Re: One Laptop To Rule Them All

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Want!


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:06 PM
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Good. About time, really.

Maybe past time.

Hurry, OLPC!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:07 PM
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I'll believe it when I see it.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:17 PM
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I'm really, really wishing right now I hadn't forgotten to buy AppleCare for my laptop before the 1-year warranty ran out. Crap.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:21 PM
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Have there been any stories about how the current OLPCs are being used in the developing world? (I'm sure there are, but I'm lazy and wondering if anyone has seen a particularly informative one.)


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:25 PM
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As I think Guido van Rossum remarked, sending laptops to developing countries is the 21st century equivalent of sending bibles to the colonies.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:26 PM
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So this is like getting ready to include the Old with the New Testament? And maybe a concordance, since the kids are clamoring for that.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:27 PM
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Sounds to me like a very inefficient way of giving food subsidies to impoverished Third World families.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:34 PM
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4: I feel your pain, Jesus.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:39 PM
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DO NOT WANT --- at least not without a proper keyboard. It looks cool but I can't imagine typing on it. That said, it's called the XOXO and I love the whole project. But give the kids a keyboard.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:40 PM
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Someday, anyone with a keyboard will look olde-tymey. Kids will look at laptops with keyboards the way we look at electronic typewriters.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:42 PM
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sending laptops to developing countries is the 21st century equivalent of sending bibles to the colonies

It could come with the Koran pre-installed, if that would make you feel any better.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:42 PM
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They'll have bruises on their little fingers from tapping on the screen. Keyboards give.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:43 PM
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Keyboards give

<wiping tear from eye>And yet they demand so little.</wiping tear from eye>


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:46 PM
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Not surprising and not really relevant, but I just learned that Nicholas Negroponte who heads up OLPC is younger brother to John, of contra and Bush Admin infamy. Nicholas is an nteresting guy all around, the founder of MIT's Media Lab.

The Negropontes have built five schools in rural villages in Cambodia that do not have electricity, telephone or television--but some kids now have broadband wireless, and their first English word is Google.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:49 PM
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Ha ha. Paging Andrew...


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:50 PM
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the 21st century equivalent of sending bibles to the colonies.

Not much money in parting out bibles.

I suppose some Cambodian families will be spared from having to sell their children into prostitution. So there's that.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:02 PM
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You can have the laptop if I can have the last name Negroponte. I would change my first name to Turbo.


Posted by: Rottin' in Denmark | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:27 PM
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I think they sound awesome. If one's primary concern is another, more basic factor of life in developing countries, I'm pretty sure there are other programs who would greatly appreciate one's patronage.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:32 PM
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Does this mean that Rottin' in Denmark is now an Unfogged commenter? Cool.

Does anyone know where the fruit basket is?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:59 PM
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C'mon bitch. It's the age of the laptop for every child. WE can let them out of the basket now.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 11:03 PM
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On behalf of B. and the entire Unfoggedariat, Welcome aboard this creaky vessel, Rottin' in Denmark.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 11:08 PM
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in re the laptop: it's an utter fraud. It's much worse than bibles for colonies. Very few governments have bought any: a friend of mine, vaguely associated with the project, claims that this is because Negroponte won't pay bribes, but that in itself argues that they are a boondoggle.

Only two countries, in fact, have bought any that I know of -- Peru and Bolivia -- and it turns out there is no infrastructure there to deliver them. Tens of thousands are just going to be stolen. We will end up with the cocaine mafias equipped with low-power sophisticated wireless networks that can easily be hacked ot all sorts of purposes. Neither children nor Wired-type enthusiasts will learn anything from this.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 11:10 PM
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If one's primary concern is another, more basic factor of life in developing countries

That's not the point. Somebody is going to buy these up and part them out, if the local officials even bother to distribute them in the first place.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 11:14 PM
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There are several successful trials going on. People other than Mr. Nworb might be interested in reading the information here. Also, Kristic is not exactly an unbiased observer. People who make the kind of statements of Mr. Nworb may not have much experience with start-ups. Personally, I think a start-up that has developed widely praised hardware, a revolutionary software platform (admittedly still developing) and shipped over 200,000 units after its founding in 2005 is much more successful than most start-ups I have observed.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 11:27 PM
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It's successful if the aim is to shift laptops.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 11:53 PM
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It remains a stupid project. A very Wired idea of development aid and another manifestation of the idea that technology will save us. Just give every child in the developing world a laptop and you don't need to do anything else.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:09 AM
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Also a classic example of transference. I want one, so of course a starving child in a third world country will want one.

And, a consequence of the idea that anything new must be good and anything old must be bad. Why actually educate them when we can give them a toy?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:17 AM
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Or should I just start writing the "What White People Like" entry for OLPC right now.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:26 AM
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It's not so much transference as "when the only tool you have is a hammer" syndrome. I don't think it's any worse than useless, which is more than can be said for a lot of things.

This is a much more positive story, if you're into those kinds of things.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:59 AM
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27 et alia:

Right, and it's a far better idea to focus on food aid (never gets stolen! always reaches targets!). Only rich, first-world children deserve to have information access to the rest of the world.

It is silly to shut down projects on the basis of it not doing enough. No one in their right mind thinks you should just hand out laptops and not do anything else. However, as it turns out, just food or just money or just medicine are also pretty useless without distribution and storage and education and each other (the medicine requires food to be taken, the money is no good without something to spend it on, the food's no good without medicine to keep you alive, etc).

I know there are a ton of potential problems with delivery and theft, but those problems aren't inherent to the laptop program and they are soluble.

I've been hanging out with a lot of starving children the past couple of weeks and they (and their school) would be thrilled to have workable technology that didn't use electricity.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:10 AM
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I don't think it's a stupid idea at all, and IMO the Bill Gates line that laptops have to come after water, sanitiation and malaria in the development timeline is actually wrong. I need to write something about this ...


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:20 AM
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I know there are a ton of potential problems with delivery and theft

I also don't necessarily regard these as problems - this week I am mostly reading Zizek, who is very fond of the Freudian aphorism that a letter sent without an address, always reaches its destination.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:21 AM
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I don't see in this the preference for laptops over books. I can quite see how books should come before water, sanitation, malaria, etc: that's how it worked in Europe, and indeed in British public schools until recently. But why laptops?


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:55 AM
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Books are good too.

Books are only about one thing, though, and they don't let you talk to the other people who are reading them. The internet is about everything!


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:01 AM
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"Does this mean that Rottin' in Denmark is now an Unfogged commenter?"

Yep, I'm seeking as many outlets for my uninformed opinions as possible. Yesterday: Blogging. Today: Commenting. Tomorrow: Politics.


Posted by: Rottin' in Denmark | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:19 AM
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re: 34

One laptop with a load of Project Gutenberg type ebooks would be a pretty space efficient and cost-effective way of getting books out there. Given a choice between paying for 50 or 100 books or getting one laptop with a couple of thousand books on disc/memory-card, it's not obvious that books are the way to go. Add in some language teaching stuff, some maths software and some interactive science teaching material and even without access to the internet a cheap laptop could go a long way.

A laptop of that type wouldn't be a substitute for books, but it'd be a way to make the book budget stretch further.

I can see ways in which a laptop project could be done badly, and I don't know enough about the details of the OLpC project to know how well it's done. But it's not inconceivable, either, that there are good ways it could be done and in which laptops could prove extremely useful.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 3:14 AM
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and you don't need to do anything else

I'm late to the backlash, but boy this thread started with some dumb contrarianism. No one. No one supporting this project ever would have proposed it was the only thing that should be done for developing countries - what purpose does it serve to put this straw man in their mouthes?

There isn't nearly the educational infrastructure needed to provide for the educational needs of kids in the developing world. John Seely Brown is around saying we would need to found an additional university every week to meet these needs, and that clearly isn't going to happen. These laptops are one experiment along the way to coming up with solutions. They've spurred some companies to offer similar products. Brown says we should be trying to create distance education with study groups organized over cell phones.

Sure lots of these ideas are dumb or impractical, but it's going to take a lot more than self-satisfied condescension to come up with real ways to address the educational needs of this century. And a little naive experimentation might just get the ball rolling on better ideas.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 4:14 AM
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potential problems . . . but they are soluble.

They dissolve in water!


