Memories of Ondar

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Today, I stumbled upon a photo of me with Kongar-ol Ondar, when he visited San Francisco some time ago. We had dinner that evening. It was a memorable evening, thanks to my good friends Phoebe and Ralph. I had listened to Ondar’s music, seen the documentary about him and Tuva, watched Feynman’s videos about Tuva, and even met Ondar’s daughter Khürgülek “KK” Ondar, so this was an evening I was looking forward to. Ondar’s face had a permanent smile on it 🙂 Language was broken on both sides, but nevertheless it was a fun evening. It was difficult to know what Ondar thought of our idea of sending OLPC XO laptops to Tuva, but it was cool that we had a few laptops there. A few months later, I found out that he had passed away.

Sameer with Ondar

Sameer With Ondar

Upon meeting KK once again after Ondar’s passing, I discovered that the laptops we had sent to Tuva  were in fact being used by kids, and Ondar had plans. He had taken some photos that Ralph shared with me. KK agreed to let me post these. Here’s one. In a word, beautiful.

Ondar with OLPC XO laptop


OLPC XO 1.75 is off to Tuva

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A OLPC XO 1.75, the Sugar book, a green hand crank charger and a few other goodies are off to Tuva. We send these off to Kongar-ol Ondar, with a group that’s traveling to Kyzyl, Tuva. Maybe it can serve as a good wish for Ondar’s 50th birthday? We tested the XO last night at Ralph’s place, running the Measure activity and throat-singing (Ralph did all the singing. I can’t sing at all!) into the laptop to measure overtones 🙂

More to come…

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Poster contest

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It was the night when posters were due for the OLPC San Francisco Community Summit 2011. Bruce Baikie was running this poster contest in the hopes that projects that couldn’t make it to the event or weren’t on the panels or presentations would have a chance at some visibility.

I had already submitted a poster for my India project, but something was bothering me. It had been a busy time organizing the event, but something was amiss. Then, at 1AM, I remembered. I had not submitted a poster for the OLPC Tuva effort! None of the people on our team (except me) were going to be in town to attend the event, so we had to have a poster. I got out of bed and pulled up my template from the India submission. A little reorganizing with a few boxes of text here and there, and the story started to emerge. How we actually got started. Why Tuva? Translations? Throat singers? Measuring the overtones of throat singers? Really? Blame it on the late night/early morning muses, but in a little while there emerged a new poster.

I needed some pictures. I got one from Olga’s uploads, took a screen shot of Stacey‘s translation work, and one from my own experiments with Measure and overtones of Kongar-ol Ondar, but I needed more. So, I grabbed TEDxCaltech’s video on Feynman and Tuva with Ondar’s performance, and because those videos are under a Creative Commons license, I was able to grab frames of Feynman’s sketch and Ondar’s performance for my poster. A little more tweaking in LibreOffice (yeah, we are all professionals here!) and I had a PDF ready for Bruce.  Here’s a photo of it, and a PDF is attached in its full glory.

OLPC Tuva Poster Contest

OLPC Tuva Poster Contest

The contest? We all won.

Feynman, Tuva and the OLPC laptop

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This is OLPC Tuva. Tuva was Richard Feynman‘s obsession. And yes, this project and Feynman’s quest are somewhat related. Ralph Leighton is once again the key.  I finally got around to putting my thoughts into an experiment. Here is a recording of the experiment using Kongar-ol Ondar’s throat singing at Caltech’s TEDx event, a OLPC XO laptop and the Measure activity.

XO in Bulun-Bazhy, Erzin County, Tuva

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The XO has been taken to the Erzin County of Tuva, Bulun-Bazhy village by my mom who grew up there and where her former classmate is the school’s principal. The computer has been briefly introduced to kids and teachers. Unfortunately, we forgot to supply a power converter so they were not able to charge it, and viewing time was cut short. Kids enjoyed figuring out how different apps work, and teachers expressed interest in supplying XOs to children in primary school.

