Saturday, April 30, 2011

Conozco Uruguay:Day 1

Today I got to sit in on an Uruguay volunteer conference (several groups were there to discuss the laptop project). During a break, I got to meet the European/Canadian/American volunteers who have already arrived.

The conference was well done, with teleconferences out to 3 locations further into the country. A volunteer wondered if they could get GNOME on the Olidata Classmate PC. Someone mentioned Plan Ceibal's robotics initiative and discussion of that was heated - partially because it's a new technology for teachers to master and integrate, partially because it might be closed/limited platform. One volunteer wanted to get back to basic application skills (word processing) because it is more practical.

There was a lot I missed (arrived late, people spoke Spanish), so read Christoph's blog post for full details.

I talked with a teacher afterward about activities and content. The number one problem, he tells me, is that they have lessons to teach the computers, but they need ways to integrate the computer into their main lessons. Especially biology - he couldn't find any biology content for his class. Fortunately, we are looking at National Geographic for our eBook library. There are also some good map demos that he could use. Got his e-mail so I can send these along and talk to him later.

His second point was that the parents (in English he said "fathers" which I interpret to be "padres", parents, but I dunno) do not see a use for the laptops. These concerns are making it difficult to launch the high school program. This despite my stats that the Map activity is used late into the night (Christoph confirms that Plan Ceibal wireless use doesn't fully drop off until 1AM).

Monday, April 25, 2011

XOs in Rocha, Uruguay

These photos were taken a few kilometres from each other, yesterday, in Rocha. You can see a horse-drawn cart, beautiful fields and mountains, a kid using her XO, and the local XO repair center.

Also saw a kid at the Montevideo airport with an XO, but didn't have time to take a picture.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Informe: Geek Guide to Spanish (UY)

So you're coming to eduJAM and want to brush up on your high school Spanish. "Hola. ¿Cómo te llamas?" You also have a talk on a tech thing (semantic web, for example) and want to hack Sugar, Uruguay-style.

Well I don't know about you, but my Spanish class never got to the chapter about operating systems or Facebook. We never talked in Uruguayan Spanish, either. If you pronounced "llamas?" above with an L, Y, or J sound... you're in for a surprise. Fortunately, your correspondent has been in the field for 3.5 weeks. Here's the scoop:

Uruguayan Spanish 101

Y sound with a vowel after it, as in "Uruguayo" or "yo", is pronounced like the sh in "wash". This counts for ll as in "llamas", too. Practice: "Inventos UruguaSHos" (Uruguayan inventions). "¿Cuando shegaste? ¿Cómo te shamas?" (When did you arrive? What's your name?). My Spanish teachers used a Y sound and hinted that some people used J.

The bus is "ómnibus" or "bondi". A teacher is usually a "docente" and a student is usually an "alumno". An e-mail is simply a "correo". Sugar is still called Sugar, not Azucar. Blue XO-1.5 is well-known, green 1.5 and 1.75 are not. Olidata and Magalhaes are two Classmate PCs (running Sugar and Metasys Linux, respectively) that Plan Ceibal is trying out with teachers.

Do I need to talk in Spanish about technical things?

Many programmers here learned their skills in English, or learned a great deal of our language while in college. Sometimes Spanish borrows the English word (like "tags" on Flickr) or is very similar to the English word (catálogo = catalog, computadora = computer). The best thing you can do is pay attention to words -- I have had many people stop and search for the translation for "cargar" instead of saying "cargar" (to charge) or pointing at a socket, which would work just as well.

On the other hand, technical Spanish is alive and well. There was a good discussion on IAEP about whether Uruguayan children need to speak English in order to be programmers. The source of the Conozco Uruguay activity is written in Spanish just as much as it's written in Python. The word "red" appears often, advertising a WiFi, mobile, or social network. I think it'd be good to learn your topic and interests in Spanish because "triple-store database" isn't as interesting when the person only understands "database".

You should also be aware of alternate word choices and pronunciations in Spanish. A Kindle is a "KEEN-dle", XO is "la equis-oh". The word "archivo" could mean archive, or any file in the XO's journal (known as "diario"). Acronyms such as GIS and OS are inverted (SIG, SO) because the adjective goes from the beginning to the end of the term.

Researching Technical Spanish

In order of rapido -> lento

Wikipedia method

1) Go to the topic article on English Wikipedia
2) Scroll down the left column (it's alphabetic)
3) Click "Español". If it's not there, go to step 1 with a more generic topic.
4) Ctrl- to shrink the page. Print and read on the plane.

