Sunday 15 March 2009

Istra and OLPC

I had been watching the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC), from far out on the sidelines, for a long time. I'd even seen an early model in person, thanks to the enthusiasm of a friend who became a developer and organizer in the project. In the fall of 2007 the project announced a program they called "Give 1, Get 1" (G1G1, for short). This was the first chance for the public to purchase one of these novel little devices. The concept was that you actually had to buy two of them: you'd get one, and one would be donated to a chlid in a developing nation.

In early 2008, the thing finally arrived. As soon as we opened it Istra, seeing the bright coloured, rounded plastic shape, identified the object as "for me", though she had no idea what it was.

After a very brief sales pitch to Selena, I put in my order. The story that I put out was that I was getting it for Istra for Christmas. Istra, of course, was only 2 years old at the time, so it was kind of ridiculous. But it was a cute idea, and it defected attention from me having bout myself an expensive little toy, so we kept with it. The GIG1 program was flooded with orders. Demand turned out to be overwhemling for the small project.. There were a lot of problems with deliveries. Our OLPC did not arrive in time for Christmas. The project offered a card that could b eprinted out

Anyhow, what I really wanted to write you about for some time now is my OLPC... or i mean Istra's OLPC. It's really been a remarkable thing.

You know when i bought it via G1G1, I "joked" with everyone that it was for Istra... but of course I got it for myself. Istra was only two years old! But of course Istra latched on to it, and even though I often took it with me various places, she always referred to it as her own. "Poppy, why are you taking *my* puter??"

Well in the last 6 months or so, she really has gotten into it. It blows my mind how adept she is with it. She's still not even 4 yet. Her favorite programs are tuxpaint, the letter matching game (forget what it's called), the video camera, and Terminal. Yes, the Terminal! She also plays flash games on a few sites: mostly, which is a fantastic free (and advertising-free) site for leaning to read. (I have normal firefox on there, with flash 10 installed... sadly, it really is necessary... though some flash runs slooooow.)

She uses the terminal just for typing. She loves to type. She can spell her name. But mostly she types random gibberish.. for fun. I tried to show her how to use the abiword activity (whatever it is) for typing, but she prefers the terminal for some reason. (Simple, fixed width fonts?)

Usually she needs a bit of help with tuxpaint, mostly to change tools and stamps. But last week she brings the OLPC over to show me what she did, and to my utter astonishment she had started up tuxpaint herself and drawn a picture... an actual picture! She said it was a hairy fish. Indeed it is! See the attachment.

She also, not yet 4 years old, loooooooooves to "chat" on jabber (google talk)... using either gmail web interface (on OLPC) or kopete on my laptop. She discovered the emoticons. She sometimes spends hours and hours at night sending various faces and objects to gramma or Aunty Whitney, and sitting there waiting for them to send her something back.... until they just can't take it anymore. She also types her gibberish to them.

Anyhow... the software on the OLPC is very haphazard hodge podge of stuff. Most of it is rather unimpressive to me. But i've been reconsidering a lot of it in light of Istra's explorations. She clicks around, asks questions. She's found stuff that I didn't even know was there. It seems it doesn't even really matter the actual quality of a lot of the software... juts the fact that there's stuff there is an adventure in and of itself, and she's learned a huge amount through it. I really never expected this.

I don't really have any point in all of this. I just have no one else to talk about OLPC with, who has any clue what the thing is. <-: I originally bought it as a curiosity, and as a gesture to support the project. I had some notion of using it for an ebook reader, but never really got that organized. But now, a year and a half later (or whenever?), it's really actually proving to be quite a treasure around here.

I'm also impressed the thing has survived this long physically. It really is living up to it's promise of durability. Besides having to fix a stuck key last summer, it's as good as ever. I can't imagine how destroyed any regular of the new crop of "netbooks" would be. My laptop hasn't faired so well, even; and i hardly let the kids touch it. Emeth has ripped several keys off of it (breaking the clips so they won't go back on); and the corner is smashed from a drop. The olpc has not a scratched, despite being dropped many more times, and the general obsession by both kids with adjusting the "ears" (sometimes rather forcefully).

Sure is a shame OLPC project is so screwed up. I still think it's a great machine.

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