[Edu-sig] OLPC on 60 Minutes

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Sat May 26 17:41:57 CEST 2007

> It's not that MIT needs zero competition.  You misunderstand the term "suck
> the oxygen" -- it refers to the dark side of capitalism, where a competitor

Didn't use the term at all that I can recall.

> sows fear, uncertainty, doubt in the customer and financial market, where a
> competitor locks suppliers into sole-customer agreements to keep critical
> parts away from others, to obtaining sole source agreements with political
> entities in return for support.  Often a young upstart competitor has limited
> capital and if the market owner can drag out their getting to market, make it
> hard to get additional funding or key anchor customers they will run out of
> funds and die.
> Negroponte has a limited amount of time to make OLPC happen, both due to
> funding and developer mindshare.  There are many arrayed against him, who do
> not want him to succeed.  You can just read all the postings around the
> Internet to see that - the OLPC project engenders strong feelings on both
> sides.  It's part of the reason I find it so fascinating.

I'm counting the days it takes the US State Department or other agency to
order up a bunch for sending out with Peace Corps types or other special
operation development types.  Show up with a container full, help wire a
village.  Go home.  Visit again someday.

It's a no brainer if you want to earn the world's trust, that you could
buy from Negroponte.  The USA would do well to put some confidence
building measures in place, stuff of a civilian nature.  If nothing else,
FEMA could buy a bunch of XOs for its little trailer villages for Katrina
victims (might help compensate for the poison gas, formaldyhyde if
you didn't catch that CBS News segment).  Or does the USG have
a sweetheart understanding with Intel?  Buy both then, to cover up
the scandal.

> > And I worry a bit about Negroponte's "dumping"
> > rhetoric as it applies to Free Geek which literally
> > intercepts what was headed to the landfill ("the dump")
> > as refuse, and makes decent Freekboxes out it,
> > bundled for schools, often using an LTSP
> > configuration (beefy server, thin clients).
> His "dumping" rhetoric was applied to Intel selling their laptops below cost,
> not Free Geek's mission, a good one.  Besides Free Geek computers are not
> targeted at the countries/economic niche that OLPC is.  The XO is unique in
> its ability to run in physically hostile environments at its price point -
> recycled PCs don't have a chance in their world.
> Free Geek also, from my reading of their site, seems focused more on
> vocational use of computers, providing OpenOffice.org and similar tools.  A
> good thing, don't get me wrong, but OLPC is striving to provide "educational
> materials" in a consistent environment.  A conventional PC, even one running
> Linux, is still a rather difficult/diverse software environment and relies
> upon educators to mold/apply it to their educational mission.

I live a few blocks from Free Geek and have participated in its inner
workings.   It's a Python shop to some high degree, but also Ruby 'n
Perl 'n other stuff.  CP4E isn't just about Python.  You can't be a
"glue language" if there's nothing to glue to.

We also use POV-Ray's Scene Description Language and Sketchup
with Google Earth.

> This consistent environment/platform is not to be underestimated -- it has the
> potential to break the logjam and engender lots of open educational software.
> Why do you think there is such a dearth of educational software today?  We
> have all the tools we need, a hungry educational market and yet I find it so
> hard to get people to create educational software.  OLPC can galvanize the
> open source community to rally around the XO platform, which will never happen
> with computers, even free ones, that use non-free software.  We have a known
> hardware platform, operating system, desktop environment, programming language
> (Python) and target user (children).  You can't get more focused than that.
> > These solutions are easily containerized and
> > shipped overseas, sometimes preconfigured as model
> > small ecommerce sites with a dedicated web server,
> > database server, and software to suit -- a setup
> > XO laptops don't easily duplicate.
> "model ecommerce sites"?  Are you expecting a flurry of 3rd world stores to
> pop up?  You're focusing on vocational uses again.  The XO is an educational
> laptop for children, to free their minds.  And many of those destinations lack
> the continual Internet access and consistent power necessary for ecommerce in
> any case.  It's silly.

Yes, flurry of 3rd world eCommerce sites popping up, relating to tourism,
coffee trade and much more.  But specializing a web server vs. a database
server is what you do in admin as well, not just in vending.  Lots of GIS
stuff to stick in the Model (then you need Views and Controllers).

> > So here we are "dumping" our non-XO solutions into
> > classrooms.  Are we "bad guys" for doing this?  And
> > more to the point, is what we're doing really hurting
> > MIT?  I wouldn't think so.
> No, providing non-XO solutions to the homeless in America is not hurting MIT,
> since that niche is not being targeted.  Please continue to help them.

Definitely will.  DynaHomes for DignityVillage -- one of the topics we
have on-line chatter about, looking for more aerospace sponsors.

