I spent very rewarding 2 weeks in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico with Kids on Computers to install and maintain computer labs.

I touristed around Oaxaca City for two days: Day 1 and Day 2.

We moved the computers that were bought in country to Huajuapan de León, our home base for the labs.

We focused on nearby escuelas 18 de Marzo, Manuel Gonzalez Gatica, and Ricardo Flores Magon first. The second week we finished up the labs on Tuesday and Wednesday). On Thursday, we met with officials at Universidad Tecnológica de la Mixteca. On Friday, Alex and I taught the teachers at 18 de Marzo in the morning and helped open the new lab in the evening.

I stuck around Oaxaca the following week to attend the Coding Dojo, finish my conference presentation, and recuperate. I hosted a dinner for Fernando and Gaby. It made me feel like I was at home. :)

Then I attended the global Google Developers Group (GDG) organizer’s summit and Google I/O in San Francisco. This past Saturday,  I spoke at the Dutch Mobile Conference in Amsterdam. I finally return home tomorrow!

Let me know if you’re interested in volunteering for future trips and/or donating computers or funds to the cause. We’d love to have your support for the very important work of bridging the digital divide globally.

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On Saturday morning, Alex, Hunter and I packed up to move back to Oaxaca. On the way to the bus station, Hunter made a last minute audible and hung out with his video game friends instead. Alexa and I took the bus and shared music on the way.

Alex’s aunt and uncle live in the city, so we went straight to their house from the bus station. We had Chinese buffet for lunch with his aunt and brother – it was an interesting mix of Mexican spices and Chinese food (similar to Chifas in Péru).

After lunch, we went to the Coding Dojo which was run by Oaxaca.rb  (headed by Hermes, Fernando, and others from Logical Bricks Solutions).

Coding Dojo!

I tried to get their Tennis refactoring example to work on my machine, but there was an issue with my version of Ruby. We didn’t have internet, so I couldn’t download the right gems. Alex couldn’t get his Windows box working either.

Coding Dojo 3

Since we couldn’t get it working on everyone’s machine, we switched to a different model (other than pair programming). One person would be in the hot seat on the projector live refactoring and the “navigator” would move into the chair next.

Coding Dojo 2

At first I was feeling shy – it was in Spanish, programming with Ruby (which I don’t use every day), using unfamiliar tools, such as a plain old text editor instead of an IDE, and I’m naturally a bit shy of being in the spotlight (I know, I hide it well sometimes :P).

Coding Dojo 5

The beginning was a bit rocky. Some were unable to figure out where they went wrong and had a hard time falling back to a working state. They were ignoring my suggestion to use version control, so I inserted myself into the rotation and participated after that. I set up the git repository and this made refactoring go much smoother for later sessions. I hope my disciplined approach wore off (red, green, refactor, review, commit). I was surprised that people were attempting to commit without ever looking at their diffs! :-O

Coding Dojo 4

I had a great time and would definitely suggest attending sessions like this! We have a coding retreat in Philadelphia that was pretty great last year.

Coding Dojo with Sign

That evening I checked into a hostel (which I hated and later changed) and then met Alex and his cousin for a night on the town. We checked out a bar with a live band that played What’s Up and traditional Mexican rock and later went dancing. It was a lot of fun learning some latin moves!

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On Friday morning, Alex and I taught the teachers at 18 de Marzo how to use the latest version of the OS that we installed. We showed them how to access Khan Academy and offline Wikipedia and walked them through several applications, such as LibreOffice, educational games, and Scratch.

The original plan was for me to lead the class, but as Spanish is not my native language, Alex took the lead. I directed the material that we covered as well as lead the class from the computer by opening and demonstrating how to use different applications. We both played the role of TA by floating around the classroom to help the teachers when they got stuck.

Alex Teaching

The local network went down and we called Hermes for troubleshooting. We rebooted the server and the computers and I wrote up a troubleshooting doc so that they knew how to deal with similar issues in the future. We’re drafting an instruction manual that we can leave behind in addition to setting up classes so that the teachers will be better prepared (see the previous blog about UTM for more detail).

Alex Fixing Network

After the formal classroom instruction, the teachers had free time to explore the different applications on the computer.

Student Teachers 2\ Student Teachers 3

Teachers as students

One of the teachers had been experimenting with the tablets and showed off a great National Geographic video.