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 4:22 AM
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They dissolve in water!

shh, you'll put all the NGOs out of business!


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 4:40 AM
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I'm with spaz. Noone is saying this is the only thing to be done. The initial news story I read about the thing suggested it could be a way of giving access to gajillions of books to poor kids in out of the way places (in addition to porn obvi.)

Also, there are a few organizations providing food aid, drugs (the good kind) etc already. Diversifying in this direction could spur some great welfare improvements.

I'm from the third world and I can't say how much more I know/can easily know now that the interwebs is at my fingertips.

I won't yell 'shut it down' just yet.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:09 AM
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Where're you from?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:12 AM
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But Sugar is terrible. The first XO was arguably a brilliant idea that produced brilliant hardware, but they bit off more than they could chew with the software.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:22 AM
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Nigeria. Though I live in Norway now. Via college in New England.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:23 AM
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disaggregated, is the link under your pseud a philosophical statement? Cos if you want people to click through you'll need to add a TLD.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:29 AM
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You do have to like modern travel possibilities.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:30 AM
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45: it's a real blogspot address. I problem solved! I don't know if that's disaggregated's target or not though


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:31 AM
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45: I know. I'm yet unsure if I want people to click through.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:31 AM
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Cecily, when I achieve world domination, your death will be quick and painless.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:32 AM
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:( sorry


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:34 AM
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It's fine.

Exile then. Siberia or the Sahara.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:36 AM
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Heh. Your post on Nigerian schools brings back fond memories of drawing the digestive system on butcher paper for the kids I was teaching to copy into their notes. I have no idea if any learning happened as a result of this, but it was how things were done.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:39 AM
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46: I do; though $1600 Oslo - Lagos one way is a bit much.

Visas, OTOH are probably my greatest enemy.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:40 AM
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52: I'd say some learning happened. The largest bottleneck for kids who had to study under such conditions is the paucity of places in Nigerian universities relative to the size of high school graduating classes.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:42 AM
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Yeah, you get a bright enough kid and they'll learn regardless. I was teaching upper level science to kids (in Samoa) with very poor preparation before they got to me, and I was a horrendously incompetent teacher, and I still had a couple of kids who soaked it all up like sponges. But not enough to compete with the city kids on the tests that would have gotten them into university. (I think my star pupil got sent into the city for one more year of high school to take a shot at university again, but I don't know what happened to him. Great kid, though.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:49 AM
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I say we get t-shirts that say 'horrendously incompetent teacher.' Teaching is the hardest thing I have ever done. By far.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:51 AM
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Yup. I used to come home from class and literally sit motionless staring at clouds for an hour or two before I could handle doing anything productive, like the next day's prep. I've been in jobs I didn't like much for most of the last decade, and one thing I clung to was "At least I'm not teaching."

But I understand it's not that hard for people who like it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:56 AM
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Somebody is going to buy these up and part them out, if the local officials even bother to distribute them in the first place and since every other aid program in the world was suspended in favor of laptops, I guess they're screwed.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:09 AM
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Nothing wrong with looking at clouds.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:15 AM
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So, it already costs nearly twice what they thought it would. They plan to cut the price by more than the original target price. And they plan to do this while replacing cheap plastic keyboards with expensive, cutting edge touch screens. Yeah, I can really see that happening.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:20 AM
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60: OTOH, if the laptop will benefit you more than $100, you'll buy it, if not, you're better off not owning one.

It's not about price; it's about consumer surplus.

Oh, the economics Kool-aid is grape flavored.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:30 AM
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but they bit off more than they could chew with the software.

Thus, v2 has windows and the linux folks have run screaming to the hills.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:44 AM
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Also a classic example of transference. I want one, so of course a starving child in a third world country will want one.

Classic example of a rich person thinking that all there is in developing countries are starving people, presumably who exist so we can throw them a few bucks in aid now and then. (It's interesting how many people think all there is to, e.g., Africa (which is of course one monolithic place), are starving children. No universities, no Internet cafes, no businesses.) Developing countries won't develop at all like Europe, where indeed it was often the case that students learned in places where there wasn't adequate food, sanitation and housing. They'll muck along with food and water aid and then one day magically their governments will not become corrupt and then, only then, it will be appropriate to send books and laptops.

To make the case even better, in your next breath, lament how lack of access to education makes things like pushing for sanitation so difficult...


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:53 AM
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I'm reminded of the "jogging for the homeless" thread for some reason.

Cala is of course right to point out that some people seem to think nothing exists in developing countries but shantytowns and refugee camps. OTOH, "laptops to the neo-colonies" would perhaps have seemed a less tone-deaf measure in the pre-food crisis era.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:13 AM
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31
No one in their right mind thinks you should just hand out laptops and not do anything else.

The phrase "in their right mind" is doing a lot of work there, and leaves out a large chunk of the population, a chunk that is disproportionately represented among opinion leaders.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:16 AM
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62: On a Linux board I nose around on, one guy was renting his garments over the lost generations of children...who were going to have XP on their laptops.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:16 AM
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63: I'll bite. I think the point made above was really that other wants, stereotypically, food or better nutrition, take precedence over ownership of a laptop.
Regardless, if your average monthly wage is $200, are you really gonna spend $100 bucks on a laptop for the kid?

60: I now take 61 back. The price matters a great deal.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:18 AM
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"The phrase "in their right mind" is doing a lot of work there, and leaves out a large chunk of the population, a chunk that is disproportionately represented among opinion leaders."

Don't forget Newt Gingrich, who proposed ditching the food stamps programme and replacing it with laptop vouchers.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:18 AM
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I am inclined in general to be optimistic about efforts extend the benefits of technology (whether information technology, sanitation, construction, energy generation, telecommunications, food storage, medicine, etc.) to places where first world quality infrastructure systems do not exist and possibly never will. So much of the world's population lives in these places, and there is no hope of narrowing the gap in living standards if their only options are technology that's optimized for first world conditions or nothing.

IOW, it's not particularly germane whether these laptops are the most pressing need for any given population, or even whether they help in a direct way at all. They are an incremental contribution to an alternative technology system that works in poorer environments. The more pieces of that system get filled in, and the better-suited they are for local conditions, the connections between the pieces can form and the more innovation can emerge.

The economics of general purpose technologies are hard to calculate in isolation from other, complementary technologies, and their ultimate impact material well-being is rarely appreciated in advance.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:25 AM
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67: As I understand it, the students aren't meant to be the purchasers of the laptops (at least not at $100), just the owners.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:26 AM
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"To make the case even better, in your next breath, lament how lack of access to education makes things like pushing for sanitation so difficult..."

Sure, and there is a lot of generalising about Africa going on, but I've got several friends who work for Oxfam and all of them think it's a bloody stupid idea to be concentrating on laptops when a lot of schools hardly have any pens, books or desks.

Creating a laptop that more people in developing countries can afford is obviously a good thing. Diverting aid resources to that and away from more fundamental projects isn't. Moreover, the impetus of this project has clearly moved on, now that they've had such difficulty getting it as cheap as they said it would be and had so few takers, from being a development booster to being an object of desire. Yet they're still pitching it as the saviour of the developing world (see the comparisons to the WFP, or the description of it as "an education product".


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:27 AM
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I've got several friends who work for Oxfam and all of them think it's a bloody stupid idea to be concentrating on laptops when a lot of schools hardly have any pens, books or desks.

Along those same lines, WTF was FDR thinking when he devoted all those scarce tax dollars to rural electrification, when there were millions in the U.S. without bread to eat or a roof over their heads? Foolish, out of touch, rich aristocrat with no sense of priorities.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:35 AM
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Diverting aid resources to that and away from more fundamental projects isn't.

Like what? I didn't know anything had been taken away from other programs. (Maybe by passively not making it a program about medicine or food. Is that what you mean?)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:37 AM
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Isn't this really about infrastructure as much as anything? Where you have a lot of schools in isolated areas and teacher shortages, it surely makes more sense to equip them with internet access in 2008 than to expect them to rely on steam radio because that's what the Australians did in the 1930s.

Obviously if this project is counterposed to basic food and medical aid, it's a wrong priority. But nobody's produced any evidence that that's the case.

