Posted in 100 dollar laptop

XP on the X.O

At first they were blasting the whole project but now they have jumped on board. Whatever you want to think about it depends on how you think about it.  Having XP on those laptops is an extremely bad idea that’s all I can say. If the idea is to have a learning environment and tool, proprietary software is the last thing we should think of. It is like putting  barbed wire around a mango tree and telling kids to go for it. Dependence on Microsoft software and thinking is not a way of educating a child well.

Secondly, I really doubt if Microsoft’s motive is also to provide a learning tool to the underdeveloped countries. It has always been hackers and geeks in the open source community to attempt such stuff.

For now I keep imagining of a scenario of a primary school in my village where children have these laptops in class and can’t use them because of a virus infection(How are you going to begin lecturing children of 10 to something years on their first day to be careful on what they click or they infect their machines.) Don’t tell me because they are in a remote location virus infection is very minimal.

Posted in 100 dollar laptop

Laptop Interview

Since everybody is talking to somebody, I decided to talk to myself and here is a personal interview on this XO laptop thing. The following, are the excerpts courtesy of myself.

Why the laptop? People are starving; they need food instead of those laptops? Thanks for your concern. How much food have you tried sending to them? By the way, you should note there are more illiterate than starving people in my country. This doesn’t mean I support the minority starving but development should be a multi-pronged process. We feed our hungry and educate the mentally hungry too. This laptop can actually boost the agricultural production. I think you have heard of the mesh topology networking thing, have you? And you have heard the most common reason for the Internet in developing countries is something like this ‘we can check for prices of our commodities, we can communicate to buyers.’ So you see, better prices for the agricultural products which interestingly support most of these ‘starving’ people unless they are in a war torn area. The meteorological department can send messages of when rains are coming. The agricultural department can send info of when to plant and what to plant, better farming methods, the list is endless. So when a kid is carrying this laptop to school, a parent instructs him or her on what information she/her would like. The kid goes to school where there should be some Internet connection and voila, information. You see, the most common method of information dissemination this side is by radio and some parents can’t afford them or are away when this information is aired so they have to it from the social gathering area read a bar, where sanity levels are very much doubtful. So this system of communication can be like this: From the government to district headquarters to school via the laptop to the home. I feel like drawing that chart for you. How is it possible? Just set up an electronic school bulletin board when pupils can download that info. And I like this method better. It has less talk and less translation and can reach the last man/woman any time he/she wishes. And any feed back to the government can be done in the reverse direction. That’s the way things are done in a decentralized government. If your government is not like that, get your head up and running.

Will it really help an illiterate man in the village? Well, added to the above, it is an education tool. Have you heard of 50 to 60 year old men joining primary schools?(I would love to see a 50 year old man trying his big fingers on that tiny XO laptop.) After children getting information at school they can save that on these machines and take it to their parents. You see what I am talking about: small-long distance adult education via the XO laptop.

What about that criticism of not knowing how the laptops will be repaired, the right policies and such stuff? Hey, it is time people began forgetting about spoon feeding. The OLPC guys made the laptop. They don’t have to show you where you are going to get money from, or what to do with it, blah, blah. Anybody with some imagination should begin firing up that imagination. That’s what happens when a revolutionary idea is born.

What about the O/S? Windows or Linux or what?
I think you should leave arguments like these to people who can make money when they make such noises. If you are one of them go ahead buddy somebody has to benefit while others lose. I have always been open on this and my opinion is this which is biased with reasons: If these machines are loaded with Windows they will become toys. You should watch what children do to their toys when they ‘misbehave.’

Posted in 100 dollar laptop

Will it fail?

“It will, it will fail,” Well, you have those words over and over again. What will it fail from? Over expectation? By the way what are you expecting? A laptop that can serve as an umbrella? Books and slates on top of the head have done that for a long time now. Laptops that serve as umbrellas because sometimes the rain pours without warning and you know sometimes, the roads are slippery and puddles happen to be near by? Laptops that can withstand very hot temperatures (“but sir, there was a shade there when we began playing”)

Then there is my complain, that design. Just because it’s meant for children it doesn’t have to be designed in whatever weird shape and colour that some people say children like a lot. Designing an education tool in such a way that it looks like a toy will result into its mistreatment. I have seen children schools with those smiling bears drawn everywhere, toys all over the place but their blackboards are just the same as any academic institution. I hope you get my point here. Okay the reason I am complaining here is simple. I don’t want to ashamed of carrying this laptop just because ‘it’s for children.’ I have been open with this one. I must get my hands on one of these laptops whether hook or crook. So it will fail? I pray very hard that am wrong on what I am going to say. And if am wrong let me be wrong from the beginning. It won’t fail from the manufacturing side of it. It is obvious the guys there are damn good. What can make it fail to me is at the receiving side. The first one is the policy. As they say they are focusing on dealing with governments. Not a bad idea but am not comfortable with that idea. Governments this side have always made wrong decisions when it comes to technology. When a government makes a mistake, it is big and it is ugly. It is courtesy of these systematic mistakes that some of our countries in Africa are ever lagging in anything progressive.

Imagine some scenario here. What if a country cannot afford to buy for all its children the laptops what will it do? Give them to rural areas? Give them to urban or semi-urban areas? What do you expect now? Noise, and more noise everywhere. More bickering and more parliamentary sessions while the laptops lie idle.

Let’s imagine some more. Who will repair these machines when they break down? (Or may be we are too hopeful that they don’t break down.) Is it the teacher who has access to a screw driver, or a parent who has a bicycle spoke flattened at one end or some district technician where you have to fill in a five page questionnaire of your sex, location and how the laptop got damaged then you wait for one month for it to get repaired?

