Archives for category: Librebus

Guatemala City Volcanoes01 bySir James / Public Domain, found in Wikimedia Commons


We broke our fast in San Salvador with tortillas, pancakes, and “American” coffee. A great tragedy in Central America is how delicious local foods, like coffee and tortillas stuffed with yumminess, are sold back to the region in the form of Starbuckes and Taco Bells. I know, I know. It’s globalization here as it is everywhere, but it’s still sad to see people waiting for hours in line for a latte from beans grown in their country but costing 3x as much.

Librebus in several Guatemalan newspapers

The Librebus hit the road for Guatemala City, just a few hours down the road. The temperature as we headed north became progressively cooler, a welcome relief from the heat of Nicaragua and Honduras. We reached Guatemala by mid-day, and after checking into the hotel, met up with about 10 Libre community folks: the CC Guatemala team, Free Software developers, a security contributor to Tactical Tech, and education and transparency advisers to various ministries.

We landed in a number of national and local newspapers. In general, media coverage of the Librebus was quite high. The journalists explained that in a region plagued with news about drug wars, violence, and corruption, a positive story about education, inter-regional collaboration, and idealism is fresh and welcome.

CC Salon

The CC Salon at the Centro Cultural de España in Guatemala City was our most well attended event yet. David, part of the budding CC team in Panama, commented that Guatemala has a level of activity and community that is a shining Free Culture star to the region. It’s true, and it’s not to be underestimated that it comes with the dedicated work of key people over several years (CC Guatemala signed its first MOU in 2006), growing the team and community one relationship at a time. One of the strengths in the country is the diversity of people who care about Free Culture and Free Software. And they’ve come to care about not through promotional talks, but through conversations about how these tools can help solve problems they encounter every day.

Speaking at the salon was the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, the host institution of CC Guatemala. Their new media department is pioneering a video platform for courses. The service houses more than 17,000 1,700 videos from lectures and classroom activities, synced with a transcript and slides timed to the talk. You can select sections of the video and share links to exact that snippet. It’s pretty impressive. The platform uses various CC licenses for the lectures, and we spoke to them about releasing the platform’s code. I also demoed popcorn and hyperaudio, which got them excited about web standards and HTML5.

A film about DVD gray markets in Guatemala was screened by pirata tv, and the maestros de web, a freely licensed software & web documentation site, showed his platform. The latter reminded me of a huge advantage Latin America has when it comes to educational materials. Often, people I met outside the English-speaking world lament that it’s difficult, in their language, to reach a critical mass and have access to enough quality content in the subject of their choice. But Spanish is a language spoken by at least 500 million people. It’s an enormous advantage. There are lots of initiatives and repositories and study groups and hordes of content available in their language. And although understandably one can feel isolated if they’re the only ones in their country working in the field or producing content. But transcend geography (one of the internet’s perks, of course), and you’ve got collaborators and resources everywhere. This is a great insight for Central America, I think, not just language-and-critical-mass-of-content-wise, but in leveraging their mutual efforts more often and not reinventing the wheel in each admittedly small, not-so-densely populated country.
Knight-Mozilla MoJoitos Guatemala CIty

Having perfected the Knight-Mozilla MoJoito format in San Salvador, after the CC Salon we headed to a popular journo part in Guatemala City for round of brainstorming. It was a stellar attendance and a great vibe. We set up a prominent table in the bar, taped up some example napkin sketches, and started handing out pens & paper. Over the course of the evening, 25 ideas rolled in and 25 MoJoitos rolled out.

The ideas covered all sorts of ground and all sorts of approaches. Some highlights were: using SMS for citizens to text in news and send photos/video from a scene, interactive public screens showing the news and soliciting input from passers-by, live comment walls during news interviews that both the anchor and interviewee respond to and interact with, and a neat suggestion to double the news prompter, already employed to transcribe the action, as a video transcript generator and microblogger.

First Hackathon for Public Data in Guatemala

The next morning a room of geeks and activists gathered at the cultural center for the country’s first public data hackathon. The goal of the event was to connect NGOs and technologists and to start driving demand for open data by piloting some use cases.

I gave a brief overview of Linked Data and how the open data movement is shaping up in Europe and spots elsewhere. Where Does My Money Go and They Work For You for fiscal and political transparency really resonated with everyone, as Guatemala is entering an election year with a very corrupt government.

