Friday, August 31, 2007

Thoughts on the OLPC ($100 laptop)

I had the privilege last month to visit the remote area of North Ambrym, Vanuatu and to think about what impact the OLPC might have in such a community.

Vanuatu is a volcanic island chain in south Pacific. map map

It has a population of 210,000 (2005). The main island is Efate and the capital Port Vila. Most of the tourist resorts are located near Port Vila. Previously a French/English condominium, it gained independence in 1980. Per capita income is $1560 per annum. In 2005, there were 33 telephone lines, 38 internet users and 14 PC's per thousand population, presumably concentrated in Port Vila.

To the north is the island of Ambrym. It has a population of 7000 (1989). It has a central inhospitable ash plain created by an ancient explosive eruption of a volcanic cone. There are three coastal regions separated by difficult terrain and each region speaks a different native language (usually just referred to as 'language' to distinguish it from Bislama the national language) and French and English which are also commonly spoken.

North Ambrym can be reached by a 40 minute internal flight from the capital, Port Vila followed by a 3 hour trip in a small motor boat. There is also a cargo ship which can anchor in the deep water off the reef with supplies ferried by small boat to the beach. The economy is a subsistence economy. Copra was a significant cash crop but has declined with low prices. The deep volcanic soils and high rainfall give an abundance of food with yam and taro the staples. There appears to be some trading along kinship lines with foods going to Port Vila and manufactured goods coming back to the islands, there is probably considerable trickle down effect from tourist income in Port Vila.

The evening before the supply boat is due, canoes bring local produce to the beach

Pigs and yams are ferried by small boat through the coral reef to the supply boat

It appears that primary schooling is day school but secondary school is generally boarding school. The village where I stayed, Ranmuhu, has a primary school. The Ranon secondary school caters to year 10, it is one hour's walk away, there are no vehicles. The nearest government year 12 school is on the island of Pentecost. There is an EU French speaking school at Topol village nearby, education is $1,000 per annum, see other post. Boarding students have to help grow their own food in the school gardens.

Kitchen, Topol school

Bread oven, Topol school

There is no mains power. The schools seem to have generators or access to generators which are run for a few hours per night. Thanks Daryl for the following:
"Perhaps the most challenging problem is power and being able to afford to purchase petrol or diesel to run the generator if the fuel is available"
There seem to be a public phone in each village. They are solar powered and have microwave links to Pentecost island.

Tousi Co-op at Ranmuhu showing solar panel and microwave link for phone

"In total there are about 200 lines in the Northern Islands all sharing 32 channels back to Santo. Even if they can get an available line, at best they could only expect 16kb/s or at best 32kb/s Internet connections...The telephone service is solar powered and fairly reliable but very congested. You can wait from 10 mins to several hours just to get a dial tone".

There are (at least) 4 dimensions to consider the OLPC on:
  • power
  • communications
  • reliability
  • culture
There is no power in homes and power in schools is unreliable. The low power requirements of the OLPC are a plus, as is the ability to charge at 12 volts. Battery is 6V, 22 watt hours. The idle power consumption is 1 watt. Longer battery life would be good because there could be long periods with no fuel for generators. Charging from a simple solar panel and car battery combination should be practical. I hope there is reverse polarity protection, couldn't find it on the wiki.

Shenki writes:
"There is a one-time fuse inside the XO that protects from over voltage. It was discussed having a resettable fuse, however, they are considered too unreliable"
When turned off machines still support the wireless mesh network. The machine is expected to use roughly .5 watts of battery power in this mode. (so looks like 44 hours max. battery life). The range of the network does not seem to be specified but the wiki has speculation that an external antenna could greatly extend the range, with wifi systems capable of even 100 km. This would possibly allow mesh networks to hop islands, Most of the northern islands could be connected by 10km to 15km hops.

Shenki writes:
the XO's antennas are replaceable, so in theory you could hook up an external aerial to it. The solution that OLPC is offering is an "active antenna" - the XOs wireless chipset, in an external waterproof casing that acts as a mesh node, with a large antenna.

