May 13, 2004

note received may 13, 2004

Notes from my 8000 mile round trip from San Jose to my son’s wedding in Massachusetts. April 4-April 29, 2004.

Route from San Jose to Boston and return

April 5 Meteor crater, Arizona.

In 1904 a prospector laid claim to the meteor crater hear Winslow Arizona. He thought he could mine it and fine precious metals left by the impact. However, he went broke after 26 years of fruitless exploration (though chunks of metal were found miles from the crater.) His relative commercialized the site in the 1930’s and now it is a historic landmark. I stopped in the RV park near the crater and talked with Del, a seasonal employee. He went from RV park to park during the year and worked in maintenance. This park was featured on the local tourist radio 1610 on the AM dial if you are heading into Winslow. They advertised wireless Internet access. Del said they are just putting in Wi-Fi and he had not seen this offered in m many parks yet. Though most had some kind of access. This place had a gas station, subway sandwich shop, and rock shop plus a lounge for RV park people. It contained a dialup line and PC, as well as a TV and foosball. I asked him if many people had PC’s. Some, not all. Few have wireless cards, and he said those who do have it will do wardriving in big cities for free access. There will be no charge for the Meteor RV Park access.

Heavy rain as I drove east, slacking up a bit when I headed south at Holbrook, and an hour later I was at the White Mountain Legal Aid office in Pine Top, Arizona. This area is a mix of whites and Apaches who have a reservation. Kim Robinson runs a law office that serves people with an income that does not exceed 125% of the poverty level. The walls have posters about domestic violence, how to apply for some kinds of funds for victims of different crimes (only for legal residents of the U.S.) Kim worked for many years with a tribe in southern Arizona, the Tohono O’odam. They live on both sides of the US-Mexico border and by treaty the ones in Mexico should be eligible for American citizenship too. As it is they do get some services from the American side. Kim made me realize how complex the legal issues are for Indians, for tribes, and this dates from early legislation that took jurisdiction for certain serious crimes from Indian courts and placed them in federal courts.

Kim lives on the White Mountain Apache reservation in a wood-heated cabin in a pine forest. Some of these had been leased to non-Indians. After the lease expired many moved away rather than pay the increased fees. The elevation is about 7700 feet, and there was snow on the ground yesterday. The cabin is cold when we got there, and Kim built a fire from juniper and pine logs, and we had a dinner of homemade tacos. It’s great to listen to his stories about work on the rez, about his past working for INI in Mexico. The National Indigenous Institute is like our Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also visited Ecuador when his brother Scott and some others owned a 300 acre tropical farm on the Rio Napo in the Amazon basin. Internet access does not seem to be a big priority on this reservation.

April 6 Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

After ten years I have returned to this reservation where I was involved in a couple of computer projects with the middle school and the high school. One failure in 1993 was a RAN, a Reservation Area Network. The day I visited was during the school break and no staff was available.

Zuni has a large number of jewelers. I stopped in Turquoise Village, ( and talked with Verna. They were selling raw materials for jewelry plus the finished goods from Zuni, Acoma,, Hopi areas, and even Mata Ortiz in Mexico. Pink coral was $50 per ounce, many different prices on turquoise. Verna said they were selling some stuff over the Internet. She did not use it herself, but she said that quite a few in the village did use it. I asked if most people still spoke Zuni (as she did) and she said yes, but a bit later she said the kids don’t speak it, just English. Young people in their 20’s do, so that seems to be the cutoff. They would have been in school when we were doing our multimedia Zuni dictionary project.

I talked with young women from the health service who were outside the tribal offices promoting “Life Direction” program which was a preventative health and exercise program. They had signed up over 1000 people from the pueblo (pop about 6K) so far. I asked if they advertised on the Internet and they said no. However they did use the local radio station.

For some reason there is a tradition of Arab traders working in Indian country. Mohammed at Pueblo Traders is from Jordan. I had bought a ring here about ten years ago. He claimed to recognize me though he had moved here in 95 and now was running this shop He had also lived for a couple of years in Caracas. More examples of the Palestinian diaspora. Business was slow, and he said he did not have the staff to try and sell anything over the Internet.


I met author David Stuart whose Guayamas Chronicles I had enjoyed a few weeks ago. (See an earlier entry in this journal). He is vice-provost and also teaches anthropology at University of New Mexico. We met across the street from the campus at a great coffee shop-bookstore called Flying Star. It has free Wi-Fi access, and a few people seemed to be using it.

As a young man in Mexico he was studying anthropology. There was a coffee shop near the American Embassy where he was served his first cappuccino. He noticed a man sitting at a table writing each day that he was in there. He asked the waiter what he was doing, and the waiter said the man was writing a book. Would he like to meet him? David said yes, and the writer introduced himself as Octavio Paz (Labyrinth of Solitude). He said he could not afford a big place with a good space to write and besides, writing was a very lonely business. So David has a very famous role model because he wrote his books in long hand at a corner booth at the Flying Star.

I told him I had read two other journals after his (Taussig’s and Roll Me Over, a WWII infantryman’s notes from Normandy and the invasion of Germany. All of them affected me greatly. That’s why I went out of my way to meet David. He said he had taken good notes as a young man in Guayamas, and at a time when he had cancer and was not sure he would be around, he knew he had to get that story told. Working with his notes as mnemonic aides, he used a tape recorder to make many hours of detailed memories about this important period in his life. These were later transcribed, and after his surgery was successful, he felt like he’d just get on with his life, and this tale lay dormant for many years.

He filled me in on the reception the book had. The royalties go to the survivors mentioned in the book, and he took copies when he returned after its publication. Even people who could not read English were glad to possess a copy. Some of the elite in the town were not at all happy about the book because they did not come off well. David said he had not anticipated his colleagues and others at UNM buying it, but it has been popular.

We talked about how little continuity there is in modern life, at least here in America, but he has kept in touch with the daughter born to the woman who broke his heart, and she reminds him of the homeless girl he befriended. There was so much more to tell that David is doing a sequel with a lot more details about the whorehouses as well as what happened when he returned as he has promised.

We only met for an hour, but it encouraged me to write more. He said the process of immersing himself in the past, using his notes, was very intense. Almost a proustian experience. I gave him copies of my newsletter, noting how superficial they seem because I’m flitting from one place to another whereas he stayed, got very involved, and it became a part of him.

April 7 Clarendon, Texas, Texas Panhandle.

local radio station: the Great Plains Farm Show.
“howdy and welcome to the show.”
Sponsor: Dupont, Cimmaron herbicide.
The ad: A cow calls up a farmer, poses as the farmer’s wife and pleads for more grass for the herd because a neighbor is getting a better yield by using Dupont Cimmaron. The farmer assents not realizing his wife is in the next room. The cow moos as the line is cut.

Ad: RFDTV carries livestock auctions. A rep from Superior Livestock Auction is telling about the upcoming offering of 12,000 Florida calves. “You can get us on cable networks, Dish, and we are streaming over the Internet. You can pull up pictures of the calves and hear the auctioneer real time.” Calfster? Herdnet?

Mangum, Greer County Oklahoma

My mother, one of fourteen kids, was born and raised here. It was another dying midwestern town in the 60’s and is still losing population. I spent a couple of years here as a very little kid, during World War II.

Coronado passed through Greer County in 1541. The Querecheos, the Wuerecjo, and the Tejas also grazed and hunted in this area 400 years ago. In the 1830’s it was used by the Wichitas, Keechis, Comanches, Kiowas, and Lipan. From 1895 to 1907 it was part of Indian territory. Greer County was part of the Republic of Texas and had been claimed by Mexico. Mangum was a Captain in the war between Republic of Texas and Mexico. Veterans were granted land, and he got a bonus of 320 acres. My great grandfather H.W. Sweet, a civil engineer from Dallas (born n Sangamon Co. Illinois in 1838) , surveyed the land for Mangum and got some of the lots.

I had not been here since 1968 when I drove a Cadillac Coup de Ville from Chicago to Beverly Hills for a rental company. The town square is still the main focus of these small towns, and even though many of the storefronts are vacant, the parking area around the post office, city hall, and bank were filled with new pickups and a few older sedans. I stopped first at the library where an old lady was substituting. She had retired from teaching In Arizona (on the Navajo rez and in Yuma (‘you can be sure there are terrorists coming across the border. Our people try to stop the flow, but they are just streaming across.” she told me) I helped her with the computer program that checks books in. It was a small system that was not fully automatic. There were a few public access computers, but nobody was using them.

I headed to the genealogy section and read some of the informal histories of the county and the town. There were old marriage licenses in storage and a great deal of material from surrounding towns in Greer County. Nobody else was in the place except an adult Indian who was the adopted son of the white woman at the desk.

She had moved to Mangum to take care of her father. He’s 102 and living in a Mangum nursing home. Her sister and daughter came to visit from Dallas, and I spoke with them. A granddaughter who had been raised in Mangum was student teaching and hoped to get her degree in a couple of months. She hoped to find work in a bigger town nearby.

tengallonAffinity group on the Great Plains: Mangum’s Ten Gallon Hat Club, circa 1948

I walked around the corner to the Greer County museum, located in what had been a hospital. Some of the old equipment was on the third floor. After paying my one dollar I was free to wander the halls. Each room had a theme: Indians, the high school, church, barber shop, general store, and so on. I found old year books with a picture of both my mom and her brother George. I also found a couple of pictures of my grandfather’s general store. Mr Sweet, my great grandfather, was the surveyor of what became Mangum, and his relatives are all over the place. Again, I was the only person in the museum at the beginning, and I enjoyed roaming the halls and picking up some of the objects, all contributed by family members who had come back to bury a relative or put them in a nursing home. I could imagine everyone of them thinking, “what’ll we do with all this crap?...Let’s give it to the museum.” Patsy Smith had been running the place for two years. In 1998 she retired from working in the Harmon, OK library. We talked about ways to get some money for projects at small museums like this one. Modest as it was, I was impressed with the grass roots effort to maintain and improve it.

I went to Riverside Cemetery and drove the gravel paths until I found the Wilson plots with places for two uncles, Woodrow and Frank and my grandparents Ashley and Lucy. A big headstone showed a Conestoga wagon, and the family was designated “Greer County Pioneers.” I took a few pictures and drove by the Salt Fork of the Red River but was not able to find the farm land where they had lived until the 1950’s.

April 8-9 St. Louis

A long drive across Oklahoma with a stop for kayaking in the Neosha River on the first day of fishing season. Dozens of locals and out of state men are putting their rigs in the water and speeding up river, into the big lake. I’m the only one in the kayak. People are catching fish the size of first graders. They photograph them, fillet them, and toss the heads and guts into the river near the dock area. Is that pollution or recycling?

