The Longest Now

Context for the day: sunshine, clarity, reflection
Saturday April 28th 2012, 2:27 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,meta,metrics

A friend yesterday reminded me how valuable and important it is to take time to step back and reflect on one’s direction and focus. And how we should all do this more often. The meta-context was the value of sabbaticals, and the possibility for organizations to do the same thing. (For instance, from recent threads here: the chance for olpc pilots to reflect on their shared vision and principles, while considering how to pool resources; for wikimedia organs to reconsider their purpose; for OER visionaries to review what they want to help society accomplish.)

Today is an excellent day for this reflection – warm sun, tesselated waves, clear skies. I mean to see what I can sort and extrapolate from the wealth of raw individual ideas and motivations that I have seen over the last two weeks.

This context makes me want a more orderly family of terms to describe the form of analytical thought that includes strategy (military, corporate planning), systems thinking (systematics, synergetics), lateral thinking (thinking hats, parallel analysis), and pattern analysis (I Ching, oblique strategies, mesh decomposition). Now… where to file feature requests like this for one’s own language?

Hacking Education with Hewlett’s OER Grantees
Wednesday April 18th 2012, 11:32 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,meta,popular demand

A few months ago, Colin Maclay got me thinking about how to make this year’s Hewlett Foundation OER grantees meeting different in good ways. Last week I spend three days at the event, and was honored to meet the many remarkable people and projects there. I have been to one of the past grantee meetings, and it is a warm family of practice — I knew many of the groups and people in the room through my own work in open education. Two newcomers worth special note:

The organization I was happiest to meet was the Saylor Foundation — I have been a fan of theirs since discovering them last year; their work addresses the heart of a core problem in the world of educational resources: a free comprehensive collection of texts drawn from all manner of sources — whatever is useful and to hand. Aside from the typical modern-charity peccadillo of feeling organizational ownership of what is a universal mission, and articulating a vision in which they accomplish it through sweat and brand, I find their approach humble and excellent.

My favorite invitee was CoolCatTeacher Vicki Davis, who shared some pointed advice and wit, contributed in most of the sessions I attended, and shared my penchant for live transcription. (We commiserated about how funny it was to be at an event highlighting collaborative creation, where most attendees had computers but were shy of using etherpads or shared docs.) She was not a grantee; Berkman, in their take on this rotating annual event, invited about a quarter of the total guests from a variety of backgrounds, for pursuing in their own way more universal access to education. Her prolific writing and multitasking online, has inspired me to spend much more time writing. But more on that in a future post.

I also met the pedagogy lead for Intel’s global education program – a teacher full of good ideas and strong support for making OER the norm in primary school – and part of the Metalab team working on narrative tools.

I spoke to the grantees about the needs of content Builders, along with Hal Abelson and Ahrash Bissell, and took part in a variety of brainstorming sessions. My favorite moment was a debate about whether free knowledge and educational resources are (as I maintain) civic infrastructure, worth investment by cities and locales the way roads and libraries and wiring are. An unresolved question there: how a local government would identify what part of that global problem is theirs to locally provide or fund.

On Friday I helped plan and run a Hack Day after the traditional meeting ended, something new for this sort of gathering. It was great fun, and refreshing after a few days of simply talking to move one or two ideas closer to realization. I wish most of every conference were like this, since we still managed to get in our share of discussion, presentation, show & tell, and otherwise sharing inspiration. Thanks to the Berkman team for their creativity in the organization, and to the organizers for inviting me to take part. Open education is an idea ready for global adoption, and one we should pursue mindfully, in norm and nuance, as a society.

Introducing Afghan families to Wikipedia

OLPC Afghanistan currently works with school in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, and Kandahar.   This is one of our most politically complex and interesting deployments.  The initial schools involved tend to be on the wealthy side, but are still often in areas with poor power and connectivity.

Jalalabad also houses Afghanistan’s only FabLab – which set up the first “FabFi” mesh network to serve the surrounding community.  After the deployment of OLPC laptops to a local school there, families began to have access to the Internet, and to Wikipedia, for the first time.  Here are three generations of one family, outside on their roof, browsing Wikipedia together:

Afghan family browsing Wikipedia together outside

An Afghan family browses Wikipedia together outside

(As it happens, one of the university students who helped localize the software into Dari and Pashto is also a Wikipedian.)

Over a year after that deployment finished, I am working with FabLab folk to figure out what a similar lab and community wifi setup might look like in Herat, where we also have an OLPC school and may add another.  They’re refreshingly fun and competent people to work with, and full of great stories about young Afghans taking interesting ideas and running with them, turning them into amazing art projects or montages or startups.   Any city trying out cool new technical innovations should have a fablab to amplify the joys of being on the cutting edge.

