Taking Charge with cellphones

first_imgJeffrey Mansfield was aboard the riverboat Juan Felipe last August as it eased down the Arapiuns River, a branch of the Amazon a mile wide. In the distance was the lush green rim of the Brazilian rain forest. Despite the remote locale, Mansfield took out his iPhone and in moments was posting real-time pictures on Facebook.Mansfield, a master’s degree student in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, was taking advantage of a fact that is little known in North America: Remote corners of the vast Amazon River basin are increasingly covered by 3G networks. (3G is short for the third-generation networks widely used for cellphones, the Internet, video links, and other wireless communications.)“One of the biggest surprises was how accessible the Internet was,” said Mansfield. “I never felt I was in a romanticized wilderness, completely separate from the world.”Brazil itself has one of the highest densities of cellphone use in the world, and by 2014 even its most remote riverine forest regions will have reliable 3G coverage of the kind Mansfield enjoyed on the Arapiuns. A year ago, Vivo, Brazil’s largest wireless provider, distributed 200 Samsung smartphones to residents of the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve, an ecologically sensitive region inhabited by the mixed-race caboclo people.These farmers, fishermen, and artisans of Ameridian descent live under thick jungle cover, managing beehives, and clearing little plots to grow maize, onions, cassava, and tree fruits. (Sustainable farming in these conditions is called agroforestry.) But these Amazon forest residents are also under pressure from large-scale soybean operations that clear swaths of endangered forest.The cellphone’s camera, set on continuous shoot and held in a cut-off soda bottle with rubber bands, can snap high-resolution photos impossible to get from a higher-altitude plane. “You get phenomenal resolution,” Mansfield said. “It’s low-tech, high-impact.”Power in the region is scarce and expensive, often parceled out in 15-minute increments from portable diesel generators. In some locations, there are solar-powered telecenters that use fixed solar panels. But that’s not enough in the power-short Amazon.In August, Mansfield was in Brazil with the Portable Light Project, a nonprofit research, design, and engineering initiative developed by Boston-based Kennedy Violich Architecture Ltd. (Add in the Brazilian partners, and the project is called the Luz Portatil Brasil initiative.) At the heart of the project is a lightweight, flexible solar fabric that comes with a rechargeable battery pack and a USB port. A user can sling a solar fabric bag over the shoulder, go about the day, and return home at night with enough juice to power cellphones, lights, and other USB-powered devices.The solar textile, with its flexible photovoltaics and solid-state lighting, can also be made into traditional-patterned dresses, hats, tarps, and household curtains.During the 10-day sojourn, Mansfield and the others in his group conferred with Coopa Roca, a women’s sewing cooperative in Rio de Janeiro that reworked the solar fabric. The group also set up a base of operations in Santarem, a former rubber plantation boomtown blanketed by a haze from burning trash. Mansfield and the rest navigated hundreds of miles of the Tapajos and Arapiuns rivers to conduct solar-fabric workshops in 10 riverine villages. Quite happily, the visitors slept in hammocks, watched forest parrots at play, and ate a lot of fish, cassava, and native corn.Mansfield launched Taking Charge, a Kickstarter-funded project that will donate cellphones — loaded with helpful apps, along with a user guide printed on waterproof paper — to the region.Mansfield, a first-time visitor, was awakened to both the charms of the remote Amazon and the ecological threats to