I reach St. Louis and am directed to The Youth and Family Center where Sue Beckwith is running a wireless project called Wiz Kids. She had moved from Austin (where she helped establish Austin Free-Net). This project is supported by the NTIA money, but without the support of the center and its able staff, it would not have received federal money. The kids are not in school this week, so they don’t come to the center. I have time to talk with the staff, especially the director, Herman Noah. He’s about my age, and I really enjoyed our conversation. Like so many people I met I think it is too bad they are so far away. He has worked in the center for many years, but he also ran a religious radio station and was very involved with the Presbyterian church, but is less so now. He worked for a firm that helped Ron Dellums, Congressman from Oakland, California. He was raised outside of St.Louis in an area where you could keep farm animals. His first economic enterprise was raising chickens and rabbits. We talked about the kind of food people eat when they are poor. He explained to me about chittlins, and how they were free if you went to the slaughterhouse which were numerous in St. Louis’ past. He said the preparation of these was very labor intensive and from 20 lbs of intestine you might get 7 lbs of chittlins for cooking.


Staff at Youth & Family Center sample an Easter ham

I see his center as an oasis, and he keeps it from getting flooded or disappearing in the desert through grants and contracts, though they have had a budget cut. He has an enormous list of board members, all of whom are expected to support the house in some way. One fellow is helping to configure a wireless access point that Sue bought for their NTIA project.

The center has a camp that has been running for decades, and the kids who go only have to pay a registration fee. This gives them a week or more in the country, in a place they have never been, and also it give the parents a bit of a rest from the kid. I asked if the encroaching suburbs would cause them to sell the camp in order to get some income, and from his response I can see that is unthinkable. So The Youth and Family Center follows the pattern of where I think tech projects should be: in places with well-established and popular activities other than ICT. This could be a church, a non-profit like this place, or a public library. Stand-alone tech centers seem to have a much harder time.

Sue drove me around St. Louis and we visited the site of the 1904 exposition, now a huge park with free admission to the zoo, museum, and library. It was quite busy even on a workday. There are beautiful buildings all around the town, and while many houses are run down, the brick work is outstanding. This area must have been for bricklayers what Silicon Valley is to programmers. I went through part of the train station. Unlike Union Station in DC, St. Louis just has a a hotel and shops where the trains used to be.

That evening we ate at an Iranian restaurant which was quite reasonable, and then we went to a presentation about hip-hop in education at a public art and presentation center called the Commons. A young teacher, recently laid off in special education, talked about the origins of hi- hop and how he used this topic to engage and talk with the students about everything from math to values to media control.

April 12, Liverpool, New York

After an uneventful drive with a quick stop at Niagara Falls, I reach the home of Jean and Larry Polly. Their son Stephen is getting ready for entry into Rochester Institute of Technology. He’s one of these rare young people who know exactly what they was to do in life. The family had returned from a trip to Japan some weeks before. Jean, a.k.a. NetMom had given a talk at a conference on the Internet and the family. Parents were telling her about the young people who were using cell phones for all sorts of things and the parents were oblivious. Young girls were engaging in compensated dating with older men. It turns out this is a euphemism for online prostitution, but this term sort of sanitizes the activity.

Jean runs the technical side of Liverpool Public Library. They have an extensive internal and public network. Her staff has been there quite a while and is very competent. Since her arrival she has made a lot of changes to improve the efficiency of the operation. It made me realize how few places have adequate technical support for the networks they have put in place (or have been put in place by some outside group or foundation).

April 14, Harrisville, New Hampshire

I was in Coast Guard training in 1968 with John Colony. We stayed in touch over the years. His brother runs Forrester Research, a firm that does well whether the tech economy in inflating or deflating. John and his wife Pat run a historic restoration project in Harrisville, a former mill town owned by his ancestors who made a lot of money making uniforms for the Union army. As mills moved south, John helped save the place from condos or Carmel cuteness by attracting some other firms, starting a weaving business that sells to the Smithsonian shops and to serious hobby weavers. John has always been skeptical about the cost and complexity of small office systems, and he is very articulate in describing the problems for a small firm that just wants to perform certain basic business operations online. The costs of hardware and software upgrades have been onerous, and it is certainly part of a bigger problem affecting all kinds of enterprises from home offices to city governments to corporations.

We talked a lot about the economic drive that pulls jobs and factories from here to China. A friend of his ran a U.S. company that made high quality golf club heads, the last such factory in America. About eight years ago he decided to move everything to a maquiladora in Mexico. After three years, it was running smoothly, and the skill levels of the Mexican workers was advanced, the distribution network flowing, and then price pressures caused them to decide to move to China to save about $1.50 per head. Everything in Mexico was closed. We wondered where the factory would go next after China. Advanced robotics perhaps but located where?

Harrisville, New Hampshire public library

Later that day I drove to ChipWrights, a video chip company where my son is doing contract work. It’s located in Waltham, Massachusetts, a town that used to be known for its watches. I could spend another twenty pages writing about the great wedding and festivities, but I’ll limit it to a few anecdotes. Jason is long time friend of Geoff’s from Fremont, California. Jason’s father used to have an interactive TV company here in the Valley, so both Jason and Geoff were always involved in high tech trends. Jason was at the wedding and we talked about the camera phone he was using. He noted that nobody seemed to be using another Bluetooth camera phone. In the San Francisco area there were so many that Jason would be in a public place and sense the presence of other such phones and then send them a photo over the Bluetooth (not cell) connection. Usually a person would be surprised and look around to see who might have sent it. To use Institute For The Future’s term, Jason is really infomated.

The wedding was held at a contemporary art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts. This place opened in a defunct factory complex that manufactured electronic and electrical gear in the 1980’s. It was a great ceremony with lots of friends from all over the country and from Europe. Geoff and Karin had asked me to include a wine ceremony. When he was born in 1975 his mom and I made a cabernet/merlot blend and aged it, bottled it, drank some, and had enough to share during the wedding. It was still holding up. I guess I was making that about the time Jobs and Wozniak were producing the Apple I or II.

Talk shows: As during my last trip I was amazed by the vitriol of the conservative talk show hosts. One whose book in selling well is Sean Hannity. I tuned in at the time when he had just announced his switch from supporting Bush to supporting Kerry. His listeners were stunned. Bill (gamblin’ man) Bennett called it and attributed this aberration to doing three hours of talk radio each day. Bill Clinton called up and tried to enlist Hannity in the Kerry campaign. they both apologized each other for what they had said about the other. Then Hannity began berating his right wing callers just as he had snapped at Liberal callers. \I turned off the radio for an hour, and when I turned it back on he revealed that he really wasn’t backing Kerry. He wanted to show how much attention his (Hannity’s) flip-flop was getting while Kerry was not being criticized the the liberalmedia (it’s one word on these talk shows). What it showed for me is a lot of these yakmeisters are performers and are just talking positions that draw in the best audience and increase ratings. As Mort Sahl said of Hannity, “Why doesn’t Fox get a real Fascist instead of one who just plays one on TV?” I guess the part I’m still puzzling about is the “Clinton” who called in. A remarkable impersonation...or was it?

April 20 Basking Ridge, New Jersey

After the wedding festivities and a brief tour around New England with Nancy and my in-laws, I drove to see Steve Crandall and his wife Sukie. If you are reading this online, it’s because Steve has been kind enough to post of some of my journal and photos on his web log . Steve was a research scientist at AT&T until they dissolved most of their research group. He and others in a consortium of Sony, Frauenhofer, and AT&T developed the audio compression used by Apple’s iTunes, but in listening to him there were all sorts of other technologies that never became products but sounded fascinating. I knew of Steve and Sukie’s love of ferrets, but I had never even seen a live one. One room in their condo is for their ferrets, and each one they brought out seemed to have its own special personality. Sukie runs a mailing list on ferret health, and this seems to be the kind of online activity that really can’t be duplicated if you are offline: getting advice (or giving it) about a pet that most vets don’t treat often.

After meeting Steve’s colleagues at an amazing pizza restaurant and then talking more with Steve, I realize a lot of my trip is to make contact and have conversations with friends and acquaintances, even if I have to drive 3000 miles. From this journal you can tell I have not talked much with people offline in this latest journey.

Wednesday, April 21 Washington, D.C.

I left early from Basking Ridge and took the Interstate through NJ, across the huge Delaware River bridge and a short distance on the Delaware Turnpike. I drove in Maryland, stopping to rest, eat, and left the Interstate just across the Susquehanna at Havre de Grace. I had seen a pamphlet in the service area rest stop, and it looked interesting. Grand old homes, some tourist business, and a very nice library. I chatted with Paul Gerhard, a former high school librarian turned public reference librarian. His boss, Diana Dayton, was a smart, outgoing young woman. Both of them were very open. The library had about ten machines in a lab, more near the reference desk, and a decent book collection. Few people asked them to use the Internet in their behalf. If that happened they were encouraged to learn, and to take one of the free classes offered.

In Washington, DC I visited Amy Borgstrom whom I had known for ten years. She used to run an NGO in Appalachia, then spent a year plus on the beach in Hawaii and returned to the NTIA as program officer for the Technology Opportunity Program which still makes grants for innovative community technology projects around the nation. She has asked me to read grants this year, but the participants had to be online, and I am not. She filled in the e-forms for U.S. government contractor (they are getting more and more invasive) and told me I’d have to put my preliminary scores in another online form in the next couple of months. If I am not online by then, maybe Nancy can do it for me.

Amy has always been the well-organized optimist about most things in life. It certainly affects the way she approaches her work and her relations with the people applying for grants. She has to keep a log of all the phone contacts she has with grantees. I wanted to talk more about the long term outcomes of some of the projects NTIA has supported, but I left earlier than I planned.

April 23 Philippi, West Virginia

When I realized I was just 45 minutes from Philippi, I took state roads that wound past homes and trailers and auto repair shops and a few farms to reach the old covered bridge that leads into Philippi, the site of the first land battle of the Civil War. It was so early I stopped at a display of all the flags that had flown over the town and made breakfast in the parking lot. As you drive into town there is a billboard advertising the Barbour County Community Net at the edge of the county economic development building. A woman directed me to city hall to ‘talk about the Internet’ and I met Cheryl Crouse who signed people up. The city owns the power, water, cable, and Internet services (just dialup right now). $25/ month for an individual; $17 for educators, students, and families with children. CityNet provides support. She has not tales of people not wanting it, just of the movement of customers to one service and sometimes back again. She used it in her own work for the city manager, but said the web site had very little material on it. She had been arranging an outdoor event when I entered, and she said that sort of announcement would not be on the site.

The library down the block was used a lot, and people had to reserve time on the computer. When the library opened I found it to be rather quiet, but there was a single clipboard for people to book a time. At the end of the day the sheet was destroyed. I assumed no statistics were kept. An Americorps volunteer helped out with children’s programs, and Ira, an older man, helped teach kids to use the computers, and he piped up every so often with a comment.

The librarian had been there more than 20 years. She is Mormon and studied at BYU, stayed away from Philippi a while and then returned. I had met her when I was here in 1997. They had a T1 line arranged by the state library commission, though the money came from the city and was a modest sum because of e-rate.

I mentioned that I had visited in 1997, and she refreshed my memory. Ruston Siemen was still on Chestnut Ridge, the area outside of Philippi where the so-called ‘tri-racial isolates’ (mixed white, Indian, black) live. I followed her directions and made a long loop back into town. At the museum the woman running it told me which road to take and to turn at a ‘temple’ but she did not mean church, and I could not tell what she really said. I did find the place and as I drove along the ridge, some of the places came back to me. There was a lot of activity at the junction where Ruston’s organization was located. I met Shelby Dettinger, Ruston’s assistant who had been working there since October. All the people are called there by God, but it is a regular job, and they are paid. Many who come to help are on a “mission” for a week or more and help out in ways that vary from house painting to working with kids. There seemed to be a stream of projects going on at once, and the office was excited about the T1 that was going to be installed that week. Dialup was not enough for them. I had to leave before Ruston came back from “business in Virginia.”

