Use your vacation to do good in exotic locations


Kids on Computers is planning a trip to the Huajuapan de Leon, Mexico area in June. If you can, please join us! If you can’t, please consider donating to help the labs we’ll be working on.

Most of us will be going down for a week or so. There are travel stipends available for those willing to spend a month helping in the area.

What could I possibly do to help? I ask myself this every time I go. Especially since I usually drag my kids along. Here are the things you can help with.

  1. Technical skills. If you can plug in computers, troubleshoot basic hardware problems, install Linux on lots of different kinds of old hardware, figure out why a mouse isn’t working, any of those things, you’ll be very much appreciated! We have to have at least one Linux guru on every trip. The rest of us follow directions. Upgrading 20 old computers in a school with no internet can be a long, manual process; it goes faster with more hands.
  2. Language skills. This trip is to Mexico. A large majority of the volunteers will not speak fluent Spanish. None of the kids and teachers in these schools will speak much English. If you can help translate, that’s a huge benefit. Not just when setting up the labs but when figuring out where to get supplies or going out for dinner. And if you don’t know the Spanish words for technical gadgets, it’s sometimes a really funny experience, especially when you’re not sure what you are trying to describe might look like. I’d never used ethernet crimpers until a trip to Mexico.
  3. Teaching skills. When we teach a class, we like to have lots of helpers. Helpers to show people how a mouse works, how to double click and how to change windows. Often neither the kids nor the teachers have used a mouse or a keyboard before, much less opened an app or saved a file.
  4. Logistical, herding cat skills. When you have 4 or 5 schools you are trying to work with, all spread out in different towns and 8 or 10 volunteers with different skills and you need a Spanish speaker with each group and someone who can figure out why the network is down in this school and someone who can update Linux on 4 laptops in another school … you need some logistical people. People who can help track who is where and what needs to be done.
  5. Documentation and note taking. We have all sorts of things we should and try to document. What computers are in which school? What’s installed on them? What finally worked to get Linux installed on that computer that had no USB drive? What should we bring next time? What worked in that class? What didn’t? What apps did the kids use the most? Every evening we try to spend some time working on this, but having someone dedicated to documenting what we’ve done, what works and what still needs to be done, who could do it while we are at the schools, would be great.
  6. Errand runner, make things out of paper clips person. We are always missing something, short something, need something. We soldered ethernet cables at one school! After stringing them across a road!

Besides just logistical efforts, there’s the benefit to you and what your support brings to the area.

  1. Support local efforts. I recently read this effort that said international volunteers are often just in the way. I agree, that sometimes local resources exist and if they are there, you should use them. In our case, I think there are very few people with technical skills in the little towns we go to. We do try to pull in local university students and technical people whenever possible. And we have to go back frequently, because going once, setting things up and then leaving isn’t helpful. They get new teachers, forget passwords, computers break. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    With the travel grants, we hope to get local university students from nearby towns involved. But the other major benefit of bringing in outside people is that you get local people excited about it.When we set up 18 de Marzo, because we were there, we were able to bring in local media, the local school district, the mayor … because we visited the school, the school got more interest from local supporters.
    Unfortunately, they still don’t have internet access nor an accessible high school. But they do have a super involved parent organization and a full time computer teacher funded by student families!
  2. Spread the word. If you go on vacation to Huajuapan de Leon, you’re going to have the experience of a life time. And you are going to share your pictures and stories with all your family and friends. A few of them may join us next time. Or donate. Or just be more aware of the world.
  3. Spread your horizons. I take my kids so that they can see that kids have fun without Xboxes. They have a blast playing soccer and making new friends. And, yes, they did find the only arcade machine within miles. In the back corner of a little tiny store tucked away on a side street.

What to expect?

