Part 1 of elf's OLPC Journal

It Shipped! But...


Thu Mar 06 23:25:43 2008

I received an email yesterday telling me that my XO had shipped! Finally! I enter the reference-id that's in the email into the "track your order" page on only to find out that the fedex tracking number is for a laptop that was delivered to someone else on Feb. 21st. Lovely. So I replied to the email asking for a clarification, only to receive an automated response saying that due to overwhelming demand my email won't be answered in another 3-5 days. Lovely.

Today, when I get in to work, I call them up at 1-877-705-2786 after about a 6 minute wait I explain the situation. She types away for a while and then says that the original shipment bounced because of an incorrect address. I say, that I phoned and emailed a correction to the postal code back in december and that the correction was confirmed on the telephone. It seems they are using my original, incorrect address. Then I ask, "So you're telling me you've sent a second package with the incorrect address?" After a brief silence, she says yes.

Brilliant! I think, this must be why they're called Brightstar.

So she says she'll talk to her supervisor and see if the address can be changed on the fly. Somehow I doubt it as she couldn't provide me with a new tracking number. If there's one thing I've learned about this company, they are quite possibly the most disorganized group of people I have dealt with.



Sat Mar 08 16:47:06 2008

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
—Grey's Law

Had a nice chat with >ffm< on #olpc, who is one of approximately 50 volunteers who answers technical support questions for the XO laptop. He pointed me to a wiki page analyzing the shipping debacle. Note that the 'How Laptop Delivery Works' page has been accessed 1,757 times, while the 'How Laptop Delivery Breaks' page, linked above, has been accessed 4,549 times.

Amazon Fulfillment

shipping and handling

Thu Mar 20 21:58:18 2008

With this innovative new service, you send inventory directly to Amazon where it is stored and managed in a secure, climate controlled facility. When orders are received, Amazon will professionally pick, pack and ship the product direct to your customer.

And they'll do it competently.



Fri Mar 21 13:05:38 2008

...a radical change in its goals and vision from those that were shared with me when I was invited to join the project... three weeks ago I resigned my post at OLPC.
—Ivan Kristic

Ivan Kristic resigned from his position at OLPC. I only found out about it from Ars Technica's "sensationalist" article.

Citizen Kane


Fri May 02 20:49:21 2008

The One Laptop Per Child Project appointed Charles Kane, previously part-time Chief Financial Officer, as new president and Chief Operating Officer. He will oversee OLPC's operation and distribution of the XO laptops. This appointment comes after several founding members resigned for various reasons:

In January, OLPC lost Chief Technology Officer Mary Lou Jepsen, who started an organization to commercialize parts of OLPC's technology, including the screen and battery. In February, Director of Security Architecture Ivan Krstic resigned to protest the organization's restructuring and "radical" change in goals.

Last month, Walter Bender, the president of software and content, quit to promote the use of open-source software in the face of OLPC's goal to load Windows XP on the laptop. Bender was said to be running the day-to-day operations of OLPC while Negroponte focused on fundraising and promotion of the project.

Good News

Sat May 03 19:52:15 2008

I have a Fedex tracking number for my XO and it is due to arrive on May 8th.

On April 20th, when I followed up my April 9th inquiry, asking for an update on the status of my order, I noticed that I didn't get the auto-response emails from support@laptopgiving.

On a lark (it was the only other option available; my last resort would have been to write a letter to Dr. Negroponte himself, accompanied with a printout of all the emails documenting my ordeal), I decided to visit the forums (mentioned on the #olpc topic) where I saw a post by someone else that had still not received their laptop and a response from a volunteer in the OLPC Support Group asking them for details about their order. I emailed the volunteer ( with my order information and received an email within an hour asking to verify my ordering information and shipping address. I was not only amazed by the response time, but even more amazed that my shipping address was still incorrect after 5 months despite all those emails requesting corrections and the promises that it would be corrected.

Radical Goal Shift

Sun May 04 15:02:35 2008

Eventually, Negroponte added, Windows might be the sole operating system ... Negroponte said he was mainly concerned with putting as many laptops as possible in children's hands.
—AP article

After recent comments from Negroponte, about the changing goals of the OLPC project there was a long thread (worth your time to read in its entirety) of discussion on the developer mailing list.

