The OLPC Meet at Hermitage, DAKC August 5th 2008

Hi all,

This blog post talks about my first-hand experience of seeing and using the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) device, seeing the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City as well as meeting one of the persons who’s spear-heading the project Dr. David Cavallo

Reached the venue, the sprawling 145 acres DAKC (Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City) built near Thane at the appointed hour i.e. 9:00 a.m. The OLPC meet was organized by Reliance Communications as they are partners of OLPC in India.  Due to beaureacratic delays at their end was issued an entry pass around 9:30 a.m. Once inside the gates though, was glad for the experience, expensive cars, beautiful landscaping the DAKC has it all. The meet-up was organized at one of the buildings called the Hermitage which seemed to be influenced by an Asian-European influence. The interiors were also done very well. Much much later came to know that Hermitage is known to rival business 5-star hotel wow 😉 (Source :- wikipedia) .

Anyways had the customary tea/coffee biscuit routine and finally launched into an all-out workshop/conference mode by 11:10-11:15 which David Cavallo of MIT Media Lab started by apologizing for the lateness.

David showing us the XO
David showing us the XO

David started by telling us a bit about himself and the work done at MIT Media Lab and then showed us the XO. Fortunately, the OLPC team had enough XOś and something like 20 odd XOś were passed around. While looking at the XO and the interface one thing I have to hand the guys, it really is a clever design. The Sugar interface is a very different interface then what one is usually used to, there is no menu interface but a very visual one having some very different key-bindings. Instead of the F1-F12 function keys you have some different keys but performing some similar roles. The key-bindings for those keys are different, otherwise the keyboard is a normal QWERTY keyboard. One of the more interesting aspects has also the reflective LCD unlike the only conventional backlit displays which effectively consumes less power/electricity then conventional displays (or atleast thatś the idea behind it, also perhaps better contrast rates but that didn´t come up for discussion).

We played around the different things that the XO has to offer. While doing it, I fiddled around with the terminal and came to know that the OS has been made small at 200 odd MiB. This will surely grow up as time. Underneath the hood, works a GNU/Linux kernel and stuff. It was running a 2.6.22 kernel at that point and lspci also worked which showed me what stuff there is. There was also the Marvell graphics chipset which had caused quite a bit of heartburn for the OLPC community.

[wishful thinking]

Perhaps there is possibility to tie up with the people of OGD1

[/wishful thinking]

One of the things though they have got out are the man pages, did not see if info pages have also been thrown out or not. Also do not think they would be using the vanilla kernel, it would be a kernel which consumes less power and less latencies as well (less wakeups).

Lunch happened around 14:30 hours and went on till 15:15 . Then David showed us a bit about how OLPCś usage is changing the world. One of the more interesting applications he showed us was somewhere in Mongolia, some people had used some low-cost sensing devices to find out about weather, rainfall, soil precipitation and stuff like that. A highly neglected area of work sadly 😦

He also engaged a not so technical crowd with the basics of programming, using a windows -based application called Microworlds . It was something very similar to the blog post showing Microworlds JR does it.

Broke off for evening tea and snacks and came together back around for final comments from everybody. Things finished off by 18:00 hours.

All in all a very engaging and interesting experience.

Some notes or advice to the people working for next round of conferences :-

1. If its possible, publicize and organize things in a better way.

2. Intimate people way way before.

3. Make it in some central location. Thane is  just too far away 😦

4. Objectives and audience selection should be something which needs to be taken note of. In the workshop we were way way from very different backgrounds so it was difficult for him to engage the participants as much as he wanted to.

5. The business-case/model behind it could have used some more polish. How do they think of sustaining the model?  Would Reliance be a monopoly partner or would they have other partners? In the computer hardware industry its a practise to have 2-3 partners so there is enough competition and none of the partners start charging monopoly rates.

Those answers have to remain for another day but all in all enjoyed myself thoroughly. Looking foward to hear more about things and what they work out. Would be interesting if they can take stuff/collaborate from lot of the existing education initiatives already like Debian Edu and others.

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Till then, enjoy the XO 😉

Update :- Fixed the mis-spelling, thanx Harriet

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