Skip

Give 1 Get 1
November 12, 2007 6:06 AM   Subscribe

One Laptop Per Child - Give 1, Get 1 Started by Nicholas Negroponte, the One Laptop Per Child project aims to put inexpensive durable laptops into the hands of millions of children in developing countries with the idea that the best weapon against poverty is education. For a limited time, people in the US can buy an OLPC laptop for themselves, and send one to a child in a developing country for $399 via the Give One, Get One program.
posted by Laen (80 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been considering getting one of these for a while and now that I have to decide... I'm curious:

1) Will Celtx run on it?
2) How will the keyboard be for a grown person's hands?

Anyone know?
posted by dobbs at 6:10 AM on November 12, 2007


It is 399.99 I know the price has climbed from the goal of 100 dollars but it hasn't climbed quite that much.
posted by I Foody at 6:14 AM on November 12, 2007


Running a version of Linux (hidden under layers of child-friendly user interface), all sorts of interesting applications (called "Activities" in OLPC parlance) have been developed for the platform.

They form automatic mesh networks, to encourage children to work together to play games and solve problems. As children get older, they can delve deeper and deeper into the device for more advanced learning.

Using two of them together, they can use their speakers and microphones as an Acoustic Tape Measure.

The TamTam Music Composer starts as a simple musical keyboard, but can be used for editing, or building software synthesizers.

It has a variety of brain-teaser and multiplayer games that concentrate on cooperation rather than competition.
posted by Laen at 6:16 AM on November 12, 2007


Aww shoot. You're right. It's $399, not $499. Could a moderator fix that?

The price is actually for two laptops, so they're only $100 off their target price. They think mass production will reduce the costs, though.
posted by Laen at 6:17 AM on November 12, 2007


The price is actually for two laptops, so they're only $100 off their target price.

Are they? I'm pretty sure the dollar has dropped a lot since they started their project. Perhaps they should rename it "the €100" laptop.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was walking through SoHo in NYC the other morning and spotted someone carrying one of these. It turned out that the guy was a programmer, who was very excited about working with the laptop. Stupidly, I forgot to ask him what his software would do.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:24 AM on November 12, 2007


Anyway, I've always found this project absurdly condescending, as if poor people in the developing world are too dumb to figure out how to use windows/OSX/Gnome/KDE or whatever, but it's kids who have the greatest ability to learn new things. It seems like kids really enjoy exploring and learning new things, while adults only want to keep doing what they've already been doing.

On the other hand, if it's true that the software is designed to 'scale' so that users will have more and more to do as they learn things, then that's defined a good thing.

Another thing I heard about this that really disappointed me is that I think that the kids won't even have root access on these machines. It feels like it's designed to let the kids do what we want them to do, rather then what they want to do.
posted by delmoi at 6:27 AM on November 12, 2007


Man. I really want to get one of these for my daughter for Christmas, but looking at the software, it's about two years ahead of her abilities. Hmmm...maybe daddy can use it until she's old enough...
posted by ColdChef at 6:28 AM on November 12, 2007


Also, it doesn't seem like it would be as much fun if you didn't have three or four of these laptops.
posted by ColdChef at 6:30 AM on November 12, 2007


delmoi, I think it runs on Linux because you'd increase the price of each unit by 80 bucks or so by slapping a commercial OS on it. It's about the price, not the users' ability.
posted by headspace at 6:32 AM on November 12, 2007


This explanation of how the UI works kind of, uh, explained it for me. They even added transparency and stuff so I wouldn't be bored. Nice!
posted by uandt at 6:33 AM on November 12, 2007


What headspace said. It's about price, delmoi.
posted by dobbs at 6:34 AM on November 12, 2007


delmoi, I think it runs on Linux because you'd increase the price of each unit by 80 bucks or so by slapping a commercial OS on it. It's about the price, not the users' ability.

It's also about prohibiting software companies from immediately establishing markets for their software in developing countries.
posted by SemioticRobotic at 6:35 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


This page shows the actual user interface.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 6:42 AM on November 12, 2007


A video of the user interface.
posted by dobbs at 6:45 AM on November 12, 2007


The OLPC idea reminds me of the cheap AIDS drugs problem. People develop it for those in developing countries who wouldn't have access to more expensive technologies. But as soon as word about it gets out, everyone in developed countries wants access and eventually gets it. I think we will see a lot more of these laptops in the hands of Western kids than African kids.

I read the basic plan for ensuring the laptops don't immediately go on the developing country's black market is to somehow set up a societal taboo towards adults using or carrying the laptop. How do they expect to do this, when adults in the West are doing exactly that?

Furthermore, who is going to teach the kids in these developing countries to use the laptops? Who is going to provide user support? And if a developing country's government is truly invested in the welfare of its people and not the purchase of the laptops for publicity reasons, can they justify spending the money to buy laptops for kids in villages that don't even have clean wells yet?

I think this is a fantastic idea in theory, and would work well in poor areas that have stable governments. But in some ways it represents a serious misplacement of priorities.
posted by schroedinger at 6:49 AM on November 12, 2007


2) How will the keyboard be for a grown person's hands?

I've been following this for a few weeks, and have read a couple of first-hand accounts from people who've had a chance to play with it; they report that the keyboard is small and hard to use for people with larger hands. For children and/or small-handed adults, it's no problem.
posted by briank at 6:50 AM on November 12, 2007


I think this is a fantastic idea in theory, and would work well in poor areas that have stable governments. But in some ways it represents a serious misplacement of priorities.

Computer people want the kids to have computers to help give them a chance to flourish in the digital age. The computer designers aren't necessarily the right people to solve the water problem or the food problem. Meanwhile, solving the computer problem doesn't mean people can't solve the water problem.
posted by drezdn at 6:51 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


You can download a VM of their system that runs in VMware player from their wiki. I downloaded the most recent .zip file, unpacked it and ran it in VMware server (Player is pretty much the same, they're both free as in beer) in about 10 minutes. It's a pretty neat UI, though I honestly found it a bit confusing.
posted by GuyZero at 6:54 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


drezdn, I'm not suggesting that the computer people work to fix the water problems. I'm putting the onus of the choice on the government--is it a smart idea for the governments of these countries to pay millions of dollars towards laptops instead of infrastructure? I don't think every Malian village needs an Autobahn leading to it before they can start transitioning children to the digital age, but basic needs like clean water are an absolute necessity. That's why I threw in the part about a government being invested in development. Is this the most efficient method of ensuring development among the population?

