Category Archives: Uncategorized

Welcome To The SoCal-OSSIE Blog

Open Source fan? Interested in Education? Then you have come to the right place!

At last, we have a central location for posting photos and information about the many things going on with OSSIE in the Southern California area. Some of the material here will be historical… links to photos and blog posts from previous projects and events that have already happened. New items will be added as they occur. If you have any photos or projects to share, please do!

We also have a Google Group that serves as a mailing list for SoCal-OSSIE. If you would like to add your name to the list, go to!forum/socal-ossie and click on ” Join to join group” in the little blue box near the top of the page.

We are also compiling a special new mailing list for folks who are interested in working with others who are developing, curating, using, and deploying OLPC’s XO computers and/or the XO software. We are calling that group “olpc 2.0, and will welcome all who would like to become involved in the future of this worldwide OSSIE movement. If you would like to be a part of that group, please put a request in a comment to this post or in a message to the SoCal OSSIe mailing list (link above) and we will be sure you are added.


Is The Old Joke Passé?

There used to be an old joke that went  something like this:

Q: What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages?

A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages?

A: Trilingual

Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?

A: An American

Recent observations make me think this may no longer be true.

First, the idea that people in other countries all learn to speak English as part of their education doesn’t seem valid now.

Last week we were in that modern crossroads of the world, Las Vegas. While there, we had contact with a couple of large groups touring from two different, highly developed, non-English speaking, European countries.  I won’t mention names, but you may be able to guess.

In one group of about 10 people we met at breakfast at our hotel,  only one knew a little  English.  I was able to converse with another in Spanish because he had taken a couple of years in high school. I found myself “dumbing down” the conversation for him to suit his very limited vocabulary and grammar.

In another group of about a dozen, having a celebration at a large table next to us at the Harley Davidson Cafe, only 2 or 3 were able to speak English, and at least one of them was an American.

What has happened to the classic European education where everyone learned at least one other language, and for most of them it was English?  Are they now all studying Chinese? Or are they now the punch line of the old joke?

On the other hand, let’s look at another modern crossroads of the world, the American public school.  Even where there is a misguided “English Only” policy, the children on the playground may be using and sharing a variety of languages from all over the world as they play.

Private schools and magnet schools attract students with programs that feature second and even third language learning from an early age. These fortunate children will be well prepared for the world of the 21st Century where successful people will be those who are able to work and interact with people from many other lands and cultures.

These are just casual observations without any special studies or facts to back them up.  But I’ll bet if someone did do research on the topic they would find them valid. Perhaps it has already been done.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep on studying a little Chinese, a little Russian, and working on perfecting my Spanish skills.  What other language do you know or are you learning? Or do you want to stay as the punch line for the old joke?

If you would like to expand your language horizons, I can recommend a couple of resources that are mostly free:

Live Mocha: Free lessons in several popular languages. Method is similar to that expensive set of DVDs you see advertised all the time. Offers opportunities to converse online in the new language with native speakers. You are expected to “give back” by helping others who are studying English.

Radio Lingua: Free language lessons in 20+ languages to download for your iPod or other mp3 player. The audio lessons are free. You can also subscribe to a paid service with printed materials to accompany the audio materials.  I was somewhat taken aback to find their Spanish lessons were not presented by a native speaker. Maybe it has changed since I last tried it, but it used to be done by someone speaking Spanish with a heavy Scottish brogue!

How The Healthcare Crisis In Rural America Effects All Of Us

A not-so-funny thing happened on my way home to California from Montana this week. I’ll probably never know what triggered it, but it was a life-threatening situation and a chance to experience the real world of medical care in rural America.

While some people are reviling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, aka “Obama Care”), the new healthcare law does offer some hope for real health care changes in rural America. Do we need it? Yes. Will it cost money? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely… Yes! Let me tell you about my mis-adventure and you just may agree.

We had stopped for a lunch at a combination gas station/food mart/ fast food restaurant in a small rural town with a population of far less than 5000. I was feeling fine as I made a quick detour to the restroom. Then I noticed my eyes were itching. I took care of “business” then noticed my right hand was also itching, soon followed by the left. As I went to wash my hands I was overcome by a feeling of weakness, dizzy-ness, and itching all over.

I grabbed my purse and staggered out and to a nearby chair where I more or less collapsed. My husband, Ed, saw me and rushed to my side. We checked my blood sugar to see if it was low, as I am diabetic and take insulin. It was fine. But I quickly nodded, “yes,” when Ed asked if I wanted to go to the ER. Friendly folks in the food mart helped him get me to our car and told him how to get to the local hospital and ER,

First I would like to say that all of the people who came to my aid were caring and competent. The problem was their competencies were not really enough. There are over 15 doctors listed on the hospital staff, but this was Sunday afternoon, and no one was on duty in the ER. I was seen by a Nurse Practitioner and an RN. They were assisted by an X-Ray tech and some people from the lab.