There were arguments whether the change in ideology, by supporting a proprietary OS like Windows/XP would harm or benefit the project (because some education ministries prefer Windows to Linux); whether using propietary firmware in the Marvel chip that handles mesh networking went against the "prime directive" of using open software; whether seeking short-term goals of getting laptops into children's hands and turning a blind eye to the "prime directive", rather than, what RMS (who has recently switched from his aging Thinkpad240 to an XO with a Happy Hacker USB keyboard) naturally preferred— waiting until someone wrote an open version of the wifi firmware, or Adobe Flash and the necessary codecs; whether the goal of the project changing from an educational project, to one about, "putting as many laptops as possible into children's hands" has, or will in the future, jeopardize the continuing support and good-will of the many backers and volunteers to the project.

Just Another Laptop


Mon May 05 17:51:12 2008

Walter Bender asks an interesting question in a post I referencecd yesterday: "And if others are making low cost laptops that run Windows, why don't those efforts fulfill that goal?" There are many good reasons why the XO fulfills the needs of the OLPC project where other laptops, like the EEE PC, would fail.

The ACM Queue has an interview with Mary Lou Jepsen, who designed the screen of the XO, where she also discusses the battery technology:

We signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya about a year ago; each of the 1.2 million children there will get a laptop. It is the hottest place on earth. It gets to 57 degrees C in the desert in the summer, and the safe (read: don't explode) NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) batteries won't charge above 45 degrees C. That's a real problem because many spots in Libya are off the grid.

We started to look into other battery chemistries, such as lithium-ferro phosphate, which people haven't really used yet in consumer electronics. This chemistry charges in heat up to 60 degrees C. It's also about as safe as NiMH. We can put nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ferro phosphate or, eventually, other battery chemistries into our laptops, which was another accomplishment...

Our battery has a five-year life. You can go to 2,000 charge/recharge cycles. The lithium-ion battery in my ThinkPad is supposed to last for 500 charges, but in practice it's more like 200. So, moving to lithium-ferro phosphate is really cool because you don't have to spend additional money on periodic battery replacement costs, regardless of the environment.

To get a desert-ruggerdized, child-proof laptop at such a low price is quite an achievement. The military pays quite a large amount of money for battle-field ruggerdized laptops.

There was also another problem encountered as the Nepal journal clearly illustrates: the school desks happen to be quite narrow, which increases the possibility of the laptop accidenlty falling off the edge frequently. So the desks had to be re-arranged so the students were sitting face-to-face.

One 2 One Mate


Thu May 08 23:03:51 2008

The One 2 One Mate: competition for the XO, on the continent, anyway. There's no hope of this hardware ever working in the third world.

The Jesus Laptop

olpc xo jesuits scifi clarke

Fri May 09 17:45:24 2008

It is three thousand light years to the Vatican.
—“The Star”, Arthur C. Clarke

I took Thursday and Friday off, expecting the delivery of my long-awaited XO laptop. Fate (thy name is Brightstar) has conspired against me, yet again, as the laptop has been stuck in customs for the last three days (because the distributors (Brightstar), who have confounded me at every step of the way, did not declare a customs value for the shipment; the OLPC Foundation volunteers have been superb in helping me sort out this mess).

As I was reporting the details of my travails on #olpc, I noticed two nicks with "sj". I cracked a joke about the Jesuits being interested in the XO, only to be told that they (Boston College is in the neighbourhood) had in fact demo'd the laptop at the Vatican (at which point I solemly vowed that was the last Jesuit joke I was going to make.)

Then, to answer someone's question about Jesuits, I posted a link to the eponymous Wikipedia article and as I was browsing it, I noticed that a scifi novel, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, featured a Jesuit priest (Brad Pitt has bought rights to the novel and is planning to play the priest in the movie). Strangely, there is no mention of Dan Simmon's novel, Hyperion, which also features a Jesuit.

Finally, the entry for The Sparrow has a link to the entire text of Arthur C. Clarke's short-story, The Star which features a similar plot.

It Arrived!


Mon May 12 16:05:04 2008

The FedEx truck pulled into the driveway at 1:56PM.

It's true what they say— kids can open them without reading the instructions.
My only regret is not buying two because there was a fight within an hour.

My first impressions: the laptop arrived already charged. The battery had to be inserted— pretty straight-forward after a couple of tries (without reading a manual). Even though I read the Simplified User's Guide, I had to consult the accompanying pamphlet because I forgot how to do it. The keyboard has a nice feel to it, it's for single-finger typing as touch-typing would be problematic.

The first activity I tried was TamTamJam. It took a "long time" to start (start-up time is a common complaint and it is being worked on or has already been fixed in the latest update). The blinking application icon helps with user feedback (except when an application gets stuck and then it blinks forever in "Starting..." and there is no way of killing it, without resorting to terminal commands).

Then I tried the video camera. I have to suggest that the video should be mirrored as it's a bit confusing to move left for your image to move right and vice-versa (kids found it confusing too).

