Thursday, July 30, 2009

Server Work

This week I spent almost every hour of our student training in the other room working on our server. We realized that we need to setup the Moodle installation (digital classroom for testing, turning in assignments, etc.) to display Portuguese. We also came up with the idea of creating a student created school Wikipedia. Both of these tasks were above what I knew how to do but I am powering through.

The biggest problem this week has been dealing with the slow internet; at the school we have the fastest connection I’ve seen on island, but even then we average 6KB/s downloads. To put that in perspective, Comcast will get downloads around 300+KB/s; 50x faster. Whenever I wanted to Google something I would need to wait a while just to let the page load and realize it isn’t what I need/want. The second biggest problem is that the power will go out and the worst moments. Some of the download managers I was using were able to save partial downloads and continue later but others weren’t as fortunate and after a 30 minute power outage I would start over.

Moodle needed to be addressed first and all of the manuals I would read online would tell me to click on this one item in the administration panel that I didn’t see. I thought I must have a different version of Moodle and kept reading post after post about how to set the global language to Portuguese. After hours of frustration I finally gave up and decided that the “admin” account on the XS (XO Server) is a crippled account which only allows limited access. Reuben, the technical guy from OLPC, replied to my email, with directions on how to activate the true admin account. Once I set the global language I realized there was another problem…

When we first setup the XO computers we register them to the server so that they are enrolled as students in Moodle and the server begins automatically backing up their files. When they were enrolled in Moodle’s database it set their default language preference to the only available language at the time: English. I searched for a “Bulk User Language Change” command but found none. I thought, how bad could it be changing each individually, there are only 85 accounts. When I went to edit the first user I realized that the registration automatically set their language but did not select a country, city, surname and two other fields, all are necessary to be able to save a language change. The time required was starting to add up and I put this job on hold.

Getting the Wikipedia server setup on our XS was one of the most confusing processes I have ever been through. Not knowing where to begin I tried downloading the 10MB file from Mediawiki which includes the Wikipedia server. Unfortunately I found out I needed several other packages to be able to make the Wikipedia site visible to users. I told the server to download Mediawiki and all the necessary dependencies for the server and after hours and hours (maybe 15 hours of actual download time, 36 real life hours) I thought I finally had everything I needed. When it didn’t work I tried to determine the problem and found out that it didn’t install everything it needed like it should have. I installed a database server and still it didn’t work. Despite downloading and installing the database server, I needed to run an install script which installed what I just installed >:-O !!!

After four days of work I am left without the site switched entirely to Portuguese and a Wikipedia page which has no template and is in the most unusable layout. This weekend is going to be kinda lame as I work on fixing these problems.

-XO Mike

Monday, July 27, 2009

Student Training – Week 2 – Days 3 and 4

The second half of our week two training involved teaching Paint, Distance and Chat; this was the most frustrating and embarrassing training yet.

Paint, led by Chika, went rather smooth and students now understand how to draw with a traditional brush and how to paint predesigned shapes in various sizes. The worst part of training students in Paint was that the program has a complex color choice system. The system allows you to graphically choose a color or to put in the color numbers. To graphically choose a color you need to select which color you want in a wheel and then the hues of the color appear in a triangle within the circle. After selecting the circle color, you need to click again to choose the hue of the color you want; finally you click OK and can start painting in a different color. If it sounds confusing, it is; far more complex than necessary given the applications limited functions. Unfortunately, this was just the start of our frustrations with the design choices on the XO for the day.

After painting pictures and having the kids become comfortable with the program, students switched to test out Distance. Distance is an activity which requires two laptops. The two connect to each other and play a “CHHHH” sound and measure the time it takes for the other laptop to hear it. By knowing the speed of sound the laptops determine the distance between the two computers. Problems arise when there is lots of noise pollution and when the XOs choose to not connect to our network and server.

