Gmail requires IE5.5+ which means I can’t access it from 70% of the computers here in internet cafes in India who still use IE5.0.

Writing on the road

I am writing some stuff on the road (different internet cafes every time) and I find myself longing for solutions that support writing on the road. I write in WordPress – not bad, but not perfect either. Any suggestions. The perfect thing would be a lightweight keyboard with a memory of its own (and some kind of preview) that I could use to write anywhere and then plug into a computer to transfer the text whenever I visit an internet cafe…

Ah Bangalore. The pizza! The cheap books! The proper coffee! The copied western atmosphere! After a few weeks of roughing it in South India, Bangalore, usually described as a place where there’s not much interesting for the traveler, is a true joy.

The sharing of stories

Here are some random thoughts about the sharing of stories since I am at a computer anyway. I might add pictures to this post later.

I was visiting a temple this afternoon, filled with extremely elaborate detail. You can walk around it and read stories of the kings that built it, it’s like a kind of elongated comic book. The temple was used for ceremonies that probably (I’m guessing here since that’s what ceremonies in temples and churches seem to do) were basically about telling the stories of the religion and rulers.

So temples are for telling stories.

They’re really efficient since you can build a temple with a story on it, and the story will be told millenia afterwards if the temple survives. Your story survives. And many temples do survive, despite the destroying of temples and churches by competing religions as has happened in Europe, India and all over the world.

I saw tourists (Indians and foreigners) walking around the temple, reading the same, 1500-year old story. Stories are important because they explain the world, and in that way contain values and such.

Then I had to think about pictures. I remember visiting my girlfriends family, and 3 generations were standing around a photoalbum, and the stories of the family were being retold. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing.

Photoalbums are another medium that lets us tell the stories of our families, and in that way convey the values of our families as well.

An important element of these stories is their construction by the way: they are constructed by the entire family, watching pictures together. This way, it’s a kind of democratic process that creates the stories of the family.

I’m fascinated by digital pictures. What will be the social constructions around those artifacts that will let us use them to share our stories? Emailing them just doesn’t cut it. Microsofts Photostory is a good attempt, but not good enough. Printing them out also somehow doesn’t cut it – it’s not truly part of the media. So I’m curious to see what happens.

Comments? I’ll add links and pictures later.

My survey of internet cafes in India continues, I’m still in Mysore. A small internet place has 4 computers and DSL access, about 126,000 Kbps. About 50 USc/hour to use it, the same as in most places. I have pictures, but no easy way of uploading them right now. (It’s optimizing them that’s really the problem.) Interestingly, the person who runs it is a woman, and there are 2 women using computers and 1 guy (and me).

Most computers here in India do NOT seem to have Quicktime installed. I guess they don’t watch movie trailers? Ah of course, they don’t have broadband. Most computers run anything from Win 95 to Win XP. A “copied” WinXP CD + serial costs between 5 and 10 US$.

Rural India: not as simple as we think: ” over 30% of rural households had at least one bank account.”

The Worldchanging article asks about cellphones. I am in Malappuram now, where 60% of households has a person working in a Gulf country. They’re mostly muslim. Malappuram has the highest density of cellphone penetration I’ve been told: they bring them from the Gulf states (where they’re cheaper) as presents.


Worldchanging: “This year, in Mumbai alone, the upcoming Ganpati celebrations will see 70 – 80,000 Plaster of Paris idols of Lord Ganesha immersed in the sea as a holy ritual. Thereby, devotees honor their deity, and imply his status as a higher being, free from the temporal idols.

That means that on September 18th, water bodies all over India will get another annual dose of polythene bags, thermocol, plastics, and toxic chemical dyes.”

Some environmental actions are being taken. I hope to catch the Ganesh festival, I think it’s in 4 days, although I’m not sure I’ll be close to the sea.

Ganesh, by the way, is the god-kid with the elephant head. His head was cut off for some reason, so then his god-dad or mom gave him an elephant head instead. I got this information from a Belgian comic book (Suske en Wiske, where Belgians get a lot of their cultural information as kids from), so that’s my best understanding of the story.

Blogging in India

I’m blogging while traveling in India. That means not so much bad connectivity – I haven’t had a problem locating internet access in small towns yet, and speeds are ok, today’s the slowest so far, through dialup, and it’s about 36K. Yesterday I found an internet cafe in a train station (the train was delayed 3 hours). It turns out you can happily connect between 6 and 10 computers with a mobile phone connection and that way set up an internet cafe pretty much anywhere. Speed of the main line is 125K, although it feels more like 56K. All 3 internet cafes so far (except todays’) use some form of mobile telephone connectivity. I have some nice pictures but no patience to upload them now. Although they’re not ubiquitous, I see quite a few people with mobile phones here.