Why is it more important to give them pens and paper than laptops, anyway? I go days at a time without using a pen or paper, precisely because I have a laptop.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:52 AM
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Actually, does anyone know what they're planning on doing for internet to these laptops yet? Are they still just trying the weak laptop-to-laptop jury-rigged wireless network thing? Or have they included mobile broadband capability?

A fair number of these countries have semi-robust cell networks, which is why I'd almost support cell phones over laptops for technological aid (though it'd be much less help for education, I'll admit). But if these laptops rely on a wireless hotspot and thus on fixed fiber optics infrastructure, they'll be a lot less useful due to lack of internet.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:56 AM
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Somebody is going to buy these up and part them out, if the local officials even bother to distribute them in the first place

I actually think that the real problem is the holy joe do-gooding insistence on giving them to children, via the government. If I was in charge of this project I'd just pile up a great big stack of cheap laptops by the docks, flog them for a hundred dollars a pop (or whatever price would make it uneconomic to buy them for spare parts) and assume that the street finds its own use for things.

if your average monthly wage is $200, are you really gonna spend $100 bucks on a laptop for the kid?

You'd be surprised. Also, if your average wage is $200 and you do buy a $100 computer for your kids, are your kids likely to be making much more and better use of it than if you got it for free from the government?

Oxfam are good people but they have a bloody great blind spot about education policy; they've also got a massive ideological hatred of user fees for schools.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:57 AM
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they've also got a massive ideological hatred of user fees for schools.

Why shouldn't they?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:01 AM
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I'm with those who generally think this is a good idea, also with those who think it's been sort of ineptly executed, cautiously with those who are okay with putting windows on there, but mostly: I want to hear about Lagos! That city is (often profoundly depressing and) fascinating. Did you go to nightclubs, disaggregated? Did you live in a walled compound? Did you get stuck in go-slows and no-gos? Did you buy electronics at that massive open-air market? I want to know!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:05 AM
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Are they still just trying the weak laptop-to-laptop jury-rigged wireless network thing?

Why is that weak? Mesh networks are fresh, and as far as I know fully compatible with 802.11.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:07 AM
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76. Actually, in a lot of places, $200 pcm is middle class luxury. Whether you'd spend half of it on electronics for your kid would depend on the prices of more essential commodies, I'd think. Plenty of people in Britain would spend half their monthly income thusly.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:10 AM
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A fair number of these countries have semi-robust cell networks, which is why I'd almost support cell phones over laptops for technological aid

The difference is that there is an established business model for delivering cell phone service to poor countries, and the profit motive is already pushing the network providers further and further into rural, low per capita income areas. So that piece of the infrastructure mosaic has reached a threshold of sustainability, and can continue to grow.

Computers, by contrast, are largely missing from the mosaic, so the marginal utility of computer power (once the villagers figure out what to do with them--once again, it's hard to predict what applications a general purpose technology will enable), they become part of the overall technology system.

All of the traditional goals of development aid--literacy, health, food security, physical security, clean water, secondary education--are mutually reinforcing and synergistic. I contend that diffusion of general purpose technology has similar properties.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:14 AM
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if your average monthly wage is $200, are you really gonna spend $100 bucks on a laptop for the kid?

Of course. That laptop's going to last three years. That's like spending $3 a month for something that would significantly help your kid through school.

There are probably people here who've earned $2,000 a month after taxes. Reckon you might have spent $30 of that on school supplies for your child?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:16 AM
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Actually, in a lot of places, $200 pcm is middle class luxury.

Yes, geez. A large number of countries have GDPs per capita of $2,000 or less at current exchange rates, which is the more relevant metric than PPP here. That means that even the people making $150 a month are middle-class for those countries. They're the ones already getting the better educations available. Rural villagers ain't earning even that much.


79: They're cool technology, but a relatively weak signal compared to mobile broadband. It creates less power drain, but it's also pretty useless outside big, dense cities where eventually a few of the laptops in the mesh network will actually connect with a wireless network on the internet.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:18 AM
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dsquared, good point. The 'right' kids get the laptops if the kids' parents bear the burden of the price. My salient point however, is, even in PPP terms, do you have any idea how many people earn less than $200 a month? If the OLPC is not free, it excludes most of the poor in developing countries. I'm not sure if this is an outright bad thing

If it is free, the kids with which it will make the largest welfare improvements may not get it; OTOH, if it is not free, few of them will anyway.

Sifu: I'll be flying to Lagos on tuesday, so I promise you a long blog post in a week or so.

1. I lived a sheltered childhood so no clubbing.
2. I didn't live in one of those walled compounds; it attracts burglars. OTOH, I know people who have been robbed in their homes while they were there because they didn't live in one of them walled compounds.
3. If you know what a go-slow is, you are already legend.
4. I bought everything in one of those large open-air markets.


I see on preview that everyone has made my first point with much better prose.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:21 AM
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76 has a good point about just selling these as ultra-cheap laptops in developing countries. But to be quite honest, I think that would just result in their use mostly by workers and businesses in the cities, where they would have the greatest internet connectivity and generate the most revenue/productivity gains. Now I'm peachy with this, and I think they'd be an amazing stimulant from that standpoint, but it certainly wouldn't fit well with the charity & education idea.

It really should be done that way, though. I bet if they actually tried to distribute a crapload of these things to kids, that's how many of them would end up being used.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:23 AM
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"Along those same lines, WTF was FDR thinking when he devoted all those scarce tax dollars to rural electrification, when there were millions in the U.S. without bread to eat or a roof over their heads?"

Well, that hardly argues against my point. Rural electrification would be a very good fundamental project to spend money on ahead of laptops. Has anyone here argued against electrification? Surely it's the opposite - laptops in places without electricity are a bit pointless.

"Like what? I didn't know anything had been taken away from other programs. "

Thankfully - the whole point is that hardly anybody has taken them up. The OLPC guys have been trying to get NGOs to spend their limited resources on the laptops and had few if any takers. If developing governments want to do it, fine - there are far worse things to spend money on.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:30 AM
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If the OLPC is not free, it excludes most of the poor in developing countries.

Well, my other point about those countries earning less than $2,000 a year at current exchange rates is this:

Even the US pulls in only around 20-25% of GDP in taxes. Europe pulls in more, but they have higher tax rates than many developing countries. And developing countries have huge government infrastructure/tax collection problems (which is why many of them try to get by on tariffs, which are at least far easier to collect and audit than income or sales taxes). So assume the typical poor developing country is only pulling in 10-15% of GDP in taxes. Those countries also tend to have very young populations, due to higher birth rates and lower life expectancies than the developing world, so assume kids under 18 are 25% of the population (a quite conservative estimate relative to the countries where I actually know the numbers).

$2,000 per person in GDP => tax income of $250 per person per year. $100 laptops for 25% of population = $25 per person in tax burden. Can you imagine cutting 10% out of our annual government budget to go entirely toward a single educational tool? And that's excluding the countries with GDP per capita of $1500, $1000, $700... Who pays for the laptops?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:33 AM
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84: I'll be flying to Lagos on tuesday, so I promise you a long blog post in a week or so.

Awesome!

2. I didn't live in one of those walled compounds; it attracts burglars.

Huh, that does sort of seem to defeat the purpose. I have a book with some amazing pictures of those kind of compounds with shantys built all around the edges, using the walls for support.

3. If you know what a go-slow is, you are already legend.

What confuses me is how you ever get through those things to arrive at your destination; aren't there highways that just aren't useful for transportation at all, any more?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:34 AM
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laptops in places without electricity are a bit pointless.

They're crank powered!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:35 AM
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Interesting stuff, disaggregated.

It looks like Rottin' in Denmark won't be holding onto that fruit basket for long.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:44 AM
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Fruitbasket
I lurked here for months so I already followed the link to the fruitbasket. Followed the links until it got to an adult themes website blocked by my school IT administrator. Kinda reminds me of Monty Python and the search for the Holy Grail.

What confuses me is how you ever get through those things to arrive at your destination
You get on a motorbike, hang on for dear life and the driver weaves through the traffic.

Nigeria's population between 0-14 yrs is 42% while mean PPP income is $2200 (which sucks because of gross inequality) according to the world factbook. I reiterate Po-Mo: Who pays for the laptops?

