Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Everyone has new hats

I put down my XO and became an English teacher, Junior went from GPS back to teacher-training, a new teacher joined the school here and received an XO, we gained an American (Tony) and another American (Sally) is going home after spending more than a year in Haiti... Chaos!

Long story short: Junior (our GPS mapper Monday) is an expert on eToys from an XO-using school in Cap-Haitien (always sounds like Capsaicin to me). He said it was time to get the teachers using eToys, and he had them looking at the animated machin (car) and drawing houses, when...

Sally had to leave, and asked me to help teach her conversational English class from now on. They wanted me to explain words like wheatear, wily, and destiny. Explaining the last left me wondering about my own sense of reality. We'll be reading bits of Sally's novel, a self-help book, and one of my engineering books, "Yes is More".

One last thought is that we have to finish what we build. This post here is just a corner of a building which may never exist. There are so many in our neighborhood. We're not making another.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A walk in our neighborhood

We went for a good photo-mapping walk in the neighborhood around the school today, before the teachers' meeting.

Full Map Link

All of our photos were GPS-located by our OLPC intern, Junior. Maybe he will join COSMHA next! Here he is, mapping:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Meeting Parents, Teachers, Mappers in Haiti

We are less than a week into our Haiti trip and already meeting all of the right people. We met the teachers and school administration three times just outside our tents. Click any photo for the full set.

Then today we met with many parents of our students. We demo'd typing, the camera, and sensors. I didn't take photos, because I rarely bring a camera to my first meeting with someone. There were plenty of others there, though, so the event is on film somewhere.


We spent the weekend at Grassroots United, an international group of people all working on health, mapping, health mapping, or building science.

Their Haitian mapping team (COSMHA) were about to travel around the block taking photos of businesses and tracking with their GPS. Once we got back to camp, we could match the times on the photos and the times on the GPS to map our trip. I had my camera, so we took several photos of local businesses, like this CyberNet-ery.

I shared a lot of ideas about mapping and databases and websites, but they seemed highly abstract, I guess. COSMHA seems focused on feeding raw material into OpenStreetMap, which seems rather short-sighted. I want to support their project by writing websites and innovative add-ons that showcase what they're doing and how it can be applied by our friends in the UN, USAID, CDC, and World Bank.

My problems continue to be communication and disconnect. So many meetings were relayed into English for my sake. Today I asked Junior (Haiti's OLPC intern) to teach me a couple of words. I now know how to explain my sensors project. By disconnect - if that's the right word, I don't want to be that guy - I mean the surreal, air-conditioned, pop-music restaurant not far from Grassroots United. As the other table of Americans and I devoured our curry chicken, salad, rice, and Oreos, watching a fountain, flowers, and an armed guard out the window, I couldn't make sense of it. This isn't the real Haiti, and it's not what we want Haiti to look like, either.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Foothold: first steps in Haiti

It's been a busy few days. We met the Haitian-American Caucus, settled into tents in the upstairs of our compound, visited an orphanage, met the teachers and introduced them to our favorite activities on the computer, presented the computers to USAID, met local volunteers, met the teachers two more times to answer questions, and left just in time to participate in a photo-mapping exercise at Grassroots United.

Click any photo to see the full set:

^^ we don't live here; this is an orphanage a few miles away

Three breakthrough points for me:

  • Going from pushing and shoving the people crowded outside the airport to hugging babies within a few hours. Nice kids.

  • Listening to a teacher read the French OLPC guide out loud, and she stops a second to cautiously pronounce Google. The main OLPC guy, Adam, was about to continue, but I just had to know who here uses Google?. Teachers: 0/3, Administrators 2/2. Notable divide between the men and the women. Internet lessons start next week.

  • This morning I met the teachers for a 3rd time and took photos (will upload later). One of the teachers speaks some Spanish so I finally could share a few sentences. I also tried some of my new Haitian Creole vocab to say, "Journal: history of activities" and "the neighborhood: connect radios".

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maker Faire Wrap-Up (3)

I just noticed the first post's photos were terribly low-res. Now Updated.

See BBC: Tech heads display DIY Projects (video) or the zillions of photos from Andrew Plumb and Michael Surtee.

