Archive for the ‘global crisis’ Category

Faboulous FabFi   Leave a comment

What’s a FabFi?

FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.


FabFi is a user-extensible long range point-to-point and mesh hybrid-wireless broadband transmission infrastructure. It is based on the simple idea that a network of simple, intelligent, interconnected devices can create reliable networks in unstable environments. We use simple physics to make low-cost devices communicate directionally for very long distances (physics is cool!), and flexible configurations to adapt to a large variety of conditions.

For extreme conditions, we mount commercial wireless routers on fabbed RF (Radio Frequency) reflectors with a wire mesh surface that redirects the RF energy. Reflector gain depends on the materials used and the size of the reflector, but has been measured as high as 15dBi with some of the current designs.

A Single FabFi Link

A single wireless link in the FabFi system consists of two reflectors with attached wireless routers. Similarly, two routers can be linked with a wired connection. A single router can be linked to both wired and wireless connections at the same time. The system is configured for individual links to be combined in numerous ways, creating links that cover very long distances or service many users in a small area. A key component of this linking is called “meshing”. A mesh network is one where any device can be connected to one or more other neighbor devices in an unstructured (ad-hoc) manner. Mesh networks are robust and simple to configure because the software determines the routing of data automatically in real-time based on sensing the network topology. Traditional mesh networks are limited in scale because they rely on single radio, wireless-only connections and omni-directional antennas. By using directed wireless links and wired transfers whenever possible, the Fabfi system is optimized for building very large-scale static (as opposed to mobile) mesh networks. With Scale comes the potential for robust digital communities within a region without dependence on high-bandwidth local uplinks, which are expensive and unavailable in many places. Check out the animation for a little more detail (2MB, might take a while to load):

Meshing 101...

How Reflectors work

A FabFi Parabolic Reflector

FabFi reflectors use the property of parabolic shapes (Y=cX^2) that a when a vector travelling perpendicular to a parabola’s directrix hits the surface of the parabola it is reflected to the parabola’s focal point. (see Mathworld for more on this…) By attaching a RF reflective material such as window screen or chicken wire to a frame that forms the shape of a parabola in three dimensions and then attaching our wireless router to the reflector at the focal point we can precisely concentrate and direct the RF energy coming from the router in transmission and efficiently collect RF energy from the paired router in reception.

Building Reflectors

Cutting a Reflector From Acrylic

An essential component of the FabFi system is it’s flexibility to be implemented with whatever materials are locally available. All that’s required is the ability to print out a 2D design file and create the pieces out of whater material you can find. If you have a Fab Lab, you can use a laser cutter or CNC wood router to create reflectors directly from wood, metal or acrylic, but there’s no reason they can’t be molded from clay, carved from stone or chiseled out of a block of ice as long as there’s a way to attach a metallic RF reflective surface to the front.

Three different reflector designs were implemented in Jalalabad during the inital deployment in January 2009: a large 4′ wooden version, a 2′ wooden version and an 18″ acrylic version. Reflective surface materials included chicken wire, woven stainless steel mesh and window screen.

Three reflector Versions

Needs in the field subsequently drove the development of modified reflector designs with integrated weatherproofing and and fastner-less assembly. These new designs debuted in the summer of 2010.

Reflector with integrated weatherproofing

It was not long afterward, however, that network users began designing and building their own reflectors out of locally sourced scrap materials. While still in need of significant refinement, these reflectors are clear physical signs of technology transfer and local human-capital development in the technology domain. They also cost less than $3US!

Reflector with integrated weatherproofing

Routers and Firmware

FabFi uses an open source 3rd party firmware called OpenWRT on all of its routers. Taking advantage of OpenWRT’s linux-based flexibility, FabFi devices can run a wide range of network monitoring and self-diagnostic tools. The current system supports real-time network monitoring, local web caching centralized access control, user management and usage tracking (for billing). All of this is performed on devices costing $50-$100USD. Automated configuration has been steadily improving since the bygone days of the FabFi 1.0 release. We now support multiple routers across multiple fabfi distributions, and have the ability to configure networks with 802.11n speeds.