Thankfully - the whole point is that hardly anybody has taken them up. The OLPC guys have been trying to get NGOs to spend their limited resources on the laptops and had few if any takers.
My ultimate hesitation is: does the fact that only hundreds of thousands of these have been sold mean that people in LDCs have little use for OLPC laptops? (read fancy typewriter/library) I can't say. And it's because most of the sales is through third parties, gov'ts, NGOs etc. I kinda want to see the consumers make the choice themselves. Until then, give people checks and if they want to, they'll spend it on a laptop for the kid. Otherwise, let them eat steak.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:50 AM
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Well, that hardly argues against my point. Rural electrification would be a very good fundamental project to spend money on ahead of laptops.

My point was that rural electrification was viewed by many as similarly extravagant and pointless at the time, and they used the exact same arguments as you: Why worry about putting electric light bulbs in those rural shacks when there are so many more pressing issues? And the cost to run wires out to farms located miles from the nearest power main? Ridiculous!

But Roosevelt (and Lyndon Johnson, in his capacity as a Congressman from the Texas Hill Country) were visionary enough to see that the general purpose technology of electricity had the power to transform the lives of the rural poor. No one necessarily predicted all the consequences at the time, but the ingenuity of the rural residents ensured that it would happen. Cheap electric pumps freed people from the backbreaking work of pumping and carrying water, and also created a buffer against drought and helped the poor become cleaner and therefore less alien from town-dwellers. Electric refrigeration meant the ability to sell high value crops like milk and meat. Electric light meant that schoolchildren could still do their reading after chores were done.

Information technology is to this age what electricty was to the early 20th century. It's not wrong to be visionary here.

The virtue of projects like these is that they don't require the rest of the infrastructure system (e.g. electrification) to catch up before forging ahead with other general purposed technologies, in much the same way that the cellphone allowed remote areas to leapfrog fixed line technology.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:50 AM
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If the OLPC is not free, it excludes most of the poor in developing countries. I'm not sure if this is an outright bad thing

I'm sure it isn't. This is bastard Rawlsianism folks; it is not good development policy to assume that nothing should be done which doesn't help the single most deprived person in any given country. Yes it might not make much sense distributing free laptops to people in villages. Don't do it then. Sheesh. Did Europe develop by putting schools and printing presses in remote agricultural communities?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:56 AM
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My kid has an OLPC. I think the hardware is kinda neat, but the user interface is questionable, and the available content is pretty lame. It needs to function a lot better as an e-book reader than it does.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:58 AM
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A fair number of these countries have semi-robust cell networks, which is why I'd almost support cell phones over laptops for technological aid (though it'd be much less help for education, I'll admit).

There are already projects in action that deal with that. Quite a few of the micro-credit setups provide loans to people who want to buy a village cell-phone.*

* Reading more closely, I see Knecht has already mentioned that.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:04 AM
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For the record, I think cellphones, not laptops, are the future for the LDC working poor. In the medium term at least. People need information, e.g. prices of the goods they produce, from different locations. The technology is largely a conduit for that information. They'll pick the cheaper conduit. Heck, they'll pick the more portable one.

The kid can continue using paper and pencil.

This partly harks back to my point of price and sales as signals of what people need. When the government sold licenses that allowed firms to operate cellphones nationwide for $285M in Nigeria, the 3 guys who bought the licenses recouped that amount in about 3 years. If you build it, if they need it, they will come.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:06 AM
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I think dsquared and others are right that it's silly to worry over much about just people living in remote rural communities. Big cities in the developing world are places where cheap IT technology might do some good.

It doesn't even really have to be a particularly charitable project. Knock up an open standard, do the RnD for free, and roll the design out to a bunch of tech manufacturers to start knocking out cheap (under $100) computers for sale. Charities can buy 'em or not buy 'em, depending on whether cheap IT is going to be useful for that charity's goal.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:07 AM
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||

I'm off to O/b/e/r/l/i/n, the land of hairy women, bitches!

|>


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:08 AM
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My point was that rural electrification was viewed by many as similarly extravagant and pointless at the time, and they used the exact same arguments as you

Do you have evidence for this? I'm sure there's evidence for "some", but "many" is a strong claim. There was a fair amount of "rural electrification will solve all our problems" thinking at the time. And a whole lot of dams being built, sometimes way ahead of demand.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:10 AM
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Dudes and dudettes: One iPhone Per Child. Right? OiPPC will hella solve everything.

I also think it would be kind of hilarious if somebody developed 419 templates and software for the OLPC platform.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:11 AM
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To 43: sugar has its problems, largely because it is a work in progress, but see this to understand where it is going. Or try out a current "joyride" (development version). It's all about collaboration. And the mesh is not "weak" ... it is about collaboration in the classroom and at home. The deployments include a school server so that country specific content will be available without constant internet access.

To ginger: the price overrun can be explained almost entirely wrt currency exchange rates. (the machine is manufactured in China).

Re books via the laptop: the XO is a superb e-book reader. The screen is able to be put in a no-backlight, high res mode that is perfectly readable in natural light with low power consumption. Try that on your own laptops. I have 5 XOs for use in school projects, and I use one for myself as an ebook reader. The screen rotates into a tablet mode, and with the backlight turned to a low value, I read in bed with it.

As for the XO-2, you should have a look at these two youtubes to understand why the two-screen version is going to be awesome.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:11 AM
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I'm pretty much on board with 97. My emphasis on rural communities was really more intended to draw the parallel with the New Deal rural electrification, arguably the most successful "development project" in history.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:13 AM
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they don't require the rest of the infrastructure system to catch up

it always baffles me how much of a sticking point this ends up being. Everyone all shrieking at each other "Infrastructure first!" "NO! Antimalarials first!" "Don't be stupid! Education first!"

and instead everyone agrees to pay lots more Foreign Aid Workers to think about it for a while more.

Just try something!

This is also true of American schools. And maybe of everything. Still! Don't be such a scaredy-cat! Just try something!


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:19 AM
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"I kinda want to see the consumers make the choice themselves. Until then, give people checks and if they want to, they'll spend it on a laptop for the kid. Otherwise, let them eat steak."

Indeed. Like I say, I think it's great that people are now looking to make this sort of technology affordable. If people have a use for it, the demand will be there. And I'm not as downing on the charitable project side as I may be coming across - it's more of a reaction to the rhetoric of the likes of Negroponte, which basically accuses people who think there are better ways to spend the money of wanting to keep people down. That and the fact that there's basically no evidence that it can achieve the educational aims OLPC professes.

Knecht, I did understand your point about electrification. The thing is, we now know how remarkably transformative electricity is - not so obvious back then. Now it's conceivable that laptops, in and of themselves, will have the same transformative power, but it's pretty damn unlikely. So to prioritise the possibility of a transformative effect over a known one seems perverse. I'd have less of an issue with it if they were talking about building an infrastructure to go with it. Countless well meaning aid projects have gone to waste because they've just dumped an end product somewhere without spare parts or training or support infrastructure.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:20 AM
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Sure, it is fine for us to procrastinate and not get work done.

But, if those little bastards start spending all of their time commenting on blogs, who is going to get us cheap rice and cheap clothes?!??!?!


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:23 AM
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DAMMIT THE CORRUPTION HAS ALREADY STARTED!!!!


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:23 AM
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Robots, Will. Robots.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:23 AM
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Get back to work Dsquared! Arent there some markets that need to be manipulated?!?!?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:26 AM
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101: I don't doubt that the XO could be a superb eBook reader. My complaint is that the eBooks it comes with aren't very good - scanned pages of obscure Czech children's books just don't cut the mustard. And its not patently obvious where to get better ones.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:26 AM
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The people who argue it's an intrinsically stupid project are people who would also probably argue that cellphones are the last thing people in developing countries need, and yet I can't think of a single thing that's changed parts of rural Africa that I know more than the rapid dissemination of cellphones (not through development projects, or philanthropy, or huge multinationals, or governments: mostly local entrepreneurs). Why has it been important? Not because people are using them to have long conversations, but because they're a low-cost, flexible infrastructure for coordinating economic transactions that reduce a lot of the risks that farmers and other folk have to take if they're hauling commodities to a regional market center. They also let people coordinate institutional life, etc.

Laptops could be repurposed in creative ways as well--in that sense, I don't care whether they get into the hands of kids as much as I care that there be a lot of them, that they be cheap and robust, and that they not be distributed purely as handouts or charity--if they're going to have any life, they have to be something that local businesses can make, sell, alter, service and so on. A non-electric sewing machine in a rural African town is in and of itself a regular income-generating device; a laptop could be the same.

