FabFi on the front page of New York Times

Here’s an update in an attempt to counteract the thoroughly depressing news of Tim going silent. (Anyone who knows Tim in person knows that you can’t actually silence him; he’s still ranting but we’ve turned off the blog-mike). With Kanani’s help, I’ve put this post in Babatim format.

This weekend’s New York Times has several photos of FabFi Afghanistan in this piece on subversive community communication networks. (We’re in the slide set). To be clear, the FabFi project in Afghanistan was not one of those secretly funded projects described in their article (see here where I itemize the bulk of the costs and how they were funded – mostly through personal savings accounts of those who participated and in part through a National Science Foundation grant.) However, the urgency and significance of the project are the same. As long as there’s pressure from those seeking a reasonable life where they can go about their business, there’s hope we can throw a lifeline with these so called undermining capabilities.

New York Times Sunday July 12, 2011
New York Times Sunday July 12, 2011

< Insert non-sequitur rant about donkeys and hearing crickets. >

As the director of the Jalalabad Fab Lab and Fab Fi project lead, I’ve been asked several times about how to scale the Fab Lab and Fab Fi experiences to more fully saturate a city, as well as spinning this off into more cities. While I can provide a technical, programmatic answer, Fab Lab/Fi doesn’t solve everything. It’s only one piece: the rest have to develop at the same time. Infrastructure like roads, power, water, schools, teachers, and systems maintenance as well as the user terminals (laptops and computers), people who use them, and the content they’ll consume. It’s crazy to think that there was no cell phone service in the country in 2002 and now it’s pretty solidly working in every major population center (at least when the tower isn’t turned off or bombed). From roads to power to water, the task at hand (officially US or not) was to set off a program that could go from zero to servicing 30 million people in a few years. Imagine colonizing Mars by sending 30 million people first, ahead of the infrastructure. < Insert photo of BabaTim on Mars >

As requested; Baba Tim on Mars
As requested; Baba Tim on Mars

I think there are maybe three kinds of places in Afghanistan:

1. There are safer, quieter places that have known better times and whose residents are working to get back to those better times. There’s still crime and killing but it’s a shocking event when it occurs. 2. Poor, forgotten places that have never known modernization and are harder hit by economic problems (some of which we’ve unwittingly caused). 3. Places like Kandahar with an almost insidious infestation of crazy. Remember those boys you grew up with that would pull the wings off of bugs and set ants on fire? Beliefs aside, an environment like Kandahar doesn’t provide the social pressure that prevents them from growing up into full fledge people-hurting psychopaths.

In the first group are cities like Herat, in the western sector of Afghanistan. BabaTim went to Herat in 2005, and since then it’s continued to grow. It’s plainly ready and asking for a Fab Lab and associated wealth of possibilities. You could imagine a Fab Lab and Training Center there augmenting and strengthening the communications infrastructure with a parallel or overlaid subversive mesh, perhaps through the school system which I hear is quite healthy and respected.

The second group of towns, like Jaghori in Ghazni province, need only to follow the good examples of the first so much the better if there is strong municipal leadership that both welcomes business activities while keeping them in check < insert Big Government vs. Liberal rant here >.

Big government can't do this because it only costs a few thousand dollars to dig concrete drainage ditches which isn't enough money for them to even think about.  Liberlas can't do this knd of work because it involves work.  No talking, no sharing of emotions, no community organizing just work.  Dig the ditch, build the forms, mix and pour the concrete and you have flood and some pestilence control.  It isn't sexy it isn't fun its just work and the work here never ends
Big government can't do this because it only costs a few thousand dollars to dig concrete drainage ditches which isn't enough money for them to even think about spending. Big Government talks money with a "B" as in billions. Liberlas can't do this knd of work because it involves work. No talking, no sharing of emotions, no community organizing, just work. Dig the ditch, build the forms, mix and pour the concrete and you have flood and some pestilence control. It isn't sexy it isn't fun its just work and the work here never ends.

The third are places like Kandahar, which is our biggest opportunity. Mel King, famous community organizer in Boston, often says that the wheels in the back of the bus never catch up to the wheels in the front unless something extraordinary occurs. Fighting over raisins, road tolls, heck, fighting over fighting, these are the things that they know about. New doesn’t always mean good on it’s own right, but in this case new can simply bewilder long enough for the skinny gimpy-legged kid to grab the football and run. Mixed metaphors, I know. It’s late. Another recent article from educators highlights how the labs are excuses to try something new with rewarding results.

In a recent round of catch-ups with the Afghan collaborators who helped start Fab Lab and the Fab Fi projects in Jalalabad (many of whom were university students when we met), I’m thrilled to tell you that all are gainfully employed in technically enabled positions. A (surprising?) majority have taken the plunge to starting their own technology, logistics, or consulting companies, bravely negotiating the bewilderingly paperwork intensive contracts with ISAF and providing jobs to Afghans. I believe in the need for the private sector to create jobs. < Insert anti-union rant here, take non-related pot shot at Anthony Weiner >

What is the difference between Anthony Weiner and a dead chicken?  Nothing - they're both disgusting.
What is the difference between Anthony Weiner and a dead chicken? Nothing - they're both disgusting when stripped of their plumage and they are both full of shit

With the depressingly slow rate of new job creation at home in America, it’s hard not to be extra proud and amazed at their optimism and willingness to give it a go and make forward progress in their little corner of the world. I won’t take credit for their success they were shaped by a long chain of parents, family, teachers, and other opportunities but at least one was nice enough to say that it was his experiences of previously unexpected self-enabled successes in the Fab Lab that was his inspiration.


ps – join me in whining at Tim san to add some unrelated but interesting photos to this wordy piece. Thanks to edits by Kanani Fong of the Kitchen Dispatch.

