Archive for August, 2008

Attention: activity developers

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Seth Woodworth, a nocturnal intern who works and sleeps on the other half of my desk, recently installed Google Analytics on the OLPC wiki. He has found some fascinating results.

The most amazing figure is the amount of traffic that comes from Uruguay, a country where we have now delivered 100,000 XO laptops (a recent milestone which hit national media in UY in a big way). Approximately 60% of the wiki traffic originates from Uruguay, 10,000+ visits per day, almost all of which is going to the Activities page. A contact at LATU has confirmed that these visits are actually children downloading activities and spreading the word, not a script or something.

This is huge. Loads of Uruguayan children are discovering the huge range of available activities and experimenting with them, every single day. If you’ve written an activity and listed it on that page, it is almost guaranteed that a lot of children have tried it.

The official language of Uruguay is Spanish (and the same is true for many of our other deployments), so ensuring your Spanish translations are up-to-date is of huge value here.

See the end of the latest community news for more of our findings.


Monday, August 25th, 2008

I’m 22 today. Celebrating tonight with a few friends.

My internship at OLPC continues to be very enjoyable; we’re making inroads all over the world, and we’re working on communicating our successes more effectively. Big things are happening. My internship ends in a month’s time, and I’ll be leaving the US soon after.

I’m applying for a business/management masters to continue my studies in September 2009. This leaves a gap of 11 months to fill. I’m working on finding opportunities to spend that time assisting OLPC deployments around the world.

All that plus a small business venture is keeping me very busy.

Followup notes on XO alternate desktops

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Some followup notes from our alternate Linux desktop on XO work:

  • The README included with the script provides some more specific instructions.
  • Your SD card needs to be a minimum of 4GB capacity, because these distributions install more than 2GB by default. We could probably find some smaller distributions, although we require some relatively recent components for some part of the system (e.g. X), so finding a distribution that is both modern and small might be a challenge.
  • There are ongoing efforts to create a significantly smaller distro to run on the internal flash, but that is an early project at the moment.
  • We heavily recommend using a SD card that is advertised as fast, extreme, ultimate, or whatever! I was previously sceptical of cards advertised in this way – are they actually significantly faster? The answer is YES – we have a ‘non-extreme’ Kingston card and it is so much slower than the others. Installation took 4 times as long. I’m not sure a good way of benchmarking these, the standard “hdparm -t” test showed similar figures on both slow and fast cards.
  • I’ve spent most of my time with Fedora. On the whole, it works very well for a machine that is understandably lower spec than most. I do recommend slimming down the services though – turn off all the NFS daemons, cups, bluetooth daemon, pcscd, kerneloops, … In fedora this is done with the ‘service’ command for a one-time stop, and ‘chkconfig’ to prevent things starting at boot.
  • When you run a lot of big applications, the machine does really slow down. Sometimes the mouse cursor freezes for a while. Perhaps we should experiment with swap space, currently I have none.
  • Sound does not work. In Fedora, it doesn’t work at all, probably a PulseAudio bug. I’m hoping that applying the system updates will fix this, but the Fedora infrastructure is down at the moment. In Ubuntu, sound works at the login screen (you hear the welcome sound) but not after you login.
  • On the postive side: wireless works, suspend works (most of the time), mouse and keyboard are good, gnome-power-manager dims the screen when idle, etc. It really acts as a normal fully usable distro with a few quirks identified above.

Regular Linux desktops on the XO

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Me and Bobby Powers have spent a few hours smoothing out the process of getting fully-featured Linux desktops to boot on the XO laptop. On the whole, OLPC developers have been pretty good at getting code upstream, so only a few fixups are needed to get things operational on the XO.

The only caveat is that you need a 4GB (or larger) SD card. The XO itself only has 1GB of storage, which is not big enough for the standard installs of the distributions that we’ve been playing with.

We’ve got Fedora 9 and Ubuntu Intrepid Alpha 3 working. Here is the process, using Fedora 9 as an example:

First, download the regular CD/DVD installation media for your distribution. For Fedora 9, you go to Burn that to CD/DVD.

Next, find a regular PC that is capable of reading SD cards. We’re using a standard desktop plus a USB card reader. Boot that PC from the CD/DVD installation media that you burned earlier. Proceed through the installation as usual, but when asked where you would like to install the operating system, select the SD card.

Choose to setup the disk partitions manually. Do not do any fancy partitioning, just choose one partition that fills up the card. You don’t need to add any swap space.

Select the ext3 filesystem and choose to not install a bootloader.

Wait for installation to complete, and shut down the system.

Next, you need a PC running Linux. This can be the same PC as the one you used to install onto SD, assuming that one has Linux installed on it’s hard disk too. It doesn’t really matter which distribution, as long as you have git and regular development tools installed, and the SD card mounted at a known location.

On this PC, run the following:

# git clone git://

Next, become root and run the script.

# sudo su -
# cd ~dsd/XO-alt-distro
# ./sd_fixup fedora-9 /media/disk

It will now download and compile the OLPC kernel, and perform a few other necessary tweaks to your SD card.

When the script has completed, unmount the SD card and plug it into an XO. Boot the XO, and say hello to your fully-functional Linux desktop.

In future, we plan to publish filesystem images of SD-installed distributions, so that you can avoid much of the above. To simplify further, we could also write a tool which runs on the XO which downloads said filesystem image and flashes onto SD.

Update 19/08/2008: Posted some additional notes