Thursday, May 28, 2009

Now I'm starting to get a little nervous...

Some of my worries have ended as our Visas and Passports have finally arrived back from New York. I just registered with the State Department to let them know that I will be in Rwanda and everything seems to be in order for our trip.

Except for packing...

I've cut down on what I had planned to bring mostly because of what Martin said about how he will probably bring less than one weeks worth of clothing. I think I'll have at least about a weeks worth of T-shirts and about a weeks worth of boxers but pants will probably be one pair of cargo shorts, one pair of athletic shorts, one pair of jeans and one pair of nice khakis to meet any big wigs. I will be bringing some equipment for our deployments (wifi routers, flash drives, etc.) as well as two baseball gloves and a frisbee.

I got some new equipment for the trip including a watch (because I won't have a working cell phone) and an external hard drive to backup data and my pictures. I think I have everything covered and I just need to see how much I can stretch my weight limits of one 13 pound carry on and one 44 pound checked bag. The checked bag should be no problem but I will want to take as much as possible in my carry on.

I've posted up pictures from Meredith's pinning ceremony on my flickr account here. All of the pictures from the event are hosted here.

Black sand beach in Sao Tome

Ate lago!
-XO Mike

Friday, May 22, 2009

T-minus two weeks! (This time it's for real)

Two weeks from the time of the post I will be sitting on a plane headed for London.

Possibly my transportation across the pond.

Our team is still on track and my Portuguese is coming along quite well. The class is 1/3 over but I am learning enough to give me a strong foundation to build upon when we land.

Tuesday I will be training our team on how to care for, handle, and operate the XOs so that we are capable teachers. I have been playing around with my XO since receiving it and have learned most of what I know through play and experimenting.

An unexpected surprise this week came when Corey distributed a revised budget. In the budget our food and lodging expenses are covered and we ordered 180 256MB flash drives along with 10 administrator 1GB flash drives. This will be crucial for having effective deployments where the saturation of the laptops will not reach 1:1. Students will be able to store their personal documents on the (hopefully) 1:1 saturated flash drives which can be used on any computer.

This weekend I am practicing my photography skills with my dad at Meredith's nursing school pinning ceremony! Congratulations Meredith! The pictures will be uploaded to a separate flickr account but I will post some of the best on my own account (links will follow in other posts). Graduation party tomorrow at NaNa's and then off to Chicago to spend a night with the Four Brothers to celebrate Chris' and Mark's belated birthdays as well as Pete's pre-birthday.

Prepare for a flood of photos on my flickr account!

-XO Mike

Monday, May 18, 2009

I can't read a calendar correctly


In my first Portuguese class I learned something I did not expect. I can't read a calendar and I have just under three weeks until I leave. This comes as both a blessing and a curse as I now have more time to prepare but also more time on campus (it's reallllly quiet).

The class went really well and I expect to learn a lot over the next three weeks. We have started with the basics and I can say, "Meu nome e Michael" (my name is Michael) along with a few other things including the alphabet and numbers through 100. What I think will be most confusing is trying to distinguish Brazilian Portuguese (Professor's language) and European Portuguese (STP language). The differences are much more than I thought and European Portuguese is much more difficult to understand than Brazilian Portuguese.

-XO Mike

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Less than two weeks!

Corey and I leave for Kigali two weeks from last Friday. Tomorrow several members of the team and I start a non-credited course at the University to jump start language learning. We will be in class two hours per day M-F with homework (wait, didn't I just finish the semester?!?!). I hope this will help prepare me to be able to better communicate with the locals. I don't expect to be fluent but I think they will be impressed and feel like we are trying to do more than drop off some computers if we can introduce ourselves and communicate a few basic phrases.

Tomorrow we should come close to our final budget and the money from OLPC should be in our account and we will begin purchasing equipment. Our equipment is dependent on the number of sites that we visit which will also be decided tomorrow. We are required to provide additional equipment we will need on site which will include Buffalo router/access points for each site. We chose this type because it features an internal amplifier and powerful antenna to hopefully broadcast beyond the schoolyard.

Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 - The wireless access point which we will use at each site.

Tomorrow should be a big decision day for our group as we select the sites, or at least how we will select the sites once we see the actual conditions. OLPC wants the saturation to be one laptop per child, whereas with our current plan it could be as many as one laptop per 5 children. We are thinking about giving each child a flash drive to allow them to save their work and share the computer to create it but the costs of the flash drive ($6.25 per drive) will likely prohibit this plan.

