[Sugar-news] sugar digest 2012-09-06

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Thu Sep 6 13:58:51 EDT 2012

== Sugar Digest ==

1. Just back from two exhilarating weeks in India. Along with Harriet
Vidyasagar, I visited with Sugar and OLPC aficionados in Delhi, Goa,
Mumbai, and Guwahati. It was quite eye-opening.

The first stop was Delhi. Harriet had arranged meetings with Sesame
Street India, which is using Sugar in an after-school program. They
were blown away when I told them the history of the Simple Graph
program, one of their favorites. Then we went to JNU where I met with
Dr. Ajith Kumar. Kumar works at the inter-university particle
accelerator center, but is also the inventor of ExpEyes [1], a
peripheral device similar to Arduino (or Lego WeDo) but for more
serious EE work (it has a signal generator and a buffer for doing
precise sampling of signals). Of course, I could not resist writing a
Turtle Art plugin for his device [2].

I also attended a seminar on Digital Literacy sponsored by the
Hindustan Times, Intel, and Microsoft. The seminar itself was pretty
depressing: a very paternalistic approach to providing government
services to the masses. But I met a number of good people there whom I
will be following up with.

Also in Delhi, I got a chance to see Manusheel Gupta, who had interned
for me in the very early days of OLPC. It was very nice to catch up.

The next stop was Goa, where there is a small OLPC deployment. One of
the highlights of the trip was finally meeting Salil Konkar, who has
been maintaining the deployment on a volunteer basis. There are not
enough laptops for each child to get their own, so before each class,
a selected group of students retrieve then (XO 1.0s) from a charging
station (designed at the Homi Bhabha Centre) for use in the class. The
students, perhaps seven to eight years old,  were using the Numbers
activity that day, and although it was somewhat of a traditional class
in format--desks in rows facing forward--they were actively engaged
and helping each other. I had a prototype of XO Touch with me, so I
did a small study with some of the kids to see how they took to it.
(Although it is unfair to compare with the erratic touchpad of the
first-generation XO 1.0s, it was nonetheless obvious that touch will
make a big difference: they interface, which had been getting in the
way was suddenly in background; all focus was on the math.)

Another highlight in Goa was the opportunity to meet Rita Paes, who
directs the Nirmala Institute, a teacher-training college [3]. I got a
chance to talk to the students about Sugar (who welcomed me with a
lovely ceremony) and with Rita about the potential for establishing a
center of excellence for teacher training to support our efforts in
India. I saw great potential. Rita also introduced Harriet and me to
some locals who have interest in helping with the localization of
Sugar into Konkani. It was interesting to me that some people write
Konkani using Latin script, while others use Devanagari script. It is
somewhat of a political issue, so Chris Leonard has enable both
communities to work in pootle ([4], [5]).

>From there, I went to the University of Goa [6], where I gave a
lecture to the engineering students. The next evening, I gave a
seminar on how to write a Sugar activity to about seventy students.
Clearly there is some latent interest in the project. I also have a
lecture at the local meeting of the ACM, which happened to coincide
with my visit. Finally, I travelled an hour out of town to the Goa
Institute of Management [7], a beautiful campus on a hill top, to talk
to the students on the theme of "learning to change the world." We
discussed strategies for making Sugar (and OLPC) take hold on the

>From Goa I travelled to Mumbai, where I was hosted by the Homi Bhabha
Centre for Science Education Tata Institute of Fundamental Research,
specifically G Nagarjuna and his students at the Gnowledge Lab [8].
G's students are well versed in Sugar, having been active in
supporting the OLPC deployment in Khairat [9]. Their principal project
is metastudio.org [10], a peer-to-peer collaborative workspace that
utilizes many semantic features. We discussed the possibility of
folding some of their work into future School Server designs.
Hopefully they will be able to participate (mostly likely on line) in
the discussions at the SF summit [11].

>From Mumbai, I visited two schools: a school for children with
disabilities and the village school in Khairat. At the former, I
discussed with the computer teacher the possibility of using Sugar
instead of Microsoft Windows XP as a way to engage the children more
directly. While Sugar is attractive from the learning perspective, one
concern is that a good deal of the computer training is geared towards
an exam that is based on master of Microsoft products that is a hurtle
the children must jump over in order to enter the job market. Of
course, for most populations of learners, master one word processor
means that one can quickly master any other, but it is still to be
demonstrated that such a transfer would occur with this population.

