Brought to you by the letters X and O
I have an affliction.
I am a geek. A nerd. One of those social dysfuntionals that loves freshly printed circuits more than the soft caress of life itself. Once I spoke with a recruiter who was supposed to be helping me fill out a list of my interests. She said something to the effect of, “You don’t want people to think that after you go around at work for 8 hours that you go home and do more of the same.” I’m a System Administrator / Network Administrator / Database Administrator. It’s a little bit systemic, don’t you think? There’s a section of my brain that doesn’t turn off, I’m always trying to improve myself and do my work more efficiently.
Even worse: It’s FUN! I still get a kick from sitting around learning how to do something new, installing a program for the first time, optimizing a computer, configuring a webserver, discovering a new piece of hardware, or some such. It’s accomplishment in getting something new done. It’s a great feeling knowing that I’ll be able to use it someday in my job to great advantage.
My financial guidance counsellor has been making a lot of hay with my story. I made a plan and we’ve stuck to it through some divots and some road blocks, and at the other side I’m working in the IT field and I’m proud of the consulting business I’ve managed to slowly build. Without the work I put in to repairing, optimizing and restoring other people’s computers I would never have had the confidence or show my ability to administrate on a professional basis. The plan was important, and actively working towards my goals has been the only way this could have happened.
So, let me mention another little plan that’s going on. Nicholas Negroponte had a vision to put low-cost, quality built computers into the hands of children in the developing world so they could achieve a higher standard of education. Not everyone will be a geek like me - nor ought they. But I believe that everyone deserves a chance to find their talents and discover just how good they can become with the right tools, a little helpful encouragement, and a whole lot of drive to follow through with the dreams they conjure.
The result of Negroponte’s vision was One Laptop Per Child and the XO laptop. Last year they had a program called “Give 1, Get 1.” If you bought TWO XO laptops, they sent one to somewhere in the developing world and they sent one to you. I waffled for a while over it, but finally decided it was a very worthy idea I could get behind. The program is now ended, but I have hopes they will revive it again.
Last Friday I received my XO laptop. I was tickled green to get it. Like so many other parents who got involved in the program, I planned to share this computer with my kids and let them have at it to see how useful it was to them. They’ve been complete pros with it, messing about hither and thon, teaching me things I hadn’t figured out on my own yet. I’ll primarily use it as an eBook reader on the bus. Already I’ve found a ton of books via Project Gutenburg that I’m looking forward to reading. The kids can pretty much do whatever they want on here and all the power in the world to them.
But there is one aspect that’s missing to me in this: This isn’t meant to be a cheap laptop, it isn’t meant to be just-another-charitable-donation, it isn’t meant to be a toy to be neglected by the kids. I want to turn MY little corner of Negroponte’s vision into my own little educational venture. Hopefully I’ll be able to leverage this into learning Python and improving my programming skills. Or - dare to dream - actually write some fun and educational game that gets used by some kid half a world a way.
This computer is something special. It’s comprised of hardware, software, and ideals.
Postscript: Clearly the XO is not perfect. It didn’t send line returns correctly so I had one long run-on post until I logged on this morning and fixed it. I didn’t have the ability to embed links. And I got as far as the first paragraph before I plugged in a USB keyboard so I could actually type at speed. But as a learning tool, I’m more than impressed.