Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Modular Cell Phones

Over the summer, Derek envisioned what he thought was a brilliant idea. The marriage between a cellular communications device and other everyday products (car, computer, toasters). It was a neat thought, but one that we thought would be hard to get OEMs to buy into. I mean, they all want us to buy the traditional brick/flip phones right?

Well, it looks like a company has finally come up with something similar. The Modu has the ability to plug into your car, computer, MP3 player, and serve as an interesting bridge between communication and other technologies we like to associate ourselves with. I think it'll be out by October, and I'll definitely keep an eye out on how this new form factor will do.

Monday, March 10, 2008

$15 Computer in India

From TV Computer
Ok, I finally went in and bought one of the 'TV Computers' that I've seen being sold on the streets on India. I never thought they would actually work, because they are so unbelievably cheap--rs500 or $12.50, and they come with a keyboard, mouse, light gun, two game controllers, and two game cartridges.

But guess what? It works! And I'm amazed at the capability. There is a word processor, a music composer, typing training, even a BASIC programming shell!

I like that it plugs into the TV, because it makes 'computing' fundamentally more social (even family oriented) than a laptop or even PC. And since nearly half of all Indian households have a television, there is a great potentially market. The funny thing is that a lot of the Srishti Design students who saw me playing with this used to have one themselves, several years ago. Back then, this cost nearly rs3000 ($75).

So take a look at this, and let me know what you think. Might this be a viable ICT4D technology??

TV Computer

Sunday, March 9, 2008

$27 New TV

Ok, it's black and white, but this helps explain why half of all Indian households own a television!

There are about 25 channels, it seems, even without cable. And Indian Cable... sooo many channels.

No Craigslist

Well, there is a craigslist in Bangalore, but this works too.

These types of public postings are very common. Seems to me that a mobile phone based job-listing would be far more successful than a web-based listing. There are quite a few India-centric job sites...

There are some SMS services offered by Monster, but that's all I know of.

Solar Power Flashlight

Seems to me there used to be a joke about solar powered flashlights.... This one was about $5, and not that powerful. Now, if this could be used to charge a cell phone, that might be worth buying....

SP Road 'BOP' Designs

Visited SP Road, which is the biggest electronics market in Bangalore. It is very similar to Lamington Road in Bombay, in the way that you might see a bullock cart delivering DVD players and such. With my friend Saurabh from MS research, we came across some really interesting 'bottom of the pyramid' technologies. Battery powered lighting was probably the most interesting set of innovations. The LED flashlight above is only 3 dollars and provides over 240 hours (ten days) of light per charge. When it is out of juice, simply plug it into the wall. Furthermore, there is a + - power outlet on the flashlight, that appears to be used for charging some cell phones. If so, that's brilliant design!

There were also a number of rechargable-battery-powered Florescent lighting solutions, some for as little as 5 dollars. This is so important, because 'load shedding' affects most households in India. Load shedding is a temporary power cut resulting from more electrical demand than supply (India's demand is estimated to be nearly 1/3 higher than supply!). The rich can purchase UPS systems (Uninterrupted Power Supplies), which cost upwards of $250. However, many seemed happy to buy 6 volt batteries and DC/AC adapters--which might sell for as little as $5.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sunglasses Video

I added some music, because the glasses do not record sound. Be sure to look about .5 the way through the video...... The first half is a market in Mysore. The second half is inside a rickshaw in Delhi, when a crowd of street kids approach us...

Perhaps why the motofone failed

Perhaps why the famous F3 Motofone failed: you can hardly see it in the dark! I was staying with a family in Madekeri, and they had one of these super affordable phones... They did not like the phone. Some reasons include the fact that "it bends" when you walk, if you keep it in your pocket--and that the text is very difficult to read. It also seemed rather difficult to use. Dixit was trying to change the language, and I saw him struggle with it for 20 minutes, to no avail. Interesting!
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Mobile Media Distribution

this truck was driving around Coorg selling books. They play devotional music and people browse books and drink chai. Books are about $1 each.
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Monday, February 18, 2008

$15 Laptop seen in Mumbai

This toystore in Bandra was selling a number of "educational computers" that purport to teach English, Spelling, Mathematics, and Music. I can't vouch for their efficacy, but they sell for about $15 and they do 'work.' However, in my limited experience, they were very difficult to use, and not very much fun. Couldn't this be improved upon? I like the idea of developing educational toys, at a price that is within reach. If only these computers had better content and design!
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Why Streets Flood During the Monsoon

Where's the grate?