Kid's first impression: "What is this...?" After opening it, "Is this a real laptop?" "Yes, it's real; it's not a toy. Can you find the power button?" He found it (he's used a "grown-up" laptop before, so he's familiar with the symbol).

Update Mon May 12 18:02:32 2008: I'm quite impressed at how crisp the LCD is; it's paper-like. I found one quirk though, with the screen rotated to ebook mode, the cursor buttons are not rotated, which means that to page down, you have to press the right-cursor button (which, in the normal orientation would be page-down).

You can switch to the Linux console view with Alt-Ctrl-F1 (F1 key is dotted-circle with center dot) while booting. Earlier I had complained that the laptop seems hung, when, in fact, it was just booting fine (I was getting impatient). I think there should be a progress indicator as there is a point as the XO starts, when the screen is completely blank (grey).

XP on XO

software orly omg wtf windows linux osx

Thu May 15 22:45:21 2008

Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.
—Eric Hoffer

REDMOND, Wash., and CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 15 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Today, Microsoft Corp. and One Laptop per Child (OLPC) announced an agreement that will make the Microsoft Windows operating system available on OLPC's low-cost XO laptops for the world's poorest children. Through this agreement, trials of the XO running Windows are planned to begin as soon as June in key emerging markets.

Engadget has also weighed in (there is a video link included showing snappy performance). It would be an understatement to say that (normally sleepy) #olpc was buzzing with activity at 11PM EDT. I wonder if OS X will now also follow (with an appropriate EULA exemption) as Apple's primary market is education.

Announcing: Sugar Labs


Fri May 16 15:31:21 2008

Walter Bender founded Sugar Labs to take the, "Sugar user interface to the next level of usability and utility".

Week 1 XO Report

experience usability

Sat May 17 14:27:53 2008

After a week of using the XO, I interviewed my nephew and niece (6 and 4) about their experience.

The most notable incident I have to report, was that my nephew became upset (to the point of tears) when the mouse-pad wouldn't respond correctly— there are two possiblities: either it lost calibration or my nephew's hands became sweaty causing the trackpad to mis-track. To solve this, I attached a spare USB Microsoft mouse (which "just worked") and he's happily using it. Putting a single layer of Saran™/cling wrap on the index finger also solves the sweat problem.


I asked what Activities he had tried during the week: Etoys, Paint and TamTamJam. His question was, "What do you do on TamTamJam?" I told him that TamTamMini would be easier use and so he started it. He started clicking on each of the icons in turn. His favourite sound was "Alien" and my niece liked "Rubber Duckie". She preferred to point to the screen and make her selection at which time her brother selected it with the mouse. After a few minutes of trying all the sounds I showed him that pressing the keyboard keys also produced sounds, so for another few minutes he selected an icon and pressed the keyboard keys. He then recognized that there were more sounds if he scrolled the screen and proceed to try the remaining sounds.

I then took over the laptop and selecting "Rubber Duckie" showed that "QWERTYUI..." played an octave of a musical scale. Then I played "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" (QQTTYYRTTRREWQ). He then said that he knew how to play this on a piano and that he had written it down with colours (I presume the piano keyboard was colour-coded). He then took the laptop back and tried playing Twinkle but missed the "T" and instead played "Y"; I had to repeat several "T" times.

Then I told him about the rythm backing feature by choosing a random rythm (Carribean I think it was) and pressing "Play". He then asked "Where are the drums?" (he wanted to accompany the rhythm section with drums). I took over the laptop again and proceeded to play "Twinkle Twinkle" in a Calypso tempo.

At this point I gave the laptop to my niece (who was initially reluctant) and she proceeded to play the first phrase of "Twinkle Twinkle" with only a few errors, and then proceeded to the second verse, needing a bit more help.

At which point it was time for lunch. The nephew's verdict, "The [TamTam]Mini one is so fun!"

Memory Game

Since they are not allowed to eat/drink and use a computer at the same time, I took the opportunity to continue my interview while they ate lunch. My nephew noted that (earlier in the week) he, "Didn't know to use one part of my finger", to move the pointer (he's used my Mac Powerbook which allows two-finger scrolling; he also enjoys playing Professor Fizzwizzle (a puzzle-solving video game) on the Mac.) I told him about the Memory Game Activity and he said he wanted to try that one after lunch.

After explaining the premise of the game he played the letters and numbers game in the default 4x4 configuration, the proceeded to do 5x5 and 6x6 followed by "I wish there was bigger than 6x6". I said that he could make his own game, "Oh yeah, Create..." The interface was also a bit confusing so the best I could do was to suggest that he click this or that. I would have expected that the "Save Game..." menu would have been a drop-down fron the "Create" tab rather than an obscure icon that looks like a door in the top-left corner.