Tablet!

There is a full time computer teacher, but other teachers also use the lab. They were really excited to see how they could use the computers in their classes. When we left, we got many face kisses and excited thank yous!

18 de Marzo Teachers

After the teachers went back to class, we interviewed the Director of the school and the computer teacher – look for a video in the coming weeks of our experience on the Kids on Computers website!

After we were done, we took a cab over to the new school. When we arrived most computers were already set up or in the installing phase. We realized that the power adapter to the Mac mini was in my room at the hotel, so the computer teacher drove me back to the city to grab it.

When we got back, we all went out for a thank you lunch from the teachers at the school! I managed to leave one of my SD cards at the restaurant, but luckily one of the teachers had grabbed it for me and I got it back at the end of the night. It would have been very sad indeed to lose several days worth of photos!

Lunch

The teachers were very appreciative and we signed a document forming our mutual understanding and responsibilities.

Singing

Here’s a pic of the teachers and volunteers (minus Hermes, which I assume is behind the camera).

Teacher Lunch

We finished rather late that evening around 9PM and dropped Hermes off at the bus station on the way back to town. Alex, Hunter, and I went out to the local bars for some more fun. There’s not a lot of variety, so we ended up back at the karaoke bar at the end of the evening.

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We had the option on Thursday morning of taking a break, so I decided to recharge my batteries a bit and purchase the thing I’d wanted since I arrived – ¡Spanish board games!

Alex and Hunter were originally planning to join the rest of the team for the school visit that morning, but they started breakfast a bit too late. The rest of the team left to check out the new school location to see if they had the prerequisites we look for: a room with tables, a lock on the door, and an engaged community.

After breakfast, Alex, Hunter, and I went on a walk and visited the Huajaupan version of Walmart. I bought a box of 12 traditional games and a two decks of Spanish cards. The deck is interesting because it lacks 8′s and 9′s, Aces are 1′s, the suits are a bit different, and there is no Queen.

Huajuapan

As an organization, our biggest challenge is maintaining the labs after we leave. It’s often a year or more before we come back so it becomes quite important to teach the teachers how to use the machines and how to troubleshoot problems. An excellent way to tackle the problem is to partner with local volunteer and university students. We set up several meetings at Universidad Tecnológica de la Mixteca in hopes of creating a sustainable model we can use in other regions.

UTM

We started with a tour of the campus from Thomas, who used to teach at the school.

UTM Tour

We talked with several school officials to flesh out what a partnership might look like.

UTM Meeting

Sometime during the last meeting, I realized I lost my new Andorid phone and started searching around campus (in the pouring rain). I think the phone was left in the taxi – quite a bummer!

After the meetings, we followed the CS teacher to watch sumo robots! Love that the winning team had a lady on it!

Sumo Robots

That evening we grabbed a late dinner and all stayed close to the hotel and played cards.

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Here’s a collection of my thoughts and observations from the Van Gogh Museum.

Personal Growth: You don’t have to be a master from the start, it’s always a process of growth. He started his artistic career late-ish at 27. He needed a perspective frame to flatten images on to the canvas, he used tracing and projection tools as well.

Practice: Each masterpiece was preceded by many studies in sketch and painted format. Much thought and care went into each production. His style evolved over time with lots of practice. The software field could learn from this.

image

image

Community: Hung out with other artists sharing inspiration and techniques. Moved to Paris to learn from the greats and the community. Sought out others to learn and share. My skill and passion for tech has grown as I’ve found my community.

Technique: He learned from many classic and contemporary techniques, but made them his own e.g. varying pointillism with differing strokes. He studied the technical aspects of the trades of the laborers that he painted to better capture their work. Loved the use of texture and color, makes it feel like you could touch the Birds’ Nests (1885).

On Accessibility: Was interested in making his art accessible to all people, strove for clarity in his style. Wanted the painting and colors to speak for themselves.

Self Study: Realized he was behind other’s technical skill in painting at university, but decided to pursue his own studies. Thought technically perfect paintings lacked soul. He was inspired by and rejuvenated by nature. Travelled and painted in new locations. Used wool to experiment with color combinations.

Bootstrapping: He painted on the back of several of his paintings to save money. Painted self portraits and still lives because models were expensive. Just needed a mirror to experiment with portraiture.