The whole idea that development has to fix all problems at once from the top-down is a major reason why the relatively small sums spent on development assistance for the last five decades have mostly gone to waste. The current version of this mantra is the Jeffrey Sachs build-a-perfect-village thing, which often strikes me as coming close to the parodistic "development project" in Norman Rush's novel Mating. Yes, sure, Negroponte and some of his colleagues oversell the virtues of the laptop; yes, they verge into missionization at points. If the cheap laptop turns out to be useful in developing nations, it won't be in any organized, top-down, carefully planned way, or in service to any pre-arranged goal. It'll be because people (children or otherwise) find a use for it that makes sense to them.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:27 AM
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Dammit, the robots are going to be our overlords.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:27 AM
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Every day we sit here, we grow weaker. Every day those robots squat in the jungle, they grow stronger.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:28 AM
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Do you have evidence for this? I'm sure there's evidence for "some", but "many" is a strong claim.

I may be overstating the case, but to the extent that there was opposition to the REA at the time (and it was admittedly one of the less controversial planks of the early New Deal), this was one of the issues, not least because the original funding for the REA came directly out of rural relief appropriations. Caro's LBJ biography (first volume) has some interesting stuff on the political fault lines, which in some ways resembled the situation today with incumbent telecoms and broadband.

Also recall that the REA itself did not string up power lines, but rather created a technological framework for rural electrification and made non-commercial loans to local cooperatives. The politics of getting enough local residents to sign up for the cooperatives very much had the character of the debate I described.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:28 AM
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The thing is, we now know how remarkably transformative electricity is - not so obvious back then.

I'm probably concern trolling, so I'll stop after this, but the historical claims about electrification in this thread don't sound accurate based on what I've read about electrification elsewhere. This has nothing to do with OLPC but maybe something to do with how arguments are made.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:29 AM
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The whole idea that development has to fix all problems at once from the top-down is a major reason why the relatively small sums spent on development assistance for the last five decades have mostly gone to waste.

Also, giving the money to despots.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:29 AM
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Sir Kraab, have a whole wheat donut for me. It's the 25th for my class; but since I was too lazy to arrange it I'm not going.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:31 AM
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Dsquared and others are also right btw that the fetish for helping the single most marginalized person in the poorest rural community is yet another stupid thing about development policy. It would not be a bad thing at all if people making steady wages in a Third World city got their hands on a cheap laptop rather than the poorest peasant living in the most perilous environmental conditions: that would be a transformative thing of enormous worth to global society. A supercheap, durable, easily serviced, hand-crankable laptop being sold and bought in large numbers in Accra Ghana would do more as "development" than a free crate of the things offloaded in a small farming village in northern Togo.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:32 AM
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Also, giving the money to despots.

Who generally are fairly top-down oriented people themselves.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:32 AM
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when i read about this kind of charity projects i always think, first, shouldn't the trade be fair
though it does not mean that charity projects should stop, if the both giving and receiving ends feel better, good, should proceed with its continuation by all means
like yesterday's the early childhood intervention projects, if they are shown to provide just very slight increase in that, IQ, and it disappears after its discontinuation
doesn't it speak for increasing the duration of the intervention, not its suspension
but first of all just trade fair, give their full prices for what is traded, what is produced in the third world, crops, minerals, shoes whatever
then the rest will take care of themselves


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:32 AM
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114 before seeing 113, which makes more sense. There was less doubt about how important electrification was than there was dispute about how to build it.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:34 AM
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118: yeah, exactly. Top-down development is premade for despotic skimming.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:35 AM
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115: commie!


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:35 AM
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Are these stable? Do they freeze up and crash a lot? If they don't, they're too good for the little bastards. I paid hundred for my old clunker, and it's not stable.

Those people are superstitious already. Think how much more superstitious they'll be after using Windows.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:37 AM
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Now it's conceivable that laptops, in and of themselves, will have the same transformative power, but it's pretty damn unlikely. So to prioritise the possibility of a transformative effect over a known one seems perverse.

I'm going to be a a little flippant and say, "Steam power. Now that's a proven technology. We need to get every farm a proper steam boiler before we go stringing up electrical wires, which as we all know are mostly used for frivolous luxuries like lighting and playing phonograph records."


IOW, I'm with Burke in 110. We know that affordable technology, combined with bottom-up innovation, transformed the developed world in ways that no one could have predicted. It has the potential to do the same in other contexts, if you can package the technogy in a way that fits with the technological "ecosystem" of poor countries. It's a cast your bread upon the waters thing, for sure, but worth trying, IMO.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:38 AM
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Spike@109: The deployments are putting entire sets of electronic materials on the school servers, including in some countries electronic versions of the school textbooks in use in the country. Many countries have a national curriculum and own the rights to the textbooks in use in schools. Read the Nepal blog I linked above as an example. There are blogs that come from the Ceibal trial in Peru as well, but they are in Spanish. Nepal has developed teacher training materials and a suite of activities for the children written by teachers.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:39 AM
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commie!

The Soviets' development program was pretty top down. Electrification was actually a huge deal in the 20s and 30s...


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:39 AM
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126: commie!


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:40 AM
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Huh, in tangentially related developing-world-IT news, the Lagos electronics market I was thinking of has a website. With crappy flash! Score one for the developing world!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:42 AM
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Sifu, the oddest part of the thing is, why are the peeps in the picture shaking hands with their left hands?


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:44 AM
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With crappy flash! Score one for the developing world!

What if the internet had become more accessible back during the crappy frames era?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:46 AM
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Also, that place is a 12 minute bus ride from my folks' apartment. The bus ride used to cost 5 naira which is about $0.042


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:46 AM
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That's pretty odd. I like all the copyright watermarks in the clip art they used. Alaba doesn't care about your stupid intellectual property!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:46 AM
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131: this is probably a deeply confused desire on my part, but the Koolhaas book I linked above made me really want to visit there. The merchant's association has their own jail!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:47 AM
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Also the hand-painted rebuilt radios are super cool looking.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:48 AM
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114 before seeing 113, which makes more sense. There was less doubt about how important electrification was than there was dispute about how to build it.

There was important work done by the New Dealers in making rural electrification technically feasible. Because the natural market for electricity was assumed to be urban areas, the prevailing standards at the time were technically and economically mismatched to the needs of rural electrification. The 1936 equivalent of the $100 handcrank laptop was the line transformer and the REA wiring kit. My New-Deal-Democrat-to-his-dying-breath father still has barns with REA wiring.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:48 AM
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132 to 129.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:48 AM
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Those people are superstitious already. Think how much more superstitious they'll be after using Windows.

Made me laugh.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:50 AM
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126: "Communism is Soviet power plus electrification" - VI Lenin, 1923.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:53 AM
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110: Who are you arguing against here? You seem to be saying exactly the same things that disaggregated and I did:

1) Mobile phones are super helpful as a development tool because they have powerful signals and require sparser infrastructure than most wireless internet. That's why we both suggested greater cell phone penetration as a superior technological aid.

2) Laptops with mesh networks are great for cities, and especially for people who are already semi-middle-class in cities. Read my 83.2 and 85, where I say pretty much exactly this. Sure, $100 laptops with network connectivity would almost certainly be an amazing productivity tool and entrepeneurship opportunity in developing countries, but they won't be great for kids, for the very poor, or for rural education, and those are the populations OLPC claims to aim to help. Hell, it's even in their name.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:59 AM
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My experience in Botswana supports Timothy Burke's comment @110 - I last visited roughly a year ago, and nearly everyone had a cellphone, even people living in crude shacks made of recycled materials. Cellphones are used extensively to organize business deals, so the woman with a little shack by the side of the road selling candy and cigarettes can reorder stock which is delivered by a guy on a clapped out scooter within the hour. People organize carpools and group shopping trips by text messaging. For the very poorest of the poor there are guys standing around on street corners who will rent you the use of a cellphone for a small fee.

