OLPC – Why we’re doing it.

For anyone who has asked “Is it working?” or “So these things are for kids in developing countries. What happens when they get there?”, there is a fantastic article up on OLPC News called OLE Nepal Notes from an OLPC Deployment. It details a six month old deployment of 135 XO laptops to children in Nepal.

Some choice bits:

0 laptops stolen, lost, or otherwise missing. One laptop has been seriously damaged when the child who owned it cleaned it carefully with soap and water. Otherwise no laptops have been seriously damaged as a result of use.

We conducted four days of teacher training off-site and five days on-site in the classroom with both the students and teachers. A large portion of our teachers had never used a computer before but they learned very quickly. Their enthusiasm was amazing. Training during the off-site sessions formally ended at 5:30 pm but the teachers stayed in our training room each night until 11 pm, pounding away on the XO’s and asking endless questions.

I am continuing to contribute to the program whenever possible by helping out with the support queues and other discussions on the mailing lists. But there is also a need for software to be written. Most of the XO runs on Python, a language I very much want to learn, and seeing this list of ‘most requested applications’ just tickles that interest further:

  • Easier way to play music and video
  • A better E-Book reader
  • A lot more activities for learning English
  • All the Nepali textbooks in digital format
  • A comprehensive digital library with lots of Nepali-language reading materials
  • A Typing Tutor program for learning English and Nepali
  • Interactive learning activities that match the Nepali curriculum
  • A car racing game (the kids)

This naturally during my copious spare time… But what a noble cause.

OLPC G1G1 Program via Amazon is now up

For those who missed the first Give One Get One program, the OLPC group has made them available again, this time in a partnership with Amazon.com. This means laptops will be shipped and managed by Amazon, thereby avoiding all the shipping and support delays that cropped up with the first program last year

Zach has had his XO since January, and still uses it regularly, particularly for Scratch programming, and also playing on a mud. He’s going to be graduating to programming in Python soon, and this is an excellent platform this.

By the way, there’s a Fedora distribution from Redhat that sold through Amazon on an SD card. Buy the card, drop it into the XO, and it’ll boot up as a fully functional Redhat Linux box with your favorite desktop manager and other application support.

Remember, the G1G1 program is designed primarily to support the developing countries, and get more laptops into the hands of kids that need them. These laptops are by far the greenest laptops ever manufactured, with the lowest impact on the environment possible. If you’re serious about education, environmental support, and getting technology into the hands of people who want it the most, please consider the OLPC project.

Giving Back – Working for OLPC

It’s no secret I’ve been a huge fan of the One Laptop per Child project. After all, I contributed to the Give One Get One project, and obtained a unit for my son Zach, which meant a child elsewhere in the world received a laptop as well.
Following this success, and watching Zach teach himself Python and learn basic programming skills using Scratch, I found myself wanting to do more to support OLPC. I don’t have bottomless resources to throw at the project, but I still wanted to contribute somehow.
After getting to know some of the project folks, and after some back and forth, I was admitted to the OLPC Support crew, and now am an official OLPC Support Volunteer.
What this means is when I have some spare time, I log into the support system and answer questions from folks all over the world about OLPC, the laptops, and the applications. I’m a volunteer, so I’m not paid, but I feel that I’m giving something to the community. I can answer questions and communicate clearly, there are people who need help. For the most part, these are people who, like me, feel the OLPC project is important, and are willing to contribute to it, and get a unit of their own to boot. I’m proud to help them out as much as I can.
In 4 days, I’ve handled about 38 problems. That’s 38 people who are a little better off with their machines than they were before.
This is one of the few true volunteer organizations I’ve ever committed myself to. I’ve always given financially to causes I believe in, but when it comes to manning booths or spending weekends “lending a hand”, it’s usually been isolated to things like SF and gaming conventions.
This is bigger. This is important. This means something.
And I’m helping it be successful.
It feels good.

Know a foreign language? OLPC needs you!

According to OLPC News, the OLPC project is enlisting help translating software for the XO laptop into other languages using Pootle :

How it works is that you go to the localization server for the One Laptop per Child Project. Register by creating a username and password and providing your name and email address. Choose the languages you wish to contribute to, and then the specific file of the project, like “XO Core” or “Terminology.”
Pick a word from the list on the left and write a suggestion in the box on the right. Clicking “Suggest” sends the translation to the server. If your Amharic is rusty, and you’re not quite sure about your suggestion, check the box beside the word “Fuzzy” to let the program know that too.

I’m a dumb ‘murrican, so I’m no help here, but maybe others can chime in?