  1. It’s slow. Most of us are used to scheduling every minute of our time and being as efficient as possible. It doesn’t work that way on a volunteer trip to rural Mexico. Just getting there takes a while. We fly down to Oaxaca, spend the night. Walk across town the next day, get a van ride, drive through the mountains, walk to our hotel. Work doesn’t start until 2-3 days after you leave home!
  2. It’s not perfect. This is a volunteer run trip. And each trip presents different challenges. And not everyone has phones. Almost no one has internet. Getting from school to school means coordinating rides, arriving to find out they weren’t ready for you or the teachers were on strike, figuring out what equipment you need, what some of you can do while a couple of people drive all the way back to town to buy as much ethernet cable as they can, waiting around while your most seasoned Linux guru figures out why the installs aren’t working, … if you enjoy the people, what you are trying to do and use the time to get to know each other and the schools better, it’s great. If you came just to do technical work, it’d be frustrating.
  3. Friendly people. The other volunteers and especially the teachers, families and students are awesome. Everyone is appreciative, helpful and outgoing. Just super. The parents usually feed us. Lots of people give us rides. Some people open up their houses. My kids make friends everywhere. Terrific people.
  4. Not completely modernized. We stay in Huajuapan which is a decent sized small city. It’s got lots of restaurants and a few hotels. Grocery stores and mobile phone shops. And the water is often not hot. And the sidewalks can prove challenging. You might end up riding in the back of a pickup truck. Or walking a long ways in very hot, humid weather. On the good side, there’s no McDonalds and all the little shops are very interesting and very reasonable.
  5. Beautiful. The area around Huajuapan de Leon is gorgeous mountainous country side.
  6. Pretty inexpensive. Airfare is a bit pricey but after that it’s not expensive. Hotel rooms run $10-40/night. Dinners might run $3-15/person depending on what you decide to eat. So you can stay there pretty inexpensively. The van ride to Huajuapan is so cheap, I can’t figure out how the price of the ride from Oaxaca can cover gas. I spent a good hour of the trip doing math in my head and I have no idea how they are making a profit. Cabs around town are just $1-2, but cabs out to the other towns where are labs are can be quite pricey. (The cab drivers are friendly though. Avni and I took a cab out to Saucitlan de Morelos once and the cab driver was not just worried about leaving us there when we couldn’t find our friends, he was worried about the whole town because they had no phones and no cell service!)

So should you come? If any of that sounds fun, absolutely. We need you and you’ll be doing good in the world while having fun. If you can’t, no worries. If possible, contribute to some cause to make the world a better place. You can donate to Kids on Computers! 🙂

Top 8 things to do in New Orleans

With an unprecedented number of friends visiting New Orleans in the next couple of months, I put together my top list of things to do.

  • Spend evenings on Frenchmen Street rather than Bourbon Street.
  • Walk down Royal and check out the antiques.
  • Have the double chocolate bread pudding at Red Fish. (We usually split an appetizer and the bread pudding.)
  • Have goat cheese crepes at Muriel’s at the bar.
  • Take the cocktail tour. There’s lots of fun historical stories involved.
  • Talk to the locals, especially on buses.
  • Have stuffed chicken wings at Nola’s.
  • Take the street car out to the Garden District and walk around.

And a bonus one:

Enjoy! And then tell me what you’d add …

Join us for the Kids on Computers Summit in Huajuapan!

Hermes and a student. Hermes is a local volunteer who with a few of his friends maintains all the labs in the area!

Kids on Computers is planning a Kids on Computers Summit in May in Huajuapan de Leon and we need your help!

We have had a lot of success setting up labs in the Huajuapan de Leon area and getting local community involved. Our first school, 18 de Marzo, counts on a lot of parental support. They built the building for the lab and a library and their school has gone from one of the least desirable to one of the most respected. We’ve also set up labs in a school for kids with disabilities and in a boarding school for girls from difficult situations. And we’ve gotten equipment donations from local banks.

The school at Savcitlan de Morelos in the mountains. They have computers but nobody to help them get them set up.

Now what we need is people to help! We have several schools with computers but nobody to set them up. Schools with labs but not much know how. We have local people helping but their time is stretched thin and they could use some help!

