New Tour Video

Its been a long time since we’ve given you a tour of where we live and work here in Montero, and a lot has changed. We’re especially grateful for all the new things we’ve been able to do thanks to all the generous contributions.  Thank you!

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World Mission Sunday

Tomorrow (October 21) is the annual World Mission Sunday for the catholic church all around the world. As such, we thought it would be a great idea to give all of our blog readers an update on how things are going at our mission site.


The end of our school year is coming quickly; in Bolivia the school year runs Feb – Nov. The kindergarten finishes up classes the first week of November and then has graduation November 13th. Laura has had another very successful year teaching computer class at the kindergarten for the ~300 students each week. This year they have learned the basic parts of the computer, how to move the mouse, click, double click, and drag (while also learning to identify letters, numbers, countries, and other kinder-level activities), and where the keys are on the keyboard.

My (Tom) multimedia class has just started its last section of the semester, video editing, after already completing the photo, graphics, and audio editing sections. This semester the class was popular enough to fill up all the slots, so it was extra busy with making sure all the students were getting enough attention. Looking back, this course has been a great success with several dozen students having completed the grueling five month course. (5 days per week, 2hr per day)

Also at the Institute, Laura is finishing up with her second set of students for the year-long English course. The students leave the class with basic conversational abilities as well as reading, writing and listening skills. Besides the students learning her midwestern accent, Laura makes an effort expose the students to different English accents by bringing in other native english speakers from around the U.S. as well as the U.K.  Most of her students will either be teaching English themselves someday or using their English to work in industry, technical services or international business.

Youth Group

In leading the Infancia Missionera group (roughly translated to child/young missionaries), Laura is helping children from the neighborhood to learn that everyone is called to be a missionary and bring Christ’s love to those in their communities.  Each week she has around 20 children 6-12 yrs old that meet for an hour to sing, play, color and learn about how to be a good person.


Though we don’t have any official responsibilities at the hogar (girls home), the girls there are never very far from our thoughts. On Sundays we each walk one or two girls to mass and sit with them through the service. Laura has also been running a “Venta de Valores” (Store of Values) where the girls receive tickets for showing good values: helping out, being truthful, etc, that can be exchanged for small items like jewlery, kleenex packets, or shampoo. In addition, Laura has been spending an hour each week with our god-daughter Carmen helping her learn to read.


The best news we’ve gotten in the last couple months is that we are getting replaced!  The two new missionaries that the Salesians sent down arrived in August and September and we’re working hard to get them up to speed on everything.

Support Us!

We’re so grateful for all the support we’ve received from family and friends back home. We wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of what we have accomplished without  your support!

As we get set to leave here, we are especially looking at ways to keep the work that we’ve started going even after we leave. For the class that I started, we would really like to get a Bolivian teacher to start teaching it, so that it isn’t dependent on volunteers continuously working here. To make this happen, we would like to raise part of the salary for the teacher for the first year, so that the sisters have some time to budget in this new position. If we can hire someone in the next month, then I will be able to work with her (she’s a former student of mine) to hand off some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

We are also hoping to raise some money for continuing maintenance for the computer labs. My lab gets used heavily and every semester I usually have to replace a part or two. Laura’s computer lab in the kindergarten doesn’t have to do any heavy-duty computation, but half the computers are 10+ years old and frequently die, we have a goal of replacing a few each year, so that there are always enough working that each of the students in a class (~30) can use their own.

If you would like to donate to support these efforts, please see the ‘Donations’ link at the top of the page or click here. If you want to send a tax-deductible donation to the sisters, please send us an e-mail at the same time, so we can make sure that your donation gets routed correctly.

Finally, please keep us, our students, and the people of our community in your prayers. The people here can use all that they can get, and we have a big transition coming up with our move back to the states.

Want to hear more?

The other part of our mission that we took on when we came down here, aside from serving the people here, was to show what life was like in a developing nation (hence we have this blog!). When we get back, we would love to talk to families, church groups, school classes, etc about our experiences. If you know of a group that would like to hear from us, let us know and we can set something up ( 314-266-8359).

IP Shark Week

Intellectual Property Shark Week

So Discovery Channel is having their infamous “Shark Week” this week.  I’m going to one-up them with a series of articles and posts about a very dangerous form of shark…Intellectual Property (IP) sharks.  If you’re following me on Facebook/Google+/Delicious you’ll be treated to a bunch of different topics surrounding the problems we have with Copyright and Patents…or you can just ignore them.

