LibreBus: Managua, Nicaragua

Work found at”>Wikimedia Commons /

The LibreBus is on the road! Over the next few days, a bus filled with Free Culture and Free Software contributors is traversing Central America, meeting up with local groups, holding workshops, speedshows, hackfests, and lightening talks wherever we go.

Yesterday I landed in Managua and headed to Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura Hispánica (@CCENicaragua) to join the Librenautas, who just drove in from Costa Rica.

To a warm crowd of about 60 people, Carolina Flores Hine, a leading Free Software advocate from Costa Rica, explained the genesis of the LibreBus and the route ahead. Jorge Alban took the stage to speak about Free Software, creativity, and the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau. It’s a moving piece, and it continues to feel immediate (“Jump fences. Make mistakes faster. Work in metaphor.”) despite its 1998 time stamp.

In a room next door, a Nicaraguan Librenauta demoed a Free Software astronomy project and talked about the rise of citizen science., the LunarX prize, student weather balloons, and other private initiatives abound to make the Space Age DIY, filling in the gap left from shriveling tax-funded government programs.

Next up was a screening of RIP! A Remix Manifesto with its scenes from Beijing to Rio to Montreal and beyond. It was fascinating to watch while siting in Nicaragua, surrounded by the Librenautas and the attentive audience and think: where has the Free Culture movement been — and where is it going? Have are our leading examples, our metaphors, evolved? Have we advanced our goals, pushing the trenches a few meters in a fairer direction?

It’s hard to say where we stand, what with numerous legislative and extra-legal moves to towards copyright idiocy. On the other hand, compelling cases abound across domains and geographies, lending evidence to a changing tide in individual and institutional adoption. With nearly 10 years since the founding of Creative Commons, it’d be useful to take stock of the movement and determine what challenges lie ahead and where our energies are well spent.

Universidad Centroamerica

The next morning, after a pleasant evening organized by Neville, a Managua-based Fedora contributor and Librenauta, the bus drove to the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA).

librebus-1-14 / LibreBus /

The Flame of Knowledge, a pyramidal Arduino-driven Freedom Toaster that burns CDs packed with Free content and programs, was a major hit. A table of local Mozilians, fresh from their Firefox 4 launch and loaded with swag and enthusiasm, shared their experiences with Firefox and contributing to open projects in Nicaragua.

Flame of Knowledge

Interestingly, the university’s GNU/Linux user group boasts nearly a 1:1 ratio of guys and girls, a refreshing balance. In general, in fact, the number of women active in Free Software projects seems higher in Central America, as it appears also to be in places like Brazil and India, than in Europe. I’d like to check with Carolina, who does a lot of research and outreach on the topic, whether that’s true, but at least during this tour, the ratio is healthy, which is fantastic to see.

Mozzilling! / Renata Avila /

After I held a brief chat about Creative Commons and P2PU, there was an explosive round of lightening talks. The bici-liquadora, a human=powered blender, provided laughs and smoothies for the crowd.

A software didact introduced Cursorlibre, a leading tutorial site in Spanish for Free Software programs. It drove home the need for course localization, and it’d be neat to learn from projects like P2PU, who’ve translated their new site into Spanish and hold study groups in different languages, how to tackle multilingual challenges while growing the circle to new language groups.

Tactical Tech took the stage to talk about 10 Tactics, and in a biodiversity sit-in, we discussed the importance of seed banks for the Mesoamerican maize culture (reminded me of Heatherwick’s seed cathedral at the 2010 Expo).

Rodrigo (@roirobo), a Mozilla contributor from Managua, spoke about Firefox addons for privacy, highlighting BetterPrivacy, Ghostery, and AdBlocker Plus. Then Neville argued about the value of Open Street Map to his neighborhood, whose streets aren’t listed on Google Maps. La Brujula, a newspaper by youth for youth, handed out copies of the paper, licensed under CC and featuring an article about the bus. Yeah!

@magjogui proposed a DeapDrop network for cultural data from Central America. Since then, he and I are talking about how to use the event totem, as prototyped at Global Melt, to capture the documentation and hand it off to the region’s cultural centers, Free Culture projects, and perhaps another LibreBus one day.

The day ended with a delicious Nicaraguan buffet, complete with banana leaves, plantains, more rice and beans, and a coagulated blood block I chose not to learn more about. Then drinks in a neighboring bar, matchstick puzzles, and beer can bowling made for a pretty interesting night. Now for some shuteye and off tomorrow to Granada!

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