Part 2 of elf's OLPC Journal

Emacs on the XO


Mon Jun 02 22:06:41 2008

It was very easy.

<timthelion> installed Emacs on his XO:

sudo yum install emacs emacs-el Terminal
emacs-22 -nw

He also suggested installing, "Terminal because emacs doesn't play nice with the normal Terminal activity. Terminal(an xfce4) thing has a way of changing color selection which fixes the problem."

Week 3 Report Addendum

Thu Jun 05 04:33:31 2008

On Sunday, I told him that we could load the house that he had drawn (and kept) in Turtle Art by going to the Journal ("click on the Notebook"). I had also saved another geometric Logo puzzle called "flower" he asked what that was, as it was the latest entry. There were two icons named "flower" one was a document with a checkboard pattern along the bottom and the other was the Turtle Art activity icon. I clicked on the document thinking and got a preview document (looking at the preview image, he said, "wowwww! that's so cool") it would would open in the Activity itself— no such lock. I tried this a few times, looking like a compete idiot (later I was told that this should be fixed in the next release).

I then decided to click on the Turtle Art activity named "flower" and it loaded. I then asked him to change the repear counts to see what happened. Instead of making incremental changes (from 6 to 4, for example) he enter 10000. Naturally, that just re-traces the geometry over what is already there (but he doesn't realize that; the turtle should really be "slowed down" so its movements can be observed, there should be a faster/slower speed slider).

Next, I asked him the Postit where I had written the 15-word Logo programs and explained that "RPT" was repeat, "FWD" was forward, etc. I asked him to create the Fanflower program which was the simpler construct explaining that the command following the repeat block went "under" the repeat block to be executed after all the iterations were performed. He was suitably impressed and played with the iterations again. I also told him that he could change the pen color by adding a "setpen" command; that the values went from 0 to 99 in increments of 10. The first number he tried was 100, naturally.

Turtle Art Samples

Then I opened the Projects tab and clicked on the "door" icon (representing "load") and asked him to pick one of the .ta files that appeared in the dialog. Nearly all of them were "rainbow candy-cane" style Logo art which suitably impressed both of them; he kept asking "how did they do that?" for each one he subsequently opened. I said that the program was right there on the screen but I think he meant that he hadn't seen the command sequence to vary colours before. The younger one was sitting beside him watching and making descriptive comments ("that looks like the turtle skating on ice", "oooh, rainbow"). All the samples were examined in turn and commented upon.

The Journal

The Journal's time keeping was suitably impressive when he scrolled all the way to the bottom and saw "3 weeks 4 days, ..." and scrolling back up to the top the activity time for the last activity had changed from "right now" to "two minutes".


Somehow (I was having lunch and had stopped taking notes) the conversation turned to Etoys. He wanted to know what Etoys was, so I asked whether he had run the demo; he asked "what demo?". Clearly, though he had started the activity during the first week, he hadn't realized that there was a demo/tutorial in one of the bubbles. So I showed him which bubble to click. I did some narration during the demo (I had run the demo earlier); when the car was being drawn, he asked how the brush size was changed; he asked what was going on during the bouncing bean animation demo. After the demo finished, he asked what the second demo (Haunted House Challenge) was and he wanted to do it. All during this time, the younger one was sitting beside him, watching. He didn't realize that clicking the right mouse button brought up the Properties menu-frame for each object. When he got to Slide 8/10, pressing the Next key brought up an "Abort/Debug" dialog. Seeing that he was becoming frustated, I said that was enough computer work for today; he asked how long he'd been at it; I said about an hour.

Jigsaw Puzzle

I downloaded the Jigsaw Puzzle activity from MaMaMedia and tried it (I would be interested in seeing whether he finds it). I played with it for a bit— there was now obvious way of choosing a new puzzle after finishing the current puzzle. I had to click around and realize that clicking on the thumbnail image between the two arrows brought you back to the image selector screen. I noted that there was a "My Picture" button (a nice touch). So I went to the Record activity and took a picture, saved it and returned to the puzzle. I then clicked on the "My Picture" button and nothing happened. Then I clicked on it again a few times and finally a dialog appeared. I selected the photo and loaded it and created a jigsaw puzzle.

