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Answers On LUGs, Life, and Linux in Iraq 318

Posted by Roblimo
from the power-is-out-as-often-as-it's-on dept.
Adam Davidson is an American reporter who has been in Baghdad for many months, and in his 'spare time' helped start Iraq's first LUG. We sent him your questions last week, and he's replied in great detail, not only about the LUG itself but also with a rare 'geek's eye view' of daily life in Baghdad, and comments about how the Iraqi IT infrastructure (and laws controlling it) are being (re)built.

1) Computer density in Iraq - by MajorDick

What is the density per capita of PC type computers in Iraq ? I mean how many people even own computers ? What is the average computer available for use in Iraq ?

Adam:

It's impossible to get accurate statistics for pretty much anything in Iraq. But I've found that most middle-class families do have a computer. Middle-class in Iraq means the senior bread-winner makes anywhere from $100 to $600 per month. Many businesses have computers. And there are Internet cafes that have sprung up all over the country and are wildly popular. So, most people who want to are able to use a computer as often as they'd like. The computers available are surprisingly up-to-date. Sana'a Street, the main computer shopping area, has dozens and dozens of computer shops where you'll find almost everything you'd need: late-model P4 or AMD CPUs. Decent motherboards, even raid, good hard-drives, some decent soundcards, etc. Good printers from HP, etc. There are a lot of low-end brands as well as the well-known ones. You can get most of the gadgets you'd like: USB memory keys, digital cameras, portable harddrives, flat screens, whatever. And anything you want that's not in stock can be shipped in from Dubai in a week or so. The prices are far cheaper than in any other Arab country I've been to.

Most Iraqis have their desktop or tower computers assembled locally, from imported parts, of course. But you can buy full HP systems and a few other brands. It's also easy to buy pretty current laptops. A basic system--AMD, 256MB RAM, 40gig HD, is around $400. I just bought a fully loaded system for less than $1500.

I go to Sana'a street pretty often and it is always completely packed with people buying computer systems and parts. There is so much pent-up demand for so many things. Under the previous regime, import tariffs were so high that everything cost twice what it would elsewhere. Now, it's so cheap. And while many Iraqis are miserably poor, many others are benefiting from the current situation and are buying not only computers but their first washing machines, satellite TV systems, microwave ovens, and on and on.

2) Encryption - by onyxruby

For years strict encryption rules were an issue for Iraq. Has the US now stopped it's encryption restrictions for Iraq or do you simply get your crypto from elsewhere?

Adam:

I don't know too much about this. I'd check out Don Marti's coverage of the issue at LinuxJournal. But there is no regulation of software in Iraq now. There are tons of shops that burn you anything you want for about a buck a CD. I downloaded US-crypto here, because I'm a US citizen working for a US-based radio show and I figure I'm entitled. But I don't think Iraqis would even know what restrictions exist or have any idea how to follow them. That being said, security and crypto issues are not big concerns here. Most Iraqis just don't know much about them, since they're less than a year into using the internet freely. Under Saddam, of course, there was massive government restriction on what could be accessed and what crypto could be used.

3) What will the Iraqi government use? - by rueger

I'm presuming that any government computer infrastructure has been destroyed, and that they will be more or less starting from scratch.

Am I correct in assuming that Microsoft is in there big time locking down contracts to rebuild government computing sytems?

Adam:

In the massive looting after the war, pretty much the entire computer infrastructure of the government was stolen. I'm friends with the head of IT for the Ministry of Trade (one of the biggest users of computers in Iraq) and he told me that he had recently purchased 30,000 desktop workstations. Every single one was looted. So, yes, they're starting from scratch. My friend, the MoT IT guy, says he wants to deploy Linux. From what he knows, he thinks it's a much better fit for Iraq. It's cheap, adaptable, has good Arabic support. But he just doesn't know enough about Linux, since it was all but unknown in Iraq during Saddam's regime. I find that is typical--when I explain Linux to just about any Iraqi, they get it quickly and want it. Any company or ministry that had a server most likely used Unix and now wants to switch to Linux. And there is great interest in desktop Linux.

I know the guy who is Microsoft's sole agent in Iraq. He's actually a nice guy, lives down the block from me. He's having a very hard time. They are not as powerful here as you'd expect. First of all, since all software--including M$--costs a buck a CD, it's pretty much impossible to convince anyone that they should pay thousands of dollars for systems. Also, there is a general suspicion of large foreign corporations coming in and gobbling up Iraqi assets. So, people in the know are more excited about Linux. That being said, few Iraqis even know that there are operating systems other than M$. I've found exactly one Iraqi who has heard of Apple, and maybe a few dozen who've heard of Linux. So, just letting people know there is an alternative is a big issue.

The US occupational government, the Coalition Provisional Authority, uses M$ desktops and servers, as does the US-appointed Interim Governing Council. Most ministries are now using DOS systems. But the ministries are largely able to purchase things like hardware and software completely independently of the US. The Iraqi government has a budget this year of something around $12 billion and they choose how it's spent. The US government has made the decision not to alter the ministries too much. It's too much work in the short time before the handover of power to a sovereign government at the end of June. And the CPA is so overworked and out-of-touch with day-to-day issues at the ministries that I don't think they could force a M$ deployment even if they wanted to.

I do assume, though, that without any counter-pressure, the new Iraqi government will use M$ by default.

4) Can we help you in some way? - by herrvinny

Can we help you in some way? Old computers, networking equipment, webspace, etc?

