OLPC: Open Organized Transparent

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Sat May 17 06:22:11 EDT 2008

On Fri, May 16, 2008 at 4:53 PM, Garrett Goebel
<garrett.goebel at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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.

I have gotten excellent responses from almost all staff and ex-staff,
male or female. The most common exception is where they themselves
have no useful information, or policy prohibits them from helping. I
have occasionally gotten answers from upper management, but only very
recently have I felt that I can expect answers to important questions.
Nicholas was the worst, by far, but he is noticeably better lately.

The insults on the mailing lists here are generally mild compared with
some of what I get at my local LUG. I haven't seen any Holier Than
Thou traffic, unless by that you mean what Nicholas mistakenly calls
"Open Source Fundamentalism", of which I am one of several notable
practitioners here, for economic, human rights, and other reasons that
I won't bore you with now.

>> 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.

I have gotten stiffed by staff following upper management's policies.
I don't consider mismanagement the fault of the staff.

> 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.

There are exceedingly powerful political factions to whom school
reform is anathema. We tried in the US several times, and they were
and are relentless in opposition. Will this time be different? Who

> 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
> emails:
> http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2008-May/013770.html
>> "You're on crack, Bert" [...] "Didn't we go over this already?"

I remember that one. My impression was that Bert was on crack,
although I could be wrong, of course. ^_^

> http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2008-May/013745.html
>> > Dammit, why are we having the discussion again!
>> [...]
>> But feel free to disregard the problem, if it makes you feel better.

You're having the argument _again_ because that's how management by
mailing list works. I see this everywhere. If there is no visible
management process other than arguing on lists, the arguments on the
lists may be renewed endlessly.

> http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/devel/2008-April/013015.html
>> > Finding a 'sales' team is not the immediate problem to selling in the US.
>> What is, then?
> [unanswered]

My question, still unanswered. Some of the volunteers are forming
their own sales team. We are also doing our own analysis of what is
needed in the US and everywhere else, and not just for selling. I call
it Open Source Management.

> http://dev.laptop.org/ticket/6465
> Ticket opened 3 months ago... no developer comments

A few developers have noted in public that they have been working
night and day to ship product, and cannot look at issues outside their
current priority queues. If management doesn't think it worthwhile to
pursue bugs by bringing in enough developers to lighten the load, it
doesn't/can't/won't happen. However, we are told that development
staff is to be doubled soon.

I have seen developers say on list, "Thanks for bugging me. I still
can't get to it, so keep it up."

>> 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.

I am currently a tech writer by trade. I set out to collect material
for documents some time ago, and discovered that the information is
often not available, and is usually out of date or otherwise
incorrect. Also that there were more critical needs, such as getting
localization projects started for countries whose shipments had been
announced, an issue that management had missed, and until recently
would not talk about.

> 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.

Oh, well, if you want to get anywhere, you have to run at least twice
as fast as that.

> 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.

I can assist on some of these questions. I know of plenty of weekend
warrior projects, including coding projects, Wiki maintenance,
documentation, localization, testing, and others. Ask Seth, too.

Step right up, folks, there's something for everyone, young or old,
leet or noob, things never before seen, astounding things never even
dreamed of! Hurry, hurry, hurry! The chance of a lifetime, of the
century, of all history, to work on the Next Big Thing, no, the
Biggest Thing Ever, the world's tiniest laptop! No admission fee, no
tickets, no permissions, just walk right in and make yourself at home.
See the quivering little mammals as they make ready to go out into the
world of the great big dinosaurs. (Don't tell them, they're already
extinct but they're too stupid to notice!) Explore high mountains, the
darkest rain forests, vast plains, the frozen tundra, the empty and
desolate deserts, the asphalt jungles! Take a hand, play your part,
create the Age of Miracles, with software too cheap to meter! See the
children's eyes when they realize that this computer belongs to them!
See the teachers' eyes when they realize they can really teach now!
See the parents' eyes when they realize that their children will have
the opportunities the parents never got! Remember this moment to tell
your grandchildren!

Etc. etc.

> 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.

The developers can't do that. It's up to the rest of the community to
step up. In particular, we need far more volunteers working as
Volunteer Coordinators and as recruiters of other volunteers.

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Edward Cherlin
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."--Alan Kay

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