An Open Letter To The Humanitarian Technology Community

by Jon Thompson on August 12, 2009

Dear Humanitarian Technology Friends-

Please stop what you are doing and start worrying about bandwidth. If you really want to save lives this is the ONLY thing that matters. This is not a stab at your egos or your good efforts rather it is an attempt at redirection of an industry that has been missing the point for quite some time.

First of all, don’t have any more conferences because clearly they don’t help.  Don’t meet and discuss things either at a big giant conference in some drab, over-priced hotel in San Jose or as a little tiny group of committed volunteers in the middle of friggin nowhere.  Why? Because 1) the people who really need to be at the big conferences will never be able to afford the price tag and 2) if there are only five of you sitting around a table in the middle of nowhere the only thing the rest of us get are Flickr or TwitPic images – not helpful! Talking is clearly just a waste of time because we have been doing it forever and we are not one step closer to tackling the real issue – bandwidth. So, enough with the conferences.

Camps fall into this category. Do not camp unless it is with your family and don’t take any laptops. Camps are these weird things that geeks do because I don’t think their father’s took them on real camping trips when they were kids and now that’s why they’re geeks. If you really need to satiate that urge drop me a line and I will find a nice camp spot for you in a remote village where it is 130F in the day and not much cooler at night, your sleep is punctuated by automatic weapon gunfire and the bandwidth really really sucks.  Then you will get an idea why your camps are missing the point and why IT IS ALL ABOUT THE BANDWIDTH.

Enough with the maps. The only person and group that is exempt from this is Mikel Maron and OSM. Everyone else just please stop with the friggin maps.  We got more maps than we know what to do with and NO ONE READS THEM. Seriously, are you really going to get in a car anywhere in the developing world and tell the driver where YOU think HE/SHE should go? No. Never. You won’t. Because if you do odds are you are going to get both of you killed and odds are the driver is going to tell you to go stuff yourself. So, leave the maps at home and stop trying so hard. They are really really pretty but they are 99% of the time JUST EYE CANDY. And for all you map folks that have whiz bang mapping tools but you can’t quite figure out what they are good for – please join the bandwidth group.

Predicting disasters. Don’t try. It ain’t worth it because you probably won’t get it right. That’s why they are disasters. If we could see the future then they wouldn’t turn into disasters. You can’t predict an earthquake (I know because I grew up in San Francisco and NO ONE back home ever correctly predicted and earthquake) and so you cannot predict a tsunami. You can WARN against a tsunami after the earthquake has already happened, hence the new alert system in Aceh, but don’t waste money and time trying to read tea leaves. Swine Flu wasn’t even predicted by a tiny little outfit in Redmond, WA while everyone else seemed to miss it. All Versatect did was monitor the news and make some really good guesses. And, when the event happens and you didn’t predict it don’t try to make up for it my alerting us all because Twitter will have beaten you to it. (Please see my previous post.)

Consortiums. Nope, don’t start one. The conferences are nice but again the question is: What have you done for me lately? Consortiums are reasons to have conferences (see above) and a good way to blow donor cash. Disband, give back the awards and call it a day. And, when you really think you’ve come up with a good reason to stay together you should still just pack it in because hotel donuts shouldn’t cost that much.

Boxes with wires and crap hanging out of them that connect everyone to everything. These are a joke and an engineer’s waste of your corporate donors money. No box with wires sticking out of it that looks like something from Short Circuit and for which there are no spare parts has ever saved a life.  If for some reason one of these contraptions was involved with saving someone’s life it was just pure dumb luck that it was plugged in at the time and it still had nothing to do with saving someone’s life. Save the parts for a repairing your VCR or the Coke machine in the hall but do not ever bother to build another ridiculous box that weighs 200lbs, eats power and makes the claim that it will replace my $70 Nokia because it won’t.