Meanwhile in Bombay, 10,000 immigrants have fled the city, after organized violence this week by the Shiv Sena, the MNS, and other Hindu fundamentalist groups.

As they say, "Blaming Mumbai’s problems on the economic migrant is to simply escape responsibility for failing to address the core issue: a serious crisis of governance."
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Six Principles of Sustainable Development


The Ontario Round Table members believe that these goals are attainable,
based on six fundamental principles that resulted from the Round Table's
research and consultations:

  1. Anticipating and preventing problems is better than trying to react
    and fix them after they occur.

  2. Accounting must reflect all long-term environmental and economic
    costs, not just those of the current market.

  3. The best decisions are those based on sound, accurate, and up-to-date

  4. We must live off the interest our environment provides and not destroy
    its capital base.

  5. The quality of social and economic development must take precedence
    over quantity.

  6. We must respect nature and the rights of future generations.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Meet Some Street Kids and Walk through the Markets of Mysore

These are some initial tests from my new video-camera sunglasses. I'm hoping that these videos can provide a better sense of what it is like to actually walk through the streets... san sound and smells.

Soon, I promise video taken from the perspective of vegetable sellers or rickshaw drivers! I'd love to be able to document and experience the rhythms of what they see.

I believe documentation like this is important in the context of Design for Development, because we need to be able to gain a strong sense of empathy for the persons for whom we will be designing.
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When Technology Initiatives Destroy Cultures

Eric Writes:

The Skolt Lapps are a group of reindeer herding people in Northern Finland who had a fairly robust culture built around reindeer herding, eating, and trading, that was deeply upset when snowmobiles began to inflitrate their society and replace previously reindeer-centered activities. The snowmobile became the “thing to have” and people made fatal sacrifices to have it. Unemployment skyrocketed, debt exploded, the reindeer population dwindled, and their previously sustainable economy collapsed.

The Full Blog Post has a number of other great examples:

Economists, can you explain why this is good news?

According to this BBC Article:
The Indian government recently said it expected the economy to grow by 8.7% in the financial year to the end of March, which would be the slowest rate of expansion in three years.

The government has raised interest rates and reduced the amount of money banks can lend out to cool the industrial and financial sectors. The government is also predicting a slowdown in agricultural output.

Analysts broadly welcomed the latest figure, as it shows government efforts to slow breakneck economic growth are continuing to be successful.

What are the benefits of slowing India's economy down? Especially the agricultural sector? Any ideas?

Packaging Everywhere!

Only 3 Rupees, about 8 cents, for a bag of chips. And man, I love Kukure--they're like a masala flavored Cheeto.

But most of these bags get tossed on the ground, along with all the other ubiquitous forms of plastic mylar packaging. Cows then eat this stuff, which can't be good. I think we need a 'Littering is Bad Karma" campaign here. I tend to think that environmental respect starts on our own streets.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Organic Packaging

I love this, I really do. I bought an omlet off the street recently (my digestive system adjusted a long time ago, so I like to keep it in good practice), and they wrapped it in leaves, and then folded it up into an old sheet of newspaper. Imagine if all the consumer packaging we have in the states literally grew on trees?? I've seen so much stuff like that here, from paper plates made of pressed palm leaves or recycled milk cartons to grocery bags made of glued up newspapers. Even a drink container made of a coconut shell ...containing coconut milk! wow!
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Small Family Happy Family

More like: Small Family, Happy Planet. Did you know that there will be an estimated 9 Billion people on the planet by 2050? That's like adding two more Chinas! How will the world be able to sustain such growth, which is primarily happening amongst the world's poorest citizens?