If you’re reading this on the blog this is a bit off topic but I wanted to put it all together in one pace. You missed the fun in realtime, but here’s everything you missed all at once.


Copyright in the U.S. began with the constitution which gave the congress the power to: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Once the constitution was ratified, the original Copyright Act (of 1790) set the “limited time” to 14 years with the option to renew it for another 14 years for a total of 28 years.

With the copyright term set to 14 years, authors were able to make a good amount of money on their works, as historically the vast amount of money is made immediately after release. However when the time was up, others were able to take these works and freely share them with anyone. For example, the movie “Its a Wonderful Life” was originally a terrible box-office flop. However when its copyright expired, several TV stations put it on to fill air-time around the holidays because it was free to all. Its popularity rapidly grew from there. #IPSharkWeek

In 1976, at the behest of rights holders, congress drastically lengthened the term of copyright to the life of the author plus 50 years (or simply 75 years for works created by a corporation). Then in 1998, when the copyright on the originally Mickey Mouse movies was about to expire, Disney pushed congress to again extend it. This time for the life of the author plus 70 years or 120 years for corporate works. #IPSharkWeek

After the originaly 14 years of copyright was up, people were also free to take the original work and build upon it. For example Disney took the story Sleeping Beauty (published 1697) and was freely able to make it into an animated movie. (This is a common theme for Disney movies).  They waited almost 300 years, but at the time they made the movie they would only have had to wait 28 years to use a story in a film. However, you can’t make a painting of a scene from Disney’s movie until 2078 (if congress doesn’t extend copyright again). #IPSharkWeek

Along with getting extraodinary extension to the copyright terms, the distributers of copyrighted works also decided to really jack up the penalties for unauthorized distribution. They got congress to say that you would be liable up to $150,000 per work that you copy without a license. So if I were to burn a copy of one of my CDs for my wife (retail value $8), I would be responsible for copying all 16 tracks on the CD (each one being a separate work) for a grand total of $2.4 million!  Happy birthday honey :-) #IPSharkWeek

Copyright law has not been completely corrupted to serve the interest of the publishers. There are two things that the public (which the constitution says should be the beneficiary of copyright) has on its side. The first is a limited term (which isn’t as limited as it used to be). The other is Fair Use. This allows for some (very limited) opportunity to use works that fall under copyright without permission of the publisher. Some of the ways you can use fair use are: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. Unfortunately just because you fit into one of these categories doesn’t mean you’re in the clear to use it…there’s a bunch of other requirements too. #IPSharkWeek

In 1998 the media distributers, mostly music and movie publishers, decided that the internet was for real, and that they didn’t want their music and movies distributed in any way besides CDs, VHS/DVD, and Cable TV. To put a stop to anyone who wanted to try other methods for selling media, they created the DMCA. A large part of this law was devoted to anti-circumvention. This means if a content producer puts encryption on their DVD (most do), then its against the law for you to use a tool to remove that encryption, and for example, copy it to your iPod. #IPSharkWeek

The real crazy thing that the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause did, other than keep people from putting the DVDs that they own onto their iPods, is enable other, non-content, companies to lock out competition. For instance, the companies that make printers and then sell the ink a huge profit margins put a bit of computer code into each ink cartridge so that they could use the DMCA to go after anyone who tried to make competing ink cartridges. Even better, there was a garage door opener company that sued another company another company under the DMCA that made universal openers which worked on their doors. Even if these lawsuits aren’t successful, just fighting it off could put an inventive startup out of business. #IPSharkWeek

To oppose the industries unlimited power to encrypt things, and keep them from being used for fair use, congress and the register of copyrights have established several exemptions to the anti-circumevention policies. One is to allow professors to copy a DVD for use in the classroom. Another is to allow e-books to be read by screen readers for visually impaired people. Yet another allows users to jailbreak their smartphones. #IPSharkWeek

Another aspect of the DMCA (the final one I’m going to mention) allows for publishers to request that a website (youtube, wikipedia,, etc) take down a user’s content if the publisher merely sends an accusation that the content is copyrighted by the publisher. The plus side of this, is that it absolves the websites of any responsibility for the content their users publish. The down side is that the number of times this has been abused by publishers is very un-funny. There are no checks and balances for fair use or even that the alleged copyright holder actually owns the copyright. There is no judge to decide if the take-down is legitimate, you only need to make an accusation to get the material taken down. #IPSharkWeek