In my village we have a saying that goes ‘many rats cannot close a hole.’ The idea is this, in the end the hole remains open and in the neighbourhood there is a snake and this particular snake is hungry and it also happens to be searching for some food. There is that problem of these screaming banshees (most likely around Silicon Valley). Who go ‘it will fail, it will fail.’ They are at the top of the game and have been reaping lots of money in the computer industry. The scaring part is that these horrors in blue suits have agents in every strategic location on the planet. Agents who are also very vocal some money is not coming their way. These guys hold governments at neck point screaming ‘copyright, piracy, whatever.’ Now, governments are also tuned up to that kind of music because they are sure of money coming up in taxes that they are not ready to listen to any new ideas coming from another side. By the way, some of these agents are the ‘experts’ who give the advice that governments rely on and what is wrong with giving wrong advice so that a project fails?(who is right all the time anyway?) All I have seen is that they are in a great supply in my country. These ladies and gentlemen is what am scared of.

My view is this: There are hurdles we must face. It is us to find the solutions. These laptops will fail if that’s what we want.

Posted in 100 dollar laptop

The 100 dollar laptop| The beauty in the idea

People have said almost everything about this topic so let me take also take this opportunity and add some noise in the arena. I will begin with this so that you know my position. The 100 dollar laptop is one of the best ideas I have ever heard in my life. These laptops are to be provided to school going children in developing countries. One thing that makes me crazy about this laptop is the power crank. I think what they call the hand crank.

Let me tell you a story, one and half years ago, I went to this guy’s site and read his article on the laptop. Basically, he said the laptop couldn’t work in developing countries because studies have showed those poor (us) prefer to save money and buy slightly more expensive computer that can give more computing power that buy than those cheap computers. In those cheap computer slots, the 100 dollar laptop was obviously included. I agreed with his article because my desire is to have a good computer that is fast and can run well with this high memory consuming software we have around these days. I was in town at that time and it just made sense.

Then I went to the village (my home area). This is a place where apart from the houses that have iron sheets, you would think you were in a precolonial era. The nearest electric line is about five kilometres away and I should stress it just passes by, not connecting to any house. Mobile communication is accessible in hotspots; under a tree, above the tree (if you can climb), on a hill. Do I continue to tell you about the condition of the road when it rains? I will leave that for you. It’s only the trading center that is connected to the electricity grid. The supply itself is not reliable. The schools, even those that are a few metres away from the trading center are not connected. This is what you call a developing country. One characteristic of a developing country is this: there are modern enclaves that are just like in developed countries. Remember also most of the people who do the decision making live in these developed enclaves and it is very easy to get out of touch with wide backward rural areas. The example is me who though coming out of a village, could forget all that was there and support this man’s article of his relatively expensive computer forgetting that if the idea is to work, we must connect the villages, the village schools to the electric grid. Yes, this man’s slighly more expensive computer needs an electric supply.

Okay, to expand on this man’s idea this is what would happen. Am using the example of schools because I want you to see the beauty of the idea. Despite the government’s effort, many classrooms still consist of trees. Yes, lessons are conducted under trees because there are no buildings. So that means we have to build new classrooms to accommodate the ‘slightly expensive’ computers (I don’t think computers like dripping roofs). Then we must connect the schools to the electric grid. After that we must get Uninterrupted Powers Supplies (UPS’s) because the current is not stable. Then if we are to utilise these computers, we must get generators. No am not getting out of my mind here, I told you the power supply is not reliable. It goes off for two days or three (If I told you sometimes for weeks, you wouldn’t believe). It is very much possible because when power is switched off, some enterprising thieves steal the electric wire from the electric grid, others steal the oil that cools the transformers and this leads to overheating when power is switched on, causing the transformers to blow. Back at the regional branch of the electricity supplying company, a request is sent to main branch that is the capital city some 250 kilometres away. Of course, beauracracy is a fact. You see it every where you go. Let me not paint a total picture of bleakness but that will give you a glimpse of what we call a developing country.

This leads me to ponder on the beauty of an idea that results into a hand crank being put on a laptop that will end up being sold at 100 dollars.

This beauty not liked by some people who have not tried anything to better developing countries (or may be they have through these trading deals we hear so often with strings attached, or given some money). I will add that money is not the solution to everything. We have scandals almost every other week. People have squadered money and are just not tired still. We are just becoming more self centred, more selfish, day by day. No wonder I keep hearing top officials of companies that sell very expensive computers with their proprietary software from all sides. One funny thing is that they have never initiated any programme of such a kind (providing those who can’t afford their expensive computer with some cheaper ones). So they are all very concerned because even their ‘less expensive computers’ are only cheap to them who receive a paycheck at the end of the month.

Am about to begin calling this laptop ‘the affordable tool.’ You see, that’s what I need in my hand not some money donations. I can use it (I already know how I will use it) and some money will trickle in. One factor here is ‘my sweat.’ That is a very big factor in development but most people forget about it.

I was excited when I first heard of the idea of this laptop and am still waiting with anticipation. One thing I can’t understand is this: our government has recognised the need of ICT in development and has even put a ministry to handle the issues related to ICT. Sadly and sadly, there are just ‘interested’ in the laptop idea. To me, that’s not enough. They should do more than that preferably ordering a number of units. There many things that governments become interested in and it all ends on ‘showing some interest’ and folders full of paper.

Well, the laptops are meant for children as they keep saying but if they get this side, there is going to be some change in plan. To give you a clue, am beginning to set aside some loose coins so that am not caught unaware.

For the mouth merchants who don’t even have a clue of what they are talking about, I just leave them with something President Theodore Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who stives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worth cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Far better is it to dare mighty things to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”