Lifekludger with the olpc

June 10th, 2007 | by dnw |

jed with olpc

I’ve had a guest living with me the last two weeks – his name was Sparky

Sparky is a laptop from the olpc people. Called an XO, it is one of the 2500 BTest-2 hardware units built by Quanta, sparky had 128Mb RAM, Sugar interface and is green.

I was keen to see if someone with abilities different to most of those getting their hands on these early development units could use them. I was interested to see what issues might come forth from the experience.

First let’s qualify a couple things. I am not a unix guru or developer. I know enough to get around a command line and do a few things with running systems, but not much beyond that – like bug fixing etc.

My interest in the olpc therefore was primarily about accessibility and usability from the perspective of someone without use of their hands. I fully realise these units at this stage of development are very much a work in progress.

olpc symbolThe OLPC espouses five core principles: (1) child ownership; (2) low ages; (3) saturation; (4) connection; and (5) free and open source.

These are lofty and brilliant principals. The olpc wiki has a lot of information about principals of accessibility too, which is good to see. Certainly inclusion needs to be at the forefront of the project if it wants to reach all children and in many of the places where olpc has it’s sights set, I’d imagine all children would include many maimed by effects of war and poverty. Certainly, if the first world still is a battle place for inclusion (and yes, it is), then in the third world it’s likely that word wouldn’t exist. So it’d be good to see the XO be an exemplar.

It’s great to see the XO has a dual-mode input pad – one type for use with a finger, the other for a stylus. I need to use the input pad that doesn’t require using a finger and at first I didn’t think the ones on sparky were working. Turns out they were but needed a deal mode pressure than I was applying – though when they did work the cursor would only operate in the top third of the screen. I’m wondering now if a four finger salute would’ve helped as this supposedly re calibrates the pad.

four finger salute

Apart from the writing ability in the dual mode pad, it makes me wonder why a track-point pointing device wasn’t used. Of course I couldn’t have actually recalibrated this input pad myself due to not being able to hold down four keys. Which brings me to the next thing.

The biggest hurdle I had using the XO was that I had no key-modifier program to hold the shift, alt, fn keys while hitting another key. I know these 1-Finger type utilities are available for linux systems but not knowing how to implement them rendered most tasks impossible for me.

I couldn’t get wireless network to hold, but I could get a lan connection straight away by using a usb to ethernet adapter.

Layout wise I found the XO good. The size seemed just right. The screen is interesting that in passive, greyscale mode, it actually gets better to see in more direct light.

I was keen to see how my six year old would take to it. He had no problem, opening it up and finding the paint activity straight away. He looked very at home carrying the XO by it’s built in handle. It almost gives me a sense of what future school kids might look like – rather than weighed down with back packs filled with analogue reading apparatus (books).

jed holding laptop

I truly wish more of the activities on the unit I had were operational. Many would give the indication of loading but would quit before actually anything appeared on screen. I most likely would’ve been more frustrated not having a 1-Finger type function though then, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

It occurred to me during writing this that the olpc is kind of one massive example of the elements of an envisioned Lifekludger style project. A need is identified and in a sense a call goes out; A concept is formulated; The call is answered by a collaborative effort on a world-wide scale; A solution is conceived. The solution evolves out of the input of an environment of many people loosely joined around a core goal.

The olpc project is a huge undertaking and it has come along way. I look forward to any future crossing of the path of XO and Lifekludger.

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