One of those examples of publishers abusing the DMCA take-down request: A user submitted a video of birds (and their mating calls) to youtube. Then a company that licenses music for videos sent youtube a takedown request stating that his video contained some of their music and youtube took his video off the site. He tried to appeal to youtube, but when they asked the music company what was up with their request, they insisted that they owned the rights to his, clearly, original recording.  #IPSharkWeek

The publishers of music and movies often call people who illegally copy the items they distribute “pirates” or “thieves”. But really? Is sharing your favorite song with a friend by copying it onto an ipod “stealing” anything? If I were to walk into your garage, hot-wire your car, and drive off in it, that would be stealing…one minute you had your car, the next you didn’t. This is not what happens when you copy music. No one loses their copy of it…studies have even shown that the odds are very good that your copying of one song won’t negatively affect your decision to purchase that music. #IPSharkWeek

So the internet has been around for a few years now, and isn’t really going away. And the major content companies (mostly music and movies, but books and TV too) haven’t really gotten into the whole “online” thing. They’re really only on iTunes and Amazon. Why? They’re really afraid to change their past business model (CDs/DVDs/VHS) for something new. There’s lots of companies that have tried to innovate in this space, but they almost all get shot down by the same companies they would end up benefiting if they were successful. #IPSharkWeek

Its one thing to illegally download a DVD from the web, but it is another thing all together to put a link to youtube on your website. The big content industries want both to be illegal, luckily the law is still on the side of the people with this one. The federal appeals court (7th circuit) recently ruled that its *not* illegal to put a link to an online video on your website. You’re not copying it! #IPSharkWeek

In 2001 a smart guy named Bram Cohen developed a new internet protocol for rapidly downloading large files. It is called bit-torrent and it allows everyone who is downloading the file to pool their bandwidth so that they can all download it faster. Amazing technology. The music and movie people quickly started to oppose this technology, because it was so good that it worked well for copying movies and music too…they have (and still are) tried to demonize this technology, even though it was originally designed and is widely used for non-infringing purposes.  Here’s one example of a site over 1,000,000 different *legal* files available for download with bit-torrent. #IPSharkWeek

Here’s the list of what’s hot on the site:

There’s also lots of other software available over bit-torrent, like my favorite operating system, Ubuntu:

Not content with their current power over content, the big content industries pushed congress to create a (series of) new law(s) that would let them together with the feds shut down websites that they don’t like, even overseas. Part of this was called SOPA, and the internet wasn’t having it. On the day of January 18, 2012 tens of thousands of people called the capitol switchboard, overloading it. There was so much traffic to congresses web-servers that they went down for a while. Over six million people signed petitions against SOPA (that’s a decent percentage of the 300 million citizens in the U.S.).  The amount of people who contacted their representatives this one day is more than ten times higher than any other day in history. And it worked. The next day the bill was dead. #IPSharkWeek

The people who had pushed the SOPA bill were dismayed at the huge outpouring of support against their cause and decided to cast the blame against groups like Wikipedia (they’ve got a huge commercial motive, NOT!) and some companies like Google who had spoken against it. I’m sure that Google doesn’t make any sizable percentage of its money from this type of content either way. #IPSharkWeek

Blaming the organizations for the failure of SOPA isn’t even getting to the meat of the issue. It was important that organizations helped people get together and express their views, but it was the millions and millions of people that should be the important piece of the puzzle, not one company vs. another. Eric Raymond wrote a good letter to Senator Dodd (now the chair of the movie producer’s organization) explaining how this bill would have hurt the internet and all the people who use it. These are things that shouldn’t be messed with for *any* industry’s bottom line. #IPSharkWeek

Here’s a funny dramatization of what Chris “Rodd” wants to make into law with bills like SOPA. #IPSharkWeek

So after the Internet’s SOPA victory, the worry was that the content companies would just wait a few months for things to calm down and try the same approach again. Sooner or later they’d get luck with congress…so to take the initiative some of the people who are knowledgeable about these topics developed a “Declaration of Internet Freedom” to outline freedoms that should always be protected on the internet going forward. This should make things clear to industries who want to innovate which practices the users will and will not stand for. #IPSharkWeek

So I’m going to post my own suggestions for how to fix copyright but #IPSharkWeek still has a couple days to go…you’ll have to stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s what some other great minds think about fixing copyright.  (Up next: patents)

