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Was the OLPC XO-1 the worst laptop ever? (Part 1)

Posted 01-08-2022 at 11:19 AM by slackmensch

A lot has been said about this venerable project to give "one laptop per child," which started in 2005 and floundered around until about 2018. Somehow, I missed it. Must have been living on an island like Tom Hanks in Castaway.... (Hmmm. Asking Mr. Football...Nope he's never heard of OLPC, either.)

Poking through the wreckage of my DedEx plane for something to alleviate the boredom of island life and a steady diet of small reef fish, pandandus, bettelnut, and coconuts, I find a box with a funny kid laptop in it. Damn! I was hoping for another carton of Spam or Pringles. What the hell can I do with a laptop?

I search in the box and find what appears to be a hand-crank generator of some sort. Excitedly I connect it and start cranking...and the handle breaks off! I rummage around in the box some more and find an instruction brochure with a picture of Kofi Annan and a warning to go easy on the handle written in 25 languages. Oooops.

I decide I might as well push the power button and see what happens. The screen flashes and a funny, not very inspiring chime sounds. I wonder, absent-mindedly chewing some beetelnut, if the chime isn't indicative of some problem, like how Macintoshes used to play a despairing tune instead of the D major chord when there was a hardware fault. Continuing to reminisce about 90s Macs, I can't help but notice the OLPC is taking a long time to boot, even by 2006 standards.

The oddest UI I have ever seen appears. I mean this thing looks like it is a prop in a poorly-thought-out 90s TV space opera: Star Trek's "LCARS" or whatever OS they pretended to use on Babylon V. It's a box around the edges of the screen. Using the painfully small trackpad, I mouseover an X in the middle of the screen and log in--with my "grade" set to "adult"-- to find a bunch of funny icons in a circle. One of the icons looks like it could be a terminal. I click it, desperately hoping I am right, as the other "Activities" appear pretty infantile even by the standards of a 9-year-old. After a longish pause the icon grows, as if it is moving toward me, and a terminal appears. I type uname -a and it says Fedora 18. I heave a great sigh. It looks like the tiny filesystem has a snapshot of wikipedia, music, images, and some language tutorials.

As my hopes of mastering French decline, I think a night light for my cave would be nice. Music might be cool, too. I notice the battery is down to 40 percent already, shutdown -h now, and start thinking about where I might get some power for this guy. There were a lot of boxes scattered though the jungle when the plane crashed...I remember reading speculation in the early days following the loss of MH370, that LiPo batteries might have caused a fire in the hold. I should have been so lucky! Time for bed.

Time passes.

I wake up feeling somewhat refreshed and hopeful. At least I have a reason to loot the rest of the cargo boxes now. The OLPC plug says it wants about 12V at a rate of ~1.5A to charge. If only I had solar panels.... But wait!, I start eyeing my TI-35 solar calculator.... The sonic screwdriver of my student days, it now is just a relic carried for sentimental value and the occasional unit conversion. Eyeing the tiny 4cm x 1cm solar panel, I do some (figurative) back-of-the-envelope estimations. This can probably supply 2-3V at a max current of maybe 0.10A. So I would need and array of say 7 panels (series connected) x 10 in parallel to get around 12 volts and 1A. So I would need 70 TI-35s. A soldering iron and some wires would also really help as there will be 142+ connections (each panel is a 2-terminal device). Maybe some of the cargo has solar panels. Hope the people this stuff was going to were buying on PolyAnnaFruit or SpockFun Electronics....

As I near the debris field, I start finding moldy old socks (Who the hell buys their socks on Amadzan?) and underwear. A fridge-sized box contains nothing but bouncing silicone putty in little plastic eggs. Down a treacherous-looking valley lies another huge box. I'm not sure I'm ever going to check that since one slip is all it takes to fall to break a bone and die of thirst. After another few weeks it will probably start falling apart as the cardboard rots. Definitely nothing edible in there or the crabs and lizards would have been at it by now. (They ate what was left of the flight crew. The crates of sashimi in the hold didn't last long either.)
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