My Notes

I should note that I had briefly experimented with a few of the Activities beforehand (Paint, TamTamJam, TamTamMini, Memorize, Measure (which needs 2 XOs)). I felt that this is a requirement as the applications were non-intuitive even for me; (Paint, seems reasonably intuitive for drawing if you've been exposed to digital drawing programs, except for the INSANELY COMPLICATED GTK TRIANGLE COLOUR WHEEL colour-chooser) I still don't know how to use TamTamJam; I don't know if TamTamMini can record and save performances.

Similarily, Memory Game is unnecessarily complicated: it took me a few tries to realize that there are two sets of cards (labelled "1" and "2") and cards in set "1" are meant to be matched against cards in set "2". I would have preferred if all the cards were uniformly distributed (I do realize that dividing the cards simplifies the game); further, I think a geometrically patterened background with a colour for each of the two sets would have been better. The game creation interface is also more complicated than it needs to be; there need to be some visual cues on what should be done first. Here is a suggestion for an interface— display two sets of cards as before and allow the user to click on a card and type it's contents and then click on the second card and type it's contents, directly on the card rather than a text-box. I have no idea what those buttons are for.

General comments on the Sugar user-interface:

Installing an Activity

software usability

Sun May 18 19:59:09 2008

Today, I decided to install Speak, a speech synthesis application with an animated face. The installation instructions on that page were non-existent (other than click on the .xo URI in the Browse Activity). I eventually got help via IRC and managed to install it. Since the security model of the XO does not allow one Activity to start another, the Browser cannot run the downloaded application automatically and so the user is left in a state of limbo after downloading.

There should be some feedback that the application installed and the user should be taken to a screen where it can be started: perhaps the home screen showing the new Activity icon hilighted.

I then modified the Activities page by adding a new section with installation instructions. The instructions for installing a dowloaded application are linked to the single word "install" in the opening paragraph— I missed this as I had just looked at the table of contents for the page.


Sun May 18 21:09:40 2008

The price of reliability is simplicity, and for many engineers that is too high a price to pay.

Boot time, from power-on until the laptop is ready for use (XO icon appears in the top-right of the frame after the Journal runs) is approximately 86 seconds. It is unreasonable to expect a child to wait this long.

Disk usage is determined by opening a Terminal Activity and typing df -h. It would help if there was an indicator next to the battery and wifi indicators on the Home screen.

I haven't had a change to try the ebook mode in direct sunlight.

The Speak Activity is quite popular and I will be demoing it tomorrow and observing the results. I do agree with the comment that the next model must have a touch-screen; the youngest child prefers to point to the screen rather than use the mouse or trackpad.

I played a bit with Turtle Art (which will also get a demo tomorrow) and found that the sample projects are missing. The only suggestions I have so far is that when a pen-colour is chosen (numerically) the banner should show a circle filled with the respective colour and that the turtle should slow down a bit for small programs and speed-up on subsequent iterations or longer programs.

I managed to draw a square with four, forward 100/right 90, modules and then duplicated the program with a, repeat 4: forward 100/right 90, construct. Pretty much everything was intuitive (discard programs by dragging them back into the blocks menu (discovered after a few tries); though, I would have preferred a garbage can in the bottom right).

XO: The Next Generation


Tue May 20 15:38:35 2008

The next generation XO laptop was unveiled today by Negroponte. It has two 16:9 touch-screen displays fitted together like a book. The cost is supposed to be $75. It was also announced that the G1G1 program will run again in August.

Hopefully, this time they will use Amazon for distribution. As noted in my observations previously, I have to say that a touch-screen is the way to go especially for younger children.

Yves Behar


Thu May 22 14:25:22 2008

Founder of the design firm, fuseproject, Yves Behar designed the XO (and the Jawbone). He explains his design in this video. The opening jingle was composed by The Edge from U2.

Activity Handbook


Thu May 22 15:38:40 2008

The Austrian OLPC User Group has a (beautifully typeset) document called Activity Handbook showing how to write an Activity for the XO.

Week 2 Report


Sat May 24 16:12:07 2008

This report only contains notes made last Sunday while working with my nephew. The report for the rest of the week's events will have to wait until next weekend.