OLPC G1G1 Program netting $2m a day

As reported on Engadget :

Negroptone’s OLPC Buy One, Give One program has been extended to 31 December, 2007 — well beyond the initial two-weeks originally announced. The deal buys both yourself (or rather, your kid supposedly) and a tot from a developing nation new XOs for just $399. Already, the non-profit claims to be pulling in about $2 Million worth of “donations” each day. They’ve also opened up bulk buying to schools in quantities of 100-999 ($299 each), 1000-9999 ($249 each), or 10,000 and more ($199). Oh, and the program is now officially renamed “Give One, Get One” (GoGo) — we presume BoGo’ing the kids just sounded a tad too dirty.

We ordered one for Zach already, and I’d been curious about how the sales were going. Folks on the #olpc Freenode channel were saying that the manufacturer would build based on orders, and if orders were slow, they wouldn’t ramp up the daily production. But it looks like things are moving briskly.

The XO Laptop – OLPC comes true.

I rarely get involved in rallying folks to humanitarian causes or try to entice people to donate time any money to charities. When I do, it’s generally about something I feel quite strongly about.
About 2 years ago the faculty members at the MIT Media lab launched a project called One Laptop Per Child, the idea being that if a laptop could be built for $100, millions could be produced and distributed all through the developing nations through donations, government support, and other forms of philanthropy. The driving force is to try and make a direct impact on the socio-technological gap that is so apparent across the worlds population.
The result of this project is the XO Laptop, a machine designed by the OLPC team to address the specific challenges that will be encountered by children using the machine where there are no power outlets, or no internet, and where conditions may not be as squeaky clean as they are in your typical home office. The laptop itself, by modern standards, is underpowered, but the design is so open, so green, and so sturdy, you can’t help but be impressed.
This is a laptop designed for children to carry around with them, anywhere, anytime. It is waterproof, dirt proof, the battery lasts many many hours, it can network itself to other laptops arond it (a ‘mesh’), and it can run off a $10 solar panel (and recharge from it too).
There is an excellent video review of the XO by David Pogue on the NY Times website. Even if you aren’t interested in the machine directly, watch the video for an idea of what it’s all about.
Now, the XO laptop didn’t come in at $100. It actually came in at $183. As things ramp up, they hope to get the price down, but it’s still a little more than they anticipated.
So as part of their launch, the OLPC project has a special offer.
On November 12th, you can go to XOgiving.org and enroll in the “Give one, get one” program. You pay $400, and get an XO laptop of your very own. “Wait, $400? That’s twice what you said!” – Yes, it is. Because if you purchase an XO laptop for $400, a second laptop will be sent to a child in a developing nation.
My wife and I are seriously considering one of these laptops for our 8 year old son, and the added benefit of benefiting a child elsewhere is just icing on the cake.
If nothing else, watch the David Pogue video for all the details on the machine. It’s a remarkably green, well designed, and rugged little machine.

Apple eMate 300

Back in 1997, Apple realized there was a market for computers designed specifically for classroom use. They had built much of their success on Apple II+ and IIe computers liberally distributed through schools, and, facing pressure from IBM and the ‘clone’ world, decided to leverage their moderate success with the Newton line of PDA’s.

Thus, the Apple eMate 300 was born. Building on the Newton platform, Apple took the top end configurations of the Newton Messagepad 2000 and 2100, and built a small, laptop-like device. The touchscreen remained, with the stylus, backlighting, and much of the NewtonOS, but Apple added a keyboard, rechargeable internal battery, a durable case, mounting hardware for securing the devices to desks, and some additional management tools for teachers to be able to work with roomfuls of eMates. Other changes were the addition of an internal memory expansion slot that allowed the units to be upgraded with additional RAM or customized ROM cards.

The device is quite attractive and easy to work with, light and easy to carry, and the 85% sized full stroke keyboard is comfortable to type on. As with all Newtons, it has no inherent networking support (short of Localtalk, a serial protocol used to communicate with printers and other similar devices), but does a PCMCIA socket that allows for network cards.


  • Screen: 480×320, 6.8″
  • Battery life: 28 hours
  • Processor: 25 MHz ARM 710a RISC processor
  • Initial cost: $799 ($1150 in modern value)
  • RAM: 1mb
  • ROM: 8mb
  • Storage: 2mb Flash

In many ways, the eMate laid the groundwork for the OLPC XO-1 computer which came out 9 years later.

Unfortunately, the eMates only lasted less than a year, when Steve Jobs cancelled the entire Newton project after Gil Amelio was fired as the CEO of Apple.