> > I was glad to see Geek Corps as part of the story
> > BTW, as that adds more of a CP4E dimension to the
> > OLPC piece, i.e. we're not just focusing on children.
> As an educator you have to know that the minds of children are the most
> adaptable to new ideas, to learning.  While vocational training of adults to
> raise them out of poverty is important, you get more leverage from children.

Sounds like you might be a teacher of some kind.

> Children, prior to age 5, are natural learners, exploring their world and
> quickly picking up knowledge.  They lack the preconceived notions that impair
> adults, that things are the way they are just because they always have been.
> Adults in tight economic straits also tend to lack the discretionary time to
> learn, and generally prefer formal classroom training.  So many have forgotten
> how to learn, so many have lost the thrill of learning.  And adults will
> sacrifice for their children more than for themselves, working extra hours so
> their children can have a better life.

A typical village could benefit from high technology, in ways the local
elders will brainstorm and implement, taking cues from youth, while
training youth to take over.

> > Plus I would guess he'll turn out to be really quite
> > flexible once the rollout is underway,
> I'm sure he is flexible - there are so many ways that Intel could help, but
> isn't.  They could have stepped up, taken the open hardware design and
> competed to make an XO using Intel parts but with a better power/price
> profile.  It could have been an industry competitive event.  Intel could have
> embraced the server part of XO, volunteering to produce that as a counter to
> AMD.  They could have offered leverage with their suppliers, to help OLPC
> obtain parts.
> Intel's focus is on killing AMD - nothing else.  In the business news these
> two are fighting each other over a saturated market, with distorted pricing to
> keep the other from revenue and suffocate them.  If Intel can eliminate AMD,
> they can control pricing but they cannot sustain this price war indefinitely.
> Either the market must consolidate or become unsaturated.  OLPC stands at the
> gateway of both, unfortunately for OLPC.
> Intel is not so much worried about missing out on revenue on laptops as that
> their nemesis will gain economies of scale in their chip foundries, from
> producing the billions necessary to supply Negroponte's vision.  Even if AMD
> sells them to OLPC's builder for cost, AMD will be strengthened in their
> ability to compete with Intel.
> Another slant -- it is better to have a non-profit like OLPC at the helm of
> the educational thrust, with AMD a key partner but controlled by the other
> project members, than to let a for-profit like Intel run things.  Admittedly
> non-profits are not automatically angelic, but I think OLPC understands this
> project better than Intel.  OLPC has been working on this for years,
> consulting with various countries on their needs.  I believe OLPC is doing
> this for the right reasons and Intel isn't.  Remember the old saying, that
> doing the right thing for the wrong reasons corrupts the work.
> Intel is simply wrong for this.  Being for-profit and, so far, rather
> dictatorial in their approach to this project, they cannot garner the
> mindshare of goodwill that OLPC has.  OLPC has amassed a set of partnerships
> and captured the mindshare of the open source and charitable communities.  Go
> read the postings on the OLPC site -- people are volunteering to set their
> lives aside to help -- it's rather inspirational and emotional.  They wouldn't
> do that just for a corporation.
> And when it is unable or unwilling to gain partners in those hard-to-control
> communities, Intel will fall back on industry partnerships, with Microsoft,
> with those aggressive textbook publishers who squeeze the US educational
> system, with the commercial educational software companies behind the laptop
> failures reported in the news.  They will push Windows, not Linux (yes they
> say their unit will run both), special "discount" versions of their products,
> preying on the fear of governments that their people won't be vocationally
> trained in 1st world office technology.  They will peddle control, to those
> governments, to the school boards and a fear of falling behind.  And once OLPC
> is marginalized, if those countries aren't paying to its cabal enough to make
> it worthwhile, they will cancel the project, ostensibly at the behest of their
> shareholders, saying it just doesn't make economic sense to help those children.
> It is also in our own interests, for many reasons but one is that a strong AMD
> to compete with Intel will keep technology prices down for us consumers, and
> stimulate innovation from both of them.  We do NOT want Intel to destroy AMD,
> regardless of what you think of AMD products.
> Just my rather long-winded $0.02,
> -Jeff

Sounds like Intel is really helping, by playing the bad guy in all
this.  I said
as much as my review.

But anyway, I don't see edu-sig as a place to get into an economic
discussion, given how redundant that'd be with the rest of the net.

OLPC will happen or it won't (looks to me like it's happening), but
edu-sig isn't just about that small set of hardware platforms.

Computer languages cut across hardware.

My point about Free Geek was simply that laptops are relatively hard
to come by when intercepting landfill (we don't see so many), plus
the ones that come through are way old, and likely broken in too
serious ways to rectify.  So desktops are more the norm.


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