Biking Stuff: Ride Diary – Sumatra, Indonesia

Click here for an interactive map of our route in Sumatra.

Ride Diary Week 2: Bukittinggi to Bengkulu

A bit more than a week (10 days) but no point in doing a week 3 blog post for only 3 days. We ended up flying out of Bengkulu to extend our visas in Yogyakarta and carried on cycling from there. It was a much more pleasant place than Bengkulu to hang around for a week during processing.

Key to Hotel ratings:

£ = budget (less than 10 pounds) ££ = mid (10-20 pounds) £££=expensive (more than 20 pounds)

C=Cleanliness: /10

F=Facilities: /10

V=Value for money: /10

Adjusted for country expectations. Average price of hotel etc…

Bukittinggi to Lake Maninjau – 30km direct

Through canyon. Severe ups and downs. Stunningly beautiful. 45 switchback descent to lake. Beach Guest House: £, C = 7, F = 6, V = 9.

Lake Maninjau to Pariaman – 86km

Anti-clockwise around the lake and then down a valley to the coast. Easy riding. Surface generally good. Nan Tongga Hotel: ££, C = 4, F = 5, V = 5.

Pariaman to Airy Paintai Bungus – 71km

Minor roads along the coast as far as the airport. Joined Padang bypass for ease and speed. A few climbs near bays towards end of day. Cavery Beach Hotel: ££, C = 8, F = 7, V = 7.

Pantai Bungus to Painan via Sungai Pinang – 69km including 8km boat crossing

Tough, steep. In parts unsurfaced. Quiet and beautiful along the coast. Wisma Putri Wisatta: £, C = 7, F = 6, V = 7.

Painan to Balai Selasa – 72km

Road under construction. Fairly flat after testing morning climb. Little shade. Villages along coast. Penginapan Bunda Bari: £, C = 5, F = 5, V = 6.

Balai Selasa to Tapan – 65km

Another morning climb – quite short. Road under construction. Improving east. Not much to see or do. Steady pace, fairly flat. Hotel Felai: £, C = 6, F = 6, V = 6.

Tapan to Mukomuko – 70km

A few minor hills. Lots of short, sharp up and downs. Nice road past the airport on approach to town. Long town stretched out along main road. Not much to do. Cheap laundry place. Hotel Madiyara (mosque in hotel carpark. Extremely loud call to prayer).: ££, C = 7, F = 7, V = 7

Mukomuko to Ipuh – 104km

First 30km flat and east. Constant up and downs. Hundreds of them. Tough but all rideable. Guest House beginning with “A” (forget name). Small white sign to turn left before centre of town. Che Che supermarket opposite sells beer. ££, C = 7, F = 5, V = 4

Ipuh to Ketahun – 82km

Along coast. More ups and downs. Palm plantations. Road was fairly good. Losmen Dari Hotel – shockingly bad and infested but only place in town. On the right just after petrol station (which in on the left) before roundabout. Supermarket at roundabout sells beer. Good restaurant opposite hotel. £, C = 2, F = 2, V = 3

Ketahun to Bengkulu – 87km

Some confusion on route from town. Stick to the road along the coast. Not well paved but scenic and quiet-ish. Nice place for a rest stop at 47km. Coconuts to drink and rocky island view. Busy on way into city. Tropicana Guest House: ££, C = 8, F = 7, V = 8

If you need a bike shop in Bengkulu there is one to the east of town within walking distance of Tropicana. Aloha Cafe on the beachfront was good and Bencoolen Cafe. Both near Tropicana and both sell beer.

Click here for week 1 ride diary.

Click here for an interactive map of our route in Sumatra.

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For videos of our bicycle tour around the world, subscribe to our You Tube channel.

Education Project: Surprise School Visits in Sumatra

It has now been 10 months since Matthew and I left our teaching jobs and although I love the freedom that this career break brings, I sometimes miss the classroom. Sumatra has been quite challenging in some ways but we were delighted to visit two different schools during our time there. Both visits were the result of spontaneous invitations and lifted our spirits as they came at the end of two tough cycling days.