Also, as David Foster Wallace has helped drive home in The Pale King, pattern recognition and storytelling must shine from these monumental data statues if the information is going to have any relevance. This takes time, and patience, and to some degree a tolerance for eye-glazing public documents, but the world is in a position to make these documents more eye-catching and comprehensible, not to mention immediate and compelling. So techies teaming up with journos, handling the human translation work together, is a powerful formula.

And while the audience appreciated the examples from from around the world, they also expressed the need to have visualization tools at their finger tips, so that whatever data crumbs are obtained can be instantly digestible. It’s of course the Holy Grail, but there are curations of key programs and tools already. Maybe we need a Tactical Tech-esque Data Journalism in a Box?

In any case, the crowd was primed for rolling up their sleeves and prototyping some action for public data. One group developed an infographic for the election process of Guatemala’s District Attorney, gleaned from an Excel spreadsheet on Another group created a podcast of recommendations for the transparency site, which you can catch the audio on SoundCloud. There were demos from Congreso and Open Wolf, and presentations from local NGOs and user groups.

Possibly the best outcome was hearing a few people say, “This is the beginning of something new in Guatemala. We have a lot of work to do, but now we know we can do it together.”

(all the unblurry pics here are by Renata Avila / CC BY and Jorge)

San Salvador downtown by Public Domain, found in Wikimedia Commons

San Salvador

Hyper from a night of hotel-room karaoke with the Free Software program Performous, we jumped into the Librebus to journey from Tegucigalpa to San Salvador.

The half-day’s drive through forested hills and arid orchards went smoothly, despite the now standard hold up at the border as the customs officials inspect the Freedom Toaster. (Us: “It’s a transparent computer. Or, better to call it a portable CD burner.” Customs Official: “…”.)

El Salvador - Honduras border

We rolled into San Salvador to the generous hospitality of the city’s Centro Cultural de España for an evening of mingling and open pupusas. Pupusas are a delicious dish of corn tortilla with baked cheese inside topped with cabbage and salsa. You can apparently stuff them with all sorts of yummy things, like grilled veggies and guacamole.

Open Pupusas

The Open Pupusas was a great reminder of how food is a perfect interactive medium. People bustling around with plates and managing messy meals really dissolves social inhibitions and a few bites in you find yourself bonding with a neighbor about how tasty everything is and by the way what do they do, what brought them here, etc etc.

During the evening we met a cluster of Salvadorian digital natives, i.e. very wired kids that tweeted about heading to the event in cool Spanish net slang where “que” becomes “k” and everything is in a miXturRe of CapitAl leTTers. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them and think, wow, they must’ve been 8 or so when CC was founded. The movement is practically in a stage where a generation takes it for given and not recall a time when it wasn’t around.

Speaking of the next generation, a Debian developer sat rocking an adorable newborn and explained that her name is Debbie Alejandra. Now that’s a real geek.

The next morning we returned to the center and held some brief presentations about Free Software, freedom of expression, tech tools for transparency, and the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge.

We broke into smaller groups to discuss the specific topics, and although I couldn’t follow the details in Spanish, the energy was high and the vibe great. In general, the crowd seemed knowledgeable about the basic principles and projects of Free Software and Free Culture, which helped drive the conversation further.

Clearing out of the cultural center, I headed with Renata to a local community radio station, where she went on the air to explain the Librebus. The national newspaper El Salvador dedicated an article to us as well.

Knight-Mozilla MoJoitos


An evening of geeks and news innovation awaited at a nearby bar (regrettably located in a mall made possible by the obliteration of a precious forest, we later learned). We met to brainstorm around the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge (#MoJo), grabbing a pen and napkin and tackling the question: how can video online change news storytelling?

Every successful submission scored the participant a mojoitos (our attempt at being punny), and the mood was fun and collaborative. Despite the intro talk (slides kindly translated into Spanish by Renata), it was difficult at first to explain what the scope of the idea should be, especially since the crowd was more of the geek, rather than journo, DNA. I suspect it helps to be more familiar with the domain in question (the news) when tossing out tangible problems to solve and suggestions to improve. In any case, they got warmed up after I whipped up a super simplified demo sketch.

Renata proposed a truly brilliant win-win-win idea for the challenge. It focuses primarily on photos, but you could pull off the same thing for video. Here’s the gist:

News photographers on assignment take hundreds if not thousands of pictures. But when their work is published, only a very select amount is used. Let’s conservatively say 1 in 100 photos. There’s a lot of waste in the system.

What if there were a “megastore” for all the unused photos? What if all the digital scraps, the unpublished masses, were uploaded in a way that freed up storage space — fast and easily — from photographers’ cameras and offered them incentives, such as equipment discounts and promos, to get the pics online.

