Archive for the ‘Gentoo’ Category

Paraguay: cutting edge OLPC deployment

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

A couple of things have surprised me during my time so far in Asunción, technology-wise. For example, the ability to buy various items from shops/restaurants using credit from your phone, and drive-through ATMs (what an Americanism…).

Me and the others at ParaguayEduca have been working to make our OLPC deployment pretty high-tech too. Here are some of our projects and achievements:

  1. NANDblaster. We didn’t finalize our software image until very recently, several months after the laptops were manufactured, so we have to install software on 4000 laptops here in the warehouse. USB keys are so yesterday, so we’re transmitting the software wirelessly (multicast) using the brand new NANDblaster, developed and integrated into the OLPC firmware by Mitch Bradley. (well, as this firmware is brand new, we still have to plug a USB key into every machine to upgrade to a NANDblaster-capable firmware, but this is quick). More on this incredible technology another time…
  2. Deployment security keys. OLPC are handing off security-related support tasks to deployments themselves, and have produced a secure mechanism to allow for this delegation without revealing OLPC’s private security key. When I said that we are flashing a NANDblaster-capable firmware, we’re actually flashing a NANDblaster-capable keyjector-equipped firmware, which injects our special Paraguayan public security keys into the manufacturing data of each laptop. This means that Paraguay can now sign their own OS images, and produce their own activation leases, without relying on OLPC or having to disable the XO’s security features.
  3. Deploying the XS school server. Despite some attempts, I’ve not really managed to find any significant deployments that deploy school servers at each school. I believe we’re the one of the first large-scale deployments to put the XS into action across the board.
  4. Activation over 802.11 infrastructure networks. We’ve modified OLPCs security client in the initramfs to request activation leases from the school server over an AP-hosted wireless network (previously the only options were USB, SD card, and mesh, none of which scale very well).
  5. WiMaX. We are providing internet access to all 10 schools, over WiMaX. I haven’t heard of other deployments that use this technology. It is remarkably scalable; internet access is provided to all 10 schools using only a single WiMaX tower.

Voy a Paraguay

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I am leaving for Paraguay next week. I will be there for 3 months, living in Asunción and helping the Paraguay Educa team with their One Laptop per Child XO deployment efforts. I am looking forward to working with them in a part of the world that I have never seen!

libusb-1.0.0 released

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

I have released libusb-1.0.0. libusb is a library which allows you to write applications that interact with USB devices, without the requirement of writing a kernel device driver.

The new libusb-1.0 branch includes new features and improvements over previous versions of the library. Here is a brief run-down, see the release announcement for more details:

  • Support for isochronous endpoints.
  • Asynchronous I/O for advanced users.
  • A simple, synchronous I/O interface also exists (in the style of libusb-0.1).
  • Lightweight with very few dependencies
  • Thread safety
  • Power saving
  • Reduced CPU usage and power drain
  • Increased USB throughput
  • Detailed API documentation
  • Compatibility with libusb-0.1 through the libusb-compat-0.1 compatibility layer

One Laptop per Child UK

Monday, December 1st, 2008

I spent the weekend in Brussels with representatives from OLPC Austria, OLPC Deutschland, OLPC France and others. We were joined by OLPC Europe and an American imposter who goes by ‘SJ.’

We spent the weekend figuring out the fine details for Give One Get One and making some future plans. One sticking point was the lack of existence of an OLPC community in the UK.

Given travel plans, I’m not a good candidate to get anything formal set up. However, I will happily give advice to people who are prepared to do so (regardless of where I am), so I have taken steps which will hopefully promote growth of a community: Firstly, I have updated the OLPC UK page on the wiki, and will keep it updated as our media efforts for G1G1-UK become public. Secondly, SJ set up an OLPC UK mailing list for us.

Let’s get things moving! Please sign up and introduce yourself on the mailing list if you are interested.

Give One Get One WORLDWIDE

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

One Laptop per Child: Give 1 Get 1
Give One Get One has gone global!

As of today, you can order from will take payment. This is the site that was previously used to take European pre-orders, and the following applies for those pre-orders too.

There are currently 44 countries which OLPC can ship to. This list will grow according to demand; donors from other countries are encouraged to pre-order anyway (no payment will be taken unless your order can definitely be fulfilled), as this may trigger your country being added.

Things to be aware of:

  • You will be billed by in Pound Sterling (GBP). If outside the UK, check with your credit card provider for the exact exchange rate and any additional fees that will be applied.
  • You are limited to the payment methods that accepts.
  • A £50.00 handling and delivery charge applies, so the total cost to Give One and Get One is £325
  • The laptop comes with a US International keyboard. Note that this is slightly different from a UK keyboard, for example the @ and ” keys are swapped. There is a photo of the keyboard on the product page.
  • The laptop comes with a 3-prong UK plug on the charger. Consumers from outside the UK will have to purchase an adapter. We’re working on other options too; stay tuned.
  • If you want to Get your XO in time for Christmas, then you should order early. The cut-off date remains to be finalized.

Please help us spread the word! More info on the OLPC blog.

one laptop + one child = change the world

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

One Laptop per Child: Give 1 Get 1

That’s the equation.

In September, I was lucky enough to travel to Ethiopia to assist with the Ethiopian government efforts of providing laptops packed with educational material to schoolchildren free of charge, as part of the One Laptop per Child program.

After “what on earth were you doing in ETHIOPIA?” one of the first questions people ask during conversation is “who paid for the 5000 laptops?”

