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A Child's View of the OLPC 268

Posted by kdawson
from the all-this-and-games-too dept.
Finallyjoined!!! sends us a BBC account of a dad who traveled to Nigeria and brought back an XO laptop for his 9-year-old, Rufus. Here is Rufus's review, a child's view of OLPC. "Because it looks rather like a simple plastic toy, I had thought it might suffer the same fate as the radio-controlled dinosaur or the roller-skates he got last Christmas - enjoyed for a day or two, then ignored. Instead, it seems to provide enduring fascination... With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time."
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A Child's View of the OLPC

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:36AM (#21682561)
    America scams Nigeria!
  • Already? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 4solarisinfo (941037) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:40AM (#21682587)


    I returned from Nigeria with a sample of the XO laptop

    I did RTFA, and no mention of HOW he got the laptop... I know everyone was talking about these things ending up all over the world in the black market, don't tell me it's ALREADY there.
  • by AceJohnny (253840) <jlargentaye@ g m a i l . c om> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:45AM (#21682641) Journal
    I thought the XO laptops had a kill switch to disable them if they leaked out from their target demographic (african schools), into secondary markets?

    Isn't the article's premise the exact situation which the OLPC designers feared?

    Of course, the article mentions "a sample of the XO laptop", so I hope this this specific laptop wasn't obtained through such a secondary market...
    • by ThinkingInBinary (899485) <thinkinginbinary&gmail,com> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:50AM (#21682685) Homepage

      First, the target markets are not all African schools. They have target countries on other continents as well. (Off the top of my head, I know there are several in South America.)

      Second, it's not an automatic kill switch. It allows you to disable the laptop if it is reported stolen, and will disable the laptop if it hasn't been able to check with the server for a certain time period. If the laptop is properly configured with a school server, then (even across the Internet) it will still be able to maintain its lease, and it won't shut off.

      • by klubar (591384) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:27AM (#21683031) Homepage
        This sounds a lot like WGA and DRM to me. The machine "checks in" with the server to make sure it's still authorized. What else does it report to the server?
        • by somersault (912633) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:58AM (#21683353) Homepage Journal
          Well, of course it reports all of your credit card details, fingerprints, blood type (those sharp corners aren't just due to low production costs you know!), and also all your thoughts using the built in brainwave scanner. Better not let your firstborn near it either, because they're programmed to fire out CDs to decapitate firstborns as a proper sacrifice (to help amortise costs).
        • by Tacvek (948259) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @10:02AM (#21683381) Journal
          Normally nothing else. But here is the main thing. Any student can request a developer's key. Once they have a developer's key they have full control over the computer and could disable the security system entirely. Now, how does one prevent a thief from requesting the key? Well to quote the spec: "The key-issuing process incorporates a 14-day delay to allow for a slow theft report to percolate up through the system, and is only issued if the machine is not reported stolen at the end of that period of time." To see the whole OLPC security specification see http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Bitfrost [laptop.org] especially the "P_THEFT: anti-theft protection" section.
        • Not just that, but how the heck do they manage this with an entirely open source project?
        • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @10:27AM (#21683691) Journal
          Err, only if it's enabled by the computer's owner. That's the big diff... the XO DRM is a user option (like Lo-Jack for laptops), while WGA/DRM is a vendor's option (and is always on whether you like it or not, unless you use EULA-violating tools to disable it).

          So conceptually you have a point, but practically you're way off base.

          /P

        • I think that there's a big difference between a school protecting it's assets and those items which it allows to connect to it's own network, vs everything being reported to Microsoft. The laptop reports to the school (and they're the purchasers of the product, or at least their education system), not to the makers of the XO. This is no different than a company installing software to ensure security of their own laptops etc..
  • Is there an emulator of this device out there or does the machine actually run a common distro of Linux? I don't know much about the project, obviously, but I'm wondering if this is more like a normal functioning laptop or more like a LeapFrog learning device.

