Thursday 21 January 2010

Haiti Connect - A vital part of any rebuild

It seems to me that there is as much food/medical aid being sent to Haiti as can reasonably be deployed. Perhaps it is time to think of some infrastructural initiatives? Haiti is going to need support for years to come and we need to look at the long story.
A neighbour of mine who I met on Twitter, Mr Evert Bopp, an internet entrepeneur has along with other techie minded folk set up a charity called Haiti Connect which aims to get wireless networks up and running in Haiti to facilitate both VOIP communications and other data services to aid the development of viable civic structures throughout Haiti - The following outlines the initiative which is planned to be on the ground and work commenced within a couple of weeks. To donate go to the site - Click HERE to enter

Haiti Connect is a volunteer initiative started after the earthquake that hit the island of Haiti on January 12th 2010. Our aim is to assemble a team of qualified engineers & support staff to go out to Haiti with the plan to build a number of wifi mesh networks. These networks will be suitable for both voice (VOIP) & data traffic enabling internet access and telephone services. We will give access to these networks to any party that needs it but we will put the emphasis on providing services for civilians & civilian authorities.

There are several advantages of using wifi equipment for this:

* It’s easy to install, configure & use.
* It uses unlicensed radio spectrum and hence avoids licence applications.
* There are a large number of wifi enabled devices already on the ground and can connect using their existing equipment.
* The equipment is relatively cheap.

Our initiative has been started from scratch meaning that we did not have a team, had no equipment, funding & transport. Initial publicity was pushed out through various social media channels (Twitter, Facebook & Linkedin). We have since received a huge wave of interest. However we are far from ready to go and need YOUR SUPPORT to get us there!

Please click on the “what we need” page or donate by clicking on the Paypal button at the top of this page.

As with any disaster zone Haiti been flooded by a large amount off relief effort: NGO, foreign government relief efforts etc. The most essential thing to coördinate all these efforts is coördination and coördination cannot take place without communications. We am starting from the assumption that the local comms systems are gone. That leaves system put in place by the US military and also a number of Iirridium (or other) satellite phones. That is still only a fraction off what is needed to accommodate the relief efforts. Now having worked with wifi for more than 10 years I am certain that a few qualified volunteers with a container of the right hardware can get a rudimentary network up & running in a few days. We will start by a few point-to-point links from a locations with back-haul (Port-au-prince?) and build out from there. Repeaters connected to the point-2-point links can distribute the signal locally where it can be used by PDA’s. laptops, iphones, VOIP phones and the like. From there the network can be built out. This type of network has been used before for disaster relief after hurricane Katrina & Charley.

Haiti’s topography seems to be suitable for this as there are quite a few mountain peaks ( sea level up to highest point: Chaine de la Selle 2,680 m) so it would be easy enough to shoot point-2-point links to high point and roll out from there.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Coming down from the High Moral Ground in Northern Ireland

The post below was printed in full by the Irish Times on its Letters Page on Saturday 9th January 2010: CLICK HERE

Northern Ireland is one of the more conservative societies in Western Europe and that is not a criticism but a statement of fact. This conservatism is no doubt in part because of so many years of violent strife which have polarised and entrenched whole communities. And so even after years of ‘peace’ the leadership of the DUP could not see their way to attending the funeral of Cardinal Cahal Daly who was universally recognised as a man of peace and a staunch critic of those who took up arms in Northern Ireland. It is clear he was no friend of Sinn Fein or the IRA! Though the DUP response was hardly surprising it was disappointing to see this opportunity for inclusive and courageous leadership squandered. The 1st Minister seems to forget that he leads the whole people of Northern Ireland not just those who adhere to his religious/political stance. The Roman Catholic community of Northern Ireland had the right to expect that at least a representative of the 1st Minister would attend the funeral of their former religious leader.

But then within 24 hours the unthinkable happens: Peter Robinson, 1st Minister and leader of the DUP appears on TV to reveal that his wife Iris has had an affair which has rocked their marriage to its foundations and actually led Iris to an attempt at suicide. One has to have sympathy for any couple who have endured such terrible trauma. That is the proper human response. We may squirm as I did when I heard him place the blame firmly on his wife and emphasize his own forgiveness for her, but if that is the way they want to play it so be it. They live in a black and white world and in that world you are either good or bad, at fault or blameless. I could not occupy that world but I am I and they are themselves.

It is I think an impossible standard they set for themselves and one which makes failure all the more devastating and destructive. However that would be their own business were it not for the fact that as a couple they have imposed this standard on the people who they claim to represent and lead. Peter stood behind his wife when in 2008 she declared in public that homosexual people were an "abomination" and … made her feel "sick" and "nauseous" and that "just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual.... If anyone takes issue, they're taking issue with the Word of God". That Iris Robinson escaped prosecution for this and other outbursts was a disgrace and raises serious questions about legal protection for members of the gay community in Northern Ireland.

I am genuinely sorry that after her affair she found herself in the situation where suicide seemed to be the only way out and I hope and pray she finds the help she needs to recover from this. However I am also acutely aware of how many gay people have been driven to self-harm and even suicide because of such callous black and white statements by people who claim to speak on behalf of God. I came across this quote this week which is particularly instructive in the light of Iris Robinson’s previous outbursts:

You can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” - Anne Lamott

I would like to think that the Robinson’s traumatic experience of human frailty would make them more sympathetic to the many shades of grey that make up the human condition. It is clear that the 1st Minister’s interview this evening was a plea for sympathy and support from the public – As a fellow human being I find it hard not to be sympathetic but that sympathy demands something more than either Robinson has given the people they serve to date. It demands a humility and repentance not from Iris Robinson for her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour but from both Robinson’s for allowing condemnation to continually trump compassion in their public pronouncements. Iris Robinson’s career is almost certainly over but if her husband expects to continue in his vital role in Northern Ireland politics he needs to show far less arrogance and a lot more conciliation in his political dealings. I am not confident but I am hopeful.