World Vision community center on Chestnut Ridge, WV outside of Philippi

April 22 Louisville, Kentucky
I stopped in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was born and lived for seven years as a kid. I parked and walked around my neighborhood. Nostaglic moments with smells and sights triggering the names of people who lived in each house, memories of bad or stupid things I had done as a child, and of all the children playing in the streets and in back yards. My elementary school is now a condo in a gentrified shopping area. The city skyline looked a bit taller, and everyone was getting ready for Derby weekend.


“My Old Kentucky Home 1946-1952”

April 25 Kansas

I drove across Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and entered Kansas on a Sunday morning. If you fold a Rand McNally map of the U.S. in half and then in quarters, the center point is around Fort Riley in Kansas. The gate to this lonely army base is being fortified. I told the guard that when I was in Berlin in the 1960’s the East German border was protected with a similar maze of concrete barriers that led to Checkpoint Charlie. I came to this base to visit the cavalry museum. It was open and there were no guards or curators. Most of it was dedicated to the history of horse mounted troops and the Indian wars that followed the Civil War.


Medal for service in Indian Wars 1865-98


Poster from Fort Riley cavalry museum

I drove off the Interstate and followed 24 across Kansas, kayaking in a large reservoir, passing through Cawker City (largest ball of twine in the world), Nicodemus, a town of 40 that had been settled by free blacks in 1877. Danny Glover narrated a historical summary of the town’s past on AM 1610. I spent the night in Goodland, Kansas, another town where major businesses have left, and the sunflower processing plant is not running at full capacity. A highlight for tourists who don’t want to stop at the nice museum (it has the first helicopter patented) is a giant easel about 50 feet tall on which is displayed a giant version of Van Gogh’s “sunflowers” visible from the Interstate.


Small towns try to stand out with unique reasons to pull off the Interstate for a visit.

I had planned to visit Steve Smith of Chase 3000 in Imperial, Nebraska. I did an article in FirstMonday on his wireless service in 2001, and I was going to return to meet a few farmers who were not online. However, the Smiths were on vacation for a few days. I talked with Aaron Greene, high school class of 2000, who was doing phone support. He lives next to the Smiths and got interested in computers when he was 13, partly by hanging around Steve. He does antenna installs, handles support, and seems to know what he’s doing from our 20 min. conversation. I asked him who did not use the Internet, and he replied, “my grandfather. He’s a retired farmer and just never wanted or needed to use a computer.” I asked how old he is, and he said “67” which, of course, does not seem old to me. Greene went to a Christian school for three years of high school and was home schooled for his final year. Just a few of the kids stay in town. Few can find relevant work like he has found. He says they have 1-2 new installs a week, down from several a day in years past. This indicates that the market is about saturated. Most of the customers stay with Chase3000. They have a mobile lab with ten laptops, and they take it around for demos, setting up the wireless connection at each stop. The lab stays at the high school and is used. Better than to let it remain idle. This company remains a good example of a community minded for profit, home grown, and supported by the customers it serves.

I stopped in the Goodland Community Learning Center on the main street. Tammy Freeman works with a man who is coach at the local high school (about 300 students). They provide remedial training for high school students who have failed a class, dropouts, people who only speak Spanish, and while Internet training is not central, it is provided on each of the ten machines sitting in the front room. This is run as a franchise with state money to pay salaries, rents, and connectivity. ESSDACK in Hutchinson, Kansas, is the HQ for the centers around the state. Tammy also works at the radio stations and ran a day care center for nine years. They were not aware of CTCNet, so I gave them the url and told them about their activities.

April 26 Denver area

I stopped in Arvada, Colorado, to see Willard Uncapher, a brilliant guy whose working on some innovative theories about networking. The library he and his wife Lisa have in their basement is amazing. I slept amongst the knowledge and awoke in the night to browse some of the collection. She is director of the art museum at University of Colorado. Their two kids, Izzy and Hannah, filled me in on just about everything. They seemed to get along as well as any brother and sister I have ever met. Another family I wish I lived near. Another reason to go back online.

April 27-28 Utah


View of Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park

I drove to the Colorado riverway outside of Moab, Utah. This is a real jock destination. All the publicity shows people climbing rocks, driving up giant boulders, kayaking through rapids, hiking across grand terrain, and every business seems oriented to these activities. I did not see a senior center or retirement homes in Moab, but then I wasn’t looking. I camped on the river one night and in Arches National Park the next. Gorgeous scenery. Early the following morning I drove 16 hours to reach San Jose by the evening of April 29.

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April 05, 2004

note received april 5, 2004

This posting covers the period from February 22, when I spent a couple of weeks at home followed by a three week trip around Mexico.

February 22

I am back at home from my border trip, and my iBook decided to get sick at an inopportune time. All my data is backed up, and I dropped it off at a service shop for Macs near my house. Without a computer for several days (this is transcribed from a yellow legal pad).

February 26

I have been without my computer for six days, and I can tell it has limited my journal maintenance. I went to Saratoga Library twice to type and print letters to friends who have written me. There are 24 PCs in the adult area and all are filled. A recent election failed to pass a measure that would have provided some relief for this county library system, but 2/3s approval was needed and the measure only got about 61%. This means layoffs and reduced service. San Jose Public Library has ceased printing in the branches because they have no automated way of paying for printing. A system will be installed later. The county lets each user print ten pages a day at no charge--honor system. There were usually 3-4 people waiting to use a computer, though there is no formal queue as there is in many other libraries. Public access centers remain very popular even in affluent neighborhoods where personal computer ownership is high. This indicates that centers all over the world will be in demand--if they can meet expenses.

March 3

I have been reading books about the border area of Mexico and about Mexican Americans by scholars like Oscar Martinez and Dr. Trueba (who helped Llano Alma Guillermoprieto writes for the New Yorker, New York Review of Books and Latin American pubs. I’m reading Looking for History , a series of essays about Mexico, Colombia, Cuba before 2001. She’s critical but fair,and I’m sure she is not popular with true believers in any country, especially Cuba.

A book that is even more interesting is David Stuart’s The Guaymas Chronicles, a narrative derived from the daily journals from the late 60’s of a young grad student in anthropology who comes back from Ecuador where he had been doing research. His plans to marry a young Mexican girl are interrupted by her pregnancy. She breaks his heart yet he decides to stay in Guaymas, a town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico that is just about to experience a growth in tourism. He hangs out with local working class and some criminal class Mexicans and befriends a homeless child who lives by her wits on the streets of this small town. The level of mundane detail grounds it in the daily life of cafe owners, prostitutes, street kids, and hotel staff. He participates fully in the life of the town, and he explains the nuanced relationships he as an American, an unmarried male, as a wheeler-dealer, has with different people in town, from the elite society to dirt poor rural families. It is a great read in the tradition of Down and out in Paris and London and Moritz Thompson’s Living Poor.

I am heading to Mexico in a couple of days. My Spanish is weak (bastante par ser peligroso) and I have few contacts in the country to start my inquiries, but Stuart’s book sort of inspired me to take things as they come and count on serendipity. I will look for some telecenters and libraries to start my inquiries.
Mainly, I want to relax and visit my friends.

Being home and not going online is very different from being on the road and not having connectivity. Because I worked from home I was online many hours a day, and the activities blurred. Some were purposeful; others were just to pass the time and amuse, and it was easy to forward a piece of news or article to a friend or associate. Keeping up on any kind of current events or discussion was simple.

Sitting at the same table but not having an ISP I can use is like someone who has given up drinking alcohol back at a favorite bar. What am I missing? Relatively simple contact with some of my friends. The newsletter is going to about fifty people, but I plan to reduce that after this third one following my trip to Mexico.

My individual letters are usually much longer than email messages would have been. Perhaps I give them more thought as I compose, and I usually send a photo along with the printed note.

March 4, 2004 To Mexico

Think of all the people who have headed to Mexico for one reason or another: Malcolm Lowry, Graham Greene, Ambrose Bierce, General Pershing, D.H. Lawrence, B. Traven, John Ross, William Walker, and even fictional characters like The Wild Bunch and Sarah Connor (fleeing the cyborg played by our governor). On my maternal grandmother’s side some of the Oklahoma Sweet family left the U.S. at the end of the 19th century to join a Socialist community in Northern Mexico, and they changed their name to
“Dulce.” Some day I’ll track them down.

March 5 Mexico City

The immigration line at the Mexico City airport was the longest I had ever encountered in all my travels. Besides being three hours late in arriving, I was stuck behind two old ladies from British Columbia, one of whom peppered me with questions and somehow steered the conversation to Noam Chomsky who seemed to be a big hero to her. She complained that the New York Times printed a picture of him without his glasses. “He always wears glasses,” she protested. She flew in on American Airlines too, but claimed she avoided shopping at a bookstore in Victoria named Chapters because it was American owned. Mercifully the immigration guard split the lines, and I was shunted to an officer far from this odd Canadian.

I spent the first few days with Scott Robinson. Scott and I spent the weekend at his place a couple of hours from Mexico City. Tlaycapan is not a bad drive if you avoid rush hour. His compound is dominated by a huge rubber tree he planted when it was just a seedling in the 70’s. Around the tree and patio is the kitchen, guest quarters, main bedrooms and a big living room and space here he and his son work on ICT projects. It was made for relaxing.

Scott, MariPaz, and Natasha in Tlayacapan

Tlayacapan is giving refuge to about 500 citizens of Tlalnepantla, a nearby town of several thousand people where the town council decided not to vote in an election where a former mayor, a PRI party official, was going to run again. He had proved to be corrupt the first time, and a lot of the citizens thought he would do no better this time. In a few days this group was planning to returning to the village, and there was some fear of more violence.

Since my visit to this village a few years I noticed two main differences: more cybercafes and a lot more tags on the walls. Graffiti may have been there before, but I did not notice it. In addition to the cybercafes there is a telecenter that Scott and MariPaz, his partner, helped found. It is still running, and added to this mix is a new Centro Coumunitario Digital (digital community center) which is part of the ambitious e-Mexico project generously supported by Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. The center here has a large metal sign, but it turns out it is controlled by the morning staff at the local school. Not only can the afternoon students and staff not use it, neither can the general public--which was the stated purpose of the project.

March 7 Tlayacapan

One of the most memorable routines we had was riding bikes along a farm road that wound through the nopal fields. Nopales are the edible cactus pieces that is so popular in Mexico (and California), and it’s a good cash crop. The fields are situated at the base of dramatic cliffs and rock formations that surround most of the town. Scott’s new husky ran along with us and will be outpacing him in a couple of months.