    Just curious.
    • Re:Emulator? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Breakfast Cereal (27298) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:52AM (#21682709)
      From http://wiki.laptop.org/go/News [laptop.org]

      Wolfgang Rohrmoser and Kurt Gramlich are proud to announce the initial version of their OLPC XO-LiveCD. This new project targets these goals:

        give children, students, teachers and parents the opportunity to participate and use the Sugar educational software on a common PC;
        support demonstration of OLPC software to non-developers;
        provide an easy maintainable Live-System for developers to test activities on the sugar desktop, this could be regarded as an alternative to existing OLPC virtualbox and qemu images.

      The technology they choose embeds an unmodified official Redhat build into a framework (LiveBackup), which provides everything needed to run a live system. Going this way we are able to minimize the work for updates as new OLPC builds get released.

      The ISO image are available at:

      ftp://rohrmoser-engineering.de/pub/XO-LiveCD/ [rohrmoser-engineering.de]

      as: XO-LiveCD_.iso

      Images will be mirrored to:

      http://skolelinux.de/XO-LiveCD/ [skolelinux.de]

      Wolfgang and Kurt encourage everybody to try it out and give them feedback for improvements; please send mail to:

      XO-LiveCD@skolelinux.de. Further information is available in the XO-LiveCD.pdf document at:

      http://skolelinux.de/XO-LiveCD/XO-LiveCD.pdf [skolelinux.de]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It runs a customized, stripped-down version of Fedora Core 7 (details here [laptop.org]). There isn't an "XO emulator", but since it's s standard x86 system, you can emulate an XO [laptop.org] using Qemu, VMware, Virtualbox, or another virtualization program. (It's not perfect, but it is close enough to see how the system works.)

    • Re:Emulator? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Atzanteol (99067) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:54AM (#21682723) Homepage
      http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OS_images_for_emulation [laptop.org]

      Enjoy. It's a modified RedHat distro with a special WM called Sugar.
    • by faloi (738831)
      It's a modified Linux distro, you can get a live CD to play with it here [laptop.org].
    • In addition to the emulator approach and the LiveCD, someone runs a PPA on Launchpad with Sugar (the OLPC software and API) packages for Ubuntu Gutsy. https://launchpad.net/~jani/+archive [launchpad.net] And if you run Fedora, i'm pretty sure it would be child's play to get it running, since the OLPC is based on Fedora.
  • by DeeQ (1194763) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:49AM (#21682675)
    The one thing that struck me the most was the part where the kid asked about what his "friends" were saying to him, and how hes learned hola. This is more than enough of a learning tool to master a language. I personally know from first hand experience how this can work from a game I used to play that people from all over the world played. From starting the game at age 10ish one of my friends had learned english, finish, german and a little french. The ability to talk to other kids from different areas with language barriers is a great way for people to learn a language. Also for all the people who are talking about how food would be a better choice than education etc you are missing the point. There are plenty of charities and other donations to help starving kids. Not every kid out there is starving, but even some that are not starving are education deprived. I think this program could help alot of these countries get more education for thier children which in the long run will help them with money and food issues hopefully.
  • BBC reporter (Score:5, Informative)

    by fishter (757646) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:49AM (#21682677) Journal
    The Dad is Rory Cellan-Jones [bbc.co.uk], a seasoned BBC reporter on technology. A better link (with pictures) is here BBC News [bbc.co.uk]
    • by Artichoke (34549)
      And for non-Welsh speakers that's pronounced something almost like: Kethlan-Jones.

      Though the sound I've transliterated as 'th' has some of the 'ch' in the Scottish 'loch' too. But "Kechlan-Jones" might be mistaken for "Ketchlan-Jones", which would be even worse :)
  • Smart kid (Score:4, Funny)

    by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:50AM (#21682691)
    "With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago."

    The kid has made such a fast advancement that he has already been offered a job by Chris Hansen.
  • by drhamad (868567) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:51AM (#21682697)
    But what about a child's view of the $200 laptop?