Education is a method of development, but libraries and schools are cheaper to build and serve more people, as well as provide teaching and maintenance jobs.
posted by schroedinger at 6:57 AM on November 12, 2007


Given that production of the OLPC just got started on November 6 at the Quanta factory in Changshu, that's pretty decent turnaround for it to be on the market. However, some people say that the "give one get one" initiative is a very visible indication that the project is going wrong.

Even if the OLPC initiative doesn't quite work out, though, it's been inspiring quite a few other Taiwan companies to work on low cost PCs, and may have an impact on the way notebook producers look at their market. There's a good OLPC article roundup at CNET, including a link to a way to try out the OLPC OS on your own computer.
posted by gemmy at 6:58 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, I think the lower-than-expected number of countries actually ponying up the cash for these laptops is demonstrative of the unrealistic idealism of this program.

But don't get me wrong. Like I said, I think it's a great idea in theory, and it has helped pave the way for further development of lower-cost, open source systems.
posted by schroedinger at 7:04 AM on November 12, 2007


"But the enthusiasts of the windup radio suffer not from poverty or lack of information but from wealth, vague guilt, and too much information. They are the only people who can find nobility in a product that communicates to its intended owner: you are fucked."
-Binyavanga Wainaina
posted by pinothefrog at 7:07 AM on November 12, 2007 [6 favorites]


I bought one (er, two) of these this morning. I'm sure some sort of review will be forthcoming. I can't wait for it to get here.
posted by interrobang at 7:08 AM on November 12, 2007


The keyboard is a little cramped for grown-up fingers. You can learn to type on it if you spend a long time with it, but as a very-occasional user of XOs that are around the lab, I'm always frustrated by the keyboard. As someone raised on normal keyboards, the lack of a clear tactile response when you press a key takes getting used to, too.

I'm with delmoi re: feeling uncomfortable about the project, but for different reasons. I don't think the UI itself is condescending. Part of its simplicity is to ease internationalization — the UI is almost entirely without words. It's a noble goal, but it rapidly breaks down for individual applications, which always rely on words in their interface and can't all be rewritten.

My discomfort comes more from OLPC not really knowing what's going to happen with the machines. When I've seen Negroponte speak, he's always really vague about how the computers will be involved in learning. It comes across as something that's just going to happen. He'll cite the Maine school that gave all its students laptops and say "Truancy went to zero!" This is totally irrelevant, and has more to do with the dynamics of our education system than it does the problem of education in developing countries around the world. It feels like they're just assuming great emergent things will happen when you deploy laptops to kids, and it ultimately feels a little like technological imperialism to me. Technology is very culturally situated, and while we may see a few great successes with the laptops, my guess is in a lot of places they're going to clash with the local culture because they're just airdropped in from our American technophilic culture without regard for local situations. I'd love to be proved wrong; I think this is a noble and bold project. I'm just not sure that huge scale technology deployment is really the way to solve the world's problems. I'm much more attracted to Amy Smith's style of work in this area.

Even if it does work, I worry too that we're just raising an international culture of knowledge workers for us to exploit in 10 years. I don't think OLCP wants that, indeed I think they're working hard to make sure that doesn't happen, but I think it may be an unavoidable side-effect of the program.
posted by heresiarch at 7:10 AM on November 12, 2007 [5 favorites]


It's also about prohibiting software companies from immediately establishing markets for their software in developing countries.

No, that isn't the idea at all.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:14 AM on November 12, 2007


Furthermore, who is going to teach the kids in these developing countries to use the laptops? Who is going to provide user support? And if a developing country's government is truly invested in the welfare of its people and not the purchase of the laptops for publicity reasons, can they justify spending the money to buy laptops for kids in villages that don't even have clean wells yet?

That's actually not a very helpful attitude to take, the "how can you justify this when there's that" I mean, the point of the laptops is to help educate kids so they can figure that stuff out when they grow up. It's an investment. Keeping people uneducated until their standard of living goes up isn't a very smart plan, IMO.

Besides, just because they live in poor conditions doesn't mean they don't want entertainment or aren't curious.

but basic needs like clean water are an absolute necessity.

Well, people have survived for thousands of years without clean water. Maybe if they'd had laptops they could have looked up how to purify it for themselves rather then relying on broken governments, no? I mean all you have to do is boil it, or pasteurize it under pressure (unless you're talking about industrial pollution, which is a whole other problem)

"But the enthusiasts of the windup radio suffer not from poverty or lack of information but from wealth, vague guilt, and too much information. They are the only people who can find nobility in a product that communicates to its intended owner: you are fucked."

Ah, that sums up my views on this particular project. I think getting laptops to these people could be a good thing, but this project is just done in such a patronizing way.
posted by delmoi at 7:36 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's hard to tell how technology will benefit poor from the outside, but sometimes there are unexpected benefits.

It's easy to dismiss benefits of technology for poor people -- why are they wasting on their money on cellphone or computers, when they should be digging wells or doing something else we think they should be doing...

Access to information and means of communication has often much higher return for poor than for rich folks...
posted by zeikka at 7:38 AM on November 12, 2007


I mean, the point of the laptops is to help educate kids so they can figure that stuff out when they grow up. It's an investment.

OK, but then why not build schools or libraries? These are educational structures that are "renewable"--one building provides education to a wide area of people and future generations to come.

Besides, just because they live in poor conditions doesn't mean they don't want entertainment or aren't curious.

