Archive/Current Events/2011-11-13

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Sugar Digest

1. I am writing this issue of the Sugar Digest while once again watching the sun rise at Logan Airport in Boston. On the road, just back from Prague and now continuing west to Los Angeles to give a talk at USC. I have an opportunity to reach out to the freshman engineering class and impress upon them the pleasures of working with Sugar Labs.

Back from Los Angeles, where I am doing my final edits. The lecture, which was not recorded, seemed to go well. Lots of questions, including, "how do I get involved?" One professor with whom I met who designs curricula interventions for STEM in elementary and middle schools remarked that Sugar/OLPC XO was the first computer that made sufficient sense to him to merit bringing into the classroom!!

2. There are many reasons to participate in Sugar Labs, but for me personally I am motivated by opportunity it gives me to build within a community of builders. Last weekend's Sugar Camp in Prague organized by Daniel Drake was exhilarating. Being back among the core Sugar developers such as Tomeu Vizoso and Marco Gritti Presenti, along with Simon Schampijer, Raul Gutierrez Segales, Benjamin Berg, Bert and Rita Freudenberg at brmlab, the Prague hackerspace, was a rare treat. We made significant progress on migrating Sugar to GNOME 3 (Raul blogged about our daily progress here: [1]. For my part, I got a tutorial on Cairo development and gtk3 and this managed to get a few activities ported (Abacus with the help of Benjamin and Raul and Turtle Art with additional help from C Scott Ananian). We've begun documenting the porting process in the wiki. The goal is to have the next release of Sugar run in GNOME 3, which I think will be achievable.

The beer in Prague was a treat as well: Tomeu introduced us to some favorite watering holes and shared some of his delicious homebrew.

3. While hackfests are a treat, what is even more rewarding is seeing the fruits of one's labor. I was in communication this weekend with Christofer, a young hacker from Uruguay whom I have mentioned in past posts. Christofer has been using Unity on Ubuntu and has embarked upon a effort to build his own version of Sugar that incorporates what he sees as the best of both desktops. How cool is that?

Also, the Butia team continues to impress. In this video a 10-year-old explains how he programmed his dancing robot. In this video, the Butia team explains how their system works. Great stuff.

4. My former colleague, Mr. Negroponte, is now saying that the creation of a learning deployment is simply a matter of dropping laptops from a helicopter. Some of the discussion on Slashdot is worth reading. Arguably there are other approaches to deployments. While I would love to have access to Nicholas's yet-to-be-seen-in-the-field reading system, I still believe that a learning community that includes teachers and parents is vital. We have a long ways to go in our learning about learning and undoubtedly we will continue to make some mistakes along the way, but our basic theory of intervention, which includes doing, reflecting, and critiquing is sound.

5. The Learning Team has been discussing various ways to better utilize the Journal in evaluation. (See [2] for the discussion logs). Claudia summarized our discussion topics:

