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A Dream Job - CTO of the OLPC Project 84

Posted by Zonk
from the changing-the-world-one-laptop-at-a-time dept.
weibullguy dropped us a link from the IEEE's site. They've voted the CTO of the One Laptop Per Child project as a 'Dream Job 2007'. Held by Mary Lou Jepsen, a former CTO for Intel, the position entails world travel, speaking with heads of state, and dealing endlessly with the technological challenges of a project designed to change the world. In the article, she relates some of the details of her first task on the job - redesigning the OLPC's display. "According to Jepsen, the display her team eventually marshaled into existence requires, depending on the mode, only between 2 percent and 14 percent of a typical laptop display's power consumption. ... To save watts, the display can switch between color with the backlight on, in low light, and black-and-white with the backlight off, in sunlight. OLPC's engineers trimmed battery usage further by, among other things, adding memory to the timing-controller chip, which decides how often a display refreshes. That trick enables the display to update itself continually without using the CPU if nothing changes on the screen."
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A Dream Job - CTO of the OLPC Project

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  • There are too many opposing constraints. Sure, jet setting would be fun. But in the end, nothing would get done.

    Wait, maybe I do want the job.
  • actually choose someone who came from one of these countries? Maybe someone who actually has firsthand knowledge of what is really needed as opposed to someone who probably never had to go hungry a day in her life. Meh, in my opinion this is just another example of the west's hubris, ie"we know what is best for you and will tell you what is best for you instead of letting you decide". It's failed before and will probably fail again.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 04, 2007 @04:37AM (#17879668)
      CTO stands for "Chief Technical Officer" as opposed to "Chief ToThePlaceAndFindOutWhatTheyReallyNeed Officer". The project starts with the (possibly wrong, but there's only one way to find out for sure) axiom that a laptop will be useful for these people. Perhaps technical qualifications in building laptops are more important to the CTOs position than precise knowledge of one particular area where they would be used. Note, that not only could you not have the technical knowledge if you spent your time in the places where the product would be delivered, you wouldn't even be able to tell about the special needs of the other places.

      I'm personally not sure about whether OLPC is going to be a success, but the desperate knocking and bad advice the project gets seems to suggest to me that some really big commercial interests are deeply afraid of this. I wonder why? Afraid to lose your cheap labour? Afraid that it will drive the success of free software? Afraid the poor will rise up? What is it? To me it seems like a fairly innocent technology experiment which will probably be a partial success but won't live up to the wild dreams of it's originators. It's probably going to cost a bit and give an economic return which is a little bit more than the investment. Who cares? Why not leave it alone?
      • by kabocox (199019)
        I'm personally not sure about whether OLPC is going to be a success, but the desperate knocking and bad advice the project gets seems to suggest to me that some really big commercial interests are deeply afraid of this. I wonder why? Afraid to lose your cheap labour? Afraid that it will drive the success of free software? Afraid the poor will rise up? What is it? To me it seems like a fairly innocent technology experiment which will probably be a partial success but won't live up to the wild dreams of it's
    • by Weston O'Reilly (1008937) on Sunday February 04, 2007 @04:37AM (#17879672)
      Maybe its because they need an effective CEO.
    • by CalSolt (999365)
      Yea, because third world countries know exactly what needs to be done, right?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by antifoidulus (807088)
        India and China certainly did. Their economies have been sustaining growth rates around 10%(and sometimes exceeding it in the case of China) for at least the past decade. That is an amazing growth rate, something the west hasn't seen in a long time. And how did they achieve this? It certainly because some white guy at MIT decided that he knew what was best for them. It wasn't philanthropy at all, it was greed, pure and simple. They started to privatize businesses and now more people have been lifted o
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          If a country wants to get out of poverty, they have to do it the same way every developed country in the world did, lift themselves up by their bootstraps.

          This is misguided.

          Please read some history. Specifically, read about western feudalism, imperialism, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, slavery, and imperialism.