After a day of cycling extremely busy roads and dodging trucks we arrived at the oil and gas town of Duri and checked in to the Amadeo hotel. The Indonesian manager, Mr Ger, turned out to be a fellow adventurer (by motorbike) who invited us to visit the school where he volunteers his free time. After meeting the students and teachers, we split into two groups to run a Ted Web workshop – Matthew with the boys and myself with the girls. Each student wrote a story, some in English and some in Indonesian. Considering that our session was only about 40 minutes, and we arrived by surprise, it was impressive that the students managed to think of and produce stories in such a short amount if time. After the workshop and lots and lots of group photos, Mr Ger treated us to a delicious dinner of fried chicken and coconut rice. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for the next day’s ride. A really pleasant end to a stressful day of cycling.

Teachers click here to find these student’s stories on


“Hello Mister!” called the group of girls as we wandered down the street to find some dinner. We had just arrived in the town of Ipuh after a day of constant hills through palm oil plantations. We found a restaurant for some ‘mie ayam’ and then planned to collapse in our guest house for the evening. As we ate, the same group of girls kept poking their heads around the corner and peering into the restaurant. “They probably want selfies,” I commented to Matthew. As we walked back back toward our guesthouse we heard a polite “Excuse me Miss” from behind. I turned around  for the obligatory selfie, but instead was surprised to receive a lovely invitation to be a guest at their English evening course. They had rehearsed the invitation and were helping each other to finish the sentences. When I agreed, they erupted in squeals. Matthew had a rotten cold so he went to rest while I followed the girls to the school. I was greeted by their teacher, Maria, and about 20 students. We all sat down and spent the next hour or so chatting. Sometimes they asked me questions, sometimes I asked them and sometimes I just chatted with the teacher. The lesson went quickly and before we knew it, it was time for group photos and back to the guest house for me. I even got a lift in the teacher’s car for the 400m journey because they were adamant that I shouldn’t get wet in the rain – that’s Indonesian hospitality!

You can find videos of our ride around the world on our You Tube channel.

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activism abroad

1- A few days ago, I stopped to yell at some guys on the street. I had been running, and ahead of me on the sidewalk I saw a woman with long hair in a ponytail, a sports bra, and running tights. She jogged towards me and passed me, as I watched 3 local men whistle at her, make rude gestures, and shout things. Maybe because of the adrenalin, or cortisol, or because I was already hot and sweaty so prone to making questionable decisions, I decided to interrupt them. Stopping my run, I said to them in terrible Spanish, “Don’t do that; she doesn’t like it,” and despite their looks of confusion and claims of “No entendes” (‘You don’t understand’); I persisted in speaking to them in English, using gestures to make my point: “Does anyone look at you when you walk down the street? Is *your* body for others to talk about?” I said, disdainfully (hopefully) eyeing one of the men up and down. “It’s rude!” and I ran off. I don’t think it was very effective in convincing them catcalling is wrong and that they should stop; but maybe they’ll look around next time to see if a red-faced stranger is present before they do it.

2- I’ve attended 3 protests now at the US Embassy: one last year for the Women’s March (after the inauguration of Trump); one this January in protest of the Muslim Ban; one a few weeks ago in support of gun control and in response to the recent school shootings in the US. Each time, I’ve made signs, invited others, connected with other expats (American and non-) upon arriving at the protest, and marched, yelled, and discussed. They were small – the Women’s March in Buenos Aires was probably at the max 200 people; and the other two had less than 30 participants- but it maybe felt even more important to be seen making our voices heard (thank you, local media, & social media as well). Even Americans that live abroad have convictions about what’s happening our country, even though we don’t live there.

3- At school I am now the lead faculty sponsor of the GSA: Gay Straight Alliance, or, if you prefer, Gender/Sexuality Alliance. This year we’ve gotten much more active- partly spurred by a few key student leaders and partly just because we now have the numbers. During our Ally Week, we hosted a 50+ student ‘town hall’ discussion where students shared their views on gender rights. The GSA planned and presented a workshop at SPEAK, the school’s student-led conference, on the ‘myths and facts’ of gender & sexuality. We have a whole-school assembly planned for this Friday, co-created with the Feminist Club. And later next month, we’ll have our Day of Silence. This year, one of our faculty members came to share with us his personal stories of coming out, and one of our alumni stopped by to explain her experience being out and lesbian in Buenos Aires. We created and led a workshop for faculty about ‘Safe Space’ issues. The school nurses are now supporting our efforts and faculty give strong and consistent support. It’s been busy, but super stimulating, and the note that I received from a student about how much she appreciates my vocal and visible support hammered it home.

