Sunday, April 27, 2008

Kill your television

My sibling and I have had an ongoing conversation about the dearth of meaningful volunteer work and share a frustration that more non-profit groups don't make more use of the Internet's potential.

We're not the only one's who have recognized the untapped potential that exists. Clay Shirky has too - but has quantitfied it and put into a historical context in his recent essay, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. It's highly recommended reading.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

XO Laptop - beautiful but tragically flawed

So yesterday I entertained my 2 1/2 year old son by bringing out my XO laptop from OLPC.

The XO laptop is designed for children from ages 6 to 12 but there are some activities that a small child can explore. Mats likes making noise with TamTamMini and making B I G L E T T E R S with Write, its text editing program. But it was the ability to capture video that made him scream and drool with delight (thank goodness for the xo's water resistant keyboard).

But like so many times before, my delight in the XO laptop quickly evaporated into pure frustration. After the little one had gone to bed, I turned on my XO to find that I could not view any of the videos I had just recorded of my little guy. I sighed and then, with a growing sense of dread, I went online to see if someone else had experienced the same problem. I had been down this road before - and it wasn't pretty.

You see, there are multiple sources of support for the XO. There is the official OLPC Wiki - which suffers from a severe lack of editorial work. Don't believe me? This is what I mean: there is a community user guide, a new user guide, a workaround section, the "official FAQ" and the support FAQ, the Ask OLPC A Question section (which has its own archive), and of course, separate pages for the various aspects of hardware and software which often have different information than the guides. And supplementing the wiki, there are two support discussion forums: the official one and the OLPC News Forum. And supplementing those are mailing lists (public, community and official ones) and, if you like your help old-skool-stylee, there are several IRC channels on the subject of the OLPC.

Trouble is, not a single person is dedicated to answering any of the questions. Evidently children are going to do the job but in the meantime, its just volunteers.

You see, the founder of OLPC Nicholas Negroponte, doesn't believe in product support for the XO. According to Negroponte, I should be asking a small child to teach me how to use my laptop because, "with all due respect" to those who believe that education depends teachers, schools, curriculum, or content, success is dependent "on leveraging the children themselves".

Except that the XO is buggy as hell.

I *understand* how video should work. But it doesn't. And after hours of searching wikis and forums, I now know that at least one person has experienced the same problem since January and that no one has offered a possible solution yet.

I have a lot of faith in the power of online communities but unlike the OLPC organization, I don't take such groups for granted. The Open Source community is a beautiful one but they are more likely to take the time to answer a question that can be answered in python than to take the time to do the multi-step analysis required to find out why, for a presumed small group of users, playing recorded video doesn't work.

Non-working video hasn't been the first problem I've encountered. When I try to register my XO nothing happens. Evidently, the Write activity is able to save text as html but when I bring up my code in Browse, it refuses to recognize the code (there are TWO pre-installed activities dedicated to learning programming in Python and nothing to create a simple webpage?!?).

Hardware-wise, the XO laptop is a thing of beauty. But until a core group of XO activities can be developed to perform solidly and consistently, I don't think an entire nation should invest in these laptops for their children.