The difference between the explosion of cellphone technology and the big technology projects like electrification is that the cellphones empower the individual, giving them tools to figure out how to improve their own situation. The big infrastructure projects tend to impose a solution which is not necessarily best fitted to the particulars of the situation faced by the people. Smart development projects should focus on creating options for people and giving them tools to create opportunities for themselves.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:59 AM
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Steps to becoming a first world country:

1. Cheap laptops!
2. Blogging
3. ???
4. First world success!


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:03 AM
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You know, it'd be nice to send working computers to the developing world since we already send them our broken ones.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:05 AM
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Sifu, the oddest part of the thing is, why are the peeps in the picture shaking hands with their left hands?

They don't like each other very much.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:05 AM
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1. Cheap laptops!
2. Blogging
3. ???

Oh shit, you're right. Are we really trying to destroy any chance these populations might have of dragging themselves out of poverty? I feel like blogs are nearly destroying my livelihood as it is.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:06 AM
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Actually the cell phone thing is a great example of what I would consider to be more important than laptops.

My biggest fear is that the laptops will be poorly equipped with educational materials, have poor access to the internet, and break down early/easily. Then we will have shipped lots of useless bricks to these countries, but we will all feel a lot better about ourselves. In other words, just like in American schools, introducing computers for the sake of introducing computers is actually counterproductive if education is your end goal.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:07 AM
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The difference between the explosion of cellphone technology and the big technology projects like electrification

Although there is much to agree with in 140, I dissent from the implication that cellphone technology is not a "big technology project".

Adapting cell tower infrastructure for third world environments was a non-trivial problem. Making handset recharging in areas with unreliable electricity also. Fortunately, the cellular telephony market had obvious usefulness and an obvious revenue stream, so it was worthwhile for companies with capital to spend the money to solve the technological problems (and even to pay big money for spectrum licenses), which they have now done. And the usefulness of the technology to improving people's lives has exceeded all expectations, because people are clever like that.

Another powerful general purpose technology that enables individuals to innovate in unanticipated ways is digital computing. There is no similarly obvious revenue stream to entice capital into producing the $100 handcrank laptop. So I for one am glad that Negroponte is making the effort to solve the technological challenges, no matter what disagreements I might have with the particulars of his vision.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:08 AM
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Those people aren't going to be posting at Unfogged with their little computers, are they? I don't think that civilization could survive that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:09 AM
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Those people aren't going to be posting at Unfogged with their little computers, are they? I don't think that civilization could survive that.

But think of how it could enrich the unfogged cock photo database!


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:12 AM
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Mistah Emerson, you give me money? One dollah, two dollah?


Posted by: Third world urchin | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:12 AM
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Po-Mo Polymath you obviously have not looked at the mesh networking in any kind of detail. It is for COLLABORATION BETWEEN KIDS. The activities on the XO enable multiple kids to work together, on the same book, document browser session, drawing or game. Also the range of the XO wireless is quite large (in ideal conditions it has been tested to 1km.)


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:13 AM
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Making handset recharging in areas with unreliable electricity also.

Swell comment generally, but I marvel at the ungrammaticality of.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:13 AM
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For the very poorest of the poor there are guys standing around on street corners who will rent you the use of a cellphone for a small fee.

This sounds kind of like an adaptation of those places where they have a bunch of phone booths and you pay at the desk for your calls.

Anyway, the technology might be too expensive right now, but there are those cards that allow you to connect your laptop to the cellphone network. It's not always fast, but it's not a bad service.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:14 AM
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Having posted way too much on here to the detriment of aggregating my kids' grades for the semester, I have to asked Ogged if he concluded that modafinil worked for this purpose


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:16 AM
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It's instructive how often the focus is on the *what* of development rather than the *who*. I think 110 was exactly right that if a project like this works, it'll be because the people using it figure out how to make the technology do the things they want rather than adapting their desires to the technology (as I suspect the Negroponte types in charge of the project will want). With that in mind, the question is never *what* the technology can or cannot do, it's a question of who is holding the reins and making the decisions.


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:18 AM
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154: But someone on the internet might not just be wrong, but using the internet itself wrongly! How will people sleep?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:20 AM
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155: "might be"?
(I haven't slept for months)


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:22 AM
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It always makes me chuckle when people talk about the embezzlement of aid money as if it were a terrible and unfortunate unintended effect. Half of this aid was handed out during the Cold War; the whole point of it was that it was meant to be embezzled by the political leadership. Nobody would ever have handed it out if they thought it wasn't a bribe.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:23 AM
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aaron@154: Your comment was unclear, but if "as I suspect the Negroponte types in charge of the project will want" means that the people running the project want to dictate the uses of the technology you couldn't be more wrong. The reason the XO-1 was built with open firmware, linux and open applications is exactly so the recipients could see and change anything in it. The possibility of closing that off is why many project participants were worried when the announcement of shipping an optional dual boot of XP was just announced.

eb@152: The XO runs Skype just fine. Deployments have various degrees of internet connectivity, but conceptually, there is no need to connect to a cell network to use the XO for voice communication.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:24 AM
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150: You mentioned earlier that the mesh networks are for collaboration and perhaps for connecting to a local server, but, well, I think that's a pretty shitty use. I can tell you that in all the time I've had internet connectivity and local networks through high school, college, and my work time, I've used the internet far more often and far more productively than I've used local connectivity. If you really just wanted kids to be able to collaborate locally and share documents, USB chips are even cheaper than wireless cards. As for the local servers, how are they supposed to be powered? How much do they cost? What's the distribution infrastructure for them? That's a whole 'nother set of crazy issues if you're implying this will really help rural education.

Now, the kind of networking that eb mentioned in 152 could be a huge help. That's why I asked if they had switched to mobile network connectivity instead of a mesh network. I just don't see that great of use in local connectivity alone, unless as I've said multiple times, you're talking about cities where a mesh network can easily include a few open internet connections.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:31 AM
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157: this is exactly the point of James Ferguson's The Anti-Politics Machine. And not only is development aid meant to be squandered, as you say, but the development projects he surveys are meant to fail (if they didn't fail, there wouldn't be a need for them to continue and all sorts of westerners people would lose their jobs). Which is why the question of who is doing it is so important; if failure can be instrumentalized, then it matters whether the people making decisions are the people supposedly being helped or the people supposedly helping them.

158: well, stated intentions are not the same as the effects implied by the limitations of the technology. The people in charge of the TVA (which has here been gestured to as classic top-down high modernist project) used exactly the same language of rural empowerment, and their organizational structure was supposed to incorporate local input (but largely different). The trouble with computers like these, it seems to me, is that they are always going to be *manufactured* in the West.


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:32 AM
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152:
Or this, which is around the corner from where I am right now.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:34 AM
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The trouble with computers like these, it seems to me, is that they are always going to be *manufactured* in the West.

By which you mean China?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:36 AM
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Western China is developing rapidly.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:36 AM
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162: Corrected, I suppose. But if you have enough technology, you get honorary membership in the West. But the point is that they're not going to be manufactured in the places they're meant to be used.


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:38 AM
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||
I freely acknowledge that the yankees were on the right side on slavery, the Wagner Act, and Civil Rights. But they still can't make cornbread worth a damn.
|>


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:41 AM
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Agreed on the cornbread. But replacing schoolbooks with computers (which is often a big part of these enterprises) seems ominous to me because books can so much more easily be manufactured locally. Computers can only be manufactured at the top of very long commodity chains, and a lot more capital has to be involved.


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:43 AM
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Cecily, are you posting on here from Kigali?


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:44 AM
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Cornbread seems to have disappeared from the "menu" of fast-food fried chicken places. I used to ask for it instead of the default "biscuit."


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:46 AM
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157: It proved difficult to convince the American voter that the aid was all cynically intended for geopolitical reasons, and wouldn't actually help anyone. As a result, foreign aid became extremely unpopular, and starting in 1981 American foreign aid spending tumbled from a rumored 50% of federal government spending down to about 1%.

Transistor radios were a precursor of cell phone. Starting in 1970 or so anthropologists looking for the most primitive primitives started running into them everywhere.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:46 AM
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159: The network hardware can connect either as mesh or to regular wireless infrastructure. The school servers use an active antenna that allows laptops to connect to the school server in the same way that they mesh with each other. Deployments so far all have internet connectivity provided through the school server. You can assert that internet access is more important to you than local connectivity, but if a repository of books and reference material is on the school server, it can be a valuable intermediate resource, especially in comparison to nothing at all.