Adam:

The Iraqi LUG has received several generous offers of support. I'd say that old computer equipment is not helpful, because so much new stuff is available so cheaply. They also don't need any more distributions. several people have sent distros, and I've become a one-man distro download center, since I have pretty fast DSL (believe it or not) and have been downloading the major distros and giving them to the iLug.

What the iLug needs most is:
1. Money.
2. Information.
3. Technical help.

The amazing iLug has some ambitious and exciting plans. They are planning to open a Linux Users Center in May. A generous ex-pat Iraqi living in London will donate space and some money to set up a place that can have a dozen or more Linux machines. It will be in a prominent location and will offer free or very cheap internet access, to lure people in. There will be trainings, tech support, meetings, to build up the base of knowledgeable Linux users. The space is centrally located and will, I'm certain, be extremely popular. Before the center is opened, the iLug is distributing one-page fact sheets in Arabic along with a CD of MandrakeMove to introduce Iraqis to Linux. They're handing these out on college campuses and on Sana'a street. I'm also hoping the iLug gets enough money so that its two directors, Ashraf Tariq and Hasanen Nawfal, can go on staff. These two guys are so impressive, so smart, ambitious, eager. But, like all Iraqis, they need to make a living. So, if there could be, say $500 a month for each of them, they could devote themselves full-time to Linux advocacy. That would be so wonderful. In their off hours--handing out distros and evangelizing--they've brought the membership of the iLug up from two to 70 in a couple months; it would be thrilling to see what they could do if they worked at it full time. The iLug also wants to create packages of information, along with copies of distributions, to hand out to IT decision makers at the ministries and private companies. So, a few bucks can go along way towards creating a well-informed, vigorous, and free computer environment in Iraq.

To donate, just go to the paypal link on the www.linux-iraq.org site.

Information is also very important. Don Marti, of LinuxJournal, has very generously arranged to have a lot of books sent over to Iraq. But many more are needed. They still don't have any kind of basic intro to Linux. They want to create a strong library for the iLug members and for the soon-to-be created Linux Center.

Technical help is also important. Having people the iLug can turn to for help would be wonderful. Since pretty much every Linux user is a newbie, it's not that easy to find someone who can troubleshoot. Also, as you can see, their website is pretty primitive. It would be great to have someone offer to design and build and host a more exciting one.

5) Domestic vs. Foreign Talent - by Evil Schmoo

Is the recent growth in your user group due to an influx of homegrown Iraqi talent, or are there more foreign users (ie, contractors) coming incountry?

Adam:

The iLug is almost exclusively home-grown talent. These are Iraqis who have never been outside of Iraq. It started with Hasanen Nawfal, this amazing computer programmer who somehow found out about Linux during Saddam's regime and got a copy of Red Hat (he now prefers Mandrake). This alone shows how curious and capable he is. It was all but impossible to surf the web freely or download much of anything on the crappy pre-war connections. He got his friend Ashraf involved after the war, and together they've been teaching others--mostly college and graduate students--about Linux. I haven't met any returning Iraqi exiles who know Linux or have gotten involved. The foreign contractors are locked away in secure bases and don't interact with the Iraqi population.

Iraq has very well-educated computer science population. Technocrats at the ministries and university professors and students. There are tons of people who know C++ and other languages. But they've been hampered by the lack of new information during sanctions and by the fact that Iraq had no software industry. There are plenty of people who designed computer control systems for power plants or databases and maintained servers. They're smart and experienced, but they have 13 years or so of catching up to do.

6) Legislative issues - by temojen

Given Iraq's clean-slate status:

How can the international community promote the freedom to use information technology for fair and lawful purposes (ie no DRM, free use of strong cryptography)?

Adam:

I think this is a major issue. It won't be answerable until there is a new Iraqi government (currently scheduled for June 30th at a former rogue state near you) and we are able to assess who is in charge, who is writing the laws, and how much influence the US will have in the process. My guess is the US will have a lot of influence and that copyright protection and it's scary cousins will have a major push. But, judging by the messy process of government-creation (see: salon.com article [Editor's note: Subscription or annoying ad required to view complete story]) it is possible the US will have to negotiate away some controls. I actually have no idea how to influence this process. The people who are currently rewriting Iraqi laws are US folks, many military lawyers who have never dealt with commercial or IP laws before, and they're so locked away in hidden offices in the CPA palace (formerly Saddam's Presidential Palace) that I don't know who they are or who is talking to them. I would say in reality that these issues are far down the list of US concerns right now. But with a new government and this huge market open for the first time, it's hard to imagine the US happily allowing the completely free system in place (there were no copyright protections for foreign companies under Saddam) to stand. I guess the usual: write your congressmen or something.

I think the best thing that can be done here is to inform the future Iraqi government about the dangers of certain kinds of laws. It would be difficult to find Iraqi decision-makers who completely (or at all) support the US presence here. The vast majority are extremely wary of the corporate colonialization of Iraq. So, I think this could be a real fight and there are no clear winners yet.

7) Infrastructure - by Golias

If one believes western media, Iraq is a nation under constant siege, in which the plumbing and electricity is absent for large swathes of the nation, and order is just barely maintained by the massive presense of unwelcome US troops. Also, many in the west believed that Iraq under Saddam was a very backwards and un-developed place (apart from military development), and one was not likely to find many computers at all, let alone connected ones.