Observations and Suggestions

XO Revolutionaries

Thu Jun 05 19:13:40 2008

New Scientist reports on worries that the OLPC's BitFrost security protocols could hand a ready-made surveillance system to controlling 3rd world governments.
—Slashdot post

The ensuing chat on #olpc...

<Lerc> I'm actually of the direct opposite opinion.  I think one day,
somewhere, XOs will be instrumental in the overthrow of a government.
<Quozl> When the world is finally overrun with hordes of screaming third-world school kids wielding XOs ... we will have manufactured our own salvation.
<Lerc> Quozl: They won't be screaming. No caps-lock key.

"One Laptop Meets Big Business"

Sat Jun 14 08:45:21 2008

Businessweek article, "One Laptop Meets Big Business" on the travails of the OLPC Foundation. My favourite passage is:

Edith Ackermann, a visiting scientist at MIT, says OLPC should have involved more educational experts in creating and testing the applications. Instead, she says, "The hackers took over." The result is some programs are too complex for many children to use.

After 5 minutes of observing kids, it would have been obvious to the developers that their software required adjustments to improve usability. The developers should have been sent to Peru and Uruguay to watch the children use their software.

Another problem that needs fixing is people (mostly from Uruguay) joining #olpc-help and expecting questions answered in Spanish. There is only a single person that speaks Spanish in the channel (and he is rarely available). He had begun translating the Support FAQ into Spanish, however he never finished it and he no longer has the time. The #olpc-auyada was created for Spanish speakers, but it's taking time to populate it with helpers. I also suggested hiring a Spanish translator for the wiki.

My response to the detractors of the program is this: It is possible for a single person to change the world. If someone in the future makes an important contribution to society and claims that the XO Laptop was the seed that inspired them or helped them in their childhood, then the entire program was worth it.

Pygame Tutorial


Sun Jun 22 07:45:11 2008

I had an idea for a children's activity (a quiz game) a couple of weeks ago and decided to see how easy it would be to code it. Since it is graphical in nature I decided to look at the Pygame library. I found a nice tutorial linked from the wiki page on game development.

I was surprised at the complexity of the library; I expected it to be simpler to use.

Java is Finally Free


Sun Jun 22 16:44:22 2008

The Java Development Kit (Java SE 6) that shipped with Fedora 9 passed the Java Test Compatibility Kit after all the remaining code in the JDK that had licensing restrictions, was replaced with GPL code.

Perhaps now we'll see Java in the Browse activity and perhaps it be easier to write activities in Java rather than Python.

Week 4 and 5 Report

Sun Jun 22 16:54:19 2008

Jigsaw Puzzle

I demoed the Jigsaw Puzzle activity to my niece, who loves doing the Kinder Surprise jigsaw puzzles. She showed interest but could not move the pieces as click-and-drag using a trackpad is beyond her capabilities and she gave up after a few seconds. I tried to show her how to use one hand to hold down the "X" mouse-button and how move the piece using the other hand on the trackpad, but she wasn't interested. The older nephew find the puzzles too easy and the hand-drawn images, uninteresting.

Observations and Recommendations

The attraction of the Jigsaw Puzzle activity to young children, is marred by the impossible interface. It should be modified so a puzzle piece can be moved simply by clicking on it and moving the mouse (the piece "sticks" to the mouse pointer) and clicking a second time to drop the piece.

The 5th week saw very little use of the XO. Turtle Art was used once during the week, by my nephew, to Keep his Logo program called "bacteira"[sic].


When I started playing with TamTamMini on Friday, my niece came over to play. She preferred to tell me which voice to choose before she played it. I encouraged her to do it herself and when she tried, her hand-eye co-ordination was not very accurate— she kept going to the edge of the screen (her favourite voice, "rubber duckie" was at the bottom of the screen) and the Frame kept popping-up and obscuring the "rubber duckie" icon. Her fingers also tended to drift over to the adjacent trackpads, which do not sense fingers but are to be used with the stylus, and the mouse pointer would stop moving.


I got a chance to try out TamTamJam and I played with it for about 10 minutes. It's a great concept and but I think it helps to have more than one laptop so a collaborative jam session can happen. I was able to figure out the interface after a bit of trial and error and I have to say it was intuitively designed. However, I found it annoying that after a new loop was selected, it didn't automatically assign a key to it or automatically popped-up the key selector; instead I was forced to click on the small key-assignment button and assign a key before I could play the loop.

