Ex 2007, Oh 2008

[First published at GOTOXO as Ex 2007, Oh 2008 on December 31, 2007.]

We got back from Venice yesterday. I will write more on that trip shortly; suffice it to say for now that I did indeed take my XO to San Marco Plaza on Christmas Day, and also took a picture with my XO during a layover on the way back at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.

I was up quite early this morning due to jet lag, rising about 4AM. The day itself was both a summary of several developments and I hope an omen of some good things to happen in 2008.

Two more XO’s arrived while we were away. I left them in the boxes and drove down to the IBM Research Lab in Hawthorne in the morning to send them on their way to the Sahana project in Sri Lanka. It was a very satisfying experience to know the Sahana folks will soon be able to start bending the XO to their will, and I expect it will only be a matter of time before we will all see a picture of an XO at the scene of a major natural disaster.

When I read some of my email I learned that Josh and Zander Bolgar received their XO’s on December 27th, courtesy of the following email from Josh:

Dear Dave,

This is the first email sent from my XO! I’ve been working with Pippy to write my first programs. Here’s a logarithm calculator.
This is lots of fun. Can’t wait to program with you.

Josh sent along a small Python program that shows he has already started figuring out the language. I’m looking forward to working with both Josh and Zander soon.

I learned via phone mail that one of the folks at the k12 OpenMinds conference I attended back in October in Indianapolis wanted to continue some joint discussions we are having on some of the work of his company and possible opportunities for IBM. This might even lead to my attending an interesting conference that is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Later on in the afternoon I went to drop off a check to our dog’s caretaker, Alec. During our conversation I mentioned my new XO, as I recalled that Alec was a geek like me. He mentioned he had been trying to get MythTV running on his Ubuntu box, but was having some problems, so I went back to my house to get two Ubuntu books, and also took along the XO to show it to Alec and his dad. As we were talking Alec mentioned he was just learning Linux and wanted to know about how the kernel worked, as well as some of the details of the shell language. I then recalled I had an old SONY DVR that I had picked up a few months back at a garage sale. The owner said there had been a power surge and the remote stopped working, but that otherwise the device probably worked. So I asked Alec to hop into the car so we could go back to my house to get the DVR box and some more books.

I then had the great pleasure of loaning Alec O’Reilly’s book on Bash and my copy of The Unix Programming Environment by Kernighan and Pike.

Just thinking about K&P made me appreciate the great fun that some of the members of the XO Generation are going to have. The XO Laptop is powered by open-source software, the software created by applying the scientific model to programming. Though software is a relatively recent phenomenon, going back at most six decades, there is already a substantial literature about it. Some of that literature is quite good, and there are even classics such as K&P. I had thought of giving Alec my copy of another classic work, Richard Stevens Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment, but realized he should work through K&P first.

These incidents summarize what I think are the major developments of 2007 –at least from my perspective as a volunteer interested in promoting the use of open technologies such as open-source to help our curators, educators and librarians in their vital mission — as well as the immediate opportunities ahead:

  • The ongoing reduction in the cost of hardware so that it is now possible for about two hundred dollars to build a decent desktop (not counting the cost of the display, keyboard or mouse) or a laptop such as the XO. The cost of this hardware is now less than the cost of buying a copy of Windows and Office to run on it.
  • The k12 Open Minds Conference in Indianapolis in October. This was the first national conference to bring together educators and open-source folks in the U.S., and there was substantial participation from people outside the U.S. This was a historic event.
  • The first mass production and distribution of the XO laptop from the OLPC.

The major opportunity — and challenge — for 2008 will be to educate the new users of the XO, and using the XO not only to provide education in general, but education in computers and their programming in particular to at least some of these new users so they can go on to make the XO even better in the years to come.

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