Nopal fields at the edge of Tlaycapan

There is a wonderful market in Tlayacapan, not too large, but big enough you can find more than basics. It had a better supply of fruit than Puerto Vallarta, and the exotic flavors of ice cream (mamey, guanabana) were inexpensive. I was surprised by the wide variety of pirated music on CDs and movies on DVD. These have largely replaced audio and video cassettes. The music CDs sold for about one dollar U.S., and I picked up a bunch of vanity corridas that sung the praises and exploits of Sinaloa drug merchants. The DVDs sold for about two dollars and included the latest movies just in theaters in the U.S: Big Fish, Cold Mountain, Last Samurai. One was playing on a monitor and every so often below the Spanish subtitle, was displayed, “For Your Consideration” indicating it was sent to Academy members who voted on Oscars this year. So it had been subtitled, duplicated and distributed within a month. Later, on a Mexico City subway --where there were four merchants selling everything from batteries to health aids--a young man was selling Passion of Christ DVDs for $1 each.

At a party the following week there were a lot of professionals from Mexico City I told a number of them about my offline project. What was interesting was how unimportant the Internet was for those who had computers and accounts--this included a criminal defense attorney, a surgeon, and a psychoanalyst. The attorney said she only checked mail once or twice a week. One person who used the Internet more than the woman asked, what about people who write you? The attorney (who did not use it at work either) said her friends knew they could call her on the phone. Another woman, a psychiatrist in her 40’s said “I don’t use the web, just email sometimes. I must be from another generation.” However, she was aware her psychiatric association had a web site that needed updating. Another colleague of hers had no Internet account at all. It just did not seem to be an important part of their lives or even a tool to facilitate contact with others or to retrieve salient information. Of course, I was talking to those not using it, while others at the gathering certainly did.

March 8-10 Oaxaca

We drove back to Mexico City Monday morning, and I caught a bus to Oaxaca, about six hours away. I sat next to a woman my age. Her mother had been a school teacher, and she wanted to practice her English. So I spoke in Spanish, and she answered in English. She seemed to be quite sharp, yet during the ride she asked me five times if it was my first trip to Oaxaca. I showed her a map of the town where I was planning on staying (I had visited in 1990), and she became flustered. “I never could understand those things,” pointing to the map. I asked her about computers, and she said she had seen them but not touched one. Her work, buying clothes in the capital and reselling them in the open market in Oaxaca, did not compel her to make use of any tools a small business might use. She watches TV, does not use a cell phone, and of course not the Internet.

I wandered around Oaxaca, enjoying the street life. The town was bigger,but the historic center looked about the same, except for increased tourist traffic, loads of cybercafes and the multitude of campesinos who had come into town for a week-long rally organized by the Frente Popular Revolucionario (revolutionary popular front). I heard the speakers haranguing a somewhat listless bunch of men and women gathered around large banners of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. This crowd mixed with the tourists from Japan, U.S., and Mexico. There was a march for ten blocks or so but no big police presence or (while I was there) acts of civil disobedience. I just wondered how all the masses ate and where they went to the bathroom. No portable toilets were in evidence. Some of the FPR staff cars were unlicensed Nissan Altimas. One had the FPR logo as well as a Nike Swoosh on the windshield. I guess you can serve two masters...

Marxist party marches in Oaxaca

In the cultural centers and library there were special programs for women that week. I went into the court of the public library and a group of women set in a circle and discussed a common work. There were panelists in the evening for programs that drew thirty or forty adults. This was the only place where I saw adults using the libraries, but in Oaxaca there were places for kids to study, check out books and video, and adults seemed to be more numerous in the general reading room. They had no computers in public areas at that time.

On the main bulletin board was posted an article from the February 22 Proceso, a magazine something like Time. President Fox is building a “Mega-biblioteca” in Mexico City (sort of like the grandiose French library project back in the early 90’s in Paris). The magazine contacted library directors in many of the Mexican states and printed their comments. Many were critical because the other 7000 Mexican libraries are not operating fully, and this big one would only benefit people in the Federal District (with the exception of some online services that might be part of the project). The librarian in Oaxaca, Gerardo Francisco Espinosa said it’s not enough to build libraries without providing more trained librarians. He also said that most Mexicans read light weight stuff or just watch TV. The lack of a reading culture and the high illiteracy rate is what librarians have been targeting, and clearly they need more resources for that--not for a giant building in the capital.

Small businessman in Oaxaca: 50 years in the same location

After I lost my Lone Eagles Consulting hat in town, I headed for the big market where you have an amazing choice of fresh produce, household goods, clothes, prepared food, and hardware. I met a man who had been doing business for fifty years in the same location. He sold hats and other straw goods. I bought a straw cowboy hat for about $1.70 and we talked a bit. He asked what kind of work I did, and I said I had worked in libraries. He looked puzzled and said he did not understand. I replied, “Libraries, like the one you have in town here, near the Zocalo .” He had not been to the biblioteca and did not know about it. He asked me what it was. “A place with books and magazines where people come and read, and some will come to use computers.” He still had a hard time with this and asked, “You mean it is a room full of stories?” “Yes, and novels, and science, and computers.” He was not stupid; he had been in business since the 1950’s, but he had a hard time with this idea of a room full of stories, and so we did not even get started on computers. He would have had a good conversation with Borges.

Oaxaca is surrounded by villages devoted to different crafts: ceramics, metal work, and weaving. The Zapotec rugs are famous, and for years have been sold as sort of lower cost version of southwestern U.S. Indian rugs (mainly Navajo). I had visited Teotitlan del Valle in 1990 and bought a few nice rugs. I took a bus out there and found bigger houses, some mansions, and more signs for weaving studios where the prices were much higher than my last visit. I stopped by several and asked if they were using the Internet to sell their products. Several people said yes, but as we discussed it, it was clear they were not using the Internet, but wanted to engage me and get me in the studio (I was one of the few tourists in town that day). I went to the town square and there was the typical cybercafe setup I saw all over Mexico: a little room or hole in the wall, a modest sign, and some young people using a couple of the computers. A boy under ten assured me that some rug dealers were selling on the Internet, and he called his mom. She, too, assured me that some were. I asked how people learned about it, and she said there were computers in the high school but nothing for primary school or for adults. In bigger towns there are courses for everything from computer basics to Microsoft certification, but it will be hard for the average non-user to have access to training at low cost (as I believe they do at the telecenter in Tlaycapan).

When I returned to Oaxaca that afternoon I passed by two typewriter shops near the market. One owner said there was a lot of demand for typewriters, and the second, larger store had a display window full of Asian-made Olympia’s and one German-made model that was five times the cost of the others. Olympia was the first portable I owned, a present in the seventh grade back in 1956. There were also a couple of old Pentium I laptops for sale.

Back at the Zocalo the FPR speeches continued, the militant rhetoric blasting out of the speakers at one end of the plaza while at the other end someone had set up speakers and was playing 50’s big band music. Several dozen older couples (definitely not rural campesinos) were dancing while the crowd of tourists and locals looked on admiringly. Somewhere in the middle of the plaza, the two sounds collided and mixed into a muddle.

March 15 Patzcuaro

After returning to Mexico City and another weekend in Tlayacapan, I took a first class bus to Morelia, capital of Michoacan. The two movies shown during the trip are pirated: Mona Lisa Smiles and Hart’s War. From there I went immediately to Patzcuaro, a town where I spent Day of the Dead in 1996. The old town sits on a lake in which are located Tarascan island villages and coastal settlements. All the building signs are in large serif letters, the first in red and the others in black. Near one of the main squares is the Museo de Artes Populares, and early the morning after my arrival I am the only visitor. Patricia, a guide in her 20’s gives me a good tour showing me an abundance of pottery and enamelware. She knows the contents well and points out the black flagstone floor grouted with neat rows of cows teeth. It has stood up well over the centuries Patricia has never used a computer, and it sounds like she does not think she will ever have the chance to use one. This seems odd for an educated and well-informed person.

Patzcuaro Public Library. New e-Mexico computers (lower right) await Internet connectivity

Later I head to the public library, situated in an old church. The pews and altar have been replaced with shelves and tables for reading. The first time I enter, few people are there. After 3 p.m. it is filled with students. A bus stop for points outside the town is just outside. I speak with Gloria Blancas Lopez and explain my background and what I am doing. She points to a big sign in the corner for the e-Mexico project. “They won’t let us put it up until we have satellite connectivity.” In the front of the library are ten desktop PCs with flat screen monitors. She is aware of the training issues and the need for support. I tell her how much her job will change when the demand grows for these machines, especially with young people.

March 17

I have been offline for eight weeks. I don’t miss the online world too much, As I strip away this tech layer I wonder if something else will replace it, a new overlay. I value the chance encounters I have during this trip but do miss my friends. However, over the years my friends and family have spread far and wide, and it’s infrequent and expensive to see them face-to-face. A telephone is the house is not enough to maintain these relationships, and letters are anachronistic to most.

March 18 Uruapan

Avocado capital of the world. This is a nice town where the only national park inside city limits is situated. It is a tropical mountain river surrounded by forest, trout farms, and waterfalls. All about a mile from the main square. Near this square is a city building housing the library, and it is, again, full of kids and no adults. The e-Mexico computers are in what was the children’s room (now closed), but the librarian is waiting for connectivity. Same old story. She said she knew little about computers and was more concerned with the youth and their reading habits. Outside the library the kids are using cybercafes and filling the game arcades everywhere. How will the library differentiate itself, other than providing free access? Another building that houses a series of small shops selling local, high quality crafts, has a bilingual guide who asserts that they are using the Internet to sell the products, but there is no address on the publicity. He doesn’t know the web site, and he tries to sell me some of the local crafts.

Also near the square is a city building and in the shaded courtyard a line of public scribes sit behind their typewriters. People bring in documents for them to type, and some have them write letters (if they cannot). This is common in most towns.

Public scribes in Uruapan, Michoacan

March 19 Tepic

Capital of Nayarit. In this state are the Cora and Huichol Indians, the latter being famous for very colorful and skillfully rendered yarn paintings and bead work over carved, three dimensional objects (gourds, jaguar skulls, eggs). There are a number of shops selling the art work; all are modest operations, and none have any indication they are using email or the web in pursuit of business. I make a few purchases at stores I visited in 1996 and am shocked, just shocked, that the prices have risen in the past seven years.Tepic is not a wealthy town, but there are big stores on the outskirts; in the center the streets are filled with salesmen selling small food items and sundries. One man on the corner near the bus station sells only shoe laces. How much can he possibly make in a week? There are cybercafes and courses for computer classes.

Cybercafes are numerous in towns, less common in villages

March 20 San Blas

A short bus rides takes me to this modest beach resort on the coast of Nayarit. I splurge for a nice bungalow near the Captain of the Port office on the beach. I used to do the same job in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when I served in the U.S. Coast Guard. At that time the Coast Guard owned one minicomputer in Washington. We communicated by radio, phone, and teletype. We planned searches by manual calculations of sea currents, wind direction, and other variables. It was amazingly crude. I’m surprised we found anyone!

I watch a BBC profile of J.G. Ballard, author of many ground-breaking novels. In talking about trends, especially dysfunctional ones, he says, “I want to arrive at the scene of an accident before it takes place.” That puts into perspective an idea I had: what would we do differently if we knew the sum of effects that the automobile culture has had over the past century (assuming that we could do anything more than set emission standards, seat belts, and diamond lanes on highways)? I have that in mind as I look at the effectiveness or lack of impact the Internet has in the United States, Mexico, or other countries. So far, it does not seem to have transformed daily life to the same extent that television or the automobile have, except for certain sectors and demographics. Those of us in the development industry or computer industry may find it hard to look outside our interconnected world.

