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Archive/Current Events/2011-01-03

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Sugar Digest

1. I have fallen a bit behind in my writing because I had an unfortunate mishap while I was in Brussels last week: my laptop was stolen. My old laptop, which had been on life support before I had left for Europe was completely dead when I returned, so I am using my old old laptop, which works great as long as I apply pressure to the lower-right corner of the keyboard. Looking forward to getting a replacement machine at the end of the week.

2. Plan Ceibal, the one-laptop-per-child program in Uruguay, held an international conference in Montevideo on 30 November - 1 December. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends from across the region (Gonzalo, Cecilia, Antonio, Laura, Patricia, et al.) and to spend time with many of the teachers and volunteers who have been participating in the program. I finally met Rosamel!! And I got reacquainted with the Ceibal Jam team; the students and faculty at Universidad Católica del Uruguay, where I gave a talk; and the Butiá project team, who uses a combination of Turtle Blocks and an Arduino board to turn the XO laptop into a robot -- very cool. (A favorite demo was when they used one laptop to control the robot, one to be the robot, and one to display the video from the robot's webcam -- a great use of the network and the plurality of laptops in Uruguay.) It is also worth noting that a number of commercial software companies are now participating in the project, offering Sugar activities (under FOSS licenses) to the children.

I spent some time at Ceibal discussing Sugar and future directions for the project. Emiliano Pastorino showed me an activity he is developing that uses an RFID-tag reader to help children use their laptops to inventory cattle. I was so intrigued that I decided to add an RFID block to Turtle Blocks so that the children can use RFID in their programs. (The code is in git and will be part of Release 105.)

One mission I had for my trip to Uruguay was to bring an 'unlocked' laptop to ChristoferR, a twelve-year-old, who has been writing Sugar activities. He was at the point where he needed root access in order to dig deeper into Sugar and the system. Thanks to Gabriel, Christofer now has a laptop that can be used for experimentation outside of the context of his school work. I discussed with Miguel Brechner the need to provide a scalable mechanism for unlocking machines in Uruguay -- today there are perhaps one dozen "Christofers" in Uruguay. Next year, there will be 100; in two years, 1000. Fiorella Haim, the technical lead for Ceibal, assured me that they have a plan in place to address this issue as part of the Sugar refresh scheduled for this summer.

After our discussion, Miguel happened to have a conversation with President José Mujica. He mentioned Christofer to the president, who in reply, smiled and said with pride in his voice, "We have hackers." Congratulations Uruguay.

3. I went from Uruguay to Brussels to give a talk at TEDx. Before my laptop was stolen, I had a chance to use it to make my presentation -- a 10-minute mini-talk (using, of course, Turtle Art). I started my talk off with a picture of Bernie at my mother's house, surrounded by pies I had baked for Thanksgiving. I remarked that it is important to feed the hackers, but my real point was to argue that we make a distinction between the every day (low shelf) and the occasional (high shelf): my special recipes for Thanksgiving that I have to 'reach' for; my daily coffee is right at hand. The remainder of my talk was an argument for making computation be on the low shelf of every child. (I'll post a link to the video as soon as it is available.)

In the community

4. We have a new Sugar oversight board: welcome to our new members, Sebastian Silva and Aleksey Lim. Also, welcome back Chris Ball and Adam Holt. It is a great group and we have already had some heated discussions (See Oversight_Board/Minutes). We meet on most Thursdays at 15:00 EST (20:00 UTC) in #sugar-meeting on Please join us.

5. Sebastian Dziallas, the project leader for Sugar on a Stick, has bid us farewell. It is not a surprise that the transition from secondary school to university has consumed him. Hopefully we will see more of him after he settles into his new routine. In the meanwhile, Peter Robinson has taken the lead. Best wishes to SDZ and many thanks for your contributions to the project.

Tech Talk

6. Tom (satellit_) Gilliard has been making rapid progress on the Virtual Box version of Sugar on a Stick. It seems to be emerging as the most robust and facile way to get Sugar running on a wide variety of platforms, including the various Apple products. You can follow his work here.

Sugar Labs

As always, Gary Martin has created some SOM diagrams of the discussions on the IAEP list.

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