Google Translate method

1) Open at the beginning of the day
2) Turn off instant translation (link at the bottom of the page), set EN->ES
3) Type things in English and things you learn in Spanish on the left side throughout the day. Press enter or the Translate button after entering a new phrase
4) Keep the page open until you go home for the day

Borrow Dictionary method

I spent $6 on an old but useful "Illustrated Dictionary of Computing". Has an English index and the rest is Spanish with colorful graphics. Will bring it to events; you can borrow it.

Bookstore method

I found an up-to-date "Complete Dictionary of Educational Technology" written entirely in Spanish. It costs around 70 USD at a bookstore near me.

A DO and two DON'Ts

DO name-drop: Negroponte, Linux flavors, Dextrose, open source legends, the Uruguayan food you ate the other day. Bonus points if you know Fede Alvarez, soccer players, or open-source projects with roots in Spain or Latin America. OpenStreetMap has some traction. It's good to have things in common.

DON'T be shy about wanting to get your work into Plan Ceibal. This is your big moment! Uruguay wouldn't be hosting this if they weren't interested in crazy new tech from around the world. Show teachers, show admins and volunteers, show programmers.

Lastly, DON'T speak in math or Python to avoid learning a human language! You were thinking about it, weren't you?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Photos + Trip to La Pedrera

The clouds parted yesterday midday, and I went sightseeing all over La Paloma. Today I spent midday/afternoon in La Pedrera, the next town over. Tomorrow morning I'll head to Rocha, the district capital.

It's been a long time since I made a photo update. Click any of these photos to see the new album on Facebook.


The countryside "El Interior":

Climbed a Lighthouse

The rocks on the beaches are one of the best pieces of evidence for South America and Africa having been part of the same supercontinent.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

La Paloma

Edit: as Julián points out in the comments, I misspelled the name of the town, "La Paloma" two different ways in the original post.

Arrived in La Paloma and walked to the hostel. Everything is completely different from the city and on the road we could see pastures and farms for miles.

The roads here are named for the astrology signs. We´re on Avenida Leo. Despite getting rained on, I´m looking forward to exploring. The clouds look lighter already.

I´ve updated my map in the right sidebar of the blog to show my current location.

If the weather doesn´t improve, I´ll go to Rocha, the capital of this area. More indoor stuff.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Skynet is activated today

According to the Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, the defense network Skynet is activated today at 8:11PM. This Thursday it becomes self-aware and takes over the planet. Singularity Hub is covering this story as it develops / descends into chaos.

There isn't a lot of cross-over between One Laptop per Child and the Terminator franchise. We believe that computers can empower kids with access to information and new skills, and the movies say that we will soon be pitted against our technology for survival. Terminator does bring up two really good points, though:

Inevitability of Technology

No matter how much the heroes tried to hinder Skynet, by sabotaging chess matches or preventing nuclear meltdowns, they never could stop it from being built. There are technologies that we have postponed - human cloning has been possible for 10 years, and yet no Total Recall. Predator drones (officially) only fire when commanded by people. But do you believe that will last forever? Skynet theory is that no matter how you influence one programmer or another, the final product - superhuman AI - is too useful to avoid creating.

But one of the main reasons I volunteer for OLPC, despite shortcomings here and there, is that educational technology is inevitable. It's up to us to make sure that the pioneers get some things right -- like including creativity and local open source folks. Otherwise we will be like the communist planet in "A Wrinkle in Time".

Your future is set - now what?

Even before John Connor is born, it's set that he's going to have to fight the robots and take back the world. In some ways it's pretty cool, but it weighed heavy on him in the TV series. Knowing that the world was in trouble, but that by facing it head-on, in the long run he might be able to do something about it.

It's an interesting way to look at climate change, energy, or the economy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Birthday and Holidays Update

My birthday was great! For lunch, I went with my co-workers to get a chivito sandwich, which I'd read about in the book Inventos Uruguayos. According to legend, a tourist in Punta del Este asked for goat (chivo) and the kitchen had just sold their last goat-burger, so they put together a slice of filet mignon, some bacon, egg, and mayo and called it a "chivito". It's a monster sandwich and tastes good with fries.

Image CC-BY-SA Wikipedia

I also got masitas, which are little desserts with chocolate and dulce de leche, and a green cupcake from Plan Ceibal.

This week is also Holy Week in the Spanish-speaking world, which means that we all get a couple days off to travel. I just booked my tickets to La Paloma, a small coastal town in the east. I'm finally leaving the city! Let me map this:

All the places I've been these few weeks are in that little cluster, and the E is where I'm headed.

I promise to take tons of photos and look for folks with XOs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Investigacciones y Desarrollo

I received a Plan Ceibal business card the other day which reads Investigacciones y Desarrollo. I'm an investigator, a Sherlock Holmes if you will. Never mind that the Spanish translation might be closer to Research & Development.

Anyhow, I'm waiting to whip out this card and start asking questions at any moment. Then I see this, perched on a hill over the sea:

Is it a fortress? A mosque? I had my first case.