So, as somebody who's actually there and actually knows what life is like for a techno-geek in today's Iraq, perhaps you could give us a detailed account about current network infrastructure, how easy or difficult it is to buy computer parts, how much Iraqi people (and Iraqi computer geeks in particular) use Internet technologies to connect to one another (e-mail, blogs, instant messaging, the web, etc.), what cultural attitudes in Iraq concerning the Internet, the global community, and the West, etc.

Most people in the United States (which is where most of the readers of /. come from) know very little about day-to-day life in Iraq. A detailed account would probably be very educational and broadening.

Adam:

Since I have to spend a lot of time convincing my mom that I'm actually a lot safer than she thinks, I know that the US impression of Iraq is way off. The truth is life here is quite normal. The streets are crowded (way too crowded, traffic is a nightmare), shops are filled with new consumer goods. Restaurants are thriving. Schools are open. People go to work, school, hang out with friends. You see the occasional American humvee or tank roll down the street, but other than that, it's hard to tell you're in a country under occupation and a guerilla war. Much of Baghdad seems like a normal, if poor, third world capital. Not too different from what I've seen in Latin America, say. There are wealthy areas, poor areas, kids playing, all that. A few months ago, I would hear a few explosions every night and a lot of gunfire. It became so common that we'd just ignore it. But these days, those things are so rare that we actually pay attention when they happen.

Middle class folks (who would be desperately poor by US standards), have decent homes, cars, most likely a computer. The middle-class and wealthy areas (like Jadiriya, Karada, Arasat, and Mansour) of Baghdad are extremely lively. Poorer people are pretty badly off. Unemployment is huge and underemployment is horrible. In the Thaura or Seven Palaces neighborhoods, people are lucky to make a buck a day and wouldn't be able to live without the monthly government food ration. They are unlikely to eat much meat--since that's not included in the ration. And they are certainly incapable of buying a computer or even affording the dollar-an-hour internet cafe fees.

There is a lot of fear in Iraq, but much more of bandits than of terrorists. Nighttime Iraq is pretty quiet. Only a few neighborhoods stay open after dark and the highways are all but empty. There is a lot of crime, car-jacking, murder, rape. The nights are bad and most ex-pats, like me, stay in the house. Wealthier Iraqis and ex-pats have armed guards 24-hours and never travel alone. Almost all Iraqis have a Kalachnikov rifle in the house to ward off burglars.

I can say that I've been in Iraq for most of the time since the war and I have never once felt afraid. I'm always cautious, probably a lot more tense than I am back home in New York, but I've never had any reason to fear for my life or safety.

The infrastructure stuff is a major hassle. Power is out as often as it's on. We, like many wealthy Iraqis, have a big generator, so we're able to stay on. But most middle class people can't. There is phone service in about half of Baghdad. The government ISP, Uruklink, is still operating and if you have a phone line you can get on line (assuming you have power). Uruklink does offer DSL service to a few neigborhoods. I have a 256K line that goes down a few hours a week and a few days a month. Yesterday we were down for most of the day because some guerillas cut the fiber-optic line. Most businesses and internet cafes opt for satellite internet connections. These vary in prices, but most likely cost a grand or so a month and are also not terribly reliable, unless you buy a very expensive system. Most Internet cafes have terribly slow connections and are down for hours a week for one reason or another.

But when they're up, the Internet cafes are packed. Pretty much every Iraqi I meet has an email address, even if they don't have a computer, usually through Hotmail or Yahoo. Iraqis love chat rooms and on-line dating services and porn, like everyone else. Male/female relations are so restrictive in Iraqi society. It's pretty much impossible for most single guys to spend any time alone with a woman who is not a relative. So, I think the titillation of the 'net is all too exciting. There is also a huge explosion in networked gaming. Those places are always packed with people playing games with folks from around the world. Some Iraqis even ignore the porn and actually try to figure out what the 'net is all about or learn about advances in their profession or hobby or whatever. I've found that middle-aged and older people are more likely to find the web strange and troubling and less likely to use it. Even more than in other countries, Iraq will soon have a massive generational digital-divide.

In short, Iraqis have access to everything, but it can be a huge pain. Of the iLug founders, Hasanen has a phone line and internet connection, Ashraf doesn't. Because of work and other pressures, Ashraf is able to access his email or read web-based Linux stuff only once or twice a week. Hasanen can do it every day. Not because Hasanen is richer or anything, he's just lucky enough to live in a neigborhood with a phone line. No average Iraqi has a fast-enough connection to download a distribution or even a large program. My DSL line costs a base of more than $200 a month (a fortune for most Iraqis) for a 128k connection and more than $600 a month since I boost the speed to 256k.

8) State Of Intellectual Capital - by RenegadeTempest

After living under totalitarian rule, what is the state of the country's computing talent? What disciplines have the strongest computing talent?

Adam:

Networking is probably most advanced. It's easy to find Iraqis who can build and maintain a complex network. There are plenty of people who know the basics of desktop computing. And more than a handful of decent programmers. But the coders don't have much experience, since they were limited to small custom projects. Also, the knowledge isn't too broad. Tons of people know C++, even more know visual basic, but few know any other languages.

9) IT jobs in Iraq - by Koyaanisqatsi

Out of curiosity, might as well ask someone who's in the field and there: what are the typical IT positions in Iraq? What skills are most sought after?