A Fat Chicken Does Not Lay Eggs

The place I’ve been calling Mudville, vaguely in the eastern part of Jalalabad, is known as Base Eckmunblahblah. It means “military logistics area” and is owned by the Department of Defense. I’ve forgotten the word exactly – today’s new vocabulary includes reshwat (bribe), tofa (gift), bakshish (tip, alms, gift-for-something-you-did-or-’cause-you’re-poor) – but just like the name implies, the residential population are considered squatters and not welcome to rebuild.

It’s the kind of story that just makes you sigh because what else can you do? Long long ago the land was government owned military use land, then during the time of the war – during the mujahadeen times, the folks that seized power gave the land to people who promptly built houses. The recipients were already wealthy people and continue to be even wealthier now. These recipients don’t have the cleanest hands but no one will talk about that stuff outright. But now you get why I was learning the subtle differences among gifts, bribes, and tips.

After the legitimate government was restored, there is a stalemate because the military / government can’t or won’t bulldoze these large, expensive houses and the residents have no reason or desire to move. They didn’t pay for the land and don’t have deeds for land rights, so they also can’t sell their biggest asset. But as far as they are concerned, they were given the land and have every right to be there.

We see a cross section of people in the lab and I ask them about the flooding and damage. No one seems too broken up about “those people with the ruined houses” because they refer to them as “They are rich people. They have big SUVs. “. There are complaints about them exploiting the situation – “Even if they have 1 or 10 million dollars they will stand there on the street and say to the UN or USAID, ‘I am a poor person and I have no house. You must help me.'”

But what about the people I see who’ve hung up sheets and mats and who’ve thrown their soaked bedding on to the street?, I ask. And I show them pictures. More shrugging. Those are only the kids. I’m aware that the pictures tell the story and I’m just not seeing. The windows alone in those houses cost over $100 and some of the debris is super ornate mirrored tile. There are beds and mattresses, not simple carpet and floor cushions. They are rich people, they can fend for themselves. One groped for the right words, then said a fat chicken will not lay eggs, that is they are so wealthy they need for everything to be given to them, they will not rebuild on their own.

The municipality sent out 500 workers again today to help remove the mud and debris. “Since the elections there is no government”, one of the residents told me when I asked him what he would do, “there is no organization, no plan. No one can make a decision.” People have sent their families to live in other houses or with relatives while they wait for foreign donations and help. Waiting is a past time here. “You people must help us, you must give to me.”

mudistan

It’s now two days after the storm and the water level has dropped amazingly. I don’t know where it all went, Pakistan, I’d guess. The brick and concrete structures still standing have marks from the high water level – dried mud and flotsam on the walls about waist high. Now the unpaved side roads are that special clay-mud-mush which is super slippery and which it is difficult to extricate anything that gets stuck in it (like your shoe).

DSC_3448DSC_3149

The residents – some men but mostly young adults – pulled me to the places that had been their homes. The Afghans are fanatics about walls and there wasn’t a structure with four intact walls. A lot of the walls were simply gone – presumably washed away “down there somewhere” – whereas we were standing on the mucky remnants of others. Several buildings had big gaps and cracks because the ground on which they were built had shifted down the street too. All the rocks you see in the pictures were once part of walls.DSC_3444

DSC_3423

Afghan homes (here in the rural/suburbs) are often built with enclosed rooms along the outside edge of the property so that there is an enclosed courtyard on the inside behind those tall walls. A compound may have only one enclosed structure with one or more rooms and then a series of porticos for cooking and lounging. When you are invited “into” an Afghan home in the suburbs, depending on the weather, you will probably be received in the courtyard or under the shade of a large tree or corrugated roof portico. There is usually a gate or door in the wall that opens in to the courtyard, and sometimes a door directly in to a room from the street.

DSC_3422DSC_3431

I described all this for you so you can study the pictures and see if you can figure out what was what … and where it was once. The yellow cabinet on that white and blue wall is a clue – it should be on the “inside” of a room.DSC_3428DSC_3406

 

I think I’ve been here too long – my initial response was to avert my eyes from that cabinet in the wall. You’re not meant to be looking in to someone’s house (or courtyard) and seeing the details of their private lives and the innards of their homes without their invitation.

This is two days after the storm and the residents have already removed their belongings, more or less. The ruined textiles and such are in heaps on the side of the paved road.DSC_3465DSC_3463

 

There are hazards everywhere, from downed electrical cables to huge cracks in the walls that stay standing. The drainage culverts are full of mud and rocks so even a small rain before they are cleared will damage things further.DSC_3436DSC_3450

 

The affected areas were pretty wide spread. Alley after alley was the same story; a short drive away we saw high brick walls of large compounds… missing.DSC_3482

 

These were not refugee-camp-style poor people’s housing and people have lived in these neighborhoods for 7-12 years, so they tell me. But “they” say that these people are all illegally squatting on military land and so the government is not rushing to help – they want the people to move anyway. Ah, TIA.

You can download an extended set of photos of flood damaged houses in east Jalalabad. (54 images, 16.3MB)

flash flood

I’m cross-posting this here at FRI because there seem to be more interest in the Saracha Bridge collapse than my little server at MIT can handle. You can find the original post at amy.fablab.af. Update: Download an extended set of photos from the collapsed Saracha Bridge (49 photos, 13.4MB).DSC_3361

 

Early in the morning of 8/31 a giant thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a stunning amount of water on us. High winds blew open my window which woke me up briefly enough to see the absolute solid wall of water as if Shem’s house had been moved under a waterfall. Lightning lit up the sky with such frequency it was nearly daylight.

DSC_2584

The next morning Logan asked if it had rained the previous night. The concrete houses are sound insulated enough that on the first floor I would have slept through the storm too had my window not blown open. The front yard didn’t look too different but once the front gates were opened we could see that Jalalabad had been flooded.

