back to basics: enja.org

February 22, 2009

I’m going to discontinue using this blog, and go back to maintaining my own site. It makes more sense to communicate from one place.

Check me out at enja.org

Digital Divide: Taking Stock

February 18, 2009

This past Monday we took our first concrete steps towards our first workshop. Six people came together to deal with half a living room of computer parts. We took apart the computers, sorted and labeled the parts, set up a test machine and sneezed a lot thanks to all the dust!

We also took the initiative to do some organizational work, starting with a new email account. You can reach our group at digitaldivide.tlh@gmail.com

We are keeping close tabs on our inventory, so table_of_partswe can also give some of our initial numbers in regards to donations:

  • 8x Power Supplies and cases
  • 16x Sticks of RAM (average of 256MB)
  • 10x Video cards
  • 16x Ethernet/Modem cards
  • 10x Hard Drives (average of 40GB)
  • 9x Motherboards (7x with processors)

With our initial goal of 5 computers for 5 children we have way more than enough parts to build them suitable machines! We will be having another meeting next week to test parts and prepare for our event on the 28th!

boxen

A big thanks to Rob, Nathan, Ana, Michelle and Raymond for coming out and working hard! I know a few people could not make it because of class so we look forward to seeing you guys next week!

Digital Divide: first steps

February 4, 2009

My idea for the Digital Divide project has taken root, and the first steps are laid out for us. Recently I spoke with Aurora Hansen from the Palmer Munroe Community Center and we have set a date for our first workshop and computer giveaway! On February 21st from 1-5pm we will be teaching 5 kids how to build and use their new computers. We are starting with 5 as a sort of test run. It should be a suitably small number to manage, since this will be the first time for most of us teaching kids, and it will be the first time for many of us doing this sort of project.

Sitting in my living room are 8 computers in various states of being. Some have all their parts and will work right now, others have more parts than they should and others still are missing pieces. We will meet up a day or two in advance and test components and select the hardware. We will also want to choose and test a good linux distribution as well as find some good educational and fun content to install. If there is one thing I’ve learned from all the student activities I’ve done it’s that preperation makes for a successful event.

This event will give the cause a solid foundation. How it turns out will determine where we can take this project. The experience we gain will let us know if we want to broaden our focus or scale up our efforts. The more help we have the smoother this event will go, and the smoother it goes the more we can do. I envision that success on February 21st could mean publicity which could mean a large increase in donations. The management of this hardware, as well as proactively seeking out donations and support will become essential to our growth. Already I am running out of space for the donations I have collected from personal connections, so the next step might be to obtain a charitable donation of space.

Like with all ideas, this project is what we make of it. I am really excited about all of the positive feedback I have recieved from friends, family, co-workers and community members. I’m looking forward to the 21st to turn this idea into reality!

the power of belief

December 30, 2008

I am looking for something to believe in.

Now this is a broad statement, one with lots of implications, so I will try to narrow it down and define my point. The problem is that I’m not sure of my point because that is really what I am searching for. I do believe in things, some things I believe in more than others, and I believe in them for different reasons. I believe in evolution, prime numbers, the Incompleteness theorem and harmonics. I also believe in the basic goodness of people, civil rights and education.

What I think I am looking for though, is more along the lines of this gem by Earl Simmons, “I stand for what I believe in, even, if what I believe in, stops me from breathin’.” I remember when I first heard this statement, surely not an original sentiment, and how it challenged me. It didn’t matter how vulgar the context was, or the rest of his messages, this one line made me question myself. I thought, how many things are there that I would die for? That I would actually go against my natural instinct to fight for? I think for a kid in my position it was and is hard to be honest with myself to answer this question. I live a relatively comfortable lifestyle. My parents aren’t rich, but we certainly have never been poor. I grew up as a white male in America, attending decent public schools and with a caring family at home. I’ve never flown first class but I’ve traveled a lot more than a whole lot of people. There really isn’t much incentive to throw all of that away.

