Friday, 30 March 2007

wizzy digital courier

Of course, someone's alreadh had the fidonet idea with wizzy digital courier, a uucp data transfer solution ...


I've come across this sort of thing before but the BBC has an interesting article about 'bus-net' whereby people access the web via an offline reader and content, plus outgoing emails etc are transferred via a cache on the bus. It's essentially a way of getting round one othe major aspects of communications in the third world - the old style fixed line telephone network isn't pervasive, but as a mobile phone infrastructure is simpler to build - masts, base stations and microwave links back to where ever fibre stretches to. (On reflection one of the problems with the three regions theory of phone use is just that - access is by mobile phone in much of the third world because that's all there is, and the use of mobile services in preference to internet is an artefact of this. Provide additional infrastructure (mesh networks for example ) and the dynamics change ...)

One possibility/enhancement would be to use something like the old Fidonet achitecture with low cost slow dialup links to get back to the mother host and grab required wep pages from the master cache with wget and do a simple mail exchange. Not totally copper free but possibly slightly more dynamic than a pure bus-net solution

What is also interesting in the BBC article is the reference to lack of content in local languages and how that's holding up adoption

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Three regions theory of phone use ...

Interesting article on theory that there are three distinct regions in the world each with their own pattern of mobile phone use:

  • North America, internet comes before phone
  • Europe (plus Australia/New Zealand), internet and phone arrive at about the same time
  • Asia, Africa, Latin America, mobile arrives before internet

and as a consequence, North America expects to do everything over the web, Europe does a lot of web based things but the idea of text/sms and so on is more prevalent (or why Europeans text rather than use IM), and the rest, where the phone has become the communcation tool.

And you see it on the streets. Morocco, the Atlas mountains, wires don't reach, but mobiles do. Same for remoter areas of Laos, the phone is how people communicate.

Now some marketing people will get all frothy about this but I don't see hill tribes people outside of Luang Prabang downloading MP3 files just yet, but as in Kenya and a few other things I see them using it to do cash transfers, buy seed online, book to see a doctor next time they come into town and so on ie the phone becomes a communication for real services that are used by real people, but, and there's always a but, services need to be designed with an understanding of these needs - for example take our Lao hill tribesperson - if they are literate, and a lot are, they'll be able to read Lao and a bit of Thai, languages which are not written in a latin script, so just as in Ethiopia, services which rely on textual input need to be modified to use a script they understand and can input. Simply repurposing services provided in the west will only really benefit the urban middle classes, most of who can read and write English ...

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Google calendar -> Sun Calendar server (take 1)

A couple of months ago I wrote a simple script to grab a google calendar file and make it accessible by the ics file reader of your choice (orage in my case).

At work I got we have Sun Java systems communications express as a calendar and web mail system. Natively it doesn't recognise ics style appointments although it will import them.

Sun have this handy utility, csimport, to allow command line import of ics files so in principle you could add a line to the calget script something like:

ssh csimport -c calid calendar calendarfile.ics

The only problem is that csimport needs to run as either root or the calendar server user which basically means a setuid type operation.

I've only started playing with csimport - it seems to overwrite duplicate events but I havn't done enough testing to be sure. If it doesn't nasty things with diff loom ...

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

More on Google Apps in Kenya

see for a report from the main English language newspaper in Kenya about this

Student web 2.0 uese redux ..

A couple of days ago I blogged about David White's survey of Web 2.0 use in universities. At the time I raised the questions about what this means for webmail use and google apps use in universities. Well I mailed David to ask his views and here's his reply:

From: David White Subject: RE: Some real data on Web 2.0 use To: Doug Moncur

Yes, I didn't ask about web mail but it is a good point. I don't have any
data to support this but I think that you are right, a lot of people are moving away from the desktop in general because of the ease of accessibility (especially as work, study, and socialising become blended online). Mail is just another one of those services that students find easier to use in the browsers. It also helps that they can collect mail on admin 'locked-down' machines. I think the Google apps question will come down to things like IP and service level agreements in relation to educational institutions. A lot of students will begin to use the service especially those who don't think about (or care) where their data is or who 'own it' as long as it's easy to use. I could imagine a situation in which a lot of students take up the service while institutions thrash around trying to come to an 'official' arrangement. Dave _____ From: Doug Moncur Sent: 19 March 2007 23:34 To: David White Subject: Re: Some real data on Web 2.0 use Hi, Thanks for publicising your interesting survey. It's always gratifying to see data that supports one's gut feel about what is going on. I have one supplementary question (well actually two). Given the high degree of use of web based calendaring products does this imply that students are also using various webmail services in preference to the service provided by their university? {we've noticed an increase in students preferring to use our web mail service in preference to classic thick clients such as outlook and thunderbird, we also allow students to redirect their campus mail to an external account but the procedure to do so is sufficiently obscure to mean that few do} And my extra question is, what does this mean for Google apps for Education?