DSC_2601

All over Jalalabad culverts overflowed, low areas became rushing rivers, mud walls melted, and houses were damaged or destroyed. The biggest casualty was Saracha Bridge, about 1 km east of FOB Fenty towards Torkham. Tim and I went out to see the bridge a day later and found two and three story tall bridge footings washed down river and most of the bridge completely gone. The river looks innocent and small, only the near opaque turbidity gives away upstream mischief. Brick archways and stone footings are stranded on dry rock in what now looks like a dry river bed.DSC_3045

 

The initial ANSO report implied some damage that would be fixed within a day, which in Afghanistan usually might mean a week or so. I couldn’t remember a significant bridge to the east of the customs house because the road bed is wide and the approach to the bridge is long and gentle. We were unprepared for what we saw and initially I didn’t even realize that the enormous expanse had a bridge suitable for heavy truck traffic spanning it only a day before.DSC_2974

DSC_2984
DSC_3005
DSC_2998

There were trucks everywhere, pulled on to the side of the road on both sides of the bridge. Some tried to use smaller roads to the north or south as bypasses but upstream and downstream bridges were questionable themselves. The bypasses were not necessarily a great choice because the heavy trucks made big muddy ruts in the small dirt roads. So most cars and trucks opted to try their luck simply driving across the river after the water level went down.DSC_2995DSC_2959

 

Several bulldozers had arrived and were making ramps down and up the banks to make it easier for the vehicles to get down to the stream bed. While we watched, about 2 in 3 cars or trucks made it through ok, sometimes with a little help from the masses of Afghans who had collected to watch and see if anything exciting might happen. A handful of jingle trucks seemed to be pretty stuck.DSC_2983

Want A "Digital" Silk Road in Afghanistan? Let Them Build It

Editors Note:   One of the topics frequently mentioned by ISAF, NATO, and US AID is the need to get Internet and computers into educational facilities, schools, and ultimately homes in Afghanistan.   There is a NATO Virtual Silk Road program which is the closest to actually installing hardware and internet – they have been planning for years now, spent millions, but have yet to install anything (judging from the google search I just did.)   In the post below Amy Sun describes exactly how to get a virtual Silk Road up and running using what is the most efficient model I have ever heard of and one which should be recognized, funded, and expanded not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

The Fab Folk may be academics but as you’ll see below they (like all good academics should) have proven their concepts in the field – specifically in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.   Read the post below – understand how absolutely incredible it is that Afghan kids are designing, building and installing high speed internet hotspots all around the city and then send this post to your congressmen (or the appropriate equivalent for those who live outside the US.)

An additional point – this internet is fast.   It is, in fact, much faster than the systems our military is using – the only way to get a fatter pipe in Afghanistan is to spend 15k a month for your own satellite feed.   Another point   – these people come here on their own dime.   Not one penny of tax payer money has been spent to accomplish in 7 months something which our governments have been unable to do in seven years. Somebody needs to fund the Fab Folk effort in Afghanistan – it is ridiculous that a group of PhD candidates are spending their life savings to come here and do a task they feel to be vital when that exact task in one all the coalition countries agree is a priority.   Also note the frequent use of a key word by the author; “leadership.”   We sure could use more of that around here.

FabFi now has  five fully operating  nodes with two more  coming online in days – they’ve already got the config all down but haven’t done the final strapping down.   That’s  seven, SEVEN, high speed comms “hot spots”  for Afghan use delivered  and working in  about 5 months serving an estimated 500-1,000 users.     Of  those seven,  only the first four were installed with international FabFolk help.   The remainder were  built, configured, and installed, end-to-end, by and for “ordinary people”.

dsc00867

Because the end points are made for and by the users, access is completely based on individual will and merit.   Meaning, you can have it if you do the work.   So while the “usual suspects” continue to propose connecting hospitals, universities, and government buildings, with FabFi, regular people are connecting those places AND a small orphanage, an NGO, and a public school in a small village.   And  they’re doing it now.

dsc00863

I can’t emphasize enough –  the key to FabFi isn’t the technology, it’s the implementation where everything is developed specifically to allow  regular people  the ability  to solve problems.    If  you don’t already know the  tech term “viral“, look it up.     This is the way these projects need to be done,  you have to  involve and employ absolutely everyone you can, especially the very population that you’re targeting. If it’s important to them, they’ll do it.

dsc01274

No caveats. Want to go to the moon? There’s only one way to get there and it’s not handouts or coddling from Vulcans.     Otherwise you’re just a tourist along for the ride, and you still won’t be able to get there on your own. We’re there to guide and make available the collective knowledge and lessons learned of the developed world.   Mentor, not suppress.   Lead, not micromanage.

dsc01277

There does have to be leadership and focus.   Open source projects fail if they are literally open loop frenzied parties of undirected work.   FabFi is not a new idea within the Fabuniverse but you need someone to pull together resources, funding, and a timeline – and hold even volunteers to their word.       To be effective, that  leadership needs “street cred”  –   out there slugging through the heat and mosquitoes, or ice and  snow,  or late night geeking sessions with everyone else.     I said leadership, not finance manager.

Because good leadership and mentoring begets good leadership and mentoring.   South End Boston Fab Lab has a tremendously successful “Learn to Teach / Teach to Learn” program where grad students teach undergrads who teach high schoolers who teach middle schoolers.     They don’t just teach rote skills or what to think, they are teaching young teens how to think.   That program started with a handful of kids and has grown to hundreds, nearly a thousand confident young adults that any parent would be proud of.

And you know what’s just as  wild?   These labs  lead and support each other.   We’re just begininng to foster the relationships in Afghanistan – these kids are shy! – but the Pabal, India (7 years old)  and Soshanguve, South Africa (3.5 years old) labs are reaching out to Afghanistan to share their projects and design files for the things they’ve developed over the past several years.