The laptops were donated by generous Americans and Canadians as part of 2007′s Give One Get One (G1G1) promotion. These donors purchased 2 laptops; one for themselves, and one for Ethiopia (or another developing country such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Mongolia or Rwanda).

When Give One Get One was initiated in November 2007, OLPC was a new idea. Production of laptops had only just started, and while laptops were being loaded onto ships to go to schoolchildren in developing nations, the early timing of the promotion meant that there weren’t really any deployments of the laptops for people to read about. Despite this, a huge number of people demonstrated their belief in the program and their donations resulted in tens of thousands of laptops headed to schoolchildren over the course of the last year.

The first day of G1G1 in 2007 was supposedly PayPal’s busiest day in history. While the huge demand resulted in some fulfilment problems, I saw with my own eyes how the donated laptops sent to other parts of the world are making huge differences in the lives of the lesser fortunate. I wrote a bit about the amazing impact of the laptops on Ethiopian schoolchildren just a few days after they had received them.

Today, OLPC has projects in over 30 countries, and has relaunched the Give One Get One promotion across the United States and Europe. To Give One and Get One, the cost is $399 for Americans or £275 for Europeans (excluding delivery).

Orders from the United States are being fulfilled immediately by who have a large stock of XOs. To participate, head over to

Details of European orders are still being finalized, and you probably want to wait until we have more details on participating countries and delivery dates. However, if you’re really keen, you can pre-order at We’ll continue to update the G1G1EU wiki page and OLPC blog with any news.

There are amazing stories from OLPC deployments all over the web. Here are a few to start with:

And some excellent new media to help us spread the word:

G1G1 Europe clarifications

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

One Laptop per Child: Give 1 Get 1

Give One Get One starts on Monday. I previously wrote about the European launch, which will be in addition to the promotion throughout the United States.

While orders from the US will be fulfilled immediately, orders from Europe will initially be soft, that is, you will register your interest to Give One and Get One for the price of £275 (approximately €322), but you will not be required to pay anything.

Amazon & One Laptop per Child will be working hard to convert those soft orders into real ones in the next few days and weeks. Those who have registered their interest will then receive information on how they can pay, and when they can expect their ‘Get’ laptop to be delivered.

OLPC Give One Get One is coming to Europe

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I’m in Brussels for a few days, helping out at OLPC Europe. We are pleased to announce that we have an enormous task in front of us: we are launching Give One Get One in 30 European countries on Monday 17th November!!

I’ll write more another time, for now you can find more details from Christoph. Help us spread the word!

Upcoming Europe travel plans

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

I’m back from Ethiopia, and after a quick week in the US I’m now back at home in the UK. But I’ve already made some travel plans for a couple of weeks time:

I’ll be in Brussels, Belgium for the week starting on November 10th. Anyone want to meet up?

I’ll then be at OLPC France CodeCamp on November 15th in Paris (announcement).

No time to spend in Paris unfortunately, I’m flying back to the UK right after, but hopefully I can put some names to faces at OLPC CodeCamp.

Ethiopia’s second OLPC deployment

Friday, October 10th, 2008

The ecbp team started the 2nd OLPC Ethiopia deployment today. This time, we are working at a school in Addis Ababa. The school itself is similar to another local school that I wrote about in my first week, although smaller (approximately 1000 students, rather than 2800).

Both through mistakenly thinking this school was a public school, and also through the radiance of this photo, I was expecting the school to be more modern and have better facilities than the others I have seen. However, upon arrival I learn that this is another government school, and the facilities are strikingly bare.

As we walk into the school, the first thing that hits me is the noise of many chattering children. I ask my coworkers if this is their break (although I am doubting that myself, the schoolyard being mostly empty). “No, this is how they learn in class.” The teacher yells a question, and the kids all yell the answer. Or the teacher yells some kind of statement, and the kids repeat it. Over and over again. With many classes in a small area, it’s just a mess of (Amharic) sound.

Later on, I am within earshot of an English lesson. “HOW ARE YOU”, yells the teacher. The kids respond in unison, “I AM FINE THANKYOU.” This repeats indefinitely, almost army-like “SIR YES SIR” style.

The children are very friendly and flock around me, shaking my hand and asking my name. I discover that I have a supernatural ability to control their movement, simply by pointing my camera in different directions. Here is our attempt to get a photo of me with some children — you can actually see me, if you look carefully:

We spend the morning conducting questionnaires, which will generate data for evaluating the effects of the laptops (more data will be collected some time later, and data will also be collected from schools without laptops). Then, we start deployment in the afternoon. Things are nicely organised, with the kids coming up one by one, presenting signed letters from their parents, and signing for their laptops. They obey instructions to not power on the laptop until everyone in the class has signed for their XO. The teachers give out 200-300 laptops in total, with only a little assistance from ourselves.

Chaos ensues as classrooms full of children eagerly power on their laptops for the first time. The Ethiopian team explain that the children must type in their name, although some children do not seem to understand. I use my minimal Amharic to help them out, but it’s difficult and things get harder as the other children get into Sugar and make noise as they start exploring. “Teacher, teacher” they say, pulling at my clothes. I turn to them and am greeted with “Camera, camera!” as they beg me to show them how to open Record (an instant hit).

Overall, it was a very tiring day, but a lot of fun, and rewarding to see so many happy children. Students from other classes hounded me for laptops as we left; we will return on Monday to finish the job.

Photostream updated.