Spicy take: I always got the feeling OLPC was a FSF-adjacent scheme to embezzle UN money and put it into eye-in-the-sky perennial Linux desktop dreams. The machines felt overdesigned and Sugar dog slow on them. Things like Open Firmware on x86 or the mesh networking were masturbatory and served little purpose. Promises like the pen-on-trackpad or Sugar’s ease of live application modification were never met. There never was any sort of curriculum; HW was shipped with no plan.
I will admit that the screen on them is excellent though. Pixel Qi should have taken off.
What they should have done, IME, is acquire whatever cheap used high-end business laptop hardware was at the time, (fairly reliable, faster than the anemic Geode in XO-1, and cheap too) and design a curriculum with it so teachers have something to do with the machines, rather than be thrown overboard into it.
edit: Something else I did find interesting: The Mac OS X offer. That seems clearly to me, to be Jobs wanting to create iPad, using OLPC as its vehicle.
I have one of these sitting on a shelf in my closet, given to me several years ago by a friend who bought it during the “Give One Get One” program. I remember following this project but was a broke student at the time so I was interested in trying it out and seeing what they got right and where it went wrong.
As you detailed, there’s a lot of interesting ideas in this unit (with questionable motives for their inclusion in the design). There was too much groupthink around doing something new and cool, and using specific technologies that weren’t ready for prime time. This led the project away from it’s goal of actually shipping something successful to kids (at least out of the box). I remember when I first read that they were developing Sugar in Python and wondering why anybody would do that. Python at the time was super slow compared with how it is now and there were much better choices for developing a full desktop environment. In addition, the RedHat distro it was based on had too much bloat. These were not fast machines and every clock cycle counts.
When I was a kid in the 80’s, I could turn on my Commodore 64 and get a Ready prompt right away, and start typing Basic programs. Commercial games and programs loading from cartridge were fairly instant as well. I feel like the rugged industrial design of OLPC was the right direction and they totally missed the boat on software. The night I got the OLPC from my friend, I checked out, built, and flashed the latest version of the OLPC image. I cannot overstate how disappointed I was with how long Sugar took to boot up.
Honestly, I’m not even sure computers would’ve kept my interest as a kid had my Commodore taken that long to boot to be usable. Even programs loading from 5¼” floppy disk or cassette tape were faster. Sugar had a lot of neat functions, but the delay to get to a very slow desktop and then to switch to each task rendered the device useless as shipped. This was a project I wanted to believe in, but it really went off the rails.
I always got the feeling OLPC was a FSF-adjacent scheme The FSF HATED OLPC once the microsoft deal was announced.
Open Firmware on x86 This was mainly because they had weird custom hardware, and were trying to be free/open.
mesh networking Looked like it was going to work at first, but they were plagued by problems with the wifi daughter board not having a good or consistent interface. This was well well before there were devices like the ESP8266 or common WIFI-on-a-chip boards. I believe they ended up using the same wifi board as the first xbox wifi adapter.
Sugar’s ease of live application modification were never met That was met by early 2009, implemented by Chris Ball I believe. View-source was a regularly used and well distributed feature. Perhaps you were only using the earlier G1G1 Sugar releases?
acquire whatever cheap used high-end business laptop hardware was at the time Have you tried to reflash and rehabilitate a laptop? It takes a while. It takes much much longer if you don’t have exactly the same hardware. Unpacking and installing on arbitrary machines would have taken a lot longer than you think, and wouldn’t have worked in many of the enviroments the machines were shipped to.
The Montréal metro system uses RFID cards to pay, but as I understand it, without centrally tracking the buyer. Instead, the card itself records the number and type of fares bought.
This has an inconvenient downside: the only way to recharge the card is at kiosks in the metro. If you want to do it online, you have to buy a USB card reader that the Montréal transport society will sell you, so you can recharge your RFID card online.
I like this, but a lot of people are unhappy about the inconvenience of not being able to recharge the card online. So I think we’re going to be moving into a system where the cards are centrally managed, along with everyone’s purchase history of them.
It’s always so convenient to allow surveillance on ourselves.
The OPUS cards themselves are anonymous, but purchase info could be tracked if you don’t pay with cash. Cards can also be registered with STM at a service centre. This kills the anonymity factor but is useful if you lose it. I’ve gotten a free replacement this way without having to pay for a full fare again.
I found the USB card reader setup the STM came up with to be kinda lame overall. The last time I tried it (admittedly a couple of years ago), it required some deprecated NPAPI plugins that were no longer supported by their vendor and I had to whitelist them in my web browser, following instructions that would probably scare an average end user. The browser plugin mechanism they used has since been removed by the major browsers. The plugin also only worked on Windows and Mac when I tried it. The next time I tried to set it up, there were a lot of dead links on their website.
However, I get around the renewal hassle by signing up online for a yearly subscription. In this case, they send you a new OPUS smart card, which comes with some benefits (like only paying 11 of 12 months each year and getting a decent discount off of the Bixi bike sharing and/or Communauto car sharing programs, one free guest on evenings and weekends, and free rides on RTC in Quebec City after your first year).