This picture is from the back of a 1993 2 Rupee coin. I wonder if it had an effect...?
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Some Unfortunate Irony About Garbage

An empty garbage bin and a lot filled with trash. Why is India filled with so much trash everywhere? It was such a striking contrast to Japan, where they don't even allow public trash bins (after the Sarin Gas attacks)--people just carry their trash until they visit a restaurant or something. We try embarassing people who blatantly throw bottles on the ground, but honestly, many people don't feel any sense of shame over littering. One could argue that littering is good, because it helps the ragpickers recycle more effectively... But that logic fails during the monsoon, when the streets everywhere flood from drains that have been clogged with plastic bags and everything else imaginable.
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Greywater recycling in rural Karnataka

This is a nightime picture of a greywater recycling technology which is in use in a small village outside of Mysore. Instead of simply having waste water drain away into a river via a series of ditches, houses have their greywater drain into a specially prepared pit, composed of layers of rocks and topsoil--this drains quickly, and replenishes the groundwater supply. Very cool!
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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Design For Development

I've recently moved out of my apartment in Bandra, Mumbai so that I can be completely mobile. I'm currently in Delhi, which has a very exciting group of expats working on a variety of development and sustainability initiatives.

The Class I proposed to teach at UCSD--remotely, from India--has been approved, and this is my current occupation on Wednesday Nights. You can learn more about this class "Developing Technology for Developing Economies" at

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back from the Village

I got back early this morning from Bhoke, a small village in southern Maharashtra. It was a fantastic trip!

With Mangesh's help, I interviewed rickshaw drivers, shopkeepers, fishermen, and farmers about their use of mobile phones.

These fishermen talked about how if one boat caught a lot of fish, they would call their friends to come to the spot.

The number written on the wall of this shop is for a rickshaw driver. Drivers interviewed estimated that about 70% of other drivers now have mobile phones. They give their numbers to everyone, so now they can get pick-up requests. This increased income by about 1/3 according to one rickshaw driver.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Happy Diwali!
I went to Mangesh's house in Khar-Danda last night for Diwali. We lit some fireworks and ate lots of sweets from his neighbors, all of whom had different powdered decorations on their doorstep.

But the best part is that we decided to go to Mangesh's village in Maharashtra today! I can't wait to go.

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Piggyback or Leapfrog?

Here are two seeming contrary views on Technology Development in India. The Economist says that India should be faster to copy western technologies, while Thomas Friedman says that imitating the west would be a disaster. What do you think?

"India Dreams of Leapfrogging to the Front of the Technological Pack. But There is Nothing Wrong with Piggybacking on Foreign Inventions, Says Simon Cox in The Economist this Week"
Business Wire India
"So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit."
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times
see also E2K article by Thomas Friedman

:::D E P R E S S I N G - N E W S:::

"India has just 2.3 million broadband subscribers. That translates into a 0.2% broadband penetration... If that sounds damning, there’s more. India stands right at the bottom on a list [ranking] 34 countries in terms of the number of broadband subscribers... This, despite all the noise around telecom and IT growth in India. "
Economic Times,
LinkOct 31, 2007
2.3 million connections means that Broadband Internet is as common in India as Cretinism (Severe Iodine Deficiency), the most common form of preventable mental retardation (use iodized salt, people).

However, perhaps even more depressing, did you know that last quarter, Internet connections in India actually fell, from 9.27 to 9.22 million. Has the Internet market already peaked? What is going on? Any NRI thoughts on this?

Wrapping up: Indian 'Broadband' is defined as anything greater than >256kbps. But even for "broadband" users, the typical speeds are far below this--due to overcapacity and dishonest broadband companies. That's why my "2mbps" connection is downloading at 161kbps.

And finally, to top it off, I can't access my mobile network, as Vodafone's GPRS has been offline for the past 2 days. oh, oh, I'm feeling faint!

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Video Gaming: Pali Hill, Dharavi, and Beyond

I've recently seen two interesting types of video game establishments in Bombay, India: a miniature classic arcade in Dharavi, and a Playstation room at Pali Hill.

In the Dharavi Labor Camp, a small (5'x6') room holds two arcade consoles. Games were ~2 rupees (5 cents). This price point seemed to attract young kids. They were playing some street-fighter type game.

Then you have a Playstation Shop near Pali Hill. Pali Hill is one of the wealthiest parts of Bombay, and since there is a 35% tax on imported 'luxury' electronics, Playstations are rare even among the rich. In this picture we see a slightly older, substantially more affluent demographic playing Fifa (sorry for the terrible picture--I'll go back and reshoot, promise). Nevertheless, I wouldn't call this fancy.

Many are looking at India's ~$45 million online gaming video game market as a major opportunity. China's online video game market shot from ~$50 million to nearly $1 billion in 6 years, due to a rapid increase in the popularity of online games.

