An update on our Tech Share project

Several of you have been asking for an update on our progress with the TR Tech Share initiative we kicked off this past Christmas.  Our goal was to raise enough money to equip a classroom in a Ugandan school with Asus Eee PC computers, and you all responded generously, donating over $7,700 in order to make that happen.  Since then, we've been working to coordinate with all of the parties involved in order to get the computers delivered, the school wired for Internet access, and everything set up and tied together.  I'd have to say we somewhat underestimated the amount of time and work it would take to pull everything together, but I'm pleased to report that we have made substantial progress.

At long last, a package arrived at my door yesterday with the first Eee PC, a 4G model. This is the first of 13 Eee PC systems we expect to receive from Asus, ten of which will be 4G Surf models.

We're currently awaiting the delivery of the rest of the systems and contemplating how much setup work we should do before handing them off to the shipping company.

Getting to this point has taken more time than we anticipated for a number of reasons, but we're actually pretty far down the road already.

Before we could order the systems, we had to determine the safest and most economical method of shipping 13 computers into Uganda, which turns out not to be as simple as slapping a FedEx sticker on a box.  After some research, Adam identified an import broker that should be able to get the systems into Uganda and arrange for payment of the required import fees without charging an arm and a leg.

We also had to make some decisions about how to make the best use of our budget.  After some discussions with the school and local ISPs in Uganda, we believe we can afford to pay for a full year of Internet access for EEC (the Ugandan school), and we're moving to make that happen.  We've sorted through the various providers and confirmed local service availability at the school.  We've identified a local freelance tech who can help set up the lab and network, as well.

Naturally, we had to get a handle on all of these variables before we knew how many systems we could afford to order.  After that, coordinating with Asus took some time, since, as you may have heard, the Eee PC is something of a hot item.  Fortunately, that process is now largely complete.

Along the way, Adam has manged to wrangle some additional support from several quarters. NCIX has offered to donate a router and other hardware to help wire the lab, and Gigabyte and Cooler Master offered to kick in extra hardware to help with the cause or attract more donations if needed.

The extra support could be crucial, because we would like very much to be sure that the school gets what it needs to make these computers truly useful. One of our goals is to see that the school gets at least one full-sized laptop for teachers and/or administrators to use to prepare lesson plans or to handle basic day-to-day tasks.  The folks at the school, meanwhile, have voiced a request of their own: they'd like to have a printer, which they say could save them quite a bit of money on printing and copy fees.  We're pondering how to address these additional needs, but our focus for now is on getting the Eee PCs there and the classroom wired.

So one Eee PC is here, 12 more are on the way, and we believe we have a good grasp of what needs to happen next, how much each piece of the puzzle will cost, and who will be responsible for it.  With luck and a little hard work, we should be able to have the classroom wired and working by the time the kids return to school for the fall term, which would be ideal.  Thanks again to each of you who contributed to this effort.  This is a very cool thing we get to do.

Incidentally, I have to admit that we wavered for a moment on the original plan when the Windows XP version of the Eee PC became available, wondering if the school might not get more utility out of Windows-based systems.  Having played around with the Eee PC 4G that arrived here yesterday, though, I'm more convinced than ever that our decision to stick with the Linux version of the Eee PC was the right one.  Asus has, quite simply, done exactly the kind of integration work and UI design needed for a classrom PC and web client.  All of it makes sense: the Firefox web browser, prominent icons for webmail services and Wikipedia, the included planetarium and periodic table applications, the inclusion of, the dead-simple auto-update utility, and the kid-proofing aspect of the default desktop's relatively limited functionality.  If the EEC classroom only makes use of the included suite of applications, they will have a very robust set of teaching tools that should require very little maintenance.  Color me impressed.

We'll have more updates as things progress.  Stay tuned.

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