Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Getting Back on the XO Tip

I put my XO's on the shelf a while ago to wait out the endless stream of small fixes and regressions (and discussions of constructivism and constructionism) that necessarily followed the initial release. I've subsequently been waiting for the "hey, you've got to try the new Sugar and/or Fedora on XO release, it's much better" buzz, which, unfortunately hasn't really emerged yet. Also, my keyboard and/or mousepad stopped working on the occasions I pulled the XO off the shelf. And the decision to remove all the activities from your XO when you update to more recent builds of Sugar without providing a straightforward method of re-installing them provided one with ample incentive to neglect one's XO.

I figured, though, that I ought to try to get my XO running for Open Minds. After some unpleasant struggle, including a still broken mousepad, I just did a clean install to the latest test image, which is considerably different than the latest stable version, and close to what will presumably go out in the next G1G1. I don't want to hype it too much. You still can't, for example, print, but it unquestionably feels like a step in the right direction. Also, my mousepad started working again (and the keyboard is fine for the moment, too).

Not surprisingly, quite a few other people, including some Sugar developers, brought their XO's to the conference, and Walter Bender gave a talk. All this helped my motivation enough to start poking around the Browse code to see if I could scratch my biggest XO itch.

I had a few chances to chat with Walter at the conference, but I was very happy to find that he and I were taking the same route home (it was cheaper for him to drive down and fly from Providence), including a three hour layover in Chicago. So I had plenty of time to gently pick his brain about everything I could think of, and then sit in the airport and try to write "VIVIAN" in scalable letters using Turtle Art, which Walter has been hacking on lately. If you don't do these things yourself periodically, you forget how rigorous even simple tasks can become. It was funny sitting in Midway with the former head of the MIT Media Lab trying to remember what trigonometry does and if it would be necessary to draw a properly scalable "V."

It was also a reminder that having a virtual "mathland" on hand makes it much easier to do things like teach multiplication as scaling rather than repeated addition which otherwise seems almost impossible in practice.

The overall takeaway from the trip is that I'm feeling confident that both the XO and Sugar should be able to "keep the ball rolling" for the indefinite future, in particular creating more space for Sugar to continue its improvement. There are still some thorny technical hurdles, including a re-write of the Journal and the difficulty of running a Jabber server, but the whole venture isn't going to disintegrate before there is a chance to overcome them.


Mark Ahlness said...

Tom it is good to hear your XO voice here again. I'm starting the year with 4 in my classroom, rather than have them come out of nowhere halfway through the year, like last year.

Sorry to hear about your keyboard and mousie woes. I was just gifted some wireless mini optical usb mice that REALLY make a difference using them in the classroom.

Best of luck, and keep us up to date with your latest build experiences. I'm running 703, too worried to make a leap anywhere right now - Mark

Gary said...

G'Day from Sydney! I loved the Turtle Art story. The software was created by my old friend Brian Silverman. He'll be speaking at the Educon 2.1 preconference I'm organizing.

Have you seen these sites:

I can't email you since I'm on a stupid hotel terminal and your email address is on my laptop, but I have an idea I want to bounce off of you.

Shoot me an email and I'll reply.