I'll update with any new details tomorrow.

-XO Mike

Friday, May 15, 2009

Extra Equipment

We are still planning away and have narrowed down our deployment to cover no more than 5 sites. We looked into adding printers for our deployment but have rejected the idea because the XO operating system does not offer print options such as "File>Print".

I was excited to hear about the new equipment we will be receiving in Kigali. We will be receiving an XS which is a server for the XO laptops.

The XS server. It is quite small, about the size of a piece of paper and two inches thick. It weighs only five pounds and uses the case as a heatsink to eliminate fans which can wear out and get dust in the system.

Another tool which we will be using during the trip is a Flip HD camera which OLPC will be providing on loan for the summer. The Flip HD camera is a micro camcorder which records 720p HD video onto digital memory and can be imported to the computer using the onboard USB plug.

The camera is really small but records good quality video. To get a perspective of scall, look at the USB plug in relation to the entire camera. It's a standard USB plug!

That's all for today. We had a meeting with our "boss" at OLPC yesterday and he also thinks we are on a path to success.

-XO Mike

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My very own XO

OLPC has sent each team member one XO laptop to use before we deploy. These are the exact laptops we will be distributing throughout Sao Tome.

This is the laptop in the closed, off position.

This is the laptop in the normal on position. The two antennas are for the wireless, to protect the ports from dust, and to lock the screen when closed.

They are made for children and therefore their keyboards are quite small for my hands. I'm trying to be on asdf.

This is the home screen of the operating system. The monitor can flip around like a tablet notebook to feel more like a book.

-XO Mike


All members going to Sao Tome have been planning since mid February. There are several groups and initiatives going including my OLPC group, a GIS group, and a community networking group.

The GIS group is led by a professor at the University of Illinois and their objective, as I understand it, is to start the framework of a map database for the government to use as they see fit. This could include mapping school routes, mapping distances to hospitals, mapping pot holes, etc. One member will be with the OLPC deployment and two others will arrive in late July and stay until mid August.

The final group, the community networking group, is led by a second professor at the University, Martin Wolske. This group is comprised of 1 student and the professor and this is a class offered at the University. The class will do projects in East St. Louis and all class members are offered the trip to Sao Tome, however funding is on their own. Their objectives on island will be to setup computer labs, train teachers how to use computers at the teachers college on island, and repair existing labs.

All groups meet every Wednesday to discuss issues that pertain to all: culture, geography, emergency procedures, etc. The scariest conversation was the one where we went over what do we do if STP (Sao Tome e Principe) is attacked by another country or if there is a military coup. To clarify, we DO NOT expect to ever use these procedures but better safe than sorry. Below is a picture of us listening to Paul tell us about the various locations of different things.

Left to Right: Corey (OLPC), Sarah (GIS), Danielle (OLPC, GIS), Daemon (CN), Paul (CN/Advisor)

On Mondays the OLPC group meets with Paul and Martin to plan different parts of the deployment: equipment, lesson plans, etc. I have been researching the various infrastructure needs and concerns over the past few weeks. We are trying to bring printers and flash drives with us to deploy and we will need routers to distribute wireless internet access.

We are putting a lot of thought into everything we do and it has been very stressful for me as I am detail oriented and I like to know every last bit of information. I'm working hard not to worry.

-XO Mike


As most of you have heard by now, I am a part of a team of 4 other students who applied for an internship with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). OLPC is an international organization with the idea that by giving kids laptops and the tools to educate themselves, they will be able to bring themselves out of poverty (similar to give a man a fish he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for life).

This is the first year that OLPC has offered this program and it involves giving selected teams $10,000, 100 XO laptops and 1 server (to be installed at a school). They want teams to pick a country where they will deploy with the equipment and work with an existing non-profit on location who can maintain the program after teams leave. All teams are required to have a deployment of 8-10 weeks, two members of each team must attend a 10 day kick-off and training session in Kigali, Rwanda and one member of each team must attend a convention in October at MIT to present a report about the project.