March 21 Puerto Vallarta

I’m coming down with a cold, and I just spend time relaxing in this tourist town. I had planned to visit Yelapa, but I have so much junk in my luggage, I decide to stay put after I can’t reach my contact there. Instead, I visit the art galleries of Puerto Vallarta. There are at least six galleries selling Huichol art, and each dealer has a somewhat different story about the origins of the bead work. One says the Indians used seeds, then the Spanish missionaries introduced beads, but several said the beads placed on waxed figures originated in the 70’s possibly with the encouragement of a Soviet researcher. Most agreed that the beads used were/are from what is now the Czech Republic. Some dealers had email but did not sell over the Internet. All deals had to be concluded in person. Puerto Vallarta had more cybercafes than any other town I visited, and the clients were young people and tourists. In one I saw a Nordic family of four all clustered around one machine, probably checking in with folks in Odense or Malmö.

What’s Next?

I am home until April 3, planting vegetables, weeding, getting over my cold. April 5 I set out across the U.S and will be in the following places roughly on these dates: April 4: Needles, CA; 5: Holbrook, AZ 6 Albuquerque, NM; 7 Mangum, OK; 8, 9 St. Louis, MO; 10 Barnesville; OH; 11-12 Syracuse, NY area; 13-19 Boston, MA; 20 Far Hills, NJ; 21-2 Washington, DC; 23-4 Louisville, KY; 25 Kansas 26 Imperial, NE; 27 Boulder, CO 28-30 back to San Jose, CA. I might see a few of you on my way through.

After this continental trip, I plan to stay at home and write. No other trips outside the U.S. are planned at this time.

People ask if I have stayed offline. I have looked at a couple of screens displaying web info, and I talked to a colleague in the U.S. Scott Robinson was using Skype to connect with, and my wife has sent via email some photos on my behalf. When my iBook was rebuilt I lost a hotel reservation and had to search online for the contact information.

Handmade chairs in Puerto Vallarta

05:34 PM in steve's letters | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 20, 2004

note received february 20, 2004


February 2, 2004

At the end of the last report I filed, I was in Redford, Texas. From Redford, you can proceed through Big Bend National Park or return via Presidio and some beautiful lonely highways and the Interstate. The night before I left Enrique had explained the use of some local plants and minerals in cooking. Though he does not drink, he brought out a bottle of Sotol Coyamito, a distilled alcohol made from a plant that grows in Chihuahua state. It is related to the agave from which tequila is made, and with the price of that drink still climbing, there is some fear that this raw white liquor might be "the next yuppie drink." After repeated sampling I don’t think that’s a problem. One leading indicator is that an MIT graduate from Chihuahua is starting a sizable plantation to increase production. Judging from the fact that the bottles I saw were reused tequila containers, that should not be too hard.

I decided to cross over to Ojinaga just across the Rio Grande from Presidio. Depending on where you cross and how, the post Sept 11 delays to return to the U.S. can be very lengthy. I remember seeing web cams as well as text updates on the wait at each main border crossing. Tijuana and Juarez are very congested. Columbus, NM. and Presidio, Texas were not. I parked my car at a run down trailer that served at the Presidio tourist office, grabbed my passport, and walked toward the bridge. Then I remembered I had a .30-06 cartridge in my pocket. I had picked it up the day before when Enrique and I were visiting the place where the U.S. Marines shot the shepherd kid. No guns or ammunition are allowed into Mexico without a permit, so I put the cartridge at the base of a palm tree near the international bridge. As I reached the line of brass markers in the center of the bridge I notice a bulging back pack sitting on the trash can. You have to wonder why someone would abandon a pack just before crossing into Mexico.

Just past the money changers I passed a man selling ornate cemetery monuments, and a little beyond was the first liquor store where I found a bottle of Sotol for about $10.50 for a liter. Passing back across there was a small booth to collect $1.10 for the state of Texas and 25 cents for a Mexican toll across the bridge. I can understand why the people in Redford are very inconvenienced when they can't wade across the shallow Rio Grande and have to travel at least 35 miles and pass through the official border control. Once back in the U.S. I retrieved my souvenir rifle cartridge and headed toward McAllen.

February 3

In 2001 I had visited a number of rural projects sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. Their support encouraged rural citizens to organize, learn some new skills, and plan for modest ICT projects in their village or region. The book I wrote about this project on behalf of the foundation never went further than the program officer who hired me, but I had very fond memories of one particular project in south Texas near McAllen. Llano Grande was based in a high school and run by a teacher named Francisco Guajardo. In 2001 the Morino Institute had paid for a team of young people from Llano Grande to present their project at the Internet Society annual conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

What impressed me then (and now) is how the Internet was a supporting piece of their many activities and not the main focus. This baffled the Internet Society audience who judged programs by how much people were using the Internet and how it was spreading and what kind of great web sites were available. The young people at Llano Grande were doing web sites and digital storytelling and online publications, but the thrust of their activities was emphasis on local activities, local resources, and local culture. That is not to say they are parochial. There is a very successful program to help the students find places at top ranked universities all over the U.S. but even if they go away the network and the ethos of the members encourages young graduates to come back to help and to stay in contact if they decide to live and work elsewhere. I have a whole chapter on this project that dates form 2001, if any of you want to read it.

The purpose of this trip was to meet Francisco's parents because they do not use the Internet, while all their grown children are teachers or professors and are deeply immersed in the technology as all of you are. Since my visit in 2001 both Francisco and Miguel, his brother, had received their Ph.D.s and were on the faculty at University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg in the school of education. Llano Grande had purchased a large house from Dr. Trueba, an anthropologist and supporter of Llano Grande and the organization had expanded its programs to include more seminars and community projects run by graduate students. Miguel now served at head of the board of directors of the Loka Institute, a nonprofit that encourages community research by universities.

Francisco, Miguel, and I drove to their parents house (which Miguel built with his father) and I was greeted very warmly by both the mother and father. What I noticed first as I entered was the wall of family photos with the top row reserved for the grand parents, and a youthful photo of the parents, then the brothers, and children, cousins, grandchildren. It was clear: here was the network that mattered most.


Jose Angel Guajardo was born in 1936 in Tamaulipus state, the youngest of 14 kids and only went through the third grade. He took it over several times because he enjoyed it, not because he was held back. He still had his workbook with all the arithmetic, spelling, and geography lessons from 1948. He made sure I noted the “B” on different lessons. This was the teacher noting “Bien” (good) for his answers. He became a heavy reader but did not attend school. Instead, at the age of 16 he began crossing to the U.S. to work for very low wages in the Rio Grande Valley. Frequently the immigration service would send him back. Eventually he acquired a permanent resident status and through hard work (care taking, maintenance, janitorial services) he saved enough to buy land.

Jose only spoke Spanish with me, and everyone in the family conversed in Spanish, though the sons would use more English when they were in the university office or riding together in the car. Miguel said that when they came for a meal they would hear all the news and gossip of what was happening in the community long before they could learn any other way. The implication was that besides a close-knit family, Jose had a strong network of friends who kept him informed. I asked about his reading habits, and he showed me "La Mañana" the daily paper from Reynosa (just across the river from McAllen). As for television they were able to get enough Spanish channels with an antenna, through there was good natured disagreement on who liked to watch telenovelas. They had a fixed line telephone too.

On the wall next to the family photos the different degrees earned by the children were on display around the door frame: B.A., M.A. Ph.D. for several different people. I asked Francisco how all of them made the jump and all achieved so much education and recognition when their parents had so little. "Unconditional support" was his answer. Beside the right family environment, it was clear that the parents may have lacked opportunities for education when they grew up, but they knew the value of it and encouraged it in their children. As for the Internet, Jose's needs were being met by the strong family and social network and with books and newspapers for information and the television for entertainment.

February 6, 2004

After a very long drive I ended up in El Paso again. I went to drive near the bridge to Juarez. In downtown El Paso there were hundreds and hundreds of jornaderos (day workers), many beckoning to me in hopes of getting work. My new but dirty van stood out. I drove near the walkover bridge but decided not to park and visit Mexico this time. Instead, I went to the library and read some of the works by border scholars like Oscar Martinez, author of Border People. Mary Helen Michaels was working reference. She helped me find an address (using a book rather than the Internet), and then we began talking about computers and reference work. She said that many people did not want to touch the machines and asked them for help. Some would go downstairs to use the Internet but not have any idea how to proceed. The Internet room staff could not provide instruction, so some of these people would be sent to reference for help.

Michaels told me about other kinds of training offered around El Paso and pointed me to the Literacy Center which is housed in a relatively new branch a few miles away in a poor neighborhood very close to the border. I first met Margarit Hewitt who when asked if she was Martha Toscano, the director, replied, “I wish!.” Hewitt showed me the computers for public use, the computer lab, and then Toscano introduced herself and went into detail about their many programs:
-teen hang out
-art gallery
-English literacy programs with teachers or CAI
-computer classes
-cultural events: illustrator signing, dances,

In the late 90's she approached a community group at one of the local Levi's plants and they did a fund raiser that brought $55,000 which was enough to buy all the equipment for the lab. All the Levi's plants are gone now. She seemed adept at getting grants, and I told her about the Beaumont Foundation and a couple of other sources. I mentioned that Llano Grande had some programs that were similar, and she seemed most interested in the digital storytelling workshops. Mary

Santa Fe, New Mexico. February 6

I had lunch with Richard Akeroyd who had left the Gates Foundation and is now New Mexico State Librarian. He seemed to be enjoying this job a great deal. I talked about the small libraries I visited in Deming, Animas, and Columbus. We discussed the sustainability of technology projects, and how the current economy is making it hard for libraries that received computer labs from the foundation to continue full service. I said I felt the complexity of these technological systems are more more of a burden than most planners and funders realize. The problems show up faster in poor countries where the labs are almost totally dependent on outside flow of support.


I made a brief trip to Taos, did not find a friend who started La Plaza Telecommunity and is now importing Indian textiles, nor did I connect with a noted techno-critic, Dr. Chellis Glendinning. At least her answering machine worked, so I still hope to talk with her by telephone at a later time. Since I was there in 2001 the number of Indian casinos had increased. Even the conservative Taos Pueblo has one. On the way up, I kayaked in the cold waters of a small river outside of Espanola. The banks were covered with snow, but I stayed dry and warm. A storm has passed, and even the farm animals did not seem to mind the weather.


February 7 Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico

I made the wonderful wide open drive toward Acoma Pueblo to the west of Albuquerque and Gallup (KGAP-Navajo Radio 24 hours a day). This road still has dinosaurs and odd signs to attract us tourists.


