Dinda's Foss Blog

Open Source Software and Learning

FlossManuals/Google Documentation Summit

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I’m fortunate to be included in the group attending the Floss Manuals & Google hosted event Documentation Summit. Four really worthwhile and interesting projects were chosen and several freelancers (like myself) are also helping out. The format is part unconference and part book sprint. The goals are promote dialog among the various FOSS folks as well as produce a book about each project in three days. Pretty ambitious!

Dialog is easy, there is never a lack of ideas and suggestions. The projects include KDE, OpenStreet Map, Sahana and OpenMRS. Sahana is an emergency relief and disaster planning project and OpenMRS is a Medical Records System for developing areas. These were the two projects I knew the least about coming into the event but both have greatly impressed me with their scope and team members.

The books will be available for download by this weekend so I’ll update everyone on where to find them. Also, if you’re a developer looking to scratch an itch and help folks, one of these projects might be for you! If you’re a System Admin or make recommendations to organizations who might need a great OpenMRS or disaster planning software, we’ll have a book for you at the end of the week.

Follow the event on twitter #docsummit #flossmanuals


Written by dindafoss

October 18, 2011 at 8:45 am

Posted in foss, ubuntu

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Kidsoncomputers.org Edubuntu Installfest at OSCON

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If anyone is going to OSCON next week, please stop by the Kidsoncomputers.org booth:


The Expo is 27-28th (Wed-Thurs) next week. They will be collecting donations both days all day and will do an install-fest using Edubuntu on both days from 1-4pm. KOC is an amazing group of volunteers who have already setup several Edubuntu labs in the US and Mexico.

Please spread the word!!!!!

Written by dindafoss

July 21, 2011 at 10:15 am

Posted in education, foss, ubuntu

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How to give away computers with Ubuntu and Edubuntu

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Just in time for the holidays; your guide to giving away computers with Ubuntu and Edubuntu or your favorite *buntu.  In the past few weeks I’ve been contacted by several organisations who are giving away computers pre-loaded with different versions of Ubuntu.  Their stories need to be shared as they are doing some amazing work built upon all your great work in Ubuntu.  So here’s a quick guide to how you can help spread Ubuntu and really make a difference in people’s lives all over the world.

  1. Just do it!  Individuals everywhere are refurbishing older computers with Ubuntu and giving them to family, friends and local organisations.  The steps are easy; locate a system (heck, you are prolly thinking of buying yourself a shiny new one this season so recycle your old machine) and locate a person or organisation who needs a computer.  The caveat here is that the person or organisation you’re giving to might need additional support and training so you should be willing and available to do so.  And some public schools have guidelines on accepting such items (like wiping the drives and security and filtering software) so do some research.
  2. Volunteer or partner with an organisation who is already doing this work.  And there seem to be an ever growing number of them, which is just awesome, but also makes me wonder how we can consolidate some of these efforts for greater effect.  Here’s the names of the ones I know of:  Partimus, World Computer Exchange, Kidsoncomputers.org, Camara and another effort led by Caroline Meeks of the Sugar on a Stick project.  Each of these organisations is recycling systems with FOSS and I’ve learned most of them have chosen Edubuntu as their prime distro.  Way to go Edubuntu team!

Here’s a quick plug and summary of each organisation’s work:

  • Partimus – located in the San Francisco Bay area with wonderful volunteers like Lyz Krumbach and Grant Bowman and led by Christian Enfieldt, this group has created and deployed several computer labs.  If you are in the area they are having a fundraiser on Dec. 15, visit their website for more info.
  • Kidsoncomputers.org – I’m on the board of directors for this one and it’s a small effort led by Stormy Peters but seeing great results.  Edubuntu labs have been deployed in Mexico & Argentina, working on India.  We work directly with a local organisation and volunteers travel with the laptops and help set up the labs and do training.  This helps overcome many customs issues and you get to see your work in action.
  • World Computer Exchange – These folks have distributed over 27,000 systems!  Jack O’Donnell and his group are just amazing.  Go to the site to read all about it and volunteer.  Jack also helps others on the Edbuntu mailing lists so I hope we are helping him as well.
  • Camara – Located in Ireland, Gary McDarby and crew recycle machines, load them with mostly Edubuntu and ship via containers to Africa.  Wow – another amazing effort and to hear some of the success stories makes you feel pretty good about working on all things Ubuntu.  Lots of people who are exposed to an Ubuntu machine then go onto save their money to buy their first computer.
  • Ubuntu on a Stick is something Caroline Meeks and I talked about and she is working on a project in a local housing project that has many Haitian refugees.  They also very much want to take the effort ‘home’ to Haiti to bring computers to education there.  No website yet but the are making great progress and Caroline is definitely on the right track to a low cost, effective solution.