My bus passes it around 10 minutes before getting to Pocitos, so it was a long walk. Along the beach so I didn't mind. It got dark and I could see the city reflected on the other side of the inlet/lagoon. I went past a naval museum where I got lost before, a bus depot, one of those POLICLINICs which is either police or medical, I can't tell. Vehicles say SUAT on them, but there's clinic right in the name... I walk past some anchored sailboats. Finally, after 90 minutes at least, I arrive to puzzle over it. Photos are pretty dark so just refer to the above daytime photo ^^ Turns out it's a Zoological Museum. Creepy story: it was built over an old morgue and the original designers' plan for a "Cafe Morocco" was scrapped when fatal accidents occurred and locals started calling it the "Cabaret of Death". I must visit this place when it's open. To be continued.

By this time I was far, far away from anywhere that I'd walked before. But I recognized a couple of buildings near the Montevideo Shopping, so I decided to check that out. Good bookstores. I got a sandwich and a slice of cake for dinner. While I was ordering, this nice lady jumped in to help me talk in Spanish. Turns out her fiance is from New York. I chatted with them and he's been in Uruguay for six months. Very encouraging.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What I'm Reading

A math teacher tries teaching Python -- everything goes better than expected! Lesson plans included. Visual Python has Linux support - does that make it XO-able?

Dr. Clemente, who organized the USAID grant application that I helped with, is visiting Uganda. She's in Kampala and Jinja, far from the Uganda that I know, but she's visiting everyone with XO. I suggested she visit a UNICEF site that made a community computer kiosk out of oil drums - hopefully I'll get the inside story from her.

Exploring the City

This weekend I decided to find some new food, do some sightseeing, and finally do laundry. In the mall it is possible to get Chinese food or a big egg salad, and today I had some good pasta al pesto. On Friday after work I walked to the beach and the tide had almost covered everything. The landmark old-fashioned Hotel Carrasco stands out on the coast, but when I get closer I can see it's torn open for a complete remodeling. Most of the tourists in the area are going to the stores and restaurants. They have tons of ice cream flavors, and I went with Oreo (theirs is chocolate with cookie pieces).

Last week I enjoyed the convenience of living near the office and being in a more residential neighborhood, but there's no room there this week. I'd recommend it if you're writing a murder mystery. Old-fashioned decor in giant rooms, soft music playing in the entrance, like the lobby of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

I moved to a new place today: Hostel Pocitos. The new place has cheaper rates, but I'll have three roommates, and I need to take the bus to work again. These places are all within the city of Montevideo. Here's a map of the main places I've been:


  • A - Punta Carretas: first B&B

  • B - Carrasco: Plan Ceibal office and Murder Mystery Mansion

  • C - Pocitos: Hostel, nice beaches

  • D - Plaza Independencia - downtown and center of gov't

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Montevideo tips

For the people who are traveling to Montevideo soon, I posted a list of tips for your flight and buses on the Conozco Uruguay page

Montevideo has similarities with US cities such as Miami or El Paso, and there's a wide variety of food places. In the past week I have had sushi, Chinese pork, pizzareta, pasta, honey-flavored cheerios, shortbread cookies, dulce de leche, and milanesa (similar to chicken-fried steak). Some of these are decidedly non-Uruguayan, and I've been told to book a few days in the countryside so I can know the real traditions and local cuisine better. That'd also be an opportunity to try yerba mate tea, which nearly everyone drinks instead of coffee.

← I got the XO 1.5 HS to run gvSIG maps today -- it is such a relief to know that my job here is possible. Maps CC-BY-SA OpenStreetMap, CloudMade

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What it's like at Ceibal

Working for Plan Ceibal is like working for the Apollo program. You have an unprecedented technological goal, a national program to make it reality, and a team of brilliant and devoted people. Everyone here knows that they are the first country with a laptop for every student. The engineers are eager to push the tech envelope further, with robots, Arduino electronics, and EPUB eBooks.

It's been a week since I started work, and I need to get used to speaking Spanish, taking a long time to convey that I am ordering take-out, eating at 2 and 9PM... But I'm getting settled in. In the Content Department, I've investigated how to use the Khan Academy videos and whether the Uruguay military's maps are public domain. Although I'm on mailing lists and meetings instead of a blackboard like in Africa, there's a network in place that will send our work out nationally, even to towns where kids still ride horses to school.

The other day I had a look at the national curriculum, and they have technology and applied science woven directly into every topic and every grade level. There's no stepping back from that level of commitment. You've taken a step off terra firma, onto a new world.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Photos from Uruguay

This is a laptop repair center and a monument at the intersection of avenues Italia and General Rivera. I have a much better picture of the monument, but my connection isn't so good today.