Lastly, DO NOT TRY TO MAKE EVERYONE TALK TO EVERYONE ELSE BECAUSE NOBODY WANTS TO TALK TO ANYONE ELSE. You have never ever understood that no one is going to tell everyone else everything they know and they sure as hell are not going to do it in the public domain and on someone else’s server. It will never happen. There is a slim chance that people will collaborate but that is a very tricky fix that I will talk about later but suffice to say it has nothing to do with what you are working on. Please understand that aid workers collaborate in very very specific ways and those ways do not resemble a networked love-in! Collaboration usually takes place over beer/coffee between people that know and trust each other and it happens when you are not in the room. That is the way it has been happening since I can remember when and your lines of code aren’t ever going to change that fact.  Yes, yes, it would be so nice if it did but it won’t and it can’t so stop trying and join the bandwidth team.

The bandwidth team is the only one that really matters and it is the only one that everybody ignores because they didn’t friggin invent it and they cannot be innovators and ‘mavericks’. Yep, mavericks. I cared so much about it I actually started my very own NGO to try and fix it. Alas, reality caught up with me and I realized that if the mavericks don’t care about bandwidth the donors certainly won’t. But we did some good work and had a good time and significantly improved the BANDWIDTH situation for aid teams in the field. When was the last time you diddled with someone’s bandwidth?

At this point the only thing that matters is a squid caching proxy and probably the AdBlock Plus plugin for Firefox.  You want to save the world? There you go. Just go install a squid caching proxy in every field office and make them use Firefox with AdBlock Plus and you’ll be 99% of the way there. It is not rocket science, it does not cost the sort of money you are used to blowing and the stuff has been around so long that you know it works.  On the other hand the crackpot stuff that you jokers dream up is sure to break and not do anyone any good.

So, will someone please go call Duane Wessels in Boulder, Colorado and get him down out of the mountains to help build out his creation (Squid) into something that is actually useful? I am sure he would be perfectly happy if you bought him breakfast at a cafe down the street from your house and then funded his work building a squid box. And, if he doesn’t want to do it at least get his blessing. (Nope. Stop. No conferences. Stop planning.)

There, I gave you the secret sauce – the squid box. It is really just a box with NO WIRES sticking out of it and the only thing it does is serve as a proxy for a LAN. On one side you have an Ethernet port and on the other side you have an Ethernet port and a little green light so that you know the thing is working. The person who carries it to the site and installs it simply takes the line from the VSAT and plugs it in one side and the line from the router and plugs it in the other side. I am sure someone can figure out how to power it via the Ethernet line and if you really need to admin it I guess you could if you felt like it.

Ultimately, there should be no need to admin the box and it should just work plain and simple.  I know, I know, all the camp geeks are now giggling and saying ‘That’s not how it works’ but I bet if they put down their overpriced conference food and stopped flying all over the friggin place wasting money and spewing carbon they could probably figure out a way to make it work. I mean the stuff has been around forever so it cannot be THAT hard to figure out. At least I think if all those ‘mavericks’ out there bothered to swallow that bitter pill and faced the fact that they are probably working on a dead end project they might just decide that the path of least resistance is the best one.

Donors need to wake up and figure out that the solution has been right in front of them and will someone please tell Google to stop with the ads? They are seriously trashing all those low bandwidth/high latency networks that aid agencies rely on day in and day out. There sure ain’t no reason for them to be giving away dollars when they are just gumming up the system.

Ok, mavericks, the comment section is open.  Have at it.



UPDATE: The above was written at 2am.  6hrs later and I am back to my friendly old self. Yes, of course you all are doing important work and a lot (some) of what you are doing is totally relevant and worthwhile. Please keep it up.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Map Kibera - The First Useful Humanitarian (Tech) Thing To Be Done In A While
November 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm
jra’s thoughts › A rate-limiting HTTP proxy in Go
February 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Keizer August 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I am not a maverick, nor a geek (at least, not in the sense that you seem to use the word), but can I comment nevertheless? Please?

Thanks, Jon, I know you are pretty laid-back about these things.

Two points to make:
1. Not everything is about bandwidth. Yes, it is important, but not the end-all and be-all. You might be overstating your case a bit here. Let me re-phrase that: you are overstating your case here, but with good reasons.
2. Want to know an even better way to work on bandwidth than even Squid? Have a look at this version of Aid Worker Daily, courtesy of loband. Now that is what I call making a difference.