          Short summary: Feudal Europe became rich through feudal slavery and imperialism. Wealth began to be redistributed through violent revolution, but slavery continued. It eventually
          • by QMO (836285)

            Even if you disagree with this summary, you must agree that the West had a head start through sheer historical accident.
            Nope.
            Independent of your definition of "historical accident" I can think of another bossibility. Depending on your definition, I can think of several.
        • by wellingj (1030460)

          It wasn't philanthropy at all, it was greed, pure and simple. They started to privatize businesses and now more people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 20 years than probably ever before in recorded human history, and greed helped them, not charity.

          I'm not to sure the OLPC falls squarly under philanthropy or charity. I mean sure they are doing a good thing, but they are still going to charge the countries for the technology. It's not like we are giving them food. Each country can choose or cho

        • by CalSolt (999365) on Sunday February 04, 2007 @07:27AM (#17880228)
          >In fact, Africa has probably received more charity than China or India and is doing much worse than those countries.

          Exactly my point. If the third world countries knew what had to be done, they wouldn't be third world countries anymore. Africa is a perfect example- they get millions, even billions in "aid" and the government officials just end up buying nice cars and planes with the money. Africa doesn't need money or food, it needs serious investment in its infrastructure and education system. It needs economic development, and that is something the Africans can't provide. In South Africa, the unemployment rate is hovering around 40%. During the Great Depression, an American unemployment rate of 25% - almost half of South Africa - was a global crisis.

          Lookie here [marginalrevolution.com]

          "In other developing countries, legions of unskilled workers have kept down labor costs. But South Africa's leaders, vowing not to let their nation become the West's sweatshop, heeded the demands of politically powerful labor unions for new protections and benefits. According to a study conducted in 2000 for the government's finance department, South Africa's wages are five times higher than Indonesia's, even though its workers are only twice as productive.

          To the great detriment of its people, South Africa's leaders have been successful. South Africa is not the West's sweatshop."

          Third world leaders do not know what needs to be done. The knowledge, the 2 centuries of economics research, exists in the west. A country that has never before had a thriving economy can't be expected to suddenly spawn one.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Socguy (933973)

            If the third world countries knew what had to be done, they wouldn't be third world countries anymore. Africa is a perfect example- they get millions, even billions in "aid" and the government officials just end up buying nice cars and planes with the money.

            Sorry to burst your bubble, but knowing what needs to be done and doing it are two very different things. It's one thing to say that then need education and investment and an economy, but you fail to take into account, that right now Africa is a seething cauldron of political instability fueled by political, religious and ethnic divisions and now to top it off family units devastated by disease (notably AIDS). This strife was created deliberately; first to enable the colonial powers to maintain dominion

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Just so you know, China, for one, is not doing a hell of a lot better than South Africa right now.

            Chinese cities are going gangbusters, and if you are lucky enough to live in one, your standard of living has gone up exponentially. The Chinese countryside, on the other hand, is still suffering in terrible poverty, comparable to anything in the third world. China essentially has an existing apartheid system, where peaseants do not have the right to move into the city, and often suffer under a tax burden man
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          If a country wants to get out of poverty, they have to do it the same way every developed country in the world did, lift themselves up by their bootstraps.

          I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. Every developed country in the world did it at the expense of other countries, which were invaded, pillaged, plundered for slaves, or enslaved as vassal states. This is still going on and probably always will till we have a world government/dictatorship. The idea that history has ended and the world has seen the capitalist
        • If a country wants to get out of poverty, they have to do it the same way every developed country in the world did, lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Anything else does more harm than good.

          No country can bootstrap itself out of poverty if it has civil war or guerilla in the jungles. The main reason of poverty in the Africa is political instability and infighting. That also the reason why economical/humanitarian help is not reaching its destination. Political instability means corruption, no invest

      • by kfg (145172)
        Yea, because third world countries know exactly what needs to be done, right?

        As well as anybody else and better than most. Living closer to the metal of life they have to. Means are the issue, not knowledge.

        KFG
    • by kfg (145172)
      A gentleman went up country in Laos and asked the isloated rice farmers what they wanted to make their lives better:

      They asked for crankable computers with wireless internet. It might be your western hubris that thinks they want a Hershey bar and some caveman shit.