Yet that line bothered me, it had such power, such conviction. I felt like I was missing something because there wasn’t anything I could speak of with such all encompassing passion. Sure, I would give anything for my family and the people I love, but that mental exercise is pointless. We don’t live our lives waiting for someone we care about to get into trouble or fall into misfortune before we can find purpose. I felt like I needed to find a source so I could harness this power too.

I was raised by very rational parents, and I have always considered myself a rational person. The more I learned about the world the harder I found it to accept absolutes. This allowed me to put aside this nagging for a belief, because I could spend my energy trying harder to understand the world around me. After all, it would seem rather silly to die for a belief that turned out to be misguided. This fear of being wrong can be both healthy and hindering. I think while developing it is essential to soak in as many viewpoints as possible and broaden ones horizons, but at a certain point a person is moved to act. At that point it helps if there is direction behind those actions, especially in the context of society. Furthermore, if one is driven to make some sort of difference, to promote a change, then I propose that it helps to believe in what one is doing. This allows other people to subscribe to that belief, to contribute their help and further the movement in the direction of that belief.

That is the kind of belief I am looking for. The kind that when mentioned sets the context for a discussion. The kind that energizes people, inspires them to set aside whatever else they were doing to contribute, that makes them eager to dedicate time from their schedule to organize.

I have two candidates at the moment, both beliefs I have held for a long time, instilled by my parents and nurtured over the years. The first is civil rights, and the second is education. I hold a deep belief in human equality, not that we should all be the same, but by being born as human beings we all have equal rights. I have a great disdain for intolerance and a love for exploring other cultures. I do believe that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. For some reason, however, I don’t see the path. I don’t know where to start. Well, I have an idea, probably law school, but there is another belief that tugs on my thoughts and stirs up my passion.

That belief is education. I believe based on common wisdom and common sense that education plays an incredibly important role in determining the outcome of ones life. The problem is with the word, and all the implications it brings. I believe in more than just tests and degrees, more than certificates and institutions. Education is something personal, essentially it is completely internal, but access to it can be greatly influenced by external factors. Whether it is learning how to count, or learning how to wire a house for electricity, researching ancient texts, the basics of programming, or how to cook ramen noodles. The end result can only be proved by the person doing the learning. What this means to me is that the idea of education is far too broad a subject to be the kind of belief I am looking for. It is too basic a human function to single out. What I want to believe is that improving education, by giving more children access to more paths, by opening the eyes of young adults to more possibilities and more realities will improve the lives of everybody on this planet. This is still too vague a sentiment to die for. But it may be just beautiful enough to live for.

Maybe I just had to write it down to get a clearer understanding. While dying for an idea is a powerful force, living for one seems more constructive, although perhaps more fragile. Fighting for a positive outcome, constructing change is always more difficult than destructive change. The outcome of construction must be maintained, while destruction is the end result. I think this is why I will never subscribe to the idea that the ends justify the means, because there is no end as time is forever.

The next step then is how to embark on this journey of construction, how to develop new systems and expand on existing ones. How to set processes in motion that will continue to grow with time and provide more openings for more people. How to brand this idea of education, or most likely, what books do I need to read that have already inked this concept. It would be presumptious to think that I am the first one to think like this, so if the movement exists, and the belief is already being followed, sign me up!

For those that don’t know, the term Digital Divide describes the gap in skills between those with access to computers and digital technology and those without. I propose a way to build a bridge. The great thing about computers for the last decade is that they are mostly modular and they keep getting cheaper. Computers have gotten so cheap that there are completely usable machines out there that you just can’t sell because they are over 2 years old.