Today we have 4,000 families connected to eachother and to the Internet in Afghanistan through OLPC; we hope to have thousands more by the end of the year.  And now I’m wondering if we can get fablabs started in the US cities where there are significant OLPC projects.

Google to cancel its translate API, citing ‘extensive abuse’
Saturday May 28th 2011, 10:19 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,Not so popular,null,wikipedia

Google’s APIs Product Manager Adam Feldman announced on Thursday they will cancel the Google translate API by December, without replacing it, and that all use of it will be throttled until then.  Any reusers or libraries relying on the translate API to programmatically provide a better multilingual experience will have to switch over to another translation service.  (Some simple services will still be available to users, such as, but APIs will not be available to developers of other sites, libraries, or services.)

Update: As of June 3, Google says that in response to the outcry, they plan to make a paid version of the translate API available. No details yet on what that will look like.

Ouch.  This is a sudden shift, both from their strong earlier support for this API (I was personally encouraged to use it for applications by colleagues at Google), and from their standing policy of supporting deprecated services for up to 3 years.   What could have spooked them?  Why the rush? As of today, the Translate API page reads:

The Google Translate API has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011. Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, the number of requests you may make per day will be limited and the API will be shut off completely on December 1, 2011.

Most disappointing to me is the way this announcement was released: buried in a blog post full of minor “Spring Cleaning” updates to a dozen other APIs.  Most of the other deprecated APIs were replaced by reasonable equivalents or alternatives, and were being maintained indefinitely with limits on the rate of requests per user.  None of them is being cancelled within six months, and none of them are half as widely used!

I hope that this obfuscation was an unintentional oversight.  There have been 170 irate replies to that post so far, almost all about the Translate API cancellation.  But it has been three days already without any significant update from Feldman or any mention of the change on the Google Translate blog.  Google’s response to a ZDNet inquiry was that they have no further information to provide on why they made this decision.


olpcMAP Sprint: put XO communities on the map!
Friday December 24th 2010, 11:10 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,metrics

olpcMAP is ready for launch, and we’re hosting a map sprint at OLPC headquarters this week. Come help us design the next iteration of the map, and add your favorite projects to it. And encourage everyone you know who works on an OLPC project to add themselves as well — this map is designed to be a reusable repository for map data, so anything stored here will be easy to query and use in other map contexts in the future.

If you can only join for only part of the mapping sprint, try to come on Tuesday Dec 28, when you will get to see a special screening of Audobon Dougherty’s study of the impact of Internet access in rural Peru.

OLPC updates its hardware roadmap
Thursday May 27th 2010, 11:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Marvell and OLPC just announced a partnership to design a line of tablets, including the current Marvell Moby and the OLPC XO-3 reference designs.  This is good news for OLPC’s 3-year hardware plans, and make it more likely that we will be able to hit our target $75 pricepoint for a rugged, low-power tablet in 2012.

There are also a lot of interesting cheap computers out there today – some now available for $100 – flimsy at the moment, but a good start.  We need to start treating personal computing — and connectivity, caching, reliable storage: everything that comes with it — as a commodity and basic resource, not a luxury good.  Until we do, we will never build up the relevant infrastructure at scale.  [and the 10-100x differences in bandwidth available in different developed countries today — with the US on the low end — are a prime example of what this may look like].

Lead discussions about sustainable education
Thursday October 16th 2008, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A bunch of OLPCers and Sugar designers and enthusiasts have been talking about the need for broader discussions on sustainable education, social progress, and the value of one laptop per child in different walks of life. 

If these issues matter to you, please speak about them.  Lead discussions in your communities about the influence and meaning of [lower-case] olpc, and how it could be a useful tool for (or barrier to) the work of others, and to related organizations and projects.  OLPCers want to hear more from those travelling similar roads — both literally, in bringing sustainable education and poverty alleviation to rural parts of the world, and figuratively, in bringing like-minded people together to address the major inequities of our time.

What communities are you a part of where these issues matter?  Is this already being discussed?  If so, help inform people about what OLPC is doing in the field : things are changing rapidly these days, with 300,000 children 7-14 using their XOs to learn every week, and twice as many laptops at some stage of delivery.  What will this mean to  communities not yet affected?  To power, agriculture, economics, local business?
This is change the whole world will feel, and it should be addressed from all sides.  (I already feel it in the traffic distribution to my websites, to youtube videos about the project, in the language and age distribution of applications to XO software repositories).  We are tripling the installed base of Scratch.  We are doubling the number of physical offline subsets of Wikipedia in English, and increasing it by a magnitude in Spanish.  Please consider how this will affect your own work to improve equity and sustainable progress around the world, for better or for worse — and make your voice heard.

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