Adam:

Same as above. Networking is the main job here. there are lots and lots of new networks going up--all the ministries and private companies. There are a lot of computer salespeople with their own small shops. Unlike at say, CompUSA, the guy selling you your laser printer probably has a PhD in computer science. With all the money that's about to spent in Iraq (tens of billions this year), I'm sure there will be a lot more demand for network building and maintenance. It'll be a while before there's much of a home-grown programming industry, although there is and will be lots of demand for database and website creation. I can't imagine there will be anyone actually making computer parts any time soon.

10) Intellectual Property legislation - by Elektroschock

I read in other news that Iraq as under US occupation will get a copyright legislation written by a RIAA official. But nobody talks about software patents in Iraq. Will the United States pressure for a US style patent legislation in Iraq? I heard that patents are incompatible with islamic law. Some Muslims in my neighborhood were much in favour of free software because of religious reasons. Do the Iraqis LUG guys also believe that the GPL unlike proprietary software is according to Shariah law?

Adam:

There is certainly no problem between GPL and Shariah law. Ashraf, the co-founder of iLug, is from a very distinguished Shiite Muslim family. He's a sayed, a direct-descendant of the prophet Mohammed, and takes his religion very seriously. Actually, contrary to what I'd heard before the war and despite decades of secular dictatorial socialism, Iraq is an extremely religious place. Most people don't drink, no Muslim eats pork. As I wrote earlier, I think that it's way too early to tell what Iraqi property rights and patent laws will look like. I think it is best to assume the worst, but to support the iLug, which is the only group I know of in Iraq who advocates for free software. Things are so up in the air right now, all of this is so new (no Iraqi has had to think about intellectual property issues for one minute of their lives), that the decision-makers will be extremely sensitive to influence. It is an open book, but it will be closed soon, within months. Now is the time to support the iLug so they can be powerful advocates for good Iraqi laws.

Ashraf and Hasanen and I believe that good, open laws that avoid the hazards of absurd patents and DMCA style restriction would not only be good for Iraqi Linux geeks, but would be good for the country. This place is so poor, so behind recent advances in technology, but has such a base of strong, eager, excited computing talent. Only with the free and open ability to innovate and collaborate will Iraqi computer professionals and advocates be able to help make this place prosperous.

So, once again, go to www.linux-iraq.org and click on that Paypal button.

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Answers On LUGs, Life, and Linux in Iraq

Comments Filter:
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:02PM (#8159669) Homepage Journal
    I know the guy who is Microsoft's sole agent in Iraq. He's actually a nice guy, lives down the block from me. He's having a very hard time. They are not as powerful here as you'd expect. First of all, since all software--including M$--costs a buck a CD, it's pretty much impossible to convince anyone that they should pay thousands of dollars for systems. Also, there is a general suspicion of large foreign corporations coming in and gobbling up Iraqi assets. So, people in the know are more excited about Linux. That being said, few Iraqis even know that there are operating systems other than M$. I've found exactly one Iraqi who has heard of Apple, and maybe a few dozen who've heard of Linux. So, just letting people know there is an alternative is a big issue.

    Microsoft could take a page from Apple, here. Give away -- yes, give away software and training. Once Iraqis are dependent upon it then the can turn the screws.

    How do Linux advocates combat this? Well, Linux and lots of the software that runs on it is also free, so training more critical. Got nothing to do over the summer and don't mind risking your life to put your money where your mouth is? Go to Iraq and teach people how to implement and use Linux.

    I'm curious how long before this Microsoft guy figures the game out.

    • by God Takeru (409424) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:16PM (#8159784) Homepage
      That's one way to guarantee your job security in a shaky market-- be the guy who volunteers to go to Iraq! Hell, most of the US soldiers I know aren't exactly volunteering for that position.

      Of course, make sure you don't teach the Iraqis -too- well, or they might start outsourcing jobs there, too ;)
      • by ackthpt (218170) * on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:35PM (#8159955) Homepage Journal
        Of course, make sure you don't teach the Iraqis -too- well, or they might start outsourcing jobs there, too ;)

        I see the wink emoticon, but have you considered the alternative? A brain-drain for Iraq? If you read the article you'd see that Iraq has a lot of pretty intelligent C++ and vb programmers, plus lots of Unix experience. Consider that these very people may elect to leave Iraq for India, or other parts, to make more money than they can in Iraq. A brain-drain would be disasterous for Iraq, to say nothing of what it would mean for iLug.

        • by God Takeru (409424) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:49PM (#8160076) Homepage
          To be honest, I don't think that's too likely. For one, India is already overrun with people who have skills in areas like C++ and Visual Basic (see the cover article in this month's issue of Wired if you don't believe me)-- and according to the above interview, these are the only prevalent languages among Iraqi programmers.

          If you've been following the issues going on with Indian tech jobs taken from American IT workers, you'd see that both the Indian firms hiring these folks and the government of India are trying to keep these Americans from coming over to India and reclaiming positions. If they're keeping out the people who used to have these jobs, what's the likelihood they're going to accept in a bunch of Iraqis to do it?

          The balance of disaster for the US IT industry (which makes up a large part of the now failing American economy) vs. disaster for the new Iraqi nation may be a delicate one in the future, it's true, but I don't expect a mass exodus from Iraq by the intellectual population if they don't get a bunch of outsourcing contracts.
          • Don't just think of the USA (though there's a strong predisposition to that topic.) Other gulf states, Europe, South Africa, South America, Canada and China are logical desitinations beside the USA. If they could live well and scrape together enough to send home a few hundred bucks home each month you bet they'll take it.