We are going down the week of May 23rd to:

  • Take down some new equipment.
  • Set up computers in new labs.
  • Replace broken equipment in existing labs.
  • Teach kids and teachers.
  • Update software, add things like Wikipedia in Spanish to the computers in a school without internet yet.
  • Show excitement, drum up support.
  • Thank all the local people and organizations that have helped.

So we need you! There are all sorts of tasks and we need people that can do any one of the following. (No need to be able to do them all.)

The new building they made for the computers in Savcitlande Morelos. Adults will be able to use the computers in the evenings.
  • Plug in computers, turn them on, make sure they work.
  • Create logins, install software.
  • Swap out a fan or a hard drive.
  • Setup networking.
  • Speak Spanish and translate for other volunteers that don’t speak Spanish.
  • Talk to teachers about how computers can be integrated into education.
  • Run errands, stick Spanish key stickers on American keyboards, clean up cables, pick up boxes, …
  • Use a computer and show someone else how to use a mouse and start a game.

So there is something for everyone and we could use your help! We had a great time on our last trip and we are all looking forward to this one.

Let me know if you’d like to join us. We’d love to have your help!

The first grade class at 18 de Marzo, our first school lab

The terrorists have accomplished their mission

Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. … Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror) (Wikipedia)

Right after 9/11, I flew to Australia for a vacation I had been planning for almost a year. Many people asked me if I was afraid to fly and implied that I should have stayed home, close to family and friends. I replied that if I had stayed home, the terrorists would have won.

Unfortunately, my government does not agree with my definition of winning. They think that living in fear and trying desperately to keep us all 100% safe while flying is the most effective way to fight terrorism. It reminds me of a boss that told me he liked it when people lived in fear of being fired, they worked harder. I told him being fired held no fear for me. When you live in fear, you do irrational things – like sending millions of people’s shoes through an xray scanner every day.

The terrorists that used planes as bombs on September 11, 2001 have changed our lives forever. Now I spend hours each month standing in line waiting to be closely inspected and treated as a potential terrorist myself. I buy shampoo in small bottles. I buy special bags to get though security faster. My life and our economy has been fundamentally changed by those terrorists. Not because it needed to change in response to their actions but because we choose to let them create irrational fear in us. We allowed them to terrorize us.

I had to watch my older son fight back tears at the airport as his bags were taken, all his toys were examined by a stranger and his bag was searched for explosive residue. And I had to answer his questions about why they were doing this and why I was letting them.

Today I read that the TSA will now tell children that groping them is a game. Terrorists, through a series of acts in one day 9 years ago, are now causing our children to be sexually molested when we travel. Having a stranger touch your genitals is not a game unless you are both consenting adults.

We need to grow up, crawl out from underneath the bed, trust each other and fight back. We need to carry our fingernail clippers and our knives on the airplane again. We need to give up the charade that we can be stripped of everything that can be a weapon. We need to fight back with intelligence, not fear. Invest all the money that is going into scanners and use it to fight terrorists not travelers.

Remove TSA from the airport process. Let airlines decide how to run security for their flights and let travelers vote with their money for the type of security they want.

Take the money you were using to fund TSA and fight terrorists. Fight terrorists in a much smarter, more targeted fashion. And while you are at it, think beyond weapons as planes. I certainly think the terrorists are thinking beyond planes at this point. But that tactic sure worked well for them!

Lake Powell

In case you were wondering where I was the week of August 2nd, here are some pictures. 14 of us spent the week on this boat. (The one in the background!) 6 adults, 4 teenagers, 3 ten year olds and 1 three year old. We had what we’d brought along and the lake and the surrounding country side for entertainment and subsistence. I was really excited to be going as it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I moved to Colorado 15 years ago.

We had an absolute blast. The scenery is beautiful. All desert colors. Lots of cliffs and canyons. Even some Indian ruins – which after our hazardous climb up we wondered how in the world they got food and water to their cliff dwellings.

The favorite activities of the week were fishing and combat tubing. (And just hanging out talking and taking in the scenery.)