As we started introducing the idea to kids, we started noticing that some computers decided not to auto-reconnect to our network. When we manually told the laptop to connect to the network it would try and then eventually stop. Because of the simplicity of the XOs interface, there was no knowing why the computer could not connect. The teachers that were helping us in the classroom were looking at us asking for answers but we really didn’t have one. There was nothing wrong with the access points or server because other computers connected fine but there was no explanation why the computer wouldn’t connect. When we moved onto Chat, we had the same problem where computers were on different networks and some kids were unable to join the same chatroom as their friends.

The days were difficult to get through and it really shows the delicate balance between open-source and product oriented development. Using open-source programmers to collectively build and patch problems leads to unfinished, unpolished projects which have yet to be fully thought through. We are waiting to hear back from other Corps teams to see if they know of a way to work around the problems.

-XO Mike

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Student Training – Week 2 – Day 2

In order to better teach Class 2, Chika and I chose to do a demonstration (his idea) which would get the kids playing with the commands in a real world situation.

The Scratch interface.

Scratch is setup in three columns: on the left are possible commands in natural language (move 10 steps, play sound “miau” (meow in Portuguese), wait 2 seconds, etc.). In the center is the commands window where you construct the operations you would like your sprite to perform. On the right is the viewing window to see what your animation does and below you can switch to different sprites. Chika and I drew similar screens on the chalkboard and asked the kids to give us commands.

We started with the kids giving me the, “move 10 steps” command. I wrote it down and did nothing. I then explained that they need to tell me when to do it and we added the, “when you clap your hands:” command. When they clapped their hands, I moved 10 steps. We added more commands and then added a second sprite, Chika. Chika received his own set of separate commands but we both started when they clapped their hands. We had the kids running us into walls, putting on glasses, saying “Ola!” and other movements which had them interested and constructing.

Critically thinking.

The switch to using the program was easier than the previous day but it is still difficult to get the kids to remember how to click and drag. Pretty soon the kids were able to get their animations moving and we finished what we had accomplished the previous day in just over half the time. We were able to explain how to paint and change backgrounds to the second class and, because of time, we are going to let that diffuse to the other class.

Pleased with how well day 2 went, Chika grabbed a candid of me.

There is a very fine line between being a good teacher and a bad teacher. We were lucky to have a second chance at the program but it is difficult to know what works and what doesn’t before trying it. Danielle will be using a similar demonstration lesson to teach Memorize (a flash card game and learning tool when you make your own flash cards).

-XO Mike

Student Training – Week 2 – Day 1

Training continued in week two starting with a day of Scratch training. Again, I was running the training and I tried to mimic how I taught the teachers. The training did not work too well because the kids were exploring the program rather than listening to some crucial bits of information such as how natural language commands will control the object. Furthermore, many of the kids found the button which adds a random new sprite (animation object) and after they had added 30 or so different sprites the program would become exceptionally slow due to hardware limitations and they would need to create a new project.

Working with the students can be fun and rewarding.

After struggling with the kids to keep them roughly guided down a path I changed gears and tried to have them work in groups to create an animation with two sprites which both move and say something to each other. The students quickly arranged their desks into groups but did not understand the concept of group work. The students appeared to start individual projects but it became apparent that they didn’t understand, or at least want to understand, individual work.

The group I was working with couldn’t stay close to on task. I tried to let them explore the program but at a certain point, they needed to begin participating in the creation of new animations rather than being entertained by example animations and adding new, random sprites.

As my frustration grew it became increasingly difficult to be effective in helping; I was thankful when music started blasting outside our classroom 30 minutes before we dismissed. We could barely hear anything over Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebration and packed up to prepare for the following day.

One of our students with a South African flag for Mandela's Birthday.

While the day was not a failure, there were several things which should have been executed differently teaching for children. When we got home we had a meeting to discuss how we should teach the same material to class two on the following day. Check back to see how we reacted.