Pentecost Island from the beach at Ranmuhu, Ambrym Island, about 10 km

James Cameron writes of a range test in rural Australia:
"I was able to get perfect operation at the first two positions. Beyond 400m the presence of vegetation between the laptop and the access point began to matter. At the 900m position, the network name was selectable on the user interface, but association did not succeed."

Within North Ambrym, villages are in the order of 0.5 km apart. There is a good chance of line of sight, vegetation excepted, with the villages located on ridge lines, vegetation varies from fairly open, coconut plantation to jungle. Its probably too much to expect a good mesh from standard antennae, it looks like a big maybe there.

Servicing would be a problem. Port Vila is some days away and probably has limited facilities. The OLPC has a small number of replacable modules which should aid servicing. Circuit boards are probably throw away items. (Video of 10 year old and 8 year old replacing motherboard)

Some insight into the project goals:"It goes without saying that Internet access and tools for expression (text, music, video, graphics) are the contemporary “toys” for learning. Every child of any means in the developed world has access to a computer at home and usually his or her own, with music, DVD, plus interactive and rich media to do anything from learning languages to play games"

The OLPC will be disruptive, it is intended to be disruptive. Already missionary culture, kastom culture and modern secular beliefs are in collision in the villages (more other post). The integration of modern secular values into village life is inevitable but the pathway there is still ours to choose.

Traditional lines of kinship are complex. There are 8 kinship groups with complex rules. Children are often brought up by relatives other than biological parents. Strong relationships where people are cared for and given positive role models are essential. The destruction of the web of kinship is just one of the risks that comes to mind.

"When citizens do not believe they have a culture worth preserving, their children are beset with sorrows including a lack of hope, conviction, trust and aspiration. [What is needed is not computers or any other kind of gadgetry but] some meaningful story to tell our children. It may be a story about their souls or their minds or their history or their country or their planet. But it must be strong and romantic and inspiring. It must be capable of touching the hearts and the nerves, and it must explain who they are and why they are here and what is expected of them."
Neil Postman

Vanuatu, ICT use in education, Ms Ruby Vaa
World Bank ICT at a glance, Vanuatu
Telecom Vanuatu Limited

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Blogger Bill Kerr said...

Interesting overview of some of the technical and cultural issues

For the project to work it might need locals or supporters to promote it and push it along. That's an area you haven't really explored in this piece. Even though it's child centred the attitudes of the adults is always going to be a big factor.

Monday, September 24, 2007 9:19:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, I did get some interest from the schools. Something to follow up. But it wont be by email, has to be snail mail.

Monday, September 24, 2007 9:38:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A postscript:
Project Waveplace's mission is clear: to create a thriving new industry in the Virgin Islands independent of tourism, one requiring no physical imports, no clearing of land, no retail space, no condos.

This new industry will be a digital one: animation, illustration, photos, music, software. There's a world of media buyers on the Internet ready and willing to pay fair licensing fees for the right talent. Our plan is to teach Virgin Islanders to create with computers, so they can export their most stunning resource, their creativity.

Thursday, October 11, 2007 5:20:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Negroponte interviewed on 60 minutes on a trial in Sao Paulo, Brazil:

"when children first get these ... go as quickly as possible to the internet and start typing things and searching"

Which confirms what I was suspecting, the OLPC will bring the world into the village, all of it, the good and the bad. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the impact on existing culture will be tremendous.

Monday, November 12, 2007 1:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was happy to see a picture from Ranmuhu and especially Tousi Co-op where I lived for a month almost 4 years ago. I'm writing to ask you if you have the telephone number to Tousi?

Maria, Norway

Monday, March 03, 2008 3:33:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Maria, yes I think I do (somewhere) has a searchable database of phone no's
should work or be close, Magam school is at Ranmuhu

Sunday, May 25, 2008 8:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 9:02:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Petra
Its forster at ozonline dot com dot au

Friday, October 03, 2008 12:14:00 PM  

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