And I never argued this. I'm sure these families would also love televisions for entertainment as well. Does that mean the government should purchase them? The money used to purchase these laptops is coming out of the coffers of poor governments that, if they are truly pursuing development, cannot afford to invest in efficient means of development. I'm saying the OLPC program is an inefficient mean of educational development. Install one of those ATM-like internet kiosks in villages if you want the village to have access to the web. But the laptops are not the best choice.

Maybe if they'd had laptops they could have looked up how to purify it for themselves rather then relying on broken governments, no?

Instead, we'll trust those same broken governments to spend millions of dollars to buy and distribute highly black-marketable pieces of technology to children. Brilliant!
posted by schroedinger at 7:46 AM on November 12, 2007


Also from Binyavanga Wainaina's essay: "They almost always fail, but they satisfy the giver. To the recipients, the things have no context, no relationship to their ideas of themselves or their possibilities. A great salesman can spark a dialogue with you; in a matter of minutes, you come to make your own sense of his product, fitting it into your imagination, your life. You lead, the salesman follows. Whereas a pure product presents itself as a complete solution; a product built to serve the needs of the needy assumes the needy have measured themselves exactly as the product has measured them."
posted by pinothefrog at 7:49 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


I guess one's perspective on this depends on whether one sees this as a handout or something that empowers the kids.

I am not sure whether the program is being administered in best/ most efficient way, but giving access to information is something that I truly believe in.

I also do believe that results of any program are better if it allows individuals/families/some other small units to do better for themselves rather than relying government on doing the right thing. Individual will hopefully be motivated to take care if the laptop as it will be among their most valued possessions. Unfortunately for some it will mean that selling it will be necessary for short term gain, but again it's hard for me to make that judgment for anyone.
posted by zeikka at 8:00 AM on November 12, 2007


pinothefrog, that is a really interesting article.
posted by salvia at 8:05 AM on November 12, 2007


they report that the keyboard is small and hard to use for people with larger hands

Just wanted to point out that, since the computer has three USB 2.0 ports, you should be able to hook up an external keyboard with normal-sized keys.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:32 AM on November 12, 2007


Kurt Vonnegut would say in his standard lecture that people are always asking him whether we should have computers in schools. He replies "Of course--how else will the children learn what it is the machines want them to do?"
posted by neuron at 8:34 AM on November 12, 2007


They almost always fail, but they satisfy the giver. To the recipients, the things have no context, no relationship to their ideas of themselves or their possibilities.

Read the article by Binyavanga Wainaina.
posted by geos at 8:45 AM on November 12, 2007


A project team this semester at Carnegie Mellon's ETC is focused on developing games for the XO laptop. My understanding is that it's incredibly difficult to get games working on it, even with trained programmers on the job. The team is hosting a Game Jam this upcoming weekend, which should turn out some interesting stuff. Local lead programmers will be there, and it's possible they'll be able to break through some of the issues the XO team has run into.

Incidentally, if anyone is in Pittsburgh and is interested, they'd probably take more people.
posted by erinfern at 8:56 AM on November 12, 2007


Recently spent several weeks trekking through thailand. On these treks we stayed in villages who had only recently been given simple solar power systems by the government (about 50% penetration) with the ability to now have a couple of florescent lights running in to the evening and maybe a radio every now and then. Thailand is a bit unique, due to their governmental leadership (the king) deciding that the education of the populace is important there is a strong emphasis on schooling. With that said not everyone can go to school, and not every school has the technical resources to keep up with what the west would view as basic educational goals.

I see the laptops as closing some of these gaps in countries who are making definite efforts to modernize. OLPC is ot going to fix the worst education gaps in the world, but what it will do is assist education programs in ways that are only starting to be developed.

OLPC combined with other programs (solar energy, education priority, clean water programs/etc) will begin to change the lives of people across the globe incrementally for years to come.
posted by iamabot at 9:08 AM on November 12, 2007


This is awesome and I'm glad they implemented it. I just bought one.

About six months ago, jessamyn met some OLPC people and I told her that given recent news that they were short on funding, they should sell them to westerners for a much higher price to offset the funding of several to the developing world. This was back when it was still a $100 PC and they refused to give them to geeks in the states. I figured a $500 donation should net a geek one laptop and four kids would get one as well. The $399 for 1+1 isn't as good, but is better than nothing.

A friend in grad school did research on child learning and would frequently go down to Sao Paulo where they setup "street PCs" for the street kids there. I recall a story of them setting up a windows PC with a trackball in late 1999 and heading off to lunch after setup, and when they returned 20 minutes later, a kid had already figured out how to fire up a web browser, download napster when it was still in beta and new, and download a bunch of music, which was playing for everyone nearby.
posted by mathowie at 9:16 AM on November 12, 2007



Instead, we'll trust those same broken governments to spend millions of dollars to buy and distribute highly black-marketable pieces of technology to children. Brilliant!

posted by schroedinger

On the off chance you're not just trolling and really only see in black and white:

If the world only had two colors your statement would be accurate, but it doesn't, and no two governments or people handle things the same way or have the same priorities. If they did solving world wide problems would be dramatically easier.

The OLPC program isn't going to cure hunger, water shortages, drugs, crime, AIDS, or any of that. It's a tool that can be used by people from a wide range of economic brackets across the globe, subsidized by governments to further education and familiarity with technology. That's it, it's a tool.

To give you an example, I mentioned solar panel installation in hill tribe villages in thailand as an example. These systems cost on the same order as the OLPC, are equally black market-able but remain in place because of the community benefits they bring. Having such a fatalistic view of the rest of the world speaks of either never have visited it or not visited it any where near enough to have any sort of perspective.
posted by iamabot at 9:24 AM on November 12, 2007


iamabot, I am certainly not trying to see this issue in black-and-white. If you read my previous arguments, you'd see I was objecting to the assertion that the OLPC laptops are needed for people who cannot depend on their corrupt governments for education--and yet somehow we can depend on those corrupt governments to distribute the laptops properly. I was pointing out an error in logic, nothing more.

Please read my previous comments. I am not arguing the OLPC should cure water shortages or whatnot. I am not arguing all developing countries are corrupt and we can't depend on them to be distributed properly, ever.

