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Week of March 12

Open Library Exchange

Let me know if you are interested in helping with any of the below.

OLE: the Open Library Exchange

  • We've been developing the framework for an open library exchange for the many archives and libraries working with OLPC. We have a librarian coming on board to help organize the exchange, and define the metadata that each archive needs to collect and share to make materials easy to find and contribute.
  • To contribute content at the moment, it is best to use the wiki. Suggestions about a proper interface to OLE are welcome, as we are working on this and our distributed object store this month.

Curated this week

  • We are focusing on materials in English and Spanish for younger audiences
  • Free Music Project update: The Free Culture society has received many uploaded songs and pieces; check it out and add your own. They are talking to orchestras to record pieces for kids.
  • Free Video Project: Free Culture is discussing launching a video project to parallel the free music project


  • We are looking for translators for the website; you can see the first languages being translated from the Main Page and can add your own language there, and to headers of other pages you want to see in new languages.
  • Idiom Technologies has offered us a free translation server for use with any quantity of material for OLPC. Todd Kelsey and Chase Tingley are setting this up for use with our initial guidelines and instructions; Let me know if you would like to help out with this effort.
  • We are working on a web interface to let people review content they want to see in the core XO and school libraries. The ideal solution would be a good set of browser plugins; a shorter-term solution may use frames and js.

School libraries

The school library will need a portal page, and its own activity-- even if this is browser-based, and doesn't have its own launcher or icon. Eben and I are discussing what the interface will look like; something similar to the journal view that starts up now when the XO launches. It will also need an additional "browse" option under each of the main search menus, since it is hard to search for things that you haven't seen before; this will bring up an overview template for that class of materials. Mockups to come soon, with a database to build to support same.

Game development

We had a dense call today about developing games for the XO -- what the bottlenecks are for smooth development [by kids, in 2d/3d, for making text/arcade-style/story-boarded games]. We talked about how to do something meaningful in a few months, who to bring on board to help out and how to make use of widespread support, and how to mentor students to work on neat small projects over the summer.

You can see many of the notes from the day on the game development page; see also games for more ideas. Suggestions of excellent games that work in the browser or in Gnash are most welcome. Sj talk

Week of November 5

German magazines

Zzzebra is a fabulous online magazine for kids. Lots of great how-tos.

Week of October 15

100 Bottles of beer

In the office refrigerator, we have a couple bottles of ale and a couple bottles of Warsteiner; good stuff. Yet somehow it has sat there quietly for a week. On the other hand, we'll go through dozens of bottles of water and soda a day; liters of juice will disappear overnight. I noticed this over the summer at Berkman as well -- the collection of beer in the fridge dwindled slowly; even though the summers are pretty laid back and some were avid beer drinkers after hours. There is a principle of conservation here waiting to be discovered.

At any rate, to the topic at hand: I estimate that 100 bottles of beer will irrevocably displace the butter museum. An experiment is called for.

Update: 2 weeks later, there are still 3 bottles left.

The post and mail

A package arrived today from Cairo (DHL, plastic bill, slightly confused and had to call with a day's delay). Yesterday: something from Kobenhavn (manila envelope, stamps), and something to Oxford (FedEx, metered). I have a package to send to a Japanese address; in both English and characters (USPS, standard box). These have no uniformity; they share as little in common as do the flimsies one can send in Kenya for half-postage with a letter on paper in an envelope. The USPS format and style is the most familiar and consistent; better still are the efficient packing boxes one can find in Germany... but we have none such here.

Electronic mail would be more interesting if it too came in shapes and colors and sizes and styles, rather than a veneer of mail service providers offering access to the same basic envelopes and materials. Meanwhile, I would like to receive more mail bearing non-latin scripts; so if you are shipping me anything at all, please keep this in mind. Returning to topic, today's package was from the WHO and the Khalifa Computer Group: their prototype action-oriented school health curriculum. It wants me to install Real, and reset my monitor resolution to 800x600... I hope this is worth it.

Week of October 8

I spent the weekend at the Frankfurt Buchmesse, just arriving back home on the night of the 8th in time for an education jam. Some of the most interesting people there were the medium-sized booksellers who wanted to see what was going on in the rest of the world. They had the most diverse offerings, and the most flexible ideas about how to press forward with their businesses. Some of them didn't want to be in the publishing industry in 5 years' time.

Their education forum was directly interested in OLPC, and wants to help us set up a booth and present at the next forum in Capetown. The energy among the educators and library representatives there was quite high; and they were full of their own good ideas. Updates on future book fairs as they emerge.