Turtle Art

I began by describing Turtle Art as an activity where one could draw things by giving a turtle instructions where to go and which direction to turn. I then explained all the items appearing onscreen— I opened the Logo Block Container and pointing to each block, and named them: "clear", "forward", etc. I then dragged a "forward 100" block and attached a "right 90" block to it and then clicking on the "forward 100" block once said what was happening, "the turtle went forward 100 steps and turned to the right". Then, by clicking it three more times, demonstrated that the turtle drew a square. Then I showed that one could edit the angles and the steps by clicking on the number and typing a new number.

The Line Block

He wanted to make his own program so he picked up the current one and wated to discard it. I said to move it back into the Block container and release the mouse. Then he started his new program; he had a bit of trouble picking up a "forward" block and one of them ended-up under the Block Container. He grabbed a "forward" block and then a "right 90" block and I had to tell him to move it close until they connected. Then, in the "forward" block, he changed the "100" to "200", (but he had to click several times to get the number into "edit mode" as he kept missing the number and selecting the pink container); clicked "forward 200" (to run the program) and the turtle disappeared under the Block Container on the left. "Where did the turtle go?", he asked. I said it was offscreen and that if he clicked on the eraser at the bottom right, it would start again fresh. Which he proceeded to do.


Then I asked him if he knew what angles were and he said, "no... well, kinda". Then I asked whether he could tell the turtle to draw a triangle. He then changed the angle to 45 (again, he had problems with clicking on the number to edit it). he ran the program once and the turtle did something he did not expect, "that's not right", he continued re-running the program 7 times and then I asked him to identify the shape; he said "that's an octagon".

The Arc Block

The I suggest we try another block: the arc. Clicking 4 times on a "90 arc block", drew a circle. I suggested changing the angle to 45 and after running it once to show how much it drew, I asked how many times it would have to run it to produce a circle, and he correctly answered "8" and he proceeded to click away.

The Repeat Block

Then I decide to show him the other blocks; the first block I showed was the "repeat" block. I added a forward 100, right 90 to a repeat 4 block and ran it to draw a square. He decided to change the repeat value and he first changed it to 1000 and ran it (but the turtle moves too fast to be noticeable, except that the "stop" button on the bottom right lights up) and then he wondered whether it was doing anything. I pointed this out and he clicked on it to stop the turtle.

Crashing Turtle

Then he changed the repeat value to 222222222222222222222222222 (or so) and when he ran it, after a pause, Turtle Art closed and we were dropped back to the Home screen and the Journal was missing from it's usual spot at the bottom of the circle. So I just told him to re-start the XO.

Turtle Art Usability Notes and Suggestions

PDF Support FAQ


Sun May 25 09:36:53 2008

Last night, I created a PDF version of the XO Support FAQ. Update Sun May 25 11:01:19 2008: Posted a new version, this morning, that used the 4 OLPC colours for the title and section headings. Now I am considering including URLs in the document either embedded in the text itself or as footnotes.

Update Sun May 25 18:28:35 2008: I decided on inlining all the URLs after I tested a page with about 6 URLs set as footnotes which made the page look ugly. So version 1.1 is now available for download.

Week 3 Report

Sat May 31 18:40:06 2008

Earlier in the week, I downloaded and printed the OLPC Pakistan Turtle Art Guide and left it next to the XO.

Looking through the Journal this morning, Turtle Art was used exclusive during the week.

First Program

When the kids arrived today, I was told to "Wait, I have something to show you. Don't look, it's not ready yet" My nephew then proceeded to open a small emerald jewellery box and examine several folded scraps of paper therein. He chose one of the scraps and began transcribing the contents into the XO. When he was ready, he announced, "I call this 'Men Singing in a Choir'"— it was his first original Turtle program. The drawing beside the program is a graphical representation of the program.

Turtle House

He also typed-in the logo program from the tutorial, which rendered a house. He noted that the bottom of the program was cut-off in the screen-capture so his house was missing a line. When he re-typed the program (he was in a rush as his parents had announced they were leaving to go back home), he made some errors resulting in a door which was offset from the main house.

I asked whether he had managed to draw a triangle, he said no.

After they left, I searched the web for more Logo tutorials and found the Logo 15-word contest and some of the programs there translated well to Turtle Art (which has a limited subset of Logo commands):

Dahlia: rep 8 [rt 45 rep 6 [rep 90 [fd 2 rt 2] rt 90]]
Fanflower: rep 12 [rep 75 [fd 100 bk 100 rt 2] fd 250]
Hypercube: rep 8 [rep 4 [rt 90 fd 100] bk 100 lt 45]

I will also be showing him how to "keep" (save) his programs in the Journal. I have to note that he has become quite adept with dragging and dropping blocks and changing values.

See report addendum, below.

luis fernandes / OLPC Journal / Last Modified: Sun Jun 22 17:28:41 2008