September Technology Salon: USAID ICT4D Challenges

Let’s solve his ICT4D challenges

The Technology Salon returns to Washington DC this September 25th to explore an innovative initiative from USAID: ICT4D Challenges.

Akin to the contests that had Lindbergh cross the Atlantic and Rutan/Branson cross into space, ICT4D challenges (contests, makeovers, and competitions) will leverage user-driven innovation to create ICT-based solutions for major development challenges, with the incentive of cash prizes and possible inclusion in a USAID project. These challenges will spur innovation at the nexus of development and technology while forging new connections between the technology and development communities.

What better forum to explore where USAID is going with these challenges and help shape that path than the Technology Salon, our intimate and informal discussion of technology and development?

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Commuting Like the Romans

Roman subway crowds

When in Rome for a work meeting, one commutes to the office like a Roman. On a random Wednesday in September, I did just that – commuted like a Roman – and was shocked by the similarities and uniqueness of a Roman commute.

First, most Romans live in apartment buildings. So you’ll wipe the sleep from your eyes as you navigate winding stairwells down to the street. Then you’ll walk to the nearest bus stop, maybe a block or two away from your apartment building.

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Hitting My Hippodrome Stride

My morning run route

Back in Roman times, the Piazza Navona was not a piazza, it was a hippodrome, a chariot racecourse where Rome’s fastest drivers competed for fame and glory in front of cheering crowds.

Two-thousand years of history later, I am competing with myself as I run the very same course as those chariot drivers. I have not their horses, crowds, or any real glory. Just the clear morning air and the joy of running seven laps around history:

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Water Fountain Wealth in Rome

Water from death

Image that you lived in Roman times. When clean, fresh water was a rarity in most cities of the world, cholera was a constant risk and dysentery was the norm. Now image coming to Rome where every city block had a fountain that ran all day and all night, gurgling with clear mountain water drinkable from the tap.

This water wealth was one of the defining characteristics of Rome, a stunning accomplishment before the advent of indoor plumbing or even urban sewers. And when the Goths broke the aqueducts that brought this water from afar, the city crumbled and fell into a thousand year disuse.

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Trevi Fountain’s Tourist Traffic Jams

Too many tourists!

The Trevi Fountain is a famous landmark in Rome mainly due to a myth that says coins thrown in the fountain will ensure you return to Rome. While I can only confirm that means you threw your money in a fountain, I can predict that no matter if you return or not, there will be crowds at the Trevi Fountain.

Amy and I stayed at a hotel just around the corner of the fountain, and no matter the time, day or night, the Trevi Fountain was crowded. And not just a few tourists crowded, but mobbed by people watching the waterspouts. Check out the Trevi Fountain scene yourself:

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Congratulations Sean and Tara!

The wedded couple happiness

Hello everyone, a moment of your time, please, for this toast to Sean and Tara.

For those that may not know, I am Sean’s cousin, Wayan. Sean’s American cousin. And to the many who have asked me this Friday night before his wedding, yes, Sean has American relatives. In fact, here is a dirty little secret:

Sean is half American. I would suggest his better half. Certainly, like me, his better looking half.

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A Lake Como Water Taxi Lifestyle

Don’t miss the taxi boat!

Would you ever think there could be a “water taxi lifestyle”? After a long weekend on Lake Como, taking the water taxi daily, and twice on Sunday, I declare there is such a lifestyle, and its high living at that.

Dressed in a tux, my hot pregnant wife at my side, I step onto the gangplank of a Lake Como water taxi with a spring in my step. The boatmen, strapping young Italians, politely gesture to a fine wooden seat, where Amy and I retire to enjoy our ride.

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Flying Virgin Nigeria Adventures

A Virgin Nigeria’s passenger view

If you are going to fly Virgin Nigeria, be prepared for a little adventure – it’s not like Virgin Airlines by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Virgin Nigeria is a downright adventure no matter if you’re going on an inter-Nigeria or international flight.

Let’s start at getting a ticket. Before you think it’s as easy as booking online, check your optimism. They may have a website, which you can reserve a ticket on, but you better be actually in Nigeria before you think of buying a ticket.

For that, you need to visit an actual Virgin Nigeria ticket office, where you’ll find helpful people who tell you “No” at every chance. Can I get a ticket for the 6pm flight to Abuja? No. What about the 4pm flight? No. Any flight? No. Why? We’re not flying. Okay, not flying today, this week, ever again? I don’t know.

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The Last Days of Lagos, Nigeria

Gombe House going to squatters

Back when I was eyeball deep in OLPC controversy, I had lunch with a writer from MIT ‘s Technology Review. In the midst of our conversation he raised a fear about developing world cities. He said, “They’re not sustainable” and was concerned they will collapse soon.

At the time, I wondered what he meant, as the cities I’ve seen seem way more vibrant than many of our own here in the USA. Then I went to Lagos, Nigeria.

This is a city that was once prime. You can see it in the buildings now left to rot. You can feel it in the way the people talk about the past. And now, with decades of neglect, you can see that its on decline.

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Rollerblading at Cowbell Skate Ramp

Getting airborne in Accra

I am often surprised at the odd mixes of Western and African I see on my travels. One day it’s the Togolese’s National Run to the Border Day and the next, it’s a skateboard park in Accra where Rollerbladers rule.

As it often happens, I was not looking for the Cowbell Skate Ramp when I found it. I was expecting to go from one business meeting to the next, but when you’re offered the chance to explore Ghana with a local, you always accept the ride. But when Denise pulled into the International Trade Fair Centre, I was first somewhat disappointed. I’d been there before, and it wasn’t much. Then I saw the skate park.

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