Can I do all these things because I’m American? Is my activism a privilege, or a duty, or a right? When is it appropriate to celebrate individual rights, and when is it crossing a line into cultural disrespect, misunderstanding, or impoliteness? Should I yell at cars that run stop lights (hell yes), even though it is extremely common and largely unpunished in BsAs? Should I challenge my Chinese students who believe democracy could never happen in China (maybe, but first ask them why they think so)? At what point do I hesitate and consider that I may be overstepping my place?

Some years ago, the intention I set for the school year was ‘Seek to understand’. At that point I had realized that my feisty righteousness, which in some settings was celebrated and admired, could also go too far. I finally was recognizing that I needed to be careful in making assumptions, especially about sensitive political or cultural issues. Some of my friends here are much better at this than I am– my friend from Tennessee, who asks questions to others about gun control before sharing his considered opinion, or my friend from Iowa, who is always careful not to succumb to the party line. Maybe the longer we live abroad, the less attached we are to our original political identities; the more self-reflective we are; the more self-defined. Being an foreigner is an opportunity to get closer to our values by removing ourselves from the context in which they were formed.

But as I hone in on the values I truly believe in, I realize how prone to propagation I am– I went on a rant about not shopping at Wal-Mart in my Psych class the other day- so I must needs also consider my effect. When I lived in Jordan, it was obvious to me how ignorant of its political/religious/historical context I was. Asking questions and pursuing knowledge was my priority. Here, it’s trickier: Buenos Aires feels much more like the US, and so I can sometimes slip into having expectations informed by my experiences back home. I judge Argentine cuisine (too much meat, needs more spices), its gender roles (hello machismo, anorexia, high heeled fashion). The separation between what is good for me and what is good for others is murkier. In Jordan, I didn’t presume to impose- but in Argentina, I feel more comfortable, and thus more able to critique.

In my history classes, we study social reformers; in psychology; we consider why we do the things we do. In activism, we share our values with the world, and assume that others should hear them. I still have convictions, but I am learning to listen too.


The Tao of Escalators: A Culture Story

Two things fascinate me about the institution of schooling: 1) How the environment around the school impacts the culture of the school and 2) The structure of the school management and how it makes decisions.

I went out for an alumni dinner from my alma mater last week and had some fascinating conversations with people that had very different careers from my own. One, a fresh graduate, was a management consultant for Ernst & Young. He told some stories about the cultures of certain businesses and how it was his job to realign them to be more purposeful. “The oil industry is all compliance driven,” he said, “So it’s tough to build in any creativity or things out of the norm. It was my job to untangle their complex and clogged systems of compliance to allow more flexibility in a rapidly changing market to allow for adaptations before things went into the tank.” Schools hire strategic consultants to come up with all sorts of things like new technology programs, NGSS, literacy initiatives, accreditations, and so on. A few take symbolic gestures at governance structures but they are mostly compliance driven and address things like whether or not the procedures for updating the policy manual have been reviewed. Very few allow someone to come in and look under the hood to see what’s really driving the work flow. (or not).

A second man, a Singaporean who had attended my university for banking and commerce, told an equally fascinating story when I complained about how awful school mission statements were. “Did you know,” he said, “that the MRT in Singapore supposedly had the fastest escalators in the world? It was part of their mission to grow the fastest and most efficient economy on the planet.”

“Really?” I said. “Faster than now because they’re really fast.”
“Oh, way faster. This is nothing.”

“So, what happened?” I asked. “How come they no longer have the fastest ones?”
“Too many older people were getting hurt. They would hesitate at the top and be afraid to get on like a carnival ride. And a lot of times when they stepped on they’d fall or something would happen. It was like an out of control conveyer belt.”

“Wow, that’s fast.”

“Yeah, they only go about half speed now.”

It made me reflect on what a critical thing such as cultural attitudes towards work can impact something so operational as escalator speed. When we work in a hyper competitive environment, we don’t pay attention to the big picture, whether we are ‘compliance driven’ as the management consultant described, or even the people trying to step onto a whizzing escalator. We pay attention to the output, the outcomes, and the pressures that force the escalator to move faster or the oil company to be more compliant.

