[Sugar-devel] Sugar Digest 2010-10-26

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Tue Oct 26 17:10:30 EDT 2010

==Sugar Digest==

1. Tomeu's departure from the project has set off a lot of
introspection, speculation, 'blunt' emails, and thoughtful responses.
There is no doubt that we will miss Tomeu. He has been not just a
prolific contributor to the project, but also a steady hand, with the
professional's eye. Under his leadership, we have been able to raise
the quality of Sugar and we are much better integrated into the work
flows both upstream and downstream from Sugar. We must ensure that
this level of professionalism is not diminished.

The occasion of Tomeu's departure has triggered the voicing of many
unrelated frustrations with Sugar and Sugar Labs. Yioryos
Asprobounitis posted a thoughtful email
to the Sugar Developer list. In it, he reminded us of those things
that every successful project needs:

* Clearly defined aims
* Clearly defined road map
* Clearly defined tools/methods of implementation
* Clearly defined, tangible, milestones and annual _external_ evaluation

While I think that the Sugar Community has worked hard towards
providing clarity, there remain deficiencies and disagreements.

Personally, my aims for are unwavering: Sugar is a software platform
that is designed for children for learning. Sugar is developed and
maintained by Sugar Labs, a global volunteer community of software
developers and educators. Our goal is to raise a generation of
critical thinkers and problem-solvers by establishing a culture of
independent thinking and learning. Through Sugar, we strive to provide
every child with the opportunity to learn learning within a context
that will allow them both to engage in an on-going critical dialog
with others and to develop independent means towards their personal

The technical underpinnings of Sugar are deliberately designed
maximize the probability that children will learn. Through the
Sugar-platform affordances, we encourage learners to explore by dig
deeply into topics for which they are passionate, to express by
building upon what they discover, and to reflect by engaging in
peer-to-peer and personal criticism. Free Software is fundamental to
the project not just as a means to an end, but also because of its
culture: it is no coincidence that Free Software developers don't just
write code; they talk about Free Software, they criticize it, and they
discuss other people's criticisms.

Regarding road maps, in my opinion we are quite disciplined in terms
of our day-to-day release process. However we are lacking a long-term
road map, which I would equate to an architectural specification. Such
a document could serve as a metric that would help us with some of our
short-term decisions and also help shape the project going forward.

Regarding tools and methods of implementation, while there has been
lots of heated discussion, I don't think we are so far apart in our
opinions. The seemingly endless debate about git vs email vs trac for
patch review is winding down. And we are getting better as a community
in showing patience with our handling of the influx of patches and
questions from newbies. Perhaps the best evidence that we are not so
far off track is the great job that has been done packaging Sugar
downstream by various organizations and deployments. We are producing
a product that they can work with and want to work with. Of course
there is always room for improvement and no doubt the debate about
tools and process will continue. That said, one legacy of Tomeu is to
be uncompromising on quality. I have submitted many patches and have
had very few accepted. But I have gotten thoughtful feedback and
learned a great deal in the process. My subsequent patches are better
for the effort of the Sugar maintainers.

Regarding tangible milestones and evaluation, I give us a mixed
review. We have a reasonable mechanisms in place for our release
process and we are cultivating ever-increasing feedback from the Sugar
deployments. However, we are lacking clarity around our long-range
technical goals. In terms of evaluation, Sugar in the context of
deployments is undergoing some level of scrutiny. There are on-going
evaluations underway in all of the major deployments. But with few
exceptions it is not clear how Sugar itself is being evaluating in the
field. We have some active testing teams, but we have not provided
them with very good tool chains; we have almost no automated data
collection to inform us as to how children are using Sugar. These
deficiencies are mitigated in part by an increasingly vocal community
of teachers and mentors and facilitators. Ultimately I think we will
learn more from our user community than is typical of other software
projects. Indeed, the fact that two teachers are running for positions
on our Oversight Board is really encouraging.

Dave Neary wrote a blog post about Ubuntu's plans to move to Unity as
the default desktop in which he mentions Sugar.

> OLPC had many teething problems with the Sugar desktop environment. Bugs, stability and performance issues plagued the project for many months, to the point where they abandoned the development of the stack as the primary target platform for the devices. The project lives on in Sugar Labs, thanks to a broad and vibrant developer community.
> There is not one out-and-out success story of a company building a great high-quality custom user interface on the standard Linux stack, except Android, which is hardly a model of collaborative software development.
> There is another possibility which seems to me more plausible: building a rock solid and functional desktop is hard. Really hard.

What we are doing is hard. But it is also worthwhile. For those of you
who have never had a chance to visit a Sugar deployment, I urge you to
do so. What you will see, despite all of the shortcomings, is children
learning. That is why we are doing this.

2. I had an opportunity to visit Caacupé last week. (I was in Paraguay
to give the opening keynote at CLEI 2010
[[http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/User:Walter#CLEI_talk]], which was
hosted by the National University of Asunción. After my talk, I was
approached by the university, which has agreed to offer students
course credit for working on Sugar.) The formadores at Paraguay Educa
have created Saturday 'clubs' to offer opportunities to explore
Scratch, Etoys, and Turtle Art in more informal settings. I got to
meet with the Club ¡Formando Artistas con la Tortuga!
[http://formando-artistas.blogspot.com/]  and see first hand what the
kids were doing with Turtle Art. I introduced to them a new feature:
the caparazon de tortuga (turtle shell) block lets them turn the
turtle into a sprite. I recruited a volunteer, Pablo, who made a self
portrait using Record. We then loaded his image onto the turtle shell.
Needless to say, it was a hit with the kids. I did spend some time
introducing the concept of the 'box' (variable block) as a place to
put a number and subsequently retrieve it. That was less successful.
It occurred to me in discussion with Roberto Alcala, the new technical
lead for the project, that if the box shows it value, it may help with
the abstraction.
Turtle Blocks v102] has that feature and the formadores have promised
me feedback. In the meantime, the kids have been sending me their
projects, on display
And check out [http://miguela-xo.blogspot.com/].

3. Just before hopping on the plane to Paraguay, I did a video
conference with faculty and students from about 1/2 dozen universities
in Pakistan [[http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/User:Walter#Pakistan_talk]]
to discuss establishing a Sugar Lab in Pakistan. While the potential
for funding from USAID has momentarily fallen through, nonetheless,
there is great enthusiasm.

4. I visited with Educ.ar in Buenos Aires on the way back from
Asunción. It was a chance to catch up with old friends and to find out
more about the government program to give laptops to secondary school
children. We talked Sugar and there is a good possibility that it will
be part of the offering.

===In the community===

5. The OLPC/Sugar/Realness summit was held in San Francisco. Adam Holt
reports that 130+ enthusiastic OLPC/Sugar community members attended.
You can read detailed summaries of the sessions here:

===Tech Talk===

6. http://dev.laptop.org/~pgf/xo-1.75-broughtup.jpg speaks for itself!!

===Sugar Labs===

Gary Martin has generated a SOM from the past few week of discussion
on the IAEP mailing list.
http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/File:2010-Oct-16-22-som.jpg (28 emails)

Visit our planet [http://planet.sugarlabs.org] for more updates about
Sugar and Sugar deployments.


Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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