Friday, October 26, 2012

OLPC San Francisco weekend

I had the pleasure of attending a couple of OLPC events in San Francisco this weekend with the OLPC San Francisco chapter.

My friend Jenn from wayyyy back in high school is now working with OLPC in Canada and she let me know about the yearly summit here in SF... what an awesome circumstance.

High school reunion after 13 years! (Also, Jenn -- you are tall and/or I am short)
Since seeing this absolutely adorable and very moving clip of Abel, a young Peruvian boy, talking about his OLPC Laptop in Ridley Scott's Life in a Day film, I knew I wanted to learn more about OLPC and get involved in some way or another. When I was in Peru, deep in the Amazon near Iquitos, I met some kids who lived in a very remote area and my thoughts danced back to the OLPC program. It's really amazing and I want to help with their noble (and kick ass) efforts.

Finding time is always hard these days with so many things on the go, but this seems an incredible and very much worthwhile adventure to embark upon. I'm sure I can donate some of my time for some software architecture or design knowledge, but I'm hoping to be able to carve out a larger amount of my time to code a new "Activity" (aka "App") for their Sugar Linux distro (the operating system that runs on the XO laptops, which are deployed to many many developing nations around the world).

I spent some of Friday and again on Sunday chatting with a lot of people involved in OLPC around the world: the guy who writes huge portions of the OS, a guy who is from Chad and was educated in Montreal, Canada... and who is now moving back to Chad to roll out the laptops to 3 schools, the first ever deployment in Chad. I met many dedicated people who live in Kenya, have been to Haiti, live in Nicaragua... all for the noble and awesome aim of sharing technology to the developing world and with that, the power of knowledge. This TOTALLY ROCKS.

So I was definitely blown away by the dedication and excitement of everyone there... that was to be expected. :) But I also wanted to know, more pragmatically, what kind of effect I can personally have from a Software development point-of-view. I asked a lot of technical questions about the operating system, how new applications are distributed to all the deployed laptops in these far-away places, how the laptops are powered, what file format the camera records video in... etc. As it turns out, this is a great setup (to be expected, MIT started this!) - the OS is a Linux distro called Sugar and the Apps are called "Activities" and are built with Python (OMG YES) and GTK (not too shabby!). I have some GTK experience, much more in Qt at this point, but GTK is fine. But I literally program in Python EVERY SINGLE DAY. So this is pretty amazing. The file formats are all open-source as you might suspect - Ogg Vorbis for the video/audio formats. So if I want to do something in the video/animation/editing/film software space, it'll prob need some Ogg Vorbis support. Next step is to get an XO laptop (someone is going to send me one) and to start fiddling. I need to see what kind of Dev tools we have on there, and also what kind of Open Source streaming/playback libraries are already available, so I can work from there. Kick ass.

I've had an item on my personal todo list since the day I saw that OLPC clip in April: "Look into contributing software to OLPC". It was fortuitous to have a personal connection to the organization, and definitely this weekend threw me right into the fast lane re: learning about what they do and how I might personally make the best impact right now given their specific software needs. Seems amazing. Now I gotta get this laptop, start fiddling, and then come up with a development plan. I gotta keep the scope of this reasonable for my intensely packed schedule, but maybe I can find a way to get a team of developers to help me with this... that would rock. Anyhoo. This is pretty amazing, and I gotta find a way to fit this in.

1 comment:

Jennifer Martino said...

Mike Jutan, YOU are amazing! And enthusiastic, but that goes without saying :) happy our adult selves started to get to know eachother and I can't wait for this animation activity! (but I will, because it's so worth it).