That’s where we come in. I personally have 2 desktop towers and a laptop that I don’t use because they are much slower than the computer I do use. They just sit in my closet collecting dust, even though all the parts work, and they would be perfectly suitable for a large amount of common computing tasks such as web browsing, emailing and word processing. All they really need is a sponge bath, a fresh install of a light-weight linux operating system and a little bit of loving and they would be ready for a new home. I know I am not the only one with computers like this, and even more so, many people have older windows computers that they think are broken because of all the spyware and viruses, but will be good as new after a cleansing format and fresh install of linux. For those computers that are really broken, there is a good chance that only one or two essential components are unusable, but the rest of the pieces are in perfect working order. From these we can create frankenstien machines that are stronger, better, faster… (queue your choice of daft punk or kanye west)

And this is where the real fun comes in. I’m not just talking about assembling a couple nerds like myself to process and distribute these computers, but starting a workshop for the very kids at the bottom of the digital divide. For those of us who grew up upgrading our video card for the latest video game, and putting in more RAM or installing that internal burner so we could share our pirated music, pulling apart and putting together a computer is no sweat. That means we should have no problem showing a few kids how to do the same. Then we give them an Ubuntu live cd and watch as they learn.

I know personally several people with the technical skills and the heart to support this effort, in the beginning we need not be too ambitious. As long as we can put a few keyboards infront of the hands of a few kids who wouldn’t have had the chance, we will have made a difference. I think there are several places this could take place, either at a local community center, or even on Campus. If we find ourselves getting more donations, we should be able to recruit more volunteers from the IT department at FSU. If we can start a sort of organization, perhaps we could raise a few funds from technology companies like Comcast that we could use to shop at the FSU Surplus Auctions for spare parts and extra monitors. We can also take this opportunity to responsibly recycle waste materials, which is not hard to do, but most people don’t know how.

So if you have an old or broken computer, let me know. If you want to help put together computers and teach some kids at the same time, let me know. If you want to help tweak a custom linux distribution and pack it with fun and educational software, let me know. If there is anything I didn’t think of, let me know!

Even if we are just throwing a few rocks into the river, lets start building this bridge!

You forgot to tell me that we were just friends. When I left we talked so honestly, you knew where I was headed and I knew you didn’t know where you were going. When I came back things seemed the same, like the situation hadn’t changed and your mind wasn’t made. I guess you were going to tell me over the cup of coffee we never had. I never followed up because the grapevine told me first.

I’m not angry, I just wanted to write it down because it hurts. I was ready to tell the world when I thought that we would work, so I might as well let em know that it won’t and no its not a curse. There is no other aspect I wish to balance or argue, I’m not giving up on you, just closing the book.

I’m glad you found yours, because rest assured I’m a get mine, it just turned out not to be this time.

lil asthma

September 18, 2008

You know how Wayne kicks it, and you ain’t gotta trip, like you lost your plane tickets.

The best selling rapper of the year, and the fastest selling artist since 2005 spoke to Wallstreet Journal (not quite the spread in Forbes, taking a Benjamin bath) about the Carter 3. I thought this part was particularly insightful:

Even the people who did download it [without paying], that’s a sign of respect. Trust me, it’s respect — if you don’t believe me you can call my bank. I don’t have a problem with downloading. I don’t have a problem with anything.

So not only is hip-hop still alive, but so is the record industry… with thanks to pirating. Of course people familiar with hip-hop always knew that. Mixtapes are gaining mindshare in America, but they have been around for a long time. Just more evidence that it’s not music that is in trouble, it’s just the people that aren’t in it for the music that are in trouble.

traffic

September 12, 2008

Most sidewalks in China are composed of tiles or cobblestones, and in the major cities there is usually a path with ridges for the convenience of the blind. In all the Chinese cities I’ve walked through, with all the millions of people, I have never seen a blind person walking the street. Even if I were to see a blind person, I could not imagine them utilizing the pathway because they would most certainly be accompanied by a friend or relative. When crossing the street with a Chinese friend I have become accustomed to the physical reassurance they offer by pulling my arm or putting their arm out to stop me from walking. I became used to the sight of Chinese girls walking hand in hand or arm in arm, supporting each other as if they had just stumbled out of a burning building. These observations may seem strange to the Western pedestrian, but they make all too much sense on Chinese roads.