Software Patents

Patent time. Software patent time. The patent system has worked wonderfully for years at protecting the rights of inventors of all kinds of gadgets. However the U.S. Patent office states that you cannot patent an “Abstract Idea” or a “Rule of Nature” such as a mathematical formula. Anyone who understands how software works knows that it is just (complicated) mathematics combining ideas together., so software in general shouldn’t be patentable. Unfortunately, the courts got confused somewhere along the way, and it is. #IPSharkWeek

The other thing about patents, is they need to be non-obvious to someone “skilled in the arts” (aka a programmer). Yet somehow Amazon managed to get a patent on a “One Click Checkout”, where you click one button next to an item and it just ships it. Basically this boils down to they’ve already stored all your billing info and don’t need to give you a page to enter it again. Not only is this obvious, but it is pretty much the definition of an abstract idea and is implemented completely in software (aka math). #IPSharkWeek

The problem with patents is that, unlike copyright, you can keep people from using functional things by suing them over patents. Take microsoft, they have a patent that allows a filesystem to use filenames longer than 11 characters (can I get a shout out for good-old 8.3 names?), sounds obvious *and* abstract. They then drafted this patent into their battle against the Linux operating system and started suing companies that used linux, like TomTom. That’s not really competing fairly. #IPSharkWeek

So Apple got a patent for using “swipe to unlock” on their iphone. Then the started seeing that Samsung was making phones that were technically far superior to the iphone and instead of releasing an iphone with a bigger screen, they sued samsung over this trivial patent, hoping that they could block sales of samsung phones in the U.S. Samsung, not being a pushover fired back with some patents of its own, and though the trial isn’t over it doesn’t look like either side will get a clean victory. They’ll probably end up settling for very little money and the only ones who will win will be the lawyers!

Life Patents

Another thing that you can unfortunately patent that you shouldn’t be able to is life. There’s a company that found a genetic marker (has been in millions of peoples’ DNA for millennia) which indicates a elevated likely-hood for a certain type of breast cancer. So they went and patented the gene. Now if you want to get tested for that important mutation, you need to go through them. There are no other options, no second tests. #IPSharkWeek


So that just about wraps up #IPSharkWeek, but before I go, I want to leave a couple posts about what you can do. First, use Creative Commons licenses and media. Creative Commons is an organization that created a collection of freely available licenses that you can apply to your works (photos, writing, etc) which give others permission to use them in specific ways, without having to wait 120 years for it to enter the public domain or to get specific permission from you. Since it was created in 2001, millions and millions of works have been made available with the various Creative Commons licenses, which you are free to use yourself.

Another thing you can do is to use Open Source software. This is software that is given away (usually) free of cost, but more importantly it gives its users the freedom to use it in any way they see fit or even to modify it to their liking. You may not be someone who can edit code of your favorite program to make it work better, but if you use software that has the freedom to do that, there’s a good likelyhood that someone else in the community of users (there are real communities that form around open source sofware) will have those skills.  You may already even use free software. Firefox is. Libre Office (edits MS Word/Excel/Powerpoint) is. Gimp (a photo editor as good as photoshop) is. The Linux operating system (my favorite version – Ubuntu), which is a complete replacement for windows even is. All available for free. #IPSharkWeek

So people have been asking, what are my ideas for reforming IP law.  Here they are: 1) Shorter copyright term, I think the original 14+14 years was fine, plenty of time to make money off your work. 2) Sane penalties for copyright infringement. If you make a copy of a $8 CD, you shouldn’t be responsible for millions in damages…something like 10 times the commercial value would be a fair punishment. 3) No patents on software, they just don’t make sense. 4) No patents on life…it was around before us, discovering something and then patenting how it works shouldn’t be something one organization can monopolize.

Thanks for reading #IPSharkWeek….tune in next week for #GlobalWarmingSharkWeek or #GovernmentSurveillanceSharkWeek…just kidding, no more rapid-fire messages for awhile.


Last Class

We’re now a couple weeks into our last semester teaching in Montero, and it has been very busy.  For the first time, my Introduction to Multimedia class had to turn away students because the class was full!

I’d especially like to thank everyone who donated towards building this computer lab. When we originally put it in, I only wanted to install ten computers, but Sister Clara (who runs the school) thought we should try to do fourteen, and because so many people donated towards it we were able to put them all in.

Now I just have to do my part and teach the class. Having a larger class is definitely a lot more work because I need to spend a substantial part of the time giving one-on-one instruction. It’s challenging, but it’s a challenge I’m excited for. Keep me in your prayers please.

