Why I Contribute to OLPC News

write olpc news
Is this you, writing for OLPC News?

My name is Roland from Switzerland and I am in no way connected to OLPC, OLPC News nor to the IT industry or education. I am simply privately interested in OLPC and its surrounding topics. And I occasionally post articles and comments in OLPC News. You may ask why do I post on OLPCNews.com and not in wiki.laptop.org?

Well, first I did post in wiki.laptop.org but was dissatisfied with the uncritical and shallow attitudes of OLPC's disciples. It lacked independent thinking and most of all I was put off by sensing that discussing not only the bright side of OLPC but also its limitations and drawbacks were perceived as politically incorrect.

My critical but still moderate statements were dismissed and played down and pretty soon "edited for space saving" or in other words soft-washed. If somebody undertakes such a big endeavor as OLPC does they should be aware of and open about its limitations.

So since then I contribute to OLPC News because I feel that most of the peer contributors share a similar set of values even if they often do not share the same opinion. What are those shared values? You recognize your real friends by two behaviours:

  1. They always tell you the truth even when it is unpleasant because it helps you to improve.
  2. Real friends stand by you and help you not only in good times but also when you are in trouble and all other superficial friends don't want to know you anymore.
Exactly that is what I sense behind most posts here at OLPC News. Despite sometimes biting criticism most posters and commenters hope very much for OLPC to become a success. But they feel or know that some actions of OLPC lead in the direction of failure.

olpc beer
OLPC News posting style

Instead of remaining silent and wait for the out-come the contributors of OLPC News want to draw the attention of the OLPC leadership, their supporters and the decision makers to OLPC's weaknesses and risks in order that they avoid failure.

On the other hand should OLPC really face serious failure - which we don't hope - and the public opinion turns against it I am convinced that the same contributors of OLPC News will defend OLPC because they not only see its mistakes but also its huge merit and promise for the future.

But as long as One Laptop Per Child claims a thousand times it has no serious unsolved problems without proving it or trying to recognize and solve them the contributors of OLPC News will continue a thousand and one time to pinpoint those unsolved risks. Yes, that can be painful. And yes, OLPC News might be perceived to be against OLPC although it really only opposes the weaknesses and mistakes of OLPC hoping that they might be corrected.

I am absolutely convinced that constructive thoughtful criticism serves OLPC better than thoughtless jubilation of OLPC's every move regardless of the sense it makes. Please comment about your perception of what OLPC News is to you or what it should become.

Of course you can directly help OLPC News become what you want by submitting your own posts.

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Just to say I quite agree with you.


I second Martin's comment, I also think that your comments are spot on!

As I put it in one of my previous posts:

"...I love the idea of an open exchange of opinions between different people and reading other people's thoughts who often put things into a very different perspective than I'd normally do."

One thing should be said in favor of OLPC. Although fragmentary and strongly imbalanced between laptop side and education side the OLPC project provides some information about their intentions and progress. Where as e.g. Intel provides very little information at all on its Classmate project.

Now what is the better way?
Providing information exposes a project to criticism. But the criticism also offers the chance to recognize problems which is a precondition for their correction. If your intentions are purely benevolent then this is the best way to proceed even if it is not always the easiest way to go.

If a project's intentions are not so pure then it better keeps its actions in the dark. The only possible criticism is then the lack of information.

Hear, hear.

Kudos, Roland. As usual, you set the right tone.

roland, thanks.. nice to have context where you're coming from.. me? i thank olpcnews for helping promote an emerging tool, providing great info, links and challenges to my assumptions.. suggested improvements?

less opinion, more real-world news?
* real stories suggesting solutions to probs
* interviews w/ hands-on xo participants?

when olpcnews opines, aim productive!
* challenge assumptions (two way street)
* critique (but check tendency to bash)
* aim to induce dialog, action

if your intended audience is really the olpc team, how can you improve the chance to be heard.. or even involve a very busy team in productive dialog, change? as for me, to be real, i'm not here to fix the olpc.. basically i'm here seeking help to get text twext..

I have no hopes of convincing the OLPC team (as a team, not as individuals) of anything. More important, in my opinion, is that we place our arguments and criticisms in public so that the people who count, the decisionmakers in candidate countries, can ask meaningful questions of OLPC.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the project is their tendency to rely on unspoken assumptions as to the benefit of the project. "Qui tacet consentit" (whoever is silent consents) said the Romans, and I for one refuse to be counted as acquiescing to these assumptions.

Thank you, Roland, for having made the effort to criticize through the wiki and for reporting on the results.

Thanks Duke, for your valuable hints. I guess you are right that my/our criticism sometimes looks overly negative.

And the other important point is the constant lack of new information that sometimes makes us chew on the same things again and again.

I would very much like to contribute to bridging the gap between the educated and the uneducated. Where in the world can I do something tangible and positive, instead of writing comments on comments on comments? Is this site a digital meeting place for people to put there shoulders under part of the problem they see, and solving it?! Are workgroups behind the scenes working here? Are they not only scrutinizing the criticisms, but also putting pieces of the puzzle in place to fill the gaps?! Isn't it natural for such a big undertaking as the OLPC project to have gaps? Maybe after this comment someone will contact me, pointing me in the right direction?!

Prof. Barney Oliver who was the first VP of R&D at HP said: "Practice includes all of theory". Until the "children" are able to get onto the net and contribute to forums such as this as well as the laptop-wiki ,we may not understand their real unmet needs.

In the medical device industry it took a while before manufacturers embraced Interoperability of disparate systems with respect to file formats and interfaces. This happened after the medical community demanded it. Hopefully it wont take that long for OLPC, Intel and others to get together and develop standards that benefit the children. However, in order to do so, input is needed from the end users. It is true that many of us are experienced warriors in industry, academia and society. We need to be sure that we are "standing in the shoes of the children" while having these discussions. We may find out, in time, that these systems will be used in ways that we have yet to dream about.

Perhaps, a consortium is necessary in order to bring the OLPC, Intel , and customers to develop standards for interfaces, networks, etc to allow these systems to operate in conjunction, rather than against each other. This will also help the development of robust laptops in the future.

Had the OLPC project followed the norms of many industries, it could have patented many of the inventions and cloaked itself in a veil of secrecy until it delivered the product and thwarted the "competition". Happily ,that has not been the case. The OLPC concept is truly a "game changer" and hopefully big egos do not get in the way of progress. Historically, champions of great ideas have had great egos and the truly "greats" did not lose their capacity to listen.

I am sure that many of us can relate to the quote from Sacha Guitry: "our wisdom comes from experience and our experience comes from foolishness"

Martin van Zanten,

I don't know which kind of contribution you are thinking about. In case you want to work with children in the target countries you might want to check out http://laptopfoundation.org/en/participate/
You probably won't get any payment from OLPC. Maybe some governments of target countries are willing to hire somebody. Maybe OLPC can help with contact addresses. Also check out http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Home
Good luck.

Roland --- it certainly is possible to improve many things about the OLPC, and *constructive* criticism is valuable.

In the end, the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding, V 1.0, is being delivered by the kitchen now.

What are you doing to either improve the OLPC (by improving hardware, software or infrastructure elements --- yes, that includes usable bug reports and *constructive* criticism) or helping a "better" project? (I'd hate to think of you as just another critic "who creates nothing and thereby feels qualified to judge the work of creative men.")

PS: True friends *will* lie to you if you really cannot take the truth --- and will give you bad news gently.