it — and to what sensitive stewards of the lands its jungle residents are. He said cheap solar power and widening 3G networks provide a “double confluence” of factors that could help to protect rain forest ecology, improve the lives of residents, and empower them politically. “So many times, outsiders speak for people there,” said Mansfield. “They had to trust foreigners to speak for them, and it wasn’t always accurate. The portable light kit and cellphone allows them a voice.”Mansfield, who is hearing-impaired, felt a kinship with the Amazon residents, since they can rely on others to talk for them. (Interpreter Jolanta Galloway, a freelancer who often works for Harvard, was present during Mansfield’s interview.)The Amazon trip inspired Mansfield to suggest a “user guide” that enables residents to employ smartphones as digital multi-tools. (“The smartphone in my generation,” said Mansfield, “is like the Swiss Army knife.”) Forest residents could use technology to improve farming, health, banking, trade, and health practices. They have the cellphones — but they lack a tool kit and training for life-changing applications. He called that “the missing link.”Back at Harvard this fall, Mansfield launched Taking Charge, a Kickstarter-funded project that will donate cellphones — loaded with helpful apps, along with a user guide printed on waterproof paper — to the region. Available in PDF form too, the guide would contain content from Amazon residents, including tips on beekeeping, husbandry, irrigation, and trade, along with foldout maps on the location of fuel stops, solar stations, and other infrastructure.Accurate maps are at the heart of the Taking Charge tool kit. On a balcony at Gund Hall, Mansfield unfurled a kite that can be used to loft a cellphone 500 feet or more into the air. The phone’s camera, set on continuous shoot and held in a cut-off soda bottle with rubber bands, can snap high-resolution photos impossible to get from a higher-altitude plane. “You get phenomenal resolution,” he said. “It’s low-tech, high-impact.” (Google just recently started to use kites and hot air balloons as mapping platforms.)At his Gund Hall workstation, where Mansfield also writes a Taking Charge blog, he showed a prototype of the users’ guide. It will contain kite-mapping instructions, a biodiversity guide, and profiles of regional entrepreneurs, who are experts in beekeeping, fishing, organic farming, weaving, and food processing.This winter, during a second Portable Light Project trip to the Amazon, Mansfield will gather more local content and conduct workshops on kite mapping and mobile-phone applications. He reached his Kickstarter goal, and will distribute 15 copies of the user guide — more if he has the funding. The target is for at least one copy in each of 10 villages, which may have as few as 20 families and as many as 100.A scheme like this can be scaled up, said Mansfield. He sees the 2,500-square-mile Tapajós-Arapiuns region as a pilot locale for the whole Amazon, which is dotted with villages whose residents yearn to connect with one another.Mansfield sees a future in which cellphones help Amazon residents scour the Internet for new farming methods of sustainable agroforestry, advice on do-it-yourself engineering projects (like tractor repair), and tips from regional entrepreneurs. They should be able to document their livelihoods, their lands, and any threats to either. They will be able to gather weather information — important in an ecosystem where sealike rivers can rise by 60 feet. And Amazon forest residents may be able to study distant markets, jumping past middlemen to get the best prices for their goods. Smartphones can also be a way for people to tell their stories, to one another and to the world.“That’s our goal,” said Mansfield of the multifaceted smartphones, “to make them part of every day life.”last_img read more