India's game market, however, is unlikely to see such growth, as the internet infrastructure necessary for this market to blossom is absent. Nevertheless, two major online gaming sites in India, and, are advertising heavily to promote their India-centric online gaming sites (go to Zapak to play "Meter-Down", the truly fun 3-d rickshaw racing game).

Blogging is just like Bombay

You know how sometimes you have so much to say that you can't say anything in particular? It isn't silence in your head-- it's a blanketing noise, a cacophony that can't be resolved without filtering out almost everything. If you could be transported to Bombay from San Diego you'd know just what I mean. There is so much to see on every street that by the end of a single block you'd be speechless from the overabundance of things to say.

The above statement is my excuse for not blogging for the past month. :) Let the updates begin!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dharavi Tours

I took a guided tour (controversial, but highly recommended) through Dharavi, which is known as "Asia's Largest Slum."

However deplorable this place must have been, particularly during the communal riots of 1993, Dharavi today is relatively well developed (for a slum). Yes, living spaces are incredibly cramped, working conditions tend to be pretty deplorable, and there is virtually no waste management. But people do not seem destitute--almost everyone seemed employed. Industries range from plastic recycling to pottery to pastries.

The Recycling is quite impressive. In many ways, the combination of Bombay's poverty and trash-filled streets seems to lead to an efficient system of re-use and recycling. Ragpickers sell bags of plastic to recyclers, which grind it up, wash it, dry it, and melt it down again for plastic manufacturers. I took a panorama from the roof of a recycling 'factory,' take a peek in hi-res.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lamenting Hutch is Vodafone

When I arrived in india several months ago, I was amazed by how many advertisements there were on the street for mobile phone companies, particularly Hutch. Everywhere you went, there was the bright pink Hutch logo. Then, last week, they changed all of those ads to Vodafone ads -- in about a day. I don't even want to think about how many millions of dollars were spent on this.

I became a Hutch customer because i needed a phone with a keyboard/internet. I tried to go CDMA, but nothing could provide a keyboard for less than $500. So I bought a second hand Nokia 9500 for $150 and went GSM. I named the phone 'brick', because it would double as a weapon in a street fight (the thing is HUGE! Like a Zack Morris phone, if you get the reference).

Anyhow, I am planning on going to China next week, and I needed to figure out how to call my friend Albert Lin who is traveling there now. When I went to the vodafone store, I found out that the cheapest rate i could get was rs40/min ($1/min). ug. So I instead bought a calling card from vodaphone, because that was more reasonable at rs8/min. Why is there such a price difference from the same company? I would would call a lot more often if i didn't have to dial a PIN number each time. If you know why this is, do let me know.

Anyhow, long story short, I just found that the card I bought doesn't work. As in, the number you dial to enter your PIN and phone number, uhhh, just disconnects me. I called customer care, and they said that the server is down, try back in the morning. So, after spending rs1000 to make an international call,
vodafone isn't able to connect me to their own number. I mean... that's pretty bad for any phone company, but Vodafone? I guess it has been a problem for the past 2 or three days, according to the service rep. And there was no supervisor for me to rant to, either, so I'm writing this online, in the hopes that vodafone is listening...

In another post I'll talk about the Nokia 1110i I also bought today for about $35, because it is a BRILLIANTLY designed phone, very understated. Massive commercial success, as well, unlike the ill-fated "MotoFone F3", which is meant to be a 'phone for everyone,' but actually everyone hates it. I've been trying to buy it, because it was specifically designed for developing countries, emphasizing ease of use. Something went seriously wrong with the design, however, because no shopkeeper will sell it, for the reason given to me as "not a easy friendly phone."

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Monday, October 1, 2007


I have just completed a poster that documents our work over the past few months. Boy was it hard to fit everything in on a huge 37" by 46" piece of foam board! Just the sheer amount of information we want to convey to our audience is overwhelming, and definitely impossible to do on just one piece of paper - no matter how large it is. It's great how we now have the attention of the school and the company. Hopefully the poster will attract the right attention and make more people aware of the opportunities in India. Derek has been making me jealous that he is STILL in India, while I'm back at school getting ready for the school year. Boo to school, Ganpati looked really fun. Maybe I can go back to India sometime and experience Holi too. Painting people sounds rad.