I also have a new section this semester. Every Saturday morning I have a class with several of the sisters. It’s a little more laid back (only 3hrs a week vs. 10 for a normal class) but they’re learning some good fundamentals of multimedia as well as some basic computer usage. And it doesn’t matter how much they beg me for it, I’m not letting them make up missed homework with extra rosaries!

Making Maps

A quick note: The blog has had some hiccups over the last month and a half, sorry for any readers who couldn’t get access. I think I now have things worked out with our hosting provider and it should be better. We should have some more new material coming soon!

Making Maps – The First Step in Development

Having used google maps for years (and before that mapquest), I expected, in 2010 when I came to Bolivia, that a city of 100,000 people like Montero (wikipedia, better version) would certainly have some online maps that I could look at before I arrived. I was hoping to scope things out, see where I would be living and working, what was around, where I could put my skills to work, etc.  Unfortunately there wasn’t anything.  Google maps had a spot for montero, and a few of the roads, but not very many and almost no street names or any other kind of reference spot.  My personal favorite mapping spot, OpenStreetMap, was even worse off, it just had the main road through town (which I would later find out wasn’t even done correctly).

So when I got to Montero, not only did I not know what the town would be like, but we had the most difficult time finding my way around for the first couple months. After a while of this, I decided to take matters into my own hands and build a map of the town.  In addition to being able to find great fried chicken places a second time, I was hopeful that my map would also be of use to others. I know that there are several NGOs that work on a regular basis in and around Montero and it would be great if they could build off of my work as well. Eventually, I hope that as Bolivians become more and more computer literate, they could also benefit from having a decent map of their city. (Spoiler: here’s the link)

I decided to do my work in the OpenStreetMap database for two reasons: 1) they have great map making tools (both online and offline), which I was already familiar with and 2) the maps would be made freely available to anyone who wanted them.  For those not familiar with it, the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project works like wikipedia. Anyone can edit it and there is a huge community focused around making it better (and keeping it free of vandalism).

Being lazy, I started creating my map near where I was living. I’d go out early in the morning (before it got super hot) and wander around the streets near where I lived with my GPS running and a camera I used to take pictures some of the plaques that the city had put on every house. These had on them the address for that house and many had, crucially, the names of the streets. I had tried to write down the names, but that resulted in me standing in front of someone’s front door for a minute while I tried to write down spanish names. Using the camera allowed me to take just two seconds per door and resulted in a lot fewer strange looks.

An address plaque that has a street name on it.

Once I’d get back home, I’d convert my GPS track into the common GPX format (also wikipedia) which is a common, computer readable, format for GPS data. Once I had the GPX file, I would do two things with it. The first is to simply upload it to the OSM server so it would be available for use later. Then I would open it together with my pictures in a program called Viking. This program (and there are many others like it) could use the timestamp (assuming I had previous set the correct time on my camera plus or minus a few seconds) on my pictures to put them onto my GPS track. Now I could see which of the lines in my track (aka streets) had which names.

I would start up the online editor on the OSM website. To make streets here is very easy, I would start by clicking on the end of one street to make a point, then just click a few points along my track (more if there were turns) until I got to the end and OSM automatically connects them into a line. Finally, I would simply select the type of street: dirt road, paved road, various classes of highway, etc. (What these classifications mean varies from country to country, for example here they are in Brasil.)

Once I had all the lines for streets input into OSM, it was time to add their names. By looking at my GPS trace with the pictures at the same time as my new map, it was easy to see which picture corresponded with which road. All I had to do was read the picture and type it into the road name box.

I didn’t spend too much time on this right away, which turned out to be a good thing, because about a month after I got started OSM got sponsorship from Microsoft. Part of this deal meant that satellite imagery which Microsoft had would be available in OSM’s online editor. Now instead of walking up and down each street, I could just sit at my computer and draw the street lines where the satellite images showed the streets going.  Much easier!  The downside to this is that the satellite imagery didn’t line up quite right. It turned out that all the images were about 30ft north of where they were supposed to be, not terrible, but enough that it stood out on the GPS. To solve this I went to various points around town that were easily visible in the satellite imagery (I really only needed one or two though) and took careful GPS positions of them. Then I used these as control points to show me how far I needed to adjust my lines.