[email addresses removed to protect against spam trawling]

Interesting the way that email, web, search etc just become services and no longer someting special.

Perhaps this is really what the pervasive computing, always on environment is ...

Google apps in Kenya

News that Google has signed a deal to provide Google Apps to universities in Kenya and Rwanda ( see and for details)

Interesting for two reasons:

1) it allows third world universities to provide a set of basic tools (search, mail, calendar, documents and spreadsheet) to students who may not have easy access to a pc on campus, and saves them the infrastructure costs of providing labs full of pcs and all the server infrastucture behind it, and supporting it. People with skills are valuable in the third world and can command larger salaries than universities can pay, which makes providing infrastructure expensive.

2) people no longer have to visit campus. E-learning is tremendously important in the third world for teaching large numbers of people the basic information (maths methods 101, and the rest) that they need to be able to study their subject fully and frees up teaching staff to teach the more difficult material that needs more interaction as well as freeing up resources such as classrooms and labs.

I have a personal interest in this as years ago when I was at York we had a support agreement with Nairobi to help them keep their student computing facilities up to scratch - my part in this was donating a word processing crash course that let them teach people wordstar in a day. My other interst of course is the idea that we work to providing students an execution enviroment which is accessed from whatever device they have access to allowing them to work and collaborate from anywhere.

Equally in my dealings helping UNAIS recruit staff to work on IT projects in the third world one thing stands out - computers are common in most countries. They may not be as spiffing as the ones we have on our desks but most of them are of a reasonable quality and can run a modern web browser - meaning that they can use google apps without problems and that students can use virtually any computer they come across - etends the life of older computers and means that three year old computers donated by the west to get round enviromental disposal charges can actually be used for something rather than just being boat anchors ...

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Who's using Web 2.0

An interesting question. If we are truly in the 'collaboration age' and want to encourage students to use web based applications (keeps the teaching and support costs down, and if we can get them to do it on their own laptops, saves the need to provide these pesky computer labs ...) we need to know if they are actually using web 2.0 style applications.

As always it's difficult to know what students actually do but David White has conducted a survey of student web 2.0 use at Oxford.

The key points seem to be:

  • lot of use of online calendaring
  • lot of use of IM (principally MSN Messenger)
  • a bit of blogging
  • not a lot of collaborative authoring
... which kind of means we may have missed the boat on providing our own calendaring services and providing our own jabber service may be met with a complete wave of apathy by the students.

Interesting questions not covered by the survey are

  1. How much use do students make of webmail and do they use their own mail in preference to uni provided mail
  2. Where do Google apps fit into the scheme of things.
As they used to say in examinations, discuss ...

Friday, 16 March 2007

Parallels, Nexenta and gnome

been playing with parallels again. (yes I know I should accept the fact I'm a manager now but I still like to play). I've been building nexenta again. A few weeks ago I tried to install it and it simply just hung. I found out later the solution was to choose a cdrom without dma.

Well today I got a parallels update. And in a moment of foolishness I tried to install it again.

This time I got it to install. And it almost works. It complains about a funny eprom, can't find some of the uarts and crucially can't see the network interface but it does wake up and give you a desktop (which for some bizarre reason refuses to resize).

It also, by default comes with gnome, a user interface with which I've never got on with - always been a kde man - but it does work (sort of) Well enough for you to think, maybe I'll try this on an old machine at home sometime.

{Actually I want. Computers may be work tools /playthings at work but at home they're just internet appliances - no finger in the ear stuff - tools to let me bank online, send email and write documents}

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Wiki experiments

As I said I'll see how we can go builing a wiki. Of course to do this we need a system that allows the wiki to be public, but only me to edit it. Zoho seem to have a nice wiki builder, and it's free, so being a cheapskate as always I'll start with that.

You can track progress of my experiment by going to

Why posts have been few and far between recently ....

No I havn`t run away to Guatemala to sit in a tree and dong on gongs - we had a bad storm on 27 February that took out 60 of the uni`s buildings including the development lab, scads of machines and put 2.5cm of water in the UPS room, causing it to short out ( and take down the machine room including the supercomputer)

So I`ve been busy buying hairdryers and offering advice as to how to dry out wet machines. ( If you ever have this problem check out this site :: Moist hard disks can be dried by being sealed in a plastic bag with a peper bag of activated silica gel).

