Saturday, July 24, 2004

Linux in Lingala

From the Liboke ya Kongo page, with extra links added:

Bino na Biso (BnB) presents the RULE-based "Liboke ya Congo" (LyC) on Fikin, the most important trade show in Kinshasa/DRC. "Liboke ya Congo" translates to something like "Box of Congo". This system is a Red Hat 9 based operating system, installed using "Slinky" from The RULE-Project, and therefore running on even outdated PCs with todays speed and the most up to date applications like Abiword 2, OpenOffice 1.1, the latest Acrobat Reader or Webbrowsers like Opera 7.5 and Firefox. "Liboke ya Congo" includes a set of Lingala-localized applications. Most of the work of translation and research has been done by BnB-staff in Kinshasa.

The "Liboke ya Congo" will help to bring IT-knowledge and better means of communication to many people in DRC and its neighbour-countries. Also it can be seen as an important step in building up a self-sustainable, localized IT-culture.

Contact person Kinshasa: Leon LUEMBA, libokeyacongo@yahoo.fr
Contact person Vienna: Ingo LANTSCHNER, ingo@vum.at

Further Information:

Bino na Biso, the Lingala expression for "You and We" is an intercultural, humanist cooperative based in Kinshasa/DRC.

Lingala (ISO-code ln) is a language spoken alongside the Congo River. It derives from Bobangi and has incooperated parts from Kikongo, Swahili and French. Today it is getting more and more important because of the many famous musicians from Kongo.

DRC is the abbreviation for "Democratic Republic of Congo", the former "Zaire"; ISO-code CD

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Eradicating Poverty Through Profit cenference, San Francisco, Dec. 12-14.

Monday, July 12, 2004

High High Tech

NASA scientists expect to be able to predict malaria outbreaks from satellite data on rainfall, temperature and vegetation in affected areas. Advance warning would enable governments or the World Health Organization to take steps in advance to prevent and treat malaria in many areas.

Tracking Diseases from Space

Summary - (Mar 15, 2004) More than a million people die from
malaria every year, a disease spread by mosquitoes. Epidemics
happen when environmental conditions, like rainfall, temperature
and vegetation are perfect for the disease carrying insects. By
tracking these changes with satellites, NASA scientists hope to
be able to predict when and where disease outbreaks will happen
to give people some warning. This would help relief agencies
know where conditions are going to be the worst so they can
direct their efforts.

And yet people claim that we shouldn't spend money on the space program when there is so much poverty and need. Of course this is one of the lesser applications of space technology. The greatest contribution of the space program to fighting global poverty has been satellite communications, mainly for satellite TV and telephone calls so far, but soon to be dominated by Internet access. Then the poor can get access to weather satellite data, GPS, and other vital information that the prosperous part of the world relies on routinely.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Cutting AIDS transmission

I have been running around claiming that getting every HIV/AIDS sufferer into treatment would cut the transmission rate and thus the rate of new cases drastically, based on the notion that people with no virus circulating in the blood cannot transmit it. This would mean that treating everyone who is HIV+ today would be the cheapest strategy, starting at about $10 billion annually. The reason is that costs would start to go down once transmission is limited, through normal mortality and further medical advances. Only a cure would cut costs rapidly, of course, but we aren't talking about that here.

Some people have challenged this idea, saying that people on anti-retroviral treatment are still infectious. This is true in part, but even if some people would be somewhat infectious after starting treatment, it doesn't contradict what I have been saying. Any reduction in transmission rate is good. Anyway, we need to understand this as well as we can, so I went and looked for more detailed analyses. We don't have the full answer, largely because it would be unethical for anybody to do controlled experiments on infecting people with HIV, but here is what I have found out so far.

Yes, some patients are still infectious during treatment. No, this is not most patients. It means the sickest patients, those who visibly have AIDS, and are not merely HIV+ (HIV positive).

I have quoted some sources below, and of course there are many more. My conclusions from them are as follows.

People with advanced AIDS, that is T-cell count below 200, can continue to have a high viral load until their immune systems start to recover, but patients who start treatment earlier typically have undetectable levels of virus in their blood. Both have high virus levels in lymph tissue, where it does not make them infectious.

Patients who are HIV+ but have not progressed to AIDS commonly have undetectable viral load in their blood and high levels in lymph tissue, and have been found to be almost always non-infectious in studies of couples where one is HIV+ and the other initially isn't.

Almost all of the transmission appears to occur during the initial infection before immune suppression of the virus, and much less during the later infectious AIDS stage, when health drops off dramatically.

