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Comment Just returned from 2 years building/running lab. (Score 1) 172

I recently returned from 2+ years volunteering in tropical Bolivia (see our blog here ), doing a lot of what you are looking for. Right off the bat, you need to know it isn't going to be as easy as you think it will right now.

Important Issues

1. Shipping - The cost to ship a single 3-year old computer to a developing nation (don't forget import duties!) will probably be more than just buying a comperable computer in-country. Even though there aren't a lot of people with money in bolivia, there is still a great demand for computers. Thus the markets had lots of low-cost deals, not the latest technology but it was enough. Parts for a Core 2 Duo setup were ~$200, another $120 for a monitor. I would guess Guatemala would be similar.

2. Power - In every developing nation I've ever been in, electricity has been an issue for computers. In Bolivia it was rare that we would lose electricity completely (once every couple months), but very common where we would have brown-outs where there just isn't enough electricity in the wires. This is very bad for we had to hook every computer up to a battery (usually 2-3PCs for to a 1300VA battery). Unfortunately heat is the primary killer of batteries and the tropics is always hot. Over two years we probably spent 50% of the money spent on the lab on the original batteries and their replacements.

3. Administrator - Someone will need to be in-charge of the lab long-term. If you're there for a month you may have time to get it all setup and start training someone. However, it might not be that easy to get them up to speed on the basics of linux that they would need to know to keep it running. If there is just one big problem they can't solve they'll probably just go and install a pirated copy of windows on all the machines.

4. Cirriculum - I also wanted very much to teach the benefits of Open Souce, but that just wasn't what was needed by the students. The problem is that skills employers look for can be absurdly specific (probably due to the very different learning styles of students). It would not be uncommon for someone not to get a job because they had experience with Word 2003 instead of Word 2007. If you say..."I learned how to use Libre Office" the employer won't know what you're talking about, if you try to tell them it's basically the same as Microsoft Office they won't believe you. If you don't put "Learn to use Windows" or "Learn to use Office 2007" on the flyers for a course, you won't get very many students.

That said, I was able to make a decent multimedia course using Open Source: Gimp, Inkscape, Audacity, Kdenlive, etc., but to get students I also had to promise to teach them Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. What I ended up doing was speding a month with GIMP then just one day going through all the things they already learned in Photoshop...just so they could put it on their resume. (If you're interested, the text I wrote for my multimedia course is all open sourced too: )

5. Teachers - Who is going to teach a cirriculum based on open source? There probably aren't already people there who can do it. Do you have a whole semester you could team-teach with one of the current teachers so that they would be equipped to continue on? What about when they get a different job, who will take over then?

I'm sorry if all this is a bit negative, I really do hope you have success. It would be amazingly helpful to the people in many developing countries if they had the tools of open source at their disposal (you could only imaging the countless hours wasted because of computer viruses that infect illegal copies of windows). I hope addressing these issues I had up front helps you save time in the long-run.

Comment Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (Score 1) 201

Launching the fuel station in such a way that matching its velocity is substantially close to being on the escape trajectory you eventually want to be on would be stupid, since you would have to accelerate the entire fuel station to nearly that escape trajectory instead of just bringing the fuel with you, and you'd also have to launch the fuel station close in time to launching your actual mission.

That's the magic of the Lagrange Orbits. They're very cheap to get to from an escape trajectory, but they hang around the body(ies) that they're attached to.

Comment Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (Score 1) 201

That's where the "Strategic Spots" come in. There are certain points along the orbit from earth to X (moon, mars, asteroid, etc) where it would take extremely little thrust from the space ship to drop by there (stop is the wrong word).

Also, as others have mentioned, it would be possible for the "Gas Station" or at least a module of it to come to you as well.

Comment Re:Time? (Score 4, Interesting) 201

You pretty much nailed it all on the head. The only thing that I wanted to add was that there has been one probe to move between two massive bodies (Earth and the Moon) using a continuous thrust system: the SMART-1 probe with its Ion engine. The downside: it took 13 months (it only took the Apollo astronauts a couple days) and used a series of really strange, constantly expanding orbits (basically a spiral), on the plus side it only took 1/10th of the total propellant mass that a chemically powered spacecraft would.

Ion/Hall/Plasma thrusters are great for moving cargo where you don't care too much about how long it takes (especially in the beginning of the mission). This type of technology could easily be used to move fuel to one of these "Gas Stations" in earth, moon, sun, or mars orbit. You could start this years before the need date (before you get busy testing out the manned space craft) then the chemical fuel could already be there when you're ready to launch the manned space craft.


Solar Car Speed Record Smashed 72

An anonymous reader writes with word from Australia that "There's a new world record for the fastest solar-powered land vehicle: 88 km/h average speed over one kilometre in a lightweight car that uses about the same power as a toaster." As the article goes on to explain, this solar racer, built last year by students from the University of New South Wales, managed to nab that speed record earlier this month on an Australian navy base airstrip.

Apache Resigns From the JCP Executive Committee 136

iammichael writes "The Apache Software Foundation has resigned its seat on the Java SE/EE Executive Committee due to a long dispute over the licensing restrictions placed on the TCK (test kit validating third-party Java implementations are compatible with the specification)."

MIT Unveils Portable, Solar-Powered Water Desalination System 117

An anonymous reader writes "A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Field and Space Robotic Laboratory has designed a new solar-powered water desalination system to provide drinking water to disaster zones and disadvantaged parts of the planet. Desalination systems often require a lot of energy and a large infrastructure to support them, but MIT's compact system is able to cope due to its ingenious design. The system's photovoltaic panel is able to generate power for the pump, which in turn pushes undrinkable seawater through a permeable membrane. MIT's prototype can reportedly produce 80 gallons of drinking water per day, depending on weather conditions."

Submission + - Latest Ubuntu (Maverick Meerkat - 10.10) available (

teeks99 writes: The latest version of Ubuntu — 10.10 called Maverick Meerkat has been released. This release contains new improvements like an update Ubuntu One online service (with music streaming), Shotwell instead of F-Spot, the new Unity interface (for netbooks), and an upgrade to just about every piece of existing software. The announcement e-mail ( has more details.

Comment Hit or Miss (Score 4, Insightful) 149

That Discover article was pretty hit-or-miss. They nailed the real solution in two of their pieces (tethers and sails), in that the best (easiest, cheapest, only-one-that-will-probably-ever-happen) are technologies that are built into space objects (satellites and boosters) before launch. There's lots of options here from tethers, sails, balloons, or just using existing thrusters. If we can stop leaving big pieces up there (which can run into other big pieces and make LOTS of pieces), the problem will start getting less severe.

On the other hand, on of Discover's pages was about blowing up the debris...this makes sense, until you really think about it. The problem is that when you blow up something, it makes a huge number of new pieces, with all sorts of different velocities and orbits. On average, these pieces will fall to earth more quickly than the unexploded satellite, however, that's just the average. There are many pieces that will stay up there even longer. And when you're talking about things moving that these incredible velocities, it doesn't matter a whole lot if you get hit by a 6,000lb. satellite or a 5lb. piece of a satellite, either one will destroy anything we've put in orbit.

Comment Re:Weird.... (Score 1) 210

A few ounces of force isn't much as most satellites experience hundreds or thousands of pounds of force during the launch. Since you're trying to de-orbit the satellite, you probably don't care too much about what attitude it is in, so as long as the part of the balloon that attaches to the satellite is capable of handling those few ounces of force, I'm not sure what else there would be to go wrong.

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