Jon Thompson August 12, 2009 at 10:54 pm

You are absolutely right. I am totally overstating my case. I guess that’s why we should never write and post at 2am.
Clearly bandwidth is one little component of the big system but, as you can see, I think it is a critical one and yes, there are heroes, and Aptivate is clearly one of them. Without them there would be no sanity.
Many thanks,

Mikel Maron August 13, 2009 at 8:01 am

Appreciate the exemption, but I will still carefully heed your critique! Keep up the 2am rants, now that Paul Currion has left the field, reality checks are in demand.

Bandwidth was certainly one of the major issues at the Camp Roberts exercises last week .. all the maps were being generated locally, and we focused on very lightweight data collection methods like SMS and paper. I can’t say that we aren’t still just playing around, but hopefully this kind of Camp gets us closer to actual use in practice.

rabble August 13, 2009 at 9:22 am

So why not put money in to a low cost high throughput vsat satellite which covers africa. That’s the problem in africa, bandwidth’s insanely expensive.

The problem is, a satellite is also insanely expensive. A bunch of geeks at a camp can’t afford a satellite. And it’s not a kind of funding which can be counted as being towards a project.

Jon Thompson August 13, 2009 at 2:01 pm


Thanks but I don’t think Paul is gone I think he is just hiding. My guess is he’ll pull a Bono and at just the right moment, when the chanting has reached a crescendo, he’ll appear alone in the spotlight for his encore performance. 😉 I’ll try to be as good at starting fights as Paul is but those are some big shoes to fill.

Um, I noticed the word ‘camp’ in your comment. This discussion might have to come to a screeching halt right here and now. I think your referring to the proper name ‘Camp Roberts’ so we’ll call it good.

I dug through and followed all the links. Definitely some very cool stuff and I especially like the UAV’s. I still think they are either going to get shot down or the operator will get his/her ass thrown in jail for spying. Hopefully, they’ll be able to swing a deal with a local warlord and give him an aerial view of his compound so his compadres leave the drone alone. Nothing like being mistaken for the military!

Walking Papers looks very cool and I like the idea that we’re back to paper and pencil. Bandwidth was an issue from the camp out to the world or for data collection around the camp back to HQ? Sounds like your own GSM/WiFi is the way to go. The folks at the Intel Research Lab at Berkeley should be able to help with that. Their set-ups are perfect for what you are doing.



Jon Thompson August 13, 2009 at 2:10 pm


I thought that was Google’s plan with O3b but I haven’t heard anything since last year. I noticed a lot of chatter about SEACOM lighting up their fiber in East Africa but also heard the west African line was damaged. After that it is all GSM as you are right that satellite is insanely expensive.

I think I am more in the ‘use your bandwidth wisely’ camp and think that a big push for bandwidth conservation training is a good thing. Aptivate has long been the reigning champ in that sector. It is amazing how easy it is to turn a hobbled network into a fairly reliable one in about 30 min.



Jon Thompson August 13, 2009 at 11:23 pm


If Paul does not show up to smack down my snarkiness this show is really gonna suck. I sure would hate for this to have a Sopranos ending.

I am guessing his return won’t be marked by a spotlight but rather by a big ass stick that he comes in wielding wildly.



Miquel August 14, 2009 at 8:24 am

Oh man, this is music to my ears with what we’re trying to do with Maneno. Trust me, the low bandwidth argument is pretty much completely lost on people in the US and Europe. Everyone there has forgotten what slow internet was like just a few years ago. Next you’re going to write about how important localization is 😉

I am in Ghana right now at the Maker Faire Africa and even though the internet is rather fast here, there are still roadblocks and I’m very happy to be using our blogging platform instead of well, others.


rabble August 14, 2009 at 9:36 am

Sure, we can use bandwidth wisely, but we need more of it, and it needs to be cheaper. Abundant affordable bandwidth is a leap frog technology, it should be a high priority because it you can do so much once you have it.

Regarding proxies, you should check out Varnish ( because it’s seem to have replaced squid among the alpha geeks.