    Also, somebody might have pointed this out already, but this guy took a laptop from Nigeria to bring to the UK? That seems to defeat the point (from how it's stated in the article, it doesn't seem that it was from the buy one/give one program).
    • by misanthrope101 (253915) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:38AM (#21683141)
      or at least their curiosity is. I have a Macbook and a Ubuntu desktop, and my kids (14, 16) have zero curiosity about either. There is nothing about kids that makes them magically curious about computer gear, programming, or whatever. Yes, they'll play DDR or Prince of Persia on the PS2, and they can write homework assignments with Abiword or OpenOffice, but "file>save as MS Word doc" is about as complex as their usage gets. I'm always bemused by the optimism that kids are going to be hacking perl scripts if they're given the opportunity. Kids are individuals, and those who are curious about computers are just curious about computers. The rest are not.

      I even tried to entice my son by talking a bit about encryption, thinking he would make the connection of "aha! I can hide stuff from the old man!" but even that lure failed to get him to open the Missing Manual book. I keep hoping to find an encrypted container indicating that he's learned something, but alas he lacks my secretiveness. Kids today!

      • by xant (99438)

        I'm always bemused by the optimism that kids are going to be hacking perl scripts if they're given the opportunity. Kids are individuals, and those who are curious about computers are just curious about computers. The rest are not.

        For that latter fraction who are curious about computers, if they're not given the opportunity they won't hack perl scripts. This is about providing the opportunity to everyone, and hoping that a few rise to the challenge and start stimulating the society to grow.

        Societies are al

        • which is why the house if full of books on dozens of subjects and magazines like Harper's and the Atlantic. But I think new parents are just a bit too optimistic, sadly so, that their kid will be different than those around him or her. Some kids are, but the thing about exceptional kids is that they are the exception. I'd love to discuss Godel Escher Bach with my son, but being an intellectual just isn't cool. I even have dark stuff around like Lavey or Baudelaire, but he wants garden-variety books on
      • by garcia (6573)
        It could simply be that your child has alternative methods towards hiding things and while the encryption might be interesting in theory, he has a much stronger desire to keep it out of a realm you obviously understand well.

        Check for hidden compartments in his closet that's he discovered behind loose pieces of wooden molding that look perfectly normal like I used to hide condoms, cigarettes, porn and other contraband.
      • by Mprx (82435) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @10:15AM (#21683553)
        Your kids are too old. Once they hit puberty the natural curiosity focuses almost entirely on social status and the opposite sex. A 9 year old typically has far more general curiosity.
      • Of course not everybody will be grabbed by the opportunities tech can provide, but if at least some do, it's job done. Look at the home computing craze of the 80s - many youngsters were exposed to tech at an early age; nearly all of them used it to play games; a small proportion started dabbling in programming; it was only a small group of people but it laid the foundations for a skilled tech workforce with a keen interest in complex areas of IT. In fact it could be argued that the current contraction in th
      • by evanbd (210358)

        and my kids (14, 16) have zero curiosity about either.

        Perhaps this is why OLPC intends to give laptops to younger children than yours.

    • this guy took a laptop from Nigeria to bring to the UK? That seems to defeat the point (from how it's stated in the article, it doesn't seem that it was from the buy one/give one program)

      Not being in North America, the author is not eligible to participate in the Buy One, Get One program.

      And while I'm sure Nicholas Negroponte would prefer that OLPC hardware being re-exported from third-world to first-world countries be an exceptional scenario rather than a common one, it's not necessarily a bad thing. If h
  • by mean pun (717227) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:52AM (#21682705)
    The conclusion I draw from the article is that this would be a great christmas present for a lot of children everywhere. (And that's a hint to the makers.)

