Outernet – A Core Technology for the Future

The need for land-based physical infrastructure is one of the Internet’s most significant liabilities.

In more developed countries this liability is most pronounced when a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy rolls through and rips out the infrastructure.

For much of the world, billions of people still don’t have access to the Internet in any way. They are cut off from communication, as well as the storehouse that contains all of humanity’s knowledge (and cat photos).

Complicating Factors

Many of the people who would most benefit from the Internet live in disaster-ridden regions of the world. The places where education could do the most good, get the least information.

And to further complicate this, many of the least developed countries are massive, making physical infrastructure insanely difficult to install and maintain.

Gall–Peters map projection shows relative size of countries more accurately than the mercator map projections that were used in my school.
Gall–Peters map projection shows relative size of countries more accurately than the mercator map projections that were used in my school.

Africa is huge. The continental US could fit into the Sahara. Wiring that continent up for the Internet is a sisyphean task.

The Solution

The best possible solution at the moment is to forego Earth-based infrastructure, and look to space.


“Lantern continuously receives radio waves broadcast by Outernet from space. Lantern turns the signal into digital files, like webpages, news articles, ebooks, videos, and music. Lantern can receive and store any type of digital file on its internal drive. To view the content stored in Lantern, turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot and connect to Lantern with any Wi-Fi enabled device. All you need is a browser.”

For $100 you can purchase and back Lantern on Indiegogo. This will give you access to information when your infrastructure is wrecked, and will help them further develop their infrastructure so they can deliver more information to the people who have no access.

It’s self-powering, and fed information via satellite.

Lantern_DiagramIt’s only a receiver, and it can only deliver information that is loaded onto their satellite network, and Lantern users cannot upload content back to the Internet, but it’s a start.


Much of my current work is focused on getting information in and out of disaster zones. This kind of technology, while limited today, has the potential to empower people who desperately need to reshape their world.

Narrowing humanity’s knowledge and technology gaps are a necessary step towards sustainable peace.

Help Lantern be one of the beacons that the 21st century desperately needs. 

Interviewed by Springboard PR

Back in September, NJ Connect invited me to give my talk, “Amazing Design Through Empathy.” I had a ton of fun speaking with the folks in attendance.

The conversation continued, and Benjamin Doda of Springboard PR (the organizers of NJ Connect) interviewed me on web design, empathy, and business. He asked me some really provocative, difficult, and fun questions.

Springboard Geek Whisperer Interview

A number of the questions he asked me about are going to feed the next iteration of my talk.

Here’s an excerpt

When you give an inch, some people take a mile. What are the consequences of designing with too much empathy?

Sympathy is feeling for a person. Empathy is feeling with a person.

It’s the difference between looking at the world’s tallest and fastest roller-coaster and saying “Wow… that looks really intense” (sympathy), versus getting into the roller-coaster and experiencing the ride for yourself (empathy).

Sympathy is useless, and drives a wedge between you and the person you’re dealing with.

To take this one step further, there’s a difference between having empathy, and being emotional.

If you’re feeling with a person, you have awareness, if you’re being emotional, you’re being strictly governed by emotions. In business, being emotional is going to ultimately make you spiral out of control.

Here’s what empathy is in a business context. I have a client who is agitated, passive-aggressive, and inconsistent. He’s incredibly difficult to deal with. Throughout the course of working with him I pieced together that he has a boss who micromanages him, changes his mind at the drop of a buzzword, and bullies my client around. When I look at my client, I understand what he’s feeling. I can identify those same emotions in myself, and I can even remember a time when I had a boss who did the exact same thing to me. What I am not doing is internalizing those emotions, and allowing myself to feel my client’s total panic. I’m identifying with his emotions, and using the knowledge that I have of how he must be feeling to help the situation.

Regardless of whether you feel with a client, or are numb to their emotions, a client can still push you around, and take more than they have paid for.

I have a small tolerance for extra work with my clients. When I start doing extra work, if it’s small, I let them know, “This is above and beyond, next time we’re going to have to talk about a change order and a budget.” If that extra work is a bit bigger, I may issue a no cost change order, and make everyone sign it knowing that the next change is going to cost money.

Some requested changes are just going to cost money. Sometimes you just need to tell the client early and often that future iterations and features are going to require a budget.

– See more at: http://springboardpr.com/2014/11/07/the-geek-whisperer-uncover-what-motivates-your-customers/#sthash.GePxYBYW.dpuf

Announcing RoomEscapeArtist.com

Room Escape Artist

If you’ve read this site at all this year you may have noticed that I have become increasingly interested in real life room escape games.

Someone lit a match near that interest, and it exploded into a new website:


My girlfriend Lisa and I have been working on this site (and the corresponding map of room escape games in the US) for some time, and now that it’s getting some traction, we’re actually telling people about it.

Room Escapes of the USA

Humanitarian App Design & the CrisisMappers 2014 Mapping Challenge

Since the beginning of the year I have immersed myself in the humanitarian aid coordination world. Through my employer Phase2, I’ve been designing applications, and iterative improvements for the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It’s been both the most challenging, fun, and rewarding work that I’ve ever done.

I don’t normally discuss my work in any level of detail in a public forum, however, my client has been tweeting my involvement, and even sharing shots of my wireframes (which is an awesome first for me)… So I don’t feel like I’m divulging anything that isn’t already publicly available.

@HumanitarianID Wireframe Tweet

International Conference of CrisisMappers 2014, New York City

This weekend, I attended the CrisisMappers conference. The conference is “the leading humanitarian technology event of the year, bringing together the most important humanitarian, human rights, development and media organizations with the world’s best technology companies, software developers and academics.”

The event itself was wonderfully informative, and it was cool to see all of the brilliant innovations that people have come up with, while also reinforcing that essentially everyone is grappling with different variations of the same problems.

The event has filled me with inspiration, hope, and a better understanding of where my client fits in within the larger humanitarian world.

Mapping Challenge

Saturday’s sessions largely consisted of a mapping challenge whereby attendees broke-off into groups and had to map something in Union Square.

The overall results were varied and nifty. 

My group consisted of my colleague Brandon Morrison; my client Andrej Verity, and our new friend and researcher David Haynes.

Together we gathered data, and mapped whether stores, services, or features in and surrounding the park serviced locals or tourists.

ICCM 2014 Union Square Local vs Tourist Map

We built it with Leaflet, fed the data in via GeoJSON, and everything is available on GitHub.