If you’re reading a planet feed, you’re probably light years away from the person or child who is having their very first exposure to any technology.  Think about that moment, the boot up experience, the first encounter with the desktop and the very first instructions they need to do something like open Tux Paint or Gcompris.  Thank you Team Ubuntu on behalf of all those who are getting that opportunity because of your work.

I also find it interesting that all of the organisations have chosen Edubuntu; and it makes sense.  It’s a complete solution for these first timers and for many the thin-client solution is an easy deployment.  All the software needed to start learning is there.  Most of these locations do not have internet connections so a stand alone solution is a must. WCE and Camara send out regular updates via CDs to local servers help overcome the no internet issue.  All of the organisations also do custom installations to work with the various hardware they are given (same with many schools who’ve adopted Ubuntu on their own), yet, with a few exceptions, they’re not yet feeding back into the Ubuntu/Edubuntu effort to let our teams know what their needs are.  Your thoughts on how we (the Edubuntu Team) can engage these groups is most welcome as each of these groups is or has developed their own recipes for preparing machines as well as training for both local support staff and teachers/parents/users.

Also, all the teams spoke of the need for more mobile phone options.  This area is growing faster than any laptop or desktop computing effort and has the potential to reach billions in a very short time.  So thanks again, Team Ubuntu – you rock!

Happy giving all!

Written by dindafoss

December 5, 2010 at 11:22 am

Study – Women’s Recommendation Letters hurt career chances

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Interesting and counter-intuitive article that recommendation letters for women can actually hurt their reputations.  It’s sad but true how words like nurturing and caring can be career limiting when aggressive and powerful are the more desired traits in leaders.  For me the balance is to be strong and passionate without crossing over into the witch category; being able to live with myself and face the mirror every day while feeling like a decent human being is more important conquering at all costs.  Fortunately, lots of great female role models out there in business these days.

Written by dindafoss

December 5, 2010 at 10:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Ubuntu Developer Manual project

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Just wanted to set the record straight that the project I’m working on this cycle is the “Ubuntu Developer Manual” and not the Ubuntu Manual Project.  Confusing, I know, but two completely different audiences.  The Ubuntu Developer Manual project is aimed at the opportunistic developer who wants to write applications for Ubuntu users.  We will be using many of the same toolchains that worked for the Ubuntu Manual Project and hope several more of you will join our team to help produce the downloadable PDF.  The book will be all about Quickly and there are already several contributors working on sections.  You can find more info on the project on the wiki at https://wiki.ubuntu.com/DesktopTeam/10.10/DeveloperManual


We’ll be having a kick off conference call on Friday, 3 December at 17:00 UTC so email or ping me on IRC (dinda) for the dial-in info.  If you can’t make that just drop into the #quickly channel to see how you can help.  Thanks all!

Written by dindafoss

December 2, 2010 at 11:29 am

Posted in foss, ubuntu

Book Review: Conversation and Community

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I just finished Anne Gentle’s book, Conversation and Community; The Social Web for Documentation, aimed at technical communicators in the web 2.0 times.  It’s a great guide to anyone looking to work on documentation, marketing or training using collaborative tools and hoping to engage a community to help you along the way.  Anne draws on her years of experience as a technical writer first with BMC software, then as a volunteer for OLPC.  She’s now with Open Stack and that shows you just how important documentation is to that project; they hired a pro from the start to get things going.

The book chronicles the rise of wiki and other collaborative writing tools that allow anyone to write and edit alongside the need of projects and companies to provide accurate technical documentation.  It also discusses the role of the technical communicator as an important part of the software development process.  Yes, there is a role for professional writers and editors in FLOSS projects and it’s worth paying for.  If you have any doubts, Andy Oram of O’Reilly offers this wonderful quote in his foreward to the book:

“Take the lead to develop and train your community to use a powerful, interactive educational system, and their productivity will soar.”

Anne’s blog can be found at: http://justwriteclick.com/ The book is available on Amazon.

And put June 3 – 5, 2011 on your calendar if you’re interested in documentation, training or anything to do with open help systems for FOSS projects.  Anne, Shaun McCance, myself, and others are putting together a small conference in Cincinnatti, Ohio aimed at everything around writing open source where you’re guaranteed to meet at least 50% of the people on this list of top open source technical writers.  We hope you’ll join our conversation.

