Some housekeeping first. As you can see, I’m upright and typing again. Turned out that I had a really unusually nasty dose of ‘flu. It started as what I thought was a bad cold, but kept getting worse, until it got to a point when I couldn’t get my head off the pillow and thought I was dying. Then it got even worse, and I started wishing I was dying.
I’m much improved, but still a little wobbly. Doing anything (walking up the stairs, watering the garden) still leaves me feeling like I’ve just run a marathon, so I’ll be taking things slowly for a few days. On that note, if you want to email me this week, it’d be great if you could wait until next week if your mail isn’t blindingly urgent: I’ve got a backlog of hundreds and hundreds of mails to work through at the moment because I haven’t been able to check them while I’ve been off, and it’s going to take me a while to get through them all.
I’ll be working on a post about what we got up to with the amazing Pi community in Japan for later in the week, but for now, here’s something topical.
Our good friends at Adafruit have been working on a Tor proxy box based around a Pi, which directs your internet traffic through the Tor routing service. Every network packet you send is encrypted and decrypted multiple times, and each time this happens the packet is sent through a number of relays (like onion skins: Tor stands for The Onion Router), picked at random from the thousands that make up the Tor network, before reaching its intended destination. This makes it very hard for anyone to analyse your data to find out who you are, or where you are.
Tor routing is for anyone interested in confidentiality, internet freedom and privacy. It’s of enormous use for those who need to work on confidential business, or for those in places where internet traffic is monitored by governments or other bodies. It’s used to search for forbidden material like birth control, dissenting political voices or religious debate in places where a country is behind a firewall and traffic is strictly controlled (there are many users in mainland China); in the western world it’s used by many to protect personal data from marketers, and by those who worry their data is being snooped on. Activists and whistleblowers, for whom anonymity is important, use Tor. A healthy paranoia about your internet traffic is a good thing: just because you’ve got nothing to hide doesn’t mean that you’ve got nothing to fear. I would hate to be labelled a terrorist just because I express an interest in pressure cookers and book a lot of aeroplane tickets.
You can, of course, run a Tor proxy on any machine, but the particularly nice thing about Adafruit’s Onion Pi is its portability. This means that you’re not restricted to using it in one place; you can set it up in front of the router (it behaves as a WiFi hotspot) in the office you’re working from, in your hotel room or at your Mum’s house, connect to it from your phone or computer, and your IP address will be anonymised.
Be aware that using Tor will slow your browsing down (the packets of data are travelling by a longer and less direct route than you’re used to), and that it’s not a total guarantee of anonymity.
Adafruit have made a very easy to follow tutorial on making your own Onion Pi. You may well have all the parts you need (the only piece of kit I don’t already have kicking around the house is a WiFi adapter) at home; if you don’t, you can buy a box with everything you’ll need in it from them. A portion of every sale goes to the Tor Foundation.
Update 12 June: Liz continues to recover, but I’m still not letting her near the blog until she stops coughing like that.
Liz has spent most of this week suffering from an affliction picked up in Tokyo. We’re assuming this is flu, as even the worst sake hangover doesn’t usually last this long. I’ve sent her to bed to rest up; normal service will be resumed when she’s feeling better, hopefully early next week.
It’s 7.35pm here, and if you’re reading this now in the UK, put down the computer and turn to BBC2 – apparently, a Pi will be featuring on Springwatch this evening (it started about five minutes ago).
See this link for more, and enjoy the show! If we’re able to, we’ll try to embed some video later.
Liz: This post comes from Heather and Trevor Grant, who work with a student-led charity called The Best of Both, based at the British School of Brussels. Thanks both!
For the past five years The Best of Both initiative has worked with state-sector rural schools around Bolgatanga in the Upper East of Ghana to help improve access to water, food – through school gardens – and educational resources (books and access to ICT). Last year, computer labs based on NComputing technology were installed at two schools. This year a Raspberry Pi solution has been installed at Dachio Primary and JHS Schools.
Three weeks ago the intended computer room looked like this:
After meeting with the headmasters, parents association and Regional Assembly representatives, the room was rapidly transformed with electricity being installed, walls plastered and painted, and desks and chairs promised for the computer lab. Before the new computer desks arrived the teachers gave up their desks so that an initial installation of the system could take place.
6 Raspberry Pi’s have been installed and networked via a switch to a wireless router. One of the Raspberry Pi’s is a dedicated RACHEL educational server. [Liz: you can learn more about RACHEL, World Possible's Remote Area Community Hotspots for Education and Learning, here. World Possible are using Pis as servers for materials like textbooks, Khan Academy videos, health guides, world literature e-books, encyclopaedias and much more - we've been very excited to learn about what they're doing.]
The initial feedback from both teachers and pupils on the RACHEL material has been great. They can see that they have access (on the Raspberry Pis, on Android tablets and even on the headmaster’s smart phone!) to a huge amount of content without having to rely on poor and expensive internet connectivity. Also attached to the switch is a Windows 7 desktop which will be used eventually as a gateway to 3G internet access as performance improves. The Raspberry Pi clients are using DVI monitors purchased in Accra together with HDMI to DVI cables, keyboards and mice. The monitors were not easy to find and further additions will probably be based on HDMI to VGA converters so that locally sourced cheap screens can be used.
All the Cat5 cable crimping, keyboard configuration and user security set-up was done by Genesis Abaa, a young guy from Bolgatanga who spent every Sunday with me learning together about Raspberry Pis. Genesis is now looking for more projects where he can help install Raspberry Pis, RACHEL servers, and network with the Raspberry Pi community.
The new ICT lab is all about access in a practical way that will work at this rural state school. Children can experience use of the computers whilst others watch until it is their turn. Parental support to help fund ongoing maintenance (electricity, light bulbs etc) is important and being able to get a group of parents in the room is important.
The parents were amazed at the handover ceremony when they were shown the Raspberry Pi.
A RACHEL Pi server has also been installed at the Bolgatanga Ghana Education Service so that other teachers can see what is possible and make use of RACHEL as a resource. A further RACHEL Pi server has been installed at TRAX, a local NGO that provides local support to the British School of Brussels. Trax is focused on rural community development, and it will be interesting to see how the healthcare material included with RACHEL can be used.
Thanks to Norberto Mujica and Jeremy Schwartz for their help with RACHEL. Thanks to the Raspberry Pi Forum. Through this amazing support resource I made contact with Luis Jose Marmisa Gazo. Without the help and guidance from Luis we would probably have never found a way to get the Raspberry Pis onto the internet in Ghana using an XP laptop and 3g dongle. Thanks to Geert Maertens for sharing the learning from his team working with St Marcellin Comprehensive College in the Cameroon. Thanks to our friend Ben Laryea who showed us most of the ICT shops in Accra as we went in search of monitors. Thanks to Genesis Abaa for his help in setting up the system – building local capability to install, support and train is even more important than the physical provision of the computers. Thanks to Vincent Subbey from TRAX for allowing us to turn part of his house into a test lab before we installed at the school. Thanks to Nick Lavender and the students and staff from the British School of Brussels for their support throughout the project.