This card is auto-renewed and you can access your account online, so you avoid waiting at the kiosk, and it saves you from having to buy the $16.66 USB card reader. Of course, it only works if you’re a frequent enough STM user to justify a yearly subscription. The yearly subscription cards are also automatically registered with the STM. If you want to take advantage of some of the benefits (free rides on RTC), you have to have your picture taken and stored on the back of the card. Before I did this, I would lend my yearly subscription out to my friends to use when I was travelling out of town but now I can’t anymore.
Since OPUS cards have been hacked several times, an artificial life span of 3 years is imposed so they can push out new revisions using different encryption methods.
I bought the USB card reader, anyway, because I like to collect gadgets. It was cheap and I wanted to mess around with OpenSC in Linux. It’s a Watchdata W1981-Plus and I believe it is the same device used by STIB/MIVB (Brussels) and RATP (Paris).
I had originally thought OPUS was a province-wide smartcard system but STO in Gatineau uses a different card, MULTI. To make things even worse, Ottawa’s OC Transpo, which overlaps some services with STO, uses yet another competing card- Presto, which is also used in the Greater Toronto Area. I’m really disappointed that a country with a population the size of Canada can’t get their smart card act together to standardize on one system. In the Netherlands, you use one card for all transit systems and it seemed to work beautifully.
Did you know “carte OPUS” is a pun on “carte à puce”?
(Not really, but it’s too good of a factoid to not tell it.)
we have a similar system locally which allows recharging on the buses themselves (smaller buses let the driver access it, bigger buses have a vending machine) and in train stations, so you don’t have to go out of your way. It might be more convenient than online payments.
The problem with the Montréal system is that for whatever reason the fares are tied to calendar dates. If you want to buy a monthly pass, it can only start at the first day of the calendar month and ends at the last one. Weekly passes can only be bought from Monday to Sunday. This creates long lines at the start of the month, hence the desire to buy online.
It also makes it easier for people to hack their own cards in their possession to give themselves free rides. There’s possibly a cryptocurrency-like solution to this problem, that would make it possible for the transit system to centrally store the amount of money a given patron has loaded onto their card and used for farepaying, without tracking exactly where they go within the system, but I don’t think it’s a straightforward problem at all. Unfortunately, centralized tracking of where and when people get on and off the system is actually a very natural fit to the problem at hand of letting people pay for use of a public transit system.
Besides, public transit cars generally have security cameras, right? You can get tracked that way too.
It also makes it easier for people to hack their own cards in their possession to give themselves free rides.
At least for the Montréal situation, it’s probably far easier to just jump the turnstiles than to attempt any sophisticated trickery. I see people jumping turnstiles frequently enough.
I think if you have a system that most people will not abuse, it can all work out. No need to make it absolutely draconian and tamper-proof unless it’s an actual problem.
That was the main risk that critics said about the Mondex card from what I read. Too bad since it was one of only high-assurance, security developments in commercial sector.
Japan has a similar cash-card system (Suica, among others) that you can buy using cash and recharge online (although I think online recharging needs it to be tied to a bank account/mobile account, or to own a special, if common, card-reader/writer for your computer). I don’t see why the Montréal system wouldn’t be able to do the same, other than perhaps the slow-moving nature of the STM and the relatively small (compared to Japan) usage.
It is a pretty heavily used cash card though, so perhaps all the vendors (other than just transit) accepting it helps things like that along. Probably not as decentralized as I think it is, either, now that I’ve spent some time puzzling it out.
I can happily recommend the Ergodox EZ (https://ergodox-ez.com/). It really holds up to expectations. I’m using it at my day job and also at home.
The Ergodox legitimately changed the way I see peripherals and even at a deeper level computer interaction. The combination of ortho-linear and split, thumb clusters, and layers made me feel like I’d never been using a keyboard properly my whole life. I’ve been chasing that same thing for mouse input ever since. Obviously I highly suggest haha.
I’m very interested in whether anyone has found a mouse that is similarly game-changing. I think part of what makes Ergodox EZ so impressive is its open source nature, including the firmware, configuration tools, and hardware. I haven’t found any meaningfully open source mouse in production. I just might make a separate post on Lobste.rs asking for mouse recommendations!
I can’t speak for open source but the Logitech MX Ergo has been wonderful.
Not a game changer in the way you’re talking about (open source) - but from a personal ergonomic perspective I got similar benefits to the split ortholinear keyboard from a vertical mouse and prefer to pair the two if possible. I’m not aware of a similarly successful open source vertical mouse design. I use a Kinesis VM4.
I also recommend it. Also have it paired with the ergodox. Very happy with this setup.
I got one a few weeks ago and I’m loving it. It has user swappable key switches which make it super customisable. You can get the exact feeling you want on each individual key if you want to.
I have an Ergodox EZ and I also have a Kinesis Advantage2. I really prefer the Advantage, but both are great keyboards.
I went with Redox (https://github.com/mattdibi/redox-keyboard) - a modified version of Ergodox which is slightly smaller. If one is living in EU and don’t have time/supplies/heart for hardware hacking you may order one from falba.tech (I’m not affiliated, just a happy customer).
I bought an Ergodox EZ this past summer and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. It was expensive but certainly worth it- the quality is great. I plan to eventually build a second one when I get the time.
One of the best choices I made! I’m using the Ergodox Infinity, but that’s kinda similar. Makes typing super comfy. I’m using my mouse in the middle (when using the mouse…).