Outlook: He tried not to ‘see the bleak things bleakly.’

We are too short sided in tech and venerate the people who spend all their time coding. There are more important things in life also technologist can greatly benefit from the inclusion of other disciplines (e.g. Jobs’ obsession with fonts).

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On Wednesday morning, the director of 18 de Marzo picked us all up from the hotel in his truck so that we could transport some of the older computers over to the town library in Saucitlán de Morelos.

After loading up the computers, Avni, Javier, Gabriel, and Stormy left to install the Mac Mini server and networking equipment at Manuel Gonzalez Gatica. Hunter, Fernando and I stayed for a bit to finish up the networking.

18 de marzo

The kids are so cute and super interested in what we’re doing on the computers. Everywhere you went in the room you had an entourage! Check out this adorable video of Hunter with the kids.

When we were done, we took a taxi to Ricardo Flores Magon in San Marcos. We upgraded more machines (similar to the install at 18 de Marzo) and Fernando set up the network. We didn’t see many kids that day.

We had trouble figuring out how to connect the new computers to the network (the old ones were hardwired), but figured out from a call with Hermes that we needed to manually configure the network in the system settings.

As we were completing the final walkthrough, it started POURING and soon after the power went down. Turned out that moving all the old computers to one half of the room (so that they were easier to wire up to the switch) flipped a breaker (there are two in the computer lab). The electrician came out within 30 minutes and told us how to manage it ourselves. Later we lost all power at the school and we also flipped the breaker a second time. We moved the switch and better distributed the computers in the room to avoid the electricity problems we created.

While we were stuck in the rain, parents brought in several deliveries of food & beverages. First they brought us 6 bottles of water. Next a bag full of snack food (e.g. Oreos, mini bananas, yogurt). Finally they showed up with a bag full of typical loaves/buns of bread (about 16 of them). Later they called us a cab so that we could get back to Huajuapan. People are so generous here and genuinely happy about the work that we’re doing for their communities! :)

Alex returned in the evening (he had been in Oaxaca due to an ear infection) and Fernando went back to Oaxaca.

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Stormy, Avni, Hermes, Fernando, and I went back to 18 de Marzo to set up the networking, install more new computers (for a grand total of 9), and try upgrading the older computers with different methods. We also brought a Mac laptop and networking equipment to create a local network that would have access to Rachel, Khan Academy, and Wikipedia content.

Originally we were using CDs to install the OS and a USB flash drive with games and educational material. Several of the CD drives wouldn’t work or we couldn’t switch up the boot order. Avni made bootable USBs and that worked on several of the computers. We also had an external CD/DVD drive. Most of the computers were upgraded, but we had to stick with the older version for 2-3 of the computers.

Finally, we pulled aside a few of the computers to move to Manuel Gonzalez Gatica the following day.

Martes a 18 de Marzo

I finished working on installs around 3:30 and headed to the coffee shop near the hotel to sort photos and publish my blog for Escuela: Ricardo Flores Magon.

After Hermes, Fernando, and Avni finished the network (around 7PM), we went out for a group dinner. I had a delicious dinner of triangulitos and toastadas.

Toastada  Traingulito
That evening I played Scrabble Dados with Fernando and Hunter that evening and Hermes headed back to Oaxaca.

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Stormy/Caleb, Hunter, and I set out for San Marcos Arteaga on Monday morning. We tried to find the combi station from Thomas’ oral directions but eventually ended up jumping in a cab (which was roughly the same price). It was another lovely ride through the mountains for about an hour.

Voluntarios

We tried to follow Thomas’ directions once again in San Marcos, but we decided to go to the school/town hall and ask around instead. The police picked us up … and drove us to his house.

Policia

What a pretty little town full of color!

San Marcos

We visited our 3rd school, Ricardo Flores Magon. The school size was in between 18 de Marzo and Manuel Gonzalez Gatica.

Esculea

The lab was in pretty good shape, much better than Manuel Gonzalez Gatica (which was updated quite a bit when I was at this school). We updated the computers that we could and dropped off a new projector. They mostly had laptops which were fairly recent. Today (Tuesday, 10 June) other volunteers complimented their lab with 4 new computers and we’ll flesh out their network later this week.