Dave’s Vintage Handheld Computer Collection

I started collecting handheld computers ‘officially’ in 2016, after I realized the piles of gear I’ve collected over the years constituted a small museum.


It’s easy for a collection to get out of hand.  There’s so much stuff out there, and ebay is so vast, it’s important to put limits on what you’re putting together.  For me, I have a limited amount of space, so focusing on handheld machines made it possible to build a collection, but not take up gobs of space.

To be considered for the  Vintage Handheld Computer Collection, a device must be:

  • a ‘computer’ in the sense it is programmable and can run pre-loaded or configured instructions in sequence.
  • must run on or be capable of running on internal batteries
  • be a ‘handheld’ in that it can be used one handed or very lightly with two hands (such as a tablet or PDA).  This definition can flex dependent on the ‘interestingness’ of the item.
  • should predate Windows 95 (This is not a hard limit – if something is interesting / special enough, I’ll go for it)
  • be significant in some way – represent a new direction of technology or tools (first / early version), or have a large scale impact on the handheld ecosystem (most popular / most successful)

Handheld computers already in the collection

  • Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 (Original equipment)
  • Apple Newton Handhelds:
    • Apple Newton H1000 / MP100 / “Original MessagePad” or OMP (Acquired 11/20/2017)
    • Apple Newton Messagepad 110
    • Apple Newton Messagepad 130 (Acquired 11/2/2017)
    • Apple Newton 2000
    • Apple Newton 2100 (Acquired 11/15/2017)
    • Apple eMate 300 (Acquired 11/16/2017)
    • Apple Newton 110 “Clear Developers Sampler”
  • Palm devices:
    • Original first generation Palmpilot
    • Palm Treo 650
    • Zire
    • Palm VIIx
    • Sony Clie PEG-NX60
    • Visor
  • Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100
  • Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 102
  • Toshiba Libretto 100CT (Acquired 9/30/2017)
  • Psion Organiser II (Acquired 10/2/2017)
  • Psion Series 3a (Acquired 10/2/2017)
  • TRS-80 PC-1 Pocket Computer (Acquired 10/3/2017)
  • Cambridge Computer Z88 Laptop Computer (Acquired 10/16/2017)
  • HP 95LX Palmtop PC
  • HP 200LX
  • TI 74 Basicalc (Acquired 12/1/2017)
  • Atari Portfolio (Acquired 11/30/2017)
  • Nixdorf LK-3000 (Acquired 12/13/2017)
  • Compaq H3900 Model 3955 iPaq Pocket pc
  • Compaq H3600 Model 3650 iPaq Pocket pc
  • Texas Instruments TI Programmable 59 Calculator
  • Blackberry 7750
  • Sharp Wizard OZ-7000 (Acquired 1/9/2018)
  • Curta Type 1 Handheld Calculator (Acquired 3/24/2017)
  • Dauphin DTR-1 (Acquired 11/1/2017)
  • HP 75C Handheld Computer (Acquired 7/11/2018
  • Nokia N770 Linux Handheld (Acquired 8/16/2019)
  • Epson HX-20
  • Epson PX-8
  • Compaq iPaq H3900 with keyboard
  • OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO-1 (I worked with the OLPC G1G1 program)
  • Sinclair ZX80 (Acquired 10/1/2021)
  • Grid GridPad – First useful tablet computer
  • WorkSlate WK-100
  • HP-28S

Handheld Games

  • Atari Lynx
  • Mattel Electronics Football
  • Mattel Electronics Basketball
  • Mattel Electronics Auto Race


  • Canon X-07
  • Casio PB-80
  • HP-65 Calculator (First programmable calculator)
  • HP-41C Calculator (First programmable with alphanumeric display)
  • Psion Organizer I
  • Psion Series 5x
  • Grid Compass 1101
  • IBM PC110
  • IBM 730te
  • Zeos Pocket PC
  • Tandy Zoomer
  • Poqet PC
  • Seiko UC-2000 / UC-2100 / UC-2200 Data Terminal Watch
  • IBM Simon – First smartphone
  • Commodore SX-64
  • Curta Model 2
  • Casio CD-40 Databank Watch
  • Radio Shack Model 200

Other Wishlist items – not necessarily ‘portables’

  • Northern Telecom Displayphone Plus
  • DEC Gigi aka VK100 (with a Barco monitori would be amazing)
  • DEC MicroPDP11 in floor case (Acquired 3/5/2022!)
  • AT&T 605 ASCII terminal (I had like 4 of these at one point, i miss ’em)
  • AT&T 3b1 / 7300 / UnixPC hardware of any type.  I actually have a machine on the way for me, but always looking for boards and accessories. (Acquired 5/1/2022!)

