Thursday, May 2, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
In what can only be described as an unexpected development OLPC Association announced that it has managed to hit the originally envisioned $100 price the XO laptop is still so widely known for. This was achieved by borrowing a page from Amazon's playbook and introducing ad-supported versions of the brand-new XO-4.
Depending on the specific hardware configuration (non-touch display vs. touch display, 1GHz CPU vs 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM vs. 2GB RAM, 4GB Flash vs. 8GB Flash) the ad-supported models will cost between $100 and $138. At this point it is unclear how much cheaper that is than the non-ad-supported XO-4 models as their prices haven't been announced yet.
One very interesting aspect of the ad system which Poisson D'Avril (OLPC Association's Director of Educational Marketing) mentioned is that it can be managed by deployments:
„All of the content in the ad system is curated and selected for appropriateness by OLPC Association and leading independent reviewers of age appropriate digital advertising in North and South America. Beyond that we will also provide best-practice guides and tools to our implementation partners in the public and private sectors. This will enable them to customize the ads seen by their pupils and teachers and therefore maximize their impact."
One thing that D'Avril didn't want to comment on is if deployments will also receive a cut of the advertising revenue or whether their main benefit will be the reduced purchase price.
Asked about the risk of ads distracting pupils and teachers when using the machines she responded:
„Naturally we did not want to risk negatively impacting the learning experience enabled by using the XOs. So all throughout the ad system's development we ran comprehensive tests in pilot rollouts in several of our ongoing projects in North and South America. As a result and after discussions with some of our leading partners it was decided that ads will only be shown when the XO is starting up, shutting down, and on the newly added screensaver when it is in power-saving mode."
Beyond that D'Avril also mentioned that for some countries special agreements with local advertisers had been signed:
„In some South American countries advertisers have been given the option to replace the famous XO startup sound with their client's jingles. In other cases advertisers will include product samples such as soft drinks, sweets, comics, but also school books and pencils with every XO-4 that is shipped."
At this point it's unclear whether a similar approach will also be used with the XO Tablet which should have become available at select Walmart stores in March. Similarly there's no word on whether the software components of that ad system will make an appearance in an update for the older XO-1 / XO-1.5 / XO-1.75 models.
Now overall of course the question is whether this development should be considered a good or bad move by OLPC Association. On the one hand it will likely enable more children in developing nations to get XOs thanks to the lower price. On the other hand I can't help but feel that exposing children to more advertising isn't something I can truly support. Especially since I still vividly remember how annoyed I was when we found that after a renovation my secondary school's gym had been turned into one big advertising space for a certain soft drink manufacturer...
So what do you think?
Friday, March 15, 2013
I've been trying to send ~$220 (M2000) to our Volunteer Mamatsepe Sejanamane to cover her transportation to Kokobe Primary School and her first month of living expenses.
International bank transfers, at least from my bank, are outrageously expensive - $75 per transaction (USBank).
Western Union recently opened an office in Maseru. They're open 24/7 so you can receive money at anytime. They charge about 12% + a fee, which seems like highway robbery. But none of that matters, because their computers have been down for some time, and transfers aren't going through at all.
Another volunteer, Fortunate Gunzo, suggested trying Muruku or MoneyGram. I checked Muruku, but they don't service Lesotho.
I hit the jackpot at MoneyGram. They have agents at Standard Banks all over Lesotho, including one in Mohale's Hoek. Their fees are much less than Western Union, $18 for an instant transfer and $10 for a 3-day transfer. That I can handle. One slight disadvantage of MoneyGram is that the receiver can only get the money during regular banking hours.
It was fairly easy to send the money. I was able to make the MoneyGram transfer online using an L2L Visa card. If you don't have a credit card, you can use a bank account for the online 3-day transfers.
The verification process was a bit involved. They asked some questions that amazed me they would know the answers to. Then they asked me to call to confirm that I knew the person I was sending money to. There are lots of scams coming from Africa, getting people they don't know to send them money for fraudulent schemes. Once I convinced MoneyGram I'd met and worked with Mamatsepe in person, they okayed the transfer. From now on, any transfers to her will be automatically approved.
They gave me a reference number to send to Mamatsepe. I was a little concerned sending that number via a nonsecured email. Hopefully, it won't get intercepted and the cash stolen before she gets to the bank.
She informed me she's gotten the number. The money will be available as soon as the banks opens. I(It's Friday night there now.) With luck, she'll be in Kokobe before the end of next week. YEA!
For future payments, I'm going to try to get a pre-paid reloadable cash-card for her. I can send the card over to her with Tony in a few weeks. That way I can go online and load money onto the card once a month, she can withdraw it from an ATM anytime it's convenient for her, and she doesn't have to carry large amounts of cash around.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
"When the results were double-checked with a laboratory light microscope, the device had managed to pick up 70% of the samples with infections present - and 90% of the heavier infections.
"Intestinal worms are estimated to affect up to two billion people around the world, mainly in poor areas. These parasitic infections cause malnutrition, stunted growth, and stunted mental development.
"It's a big deal, a big problem."
