Thursday, December 16, 2010

We Have Hackers

Walter Bender:

2. Plan Ceibal, the one-laptop-per-child program in Uruguay, held an international conference in Montevideo on 30 November – 1 December. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends from across the region (Gonzalo, Cecilia, Antonio, Laura, Patricia, et al.) and to spend time with many of the teachers and volunteers who have been participating in the program. I finally met Rosamel!! And I got reacquainted with the Ceibal Jam team; the students and faculty at Universidad Católica del Uruguay, where I gave a talk; and the Butiá project team, who uses a combination of Turtle Blocks and an Arduino board to turn the XO laptop into a robot — very cool. (A favorite demo was when they used one laptop to control the robot, one to be the robot, and one to display the video from the robot’s webcam — a great use of the network and the plurality of laptops in Uruguay.) It is also worth noting that a number of commercial software companies are now participating in the project, offering Sugar activities (under FOSS licenses) to the children.

I spent some time at Ceibal discussing Sugar and future directions for the project. Emiliano Pastorino showed me an activity he is developing that uses an RFID-tag reader to help children use their laptops to inventory cattle. I was so intrigued that I decided to add an RFID block to Turtle Blocks so that the children can use RFID in their programs. (The code is in git and will be part of Release 105.)

One mission I had for my trip to Uruguay was to bring an ‘unlocked’ laptop to ChristoferR, a twelve-year-old, who has been writing Sugar activities. He was at the point where he needed root access in order to dig deeper into Sugar and the system. Thanks to Gabriel, Christofer now was a laptop that can be used for experimentation outside of the context of his school work. I discussed with Miguel Brechner the need to provide a scalable mechanism for unlocking machines in Uruguay — today there are perhaps one dozen “Christofers” in Uruguay. Next year, there will be 100; in two years, 1000. Fiorella Haim, the technical lead for Ceibal, assured me that they have a plan in place to address this issue as part of the Sugar refresh scheduled for this summer.

After our discussion, Miguel happened to have a conversation with President José Mujica. He mentioned Christofer to the president, who in reply, smiled and said with pride in his voice, “We have hackers.” Congratulations Uruguay.

This stuff doesn't happen overnight.

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