Week of August 20

A number of how-to groups and projects have taken to olpc, and want to contribute material to the repository. In fact, two of them actively want suggestions for what to describe. So if you have a spec or decscription for a cool tool, accessory, device or laptop-hack that you would like to see worked out, please list it here (under "How-tos").

Week of August 13

Conferences play an interesting role in the percolation of new memes and ideas throughout circles of discourse, society, influence, and innovation. They often have flavors -- a typical age, speed, liveliness or bureaucracy -- all their own. And they can both be intensive sessions of creative idea-sharing and ways of normalizing a field -- defining research and focus so that people feel no need to think outside of a collective box.

Which types of conferences the olpc community attend, to learn, and presents at, to inform, is an open question. The range of problems tackled by the project, and the range of fields affected by the result are both large. Whatever the answer to the question, keeping an open list of related and tangential events, and expanding the circle of people interested in reporting to & from such events, is worthwhile. And such lists can provide a good starting point for a discussion about how to gather and distribute communities around the project's facets.

Week of August 6

We had a two-day content retreat this week, with 15 attendees from publishing, law, librarianship, and education backgrounds. In 12 hours we covered a fair mesh of the topics facing the development of an olpc-compatible repository, including publisher and library outreach networks, and the progress of the laptops from a beautiful piece of hardware into a fantastic learning platform.

Week of July 30

Hacking Days were busy, but a delight. Best of all, from a logistics standpoint, was that we didn't have to use the extra rooms reserved for us at the last minute in the Media Lab; yet still managed to have almost 70 people stop by for varying lengths of time to say hello and contribute to the ferment. I got to see the start of the first day, but missed even the presentation of my own joint stats project. I hear it went off quite well...

We had late-night hacking and discussion sessions here each night until the wee hours. They didn't quite run to 2am as scheduled in part because people needed to catch the T back to their dorms at the end of the evening.

Week of July 23

Lots of preparation for Wikimania around these parts. Luminaries coming into town, as they do every ewek; but more of them converging on discussion of collaborative knowledge and wiki development. Updates to come on the Wikimania 2006 website.

Saturday July 22

Low-cost domino chains

Low-cost is the next black. If only low-weight and long-battery-life were to join in the fray, we could shift the world's marketing campaigns to tools that truly change quality of life and effort, rather than the current cycle of dhyping tools that are buggy and hard to use, and deprecating them soon after these "low" targets come within reach.

OLPC provides a handy pace project for low-cost ambitions. I want to hear more quotes such as:

"Not wanting to miss out on the fun, [company] is also considering a low-cost [cool technology tool] design, and met with [OLPC representative] this week to discuss their ideas."

Friday July 21

Entrepreneurial energy

I spoke at a Boston TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) dinner tonight, along with Ram Nehra of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (serving 500k+ students) and Vikas Taneja of (providing best practices for teaching and training, and curricula, in 13 languages and 15 Indian states). It was a bustling and energetic event; perhaps 2/3 of the audience were from India or had worked there; the others were from all over the worled -- Scandinavia, Mexico, China, Kenya, the UK. Many were in Boston for school as professors or students; some were here working with global NGOs.

There was a great sense of entrepreneurial enthusiasm and creativity in the room; people who became entrepreneurs or businessmen to pursue grand ideas and exercise their creativity, but longed for the kinds of puzzles and open problems posed by long-term social programs and not simply short-term financial ventures. I am certain that a similar spirit exists in other communities, waiting to be encouraged.

National pride

One of the striking aspects of TiE is its strong base of support in many cities around the world; their close knowledge of and ties with programs and policies and initiatives in India; and their interest in helping their country. TiE seems strong in India as well as abroad; I don't see such strong, active community groups within the US, nor do I see such strong groups from other countries with large communities in Boston.

They should be encouraged, however; the conversations held about education and development over the course of the evening were supported by the luxury of a shared understanding of the details of culture and family life often missing in other contexts.

Wednesday July 19

Global visitors

Scholarships for Wikimania are being allocated. Currently we have editors coming from Kathmandu, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, Holon, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Paris, Mexico City, Bogota, and Santiago. I'm terribly grateful to Nokia and to the Open Society Institute for making all of this possible.

Total international fraction of Wikimania attendees : around 22%. My goal since last Fall has been 25%; and over 25% female attendees. Despite many complaints that the former would be impossible for a conference in the US, it may yet happen; and the latter seems guaranteed.

Monday July 17

Travels with Sam

I've been officially invited to speak about Wikipedia at the Club of Rome educational development event in Lagos in mid-September. We'll get to talk more about it at Wikimania, where I look forward to news from Rolando Burger about other multilingualism efforts.