Their most valuable contributions to each other aren’t the machines or product – those change over time as needs and people change.   It’s the collective mentoring in how to think, how to approach problems.   It’s a slow process because it’s a journey for the user, not an answer to memorize.

dsc_1834

Here’s what’s next: it’s called the thinner client. Basically about $10 in parts, it’s the bare minimum of what you need to connect to the internet for things like email and access to Wikipedia and the like. Two way information stations with crazy low power consumption. A group of Pretoria, South African Fab Folk are heading up the implementation and distribution of these in South Africa, and both projects will trade around August with the South Africans learning and implementing FabFi and the Afghanis learning and implementing Thinner Client, with help from each other.   And the whole rest of the world watching.

dsc_1839

To keep the semantics simple, I’ll describe with the Jbad-appropriate words. Pashto native character map, plugs in to PAL or NTSC TV or any other display device you can find (just load in different software).   Requires 3.3 VDC – 5VDC in pretty much any way you can get it to it (including through the comms, keyboard, etc.).   In Jbad we’ll intentionally promote the text-only or vector-line-drawing-only versions so the units are acceptable for non-chaperone use (no effective net-nanny in Afghanistan!).

They connect to each other, they connect to FabFi. The connect wired or wireless, over RF, IR, and even acoustically. It’s all just different drop in electronic  bits and different software modules, but it’s totally cut-and-paste. Don’t think they can do it? Watch young Valentina of the Ghana Fab Lab make and show you her circuit “Efe”, which means “it’s beautiful!” in Fanti.

She started by making something that was already designed, then she modified it, both the hardware and software. That’s the way “real engineers” learn stuff, start with something that works, understand it, modify it. And that’s basically the  Fab Lab secret power.

Watch for this  to explode – the combination of device and network is like, well, cell phones but without having to wait for the  provider  company to invest millions in the initial infrastructure.   The learning curve is steep – it doesn’t help that the router kernel is in English – but once these things get translated in to local languages and processes, it’s going to go wild.   The interest and requests are already overwhelming.   People are bewildered when they ask who to ask to get an antenna to find that there is not an authority, they simply  “must to do”.   The biggest hurdle at the moment is people actually believing that is true!

It’s not just Afghanistan.   The rate at which  FabFi has spread  is phenomenal.   We released the FabFi 1.0 distribution in mid-March, essentially we got our act together and finally zipped all the files together with a little documentation and threw it up on our website.    Not even a month later,   I’ve heard from folks all over –  from Soshanguve, South Africa  to South Bronx, New  York.    The Heads On Fire Fab Lab in San Diego has  endeavored to  make antenna pairs to connect San Diego with Tijuanna, and I’ve even heard from the GATR folks who just want to connect to their work net from home.

Let me summarize: provide mission  orders and appropriate funding.   Trust  the folks who know  both the tech and understand how  to engage the target population.   Stand out of the way.   Taking credit is optional.

Want A “Digital” Silk Road in Afghanistan? Let Them Build It

Editors Note:   One of the topics frequently mentioned by ISAF, NATO, and US AID is the need to get Internet and computers into educational facilities, schools, and ultimately homes in Afghanistan.   There is a NATO Virtual Silk Road program which is the closest to actually installing hardware and internet – they have been planning for years now, spent millions, but have yet to install anything (judging from the google search I just did.)   In the post below Amy Sun describes exactly how to get a virtual Silk Road up and running using what is the most efficient model I have ever heard of and one which should be recognized, funded, and expanded not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

The Fab Folk may be academics but as you’ll see below they (like all good academics should) have proven their concepts in the field – specifically in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.   Read the post below – understand how absolutely incredible it is that Afghan kids are designing, building and installing high speed internet hotspots all around the city and then send this post to your congressmen (or the appropriate equivalent for those who live outside the US.)

An additional point – this internet is fast.   It is, in fact, much faster than the systems our military is using – the only way to get a fatter pipe in Afghanistan is to spend 15k a month for your own satellite feed.   Another point   – these people come here on their own dime.   Not one penny of tax payer money has been spent to accomplish in 7 months something which our governments have been unable to do in seven years. Somebody needs to fund the Fab Folk effort in Afghanistan – it is ridiculous that a group of PhD candidates are spending their life savings to come here and do a task they feel to be vital when that exact task in one all the coalition countries agree is a priority.   Also note the frequent use of a key word by the author; “leadership.”   We sure could use more of that around here.

FabFi now has  five fully operating  nodes with two more  coming online in days – they’ve already got the config all down but haven’t done the final strapping down.   That’s  seven, SEVEN, high speed comms “hot spots”  for Afghan use delivered  and working in  about 5 months serving an estimated 500-1,000 users.     Of  those seven,  only the first four were installed with international FabFolk help.   The remainder were  built, configured, and installed, end-to-end, by and for “ordinary people”.

dsc00867

Because the end points are made for and by the users, access is completely based on individual will and merit.   Meaning, you can have it if you do the work.   So while the “usual suspects” continue to propose connecting hospitals, universities, and government buildings, with FabFi, regular people are connecting those places AND a small orphanage, an NGO, and a public school in a small village.   And  they’re doing it now.

dsc00863

I can’t emphasize enough –  the key to FabFi isn’t the technology, it’s the implementation where everything is developed specifically to allow  regular people  the ability  to solve problems.    If  you don’t already know the  tech term “viral“, look it up.     This is the way these projects need to be done,  you have to  involve and employ absolutely everyone you can, especially the very population that you’re targeting. If it’s important to them, they’ll do it.

dsc01274

No caveats. Want to go to the moon? There’s only one way to get there and it’s not handouts or coddling from Vulcans.     Otherwise you’re just a tourist along for the ride, and you still won’t be able to get there on your own. We’re there to guide and make available the collective knowledge and lessons learned of the developed world.   Mentor, not suppress.   Lead, not micromanage.

dsc01277

There does have to be leadership and focus.   Open source projects fail if they are literally open loop frenzied parties of undirected work.   FabFi is not a new idea within the Fabuniverse but you need someone to pull together resources, funding, and a timeline – and hold even volunteers to their word.       To be effective, that  leadership needs “street cred”  –   out there slugging through the heat and mosquitoes, or ice and  snow,  or late night geeking sessions with everyone else.     I said leadership, not finance manager.