I no longer gripped the “oh shit handles” in the taxi when we made a U-turn across three lanes of traffic at a busy green light. There would be honking, yielding, coming to a stop with our taxi perpendicular to oncoming traffic as we waited for the last lane of traffic to present an opening. The first time my taxi pulled in front of a bus from a stop in second gear it is easy to imagine the panic I felt, a different but just as anxious feeling came up the first time my taxi cut off a police car with its sirens on. It turns out that Chinese police turn on their lights to signify that they are on duty, but the rules of the road are clearly different. Traffic lights seem to be guidelines, the paint that separate lanes are mere decoration and horns see far more use than turn signals. Yet I always got from point A to point B.

Why is it that I got safely to where I was going? How could a system without rules accomplish exactly the results we depend on our laws to provide? There is a subtle and pervasive undercurrent in China that shapes the behavior of its citizens. This force can be described as a tacit mutual understanding between every individual. This understanding must be continuously maintained, constantly updated by being aware of ones surroundings. My friend pulling my arm was a sign that she was paying attention to my welfare, and stopping me with his arm was another friends reaction to the approaching cars. A taxi turning across a full street relies on the understanding held by the oncoming drivers, and when he stops with one lane left, he is considering the Audi speeding down the last lane who can’t slow down enough to accommodate him. It is not the rules of traffic that guide the decisions each driver makes, it is the surrounding environment that dictate the next move.

And traffic is just the metaphor.

mini apple is…

June 30, 2008

Delicious…

I suppose travelling always results in these sorts of coincidences, the kind that you don’t forsee and can never expect because you only get them when you aren’t looking for them. Today was just such a day in Minneapolis. After flying out of Miami International from a wonderful wedding (which should get its own blog post when the time is right) I landed in Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport around 5pm. I quickly found a locker to stow my duffle bag and inquired about the public transportation. The light rail runs directly from the airport to downtown Minneapolis, but I decided to get out at the metrodome. Apparently while I was admiring the stadium I failed to realize that my cell phone was staying on the metro without me. While this was of course upsetting and incredibly careless, I wasn’t about to let it ruin my freedom. It was out of batteries with my charger safely stowed in the airport locker, and it wouldn’t work in China for the next two months. I hope it’s new owner is good to it and the young 2gb miniSD card in it’s womb.

With no one to call in Minneapolis anyway I held my chin up and started walking in the downtown direction, where there were large shiny and reflective buildings. I walked past the coolest parking garage I’ve ever seen with about 10 kids skating smooth banks that could be mistaken for ramps. I fought the urge to hurt myself and decided to find a coffeeshop with free wifi. After walking through the amazing courtyards of government plaza I wandered down Nicollet Ave. stopping briefly for a free sample of bagelful and the tail end of some kind of latin music festival. Nearby was a Caribou Coffee, but at 7:15 I only had 45 minutes before they closed. So I found out from a barista that there was a 24/7 coffee shop called Hard Times Cafe and got directions. It was a short “light rail” ride and a few blocks walking to find the bright neon green building with a full vegetarian kitchen. Of course I had to get a grilled cheese and a coffee. What I admit next is shameful, and much to the chagrin of myself and everyone else that cares about me, but I resumed my battle with nicotine. The pull from travelling and some discrepencies while celebrating in Miami was just too strong for my travel and freedom induced mindstate to defend against. Of course this can’t continue but this infernal chemical has once again sunk its fangs into my mind.

I would have liked to have eaten at one of the restaurants in the African American district around the corner, as in the East-Africa American Diner but unfortunately Sunday evening isn’t the right time for that. I did get to see some elegantly and brightly dressed people walking the street.
A casual chat with the barrista at about midnight sent me around the corner to a bar called Palmer’s. The beer was cheap, the music was good and the environment was incredibly chill. This former “house of ill-repute” is 102 years old, with cash registers that were modern in the 40’s. Apparently one of the working girls still haunts the place, nightly knocking over a glass or chair when no one is around. The patronage could be called alternative, but that seems like such a cop-out. There were white girls with tattoos, dreads and lip-rings and black guys in button ups and multi-colored kicks, its the kind of place where you end up falling short when trying to sum it up. I drank a couple beers with a group of real chill musicians/travelers who were all out of school one way or another. On the piano was Cornbread Joe, apparently an old school jazz pianist from Chicago whos age did not stop his fingers from giving the keys a multi-racial ass-whooping.