    I don't doubt for a moment that this thread will be filled with the usual /. grousing about the usefulness of the entire project, but let's give credit where credit is due: it looks like they have made a product that appeals to children. Perhaps they know what they are doing?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      I've just dispatched a courier on an autogyro to the Belgium Congo to obtain me a gross of them in exchange for trinkets and cheap food. Merry Christmas!
  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @08:55AM (#21682731)
    I found int intriguing reading the part of the article about the chat system. He suddenly found himself able to chat with Spanish speaking kids. I wonder exactly how the whole OLPC chat system works and if this is truly a "feature" or a fluke. I say fluke because the article says the chat system identified itself as chatting with others in Nigeria. Will the OLPC's be "region encoded" so kids can only chat with other local kids? Or will kids be able to easily chat with kids from the other side of the world as well? I can see the second alternative, purposeful or not, as a way to help foster a knowledge of other cultures that these kids would otherwise be entirely unaware of. True, language differences would probably minimize the impact of this sort of thing, but as the article demonstrates even a language barrier isn't enough to keep curious kids from making friends half way around the world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      >I found int intriguing

      Why yes, signed 32bit integer values can be very interesting from many points of view!
    • by simong (32944)
      That was the feature that impressed me the most. My guess is that OLPC has established a bunch of Jabber or IRC servers as part of the product. How cool is it going to be for kids to click on the 'Chat' icon or whatever and suddenly be talking to other kids on the other side of the world? There are obvious potential downsides, but to me that's what the project should be about.
      • There are obvious potential downsides, but to me that's what the project should be about.

        Think of the worldwide catastrophe it would be for a shipment of these to fall into terrorist hands:
        a) connect to other terrorists worldwide, creating an easy-to-use terrorist network
        b) learn to hack by pressing "view source" button
        c) a nearly indestructible ad-hoc network that world governments would be unable to take down

        Clearly, the OLPC is a threat to freedom and the American spirit everywhere.

    • The OLPC is just an amazing machine, not only is it able to connect with any Wi-Fi network (no matter how far away or how secured), instantly make your child a programming virtuoso, make them a math whiz it can also make them instantly fluent in any language. Merely possessing the machine enables them to read and speak the language of the person they're chatting with. Not even Apple is so insanely cool.
  • 419 (Score:5, Funny)

    by NoPantsJim (1149003) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:03AM (#21682797) Homepage
    "a BBC account of a dad who traveled to Nigeria and brought back an XO laptop"

    So...did he scam a Nigerian?
    • Re:419 (Score:5, Funny)

      by technomom (444378) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:18AM (#21682925)
      Dear Sirs,

      The Central Bank of Nigeria is now in possession of 500 "One Laptop Per Child" that is earmarked for our schools. Unfortunately, our minister of education recently died in a tragic car accident. You have been named as his beneficiary and will be responsible for their distribution. As one of the benefits, you will be able to keep one for your own child. To release those laptops, we will need your credit card number and personal details concerning your children so that we may chat with him on our Jabber server.

      Please respond to 1-888-OLP-CCON with your information.

      Regards,
      M'Bol Zarhari
      Esteemeed Grand Puba, Central Bank of NIgeria.
  • Finally!! (Score:2, Funny)

    by FireNWater (1182607)
    All of those third world kids will finally get up off their butts and away from their Xbox 360's and Playstation 3's!!!!
  • by us7892 (655683) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:08AM (#21682839) Homepage
    So Rufus is using his laptop to write, paint, make music, explore the internet, and talk to children from other countries.

    Sounds like Rufus is a lot smarter than your kid. Figuring out all this stuff on his own. Before you know it, he'll be like his Dad, buying goods off the black market.
  • My 3 year old son knows how to turn on PC + monitor, how to use mouse, double-click icons on desktop (Windows Vista Home Premium), knows which icon starts which program and so on. Heck, after a couple of minutes of practice he learned how to run Counter Strike Source, create a server and join the team he wants (usually CTs). He knows also how to start MS Paint and create some really cool post-modern art ;)

    He likes to surf the web a lot, especially pictures of dragons and such. Because he can't read or write

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by us7892 (655683)
      Your 3-year old is advanced. My 3-year old always clicks the right mouse button and ends up with the "display properties" dialog window. Then he smears his fingers on the LCD.
      • Re:Kids and computer (Score:5, Interesting)

        by d3ac0n (715594) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:42AM (#21683203)

        Your 3-year old is advanced.