Here are some issues that require some brainstorming:

– language of the XOs: does it have to be in Tuvan, Tuvan/Russian or Russian

– implementing XOs into the educational curriculum: will teachers create additional classes to introduce XOs

– financing of the project

– will the government and Ministry of Education be involved in this project

– if decided to translate software to Tuvan, who is going to be involved in that process and will the translation services be compensated (also have to consider that if translation to be done online, then the financing  of internet service must be provided)(nb: internet is still a luxury in Tuva and unlimited service is quite expensive – around $18/month)

– also, it would be interesting how the implementation went in other countries



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Feynman's quotes in the July 2001 issue of Linux Journal

Feynman's quotes in the July 2011 issue of Linux Journal

As I finish posting about our XOs reaching Tuva, I sit down to thumb through my copy of the July 2011 issue of Linux Journal (yes, its barely June, but publishers are an eager bunch, I suppose) I spot a column in their “Upfront” section, where they have a bunch of quotes. The first one was by Richard Feynman. The second one was …also by Richard Feynman. So was the third, and the fourth! In this issue all quotes are by Richard Feynman. Just as our XOs make it to Tuva. How serendipitous!

Maybe its just my overactive mind connecting the dots of Feynman ->Tuva ->XOs in Tuva->XOs running Linux->Linux Journal ->Feynman’s quotes.  More interestingly though, the last quote resonates oodles with this project and its depth.

Feynman quote from Linux Journal

Feynman quote in Linux Journal

“So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts.” – Richard Feynman

In Sugar, the learning environment used on OLPC XO laptops, we have an activity called Words.  In Words we look at different words, their meaning, pronunciation, translation in different languages, and learn about it in as contextual a way as possible. Sure, we could add other pieces to improve the context, but learning about words in this manner makes a whole lot of sense. I learned a lot of words a long time ago. 3500 words to be exact. I memorized these words from the Barron’s guide for GRE. This was the popular word list that many of us memorized for months before taking the exam. No context, no meaning, just the word and its definition as Barron’s defined it, so that we could score higher on GRE. Did it work? I’m not so sure. Twenty years later, I am a tenured professor at an American university, but the word list really didn’t get me here. I still don’t remember many of the words. What really brings me the “aha” moment every once in a while isn’t a memorized list, but its context.

For instance, when traveling in Italy, I saw the word “camera” used for the room I was staying in. A little research led me to understanding why the contraption for taking pictures is called a camera. A camera obscura, more accurately. Just then, the “aha” moment struck. In hindi, a room is called kamra (कमरा). How did the Indians get from the Latin camera to the Hindi kamra? Alexander the Great? Maybe. This would be a cool addition to the Words activity. An etymological exploration into the world of words.

So, discover on. Let’s see what else the world holds for us. That’s what the bossman would have wanted us to do anyway 🙂

The XOs have made it to Tuva!

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Just got word that the XOs made it to Tuva safely and securely. I hear that KK and Olga are already plotting to send the machines into the Tuvan countryside. More coming soon, hopefully with pictures 🙂

Our Contributor Program proposal

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Here’s a brief version of our Contributor Program proposal. We are pleased to announce that we were awarded two OLPC XO 1.5 units for Tuva!

Name of Project


Number of Laptops (or other hardware) You Request to Borrow:

2 XO 1.5 laptops.

Loan Length—How Many Months:

12 months.

Team Participants

  • Khürgülek “KK” Ondar
  • Olga Budu
  • Stacey Borsody
  • Ralph Leighton
  • Sameer Verma

Employer and/or School:

  • KK Ondar: Student, College of Marin, CA and Tuvan State University, Kyzyl, Tuva, Russian Federation
  • Olga Budu, native Tuvan and student at UC Berkeley (International development studies).
  • Stacey Borsody, Drupal and Media wiki contributor for Tuvan translation
  • Ralph Leighton:- Founder, Friends of Tuva
  • Sameer Verma is Associate professor at San Francisco State University and organizer of OLPC San Francisco.

Past Experience/Qualifications:

  • Khürgülek Ondar is a student majoring in English at the Tuvan State University in Kyzyl, Tuva, Russian Federation. In May of 2011 she completed a semester of the Intensive English Program at College of Marin in Novato, California. Her father, throat-singer Kongar-ol Ondar, is a national artist of Russia and has many contacts in Tuva.
  • Olga Budu native Tuvan speaker and translator, who lives and goes to school in San Francisco.
  • Stacey Borsody, translator for Tuvan in Drupal and Mediawiki projects.
  • Ralph Leighton became interested in Tuva in 1977 through his association with the late physicist Richard Feynman. Leighton has been a teacher in elementary- and secondary education.
  • Sameer Verma is the chief organizer of OLPC San Francisco ( and OLPC Jamaica ( He also runs projects micro deployments in India, and Madagascar. He has contributed to language translations in Hindi for Sugarlabs and helped start the translation project on Armenian, in conjunction with San Francisco State University and the American University of Armenia. He is the current “placeholder” admin for Tuvan on


Primary project will be: Translation of the Sugar learning platform into Tuvan (where appropriate)

Secondary project will be to incorporate Measure activity into the study of throat-singing tradition from Tuva.

