Post added a poll following the Palin OP-ED asking readers “Do you view Sarah Palin as a credible commentator on climate change?” 83% said “no.” When asked if she would participate in a debate with Al Gore on climate change, she was not too excited, saying in an interview with ThinkProgress.ORG “I’ll get clobbered because, you know, they don’t want to listen to the facts,” believe that any debate would heavily favor Gore’s position. No doubt.

Target 350 – Status 389

According to reports published at the Copenhagen Climate Summit (COPS15) the world now has an average atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 389 parts per million. This is the highest in the earth’s recorded history. Most of the world’s scientists and scientific organizations believe the upper limit for CO2 is 350ppm, which is obviously breached.

Scientists claim that we are adding 2ppm to the atmosphere every year, which will result in a global temperature of potentially 4 degrees (F) by the end of the century, which could further result in ocean levels rising nearly 2 meters (by the end of the century). 6 ft?

Goodbye Miami. Goodbye Long Beach. Goodbye Miyako Jima (Okinawa).

Believe what You Will – But Understand the Issue

Maybe you believe this is not a problem, and is a normal global cycle. Maybe you believe the amount of CO2 going into the air is a very unhealthy thing for living creatures. Maybe you believe half the island nations will disappear within 15 years.

But it is time to put a stake in the ground and study the issue. Let the democrats in the US run with the issue, and it might cost you something in your quality of life. Let the republicans run with the issue and you may float away with your lungs melting.

However given the emotions attached to this issue, you cannot avoid the topic.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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