-XO Mike

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pico de Sao Tome – Day 2 of 2

As Judy, Corey and I climbed out of our tent into the bright and chilly morning, Brice got the fire started again. We munched on some bread and bananas that we had brought for breakfast and just as we were starting to warm up Brice announced that we would go to the peak now. It was still 50 degrees and about 6:40 and he started to change into his t-shirt and told us we would want to do the same. I didn’t fully believe that I would get hot but I took his word and followed suit.

We set off for the peak and my legs finally felt refreshed. The cold air woke me up and I was excited to reach the peak. 15 minutes into the climb and I was warm as we stopped to look out across the mountains. In the distance Brice pointed toward a mountain and said it was Mt. Cavallo, the peak we had crossed the previous day. I was stunned to see how far we had walked knowing that the path was anything but straight.

After 15 more minutes of near vertical climbing we reached a clearing and a small monument marking the peak! The view was incredible and we could see most of the north half of the island. To the south vegetation was blocking our view but it gave me a sense of pride to know that I had made it to the top. We were standing at 6,640 ft when the previous morning and that night we would be at maybe 15 ft above sea level.

Although there were no artifacts left behind by previous climbers (Brice explained as few as one group a month reaches the top) we scrambled to find the first Illinois memorabilia we could find. We decided to leave Corey’s hat behind, affixed to the pole after all signing and dating the bill. We returned to our campsite after a few minutes of glory and were back within an hour to prepare the last of the remaining Shpaghet and some tea brewed from the bark of a tree we passed while climbing.

After packing up our tent and gear we left our campsite and headed down a different route headed towards Neves, a city on the northwest side of the island. Walking down was much easier than climbing up however it was still difficult trying to keep your feet from sliding out beneath you, keeping your toes from jamming too hard into the front of your shoe, and trying to keep yourself from moving too fast down the hill.

We passed by new plants and trees and Brice explained them to us; my favorite was the petrol tree. The petrol tree produces a highly flammable sap that will burn for quite a while when lit on fire. He also showed us two holes in the ground with spider webs around the area; with one word he had me on my way, “tarantula.” We continued our path down and eventually met the ruins of an old abandoned plantation circa 1800s. I expected we were close to the coast because there were the remains of a path which had been cleared for a train to travel along the mountain. We started to follow the path and it was much easier than cutting through the dense jungle.

Back and forth we switched down the mountain, it was an easier slope but it slowed our progress. I can’t believe how any colonists found this high place and designed plans to lay this much track while moving huge quantities of earth to create flat land for the tracks.

After another hour or two of walking the tracks we reached an active area of cropland. We rested for a few minutes and Brice asked if we wanted to walk to a waterfall only 5 minutes away. Of course I wanted to walk to a waterfall… until I saw what we had to go through. Much of the area’s natural streams are channeled into aqueducts which carry the water to a hydroelectric plant. We walked on top of an aqueduct and reached a tunnel.

The tunnel was a narrow rounded arch only five feet across at the base. The tunnel had a concrete divider in the middle which allowed for the aqueduct to channel the water on one half while allowing access to the other side of the mountain. We took a few steps and it was sticky three inch deep mud. After twenty feet Brice stopped and said, “Agua, querem ir?” Water, you want to go? I figured water could only clean me at this point and we pressed on. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed infinitely far and it quickly became pitch black in the tunnel. Using my hands on the divider and the arch wall to my left we pressed through; I was thankful I couldn’t see my shoes, socks and jeans and expecting them to be ruined.

When we reached the end I looked left to see a 300 foot high waterfall; it was beautiful. We washed our faces off in the water and took lots of photos before we had to trek back through the tunnel. There are two ways to get to the waterfall, a 300 yard tunnel or a 200 yard tunnel; we took the 200 yard tunnel. After reaching the end I stuck my feet in the aqueduct to let the rushing water rinse my shoes, socks and jeans.