This is my main argument: If a developing country is seriously focused on development, especially educational development, spending millions on OLPC laptops may not be the most efficient use of funds.
posted by schroedinger at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2007


OMGPATRONIZING!!

The sheer lack of perspective in this thread is astounding.

Haters.
posted by butterstick at 9:42 AM on November 12, 2007


I was excited about this at first, but my enthusiasm has faded.

For one thing, it's twice as expensive as it was supposed to be. Secondly, they've received only a fraction of the orders that they'd need in order to take advantage of the kind of economies of scale that they were planning on. Thirdly, as annoyed as I am by conservative types who think that markets are the solution to everything, I really do think that consumer electronics are an area where the market does the best possible job of driving down prices. Just look at how much you pay for hard drive space now opposed to how much you'd pay for the same amount of space just 4 years ago.

This Slate article does a pretty good job of dispelling the hype around OLPC.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:51 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I ordered one this morning. I'm really excited to tinker with it.

delmoi, one of the features of this thing is that users are able to view code with a keystroke and modify it if they want. Wouldn't that require root access or similar privileges?

For those of you who think the OLPC's priorities are out of whack and that more basic needs should be met first and/or governmental corruption will pose a barrier to its implementation, you can always donate to the AfricaBike project. You can read up on it here and donate here.
posted by cog_nate at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2007


OLPC is good because it will get more people excited about international developement because it is a neat toy. It is a neat toy that can potentially be very useful in a wide variety of educational circumstances. I bought 1(2) because the idea of it excites me. I find myself curious about it and want to be a part of it. If I dontated those 200 dollars to a company that sold cheap insecticide treated mosquito nets I would do more good. But I haven't done that, because the it bores me and I haven't heard about that company because it bores lots of people. I can't picture people not getting maleria and get excited.

I am a flawed person, my altruism is bounded by human factors. I am not alone in this regard, far from it. What I am saying is that the fact that the OLPC is concerned with the preferences of the doner is not really as much of a downside as some people seem to think. These computers are not necessarily coming at the expense of better things.
posted by I Foody at 10:46 AM on November 12, 2007


Are they? I'm pretty sure the dollar has dropped a lot since they started their project. Perhaps they should rename it "the €100" laptop.

Yeah the U.S. dollar is going at a around 20% discount compared to two years ago, so that $188 dollar price really means it costs about 1.5 times what it was supposed to compared to most currencies. It's gotten more expensive but not nearly "twice as expensive".
posted by bobo123 at 10:54 AM on November 12, 2007


I ponied up first thing this morning, and I'll be egotistical and tell you why.

1) It's brilliant design. I don't mean the shrek ears and the green and the swivel screen, that's gravy, I mean the sheer tonnage of human brilliance that went into designing this thing is astounding. The wireless chipset doesn't just get online, it acts as a mesh repeater node even when the machine itself is off. The software to run that mesh network? Written for this project. The display is a one-of-a-kind dual-resolution retro reflective, designed for this project. The entire machine is designed to be dropable, breakable and put-back-togetherable. The parts are documented, mostly open and somewhat user-repairable. The DC input stage has a rectifier on it to accept anything in the range of 10-24vdc by design, not some 16.9v-or-you're-in-safe-mode bullshit.

But of course all this has been well provided by the mainstream consumer electronics market before. Just look at how easily repairable and robust my pile of broken laptops is.

2) It's hackable. This touches on 1 but it's more than just fixable, it's improvable. The whole thing is written in python, with a view-source button right there. It screams fiddle with me in big neon green letters. When kids play with something, they learn it. Thank $deity for a platform that encourages play.

Again, duplication of effort as the mainstream systems running the world are already designed to maximize simplicity and uniformity along with international standards and easy extensibility.

3) It gives the possibility of real, grassroots economic change. I won't get into the endless debate of aid vs markets but to be sure a generation of potential computer programmers won't go amiss in many developing countries.

Most of all though, I bought it because I want to encourage the thought process. I'm voting with my dollars, in the marketplace of ideas. Take my money and keep delivering solidly designed tools. Anything to nudge the notion of value and fitness for purpose up a notch in the mostly-fluff computer marketplace is worth well over $400.
posted by Skorgu at 11:03 AM on November 12, 2007 [6 favorites]


OK, but then why not build schools or libraries? These are educational structures that are "renewable"--one building provides education to a wide area of people and future generations to come.

The whole point of the laptop is that it provides a library for each user, a copy of wikipedia. And it should last for a long time, as it has a solid-state hard drive. Each laptop is probably more durable then a book, and far cheaper to maintain. And schools need maintenance and teachers need to be paid. You're basically arguing that they need buildings which I think kind of misses the point.

The money used to purchase these laptops is coming out of the coffers of poor governments that, if they are truly pursuing development, cannot afford to invest in efficient means of development.

And again this misses the point that you don't just do one thing first, you can invest in a range of programs each of which can benefit people in different ways.

The other thing here is that it's not like a sharp cut off between "rich" countries and "poor" countries, there are, in fact, a lot of poor people who do have access to clean water and could maybe use a laptop. It's not like these things are going to starving people with no food. Should the people who have clean water be forced to wait until everyone gets it before they get internet access?

If you read my previous arguments, you'd see I was objecting to the assertion that the OLPC laptops are needed for people who cannot depend on their corrupt governments for education--and yet somehow we can depend on those corrupt governments to distribute the laptops properly.

Huh? If the governments buy them, then they can do whatever they want with 'em. Anyway, almost all governments are corrupt to some extent, but only the most extremely corrupt can't do things like distribute laptops or whatever, it's not an either-or scenario.

Your problem is that you're looking at this as a "yes/no" proposition, not something that can be done 10% 90% 99% or whatever.

I do like the idea of getting laptops to the worlds poor, but I think the best way to do that is to give them what they want, not someone else thinks they need.
posted by delmoi at 11:21 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just exercised my paypal account too - what Skorgu said. Let the counter arguments fly, this is good.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:36 AM on November 12, 2007


"Each laptop is probably more durable then a book, and far cheaper to maintain."