Plan of Action

Plan and Procedure for Achieving the Stated Objectives:

  • KK will travel back to Tuva in May and will take the two XO 1.5 laptops with her.
  • KK will form a team with two teachers in Tuva.
  • Olga and Stacey will continue with translation in San Francisco
  • We will also reach out to another translator team in San Francisco, that is active in Drupal and MediaWiki translation from English to Tuvan. Note: Tuvan translators are hard to come by!


Why is this project needed?

Overall goal is to expand the reach of information into remote Tuvan communities.


  • Introduce Sugar to Tuvan schools and children in resource-constrained environments.
  • Documentation and presentation of Tuvan culture and heritage of music and singing

In the greater OLPC/Sugar community?

Assist with translation of Sugar into Tuvan. It appears that Drupal and MediaWiki are the only projects that have attempted to translate a few strings into Tuvan. Translation talent is rare, but we have access to it in San Francisco and in Kyzyl, Tuva.

Outside the community?

Continue education and demystification of Tuva and its culture.

Why can’t this project be done in emulation using non-XO machines?

The measure activity works best on a XO machine and we would like to incorporate the frequency measurements of throat-singing into class activities.

We are asking for two laptops to jumpstart the project. We could do with one, but as in the case of Armenia, we learned that the radio on one of the machines died in two weeks, so we want some redundancy built into the proposal. We would prefer new XO 1.5 machines.

Sharing Deliverables

How will you convey tentative ideas & results back to the OLPC/Sugar community, prior to completion?

Blog, mailing list and OLPC SF.

How will the final fruits of your labor be distributed to children or community members worldwide?

Translations will be up on All other materials will be on the blog and

Will your work have any possible application or use outside our community?

Some translations will overlap into Drupal and MediaWiki. Maybe even GNOME, eventually.

If yes, how will these people be reached?

Blog, mailing lists,

Have you investigated working with nearby XO Lending Libraries or Project Groups?

Yes, and we may use the SFSU lending library to assist with work done in San Francisco. There are no lending libraries in Tuva.


Would your Project benefit from Support, Documentation and/or Testing people?

Teachers’ input into Usability?

We plan on working with a group of teachers in Kyzyl, Tuva.

How will you promote your work?

Blog on

We will be working with Sameer Verma, who is an experienced volunteer with OLPC and Sugar communities. He will provide mentoring to this project.

Timeline (Start to Finish)

Please include a Proposed timeline for your Project life-cycle: (this can be in the form of Month 1, Month 2, etc rather than specific dates) Include a couple milestones, even if tentative.

  • KK will travel back to Tuva in May and will take the two XO 1.5 laptops with her.
  • KK will form a team with two teachers in Tuva.
  • Olga and Stacey will continue with translation in San Francisco
  • We will also reach out to another translator team in San Francisco, that is active in the Drupal translation from English to Tuvan.

[X ] I agree to pass on the laptop(s) to a local OLPC group or other interested contributors in case I do not have need for the laptop(s) anymore or in case my project progress stalls.

Where in the world is Tuva?


People often mistake Tuva for Tuvalu (you know who you are!). So, where is Tuva exactly? Here. Check us out 🙂

Where's Tuva?

Where's Tuva?

Prepping the team


As KK (as Khürgülek Ondar goes by) gets ready to head back to Tuva, we decided to set up a training session on the Sugar UI, and collaboration between two XOs. I drove up to the rendezvous point (Ralph’s house), and saw a car with license plates “TANU2VA”. I knew I was there.

We also had Isabella Kleider and June Kleider of the Maroantsetra (Madagascar) project to help KK navigate the issues of questions children ask, training the teachers, and overall familiarity of the XO and Sugar. The session went fantastically with Tuvan salt tea, custom pizzas made by the resident pizza chef Nicole, and collaboration sessions with Chat activity, Write activity, and the famous Distance activity. Ralph has some instructional videos that we’ll put up soon.

Onward to Tuva!

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