I had first hear about the event when R.B. and Prof. Raoul Weiler were in Boston to meet with OLPC and the Nigerian delegation, just before I came to work here; so it shouldn't have been a surprise to see OLPC already on the program. Nevertheless, I have met these two dedicated fellows at 3 or 4 technology events before, and invited them to Wikimania last year; so I think of them mainly in that context, and I was indeed surprised. Also in Lagos for those two days : NN, Michalis, Seymour. Enough for bridge... if not a bridge across cultures.

Friday July 14

Time for a weekend break

Thursday July 13

Project New Media

The Project for New Media has some excellent projects running. Some of them are building new media style content for children; mainly in English, including a good deal of audio and video. Two project developers will be at Wikimania this August to gather one of 18 collections of video modules... I can't wait to see how that turns out.

Wednesday July 12

Maps and GIS

Maps are important. Harvard's map library is enormous. They have people who respect open GIS standards and redistribution, and want to offer map collections to the world. Using OLPC to connect them with audiences they aren't remotely considering at present would be fantastic.

Tuesday July 11

How to gather ideas

Khaled and Aaron and Jess have ideas about idea pooling. On this wiki, there are firstly "ideas" pages -- hardware ideas, software ideas, content ideas. Then there are discussion pages; sometimes long new pages full of one or two specific ideas. Elsewhere there are lists of ideas and idea types. There is some ad-hoc processing of raw ideas into parallel formats, less formal even than that on the Meta-Wiki... and a few ideas that make it to development.

A Khaled proposal: a separate interface and bit of software for a specific type of content (sourceforge for software projects, something for education/content projects, &c) which interfaces neatly with a categorized wiki. Encourage contributors to both to put their material first into the structured site, which automatically exports it to the unstructured wiki (in a suitable template), and work to make the categories on each system connect to one another. (Consider also the dev practice of associating specs and timetables and worksheets/distributions with specific ideas.

My personal priorities :

  • A simple process for converting raw ideas into a uniform structure with a freeform field for anything unusual.
  • A broad, simple intake -- an email account, a wide open wiki, a phone number. have a refinement process which reviews ideas, improves on them, selects some for core implementation and encourages others to implement the rest.
  • A few models of excellent ideas at each stage of development.

Monday July 10

Style is everything

This wiki needs some style, Aburton was working on some templates; I wonder where that's going...

Wednesday July 5

Reaching out to the world

We spent part of the night working on designing the front and back of a simple card to pass out to educators and publishers interested in sharing content with OLPC. Currently the test reads "Reach millions of students in the developing world | Contribute material to OLPC". Reactions wanted; the url should redirect to Educators.

Tuesday July 4

Fire in the sky

Fireworks were fabulous as always. The Boston Pops have been getting more and more outrageous as the years pass; the lineup tonight at the Hatchshell was splendidly uncalled for. (Note from the choir : you need to have external editors for this kkind of editing, for those who hate these textareas for writing...) But I don't think the stealth bomber came out this year, so I wasn't jealous.

I spent the fireworks writing reports and reading code and reviewing scholarship apps. Happily, I could see them outside the window; reading about the revolutionary war and its immediate aftermath; and wasn't thirsty all night. On the grass I would have had crowds to content with, and a much harder time reading and remembering anything from the past.

Monday July 3

Am I holiday or not?

It's not a holiday today, officially. Banks and post offices should be open. Restaurants and libraries too. But most buildings and departments I know of were closed; the Athenaeum was closed; my favorite diner, which has historically been open 24/7/365 as far as I know, was closed. Funny... for a moment, Mako and I thought perhaps something terrible had happened in the world that we had yet to hear about; or that there had been a power or sewage outage. But no, it was simply Monday, July 3, that special holiday that comes around once every 7 years or so.

And Hotornot is still running strongs, a half-dozen years in. James is off to new ventures...

Friday June 30

Erase early and often

There's nothing like something meant to be temporary that stays around forever. The temporary building that stays around for decades, on cement blocks. The whiteboard that never gets erased... for even the first time. The note on a flimsy sheet of paper that stays taped up on a wall for a year.

Thursday June 29

On color and more

Color, sound, smell, taste, touch - none should be disregarded when aiming to inspire or pass on inspiration. The greatest sight is wasted if the rest are disregarded. For many physical objects, only color and touch are present to be changed. For a house full of pepole, all are at issue. Good architects know this; some go so far as to start with the function of the kitchen, source of smells and tastes, and view the rest of the house including the facade and design details,as secondary.