However, without an MD on duty to check me out, I felt a lot like a patient in the TV show, “House.” At first, I was in and out of consciousness and Ed had to answer for me as they took my medical history. Basically, they treated me for shock while they tried to figure out what was wrong. They gave me a saline IV to raise my low blood pressure and warm blankets to raise my low body temperature. But, nothing for the itching. As I became more aware of my surroundings I noticed an unsettling poster on the ER wall advertising emergency evacuation flights.

My EKG was abnormal and my heart was skipping beats, but there was no chest pain at all… just a lot of itching. They did tests for heart attack and everything was negative. Strangely, it took a while for the rash to become visable, and when it finally did, they began to listen to my complaints about “itching all over.” They finally  gave me some antihistamine via the IV. Relief at last!

Eventually, after about 5 hours, I had recovered enough and all tests for evidence of a heart attack were still negative, so they let us go on our way. At no time was I seen by a doctor. I will probably never know what caused this episode. We headed for a much larger town with several large hospitals (just in case) for the night.

Was this experience typical for emergency medical care in rural America? Sadly, the answer is yes. Medical costs are generally higher than in urban areas while, at the same time, earnings are less. Medical staffs are aging, as are their patients putting a heavier load on fewer practioners. It is difficult to recruit new health professionals to practice in rural areas even though the needs are becoming greater. The PPACA offers some help for the situation.

If you would like to see some of the provisions that can help, here is a report from an organization concerned with rural health.

Of course, as this report says, these helpful measures will all cost money. The PPACA suggests amounts that would have to be approved by congress each year to be implemented. The probability of this happening with our current congress is not good.

Chances are you live in an urban or suburban area where emergency medical care is widely available and of high quality. So, why should you care? Well, even if you never plan to travel to or through rural areas, you may have friends, relatives, and loved ones who will… or who live there.

In the case of health care issues, what affects rural America, really affects all of us.  Meanwhile, my MD has prescribed an Epi-pen for me in case this happens again when we are traveling through, or staying in remote, rural areas… actually, like our Montana home.

A Matter of Life or Death

Enrique was my hiking buddy.  We met in the Sierra Club’s outings leader training class and went on to lead many hikes together for children and teens through the club’s Inner City Outings program.

He was a big teddy-bear-like man who loved introducing city children to photography and the wonders of the wild places that surround Los Angeles.  About the same age as my son, mid to late 40s, he was a bit overweight, but worked out regularly.

We usually tried to set a moderate pace for the hikes, but often found the children tired long before we were. Except once.  We hiked with a high school group that was only interested in rushing up and down the hills, leaving us in the dust. We later found out that they and their teachers were training for the LA marathon.

I don’t hike with Enrique any more.  One afternoon at a gym in Hollywood, he collapsed and died in full cardiac arrest after exercising.

David, a close family friend and an avid runner, was working out recently on a gym treadmill because the weather and trail conditions where he lives were not right for outdoor running that day.  As he finished his run and reached for the sanitizer spray, he also collapsed in full cardiac arrest.

Today, he is recovering in a university hospital where everyone is describing his survival as a “miracle”. David was fortunate to collapse when others were present and they were able to take measures that added greatly to his chances for survival. He has received the best possible medical care, and is now on the road to recovery.

Why were the outcomes for these two people so different?  Three simple letters tell the tale: AED. You may have noticed these letters posted in public places and wondered what they were.  You need to know.  You also need to know how to use one if needed and how to do CPR if an AED is not available or indicates that CPR is the better choice.

An AED can be bought for less than $1500 new. If your workplace, gym, or other facility doesn’t have one, work to get one installed. If you live in a neighborhood where emergency medical assistance will take more than a few minutes to arrive, suggest to your neighborhood association that a conveniently located AED and training for residents might be a good investment.

Studies  have shown a dramatic difference in survival rates where the local population has a higher rate of CPR and AED training. Classes  in CPR and how to use an AED are inexpensive. They are offered all over the USA by both the American Red Cross  and the American Heart Association   If you take a class, be sure it is one that includes both the CPR and AED training.

Don’t wait to get trained. It really is a matter of life or death.

Enjoying our last hike together with the ICO kids. That is "Enrique" stretched out, relaxing in front. I am in the red shirt on the back left side, Ed is in the back center in the grey stocking cap.