        Not really.

        My son learned how to do most of that (not counting playing CS. Although he does play some Web-based games at Noggin.com) at about 3 - 3/12. Now before you go saying "Well your son is just a genius." Please be aware, my son has Autism. He's not "normal" in any sense of the word, other than being physically healthy.

        His learning is definitely behind that of his peers, requiring him to need a special in-school tutor to help him along. He's 5 now, and struggling along in 1st grade. Still, we're impressed with his progress so far, and are now looking for ways we can use his affinity for computers to help educate him.

        The truth is, if parents would take just 5-15 minutes to sit down with their child at a computer and begin to use it with them, they would find that most kids would very quickly latch onto it, and soon be doing things with it themselves. I suspect that this will begin to happen more and more and the generation that was born into a world with computers and the internet as a common thing have kids of their own. Heck, it's ALREADY happening, if my son is any indication.

        Don't sell your kids short. Get them in front of a computer and learning today. Their peers have already started.
    • by Fez (468752) *
      We regret ever showing our 3 year old how to use the web. He's constantly hogging one of the PCs now playing games on Playhouse Disney's web site. He (thankfully) doesn't yet know which icon to click to start the web browser, but he knows how to get to the bookmarks once he's in. We do limit his time, but it's a fight when we tell him his turn is over.

      He knows what buttons to push to turn the PC on, but by design, he can't. I bought server-style cases with doors that cover the buttons. It's only a matter of
      • Ditto. My daughter just turned 4 and already is addicted to the computer. Fortunately, all she knows so far is www.starfall.com, so it's still educational, but I don't like her sitting in front of a screen so much at that age.
        • by Fez (468752) *
          I'll have to show my son that site (starfall.com). He loves letters. He knows the alphabet backwards and forwards, and can read the letters, but he hasn't taken an interest in reading words or sentences just yet. He can write his name, and he will write lots of letters, but not all of them. We read to him every day, and sometimes he pretends to read to us, but it's stories he makes up that go with the pictures instead of what is written -- which is great in its own way.

          One thing that helped with letters was
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by squiggleslash (241428)

          Yeah, my daughter just turned three, and it's already difficult to get her off the computer once she starts. She's normally on the Disney website, but lately she's also been on Wikipedia a great deal. Usually you'll find her browsing articles on Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants, though we recently caught her making edits to Nickelodeon after noticing that some shows the latter hasn't shown in years were still listed as regulars, and also reverting a vandal who changed Nickelodeon's owner from "V

      • Kids are amazing. I don't think I ever really thought about it much until my daughter came along, but those sayings "little eyes make big pictures" and "monkey see, monkey do" are really true

        She's 18 months and will pick up a Wii remote, point it at the TV, and wave it around like she's seen daddy do. On top of that, she's seen me use my iPhone enough that she knows that to turn it on you push the button and then slide the on-screen slider. She even knows that you touch the clock icon to see the "tic tic"--
    • by Xtense (1075847) <xtenseNO@SPAMo2.pl> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:33AM (#21683097) Homepage
      So your 3-year old kid already plays Counter Strike: Source?

