What keeps me going...

Ankur Verma ankur at laptop.org
Wed Jan 14 02:51:06 EST 2009


Very well written with highly inspirational thoughts.


On Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 3:28 AM, Sameer Verma <sverma at sfsu.edu> wrote:

> So, a lot of people have been asking me this lately in the OLPC
> context. "What keeps you going?" Of course, this question has been
> asked by different people with different intentions. Some are
> genuinely surprised that I have so much free time, while others
> suspect a hidden treasure. So, I decided to shoot off this e-mail to
> the lists for two reasons. One, I am not sure which list is
> appropriate, and two, I think many of us do question the merits of
> this project from time to time, and I want to share my sentiments with
> you all. Feel free to delete if you don't like it.
> During my visit to India a long time friend asked me this question.
> "What keeps you going with a project like this?" He wanted to know
> where I got all this free time from. Well, the assumption is a bit
> off. A lot of the time I put into the project aligns with my
> profession as well. Sustainable IT, network infrastructure, software
> development, collaboration, etc. are all parts of my research stream.
> so is FOSS development, adoption and use. So, finding time isn't that
> much of a stretch. Its a two way street. I am able to bring these
> things into my classroom and into my research. Of course, without
> support from my family, this would be extremely difficult. For
> instance, when I am off, gallivanting in Jamaica and working on a
> pilot there, my wife has to cover for me and she does so with a lot of
> effort, but we think its all for a good cause. We hope some of this
> will make a difference in the lives of communities there.
> Others, such as some of my students, have asked me the same question
> but with a little "wink wink" glint in their eye. They think there is
> something ulterior or somehow I am getting paid or I am bucking the
> system (wonder where they got that idea from). Getting across the
> volunteer ethic is very hard. Either you get it or you don't. Of
> course, volunteer-ism is driven by many things including ego, fame,
> and little green laptops. It is also driven by a desire to make a
> difference in the system. Sometimes the system doesn't want that
> change, but we still push for it. But that's another e-mail.
> Then there are some of us who have an addictive desire to take things
> apart. You know who I'm taking about! Take apart and put back together
> things that most people would leave untouched. People who subscribe to
> Make magazine or own a soldering iron would know. Its a strange itch,
> but its an ethic that brings people together. Its hard to explain
> these things to people who've never opened a radio, or a watch. On the
> other hand, if you are the "Maker" type, you would instantly know. We
> were surprised at the courage of attendees at the December OLPC-SF
> meeting. They took their XOs apart and put them back together. Well,
> most of us did. Only Robert needed some help from a 7 year old
> attendee :-) (Sorry Robert. Couldn't resist!)
> I think its a lot of these reasons that keep us all together in this
> project and its offshoots, but one experience has captured my
> enthusiasm unlike any other. This was a trip to Khairat, India's first
> pilot site (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Khairat_school). I had seen
> pictures, and even videos and news clips of Khairat. But driving out
> there with the folks from Reliance (the pilot partner) was a turning
> point. Seeing five year olds handling their XOs with ease was just
> amazing. Seeing them document their lives and showing me photos via
> the journal suddenly made a lot of sense. All discussions of a lack of
> a file manager were moot at that point. Rahul and Manisha sure don't
> need a file manager to show me what they did! They could care less
> about /etc or /usr/local/  I wish I could get the journal on my Ubuntu
> Thinkpad laptop.
> They had documented a tight rope walker who visited Khairat. They had
> documented Gandhi's birthday (2nd Oct) and showed me the photos. They
> didn't care that Sugar was slow. After all, for them to know that
> Sugar is slow, they would have to know something faster! They love
> their XOs and it shows. Then there is Mr. Surve, the teacher at
> Khairat. With very little training, this man gets his gang going. He's
> built solar system animations in e-toys and precipitation cycle in
> Paint. He has made his own lesson plans in Write and is constantly
> yelling in Marathi (local language) "Go to the neighborhood. Join the
> mesh". Who woulda thunk it? In the middle-of-nowhere-Khairat, a
> teacher is yelling a his kids to join the mesh. A draft version of
> 802.11s has made it that far! Of course Rahul and Manisha don't know
> that. And they don't need to, because we have a team of do-gooders who
> take care of all that. And that's where my respect and unconditional
> support for this group comes from. I've met very few of you in person.
> But, my sentiments for this group as a whole are always equated with
> the joy that is now in the lives of kids like Rahul and Manisha.
> OLPC brings a level of hope that is rare in projects. Netbooks, while
> an offshoot of what OLPC has done, still fail to address key issues.
> They still have embedded Wi-Fi antennas with poor range, they still
> are not sunlight readable and I don't think any of these are fanless
> (no moving parts). All these in my view are failures, and I think
> these companies have failed to address these items because their
> constraints and goals are very different. They are not thinking of
> Rahul and Manisha in Khairat, or Garima in Bhagmalpur, who does not
> have a classroom and has to sit under a tree outdoors. They are very
> much thinking of Lawrence and Raj (two of my students) in San
> Francisco, who will sit inside a well light room, next to a power
> outlet. So, yes netbooks are cheap and many of us flock to it, but its
> still no answer to the original problem. Nothing revolutionary there.
> Its just "Honey, I shrunk the laptop".
> In Bhagmalpur (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Bhagmalpur), my maternal
> village, I saw what passes for education. Its more along the lines of
> going through the motions of going to school. The children are sent
> there so that they don't pester the folks at home. They also go to
> school because the government provides a free meal. But, as far as
> learning is concerned, there is none. At least none that happens in
> class. The school has rooms too small to house children, so they sit
> outside. Many don't have books, or have books that are torn and need
> TLC. The teacher can barely corral 100 students per class, let alone
> teach from a book or the board. They are more like shepherds than
> teachers. The children know this well, and have resigned to it as a
> way of life. Will XOs make a difference in their lives? The enthusiast
> in me says "Yes!" The researcher in me says "If the null hypothesis is
> 'no, it won't', then there is only one way to find out."
> Times are difficult. We are facing severe cuts in our own system here
> at SF State and we have to start thinking creatively. In light of a
> weak budget, some are starting to look to FOSS for cheap software -
> something good is coming off of this downturn :-) If the OLPC project
> were to shut down, I think some of us will still live in denial and
> hang on to our XOs like a worn blanket, but let's hope that day does
> not come. Please keep plugging away. Karma is a terrific attribute. I
> hope you all earn lots of it.
> OLPC-SF will meet on Jan 17, 2009 and celebrate our first anniversary
> (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_SanFranciscoBayArea)
> cheers,
> Sameer
> --
> Dr. Sameer Verma, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor of Information Systems
> San Francisco State University
> San Francisco CA 94132 USA
> http://verma.sfsu.edu/
> http://opensource.sfsu.edu/
> _______________________________________________
> Devel mailing list
> Devel at lists.laptop.org
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Best regards,
Ankur Verma
Email : ankur at laptop.org
Web: http://ankur.nsit.googlepages.com/
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