I saw several signs for Indian art at the Laguna Pueblo so I took that Interstate exit and found two stores right across from each other. The one I chose was run by a middle aged guy wearing a Sonora, Mexico, baseball hat. Armando Quiroz is from Chihuahua and married Janice Quiroz, a Laguna Indian. They decided to open this store on the rez, and they have two sons. The store was full of different art and weavings from Mexico and the NM pueblos, mainly Laguna, Acoma, Zuni, and Navajo. Nice quality (to my untrained eye). There was an odd carving of a U.S. soldier, sort of sharp angles in a naive style. I saw a Zapotec rug and began talking with Armando about Oaxaca, Mexico. He had been there and commented that prices had risen greatly, and that rugs were close to what Navajos were charging. Something I had paid $30 for ten years ago was going for $200 now. It was a nice rug but a bit overpriced.


I asked if had heard of Mata Ortiz and he pointed to a book of the pottery of the place, and said they too were getting aggressive in their pricing, that their pots were getting expensive. I saw a nice small seed pot with marbling, made by rubbing a stone on the fired pot, and it was marked $48. “I’ll give you a good price; that’s the gringo price,” he said. “But I’m a gringo too,” I answered but only paid $30 for the little pot. We talked about how much knockoff stuff was made in China and how India was copying Zapotec designs and selling the rugs very cheaply. It reinforced the impressions I had when I wrote “Arts, Crafts, and Globalization” for Cadre, an online pub at San Jose State University.

We talked about learning Spanish and he wants his kids to attend language school in Tepotlan near Cuernavaca because they don’t speak Spanish much at home. I asked if he used the Internet and he said no, but his kids do. They had found the language schools online, and he said he had no use for email but he did complain about the high cost of remesas to his mom in Chihuahua. About $30 for to send and convert $300 to pesos. I told him about Scott Robinson’s hope of moving money via the Internet and telecenters. He did not know about people getting ATM cards and sending one to a relative in Mexico. This is a technique a lot of immigrants use when their relatives are near ATM machines. I asked he has considering trying to sell his wares on the Internet, but it seemed the roadside advertising was sufficient. So here was another person whose family made use of the Internet while he saw no need himself.

February 8, Quartzite, Arizona

This small town near the California border is a magnet for RV owners and rock hounds. There is an ongoing swap meet/flea market where many of the stands sell all sorts of local and imported minerals such as trilobites from Morocco and amethyst from Brazil, and onyx spheres the size of beach balls from Pakistan.


However, there are other booths selling animal skins, herbal supplements, “Amish” quilts, Chinese tools, nuts and dried fruit, identity decals for your truck (“Eat fumes Ford boy”), and clothes, videos and DVDs and used books. The population grows to more than 100,000 people, all living out in the desert in their RVs, but they all seemed to be in town causing a traffic jam with the numerous semi-trucks that had stopped for lunch.


I walked to a long bus parked some distance from the flea market because of the banner advertising “satellite Internet” on a self-aligning rig being marketed by Scott Whitney ( a web site designer from Oklahoma. He has been hanging out in Quartzite for several weeks and planned to spend two more before moving on. Most of the RV people wanted a two way VSAT dish that they could set up and aim, but this is considerably more complex that the little Dish network one way receivers for television. The monthly connect fee is about $90, but the outlay for Scott’s gear is several thousand. A number of RV parks have cable or DSL and offer connections to those renting hookups.


There is an interesting monument to a 19th century Syrian camel wrangler who took care of the camels the U.S. Army bought in Aleppo and tried out in the southwest desert. After the beta test failed, Hadj Ali (he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca) became a prospector and much later died in Quartzite.


I drove about 30 miles south toward Yuma and saw a dramatic range of mountains thrusting out of the desert floor. This was the Kofa Wilderness Area, and I decided to spend the night at the isolated camp site at the foot of the mountain. Narrow canyons protected the palms which are the only native palms in the southwest. It was a beautiful evening, clear and cold. The wind jostled the van but I slept well.

February 9, San Ysidro, California

The crossing from Tijuana to San Diego county is here, and it probably the busiest border in the United States. Casa Familiar is a full service nonprofit started many years ago by Andrea Skorepa who is still director. I had been on a program with her at UCLA and decided to drop in.


I met Carmen Fernandez who had worked with another nonprofit that united with Casa Familiar. She was doing outreach with K-8 schools, and she had just had a visit from the library literacy liaison. It seemed that CF was involved in many different activities:
-building some low cost homes
-fitness center
-teen hangout
-computer labs including a multimedia production lab
-classes in English, Spanish, citizenship, dance, and several aimed at seniors
-social services related to housing, tax forms, referral services
-parent organizations
-job development
-festivals such as dia de los muertos

In other words, all sort of community glue, with strong links to government and other social service agencies. However, they need volunteers, especially for the computer facilities, some of which are not being used because of staff shortages.

Most of the computer instruction is geared toward job placement, but some of the seniors want to overcome their reluctance to use computers and the Internet. An older woman came in to sign up for a class, and seemed to want to take more English and computer classes. From the offerings, most of the students seem to have a practical desire to learn tools and acquire basic educational certificates, including Mexican equivalents, though various online programs now offered to Mexican citizens living elsewhere.

We talked about the other programs I had visited in Edinburg, El Paso, Redford, and Sylmar. Carmen gave me a copy of the twelve page monthly newspaper “Borders Fronteras”.

February 15

I am back in San Jose for my wife’s break from school. Next stop is Eugene, Oregon, and then to Mexico.

03:19 PM in steve's letters | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 07, 2004

note received february 7, 2004


January 20, 2004

I am now cut off from my daily reading of international news especially in the Guardian and New York Times but also the Google News headlines and of course the mother of all news sources, The Onion.

I have a cell phone from Virgin Mobile, mainly to stay in touch with my family. The phone was $100 and the top-up card was $50. The instruction book is 142 pages long, and some of the guidelines are not clear. It is meant to sell other services they think the target market (young MTV fans) will pay for besides calls at 25 cents a minute. I feel a reluctance to use the phone because of the high initial cost, but I don’t think I would have needed one enough to justify a monthly contract. All the contracts were very hard to parse and to see if they made sense for someone on the road a lot and out of the local calling area. Virgin Mobile does because you know how much it will cost and where it is supposed to work (along all most of the Interstates at least).

I drove to Los Angeles to stay with my son Erik at UCLA. On the way I stopped in to visit Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural in Sylmar, a distant suburb of Los Angeles. The population is heavily Latino. It was co-founded by author Luis Rodriguez, his wife, and another person. Computers are not central to this place, but they do have several and will be expanding. This is a for-profit cultural center. There are books for sale, poetry readings, movies, coffee and snacks, and what happens in the center is determined by the people in the area. Trini Rodriguez said that people did not know what to make of the place at first, but now they help decide programs and activities for kids, adult women, mixed groups and the general public. She said a lot of the Latino people in the area could not afford a computer, and that was probably one reason why they were not online, but they are offering classes for those who want to learn.


Santa Monica, January 21

In 1987 Santa Monica Public Electronic Network was started by Ken Phillips in the municipal IT department. The library was the place where the public terminals were located, and it attracted a lot of new traffic using the computer conferencing system. There were stories about how the homeless made use of them to press their demands for showers and lockers (which they now have).

I went to the library to see what had changed since the PEN system is not operating any more and how the library was serving the public, including the homeless. The old main library was torn down and as the new one is constructed, there is a temporary one a couple of blocks away in a small building. Reference is on floor one, and the Internet room is above. I went to see how much activity there was. A line of people snaked out of the door to the Internet room that housed a number of computers. Everyone had a chit, good for one hour per day. There were a couple of bag ladies (and the bags were from 7-11 and 99 Cents Stores, not high priced stores on the 3rd Street Promenade).

I spoke with Pat in reference who remembered PEN but suggested I talk with the principal librarian. She was not around so Susan Annett, head of public services, met with me. As with other libraries, they don’t segment their users/consumers the way a market research firm would do, so they don’t know exactly what trends affect their homeless population. As a beach community they get a lot of tourists and people may dress as if they are homeless but are not, so even the bag ladies I saw might have an apartment and not be living out of a shopping cart or the back of their car (as I am). People with any California library card can get one for Santa Monica and then get an Internet card which allows them to use it for one hour a day. They have had special program after hours for young people: a LAN party--a term I recently learned and was surprised she was familiar with it. She reminded me that SMPL had been offering online reference services “24/7” for fifteen years. (I wonder why people don’t day ‘round the clock’ any more instead of 24/7). Back in the late 1980's I wrote about the difficulties of online reference in my now defunct newsletter, "Connect: Libraries & Telecommunications."

The library is constrained by space, not budget in what they provide. The new library will have a training room as well as an Internet room for the public. They can’t provide one-one instruction, so if a person gets to the Internet room and can’t make sense of the software they can’t get much help.

I spoke again with Pat and asked him if someone came up and asked him to do a Google search, would he do that or direct them to an Internet station. He replied that he would, and people who did not want to wait in line for a quick search might ask him for a Mapquest search. He would print out the map and give it to them. Good service!

January 26

Sister Carol Nolan and Jose Perez. Mecca, California

Someone reading the CTCNet mailing list forwarded my plans for a trip around the country to Sisters of Providence nun Carol Nolan. She invited me to stop by Mecca as I headed south.

Mecca is an unincorporated town in the Imperial Valley with a mix of new houses and a lot of old ones. Most of the people are Spanish-speaking and many have been here for generations. Others are migrants. Everyone in the post office spoke Spanish and the peso-dollar conversion rate was posted near the electronic money order sign. Across the street is the Toro Loco market. I suppose this is not much different from small towns on the other side of the U.S. Mexico border.

Sister Carol and I met up in a large ARCO gas station and store outside of Mecca. She had some lunch while I finished up my hummus and smoked pork sandwich. Originally from Galesburg, Illinois, she decided at 18 to become a nun. Two of her sisters had made the same decision, and initially she felt that after her older sister entered the order, she would not have to! She is a music teacher, probably in her late fifties, and has worked or lived in Texas (where she learned Spanish) and India. Now she lives with two other nuns in Cherry Valley, some distance away from the people she is working with in this farming area north of the Mexican border.

I asked her how she could get involved in the life of these small rural communities that dot the rural countryside south of Indio. She sat in on meetings and just listened to what was going on. She began to offer classes. At one school she teaches violin and guitar. The school district provided the money for 12 guitars and 12 violins, and she was able to get this much equipment for about $500, the cost of one cheap computer! However, without someone like Carol, the instruments are not going to be used.

She also works with people who live in small informal trailer parks which are far from town. Until 1998, these “parqueaderos” used to number in the hundreds. Typically, they were unpaved, unlit places where a dozen or more trailers could be placed. There had to be septic systems, but above ground the improvements were minimal. Rent was about $300 a month maximum. To the passerby some look quite poor, and this may have provoked the action by Riverside County. In 1998 the county began to close them down, without thinking much about the consequences all these local residents with no place to go. Sometimes they were told to move some of the “units” (trailers) off the land in order to continue serving as a parqueadero. Some complied and were still shut down.

This housing crisis created a need for social organization, and a group called Social Justice formed and eventually filed a lawsuit against the county. At that point the county began to listen. One of the members Carol was working with is Jose Perez. Jose, about 43, was born in the U.S. and his parents split up with his Mom taking Jose back to Mexico City when he was a baby. At a young kid he asked his uncle for a bicycle, and the uncle suggested he write his father in the U.S. His dad replied that he’d buy him a bike if he came to the U.S. so ended up back in California and stayed. His father has about ten acres, and Jose has one.