The young graduate told me that he simply crunched a lot of data and pointed things out for them to decide. He’d highlight the time for supply chains to reach their destinations, for invoices to be approved, for policy decisions to be made, all of the meat and potatoes of managing large companies. It was fascinating to think about the similarities to schools. And the escalator speed? Fascinating parallels. I know a lot of people (including myself) that have gotten tossed from that high speed staircase.

There are actually some really bold attempts to break down the compliance driven, top down, creativity, risk averse, and fear driven hierarchies that many educators work in now. One is The Mastery Transcript Consortium, ( which is looking to redefine the way we think about and record high school academic work, and the other is the ACE Accreditation from NEASC, a bold initiative that is going to reshape the entire structure of oil company compliance that drives many schools.

So, whether you’re working in a bureaucratic and inefficient environment such as one where the post office closes during lunch (a very maddening experience) or one that is so efficient it is tossing retired folks off the conveyer belt like potatoes, you have to acknowledge and accept that the culture that surrounds you will have a direct impact on the place you work and the expectations placed on you, regardless of how high your gates are or how bold you believe your mission to be.

Think culture. Think mission. Think environment. And most of all, think relationships, they are the root of everything we do.


This post was first published on in May 2017. 
The 3rd annual Tashkent International Cyclothon will take place on 14th April 2018. We will also we challenging ourselves to ride as many kms as possible on that day with our fully loaded bikes here in Indonesia. We will add our sponsorship to the total raised by TIS. All funds raised will go to PWSA.

Riders ready, pedals ready….go!

$6000 raised for PWSA in 1 day

On Sunday April 2nd 2017, the Tashkent International School Campus became a bicycle track for the 2nd TIS Cyclothon.

Students, staff and parents pedaled around the circuit to raise money for Prader-Willi Syndrome Association UK.

The event was well attended with over 100 people from the TIS community taking part in some way.

Collectively 2200 kilometers were covered between 8am and 6pm. That’s about the same distance as Tashkent to Dubai!

Each rider was sponsored by their friends and families per kilometer that they covered. Some managed to raise enough support to receive $10 per kilometer, and went on to hit 50kms. In fact two students managed to reach 85kms each for the day!!

It was wonderful to see determined young people pushing themselves physically, whilst they were also aware that with every lap they were having a positive impact on other children who have Prader-Willi Syndrome.

At the same time, inside the school gym, the first school Service Expo took place with students promoting their service projects from the academic year. Students were also selling merchandise to raise funds for their causes, and organizing games for visitors to take part in.

The weather was pretty bad for a bike ride, but one cannot be miserable on a bike so it was still a great day.

Thank you  to the TIS community for taking part and making this event such a success. The Prader-Willi Syndrome Association will be using the money for  family support network events this summer as well as investing in research.

For videos of our bicycle ride around the world, subscribe to our You Tube channel.

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Who is the Conference For Anyway?

So here we are, with only a couple of days left until our student led conferences, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch our students celebrate their learning. One of our divisional imperatives this year in the lower school is to empower students to take more ownership of their learning, and to put mechanisms in place that truly inspire a greater sense of student agency for all of our kids. We’re trying hard to become less teacher directed, and more student directed with regards to all aspects of a child’s daily experience in school, and we’re getting their…but it’s obviously not something that will happen overnight.

We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting however over the last little while around the ideas of differentiation, personalization, and student autonomy, and we have implemented many initiatives that have supported these important concepts. Things like student led conferences, goal setting, electronic portfolios, inspiration projects, and so much more. That said, we still have some work to do in order to get completely there, and it’s exciting to be in the midst of this transformation. As a quick example, I think we can still go a bit further in our approach to student goal setting by widening the scope to include social emotional goals, personal goals, service learning goals, and other areas that stretch beyond academic achievement. I’d like to eventually see students sharing out a truly comprehensive look at their personal growth more than just once a year as well…so much to think about as we continue down this road.

