Mystery Solved: The case of the missing emergency Gotenna Mesh communications network in Puerto Rico

As humans, we have an innate survival instinct.  This instinct compels us to provide for ourselves first, those closest to us, our family, our children, our friends – above all others.  Sometimes though, it’s the survival of the species, nature as a whole, the greater good, the bigger picture that matters.  We found a loophole to mortality in our children. We selflessly provide for our children in hopes that they may have it better than us – that’s how we cheat death, how we overcome hardship.  But what if there’s a better way? What if the stranger across the street were a neighbor? What if the people across the sea on an island in the Caribbean weren’t just strangers you’ve seen on Fox news or CNN. What if they were you? What if they are you? What if we are all on the same team? What if helping your neighbor meant helping yourself? When you play soccer, you don’t need to score the goal to be the winner. By being there, by passing the ball, by shouting encouragement, by getting the ball closer to the goal, you’ve helped. You’ve truly lived.

Einstein said, that “a human being is part of the whole” called by us “universe.”  A person “experiences “[them]self, [their] thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest.” He described this as a mere “optical illusion” of our consciousness which serves as a “prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.”  Einstein encouraged us, and provides an eternal reminder, that “our task must be to free ourselves from this prison” by “widening our circle of compassion to embrace ALL living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Where did the 300 emergency communication devices meant to help during the next storms in Puerto Rico go?  Where did the donations go? Where did the millions in taxpayer funds to DHS, FEMA, DOD, DOJ go?

In our pursuit of decentralization, of community communications, in our pursuit of throwing off the shackles of a single intertwined monolithic governmental and telecommunications infrastructure that was fundamentally broken and unable to provide help, in the words of the Who, we fearlessly chanted, “we won’t get fooled again!” We threw off the chains and we simply brought in new bosses, chained ourselves to new single points of failure.  All bosses are the same.  A closed source mesh “decentralized” solution and a non-transparent non-profit do as they always do, as they’ve always done- they look out for themselves. They maximize profits, they protect their own.

Where are the emergency communications devices? Are they in the hardest hit parts of Puerto Rico? Are they in the hands of those that need them to effect emergency rescue from the mountains of Utuado? No, don’t be silly or naive. They are at Gotenna corporate warehouses in New York City.  Because they aren’t a disaster or humanitarian company. They weren’t paid enough. Why would they deliver on a promise? Why would they extend themselves to help people halfway around the world of different color, speaking a different language, who don’t have the money to buy Gotenna communications devices?

Where are the emergency communications devices? Are they deployed in a “critical communications backbone” for urgent relief and recovery efforts as promised – in the hard to reach areas hardest hit, away from San Juan airport? No, don’t be silly. Don’t be naive. You know humans by now. We look out for ourselves – above all others; so as we’ve always done, they are deployed where the money is, where the affluent are, where the administrators of the fundraiser are – protecting themselves and their families, their business interests, their partners, and friends.  map1

This weekend, we had an IBM Wolfpack sponsored #CallForCode hackathon for 36 hours in Bayamon, Puerto Rico at Engine 4 co-working lab where students, professors, and members of the public selflessly volunteered their time to develop emergency communications solutions for Puerto Rico and the world at large.  Meant to answer the question, when our abuela is in bed in the mountains and the towers fall next time, what will we do?  How can we coordinate first responders with local communities?

It was a beautiful thing. About a 100 hackers, selfless people, volunarios, programmers, organizers shared ideas, wrote code, debugged hardware, employed cutting-edge ai, OPEN mesh networks like LORA with open hardware like raspberry pi.  Gotenna is great and all, but they are closed source; as they repeatedly remind me, they aren’t a disaster or a humanitarian company. Hell, they aren’t even open on the weekends or after 5 – and sometimes the hurricane doesn’t have the courtesy to show up during banker’s hours (M-F 11-4pm).


So the community built, BORICUA built, they coded, they made their own damned network that no one can control, where the source code is in the public domain, where no patents, or copyrights, or share-holder profits can threaten their resiliency.  I met a man named Javier and his wife, both computer science professors, who taught their children to code, who built an open LOng RAnge (LoRA) Raspberry Pi mesh communications device, called CONTACT, better than some closed-source myopically profit-focused Gotenna. And they did it for $11 versus Gotenna’s $149. The whole family. The children presented the idea at #CallForCode. They shared how they felt lost and disconnected, how there was no way to call for help when the telephone lines, the internet, the wifi, the cellular, when nothing works.  How can we get a message out? How can we connect first responders and the community? How can we use artificial intelligence, to learn, big picture, what the people need? Are they angry? Is there water? How can we get the messages flowing, and use AI to focus our response and triage efforts? I cried. It was beautiful. This family saw the problem first hand. Did they cry about it? Give up? Seek outside help? Hell no, they built the damned thing. They made it work. They effected self-rescue for themselves, for their island, for their neighbors, and when the towers fall in your neighborhood, their devices (or those that borrow their ideas) will be what effects the rescue of your children.  Javier and his wife, may have won both the CallForCode hackathon and the MeshingWithData Hackathon, but we are the real winners.  They’ve selflessly shared their ideas and implementation with the rest of humanity, and perhaps bought us all a fighting chance for next time.

So, where ARE the Gotenna? Who cares. Contact is better, completely open source hardware and software, a tenth the cost, with ai built in, developed by GOOD PEOPLE that are in the business of humanitarian disaster relief and emergency communications.

Ok, but where’s the remainder of the donated $20,000 WHERE ARE THE MILLIONS SPENT BY DHS FEMA DOD on Gotenna?

Maybe they didn’t build a critical backbone of communication to enable the hardest hit regions of the island – spanning from sea to shining sea, over amber waves of platanos, or purple mountainous regions in their majesty.  map1.PNG

Maybe, just maybe, inadvertently, by NOT building a network, Starting Point has given us something better. The vacuum of nothingness has created a hard-felt need, that burning, that fear in your stomach that transcends self or our own myopic views or interests.  Another Javier and his family, in that absence, have stood up, put in the hard work, the tireless hours, and built a network, CONTACT, from the ground up… without millions of dollars or corporate sponsorship, without focusing on share-holder value.  Instead, like Einstein, focused on the good of the WHOLE, with a widened circle of compassion extending to all of nature, all of man and woman-kind, that works and that’s flexible enough to adapt to whatever the geography or contours of all the disasters yet to come.  Perhaps Javier Malave at Connecting Point saw the shortcomings of a closed-source product and closed-source, solely-profit-focused Gotenna, and instead reinvested the donated money into these MeshingWithData hackathons? Perhaps they didn’t build the short-sighted emergency gotenna network, but perhaps they’ve provided us with a better network?







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