Ever actually seen a book, or have you just read about them on Wikipedia?
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:51 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ever actually seen a book, or have you just read about them on Wikipedia?

I've seen them, and I've had them fall apart on me. Why do you ask?
posted by delmoi at 12:01 PM on November 12, 2007


(and by the way, I was talking about books that would be loaned out to small children. Often, books can't survive getting water spilled on them, while I would imagine this laptop could)
posted by delmoi at 12:04 PM on November 12, 2007


My understanding is that it's incredibly difficult to get games working on it, even with trained programmers on the job.

What about emulators? If MAME can be compiled on it, there's a few thousand games straight away. Same goes for various other emulators, for C64, Apple //e, MS-DOS, etc.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:28 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also there's Flash - according to this page "Adobe's Flash Player and Java™ virtual machine can be added via Yum or RPM install but are not part of the standard distribution."
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:35 PM on November 12, 2007


The whole point of the laptop is that it provides a library for each user, a copy of wikipedia. And it should last for a long time, as it has a solid-state hard drive. Each laptop is probably more durable then a book, and far cheaper to maintain. And schools need maintenance and teachers need to be paid. You're basically arguing that they need buildings which I think kind of misses the point.

And laptops require tech support and teachers will be required to instruct the kids on how to use the laptops. Just because Negroponte wants Constructionism to be the way children develop does not make it true--do you really expect a child to go from illiterate to a high-level programmer by themselves, with only the laptop? Someone will need to help them learn to read. Someone will need to help them learn to use the programs. Someone will need to guide them through the educational software. This will need to be a fairly highly-trained educator who is going to require pay greater than a primary school teacher.

Additionally, consider that schools and teachers are renewable. Say you want to instruct twenty kids in a rural area. I will be generous and pretend if the children have laptops they do not need a teacher or a school building and none of the laptops require maintenance. You can initially invest your money in a school building and a teacher, or in twenty laptops. Let's pretend the fixed costs are equal, though I can assure you they are not as service work runs far, far cheper in developing countries than in developed countries, and so hiring labor to build the school and hiring the teacher would be cheaper overall.

Anyway, you put that money towards twenty laptops. Now twenty kids get their primary school education. Except what happens to the next generation of kids? Is the first generation expected to share their laptops? Pass them down? Or do we buy another twenty laptops for all their brothers and sisters? You have a high fixed cost, repeating over and over and over for every child.

With a school, you have the initial high fixed cost of building the school. Afterwards, the school requires lower costs for annual maintenance. The teacher has to be paid the same annual salary ever year, but the overall costs are less than that of the laptop program.

You might argue the laptops will produce children who are able to earn more money. Except will they? One of the hardest lessons of development is that no matter how much we want things to develop a certain way, they very often don't. People adopt new technologies within their current societal setup. If you have a rural farming village with traditions stretching over many, many generations, the kids are not going to up and leave their parents to go work at Google.

Look, the point of this all is to demonstrate that the costs of this program likely outweigh the benefits. It is exciting and new and leads to a great development in technology, and I don't doubt for some select situations it will work great. But it will not be close to, even remotely close to, the huge fantasy Negroponte creates for this project because it is simply not efficient nor realistic. And as I have stated in an earlier comment, the fact that virtually no countries are biting at the OLPC program demonstrates this.

We love these big, exciting programs that throw highly-advanced technologies at rural areas because they create a lovely story. They capture our imagination. But even a cursory study of economic development programs will show you 99% of the time these big, exciting publicity-garnering programs don't do shit for the people they're meant to help because the developers are more interested in implementing their vision than actually figuring out what is realistically going to be adapted into the society they're working for.
posted by schroedinger at 1:07 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Like Skorgu, the first thing I did this morning was participate in the Give One Get One program -- half because I think it could be a lever for change for schoolkids, and half because it's an amazing piece of hardware and I've wanted one since they first announced it. So count this as a nod of agreement with Skorgu's viewpoint.

Maybe I'm simply naïve, but I can't help but see the potential in this program. (Although I was devastated to learn that they wouldn't be including K-12 e-textbooks with every laptop because of political and cultural problems. Hopefully Internet access will make up for that.)

Oh, and I've been a lurker here since 2001 and this is what finally got me to join. :)
posted by sdodd at 1:38 PM on November 12, 2007


i also bought one this morning- the dual display is such a great idea. i haven't been able to use any of my laptops outside since my b&w 140b powerbook in 1993. i'll be able to use this new laptop on the beach.
posted by bhnyc at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2007


But even a cursory study of economic development programs will show you 99% of the time these big, exciting publicity-garnering programs don't do shit for the people they're meant to help because the developers are more interested in implementing their vision than actually figuring out what is realistically going to be adapted into the society they're working for.

So, last I checked, no one was forcing these things on people. It just gives them an option that's a lot cheaper than any option they had before.
posted by GuyZero at 3:11 PM on November 12, 2007


I just bought one too.
And I know this won't
save the world or anything.

It's funny though. I am a pretty
self-absorbed person most of the time.
The last time I contributed any money
to help the less fortunate was when I
collected for Unicef during Halloween
when I was a kid.

I don't know if buying this will help,
but I have to say, they seduced me
into it. Sometimes privileged people like me
have to be tricked into helping people.

It's in the same way that really rich
people throw balls and fundraisers for
hospitals and such - the ticket costs a
hundred dollars, but they spent five times that on the dress they are wearing to it.
posted by Sully at 3:31 PM on November 12, 2007


Sadly, it looks like they might have gotten rid of the built in hand crank that they discussed putting in the original design.

Still, I want one, and I look forward to the inevitable (and mandatory) mefite reviews.
posted by quin at 4:00 PM on November 12, 2007


This project is an ego trip, not a real way to put computers in the hands of kids in developing nations. If the organizers really cared about that, they'd put all their resources into transferring used computers to those in need. Think of the number of good computers that are cycled out of businesses and homes each year as they are replaced by a newer unit.