Getting back to what’s coming up for us on Tuesday, I want to share a post that I wrote about student led conferences several years ago, and looking back at it I think it still rings true. Here’s a piece of it for you to consider…

Essentially, when they are done properly, this style of conferencing is a direct attempt to involve students in the discussion about their learning, and to give them the opportunity to share, celebrate, and take ownership of their education. To be clear, the conference should not be about the teacher or the parent, but rather completely and utterly about the child. Students should be given the opportunity to reflect on their goals, discuss their educational growth, consolidate their learning, and to find that sense of pride that comes with hard work and achievement. In my opinion, watching a truly effective Student Led Conference is one of the most inspiring things that can happen in a child’s education. To hear a student talk about reaching their goals, and to produce supporting evidence of this, or to watch the pride and smiles on their faces (and their parents faces) when they reflect on the learning that has occurred throughout the year is what education is all about! All students from early childhood through to our graduating seniors should be given the opportunity to go through this process, and if done well these conference days can be incredibly profound.

But here’s the thing…………. with all the first hand experience I have with SLC’s, and all the articles I have read and videos that I have watched, the single most important ingredient to a successful conference is probably PREPARATION. It’s one thing to say that your school does Student Led Conferences, it’s another thing altogether to actually do them well. Teachers need to understand and believe in their value, parents need to be front loaded and given clear expectations, and students need to be given time to practice, practice, practice. This takes professional development, professional commitment and lots of time. It should be something that begins with goal setting and portfolio discussions at the beginning of the year, and there should be consistent build up and conversation opportunities leading up to the actual day. If students, teachers, and parents are not prepared for what should occur, the power is lost and the opportunity might be missed.

Okay, back to what’s coming up for us this week. I want to wish you all fantastic experiences as our kids take center stage, and please view these conversations as celebrations of all the hard work and learning and growth that you’ve helped orchestrate for our kids throughout the year. It’s a celebration of student learning or sure, but also a celebration of all your hard work and passion as educators. Have a fantastic week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…one week left until Spring holiday!

Quote of the Week – 

Student Led Conferences put students in charge of their own learning, give students a better handle on their own progress, and show parents that student achievement is in the student’s hands, not theirs (or the teacher’s) – Dr. Dennis Harper

Related Articles –

Supporting Student Agency

A Key Structure

Resources for Educators

Student Led Meetings

Apps for Student Goal Setting

What is Personalization, Really?

When Students Lead Their Own Learning


Interesting Videos –

Reimagining Classrooms

Inquiry Based Learning

UDL – Principles of Practice

Enabling Voice and Choice Through Projects

We’re Moving: What About the Kids? {Part II}

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

This is the second of a two-part post on easing the transition of an international move with children, and is adapted from an excerpt I wrote for the book Teaching Overseas, by Kent Blakeney.

It can be tempting to put off telling children about a move, as it will undoubtedly induce some level of stress. Still, there are healthier ways to support our little ones than by keeping them in the dark. As a professional international school counselor, I’ve worked with countless families to facilitate their successful transition to a new home. It can absolutely be done well! These tips will enhance your experience of a big move:

  • Maintain routine – While some of the thrill of moving is in the newness, remember that children thrive on routine. Keep certain limits the same, such as bedtimes and mealtime expectations, in order to provide your child with a sense of security. There will need to be flexibility at times, of course, but keep the basic structure of their day as consistent as possible.
  • Set an example – Your child will notice your lead when it comes to embracing something different from what you’re used to. Involve your family in the process of showing curiosity and exploring this new place (even from afar, through photos and discussions about how it will be there). Openly model resilience and a positive attitude when faced with challenge or disappointment about the transition.
  • Build connections – Support your child in getting to know the new community. Consider taking a trip to visit the campus and town during a vacation break before the move date. Reach out to the school counselor before you arrive – most international schools will have a system for integrating new students. Find out if anybody in your housing compound or neighborhood-to-be has children around the same age, and strike up an email or Facebook dialogue with them. Even one personal relationship can go a long way in helping your child to feel more at ease about the new place.
  • Listen – Children will have their own feelings about your plan to move. Listen empathically and, though you may not agree, honor your child’s experience and encourage them to share it with you. Create a safe space for them to express and work through their feelings. Validate that big changes can induce big emotions.
  • Play – Children (yes, even high school students) need to play! Uprooting can be difficult, and wrapping-up is invariably busy. Make it a priority to carve out play time together as a family. Documenting ‘lasts’ at the old locale, and creating fun memories to cherish when you look back, is an essential component to making the international move experience one that you and your child can weather – even embrace -together.