Because good leadership and mentoring begets good leadership and mentoring.   South End Boston Fab Lab has a tremendously successful “Learn to Teach / Teach to Learn” program where grad students teach undergrads who teach high schoolers who teach middle schoolers.     They don’t just teach rote skills or what to think, they are teaching young teens how to think.   That program started with a handful of kids and has grown to hundreds, nearly a thousand confident young adults that any parent would be proud of.

And you know what’s just as  wild?   These labs  lead and support each other.   We’re just begininng to foster the relationships in Afghanistan – these kids are shy! – but the Pabal, India (7 years old)  and Soshanguve, South Africa (3.5 years old) labs are reaching out to Afghanistan to share their projects and design files for the things they’ve developed over the past several years.

Their most valuable contributions to each other aren’t the machines or product – those change over time as needs and people change.   It’s the collective mentoring in how to think, how to approach problems.   It’s a slow process because it’s a journey for the user, not an answer to memorize.

dsc_1834

Here’s what’s next: it’s called the thinner client. Basically about $10 in parts, it’s the bare minimum of what you need to connect to the internet for things like email and access to Wikipedia and the like. Two way information stations with crazy low power consumption. A group of Pretoria, South African Fab Folk are heading up the implementation and distribution of these in South Africa, and both projects will trade around August with the South Africans learning and implementing FabFi and the Afghanis learning and implementing Thinner Client, with help from each other.   And the whole rest of the world watching.

dsc_1839

To keep the semantics simple, I’ll describe with the Jbad-appropriate words. Pashto native character map, plugs in to PAL or NTSC TV or any other display device you can find (just load in different software).   Requires 3.3 VDC – 5VDC in pretty much any way you can get it to it (including through the comms, keyboard, etc.).   In Jbad we’ll intentionally promote the text-only or vector-line-drawing-only versions so the units are acceptable for non-chaperone use (no effective net-nanny in Afghanistan!).

They connect to each other, they connect to FabFi. The connect wired or wireless, over RF, IR, and even acoustically. It’s all just different drop in electronic  bits and different software modules, but it’s totally cut-and-paste. Don’t think they can do it? Watch young Valentina of the Ghana Fab Lab make and show you her circuit “Efe”, which means “it’s beautiful!” in Fanti.

She started by making something that was already designed, then she modified it, both the hardware and software. That’s the way “real engineers” learn stuff, start with something that works, understand it, modify it. And that’s basically the  Fab Lab secret power.

Watch for this  to explode – the combination of device and network is like, well, cell phones but without having to wait for the  provider  company to invest millions in the initial infrastructure.   The learning curve is steep – it doesn’t help that the router kernel is in English – but once these things get translated in to local languages and processes, it’s going to go wild.   The interest and requests are already overwhelming.   People are bewildered when they ask who to ask to get an antenna to find that there is not an authority, they simply  “must to do”.   The biggest hurdle at the moment is people actually believing that is true!

It’s not just Afghanistan.   The rate at which  FabFi has spread  is phenomenal.   We released the FabFi 1.0 distribution in mid-March, essentially we got our act together and finally zipped all the files together with a little documentation and threw it up on our website.    Not even a month later,   I’ve heard from folks all over –  from Soshanguve, South Africa  to South Bronx, New  York.    The Heads On Fire Fab Lab in San Diego has  endeavored to  make antenna pairs to connect San Diego with Tijuanna, and I’ve even heard from the GATR folks who just want to connect to their work net from home.

Let me summarize: provide mission  orders and appropriate funding.   Trust  the folks who know  both the tech and understand how  to engage the target population.   Stand out of the way.   Taking credit is optional.

Technology Development Stemming from 9/11 and the Wars In Afghanistan and Iraq

The title above will be the basis for a series of articles I will write over the coming weeks outlining some cutting-edge technologies that are just being placed in the field, or will soon debut in the next few years. The events surrounding  September 11th 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been the catalyst for major defense research, as well as the development of some interesting and unique technologies. This series will primarily focus on technologies that will assist the soldier or tactical operator on the ground.
The majority of these new technologies are designed to reduce the fog of war by giving better situational awareness, improving the ability to track, designate or hand-off targets to other weapons systems, along with the key benefit of saving soldiers’ lives. The advantages of this research and the new technologies developed from these two wars will permeate into the civilian world at some future date.
Being a former Tactical Police Officer from 1990 through 2002, I’ve personally seen the transfer of military technology into the unit that helped us better carry out our missions to save lives. Off the top of my head, these are examples of some of those technologies introduced over that period: Thermal Imagers, Night Vision Scopes for Sniper and Assault Rifles, Gen II and Gen III Night Vision Goggles, and Digital Radios with encryption.
My first topic in this article focuses on a transformational technology that will penetrate the military, law enforcement and civilian world in a profound way. The most important aspect of this technology is that it is designed to save lives.
Blackhawk's Integrated Tourniquet System