There are various projects to provide electricity to the school server and to recharge the laptops (one in India has a cow marching around in a circle turning a rotor to run a generator.) However, it seems that there are enough situations where the school has power but many homes do not that the server can be deployed at the school without extraordinary power supply initiatives. Low power servers are chosen.

160: The XO has usb ports but to use this for collaboration implies that you also have thumb drives. The network based collaboration doesn't require kids to be in the same room. You obviously haven't looked into the details of this or you wouldn't be making this argument. I have seen that one of the most engaging features of the XO in a classroom is the ability for a small group of kids to work on a project together.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:46 AM
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"Them" = radios.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:47 AM
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But replacing schoolbooks with computers (which is often a big part of these enterprises) seems ominous to me because books can so much more easily be manufactured locally. Computers can only be manufactured at the top of very long commodity chains, and a lot more capital has to be involved.

I'm trying not to be snide in saying this, but how much familiarity do you have with the manufacturing process and supply chain for paper? Because it's nothing if not capital intensive. And resource intensive as well (pulp, energy, water, limestone slurry or kaolin, bleaching agents). And transportation intensive (finished paper is one of the few products not made out of metal or stone that causes a truck to "weigh out" before it "cubes out")


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:48 AM
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172: not much, really. And I'm not saying paper isn't capital intensive. But on the basis of my semi-ignorance, I would presume that printing textbooks could happen in much more easily in a third world country than a computer manufacturing facility. And since paper is expensive to ship, it could be price competitive in a way that something like a computer (whose price per pound is exponentially higher). Does that seem untrue to you? (also not being snide)


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:52 AM
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no need to connect to a cell network to use the XO for voice communication

I was actually talking about internet connectivity through a cell network, not voice. On the assumption that cell networks cover more ground than wireless networks. But as I said, it might well be too expensive right now.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:53 AM
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166 seems logical. Books and laptops!

172: the paper making operation I saw in rural Laos didn't appear to have any of those issues.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:56 AM
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Again, the laptop deployments include content chosen and provided by the countries, and typically this is the entire corpus of textbooks needed at the school. Not to mention ancillary material -- literature, science resources, wikipedia slices, dictionaries. Huge amounts of this can be stored locally on each laptop, with the rest being in the school server. Many of the schools where these are going don't have textbooks for every child, and children can certainly not take them home.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:56 AM
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172: I feel like I'm getting an education just reading KR's comments lately. There are a lot of polymaths around this place, but damn, dude, what don't you know about?


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:56 AM
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But on the basis of my semi-ignorance, I would presume that printing textbooks could happen in much more easily in a third world country than a computer manufacturing facility

If you are comparing printing to chip fabrication, I'll grant your point. But if you're comparing computer assembly to paper manufacturing, you've got it backwards. The supply chain from forest to schooldesk for textbooks is very costly and complex (leaving aside the expense of creating content, which you have one way or the other). It's no fluke that many poor school districts in the U.S. are undersupplied with up-to-date textbooks, not to mention other source material like novels and reprints of primary documents.

In addition to production costs, the advantage of digitizing content is the logistics are scaleable in a way that printing is not: the logistics of getting books to remote locations are challenging, and obsolesence is a costly problem. Digital content solves both of those problems.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:59 AM
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To ginger: the price overrun can be explained almost entirely wrt currency exchange rates. (the machine is manufactured in China).

Huge (>10%) dollar price overruns for something manufactured in China are not likely to be due to currency fluctuations, for reasons that should be incredibly obvious.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:02 AM
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176: I'm not saying the project couldn't be great. I'm saying that if a situation arises where a poor country's education system puts substantial resources into a technology that can only be manufactured outside the country, the poorer country becomes dependent on the richer country where the technology is being manufactured. This is my concern, because it seems to me that this would be a bad thing; the education ministry loses substantial control over what they are and are not able to do (and end up supporting industry in the west rather than an industry in the country itself).


Posted by: aaron | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:03 AM
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damn, dude, what don't you know about?

1. Calculus. Never took it. Tried and failed to teach myself in adulthood.

2. Programming languages. Knew some BASIC back in school, but never advanced beyond that.

3. Classics. Never read them in translation, much less in the original.

4. Asia. Only been there once, didn't learn much

5. "Lifesports" (tennis, golf, swimming, squash, etc.)

I could list many more, but those are the first ones that come to mind.

BTW, my psychiatrist has some interesting theories about the role that comments such as yours play in compensating for the self-loathing that's symptomatic of depression.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:03 AM
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Don't be fooled, Chopper.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:04 AM
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It doesn't even really have to be a particularly charitable project.

Along these lines, Negroponte may have accomplished the most by spurring copycats from commercial providers. Intel left the consortium to team up with a Taiwanese producer to put out a stripped down laptop (or maybe they were pushed out, I don't see why the commercial project is incompatible with XO other than the fact that Negroponte seems pissed off).

the fetish of helping the most disadvantaged person

One really starts to see if the utility of the recipient or the provider matters more, eh?


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:04 AM
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It's no fluke that many poor school districts in the U.S. are undersupplied with up-to-date textbooks

You mean besides the gouging of textbook manufacturers and artificially-updated curricula? (I snark, but paper costs and even printing costs are not the driving factors here--production costs on a textbook is sub $10 (I wanted to say $5, but I haven't worked in book production in a decade, so...), depending on print-run, size, etc.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:05 AM
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the paper making operation I saw in rural Laos didn't appear to have any of those issues

Primitive paper making is not that complex, it's true. The ancient Egyptians did it, and some people do it as a hobby in their kitchens. But to do it on an efficient scale to provide textbooks to millions of children is a capital-intensive (and logistically complex) undertaking.

I cherish books as much as the next pointy-headed intellectual guy, but to the extent that we can avoid the cost of books being the bottleneck for kids getting a proper education, I'm glad that there are alternatives on the horizon.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:07 AM
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I'm sure school funding has nothing to do with school districts having inadequate resources. It's all the cost of paper.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:09 AM
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my psychiatrist has some interesting theories about the role that comments such as yours play in compensating for the self-loathing that's symptomatic of depression.

Does it work? I'ma gonna have to start grubbing for admiring comments, then.

Anyway, I was engaging in some hyperbole, but I do have a lot of admiration/envy.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:10 AM
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167. Yes! Sporadically. I'm about to go eat Indian food now though


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:12 AM
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184 is a fair point. I would also add that the physical form of U.S. textbooks is much more expensive than it needs to be (slick paper, thick covers, glossy photos, low text density).

Nevertheless, if you take your $5 figure, cut it in half on the assumption that it can be printed more cheaply, and assume away logistics costs, you're still looking at something like $50 per child for a bare bones curriculum just for the primary grades. And that's with a pretty meagre selection of content compared to what is available in digital form.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:13 AM
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RIght, but keep in mind that a properly printed book, even beat all to hell by careless but not malicious kids, should last 10 or more years. If you amortize for use across time, you knock that curriculum per child cost down to the $5/kid range.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:16 AM
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The $100 price point was aimed at specifically in comparison to the primary school textbook costs per pupil.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:17 AM
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That being said, I'm all in favor of cheap digitized libraries and internet connections for all. Put the tools in the hands of the people who can best figure out how to use them for themselves.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:18 AM
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180: Most computers and parts are made in E. Asia. What has dependence on E. Asia mattered for the use of laptops in the US. I never buy dependence arguments; at least not on specific goods.

On paper costs, I worked at a bookstore in college and the lady who ran it said there was basically no dfference between hard and soft covers. At the figures in which print runs typically happen, per unit cost spreads become negligible.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:19 AM
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170: Well, my point was that they'll usually have a hard time getting internet access and power for the school server, but I suppose that the one server would be a lot easier to connect up to the internet through a cell network connection.

As for the mesh network capabilities, I knew they communicated both with each other and standard wireless networks, that's why I made such a big deal over cities where a standard wireless network will be available.

