Distributing files via PirateBox
A PirateBox is a wireless router that has been reconfigured to serve as a local fileserver. The PirateBox project develops software to do this. PirateBox makes it easy to share files with anyone within range of the router, and also supports a local anonymous discussion board for those within range.
I did this for the TP-Link TL-MR3040, a commonly used piece of hardware for PirateBoxes. The MR3040 is small and battery powered, so you can easily carry it in your pocket to places that have no electricity or internet. The file system goes on a removable USB, so it is easy to set up by just copying stuff from your computer to the USB.
Configuration is not really that difficult if you follow the instructions here at the PirateBox project site.
To customize your SSID (the name of your wireless device) and Home Page you can follow these instructions.
Workshops hosted on PirateBox
I have used my PirateBox to share workshop slides, articles, and code. Up to down this has been a small supplement to my normal workshops, but it could have a larger role.
What I would like to do is to create a self-contained training environment that would not depend on the vagaries of local configuration and connectivity issues. Following a “train the trainer” model, one could build a PirateBox with an entire data literacy course running off of web pages on the PirateBox. The PirateBox could include all necessary software (a complete R installation, for example) and a collection of supporting documents, datasets, code, and any other information. This material could also be mirrored to/from a regular website, but the portable and self-contained aspect of the PirateBox opens up many possibilities.
So the trainer could walk into a room anywhere in the world (for example a small Mongolian town – сум), with their PirateBox and lead a workshop based on materials that reside in their entirety on the PirateBox. Then leave the PirateBox behind so that those in the community could continue to work with the materials and any additional modules. They could adapt, repurpose, and create their own materials too. So the PirateBox can support ongoing learning, far beyond the limits of one-shot workshops.
These are not especially new ideas, and even as I type people are surely hacking wireless routers and other devices to perform other advanced functions. Doubtless the technology will continue to develop. But for now, the PirateBox software allows one to do interesting work with less than $50 in hardware and a couple of hours in setup time. Who knows? One can dream of hordes of data literacy pirates emerging from this simple technology.