A condition of submission could be waiving the rights and getting the photos in the public domain for maximum reuse.

Crowdsourced tagging could be explored, for example, with image captchas to unlock phones or play games. Sponsors and high-scoring photographers would be featured prominently. And the public would have access to professional quality images and footage from all over the world.

I think it’s a fantastic and very webby way of approaching news photography’s current inefficiencies. Renata will be writing it up more thoroughly soon. Can’t wait to see what comes out of the MoJo meetup tomorrow in Guatemala City!

(all the unblurry pics here are by Renata Avila, CC BY)

GPS running with Fedora. See the little Librebus?


The next day on our Librebus tour, we left Managua for Granada, a lake-side town about an hour away. We rolled in to the Antigua Casa de Los Leones, a gorgeous colonial house in the center of the city.

To an intimate crowd of 20, the Librenautas shared projects from Ubuntu, Python, and Gapminder, while a rep from the Service for Mesoamerican Information on Sustainable Agriculture (SIMAS) discussed the office’s intentions to release datasets to the public.

I showcased WebMadeMovies, and in talking with William, the Librebus’ gear-out filmmaker, we’re exploring how to release a video about the Librebus using popcorn. In the adjacent room, an announcer’s voice trickled in from Radio Volcán’s, fielding song requests with his studio door ajar. Artists nearby painted and fanned themselves in wicker rocker chairs…at the same time.

After a tasty lunch of Granada pizza (indiscernible from more general forms of pizza), we ventured out to Lake Nicaragua, a lake so large the moon pulls a regular solid tide. The country boasts many lakes and lagoons, fresh water escapes from the tropical heat.

In the public square outside the Antigua Casa, we screened Good Copy Bad Copy to a crowd gathered on plastic stools, blankets, and bikes. Young and old were drawn to the film, and a local commented that it’s rare for the host institution to dissolve its traditional walls and bring in the public, so they appreciated the outdoor activity.

The Casa’s closed reputation seems to be in stark contrast to the Centros Cultural de España that open their doors to us in other cities. The centers have media labs, libraries, galleries, screenings, and workshops constantly on offer, and in areas that face a real digital divide, these centers are like public sanctuaries of connectivity and culture. Renata explained that most governments in Central America don’t invest much in such activities and infrastructure, and so the gap is filled by cultural centers funded from the west. Perhaps this exercise of soft power is genuinely win-win.

After a pile BBQ plantains and Tona beers, we crashed at the spacious and tasteful Posada del Sol, a highly recommended hotel in Granada.


At daybreak we climbed back into the Librebus and hit the road to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Several hours of winding mountain roads and sunny farmland, we arrived in the city of one million.

Joining us for this leg was our Honduran host, Karla Lara, a human rights activist and feminist. She showed us the most amazing spots, the shining gem of which was Zulma, a bombastic joie de vie who cooked us three meals during our stay. At Zulma’s, we not only feasted but were treated to traditional music and live riffs on the Librebus’s now-theme song sung to the tune of La Bomba. Suffice it to say, if you ever find yourself in Tegucigalpa, look up Zulma.

At the Centro Cultural de España Tegucigalpa a group of community radio activists introduced us to their initiatives. Karla, their mentor, is one of the most prominent revolutionaries in her country, and one of her tactics includes raising political awareness through music. After the performance at Zulma’s, Karla decided to release her albums under a CC license.

The radio activists were keen to learn more about Hyperaudio, which I demoed during the workshop. One feature request was speech-to-text to generate the transcript. The transcript is currently written by hand, but it certainly would be a huge boon if speech-to-text were well integrated and smart enough to execute a decent transcript within the platform. In any case, they were charmed by the visualizations, the integration of multimedia, and the ability to comment and link down to the very second in an audio file.

Wrapping up the evening in Tegucigalpa was a screening of ¡Copiad, malditos!: los caminos alternativos al ‘copyright’ by Stéphane M. Grueso. The film got a round of applause when Ignasi of CC Spain and Catalonia appeared on screen. I’d not heard of the film before, but I’d recommend it to folks as a complement to the Good Copy Bad Copy, RIP!, and Steal This Film series with its abundant examples of the Spanish-speaking world.

Tomorrow we’re off to San Salvador, El Salvador for a public data hackathon and hopefully our first MoJo meetup in Central America. Vamos!

(Sorry, posting these LibreBus stories about two weeks after the fact. Well, better late than never!. Photo credits to Librenauta Jorge.)