From your comments, it seems that the mesh networking signals travel much further than standard 802.11 signals, which strikes me as really odd given that I thought they were chosen for low power usage. Is it because the mesh networks use much lower-frequency signals which can communicate over longer distances for less power usage? When I was thinking of distances closer to those available on wifi, which is what I'd heard existed in early iterations of mesh networks, it seemed to me that thumbdrives would be a cheaper and easier way to distribute information. Anyone in a rural village connected to a mesh network would almost certainly be within a couple hundred yards of one another.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:22 AM
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193.2: We'd have to do some digging to get to apples to apples, but I don't think your boss knew what she was talking about--the cost difference for hardcovers isn't really in the paper (although that's some), it's in the binding (fold, glue and cut for paperbacks, versus fold, stitch, glue, stitch, glue for HCs). More steps=more money.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:23 AM
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194: A big reason is the design of the case and the external "ears" which are the antennae.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:27 AM
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I'm totally in agreement that the particular things that Negroponte and his collaborators *think* they're doing with these laptops are kind of beside the point at best, actively stupid at worst.

But a cheap, robust, hand-crank-power laptop is a good thing in and of itself, especially if manufacturing it is a relatively easy thing to do. I don't care why they want to design, prototype and produce it, but I'm glad that they have. If there are uses for such a thing in the developing world, they will be found, and setting up a pipeline to get them there easily will help. The people who worry about them being siphoned off, resold, etc., shouldn't worry--that's a *good* sign. There isn't any kind of remotely philanthropic or developmental initiative about which that is not true. In some cases, dumping stuff does massive damage to local production and markets (food aid that isn't a short-term response to immediate disaster, for example, sometimes puts local farmers out of business), but the cheap laptop isn't one of those things.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:27 AM
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And that's with a pretty meagre selection of content compared to what is available in digital form.

But this depends so much on what you're talking about. Yes there are lots of free books on the web, but are they useful? Most textbooks are for damn sure not free on the web. There are also many more books on the web that can only be accessed for a fee that would be prohibitive for underdeveloped nations.

Chopper is dead on about the "value-added" model for textbooks that sucks American undergraduates dry. An average undergraduate text in science costs $150. It is also updated to a new edition (read "renumber the pages but don't change the content") every 2 years to destroy the used book market.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:29 AM
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India publishes a lot of English language books. They're sometimes extremely cheap. Their paper and print jobs are a bit shabby at times.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:30 AM
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F@198: "But this depends so much on what you're talking about. Yes there are lots of free books on the web, but are they useful? Most textbooks are for damn sure not free on the web. There are also many more books on the web that can only be accessed for a fee that would be prohibitive for underdeveloped nations."

The point that has been made several times is that the kids are not expected to be loading random books found on the web, but rather are being provided content, so far including the national curriculum (obviously the countries' education ministries have some control over the IP rights to this) either directly on the laptops or on the school servers.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:36 AM
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If there are uses for such a thing in the developing world, they will be found, and setting up a pipeline to get them there easily will help.

I also don't care about the motives of Negroponte et al. I've looked around laptop.org and it seems it's only possible to give the OLPC laptop.

Is it even possible for someone in a developing country who is not a child to buy this thing if they need it for some an educational purpose or otherwise, or are they stuck with HP and company?


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:38 AM
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the "value-added" model for textbooks that sucks American undergraduates dry

If the textbook manufacturers didn't extract all their disposable income, undergraduates would probably spend most of it on partying and drugs, anyway.

(And the rest of it they would just waste.)


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:41 AM
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OLPC is a small organization and had a lot of problems in trying to deliver on the Give 1 Get 1 program last Christmas, because they didn't really have the retail infrastructure in place. It is possible to purchase the machines in bulk, so conceptually a retailer could do that. I haven't heard that anyone has.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:42 AM
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My uncle has one from the Give 1 Get 1 program (I think). I haven't seen it, but apparently it's great except for the OS. So he's happy it will be getting XP


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:05 PM
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Their paper and print jobs are a bit shabby at times.

Has this been discussed around here? About 5 years ago we went to Europe and I picked up a couple new books while there - both English and German. Started falling apart instantly. Never seen anything like it. Oh, and I just remembered that Diamond's GG&S had a 50 page chunk out of place.

I did not expect European-published* books to be such shit quality.

* And it was western European publishing, not Warsaw Pact cheapies


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:26 PM
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202: undergraduates would probably spend most of it on partying and drugs

But per the recent thread, many would say that the ratio of textbook spend to drug spend is too big. Cheap textbooks + More money for "focus" drugs -> Killer educational outcomes.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:46 PM
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205: So racist.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:53 PM
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And it was western European publishing, not Warsaw Pact cheapies

205: So racist.

Bookbinding was one of the rare sectors in the East Bloc where quality was fairly high by world market standards. With limited capital for new machinery, and without market price signals to guide them, the communists were slow to adopt the "cheapened" techniques that Western mass-market publishers adopted in the postwar period (e.g. substituting glue for binding).


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:06 PM
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They're crank powered!

They're Unfogged? (Surely someone has beaten me to that already.)

Also, are Cecily, bemused, disaggregated, etc., all new or is this another one of those 'let's all change our names' things or what? If y'all are new, someone gave Rottin' in Denmark the fruit basket in another thread and y'all should feel free to partake.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:39 PM
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i object, i commented for how long, months and months and got the fruit basket when? on the new year eve only
and now people got it the first day they show up
where is the justice?


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:47 PM
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and now people got it the first day they show up where is the justice?

In fairness, read, for the first couple of months, we all assumed you were insane.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:49 PM
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Long time lurker.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 1:56 PM
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You can get a lot of new textbooks on BitTorrent and one-click sites nowadays.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:16 PM
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where is the justice?

It lost its funding in favor of a laptop program.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:22 PM
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Kids can share digital fruit. Much less expensive than having them eat one each.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:27 PM
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(that's just a joke and not to be taken as criticism of the one laptop program)


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:28 PM
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In fairness, read, for the first couple of months, we all assumed you were insane were all horrible, horrible racists.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:29 PM
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Nobody here knew that Mongolians eat fruit.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:32 PM
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Just to be completely accurate, the production XOs are not hand cranked (only the prototypes were). They do have a built in video camera, speaker and audio input (which can be used for lab device input.) Various external recharging mechanisms are in development, not by OLPC but by others.


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:44 PM
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Month and a half long lurker. I think I found this place through bitchPHD.

Strange, I went and bought strawberries today, but more fruit is welcome.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:47 PM
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bemused, are you affiliated with OLPC? You seem to be on hand to clarify the thing?


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:51 PM
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I was wondering the same thing, based also on the style of bemused commments in this thread, which sometimes sound like formal information.

I can't be the only one who recognized bemused's pseudonym from previous comments in previous threads.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:55 PM
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208 is interesting. But I bet that, 20 years after the fall of the Wall, books printed in eastern Europe are as shitty as anywhere else.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 3:05 PM
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No, books with stitched bindings for $5-$10 in Czech still get made. Fairly elaborate die-cut kids books with moving parts are mostly gone, though. I was surprised by the made-in-china stuff with recorded speech for a market of 10M people, though.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 3:10 PM
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Like many others I am merely an interested OLPC onlooker and minor league volunteer. I have a strong interest in technology in education, and have worked in my childrens' classrooms in the past (when a few desktop computers were shared). My child is now a teacher, and I was eager to try the XOs in her class, with her kind cooperation. The XO is so much better and more suitable as a piece of hardware in a classroom than desktops or conventional laptops were, and the collaboration aspects are something I am still learning to use. The available software for US users is richer for older kids (grade 4 and up, I'd say), and my usage experience is in a very young class, as a "center".


Posted by: bemused | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 4:25 PM
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Nothing to add to this discussion, but I just wanted to note that I really did learn something from this thread (oh, not that every unfogged thread isn't a learning opportunity, of course...). I hadn't really thought about these issues of unintended (or different from/extra to intended) circulation and distribution.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 6:59 PM
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Eastern European books were beautifully produced. I have a couple of small hardback chess books, translated from Russian into German, that are nicer than any contemporary capitalist bindings.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-23-08 12:07 AM
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Not to flog a dead horse or anything, but if you look at the MIT tech review piece on the laptop's deployment to Peru, which is meant as boosterism, they keep turning down possible recipients as "not poor enough", not remote enough, not rural enough -- there is an astonishing Marie Antoinette-ishness about the whole thing.

For an example of useful technology in poor countries, which started from a consideration of how these things might be used, rather than how cool they might be, look at the Ndiyo project.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 05-23-08 12:30 AM
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