Jon Thompson August 14, 2009 at 11:23 am


Faire? Is that like a camp? 😉

As you know I am a big fan of Maneno. I agree with you that bandwidth is all but forgotten. The big problem is that while online advertising gums up the pipes the revenue from it makes the world go round. I think that is why no one wants to talk about it being a burden for those of us having to live the loband lifestyle.

I always thought that a Bandwidth Conservation Society would be a good thing. You know, draw up a charter with the top 5 things you need do to be a bandwidth conservator and if you do those things you get to put a badge on your site so people know you are helping to ‘green the net’.

You guys are showing true craftsmanship with your work. Please keep it up.



Jon Thompson August 14, 2009 at 11:31 am


I fully agree with the need for more bandwidth. Thankfully, it looks like the mobile sector is leading the way in that regard. As my associate says, “The bandwidth in Uganda is better than it is here in Rome.”

I was checking out Varnish but stuck with Squid as it is tried and true. However, it looks like Varnish is coming on strong although I’d like to see if it can be used in the same manner as the one I laid out above. Interesting benchmark comparison here:



Todd Huffman August 14, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Yes and no. Bandwidth is a big issue, but there are long and short term solutions.

In the short term it comes down to $$$. The internet I’m using right now costs about $5,000 a month. A huge chunk of the project budget goes into bandwidth. As in, more money goes into bandwidth than I get paid. Our story doesn’t apply to all situations, because the project I’m on is a telemedicine project and we supply internet to a couple hospitals, so we use a premium service and we use a lot.

Another solution is to get smart with your local data cache. This is more complicated than adding more zeros to your internet bill, but I think is a good mid-range solution.

One focus of the CP exercises was local caching of the imagery, because we want to locally cache the imagery so we don’t have to pull it down over the satellite.

If data sets can be pre-loaded onto the hard drive of the laptop then that’s a huge advantage. Another solution is to move the data closer, for instance groups were moving imagery a couple kilometers from a Mac Mini to their laptops using a WiMax connection from NPS. These methods are still a bit complicated for the average user, but they’re getting much easier.

The prototype Walking Papers system I’ve got over here (thanks to Michal Migurski, Mikel Maron, the Google Earth team, and others) can pull from locally cached imagery on my machine. So can tools like GeoCommons, Drupal, and Sahana. This is a huge deal, and a lot of people here in Jalalabad are understandably very excited.

The group at FortiusOne gave me a prototype GeoCommons appliance on a Mac Mini, with thousands of data sets pre-loaded onto it. I’m loading new data as I get it, and making visualizations mashed up with the old, and overlaying it onto locally cached imagery.

One of the things that Dev Seed is looking at that I think is really important is doing things ‘on a stick’. Put the bandwidth intensive stuff on a stick, move the high-value, novel information over the wire or waves.

Same with InSTEDD, moving things over SMS. Super important. SMS is the lowest common denominator you can count on (except sneakernet, but that’s just big packets).

I’m in the process of setting up a workstation at our guest house for imagery and GIS data, so people can swing by and make maps or visualizations. I’ll post more details on this soon.

Drop by drop,

Jon Thompson August 15, 2009 at 11:58 am


Thanks for the update. I appreciate that you are out there in the field trying to make it happen. Are you with the FabLab folks who are pulling their network through a GATR VSAT?

The $5,000 sounds high but as you say you they are running a telemedicine project through it. Lots of bandwidht and I am sure the contention ratio is quite low as well.

The Squid or Varnish in a box solution is the simple solution to caching locally for those folks who are not technically inclined. It sounds like you and are your team have all the knowledge and resources you need. The problem is when you are dealing with your run of the mill aid worker odds are they are not too technically inclined.

A few years back Mikel and I discussed the need for a digital globe around which one could wrap any sort of raster or vector data. I’ve begged every Google Earth team member I have ever met to give us clickable countries in Google Earth but alas my wish has not yet been granted. I think Walking Maps are very cool and will pass them on to folks at work.

I’d be interested to see how you interact with the UN OCHA mapping unit if they are in town. I am sure they’d love to chat.

