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Et tu, Intel? Then fall, OLPC.
January 12, 2008 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Wondering why OLPCNews.com disparages the OLPC project so much? Curious as to the site's apparent emphasis on bad news about the project? It could just be a coincidence. Or it could be because OLPCNews.com's chief contributor Wayan Vota works on a project that's partnered with Intel, a former OLPC partner turned competitor. Does Intel's back-stabbing extend beyond pre-sales and into public relations?

The efficacy of GiveWell-style astro-turfing depends on not getting caught. But it's not clear the damage from a stealth smear campaign can be undone even after the perpetrator is exposed. Just what is the opposite of "astro-turfing," anyway? And why is a simple tech philanthropy project beset by so much drama? As OLPC insider Christopher Blizzard said before Christmas, this probably isn't a conspiracy, but it certainly smells funny. Yes, this is my first post in the Blue, but I'd appreciate any and all criticism of this effort.
posted by sdodd (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, this is my first post in the Blue, but I'd appreciate any and all criticism of this effort.

The whole rhetorical question thing put me off. In particular, since my answer to the first question was not "yes" but rather "who is OLPCNews and why do I care?" it left me not caring much about the rest.

The links are very interesting though, and the same set of information put into a simple declarative format would have worked much better for me.
posted by tkolar at 9:48 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Silent so far...
posted by interrobang at 9:55 AM on January 12, 2008


Yeah, looks like olpcnews.com is fairly anti-OLPC, too bad. I've seen speculation that it's really MS that's pushing Intel's sales people via some bonus system, i.e. it needn't be Intel that's doing it.

Anyway MS is the one party that obviously stands to lose from OLPC since (a) the kids that request developer keys will learn Linux and (b) the others get used to a clean and cwell designed user interface.

I'd imagine that Intel sells machines either way, but who knows.. maybe they may feel threatened by the thought that anybody gets free computers?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:10 AM on January 12, 2008


The whole rhetorical question thing put me off.

Huh? It's the central issue.

Very interesting post well done.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:13 AM on January 12, 2008


Shoot. I intended to include this link to some recent comments by someone named "Wayan" in a year-old post about this topic by Silicon Valley Sleuth. Sorry 'bout that.
posted by sdodd at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2008


Goddam it. Why can't this happen to the Ken Lays and Martha Stewarts of the world more often? Glad you're on it, sdodd! (and who are you working for? 8-)
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2008


Anyway MS is the one party that obviously stands to lose from OLPC since (a) the kids that request developer keys will learn Linux and (b) the others get used to a clean and cwell designed user interface.

All the OLPC software is open source, right? So couldn't you run it on anything? Seems like kids should be able to get all the benefits of the software without using that specific machine. Or would the wifi mesh stuff work without the specific chipset?
posted by delmoi at 10:33 AM on January 12, 2008


I'd imagine that Intel sells machines either way, but who knows.. maybe they may feel threatened by the thought that anybody gets free computers?

The machines aren't free, someone pays for them. The problem (for Intel) is that they use AMD chips.
posted by delmoi at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2008


It's really unfortunate that the so much of the retail computer world sees such a project as a threat. Then again, it could be taken as a sign that they're doing something right to have shaken things up like this.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:37 AM on January 12, 2008


delmoi writes "All the OLPC software is open source, right? So couldn't you run it on anything? Seems like kids should be able to get all the benefits of the software without using that specific machine. Or would the wifi mesh stuff work without the specific chipset?"

The hardware is specially chosen for the project's needs. I am not sure how portable the OS is due to its specialization, although theoretically you could port it to any architecture with enough time and enough coders. Right now, the kids in question don't have much of a choice as far as hardware, so if they get the XO, that's probably the only PC they'll get to use for a while.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2008


Thanks for this post.
posted by Eringatang at 10:53 AM on January 12, 2008


interrobang wrote...
Silent so far...

Well to be fair, he *is* getting married this weekend.


Also from that thread:

The Slashdot Editors have been doing a poor job of checking their data. The linked article is a year old. Somone commented on the ancient story recently and now there's a brouhaha over year old, outdated "news". Wayan does not work for Geekcorps any longer and furthermore, was not actually an Intel employee so far as I can tell.
posted by tkolar at 11:04 AM on January 12, 2008


Yeah, Slashdot definitely got it wrong, which is why I didn't link them (or repeat the accusation that Wayan is an Intel employee). Wayan left the GeekCorps Director position in September. And Intel is listed as a a "technical" partner on the GeekCorps site, not a "funding" partner.