On a related note, an education-oriented office without books is like a meal with no smell at all. Today I more than doubled the number of books in the new OLPC offices. Brought in : Tufte (Visual Explanations, The Visual Display of Quantitive Information, Envisioning Information), The Essential Whole Earth Catalog (1986), an EB Propaedia (the original), The New Comparative World Atlas, Life Turns Man Up And Down (street literature from Nigeria), a 1000-plate Times Atlas (1988), Folk Tales For Children from Vietnam, Swahili Proverbs, DeLaire's Esperanto, Fil D'Ariane..., Dyson's Origins of Life, Ziman on Public Knowledge, The Love Book, An Exceptional view of Life (writing and drawings on life by unusual young children), an Old Farmer's Almanac.

Also : coffee table material, to supplement the WIRED mags : The Material World and Women in the Material World, and The Faces of Man (finally reprinted last year).

Wednesday June 28

On inspiration

There's little point in having whiteboards if they aren't regularly erased and reused; and little point in having great open office space if that too is unused and people hang out in small spaces without interacting. Ditto for pubs and dance halls. What is it about great parties and spaces that make them switch from using 20% of their potential to using 80%? Perhaps the same could be asked of great people...

Tuesday June 27

Slimmable ideas

Good ideas and projects abound. Finding ways to note, annotate, and review them is an open problem. Finding ways to let people working on them work together and not separately, likewise. Khaled prefers a bit of software that privileges individual ideas and allows discussion of it, to an open wiki.

I feel strongly the aggregate benefit of having eveyrone do everything on a single revisioned system with shared messaging and recent changes; but aside from that think the idea of a specialized interface is great. What are simple ways to encourage people who hate wikis to come leave ideas, and revisit commentary later? Ways to integrate mailing list threads with longer lived wikitext? A mail-to-wiki gateway? (vice-versa is already implemented, after a fashion, with the latest eNotif.) Suggestions welcome.

Monday June 26

Step 3 : Communicating dreams

Grand dreams gain luster as they are shared; inspire enthusiasm from a distance as well as up close. Communicating and promoting dreams, asking for detailed advice and help (and not simply approval or shallow support) makes them real. Particularly when changes occur rapidly, leaving the path of change and its every step open helps disparate groups who feel associated to a great Work feel involved, drawn up in the hunt even if at the rear of the pack. Those of you who remember The Beast may recall how much energy was put into keeping an audience of new and old hands alike entranced by and in step with the rapidly changing texture of a complex project with many fronts. Three people devoted a fair chunk of their time to maintaining those centers for community cooperation, planning, and storytelling; without foregoing participation in the production of new ideas and material.

There isn't much in the way of detailed visions on this wiki at present; in part because this space is still finding its voice, not because visions for this project have not been articulated. Some of this will change in the months to come, some may even come from readers of this log. But beyond initial vision, sharing dreams over time means conveying progress, successes and failures, needs and desires. I aim to do what I can along these lines; if you are interested in the same, let me know (or just start doing it!).

Step 2 : Chain of tools

It's really too early to start talking about tools and toolchains; when there are regular schedules and connections to be made. But a few can be mentioned from the start:

Step 1 : Applying wiki culture

There is a world of difference between having a tool and knowing how to use it, and between knowing how to use it and making it an extension of oneself -- knowing how that tool sees the world, being able to reinterpret any situation in that context. The expression "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" has both positive and negative aspects. There is utility in being able to see the nail-like aspect of any problem, whether or not there is a hammer handy (in particular, one should regularly be considering how important it is to find a hammer, if one is not).

When it comes to wikis - there is much more to effectively implementing an open collaborative content aggregator than having and using one. Content workflows with detailed roles (protection, privacy segmentation, &c), continuing use of other information channels for public sharable knowledge (email, blogs, whiteboards, phone calls, ticket systems) that don't pass through the wiki -- all of these limit the scalability and efficacy of a wiki's openness.

For the purposes of OLPC : if we want the public to take an active part in guiding and advising on the project progress, news and photos and updates should come through the wiki first or second, not as an afterthought when someone remembers. Wiki watchlists should be a key part of tracking new ideas. Educators, officials, students, other community members should all be directed to the wiki for sharing their thoughts and discovering what is going on -- withthe caveat that if they can't find what they're looking for, they should ping someone to update the information here. And internally, using a wiki to organize text and project ideas will help accustom project members to that style of formatting and interlinking thoughts.

Please leave me comments and tell me what you think.

Day 0, Step 0 : Logging backwards

A day of preparation; setting up the log. Tomorrow will be the first proper day of logging.