Blackhawk’s Integrated Tourniquet System
THE INTEGRATED TOURNIQUET SYSTEM (ITS)
The ITS system was the brainchild of a Texan surgeon by the name of Dr. Keith Rose. In 2006, Dr. Rose was in Afghanistan conducting a humanitarian medical mission in the field, doing surgery to repair children’s cleft pallets. Upon returning to Kabul from the field, he encountered a US military up-armoured Humvee that had been hit by an RPG round. The vehicle’s damage caused the doors to jam and to trap a soldier inside with a femoral artery bleed. The soldier was finally freed from the vehicle a few minutes later, but died because they weren’t able to reach him or free him in time to save his life. Dr. Rose was very affected by this tragic incident and felt it a senseless loss of life. It sparked an idea that eventually lead to the Integrated Tourniquet System (ITS). To develop the product, he teamed up with Blackhawk, a US based manufacturer of tactical equipment and clothing. Dr. Rose’s invention essentially pre-locates tourniquets within garments to stop blood loss if an extremity suffers from severe bleeding.
With the core of the body and head protected by body armor and a helmet, battlefield injuries to the extremities (arms and legs) have increased significantly. Reports indicate that vascular injuries accounted for 50-70% of all injuries treated during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and that extremity wounds were the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. This new technology will go a long way to reduce the incidents of preventable death from basically bleeding Each garment includes a total of four (4) tourniquets, with two (2) for each limb.
With an arterial bleed, time is of the essence. Someone could die in less than four (4) minutes if the bleeding is not stopped. The beauty of the system is that tourniquets are pre-located in the correct medical positions. There is no need to waste time looking for a tourniquet in the first aid kit. The system can be self-administered or, if the victim is unconscious, his/her teammate automatically knows the location of the tourniquets and simply activates them immediately.
This technology has already been adopted by the US Navy Seals, and I suspect other SF teams around the world will want to have access to this technology in their uniforms as well. Although the SF community is an early-adapter of this technology, my prediction is Defense Forces around the world will incorporate the system into their uniforms within the next 3-5 years. Law Enforcement will also adopt this technology, especially within the world’s Tactical Units. To the Australian and New Zealand Defense Forces, talk to me and I can steer you in the right direction regarding this technology I have a line straight to the top!
It’s a simple design invention repackaged into a functional system addressing a specific need on the battlefield. This technology will save lives…. period. This is not only a technology for military and law enforcement tactical teams, but also for the civilian market including extreme sports like hunting, mountain climbing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding and diving. Watch this space.
Blackhawk has a YouTube video demonstrating the technology, which I’ve linked here.  Blackhawk also released their “Warrior Wear” line of clothing. which incorporates the ITS technology. Check out their website for more details.

Women's Resource Center / Work For Cash

Tim invited me to submit some ideas for ways to spend the Work For Cash program he’s administering this spring. There is a focus on getting the money into the hands of women. Many of the traditional WFC programs are things like digging out the sewers or sweeping the streets, and those are inappropriate for burqa clad women who are likely to have small kids they must keep with them.

Tim reminds me that the program is bound by constraints that he doesn’t yet completely know, he’ll find out this week, so he won’t make any promises or plans yet. If the WFC thing doesn’t work out, we’ll still do most of these things but will have to raise funds otherwise and the program will stand up more slowly (ie, we’ll have to sell the product and generate some revenue to reinvest in more raw supplies).   If you have more ideas, please comment!

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In the Work for Cash program, women will be invited to the FabLab to be paid to do the following :

1) Document scanning. Digitize paper records using bed scanner or camera. May be public records such as the mountain of land title deeds or possibly similar types files (we will have to solicit customers).

2) Make flash cards for school children. (Mostly basic arithmetic). Women learn to use the printing press or wood / rubber stamp making.

3) Make educational props. Clocks with movable hands, giant rulers, large painted flash cards with Pashto / English alphabet.

4) Sew book bag / satchel / purses, with custom embroidery or markings or prints.

5) Sew / embroider (by hand, machines, or with computer controlled machines) “A [picture of apple]” kinds of quilts and fabric books in Pashto. May use other machines in the lab to make the objects out of felt or other material instead of embroidering with thread.

6) Make wind lanterns from empty water bottles. (Requires collecting and cleaning bottles). Wind lanterns spin in a breeze causing internal lights to light up. They can be strung up outside doorways or near wells and other hazards.

7) Make and configure FabFi antennas for long range wireless internet connections terminating in umbrella wireless hotspots. Install on site, possibly, depending on mobility of women.

8) Create and perform puppet / shadow puppet theater show on topics of basic health, local fables, IED (Improvised Explosive Device)   and UXO (Baba Tim Comment: unexploded ordinance is a huge problem and they kill hundreds of children per year in Afghanistan – France has the same problem with ordinance left over from World War I.   For those of you schooled under Jimmy Carters Department of Educatuon that happened in the early part of the last centruy and was a very bad war even though mostly white European males were killed in it – by the hundreds of thousands mind you.) awareness or just entertainment.

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In addition to immediate pay for work described, in some cases women will gain a skill that may be employable in the long term. I propose giving away the product to the local schools or selling at a very low cost. These products and services were requested by locals and the Fab Lab mentors can help these women establish small cottage businesses from these activities.

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The Fab Lab is an existent infrastructure at the edge of Jalalabad. In addition to raw supplies for the above projects, the Woman’s Resource Room needs to be fitted out to provide a safe and comfortable place for the women to work and sanctuary when there are users of other genders visiting or using the lab. This room is approximately 25′ x 18′ with windows on two walls and an en suite bathroom with sink and toilet. One set of windows opens onto a small concrete walkway which is up against an interior compound wall. The other set of windows looks out small concrete walkway/porch leading to 1/4-1/2 acre vegetable garden. There is a split air conditioner and heater installed in the room. The room is currently empty but clean and freshly painted.

We need to add: Thick wall to wall carpet, comfortable couches and floor cushions. Some low tables. A computer controlled embroidery machine, a sewing machine, some computers, a bookshelf and whiteboard, a projector or TV for lessons. All the print and video educational material we can find. One wall of open-front cubby holes. A shared supply of sewing and knitting needles, scissors, rulers, and so on. An endless supply of female sanitary products, soap, and general toiletries.

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Women’s Resource Center / Work For Cash

Tim invited me to submit some ideas for ways to spend the Work For Cash program he’s administering this spring. There is a focus on getting the money into the hands of women. Many of the traditional WFC programs are things like digging out the sewers or sweeping the streets, and those are inappropriate for burqa clad women who are likely to have small kids they must keep with them.