In developing places, reliable power is an ongoing challenge. Conveniently, all of our currently supported devices will run on 12VDC, and can be easily powered directly from a car or small engine battery. A car battery and a couple of inexpensive chargers function as reliable UPS devices on two major distribution hubs in the Jalalabad network, powering a bank of routers for nearly two days without city power. In Kenya, we have designed a “node in a box” that provides UPS, mounting and weatherproofing to every node in the network, supporting mains or solar power. Future development is planned for a bare-bones 12V-12V UPS that can be integrated into installations by plugging the provided 100-240VAC switching power brick into the fabbed UPS and the UPS into the router. Wind and other locally harvested powered charging circuits are a parallel FabLab project.

The Fab Future Despite te cobbled-together aesthetic, Fabfi has proven incredibly reliable in Afghanistan’s harsh climate (it reaches 130degF in Jalalabad in the summer with regular sandstorms). Beginning in the summer of 2010, we have expanded the fabfi system to provide direct wireless access to client devices and have been running a community-scale wifi ISP. In more than two years of deployment, we can still count the hardware failures on one hand. To our surprise, the biggest challenge so far has been uplink bandwidth. While many countries tout “mobile broadband” as the solution to universal access problems, the ground truth in most places is that mobile devices alone do not provide sufficient performance (or affordable enough prices) to be viable without some help. In Kenya, fabfi provides a value added service to communities where mobile connectivity is the only means of access by decreasing the data throughput per user and making it possible for providers to buy bandwidth in bulk.

More here

The One Minute Case for the Austrian Business Cycle Theory   Leave a comment

The Austrian Business Cycle Theory was developed by the economist Ludwig von Mises to explain the phenomenon of business cycles. It provides crucial insight for understanding the cause of cyclical boom/bust cycles and their connection to the government’s manipulation of the economy. To understand the Austrian Business Cycle Theory, an analogy is helpful:

Imagine an economy with just one actor: Robinson Crusoe on an island. Crusoe loves fish, so he spends half of each day fishing so he can enjoy fish in the evenings. Additionally, Crusoe spends Friday mornings maintaining his fishing dinghy and nets. In order to have fish on Friday, he must fish for an extra hour every other day of the week. In economic terms, Crusoe has a savings rate of one hour per day. His savings rate is also his investment rate, or the percentage of present income he sets aside to maintain or increase future consumption.1

Crusoe doesn’t have a fridge, so he preserves his catch by throwing it in a small, dark pond. He can’t see how many fish are in the pond, so he keeps a stack of small rocks near it. Every time he adds a fish, he adds a rock, and every time he eats one, he removes one. The rocks are his money supply.

Suppose that Crusoe shares the island with some mischievous monkeys, who see Crusoe adding rocks to his pile. They decide to imitate him, so every time Crusoe ads a rock, they sneak in and add one as well. The monkeys are inflating the money supply by injecting currency into Crusoe’s investment fund.2

One day, Crusoe suddenly notices that his “savings rate” of fish is double the usual. He decides to compensate by eating some of the fish he catches during the “savings hour.” This is the consumption-side of the boom phase of the business cycle. Crusoe also decides to take some extra time each day to start building himself a new hut. This is the investment-side of the boom phase of the business cycle.

Crusoe now believes that the cost of saving fish is half the usual, while in fact his savings rate is too low for the investments he is planning.

Before long, Friday comes around. When it comes time to eat his midday meal, Crusoe suddenly realizes that he’s out of fish – despite having a surplus of rocks. He’s exhausted his investment capital because the additional currency snuck into his money supply did not represent a real increase in his productivity or savings rate. He doesn’t have the capital (fish) to maintain his previous consumption rate, much less increase it. He is forced to cut his investment rate (he must spend some of his Friday fishing) just to have some fish for Friday’s dinner. He must also abandon his incomplete hut because he does not have the time to finish it. The abandoned hut is an extravagant expenditure that represents a loss of capital.3 This is the bust phase of the business cycle.