Sale de Computo

The kids were again very excited see us and Hunter especially drew a crowd. He borrowed my Google Glass to try it out and I showed the computer teacher how to use them.

Lab

When I got back to the hotel, I went to the phone store to see about my now very broken Nexus 5. It was very expensive to fix, so I bought a cheap little Android phone instead. I figure it will be a good test device since it was so small and great for future trips.

Later we went out for a team dinner at this lovely little place at the top of the nearby hills (great view of the city). You select your toppings from what she has that evening and she makes it fresh in front of your eyes! I had huitlacoche mixed with onions and mushrooms. Another great option is flor de la calabaza (pumpkin flowers). Yum!

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On Friday we had an early breakfast at the hotel restaurant and took a truck/cab to the small nearby village, Saucitlán de Morelos, to check out their lab. It was a bumpy off-road excursion down a winding mountain road. I was sitting up front in the truck – I imagine it was bumpier in the back for Thomas, Javier, and Gabriel!

Taxi

We arrived at the Manuel Gonzalez Gatica elementary school around 9 AM and the classes were in full swing. (Yes, that’s a donkey on the basketball court!)

La escuela

It’s a smaller school than 18 de Marzo and the equipment was older and in worse repair. We tried to upgrade the OSes, but we were only able to update 2 of the computers. Most of the them didn’t have enough room for all the education material. We also attempted moving hard drives and CD drives from dead computers and put them in working ones, but we didn’t have a lot of luck.

The lab was originally set up as a series of local servers with 4 thin clients/dumb terminals attached. Unfortunately that meant when a server goes down, 4 computers are useless. This setup is compounded by the fact that the locals aren’t familiar with how to maintain this system (nor am I!). Unfortunately it meant many of the computers could no longer be used.

Voluntarios

The students were busy at work, so we didn’t see much of them. Thomas took some great photos of the children while we worked on the lab.

Niños

There wasn’t much we could do that day, so we had second breakfast (tortillas, beans, and eggs [plain or hotdog] with coffee, juice, and refrescos) with the director and then headed back to the city.

Almuerzo

That afternoon I hung out at the pool with Alex (got a bit burnt) and that evening the team went out for dinner and dessert. After that Alex, Hunter, and I went to 2 bars on the main square. The second one was a karaoke bar. I sang Me & Bobby McGee (sola) and a bunch of other songs with Alex. We convinced Hunter to sing one song and later Tomas joined us. It was a fun evening!

This weekend I’ve been editing slides for my conference presentation later this month and generally keeping close to the hotel. This afternoon I chatted with Thomas at the coffee shop, met a cool future doctor, and got caught in an intense storm about a block from the hotel (the road was a river!).

Stormy and Avni got in today and we’re gearing up to service many schools this week (some we’ve visited, some we haven’t yet). We’ll be splitting up into teams since there are so many of us. A few of us will be visiting a new school in the morning, stay tuned for details!

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We visited our first school, 18 de Marzo, on Wednesday. When we arrived the students were watching a movie on a projector! The teacher quickly rushed the kids out to the school yard to let us start working and to tell us about the current state of the lab.

Recreo

Voluntarios y la maestra

We took an install disc to try out on one computer as a test run (turns out we were missing a step to install the educational material and games with the updated OS). They had around 20 working computers that the kids love using for games and educational material.

We joined the kids for recess and ate lunch with the director of the school. Alex and Hunter played soccer with the kids.

Voluntarios

They get a lot of use out of the lab during the school day and the community uses the computers and the projector in the evening.

Maestra y estudiantes

The kids were very happy to see us and very curious! It’s not often that they see extranjeros – let alone someone with Google Glass!

Estudiante pequeña

When we got back to the hotel we spent the evening installing the games and educational material on the new computers. Javier and his son joined us later that evening and we went out for a team dinner. When we got back to the hotel, we played more Scrabble Dados to pass the time while it was pouring (it’s the rainy season).

I hurt my back on the first day (moving computers around), so I didn’t join the team on Thursday. They returned to the school with all the correct install media and 4 of the new computers. They updated as many computers as they could and set up the new ones. We’ll return next week when we get the networking equipment and set up Rachel server and a copy of offline Wikipedia en español.

Check out the next school, Manuel Gonzalez Gatica!

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