Commercial OLPC Sales‽ Five years late, but great!

I'm glad that OLPC has finally released what was originally put out as the vapourware-ish XO-3 concept three and a half years back. At the end of the day, though, that's "just" a change in technology (though a huge shift in hardware and underlying software!).

What I'm actually very excited about is commercial sales. This is something I've been arguing in favor of for only around five years or so:

The bottom-of-they-pyramid microfinance approach doesn't even have to drop the education focus. While the returns on education are much to slow to repay loans effectively in most cases, grant programs or other implementations could focus on child usage. For example; the XO could be on sale for anyone; but only young entrepreneurs could qualify for the micro-loans, and they'd have to provide some explanation of how this would fit into their learning. Schools or education-oriented civil groups could to buy on credit in bulk, provided they could support both an educational aspect and a profit-making aspect. Grants could be available to even younger children participating in educational programs, skimming profits off of the loan system and successful entrepreneurs in a new G1G1 style program.

On Pragmatism and the OLPC

has a hands-on photoshoot with the revolutionary XO-4 convertible tablet/laptop.  It has an infrared touchscreen, has refocused its interface to run on top of a standard Linux distribution instead of a customized and tweaked version, and... um... it looks rather familiar. I mean to say, it's almost indistinguishable from the XO-1.  

And that's a very good thing.  What has happened to the OLPC program is, in many ways, what I'd hoped they'd intentionally choose as a path forward-  thoughtful and efficient development focused on impact over glitz, using existing projects and tools where available, and not re-inventing things that weren't broken, but using incremental improvements.  Of course, that approach doesn't catch headlines as well, but it does work.


Reminder: [email protected] Happy Hour: Monday 5pm @ The Ginger Man

When I asked the Ginger Man if they could host a crazy crowd of ICT4D and mobile4dev geeks rolling in to network and share stories from the frontlines of technology and development, they replied simply, "bring it."

I forward that sentiment on to you. If you hack, build, or implement tools all the way from water pumps to LED lanterns to OLPCs to citizen journalism software, bring your best toy, story, or idea for how technology can support global development, promote equality, and topple authoritarian regimes.

RSVP here, but attendance will be governed by the space we have available: http://ict4dev.eventbrite.com/

Bonus: Learn about the upcoming Ashoka/Changemakers collaborative competition on building sustainable models supporting access, freedom of speech, information quality and privacy! You can read the background on our googly adventure.

Monday, March 12 starting at 5pm at The Ginger Man (301 Lavaca)


OLPCs, Uruguay and Educational Value

My recent blog post on Uruguay's Plan Ceibal generated a buzz of discussion over at OLPCNews on the value of measurement, test scores, and updates from the field on 1:1 laptop projects visibly impacting test scores (http://www.gse.uci.edu/person/warschauer_m/docs/netbooks-aera2010.pdf#n…). Are these soft measures of attendance and laptop usage good enough, or must we demand test score improvements?

Another OLPC TCO study

1:1 Computing costs are a difficult thing to nail down, because there are so many factors that go into it. I worked with GeSCI's Roxanna Bassi to create a worksheet to help guide cost calculations. I took a first stab four years ago, and came out with a $972/laptop cost over a 5 year program. To say that that cost estimate was not popular at the time would be an understatement.

OLE Nepal has put together a great TCO of the laptop program, based on their pilot project. Where I pieced together training budgets from USAID ICT4Edu projects and Internet connectivity estimates from UN/ITU global averages, they have on-the-ground numbers, (and a few ideal estimates on repair costs). The total for a 5 year program in Nepal? We're still looking at $753, if you read carefully:


Hardware, Easyware, and Flow

Is hardware hacking becoming more accessible in the development context?

A positive psychologist friend once explained the concept of (watch as I butcher the terms and descriptions) "flow" to me. I understood it as working on things which are interesting, difficult, but not so overwhelmingly difficult that you can't make clear progress on. Importantly, also not so easy that you just breeze mindlessly through. Good logic puzzles, programming, and such things are often found on this razor's edge between too difficult and too easy.

Hardware hacking has long been a task which only a small, geeky set of people can really enjoy a flow state while exploring the dark magics of hardware.

Last night I shared some pints with DC-area OLPC fans , Mike Lee showed off an Acer he'd hacked a Pixel Qi screen into. Now, this is not a hack for the faint of heart (yet), but it's pretty amazing in the world of the mostly-sealed, non-user-hackable laptop setups to be able to swap in a new screen, especially not one provided in a kit from the original manufacturer.

Social Change - to go, please Jon Thu, 07/01/2010 - 10:50

Cross-posted at the FrontlineSMS Blog

The recent Technology Salons have been on local and sectoral implementations of mobile technology in development.

Mobile is hardly "new" anymore, but we're seeing increasing tools for peer-to-peer communications and decentralized development. Instead of SMS reporting for mHealth metrics or election observation (both amazingly powerful), we have Ushahidi and a team of volunteers from colleges and Haitian diaspora communities across the world saving lives in Haiti after the earthquake by synthesizing and translating reports from on the ground into actionable, trustable pieces of information.

Instead of training-and-visit agricultural extension work, we have tools like Patatat which are building group email lists through SMS messaging, enabling farmers (or anyone) to collaborate on their work, market prices, crop diseases, and so on - with increasingly little need for anything at the center. And of course there's twitter, which, while still "centralized" as a website, enables un-mediated communication amongst basically anyone in the world with a cell phone and a good text-messaging plan.

Nevermind: OLPC shouldn't sell the XO laptop Jon Tue, 04/13/2010 - 12:00

OLPC News recently ran a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek article on How to buy an XO Laptop, which mainly pointed people to eBay. Which is sad, but eBay has long been the best place to get your hands on an OLPC if you're not a large government, international development agency, or cutting edge developer.

The OLPC Vaporware Product Line Vs. the iPad Jon Fri, 01/29/2010 - 10:11
olpc 3.0
iPad or OLPC?

Update: the EE Times has a great, similar article on the OLPC fantasy vs Apple reality.

So, the XO-2 has moved from promise to hope to scrap, and has made way for a tablet-style, iPhoneiPad-like XO-3 (Read about the 3.0 model at Forbes and Engadget, with the now-in-production 1.5 and the in-planning 1.75 XOs, both using the current design but with faster processors.

OLPC, and Nick Negroponte in particular, love to use conceptual designs to create excitement. This works great in normal, commercial development a few times. Once you miss a few targets, people react very negatively too it, even if you do finally release a product. Why do you think Apple pairs announcements with already-planned release schedules?

The OLPC Haiti Project Reports Back

When the IDB plans to "evaluate its performance from a quantitative standpoint," it's a good sign that they mean to do just that. The XO project in Haiti, discussed here with a cost breakdown here is bearing a ton (1 pages, to be precise) fruit, with the recent IDB report (PDF).

It reveals some promise, some best practices, and also reminds us of some common problems.