To review, here’s the overall impact of the monkey’s trickery: Sunday-Friday, Crusoe catches the same number of fish, but consumes more, and therefore saves less. That’s the boom period. Friday, Crusoe consumes less fish, and spends less time for maintaining his nets (capital). Some of his investment/consumption time must now be spent in production. That’s the bust period. If Crusoe’s initial savings rate allows him to just break even each week 4, his nets will gradually get worse and worse and he will eventually go hungry.5


  1. Crusoe prefers to enjoy his fish sooner rather than later, but he is willing to put aside some of his catch to get more fish later. The discount he gives to eating a fish Friday is his time preference, or his originary interest rate. (To that, he adds the risk that the fish will spoil by Friday to get the market or “real” interest rate.)
  2. As long as the monkeys keep contributing one stone for every fish, Crusoe can account for their trickery. But if the monkeys are unpredictable, it will be impossible for Crusoe to set the proper savings rate. In the real world, the originary interest rate reflects the average time preference of all savers. If someone starts monkeying around with the interest rates, it becomes impossible for investors (or the monkeys at the Fed) to know what the real rate of savings is even if they know that the rate is being manipulated.
  3. That abandoned hut represents investments which exceed the ability of the actual savings rate to complete. The resources it takes to build compete with worthwhile investments (such as repairing the fishing nets) by raising the prices for all capital. Ridiculous business models and sky-high salaries during the dot-com boom, as well as over-extended sub-prime mortgages likewise compete with legitimate business models, salaries, and mortgages. Manipulating the money supply makes it difficult to distinguish bad investments from good ones, so no one can escape the inevitable crunch.
  4. That is, zero net profit, an equilibrium rate of savings, or “the evenly rotating economy” in Mises’ terminology.
  5. Suppose Crusoe decides to ignore his hunger and work on his nets all Friday. In other words, he trades current production (and therefore consumption) for higher future consumption (that is, economic growth). If he does so voluntarily, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s nothing inherently more desirable or efficient in spending some of one’s time starving just to increase future production (that is, in valuing economic growth over present consumption.) Note that the longer Crusoe delays the shift back to production, the more severe the mis-allocation of resources (and his hunger) becomes. The monkey’s trickery does not actually make Crusoe to become a better saver – he is more likely to start saving less because of uncertainty over the future.


What if?   1 comment

This is a post from re:kuwait, which I could not help, but borrow.

What would happen if it costs 18KD to fill up your SUV? Would your life be ruined? I don’t think so. What will happen is that you will adjust your lifestyle to meet this new reality. You might reconsider buying a new SUV, and maybe get a car with better mileage. People might decide not to buy a car at all, and you’ll find that there’s less traffic on the street because people who can’t afford to drive are now willing to carpool and use public transportation. 18KD is a reasonable amount to pay because that’s the true price of the petrol.

What if you had to pay over 1000KD every year to pay for you electricity consumption? What would change? You would obviously think twice about leaving the air conditioning on all the time even when no one is home. You will think about how much a house consumes energy before buying it. You decide that maybe a small house with a bigger garden makes more sense than a three floor mansion. We might find that we don’t have blackouts anymore. The KOC will be able to sell more oil instead of burning it to make more electricity for Kuwait.

What if water cost you 50KD a month? Will you stand idly by as your driver sprays you car with a hose to clean it, when a sponge will do the same thing for a fraction of the water? Will you decide against a lawn and maybe plant more appropriate landscaping for the region?

If resources are priced according to their true value, without subsidies or manipulation, then human behavior will revert to a mode of living that is both efficient and ‘sustainable’. People will never change because of morality and the desire to feel ‘green’. That’s bullshit. The only way we can ever change is if it hurts us in our wallets if we don’t change. We’re not pricing in what’s called the negative externalities; the unpriced cost of traffic, pollution, blackouts and wasted finite resources.

This might seem politically impossible in Kuwait, but what if there was a way to make it work? What if all the savings and revenue generated was given back to Kuwaitis as a form of energy rebate? That way we can reward good behavior while we punish wasteful people by punching them with the invisible hand. We can have our cake and eat it too.