University group attends Vatican conference on nuclear weapons

first_imgSarah Olson | The Observer Professor Michael Desch and University students Mackenzie Nolan and Kathleen Kollman discuss their  recent trip to the Vatican. The group met the pope and attended a conference focused on nuclear disarmament.In a panel hosted Tuesday night, the group discussed their experiences at the Vatican, as well as Pope Francis’s condemnation of nuclear weapons.For the group that traveled to the Vatican, the highlight of the visit was meeting personally with the pope, Powers said. The pope met with over 300 strangers, yet greeted each one with so much energy it seemed as though he was greeting the first, Powers added.Chris Haw, a doctoral student in theology at the Kroc Institute, echoed  Pope Francis’s message in support of nuclear disarmament and said the conference helped him solidify his stance.“Even with what we have … one of the overarching themes is that they are sapping our world of resources and that they are now increasingly destabilizing us,” Haw said. “We need to come to grips that they are increasingly destabilizing international diplomacy.”The use of nuclear weapons was utopian, shortsighted and irrational, Haw said. “Deterrence is building on sand, increasingly building on sand,” he said. “Lasting peace is built by vigilant diplomatic efforts and human development.”Haw said in one sense “the multi-national chorus of peace-builders was even more thrilling than meeting the pope.” “We’re all connected in that whether we destroy or safeguard nature, our fear or our courage, all of these things affect our brothers and sisters,” he said. “We’re living amidst a moral emergency for which we are all co-responsible. We in the nuclear countries live in a haze of moral deprivation and logic distortion. If we don’t change, things won’t change.” Political science professor Michael Desch challenged Haw’s stance.“In general, it was a terrific couple of days. And the high point of the audience with the Holy Father is something I know I’ll never forget,” Desch said. “In terms of the concrete message of the conference, I came away not convinced.” Twelve Notre Dame students and recent alumni and five faculty members travelled to the Vatican to meet the pope and attend a conference on a topic that continues to dominate headlines: nuclear weapons.“This was probably the most public and high-level event on this issue since the end of the Cold War,” Gerard Powers, director of Catholic peacebuilding studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said. “After the Cold War, the Holy See was increasingly outspoken about the immorality of the use of nuclear weapons. This is the first time that a pope condemned not only the use, but the possession of nuclear weapons.” Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Junior Monica Montgomery shakes the pope’s hand while on a trip to the Vatican. Montgomery joined 11 other University students, alumni and five faculty members in attending a conference hosted by the pope.Desch said nuclear deterrence is not a theory of nuclear use. Rather, it is a theory of purposive non-use of nuclear weapons.“Deterrence is not nuclear use, and we shouldn’t forget that,” he said. “The position of the Church … wrongly assumes that counter-value or population targeting has been a part of U.S. nuclear strategy for most of the Cold War. On that score they’re fundamentally wrong.”There has been significant nuclear drawdown since the Cold War, Desch said.“There’s still plenty of nuclear power out there, but the idea that nothing has changed is very hard to sustain,” he said. “We now have nine nuclear powers. This is a bad thing in one sense, but in another sense we could have a world, and we expected a world of 50 nuclear powers back in the days of proliferation studies. At least five states have walked back from pretty serious nuclear programs.”Desch said he is a realist and thinks it is idealistic to believe a world without nuclear weapons could become reality.“I was very unpersuaded by the integral nuclear disarmament view that everything is connected,” he said. “It seems to me hard to sustain the argument that if there weren’t nuclear weapons that huge amounts of money … that if we cut this out we would be spending a lot of money on other worthy causes, particularly the elimination of poverty. The bottom line for me is we ought to be careful what we wish for.”Junior political science and Arabic major Mackenzie Nolan said the discussion with nuclear weapons does not just stop at deterrence. What is necessary now, she said, is education.“We were lucky enough to go to this conference, and I think it’s our responsibility now to bring it back to campus,” Nolan said. “We all have different backgrounds, so I think understanding those backgrounds will help improve discourse.”Graduate student at the Keough School of Global Affairs Kathleen Kollman said students should be educated on the gravity of the threat of nuclear weapons. Until then, she said, students cannot selectively focus on sole issues such as mass migration or climate change.“Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of focusing only on those issues. The issue of nuclear weapons stands in our way,” Kollman said. “What it took for me to care was a wake-up call from reality that the threat from nuclear weapons is far from over.”Tags: nuclear disarmament, nuclear weapons, Pope Francis, Vaticanlast_img read more

Trikes, pedicabs, motorcycles not for public transport

first_imgThe goal, according to the governor,is to further limit the movement of people in line with the ongoing enhancedcommunity quarantine to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019(COVID-19). * there shall be a shuttle servicestationed at the poblacion ofmunicipalities for quarantine pass holders commuting on a daily basis to IloiloCity; the schedule of the shuttle service shall likewise be determined by themayor. On March 27, Defensor issuedguidelines in the implementation of Executive Order No. 080. Among theguidelines were the following: Tricycles, pedicabs and motorcyclesmay only be used for private purposes such as going to the market or pharmacy,provided the user has secured a quarantine pass. Another guideline stated: “Publicmarkets shall be open everyday, provided that the schedule of market days besuspended, and provided further that only clusters of barangays shall haveaccess to the public markets (including the surrounding stalls/stores) on agiven day.” Defensor also said they may be used asservice vehicles of workers exempted by his Executive Order No. 080 (enhancedcommunity quarantine) such as healthcare workers, among others, but that thereshould be no other passengers. ILOILO – Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. hasprohibited the use of tricycles, pedicabs and motorcycles as public transport. “The mayor shall determine theclustering of barangays and the schedule of access to the public market,”Defensor added./PN In a memorandum, Defensor urged mayorsand barangay captains to enforce the temporary prohibition. The governor then reminded localgovernment units to provide shuttle service to frontliners (people who continueworking because their job is indispensable such as those of healthcare workers,staff of pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, bakeries, etc.) and peoplegoing to public markets. * there shall be a shuttle servicestationed at the barangay exit point/s to transport quarantine pass holders tothe poblacion (town center); scheduleof the shuttle service shall be determined by the mayorlast_img read more