May 26, 2024

OLPC Review Followup

Last week’s review of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) machine by twelve-year-old “SG” was one of our most-commented-upon posts ever. Today I want to follow up on a few items.

First, the machine I got for SG was the B2 (Beta 2) version of the OLPC system, which is not the latest. Folks from the OLPC project suggest that some of the problems SG found are fixed in the latest version. They have graciously offered to send an up to date OLPC machine for SG to review. SG has agreed to try out the new machine and review it here on Freedom to Tinker.

Second, I was intrigued by the back-and-forth in the comments over SG’s gender. I had originally planned to give SG a pseudonym that revealed SG’s gender, but a colleague suggested that I switch to a gender-neutral pseudonym. Most commenters didn’t seem to assume one gender or the other. A few assumed that SG is a boy, which generated some pushback from others who found that assumption sexist. My favorite comment in this series was from “Chris,” who wrote:

Why are you assuming the review was written by a boy?
At 12 we’re only two years from 8th grade level, the rumored grail (or natural default) of our national publications. SG, you’re clearly capable of writing for most any publication in this country, you go girl! (even if you are a boy)

Third, readers seem to be as impressed as I was by the quality of SG’s writing. Some found it hard to believe that a twelve-year-old could have written the post. But it was indeed SG’s work. I am assured that SG’s parents did not edit the post but only suggested in general terms the addition of a paragraph about what SG did with the machine. I suggested only one minor edit to preserve SG’s anonymity. Otherwise what you read is what SG wrote.

Though sentences like “My expectations for this computer were, I must admit, not very high.” seem unusual for a twelve-year-old, others show a kid’s point of view. One example: “Every time you hit a key, it provides a certain amount of satisfaction of how squishy and effortless it is. I just can’t get over that keyboard.”

SG is welcome to guest blog here in the future. Kids can do a lot, if we let them.

[Update (June 2012): I can reveal now that SG is a girl: my daughter Claire Felten.]


  1. I agree with Matthew. I mean what is democracy based on: freedom, what does information usually bring with it? Freedom!

    Also take certain parts of China for example, the people are poor, they live in a small apartment but they have food and water just like anyone in the US. Although all they learn in school is what the Government allows (of course there’s still the Chinese firewall but there are similar situations in places without a firewall)!

  2. One of the first programs I wrote at the age of thirteen was called ‘financial administration’ on the c64. It must have been quite a few lines, could read/write records of my savings-account to tape/disk. Not that I used it alot offcourse, writing programs being more fun than bookkeeping. But still, I was 13, had my c64 for at most 2 years. Kids are smart, talk to them, ask them what keeps them busy in their heads and you may be amazed. It’s not just pokemons, gi-joes and whatever is in fashion these days.

    It is a great thing that Ed gives us some insights in SGs skills, and I hope we’ll read more of him/her.

  3. At least your comment is interesting, Matthew. Thanks for that.

    Your not-so-subtle “it’s” vs “its” rub is slightly less interesting, and you make the rub at the price of insulting a few million Africans.

  4. Right on sadsac! Actually I enjoyed reading your ‘crappy’ writing so much more.

  5. For some “technical discussion”:

    While the OLPC project incorporates educators, content providers, NGOs, and so forth, it ought to be unsurprising that many of the people writing the software are… software developers. When we talk at lunch, we often get to reminiscing about our own childhood computer experiences. When we grew up, computers were still rarities, and most of us have a story or two about teaching ourselves BASIC by reading a C-64/VIC-20/Timex Sinclair/etc manual — or a poor translation of one. One of the things that excites the developers is the ability to provide this same experience to other kids. Kids are naturally inquisitive and have a *lot* of free time, comparatively speaking — it’s amazing what they can do if you give them the tools and information.

    Anyway, recently in my free time I’ve been porting some of the demo programs from the old C-64 manual to “Pippy”, a very simple python development environment written as a free time project by Chris Ball. That’s not in any official builds yet, but I hope eventually it will give that same opportunity for discovery that I had to those kids inclined that way. Others, I’m sure, will be much more interested by the ability to create music on the XO, or to read through the vast library it makes available, or just to communicate with people.

    I don’t think SG’s US background makes a huge difference: many of our developers are not from the US, and I, for one, did much of my early computer tinkering in Guatemala and Honduras. We all share the same stories.

    If you wanted to see reviews from “real” third-world Trials, see:

    and other links on the OLPC wiki. Be sure to watch the video from the Thailand trial — I love seeing those kids pick up XOs and use them along with their traditional Thai instruments to make music!

  6. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a teenager. My writing skills were crappy then, and they are crappy now. Who cares? This topic has bored me more than a vintage episode of Dawson’s Creek. Drama, drama, and more drama. Ooooh… what’s the guest blogger’s gender? Is he/she really 12? Such juicy tidbits deserve headlines next to stories about Lindsey Lohan’s latest escapade, not on a tech policy blog.

    Where is the tech and/or tech policy discussion? I sure as heck can’t find much. I look forward to when this last two entries scroll off the front page.

    In a recent episode of American Dad, a refugee camp in a third world country was comically transformed into a summer camp. ‘Dad’ arranged a special helicopter transport of supplies. As the copter was landing, the third world children hoped that the supplies might be ‘fresh drinking water’ or ‘malaria medicine’. Of course, it was soccer balls. Which the kids need just about as much as a laptop. A thorough review of this laptop would include it’s exchange rate for water and medicine.

  7. You’re way too proud of this child Ed.

  8. David Wong says

    I also would be very interested in seeing a child from OLPC’s demographic review the latest version of the OLPC computer more so than SG. Sounds like SG has been brought up around computers most of his/her life which is not representative of the OLPC’s demograhpics.

  9. I’m already there, they know more than I ever will!

  10. This upcoming and younger generation is much more intellectual than what they are commonly credit for. Please, give them a chance everyone. You shall be pleasantly surprised.

  11. Kids are certainly infantilised these days. It is true that quarrelling over whether or not SG is a boy or a girl may be sexist, but arguing that a 12-year-old couldn’t possibly write that well is ageist.

  12. Please pay your bills on time. Your domain name was not resolving for several hours this PM. (It was not a DNS problem at my end, because ONLY your domain was not resolving.)

    [Our bills were paid on time. The problem was at our hosting company. — Ed]

  13. While I’m glad that SG is reviewing the XO, I’d much rather see reviews by children in OLPC’s demographic – kids in the developing world who don’t have SG’s background with computers or privileged educational head-start.

  14. Maybe its because I am only 11 years older than SG but overall I found it to be exactly what a 12 year old would write. The vocabulary is there. The sentence structure surprised me a little in both good and bad ways, but over all I think it its right on par. What surprises me are the ones who could not believe that a 12 year old wrote it. Give kids more credit they certainly deserve it!

  15. I have electronic copies of nearly everything I’ve ever written since I was 14 (I’m 24 now), and sometimes I go back and read essays I wrote for school. I think I consistently had bad ideas, and usually had a poor understanding of whatever I was writing about, but the technical aspects of my writing weren’t bad.

    I suppose it also helps to have an 11 year old brother, who I correspond with through email, so I wasn’t really all that surprised by the high technical proficiency in the 12-year-old’s writing. Kids can do some pretty impressive things if you actually look for them.