Well, wouldn’t we be all very conservative, if we had to pay the ‘true’ price of the products and services? Things which are given ‘almost free’ tend to be overconsumed, just for the fact that you are not paying ‘too much’ for it. We would not be ashamed to be called ‘misers’, had we been paying thru our noses for the ‘true value’ of the service.

Well, its no longer the ‘green’ factor, but has to be the ‘conscious’ factor, that should determine the consumption pattern of people.

Posted December 19, 2010 by Rajesh_Gandhi in action, blog, earth hour, global crisis, idea, philosophy

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Have Breakfast or Be Breakfast!   Leave a comment

Who sells the largest number of cameras in India ?

Your guess is likely to be Sony, Canon or Nikon. Answer is none of the above. The winner is Nokia whose main line of business in India is not cameras but cell phones.

Reason being cameras bundled with cellphones are outselling stand alone cameras. Now, what prevents the cellphone from replacing the camera outright? Nothing at all. One can only hope the Sonys and Canons are taking note.

Try this. Who is the biggest in music business in India ? You think it is HMV Sa-Re-Ga-Ma? Sorry. The answer is Airtel. By selling caller tunes (that play for 30 seconds) Airtel makes more than what music companies make by selling music albums (that run for hours).

Incidentally Airtel is not in music business. It is the mobile service provider with the largest subscriber base in India . That sort of competitor is difficult to detect, even more difficult to beat (by the time you have identified him he has already gone past you). But if you imagine that Nokia and Bharti (Airtel’s parent) are breathing easy you can’t be farther from truth.

Nokia confessed that they all but missed the smartphone bus. They admit that Apple’s Iphone and Google’s Android can make life difficult in future. But you never thought Google was a mobile company, did you? If these illustrations mean anything, there is a bigger game unfolding. It is not so much about mobile or music or camera or emails?

The “Mahabharat” (the great Indian epic battle) is about “what is tomorrow’s personal digital device”? Will it be a souped up mobile or a palmtop with a telephone? All these are little wars that add up to that big battle. Hiding behind all these wars is a gem of a question – “who is my competitor?”

Once in a while, to intrigue my students I toss a question at them. It says “What Apple did to Sony, Sony did to Kodak, explain?” The smart ones get the answer almost immediately. Sony defined its market as audio (music from the walkman). They never expected an IT company like Apple to encroach into their audio domain. Come to think of it, is it really surprising? Apple as a computer maker has both audio and video capabilities. So what made Sony think he won’t compete on pure audio? “Elementary Watson”. So also Kodak defined its business as film cameras, Sony defines its businesses as “digital.”

In digital camera the two markets perfectly meshed. Kodak was torn between going digital and sacrificing money on camera film or staying with films and getting left behind in digital technology. Left undecided it lost in both. It had to. It did not ask the question “who is my competitor for tomorrow?” The same was true for IBM whose mainframe revenue prevented it from seeing the PC. The same was true of Bill Gates who declared “internet is a fad!” and then turned around to bundle the browser with windows to bury Netscape. The point is not who is today’s competitor. Today’s competitor is obvious. Tomorrow’s is not.

In 2008, who was the toughest competitor to British Airways in India ? Singapore airlines? Better still, Indian airlines? Maybe, but there are better answers. There are competitors that can hurt all these airlines and others not mentioned. The answer is videoconferencing and telepresence services of HP and Cisco. Travel dropped due to recession. Senior IT executives in India and abroad were compelled by their head quarters to use videoconferencing to shrink travel budget. So much so, that the mad scramble for American visas from Indian techies was nowhere in sight in 2008. ( India has a quota of something like 65,000 visas to the U.S. They were going a-begging. Blame it on recession!). So far so good. But to think that the airlines will be back in business post recession is something I would not bet on. In short term yes. In long term a resounding no. Remember, if there is one place where Newton ’s law of gravity is applicable besides physics it is in electronic hardware. Between 1977 and 1991 the prices of the now dead VCR (parent of Blue-Ray disc player) crashed to one-third of its original level in India . PC’s price dropped from hundreds of thousands of rupees to tens of thousands. If this trend repeats then telepresence prices will also crash. Imagine the fate of airlines then. As it is not many are making money. Then it will surely be RIP!