Remote villages in Lesotho could benefit from this technology. The question is, how hard is it to train someone to collect the samples, prepare the slides, and read the results?
* cost of ball lens ~$12
Thursday, February 28, 2013
In my three day visit in late January 2013 I met with the Nohana principal & teachers and enjoyed time in classes with some of the children and their XOs. It was a chance to see L2L in action and also to meet some of the volunteers. I had wanted to see how things actually work, what kind of involvement there was from the school staff and assess how well suited the XOs are to this kind of context. I also wanted to see how well the children - who had had little or no other exposure to this kind of initiative - responded.
On all counts I was truly impressed. Although everyone was a bit rusty after the long summer holiday it was clear that teachers and children alike relish this opportunity. The younger children in particular seemed to `get it' very quickly and I am sure this project has already had an extraordinary impact.
Of course there's always `more' which could happen but the strength of L2L is that it proceeds at the pace at which local stakeholders can handle. They are, after all, the ones who will take L2L from being a great idea to being a practical, replicable model which makes sense in the Lesotho mountain school context. Or not.
The volunteer corps - Tony, Mamatsepe, Mary - were all inspirational, indefatigable and versatile.
Above all Janissa's calm, hands-on and sleeves-rolled up approach sets the tone - an approach which I saw perfectly mirrored by 2 Grade 7 girls as they set about replacing a screen on an XO. No mess, no fuss. Just get the job done. It made my heart sing.
I am a South African educator, linked to a small donor organisation which has been working in rural Southern Africa for over 30 years. We have funded L2L since 2011 and look forward to learning more invaluable lessons as the initiative develops.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
I guess I've just been lucky on my first two trips to Lesotho. This time around, not so lucky.
Everyone who flies to Maseru from outside of Lesotho has to go through the Johannesburg airport. The airport, like the city, is famous for its rampant theft problems. I'd never seen any evidence of it before this trip.
This time, I had a comparatively short layover in the Jo'burg airport, just 1½. hours to de-plane, get through passport control, go through the transit lounge and security, and get to the gate for my flight to Maseru, which is always at the far end of the terminal.
I made it with 5 minutes to spare, but apparently one of my pieces of luggage didn't. When I got to Maseru, one checked bag was there, but the other was missing. I had seen it being loaded in New York onto the JFK-to-Johannesburg flight, so I knew it made it that far.
Sure enough, it arrived in Maseru on the very next flight, which was 24 hours later. Unfortunately, during the bag's layover, it had been broken into and a small digital projector and VGA cable that works with the XO laptop had been stolen. Interestingly enough, the XO laptops in the bag held no interest to the thieves and were left untouched.
We had planned to use the projector as an integral part of our training this year, so its loss came as a huge blow.
The airline wouldn't pay to replace it because their baggage policy clearly states not to put valuables in your checked baggage and they won't be held liable if you do. Not that it would have mattered because affordable projectors just aren't available in Lesotho.
I had had no alternative but to put the projector in my checked bag. My carry-on's were full of two servers, routers, my personal laptop, and a Dell laptop belonging to the project. The projector was an awkward shape, didn't fit well in my carry-on anyway, and so was the obvious choice to go into a checked bag.
By the way, I've tried shipping things to Lesotho, and, not only can it take 3+ months to arrive, even when sent first class, only about half the packages make it to their destination. They do, after all, have to go through the South African postal system.
Several weeks later, Sherrie and Jennifer also came through the Jo'burg airport and had someone break into their checked baggage during their 12-hour layover. They lost some personal items.
We managed to conduct our training without the projector, though I lost track of the number of times someone said, "Oh, this would have been so much easier with the projector."
One consolation I take heart from is that the projector has no external buttons, so it doesn't work unless you have the remote control for it. The remote, which got packed in my other bag and is not readily available in South Africa, is now sitting on my desk as a bitter-sweet reminder. I may have lost a projector, but the thief didn't gain one, at least not one s/he can use.
Up Next: 2013 Trip Report #3: Maseru
Saturday, February 23, 2013
As I noted in an earlier post, we had nine outside volunteers, including myself, participate in this trip. The five of us who came directly from the U.S. to Lesotho got to act as "mules," carrying laptops and other project supplies with us.
I think I still hold the L2L record for taking the heaviest load without paying any baggage fees, set last trip in late 2011 when I hauled 170 lbs (77 kg) of equipment and very few personal belongings from Idaho to Maseru. This year, I carried a mere 150 lbs (68 kg) because I had other volunteers helping to carry some pretty heavy loads as well.
Among my many tips to maximize the amount of equipment I can take for free: Fly on an airline that lets you take two 50 lb. bags free on international flights, maximize your carry-on with a "laptop" bag almost as big as a regular carry-on, wear a multi-pocket vest loaded down with 10 lbs of gear, carry rain gear and heavy clothing in your hand (I've been snowed on in Lesotho during their summer, so warm clothes are a must any time of year), and buy toiletries and undergarments once in-country. And be in good shape, because, even after you've checked those 100 lbs through to your destination, you still have 50-70 lbs of stuff to lug with you through multiple airports, on planes, and to ground transport.