            Back in the late 70's there were a lot of middle eastern students in US schools. When the iranian revolution happened quite a few went home, but many stayed. I know a few who have pros

      • I would go. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by torpor (458)
        As a geek with a passion for history, I'd be very happy to add Iraq to the roster of places to have worked.

        Remember, a Free Iraq is a Rich Iraq, and to me that means "new tech market in interesting areas".
    • Same thought occurred to me. Anybody who has paid attention to my other posts knows that I'm a bitter grad student in CS who despises the American job market. If there was just a tiny bit of organization over there saying, "Pay for your plane ticket, we've got a room you can stay in, we'll feed you, you just volunteer to work 50 hours a week promoting linux," I would be there by the second week of May (when this semester is over.)

      I'm not making any significant money here in the states and I'd leap at the

  • by strictnein (318940) <strictfoo-slashdot.yahoo@com> on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:07PM (#8159709) Homepage Journal
    Are their prices listed on pricewatch?

    In all seriousness though, it's nice to have a little bit different viewpoint of life in Baghdad. I really thought that everyone must be staying home all day long, afraid to leave their homes, given the way the US media reports the conditions there.
    • by American AC in Paris (230456) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:37PM (#8159972) Homepage
      In all seriousness though, it's nice to have a little bit different viewpoint of life in Baghdad. I really thought that everyone must be staying home all day long, afraid to leave their homes, given the way the US media reports the conditions there.

      ...Iraq may not be the a smouldering pit of of doom and gloom, but it sure as heck ain't a fun place to be, either. Below is an excerpt from Baghdad Burning, an Iraqi blog:

      Sometimes, sleep just seems like a waste of time and electricity. For example, the day before yesterday, our area had no electricity almost the whole day. Friday is our 'laundry day' so it was doubly frustrating. We stood around looking at the pile of clothes that needed washing. My mother deliberated washing them by hand but I convinced her it would be a bad idea- the water was cold, the weather was miserable and the clothes wouldn't even feel clean. We waited all day for the electricity and once or twice, it flashed on for all of 20 minutes. Finally, at 12 p.m., my mother stated, "Tomorrow, if there's no electricity, we'll wash them by hand. That's that." [blogspot.com]

      ...it's dated January 26, 2004.

      This individual has both a computer -and- an internet connection, yet their daily life is still at the mercy of the highly unreliable power grid. It may not be hell on earth, but it's a far cry from anything even remotely pleasant...

      • by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Monday February 02, 2004 @01:01PM (#8160200)
        I had similar experiences in Latin America and even New York.

        Fact is, in most of the world, electricity isn't reliable. I'm actually shocked that in a place as chaotic as Iraq that there is a regular, if not unreliable power grid.

        Maintaining a robust power grid is a non-trivial thing, even in a modern country. In a place like Iraq, after 15 years of blockade and a war & occupation, it seems like things are going quite well.

        • I had similar experiences in Latin America and even New York.

          Fact is, in most of the world, electricity isn't reliable. I'm actually shocked that in a place as chaotic as Iraq that there is a regular, if not unreliable power grid.

          Yes, a reliable power grid is one helluva beast to keep running, and I'm quite aware that the powers-that-be have been working heavy-duty overtime to fix it. I'm not suggesting that the grid should be a reliably back up and running by now; I'll be surprised if the job is 'don

      • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday February 02, 2004 @01:58PM (#8160969) Homepage Journal

        My mother deliberated washing them by hand but I convinced her it would be a bad idea- the water was cold, the weather was miserable and the clothes wouldn't even feel clean.

        This is off-topic and irrelevant to the point, but still I think people might be interested in knowing that you actually don't need a washing machine to get your clothes clean. In fact, you can get your clothes far cleaner when hand-washing them than any machine can, and you can even do it with cold water.

        I washed my clothes by hand every week for two years when I lived in southern Mexico, and I quickly discovered that clothes can be gotten *very* clean that way, even in cold water (we never used hot water -- most of the ten or so apartments I lived in didn't have any way to heat water at all). Growing up in the U.S., with machine-washed clothing, I always thought that it was just inevitable that white clothes gradually become slightly gray over time, but with good hand washing technique (not hard to learn) I found I could make my white shirts stay perfectly snow-white forever. The biggest problem I found with hand-washing was that it tended to wear the clothing out more quickly, because it got cleaned more vigorously. Over time the material would get perceptibly thinner.

        For years after returning home from Mexico I'd occasionally get irritated with my dingy clothes and resort to washing them by hand to get them clean. I even bought a very expensive washing machine, hoping that it would do a better job -- it did, but not much better. Now, of course, I've fully assimilated back into the consumerist American culture, so when my clothes get dingy I donate them to Goodwill and buy new ones.

        One thing I never did like was line-dried clothes -- machine tumble drying with fabric softeners makes the fabric soft, whereas drying them on the line makes them stiff. That's a matter of personal taste, though. My wife actually installed a clothesline in our back yard last year and uses it in preference to her fancy computerized dryer because she likes the "crisp feel and summery scent" (her words) of line-dried clothes, especially bedsheets. I don't like my sheets to crackle, but sometimes you have to compromise and, well, of all the times in the day that your wife can be mildly annoyed with you, bedtime is a particularly bad one...

    • Are their prices listed on pricewatch?

      In all seriousness though, it's nice to have a little bit different viewpoint of life in Baghdad. I really thought that everyone must be staying home all day long, afraid to leave their homes, given the way the US media reports the conditions there.

