Tag Archive for 'computers'

Floppy Disk Updated (for the last time?)

A few days ago I updated FUZOMA on this site to version 1.6, which makes it the seventh release!  This will likely be the last version, since there’s not much time left before I leave here.

For the uninitiated, this is a project where I squeeze as many awesome educational games and programs into a single floppy boot disk as I can, to make the old computers at my school useful.  It can run off a floppy, a CD, a USB stick, or can be installed in Windows, Mac, or Linux computers.

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This is a version that I spent a lot of time on, and received an unprecedented amount of help with.  The kids have been using version 1.6 (or some beta form of it) for months, but it’s finally reached the point where it’s good enough to share with the general public.

One of the biggest highlights of this version has been the further help of Loren Blaney, a programmer whose previous jobs include writing software for the Viking Mars Lander!  His career hit a new all-time high, of course, when he started helping me with my floppy disk.  Loren modified a few of his own old games just for my students, and for this version of FUZOMA he also wrote a few new ones from scratch.  His XPL0 programming language also exposes curious kids to Computer Science from a young age.

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In the course of looking for better educational games for my kids, I also stumbled onto a few non-free programs, but I wanted to use them anyway.  As always, people have been quite willing to grant permission to use them.  Marcia Burrows (author of Math Mileage) and Richard from Flat Rock Software, publisher of Pixel Puzzler, were prompt and accommodating.  (Pixel Puzzler, by the way, was co-created by John Romero, who co-created some other games you might have heard of—Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake!

Tony McSherry from Microcraft also granted me permission to use an old program of his, WordWorm, but unfortunately the game (from 1983) was just a little too old to work properly on my school’s computers.  I also got some help from Paul Toth in customizing his Commodore 64 emulator, but like WordWorm, it just didn’t work out.

A big “thank you” to everyone who contributed in some way!  Here’ one of my students signing “Thank you.” in KSL:

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Of course, working on FUZOMA is a mostly thankless, lonely time in which I stay up until 4AM trying to squeeze additional kilobytes out of a floppy disk that’s basically already full.  I thought I’d go ahead and pat myself on the back a bit, so here’s a short list of cool things in this version of FUZOMA:

  • A Commodore 64 emulator!  (I played C64 games when I was a kid, so it all comes full circle to see students of my own playing Commodore games that are still fun and educational for them, even to this day.
  • A more thorough Journal feature, taking inspiration from the One Laptop Per Child.  It’s a CSV-formated log that makes it easy for me to use Excel to look at what the kids are actually doing on the computer.
  • Running FUZOMA from the C drive of a Windows 95 machine now works much better.  This is handy for me, since I need to do this to get really big log files from the Journal.
  • Y2K compatible!  Seriously.

Here’ the FUZOMA page with more info, if you aren’t inclined to click the link at the top of the site.

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4 Responses to “Floppy Disk Updated (for the last time?)”


  • What an amazing project. Makes me want to play old games. Looks great! Hope to see you soon.

  • Wonderfully satisfying when something I created over 25 years ago gets put to good use today!
    Thank you so much for all your work, Paul AND the delightful pictures.
    Marcia

  • We’ll miss you too, Paul!

    Thanks for breathing new life into these old programs. It’s been fun!!

  • Really great Paul! Thanks so much for this. So many people are going to enjoy and appreciate this!

Solar Computer Lab in Lamu

About a month ago I got a donated iBook from a volunteer who was setting up a solar computer lab, and the plan was that I’d set it up to my liking, with lots of educational games and whatnot, and then just “clone” it to the 20 other laptops when I get to Lamu.  This would be the easiest way, since at least here in Mombasa I can get fast Internet to download programs for the iBook.  I ended up working for a long time on this one laptop, though, mostly because there were so many delays with the solar panels that there was just no point traveling up the coast to visit a computer lab with no power.  I ended up throwing together a cool Linux/Mac dual boot system.  Anyhow, the ‘grand opening’ celebration for the lab was scheduled for Nov. 7, so I decided to go no matter what, and hope that I’d be able to get my work done while I’m there.

So a week ago I got on a bus to Lamu with two other volunteers.  Here are some pictures from the trip.

Here’s a view from the bus as we back up toward the jammed traffic around the collapsed bridge.  Most of the men in the picture are opportunist porters, trying to make  a buck (or like 20 cents) carrying bags to the other side.  I carried my own bags, since  I was carrying laptops in my nice waterproof Pelican case, because I had heard stories about crossing the river on foot and/or canoe.  Anyhow, it was nothing like that, since the water had since dried up, and as a result I didn’t even get my shoes wet.  Yet another instance of me being comically overprepared and just having to carry heavy luggage as a result.

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Here’s where the bridge should have been:

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On the other side of the bridge, a second bus took us the rest of the way.  The area was usually wet due to the rains, which made it quite picturesque.  Too bad the dirt road made it hard to keep the camera still:

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Eventually we got Mokowe (pronounced McCoy), where the actual school is, but we went a little further for the first night and we took a boat to Lamu Island and stayed in a hotel there.  This monkey was there to greet us, since it is kept on a leash at reception;

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Here’s Lamu the next morning:

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You can be forgiven for thinking it looks a lot like Mombasa Old Town or Zanzibar.  In fact they were all at one time under the rule of the same Sultan!  Anyhow, Lamu is a bit different, especially because there are no cars or motorcycles… people ride donkeys around!  I didn’t have enough time to try that for myself, though.