Work found at”>Wikimedia Commons /

The LibreBus is on the road! Over the next few days, a bus filled with Free Culture and Free Software contributors is traversing Central America, meeting up with local groups, holding workshops, speedshows, hackfests, and lightening talks wherever we go.

Yesterday I landed in Managua and headed to Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura Hispánica (@CCENicaragua) to join the Librenautas, who just drove in from Costa Rica.

To a warm crowd of about 60 people, Carolina Flores Hine, a leading Free Software advocate from Costa Rica, explained the genesis of the LibreBus and the route ahead. Jorge Alban took the stage to speak about Free Software, creativity, and the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau. It’s a moving piece, and it continues to feel immediate (“Jump fences. Make mistakes faster. Work in metaphor.”) despite its 1998 time stamp.

In a room next door, a Nicaraguan Librenauta demoed a Free Software astronomy project and talked about the rise of citizen science., the LunarX prize, student weather balloons, and other private initiatives abound to make the Space Age DIY, filling in the gap left from shriveling tax-funded government programs.

Next up was a screening of RIP! A Remix Manifesto with its scenes from Beijing to Rio to Montreal and beyond. It was fascinating to watch while siting in Nicaragua, surrounded by the Librenautas and the attentive audience and think: where has the Free Culture movement been — and where is it going? Have are our leading examples, our metaphors, evolved? Have we advanced our goals, pushing the trenches a few meters in a fairer direction?

It’s hard to say where we stand, what with numerous legislative and extra-legal moves to towards copyright idiocy. On the other hand, compelling cases abound across domains and geographies, lending evidence to a changing tide in individual and institutional adoption. With nearly 10 years since the founding of Creative Commons, it’d be useful to take stock of the movement and determine what challenges lie ahead and where our energies are well spent.

Universidad Centroamerica

The next morning, after a pleasant evening organized by Neville, a Managua-based Fedora contributor and Librenauta, the bus drove to the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA).

librebus-1-14 / LibreBus /

The Flame of Knowledge, a pyramidal Arduino-driven Freedom Toaster that burns CDs packed with Free content and programs, was a major hit. A table of local Mozilians, fresh from their Firefox 4 launch and loaded with swag and enthusiasm, shared their experiences with Firefox and contributing to open projects in Nicaragua.

Flame of Knowledge

Interestingly, the university’s GNU/Linux user group boasts nearly a 1:1 ratio of guys and girls, a refreshing balance. In general, in fact, the number of women active in Free Software projects seems higher in Central America, as it appears also to be in places like Brazil and India, than in Europe. I’d like to check with Carolina, who does a lot of research and outreach on the topic, whether that’s true, but at least during this tour, the ratio is healthy, which is fantastic to see.

Mozzilling! / Renata Avila /

After I held a brief chat about Creative Commons and P2PU, there was an explosive round of lightening talks. The bici-liquadora, a human=powered blender, provided laughs and smoothies for the crowd.

A software didact introduced Cursorlibre, a leading tutorial site in Spanish for Free Software programs. It drove home the need for course localization, and it’d be neat to learn from projects like P2PU, who’ve translated their new site into Spanish and hold study groups in different languages, how to tackle multilingual challenges while growing the circle to new language groups.

Tactical Tech took the stage to talk about 10 Tactics, and in a biodiversity sit-in, we discussed the importance of seed banks for the Mesoamerican maize culture (reminded me of Heatherwick’s seed cathedral at the 2010 Expo).

Rodrigo (@roirobo), a Mozilla contributor from Managua, spoke about Firefox addons for privacy, highlighting BetterPrivacy, Ghostery, and AdBlocker Plus. Then Neville argued about the value of Open Street Map to his neighborhood, whose streets aren’t listed on Google Maps. La Brujula, a newspaper by youth for youth, handed out copies of the paper, licensed under CC and featuring an article about the bus. Yeah!

@magjogui proposed a DeapDrop network for cultural data from Central America. Since then, he and I are talking about how to use the event totem, as prototyped at Global Melt, to capture the documentation and hand it off to the region’s cultural centers, Free Culture projects, and perhaps another LibreBus one day.

The day ended with a delicious Nicaraguan buffet, complete with banana leaves, plantains, more rice and beans, and a coagulated blood block I chose not to learn more about. Then drinks in a neighboring bar, matchstick puzzles, and beer can bowling made for a pretty interesting night. Now for some shuteye and off tomorrow to Granada!