Why the XO Laptop is better than the Classmate

There’s been some awful FUD flying around the OLPC world in the last few days, with misquotes, misinformation, and flat out lies being propagated left and right. Even Engadget, one of the better geektech blogs out there, got it completely wrong regarding OLPC CTO Mary Lou Jepsen’s departure from the project.

Fortunately, there’s good resources around that tell the story from the people who really do know what is going on. First, there’s the interview with Mary Lou Jepsen on Groklaw. In it she explains the real reasons behind her choice to move on to Pixel Qi, and her ongoing relationship with OLPC. Astute readers will note that her commentary there bears little or no resemblance to some of the FUD flying around other news sites.

Of particular interest is this tasty quote. There’s been lots of noise about OLPC squashing competition (in particular, the Classmate PC), and making unreasonable demands from Intel. That’s complete hooey. Competition should be between competitive products. So how does the Classmate stack up against the XO?

Classmate is more expensive, consumes 10 times the power, has 1/3 the wifi range, and can’t be used outside. Also, the Classmate doesn’t use neighboring laptops to extend the reach of the internet via hopping (mesh-networking) like the XO does. So not only is the XO cheaper than the Classmate, the XO requires less infrastructre expenditure for electricity and for internet access. In Peru we can run off of solar during the day and handcrank at night for an additional $25 or so per student – this is one-time expense – the solar panel and the crank will last 10 or perhaps 20 years. Just try running electricity cables up and down the Peruvian Andes for that cost while making sure it’s environmentally clean energy. The Classmate isn’t as durable as the XO, and its screen is about 30% smaller, the batteries are the type that can explode and only last 1-2 years and can’t be removed by the user and harm the environment. The batteries are expensive to replace: $30-40 per replacement. The XO batteries last for 5 years and cost less than $10 to replace. Finally, the XO is the greenest laptop ever made, the Classmate isn’t – this matters a great deal when one proposes to put millions of them in the developing world.

Given that comparison, why would any country, any organization, pursue the Classmate over the XO? Answer? Underhanded dealings, lies, and unfair practices. That is not to say that aggressive competition doesn’t happen in the marketplace at large, but OLPC is not trying to compete in a marketplace. It has a mission to do some good in the world. It’s purpose is not to broker back room deals to increase stockholder value. It’s goals are far more noble, something that carries far too little weight in the world today.

Back on the clarification train, we have the inimitable Ivan of OLPC giving the full details behind the whole ‘Microsoft Dual-Boot XO Laptop” spiel. Unsurprisingly, it’s nothing like what the blogs and the news sites are characterizing it as. I’m rather disappointed that the tech community seems to be aggressively looking for a reason to bash the OLPC project – looking for schisms, problems, and interpreting every change or update in the project as a sign of it’s imminent demise. While it’s certainly common to see this all the time in mainstream media, I had, perhaps naively, hoped the geek world would take a broader, less sensationalistic approach to reporting on this project. Sad to say, that’s doesn’t seem to be the case.

Doesn’t matter. The project is a success, and continues to be so. And I for one am glad.

Zach and his XO

Zach and his XO

Originally uploaded by eidolon

After waiting almost 6 weeks, the XO laptop came via Fedex today. I had been rabidly refreshing my browser watching for tracking information, but didn’t actually see it in the system until it showed up on the doorstep.

Zach has latched onto it with quite a bit of excitement, and is happily writing stories in the word processor now. He fiddled around with the web browser (getting it onto the wireless network was a piece o cake), and played around with the Turtle application (very similar to Scratch), and is now just writing stories.

I’m tickled pink by how attached he is to it. We’ll see if it settles into a long term happiness, but I think this is the perfect combination of teaching toy, game machine, internet tool, and all around handy machine for him right now.

Thank you OLPC and the Give One Get One Program.

Well, Dang.

We just got mail saying that the XO Laptop for Zach won’t arrive until at least January 15th. On the one hand, I’m glad they let us know so I can stop frantically hitting <refresh> on Fedex’s website, but I’m sad because he won’t have it for his vacation.
I am consolidated knowing that our contribution is still helping the OLPC project, and somewhere in central or southern America, a child -will- get a laptop because of our contribution, but I still wish Zach had his for the winter break.
He’s happily spending time working with Scratch on his desktop machine anyway, so at least when the XO does get here, there’ll be an environment he’s already familiar with on it.