Technology for Teachers on Bikes

Greetings!

As the Teachers on Bikes "technology" person (and Erin's husband), I'd like to use this space to describe how we use technology to accomplish the goals of Teachers on Bikes.

The Website

Our website is made using pure HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). This is to ensure the broadest range of compatibility with all standards-compliant web browsers. All of the website pages were created using the open source Quanta Plus Web Development Environment. The web log is a Perl/CGI script that reads text entries from a directory on the server. The web log script also displays directories of pictures at the end of each day's entries. Before uploading these picture directories, I run a Perl program on my local computer which generates thumbnail images of the photos and adds captions.

Our Tools

Because we are operating on such a tight budget, using certain high tech equipment (satellite phones, etc) is out of the question. Fortunately Erin and Marin's route is along the Pacific coast, where internet cafes are fairly abundant. Our plan is to have the riders compose log entries and other material as they ride, and then upload these at internet cafes to a server I maintain in the States. Our challenge then became: how to upload the necessary content from public computers (presumably running Microsoft Windows) over a slow internet connection. We have come up with a system whose only requirement is an available USB port.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of the AlphaSmart company (http://www.alphasmart.com), Erin and Marin will be composing their text on a new Dana Wireless. This device runs the Palm Operating System, and has a wide screen and built-in keyboard. The Dana is very rugged, and can store files on SD flash memory cards. The unit comes with a rechargeable battery pack that lasts 25 hours, and can also be used with 3 AA batteries.
For a camera, Marin is bringing her Nikon Coolpix 4200. This 4 megapixel camera is very portable, but has good image quality. It also uses SD flash memory cards. In addition to the camera and the Dana, we also make use of an SD flash card reader, a USB hub, and of course some SD flash memory cards (1x1GB, 1x256MB, 2x128MB). All of this equipment is stored in dry bags to prevent water damage.
Marin is also bringing her ipod, which can be used to record interviews, etc.

Updates From the Field

When sending updates from the field, the SD card (containing text files for upload) in the Dana is ejected and inserted into the flash card reader. This card reader, the camera, and the ipod can all be plugged into the USB hub so that only one cable is necessary to connect all devices to the computer. All three of these devices appear as hard drives under Windows.

On a server I maintain in the U.S., I am running a PHP based file management utility. Erin and Marin can upload files (text, images, sound) from their devices to my server using a simple web-based interface. Once these files are uploaded, I do some simple reformatting and post the content to the teachersonbikes.org website, which is commercially hosted.

One problem that we are bound to encounter is slow internet connections that will make it painful (if not impossible) to upload full-size images from the digital camera. To get around this, I have placed a copy of the PIXresizer utility for Windows on each of our SD cards. PIXresizer is a simple utility that allows the user to batch process a directory of images and create smaller versions with a few clicks. Using this program, the riders can make small versions of all the photos on the camera, store them in a temporary folder on the SD card in the flash reader, and then upload these smaller photos instead. If the camera memory gets filled up, pictures can be archived to the 1GB SD card for safe keeping.

Thank you for your interest in the technology used by Teachers on Bikes!


- Ted Kisner