At the school in Khairat, I got a chance to see what has sprouted from
the seed that Carla Gomez Monroy planted four years ago. Khairat was
one of the early OLPC deployments and, although the program has as yet
to take off in India as a whole, this program is still going strong.
Harriet and I were welcomed to the village with a traditional ceremony
that included beautiful garlands of flowers. We sat with some of the
mothers and preschool children, whom I immediately presented the XO
Touch. The children took to it immediately. One child, using paint,
kept looking at his finger for the ink. But the real fun was visiting
the classroom. The children took turns standing in front of the class
to talk about their work: often drawing, custom-made memory games,
writing (in both English and Marathi--they are completely fluid in
switching between scripts on the XO keyboard), and Turtle Art. I got
to watch as a child figured out how to scale his drawings in Turtle
Art. I got a chance to present to the class, so I thought I would
engage them in something a bit different. Daniel Drake has written a
yet-to-be-released activity that features some animated dance and
exercise moves. I showed them some dances and they did not need
prompting to follow along. But then I asked them to some me some of
the local dance steps. I challenged them to make their own dance
videos and coached them through the process using Turtle Art (See
[12]). They quickly grasped the concept behind the various media
blocks (they had previously been using an old version of Turtle Art
that did not yet have these features). Together we engaged in some
"hard fun."

My next stop was IIT Guwahati. I gave the keynote at Techniche [13],
the annual techno-management festival. Interestingly, as I was staying
at the university guest house, I had a chance to interact with much of
the staff, particularly in the kitchen (did I mention I love Indian
food?). They were really taken with the XO and we discussed how we
might get some for their children. As it turns out, the students at
the IIT run a school for the children of the workers, so perhaps it is
not out of the question.

I spent another 24 hours in Delhi. Harriet and I spent much of the day
with Satyaakam Goswami and his students at JNU and members of the
local FOSS community.  In addition to being very active in helping to
translate Sugar into Hindi, Satyaakam has been working in an urban
school in Nithari, using Raspberry PI [14]. I visited the school and
only have admiration for the teachers and students who seem to be
thriving despite very difficult circumstances.  As with the school for
the disabled, much of the emphasis in the school is for the children
to pass their exams, so in discussion with the teachers, we talked
about trying to establish some extra-curricular activities for the
children using Sugar.

India opened my eyes both to the possibilities and the challenges of
Sugar and OLPC. Many thanks to Harriet for her support. And to the
numerous volunteers I met who are trying to give the opportunity of
learning to so many children.

2. In response to feedback from FZT [15], I released a new version of
the Nutrition activity [16]. Also, in the spirit of eating my own dog
food, as usual I gave my talks in India using Turtle Art. In the
process, I uncovered some corner cases in some of the new features I
had introduced in Version 154. Version 156 has some bug fixes [17].

3. I just got the galley back from the publisher of a book I am
writing (with Chuck Kane) about OLPC [18]. I hope to do justice to the

=== In the community ===

4. There are plans to hold the next OLPC SF summit [11] in San
Francisco the weekend of October 19-21. We are looking into organizing
a Sugar Camp ''following'' the summit.

=== Tech Talk ===


* The last of Hippo is removed from the shell!!
* Work on 13.1 is under way.

=== Sugar Labs ===

Visit our planet [19] for more updates about Sugar and Sugar deployments.



[1] http://expeyes.in
[2] http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Activities/Turtle_Art/Plugins#Expeyes
[3] http://www.nirmala-institute.com/
[4] http://translate.sugarlabs.org/gom/
[5] http://translate.sugarlabs.org/gom@latin/
[6] http://www.unigoa.ac.in/department.php?adepid=10&mdepid=3
[7] http://www.gim.ac.in
[8] http://lab.gnowledge.org/
[9] http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_India/DBF/Khairat_Chronicle
[10] http://metastudio.org
[11] http://olpcsf.org/
[12] http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/images/7/71/Dancedance.png
[13] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techniche
[14] http://vinaychaddha.blogspot.in/2012/08/presentation-at-electronics-rocks-2012.html
[15] http://www.fundacionzt.org/
[16] http://activities.sugarlabs.org/en-US/sugar/addon/4555
[17] http://activities.sugarlabs.org/en-US/sugar/addon/4027
[18] http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Change-World-Social-Impact/dp/0230337317
[19] http://planet.sugarlabs.org

Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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