[Community-news] OLPC News (2007-04-28)

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Sat Apr 28 12:31:36 EDT 2007

1. Cambridge: Delegations from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan,
Panama, Peru, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Thailand, and Uruguay attended
a week-long meeting at the OLPC headquarters to discuss the current
status of the program, share ideas, and plan next steps.

Just seeing and hearing the diversity of faces and voices around the
table was remarkable. Although the discussion was occasionally heated,
every attendee was convinced that OLPC is something they should and
must do for the children of their countries. Passion was infectious;
and most important: there was a vibrant exchange among the attendees
of their experiences and ideas about how to move forward together.

2. A pivotal moment was when Marta Voelcker showed videos from the
work being done with XOs by Léa Fagundes and her colleagues at the
University of Rio Grande do Sul in a school in Porto Alegre; this was
followed by Irene Ficheman, who showed videos from the work she and
her colleagues from University of São Paulo are doing with XOs in a
school in that city. We were able to see how the teachers there worked
with the XO and each other (a priceless moment was helping each other
open the XO for the first time) and heard how students do not want to
go home—even when dismissed early. (The children without laptops at
the school in the Porto Alegre—only one in four have an XO—are
emulating the landless movement in Brazil—Movimento Sem Terra—they
have created a laptop-less student movement.)

3. OLPC added a new country this week: the USA. This move will engage
a wider developer community, impacting and improving software and
content. Please note that such a move into schools and learning in the
USA is not necessarily a commercial machine.

4. One of the pleasant surprises of the week was the extent to which
software development for the XO is beginning to take a life of its
own. A developer in Pakistan is building a Qur'anic Studies for the
laptop; a team from Uruguay surprised us with a demonstration of an
activity for using USB "dongles" on the laptop; a team from Brazil has
built some original "learning" games for the laptop; and a team from
Argentina has been continuing to work on a wide variety of activities,
including a calculator activity that "shows its work."

5. Environmental impact: Mary Lou Jepsen has compiling data to
determine the environmental impact of the XO. Of course XO is
literally the greenest laptop on the planet, but it is also
figuratively the greenest: having less environmental impact than any
laptop ever made. Mary Lou is working with EPEAT, "a procurement tool
to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors
evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors
based on their environmental attributes." EPEAT provides "a clear and
consistent set of performance criteria for the design of products, and
provides an opportunity for manufacturers to secure market recognition
for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their products."
Details will be available next soon.

6. Weather-proofing: XO is made for use outdoors. On a rainy day in
Boston, Mary Lou decided to let the BBC film her testing the XO in a
downpour. She worked with the laptop for an hour in the pouring rain
while they filmed; both she and the laptop got drenched. XO worked
fine; the crew were to be able to see the screen clearly outside—it
was bright despite the rain.

7. B3 Hardware and Firmware: Mitch Bradley, John Watlington, and
Richard Smith returned from Taipei after a successful bring-up of
preB3. Together with the team from Quanta, they:
* solved a camera-noise problem that has been plaguing us for months;
* with help from Tom Sylla fixed the RAM stability problem by improved
settings of RAM timing registers—10  boards with 3 different RAM
vendors ran memtest overnight with no errors; and
* stabilized suspend/resume with the OFW test.

Gary made a test rig whereby one XO can force another to do repetitive
suspend/resume cycles. We used it to perform 14,000 consecutive
suspends of 1-second duration and 234 consecutive 2-minute suspends.
Tom has been extremely helpful in debugging video and suspend problems
this week.

Mitch trained some of the Quanta software people in the use of OFW.
They succeeded in doing their own OFW build, and used it to test a fix
for a GPIO-related leakage issue.

Lilian Walter's OFW-based hardware test suite proved invaluable in the
preB3 bring-up.  It let us prove that various hardware features were
working very quickly, without the "is the problem caused by hardware
or software" issue that often arises when trying to use OS drivers for

Quanta has implemented most of the new EC commands that Richard
specified, so we can migrate away from direct access to EC GPIO ports
(which was a latent security hole). Mitch have written and tested OFW
interfaces to those new functions.

