One Laptop Per (Inner) Child

So my resolve to keep blogging regularly was broken, it would seem, by the sad realities of the latter part of the semester. A brief update list, before I get on with the story:

  • With a team, I did my Network Security project-- "Security Through Virtualization." The basic premise was to make a "secure" virtual machine through placing an antivirus scanner on another machine, then scanning changed files on the first continuously-- then, upon finding malware, rolling back the VM to a checkpoint. It turned out to be reasonably easy (well, for a term project; the professor said it could be done in a weekend, we spent more like a week on it), and so a good time was had by all.
  • Somewhere in the middle of the various products, JHUMagic got its constitution finalized (we're an official student group now, yay!), and held its last tournament of the semester.
  • I proctored, then worked (with all my CAs) to grade the Java final-- always interesting, or at least, always somewhat fun to see what students *actually* learned at the end of the semester (besides to hate me and/or Java :-) ).
  • On my own, I did my final project for Embedded Sensor Networks-- a continuation and extension of the work I was doing for HiNRG. My task was to implement sensor network testbed control software-- which I had (previously) chosen to do in Rails. This worked out quite well-- Rails is designed for web applications, of course (which this was), and so the primary challenge turned out to be to write the middle layer (Rails being the top and MySQL and the motes being the bottom layer)-- which actually translated commands into action. It's research code, so I can't post it here (right now), but if someone wants to see it (especially if they know something about sensor networks, but even if they're just curious), I can certainly let you take a look.
  • With my research team (the non-HiRNG one-- Shannon's Biomedical Engineering one), I went to visit Northrop Grumman. Fun people, if that's your area of interest; certainly they're doing interesting work. We got to learn about their research in the area of biodetection; naturally, what they told us was somewhat restricted, but it's not too hard to get some sort of idea.

So then, after last time’s (chaotic, poorly-thought-out) blog post, my dear readers should have been somewhat concerned; after all, taking away Brendan’s computer would be… bad. Anyway, what ended up happening is that I took a friend’s laptop with me to Florida for the break– which worked out fairly well. My laptop’s hinge is still broken– my dealer is having trouble understanding the definition of a “warranty” – caveat emptor is one thing, but I’d hate to have to use ahem measures of extraordinary gravity to bring them to my views on the matter. In the end, I suppose they’ll listen to ReasonUltima Ratio Regum, indeed.

I also mentioned, but did not explain, the One Laptop Per Child project. This, dear readers, is the point of my post today, and the climax of my story. OLPC is a wonderful project, the point of which (briefly) is to provide education to the whole world through giving each child a laptop of their very own– the idea being that this computer can be their gateway to knowledge and exploration. The laptop itself is very special– it’s custom-designed to be friendly to small children, from its keyboard (both small and sealed, so it’s waterproof) to its construction (ruggedized, and its shell is nearly twice as thick as that of a normal laptop– and it has zero moving parts, so it is nearly immune to shocks through the average force of a shuttle launch) to its software (the UI is completely new code, using an interface designed to be intuitive to even pre-reading children). I thought this was a great idea from the first time I heard about it– and then, the OLPC foundation announced their Give One, Get One initiative, where people pay twice the ($200) cost for a laptop and receive one, allowing the OLPC foundation to give one to a country whose government cannot provide them for its students. I, naturally, joined the enormous (I have seen estimates as high as 200,000 laptops purchased so far) amount of people interested in the program.

It took a long time for the laptop to reach me (especially as it was shipped out after I flew home for winter break), but at long last, it has arrived– and it’s wonderful. I am actually typing this entire entry on my XO (the program is called OLPC– I suppose you could think of that as the “brand”– the model is called XO, and the release is called MP (for Mass Production)– I use all of those interchangeably), which, while it’s something of an exercise for its own sake (my hand’s spread is actually .75in wider than the entire width of the laptop) is actually not that hard. The whole thing is spectacularly fun to play with– I quite enjoy it. This is good, since it’s the only laptop I have at home at the moment (my hinge-busted laptop not being safe to move off my desk).

Also, since everyone seems to be posting these poignant pictures of themselves from the XO, I suppose I will as well. Here’s my face (such as it is :-) ).Self-Portrait from OLPC

So in addition to playing with the little green laptop (for those who are curious, my X is light green and my O is light blue; each can come in one of twenty colors, the idea being to provide uniqueness across groups <= 400 students), I’ve also joined the global party of G1G1 donors– we’ve all joined the same server, so we can share applications, chat, play TamTam, or whatever catches our fancy together. This makes the whole project more fun– and while I was demoing the laptop this morning, I was able to actually show other people writing in a guestbook I shared with the “neighborhood”– and all of us could simultaneously edit the same document (with different cursors, each in our OLPC colors). Neat stuff!

Anyway, this post has dragged on quite long enough– but stay tuned for more musings, XO things, or general rants in the time ahead. I really will try to post somewhat more regularly as time goes on.

Finally, a new segment: “Entropy.” Otherwise said, a quick highlights reel of my HipsterPDA:

  • Internship-Related Tasks: 9
  • Outstanding Tasks: 15
    • Notables:
      • Issue 5948 (For my father, who has been complaining about this one feature since I moved him away from The Evil Empire; only hard part is that I'm currently 2200 miles away from my dev location)
      • Decide about moving my PDA to its new home (one of those neat Levenger thingies)
      • Get videos working on my OLPC