Here’s a view from the boat as we leave Lamu Town;

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We left the Island and headed back to Mokowe for the computer lab opening celebration.  It was going to happen despite the fact that the solar panels were still not installed and I hadn’t set up the computers yet, both of which I’m sure were stressing out the volunteer (who is finishing her service in a couple weeks) to no end.

Speaking of whom, here she is with the school headmaster in front of the lab.  Pretty good likeness on the wall, huh?

After all the ceremonial stuff was over, the lab was opened for people to see.  All the laptops were there, and also a giant selection of donated educational CD-ROMs.  This gave me an internal moment of panic, since I had not set up the computers to be able to run old Mac CD-ROM games.  Well, I was in luck, because I had a few days to work on it, just using a single solar panel and inverter in the cafeteria.  During this time I met a lot of the students, and I got to see the KCPEs (big deal exams) being administered.  I wanted to take a picture of the army men with machine guns escorting the headmaster around to deter cheating, but I didn’t want to die, so I didn’t.  So for those few days, I sat with kids behind me, watching the exciting progress bars moving across the screen as I installed the different CDs and set up Mac “Classic”, and I also spent a little time shooing away the goats who sneak into the cafeteria and seem drawn to the electrical wiring around the car battery.  Apparently the goats belong to the nearby Somali pastoralists, who are not viewed favorably by the teachers who try to maintain gardens on the school grounds.

In this time I also saw a couple giant baboons, and also this monitor lizard which the students were flinging high into the air for fun.  A teacher made them stop, and then I took this picture:

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Anyhow, I got all the CD-ROM stuff figured out just in time for the solar panels to finally be installed on the lab’s roof.  We promptly began cloning the computers, and when I left this morning, there were 19 computers all set up!  Not ideal, but I had to leave two unfinished, although I left behind some USB drives and some instructions so it can be finished in just a few hours in my absence.

I did have a chance to give a short computer class, mostly about how not to break CDs or CD drives, and it’s always nice to see kids playing math games and whatnot.  Of course, I even included my FUZOMA project on the computers, and it was cool to see all the DOS games I picked running on these old Mac laptops!

On one of my last nights there, we went out on a sunset dhow ride, free of charge, courtesy of a woman from the US embassy, two gentlemen from the US Navy, and a Belgian woman working on her PhD in Lamu.  A nice reward!

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Overall Lamu/Mokowe made for a nice trip— it’s the kind of Peace Corps experience that I had anticipated for myself, one with limited electricity and a small community where you have limited options for food, so it was surreal, and a bit saddening, to be a visitor there, knowing that I will return to my life of luxury (relatively) in Mombasa.

Well, now I’m off again tomorrow morning, this time for a week in the town of Machakos to help with the training of the next round of Deaf Education volunteers.  One of them will actually end up at the school with the solar computer lab.  Talk about living on the shadow of a previous volunteer… this one will have Megan’s face on the computer lab watching them every single day!

OK, my ten hour bus ride starts in eight hours, so I need to prepare… hopefully this week is exciting as least week was!

3 Responses to “Solar Computer Lab in Lamu”


  • Andy Christensen

    Great reading. I lived in Lamu as a PC Volunteer ’83-’85. I posted a bunch of pix on my facebook.

    Take care bwana!

    Andy

  • Love your story Paul. As the father Megan, the Peace Corps volunteer who built the computer lab, it is wonderful to be able to see exactly what happened during that week of installation. We speak with Megan all the time – but it is very difficult for her to send electronic updates and pictures due to her remote location! Thank you for all your help. You really made a difference to that community and to my daughter!

  • Hi Paul! I am a pc tanzania volunteer and i am trying to look into info about solar computer labs. I googled it, and your blog came up. Is there any chance that you can send me some more information about how this lab was set up or the contact info of the volunteer who set up this lab so i can learn about the possibility of doing the same thing here?
    asante,
    ginnymo@gmail.com

I just finished FUZOMA 1.3!

I’ve updated my page on educational software accordingly.

I tried in this version to address the most common question about FUZOMA: “Why do I need to make a floppy disk just to use it?”

So, starting with version 1.3, the FUZOMA page also has instructions and downloads for making bootable CDs, USB sticks, and good-old fashioned hard drive installs.  This is pretty significant, as it makes the software much more accessible to all sorts of computers, from 486s to MacBook Pros.  I’m not aware of any other educational software project that can make such a claim.

I did create a problem for myself with this version, though.  As I found and added better math activities, I ended up with 29 activities total, but there are only 27 icons on FUZOMA’s menu.  I never thought I’d run into this problem… 29 activities that fit on a floppy disk!  I refuse to make a confusing multi-layer menu for the kids.  To address this, I made 2 of them “bonus” activities, meaning that they launch only after you play some other more educational activity first.

The most popular bonus activity by far is Super Worms 3D Racing, which lets two kids get on each computer and race against each other.  It’s cute enough for the girls to like it and the boys will like anything that lets them shoot each other.  The kids can only play the bonus game if they first solve math problems in Super Worms Math Arena.  Both programs are courtesy of Wiering Software, who also sells an improved version of the racing game.  Mike Wiering was kind enough to modify Math Arena to make the “Bonus Activity” concept work so well and to provide a smaller version of 3D Racing that takes up less room on a floppy disk.

The kids love the split screen action (and they tolerate the math required to get to it)!  Check out the pics:

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0 Responses to “I just finished FUZOMA 1.3!”