If you haven’t seen Lake Powell, I highly recommend it. If you aren’t into boats, there are parts you can drive to. It was absolutely beautiful.

In an ironic twist of fate, my cell phone was the only one that didn’t work on the lake, so I really was on vacation!

Just like Rice: Keble College

I’m staying at Keble College in Oxford, attending the Transfer Summit. It reminds me a lot of Rice University. (But not of Texas!) Rice University’s colleges were obviously modeled after Oxford University’s colleges with buildings around a quad of grass. This is Keble College. It’s gorgeous.

Unfortunately, my room also resembles my dorm room at Rice. (But with a private bathroom.)

This is what I see from my window. The buildings form a square around the quad.

My cool shoes: wearing Vibram barefoot shoes

Photo by joshunter.

I originally got interested in barefoot shoes when I read an article about the health benefits of going barefoot. (I thought it was a New York Times article, but it wasn’t this recent one about running barefoot.)  I also read a study that said that the more expensive your running shoes, the more likely you were to have suffered a knee injury. I decided I liked the idea being barefoot and I wanted to try to find a pair of shoes that would let me be barefoot in public in a socially acceptable way. I wasn’t crazy about the toes in Vibram FiveFingers shoes but since the other barefoot type brands didn’t have my size, I ended up with Vibrams. I love them.

Vibram shoes attempt to give you the experience of being barefoot while still protecting your foot. So you won’t get cut, but you’ll feel like you are walking barefoot. (Note that the classic pair does not protect against cold. I thought I was going to lose my toes to frostbite one night when I got to my car parked at the airport at 2am and had to scrape ice and snow off my windshield.)

Why do I like my Vibram Five Finger shoes ?

  1. Barefoot. The new theory is that it’s healthier to walk and run barefoot. Cushioned shoes have changed our gait. They offer our feet too much support which makes them weaker and often encourages bad behaviors like heel striking. By going barefoot, you’ll adopt good running and walking gaits and your feet and legs will be strong. (And believe me, if you continue to heel strike when running without a cushion, it will hurt!) During the day I spend most of my time barefoot, so walking wasn’t much of a transition. Running barefoot took a bit more practice – I have a terrible habit of heel striking that I’m working on correcting. Also, you use a whole new set of muscles when running barefoot. When I started I could only run a mile before I switched back to my tennis shoes for the next two miles. I’m still not sure I am convinced that traditional shoes are bad for you, but I think going barefoot is good for you. If you want to try running barefoot without buying a new pair of shoes, just try running barefoot on a treadmill.
  2. Comfortable. These shoes are about as close to wearing no shoes (or wearing socks like I do at home) as you can get. They are light, flexible and generally feel like they are not there.
  3. Travel. They are comfortable for walking in, pack up small (much smaller than carrying running shoes) and most airports will let you wear them through the security scanners. I had been on a search for a pair of running shoes that packs up small. (I wear large shoes and carry a small suitcase!) The Vibrams work great. On long flights, I still take them off and put on a pair of socks. It’s the material between the toes that bothers me when I’m trying to sleep. (I know, I know, it sounds strange.) I also wouldn’t take them as the only shoes for long days of sight-seeing on concrete.

Note that I bought the black shoes because I thought they would be more discreet. They are not discreet enough for formal work situations – everyone comments on them – and they are too hot to wear in the hot sun. Literally my toes feel like they are on fire if I stand outside in them on a hot sunny day. So if you buy some, buy the color you like the most.

I’d still like a pair of barefoot type shoes that I could wear with a suit but the Vibrams work great for more casual wear and for running.

I get asked a lot where I bought my Vibrams … you can buy them online from places like Amazon . You can also try them on in stores like REI and Jax in the US.

What’s been your experience with Vibram’s? Have you tried any of the other barefoot like shoes like Terra Plana’s?

10 steps to never suffer from jetlag again on short trips

I travel a lot and since my kids are little and I don’t want Frank to go crazy, I try to make the trips as short as possible. Which means I often travel 8 time zones away for just a couple of days.

I’ve tried lots of different ways of coping with jet lag on short trips and here are my secrets to success.