I expect that most patients bedridden with full-blown AIDS will not be having sex before their viral load drops and their immune system kicks in again.

Clearly medication is not sufficient by itself. We need education, condom distribution, and testing as well. But my point about reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS with treatment appears to be valid.

HIV Sexual Transmission Factors
The viral load is the chief predictor of the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV-1, and transmission is rare among persons with levels of less than 1500 copies of HIV-1 RNA per milliliter.

HIV, bank accounts, and evolution
The virus infects different tissues, but if one looks at the amount of virus present in the blood, it follows a common pattern (figure 5.A.1). Within a few weeks of being infected, the virus multiplies to high levels and is easily detectable in blood (the "primary infection"). The immune system -- which is ultimately destroyed by the virus -- responds at this time and brings circulating viral levels down to the point that they are undetectable. This immune response includes antibodies against the virus, so at this point, the infected person will test positive by the standard tests (such a person is said to be HIV+ but does not yet have AIDS). The infection persists however, with low levels of virus in the blood (but high levels in lymph nodes). This "asymptomatic" phase lasts several years. Eventually (typically 8 years into the infection), the person develops AIDS, which is fatal unless successfully treated.
[To model the known rate of spread of HIV/AIDS in different transmission modes]
Some crude estimates suggest numbers approximately as follows:

if during the primary infection: 1.1 new new transmissions per infection

if during the AIDS stage: 70 new new transmissions per infection

Thus the worldwide spread of HIV can be explained if transmission occurs during the primary phase to infect slightly more than 1 new individual (on average). The alternative, transmission during the late stages of infection, requires that everyone infected must be infecting 50-100 people. The available data implicate early transmission.

So anyway, I'll come back to all this soon. HIV/AIDS is the second biggest single issue facing developing countries in terms of estimated expense to deal with it, after debt service, and by far the biggest in terms of degradation and death.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I have been thinking about how to open up global conferences to wider participation, and so, it turns out, have a lot of others. One of the best new ideas is to open up a Wiki before the conference. The XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, scheduled for August, already has the AIDS 2004 Wiki up and running, and I have made some contributions to it.

A Wiki is a Web site developed in an open collaboration by the public, that is by anybody who knows something about the subject and cares to do the work. Anybody else can come along and edit existing content. People new to the context often wonder how Wikis can be protected from vandalism and hijacking if just anybody can post. It is true that a few people try such things, but Wikis can protect themselves. First, every version of every Wiki page is backed up and can be restored to any previous state at any time. Second, every change is logged, and frequent users watch the changelog in order to be among the first to see any new content. That means that vandalism is corrected within hours, sometimes minutes. Most would-be vandals have given up.

Anyway, the really important fact here is that people who can't attend the Conference can get their input in before the Conference opens. People with laptops can Wiki or blog during the conference sessions, and the rest of the world can read and comment. And we can all continue the discussion afterward.

They say that the best part of any conference is not the formal presentations (which could be mailed out on a CD-ROM, or posted on the Web site) but meeting people, particularly chance encounters in the halls during coffee breaks or at meals. The Wiki makes it much easier to meet people who have ideas of interest to you, to exchange ideas without the arbitrary time limits imposed by the conference schedule, and to maintain contect afterwards.

Another good idea is to put the conference attendee list online, and an even better idea is to let attendees and others sign up for mailing lists on the various conference themes. But a Wiki gives the greatest cross-linking capability and the greatest flexibility. Conversations can take any sort of turn, and whenever a new subject comes up, someone can create a new page for it. That page can link to any other relevant pages, and people can put links on those pages to the new one.

You can also link different Wikis together using external Web links.

The biggest Wiki is undoubtedly the encyclopedic Wikipedia, which I have also contributed to. There are vast, uncounted numbers of wikis on almost any topic.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


I am organizing a panel discussion for the Silicon Valley Science Fiction Convention on computing for the poor around the world. The Con will be held over Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 2-4. Lee Thorn and Lee Felsenstein of the Jhai Foundation will be there, and we are waiting to hear from a few others. I'll let you know more.