      That's some pretty good parenting, right there.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by eln (21727)
        It's really not as bad as it sounds. The kid always tries to snipe, but he sucks at hiding so he usually gets pwnd pretty early. I've tried to teach him the finer points of camouflage, but the little bastard just keeps yelling about "fucking campers" and complaining that he keeps getting killed because his ping time sucks and he just won't listen. 3 year olds can be so stubborn sometimes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by bannerman (60282)
        Are you kidding me? The poor innocent kid will be warped. Everyone knows Source is just a perversion of the true Counter Strike.
  • Another Kid's Review (Score:5, Informative)

    by richg74 (650636) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:26AM (#21683013) Homepage
    On his blog, Freedom to Tinker [freedom-to-tinker.com], Prof. Ed Felten at Princeton has two more reviews of early versions of the XO laptop, the B2 [freedom-to-tinker.com] and the B4 [freedom-to-tinker.com], both (very well) written by a 12-year-old neighbor.
  • No wonder Microsoft tried to bribe it out of Nigeria.
  • by emj (15659) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:50AM (#21683279) Homepage Journal
    Everyone says education is empowerment to the people, I think this is the first step to empower most people around the world. This is a step to help people/children easily communicate and play over large distances, talk and share ideas. You should take a million of these laptops and drop them on Lima, Peru, and see what happens. Imagine one million people using the computer to do new stuff, just producing new creative material, sharing, critizing.

    This is actually a tool that would allow these counties to get ahead of EU & US. Because this will empower children when they are most active at learning, at 9 years old you can learn alot, that will get us alot of creative people, writers, programmers and artist in a 4-9 years.

    The question is will these children need to learn english, or can they just create local economies, based on heir own language?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by feepness (543479)

      You should take a million of these laptops and drop them on Lima, Peru, and see what happens.
      You would have millions of little laptop pieces scattered all over the place.
  • The Diamond Age (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Number6.2 (71553) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:56AM (#21683335) Homepage Journal
    Why do I get the feeling that I'm living not just Science Fiction, but in "The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" (Neal Stephenson)? True education is subversion, because true education will give you the tools to challenge the status quo.

    First George Orwell, now this. Where does it end?
    • by acvh (120205)
      I agree, wholeheartedly. Those who write this off as a gimmick are missing the big picture. Once the kids start communicating and learning from each other they will be empowered in a way we can only begin to imagine.

      and I can't wait for mine to get here!
  • Review (Score:5, Insightful)

    by loconet (415875) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @10:19AM (#21683593) Homepage
    Not to take away from the article but I would like to read a review from a kid who has not been exposed to technology/computers as much as Rufus. It would be interesting to read about their reaction to this technology and how it affects their daily lives. I grew up in Peru and was not exposed to technology to the degree that I am now, I know a laptop like that would have made a world of a difference to me.
  • My six year old was playing with one of these at a science-fiction convention and we only got it away from her with some difficulty.

    If they became commercially available in the US I'd buy one - and yeah, I missed the "buy 2 get 1" promo.

  • My son has been fascinated by computers almost since he was born. First he liked to play with the laser mouse, then he liked to tap on the keyboard, and now, at 2, he knows how to arrange the monitor, keyboard and mouse, and plug all in correctly, so that he can ask me to "watch choo choo train"... otherwise known as Thomas the Tank Engine videos on YouTube.

    He likes the notebook too, and when I'm surfing, he'll use the page up and page down keys to scroll back to a part that he liked on the page. We can s
  • No surprises (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @10:51AM (#21684081) Homepage
    No surprises in the article - in fact it sounds like a typical experience of a small child given any computer and allowed to just play with it. (Especially a child, like Rufus, who already has some experience around computers.) Jim Lileks has reported much the same thing with his daughter and the Mac she was given. I've heard similiar reports from friends who've let a child loose on a machine prepared for them.

    So far as the length of his fascination - let's hear back in another week or two, or another month, or next year. From late November to now is a matter of three weeks, tops. Even for a nine year old this isn't particularly long.
  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:37PM (#21686649)
    I think the OLPC project is indeed about education as Negroponte keeps insisting. The magic isn't in the laptop hardware (ok, some of it is revolutionary, such as the display) but more in the potential for collaboration and learning. It's a laptop designed to be an education tool and designed for learning. The paradigm behind it is very different than what microsoft, intel and asus are in it for, and that changes the results significantly.

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