Keep up the good work. I’ll be following your Flickr gallery.

Best regards,


Benoit Chabrier August 18, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Hi Jon,

First of all congratulations for your blog which is good source of info in this very little world of IT & humanitarian work.

I’ve been working for Telecoms Sans Frontieres since 2004. TSF is an NGO which can go in a field within 24/48 hours after a disaster to provide communications to the affected populations and to NGOs/UNs/Governement. Basically we provide internet via wifi to the rescue teams.
Since 5 years ago, i ve been in many emergency crisis (Grenada, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh, Mulaboh, Nias, Niger, Kashmir, Lebanon, Darfur, Ghana, Bangladesh, Georgia, Goanives-again, Panama…).

Regarding the big magic box i saw many prototypes in many events, and it’s clear that the private companies (or other governemental/intergov agencies) just lose their money in that. They don t know anything about the field conditions and needs but they want to revolutionate the sector with THE box that will provide internet, wifi, GSM, VHF… and also coordination ! just pushing on a button !!!
I also heard and read a lot about the GATR project but never see it on the field, and the price in my opinion is really to expensive.
Same about Sahana, usually in a big mission TSF is part of the UNDAC team (the first team OCHA deploys). So we are well aware about coodination, but i never heard about sahana during an emergency mission i did. My personal opinion about the project is that is was an excellent idea at the begining as the HIC of OCHA is not always present on the field or during the first 2 weeks. But since 2005 people added and added modules to this solution and it became a too big web portal with many things that will not be usefull (as the volunteer registry or the miss persons registry) and with some essential things that miss. I just have the impression new volunteers arrive on the project, propose and developp new features, but it’s totally disconnected from the field really. It’s a shame…
Except the ocha/hic websites, the only “good” collaborative webportal i saw was a Groupoffice portal managed by UNHCR in Georgia last year. It was online a few days before the cease fire, it was simple and used by NGOs (OCHA was not present in Georgia at this moment).

About all the camps and the exercices, TSF only do the UN ones organized by OCHA (every 2 years that’s well enough). They are many exercices in the US but they are all very US-centric and out of a real international emergency context.

Regarding the donor position i think that, from Rome, you have a better understanding of how telecommunication and relief work together 😉

For the bandwidth issue i’m totaly agree with you and i’ll share here my experience with TSF. The emergency mission today has changed since 2004 and of course will continue to change…
The first missions i did, we were bringing computers because aid workers didn’t carry it with them, and it was not part of their philosophy : no computers means no report to write every night, no comptability ! The old school aid worker: good in the field but who doesn’t like technology.
Then, we had the problem of Lotus notes (thanks to a good IBM lobby with the UN?) and p2p over a GanM4/bgan connection ! Then it was Google earth and skype, and now we can add groove, facebook and many others.
As we pay the connexion for MB with a bgan, bandwidth is not exactly our problem, it’s more about volume. So we are working on this kind of little “box” to save volume.
Bascially Squid is a good tool to make web cache. You can add to it a DNS cache so the connection seems to be faster for the users. And if you want to play with iptables, you can allow only http and block the download of all .exe .msi .mp3 .avi… With a https proxy you can also block skype (or it was possible a few months ago). Finally you can use OpenDNS to blacklist websites.
The box can be a mini itx (200/300 usd). You can install on it a debian (or the embedded version of debian) and configure all the services. If you are a real warrior you can also install OpenWRT and you’ll have a very nice little box.
But at least to implement this kind of solution you’ll appreciate the help of a geek 🙂

Best regards,


Jon Thompson August 18, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Many for thanks for your extremely insightful comments. They are much appreciated as they are coming straight from someone who knows the field routine extremely well. I had the pleasure of working with TSF teams following Nias/Indo in 2005 and they were a great group.
I am thinking I will write a follow-up post to my open letter as it seemed to garner quite a bit of attention. Glad to know we are thinking along the same lines in regards to ‘the box’. Do you have any prototypes? I’d love to feature them in a stand alone article.
Thanks for stopping by and keep up the excellent work!
Best regards,

Todd Huffman August 18, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Excellent post Benoit. The historical development context is very useful. It’s sometimes hard to judge which technologies are going to become the most useful in the field.