(1) Record in the Journal at any time: Here the intent is to enable editing the description, tags or the title at any time easily from the activity, and not have to wait to get out of the activity. Unlike the Keep button we have eliminated from the last Sugar version, no copy is made; it works on a single entry. [This facilitates the use of the Journal as a lab notebook, where notes can be recorded while the user is actively doing something, not just after the fact.]
(2) Open an activity-specific directories: This is to use the window that is currently used to select objects from the Journal from the activities, to open files in a specific directory, for example, to find examples in Turtle Art. [This will make it easier to provide and share clip art, example projects, etc.]
(3) Modes home / school: A problem raised by some teachers, is that Journals of his students (and school servers) are filled with music or games. With this proposal, Sugar offers you in a "school" when working at school or doing their homework, if you are using Sugar for their own interests, put your work in a "house". What is recorded in the Journal will be this way, and also can be changed from the detail view.
This mode also works as a filter, so when school is not listed in the Journal all the games and songs. Furthermore, it only makes backup servers that has been recorded so school, this solves the problem of server space and preserves the privacy of students.
[In discussing this, we agreed that home vs. school is perhaps the wrong dichotomy. Nonetheless, the ability to organize ones work into several different desktops has merit.]
(4) Operations on multiple files in the Journal: allow selecting multiple files for copying to a USB or delete them. [Martin Abente has a much of this feature coded already.]
(5) Activity-specific metadata: The work we have begun with the learning community. The idea is to record data related to the use of activity and display it in the detail view of the Journal. An example can be found here:
These data will be used for searching the Journal and will be copied to the server when you have a backup.
(6) Default tags: At this time a tag is any text you type into the Tag field. This makes their use is unclear and not used much. We believe we can improved by making the selection of labels from a predefined (Which you can add new or remove) and display more prominently in the Journal (See a mock-up).
(7) Labels on the activities: We could assign labels to the activities to be seen into the Home View; for example, by selecting activities programming or media handling. [As a start, we can pull these labels from the categories assigned by the activity developer on (ASLO).]
(8) Audio Tags: We could add the ability to record a short audio associated with the journal entry. We have to think how to record, display and how to limit the length of the audio so it does not take up much space.
(9) Activity achievement badges: Portfolio and work activity showing Journal entries generated by other activities, could have an activity dedicated to show levels of achievement or badges earned by the done in other activities. While simple linear games like Maze or The writer is simple Turtle Art systematically define these awards, can not do something smart to analyze the quality of a drawing, a text or a melody. It could also be a space for the teacher provide feedback and reward achievement. We need to discuss this further.

Also, Claudia Urrea and Gonzalo Odiard have put together several pages in the wiki for aggregating ideas: please add to [3] and/or [4] your ideas about those data you think would be useful to record when running an activity; and please use [5] to provide feedback on activities. (Note that we still prefer bugs to be filed at but acknowledge that it may be easier for many people to edit a wiki page than use our bug-tracking system.)

6. The latest sensor project from Guzman Trindad is worth checking out.

7. I attended a lecture from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Subra Suresh last week in which he highlighted a joint program between the NSF and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched as international joint initiative to address global development challenges. This new program for "peer" projects. May be an opportunity for revisiting some of the unfunded collaborations we had proposed in 2008 and 2009. If anyone is interested in putting together a join proposal, please contact me.

PEER, "Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research," capitalizes on competitively-awarded investments to support and build scientific and technical capacity in the developing world.

8. I was looking at a collection of African art recently and was inspired by one of the patterns I saw. It was challenging, but I managed a reasonable facsimile in Turtle Art (See File:Bamileke.png). It occurs to me that we could ask our young learners to find patterns--in nature, in their environment, in their culture--and replicate them programmatically. In the spirit of Barry Newell's Turtle Confusion but driven by the direct observations of the kids themselves.

In the community

9. Reminder: As a community member, it is important that your voice be heard. On e mechanism is for you to participate in our upcoming election: We will be holding an election for three Sugar Labs oversight board (SLOB) positions at the end of next month. If you are not already a member of Sugar Labs, please send your name and an explanation of your contribution to Sugar Labs in an email to members at sugarlabs dot org. If you are a member, please consider being a candidate for one of the SLOB positions.

10. Laura Vargas announced that there will be a Sugar Camp in Peru 18-19 November (Details are available at

11. Is anyone interested in exploring how Sugar Labs might participate in Google Code-in 2012? Information about 2011 can be found here.

Tech Talk

12. Daniel Drake announced 883 as the official OLPC 11.3.0 release. This is the first release to include Sugar 0.94 and it represents a big step forward in terms of stability. Congratulations to everyone who contributed.

13. Meanwhile, Peter Robinson is in the final stages of releasing SoaSv6. He is asking for more testing and feedback. It is looking to be a big improvement over previous releases and, as reported by Tom Gilliard, it is much easier to use on Apple laptops.

Sugar Labs

Gary Martin has generated SOMs from the past few weeks of discussion on the IAEP mailing list.

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