Read Bock the Robber's take on the story HERE

Monday 4 January 2010

From Tony Jones' Blog - A Call to Clergy: Stop Performing (Legal) Marriages!

This post is so full of wisdom I had to share it - Not only does it deal very sensibly with the issue of same-sex marriage but it also fundamentally challenges the role of clergy in acting as agents of the State in officiating at 'legal' weddings. Read it HERE

Sunday 3 January 2010

My Brother the Writer!

My little brother Peter, now a successful wedding and music photographer who is one of the most accident prone people I know has just had one of his escapades published in a collection of stories called: Laugh your shorts off! Previously in IT a lot of his adventures and disasters happened in the context of working in the IT environment. The story published is reprroduced below but there are others I highly recomend such as:

Accidenal Assination - A true story in which Peter nearly killed Pat Kenny & Salman Rushdie

The Rips - What it says on the tin!

Operation Sample Return

There are more - lot's more on the blog!

Don't turn it off!
Strange as it may seem I am about to share with you yet another disaster which involves my trousers. I'm not sure what it is about me and trousers, but it always seems to end in tears. Perhaps I'd look better in a kilt? Probably not.

This incident dates back to 1998 when I was an employee of a very large IT company on the North Side of Dublin. My position there was as a junior member of the IT support team. A team supporting 650 users.
One day one of the other guys on the team asked me to head down to one of the Server Rooms and shutdown a particular server. It was a none critical server, so there was no issue with doing this, at least not yet...
A brief amble later I arrived at my final destination, and entered the server room. It seemed more like a scene from a NASA film with huge fans and blinking lights everywhere. The Server I was to shutdown was called "Dub06". It was connected along with 5 other servers to a single Keyboard, Mouse and monitor via a switch box. I selected the corresponding button on the switch box to give me control over "Dub06". All fine there. I then told the computer to shutdown and after about two minutes I got the message saying "It is now safe to switch of your computer".
Grand I thought, I reached over to the left to the front panel of "Dub06" and hit the power button. As I pressed the power button in I had a moment of horror, this machine was not "Dub06", it was in fact "Dub01". This was not good, "Dub01" was the server that housed all the files those 600 people were working on and I was about to turn this off in the middle of what they were doing!.

Those of you in the know will remember that in the late nineties the power switch on a computer did not turn it off until after you released your finger from the button, ie. When it clicked back out after you pressing it in.

Thankfully I realised before I let go of the button that if I continued to hold the button in the machine would not turn off. At this point I breathed a little sight of relief, albeit too soon, as I thought "All I need to do now is call the IT department and tell them to get everyone to close what they are working on, thus allowing me to restart this machine safely.
I looked to my right, to where I expected to find a phone. All I found instead was a phone minus a handset, and no speaker phone option. "Grand" I thought, "I'll just use my mobile". Wrong again, I took out my mobile and because the server room was located in the basement, no signal whatsoever!!
I now started to panic. I was standing in a server room, unable to move with my finger and arm starting to ache while holding this button down. There was no one else with me, and unlikely to be anyone else coming and if I let my finger off the button I loose my job.
In my desperation I looked around for options and then like a vision of an angel I saw a phone sitting on a tall stool behind me, about 10 feet away from me. Out of reach.

I now felt like crying, but shortly after a cunning plan entered my head. I proceeded to take my right shoe off and aimed it at the bottom off the stool, in the hope that it would cause the stool to fall toward me. A delicate operation considering I was still holding the button down with my left hand. Sadly I missed. I took off my second shoe, took careful aim and A HIT!!. But it wobbled and failed to fall, the phone hanging over the edge as if to tease me.
Finally as my panic worsened, I realised I had now only one chance, my trousers. I dare any of you to remove your trousers with one hand while out stretching the other arm to a fixed point from which it cannot move or your in serious trouble. Not easy!!
After a few minutes careful fumbling I am holding one leg of my trousers in my hand, standing in the server room holding a button in for dear life itself, trouserless, shoeless, shameless and exposing my boxers to my surroundings. A nice combination.
My button pressing arm was now in total agony, lactic acid and all that good stuff. I started to swing my trousers at the stool in the hope of catching the stool/phone and bringing it toward me.
After about 20 total misses a very very near miss where I almost knocked the phone away from me I managed to catch the phone and tug it forward crashing to the floor toward me. Thank the Lord!!
I now managed to reach to the phone with my toes and slide it toward me. Once it got within range I picked it up, and found it had survived the crash to the floor! I dialed the IT dept and after about 15 minutes the IT dept got everyone to close their files. I was safe!!
However all did not end there. I asked the person on the phone not to send anyone down to me for reasons I would explain to her later. Big mistake! I had an audience of about 40 people in those last 15 minutes. The sight of me standing there semi nude with the server made a few people wonder about strange fetishes. Laughs were had, concerns for my mental health were highlighted, insults were made and my self respect was decimated. Score!

Moral of the story: Removing ones trousers should not be treated as a universal remedy to everyday problems.

Friday 1 January 2010

Hand me down my Bible...

A religious note on which to start the New Year and New Decade! (Yes it is a NEW Decade despite all the masochists who want another year of the Noughties)
Corrigan Brothers first new track 2010- Hand me down my Bible- from "For Folks Sake" new album and documentary releasing June 2010