If you want to get all philosophical, there's also What Barack Obama Could Learn from Maker Faire

Maker Faire Wrap-Up (2)

As promised, more photos of Maker Faire. Click any photo to see the full set of photos.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Maker Faire wrap up

I'm on my way home from my second-ever visit to Maker Faire and my first time as an official Maker! Response was overwhelmingly positive and many kids and adults were drawn in by Sugar activities and our sensor setups. Walking around, I got to meet Sparkfun, Squishy Circuits, RobotGrrl, Let's Make Robots, and Raspberry Pi, who all are part of this tremendous effort to make engineering kid-friendly.

Here are a few photos from my phone. I have more on my camera that I will post in a few minutes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Mission in Haiti

With Haiti's great need of relief and reform, many are seeking food, shelter, and medical care. The world has responded with the largest contingent of volunteers in the world, outside of India (NYT Sept 6). Of the million homeless counted after the earthquake in 2010, hundreds of thousands have left tent cities. Between June and July of this year, 6% of tent dwellers moved into new shelters. What's next?

Both local and global organizations now look to long-term programs. Specifically, what does it mean to be educated in Haiti? In primary school, which is a crucial time for literacy, schools and curricula are fairly independent, something similar to private preschools in the US. Parents take it upon themselves to find a school near home which meets expectations for their children. The general consensus is that organizing and monitoring these schools would improve literacy and increase the number of students who continue their education.

A few years ago, Haiti received laptops from One Laptop per Child to modernize their schools and attempt equal access to education throughout the country. Since then, volunteers from Waveplace and the Illinois Institute of Technology have expanded these projects with new schools and activities. See olpcMAP of Haiti.

CC-BY One Laptop per Child

My goal for OLPC Haiti is trifold: to continue schools' interest in their computers, to develop and share new resources for literacy and creativity, and to show how technology can be part of a national education strategy for Haiti. For example, I will be taking @aiclass to test using online classes to train and assist teachers.

Last weekend, I met several OpenStreetMap volunteers who have made a remarkably innovative and to-the-minute map of Haiti. In only two days, they made the changes shown above. The UN and a handful of others have tapped into OpenStreetMap, but others remain unaware of the data or what can be built on top of it. The lines and shades of an online map are an echo of the real-life situation. I want to develop maps with a new level of detail and perspective, so we can begin to address and change what we see. Some maps you'll see will be made for and by kids, and others will only make sense to engineers.

I believe in a third component, not yet realized in Haiti, that is sometimes called the Maker Movement. In an appearance on Adafruit's Show-and-Tell (video will appear here) and our upcoming booth at Maker Faire NYC, I make the case for do-it-yourself electronics, both as a tactile introduction to technology and as a realistic future for developing nations. I am bringing new sensors and new materials beyond what was seen in Uganda and Uruguay. This one initiative can cross over into many others. A Wiimote can take the place of a keyboard and mouse for novice mapmakers. Sewable electronics hold potential for Haiti's artists and crafts markets. And it will become clear that technology lives to be adapted, not consumed. Just as Mozilla has moved away from reading webpages to teaching the world to code (both why and how), Haitian schools can make a difference by moving from prescribed to open education.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sending video lessons abroad

I got into a discussion with someone about their interactive education idea. They're separating the video and audio tracks of recorded classes, then using a painful system to keep the two files in sync with each other. Think "my video stopped downloading... okay now it's going again..." Squared.

Their reason for separating the tracks is to give users in far-off countries the option to remove the video. But then why not make it either-or? Why make a video that the target users won't see? Why stream chapters bits at a time, losing them when the user goes to the next page, when you want people to keep and re-watch the complete lesson?

I got to thinking the best way to do this is torrents from nearby networks. The State Department may agree, as they recently funded a program called BitMate specifically for torrents in the 3rd world.  Has anyone tried this yet? It sounds like the best chance to make classes like MIT's OCW pop up in remote parts of the world, as promoted by this programmer in Rwanda:

I was going to pass this on to my acquaintance, but they sent a lengthy research paper explaining their new method of global learning and new XML schema and... they're too invested in this one idea for my input to do any good. Figured I'd share these ideas here instead.