Remembering a Friend: RIP Atul Chitnis

3036224712_a07c468e63_zMany years ago I attended my first hacker conference in Berlin, an experience that would forever change the course of my life. During those beautiful days I met many inspiring new friends and acquaintances who’s work and life philosophies would become an important part of my online (and offline) life. One of those individuals, the great Atul Chitnis, passed away this week after a difficult and very public battle with cancer.

The truth is, I only met Atul, in person, 2 or 3 times over all these years, but every meeting was a pleasure.  He was the kind of guy who it felt like I had known my whole life, there was always something to talk about that sparked both our interests.  Despite the fact that he lived in India, and I am here in Amsterdam, through our online activities we kept in touch using what are now very familiar ways: blogs, facebook comments, twitter, and even skype.

Atul wasn’t always speaking directly to me, but his words always felt personal and insightful.  Even his infamous documenting of breakfast food, a practice I normally don’t pay attention to on social media, in the context of dealing with chemo therapy and because of the way Atul presented it, I kept up with what was cooking at his place.  I worried about his health, watched for status updates bringing good news and quietly celebrated when he posted that he was feeling pretty good.

This week I noticed I hadn’t seen any posts and that – in fact- I hadn’t seen any tweets from Atul either in quite a few days.  A terrible feeling struck me, a possibility that I wanted to shake off by going to his facebook page and seeing that all was well – maybe there would be an omelet from this morning.  Sadly, there was no omelet.  No post by Atul about how things are going. Instead, a long list of comments, each one paying tribute to their beloved friend who had passed away.

So it goes in this world. A great person can influence your life, even someone you don’t know well, they are a part of your everyday like a good neighbor, colleague at work, or a friend at the local pub.  And then everything can change.   Whatever memories you have of them will be the ones you have to hold on to.  That latest blog post becomes the last blog post. The next conference will go on, but it will be lacking its most unique and inspiring voice.

Though I realize I was not a close friend of Atul’s, I was and am a huge admirer and online friend of his. His approach to life, work, and humanity will not be forgotten, and his recorded words will serve as an example for future great minds.  I wish I could say thank you and that he would hear it now. Alas, all I can do is write, remember, and wish his family and loved ones my deepest sympathies.

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Blogs from Afg

Baghe Babur Gate

I’d like to begin by sending out a big thank you and expressing how great it was to be writing and recording content to be shared with all of you and to be getting so much feedback; good bad or in between. Thank you. The trip itself was extremely interesting, educational, and unforgettable, but this aspect of having my audience with me, made it something even greater.

Being back in Amsterdam with fresh memories and a wish to keep in touch with those working and living in Afghanistan, be they locals or foreigners, I now often turn to blogs that I’ve come to value with stories, reports, and rants about the situation there. While there are surely many more choices then the few I recommend, I still wanted to post my list (of 3) in case any of you also want to see some voices that interest me from that part of the world:

Read My Eyes – The candid observations of a very experienced and passionate photo journalist and friend.

Transitionland – Sometimes angry sometimes happy, always educational writing about Afghanistan as well as its quirky international community.

Free Range International – Apparently Im the last one to the party as this blog has long been a household name for Afghanistan War focused individuals.

Feel free to add one of yours in the comments.

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Take Your Eye Off NOLA

Among the issues and research I intend to do this season is New Orleans. In the shadow of the invasion of Gaza, my focus on GMO soy, and the mainstream press dedicating most of their vital resources to what they call an innaugeration celebration, it is easy to look away from a place that needs the critical public eye.

Safe House NOLA
Safe House NOLA

What issues concern me for NOLA in 2009? Quality of life. Specifically when it comes to affordable housing, public safety, and justice regardless of income or geographic location. I wonder how the legal situation has or has not changed for those that I met going into the legal clinic back in 2007? Or what happens if they build this huge Veterans Hospital in an area where many people live in historical homes? Is there money for such a project or will it be downsized or remain incomplete? Of course the list goes on and on: corruption, public health, the environment… oh the environment. All of these will get my attention and with the help of some of the finest and most critical bloggers (NOLA bloggers!) on the internets, we can help give the nation and people around a the world a reality check, saving many from the star-struck haze the CNN would like us to live in.

Swear in Obama, sing a song, read a poem, take a photo… then could we please get to work? People are dying out there, and together we could have stopped lots of it.

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Cuban Blogger Crackdown

Part of visiting the US and my homestate of New Jersey, means constant visting friends and quality family time, hence the reduced posting.

I did want to point out the issue of the Cuban bloggers and a recent crackdown on their work and collective activities. I’ve noticed reports about this on Global Voices and then recently Marc Cooper wrote a piece on it for Mother Jones:

Havana-based writer Yoani Sanchez was recently named by Time magazine as one the 100 most influential people in the world, and she won the 2008 Ortega y Gasset award for digital journalism. But that didn’t stop Cuban authorities from directly threatening her with jail last week.

Reading the content on the Cuban blogs, highlighted on GV, you’ll see statements by government agents who confronted the bloggers with threats and warnings that they had overstepped their freedoms, being accused of being on the side of so-called counter-revolutionaries.

It is, to a limited extent, surprising that the Cuban government is going about things this way. Especially when they could have built some momentum towards being more open domestically and internationally, to free-speech, self-criticism, and new ways of communicating in general. When Raul first took the reigns, little things the the availability of mobile phones and some change in travel restrictions may have been a sign of a new direction to come. Alas, when it comes to blogging and citizen reporters, they’ve taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction.

Still technology and the voices using technology, will find a way.

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