(Note: the names of the two victims have been changed to protect their friends and family)

Family Game NIght

Family Game Night

Our family has a long tradition of playing games together.  My brothers and I have great memories of family get-togethers where everyone, of all ages, sat down together and played games like dominos or Cootie.  There was always a lot of conversation and everyone laughed a lot. It helped keep our family close.

Cootie eventually became the game of choice. We played for prizes and the rules grew and expanded over the years. Whenever we came across a funny item or thought about throwing something away, we always asked, “Would this make a good Cootie prize?”

We never bought the commercial Cootie game sets. We play with paper, pencil, and dice.  The parts are: 1=body, 2=head, 3=eye, 4=”feeler” (aka antenna), 5=tail (insects usually don’t have tails) and 6=leg.  You have to roll a 1 to start, then you can add legs and a tail, but until you get a 2 for the head you can’t have eyes or feelers.

Eventually we developed what we like to call “cut-throat Cootie” where instead of passing the die around and people taking turns, everyone has their own die and rolls and draws as fast as they can, usually rolling with one hand and drawing with the other.

The noise is terrific as dice roll all around the table until someone shouts, “Cootie!”  Then everyone stops and waits to see what the “winner” gets when they choose a wrapped prize from the pile.

After the first prize is unwrapped, the next winner has the choice of taking the unwrapped prize or opening another. If your prize was taken from you, you choose another wrapped prize from the pile, but not something already unwrapped. The only way to take someone else’s prize is to win a round.

At the end, there is usually some informal trading of prizes among the players. Some prizes become classics and show up at another game, disguised with wrapping so that no one will recognize it until an unsuspecting winner opens it.

In recent years, we have added other games to our gatherings including card games like  Hearts and “Oh,Hell!”and games like scrabble and, of course, an old family favorite: Monopoly.

But something new is creeping into our family games.  A couple of months ago we traveled to Texas to meet our newest grand daughter and to visit with her parents and our two older grandchildren.  We had a family game night while we were there that was like no other.  Three of us had iPods, one was using an iPhone and one of the iPods was shared.

Some were playing a Scrabble-type game (Words With Friends) and some a chess game, (Chess With Friends). We played in silence. Some people were multitasking, working on homework or reading a book. We were all in the same room, but there was little or no interaction between the players as they  sent their  moves out over the internet. What has happened to our laughter-filled family game nights?

They are still there for the taking, we just have to make the effort.  Meanwhile, now, while we are all separated by many miles, we continue to play chess and word games on our devices.  It is a way of keeping in touch.  But, I hope that next time we get together, we can put away the electronics and get out some of the old familiar games…. Monopoly anyone? Or how about some Cut-throat Cootie?



Pussycat, Pussycat…

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
And, pussycat, pussycat what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair?

Sixteenth Century English Nursery Rhyme (

This simple little nursery song popped into  my head recently when I was getting acquainted with my newest grandchild, Lillian Grace, at her parents home in Texas.  As I held his child of the 21st century in my arms and sang, I thought about how I had probably first learned the song from my grandmother, Corabelle Marsh, who had probably learned it from her mother, Hibernia O’Connor, back in the 19th Century.

I considered the many things that have changed over those 5 generations, and at the same time marveled at the many things that remain the same. Jobs were changing then almost as fast as they  are now.  The tinker became a railroad machinist, the sawyer became a timber bender. This trend continues today and is the reason I believe so strongly in educating children in ways that will give them the skills for lifelong learning and, for the need to support our community colleges and adult education, where people can get the new job skills they need today.

In the nineteenth century, families were uprooted and relocated to new and strange lands, just as they are today. Then, they faced a 7 week sea voyage to go the distance we can now travel in under 8 hours. When they got there there, communication with friends and family via sea mail took at least as long as the voyage.  Today’s uprooted families can chat all all over the world through the miracle of Skype. Where will little Lillian Grace end up living? Could it be half a world away? Or could it be even farther afield… the Moon? Mars?

Education for girls was not a priority in the 19th century, a condition that, sadly, remains the same today in many societies.  When her husband was away from home at the time of the birth of one of her children, Hibernia signed the birth certificate with an “X”.  When her next child was born, 2 years later, she proudly signed her full name to the document. Our family has just one photo of her, taken late in life, sitting in a rocker reading a book. I have no idea how or where she became literate as an adult.

Lillian Grace will have access to an excellent education.  But, I worry about those girls who are still being denied even a basic education. Will they be able to accomplish as much as Hibernia?  How can we help insure they will?

Little Lillian Grace, born in 2010, has a good chance of seeing the 22nd Century.  That is a stunning idea to contemplate. What will life be like in 2100? Will anything be the same?  What wonders will she see? What will the world be like then?  Where will she be when she  sings “Pussycat, Pussycat ” to her grandchildren?