Written by dindafoss

November 3, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Google ‘Code-In’ for k-12 students

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I’ve already had offers from five parents to give me their kids for this project!  I’m  looking into the details of this project but it sounds like a winner.  The contest is designed to get students ages 13 – 18 involved in open source projects.  I have tons of task ieas for these kids as the contest is just not limited to coding but also includes these areas:

  1. Code: Tasks related to writing or refactoring code
  2. Documentation: Tasks related to creating/editing documents
  3. Outreach: Tasks related to community management and outreach/marketing
  4. Quality Assurance: Tasks related to testing and ensuring code is of high quality
  5. Research: Tasks related to studying a problem and recommending solutions
  6. Training: Tasks related to helping others learn more
  7. Translation: Tasks related to localization
  8. User Interface: Tasks related to user experience research or user interface design and interaction


I’ll started a wiki page to help organize things as time to apply is only until Oct. 29.  Leave me comment if you are interested in being a mentor and please feel free to help edit the wiki as I just copied the core pages from the GSoC one and they need some editing.  Thanks!

Written by dindafoss

October 21, 2010 at 10:56 pm

The future of stand alone apps?

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I’ve been struggling with the current approach of providing educational software as stand alone apps versus web-based apps.  In FOSS there is a dearth of stand alone apps as many publishers follow the standard proprietary software model and target only certain operating systems.  Same for many of the CD/DVD based materials that accompany textbooks provided by publishers.  On the other end of the spectrum is an entire wealth of web-based apps and sites that contain some incredible and often free content for learning.  But the places that most need this free and open content are some of the places without the bandwidth or technology to access them.  Thus my dilemma;  to advocate a strategy that tries to encourage more stand alone app development or to forgo stand alone content and focus on just getting learners to the web?  The middle ground maybe being a school server with preinstalled content.

If you work in a technology-rich field it’s sometimes difficult to remember what it’s like to not have ubiquitous access to the cloud.  Schools, most schools, have limited access and some schools even purposely limit that access.  In technology-rich schools it’s mostly a policy issue on how to handle web access.  For the rest of the world, the issue is still getting any technology into the classrooms.

OLPC helped lead the way toward delivering a quality technology experience for kids in most need of technology resources.  Ubuntu and Edubuntu are now being distributed to many of those same audiences but I’m struggling with what strategy I should advocate as the technologies grow.  FOSS will never be able to match the numbers of proprietary software and WINE can only get you so far and you still run into the same licensing issues if you want that software at home and school.  One of the reasons so many organisations have chosen Edubuntu over plain Ubuntu is the inclusion of the educational software, even if the list is not long.  It’s still better than nothing and that’s the other option.

So going forward I would like to see more stand alone application development but thinking long-term I question that approach.  I can see a hybrid approach with a school server with captured sites and preinstalled content that could then be distributed out to student and teacher machines.  Remember, no one NEEDS the entire Internet at once, they just NEED the relevant bits to learn the topic at hand.

Written by dindafoss

October 21, 2010 at 3:57 am

Posted in education

From consumers to contributors

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Last week I was honoured to give a presentation at the Ministry of Education for Malaysia’s Open Source Software Conference. The government is making great strides in moving toward open-source software but like all organisations there are still a few hurdles to overcome. Legacy systems and web interoperability sometimes make it difficult to migrate wholesale but every small step in the right direction helps others follow the path they forged.

Malaysia has a great opportunity ahead of it. The new policy for ICT in schools announced at the conference culminated in a great document outlining their latest five year plan to enhance technology in all their schools. They have already invested a great deal in infrastructure and now all teachers, 1 million, have laptops. The next steps are netbooks or laptops for all 3.5 million students. Wouldn’t it be great to see all those system running Ubuntu?

It’s not just a technology issue but an education issue. Open-source is the right learning methodology and when you talk to educators they understand that. Open-source can offer something no proprietary offering can; true, authentic learning opportunities where the technology is a part of the learning, not just a tool to do tasks.

Think about this scenario: What if the entire country’s schools from preschool to University level adopted Ubuntu? The current proprietary operating system being used by all students is in English, not in Bahasa Malaysia. It’s too small a market to offer a fully translated system but what if we could enable older students to become translators as part of their curriculum process? The tools and processes are already there. Talk about an authentic learning project! We, the Ubuntu project, teach them how to use these tools and processes so that they can have a better learning experience for all their students.

An entire generation of learners moving from consumers to contributors.

Let the disruption begin.


Written by dindafoss

October 19, 2010 at 4:02 am

Posted in canonical, education, ubuntu

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Malaysia’s Ministry of Education OSS Day, Oct. 12 – 13

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I found out 2 days ago that I will be traveling to Malaysia to attend this wonderful event! I will be giving a presentation on Ubuntu in Education on Wednesday morning. The community there is very FOSS and Ubuntu friendly so it’s a great opportunity to show just how important they are to us. I’m really looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to meet the LoCo team there. If you are near Kuala Lumpur maybe I’ll get to meet you too.

Written by dindafoss

October 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm