A computer scientist became interested in rural development and dreams of a device that can capture or regenerate energy by itself.
I was a computer scientist, but thanks to the web I became interested in rural development. As an IT engineer by training, I started exploring cyberspace, scanning for relevant information around me. Because of the availability of information, and considering it in the context of Madagascar, where more than 70% of population live in poverty in rural areas, my interest and my consciousness grew.
What’s amazing about the web is that you can jump from one world / area / domain to another with a mouse click. I am still reflecting on the pros and cons of the web, but I know it is beneficial for me in so many areas of my life, even though it consumes so much time and brain-energy.
The tools available to help you manage, explore, improve ways of doing things are countless. ICTs in general can improve tremendously your efficiency, effectiveness and the way you work.
However, we must not forget that ICTs and the web can have a huge impact - good and bad - on human lives and behaviour.
I started thinking seriously about farming some years ago after I visited the rural parts of Madagascar and heard through the media about the poverty, food insecurity, hunger, famine and malnutrition. I decided to start my own experimental farm. I spent some time typing a few key words into a search engine. I found one very interesting site, Infonet-Biovision, which has an abundance of practical information.
When I get tired of reading, I just add the word ‘video’ to my search. Type ‘video’ and composting’, for example, and you’ll find many videos on composting techniques from different areas of the world, some more scientific than others.
With so much many information available, I organise it for quick retrieval in the future, using the bookmarking tool, Diigo. It’s powerful and easy to use. I can have different libraries there on agriculture and farming, on ICT and ICT4D. I also use the Mozilla Firefox bookmarking function, which is very easy.
To stay informed of new posts, I use the Firefox RSS feed reader and Google Reader. For instance, I follow news on the Science and Development Network with the Firefox reader.
Web tools services
I have had a Google account since the very first year of Google, and I have followed its progression since. Google Docs is great for sharing information and can really help to increase the productivity of your team. I also use Google Talk to chat with some colleagues, but more commonly, I use Skype, especially when I want to have a video chat with my family during trips away from home.
On those trips, I often use Google Maps to get a better idea of where I’m going, wherever it is in the world. I have used this to virtually visit some very remote places in Madagascar where I later went for land exploration missions. I also have satellite photos of my farm taken at different dates thanks this service.
I use social networking tools in my professional and personal life. LinkedIn helps me stay in touch with many colleagues worldwide. For instance, we have a LinkedIn group for our African Team working on promoting web-based monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool. I am also member of more than 30 LinkedIn groups, including YPARD, Web2forDev, e-Agriculture, ICT4D, ICT Update, IAALD and M&E group discussions.
For family, friends and our non-profit organisation, I use Facebook, which is more widely known. There, we have a Facebook group for Farming and Technology for Africa initiatives
Wherever I go to and important event - a seminar, conference, training course, or meeting - I take my laptop, my cell phone, memory stick and digital camera. For long distance trips (more than 5 hours), I use my tablet PC because of its good battery life and the easy functionality. In some cases, I also take my digital camcorder and my external hard drive to save large amounts of important data and files.
I would have many problems if I didn’t have my laptop. It has become my second memory, my way of working and of being productive. And if I’m not connected, many of my colleagues and collaborators won’t be able to reach me at all.
For very rational reasons and from previous bad experiences, I always make backups of my key data in (at least) 2 different places. My archiving system is my second laptop (a netbook), and my set of external hard drives where I have almost all my work since 1994.
I dream of a device (a kind of very advanced notebook) that can capture or regenerate energy by itself. No need for an external power supply. It would be able to connect to the web wherever I am - permanent connectivity - with unlimited memory to store all the web content dynamically, if required. This sophisticated device would be very light, even lighter than a cell phones, and at a price that everyone on Earth could afford. I know I’m pushing a little here, but I did say it was a dream.