We drove from the ARCO station down some paved roads and into the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation, past some withering old frame buildings that date from the early 20th century. Just past this was a dirt driveway that led to Jose’s trailer. He was loading sets of tables and chairs into a 40 foot cargo container. One of his side businesses is renting out this furniture for weddings, quincineras, and funerals. He has also taken automotive maintenance courses at the local community college.

He stopped working and invited us inside where we met his mother who offered us some sangria on ice. The walls were decorated with pictures of his daughters, one who has graduated from college and the other who is at UC Riverside.

Jose is a large solid guy with a big mustache and a friendly face. He spoke quite openly, but as an outsider I realized that others had come before me to promise aid and resources but then nothing happened or they never returned. I was taking his story but did not have anything to offer in return, except some of my own experiences. I was not sure that would be an even trade.

Jose does not use the Internet. He bought a computer for his girls but never really learned to use it. He did not buy Nintendo or any games for the girls but did get DirecTV. Now that his daughters are gone, he is canceling that subscription. With an antenna he gets 6 or seven channels, and for him that’s enough. He has a wireline telephone.

With the growth of the Palm Springs area, and the spread of developments toward the Imperial valley, the land outside of Mecca has become much more valuable. Jose reminded me that this is one place in California where Mexicans own a lot of the land. He thinks this is one of the motivations for cracking down on the parqueros that dotted the landscape until 1998. Developers hope they can acquire the land from owners who can't support it through trailer rentals. At that time there were more than 300 trailer parks. When the county closed them, Jose and some others formed the Social Justice group whose members were mainly tenants and some owners like Jose. The won the lawsuit against Riverside County, but the settlement allowed for the county to distribute the funds which were supposed to be used for code-compliant trailer parks. This does not make sense to Juan. So far none have been set up. The new cooperative that Juan has helped formed hopes to have more than a dozen ready for occupants this year.

It was clear that Jose has the trust of a lot of the people. He has helped form cooperative partnerships with the Torres Martinez Indian reservation, and for the first time Latinos are on some of the boards with the Indians to deal with issues like housing.

He approached the construction firm that was building the new parks and asked for something in return for all the funds coming their way. They thought he wanted a bribe or a kickback, but he was looking for a swimming pool or something else that could be used by the residents. What they came up with was the donation of a “unit” an empty doublewide trailer, and the idea is that the residents will determine how it will be used: for day care, for a homework center, a place to use computers (donated already).

It seemed that Jose had a lot of information, and I wondered where he had got it. Partly from the county offices, from contact with other people, and partly through a fellow named Ron who is a member of the Global Church (not a Catholic group) that has been helping the folks and has set up a charter school in Mecca. Ron searched the Internet and found information on banks that will loan to cooperatives. I asked Jose how I might help (considering that I’m offline and on the road for the next few weeks)and he said he needed more information on resources. by that he meant banks and institutions that could provide support to the coop.

I suggested that he might find useful information on the Internet and also hook up with others like him who were working on similar issues around the country. He has attended a migrant network conference in San Antonio, held under auspices of the Catholic Church each year, and he understands the importance of networking. This is one way to begin to alleviate some of the problems in the community which is called “invisible invisible” because so few people at any level are aware of the people or problems here.

Jose is a good example of someone who has been effective through his own skills, perseverance, and yet does not have a strong need for computers or Internet access. However, I think he would benefit if he took a course and tried it at a library or CTC before getting his own account.

January 29

From Douglas, Arizona, just on the border, I took New Mexico 9, a lonely highway that led through gorgous vistas and a few cattle ranches and into the small town of Animas. The telephone cooperative offered Internet classes but was closed for lunch. I went to Animas High School and found the library. Melodie O’Byrne, the library assistant, was very helpful. She explained that technology was emphasized in the school, so the library was well wired and unwired. Besides all the desktop machines on DSL, there was a rack new laptops all connected by 802.11b. A group of students was researching the bios of painters for a report.

Melodie said she had just got DSL at home, mainly for her daughter who is in the 6th grade. The year before she and some friends had won the NM state ThinkQuest award for a web site on “patterns.” She said some residents could not afford Internet access. While the general public could use the school libary, very few did. I asked if many of the students went on to college, and she said that most did. The whole school only had about 110 students, so the graduating class was quite small. I asked if many came back, and she said “very few. There’s not much to do here.” This fit the patterns of towns everywhere, not just in the U.S. If the people get skills they can’t use locally, they leave. Of course, their expectations are raised by what they see and learn online, and that’s hard to meet in a place like Animas, New Mexico.

Further up the road there was a road block with two NM highway patrol cars and one Hidalgo County sheriff’s car. The policeman asked for my license and registration (none yet), walked around the van, and came back to ask what I was doing out there. I explained my project and would have questioned him about his Internet use, but they did not seem to be in the mood for chat. There was no dog with this group, but I suspected this was a drug dragnet. Meth and black tar heroin probably are drugs of choice around here. Or they used to be in the late 90’s.

I got to the Interstate near Lordsburg and saw the NM Tourist Office at an offramp. It advertised Free Internet Service, so I pulled in just as my cell phone rang. As I turned between two tank trucks I tried to answer the phone and became the person I always despised, someone in a van talking on the cell phone when I should be just driving. However, this was my first call, except for one from my wife at home, and it turned out to be the BBC in London. They wanted to do an interview with me a few hours later. We set up a time, and I drove to Deming, about one hour east. At this point on the Interstate there was no signal at all. I checked the Virgin Mobile brochure and it showed no signal there or where the BBC reporter had reached me in Lordsburg! I missed the interview.

In the tourist center I talked with an older employee named Keith. He was rather laconic and offered clipped responses to my questions about the free Internet station near the racks of pamphlets. There is no charge, and many people stopping in do use it, but some ask him to help find information. He has Internet access at home but mainly used it for sports information. He did not sound like it was a big part of his life.

I stopped in the library in Deming, talked to the staff, and then drove south to Columbus. There was another road block for people heading north, this time with a young dog, anxious to check out each vehicle . I did not have to stop going south. I guess nobody smuggles drugs or people into Mexico from the U.S.

Columbus is a very small town, across the border from Palomas. It has the Pancho Villa State Park, built on the ruins of Camp Furlong where General Pershing had his troops who fought with Pancho Villa’s men during their attck in 1916. The Moon guidebook mistakenly says this is the only attck on the mainland, forgetting that the British burned the Library of Congress in the war of 1812. And after Pancho Villa came September 11, 2001.

Kirk Barry, the volunteer guide is a retired Beverly Hills financial officer and stock broker. He has been living in his trailer and working different parks from Farmington south for a number of years. I’ll go back for a full tour and movie on January 30. He does not use the Internet. He has no use for it. His kids are all grown with their families and I guess the phone is enough. However, other visitors at the park come and use the office computer at no charge. Many also go to the city library a few blocks away.

I drove there and some with Maggie Caldron and Linda Werner the new librarian. She and her husband are building a house at the air park which is a combination airport and place for homeowners who like to fly. They came from Pennsylvania earlier this year. Their are four Internet stations near the circulation desk, and others for homework. Young people were using several, and a local adult was on another. then two tourists came in to use one. There are classes in Spanish and English given at the learning center in town, and I was going to visit them on Friday. but nobody was in the office.

January 30, El Paso, Texas

The El Paso Public Library has an excellent southwest collection as well as one labeled Raza. The reference staff helped me find the street address for Cinco Puntos Press (701 Texas Street), first by looking in Reference USA which had no listing, and then in Yahoo which gave two addresses. I went downstairs to the computer room which was jammed and seemed rather confined. There was a notice about the damage of the most recent Microsoft virus, and the computer staff answered my questions easily and rapidly. First, I asked if they knew if El Paso FreeNet was still going. It turned out the name was Rio Grande Free Net, and the founder had died the year before. There were several layers of rules for Internet users. The reference staff did answer questions for those who did not want to look up the infomation by themself.

El Paso had a very different feel to it. Of course, most everyone seemed to be able to speak Spanish or at least Spanglish. The downtown did not look prosperous, but it was busy. I drove a few blocks and found the colorful corner building that housed Cinco Puntos Press. Mrs. Byrd greeted me, and I said I had read Puro Border and wanted to stop by. She brought me over to meet her husband, Bobby, and we hit it off immediately. Bobby, 61, is a poet and publisher, origianlly from Memphis. We talked about my project, the power of radio--and Mr.s Byrd brought over the galleys of a children’s book on Haiti where the kids use the community radio station. Then we talked about the Madrid family in Big Bend, a few hours away, and Bobby encouraged me to visit them. “He’s an intellectual and you’ll need a few hours to listen to his stories. So be prepared to stay.” He recommended I tape the interview, but it sounds like I don’t have enough tape for this guy. Madrid is featured in Puro Border.

Some young guys were sitting on the couch, reading the book of photos entitled "Vatos" and other folks dropped in to talk. One author came in and she said her dad was very interested in Glen Miller music but would not use the Internet, so she had to fetch the society’s newsletter and get other information that interested him. We talked about the role of intermediaries, and her assitance was a good example about people who don’t directly use the net but still benefit from it.

The BBC had called again to set up an interview with me for a few hours later in the afternoon. I guess it was about 11 pm in London, but we chatted for about five minutes. the lead-in was the news that Bill Clinton only sent two emails during his eight years as president. I wonder what Jock Gill thinks of that. Gill helped set up the original and handled the email to for a while until he saw that print letters got a better response than the email received by the Clinton administration. I got to explain a little bit about my trip and the problem with the digital divide. Not sure if it made sense for the listener.

I drove to an old church in a run down part of town on Myrtle street and looked for the computer class instructor. A woman said he had moved to Washington DC and “the program had changed” which probably meant it was finished. That makes 3 community technology centers that are gone.

Another CTC member in Socorro, a Latino pueblo just south of El Paso, was Bienestar Familiar, housed in a SW style rancho across from The Bookery (note: visit Archer, TX, if you can). Isabel Olague, the coordinator explained all the programs while two young boys played on the computer. They have Tai Chi, massage classes, men’s discussion groups, culture and values sessions as well as computer classes. The director was not there, but I might stop back by on my way from Llano Grande to New Mexico in a few days. Her Engish was not perfect, so we lapsed into Spanish every so often. I would like to hear more about their work because it does seem to reflect the things that the people want to do.

January 31, 2004

Marfa, pop about 2100 Ester Sanchez runs the public library here. From several sources they now have five computers and an ISDN line. She says the e-Rate procedure is too complicated for her to do. From the time they open they are busy with people using the machines, and she even gives curbside service for people returning and looking for books. She is in her 50’s (a grandmother who was also watching her grandkids while her daughter was at work) and was afraid of the computer before there were any in the library. She took no courses and taught herself, though her grand daughter helps her some with the web.


I asked who was not able to use the computer. She frequently helps people who don’t know English. If they have to fill out a state government form online for unemployment, she can do that. Another man in his 60’s asked continually for help, including typing documents. Finally, Ester said he needed to learn to take care of his own searches and word processing. He did and now has a good job at the local chamber of commerce.

