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Old 02-18-03, 12:56 PM   #1
Ba-Dg-Er
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Pedaling onto the Information Superhighway

http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/interne....ap/index.html

Laos villagers to get online with bike-powered PCs
Tuesday, February 18, 2003 Posted: 10:21 AM EST (1521 GMT)

BAN PHON KHAM, Laos (AP) -- Villagers in this remote jungle hamlet have lived for years without electricity or telephones, relying on occasional visitors and a sluggish postal system for news of the outside world.

But soon many of its residents will be jumping on stationary bikes to pedal their way onto the Information Superhighway.

Custom-built computers -- running on bicycle-powered generators -- will transport villagers from rice fields to chat rooms and Web sites worldwide. They'll be able to monitor rice and vegetable prices, sell handicrafts and e-mail relatives.

The project, expected to launch as early as this spring, gets around the lack of phone lines through a clever application of the increasingly popular WiFi technology, which is used to wirelessly connect laptops, handhelds and other devices elsewhere.

For the first time, villagers will also be able to make phone calls, using Internet-based voice technologies. And because much of the project is built around nonproprietary, or "open source," software, villagers will essentially own the system.

The project is the brainchild of the Jhai Foundation, a San Francisco aid organization started by Vietnam War veteran Lee Thorn.

While Thorn wants to build the local economy and help poor villagers enter the digital age, he also hopes to heal the wounds of a war he helped wage as a bomb loader for Navy warplanes that flew missions over Laos, where the United States was fighting communist insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies.

The ingenious system -- not much different from a school science project -- comprises five computers built with discarded microchips.

They connect to the Internet with a radio network and are powered by hulking batteries attached to stationary bicycles imported from India. One minute of pedaling yields five minutes of power.

'Low-tech solutions'

"In a country where the population is isolated ... it becomes necessary to think about decidedly low-tech solutions," said Andy Carvin of the Benton Foundation, a nonprofit organization that studies global Internet access.

Elsewhere, Carvin said, communities have turned to hand cranks and even cow manure where electricity is unavailable. He said the Lao project represents the latest of the "homegrown solutions."

The first of the computers is being set up in a freshly painted classroom of the local schoolhouse, a single-story concrete building in a clearing in the center of the village. The others will go to neighboring villages.

All five will use WiFi to send data wirelessly to a central radio transmitter and antenna dish at the school. From there, microwave signals will be zapped to a treetop antenna on a nearby mountain ridge and routed to a dial-up Internet account at a nearby hospital, which has two of the region's few phone lines.

Though the bikes will power much of the system, the relay stations will have solar panels. WiFi offers pretty decent speeds, and the hospital's dial-up connection will likely be the primary bottleneck.

"We're trying to make this as simple as possible so it can be replicated anywhere in the world," Thorn said, after firing off e-mail to the United States from his laptop perched on a 50-gallon oil drum.

But Carvin said access is only the start.

"Time will tell how successful this is going to be," he said. "Do they have the training program set up and enough content available in Lao as well as some of the tribal languages of the indigenous population?"

Organizers say some of that is being addressed.

Global connections
Although English Web sites will remain in English, villagers will be able to send and receive messages in their native language. Software will also feature menus translated into Lao.

Students in Phon Kham will be trained to use the system and teach older villagers.

The network, designed and built for about $19,000 plus donated labor, will cost about $21 a month to operate, Thorn said.

Central to the network is the Jhai PC, a plastic-encased computer smaller than a laptop and built to withstand the punishing heat and monsoon rains of the Lao countryside. The units were built by Lee Felsenstein, inventor of the world's first portable computer.

Because the equipment was customized, last-minute technical glitches forced a delay in the project's launch, originally scheduled for this week.

Settled in 1975 by refugees who fled U.S. bombing over Laos during the Vietnam War, Phon Kham has been a quiet haven for the likes of Pahn Vongsengthong, a 78-year-old retired rice farmer.

Like many other villagers, Pahn has family scattered around the globe.

"The first thing is that I miss my daughters," said Pahn, who lives in a simple thatch-roof farmhouse and has never used a computer. "Whenever I miss them, I will be able to walk down the road and talk to them" through a computer.

Tavee Pulaimchit, 60, the village's chief, said the high-tech outpost will help residents compete for lucrative contracts from businesses elsewhere in Laos, one of the world's poorest countries.

"This village is isolated from the bigger towns and cities," he said, "and we need to keep in contact with the markets there."
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Old 02-18-03, 06:09 PM   #2
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This is closely related to something I was thinking about a while back. If my kids weren't already grown, or if I could back up about fifteen years, I would set up stationary bikes driving generators to run their video games and television. Not to save money on electricity, but to force them into some healthy activity to go with their unhealthy addictions

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Old 02-18-03, 06:12 PM   #3
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Riding bikes to power their computers while they are on the Internet...

I HAVE to figure out a way to target that market!
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Old 02-18-03, 06:14 PM   #4
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Ba-Dg-Er
dude long time no here, where are you hiding, welcome back
Oscar
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Old 02-18-03, 07:00 PM   #5
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You win the longest post prize.
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Old 02-18-03, 07:04 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by HalfHearted
This is closely related to something I was thinking about a while back. If my kids weren't already grown, or if I could back up about fifteen years, I would set up stationary bikes driving generators to run their video games and television. Not to save money on electricity, but to force them into some healthy activity to go with their unhealthy addictions

John
That is exactly the first thought I had after reading this.
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Old 02-18-03, 07:19 PM   #7
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Originally posted by orguasch
Ba-Dg-Er
dude long time no here, where are you hiding, welcome back
Oscar
I'm not riding anymore so I only lurk around when I have nothing better to do, or post when I find some obnoxiously long article on CNN that makes it sound like I know what's going on in the world!
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Old 02-18-03, 07:50 PM   #8
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Badger, I have never heard of this.

Fascinating!

:thumbup:
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Old 02-18-03, 07:51 PM   #9
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I'm not riding anymore...
This can't be.
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Old 02-18-03, 10:43 PM   #10
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Originally posted by Pete Clark
This can't be.
Sorry Pete, but it is true. I haven't touched my bikes, except to move them out of the way in a month.

I sat on the trainer for three and a half hours one night early in January, and then again later in the month I rode outside for nearly 75 miles. I fought through intense knee pain both times and suffered mentally from the loss of the physical abilities I had before I was injured. The thought of working through this pain, which the doctor said will not go away, to get back to the level I was only to possiblly injure myself again is more then I can take.

I am not prepared to suffer through the pain required in order to get back to that level only to find myself injured again because my knee gave out or because my doctor decided to operate again, so I gave up.
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Old 02-18-03, 11:26 PM   #11
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Sorry to hear that Badger, good luck!
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Old 02-19-03, 01:53 AM   #12
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It will definitely be environmentally friendly! Aren't bikes supposed to do just that - being environmentally friendly?
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Old 02-19-03, 06:02 PM   #13
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It will definitely be environmentally friendly!
Actually, I'm not so sure about that. I know my wife has walked into the bedroom after I've been running on the elliptical glider for an hour and exclaimed, "yeesh, it smells like a gym in here!"

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