It’s best to avoid things made out of ‘unobtanium’ materials, and there are a lot of those out there. Sometimes it’s useful to see them, to see what might be possible, and then to redesign from there.

A good example of this is Maneno, “a fast, low bandwidth, multilingual blogging and communication platform for citizen journalism in Sub-Saharan Africa.” There are lots of very fancy blogging platforms, such as WordPress which this blog is built on, but they’re designed with high-bandwidth users in mind. Blogging can be a very powerful tool, and an open source community was able to redesign the tools for different environments with lower bandwidth.

Jon’s parent post was a little ‘2 a.m. ranty’ and I object to many of his points, but there are genuine underlying problems it brings up. A continued discussion will be useful as the various communities engaged in different parts of the overall problem work towards a solution.

Jon, perhaps you’d like to organize a conference so we can get together and work on these problems? I’m particularly fond of ‘working conferences’, where the engineers and workers meet rather than the talking heads (i.e. the *camp culture).
(Sorry! I know I’m trolling! I just happen to like the product of *camps)

J. August 19, 2009 at 7:59 am

Great post. Keep them coming. Especially the 2:00 AM version. 😀

Jon Thompson August 19, 2009 at 11:05 am

Thanks! I don’t think it will be too hard to keep losing sleep over this stuff.
Love your work.

Jon Thompson August 19, 2009 at 12:55 pm


Maneno stopped by and dropped a comment earlier. I think Maneno is one of the outfits out there doing good work and I am sorry I forgot to give them an exemption. 😉

I think you are talking about building a squid/varnish box? If so, I would be inclined to get involved in something if it were to follow a structure I am familiar with, i.e. a typical disaster response. Here is what I am thinking:

1) Who – People who are qualified to respond. In the beginning only the most seasoned typically arrive at an event.
2) What – We focus totally on the task at hand. That means we build the squid box and nothing else.
3) Where – A location near SF/Bay Area makes sense. We will need to import many people.
4) Why – Because until we build this box I cannot really thinking about working on anything else. In my mind this is the emergency.
5) When – When the basic specs have been laid out, funding secured and a proper strategy established.
6) How – With the right combination of qualified individuals I have no doubt we can build it within the allotted time.

I have a 501c3 status to offer up and my field experience. I think I know a place in the North Bay we can use. Not sure if this sounds like a good idea to anyone else but for me it makes the most sense.

Todd – what do you think?



Jon Thompson August 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm


I think a working conference is a good idea as long we all agree on what we are going to build in advance. For me this means a squid box. We finish with this project we can move on to the next one.

A long weekend with a bunch of highly qualified individuals and substantial pre-planning should be enough to build what I have in mind. We can take all the time we need prepping and then build it in a sprint when the time is right.

I have 501c3 status, field experience and maybe a good place in the North Bay where we can meet.

What are your thoughts? Anyone?



Mikel Maron August 19, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Jon, Todd, Benoit

I have heard plans by a group from the Big 3 (goog/yahoo/msft) to organize such an event. They met at CrisisCamp, and are planning a 2 day hackathon event in the Bay Area in November. As I understand, 10 challenges will be proposed to the assembled developers to build over the 2 days. The squid proxy box is a perfect challenge. I’m sure you can offer up a dozen more easily. We should connect up this thread with their plans, make sure they are truly thinking from the field experience perspective.

Sahana, OSM, GeoCommons, Google, InSTEDD .. every technology you mentioned Benoit .. as developers we are very aware that we don’t always know what the field is like. We’re very motivated to fix that. Camp Roberts provided space for that to happen. Other venues are necessary. The next time UNOCHA organizes a working event, make sure to invite some hackers too!


Benoit Chabrier August 20, 2009 at 11:23 am

As I ve also been in Nias, i think we met in Gunung Sitoli or Teluk Dalam (terrible names) ! but, strange, i don’t recognize you on your photo…!

