Suzhou

I’ve been in China for the last week, at the Quanta factory in Changshu (an hour west of Shanghai) where we’re gearing up for production of lots of XO laptops. It’s my first time in Asia. There is more neon than I expected, considering we aren’t even in Shanghai:

Today we awarded ourselves a (half) day off and headed to the tourist center of Suzhou, which is the province that Changshu is in. It has many famous gardens (including a UNESCO World Heritage site) and a silk industry that dates back a millennium.

Suzhou Museum’s newest buildings were designed by I. M. Pei, an architect who also designed the MIT Media Lab building. He’s from Suzhou, and came back after a long career to design the museum for them. Here’s a photo from the entrance, and then one of the Humble Administrator’s Garden:

I’m headed back to Boston tomorrow. Go Sox!

Unboxing the OpenMoko phone

What better to go with an open-source laptop than an open-source phone? ;-) The Neo1973′s a great looking phone, with the sharpest screen I’ve seen for the form factor. Congratulations to the OpenMoko team!

OpenMoko

OLPC Videoconferencing

We just had our first trans-atlantic (and trans-Cambridge) videoconference on the OLPC!

We were chatting with the fine people at Collabora (Dafydd Harries is in the bottom photo), who have been working on getting Telepathy and Farsight running on the OLPC OS. Audio and video were both extremely smooth. We were exchanging 15fps, over wireless at both ends.

My hope is that starting a video call with another user on the mesh network could eventually be as easy as clicking on a buddy’s icon in the mesh view.

The “View Source” key

Don Marti has a thorough write-up of the cross-pollination happening between OLPC and a bunch of free software projects. I enjoyed the last paragraph of the article the most:

Just as the CM1′s software is getting an overhaul, so is the keyboard. “Nicholas Negroponte’s one absolute demand is to get rid of Caps Lock,” Gettys says.

And, Bender says, “There’s one new key they get that’s the important one and that’s the View Source key.”

Having “the freedom to view the source” can seem very abstract, and having a “View Source” key makes this feature of the machines clear to the users. Imagine one of these kids visiting an Apple Store1 sometime in the future and innocently asking where the “View Source” key is. “Let you view the source? But that’s our property, it belongs to us, you can’t have it.”

For anyone wondering how the technical side to the key can work: almost all of the code the user runs is written in Python, and the system keeps precise track of what’s running where.

One of the inspirations for OLPC is the powerful ability children have to learn with minimal guidance; an ability which is consistently underestimated by adults. By providing free software in this way, the very structure of the machine reflects the potential for self-guided learning that originally motivated the creation of the device.

We’ve added many new features to the laptop since I started working with OLPC — a webcam, SD card reader and dedicated NAND flash controller are the latest — but it’s going to take something very special to supplant the “View Source” key as my favourite addition.

(1: I don’t mean to pick on Apple; insert any such vendor here. I chose Apple ’cause they’re both a hardware and software manufacturer. In fact, as the article points out, Apple have helped us out significantly by agreeing to let the Squeak Foundation release the Squeak Smalltalk environment under an Apache-style license. Squeak will be one of the main programming languages used by the kids.)

New job!

It’s been a hectic few weeks. Two weeks ago I resigned from Netcraft, and on Monday I started work at One Laptop per Child. I’m loving it already; I’ll try to blog progress as I go. I’m going to be working on performance tuning for the laptop’s kernel drivers and userspace apps. This’ll certainly be the first time I’ve been able to measure performance improvements by “amount of time and energy saved by several million children who are charging their machines by hand”…

One Laptop per Child

Looking forward to helping out with the One Laptop per Child project. I went over to Micro Center to pick up supplies yesterday, and they had USB hubs for $20, USB network adaptors for $30, and a combination three-port powered hub and network adaptor for $23. It’s a D-link DSB-H3ETX, and works fine in both the Fedora installer and OLPC image via the ‘pegasus’ driver.

I’m hoping to get Dasher up and running as an input method, and to look at alternate calibration techniques for the tablet — “tap these four points at the corners of the screen in order” isn’t easy to explain to a six year-old, but “play this game that happens to involve tracking an object with the stylus while it moves” might be.