I know DenOfSizer was joking, but I don't work for anybody involved. I'm just blown away by all the drama. Oh, and in retrospect, tkolar, I agree that five interrogatives is too many. I'll avoid them in future. Thanks for the feedback.
posted by sdodd at 11:17 AM on January 12, 2008


Bummer to hear but good to know. I finally got my XO the other day, and the oldpcNews forms have been a great help in getting Opera and Flash working, and in figuring out how to use the networking (hint: if you can't see your wap, set the channel to 1 or 11). I'll read the front page with a bit more skepticism now.
posted by postcommunism at 11:22 AM on January 12, 2008


And as a Day Two Give One, Get One donor, I think that OLPC deserves some harsh criticisms. It's been two months since I donated and in that time OLPC donor support/service has dropped the ball multiple times. First, they did not import full addresses from PayPal, meaning that the address I submitted for delivery - one that works on FedEx, UPS, USPS, whatever - was denied, a fact that they didn't bother to tell me until a month later. Heck, the "uh, guess your address doesn't work" email was the first contact I had from them outside of a PayPal receipt!

So I called them up, waited on hold for an hour, and gave them my corrected address. The woman said that my info was being forwarded to shipping and that I should be all set for a very, very close to Xmas delivery. No worries, I said.

Then I got the "Sorry, no laptop until Jan 15th" email. That sucks, sure, but seeing how my library was closed until after New Years and that's where the laptop should be sent, it wasn't a big deal. So I wait and wait, maybe a bit obsessively trying to track the status of my order via tricks and tips garnered from OLPCNews.

Then last week, I notice that every reference number around mine (you can track other people's packages via OLPC's tracking site, way to go info security!) was shipped long ago. I call again to find out what's up, and what do I find? WHEN I CALLED THE MONTH BEFORE, THEY WROTE DOWN MY ADDRESS BUT THEN NEVER DID ANYTHING WITH IT! All my info was there in their system, but my info was never actually sent on to shipping. So now I have no idea when or if I'll get my XO. The woman I spoke with last week said she'd sent my info along, but hey, they said that last time, didn't they?

The crappy part is that my library hosts a collection of old European maps of Africa, some of which were scanned and donated to OLPC for inclusion on some Africa-bound machines. The donor of the project will be in and around my library next week and I really wanted to surprise him with a look at the XO.

It has been really, really frustrating dealing with these people. But on the upside, I ended up getting an Eee PC off Newegg (ordered it Thursday, it showed up on Friday, so I guess my delivery address DOES work!) and so far i's great!

We'll see if I get my machine on the 15th. If OLPC can't get a single laptop to a single person in the most developed country on earth, how can I expect them to get a hundred laptops to a hundred kids out in the third world?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:42 AM on January 12, 2008


If OLPC can't get a single laptop to a single person in the most developed country on earth, how can I expect them to get a hundred laptops to a hundred kids out in the third world?
Because they're more focused on delivering hundreds of laptops to hundreds of kids in the third world? Selling directly to U.S. consumers is hard work which OLPC specifically didn't set themselves up for. It's too bad that things aren't going well in fulfilling your order, but I'd reserve "harsh criticism" for failures in accomplishing their mission rather than in executing a rather complicated fundraiser. FWIW, I received mine without a problem.
posted by robla at 12:34 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Robocop: That sounds like about par for the course as far as their implementation plan outside the USA. It's hard for me to imagine a more cynical venture than OLPC.
posted by rbs at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2008


It's hard for me to imagine a more limited imagination than rbs'.
posted by Manjusri at 1:36 PM on January 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is interesting, I have wondered in the past about OLPC's often adversarial tone. On balance, though, I don't see it as a necessarily bad thing, especially for a site with "news" in the name. (Plus Wayan Volta isn't the only person who posts there, although he is certainly the most prolific author.) The thing is that there doesn't seem to be any alternative source for this kind of information coming from OLPC itself - there are a few blogs from members of the project and so on, but if there's another "let's talk about recent news stories related to OLPC" site, I haven't found it.
posted by whir at 2:31 PM on January 12, 2008


The hardware is specially chosen for the project's needs. I am not sure how portable the OS is due to its specialization, although theoretically you could port it to any architecture with enough time and enough coders.