For the box, of course we are thinking about this kind of product as we have to manage telecoms center with up to 70 users connected at the same time to a bgan connection.
It helps us:
– to save bandwidth
– to save volume (so money)
– to monitor volume “in real time”
– to do accounting for donors (which organizations, which volume, etc…)
– to adjust permissions per users or organizations (for ex. ocha can access see images or only the IM guy of ocha…)

We have some prototypes but they are still “under-construction”. However we experimented this box (with many issues/bugs) in DRC, Ugunda and in Gonaives (Haiti). We were using initially a soekris board :
But it appears to be too slow and limited, so we are now migrating the project over an ITX board of this type :

For the purpose of your box, which should much be more simple than our box i can see 3 deployable solutions :

1. The 20 dollars solution :
– Create a live CD (if not exists) with debian/transparent proxy/etc…
– Buy a USB to Ethernet adapter recognized by linux
– On the field, find 1 laptop (or desktop) and dedicate it to serve as a proxy. This laptop can also be used to surf on the web

2. The 100 dollars solution :
– Buy a router compatible with OpenWRT, and with as much memory as you can find ! (the memory here could be an issue)
– Install OpenWRT firmware on it (with X WRT for the GUI)
– Install/configure Squid or Tinyproxy (packages available for OpenWRT)

3. The 400 dollars solution :
– Buy a ITX board
– Install OpenWRT firmware on it (with X WRT for the GUI)
– Install/configure Squid or Tinyproxy (packages available for OpenWRT)
(can be also done with debian or other linux distrib but OpenWRT really sounds like the more appropriate distrib for those kind of networking tasks)


Benoit Chabrier August 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm

For info, it seems that a squid live cd doesn’t exists but VMWare has a “virtual appliance” acting as a Squid LiveCD.
From the website of squid :

” VMWare has a Virtual Appliance for running Squid at It would be interesting to check it out, and see whether it supports the full squid feature set (interception, transparent, etc) and/or build a similar tool or a live cd.”

a discussion giving more info about a LiveCd with squid :,-etc–td15905119.html

So a Squid LiveCD could seem not to be a so good solution however the flexibility of such a tool, in my opinion, could be a great advantage to implement it rapidly on the field (minimum cost, time and equipment).

For the other solutions, I didn’t mention it in my previous post but after a few searches, AdvProxy, a squid add on, over a IPCop or SmoothWall distrib could also be a good start. This add-on provides :
– GUI for advanced web proxy configuration
– Web access control by IP and MAC addresses
– MIME type filter
– Blocking of unauthorized browsers or client software

Hope this could give you some ideas…


Jon Thompson August 22, 2009 at 11:08 am


I ran into your team on the rear loading door of a C-150 at Polonia airport in Medan. They helped us clear space for a Landcruiser I was airlifting to Gunung Sitoli.

I’ll respond to this comment when I respond to your next comment.



Jon Thompson August 22, 2009 at 11:59 am


Thank you for all the valuable information and suggestions. I while back I spent a fair amount of time looking at options similar to the ones you laid out but, alas, never had the chance to actually give them a try. We did have great success with Clark Connect boxes as all that was required was for us to cannabalize existing desktop boxes.

The need to be able to work with parts that are already in the field is something that I know you are very familiar with. I’d like to see which solution survives the field test but also which one passes muster with field folks. The ultimate goal is to build something that requires absolutely NO technical knowledge. Plug a cord in one end and another in the other end and that’s it. If we can pass those two tests we should be good to go.

Thanks again for all the great info!



Tom Taylor August 23, 2009 at 2:20 pm

A few years ago I helped out on this book: How To Accelerate Your Internet. It’s a little bit dated, but hopefully still relevant.

I appreciate the irony of it only being available as PDF.

Tom Taylor August 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Oh, and you should be speaking to Aptivate, who do loads of work in this area. They made loband, and a whole bunch of other tools.

Jon Thompson August 24, 2009 at 10:36 am


I own a copy of your book and I love it! I think it is one of the best and only real references on the subject.

I know the Aptivate team and especially Chris Wilson. One of my comments below mentions them and all the work they have done.

People like you are in high demand. What sort of projects are you working on these days?

Thanks for stopping by!



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