One lap

I love Linux. It’s not as if I use it much but I love the idea of it. Open source. Free collaboration. All that.

I am less enamoured of the techy-boys-toys attitudes that seem to infect a lot of Linux-users, or the unlimited contempt that they can show to anyone who knows ever so slightly less than them about operating systems.

The recent developments in the one-laptop-per-child project which will now see it offering Windows, as well as Linux, seem to be causing a lot of dissent. This was described on the BBC as the OLPC project “getting in bed with… the Great Satan”

According to the BBC report, the purists in the OLPC movement see Linux as at the heart of the project. Well fine, but is this project supposed to be about spreading access to technology and internet communication or is it about creating a world full of Linux nerds? Because, to most people, even to most techies as Ivan Krstic pointed out, computers are not ends in themselves. They are just tools.

Some of us like messing about with tech (to a degree..) Most people don’t. A television that you couldn’t operate without degree-level knowledge of electronics engineering would be pretty unpopular. Why assume that every third world kid will suddenly become someone who is happy to mess about with a kernel for weeks?

Most people in the world use Microsoft products. Nearly everyone of us has to use Microsoft in work. Surely that makes a Microsoft operating system a reasonable component to put in a product that aims to cover the world.

Or are the kids who get these laptops only to be allowed to use predefined worthy educational products on them, while their first world equivalents are playing games?

I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of the OLPC project anyway, but I don’t think it stands or fails on the nature of the operating system.

IMHO the OLPC has always been liable to turn out to be another top-down western attempt to solve the problems of the poor countries – our solutions to which usually turn out to benefit the rich countries.

Lap this up

The Internet is Father. The Internet is Mother. The Internet reached out its hand and gave us all life.

So it sort of pains me to say that the goal of achieving one laptop per child may not necessarily be a good thing…

The Mission Statement of the one laptop per child foundation

… is to stimulate local grassroots initiatives designed to enhance and sustain over time the effectiveness of XO laptops as learning tools for children living in lesser-developed countries.

local grass-roots initiatives, sustainability, learning tools, children, lesser-developed countries? Blimey. How worthy is that? These eco-friendly words could never be used to promte a BAD THING, surely?

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a less-developed country, but I seem to remember that, after food*, the crying needs for learning tools were for pencils and paper. Pencils, ffs. They don’t cost more than a couple of pence wholesale. You could probably pass one out to every needy kid in Senegal, say, for less than the cost of a handful of these laptops.

Well the BBC said:

A team of US-based researchers, backed by a billionaire, have re-invented the computer in an attempt to revolutionise education in the developing world.

I love the “backed by a billionaire” touch. Another selfless billionaire who couldn’t possibly be looking for new products and new markets. Or have an interest in spreading consumerist values. Or in getting national governments to support setting up digital network infrastructures.

Who is this mystery philanthropist?

Well, Internet research isn’t an exact science, so bear with me here.

MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte? Wow, that name sounds oddly familiar. Well according to wikipedia, among a range of other distinctions, he

is the younger brother of John Negroponte, current United States Deputy Secretary of State.

About whom wikipedia is also pretty forthcoming. It starts with:

He is currently serving as the United States Deputy Secretary of State. Prior to serving in this capacity, he was the first ever Director of National Intelligence.
Negroponte served in the United States Foreign Service, from 1960 to 1997. He had various tours of duty as a United States ambassador, including a three-year ambassadorship to the Philippines, from 1993 to 1996. He subsequently served as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004, and was ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005……

What a career! Studded with involvement in such uncontroversial American adventures as Iraq and anti-Sandanista actions.

From 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras. During this time, military aid to Honduras grew from $4 million to $77.4 million a year, and the US began to maintain a significant military presence there, with the goal of providing a bulwark against the revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which had overthrown the Somoza government and then created a state with close ties to both Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Now, I know some brothers are estranged and all that. For all I know, the Negroponte extended family observes no kinship rituals. So it’s more than possible that John and Nick don’t even exchange Christmas newsletters. And that they don’t share any social and political goals. So don’t jump to conclusions…..

Just saying.

(Compare and contrast the media fuss over government workers adding the odd “allegedly” to Wikipedia entries with uncritical media presentation of one laptop per child programme. There are also several techy blogs welcoming it as ironing out the digital divide E.g. Live stuff)

* plus a few other things like “staying alive till their tenth birthdays”, “accessible clean water”, “not getting shot”, “not living on the streets” or “not working on rubbish tips” and so on, but let’s not lose our sense of humour here……..

So this really is Dickens for 21st century

In an old Wire-ophile post here, I called the Wire Dickens for the 21st century.

In case that wasn’t clear enough, this was supposed to be a compliment…. I was referring to Dickens’ passionate awareness of social injustice, the huge cast of wierd characters and his plots that took in every section of society. (Obviously, I’m alive in the 21st century, so I think the Wire outshines Dickens, but that’s just me.)

I have carefully failed to rave endlessly about Wire series 4 because I blatantly can’t do it justice. Plus, I have to see it a few more times to even begin to tie together the plot strands and understand the subtle ironies and get all the references. yada. yada.

But wow, there is actually going to be a Dickens for the 21st century and its name is Dickens World.

No, really. A faked Victorian London is being created as we speak. According to the BBC:

The overall effect is rather like Disney painted brown and plunged into twilight.

“Highlights” will allegedly include a Great Expectations boat ride, a Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge, Newgate Debtor’s Prison and a Dotheboys Hall Victorian classroom.

I must admit to being baffled as to who this is going to appeal to. I thought of myself, aged about 8, an obsessive reader who was lucky enough to live next door to a public library. I vacuumed up all of Dickens’ books, although even I recoiled at the mawkish bits. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed Dickens World at all.

Kids who don’t enjoy reading Dickens are not going to have any idea what any of the set pieces are about. So I imagine it will be a depressing experience to visit a downbeat version of Disney World for them.

Even in the event that a non-reading-obsessed child becomes interested by it and picks up a copy of Great Expectations or David Copperfield…. Bloody Hell, these are A Level English Literature set books. That will put off the average kid from reading for life.

This park was thought up by the creator of Santa’s World and (Hans Christian) Andersen World. Theme parks based round a Christmas myth and a collection of only moderately disturbing fairy tales. ( Not a Brothers Grimm Theme Park, you might note.)

Somehow a theme park based on child labour, workhouses, disease, debtor’s prisons, homeless orphans and child thieves’ gangs doesn’t seem like very much in the way of fun.

No, what am I thinking? I am putting in my patent claim now for the concept of a Wire theme park. (I have already drawn up the specs. I’m not wasting an investment opportunity by putting the details here.)

No, forget that. It’s in the USA, it may not be harrowing enough. What about a theme park that shows what life is like in parts of the cities of the developing world. Do you see the entertainment potential in child labour, orphans, child thieves’ gangs, ruin, disease, homeless kids raising each other in the streets? Blimey. What fun.