Our team applied to deploy in Sao Tome, an island off the west coast of Africa. Sao Tome is about the size of Champaign County with a population of 157,000. The country was colonized by the Portuguese and gained their independence in the mid 1970's. The primary language is Portuguese with a secondary language of French and a tertiary language of English. The country is dominantly Roman Catholic. Sao Tome has rich agricultural resources and lots of oil surrounding the country in the ocean, however the country lacks the technical skills and the financial backing to grow. The University of Illinois has been sending teams to the country for the past 5 years installing computer labs, training teachers and students to use the computers, and maintaining existing computer labs. I had planned to go on one of the U of I projects for approximately 4 weeks, but when the OLPC opportunity came about, I switched with the full support of the group organizing the shorter trip.

Our team is:

  • Corey Brian Jackson - Project Lead

  • Corey is a Junior at the University and originally found the opportunity. He will be traveling to Rwanda with me.

  • Michael Stein - Infrastructure Lead

  • I'm going to be responsible for finding power and internet solutions as well as managing any hardware problems we encounter.

  • Chika Charles Umeadi - Technical Lead

  • Chika is a Junior at the University and has lived in Nigeria. He works for the University's computer department and will help manage technical problems

  • Ashley Adams - Cultural Lead/ Portuguese Speaker

  • Ashley is a Senior in high school and the daughter of my boss at PrairieNET. Ashley has traveled to Sao Tome before and is a strong Portuguese speaker

  • Danielle Ross - GIS Mapping Project

  • Danielle is a Junior at the University and received an internship with a GIS (geographic information systems) professor who planned a research project on island this summer. She will assist our project and enhance it by incorporating a mapping aspect to the project.

Last Tuesday night we found out that our team has been selected for the trip. Wednesday we had a meeting to finalize our commitment and we have started to book our flights. Please see the attached image to visualize the trip. My itinerary is:

My flight path. Green is part 1, yellow is part 2 and red is part 3. See the note for a listing of exactly where, when and on which airlines.

    Part 1 - Chicago to Kigali - Green
  • Chicago to London

  • Virgin Atlantic - June 5th

  • London to Amsterdam

  • KLM - June 6th

  • Amsterdam to Nairobi

  • KLM - June 6th/7th

  • Nairobi to Kigali

  • KLM - June 7th

    Part 2 - Kigali to Sao Tome - Yellow
  • Kigali to Nairobi

  • Kenyan Air - June 17th

  • Nairobi to London

  • Kenyan Air - June 17th/18th

  • London to Lisbon

  • British Airways - June 18th

  • Lisbon to Sao Tome

  • TAP or STP Airways - June 18th/19th

    Part 3 - Sao Tome to Chicago - Red
  • Sao Tome to Lisbon

  • TAP or STP Airways - August 10th (Happy Birthday to Me!)

  • Lisbon to London

  • British Airways - August 11th

  • London to Chicago

  • Virgin Atlantic - August 12th

Yes, I am nervous that our luggage will be lost . We are using London as our hub because the only reliable way to enter Sao Tome is through Lisbon, a short trip from London and the only reliable way to get to Rwanda is through London.

When we arrive on island we will spend the first week meeting the government officials (Prime Minister, Minister of Education, possibly the President, etc.), meeting our local partner, STeP UP, and taking inventory of the laptop shipment. Corey and I will update the rest of the team with any additional information we received in Rwanda. We will stay at a house we will rent for the duration of our trip. The country's library is located within walking distance of the house and has internet access where I will be able to send emails but it is unlikely the connection will be strong enough to Skype.

Over the next 6 weeks, we will be traveling throughout the island to each of the 6 districts where we will choose a school to deploy a set of laptops. Some of the schools we go to might not have power which would in turn mean they do not have internet. We are looking for affordable ways to charge the laptops using solar power. Even though the island is relatively small, because of the road conditions it will take approximately 2-3 hours to reach some parts of the island. We will be staying overnight on different parts of the island to reduce travel times and fuel costs.

The final week will be the hand off from our organization to the local partner. Once I return, I will have a few days to readjust to the timezone before I head to school on the 16th for section leader training and band camp.

I am getting very excited for the excursion but I am nervous of the security risks which I will face. I will be taking a two week course to jump start my Portuguese knowledge before we deploy. I hope this has answered many of your questions and feel free to forward it to anyone you think might be interested in the trip. I will be keeping a blog during the trip and will let you know how to find it before I leave. Feel free to ask me any questions.

11 Flights
7 Countries
5 Airlines
3 Continents
1 Team

Our proposal can be found here:

-XO Mike