Monday, October 31, 2011

Sometimes I Think Sitting on Trains

How awesome is it that I can walk 10 minutes and catch a train and ride it part of the way into work? The answer is shown in this video... VERY awesome. It's cheap - less than 50 cents, comfortable, and only takes about 20 minutes longer. And it's really, REALLY fun.

The kids in the video (Jose and Carlos) are two of the kids in the family I'm now living with. Neither of them had ever taken the train, even though it passes by the valley across from our home each morning and evening blaring its horn. It's only a 10-minute walk, but we have to cross a river on a footbridge and pass through a tall grassy area that everyone is afraid of because of some crazy guy that will attack you. The family always sends Jose and Carlos along (as bodyguards?), and we go in the morning when hopefully the baddies are sleeping in. A few weeks later (just recently) I invited some other members of the family along as well and we rode the train to the end of the line (east-west).

One of the things I think about sitting on trains is how much labor, energy, and talent goes OUT of the new place I'm living, and how much garbage goes IN. You see a lot of heavy machinery and industry going on during the train ride - hydroelectric dams, high-tension powerlines, asphalt plants, sand processing factories, a corn flour factory, and busloads of people traveling out each morning, extracting a lot of good resources and work from the place I live now. Most of what goes IN to the community is garbage, literally, about 700 tons of garbage per day, since the country's largest garbage dump is located on the other end of our community. However, right across the street from the dump is where our kids get computer classes and play soccer, which is an extremely important development of talent and inspiration for their futures. I can't help but hope, though, that some of that talent gets put back into changing the future of this community.

Excuse the social commentary... just wanted to contextualize the video a bit. All the big machinery grinding around is sort of fun. I have not yet built up the courage to hop on the back of a garbage truck to ride it for a few blocks. The train ride is more my sort of fun, and I tried to capture that in the video, and be a little creative with the project. Bonus points if you can spot the signature camera shot from an English director who made some of my favorite movies, many of them featuring trains.

The short clip was edited on Cinelerra, a free multi-track non-linear video editing program for Linux, on Ubuntu Studio 10.10. I wanted to try out a new video editing program and so I tried a couple Linux ones. Cinelerra was a bit complicated and clunky, sort of like Avid (to me), but it gave me the option of multi-track editing and blending modes. Way more options than I know what to do with, but the result turned out pretty good. There were some simpler video editing programs (like Kino) which work a bit like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Now you know what to edit your next low-budget film on :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Speaking the word

Recently I've been sending out a lot of updates about our team's projects here in Costa Rica, and I've been receiving a lot of cool stories from the rest of the MAF teams around the world. I am reminded that some of my team members (many of whom I've never even gotten to meet!) live and serve in some pretty challenging locations. You may get a glimpse of that if you get other publications from MAF that they periodically send out.

Two weeks ago two of my MAF Learning Technology team members came to Costa Rica to lead a training workshop for indigenous church leaders in the southern region of Costa Rica. Many of the participants were from Bribri, Cabecar, and Ngobe communities, three of the six indigenous languages that are still spoken in Costa Rica. The training was given in Spanish. The workshop includes discipleship training for church leaders who need better strategies for serving oral communities - that is, where most conversation and authority happens around conversations... not around the written text. Some of these indigenous groups have just recently received print versions of the New Testament translated in their own languages, but I think the orality approach will be a very important complement for the people these pastors serve.

It was great to have some team members come visit! On the team were Laura Macias and Regina Manley who currently work from MAF headquarters in Nampa. The photos are from Laura's blog: Some members from my local church here attended the workshops as well.

It's also good to be reminded of the other programs and work that MAF is involved in. I did not realize this until recently but nearly all of our Latin American MAF programs are called "affiliates," which means they are owned and run by national leadership. This creates a different dynamic in how missionaries like myself from the States serve - under the logistics and supervision of locally run organizations. Anyway, there are a few interesting comments that link what we do here in Costa Rica with the rest of what MAF is up to around the world. There are always interesting updates on their website at, and our Learning Technologies team at

Friday, October 07, 2011

To Infinity, and Beyond!

A few weeks ago, some of our students at the La Carpio computer lab got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to talk via Skype video to Franklin Chang, a Costa Rican-American astronaut and veteran of seven space shuttle missions. This is quite an extraordinary event for the kids. Franklin Chang is one of the more well-known Costa Rican national heroes, and they may have heard of him on the news or in their science textbooks, or even on PBS NOVAScience. Getting to hear from him face to face and ask him some questions was pretty exciting for everyone.

And it doesn't stop there. This week we've started up classes in 3d programming with a program called StarLogo TNG. It's similar to the interface the kids got familiar with in Scratch. I wish I could tell you more about the program, but I am actually learning along with the other students. The three-person teaching team is made up of some La Carpio youth that have shown some incredible aptitude for programming and other uses of computer technology. Queso and Freddy are still helping out with the classes and getting some first-rate training through Omar Dengo, a foundation that focuses on technology development in Costa Rican education.

God keeps bringing together amazing talent for this project to keep in motion. The newest member of our team, Carlos, came in with some more advanced training in network installation. The network in our computer lab was previously a rats nest of cables that resulted from a partially completed team work project. When I came, I plugged things in so that they were provisionally functional, and was hoping that another team would come sometime to finish the job, install conduit, and organize the cables. Well, that team DID come, from the fourth bus stop in La Carpio. We put the tools in Carlos' hands, and he walked through the technical process of routing cable, measuring conduit, and hiding all the messy network havoc we'd created. He showed Queso and Freddy how to create the terminals with a crimper tool, and together they tackled the job over a period of about 3 days. From time to time I went in to try and be helpful, but they didn't need me for anything except to clear out the chopped up cable. Carlos declared he didn't want to see any cables visible by the end of the job. I was impressed at how much pride he took in his work, even taking before and after photos to show to his professor at the technical school where he was training. I think the photos say it all:

It was a mixture of joy and sadness for me to watch this process. Joy because I could take my hands off the project and just watch some talented youth we'd invested in take the reins. Sadness... because I didn't get to be a part of the real fun! I just watched the process from behind a glass window and checked my e-mail, completely cut off from all the action! I guess that's part of the goal, though, but letting things move on without you (successfully!) isn't as easy as it sounds. It's difficult letting it go a little...