Now that I could make all the street lines from my computer things went much faster. After four hours of furious clicking, I had all the street lines in the main part of the city.  A few more days of on-and-off work gave me the rest of Montero and a bunch of the surrounding area. The map was looking very good, unfortunately only the streets near where I lived had names. To fix this, I went back to my walking around with a camera and taking pictures of address plaques, but it went much quicker now. I only needed to hit one house on each street.  I was able to walk a zig-zag path from the edge of town into the center and got all the street names in that quarter of the city!

In addition to streets OSM also has built in support for all kinds of points-of-interest from resturants to churches to drug-stores.  Its easy to add them in the editor, just select one and drag it in, and now that I had a map with streets and names, it was easy to figure out where to put things. If I knew that the grocery store was on Calle Warnes a block up from the main plaza, I could just add places from memory. After putting in my favorite/important places, I was considering my map complete!

This is about where it stands now, you can see it here:

This is great, now when I find a great new fried chicken place, I know where to put it so I can find it again!  However, the uses of the map aren’t limited to finding restaurants or getting around town. OSM provides all the map data freely to anyone who wants to use it, so it can be imported into other programs and used as a base to add other map related information, such as population density, disease outbreaks, crime rates, etc. Then this data can be used to make important development decisions. This is really a whole field, which is called Geographic Information Systems (GIS), but you don’t need to be getting a graduate degree in it (like my brother who starts his masters in GIS next week…good luck Kevin!) to put it to use.

So if you are one of the EWB people reading this blog or otherwise work in international development, think about making a map of the whole community/region as your first step in working on a project. Its easy, and a lot of work can be done state-side before you head into the country.

Laura Dancing

So this week was the Feast of the Sacred Heart, from which the order of sisters we work with take their name. Its been several days of busyness and excitement (with more still to come).  Thursday night the sisters had a party for the parish, which was mostly attended by the youth. All the different youth groups did a performance.

Here’s on of the larger groups.

One group did a more traditional dance.

The group Laura works with did a play as mimes.

Even the Sisters got into it.

However, you may notice that the title of this post isn’t about the feast or the party…I took a bit of video of Laura dancing, and wasn’t going to post it all (at least together) but as you’ll see it came to that.

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Just to show that I’m not that bad of a guy, I’ve also got a picture of me (the ridiculously tall one…those are mostly fully-grown Bolivians) trying to dance.

Holy Week Extravaganza

It has been a crazy holy week here in Bolivia…here’s what we’ve been up to.

Early in the Week
We had classes as normal Monday-Wednesday, however, Tuesday night I got really nauseous during class (I think it was something I ate) and was sick on my back all day Wednesday.  Luckily I was feeling pretty much better by Wednesday night (24hrs) and except for being a bit tired was back to normal Thursday.

Holy Thursday
While I was resting up Thursday afternoon, Laura went to help decorate the church for mass that night.  She was the one in charge of getting Mary dressed up:

Mass went well, the feet-washing was a performance of the last supper.  They dressed the priest in simple clothes and had 12 young men, dressed up as apostles whose feet he washed.

Finally, we cleared the alter and moved to a side chapel that we built for the evening.  Here we had an exposition and people prayed long into the night.   Here’s Laura reenacting afterwards:

Good Friday
Good Friday’s service in Bolivia is a long event (even longer than the Vigil), mostly because towards the end of the service (which includes a reenactment play of the passion) we all get up and go outside for a couple mile long stations of the cross.  After this we all return into the church to finish the service by seeing Jesus inside a tomb built into a 15ft. tall (permanent) mountain.

During the stations of the cross, we (about 2000 people) walk from station to station saying prayers and singing hymns.  At each station, we stop and and the same group that acted out the passion in the church acts out that station on the back of a flat-bed truck.  As we walk we are lead by the Mary statue (that Laura dressed up the day before) and a statue of Jesus which is kept in a glass coffin:

One of the stations, setup by the girls at the orphanage:

Holy Saturday
What can I say, a HUGE bonfire (~10ft tall) to start it off.  Fireworks during the gloria.  Everybody bringing their own water to be blessed (to have holy water in their homes).  Lots of praying, now off to bed…our Easter Sunday starts with a march at 4AM!



Several times a year here, a group that is angry at the government for something it did or didn’t do will block all the major roads in a region until the government promises change.  Though there have been many blockades since we arrived, this week we were actually stuck in a road blockade for the first time.  In this case, the motorcycle taxi drivers (our primary way of getting around in Montero) were protesting a new government regulation that would have required: license plates for all motorcycles (about $50/vehicle), paying annual property tax on the motorcycle, and paying the back property tax on the motorcycle.

