Saturday, 8 May 2010

Parting ways...

A quick rundown of the week past:

Sunday: Mark calls in sick. It’s either the heat or the Delhi-Belly infamous for bringing down the most seasoned traveller. The team from HiWel promises to have substantial work done during the day while we stay put at the hotel.

Monday: Surprise surprise. The team did a great job on Sunday getting stuff assembled. We have gotten to the point where one table has taken shape and the other one needs minor tweaks. But then trouble strikes. The table meant for Radico seems to misbehave. After a lot of tweaking, it started working again. The app still kept on giving us trouble by hanging in an unpredictable pattern.

Tuesday: Mark is back in action. He’s going to run the Vasant Valley table while I try to figure out stuff at Radico. No luck in resolving that. Still we manage to get the experiment going with a few groups after finding a minor workaround.

Wednesday: The media crew visit gets postponed and we continue running the experiments. The time we spent writing an Object-oriented piece of code for pantographs paid off handsomely. We went with the app meant to be used by four people. And we got groups of six. This meant we needed two more added in a hurry. Luckily, we managed to do that in under 30 minutes and the app went on purring nicely with 6 pantographs to boot.

Thursday: Same as Wednesday, nothing new. The workaround for the software issue is keeping us going. A concrete solution eludes us still.

Friday: A visit to the British High Commissioner’s home for a presentation and a meeting. The media crew turns up too. It’s the Telegraph and the article should feature sometime next month. We extract all the data from the machines and bid farewell to the students and the schools. It is time to head home.

Overall it has been a hard and long week. And an interesting experience overall. After having struggled over seemingly insurmountable odds triggered by strange behaviour of application and hardware, we are ready to call it a day. We have enough data to get some understanding related to the objectives we had started out with. But we are going back with more than just data. We are going back with a huge treasure trove of experience that is almost impossible to fix a price-tag to. We interacted with students from entirely different backgrounds. From confident technology savvy children for whom the system seemed to be too slow, to underprivileged yet unbelievably motivated children who asked us if there were more applications than the ones we had carried with us. The experience ranged from students who were more interested in how it works and what was the big picture in which this system fit to others who were just ready to wait hours for a chance to touch what was clearly a new and exciting mode of collaborative learning. We realized how hard something ubiquitous as a laptop or a touch phone is to come by for some of the students from Radico center. We were floored by their determination to master the technologies in whatever limited form they are available to them. In light of what they have to deal with, our troubles with the app and hardware seemed small and insignificant.

I feel whatever we did in Delhi for the last whole week is just the beginning. It is a small milestone in the journey which started off as an idea for HiWel, and which we joined in our quest to answer fundamental questions about communication around technology like the multi-touch table. I feel we will find more avenues to partner and advance the things we have set in motion here. So while it is not the end of our journey, it is definitely time to say, “This is Delhi, Signing off!”

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