What tips do you recommend for international families transitioning to a new home?

Tech Support Problems, Apathy, & Solutions

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Recently I was reading a Technology Directors’ forum, and noticed that a few very well established schools were explicitly looking for people to assist them in improving their technology support system (Help Desk, Help Tickets, etc.)

Reflecting on how I design and implement such systems, I began to wonder if these schools have looked at the core foundation issues that cause problems in systems that support a variety of tech-ecosystems and networks.

Why Does Anyone Need Tech Support in 2018?

The question may seem obvious, but this question should be asked every year: Who actually needs support and why?

Why do teachers need someone to come to the classroom to help them? Is the equipment old and/or inconsistent? Is the classroom design too complicated? Does the classroom equipment not work well with the teacher’s issued device(s)? Are students unable to use or manage their devices? Are the deployed software and services too difficult to master?

For example, if a school is running Google Apps for Education or Office 365 for Education, is the school running these newer solutions using and old model? That would cause many problems for end users. End users would be trying to follow an internal plan, that conflicts with the external supplier’s solution. Google and Microsoft are external suppliers, and they do have  recommended implementation plans. In this case, the school has created a problem that will now need support.

The truth is, tech support and training are not the same thing. Asking support staff to execute tasks that an employee is required to do is a massive use of support time. The support staff is not the end user. Meaning, the support staff person is not a teacher. This means they will be very mechanical about explaining how things work, but possibly not very practical. Many issues are strictly job related, and require training from peers, not IT support staff.

The goal of anyone who is planning technology support, or facilities support, should be to eliminate the need for support. Expanding support around problems, will simply make those problems worse. Problems need to be eliminated to reduce the need for regular support.

Why Do Tech Support People Seem Apathetic and Annoyed?

Tech Support is actually a proper career. There are people who choose to be, and are employed as, tech support engineers or specialists.

In most schools tech support is usually an additional duty. Schools often have employees who are systems engineers, data base specialists, etc. assigned to do tech support. Why? Because, after all, if you have an IT job you can help people with IT. If that logic were true, every biology teacher could teach physics, and possibly serve on an ambulance as an EMT.

When people are spending most of their time away from their primary role, or outside of their primary comfort zone, they can develop a sense of resentment. In addition, people working outside their primary role will tend to make more mistakes doing other tasks. These mistakes often lead to public and unprofessional language exchanges. The cycle leads to further demoralization, and creates an environment of apathy.

The Way Forward

Over the years I have developed a few simple rules to handle support issues:

  1. De-personalize the process
  2. Divide-and-Conquer
  3. Follow-up Often
  4. Predict the future

De-personalize the process

The worse thing you can do is use personal email for tech support, or facilities support. There are some systems that work with a group email address ( eg.

However, even those systems trick the end-user in believing the email is going to a person. Email request systems, at least professional ones, route based-on criteria; or get posted in a list until a person delegates the work to someone.

The basic rule to follow is to use online forms or support groups (like Google Groups). Make certain individuals are not connected by name when they give support. Never allow teachers, or other stakeholders, to use personal email addresses for routine support.


Support needs to be assigned to the person best suited for the job. Although some support can be generic and auto assigned, it is best to have routing system to send certain requests to certain people. For example, I have a form that has PowerSchool as an option. If someone selects PowerSchool, the request goes to the best two PowerSchool support people on staff.

Follow-up Often

From the moment a ticket is submitted, the end-user should automatically get a confirmation their problem is in process. When the problem is solved, they should get a notice. If their problem is pending for some reason, they should get another notice. If the issue is not solvable, the end-user needs a personal email, phone call, or face-to-face visit to explain in detail what is happening.  Complaints from end-users are often regarding a lack of communication.

Currently, my support form tells each user what their number is in the queue. This small feature has been very well received.

Predict the Future

This is not as mystical as it sounds. Support issues should be collected as data. This is another reason email is a bad option, unless the emails go into a categorized database. Patterns emerge in the data. Patterns can be used to find the next problem.

Sometimes technology fails in a single instance, but usually technology failure happens in batches or waves.

If you would like to know more about building custom and free Support Systems with Google Apps and Office 365, please contact me at:  .