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A Thrilling Introduction to Programming and Bungee Jumping by the Nile

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Jinja, overlooking the Nile at night

After teaching workshops on the weekend, writing blogs at night and working in the lab during the days I was due some down time. The ideal vacation spot in Uganda is Jinja, a town two hours outside of Kamapala. Jinja has a busy tourist entertainment industry since it is seated next to where the Nile river begins. It’s also where my new friend Johnny Long started a computer training space for Ugandans, so I was able to teach a workshop while I visited!

I started the five days off by doing exactly nothing. I sat in Hotel Paradise by the Nile and did nothing other than read some technical information and catch up on personal communication. The lizards, frogs, toads and beautiful landscape kept me company. On the second day I ventured out to the Source of the Nile. I wasn’t aware of either his birthday or the fact that his ashes were dispersed into the Nile after he died, but it turns out I was visiting the Source on the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi! I only discovered this moment of serendipity when I read the plaque on the statue erected in his honor at the Source of the Nile. After admiring the view and nodding a brief hello to the Indian men who had gathered to pay homage at eight in the morning my guide and I wandered over to the reptile park. There I admired the lizards, snakes and crocodile that the curators had on display.

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The Hackers for Charities Computer Training Center- main instructors and I

Saturday morning I checked out of the Paradise Inn and headed to Johnny Long’s Computer Center. Johnny founded Hackers For Charities in order to teach people of all ages without access how to use computers as well as write code and provide support for the growing digital community. Johnny told me about the BRCK routers that he intends to use to service communities in otherwise unconnected villages in Uganda. It’s a common misconception that everyone in the world has an internet connection and Johnny has found a way to solve the problem of providing connectivity service as well as dynamic updating in a rugged package that will persist to service African communities. Once I was all set up in his lab I taught his instructors, Mathew, Latif and Joshua how to teach basic programming skills with the offline Scratch 2.0 editor. Because they are instructors I was able to teach them the concepts that will help teach kids as young as seven or eight how to program. The instructors understood the importance of starting young and saw how powerful a teaching tool Scratch will be for their community. They even had fun during the training creating what I call “The World’s Worst Video Game.”

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After the workshop some old school technology was used by Paul to gather fresh guavas

After lunch we launched into Processing, following a similar trajectory to the morning. But this time we covered text based programming and connecting the concepts we were covering to the earlier class in Scratch. Unfortunately, Johnny was not able to join us in the afternoon due to an accident (he’s ok) but his instructors were wearing huge grins as we created a simple smiley face and moved it around on the screen. After the class I hung out in the compound behind Johnny’s Computer Center and future hacker-space eating fresh jackfruit and guavas gathered from the trees. As I sat and chatted with my new friends two artists in the shed behind the center mixed music and discussed their various painting projects.

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I found these guys behind the Hacker-Space-to-be mixing music and discussing painting, all over the world art and technology often occupy a shared space

I had dinner that night at The Keep. I was pleased to be able to eat my first salad (greens don’t count as salad) in over three months in a european castle style setting by the Source of the Nile while discussing hardware, education and Minecraft fireworks. (I’m not sure if Johnny’s kid realizes how cool it is that his dad plays computer games like Minecraft with him….) Truly a strange mix of worlds colliding over a fried chicken salad. I slept that night at the Long’s bed and breakfast, a place that words fail to describe. I awoke to putter around their largely silent Victorian style house filled with beautiful African knick knacks, fruit salad, fresh baked muffins, coffee cake and, my personal favorite indulgence, a quiet cup of coffee. Only at the very end of the meal did quiet singing layer itself over the atmosphere of the house as the cook, Gerald, cleaned up and offered me a glass of pineapple juice.

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It’s hard to explain how nice Johnny’s Bed and Breakfast was, the combination of tech, adventure, family values and good breakfast food was like few things I’ve ever experienced

That afternoon I went to Adrift Adventure and bungee jumped over the Nile. That’s correct, you read that right. I relax by doing a whole bunch of nothing with a cup of coffee followed by technology education workshops with some elastic based velocity and adrenaline as a cherry on top. It’s hard for life to get much better than that.

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So, yeah- I jumped off of that with a big rubber band attached to my feet (It’s about 140 feet)

But it did! The next Monday morning when I returned to the Fundi Space I found that lab manager Victor Kawagga had completed his goal of controlling a robot with some Xbee Series 2s. Feeling refreshed from the vacation I basked in the joy of Victor strutting around driving his robot. I had introduced Xbees only two months prior just before showing the team Eagle for the first time. We had really only started milling boards in earnest one month previously and here was Victor controlling the motor driver that he had designed, milled (with the Othermill) and soldered himself with a huge grin on his face in the quiet of the Fundi Space on a Monday morning. Truly, amazing returns on my investment in him as a student, co-teacher and world changer.victorTape

Victor uses the material most known to hackers, innovators and artists around the world, duct tape, on his Xbee remote controlled vehicle