      And there are places in this world where a person owns one T-shirt and doesn't know where they'll get the money to replace it, but likely eat better than you do; and others where people are walking around in a thousand dollars worth of clothes and
    • The countries that have expressed interest in the OLPC are very different from each other, and someone who was too close to the problems in one country might have a hard time designing something that properly addressed the problems in the other countries.
    • by Monsuco (998964)

      Maybe someone who actually has firsthand knowledge of what is really needed as opposed to someone who probably never had to go hungry a day in her life.

      Well, perhaps she does have a tad bit more knowledge that you. See, OLPC isn't really aimed at selling to the starving nations, instead it is more or less aimed at nations that are capable of feeding themselves, but not capable of buying books and the like for their schools. Not everyone in Africa is startving or dieing of AIDS you know, those are just the

      • I saw something very interesting on TV a few years back. Some people designed a water pump that was powered by a bike or something. The farmers were buying it and singing it's praises to other farmers. They say not having to hoist buckets of water out of a well to water their plants increase their productivity many times over. They saved up to buy the pumps and were willing to do the physical work to make it run. There were even groups of Africans who were trained in welding so that they could make pum
  • They had better distribute 10s of thousands at a time...otherwise they'll be theft targets. Amsterdam had to do same thing with their yellow bikes.
    • by CalSolt (999365)
      I remember reading that the cases would be large and bright orange so they can easily be spotted if stolen, and so if people see an adult with one it will be embarrassing- because he stole it from a child.
      • by kfg (145172)
        I remember reading that the cases would be large and bright orange so they can easily be spotted if stolen

        You can spray paint anything flat black.

        KFG
        • by QMO (836285)
          The voice of experience?
          (just kidding)
          • by kfg (145172)
            The line is attributed to Alexander Calder when asked if he could make a mobile out of solid gold.

            KFG
      • by tftp (111690)
        It's not likely that the thief would be using the laptop himself. He will sell the laptop to parents who are in need of a laptop - because they haven't won one in a national lottery, for example, or if the child had his/her laptop stolen or broken.
        • "...[The thief] will sell the laptop to parents who are in need of a laptop - because they haven't won one in a national lottery, for example, or if the child had his/her laptop stolen..."

          Hmm.. quite a racket they've got there, selling stolen laptops to people who've had their laptops stolen. What a great service to society they'll be performing.
  • The OLPC is cool. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I've been following this project for a while (meta-blog here [laptop.org]. Aside from the innovative hardware (especially with the screen and mesh network), I've been intrigued with the bizarre GUI, called Sugar [laptop.org] (review of HIG here [plan99.net]. It's a freaky interface that goes way beyond the traditional desktop metaphor where you run "applications" and save things in "files".

    Best of all, soon kids in 3rd world countries will be able to annoy the crap out of their parents [laptop.org] with funky casio beats.
    • And it's all open source, including the BIOS. The LinuxBIOS and OpenBIOS are very, very useful tools that easily outperform the commercial versions: children's laptops booting up in seconds are going to make the owners of more expensive, "feature-laden" laptops quite jealous.
  • It's late, over budget and nobody's written a check for one yet. Pretty normal.
  • STOP HELPING THEM! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday February 04, 2007 @06:48AM (#17880112)
    Start trading with them.

    Buy those shoes, suits, created with "slave wages", buy African corn, sugar, peanuts, tomatoes and apples.

    That's how to lift people out of poverty.

    We've been waging economic war with developing and third world countries for several generations now. It's only just starting to end. You can't buy African agricultural products (about all they can produce) because of the subsidies we give our own farming sectors to produce products at below market value.

    The OLPC? Frankly it's irrelevant. What 3rd world countries need is first infrastructure and education. The OLPC isn't a particularly good way to educate people and there isn't enough infrastructure to make real use of it. The money spent on producing it would be better spent persuading American and European politicians to remove agricultural subsidies.
     
    • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday February 04, 2007 @08:04AM (#17880344)
      OLPC is a very useful tool to education: being able to Google or Wikipedia for farming information, getting legal information and market information for poor farmers threatened by their landlords or lied to about crop prices, and simply getting detailed weather information locally are all amazingly useful. OLPC is about communications as much as any other grand purpose. And being able to shop around for better selling prices for their goods, or buying prices for food, fuel, and fertilizer may easily pay for the laptop within a year for a poor family.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        OLPC is a very useful tool to education: being able to Google or Wikipedia for farming information, getting legal information and market information for poor farmers threatened by their landlords or lied to about crop prices, and simply getting detailed weather information locally are all amazingly useful. OLPC is about communications as much as any other grand purpose. And being able to shop around for better selling prices for their goods, or buying prices for food, fuel, and fertilizer may easily pay for
      • by HuguesT (84078)
        By itself a OLPC instance is useless. What you describe assumes a whole infrastructure including a network connected to the Internet. That is assuming an enormous amount : very qualified people will have to maintain it and work on it daily. This is not going to happen.

        In the poorest countries in Africa, something as complicated as a well quickly becomes unusable because of lack of maintenance. In past decades people in such countries knew how to dig and maintain wells, but due to AIDS, famines, warfare, rur
        • Yup, that is why wells are usually fitted with manual pumps in rural areas. The mechanism is simple enough that common folk can understand it and the water isn't wasted, since it requires elbow greese to pump it.

          Communication infrastructure is immensely important to uplift Africa. The cell phone plays a big role. It is relatively cheap to deploy and the users only have to buy sim cards as a minimum - then they can borrow someone else's phone. Usually the taxi drivers have phones for use by their passeng
        • by vidarh (309115)
          And we have yet another person who completely ignore that countries that are struggling with situations like the ones you describe are hardly likely to be spending the money needed to purchase OLPC's. Take a look at the list of countries that have pledged to buy them so far.

          You also ignore that the OLPC has specifically been engineered to be able to be useful with as little infrastructure as possible: No electricity supply is needed, and the OLPC's can create it's own mesh network.

      • OLPC is a very useful tool to education: being able to Google or Wikipedia for farming information
        Would that be over the 1gbit fibre that the African telcos are running out to the farming villages?

         
        • by slim (1652)

          OLPC is a very useful tool to education: being able to Google or Wikipedia for farming information

          Would that be over the 1gbit fibre that the African telcos are running out to the farming villages?

          Bare minimum: a mesh network with their peers. No Google or Wikipedia here: but basic chatting, email, sharing between locals.
          Next step: a local server for shared resources. Part of the mesh. Basically an OLPC with extra storage: snapshots of sites like Wikipedia, e-books, locally produced content, homepages and blogs, etc.
          Next step: non-local connectivity, however basic. Ranges from something like Motorman [laptop.org], or maybe a scheduled dialup, right up always-on, depending on circumstances.

          The point is, something

    • I agree with you 100% about subsidies; let's try to think of a way our politicians could drop them without losing too much of the vote. Maybe they would have to be blanketly against special interests...

      That being said, if you're a tech geek and not a politician, playing to your strengths and helping the OLPC project is better than trying to start an anti-subsidy lobby effort. Also, it could be that OLPC will help open source projects over here as well as the 3rd world. If you subscribe to the /. dogma, m
    • by evilviper (135110)

      Buy those shoes, suits, created with "slave wages", buy African corn, sugar, peanuts, tomatoes and apples.
      Right. Because sending more money to their corrupt government will really help them out...

      They won't then use it to crush any protests over unlivable working wages, and the like. Of course not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vidarh (309115)
      If you're really so ignorant that you think all the developing countries in the world are without basic infrastructure, then you really have no business talking about what they need. As for education, that's a major purpose of the OLPC.