  1. Jet lag doesn’t bother you. Seriously, you must convince yourself that jet lag is not a big deal. If you spend all your time worrying about it, talking about it and complaining about it, well, then, jetlag will always bother you. Repeat after me “jet lag is no big deal”. Not on a trip of 2-5 days! Seriously, you might be a bit tired, but aren’t you often a bit tired at home too? Nobody gets enough sleep every day at home or on the road. Plus, after reading this post, jetlag really won’t be a big deal.
  2. Sleep on the airplane – especially east bound. Read John Graham-Cummings’ excellent post about how to sleep on a long haul flight.
  3. Keep yourself busy during the day – especially the first day. Try not to set up a schedule where you’ll be passively watching presentations or sitting in a slow meeting the first day.
  4. Sleep when you’re tired whenever you can. Conventional wisdom says you should stay awake until it’s time to go bed local time. While that works to help reset your clock in the following days, if you are only going to be there a few days, I recommend getting the sleep whenever you can. Plus, if you are on a short business trip, it’s likely you’ll be getting up early and staying up late with breakfast meetings, dinner meetings and post dinner meetings.
  5. Don’t feel guilty about naps. I used to feel guilty about taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. (I so rarely do it that it feels like a luxury.) Then I realized that I never sleep more than 8 hours total in any 24 hours – and rarely that on business trips – so it’s not like I’m lazying around in bed all day.
  6. Don’t worry about what time it is at home. Except for making sure you don’t accidentally wake up your spouse, don’t worry about what time it is at home. You can fool your body easily. On my trip to Berlin on Wednesday, I fell asleep on my second flight. After a few hours of sleep I was exhausted and felt like I was waking up in the middle of the night. I found it amusing that it was only 8pm at home. Basically I had just taken a long afternoon nap but my body was convinced it was the middle of the night. So don’t worry about it. Sleep when you can, be awake when you need to be and don’t worry about what time it is at home.
  7. Stay away from alcohol unless you are planning on sleeping in the near future.
  8. Use good sleep habits. When you get a chance to sleep make sure you are doing your best. Make sure the room is dark and quiet (or wear ear plugs and an eye covering.) Wear whatever you normally sleep in. Try to keep the room cool. Think about something that makes you sleepy. etc.
  9. If you can’t sleep, don’t stress. If you get a chance to sleep and you can’t, don’t worry about it. Get up and work or work out or read a book. Use the time to get stuff done. Sleep later. Or don’t. Just don’t stress about sleeping.
  10. Do as much work as possible before the trip. It’s really hard to be on a business trip and keep up with all your email and regular work. Try to get ahead as much as possible. If you are really tired the afternoon before your talk and you have a chance to take a nap, you don’t want to have to work on your slides. You want to take a nap so that you can be awake during your presentation!

Does this work for you? Anything you would add?

City bikes

City bikes in Barcelona

Several cities in Spain now have a public bike system. You pay 20 euros a year and you can use any of the bikes for half an hour for free. You pay half a euro for every half an hour after that for up to two hours.

In cities like Zaragoza it is working so well that there is a waiting list to join. Cities like Barcelona have run into a few snags. Barcelona is on a hill. Turns out that people like to grab a bike to coast downtown. Nobody wants to ride back up the hill so they have to truck the bikes back up hill!

I saw lots of people riding bikes in both Zaragoza and Barcelona.

How do you get furniture into apartment buildings?

Moving furniture in ...

One year in Barcelona we lived in an old apartment building that had a very narrow spiral staircase. And no elevator. You moved in furniture by draping ropes over pulleys at the top of the building and hauling it up and through the windows.

Now they’ve gotten high tech. I saw these guys with this huge elevator crane thing. It looked like a lot less work.

(We lived in another apartment building that had the oldest working elevator I’d ever seen. One afternoon it got possessed and started going up and down on its own. I also got stuck in it once and had to open the doors and crawl out midfloor. It’s still working today but you are only allowed to ride it up, not down.)