On Monday (Feb. 13), we drove down to Santa Cruz in one of the Sisters’ trucks, with the nephew of Sister Clara as our driver.  We had to work on some visa stuff (an ongoing process since September, they still have our passports!) in Santa Cruz and were just going down for a few hours.  When we drove down at about 8:30 in the morning, we didn’t notice anything special along the road, it seemed like an ordinary day.  After conducting our business and grabbing some lunch, we started to head back up the road to Montero.

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After going about ten minutes up the road from Santa Cruz to Montero (just past the airport on the map) we hit a line of stopped cars.  We got out to see what was up, and heard about the blockade.  Like I mentioned above, these are fairly frequent in Bolivia, and usually only last for a few hours, so we decided to go back to Santa Cruz for the afternoon.  We went shopping for some building materials and went out to get ice cream. Around 6pm we were hoping that the blockade had lifted, so we went back up the road to Montero to see if it was any better.  Unfortunately it wasn’t, but we were hopeful that it would be lifted any minute, so we decided to wait in the line there.  After about an hour, the line started to move and we saw traffic coming from the other direction, so we were excited that it had been lifted.  However, that turned out not to be the case.  We only made it about a mile up the road before we stopped again.  We later learned that this was because the people who had setup the blockade had moved it to a different spot along the road.

After waiting an hour or so at this new spot, we gave up and decided to return to Santa Cruz.  Thankfully, one of the Sisters we work with has a family member in Santa Cruz that agreed to put us up for the night. However, getting back to Santa Cruz wasn’t as easy as it should have been.  We had a 4×4 vehicle, so it wasn’t too hard for us to cross the median into the lanes going the other direction (which should have been empty because all that traffic was stopped on the other side of the blockade).  However, now these lanes were full of taxis and buses that had brought people up to the blockade, so that they could walk across.  There were so many people trying to get across at this time of night (I’d estimate >5,000) that the taxis that dropped people off couldn’t leave again before more taxis arrived, so they got trapped in a huge traffic jam, and the people who came in later taxis ended up having to walk much further (almost a mile to the blockade).

Here’s a short video I took of us in the traffic jam going *away* from the blockade.

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We finally made it out of the traffic, got some dinner, and went to bed around 11pm.  The next day (my birthday) we got up and hung around Santa Cruz for a while, had a nice breakfast, and did some errands. There still didn’t seem to be any hope of the blockade lifting (the paper reported negotiations the night before had gone south), so we decided that we would try to walk through it.  We took a taxi up to the blockade and thankfully the terrible traffic from the previous night had cleared out.  We only had to walk about a quarter mile to actually get to the blockade, which wasn’t too bad.

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When we got there, it was just a lot of guys standing around across the road. We looked down and tried not to make eye contact with them. We followed three Bolivian women through, trying to look like we were with them…hoping that would help them ignore the two (very out of place) white people walking through. That nearly backfired on us when one of those three started saying stuff to one of the guys as we were leaving the blockade, but nothing came of it, and we made it through safely.  Since it was just a lot of guys standing around, you might wonder why didn’t the police just come out and clear them out? Word was they paid off the police to stay out of it.

After we were a ways away, I hid behind a car and caught a picture of it (click on it to see the full-size version):

The actual blockade is where all the people are standing, just in front of where all the trucks are stopped.

We were able to grab another taxi from right there, but we weren’t out of the woods quite yet. There was *another* blockade on the same road, within site of Montero. So we had to do the same drill there, walk a ways, go through the blockade without making eye contact, then grab another taxi to continue into Montero. Now that we were seasoned pros at walking through blockades, this one wasn’t a problem. We made it through and into Montero in time for lunch :-)  

Political note: The reason blockades are successful is because of Bolivia’s lack of infrastructure.  There is literally only one paved road going north out of Santa Cruz.  This is Santa Cruz’s connection to the rest of the region and is hugely vital economically.  Due to the heavy rains this week no other unpaved route was viable.  It’s sad that this is the only way that people feel they can have their voices heard by the government.   The 3-day road block affected hundreds of thousands of people and caused businesses to lose thousands of dollars.  The whole country gets hurt when roads are blockaded.


Blacked Out for SOPA

So I was hoping to follow along with many other sites on the Internet today and black-out the blog in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills that are in congress, but it was too complicated to setup for just one day, plus this post will last longer.