Then think about how the hardware and software on the used computers kicks the ever living crap out of the specs for these ego-boxes.

Listen folks, don't kid yourself. Computers are already made with practically no margin. There is no way you can produce a cheaper computer than those put out by companies like Dell unless you strip down the device to next to nothing. That's what the project computers have become - a nearly useless hunk of plastic.

Hey, I can go onto Dell right now and get a brand new computer for $319 - a laptop for $449. Each of these computers is vastly more powerful than the project computer and it comes with plenty of software.

And, on e-bay, I can pick up more powerful laptops than the project laptop for - you guessed it - under $100.
posted by Muddler at 5:17 PM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't necessarily disagree with your points Muddler, but the problem with using the old equipment approach, is that none of it is standardized. Sure we could send out a ton of old 386s but they pull a ton of power, if they break down, they will be impossible to repair, and there is no guarantee that the parts from one will work on another.

The chief benefit of the OLPC is that it's all the same hardware. If the screen breaks on one, you should be able to take the screen from another and Frankenstein them together with no difficulty. And because they are so low voltage, they will be able to be recharged from hand cranks, and solar, and the like, and still maintain a reasonable battery life.

Finally, it's being designed from the ground up to be less toxic; which is something that I can assure you, is not the case for much of the older PC hardware currently en-route to our landfills.
posted by quin at 5:37 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I waited to buy an olpc after I woke up this morning only because they did not go on sale at midnight.

Actually, I suppose that I technically bought two, and I have two reasons for doing so.

The first is that I am a college student without much money, and I want a laptop which no one else seems willing to sell me. Not something to play games on, just something to take notes on, write with, use the internet, and something that can stand being knocked against books on the way to class. Preferably something with good wireless—even better if I can use that wireless out on the quad on full sunlight. Long battery life is a must.

Yes, the eee pc is a possibility, but the olpc is much more what I’m looking for. I don’t really play games anymore, so I don’t need a lot of power. I need cheap and competent. I may have to buy a folding keyboard, and I may have to install Ubuntu over Sugar, but other than that I am very, very excited to get my new laptop. I hope the inevitable shipping problems are short lived.

The second reason is that the olpc project is a wonderful piece of utopian geekery. It’s faced a flood criticism from people in both developed and developing countries, much of it valid and thought provoking. If nothing else, from what began as a passing interest in the project I’ve developed a fascination with what happens when high technology arrives in “developing” areas. The primacy of cell phones alone in so many countries is astounding, and is having an impact I would never have known about.

I can sympathize with critics who argue that the olpc exists because developed countries catastrophically fail to comprehend the rest of the world. I can see why the green carapace and wobbly antennas look like a blindly paternalistic insect to some. Just look at the picture here. It’s all cutesy community and gapped ethnic teeth. But to see the laptop as an example of technological insularity—everyone on this side of the ocean like gadgets, so poor brown people will like them too!—overlooks the fact that the project is essentially one of agency.

For me, the key component of the olpc is the networking aspect. The project acknowledges that interconnectivity is a huge part of the modern world. The machine is stripped down, yes, but it has (ideally) an internet connection. Providing children with an open ended tool like this is something akin to handing them a library card instead of giving them a box of Great Books from which they are unlikely to benefit. And while that analogy paternalistically assumes that access to information is a good thing, I think it’s a fairly safe assumption.

The image of little brown children flooding the internet is, I know, an unrealistic one and not even necessarily a desirable one. Who am I to say that kids everywhere just really, really need a gmail account? I am well aware that I will not log on to metafilter in two months and see a blue wall of Rwandan FPPs. But it’s better than nothing. I see it as an acknowledgement that access to technology is an invitation to join a more global society and maybe gain that much more visibility and agency. Moreover, it’s an acknowledgement that despite that ‘maybe,’ technology and communication are important. So is infrastructure, sure. The one encourages the other.

Maybe I shouldn’t have written so much just to admit that what I think will happen with the olpc will almost certainly not happen. I expect no utopias to flower in the sub-Sahara, although I think much of the criticism of the olpc assumes its creators believe otherwise. I’m sure they don’t. Whatever happens will be much quieter and only inconsistently successful. Some places will thrive with UN laptops, some won’t. Maybe only one kid in twenty will actually benefit from it, but maybe the benefit will be huge.

I can’t really predict how it will go, but that’s one of the reasons I’m interested to see how the project develops, for all its foibles and optimism.

For me, a white kid in the most developed country ever to lack universal health care, a cell phone means that I can call a friend and meet for lunch on a whim. For an Indian fisherman, it means that a small operation can rifle through sixty potential vendors before they even bring the catch to the dock. Now, I’m not sure I should be calling India a developing nation given the implications of the phrase, but the analogy stands.

For me, the olpc means I can read metafilter outside for 24 hours at a stretch if I want to. I have no idea what it means for a kid in Rwanda. But I’m eager to find out.
posted by postcommunism at 6:55 PM on November 12, 2007


geos wrote: Read the article by Binyavanga Wainaina.

From the excellent article, Glory:
If you walk into any African market, you see chaos. Things tend not to cross over from the formal side of an African city to the informal side. The two speak very different languages. Often, the formal side, out of its good nature or its panicked guilt, out of a feeling that the giant world of the urban poor is too pathetic to tolerate, pins its hopes and dreams on some revolutionary product. Biogas. A windup radio. A magic laptop. These pure products are meant to solve everything.

They almost always fail, but they satisfy the giver. To the recipients, the things have no context, no relationship to their ideas of themselves or their possibilities. A great salesman can spark a dialogue with you; in a matter of minutes, you come to make your own sense of his product, fitting it into your imagination, your life. You lead, the salesman follows. Whereas a pure product presents itself as a complete solution; a product built to serve the needs of the needy assumes the needy have measured themselves exactly as the product has measured them.
And one thing that technology — especially computer technology — does better than anything else is to measure people so we can be managed.

Western nations (America in particular) have embraced the assumption that if we can just measure a problem, we can then solve it through proper management. This usually involves fitting everyone with the same set of solutions — the more technically complex the better — which in turn leads to additional rounds of measurement and management, rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. "Out, damned Chaos!", but it usually finds a way to creep back in.