      Doubtfully they're exporting, yet, as most of this stuff is coming from Taiwan, through Dubai. If you wanted to actually order from some shop on Sana'a Street you'd probably pay a ton in postage, get nailed with import

  • by somethinghollow (530478) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:07PM (#8159711) Homepage Journal
    He called the Iraqi Linux Users Group "iLug." Don't tell Apple.
  • Censorship? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aynrandfan (687181) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:10PM (#8159726)
    I am wondering how controlled their access is to the web after Saddam's fall.

    What sort of censorship still goes on there, if any?

    • Re:Censorship? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WildBeast (189336)
      I don't think they had time yet to put any internet law. It's not as if that's the priority.
    • Re:Censorship? (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Stonent1 (594886)
      I am wondering how controlled their access is to the web after Saddam's fall.

      I suspect some people are seeing what a caucasian female looks like naked for the very first time.
    • Re:Censorship? (Score:3, Informative)

      by lecca (84194)
      If you read his answers, its pretty clear they have free access to the internet right now.
  • M$ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stingr (701739) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:11PM (#8159740)
    "That being said, few Iraqis even know that there are operating systems other than M$."

    Maybe they're not as far behind the times as we thought. I mean if the users I speak to are any indication, then about two thirds of the American public think that their operating system is Office 98.
    • then about two thirds of the American public think that their operating system is Office 98

      2/3 of the US uses Macs?

      Try Office 97 or 2000.
    • My favorite is when a user tells me they are running windows 2000....when I get the pc, it is of course windows me.

  • Asinine... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nphinit (36616)
    It's questions like these that make me ashamed to be a "geek".

    So, you are living in a war-torn country struggling to piece together a primitive demacracy of sorts--tell me, how much are the inkjet cartridges there? Do you, as a techno-geek, get picked on like you do back here?

    By the way, he isn't an "expat" just because he's an American reporter in Bagdad.

  • by bc90021 (43730) * <bc90021.bc90021@net> on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:15PM (#8159767) Homepage
    The article mentions that the iLug needs books... however, it does not mention where we can send them (or even if we can!). I have a ton of old Linux books that I would happily send (at my expense, though probably only one or two a month), but how do we go about doing that?
    • by cnkeller (181482) <(cnkeller) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday February 02, 2004 @01:00PM (#8160183) Homepage
      I have a ton of old Linux books that I would happily send

      I applaud your sentiment, but I have to think of what the poster mentioned in his repsonse about old hardware. Let's face it, linux is a moving target. If the books are old to you, they're old to someone else as well. I realize that it's not exactly true, /bin/ls will always be /bin/ls, but hopefully you get my meaning. It souned they like were fairly current on being able to grab ISO's, etc. I would think the you'd be better off just donating your money and perhaps some of your time. Then again, if you were really intersted in helping and could spare $50, I'm sure they'd appreciate some new tech books as well...

      • Send cash! (Score:3, Informative)

        by joeface (182928)
        Money is what they need most. I just used PayPal to send twenty bucks. Just send some cash. Every penny helps, and these folks need new gear more than I do.
  • by fnord123 (748158) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:16PM (#8159776)
    I wonder what the country-wide network infrastructure is like? Having guerillas cut the fiber line (as mentioned in the article) in Baghdad doesn't sound promising.

    Given that many middle class families have generators but land lines are flaky (and DSL coverage sounds pretty low), maybe the iLUG should look into setting up an 802.11b community network?

    Pringles cans can be used for directional attenae, generator power to support the nodes, Linux is a good OS to build it on, seems like it would be a nice fit to me!

    • What would this community network connect to? DSL lines cost a fortune for relatively low bandwidth, and are only available in limited areas.
      • The community network connects to each other in a mesh, with those few people who have the DSL lines serving as the uplink to the Internet - or perhaps even the ISP might consider offering wireless Internet access.

        There is a university project on the east coast of the USA (can't remember which U :( )that has used omnidirectional antennae + 802.11b nics to create a mesh that works precisely in this fashion, forwarding packets across each node until they hit a node connected to the Internet.

        • I'm well aware of how it could work. The iLUG crew is poor, there is only one ISP, and bandwidth is expensive. Now, once again, why is this a good idea at this time?
          • Step 1: Adam Davidston (sp), who has DSL gets a 802.11b ap. Maybe sent to him by a generous slashdotter.

            Step 2: Ashraf Tariq and Hasanen Nawfal get 802.11 NICs and external antennae components, perhaps via the same method.

            Step 3: All three buy Pringles cans and enjoy tasty chips while browsing consume.net website and other community wireless websites.

            Step 4: Using pringles+components+NICs+Linux, beginning of a community wireless network is setup.

            Step 5: Repeat the above, using bandwidth controls built i

    • by Kenja (541830) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:29PM (#8159895)
      "Pringles cans can be used for directional attenae, generator power to support the nodes, Linux is a good OS to build it on, seems like it would be a nice fit to me!"

      Right now I think most families over there would rather have the Pringles then the can.

    • yeah, and where are we going to find a nation full of geek slobs to consume that many pringles? oh wait... Slashdot community to the rescue!
  • Uruklink? (Score:5, Funny)

    by TomatoMan (93630) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:16PM (#8159788) Homepage Journal
    Uruklink does offer DSL service to a few neigborhoods. I have a 256K line that goes down a few hours a week and a few days a month

    Does this mean you have an Uruk-Hai-speed connection?