For those who don’t know there are two bills currently in congress SOPA (in the House) and PIPA (in the senate). These bills were put forward by Music, Movie and Television conglomerates to try to combat the online copying of their works. Unfortunately these bills are far too sweeping. Basically, they would give these companies the power to take any site they don’t like off the Internet, without giving the site a chance to defend themselves in court. If that’s not bad enough, the method they want to use to do this would break important security systems for *ALL* websites. Without these systems in place, bad guys on the Internet can re-direct your web browser to rogue sites that look like Paypal, Gmail, Wells Fargo, USBank, Hotmail, E-bay, etc. and get you to login to their malicious site (because you think its the real one) then once they have your user-name and password, they can use it on the real site to do bad things.

The fact that a bill would have this amazingly awful side-effect simply proves that the congressmen who wrote it (and the Music+Movie+TV people who actually wrote it) simply don’t understand the technology that they are dealing with, and don’t really care what side-effects the bill has.

Obviously this is a bad situation, and we clearly need to do something about the technical problems with this bill.  However, we also need to look deeper at what is going on here. Over the last several decades the content industries (Movies, Music, TV) have pushed many bills through congress, making copyright law much tougher than the founding fathers ever intended.  Originally copyright was only good for 12 years, which was plenty of time for the creator to make their money off it.  After this period, the creation was available to anyone, with the idea that it would make all of society richer.

However, the content industries weren’t happy with this, even though they make the vast majority of their sales in the first 12 years, there were a few percentage points more profit they could eek out.  So they decided to change it to 70(!) years after it is published. That means that things important to society like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, are locked up and you have to pay the copyright holder if you want to use them.

Besides the long term extensions, the content industries have also fought to limit how people use the content they have paid money for.  For example, when I was in high school and college I made mix CDs to share some of my favorite songs with my friends, but now the content industries have started suing people who want to share with their friends.  Another example is DVDs, if you buy a DVD of your favorite movie you’d think you should be able to watch it on your iPad on your airline flight, right? Sadly, no, the content industry (in 1998) made it illegal to copy DVDs, even for your own personal use.

There are lots more examples I could go into, but they all revolve around the content industries (which were immensely profitable even during the recession) fighting to make even *more* money than they already do, without having to actually make more or better content.  As citizens of the USA, we need to start moving copyright back to something that benefits our society instead of the shareholders in a few companies.  The first step is to call our congressmen and women and tell them to oppose SOPA and PIPA.  But we can’t stop there, we need to keep rolling back the changes they’ve made over the last few decades, so that copyright is a benefit for all of us.

Learn more:
EFF: One-page guide to SOPA (pdf)
reddit: A technical overview of the SOPA and PIPA bills
DYN: How these bills would break DNS
EFF: Free speech on the web

Contact information for US elected officials

Its a New Year(s eve)!

For New Year’s this year, we spent the first part of our evening having a nice bolivian dinner with the other volunteers, including three from other towns near us. We made a dish called salchipapa which sounds fancy  but is really just fried hot dogs on top of french fries…mighty tasty.

After that, we all went to mass at our nearby church, where we met up with all the girls from the Hogar (the girls home) and sat with them.  After mass all the volunteers went back to the Hogar for their big New Years party.

We got lots of time to hang out with the girls.

(above) Tom, Ophelia, Goelle.   (below) There was also quite a bit of dancing. Laura and Deisy.

For the occasion, the girls even got a fancy dinner. They all really enjoyed their big pieces of steak (decent meat is not very common for them).  Eat up Ophelia!

Just before midnight most of the volunteers left the Hogar for our own party, which we had on the roof of the institute where I teach. From up there we got a great view of the fireworks that were shot off all around town. There weren’t any particularly large displays, but every block in the city had their own, still quite substantial, display. However, from our vantage point on the roof, we could see all of these at once and it was amazing. I have never seen so many fireworks at once before. I shot a short video of it so you can see for yourself. The video starts facing downtown, then after everyone says “Happy New Years” it pans 360 degrees around.

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Because not all the volunteers could leave the Hogar for midnight, they joined us later, and we were able to celebrate new years for central time too :-)

But it wasn’t over yet. The next day we had a party at the parish center put on by the young adult groups. Again, there was lots of dancing.

Currently, we’re looking forward to our second (almost) full year in Bolivia. We’re very busy getting set to begin the school year, which starts in just a couple weeks.

We hope that the new year, 2012, brings love and joy into your life. Please keep us and the people of Bolivia in your thoughts!