You Can BETT on a Guest Post Happy Ending!

   
   
   
   
   

Hello, this is Alan Bell again. You may remember me from the "Help I haven't got an XO for BETT" post a few weeks ago. Well I can now report that this story has a happy ending.

olpc bett
BETT XO laptop crew

The day after the article appeared on OLPC News we got a call from Tomi Davis, of OLPC Nigeria. Roughly speaking the conversation went "Would you like to borrow some laptops?" to which we replied "Hell yeah!"

Pre-BETT Prep

We (Tomi, The Open Sourcerer and myself) arranged to meet up the night before the BETT show, the laptops were pre-production Beta 4 models with rather old software so we worked with Tomi to upgrade them using a hastily purchased USB stick from a dodgy looking local shop (cash only - no change - lets just call it twenty quid - no, you can't have a receipt).

After a little while we had five happy laptops meshed up and we were familiarizing ourselves with the activities on offer. Initially there was a problem with the keyboard mapping in the new image, the H and U keys were both mapped to "u". After a bit of head scratching (key maps are under /usr/share which didn't help) Tomi got some help and a patch from the developers and we were soon up and running.

The laptops had a Nigerian keyboard layout (which in no way resembles the Konyin keyboard) and Nigerian power supplies which (thanks to the colonial history of the British Empire) happen to be exactly the same as the 240V 3 pin British power supply. For demonstration purposes we had to rename the laptops, so we settled on naming them after countries where the OLPC foundation is working. Knowing our stand at BETT was quite small, and that it would be rude to take all of Tomi's toys away, we borrowed three, "Nigeria", "Thailand" and "Uruguay".

As we were going to be passing IKEA our wives had kindly provided us each with a long shopping list, so we amused the other late night wardrobe shoppers by tapping out tunes with TamTam and measuring the restaurant with the acoustic tape measure. I typed up my shopping list whilst munching meatballs and then used an XO in tablet configuration as we hunted down our assigned items of inexpensive Swedish style. Next day was BETT.

Never a BETT-er Reception

We got there at ridiculous o'clock in the morning with the bag of laptops and found the Open Forum Europe stand. We were just about to arrange a small wager on who would be first to spot a teacher wearing sandals and a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches when the first delegates started to arrive.

"Wow, is that really an OLPC laptop? I have just seen it on BBC breakfast news! That is so cool, can I hold it? really?"
As far as we know we were the only stand at Bett to get pre-show publicity on the BBC. In the afternoon Tomi joined us at the show and we were interviewed on camera by the show publicity people (no idea if it was broadcast anywhere, but it felt to us like our first TV appearance).

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Keyboards for the visually impaired

Everywhere we went at the show people spotted the XO and started talking to us:

"Wow, that is so cool, can I hold it? really? It was worth coming all the way to BETT just to see that".
I took one of the XO laptops on a grand tour of the show, taking in such delights as the Special Educational Needs zone where we tried the XO with some interesting peripherals like a chunky keyboard and a Braille reader. The XO does work with various assistive technologies, it is ready for use by the whole class including SEN students.

The RM stand was very big and impressive, they had lots of the Asus Eee PC laptops on display, I noticed that they were all locked down to the desks, it seems you just can't trust a room full of teachers! The XO stopped here for a cheeky photo, then I ran away.

One of the big news items at the show was the new report from Becta (the UK advisory body to the UK educational community) on Microsoft Vista and Office 2007. From reading the report it would seem that schools should welcome Office 2007 and it's OOXML file format with about as much enthusiasm as they welcome head lice. OOXML - as welcome in schools as a head lice infestation

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Look who dominates

I visited the Becta stand and was instantly mobbed by the stand staff when they recognised what I was holding. They had loads of questions about the laptop and the OLPC mission, they were talking to someone from RM (or possibly Asus) about the Eee PC and he had quite a lot of questions about the XO. Suddenly a big camera arrived and we were told that the CEO of Becta was doing a live interview for BBC News 24 right now.

They wanted some people in the background chatting and looking busy so I grabbed the XO and moved to where the bloke from the BBC was directing us. The chap from RM (or possibly Asus) quickly joined our little crowd of extras and then stood with his long coat held out wide like a flasher directly between the XO and the camera. I smiled and carried on answering questions from the Becta guys.

Building a BETT mesh

On Friday we were very pleased that Francois Brutsch (who commented on the previous article) joined us on the stand with his G1G1 XO, he attached to the mesh and made friends with the other laptops in no time and worked with Frank Margrave to get several shared activities running. There was a constant stream of visitors to the stand including teachers, ICT coordinators, head teachers, Ofsted officials, other exhibitors and the occasional Minister of state.

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XO laptops everywhere!

Everyone had questions, generally starting with "Can I hold it? Really?" then moving on to the "what was that Intel thing all about?" question and the "can I buy lots and lots right now?" question. (answers: yes, yes, they stormed off in a huff but we don't care, no).

Several teachers told us that over the last few years UK schools have drifted from "teaching" to "training" and they want to move back to getting kids excited about exploring the world using computers rather than "preparing them for the workplace".