The Jhai Foundation creates computer and communication systems for villages in Laos, and a Laotian-language distribution of Linux called Laonux. The villagers' first request was for phone service, which they get now using Voice over IP software. The idea is for farmers to call around for better prices, and increase their income. Then they want to build a school. We'll see what they make of the riches and the wretched excess of the Web and the rest.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Employment in Afghanistan

Wired News reports that the largest employer in Afghanistan is the Worldstock division of Overstock.com, which employs more than 1,500 Afghan artisans among a worldwide network of craft workers. Overstock.com does the same in 30 other contries, and there are other companies doing much the same thing. Novica, an online venture backed by the National Geographic Society, sells crafts from a network of more than 2,000 artists around the globe. Alpaca Pete's, a retail chain and website that sells rugs and clothes made from the woolly South American alpaca, buys finished products almost exclusively from a group of about 4,000 Peruvians from the island of Amantani, located in the middle of Lake Titicaca, the highest-elevation lake in the world. Rugmark Foundation is a global nonprofit organization working to end child labor in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Delinear Designs, the 18th company to join Rugmark, put out a press release that says it now ensures that no illegal child labor was used in the manufacturing process. A portion of the company’s proceeds will also benefit educational opportunities for children of those countries.

The deal with Overstock and the others is that the person who makes the item, such as a rug, can get 70% of the selling price. You might have heard about little children making rugs in Pakistan for pennies an hour, so this is a big deal. We are talking about people kept in degrading poverty, now able to support themselves and their families, and to look forward to education and opportunity for their children.

Why is this happening now? Why is it happening at all? Largely because we and they have access to the Internet. There are many other factors, but it is the Internet that allows us to make contact with those who would like to sell to us, and allows them to make contact with each other. These enterprises support thousands of sellers each, which is good. Now we have to get the same level of opportunity to several billion more people in more than two million villages. Remember, we can do it at a profit.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Clinton and Bush on AIDS

Back in April, Bill Clinton's foundation made a deal for inexpensive HIV/AIDS drugs from generic drug makers in India and Africa. The price comes out to US$140 per year per patient, less than half of the previous best.

The Guardian, one of the top UK newspapers, headlined the deal Clinton's Aids deal snubs Bush plan. The Bush Administration's plan would buy HIV/AIDS drugs only from US manufacturers, at much higher prices.

The Coordinator for US Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally is Randall L. Tobias, formerly Chairman, President and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company, one of the companies profiting from the Bush plan.

On July 1, 2004, C-SPAN aired a long segment on Tobias's tour of Africa to view the HIV/AIDS situation, back-to-back with a public presentation entitled The Global AIDS Pandemic: Understanding the Threat, organized by the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C. The principal speaker at this event was Greg Behrman, Author of “The Invisible People: How the US Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic”. (I met him recently in San Jose.)

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Busy, Busy

I have a button with the text "Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again" that I need to wear more often. I'm trying to cut back, in part by recruiting people to do more of this so I can think of more things for more people to do.

Anyway, I apologize for neglecting this blog. There has been a lot going on, which actually means I should have given blogging a higher priority, not slacked off.

So here is a quick roundup of events and of organizations that I encountered at them. I will have more to say about most of these when I can address them individually.

I wrote about the Silicon Valley Roundtable for WSIS earlier this year.

Doug Engelbart's Bootstrap Alliance is working on using computers to make society more intelligent.

Silicon Rally for WSIS met at the Tech Museum in San Jose.

Gapminder, which mines the UN statistical database, showed jaw-dropping animations of the progress or regress of individual countries over 40 years on several measures of development, such as GDP and health. Several of the animations can be viewed and downloaded from their site.

WSIS Online is a social networking site devoted to people, organizations, projects, and events relating to the World Summits on the Information Society.

I went to Baycon, the Bay Area Science Fiction Convention, and talked about spam-fighting and Simputers.

The Planetwork Interactive conference brought together several important initiatives.

Planetwork works closely with the Identity Commons, which is creating a system by which individuals can create persistent online identities, and control their personal information.

ManyOne is a new portal that plans to index pretty much everything. Unlike Yahoo, which uses paid indexers, or Google, which allows almost anybody to sign up as an indexer, ManyOne is recruiting non-profit organizations with expertise in each subject area to pick out the best sites.

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's talked about the True Majority organization that he founded.

Sustainable World Symposium had fewer solutions but many more questions about how to create a sustainable society. One of the highlights was the Jewish Earth Mother, played by Sherry Glaser.

The Conference on Reform and Revitalization of United Nations last week wrestled with such questions as redefining human rights to include, among other things, health, education, and access to the Internet, creating a representative world parliament, and fully funding programs, such as ICT for the poor, to achieve the UN's Millenium Development Goals. Former UN Undersecretary-General Robert Múller was a hit for his new book 5000 Ideas for a Better World, a new biography called Prophet - the Hatmaker's Son: The Life of Robert Muller, and playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy on the harmonica. Those who knew the words, like me, joined in.

Deine Zauber binden wieder,

Was die Mode streng geteilt;

Alle Menschen werden Brüder,

Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

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