    Sorry, truly sorry. Don't know what came over me. Move along.
  • Linux not in Iraq (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:23PM (#8159830)
    I can tell you about Linux not in Iraq and how Microsoft sucks. I was in Mosul for 6 months attached to the 101st. AO Glory had a mini-mall where they brought in locals to provide various foods and services for us. The Haji internet cost $2/hr but service was terrible. Mostly it was due to their running a Microsoft WinProxy. The haji didn't know about Linux and we couldn't communicate well enough for me to get him to set it up. So we put up with him having to restart the MS server every couple of hours for the two dozen computers proxied through it.

    Coming home next month... whee!
    • Thank you. (Score:3, Insightful)

      I just wanted to say thanks for going over there.
      Unlike some ppl on slashdot.org I am forever indebited to you for your sacrafice to your country.
      While your were under mortar attack, and risking your life for your country I was going to college.
      Thanks again!
      • Re:Thank you. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dreamchaser (49529) on Monday February 02, 2004 @02:44PM (#8161646) Homepage Journal
        My brother is with the 101st and just got home last week. He was able to get access via an Internet Cafe near the oil refinery he was stationed at, especially after he rebuilt their LAN for them (free access for him from then on!)

        Thank you, thank you all for what you have done and what you'll be asked to do in the future. As a couple of others have said, not all of slashdot is left leaning.
        • by rbird76 (688731) on Monday February 02, 2004 @04:46PM (#8163215)
          just not the reasons given for their presence.

          Saddam gone is probably a good outcome for Iraq and the world so long as a more stable and democratic government replaces him. Perhaps he prevented something worse from happening, although considering what Saddam and his government became, that is hard to imagine. Saddam's loss is likely to be his people's gain.

          Part of my objection to the war is and was tied to my political feelings without rational justification. Part of them, however, is that the reasons given either applied better to other countries (support for terrorism, despotic ruler = Sudan, previous residence of OBL, or NK) or were patently false (or a small amount of evidence was greatly overstated - WMD claims). This is compounded by GWB's previous opinion on WJC's "nation building" - after previous administrations, it would be nice to hope that one's words mean something.

          This is somewhat OT - just that I think most of the left-leaning people here appreciate the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and what they are trying to do. The soldiers go because it's a job they can do and because they believe the job to be right (else they wouldn't have chosen to join the military). Our job as a nation is to make sure that what we send them to do is right or as close as we can figure out.
          • It's nice to hear an honest, levelheaded opinion on slashdot. It's funny - I felt almost the exactly the same way before the war and came to the opposite conclusion. I knew (and so did all of the conservatives I talked to) that what the President was saying was mostly political spin. We weren't going to war to liberate the people of Iraq, or because the WMD were a real threat, or because there were substantial links with terrorism. But at the same time the "blood for oil" motivations that the liberals were
  • M$? M$? M$? (Score:5, Funny)

    by ektor (113899) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:24PM (#8159847)
    This Penny Arcade strip [penny-arcade.com] is very apropos.
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:26PM (#8159866) Homepage
    What the iLug needs most is:
    1. Money.
    2. Information.
    3. Technical help.

    Free software, hackers, and Iraq, all wrapped up into the same organization? Danger! Danger! Potential terrorist organization detected!

    Seems only a few weeks ago we would have run the risk of getting our asses detained for violationg the Patriot Act [slashdot.org]. Now that this part of the Patriot Act has been ruled unconstitutional, though, we're safe to help these guys out.

    <voiceover style="announcer:campy-1950's-sci-fi;"> or are we? </voiceover>

  • by TrollBridge (550878) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:26PM (#8159867) Homepage Journal
    "That being said, few Iraqis even know that there are operating systems other than M$."

    Am I the only one here who thinks the not-so-clever-anymore substitution of "S" for "$" is the kind of thing one would expect from a know-it-all teenager, and not someone with relatively strong associations with the rebuilding of a nation's IT infrastructure?

    • by Stiletto (12066) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:40PM (#8159991)
      ...as opposed to the immaturity of a guy calling himself "TrollBridge" and expecting to be taken seriously on slashdot? :-)
    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) * on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:42PM (#8160019)
      Am I the only one here who thinks the not-so-clever-anymore substitution of "S" for "$" is the kind of thing one would expect from a know-it-all teenager, and not someone with relatively strong associations with the rebuilding of a nation's IT infrastructure?

      No, you're not alone. Based upon what I know and have seen of the "new Western pioneers" in Iraq I had a certain picture of the interviewee in my mind, and then when I read the "M$" quote I immediately shaved off about 20 years from my mental profile.

      Does Adam's mom know he's out of the country?
      • by Listen Up (107011) on Monday February 02, 2004 @04:00PM (#8162667)
        No, I did not think this at all. In the efforts to achieve proper reception a writer will generally adjust his writing style to match the interests of his audience. I am certainly not in my teens nor early twenties, but I do find it entertaining to write M$, depending on my audience and personal affiliation with them.

        He also mentioned in his write-up about the growing and soon to be exploding cultural gap between young, technically competent future in Iraq and the older, technically competent/incompetent. The software industry problems of today are because of the men and women in their 40's and 50's and older who applied an old business model to a new market with currently disasterous results (look at our current economic problems). I would say that starting a fresh technical revolution/culture in Iraq with the young Iraqi people who have the opporunity to use the mistakes of the past as lessons for the future is absolutely fantastic. Even if the use of the word Microsoft is referred to as M$ during technical or otherwise untechnical writing.
    • When I was 15 I called Microsoft Micro$oft. This was a sort of followup to calling Compuserve Compu$erve, which is a long and time-honored tradition. Why is Micro$oft/M$ any different? The only difference here is that Compuserve was an expensive service, and Microsoft mostly has the $ in their name because of their domination over the software market. However, I wouldn't say their software is inexpensive either, especially given the enormous hassle of owning it - hassle = time = money.