Technology may scale from a stone tool to a space station, but what's most appropriate? Can urbanized, siliconized übergeeks determine that everyone else's freedom also requires a networked keyboard? Perhaps we've forgotten that people may benefit most from longer brooms.

I wonder what the first low-tech application of a broken, uneconomical-to-repair OLPC unit will be?
posted by cenoxo at 7:27 PM on November 12, 2007


If you have a rural farming village with traditions stretching over many, many generations, the kids are not going to up and leave their parents to go work at Google.

Except that's exactly what development does; in the span of a single generation, a centuries of tradition and entire ways of life can basically disappear overnight as people move into cities. You can go into any of the megacities in Asia or Africa and find people whose parents were farmers (or herders, or occasionally hunters) and who came from farming communities, but have either chosen or been forced to give that up in favor of a totally different lifestyle.

The chances of someone who is a child of farmers in a rapidly-developing country actually growing up to be a farmer (at least a farmer in the same ways and traditions of their parents) is, I suspect, pretty low.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:27 PM on November 12, 2007


Can anyone answer for me whether I'd be able to install normal linux-based software on this thing as is or do I have to install Ubuntu or something.

As mentioned above, I only want to be able to run Celtx.
posted by dobbs at 8:42 PM on November 12, 2007


I want one. I want one because I write for a living. I want one because I'm tired of lugging a shitty, rattly chunk of plastic around that does fabulous things I have no use for, yet still manages to lag when I want to do some simple word processing. I want one because I want the things in my life to be rugged enough not to treat with constant, low-level paranoia. I want one because I'm sick of teetering between overpriced Macs, locked in Windows machines, and stapled together Linux distros with shitty documentation from gearheads who no have no fucking idea what a typical user would do with a computer, aside from tinkering with said Linux distro a for a few hours per day, just 'cause.

Please don't misunderstand; I don't want one out of some self-effacing sense of austerity a la the crank radio, but out of pure self-interest. It's perfect for my needs and a bargain at the effective markup of paying for two, and it certainly says something that the corporate process would never develop it. (The recent spate of OLPC-inspired low-cost subnotenooks are fragile, sucky, pricey things.) The XO doesn't just tell me that its intended users are fucked. It tells me that we're all fucked, on purpose.
posted by mobunited at 10:43 PM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hey dobbs, I was just now able to get Celtx installed and running on an OLPC emulator (build 625 running on VMware) on my Mac. I simply followed the installation instructions for Linux on the Celtx wiki.

Bear in mind that the OLPC laptop has just 256MB of system memory and 1GB of disk. I can't attest to the performance of Celtx on the actual laptop. Celtx only takes up 30MB on disk, so that's no problem. Loading up one of Celtx's sample projects brought memory consumption close to the limit, however.

If I were you, I'd ask the Celtx folks to please package Celtx as a .xo file. That way you'll be able to download and install it in one click from the browser, and launch it from a proper icon.
posted by sdodd at 11:41 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Since her retirement, 5 years ago my mother keeps herself busy by traveling to Kenya at least once per year. Turns out everybody wanted flip-flops for their kids. So she got a bunch of donations and took over a bunch of flip-flops. She said that as she was getting donations back at home, a lot of people were really eager to help these poor Africans who didn't have any shoes. To which she would respond, "Oh, no. They have shoes. They don't have flip-flops"

If you give the kids flip-flops to play in, their school shoes last longer. The cheaper it is to keep a kid in school, the more inclined the parents are to send the kid to school.

Things are always both more complex and at the same time, a lot simpler than we often realize. The laptops may or may not be a good idea. We don't really get to decide that.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:09 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


hit post too quick there...

I also wanted to add that my first job out of college was as a teacher in an elementary school under a pilot program to introduce computers to the everyday classroom environment, and i really wish i had these in my classroom. These things are freakin sweet. Maybe I missed domething, but why didn't they underwrite this somewhat by getting US school districts to buy them first?
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:25 AM on November 13, 2007


They absolutely do get root.
posted by dmd at 6:18 AM on November 13, 2007


I'm a bit disappointed that the give one get one scheme is only on offer in the US and Canada, but it's hard to begrudge them that. I would have bought one otherwise.

There are some interesting technical details in Jim Gettys' weblog here, going back a couple of years. I haven't looked at the software side of it much, but I'd really like to see consumer hardware adopting some of their technology, rather than continuing to become hotter, noisier, and more power thirsty with each new generation.
posted by plant at 6:27 AM on November 13, 2007


Thanks, sdodd!
posted by dobbs at 6:27 AM on November 13, 2007


I can see these as a great thing for a lot of kids in URBAN South Africa. Folks on here keeping talking about rural kids in developing countries, as if those countries don't have cities.

I probably have some kind of bias, due to experience. I've seen rural kids here. They seem much better off, to me, than the many of the urban poor, living in cobbled-together shacks the un-PC folks call "Squatter Camps" and the PC folks call "Informal Settlements". Folks are crammed very close together in these places, and that lends itself well to the communication handling of this laptop.

As it happens, South Africa is the only developing country I've ever been, except playing tourist in Tijuana. But I've seen pictures and heard stories to know, such housing situations are typical of many cities in the developing world.

There are going to be some kids who will benefit to an amazing degree from these laptops. Of those, some will make a hugely positive impact on their community or even their entire society. Sadly, there will be some who will invent the next version of those silly Nigerian scams. And too, some will figure out how to write and spread new computer virus, tailored to these machines.
posted by Goofyy at 6:44 AM on November 13, 2007


While I don't agree with all delmoi's points, he's got a complex position that he's obviously thought about -- but on the balance, he doesn't like it.

