Bob Marsh, Tad Hirsch, Blaine Cook, Evan Henshaw-Plath

Inveneo, MIT Media Lab,

Telephony for Community and Activism
48 minutes, 22.2mb, recorded 2006-01-26
Blaine Cook, Evan Henshaw-Plath, Bob Marsh

What relevance do activists have to emerging technology? Representatives from Inveneo, MIT Media Lab and Odeo talk about how they're implementing emerging telephony and Asterisk-based solutions in mobile and remote environments. They discuss how open source telephony works in difficult conditions to help overcome traditional social barriers and connect people and communities.

Bob Marsh from the nonprofit Inveneo describes his experiences deploying solar-powered communication systems in remote areas of Uganda. Inveneo specializes in helping the billion people without electricity and telephony who live within a one mile radius of established infrastructure. He explains the difficulties in making the systems sustainable, and considers what happens when the non-profit leaves.

Tad Hirsch from the MIT Media Lab has faced similar issues when solving cultural and societal issues with Asterisk-based solutions. His experience is that solutions to crises, such as the mass migration of the poor, will not be solved by governments but by communities that have been empowered to solve their own problems and address their own needs. According to Hirsch, connecting these communities is the most powerful way to help them to gain political influence.

From Odeo, Blaine Cook and Evan Henshaw-Plath consider the application of telephony systems to aid mobile and often clandestine groups. They developed Asterisk-based text-to-voice systems used in protests. These implementations provided RSS-fed announcements and calendars to participants in mobile events. In their experience, if you have critical information to provide to people, asking them to phone in to a central location can be the most effective way of distributing that data.

Bob Marsh has over thirty years' experience in consumer computing and wireless technology. He developed one of the very first home computers (the Processor Technology Sol-20, now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History) and was a founding member of the legendary Homebrew Computer Club. He co-founded and ran several start-ups in personal computing, wireless, and document management, two of which went through successful IPOs.

Marsh is an alumnus of the University of California at Berkeley and currently holds board-level positions in two other Bay Area nonprofits. At Inveneo, Marsh is responsible for hardware engineering and productization, as well as for managing accounting and finances.

Tad Hirsch is a researcher and Ph.D. candidate in the Smart Cities Group at MIT Media Lab, where his work focuses on the intersections between art, activism, and technology. He has worked with Intel's People and Practices Research Group, Motorola's Advanced Concepts Group, and the Interaction Design Studio at Carnegie Mellon University, and has several years' experience in the nonprofit sector.

Hirsch is also a frequent collaborator with the Institute for Applied Autonomy, an award-winning arts collective that exhibits throughout the United States and Europe. He publishes and lectures widely on a variety of topics concerning social aspects of technology, and has received several prestigious commissions and awards. Hirsch holds degrees from Vassar College, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Blaine Cook is a software programmer who has worked on projects at Odeo and twitter. Among other projects at Odeo, his work has been on an HTTP request testbed named FakeWeb and a Ruby implementation of the Jabber client named Jabber::Simple.

Evan 'Rabble' Henshaw-Plath has over ten years of experience working with internet businesses. He works on various LAMP based projects, which include Perl, Python, Java, PHP, MySQL, and Ruby. In 1998, Henshaw-Plath founded a calendaring service,, which was acquired by in 2000. He currently works at Odeo and lives in San Francisco, California.


This free podcast is from our Emerging Telephony Conference series.

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