Monday, October 31, 2005

Cracker Jack Books Posted by Picasa

Cracker Jack Books

My friend Nathan in Uganda keeps hearing that Information and Communications technologies are going to promote economic development, but he asks the obvious question, "How?" Even in rich countries where so many people have their own computers, it's taking quite a while for people to figure out useful things to do with them. I'm very optimistic that these new technologies will have many beneficial uses, particularly in education.

I wrote right in the first post that I'm full of half-baked ideas, and Bazungu Bucks is just another one. Believe me, I'm full of half-baked ideas. So far I've hesitated to pull another one out of the oven for display here, but I had fun over the weekend at the Mattress Factory, an art museum in Pittsburgh, and that event encouraged me about an idea I've been mulling over. So I present for your consideration: Cracker Jack Books.

The picture posted is from a site dedicated to dolls and those books are among the Cracker Jack books in the authors collection. I always loved Cracker Jacks, ah yes the molasses popcorn and peanuts are always good, yet the prize really made it special. Among the prizes books never failed to please.

Computers and the Internet allow more people to become aware of small local projects and to support them. This is a wonderful development, but carries some risk, especially in making decisions about charitable donations. I've not added many links to my sidebar yet, because I want to figure out some way of organizing them. All of the links to organizations, save one, are to larger established groups. The exception is Kiva. Kiva is a really good example of how the Internet can be a real boon for very local development in project areas.

Clearly the idea of Cracker Jack books will require quite a bit of development if it were ever to be put in practice. I'm not sure that I will put the effort into it, still I'm convinced that small projects that originate with people in richer countries can be developed and make positive contributions.

One interesting effort I read about is Anywhere Books. The project outfited a van with a laptop and printer and went into village schools in Uganda printing out off-copyright books from the Internet. There's a kernel of a really good idea here, but the project ran into numerous obstcles. Among the most serious problems was the cost of the enterprise.

I wondered how to reduce costs. One of the questions I asked was, "What's the cheapest book I can imagine making?" I recalled Cracker Jack books and thought about how regular paper cut into four lengthwise and the folded acordion style would be something like that. Even allowing production costs of ten cents a page, each book would cost less than three cents a piece.

The big challenge to overcome would be making templates in a word processor to make the production of these books as simple as possible. I use an older version of Star Office, Sun Microsystems version of Open Office the free open source productivity suite. It includes templates for making tri-fold pamphlets, newsletters, and CD inserts, so I guess it is possible to make a template for my book idea. I'm afraid, however that making such a template is beyond my current skill level, so the idea has been lying dormant.

The event at the Mattress Factory was a Media Swap Meet in conjuction with project Mobilelivre. There were all sorts of activites for young and old alike and small business card with Web addresses. I was too busy talking with friends to pick up more of these cards and was astonished to return home with only one or two. There were hundreds of independently produced books at the event. Some of them quite small and produced with ordinary computer printers.

With my idea of little books in mind, my attention turned to the books I might write. And to the idea of others like me in America putting together books to be distributed in anglophone Africa. As Anywhere Books knows there are many off-copyright books and stories available on the Internet, here's an example.

People to people communication is greatly facilitated by the Internet, so there is no reason these Cracker Jack books need only be sent from America to Africa, vice versa works too. And perhaps most importantly of all is they can be produced in Africa for Africans. In order for there to be a reading culture, there must be writers. It was wonderful to meet so many creative young authors at the Media Swap Meet last night. It's easy to imagine African authors like them.

I've got more ideas about Cracker Jack books and I'll write about them as they develop further.

A reminder that PBS will air a six-part program Rx for Survival airing here in Pittsburgh--and many other television markets--November 1--3 at 9:00 PM. Mark Knobil did the cinematography for the episode Delivering the Goods. It looks like that one will be on Wedensday November 2 at 10 PM. Consult your local listings.

Here's a bonus link related to the Media Swap meet and it's fun.


phil jones said...

"I've not added many links to my sidebar yet, because I want to figure out some way of organizing them."

Ahem ... ???

Brandon CS Sanders said...

Hi John,

I love your idea about the cracker-jack-books. I've wanted to do something similar for my contacts and my wiki/blog/diary/journal. I'd like to be able to print out a tiny list of all of my contacts that would be small enough to fit in my wallet. Then I could add/update it with a red pen. Once enough yuckish had accumulated I could synchronize my cracker-jack-contacts with my online contacts and print out a new pristine cracker-jack-contacts list again.

Similarly, I like to be able to write down my thoughts and ideas as I have them, but I don't like to have to carry my laptop around with me everywhere. It would be great if I could carry my entire wiki around as a little cracker jack book. Same treatment as the cracker-jack-contacts. Updates with a red pen and then synchronizing with my online wiki.

I've wanted this for a long time. Now that you've pointed out how this could help lower the cost of printing content in Africa perhaps I'll have enough incentive to try and do something about it.

Great post,

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