Tim reminds me that the program is bound by constraints that he doesn’t yet completely know, he’ll find out this week, so he won’t make any promises or plans yet. If the WFC thing doesn’t work out, we’ll still do most of these things but will have to raise funds otherwise and the program will stand up more slowly (ie, we’ll have to sell the product and generate some revenue to reinvest in more raw supplies).   If you have more ideas, please comment!

dsc_5958

In the Work for Cash program, women will be invited to the FabLab to be paid to do the following :

1) Document scanning. Digitize paper records using bed scanner or camera. May be public records such as the mountain of land title deeds or possibly similar types files (we will have to solicit customers).

2) Make flash cards for school children. (Mostly basic arithmetic). Women learn to use the printing press or wood / rubber stamp making.

3) Make educational props. Clocks with movable hands, giant rulers, large painted flash cards with Pashto / English alphabet.

4) Sew book bag / satchel / purses, with custom embroidery or markings or prints.

5) Sew / embroider (by hand, machines, or with computer controlled machines) “A [picture of apple]” kinds of quilts and fabric books in Pashto. May use other machines in the lab to make the objects out of felt or other material instead of embroidering with thread.

6) Make wind lanterns from empty water bottles. (Requires collecting and cleaning bottles). Wind lanterns spin in a breeze causing internal lights to light up. They can be strung up outside doorways or near wells and other hazards.

7) Make and configure FabFi antennas for long range wireless internet connections terminating in umbrella wireless hotspots. Install on site, possibly, depending on mobility of women.

8) Create and perform puppet / shadow puppet theater show on topics of basic health, local fables, IED (Improvised Explosive Device)   and UXO (Baba Tim Comment: unexploded ordinance is a huge problem and they kill hundreds of children per year in Afghanistan – France has the same problem with ordinance left over from World War I.   For those of you schooled under Jimmy Carters Department of Educatuon that happened in the early part of the last centruy and was a very bad war even though mostly white European males were killed in it – by the hundreds of thousands mind you.) awareness or just entertainment.

img_1563

In addition to immediate pay for work described, in some cases women will gain a skill that may be employable in the long term. I propose giving away the product to the local schools or selling at a very low cost. These products and services were requested by locals and the Fab Lab mentors can help these women establish small cottage businesses from these activities.

dsc_0307

The Fab Lab is an existent infrastructure at the edge of Jalalabad. In addition to raw supplies for the above projects, the Woman’s Resource Room needs to be fitted out to provide a safe and comfortable place for the women to work and sanctuary when there are users of other genders visiting or using the lab. This room is approximately 25′ x 18′ with windows on two walls and an en suite bathroom with sink and toilet. One set of windows opens onto a small concrete walkway which is up against an interior compound wall. The other set of windows looks out small concrete walkway/porch leading to 1/4-1/2 acre vegetable garden. There is a split air conditioner and heater installed in the room. The room is currently empty but clean and freshly painted.

We need to add: Thick wall to wall carpet, comfortable couches and floor cushions. Some low tables. A computer controlled embroidery machine, a sewing machine, some computers, a bookshelf and whiteboard, a projector or TV for lessons. All the print and video educational material we can find. One wall of open-front cubby holes. A shared supply of sewing and knitting needles, scissors, rulers, and so on. An endless supply of female sanitary products, soap, and general toiletries.

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Adventures Outside the Wire

End of the Game
End of the Game

This blog post is a bit of a departure from FRI’s normal topics no embed reporting, no strategies on how to win the Global War on Terror (GWOT), no great empowerment projects (aka the Fablab) to talk of, but I hope you’ll find it interesting none the less.

 

Tim and I go back about 3 or so years beginning with our time together with a company called WSI (a bad experience for both of us) and then as partners in a Private security company – VSSA. For the lion share of my time I was based in Mazar-i-Sharif (Northern Afghanistan) working as a Security Coordinator, while Tim was based in Jalalabad doing identical work. Now that I am back in country (after a much needed hiatus in Australia) I find myself at the Taj catching up with Tim. Whilst I was sitting at the Taj bar Tim asked if he could source some photos for the FRI blog from my time in Northern Afghanistan. After viewing a few shots somehow I volunteered to write an article for him not sure how that happened!

 

It took me some time to think about a worthy subject to focus upon. During the thinking process I reminisced about the good times had in Afghanistan and how much fun was packed into the little downtime available. This somewhat pedestrian topic then grew a life of its own and became yet another example of the vast difference between risk adverse deployments / organizations and the more low profile operators / organizations who live and work outside the wire in Afghanistan. I suddenly had my topic!

Living and working within the Afghan community definitely gives you a better idea of the culture and the feel of the people toward you. What is amusing is talking with some International Military personnel on the various bases about living within the community. Normally when you tell them you live off base down town, their bottom jaw drops to the ground with shock. I guess their perception is that once outside the wire it’s certain death which is certainly not the case, demonstrated by the numerous internationals and organizations that continue to live in the community with few problems. This topic is something Tim has talked about on numerous occasions regarding having the military living off the bases and FOB’s and amongst the community, which I fully support.

Another topic Tim has raised is the ability to move through much of the country in a low profile manner. With the exception of areas along the Pakistan border and Southern Afghanistan much of the North and Northwest remains quite permissive. The biggest risk factor in these permissive environments is probably being the subject of criminality (after dark on the highways) or involved and hurt in a traffic accident. If you’ve ever experienced Afghan traffic you’ll immediately know why, and what I mean. For those new to Afghanistan the traffic can be both a disorientating and disconcerting experience. Seeing cars overtaking each other on blind corners with inches to spare while avoiding the goats, chickens, cows, handcarts, taxi’s, donkeys, donkey carts and camels sharing the same bit of road gives you some indication of the chaotic nature of Afghan traffic. It can be a little freaky at first, but like anything, you get use to it and over time actually start driving that way too! The best advice I can give is to drive yourself, and not to travel the highways at night.