With my intent to stay up all night I decided to cut myself off at 2 beers and head back to the coffeeshop, where I find myself now writing this blog post and waiting on some french toast. As clean as downtown is, I find myself much more at home among free wifi and cheap coffee. Cheers to getting a head start on jet lag in a happenin’ way!

This past weekend I went to Gainesville to attend SERCAAL, the South East Regional Conference for Asian American Leaders at the University of Florida. What I took back to Tallahassee was several interesting observations and some re-opened questions for myself. First I want to point out that I am not an Asian American, hell, I even struggle with the concept of being American. I went to this conference because I am an officer in FSU’s Asian American Student Union and I am president of our Chinese Language and Culture Association. So I guess that makes me a leader in organizations that involve Asian Americans, not to mention I traveled with some great people to take part in the conference.

Two of the workshops I attended were given by the same lecturer, a Ryan Takemiya who discussed Asian American popular culture, and the lack thereof. He made very interesting points about identity by looking at the popular culture (the culture of the majority, not necessarily ‘corporate pop’) of other races in America, and of various ethnicities in Asia. He explored how hip-hop has become incredibly popular throughout Asia, and looked at its popularity inside the US. What he illustrated is the way many ethnic groups have unique ways of expressing their culture that they ‘own’. He argued that black people ‘own’ hip-hop in the way that white people ‘own’ alternative rock. That isn’t to say other ethnicities are excluded, but that those forms of expression are manifestations of the identity of each culture. Therefor while members of other cultures may enjoy the art, they won’t truly be able to identify with it. His major point was that Asian Americans are lacking this kind of popular culture. They are missing a shared identity that they ‘own’. There are Asian Americans who are talented at hip-hop or breakdancing or guitar, but there still aren’t any artists, or forms of expression that they can call their own.

His lecture made me think about myself. As a white male who grew up in a generally suburban atmosphere in America one would think I could just identify and fit in with white American culture. Strangely, I have found myself always at odds with it. The fact that I was born in the Netherlands, and was raised speaking a second language at home is probably my first break. I was always taught from an international perspective by my parents, and have visited my motherland every other year since we moved to the U.S. when I was 2 years old. Of course I look like every other white American, so these things were never thrown in my face by the ignorant. I can’t and won’t ever be able to understand what its like to be oppressed for my heritage. In fact the only thing thats been thrown in my face is my heritage of being an oppressor, since Europeans (and the Dutch) were the slave traders. So I can’t be nationalistic, or ‘Patriotic’ to one country due to my ties to the other. What about my popular culture? Since I could afford CDs I’ve bought hip-hop/rap. At first mostly mainstream, but with the explosion of the internet my tastes gradually widened. I find it strange that I’ve always chosen to listen to music that I can’t identify with and I’ve never enjoyed music that I might have been able to identify with. Now I’m learning a language spoken by a billion people who will always know I’m not a native speaker upon site.

Being at SERCAAL opened my eyes a little bit, outwardly to progress, yet also inwardly to emptiness. I was watching the energy of the other students around me. I saw the way they were flirting with each other, nervously discussing their experiences, excitedly predicting the future, smiling and greeting everyone around them. All brought together, united, by the fact that they were Asian Americans. The conference members were in a place where they could identify with everyone else around them. I could feel the comfort around me, the ease with which otherwise shy people were able to relax and communicate. It was truly beautiful to witness, I can imagine how wonderful it feels to experience.

So what is my popular culture? What do I identify with? I won’t claim to have any struggles, I hardly know suffering. I do not wish to be anybody other than myself. I just feel like I’m missing something, something that I can pull strength from. I suppose this something would be a source of pride, something I can share with others, that people who don’t have it would respect, and people who do would know exactly what it was. I need something to call my own.