      I am now 26. I still

      • I am 50, and I call it Micro$oft for much the same reason that the characters in Harry Potter books refer to "you know who".

        Another reason I use the abbreviation M$ is to keep it from being confused with multiple sclerosis (MS). Of course, both M$ and MS are terrible diseases, but past that, MS (the real disease) is no joke.

        To the point: If you want to bash Adam for something, find something substantive instead of looking for "immaturity" in the abbreviations he uses. I personally think what he's doing

        • "I am 50, and I call it Micro$oft for much the same reason that the characters in Harry Potter books refer to 'you know who'."

          So you model your intellectual communication style after ficticious 13-year-olds? I think you've made my point for me.

  • by Mozz Alimoz (245834) on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:30PM (#8159907)
    These two quotes from Adam Davidson struck me:
    First of all, since all software--including M$--costs a buck a CD, it's pretty much impossible to convince anyone that they should pay thousands of dollars for systems.
    And later in question 5
    Iraq has very well-educated computer science population. Technocrats at the ministries and university professors and students. There are tons of people who know C++ and other languages. But they've been hampered by the lack of new information during sanctions and by the fact that Iraq had no software industry. There are plenty of people who designed computer control systems for power plants or databases and maintained servers. They're smart and experienced, but they have 13 years or so of catching up to do.
    It's a bit hard to establish a software industry when you don't pay the programmers. But I guess now they're hoping to sell the software to nations that do respect intellectual property? BTW, I'm not accusing individual Iraqis of doing anything that I wouldn't do in their situation. This is just an observation.
  • Wireless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sleepingsquirrel (587025) * <Greg,Buchholz&sleepingsquirrel,org> on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:31PM (#8159913) Homepage Journal
    Now we need to do a follow-up question and answer session. Here's my question: Since hardware is apparently cheap and the wired infrastructure is so bad, are Iraqi's using 802.11 for their networking? Seems like VoIP over wireless might also be a popular option.
  • Some Iraqis even ignore the porn and actually try to figure out what the 'net is all about

    Oh you ignoramus!

  • Political Tin Ear (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bstadil (7110)
    they're so locked away in hidden offices in the CPA palace (formerly Saddam's Presidential Palace)

    Does this come across as a smart PR move? I am sure the office space is really nice and all, but political tone deaf.

    I thought Chalabi was a pretty smart fellow (Dishonest but smart) he snookered the Bush administration to go to war.

    Where do you think the Info spouted by Rumsfeld " We know precisely where the WMD's are hidden" came from?

  • How to send books (Score:5, Informative)

    by ajd (199697) <adam@ad[ ]avidson.com ['amd' in gap]> on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:39PM (#8159987)
    You can send books a few ways. It's best just to email me at adavidson@marketplace.org and I'll send you the address. Please let me know what books you'd like to send.
  • consume.net (Score:4, Informative)

    by david.given (6740) <dgNO@SPAMcowlark.com> on Monday February 02, 2004 @12:40PM (#8159994) Homepage Journal
    ...sounds perfect for them.

    They've got the skills, they've got cheap consumer hardware, they've got bugger all infrastructure. Like a lot of developing countries, if you want decent wide-area networking it could well be easier to skip the copper stage completely and move on to radio.

    (consume.net [consume.net], if you don't know, is a project to create ad-hoc WANs using 802.11 hardware on cheap PCs. Each node acts as a router for all the other nodes; packets get passed from one node to the next, with automatic route discovery and all that. It's very cool.)

    What's more, given the state of their government and regulatory authorities, it'd probably be quite easy to grandfather in some nice high signal strength limits. At the moment, noone cares how strong your transmitter is. But it'll be regulated eventually, and once there's a decent amount of infrastructure running at 5W a node, it'll be politically infeasible to order it all to be torn down.

    • Re:consume.net (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Paladine97 (467512)
      Sounds interesting, but what good would it do with an unstable power source?

      It sounds to me like power drops pretty randomly in a large majority of areas. How well could consume.net handle the mass changes to the node infrastructure?
  • Nice turnaround time, especially considering where he's located. One week to receive and answer the questions is pretty nice. I wonder if we'll ever get to see the answers to the Bruce Perens interview [slashdot.org] from July 28?
  • by infolib (618234) on Monday February 02, 2004 @01:13PM (#8160323)
    ...some guerillas cut the fiber-optic line...
  • The truth is life here is quite normal. The streets are crowded (way too crowded, traffic is a nightmare), shops are filled with new consumer goods. Restaurants are thriving. Schools are open. People go to work, school, hang out with friends. You see the occasional American humvee or tank roll down the street, but other than that, it's hard to tell you're in a country under occupation and a guerilla war. Much of Baghdad seems like a normal, if poor, third world capital. Not too different from what I've seen
    • Fabulous!
      This is what I was thinking the whole time.
      So many people are upset with what we are doing, but every time I read an insiders account, I am reminded why I support the war and thank President Bush for protecting us, helping out the Iraqi citizens, and pushing for freedom in the face of liberalism.
  • I just wanted to say that this interview is one of the most interesting I've read in a while.

    I'm going to make a donation right now of whatever I can... I hope others will too - even a small amount.

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