So I`ve been busy. If you want so see some of what we had to contend with take at these pictures. None of them are mine, and none of them show the cars stuck in drainage ditches on the morning of the storm. If I`d the time I`d have done some photojournalism but I was just a bit pre-occupied ...

OPML, wikis and novels

I have this idea for this great mystery novel set in early medieaval times. Actually I don't, I just have the idea that I might do, like one of these just falling asleep ideas that you never quite work out.

However unlike a lot of these ideas I had this idea I would do some thing with it, because it could be developed as a little project - who the dramatis personae were, what do we need to know about historical information, what sources could we use etc.

Now normally to develop such tools I'd have used keynote from Tranglos which is kind of a notebook cum outliner and wonderful for developing ideas. Works the way my mind works etc. But it's not cross platform or portable. So the obvious would be to look for a web 2.0 style outliner notepad - a Google notepad if you would. Well google don't have one, Zoho don't have one and while there are scads of outliners out there using opml there really isn't one that lets you do what keynote does. One idea I guess would be continue to use keynote and then use markdown to format the entries of easy export and reforming in a web document.

The otheranswer I guess is some form of personal wiki. I've never quite got the wiki idea but this might be a vehicle, after all wikis are structured documents with interconnections. Now all I need to do is find a wiki provider ....

Friday, 2 March 2007

Mail undelivered after 5 years ...

Got this in my inbox:

Delivered-To: doug.*****
Received: by with SMTP id d9cs504295wal;
Thu, 1 Mar 2007 19:41:34 -0800 (PST)
Received: by with SMTP id n8mr894684anf.1172806894134;
Thu, 01 Mar 2007 19:41:34 -0800 (PST)
Return-Path: <>
Received: from ( [])
by with ESMTP id c14si3777055ana.2007.;
Thu, 01 Mar 2007 19:41:34 -0800 (PST)
Received-SPF: pass ( best guess record for domain of designates as permitted sender)
Received: from ([])
by (ACM Email Forwarding Service) with SMTP id HGR42231
for <***>; Thu, 01 Mar 2007 22:41:31 -0500
Received: from source ([]) by ([]) with SMTP;
Thu, 01 Mar 2007 19:41:31 PST
Received: from BAY107-W16 ([]) by with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.2668);
Thu, 1 Mar 2007 19:41:31 -0800

From: <>
Return-Path: <>
X-OriginalArrivalTime: 02 Mar 2007 03:41:31.0016 (UTC) FILETIME=[AA891880:01C75C7C]
Date: 1 Mar 2007 19:41:31 -0800
To: ***
Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2007 19:41:30 GMT
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/report; report-type=delivery-status;
X-DSNContext: 7ce717b1 - 1196 - 00000002 - 00000000
Subject: Delivery Status Notification (Failure)
Return-Path: <>
X-pstn-levels: (S: 3.13080/99.90000 R:95.9108 P:95.9108 M:97.0282 C:98.6951 )
X-pstn-settings: 3 (1.0000:1.0000) s gt3 gt2 gt1 r p m c
X-pstn-addresses: [1599/58]

This is a MIME-formatted message.
Portions of this message may be unreadable without a MIME-capable mail program.

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=unicode-1-1-utf-7

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.

Delivery to the following recipients failed.


Content-Type: message/delivery-status

Reporting-MTA: dns;
Received-From-MTA: dns;
Arrival-Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2007 19:38:30 GMT

Final-Recipient: rfc822;karen_***
Action: failed
Status: 5.5.0
Diagnostic-Code: smtp;550 Requested action not taken: mailbox unavailable

Content-Type: message/rfc822

Received: from ([]) by with Microsoft SMTPSVC(5.0.2195.4905);
Fri, 7 Jun 2002 12:33:05 -0700
Received: from [] (
by with esmtp (Exim 3.35 #1)
id 17FyvH-0003Wi-00
for karen_***; Thu, 06 Jun 2002 16:11:35 +0100
Received: from ([] helo=oemcomputer)
by with smtp (Exim 3.35 #1)
id 17FyvG-00025F-00
for karen_***; Thu, 06 Jun 2002 16:11:35 +0100
From: "Doug Moncur" <***>
To: "Karen"

Subject: Rather delayed email ...
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2002 16:09:08 +0100

MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Priority: 3 (Normal)
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0)
Importance: Normal
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.00.2314.1300
Return-Path: ***
X-OriginalArrivalTime: 07 Jun 2002 19:33:05.0816 (UTC) FILETIME=[25767180:01C20E5A]

Obviously I've anonimized it but there you are - took hotmail almost 5 years to decide it couldn't deliver something! - that's email systems for you ...