Monthly Archives: February 2009

Paraguay: cutting edge OLPC deployment

A couple of things have surprised me during my time so far in AsunciĆ³n, technology-wise. For example, the ability to buy various items from shops/restaurants using credit from your phone, and drive-through ATMs (what an Americanism…).

Me and the others at ParaguayEduca have been working to make our OLPC deployment pretty high-tech too. Here are some of our projects and achievements:

  1. NANDblaster. We didn’t finalize our software image until very recently, several months after the laptops were manufactured, so we have to install software on 4000 laptops here in the warehouse. USB keys are so yesterday, so we’re transmitting the software wirelessly (multicast) using the brand new NANDblaster, developed and integrated into the OLPC firmware by Mitch Bradley. (well, as this firmware is brand new, we still have to plug a USB key into every machine to upgrade to a NANDblaster-capable firmware, but this is quick). More on this incredible technology another time…
  2. Deployment security keys. OLPC are handing off security-related support tasks to deployments themselves, and have produced a secure mechanism to allow for this delegation without revealing OLPC’s private security key. When I said that we are flashing a NANDblaster-capable firmware, we’re actually flashing a NANDblaster-capable keyjector-equipped firmware, which injects our special Paraguayan public security keys into the manufacturing data of each laptop. This means that Paraguay can now sign their own OS images, and produce their own activation leases, without relying on OLPC or having to disable the XO’s security features.
  3. Deploying the XS school server. Despite some attempts, I’ve not really managed to find any significant deployments that deploy school servers at each school. I believe we’re the one of the first large-scale deployments to put the XS into action across the board.
  4. Activation over 802.11 infrastructure networks. We’ve modified OLPCs security client in the initramfs to request activation leases from the school server over an AP-hosted wireless network (previously the only options were USB, SD card, and mesh, none of which scale very well).
  5. WiMaX. We are providing internet access to all 10 schools, over WiMaX. I haven’t heard of other deployments that use this technology. It is remarkably scalable; internet access is provided to all 10 schools using only a single WiMaX tower.

Front page

I’ve arrived and settled in Paraguay, to help on the OLPC implementation. The team here have established some great media contacts. Here’s the front page of today’s biggest countrywide newspaper:

Diario ABC, 07/02/2009

Full article. The headline: “CaacupĆ©, the first digital city”.

Learning Spanish quickly

I studied Spanish for about 5 weeks before arriving in Paraguay, a few hours each day, starting with absolutely no knowledge of the language. While I’m still unable to understand most conversations (mostly due to the speed of speech), I’m making a lot of progress each day. Here are the resources I have been using to learn, most of them for free:

  • ProSpanish has a couple of free lessons, which act as a great introduction to the very basics.
  • SpanishDict has about 25 video lessons available. These are good, if you can stand the horrible American accent of la profesora!! And there are some interactive activities after each lesson.
  • BBC Spanish Steps complements the above nicely, with some good practice for listening.
  • LiveMocha is a fascinating website combining language learning with social networking. After completing some interactive learning exercises, you are tested on writing (answering a short essay question) and speaking (recording into the microphone). The magic part is that your work is then handed off to a native Spanish speaker (another community member, who might, for example, be using the site to learn English), who provides feedback and corrections.
  • NotesInSpanish is a useful podcast to complement the above, which we listen to in the car.
  • I bought the book “Spanish Verb Tenses” by D. Richmond. Very useful, it’s a textbook which includes many exercises that drill the verb conjugations into your head.
  • I also had a few private lessons at my house before leaving.