After another five minute journey we reached our rendezvous point and were told our ride would arrive in 20 minutes with some snacks. Lucio and his buddy arrived with some beers, sodas and cookies. It was good to finally be done with the trip and during the 45 minute drive back to the city I passed out, bobbing my head back and forth, intermittently waking up during a big bump. When we arrived at home I already wanted to schedule another trip the following weekend.

Brice and Lucio laughed at how much we loved the Shpaghet and invited us back to Monte Café to have dinner with them in the future. We exchanged numbers and I went into the house to fall asleep.

-XO Mike

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pico de Sao Tome – Part 1 of 2

After speaking with our wonderful tour guide/taxi driver, Erneau, Corey, Judy and I were setup with a guide for the adventure of a lifetime. We all came to the island wanting to climb the mountain in Sao Tome but our expectations of the difficulty were nowhere near the requirements of the trek. Brice (Breecee) and Lucio, brothers from Monte Café, were going to take us on the trip. Brice would be our guide while Lucio would be our driver to and from the start and stop points.

We left Friday morning at 5am and headed inland to Monte Café which would be our starting point. After 30 minutes of driving we had reached our destination and met Brice before our two day trip to the top of Mount Sao Tome. After driving further up into the mountains we stopped and saw the signs toward the peak.

Brice said that he would make dinner and bring two tents and that we were responsible for lunch and breakfast. We took off on a gentle hike towards the national park passing by farmland on our way. Brice stopped a few times at different plants to explain their name and their unique properties. When we finally hit the national park the incline increased greatly and the higher altitude and climbing had me breathing hard.

After two hours or so we reached the clouds and humidity hit 100% as it somewhat rained with visibility around 20ft. Farther we climbed, not walked, on a narrow winding path with near vertical drops to our side with no ropes to protect us. The path was slippery with the high humidity and rainfall and it was evident that there had been several large landslides across our path.

As we reached above the clouds our path became even narrower as we climbed along a ridge of Mount Cavallo; we had yet to even reach Mount Sao Tome. We reached the peak of our first mountain and I was satisfied and although I still had energy, if that were the end of the trip, I would have been satisfied. We ate a quick snack and disappointingly headed down the mountain towards Mount Sao Tome. After another hour or two of climbing, we stopped and had lunch.

We stayed at the site for about 30 minutes having a bite to eat and a short nap before heading back up the mountain. This was our first real break since 6am and it was already 11. We continued up the mountain and after a particularly difficult portion Brice said to us, “Americans are very strong, this is where the Portuguese cry.” I could go for a little crying at this point.

By 1:30, after 7.5 hours of climbing we reached our campsite, 30 minutes below the peak. We were greeted by a large owl as we approached the site and I took it as a good sign; I haven’t really figured out what the sign was but it was really exciting to see such a large owl so close.

After two hours of rest we needed to refill our water supplies and headed down the mountain about 10 minutes to a natural spring. The path to the water was the most difficult section of both days and I’m glad we only needed to go once. The water was crystal clear, cool and safe as we drank it without any filtration. My fear of heights had been eliminated through the day of climbing inches from hundred foot falls and the fifty foot drop two feet from where we grabbed water no longer fazed me. Climbing back to our campsite took longer as we had to search for strong roots to grab onto and pull ourselves up. When we reached the top our guide asked if we wanted to go to the peak, we were caught a little off guard as we expected to go first thing in the morning and not knowing how far or difficult the climb would be, we declined and hung out in the sunshine and cool mountain top breeze.

As night fell, Brice prepared spaghetti and tuna (shpaghet, as he called it). The way he prepared it was unlike anything I have ever seen. He started with the sauce in one pot (homemade and canned by himself), added the tuna and let the mix come to a slight boil. He added one liter of water and let that boil (still in just one pot). He added the noodles and let it cook for about 10 minutes before the mixture was ready. He did not strain the Shpaghet but it was ready all in one pot and not soupy. It was some of the best Shpaghet I have ever had.

When the sun set, it started to get cold; I mean really cold. I was wearing jeans, wool socks and a fleece jacket and I was still cold. I expected to be alright to sleep in this outfit but I was soon regretting not insisting on Brice getting us sleeping bags. Corey, Judy and I all huddled into one tent as a way to conserver all of body heat we could.

There was a slight problem with the placement of the tent. The ground was very uneven and from how we needed to arrange our heads and feet in the tent, two of the three spaces were on a higher ground while my space was on a 30 degree angle from my right to left, away from the other two spaces. At first I started to sleep at the bottom of the ramp where it was soft but I was two feet from Corey and in much lower ground. I awoke at 2am damp and shivering and tried to climb back up the slope to reach some much needed body heat. Corey had moved to the very edge of the top of the slope and the only way I could be near him, absorbing his heat, was to try and curl up on the slope. I fell asleep near the top by Corey but woke up minutes later trying to crawl back up the slope to warm up again. This battle raged on for several hours until finally day broke and it was time to get up.

After some of the most uncomfortable sleep of my life I had a full days climbing and descending ahead of me.

-XO Mike

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Student Deployment – Day 3 and 4

Days 3 and 4 of our deployment were hectic, overwhelming and followed an unplanned, unexpected path. We had hoped to get the media during our initial passing out of the laptops but when they didn’t show, we cut our losses and moved on. As we started Wednesday we had plans to teach a bit of Write and Record; 10 minutes into training Paul showed up saying the prime minister’s wife, lots of ministers and the media would be there in another 10 minutes.

The Prime Minister's wife giving a speech about the project.

It was really encouraging to see the country excited about this project and it was great for us to be on the only national television station; now, everyone knows us and what we’re doing. The downside was that the day was not very productive for teaching.

We are teaching two classes of 40 students and Class 1 meets Monday Wednesday and Class 2 meets Tuesday Thursday. Early on many of the kids did not understand this rotation and we had 70 kids in one room with another 25 adults from the government, parents, and media. Again, despite the setback in training, it was encouraging and beneficial to have so many people beginning to become aware of our project.

Too many kids in one classroom.

The fourth day was, again, filled with too many students but we had more structure with fewer media and ministers in the room. We recapped what we attempted the previous day and made it clear that we would only allow students in Class 1 into the room on Monday. By the end of the day the students were able to take pictures, save pictures and insert their pictures into Write (Word). It seems like a small step but it is a major challenge when using a new interface.

-XO Mike

Monday, July 20, 2009

Student Deployment - Day 1 and 2

This past week we began our deployment to the students. Monday was our official launch, confirmed by the headmaster, teachers and our translator. What none of them told us was that it is a national holiday. These people really don’t ever want to tell us no even when they mean it. When we showed up at 8am ready to go it was a ghost town. We postponed our deployment until Tuesday…

Tuesday morning it was the same drill: load the laptops into the car, head over to the school and set up shop. Today there were lots of kids at the school checking their final grades and hanging out with other children. We started checking the students in, registering their laptops to the network and the server and switching the system to Portuguese.

After we had around 50 students checked in I ran a short presentation about the handling and care of the XO: don’t touch the screen, don’t drop it, don’t bend the cord, etc. We let the kids play with the laptops for the rest of the day because we knew it would be hard to keep them focused. At the end of the day we explained that we would take the laptops back that night until their parents met with us to discuss the importance of not selling the laptop. We packed up the laptops and brought them home to charge for the next day.

-XO Mike

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Teacher Training

This post is quite outdated but my frustration during week prevented me from accurately describing the teacher training. Teacher training went with a few hiccups; first, people here do not like to say no even if that is the answer, second, using a translator who does not like to say no or contradict our understanding, even if it is wrong, adds a second layer of confusion, lastly, working with teachers who were not entirely sold or excited about the project led to late starts and uninterested exploration.

Our week started by meeting two fifth grade teachers; we want to teach sixth grade students in two classes. After a few minutes of trying to explain that we wanted to work with the sixth grade teachers of our two classes we found out that the teachers are by subject and rotate to the different classes. That afternoon we met with the six teachers in charge of our classes. This uses an additional four laptops of our already small stock and we requested that the headmaster shrink our classes to accommodate four less laptops.

When we first started working with the teachers we arranged to work for six days, two hours each day. We wanted to work with the teachers longer but they looked disappointed to have to attend these meetings. As we finally got started working with the teachers and laptops I started with a quick care and maintenance session before Corey started discussing the operating system and some activities.

Over the next few days progress was slow as any communication took at least twice as long through our translator Abilio because we would say something, sometimes he would ask us to clarify what we meant, he would tell the teachers in Portuguese and then if they had a question he needed to do the process in reverse.

The teachers’ excitement gradually increased and as we started our fifth day I was in charge of teaching Scratch, an animation activity on the XO. I had taught scratch to the English club on island a week before but I was nervous to try and teach the program only using Portuguese. The training went exceptionally well and for homework I tried to assign them to figure out how to make the cat walk in a circle. There is no command for this action and it requires them to repeat the walk one step, turn a little, and repeat. Within a minute of me assigning this task one of the teachers had perfectly demonstrated what I wanted. I spent a good hour trying to get the English club to realize what to do and this guy had done it in less than one minute! After he taught the class how to do it we revamped the homework to be creating some animation between a cat and a mouse.

The following day some of the teachers had not completed the assignment but those that had included changing backgrounds, relational logic (cat moving towards the mouse while the mouse moved away from the cat) and custom sprites (controllable objects); all concepts and ideas which they greatly expanded from what I taught them in a short amount of time.

When training ended we invited the teachers to continue learning by helping us work with the kids. Despite a rough start, the teachers are warming up to the idea and starting to create ways to implement the laptops in the classroom.

-XO Mike

Monday, July 13, 2009

Roca Sao Joao

Saturday we went south and visited Roca Sao Joao, a plantation owned by the televised chef, Joao Carlos Silva. Ashley and Danielle went with the intentions of teaching a short English class while Chika and I planned to fix the computers dropped off last year by Paul. Paul, Andy, Judy and Corey were along for the ride and along for the gourmet meal.

The drive to the plantation took about 90 minutes because the roads were horrible. There were times driving down the road where I thought it was going to turn into a gravel road; instead, the road had a 40 foot long pothole the width of the entire road. Winding dangerously close to 30 foot falls to the sea we made it to the plantation safe.

The bed and breakfast of Roca Sao Joao

Danielle and Ashley started their English lesson while Chika and I worked on the computers. There were two at the site and both were out of service. We switched a hard drive, memory and a video card to get one computer working and the other is completely shot. The site does not have internet but the students at the plantation and school create jewelry and other crafts to sell; the computers could be used to keep track of inventory and sales.

Part of the plantation has been converted into a bed and breakfast including an African fine dining restaurant. We were asked to dine by the owner and chef for repairing the computers and teaching English. The meal is 40 Euros for guests and tourists and the 15 course meal was the best I’ve ever had. All of the food that was served is from the island and before Carlos begins preparing the meal he arranges all of the fruits and vegetables he will use on a long table for viewing next to his ancient wood burning stove.

The display of fruits and vegetables in the restaurant.

Classic wood burning oven used to prepare our meal.

While waiting for the food there are comfortable reclined chairs and hammocks to relax in while browsing visually appealing wine and food books. The restaurant is entirely open air overlooking the coast and surrounding jungle.

Carlos Silva and myself.

On our return trip we stopped at Boca de Inferno, the mouth of hell. This naturally formed rock structure forces the waves into an increasingly smaller channel before reaching a wall when the water shoots up towards the sky. James and Paul wanted to head back after only a few minutes but Judy and I have plans to return later this week.

Corey near the boca de inferno.

Myself overlooking the ocean near the boca de inferno.

-XO Mike

Roca de Agostinho Neto

Friday, Corey, Danielle, Chika, Judy and I all went to see one of the largest plantations on the island. After negotiating a cab to drive us there (30 minute drive for $2 per person) we arrived without any guide but with the determination to talk to people and discover what was there. Our driver admitted to have family which lived and worked at the plantation and he offered to walk with us and explain the different parts of the plantation.

Within a few minutes, another worker from the plantation had joined our party showing us different parts; minutes after that we had an elder join us with keys to take and show us to the drying room. While the plantation was quite at the time, the elder told us that during September and October the plantation produces 3-4 tons of cocoa per day!

The plantation used to be home to one of the best hospitals throughout Africa. The buildings now lie deserted with most of the materials being reclaimed for other uses. The hospital had many large buildings and has its own hydroelectric power plant for the plantation.

View from the water reservoir for the generators.

Children rolling down hills on their cars.

While we were exploring the hospital campus we found lots of kids playing on homemade cars which created an excellent photo opportunity. Some of the better carts included movable front wheels to allow them to steer the vehicle.

Ripe cocoa fruits in dark red.

To end the trip we took a trip through the former headmaster’s house and botanical garden. The plants in the garden were fascinating: cinnamon trees, plants which retracted when touched, kola trees, and the tree which made the plantation possible, cocoa trees. We finished by taking our driver and local guide to lunch before heading back to town. It was really interesting to get an inside view into the plantation.

The plantation is now owned by the state; however most of the families which work there are the same families which were enslaved. Since the leave of the Portuguese, the plantations output has dropped severely and there is no financial aid for the workers to increase production.

-XO Mike

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Building a Server Box

Today I had arranged with James to meet a carpenter and work with him to build our server box. I have a good general knowledge of carpentry and had designed what I wanted to make but I have no tools here, don’t know where a lumber mill is, and don’t know where a hardware store is for the necessary hinges. When I arrived at the carpenters (8am I might add) we walked two blocks to a lumber yard tucked away in an alley. Two (roughly) 12’ pieces of hardwood one foot wide each ran about $10 but it looked like the wood had been tortured before being stacked for sale. I saw three of what would be the only power tools here but the planer did not seem to smoothly plane the surface and the tablesaw cut crooked edges on the already warping boards.

We walked the boards back to his shop and I realized this was about to get real. All of the tools and workbench were before me and the tools that I would use to get the job done in the USA were nowhere to be found. The carpenter started marking boards and making cuts according to my specifications and quickly grabbed the wood plane to begin reshaping the boards into flat, smooth surfaces with 90 degree corners. I watched and tried to learn as much as I could.

The first challenge which I had never undertaken was to join two panels of wood to make panels wide enough for the sides. The carpenter was methodical and precise with everything he did and before long there were two panels which are at first glance, one board.

After walking to the market to purchase hinges, latches, locks and screws we continued work. The backing on the box was misunderstood and therefore the shelves were too long so we needed to fix their lengths to fit the box. I thought I had seen a fair amount of how to use the plane and set to work.

Now, I’m from the technology age and I’ve really only used power tools for my projects. I started by cutting the board with a handsaw (which was dull and further complicated the matter) and it did not end straight when the carpenter had showed countless perfect cuts. I grabbed the plane and set about squaring the corners and shaping a straight edge. The planer took more skill and practice than any tool I have ever tried to work with; however, I got the edges straight enough for my purposes with this box (the carpenter brought them up to his standards).

After nine total hours of work we finished the box for just under $35 and we paid nearly double what he quoted for the project because of the outstanding workmanship. This box is incredibly sturdy and I realized how few tools that I actually need but want to get a small chisel set with my next project. I have learned a lot today and can’t wait to apply it to another project at home.