Jordan Crouse, Chris Ball, and Andres Salomon worked on the LX
graphics driver to shake it down (the LX has a significantly better
graphics processor requiring significant changes and additions to the
drives).  Chris and Jordan debugged an X cursor problem on the pre-B3
with Jordan Crouse. Andres worked with Jordan on lxfb and DCON
drivers, and committed them. The DCON support is now broken out, and
both the LX and GX frame-buffer drivers can control it.

Chris Ball took Quanta's testing spreadsheet and added missing bugs to
Trac. He also wrote a kernel patch to fix an audio bug (by inverting
EAPD) on B3, and submitted it to Jaya Kumar who maintains the audio
driver we use.

8. System software: Andres committed initial code for calling into
OFW, and changed the platform detection code to use OFW rather than
dealing with GPIOs.

Chris also brought up Sugar under Python 2.5 on an XO using the Fedora
7 packages, which we'd previously thought to be impractical.  He is in
the middle of taking performance measurements which we can use to help
decide whether and when we want to migrate the build to it.

9. Localization: Jim Gettys gave a presentation on localization at the
Country Meeting.  The "meat" of the presentation can be found in the
wiki at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Localization.  He also gave a
presentation on the design of the X0-1 at MIT; a video of this
presentation can be found at:
http://forum.wgbh.org/wgbh/forum.php?lecture_id=3417. It was attended
by about 100 people, and may result in a number of people contributing
to the project.

10. Journal: This week Ben Saller joined the software team to work on
the Sugar data store. Welcome, Ben. He's based in San Fransisco and is
working remotely. Ben already has a few things working in the data
store including a working query engine, a simple file-based back-end
data store and full-text indexing. Marco Gritti ahs integrated it into
jhbuild (our sugar build script) and Tomeu Vizoso has started on
integrating into the Journal activity. It's great to see this work
finally underway.

11. Presence: The new presence service based on the work that Dan
Williams and the Collabora team have been working on has landed in
jhbuild. This means we can use the XMPP/server-based bits for
collaboration and move to the new "tubes" model for activities. This
code is still under heavy development so expect some bumps, but this
is a big step that a lot of people have been working on for a long

12. Sugar: This week Tomeu, Marco and Eben Eliason met in Italy to
work through a number of design issues surrounding controls and look
and feel.  Those notes have been posted to the mailing list and a full
overview is in the wiki for anyone interested.

13. Collaboration: Guillaume Desmottes from Collabora has been working
on the "collaboration bits" and has a sample activity (based on
Connect-4) working on top of the new tubes/collaboration API working
in the sugar environment.  He also spent a lot of time debugging video
and VOIP problems. There turned out to be an incompatibility between
gstreamer and one of the streaming libraries. Most of the UI for the
video-call activity is done; the streaming issue is being fixed;  once
that's completed, we should have a very nice video call activity on
the XO.

14. Erik Blankinship and Bakhtiar Mikhak from Media Mods demonstrated
a shared camera activity this week. While it doesn't yet leverage the
tubes/collaboration API, it is a harbinger of some of the new modes of
interactive learning enabled by the XO/Sugar architecture.

15. Connectivity: Mesh testing continues and this time we have some
nice results to report from our friends at UFF in Rio de Janeiro. In
one test they placed five laptops in five different floors in their
building and they measured application throughput—copying a file using
the Linux SCP command. After four hops, there was 500 kilobits of real
application throughput!! They also measured (in the lab) throughput
via a chain of ten laptops. (A long chain of laptops can be created by
means of special debugging features in the laptop's firmware.) Using
the iperf benchmarking program, they got over 2 megabits over 9 hops.


Walter Bender
One Laptop per Child

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