Uh... The OS is just Linux. And you can already download a VMWare image of the system. I doubt you would have much trouble running the UI on an Eee PC running Linux. (that is, compared to do anything else on Linux, AMIRITE!?)
posted by delmoi at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2008


Because they're more focused on delivering hundreds of laptops to hundreds of kids in the third world? Selling directly to U.S. consumers is hard work which OLPC specifically didn't set themselves up for.

They could have just sold the machines to retailers like newegg are twice the wholesale price.
posted by delmoi at 3:32 PM on January 12, 2008


The OLPC seems like really cool technology, but it also seems like they need to fire everyone involved in marketing and selling the fucking things and hire somebody who knows what they're doing.
posted by empath at 4:03 PM on January 12, 2008


Does Intel's back-stabbing extend beyond pre-sales and into public relations?
Dude, that's what PR is. Even at its nicest, it's "ours is better than theirs" - at its worst, it's "ours is used by the Dalai Lama and the Pope; here's a picture of Hitler using something which looks remarkably like theirs". Beyond that, this is pretty much the tech equivalent of whitehouse.org
And why is a simple tech philanthropy project beset by so much drama?
Because it's a poster-child of the Linux fanboys*. They'd be bitching almost as much if OLPC has said "It's going to run Linux - no, wait, changed our minds, we're going with OpenBSD".

(* No offence to those who use and love Linux. It has it's place, I've used it in the recent past, and currently use OpenBSD and OS X as well as Windows. Just can't stand the rabid, half-educated, self-centred, blinkered, "rah-rah Linux!" fanboys. They're even more annoying than Mac zealots.)
posted by Pinback at 4:25 PM on January 12, 2008


I've been participating on the OLPC News forums as well as a few other places. For those interested, there are now official OLPC forums.
posted by Fricka at 6:13 PM on January 12, 2008


I like this post. I'd say that olpcnews.com is pretty much the only decent news site focused on the project but every once in a while you get a story on how much the whole thing spreads AIDS or destroys the ozone layer or whatever...

It's been pretty clear for any casual reader of the site that at least one of the contributors is a hack with an unusually large amount of corporate cash up his/her ass. Nice to see someone posting something resembling proof of it.
posted by uandt at 6:31 PM on January 12, 2008


at its worst, it's "here's a picture of Hitler using something which looks remarkably like theirs".
Kind of like this?
posted by deanc at 6:44 PM on January 12, 2008


It has been really, really frustrating dealing with these people.

I agree. Their lack of communication and positively flat out bullshit lies to Canadians from the git go is ridiculous. Last email I got from them said Feb 08 delivery. Fuck 'em--I submitted a Paypal dispute.

I also bought an eeePc. It rocks.
posted by dobbs at 7:56 PM on January 12, 2008


As a point of interest, someone calling themselves Mary Lou Jepsen (former CTO of OLPC and inventor of the laptop's industry-first direct sunlight screen) has commented on the Slashdot story: "I think Wayan is doing a terrific job."

Also, for those curious about what makes the OLPC so special from a hardware engineering standpoint, Andrew "bunnie" Huang (founder/chief hardware guy of Chumby Industries and the guy who hacked the original XBOX) took apart his OLPC laptop, posting pictures and commentary on his blog. Says Bunnie, "If I were to make one general comment about the OLPC XO-1, it’s that its mechanical design is brilliant."
posted by sdodd at 8:15 AM on January 13, 2008


Wayan Vota posted his response here.

He says:

...$5 Billion in Intel R&D and we get the Classmate PC? Which is why I find the whole Intel conspiracy theory so outlandish it has to be a compliment. I've never personally got a dime from Intel. Or Microsoft. Or any other technology vendor. Not even a Classmate PC demo unit! To top it off, I don't work for Geekcorps anymore.


It might be better to hold off on posting year-old previously debunked rumors to the front page, as tempting as it may be. It's been done many times and probably will again but better to wait for the response of the accused in cases like this. That way the full story can be told.
posted by euphorb at 9:25 AM on January 14, 2008


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