India has two passions. Films and cricket. The two markets were distinctly different. So were the icons. The cricket gods were Sachin and Sehwag. The filmi gods were the Khans (Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and the other Khans who followed suit). That was, when cricket was fundamentally test cricket or at best 50 over cricket. Then came IPL and the two markets collapsed into one. IPL brought cricket down to 20 overs. Suddenly an IPL match was reduced to the length of a 3 hour movie. Cricket became film’s competitor. On the eve of IPL matches movie halls ran empty. Desperate multiplex owners requisitioned the rights for screening IPL matches at movie halls to hang on to the audience. If IPL were to become the mainstay of cricket, as it is likely to be, films have to sequence their releases so as not clash with IPL matches. As far as the audience is concerned both are what in India are called 3 hour “tamasha” (entertainment) . Cricket season might push films out of the market.

Look at the products that vanished from India in the last 20 years. When did you last see a black and white movie? When did you last use a fountain pen? When did you last type on a typewriter? The answer for all the above is “I don’t remember!” For some time there was a mild substitute for the typewriter called electronic typewriter that had limited memory. Then came the computer and mowed them all. Today most technologically challenged guys like me use the computer as an upgraded typewriter. Typewriters per se are nowhere to be seen.

One last illustration. 20 years back what were Indians using to wake them up in the morning? The answer is “alarm clock.” The alarm clock was a monster made of mechanical springs. It had to be physically keyed every day to keep it running. It made so much noise by way of alarm, that it woke you up and the rest of the colony. Then came quartz clocks which were sleeker. They were much more gentle though still quaintly called “alarms.” What do we use today for waking up in the morning? Cellphone! An entire industry of clocks disappeared without warning thanks to cell phones. Big watch companies like Titan were the losers. You never know in which bush your competitor is hiding!

On a lighter vein, who are the competitors for authors? Joke spewing machines? (Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, himself a Pole, tagged a Polish joke telling machine to a telephone much to the mirth of Silicon Valley ). Or will the competition be story telling robots? Future is scary! The boss of an IT company once said something interesting about the animal called competition. He said “Have breakfast …or… be breakfast”! That sums it up rather neatly.

— Dr. Y. L. R. Moorthi

IPL Magnet   3 comments

Since the inception of IPL, it has acted as a magnet for people with big money (with or without any due credentials) and looking for a quick road to fame. Over the last 3 years, everybody joined the bandwagon of the IPL circus.

All those who did, made good money, exploiting the passion of the cricket hungry India and business of all sorts related to IPL cropped up over these years. And all of them shared the booty.

Now with the Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor spat gone sour on the Kochi team owners, that the IPL circus elephant has turned into a hydraheaded monster, all those even vaguely or remotely profited from the IPL name, no wonder, want to ditch it like a leech.

Day by day, the IPLGate is getting wider and wider and opening up new players with hidden agendas.The IT dept has gone full force into the scandal and much heavy steam is expected in the coming days. Many top notch people will find their faces scalded by this. Everybody who got money in the name of IPL is currently under the IT scanner; right from players, organizers, sponsors, team owners, fund managers, telecast & media rights owners, associated IPL brand companies.

Match-fixing and betting is another angle that is being investigated, with tons of money going into it. Being illegal, nobody wants to officially comment on it.

Even the BCCI officials and ministers are believed to be hand-in-gloves with those high profile IPL managers. Some heads have already rolled out and many more are likely.

Much heat is being generated from the politicians and are blaming the government, probably because they did not get the share of the booty. All those tainted parliamentarians, who made a killing with the earlier scandals are now raising their voices to blame those connected to IPL.

Well, in the whole deal, the game of cricket has been sullied. The perception in the minds of the people has changed, though a bit temporarily. Given the time, the fans will forget all this and clamor to cling to the stadiums and the TV screens to enjoy a good game of cricket.

The end result in this game is still awaited and will surely be a long bloody final.

Business Wisdom from Billionaire Warren Buffett   2 comments

Billionaire Warren Buffett shares his business lessons and wisdom.

Here are the hi-lites:

When do you decide to invest in a firm?