      As for "helping them", as others have pointed out, this is a take it or leave it offer of a solution they have to pay for. It's not something they'll get without making a commitment. The countries that have signed up so far have the money both to pay for the OLPC's and to p

    • I agree with you, but not entirely. The OLPC is not for countries that starve, it's for countries that can provide the necessities and just want to provide education education too. I am listening that some US states will be using OLPC.
    • by kabocox (199019)
      We've been waging economic war with developing and third world countries for several generations now. It's only just starting to end. You can't buy African agricultural products (about all they can produce) because of the subsidies we give our own farming sectors to produce products at below market value.

      The OLPC? Frankly it's irrelevant. What 3rd world countries need is first infrastructure and education. The OLPC isn't a particularly good way to educate people and there isn't enough infrastructure to make
  • by tsa (15680)
    It most certainly is much too expensive for the OLPC project, but just out of curiousity: how would a display made with E Ink [eink.com] technology behave in a laptop? It will be too slow for playing games, but can it be used to do word processing etc on? Power consumption will almost certainly be lower than that of an LCD screen I think.
    • by imsabbel (611519)
      E-Ink would make the concept of a mouse-cursur impossible.
      • by tsa (15680)
        Good point. Why didn't I think of that?
      • Thats true, but would be wrong with getting rid of the mouse cursor and going with a touchscreen for menu interaction? It seems that way it would be even easier for people to use, instead of point and click, it's just point. Plus, with an eink screen, you would not need to worry about fingerprints and smudges like you would on a traditional tablet.
  • The OLPC has a LinuxBIOS but it would be able to run Windows as well (and it probably will [1] [laptop.org]). If the Linux community was really pushing Linux to gain market share wouldn't you expect a dramatic increase in activity on edu.kde.org [kde.org] by now?

    There would also be some larger development projects to be done. (How about some educational games like Genius - Task Force Biologie [wikia.com], Chemicus II - die versunkene Stadt [wikia.com], Mathica [wikia.com] for the OLPC, using Wikipedia articles as the knowledge part of the game?)

    Of course it pr

    • by r00t (33219)
      They actually added a Secure Digital port for Windows. This is yet another hole that allows water and dust to get into the laptop while reducing the strength of the case. It also costs money. The "Secure" part of Secure Digital is of course DRM, which is also offensive.

      Microsoft could have been easily locked out by choosing a big-endian CPU. At best, a stripped down version of the bare OS might be made to run in big-endian mode. (the Xbox360 may be so, or perhaps Microsoft runs PowerPC in little-endian mode
      • There is no strategy change. The OLPC is continuing to develop a Linux-based software set for the laptop in conjunction with Red Hat.

        I'm not aware anybody 'caved'. Microsoft just isn't locked out and may provide a sensible alternative to the default (Linux).

  • Will it run Vista's aero interface?
  • Other dream jobs (Score:4, Informative)

    by bryan1945 (301828) on Sunday February 04, 2007 @11:32AM (#17881140) Journal
    I'm a member of IEEE, so I get the magazine. Here are the rest of the dream jobs (I'll leave their names out):

    Electric Detective- basically an electric/electronic CSI
    Computerized Paleeontology- Uses neat equipment to help find fossils (he likes dinosaurs)
    Bird watcher? - tracks birds with cellphone tech (he likes birds)
    Volcano wathcer- installs and maintains volcano sensors on the Soufriere volcano (his hometown)
    Lap top girl
    Laser light show- designs and produces laser light shows. Also holds laser safety programs.
    Electric sport cars- designs, builds, and races high speed electric cars (up to 130 km/hr with 1 G acceleration)
    Chess master- built what is considered the best computer chess program (he likes chess)
    AI robot designer- makes AI robots
    Wireless wildman- installs wireless networks in remote places, such as the Napaski Nation (about 1100 miles south of the arctic circle in Canada) - says he likes to fish
    • by nomadic (141991)
      Volcano wathcer- installs and maintains volcano sensors on the Soufriere volcano (his hometown)
      Lap top girl
      Laser light show- designs and produces laser light shows. Also holds laser safety programs.


      Come on! You give descriptions to everything that we could figure out for ourselves, and then leave the description off the one thing that we couldn't!! What does a laptop girl do, I'm dying to know!

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