Other annoyments include bad keyboards, cramped areas (Indians are small), but overall internet availability is pretty good and widespread. Blogging becomes a matter of making some time.

In a day or two, I’ll be in Malapurram (Kerala), where the Akshaya project is providing fast internet and more to the whole region. They are using some fascinating tech, and what sounds like a great model to make the whole thing sustainable. I’ll spend some time trying to find out how that’s working out, and what value a project like that brings to the users from their perspective. I hope I’ll be abe to surmount the language problems.

videoblogging on the road

I’m waiting for my videos to upload. I am in a so-called broadband internet cafe. I’m uploading videos (between 3 and 9 Megs each), taken with my little photocamera. I upload them through my Gmail account to myself (10M max per upload), and Jay then optimizes them. We have to do this because hasn’t gotten their video-upload thing to work yet. I just read Lucas’ and Jay’s blogs, two of my favourites now. Lucas is extremely insightful. Jay too, no techie but he’s got raw enthusiasm (you should meet him!).

You don’t really want to spend your time in internet cafes waiting for videos to upload while travelling in India. I hope I find some fast internet when I go check out the Akshaya project next week. It’s hard to blog on the road. The setup is different (no Google toolbar, no Firefox).

If you’re getting frustrated with my lack of blogging (lack?), check this. I’m considering taking a Vipassana course, except I don’t want my butt to hurt much. The courses teach you meditation by getting you to sit still for 10 days, and you’re not allowed to talk either. has details. The meditation I did before made you focus (not focus) on your thoughts, this one seems to do it by not focussing on physical sensations. Mmmmm.

Anyways, internet speeds here are at 125,000, about three times as fast as a regular dialup. They connect through a cellphone-like connection. I can’t upload pictures because they come straight out of the digital camera at large sizes – too large for this connection speed. Maybe I could optimize them locally? I’ve been making videoposts mostly anyway.

My first Indian meal

My first Indian meal, a dollar and yummie.
my first meal

I am still in the middle of my initial culture shock (and jetlag), so more reports later! I’m hosting the pictures on The advantage over hosting them on my own server is that they have better upload tools, and I can upload the uncompressed versions there and they provide various optimized versions. I believe they also don’t mind linking straight to the images.

Indians sleep in the strangest positions

Internet cafes are about half a $ to 1$ an hour in Mumbai. Decent fast connections.

internet cafe

For my first 2 nights I took an ok and friendly hotel (recommended by Lonely Planet), it’s about 20$ a night. The bathroom is as follows, to give you an idea.


Video discussions in sign language

Two weeks ago, a group of deaf people in the UK started using sign video in a Google discussion group. They sign in front of a webcam, and upload the video to the group.

For many deaf people, sign language is their first language – their native tongue. “Pre-lingually deaf” people (deafness occurred before they developed linguistic skills and awareness) often have a hard time with written English because they lack something called auditory memory. If you can’t “sound” words in your mind because you’ve never heard them, writing and spelling becomes much harder.

Sign languages aren’t just a translation with signs of the words of a spoken language. They are naturally occuring, rich, living languages of their own. There are 114 sign languages listed at Sign languages can have complex grammars – a fertile ground for linguistic research. For example, American Sign Language (ASL)is gramatically much closer to spoken Japanese than to spoken English.

Because there is no written version of a sign language, there are almost no email, discussion groups or websites. There have been some experiments, like Helga Stevens’ website that provides text AND sign language, which provides sign tv, or Camfrog, which has been used for sign language video chats.

Still though, the bottom-up, conversation empowering nature of the web was mostly lost to the deaf communities. No weblogs. No discussion groups.

Until now. Rob Wilkins created the first video sign post on his blog, and Alison Bryan started to experiment with a video/sign language discussion group, just a few weeks ago, after joining the videoblogging discussion group.

Now, a large group of people can communicate over the internet in their native tongues. As a fortunate side effect, the evolution of sign language will, for the first time in history, be archived and can thus be more easily studied.

The lack of bandwidth limits on Google Groups, combined with affordable broadband and webcams made this technically possible, but the unique needs of this group of people made it actually happen.