So he gets stuck defending it. Interesting. I'd be kind of annoyed if I were him.
posted by lodurr at 6:58 AM on November 13, 2007


schroedinger, these laptops are designed to be self-learning. as someone who watches kids teach each other and explore online learning on their own, i can tell you that it's much more efficient than hauling a bunch of kids into a room full of refurbished PCs. (which are constantly failing since they're all attached to the same power source and connection.)

the whole point of Negroponte's idea is a very forward thinking one: that there is no point in depending on buildings and libraries when we don't need them anymore. i mean, it's fine if you're lucky enough to have a state of the art building fully staffed with an updated book collection and trained teachers, but the obvious problems we see with that in the richest countries in the world only points to how unsustainable the current model is. there *aren't* any ways to keep updating books and train teachers and update school technology all the time. it doesn't work, and the US has demonstrated it over and over again. this along with the fact that Negroponte knows, just like a lot of education researchers know, that there is a *serious and overwhelming* shortage of teachers in the developing world.

the money for this project is better spent, in that it *frees* education from the current model, and gives it to the children. it should be that way everywhere.
posted by RedEmma at 7:18 AM on November 13, 2007


Just since it's relatively cool and fits in generally with the theme of OLPC stimulating other manufacturers to get into the act: The Asus eeePC. Not as cheap, but more useful out of the box by a long shot.

Screen's still too low-res for me, though.
posted by lodurr at 9:46 AM on November 13, 2007


I can't help but get the feeling that many commentators on this subject have read as far as "laptop for poor kids" and hurtled headlong to their own conclusions.

1) "They don't need laptops, they need teachers/food/police/whatever." The aim of the project isn't third-world, impoverished nations or even impoverished parts of other nations, it's the rest of the planet's version of the middle class: poor by Western standards, but well enough off to have food and schools.

2) "The West doesn't understand what poor countries need." True. That's the beauty (as I see it) of OLPC. The engineers didn't try to predict how the laptops would be used, instead they tried to make them as easily extensible and modifiable as possible so that the end users could use them as they see fit.

3) "They'll just break and then what?!" This really boggles me. The OLPCs are explicitly designed to be easily repairable by anyone with even modest electronics experience. Hell at the cost of a few sacrificial practice models any halfway competent handyman could figure out most of it.

That said, there are real issues with the success of the program, and few if any aid programs succeed as designed.

If you can bear the somewhat awkward writing, the OLPC wiki has a great article on actual kids using actual OLPCs in an actual developing country, touching on all of the aspects I've mentioned here.
posted by Skorgu at 2:57 PM on November 13, 2007


All good points, Skorgu. I'm actually pretty skeptical, and mostly along the lines you point out, but I don't like to raise that criticism because I suspect that at worst, it can do no harm -- and at best, it can stimulate locals to address these problems on their own.

And along the way, it stimulates others, like Intel and Asus, to produce machines that are partially competitive, and probably also complementary.

If it doesn't work -- well, then, somebody will use that as a learning experience and make something that does.
posted by lodurr at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2007


I bought one/two too, though not for a couple days after the offer started. I have been in northeastern India for the past few months, and at the time the offer was released I was staying in Labdong, a tiny rural village in the state of Sikkim. When I got back to a place that had an internet cafe I barely had enough time and bandwidth to send my paypal payment before the power went out.

Labdong has one road, one school, and two TVs. With only one road leading to it, ideas don't make it to Labdong. TV was a big thing when it came, changed a lot of things. The school has teachers, but few of them have more than a fifth grade education. Class five is the cut off point for most kids these days. After class five, the government stops paying for textbooks and uniforms, so in order to keep their kids in school families have to buy these things themselves---costs that are upwards of 5000 rupees a year (about US$135 or so, with the dollar so low these days).

Other factors keep kids out of school, such as being needed at home and such. Even taking those things into account, however, the class system is weird in Labdong. One ten year old in the family I stayed with was only in class one, while his twelve year old sister (something of a prodigy) went to the state capital, Gangtok, to attend class six. Very few kids make it to highschool, which is a four hour jeep ride away. Only two people from Labdong have ever gone to college.

Plenty of older people in Labdong didn't go to school at all. My older brother in my host family had a small shop and was a successful businessman by Labdong standards (successful enough that he could send his little sister to Gangtok for school), but he often jokes that he only made it though class zero. We chat quite a bit, and it quickly becomes apparent that he thinks and learns extremely fast. Still, when I leave and he grabs paper to take down my address, he asks which bazaar I live by in Manhattan. When I get a little ill, he and my whole family suggests that I take the witch doctor's medicine---some sketchy brown fluid that my sick host mother has been sucking down all week without any improvement. He is really interested in solar power, but he has never heard about the concept of continents. He just doesn't have any sources of information to learn from.

My family there isn't starving by any means. They eat good food and drink boiled water. They have a big house with a little b/w TV that doesn't get channels but has a DVD player that they use for Hindi dubbed bootlegs of Thai martial arts films. What they lack, what they really need, is access to knowledge about the world they live in---the world outside Labdong's one road. The laptop is US$200. Consider how much more that could do for one of my host siblings in Labdong---heck, my whole family---than the textbooks (which are little more than coloring books) and the school uniforms (which fall apart after the first month) that the government provides every year.

I read the Binyavanga Wainaina essay, and it was the last line that struck me the most---the one where the author talks about wanting to get back to an "earthier" lifestyle occasionally. If you ask me, this sort of angelification is worse by far than all the patronizing good intentions of Western technophile. Sure, participating in an "earthier" lifestyle is exactly what I'm doing, and I like it. But I wouldn't for a moment wish it on anyone who didn't want it. The people of Labdong didn't choose their lifestyle, and I know that most all of them would do anything to be a middle-class American. Not because they have been sucked in by Western culture, but because their life is often really fucking hard. Binyavanga Wainaina doesn't speak for the developing world, not by a long shot.
posted by Hollow at 11:41 PM on November 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


I know this thread's been inactive for a while, but here's an interesting first-hand account of the first deployment of OLPC's to Uganda; it goes into some technical detail about the security measures they use when shipping the XOs over, and the wireless/server infrastructure on the other side.
posted by whir at 12:27 PM on December 4, 2007


« Older Lost Places in Japan   |   I'm gonna get on my knees and... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post