An Afghan Buzkashi player with the Buz (carcass) riding toward the flag at this end of the Buzkashi field.  Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan 2007
An Afghan Buzkashi player with the Buz (carcass) riding toward the flag at this end of the Buzkashi field. Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan 2007

A couple of years back I bought a video camera along with a Digital SLR Camera to record my time and experiences in Afghanistan. I had done this specifically for family and friends in order to allay their concerns and fears about me being in a war zone. In those early years family and friends back home simply didn’t know what it was like on the ground in Afghanistan.  The mainstream media depicted car bombs going off, pitched gun battles with insurgents, and soldiers being killed on a regular basis. Although these things occurred, they weren’t a daily occurrence and rarely occurred in Northern Afghanistan where I was posted. However, family and friends back home thought these things were going on everywhere in Afghanistan mainly because of what they saw and heard in the media. So armed with my new cameras I set out to show the folks back home what life was like for me in my little world. In doing so I captured some fantastic photos and videos to share with them.

What triggered all this camera activity off arose from a question posed by my brother back home – What do you do for fun in Afghanistan?’ I answered his question at the time, but thought by showing him, along with other family and friends it would give them a better understanding of my Afghan experience.

Just being in Afghanistan is an event in itself and finding ways to entertain oneself was a popular downtime activity. There are no nightclubs, bars, movie theatres or shopping malls in Mazar-i-Sharif (in the western context anyway), so expatriates like myself made our own fun, which typically was on the weekends. Fun experiences consisted of visits to ancient ruins in Balkh District, trips to check out the drug fields (also in Balkh District), picnics, swimming, watching and participating in Buzkashi, eating at local restaurants and party’s/dinner party’s in each others guest houses. The running of the Mazar Social Club (MSC) was an important part of the weekend process that provided much needed expatriate interaction. Unlike the Taj Tiki Bar which is static, the MSC was basically a roving bar invited to various guesthouses for a night of dancing, drinking and merriment. Most MSC nights ended around 0300 hours and for a lot of those parties I was there to the end. I couldn’t help it because I was the chief barman and a member of the MSC organising committee. Still, people couldn’t believe I hung in there till the end because I’m a non-drinking. What they didn’t realise was that after my 4th Pepsi or Coke I couldn’t sleep due of all that caffeine racing through my veins. I typically stayed on till the end of the nights proceedings because I was high on Coke (the black Panadol type not that other version from South America). Another reason I stayed was for the sheer comedy, pure and simple it got funnier as people got drunker!

Welcome to the MSC Bar  Wodya want!!!!  The MSC (Welcoming) Committee minus the author who is taking the photograph circa Winter 2008.
Welcome to the MSC Bar Wodya want!!!! The MSC (Welcoming) Committee minus the author who is taking the photograph circa Winter 2008.

 

In 2007 I hooked up with an Aussie called Mat who was heading up the northern office for a European Union (EU) funded NGO at the time. I have to say Mat is one of the funniest dudes I’ve met he cracks me up all the time. With cameras in tow, I started recording our little outings. These recorded events morphed into a little video blog I put together called The Un-Named Adventure.’ It was called The Un-Named Adventure’ because basically I didn’t know what we were going to do before we did it purely spur of the moment stuff. Nothing was planned or scripted it just kind of unfolded at the time. It has a comedic thread throughout because 1. Mat cracks me up, and 2. I wanted it to be fairly light for the folks back home. This was a creative way to the further answer my brother’s question and outline what life was really like here in Afghanistan.

 

I am a little hesitant to release this material in the public domain. It’s one thing to just have family and friends looking at it, and a totally different animal when people you don’t know check it out. On the other hand I am quite curious to see other peoples take on our little adventures. Although I do have some misgivings I think showing these adventures will support my case that living outside the wire is the way to go in Afghanistan. I recall the adage – ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ so in this case I’m hoping moving pictures tell 10,000 words.

A word of warning, the show is politically incorrect and has some swearing in it, so if you are easily offended you probably won’t want to watch it. The key to the show though is not to take it seriously, we certainly don’t. Just take it for what it is pure comedic genius (I am biased)! We are fair though – we take the piss’ out of ourselves and those around us.

Buzkashi player at the end of a match.  Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan 2007
Buzkashi player at the end of a match. Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan 2007

The two (2) Adventures I’d like to share are

 

1. Adventure # 3 – Buzkashi, and

2. Adventure # 5 The Tabasco Dare.

 

Adventure # 3 The Buzkashi Adventure. Mat and I attended this particular Buzkashi game in Mazar-i-Sharif circa 2007. For those who don’t know, Buzkashi is the Afghan National sport. The game originated in the Central Asian steppes and is normally played in the winter months. It involves horseman trying to get a headless calf, goat or sheep’s carcass around a flag at one end of the playing field and depositing it in a circle at the other end. Riders wear heavy clothing, specialised riding boots and headwear (usually ex-Russian Tank headwear) and use whips, both on the horses and each other. Rules are you can’t trip the horses, apart from that – anything else goes.

As outlined in this adventure our take on the game is it’s the Afghan NASCAR’ everyone comes along to see a crash and/or carnage.

 

Adventure # 5 The Tabasco Dare. I think you’ll just have to watch this one, it’s pretty self-explanatory.

 

There are many more Adventures produced of free ranging outside the wire, but I hope you enjoy the little selection of episodes linked to this article. I also hope this gives you who are not here a better understanding that it’s not all doom and gloom; you can live, work and have fun here. LIFE’S SHORT LIVE IT TO THE MAX!!!

 

If you lot out there like these samples I may post a couple more Adventures down the track.

James – Guest Blogger.