Redford, Texas. From Marfa I drove to the Rio Grande, through wide open cattle country and one huge pecan orchard. At first glance, you might think you were in the middle of nowhere, but there was a railroad track, a gas lline, power lines, fences, the highway, and probably a fiber optic cable. The venerable Aeromotor windmills still dot the plains. Aeromotors are probably the most successful and signficant technology with moving parts for these arid lands. In the 19th century the company got feedback from farmers and continually improved the design. I only saw three or four cars in the 70 miles to Presidio, a small town across the river from Ojinaga, Mexico, which is much larger because of the machiladoras that attract poor people in search of jobs from the interior of Mexico. Presidio had several dollar or discount stores, and the main street was full of Saturday shoppers. A tiny store with a dollar sale on clothes was full of men and women in search of a bargain.

From Presidio I drove out of town, past Big Bend State Park headquarters (permits needed to even enter the park), and after 16 miles I reached Redford, a place with about 100 people dotted around either side of the highway. I saw one person getting out of his pickup and asked him in Spanish is he knew the house of Enrique Madrid. He said “Junior” and I said, “About 60 years old” and was directed back across from Escuela Esperanza, a Christian school that had been the public school at one time.

Nobody was home, but a young anglo woman said he drove a big blue Suburban and usually parked in back. I drove up and down the highway before leaving a note for him and just happened to see his car coming down the highway. I followed them back and parked. Barking puppies greeted me, and I introduced myself. We talked for several hours and went to dinner at the home of an architect who worked with adobe, using a mix of US and Egyptian techniques.


February 1, 2004, Sunday

Yesterday was a long day of driving. I woke up about 8 and Enrique came out to invite me in for some huevos rancheros. He offered me fried eggs and I said I preferred scrambled. He called eggs scrambled as you cook, “country scrambled” and when I scrambled mine in the bowl, that was “city scrambled.” They fried some tortillas in lard, topped them with the eggs, then some salsa, and finally grated some cheese and re-heated it a bit in the microwave. It was delicious. Then Ruby made some quesadillas with the asadeero cheese left over from last night. We did not get started with breakfast for a while because he wante to show me more books and expound on theories about the god center in the brain, and he read me some striking quotes from Edmund Wilson saying that, however meaningful a shamans interior experience would be, he would never understand the magnetic spectrum unless he had a basis in physics. It seemed to be a commentary on the way scientists saw the world--more completely--than even holy men or shamans.

Enrique asked me if I knew what a large number of cats was called, as in a gaggle of geese, and when I said I didn’t, he said, “river” because whenever he got out the food, there was a river of cats flowing into the feeding area. They don’t know how many cats they have, but perhaps 20. All are quite silent, but they jumped up on the food counter, so Enrique disinfected it before we ate, and asked me to guard the counter with a fly swatter to keep them from jumping up again. I stood with my back to the counter and kept waving the swatter as they fixed breakfast. I left Ruby the rest of my Kampala coffee I had brought back from Uganda as well as some of our own oranges from San Jose.

After breakfast, he uncovered the computer and I asked him what he wanted to see. He mentioned some mystical philosophy group in San Francisco whose web site had had already marked (on paper), and he showed me that. I explained that many of the documents he might find were Adobe pdf files, so he went to the Adobe site and found a version of the reader that should work on his Windows 98 machine. Because he is on relatively slow dialup, we set the keyboard and mouse away from the cat traffic, and he put two enormouse obsidian book ends to keep the animals from stopping the slow download.

We drove to the area in El Polvo just down the road from his house to see the place where Esequiel Hernandez was shot by the marines on drug patrol in May 1997. The subsequent investigation and hearings that Enrique and others in Redford helped initiate were instrumental is reversing the militarization of the border--at least until September 2001.

I was shocked how small the Rio Grande is. Anyone could wade across the 50 feet of shallow water. It looked more like a creek. Enrique set the stage for how this area is affected by the murder of the boy and by the post September 11 actions. Mainly, families have been cut off because nobody can use the Polvo crossing, though there was nobody on patrol. Instead, you have to drive 17 miles to Presidio to reach Ojinaga. His commentary was like a war reenactment, or like a living history lecture. He described how the boy had come home from school, took the goats out to graze and where he was shot. The marines, wearing ghilli dress, were on another hill. Enrique has all the hearing transcripts as well as a private investigator’s report that includes the autopsy and a citizen’s transcript of the conversation by the soldiers (using unscrambled frequency to talk to the main base of operations). The citizen feared for his life and destroyed the originals, so all that exists is the Xerox. The whole case is worthy of a book. The Puro Border chapter is an interesting start, but Enrique could do a lot more with it. However, he protests that he is too angry and needs to cool off to maintain a historian’s objectivity. Maybe later.

We drove to Polvo the original settlement before Redford was settled, and saw the house of the parents of the murdered kids. It has a bright green new roof which is the only visible expense they have made since they received the $2 million in reparations from the U.S. Government. We drove to the cemetery and saw the grave. A large man with an automatic weapon on an ATV was talking to another man sharpening a chain saw. The ATV rider is married to the sister of the deceased, and he had never seen the autopsy that Enrique showed him. He did not say a word, just listened as Enrique explained in Spanish and English. We stayed a few minutes more and then drove back where we parted ways. It was a memorable trip, and I am not sure how I can help him more.

Enrique is a person who is full of local knowledge, regional history, cooking techniques, as well as ideas and theories about literature, cross cultural issues, globalization, and the future of the border lands. He has done a scholarly translation of "Expedition to La Junta de los Rios 1747=48" a document found in Madrid and Mexico City. He has a huge network of scholars, supporters, and friends who have kept him stimulated, and judging from the books that line the walls in his house, he is always going to be a learner. I'm not sure how much the Internet will help him. A power surge had fried his hard drive, and he was just getting online again. He had not sent any email, but that could be of great benefit to him. At present he relies on the phone, mail, and visits such as mine.

From Redford, I head to see Francisco Guajardo founder of Llano Grande, a non-profit near McAllen, Texas. (

04:28 PM in steve's letters | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 16, 2004

preparing to load my van for the trip


09:42 AM in steve's letters | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 15, 2004

15 nanoseconds of fame

Dan Gillmor came to my going-on-the-road party last week and wrote a short piece about the project the business section of the local paper:

Posted on Wed, Jan. 14, 2004
Tech veteran to explore what life is like outside cyberspace
By Dan Gillmor
Mercury News Technology Columnist

News and views, culled and edited from my online eJournal ( blog):

Going Offline: Steve Cisler has been online since 1985. As of Sunday, and for at least the next several months, he'll be cutting his direct links to cyberspace.

Cisler isn't joining some technological resistance movement. He's a well-respected Information Age activist, including a nine-year stint, from 1988 to 1997, as network outreach manager at Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group. He's participated in or led many projects, for a variety of organizations, to help people use this vast new resource.

But cyberspace is still an experience for a small minority of humanity. Even in the developed nations, countless millions of people haven't gone online, for a variety of reasons including cost, education (literacy), imprisonment, fear or even loathing of technology.

To better understand how they deal with an offline existence, Cisler says he needs to share their experience, albeit temporarily -- ``to see how someone who's been online a third of his life -- how well he can function offline,'' says the 61-year-old San Jose resident.

And he needs to hear from them directly. So he's planning a road trip through California's Central Valley, then to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Later he'll visit Mexico, and more distant destinations are likely but not yet certain. In each place, he'll observe and interview people who never go online.

Cisler isn't giving up technology entirely. He'll be carrying a computer and a mobile phone.

He'll also be sending updates on his travels to a friend, Steve Crandall, who will post Cisler's trip reports on a Weblog called ``unconnected'' ( Given Cisler's history, his observations and commentary should be fascinating.

10:48 AM in steve's letters | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 07, 2004


FROM: Steve Cisler Offline Project FAQ (version 12.12.03)

1. What is the Offline Project?

In January 2004 I will begin interviewing people and organizations that are not directly using the Internet to learn about them and how they cope in a world that is increasingly interconnected.

2. So this is about the Digital Divide?

I think one of the problems with this phrase is that it lumps all of those not using the technology into an undifferentiated mass. We need to understand the many reasons why people, organizations are not connected. I hope my project will put faces on the unconnected and dissolve the dichotomy.

3. Aren't most people offline because they have not been educated about the value of this technology?

There are many reasons people are not using the technology. Clearly, education about the potential benefits is very important in helping people get online. However cost, availability, language and literacy issues, and disabilities are barriers to access.

4. Most of us are online. I don't see the problem. In a few years everyone will be, right?

According the Nua Internet Surveys and Nielsen-Netratings over 600 million people are online out of a world population of more than 6.3 billion (according to the World POPClock at the U.S. Census Bureau). Most of those offline are in the developing world. Most of these unconnected people have more pressing problems than Internet connectivity.

However, many international development programs and national initiatives have made Internet access or, as some call them, information and communication technology (ICT) projects, to be the most crucial in evolving into a competitive and modern nation. The better ones integrate the technology into more general strategic plans.

Therefore it is important to understand the needs of the target populations and to understand that the curve of technology adoption varies by time, culture, age, education, and the technology in question.

5. That is a huge topic! How large is your team? What is your focus?

Although I am working alone, my contacts on the Internet mailing lists have provided suggestions for people to contact and places to visit. Community Technology Centers work with people not yet online. Libraries have been providing information services to the public long before the Internet was created. Other people have helped in subtle ways. By car, I will begin by visiting sites in California, and then travel to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Later, I will go to Mexico. If that trip goes well, I will visit other countries where I have worked on technology projects over the past ten years.

In addition, I am corresponding with theorists, academics, government employees, and activists to learn more about technology resisters, prisoners, the handicapped, and marginalized groups that are not using the Internet. As the Pew study shows a significant number of average folks have dropped off the Net. This is important.

6. So you are using the Internet to contact those not online?

Until the end of December 2003, I will be using the Internet. After that, I'll join the multitudes and be offline during my travels and research. It will be a side story: how an advocate who has depended on a technology can function without it? I will continue to use the telephone and mail. I will record my notes on my laptop, but I will not have an email account or web sites. I plan to print and mail an occasional newsletter during my road trip.

I recognize that there are no more than two or three degrees of separation between non-users and the Internet. In some cases friends and family work as intermediaries, much as scribes in the town plaza would type letters on behalf of someone without the skills needed.

7. What are you going to do with your findings?

Besides the newsletter I plan to publish (in the general sense of 'making public') what I find. I always feel indebted to those who provided me with the stories and accounts, so I want some form of it to be freely available online, and if there are resources, in print. I will also make presentations to interested groups. This does not preclude traditional publishing, but that is not my primary goal.

8. What financial support do you have for this project?

I am paying for this myself.

9. How can people contact you?

Steve Cisler 4415 Tilbury Drive San Jose, California 95130

Telephone: 1 408 3799076

plus I'll have poste restante /general delivery addresses during my travels, as well as a cell phone number.

11:26 AM in faq | Permalink | Comments (3)

host information

I'm hosting Steve's unconnected travels. If you are having trouble getting through to him, I may be able to help. My blog is tingilinde and has my contact information.

I will not edit anything Steve writes - I'm posting exactly what he sends.

11:05 AM in hostfaq | Permalink | Comments (1)