Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's Only the Beginning, Inshallah.

It's been a long week of trying to do wrap up on our field work in Jalalabad. With dozens of people wanting to see you, piles of mail to get through, and all the distractions of everyday life (such as the pile of laundry in my dining room) pulling one in every direction focus is hard to come by, but I still find myself motivated by the need to maintain the tremendous momentum we built on the ground over the last two months.

The lack of attention paid to sustainability by most NGOs and the Military in Afghanistan is nothing short of infuriating -- any reconstruction effort that is doomed to vaporize the moment the contractor's contract ends is little more than a handout, which has a myriad of negative social and economic repercussions. I believe that FabFi can, and will, be more than just a handout.

The Fab concept of enabling local ingenuity and self/peer-directed learning breaks the mold of a typical reconstruction project and, I believe, has real potential for sustainability and growth, but right now the locals need a hand-up (as opposed to a hand-out) to keep it going. For this reason, the FabFi team has been hard at work standing up a web-presence to showcase how exciting this project is in the hope of securing real funding to solidify the both the human and physical infrastructure, and set the stage for rapid self-growth. We are working on a packaged system distribution, real-time link stats, and more. There might even be a journal article or two that comes out of it all...

Check it out at (Thanks to Smari M. for the DNS and low-level geekery, Amy S. for the non-fabfi content, Ryan T. for sprucing up my diagrams, and Kenny C for the file conversions). There's still a week or so of work in it, but we'll get there.

Now back to work.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Oh, Did I Mention I Broke the Laser Cutter?

One of the consequences of trying to work all night on consecutive nights to write configuration scripts and perfect antenna designs is that your judgment starts to slip. You might, for instance, solder some wires together without adding the shrink wrap first, or maybe you start cutting an antenna on the laser cutter and then try to go do something else in another room. BIG NONO. I came back to find the cutter disabled, the belt burning lazily, and the blower just clicking back on after having cooled back down from an overheat, oh yeah, and all this with only three full days left in Afghanistan. Yikes!

After making the point to the FabLabbers about how essential it was for a mistake like mine not to be repeated, I set about 'pairin'it. Originally we had hoped that we would be able to involve them in the fix, but it coming up in Friday and Saturday my departure date, we decided my working solo on a Friday was better than no laser cutter.

Both the belt and the blower hose were damaged. Fortunately there was another belt on hand, but the hose was going to need some McGuyvering. All I had was shrink tubing (and no heat gun or ligher, ugh), so that was going to have to suffice for a replacement hose. I hope that Fab Labbers take this as an example that there are many, solutions to any problem, though some prettier than others...

Everything is good-as-new and working fine now.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Man, do I love freedom (of information)

Still in Dubai. Still not on plane. Why haven't I been writing piles of updates, do you ask? Because FRS radios, GPS units and binoculars are all way too dangerous to take as carry-on baggage. Way too dangerous to the tune of a $135US (extra bag fee). It would be nice if they put them on the not-allowed list before humorlessly harassing people about them. I did get a guided tour of the Dubai airport from airport security however, and I'm pretty darn sure they followed/tracked me all the way to the gate, for my safety, of course. Tim would have a field day with this...

Teach a man to fish...

There's something a little ironic about flying out of Afghanistan, where you've been working 18 hour days of your own volition for more than a month, and sitting at a cafe with your laptop in the Dubai airport listening to a choral group practice Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" ad-nauseum about 40 feet to your left. I feel a little like I'm in a bad Unicef ad... While I could go on about the irony of this for a while (the opportunities are numerous), what I really want to talk about is momentum.

As those of you reading this regularly know, about three weeks ago most of the expat crew made their way home, Amy had to leave too about a week later, leaving me with Brandon, the Nurestani (sp?) look-alike from the last post, for two weeks to ensure that everything we've worked so hard for over the last couple of months didn't melt away the moment we left. In the immortal words of a wise man: "If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him to fish, he eats for a lietime." I've eaten the fish out of the Kabul river and the result on a scale of 1-Cholera was darn-near Cholera, so instead I started teaching the Fab Labbers to FabFi in earnest. No holds barred-- IP addressing, parabolas, linux, laser cutting acrylic, the whole 9 yards.

At first the response was "you make me antenna?" To which my response is always, "No, YOU make YOU antenna", but once they grasped that I really was going, I could feel the attention double. It took a month to prove how cool FabFi really is, but they get it now and man do they want in. After three days of intensive instruction, they might even be close enough to make the dream of a user-implemented community wireless network come true. Though really, it's all up to Brandon for a while to keep the communication going until the Fab Labbers make their first links. Here's the Presentation I gave them, sadly without my playful stage antics.

Gotta catch a plane...