The best thing that happens to us is when a great company gets into temporary trouble. We want to buy them when they’re on the operating table. (Mr. Buffett bought Coke when it had its biggest fiasco after launching New Coke; he bought American Express when it went through a loss making phase in the early 60’s)

What do you look for in people when they come to sell their firms to you?

I don’t look for the usual credentials such as an MBA, a pedigree (Harvard, Wharton), or cash reserves or market cap of their firm.

What I look for is just a passion in their eyes; I think that’s the key. A person who is hungry will always do well. I prefer it when people even after selling stay on and work for the firm; they are people who can’t wait to get off their bed to get to work. Passion is everything; there is no replacement for innate interest.

Why do stock market crashes happen?

Because of human nature for greed and insecurity. The 1970s were unbelievable. The world wasn’t going to end, but businesses were being given away. Human nature has not changed. People will always behave in a manic-depressive way over time. They will offer great values to you.”

What are the things that are taught wrong in Business school and the corporate world?

I like such open ended questions, I think Business schools should refrain from teaching their wards about profit making and profit making alone, it gives a sense of 1 dimensional outlook to the young students that loss is a curse. In reality, in the corporate world, failure and loss making are inevitable. The capital market without loss is like Christianity without hell. I think they should teach the student on how to buy a business, how to value a business? Not just on how to determine the price of a business. Because price is what you pay, value is what you get.

How do you feel after donating $ 40 Billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation? You are a hero to us!

I feel nothing. I haven’t sacrificed anything in life. I have had a good life. I donated after I turned 75. I think I admire those people who sacrifice their time, share their food and home, as the people to be emulated not me. Besides, what is money before a man’s life?

What do you think are the pitfalls in donation?

I have never donated a dime to churches or other such organizations; I need to believe in something before I end up doing that. I have been observing the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation for years now and I am confident they will do a fantastic job of making use of the money. I am a big believer in Outsourcing, others believed in me as an Investor and gave their hard earned money to invest. I believe in Bill Gates, he is a better donor than me.

You seem to be so well read, tell us how it all started.

My father was a stock broker, so we had all these financial books in our library. He introduced me to those classics and I got into them. I am lucky that my father was not a fan of Playboy! Reading is the best habit you can get. Well, you can learn from teachers too, and have mentors but there are so many constraints attached- they will talk fast, talk slow, they might talk like a pro or they might be terrible communicators. Books are a different animal altogether, I love reading! The beauty about reading and learning is that the more you learn the more you want to learn.

What is the 1 biggest advice you would impart to a young investor like me?

Think for a moment that you are given a car and told this is the only car you would get for the rest of your life. Then you would make sure that you car is taken care of well, it is oiled and detailed every now and then. You would make sure that it never gets rusted, and you would garage it. Think of yourself as that car. You just get 1 body, 1 mind and 1 soul. Take care of it well. Invest in yourself that would be my advice.

So, what is your roadmap to becoming a billionaire?

Eyjafjallajokull ash cloud   Leave a comment

The eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland that has thrown up a six-km (3.7-mile) high plume of ash and disrupted air traffic across northern Europe shows no signs of abating after 40 hours of activity. Located under Iceland’s fifth largest glacier, the volcano has erupted five times since the area was settled in the 9th century. Eyjafjallajokull has a 2.5 km-wide volcanic crater, covered in ice. Fissure-fed lava flows occur on its eastern and western flanks of the so-called stratovolcano, which is built up from alternating layers of ash, lava and rocks ejected by earlier eruptions. When the volcano began erupting in late March it opened a 500-m fissure producing lava fountains along the vent. The ash cloud has been formed through a process called fragmentation which occurs in several stages. First, magma travelling under pressure through underground conduits is broken up into pieces by expanding gases. As pressure decreases closer to the surface, the magma turns into fine volcanic ash which breaks into even smaller particles when it makes contact with glacial ice on the surface of the crater. The fine dust melds with steam rising from the crater to to form a dark, billowing plume. “It’s like a soda bottle when you take the top off,” said Icelandic vulcanologist Armann Hoskuldsson, describing what happens to magma as it travels to the surface.

Economic impact

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