OLPC: Open Organized Transparent

Garrett Goebel garrett.goebel at gmail.com
Fri May 16 19:53:11 EDT 2008

On Fri, May 16, 2008 at 5:25 PM, Denver Gingerich <denver at ossguy.com> wrote:
> On Fri, May 16, 2008 at 2:46 PM, Garrett Goebel
> <garrett.goebel at gmail.com> wrote:
> [...]
>> The Cambridge Lab staff ought to do a little self-examination. Because
>> they would never guess how much to us outsiders they resemble their
>> upper management. I can't tell you how often these smart mostly male
>> MIT types turn a deaf ear or return a derisive holier than thou email
>> to the outsiders and developer community they will ultimately be
>> dependent upon growing in order to succeed.
> From my experience, the people in the Cambridge Lab are more than
> happy to help "us outsiders" and discuss their plans openly.  The
> devel, sugar, and many other mailing lists are open to everyone.  They
> seem open to giving people accounts on their systems when it will help
> move the project forward.  I personally don't see any resemblance to
> the upper management.

It is more than a bit like the arguments people get into about how to
fix the public schools system. The people in the front lines like
teachers and the developers working on OLPC are with very few
exceptions good people doing good things... with not nearly enough
support or thanks. And it is very easy to offend these individuals
when what you are trying to do is figure out why the system in which
these individuals are working appears to be failing.

Most of my original post related to organization and management.
However, you're right that this comment was pointedly directed at the
OLPC developers.

> I've never seen one of these "holier than thou" e-mails you mention.
> It certainly doesn't seem to be like any of the staff I've
> communicated with to do such a thing.

Going back through the archives, I have to admit that as often as not
the smack talk came from someone without a laptop.org email address.
But here are some examples of offensive, dismissive, and unanswered

> "You're on crack, Bert" [...] "Didn't we go over this already?"

> > Dammit, why are we having the discussion again!
> [...]
> But feel free to disregard the problem, if it makes you feel better.

> > Finding a 'sales' team is not the immediate problem to selling in the US.
> What is, then?

Ticket opened 3 months ago... no developer comments

> I think any lack of communication on the mailing lists can be largely
> attributed to how busy the staff are.  Not only are they working their
> tails off to move the project forward (ie. by writing software), but
> they are also participating in discussions about the state of OLPC and
> answering questions about things they can't control.

I'm sure you're probably right. Understaffed. Underfunded. Lacking
direct clear communication from management. Unreasonable expectations,
shifting requirements, and schedules. ...Not altogether different than
the fate of most developers in most organizations. Most developers
however, aren't being asked to achieve such lofty goals.

The XO is an amazing bit of hardware. The folks working in the
Cambridge Labs and elsewhere are an amazing collection of folks and
have done and are are doing excellent work. The first 80% of the
functionality is implemented. But as they say, the last 20% takes 80%
of the time.

It makes a great prototype. But is it really ready for mass
deployment? Can it be supported in the field? The XO and Sugar are
innovative, but it isn't clear that its innovations will give it
enough of a leg up against the competition in the commodity laptop
market. Competition that has woken up, and can use its influence and
muscle to reopen done deals.

And it may be a perception born of short staffing, but the
documentation on the wiki is scattered, incomplete or out of date.
Tickets go unanswered. Short of subscribing to the developers list,
there's no way to tell what builds and build streams are out there.
Unless you somehow know to go look at Bert's wonderful build stream
logs (http://dev.laptop.org/~bert/olpc3-pkgs.html). Useful web pages
sit under developers personal directories... which seem to come, go,
or be abandoned at a whim. For example Bert's build logs no longer
work for joyride and faster.

For people working on the project full time, it probably isn't too
difficult to stay in the zone. The barrier to entry for weekend
warriors and volunteers needs to be low enough that we don't have to
understand how everything fits together to mess around in the corner
we're interested in. Or have to read a mailing list daily to keep up
with significant changes in expected behavior. Like having your
activities after performing an olpc-update to update1 build 703.

The OLPC developers may be amazing and brilliant, but apparently there
aren't enough of them to go round. I'm convinced that the only
possible path to sustained success, is for them to build and support a
community with a low barrier to entry that the rest of us mere mortals
can participate in without requiring a full time commitment.

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