Second Generation Classmate


Mon Jun 23 12:12:16 2008

Daewoo has unveiled the second generation Classmate PC, called Lukid. It is powered by a 900MHz Celeron, running XP. It has 512MB RAM and a 30GB HD. The 9 in. screen has a resolution of 800x480.

XO Demo at Work

Mon Jun 23 14:08:47 2008

I took the XO to work today as the kids were away for the weekend (I don't think they'll miss it for one day). I got a chance to try it out in direct sunlight while waiting for the train. No one approached me to ask about it during the train ride; not even the really cute babe who sits across the aisle from me (*Sigh*). Then I walked up from Union Station, carrying the XO, and again no one noticed. This is quite different from the experiences of people doing the same thing in the U.S.

The first photo shows the XO screen (backlight brightness reduced to 0) in direct sunlight and in the shade. Note that the frame with the Activities is perfectly readable in both conditions. The second picture shows the PDF reader displaying The Hobbit. The third picture shows the wifi networks seen while on the train as it approaches Union Station in Toronto; this was near the CN Tower. The final picture shows that number of wifi networks increased from 10 to 23, as the train pulled into the Station. (The OneZone Highspeed Network (yellow circle with excellent reception) is the for-pay, city-wide Ontario Hydro network). I did notice that there was one (locked) network always available during the entire ride; this is likely the business-class Via train onboard network.

I also did an impromptu demo of the XO for my colleagues at work (an admin, a programmer/admin and a hardware engineer). The "slow" boot-up was noted. I demo'd the camera, fullscreen was decribed as "pretty good". I demo'd Jigsaw puzzle as a typical game. I also demo'd TamTamMini was got a few laughs. Then I demo'd the PDF reader in book-reader mode. It was immediately noted that access to the mouse pointer was an issue in that mode. (Earlier, on the train, as I tried reading The Hobbit I made some notes to this effect— both the game keys and the direction controller pad have the same key bindings: "Home", "End", "PgUp" and "PgDn". I think it would be useful if the mouse pointer could be controlled via the direction keys and leave the pagination bindings to the game keys. We do need a key for "Select/Enter", though. This needs to be thought out some more.) I also demonstrated PDF zooming.

They asked about the charger and were surprised when I pulled out the "cute" green wall-wart; they were expecting a black wall-wart.

Then I was asked whether there was a terminal program. I started the Terminal Activity and then also showed the console screens from Alt-Ctrl-F1 and Alt-Ctrl-F2 (Alt-Ctrl-F3 returns to X). I then did a df -h to show disk usage and a uname -a to prove that it's just Unix. I mentioned that yum update works just as expected. The next question was whether it supported wired ethernet; answer: yes, via a usb ethernet connector.

The comments were to the effect that it would make a great home server sitting in a closet, serving mail, web, etc. and that it would be great to have an XO in a network administrator's toolkit (but that it was unfortunate that didn't have a built-in serial port) to connect to the console ports of network routers and switches). A USB to serial connector would likely work.

There was a question whether the computer stayed on (but the LCD powered off) when the lid was closed; answer: yes, with the current build (656) the XO stays on, as does the LCD, but that's a bug; on subsequent builds, the XO will hibernate when the lid is closed and will resume with the power-button is pressed.


hardware education

Mon Jun 30 15:39:25 2008

Lego Education, a business unit of the Lego Group, on Monday introduced Lego Education WeDo, a new robotics package designed for classrooms of primary school students ages 7 - 11. Itís coming in January, 2009— pricing is yet to be announced.

WeDo is aimed at providing students with some hands-on experience with building Lego-based robotics systems and programming them. It builds on Legoís highly successful and popular Mindstorms products, and it works with Macs, PCs, and OLPC XO and Intel Classmate laptops.

Macworld article

Update Sat Jul 26 23:04:51 2008: LEGO now has a marketing page (but no pricing information) on WeDo.

Solar Power for XO


Sat Jul 26 23:45:47 2008

I accidently stumbled across a site that sells solar panels to power the XO laptop. I'm not sure what sort of connector it has— whether the laptop power adapter is plugged into the panel or the panel plugs directly into the XO.

luis fernandes / OLPC Journal / Last Modified: Wed Sep 03 16:30:34 2008