Big thanks go to Tomi Davis, Stephen Aitkin, Bob Blatchford, Nick Wood, Alan Cocks, Frank Margrave, Mike Banahan, Alan Lord, Francoise Brutsch and OLPCNews.com for working together to make this happen.

Do you have an OLPC-related activity too? Want to have the support of five thousand global readers? Then be sure to write a Guest Post for OLPC News today.

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13 Comments

"The chap from RM (or possibly Asus) quickly joined our little crowd of extras and then stood with his long coat held out wide like a flasher directly between the XO and the camera."

Is this true or just a joke?

It would be pathetic if true. And a measure of their lack of convidence in their own product.

Winter

Haha.. Nice report. "Can I hold it"... I will start to anticipate those questions once I bring my XO out into public. I think I will go to my local coffee shop soon (free wifi) and maybe the library.....

[[I took one of the XO laptops on a grand tour of the show, taking in such delights as the Special Educational Needs zone where we tried the XO with some interesting peripherals like a chunky keyboard and a Braille reader. The XO does work with various assistive technologies, it is ready for use by the whole class including SEN students.]]

Braille? Which reader? What software were you using? How did it work?

@Winter
It is true. I don't know how official he was, or even who he works for or what his name is. He was trying to be a bit subtle, but I knew what he was doing and I know he knew what he was doing.
I might have done the same thing myself with the positions reversed, so I wouldn't be too harsh on the chap, it just made for a good little anecdote :-)

About the Asus/RM chap: he must have been over-zealous. After the mesh at Open Forum Europe, I went to the RM stand to look at the Eee, and they were most interested in my XO! I used it to take a picture of the Asus: http://swissroll.info/?2008/01/10/1065-des-nouvelles-du-xo

I second Donna. I'm trying to get a list together of known AT devices the XO works with.

Emailing privately the make and model of the Braille readers and anything else you tried would be excellent.

It is so good to hear of your positive experiences. It has been amazing to see the children from Mongolia using the XO's (on the wiki page.) The Intel departure may actually have helped the OLPC project. At the very least it brought attention to the area of education. Everyone at my school is eagerly awaiting the "Little Green Machine" as we have nick-named it. Today I received a very welcome email.

"Hi,

You have reached a live Tech Support Volunteer. Just wanted to let you
know that someone is working on your shipping issue. We'll keep you
updated as we research your order.

It sounds like you never got a message with the subject "Thank you for
donating to One Laptop Per Child." This is the message that included the
order number.

There are 3 companies involved with getting your laptop shipped, and we
are escalating your order information request to our partner companies.
We have been told that there was manual intervention needed for all the
remaining outstanding orders.

We understand your disappointment and appreciate your patience.

For the most up to date information, please visit our support page:

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/G1G1_Fulfillment_Information

Thank you again for your patience!"

Then later today this one:
Dear Donor,
We are contacting you in regards to your Give One Get One donation and the shipment of your laptop. Your donation is in the queue for laptop shipment.
Please expect to receive another update from us by Wednesday, 1/23, with information on when you can expect to receive your laptop.
We appreciate your generosity and patience.
Sincerely,
OLPC Donor Services

I am posting this outside my classroom door first thing tomorrow. I am going to have a bunch of happy kids. I am guessing I might see the laptop in a week or so:) Now I have to figure out who gets to play with it first???

@Francois, yes you are quite right, the RM guys were very interested in the XO, one of them visted out stand and wanted to explore getting the Sugar interface running on EeePC. I wouldn't be at all surprised if RM would like to help distribute the XO alongside EeePC. The thing I found interesting was that the debate is moving to the question of "which Linux laptop" rather than "Linux or Windows".

It would be great if RM (whoever they are) distributed them. Then you could answer the question "can we buy lots of them?" with yes, the way the people at ASUS did.

RM are Research Machines, the Dell of the education world. They used to make hardware, I first encountered a computer as an RM380Z http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=812 then later the 480Z http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=600 then the PC arrived and they rebadged and supplied them. Now they are selling PCs and the Asus Eee PC, they are not going to be slaves to the Wintel monopoly and although they are in business to extract money from School budgets they seem quite friendly to Open Source concepts. I am not sure how they would make money from the OLPC, but I think they are enlightened enough to see that more computers in schools is a general good thing for the industry.

"Now they are selling PCs and the Asus Eee PC, they are not going to be slaves to the Wintel monopoly and although they are in business to extract money from School budgets they seem quite friendly to Open Source concepts."

If they are professional, they will view FOSS as lower-costs = more left for them.

The same holds for hardware. If the hardware is cheaper, more of the budget is left for them.

Winter

the Braille reader was a HumanWare one. http://www.humanware.com/en-usa/products/braille_and_speech/braille_displays
it works as a keyboard and tty output device. They have some interesting devices which basically contain a Linux computer, a full laptop for the blind.

Thanks Alan! I'm trying to compile a list of all confirmed AT software and hardware that works on the xo.

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